The Secret of Hillnesss Point 4
Nigel began his story.
“According to legend” he started in a dramatic tone.
“Oh please” snorted Natalie. “Just tell us the story you’re not on telly”. They all laughed.
“OK fair enough” smiled Nigel. “So this is what happened. About forty years ago in the summer of 1951 there was a huge Circus visiting outside Firchester. Apparently everybody went to see it. They had acrobats and clowns and all the usual attractions but it was the animals that everyone wanted to see. There was every kind of creature on show, Bears, Elephants, Lions, Tigers, llamas, Monkeys, you name it they had it. You have to realise that in those days a lot of people had never seen anything more exotic than a dairy cow. Anyway the animal that attracted the most attention was a Black Panther. In fact two Black Panthers, a Male and a Female. They were huge beasts with paws the size of baby rabbits and and they had silky jet-black coats. Their eyes were gold with black and brown speckles and the pupils looked like small coals in pools of honey. Their names were Captain and Missy.
“Why Captain?” Asked Elizabeth.
“How would he know” said Natalie disdainfully. “So far he’s made the whole thing up”
“I have not!” Exclaimed Nigel his face colouring so that his ears glowed pink. “In fact if you don’t believe me I’ll prove it to you”. He marched out of the room.
The girls looked at each other.
“You’ve upset him” said Elizabeth.
“Well he thinks we’re little kids. I don’t need to be told stories by him. He’s only eleven. We’ll be as old as him in two months”.
“Even if it is a made up story he is just trying to be entertaining. And he likes you. That’s why he gets upset when you poke fun at him”
“Yes, you know - he likes you’
“Yak” grimaced Natalie. “he’s too old”.
“You just said he wasn’t old enough to tell us stories!” Complained Elizabeth.
“Well anyway, that’s by the by. Sniffed Natalie. “I like him just as well but it doesn’t mean we have to be told little kids stories”. Natalie crossed her arms indicating that she shouldn’t be challenged and that was the final word. Elizabeth decided to leave it. They sat in silence for a few moments before the door swung open and Nigel came in with a triumphant look on his face.
“So it’s not true eh?” he waved a yellowing piece of paper in their faces. “So what’s this then? Scotch mist?”
Elizabeth stood up and took the paper from his hand and after adjusting her eyes to the faded small print began to read aloud.
'Firchester Chronicle Sat 26th may 1951 a report by John.F.Collins,
WILD BEASTS ESCAPE CIRCUS!'
She stopped and looked at Natalie who was frowning. She continued..
‘Terror has gripped the community after it was discovered that two American Black Panthers went missing from The Silas De Marville Circus of Wonders at Baileys Farm just outside Firchester on Friday night. The ferocious beasts who may answer to the names of Captain & Missy should anyone be brave enough to approach them are visiting here from their home in the mountains of Colorado in the United States of America. A spokesman for the circus Snr Alfonso Romatti said that the beasts were discovered to be missing on the morning after the performance and that he believed their cage had been tampered with. Mr Romatti stated “These are very dangerous wild animals and the public should not approach them. It is clear foul play has gone on here and the police and myself are doing everything we can to catch the thieves who stole my beloved cats and to bring them back to where they belong”. Mr Romatti went on to say that the animals had been fed on Friday night and that they would not need to feed for several days. The Police at Firchester have called in big game experts from the Firchester Hunting Society to help them with the search for the Panthers. In the meantime the public are advised to take caution when out alone, especially at night, and to report any sightings of the animals to Firchester police on Firch 3232 or in person at Firchester Police station.
Elizabeth lowered the paper and looked at Natalie and Nigel.
“Wow. So it’s true. But this is 1951 they can’t be still around, I don’t get it?”
“Thats where the story gets interesting” Said Nigel feeling vindicated. “Apparently they were kept on a farm nearby by two local bad lads who thought they could make a few pounds from selling them. But they hadn’t thought things out and when they couldn’t do anything with them they started panicking and blabbed to old Magwin. The story goes that Violet Magwin and her husband Silas blackmailed the lads into handing over the cats and kept them as pets. They bred them and kept the offspring. The ‘Beast’ is the great, great, grandchild of Captain & Missy, or so the legend goes.” He finished emphatically with a pointed stare at Natalie.
“And you’ve seen it?” Natalie still looked doubtful.
Nigel sighed in exasperation. “I swear on my Mother’s life” His mouth turned down when he said this and for a moment he looked as if he might cry. They knew he would never have made that oath if he didn’t believe his story to be true.
“Well, go on then.. tell us” Elizabeth encouraged him gently.
Nigel brightened up and then continued. “It was last November down on the front. I wasn’t supposed to be there and especially not that late but Uncle Ray was away as usual and Aunt Stephanie was late back from work so I was still out. I walked along the beach for a bit and found a shell that looked like a Dolphin. I was holding it to my ear and trying to hear the sea when something caught my eye up on the cliff face.”
Nigel paused and tried to find the words to describe what he had seen.
“It wasn’t really clear at first because the sun was already below the horizon but I could see an animal sitting on a ledge about half way up the cliff. You’ll know where I mean it’s that bit that looks a bit like an Elephant from a certain angle?” The girls nodded. “It could only have got there from above as the cliff was sheer beneath it. It was sitting looking at me and it had a long tail and the tip was twitching for side to side as it sat. It watched me for a short while and then it got up and stretched and yawned. The last of the light caught it and that’s when I knew it was the Beast. It had huge white fangs and fur as black as its own shadow". Now Nigel became animated, using his hands to trace imaginary movement high in the air. He went on. "Suddenly it turned and leapt from the ledge to another rocky shelf above and then again and again until it had reached the top. I saw it’s silhouette against the darkening sky and it was definitely a big cat.
He paused. “Anyway I know it was there. I told Aunt Stephanie when she got home but she said it was probably a dog or maybe a fox - but I know what I saw.”
“Does anyone have a big black dog in the village?” Natalie asked.
“Not that I know of” Nigel shook his head.
Elizabeth interjected “Perhaps it was just a cat and it looked bigger from where you were?”
“I’ve thought of that and I went back and put a cushion about the size of a cat on the cliff edge then went down to look at it from the beach. you could hardly make it out even in broad daylight it was so small. Whatever I saw was much bigger”.
The three children sat and thought for a while. There didn’t seem to be any other explanation. So they decided then and there that they would have to find out for themselves if the Magwin Beast really did exist.
Unfortunately school was looming and for now the mystery would have to wait.