AN UNEXPECTED SURPRISE
The boatman’s cottage stood right beside the river bank, so part of the boatman’s garden was actually the bank of the river. A small backwater branched off the river just by his cottage, and continued for a few yards until it formed a small pool, where the boathouse stood, its doors wide open.
“How lovely!” said Diana. “Imagine living here – right on the river!”
The boatman was sitting in a deckchair in his garden, smoking a pipe. He was an oldish man of about 65, dressed in grubby trousers and a shirt. He smiled at the children as they walked up to him. Miranda leapt down from Barney’s shoulder and scampered over to the man.
“Well well!” he said. “A monkey! On holiday, are you?”
“In a way,” said Roger. “We’re staying with our friend Miss Pepper, who has just moved into Rosewood Cottage.”
“Ah yes, I know Miss Pepper,” the boatman said. “Came walking down here the other day she did. She did tell me she was having guests, she was asking about my boats. Reckon she thought you might like to hire one.”
“We would,” said Barney, smiling. “The river is lovely. We’d love to go out in a boat on it.”
“Well you’re more than welcome.” said the man. “Not today though, all my boats are out already. This weather people queue up for them, you know.”
The children understood now why the boathouse and pool were empty.
“I’m not surprised.” said Diana. “We’ll have to come along early!”
“Yes, you come along in the morning and I should have a fine boat ready for you,” smiled the man. “And you tell your Miss Pepper that Charlie Collins said hello.”
“Thank you, Mr Collins.” Barney shook hands with the boatman, who seemed a little surprised at such good manners. He sat back down with his pipe, and the children left him alone.
They decided to walk on along the river bank for a little way. It was early in the afternoon, and now that there were no boats to hire, they had nothing to do. Loony decided that he was too hot, and leapt into the water and swam along while the children walked.
“That’s not a bad idea, you know!” said Snubby, watching Loony paddle along. “I might join him!”
And to the children’s amusement, he waded down into the water and swam alongside Loony, while the others carried on strolling.
They walked for about an hour, before they decided to sit down on the bank and dangle their feet in the water to cool down a little bit. There was still a bit of orangeade left over from lunch so Diana shared it out and they sat and drank it, wiggling their toes in the warm water. Loony ran in and out of the shallow water and shook himself all over the children. Usually they hated it when he did that, but today it felt like a lovely cooling shower!
“Oh Loony that was great!” Diana laughed. “Do it again!”
A little while later, Roger happened to look up and saw someone walking along the path towards them, quite a way off. As the person came nearer they saw that it was a man, dressed in shorts and a shirt, carrying a small pack with him.
“This place must be heaven for ramblers,” Barney said.
As the man walked even nearer, Loony suddenly sprang up and ran to meet him. Snubby looked surprised, then suddenly shouted.
“It’s Mr King! Look everyone – it’s Mr King!”
Everyone now recognised the stocky, well-built frame of the approaching man, and as he walked up to them, they saw his short dark hair and friendly, warm smile.
“Hallo hallo!” he grinned at the four children and reached down to pat Loony. “Whatever are you all doing here?”
Mr King was a friend of theirs who they had met a few holidays ago in the village of Rockingdown. He was a very important and high-up member of the police, and had pretended to be a tutor for the children so that he could work undercover in Rockingdown trying to catch a gang of smugglers. They had grown quite close to him towards the end of their adventure, and were very surprised and pleased to see him now.
“We’re on holiday here, with Miss Pepper!” Roger said, as he, Barney and Snubby shook hands with Mr King.
“She has a little cottage in the village,” added Diana, smiling as Mr King patted her shoulder and grinned. “So we’ve come to stay with her for our summer holidays.”
“What are you doing here Sir?” asked Snubby.
“Just taking a walk along this beautiful river.” said Mr King airily. “I’m holidaying too, in the next village. Lower Honeywell.”
“I bet you’re spying on someone!” blurted out Snubby, grinning. “Some kind of hush-hush secret work again! Are you pretending to be a tutor again?”
“That’s enough Snubby,” said Roger sharply. “It’s none of our business what Mr King is doing, and it’s rude to poke our noses in.”
“I wasn’t poking my nose in, I was just being curious!” sad Snubby in a hurt tone.
“Same thing,” laughed Barney. “Sorry, Sir. Are you carrying on this way? We’re going to head back, we’ll walk with you.”
“It’s all right.” Mr King grinned at all the excited faces. “I’m just, erm, on holiday, that’s all. Yes, I’m carrying on this way.”
“Come to tea with us!” said Diana, slipping her arm through Mr King’s as they all strolled on. “Come and see Miss Pepper!”
“Oh, yes, do come back with us!” said Snubby. “Miss Pepper would like to see you again!”
Mr King laughed. “All right then, if you’re sure she won’t mind having an extra guest sprung on her,” he said.
Mr King was a great sport. He very patiently put up with Miranda on his shoulder as they walked. She plucked leaves from any low-hanging branches that they passed, and dropped them down Mr King’s neck. He didn’t even mind when her nimble fingers undid the pack on his back and took out an orange. She started to peel it, and then dropped the bits of peel down his neck too. She was about to do the same with the pips out of the orange, till Barney saw her and the mischievous look on her face.
“And what do you think you’re doing with those?” he laughed, taking the little monkey from Mr King’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Sir, she’s being mischievous because she likes you.”
“It’s all right.” laughed Mr King, fishing down his neck and retrieving some orange peel and a few leaves.
Miranda chattered loudly and then threw the pips at Snubby. Diana squealed with laughter at the little comic show.
