Chapter 1 – Fun and Games
‘That was fun.’
Rahul and his cousins were playing Treasure Hunt along with Sarah and Pranav their neighbours. Rahul had hidden the ‘Treasure’ in his shoe and was enjoying watching his friends searching all over the garden for it. The ‘Treasure’ was actually a ball.
‘Okay we give up brother.’ said Nicole, walking up to Rahul. ‘Where is it?’
Rahul removed his shoe and the sponge ball fell out.
‘That’s cheating.’ said Sean.
‘It isn’t.’ said Sophia, to her brother.
‘That was fun.’ said Ethan.
Sarah nodded and said ‘I think I should go. It’s almost lunch time.’
Pranav said ‘I should go too. Come to the park this evening?’
‘Yes.’ said Ethan.
So after tea that evening the children and Duke, their dog, went to meet Sarah and Pranav at the park. The girls went to the swings with Duke following. Ethan and Rahul went to the slide and Sean took Pranav to the Merry-Go-Round.
The fields stretched out beyond the park and the children sniffed the village air in delight. Rahul climbed to the top of the slide. It was a tall one and from the top he could see the entire surrounding areas.
Then he saw a truck coming up a small dirt road that went to a tiny mud platform in the middle of the field. The truck was carrying mud bricks, bags of cement and some tools.
‘Strange.’ he thought. ‘This is a very desolate area to put up a hut to live in.’
Then Ethan shoved him and said ‘A penny for your thoughts.’
Rahul went red and said ‘They’re not worth a penny. Come, let’s go down the slide.’
So down they went and joined Sean and Pranav on the Merry-Go-Round. They had a perfectly funny time there. Pranav decided to get on the Merry-Go- Round when it was moving and this is very dangerous.
He wanted to jump on but his leg got stuck in one of the support railings. He spun around looking like an extension of the Merry-Go-Round. Rahul stopped it at once saying it was dangerous.
Then Sean and Ethan went on. Pranav said that he never wanted to go on a Merry-Go-Round again so he would push it. Ethan stood right in the middle of the ride so that he wouldn’t be flung off. Poor Sean couldn’t find any place to hold on before Pranav pushed it, so he flung himself at Ethan’s feet and held on dear life.
This was very funny as Ethan looked like a ballerina going round and round and when Rahul imagined a ballerina pirouetting, with someone else holding her legs, he hooted with laughter.
The girls heard him laughing and came to join the fun. Altogether it was the most enjoyable evening. That night all the children slept very soundly indeed. The next day a surprise awaited the Cousins.
Chapter 2 – Really Sophia!
Grandma bustled up to where they were playing Snap, beaming, and said ‘I have a surprise for you.’
All her grandchildren looked up at her expectantly.
‘The house is going to be painted! And you’ll get to choose the colors.’
All the children looked rather disappointed. They had expected Grandma to say that she had made éclairs or something for them. Rahul especially was quite disappointed. This was because he was allergic to the smell of oil paint.
‘Are you going to paint the inside or the outside?’ he asked.
‘Both.’ beamed his Grandmother. ‘And we shall paint the grills and varnish the doors.’
Rahul groaned. So did Ethan. He hated the smell of oil paint too.
‘Here’s a book of colors and their names.’ Grandma said, handing Nicole a fat book. ‘Make sure you choose a dark color for the borders and a light color for the body.’
With that she went back to the kitchen. Nicole handed the book to Sophia and began gathering up the Snap cards. Rahul looked at Ethan and said ‘I just hope we shall have a mystery to solve.’
‘Why?’ asked Ethan.
‘So that we can keep out of the house.’ replied Rahul with a grin. ‘The smell really shall be a nuisance.’
‘You’d better go and ask Mama what to do if there’s going to be a smell hanging around the house.’ said Nicole.
Rahul nodded and raced off to his parents. Meanwhile Sophia had opened the book and gone through the colors.
‘How about a baby pink for all the verandas and scarlet for the outdoor ceilings…’ she began.
‘Sophia!’ cried Nicole. ‘What a color combination! How can you even think of it?’
‘Light blue for me.’ said Ethan and Sean together.
‘Oh no you don’t.’ yelled Sophia.
‘Quit the squabbling guys.’ said Nicole.
At that moment Rahul appeared. ‘Mama said that the painters will paint to ground floor first and then the first floor. So while they paint the ground floor we shall spend most of our time upstairs or outdoors and while they paint upstairs we shall spend most of our time downstairs.’ he panted.
They others agreed that this was a very simple and good solution. Then they told Rahul their color choices.
