Back to Chapters 1-5
Five Go to
6 Sooty's stepfather and mother
'Someone's coming!' said George, in a panic. "What shall we do with Tim? Quick!'
Sooty took Timmy by the collar and shoved him into the old cupboard, and shut the door on him. 'Keep quiet!' he commanded, and Timmy stood still in the darkness, the hairs at the back of his neck standing up, his ears cocked.
'Well,' began Sooty, in a bright voice, 'perhaps I'd I better show you where your bedrooms are now!'
The door opened and a man came in. He was dressed in black trousers and a white linen coat. He had a peculiar face. 'It's a shut face,' thought Anne to herself. 'You can't tell a bit what he's like inside, because his face is all shut and secret.'
'Oh hallo, Block,' said Sooty, airily. He turned to the others. 'This is Block, my stepfather's man,' he said. 'He's deaf, so you can say what you like, but it's better not to, because though he doesn't hear he seems to sense what we say.'
'Anyway, I think it would be beastly to say things we wouldn't say in front of him if he wasn't deaf,' said George, who had very strict ideas about things of that sort.
Block spoke in a curiously monotonous voice. 'Your stepfather and your mother want to know why you have not brought your friends to see them,' he said. 'Why did you rush up here like this?'
Block looked all round as he spoke - almost as if he knew there was a dog, and wondered where he had gone to, George thought, in alarm. She did hope the car-driver had not mentioned Timmy.
'Oh - I was so pleased to see them I took them straight up here!' said Sooty. 'All right. Block. We'll be down in a minute.'
The man went, his face quite impassive. Not a smile, not a frown! 'I don't like him,' said Anne. 'Has he been with you long?'
'No - only about a year,' said Sooty. 'He suddenly appeared one day. Even Mother didn't know he was coming! He just came, and, without a word, changed into that white linen coat, and went to do some work in my stepfather's room. I suppose my stepfather was expecting him - but he didn't say anything to my A mother, I'm sure of that. She seemed so surprised.'
'Is she your real mother, or a stepmother, too?' I asked Anne.
'You don't have a stepmother and a stepfather!' said Sooty, scornfully. 'You only have one or the other. My mother is my real mother, and she's Marybelle's mother, too. But Marybelle and I are only half-brother and sister, because my stepfather is her real father.'
'It's rather muddled,' said Anne, trying to sort it out.
'Come on - we'd better go down,' said Sooty, remembering. 'By the way, my stepfather is always being very affable, always smiling and joking - but it isn't real, somehow. He's quite likely to fly into a furious temper at any moment.'
'I hope we shan't see very much of him,' said Anne, uncomfortably. 'What's your mother like, Sooty?'
Like a frightened mouse!' said Sooty. You'll like her, all right. She's a darling. But she doesnt like living here; she doesn't like this house, and she's terrified of my stepfather. She wouldnt say so herself, of course, but I know she is.'
Marybelle, who was too shy to have joined in any talking until then, nodded her head.
I don't like living here, either, she said. I shall be glad when I go to boarding-school, like Sooty. Except that I shall leave Mother all alone then.'
'Come on,' said Sooty, and led the way. 'We'd better leave Timmy in the cupboard till we come back, just in case Block does a bit of snooping. I'll lock the cupboard door and take the key.'
Feeling rather unhappy at leaving Timmy locked up in the cupboard, the children followed Sooty and Marybelle down the stone passage to the oak door. They went through, and found themselves at the top of a great flight of stairs, wide and shallow. They went down into a big hall.
At the right was a door, and Sooty opened it. He went in and spoke to someone.
'Here they all are,' he said. 'Sorry I rushed them off to my bedroom like that. Father, but I was so excited to see them all!'
'Your manners still need a little polishing,
What cold eyes!' thought Anne, when she went forward to shake hands with him". His hand was cold, too. He smiled at her, and patted her on the shoulder.
What a nice little girl!' he said. 'You will be a good companion for Marybelle. Three boys for Sooty, and one girl for Marybelle. Ha ha!'
He evidently thought George was a boy, and she did look rather like one - she was wearing jeans and jersey as usual, and her curly hair was very short.
Nobody said that George wasn't a boy. Certainly George was not going to! She, Dick and Julian shook hands with Mr. Lenoir. They had not even noticed Sooty's mother!
She was there, though, sitting lost in an armchair, a tiny woman like a doll, with mouse-coloured hair and grey eyes. Anne turned to her.
'Oh, how small you are!' she said, before she could stop herself.
Mr Lenoir laughed. He laughed no matter what anyone said. Mrs Lenoir got up and smiled. She was only as tall as Anne, and had the smallest hands and feet that Anne had ever seen on a grown-up. Anne liked her. She shook hands, and said, 'It's so nice of you to have us all here like this. You know I expect, that a tree fell on the roof of our house and smashed it.'
Mr Lenoir's laugh came again. He made some kind of joke, and everyone smiled politely.
'Well, I hope you'll have a good time here,' he said. 'Pierre and Marybelle will show you the old town, and, if you promise to be careful, you can walk along the road to the mainland to go to the cinema there.'
Thank you,' said everyone, and Mr Lenoir laughed his curious laugh again.
Your father is a very clever man,' he said, suddenly turning to Julian, who guessed that he had mistaken him for George. 'I am hoping he will come here to fetch you home again when you go, and then I shall have the pleasure of talking with him. He and I have been doing the same kind of experiments, but he has got further than I have.
Oh! said Julian, politely. Then the doll-like Mrs Lenoir spoke in her soft voice.
Block will give you all your meals in Marybelle's schoolroom, then you will not disturb my husband. He does not like talk at meal-times, and that would be rather hard on six children.'
Mr Lenoir laughed again.
His cold blue eyes looked intently at all the children. By the way,
'I don't act about on the city wall,' protested Sooty. 'I don't take risks, either.'
"You play the fools always, said Mr Lenoir, and the tip of his nose turned quite white. Anne looked at it with interest. She did not know that it always did this when Mr Lenoir got angry.
'Oh. sir I was top of my form last term, said Sooty, in a most injured tone. The others felt certain that he was trying to lead Mr Lenoir away from his request - he was not going to promise him what he had asked!
Mrs Lenoir now joined in. "He really did do well last term, she said. 'You must remember'
'Enough'! snapped Mr Lenoir, and the smiles and laughs he had so freely lavished on everyone vanished, entirely. 'Get out, all of you!'
Rather scared, Julian, Dick, Anne and George hurried from the room, followed by Marybelle and Sooty. Sooty was grinning as he shut the door.
'I didn't promise!' he said. 'He wanted to take all our fun away. This place isn't any fun if you don't explore it. I can show you heaps of strange places.'
'What are catacombs?' asked Anne, with a vague picture of cats and combs in her head.
'Winding, secret tunnels in the hill,' said Sooty. Nobody knows them all. You can get lost in them easily, and never get out again. Lots of people have.'
'Why are there so many secret ways and things here?' wondered George.
