The next afternoon Larry went to the wall and whistled for Luke.
The boy came along after a while, smiling and showing his white teeth. "It's safe to come," he said. "Mr. Tupping is out"
Soon all the children were over the wall. Fatty helped Bets. Buster was left behind and was most annoyed about it He barked angrily, and stood up on his hind legs, pawing the wall desperately.
"Poor Buster," said Bets, sorry for him. "Never mind, Buster — we'll soon be back."
"No dogs allowed in here," said Luke. "Because of the cats, you know. They're prize cats. Won no end of money, so the kennel-girl says."
"Do you live here?" asked Larry, as they all walked up the path towards some big greenhouses.
"No. I live with my stepfather," said Luke. "My mother's dead. I got no brothers or sisters. This is my first job. My name's Luke Brown, and I'm fifteen."
"Oh," said Larry. "I'm Laurence Daykin, and I'm thirteen. This is Margaret, my sister. She's twelve. We call her Daisy. This is Frederick Algernon Trotteville. He's twelve too, and he's called Fatty."
"I'd rather be called Frederick, thanks," said Fatty, in a cross voice. "There's no reason for me to be called Fatty by every Tom, Dick, and Harry!"
"You aren't Tom, Dick, or Harry, you're called Luke, aren't you?" said Bets to Luke. He grinned.
"I'll call you Frederick if you like," he said to Fatty. "By rights I should call you Master Frederick, but I guess you don't want me to."
"I'm Elizabeth Hilton, and I'm eight, and I'm called Bets," said Bets, afraid that Larry was going to leave her out. "And this is Philip, my brother. He's twelve and he's called Pip."
They told Luke where they lived, and he told them where he lived — in a tumbledown cottage by the river. By this time they had left the greenhouses behind and were going through a beautiful rose-garden. Beyond it rose a green-painted building.
"That's the cat-house," said Luke. "And there's Miss Harmer."
A plump young woman, dressed in corduroy coat and breeches, was near the cat-house. She looked surprised to see the five children.
"Hallo," she said, "where have you come from?"
"We came over the wall," said Larry. "We wanted to see the cats. They're not ordinary ones, are they?"
"Oh no," said Miss Harmer. She was a big, strapping girl of about twenty. "There they are — do you like them?"
The children gazed into the big cage-like building. There were quite a number of cats there, all with the same striking colouring — dark-brown and cream, with brilliant blue eyes. They stared at the children, and miaowed in most peculiar voices.
"They're lovely," said Daisy, at once.
"I think they look queer," said Pip.
"Are they really cats? They look a bit like monkeys," said Bets. The others laughed.
"You wouldn't think they were monkeys once you felt their sharp claws!" said Miss Harmer, with a laugh. "All these cats are prize ones — they have been to shows and won a lot of money."
"Which one has won the most money?" said Bets.
"This one over here," said Miss Harmer, and she led the way to a smaller cage, like a very large kennel on legs. "Well, Dark Queen? Aren't you a beauty? Here are some visitors to tell you how lovely you are!"
The big Siamese cat in the large, airy cage rubbed her head against the wire-netting, mewing loudly. The kennel-girl scratched her gently on the head.
"Dark Queen is our very, very special cat," she said. "She has just won a prize of a hundred pounds. She is worth much more than that."
Dark Queen stood up, and her dark-brown tail rose in the air, swaying gently to and fro. Bets noticed something.
"She's got a few creamy hairs in the middle of her dark tail," she said to Miss Harmer.
"Yes," said the kennel-girl. "She was bitten by one of the others there, and the hairs grew cream instead of brown. But they will turn brown later. What do you think of her?"
"Well — she seems just exactly like all the others," said Daisy. "I mean — they are exactly alike, aren't they?"
"Yes, they are," said Miss Harmer. "They have exactly the same colouring, you see. But I can always tell the difference, even when they are all mixed up together."
"Fancy being worth more than a hundred pounds!" said Fatty, staring at Dark Queen, who stared back with unwinking blue eyes.
"Could you get Dark Queen out?" asked Daisy, who was longing to hold the beautiful cat. "Is she tame?"
"Oh yes" said Miss Harmer. "They are all tame. We only keep them in cages because they are so valuable. We couldn't let them roam free in case someone stole them."
She took a key from a nail, and unlocked the cage-door. She lifted Dark Queen out, and held her. The beautiful cat rubbed against her, purring in a deep voice. Daisy stroked her, and to her delight the cat jumped into her arms.
"Oh, isn't she friendly?" said Daisy joyfully.
Then there came a great disturbance! Buster suddenly rushed along the path and flung himself on Fatty, barking joyfully. Dark Queen leapt straight out of Daisy's arms, and disappeared into the bushes. Buster, surprised, stared for a moment, and then, with a loud and joyful yelp, plunged after her. There was a terrific scrimmage.
