The Sea of Adventure, Page 2Enid Blyton
‘Can we really go? All by ourselves?’
‘When? Do say when!’
‘Tomorrow! Can’t we go tomorrow? Golly, I feel better just at the thought of it!’
‘Mother! Whatever made you think of it? Honestly, it’s wizard!’
Kiki sat on Jack’s shoulder, listening to the Babel of noise. The rats hidden about Philip’s clothes burrowed deeply for safety, scared of such a sudden outburst of voices.
‘Give me a chance to explain,’ said Mrs Mannering. ‘There’s an expedition setting out in two days’ time for some of the lonely coasts and islands off the north of Britain. Just a few naturalists, and one boy, the son of Dr Johns, the ornithologist.’
All the children knew what an ornithologist was – one who loved and studied birds and their ways. Philip’s father had been a bird-lover. He was dead now, and the boy often wished he had known him, for he was very like him in his love for all wild creatures.
‘Dr Johns!’ said Philip. ‘Why – that was one of Daddy’s best friends.’
‘Yes,’ said his mother. ‘I met him last week and he was telling me about this expedition. His boy is going, and he wondered if there was any chance of you and Dinah going, Philip. You weren’t at all well then, and I said no at once. But now . . .’
‘But now we can!’ cried Philip, giving his mother a sudden hug. ‘Fancy you thinking of somebody like Miss Lawson, when you knew about this! How could you?’
‘Well – it seems a long way for you to go,’ said Mrs Mannering. ‘And it wasn’t exactly the kind of holiday I had imagined for you. Still, if you think you’d like it, I’ll ring up Dr Johns and arrange for him to add four more to his bird-expedition if he can manage it.’
‘Of course he’ll be able to manage it!’ cried Lucy-Ann. ‘We shall be company for his boy, too, Aunt Allie. I say – won’t it be absolutely lovely to be up so far north, in this glorious early summer weather?’
The children felt happy and cheerful that teatime as they discussed the expedition. To go exploring among the northern islands, some of them only inhabited by birds! To swim and sail and walk, and watch hundreds, no, thousands of wild birds in their daily lives! . . .
‘There’ll be puffins up there,’ said Jack happily. ‘Thousands of them. They go there in nesting time. I’ve always wanted to study them, they’re such comical-looking birds.’
‘Puff-puff-puffin,’ said Kiki at once, thinking it was an invitation to let off her railway-engine screech. But Jack stopped her sternly.
‘No, Kiki. No more of that. Frighten the gulls and cormorants, the guillemots and the puffins all you like with that awful screech when we get to them – but you are not to let it off here. It gets on Aunt Allie’s nerves.’
‘What a pity, what a pity!’ said Kiki mournfully. ‘Puff-puff, ch-ch-ch!’
‘Idiot,’ said Jack, and ruffled the parrot’s feathers. She sidled towards him on the tea-table, and rubbed her beak against his shoulder. Then she pecked a large strawberry out of the jar of jam.
‘Oh, Jack!’ began Mrs Mannering, ‘you know I don’t like Kiki on the table at mealtimes – and really, that’s the third time she’s helped herself to strawberries out of the jam.’
‘Put it back, Kiki,’ ordered Jack at once. But that didn’t please Mrs Mannering either. Really, she thought, it would be very very nice and peaceful when the four children and the parrot were safely off on their holiday.
The children spent a very happy evening talking about the coming holiday. The next day Jack and Philip looked out their field-glasses and cleaned them up. Jack hunted for his camera, a very fine one indeed.
‘I shall take some unique pictures of the puffins,’ he told Lucy-Ann. ‘I hope they’ll be nesting when we get there, Lucy-Ann, though I think we might be a bit too early to find eggs.’
‘Do they nest in trees?’ asked Lucy-Ann. ‘Can you take pictures of their nests too, and the puffins sitting on them?’
Jack smiled. ‘Puffins don’t nest in trees,’ he explained. ‘They nest in burrows underground.’
‘Gracious!’ said Lucy-Ann. ‘Like rabbits!’
‘Well, they even take rabbit burrows for nesting-places sometimes,’ said Jack. ‘It will be fun to see puffins scuttling underground to their nests. I bet they will be as tame as anything too, because on some of these bird-islands nobody has ever been known to set foot – so the birds don’t know enough to fly off when people arrive.’
