The Marsh of Adventure by Poppy, chapter 19

Chapter nineteen:

Mostly about Beaky

“Lou and Jo the smugglers?” asked Jack, curiously. “But they died years ago. On the night they tried to smuggle all that treasure out of The Forester and the marsh turned from sea land to marsh land.”

“But they’re coming back to life… ‘Ave you not ‘eard them gurgles? They’re comin’ back at’ life, I tell ya’. And they’re comin’ for eld’ Alf. And, I er, thought you was them when I ‘eard you ‘ammering at that door.”

“I really came to ask you about the purple herons,” Jack said, not particularly wanting to hear a lecture about Lou and Jo.

“Ah, they too, ‘ave bin’ acting right down strange lately too,” Alf said, leaning towards Jack, “Ever since this morning’ they’ve bin flyin’ over this ‘ere ‘ill. They never leave their nests until the chicks are ready to fly, and the poor little things were dropping from the sky, like goodness knows what! ‘Ere look. This one, I managed to save, and I brought it ‘ome and meant to give it te’ yer’ friend.”

From his pocket, the old man carefully took out a tiny purple heron chick. It was very much like the adult ones, but much smaller, and it had a little tuft of hair sticking up wildly from its head. Alf handed it to Jack, who stroked it softly. Kiki looked at it with distaste and tried to peck it jealously. Jack tapped her on the beak with his spare hand.

The little purple heron nestled down in Jack’s hand and apparently went to sleep, tucking its head under its wing. “Thank you, Alf. I’ll go and give it to Philip now. Er, thanks for the interesting conversation. I’ll let you know if I see Lou or Jo.”

“You take care,” Alf said, undoing the chain. “There’s bad things out there, you just take care.”

Jack nodded, and headed back down the hill, carefully carrying the little heron in his hands. Kiki perched on his shoulder looking at the bird in dislike. She was rather jealous of the little creature, but she was used to all the animals crawling round he children, and soon, she began to talk to the little thing in a soft voice. Jack grinned. He was rather envious that the bird was meant for Philip, it was such a dear little thing. But of course, it was Philip who had a spell over animals, and it was he who knew how to look after it properly. Besides, this one looked quite weak and bony. After quite a walk, Jack got back to the spot where he had left the others. They were all sat around, talking.

They were all relieved to Jack stumbling down the hill. “Here he is, and whatever is that he’s got in his hands? Look, he’s holding them out as if it’s something precious,” Lucy-Ann said, trying to see. Jack joined them, and showed them the tiny little bird.

“Wherever did you find that?” asked Dinah looking at it in surprise.

“It’s really for Philip, said Jack, carefully putting the little bird into Philip’s hand. “It’s from Alf.”

“Why ever did you do to see Alf?” Lucy-Ann asked in surprise. “I thought you were going bird watching.”

“Well I was at first, and then I saw something strange…” he said, and out came the whole story of the purple herons, the gurgling and Alf’s reaction when he had knocked on his hut door. Jack did an imitation of him and they all laughed. Kiki at once repeated it in a much louder, cheekier voice.

“Golly.” Philip said, when Jack finished. “This is getting peculiar isn’t it? I am pleased with little Beaky though.”

“Who’s Beaky?” the others asked in surprise.

“My little friend here,” said Philip stoking the little chick. “I think Beaky suits him, don’t you? He has got such a fine beak.” The others agreed heartily. Yes, Beaky did suit the little chick!

“I shall have to let young Dormy go though. Don’t want him being eaten by Beaky. I think he’s just about healed now anyway.” And to Dinah’s horror, Philip passed the little bird to Jack and patted himself gently, searching for the little mouse. He found him at last, down his sleeve, and got him out gently. The little mouse sniffed at once, and began to struggle. “Looks like he’s raring to go!” said Philip putting Dormy down on the grass beside his foot.