'Easy!' said Julian. 'It was a haunt of smugglers, and there must have been many a time when they had to hide not only their goods, but themselves! And, according to old Sooty, there still is a smuggler here! What did you say his name was Barling, wasn't it?'
'Yes,' said Sooty. 'Come on upstairs and I'll show you your rooms. You've got a good view over the town.'
He took them to two rooms set side by side, on the opposite side of the big staircase from his bedroom and Marybelle's. They were small but well-furnished, and had, as Sooty said, a marvellous view over the quaint roofs and towers of Castaway Hill. They also had a remarkably good view of Mr Barling's house.
George and Anne were to sleep in one room, and Julian and Dick in the other. Evidently Mrs Lenoir had taken the trouble to remember that there were two girls and two boys, not one girl and three boys, as Mr Lenoir imagined!
Nice cosy rooms,' said Anne. 'I like these dark oak panels. Are there any secret passages in our rooms, Sooty?'
'You wait and see!' grinned Sooty. 'Look, there are your things, all unpacked from your suitcases. I expect Sarah did that. You'll like Sarah. She's a good ton, fat and round and jolly - not a bit like Block!'
Sooty seemed to have forgotten all about Tim. George reminded him.
'What about Timmy? He'll have to be near me, you know. And we must arrange to feed him and exercise him. Oh, I do hope he'll be all right. Sooty, I'd rather leave straight away than have Timmy unhappy.'
He'll be all right!' said Sooty. 'I'll give him the free run of that narrow passage we came up to my bedroom by, and we'll smuggle him out by a secret tunnel that opens hall-way down the town, and give him plenty of exercise each morning. Oh, we'll have a grand time with Timmy!'
George wasn't so sure. 'Can he sleep with me at night?' she asked. 'He'll howl the place down if he can't.
'Well - we'll try and manage it,' said Sooty, rather doubtfully. 'You've got to be jolly careful, you know. We don't want to land in serious trouble. You don't know what my stepfather can be like!'
They could guess, though. Julian looked curiously at Sooty. 'Was your own father's name Lenoir, too?' he asked.
Sooty nodded. 'Yes. He was my stepfather's cousin, and was as dark as all the Lenoirs usually are. My stepfather is an exception - he's fair. People say the fair Lenoirs are no good - but don't tell my stepfather that!'
'As it we should!' said George. 'Gracious, he'd cut off our heads or something! Come on - let's go back to Tim.
7 The hidden pit
The children were all very glad to think that they were going to have meals by themselves in the old schoolroom. Nobody wanted to have much to do with Mr Lenoir! They felt sorry for Marybelle because she had such a peculiar father.
They soon settled down at Smuggler's Top. Once George was satisfied that Timmy was safe and happy, though rather puzzled about everything, she settled down too. The only difficulty was getting Timmy to her room at night. This had to be done in darkness. Block had a most tiresome way of appearing silently and suddenly, and George was terrified of him catching a glimpse of the big dog.
Timmy had a strange sort of life the next few days! While the children were indoors, he had to stay in the narrow secret passage, where he wandered about, puzzled and lonely, pricking his ears for a sound of the whistle that meant he was to come to the cupboard and be let out.
He was fed very well, for Sooty raided the larder every night. Sarah, the cook, was amazed at the way things like soup-bones disappeared. She could not understand it. But Timmy devoured everything that was given to him.
Each morning he was given good exercise by the children. The first morning this had been really very exciting!
George had reminded Sooty of his promise to take Timmy for walks each day. 'He simply must have exercise, or he'll be terribly miserable!' she said. 'But how can we manage it? We can't possibly take him through the house and out of the front door! We'd be certain to walk into your father!'
'I told you I knew a way that came out half-way down the hill, silly,' said Sooty. 'I'll show you. We shall be quite safe once we are down there, because even if we met Block or anyone else that knew us, they wouldn't know it was our dog. They would think it was just a stray we had picked up.'
'Well - show us the way,' said George, impatiently. They were all in Sooty's bedroom, and Timmy was lying on the mat beside George. They felt really safe in Sooty's room because of the buzzer that warned them when anyone opened the door at the end of the long passage.
'We'll have to go into Marybelle's room,' said Sooty. 'You'll get a shock when you see the way that leads down the hill, I can tell you!'
He looked out of the door. The door at the end of the passage was shut. 'Marybelle, slip along and peep through the passage door,' said Sooty. 'Warn us if anyone is coming up the stairs. If not, we'll all slip quickly into your room.'
Marybelle ran to the door at the end of the passage. She opened it, and at once the warning buzzer sounded in Sooty's room, making Timmy growl fiercely. Marybelle looked through the doorway to the stair. Then she signalled to the others that no one was coming.
They all rushed out of Sooty's room into Mary-belle's, and Marybelle came to join them. She was a funny little mouse of a girl, shy and timid. Anne liked her, and once or twice teased her for being so shy.
But Marybelle did not like being teased. Her eyes filled with tears at once, and she turned away. 'She'll be better when she goes to school,' Sooty said. 'She can't help being shy, shut up all the year round in this strange house. She hardly ever sees anyone of her own age.'
They crowded into the little girl's bedroom and shut the door. Sooty turned the key in the lock. 'Just in case friend Block comes snooping,' he said with a grin.
Sooty began to move the furniture in the room to the sides, near the walls. The others watched in surprise and then helped. 'What's the idea of the furniture removal?' asked Dick, struggling with a heavy chest.
'Got to get this heavy carpet up,' panted Sooty. 'It's put there to hide the trap-door below. At least, that's what I've always thought.'
Once the furniture stood by the walls, it was easy to drag up the heavy carpet. There was a felt lining under it too, and that had to be pulled aside as well. Then the children saw a trap-door, let flat into the floor, with a ring-handle to pull it up.
They felt excited. Another secret way! This house seemed full of them. Sooty pulled at the ring and the heavy door came up quite easily. The children peered down, but they could see nothing. It was pitch-dark.
'Are there steps down?' asked Julian, holding Anne back in case she fell.
'No,' said Sooty, reaching out for a big torch he had brought in with him. 'Look!'
He switched on his torch, and the children gave a gasp. The trap-door led down to a pit, far, far below!
'Why! It's miles below the foundations of the house, surely! said Julian, surprised. 'It's just a hole down to a big pit. What's it for?'
'Oh, it was probably used to hide people - or to get rid of them!' said Sooty. 'Nice little place, isn't it? If you fell down there you'd land with an awful bump!'
'But - how in the world could we get Timmy down there - or get down ourselves?' said George. 'I'm not going to fall down it, that's certain!'
Sooty laughed. 'You won't have to,' he said. 'Look here.' He opened a cupboard and reached up to a wide shelf. He pulled something down, and the children saw that it was a rope-ladder, fine but very strong.
'There you are! We can all get down by that,' he said.
'Timmy can't,' said George at once. 'He couldn't possibly climb up or down a ladder.'
