The Treasure Keepersby Chris Mould
The conclusion to this darkly funny series, Something Wickedly Weird, has it all: eerie black-and-white illustrations, swashbuckling pirates, werewolf showdowns, plenty of danger, and, best of all, secrets revealed.
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The Treasure Keepers
Something Wickedly Weird
By Chris Mould
Roaring Brook PressCopyright © 2010 Chris Mould
All rights reserved.
It was later than usual, but Stanley Buggles was being kept awake. The distant howl that sang across the moor was somehow louder tonight. It reminded him that all was not well on the island he had made his home.
His worries rolled around his head all night, until eventually he climbed out of bed. Now here he was, seated at the window, staring into the darkness, recalling all of his fears.
First, he considered the sinister figure of escaped criminal Edmund Darkling, who he knew was prowling the night in the shape of a wolf.
Second, he thought of the endless gold mine that ran like a maze beneath the island itself — and the thought that one day its secretmight be revealed by the grubbiest of hands, the hands of old MacDowell. This craftiest of pirates had managed to convince Stanley and his good friend Daisy Grouse that he had no interest in what might lie beneath the ground. But when they had innocently led him to it, somehow the magical glint of gold under candlelight had changed his mind.
Right now, Stanley had no idea of MacDowell's whereabouts. The old buccaneer had left the island in a sailing boat, but it was no great secret that he would be back.
Stanley looked farther into the blackness. The glow from the lighthouse caught his eye, and he thought of Daisy and her Uncle Lionel, the lighthouse keeper. Daisy would be tucked up in bed right now, safe from harm. But trouble was brewing and Stanley knew that young Miss Grouse would be his greatest help in the times ahead.
He could see a figure in the nearest watch-tower. It was the night watchman, draped in a blanket and no doubt wrapped in a wind-blown slumber. This was not uncommon. By now the drink would have got the better of him, and the last thing on his mind would be watching out for the wolf. Everyone knew that it took a good bottle of grog just to gather the bravery to sit in the black of night on the lookouts, with only the biting cold to keep you company.
Eventually Stanley also drifted into a slouching sleep that left him propped up in the window like a rag doll. As the early morning light nudged the harbor awake, he awoke and lifted his head again. A hazy outline of something tall was coming into view. Stanley rubbed his eyes and stretched his aching bones.
It was a ship, and not just any old ship. It must have had a hundred sails. A clipper ship, long and narrow with white sails waving like carnival flags. And it was heading into the welcoming shape of Crampton Rock harbor.
Stanley watched the vessel roll into the bay, and saw someone heading along the harbor wall. It was Mr. Grouse, Daisy's uncle. His tall shape was unmistakable. He waved at the ship as it steered to a safe spot and dropped anchor.
On board, three men let a small boat down into the water and after climbing in they made their way to the harbor wall.
Stanley kept watch. He knew by now that they would be traders. Penelope Spoonbill, the Mayoress, appeared from the village square. With a coat wrapped around her nightclothes she, along with Mr. Grouse, rushed to the shore and greeted the sailors. They handed her a box of some kind, perhaps a gift, shook hands like old friends, and headed into the village.
But Stanley could see something else from where he sat. Back on board the ship a long, thin shape was shifting around. Someone else was there, someone who had opted not to leave the vessel and greet the villagers. Someone who slunk around in the background, preferring to stay unnoticed. Maybe he had work to do on board and would join them later.
Maybe so, thought Stanley ... And maybe not!
After Stanley had coaxed himself back to life and dressed his bony frame in clothes that lay scattered around his room, he went downstairs. On his way to the kitchen he wandered over to the glass case where his old friend the pike lived.
"And how are you?" he asked with still-sleepy eyes, dusting the glass to clear his view.
"Yes, yes, quite well, thank you, Stanley. Now that I can see clearly, there is something I must tell you," answered the pike. It was a rare occasion: he had decided to speak. There were not many days when he opened his mouth, but today was one.
"Ah, good," replied Stanley, surprised to find the pike so approachable at such an early hour. "You know I always appreciate your advice. You've saved me from many a foul deed in the past."
"Well. I am old and wise, Stanley, it is true. And I don't dish out my visionary foresight to just anyone. I hope you realize you are in a most privileged position!"
"Yes, I know, so you keep saying. Anyway, can you get on with it? My stomach's rumbling."
"Of course, my friend. You have a right to know when my view is clouded with ill doings."
"Ill doings? What ill doings are these?" asked Stanley.
"Hang on," said the pike. "It's gone! Sorry. It was right there under my nose, and now it's gone."
Stanley began to walk away. "Useless old haddock," he mumbled.
"Wait. I have it. I have it!" The pike paused a moment. "Ah yes, that is it. Take heed, Stanley. I must warn you not to bring the four-legged one into the house. He will bring you trouble. He has already let you down."
