The Find-Outers' Untold Mysteryby Julie Heginbotham
"Happy Birthday to you – Happy Birthday to you – Happy Birthday dear Larry – Happy Birthday to you."
Larry couldn't help but smile as the song rang out through the room at the Tally-Ho Hotel and everyone cheered at the end. "Thanks everyone," he said, looking around at his family and friends. He looked at the cake before him, glad that it didn't have eighty candles sitting on the top, otherwise the whole thing could have caught fire, he thought with a grin. Taking a deep breath he blew hard and watched the flames go out, as another cheer swept around the room.
"Speech!" someone shouted from across the room, echoed by one or two others.
Larry smiled. "I'm not really one for speeches," he began. 'Hear, hear', someone called out, followed by a round of laughter. Larry let the noise die down and carried on. "I just want to say, a big thank you to all my family and friends and I hope you've enjoyed this birthday party as much as I have. And I may be eighty now, but I certainly don't feel it, and looking around at some of you, I'd say there's a few that's not very far behind me, either." Another round of laughter went around the room. "Finally, I just want to thank, Helen, for the wonderful birthday party and for choosing this lovely hotel, which holds very fond memories from my childhood days."
Everyone applauded and cheered and Larry sat down with a contented smile, watching his wife Helen starting to cut the cake. "Don't forget to take a slice before you all leave," she called to everyone. "There's plenty to go around."
"It's been a lovely evening," said Bets, with a smile. The others around the table agreed. Daisy was there with Paul – Pip and his wife Mary – Lisa and her grandmother Hilary, and of course, Fatty.
"Spitty that Ern couldn't have come," said Fatty, with a grin.
"He'd have spent the whole evening trying to look inconspicuous and hiding behind a champagne bottle," said Pip, in amused tones.
"Yes, he does take this incognito rather too seriously," said Bets. She looked over at Helen and Larry to see how the queue for a slice of birthday cake was looking. "I'll go and get some cake to take home with us, Fatty. Then we'd better head off, Buster will be waiting to be let out in the garden."
"I'll come with you," said Daisy, rising from her chair to follow Bets.
"Wait for me," said Lisa. "I may as well get some for me and Grandma."
Everyone started to depart slowly and Fatty and Bets left with Daisy and Paul, after saying goodbye to everyone.
Leaving Daisy and Paul at their door, Bets said. "We'll see you tomorrow, Daisy at 1.30pm. Larry must be feeling rather nostalgic wanting to walk around Peterswood."
"I blame Fatty," she said, grinning at him. "Reading Fatty's book has made us all feel rather nostalgic for the past and our Find-Outer days."
Fatty's memoirs had now been published and he'd proudly given a copy to his good friends, Larry, Daisy and Pip. Larry had told Fatty, that reading some of their past mysteries in Peterswood had suddenly made him want to take a walk around the village at some of the places mentioned in the book and so plans had been made during that evening for the Find-Outers to all meet up and take a walk around Peterswood the following afternoon.
"I'm looking forward to the walk," said Bets, after they said 'goodnight' to Daisy and Paul. "A walk down nostalgia road. I can't think of anything nicer."
* * *
The following afternoon the Find-Outers met as arranged. "Where shall we head for first? Asked Fatty, looking at Larry.
"Well, we walk along the river often," began Larry, "and as I'm reading the chapter about the Secret Room Mystery, I'd quite like a walk along Chestnut Lane."
The others looked at each other and nodded. "Okay," said Pip, "I'm game for a longish walk if we take it steady. It is up and over the hill out of the village into open country."
The all set off at a steady walking pace, chatting idly as they walked about the Mystery of the Secret Room they'd solved all those years ago. Buster as usual, leading the way on his extended lead. "Not as much open countryside as there used to be," said Daisy, looking at the new houses dotted along the way. "Even Chestnut Lane's been widened."
"Sign of the times, I'm afraid," said Bets. "By the look of these houses they've been up for a few years though, Daisy."
"Yes, I remember them being built about twenty years back. At least they're in keeping with the surrounding countryside and don't look out of place."
"Milton House should be round about here if I remember rightly," said Larry, trying to get his bearings.
"It's here," said Fatty, stopping outside the gates that lead up onto a long driveway. "No longer empty according to the sign."
The other Find-Outers stopped at the gate and looked at the sign Fatty was pointing to. It read: Milton House Nursing Home. "Well it's good to see it being put to good use and not a hide out for the criminal fraternity," said Larry, raising his brows at the others. "Wasn't it Finnigan that had this as his hide away, alias John Henry Smith?"
"You know it was," said Daisy, with a grin, "having just read the chapter in Fatty's book."
"Well we may as well go and have a look around whilst we're here," said Fatty, pushing open the gates.
"I don't think we can just go in," said Pip, cautiously.
