As promised here is our Christmas story starring the Famous Five and the Mannering/Trents.
Lucy-Ann washed the last of the breakfast dishes and sat them in the drying-rack for Jack to dry them. She glanced up at the ceiling as if she could see through to the bedrooms above. “What are they arguing about now?” she asked, referring to the two Mannering siblings whose home they shared.
“I don’t think Philip’s all that keen to go Christmas shopping this afternoon,” Jack said.
“It’s not just Christmas shopping, it’s a whole market,” Lucy-Ann said, her eyes wide. “There will be decorations and food and everything. You don’t mind going, do you Jack?”
“No, I don’t mind,” Jack said as he dried another plate. “It’s not what I’d most like to be doing, but if you girls want to go I don’t mind going with you. I might find something for Kiki’s Christmas I suppose.”
“I happen to know that you’ve not bought a single Christmas present yet, Philip,” came Dinah’s voice from the hall, getting louder as she descended the stairs.
“Yes I have, I’ve got you some musical chiggers!”
There was a pause. “You’ve got me musical…”
“Chiggers,” Philip said cheerfully. “Trombicula doremi and trombicila fasola, to be precise.” There was another brief silence. “Mites, Dinah. Itchy little mites.”
Lucy-Ann winced as they heard Dinah give an enraged shriek and then the sound of her palm meeting Philip’s cheek.
“Break it up, you two,” Jack shouted as he opened the door from the kitchen into the hall, catching the two Mannerings scuffling together.
“It’s jolly good that we are dragging you to this Christmas market,” Dinah said fiercely, stepping out of Philip’s reach and patting her hair tidy. “You’d better not buy me anything disgusting or I’ll box your ears!”
“Maybe I just won’t buy you anything,” Philip said, but in a low voice that Dinah couldn’t hear. He didn’t want another slap.
“I do so enjoy a Christmas market,” Anne was saying as the Five left the house to catch the bus. “I’ve been saving up my money to get all of my presents today.”
“I’m looking forward to it for all the mince pies,” Dick said with a smirk.
“You would!” Julian, George and Anne retorted and Timmy barked, happy to just join in.
“Better keep an eye on Timmy though, George,” Julian added. “He’s getting tubby!”
“He isn’t!” George said furiously. “He’s just got a thick winter coat.”
Anne sighed a little as George got wound up by Julian’s teasing. Dick took Anne’s arm and pulled her in front of the other two.
“Ignore them, dear sister,” Dick said jovially. “I’ll protect Timmy and eat the mince pies.”
Anne laughed. “What a hardship for you!”
“You know me, always willing to lend a hand!”
“Or a mouth,” Julian said from behind them.
“Whatever it takes,” Dick agreed with a wide grin.
Dinah and Philip had managed to not fall out again in the time it had taken them to take the bus to the Christmas market. The whole area had been decked out for Christmas with a tall tree at the market entrance simply covered in red glass baubles, holly and ivy trailing across the awnings of the stall and the scent of mince pies and mulled wine in the air.
“Oh, it’s just like Christmas ought to look like,” Lucy-Ann said, her eyes shining.
“Look like, look like,” Kiki chimed in as the boys smiled at one another. Lucy-Ann was the most into the romantic version of Christmas out of the four.
“Kiki, you silly bird,” Lucy-Ann laughed. “Now don’t you go flying off where we can’t find you!”
“She won’t,” Jack said confidently, scratching Kiki under the chin. “Will you old thing? You can bet she will be keeping an eye out for any roast chestnuts however!”
“I can smell them now,” Dinah added. “Shall we get some while we wander around?”
“No, too fiddly,” Philip said. “We’ll get some for the bus home.”
Although it was the girls who had been keen to do some shopping it was Jack who soon proved impossible to chivvy on as he soon found stalls selling Christmas sweets and nuts, but also seeds and dried fruits, jams and chutneys, and he couldn’t decide what to get Kiki. “It’s no use asking you, Kiki, you’ll want all of it,” he said.
The silver and gold Christmas tree shone in the afternoon sun as the Five found their way into the bustling Christmas market.
Anne was the first to make a purchase, a delicately painted trinket-box for her mother, taking out her red coin purse to pay the stall-holder. She pushed it back into her shoulder-bag after, but was too busy trying to decide where to go next to notice that she hadn’t shut the bag properly after.
With the Five crowding around the figurine stall Anne was looking at, and Timmy distracted by the onslaught of wonderful food smells, no one noticed the figure moving up behind them. Nor did they notice the hand that slipped into the opening of Anne’s bag and and reached for the purse that had been shoved haphazardly shoved in the top. Anne however found herself off balance as the hand had to yank the purse free of the opening which was slightly too small to withdraw it in one swoop.
“Hey!” she found herself shouting as Julian caught her, and the pickpocket ran off into the crowd, dropping the purse as he bumped into other shoppers.
