child_detBlytonSecret MountainPaul, Jack, Peggy, Nora and Mike have come to Africa on what seems an impossible search. Yet they mustn't give it up because Captain and Mrs. Arnold have been kidnapped and taken to the Secret Mountain. But where is the mountain? And who are the strange red-haired people who live there? Their rescue expedition seems destined to fail, until they meet young Mafumu…
.0 — ñîçäàíèå ôàéëàSecret MountainBeginning Of The Adventuresbright sunny morning, very early, four children stood on the rough grass of a big airfield, watching two men busily checking the engines of a gleaming white aeroplane.children looked rather forlorn, for they had come to say good-bye to their father and mother, who were to fly themselves to Africa.
“It’s fun having a famous father and mother who do all kinds of marvellous flying feats,” said Mike. “But it’s not such fun when they go away to far-off countries!”
“Well, they’ll soon be back,” said Nora, Mike’s twin sister. “It will only be a week till we see them again.”
“I somehow feel it will be longer than that,” said Mike gloomily.
“Oh, don’t say things like that!” said Peggy. “Make him stop, Jack!”laughed and slapped Mike on the shoulder. “Cheer up!” he said. “A week from today you’ll be here again to welcome them back, and there will be cameramen and newspaper men crowding round to take your picture — son of the most famous air-pilots in the world!”children’s father and mother came up, dressed in flying suits. They kissed and hugged the children.
“Now, don’t worry about us,” said their mother. “We shall soon be back. You will be able to follow our flight by reading what the newspapers say every day. We will have a fine party when we come home, and you shall all stay up till eleven o’clock!”
“Gracious!” said Jack. “We shall have to start going to bed early every night to get ready for such a late party!”was rather a feeble joke, but everyone was glad to laugh at it. One more hug all round and the two flyers climbed into the cockpit of their tiny aeroplane, whose engines were now roaring in a most business-like way.Arnold was to pilot the aeroplane for the first part of the flight. He waved to the children. They waved back. The aeroplane engines took on a deeper, stronger note, and the machine began to move gently over the grass, bumping a little as it went., like a bird rising, the wheels left the ground and the tiny white plane rose into the air. It circled round twice, rose high, and then sped off south with a drone of powerful engines. The great flight had begun!
“Well, I suppose the White Swallow will break another record,” said Mike, watching the aeroplane become a tiny speck in the blue sky. “Come on, you others. Let’s go and have some lemonade and buns.”they went and were soon sitting round a little table in the airfield’s restaurant. They were so hungry that they ordered twelve buns.
“It’s a bit of luck getting off from school for a couple of days like this,” said Mike. “It’s a pity we’ve got to go back today. It would have been fun to go to a cinema or something.”
“Our train goes from London in two hours’ time,” said Peggy. “When does yours go?”
“In three hours,” said Jack, munching his bun. “We shall have to go soon. It will take us over an hour to get to London from here, and you girls don’t want to miss your train.”
“We’ll all look in the newspapers each day and see where Mummy and Daddy have got to,” said Peggy. “And we’ll look forward to meeting you boys here again in about a week’s time, to welcome the plane back! Golly, that will be exciting!”
“I still feel rather gloomy,” said Mike. “I really have got a nasty feeling that we shan’t see Dad and Mummy again for a long time.”
“You and your nasty feelings!” said Nora laughing. “By the way, how’s Prince Paul?”Paul was a boy at Mike’s school. He and the children had had some strange adventures together the year before, when the Prince had been captured and taken from his land of Baronia to be kept prisoner in an old house that had once belonged to smugglers. The children had rescued him — and now Paul had been sent to the same school as his friends, Mike and Jack.
“Oh, Paul’s all right,” said Mike. “He was furious because the headmaster wouldn’t allow him to come with Jack and me to see Dad and Mummy off.”
“Well, give him our love and tell him we’ll look forward to seeing him in the holidays,” said Peggy, who was very fond of the little Prince.
“Come on — we really must go,” said Mike. “Where’s the taxi? Oh, there it is. Get in, you girls, and we’ll be off. Jack and I will have time to come and see you safely into your train.”evening came all four children were safely back at their two schools. Prince Paul was watching for his friends, and he rushed to meet Jack and Mike.
“Did you see them off?” he cried. “Did you see the evening papers? There’s a picture of Captain and Mrs. Arnold in it.”enough the evening papers were full of the big flight that the famous pilots were making. The children read them proudly. It was fun to have such a famous father and mother.
“I’d rather have a famous pilot for a father than a king,” said Prince Paul enviously. “Kings aren’t much fun, really — but airmen are always doing marvellous things!”the next two days the papers were full of the plane’s magnificent flight — and then a horrid thing happened. Mike ran to get the evening paper, and the first thing that met his eye was a great headline that said:
“NO NEWS OF THE ARNOLDS. STRANGE SILENCE. WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE WHITE SWALLOW?”White Swallow was the name given to the beautiful aeroplane flown by Captain and Mrs. Arnold. Mike went pale as he read his headlines. He handed the paper to Jack without a word.glanced at it in dismay. “What can have happened?” he said. “I say — the girls will be jolly upset.”
“Didn’t I tell you I felt gloomy when I saw Dad and Mummy off?” said Mike. “I knew something was going to happen!”girls were just as upset as the boys. Nora cried and Peggy tried to comfort her.
