Not one of the five children thought of the great risk and danger of the adventure they were so light-heartedly planning.
“Shall we tell Dimmy?” said Nora.
“Of course not,” said Jack scornfully. “You know what grown-ups are — why, Dimmy would at once telephone Paul’s pilot and forbid him to take us anywhere.”
“Well, it seems horrid to leave her and not tell her anything,” said Nora, who was very fond of Miss Dimmy.
“We’ll leave a note for her that she can read when we are well away,” said Mike. “But we really mustn’t do anything to warn her or anyone else. My word — what a mercy that Paul had that aeroplane for his birthday!”
“When shall we go?” said Paul, his big dark eyes shining brightly. “Now — this very minute?”
“Don’t be an idiot, Paul,” said Jack. “We’ve got to get a few things together. We ought to have guns, I think, for one thing.”
“I don’t like guns,” said Nora. “They might go off by themselves.”
“Guns don’t,” said Jack. “You girls don’t need to have guns. But where can we get these things — I’m sure I don’t know.”
“Pilescu, my pilot, can get everything we want,” said Prince Paul. “Don’t worry.”
“But how will he know what to get?” asked Mike. “I hardly know myself what we ought to take.”
“I will tell him he must find out,” said Paul. “Show me where your telephone is Mike, and I will tell him everything.”
Soon Paul was holding a most extraordinary talk with his puzzled pilot. In the end Pilescu said he must come round to the flat and talk to his small master. He could not believe that he was really to do what Paul commanded.
“I say — suppose your pilot refuses to do what you tell him?” said Jack. “I’m sure he will just laugh and tell us to go back to school and learn our tables or something!”
“Pilescu is my man,” said the little Prince, putting his small chin into the air, and looking very royal all of a sudden. “He has sworn an oath to me to obey me all my life. He has to do what I say.”
“Suppose he tells your father?” said Mike.
“Then I will no longer have him as my man,” said Paul fiercely. “And that will break his heart, for he loves me and honours me. I am his prince, and one day I will be his king.”
“You talk like a history book,” said Peggy with a laugh. “All right, Paul — you try to get Pilescu to do what we have planned. He’ll soon be here.”
In twenty minutes Pilescu arrived. He was a strange-looking person, very tall, very strong, with fierce black eyes and a flaming red beard that seemed on fire when it caught the sun.
He bowed to all the children in turn, for his manners were marvellous. Then he spoke to Paul in a curiously gentle voice.
“Little Prince, I cannot believe that you wish me to do what you said on the telephone. It is not possible. I cannot do it.”
Prince Paul flew into a rage, and stamped on the floor, his face bright red, and his dark eyes flashing in anger.
“Pilescu! How dare you talk to me like this? My father, the king, told me that you must do my smallest wish. I will not have you for my man. I will send you back to Baronia to my father and ask him for a better man.”
“Little Prince, I held you in my arms when you were born, and I promised then that you should be my lord,” said Pilescu, in a troubled voice. “I shall never leave you, now that your father has sent me to be with you. But do not ask me to do what I think may bring danger to you.”
“Pilescu! Shall I, the king’s son, think of danger!” cried the little Prince. “These are my friends you see here. They are in trouble and I have promised to help them. Do you not remember how they saved me when I was kidnapped from my country of Baronia? Now it is my turn to help them. You will do what I say.”
The other four children watched in astonishment. They had not seen Paul acting the prince before. Before ten minutes had gone by the big Baronian had promised to do all that his haughty little master demanded. He bowed himself out and was gone from the flat before Dimmy came to find out who the visitor was.
“Good, Paul!” said Mike. “Now all we’ve got to do is to wait till Pilescu lets us know how he got on.”
Before the night was gone Pilescu telephoned to Prince Paul. The boy came running to the others, his face eager and shining.
“Pilescu has found out everything for us. He has bought all we need, but he says we must pack two bags with all we ourselves would like to have. So we must do that. We must leave the house at midnight, get into the car that will be waiting for us at the corner — and go to the airfield!”
“Golly! How exciting!” said Mike. The girls rubbed their hands, thrilled to think of the adventure starting so soon. Only Jack looked a little doubtful. He was the eldest, and he wondered for the first time if they were wise to go on this new and strange adventure.
But the others would not even let him speak of his doubts. No — they had made up their minds, and everything was ready except for the packing of their two bags. They were going; they were going!
