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The Secret Seven Split Up

by June E.
  1. End of term
  2. Bad news
  3. The big row
  4. The first and last meeting of the Secret Seven
  5. Peter surprises everyone
  6. White Ash farm
  7. Janet is worried
  8. The Six meet up
  9. Peter and Scamper go exploring
  10. Later that night
  11. Janet submits her report
  12. Peter sees something suspicious
  13. Colin does an experiment
  14. Peter gets into trouble
  15. Colin doesn’t understand
  16. Colin summons help
  17. Scamper does his bit
  18. Help arrives
  19. Uncle Boris explains

Chapter 1: End of term

Peter leapt off the grubby, crowded school bus and waved his friends a cheery goodbye.

‘Goodbye Simon, ‘bye Roger, see you next term! Have a great holiday!’ he called.

The summer holidays had come at last! Peter ran down the winding, muddy lane, jumping over puddles and swinging his school bag happily. No more slaving over school books, no more maths lessons, no more homework! The holidays had begun, and now he had six whole weeks of fun, freedom, fresh country air... and maybe even adventure! For Peter was head of a secret society. Seven friends who met together to solve mysteries and untangle problems: the Secret Seven! Peter decided to call a meeting for the very next day.

As he neared the end of the lane he slowed down; this was his favourite moment of the journey home and he looked forward to it each day. The lane made its final turn and suddenly the green fields gave way to an old white farmhouse, nestling amid tall, leafy trees: Old Mill Farm, the best place in the world!

Peter swung open the rickety old farm gate, with its familiar squeaking hinge. Scamper, a golden spaniel shared by Peter and his sister Janet, listened for that squeak every afternoon, his ears pricked and alert. At the first hint of a squeak Scamper would leap out of his basket and bound across the lawn to meet his master or mistress, welcoming them home with a friendly bark ‘hello’ and a vigorous wagging of his tail.

‘No sign of Scamper today, that’s unusual’, thought Peter. ‘Perhaps he’s found a rabbit to chase and didn’t hear the gate’. For Scamper loved to chase rabbits!

Beyond the gate was a long, sweeping green lawn, and tucked away at the far end Peter could just make out the roof of the garden shed, the meeting place for the Secret Seven. The path was bordered with roses in all shades of pink, red, peach and yellow, and bees buzzed peacefully in the warm, scented summer air. In the distance he could see the orchard, its trees heavy with shining red apples, rosy pears and great green cooking apples.

‘I hope there’s apple pie for tea’ he thought, his tummy rumbling. Rachel, their cook, made the best apple pie in the world, but she was leaving that day to take care of her grandmother who had just come out of hospital. A whole summer without Rachel’s delicious cakes, biscuits and pies – how would he survive it!

Suddenly he stopped with a slight jolt. Something was different. A huge, expensive black car stood in front of the old white farmhouse. The sleek, gleaming machine looked strangely out of place in those quaint surroundings!

‘That isn’t Father’s car,’ he thought. ‘In fact, I’ve never seen that car before’.

Instantly Peter felt that something was wrong. Who had come to the house? And why wasn’t Scamper bounding up the path to greet him today, just like he always did?

Chapter 2: Bad news

Slowly and quietly, Peter opened the front door. Listening intently, he could hear the murmur of grown-up voices in the living room. He lingered in the hallway, unsure of what to do. He tried not to make a sound.

Suddenly there was a loud ‘woof!’ from the kitchen, and Peter jumped out of his skin. But still Scamper did not appear. How odd! Then the living room door flung open and there stood Mother, looking a little worried.

‘Ah, here you are Peter, at last,’ she said.

‘Why on earth is Scamper shut up in the kitchen?’ demanded Peter. ‘We never keep him locked up in there!’

‘We have a visitor, Peter, and he is a little uncomfortable around dogs, so I shut Scamper away’, Mother explained. ‘Now put down your school bag and come into the living room, I have some news for you’.

‘Uncomfortable around dogs! Uncomfortable around the lovely, gentle, friendly Scamper! What kind of idiotic creature must this visitor be!’ thought Peter scornfully.

Thankfully he had enough sense not to say it out loud. But he took an instant dislike to this visitor, and their shiny black car. His good mood had vanished and he was starting to feel rather grumpy!

Reluctantly Peter obeyed mother and went into the living room. A tall, burly, red faced man was sitting rather uncomfortably on mother’s favourite chair. The ancient, pretty chair with its pattern of faded roses and honeysuckle was a precious antique. Its delicate wooden legs seemed to be straining under the weight of this enormous stranger. Glancing at him, Peter judged him to be about 60 years old, with unruly grey hair and a bushy grey beard. He was drinking a steaming cup of coffee. In front of him on the coffee table was an enormous piece of apple pie.

‘That’s the last of Rachel’s apple pie!’ thought Peter with disappointment. ‘And he’s got a piece big enough for two people! Greedy pig!’

But again he had the sense not to say anything out loud and instead just frowned at the stranger. His grumpy feeling was fast turning into a thoroughly bad temper!

Mother called Janet into the room and asked both children to sit on the sofa.

‘Children, this is Great Uncle Boris. The last time you saw him you were just babies, so you won’t remember him. And he certainly looks a lot different nowadays!’ smiled mother. ‘He recently returned to this country after working in Australia. He has decided to rent a farmhouse in Melchester for the summer’, she added.

Was it Peter’s imagination or did Great Uncle Boris shift uncomfortably in his seat as Mother spoke? The ever-observant Janet gave Peter a curious glance; so she had noticed it too! Great Uncle Boris smiled awkwardly, but Peter and Janet just sat quietly with stony faces; they had an uneasy feeling.

Mother spoke, breaking the awkward silence.

‘As you know, Rachel has gone to care for her grandmother for a month so I have to do all the cooking and housework myself. And Father is away in America learning about new farming methods. So I have to take care of the farm as well as look after you both. And Great Uncle Boris would like some company for the summer’.

Peter and Janet looked at each other. What did all this have to do with them? Mother’s next words made it painfully clear.

‘I have decided to send Peter to stay with Great Uncle Boris for the summer. Janet is to stay here and help me with the housework and the farm’.

Janet and Peter stared at each other in horror. All their glorious holiday plans had just vanished into dust. No long summer days together exploring in the woods. No lazy lunches on the lawn, with picnic baskets full to the brim with delicious sandwiches, cakes, sausage rolls and lemonade. And worst of all, no mysterious and exciting adventures with the Secret Seven. For one entire summer holiday the Secret Seven would be split up!

Chapter 3: The big row

As soon as Great Uncle Boris had driven off, Peter rounded on Mother with a furious glare.

‘Mother, how could you even think of sending me away for the entire holiday! My summer will be ruined! It’s not fair!’ he exclaimed.

Before Mother could answer he continued.

‘Why do I have to stay with Great Uncle Boris? He doesn’t even like dogs! I expect he will make me keep Scamper locked up in the kitchen all the time’.

Then remembering Scamper, who was indeed still locked in the kitchen, Peter ran out of the room to release him from his temporary prison. Scamper leapt on Peter and licked him thoroughly, his tail wagging at a furious pace. How he hated to be locked away from the children, even for a moment! He could tell his master was upset about something. Whatever had happened? And Janet looked worried too.

‘I knew that stranger meant trouble’, he thought. ‘There is something wrong about him. Oh how I would love to sink my teeth into his ankle!’

And that was an unusual thought, as Scamper was a dog with a friendly and gentle nature. He never felt tempted to bite anyone without a Very Good Reason.

After giving Peter a few minutes to calm down Mother called him back into the living room. Janet followed looking concerned. Sensibly she hoped that Peter wouldn’t say anything to make the situation even worse – it was bad enough already!

‘Keep calm, Peter,’ she willed.

But oh dear, Peter was not calm – Peter was not calm at all. His fists were clenched with rage, and his mouth was set in a firm line.

Mother spoke quietly.

‘Peter, I need you to be grown up about this. It would be a big help to me if you did what I ask without a fuss. You will have a lot of fun with Great Uncle Boris once you get to know him, he really is a splendid fellow. And he has kindly given permission for you to take Scamper, even though he is uncomfortable with dogs’.

Peter responded sharply.

‘Mother, you know I am the leader of the Secret Seven. How can you possibly split us up for the whole summer! Why should I miss out on all the fun!’

