[] THE four children crept downstairs through the dark and silent night. Nobody made a sound at all. They made their way to the study. George softly closed the door and then switched on the light.

[] The children stared at the eight panels over the mantelpiece. Yes - there were exactly eight, four in one row and four in the row above. Julian spread the linen roll out on the table, and the children pored over it.

[] 'The cross is in the middle of the second panel in the top row,' said Julian, in a low voice. I'll try pressing it. Watch, all of you!'

[] He went to the fireplace. The others followed him, their hearts beating fast with excitement. Julian stood on tiptoe and began to press hard in the middle of the second panel. Nothing happened.

[] 'Press harder! Tap it!' said Dick.

[] 'I daren't make too much noise,' said Julian, feeling all over the panel to see if there was any roughness that might tell of a hidden spring or lever.

[] Suddenly, under his hands, the panel slid silently back, just as the one had done at Kirrin Farm-house in the hall! The children stared at the space behind, thrilled.

[] 'It's not big enough to get into,' said George. 'It can't be the entrance to the Secret Way.'

[] Julian got out his torch from his dressing-gown pocket.

He put it inside the opening, and gave a low exclamation.

[] 'There's a sort of handle here - with strong wire or something attached to it. I'll pull it and see what happens.'

[] He pulled - but he was not strong enough to move the handle that seemed to be embedded in the wall. Dick put his hand in and the two boys then pulled together.

[] 'It's moving - it's giving way a bit,' panted Julian. 'Go on, Dick, pull hard!'

[] The handle suddenly came away from the wall, and behind it came thick wire, rusty and old. At the same time a curious grating noise came from below the hearthrug in front of the fireplace, and Anne almost fell.

[] 'Julian! Something is moving under the rug!' she said, frightened. 'I felt it. Under the rug, quick!'

[] The handle could not be pulled out any farther. The boys let go, and looked down. To the right of the fireplace, under the rug, something had moved. There was no doubt of that. The rug sagged down instead of being flat and straight.

[] 'A stone has moved in the floor,' said Julian, his voice shaking with excitement. 'This handle works a lever, which is attached to this wire. Quick - pull up the rug, and roll back the carpet.'

[] With trembling hands the children pulled back the rug and the carpet - and then stood staring at a very strange thing. A big flat stone laid in the floor had slipped downwards, pulled in some manner by the wire attached to the handle hidden behind the panel! There was now a black space where the stone had been.

[] 'Look at that!' said George, in a thrilling whisper. 'The entrance to the Secret Way!'

[] 'It's here after all!' said Julian.

[] 'Let's go down!' said Dick.

[] 'No!' said Anne, shivering at the thought of disappearing into the black hole.

[] Julian flashed his torch into the black space. The stone had slid down and then sideways. Below was a space just big enough to take a man, bending down.

[] 'I expect there's a passage or something leading from here, under the house, and out,' said Julian. 'Golly, I wonder where it leads to?'

[] 'We simply must find out,' said George.

[] 'Not now,' said Dick. 'It's dark and cold. I don't fancy going along the Secret Way at midnight. I don't mind just hopping down to see what it's like - but don't let's go along any passage till tomorrow.'

[] 'Uncle Quentin will be working here tomorrow,' said Julian.

[] 'He said he was going to sweep the snow away from the front door in the morning,' said George. 'We could slip into the study then. It's Saturday. There may be no lessons.'

[] 'All right,' said Julian, who badly wanted to explore everything then and there. 'But for goodness sake let's have a look and see if there is a passage down there. At present all we can see is a hole!'

[] I'll help you down,' said Dick. So he gave his brother a hand and the boy dropped lightly down into the black space, holding his torch. He gave a loud exclamation.

[] 'It's the entrance to the Secret Way all right! There's a passage leading from here under the house - awfully low and narrow - but I can see it's a passage. I do wonder where it leads to!'

[] He shivered. It was cold and damp down there. 'Give me a hand up, Dirk,' he said. He was soon out of the hole and in the warm study again.

[] The children looked at one another in the greatest joy and excitement. This was an Adventure, a real Adventure. It was a pity they couldn't go on with it now.

[] 'We'll try and take Timmy with us tomorrow,' said George. 'Oh, I say - how are we going to shut the entrance up?)

[] 'We can't leave the rug and carpet sagging over that hole,' said Dick. 'Nor can we leave the panel open.'

[] 'We'll see if we can get the stone back,' said Julian. He stood on tiptoe and felt about inside the panel. His hand closed on a kind of knob, set deep in a stone. He pulled it, and at once the handle slid back, pulled by the wire. At the same time the sunk stone glided to the surface of the floor again, making a slight grating sound as it did so.

