Mystery of the Secret Room

BOOK: Mystery of the Secret Room
7.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Home from School

 

Pip set out his painting things, poked the playroom fire, and sat down to finish his Christmas cards.

“You do them nicely, Pip,” said Bets, looking over his shoulder. “I wish I could keep inside the lines like you do.”

“You’re only little yet,” said Pip, beginning to paint red berries on his card.

“Well, I’ve had another birthday, and I’m nine now,” said Bets. “I’m getting bigger. You’re still twelve, Pip, so I’m only three years behind you now.”

“When are the others coming?” asked Pip, looking at the clock. “I told them to come early. It’s fun to do our Christmas presents together.”

Bets went to the window of their big playroom. “Here come Larry and Daisy,” she said. “Oh, Pip, isn’t it fun to be altogether again?”

Bets didn’t go to boarding-school as the others did, and she often felt lonely in term-time, when her brother Pip was away, and their three friends, Larry and Daisy Daykin, and Fatty Trotteville.

But now it was Christmas holidays and they were all home. Bets felt very happy. She had her brother again, and Christmas was coming - and darling Buster, Fatty’s dog, would come to see her every single day.

Larry and Daisy came up the stairs to the playroom. “Hallo!” said Larry. “Finished your cards yet? I’ve still got three to do, and Daisy’s got a present to finish. We brought them along.”

“Good,” said Pip, putting his paintbrush into his mouth to give it a nice point. “There’s plenty of room at the table. Fatty’s not here yet.”

A loud barking outside sent Bets to the window again. “It’s Buster - and Fatty,” she said. “Oh, good! Fatty looks plumper than ever!”

In half a minute Fatty and Buster were in the playroom, Fatty looking very sleek and pleased with himself, and Buster bursting with excitement. He flew at everyone and licked them thoroughly.

“Hallo, Buster dear!” said Bets. “Oh, Fatty, Buster’s got thin and you’ve got fat.”

“Well, Fatty won’t be any thinner after Christmas,” said Larry, settling down at the table. “Brought some cards to finish, Fatty? I’ve just about worked down my list.”

Larry and Daisy were brother and sister. Fatty was an only child, always rather pleased with himself, and Buster was his faithful companion. The five and Buster were firm friends.

Fatty put down a fat book on the table, and a very fine Christmas card, which he had done himself. Bets pounced on it at once.

“Fatty! What a beauty! Surely you didn’t do this yourself? Gracious, it’s as good as any you can find in a shop.”

“Oh, well,” said Fatty, looking pleased, “I’m not bad at art, you know. I was top again this term, and the art master said -”

“Shut up,” said Pip, Larry and Daisy together. Fatty did so love to boast about his cleverness. They wouldn’t let him if they could help it.

“All right, all right,” said Fatty, looking injured. “Always biting my head off! I’ve a good mind not to tell you who the card is for?”

“For your flattering art master, I suppose,” said Pip, painting a holly leaf carefully.

Fatty kept silence. Bets looked at him. “Tell me who it’s for,” she said. “I want to know. I think it’s lovely.”

“Well, as a matter of fact, I meant this card and this book to go to a friend of ours from all of us!” said Fatty. “But seeing that only Bets admires the card, I’ll just send it from myself.”

The others looked up. “Who’s it for then?” asked Daisy. She picked it up. “It’s jolly good. Are these five children meant to be us? And is this Buster?”

“Yes,” said Fatty. “Can’t you guess who the card is for? It’s for Inspector Jenks.”

“Oh! What a good idea!” said Bets. “Is the book for him, too? What is it?”

She picked it up and opened it. It was a book about fishing.

“That’s a fine idea, Fatty,” said Larry. “The Inspector is mad on fishing. He’ll be thrilled with the book and the card. Do send them from all of us. They’re fine.”

“I meant to,” said Fatty. “We can share the price of the book between us, and we can each write our name on the card. See what I’ve put inside it.”

He flicked it open, and the children bent to see what he had printed there, in beautiful, neat letters:

“BEST CHRISTMAS WISHES FROM THE FIVE FIND-OUTERS - AND DOG.”

“That’s fine,” said Pip. “Golly, we’ve had some fun, haven’t we, being the Find-Outers? I hope we’ll have some more mysteries to solve.”