Finally Mother had had enough. Speaking slowly but in a very firm voice she said,

‘That’s enough Peter. It’s time you learned some respect for other people. There’s more to being a good leader than just being bossy and harsh with everyone. You have far too sharp a tongue, I have been concerned about this for some time now. But this time you really have gone too far’.

Janet had never seen Mother like this, and she was really alarmed. Mother continued,

‘You will go to stay with Great Uncle Boris and I will ask him to pick you up tomorrow evening. You will stay there until I am satisfied that you have learned to be more respectful and changed your attitude. And if I hear one more word of complaint, I will forbid you to take Scamper with you!

Peter’s blood ran ice cold with horror at the thought of losing Scamper for the whole summer. He didn’t dare utter another word.

Chapter 4: The first and last meeting of the Secret Seven

Even whilst Peter was still reeling from the shock of his mother’s stern words, sensible Janet thought and acted quickly.

‘We need to have our first summer meeting of the Secret Seven society – even if it will be the last one with all seven of us present!’

She made hasty telephone calls to the other members, Jack, Colin, George, Pam and Barbara, summoning them to an emergency meeting at 6pm that day. Then she ran down to the garden shed, tidied it quickly and made sure there were enough boxes for them all to sit on. She whisked away one or two large spiders by catching them in her handkerchief and releasing them far away in the holly bush. Perhaps the robin that lived in that part of the garden would catch them to make a tasty meal for her two hungry fledglings.

Janet glanced at the clock and saw that she still had half an hour to spare. With Mother’s permission she placed seven glasses on a tray along with a tall jug of homemade lemonade. It was a hot day so she added plenty of ice cubes, which bobbed and clinked in the jug as she carried the tray carefully down to the shed.

‘If only we had something to eat’, she thought longingly.

But Rachel had departed to visit her grandmother that morning, and she didn’t dare ask Mother for snacks.

But Mother had regained her normal kindly mood and she guessed what Janet was up to. She called her into the kitchen and presented her with a large, heavy tin box. The box lid bore a label on which Rachel had scrawled the following words:

‘To be opened at the first summer meeting of the Secret Seven’.

Delighted, Janet took the tin and hurried down to the shed where she put it in pride of place, next to the lemonade.

‘I wonder what dear old Rachel has left for us,’ she thought. ‘Perhaps some of her delicious rock buns, or maybe some gingerbread, or perhaps a sponge cake’. Her mouth watered at the thought.

Janet gave herself a little shake; she had no time to linger about day dreaming, she still had lots to do. First she tied back her dark wavy hair, then she went to check on Darwin her pet guinea pig. Darwin was an adorable creature. He was black with a white nose, and he was only six months old. Janet loved him and he was all her own. She didn’t have to share him with Peter in the way that Scamper was shared between them. Indeed, Peter had no time for guinea pigs.

Janet had noticed that for the last few days Darwin had been slightly off his food.

‘Hi Darwin’, she said gently, peering into his cage. ‘Oh no, you’ve hardly touched your nugget bowl today! Are you feeling poorly? Or maybe just too full from eating apples and carrots?’

Janet gave him some fresh water and cleared away some apple slices that were looking a bit brown, replacing them with fresh ones.

‘I’m going to keep my eye on you, little guy,’ she said softly. ‘Hey, you’re really tucking in to those fresh apples, I guess there’s nothing wrong with you afterall!’

Janet’s final job was to deal with Peter. She crept up to his bedroom door and tapped gently. There was no answer. Oh dear, Peter was in a bad mood. She tapped again and then quietly slipped inside. She wanted Peter to shake himself out of his bad mood in time for the meeting! But Scamper was already hard at work, licking and snuggling up to Peter, and gazing at him with his faithful brown eyes. How could anyone stay cross for long when they had a wonderful creature like Scamper for a friend?

Peter was already feeling a little calmer, and although he wouldn’t have admitted it, he had started to feel a little ashamed of his earlier outburst. When he heard what thoughtful Janet had done, organising an emergency meeting all by herself, and about Rachel’s kind gift for their first meeting, it really was hard to stay in such a cross mood.

‘Come on Janet’, he said, ‘let’s make the most of our last evening together. And let’s enjoy our first and last summer meeting of the Secret Seven!’

Chapter 5: Peter surprises everyone

Peter and Janet waited in the garden shed, wondering how their friends would take the shocking news about Peter and Scamper. Colin was first to arrive. As he walked across the lawn and tapped on the door he was glad that the latest password was so easy to remember.

‘At our last meeting we chose ‘sandcastle’ as our new password because we knew that our next meeting would be in the summer holidays’, he thought. ‘But I wonder why Janet has called an emergency meeting.’

When he saw Peter’s pale, solemn face he knew there was serious news.

‘I will explain when the others get here,’ said Peter.

Jack and George arrived next.

‘Sandcastle,’ they called out in unison, and promptly entered the hut.

They both took their seats, instinctively sensing that this was a time to be quiet, rather than their usual talkative selves.

Barbara was glad to meet up with Pam in the lane because she had forgotten the password and hoped Pam would remember.

‘I’m pretty sure its snowman,’ said Pam, but she didn’t sound sure at all!

Barbara looked at her doubtfully. Snowman seemed an odd sort of password to choose for a summer holiday meeting. Then suddenly she remembered!

‘The password is sandcastle, not snowman, you dopey thing!’ she exclaimed. ‘And what’s more, Pam, it was your idea in the first place! I remember distinctly!’

Both girls dissolved into fits of giggles, but they stopped laughing immediately when they entered the hut and saw six solemn faces looking at them. Six solemn faces? Yes, for Scamper knew something was wrong and he was sitting at Peter’s feet also wearing a sad expression.

Peter called the meeting to order.

‘I suggest we share out the lemonade and investigate that interesting-looking tin that Rachel has left us, and then we can talk’, he said.

Janet handed out the lemonade and then fetched the tin box.

‘I hope it’s rock buns,’ said Colin, for rock buns were his favourite.

I hope it’s chocolate biscuits,’ said Jack, who adored chocolate.

I hope it’s a sponge cake,’ said Pam and George both at the same time.

‘And I hope it’s apple pie,’ said Peter longingly.

Janet removed the lid and her face lit up with delight.

‘Good old Rachel! She has seen to it that you all get your wish!’ she exclaimed.

For Rachel had packed the tin with all their favourites; some small apple pies, a medium-sized sponge cake, heaps of golden rock buns and a great stack of chocolate biscuits! And hang on, what was this wrapped tightly in paper? It was a delicious dog biscuit for Scamper! Good old Rachel! It was as if she had known that they would need something to cheer them up.

The seven friends set upon the delicious treats with enthusiasm. Rachel had packed enough so that each person could have their own particular favourite thing, and at least two other goodies. Scamper was awarded one chocolate biscuit, for he loved biscuits.

‘Only one, Scamper,’ said Janet sternly, ‘because chocolate is not good for dogs. But look at this lovely big dog biscuit, all for you!’

Scamper trusted Janet, and whilst he didn’t understand exactly what she said, he knew she was only strict when there was a good reason.

When the lemonade was all gone and the tin box was empty apart from a few tiny crumbs, Peter called for everyone’s attention. Seven pairs of eyes stared at him intently. He explained how he and Scamper would be away for the whole summer, and that this would be both the first and the last Secret Seven meeting. Everyone was crestfallen and disappointed.

‘That’s jolly bad luck, Peter,’ said Jack sympathetically. ‘I was looking forward to some adventures this summer, and now I guess we’ll all have a pretty quiet time.’

Colin and George murmured their agreement solemnly. Pam and Barbara both looked sad; Pam’s lower lip quivered as if she might cry, and Barbara’s eyes glistened as she fiercely blinked back some tears.

Peter saw the disappointment on his friends’ faces. He was their leader, and yet he was the cause of all this sadness and disappointment! He had to think of something, and fast! That was the moment when he had his Big Idea, and everyone was surprised by what he said next.

‘Let’s have no more mooching around with sad faces,’ he said firmly. ‘We would be a foolish lot if we let this ruin our summer holiday. So this is what I want you all to do.’

‘You are to have weekly meetings as usual. We can’t call them Secret Seven meetings for there will only be six of you. But all of you must keep a lookout for anything mysterious or strange going on.

