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chapter 13
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chapter 1

The Famous Five: The Final Adventure.
A Tribute to Enid Blyton.

Chapter 13.
St. Katherine's Dock.

Julian, Anne and George recovered from Dick's sudden departure and looked over the wall to discover the cause for all the excitement.
   Across the deep, dry moat and up the slope on the far side, three men lent against a railing facing the children. One was the athlete sandwiched between David West and Peregrine Turner.
   "Well, if it isn't our friends from the park," said Julian. "Fancy bumping into those three again."
   "They seem to be very interested in 'The Tower of London'," observed Anne.
   As she spoke the three men stood up from the railing, walked along a pathway and disappeared behind some shrubs and trees at the far end.
   "Come on, Dick," said George, anxiously. "What is taking you so long?"
   Dick had found his way blocked by a large crowd listening intently to a guide explaining some historical facts relating to Traitors Gate. He tried to push his way through, but was hauled back by a large Beefeater.
   "What's all the rush, my lad?" said the Beefeater, still holding Dick by the arm.
   Dick was inwardly desperate to get away, but tried to sound outwardly calm. "I am in a bit of a hurry. There are some people outside I must talk to."
   "That is no reason to go barging your way through these people," returned the Beefeater. "You just wait here 'till the guide has finished."
   It seemed an age to Dick before the crowd eventually moved on and he was allowed to continue on his way. To his dismay, on reaching the outer pathway, the three men were nowhere to be seen. Glancing up to the top of the distant stonewall, Dick could see his three companions gesticulating frantically the direction the men had taken. He ran along the pathway, up some steps and onto a main road crowded with pedestrians and traffic.
   "Damn, damn, damn," he cursed. "I will never be able to find them amongst all these people."
   This prediction proved to be correct. After much searching Dick finally gave up hope and made his way back, dejected. The others met him walking back down the pathway, shaking his head.
   "Never mind," consoled Julian, "you did your best. We guessed you might not catch them up so we have decided to pay a visit to 'Tower Bridge'."
   The five were in luck. As they approached 'Tower Bridge', red lights began to flash and a black and white striped barrier descended to stop traffic from crossing.
   "I do believe the bridge is going to open and allow ships to pass through!" exclaimed Julian, his eyes shining.
   Anne nodded in agreement. "Shall we try and get to the top of this Tower. We should have a brilliant view from up there."
   The four children, followed closely by Timmy, rushed to the Tower, ran up the many flights of steps and made their way to the centre of the walkway that spanned the river.
   "Look down there," shouted Dick. "There are two steamers followed by a tall sailing ship."
   "Can you see all those sailors dressed in white clinging to the rigging," said George, in awe. "There is even one perched at the very top of the tall, main mast."
   A slight vibration could be felt emanating from the floor beneath the children's feet. Looking far below they could see the two sections of bridge separate at the centre and pivot up to allow the safe passage of the oncoming boats.
   First the two steamers slipped smoothly through. Then it was the turn of the tall sailing ship. As the prow of the vessel came in line with 'Tower Bridge' a loud, shrill whistle could be heard. At this pre-determined signal the whole company of sailors on the rigging lifted their hats and cheered wildly. Anne felt she could almost lean over and touch the topmost sailor as he passed below, grinning freely, glad to be home after his long voyage.
   The four children rushed to the other side of the bridge and watched as the magnificent ship moored close to the bank up river. Julian took a deep breath of satisfaction, pleased at being fortunate enough to fulfil a lifetime's ambition and witness ships pass through Tower Bridge.
   He eventually turned and pointed down river. "Shall we go and investigate that marina over to the left?"
   The five strolled along the embankment until they came upon a deep channel that led into the marina. A large sign straddled the channel proudly announcing that they were entering 'St. Katherine's Dock'.
   The huge oval shaped harbour was littered with an assortment of seagoing vessels: large and small, old and new. Numerous part-time mariners swarmed the decks taking advantage of this sunny afternoon to paint, repair, polish and generally potter about.
   "Wouldn't it be grand to just jump on a boat and sail off to some exotic land," sighed Dick.
   George laughed, knowingly. "It's not all fun on the high seas, Dick. Believe me! A sudden squall can transform a calm sea into a tumultuous mass within minutes."
   The surrounding buildings were as diverse as the boats: souvenir shops, offices, luxurious town houses and various cafés.
   The four children and Timmy skirted the marina, popping into any shop that took their fancy.
   A large, oak beamed building caught Anne's eye. "What a wonderful tavern." She looked up at the old, painted sign creaking in the breeze: 'The Dickens Inn'. I wonder what stories this old building can tell?"
   The five made a full circuit of St. Katherine's Dock and arrived back at the channel that led out to The River Thames. The last building on the block was a small eating-house: 'Mamma's Cafe'.
   Dick turned to the others and grinned. "I can feel a little something coming on." He pushed on the door and the five entered.
   The interior had a strong oriental flavour. All the furniture was constructed from bamboo and the floor covered with coconut matting. A large fan turned lazily above their heads. The counter, facing them, contained many exotic fruits: water melon, papaya, banana, pineapple and mango.
   Behind the counter a woman, of obvious Asian extraction, busily stirred a steaming wok that filled the restaurant with the delicious aroma of garlic and spices. She turned and gave the children a friendly smile. "Please take a seat. Mamma will be with you in a moment." The woman quickly finished her cooking and came over, pad in hand, still revealing her pearly, white teeth. "Now what can Mamma get you?"
   Anne was amused at the way the lady referred to herself as 'mamma'. "Can we have some cakes and a drink, please?"