‘You could have puffins for pets, easily, then,’ said Lucy-Ann. ‘I bet Philip will. I bet he’ll only just have to whistle and all the puffins will come huffing and puffing to meet him.’
Everyone laughed at Lucy-Ann’s comical way of putting things. ‘Huffin and puffin,’ said Kiki, scratching her head. ‘Huffin and puffin, poor little piggy-wiggy-pig.’
‘Now what’s she talking about?’ said Jack. ‘Kiki, you do talk a lot of rubbish.’
‘Poor little piggy-wiggy-pig,’ repeated Kiki solemnly. ‘Huffin and puffin, huffin and . . .’
Philip gave a shout of laughter. ‘I know! She’s remembered hearing the tale of the wolf and the three little pigs – don’t you remember how the wolf came huffing and puffing to blow their house down? Oh, Kiki – you’re a marvel!’
‘She’ll give the puffins something to think about,’ said Dinah. ‘Won’t you, Kiki? They’ll wonder what sort of a freak has come to visit them. Hallo – is that the telephone bell?’
‘Yes,’ said Jack, thrilled. ‘Aunt Allie has put through a call to Dr Johns – to tell him we’ll join his expedition – but he was out, so she asked for him to ring back when he got home. I bet that’s his call.’
The children crowded out into the hall, where the telephone was. Mrs Mannering was already there. The children pressed close to her, eager to hear everything.
‘Hallo!’ said Mrs Mannering. ‘Is that Dr Johns? – oh, it’s Mrs Johns. Yes, Mrs Mannering here. What’s that? Oh . . . I’m so dreadfully sorry. How terrible for you! Oh, I do so hope it isn’t anything serious. Yes, yes, of course, I quite understand. He will have to put the whole thing off – till next year perhaps. Well, I do hope you’ll have good news soon. You’ll be sure to let us know, won’t you? Goodbye.’
She hung up the receiver and turned to the children with a solemn face. ‘I’m so sorry, children – but Dr Johns has been in a car accident this morning – he’s in hospital, so, of course, the whole expedition is off.’
Off! No bird-islands after all – no glorious carefree time in the wild seas of the north! What a terrible disappointment!
Everyone was upset. They were sorry for Mrs Johns, of course, and for her husband – but as they didn’t know them at all, except as old friends of Mr Mannering long ago, the children felt far, far more miserable about their own disappointment.
‘We’d talked about it such a lot – and made such plans – and got everything ready,’ groaned Philip, looking sadly at the field-glasses hanging nearby in their brown leather cases. ‘Now Mother will look for another Miss Lawson.’
‘No, I won’t,’ said Mrs Mannering. ‘I’ll give up my new job, and take you away myself. I can’t bear to see you so disappointed, poor things.’
‘No, darling Aunt Allie, you shan’t do that!’ said Lucy-Ann, flinging herself on Mrs Mannering. ‘We wouldn’t let you. Oh dear – whatever can we do?’
Nobody knew. It seemed as if their sudden disappointment made everyone incapable of further planning. The bird-holiday or nothing, the bird-holiday or nothing – that was the thought in all the children’s minds. They spent the rest of the day pottering about miserably, getting on each other’s nerves. One of their sudden quarrels blew up between Philip and Dinah, and with yells and shouts they belaboured one another in a way they had not done for at least a year.
Lucy-Ann began to cry. Jack yelled angrily.
‘Stop hitting Dinah, Philip. You’ll hurt her!’
But Dinah could give as good as she got,
and there was a loud crack as she slapped Philip full across his cheek. Philip caught her hands angrily, and she kicked him. He tripped her up, and down she went on the floor, with her brother rolling over and over too. Lucy-Ann got out of their way, still crying. Kiki flew up to the electric light, and cackled loudly. She thought Philip and Dinah were playing.
There was such a noise that nobody heard the telephone bell ringing again. Mrs Mannering, frowning at the yells and bumps from the playroom, went to answer it. Then she suddenly appeared at the door of the playroom, her face beaming.
It changed when she saw Dinah and Philip fighting on the floor. ‘Dinah! Philip! Get up at once! You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, quarrelling like this now that you are so big. I’ve a good mind not to tell you who that was on the telephone.’
