A Queer Little Home
The four children stood at the top of the steep dip. The hollow ran right down to the sea—and in it was a cluster of small buildings!
But what strange buildings! The roofs were off, the chimneys were gone, all but the one they had seen, the walls were fallen in. and everything looked forlorn and deserted.
"Nothing but ruins!" said Tom, in astonishment. "Whatever happened to make the houses and shed fall to pieces like that?"
"I think I know," said Andy. "A year or two ago there came a great storm to these parts—so great that the people of our village fled inshore for miles, because the sea battered our houses and flooded our street. The storm must have been even worse on these unprotected islands here—and I should think the sea came into this hollow and battered the farm "to bits! Look at that chimney-stack there—all black and broken—that was struck by lightning, I should think."
The four children gazed down at the poor, hollow house and out-buildings. A little farm had once been there—a poor farm maybe, trying to grow a few potatoes in the rocky ground, to keep a few goats or cows, and to take from the sea enough fish to live on.
Now the folk had all gone, unable to battle with the great sea-storms that swept over their farm and destroyed their living.
"This explains the potatoes," said Jill. "That stretch of struggling potato plants must once have been a field."
"Let's go down into the hollow and have a look round," said Andy. So down into the dip they scrambled and wandered round the ruined buildings. Nothing had been left—all the furniture had been taken away, and even the gates and doors removed. Seashore weeds grew up from the floors of the farmhouse.
"A boy must have lived here," said Andy, picking up a broken wooden train from a patch of weeds.
"And here's a broken cup," said Jill, bending over what had once been a rubbish-heap.
They wandered about and at last came to a lirfle wooden shack where perhaps a cow or two had been kept in the winter. For some reason it had escaped being beaten in by the waves, and still stood upright, its one window broken, and its floor covered with a creeping weed.
Andy looked at it carefully. "This wouldn't be a bad place to make into a little house for ourselves," he said. "I was thinking we'd have to try and build one somehow—but this will do if we patch it up a bit. The tent won't be any use at all if the weather breaks up—and also it's going to be a great nuisance to keep taking it down from the signal tree each night for our tent and putting it back again in the mornings."
"Oh yes!" said Tom in delight. "Let's make this our house! That would be fun. Then we could leave the sail flapping for our signal all the time."
They all went into the shack. It was not very large—more like a big bicycle shed, though the roof was higher. A wooden partition divided it into two.
"We'll take that down," said Andy. "It would be better to have one fairly big room than two tiny ones."
"Well, we'd better start work at once, hadn't we?" said Tom eagerly. "We shall have to bring all our things here—and make it a bit home-like. And all those weeds will have to be cleared,"
"Yes—and we'll spread the floor with clean sand," said Jill. "Listen—you boys clear up the weeds for us—and Mary and I will go to that old potato field and find the biggest potatoes we can, and cook them in their jackets for lunch!"
"Good idea," said Tom, feeling hungry at once. "Come on, Andy—let's start and clean up the place now—we can't do much till that's done."
The two boys set to work. They pulled up the creeping weed by handfuls and piled it outside. They got tofts of stiff heather and, using them as brushes, swept the cobwebs from the walls and rough ceiling. Tom broke the remaining glass of the window, gathered the broken bits carefully together and tucked them into the bottom of the old rubbish-heap so that no one could be cut by a splinter.
Andy made a rough fireplace just outside the shack, with stones from the hearth of the ruined farmhouse.
"We can't have the fire inside because this shack has no chimney," he said, "and we'd be choked with the smoke. Anyway, I've made be fireplace out of the wind and we ought to be able to cook all right on it. Mary, you can bake the potatoes there, once the stones get hot. Tom, get some sticks and start a fire."
Mary and Jill peeped inside the shack. It looked clean and tidy now, though very bare. The two girls had pulled plenty of good potatoes from the old, weedy field, and had washed them in the spring water. They would be fine, baked in their jackets—though it was a pity there was no batter left and so salt.