"The four-legged one? You mean Steadman, the Darkling dog? What else would come here with four legs? Why has he let me down?" Stanley couldn't understand it. Perhaps the pike meant Mr. Darkling, in the form of a wolf? But that made no sense either.
But the big fish would not say any more. And as Stanley knew, that would be the end of it until he worked things out for himself and more than likely, by then it would be too late.CHAPTER 2
A Cry for Help
Stanley was eager to find out more about the man on board the ship. He hung around in the harbor, hoping he would meet the traders and open a conversation that would answer his questions.
Something flapped in the wind. It was the old "Wanted" poster of Edmund Darkling, still nailed to a post and so weather-beaten that it was barely recognizable. Poor Mr. Darkling. Despite his sinister background, Stanley felt sorry for him: he knew that he longed to be back to normal, at home with his family in the village.
But a stint in the local prison had driven Mr. Darkling almost to madness, and by means of escape he had summoned the werewolf curse This beastly form had allowed him to force through the iron bars and now he wandered alone, in hiding, upon the moor.
And Mrs. Darkling was responsible for bringing up the Darkling children by herself; no easy task with three strong-willed youngsters.
But Stanley had grown friendly with the Darkling children. The young twins Olive and Berkeley and their older sister Annabelle formed part of the Secret-Keepers Alliance, along with Stanley and, who could forget, Stanley's oldest friend, Daisy. They were the only ones on the Rock who knew of the gold mines that lay beneath their feet. For the rest of their days, they knew, they must keep the secret held tight.
* * *
That night, something sinister pulled Stanley's thoughts away from the smugglers' mine and the mystery man who still sat aboard the clipper ship.
There was a terrible scream out on the moor, a piercing, whining moan of someone or something in pain. Ghastly squealing awoke the whole village, but there was not a chance that anyone would venture out at that hour. They would light their candles and peer through their ragged curtains, but none would go there. A lone watchman pointed his flaming torch toward the moor. He shivered and shook so much that the flame almost flickered out, but he could see nothing.
At dawn, a crowd of villagers assembled. They had all heard it, and they knew it spelled something bad. They took to the hills and began searching there in droves. Waves of villagers trickled across the plains like ants in their nests.
The Secret-Keepers Alliance assembled too. Stanley and Daisy stood at the fountain in the square, and soon they were joined by the Darkling children, who had all awoken in the night.
Annabelle was close to tears. She confided in Stanley and Daisy. "What if something happened to Father in the night? I fear for his safety."
"In whatever form he takes, Mister Darkling can look after himself. Don't worry. Come on, let's go," said Stanley — and the Secret-Keepers Alliance marched, business-like, up the grassy climb.
The moor was teeming with villagers, most armed with pitchforks and clubs or broom handles, as well as many other things that would prove to be useless should they be needed.
The search filled the day, but proved to be fruitless. Not a thing was found. Perhaps some young animal, a badger or fox, had been taken by the wolf? The children hung around on the moor, chased through the hills, and climbed the rocks until the sky had almost emptied out of all light.
And as they turned home, something happened to make sense of the day's dilemma. A weak noise drifted down to Berkeley, who was hiding from the others under the shadow of a large stone.
"Berkeley," came a whispering voice. He looked around and saw nothing.
"Berkeley." It came again, almost as if it was trying harder, but couldn't manage it.
Somehow it was coming from above his head. Berkeley looked up, and atop the large rock were the fingertips of a mysterious figure.
"Come quickly," squealed Berkeley to the others. Immediately his assistants arrived.
"What is it?" asked Daisy. "What's wrong?"
"There is someone, up ... there," he said, almost doubting himself.
And then an ugly, long-nosed face leered over and steered its eyes down at them.
"Hi kids!" came a croaky, pathetic voice, as a huge hat cast a shadow over their faces.
"Mac!" they all shouted in disbelief. And sure enough, it was old MacDowell, the pirate who had betrayed them by taking gold from the mines. His scrawny shape began to slide down from the rock, and he landed in a crumpled mess at their feet, blood caked all over him. A smash of glass resounded, and his coat fell open to reveal a hoard of broken bottles. He smelled terrible, and whiskey was on his breath.
"I'm sorry, lad," he said in a slurred voice. "I spent all me gold. I only came back for a few nuggets more. Yer know, just to get me by, like."
"What on earth happened to you?" asked Daisy. "Why were you on top of that rock?"
"I can't remember, lassie," he admitted, trying to haul himself up. "I can't remember anythin'. I think I drank too much o' the grog an' whiskey. Aooooh, me leg."
"I think that was the pathetic cry we heard in the night," said Stanley reassuringly. "We can't leave him like this. Let's take him back to the Hall."
"Kind as your housekeeper is, Stanley, I don't think he'd ever make it through the door. I'm sure Mrs. Carelli will hit the roof if she sees he has returned!" Daisy insisted.