Philip sat up, rubbing his flaming cheek. Dinah wriggled away, holding her arm. Lucy-Ann mopped her tears, and Jack scowled down at the pair on the floor.
‘What a collection of bad-tempered children!’ said Mrs Mannering. Then she remembered that they all had had measles badly, and were probably feeling miserable and bad-tempered after their disappointment that day.
‘Listen,’ she said, more gently, ‘guess who that was on the telephone.’
‘Mrs Johns, to say that Dr Johns is all right after all,’ suggested Lucy-Ann hopefully.
Mrs Mannering shook her head. ‘No – it was old Bill.’
‘Bill! Hurrah! So he’s turned up again at last,’ cried Jack. ‘Is he coming to see us?’
‘Well – he was very mysterious,’ said Mrs Mannering. ‘Wouldn’t say who he was – just said he might pop in tonight, late – if nobody else was here. Of course I knew it was Bill. I’d know his voice anywhere.’
Quarrels and bad temper were immediately forgotten. The thought of seeing Bill again was like a tonic. ‘Did you tell him we’d had measles and were all at home?’ demanded Philip. ‘Does he know he’ll see us too?’
‘No – I hadn’t time to tell him anything,’ said Mrs Mannering. ‘I tell you, he was most mysterious – hardly on the telephone for half a minute. Anyway, he’ll be here tonight. I wonder why he didn’t want to come if anyone else was here.’
‘Because he doesn’t want anyone to know where he is, I should think,’ said Philip. ‘He must be on one of his secret missions again. Mother, we can stay up to see him, can’t we?’
‘If he isn’t later than half-past nine,’ said Mrs Mannering.
She went out of the room. The four looked at one another. ‘Good old Bill,’ said Philip. ‘We haven’t seen him for ages. Hope he comes before half-past nine.’
‘Well, I jolly well shan’t go to sleep till I hear him come,’ said Jack. ‘Wonder why he was so mysterious.’
The children expected to see Bill all the evening, and were most disappointed when no car drove up, and nobody walked up to the front door. Half-past nine came, and no Bill.
‘I’m afraid you must all go to bed,’ said Mrs Mannering. ‘I’m sorry – but really you all look so tired and pale. That horrid measles! I do feel so sorry that that expedition is off – it would have done you all the good in the world.’
The children went off to bed, grumbling. The girls had a bedroom at the back, and the boys at the front. Jack opened the window and looked out. It was a dark night. No car was to be heard, nor any footsteps.
‘I shall listen for Bill,’ he told Philip. ‘I shall sit here by the window till he comes. You get into bed. I’ll wake you if I hear him.’
‘We’ll take it in turns,’ said Philip, getting into bed. ‘You watch for an hour, then wake me up, and I’ll watch.’
In the back bedroom the girls were already in bed. Lucy-Ann wished she could see Bill. She loved him very much – he was so safe and strong and wise. Lucy-Ann had no father or mother, and she often wished that Bill was her father. Aunt Allie was a lovely mother, and it was nice to share her with Philip and Dinah. She couldn’t share their father because he was dead.
‘I hope I shall keep awake and hear Bill when he comes,’ she thought. But soon she was fast asleep, and so was Dinah. The clock struck half-past ten, and then eleven.
Jack woke Philip. ‘Nobody has come yet,’ he said. ‘Your turn to watch, Tufty. Funny that he’s so late, isn’t it?’
Philip sat down at the window. He yawned. He listened but he could hear nothing. And then he suddenly saw a streak of bright light as his mother, downstairs, pulled back a curtain, and the light flooded into the garden.
Philip knew what it was, of course – but he suddenly stiffened as the light struck on something pale, hidden in a bush by the front gate. The something was moved quickly back into the shadows, but Philip had guessed what it was.
‘That was someone’s face I saw! Somebody is hiding in the bushes by the gate. Why? It can’t be Bill. He’d come right in. Then it must be somebody waiting in ambush for him. Golly!’
He slipped across to the bed and awoke Jack. He whispered to him what he had seen. Jack was out of bed and by the window at once. But he could see nothing, of course. Mrs Mannering had drawn the curtain back over the window, and no light shone out now. The garden was in darkness.
