Lowfell at last
On the car purred, through the night which was as dark as pitch. The car ate up the miles but not very quickly it seemed. The children talked for a while, all four of them squashed up in the back. Then Mrs Cunningham threw them all rugs and they all snuggled down. “Try to get some sleep now” she told them. “We’ll have a long day tomorrow.” Lucy-Ann had been asleep long before then and the others listened to her contented breathing and soon they too were asleep dreaming of peculiar men trying to kidnap Bill. If only they the real reason why they were off to Lowfell, they would be surprised! But even Mrs Cunningham did not know this, she was just glad to be getting away for a lovely holiday. She and Bill talked in low voices for a while so as not to wake the children, until Bill suggested she got some sleep. She rested her head thankfully and soon Bill and Kiki were the only ones left awake. Kiki came and rested on Bill’s shoulder, and Bill, quite fond of the parrot, began to talk softly to her, Kiki adding the odd word. It would have been humorous to see burly Bill talking so solemnly to a parrot- don’t you think?
But no one ever did see this happen because Bill’s plan went smoothly. As the first rays of sunlight crept into the car, a sign for Lowfell appeared at the roadside and the children opened their eyes. Mrs Cunningham was already awake and handed them some chocolate to eat until they got to the inn where they were to stay; they would get a good breakfast there for sure. The children munched happily until a strange smell began to linger their noses. It is hard to explain what the smell was like, but it certainly was curious and the children asked Bill what it was.
“It’s the marsh of course. They always have a peculiar sort of smell to them I should think.”
“A marsh? There’s a marsh here?” Jack asked at once with gleaming eyes.
“Yes, didn’t I tell you? I think there is a story to it, which I don’t know but perhaps someone at Lowfell knows. You can ask.” Bill replied his eyes not leaving the road.
“Some of the most amazing species of birds live near marshes you know…” Jack began. He then began a long, rather boring lecture of which birds live near marsh land and the others grew bored all except Lucy-Ann who listened enthralled. She was always in great awe of her brother and listened thinking how wonderful he sounded.
Jack’s lecture came to an abrupt end when Dinah shouted at the top of her voice; “Look! There it is! We’re at Lowfell at last!” Kiki began to shout too and suddenly did her imitation of an express train startling everyone, but nobody really minded. A man from Bill’s base, who he knew quite well, was waiting to pick up the car. Everyone tumbled out and Bill fetched the bags. Bill said a few low words to his friend and then the car drove away back the way the they had just come. The children glanced around. They were stood on a great big patch of grass in the middle of a very small village. The village consisted of only a few shops, five at the most and about ten little cottages an inn and a few hills surrounding. Lucy-Ann loved it at once.
“Lets get our luggage and make our way over to the inn then shall we? Lucy-Ann, you get that bag, it’s quite light.” Between them, the five carried the bags over to the inn. A plump woman came running out at once with a beaming and welcoming smile.
“Hallo!” she cried in delight. “Welcome to Lowfell Inn! Now let me help you with your luggage. Mr Dickens! Come and help me please!” The strong woman picked up a suitcase and ran inside with it. Bill watched her laughing and then beckoned the others. The other man appeared, a tall, scowling fellow, who lifted up some of the other bags and walked inside with them.
“Come on then!” Bill said. Then all stumbled into the little inn, and followed the woman and Mr Dickens up some winding stairs. Round and round they went and finally reached a little landing with a slanting ceiling and a few doors leading off it. The woman kicked open one of the doors and put the suitcase down in it.
“For madam and sir!” she exclaimed. In the room there were placed a few pieces of simple furniture, a four poster bed, a dressing table, a cupboard and some drawers. There was a tremendous view out the window of all around the small village and the marsh looming in the back ground. Mrs Cunningham was very pleased and looked at her husband gratefully.
The children were shown into their rooms, there was one between the girls and one between the boys, both with slanting ceilings. There were two beds, one placed at each side of the room with a chest of drawers next to each of them and one big cupboard at the end. All three rooms had a big fireplace and the children looked at these in delight though they would not need to use them on their visit for the weather was so fine. Mr Dickens placed all their things down beside their beds and left the rooms, scowling. “That’s just Mr Dickens, our handy man, here. He always scowls at everyone, it’s nothing personal, don’t worry!”
Everyone packed away their things into the ‘dear little cupboards’ as Lucy-Ann had said and as soon as they were finished the breakfast bell went. The children trooped downstairs, Mr and Mrs Cunningham following. They sat themselves down on a table at the corner that had a window that looked out onto the marsh land. The children stared out of it in wonder until Mrs Jordans, the inn keeper, brought their breakfast.
“Settled in?” she asked in her warm voice.