“It’s no good telling me they will be all right,” wept Nora. “They must have come down in the middle of Africa somewhere, and goodness knows what might happen. They might be eaten by wild animals, or get lost in the forest or — ”
“Nora, they’ve got food and guns,” said Peggy. “And if the plane has had an accident, well, heaps of people will be looking and searching day and night. Let’s not look on the dark side of things till we know a bit more.”
“I wish we could see the boys,” said Nora, drying her eyes. “I’d like to know what they say.”
“Well, it’s half-term holiday the week-end after next,” said Peggy. “We shall see them then.”the children’s great disappointment, there was no news of their parents the next day — nor the next day either. Then, as the days slipped by, and the papers forgot about the lost flyers, and printed other fresher news, the children became more and more worried.term came, and the four of them went to London, where they were to stay for three days at their parents’ flat. Miss Dimmy, an old friend of theirs, was to look after them for that short time. Prince Paul was to join them that evening. He had to go and see his own people first, in another part of London.
“What’s being done about Dad and Mummy?” asked Mike, feeling glad to see Dimmy, whom they all loved.
“My dear, you mustn’t worry — everything is being done that can possibly be done,” said Dimmy. “Search parties have been sent out all over the district where it is thought that Captain and Mrs. Arnold may have come down. They will soon be found.”took them all to a cinema, and for a while the children forgot their worries. Prince Paul joined them after tea, looking tremendously excited.
“I say, what do you think?” he cried. “My father has sent me the most wonderful birthday present you can think of — guess what it is!”
“A pink elephant,” said Mike at once.
“A blue bed-jacket!” said Nora.
“A clockwork mouse!” said Peggy.
“A nice new rattle!” cried Jack.
“Don’t be silly,” grinned Paul, who was now quite used to the English children’s teasing ways. “You’re all wrong — he’s given me an aeroplane of my very own!”four children stared at Paul in the greatest surprise. The knew that Paul’s father was a rich king — but even so, an aeroplane seemed a very extravagant present to give to a small boy.
“An aeroplane!” said Mike. “Golly — if you aren’t lucky, Paul! But you are too young to fly it. It won’t be any use to you.”
“Yes, it will,” said Paul. “My father has sent me his finest pilot with it. I can fly all over your little country of England and get to know it very well.”
“Paper! Evening paper! Lost aeroplane found! White Swallow found!”a yell the four children rushed down the stairs to buy a paper. But what a dreadful disappointment for them! It was true that the White Swallow had been found — but Captain and Mrs. Arnold were not with it. They had completely disappeared!children read the news in silence. The aeroplane had been seen by one of the searching planes, which had landed nearby. Something had gone wrong with the White Swallow and Captain Arnold had plainly been putting it right — then something had happened to stop him.
“And now they’ve both disappeared, and, although all the natives round have been questioned about them, nobody knows anything — or they say they don’t, which comes to the same thing,” said Peggy, almost in tears.
“I wish to goodness we could go out to Africa and look for them,” said Mike, who hadn’t really much idea of how enormous a place Africa was.Paul slipped a hand through Mike’s arm. His eyes shone.
“We will go!” he said. “What about my new aeroplane! We can go in that — and Pilescu, my pilot, can take us! He is always ready for an adventure! Don’t let’s go back to school, Mike — let’s go off in my aeroplane!”others stared at the little Prince in astonishment. What an idea!
“We couldn’t possibly,” said Mike.
“Why not?” said Paul. “Are you afraid? Well, I will go by myself then.”
“Indeed, you won’t!” cried Jack. “Mike — it’s an idea! We’ve had marvellous adventures together — this will be another. Let’s go — oh, do let’s go!”The Middle Of The Nightone of the five children thought of the great risk and danger of the adventure they were so light-heartedly planning.
“Shall we tell Dimmy?” said Nora.
“Of course not,” said Jack scornfully. “You know what grown-ups are — why, Dimmy would at once telephone Paul’s pilot and forbid him to take us anywhere.”
“Well, it seems horrid to leave her and not tell her anything,” said Nora, who was very fond of Miss Dimmy.
“We’ll leave a note for her that she can read when we are well away,” said Mike. “But we really mustn’t do anything to warn her or anyone else. My word — what a mercy that Paul had that aeroplane for his birthday!”
“When shall we go?” said Paul, his big dark eyes shining brightly. “Now — this very minute?”
“Don’t be an idiot, Paul,” said Jack. “We’ve got to get a few things together. We ought to have guns, I think, for one thing.”
“I don’t like guns,” said Nora. “They might go off by themselves.”
“Guns don’t,” said Jack. “You girls don’t need to have guns. But where can we get these things — I’m sure I don’t know.”
“Pilescu, my pilot, can get everything we want,” said Prince Paul. “Don’t worry.”
“But how will he know what to get?” asked Mike. “I hardly know myself what we ought to take.”
“I will tell him he must find out,” said Paul. “Show me where your telephone is Mike, and I will tell him everything.”Paul was holding a most extraordinary talk with his puzzled pilot. In the end Pilescu said he must come round to the flat and talk to his small master. He could not believe that he was really to do what Paul commanded.
“I say — suppose your pilot refuses to do what you tell him?” said Jack. “I’m sure he will just laugh and tell us to go back to school and learn our tables or something!”
“Pilescu is my man,” said the little Prince, putting his small chin into the air, and looking very royal all of a sudden. “He has sworn an oath to me to obey me all my life. He has to do what I say.”
“Suppose he tells your father?” said Mike.
“Then I will no longer have him as my man,” said Paul fiercely. “And that will break his heart, for he loves me and honours me. I am his prince, and one day I will be his king.”