'Oh, couldn't he?' said Sooty. 'He seems such a clever dog - I should have thought he could easily have done a thing like that.'
'Well, he can't,' said George, decidedly. 'That's a silly idea.'
'I know,' said Marybelle, suddenly, going red at her boldness in breaking in on the conversation. 'I think I know! We could get the laundry basket and shut Timmy in it. And we would tie it with ropes, and let him down - and pull him up the same way!'
The others stared at her. 'Now that really is a brainwave!' said Julian, warmly. 'Good for you, Marybelle. Timmy would be quite safe in a basket. But it would have to be a big one.'
'There's a very big one in the kitchen,' said Mary-belle. 'It's never used except when we have lots of people to stay, like now. We could borrow it.'
'Oh yes, said Sooty. 'Of course we could. I'll go and get it now.'
'But what excuse will you give?' shouted Julian after him. Sooty had already unlocked the door and shot out! He was a most impatient person, and could never put off anything for a single minute.
Sooty didn't answer. He sped down the passage. Julian locked the door after him. He didn't want anyone coming in and seeing the carpet up and the yawning hole!
Sooty was back in two minutes, carrying a very heavy wicker laundry basket on his head. He banged on the door, and Julian unlocked it.
'Good!' said Julian. 'How did you get it? Did anyone mind?'
'Didn't ask them,' grinned Sooty. 'Nobody there to ask. Block's with Father and Sarah has gone out shopping. I can always put it back if any awkward questions are asked.'
The rope-ladder was shaken out down the hole. It slipped like an uncoiling snake, down and down, and reached the pit at the bottom. Then Timmy was fetched from Sooty's room. He came in wagging his tail overjoyed at being with everyone again. George hugged him.
'Darling Timmy! I hate you being hidden away like this. But never mind, we're all going out together this morning!'
'I'll go down first,' said Sooty. 'Then you'd better let Timmy down. I'll tie his basket round with this rope. It's nice and strong, and there's plenty to let down. Better tie the other end to the end of the bed, then when we come up again we can easily pull him up.'
Timmy was made to get inside the big basket and he down. He was surprised and barked a little. But George put her hand over his mouth.
'Sh! You mustn't say a word, Timmy,' she said. 'I know all this is very astonishing. But never mind, you'll have a marvellous walk at the end of it.'
Timmy heard the word 'Walk' and was glad. That was what he wanted - a really nice long walk in the open air and sunshine!
He didn't at all like having the lid shut down on him, but as George seemed to think he must put up with all these strange happenings, Timmy did so, with a very good grace.
'He's really a marvellous dog,' said Marybelle. 'Sooty, get down the hole now, and be ready for when we let him down.'
Sooty disappeared down the dark hole, holding his torch between his teeth. Down and down he went, down and down. At last he stood safely at the bottom, and flashed his torch upwards. His voice came to them, sounding rather strange and far away.
'Come on! Lower Timmy down!'
The laundry basket, feeling extraordinarily heavy now, was pushed to the edge of the hole. Then down it went, knocking against the sides here and there. Timmy growled. He didn't like this game!
Dick and Julian had hold of the rope between them. They lowered Timmy as smoothly as they could. He reached the bottom with a slight bump, and Sooty undid the basket. Out leapt Timmy, barking! But his bark sounded very small and distant to the watchers at the top.
'Now come on down, one by one!' shouted up Sooty waving his torch. 'Is the door locked, Julian?'
'Yes,' said Julian. 'Look out for Anne. She's coming now.'
Anne climbed down, a little frightened at first, but, as her feet grew used to searching for and finding the rungs of the rope-ladder, she went down quite quickly.
Then the others followed, and soon they were all standing together at the bottom of the hole, in the enormous pit. They looked round curiously. It had a musty smell, and its walls were damp and greenish. Sooty swung his torch round, and the children saw various passages leading off here and there.
'Where do they all lead to?' asked Julian, in amazement.
'Well, I told you this hill was full of tunnels,' said Sooty. 'This pit is down in the hill and these tunnels lead into the catacombs. There are miles and miles of them. No one explores them now, because so many people have been lost in them and never heard of again. There used to be an old map of them, but it's lost.'
'It's weird!' said Anne, and shivered. 'I wouldnt like to be down here alone.'
'What a place to hide smuggled goods in, said Dick. 'No one would ever find them here.'
'I guess the old-time smugglers knew every inch of these passages,' said Sooty. 'Come on! We'll take the one that leads out of the hillside. We'll have to do a bit of climbing when we get there. I hope you don't mind.'
'Not a bit,' said Julian. 'We're all good climbers. But I say, Sooty - you're sure you know the way? We don't want to be lost for ever down here!'
'Course I know the way! Come on!' said Sooty, and, flashing his torch in front of him, he led the way into the dark and narrow tunnel.
8. An exciting walk
The tunnel ran slightly downwards, and smelt nasty in places. Sometimes it opened out into pits like the one they themselves had come from. Sooty flashed his torch up them.
'That one goes into Barling's house somewhere, he said. 'Most of the old houses hereabouts have openings into pits, like ours. Jolly well hidden some of them are, too!'
'There's daylight or something in front!' said Anne, suddenly. 'Oh good! I hate this tunnel.'
Sure enough, it was daylight, creeping in through a kind of cave-entrance in the hillside. The children crowded there, and looked out.
They were outside the hill, and outside the town, somewhere on the steep cliff-side that ran down to the marsh. Sooty climbed out on to a ledge. He put his torch into his pocket.
'We've got to get to that path down there,' he said, pointing. 'That will lead us to a place where the city wall is fairly low, and we can climb over it. Is Timmy sure-footed? We don't want him tumbling into the marsh down there!'
The marsh lay a good way below, looking ugly and flat. George sincerely hoped Timmy would never fall into it. Still, he was very sure-footed, and she didn't think he would slip. The path was steep and rocky, but quite passable.
They all went down it, clambering over rocks now and again. The path led them to the city wall, which, as Sooty had said, was fairly low just there. He climbed up to the top. He was like a cat for climbing!
'No wonder he's got such a name for climbing about everywhere at school!' said Dick to Julian. "He's had good practice here. Do you remember how he climbed up to the roof of the school the term before last? Everyone was scared he'd slip and fall, but he didn't. He tied the Union Jack to one of the chimneypots!'
'Come on!' called Sooty. 'The coast is clear. This is a lonely bit of the town, and no one will see us climbing up.'
Soon they were all over the wall, Timmy too. They set off for a good walk, swinging down the hill, enjoying themselves. The mist began to clear after a while, and the sun felt nice and warm.
The town was very old. Some of the houses seemed almost tumble-down, but there were people living in them, for smoke came from the chimneys. The shops were quaint, with their long narrow windows, and overhanging eaves. The children stopped to look into them.
"Look out - here's Block!' said Sooty suddenly in a low voice. 'Don't take any notice of Timmy at all. If he comes around licking us or jumping up, pretend to try and drive him off as if lie were a stray.'
