The River of Adventure, Page 2Enid Blyton
In the morning Bill was not at breakfast. All the children were down, and Lucy-Ann had even got down early enough to help to lay the table. They were pale, and rather languid, but very cheerful, and looking forward now to their holiday, even though the place chosen did not seem at all exciting – a quiet little village by the sea.
‘Where’s Bill?’ asked Dinah, in surprise at his empty place. ‘I didn’t hear him whistling while he was shaving. Has he gone out for an early-morning walk or something?’
‘No, dear – he had to leave hurriedly in the middle of the night,’ said her mother, looking depressed. ‘He had a telephone call – didn’t the bell wake you? Something urgent again, and Bill’s advice badly needed, of course! So he took the car and shot off. He’ll be back about eleven, I expect. I only hope it doesn’t mean that he’ll have to race off again somewhere, and disappear for weeks. It would be too bad so soon after he had come back!’
Bill returned about half-past eleven, and put the car away. He came whistling in at the side door, to be met by an avalanche of children.
‘Bill! Where have you been? You haven’t got to go away again, have you?’ cried Dinah.
‘Let me go, you limpets!’ said Bill, shaking them off. ‘Where’s your mother, Dinah?’
‘In the sitting-room,’ said Dinah. ‘Hurry up and talk to her. We want to hear your news too.’
Bill went into the sitting-room and shut the door firmly. The four children looked at one another.
‘I bet he’ll be sent off on another hush-hush affair,’ said Jack gloomily. ‘Poor Aunt Allie – just when she was looking forward to having him on a little holiday all to herself!’
Half an hour went by and the talking was still going on in the sitting-room, very low and earnest. Then the door was flung open and Bill yelled for the children.
‘Where are you, kids? Come along in – we’ve finished our talk.’
They all trooped in, Kiki on Jack’s shoulder as usual, murmuring something about ‘One-two, buckle my shoe, one-shoe, buckle my two!’
‘Shut up, Kiki,’ said Jack. ‘No interruptions, now!’
‘Listen,’ said Bill, when the children were all in the room and sitting down. ‘I’ve got to go off again.’
Everyone groaned. ‘Oh, Bill !’ said Lucy-Ann. ‘We were afraid of that. And you’ve only just come back.’
‘Where are you going?’ asked Jack.
‘That I’m not quite sure about,’ said Bill. ‘But briefly – and in strict confidence, mind – I’ve got to go and cast an eye on a man our Government are a bit suspicious of – they don’t quite know what he’s up to. It may not be anything, of course – but we just want to be sure. And they want me to fly out and spend a few days round about where he is and glean a few facts.’
‘Oh! So you may not be long?’ said Philip.
‘I don’t know. Maybe three or four days, maybe a fortnight,’ said Bill. ‘But two things are important – one, that nobody suspects I’m out there for any Government purpose – and two, that as the climate where I’m going is warm and summery, I feel you’d better all come too!’
There was a dead silence as this sank in – then a perfect chorus of shrieks and exclamations. Lucy-Ann flung herself on Bill.
‘All of us! Aunt Allie too! Oh, how marvellous! But how can you take us as well?’
‘Well, as I told you – nobody must suspect I’m a lone investigator snooping about on my own,’ said Bill. And therefore if I go as a family man, complete with a string of children recovering from illness, and a wife who needs a holiday, it will seem quite obvious that I can’t be what I really am – someone sent out on a secret mission.’
The children gazed at him in delight. A holiday somewhere abroad – with Bill and his wife! Could anything be better? ‘Wizard!’ thought Lucy-Ann. ‘I hope it’s not a dream!’
‘Where did you say it was? Oh, you didn’t say! Do we go to a hotel? What will there be to do? It’s not dangerous, is it, Bill – dangerous for you?
Questions poured out, and Bill shook his head and put his hands over his ears.
‘It’s no good asking me anything at the moment. I’ve only heard the outline of the affair myself – but I did say that as a kind of camouflage I could take you all with me, and pose as a family man – and it seemed to click, so I left the High-Ups to arrange everything. Honestly, that’s all I know at the moment. And don’t you dare to talk about this except in whispers.’