“Are you all right, Anne?” Julian asked as George shouted for Timmy to get the pickpocket.
Dick snatched up the purse from where it had fallen and tucked it securely into Anne’s bag for her.
“We need to report this to the police!” he said angrily, looking around to where Timmy had pushed through the crowd, George in hot pursuit.
“There there, Anne, it’s OK, Timmy will get them!” Julian said as Dick looked around, keeping an eye out for anyone else who might be trying to pickpocket them.
However, Timmy did not get anyone. He returned to the other a few minutes later with his leash clipped to his collar, his tail between his legs and George and a policeman by his side.
“Now you keep that dog under control, my boy,” the policeman warned George. “And don’t give me any more of your nonsense about chasing thieves! If I catch you causing trouble again you’ll be thrown out of this here market.”
“But sir!” Dick said before he could stop himself. “There is a thief about, he tried to get away with my sister’s purse!” he held up the red purse to show him.
“It was just luck that my bag was half-fastened and it stopped him getting cleanly away,” Anne said helpfully.
The policeman harrumphed loudly. “The fact that the purse is still in your possession, Miss, leads me to believe that you were mistaken. It’s most likely that someone bumped into you and your purse was jostled loose from your bag.”
Despite their protests that they had seen the pick-pocket and could describe him, the policeman refused to listen. “You seem like decent kids, so you run along and buy something nice and keep out of trouble. I’m keeping an eye on this here market, and I don’t need any help from children!”
“Keeping an eye on the free samples more like!” Julian said in a low voice as the policeman walked off officiously and scooped up a handful of shortbread squares from one stall and then a few pieces of sausage from another.
The Mannerings and Trents were wandering around the market looking at all the wonderful stalls and all the nice things people had made to sell. There were wonderful scents in the air and Kiki was in her element screeching “God save the Queen” at unsuspecting people. They stopped at a candle stall and Lucy-Ann and Dinah were considering getting a nice set of candles for the dining room that Aunt Allie might like to use for Christmas dinner. Jack and Philip weren’t that interested and were looking around them at the people, wondering if there was anyone they knew around when Philip saw a slim figure moving suspiciously through the crowd. Philip nudged Jack and nodded at the figure in the crowd. “Bit strange,” he said under his breath to Jack.
Initially there was nothing particularly strange about the boy, he just looked like a kid wandering the market. But as Jack watched him he noticed that although the boy was looking around intently, he was far more interested in the shoppers and their bags than in the wares for sale.
A large woman stopped between Jack and the boy, arguing with her husband over which stall to stop at for something to eat, so he heard commotion rather than saw it. “My wallet!” someone was shouting. “It’s gone!” Just as the large lady moved on, having overruled her husband in favour of her own preference for a sausage sandwich, Jack saw the boy slipping between a cake stall and one selling bottles of fine ales, and disappear.
“That way!” he said pointing in the direction of the boy to Philip, and set off after the boy. Kiki screeched happily taking off from Jack’s shoulder and causing a scene.
By the time they’d made it through the gap in the stalls, attracting much more attention in the process, the boy had vanished into the crowds. “What are you two up to?” came a stern voice, making them both jump.
“Following a thief!” Philip panted. “He just took a wallet!”
The policeman eyed them coldly. “What did I just tell you?” he asked, and the boys were puzzled.
“You haven’t told us anything,” Jack said calmly, his hand on Philips arm, warning the other boy not to lose his temper. “But there really is a thief, he went that way!” he pointed to the way they had been heading.
The policeman swelled indignantly. “I told you that you’d be thrown out if there was any more nonsense about thieves,” he said as Dinah and Lucy-Ann came along the aisle between stalls to find them. “Where’s that dog of yours?” he asked Dinah, changing tact. “I told you to keep him on his leash!”
“Dog?” Dinah asked confused as Jack looked around for Kiki. “We don’t have a dog!”
The policeman frowned as he looked more closely at Dinah. “I could have sworn it was a boy with the dog…” he said, half-to himself before he looked at the other three.
“Phweeeeeet!” Kiki made her police whistle sound as she landed on Jack’s shoulder.
The policeman stared at her, wide-mouthed. “You didn’t have a parrot before… Perhaps…” he cleared his throat and spoke more clearly. “I think I’ve mistaken you for someone else. But what I said still stands, I won’t have any kids dogs – or parrots – running round this market in pursuit of imaginary thieves. Now, be off with you!”
The four and Kiki walked quickly away from the policeman. “What is going on?” Dinah demanded of the boys when they were out of sight. “You dashed off both of you, and Kiki made such a row!”
“We thought we saw a pick-pocket,” Jack explained. “But what was he talking about, speaking to us before?”
“And why did he think I had a dog?” Dinah demanded.
“Maybe there is another group of children here with a dog,” Lucy-Ann said, unthinking.
Philip groaned. “Some kids and a dog who have tried to catch a pick-pocket, and one of them looks a bit like Dinah…”
“Not the ‘Famous Five’,” Jack exclaimed.
The Five were now behind one of the stalls, out of the way of the policeman, having a conference. “We should set up a trap,” Dick was saying insistently. “Empty someone’s purse and then leave it somewhere and watch it, Timmy will catch whoever comes to swipe it, and then we can put that pick pocket to the policeman as proof.”
“I like that plan, but maybe we ought to buy a cheap purse. I’m sure none of us should like to risk losing our own, just in case something goes wrong,” Julian said sensibly.
“I’ve got my old coin purse,” George said helpfully. “It’s starting to fall apart but mother says I’m not allowed a new one until the money starts falling out! If someone runs off with it I can ask for a new one for Christmas!”
Julian laughed. “Very clever, old thing. All right, we’ll use your old purse. But where should we put it?” he asked, looking around for inspiration.
“On the fountain!” Anne said excitedly after they peered around for a minute. “It could have fallen out of the bag while someone sat down!”
And so George carefully emptied her money out of her purse and, after casually sitting on the edge of the fountain for a few minutes, walked off and left the purse sitting there. Rejoining the her cousins they found places nearby where they could see if the thief picked it up.
Timmy stood quietly next to George, seeming to understand that they were waiting for something. Why oh why had George left her purse there. He wondered if she knew she had done that. Anne was hiding with Julian as she was a bit shaken from the earlier attempt. The smells from the market were making her feel a little sick now as the scents of gingerbread and roasting nuts engulfed her.
The boys were rattled by the thought of the Kirrins being at the market, and potentially catching the pick-pocket that had evaded them. Lucy-Ann and Dinah tried to cajole them along but they were too busy scanning the crowd for the boy in the green hat, that they barely paid attention to any of the things for sale.
They were just passing the fountain in the middle when Philip stopped and caught the others’ attention. “Look, someone’s left their purse,” he said. “We ought to hand it in before someone walks off with it.” Reuniting a lost purse with its owner was hardly on a par with catching a thief but it was something at least.
Julian stiffened as he heard an exclamation about George’s purse and pushed Anne back a little more as he strained forward to try and get a good look at the people picking up the purse. “You stay here,” he whispered to Anne as he motioned Dick to start moving forward.
The boy who picked the purse up wasn’t wearing the green hat any longer, but perhaps he had ditched it in an attempt to not be recognised. He also seemed to be with a few others, perhaps there was a whole team of pick-pockets working the market! The others hadn’t done anything so he and Dick hurried up behind the one holding the purse and made a grab for him.
Julian caught one of the boy’s arms, and Dick the other as George and Timmy appeared just behind them. “Gerroff!” said the boy holding George’s purse.
“That’s not your purse and you know it,” Julian said, shaking him a little as an awful shriek came from his left and a red-headed someone suddenly grabbed his arm.
“Kirrin, you fat-head, what are you doing?” the red-head shouted.
At the same time Philip said “I was picking it up to hand it in to the police!”
The tussling suddenly stopped and everyone stood frozen as they looked at each other’s faces.
“Phweeeeeeeeet!” That was Kiki doing her police whistle impression, of course.
“Are we all quite finished?” Dinah asked as the boys and George stared at each other gob smacked. Timmy barked an answer and went to lick George’s hand.
“What are you doing here?” Julian asked The Mannering-Trents. “You fat-heads have walked into our trap for the thief!”
“Oh, we’re the fat-heads are we? What does that make you, leaving purses lying around just so you can attack complete strangers?” Philip retorted, rubbing his arm where Julian had grabbed it.
“I told you, we were trying to catch the thief that’s been around here today,” Anne piped up.
“Hasn’t worked out very well then, has it?” Jack said, breaking the tension with a sudden laugh.
Julian and George looked a little disgruntled as Dick joined Jack in laughing and Kiki joined in with her high pitched screech. “I guess we were expecting to be the only sleuths around,” Dick said after a moment as Dinah, Lucy-Ann and Anne all exchanged looked at the boys’ ineptitude.
“We thought you might be here actually,” Jack said, and filled them in on their conversation with the policeman.
“I would have liked to have seen his face when he realised he had the wrong kids,” Julian said.
“How about seeing the look on his face when we present him with a pick-pocket?” Dinah said. “I bet we could get him if we put our heads together.”
“I mean, we can work together,” Jack said vaguely. “But we could solve this without you lot,” he added offhandedly.
“Well, go on then,” George said, her eyes flashing, “We’ll see who’s the best at this sort of thing!”
Dick elbowed her. “More eyes can’t hurt.”
“Who gets credit?” Philip flashed back. “If we work with you?”
“We can share, can’t we?” Lucy-Ann said timidly.
