The children soon settled down round the fire with the board game; Monopoly, and the great big tin of toffee. It had not yet been cut into pieces, except the pieces the children had already eaten, and it was one long, thick slab. Jack cut into it with a sharp knife and separated it into large pieces. The children had purposely lit the fire beside the girls’ tent that night, so then, as they were snuggled up in the bush, there would be a little bit of warmth coming from the fire.
The children had a cosy night round the fire. They didn’t stay up very long, for they were all tired after their walk up and down the hill. Everyone said goodnight to Dinah, who wrapped a rug around herself and crept cautiously into the bush. All but Dinah retired to bed. She had a bar of chocolate or two in her pocket and planned to nibble them so that they would last her the whole two hours.
She shivered slightly in the cold night, and pulled the rug around herself tighter. Kiki watched her for a while from her usual perch, and then, bored, put her head in her wing and fell asleep. Suddenly, there came a noise. Dinah stiffened. Then, a small hedgehog crawled by, hardly relieving Dinah, who let out the loudest scream you ever heard! The others rushed out their tents, immediately, expecting to see a party of large, burly men standing over the tents, but no, all they saw was a harmless little hedgehog scuttle under a bush, a little way ahead.
Everyone laughed, as they saw Dinah’s scared face peering out the bush. None of them had been asleep and had been slightly puzzled at Dinah’s early exclamation. They crept back into their tents and Dinah sat back in her place. Nothing much happened on Dinah’s watch, except a few bats flew by, making the girl jump tremendously.
A few owls hooted in the silence, and Dinah wondered if that could possibly be the enemies secret signal to each other, but shook her head and dismissed the idea when two large owls flew by. She very nearly fell asleep and hurriedly began nibbling her second bar of chocolate, to try and keep herself awake. She was relieved when ten o’clock came and she could gently wake Philip, whisper a few words to him and then crawl safely into the tent.
Philip crawled out his and into the watch place, where Dina had sat for the last two hours. He looked around the camp, which was clearly lit by the flare of the camp fire, throwing flames about wildly. Dormy the mouse was restless and crawled out of Philip’s sleeve, wondering where they were. Philip tickled him and gave him a tomato. His bad leg was healing nicely now, and soon Philip would let him go free. Dormy nibbled at the tomato softly, making a funny grating sound in the quietness of the night.
Philip watched and watched, but nothing came of it. There wasn’t a noise, nor a movement. It was Lucy-Ann’s turn next. The others lay asleep, snuggled up in the warmth of their sleeping bags. Poor Lucy-Ann shivered softly. She was very nervous about her watch, and hoped, unlike the others, that she would not see or hear a thing. But very soon, she did hear something. It sounded like the owls, at first, hooting comfortingly to their babies, but then, as it came closer, Lucy-Ann realised, it was not the nest of owls she imagined, it was a group of men, talking in low voices. Lucy-Ann’s little heart began to beat faster and faster, and at last, she crawled out of her place and shook the boys tent gently.
“Who’s there?” came Jack’s voice. Kiki came sailing out the tent and landed neatly on Lucy-Ann’s shoulder. “It’s me, Lucy-Ann” said the girl desperately, “Jack, the enemies are here, and I’m too scared,” she said, crawling into the boys’ tent.
Jack crawled out at once and positioned himself in the secret watch place. Philip comforted Lucy-Ann in his own tent. Jack watched carefully, as the men walked up the hill. He took a good look at them. One of them held a candle which lit up their faces very well indeed. Jack could make out five people. One had long, curly hair, and wore a long black coat which looked rather like a cloak that dark night. He had a long scar which went right down his cheek. Another had short hair and large bushy eyebrows that hung over his eyes. Jack could make out a gold stud in his left ear. The next man looked foreign and held a big bag over his shoulder. The fourth, Jack could hardly make out, for he was furthest away from the candle light. And the fifth, well surely it looked like Mr Dickens, the handy man at Lowfell Inn.