They all pretended not to see Block, but gazed earnestly into the window of a shop. Timmy, feeling rather out of it, ran up to George and pawed at her, trying to make her take notice of him.
'Go away, dog!' said Sooty, and napped at the surprised Timmy. 'Go away! Following us about like this! Go home, can't you?"
Timmy thought this was some sort of a game. He barked happily, and ran round Sooty and George, giving them an occasional lick.
'Home, dog, home!' yelled Sooty, napping hard again.
Then Block came up to them, no expression on his face at all. 'The dog bothers you?' he said. 'I will throw a stone at him and make him go.'
'Don't you dare!' said George, immediately. 'You go home yourself! I don't mind the dog following us. He's quite a nice one.'
'Block's deaf, silly,' said Sooty. 'It's no good talking to him.' To George's horror Block picked up a big stone, meaning to throw it at Timmy. George flew at him, punched him hard on the arm, and made him drop the stone.
'How dare you throw stones at a dog!' yelled the little girl in a fury. 'I'll - I'll tell the police.' _
now,' said a voice nearby. 'What's all this about?
The children turned and saw a tall man standing near them, wearing his hair rather long. He had long, narrow eyes, a long nose and a long chin. 'He's long everywhere!' thought Anne, looking at his long thin legs and long narrow feet.
'Oh, Mr Barling! I didn't see you,' said Sooty, politely. 'Nothing's the matter, thanks. It's only that this dog is following us, and Block said he'd make it go away by chucking a stone at it. And George here is fond of dogs and got angry about that.'
'I see. And who are all these children?' said Mr Barling, looking at each one of them out of his long, narrow eyes.
'They've come to stay with us because their uncle's house has been damaged in a gale,' explained Sooty. 'George's father's house, I mean. At Kirrin.'
'Ah - at Kirrin?' said Mr Barling, and seemed to prick up his long ears. 'Surely that is where that very clever scientist friend of Mr Lenoir's lives?'
'Yes. He's my father,' said George. 'Why, do you know him?'
'I have heard of him - and of his very interesting experiments,' said Mr Barling. 'Mr Lenoir knows him well, I believe?'
'Not awfully well,' said George, puzzled. 'They just write to one another, I think. My father telephoned to Mr Lenoir to ask him if he could have us to stay while our own house is being mended.'
'And Mr Lenoir, of course, was only too delighted to have the whole company of you! said Mr Barling. 'Such a good, generous fellow, your father, Pierre!'
The children stared at Mr Barling, thinking that it was strange of him to say nice things in such a nasty voice. They felt uncomfortable. It was plain that Mr Barling did not like Mr Lenoir at all. Well, neither did they, but they didn't like Mr Barling any better!
Timmy saw another dog and darted happily after him. Block had now disappeared, going up the steep high street with his basket. The children said goodbye to Mr Barling, not wanting to talk to him any more.
They went after Timmy, talking eagerly as soon as they had left Mr Barling behind.
'Goodness - that was a narrow escape from Block, said Julian. Old beast - going to throw that enormous stone at Timmy. No wonder you flew at him, George. But you very nearly gave the game away, though.
'I don't care, - said George. 'I wasn't going tī have Timmys leg broken. It was a bit of bad luck meeting Block our very first morning out.'
Well probably never meet him again when we take Timmyy out,' said' Sooty, comfortingly. And if we do well simply say the dog always joins us when it meets us. Which is perfectly true.'
They enjoyed their walk. They went into a quaint old coffee shop and had steaming cups of delicious creamy coffee and jammy buns. Timmy had two of the buns and gobbled them greedily. George went off to buy some meat for him at the butcher's, choosing a shop that Sooty said Mrs Lenoir did not go to. She did not want any butcher telling Mrs Lenoir that the children had been buying dog-meat!
They went back the same way as they had come. They made their way up the steep cliff-path, and in at the tunnel-entrance, back through the winding tunnel to the pit, and there was the rope-ladder waiting for them. Julian and Dick went up first, while George packed the surprised Timmy into the basket again and tied the rope firmly round it. Then up went the whining Timmy, bumping against the sides of the hole, until the two panting boys pulled the basket in Marybelle's room and undid it.
It was ten minutes before the dinner-hour. 'Just time to shut the trap-door, pull back the carpet and wash our hands,' said Sooty. 'And I'll put old Timmy back into the secret passage behind the cupboard in my room, George. Where is that meat you bought? I'll put that in the passage too. He can eat it when he likes.'
Did you put him a nice warm rug there, and a dish of fresh water?' asked George, anxiously, for the third or fourth time.
You know I did. I keep telling you, said Sooty. Look, we wont put back all the furniture except the chairs. We can say we want it left back because we like to play a game on the carpet. It'll be an awful bore if we have to move chests and things every time we exercise Tim.'
They were just in time for their dinner. Block was there to serve it, and so was Sarah. The children sat down hungrily, in spite of having had coffee and buns. Block and Sarah ladled out hot soup on to their plates.
'I hope you got rid of the unpleasant dog,' said Block in his monotonous voice. He gave George a rather nasty look. Evidently he had not forgotten how she had flown at him.
Sooty nodded. It was no good speaking an answer, for Block would not hear. Sarah bustled round, taking away the soup-plates and preparing to give them their second course.
The food was very good at Smuggler's Top. There was plenty of it, and the hungry visitors and Sooty ate everything put before them. Marybelle hadn't much appetite, but she was the only one. George tried to secrete tit-bits and bones whenever she could, for Timmy.
Two or three days went by, and the children fell into their new life quite happily. Timmy was taken out each morning for a long walk. The children soon got used to slipping down the rope-ladder, and making their way with Timmy to the cliff-side.
In the afternoons they went to either Sooty's room or Marybelle's, and played games or read. They could have Timmy there, because the buzzer always warned them if anyone was coming.
At night it was always an excitement to get Timmy to George's room without being seen. This was usually done when Mr and Mrs Lenoir were sitting at their dinner, and Block and Sarah were serving them.
The children had a light supper first, and Mr and Mrs Lenoir had their dinner an hour later. It was quite the best time to smuggle Timmy along to George's room.
Timmy seemed to enjoy the smuggling. He ran silently beside George and Sooty, stopped at every corner, and scampered gladly into George's room as soon as he got there. He lay quietly under the bed till George was in bed herself, and then he came out to lie on her feet.
George always locked their door at night. She didn't want Sarah or Mrs Lenoir coming in and finding Timmy there! But nobody came, and as night after night went by, George grew more easy about Timmy.
Taking him back to Sooty's room in the morning was a bit of a nuisance, because it had to be done early, before anyone was up. But George could always wake herself at any time she chose, and each morning about the little girl slipped through the house a with Timmy. She went in at Sooty's door, and he jumped out of bed to deal with Timmy. He was always awakened by the buzzer that sounded when George opened the door at the end of the passage.