‘Janet, you are responsible for keeping the shed tidy and telephoning me once a week to give your report.

‘Jack, you are to act as leader whilst I am away. It’s a big responsibility but I think that you can handle it.

‘Colin, I want you to be Jack’s Right Hand Man. If you do fall into any adventures he will need your support. And if Jack is out of action for any reason, then you are to step up and be leader.

‘George, your particular job is to check the local newspaper for reports of anything sinister or suspicious.

‘Pam and Barbara, you are to share responsibility for providing refreshments for the meetings. Each week one of you is to bring some snacks, and the other is to bring something to drink. It’s too much to expect Janet to do it all, especially as she will be very busy helping Mother whilst Rachel is away.’

Peter paused briefly and looked at the faces of his friends. Janet looked relieved and pleased. Jack was smiling broadly, delighted that Peter had such trust in him. Colin was beaming with pride at his temporary new role. George was grinning from ear to ear, for he particularly loved to sniff out mysteries and problems, and had an inkling that he might train to be a detective when he grew up. Pam and Barbara were looking at each other with a mixture of determination and alarm. They had never been given such responsibility before and they wouldn’t let anyone down. Would they?

Pam was particularly thrilled to have been given some responsibility at last. She knew she could be a little silly at times, but now she was determined to do better. To everyone’s surprise, Pam suddenly spoke up.

‘I think we should agree an emergency code,’ she said nervously gulping slightly. ‘Just in case Peter finds himself in serious trouble. And if he says it, it means, Come At Once, Rescue Needed’.

‘That’s a brilliant idea, well done Pam!’ exclaimed Peter. ‘But what shall it be?’

The Seven were quiet for a moment, thinking. Then Janet spoke up.

‘How about this: Scamper has completely lost his appetite! If Peter says that, then we’ll know there’s something seriously wrong!’

The Seven broke into fits of laughter. Scamper looked at them curiously. He had heard his name spoken... but what were they laughing at? He decided that humans were just silly creatures, and returned to chewing his gigantic dog biscuit. For there was one thing that you could always rely on, and that was Scamper’s healthy appetite!

After agreeing the new emergency code, the seven friends said cheerful goodbyes; they looked a totally different bunch from the solemn group who had sat down at 6 o’clock. Peter was pleased that the meeting had been a success. Had he started to realise that being a good leader was more than just bossing people around?

Chapter 6: White Ash farm

Peter pressed his nose against the dusty window of the speeding train. He had never been allowed on a train alone before, but Mother had had a word with the guard and asked him to keep an eye on Peter and make sure he got off at the right station.

‘And you’re not really alone,’ said Mother as she waved him off. ‘You’ve got Scamper with you.’

Scamper sat at Peter’s feet; he knew his master was still upset and had hardly left his side since the night of the Big Row with Mother. Peter still felt indignant at what Mother had said. Did he have a sharp tongue? Was he disrespectful to other people?

‘No! Mother is wrong and unfair,’ thought Peter sadly. But deep down he knew that Mother was not an unfair person – so why had she said such harsh words? He couldn’t understand it.

At last the train drew in to Melchester Railway Station and hoards of people hurried off the train, clutching bags, suitcases, hats, parcels, bicycles and children. Great Uncle Boris was waiting for him as arranged, under the station clock. He greeted Peter warmly.

‘Good to see you again Peter!’ he cried, smiling broadly. ‘How about a slap-up tea in the Station Cafe? And from now on just call me Uncle Boris’.

‘Uncle Boris does seem a nice fellow,’ thought Peter. But he could see that Scamper was uneasy around him, and eyed him suspiciously.

‘Maybe Scamper just needs to get used to him,’ said Peter to himself.

Very soon Peter was tucking in to a great plate of ham and eggs, hot buttered toast and a steaming mug of hot chocolate, followed by a large slice of apple pie, dolloped with whipped cream.

‘At least I am going to be well fed!’ thought Peter, cheering up slightly. But he was already missing Rachel’s cooking – oh, and Janet and Mother too!

Uncle Boris’s summer home was deep in the countryside, for it was an old farmhouse. It was set in a lovely valley, dotted with other farms. The powerful black car flew down country lanes and past vast green fields, and cows munched contentedly behind every hedge. There were clusters of quaint whitewashed cottages, their tiny gardens filled with flowers of all colours. Sometimes a curious dog would dash to a garden gate, barking loudly, its peace disturbed by the noise of the car engine.

At last they turned off the road and went through a gate bearing the sign ‘to White Ash and Crooked Elm farms’.

‘Our cottage is White Ash farmhouse,’ said Uncle Boris. ‘We take the right hand fork in the lane. The left hand fork leads to Crooked Elm farm. It’s probably best to keep away from there, they are not the friendliest of folk’.

Uncle Boris said this gently, but Peter noticed that his face was stern and his mouth was set in a firm line. But Peter had no time to think about Uncle Boris’s curious expression because suddenly the car slowed, and then stopped in a small courtyard outside an old farmhouse. The building was made of grey stone, and a plaque by the blue front door announced ‘White Ash Farm.’ The door was framed with a climbing rose bearing clusters of pink flowers, and intertwined with its branches were sweet peas in pink, purple and white. The combined scent of these fragrant flowers was quite delicious. Pots of herbs were scattered about in the courtyard; Peter recognised rosemary, parsley, sage and chives. There was also a little white garden table with two white chairs, and each chair had cushions in blue and white. Nearby was a dog bowl filled with fresh water, and Scamper fell upon it and drank thirstily.

‘You stay here and enjoy your drink, Scamper,’ said Uncle Boris. ‘Come on Peter, I will give you a tour of the house’.

The farmhouse was clean and pretty. There was a tiny sitting room with a comfortable blue sofa; a small kitchen with pale blue cupboards, white walls with pictures of different species of birds and their eggs, and a wooden table and chairs; upstairs there were two bedrooms and a bathroom. Peter’s bedroom, though tiny, was neat and clean. His small bed had a bright yellow duvet and a beautifully soft white pillow. He had a shelf for books, a small cupboard and a tiny window. Drawing apart the yellow curtains he surveyed the view: green fields, a small wood, and a little beyond that was a farm house.

‘That must be Crooked Elm farm,’ thought Peter. ‘It all looks pretty nice from here! And there seem to be lots of nice places for Scamper and I to explore!’

Chapter 7: Janet is worried

Whilst Peter was settling into his new surroundings, Janet was back at home getting increasingly worried. She found Mother, who was in the study amidst piles of letters and accounts.

‘Mother, I’m sure Darwin is off his food,’ frowned Janet.

‘Well he certainly looks pretty healthy and chubby to me,’ said Mother, only half listening. ‘Do run along Janet, I am up to my eyes in these farm accounts. Your father normally sees to them, but whilst he is away I have to do it. And they really are in a muddle’.

Janet sighed deeply and left the room. Then she had an idea.

‘I know, I’ll go to Jack’s house and have a word with Susie. She has a guinea pig and she knows lots about them’.

Susie was Jack’s little sister. She could be annoying at times, and she desperately wanted to join the Secret Seven, though Peter wouldn’t allow it.

‘We are already a seven,’ he explained sternly at least once a week.

However, Susie was really fond of animals and she knew lots about them because Jack and Susie’s Father was a vet, and Susie was allowed to help out at the animal clinic once a week.

Jack’s house was just a short walk away. Janet rang the doorbell and waited. Eventually the door opened; there was Jack’s mother in her flowery apron, looked pink-cheeked and hot.

‘Hello Janet, nice to see you! I’m afraid Jack and Susie aren’t here, they have gone to the Zoo with their father.’ Then, seeing Janet’s disappointed expression,

Do come in, I’ve been baking all morning and I’m just about to have a cup of tea. How about some lemonade and a freshly made rock cake?

Janet accepted without hesitation, for Jack’s Mother was famous for her delicious rock cakes! A few minutes later they were sitting on comfortable wicker chairs in a pretty conservatory, surrounded by flowers and plants. On the table in front of them was a steaming pot of tea, a glass of lemonade, a plate of delicious-looking sandwiches and a great pile of rock cakes, baked until golden, studded with cherries and raisins, and topped with brown sugar. Yummy!

‘Come on Janet, set to! I can’t eat this all by myself’, said Jack’s mother. ‘And then you can tell me why you’re looking so worried’.