"But look at him," said Stanley. "He'll die if we leave him out here."
Even among the five of them, they struggled to lift him. It wasn't so much his weight as the sheer, awkward gangling shape of him: he was all arms and legs spilling out like an overgrown rag doll. Every time they picked one bit up, another limb popped out somewhere else. His right leg had been bleeding profusely.
"I'll get Steadman," said Annabelle.
"No, please," begged MacDowell. "Not the dog."
But it was too late. Annabelle gave out a strange howling cry, and the black silhouette of Steadman came bounding over the moor to their side. He had taken a liking to MacDowell previously, and now he was excited to see him back; he was licking the blood from his hands and face.
It was a sight to behold. Old MacDowell, all washed out and withered, was carried along on the bony spine of Steadman, his arms and legs trailing here and there and the children following on behind.
Mrs. Carelli had watched them coming across the moor, so she was hardly surprised to see them arrive, and she had just about guessed that the pathetic figure would be MacDowell. She had held her disapproving expres-sion for the last five minutes as she stood in wait. So as they rounded the corner she was already there with the door open. The confrontation started before Stanley could muster up an excuse or have any thought of what he might say.
"And where do you think you're taking that long-legged lummox now, Stanley?" she asked. There were five of them, of course, as well as the dog, but it was Stanley who was getting the harsh words.
"Please, Mrs. Carelli. Mister MacDowell is ill. He needs a bed," pleaded Olive.
"And he deserves a good hiding," the housekeeper replied.
"Would you like us to do it?" asked Berkeley.
Now Mrs. Carelli was no great fan of the Darkling children, but she had to admit she was warming to them. They were constantly at the door asking for Stanley, and they were well mannered, if nothing else. And now, for the first time, Berkeley had placed a smile on her face.
"Put him back in his room, Stanley," she ordered abruptly. It was the one he had stayed in previously, before he had shown his true colors. "And when he's pulled himself together, he'll have to leave. Do you hear me?"
"Oh thank you, Violet," croaked MacDowell pathetically. "I'll make it up to yer."
"And don't you dare call me Violet. It's Mrs. Carelli to you and it'll stay that way. It looks like the drink is all that's wrong with him," she suggested, turning to Stanley, "save for a few cuts and bruises. Throw him in a warm bath. He stinks to high heaven!"
The children dragged MacDowell from Steadman's back. He oooh'd and arrghhh'd as they carried him through the house to the bath and cleaned him up.CHAPTER 3
A Drastic Change
Stanley suddenly became aware that he had taken on more than he could manage. Mrs. Carelli had said that if Stanley wanted to bring Mac into his own house there was nothing she could do about it, but she wouldn't cook him a meal or make him a drink, nor would she clean his room or attend to any of his needs. Her husband, Victor, had taken the same stance. They wanted to show their disapproval of the way MacDowell had accepted their hospitality, leaving just like that without so much as a good-bye. "Disgusting!" Mrs. Carelli had said.
So now Stanley was spending his time looking after the very man who had let him down, and Mac showed no signs of improving.
At first he had only a bad cut on his leg and, save for a few scratches and bruises and a fearsome hangover, he was on the mend. But he was going downhill. A fever grew upon him in the night, and he had a putrid yellowness about his skin. That and the foul stink about him were about as much as Stanley could take. He tried to enlist the help of the others, but even the Darkling children couldn't bear the smell, and that was saying something.
Mrs. Carelli had taken a look, but her suggestion of tying Mac to a raft and putting him out to sea was unfair in Stanley's eyes.
Despite all this, one thing was improving. MacDowell's memory!
"Sufferin' shark steaks, I remember now!" he shivered. He was recalling the night out on the moor, with a cup in his hand that shook until the water had emptied out completely. Sweat ran down his brow, and only short sentences would come out between panting breaths.
"I was out on the hilltops ... Lookin' for the big rock ... The one we rolled over the exit from the mines ... I thought I might move it ... Yer know, to dig out a few chunks o' the gold an' replenish me purse, as it were ... Anyway, it was dark ... And I was worse for the drink, yer know ... But take a look at me leg afore I tell yer the next bit," he insisted.
Stanley pulled back the covers. Mac's legs looked terrible at the best of times. They were horribly scrawny and at his healthiest you could almost see the bone through the skin. Stanley pulled back the dressing. The wound looked ghastly: the skin had turned purplish-blue and it didn't look like it wanted to heal.
"That's a bad cut, Mac," said Stanley.
"Does it hurt?"
"'Tain't no cut, young Buggles," MacDowell managed. "'Tis a bite ... A great big bite."
Excerpted from The Treasure Keepers by Chris Mould. Copyright © 2010 Chris Mould. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Winner of the Nottingham Children's Book Award, CHRIS MOULD, began studying art at the age of sixteen. He currently has over twenty books in print between the U.S. and the U.K., where he lives.
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