[] OLD Mrs. Sanders and the other three children rushed out into the hall when they heard George's shout.

[] 'What's up?' cried Julian. 'What's happened?'

[] 'Tim sprang at the cat, missed her, and fell hard against the panelled wall,' said George, 'And the panel moved, and look - there's a "hole in the wall!'

[] 'It's a secret panel!' cried Dick, in excitement, peering into the hole. 'Golly! Did you know there was one here, Mrs. Sanders?'

[] 'Oh yes,' said the old lady. 'This house is full of funny things like that. I'm very careful when polish that panel, because if I rub too hard in the top corner, it always slides back.'

[] 'What's behind the panel?' asked Julian. The hole was only about the width of his head, and when he stuck his head inside, he could see only darkness. The wall itself was about eight inches behind the panelling, and was of stone.

[] 'Get a candle, do, get a candle!' said Anne, thrilled. 'You haven't got a torch, have you, Mrs. Sanders?'

[] 'No,' said the old woman. 'But you can get a candle if you like. There's one on the kitchen mantelpiece.'

[] Anne shot off to get it. Julian lighted it and put it into the hole behind the panel. The others pushed against him to try and peep inside.

[] 'Don't,' said Julian, impatiently. 'Wait your turn, sillies! Let me have a look.'

[] He had a good look, but there didn't really seem anything to see. It was all darkness behind, and stone wall. He gave the candle to Dick, and then each of the children had a turn at peeping. Old Mrs. Sanders had gone back to the kitchen. She was used to the sliding panel!

[] 'She said this house was full of queer things like that,' said Anne. 'What other things are there, do you think? Let's ask her.'

[] They slid the panel back into place and went to find Mrs. Sanders. 'Mrs. Sanders, what other funny things are there in Kirrin Farm-house?' asked Julian.

[] 'There's a cupboard upstairs with a false back,' said Mrs. Sanders. 'Don't look so excited! There's nothing in it at all! And there's a big stone over there by the fireplace that pulls up to show a hidey-hole. I suppose in the old days people wanted good hiding-places for things.'

[] The children ran to the stone she pointed out. It had an iron ring in it, and was easily pulled up. Below was a hollowed-out place, big enough to take a small box. It was empty now, but all the same it looked exciting.

[] 'Where's the cupboard?' asked Julian.

[] 'My old legs are too tired to go traipsing upstairs this morning,' said the farmer's wife. 'But you can go yourselves. Up the stairs, turn to the right, and go into the second door you see. The cupboard is at the farther end. Open the door and feel about at the bottom till you come across a dent in the wood. Press it hard, and the false back slides to the side.'

[] The four children and Timothy ran upstairs as fast as they could, munching shortbread as they went. This really was a very exciting morning!

[] They found the cupboard, and opened the door. All four went down on hands arid knees to press round the bottom of the cupboard to find the dented place. Anne found it.

[] 'I've got it!' she cried. She pressed hard, but her little fingers were not strong enough to work the mechanism of the sliding back. Julian had to help her.

[] There was a creaking noise, and the children saw the false back of the cupboard sliding sideways. A big space showed behind, large enough to take a fairly thin man.

[] 'A jolly good hiding-place,' said Julian. 'Anyone could hide there and no one would ever know!'

[] I'll get in and you shut me up,' said Dick. 'It would be exciting.'

[] He got into the space. Julian slid the back across, and Dick could no longer be seen!

[] 'Bit of a tight fit!' he called. 'And awfully dark! Let me out again.'

[] The children all took turns at going into the space behind the back of the cupboard and being shut up. Anne didn't like it very much.

[] They went down to the warm kitchen again. 'It's a most exciting cupboard, Mrs. Sanders,' said Julian. 'I do wish we lived in a house like this, full of secrets!'

[] 'Can we come and play in that cupboard again?' asked George.

[] 'No, I'm afraid you can't, Master George,' said Mrs. Sanders. 'That room where the cupboard is, is one the two gentlemen are going to have.’

