The five children sat on top of the wall, with Buster scratching at the bricks below. They wondered what to do. Pip looked at his watch.
"Just gone quarter to six," he said. "Can Luke have gone home? No; he surely would have spoken to us first"
"Perhaps old Clear-Orf is questioning him," said Fatty. This seemed very likely. Tie children wished they could find out.
Fatty had a good idea. "Look here, Pip," he said, "you could find out what's happening if you liked."
"How?" asked Pip.
"Well, your mother has just been to tea next door, hasn't she," said Fatty. "You could hop over the wall, and go and see what's happening; and if anyone sees you and wants to know what you are doing there, you could say your mother has just been to tea, and has she by any chance dropped her hanky in the garden?"
"But she hasn't," said Pip. "Didn't you see her take it out of her bag when she was talking to us? It had a most lovely smell."
"Of course I did, idiot," said Fatty impatiently. "It's only just an excuse. You don't need to say she did drop her hanky, because we know she didn't — but you could easily say, Had she?' couldn't you?"
"It's a good idea of Fatty's," said Larry. "It's about the only way any of us could get into the garden without being sent out at once by Clear-Orf or Tupping. Go on, Pip. Jump down and see whether you can find out what's happening. Hurry up. It's realty a great bit of luck that your mother has just been there to tea."
Pip was anxious to go — and yet very much afraid of meeting Tupping or Clear-Orf. He jumped down, waved to the others, and set off through the bushes.
There was no sign of Luke at all. Pip passed by the cat-house, but there was no one there either. He peeped into the cage where Dark Queen should have been with the others. The cats looked at him and mewed. Pip went on down the path, round by the greenhouses, and then stood hidden in the bushes. He could hear voices nearby.
He peeped through the bushes. There was a little group of people on the lawn. Pip knew most of them.
"There's Lady Candling," he thought. "And that's Miss Tremble — doesn't she look upset! And there's Tupping, looking very pleased and important — and that's old Clear-Orf the bobby! And oh, there's poor old Luke!"
Poor Luke was there, in the centre, looking quite bewildered and terribly scared. The policeman was standing opposite to him, big black notebook in hand, and Luke was stammering and stuttering out replies to questions that Mr. Goon was barking out at him.
At the back were two maids, plainly the cook and the parlourmaid, both looking excited. They were whispering together, nudging one another.
Pip crept nearer. He could hear the questions now that were fired at poor frightened Luke.
"What were you doing all the afternoon?"
"I was — I was — digging up the old peas — in the Long Bed," stammered Luke.
"Is that the bed by the cat-house?" asked Mr. Goon, scribbling something down in his book.
"Y-y-y-yes, sir," stuttered Luke.
"So you were by the cats the whole afternoon?" said the policeman. "Did anyone come near them?"
"Miss T-t-tremble came at f-f-four o'clock about, with another l-l-lady," said Luke, pushing back his untidy hair. "They stayed a few minutes and went."
"And what did you do between four and five o'clock?" said Mr. Goon in a very threatening sort of voice.
Luke looked as if he was going to fall down in terror. "N-n-nothing, sir — only d-d-d-dug!" he stammered. "Just d-d-d-dug — alongside the cat-house. And nobody came near, not a soul, till you and Mr. Tupping came along to see the cats."
"And we found that Dark Queen was gone," said Mr. Tupping in a fierce voice. "Well, Mr. Goon — the evidence is as plain as plain, isn't it? He took that cat — no doubt about it — and handed her to some friend of his for a bit of pocket-money. He's a bad boy is Luke, and always has been ever since I had him."
"I'm not bad, Mr. Tupping!" shouted Luke, suddenly finding a little courage. "I've never took a thing I shouldn't! I've worked hard for you! I've stood things from you I shouldn't stand. You know I'd never steal one of them cats. I'd be too scared to, even if I thought of it!"
"That's enough, now, that's enough," said Mr. Goon fiercely. "Don't you go talking to Mr. Tupping like that. What boys like you want is a good hiding."
"Ah, I'll see he gets it all right," said Mr. Tupping in a horrid voice. "I'll have a word with his stepfather. He knows what this lad's like, right enough."
"I think, Tupping," said Lady Candling in her low, clear voice, "I think there is no need to say anything to Luke's stepfather until we know a little more about this curious happening."
Tupping looked rather taken aback. He had been enjoying himself so much that he had half-forgotten Lady Candling was there. Luke turned to his mistress.
"Please, Mam," he said in an urgent voice, "please, Mam, I do beg of you not to believe what Mr. Tupping and Mr. Goon say about me. I didn't take Dark Queen. I don't know where she is. I've never taken a thing I shouldn't take from your garden!"
