Back to Chapters 6-11
Five Go to
12 Block gets a surprise
Mrs Lenoir came back after a time. She smiled at George.
СThat was your father,' she said. 'He is coming tomorrow, but not your mother. They went to your aunt's, and your mother says she thinks she must stay and help her, because your aunt is not very well. But your father would like to come, because he wants to discuss his latest experiments with Mr Lenoir, who is very interested in them. It will be very nice to have him.'
The children would very much rather have had Aunt Fanny instead of Uncle Quentin, who could be very difficult at times. But still, he would probably be talking with Mr Lenoir most of the rime, so that would be all right!
They finished their game with Mrs Lenoir and went up to bed. George was to get Timmy to take him to her room. Sooty went to see that the coast was clear. He could not see Block anywhere. His stepfather was still away from the house. Sarah was singing in the kitchen and the little kitchen-maid, Harriet, was knitting there in a corner.
'Block must be out,' thought Sooty, and went to tell George that the coast was clear. As he went across the landing to the long passage that led to his own room, the boy noticed two black lumps sticking out at the bottom of the thick curtains drawn across the landing window.а He looked at them in surprise, and then recognised them. He grinned.
'So old Block suspects we have a dog, and he thinks it sleeps in George's room or Julian's, and he's posted himself there to watch!' he thought. 'Aha! I'll give friend Block a nasty shock!'
He ran to tell the others. George listened, alarmed. But Sooty, as usual, had a plan.
'We'll give Block an awful shock!' he said. 'I'll get a rope, and we'll all go down to the landing. I'll sudнdenly yell out that there's a robber hiding behind the curtains and I'll pounce on Block, and give him a few good punches. Then, with your help, Julian and Dick, I'll fold him up well in the curtains - a good jerk will bring them down on top of him as well!'
The others began to laugh. It would be fun to play a trick on Block. He really was such an unpleasant fellow. A good lesson would do him no harm.
'While all the excitement is beginning I'll slip by with Timmy,' said George. 'I only hope he won't want to join in! He might give Block a good nip!'
'Well, hold on to Timmy firmly,' said Julian. 'Get him into your room quickly. Now - are we ready?'
They were. Feeling excited they crept down the long passage that led to the door which opened out on to the landing where Block was hiding. They saw the curtains move very slightly as they came along. Block was watching.
George waited with Timmy at the passage door, not showing herself at all. Then, with a yell from Sooty, a really blood-curdling yell that made both George and Timmy jump, things began to happen!
Sooty flung himself on the hidden Block with all h might.а 'A robber! Help, a robber hiding here!Т he shouted.
Block jumped, and began to struggle. Sooty got in two or three well-aimed punches. Block had often got him into trouble with his father, and now Sooty was getting a bit of his own back! Julian and Dick rushed to
A violent tug at the curtains brought them down on Block's head! Not only that, the curtain pole deнscended on him too, and knocked him sideways. Poor Block - he was completely taken by surprise, and could do nothing against the three determined boys. Even Anne gave a hand, though Marybelle stood apart, enjoying the fun though not daring to take part in it.
Just as it all began George slipped by with Timmy. But Timmy could not bear to miss the fun. He dragged behind George, and would not go with her.
She tried to force him, her hand on his collar. But Timmy had seen a nice fat leg waving about near him, protruding from the curtain. He pounced on it.
There was an agonised yell from Block. Certainly Timmy could nip hard with his sharp white teeth. He worried at the kicking leg for a few seconds, and then had a sharp slap from George. Shocked, Timmy let go of the leg and humbly followed his mistress. She never slapped him! She must indeed be angry with him. With tail well down Timmy followed her into the bedroom and got under the bed at once. He poked his head out and looked beseechingly at George with big brown eyes.
'Oh, Timmy - I had to slap you!' said George, and she knelt down by the big dog and patted his head. 'You see, you might have spoilt everything if you'd been seen. As it is I'm sure you bit Block and I don't know how we're going to explain that! Lie quietly now, old fellow. I'm going out to join the others.'
Timmy's tail thumped softly on the floor. George ran out of the room and joined the others on the landing. They were having a fine game with Block who was yelling and wriggling and struggling for all he was worth. He was wrapped up in the curtains like a caterpillar inside a cocoon. His head was completely covered and he could see nothing.
Suddenly Mr Lenoir appeared in the hall below, with a very scared Mrs Lenoir beside him. 'What's all this?' thundered Sooty's stepfather. 'Have you gone mad? How dare you behave like this at this time of night?'
'We've caught a robber and tied him up,' panted Sooty.
Mr Lenoir ran up the stairs two steps at a time, amazed. He saw the kicking figure on the ground well-tied up in the heavy curtains. 'A robber! Do you mean a burglar? Where did you find him?'
'He was hiding behind the curtains!' said Julian. 'We managed to get hold of him and tie him up before he could escape. Could you call the police?'
An anguished voice came from inside of the curtains. 'Let me go! I've been bitten! Let me go!'
'Good heavens! You've got Block tied up there!' said Mr Lenoir, in amazement and anger. 'Untie him, quickly.'
'But - it can't be Block. He was hiding behind those curtains at the window,' protested Sooty.
'Do as you're told,' commanded Mr Lenoir, getting angry. Anne looked at the tip of his nose. Yes, it was turning white, as usual!
The boys reluctantly undid the ropes. Block angrily parted the curtains that enfolded him, and looked out, his usually blank face crimson with rage and fright.
'I won't stand this sort of thing!' he raged. Look here at my leg, sir! I've been bitten. Only a dog could have done that. See my leg?'
Sure enough there were the marks of teeth on his leg slowly turning purple. Timmy had taken a good nip and almost gone through the skin.
'There's no dog here,' said Mrs Lenoir, coming timidly up the stairs at last. 'You couldn't have been bitten by a dog, Block.'
'Who bit him, then?' demanded Mr Lenoir, turning fiercely on poor Mrs Lenoir.
'Do you think I could have bitten him, in my excitement?' suddenly said Sooty, to the enormous surprise of the others, and to their immense amuseнment. He spoke very seriously with a worried look on his face. 'When I lose my temper, I hardly know what I do. Do you think I bit him?'
'Pah!' said Mr Lenoir, in disgust. 'Don't talk nonнsense, boy! I'll have you punished if I think you go about biting people. Get up, Block. You're not badly hurt.'
'My teeth do feel a bit funny, now I come to think of it,' said Sooty, opening and shutting his mouth as if to see if they were all right. 'I think I'd better go and clean them. I feel as if I've got the taste of Block's ankle in my mouth. And it isn't nice.'
Mr Lenoir, driven to fury by Sooty's impudence, reached out swiftly to box the boy's ears. But Sooty dodged and ran back up the passage. 'Just going to clean my teeth!' he called, and the others tried to keep from laughing. The idea of Sooty biting anyone was absurd. It was quite obvious, however, that neither Mr nor Mrs Lenoir guessed what had bitten Block.
