And so began Emelines adventure, the two days wait seemed endless but Friday dawned and she was up, dressed and doing her chores before her mother left the house. Her mother looked at her curiously ‘why so eager?’ she asked, Emeline stopped abruptly in her tracks, she needed to calm down to put off any suspicion, she shrugged and mumbled that the seagulls had woken her and she couldn’t get back to sleep, breathing a little sigh of relief as her mother nodded in understanding and set off for the market.
Emeline finished her chores and studies in lightning time and headed downstairs. Happy and excited to see the light glowing in the room at the end of the tunnel, she ran to meet her new friends. They were busy sticking shells to the walls but stopped when she arrived and they all sat down on the wonderfully springy, seaweed floor.
Emeline looked at them all expectantly, bursting to hear their story, to know who they were and why they were sticking shells on walls, in tunnels, underneath her house!
Marilla began to speak, ‘We didn’t plan to come here, there are many portals from the sea to the earth, we were travelling some time ago, entered a portal and it just happened to be underneath your home’ she spread her arms with a broad smile. ‘The walls already had lots of shells on them when we arrived here and like you, we became fascinated by them, we could see that the shells had been placed by fellow travellers, as they tell the stories of many places that we had visited. The walls inspired us to add our stories and we’ve been coming back ever since, to add our shells to the walls, to make a lasting picture of the worlds we have seen’. Emeline looked down at their legs dubiously and they all laughed ‘some things we can’t explain, all we know is that we enter the portal with tails and fins, enter your world with legs and when we return, we have tails again!’.
They walked back down the passage and turned to enter the other half of the circle where Emeline had entered ‘we call this The Rotunda because it reminds us of a circular temple we saw in Italy’, Emeline looked at them quizzically, they told her where Italy was and from that day began to explain the vastness of the world to her. They took her to each of the panels of shells already on the walls and explained what they meant. One they called Ares, ‘Ares is a Greek God’ they told her, after they had explained where Greece was! She sat, enthralled, as they pointed out the symbols and patterns the shells made on the panel and told her all about the Gods and Goddesses of Greece and Rome and described Ares as the God of War, son of Zeus and Hera, that he was violent and wild and hated by the other Gods, even by his parents. She was amazed when they told her that one of his many children, called Eros, was the God of Love and that he had many human children too, as did many of the Gods.
Emeline was so engrossed in the stories that she didn’t notice the time speeding past but her new friends didn’t forget and assured her, as they made her leave, that they would be there when she came back ‘but how will you know I’m coming?’ she asked ‘we’ll know’ they replied and somehow Emeline knew that they would.
Sometimes the days between visits were wretched for Emeline, she was tense with excitement and trepidation and increasingly bored with chores, studies and her everyday life. She could barely wait to hear more stories of other lands, she had learned so much about the her world and the worlds beyond, the different people, their Gods and their customs. She yearned to join her friends on their travels but tried to content herself with listening to their stories and helping them add the shells to the walls, she felt that in a small way she was journeying with them. It was difficult for her to stop herself from regaling her mother with the tales but she daren’t, her mother would think her ridiculous! Besides, Kenn had warned her of the dangers of speaking about the grotto and the existence of the Fay, as many humans wouldn’t understand and their fear might cause them to destroy the grotto.
Time passed, both quickly and yet, for Emeline at times, excruciatingly slowly. Emeline, Kenn, Marilla and Gal grew together and became the closest friends, her life with her mother continued its slow, predictable pace of work, chores and studies and she sometimes wondered how she would survive without her secret life of faraway lands, ancient tales of Gods and Goddesses and the knowledge of worlds and cultures so far away from her own that even to her it would seem impossible if the Fay were not in her life. The Fay continued their travels and returned to Emeline and the grotto to record their travels and adventures, they would tell Emeline about everything they had seen and together they would re-create the mysteries of the world with the shells.
They slowly filled the walls, they filled the walls of the Portal Chamber first and formed an altar where they left gifts for all of the Gods and Goddesses, one of Emelines much-loved pictures was there, it was the first she had helped to create, the Tree of Life, it symbolised life, ancestry, mythology, wisdom, lessons of the spirit, hope for the future and most importantly to Emeline, with her newly found knowledge and friends, that all life is connected. It was this picture that not only connected her to this new world but also connected the whole grotto.
From the Portal Chamber they worked their way down what they named the Passage of the Serpent, as it winded along like the snake, each picture forming symbols from all of the cultures the Fay had seen. As they placed the shells, they told her the stories, of The Fleur de Lys symbolizing perfection and light of life, of the Greek God Perseus the slayer of monsters, of Isis the Egyptian, Great Divine Mother and holder of eternal life and of Emelines favourite, Ganesha, the elephant headed God, remover of obstacles and ignorance, the god keeping balance among all of the worlds. They told her of Egypt, Samaria, Greece, Rome, India; of Buddhism, Hinduism, Mythology, Christianity and she learned that all the beliefs led to the same thing, life, love and hope for the future.
Emelines biggest hope for the future was to join her friends on their travels, they urged her to sit in front of the Tortoise and meditate on her dream, she did so often as they’d taught her that the Tortoise was the spirit animal of waiting and vision and would encourage her to wait with tranquil patience for her dreams to become reality.
When she wasn’t down in the grotto she was distracted, almost in a dream, she would become lost in time as she sat for hours, watching the sea in the summer or suddenly stop, staring into the sky in the middle of sowing in the Spring or simply staring into the flames of the winter fire; in this way, the seasons and the years passed.
