[] 'WHAT shall we do?' whispered George. They had all tiptoed to the first room, and were standing together, listening.

[] 'We'd better go down the Secret Way again,' said Julian.

[] 'Oh no, we ...' began George, when she heard the handle of the door being turned. Whoever was trying to get in, could not open the door. There was an angry exclamation, and then the children heard Mr. Wilton's voice. "Thomas! My door seems to have stuck. Do you mind if I come through your bedroom and see what's the matter with this handle?'

[] 'Come right along!' came the voice of Mr. Thomas. There was the sound of footsteps going to the outer door of the second room. Then there was the noise of a handle being turned and shaken.

[] 'What's this!' said Mr. Wilton, in exasperation.' This won't open, either. Can the doors be locked?'

[] 'It looks like it!' said Mr. Thomas.

There was a pause. Then the children distinctly heard a few words uttered in a low voice. 'Are the papers safe? Is anyone after them?'

[] 'They're in your room, aren't they?' said Mr. Thomas. There was another pause. The children looked at one another. So the men had got the papers - and what was more, they were in the room! The very room the children stood in! They looked round it eagerly, racking their brains to think of some place they had not yet explored.

[] 'Quick! Hunt round again whilst we've time’ whispered Julian. 'Don't make a noise.'

[] On tiptoe the children began a thorough hunt once more. How they searched! They even opened the pages of the books on the table, thinking that the papers might have been slipped in there. But they could find nothing.

[] 'Hi, Mrs. Sanders!' came Mr. Wilton's voice. 'Have you by any chance locked these two doors? We can't get in!'

[] 'Dear me!' said the voice of Mrs. Sanders from the stairs. 'I'll come along and see. I certainly haven't locked any doors!'

[] Once again the handles were turned, but the doors would not open. The men began to get very impatient.

[] 'Do you suppose anyone is in our rooms?' Mr. Wilton asked Mrs. Sanders.

[] She laughed.

[] 'Well now, sir, who would be in your rooms? There's only me and Mr. Sanders in the house, and you know as well as I do that no one can come in from outside, for we're quite snowed up. I don't understand it - the locks of the doors must have slipped.'

[] Anne was lifting up the wash-stand jug to look underneath, at that moment. It was heavier than she thought, and she had to let it down again suddenly. It struck the marble wash-stand with a crash, and water slopped out all over the place!

[] Everyone outside the door heard the noise. Mr. Wilton banged on the door and rattled the handle.

[] 'Who's there? Let us in or you'll be sorry! What are you doing in there?'

[] 'Idiot, Anne!' said Dick. 'Now they'll break the door down!'

[] That was exactly what the two men intended to do! Afraid that someone was mysteriously in their room, trying to find the stolen papers, they went quite mad, and began to put their shoulders to the door, and heave hard. The door shook and creaked.

[] 'Now you be careful what you're doing!' cried the indignant voice of Mrs. Sanders. The men took no notice. There came a crash as they both tried out their double strength on the door.

[] 'Quick! We must go!' said Julian. 'We mustn't let the men know how we got here, or we shan't be able to come and hunt another time. Anne, George, Dick - get back to the cupboard quickly!'

[] The children raced for the clothes cupboard. I'll go first and help you down,' said Julian. He got out on to the narrow ledge and found the iron foot-holds with his feet. Down he went, torch held between his teeth as usual.

[] 'Anne, come next,' he called, 'And Dick, you come third, and give a hand to Anne if she wants it. George is a good climber - she can easily get down herself.'

[] Anne was slow at climbing down. She was terribly excited, rather frightened, and so afraid of falling that she hardly dared to feel for each iron staple as she went down.

[] 'Buck up, Anne!' whispered Dick, above her. 'The men have almost got the door down!'

[] There were tremendous sounds coming from the bedroom door. At any moment now it might break down, and the men would come racing in. Dick was thankful when he could begin to climb down the wall! Once they were all out, George could shut the big oak door, and they would be safe.

[] George was hidden among the clothes in the cupboard, waiting her turn to climb down. As she stood there, trying in vain to go over any likely hiding-place in her mind, her hands felt something rustly in the pocket of a coat, she was standing against. It was a mackintosh coat, with big pockets. The little girl's heart gave a leap.

Suppose the papers had been left in the pocket of the coat the man had on when he took them from Mr. Roland? That was the only place the children had not searched - the pockets of the coats in the cupboard! With trembling fingers the girl felt in the pocket where the rustling was.