“You talk like a history book,” said Peggy with a laugh. “All right, Paul — you try to get Pilescu to do what we have planned. He’ll soon be here.”twenty minutes Pilescu arrived. He was a strange-looking person, very tall, very strong, with fierce black eyes and a flaming red beard that seemed on fire when it caught the sun.bowed to all the children in turn, for his manners were marvellous. Then he spoke to Paul in a curiously gentle voice.
“Little Prince, I cannot believe that you wish me to do what you said on the telephone. It is not possible. I cannot do it.”Paul flew into a rage, and stamped on the floor, his face bright red, and his dark eyes flashing in anger.
“Pilescu! How dare you talk to me like this? My father, the king, told me that you must do my smallest wish. I will not have you for my man. I will send you back to Baronia to my father and ask him for a better man.”
“Little Prince, I held you in my arms when you were born, and I promised then that you should be my lord,” said Pilescu, in a troubled voice. “I shall never leave you, now that your father has sent me to be with you. But do not ask me to do what I think may bring danger to you.”
“Pilescu! Shall I, the king’s son, think of danger!” cried the little Prince. “These are my friends you see here. They are in trouble and I have promised to help them. Do you not remember how they saved me when I was kidnapped from my country of Baronia? Now it is my turn to help them. You will do what I say.”other four children watched in astonishment. They had not seen Paul acting the prince before. Before ten minutes had gone by the big Baronian had promised to do all that his haughty little master demanded. He bowed himself out and was gone from the flat before Dimmy came to find out who the visitor was.
“Good, Paul!” said Mike. “Now all we’ve got to do is to wait till Pilescu lets us know how he got on.”the night was gone Pilescu telephoned to Prince Paul. The boy came running to the others, his face eager and shining.
“Pilescu has found out everything for us. He has bought all we need, but he says we must pack two bags with all we ourselves would like to have. So we must do that. We must leave the house at midnight, get into the car that will be waiting for us at the corner — and go to the airfield!”
“Golly! How exciting!” said Mike. The girls rubbed their hands, thrilled to think of the adventure starting so soon. Only Jack looked a little doubtful. He was the eldest, and he wondered for the first time if they were wise to go on this new and strange adventure.the others would not even let him speak of his doubts. No — they had made up their minds, and everything was ready except for the packing of their two bags. They were going; they were going!bags were packed. The five children were so excited that they really did not know what to pack, and when the bags were full, not one child could possibly have said what was in them! With trembling hands they did up the leather straps, and then Mike wrote out a note for Dimmy.stuck the note into the mirror on the girls’ dressing-table. It was quite a short note.
“Dimmy Dear,’t worry about us. We’ve gone to look for Daddy and Mummy. We’ll be back safe and sound before long.from all of us.”had been out to see a friend and did not come back until nine o’clock. The children had decided to get into bed fully dressed, so that Dimmy would not have any chance of asking awkward questions.was rather surprised to find all the children so quiet and good in bed. They did not even sit up to talk to her when she came into the bedrooms to kiss them all goodnight. She did not guess that it was because they were not in their night clothes!
“Dear me, you must all be tired out!” she said in surprise. “Well, goodnight, my dears, sleep well. You still have another day’s holiday, so we will make the most of it tomorrow.”the children lay perfectly still until they heard Dimmy go into her bedroom and shut the door. They listened to her movements, and then they heard the click of her bedroom light being turned off.
“Don’t get out of bed yet,” whispered Jack to Mike. “Give Dimmy time to get to sleep.”for another half-hour or so the children lay quiet — and Nora fell asleep! Peggy had to wake her up, and the little girl was most astonished to find that she had to get up in the dark, and that she had on her day clothes! But she soon remembered what a big adventure was beginning, and she rubbed her eyes, and went to get a wet sponge to make her wider awake.
“What’s the time?” whispered Mike. He flashed his torch on to the bedroom clock — half-past eleven. Nearly time to leave the house.
“Let’s go to the dining-room and hunt round for a few biscuits first,” said Jack. “I feel hungry. Now for goodness sake be quiet, everyone. Paul, don’t trip over anything — and, Nora, take those squeaky shoes off! You sound like a dozen mice when you creep across the bedroom!”Nora took off her squeaky shoes and carried them. Jack and Mike took the bags, and the five children made their way quietly down the passage to the dining-room. They found the biscuit tin and began to munch. The noise of the biscuits being crunched in their teeth sounded very loud in the silence of the night.
“Do you think Dimmy will hear us munching?” said Nora anxiously. She swallowed her piece of biscuit too soon and a crumb caught in her throat. She went purple in the face, and tried hard not to cough. Then an enormous cough came, and the others rushed at her.
“Nora! Do be quiet!” whispered Jack fiercely. He caught the cloth off the table and wrapped it round poor Nora’s head. Her coughs were smothered in it, but the little girl was very angry with Jack.tore off the cloth and glared at the grinning boy. “Jack! You nearly smothered me! You’re a horrid mean thing.”
“Sh!” said Mike, “This isn’t the time to quarrel. Hark — the clock is striking twelve.”was peacefully asleep in her bedroom when the five children crept to the front door of the flat. They opened it and closed it very quietly. Then down the stone stairway they went to the street entrance, where another big door had to be quietly opened.
“This door makes an awful noise when it is closed,” said Mike anxiously. “You have to bang it. It will wake everyone!”
“Well, don’t shut it then, silly,” said Jack. “Leave it open. No one will bother about it.”they left the big door open and went down the street, hoping that they would not meet any policemen. They felt sure that a policeman would think it very queer for five children to be out at that time of night!they met no one at all. They went down to the end of the street, and Mike caught Jack’s arm.