"We'll ask permission to have a look around the gardens," said Fatty, pausing at the gate to look over at Pip. "Let's face it, at our age you never know when we'll need such a place to stay in." He finished with a grin.
"Speak for yourself," said Bets, giving him a gentle push. "You go and ask permission inside, Fatty, and we'll all wait by the door."
Fatty raised his brows skywards and walked towards the large oak door before disappearing inside. A young woman behind a desk in the large hallway smiled at his approach. "Afternoon sir, can I help you?"
Fatty gave her his most charming smile, and quickly went on to ask permission if he and his friends could look around the grounds as they remember the house from their childhood days. "It's looking wonderful inside," finished off Fatty, taking in the decor and the beautifully tiled Victorian floor.
The young woman smiled back. "Of course, please feel free to walk around the gardens. In fact, some of our residents are outside enjoying the afternoon sunshine. It's a lovely day for early April."
"Indeed it is," nodded Fatty. "And many thanks." He smiled before leaving and went to tell the other Find-Outers.
"That's good," said Bets, with a smile. "It all looks really lovely. A far cry from what it looked like when we were children."
They walked slowly past the front of the house and round the back. "This is where the kitchen door used to be," Fatty pointed out. "And remember the coal hole where I gained entry to get into the secret room, well it used to be there. All covered over now, by this pathway of paving stones."
"I expect that's for security reasons," said Daisy. "Probably health and safety too."
They carried on around the house and made for the rear gardens. "Look, the tree is still here," said Pip, looking up and feeling rather excited. "I'll never forget how I felt when I climbed up and saw that secret room through the window."
They all looked upwards. "No bars on the window though. Must be a resident's room now," said Fatty.
They walked further along and sat down on a bench in the afternoon sunshine. One or two residents were walking around the garden and others were dotted about sitting on deck chairs. "It's a lovely looking home," began Bets, looking up at the building before them. "I think those little towers give it a grandeur all of its own."
"It's hard to believe that so many years have passed since we solved the 'Secret Room Mystery'," said Pip, shaking his head. "How the time just flies by."
"Remember, that's not the only mystery we solved here, though," said Daisy, looking at the others. "What about the kidnapping case?"
The others looked at one another with a few, 'Oh yeses!'
"I don't tend to look upon that case as one of our mysteries," said Fatty, "after all, it was rather straight forward; no clues to find and I didn't have to disguise myself. It was just luck we stumbled onto that one."
"True," agreed Bets, "but we did solve it."
The others nodded in agreement.
"I can hardly remember how we stumbled upon that mystery," said Pip.
"I can," said Fatty, smiling around at the others. "Don't you remember? We'd just solved 'The Hidden House Mystery and met Ern Goon for the very first time."
"That's right," said Pip, brightly. "We'd all caught very bad colds and couldn't go back to school at the start of the January term."
Fatty nodded. "It began one cold crispy morning in January..."
* * *
"Frederick, will you please stop trying to read your father's newspaper and finish your breakfast," said Mrs. Trotteville sternly.
"Sorry, Mother," said Fatty, looking down at the plate before him. "The article about the kidnapped little girl just caught my eye. She doesn't look much older than Bets."
Mr. Trotteville closed his paper and looked at the front page again. He read the article briefly before saying. "She's the same age as your friend Bets. Apparently she's the daughter of the wealthy jeweller who has a string of shops over in Mayfair. Their chauffeur was driving her to school but was ambushed on the way and knocked unconscious. When he came to, the girl had gone."
"Poor thing," said Mrs Trotteville, sympathetically, "she must be feeling so frightened."
"Does it say if the police have any leads?" Fatty asked his Father.
Mr. Trotteville shook his head, before rising from his chair, already a few minutes late for his journey to work. "Doesn't say. Anyway, when are you going back to school? You look fully recovered from that bad cold."
Fatty didn't particularly want to be reminded of going back to school. He'd secretly enjoyed being at home for the extra week.
Mrs Trotteville spoke for him. "Frederick's going back in two days time. And so are the others. They've all had bad colds and missed the beginning of the term."
"Don't worry, Father," put in Fatty, "I won't have missed too much, and you know how intelligent I am, so I'll soon pick up anything I've missed."
"I'm glad to hear it," said his Father, with a wry smile, before leaving the house.
"I think I'll take Buster out, Mother," said Fatty, leaving the table. "I'll call and see if the others want to come along too."
"Okay, but don't forget to wrap up well, Frederick. I don't want you catching a chill. It's very cold outside and is threatening snow again."
With Buster close at his heels, Fatty made his way over to Pip and Bets house, and thankfully, Daisy and Larry were there too, in the playroom, doing a jigsaw puzzle by a roaring fire.
Buster greeted everyone with enthusiasm and they were all just as happy to see him.
"I'm glad you're here, Fatty," said Bets, joyfully, who was always happy when Fatty was with them. They wouldn't be the Five Find-Outers and Dog, without their leader.
