When Bets had run to the bushes to see if Dark Queen was there, she had found that it was only a big blackbird that had flown out as soon as she had got there. All the same, she went into the bushes and had a look round, calling, "Puss, puss, puss!"
Suddenly she saw two bright blue eyes looking down at her from the tree above. She jumped. Then she gave a cry of delight.
"Oh, it's you, Dark Queen! Oh, I'm so glad I've found you!"
She stood and thought. It was no good getting Dark Queen down until Buster was safely out of the garden. The lovely cat was much safer where she was. Bets looked up at Dark Queen and the cat began to purr. She liked the little girl.
Bets saw that the tree would be easy to climb. It wasn't long before she was up on the branch beside the cat, stroking her, and talking to her. Dark Queen simply loved it. She rubbed her dark brown head against the little girl, and purred very loudly.
And then Bets heard Mr. Tupping shouting, and she was frightened. Oh dear! the gardener must have come back. He wasn't out after all. She listened to the angry yelling, and trembled. She did not dare to join the others. She sat quietly by the cat and listened.
She could not hear exactly what happened, but after a while she realized that the others must have gone back over the wall and left her. She felt very forlorn and frightened. She was just about to slip down the tree to try and find Miss Harmer and tell her where Dark Queen was, when footsteps came along the path. The little girl peeped between the leaves of the tree and saw Mr. Tupping dragging poor Luke along by one of his big ears.
"I'll teach you to let children into my garden!" said Mr. Tupping, and he gave Luke such a slap that the boy let out a yell. "You're paid to do work, you are. You'll stay here and work two hours overtime for letting them children in!"
He gave Luke another blow, pulled his ear hard, then pushed him and sent him flying down the path. Bets was so sorry for Luke that tears ran down her cheeks, and she gave a little sob. Horrid Mr. Tupping!
Mr. Tupping went off down another path. Luke picked up a hoe, and was just setting off in the opposite direction when Bets called softly to him:
Luke dropped his hoe with a clatter, and looked all if round, startled. He could see no one. "Luke!" called Bets again. "I'm here, up the tree. And Dark Queen is with me."
Then Luke saw the little girl up the tree and the Siamese cat beside her. Bets slipped down and stood beside him.
"Help me over the wall, Luke," she said. "Well, if Mr. Tupping sees me I'll lose my job, and my stepfather will belt me black and blue," said poor Luke, his big red face as scared as Bets' little one.
"Well, I don't want you to lose your job," said Bets. "I'll try and get over by myself."
But Luke would not let her do that. Scared as he was, he felt that he must help the little girl. He lifted Dark Queen down from the tree, and together the two of them walked softly up the path, keeping a sharp look-out for Mr. Tupping.
Luke slipped Dark Queen into her cage and shut the door. "Miss Harmer will be glad she's found," he whispered to Bets. "I'll tell her in a minute. Now, come on — sprint for the wall and I'll get you over."
They ran for the wall. Luke gave Bets a leg-up, and soon she was sitting on the top. "Buck up!" called Luke in a low voice. "Old Tupping is coming!"
Bets was so frightened that she jumped down at once, falling on hands and knees and grazing them. She rushed to the lawn, seeing the others there, and flung herself down beside them, trembling.
"Bets! Wherever have you been?" cried Pip.
"Were you left behind?" said Fatty. "Oh, look at your poor knees!"
"And my hands too," said Bets in a trembling voice, holding out bleeding hands. Fatty got out his hanky and wiped them. "How did you get over the wall by yourself?" he asked.
"I didn't. Luke helped me, though he was terribly, terribly afraid that Mr. Tupping would come along and catch him. Then he would lose his job," said Bets.
"Jolly decent of him to help you, then," said Larry, and the others agreed.
"I like Luke," said Bets. "I think he's very, very nice. I do wish he hadn't got into trouble through letting us come over the wall and see the cats."
A distant whining came on the air again. Bets looked puzzled. She looked all round.
"Where's Buster?" she asked. She had not heard him being dragged away and locked up, though she had heard the noise of the commotion. The others told her. The little girl was indignant and upset.
"Oh, we must rescue him; we must, we must!" she cried. "Fatty, do, do go over the wall and get Buster!"
But Fatty didn't feel at all inclined to run the risk of meeting the surly Mr. Tupping again. Also he knew that the gardener had the key of Buster's shed in his pocket.
"If Lady Candling wasn't away I'd get my mother to ring her up and ask her to tell that fellow Tupping to set him free," said Fatty. He rolled up his sleeve again and looked at the big bruise on his arm, now turning red-purple. "If I showed my mother that, I bet she'd ring up a dozen Lady Candlings."
