[] NEXT morning the children felt a little gloomy. Lessons! How horrid in the holidays! Still, Mr. Roland wasn't so bad. The children had not had him with them in the sitting-room the night before, because he had gone to talk to their uncle. So they were able to get out the mysterious bit of linen again and pore over it.

[] But it wasn't a bit of good. Nobody could make anything of it at all. Secret Way! What did it mean? Was it really directions for a Secret Way? And where was the way, and why was it secret? It was most exasperating not to be able to find out.

[] 'I really feel we'll have to ask someone soon,' Julian had said with a sigh. 'I can't bear this mystery much longer. I keep on and on thinking of it.'

[] He had dreamt of it too that night, and now it was morning, with lessons ahead. He wondered what lesson Mr. Roland would take - Latin perhaps. Then he could ask him what the words 'VIA OCCULTA' meant.

[] Mr. Roland had seen all their reports and had noted the subjects they were weak in. One was Latin, and another was French. Maths were very weak in both Dick's report and George's. Both children must be helped on in those. Geometry was Julian's weakest spot.

[] Anne was not supposed to need any coaching. 'But if you like to come along and join us, I'll give you some painting to do,' said Mr. Roland, his blue eyes twinkling at her. He liked Anne. She was not difficult and sulky like George.

[] Anne loved painting. 'Oh, yes,' she said, happily, Td love to do some painting. I can paint flowers, Mr. Roland. I'll paint you some red poppies and blue cornflowers out of my head.'

[] 'We will start at half-past nine,' said Mr. Roland. 'We are to work in the sitting-room. Take your school-books there, and be ready punctually.'

[] So all the children were there, sitting round a table, their books in front of them, at half-past nine. Anne had some painting water and her painting-box. The others looked at her enviously. Lucky Anne, to be doing painting whilst they worked hard at difficult things like Latin and maths!

[] 'Where's Timothy?' asked Julian in a low voice, as they waited for their tutor to come in.

[] 'Under the table’ said George, defiantly. I'm sure he'll lie still. Don't any of you say anything about him. I want him there. I'm not going to do lessons without Tim here.'

[] 'I don't see why he shouldn't be here with us,' said Dick. 'He's very very good. Sh! Here comes Mr. Roland.'

[] The tutor came in, his black beard bristling round his mouth and chin. His eyes looked very piercing in the pale winter sunlight that filtered into the room. He told the children to sit down.

[] 'I'll have a look at your exercise books first,' he said, 'and see what you were doing last term. You come first, Julian.'

[] Soon the little class were working quietly together. Anne was very busy painting a bright picture of poppies and cornflowers. Mr. Roland admired it very much. Anne thought he really was very nice.

[] Suddenly there was a huge sigh from under the table. It was Tim, tired of lying so still Mr. Roland looked up, surprised. George at once sighed heavily, hoping that Mr. Roland would think it was she who had sighed before.

[] 'You sound tired, Georgina,' said Mr. Roland. 'You shall all have a little break at eleven.'

[] George frowned. She hated being called Georgina. She put her foot cautiously on Timothy to warn him not to make any more noises. Tim licked her foot.

[] After a while, just when the class was at its very quietest, Tim felt a great wish to scratch himself very hard on his back. He got up. He sat down again with a thump, gave a grunt, and began to scratch himself furiously. The children all began to make noises to hide the sounds that Tim was making.

[] George clattered her feet on the floor. Julian began to cough, and let one of his book slip to the ground. Dick jiggled the table and spoke to Mr. Roland.

[] 'Oh dear, this sum is so hard; it really is! I keep doing it and doing it, and it simply won't come right!'

[] 'Why all this sudden noise?' said Mr. Roland in surprise. 'Stop tapping the floor with your feet, Georgina.’

[] Tim settled down quietly again. The children gave a sigh of relief. They became quiet, and Mr. Roland told Dick to come to him with his maths book.

The tutor took it, and stretched his legs out under the table, leaning back to speak to Dick. To his enormous surprise his feet struck something soft and warm - and then something nipped him sharply on the ankle! He drew in his feet with a cry of pain.

