The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the little cottage. There was a kitchen and larder at the back, which looked out over part of the garden, and a pretty sitting room which had lovely big wooden-framed glass doors that opened out onto the other part of the garden. Miss Pepper told the children that she would always have the doors open in the hot weather, which they loved the idea of as they could wander in and out as they pleased, and feel the nice breeze coming in when they were sat in the sitting room.
At the other end of the sitting room was a lovely big window seat covered with soft cushions, and Loony claimed this at once, looking most cosy snuggled up there. Miranda wanted to sit there too but Loony was right in the middle, so the little monkey picked up a cushion and started to hit Loony with it, to try and get him to move up.
On the other side of the hall there was a small dining room with table and chairs.
The rooms upstairs were just as quaint. All the bedroom ceilings sloped in one direction or the other, and were full of dark old beams. As the pretty garden surrounded most of the cottage, everyone’s rooms looked out onto the bright green lawn. Diana’s room was closest to Miss Pepper’s, Barney’s was next to Diana’s, and Roger and Snubby’s was farthest away on the other side of the cottage. Miss Pepper had put them there in the hope that she would get a bit of peace from Loony.
Diana also discovered that her bedroom window gave her a view of the manor up on the hill. It looked a most exciting place.
The little bathroom was done out in pale blue and white, with matching towels. Everyone was thrilled with the cottage, and Miss Pepper felt pleased and proud that they all loved her little second home. She meant to spend a lot of time there. The village was prettier than the one where she currently lived.
After supper that evening, Barney kindly noticed that Miss Pepper looked very tired, so he politely suggested that they should all go to bed. He nudged Roger and Roger understood at once, feeling sorry for Miss Pepper who had done a lot of driving that day and had made them a fine supper with Diana’s help. Miss Pepper usually liked to go to bed early anyway, so the children said goodnight and went up to their pretty little rooms. Miss Pepper read a bit more of her book and then went up to bed too.
Diana was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow. Her little bed was very comfortable and she had her bedroom window open so she could hear the owls hooting in the trees. As it happened she didn’t hear any at all – she was asleep too quickly!
Barney kept awake while Miranda explored their room, then when she grew accustomed to where everything was, she leapt onto Barney and snuggled down against him, putting her arms round his neck.
Roger and Snubby took longer to go to sleep, mostly because Loony was racing about the room, wide awake.
“Oh, Loony, settle down!” protested Snubby, who was actually quite sleepy. Loony leapt onto the bed, and Snubby thought he was about to settle, but then he took a flying leap over onto Roger’s bed and gave a delighted bark. Then he shot off round the room yapping excitedly, before leaping onto both beds again and then proceeding to lick Snubby’s face.
“Oh get off, dog!” Snubby pushed him away from his face. “I’ve already had a wash thanks, I don’t need another one!”
Roger gave a loud roar of laughter.
“Snubby! You’ve got another dirty mark on your chin! Loony is trying to wash it off!”
“How can I have a dirty mark?” protested Snubby. “I’ve just washed!”
“No idea,” said Roger, snuggling down. “It beats me how you always seem to get filthy all the time.”
“Well I’m not getting up again,” Snubby said decidedly, arranging his pillow and giving Loony a pat as he settled in the crook of his knees. “Dirty mark or not.”
Roger didn’t answer. He was asleep! Snubby lay awake for about fifteen minutes, then he fell asleep too. The household was quiet save for the owls in the garden. But Diana missed them all!
Usually Miss Pepper was up and about before any of the children, but next day Diana was awake first, and thought it would be nice if she went and started to make breakfast. She got dressed while looking out of her open window at the glorious blue sky, and went down to start to make eggs and bacon for everyone. The garden was already warm and full of buzzing insects and singing birds, and Diana felt extremely happy as she pottered about in the kitchen.
“Good morning!” Miss Pepper appeared in the kitchen. “Oh you’ve started on the breakfast? Thank you!”
“I like cooking,” Diana smiled. “It’s nice to be able to help you, Miss Pepper.”
Before long, they heard the thuds and bangs of Loony and Snubby upstairs. A door opened, and Loony came thundering down the stairs and into the kitchen. He had smelt the food! The next one in was Miranda, followed by a smiling Barney. Roger wasn’t far behind, but Snubby took forever.
Loony had pulled two arm-covers off the sofa, mistaking them for some kind of mat, and had raced down the garden to the little summerhouse, where he sat guarding the covers. Snubby had not seen him go into the summerhouse, and the three other children squealed with laughter as they watched him hunt all round the house and garden for Loony who hid silently in the summerhouse, as if joining in the joke.