After they had finished eating and drinking, Janet explained about Darwin.

‘I really am awfully worried,’ she ended. ‘And Mother is so busy running the house and farm whilst Father is away, I don’t like to trouble her too much’.

I don’t know much about guinea pigs,’ said Jack’s Mother. ‘But I do know one thing, and it’s really quite curious. They have had a flood of people at the animal clinic, all worried about their guinea pigs being off their food. My husband mentioned it at breakfast this morning. But he said the strange thing was, none of the animals showed any sign of illness or disease; they just simply wouldn’t eat.’

A few minutes later Janet was on her way home, thinking hard. She decided that she would ring Jack that evening and suggest they have a Secret Seven meeting.

‘Oh bother!’ said Janet to herself. ‘We are not a Seven, we are only six! But we must meet and discuss the situation. Something’s wrong, and unless someone gets to the bottom of it, our guinea pigs will lose weight and become really ill. We have to find out why they won’t eat before it’s too late!’

Chapter 8: The Six meet up

Jack felt a little nervous as he approached the meeting hut that evening. It was his first time as temporary leader and he wondered whether he would be able to run the meeting properly. Would the others mess about and act foolishly now that Peter was away? But he needn’t have worried. The others each felt the weight of their new responsibilities and were determined not to let anyone down. Janet tidied the hut before they arrived; Colin felt serious and was determined to support Jack; George brought a newspaper cutting to show the group; Pam brought a tin of iced buns; Barbara arrived clutching six bottles of ginger beer. Everyone arrived on time and no one forgot the password!

Janet told everyone about Darwin, explaining that this normally ravenous creature had been off his food for a week. Jack nodded vigorously when she got to the part about the animal clinic.

‘It’s quite true,’ he said. ‘Father has never seen so many worried guinea pig owners, but the guinea pigs don’t seem to be ill at all – they just turn their noses up at food. He’s very puzzled and I think he’s a bit worried, too. And Susie’s guinea pig, Squeaker, also refused his breakfast this morning. Susie opened a new bag of SuperTasty Nuggets and he wouldn’t touch them.’

‘I buy SuperTasty Nuggets too,’ said Janet. ‘They’re a new brand and supposed to be very good for guinea pigs, full of the best ingredients’.

The six friends discussed the matter, but the problem was that they could see no way of investigating it. How could they possibly know where to begin! If Jack’s father, a professionally qualified Vet had no idea, then how were six children supposed to sort out the problem. Crestfallen, they decided to talk about something else.

That was the moment that George held up a page from the local newspaper.

‘I’ve brought the page where all the local crimes are reported,’ he said.

Over the last week there had been a lot of crimes; an old lady’s handbag had been snatched in the park; a bicycle had been stolen; three cats had gone missing; some washing had been stolen from a washing line. George held up the newspaper and read all the details to the meeting, but then sighed, saying,

‘None of these seem very interesting.’ And all the friends agreed.

That was the moment that Colin had a brainwave. Because on the back of the newspaper page that George was holding up, Colin had spotted something.

‘Quick, turn over that paper!’ he cried. ‘Look what’s on the other side!’

And there, in big bold letters, was an advertisement:

SUPERTASTY GUINEA PIG NUGGETS!
THE BEST NUGGETS MONEY CAN BUY!

Jack, Janet, George, Pam and Barbara all looked at Colin in complete puzzlement.

‘So what?’ said Jack, ‘it’s just an advert.’

‘Look at the name and address of the company who make the nuggets!’ directed Colin.

This is what it said:

Mr Snatcher & Sons

Crooked Elm Farm, Melchester.

‘Peter has gone to stay in Melchester,’ Colin continued. Perhaps he could ask the company for advice, for they must be experts in how to feed guinea pigs. They might be able to figure out what’s wrong. We must ask Peter to speak to Mr Snatcher of Crooked Elm farm’.

Chapter 9: Peter and Scamper go exploring

At the same time that the six were having their secret meeting, Peter and Scamper, both nursing scrapes, scratches and bruises, were being sent to bed by a very angry Uncle Boris – and they weren’t even allowed any supper! This is how it happened.

That morning Peter and Scamper had had an early breakfast, and then Uncle Boris said,

‘I have got some work to do today. If I make you a picnic lunch will you entertain yourself in the garden and in the woods around the house?’

‘Of course!’ said Peter, and Scamper looked eagerly at the door. He was thinking that there might be rabbits to chase!

Uncle Boris gave Peter a lunch parcel and a bottle of lemonade. Then Peter and Scamper piled out of the front door into the sunny morning.

Peter spent the morning exploring the garden and climbing one or two interesting-looking trees. He found a small pond and spent some time looking for some fish or a frog, but found none. He picked a couple of rosy apples off the apple tree to eat with his lunch. He found a popped football and kicked it about for Scamper to chase; this game lasted a long time, for it was one of Scamper’s favourites. Finally Peter said,

‘Come on Scamper, enough of that. It’s lunch time’. Peter sat at the little white garden table and opened his paper parcel. It contained two ham sandwiches, a tomato, a sausage roll and a slab of fruit cake. He soon polished off the lot, followed by one of the red apples. He washed it all down with the bottle of lemonade. Scamper sat at his feet gnawing at a juicy bone.

After lunch Peter decided to go beyond the garden and have a proper walk, so they slipped out of the garden gate and set off to explore the woods.

‘Scamper, let’s go and find a nice fat stick for you to fetch’, said Peter.

Scamper ran ahead excitedly, for he enjoyed having new territory to explore. Following a dirt path, they soon found themselves in the middle of a thick wood. It was cool and quiet in the wood, apart from the occasional tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker. Then Scamper spotted a movement in the undergrowth – a rabbit! Instantly he gave chase, darting off the dirt path and plunging into the trees.

‘Scamper, come back!’ called Peter. ‘Scamper, you’ll get lost!’

But Scamper didn’t come back.

‘Bother!’ thought Peter. ‘He could be anywhere by now, he gets so excited when he’s chasing rabbits that he forgets everything else’.

Peter continued to call for Scamper, but no matter how loud he shouted Scamper did not return. Eventually Peter decided to plunge into the forest to follow Scamper, in the hope that he would pick up some sign of the dog’s tracks.

‘Perhaps he’s hurt himself or got stuck somewhere, the silly mut’, thought Peter.

Peter left the dirt path in the direction Scamper had taken. After a while the trees started to thin out, and he realised that he had reached the edge of the wood, for he was faced with a tall wooden fence. A battered sign was nailed to the fence:

Crooked Elm Farm
Private Property
KEEP OUT!

And standing there, on the other side of the fence, was a rather dirty and sorrowful Scamper!

On first seeing Scamper Peter was relieved and delighted, but soon this gave way to puzzlement and alarm.

‘Scamper, how on earth did you end up on the wrong side of the fence?’ he asked.

Then Peter saw a shallow depression in the ground beneath one part of the fence, as if the earth had been worn away over time as small woodland animals had scrambled from one side of the fence to the other. Scamper must have squeezed under! Then Peter noticed that Scamper’s back was all scratched and bleeding.

‘He must have scraped it as he squeezed through the narrow gap,’ thought Peter.

One thing was clear – although Scamper had squeezed under the fence, there was no way he would be able to squeeze back, for that would make his scrapes and scratches even worse. What on earth was Peter to do!

Peter climbed up the fence and took a good look to see if anyone was around. He didn’t fancy being caught trespassing by the unfriendly folk of Crooked Elm farm! He could hear the hum of distant farm machinery but there were no people in sight. Looking in the direction of White Ash farm he saw a flash, as if sunlight had briefly reflected on glass. Yes, there it was again: flash, flash, flash – as if someone had a pair of binoculars and was sweeping the area. Was somebody watching, looking for something, maybe looking for him?

‘I think my imagination is over-active!’ he said to himself. ‘It’s probably just a birdwatcher.’ But nevertheless a cold chill passed down his spine.

With a gentle ‘thud’ Peter dropped softly over the fence and landed beside Scamper, who welcomed him with a big lick.

‘Oh Scamper, you poor thing,’ said Peter, looking at Scamper’s scratches and scrapes. ‘Listen Scamper, we have got to get back over that fence as quickly as possible. We are not allowed on Crooked Elm farm land. If they catch us we’ll be in big trouble. Now, if I lift you up to the top of the fence, do you think you could jump over?’