“Look — there’s a car over there — do you suppose it is waiting for us?”
“Yes — that’s our car,” said Jack. “Isn’t it, Paul?”nodded, and they crossed the road to where a big blue and silver car stood waiting, its engine turned off. The children could see the blue and silver in the light of a street lamp. Paul’s aeroplane was blue and silver too, as were all the royal aeroplanes of Baronia.man slipped out of the car and opened the door silently for the children. His uniform was of blue and silver too, and, like most Baronians, he was enormous. He bowed low to Paul.the great car was speeding through the night. It went very fast, eating up the miles easily. The children were all tremendously excited. For one thing it was a great thrill to be going off in an aeroplane — and who knew what exciting adventures lay in store for them!came to the airfield. It was in darkness, except for lights in the middle of the field, where the beautiful aeroplane belonging to Prince Paul stood ready to start.
“I am to take you right up to the aeroplane in the car,” said the driver to Prince Paul, who sat in front with him.
“Good,” said Paul. “Then we can all slip into it, and we shall be off before anyone really knows we are here!”Exciting Journeybig blue and silver car drove silently over the bumpy field until it came to the aeroplane. Pilescu was there, his red beard shining in the light of a lamp. With him was another man just as big.
“Hallo, Ranni!” said Prince Paul joyfully. “Are you coming too? I’m so glad to see you!”lifted the small Prince off the ground and swung him into the air. His broad face shone with delight.
“My little lord!” he said. “Yes — I come with you and Pilescu. I think it is not right that you should do this — but the lords of Baronia were always mad!”laughed. It was easy to see that he loved big Ranni, and was glad that the Baronian was coming too.
“Will my aeroplane take seven?” he asked, looking at it.
“Easily,” said Pilescu. “But now, come quickly before the mechanics come to see what is happening.”all climbed up the little ladder to the cockpit. The aeroplane inside was like a big and comfortable room. It was marvellous. Mike and the others cried out in amazement.
“This is a wonderful aeroplane,” said Mike. “It’s much better than even the White Swallow.”
“Baronia has the most marvellous planes in the world,” said Pilescu proudly. “It is only a small country, but our inventors are the best.”children settled down into comfortable armchair seats. Paul, who was tremendously excited, showed everyone how the seats unfolded, when a spring was touched, and became small beds, cosy and soft.
“Golly!” said Jack, making his seat turn into a bed at once, and then changing it back to an armchair, and then into a bed again. “This is like magic. I could do this all night!”
“You must settle down into your seats quickly,” ordered Pilescu, climbing into the pilot’s seat, with big Ranni just beside him. “We must be off. We have many hundreds of miles to fly before the sun is high.”children settled down again, Paul chattering nineteen to the dozen! Nobody felt sleepy. It was far too exciting a night to think of sleep.made sure the children had all fastened their seat belts, and started the engines, which made a loud and comfortable noise. Then, with a slight jerk, the aeroplane began to run over the dark field.bumped a little — and then, like a big bird, it rose into the air and skimmed over the long line of trees that stood at the far end of the big field. The children hardly knew that it had left the ground.
“Are we still running over the field?” asked Mike, trying to see out of the window near him.
“No, of course not,” said Ranni laughing. “We are miles away from the airfield already!”
“Goodness!” said Peggy, half-startled to think of the enormous speed at which the plane was flying. The children had to raise their voices when they spoke, because the engine of the plane, although specially silent, made a great noise.flight through the dark night was very strange to the children. As soon as the plane left the ground its wheels rose into its body and disappeared. They would descend again when the aeroplane landed. It flew through the darkness as straight as an arrow, with Pilescu piloting it, his eyes on all the various things that told him everything he needed to know about the plane.
“Why did Ranni come?” Prince Paul shouted to Pilescu.
“Because Ranni can take a turn at piloting the plane,” answered Pilescu. “Also there must be someone to look after such a crowd of children!”
“We don’t need looking after!” cried Mike indignantly. “We can easily look after ourselves! Why, once when we ran away to a secret island, we looked after ourselves for months and months!”
“Yes — I heard that wonderful story,” said Pilescu. “But I must have another man with me, and Ranni was the one I could most trust. We may be very glad of his help.”one knew then how glad they were going to be that big Ranni had come with them — but even so, Ranni was very comforting even in the plane, for he brought the children hot cocoa when they felt cold, and produced cups of hot tomato soup which they thought tasted better than any soup they had ever had before!
“Isn’t it exciting to be drinking soup high up in an aeroplane in the middle of the night?” said Peggy. “And I do like these biscuits. Ranni, I’m very glad you came with us!”Ranni grinned. He was like a great bear, yet as gentle as could be. He adored little Paul, and gave him far too much to eat and drink. They all had bars of nut chocolate after the soup, and Pilescu munched as well.plane had been flying very steadily indeed — in fact, the children hardly noticed the movement at all — but suddenly there came a curious jerk, and the plane dropped a little. It happened two or three times, and Paul didn’t like it.
“What’s it doing?” he cried.laughed. He had been up in aeroplanes before, and he knew what was happening at that moment.
“We are only bumping into air-pockets,” he shouted to Paul. “When we get into one we drop a bit — so it feels as if the plane is bumping along. Wait till we get into a big air-pocket — you’ll feel funny, young Paul!”enough, the plane slipped into a very big air-pocket, and down it dropped sharply. Paul nearly fell off his big armchair, and he turned quite green.
