Rabbit Hole Day Out

Well, it was a slow day. I went out this morning to get some bread, and on the way across the road realised that Broomstick's front tyre was flat again. Stopped to see what I could do about it, and of course the pump was in the car boot, on the other side of the road. I turned back, but suddenly the road was full of bumper-to-bumper traffic and I couldn't get across: vintage cars as far as one could see, moving so slowly that they had to keep stopping. A big old Bentley came to a standstill next to me, and the door opened. An elderly gentleman wearing a black homburg leaned out, and asked me if I knew the way to Huntingdon; of course I said yes, but as I started to explain the route, he interrupted and suggested that I come with them to navigate. Weren't they all going the same way? No, he said, they had started out together, but they were on a treasure hunt and they all had different first clues. He and the driver looked like a nice old pair, and I was tempted. He offered me lunch and a share in the treasure. It was a slow day. I left Broomstick in the drive and went with them.

Introductions tagged the passenger as Geoffrey and the driver as Cornelius. The car was a 1938 3.5 litre Bentley Derby, very beautiful. They asked what I did, and told me that they were retired antiques dealers and life-partners.

As we turned out of the procession towards the A14 westbound, Geraint showed me the map he was using: it was parchment! And not very up-to-date either, from what I could see - not even the A14 was marked. I wondered what their hunt clue was, but Geoffrey refused to say, and Cornelius merely smiled.

There must have been an accident on the A14 because there was a diversion, and we found ourselves on small country roads. The map was useful after all. After the first sign there were no more for the diversion (which is always disconcerting), and being a Sunday there wasn't much traffic around, and the cars we had followed disappeared as we made our stately progress between tall hedges. Within minutes we were alone on the road.

Suddenly Geoffrey said "Turn left here" and the car swung into a single-track lane. I began to feel a little nervous. Before I could ask where we were going, there ahead of us was an old pub, with three horses tied to a rail at the front, under a sign so weathered as to be unreadable. We got out of the Bentley and went in for lunch.

There were no menus. The waiter, who appeared to be in costume, offered us a small choice of food. While we waited for our meals, the landlord came up for a quiet conversation with Cornelius over a piece of paper which I guessed to be the clue. He nodded and handed Cornelius another paper and a small box. Geoffrey turned to me and excused himself and Cornelius, needing "to discuss the next move", and told me to finish lunch and not to wait dessert for them. They went into another room, leaving me with a plate of very good food and a slight anxiety which grew as time passed. I checked my mobile but there was no signal. I began to worry about what might have been in the box. There were no other patrons, and I was alone with my imagination and no appetite for apple pie.

As the waiter began to pour some excellent coffee, my new acquaintances returned, smiling, with a larger box. "We were in luck! The treasure was here at our first stop." Cornelius opened the box, and there within was a heap of jewellery and coins. This treasure hunt was rather realistic in its prizes, though I supposed they must be paste jewels and fake coins.

By now I had had enough of the adventure and was growing uncomfortable: Geoffrey and Cornelius were friendly but uncommunicative, and I could not understand what was going on. It was a relief when, after only one cup of coffee, they rose to leave.

Outside a mist had thickened in the strangely early twilight, and I could not quite see where we were going. Geoffrey, who had taken over the driving, seemed perfectly familiar with the road and I wondered why he had invited me to navigate in the first place. Very soon we were back on the A14 and turning into Cambridge.

The car came to a halt outside the house; I thanked them for the ride and the lunch, and got out of the car as Cornelius held the door. He closed it, and took my hand - I thought to shake it, but no - he pressed into my palm a necklace of sparkling stones. "This is your share of the treasure, with our gratitude. Without you we could not have reached our goal." As I stared in puzzlement at the necklace he almost jumped into the car, before I could protest or ask for explanation, and the car began to move even before he had closed the door.

As I looked up I realised that the mist had cleared and it was still daylight. In fact, I had been gone far less time than I had thought, although I felt strangely drained and exhausted.

And now I don't know what to do with this necklace.

Made 27 January 2008
by Elisabeth