Miss Harmer squealed. Luke's mouth fell open and he looked frightened. All the cats set up a miaowing. Fatty called fiercely:
"Buster! Come here, sir! BUSTER! Do you hear me? COME HERE, SIR!"
But no amount of calling could get Buster away if there was a cat to chase. Miss Harmer ran in despair to the bushes. Only Buster was there, his nose bleeding from a scratch, his tongue hanging out, his eyes very bright and excited.
"Where's Dark Queen?" wailed Miss Harmer. "Oh, this is awful! Puss, puss, puss!"
Bets began to cry. She couldn't bear to think that Dark Queen had gone. She thought she heard a noise in some bushes right at the end of the path and she ran off to see, tears running down her fat cheeks.
Then there came another commotion. Someone walked up to the cages, came round them — and it was Mr. Tupping, the gardener! Luke stared at him in fright.
"What's all this?" shouted Mr. Tupping. "Who are you? What are you doing in my garden?"
"It isn't your garden," said Fatty boldly. "It's Lady Candling's, and she's a friend of my mother's."
It wasn't a bit of good telling Mr. Tupping that it wasn't his garden. He felt that it belonged to him. And here were children and a dog in his garden! He detested children, dogs, cats, and birds.
"You get out of here," he shouted in an angry voice. "Go on! Get out at once! Do you hear me? And if I catch you here again I'll box your ears and tell your fathers. Miss Harmer, what's the matter with you?"
"Dark Queen is gone!" wailed Miss Harmer, who seemed just as much afraid of Mr. Tupping as Luke.
"Serves you right if you lose your job," said Mr. Tupping. "What use are them cats, I'd like to know? Just rubbish, that's all they are. Good riddance if one is gone!"
"Shall we stay and help you to look for Dark Queen?" said Daisy to the Kennel-girl.
"You get out," said Mr. Tupping, and his big hooky nose got very red. His stone-coloured eyes glared at Daisy. He was an ugly, bad-tempered-looking fellow, with straw-coloured hair streaked with grey, and the children didn't like the look of him at all.
They decided to go. Tupping looked as if he might hit them at any moment. They made their way to the wall. They saw that Bets was not with them, but they thought she must have run back and climbed over the wall in her fear of the surly gardener. Fatty called Buster.
"No; you leave that dog with me," said Tupping. "A good hiding will do him good. I'll give him one, then he won't come interfering in my garden again."
"Don't you dare to touch my dog!" cried Fatty at once. "He'll bite you."
Tupping made a grab for Buster and got him by the collar. He held him firmly by the back of the neck so that he couldn't even snap. He jerked him off his feet into the air, and then, carrying him by the back of the neck, marched off with him. Fatty was almost beside himself with anger.
He ran after the gardener and pulled at his arm. The man hit out at the boy, and Fatty gasped. Tupping threw the dog into a shed, shut the door, turned the key and put it into his pocket. Then he turned to Fatty with such an ugly look on his face that the boy turned and ran.
Soon all four were over the wall, lying on the grass, panting and angry. They had left poor frightened Luke behind, and poor scared Miss Harmer. They had left Bets behind too, though they didn't know it — and Buster was locked in the shed.
"Hateful man!" said Daisy, almost in tears.
"The beast!" said Fatty between his teeth. "Look at this bruise already showing on my arm. That's where he hit me."
"Poor old Buster," said Pip, hearing an anguished whine in the distance.
"Where's Bets?" said Larry, looking all round. "Bets, Bets! Where are you?"
There was no answer. Bets was still over the wall. "She must have gone indoors," said Pip. "I say, what are we going to do about Buster? Fatty, we've got to rescue him, you know. We can't leave him there. I bet he will whip the poor little dog."
"Poor Buster," said Daisy. "And poor Dark Queen. Oh! I do hope she is found. I wonder how Buster got over the wall."
"He didn't," said Fatty. "He couldn't. He must have thought hard, run down the drive, and up the drive next door and into the garden to find us. You know what brains Buster has got. Oh, golly! how are we going to rescue him? How I hate that man Tupping! How awful for poor Luke to have to work under him!"
"I'll go and find Bets," said Pip. "She must have gone to hide or something — maybe she's scared."
He went into the house to find her, and soon came out looking puzzled. "She's not anywhere about," he said. "I've called and called. Wherever can she be? I suppose she did come back over the wall? She can't be in next door's garden still, can she?"
But she was. Poor little Bets was hiding there, scared stiff. What was she to do? She couldn't get over the wall by herself — and she didn't dare to run down the drive in case Mr. Tupping saw her!