“I feel sick,” he said. Ranni promptly presented him with a strong paper bag.
“What’s this for?” asked Paul, in a weak voice, looking greener than ever. “There’s nothing in the bag.”other four children shouted with laughter. They felt sorry for Paul, but he really did look comical, peering into the paper bag to see if there was anything there.
“It’s for you to be sick in, if you want to be,” shouted Jack. “Didn’t you know that?”the paper bag wasn’t needed after all, because the plane climbed high, away from the bumpy air-pockets, and Paul felt better. “I shan’t eat so much chocolate another time,” he said cheerfully.
“I bet you will!” said Jack, who knew that Paul could eat more chocolate than any other boy he had ever met. “I say — isn’t this a gorgeous adventure? I hope we see the sun rise!”they didn’t, because they were all fast asleep! Nora and Peggy began to yawn at two o’clock in the morning, and Ranni saw them.
“You will all go to sleep now,” he said. He got up and helped the two girls to turn their big armchairs into comfortable, soft beds. He gave them each a pillow and a very cosy warm rug.
“We don’t want to go to sleep,” said Nora in dismay. “I shan’t close my eyes. I know I shan’t.”
“Don’t then,” said Ranni with a grin. He pulled the rugs closely over the children and went back to his seat beside Pilescu.and Peggy and Paul found that their eyes closed themselves — they simply wouldn’t keep open. In three seconds they were all sound asleep. The other two boys did not take much longer, excited though they were.nudged the pilot and Pilescu’s dark eyes twinkled as he looked round at the quiet children.and Ranni talked in their own language, as the plane roared through the night. They had travelled hundreds of miles before daylight came. It was marvellous to see the sun rising when dawn came.sky became full of a soft light that seemed alive. The light grew and changed colour. Both pilots watched in silence. It was a sight they had often seen and were never tired of.light filled the aeroplane when the sun showed a golden rim over the far horizon. Ranni switched off the electric lights at once. The world lay below, very beautiful in the dawn.
“Blue and gold,” said Ranni to Pilescu, in his own language. “It is a pity the children are not awake to see it.”
“Don’t wake them, Ranni,” said Pilescu. “We may have a harder time in front of us than they know. I am hoping that we shall turn and go back, once the children realise that we cannot possibly find their parents. We shall not stay in Africa very long!”children slept on. When they awoke it was about eight o’clock. The sun was high, and below the plane was a billowing mass of snowy whiteness, intensely blue in the shadows.
“Golly! Is it snow?” said Paul, rubbing his eyes in amazement. “Pilescu, I asked you to fly to Africa, not to the North Pole!”
“It’s fields and fields of clouds,” said Nora, looking with delight on the magnificent sight below them. “We are right above the clouds. Peggy, look — they seem almost solid enough to walk on!”
“Better not try it!” said Mike. “Ranni, you might have waked us up when dawn came. Now we’ve missed it. I say, I am hungry!”became very busy at the back of the plane, where there was a proper little kitchen. Soon the smell of frying bacon and eggs, toast and coffee stole into the cabin. The children sniffed eagerly, looking down at the fields of cloud all the time, marvelling at their amazing beauty.there came a break in the clouds and the five children gave shouts of joy.
“Look! We are over a desert or something. Isn’t it queer?”smooth-looking desert gave way to mountains, and then to plains again. It was most exciting to watch.
“Where are we?” asked Mike.
“Over Africa,” said Ranni, serving bacon and eggs to everyone, and putting hot coffee into the cups. “Now eat well, for it is a long time to lunch-time!”was a gorgeous meal, and most exciting. To think that they had their supper in London — and were having their breakfast over Africa! Marvellous!
“Do you know whereabouts our parents came down, Pilescu?” asked Mike.
“Ranni will show you on the map,” said the pilot. “Soon we must go down to get more fuel. We are running short. You children are to stay hidden in the plane when we land on the airfield, for I do not want to be arrested for flying away with you!”
“We’ll hide all right!” said Paul, excited. “Where is that map, Ranni? Let us see it. Oh, how I wish I had done better at geography. I don’t seem to know anything about Africa at all.”unfolded a big map, and showed the children where Captain and Mrs. Arnold’s plane had been found. He showed them exactly where their own plane was too.
“Golly! It doesn’t look very far from here to where the White Swallow was found!” cried Paul, running his finger over the map.laughed. “Further than you think,” he said. “Now look — we are nearing an airfield and must get fuel. Go to the back of the plane and hide under the pile of rugs there.”, whilst the plane circled lower to land, the five children snuggled under the rugs and luggage. They did hope they wouldn’t be found. It would be too dreadful to be sent back to London after coming so far.A Very Strange Countrynumber of men came running to meet the plane as it landed beautifully on the runway. Pilescu climbed out of the cockpit and left Ranni on guard inside. The children were all as quiet as mice.blue and silver plane was so magnificent that all the groundsmen ran round it, exclaiming. They had never seen such a beauty before. Two of them wanted to climb inside and examine it, but Ranni stood solidly at the entrance, his big body blocking the way. Pilescu spoke to the mechanics and soon the plane was taking in an enormous amount of fuel.
“Pooh! Doesn’t it smell horrid?” whispered Paul. “I think I’m going to choke.”
“Don’t you dare even to sneeze,” ordered Jack at once, his voice very low but very fierce.Paul swallowed his choking fit and went purple in the face. The girls couldn’t bear the smell either, but they buried their faces deeper in the rug and said nothing.man’s voice floated up to the cockpit, speaking in broken English.