‘Sophia chose scarlet for the outdoor ceilings, baby pink for the verandas, maroon for the borders and orange-yellow for the body.’ said Sean.
‘But the rest of us chose light yellow for the body and verandas with sky-blue borders and white ceilings.’ concluded Ethan.
Rahul agreed with the others and then they went to tell Grandma their choices. Grandpa was with her. They told her Sophia’s choices first and then the rest. Grandpa agreed with Nicole’s choice but to everyone’s surprise Grandma agreed with Sophia!
Sophia was astonished too. She hadn’t expected anyone to like her idea and after she imagined exactly what the house would look like she too decided it was drivel. But Grandma seemed to like the idea because it included her favorite color pink.
Also Sophia was Grandma’s favorite grandchild. The boys were way too noisy. Nicole was also noisy, always with her guitar and piano. Sophia could be noisy not doubt, but that very seldom. And also she knew how to sew and knit which Nicole had no time for.
Nicole was always helping the boys and Grandpa or her father to fix up lights or to pluck the coconuts and other boyish jobs. Also, Grandma felt sorry for Sophia because no one agreed with her.
There was a silence after Grandma’s decision. Nicole broke it saying ‘But…but you can’t mean that…’
‘Of course I can.’ said Grandma defiantly. With that she went back to her cooking.
The children went outside to play with Pranav and Sarah. Pranav’s eyes nearly fell out of his head when he heard of Sophia’s color choice.
‘Really Sophia, the thing that made me think you had gone bonkers was the scarlet ceiling part.’ said Rahul.
Sophia went a brilliant scarlet at this and they all laughed. They went to play at the park again. Rahul went up the slide and saw that there was a little hut built on the mud platform.
Chapter 3 – Here we go again
He saw a man and woman come out from it. Both were dressed like farmers.
‘Must be some farm laborers.’ thought Rahul as he went down the slide.
After about an hour all of them went home again. Nicole’s father, Danny was on the phone. As soon as he saw her he beckoned her over and gave her the phone. ‘The Inspector.’ he said.
Nicole took the receiver and a sharp voice came over the phone.
‘Hello Nicole. I’ll go straight to the point. There’s an escaped convict and he has pinched some of our War-Secrets. He was last seen around the area where you live. I want you to keep your eyes and ears open, okay?’
‘Yes sir.’ replied Nicole, crisply. ‘Anything else?’
‘Yes. I have sent his details and all that to you by post. You should get it by tomorrow.’
‘Right. Thank you for contacting us sir,’ said Nicole ‘Bye.’
‘Bye.’ said the Inspector.
Nicole clicked the receiver back in its place and turned to the others in excitement. One look at her face and Rahul asked ‘What’s up Nicole.’
Nicole poured out what the Inspector had said and the others were delighted. Then Nicole sobered down and said ‘But there really doesn’t seem anywhere to start.’
Then Rahul said ‘Well, the Inspector just asked to keep our eyes and ears open. Nothing else.’
So the next day the details arrived. The children poured all over them.
‘Medium height. Black hair, thick and wavy. No moustache. Brown eyes. Master of disguise.’ read out Sean.
The last line made everyone sit up.
‘Master of disguise? Then the details wouldn’t be of much use.’ said Rahul stating everyone’s thoughts.
‘Yes, he could stoop to look shorter or wear heels to be taller.’ said Sophia.
‘He might straighten his hair or thin it or wear a wig.’ said Nicole.
‘He might wear a false moustache till he grows one.’ said Ethan.
‘And he could wear lens to change the color of his own eyes.’ said Sean.
‘Wait a bit here’s a piece that we didn’t read. He has no relatives save his brother who helped him in their last robbery before he fled to France. Then the man was captured and put into prison.’ said Rahul.
‘We have got on.’ said Sean excitably.
‘No we haven’t.’ said Sophia. ‘From what we have learnt this man could be anyone in this whole of Goa.’
Chapter 4 – Oh that Mean Hag
The next day all the children went downstairs to find that the floor of the living-room of the large house was covered with newspapers. Grandma was standing in the middle and covering all the chairs and sofas with newspaper too.
‘That means the painting will start today.’ said Ethan.
Grandma had chosen the indoor colors herself. Suddenly Nicole gave a laugh and said ‘Even though this house is so big I feel like I’m in a hut now.’
‘Why?’ asked everyone.
‘Haven’t you’ll ever been in a hut before?’ asked Nicole, in surprise. ‘Well, in huts people usually line the floors with paper or hay or sometimes both.’
‘It must be very cosy to live in a hut.’ said Sophia dreamily.
