All that week the three children carried out their plans. Aunt Harriet and Uncle Henry could not understand what was different about the children - they did not seem to mind being scolded at all. Even Nora took a slapping without tears. She was so happy when she thought of the secret island that she couldn’t shed a tear!
The children took all the clothes they possessed down to the hollow tree by the lakeside. Mike took four enamel cups, some enamel plates, and two enamel dishes. Nora smuggled down an old kettle that Aunt Harriet had put away in a cupboard. She did not dare to take one of those on the stove. Peggy took a frying-pan and a saucepan to the hollow tree, and had to put up with a dreadful scolding when her aunt could not find them.
Jack took a saucepan too, and an axe and a fine sharp knife. He also took some small knives and forks and spoons, for the other children did not dare to take these. There were only just enough put out for them and their aunt and uncle to use. So they were glad when Jack found some and brought them along.
“Can you get some empty tins to store things in?” asked Jack. “I am trying to get sugar and things like that, because we must have those, you know. Grandad gave me some money the other day, and I’m buying a few things to store.”
“Yes, I’ll get some empty tins,” said Mike. “Undo has plenty in the shed. I can wash them out and dry them. And could you get matches, Jack? Aunt only leaves one box out, and that won’t go far.”
“Well, I’ve got a small magnifying glass,” said Jack, and he showed it to the others. “Look, if I focus the rays of the sun on to that bit of paper over there, see what happens. It burns it, and, hey presto, there’s a fire ready-made!”
“Oh, good!” said Mike. "We’ll use that on a sunny day, Jack, and save our matches!”
“I’m bringing my work-basket in case we need to sew anything,” said Peggy.
“And I’ve got a box of mixed nails and an old hammer,” said Mike. “I found them in the shed.”
“We’re getting on!” said Jack, grinning, “I say - what a time we’re going to have!”
“I wish Sunday would come!” sighed Nora.
“I shall bring our snap cards and our game of ludo and our dominoes,” said Peggy. “We shall want to play games sometimes. And what about some books?”
“Good for you!” cried Mike. “Yes - books and papers we’ll have, too - we shall love to read quietly sometimes.”
The old hollow tree by the lakeside was soon full of the queerest collection of things. Not a day went by without something being added to it. One day it was a plank of wood. Another day it was half a sack of potatoes. Another day it was an old and ragged rug. Really, it was a marvel that the tree held everything!
At last Sunday came. The children were up long before their uncle and aunt. They crept into the kitchen garden and picked a basket of peas, pulled up six lettuces, added as many ripe broad beans as they could find, a bunch of young carrots, some radishes, and, putting their hands into the nest-boxes of the hens, they found six new-laid eggs!
Nora crept indoors and went to the larder. What could she take that Aunt Harriet would not notice that morning? Some tea? Yes! A tin of cocoa from the top shelf. A packet of currants and a tin of rice from the store shelf, too. A big loaf, a few cakes from the cake-tin! The little girl stuffed them all into her basket and raced out to join the others. Long before Aunt Harriet was up all these things were safely in the hollow tree.
Peggy didn’t quite like taking anything from the larder, but Mike said that as Aunt and Uncle wouldn’t have to keep them after that day, they could quite well spare a few odds and ends for them.
“Anyway, if they paid us properly for our work, we would have enough to buy all these things and more,” he said, as he stuffed them into the tree.
They went back to the farm for the last time, to breakfast. Peggy cooked the breakfast, and hoped Aunt would not notice that her long iron cooking spoon was gone. She also hoped that Aunt would not want to get another candle from the packet in the larder, for Peggy knew Mike had taken the rest of them, and had taken an old lantern of Uncle’s too!
The children ate their breakfast in silence.
Aunt Harriet looked at them. “I suppose you think you are going off for a picnic to-day!” she said. “Well, you are not! You can stay and weed the kitchen garden, Peggy and Nora. And I’ve no doubt Uncle Henry can set Mike something to do. Someone has been taking cakes out of my tin, and so you’ll all stay in to-day!”
The hearts of the three children sank. To-day of all days! As soon as the girls were washing up alone in the scullery, Mike looked in at the window.
“You girls slip off down to the lake as soon as you get a chance,” he said. “Wait there for me. I won’t be long!”
Peggy and Nora felt happier. They were to escape after all, then! They washed up a few more things and then saw their aunt going upstairs.
“She has gone to look out Uncle’s Sunday suit and shirt,” whispered Nora. “Quick! Now’s our chance. We can slip out of the back door.”
Peggy ran to the cupboard under the dresser and took out a long bar of soap. “We forgot all about soap!” she said. “We shall want some! I just remembered in time!”
Nora looked round for something to take, too. She saw a great slab of margarine on the dresser, and she caught it up.
“This will help us in our frying!” she said. “Come on, Peggy - we’ve no time to lose.”
They raced out of the back door, down the path, and out into the fields. In five minutes’ time they were by the hollow tree, well out of sight. Jack was not yet there. They did not know how long Mike would be. He would not find it so easy to get away!
But Mike had laid his plans. He waited for the moment when his aunt discovered that the girls had gone, and then walked into the kitchen.
“What’s the matter, Aunt Harriet?” he asked, pretending to be very much surprised at her angry face and voice.