Fatty grinned around at everyone. "Nice to see you've all recovered from that bad cold we all had. I was in bed for two days."
"Larry was too," said Daisy, looking at her brother. "I seemed to shrug mine off pretty quickly."
"It's nice having extra time off school though," said Pip, voicing what they all felt. "Spitty we have to go back in two days, though.
Everyone laughed at Pip's use of the word 'Spitty'. They'd made fun of Ern and the way he shortened his words. "I wonder if we'll see Ern again? Said Daisy, thoughtfully.
"I've a feeling we will," said Bets.
"You and your 'feelings', said Pip, unkindly.
"Hey, don't you say anything awful about Bets and her 'feelings'," said Fatty, sticking up for her as he usually did, when the little girl was picked on by her elder brother. "Bets' 'feelings' sent Larry along to help me, in the summer when I was locked in that cupboard."
Bets smiled at Fatty gratefully, and turned to stroke Buster who was sitting next to her on the floor of the large playroom.
"Have any of you read about the jeweller's daughter that's been kidnapped?" asked Fatty, looking at the others. No one had, so Fatty told them about the newspaper article he'd been trying to read that morning at breakfast.
"The kidnappers wouldn't bring her this far from London," said Larry, wrinkling his forehead in doubt. "They'll be hiding her in the City somewhere, so they can contact her father for the ransom money."
"We could still keep our eyes open around the village for anything unusual," said Daisy, thinking it would be a good idea.
"Yes, and we can keep our eyes open for any clues," said Bets, excitedly.
"How can we look for clues, with no mystery to solve?" said Pip, rather crossly.
"I think we should keep our eyes open like Daisy says," said Fatty, "after all, a good detective is never off duty, and just because we've only just solved the 'Hidden House' case, it doesn't mean we should sit back and do nothing until the next hols."
The others all agreed, and a plan of action was put forward that they'd take a walk around the village and keep their eyes open for anyone looking suspicious . Buster of course was eager to go for a walk with his master and his four friends.
* * *
Whilst they were walking along the high street, Mr. Goon was just coming out of his gateway, pushing his bicycle. Spotting the children over by the dairy he came over to them, wondering what they could possibly be up to, and even more importantly, why they weren't back at their schools?
Buster hearing his approached, raced over to his 'enemy' and started to prance around his ankles, almost knocking the policeman over in his excitement. Mr. Goon, still supporting his bicycle tried frantically to kick the dog away from his feet. Hearing the familiar sounds of "Clear Orf", coming from the angry policeman, Fatty called Buster to heel, grinning at the red faced policeman now standing before them.
"Morning Mr. Goon," said Fatty, with a cheery grin. "Chilly morning again."
Mr. Goon looked at all the children making one of his usual angry snorts. "Why aren't you all back at school?"
"We've all had bad colds," said Larry, looking at Mr. Goon innocently. "Have you got a cold Mr. Goon? Your nose is very red."
The others grinned and Mr. Goon glared at Larry in exasperation. The only time he was free from these inferring cheeky kids was when they were away at school, so the sooner they went back, the better he'd feel. "When are you all going back?" he asked, with a frown.
"In two days time," said Fatty, in the polite voice that always made Mr. Goon go purple.
"Can't come soon enough," scoffed Mr. Goon, pushing his bicycle past the children, mumbling "Good riddance," under his breath.
"Still his charming self, I see," said Fatty, with a grin. "So, where shall we head next? How about a walk up and over the hill to Chestnut Lane?"
"Oh yes," said Bets. "There's that big empty house where we solved the Mystery of the Secret Room. We could explore the house and around the grounds."
"Milton House," said Larry, suddenly remembering the name. "That's a good idea of Bets. If it's still empty that would make a good hiding place to hide away that little girl."
"Well done, Bets," said Fatty, giving the delighted Bets a bright smile. "Let's go and investigate Milton House."
So over the hill and down the secluded Chestnut Lane – the Find-Outers made their way to the last house that stood well back in its own grounds. It didn't look any different from when they had solved the 'Secret Room Mystery'. The garden was still overgrown, but by the opened gates stood a For Sale board with the name of the house-agents underneath.
"It must still be empty then," remarked Fatty, reading the name of the house-agents, and recognizing it as one of those on the High Street in Peterswood.
"Let's go and explore then," said Pip, feeling quite excited to see the house and grounds again.
"And remember," said Fatty, "keep your eyes open for anything unusual, such as tyre tracks, or any other clues. A good detective misses nothing."
With Buster leading the way, the children went through the opened gates and into the grounds. They walked round the house, past the kitchen door and the coal hole where Fatty had gained entry into the house only a year before, keeping their eyes peeled for any signs of occupancy. Looking through the downstairs windows they could clearly see that the house was empty and so they made their way to the large tree that looked into the secret room.
