“Where do you think would be the best place to sleep?” said Peggy, looking round the little cove.
“Well,” said Jack, “I think it would be best to sleep under some thick trees somewhere, then, if it rains tonight, we shall not get too wet. But I don’t think it will rain; the weather is quite settled.”
“There are two nice, big, thick oak trees just beyond the cove,” said Mike, pointing. “Shall we find a place there?”
“Yes,” said Jack. “Find a bramble bush or gorse bush near them to keep any wind off. Let’s go and see what we think.”
They all went to the two big oak trees. Their branches swung almost down to the ground in places. Below grew clumps of soft heather, springy as a mattress. To the north was a great growth of gorse, thick and prickly.
“This looks a fine place to sleep,” said Jack. “Look. Do you see this little place here, almost surrounded by gorse, and carpeted with heather? The girls could sleep here, and we could sleep just outside their cosy spot, to protect them. The oak trees would shelter us nicely overhead.”
“Oh, I do think this is fine; I do, I do!” cried Nora, thinking that their green, heathery bedroom was the nicest in the world. She lay down on the heather. “It is as soft as can be!” she said; “and oh! there is something making a most delicious smell. What is it?”
“It is a patch of wild thyme," said Jack. “Look, there is a bit in the middle of the heather. You will smell it when you go to sleep, Nora!”
“All the same, Jack, the heather won’t feel quiet so soft when we have lain on it a few hours,” said Mike. “We’d better get some armfuls of bracken too, hadn’t we?”
“Yes,” said Jack. “Come on up the hill. There is plenty of bracken there, and heaps of heather too. We will pick the bracken and put it in the sun to dry. The heather doesn’t need drying. Pick plenty, for the softer we lie the better we’ll sleep! Heyho for a starry night and a heathery bed!”
The four children gathered armfuls of bracken and put it out in the sun to wither and dry. The heather they carried back to their green bedroom under the oak tree. They spread it thickly there. It looked most deliciously soft! The thick gorse bushes kept off the breeze, and the oaks above waved their branches and whispered. What fun it all was!
“Well, there are our bedrooms ready,” said Jack. “Now, we’d better find a place to put our stores in. We won’t be too far from the water, because it’s so useful for washing ourselves and our dishes in.”
The children were hungry again. They got out the rest of the cakes, and finished up the bread, eating some peas with it, which they shelled as they ate.
“Are we going to have any supper?” asked Mike.
“We might have a cup of cocoa each and a piece of my cake,” said Jack. “We must be careful not to eat everything at once that we’ve brought, or we’ll go short! I’ll do some fishing to-morrow.”
“Shall we begin to build the house to-morrow?” asked Mike, who was longing to see how Jack meant to make their house.
“Yes,” said Jack. “Now you two girls wash up the mugs again, and Mike and I will find a good place for the stores.”
The girls went to the water and washed the things. The boys wandered up the beach - and, at the back of the sandy cove, they found just the very place they wanted!
There was a sandy bank there, with a few old willows growing on top of it, their branches drooping down. Rain had worn away the sandy soil from their roots, and underneath there was a sort of shallow cave, with roots running across it here and there.
“Look at that!” said Jack in delight. “Just the place we want for our stores! Nora, Peggy, come and look here!”
The girls came running. “Oh,” said Peggy, pleased, “we can use those big roots as shelves, and stand our tins and cups and dishes on them! Oh, it’s a proper little larder!”
“Well, you girls, get the stores from the cove and arrange them neatly here,” said Jack. “Mike and I will go and fill the kettle from the spring, and we’ll see if there isn’t a nearer spring, because it’s a long way up the hill and down the other side.”
“Can’t we come with you?” asked Peggy.
“No, you arrange everything,” said Jack. “It had better all be done as quickly as possible, because you never know when it’s going to turn wet. We don’t want our stores spoilt.”
Leaving Peggy and Nora to arrange the tins, baskets, and odds and ends neatly in the root-larder, the two boys went up the hill behind the cove. They separated to look for a spring, and Mike found one! It was a very tiny one, gushing out from under a small rock, and it ran down the hill like a little waterfall, getting lost in the heather and grass here and there. Its way could be seen by the rushes that sprang up beside its course.
“I expect it runs down into the lake,” said Mike. “It’s a very small spring, but we can use it to fill our kettle, and it won’t take us quite so long as going to the other spring. If we have to live in the caves during the winter, the other spring will be more useful then, for it will be quite near the cave.”
They filled the kettle. It was lovely up there on the hillside in the June sun. Bees hummed and butterflies flew all round. Birds sang, and two or three moorhens cried “Fulluck, fulluck!” from the water below.
