The first few days of the summer holiday slipped away happily. The children explored the beach, which was a most exciting one, but rather dangerous. The tide came right up to the cliffs when it was in, and filled most of the caves.
“We shall have to be careful not to get caught in any of these caves when the tide is coming in,” said Jack. “It would be very difficult to get out.”
Miss Dimity warned them too, and told them many stories of people who had explored the caves, forgetting about the tide, and who had had to be rescued by boats when they found that they could not get out of the caves.
The bathing was lovely at low tide. The children had to promise not to bathe at high tide, for then the waves were very big, and Dimmy was afraid the children might be dashed against the rocks. But it was lovely to bathe at low tide. The rock pools were deep and warm. The sand was smooth and golden, and felt pleasant to their bare feet.
“You need not wear your sand-shoes here,” Dimmy told them. “No trippers ever come to Spiggy Holes, leaving their litter and broken glass behind them!”
So they went barefoot, and loved to feel the sand between their toes. The farm-lad, who came to do Dimmy’s garden for her, lent them his boat, and the four children had a wonderful time at low tide, boating around the rocks and all about the craggy coast.
One day there was a very high tide indeed. The waves splashed against the cliffs and all the caves were full of water. There was nothing to do down on the beach, because, for one thing, there was no beach, and for another Dimmy said it was dangerous to go down the cliff-path when the tides were high because the spray made the path slippery, and they might easily slip down and fall into the high water.
“Well, what shall we do then?” said Jack, wandering out into the garden, and picking some pea-pads. He split the pads and emptied the peas into his mouth. Dimmy had a lovely garden - full of peas and beans and lettuces and gooseberries and late cherries and early plums. None of the children could help picking something as they went through it every day.
“I know what we’ll do!” said Mike. “We’ll go and explore the garden of the Old House. Come on!”
They passed the farm-lad, George, who was busy digging up some potatoes. Nora called to him.
“Hallo! We’re going to explore the garden of the Old House. Nobody lives there, do they, George?”
“That house has been empty this twenty years.” said George. “Maybe more. The garden is like a forest!”
“It will be fun to explore it then,” said Peggy. They ran up the slope of the cliff towards the Old House. They were all in sun-suits and shady hats, but even so they were very hot. Soon they came to a high wall that ran all round the big garden of the Old House.
“We can’t climb over this,” said Jack, looking up at the wall, which was three times as tall as he was. “What are we going to do?”
“What about going in through the gates?” said Mike, with a grin. “Or do you feel it would be more exciting to break your leg trying to climb that wall, Jack?”
Everybody laughed. “Well, it would be more exciting to climb the wall,” said Jack, giving Mike a friendly punch. “But we’ll go and find the gates.”
The gates were locked, but the children easily climbed over them. They jumped to the ground on the other side.
There was a long, dark drive in front of them, winding its way below tall, overhanging trees to the front door. The drive was completely overgrown with nettles and thistles, and the children stopped in dismay.
“I say!” said Jack. “We want to be dressed in macintoshes and gum-boots to make our way through these stinging, prickly things! If we push through them we shall get terribly stung!“
“Well, look,” said Nora, pointing to the left. “There’s a better way off to the left there - only just tall grass, and no nettles. Let’s go that way.”
So they went to the left, making their way through shrubberies and over-grown beds. It was a very large garden, and very exciting, for there were all kinds of fruit trees that had not been pruned for years, but whose fruit was sweet and delicious.
The children picked some ripe plums and enjoyed the sweet juice. “Nobody lives here, so it can’t matter having a few plums,” said Nora. “The wasps would have them if we didn’t. Isn’t it hot in this garden!”
“Let’s go and see what the house is like.” said Jack. So they pushed their way through the long sprays of overgrown rose-bushes and went up to the house. It was built of white stone, and was very solid and strong. It had rather small windows, very dirty indeed, and the rooms looked dark and dreary when the children looked through the glass.
They came to the round tower built on to one side of the house, just as the tower of Peep-Hole was built on to Miss Dimity’s house.
“This is an enormous tower,” said Mike, in surprise. “It’s three times as big as ours! My word, I’d like to go up it! The view over the sea must be marvellous!”
“Let’s see if we can get into the house,” said Peggy. She tried some of the windows, but they were fast shut. Mike tried a door set deep into the wall of the tower but that was locked and bolted inside.
Then Jack gave a shout. He had found an old broken ladder lying on the ground and had set it up beside the wall of the round tower. It just reached to a small window.
“I believe that window could be opened,” said Jack. “Come and hold the ladder, Mike. The rungs don’t look too good to me.”
Mike held the ladder and Jack went carefully up it.
One of the rungs broke as he trod on it and he nearly fell. The ladder wobbled dangerously, but Mike was holding it tightly, so Jack was quite all right.