“We’ve solved the Mystery of the Burnt Cottage and the Mystery of the Disappearing Cat,” said Daisy. “I wonder what our next mystery will be. Do you think we shall have a mystery these hols?”

“Shouldn’t be surprised,” said Fatty. “Any one seen old Clear-Orf yet?”

Clear-Orf was the village policeman Mr. Goon, detested by the children. He in turn detested them, especially as twice they had managed to solve problems before he himself had.

No one had seen Mr. Goon. Nobody particularly wanted to. He was not an amiable person at all, with his fat red face and bulging frog-eyes.

“We’d better all sign this card,” said Fatty, producing a very fine fountain pen. Fatty always had the best of everything, and far too much pocket-money. However, he was always willing to share this, so nobody minded.

“Eldest first,” said Fatty, so Larry took the pen. He was thirteen. He signed his name neatly, “Laurence Daykin.”

“I’m next,” said Fatty. “I’m thirteen next week. You’re not thirteen until the New Year, Pip.”

He signed his name, “Frederick Algernon Trotteville.”

“I bet you never sign your full initials, Fatty,” said Pip, taking the pen next - “ ‘F.A.T.’ ”

“Well, I don’t,” said Fatty. “You wouldn’t either, if you had my initials and were fat. It would be just asking for trouble.”

Pip signed his name, “Philip Hilton.” Then Daisy signed hers, “Margaret Daykin.”

“Now you, little Bets,” said Fatty, handing her the pen. “Best writing, please.”

Sticking her tongue well out, Bets signed her full name in rather straggling writing, “Elizabeth Hilton,” but after it she wrote, “Bets.”

“Just in case he forgets that Elizabeth is me,” she explained.

“He wouldn’t,” said Fatty. “I bet he never forgets a thing. He’s very clever. You aren’t made an inspector of police unless you’ve got brains. We’re lucky to have him for our friend.”

They were - but the Inspector liked and admired the Five Find-Outers too. They had been of great help to him in two difficult cases.

“I hope we can be Find-Outers again,” said Bets.

“I think we ought to find a better name,” said Fatty, putting the cap back on his fountain-pen. “It’s a silly name, I think - the Find-Outers. Nobody would know that we were first-class detectives.”

“Well,we’re not,” said Larry. “We’re not really detectives at all, though we like to think we are. The name we have is just right - we’re only children who find out things.”

Fatty didn’t like that. “We’re more than that,” he said, settling down at the table. “Didn’t we beat old Goon twice? I don’t mind telling you I’m going to be a famous detective when I’m grown up, I think I’ve got just the mind for it.”

“The conceit to think so, you mean,” said Pip, grinning. “You don’t really know much about detectives and the way they work, Fatty.”

“Oh, don’t I!” said Fatty, beginning to wrap up the book on fishing together with the Christmas card. “That’s all you know, see? I’ve been studying hard. I’ve been reading spy books and detective books all the term.”

“Well, I bet you were bottom of the form then,” said Larry. “You can’t do that sort of thing and work, too.”

“I can,” said Fatty. “I was top of the form in everything. I always am. You won’t believe my maths marks - I only lost -”

“He’s off again,” said Pip to Larry. “He’s like a gramophone record, isn’t he?”

Fatty subsided and glared at Pip. “All right,” he said. “Say what you like - but I bet you don’t know how to do invisible writing, or get out of a locked room when the key isn’t your side!”

The others stared at him. “You don’t know how either,” said Pip disbelievingly.

“Well, I do then,” said Fatty. “Those are two of the things I’ve learnt already. And I could teach you a simple code, too, a secret code.”

This sounded exciting. Bets stared at Fatty with eyes wide.

“Teach us all those things,” she begged. “Oh, Fatty, I would so like to do invisible writing.”

“You have to learn the art of disguising yourself too.” said Fatty, enjoying the rapt attention of the others.

“What’s disguising?” asked Bets.

“Oh, dressing yourself up in such a way that people don’t know it’s you,” said Fatty. “Putting a wig on and perhaps a moustache or different eyebrows, wearing different clothes. For instance, I could disguise myself quite well as a butcher’s boy if I had a striped apron, and a knife or something hung down from my belt. If I wore an untidy black wig too, I bet none of you would know me.”

