The Beginning of the Adventures
Three children ran down a rocky path to the seashore. Tom went first, a small, wiry boy of twelve, his red hair gleaming in the sun. He looked round at the two girls following, and his green eyes twinkled.
"Want any help, you two?"
Mary and Jill laughed in scorn.
"Don't be so silly, Tom," said Mary. "We're as good as you any day when we're running over the rocks."
The girls were twins, and very like each other, with their heads of thick golden hair, tied in plaits, and their deep blue eyes. They often laughed at their brother Tom, and said he should have been called Carrots or Ginger or Marmalade, because of his red hair.
They were all on holiday, staying in a little fishing-village on the north-east coast of Scotland. Their father was in the Air Force, and their mother was with them, knitting hard all day long in the garden of the little white house where they were staying.
The three of them had run wild, and were all burnt as brown as monkeys. Usually they wore nothing but bathing costumes and rubber shoes, and spent as much of their time in the sea as out of it.
At first their mother had been afraid of the big waves that crashed on the shore, for she had thought the three children would surely be thrown on to the sand and hurt, if they tried to bathe in such a rough sea. But they had soon learnt to swim right through the heart of the big breaking waves, and reach the calmer water beyond the shore.
They had one great friend—Andy, the fisher-boy. He was a big, strong lad of fourteen, who had just left school and was helping his father with his fishing. Andy was dark-haired and blue-eyed, and was burnt dark brown by the sun. He knew everything about the sea, boats, and fishing. He could mimic any sea-bird, and could call the wild gulls to him by crying to them.
"Andy's marvellous," said Mary and Jill, a dozen times a day—and Tom agreed. Each day the children went to talk to their friend, and to watch him bring in the catch of fish, clean it, and pack it to be sent away.
Andy was tall and brown. He was dressed in old blue trousers, and a dark-blue jersey. He liked the three children very much, and often took them out in his little boat. He had taught them all to swim like fishes, to row strongly, and to climb the rocky cliff like cats. It would really have turned their mother's hair quite white if she had seen the things that the three children sometimes tried to do!
Andy sat on the side of his little boat and grinned at the three children running down the rocky path. His white teeth gleamed in his brown face, and his eyes shone as blue as the sea. He was mending a net.
"Let me help you, Andy," said Mary, and she took up the torn net. Her fingers were nimble and she worked with Andy whilst the others lay on their backs on the hot sand.
"Andy, did you ask your father what we wanted you to do?" said Tom.
"Aye, I did," said Andy. "He says, yes—if I work hard all the week."
"Andy! How lovely!" said Jill in excitement. "I never thought he'd let you!"
"Do you mean to say your father will really lend you his sailing-ship to take us for a trip to Little Island?" asked Mary, hardly believing her ears. "I never thought he'd say yes."
"I was rather surprised, too," said Andy. "But he knows I can handle the boat just as well as he can. We'll take plenty of food with us, and we'll sail out to Little Island on Friday. We can spend two days and a night there, my father says—and I'll show you where some queer birds nest—and the cove with yellow stones—and the cliff where about a million birds sit and call."
"Oh, won't it be gorgeous!" said Tom, sitting up and hugging his knees. "All by ourselves. No grown-ups. A little island, far away over there to the east—and no one on it but ourselves! Too good to be true."
In great excitement the children made their plans. "Let's take plenty of food," said Tom, who was always hungry. "I don't know why, but when I'm out on the sea I feel I could eat all the time."
"So do I," said Mary. "It's awful. I've never felt so hungry in my life as I have since we came here."
"Well, we'll get heaps of food," said Tom. "And I'll bring my field-glasses, so that we can see the birds well."
"And you'll bring warm clothes and rugs with you," said Andy.
"Oh, Andy! We shan't need those, surely!" said Jill. "This September is just about the hottest I've ever known."
"It will break soon," said Andy. "And if it happens to turn cold whilst we're in the boat, you'll not like it."
"All right," said Tom. "We'll bring anything, so long as we can go. I say—what about the gramophone? Music sounds lovely on the water."
Andy was fond of music, so he nodded. The boat was quite a big one, and even had a little cabin to sit in, with a tiny table and stool, a bench and bunk. Nobody could stand in it, but that didn't matter. The three children had often crowded into it together, whilst Andy sailed the ship around the bay.
They had always longed to visit the island that Andy had told them about—an island of birds, a queer rocky place with a strange cove where most of the stones were yellow. But it was so far from the Coast that it had not been possible to visit it in a day.