'I hope you are all enjoying yourselves,' Mr Lenoir said to the children, whenever they met him in the hall or on the stairs. And they always replied politely. 'Oh yes, Mr Lenoir, thank you.'
'It's quite a peaceful holiday after all,' said Julian. 'Nothing happens at all!'
And then things did begin to happen and once they had begun they never stopped!
9 Who is in the tower?
One night Julian was awakened by someone opening his door. He sat up at once. 'Who is it?' he said. 'Me, Sooty,' said Sooty's voice, very low. 'I say, I want you to come and see something.'
Julian woke Dick, and the two of them put on their dressing-gowns. Sooty led them quietly out of the room and took them to a peculiar little room, tucked away in an odd wing of the house. All kinds of things were kept here, trunks and boxes, old toys, chests of old clothes, broken vases that had never been mended, and many other worthless things.
'Look,' said Sooty, taking them to the window. They saw that the little room had a view of the tower belonging to the house. It was the only room in the house that did, for it was built at a strange angle.
The boys looked - and Julian gave an exclamation. Someone was signalling from the tower! A light there flashed every now and again. In and out - pause - flash, flash, in and out - pause. The light went regularly on and off in a certain rhythm.
'Now - who's doing that?' whispered Sooty.
'Your father?' wondered Julian.
'Don't think so,- said Sooty. -I think I heard him snoring away in his room. We could go and find out though - see if he really is in his bedroom.
Well - for goodness' sake don't let's get caught, said Julian, not at all liking the idea of prying about in his host's house.
They made their way to where Mr Lenoir had his room. It was quite plain he was there, for a regular low snoring came from behind the closed door.
'It may be Block up in the tower,' said Dick. 'He looks full of secrets. I wouldn't trust him an inch. I bet it's Block.'
'Well - shall we go to his room and see if it's empty?' whispered Sooty. 'Come on. If it's Block signalling, he's doing it without Father knowing.'
'Oh, your father might have told him to,' said Julian, who felt that he wouldn't trust Mr Lenoir much further than he would trust Block.
They went up the back-stairs to the wing where the staff slept. Sarah slept in a room there with Harriet the kitchen-maid. Block slept alone.
Sooty pushed open Block's door very softly and slowly. When he had enough room to put in his head, he did so. The room was full of moonlight. By the window was Block's bed. And Block was there! Sooty could see the humpy shape of his body, and the black round patch that was his head.
He listened, but he could not catch Block's breathing. He must sleep very quietly.
He withdrew his head, and pushed the other two boys quietly down the back-stairs.
'Was he there?' whispered Julian.
'Yes. So it can't be him, signalling up in our tower,' said Sooty. 'Well - who can it be then? I don't like it. It couldn't possibly be Mother or Sarah or Harriet. Is there a stranger in our house, someone we don't know, living here in secret?'
'Can't be!' said Julian, a little shiver running down his back. 'Look here - what about us going up to the tower and trying to peep through the door or something? We'd soon find out who it was then. Perhaps we ought to tell your father.'
'No. Not yet. I want to find out a whole lot more before I say anything to anyone,' said Sooty, sounding obstinate. 'Let's creep up to the tower. We shall have to be jolly careful though. You get to it by a spiral staircase, rather narrow. There's nowhere much to hide if anyone suddenly came down out of the tower.
'What's in the tower?' whispered Dick, as they made their way through the dark and silent house, thin streaks of moonlight coming in here and there between the crack of the closed curtains.
'Nothing much. Just a table and a chair or two, and a bookcase of books,' said Sooty. 'We use it on hot summer days when the breeze gets in strongly through the windows there, and we can see a long way all round us.'
They came to a little landing. From this a winding, narrow stairway of stone went up to the rounded tower. The boys looked up. Moonlight fell on the stairway from a slit-like window in the wall.
'We'd better not all go up,' said Sooty. 'We should find it so difficult to hurry down, three of us, if the person in the tower suddenly came out. I'll go. You stay down here and wait. I'll sec if I can spy anything through the crack in the door or the key-hole.'
He crept softly up the stairway, soon lost to view as he rounded the first spiral. Julian and Dick waited in the shadows at the bottom. There was a thick curtain over one of the windows there, and they got behind it, wrapping its folds round them for warmth.
Sooty crept up to the top. The tower-room had a stout oak door, studded and barred. It was shut! It was no use trying to look through the crack, because there wasn't one. He bent down to peer through the keyhole.
But that was stuffed up with something, so he could not see through that either. He pressed his ear to it and listened.
He heard a series of little clicks. Click-click-click-click - click. Nothing else at all.
That's the click of the light they're using,' thought Sooty. 'Still signalling like mad! What for? Who to? And who is in our tower-room, using it as a signalling-station? How I wish I knew!'
Suddenly the clicking stopped. There was the sound of someone walking across the stone floor of the tower. And almost at once the door opened!
Sooty had no time to hurry down the stairs. All he could do was to squeeze into a niche, and hope that the person would not see him or touch him as he went by. The moon went behind a cloud at that moment, and Sooty was thankful to know he was hidden in black shadow. Someone came down the stairs and actually brushed against Sooty's arm.
Sooty jumped almost out of his skin, expecting to be hauled out of his niche. But the person did not seem to notice, and went on down the spiral stairway, walking softly.
Sooty did not dare to go down after him, for he was afraid the moon would come out, and cast his shadow down for the signaller to see.
So he stayed squeezed in his niche, hoping that Julian and Dick were well-hidden, and would not think it was he. Sooty, who was walking down the stairs!
'We'd better follow him!' whispered Julian to Dick. 'Come on. Quiet, now!'
But Julian got muddled up with the great curtains, and could not seem to find his way out. Dick, however, slipped out easily enough, and padded after the disappearing person. The moon was now out again, and Dick could catch glimpses of the signaller as he went past the moonlight streaks. Keeping well in the shadows himself, he darted quietly after him. Where was he going?
He followed him across the landing to a passage. Then across another landing and up the back-stairs! But those led to the staff bedrooms. Surely the man was not going there?
Dick, to his enormous surprise, saw the person disappear silently into Block's bedroom. He crept to the door, which had been left a little ajar. There was no light in the room except that of the moon. There was no sound of talking. Nothing at all except a creak which might have come from the bed.
Dick peeped in, full of the most intense curiosity. Would he see the man waking up Block? Would he see him climbing out of the window?
He stared round the room. There was no one there at all, except Block lying in bed. The moonlight lit up the comers, and Dick could quite plainly see that the room was empty. Only Block lay there, and, as Dick watched, he heard him give a sigh and roll over in bed.
'Well! That's the strangest thing I ever saw,' thought Dick, puzzled. 'A man goes into a room and completely disappears, without a single sound! Where can he have gone?'
He went back to find the others. Sooty by this time had crept down the spiral staircase and had found Julian, who had explained that Dick had gone to follow the peculiar signaller.