"It's going to be quite a good bruise," said Bets, knowing how proud Fatty always was of his bruises. "Oh dear, there's poor darling Buster howling again! Let's go to the wall and peep over. We might see Luke and get him to peep in at the shed window and say a kind word to Buster."
So they tiptoed cautiously to the wall and Larry carefully looked over. No one was about. Then there came the sound of someone whistling. It was Luke. Larry whistled too. The distant whistling stopped, then began again. It stopped, and Larry whistled the same tune.
Presently there came the sound of someone coming through the bushes and Luke's face appeared, full and red, like a round moon. "What's up?" he whispered. "I daren't stop. Mr. Tupping's still about."
"It's Buster," whispered Larry. "Can you peep in at the shed window and just say, 'Poor fellow,' or something like that to him?"
Luke nodded and disappeared. He went towards the shed, keeping a sharp look-out for the gardener. He saw him in the distance, taking off his coat to do a bit of work. He hung it on a nail outside one of the greenhouses. He caught sight of Luke and yelled at him.
"Now then, lazy! Have you finished that bed yet? I want you to come and tie up some tomatoes."
Luke shouted something back and went into the bushes nearby. He watched Mr. Tupping walk off to the kitchen-garden, unravelling some raffia as he went. The gardener disappeared through a green door let into the wall that ran round the kitchen-garden.
Then Luke did a very brave thing. He ran swiftly and quietly to Mr. Tupping's coat. He slipped his hand into the outer pocket, took the key of the little shed, and raced off with it He unlocked the shed, and Buster rushed out. Luke tried to catch him in order to bundle him over the wall, but Buster escaped him and tore off down a path.
Luke locked the door quickly, ran back to the gardener's coat and slipped the key back into the pocket. Then he went to join Mr. Tupping in the kitchen-garden, hoping to goodness that Buster had had the sense to shoot off down the drive.
But Buster had lost his way. He suddenly appeared in the kitchen-garden and gave a yap of joy when he saw Luke. Mr. Tupping looked up at once.
"That dog!" he said in astonishment and anger. "Blessed if it isn't that dog again! How did he get out of the shed? Didn't I lock that door? And isn't the key in my pocket?"
"I saw you lock the door, sir," said Luke. "Perhaps it's a different dog."
Mr. Tupping waved his arms wildly and yelled at Buster. Buster gambolled into the kitchen-garden and ran right across a bed of carrots. Luke felt certain the little dog did it on purpose. Tupping went purple in the face.
"You get out!" he yelled, and threw a big stone at Buster. Buster yelped, and began to dig hard in the middle of the carrots, sending roots flying into the air.
Tupping went quite mad. He rushed over the carrot-bed, shouting, and Buster retired a good way off, and began to dig up some onions.
When a big stone came rather too near him Buster ran out of the green door in the kitchen-garden wall, and tore off down the nearest path. He soon found his way out of the garden, and went racing up the drive of Pip's house next door.
He flung himself joyfully on the surprised children. "Buster! Darling Buster! How did you get free? Oh, Buster, have you been hurt?"
Everyone spoke to Buster at once. He rolled over on his back and lay there, all his feet in the air, his tail thumping the ground and his pink tongue out
"Good dog," said Fatty, patting his tummy. "I wish you could tell us how you got free!"
The children lay in wait for Luke that night as he went home. His time for knocking off was usually five, but that day Mr. Tupping kept him at work till seven as a punishment, and the boy, big and strong as he was, was tired out.
"Luke! How did Buster get free? Did you know he was free?" cried Pip. Luke nodded.
"Got the key out of old Tupping's coat meself and let the little dog out," he said. "Coo! you should have seen old Tupping's face when Buster came into the kitchen-garden. He nearly had a fit."
"Luke! Did you really let Buster out!" cried Fatty. He gave the big boy a thump on the back. "I say, thanks an awful lot! We were terribly upset about him. I guess you were scared to do it."
"Reckon I was," said Luke, scratching his head and remembering how scared he had felt "But the little dog meant no harm and I guessed you'd all be worried about him."
"Oh, I do think you're nice, Luke," said little Bets, hanging on to his arm. "You got me safely over the wall, and you set Buster free. We'll all be your friends!"
"The likes of you can't be friends with the likes of me," said the big boy shyly, looking very pleased all the same.
"Well, we can," said Larry. "And what's more, in return for what you've done for us today, we promise to help you if ever you want help. See?"
"Don't reckon I'll want no help from kids like you," said big Luke in a friendly voice. "But thanks all the same. Don't you come over the wall any more now. You'll make me lose my job if you do."
"We won't," said Fatty. "And don't forget — if you're ever in real trouble, we'll help you, Luke!"