“You have how many passengers, please?” he asked.
“You see me and my companion here,” answered Pilescu shortly.man seemed satisfied, and walked round the plane admiring it. Pilescu took no notice of him, but began to look carefully into the engines of the plane. He noticed something was wrong and shouted to Ranni.
“Come down here a minute and give me a hand.” Ranni stepped down the ladder and went to stand beside Pilescu. As quick as lightning one of the airfield men skipped up the ladder to the cockpit and peered inside the plane.so happened that Mike was peeping out to see if all was clear at that moment. He saw the man before the man saw him, and covered his face again, nudging the others to keep perfectly still.saw that the man had gone up to the cockpit and he shouted to him. “Come down! No one is allowed inside our plane without permission.”
“Then you must give me permission,” said the man, whose quick eye had seen the enormous pile of rugs at the back, and who wished to examine it. “We have had news that five children are missing from London, and there is a big reward offered from the King of Baronia if they are found.”muttered something under his breath and ran to where the mechanics had just finished refuelling the plane. He pushed them away and made sure nobody was still nearby. Ranni went up the steps in a trice, and tipped the inquisitive man down them. Pilescu leapt into the plane and slipped into the pilot’s seat like a fish sliding into water.was a good deal of shouting and calling, but Pilescu ignored it. He started the plane and it ran swiftly over the ground. With a crowd of angry men rushing after it, the plane taxied to the end of the field and then rose gently into the air. Pilescu gave a short laugh.
“Now it will be known everywhere that we have the children on board. Get them out, Ranni. They were very good and they must be half smothered under those rugs.”five children were already crawling out, excited to think of their narrow escape.
“Would we have been sent back to London?” cried Paul.
“I peeped out but the man didn’t see me!” shouted Mike.
“Are we safe?” said Peggy, sitting down in her comfortable armchair seat again. “They won’t send up planes to chase us, will they?”
“It wouldn’t be any use,” said Ranni, with a grin. “This is the fastest plane on the airfield. No — don’t worry. You are all right now. But we must try to find the place where the White Swallow came down, for we do not want to land on any more airfields at the moment.”day went on, and the children found it very thrilling to look out of the windows and see the mountains, rivers, valleys and plains slipping away below them. They longed to go down and explore them. It was wonderful to be over a strange land, and see it spread out below like a great map.the late afternoon, as the children were eating sweet biscuits and chocolate, and drinking lemonade, which by some miracle Ranni had iced, Pilescu gave a shout.and he put their heads together over the map, and the two men spoke excitedly in their own language. Paul listened, his eyes gleaming.
“What are they saying?” cried Mike impatiently. “Tell us, Paul.”
“They say that we are getting near the place where the White Swallow came down,” said Paul. “Ranni says he had been in this part of the country before. He was sent to get animals for our Baronian Zoo, and he knows the people. He says they live in tiny villages, far from any towns and they keep to themselves so that few others know them.”plane flew more slowly and went down lower. Ranni searched the ground below them carefully as the plane flew round in big circles.it was Mike who first saw what they were all eagerly looking for! He gave such a shout that the girls nearly fell off their seats, and Ranni turned round with a jump, half-expecting to see one of the children falling out of the plane!
“Ranni! Look — there’s the White Swallow! Oh, look — oh, we’ve passed it! Pilescu, Pilescu, go back! I tell you I saw the White Swallow!”boy was so excited that he shook big Ranni hard by the shoulder, and would have done the same to the pilot except that he had been warned not to touch Pilescu when he was flying the machine. Ranni looked back, and gave directions to Pilescu.a trice the plane circled back and was soon over the exact place where the gleaming white plane stood still and silent. The children gazed at it. To think that they were looking at the very same plane they had waved good-bye to some weeks before — but this time the two famous pilots were not there to wave back.
“I can’t land very near to it,” said Pilescu. “I don’t know how Captain Arnold managed to land there without crashing. He must be a very clever pilot.”
“He is,” said Peggy proudly. “He is one of the best in the world.”
“I shall land on that smooth-looking bit of ground over there,” said Pilescu, flying the plane lower. “We may bump a bit, children, because there are rocks there. Get ready for a jolt!”plane flew even lower. Then Pilescu found that he could not land with safety, and he rose into the air again. He circled round once more and then went down. This time he let down the wheels of the plane and they touched the ground. One ran over a rock and the plane tilted sideways. For one moment everyone thought that it was going over, and Pilescu turned pale. He did not want to crash in the middle of an unknown country!the plane was marvellously built and balanced and it righted itself. All the children had been thrown roughly about in their seats, and everything in the cabin had slid to one side.the five children soon sorted themselves out, too excited even to look for bruises. They rushed to the door of the cockpit, each eager to be out first. Ranni shouted to them.
“Stay where you are. I must go out first to see what there is to be seen.”stopped the engines, and the big throbbing noise died away. It seemed strange to the children when it stopped. Everything was so quiet, and their voices seemed suddenly loud. It took them a little time to stop shouting at one another, for they always had to raise their voices when they were flying.got out of the cockpit, his gun handy. No one appeared to be in sight. They had landed on rough ground, strewn with boulders, and it was really a miracle that they had landed so well. To the left, about two miles away, a range of mountains rose. To the right was a plain, dotted with trees that the children did not know. Small hills lay in the other directions.
“Everything looks very strange, doesn’t it?” said Mike. “Look at those funny red-brown daisies over there. And even the grass is different!”
