ANOTHER STRANGE THING
Roger and Snubby were both most put-out in the morning when they heard about the night’s happenings.
“Another adventure without us!” Snubby sulked.
“Well we couldn’t wake you – we were trying to be quiet and not alert any burglars,” Diana said. “It would have made too much noise, creeping along and waking you, and Loony would have been bound to make a row.”
The four children were sat in the sitting room together after breakfast. The sun was shining brightly again and the day was already hot, with no trace of the storm, but everything in the garden was too wet to sit on, so they had decided to sit indoors. They couldn’t decide whether to tell Miss Pepper about the noises.
“I don’t think there’s any point,” Roger said. “If you think it was the door of the garden shed, why say anything?”
“I just can’t help feeling there’s something mighty strange about it,” said Barney solemnly.
Diana stared at him in surprise. “But – last night – you thought it was the door of the shed!” she exclaimed.
“Yes, I know,” Barney said. “I just can’t help wondering why Miranda was so frightened, whimpering like she was. It’s as if she knew there was someone down here.”
“But how could there be?” Snubby said. “All the doors and windows were locked – you checked them!”
“And like Diana said, the keys were all in the doors, so no-one could put a key in outside.” Roger added.
“I know, I know.” Barney still looked puzzled. “It’s impossible really, when you think about it.”
Miss Pepper came in with a duster.
“Come on now – shoo!” she smiled. “This room needs a thorough clean and dust!”
“Let me help you,” Diana said, and ran to fetch another duster. The three boys wandered out into the garden to see if the hot sun had dried the table and chairs so they could sit down. They were almost dry, so Barney fetched a cloth from the shed and wiped the rest of the raindrops off, and they sat down. Miranda began to chase Loony round the lawn.
Barney got up after a few minutes and went over to the shed. The door was still ajar. He pushed it sharply and it banged against the frame. It certainly would have sounded like a loud bump in the stillness of the night. But something else bothered him now. He and Diana had been sat right next to Diana’s window when he had heard the bump. And it had certainly not sounded as if it was in the garden. It had sounded further away. If it had been the door of the shed, they would both have heard it a lot more clearly because Diana’s window overlooked the garden. Barney felt uncomfortable. He wandered back to Snubby and Roger and told them what he thought.
In the sitting room, Diana and Miss Pepper were busy dusting. Diana was doing one side, and Miss Pepper the other. Suddenly she gave an exclamation.
“Well I never!”
Diana turned at once.
“What is it, Miss Pepper?” she asked.
Miss Pepper was standing looking at a small brown oak table that stood next to one of the armchairs near the fireplace.
“The silver!” Miss Pepper said. “There were two silver candlesticks and a goblet on this table – they’ve gone!”
Diana felt a horrible prickle of fright go down her back. She went over to Miss Pepper.
“Gone?” she stammered. “Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure, dear,” said Miss Pepper. “They’ve been in my family for a long time, and I brought them with me when I came here. Two fancy candlesticks and a silver drinks goblet. They were all stood right here.”
Diana didn’t know what to say or do. She simply flung down her duster, and, to the amazement of Miss Pepper, ran out of the patio doors to fetch Barney.
“Barney – something’s happened!” she said, pulling at his arm. “Come indoors!”
The three boys came hurrying in, alarmed at Diana’s frightened face.
“What is it?” asked Roger. “What’s up?”
“The silver has disappeared!” said Diana. “Tell them, Miss Pepper! Two candlesticks and a goblet! They were on this table!”
All four children stared at each other.
“What on earth is going on?” Miss Pepper said. “Why do you all look as if you know something I don’t?”
They all sat down and between them, the children told Miss Pepper all about the happenings of the night before. Miss Pepper was horrified. She didn’t know what to say at first.
“So there has been someone in this house?” she asked.
“But how could there have been?” Diana was almost in tears at the thought that there had indeed been someone creeping about while she and Barney were also creeping about. “How could they have got in or out without either a key or breaking a window or door?”
It was indeed a puzzle, and rather a frightening one. They sat and talked about it for some time. It was in fact nearly lunch time by the time Snubby noticed the clock and realised that he felt terribly hungry.
Diana and Miss Pepper went and prepared a simple lunch of salad, cold meat and pork pie. No-one else apart from Snubby felt particularly hungry, and Snubby gladly ate more than his share.
“Mustn’t waste it,” he grinned, trying to make everyone laugh. Miranda sensed the tense atmosphere and started to jig about, hoping that someone would laugh. Roger managed a weak grin.
“Shall we go to the police?” Diana asked.
“I don’t see what good it would do,” Miss Pepper sighed. “The entire house was locked, nothing is broken or disturbed, there are no footprints anywhere, and the keys are all here and undisturbed in the doors. The police will just think I’ve been forgetful and mislaid the silver somewhere.”
“I know!” Snubby said, his mouth full of ham. “Why don’t we tell Mr King? He’s police, but he’s our friend, and he’ll know what to do for the best!”
“That’s a good idea, Snubby,” said Miss Pepper. “Perhaps one of you boys would like to go over to Lower Honeywell this afternoon and see him? I’m afraid I don’t have his telephone number.”