Scamper looked eager, as if to say ‘I’ll try anything you ask.’ Peter lifted Scamper as high as he could, which was not easy, as Scamper was not a small dog. Luckily Scamper managed to make a little jump out of Peter’s arms onto the top of the fence, and in one bound he was safely over the other side.

Peter felt mightily relieved to see Scamper running around on the safe side of the fence. Before climbing back over, he took a quick look around to make sure no one was in the vicinity. To his horror he saw a rough-looking man in the distance, presumably Mr Snatcher. The man appeared to be carrying a rifle and by his side was a black German Shepherd dog. The dog seemed to be excited about something. Had it caught a whiff of Peter or Scamper’s scent on the wind? Peter daren’t climb up the fence now, for that would make him immediately visible to the man. He looked around frantically, but there wasn’t so much as a bush to hide in, just the bare green field. Feeling increasingly alarmed, Peter decided there was only one option: he must make himself as small as possible and try to squeeze under the fence.

Peter threw himself onto his back and slipped his feet and legs through the gap. No problem so far. Then he wriggled his hips and body through without too much trouble. He could hear the footsteps of the man getting closer; any minute now and the dog could be upon him! Frantically he tried to squeeze his shoulders through the gap, but something was stuck – he just couldn’t get through.

‘Woof woof!’The German Shepherd must have seen him!

‘Woof woof woooofff!’ Scamper responded.

‘Whose there!’ shouted a gruff voice.

Try as he might, Peter could not wriggle free and escape under the fence. Suddenly Scamper dived forwards; that clever dog had spotted that Peter’s t-shirt was caught on a nail sticking out from one of the wooden fence planks. With one bite Scamper grabbed the t-shirt and pulled it free from the nail, tearing it as he did so. Peter’s shoulders and head shot through under the fence, and as he leapt to his feet he found he was standing nose to nose with a ferocious, snarling German Shepherd dog, with only the wooden fence planks between them. Its vicious eyes starred Peter full in the face, and with mouth open and fanged bared, it slowly and deliberately licked its lips.

Peter had seen enough. Trembling with fear, he grabbed Scamper’s collar and ran off into the woods. As they disappeared into the trees they could hear the man shouting,

‘Oy, come back here! Oy!’

But nothing in the world would have made Peter go back! He ran, scrambling and stumbling and without stopping for breath until he was back at his garden gate. He slipped through the gate and sighed with relief. At last he was safe.

‘Oy!’ boomed a loud, deep voice. ‘I told you not to go near Crooked Elm farm!’

Peter nearly jumped out of his skin. And as he turned round he saw Uncle Boris, looking absolutely furious!

Chapter 10: Later that night

Peter and Scamper passed a rather miserable, hungry evening. How on earth had Uncle Boris known they had been on Crooked Elm farm land? He had been so furious that he hadn’t given Peter the chance to explain what had happened. Peter’s cheeks burned hot with indignation at how unfair Uncle Boris had been. After a while he crept to the bathroom, beckoning Scamper to follow him quietly. There, he took a clean washcloth and filled the sink with warm water; then he washed Scamper’s scrapes and scratches, removing the dirt and mud and making sure none of them were deep enough to need stitches.

It was nearly dark outside, and the bathroom clock said 10 o’clock. Peter decided to find Uncle Boris and explain the situation – surely he would have calmed down by now. Also he was going to insist on getting some food for Scamper; it would be cruel to make him go to sleep with an empty tummy, and it had been a long, long time since breakfast.

Peter tapped on Uncle Boris’s bedroom door; there was no answer. Going downstairs, Peter found the house in complete darkness. Uncle Boris was nowhere to be found! His car was parked outside, Peter noticed.

‘Come on Scamper, we will jolly well have some supper!’ said Peter.

He filled Scamper’s bowl with dog food, and gave him some fresh water. Scamper ate hungrily. Then he made himself two boiled eggs, two slices of buttered toast, and a mug of hot chocolate. He helped himself to three chocolate biscuits, and gave one to Scamper. Feeling better, he looked at the clock; it was 10.30pm, and there was still no sign of Uncle Boris! Where on earth could he be?

Peter stationed Scamper at the front door.

‘Bark at once if you see anyone coming,’ instructed Peter.

Then he crept upstairs and gently opened the door to Uncle Boris’s bedroom. The room was dark and silent except for the tick tock of the bedside clock. Everything was neat and tidy: clothes carefully folded on the chair, books stacked on the shelf, flowers in a vase on a small table and a pair of binoculars hanging on a hook behind the door. Then something strange caught Peter’s eye. One of the drawers was half open, and peeping out of it was a furry grey rat-like creature! Peter backed away in shock, accidentally knocking over the vase of flowers. Water spilt everywhere. Just then, Scamper barked loudly. Someone was coming up the garden path!

Peter had to think fast. If Uncle Boris arrived to find his bedroom in disarray he would know Peter had been snooping, and that would make him even more cross than before. Quick as a flash, Peter dashed to the bathroom and grabbed a towel, then ran back and mopped up the split water, righted the vase and replaced the flowers. He heard the front door open; he just had time to fling the towel back into the bathroom and dive into his bedroom before Uncle Boris stomped up the stairs. He heard Uncle Boris’s bedroom door close firmly.

Scamper put his nose around Peter’s door and peered at Peter anxiously. Had he done the right thing? Had he barked at the right time?

‘Come on, Scamper,’ whispered Peter.

The dog bounded onto the bed, and the two exhausted friends were still snuggled together when they fell fast asleep.

Chapter 11: Janet submits her report

Janet waited for Mother to go out to feed the chickens before she rang Peter to submit her weekly report. The secret society meetings were just that – secret – and not even Mother was allowed to hear the report. Peter had decided not to worry Janet by telling her of his troubles of the previous day. The phone call started well: Janet said how everyone had been on time, everyone had remembered the password, and everyone had carried out their responsibilities to the letter. Next she explained about the guinea pig mystery, and Peter listened carefully to every word she said. He agreed that they should try to get to the bottom of it.

‘And that’s where you come in,’ said Janet.

‘Me? How? said Peter, puzzled.

Janet explained that the SuperTasty Nugget company were based in Melchester.

‘It’s on a farm called... Crooked Elm farm. Have you heard of it? We need you to speak to Mr Snatcher, the head of the company’.

Peter’s blood ran cold. Speak to that rough-looking man, with that ferocious-looking dog? No way! Peter gulped. But he didn’t want to let the others down, so he said,

`Leave it with me, Janet, I’ll see what I can find out’.

When he said this he had no idea what he was going to do – he just wanted to end the phone call and find somewhere quiet to think the whole thing through. He slipped into the garden and found a nice place to sit, up in the branches of a large oak tree.

His mind was teeming with questions. Why had Uncle Boris been so very cross yesterday? Afterall, Peter hadn’t done anything that bad. And how did Uncle Boris even know he had set foot on Crooked Elm farm? Who was watching the farm with binoculars? Where had Uncle Boris disappeared to last night? What was that horrid, grey furry creature and why was it in Uncle Boris’s bedroom drawer? And why were hoards of guinea pigs refusing to eat their food? He thought about it till his head ached.

He was still sitting in the tree when Uncle Boris came outside, jangling his car keys.

‘I’m just going to town to do some shopping, he said. ‘I’ll be gone all afternoon. Will you be alright here by yourself?’

‘I won’t be by myself,’ said Peter sullenly. ‘I’ll be with Scamper’.

‘Ok, well do cheer up, Peter’, he said. ‘I’ll bring back some doughnuts for tea. And DON’T go out of the garden’.

‘Oh, I won’t,’ said Peter slowly and deliberately. For he had quite another plan in mind.

Chapter 12: Peter sees something suspicious

As soon as Uncle Boris’s care was safely out of sight Peter climbed down from the tree and ran indoors. He made straight for Uncle Boris’s bedroom. He was glad to see that the binoculars were still hanging on the hook behind the bedroom door. He snatched them and ran into his own bedroom, where his window gave a good view of the woods and the land belonging to Crooked Elm farm. Holding the binoculars up to his eyes, he saw something that sent a shiver of shock down his spine. For there was a car on the lane to Crooked Elm farm – a big, black, shining car – Uncle Boris!