Go to bed, all of you,' ordered Mr Lenoir. 'I hope I shall not have to complain about you to your father tomorrow when he conies - or your uncle, as it may be. I don't know which of you arc his children, and which not. I'm surprised at you making such a nuisнance of yourselves in somebody else's house. Tying up my servant! If he leaves, it will be your fault!'
The children hoped fervently that Block would leave. It would be marvellous to have the deaf blank-faced fellow out of the house. He was on the watch for Timmy, they felt sure. He would snoop about till he got Timmy or one of them into trouble.
But Block was still there next morning. He came into the schoolroom with the breakfast, his face almost as blank as usual. He gave Sooty an evil look.
'You look out for yourself,' he said, in a curiously soft voice. 'You look out. Something's going to happen to you one of these days. Yes Ч and that dog too! I know you've got a dog, see? You can't deceive me.'
The children said nothing, but looked at one another. Sooty grinned, and rapped out a cheerful little tune on the table with his spoon.
'Dark, dire, dreadful threats!' he said. 'You look out for yourself too, Block. Any more snooping about, and you'll find yourself tied up again - yes, and I might bite you again too. You never know. My teeth feel quite ready for it this morning.'
He bared his teeth at Block, who made no reply at all, but merely looked as if he had not heard a word. The man went out, and closed the door softly behind him.
'Nasty bit of work, isn't he?' said Sooty. But George felt rather alarmed. She feared Block. There was something cold and clever and bad about those narrow eyes of his. She longed with all her heart to get Timmy out of the house.
She got a terrible shock that morning! Sooty came to her looking agitated. 'I say! What do you think? Your father's going to have my room. IТve got to sleep with Julian and Dick. Block is taking all my things from my room to theirs this very minute, with Sarah. I hope we shall have a chance to get him out all right, before your father comes!'
'Oh Sooty!' said George, in despair. IТll go and see if I can get him at once.'
She went off, pretending to go to Marybelle's room for something. But Block was still in Booty's room. And there he stayed, cleaning it all morning!
George was very worried about Timmy. He would wonder why she hadn't fetched him. He would miss his walk. She hovered about the passage all morning, getting into Sarah's way as she carried clothes from Sooty's old room to Julian's.
Block gave George some curious looks. He walked with a limp to show that his leg was bad from the bite. He left the room at last and George darted in. But Block returned almost at once and she dashed into Marybelle's room. Again Block left and went down the passage, and again the desperate little girl rushed into Sooty's room.
But Block was back before she could even open the cupboard door. 'What are you doing in this room?' he said, roughly. 'I haven't cleaned it all morning to have children in here messing it up again! Clear out of it!' George went - and then once more waited for Block to go. He would have to sec to the luncheon soon! He went at last. George rushed to the door of Sooty's room, eager to get poor Timmy.
But she couldn't open the door. It was locked - and Block had taken the key!
13ааа Poor George!
By now George was in despair. She felt as if she was in a nightmare. She went to find Sooty. He was in Julian's room, next to hers, washing his hands ready for lunch.
'Sooty! I shall have to get into the secret passage the way you first took us in,' she said. 'Through that little study-room of your father's - you know, where the sliding panels are.'
'We can't,' said Sooty, looking rather alarmed. 'He uses it now, and he'd half-kill anyone who went in there. He's got the records of all his experiments there, and he's put them ready to show your father.'
'I don't care,' said George, desperately. 'I've got to get in there somehow, Timmy may starve!'
'Not Timmy! He'll live on the rats in the passages!' said Sooty. 'Timmy could always look after himself, I bet!'
'Well, he'd die of thirst then,' said George, obstinately. 'There's no water in those secret passages. You know that!'
George could hardly eat any lunch because she was so worried. She made up her mind somehow to get into that little study-room, and see if she could open the entrance into the wall behind the panels. Then she would slip in and get Timmy. She didn't care what happened; she was going to get Timmy.
'I shan't tell the others, though,' she thought. They would only try and stop me, or offer to do it themнselves, and I don't trust anyone but myself to do this. Timmy's my dog, and I'm going to save him!'
After lunch, everyone went to Julian s room to discuss things. George went with them. But after a few minutes she left them. 'Back in a minute,' she said. They took no notice and went on discussing how to rescue Timmy. It really did seem as if the only way was to raid the study, and try and get into the secret passage without being seen.
'But my stepfather works there now,' said Sooty. 'And I shouldn't be surprised if he locks the door when he leaves the room.'
George didn't come back. After about ten minutes Anne grew puzzled.
'What can George be doing? It must be about ten minutes since she went.'
'Oh, she's probably gone to see if my old room is unlocked yet,' said Sooty, getting up. 'I'll peep out and see if she's about.'
She wasn't. She didn't seem to be anywhere! She wasn't in the passage that led to Sooty's old room; she couldn't be in that room because it was still locked, and she wasn't in Marybclle's room.
Sooty peeped in George's own room, the one she shared with Anne. But that was empty too. He went downstairs and snooped around a bit. No George!
He went back to the others, puzzled.
'I can't find her anywhere,' he said. 'Where can she be?'
Anne looked alarmed. This was such a strange house, with strange happenings. She wished George would come.
'She's not gone into that little study-room, has she?Т said Julian, suddenly. It would be just like George to try and get into the lion's den!'
'I didn't think of that,' said Sooty. 'Silly of me. I'll go and see.'
He went clown the stairs. He made his way cauнtiously to his father's study. He stood quietly outside the shut door. There was no sound from inside. Was his father there or not?
Sooty debated whether to open the door and peep in or whether to knock. He decided to knock. I hen, if his father answered he could rush back upstairs before the door could be opened, and his father would not know whom to scold for the interruption.
So he knocked, very smartly, rap-rap.
'Who's that?' came his stepfather's irritable voice. 'Come in! Am I to have no peace?'
Sooty fled upstairs at once. He went to the others. 'George can't be in the study,' he said. 'My stepfather's there, and he didn't sound in too good a temper either.'
'Then where can she be?' said Julian, looking worried. 'I do wish she wouldn't go off without tellнing us where she's going. She must be somewhere about. She wouldn't go very far from Timmy.'
They all had a good hunt over the house, even going into the kitchen. Block was there, reading a paper. 'What do you want?' he said. 'You won't get it, whatever it is.'
'We don't want anything from you,' said Sooty. 'How's your poor bad bitten leg?'
Block looked so unpleasantly at them that they all retreated from the kitchen in a hurry. Sooty put Julian and Dick on guard, and went up to the staff bedrooms to see if by any chance George had gone there. A silly idea, he knew, but George must be somewhere!
She wasn't there, of course. The children went back gloomily to Julian's room. 'This beastly house!' said Julian. 'I can't say I like it. Sorry to say so, Sooty, but it's a weird place with a funny feeling about it.'
Sooty was not hurt at all. 'Oh, I agree with you,' he said. 'I've always thought the same myself. So has Mother, and so has Marybelle. It's my stepfather that likes it.'
'Where is George?' said Anne. 'I keep on and on trying to think. There's only one place I'm certain she's not in - and that's your stepfather's study, Sooty. Even George wouldn't dare to go there while your stepfather was there.'