[] 'Oh!' said Julian, disappointed. 'Shall you tell them about the sliding back, Mrs. Sanders?'

[] 'I don't expect so,' said the old lady. 'It's only you children that get excited about things like that, bless you. Two gentlemen wouldn't think twice about it.'

[] 'How funny grown-ups are!' said Anne, puzzled. 'I'm quite certain I shall be thrilled to see a sliding panel or a trap-door even when I'm a hundred.'

[] 'Same here,' said Dick. 'Could I just go and look into -the sliding panel in the hall once more, Mrs. Sanders? I'll take the candle.'

[] Dick never knew why he suddenly wanted to have another look. It was just an idea he had. The others didn't bother to go with him, for there really was nothing to see behind the panelling except the old stone wall.

[] Dick took the candle and went into the hall. He pressed on the panel at the top and it slid back. He put the candle inside and had another good look. There was nothing at all to be seen. Dick took out his head and put in his arm, stretching along the wall as far as his hand would reach. He was just about to take it back when his fingers found a hole in the wall.

[] 'Funny!' said Dick. 'Why should there be a hole in the stone wall just there?'

[] He stuck in his finger and thumb and worked them about. He felt a little ridge inside the wall, rather like a bird's perch, and was able to get hold of it. He wriggled his fingers about the perch, but nothing happened. Then he got a good hold and pulled.

[] The stone came right out! Dick was so surprised that he let go the heavy stone and it fell to the ground behind the panelling with a crash!

[] The noise brought the others out into the hall. 'Whatever are you doing, Dick?' said Julian, 'Have you broken something?'

[] 'No,' said Dick, his face reddening with excitement. 'I say - I put my hand in here - and found a hole in one of the stones the wall is made of - and I got hold of a sort of ridge with my finger and thumb and pulled. The stone came right out, and I got such a surprise I let go. It fell, and that's what you heard!'

[] 'Golly!' said Julian, trying to push Dick away from the open panel. 'Let me see.'

[] 'No, Julian,' said Dick, pushing him away. 'This is my discovery. Wait till I see if I can feel anything in the hole. It's difficult to get at!'

[] The others waited impatiently. Julian could hardly prevent himself from pushing Dick right away. Dick put his arm in as far as he could, and curved his hand round to get into the space behind where the stone had been. His fingers felt about and he closed them round something that felt like a book. Cautiously and carefully ne brought it out.

[] 'An old book!' he said.

[] 'What's in it?' cried Anne.

[] They turned the pages carefully. They were so dry and brittle that some of them fell into dust.

[] 'I think it's a book of recipes,' said Anne, as her sharp eyes read a few words in the old brown, faded handwriting. 'Let's take it to Mrs. Sanders.'

[] The children carried the book to the old lady. She laughed at their beaming faces. She took the book and looked at it, not at all excited.

[] 'Yes,' she said. 'It's a book of recipes, that's all it is. See the name in the front - Alice Mary Sanders - that must have been my great-grandmother. She was famous for her medicines, I know. It was said she could cure any ill in man or animal, no matter what it was.'

[] 'It's a pity it's so hard to read her writing,' said Julian, disappointed. 'The whole book is falling to pieces too. It must be very old.'

[] 'Do you think there's anything else in that hidey-hole?' asked Anne. 'Julian, you go and put your arm in, it's longer than Dick's.'

[] 'There didn't seem to be anything else at all,' said Dick. 'It's a very small place - just a few inches of hollow space behind that brick or stone that fell down.'

[] 'Well, I'll just put my hand in and see,' said Julian. They all went back into the hall. Julian put his arm into the open panel, and slid it along the wall to where, the stone had fallen out. His hand went into the space there, and his long fingers groped about, feeling for anything else that might be there.

[] There was something else, something soft and flat that felt like leather. Eagerly the boy's fingers closed over it and he drew it out carefully, half afraid that it might fall to pieces with age.

[] 'I've got something!' he said, his eyes gleaming brightly. 'Look - what is it?'

