Bets was feeling very excited. Her big brother Pip was coming home from school that day for the long summer holidays. She had been without him for three months, and had felt very lonely. Now she would have him again.
"And Larry and Daisy will be home tomorrow!" she said to her mother. "Oh, Mummy! It will be fun to have so many children to play with again."
Larry and Daisy were Pip's friends. They were older than Bets, but they let her play with them. In the Easter holidays the four of them, with another boy and his dog, had had a great adventure finding out who had burnt down a cottage.
"We were the Five Find-Outers," said Bets, remembering everything. "We found out the whole mystery, Mummy, didn't we? Oh, I do wish we could solve another mystery these holidays too!"
Her mother laughed. "Oh, it was just a bit of luck that you solved the mystery of the burnt cottage," she said. "There won't be any more mysteries, so don't expect any, Bets. Now hurry up and get ready. It's time to meet Pip."
Pip was most excited to be home again. When he got back with Bets he tore round the garden, looking at everything. It seemed to him as if he had been away for years.
His little sister tore round with him, chattering at the top of her voice all the time. She adored Pip, but he didn't take very much notice of her. To him she was only just a little girl, still a baby, who liked her dolls, and cried when she fell down.
"Larry and Daisy are coming back tomorrow," she panted, as she rushed round after Pip. "Oh, Pip! Do you think we can be the Find-Outers again?"
"Only if there is something to find out, silly," said Pip. "Oh! I forgot to tell you, Fatty is coming for the holidays too. His parents liked Peterswood so much when they stayed here at Easter, that they have bought a little house, and Fatty will be here for the hols."
"Oh, good!" said Bets happily. "I like Fatty. He's kind to me. We shall really be the Five Find-Outers again then; and oh, Pip! I suppose Buster is coming, isn't he?"
"Of course," said Pip. Buster was Fatty's little black Scottie dog, loved by all the children. "It will be nice to see old Buster again."
"How do you know about Fatty coming?" asked Bets, still trotting round after Pip.
"He wrote to me," said Pip. "Wait a minute — I've got the letter here. He sent a message to you in it."
The boy felt in his pockets and took out a crumpled letter. Bets took it from him eagerly. It was very short, written in extremely neat handwriting.
"DEAR PIP, — Just to say my parents have bought White House, not far from you, so I'll be seeing you in the summer hols. Hope we have another mystery to solve. It would be fun to be the Five Find-Outers and Dog again. Give my love to little Bets. I'll pop down and see you as soon as I get back. — Yours,
FREDERICK ALGERNON TROTTEVILLE."
"Why doesn't he sign himself Fatty?" asked Bets. "I think Frederick Algernon Trotteville sounds so silly."
"Well, Fatty is silly sometimes," said Pip. "I hope he won't come back full of himself. Do you remember how he kept boasting about his marvellous bruises last hols, when he fell off that hayrick?"
"Well, they were most awfully good bruises," said Bets, remembering. "They did turn a wonderful colour. I wish my bruises went like that."
Larry and Daisy came back the next day about three o'clock. After tea they raced off to see Pip and Bets. It was lovely to be all together again. Bets felt a little left-out after a bit, because she was the only one who did not go to boarding-school, and did not understand some of the things the others said.
"I wish I wasn't only eight years old," she thought for about the thousandth time. "Larry's thirteen, and the others are twelve — ages older than me. I shall never catch them up."
Just as they were all exchanging their news, and laughing and chattering gaily, there came the scampering of feet up the drive, and a small black Scottie dog hurled himself into the middle of them, yapping excitedly.
"It's Buster! Oh, Buster, you're back again!" cried Daisy in delight "Good old Buster!"
"Dear old Buster! You're fatter!"
"Hallo, Buster-dog! Glad to see you, old fellow!"
"Darling Buster! I've missed you so!"
They were all so engaged in making a fuss of the excited little dog that they didn't see Fatty, Buster's master, walking up to them. Bets saw him first. She jumped to her feet with a squeal, and rushed to Fatty. She flung her arms round him and hugged him. Fatty was pleased. He liked little Bets. He gave her a hug back.
The others grinned at him. "Hallo, Fatty!" said Larry. "Had a good term?"
"I was top of my form," said Fatty, not looking very modest about it
"He's the same old Fatty," said Pip with a grin. "Top of this, that, and the other — full of brains as usual — best boy in the school!"
"Shut up," said Fatty, giving Pip a friendly punch. "I suppose you were bottom of your form!"
It was lovely to lie on the grass, play with Buster, and think of the eight or nine long sunny weeks ahead. No lessons. No rules. No being kept in or writing out lines. The summer holidays were really the nicest of all.
