The three children thought of nothing else but Jack’s secret island all the next day. Could they possibly run away and hide there? Could they live there? How could they get food? What would happen if people came to look for them? Would they be found? How busy their minds were, thinking, thinking, planning, planning! Oh, the excitement of that secret island! It seemed so mysterious and lovely. If only, only they were all there, safe from slappings and scoldings!
The first time the children had a little time together to talk, they spoke about the island.
“Mike, we must go!” said Nora.
“Mike, let’s tell Jack we’ll go,” said Peggy.
Mike scratched his curly black head. He felt old and worried. He wanted to go very badly - but would the two girls really be able to stand a wild life like that? No proper beds to sleep in - perhaps no proper food to eat - and suppose one of them was ill? Well, they would have to chance all that. They could always come back if things went too wrong.
“We’ll go,” said Mike. “We’ll plan it all with Jack. He knows better than we do.”
So that night, when they met Jack, the four of them laid their plans. Their faces were red with excitement, their eyes were shining. An adventure! A real proper adventure, almost like Robinson Crusoe - for they were going to live all by themselves on a lonely island.
“We must be careful in our plans,” said Jack. “We mustn’t forget a single thing, for we ought not to go back to get anything, you know, or we might be caught.”
“Could we go over to the island and just see what it’s like before we go to live there?” asked Nora. “I would so love to see it.”
“Yes,” said Jack. “We’ll go on Sunday.”
“How can we go?” asked Mike. “Do we have to swim?”
“No,” said Jack. “I have an old boat. It was one that had been left to fall to pieces, and I found it and patched it up. It still gets water in, but we can bale that out. I’ll take you over in that.”
The children could hardly wait for Sunday to come. They had to do a certain amount of work on Sundays, but usually they were allowed to take their dinner out and have a picnic afterwards.
It was June. The days were long and sunny. The farm garden was full of peas, broad beans, gooseberries, and ripening cherries. The children stole into it and picked as many pea-pods as they could find, and pulled up two big lettuces. Aunt Harriet gave them so little to eat that they always had to take something else as well. Mike said it wasn’t stealing, because if Aunt Harriet had given them the food they earned by the hard work they did, they would have twice as much. They were only taking what they had earned. They had a loaf of bread between them, some butter, and some slices of ham, as well as the peas and lettuces. Mike pulled up some carrots, too. He said they would taste most delicious with the ham.
They hurried off to meet Jack. He was by the lakeside, carrying a bag on his back. He had his dinner in it. He showed them some fine red cherries, and a round cake.
“Mrs. Lane gave me those for hoeing her garden yesterday,” he said. “We’ll have a fine dinner between us.”
“Where’s the boat, Jack?” said Nora.
“You wait and see!” said Jack. “I don’t leave my secret things out for everyone to see! No one else but you three knows about my boat!"
He set off in the hot June sunshine, and the three children followed him. He kept close to the lakeside and although the children kept a sharp look-out for the boat they did not see it until Jack stopped and showed it to them.
“See that great alder bush hanging over the lake just there?” he said. “Well, my boat’s underneath it! It’s well hidden, isn’t it?”
Mike’s eyes shone. He loved boats. He did hope Jack would let him help to row. The children pulled out the boat from under the thick tree. It was quite a big one, but very, very old. It had a good deal of water in, and Jack set everyone to work baling it out. There was an old pair of oars in the boat, and Jack put them in place.
“Now get in,” he said. “I’ve a good way to row. Would you like to take an oar, Mike?”
Of course Mike would! The two boys rowed over the water. The sun shone down hotly, but there was a little breeze that blew every now and again. Soon the children saw the secret island in the distance. They knew it because of the little hill it had in the middle.
The secret island had looked mysterious enough on the night they had seen it before - but now, swimming in the hot June haze, it seemed more enchanting than ever. As they drew near to it, and saw the willow trees that bent over the water-edge and heard the sharp call of moorhens that scuttled off, the children gazed in delight. Nothing but trees and birds and little wild animals. Oh, what a secret island, all for their very own, to live on and play on.
“Here’s the landing-place,” said Jack, and he guided the boat to a sloping sandy beach. He pulled it up on the sand, and the children jumped out and looked round. The landing-place was a natural little cove - a lovely spot for a picnic - but picnickers never came here! Only a lonely otter lay on the sand now and again, and moorhens scuttled across it. No fire had ever been made on this little beach to boil a kettle. No bits of old orange peel lay about, or rusty tins. It was quite unspoilt.
“Let’s leave our things here and explore a bit,” said Mike, who was simply longing to see what the island was like. It seemed very big now they were on it.
“All right,” said Jack, and he put his bag down.
