A LOVELY DAY - AND SOMETHING STRANGE
The next few days at Rosewood were lovely. The four children lazed about, swam in the river every day, and went for nice long walks along the water. They also explored the forest behind the river. The trees were laden with rich glossy green leaves which cast a beautiful dim green light over the earthy paths that meandered between the old gnarled trunks. It was lovely and cool and quiet in the forest after the blazing heat of the July sun, and the children had a few picnics under the green canopy.
Miss Pepper accompanied them on a couple of their riverside walks, and she agreed that it was indeed a beautiful place. She even took her shoes off and paddled in the shallow water while the children swam.
"Miss Pepper's good fun isn't she?" grinned Snubby, watching her swish her feet in the water.
The lady that Miss Pepper knew who kept the horses was more than happy for the children to take them out riding. The children were all good at horse riding and took the horses out several times, sometimes round the lanes, sometimes along the river, where they stopped for lunch, and the horses waded into the river to drink and splash their feet.
Mr King was as good as his word and turned up outside the cottage a few days later. It was another glorious day and the children were sat on the lawn, having not long finished breakfast. Barney was doing a bit of weeding for Miss Pepper in a nearby flowerbed, Snubby was brushing Loony, who kept reaching round to try and grab the brush, and Diana and Roger were leaning back on their elbows on the grass, relaxing. Diana saw Mr King at the gate and shouted to him.
"Mr King! Hallo! Come on in!"
He came up the drive and across to the lawn, smiling. He wore shorts again, and had his bag with him.
"Good morning!" he said. "All ready for some sailing?"
"Oh, wizard!" Roger grinned. "Hang on - I'll call Miss Pepper!"
He ran off into the house.
Miranda decided that Mr King might like the pile of weeds that Barney had made next to the flowerbed, and she scooped them up in her tiny hands and scampered over to him with them, dropping bits of soil everywhere as she went.
"Miranda!" called Barney sharply. "Put those back! We want them got rid of, not flung all over the lawn!"
Mr King tickled Miranda's chin and she ran back to Barney with the weeds and threw them all over him. Snubby roared with laughter, then got up and chased after Loony as he grabbed the brush from Snubby's hand and tore off with it.
Miss Pepper came out into the garden just then. She was wearing trousers, unusually, and had some picnic packets with her.
"Good morning!" she smiled. "Children! Are you ready?"
"I am." said Diana.
"Where's Snubby?" asked Miss Pepper. "Didn't I just see him out here a moment ago?"
"He's gone after Loony." Diana said.
"I'll just wash my hands and then I'm ready too." Barney got up and brushed the soil from his knees. "All done now Miss Pepper - no more weeds!"
"Thank you Barney." Miss Pepper said. "That is such a help."
Snubby arrived a moment later, with Loony on his lead. He was out of breath and his freckled face was red.
"Goodness knows where he's put that brush." he panted. Then he saw Miss Pepper. "Oh,er, I mean..."
She laughed. Barney and Roger then appeared. Roger had his field glasses slung over his shoulder, and Barney had a small bag of fruit with him for Miranda's lunch. They locked the cottage and set off.
Charlie Collins was tinkering with one of his boats as they arrived along the riverbank. He saw them and waved.
"Good morning to you!" he said. "Going to go sailing?"
"If we can." Barney smiled.
"Looks set to be another scorcher." Charlie Collins grinned. "Here - this one should do for you all."
He pointed to the boat. It was a sturdy little craft, with plenty of room for them all, and two sets of oars lying in the bottom. Its name was painted on the side in peeling gold paint - Honeysuckle.
"What a pretty name!" exclaimed Diana. "Come on! Who's going to row?"
"I will!" said Snubby at once, bundling Loony in and scrambling in after him.
"No you won't!" laughed Roger. "We'd be capsized or ploughed into the riverbank in no time! Let Barney row - he's good at it!"
Snubby looked most put-out.
"Honestly - anyone would think I was irresponsible!" he said to Loony, who stared up at him as if for all the world he understood.
"So does Loony look - he doesn't know what to say!" giggled Diana, and everyone laughed.
Diana and Miss Pepper sat at the stern of the boat with the picnic packets. Miss Pepper thought that if Snubby was left in charge of them there would be nothing left for lunch! Barney took up a pair of oars, and Mr King offered to help him. Roger and Snubby sat at the bow, Snubby leaning as far forward as he could to see the boat nose through the clear water.