"Any news, Bets?" asked Fatty. "Any mysteries turned up? Any problems to solve? We're still the Five Find-Outers and Dog, don't forget!"
"I know," said Bets happily. "But there isn't any mystery at present, Fatty. I haven't even seen old Clear-Orf for weeks."
Clear-Orf was the burly village Policeman, Mr. Goon. The children always called him Clear-Orf, because that was what he said whenever he saw them. He didn't like children, and they didn't like him.
"Bets just hasn't any news at all," said Pip. "Nothing at all seems to have happened in Peterswood since we left to go to school."
Bets suddenly remembered something. "Oh, I've just remembered," she said. "Somebody has come to live next door."
The house next door had been empty for a year or two. The other children looked at Bets. "Any children there?" asked Pip.
"No," said Bets. "At least, I don't think so. I've seen a big boy there, but I think he works in the garden. I hear him whistling sometimes. He whistles awfully nicely. Oh, and there are lots of cats there — very funny cats."
"Cats? What sort of cats?" said Pip in surprise, and Buster pricked up his ears and growled at the mention of cats.
"They've got dark-brown faces and tails and legs," said Bets, "and cream-coloured fur. I saw the girl who looks after them carrying one once. It looked very queer."
"She means Siamese cats," said Larry. "Have they got bright blue eyes, Bets?"
"I don't know," said Bets. "I wasn't near enough to see. Anyway, cats have green eyes, not blue, Larry."
"Siamese cats have bright blue ones," said Fatty. "I know, because my aunt once had one — a beauty, called Patabang. They are valuable cats."
"I'd like to go in next door and see them some day," said Daisy, thinking that a cat with bright blue eyes, dark-brown face, legs, and tail, and cream-coloured fur sounded very lovely. "Who's the owner, Bets?"
"Somebody called Lady Candling," said Bets. "I've never seen her. She is away a lot, I think."
The children lay on their backs talking. Buster went from one to another, licking their faces and making them squeal and push him away.
Then there came the sound of a cheerful whistling just over the wall. It was a fine whistle, clear and melodious.
"That's the big boy next door I told you about," said Bets. "Doesn't he whistle nicely?"
Larry got up and went to the wall. He hopped up on a big flower-pot and looked over the wall. He saw a boy there, about fifteen, a big lad with a round red face, startlingly blue eyes that looked rather surprised, and a big mouth full of very white teeth. The lad was hoeing the bed below the wall.
He looked up when he saw someone peeping over. He grinned, showing all his white teeth.
"Hallo," said Larry. "Are you the gardener next door?"
"Lawks! No," said the boy, grinning even more widely. "I'm just the boy — the gardener's boy, I'm called. Mr. Tupping is the gardener — him with the hooky nose and bad temper."
Larry didn't think that Mr. Tupping sounded very nice. He glanced up the garden, but Mr. Tupping and his hooky nose were not in sight.
"Could we come over and see the cats one day?" asked Larry. "It's Siamese cats, isn't it, that Lady Candling has?"
"Yes. Lovely creatures they are," said the boy. "Well, you'd better come when Mr. Tupping is out. He reckons that the whole place is his, cats and all, the way he behaves. Come in tomorrow afternoon. He'll be out then. You can get over this wall. The kennel-girl will be here — Miss Harmer her name is. She won't mind you seeing the cats."
"Righto!" said Larry, pleased. "We'll be over here tomorrow afternoon. I say — what's your name?"
But before the boy could answer him, an angry voice sounded from not far off.
"Luke! Luke! Where have you got to? Didn't I tell you to clear away that rubbish? Drat the boy, he's no use at all."
Luke raised startled blue eyes to Any, and put his hoe over his shoulder. He looked scared.
"That's him," he said in a whisper. "That's Mr. Tupping. I'll be going now. You come on over tomorrow."
He went up the path. Larry slipped back to the others. "He's the garden boy," he said. "His name's Luke. He looks nice, but a bit simple. I shouldn't think he could say boo to a goose."
Bets felt certain she couldn't either, because geese were big and hissy. "Are we to see the cats tomorrow?" she asked. "I heard you saying something about them."
"Yes. Tomorrow afternoon, when Mr. Tupping the gardener is out," said Larry. "We'll hop over the wall. Better not take old Buster though — you know what he is with cats!"
Buster growled when he heard the word. Cats! What did the children want to go and see cats for? Silly useless animals, with paws full of nasty pins and needles! Cats were only good for one thing, and that was — to chase!