She drew out a sheaf of papers. It was dark in the cupboard, and she could not see if they were the ones she was hunting for, or not - but how she hoped they were! She stuffed them up the front of her jersey, for she had no big pocket, and whispered to Dick:

[] 'Can I come now?'

[] CRASH! The door fell in with a terrific noise, and the two men leapt into the room. They looked round. It was empty! But there was the water spilt on the wash - stand and on the floor. Someone must be there somewhere !

[] 'Look in the cupboard!' said Mr. Thomas.

[] George crept out of the clothes and on to the narrow ledge, beyond the place where the false back of the cupboard used to be. It was still hidden sideways in the wall. The girl climbed down the hole a few steps and then shut the oak door which was now above her head. She had not enough strength to close it completely, but she hoped that now she was safe!

[] The men went to the cupboard and felt about in the clothes for anyone who might possibly be hiding there. Mr. Wilton gave a loud cry.

[] 'The papers are gone! They were in this pocket! There's not a sign of them. Quick, Thomas, we must find the thief and get them back!'

[] The men did not notice that the cupboard seemed to go farther back than usual. They stepped away from it now that they were sure no one was there, and began to hunt round the room.

[] By now all the children except George were at the bottom of the hole, standing in the Secret Way, waiting impatiently for George to come down. Poor George was in such a hurry to get down that she caught her skirt or one of the staples, and had to stand in a very dangerous position trying to disentangle it.

[] 'Come on, George, for goodness sake!' said Julian.

[] Timothy jumped up at the wall. He could feel the fear and excitement of the waiting children, and it upset him. He wanted George. Why didn't she come? Why was she up that dark hole? Tim was unhappy about her.

[] He threw back his head and gave such a loud and mournful howl that all the children jumped violently.

[] 'Shut up, Tim!' said Julian.

[] Tim howled again, and the weird sound echoed round and about in a queer manner. Anne was terrified, and she began to cry. Timothy howled again and again. Once he began to howl it was difficult to stop him.

[] The men in the bedroom above heard the extraordinary noise, and stopped in amazement.

[] 'Whatever's that?' said one.

[] 'Sounds like a dog howling in the depths of the earth, said the other.

[] ‘Funny!' said Mr. Wilton. 'It seems to be coming from the direction of that cupboard.'

[] He went over to it and opened the door. Tim chose that moment to give a specially mournful howl, and Mr. Wilton jumped. He got into the cupboard and felt about at the back. The oak door there gave way beneath his hand, and he felt it open.

[] 'Thomas! There's something queer here,' called Mr. Wilton. 'Bring my torch off the table.'

[] Tim howled again and the noise made Mr. Wilton shiver! Tim had a peculiarly horrible howl. It came echoing up the hole, and burst out into the cupboard.

[] Mr. Thomas got the torch. The men shone it at the back of the cupboard, and gave an exclamation.

[] 'Look at that! There's a door here! Where does it lead to?'

[] Mrs. Sanders, who had been watching everything in surprise and indignation, angry that her door should have been broken down, came up to the cupboard.

[] 'My!' she said. 'I knew there was a false back to that cupboard - but I didn't know there was another door behind it too! That must be the entrance to the Secret Way that people used in the old days.'

[] 'Where does it lead to?' rapped out Mr. Wilton.

[] 'Goodness knows!' said Mrs. Sanders. 'I never took much interest in such things.'

[] 'Come on, Thomas - we must go down,' said Mr. Wilton, shining his torch into the square black hole, and seeing the iron foot-holds set in the stone. 'This is where the thief went. He can't have got far. We'll go after him. We've got to get those papers back!'

[] It was not long before the two men had swung themselves over the narrow ledge and down into the hole, feeling with their feet for the iron staples. Down they went and down, wondering where they were coming to. There was no sound below them. Clearly the thief had got away!

[] George had got down at last. Tim almost knocked her over in his joy. She put her hand on his head. 'You old silly!' she said. 'I believe you've given our secret away! Quick, Ju - we must go, because those men will be after us in a minute. They could easily hear Tim's howling!'

[] Julian took Anne's hand. 'Come along, Anne,' he said. 'You must run as fast as you can. Hurry now! Dick, keep with George.'

[] The four of them hurried down the dark, narrow passage. What a long way they had to go home! If only the passage wasn't such a long one! The children's hearts were beating painfully as they made haste, stumbling as they went.

[] Julian shone his light steadily in front of him, and Dick shone his at the back. Half-leading half-dragging Anne, Julian hurried along. Behind them they heard a shout.

[] 'Look! There's a light ahead! That's the thief! Come on, we'll soon get him!'