Tom fetched some clean sand from the shore. He had found a very old bucket, which had a hole in the bottom. He put a flat stone over the hole, and then the sand did not trickle out. He carried six pails full of sand to the shack and scattered it over the earth floor. It looked very neat and clean.
"We'll have to get heaps of heather and bracken in for beds again," said Jill, "just as we did for our tent. Won't it be a nice little house! We must bring the little table here, and the stool—and all the cups and things. It will make it seem like home."
The children had quite forgotten how serious their adventure was. It was such fun to work like this and get ready a little house. Mary even began to wonder if there was anything she could use as a curtain for the window!
Their lunch was potatoes and chocolate, with plenty of cold spring water Tom could have eaten three times as much but he had to be content with five large potatoes and a whole bar of chocolate.
"We'll have fish for to-night," promised Andy. "The water round about this island is just thick with fish. Well always have plenty to eat so long as we don't get tired of fish! We'll hunt for shell-fish too."
After their dinner the children separated. The girls were to go to the nearest patches of heather and bracken and bring in armfuls for beds. The boys were to make journeys to and from the tent, and bring in all their belongings.
"When the tides down tonight I'll get the tin of oil out of the locker of the boat," said Andy. "That won't have been spoilt by the sea-water because it's got a tight-fitting lid. We can cook over the stove then, as well as over a fire, if we want to."
The children were very busy that afternoon. Mary and Jill got enough heather and bracken to make two teds, one at each side of the shack. They piled the tough bracken on the floor first, and then the softer heather on top. Then they spread each bed with a rug. and put another rug, neatly folded up, to be used as a blanket at night.
"The beds can be couches to sit on in the daytime," said Mary, quite pleased with the look of them. "we'll have to add more heather day by day, I expect, Jill, because we shall flatten the beds very much with our weight. But we can easily see to that."
The boys brought in the crockery—cups, saucers and plates—thick, common ones used by the fishermen who sailed in Andy's father's boat with him. They were just right for the shack—but where were they to be put?
"We really can't keep them on the floor," said Mary. They'll get broken. I wish we had a shelf to put things on. It would give us much more room if only we could get these odd things out of the way."
Andy disappeared for a few minutes. When he came back he carried a wooden board. He grinned at the surprised children.
"I remembered seeing an old shelf in what must have been the kitchen of the farmhouse," he said. "So I went in and wrenched h down from the wall. Tom, where did you put the tools and the box of nails?"
"Down there by our bed," said Tom. Andy picked up a hammer and the box of nails. "Where do you want the shelf?" he asked the girls.
"Over there, at the back of the shack, just about shoulder-high," said Mary. "What a lovely shelf that will make, Andy—it will take everything!"
So it did! Once Andy had nailed it up, the girls arranged the crockery there, the kettle, one or two pans, the field-glasses, camera and other things. The gramophone would not go on the shelf so they put it into a corner.
By this time the shack really looked fine! There were the two neat beds at the sides—the table in the middle, with the stool—the neatly-sanded floor—the shelf at the back with its array of goods! The children felt really pleased with it.
Andy filled the oil-stove. "You could boil us some potatoes tonight for a change," he said to Mary. "You've got a little saucepan, haven't you?"
"Yes," said Mary. "I'll boil them and mash them for you—but they'll taste a bit odd without butter or salt! And we'll open another tin of fruit."
The boys went off to catch fish. The girls busied themselves with fetching more potatoes, more water, and setting the oil-stove going. They felt very busy and rather important.
They had a most delicious supper and enjoyed every bit of it. They didn't even mind going without salt in the potatoes. They ate their supper sitting outside the open doorway of the shack, looking out to the evening sea. The gulls called high in the air, and the splash of the little white-edged waves came to them every now and again.
"Now we'll turn in!" said Andy with a yawn. "It will be fun to sleep in our little house for the first time! Come on, girls—leave the washing-up till the morning. We are all tired out!"