WHERE IS BILL?
For the rest of the day the children lazed about outside in the sunshine for it was a very warm day. They were sat under a big apple tree in the cook’s garden. There were not yet proper apples on it, just small, green ones, not ready to eat. There were berry bushes surrounding the garden, the berries bursting with their sweet fresh juice, and beds of lettuces and cabbages in the middle. Strawberry plants were dotted about too, and raspberry ones with long canes sticking out of their pots to hold the plant up. Tomato plants by the dozen and the heads of the carrots popping out from the soil.
There were two big apple trees and one big pear which grew beside the boys’ window. The pears were not yet ready to eat yet either, but they were good enough for the children! Jack had quite often thought of stretching out the window and picking a ripe pear for himself in the middle of the night. No-one ever got the topmost ones anyway for the plump cook never dared to go any further up the ladder than was necessary. Jack didn’t let them go to waste though! There were pea plants as well, also creeping up their long, stout canes. No wonder Jane the cook, always put out a good spread. Mrs Jordans helped with the cooking too, and the garden. She kept the lettuces, ‘what smashing ones they were too!’ Philip had said one day.
It was a long garden and there was a little orchard through the gate at the very back. The children hadn’t wanted to walk another step further up the cobbled path, however and had settled into the shade of the great tree. Kiki was rested on Jack’s stomach, her claws scratching him. Each had a glass of icy lemonade beside them, and the plums had already been eaten. It was too hot to do anything but talk. And talk, the children did! Nobody could stop thinking about Alf’s strange tale, and it had to be discussed a dozen times over!
“You don’t suppose it’s true, do you?” Lucy-Ann asked cautiously.
“I believe every word of it.” Dinah began but stopped when Jack nudged her.
“It’s just a story, Lucy dear. It is rather exciting though, I think. Anyhow, if the smugglers are real, they are dead now. It won’t happen again. There’s nothing to worry about.” he said.
There was a pause. It was too hot for Dinah to jeer at Lucy-Ann, it was too hot for Kiki to imitate as she usually did, it was too hot for Philip’s pet mouse to scamper about, searching for a tit-bit.
“Alf was jolly decent today, wasn’t he?” Philip said, “Actually, I don’t think he quite remembered that we peeped into his hut. He looked a little puzzled when we explained.”
“Shouldn’t be surprised.” Dinah said in a drowsy voice.
“We should go and visit him again sometime.” Lucy-Ann suddenly chimed in, sitting up. “I liked him, and Scamp. I say, shall we tell Bill the tale of the smugglers when he arrives, or must we keep it a secret from him too?”
Jack considered. “I vote we tell him, old Bill can keep a secret any day.”
“Right” Philip agreed, “what do you girls say?”
The girls nodded. They knew Bill could keep a secret, even if it was just an old tale of smugglers!
“Lucy-Ann, be a dear and go and fetch us all another glass of lemonade, won’t you?” Jack asked.
Lucy-Ann got up tiredly and rapped on the kitchen door which was on the other side of the garden. Ivy grew across the wall and the tomato plants were lined along there. It really was a most pretty site. Soon Lucy-Ann was back with a tray carrying a large jug of lemonade and one of ginger beer too. Each re-filled their glasses and leaned back against the thick trunk of the apple tree. There they stayed until the sun began to set.
Then, the children bundled up all their things and went to tea. The rest of the evening they spent lazing around in the sitting room. Mrs Jordans brought them some news just as they were packing up to go to bed. “Mr Bill sends a message,” she said, bustling into the sitting room, her snow-white apron tied tightly around her plump middle. She always wore a flowered dress and her hair tied in a bun on top of her head.
“He says he’ll be arriving tonight,” she said in a whisper, looking around to make sure no one could hear. “Doesn’t want to risk being seen in the day, by his enemy. I don’t who his enemy is though. Didn’t say nothing more than that. Don’t you wait up for him though, he says he’ll be late.”
She shouldn’t have said this though, for at once the children made up their minds to stay up and wait for Bill’s car to purr almost silently up the drive, not to directly disobey Mrs Jordans wishes, but for the excitement!
The girls had the better view of the drive so the boys crept silently into their room once they had washed and changed. They brought rugs which they wrapped around themselves and some chocolate. Kiki had been brought along as well, of course. She sat patiently on Jack’s shoulder wondering what all the fuss was about.
The girls were to go to sleep at once but the boys promised to wake them once Bill arrived. The boys were to sit on the little window seat and watch for Bill. Jack passed Philip a few bars of chocolate and they nibbled them while watching. They took it in turns and one could read or have a nap while the other watched intently. Neither could imagine Bill arriving before midnight but they watched just in case!
Midnight came ; the old grandfather clock shouting from the living room. It was Jack’s turn to watch. Dinah was awake for she simply could not go to sleep, talking in a low voice to Philip.
Suddenly they heard a noise from out on the landing. It sounded like something falling over. Something solid and heavy. It made a kind of thumping noise. A noise which came twice.