He climbed up to the window-sill and tried to pull the window open. “The catch is broken!” he said. “I believe I can get the window open if I try long enough. It’s stuck hard.”
“I’ll hold the ladder tight,” Mike shouted back. “Shake the window and bang the bottom part, Jack. Nora, help me to hold the ladder. Jack’s shaking the window so hard that the ladder is swinging about! I don’t want him sitting on my head suddenly!”
There was a shout from above and the ladder wobbled again. “I’ve got it open!” cried Jack. “It came up with a rush!”
“We’ll climb up the ladder then,” said Nora, in excitement.
“No,” said Jack, leaning out of the window. He had climbed in through it. “That ladder’s too dangerous for you girls to use. I’ll pop down and unlock the door in the tower, just near you.”
“Right.” said Mike, and he took the ladder away and threw it down on the ground again. Jack disappeared. They could hear him running down the stairs of the tower. Then they heard him undoing bolts, and turning a rusty key. He pulled at the door and Mike pushed. It opened so suddenly that Jack sat down in the dust, and Mike flew in through the door as if he were running a race!
The girls followed, laughing at the two boys. Jack got up and dusted himself. “Let’s go up the tower first,” he said. “Look at the walls! They seem about four feet thick! My word, they knew how to build in the old days!”
The tower was very solid indeed. It had a small winding staircase that ran round and round as it went upwards. There were four rooms in the tower, one on top of the other.
“They are all quite round,“ said Jack. “Just as ours are in the Peep-Hole tower. I say! What a magnificent view you get over the sea from this top room!”
The children stood in silence and looked out of the window over the sea. It shimmered there for miles in the sun, purple blue, with tiny white flecks where the water washed over hidden rocks.
“You can see the tower of Peep-Hole very well from here,” said Mike. “The two towers must have been built in these special positions so that the smugglers could signal to each other. If one of us were in our tower to-day we could easily wave a hanky to the others here, and it would be seen perfectly.”
“Mike! Jack! I can hear something!” said Nora suddenly. She had very sharp ears.
The others looked startled. “Whatever do you mean, Nora?” said Jack. “I can hear things too - the birds singing, and the far-away sound of the sea!”
“I don’t mean those,” said Nora. “I am sure I heard voices.”
“Voices! In an old empty house that hasn’t been lived in for years!” said Jack, laughing.
“I tell you I did,” said Nora. She suddenly pointed out through one of the tower windows. “Just look down there!” she said. “You can see the front gate from here - look at it!”
The others looked, and their eyes opened wide in surprise.
“The front gate is open!” said Mike. “And it was fast locked when we climbed over it! Nora is right. She must have heard somebody.”
“Perhaps it is somebody come to look over the house to buy it,” said Nora. “Oh dear - we oughtn’t to be here, I’m sure. And I wish we hadn’t eaten those plums now. Let’s go quickly.”
The others could hear the voices very clearly now too. Jack looked alarmed. “I believe they’re in the tower already,” he said. “They must have come into the house by the front door and gone round to the tower.”
“They are coming up the stairway!” whispered Peggy, her hand half over her mouth. “Sh! Don’t talk any more. Maybe they won’t come right up to the top.”
The voices came clearly up the stairway. One was a man’s and one was a woman’s.
“This tower is the very place.” said the man’s deep voice, which did not sound quite English.
“Nobody would ever guess,” said the woman’s voice, and she laughed. It was not a kind laugh. The strangers went into the room below the top one and the woman exclaimed at the view.
“Isn’t it marvellous! And so lonely too. Not a house within miles except that little one down there - it’s called the Peep-Hole, isn’t it? And the old farmhouse four miles off. It’s just right for us, Felipe.”
“Yes,” said the man. “Come along - we’ve seen all we need.”
The children breathed a sigh of relief. So the people weren’t coming up to their room after all.
“Well, I’d very much like to see the view from the topmost room of all,” said the woman. “Also, that’s the room we’d use, isn’t it?”
“Very well. Come along, then,” said the man. “But hurry, please, because we haven’t long.”
The footsteps came up and up. The children didn’t know what to do, so they simply stood together and waited for the small but strong door to be opened. It swung inwards, and they saw a golden-haired woman looking at them, and a man with a very dark skin behind her.
“Well!” said the woman in astonishment and anger. “What are you doing here?”
“We just came to have a look at the garden and the tower of the Old House,” said Jack. “We are staying at the Peep-Hole.”
The man came into the room and scowled at them. “You’ve no right to get into empty houses. We are going to buy this house - and if we catch any of you in the house or garden again we’ll give you a good whipping. Do you understand - because we mean it! Now clear out!”
The children were frightened. They tore down the winding staircase and out into the sunlight without a word. They had seldom been spoken to like that before.
“Let’s go and tell Dimmy,” said Nora. “Do hurry!”