But Anne was wrong. The study was the very place where George was at that very moment!
The little girl had made up her mind that it was best to try and get in there, and wait for a chance to open the sliding panel. So she had slipped downstairs, gone across the hall, and tried the door of the study. It was locked.
'Blow!' said George, desperately. 'Everything is against me and Timmy. How can I get in? I must, I must!'
She slipped out of the side-door near the study and went into the little yard on to which the study-window looked. Could she get in there?
But the window was barred! So that was no good either. She went back again, wishing she could find the key to unlock the door. But it was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly she heard Mr Lenoir's voice in the room across the hall. In a panic George lifted up the lid of a big wooden chest nearby, and climbed hurriedly into it. She closed the lid over her, and knelt there, waiting, heart beating fast.
Mr Lenoir came across the hall. He was going to his study. 'I shall got everything ready to show my visitor when he comes,' he called to his wife. 'Don't disturb me at all. I shall be very busy indeed.'
George heard the sound of a key being put into the study door. It turned. The door opened and shut with a click.
But it was not locked again from the inside. George knelt in the dark chest and considered matters. She meant to get into that study. She meant to get through the entrance into the secret passage, where Tim was. That passage led from the study to Sooty's old bedнroom and somewhere in that passage was Timmy.
What she was going to do once she had Timmy she didn't quite know. Perhaps Sooty would take him to someone who could look after him for her, someone on Castaway Hill.
She heard the sound of Mr Lenoir coughing. She heard the shuffling of papers. Then she heard the click of a cupboard being opened and shut. Mr Lenoir was evidently busy!
Then he gave an exclamation of annoyance. He said something in an irritable voice that sounded like 'Now where did I put that?'
Then the door opened very suddenly and Mr Lenoir came out. George had just time to close down the lid, which she had opened to let in fresh air. She knelt in the chest, trembling, as Mr Lenoir passed there and went on across the hall.
George suddenly knew that this was her chance. Mr Lenoir might be gone for a few minutes and give her time to open that panel in the wall! She lifted the lid of the chest, and jumped out quickly. She ran into the study, and went to the place where Sooty had pressed the panelling.
But before she could even run her fingers over the smooth brown oak, she heard returning footsteps! Mr Lenoir had hardly been half a minute. He was coming back at once.
In a panic poor George looked round for someнwhere to hide. There was a large sofa against one wall. George crawled behind it, finding just room to crouch there without being seen. She was hardly there before Mr Lenoir entered the room, shut the door, and sat down at his desk. He switched on a big lamp over it, and bent to look at some documents.
George hardly dared to breathe. Her heart bumped against her ribs and seemed to make a terrible noise. It was very uncomfortable behind the sofa, but she did not dare to move.
She could not think what in the world to do. It would be terrible to be there for hours! What would the others think? They would soon be looking for her.
They were. Even at that moment Sooty was outside the study door, pondering whether to go in or to knock. He knocked smartly - rap-rap - and George almost jumped out of her skin!
She heard Mr Lenoir's impatient voice. 'Who's that? Come in! Am I to have no peace?'
There was no answer. No one came in. Mr Lenoir called again. 'Come in, I say!'
Still no answer. He strode to the door and flung it open angrily. No one was there. Sooty had fled upнstairs at once.
'Those tiresome children, I suppose,' muttered Mr Lenoir. 'Well, if any of them comes and knocks again and goes away, I'll punish them properly. Bed and bread and water for them!'
He sounded fierce. George wished she was anyнwhere but in his study. What would he say if he knew she was only three or four feet away from him?
Mr Lenoir worked for about half an hour, and poor George got stiffer and stiffer, and more and more uncomfortable. Then she- heard Mr Lenoir yawn, and her heart felt lighter. Perhaps he would have a nap! That would be good luck. She might creep out then, and try to get into the secret passage.
Mr Lenoir yawned again. Then he pushed his papers aside and went to the sofa. He lay down on it and pulled the rug there over his knees. He settled himself down as if for a good sleep.
The sofa creaked under him. George tried to hold her breath again, afraid that now he was so near to her he would certainly hear her.
Soon a small snore came to her ears. Then another and another. Mr Lenoir was asleep! George waited for a few minutes. The snores went on, a little louder. Surely it would be safe now to creep from her hiding-place?
George began to move, very cautiously and quietly. She crept to the end of the sofa. She squeezed out from behind it. Still the snores went on.
She stood upright and went on tiptoe to the panel that had slid aside. She began to press here and there with her fingers, trying to find the spot that would move the panel to one side.
She couldn't seem to find it. She grew red with anxiety. She cast a glance at the sleeping Mr Lenoir, and worked feverishly at the panel. Where was the spot to press, oh, where was it?
Then a stern voice came from behind her, making her jump almost out of her skin.
'And what exactly do you think you are doing, my boy? How dare you come into my study and mess about like this?'
George turned round and faced Mr Lenoir. He always thought she was a boy! She didn't know what to say. He looked very angry indeed, and the tip of his nose was already white.
George was frightened. She ran to the door, but Mr Lenoir caught her before she opened it. He shook her
'What were you doing in my study? Was it you who knocked and ran away? Do you think it is funny to play tricks like that? I'll soon teach you that it isn't!'
He opened the door and called loudly. 'Block! Come here! Sarah, tell Block I want him.'
Block appeared from the kitchen, his face as blank as usual. Mr Lenoir wrote something down quickly on a piece of paper and gave it to him to read. Block nodded.
'I've told him to take you to your room, lock you in, and give you nothing but bread and water for the rest of the day,' said Mr Lenoir, fiercely. 'That will teach you to behave yourself in the future. Any more nonsense and I'll whip you myself.'
'My father won't be very pleased when he hears you're punishing me like this,' began George in a trembling voice. But Mr Lenoir sneered.
'Pah! Wait till he hears from me how you have misbehaved yourself, and I am sure he will agree with me. Now go, and you will not be allowed out of your room till tomorrow. I will make your excuses to your father, when he comes.'
Poor George was propelled upstairs by Block, who was only too delighted to be punishing one of the children. As she came to the door of the room George shouted to the others who were in Julian's room next door.
'Julian! Dick! Help me! Quick, help me!'
14ааа A very puzzling thing
Julian, Dick, and the others rushed out at once, just in time to see Block shove George roughly into her room and shut the door. There was a click as he locked it.
'Here! What are you doing?' cried Julian, indigнnantly.
Block took no notice, but turned to go. Julian caught hold of his arm, and yelled loudly in his ear. 'Unlock that door at once! Do you hear?'
Block gave no sign whether he had or not. He shook off Julian's hand, but the boy put it back again at once, getting angry.
'Mr Lenoir gave me orders to punish that girl,' said Block, looking at Julian out of his cold, narrow eyes.
'Well, you jolly well unlock that door,' commanded Julian, and he tried to snatch the key from Block. With sudden vicious strength the man lifted his hand and struck Julian, sending him half across the landing. Then he went swiftly downstairs to the kitchen.