They went to find Dick, and suddenly bumped into him, creeping along quietly in the darkness. They all jumped violently, and Julian almost cried out, but stifled his voice just in time.
'Golly! You gave me a scare, Dick!' he whispered. 'Well, did you see who it was and where he went?'
Dick told them of his strange experience. 'He simply went into Block's room and vanished,' he said. 'Is there any secret passage leading out of Block's room, Sooty?'
'No, none,' said Sooty. 'That wing is much newer than the rest of the house, and hasn't any secrets in at all. I simply can't imagine what happened to the man. How very odd! Who is he, and why does he come, and where on earth does he go?'
'We really must find out,' said Julian. 'It's such a mystery! Sooty, how did you know there was signalling going on from the tower?'
'Well, some time ago I found it out, quite by accident,' said Sooty. 'I couldn't sleep, and I went along to that funny little box-room place, and ferreted
about for an old book I thought I'd seen there. And suddenly I looked up at the tower, and saw a light flashing there.'
'Funny,' said Dick.
'Well, I went along there at night a good many times after that, to see if I could see the signals again,' said Sooty, 'and at last I did. The first time I had seen them there was a good moon, and the second time there was, too. So, I thought, next time there's a moon, I'll creep along to that old box-room and see if the signaller is at work again. And sure enough he was!'
'Where does that window look out on, that we saw the light flashing from?' asked Julian, thoughtfully. 'The seaward side or the landward?'
'Seaward,' said Sooty at once. 'There's something or someone out at sea that receives those signals. Goodness knows who.'
'Some kind of smugglers, I suppose,' said Dick. 'But it can't be anything to do with your father, Sooty. I say - let's go up into the tower, shall we? We might find something there or see something.'
They went back to the spiral staircase and climbed up to the tower-room. It was dark, for the moon was behind a cloud. But it came out after a while, and the boys looked out of the seaward window.
There was no mist at all that night. They could see the flat marshes stretching away to the sea. They gazed down in silence. Then the moon went m and darkness covered the marsh.
Suddenly Julian clutched the others, making them jump. 'I can see something!' he whispered. 'Look beyond there. What is it?'
They all looked. It seemed like a tiny line of very small dots of light. They were so far away that it was difficult to see if they stayed still or moved. Then the moon came out again, flooding everywhere with silvery light, and the boys could not see anything except the moonshine.
But when the moon went in again, there was the line of tiny, pricking lights again! 'A bit nearer, surely!' whispered Sooty. 'Smugglers - coming over a secret path from the sea to Castaway Hill! Smugglers!'
10 Timmy makes a noise
The three girls were very excited the next day when the boys told them their adventure of the night before.
'Gracious!' said Anne, her eyes wide with surprised 'Who can it be signalling like that? And wherever did he go to? Fancy him going into Block's room, with Block there in bed!'
'It's very peculiar,' said George. 'I wish you had come and told me and Anne.'
'There wasn't time - and anyway, we couldn't have Timmy about at night. He might have flown at the signaller,' said Dick.
The man must have been signalling
to the smugglers,' said
Julian, thoughtfully. 'Let me see-probably they came over from
'But who?' said Dick. 'It can't have been Mr Barling, who, Sooty says, is known to be a smuggler. Because the signal lights came from our house, not his. It s all very puzzling.'
'Well, we'll do our best to solve the mystery,' said George. 'There's some peculiar game going on in this very house, without your father's knowledge, Sooty We'll keep a jolly good lookout and see if we can find out what it is.'
They were at breakfast alone, when they discussed the night's adventure. Block came in to see if they had finished at that moment. Anne did not notice him.
'What does Mr Barling smuggle?' she asked Sooty. Immediately she got a hard kick on her ankle, and stared in pain and surprise. 'Why did you . . . ?' she began, and got another kick, harder still. Then she saw Block.
'But he's deaf,' she said. 'He can't hear anything we say.'
Block began to clear away, his face as usual showing no expression. Sooty glared at Anne. She was upset and cross, but said no more. She rubbed her bruised ankle hard. As soon as Block went out of the room she turned on Sooty.
'You mean thing! You hurt my ankle like anything! Why shouldn't I say things in front of Block? He's quite deaf!' said Anne, her face very red.
'I know he's supposed to be,' said Sooty. 'And I think he is. But I saw a funny look come over his face when you asked me what Mr Barling smuggled -almost as if he had heard what you said, and was surprised.'
'You imagined it!' said Anne, crossly, still rubbing her ankle. 'Anyway, don't kick me so hard again. A gentle push with your toe would have been enough. I won't talk in front of Block if you don't want me to, but it's quite plain he's as deaf as a post!'
'Yes, he's deaf all right,' said Dick. 'I dropped a plate off the table yesterday, by accident, just behind him, and it smashed to bits, if you remember. Well, he didn't jump or turn a hair, as he would have done if he could have heard.'
'All the same - I never trust Block, deaf or not, said Sooty. 'I always feel he might read our lips or something. Deaf people can often do that, you know.'
They went off to take Timmy for his usual morning walk. Timmy was quite used to being shut in the laundry basket by now, and lowered into the pit. In fact, he always jumped straight into the basket as soon as the lid was opened, and lay down.
That morning they again met Block, who stared with great interest at the dog. He plainly recognised it as the same dog as before.
'There's Block,' said Julian, in a low voice. 'Don't drive Timmy off this time. We'll pretend he's a stray who always meets us each morning.'
So they let Timmy run round them, and when Block came up, they nodded to him, and made as if to go on their way. But the man stopped them.
That dog seems to be a friend of yours,' he said, in his curious monotone of a voice.
'Oh yes. He goes with us each morning now,' said Julian, politely. 'He quite thinks he's our dog! Nice fellow, isn't he?'
Block stared at Timmy, who growled. 'Mind you do not bring that dog into the house,' said Block. 'If you do, Mr Lenoir will have him killed.'
Julian saw George's face beginning to turn red with fury. He spoke hurriedly. 'Why should we bring him to the house, Block? Don't be silly!'
Block, however, did not appear to hear. He gave Timmy a nasty look, and went on his way, occasionally turning round to look at the little company of children.
'Horrid fellow!' said George, angrily. 'How dare he say things like that?'
When they got back to Marybelle's bedroom that morning, they pulled Timmy up from the pit, and let him out of the basket. 'We'll put him into the secret passage as usual,' said George, 'and I'll put some biscuits in with him. I got some nice ones for him this morning, the sort he likes, all big and crunchy.'
She went to the door - but just as she was about to unlock it and take Timmy into Sooty's room next door, Timmy gave a small growl.
George took her hand away from the door at once. She turned to look at Timmy. He was standing stiffly, the hackles on his neck rising up, and he was staring fixedly at the door. George put her hand to her lips warningly, and whispered:
'Someone's outside. Timmy knows. He's smelt them. Will you all talk loudly, and pretend to be playing a game? I'll pop Timmy into the cupboard where the rope-ladder is kept.'