It took them a while to get back to Rosewood Cottage. For one thing they were walking slowly, chattering away, and for another thing both Miranda and Loony were showing off in front of Mr King and vying for his attention. If Miranda sat on his shoulder, Loony would leap up at him as he walked, trying to show that he was important too. If Loony trotted alongside Mr King, Miranda would trot the other side and try to reach up for Mr King’s hand, because she knew that it was something that Loony could not do.
Miss Pepper was astonished to see Mr King with the children when they arrived back. She was out by the gate at the end of the little driveway, pruning back some roses that had grown a little wayward.
“Why, hello!” she smiled, rubbing her soily hands on her apron and going to shake hands with Mr King. “What an unexpected surprise!”
“They insisted on me coming to tea,” Mr King grinned apologetically. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course not,” smiled Miss Pepper. “Come in and we’ll get the tea ready. Diana, would you start it while I put these secateurs away? Have you all had a nice day?”
Miss Pepper was at once met with four different eager conversations describing their day and what they had been doing. She laughed.
“Well from what I can gather you’ve had a nice time! You’re all looking very burnt, I must say! Take Mr King in and show him round. I won’t be a minute.”
The children changed into clean clothes very quickly, and then showed Mr King round the cottage. He thought it was lovely. Diana suggested that they have tea outside on the table on the lawn, and everyone agreed. She and Miss pepper got together a fine tea of crumpets, cake, scones and thick slices of fresh bread that Miss Pepper had baked that afternoon. Diana carried it all out and Miss Pepper followed with the butter, clotted cream and jam. Roger went to fetch the teapot.
“I say, what a spread!” Mr King exclaimed. “I ought to come to tea more often!”
“You’re always welcome,” Miss Pepper said. “Are you holidaying round here?”
Before Mr King had chance to answer, Snubby interrupted.
“He’s doing some secret spying work!”
“Snubby!” Roger kicked him under the table. “Stop saying that! Mr King is on holiday!”
Miss Pepper smiled knowingly. Barney understood what she meant. She knew that Mr King was probably doing some kind of secret work.
They had a most enjoyable tea. Miranda was hilarious, passing Mr King the scones, then some bread, then the crumpets, then picking up the jam pot and butter dish and giving him those too. Then she put the clotted cream down by his arm and pushed the cake over to him as well. Very soon Mr King was surrounded by everything that had been on the table. Miranda jumped up and down on his shoulder, chattering loudly. Everyone shrieked with laughter.
“She’s making sure you don’t go hungry!” laughed Barney.
Loony was the next one to join in. He had been waiting for titbits under the table as usual, but when none seemed to appear, he came out to see what was going on. He scrambled up onto Mr King’s lap all of a sudden and poked his nose onto Mr King’s plate, from which he promptly took a scone, and then disappeared under the table again.
Diana almost fell off her chair with laughter. The animals were so funny when they joined in with everyone else. Miss Pepper looked horrified at these awful manners from Miranda and Loony, but fortunately Mr King had a great sense of humour and didn’t seem to mind at all. Snubby was very pleased to see how much Mr King appeared to like his dog.
They told Mr King all about the adventures they had had since meeting him in Rockingdown. He was amazed.
“Well, you children certainly know how to tumble into adventures!” he said. “I think you’ve had more than I have!”
“I bet you’ll have one now, Sir, if you’re spying on someone!” burst out Snubby.
“Snubby, I won’t tell you again!” Roger sounded exasperated. “Stop going on about it! It’s nothing to do with us what Mr King is doing here!”
“Well I hope we’ll see more of you while you’re around this area,” said Diana, who had grown very fond of Mr King. He seemed strong and brave and exciting.
“I’m sure you will,” Mr King said. “I’ll come and visit again if Miss Pepper will have me, and perhaps we could all go for a walk one day. There are lots of lovely walks round here.”
“I say – we could take a boat down the river!” Roger said. “We were going to do that anyway, but you could come with us, Sir, couldn’t you? ”
“Yes – that would be fun,” Mr King said. “We’ll do that next week.”
Mr King stayed for a little while after tea. They sat in the warm garden and talked, while he smoked a cigarette and relaxed in the comfortable garden chairs. Eventually he got up and stretched.
“Well, I must be off,” he said. “Got to walk back to the next village. It should be nice along the river this evening.”
“Do come and see us soon,” said Diana.
“I’ll come over in a few days and we’ll see about a boat.” smiled Mr King, walking away down the drive. “Cheerio!”
Everyone waved goodbye, then went back into the garden.
“Well – fancy Mr King turning up out of the blue like that!” said Miss Pepper. “What a surprise!”
“I wonder what he’s doing,” wondered Roger. “Of course, he says he’s on holiday, but we all know he must be doing some kind of secret, important work here. He….”
“Ah – so you agree with me!” Snubby said at once. “We know he is! So why did you get so high and mighty with me earlier?”
“Because it’s not polite to keep on saying it in front of him, when he’s told us he’s just on holiday!” said Roger. “It’s obvious he can’t tell us what he’s doing, so why go on about it?”
Snubby looked sulky and wandered off down the garden with Loony. Diana laughed and went to help Miss Pepper clear up the tea things. Roger and Barney were left sitting together.
“I can’t help feeling there’s something very mysterious going on,” said Barney, looking at Roger, his bright blue eyes very serious. “Why would a very important man like Mr King be down here if it wasn’t something dangerous and mysterious?”
“Dangerous and mysterious?” said Roger in surprise. “What on Earth do you mean?”
“I don’t know really,” said Barney. “Just a feeling.”