Julian looked after him, a little scared. The brute!' he said. 'He's as strong as a horse. George, George, whatever's happened?'
George answered angrily from the locked bedroom. She told the others everything, and they listened i silence. 'Bad luck, George,' said Dick. 'Poor old girl Just as you were feeling for the opening to the passage too!'
'I must apologise for my stepfather,' said Sooty. СHe has such a terrible temper. He wouldn't have punished you like this if he had thought you were a girl. But he keeps thinking you're a boy.'
'I don't care,' said George. 'I don't care about any punishment. It's only that I'm so worried about Timmy. Well, I suppose I'll have to stay here now, till I'm let out tomorrow. I shan't eat anything that Block brings me, you can tell him. I don't want to see his horrid face again!'
'How shall I go to bed tonight?' wailed Anne. 'All my things are in your room, George.'
'You'll have to sleep with me,' said little Marybelle, who looked very frightened. 'I can lend you a nightie. Oh dear - what will George's father say when he comes? I hope he will say that George is to be set free at once.'
'Well, he won't,' said George, from behind the locked door. 'He'll just think I've been in one of my bad moods, and he won't mind my being punished at all. Oh dear - I wish Mother was coming too.'
The others were very upset about George, as well as about Timmy. Things seemed to be going very wrong indeed. At tea-time they went to the schoolroom to have tea, wishing they could take George some of the chocolate cake set ready for them.
George felt lonely when the others had gone to tea. It was . She was hungry. She wanted Timmy. She was angry and miserable, and longed to escape. She went to the window and looked out.
Her room looked straight down the cliff-side, just as Sooty's old room did. Below was the city-wall that ran round the town, going unevenly up and down as it followed the contours of the hillside.
George knew that she could not jump down to the wall. She might roll off it and fall straight down to the marsh below. That would be horrible. Then she sudнdenly remembered the rope-ladder that they used when they got down into the pit each day.
It had at first been kept in Marybelle's room, on the shelf in the cupboard, but since the children had been scared by knowing that someone had tried the handle of the door one morning, they had decided to keep the ladder in George's room for safety. They were afraid that perhaps Block might go snooping round Mary-bell's room and find it. So George had smuggled it to her own room, and hidden it in her suitcase, which she had locked.
Now, her hands shaking a little with excitement, she unlocked her suitcase and took out the rope-ladder. She might perhaps escape out of the window with it. She looked out again, the rope in her hands.
But windows overlooked the city-wall just there. The kitchen too must be just below, and maybe Block would see her climbing down. That would never do. She must wait till it was twilight.
When the others came back she told them what she was going to do, speaking in a low voice through the door.
СIТll get down on the wall, walk along it for some way, and then jump down and creep back,' she said. 'You get some food for me somehow, and I'll have it. Then tonight, when everyone has gone to bed I'll get into the study again and find the way through to the secret passage. Sooty can help me. Then I can get Timmy.'
'Right,' said Sooty. 'Wait till it's fairly dark before you go down the ladder, though. Block has gone to his room with a bad headache, but Sarah and Harriet are in the kitchen, and you don't want to be seen.
So, when the twilight hung like a soft purple curtain over the house, George slid down the rope-ladder out of the window. She only needed to let about a quarter of it out for it was far too long for such a short distance. She fastened it to the legs of her heavy little oak bed. Then she climbed out of the window and slid quietly down the rope-ladder.
She passed the kitchen window, which fortunately had its blinds drawn down now. She landed squarely on the old wall. She had brought a torch with her so that she could see.
She debated with herself what to do. She did not want to run any risk of coming up against either Block or Mr Lenoir. Perhaps it would be best to walk along the wall till she came to some part of the town she knew. Then she could jump off and make her way cautiously back up the hill, looking out for the others. So she began to walk along the broad top of the old wall. It was very rough and uneven in places, and many stones were missing. But her torch showed a steady light and she did not miss her footing.
The wall ran round some stables, then round the backs of some quaint old shops. Then it ran round a big yard belonging to some house, and then round the house itself. Then down it went, around some more houses.
George could look into those windows that were not curtained. Lights shone out from them now. It was strange being able to sec into the windows withнout being seen. A little family sat at a meal in one room, their faces cheerful and happy. An old man sat alone in another, reading and smoking.
A woman sat listening to a radio, knitting, as George silently walked on the wall outside her window. Nobody heard her. Nobody saw her. Then she came to another house, a big one. The wall ran close against it, for it was built where the cliff ran steeply down to the marsh just there.
There was a lit window there.а George glanced in as she passed. Then she stood still in great surprise.
Surely, surely that was Block in there! He had his back to her, but she could have sworn it was Block. The same head, the same ears, the same shoulders!
Who was he talking to? George tried to see - and all at once she knew. He was talking to Mr Barling, whom everyone said was a smuggler- the smuggler of Castaway Hill!
But wait a minute - could it be Block? Block was deaf, and this man evidently wasn't. He was listening to Mr Barling, that was plain, and was answering him, though George could not hear the words, of course. 'I oughtn't to be snooping like this,' said George to herself. 'But it's very strange, very puzzling and very interesting. If only the man would turn round I'd know at once if it was Block!'
But he didn't turn. He just sat in his chair, his back to George. Mr Barling, his long face lit up by the nearby lamp, was talking animatedly, and Block, if it was Block, was listening intently and nodding his head in agreement every now and again.
George felt puzzled. If she only knew for certain that it was Block! But why should he be talking to Mr Barling - and wasn't he stone deaf after all then?
George jumped down from the wall into a dark little passage and made her way through the town, up to Smuggler's Top. Outside the front door, hiding in the shadows was Sooty. He laid his hand on George arm, making her jump.аааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааа
'Come on in. I've left the side door open. WeТve got a fine spread for you!'аааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааа
The two slipped in at the side door, tiptoed past the study across the hall, and up to Julian's bedroom. Truly there was a spread there!
'I went and raided the larder, said Sooty, with satisfaction. 'Harriet was out, and Sarah had run along to the post. Block has gone to bed for a rest, because, he said, he had such an awful headache.'
'Oh,' said George, 'then it couldn't have been Block I saw. And yet I'm as certain as certain can be that it was!'
'Whatever do you mean?' asked the others, in surнprise. George sat down on the floor and began to gobble up cakes and tarts, for she was terribly hungry. Between her mouthfuls she told them how she had got out of the window, walked along the city-wall, and found herself unexpectedly by Mr Barling's house.
'And I looked into a lit window there, and saw Block talking to Mr Barling Ч and listening to him and answering him!' she said.
The others could not believe this. 'Did you see his face?' asked Julian.
'No,' said George. 'But I'm certain it was Block. Go and peep into his room and see if he's there, Sooty. He wouldn't be back yet from Mr Barling's, because he had a glass full of something or other, which would take him some time to drink. Go and peep.'
Sooty vanished. He came back quickly. 'He's in bed! he said. 'I could see the shape of his body and the dark patch of his head. Are there two Blocks then? Whatever does this mean?'