The bags were packed. The five children were so excited that they really did not know what to pack, and when the bags were full, not one child could possibly have said what was in them! With trembling hands they did up the leather straps, and then Mike wrote out a note for Dimmy.
He stuck the note into the mirror on the girls’ dressing-table. It was quite a short note.
Don’t worry about us. We’ve gone to look for Daddy and Mummy. We’ll be back safe and sound before long.
Love from all of us.”
Dimmy had been out to see a friend and did not come back until nine o’clock. The children had decided to get into bed fully dressed, so that Dimmy would not have any chance of asking awkward questions.
Dimmy was rather surprised to find all the children so quiet and good in bed. They did not even sit up to talk to her when she came into the bedrooms to kiss them all goodnight. She did not guess that it was because they were not in their night clothes!
“Dear me, you must all be tired out!” she said in surprise. “Well, goodnight, my dears, sleep well. You still have another day’s holiday, so we will make the most of it tomorrow.”
All the children lay perfectly still until they heard Dimmy go into her bedroom and shut the door. They listened to her movements, and then they heard the click of her bedroom light being turned off.
“Don’t get out of bed yet,” whispered Jack to Mike. “Give Dimmy time to get to sleep.”
So for another half-hour or so the children lay quiet — and Nora fell asleep! Peggy had to wake her up, and the little girl was most astonished to find that she had to get up in the dark, and that she had on her day clothes! But she soon remembered what a big adventure was beginning, and she rubbed her eyes, and went to get a wet sponge to make her wider awake.
“What’s the time?” whispered Mike. He flashed his torch on to the bedroom clock — half-past eleven. Nearly time to leave the house.
“Let’s go to the dining-room and hunt round for a few biscuits first,” said Jack. “I feel hungry. Now for goodness sake be quiet, everyone. Paul, don’t trip over anything — and, Nora, take those squeaky shoes off! You sound like a dozen mice when you creep across the bedroom!”
So Nora took off her squeaky shoes and carried them. Jack and Mike took the bags, and the five children made their way quietly down the passage to the dining-room. They found the biscuit tin and began to munch. The noise of the biscuits being crunched in their teeth sounded very loud in the silence of the night.
“Do you think Dimmy will hear us munching?” said Nora anxiously. She swallowed her piece of biscuit too soon and a crumb caught in her throat. She went purple in the face, and tried hard not to cough. Then an enormous cough came, and the others rushed at her.
“Nora! Do be quiet!” whispered Jack fiercely. He caught the cloth off the table and wrapped it round poor Nora’s head. Her coughs were smothered in it, but the little girl was very angry with Jack.
She tore off the cloth and glared at the grinning boy. “Jack! You nearly smothered me! You’re a horrid mean thing.”
“Sh!” said Mike, “This isn’t the time to quarrel. Hark — the clock is striking twelve.”
Dimmy was peacefully asleep in her bedroom when the five children crept to the front door of the flat. They opened it and closed it very quietly. Then down the stone stairway they went to the street entrance, where another big door had to be quietly opened.
“This door makes an awful noise when it is closed,” said Mike anxiously. “You have to bang it. It will wake everyone!”
“Well, don’t shut it then, silly,” said Jack. “Leave it open. No one will bother about it.”
So they left the big door open and went down the street, hoping that they would not meet any policemen. They felt sure that a policeman would think it very queer for five children to be out at that time of night!
Luckily they met no one at all. They went down to the end of the street, and Mike caught Jack’s arm.
“Look — there’s a car over there — do you suppose it is waiting for us?”
“Yes — that’s our car,” said Jack. “Isn’t it, Paul?”
Paul nodded, and they crossed the road to where a big blue and silver car stood waiting, its engine turned off. The children could see the blue and silver in the light of a street lamp. Paul’s aeroplane was blue and silver too, as were all the royal aeroplanes of Baronia.
A man slipped out of the car and opened the door silently for the children. His uniform was of blue and silver too, and, like most Baronians, he was enormous. He bowed low to Paul.
Soon the great car was speeding through the night. It went very fast, eating up the miles easily. The children were all tremendously excited. For one thing it was a great thrill to be going off in an aeroplane — and who knew what exciting adventures lay in store for them!
They came to the airfield. It was in darkness, except for lights in the middle of the field, where the beautiful aeroplane belonging to Prince Paul stood ready to start.
“I am to take you right up to the aeroplane in the car,” said the driver to Prince Paul, who sat in front with him.
“Good,” said Paul. “Then we can all slip into it, and we shall be off before anyone really knows we are here!”