A MESSAGE FOR BILL
“Bill!” thundered a voice from the bottom of the stairs.
“Bill!” echoed a screeching one which of course was Kiki the parrot.
“What is it Jack? And will you tell that bird to stop screeching…” demanded Bill appearing at the top.
“There’s a message that has come for you, a private message from your base – the man said.” Bill raced down the stairs and snatched the scrap of paper from Jack’s hand. He read it gravely and looked down at Jack. “Who brought it?” he asked stolidly.
“A man wearing all black, driving a long black car. Why, is it so important?” Jack asked curiously trying to peer round to read the words scribbled on the paper.
“It is most important.” Bill replied coldly, “You didn’t read it did you?” he asked folding the paper and putting it in his pocket.
“Of course we didn’t. The man said it was private.”
“Good, go and tell the others to come and get some lunch now, your mother’s calling.” Jack went and fetched the others, rather disappointed he had not seen the message, but curious.
“Lunch’s ready,” he called to the others who were lazing under the oak tree in the garden. They all sat up and looked expectantly up at him.
“So, what did it say?” Dinah asked impatiently.
“He didn’t say, buck up won’t you all? It’s raspberries and ices for pudding.” The others got up rather disappointed and ran round to let themselves in the back door. They crept past the busy cook, Kiki pecking a few pineapple pieces along the way.
Mrs Cunningham, who was just putting the children’s plates out, smiled at them. “Hallo! Been having a nice time in the garden? I must say, it is a heavenly day!”
The children had arrived home yesterday from their boarding schools and were enjoying the second day in the sun. It was just going to be a lazy few weeks and it had been arranged that they would not be going anywhere these hols. The children had been rather disappointed but soon cheered up when Bill promised they would do lots of bird watching and watch for badgers in the garden at night. That pleased Jack and Philip anyway, but Dinah and Lucy-Ann were not as pleased about this. They didn’t mind though, they were just happy to laze in the sun and enjoy doing nothing! But it wouldn’t be like this for long. The children were about to jump headlong in to a hair-raising adventure though they did not know it yet.
They settled down to a good lunch, quite oblivious to the danger they were going to run into very soon. Bill seemed quite restless the rest of that day. The children guessed it had something to do with the note he had received earlier on. Apparently he had not told Mrs Cunningham as she seemed quite her usual self, bustling about and smiling at the children feeling glad she was able to run after the children she loved so dearly once again.
Bill sat up with his newspaper after dinner but did not seem to read it. He looked a little worried and at nine o’ clock he rustled his newspaper and closed it, looking at his wife and the children who were sitting round a table playing cards.
He raised his voice and spoke to the others. “I have to go out for a while. Expect me back at about eleven. Don’t wait up for me though please.” He threw his newspaper down on the chair and went out into the hall to put on his hat and coat. The children nudged one another and winked.
“It’s something to with that note, I bet.” Philip whispered to Jack. He girls heard and nodded.
Mrs Cunningham was very puzzled and watched her husband go with a hurt expression on her face. “Well I like that.” she exclaimed when she heard the front door click. “He could have at least explained why he was going out at such a peculiar time.”
“Well…” Lucy-Ann began but she received such a mighty kick under the table that she stopped and looked round angrily at the others. “Who did that to me?” She asked with tears starting in her eyes.
It was Jack who had kicked Lucy-Ann because Bill had made it obvious that he didn’t want anyone knowing about that note and he thought a kick might change the subject a bit. “Sorry Lucy-Ann. My foot slipped and I knocked you.” Lucy-Ann rubbed her eyes and at once she had forgiven her beloved brother.
“Time for bed I think” Mrs Cunningham said when this was all cleared up. “I will wait up for Bill, but you must go to sleep at once. I believe we shall have a busy day tomorrow if I am right about where I think Bill is.” Lucy-Ann said nothing when she saw the glares from the others and hurried up to her little bedroom she shared with Dinah.
They washed and snuggled down in their beds and the boys looked in on them and laughed. “Babies!” they laughed scornfully, “you’re not waiting up for Bill then, I suppose?” But the girls were already asleep dreaming peacefully of the holidays. Holidays! How glorious!
The boys were determined to wait up for Bill to get back and read their books by candle light. Alas! Bill did not keep his word and was gone longer than he had expected and by then the boys were fast asleep, their books resting on their heads and the candle burnt out! How peaceful they looked when Bill looked in on them, expecting them to be awake waiting for his return. Mrs Cunningham was relieved when she saw him walking up the lane at last at half past eleven. She had took up her knitting and was listening to the radio and kept looking anxiously up out of the window for her husband. He came in and sat quietly down beside her looking harassed
“I’ve another job I need to work on Allie.” he explained sorrowfully. “Just when I thought we were to have a peaceful break with the children on their holidays.” he looked at her expecting her to look upset but she looked pleased! “I’m so sorry to drag you around all the time Allie, but the chief said it would be great to take you and the children to make it seem we are just holidaying. It’s such a nice village as well. I’m sure Jack and Philip would love it There are so many birds and animals swarming around. Very mysterious it is, a big marsh beside the village. But I understand you were so looking forward to a quiet few weeks.”