"And that's a lie!" said Mr. Tupping in a triumphant-voice. "What about them strawberry runners?"
To Pip's horror, poor Luke, now frightened and upset beyond bearing, burst into enormous sobs that shook his big body in an alarming manner. He put his arm across his face, trying to hide it.
"Let him go home," said Lady Candling in a gentle voice. "You have questioned him enough. He's only a fifteen-year-old boy, after all. Mr. Goon, I ask you to go now, please, and Luke, you may go home too."
Mr. Goon didn't look at all pleased. He was sorry he could not treat Luke as he would have treated a grown man. He knew he would have to let him go home. He didn't like being sent off himself by Lady Candling either. He cleared his throat loudly, gave Lady Candling a scornful look, and shut his notebook.
"I must have a few words with your stepfather," he said in a pompous tone to Luke, who turned very pale at these words. He was very much afraid of his stepfather.
"I'll walk down with you," said Mr. Tupping. "It's possible that the boy's father may tell us something about his friends. He must have given Dark Queen to one of them."
So poor Luke was marched off between Mr. Goon and Mr. Tupping, still giving enormous sobs now and then. Pip hated the policeman and the gardener. Poor Luke! What could he do against two men like that? There just wasn't a chance for him!
Pip didn't know that the two were taking Luke down nearby where he was hiding, and he didn't step back into the thick bushes in time to prevent himself from being seen. Mr. Tupping suddenly saw the boy's face peering out from rhododendron bush.
He stopped, stepped swiftly into the bushes, grabbed hold of Pip, and pulled him out onto the path.
"What are you doing here?" he roared. "It's one of them kids next door, Mr. Goon," he said to the surprised policeman. "Always poking in here. I'll march him straight off to her ladyship, and she'll give him a good talking-to!"
Luke stood staring open-mouthed as Pip was pushed roughly up the path by the angry gardener. Lady Candling had heard the noise, and had turned back to the lawn to see whatever was happening now!
"Let me go," said Pip angrily. "You hateful thing, let me go! You're hurting my arm!"
Tupping was twisting the boy's arm on purpose, and Pip knew it. But he couldn't possibly get away. Soon they were in front of Lady Candling, who looked extremely surprised.
"Found this boy hiding in the bushes," said Tupping. "Always finding them children in here. Friends of Luke, they are. Up to no good, I'll be bound!"
"What were you doing in my garden?" asked Lady Candling in rather a stern tone.
"My mother has just been to tea with you, Lady Candling," said Pip in his most polite voice. "I suppose you haven't by any chance found a handkerchief of hers left behind, have you?"
"Dear me! Are you Mrs. Hilton's son Philip?" asked Lady Candling, smiling at him. "She was telling me about you, and you have a little sister, haven't you, called Bets?"
"Yes, Lady Candling," said Pip, smiling sweetly too. "She's a dear little girl. I'd like to bring her in to see you some day if I may."
"Yes, do," said Lady Candling. "Tupping, you have made a stupid mistake. This little boy quite obviously came in to look for his mother's handkerchief. Mrs. Hilton was at tea with me today."
Pip rubbed his arm hard, screwing up his face as if it hurt him. "Did Tupping hurt you?" said Lady Candling. "I'm really very sorry. Tupping, you seem to have been very rough with this child."
Tupping scowled. Things were not going at all the way he had expected.
"If we find your mother's handkerchief we will certainly send it in," said Lady Candling to Pip. "And do remember to bring in your little sister to see me, won't you? I am very fond of little girls."
"Tupping will turn us out if we come," said Pip.
"Indeed he won't!" said Lady Candling at once. "Tupping, the children are to come in when they wish to. Those are my orders."
Tupping's face went red, and he looked as if he was going to burst. But he did not dare to say anything to his mistress. He turned rudely, and went back to Mr. Goon and Luke, who were waiting some way off.
Pip shook hands with Lady Candling, thanked her, said good-bye, and went after Tupping.
"Luke!" he called. "Luke! Don't give up hope! All your friends will help you! We know you didn't do it!"
"You clear orf!" said Mr. Goon, now really angry. "None of your sauce! Always poking your nose in and interfering! Clear orf, I say!"
But Pip didn't clear off. Keeping just beyond Mr. Goon's reach he danced along behind the three, shouting encouraging messages to Luke, and annoying the policeman and the gardener beyond measure.
He heard Mr. Goon say to Mr. Tupping that he would return later in the evening to have a "good look round that cat-house."
"Oh," thought Pip, "he's going to hunt for clues to help him to put the blame on Luke. We'd better go hunting for clues first. I'll go and tell the others."
So, with a last hearty yell to Luke, Pip ran for the wall, climbed it, and rushed to tell the others all that he had heard. Things were getting really exciting!