Miranda gave the game away by scampering down the path to the summerhouse, chattering. She could not understand why Loony had gone in and no-one seemed to be able to find him. She chattered and shrieked until Snubby realised where Loony was, and hauled him out, covers and all. He hurriedly replaced the covers and hurried into the dining room before all the breakfast was gone.
“What are you going to do today then?” asked Miss Pepper, pouring out tea.
“Well, do you need us to do any jobs here?” asked Roger politely.
“No, you go off and do what you like,” Miss Pepper said. “I plan to just finish some cleaning and tidying, and it’s too small in here to have you four and the animals while I’m trying to clean. We’d only get under each others’ feet.”
“Alright then, let’s go down to the river and have a swim,” Diana suggested. “It’s going to be gloriously hot again, look.”
“Miss Pepper, just shout if you want any jobs done,” said Barney, who was anxious to be of help and return Miss Pepper’s kindness.
She smiled kindly at him. “Thank you, Barney,” she said. “Perhaps in a few days you boys might be able to help me with some jobs, but for the moment just go off and enjoy yourselves.”
After breakfast, Diana washed up and made some sandwiches for a picnic, while the boys got their bathing things and some towels. They called goodbye to Miss Pepper, and set off across the village.
It really was a quaint and charming little village. They had a look in the post office and general store. Barney bought some fruit for Miranda, and Roger and Snubby bought some chocolate for their picnic. They wandered over to the little village pond and watched the ducks for a few minutes. Loony was desperate to chase them but Snubby kept a firm hold on his collar.
They crossed the village green to the row of cottages that Miss Pepper had told them about. Sure enough, a small rough path wound its way down the side of the end cottage, and opened out into a large area of long grass and wildflowers. Butterflies flew everywhere. It was beautiful.
“I can hear the river!” Diana said, her sharp ears hearing the sound of softly flowing water. “That way!”
The four children crossed the grassy field. Loony raced about like a mad thing, running back to Snubby every now and again, and tearing off again like a whirlwind. Miranda had jumped down to walk alongside the children but the long grass almost enveloped her and she felt smothered, so she leapt back up to Barney, chattering away in monkey language, telling Barney that she didn’t think much of the long tickly grass.
At the far side of the field, huge willows hung down over the river. The children exclaimed in delight as they reached the river. It was about fifteen feet wide from bank to bank, and shallow at the sides but slightly deeper in the middle, perfect for swimming. All kinds of twisty roots and plants grew at both sides of the riverbank, and lots of pretty flowers nodding their heads in the breeze, some hanging so low that they brushed the water. The far bank was so full of trees and bushes that the children couldn’t see through them, and Roger said that he thought it must be the start of Rosewood Forest.
The bank that the children were on had a few trees, but not many, and a rough stony path ran alongside the water.
“This must be the path that Miss Pepper said was good to walk along,” said Diana. “She told me that it goes for miles along the water.”
“We’ll do that one day when it’s not so hot,” Barney said, for he was very fond of walking.
Roger was looking through his field-glasses.
“There’s a cottage quite a way down the bank there,” he said. “I think I can see some kind of boat-house. That must be where that man lives who hires out his boats.”
“Let’s go and see after lunch,” Barney suggested.
Diana put the picnic packets down on a cool patch of grass in the shade of one of the trees.
“Let’s swim!” she said, picking up her bathing suit and heading off to a bush to change.
The four children had a lovely time. The river was glorious for bathing. The water was lovely and warm, for it flowed very slowly. It was crystal clear, and full of fascinating little fish, and plenty of weed which waved like pretty green streamers in the flow of the water. The children paddled in the shallows by the banks, then waded out to the middle where it was deep enough to swim.
Loony, of course, was in his element, and paddled and swam with the children, barking excitedly. Miranda wouldn’t go into the water, but contented herself by sitting on a branch overhanging the water, and picking little berries off the twigs, which she threw at anyone who came near. Loony unfortunately bore the brunt of most of Miranda’s attacks, as he swam near to her more often that the children, who were in the deeper water in the middle.
They waded out to have lunch, and lazed on the warm bank, tucking in to the chicken sandwiches and fruit and biscuits that Diana had prepared. Roger then produced the chocolate and they finished all that too, Snubby using the excuse that it would melt if he didn’t eat it.
After lunch they lay in the sun for a while, until Miranda got bored and started hopping from one child to another, jumping right on their full stomachs. Then she started pulling Barney’s hair, and he sat up, exasperated.
“No chance of a laze with you about, is there?” he said, tickling the little monkey. “Come on then. Hey, shall we walk down to the boatman’s cottage and see if he’s there?”
The others agreed that this was a good idea, so they packed away the picnic papers, pulled on their shoes, and set off down the path along the river bank.