Philip and Dinah fell silent. Philip nudged Jack. No other noise followed and the children became uneasy. No one dared peep out of the door, any how, it might just be one of the cats.
Philip decided to peep out at last. He flicked on his torch and closed the door with a click. “Just one of the pictures off the wall. It’s one next to one of the doors on the landing. I don’t know whose. It’s the one next to our room, Jack. Who’s in there? Whoever it was must be out on the prowl for some reason for the kitchen cat couldn’t jump up the wall and knock the picture off. The glass is broken and everything.”
Jack seemed to be thinking. Who was staying in the room next to theirs? “There were the two women friends, but they’re gone now and I don’t think anyone else is in there at the moment. And the other room…” The others waited impatiently. “Ah yes! Those two men, you know the ones who look shifty and wear the dark suits and ties?”
Philip nodded. “Oh yes, I saw one of them go in there a few days ago for something. I must say they do look suspicious. I wonder what they’re doing out tonight. Nothing to do with Bill, I suppose?”
“Shouldn’t think so.” Jack said not looking to sure. “Anyway, we don’t know for sure that they are out on the prowl. One of them might be ill and gone to get Mrs Jordans, or get a glass of water or milk.” he said.
Dinah looked doubtful. “They’re not the kind to go hunting round the house for a glass of water in the middle of the night. Anyway, we’ve basins in our bedrooms. And I saw the pair today and they looked quite well. Remember when mother was ill, we all knew she looked ill, but didn’t want to say anything. They are the kind I expect to be up to crafty tricks, don’t you think?”
“If Lucy-Ann were awake, I would jolly well give you a good spank. You would make her scared if you blabbed all that out to her. That is what I was thinking too, you’re so outspoken Dinah.” Philip scolded.
She looked at him angrily as Jack changed the subject in alarm. He could quite well imagine the two waking everyone up making a fine din fighting in the middle of the room! Yes, he could quite well imagine it!
“Philip didn’t mean that Dinah, we’re all just tired.” he said quickly. “I vote we go to sleep now, it’s almost one in the morning. We’ll see Bill at breakfast.”
Dinah had cooled down by then but she dearly wanted to now what had been going on across the landing. “Philip, go and see what’s happening,” she begged in a scared voice. She forgot that Lucy-Ann was sleeping beside her and didn’t keep her voice low.
Lucy-Ann stirred and sat up, rubbing her eyes. “Is Bill back?” she asked at once in a wide awake voice.
“No, he jolly well isn’t.” Dinah began in an annoyed voice. “There’s been a few peculiar noises, too, and the boys won’t go and investigate. They’ll go if you ask.”
Lucy-Ann eyes turned big and scared as she looked at the boys desperately. “Do go and see what’s happened, Jack. I shan’t be able to go back to sleep if you don’t. Please do!”
“Right,” Jack sighed. “Philip and I will go and knock on the men’s door and see if they answer. If they do, which will mean they were not the cause of the noise, we’ll say we heard a noise or something and we can’t tell our mother and father because they are away. No doubt they’ll send us away at once. If they don’t answer, we’ll know they have something to do with all this. Either way, you’re to go to sleep straight away as soon as we’ve told you. Right?”
The girls nodded and watched Jack and Philip creep silently out of their bedroom. Jack had left the girls in charge of Kiki. He was afraid she might give one of her tremendous screeches at the wrong moment so she perched on a shelf in the girls room talking quietly to herself, nibbling a piece of chocolate Lucy-Ann had given her, to distract her from missing Jack.
Both boys were careful not to step on the creaky floorboards they knew so well. They got to the door of the two men’s room. The smashed picture lay beside it, the glass shattered into thousands of little pieces. The boys were careful not to tread on these and avoided it cautiously.
Philip nodded at Jack and he knocked sharply on the door. They waited a moment. No answer. Jack knocked again, but still there was no answer. Both boys looked at each other. They hadn’t expected it to be anything to do with the men but were only doing this to prove it to the girls. Secretly, Philip was quite glad they didn’t have to face the owners of the room, but Jack didn’t seem to want to give up that easily.
“Perhaps they’re just deep sleepers, shall we open the door and look in quietly?” Jack hissed. Philip looked alarmed. “If they can sleep through our knocks, they can sleep through us taking a quick peep.” he said scornfully. “Anyhow, we can’t very well go and tell the girls it was the men at the bottom of all this. I don’t believe they’ll be able go to sleep here ever again!” Philip sighed and nodded.
Jack turned the handle slowly. It clicked and the door opened inwards. Both peeped round cautiously.
“I can’t hear any breathing.” Philip whispered.
“I’m going to flick my torch on and off quickly.” Jack replied. ‘Let’s see.’ he thought. ‘The room will be exactly the same as Bill and Aunt Allie’s, so the bed will be over there.’ He pointed the torch to one of the corners and flicked it on and off quickly. There were two beds next to each other, both neatly made! Where were the men, and most importantly, where was Bill?