"I could climb up and have a look through the window," said Pip, turning to look at the others.
"Okay," said Fatty. "There's no point in all of us climbing up at this stage of our investigation."
They all watched Pip, climbing easily up the large tree, all except Bets; she was looking at the window the tree looked out on, the bars still there as before. Suddenly she thought she saw a small face, but in an instant it was gone, almost as if someone had quickly been pulled away. Before she had time to say anything, the shouts from an angry man, stopped them all in their tracks, and Pip started to descend from the tree. Buster ran over to the man his hackles raised, barking back at his angry shouts.
"Here Buster. Heel!" Shouted Fatty, fearing this angry man would kick out at Buster and hurt him. Buster gave one last bark, and raced back to Fatty, who instantly took hold of the dog's collar as the man reached them all.
"What are you all doing here?" He shouted. "This is private property." He was a tall, heavily built man, with thick dark hair, hash looking dark eyes, with thick brows and a small goatee beard.
"Sorry, but we thought the house was empty being for sale," began Fatty, in polite innocent tones. "And as there are a lot of trees in these grounds, we just wanted to climb some."
The man looked at them all through half closed eyes, clearly debating whether to believe them or not. Buster was growling softly, trying to pull free from Fatty's firm grip. "I've just bought this house," he said, in angry tones, "and these grounds are private, so clear off and play somewhere else."
"Sorry, we didn't know," said Larry, backing up Fatty's words. They all looked at each other and walked away slowly, Larry saying they'll just have to find some other trees to climb.
Once outside the gates Fatty closed them too, only to see the man still watching them to make sure they all left his premises. As they started to walk away, Daisy said, "He must be related to Goon, telling us to 'Clear Off'."
"Funny that the agent hasn't changed the For Sale sign to Sold." said Fatty, vaguely.
"How do we know he has bought the property?" said Pip. "He could be lying."
"I think I'll go to the house-agents this afternoon and ask," said Fatty. "I didn't much like the look of that fellow."
Bets was silent, quietly contemplating with herself whether or not she had seen someone at that window, or whether it was a trick of the light. She decided to tell the others anyway. "I could be wrong, Fatty, but I thought I saw someone at that window whilst Pip was climbing up, and they moved away quickly, as though they were pulled."
Everyone stopped on the lane and looked at Bets. She blushed under their gaze.
"Are you sure?" asked Fatty, firmly, a familiar feeling of excitement creeping up inside him.
"Well I didn't see anyone," said Pip, sharply, glaring at his sister. "And I was a lot closer to the window than you were."
Bets started to doubt herself. "Well, I could have been wrong."
"If you'd had doubts, Bets, I don't think you'd have mentioned it," said Fatty, his spirits rising through Bets' observation. "After all, Pip, you weren't even looking at the window you were too busy climbing the tree."
"I agree with Fatty, I think Bets must have seen someone," said Daisy, firmly.
"We must follow this up," said Fatty, taking charge. "This afternoon I'll go along to the house-agents on the High Street, and I want you all to meet me at the dairy at 3 o'clock."
Everyone looked at Fatty in excitement. Was this another mystery for them to solve before they all went back to school in a couple of days time? If it was they had to work quickly and solve this one, as there wasn't much time left in which to solve it.
* * *
At 2.45pm Fatty walked into the house-agents on the High Street, remembering his last visit here when there had been a young lad sitting behind the table. Fatty couldn't believe his eyes, when he saw the very same lad, but looking slightly older and not as pimply. The boy looked up from the paper work before him, obviously recognizing Fatty from his last visit, as he smiled, saying, "Hello again. Has your aunt not found a property yet then?"
Fatty grinned at the boy's good memory. "Fraid not. But I did notice the house she last enquired about has a for sale sign outside. Milton House."
"Yes, we're selling that one," he said, with a grin. "I'll get you the details and you can take them with you." He walked over to a filing cabinet and flicking through the files pulled out the details he wanted. He handed them over to Fatty. "If your aunt wants to have a look around I can show her around the house myself."
Fatty smiled. "Thanks. Do you have the keys here?"
The boy nodded. "Yes, as it's an empty property."
"Who's selling the house?" Fatty asked, in innocent tones.
"A firm of solicitors." The boy looked over to a glass partitioned room at the far side of the office, where another man sat at his desk writing. The boy lowered his voice, so as not to be overheard. "They're selling on behalf of someone who's been locked away in prison."
"Really," said Fatty, with wide eyes. "Do you know his name?"
The boy shook his head. "We only know the firm of solicitors. Do you think your aunt will be interested in Milton House?"
"I'll take these details and show her," said Fatty. He was just about to leave and stopped at the door. "By the way, is the property still for sale?"
"Of course," came the answer. "I wouldn't have given you details if we'd already sold it."
"Silly me," said Fatty, with a grin, before leaving the house-agents. Now for the dairy to tell the others the news, thought Fatty.