At once the others began to talk to one another, while George swiftly dragged Timmy to the cupboard, patted him to make him understand he was to be quiet, and shut him in.
'My turn to deal,' said Julian loudly, and took a pack of snap cards from the top of the chest. 'You won last time, Dick. Bet I'll win this time.'
He dealt swiftly. The others, still talking loudly, saying anything that came into their heads, began to play snap. They yelled 'snap' nearly all the time, pretending to be very jolly and hilarious. Anyone listening outside the door would never guess it was all pretence.
George, who was watching the door closely, saw that the handle was gradually turning, very slowly indeed. Someone meant to open the door without being heard, and come in unexpectedly. But the door was locked!
Soon the person outside, whoever it was, realised that the door was locked, and the handle slowly turned the other way again. Then it was still. There came no other sound. It was impossible to know if anyone was still outside the door or not.
But Timmy would know! Signing to the others to carry on with their shouting and laughing, George let Timmy out of the cupboard. He ran to the door of the room, and stood there, sniffing quietly. Then he turned and looked at George, his tail wagging.
'It's all right,' said George to the others. There's no one there now. Timmy always knows. We'd better quickly take him into your room, Sooty, while the coast is clear. Who could it have been, do you think, snooping outside?
Block, I should say,' said Sooty. He unlocked the door and peered out. There was no one m the passage. Sooty tiptoed to the door at the end and looked out there also. He waved to George to tell her it was all right to take Timmy into his room.
Soon Timmy was safely in the secret passage, crunching up his favourite biscuits. He had got quite used to his peculiar life now, and did not mind at all. He knew his way about the passage, and had explored other passages that led from it. He was quite at home in the maze of secret ways!
'Better go and have our dinner now,' said Dick. And mind, Anne - don't go and say anything silly in front of that horrid Block, in case he reads your lips.'
Of course I shan't,' said Anne, indignantly. 'I wouldnt have before, but I never thought of him reading my lips. If he does, he's very clever. '
Soon they were all sitting down to lunch. Block was there, waiting to serve them. Sarah was out for the day and did not appear. Block served them with soup, and then went out.
Suddenly, to the children's intense surprise and fright, they heard Timmy barking loudly! They jumped violently.
'Listen! That's Timmy!' said Julian. 'He must be somewhere near here, in that secret passage. How weird it sounds, his bark coming muffled and distant like that. But anyone would know it was a dog barking.'
'Don't say anything at all about it in front of Block,' said Sooty. 'Not a word. Pretend not to hear at all, if Timmy barks again. What on earth is he barking for?'
'It's the bark he uses when he's excited and pleased,' said George. 'I expect he's chasing a rat. He always goes right off his head when he sees a rat or a rabbit. There he goes again. Oh, dear, I hope he catches the rat quickly and settles down!'
Block came back at that moment. Timmy had again just stopped barking. But, in a moment or two, his doggy voice could be heard once more, very muffled. 'Woof! Woof-woof!'
Julian was watching Block closely. The man went on serving the meat. He said nothing, but looked round at the children intently, as if he wanted to see each child's expression, or see if they said anything.
'Jolly good soup that was today,' said Julian, cheerfully, looking round at the others. 'I must say Sarah is a wonderful cook.'
'I think her ginger buns are gorgeous,' said Anne. 'Especially when they are all hot from the oven.'
'Woof-woof,' said Timmy's voice from far away behind the walls.
'George, your mother makes the most heavenly fruit cake I ever tasted,' said Dick to George, wishing Timmy would be quiet. 'I do wonder how they're all getting on at Kirrin Cottage, and if they've started mending the roof yet.'
'Woof!' said Timmy, joyfully chasing his rat down another bit of passage.
Block served everyone and then silently disappeared. Julian went to the door to make sure he had gone and was not outside.
'I hope old Block is as deaf as a post!' he said. I could have sworn I saw a surprised look come into those cold eyes of his, when Timmy barked.'
'Well, if he could hear him, which I don't believe,' said George, 'he must have been jolly surprised to see us talking away and not paying any attention to a dog's barking at all!'
The others giggled. They kept a sharp ear for Block's return. They heard footsteps after a time, and began to pile their plates together for him to take away.
The schoolroom door opened. But it was not Block who came in. It was Mr Lenoir! He came in, smiling as usual, and looked round at the surprised children.
'Ah! So you are enjoying your dinner, and eating it all up, like good children,' he said. He always irritated the children because he spoke to them as if they were very small. 'Does Block wait on you properly?'
'Oh yes, thank you,' said Julian, standing up politely. 'We are having a very nice time here. We think Sarah is a wonderful cook!'
'Ah, that's good, that's good,' said Mr Lenoir. The children waited impatiently for him to go. They were so afraid that Timmy would bark again. But Mr Lenoir seemed in no hurry.
And then Timmy barked again! Woof, woof, woof!
11. George is worried
Mr Lenoir cocked his head on one side almost like a startled dog, when he heard the muffled barking. He looked at the children. But they made no sign of having heard anything. Mr Lenoir listened a little while, saying nothing. Then he turned to a drawing-book, belonging to Julian, and began to look at the sketches there.
The children felt somehow that he was doing it for the sake of staying in the schoolroom a little longer. Into Julian's mind came the quick suspicion that somehow Mr Lenoir must have been told of Timmy's barking and come to investigate it for himself. It was the first time he had ever come to the schoolroom!
Timmy barked again, a little more distantly. Mr Lenoir's nose grew white at the tip. Sooty and said Dick, brightly. 'Sometimes they seem to mew like a cat.'
'Pah!' said Mr Lenoir, almost spitting out the word. 'I suppose you will say they also bark like a dog?'
'Well, they might, I suppose,' agreed Dick, looking faintly surprised. 'After all, if they can mew like cats, there's no reason why they shouldn't bark like dogs.'
Timmy barked again very joyfully. Mr Lenoir faced the children, in a very bad temper indeed now.
'Can't you hear that? Tell me what that noise is!'
The children all put their heads on one side, and pretended to listen very carefully. 'I can't hear anything,' said Dick. 'Not a thing.'
'I can hear the wind,' said Anne.
'I can hear the gulls again,' said Julian, putting his hand behind one ear.
'I can hear a door banging. Perhaps that's the noise you mean,' said Sooty, with a most innocent expression. His stepfather gave him a poisonous look. He could really be very unpleasant.
'And there's a window rattling,'' said Marybelle, eager to do her bit too, though she felt very frightened of her father, for she knew his sudden rages very well.
'I tell you, it's a dog, and you know it!' snapped Mr Lenoir, the tip of his nose so white now that it looked very strange indeed. 'Where's the dog? Whose is he?'
'What dog?' began Julian, frowning as if he were very puzzled indeed. 'There's no dog here that I can see.'
Mr Lenoir glared at him, and clenched his fingers. It was quite clear that he would have liked to box Julian s ears. Then listen!' he hissed. 'Listen and say what you think could make that barking, if not a dog?'
