One morning, at the beginning of the summer holidays, four children sat in an express train, feeling tremendously excited.
“Now we’re really off!” said Mike. “My word - think of it - two months in a little house by the sea! Bathing, paddling, fishing, boating - what fun we shall have!”
“All the same, I wish Mummy and Daddy were coming with us,” said Nora, Mike’s twin sister. “I shall miss them - especially after being away at school all term, and only seeing them once.”
“Well, they couldn’t take the whole lot of us with them on their lecture tour!” said Peggy sensibly. “They will join us at Spiggy Holes as soon as they can.”
“Spiggy Holes! Doesn’t that sound an exciting name for a holiday place?” said Jack. “Spiggy Holes - I wonder why it’s called that. I suppose there are holes or caves or something.”
The four children had come home from school the day before. Nora and Peggy had arrived back from their girls’ school, and Mike and Jack from their boys’ school. They had spent the night at home with their father and mother, and now they were off, all alone, to Spiggy Holes.
Jack was the most excited of the four, for he had never been to the sea before! He was not really the brother of Mike, Nora, and Peggy, and had no father and mother of his own.
But the children’s parents had taken him for their own child, because he had helped Mike, Peggy, and Nora so much when they had run away from an unkind aunt and uncle. Captain Arnold, the children’s father, had left them at a farm with his sister, whilst he and his wife had tried to fly to Australia in an aeroplane.
Captain and Mrs. Arnold had been lost for months on a desert island, and when it seemed as if they would never come back, the children’s aunt treated them unkindly. They had made friends with Jack, who had helped them to run away to a secret island in a lake, and there the children had lived together until they had heard that their parents had been found and had come back to England to look for them.
As Jack had no people of his own, and was very fond of Mike, Nora and Peggy, Captain and Mrs. Arnold had said that he should live with them just as if he were another of their children - and Jack had been very happy.
He had gone to boarding school with Mike, and now here they all were together again for the summer holidays. At first they had been sad to hear that Captain and Mrs. Arnold were to go to Ireland to lecture there all about their flying adventures - but now that they were on their way to Cornwall together, to live in a house on the cliffs, and do just what they liked, the children couldn’t help feeling excited and happy.
“Who’s going to look after us at Spiggy Holes?” asked Jack.
“Somebody called Miss Dimity,” said Nora. “I don’t know anything about her except that Mummy says she is nice.”
“Miss Dimity!” said Peggy. “She sounds sort of timid and mouse-like. I shall call her Dimmy.”
The others laughed. “You wait till you see what she’s like!” said Mike. “She might be tall and strict and have a loud voice.”
The train roared on and on. Jack looked at a map on the wall. “I say!” he said. “It looks as if Spiggy Holes isn’t so very far from our secret island! I wonder if we could go over and see it. Dear little secret island - I expect it’s looking grand now.”
“It’s a good distance,” said Mike, looking at the map. “About forty miles, I should think. Well, we’ll see. I’d just love to see our secret island again.”
“Let’s have our dinner now.” said Peggy, undoing the luncheon basket. “Look what Mummy’s given us!”
There were chicken sandwiches, tomato sandwiches, biscuits of all kinds, lemonade to drink, and apples and bananas.
“Jolly good,” said Mike, taking his share of the lunch. “Mummy’s a brick. She always knows what we like!”
“How long is it before we get to Spiggy Holes?” asked Nora, eating her chicken sandwiches hungrily.
“We get to the nearest station at half-past four this afternoon,” said Mike. “But that’s six miles from Spiggy Holes. There’s to be a car or something to meet us.”
The time passed rather slowly. They had their books to read, and they played games of counting the signal-boxes and tunnels - but long before half-past four came they all felt tired, dirty, and hot.
“I’m going to sleep,” said Nora, and she put her feet up on the seat.
“Sleep!” said Mike scornfully. “I couldn’t possibly go to sleep now.”
All the same, he was fast asleep in a few minutes! So were they all, whilst the train thundered along through the sunny countryside, rushing under bridges, past stations and through tunnels at a tremendous speed.
The children only awoke as the train was slowing down in a station. Mike leapt up and looked out of the window.