* * *
As Fatty entered the dairy, he spotted them all sitting at the table in the far corner and made his way over. They all looked at him eager to hear what news he had.
"Where's Buster?" asked Bets, as he sat down at the table, and picked up a macaroon from the plate.
"I've left him at home, he was tired after the long walk this morning," said Fatty. "Mmm these are delicious."
"Never mind the macaroons, how did you get on at the house-agents?" said Pip, impatiently. The others said the same, "Yes, come on, Fatty, tell all."
Fatty explained everything that was said between himself and the young lad at the house-agents. "That's interesting," said Daisy, "the house isn't sold after all. So who is that man that came out from the house, and why did he tell us a lie?"
"That's something we have to find out," said Fatty, looking at the others. "It's all very mysterious. And if Bets is right and there is someone being hidden in that secret room, then who is it, and could it be the jeweller's kidnapped daughter?"
"If it is the girl, how on earth have these people managed to get into Milton House?" said Larry, puzzled. "Do they get in by the coal hole every time like Fatty did?"
"They must do," said Pip. "How else could they get in? There were no broken – or opened windows when we were there earlier."
"I don't think they get in by the coal hole," said Fatty, suddenly surprising the others.
They all looked at him vaguely. "How do they get in then?" asked Daisy.
"Come on, Find-Outers," said Fatty, "use the old brains." Everyone looked at Fatty in puzzlement.
"I can't think of any other way of them getting into Milton House," said Larry. "Come on, Fatty, tell us."
Fatty beamed around at the others. "A key of course."
"A key," they all chorused.
Fatty grinned. "Think about it. Who owns the house? The crook, Finnigan. Alias John Henry Smith. He must have a wide circle of friends, all as dishonest as he is. He could have given keys to any number of his friends so that they could use Milton House for their ill-gotten games."
They all looked at Fatty with bright eyes as the light dawned. "Of course," said Larry, "Fatty's right. John Henry Smith must have a large gang of crooked friends. Only a few of them were captured in the Secret Room Mystery."
"Brilliant Fatty," said Daisy, impressed with this suggestion.
"That's why Fatty's our leader," said Bets, in admiration. "John Henry Smith may be in prison but he will still have visitors, and maybe he's given one of those visitors a key to the house."
The others looked at Bets in amazement. This too was a very good idea of how the man they'd met that morning was able to gain entry to Milton House. "Well done, Bets," said Fatty, smiling at her. "That's a brilliant deduction of how a key could have been obtained. You're using your brain very well."
Bets' cheeks glowed with joy; praise from Fatty their leader was praise indeed.
"So, what is our next move, Fatty?" asked Pip, knowing that Fatty would have the answer.
"That's easy," he said, modestly. "Tonight I'll gain entry again through the coal hole and see if the girl really is locked in the secret room."
"No, Fatty," squealed Bets, in concern, remembering how he was captured the last time he gained entry into Milton House. "It's too dangerous."
"I agree with Bets, Fatty," said Daisy. "That man will probably be inside the house, keeping watch over the little girl. And he may not be alone."
Fatty looked at the others thoughtfully, Daisy could be right. None of them knew just how many people were inside the house. "There has to be more than one person inside," began Pip, "as Bets was sure someone moved the girl away from the window earlier."
Fatty nodded his head solemnly. "We have to think of the best way forward then."
"One thing is puzzling me, though," said Larry, with a creased brow. "If the girl is being held there, and the house is up for sale, what happens if the house-agent brings around a prospective buyer to look over the house? They'd discover the girl and the men surely."
The others nodded in agreement with Larry. "That's a good point," said Fatty, impressed with Larry's question. "The only thing I can think of is that they'd always be on the lookout for any such incident, and maybe they would just lock themselves into the secret room, keeping the girl quiet, and hoping the house-agent would give up on trying to open a door that was locked."
"Maybe the girl is only going to be kept there for a few days, until the heat has died down a little," said Pip. "Then they'll move her somewhere else. So they're hoping the problem with the house-agent won't arise."
"Brilliant, Pip. First class thinking!" said Fatty, brightly. "The kidnappers must already have a safer venue in mind already."
"That makes it all the more urgent that we try and rescue her," said Daisy, in urgent tones, "before they take her somewhere else. We may have already alerted the kidnappers by being in the grounds today."
"Then I must go in tonight," said Fatty. "There's no other choice."
"I'll go with you," suggested Larry. "That way I can go and get help if you're not out by a certain time."
"Yes, let Larry go too, Fatty," said Bets, sounding pleased. The last thing she wanted was for Fatty to get captured like the last time.
"Okay Larry," said Fatty, thinking it would be a good idea to have some back up, "Meet me outside our front gate at 11.30pm tonight with your bicycle and we'll cycle over there and if we manage to rescue the little girl, she can ride back with me."