15ааа Strange happenings
It certainly was very puzzling - most of all to George who felt so certain it had been Block talking to the well-known smuggler. The others did not feel so certain, especially as George admitted that she had not seen his face.
'Is my father here yet?' asked George, suddenly, remembering that he was supposed to come that evening.
'Yes. Just arrived,' said Sooty. 'Just before you came. I nearly got run over by the car! Just hopped aside in time. I was out there waiting for you.'
'What are our plans?' asked George. СIТll have to get Timmy tonight, or he'll be frantic. I think I'd better go and climb back through my window again now, in case Block comes along and finds I've disappeared. I'll wait till everyone is in bed and then I'll slip out of the window again, and you must let me into the house, Sooty, please. Then I'll go to the study with you and you must open the secret way for me. Then I'll find Timmy and everything will be all right.
'I don't see that everything will be all right,Таа said Sooty, doubtfully. 'But anyway, your plan is the one to follow. You'd better get back into your room now, if you've had enough to eat.
СIТll take a few buns back with me,Таа said George, stuffing them into her pocket.а 'Sooty, come and knock at my door when everyone is in bed and IТll know then that it's safe for me to slip out of the window, and come into the house again.
It wasn't long before George was back in her room once more-just in time too, for Block appeared a little while after with a plate of dry bread and a glass of water. He unlocked the door and put them on the table.
'Your supper,' he said. George looked at his blank face and disliked it so much that she felt she must do something about it. So she took up the water and threw it deftly at the back of his head. It dripped down his neck and made him jump. Block took a step towards her, his eyes gleaming - but Julian and Dick were by the door, and he did not dare to strike her.
'I'll pay you back for that,' he said. 'See? You will never get that dog of yours back again!'
He went out and locked the door. Julian called through as soon as he had gone.
'What did you do that for, you idiot? He's a bad enemy to make.'
'I know. I just couldn't help it somehow,' said George, forlornly. 'I wish I hadn't now.'
The others had to go down to see Mr Lenoir. They left George feeling lonely. It was horrid to be locked up like this, even though she could escape through the window whenever she wanted to. She listened for the others to come back.
They soon did, and reported their meeting with George's father.
'Uncle Quentin is awfully tired and a bit cross, and rightfully annoyed with you for misbehaving,' said Julian through the door.а 'He said you were to be locked up the whole of tomorrow too, if you don't apologise.'
George didn't mean to apologise. She couldn't bear Mr Lenoir, with his false smiles and laughter, and his sudden odd rages. She said nothing.
'We've got to go and have our supper now,' said Sooty. 'We'll save you some of it as soon as Block goes out of the room. Look out for a knocking on your door tonight. It'll be me, telling you everyone's in bed.'
George lay on her bed, thinking. Many things puzzled her. She couldn't get them straight somehow. The signaller in the tower - the peculiar man, Block - Mr Barling's talk to a man who looked so like Block; but Block was all the time in his bed at home. As she lay thinking, her eyes closed, and she fell asleep.
Anne went up to bed with Marybelle, and came to whisper good-night to her. The boys all went into the next room, for Sooty was now to share Julian's and Dick's bedroom. George woke up enough to say good-night and then slept again.
At she awoke with a jump. Someone was knocking softly and impatiently on her door. It was Sooty.
'Coming!' whispered George through the door, and took up her torch. She went to the window and was soon safely down the rope-ladder. She jumped down from the wall, and went to the side door of the house. Sooty was there. She slipped in thankfully.
'Everyone's gone to bed,Т whispered Sooty, thought your father and my stepfather were never going. They stayed talking in the study for ages!
'Come on. Let's go there,Т said George, impatiently. They went to the study door, and Sooty turned the handle.
It was locked again! He pushed hard, but it wasnТt bit of good. It was well and truly locked!
'We might have thought of that,' said George, in despair.а 'Blow, blow, blow! What are we to do now?'
Sooty thought for a few moments. Then he spoke in a low voice, in George's ear.
There's only one thing left to do, George. I must creep into your father's room - my old bedroom -when he is asleep - and I must get into the cupboard there, open the entrance to the secret passage, and slip in that way. I'll find Timmy and bring him back the same way, hoping that your father won't wake!'
'Oh! Would you really do that for me?' said George, gratefully. 'You are a good friend, Sooty! Would you rather I did it?'
'No. I know the way up and down that passage better than you do,' said Sooty. 'It's a bit frightening to be all alone there at too. I'll go.'
George went with Sooty up the stairs, across the wide landing, to the door at the end of the passage that led to Sooty's old room, where George's father was now sleeping. When they got there, George pulled his arm.
'Sooty! The buzzer will go as soon as you open the door Ч and it will wake my father and warn him.'
'Idiot! I disconnected it as soon as I knew my room was to be changed,' said Sooty, scornfully. 'As if I wouldn't think of that!'
He opened the door that led into the passage. He crept up to his old room. The door was shut. He and George listened intently.
'Your father sounds a bit restless,' said Sooty. СIТll wait my chance to creep in, George, and then, as soon as possible, I'll slip into the cupboard and open the secret passage to find Tim. As soon as I've got Timmy I bring him along to you. You could wait in Marybelle's room if you liked. Anne's there too.'
George crept into the room next door, where Anne and Marybelle lay fast asleep. She left the door open so that she might hear when Sooty returned. How lovely it would be to have dear old Timmy again! He would lick her and lick her.
Sooty crept into the room where George's father lay, half-asleep. He made no sound. He knew every creaking board and avoided them. He made his way quietly to a big chair, meaning to hide behind it till he was certain George's father was sound asleep.
For some time the man in the bed tossed and turned. He was tired with his long journey, and his mind was excited with his talk with Mr Lenoir. He muttered now and again, and Sooty began to feel he would never be sound asleep! He grew sleepy himself, and yawned silently.
At last George's father grew quiet and peaceful. No more creaks came from the bed. Sooty cautiously moved out from behind the chair.
Then suddenly something startled him. He heard a sound over by the window! But what could it be? It was a very small sound, like a tiny creak of a door.
The night was rather dark, but the window, its curtains pulled right back, could easily be seen as a square of grey. Sooty fixed his eyes on it. Was someнone opening the window?
No. The window did not move. But something strange was happening under it, near the sill.
A big window-seat was built in under the window, wide and comfortable. Sooty knew it well! He had sat on it hundreds of times to look out of the window. Now, what was happening to it?
It looked as if the top, or lid of the seat was slowly moving upwards, bit by bit. Sooty was puzzled. He had never known it could be opened like that. It had always been screwed down, and he had thought it was just a seat and nothing else. But now it looked as if someone had unscrewed the top, and had hidden himself inside, lifting up the top like a lid when he thought it was safe.
Sooty stared at the upward-moving lid, quite fasciнnated. Who was in there? Why had he hidden? It was rather frightening, seeing the lid move slowly, bit by bit.
At last the lid was wide open and rested against the window-pane. A big figure cautiously and slowly got out, not making the slightest sound. Sooty felt his hair rising up on his head. He was afraid, terribly afraid. He could not utter a sound.
