Odder and Odder
The children each chose what they thought they would like to take away. Sugar they wanted, and salt. The tinned butter would be splendid, and any tins of meat and fruit. Jill thought she might be able to make some rolls of bread with the flour, or, at any rate, some scones. They took tins of powdered milk too, and each child carried quite a- heavy load down the narrow passages that led from the Round Cave to the shore-cave.
When they reached the open air Tom took a deep breath and set down his load. "My goodness, it was stuffy up there," he said.
"What puzzles me is why it wasn't more stuffy than it was," said Andy. "Air must get into that Round Cave through some hole we didn't see. Pick up your things, Tom, the tide is coming in. We can't stay on this beach. The sea will reach the cave before long."
"It's all right for about ten minutes," said Tom, pulling a fat little notebook from his pocket. "I just want to jot down a list of all the things we've taken, in case we eat them up and then forget what we had."
"Tom's always so honest," said Jill. "Well, I'll tell you the things, Tom, and you can write them down. Three tins of pineapple. One big bag of sugar. Three tins' of tongue. Four tins of-"
"Not so fast, not so fast," said Tom, busy writing. He wrote everything down, shut his notebook with a snap, and pushed it back into his pocket. Then he picked up bis load and followed Andy up the steep, rocky path.
Until the tide went out that night the children were prisoners on the second island, for there was no way to get back to their own island except by the line of roeks. This was now completely covered by the tide, and great showers of spray were sent high into the air as the water crashed against the rocks over which they had clambered early that day.
"Anyone got a tin-opener?" asked Tom, his mouth watering at the sight of the labels on the tins.
Andy had. In Andy's pockets there was almost anything that anyone could possibly want, from tin-tacks to toffee.
"You'd better open a tin, I suppose," said Andy, with a grin. "I've watched you sticking your finger into the sugar packet a dozen times already—and there'll be none left to take to our island if you do it much more. Open a tin of tongue and perhaps you won't feel so hungry for sugar!"
They all feasted on the tongue, which was really most delicious. They felt very thirsty afterwards, and as they bad not found any spring or stream on the second island they could not think what to do.
"Well, why don't we open a tin of pine-apple?" said Tom at last. "The chunks will be lovely and juicy and we can all have a drink of the juice in the tin too."
So a tin of pine-apple was opened. Both tins were carefully buried by the children, for even although the island seemed quite lonely and deserted they could not bear to make it ugly by leaving empty tins about. The gulls swooped round them all the time they ate, screaming loudly. Andy imitated them and they grew even more excited, at last landing on the ground behind the children and waiting there almost within touch.
"These gulls know that where there are people, there may be food," said Andy. "But how do they know that? — these islands seem quite bare and empty."
"And how, how, how did all that food come to be in the Round Cave?" said Jill. "Could it have been there for years, do you suppose—and have been forgotten?"
"No," said Andy. "It hasn't been there very long. The sugar was still soft—and sugar goes hard if it is stored for long. That cigarette-end we found too—that had been smoked not less than a week or two ago, or the wind would have blown it into bits."
"Andy, don't you think it would be a good thing to stay on this island and live here, instead of going back to our own island?" asked Mary. "We should be near to a good food-supply then!"
"No, I don't," said Andy, at once. "You forget we have left a signal on our island—and if any ship sees it and calls for us, we might be on this island, unable to be rescued because the tide was high and we couldn't get back."
"But couldn't we tie the signal up somewhere on this island?" said Tom.
"No," said Andy. "No ship could get to us here. This island is almost surrounded by a reef of the worst rocks I've ever seen. Look at them, right out there."
The children looked. Andy was right. A jagged line of rocks ran some way out from the coast. Between the rocks and the coast the sea lay trapped in a kind of big lagoon or lake, calm and smooth.
Tom frowned and looked puzzled. "Well, if no ship can get in to rescue us if we stay on this island," he said, "how in the wold did one get in to land all that food in the cave?"
Andy stared at Tom and looked as puzzled as Tom did. "Yes—that's odd," he said. "Well—maybe there is a way through at high tide. But we can't risk it. We must live on the first island, and when we want food we must come here and get it—and maybe we shall run into the folk who so strangely made a larder in trie Round Cave."
Mary stood up and tried to see what the next island was like. It looked much bigger than the first two. There was no line of rocks stretching to it, but only an unbroken spread of blue water. To get to the third island they would have to swim, or use a boat.
"Do you think we'd better leave a note in the cave to say that we are on the first island and would like to be rescued?" said Tom. "The people may come back at any time—and we could go away in their boat."
Andy shook his head. "I think we won't leave a note—or anything else to show we've been here," he said. "There's something a bit mysterious about all this, and if there's a secret going on, we'd better keep out of it till we know what it is."
"Oh, Andy! Whatever do you mean?" cried Mary.
"I don't know what I mean," said Andy. "It's just a feeling I have, that's all. Maybe I'm wrong—but one of us will come over here every day at low tide and just see if there's somebody about before we let them know we're here."
"Well, Andy—what about all our footmarks round the cave?" said Tom.
"The tide will wash all those away," said Andy. "Look over the cliff-edge, Tom—you'll see the tide has gone right into the cave now. There's nothing that will show we've been there."
"Except that some of the food is missing," said Mary. "You've forgotten that, Andy."
"No, I haven't," said Andy. "There's so much in that cave that I don't think-anyone will miss the little we've taken. I don't expect it's checked at all. Nobody would think that any strangers would ever visit that cave."
The children wandered over the island and looked for bilberries, which were fruiting there in great numbers. It was a way of quenching their thirst, to pick the small, juicy bilberries. The island was quite deserted. It did not look as if anyone had ever lived there at all.
The tide went down and the line of rocks began to show. The children clambered down to the shore to go tack to their own island. They had tied to their backs the food they had taken, and Andy told everyone to be very careful.
"We don't want to lose our food in a deep pool!" he said. "So don't rush along too fast, Tom. You are always in such a hurry!"
The rocks were wet and slippery, but the children were very careful indeed. Once an extra large wave came and splashed right over Jill, and she gave a squeal.
"Oh, has it wet the food?"
"Yes—soaked it!" called Tom. "But never mind-it's all in tins, Jill."
They got back to their little hut at last and all-of mem were delighted to see it. It really seemed like coming home.
They sat down on their beds, tired out. But Tom was not going to bed without his supper. He wanted hot soup, more tongue, and a tin of peaches. So the stove had to be lighted, and Tom was sent to fill the kettle.
All the children enjoyed the meal, although they were so sleepy they could hardly bother to clear up afterwards. The first stars were in the sky as they flung themselves on their beds.
"It's awfully early to go to bed," murmured Jill sleepily. "Buff can't keep awake another minute!"
And she fell asleep at once. So did Mary. Tom blew out the stove and lay down too. Andy sat up for a while, looking out towards the second island and wondering about a lot of things.
Then he too lay down and fell asleep—but not for long!
A strange and curious noise awoke him. It came into his dreams, startled him and roused him so that he sat up, puzzled and alarmed.
"Tom! Wake up!" said Andy. "Listen to this noise. What is it?"
Tom awoke and listened. "If s a motor-bicycle," he said, half asleep.
"Don't be a fathead!" said Andy. "A motor-bicycle on this island! You're dreaming. Come on, wake up—I tell you there's a jolly queer noise."
The noise itself hummed away into silence. The gulls screamed but soon became quiet. Andy sat and listened a little longer and then, as no more noise came, lay down on his springy bed again.
"Odder and odder," said Andy to himself. "We seem to have come to some most mysterious islands—and I'm going to find out what's happening—or my name isn't Andy!"