A terrible shock and a lovely day
The children slept like logs that night and didn’t awake until the first rays of sunlight broke across the sky. Each of them stared at the slanted ceiling for a few moments trying to work out where they could be, but in a flash it all came back and each child sat up in excitement. Of course! They were at Lowfell, in the lovely little inn! And today they were going to climb Lowfell Hill – how fine! Jack was the first to get out of bed and he flung open the curtains and let the wonderful weather flood into the room. Philip rubbed his eyes and Jack shook him. “Wake up lazy bones, we’re off to Lowfell Hill today – to watch the birds!”
Philip laughed at Jack. “Hey, easy. Let me have ten more minutes, it is the holidays. You remind me of my form master at school who always comes into our dormy on a morning to shake me because I never get out of bed when the bell goes! Alright, alright, I’m getting up now!”
The boys pulled on some clothes and then marched into the girls room. “Oh, you’re awake. Mother and Bill must be having a lie in, there’s no sign of them. We’ll just go down to breakfast shall we? And if they are still not up when we want to be setting off for Lowfell Hill, we’ll leave a message with Mrs Jordans,” Philip announced.
Everyone stumbled down the crooked stair case, looking with interest at the paintings hung on the walls. They knew their way around the inn now and headed for the dining room where they expected a huge meal to be served to them. And they were right – bacon, eggs, fried bread, sausages – what a heavenly meal! There were a few guests up, but not many. Just the children, the two old friends who the children knew were leaving today and the business man who was working out some sort of sum on his note pad. He was always up early writing down some kind of sum. The children listened to his muffled groans and sighs as they tucked into their meal.
“Some difficult sum, he must be working out,” Dinah said in a low voice. She showed an alarmed expression as Kiki echoed her in a much louder, cheekier voice. She looked feebly over her shoulder to beg the gentleman’s pardon, but he didn’t seem to have noticed at all. She sighed in relief.
But someone had heard, and that was Mrs Jordans. She came up and tapped Kiki on the beak. “Naughty bird!” she exclaimed with a twinkle in her eye. She turned to the children and smiled at them. “Good morning children!” she said in a merry voice. “I’m afraid I’ve a little bit of bad news to tell you.”
The children looked at Mrs Jordans in surprise. Lucy-Ann felt tears flooding to her eyes but she blinked them back thinking it might not be as bad as they all expected. She listened to Mrs Jordans with a scared expression. Kindly Mrs Jordans sat down beside her and put her arm round her shoulders and began to tell them her news. “Mr and Mrs Cunningham had to leave in a hurry last night. Mrs Cunningham was very ill and has gone to stay with her sister. Mr Cunningham is driving her there and he will be back in a few days time when he is positive her health is improving. But I am to look after you for a few days while they are away – won’t that be fun?” she said with a wide smile.
The children didn’t look at all as if it would be fun, however much they liked the friendly Mrs Jordans. They were all very dismayed and Lucy-Ann couldn’t blink back her tears any long and let them run down her cheeks. The others looked grave and guilty that they had not noticed Mrs Cunningham looking so ill. Lucy-Ann wept and Mrs Jordan’s looked at her in distress wishing she hadn’t said Mrs Cunningham was as ill as she was. “It’s all right,” she said in a soft, kindly voice, “she’ll be right as rain again soon, I tell you.”
Lucy-Ann wiped her face with her sleeve. “I do hope she’ll be OK.” she began but Mrs Jordan’s interrupted her. “Now don’t you upsetting yourself again, just enjoy that lovely big breakfast!” Mrs Jordans slipped away and the children looked at one another in dismay.
“How horrid.” Dinah said, “And mother does so love the holidays too, she’ll be heart broken.”
“Don’t!” Lucy-Ann begged hiding her face in her handkerchief, “You’ll make me feel worse. Oh poor Aunt Allie…” Jack and Philip were both disheartened too, though they did not show their emotions like Lucy-Ann or talk about them like Dinah, they were silent. Nobody felt like eating any more that meal and just sat and talked mournfully. When everyone else left, the children went and sat in the sitting room where they messed about with a pack of cards, looking glum.
Mrs Jordans bustled in and looked at them all. “Now you’re not going sit about looking glum all your holidays are you?” she asked wiping her hands on her large, white apron. “Mrs Cunningham will be perfectly fine, no doubt she’ll enjoy a few days rest, then she’ll be back here again looking better than she ever has. Enjoy yourself till then though, won’t you? I’ve a picnic ready for you in the kitchen – don’t let this little unfortunate happening spoil your plans for the day. Good gracious, even that bird of yours is solemn! She’s the quietest I’ve seen her since you got here!” Everyone smiled watery smiles. They began to feel better for Mrs Jordan’s stern but kindly words.
Jack took the lead and jumped up, not only because he was eager to carry out his plans after all, but because he wanted to make everyone smile again. Philip sat up and joined Jack but the girls were not quite so enthusiastic. Off they went to collect their picnic, Jack hurried upstairs to get his camera and field glasses. The girls peeped into the picnic basket and immediately their faces lit up.