“No, it can’t be…” breathed Jack, waiting for the men to come closer so he could get a better look, but the men seemed to be keeping well away from the camp, and kept as close to the stream as was possible. Jack couldn’t make them out at all from there. As soon as they had passed he crawled out of his place and into his tent, where the others were gathered round, talking anxiously. Dinah had been woken and looking sleepy, she now sat with a rug round her shoulders.
They were all relieved when Jack crawled back in. “What happened?” they all asked. “Who were they?” Jack sunk down into his sleeping bag and looked round at everyone. “Who do you think I saw out there, with the other men?” he said in a low voice, “Mr Dickens, the handyman at the inn!” he said.
The others gasped. They had seen Mr Dickens quite a bit when they had been staying at the inn, and they had always thought he looked a nasty piece of work. “Fancy, you do suppose he’s the enemy?” said Lucy-Ann, who was feeling rather bewildered.
“Yes, I do Lucy-Ann, dear, and the four other men that were walking with him. One had a scar down his cheek, and one had a gold stud in his ear, one looked foreign, but I don’t know which country he was from, one was Mr Dickens, and the other I couldn’t make out,” Jack said. The others listened in silence.
“I wonder what they could be doing here in the quiet village of Lowfell. I mean, all there is here are a few shops, an inn, a big hill and a marsh,” Dinah said.
“But we’re forgetting,” Philip said, “this hill is honeycombed with secret passages, and caves and things. It’s a great storage place for stolen goods and things. What robber could resist?” he said.
“I’m not too sure about burglary, for don’t forget, we think they are kidnapping too. I just can’t make it out,” Jack said in a frustrated voice.
“Well there’s no need for you to keep on look out tonight, Jack, lucky thing. You’ve done your bit watching for those men. All we need now, is a good nights sleep. Things might be clear in the morning, you never know. Goodnight girls!” Philip said.
“Goodnight!” screeched Kiki.
The girls crawled out into their tent and snuggled down in their sleeping bags. Lucy-Ann was rather pleased she was missing half her turn at look out and soon drifted off to sleep dreaming of robbers hiding inside the hill! The others did not drift off so easily, though, and lay awake pondering over the men they had seen. Very soon, they too, were fast asleep, and the camp was silent.
The children awoke late the next morning and hurried to get dressed. Soon they were gathered round a good breakfast, munching hungrily. “Anyone had any ideas then?” asked Jack between mouthfuls. Nobody had, which was a disappointment. Everyone racked their brains through breakfast but nobody could think of a solution. Nobody felt like a swim that morning, so Lucy-Ann went to wash the pots by herself. She sang a little song to herself as she went and the others smiled to themselves. Good old Lucy-Ann!
“So we’re trying to think up a plan to see what those men are up to,” said Dinah slowly. The boys nodded, hardly interested any more. It seemed quite impossible.
They were now troubling themselves on making a canopy to go over the tents to shade themselves a bit from the sun. Philip was cutting up some pieces of willow wood with his big strong pocket knife, and Jack was tying several leaves to each stick and Kiki of course was getting in the way and making herself a nuisance.
Soon it looked like a large blanket of leaves, for the pieces of wood could not be seen, and the pieces had all been tied together. Philip then tied two pieces of string from two trees behind both tents and then slipped the canopy over them. Perfect! It was a nice draughty shelter and the children kept nice and cool in there.
The children dragged the table and chairs underneath and sat there for a while, sheltered from the heat of the blazing sun. Kiki sat on top of the canopy, swaying side to side, chanting in her sing song voice: “I’m the Queen of the Castle!”
Suddenly Dinah stood up, with an excited expression on her face. “I’ve got it!” she exclaimed.
“Got what?” asked the others, straightening the canopy up, which Dinah had knocked when she jumped up so suddenly.
“I’ve got a plan…” she said mysteriously.