“Where have those two girls gone?” cried his aunt.
“I expect they have only gone to get in the clothes or something,” said Mike. “Shall I go and find them for you?”
“Yes, and tell them they’ll get well slapped for running off like this without finishing their work,” said his aunt in a rage.
Mike ran off, calling to his uncle that he was on an errand for his aunt. So Uncle Henry said nothing, but let him go. Mike tore across the fields to the lakeside and met the two girls there. They hugged one another in joy.
“Now, where’s Jack?” said Mike. “He said he would meet us as soon as he could.”
“There he is!” said Nora; and sure enough, there was Jack coming across the field, waving to them. He carried a heavy bag into which he had crammed all sorts of things at the very last moment - rope, an old mackintosh, two books, some newspapers, and other things. His face was shining with excitement.
“Good! You’re here!” he said.
“Yes, but we nearly couldn’t come,” said Nora, and she told Jack what had happened.
“I say! I hope this won’t mean that your uncle and aunt will start to look for you too soon,” said Jack.
"Oh no!” said Mike. “It only means that they will make up their minds to whip us well when we go back this evening, but we shan’t go back! They’ll think we’ve gone off on our usual Sunday picnic.”
“Now we’ve got a lot to do,” said Jack seriously. “This is all fun and excitement to us - but it’s work, too - and we’ve got to get on with it. First, all these things must be carried from the hollow tree to the boat. Mike, you get out some of them and give them to the girls. Then we’ll take the heavier things. I expect we shall have to come back to the tree three or four times before it’s emptied.”
The four of them set off happily, carrying as much as they could. The sun was hot, and they puffed and panted, but who cared? They were off to the secret island at last!
It was a good walk to the boat, and they had to make four journeys altogether, carrying things carefully. At last there was nothing left in the hollow tree. They need not come back again.
“I’m jolly glad,” said Mike. “Every time I get back to that hollow tree I expect to find Aunt or Uncle hidden inside it, ready to pop out at us!”
“Don’t say such horrid things,” said Nora. “We’re leaving Aunt and Uncle behind for ever!”
They were at the boat, and were stowing things there as well as they could. It was a good thing the boat was fairly big or it would never have taken everything. The children had had to bale out a good deal of water before they could put anything in the bottom. It leaked badly, but as long as someone could bale out with a tin it was all right.
“Now then,” said Jack, looking round at the shore to see that nothing was left behind, “are we ready?”
“Ay, ay, Captain!” roared the other three. “Push off!”
The boat was pushed off. Mike and Jack took an oar each, for the boat was heavy and needed two people to pull it. It floated easily out on to the deeper water.
“We’re off at last!” said Nora, in a little happy voice that sounded almost as if she were going to cry.
Nobody said anything more. The boat floated on and on, as Mike and Jack rowed strongly. Peggy baled out the water that came in through the leaks. She wondered what it would be like not to sleep in a proper bed. She wondered what it would be like to wake up under the blue sky - to have no one to make her do this, that, and the other. How happy she felt!
It was a long way to the island. The sun rose higher and higher. The adventurers felt hotter and hotter. At last Nora pointed excitedly in front.
“The secret island!” she cried. “The secret island.”
Mike and Jack stopped rowing for a moment and the boat floated on slowly by itself whilst the four gazed at the lonely little island, hidden so well on the heart of the lake. Their own island! It had no name. It was just the Secret Island!
Mike and Jack rowed on again. They came to the little sandy cove beneath the willow trees. Jack jumped out and pulled the boat in. The others jumped out too and gazed round.
“We’re really here, we’re really here, we’re really here!” squealed Nora, jumping up and down and round and round in delight. “We’ve escaped. We’ve come to live on this dear little hidden island.”
“Come on, Nora, give a hand,” ordered Jack. “We’ve a lot to do before night, you know.”
Nora ran to help. The boat had to be unloaded, and that was quite a job. All the things were put on the beach under the willow trees for the time being. By the time that was finished the children were hotter than ever and very hungry and thirsty.
“Oh, for a drink!” groaned Mike.
“Peggy, do you remember the way to the spring?” asked Jack. “You do? Well, just go and fill this kettle with water, will you? We’ll all have a drink and something to eat!”
Peggy ran off up the hill and down the other side to the spring. She filled the kettle and went back. The others had put out enamel mugs ready to drink from. Mike was busy looking out something to eat, too. He had put out a loaf of bread, some young carrots, which they all loved to nibble, a piece of cheese each, and a cake.
What a meal that was! How they laughed and giggled and chattered! Then they lay back in the sun and shut their eyes. They were tired with all their hard work. One by one they fell asleep.
Jack awoke first. He sat up. “Hey!” he said. “This won’t do! We’ve got to get our beds for the night and arrange a good sleeping-place! We’ve dozens of things to do! Come on, everyone, to work, to work!”
But who minded work when it was in such a pleasant place? Peggy and Nora washed up the mugs and dishes in the lake water and set them in the sun to dry. The boys put all the stores in a good place and covered them with the old mackintosh in case it should rain. To-morrow they would start to build their house.
“Now to get a sleeping-place and bedding,” said Jack. “Won’t it be fun to sleep for the first time on the Secret Island!”