“Golly, look at that enormous slab of ginger bread, and oat biscuits! How delicious!” Lucy-Ann cried. The hill was set behind the inn so the children had to walk round. They all forgot their troubles and were soon climbing Lowfell Hill, the breeze cooling them. Half way Jack suggested a little rest and a drink from the tiny stream they were following. The water tasted delicious as they each sipped it from their cupped hands. Philip looked in amusement at Lucy-Ann who was as merry as the rest of them and chuckled to himself. Lucy-Ann was indeed very happy and lay basking in the glorious sun.
After ten minutes rest, Jack, Philip, Lucy-Ann and Dinah picked themselves up and began marching up the hill once more. They finally reached the top and sunk down into the grass. Jack took the bag off his back he had been carrying which contained all the food and drink. He threw it to Dinah who handed out all the sandwiches. “Mmm, egg sandwiches, how delicious!”
The four children munched up all the food Mrs Jordan’s had supplied and then lay down on the grass all except Jack who was taking this chance to watch the birds. “We’ll have a little nap and then we’ll have to be getting back to the inn and see if there’s been any news from Mother and Bill.” Philip announced to the others in a drowsy voice. Soon Philip, Dinah and Lucy-Ann were all asleep at the top of Lowfell Hill under the sun, getting browner and browner.
If it had not been for Kiki they would probably have slept right through the night as Jack paid no attention to the time! Kiki had become restless and flew off Jack’s shoulder to scare away the other birds. Jack glared at her and tapped her sharply on the beak. “Naughty bird!” she scolded. He glanced at his watch and in alarm, he shook awake the others.
Everyone sat up, they were angry at being disturbed but glancing at their watches, it was a god job they had been! It was half past four! “Gracious, Jack, you could have woken us by now,” Philip said, “only half an hour till tea!”
“I don’t feel like I could eat another thing,” Lucy-Ann said. Everyone picked up the things, Philip swung the bag onto his shoulder this time, and he beckoned the others.
He was standing at the edge of the hill and was pointing at something over the edge. “Look, a little hut! Lets go down and see it, it isn’t far down.”
Jack looked doubtful. “I don’t know, we want to be heading towards the inn, not further away from it.” he argued. The little hut Philip had spotted was on the other side of the hill to the side they had climbed when the party had made their way to the top.
“Oh, please Jack!” Lucy-Ann begged. “We shan’t be long. I just want to peep into the window.” Jack gave in and followed the others down the other side of Lowfell hill. Philip had been right, it wasn’t too far down. Everyone gathered round the little window and peeped in.
“Why, it’s a little house!” Lucy-Ann exclaimed. It certainly was- there was an armchair with a little table next to it scattered with all kinds of odds and ends, a radio placed on a shelf. A little bed in the corner and a cabinet beside it. There was a water basin and some cupboards too. “How lovely!” Lucy-Ann said.
“And won’t it have a lovely view over the marsh!” Jack added. There suddenly came a shout from the bottom of the hill where an old, shaggy man with a large white beard stood, leaning on his stick, surrounded by sheep.
“Hey, you children get away from my ‘ouse!” he shouted in a hollow tone.
“Sorry!” Philip shouted back. “ We didn’t know it was yours, we were just looking. We aren’t doing any harm.” The man didn’t seem to want to accept this apology so the children fled down the hill back to the inn where Mrs Jordan’s stood at the doorway.
“You bad children!” she scolded in her stern yet kindly tone. “You are late for dinner, ten minutes that is!” she said smiling round at them. “You hurry along now or there’ll be nothing left for you!” Despite vowing they would not be hungry for another week after the huge lunch they had had, the children managed to eat a huge dinner as well! Mrs Jordans came and sat with them, eager to hear their adventures. She frowned when she heard who the owner of the hut had shouted at them. “Awful old crosspatch he is.” she complained. “I’m afraid you’ll all have to go and apologise properly to him tomorrow, children or else he’ll hold it against you for the rest of the time you are here. You wouldn’t want that. I’ll give you a large slab of ginger bread to take for him, he always does like that.” The children nodded.
“Is there any news from Bill?” Lucy-Ann asked hopefully. Mrs Jordans smiled widely.
“Ah yes!” she exclaimed. “He rung us earlier when you were out. Mrs Cunningham is improving and he will be back here the day after tomorrow. This is good news, no?” she said, smiling at the happy faces of the children. “Fantastic news!” they agreed.
“Why can’t he be back here tomorrow, if Aunt Allie is improving? Didn’t he promise he would come back as soon as she showed signs of improving.” Lucy-Ann protested.
“Ah, he needs to collect a message from his base.” Mrs Jordan’s said mysteriously. “He told me no more and I must tell you no more!” she exclaimed getting up from her place. “Now you run along and play cards or something. I’ll wash up and then I’ll have a game! Won’t you be disappointed when your big Bill returns and I shall no longer look after you?” she said with a twinkle in her eye. She was rather in awe of Bill and whenever she addressed him by his Christian name, she called him ‘Big Bill’! But this didn’t matter, Bill was going to be back soon! Everything would be alright.