The children began to feel hungry half way down the hill, and decided to have lunch there again. They hunted about for a shady tree and were soon sat eating a delicious meal of ham sandwiches, pickled onions, hard boiled eggs and ginger cake. “Jane certainly does know how to cook,” Philip said, taking an enormous bite of ginger cake. “Is there enough cake for seconds, Lucy, dear?” he asked, looking over his shoulder to where Lucy-Ann sat nibbling her egg.
“Philip, you pig! Surely you don’t want another slice after the enormous one you just cut!” Dinah exclaimed.
Philip gave her a friendly punch. “Of course I do, honestly, this cake is simply wizard! Kiki, do stop pecking at the pickled onions!” Just as the girls were about to pack up, a strange noise was heard. It sounded like a groan at first, and the children thought it was just the tree they were sat under, groaning because it was old, but suddenly it got a little louder, and it began to sound more like a ‘gurgle’ as Jack put it.
“What on earth is that strange gurgle I keep hearing?” asked Jack, as they put away the bottles of ginger beer.
“It sounded more like a groan to me, probably just this tree. Looks quite old to me,” said Philip looking up into the trees branches. And then it came again, gurgle…gurgle…
It sounded rather like dirty water being let out of a basin. The children stared at each other for a moment, and it came again. They couldn’t quite make out where it was coming from.
Then it came again, gurgle…gurgle… Lucy-Ann shuddered. “What is it?” she asked, looking round. “There’s no water anywhere but the stream and we know the kind of noises the stream, because we’re camping right next to it,” Lucy-Ann said looking round. The children had a good sight of the marsh from this point, and it loomed in the distance behind the edge of the hill. Lucy-Ann pointed to it, a scared expression on her face.
“It’s the marsh,” she said, trembling. The distant gurgle sounded again. The others looked towards the marsh. It certainly did look like it came from there, for every now and again a ripple came across the smooth surface of it.
“Probably a noise the marsh makes quite often, but we’re not used to it,” said Jack, feeling rather puzzled. He’d never heard of marshes making any strange sounds before, but there was no other way of explaining it.
“We’d better get on,” Philip said at last. “And you girls can jolly well have a go of holding that bag, now that some of the food’s gone,” he said, setting off. Dinah picked up the bag, scowling after her brother. And the little party set off once more, down the steep hill, through the little rough path, beside the stream.
Eventually, the children reached the bottom, quite worn out. They sunk down in the cool shade for a while. It felt very refreshing compared to the blazing sun. They then began to look around for the large rock which covered the hole in the hill, to make sure it was still there. Yes, there it was, sturdily placed over the large gap in the hill. You could tell it had been moved a few times, for lots of dirt had fallen a little way down, scraped of when the rock had been removed. It really was a large one and the children marvelled the strength that must have been used to get it there.
“But surely it’s not for a good reason,” said Dinah, after the boys envied the people’s strength.
“Well, we don’t know that yet, do we?” Philip replied, “We know we have seen four men wandering down the hill in the dead of the night, but you never know, they could be up to anything.”
“Anyway, we must find a place for us three to hide tonight,” said Jack, turning away from the rock. “Lets look in the trees, first.”
The four children spread out and each explored the clump of trees at the foot of the hill, looking for an appropriate hiding spot. Kiki sat on Jack’s shoulder also searching, though she didn’t know quite what for! It was the girls who found the hiding spot they would watch from that night. They had gone to look together and had soon came across a rather peculiar tree behind a few others. It was very low, and the branches stretched out widely. Its trunk was quick thick and there was a hole in it right in the centre. Dinah began to climb up it, for it looked quite easy. She got to the top in no time and gave an exclamation. “Gosh! This tree’s hollow!” she called down to Lucy-Ann, who was staring up into the branches. “This would be a marvellous hiding place for tonight! I’ll just see if we could all group together inside.”
And before poor Lucy-Ann could stop her, Dinah had dropped down into the hollow of the tree trunk. It was quite light in there because of the hole in trunk. It was level with Dinah’s eyes and she peered through. Lucy-Ann jumped and then giggled. “Is there much space in there then?” she asked, looking through the little hole.
“I’ll have to have a look with my torch,” Dinah said. There was a click and suddenly the inside of the tree was flooded with light. “Well it would certainly be a bit of a squash, but I think we could. Go and fetch the boys and we’ll have a try,” Lucy-Ann sped off to fetch the boys who were testing various trees for a comfortable place to hide. Lucy-Ann stared up at Jack, who was sitting solemnly in a rather large tree, Kiki beside him, staring into a birds nest.
“We’ve found a place, Jack!” she exclaimed. “Come and see if we can all fit in!”
Jack jumped down from the tree, landing neatly beside his sister. He hailed to Philip who was a few trees away. He climbed down too, and soon they were being led by Lucy-Ann back to the hollow tree. Kiki sailed above their heads, swerving dangerously between the trees and altogether making a fine old row!