“It’s perfect!” his wife suddenly exclaimed. “The children were getting so bored, I could tell the poor things just wanted something to come up like this! They shall be ecstatic! Just looked how Philip and Dinah squabbled over who washed and who dried this afternoon. They are itching to get away! And Kiki… Kiki… where do I start?”
All Bill’s troubles began to flow away at once. “You mean you’d like to go then? Well that’s great news! I can’t tell you any more now Allie. Strict orders from the Chief, you see. We must set off tonight, while it’s dark, so I had better wake the children and tell them to pack. It’s got to be very hush-hush and we need to be off as soon as possible. The village is called Lowfell and is a few miles away. There is a car waiting outside with a completely different number plate to our own so we shall not be recognised. Will you sort out mine and your things and I’ll get the suitcases out. I’ll wake the children too.” he said getting up. Mrs Cunningham picked up her knitting and carefully put it in her knitting bag feeling pleased. “For for the holidays!” she said aloud.
Bill hurried up the stairs and looked in at the boys. He shook them awake and they looked up in surprise with a tired eyes. “Bill! You’re back…so what happened?” Philip demanded.
Bill took charge at once. “Get some clothes on quickly boys, and get everything you shall want for a week or two, not too much mind. I’m fetching your suitcases now.” The boys wanted to know a lot more than this and felt rather exasperated with Bill for being so mysterious.
Bill went into the girls room and said the same. They too were curious and began to ask Bill all sorts of questions but he ignored them and told the girls to hurry. They looked at each other both with a puzzled look. Kiki was rather puzzled and decided to retire under the bed and talk to herself. She did so solemnly, putting out her crest and beginning to sing a nursery rhyme to herself in a loud, comical voice. She found a sticky sweet under there and began to content herself pecking at it with her long beak.
Meanwhile, the children were busy packing clothes, books, night things and other odds and ends. Bill had brought down three large suitcases, one for the girls to share, one between the boys and the last for his and his wife’s belongings. Everyone had neatly put everything in, Jack’s bird book took up quite a lot of space but he insisted on taking it. Philip had a most peculiar selection of things in his luggage – a paper bag of old cheese, bread crumbs and grains! All this was food for his new pet mouse Chip. Philip had found the creature in the cellar when he had gone hunting for pickled onions.
“Ready boys?” Bill asked peeping round the door. “Great, now help we bring your suitcase down, the girls’ one is already in the car.” Between them, the three carried the suitcase down the stairs and into the luggage-hole of the awaiting car Bill was going to drive to Lowfell, Kiki giving encouraging screeches from Jack‘s shoulder. “Right, now just mine and your mother’s. Get in the car children please but don’t put any lights on. If you see anyone coming, sit on the floor and throw a rug over you. We can’t be seen tonight or else it will spoil all my plans.” The children got quietly into the car while Bill went back into the house to fetch his wife and their case.
“Well!” Dinah said as Bill disappeared. “There’s something going on here, Bill waking up all at midnight telling us to pack our cases and now we are sat in a car we’ve never seen before. I believe Bill is onto a new job.”
“I know…” Philip replied. “Maybe someone’s after him and we all need to hurry off somewhere so they can’t find us. How exciting!” Lucy-Ann began to tremble and Jack looked at her scornfully. “Baby!” he said.
“No, she isn’t. We might be in serious trouble right now, well Bill anyway. I feel like trembling myself!” Philip replied gravely. The children were silent for a few seconds, not even able to laugh at Philip’s feeble joke.
Then Dinah broke the silence giving a tremendous scream and Kiki imitated it at once. “Philip!” she shrieked. “You beast! You brought that horrid mouse with us didn’t you? I saw it’s nose peeping out at the end of your shirt sleeve. I hate you, you horrid…”
But Bill arrived back at that moment, alarmed that the children were making such a row. He opened the car door for his wife and she got in thankfully. He had already put the suitcase in the boot. Dinah was shrinking away from Philip with a scared expression on her face. “Dinah, don’t be such a baby, Philip’s pet mouse is completely harmless, you know that. Now we have lost some precious time for now we have to get away as soon as possible so if anyone had heard you, they will not see us escaping.” Dinah went red and glared at Philip.
Bill started up the car and it made a choking sound, then raced off into the blanket of darkness the night had thrown over everything. They were off to Lowfel l- perhaps an adventure might wait there – who knows? Even Dinah couldn’t help smiling!