The figure tiptoed over to the bed. He made a quick and sudden movement, and there was a stifled sound from. George's father. Sooty guessed he had been gagged, so that he could not cry out. Still the boy could not move or speak. He had never been so scared in all his life.
The intruder lifted the limp body from the bed, and went to the window-seat. He put George's father into the darkness there. What he had done to make him unable to struggle Sooty didn't know. He only knew that poor George's father was being put down in the window-seat, and couldn't seem to move a hand to help himself!
The boy suddenly found his voice. 'Hi!' he yelled. 'Hi! What are you doing? Who are you?'
He remembered his torch and switched it on. He saw a face he knew, and cried out in surprise. 'Mr Barling!'
Then someone hit him a hard blow on the head and he remembered nothing more at all. He did not know that he was lifted into the window-scat too. He did not know that the intruder followed after him. He knew nothing.
George, awake in the next room, suddenly heard Sooty's voice crying out. 'Hi!' she heard. 'Hi, what are you doing? Who are you?' And then, as she slipped out of bed, she heard the next cry. 'Mr Barling!'
George was extremely startled. What was going on next door? She fumbled about for her torch. Anne and Marybelle were still asleep. George could not find her torch. She fell over a chair and banged her head.
When at last she had found her torch she tiptoed, trembling, to the door. She shone her torch and saw that the door next to hers was a little ajar, just as Sooty had left it, when he had crept inside. She listened. There was absolutely no sound at all now. She had heard a small bumping noise after Sooty's last cry, but she didn't know what it was.
She suddenly put her head round the door of her father's room, and shone her torch again. She stared in surprise. The bed was empty. The room was empty. There was no one there at all! She flashed her torch all round. She opened the cupboard door fearfully. She looked under the bed. She was, in fact, extremely brave.
At last she sank down on the window-seat, frightened and puzzled. Where was her father? Where was Sooty? Whatever had been happening here that night
16аа Next morning
As George sat by the window, on the very seat into which everyone had unaccountably disappeared, though she did not know it, she heard a faint sound from the passage.
Quick as lightning the girl slipped under the bed. Someone was creeping down the long passage! George lay silently on the floor, lifting the valance a little to try and see who it was. What strange things were going on tonight!
Someone came in at the door. Someone stopped there, as if to look and listen. Then someone crept over to the window-seat.
George watched and listened, straining her eyes in the darkness. She dimly saw the someone outlined against the grey square of the window. He was bent over the window-seat.
He showed no light at all. But he made some curious little sounds. First came the sound of his fingers tapнping about on the closed lid of the seat. Then came the clink of something metallic, and a very faint squeakнing. George could not imagine what the man - if it was a man - was doing.
For about five minutes the someone worked away at his task in the darkness. Then, as quietly as he had come, he went away. George couldn't help thinking it was Block, though his outline against the dark-grey of the window was too dim to recognise. But he had once given a little cough exactly like Block so often gave It must be Block! But whatever was he doing in her father's room at night, on the window-seat?
George felt as if she was in a bad dream. The strangest things happened and kept on happening, and they didn't seem to make sense at all. Where was her father? Had he left his room and gone wandering over the house? Where was Sooty, and why had he called out? He wouldn't have shouted out like that, surely, if her father had been asleep in the room!
George lay under the bed, shivering, for a little while longer. Then she rolled out softly and went out of the door. She crept down the long passage to the end. She opened the door there and peeped out. The whole house was in darkness. Little sounds came to George's ears - a window rattling faintly, the creak of some bit of furniture - but nothing else.
She had only one thought in her mind, and that was to get to the boys' room and tell them the mysterious things that had happened. Soon she was across the landing, and had slipped through the door of Julian's bedroom. He and Dick were awake, ot course, waiting for Sooty to come with Timmy and George.
But only George arrived. A scared George, with a very very curious story to tell. She wrapped herself in the eiderdown on Julian's bed, and told what had happened, in whispers.
They were amazed. Uncle Quentin gone! Sooty disнappeared! Someone creeping into the room and fidнdling about on the window-seat! What did it all mean?
'We'll come to Uncle Quentin's room with you, straight away now,' said Julian, pulling on a dressing-gown, and hunting about for his slippers. 'I've got feeling that things are getting pretty serious.
They all padded off to the other rooms. They went into Marybelle's room and woke her and Anne. Both little girls felt scared. Soon all five children were in the next room, from which George's father and Sooty had so strangely vanished.
Julian shut the door, drew the curtains and switched on the light. At once they all felt better. It was so horrid to grope about in the dark with torches.
They looked round the silent room. There was nothing there to show them how the others had disappeared. The bed was crumpled and empty. On the floor lay Sooty's torch, where it had fallen.
George repeated again what she had thought she had heard Sooty call out, but it made no sense to anyone. 'Why call out Mr Barling's name, when there was only your father in the room?' said Julian. 'Surely Mr Barling wasn't hiding here Ч that would be nonsense. He has nothing to do with your father, George.'
'I know. But I'm sure it was Mr Barling's name that I heard Sooty call out,' said George. 'Do you think-oh yes, do you think Mr Barling could possibly have crept through the secret opening in the cupboard, meaning to do some dirty work or other - and have gone back the same way, taking the others with him because they discovered him?'
This seemed a likely explanation, though not a very good one. They all went to the cupboard and opened it. They groped between the clothes for the secret opening. But the little iron handle set there to pull on the stone at the back was gone! Someone had reнmoved it - and now the secret passage could not be entered, for there was no way of opening it just there! Look at that!' said Julian in astonishment. 'Someones been tampering with that too. No, George, the visitor, whoever he was, didn't co back that way.'
George looked pale. She had been hoping to go and fetch Timmy, by slipping through the secret opening in the cupboard. Now she couldn't. She longed for Timmy with all her heart, and felt that if only the big faithful dog were with her things would seem much brighter.
'I'm sure Mr Lenoir is at the bottom of all this!' said Dick. 'And Block too. I bet that was Block you saw in here tonight, doing something in the dark, George. I bet he and Mr Lenoir are hand in glove with each other over something.'
'Well, then - we can't possibly go and tell them what has happened!' said Julian. 'If they are at the bottom of all these weird happenings it would be foolish to go and tell them what we know. And we can't tell your mother, Marybelle, because she would naturally go to your father about it. It's a puzzle to know what to do!'
Anne began to cry. Marybelle, frightened and puzzled, at once began to sob too. George felt tears pricking the backs of her eyelids, but she blinked them away. George never cried!
'I want Sooty,' wept Marybelle, who adored her cheeky, daring brother. 'Where's he gone? I'm sure he's in danger. I do want Sooty.'