"Do you think we should go over to Milton House now and try and get some sort of message to her?" suggested Pip.
Fatty shook his head. "We can't chance that. I think the kidnappers will always be looking out for anyone entering the grounds. They must have spotted us going in this morning."
"I do hope you manage to rescue the little girl," said Bets, excitedly. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could, then we'll have solved another little mystery before we all go back to school the day after tomorrow?"
* * *
Larry and Fatty exchanged a few brief words before they set off in the moonlight to Milton House. "Sounds travel at night, so we mustn't make a sound and the less talking we do the better, so let's get everything straight before we go," said Fatty, in low tones.
Larry nodded, ready to follow whatever orders their leader was to give him. "Once we get there," began Fatty, "keep well in the shadows, and we'll hide our bikes just by the gates. You stay close to the gate but keeping a look out, and if you see anyone give me a warning by multiple owl hoots, so I'll know. I'll gain entry by the coal hole again. Give me about an hour. If I don't return to you by then, cycle over to Goon's house and tell him everything. He'll have to do the rest."
"Okay," nodded Larry, now feeling excited about the moonlight adventure Fatty had let him share. "Let's go."
In no time they were at Milton House, having met no one along the quiet dark moonlit lane. After hiding their bicycles against the hedge, Larry stayed hidden in the shadows, whilst Fatty quietly made his way around the back keeping to the black shadows to where he knew the coal hole lay. After gaining entry he slithered down the coal heap, and switched on his torch. Everywhere was silent. He remembered where the door to the scullery was and opened it slowly. It was empty, and so quietly he made his way to the kitchen door and going through found that room also empty. The only sound was his beating heart racing wildly as he made his way out from the kitchen to the stairs. He remembered that the secret room was on the third floor and very quietly and cautiously he ascended the three flights of stairs. He remembered exactly which of the three rooms the secret room was, and listened a moment outside the door. He could hear nothing, but he did hear a snoring noise coming from the room next door. Fatty walked over to the half opened door from where the sounds came. Slowly and quietly he popped his head around the door, and in the moonlight his eyes fell on a sleeping figure, fast asleep and snoring soundly. He felt along the inside of the door to see if he could locate a key. There was one sitting in the lock. Good, thought Fatty, now I can lock this door and the sleeping person cannot get out and catch me. With the door now locked and the key safely in Fatty's pocket he made his way to the secret room.
He tried the door but it was locked, but thankfully the key was on his side. Turning it slowly and quietly he unlocked the door and looked inside. In the beam of moonlight Fatty could see a huddled up figure lying on the settee sleeping soundly. Quietly he made his way over to the settee and saw instantly that it was the little girl whose picture had appeared in the paper only that morning. Not wanting to frighten her, Fatty touched her shoulders gently and the child moved from her sleep. Fatty spoke quietly and calmly by her ear.
"I've come to get you out of here, don't make a sound."
Sleepily she sat up, rubbing her eyes. Fatty smiled at her and put his finger to his lips. "Sshhh," he whispered. "Come with me, but be very quiet."
Slowly the little girl left the settee and whispered to Fatty. "Are you going to take me home to Mummy and Daddy?"
Fatty took her hand and pulled her gently to the door. "Of course I am. Come on, we'll have to go quietly, as we don't want to be heard. What's your name?"
"Mary Bailey," she smiled, liking what she could see of this boy. He was speaking to her kindly and she felt safe now and happy, knowing he was going to take her home.
Fatty lead Mary from the secret room and quietly closed and locked the door. Then if anyone should try the door they would assume the little girl was still inside. Still holding tightly to Mary's hand, Fatty led her slowly and quietly down the three flights of stairs until they came into the large hallway. Stopping for a moment he listened. Not a sound was heard, and the hallway was half lit by the silvery moonlight. Fatty looked at the front door and thought that would be a better way out rather than take Mary through to the cellar and climbing over the slippery coals. Taking a chance and gripping her hand tightly in case he had to make a sudden dash he looked to see how the front door was locked. No bolts were pulled across, but then he thought there wouldn't be as the house-agent would have to be able to gain access by using a key. Fatty turned the knob of the Yale lock and the heavy door opened easily. He pulled Mary through and once outside gently and quietly closed the door behind him.
He could hardly believe his luck. No one but the person asleep upstairs seemed to be around. Even he wouldn't be able to catch them if he woke, as he was locked in the bedroom. As quick as lightening Fatty and Mary ran over towards the gate, and on reaching it Fatty whispered for Larry.
"I'm here," came back the answer, as Larry suddenly appeared out from the shadows.
"This is Mary," said Fatty, softly. Then looking at Mary, he said, "This is Larry and he's here to help rescue you too."
"Thank you," she said, rather shakily, mainly through excitement and because of the cold night air.