“I say! Our station is the next one!” he yelled to the others. “Wake up, you sleepy-heads, wake up! Get your things down from the rack, and make yourselves a bit tidy. You look dreadful.“
So they all cleaned themselves up, and got down their things. They were just ready when the train slowed up again and it was time to get out.
They jumped out, one after the other. Mike called to a porter, “We’ve two trunks in the van. Will you get them out, please?”
The porter ran to do so. Jack wandered out into the yard to see if any car had come to meet them. But there was none. Only a sleepy brown horse stood there, with a farm wagon behind him. A farm-lad stood at his head.
“Are you Master Arnold, sir?” he said to Jack. “I’m meeting a party of four children to take them to Spiggy Holes.”
“Good,” said Jack. He called to the others. “Hie, Mike! Nora! Peggy! There’s a wagonette here to take us all. Hurry!”
The porter wheeled out the two trunks. The children piled themselves and their belongings into the wagonette and grinned at the farm-lad, who looked a jolly sort of fellow. He got up into the driving-seat, cracked his whip and off they went trundling over the six miles to Spiggy Holes.
It was wonderful country that they passed through. The sea lay on one side, far down the cliff, as blue as the sky above. The cliffs were magnificent, and the coast was very rocky. Here and there the sea splashed around enormous rocks, and washed them with white spray.
On the other side were fields and hills. Poppies blazed by the roadside, and blue chicory flowers shone as brightly as the sky. The children were thrilled with everything.
“Hope the weather keeps on being sunny and warm like this,” said Mike. “I shall live in a bathing-costume!”
“So shall I,” said the others at once.
The horse cantered on. The children could hear the sound of the waves breaking on the shore far below. They were driving along a high, winding cliff road, and the sea-wind blew hard in their faces. It was a very pleasant breeze, for the sun was hot, and still high in the sky.
“What’s our house called?” Mike asked the farm-lad, who was driving.
“It’s called Peep-Hole,” said the lad.
“Peep-Hole!” said Jack, surprised. “What an odd name!”
“You’ll be seeing it in a minute,” said the lad. “There it be!”
He pointed with his whip - and the four children saw the queer little house that was to be their home and the centre of their strange adventures for the next few weeks.
It was a funny crooked house, with a queer little tower built on one side of it. It was set in a hollow in the cliffs, and was turned towards the sea.
“It’s called Peep-Hole because it really is a kind of peep-hole out to sea, set in the middle of those two cliffs,” said the farm-lad. “And from the tower you can see the tower of the old house set back on the cliff behind those tall trees there. They do say that in smugglers’ days someone in the Peep-Hole used to flash signals to someone watching in the tower of the Old House.”
“I say! This sounds exciting,” said Jack. “Smugglers - and towers - and flashing lights - and I suppose there are caves too.”
“Scores of them,” said the lad, grinning. “You mind you don’t get lost in some of them, or get caught by the tide. This is a rare dangerous coast for children.”
“Here’s the Peep-Hole,” cried Nora, as they drew up outside the funny house with its one tall tower. “And look - that must be Miss Dimity at the door! And she’s just as mouse-like as you said, Peggy!”
All the children looked at Miss Dimity. She was a small, oldish woman, with neat grey hair, a little smiling face, and big grey eyes that looked timid and kind.
“Welcome to the Peep-Hole, children!” she cried in a little bird-like voice.
“Thank you, Miss Dimity!” said the children, and they each shook hands politely.
“I hope you’ll have a good-time here,” said Miss Dimity, leading the way indoors. “Your rooms are in the tower. I thought you would like that.”
“In the tower!” cried Nora. With a squeal that made Miss Dimity jump. “Oh, how lovely, lovely, lovely!”
Miss Dimity led the way to a funny little spiral staircase that went up and up and round and round to the top of the tower. In the tower were two rooms, one above the other. They were not very large and were perfectly round.
“Now you can wash and brush your hair and then come down to tea,” said Miss Dimity, in her firm, gentle voice. And she added again, “I do hope you will have a good time here.”
She didn’t guess what a strange time the children would have - poor Miss Dimity!