'We'll rescue him tomorrow, don't you worry,' said Julian, kindly. 'We can't do anything tonight, though. There's nobody at Smuggler's Top we can possibly get advice or help from, as things are. I vote we go to bed, sleep on it, and make plans in the morning. By that time Sooty and Uncle Quentin may have turned up again. If they haven't, Mr Lenoir will have to be told by someone, and we'll see how he behaves! If he's surprised and upset, we'll soon know if he has had anything to do with this mystery or not. He'll have to do something - go to the police, or have the house turned upside down to find the missing people. WeТll soon see what happens.'
Everyone felt a little comforted after this long speech. Julian sounded cheerful and firm, though he didn't feel at all happy, really. He knew, better than any of the others, that something very strange, and probably dangerous was going on at Smuggler's Top. He wished the girls were not there.
'Now listen,' he said. 'George, you go and sleep with Anne and Marybelle next door. Lock your door and keep the light on. Dick and I will sleep here, in Sooty's old room, also with the light on, so you'll know we are quite nearby.'
It was comforting to know that the two boys were so near. The three girls went at last into Marybelle's room, tired out. Anne and Marybelle got into bed again, and George lay down on a small but comfortнable couch, pulling a thick rug over her. In spite of all the worry and excitement the girls were soon asleep, quite exhausted.
The boys talked a little, as they lay in Sooty's old bed, where their Uncle Quentin had been asleep some time before. Julian did not think anything more would happen that night. He and Dick fell asleep, but Julian was ready to wake at the slightest noise.
Next morning they were awakened by a most surнprised Sarah, who had conic in to draw the curtains and bring George's father a pot of early-morning tea. She could not believe her eyes when she saw the two boys in the visitor's bed - and no visitor!
'What's all this?' said Sarah, gaping. 'Where's your uncle? Why are you here?'
'Oh, we'll explain later,' said Julian, who did not want to enter into any details with Sarah, who was a bit of a chatterbox. 'You can leave the tea, Sarah. We'd like it!'
'Yes, but where's your uncle? Is he in your room?' said the puzzled Sarah. 'What's up?'
'You can go and look in our room if you like and see if he's there,' said Dick, wanting to get rid of the amazed woman. She disappeared, thinking that the household must be going mad. She left the hot tea behind, though, and the boys at once took it into the girls' room. George unlocked the door for them. They took it in turns to sip the hot tea from the one cup.
Presently Sarah came back, with Harriet and Block. Block's face was as blank as usual.
'There's nobody in your room, Julian,' began Sarah. Then Block gave a sudden exclamation and stared at George angrily. He had thought she was locked in her room - and here she was in Marybelle's room, drinking tea!
'How did you get out?' he demanded. 'I'll tell Mr Lenoir. You're in disgrace.'
'Shut up,' said Julian. 'Don't you dare to speak to my cousin like that. I believe you're mixed up in this curious business. Clear out, Block.'
Whether Block heard or not, he gave no sign of going. Julian got up, his face set.
'Clear out of this room,' he said, narrowing his eyes. 'Do you hear? I have a feeling that the police might be interested in you, Block. Now clear out!'
Harriet and Sarah gave little shrieks. The sudden mystery was too much for them. They gazed at Block and began to back out of the room. Fortunately Block went too, casting an evil look at the determined Julian. 'I shall go to Mr Lenoir,' said Block, and disнappeared.
In a few minutes along came Mr and Mrs Lenoir to Marybelle's room. Mrs Lenoir looked scared out of her life. Mr Lenoir looked puzzled and upset.
'Now, what's all this?' he began. 'Block has been to me with a most curious tale. Says your father has disappeared, George, and . . .'
'And so has Sooty,' suddenly wailed Marybelle, bursting into tears again. 'Sooty's gone. He's gone too.'
Mrs Lenoir gave a cry. 'What do you mean? How can he have gone? Marybelle, what do you mean?'
'Marybelle, I think I had better take charge of the telling,' said Julian, who was not going to let the little girl give away all the things they knew. After all, Mr Lenoir was probably at the bottom of everything, and it would be foolish to tell him what they suspected about him.
'Julian - tell me what has happened. Quickly!' begged Mrs Lenoir, looking really upset.
'Uncle Quentin disappeared from his bed last night, and Sooty has vanished too,' said Julian, shortly. 'They may turn up, of course.'
'Julian! You are keeping back something,' said Mr Lenoir, suddenly, watching the boy sharply. 'You will tell us everything, please. How dare you keep anything back at a moment like this?'
'Tell him, Julian, tell him,' wailed Marybelle. Julian looked obstinate, and glared at Marybelle.
The tip of Mr Lenoir's nose went white. 'I am going to the police,' he said. 'Perhaps you will talk to them, my boy. They will knock some sense into you!'
Julian was surprised. 'Why - I shouldn't have thought you would want to go to the police!' he blurted out. 'You've got too many secrets to hide!'
17аа More and more puzzling
Mr Lenoir stared in the utmost amazement at Julian. There was a dead silence after this remark. Julian could have kicked himself for making it, but he couldn't unsay it now.
Mr Lenoir opened his mouth to say something at last, when footsteps came to the door. It was Block. 'Come in, Block!' said Mr Lenoir. There seem to have been peculiar happenings here.'
Block did not appear to hear, and remained outside the door. Mr Lenoir beckoned him in impatiently.
'No,' said Julian, firmly. 'What we have to say is not to be said in front of Block, Mr Lenoir. We don't like him and - we don't trust him.'
'What do you mean?' cried Mr Lenoir, angrily. 'What do you know about my servants? I've known Block for years before he came into my service, and he's a most trustworthy fellow. He can't help being deaf, and that makes him irritable at times.'
Julian remained obstinate. He caught an angry gleam in Block's cold eyes, and glared back.
'Well, this is incredible!' said Mr Lenoir, trying not to lose his temper. 'I can't think what's come over everybody - disappearing like this - and now you children talking to me as if I wasn't master in my own house. I insist that you tell me all you know.'
'I'd rather tell it to the police,' said Julian, his eye on Block. But Block showed no trace of expression on his face.
'Go away, Block,' said Mr Lenoir at last, seeing that there was no hope of getting anything out of Julian while the servant was there. 'You'd better all come down to my study. This is getting more and more mysterious. If the police have got to know, you may as well tell me first. I don't want to look a complete idiot in my own house in front of them.'
Julian couldn't help feeling a bit puzzled. Mr Lenoir was not behaving as he had thought he might behave. He seemed sincerely puzzled and upset, and he was evidently planning to get the police in himself. Surely he wouldn't do that if he had had a hand in the disappearances? Julian was lost in bewilderment again.
Mrs Lenoir was now crying quietly, with Marybelle sobbing beside her. Mr Lenoir put an arm round his wife and kissed Marybelle, suddenly appearing very much nicer than he had ever seemed before. 'Don't worry,' he said, in a gentle voice. 'We'll soon get to the bottom of this, if I have to get the whole of the police force in. I think I know who's at the bottom of it all!'
That surprised Julian even more. He and the others followed Mr Lenoir down to his study. It was still locked. Mr Lenoir opened it and pushed aside a great pile of papers that were on his desk.
'Now - what do you know?' he said to Julian quietly. The children noticed that the top of his nose was no longer white. Evidently he had got over his burst of temper.
