What fun it was to wake up that first morning on the island! Jack awoke first. He heard a thrush singing so loudly on a tree near by that he woke up with a jump.
“Mind how you do it,” said the thrush, “mind how you do it!”
Jack grinned. “I’ll mind how I do it all right!” he said to the singing thrush. "Hi, Mike! Wake up! The sun is quite high!”
Mike woke and sat up. At first he didn’t remember where he was. Then a broad smile came over his face. Of course - they were all on the secret island! How perfectly glorious!
“Peggy, Nora! Get up!” he cried. The girls awoke and sat up in a hurry. Wherever were they? What was this green bedroom - oh, of course, it was their heathery bedroom on the secret island!
Soon all four children were up and about. Jack made them take off their things and have a dip in the lake. It was simply lovely, but the water felt cold at first. When they had dried themselves on an old sack - for they had no towels - the children felt terribly hungry. But Jack had been busy. He had set his fishing-line, and, even as they bathed, he had seen the float jerk up and down. It was not long before Jack proudly laid four fine trout on the sand of the cove, and set about to make a fire to cook them.
Mike went to fill the kettle to make some tea. Peggy got some big potatoes out of the sack and put them almost in the fire to cook in their skins. Jack found the frying-pan in their storeroom and put a piece of margarine in it to fry the fish, which he knew exactly how to clean.
“I don’t know what we should do without you,” said Mike, as he watched Jack. “Goodness! How I shall enjoy my breakfast!”
They all did. The tea did not taste very nice without milk. “It’s a pity we can’t get milk,” said Jack. “We shall miss that, I’m afraid. Now, Peggy, wash up, and Nora, too. Put everything away - and we’ll start on our house!”
In great excitement everything was washed up and put away. Then Jack led the way through the thick willow-trees, and they came to the little clear place in the centre of them.
“Now, this is how I mean to build the house,” he said. “Do you see these little willow-trees here - one there - one there - two there - and two there. Well, I think you will find that if we climb up and bend down the top branches, they will meet each other nicely in the centre, and we can weave them into one another. That will make the beginning of a roof. With my axe I shall chop down some other young willow-trees, and use the trunk and thicker branches for walls. We can drive the trunks and branches into the ground between the six willow-trees we are using, and fill up any cracks with smaller branches woven across. Then, if we stuff every corner and crevice with bracken and heather, we shall have a fine big house, with a splendid roof, wind-proof and rain-proof. What do you think of that?”
The other children listened in the greatest excitement. It sounded too good to be true. Could it be as easy as all that?
“Jack, can we really do it?” said Mike. “It sounds all right - and those willow-trees are just the right distance from one another to make a good big house - and their top branches will certainly overlap well.”
“Oh, let’s begin, let’s begin!” cried Nora, impatient as usual, dancing up and down.
“I’ll climb up this first willow-tree and swing the branches over with my weight,” said Jack. “All you others must catch hold of them and hold them till I slip down. Then I’ll climb another tree and bend those branches over too. We’ll tie them together, and then I’ll climb up the other trees. Once we’ve got all the top branches bending down touching one another, and overlapping nicely, we can cut long willow-sticks and lace our roof together. I’ll show you how to.”
Jack swung himself up into one of the little willow-trees. It was only a young one, with a small trunk - but it had a head of long, fine branches, easy to bend. Jack swung them down, and the girls and Mike caught them easily. They held on to them whilst Jack slid down the tree and climbed another. He did the same thing there, bending down the supple branches until they reached and rested on top of those bent down from the other tree.
“Tie them together, Mike!” shouted Jack. “Peggy, go and find the rope I brought.”
Peggy darted off. She soon came back with the rope.
Mike twisted it round the branches of the two trees, and tied them firmly together.
“It’s beginning to look like a roof already!” shouted Nora, in excitement. “Oh, I want to sit underneath it!”
She sat down under the roof of willow boughs, but Jack called to her.
“Get up, Nora! You’ve got to help! I’m up the third tree now - look, here come the top branches bending over with my weight - catch them and hold them!”
Nora and Peggy caught them and held on tightly. The branches reached the others and overlapped them. Mike was soon busy tying them down, too.
The whole morning was spent in this way. By dinnertime all the six trees had been carefully bent over. Jack showed Mike and the girls how to weave the branches together, so that they held one another and made a fine close roof. “You see, if we use the trees like this, their leaves will still grow and will make a fine thick roof,” said Jack. “Now, although our house has no walls as yet, we at least have a fine roof to shelter under if it rains!”
“I want something to eat,” said Nora. “I’m so hungry that I feel I could eat snails!”
“Well, get out four eggs, and we’ll have some with potatoes,” said Jack. “We’ll boil the eggs in our saucepan. There’s plenty of potatoes, too. After the eggs are boiled we’ll boil some potatoes and mash them up. That will be nice for a change. We’ll nibble a few carrots, too, and have some of those cherries.”
"We do have funny meals,” said Peggy, going to get the saucepan and the eggs, “but I do like them! Come on, Nora, help me get the potatoes and peel them whilst the eggs are boiling. And Mike, get some water, will you? We haven’t enough.”