“I’ll go!” said Roger, in a most important and serious tone. Barney was about to interrupt and say that he would go, but Roger felt that Barney had already had quite a lot of adventures, and it was his, Roger’s, turn! “No Barney – you stay here with Diana and Miss Pepper. I’ll go, and Snubby will come too. Loony will enjoy the walk.”
Miss Pepper felt a little better to know that Mr King might be able to help. After lunch, the two boys set off to Lower Honeywell, taking a bottle of lemonade and a bag of sweets with them for the walk. Diana and Barney decided to have a proper hunt round the cottage to see if there was anything they had missed last night. Miss Pepper went into the garden with some sewing, and sat in the warm sun, hoping that her needlework might take her mind off things for a while.
Diana and Barney had a most unsuccessful hunt. They could find nothing at all that was different, no odd marks, no footprints, nothing moved, nothing broken, not even a sign that someone had tried to break in and failed.
“I just can’t understand it.” Diana flopped down on a chair. “Barney – you don’t suppose someone came down the chimney, do you?”
“The chimney?” said Barney in surprise.
“Well it’s the only thing I can think of,” said Diana. “The only way that doesn’t need a key.”
“They’d have left soot everywhere,” said Barney. “They couldn’t have come down and gone back up without leaving some kind of dirt and mess about the place. Anyway I don’t think the chimney is wide enough at the top.”
“Let’s have a look,” said Diana, determined to find out one way or another. They went out into the garden and looked up at the two large chimneys. They were certainly wide at the bottom, but towards the top they were far too narrow for a man to go down.
Diana sighed. “This is a dream,” she said. “It must be. People don’t just get into houses through locked doors and windows, and steal things and go out the same way, without leaving a trace.”
“Reminds me of that mystery at Rilloby Fair, do you remember?” Barney said, as they wandered back indoors. “Things got stolen from locked rooms and no-one could work out how.”
“Oh yes – and it was the chimpanzees!” Diana said, remembering. She tickled Miranda. “How about it Miranda – were there any monkeys here last night?”
It was a long walk to Lower Honeywell and Roger and Snubby were very tired in the heat. They kept stopping to have a drink of lemonade, and once or twice they passed little streams and springs, where they drank the icy cold water and dipped their feet in, and where Loony had a little swim to cool down. He was very hot in his black fur coat.
“Golly, I hope Mr King is at home when we get there!” said Roger, wiping his brow. “Wouldn’t it be awful if he had gone off on one of his long walks?”
“We should have to wait,” Snubby said. “I’m sure there will be a tea-room or something.”
Roger laughed. Trust Snubby to think of food!
“We’ll have to ask one of the villagers where Mr King is staying.” he said. “He never told us the name of the house.”
It was quite late in the afternoon by the time the boys arrived at Lower Honeywell. It was slightly larger than Rosewood village, but the cottages and houses were more spaced out down the lanes, so it didn’t seem such a close-knit community.
“Who shall we ask?” said Snubby, looking around for someone. There didn’t seem to be anyone walking about.
“We’d better look for any bed and breakfast cottages,” said Roger. “Or – I tell you what we’ll do – we’ll go to the general store and ask there – they’re bound to know Mr King because he must go there to buy things, his cigarettes and things.”
They wandered across the village square and into the general store, which was a dark little shop that was well-stocked with all kinds of tinned foods, fresh fruit and vegetables, and everything for the home and garden, from soap powder and plates and cups, to garden tools, ropes, plant pots, and even boots!
Snubby looked in awe at all the food, while Roger went to the counter.
“Excuse me.” he said to the old man there. “We’re looking for a man called Mr King, he’s staying in this village somewhere.”
“He a friend of yours?” said the man, eyeing the two boys in rather a suspicious manner.
“Yes, he is,” Roger said politely, seeing the way the man looked at them, and trying to look as friendly and un-suspicious as he possibly could. “We’re staying in Rosewood village, and the lady we’re staying with, Miss Pepper, is a friend of his too.”
The old man considered for a moment. The thought occurred to Roger that perhaps this man knew that Mr King was there on secret police business, and he was suspicious that Roger and Snubby were perhaps a trick of the enemy’s, trying to find out anything they could about where he was staying and what he was doing. He looked closely at the two boys. Roger felt sure that he wasn’t going to tell them anything, and he was right. The old man was just about to tell them that he didn’t know where Mr King was staying, when who should walk into the shop but Mr King himself!
“Mr King, Sir!” Snubby cried. “We were looking for you!”
“Well, hallo there!” said Mr King, patting Snubby on the shoulder and reaching down to stroke Loony, who was leaping up at his legs. The old man stared in surprise. These boys were telling the truth then! Roger rushed to Mr King.
“Sir – we must talk to you! It’s urgent!”
“All right, all right!” laughed Mr King. “Let me just buy my cigarettes!”
He bought what he wanted and they left the dark little shop and the surprised old shopkeeper, and headed out into the sunshine. They went and sat on the village green. Mr King lit a cigarette and the two boys started to tell their extraordinary tale.