They were all forced to listen, for by now they felt scared of the angry man. But fortunately Timmy made no sound at all. Either he had let the rat escape, or was now gobbling it up. Anyway, there was not a single sound from him!
'Sorry, but really I can't hear a dog barking,' said Julian, in rather an injured tone.
'Nor can I!' said Dick, and the others joined in, saying the same. Mr Lenoir knew that this time they were speaking the truth, for he too could not hear anything.
'When I catch that dog I will have him poisoned,' he said, very slowly and clearly. 'I will not have dogs in my house.'
He turned on his heel and went out quickly, which was a very good thing, for George was quite ready to fly into one of her rages, and then there would have been a real battle! Anne put her hand on George's arm to stop her shouting after Mr Lenoir.
'Don't give the game away!' she whispered. 'Don't say anything, George!'
George bit her lip. She had gone first red with rage and then white. She stamped her foot.
'How dare he, how dare he?' she burst out.
'Shut up, silly,' said Julian. 'Block will be back in a minute. We must all pretend to be awfully surprised that Mr Lenoir thought there was a dog, because, if Block can read our lips, he mustn't know the truth.'
Block came in with the pudding at that moment, his face as blank as ever. It was the most curious face the children had ever seen, for there was never any change of expression on it at all. As Anne said, it might have been a wax mask!
'Funny how Mr Lenoir thought there was a dog barking!' began Julian, and the others backed him up valiantly. If Block could indeed read their lips he would be puzzled to know whether there had been a dog barking or not!
The children escaped to Sooty's room afterwards and held a council of war. 'What are we to do about Timmy?' said George. 'Does your stepfather know the secret way behind the walls of Smuggler's Top, Sooty? Could he possibly get in and find Timmy? Timmy might fly at him, you know.'
'Yes, he might,' said Sooty, thoughtfully. 'I don't know if Father does know about the secret passages. I mean, I expect he knows, but I don't know if he guessed where the entrances are. I found them out quite by accident.'
'I'm going home,' said George, suddenly. 'I'm not going to risk Timmy being poisoned.'
'You can't go home alone,' said Julian. 'It would look funny. If you do, we'll all have to, and then we won't have a chance to solve this mystery with Sooty.'
'No, for goodness' sake don't go and leave me just now,' said Sooty, looking quite alarmed. 'It would make my father furious, simply furious.'
George hesitated. She didn't want to make trouble for Sooty, whom she liked very much. But, on the other hand, she certainly was not going to risk danger to Timmy.
'Well - I'll telephone my father and say I'm homesick and want to go back,' said George. 'I'll say I miss Mother. It's quite true, I do miss her. You others can stay on here and solve the mystery. It wouldn't be fair of you to try and keep me and Timmy here when you know I'd worry every moment in case someone got into the secret passage and put down poisoned meat for him to eat.'
The others hadn't thought of this. That would be terrible. Julian sighed. He would have to let George have her own way after all.
'All right. You telephone to your father,' he said. There's a phone downstairs. Do it now if you like. There won't be anyone about now, I don't suppose.'
George slipped down the passage, out of the door there, and down the stairs to where the telephone was enclosed in a dark little cupboard. She dialled the number she wanted.
There was a long wait. Then she heard the buzzing noise - brr - brr - brr - that told her that the telephone bell at Kirrin Cottage was ringing. She began to plan what she should say to her father. She must, she really must go home with Timmy. She didn't know how she was going to explain about Timmy - perhaps she neednt explain at all. But she meant to go home that day or the next!
'Brr - brr - brr - brr' said the bell at the other end. It went on and on, and nobody answered it. She did not hear her father's familiar voice - only the bell that went on ringing. Why did nobody answer?
The operator at the exchange spoke to her. 'I'm sorry, there's no reply.'
George put down the receiver miserably. Perhaps her parents were out? She would have to try again later on.
Poor George tried three times, but each time with the same result. No reply. As she was coming out of the telephone cupboard for the third time, Mrs Lenoir saw her.
'Have you been trying to telephone to your home?' she said. 'Haven't you heard any news?'
'I haven't had a letter yet,' said George. 'I've tried three times to telephone Kirrin Cottage but each time there is no reply.'
'Well we heard this morning that it is impossible to live in Kin-in Cottage while the men are hammering and knocking everywhere,' said Mrs Lenoir, in her eentle voice. 'We heard from your mother. She said that the noise was driving your father mad, and they were going away for a week or so, till things were better. But Mr Lenoir at once wrote and asked them here. We shall know tomorrow, because we have asked them to telephone a reply. We could not get them on the telephone today, of course, any more than you could, because they have gone away already.'
'Oh,' said George, surprised at all this news and wondered why her mother had not written to tell her too.
'Your mother said she had written to you,' said Mrs Lenoir. "Maybe the letter will come by the next post. The posts are often most peculiar here. It will be a pleasure to have your parents if they can come. Mr Lenoir particularly wants to meet your clever father. He thinks he is quite a genius.'
George said no more but went back to the others, her face serious. She opened Sooty's door, and the others saw at once that she had had news of some sort.
'I can't go home with Timothy,' said George. 'Mother and Father can't stand the noise the workmen make, and they have both gone away!'
'Bad luck!' said Sooty. 'All the same, I'm glad you'll have to stay here, George. I should hate to lose you or Timmy.'
'Your mother has written to ask my mother and father to come and stay here too,' said George. 'What I shall do about Timmy I don't know! And they are sure to ask questions about him too. I can't tell a downright lie and say I left him with Alf the fisher-boy, or anything like that. I can't think what to do!'
'We'll think of something,' promised Sooty. 'Perhaps I can get one of the villagers to look after him for us. That would be a very good idea.'
'Oh yes!' said George, cheering up. 'Why didn't I think of that before? Let's ask someone quickly, Sooty.'
But it was impossible to do anything that day because Mrs Lenoir asked them to go down into the drawing-room after tea, and have a game with her. So none of them could go out to find someone to look after Timmy. 'Never mind,' thought George. 'He'll be safe tonight on my bed! Tomorrow will be soon enough.'
It was the first time that Mrs Lenoir had asked them down to be with her. 'You see, Mr Lenoir is out tonight on important business,' she explained. 'He has had to go to the mainland with the car. He doesn't like his evenings disturbed when he is at home, so I haven't been able to see as much of you all as I should have liked. But tonight I can.'
Julian wondered if Mr Lenoir had gone to the mainland on smuggling business! Somehow the smuggled goods must be taken across to the mainland and if all that signalling business the other night had to do with Mr Lenoir's smuggling then maybe he had now gone to dispose of the goods!
The telephone bell rang shrilly. Mrs Lenoir got up. 'I expect that is your mother or father on the phone,' she said to George. 'Maybe I shall have news for you! Perhaps your parents will be arriving here tomorrow.'
She went out into the hall. The children waited anxiously. Would George's parents come or not?
Next - Chapters 12-17