“Come on,” said Mike to the girls. “This is the beginning of a big adventure.”
They left the little cove and went up through the thick trees. There were willows, alders, hazels, and elderberries at first, and then as they went up the hill that lay behind the cove there were silver birches and oaks. The hill was quite steep, and from the top the children could see a very long way - up the lake and down the lake.
“I say! If we come here to live, this hill will make an awfully good place to watch for enemies from!” said Mike excitedly. “We can see everything from here, all round!”
“Yes,” said Jack. “Nobody would be able to take us by surprise.”
“We must come here, we must, we must!” said Nora. “Oh, look at those rabbits, Peggy - they are as tame as can be, and that chaffinch nearly came on to my hand! Why are they so tame, Mike?”
“I suppose because they are not used to people,” said Mike. “What’s the other side of the hill, Jack? Shall we go down it?”
"There are caves on the other side of the hill,” said Jack. “I haven’t explored those. They would make good hiding-places if anyone ever came to look for us here.”
They went down the hill on the other side. Gorse grew there and heather and bracken. Jack pointed out a big cave in the hillside. It looked dark and gloomy in the hot sunshine.
“We haven’t time to go there now,” said Jack. “But a cave would be an awfully good place to store anything in, wouldn’t it? It would keep things nice and dry.”
A little way down the hill the children heard a bubbling noise.
“What’s that?” asked Peggy, stopping.
“Look! It’s a little spring!” cried Mike. “Oh, Jack! This shall be our water-supply! It’s as cold as can be, and as clear as crystal!”
“It tastes fine, too,” said Jack. "I had a drink last time I was here. Lower down, another spring joins this one, and there is a tiny brook.”
At the bottom of the hill was a thick wood. In clear patches great bushes of brambles grew. Jack pointed them out.
“There will be thousands of blackberries in the autumn,” he said. “And as for hazel nuts, you should see them! And in another place I know here, on a warm slope, you can find wild raspberries by the score!”
“Oh, do show us!” begged Mike. But Jack said there was not time. Besides, the raspberries wouldn’t be ripe yet.
“The island is too big to explore all over to-day,” said Jack. “You’ve seen most of it - this big hill with its caves, the springs, the thick wood, and beyond the wood is a grassy field and then the water again. Oh, it is a glorious place!”
“Jack, where shall we live on this island?” said Peggy, who always liked to have everything well settled in her mind.
“We shall build a house of wood,” said Jack. “I know how to. That will do finely for the summer, and for the winter we will have to find a cave, I think.”
The children gazed at one another in glee. A house of wood, built by themselves - and a cave! How lucky they were to have a friend like Jack, who had a boat and a secret island!
They went back to the little landing-place, hungry and happy. They sat down and ate their bread and ham, carrots and peas, cherries and lettuces, and cake. It was the loveliest meal they had ever had in their lives, they thought. A little moorhen walked up to them and seemed surprised to see so many people in its home. But it did not run away. It ran round, pecking at the lettuce leaves; saying, “Fulluck, fulluck!” in its loud voice.
“If I could live here on this secret island always and always and always, and never grow up at all, I would be quite happy,” said Nora.
“Well, we’ll have a shot at living here for a good while at least!” said Jack. “Now, when shall we come?”
“And what shall we bring?” said Mike.
“Well, we don’t really need a great deal at present,” said Jack. “We can make soft beds of heather and bracken to lie on at night. What would be useful would be things like enamel mugs and plates and knives. I’ll bring an axe and a very sharp woodman’s knife. We’ll need those when we build our house. Oh - and matches would be most useful for lighting fires. We shall have to cook our meals. I’ll bring my fishing-line along, too.”
The more the children talked about their plan, the more excited they got. At last they had arranged what to bring. They were gradually to hide things in a hollow tree by the lakeside, and then, when the time came, they could carry them to the boat and row off to the secret island, ready to set up house there.
“A frying-pan would be useful,” said Nora.
“And a saucepan or two,” said Peggy, “and a kettle. Oh! What fun it will be. I don’t care how much we are slapped or scolded now - I shall think of this exciting plan all day long!”
“We had better fix a day for starting off,” said Jack. “What about a week from now? Sunday would be a good day for running away, because no one will come to look for us until night-time, when we don’t go home!"
“Yes! A week to-day!” cried everyone. “Oooh! How happy we shall be!”
“Now we must go home,” said Jack, setting off to the boat. “You can row if you like, Mike, and I’ll bale out the water as we go. Get in, you girls.”
“Ay, ay, Captain!” they sang out, full of joy to think they had such a fine captain as Jack! Off they all went, floating across the water in the evening light. What would they be doing next Sunday?