‘We won’t, Bill,’ Lucy-Ann assured him earnestly. ‘It shall be a dead secret.’
‘Secret!’ yelled Kiki, catching the general excitement and dancing up and down on the table. ‘Secret! High-up secret! High, high, up in the sky, wipe your feet, blow the secret!’
‘Well, if anyone’s going to give it away, it’s Kiki!’ said Bill, laughing. ‘Kiki, can’t you ever hold your tongue?’
Kiki couldn’t, but the others could, as Bill very well knew! They hurried out of the room and up the stairs and into a little boxroom. They shut the door, and looked at each other in excitement.
‘Whew!’ said Philip, letting out an enormous breath. ‘What a THRILL! Thank goodness for the flu! Now – let’s talk about it – in whispers, please!’
Away they go!
That weekend was full of excitement. The telephone went continually, and finally a small, discreet car drew up in the drive on Monday night, and three men got out; they went, as instructed, to the garden door, where Bill let them in. He called to the boys.
‘Philip! Jack! Go and sit in that little car out there and keep watch. I don’t think anyone is likely to be about, but you never know. These are important visitors, and although we don’t think anyone knows of their visit here, you may as well keep watch.’
The boys were thrilled. They crept out to the car, and sat there, hardly breathing! They kept a very sharp look-out indeed, scrutinizing every moving shadow, and stiffening every time a car came up the quiet road. The girls watched them enviously from an upstairs window, wishing they were hidden in the car too.
But nothing exciting happened at all. It was very disappointing. In fact, the boys got very tired of keeping watch, when two or three hours had gone by. They were very thankful indeed when they heard the garden door opening quietly and footsteps coming to the car.
‘Nothing to report, Bill,’ whispered Jack, and was just about to slip away with Philip when Kiki decided that the time had come to open her beak again. She had not been allowed to make a single sound in the car, and had sulked. Now she really let herself go!
‘Police! Fetch the police! PHEEEEEEEEE!’ She whistled exactly like a real police-whistle being blown, and everyone was electrified at once. Bill hadn’t heard Kiki’s newest achievement, and he clutched at one of the three men in alarm. All of them stood stock still and looked round in amazement.
Jack’s voice came penitently out of the darkness. ‘Sorry, Bill. It’s only Kiki’s latest. I’m awfully sorry!’
He fled indoors with Philip. Kiki, sensing his annoyance, flew off his shoulder and disappeared. She let herself down into the big waste-paper basket in the sitting-room, and sat there very quietly indeed. Outside there was the sound of an engine being revved up, and the car moved quietly out of the gateway and disappeared into the night. Bill came back indoors.
‘Well!’ he said, coming into the sitting-room and blinking at the bright light. ‘What came over Kiki to yell for the police like that? It nearly startled us out of our wits! My word, that whistle – it went clean through my head. Where is she? I’ve a few straight words to say to her!’
‘She’s hiding somewhere,’ said Jack. ‘She knows she shouldn’t have done that. She heard it on the radio the other night, and she keeps on calling for the police and doing that awful whistling. Bill, any news?’
‘Yes,’ said Bill, filling his pipe. ‘Quite a lot. Rather nice news too – we’re going to have some fun, children!’
‘Really, Bill?’ said his wife. ‘How?’
> ‘Well – the place we are going to – which I am not going to mention at present, in case Kiki is anywhere about, and shouts it all over the place – is quite a long way off, but as we are going by plane that won’t matter. And, my dears, the Powers-That-Be have decided that they will put a small river-launch at our disposal, so that we can go on a nice little trip and see the country – enabling me to make quite a lot of enquiries on our journey!’
‘It sounds great!’ said Philip, his eyes shining. ‘Absolutely tops! A river-launch of our own! My word, what a super holiday!’
‘It does sound good,’ said his mother. ‘When do we go, Bill? I’ll have to look out summer clothes again, you know’
‘We have to catch the plane on Wednesday night,’ said Bill. ‘Can you manage to be ready by then? Everything will be arranged for us at the other end – you won’t have to bother about a thing.’
Everyone was in a great state of excitement at once, and began to talk nineteen to the dozen, the words almost falling over themselves. In the midst of a little pause for breath, a loud hiccup was heard.