[] The others crowded round. 'It's rather like Daddy's tobacco pouch,' said Anne, feeling it. The same shape. Is there anything inside?'

[] It was a tobacco pouch, very dark brown, made of soft leather and very much worn. Carefully Julian undid the flap, and unrolled the leather.

A few bits of black tobacco were still in the pouch -but there was something else, too! Tightly rolled up in the last bit of pouch was a piece of linen. Julian took it out and unrolled it. He put it flat on the hall-table.

[] The children stared at it. There were marks and signs on the linen, done in black ink that had hardly faded. But the four of them could not make head or tail of the marks.

[] 'It's not a map,' said Julian. 'It seems a sort of code, or something. I do wonder what it means. I wish we could make it out. It must be some sort of secret.'

[] The children stared at the piece of linen, very thrilled. It was so old - and contained some kind of secret. Whatever could it be?

[] They ran to show it to Mrs. Sanders. She was studying the old recipe book, and her face glowed with pleasure as she raised it to look at the excited children.

[] 'This book's a wonder!' she said. 'I can hardly read the writing, but here's a recipe for backache. I shall try it myself. My back aches so much at the end of the day. Now, you listen ...'

[] But the children didn't want to listen to recipes for backache. They pushed the piece of linen on to Mrs. Sanders' lap.

[] 'Look! What's this about, Mrs. Sanders? Do you know? We found it in a kind of tobacco pouch in that place behind the panel.'

[] Mrs. Sanders took off her glasses, polished them, and put them on again. She looked carefully at the piece of linen with its strange marks.

[] She shook her head. 'No - this doesn't make any sense to me. And what's this now - it looks like an old tobacco pouch. Ah, my John would like that, I guess. He's got such an old one that it won't hold his tobacco any more! This is old too - but there's a lot of wear in it yet.'

[] 'Mrs. Sanders, do you want this piece of linen too?' asked Julian, anxiously. He was longing to take it home and study it. He felt certain there was some kind of exciting secret hidden there, and he could not bear the thought of leaving it with Mrs. Sanders.

[] 'You take it, Master Julian, if you want it,' said Mrs. Sanders, with a laugh. I'll keep the recipes for myself, and John shall have the pouch. You can have the old rag if you want it, though it beats me why you set such store by it! Ah, here's John!'

[] She raised her voice and shouted to the deaf old man. 'Hey, John, here's a tobacco pouch' for you. The children found it somewhere behind that panel that opens in the hall.'

[] John took it and fingered it. 'It's a queer one,' he said. 'But better than mine. Well, youngsters, I don't want to hurry you, but it's one o'clock now, and you'd best be going if it's near your dinner-time!'

[] 'Gracious!' said Julian. 'We shall be late! Good-bye, Mrs. Sanders, and thanks awfully for the shortbread and this old rag. We'll try our best to make out what's on it and tell you. Hurry, everyone! Where's Tim? Come on, Timothy, we're late!'

[] The five of them ran off quickly. They really were late, and had to run most of the way, which meant that it was difficult to talk. But they were so excited about their morning that they panted remarks to one another as they went.

[] 'I wonder what this old rag says!' panted Julian. 'I mean to find out. I'm sure it's something mysterious.'

[] 'Shall we tell anyone?' asked Dick.

[] 'No!' said George. 'Let's keep it a secret.'

[] 'If Anne starts to give away anything, kick her under the table, like we did last summer,' said Julian, with a grin. Poor Anne always found it difficult to keep a secret, and often had to be nudged or kicked when she began to give things away.

[] 'I won't say a word,' said Anne, indignantly. 'And don't you dare to kick me. It only makes me cry out and then the grown-ups want to know why.'

[] 'We'll have a good old puzzle over this piece of linen after dinner,' said Julian. 'I bet we'll find out what it says, if we really make up our minds to!'

[] 'Here we are,' said George. 'Not too late. Hallo, Mother! We won't be a minute washing our hands! We've had a lovely time.'