The Sword In the Grotto

Chapter One


????Spookie House, which is where I live with my aunt Tabitha and my uncle Drac, has recently gotten pretty crowded. First of all I found two ghosts living here, and then the Wizzards turned up and decided to live here too. So now that makes eight of us, as there are three Wizzards--Wanda and her mom and dad, Brenda and Barry.

????Our two ghosts are Sir Horace and Edmund. Most people think that Sir Horace is just a boring old suit of armor--which is what I thought for ages--but he is our biggest ghost. Then there is his faithful page, Edmund, who is shy and acts like he's a bit of a wimp. Wanda really likes him, but she would, as she can be a bit of a wimp too, as you will see. Sometimes I think Sir Horace likes Wanda better than me. Not that I am jealous or any- thing, even though Sir Horace was my ghost first. But after the Wizzards came to live here, they repaired Sir Horace so that he looked almost like new, and Wanda got rid of all Sir Horace's rust with her bike oil, which he was really pleased about. After that, Sir Horace walked around a lot more than he used to. He didn't creak anymore either,which was a bit weird, as sometimes you might be just hanging around planning an ambush for Aunt Tabby or something, and suddenly there would be Sir Horace, standing right behind you.

????But last month Sir Horace stopped walking around and started get- ting sulky. He took to lurking behind some revolt- ing old curtains on the landing, and one night he really frightened Uncle Drac when he let out a horrible groan just as Uncle Drac was coming out of his turret. Another time Sir Horace deliberately took his head off and left it on the stairs. Aunt Tabby tripped over it and blamed me. When I gave him his head back, he was not polite at all. He told me that he was trying to forget something and he didn't want his head just then, thank you very much. But I made him put it back on. After that he disappeared. We looked everywhere, but we couldn't find him, so Wanda and I went down to his secret room to see if he was there. To get to Sir Horace's room, you have to go through a secret passage and then down in a funny old elevator, called a dumbwaiter, which you have to work yourself by pulling on a rope.

????Wanda and I are not allowed to go there, as Aunt Tabby says the elevator is dan- gerous, and she does not like us hanging around in secret passages. But the real reason is that Aunt Tabby does not like people being anywhere where she cannot see what they are doing, as she is extremely nosy. But even though Aunt Tabby is so nosy, she does not know everything. For example, she does not know that I have the key to the door to the secret passage. So yesterday, when Wanda and I were sure that Aunt Tabby was safely out of the way, we opened the secret door, which is in the paneling under the attic stairs. We walked along the secret passage. I had to go first because of the spiders--which Wanda does not like--then we went down in the creaky elevator--which Wanda does not like--and went into Sir Horace's room.

????The room was very small and dark-- Wanda did not like that, either. But I don't know what else she expected, as there are no windows in it because it is a secret room in the middle of the house. I shone my flashlight into all the corners to see if Sir Horace was sulking there while Wanda looked scared. "He's not here, " said Wanda. "I hope he hasn't run away. " "Why would he do that?" I asked. "He likes it at our house. Can I have the cheese and onion chips?"

????Wanda was carrying our Secret Passage Kit, and she gave me my bag of cheese and onion chips. Then she lit the two candles above the fireplace. They cast strange shad- ows on the walls,and I made a big monster shadow loom over her. Wanda, who is even more nosy than my aunt Tabby, started looking through all the old books that were piled up. They were very boring, and I didn't know why she was both- ering, but Wanda likes boring old stuff-- which is why she likes Sir Horace, I suppose. Anyway, suddenly Wanda snorted like a pig inhaling its food and started rolling around the floor. I didn't take any notice, as I know that this is Wanda's way of laughing. So I let her do her pig impression for a bit, and then I asked her what was so funny.

????"Oink oink oink, " snorted Wanda, "oh, oink!" "Oh, come on, Wanda. Tell me. " Wanda shoved a funny old book into my hands. "Shirley, " she snorted. "Oink oink. Shirley!" Inside the book was an old piece of paper with a picture someone had drawn of a cute baby lying on a rug. Underneath the picture was some spidery writing. It was not very easy to read. "Go on . . . Oink, " snorted Wanda. "Read it. " "Er . . . `Horace Cuthbert Shirley George, age foure monthe, '" I read out. "Their spelling was terrible in the old days, wasn't it?" "Not as bad as yours, " oinked Wanda. "See? He's called Shirley. " "Well, maybe his mom wanted a girl or something. Anyway, I think he looks sweet. But Q that can't be Sir Horace. He was never a baby. "

????Wanda managed to sit up. "Everyone was a baby once, " she said. "Even my dad was a baby once, although that was ages ago. Probably about the same time as when Sir Horace was a baby. " "Your dad may be old, but I don't think he's nearly five hundred years old, " I said, staring at the date in the book. "He might be, " Wanda said. "I wouldn't be surprised. What are you doing?" "Counting, " I told her. Math is not one of my best subjects, and I was counting up on my fingers to make sure I had it right. One hundred, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred . . . Hey it was right--the day after tomorrow it will be five hundred years exactly since Sir Horace was born!

????"The day after tomorrow is Sir Horace's birthday, " I said. "His five-hundredth birthday. " Wanda whistled. "That's a big birthday. " "The biggest birthday ever, " I said. "I mean, who else do you know who has had a five-hundredth birthday?" Wanda thought for a while and then she said, "I don't think I know anyone. That is so old. Hey--that's why he's sulking. My dad did that last year. He had what Mom called a big birthday, and he got really funny the week before. He turned all his frogs blue and he wouldn't talk to anyone. But he cheered up at his surprise birthday party. He was fine after that. " I finished eating my cheese and onion chips, and then suddenly I had a Plan. "Problem solved, " I said.

????"We'll give Sir Horace a sur- prise five-hundredth birthday party, and then he'll be fine too. " Wanda smiled. I could see she was impressed with my brilliant Plan. And then she stopped smiling and said, "But we don't know where he is. You have to know where someone is if you want to give him a surprise party. Otherwise you end up having a party and he's not there to be surprised. And then it's not a surprise party; it's just a--" "All right, all right, " I said. "I get the point. " Trust Wanda to make things difficult.

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