[] The children stared at him. He bent down and looked under the table. 'It's that dog,' he said, in disgust. 'The brute snapped at my ankles. He has made a hole in my trousers. Take him out, Georgina.'

[] Georgina said nothing. She sat as though she had not heard.

[] 'She won't answer if you call her Georgina,' Julian reminded him.

[] 'She'll answer me whatever I call her,' said Mr. Roland, in a low and angry voice. 'I won't have that dog in here. If you don't take him out this very minute, Georgina, I will go to your father.'

[] George looked at him. She knew perfectly well that if she didn't take Tim out, and Mr. Roland went to her father, he would order Timothy to live in the garden kennel, and that would be dreadful. There was absolutely nothing to be done but obey. Red in the face, a huge frown almost hiding her eyes, she got up and spoke to Tim.

[] 'Come on, Tim! I'm not surprised you bit him. I would, too, if I were a dog!'

[] 'There is no need to be rude, Georgina,' said Mr. Roland, angrily.

[] The others stared at George. They wondered how she dared to say things like that. When she got fierce it seemed as if she didn't care for anyone at all!

[] 'Come back as soon as you have put the dog out,' said Mr. Roland.

[] George scowled, but came back in a few minutes. She felt caught. Her father was friendly with Mr. Roland, and knew how difficult George was - if she behaved as badly as she felt she would like to, it would be Tim who would suffer, for he would certainly be banished from the house. So for Tim's sake George obeyed the tutor - but from that moment she disliked him and resented him bitterly with all her fierce little heart.

[] The others were sorry for George and Timothy, but they did not share the little girl's intense dislike of the new tutor. He often made them laugh. He was patient with their mistakes. He was willing to show them how to make paper darts and ships, and to do funny little tricks. Julian and Dick thought these were fun, and stored them up to try on the other boys when they went back to school.

[] After lessons that morning the children went out for half an hour in the frosty sunshine. George called Tim.

[] 'Poor old boy!' she said. 'What a shame to turn you out of-the room! Whatever did you snap at Mr. Roland for? I think it was a very good idea, Tim - but I really don't know what made you!'

[] 'George, you can't play about with Mr. Roland,' said Julian. 'You'll only get into trouble. He's tough. He won't stand much from any of us. But I think he'll be quite a good sport if we get on the right side of him.'

[] 'Well, get on the right side of him if you like,' said George, in rather a sneering voice. I'm not going to. If I don't like a person, I don't - and I don't like him.'

[] 'Why? Just because he doesn't like Tim?' asked Dick.

[] 'Mostly because of that - but because he makes me feel prickly down my back,' said George, 'I don't like his nasty mouth.'

[] 'But you can't see it,' said Julian. 'It's covered with his moustache and beard.'

[] 'I've seen his lips through them,' said George, obstinately. 'They're thin and cruel. You look and see. I don't like thin-lipped people. They are always spiteful and hard. And I don't like his cold eyes either. You can suck up to him all you like. I shan't.'

[] Julian refused to get angry with the stubborn little girl. He laughed at her. 'We're not going to suck up to him,' he said. 'We're just going to be sensible, that's all. You be sensible too, George, old thing.'

[] But once George had made up her mind about something nothing would alter her. She cheered up when she heard that they were all to go Christmas shopping on the bus that afternoon - without Mr. Roland! He was going to watch an experiment that her father was going to show him.

[] 'I will take you into the nearest town and you shall shop to your heart's content,' said Aunt Fanny to the children. 'Then we will have tea in a tea-shop and catch the six o'clock bus home.'

[] This was fun. They caught the afternoon bus and rumbled along the deep country lanes till they got to the town. The shops looked very gay and bright. The children had brought their money with them, and were very busy indeed, buying all kinds of things. There were so many people to get presents for!

[] 'I suppose we'd better get something for Mr. Roland, hadn't we?' said Julian.

