Table of Contents
1 – Plans for an S.S. Meeting
2 – The Secret Seven Society
3 – The Cross Old Man
4 – What Happened to Jack
5 – Exciting Plans
6 – Finding Out a Few Things
7 – A Talk With the Caretaker
8 – Another Meeting
9 – Out Into the Night
10 – In the Old Empty House
11 – The Prisoner
12 – The End of the Adventure
The Secret Seven
1 – Plans for an S.S. Meeting
«We'd better have a meeting of the Secret Seven», said Peter to Janet. «We haven't had one for ages.»
«Oh, yes, let's!» said Janet, shutting her book with a bang. «It isn't that we've forgotten about the Society, Peter – it's just that we've had such a lot of exciting things to do in the Christmas holidays we simply haven't had time to call a meeting.»
«But we must», said Peter. «It's no good having a Secret Society unless we use it. We'd better send out messages to the others.»
«Five notes to write», groaned Janet. «You're quicker at writing than I am, Peter – you write three and I'll write two.»
«Woof!» said Scamper, the golden spaniel.
«Yes, I know you'd love to write one, too, if you could», said Janet, patting the silky golden head. «You can carry one in your mouth to deliver. That can be your job, Scamper.»
«What shall we say?» said Peter, pulling a piece of paper towards him and chewing the end of his pen as he tried to think of words.
«Well – we'd better tell them to come here, I think», said Janet. «We could use the old shed at the bottom of the garden for a meeting-place, couldn't we? Mummy lets us play there in the winter because it's next to the boiler that heats the greenhouse, and it's quite warm.»
«Right», said Peter, and he began to write. «I'll do this message first, Janet, and you can copy it. Let's see – we want one for Pam, one for Colin, one for Jack, one for Barbara – who's the seventh of us? I've forgotten.»
«George, of course», said Janet. «Pam, Colin, Jack, Barbara, George, you and me – that's the seven – the Secret Seven. It sounds nice, doesn't it?»
The Secret Seven Society was one that Peter and Janet had invented. They thought it was great fun to have a little band of boys and girls who knew the password, and who wore the badge – a button with S.S. on.
«There you are», said Peter, passing his sheet of paper to Janet. «You can copy that.»
«It doesn't need to be my best writing, does it?» said Janet. «I'm so slow if I have to do my best writing.»
«Well – so long as it's readable», said Peter. «It hasn't got to go by post.»
Janet read what Peter had written: “IMPORTANT. A meeting of the Secret Seven will be held tomorrow morning in the shed at the bottom of our garden at 10 o'clock. Please give PASSWORD.”
«Oh, I say – what was the last password we had?» said Janet in alarm. «It's so long since we had a meeting that I've forgotten.»
«Well, it's a good thing for you that you've got me to remind you», said Peter. «Our latest password was Wenceslas, because we wanted a Christmassy one. Fancy you forgetting that!»
«Oh, yes, of course. Good King Wenceslas», said Janet. «Oh, dear – now I've gone and made a mistake in this note already. I really mustn't talk while I'm doing it.»
There was a silence as the two of them wrote their notes. Janet always wrote with her tongue out, which made her look very funny. But she said she couldn't write properly unless her tongue was out, so out it had to come.
Peter finished first. He let Scamper lick the envelopes. He was good at that; he had such a nice big wet tongue.
«You're a very licky dog», said Peter, «so you must be pleased when you have things like this to lick. It's a pity we're not putting stamps on the letters, then you could lick those, too.»
«Now shall we go and deliver the secret messages?» said Janet. «Mummy said we could go out; it's a nice sunny morning – but won't it be cold!»
«Woof! woof!» said Scamper, running to the door when he heard the word “out”. He pawed at the door impatiently.
Soon the three of them were out in the frost and snow. It was lovely. They went to Colin's first. He was out, so they left the note with his mother.
Then to George's. He was in, and was very excited when he heard about the meeting to be held in the shed.
Then to Pam's. Jack was there too, so Peter left two notes. Then there was only Barbara left. She was away!
«Bother!» said Peter. But when he heard she was coming back that night he was pleased. «Will she be able to come and see us tomorrow morning?» he asked Barbara's mother, and she said yes, she thought so.
«Well, that's all five», said Janet as they turned to go home. «Come on, Scamper. We'll go, for a slide on the pond. The ice is as thick as anything!»
They had a lovely time on the pond, and how they laughed at poor Scamper! His legs kept sliding out from under him in all directions as he tried to run on the ice. In the end he slid along on his back, and the children, weak with laughing, had to haul him off the pond.
Scamper was cross. He turned and growled at the pond. He didn't understand it at all. He could drink it in the summer, and paddle in it – now look at it! Something queer had happened, and he didn't like it.
That afternoon the two children and Scamper went down to the old shed. It was warm, because the boiler was going well nearby to heat the big greenhouse. Peter looked round.
«It feels quite cosy. Let's arrange boxes for seats – and get the old garden cushions out. And we'll ask Mummy if we can have some lemonade or something, and biscuits. We'll have a really proper meeting!»