Emeline felt her mothers worried gaze and also the guilt for the pain and distress she knew that she was causing her. Her mother tried to get Emeline involved with village life, she took her to the village fayres and to visit neighbours with children her own age but Emeline knew that she would never belong to that small world and as she grew older she became more and more reclusive. Ultimately, the neighbours couldn’t understand her and thinking her a little mad, they kept their distance.
As she grew, so the walls of the grotto filled with love, life, wisdom and hope. Outside of the grotto, in what she now thought of as the dream world, life wasn’t easy. Her mother didn’t understand her and became resentful and angry as she saw her daughter draw away from her, when cajoling and questioning didn’t work, she shouted and attempted to force Emeline to become the daughter she wanted, knowing it was futile. They were both terribly unhappy and Emeline felt the heavy burden of guilt, for causing her mother so much sadness.
As her sixteenth birthday was nearing, her mother told her that she would be taking over the job of going to the weekly market. Emeline was distraught, she begged her mother to reconsider, she said she would join in with the neighbours, she would do anything her mother asked and pleaded with her to let her stay at home to work the land and keep the house in order. She told the Fay when she next went down, expecting them to be as scared as she was but they remained calm, as always and reassured her that all would end as it should and, as always, she accepted and trusted their words.
Her mother relented, Emeline did as her mother asked, she changed her ways and became friendly to the neighbours, she accompanied her mother to the church, smiled and nodded when she was expected to and as the months passed, they settled into a contented pattern. Confident that she was making her mother happy, Emeline carried on with her secret life, with weekly visits to the grotto, enjoying the company and love of her friends, listening to the tales, meditating and feeling freedom and true happiness.
Perhaps she became too confident, complacent even, for when she came up from the grotto several months later, to find her mother waiting in the cellar, she was dumbstruck and rigid with shock and fear. Her mother sat, silent tears pouring down her face, it was as if she didn’t even see Emeline. She waited for her mother to speak. ‘When did you find it?’ she asked, Emeline was astounded, her mother knew about it? She was confused, trying to understand how that could be. ‘Deep down, I think I always knew’ she said ‘how old were you? Eight? Nine?’ Emeline stared at her incredulously ‘Eight, how did you know?’ her mother replied that she first started to notice small changes in Emeline from the age of eight but she’d pushed the thought away, told herself it wasn’t possible, she didn’t want it to be true and so convinced herself that it wasn’t. Emeline stood, speechless.
Her mother broke the silence ‘I was eighteen’ she looked towards the tunnel entrance ‘when I discovered that place’. ‘There was no house here then, I was roaming the land, picking blackberries when I fell down, it was as if the hole appeared by magic, I think I hit my head for I slept and when I woke, a young man was standing over me, dazzling, smiling, he lifted me to my feet and showed me what he was doing, placing shells on the walls under the ground, making beautiful pictures’. ‘I began to visit him whenever I could and of course’ she raised her eyebrows and smiled sadly ‘we fell in love’, ‘he wanted me to go with him, to his world and others he said, but I was afraid and so he gave up his wandering existence to be with me, we pretended he was a sailor who decided to leave the sea to marry me, we built this house and made our living selling the crops from our land and fish from the sea’. ‘We were happy for several years’ she paused ‘but he became restless, as a sailor might! He yearned for travel, adventure and what he called enlightenment, he became sad and it was harder and harder for me to make him smile. Eventually I realised he had to go back, he pleaded with me to go with him but I knew that just as he was unhappy here on this earth, I would become unhappy in his world, we were both heartbroken but we knew it was the only way for us to both find happiness again’. It was Emelines turn to shed silent tears ‘I told those that asked that he had returned to sea, people understood, the call of the sea is difficult for a sailor to resist. A few months after he left, I realised I was carrying a child’ she looked pointedly at Emeline ‘I was happy, I felt it was a gift, I would always have something of him with me’. ‘I boarded up the tunnel and by the time you were born I’d forgotten about it’.
Slowly the significance of what her mother had said dawned on Emeline, she finally understood why she had always felt the pull of the unknown, had felt that faery tales were real and she realised that stumbling upon the tunnel hadn’t been an accident, she belonged to that world as much as she belonged to this one, she was part Fay.
Her mother looked at her mournfully ‘you’re going aren’t you’. Emeline was torn, she loved her mother and this knowledge only increased that love but her dream still lived, she had to go, she nodded and her mother attempted a smile ‘you won’t forget me?’ in answer she threw her arms around her mother and held her tight, knowing it was the last time they would hold each other and then turned and made her way into the grotto. She walked to the Portal chamber, breathing deeply, trying to calm her pounding heart, Kenn, Gal and Marilla were waiting for her, the portal open. She smiled broadly as they took her hand and stepped in.
Once more the tunnel was boarded over, this time, in the hopes of never being discovered again, the floor to the cellar was completely covered with a mixture of lime and water and left to harden. Emelines mother left the house and never returned, others came and went, at times the house was lived in, sometimes it was left empty for years, it underwent many changes but the grotto was never discovered. As the years passed, more and more houses were built around it until it eventually became part of the town called Margate.
In 1832 James Newlove bought the house and set to modernising it, after demolishing the cellar floor, his son was exploring and came across the grotto. Whilst the shells had dulled over the centuries, its magnificence still shone through and it was an incredible, mysterious discovery. James Newlove felt that such a wonder should be shared and so it became a beautiful, fascinating tourist attraction, of which part of the fun was, and is to this day, trying to work out how it got there…