Fatty took off his jacket and put it on her, before he and Larry pushed their bikes through the gates. Once in the lane, Fatty whispered to Mary. "I'll take you back to my house on my bike, and from there we can get in touch with your parents and the police. Larry, you head off back home and I'll see you tomorrow."
"Okay," said Larry, softly. "Let's go."
So as quietly as they came, the two boys cycled home down Chestnut Lane in the moonlight, Mary sitting on the saddle of Fatty's bicycle her arms around his waist as she clung on tightly. Happy that she was leaving her captors but still not knowing exactly where she was going.
* * *
Once back in Peterswood, Larry cycled home and Fatty went in by the rear gate, needing to put his bicycle away, and letting Buster out from the shed, where he'd been left, so that he wouldn't wake up the rest of the household by barking when he saw Fatty leave without him. Buster pranced around happy to see his master once more, and Mary fondled the dog's ears, telling Fatty that she too had a little black Scottie whose name was Midnight.
Fatty entered his house by the kitchen door and locked it, then after sitting Mary down by the fire that was still burning in the grate of the drawing room, he told her that he was going to ring the police station in the next town and get them to give Inspector Jenks a message for him to ring Frederick Trotteville as a matter of great urgency.
After he'd done this, Mary said. "Will you ring my parents? I want them to come and take me home."
Fatty nodded his head. With the six other mysteries they'd all solved he'd felt in control right to the very end, but now he felt that he had to wake his parents and bring them in on this mystery as he needed their help, about what was the best thing to do next. So telling this to Mary he went upstairs to wake them.
Within minutes they were downstairs, and comforting the confused little girl sat by the fire. Mrs Trotteville made her a hot drink of cocoa herself, with a few biscuits, not wanting to wake cook. Fatty told his parents everything that had happened that day, and of his bicycle ride that night with Larry to rescue Mary.
"Honestly, Frederick," said his mother, with a sigh, "we just don't know what you will do next. It was very brave and rather foolish of you to go out tonight with Larry, without telling us – but all is well, so the least said now, the better."
The phone rang just then startling everyone for a moment and Fatty rushed to answer it hoping it would be his friend Inspector Jenks. Thankfully it was and quickly Fatty explained the happenings of the day – his rescue of Mary – and the man now locked in a bedroom of Milton House. Mr. Trotteville also came to the phone and taking the receiver from Fatty spoke to the Inspector himself.
When the conversation had ended, Fatty looked at his Father eager to hear what the Inspector had to say. "It's been decided that as it's so late now, Mary will be allowed to sleep here and the Inspector will come and collect her tomorrow morning with her parents."
So with this news Mrs Trotteville put Mary to bed in the guest room and as a treat to keep her from being too frightened, Buster was to sleep in the room with her, which cheered up the little girl immensely, as she had so missed her own little dog. Buster was happy to snuggle down on the little girl's feet – after all, his master was only in the room next door.
Fatty was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. This had been an unusual kind of mystery for him. Not the Find-Outers usual one of finding clues and putting on a disguise and trailing a suspect. But he was intelligent enough to know that he had no choice at the end, but to ask for help from the adults.
* * *
The following morning had been one of great excitement for everyone. After a large breakfast, Inspector Jenks had arrived with Mr. Goon, and a Chief Inspector from Scotland Yard – and much to the delight of Mary, her parents. They hugged her tightly, tears in their eyes, and kept her between them whilst they sat on the settee in the Trotteville's drawing room.
Whilst Fatty was telling them all about the incidents of the day before, the other Find-Outers came along, and the proceedings were interrupted for a short while, whilst they were introduced to Mary's grateful parents and the Chief Inspector from Scotland Yard.
"It's a pleasure to meet the Five Find-Outers and Dog that Inspector Jenks here has been telling me all about," he said, with a kindly twinkle in his eyes. Bets felt overwhelmed by this very high up policeman, who was even more important than Inspector Jenks himself. He turned to Mr. Goon, who was sat quietly on a chair, daring not to push Buster away from prancing around his ankles. "You should be very proud to have such children living on your patch, Mr. Goon. I hear they've been a tremendous help to the police force."
Mr Goon, blushed a deep red, under his gaze. Words like, interfering and messing about in things that didn't concern them, sprang more readily to his mind, not feelings of being proud! "Yes, Sir," he mumbled, quietly, moving his large foot away from Busters teeth.
"So now we're all here, continue with your story, Frederick," said Inspector Jenks, beaming around at everyone. "We're all eager to hear the rest."
Fatty told the rest of his story, feeling proud that a Chief Inspector from Scotland Yard was sat opposite him and listening with interest. "Well done, all of you," he said, when Fatty had finished speaking. "You've all done extremely well, and it was a very brave thing that you and Larry did, Frederick, to rescue Mary from Milton House. But I've just got the one question. Why didn't you ring Mr. Goon here and report this to him. It was very dangerous to go over yourselves?"