They pulled out some boxes and fetched the old cushions. They laid sacks on the ground for a carpet, and Janet cleaned a little shelf to put the lemonade and biscuits on, if their mother let them have them.
«There are only five boxes that are sittable on», said Peter. «Someone will have to sit on the floor.»
«Oh, no – there are two enormous flower-pots in the corner over there», said Janet. «Let's drag them out and turn them upside down. They'll be fine to sit on then.»
So, with the five boxes and the two flower-pots, there were seats for everyone.
The bell rang for tea. «Well, we've just finished nicely», said Peter. «I know what I'm going to do tonight, Janet.»
«What?» asked Janet.
«I'm going to draw two big letter S's», said Peter, «and colour them green – cut them out, mount them on cardboard, and then stick them to the door of the shed.»
«Oh, yes – S.S. – Secret Seven», said Janet. «That would be grand!»
2 – The Secret Seven Society
The next morning five children made their way to Old Mill House, where Peter and Janet lived. It took its name from the ruined mill that stood up on the hill, some distance away, which had not been used for many years.
George came first. He walked down the garden and came to the shed. The first thing he saw was the sign on the door, S.S. There it was, bold and clear in bright green.
He knocked on the door. There was a silence. He knocked again. Still no reply, though he felt sure that Peter and Janet were there because he was certain he had seen Janet's face at the little window of the shed.
He heard a snuffling under the door. That must be Scamper! He knocked again, impatiently.
«Give the password, silly!» said Peter's voice.
«Oh, I forgot», said George. «Wenceslas!»
The door opened at once. George grinned and went in. He looked round. «I say – this is jolly cosy. Is i
t to be our meeting-place these hols?»
«Yes. It's nice and warm here», said Peter. «Where's your badge? Your button with S.S. on?»
«Blow – I forgot it», said George. «I hope I haven't lost it.»
«You're not a very good member», said Janet sternly. «Forgetting to say the password, and forgetting your badge as well.»
«Sorry», said George. «To tell you the truth I'd almost forgotten about the Secret Society too!»
«Well, you don't deserve to belong then», said Peter.
«Just because we haven't met for some time! I do think – »
There was another knock at the door. It was Pam and Barbara. There was silence in the shed. Everyone was listening for the password.
«Wenceslas», hissed Barbara, in such a peculiar voice that everyone jumped.
«Good – you're both wearing your badges», said Peter, pleased. «Now where are Colin and Jack? They're late.»
Jack was waiting for Colin at the gate. He had forgotten the password! Oh dear, whatever could it be? He thought of all sorts of things – Nowell – Wise Men – what could it be? He felt sure it was something to do with Christmas carols.
He didn't like to go to the meeting-place without knowing the password. Peter could be very strict. Jack didn't like being ticked off in front of people, and he racked his brains to try to think of the word. He saw Colin away in the distance and decided to wait for him. Colin would be sure to know the word!
«Hallo!» said Colin, as he came up. «Seen the others yet?»
«I saw Pam and Barbara going in», said Jack. «Do you know the password, Colin?»
«Of course I do», said Colin.
«I bet you don't!» said Jack.
«Well, I do – it's Wenceslas!» said Colin. «Aha – sucks to you, Jack – you thought I didn't know it!»
«Thanks for telling me», grinned Jack. «I'd forgotten it. Don't tell Peter. Come on down the path. I say – look at the S.S. for Secret Seven on the door.»
They knocked. «WENCESLAS», said Colin in a very loud voice.
The door opened quickly and Peter's indignant face looked out. «Whatever are you shouting for? Do you want everyone in the village to know our password, you donkey?»
«Sorry», said Colin, going in. «Anyway, there's nobody but us to hear.»
«Wenceslas», said Jack, seeing that Peter was not going to let him in without the password. The door shut and the seven settled down. Peter and Janet took the flowerpots for themselves. Everyone else sat on the boxes.
«This is a jolly nice meeting-place», said George. «Warm and cosy, and right away from the house.»
«Yes. I must say you and Janet have got it very comfortable», said Barbara. «Even a little curtain at the window.»
Peter looked round at the little company. «We'll have our meeting first, and then we'll have the eats and drinks», he said.
Everyone's eyes went to the neat little shelf behind Colin. On it were arranged seven mugs, a plate of oatmeal biscuits, and a bottle of some dark-looking liquid. Whatever could it be?
«First of all», went on Peter, «we must arrange a new password, because Wenceslas doesn't seem right for after Christmas – besides, Colin yelled it out at the top of his voice, so everyone probably knows it now.»
«Don't be so – » began Colin, but Peter frowned at him sternly.
«Don't interrupt. I'm the head of this society, and I say we will choose a new password. Also I see that two of you are not wearing your badges. George and Colin.»
«I told you I forgot about mine», said George. «I'll find it when I get home.»
«And I think I must have lost mine», said Colin. «I didn't forget it. I hunted all over the place. My mother says she'll make me another tonight.»
«Right», said Peter. «Now what about a new password?»
«Hey – diddle-diddle», said Pam, with a giggle.
«Be sensible», said Peter. «This society is a serious one, not a silly one.»
«I thought of one last night», said Jack. «Would “Weekdays” do?»
«What's the sense of that?» asked Peter.