[] 'Well, it's like magic!' said Dick. 'It really is! Fancy the mechanism working so smoothly after years of not being used. This is the most exciting thing I've ever seen!'

[] There was a noise in the bedroom above. The children stood still and listened.

[] 'It's Mr. Roland!' whispered Dick. 'He's heard us. Quick, slip upstairs before he comes down.'

[] They switched out the light and opened the study door softly. Up the stairs they fled, as quietly as Indians, their hearts thumping so loudly that it seemed as if everyone in the house must hear the beat.

[] The girls got safely to their rooms and Dick was able to slip into his. But Julian was seen by Mr. Roland as he came out of his room with a torch.

[] 'What are you doing, Julian?' asked the tutor, in surprise. 'Did you hear a noise downstairs? I thought I did.'

[] 'Yes - I heard quite a lot of noise downstairs,' said Julian, truthfully. 'But perhaps it's snow falling off the roof, landing with a plop on the ground, sir. Do you think that's it?'

[] 'I don't know,' said the tutor doubtfully. 'We'll go down and see.'

[] They went down, but of course, there was nothing to be seen. Julian was glad they had been able to shut the panel and make the stone come back to its proper place again. Mr. Roland was the very last person he wanted to tell his secret to.

[] They went upstairs and Julian slipped into his room. 'Is it all right?' whispered Dick.

[] 'Yes,' said Julian. 'Don't let's talk. Mr. Roland's awake, and I don't want him to suspect anything.'

[] The boys fell asleep. When they awoke in the morning, there was a completely white world outside. Snow covered everything and covered it deeply. Timothy's kennel could not be seen! But there were footmarks round about it.

[] George gave a squeal when she saw how deep the snow was. 'Poor Timothy! I'm going to get him in. I don't care what anyone says! I won't let him be buried in the snow!'

[] She dressed and tore downstairs. She went out to the kennel, floundering knee deep in the snow. But there was no Timmy there!

[] A loud bark from the kitchen made her jump. Joanna the cook knocked on the kitchen window. 'It's all right! I couldn't bear the dog out there in the snow, so I fetched him in, poor thing. Your mother says I can have him in the kitchen but you're not to come and see him.'

[] 'Oh, good - Timmy's in the warmth!' said George, gladly. She yelled to Joanna, 'Thanks awfully! You are kind!'

[] She went indoors and told the others. They were very glad. 'And I've got a bit of news for you' said Dick. 'Mr. Roland is in bed with a bad cold, so there are to be no lessons today. Cheers!'

[] 'Golly, that is good news,' said George, cheering up tremendously. 'Timmy in the warm kitchen and Mr. Roland kept in bed. I do feel pleased!'

[] 'We shall be able to explore the Secret Way safely now,' said Julian. 'Aunt Fanny is going to do something in the kitchen this morning with Joanna, and Uncle is going to tackle the snow. I vote we say we'll do lessons by ourselves in the sitting-room, and then, when everything is safe, we'll explore the Secret Way!'

[] 'But why must we do lessons?' asked George in dismay.

[] 'Because if we don't, silly, we'll have to help your father dig away the snow,' said Julian.

[] So, to his uncle's surprise, Julian suggested that the four children should do lessons by themselves in the sitting-room. 'Well, I thought you'd like to come and help dig away the snow,' said Uncle Quentin. 'But perhaps you had better get on with your work.'

[] The children sat themselves down as good as gold in the sitting-room, their books before them. They heard Mr. Roland coughing in his room. They heard their aunt go into the kitchen and talk to Joanna. They heard Timmy scratching at the kitchen door - then paws pattering down the passage - then a big, inquiring nose came round the door, and there was old Timmy, looking anxiously for his beloved mistress!

[] 'Timmy!' squealed George, and ran to him. She flung her arms round his neck and hugged him.

[] 'You act as if you hadn't seen Tim for a year,' said Julian.

[] 'It seems like a year,' said George. 'I say, there's my father digging away like mad. Can't we go to the study now? We ought to be safe for a good while.'

[] They left the sitting-room and went to the study. Julian was soon pulling the handle behind the secret panel. George had already turned back the rug and the carpet. The stone slid downward and sideways. The Secret Way was open!

[] 'Come on!' said Julian. 'Hurry!'

He jumped down into the hole. Dick followed, then Anne, then George. Julian pushed them all into the narrow, low passage. Then he looked up. Perhaps he had better pull the carpet and rug over the hole, in case anyone came into the room and looked around. It took him a few seconds to do it. Then he bent down and joined the others in the passage. They were going to explore the Secret Way at last!