‘That reminds me. I saw a hut built in the field just beyond the park. It’s such a desolate area. Why would anyone want to live there?’ remarked Rahul.
‘Maybe it’s a night watchman’s hut. You know where tools are kept and people guard them over the night.’ suggested Ethan.
‘But I saw a man and a woman going in and out the other day.’ said Rahul indignantly.
‘Well then they must be farm laborers that live there so they can watch the fields day and night. You know there have been a lot of thefts in the fields. The farmer’s maize chopped before it is ripened and such stuff.’ said Nicole triumphantly.
‘Oh fine.’ surrendered Rahul. ‘Now who’s coming for a game of cricket?’
So they called in at Pranav’s house and Sarah’s and went to the park, where there was place to play cricket as well. Rahul bowled the first ball and Nicole hit it over the wall for six.
Rahul called her ‘Come let’s go get it. You others carry on with this ball.’
He threw another ball to them and jumped over the wall. Nicole followed. The ball had landed near the door of the hut. But someone got to it before them. A woman came out of the hut and scowled at them. She picked up the ball and said ‘This here ball yours?’
The children nodded.
‘Well, yous ain’t gettin’ it back again.’ she said and with that went inside again. The children peeped over the door. Nicole pointed to the floor. There was hay all over it but in a few places where there were gaps paper could be seen.
The woman saw them looking and growled. ‘Stop prying or I’ll fetch me old man and he’ll deal with you good and proper.’
She shook a dirty finger at Rahul and he backed away in alarm. He saw an old man working in the field close by and thought it better to leave. So they went back to the park and related the happenings.
Chapter 5 – What a Night
‘I’m going to get my ball back no matter what it takes.’ said Rahul. ‘It’s a very expensive one and that woman had no right to take it.’
Nicole went red and said ‘I’ll come with you. After all, I’m the one who hit it there.’
‘All right. Ethan can come too.’ said Rahul. ‘We’ll go today night.’
Then they went back for lunch. That night as soon as everyone was asleep Nicole, Rahul and Ethan climbed down the trees outside their bedrooms. They took Duke and raced off to the park.
From there they leapt over the wall, Duke too, and crept to the hut. From where they stood they could hear voices from the hut. They couldn’t hear the words. But the voices made them stand still.
The voices were not of one man and other woman. Both the voices were men’s. Nicole went boldly and knocked on the door. The door opened wide and the woman towered over her.
‘What do you want at this time o’ the night?’ asked she.
‘I want the ball.’ said Nicole, trying to sound grown-up.
‘What will you do if I don’t?’ asked the woman in a nasty voice.
‘I’ll go to the farmer.’ said Nicole, saying the first thing that came to her head.
‘Oh you won’t be able to do that if I keep you captive, will you?’ sneered the woman.
She suddenly caught hold of Nicole’s arm and was about to drag her onto the hut when Ethan yelled. ‘No she won’t. But we can.’
The woman looked out and saw the boys. Then she saw Duke, who had his teeth bared. She pushed Nicole out at once and the girl fell into some wet mud.
The woman said ‘Don’t do anything like that. The farmer will be asleep now and his fierce dogs will tear apart your mongrel at once.’
‘He not a mongrel. He’s a pedigree dog.’ said Nicole, trying to look dignified even though she was covered with mud. ‘Give us our ball back or we really shall go to the farmer and complain.’
The woman went back into the hut muttering something. She came out with the ball which she flung to Rahul. The children decided to go and the woman called out after them ‘You’d make any m…woman’s life miserable, you would. Good riddance to you and your ball.’
Chapter 6 – The Mystery is Slipping Away
The next day the Inspector called up again to ask if they had been successful. But the children had to reply and say no. Then the Inspector said that a Search Warrant would be sent to check the place where the convict was last seen.
Nicole had put the phone on loud-speaker. Sean asked ‘What’s a Search Warrant?’
The Inspector replied ‘A Search Warrant is a court order authorizing entry to somebody’s property to look for unlawful possessions. A group of officers does the searching. I shall come too.’
‘Oh.’ said Sean. ‘Sir, please can’t you give us more time?’
‘I’m sorry kids but I can’t. You must realize that if the secrets reach the wrong hands then it would be treacherous for the whole country. I imagine that where I find the convict, I shall find the War Secrets. Good bye and see you tomorrow.’
‘Good bye.’ said all the children.
Nicole put the receiver back.
‘Well, this is one mystery which we didn’t solve.’ she said trying to sound cheerful even though she was bitterly disappointed. ‘I guess we’ll just have to wait till tomorrow and see what happens.’