‘That’s Kiki!’ said Jack at once. ‘She always does that when she’s ashamed or embarrassed – and I bet she was horrified at her outburst in the dark garden. Where is she?’
A search began, but Kiki was not behind the thick curtains, nor under the chairs or tables. Another hiccup made everyone look about them, puzzled. ‘Where is she? We’ve looked absolutely everywhere. Kiki – come out, you fathead. You haven’t got hiccups – you’re putting them on.’
A sad and forlorn voice spoke from the depths of the waste-paper basket. ‘Poor Polly! Polly-Wolly-Olly all the day, poor Polly!’ There followed a tremendous sigh.
‘She’s in the waste-paper basket!’ cried Lucy-Ann, and ruffled all the papers there. Yes – Kiki was at the very bottom! She climbed out, her head hanging down, and walked awkwardly over the floor to Jack, climbed all the way up his foot and leg, up his body, to his shoulder.
‘I suppose you’ve forgotten how to fly!’ said Jack, amused. All right, you idiot – put up your crest and stop behaving like this. And DON’T shout for the police and blow that whistle any more!’
You’re going on a trip, Kiki,’ said Dinah. But the parrot was still pretending to be very upset, and hid her head in Jack’s collar. Nobody took any more notice of her, so she soon recovered, and began to enter into the conversation as usual.
After a while Mrs Cunningham gave a horrified exclamation. ‘Do you know what the time is? Almost midnight – and these children only just recovered from being ill! What am I thinking of? They’ll all be in bed again if we’re not careful! Go to bed at once, children.’
They went upstairs, laughing. They had quite thrown off the miserable feeling they had had with the flu – and now that this exciting trip lay in front of them, they all felt on top of the world.
‘I wonder where we’re going to,’ said Jack to Philip. ‘Bill didn’t tell us even when he thought Kiki wasn’t there.’
‘Bill’s always cagey about everything till we’re really off,’ said Philip. ‘It’s no use badgering him – and anyway, what does it matter? It’s wonderful to go off into the blue like this – literally into the blue, because we’re going to fly – instead of straight back to school.’
‘Lucy-Ann wouldn’t like to hear me say so – but it’s quite an adventure!’ said Jack. ‘Come on, get into bed. You must have brushed each of your teeth a hundred times.’
The next two days were very busy indeed. Summer clothes were taken from drawers and chests, canvas aeroplane-cases were thrown down from the loft by the boys, everyone hunted as usual for lost keys, and there was such a hubbub that Mrs Cunningham nearly went mad.
‘Hubbub!’ said Kiki, pleased with the new word, when she heard Bill complaining about it. ‘Hubbub, hip-hip-hubbub! Fetch the doctor, Hubbub!’
‘Oh, Kiki – I can’t help laughing at you, even though I’m so busy,’ said Mrs Cunningham. ‘You and your hubbubs! You’re a hubbub on your own.’
By Wednesday night all the bags were more or less neatly packed, the keys put safely in Bill’s wallet, and arrangements made for someone to come in and air the house, and dust it each day. Bill went to get the car from the garage, and at last it was time to start.
Bill drove to the airport. It was exciting to arrive there at night, for the place was full of lights of all kinds. A loud amplifier was giving directions.
‘Plane now arriving from Rome. Rome plane coming in.’
‘The plane for Geneva will leave ten minutes late.’
‘Plane arriving from Paris. Two minutes early’
The little company, with Kiki on Jack’s shoulder, sat in the waiting-room, for they were early. They began to feel sleepy in the warm room and Lucy-Ann felt her head nodding. Bill suddenly stood up.
‘Here’s our plane. Come on. We’ll have to keep together, now. Don’t let Kiki fly off your shoulder or scream or anything, Jack. Put her under your coat.’
Kiki grumbled away under Jack’s coat, but as she felt a little overcome by the constant roar of arriving and departing planes, she said nothing out loud. Soon all six of them, and Kiki too, were safely in their plane-seats.
They were exceedingly comfortable, and the air hostess plied them with food and drink at once, which pleased the children immensely.
There was nothing to be seen outside the plane as it flew steadily through the night. The weather was good, the skies were clear and calm. All the children slept soundly in their tipped-back seats. Kiki, rather astonished at everything, settled under Jacks coat and went to sleep too.
