A day or two went by. The children were busy, for there seemed lots of things to do. The door of Willow House came off and had to be put on again more carefully. One of the hens escaped, and the four children spent nearly the whole morning looking for it. Jack found it at last under a gorse bush, where it had laid a big brown egg.
They made the fence of the hen-yard a bit higher, thinking that the hen had been able to jump over. But Mike found a hole in the fence through which he was sure the hen had squeezed, and very soon it was blocked up with fronds of bracken. The hens squawked and clucked, but they seemed to be settling down, and always ran eagerly to Nora when she fed them twice a day.
Mike thought it would be a good idea to make two rooms inside Willow House, instead of one big room. The front part could be a sort of living-room, with the larder in a corner, and the back part could be a bedroom, piled with heather and bracken to make soft lying. So they worked at a partition made of willow, and put it up to make two rooms. They left a doorway between, but did not make a door. It was nice to have a two-roomed house!
One evening Jack brought something unusual to the camp-fire on the little beach. Mike stared at what he was carrying.
“You’ve caught some rabbits!” he said, “and you’ve skinned them, too, and got them ready for cooking!”
“Oh, Jack!” said Nora. “Must you catch those dear little rabbits? I do love them so much, and it is such fun to watch them playing about round us in the evenings.”
“I know,” said Jack, “but we must have meat to eat sometimes, Now, don’t worry, Nora - they did not suffer any pain and you know you have often eaten rabbit-pie at home.”
All the same, none of the children enjoyed cooking the rabbits, though they couldn’t help being glad of a change of food. They were getting a little tired of fish. Nora said she felt as if she couldn’t look a rabbit in the face that evening!
“In Australia, rabbits are as much of a pest as rats are here,” said Jack, who seemed to know all sorts of things. “If we were in Australia we would think we had done a good deed to get rid of a few pests.”
“But we’re not in Australia,” said Peggy. Nobody said any more, and the meal was finished in silence. The girls washed up as usual, and the boys went to get some water from the spring ready to boil in the morning. Then they all had a dip in the lake.
“I think I’ll have a shot at getting my cow along to-night,” said Jack, as they dressed themselves again.
“You can’t, Jack!” cried Nora. “You’d never get a cow here!”
“I’ll come with you, Jack,” said Mike. “You’ll want someone to help you.”
“Right!” said Jack. “We’ll start off as soon as it’s dark.”
“Oh, Jack!” said the girls, excited to think of a cow coming. “Where shall we keep it?”
“It had better live on the other side of the island,” said Jack. "There is some nice grass there. It won’t like to eat heather.”
“How will you bring it, Jack?” asked Mike. “It will be difficult to get it into the boat, won’t it?”
“We shan’t get it into the boat, silly!” said Jack, laughing. “We shall make it swim behind the boat!”
The other three stared at Jack in surprise. Then they began to laugh. It was funny to think of a cow swimming behind the boat to their secret island!
When it was dark, the two boys set off. The girls called good-bye, and then went to Willow House, for the evening was not quite so warm as usual. They lighted a candle and talked. It was fun to be on the secret island alone.
The boys rowed down the lake and came to the place where Jack usually landed - a well-hidden spot by the lake-side, where trees came right down to the water. They dragged the boat in and then made their way through the wood. After some time they came to the fields that lay round the house of Jack’s grandfather. Jack looked at the old cottage. There was no light in it. No one was there. His grandfather had gone away. In the field nearby some cows and horses stood, and the boys could hear one of the horses saying, “Hrrrumph! Hrrrrumph!”
“Do you see that shed over there, Mike?” said Jack, in a low voice. “Well, there are some lengths of rope there. Go and get them whilst I try to find which is my own cow. The rope is in the corner, just by the door.”
Mike stumbled off over the dark field to the tumbledown shed in the corner. Jack went among the cows, making a curious chirrupy noise. A big brown and white cow left the others and went lumbering towards Jack.
Jack cautiously struck a match and looked at it. It was Daisy, the cow he had brought up from a calf. He rubbed its soft nose, and called to Mike:
“Hurry up with that rope! I’ve got the cow.”
Mike had been feeling about in the shed for rope and had found a great coil of it. He stumbled over the field to Jack.
“Good,” said Jack, making a halter for the patient animal. “Now, before we go, I’d like to pop into the old cottage and see if I can find anything we’d be glad of.”
“Could you find some towels, do you think?” asked Mike. “I do hate having to dry myself with old sacks.”
“Yes, I’ll see if there are any left,” said Jack, and he set off quietly towards the old cottage. He found the door locked, but easily got in at a window. He struck a match and looked round. There were only two rooms in the cottage, a living-room and a bedroom. All the furniture had gone. Jack looked behind the kitchen door, and found what he had hoped to see - a big roller-towel still hanging there. It was very dirty, but could easily be washed. He looked behind the bedroom door - yes, there was a roller-towel there, too! Good! His grandfather hadn’t thought of looking behind the doors and taking those when he went. Jack wondered if the old carpet left on the floor was worth taking, too, but he thought not. Good clean heather made a better carpet!