[] 'I'm going to,' said Anne. I'm going to buy him a packet of cigarettes. I know the kind he smokes.'

[] 'Fancy buying Mr. Roland a present!' said George, in her scornful voice.

[] 'Why shouldn't she, George?' asked her mother, in surprise. 'Oh dear, I hope you are going to be sensible about him, and not take a violent dislike to the poor man. I don't want him to complain to your father about you.'

[] 'What are you going to buy for Tim, George?' asked Julian, changing the subject quickly.

[] 'The largest bone the butcher has got,' said George. 'What are you going to buy him?'

[] 'I guess if Tim had money, he would buy us each a present,' said Anne, taking hold of the thick hair round Tim's neck, and pulling it lovingly. 'He's the best dog in the world!'

[] George forgave Anne for saying she would buy Mr. Roland a present, when the little girl said that about Tim! She cheered up again and began to plan what she would buy for everyone.

[] They had a fine tea, and caught the six o'clock bus back. Aunt Fanny went to see if the cook had given the two men their tea. She came out of the study beaming.

[] 'Really, I've never seen your uncle so jolly,' she said to Julian and Dick. 'He and Mr. Roland are getting on like a house on fire. He has been showing your tutor quite a lot of his experiments. It's nice for him to have someone to talk to that knows a little about these things.'

[] Mr. Roland played games with the children that evening. Tim was in the room, and the tutor tried again to make friends with him, but the dog refused to take any notice of him.

[] 'As sulky as his little mistress!' said the tutor, with a laughing look at George, who was watching Tim refuse to go to Mr. Roland, and looking rather pleased about it. She gave the tutor a scowl and said nothing.

[] 'Shall we ask him whether "VIA OCCULT" really does mean "Secret Way" or not, tomorrow?' said Julian to Dick, as they undressed that night. 'I'm just longing to know if it does. What do you think of Mr. Roland, Dick?'

[] 'I don't really quite know,' said Dick. 'I like lots of things about him, but then I suddenly don't like him at all. I don't like his eyes. And George is quite right about his lips. They are so thin there's hardly anything of them at all.'

[] 'I think he's all right,' said Julian. 'He won't stand any nonsense, that's all. I wouldn't mind showing him the whole piece of rag and asking him to make out its meaning for us.'

[] 'I thought you said it was to be a proper secret,' said Dick.

[] 'I know - but what's the use of a secret we don't know the meaning of ourselves?' said Julian. I'll tell you what we could do - ask him to explain the words to us, and not show him the bit of linen.’

[] 'But we can't read some of the words ourselves,' said Dick. 'So that's no use. You'd have to show him the whole thing, and tell him where we got it.'

[] 'Well, I'll see,' said Julian, getting into bed.

[] The next day there were lessons again from half-past nine to half-past twelve. George appeared without Tim.

She was angry at having to do this, but it was no good being defiant and refusing to come to lessons without Tim. Now that he had snapped at Mr. Roland, he had definitely put himself in the wrong, and the tutor had every right to refuse to allow him to come. But George looked very sulky indeed.

[] In the Latin lesson Julian took the chance of asking what he wanted to know. 'Please, Mr. Roland,' he said, 'could you tell me what "VIA OCGULTA" means?'

[] '"VIA OCCULTA"?' said Mr. Roland, frowning. 'Yes -it means "Secret Path", or "Secret Road". A hidden way - something like that. Why do you want to know?'

[] All the children were listening eagerly. Their hearts thumped with excitement. So Julian had been right. That funny bit of rag contained directions for some hidden way, some secret path - but where to! Where did it begin, and end?

[] 'Oh - I just wanted to know,' said Julian. 'Thank you, sir.'

He winked at the others. He was as excited as they were. If only, only they could make out the rest of the markings, they might be able to solve the mystery. Well - perhaps he would ask Mr. Roland in a day or two. The secret must be solved somehow.

[] '"The Secret Way" ' said Julian to himself, as he worked out a problem in geometry. ' "The Secret Way". I'll find it somehow.'