«Well – there are seven days in a week, aren't there – and we're the Seven Society», said Jack. «I thought it was rather good.»
«Oh, I see. Yes – it is rather good», said Peter. «Though actually, there are only six weekdays! Hands up those who think it's good.»
Everybody's hand went up. Yes, “Weekdays” was a good idea for a password for the Seven! Jack looked pleased.
«Actually I forgot our password today», he confessed. «I got it out of Colin. So I'm glad I've thought of a new one for us.»
«Well, nobody must forget this one», said Peter. «It might be very important. Now what about some grub?»
«Delumptious», said Barbara, and everyone laughed.
«Do you mean “delicious” or “scrumptious”?» asked Janet.
«Both, of course», said Barbara. «What's that peculiar-looking stuff in the bottle, Janet?»
Janet was shaking it vigorously. It was a dark purple and had little black things bobbing about in it.
«We mixed it with boiling water and put some more sugar into it», explained Peter. «It's awfully good – in fact, it's scrumplicious!»
«Oh – that's a mixture of scrumptious and delicious, too!» said Barbara with a squeal of laughter. «Delumptious and scrumplicious – that just describes everything nicely.»
The blackcurrant tea really was good, and went very well with the oatmeal biscuits. «It's good for colds, too», said Janet, crunching up the skinny blackcurrants from her mug. «So if anyone's getting a cold they probably won't.»
Everyone understood this peculiar statement and nodded. They set down their mugs and smacked their lips.
«It's a pity there's no more», said Janet. «But there wasn't an awful lot of jam left in the pot, or else we could have made heaps to drink.»
«Now, we have a little more business to discuss», said Peter, giving Scamper a few crumbs to lick. «It's no good having a Society unless we have some plan to follow – something to do.»
«Like we did in the summer», said Pam. «You know – when we collected money to send Lame Luke away to the sea.»
«Yes. Well, has anyone any ideas?» said Peter.
Nobody had. «It's not really a good time to try and help people after Christmas», said Pam. «I mean – everyone's had presents and been looked after, even the very poorest, oldest people in the village.»
«Can't we solve a mystery, or something like that?» suggested George. «If we can't find something wrong to put right, we might be able to find a mystery to clear up.»
«What kind of a mystery do you mean?» asked Barbara, puzzled.
«I don't really know», said George. «We'd have to be on the lookout for one – you know, watch for something strange or peculiar or queer – and solve it.»
«It sounds exciting», said Colin. «But I don't believe we'd find anything like that – and if we did the police would have found it first!»
«Oh, well», said Peter, «we'll just have to keep our eyes open and wait and see. If anyone hears of any good deed we can do, or of any mystery that wants solving, they must at once call a meeting of the Secret Seven. Is that understood?»
Everyone said yes. «And if we have anything to report we can come here to this Secret Seven shed and leave a note, can't we?» said George.
«That would be the best thing to do», agreed Peter. «Janet and I will be here each morning, and we'll look and see if any of you have left a note. I hope somebody does!»
«So do I. It's not much fun having a Secret Society that doesn't do anything», said Colin. «I'll keep a jolly good lookout. You never know w
hen something might turn up.»
«Let's go and build snowmen in the field opposite the old house down by the stream», said George, getting up. «The snow's thick there. It would be fun. We could build quite an army of snowmen. They'd look funny standing in the field by themselves.»
«Oh, yes. Let's do that», said Janet, who was tired of sitting still. «I'll take this old shabby cap to put on one of the snowmen! It's been hanging in this shed for ages.»
«And I'll take this coat!» said Peter, dragging down a dirty, ragged coat from a nail. «Goodness knows who it ever belonged to!»
And off they all went to the field by the stream to build an army of snowmen!
3 – The Cross Old Man
They didn't build an army, of course! They only had time to build four snowmen. The snow was thick and soft in the field, and it was easy to roll it into big balls and use them for the snowmen. Scamper had a lovely time helping them all.
Janet put the cap on one of the snowmen, and Peter put the old coat round his snowy shoulders. They found stones for his eyes and nose, and a piece of wood for his mouth. They gave him a stick under his arm. He looked the best of the lot.
«I suppose it's time to go home now», said Colin at last. «My dinner's at half-past twelve, worse luck.»
«We'd better all go home», said Pam. «We'll all have to wash and change our things and put our gloves to dry. Mine are soaking and oooh, my hands are cold!»
«So are mine. I know they'll hurt awfully as soon as they begin to get a bit warm», said Barbara, shaking her wet hands up and down. «They're beginning now.»
They left the snowmen in the field and went out of the nearby gate. Opposite was an old house. It was empty except for one room at the bottom, where dirty curtains hung across the window.
«Who lives there?» asked Pam.
«Only a caretaker», said Janet. «He's very old and very deaf – and awfully bad-tempered.»
They hung over the gate and looked at the desolate old house.
«It's quite big», said Colin. «I wonder who it belongs to, and why they don't live in it.»
«Isn't the path up to the house lovely and smooth with snow?» said Janet. «Not even the caretaker has trodden on it. I suppose he uses the back gate. Oh, Scamper – you naughty dog come back!»