“Farewell young Dormy! You’re healed now! Go and find your family!” And as if the little mouse understood, it scuttled away, avoiding Dinah wisely. Dinah didn’t mind the little birds, but she couldn’t bare any little creature like Dormy.

Jack handed Beaky back to Philip, who took him carefully and whispered a few soft words. The bird seemed soothed by this and began making a little squeaking noise, much to Lucy-Ann’s delight. Kiki imitated this, startling the poor little creature. It then retorted in a much louder tone; “Chack…chack…chack!” Now it was Kiki’s turn to looked puzzled. The children laughed for a moment, and then Philip stood up, carefully putting the little bird in his pocket, the one he kept especially for his little pets. “We’d better have tea.” he said, “It is 5:30!”

“Gosh, is it really? I’ve been ages! It does take a while getting up and down that hill, mind!” Jack replied. The girls had the bag of food with them and hunted round for something they could call a ‘meal’.

“We’ve a few boiled eggs left,” said Lucy-Ann, producing a small brown cardboard box which contained the eggs. “And there’s some bread and meat paste we could have, and some jam tarts. The others voted this ‘a simply wizard meal’. They were all quite enjoying making up peculiar combinations with all the food they had. They would be sorry when they went home and had the ‘usual’  meals! There was some sardines in a tin, too, which would feed Beaky for the time being. Philip opened the tin and picked a handful out.

He placed them in front of the pocket, Beaky was, and very soon a small beak stuck out his pocket. Then a head, and with a few pecks, the sardines were gone, and so was Beaky, retired back into Philip’s pocket!

The children had a jolly meal and soon they couldn’t eat another thing! “I can’t move,” said Dinah, lying back, and sighing.

“Your fault for having four jam tarts!” said Philip, also lying down. “I’ll have a little rest and then I’ll have to leave you all.” The familiar excitement began to dawn on the children. They all lay down on their backs, trying to imagine what would happen that night. Would they get into the hill? Would Philip be able to hear what they were plotting? Would they be caught?

The children were careful not to fall asleep. That would ruin their plans completely! In about ten minutes Philip sat up. “I’d better  off, before it gets too dark. I’ve got some sandwiches and cake that Lucy-Ann gave me. I shall be fine! Remember, I’ll hoot to you, when it’s safe to come out. Be cautious though, and keep quiet. Stick to the shadows if you can.”

The others said goodbye, feeling all the more excited. “So long!” Philip called as he raced up the hill. And up he went, following the spring, and using the little worn footpath a short way. He headed straight up, not towards the camp. He soon came to the willow trees which lined the bank for a short way. He knew his was the furthest away, and ran to the end of them. He hunted around for the canopy, which they had shoved in the tree. Ah, there it was! There was no need to get under it yet, and Philip decided to bathe his feet in the stream. So bare footed, he dangled his legs over the bank into the stream, letting the small waves dash against them, gently.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the hill, the children were restless. Jack had decided to do a spot of bird watching again, and the girls washed the pots in the stream. The girls talked nineteen to the dozen about their plan and their marvellous hiding place. Even Kiki sensed something was happening! And then darkness came. Philip got inside his canopy, carefully, pulling it over himself, so he was completely hidden. He fed Beaky a few more sardines and then nibbled at his own sandwiches, Lucy-Ann had prepared earlier. The others were now doing the same, at the bottom of the hill.

It got darker and darker. Jack suggested they had a little sleep, They all lay down, but they could sleep a wink! They gave it up in the end, and lay looking at the stars and talking. But all poor Philip had to talk to was his little purple heron and he was curled up, beside him, fast asleep. Nine o’clock… half-past nine… half-past ten… The time crept by, and at half-past ten, Jack announced that it was time they got into their hiding place.

Kiki mumbled to herself, as they walked towards the woods, shining their torches ahead of them. They could tell which was the hollow tree, because they could see the piece of rope which hung from one of the branches. “Quiet now, Kiki,” said Jack in a low voice. Kiki stopped talking at once, and kept silent. And then, one by one, the children dropped into the hollow tree…

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