This was really too exciting for words. All the children loved dressing up and pretending. This business of “disguising” seemed a glorified dressing-up.

“Are you going to practise disguising yourself next term?” asked Bets.

“Well - no, not in term-time,” said Fatty, thinking that his form master would soon see through any disguise. “But I thought I might these hols.”

“Oh, Fatty! Can we too?” said Daisy. “Let’s all practise being proper detectives, in case another mystery crops up. We could do it much better then.”

“And if another mystery doesn’t crop up, we’ll have the fun of practising for it anyway,” said Bets.

“Right,” said Fatty, “but I think if I am going to teach you all these things I ought to be the head of the Find-Outers, not Larry. I know Larry’s the oldest - but I think I know more about these things now.”

There was silence. Larry didn’t want to give up being head, though in fairness he had to admit that Patty was really the cleverest at spotting things when they had a mystery to solve.

“Well, what about it?” said Fatty .“I shan’t give away my secrets if you don’t make me head.”

“Let him be head, Larry,” said Bets, who admired Fatty tremendously. “Head of the next mystery anyway, whatever it is. If he isn’t as clever as you at solving it, then we could make you head again.”

“All right,” said Larry. “I do think Fatty would make a good head, really. But if you get conceited about it, Fatty, we’ll sit on you hard.”

“You needn’t tell one that,” said Patty, with a grin.

“Right-o! I’ll be head. Thanks, Larry, that was sporting of you. Now I can teach you some of the things I know. After all, you simply never know when they might come in useful.”

“It might be very, very important to be able to write a letter in invisible ink,” said Bets. “Oh, Fatty, do teach us something now.”

But Bets’ mother just then put her head in at the playroom.

“I’ve got tea ready for you downstairs. Wash your hands and come along, will you? Don’t be too long, because the scones are nice and hot.”

Five hungry children and an equally hungry dog shot off downstairs, forgetting everything for the moment but hot scones, strawberry jam, and cake. But they wouldn’t forget for long - things sounded too exciting!

 

Fatty has some Ideas

 

Christmas came so quickly, and there was so much to do that Fatty had no time to teach the Find-Outers any of the things he had learnt. The postman came continually to the three homes, and cards soon stood everywhere. Parcels were hidden away, Mince-pies were made. Large turkeys hung in the larders.

“I do love Christmas,” said Bets a hundred times a day. “I wonder what I shall get on Christmas morning. I do hope I get a new doll. I’d like one that opens and shuts its eyes properly. I’ve only got one doll that does that, and her eyes always stick shut. Then I have to shake her hard, and I’m sure she thinks I’m cross with her.”

“Baby!” said Pip. “Fancy still wanting dolls! I bet you won’t get one.”

To Bets’ great disappointment there was no doll for her in her Christmas parcels. Everyone thought that as she was now nine, and liked to say she was getting big, she wouldn’t want a doll. So her mother had given her a work-basket and her father a difficult jigsaw which she knew Pip would like much better than she would!

She was rather sad - but Fatty put everything right by coming round on Christmas morning with a big box for Bets - and inside was the doll she had wanted! It opened and shut its eyes without any shaking at all, and had such a smiling face that Bets lost her heart to it at once. She flung herself on Fatty and hugged him like a small bear.

He was pleased. He liked Bets. Mrs. Hilton was surprised at the beautiful doll.

“That is very kind of you, Frederick,” she said. “You shouldn’t have spent so much money on Bets, though.”

“I shall have plenty for my birthday,” said Fatty politely, “and I’ve heaps for Christmas, Mrs. Hilton. I asked for money this Christmas instead of toys or books.”

“I should have thought you had plenty without asking for any more,” said Mrs. Hilton, who privately thought that Fatty always had far too much money to spend. “Why did you want so much money?”

“Well - to spend on something I didn’t think people would give me,” said Fatty, looking rather uncomfortable. “It’s a bit of a secret, really, Mrs. Hilton.”

BOOK: Mystery of the Secret Room
7.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Between by Ting, Mary
Un día de cólera by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
The Price of Silence by Camilla Trinchieri
A Little Harmless Rumor by Melissa Schroeder
Miner's Daughter by Duncan, Alice
Affirmation by S. W. Frank
Bride for a Night by Rosemary Rogers
The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley