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Tally-Ho Cottage is full of mysterious comings and goings. In the cover image above, stick-wielding Fatty (actually, not fat at all) is having his attention drawn by Larry to a fragment of a label where the letters ’n-h-e’ are still visible. That’s enough to identify Maidenhead (the ’n-h-e’ are the 6th, 7th and 8th letters), a large town a few miles south of either real-world Bourne End or fictional Peterswood.

Fatty tells his fellow Find-Outers that the crate - in which they think a stolen picture may have been transported - came from Maidenhead. That is, Maidenhead was where the crate was last sent and where it was picked up by the thieves. Do you follow that? It doesn’t matter if you don’t. Many of the movements in this books seem perverse. Stealing a painting, sending it off in a crate, but making the final destination the house you’ve just fled from - what’s that all about?

The story is set in January and starts at Peterswood Station. The Lorenzos, who have been renting a large furnished house by the river, are leaving town. However, they’re not taking away their dog, Poppet. Mr Larkin, their servant, takes Mrs Lorenzo’s beloved poodle from her arms just before she boards the train. There’s a bit of a fracas involving Buster and the Lorenzos, who report the Scottie to Goon, all of which distracts the Find-Outers from Fatty’s arrival by train. Yes, Fatty’s home from Switzerland where, Enid tells us, he’s spent Christmas. Hopefully there is still enough time for a Mystery in what remains of the hols before going back to boarding school!

None of that really flows, does it? As I say, there’s a perversity about this book, though now that it’s becoming clearer in my mind, my fondness for it is growing fast.

Next day a buzz goes around Peterswood. It’s thought that the Lorenzos were responsible for the theft of a valuable old painting from a famous gallery (presumably in London, twenty-odd miles away). The thieves seem to be long gone but Fatty wants to keep an eye on Tally-Ho House, the property they were renting, and Tally-Ho cottage where Mr and Mrs Larkin are looking after Poppet. As it happens, the house next door is called High Chimneys, and Ern - disloyal nephew of Goon but steadfast chum of the Find-Outers - is staying with his relatives who live in the cottage associated with High Chimneys. Perhaps Ern can keep an eye on Tally-Ho Cottage through his relatives? Perhaps he can. But is it really necessary to have a cluster of four properties to tell
The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage? It seems so, or Enid’s undermind would have come up with something simpler. One can’t doubt her powers of story-telling.

Apparently, the Lorenzos have been notorious locally for having wild parties, for not paying their bills and for messing about on the river. ‘Midnight bathing in the river and hide-and-seek in the garden afterwards,’ is how Ern’s aunt describes the goings on. Perpetrators of a victimless crime, besotted with Poppet, lovers of the high-life, daring actors: from start to finish the Lorenzos are not exactly the villains you love to hate.

The Find-Outers base in this book is mostly Fatty’s shed. Several times Fatty and co make their way to Tally-Ho House on the river. On the map that follows I’ve marked their route from his house to the river in green. But I’ve let that be subsumed by Enid’s route, from Old Thatch to the riverside walk, which is marked in red. You must imagine Enid and the Find-Outers walking the rest of the way, due south, en masse, with Enid striding out in front, leading the way.

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Does this help find Tally-Ho House? Well, we do get there in the end (as you see from the yellow house symbol), but a bit of map morphing is required. The trouble is, the riverside path stops at Wharf Lane, before you even get to the railway bridge. In that first stretch there are a few properties by the river, but, as you can see from the aerial view below, they are small places with no road connection, because the railway runs just behind them, parallel to the river and to the riverside path (marked in red), cutting them off from the road network. Possibly this part of the riverside walk could have put Tally-Ho cottage and Ern’s aunt’s cottage in Enid’s mind, but not Tally-Ho House or High Chimneys.

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But how about if Enid - sitting three miles away in Green Hedges, Beaconsfield, remember - simply projected the riverside path to carry on south of the railway bridge? That’s what I’ve done with the help of Google, and after bit of walking (actually, the Find-Outers and Goon sometimes prefer to cycle to Tally-Ho House) you get to the lovely neck of the river shown below. Each of the houses has a drive, or a private road, that opens onto the lane called Riversdale.

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I thought it would be good to know what some of these riverside properties looked like. So I did what Fatty repeatedly does in the Mysteries, I consulted a local estate agent. From them I found out that a house called Toad Hall is currently for sale. Not a bad synonym for Tally-Ho House! In fact, if Toad doesn’t use the tally-ho expression when routing the weasels in the last chapter of
Wind in the Willows, then he lets himself down! Of course, I don’t now how long this house has been called Toad Hall. Could the name go all the way back to the Thirties, when Enid was living in Bourne End? Or to the Fifties when she was concocting this tale?

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Below is a view from the front garden of Toad Hall/Tally-Ho. The boathouse that crops up in the Mystery is to the right. Plenty room for a hypothetical cottage to the left, you’ll note. Perfect for wild parties and messing about on the river. I’m happy to think that this could be the place that Enid imagined the Lorenzos renting for six months back in the early 1950s. Except these photos were taken in summer while
Tally-Ho is set in winter.

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But we also need High Chimneys and the two cottages. So there they are in the aerial shot below, the cottages marked in yellow. Toad Hall, in the shadow of a cloud, is just to the north and west of ‘High Chimneys’. I’ve also marked with a blue tack a tree which overlooks the cottage in the ground of ‘’Tally-Ho House’.

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OK, this is where things get exciting. Because whether or not this is the authentic location of Tally-Ho cottage, I’ve been in touch with Viking Star who owns the Tally-Ho typescript and he’s sent me scans of a few pages from it. Ern’s aunt is called Mrs Woosh and here she is encouraging Ern into the garden:

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Up in the tree, Ern realises that he can smell the smoke from the chimney, it’s so near. His uncouth cousins suggest throwing stones down the chimney, but Ern won’t hear of this as any stones that missed will rattle on the tiles and bring out the Larkins in a fury. Instead he starts to plan the building of the tree-shed.

This tree-house scenario, which is fundamental to the story, is not reflected in any of the cover art of the UK editions. In a German edition of the book, pictured below, whose title has been changed to
The Mystery of the Stolen Picture, a fair stab has been made at rendering the tree-house and Tally-Ho cottage. But where is Tally-Ho House or the river? Actually, it’s not such a fair stab when one recalls that the tree containing the tree-house is supposed to be an evergreen fir. No doubt Enid defined it as such so as to explain why there was copious greenery on its branches in mid-winter.

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The first time Fatty goes to Tally-Ho he’s made up to look like an Indian, wearing a turban. The turban itself, plus the suntan Fatty has got from his time abroad, is enough to produce the effect he wants. He doesn’t want a crowd of kids following him around!

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He makes his way to the river, then along the river-path for a fair distance.
‘Fatty came to the river-gate leading into the grounds of Tally-Ho. It was only a small wicket-gate, quite unlike the two imposing drive-gates at the front of the big house, through which so many cars had driven in and out that summer.

Fatty climbs over the fence into the grounds. He goes over to the big deserted house. Take it away Enid:

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Fatty walks round the house and bumps into Mr Larkin.

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Fatty explains that he’s Mr Hoho-Ha from Bong Castle, India, looking for his friends the Lorenzos. (Tally-Hoho Ha!) Meanwhile Mr Hoho-Ha has been spotted by Ern’s cousins, Liz and Glad, up in the tree-house and they excitedly report his presence to Ern. Ern goes through the hedge and bumps into Goon. Goon is not pleased to see his nephew but relents when Ern volunteers to follow the foreigner.
‘Fatty went along the river-path and turned up into Peterswood village. Ern stalked him, keeping in the shadows.’ Eventually, Fatty makes a bolt for home and gets changed. Farce ensues between Fatty and Goon when the latter shows up, after which Ern is told that he nearly got Fatty into a lot of trouble. But it’s OK, Fatty Hoho-Ha lives to fight another day!

The Find-Outers are joined by Ern in the Hiltons’ playroom the next day. Bets asks Ern if he’s come up with any poems recently. Ern obliges with the beginning of one.

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Needless to say this poem has been toned down in recent editions, rhyming cold with scold instead of nippin and whippin. As well as being humorous, the verse underlines what turns out to be an important plot element.

Soon it’s reported that the Lorenzos have been seen in Maidenhead. Ern reckons they might visit Tally-Ho to fetch their beloved poodle. So it’s decided that Ern should be up in the tree-house keeping watch and Fatty should do a bit of scouting around.

Tally-Ho two, then. Funny, we’re more than half-way through the book and this is only the second visit to Tally-Ho, yet by the end of the book Fatty will have made his way there six times. As a special treat here’s a whole page from the typescript, the final one that Viking Star has so generously provided:

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The sentence carries on: ‘...
were going to, they would disguise themselves too thoroughly to be easily recognised!’

Fatty lets himself in at the gate. Ern lets him know he’s in position by hooting like an owl. Fatty is making his way around Tally-Ho House when he realises there’s someone else there.

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Actually, it’s two policemen, one of whom is Goon. Goon tells his constable to arrest Fatty, but while the policemen debate this dubious act, Fatty slips away. Ern ends up getting accidentally locked out of his aunt’s house and has to stay in the tree-house all night. He sleeps for two hours then wakes to the sound of a humming engine. Then he hears another noise and sits up. He looks towards the river and realises that the splashing he can hear is from swans and their offspring. He’s still half asleep when he thinks he hears people talking and a dog barking, but is he dreaming?

In the morning, Ern wakes to the noise of Goon and the other policeman who have been locked up in the boiler-house of Tally-Ho House. Goon wants to blame Fatty for this, but Fatty knows he didn’t lock them in, therefore someone else must have. Ern comes to see Fatty later in the morning and they swop notes. The fact that Ern thinks he heard Poppet’s happy bark at night allows Fatty to deduce that the Lorenzos made a visit in the night. He suspects that they have taken the dog away from the district, so the next step is to see if the pooch has indeed gone.

Tally-Ho three, then. The Find-Outers cycle by way of the river-path because the Larkins’ cottage is so near it. They knock on the door and are asked in. Apparently, Mrs Larkin is not well and has Poppet in the bed with her. Strange! Bets asks to see the dog but Mr Larkin says no. Outside again, they hear Poppet and then they see her through the window, seeming quite happy. Could the Larkins be hiding the Lorenzos?

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Having retreated to regroup, the Find Outers enjoy cocoa in Fatty’s shed. They feel sure the Lorenzos arrived in the middle of the night of Ern’s vigil, and that Poppet is happy because Mrs Lorenzo is around. They must try and get a good look round both properties though. And in order to do so, Fatty will disguise himself as an electricity man and ask to read the meter.

Tally-Ho four. At half-past two everyone except Ern assembles at Fatty’s shed on their bikes. Buster is running alongside as they make their way down to the river.

Wait - we’re not going to the river path this time!’ said Larry, as they all turned down the river road. ‘We’ve forgotten, we’re going to the drive-gates that open on to the lane that leads out of the main road.’ In other words, they cycle along the Marlow Road and turn off at Riversdale.

The Find-Outers find the gates to the drive are locked and they realise the Lorenzos couldn’t have come in that way. Seeing swans on the river, Bets wonders if Ern might have heard a motor boat in the night. They find a rowing boat called Tally-Ho in the boat house. But at that point they hear Ern’s whistle from the tree house, the signal that means he’s spotted Mrs Larkin moving about. Cue Fatty-the-electricity-man who bluffs his way inside Tally-Ho cottage. Fatty has already worked out that there is no upstairs and at most three rooms downstairs. He checks out the front room and the back room which is a bedroom. The third room is an untidy kitchen with a miserable little larder. He concludes that the Lorenzos could not possibly be hiding in the cottage.

Back at the boat house, the Find Outers realise that the river flows between Peterswood and Maidenhead, where the Lorenzos had been spotted. So they may well have come up river by a motor boat that was met by the Tally-Ho rowing boat. Perhaps they had the stolen picture with them and have hidden it somewhere at Tally-Ho. It’s at this point the Find-Outers come across the bonfire, made by Larkin, and discover the crate with the Maidenhead clue in it. Wow, aren’t the Find-Outers cutting through this mystery!

They spot Goon on the trail of Mr Larkin. Larkin disappears but Fatty gets the idea that it would be good fun to disguise himself as Larkin and have Goon follow him around. This would pay back Goon for telling the Chief that it had been Fatty that had locked Goon and the other policeman in the boiler-shed. So Fatty gets into disguise number three in his shed, then slips out when it gets dark. Soon Goon is following Fatty, who leads him a merry dance. But in the end Fatty decides to make Goon think that Larkin is going home to his cottage.

Tally-ho five:
‘Down to the river - along the river path - through the little wicket-gate - up the path to Larkin’s cottage which stood under the shadow of the tall tree in which was Ern’s house’

Fatty hides in a bush and Goon hammers on the front door of the cottage. Larkin finds himself addressed by a furious Goon and shuts the door on him. Shortly after, Mrs Larkin comes out to the dustbin, spots Fatty dressed as the husband she’s just seen indoors, and screams. A few minutes later Goon comes across both Larkin and Fatty (dressed as Larkin) who have run into each other!

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The sight freaks out poor Goon who runs away, having had his evening completely spoilt by the entity called Larkin. Fatty decides to take a look at Tally-Ho House. He comes across a ladder which is proof that someone has been trying to gain access to the interior. Fatty too then panics and tears off at top speed. Either Enid wanted to call it a day and end Chapter 20 quickly, or she wanted to save subsequent revelations until tally-ho six. Which maybe comes to the same thing.

Back home, in his bath, Fatty recalls that when he bumped into Larkin , the man said:
‘How did you get back? What have you come for?’ Now why would Larkin say that?

Next morning, Enid remembers to tell us that Fatty has had to get up at 8am and fetch his bike from where he left it close to Goon’s house. Back at home, Fatty updates his team, including Ern, with what went down the previous evening, and they all cycle back to Tally-Ho. (Tally-ho six.) Fatty notices that the ladder is gone. They walk round the house to see if it’s been ransacked. They come to the last window which is the one that Fatty looked through earlier in the book. Over to Enid, typing furiously:

His eyes slid round, remembering everything - and then he frowned. Something was missing. He was sure it was. Something that had puzzled him. Yes - there had been a little rubber bone on the floor, beside that stool. But it was gone now!

At the cottage Bets bumps into Mrs Larkin and Poppet. Indeed, she spots the rubber bone.
‘I’m glad that horrid Mrs Larkin is so much nicer to dear little Poppet,’ said Bets. ‘Honestly, she might be Mrs Lorenzo the way she fusses her now.’ From this Fatty realises that since the night of the stake-out, the Lorenzos have taken the place of the Larkins, disguised as them. Which explains why ‘Larkin’ said what he did when he bumped into Fatty. Rather than two Larkins being around that night, neither of them was the real Larkin! (Enid did like to lark around: always larkin’ about she was.)

Fatty lets the Inspector know that he’s found the Lorenzos. So the Inspector turns up at Tally-Ho cottage. The Lorenzos are exposed and Goon is humiliated. But what about the stolen painting? Well, Fatty tells the Chief that Bets had seen a nice rug being put under the dog’s basket that morning. Fatty reckons that the picture may be sewn inside the rug which was probably backed with hessian. But where is the rug now?

Ern is able to tell the assembled company that his cousins, Glad and Liz, had dutifully reported to him a rug being hung on the line - and beaten - by Mrs Larkin that very morning. The rug is still hanging there, so it’s taken down and slit open. Inside, just as Fatty has predicted, is the picture, packed flat in grease-proof paper and quite unharmed. Unharmed? After Mrs Larkin had handed out a whippin’?!

‘Phew! Fifty thousand pounds worth of picture sewn inside a rug!’ said the Chief. ‘It makes me feel quite ill. Take it to the car, Sergeant.’

What does this say about Enid’s attitude to art? First, the painting being hung on a washing line and beaten. Second, Enid not even glancing at the masterpiece. What was it? A Renaissance portrait? A Constable landscape?
Sunflowers? Well, in the absence of Enid bothering to tell us, and if you’ll forgive the indulgence, I’m going to try and describe it.

I said in the ‘BOURNE END FOREVER’ page on this site that Stanley Spencer - who lived in Cookham for a few years while Enid lived just the other side of the Thames in Bourne End - is a painter I greatly admire. There is now a permanent Stanley Spencer gallery in Cookham, and in 2012 a painting was stolen from it. The
South Bucks Gazettte reported the theft in terms that wouldn’t have seemed out of place back in The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage (1954):

‘THIEVES have stolen a distinctive painting by renowned British artist Sir Stanley Spencer. The artwork, entitled ‘Cookham from Englefield’, was taken from the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham High Street. The theft happened just before 1am yesterday morning, police revealed this afternoon. Both the gallery and the private owner who had loaned it are devastated, police said. The oil on canvas painting, created in 1948, was taken after a window was smashed at the gallery. Police were alerted by a member of the public.’

Below is a map which places the gallery and the painting in a geographical context. That is, the gallery (marked by a single yellow house symbol) is in the centre of Cookham, not far over the road bridge from the southern edge of Bourne End. The painting is a landscape, a view of Cookham painted by Spencer while standing in the garden of Englefield House (marked by a green tack) on Poundfield Lane.

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And the painting itself? Well, obviously I’m going to show you it. Especially as it puts in mind the evergreen fir in which Ern built the tree-house for himself and his cousins. In fact, it gives you a choice of evergreens, one being an old cedar that was chopped down in 2011. (A double-whammy for Cookham: great tree gone in 2011, corresponding painting stolen in 2012.)


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So why was the stolen painting given a beating in
Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage? That is the real mystery, or at least the one that I will try and solve in these last few paragraphs. Well, first you have to bear in mind who it was that was wielding the carpet beater. It was Enid herself, albeit via her Mrs Lorenzo/Larkin personas. And what was Enid saying as she was doing the beating? I’m afraid she was declaiming: “Dirty little man... Smelly little man... Stanley the tramp...”

You see, I don’t think Enid would have recognised Stanley Spencer’s genius. Spencer had two children from his first wife in Cookham, then married a lesbian who wouldn’t treat him with respect never mind sleep with him, and to whom he signed over the house that his first family lived in. What an idiot! Enid would have had no time for such unbalanced behaviour. Wasn’t it possible to do your imaginative work and retain some kind of control of your personal life? Of course it was! Enid was living proof that you could. For all that she’s been retrospectively criticised for being a cold and inadequate mother.

And so Enid would probably not have been aware of Spencer’s visionary paintings, which is such a shame. He portrayed Cookham as ‘A village in Heaven’, using that phrase, as well as the phrase, ‘The church of me’. He took everyday scenes in Cookham and transformed them into sublime visions. He took events from the Bible and transferred them to the houses and streets he’d grown up in. The people in his paintings are so fond of the lives they’ve lived in Cookham that after they die they’re resurrected, to live again and forever those simple-yet-sacred country lives. His project had much in common with Enid’s. Wasn’t Enid portraying Bourne End as a village in Heaven? And what is the Mystery series, if not, at a deep level in Enid, ‘The church of me’. See her children! See them young again! And alive forever!

The picture below is a detail from
The Resurrection, Cookham. It’s typical of Spencer’s more visionary style of painting. In the foreground you can see Glad and Liz emerging from their coffin. Why have they been resurrected? Because they want again to be in the tree house having dinner with Ern. They want once more to be throwing stones down the chimney of Tally-Ho cottage. They want again and again to feel the wind in their faces, whether accompanied by January frost or June sun, while watching Mr Hoho-Ha, dressed in a gay turban, pull the wool over Goon’s eyes.

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This is what Stanley Spencer looked like, a self-portrait from 1951, painted just three years before
The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage was published. The portrait reminds me of how Larkin is portrayed by Treyer Evans. Perhaps Evans was given a photograph of this painting to work from!

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Actually, the image of the two Larkins being looked down on by a startled Goon is really two Stanley Spencers. First, Fatty, dressed as Larkin, whose appearance was based on the Spencer whom Enid must have seen pushing his distinctly odd pramfull of painting gear through the streets of Cookham and, occasionally, Bourne End. Second, Lorenzo, dressed as Larkin, who’d been told to disguise himself as Stanley Spencer so that he could steal a Spencer painting in broad daylight from the lesbian’s house in Cookham. Tally-ho!

When Stanley Spencer died in 1959, he asked whichever friend or family member was by his bedside to read aloud from
Wind in the Willows, his favourite book, in part because it was written by Kenneth Grahame while living nearby at Cookham Dene decades earlier. Shame, really. I say ‘shame’ because there never was a meeting of minds between those two contemporary visionaries, Enid and Stanley, the lady and the tramp. No hands across the water from Bourne End to Cookham, or vice versa. Otherwise, on his deathbed, Stanley would surely have been asking to be read aloud from the Mystery series.




Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Viking Star for providing scans of pages from the Tally-Ho typescript. Internal illustrations from the original Methuen edition of The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage are taken from the Cave of Books on the Enid Blyton Society website, which is the work of Tony Summerfield. Thanks to Google for use of their mapping facilities.

Note: If any copyright holder wishes an image to be removed from this page then they should contact me and I will do as they ask.