“Gosh, there’s that gurgle again,” said Philip as they walked quickly through the trees. “I do wonder what it is.”
“Where’s Dinah?” asked Philip in surprise as they arrived at the tree. I thought you said she was here, and I can’t see her up the tree. Golly this is a good hiding spot!”
“She’s in there,” said Lucy-Ann, pointing proudly at the tree trunk.
The two boys stared in surprise. “Don’t say you’ve found a hollow tree?” said Jack, beginning to climb up. “You have done well. Now lets all try and squeeze in together.”
Philip helped Lucy-Ann up the tree while Jack dropped deftly down into the hollow. There was a cry. “Jack, you beast. You landed on my toes!”
Philip then helped Lucy-Ann down the hole, with the help of Jack. And then down Kiki came, landing on Jack’s head, and pecking at his hair most affectionately. They just all fit in. It was a bit of a squash, but they’d be all right for a while. “All alright?” Philip called down the hole.
“Yes!” everyone chorused. Jack would keep watch through the small hole in the tree, and when they heard Philip’s signal they would all leap out at once.
“We might need a length of rope to get back up,” Jack said, undoing a length from his waist. “Tie it to a strong branch Philip and we can haul ourselves up. Catch!” He tossed one end of the rope up the trunk, into the deft hands of Philip, who then tied a few strong knots in the rope, and hooked them round a branch that looked quite strong.
He tested it and called to Jack, “Ready!”
One by one, the children pulled themselves up the rope and all jumped down from the tree. Philip wanted to have a try inside the hollow and remained on the branch to jump down. “A jolly good place you’ve got there,” he said, joining the others, after having examined every inch of the inside of the tree. “What time is it? Half two. Anyone want a snack?”
The children sat down and had some biscuits each, happy with what they had achieved. They heard the very same gurgle… gurgle… a few times and puzzled over it for a while, however none of them could come up with a suitable solution. At last they decided on having a nap before tea. Then, after that, Philip would tear back up the hill to his hiding spot.
Philip, Lucy-Ann and Dinah lay back in the sun. Jack wanted to do a spot of bird watching. He had his field glasses in their leather case hung round his shoulder. He took them out, proudly. He decided the best place to watch for the birds would be a bit further up the hill, so he left the three others at the foot of the hill, and climbed a little way up. Kiki perched on his shoulder.
She seemed to know when Jack was going bird watching and always knew to keep quiet. Jack lay on his back and put the glasses to his eyes. There was a group of birds circling, above him. Ah they must be the purple herons! Jack could tell by their long necks and their rather croaky call to each other. He up, rather puzzled. Why, the purple herons never left their nest unattended, and there was a whole family flying together up there! There was a male and a female, Jack could tell the difference, and two chicks. And there were more families, flying up over the marsh, and over Lowfell Hill. Jack watched as the families soared overhead, keeping a firm grip on Kiki. The birds all looked rather alarmed. Jack couldn’t work any of it out.
He looked out towards the marsh, sitting up now. He could see parts rippling and bubbling now and again, feeling more and more curious. What with all the gurgling, birds and bubbling of the marsh. Why, things were getting too much! He began to get rather bored staring up at the flocks of purple herons that flew overhead. He hadn’t been gone long either. He debated whether to wake Philip up, and discuss the peculiar goings on with him, but shook his head. “I’ll go and ask Alf,” he decided. “He doesn’t live much further up. He’ll know. He knows the out doors like… like the back of his hand!” Jack said to Kiki, putting his glasses away, safely in their case.
And then up the hill, he ran. Kiki flew overhead, screeching and talking. They arrived at Alf’s at last, and Jack rapped on the door. He couldn’t see the shepherd anywhere, further down the hill. All he could see was his flocks of sheep, baaing and shoving, pushing and grunting. “Go away!” came Alf’s gruff voice, “I ain’t done nott’in to you. I never met ya’. It was me’ old grandfather, twas’ that saw yer’. I ain’t done nott’in. Leave me in peace, I beg ya’ for it!”
“Alf, it’s me. Jack,” Jack said, listening to this in surprise. There was a pause, and then the rattling of a key in the door, and a chain being taken down. The door was opened slightly. Alf’s scared face looked out. He pulled Jack in, roughly, locking the door and pulling across the chain. The curtains in the little hut had been pulled across and everything was in darkness except a stub of a candle which burned on the cabinet beside Alf’s old bed. Scamp gave Jack a sniff and retired to lie across his masters feet.
“What has happened, Alf?” asked Jack, in a cautious whisper. “Why are you sitting in the dark? What did you mean by telling me all those things?”
Alf sunk down in his chair and grunted. “They weren’t meant for you,” he said, lighting his pipe, which stuck out of hi mouth.
“Who were they meant for, then?” asked Jack, sinking down on an old chair.
“They was meant for Lou and Joe…”