Jack wandered out to the little shed at the back of the cottage - and there he did indeed make a find! There was an old wooden box there, and in it had been put all the clothes he possessed! His grandfather had not thought it worth while to take those with him. There they were, rather ragged, it is true, but still, they were clothes! There were three shirts, a few vests, an odd pair of trousers, an overcoat, a pair of old shoes, and a ragged blanket!
Jack grinned. He would take all these back with him. They might be useful when the cold weather came. He thought the best way to take them back would be to wear them all - so the boy put on all the vests, the shirts, the trousers, the shoes, and the overcoat over his own clothes, and wrapped the blanket round him, too! What a queer sight he looked!
Then he went out to the garden and filled his many pockets with beans and peas and new potatoes. After that he thought it was time to go back to Mike and the cow. Mike would be tired of holding the animal by now!
So, carrying the two dirty towels, Jack made his way slowly over the field to Mike.
“I thought you were never coming!” said Mike, half-cross. “Whatever happened to you? This cow is getting tired of standing here with me.”
“I found a lot of my clothes,” said Jack, “and an old blanket and two towels. The cow will soon get some exercise! Come on! You carry the towels and this blanket, and I’ll take Daisy.”
They went back over the fields and through the thick wood to the boat. The cow did not like it when they came to the wood. She could not see where they were going and she disliked being pulled through the close-set trees. She began to moo.
“Oh, don’t do that!” said Jack, scared. “You will give us away, Daisy.”
“Moo-oo-oo!” said Daisy sorrowfully, trying her hardest to stand still. But Jack and Mike pulled her on.
It was hard work getting her down to the boat. It took the boys at least two hours before they were by the lake, panting and hot. Daisy had mooed dozens of times, each time more loudly than before, and Jack was beginning to think that his idea of taking her across to the island was not such a good one after all. Suppose her mooing gave them away, and people came after them? Suppose she mooed a great deal on the island? Whatever would they do?
Still, they had at last got her to the boat. Jack persuaded the poor, frightened cow to step into the water. She gave such a moo that she startled even the two boys. But at last she was in the water. The boys got into the boat, and pushed off. Jack had tied the cow’s rope to the stern of the boat. The boys bent to their oars, and poor Daisy found that she was being pulled off her feet into deeper water!
It was a dreadful adventure for a cow who had never been out of her field before, except to be milked in a nearby shed! She waggled her long legs about, and began to swim in a queer sort of way, holding her big head high out of the water. She was too frightened to moo.
Jack lighted the lantern and fixed it to the front of the boat. It was very dark and he wanted to see where he was going. Then off they rowed up the lake towards the secret island, and Daisy the cow came after them, not able to help herself.
“Well, my idea is working,” said Jack after a bit.
"Yes,” said Mike, “but I’m jolly glad it’s only one cow we’re taking, not a whole herd!”
They said no more till they came in sight of the island, which loomed up near by, black and solid. The girls had heard the splashing of the oars, and had come down to the beach with a candle.
“Have you got the cow, Jack?” they called.
“Yes,” shouted back the boys. “She’s come along behind beautifully. But she doesn’t like it, poor creature!”
They pulled the boat up the beach and then dragged out the shivering, frightened cow. Jack spoke to her kindly and she pressed against him in wonder and fear. He was the one thing she knew, and she wanted to be close to him. Jack told Mike to get a sack and help him to rub the cow down, for she was cold and wet.
“Where shall we put her for to-night?” asked Mike.
“In the hen-yard,” said Jack. “She’s used to hens and hens are used to her. There is a lot of bracken and heather there and we can put some more armfuls in for her to lie on. She will soon be warm and comfortable. She will like to hear the clucking of the hens, too.”
So Daisy was pushed into the hen-yard, and there she lay down on the warm heather, comforted by the sound of the disturbed hens.
The girls were so excited at seeing the cow. They asked the boys over and over again all about their adventure till Mike and Jack were tired of telling it.
“Jack! You do look awfully fat to-night!” said Nora suddenly, swinging the lantern so that its light fell on Jack. The others looked at him in surprise. Yes, he did look enormous!
“Have you swollen up, or something?” asked Peggy anxiously. Jack laughed loudly.
“No!” he said, “I found some clothes of mine in a box and brought them along. As the easiest way to carry them was to wear them, I put them on. That’s why I look so fat!”
It took him a long time to take all the clothes off, because they were all laughing so much. Peggy looked at the holes in them and was glad she had brought her work-basket along. She could mend them nicely! The blanket, too, would be useful on a cold night.
“What’s that funny light in the sky over there?" said Nora, suddenly, pointing towards the east. “Look!”
“You silly! It’s the dawn coming!” said Jack. “It must be nearly daylight! Come on, we really must go to sleep. What a night we’ve had!”
“Moooo-oo!” said Daisy, from the hen-yard, and the children laughed.
“Daisy thinks so, too!” cried Peggy.