Peter was so surprised he nearly dropped the binoculars! What on earth was Uncle Boris up to now! He was supposed to be going into town, but instead he had driven in the opposite direction and was on his way to Crooked Elm farm! Peter simply couldn’t understand it. Scamper sensed that there was something interesting going on and he jumped up and put his paws on the windowsill, as if he wanted to look through the binoculars too!

Watching intently, Peter saw Uncle Boris’s car pull up outside Crooked Elm farmhouse. Mr Snatcher came out to greet him and they shook hands as if they old friends! As they entered the farmhouse Mr Snatcher quickly looked round in all directions, as if checking to see if they were being observed. Suddenly Mr Snatcher looked directly at Peter and stared straight at him. He’d seen the glint of sunlight on the binoculars and knew that someone was watching! Peter drew back from the window so fast that he fell backwards, landing on poor old Scamper! Shaking, he replaced the binoculars on their hook and glanced around the room to make sure there were no signs he had been in there.

All seemed to be in order. Peter’s eyes fell upon the little chest of drawers. The drawer was still slightly open, and the strange grey hairy creature was still lying half in and half out of the drawer! What was it, and why was it still lying there? Quick as a flash, Scamper rushed past Peter and ran to the drawer. He grabbed the grey hairy creature and pulled it out, but still it did not move or make a sound. Presumably it was dead.

‘Leave!’ Peter commanded. ‘Leave it Scamper!’

But instead of leaving it, Scamper brought the horrid creature over to Peter! And as he looked at it more closely, Peter’s hair stood on end. For it wasn’t a creature at all. It was a false grey beard.

Peter’s teeth were nearly chattering with fright. Was Uncle Boris an imposter? Why else would he disguise himself with a false beard? Scamper gave Peter a look as if to say,

‘I knew there was something wrong about him! My doggy instincts were right all along!’

As Peter was trying to think what to do next, Scamper gave a sharp warning bark. He had heard the sound of a car engine – Uncle Boris was on his way back! Peter flung the beard back into the drawer and ran from the room. Then, he kicked off his shoes, jumped onto his bed and pulled Scamper down beside him and closed his eyes.

Two minutes later when Uncle Boris peeped into the room, all he saw was a boy and his dog, apparently having an afternoon nap.

Chapter 13: Colin does an experiment

Colin was always delighted when Jack invited him to tea, and today was no exception. He enjoyed Jack’s company and he also enjoyed his Mother’s wonderful teas. Jack’s Mother had a soft spot for Colin; he was a quiet, thoughtful, well-mannered boy, and she heartily approved of his friendship with Jack. So she made a special effort when Colin came to tea.

They boys were treated to a fantastic spread: three different kinds of sandwiches, a dish of salad with tiny cherry tomatoes, a plate of ham, boiled eggs, a large plate of home-made chocolate chip cookies and jugs of ginger beer and lemonade. Susie joined them for tea but she was not her usual cheeky self; for once she was quiet and subdued.

‘Susie is worried about Squeaker, her guinea pig,’ explained Jack. ‘She just can’t tempt him to eat’.

Susie nodded sadly, a tear trickling down her cheek and onto her sandwich.

After tea Jack, Colin and Susie went to look at Squeaker. He was looking a little thinner than usual, and was sitting miserably in the corner of his cage. His daily bowl of SuperTasty nuggets was lying untouched. Colin had an idea.

‘Let’s try an experiment,’ he said. ‘Susie, do you still have any of his old nuggets – you know, the kind he ate before you started buying SuperTasty nuggets?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Susie. ‘I could have a look in the cupboard, I suppose. But SuperTasty nuggets are supposed to be the best kind. If he won’t eat them, I don’t think he’ll eat the old kind.’

Susie rummaged in the pet cupboard for quite some time. Eventually she found the battered remains of a pack of ‘Simple but Good’ nuggets.

‘Now find an empty nugget bowl,’ instructed Colin.

Colin put some ‘Simple but Good’ nuggets in the new bowl. Then he placed the Simple nugget bowl next to the SuperTasty bowl.

‘Let’s just be quiet and watch what happens,’ he said.

Slowly, Squeaker walked over to the nugget bowls and gave them both a sniff. He didn’t seem particularly interested at first. Then he sniffed the Simple nuggets again. Next he took a little nibble. What happened next made Susie break into a broad grin. For Squeaker fell upon the Simple nuggets and tucked in with enthusiasm, indeed he polished off every last one!

‘That’s the answer!’ said Colin.’There’s something wrong about the SuperTasty nuggets! Perhaps the company are putting cheap, nasty ingredients in so that they can save money! Instead of caring about the welfare of the animals, they are thinking of how much profit they can make!’

He thought for a moment and then added,

‘We must tell Peter of our suspicions. And we must warn him to be careful. Mr Snatcher & Sons could be very bad people. If they are prepared to put innocent guinea pigs in danger, then who knows what else they might do!’

Chapter 14: Peter gets into trouble

‘RING RING! RING RING!’

The telephone rang whilst Peter and Uncle Boris were sitting at the table eating breakfast. Uncle Boris answered it and handed it to Peter.

‘It’s someone called Colin’, he said.

Peter was glad to speak to Colin, and he listened as Colin told him all about his experiment, his suspicion that Mr Snatcher & Sons were putting rubbish into the guinea pig nuggets, and how the situation was urgent because the guinea pigs were getting thinner and thinner, weaker and weaker – soon it might be too late. Peter couldn’t really say much because Uncle Boris would have heard every word, so he just said ‘Uh huh’ and ‘I see,’ from time to time.

After breakfast Uncle Boris announced,

‘I have to do some shopping this morning. Will you be alright on your own here?’

‘Hmmm, shopping – I doubt that,’ thought Peter. But he answered,

‘Sure,’ in a casual tone of voice. ‘I am going out to walk Scamper, see you later’. He picked up Scamper’s lead and went outside.

He didn’t want Uncle Boris to be suspicious, but in a split second he had formulated a plan.

Running to the far end of the garden, well out of sight of the house, Peter spoke to Scamper.

‘Now listen, boy,’ he said. ‘I need you to be a really clever dog. For I am going to tie your lead to the fence and leave you alone for a little while. I want you to sit down out of sight and stay absolutely quiet. Can you do that?’

Scamper looked at his master with intelligent eyes. Then he cocked his head on one side, as if he was thinking. After a moment he gave a low bark, lay down low and pressed up against the fence, and allowed Peter to fasten his lead to the fence post.

‘Good boy, Scamper,’ said Peter, giving the dog a good scratch behind his ear. ‘I’ll be back soon’.

Peter slipped quietly across the lawn and towards Uncle Boris’s car. After checking to make sure Uncle Boris was still indoors, he tried the rear door of the car, hoping it would be unlocked. To his relief it opened. Peter crept inside and crouched down behind the passenger seat, pulling a travel rug over himself so that he was completely concealed. His plan was to spy on Uncle Boris! If he went back to Crooked Elm farm, as Peter suspected he would, then Peter would listen and watch, and try to find out what they were up to.

After a few minutes Uncle Boris climbed into the car and set off. Crouched under the rug, Peter could not tell where they were going. The car swung this way and that, and sped up and slowed down... and in a very few minutes it stopped completely. Uncle Boris switched off the engine and got out. Peter waited a few seconds and then very slowly peered up out of the car window. He was right, Uncle Boris had gone to Crooked Elm farm! He could see him talking to Mr Snatcher, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. Nearby there were two men in overalls, lugging big sacks across the yard and through a door with a sign above it –

PRODUCTION ROOM
PRIVATE
NO ENTRY!

‘That must be where they make the nuggets’, thought Peter. But are those sacks full of good ingredients – that’s what I need to find out’.

But how! He couldn’t very well get out of the car for he would be seen immediately. He decided to sit tight and see if an opportunity cropped up. And sure enough, it did. There was a shout of ‘COFFEE BREAK!’ and Uncle Boris, Mr Snatcher and the two men in overalls all rushed off into the farmhouse; suddenly there was no one to be seen in the yard. From the farmhouse he heard some shouts and thuds, and the banging of doors. Knowing he didn’t have long, Peter quietly opened the car door and crept out. He went to the nearest sack and looked inside. He was horrified. Instead of good quality soya beans, wheat, maize or oat bran, the sack contained bits of cardboard, bits of rotted fruit, fish guts and even broken egg shells! If they were putting that in the nuggets then no wonder the guinea pigs wouldn’t eat it – it was disgusting. Peter felt shocked and sick as he stood there, rooted to the spot.