"What are the chances that he'll end up in the water before the day is out." Diana said quietly to Miss Pepper, who rolled her eyes and smiled.
It was lovely, rowing along the river. There was not a sound to be heard except the birds singing, and the soft splish-splash of the oars as they dipped in and out of the water. Diana trailed her hand over the side of the boat, enjoying the feel of the warm water splashing against her fingers. Mr King joked and laughed with the boys, and came to Miss Pepper's rescue when a rather large wasp landed on her sunhat and Diana couldn't do anything but squeal and flap.
They found a nice place to have lunch a few hours later. The river widened a little, as if a semi-circle had been cut out of the bank, and the water lapped at a tiny piece of stony riverbed within the semi-circle shape. The grass on the bank was thick and soft, and was ideal for either lounging on the grass, or sitting down on the stony part to dip their feet in the water.
Snubby, who was desperate to do something useful, leaned out towards the bank to grab hold of a gnarled tree root to moor the boat to, but only succeeded in leaning too far before the boat was near enough, and toppled headfirst into the water with a terrific splash. Everyone screamed with laughter, even Mr King and Miss Pepper. Diana was crying, she laughed so much, and Barney, whose loud, infectious laugh made everyone giggle even more, was quite unable to assist Mr King in mooring the boat.
Snubby waddled out of the water, dripping everywhere, and flung himself down onto the bank. Everyone had just about calmed down and stopped laughing, when Barney suddenly had a fit of giggles again at the sight of poor Snubby, and that started everyone else off once more. Miranda chattered non-stop, and it sounded as if even she was laughing. Loony hopped out of the boat and went to his master, and was about to cuddle up against him when he saw how wet Snubby was, and thought better of it.
Lunch was a magnificent meal. Miss Pepper had made ham and egg sandwiches, chicken sandwiches and cheese sandwiches, and had packed a ton of ripe red tomatoes, which tasted very sweet. There were plums and bananas, a huge lettuce, a big packet of crunchy biscuits, two slabs of chocolate, and a bag of boiled sweets. Mr King had brought some corned beef sandwiches to add to the spread, an orange for Miranda, and some slices of fruit cake. There was lemonade to drink, brought by Miss Pepper, and a large bottle of ginger beer from Mr King.
"I say, Sir - you certainly know how to pack a picnic!" Roger said, biting into a thick corned beef sandwich. Everyone laughed.
"This must be one of the nicest picnics we've ever had." said Diana, munching on a tomato. "All this gorgeous food, and such a beautiful place!"
After lunch they all lay down for a while, then the children got up to have a paddle in the water. Of course, it didn't stop at a paddle, and very soon they were all splashing about and yelling in the middle of the river. Miranda could never understand this love of water that all the children had, and as there was no overhanging branch for her to perch on, she peeled the orange that Mr King gave her and threw the pieces of peel at Barney. He exclaimed in annoyance and tried to catch them all as they floated past him.
"Miranda! Stop that at once! I don't want to spend my afternoon wading down the river trying to catch your bits of peel!"
Mr King picked up Miranda and carried her down onto the stony part, where he sat on a rock and held her hands, and tried to encourage her to dip her feet in the warm water, which was only a couple of inches deep where it lapped onto the pebbles. Miranda had paddled on the beach once before and remembered. She touched the water gingerly with a toe, and found that it felt nice and warm. Mr King was patient with her, and very soon, she was paddling about in the shallows with him holding her hands. Diana noticed and exclaimed quietly to Barney.
"Look! Look at Mr King and Miranda!"
Barney turned to look, and was amazed and very touched to see how Mr King was gently helping the little monkey enjoy the water.
"Who'd have thought he was so good with animals!" Roger said quietly. "Look at that!"
Barney felt even more respect and affection than he already did for Mr King as he watched him with Miranda. Anyone who could be so kind and gentle with a pet was more than alright, in Barney's opinion. It made him feel quite emotional!
Loony leapt in with a splash and started to paddle down to where Snubby was swimming about. He looked like a piece of black carpet as he made his way through the water, his long ears and all the long fur on his sides spread flat on the surface as he swam.
They had a lovely afternoon messing about in the water. they were all burnt a darker brown than ever, even Mr King, who had taken his shirt off to join the others for a swim. Miss Pepper watched them all from the bank, enjoying having a laze under her big sun-hat.