“Let’s go to the top of the hill and see if we can spy anyone coming up or down the lake,” said Jack. So they went right up to the top, but not a sign of anyone could they see. The waters of the lake were calm and clear and blue. Not a boat was on it. The children might have been quite alone in the world.
They went down to the girls with the full kettle. Nora and Peggy proudly showed the boys how they had arranged the stores. They had used the big roots for shelves, and the bottom of the little cave they had used for odds and ends, such as Jack’s axe and knife, the hammer and nails, and so on.
“It’s a nice dry place,” said Peggy. “It’s just right for a larder, and it’s so nice and near the cove. Jack, where are we going to build our house?”
Jack took the girls and Mike to the west end of the cove, where there was a thicket of willows. He forced his way through them and showed the others a fine clear place right in the very middle of the trees.
“Here’s the very place,” he said. “No one would ever guess there was a house just here, if we built one! The willows grow so thickly that I don’t suppose anyone but ourselves would ever know they could be got through.”
They talked about their house until they were tired out. They made their way back to the little beach and Jack said they would each have a cup of cocoa, a piece of cake, and go to bed!
He and Mike soon made a fire. There were plenty of dry twigs about, and bigger bits of wood. It did look cheerful to see the flames dancing. Jack could not use his little magnifying glass to set light to the paper or twigs because the sun was not hot enough then. It was sinking down in the west. He used a match. He set the kettle on the fire to boil.
“It would be better to-morrow to swing the kettle over the flames on a tripod of sticks,” he said. “It will boil more quickly then.”
But nobody minded how slowly the kettle boiled.
They lay on their backs in the sand, looking up at the evening sky, listening to the crackle of the wood, and smelling a mixture of wood-smoke and honeysuckle. At last the kettle sent out a spurt of steam, and began to hiss. It was boiling.
Nora made the cocoa, and handed it round in mugs. “There’s no milk,” she said. “But there is some sugar.”
They munched their cake and drank their cocoa. Though it had no milk in it, it was the nicest they had ever tasted.
“I do like seeing the fire,” said Nora. “Oh, Jack, why are you stamping it out?”
“Well,” said Jack, “people may be looking for us to-night, you know, and a spire of smoke from this island would give our hiding-place away nicely! Come on, now, everyone to bed! We’ve hard work to do tomorrow!”
Peggy hurriedly rinsed out the mugs. Then all of them went to their green, heathery bedroom. The sun was gone. Twilight was stealing over the secret island.
“Our first night here!” said Mike, standing up and looking down on the quiet waters of the lake. “We are all alone, the four of us, without a roof over our heads even, but I’m so happy!”
“So am I!” said everyone. The girls went to their hidden green room in the gorse and lay down in their clothes. It seemed silly to undress when they were sleeping out of doors. Mike threw them the old ragged rug.
“Throw that over yourselves,” he said. “It may be cold to-night, sleeping out for the first time. You won’t be frightened, will you?”
“No,” said Peggy. “You two boys will be near, and, anyway, what is there to be frightened of?”
They lay down on the soft heather, and pulled the old rug over them. The springy heather was softer than the old hard bed the two girls had been used to at home. The little girls put their arms round one another and shut their eyes. They were fast asleep almost at once.
But the boys did not sleep so quickly. They lay on their heathery beds and listened to all the sounds of the night. They heard the little grunt of a hedgehog going by. They saw the flicker of bats overhead. They smelt the drifting scent of honeysuckle, and the delicious smell of wild thyme crushed under their bodies. A reed-warbler sang a beautiful little song in the reeds below, and then another answered.
“Is that a blackbird?” asked Mike.
“No, a reed-warbler,” said Jack. “They sing as beautifully as any bird that sings in the daytime! Listen, do you hear that owl?”
“Oooo-ooo-ooo-oooo!” came a long, quivering sound; “ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo!”
“He’s hunting for rats and voles,” said Jack. “I say, look at the stars, Mike?”
“Don’t they seem far away?” said Mike, looking up into the purple night sky, which was set with thousands of bright stars. “I say, Jack, it’s awfully nice of you to come away with us like this and share your secret island.”
“It isn’t nice of me at all,” said Jack. “I wanted to. I’m doing just exactly what I most want to do. I only hope we shan’t be found and taken back, but I’ll take jolly good care no one finds us! I’m laying my plans already!”
But Mike was not listening. His eyes shut, he forgot the owls and the stars; he fell asleep and dreamt of building a house with Jack, a lovely house.
Jack fell asleep, too. And soon the rabbits that lived under their gorse-bush came slyly out and peeped at the sleeping children in surprise. Who were they?
But, as the children did not move, the rabbits grew bold and went out to play just as usual. Even when one ran over Mike by mistake, the little boy did not know it. He was much too fast asleep!