The growling was low at first, then it got louder. Peter hardly dared breathe. He looked up slowly and there it was – the big black German Shepherd, standing about 2 metres away and snarling horribly. Its eyes were glinting maliciously and its teeth were bared. It was poised to spring at him. Peter gulped. There was no escape. So he just stood there, frozen, for what seemed like an age.

Peter never thought he would be pleased to see Mr Snatcher, but when he reappeared from the farmhouse carrying a mug of coffee, Peter was relieved. Surely Mr Snatcher wouldn’t let the dog attack him.

‘Brutus, come here!’ shouted Mr Snatcher.

Then he walked towards Peter, with slow, deliberate steps.

Who are you?’ he demanded. ‘And what are you doing in my yard? You are the same boy I saw snooping yesterday!’

Before Peter could say a word, the two men in overalls ran over, grabbed him and carried him, kicking and struggling to the farm house. There, they threw him into a dark, ramshackle old storeroom and turned the key in the lock. He was a prisoner.

Chapter 15: Colin doesn’t understand

Peter’s eyes gradually became accustomed to the dark and he started to make out details of his surroundings. The room was full of dusty old crates and boxes, and the only door had a heavy iron lock. There was a tiny window high up in the wall, covered over with brown paper so no light came through it.

Peter considered his position: he was alone, locked in a room in a remote farmhouse; his captors were obviously ruthless men; no one knew where he was, so no one would know where to come to rescue him; Scamper was tied to a fence post all alone, without food, drink or shelter. The situation seemed hopeless. Peter kicked himself for not leaving Scamper a bowl of water and some food – how could he have been so stupid! Poor Scamper.

Peter put his eye to the keyhole to see what was beyond the door but he couldn’t see a thing. The key had been left in the lock! That was Peter’s first piece of good luck. He looked around the room for a thin sheet of paper and a piece of wire. He seized upon a sheet of newspaper and a length of old stiff wire. Very slowly and quietly he slid the newspaper so it was halfway under the door, directly beneath the lock. Then he gently poked the wire into the keyhole. With a soft thud, the key fell onto the newspaper. Slowly and carefully he pulled the newspaper back under the door, bringing the key with it!

All seemed quiet outside the door. Hardly daring to breathe, Peter put the key in the lock and opened the door just a tiny bit. Peeping out through the crack, he could see the farmhouse kitchen, and there was no one in sight. He tiptoed to the kitchen window; he could see Mr Snatcher in the field some distance away, and thankfully Brutus was with him! Uncle Boris was nowhere to be seen. Peter spied a telephone on the kitchen table. If he was very quick and quiet he might be able to make a phone call and summon help before the men came back.

The first number that came into his head was Colin’s number. He dialled the number, and it seemed that every little sound he made would carry into the field and bring the men running back!

Colin answered the phone on the third ring. At the same time, Mr Snatcher turned and started to walk back from the field, towards the house!

‘Colin, it’s Peter’ he whispered. ‘I’m in trouble. Send help to Crooked Elm farm, IMMEDIATELY!’

‘Ha ha, funny joke!’ laughed Colin. ‘Are you playing some kind of game?’

Mr Snatcher was nearly at the entrance to the yard. Peter gulped. What was the emergency code? Suddenly he remembered.

‘SCAMPER HAS COMPLETELY LOST HIS APPETITE!’ he hissed, in a desperate whisper, and then putting the phone down he dived back into the store room and closed the room behind him!

Chapter 16: Colin summons help

On hearing Peter say the emergency code, Colin at once became alert and serious; his heart began to beat fast. It sounded like Peter was in real trouble. His mother and father were out for the day, so he grabbed his jacket and ran straight to Jack’s house. Passing Pam’s house he banged on her door. When the door opened both Pam and Barbara were standing there. Imagine their surprise to see Colin red faced and panting!

‘Come to Jack’s house, quick as you can’, he yelled, ‘and phone Janet and George and tell them to come too! Peter’s in trouble!’

Soon the six friends were all at Jack’s house and Colin took control of the situation.

‘Jack, where is your father?’ he demanded.

It’s his day off,’ answered Jack. ‘He’s in the back garden practising his golf swing’.

The six excited children piled into the back garden to find him, and Colin earnestly poured out the whole story; Jack’s father nearly dropped his golf club in astonishment when he heard the tale. However he trusted Colin, and knew him to be a sensible boy.

‘Get into the car, children’ he ordered, and he jumped in himself, throwing his bag of golf clubs in beside him.

It was a pretty tight squeeze in the car as they zoomed across the countryside to Melchester, and Crooked Elm farm. Barbara and Pam were sitting snuggly in the front seat, and Janet, George, Colin and Jack were pressed together on the back seat. Pam and Barbara looked anxious and scared; Janet looked worried but determined; George had a puzzled expression; Colin and Jack were both anxious and excited. They had had a quiet summer, but now something was happening at last!

But what about poor old Scamper? Who was going to rescue him, as he sat all alone, tied up to the fence post in the garden of White Ash farm? Luckily Scamper was an intelligent and resourceful dog. After Peter had gone off he had had a little sleep; then he had rolled about on his back, pawing at some butterflies; finally he got up and had a good scratch against the fence. And still Peter had not returned. Scamper was feeling a little hungry and thirsty. His canine instincts told him something was very wrong. Peter would never leave him like this if he could help it.

Scamper eyed the end of his lead, tied to the fence post. After a few minutes pawing and worrying at it, the lead came loose! Nothing was going to stop a determined and faithful dog like Scamper, if his master was in trouble. Scamper knew there was something nasty about Mr Snatcher, and he bounded off in that direction, stopping only for a quick drink from his water bowl. Afterall, he knew he had work to do and needed to be in tip top condition for the task ahead!

Chapter 17: Scamper does his bit

As Scamper was bounding across the countryside in search of Peter, his master was keeping watch and trying to figure out a plan of escape. He managed to pile up some of the crates beneath the storeroom window, then carefully climbed up and peeled back some of the brown paper that covered the glass. From this window he had a good view of the yard and the nearby field, in which there was a small hut. He could see Mr Snatcher, Brutus and the men in overalls, lugging about the sacks of filthy rubbish that they were intending to put in the guinea pig nuggets.

Then Peter’s heart leapt. For there, peeping around the gate at the entrance to the yard, was Scamper! He knew what he needed Scamper to do, but would Scamper understand it, and would he be brave enough? For he needed Scamper to be a decoy, and lead Brutus and the men away from the yard so that Peter could escape. If he could manage to get to the hut in the field, it would then be quite easy to creep to the fence unseen, and climb over. Then he would be safe.

Scamper’s keen eyes had spotted Peter, but he had the sense not to bark or draw attention to himself. Peter pointed to the hut in the field, and then looked at Mr Snatcher and the men. Scamper cocked his head on one side, in the way that he did when he was thinking. He looked back at Peter, looked at the men, and then looked at the hut. Ahh, so that what was Peter wanted him to do!

Now Brutus was a bigger and more powerful dog than Scamper, but Scamper was faster, braver and cleverer. He would certainly take on the challenge if that was what Peter needed him to do. Suddenly, Scamper leapt into the yard, barking madly. It gave everyone quite a shock, including Peter. Scamper barked ferociously and wildly, almost like a mad dog.

‘My goodness’, thought Peter, he is certainly acting a part!

Brutus and the men started to chase Scamper, and Scamper ran as fast as he could over the field and towards the woods, leading them away – just as Peter had hoped he would.

As soon as he dared, Peter made a dash for it. He headed straight for the hut in the field, flung himself at the door and then threw himself inside. He was half way to safety! But then he got the shock of his life. For there, in the corner of the hut, sat Uncle Boris – his hands tied up with rope and his mouth covered firmly with a large piece of sticky tape!

Chapter 18: Help arrives

Peter didn’t know what to think. Clearly Mr Snatcher had turned on Uncle Boris, but had Uncle Boris was been in league with them, or had he been one of the good guys all the time? Uncle Boris wriggled and gestured to Peter to remove the tape covering his mouth, but Peter didn’t dare. What if Uncle Boris gave away his hiding place? No, Uncle Boris had better stay bound and gagged for the time being.