They finished off the one or two sandwiches that were left, then got back into the boat to have another little row further down before it was time to turn round and head back.
By the time they arrived back at Charlie Collins' cottage, they were all very tired. Roger had rowed part of the way back to give Barney a rest. Diana had almost fallen asleep, and even Miss Pepper was feeling sleepy. They all thanked Mr Collins for the use of his boat, then made their way slowly back to Rosewood Cottage, hardly able to pick up their feet. Barney offered to help Diana get the tea, to give Miss Pepper a rest, and the others all sat out in the garden. Loony lay flat on the lawn, looking as if someone had deflated him, and Miranda nestled in Barney's shirt and went to sleep.
After tea, Mr King stayed for a while and had a smoke, then got up and said his goodbyes.
"Thank you for a wonderful day, Mr King!" Roger said. "We've had so much fun!"
"Yes, we have." Mr King smiled as he put his bag onto his back. "We'll do it again soon."
"Oh yes, do let's!" Diana said. "It's fun going out with you, Mr King!"
Miss Pepper saw Mr King to the gate.
"Thank you for putting up with this handful of noisy children." she smiled. "They really like you."
"I've enjoyed it." said Mr King. "They're good kids. See you soon!"
Everyone was in bed early that night. Diana could hardly keep awake, and Snubby actually fell asleep in one of the large comfortable armchairs in the sitting room. Miss Pepper ushered them all up to bed.
"Off you go!" she said. "I'm worn out too. We'll all sleep well tonight!"
And so they did - until an owl hooted very loudly right outside Diana's window and woke her up with a jump. She couldn't think what it was at first, but then it hooted again and she smiled. It must be perched in the tree right outside her window! She got quietly out of bed and switched on her torch, and crept over to her window to try and see if she could see the owl. The tree grew right up the wall of the cottage and extended quite a few gnarled branches up near the roof and round by Diana's window. She hoped the owl would be close. It certainly sounded close! She sat quietly on the little windowseat, waiting patiently for the owl to hoot again. Then all of a sudden something caught her eye and she stiffened in surprise.
There was a light flashing some way away in the darkness! On - off- on - off - on again! Diana stared in amazement. Surely - surely that light was coming from the old manor house on the hill! It was Diana's room that had the best view of the manor. She watched, transfixed. The more it flashed the more she was sure that it was coming from the old house. She couldn't make out the house but she remembered whereabouts it was and the flash seemed to come from that exact place.
She switched off her torch so she was standing in complete blackness. As her eyes grew used to the dark, she could just about make out a few dark shapes outside, and then, suddenly, the moon appeared from behind a stray wisp of cloud! It lit up the night sky brilliantly with cold silver light, and Diana at once saw the beautiful old manor house up on the hill, its tiny leaded windows all in blackness.
And then - the light flashed again! It was certainly coming from the old house! Diana could see it now - one of the topmost gabled windows! It was very peculiar and a bit creepy. Diana decided to go and wake Barney. She slipped out of her room and nextdoor into Barney's room. He was asleep, curled up with Miranda next to him.
"Barney." whispered Diana. "Barney! Wake up will you?"
Barney opened his eyes and was very surprised to see Diana's face bent over him.
"What is it?" he whispered. "Are you alright?"
"Come and look." Diana whispered. "There's something strange going on!"
Miranda chattered quietly as Barney got out of bed. He shushed her. He didn't want her to wake up Miss Pepper. Diana led him back into her room and to the window. She pointed.
The light was still flashing occasionally. Barney stared.
"Gosh!" he exclaimed. "Whatever is going on up there? Who can be flashing a light? Miss Pepper said the place was all locked up!"
They sat at the window for a little time, but the light didn't flash any more.
"It's stopped." Diana said at last. "Wow - what on earth is going on!"
"What a good job you were awake and saw it!" said Barney.
"I heard an owl and got up to look for it." said Diana. "And then I saw the light!"
"Good old owl!" said Barney. "If it hadn't have hooted we'd have never known what was happening!"
"What shall we do?" said Diana.
"We'll have to go up to the house and have a look round." said Barney. "We'll go tomorrow! We'll have a good old hunt and a scout round and see if there's any way in!"
"We're getting tangled up in an adventure again!" said Diana.
"I think you might be right!" said Barney, grinning at her in the moonlight.