Larry blushed under the gaze of the Chief Inspector, and for a moment wondered what explanation Fatty would give. "Well, Sir," he heard Fatty say, "we weren't certain that there was anything to report about Milton House, and I wouldn't have liked to have disturbed Mr Goon here by telling him about my suspicions of a girl being held prisoner and they turned out to be false. He would have thought I was pulling some kind of a prank on him."
Mr. Goon's face turned purple, but he didn't say anything. That toad of a boy was as sharp as a drawer full of knives.
The Chief Inspector nodded his head. "Yes, I can understand that, Frederick. But Mr Goon knows that he has to follow up any kind of information whether he thinks it's a prank or not."
"Yes, Sir," said Fatty, with an innocent nod of his head.
"Well I'd better be getting back to the Yard now," he said, rising from his chair. He turned to Inspector Jenks. "I'll be in touch later on today to finalize the case."
"Everything will be ready for you," said Inspector Jenks.
Everyone watched the Chief Inspector leaving and Mr and Mrs. Bailey shook his hand and thanked him for all his help and support.
"The sooner you grow up and become my right hand man, the better," said Inspector Jenks to Fatty. "We need someone like you on the team, don't we Goon?" He finished, watching him rise from his chair.
"Yes, Sir," he mumbled, trying not to look at the grinning faces of the Find-Outers.
"Before you go, Sir," said Fatty, looking at the Inspector. "What has happened about the man I locked in the bedroom?" Suddenly remembering the key, Fatty handed it over to him.
Inspector Jenks pocketed the key with thanks and continued to say, "After your phone call last night, Frederick, I sent someone round to collect the latch key from the manager of the house-agents. He wasn't very happy about having to go and collect it from his office, by all accounts, but that's beside the point. Then this morning bright and early I took a few officers, including Goon here, to enter Milton House and after forcing the lock we arrested the man in the locked room. When he'd been taken away we then waited for the other accomplices – one of them being the man you met yesterday – and much to their amazement, they found themselves under arrest."
"That's good," said Fatty, pleased, but feeling a little disappointed that he wasn't there at the end to see the arrest.
"We're they friends of the crook, Finnigan?" asked Larry, out of curiosity.
"Indeed they were," said the Inspector, with a smile at the Find-Outers. "Although Finnigan is safely behind bars, he knew everything about the kidnapping."
"We thought that would be the case," said Fatty, modestly.
"Well once again Find-Outers, thanks for your help," said the Inspector, beaming at them all. "And I'm sure you'll all be of help again in the near future."
"You can count of us, Sir," said Fatty, proudly, looking at the others, who all agreed.
He would have felt even more proud if he'd heard the Inspector's words when they caught the other two who had arrived not long after the man in the locked room had been taken away. "You should have been more vigilant, Briggs. You've under-estimated certain people who live close by in Peterswood."
"I expect it was those nosey kids who were hanging around the grounds yesterday," Briggs had growled at the Inspector.
"That's something you'll never know," Inspector Jenks had returned gravely, watching him being taken to the police car between two heavy constables.
Before Mary and her parents left, Mr. Bailey took out quite a number of bank notes from his pocket and proudly gave each of the Find-Outers £20. They all protested that they didn't want any reward, but Mr. Bailey was adamant that they take the money as he felt they all deserved the reward for their bravery and help in searching for their little girl and rescuing her.
Once everyone had left, the Find-Outers jumped for joy at the vast amount of money they'd each received, much to the surprise of Fatty's parents.
"Just wait till I get back to school tomorrow and tell the other boys," said Fatty, joyfully, "they just won't believe a word I say."
* * *
"You should have included that little mystery in your memoirs, Fatty," said Larry. "It may have been a little different than our other mysteries, but it was exciting all the same."
"I remember thinking that the reward money of £20 was the largest amount of money in the world," said Bets, with a smile. "Our parents opened a post office savings account for us both with our money. Remember Pip?"
Pip nodded with a smile. "Yes, I remember thinking I'd rather have bought a railway set and lots of engines to run along the lines with it though," he said, in thoughtful tones.
"What would £20 buy us today," said Daisy. "Not much. It was a fortune in those days."
"Well I don't know about anyone else, but I'm just about ready for a cup of tea," said Bets, rising from the bench. "Let's all walk back to the White House. I made a Madeira cake this morning, so we can all tuck into that."
"Sounds like a good idea to me," said Daisy. She turned to her brother with a mischievous grin. "Want any help getting up from the bench now that you're eighty?"
"Funny," he returned good-naturedly.
They all walked around to the front of Milton House, passing the large tree that looked into 'the secret room.' They all stopped to give it a pat. A tree that would still be standing long after they'd all departed from this earth. A symbol of their childhood from many years ago that had its own secrets to tell as it long branches reached out and looked into the 'Secret Room.'