Vine Manor

Chapter 7

Helena came awake slowly to find herself gripped by an unreasoning fear. She tried to calm herself down and found that as the fear receded she started to feel extraordinarily thirsty and hungry. Her mouth was bone dry. She could no longer shield herself from awareness that she was not in her warm comfortable bed at Vine Manor. She did not want to open her eyes; not yet. The fear came rushing back, stronger than before.

When she finally opened her eyes she was in absolute darkness. Slowly she moved her hand in front of her face; she could not see it. Her hand touched something hard a few inches from her face. She was lying on her back; she tried reaching out to her side but her hands could not move far before coming up against a hard barrier. Her arms felt stiff and her muscles ached as she reached above her head only to touch the same unyielding surface. She pushed hard against it, moving her body until her feet came up against a similar obstruction. Now she had a reason for her fear. She was trapped inside a box, only a little larger than she was herself!

In a sudden panic, she pushed out as hard as she could with both arms, striking them repeatedly against the walls of her prison. She thought she felt a slight movement of the barrier above her; she thought she heard a sound as if something had moved. Now she could hear only the rapid beating of her own heart. Summoning all the strength she could, she pushed against the surface above her. This time she was almost sure she had felt it move. Ignoring the pain in her arms, she pushed again. This time she was rewarded with a definite movement. The next time she pushed, she saw a point of light deep in the darkness. She knew she didn't have the strength for much more.

She stopped for a few minutes to rest her arms, then gathering all the strength she could, pushed upwards. This time she felt something give and with one more push the top of the box she was in opened like a lid. She sat up and felt the flow of cool air around her. As far as she could make out, she was in a cold dark room that smelled damp. The only light was a faint gleam around the edges of a large door. That was the way to freedom. She climbed out of the box and walked to the door and felt around the edges where she could see light coming in through the crack between the door and the wall. The door was made of wood and was warm to the touch; the stone walls were cold. At one side of the door were three large hinges. Helena's hands moved to the opposite edge of the door, groping for a handle. There was none. She tried pushing the door again and again; it did no good. The door was as solid and immovable as the stones. She ran her hands over the entire surface of the door but still found no handle; nor was there a keyhole, or any way of opening the door from the inside.

Hoping to find a light switch, she ran her hand along the cold stones of the wall, but there was nothing. She kept moving, one hand on the wall, one cautious step at a time, in the desperate hope that there would be another way out. Now her back was to the door and the darkness was absolute. She walked into something and hurt her foot. She heard the sound of something rolling on the stone floor. It stopped by her feet and after groping around for a few moments in the dark, she picked it up. Part of it was rounded and quite smooth, the rest was rough and jagged. Her fingers touched the sharp edges of what could only be a row of teeth. She had found a skull.

As soon as she realised what it was, Helena dropped it. When the sound the skull made as it rolled on the stone floor had died away, there was absolute silence. As silent as the grave, she thought, and knew what this dark place must be. She was trapped in the Grayling family burial vault. The box out of which she had just climbed had been her coffin!

Why had they put her in this place when she was very much alive? She wouldn't waste time thinking about that; it was more urgent now to find a way out. She went back to the door and called for help as loudly as she good. If she was lucky, someone would come to mourn a relative in a nearby grave and hear her shouts. She knew the chance was slight, the graveyard was as desolate and lonely a place as could be imagined. Soon her throat began to hurt and she gave up the effort. She longed for a drink of water. She decided to try again to find another door in the walls of her prison. Starting at the door, she moved slowly forwards, hands pressed against the cold stone of the wall. Soon she found her way blocked by coffins that lay against the wall; she could not risk missing the chance that a door might lie behind them. There was nothing she could do except to climb over them, hands always exploring the cold stone. She went on in this way for what seemed a very long time. At last she saw the glimmer of light from around the door in front of her and knew that she had almost completed her tour round the sides of the vault. Still she continued, taking care that there was no chance of missing anything her hands could reach until she came back to the hard solid wood of the massive door.

Helena was in despair. The tour of the walls had exhausted her; she did not have the energy even to shout. She would rest, and in a little while she would try again. Sooner or later someone must come! When she heard people moving or talking outside, she would shout for help as loudly as she could. Meanwhile, she would rest in the coffin where she had been lying. In its padded interior she would be insulated from the cold of the stone floor. She walked slowly to where she thought she would find the coffin. All the coffins she found were closed. She realised she must have walked too far; her open coffin had been near the door. As she turned to try again, she realise that the feel of the floor under the thin soles of her shoes had changed. She bent down to check with her hands. She had stepped onto a wooden board between the flat stones. She gasped as her searching hand touched something cold. Hesitantly her fingers closed around it. It was a metal handle set in the wooden panel. She had found a trapdoor!

Stepping back onto the stones, she tugged at the handle. With a creak it lifted up, pivoting around its hinges. There was not enough light to see what lay beneath. Helena's imagination conjured up a slimy pit of worm-infested skeletons. She knew that whatever was down there, she had to see where the trapdoor might lead. It might be the only chance she had of getting out of this terrible place.

Carefully she lowered a foot into the space below the trapdoor. There were wide stone steps going down into the darkness. Helena descended the steps. The air around her felt cold and damp. At the bottom of the steps she found herself at the entrance to a tunnel with walls and floor of the same cold stone that had been used to build the vault. Reaching up she found that the ceiling of the tunnel was only a few inches above her head. Slowly and cautiously she followed the tunnel, hoping it would soon lead to a way out into the open air. But it was some time before she came to the end of it, only to find that it led into another tunnel which crossed it at right angles. This tunnel was higher and wider than the one she had come down. She had no idea which direction might lead to the way out, so she chose at random, turning to the left. After a few minutes the tunnel started to slope upwards, steeply enough to make the climb hard work. Suddenly the tunnel came to a dead end.

Helena was exhausted, her arms and legs ached. She thought she might die of thirst if she did not get some water soon. She wanted to sit down on the floor of the tunnel and close her eyes. With the last of her strength she gave a hard push against the barrier that blocked the end of the tunnel. It gave way before her and the tunnel was flooded with light.

She had opened a small wooden door into a room filled with sunlight. She took a step forward through the door and nearly collapsed with shock when she found she had just walked into the kitchen of Vine Manor. She closed the door behind her and realised why she had never seen that door before. The wood was covered with the same faded green and beige wallpaper as the rest of the kitchen.

The first thing she did was to drink a large glass of water. Then, suddenly starving, she made herself a cheese sandwich and ate it. After that she felt a little stronger. She must go and find Maria , she thought, and find out what was going on. Only then did it occur to her that Maria probably thought she was dead.

The sunlight warming up the kitchen told her it was morning. The kitchen clock said half past nine. Maria was likely to be in the sitting room at this time, if she was not already busy in the garden. She started down the long corridor that connected the kitchen to the front of the house. There were no windows here, even at this time on a sunny morning it was cool and almost dark. As she approached the door to the study it suddenly opened and Paul came out. She stopped, frozen in instinctive fear. But this was nothing compared to the fright she gave Paul. He stared at her in disbelief for a moment as his face turned pale with shock. Then he turned and ran to the front door and in a moment was out of the house.

Read Chapter 8