‘We must do something quickly,’ said Jack. ‘If Bill comes, he’ll be knocked out, if that’s what that man there is waiting for. Can we warn Bill? It’s plain he knows there’s danger for himself, or he wouldn’t have been so mysterious on the telephone – and insisted he couldn’t come if anyone else was here. I wish Aunt Allie would go to bed. What’s the time? The clock struck eleven some time ago, I know.’
There came the sound of somebody clicking off lights and a door closing. ‘It’s Mother,’ said Philip. ‘She’s not going to wait any longer. She’s coming up to bed. Good! Now the house will be in darkness, and maybe that fellow will go.’
‘We’ll have to see that he does,’ said Jack. ‘Do you suppose Bill will come now, Philip? – it’s getting very late.’
‘If he says he will, he will,’ said Philip ‘Sh – here’s Mother.’
Both boys hopped into bed and pretended to be asleep. Mrs Mannering switched the light on, and then, seeing that both boys were apparently sound asleep, she switched it off again quickly. She did the same in the girls’ room, and then went to her own room.
Philip was soon sitting by the window again, eyes and ears open for any sign of the hidden man in the bushes below. He thought he heard a faint cough.
‘He’s still there,’ he said to Jack. ‘He must have got wind of Bill coming here tonight.’
‘Or more likely still, he knows that Bill is a great friend of ours, and whatever gang he belongs to has sent a man to watch in that bush every night,’ said Jack. ‘He’s hoping that Bill will turn up sooner or later. Bill must have a lot of enemies. He’s always tracking down crooks and criminals.’
‘Listen,’ said Philip, ‘I’m going to creep out of the back door, and get through the hedge of the next-door garden, and out of their back gate, so as not to let that hidden man hear me. And I’m going up to watch for old Bill and warn him. He’ll come up the road, not down, because that’s the way he always comes.’
‘Good idea!’ said Jack. ‘I’ll come too.’
‘No. One of us must watch to see what that man down there does,’ said Philip. ‘We’ll have to know if he’s there or not. I’ll go. You stay at the window. If I find Bill coming along I’ll warn him and turn him back.’
‘All right,’ said Jack, wishing he had the exciting job of creeping about the dark gardens to go and meet Bill. ‘Give him our love – and tell him to phone us if he can, and we’ll meet him somewhere safe.’
Philip slipped quietly out of the room. There was still a light in his mother’s room, so he went very cautiously downstairs, anxious not to disturb her. She would be very scared if she knew about the hidden man.
He opened the back door quietly, shut it softly behind him, and went out into the dark garden. He had no torch, for he did not want to show any sign of himself at all.
/> He squeezed through a gap in the hedge, and came into the next-door garden. He knew it very well. He found the path, and then made his way quietly along the grass at the edge of it, afraid of making the gravel crunch a little if he walked on it.
Then he thought he heard a sound. He stopped dead and listened. Surely there wasn’t another man hiding somewhere? Could they be burglars, not men waiting for Bill, after all? Ought he to creep back and telephone to the police?
He listened again, straining his ears, and had a queer feeling that there was someone nearby, also listening. Listening for him, Philip, perhaps. It was not a nice thought, there in the darkness.
He took a step forward – and then suddenly someone fell on him savagely, pinned his arms behind him, and forced him on his face to the ground. Philip bit deep into the soft earth of a flower-bed, and choked. He could not even shout for help.
A visit from Bill – and a great idea
Philip’s captor was remarkably quiet in his movements. He had captured Philip with hardly a sound, and as the boy had not had time to utter a single cry, nobody had heard anything at all. Philip struggled frantically, for he was half choked with the soft earth that his face was buried in.
He was twisted over quickly, and a gag of some sort was put right across his mouth. His wrists, he found, were already tied together. Whatever could be happening? Did this fellow think he was Bill? But surely he knew that Bill was big and burly?
Trying to spit out the earth in his mouth behind the gag, Philip wriggled and struggled. But it was of no use, for his captor was strong and merciless.
He was picked up and carried to a summer-house, quite silently. ‘And now,’ hissed a voice, close to his ear, ‘how many more of you are there here? Tell me that, or you’ll be sorry. Grunt twice if there are more of you.’
Philip made no answer. He didn’t know what to do, grunt or not grunt. Instead he groaned, for his mouth was still full of earth, and it did not taste at all nice.