'Well, I think this is a strange house, with a lot of strange things happening in it,' said Julian, not quite knowing how to begin. 'I'm afraid, you won't like me telling the police all I know.'
'Julian, donТt speak in riddles!' said Mr Lenoir, impatiently. 'You act as if I were a criminal, in fear of the police. I'm not. What goes on in this house?'
'Well - the signalling from the tower, for instance,' said Julian, watching Mr Lenoir's face.
Mr Lenoir gaped.а It was clear that he was imнmensely astonished.а He stared at Julian, and Mrs Lenoir cried out suddenly: 'Signalling! What signalling?' Julian explained. He told how Sooty had discovered the light-flashing first, and then how he and Dick had gone with him to the tower when they had seen the flashing again. He described the line of tiny, pricking lights across the marsh from the seaward side.
Mr Lenoir listened intently. He asked questions about dates and times. He heard how the boys had followed the signaller to Block's room, where he had disappeared.
'Got out of the window, I suppose,' said Mr Lenoir. 'Block's got nothing to do with this, you can rest assured of that. He is most faithful and loyal, and has been a great help to me while he has been here. I have an idea that Mr Barling is at the bottom of all this. He can't signal from his house to the sea because it's not quite high enough up the hill, and is in the wrong position. He must have been using my tower to signal from - coming himself to do it too! He knows all the secret ways of this house, better than I do! It would be easy for him to come here whenever he wanted to.
The children thought at once that probably Mr Barling had been the signaller! They stared at Mr Lenoir. They were all beginning to think that he r and truly had nothing to do with the strange goings-on after all.аааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааа
'I don't see why Block shouldn't know all this, s; Mr Lenoir, getting up. 'It's plain to me that Barling could explain a lot of the odd things that have been happening. I'll see if Block has ever suspected any-Julian pursed his lips together. If Mr Lenoir was going to tell everything to Block, who certainly must be in the plot somehow, he wasn't going to tell him anything more!
СIТll see what Block thinks about everything, and then if we can't solve this mystery ourselves, we'll get in the police,' said Mr Lenoir, going out of the room.
Julian did not want to say anything much in front of Mrs Lenoir. So he changed the subject completely.
'What about breakfast?' he said. 'I'm feeling hungry!'
So they all went to have breakfast, though Marybelle could eat nothing at all, because she kept thinking of poor Sooty.
'I think,' said Julian, when they were alone at the table, 'I rather think we'll do a little mystery-solving ourselves. I'd like a jolly good look round that room of your father's, George, to begin with. There must be some other way of getting out of there, besides the secret passage we know.'
'What do you think happened there last night?' said Dick.
'Well, I imagine that Sooty went there and hid, to wait until it was safe to try and get into the secret passage as soon as Uncle Quentin was asleep,' said Julian, thoughtfully. 'And while he was hiding, someнone came into that room from somewhere, to kidnap Uncle Quentin. Why, I don't know, but that's what I think. Then Sooty yelled out in surprise, and got knocked on the head or something. Then he and Uncle Quentin were kidnapped together, and taken off through some secret way we don't know.'
'Yes,' said George. 'And it was Mr Barling who kidnapped them! I distinctly heard Sooty yell out "Mr Barling". He must have switched on his torch and seen him.'
They are quite probably hidden somewhere in Mr Barling's house,' said Anne, suddenly.
'Yes!' said Julian. 'Why didn't I think of that? Why, that's just where they would be, of course. I've a jolly good mind to go down and have a look!' "
'Oh, let me come too,' begged George.
'No,' said Julian. 'Certainly not. This is rather a dangerous adventure, and Mr Barling is a bad and dangerous man. You and Marybelle are certainly not to come. I'll take Dick.'
'You are absolutely mean,' began George, her eyes flashing. 'Aren't I as good as a boy? I'm going to come.'
'Well, if you're as good as a boy, which I admit you are,' said Julian, 'can't you stay and keep an eye on Anne and Marybelle for us? We don't want them kidnapped too.'
'Oh, don't go, George,' said Anne. 'Stay here with us.'
'I think it's mad to go, anyhow,' said George. 'Mr Barling wouldn't let you in. And if you did get in you wouldn't be able to find all the secret places in his house. There must be as many, and more, as there are here.'
Julian couldn't help thinking George was right. Still, it was worth trying.
He and Dick set out after breakfast, and went down the hill to Mr Barling's. But when they got there they found the whole house shut up. Nobody answered their knocking and ringing. The curtains were drawn across the closed windows, and no smoke came from the chimney.
'Mr Barling's gone away for a holiday," said the gardener who was working in the next door flowerbeds. 'Went this morning, he did. In his car. All his servants have got a holiday too.'
'Oh!' said Julian, blankly. 'Was there anyone with him in the car - a man and a boy, for instance?'
The gardener looked surprised at this question, and shook his head.
'No. He was alone, and drove off himself.'
'Thanks,' said Julian, and walked back with Dick to Smuggler's Top. This was most odd. Mr Barling had shut up the house and gone off without his captives! Then what had he done with them? And why on earth had he kidnapped Uncle Quentin? Julian remembered that Mr Lenoir had not put forward any reason for that. Did he know one, and hadn't wanted to say what it was? It was all most puzzling.
Meantime George had been doing a little snooping round on her own. She had slipped into Uncle Quentin's room, and had had a really good look round everywhere to see if by chance there was another secret passage Sooty hadn't known about.
She had tapped the walls. She had turned back the carpet and examined every inch of the floor. She had tried the cupboard again, and wished she could get through into the secret passage there and find Timmy. The study door downstairs was again locked, and she did not dare to tell Mr Lenoir about Timmy and ask his help.
George was just about to leave the quiet room when she noticed something on the floor near the window. She bent to pick it up. It was a small screw. She looked round. Where had it come from?
At first she couldn't see any screws of the same size at all. Then her eyes slid down to the window-seat. There were screws there, screwing down the top oaken plank to the under ones that supported it.
Had the screw come out of the window-seat? Why should it, anyway? The others there were all screwed down tightly. She examined one. Then she gave a low cry.
'One's missing. The one in the middle of this side. Now just let me think.'
She remembered last night. She remembered how someone had crept in, while she had hidden under the bed, and had fiddled about by the window, bending over the polished window-seat. She remembered the little noises - the metallic clinks and the tiny squeaks. It was screws being screwed into the seat!
'Someone screwed down the window-seat last night - and in the darkness, dropped one of the little screws,' thought George, beginning to feel excited. 'Why did he screw it down? To hide something? What's in this window-seat? It sounds hollow enough. It never lifted up. I know that. It was always screwed down, because I remember looking for a cupboard under it, like the one we have at home, and there wasn't one.'
George began to feel certain there was some secret about the window-seat. She rushed off to get a screwнdriver. She found one and hurried back.
She shut the door and locked it behind her in case Block should come snooping around. Then she set to work with the screwdriver. What would she find in the window-seat? She could hardly wait to see!
Next Ц The end (Chapters 18-22)