Soon the fire was burning merrily and the eggs were boiling in the saucepan. The girls peeled the potatoes, and Jack washed the carrots. He went to get some water to drink, too, for everyone was very thirsty.
“You’d better catch some more fish for to-night, Jack,” said Peggy. “I hope our stores are going to last out a bit! We do seem to eat a lot!”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” said Jack, watching the potatoes boiling. “I think I’ll have to row to land occasionally and get more food. I can get it from Granddad’s farm. There are plenty of potatoes there, and I can always get the eggs from the hen-house. Some of the hens are mine - and there’s a cow that’s really mine too, for Granddad gave her to me when she was a calf!”
“I wish we had hens and a cow here!” said Peggy. “We should have lots of milk then and plenty of eggs!”
“How would we get hens and a cow here?” said Mike, laughing. “I think Jack’s idea of rowing across to land sometimes is a good one. He can go at night. He knows the way, and could get back before day breaks.”
“It’s dangerous, though,” said Peggy. “Suppose he were caught? We couldn’t do without Jack!”
The children ate their dinner hungrily. They thought that eggs and potatoes had never tasted so nice before. The sun shone down hotly. It was simply perfect weather. Nora lay down when she had finished her meal and closed her eyes. She felt lazy and sleepy.
Jack poked her with his foot. “You’re not to go to sleep, Nora,” he said. “We must get on with our house, now we’ve started. You two girls clear up as usual, and Mike and I will get back to the house. We’ll start on the walls this afternoon.”
“But I’m sleepy,” said Nora. She was rather a lazy little girl, and she thought it would be lovely to have a nap whilst the others got on with the work. But Jack was not the one to let anyone slack. He jerked Nora to her feet and gave her a push.
“Go on, lazy-bones,” he said. “I’m captain here. Do as you’re told.”
“I didn’t know you were captain,” said Nora, rather sulkily.
“Well, you know now,” said Jack. “What do the others say about it?”
“Yes, you’re captain, Jack,” said Mike and Peggy together. “Ay, ay, sir!”
Nobody said any more. Nora and Peggy washed up in the lake and cleared the things away neatly. They put some more wood on the fire to keep it burning, because Jack said it was silly to keep on lighting it.
Then they ran off to join the boys in the willow thicket.
Jack had been busy. He had chopped down some willow saplings - young willow-trees - with his axe, and had cut off the longer branches.
“We’ll use these to drive into the ground for walls,” said Jack. “Where’s that old spade, Mike? Did you bring it as I said?”
“Yes, here it is,” said Mike. “Shall I dig holes to drive the sapling trunks into?”
“Yes,” said Jack. “Dig them fairly deep.”
So Mike dug hard in the hot sun, making holes for Jack to ram the willow wood into. The girls stripped the leaves off the chopped-down trees, and with Jack’s knife cut off the smaller twigs. They trimmed up the bigger branches nicely.
Everyone worked hard until the sun began to go down. The house was not yet built - it would take some days to do that - but at any rate there was a fine roof, and part of the wall was up. The children could quite well see how the house would look when it was done - and certainly it would be big, and very strong. They felt proud of themselves.
"We’ll do no more to-day,” said Jack. “We are all tired. I’ll go and see if there are any fish on my line.”
But, alas! there were no fish that night!
“There’s some bread left and a packet of currants,” said Peggy. “And some lettuces and margarine. Shall we have those?”
“This food question is going to be a difficult one,” said Jack thoughtfully. “We’ve plenty of water - we shall soon have a house - but we must have food or we shall starve. I shall catch rabbits, I think.”
“Oh, no, Jack, don’t do that,” said Nora. “I do like rabbits so much.”
“So do I, Nora,” said Jack. “But if rabbits were not caught, the land would soon be overrun with them, you know. You have often had rabbit-pie, haven’t you? And I guess you liked it, too!”
“Yes, I did,” said Nora. “Well, if you are sure you can catch them so that they are not hurt or in pain, Jack, I suppose you’ll have to.”
“You leave it to me,” said Jack. “I don’t like hurting things any more than you do. But I know quite well how to skin rabbits. It’s a man’s job, that, so you two girls can leave it to Mike and me. So long as you can cook the rabbits for dinner, that’s all you need worry about. And ever since Peggy said she wished we had a cow and some hens, I’ve been thinking about it. I believe we could manage to get them over here on to the island - then we would be all right!”
Mike, Peggy, and Nora stared at Jack in amazement. What a surprising boy he was! However could they get a cow and hens?
“Hurry up and get the supper, girls,” said Jack, smiling at their surprised faces. “I’m hungry. We’ll think about things to-morrow. We’ll have our meal now and a quiet read afterwards, then to bed early. To-morrow we’ll go on with the house.”
Soon they were munching bread and margarine, and eating lettuce. They saved the currants for another time. Then they got out books and papers and sprawled on the soft heather, reading whilst the daylight lasted. Then they had a dip in the lake, threw on their clothes again, and settled down for the night in their heathery beds.
“Good-night, everyone,” said Mike. But nobody answered - they were all asleep!