And now they had permission to go off in the sailing-boat belonging to Andy's father, and spend the night on the island! It would be the greatest adventure of their lives.
On Thursday, the three children tired themselves out taking food, rugs, and other things down to the boat. Andy stared in astonishment at the amount of food.
"Are you wanting to feed an army?" he asked. "Six tins of soup—six tins of fruit—tins of tongue—chocolate—Nestle's milk—biscuits—cocoa—sugar—and whatever's this?"
"Oh—that's tinned sausages," said Tom, going rather red. "Old Mrs. MacPherson at the village shop said they were awfully good—so I brought some. Think of cooking sausages in a tin on the Little Island, Andy."
"Tom's mad on sausages," said Jill. "He'd like them for breakfast, dinner, and tea. Look—will these rugs be enough, Andy?"
"Yes," said Andy, looking at the odd collection of old rugs that Jill had managed to get together. "Now mind you all wear warm clothes, too—skirts and jerseys, you girls—and shorts and jersey for you, Tom. You haven't got trousers, have you?"
"No," said Tom sadly. "I don't suppose your father would lend me a pair, would he, Andy?"
"He's only got the one pair, and his Sunday ones," said Andy. "And I've only got the ones I'm wearing. Now are you going to bring the gramophone? We can put it safely in the cabin, if you like."
Tom went back to get it, and soon brought it down to the boat, with a packet of records. He also brought a tin of toffee and a camera.
"I'd like to take some pictures of the birds," he said. "We've got a bird-club at our school, and I guess I could take back some photographs that would beat everyone else's. Golly I Aren't we going to have a fine time!"
"What time do we start, Andy?" asked Jill, looking with pride at the sturdy little fishing-boat that was going to take them on their adventure. Its brown sail was now furled—but to-morrow it would fly in the breeze, and drive the boat over the blue-green sea for miles.
"Be down here at half-past six," said Andy. "I reckon we'll be at the island by about three in the afternoon then."
The three children could hardly sleep that night. Mary and Jill kept calling out to Tom, and at last their mother came up to them, very angry.
"Now, if I hear one more, shout, I shall forbid you to go to-morrow," she said. "You will have to be up at six o'clock—and it's nearly half-past ten now. Go to sleep."
The children were so afraid that their mother really would forbid them to go that they said not a word more. They turned on their sides and fell asleep.
At six o'clock all three — were dressing hurriedly. It was a magnificent day. The eastern sky was glowing red at dawn, and was now pink and gold. The sun was already warm on their faces as they looked out of the little cottage window.
Their mother was awake. The children kissed her good-bye and ran down the rocky path to the beach. Andy was already there—but to the children's surprise he looked rather grave.
"I'm thinking we shouldn't go," he said, as soon as he saw the children.
"Andy! Whatever do you mean?" they cried.
"Maybe you didn't see the sky this morning?" said Andy. "It was as red as the geranium in our window. It was a right queer sky—and I'm thinking a storm will blow up to-day or to-morrow."
"Oh, don't be such a spoil-sport, Andy," said Tom. climbing into the boat. "What does a storm matter? We'll be on the island before it comes—and if one comes to-morrow we can wait another day on the island. We've plenty of food."
"If my father hadn't gone out in my uncle's ship to fish, I think he'd be stopping us from going," said Andy doubtfully, "But maybe the storm will blow off to the east. Get in, then. I'm glad to see you've got your jerseys on. If the wind blows up, we'll be cold tonight."
"I've got my bathing-suit on underneath," said Jill. "So have the others. Come on, Andy—push off. I'm simply longing to go!"
Andy pushed off. The boat grated over the stones, and then rode into the waves. Andy jumped in lightly. He and Tom took the oars. They did not mean to put up the sail till they came out of the bay into the full sea.
It was a marvellous morning. The sea was full of sparkles and twinkles—it was blue and purple at a distance, clear green by the boat. Mary let her hand drag in the cool water. She was very happy. Jill was happy too. She lay on her back in the boat, looking up at the cornflower-blue sky, feeling the boat bobbing up and down on the waves.
Tom was happy too. He loved to pull at the oars. He enjoyed thinking of his breakfast, and planned what he would have.
Only Andy was not happy. He felt in his bones that he should not have taken the children out that morning, He felt sure this was not going to be the wonderful day they had planned. He wished his father had been there to advise him and he anxiously watched the sky for clouds But there was not one to be seen.
"Now we're really off on our adventure," said Jill. "Really off!"
But she didn't know what an extraordinary adventure it was going to be!