“So are the birds,” said Peggy, watching a brilliant red and yellow bird chasing a large fly. A green and orange bird flew round the plane, and a flock of bright blue birds passed overhead. They were not a bit like any of the birds that the children knew so well at home.
“Can we get out, Ranni?” called Mike, who was simply longing to explore. Ranni nodded. He could see no one about at all. All the five children rushed out of the plane and jumped to the ground. It was lovely to feel it beneath their feet again.
“I feel as if the ground ought to bump and sway like the plane,” said Nora, with a giggle. “You know — like when we get out of a boat.”
“Well, I jolly well hope it doesn’t,” said Jack. “I don’t want an earthquake just at present.”sun was very hot. Pilescu got out some marvellous sun-hats for the five children and for himself and Ranni too. They had a sort of veil hanging down from the back to protect their spines from the sun. None of them were wearing very many clothes, but even so they felt very hot.
“I’m jolly thirsty,” said Mike, mopping his head. “Let’s have a drink, Ranni.”all drank lemonade, sitting in the shade of the plane. The sun was now getting low, and Pilescu looked at the time.
“There’s nothing more we can do today,” he said. “Tomorrow we will find some local people and see what we can get out of them by questioning them. Ranni thinks he can make them understand, for he picked up some of their language when he was here hunting animals for the Baronian Zoo.”
“Well, surely we haven’t got to go to bed already?” asked Nora in dismay. “Aren’t we going to explore a bit?”
“There won’t be time — the sun is setting already,” said Ranni. As he spoke the sun disappeared over the horizon, and darkness fell around almost at once. The children were surprised.
“Day went into night, and there was no evening,” said Nora, looking round. “The stars are out, look! Oh, Mike — Jack — aren’t they enormous?”they were. They seemed far bigger and brighter than at home. The children sat and looked at them, feeling almost afraid of their strange beauty.Nora yawned. It was such an enormous yawn that it set everyone else yawning too, even big Ranni! Pilescu laughed.
“You had little sleep last night,” he said. “You must have plenty tonight. In this country we must get up very early whilst it is still cool, for we shall have to rest in the shade when the sun climbs high. So you had better go to sleep very soon after Ranni has given you supper.”
“Need we sleep inside the plane?” said Jack. “It’s so hot there. Can we sleep out here in the cool?”
“Yes,” said Ranni. “We will bring out rugs to lie on. Pilescu and I will take it in turns to keep watch.”
“What will you watch for?” asked Peggy, in surprise. “Not enemies, surely?”
“Well, Captain and Mrs. Arnold disappeared just here, didn’t they?” said Pilescu solemnly. “I don’t want to wake up in the morning and find that we have disappeared too. I should just hate to go and look for myself!”laughed — but the children felt a little queer too. Yes — this wasn’t nice, safe old England. This was a strange, unknown country, where queer, unexpected things might happen. They moved a little closer to red-bearded Pilescu. He suddenly seemed very safe and protective as he sat there in the starlight, as firm and solid as one of the big dark rocks around!For Newsprovided a good meal, and Pilescu built a camp-fire, whose red glow was very comforting. “Wild animals will keep at a safe distance if we keep the fire going well,” said Pilescu, putting a pile of brushwood nearby. “Ranni or I will be keeping guard tonight, and we will have a fine fire going.”were spread around the fire, whose crackling made a very cheerful sound. The five children lay down, happy and excited. They had come to the right place — and now they were going to look for Captain and Mrs. Arnold. Adventures lay behind them, and even more exciting ones lay in front.
“I shall never go to sleep,” said Nora, sitting up. “Never! What is that funny sound I hear, Ranni?”
“Baboons in the hills,” said Ranni. “Never mind them. They won’t come near us.”
“And now what’s that noise?” asked Peggy.
“Only a night-bird calling,” said Ranni. “It will go on all night long, so you will have to get used to it. Lie down, Nora. If you are not asleep in two minutes I shall put you into the plane to sleep there by yourself.”was such a terrible threat that Nora lay down at once. It was a marvellous night. The little girl lay on her back looking up at the enormous, brilliant stars that hung like bright lamps in the velvet sky. All around her she heard strange bird and animal sounds. She was warm and comfortable and the fire at her feet crackled most comfortingly. She took a last look at big Ranni, who sat with his back to the plane, gun in hand, and then shut her eyes.
“The children are all asleep,” said big Ranni to Pilescu in his own language. “I think we should not have brought them on this adventure, Pilescu. We do not know what will happen. And how shall we find Captain and Mrs. Arnold in this strange country? It is like seeking for a nut on an apple tree!”grunted. He was very tired, for he had flown the plane all the way, without letting Ranni help. Ranni was to watch three-quarters of the night, and Pilescu was to sleep — then he would take the rest of the watch.
“We will see what tomorrow brings,” he said, his big red beard spreading over his chest as his head fell forward in sleep. And then another noise was added to the other night-sounds — for Pilescu snored.had a wonderful snore that rose and fell with his breathing. Ranni was afraid that he would wake up the children and he nudged him.Pilescu did not wake. He was too tired to stir. Jack awoke when he heard the new sound and sat up in alarm. He listened in amazement.