The plane flew on and on. Stars faded in the sky. Dawn crept in from the east, and the sky became silver and then golden. The sun showed over the far horizon and the children awoke one by one, wondering at first where they were.
‘Another two or three hours and we’re there,’ said Bill. Anyone want anything to eat? Here’s our kind air hostess again.’
‘I wish I lived on an aeroplane,’ said Jack, when the air hostess brought them a tray full of most delicious food. ‘Why is food always so super on a plane? Look at these enormous peaches – and I don’t think I’ve ever tasted such delicious sandwiches!’
‘This is fun!’ said Lucy-Ann, taking her fourth sandwich. ‘Jack, stop Kiki – that’s her second peach, and she’s spilling juice all over me!’
Yes, it was fun! What a bit of luck that Bill had to go on this trip!
What part of the world is this?
The children spent a good bit of time after that looking out of the windows and seeing the earth below. They were flying high, and very often wide stretches of white cloud, looking like fields of dazzling snow, lay below them. Then came gaps in the clouds and far down they could see hills and rivers and tiny towns or villages.
There was a great bustle when the plane at last landed on a long runway. Many men ran up, steps were wheeled here and there, luggage was unloaded, passengers streamed out of the plane and were soon greeted by friends.
A big car was waiting for Bill and his family. They were soon seated comfortably in it, and a very brown-skinned man drove them away.
‘Everything laid on, you see,’ said Bill. ‘We are going to a fairly small place called Barira, where there is a very comfortable hotel. I don’t want to stay in a large place, where someone might possibly recognize me. In fact, from now on I’m going to wear dark glasses.’
The ‘small place’ was a long way away, and it took the car three hours to get there. The road was very bumpy in parts, and ran through country that was sometimes very well wooded and sometimes bare and desert-like. But at last they arrived, and the big car stopped outside a rambling hotel, white-washed from top to bottom.
The hotel manager himself came to receive them, small and plump, with a very big nose. He bowed himself almost to the ground, and then barked out very sharp orders in a language the children did not understand. Porters came up and unpacked the luggage from the ca
r, perspiring in the hot sun.
‘You wish to wash, Madame?’ said the hotel manager. ‘Everything is most ready, and we speak a hearty welcome to you.’
He bowed them into the hotel and took them to their rooms. These were spacious and airy, and very simply furnished. The children were delighted to find a shower bath in their rooms. Jack promptly stripped and stood underneath the tepid shower.
‘Any idea where we’ve come to, Philip?’ he called. ‘I know Bill said it was somewhere called Barira, but I’ve never heard of it in my life.’
Bill came into their room just then. ‘Well, everything all right?’ he said. ‘Where are the girls? Oh, is that their room next to yours? Good! Ours is just across the landing if you want us. We’re to have a meal in about a quarter of an hour’s time. Come and bang on our door when you’re ready.’
‘Hey Bill – what part of the world are we in?’ called Jack. ‘The men we’ve seen look like Arabs.’
Bill laughed. ‘Don’t you know where we are? Well, we’re some way from the borders of Syria – a very old part of the world indeed! Tell the girls to join you as soon as they can, will you?’
The small hotel proved to be extremely comfortable. Even Kiki was made welcome, after the manager had got over the shock of seeing the parrot perched on Jack’s shoulder.
‘Ha – what you call him – parrot!’ said the little manager. ‘Pretty Poll, eh?’
‘Wipe your feet,’ said Kiki, much to the man’s surprise. ‘Shut the door!’
The small man was not sure whether to obey or not. ‘Funny bird!’ he said. ‘He is so much clever! He spiks good. Polly, polly!’
‘Polly put the kettle on,’ said Kiki, and gave a screech that made the man hurry out of the room at once.
There were no other guests at the hotel. The children sat in the shade on a verandah overhung with clusters of brilliant red flowers. Enormous butterflies fluttered among them. Kiki watched these with much interest. She knew butterflies at home, but these didn’t seem at all the same. She talked to herself, and the waiters going to and fro regarded her with awe. When one of them coughed, and Kiki imitated him exactly, he looked very scared and ran off quickly.