“Yes thank you” the children replied politely.
“And you’ve brought a bird!” she exclaimed, stroking Kiki’s head.
“My grandmother has some love birds and I am very fond of them. There are a lot of rare birds around the marsh, like the cattle egret – very beautiful bird, and the purple heron…” Jack looked at her in excitement.
“Really?” he said, “The cattle egret and purple heron live here? Why, I’ve always wanted to them!” The woman looked surprised.
“Well of course. You should go and see them on the hills. You would have a perfect view of them from there.” the woman advised.
Jack didn’t speak a word that meal. He had already made up his mind to take his camera and field glasses and go up into the hills and watch for the birds. He day dreamed about it all breakfast. Dinah kicked him sharply. “Sleepy?” she asked. “You’ve spooned marmalade into your coffee instead of sugar. Three tea spoons – yuck!” Jack looked down in dismay at his mug of coffee. “I was just thinking about the birds. I was thinking about taking a picnic up into the hills a bit later, and watching for them.” Jack explained trying to spoon the chunks of marmalade out of his cup. “Not today dear, we’ve a lot to do and pack away. How about we all go tomorrow?” Mrs Cunningham said. Jack looked satisfied. He stopped day dreaming for the rest of breakfast and actually ate something.
There was a lot to do after breakfast, as Mrs Cunningham said. There was packing away to be done and everyone retired to their rooms to put away every belonging of theirs. Then, after discovering a few things had been forgotten, the children went shopping in the tiny little village. They enjoyed themselves and chatted with the shop keepers. Finally they chose some seats by the window in the dairy and bought some soft, sticky ginger bread and endless glasses of ginger beer to wash it down with. The woman who owned it seemed friendly and served the children two helpings of everything! Finally they made their way back to the inn for dinner which was a delicious supply of meat pie and thick crusty bread. The children stared in surprise at the spread. They thought meals at home were marvellous, but just look at this! The children munched contentedly not noticing the grave expression on Bill’s face, and the flustered one on Mrs Cunningham’s. After they had finished their meal, the children looked round the room at the other guests who were still eating. There hadn’t been as many at breakfast. There was a jolly looking man and woman who were obviously here on a quiet holiday, a tall dark man who might have been there on some sort of business or something. There were two plump women, old friends catching up, the children thought. That was all except for a peculiar pair of men, both dark and slim, looking smart in their suits and ties. They were rather quiet and had a room opposite the boys room. Jack and Philip were rather suspicious of them. They always talked so low and whenever anyone walked past their place at meals, they fell silent.
After sizing everyone up, Bill decided it was time to leave the little wooden dining room and go to the sitting room where all the guests were entitled to sit, play cards, listen to the radio or read. There was a large sofa and three armchairs placed around the fire and a low wooden table in the middle. The company decided to have a game of cards around the little table. Mrs Cunningham didn’t want to, however and took her book to read. She looked very pale and ill and Bill was worried about her. The children played endless jolly games of snap until Mrs Jordans bustled in with mugs of hot cocoa and cookies.
“Thought I’d let you have supper in here tonight seen as you’ve settled down.” she said in her welsh accent. The children watched her place down a large tray of goods on the table in front of them all.
“Thank you Mrs Jordans!” the children and Kiki chorused. Kiki pecked a few chocolate chips out of Jack’s cookie and retired to a shelf to eat them. Jack shook his fist at her humorously. “Drat that bird, she’s taken half my chocolate chips.” he said in dismay. Mrs Jordans watched all this amusement and laughed at the end. “And what’s this about you going up into the hills tomorrow, do you want a picnic to take?” She asked.
“Oh, yes please Mrs Jordans, would you mind?”
“Of course, come to the kitchens when you’re ready and I’ll have a fine feast for you!”
And with that she bustled out and left the children to tuck into their supper. They played for a little longer and then switched on the radio and read for a while. At 9:30 they all retired to bed. “Isn’t it fine here?” Lucy-Ann said as she snuggled into the bedclothes and blew out her candle; there were no electric lights at the inn.
“Fine.” Dinah replied in a drowsy voice.
“I do like Mrs Jordans as well, don’t you? I think she’s a dear and I love the little twinkle she has in her eye when she smiles. And isn’t she kind offering to make us a picnic to take…”
But Dinah didn’t hear for she was asleep, dreaming of climbing Lowfell Hill, eating a fine picnic and drinking ginger beer. Glorious!
The boys were talking in their room too, they were excited about their trip tomorrow to Lowfell Hill, especially Jack who had gotten his camera and field glasses ready for watching the birds. But little did they know a trouble was waiting for them before they could climb Lowfell Hill.