“Does it matter, as long as we catch the pick pocket?” Anne added, meeting Julian’s eyes. She hoped her scared little sister act would make him more amenable to agreeing with her.
“I say it doesn’t matter, as long as we catch him,” Dick agreed.
“Let’s make a plan, then!” Jack said, rubbing his hands together.
Half an hour later, the two groups were strategically moving through the market. Dinah had dragged Philip to a stall to try and find something for him to buy for their mother, and then moved off to another stall to look at a present for Lucy-Ann.
The others were strolling around, keeping their distance but also keeping a close eye on Dinah’s handbag. She had put George’s empty purse right at the top, half sticking out so that it was an obvious temptation to any pick-pocket.
Dinah, while trying to encourage Philip to shop, was careful to keep the bag in full view of anyone behind her at all times.
Dick and Julian were hanging back, keeping an eye on Dinah as she made sure to move around, her bag swinging open over her shoulder. “Do you think this will work?” Dick asked Julian.
“Possibly, just as well as our plan, I think,” Julian said quietly. He started as he saw a green hat passing Dinah, but it was a girl a bit older than they were and she didn’t even glance at the purse.
They were just starting to lose hope – and getting very hungry – when all of a sudden Dinah shouted ‘Hey!’
Everyone started to push towards Dinah, and George sent Timmy towards her as the scrum of the crowd had become too much to push through. Timmy weaved through people’s legs towards Dinah and then bolted after a familiar smell he could make out, one that was making off quickly.
“He’s got the purse!” Dinah called as George and the boys tried to follow Timmy. Lucy-Ann and Anne gathered around her and they followed at a more sedate pace.
They couldn’t always see the thief, but the sounds of him bumping into people and making them shout indignantly was almost as good, Julian thought as they hurried after him.
The thief clearly knew someone was chasing him and gave them a good run for their money, weaving in and out of people as much as possible. Timmy was lolloping along thinking this was a great game when he caught scent of the policeman who had told him off before and began to bark.
“Here, what have I told you!” the policeman roared. “Get that dog under control!”
And suddenly, the thief was trapped between them. They had reached the area which contained a few rides – a merry-go-round was swiftly rotating on their left, and the tall helter-skelter slide was on their right.
Timmy barked joyously as a child flew down the helter-skelter on a rough mat, squealing loudly. Even if he couldn’t get a hold of the thief then maybe he could still get in a nip of the policeman. George had raised him to respect the police and usually he did, but now and again you ran into one who deserved a good nip.
“He’s got my purse!” George called as the thief looked around wildly, looking for an escape route.
Looking sullen, the boy reached into his pocket, pulled out the purse, and handed it over. The policeman took it and looked inside. “And where’s the money?” he asked.
“What?” The children knew that the boy’s look of shock was genuine, but the policeman didn’t.
“What have you done with the money? This purse is empty.”
George stepped forward. “It was empty when he took it,” she admitted.
“Tricked him into stealing it so that you could catch him, did you?” he asked, showing remarkable insight. He harrumphed when George reluctantly nodded. “In that case I think you should all leave, I’m not having you running wild even if there are a few petty criminals hanging around.”
“Well, that’s gratitude for you!” Julian said in disgust as they left the market.
“I suppose he will get all the credit now,” Dinah said unhappily.
“I expect so,” Dick agreed, gloomily.
“At least we caught the thief though,” Anne said, trying to cheer them up. “We also did much better working together!”
“We did, but now we’ve been thrown out of the market!” George reminded her.
Anne sighed, “I didn’t get all the things I wanted either.”
Dinah suddenly looked at Philip and thumped his arm. “You didn’t get a single thing, did you Philip!”
“Er…” Philip side stepped out of her reach. “I didn’t really have time!”
“You’ll do anything to avoid shopping! What are you going to do on Christmas day when you’ve nothing to give to Mother? Or any of us?” Dinah demanded. “I’m not letting you share my gifts again!”
“We can come back tomorrow,” Lucy-Ann said gently. “Aunt Allie is having tea with Mrs Kirrin so will want us out of the house.”
“Is my mother coming round to yours again?” George asked surprised. “I thought she was going shopping!”
“I’m sure that’s what Aunt Allie said,” said Lucy-Ann with a little shrug. “Will we see you at the market again tomorrow?”
“Perhaps,” said Julian. “But we’ll have to be careful not to annoy that policeman.”
“Maybe it’ll be his day off tomorrow,” Dick said hopefully.
“Maybe he will have eaten so much he can’t move,” added George disdainfully.
“Let’s do lunch,” Jack said with a nod. “We can take a picnic into the park across the road. Meet at the fountain at midday?”
“All right,” Julian agreed. And then, as a parting shot over his shoulder as they hurried for their bus he called “Just try not to get us thrown out of the park as well?”