In the distance Peter could hear Scamper barking and men shouting. Good old Scamper, he was certainly leading them a merry dance! Then he heard the engine of a powerful car, and peeping out from the hut he saw Jack’s father pull up in the yard, and out jumped Colin, Jack and George.

‘You girls stay in the car’, said Jack’s father sternly. ‘Hang on a minute, is that Scamper, tearing around the field like a mad thing?’

And at that moment, Scamper rushed at Mr Snatcher, biting him smartly on the ankle!

Peter rushed from the hut and shouted,

‘Watch out, he’s got a rifle!’

And sure enough, Mr Snatcher had aimed his rifle – directly at poor old Scamper! Colin didn’t even stop to think. He seized one of the golf clubs from the car and rushed at Mr Snatcher, whacking the rifle from his hand, and giving his fingers a pretty hard knock for good measure. Mr Snatcher was sent reeling to the ground, clutching his ankle and yelping with pain. Then Colin picked up the rifle by the tip of its handle – it felt quite horrid to touch it – and ran to the well in the corner of the yard. He dropped the rifle down into the deep well. It hit the water with a resounding SPLASH! He watched as it sank slowly into the murky depths of the water.

‘That rifle will never do any harm again!’ he cried, triumphantly.

Suddenly there was a chase on. Brutus dived for Scamper, and Scamper dodged him. Determined to defend his master, Brutus made another run for Scamper, who once again dodged away. This time it was Janet who had an idea. She jumped out of the car and ran towards the house, shouting

‘Lead him to the house, Scamper!’ and bravely she took position behind the farmhouse door.

Clever Scamper lead the vicious dog towards the house, running first this way and then that way, changing direction so fast that Brutus was sent slipping and sliding in an attempt to catch him. Scamper ran into the farmhouse, changed direction at the last moment, and Brutus was sent careering into the old storage room. Janet leapt out from behind the door, slammed the storeroom door firmly, and turned the key in the lock. Brutus was captured!

Jack’s father called the police and very soon a police car roared down the lane and into the yard. Four police officers with truncheons jumped out and two of them ran to Mr Snatcher, and put him in handcuffs.

‘What about the other men?’ asked Peter. ‘They ran off over the fields’.

‘Don’t you worry about that, son, we’ll soon catch them’ said one of the policemen.

And at that moment a police van screeched into the yard, and four more policemen, one with a police dog, jumped out.

‘Find them boy, find them!’ said the dog handler, and the clever police dog gave chase across the field.

Scamper wanted to join in the chase, but Peter grabbed him by the collar to stop him running off.

‘No Scamper, leave it to the police,’ said Peter. ‘Oh Scamper, your ear’s bleeding!’

Everyone rushed over to see Scamper’s injury.

‘Brutus must have caught Scamper’s ear when they were chasing’, said Jack’s father. ‘Can someone get a bowl of warm water, a clean cloth and some antiseptic, this cut needs cleaning. ‘

Pam and Barbara ran off to search the farmhouse kitchen, soon shouting,

‘We’ve found them! Janet, bring Scamper in here and we will take care of his cut’.

Very gently, the girls washed the dirt out of Scamper’s wound, all the time patting him and reassuring him that he would be alright. Scamper sat there patiently, and didn’t move at all, even though it was painful to have his wound cleaned.

Very soon Mr Snatcher, his workmen and Brutus were safely in the back of the police van. A policeman was inspecting the nugget production room and uttering cries of disgust as he saw the rubbish that was being used in place of good, nourishing ingredients. Scamper was sitting comfortably at Peter’s feet, his ear nicely bandaged. For a moment, everything was quiet and calm. It was at that moment that Peter shocked everyone by exclaiming,

‘Hang on, what about Uncle Boris! He’s still bound and gagged in the hut!

Chapter 19: Uncle Boris explains

Everyone ran over to the hut and peered inside. There was Uncle Boris, just as before, his hands tied and his mouth covered with sticky tape. One of the policemen ran over and pulled the sticky tape off his mouth, and Uncle Boris coughed and spluttered with relief. Then Scamper seized his moment. He had had his suspicions about Uncle Boris right from the start. He bounded over, and with one quick bite he pulled at Uncle Boris’s fuzzy grey beard. There was a little ripping sound followed by a yelp from Uncle Boris.

No one was more astonished than Scamper to find that he had pulled the beard clean off! It had been a false beard all the time!

‘Good afternoon, sir’ said the policeman, saluting Uncle Boris. ‘I thought it was you. Glad we could be of help’.

‘What the heck...!’ exclaimed Peter.

Then, turning to the other policemen he said,

‘This is Chief Inspector Jones of Scotland Yard’s Animal Crime Unit’.

Uncle Boris insisted that they all go back to White Ash farm for a slap up tea.

‘Then I will explain everything’, he said.

An hour later, everyone was sitting around the farmhouse kitchen table, Scamper resting at Peter’s feet. Uncle Boris had laid on a scrumptious tea and the children were glad, for they were hungry, thirsty and tired. The wooden table had been covered with a snowy white cloth, and the table was crammed with food: huge plates piled high with sandwiches of all kinds, sausage rolls, a colourful bowl of crunchy fresh salad, a dish of hot new potatoes tossed in butter, crumpets and scones, with a choice of butter, jam or cream, a huge chocolate cake, and of course, a plate of rock buns! To drink there were jugs of lemonade and fresh orange juice, and a large steaming pot of tea. Scamper had a large bowl of dog food, with a yummy dog biscuit and juicy bone to follow.

When everyone had had chance to take the edge off their hunger, Uncle Boris began.

‘I really am your Uncle Boris’, he explained, looking at Peter and Janet. ‘But I am also a police Chief Inspector. I have been trying to track down a criminal gang who have been contaminating animal food, and we suspected that the centre of the operation was at Crooked Elm farm. However, we had no proof. So I went undercover, and rented White Ash farm so I could spy on them. My face is quite well known to the criminal population, so I went in disguise’.

‘Yes, I found a false beard in your room!’ said Peter. ‘But at first I thought it was a rat! Well, that certainly explains why you disappeared at such odd times. But why was I made to come and stay with you?’

‘I needed to appear like a normal everyday chap in order to avoid arousing their suspicion,’ he explained. ‘You and Scamper were part of my disguise, in a way. But I didn’t want to put you in any danger, that’s why I told you not to go near Crooked Elm farm.

‘I actually love dogs,’ he continued. I had to pretend I didn’t because I needed to keep Scamper away from me. Dogs have an instinct about people, they can tell when anything is false, and I was concerned that Scamper would realise I was in disguise, and give me away’.

‘But why did you act like you were friendly with Mr Snatcher?’ asked Peter.

‘I had to act like a friendly neighbour in order to get close to the farm. I was looking for clues about what they were up to, and also I wanted to get to know exactly who was in the gang. As soon as they got suspicious of me they grabbed me and tied me up in the hut’.

‘I thought I heard a lot of shouting!’ said Peter. ‘So that’s what it was!’

‘There’s one thing that puzzles me though’, said Uncle Boris. ‘The police force has been trying to get to the bottom of this for months. How on earth did you children figure out what was going on? Peter, do we have you to thank for this?’

Peter would have loved to have taken the credit for solving the mystery, but he knew that would be unfair of him.

‘Actually, Colin was the real brains in all this,’ he admitted. ‘He did the figuring-out part’.

And Colin grinned from ear to ear as everyone gave him a resounding round of applause. Uncle Boris went over and shook his hand, and said ‘thank you’ on behalf of the police force. Jack’s father patted him on the back vigorously.

‘Woof, woof!’ barked Scamper, looking a little forlorn.

‘He feels left out!’ cried Janet. ‘Oh Scamper, we haven’t forgotten you. Colin did the figuring-out part, but you were the cleverest and bravest one of us all!’

It wasn’t easy but they did it; seven children and two grown-ups all managed to pat, tickle, scratch or stroke a gleeful Scamper, all at the same time! Scamper luxuriated in all the attention. He gazed up at the smiling children: Peter, Janet, Jack, Colin, George, Pam and Barbara – the Secret Seven, all together again!

THE END

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