"Oh! Mamma hap many cakes: lemon cake, banana cake, chocolate cake, carrot cake. And Mamma can make a very special banana shake from mamma's best, fresh bananas."
   Dick beamed. "We would like some of each, please, and banana shakes all round."
   The woman scurried off and returned with a huge plate piled high with a selection of the most delicious cakes the children had ever tasted. They soon devoured them all, with a little help from Timmy, of course, and sat back to drink the yummy, banana shakes.
   "Do you know any history of St. Katherine's Dock?" Julian asked Mamma.
   "No. Mamma hap only lived in England for two year. The person to ask is Captain Ben. His family hap been working in dock for generation." She looked out of the window. "Him outside now. By the water edge."
   The children finished their drinks, paid and thanked Mamma and went to look for Captain Ben. They found him sitting on a low capstan, gazing out towards the centre of the marina.
   "So you want to be hearing some 'istory of these old docks, does yer?" he said, gruffly, after removing his pipe.
   The old, wiry Captain examined the eager faces of the four children sitting on the cobbled sidewalk before him.
   The five waited patiently as he knocked his pipe on the sole of his shoe and began to lovingly refill the bowl with tobacco from a pouch he had pulled from his top pocket.
   Anne took the opportunity to study this old character sitting before her. Wisps of grey hair protruded from under a tatty, old, blue peaked cap. Sparkling blue eyes twinkled beneath bushy, grey eyebrows. Grey stubble sprouted from a strong, square chin. He struck a match and, shielding the flame from the wind with a cupped hand, drew deeply on the pipe, sending out clouds of blue smoke.
   When the Captain was eventually happy with his efforts, he began to tell this extraordinary tale.
   "St. Katherine's Dock was a hub of activity when first I started work as a lighterman's mate at the tender age of twelve." He gave Anne a big grin. "Probably no older than you are now, young miss."
   The Captain took a long pull on his pipe and continued. "These here waters were chock-a-block with schooners loaded to the bulwarks with wine and sherry from France and Spain. There were fast, streamlined clippers, who had raced each other from far off India, Ceylon and China to bag the best price for their cargoes of tea and spices. Some having to limp home from Africa, after doing battle with the great storms rounding the Cape of Good Hope. Sails in tatters. Masts snapped in two, like matchsticks. Men lost overboard, claimed by the mighty seas. Ah! Those were tough times."
   The Captain cast his eyes across the water again. In his mind's eye he could see himself skilfully manoeuvre the flat bottomed lighter-boat, sliding the frail craft between the magnificent sailing ships, safely making it to the wharf and unload the lighter cargoes on to this very spot where he now sat. He could almost smell the coffee, spices and sweet sandalwood. And another smell. What was it? Ah yes! Coal.
   He dragged himself back to the present. "Then came the black iron coasters, chugging down the Thames, laden with cargoes of coal from Newcastle. 'The dirty men ol' the sea' we called 'em. But unbeknown to us they 'eralded the modern era of steam driven vessels."
   The four children clung to his every word.
   And Julian wanted to hear more. "Do you know anything about the olden times, before you were born?" he prompted.
   The Captain eyed Julian with amusement. "My grandad told me tales that would make your toes curl, my lad. Tales of pirates, buccaneers and smugglers. In the dead of night they would steal aboard a ship of their choice and plunder to their hearts content. They were a law unto themselves, them devils. The loot would be stashed in underground chambers deep in the heart of Tower Hill. Yes, there's tunnels and caves in that there hill," emphasised the Captain, pointing with the stem of his pipe. "Nobody knows for sure who dug 'em. Some say it was the ancient Britons, long before the Roman times. During that period this whole area was swampland and Tower Hill, a kind of island. The Britons erected a wooden blockade that completely encircled Tower Hill and they lived quite happily within. But the blockade was scant defence against the marauding Norseman and Vikings. A tall wooden tower was constructed at the very top of the hill and a twenty-four hour lookout posted. Whenever he spied an invading galley rowing down The Thames he would warn his fellow villagers by sounding a bell, and everyone would flee down the secret tunnels to escape certain death."
   George looked across to where the Captain had indicated and her heart missed a beat. Just coming out of a tall, shabby building, on the far side of the marina, were three familiar figures. George witnessed Peregrine Turner carefully lock the door behind him, join his three companions inside a waiting van and drive off.
   "Excuse me, Captain," said George, eagerly. "Could you tell me who owns that building over there?"
   A look of disgust clouded the Captain's face. "Some high falutin' gents from the city, that's who. Gave Joe, the boat builder, a tidy sum for it by all accounts. Reckon they are going to build a new kind of revolutionary wonder boat... Yuppies... pah!"
   George got up suddenly. "Thank you very much for the interesting stories, Captain Ben," she said, "but I am afraid we must be going, come on Tim." And much to the surprise of the others she marched off, closely followed by Timmy.
   Julian was very angry when he eventually caught up with her. "George! What was the meaning of all that rudeness back there?"
   George turned and grabbed him by the arm, her eyes wild with excitement. "Julian! I have just seen those three men come out of that boathouse over there."
   Up close, the boathouse seemed very old indeed. All the ground floor windows were boarded up.
   Dick tried the door. "This seems securely locked." He muttered.
   George had gone round to the side. "Come and have a look at this," she called, looking up at the first floor window.
   One window was broken and hanging outside, almost off it's hinges.
   "I am sure I can climb up this drainpipe and get in through that window." George's mind was working with lightning speed. "It will have to be under the cover of darkness, of course. I will need a torch. You have a torch, haven't you Dick? And a rope to slide down to the floor on the other side. I believe there is a rope hanging in the kennels back at the Hotel…"

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