So they waited till the next day and then went to the park to see what would happen. Rahul climbed the top of the slide to see if he could spot any police cars. Yes, there were some and they were headed for the farm.
‘Hey guys, the police have gone to the farm.’ he yelled to the others.
They all raced off to the farm. There were police cars parked around the front door which was open. Rahul went to it and heard a voice saying ‘Yes, I grant you permission to search my farm and all my laborers’ huts.’
That was the Farmer speaking. Then a burly figure came out of the doorway and almost bumped into Rahul. It was the Inspector. He caught hold of Rahul before realizing who he was. Then he saw who it was and let go.
‘I thought that you were an eavesdropper.’ said the Inspector.
‘Oh.’ said Rahul.
‘We’ve searched the whole area save the farm and your place.’ said the Inspector.
‘Are you going to search our place too?’ asked Ethan, coming up.
‘No.’ said the Inspector. ‘I trust you.’
So the search began. It started from behind the farmhouse and then came towards the park.
‘Well, that’s it.’ said Farmer Pete. ‘You’ve searched the whole farm and my huts.’
‘No.’ said Sean in surprise. ‘You forgot one hut.’
He was talking about the couple’s hut of course.
‘I don’t have any other hut.’ said Pete, confused.
‘Well, we’ll show you.’ said Sophia.
The children led the Inspector, farmer Pete and the officers to the last hut near the park. The woman was outside hanging the laundry out and rushed inside when she saw the company come towards her.
Farmer Pete still strongly denied the fact that he knew anything about this hut. In the mean time the Warrant had finished searching and came out with no results. Then suddenly Rahul went mad!
Chapter 7 – Rahul does it again
He grasped the Inspector’s arm and dragged him to the hut. He went to the old woman and tugged her hair. It came off! It was a wig!
‘Here’s your escaped convict.’ he yelled. ‘He was under the gab of an old lady.’
He pulled off her shawl and rubbed her face vigorously. Her face at once became younger and manlier. The officers came forward and captured him.
Then the Inspector said ‘What about the old man?’
The old man was standing at the door of the hut. Then to Rahul’s astonishment Nicole gave him a huge wink and poured out a stream of what sounded like utter gibberish.
‘Il etait un tel deguisement ridicule. Quelqu’un un pouvait voir a travers.’
Immediately the old man gave a roar and lunged at her. Nicole neatly stepped aside and the old man landed in the same mud puddle that she had landed in two nights ago.
She pulled him up and tugged his hair. It was a wig too.
‘This is the convict’s brother.’ she announced and took the shawl from Rahul. She rubbed his face and it began to look younger.
Then suddenly the Inspector said ‘Where are the papers?’
Both brothers kept their mouths shut. Then Rahul spoke ‘I believe I know where those are too.’
Everyone’s eyes almost popped out. Rahul went on ‘Go inside the hut and pull off the hay from the floor. Underneath are some old papers with the Secrets.’
The officers went there and searched and indeed, there were the War Secrets. Then the Inspector took the children to the police station. Most of them were very puzzled.
‘Rahul, perhaps you can explain your pantomime?’ asked the Inspector, when they had reached.
‘Well sir I knew about it just on the spot. Everything suddenly mixed up and the answer exploded in my head. Farmer Pete denied knowing anything about them. It was the truth.
The day we threatened to go to the farmer they were scared. Not because they would lose their jobs as I first thought. But because the farmer would turn them out and the police would catch them.’ Rahul said. ‘But the thing that really made everything come together was the thing that the old woman said. “You’d make any m…woman’s life miserable”’
Nicole’s eyes shone. ‘He let slip that he was a man and then corrected himself. Once Rahul said that the woman was the convict then I knew the man would be his brother. I just had to prove it. So I said in French…’
‘Why in French?’ asked Ethan.
‘Because he escaped to France!’ said Sean.
‘Well I said “Such a silly disguise. Anyone could see through it” in French and he gave himself away completely.’ completed Nicole.
‘I knew the papers were there because Nicole and I had gone to fetch our ball the other day and I looked at the floor. The woman saw me and was furious wasn’t she? Also that night we heard two men talking in the hut. That also made a click. For when the door opened only the old couple was present.’ said Rahul.
Nicole nodded. ‘So finally the mystery didn’t slip out from our hands.’
‘Good work my detectives. Oh and by the way Nicole I read all your stories. You’ve won a prize for only one?’ asked the Inspector. ‘Your father has won about twelve. So hurry up and write another prize-winning story.’
‘Oh, I will sir.’ replied Nicole, with a grin. ‘It shall be called “The Mystery of the Stolen Secrets.”’