“Ranni! Ranni! Some animal is snorting round our camp!” he called. “Are you awake? Can’t you hear him?”smothered an enormous laugh. “Lie down, Jack,” he said. “It is only our good friend Pilescu. Maybe he snores like that to keep wild animals away. Even a lion might run from that noise!”grinned and lay down again. Good gracious, Pilescu made a noise as loud as the aeroplane! Well — almost, thought Jack, floating away into sleep again.kept watch most of the night. He saw shadowy shapes not far off, and knew them to be some kind of night-hunting animals. He watched the stars move down the sky. He smelt the fragrance of the wood burning on the fire, and sometimes he reached out his hand and threw some more into the heart of the leaping flames.little before dawn Ranni awoke Pilescu. The big Baronian yawned loudly and opened his eyes. At once he knew where he was. He spoke to Ranni, and then went for a short walk round the camp to stretch his legs and get wide awake.Ranni slept in his turn, his hand still on his gun. Pilescu watched the dawn come, and saw the whole country turn into silver and gold. When daylight was fully there he awoke everyone, for in such a hot country they must be astir early whilst the air was still cool.children were wild with excitement when they awoke and saw their strange surroundings. They ran round the camp, yelling and shouting, whilst Ranni cooked a delicious-smelling meal over the camp fire.
“Hie, look! Here’s a kind of little lake!” shouted Jack. “Let’s wash in it. Ranni, Pilescu! Could we bathe in this lake, do you think?”
“Not unless you want to be eaten by crocodiles,” said Ranni.gave a scream and tore back to the camp at top speed. Ranni grinned. He went to look at the lake. It was not much more than a pond, really.
“This is all right,” he said. “There are no crocodiles here. All the same, you mustn’t bathe in it, for there may be slug-like things called leeches, which will fasten on to your legs and hurt you. Please remember to be very careful indeed in this strange country. Animals that you only see at the Zoo in England run wild here all over the place.”was rather an alarming idea to the two girls. They did a very hasty wash indeed, but the three boys splashed vigorously. The air was cool and delicious, and every one of the children felt as if they could run for miles. But they only ran to the camp beside the plane, for they were so hungry, and breakfast smelt so good. The hot coffee sent its smell out, and the frying bacon sizzled and crackled in the pan.
“What’s the plan for today, Pilescu?” asked Jack. “Do we find someone and ask if they know anything of the White Swallow and its pilots?”
“We are in such a remote part of Africa, that the people round here might never have seen a plane before. But Ranni is going to the nearest village to try and get news,” said Pilescu, ladling out hot bacon on to the plates.
“But how does he know where the next village is?” asked Mike in wonder, looking round. “I can’t see a thing.”
“You haven’t used your eyes,” said Ranni, with a smile. “Look over there.”children looked in the direction to which he was pointing, where low hills lay. And they all saw at once what Ranni meant.
“A spire of smoke!” said Mike. “Yes — that means a fire — and fire means people. So that’s where you are going, Ranni? Be careful, won’t you?”
“My gun and I will look after one another,” said big Ranni with a grin, and he tapped his pocket. “I shall not be back till nightfall, so be good whilst I am gone!”set off soon after breakfast, carrying food with him. He wore his sun-hat, for the sun was now getting hot. The children watched him go.
“I do wish we could have gone with him,” said Jack longingly. “I hope he will have some news when he comes back.”
“Come, you children can wash these dishes in water from the pool,” called Pilescu. “Soon it will be too hot to do anything. Before it is, we must also find some firewood ready for tonight.”kept the children busy until the sun rose higher. Then when its rays beat down like fire, he made them get into the shade of the plane. Paul did not want to, for he enjoyed the heat, but Pilescu ordered him to go with the others.
“Pilescu, it is not for you to order me,” said the little Prince, sticking his chin into the air.
“Little Paul, I am in command now,” said the big Baronian, gently but sternly. “You are my lord, but I am your captain in this adventure. Do as I say.”
“Paul, don’t be an idiot, or I’ll come and get you into the shade by the scruff of your neck,” called Mike. “If you get sunstroke, you’ll be ill and will have to be flown back to London at once.”trotted into the shade like a lamb. He lay down by the others. Soon they were so thirsty that Pilescu found himself continually getting in and out of the plane with supplies of cool lemonade from the little refrigerator there.children slept in the midday heat. Pilescu was sleepy too, but he kept guard on the little company, wondering how big Ranni was getting on. When the sun began to slip down the coppery sky, he mopped his brow and awoke the children.
“There is some tinned fruit in the plane,” he told Nora. “Get it, and open the tins. It will be delicious to eat whilst we wait for the day to cool.”did not come back until the sun had set with the same suddenness as the day before. The children watched and waited impatiently for him, and lighted the bonfire early to guide him.was not worried, for he knew that, although the spire of smoke had looked fairly near, it was really far away — and he knew also that Ranni would not be able to walk far when the midday heat fell on the land like flames from a furnace.little company sat round the fire, and above them hung the big bright stars. They all watched for Ranni to return.
“I do wonder if he will have any news,” said Nora impatiently. “Oh, Ranni, do hurry! I simply can’t wait!”she had to wait and so did everyone else. It was late before they heard the big Baronian shouting loudly to them. They all leapt up and trained their eyes to see him.
“There he is!” shouted Jack, who had eyes like a cat’s in the dark. “Look — see that moving shadow among those rocks?”shadow gave a shout and everyone yelled back in delight.
“Ranni! Hurrah! He’s back!”
“What news, Ranni?”
“Hurry, Ranni, do hurry!”big Baronian came up to the fire. He was tired and hot. He dropped down to the rugs and wiped his hot forehead. Pilescu gave him a jug of lemonade and he drank it all in one gulp.
“Have you news, Ranni?” asked Pilescu.
“Yes — I have. And strange news it is too,” said Ranni. “Give me some more sandwiches or biscuits, Pilescu, and I will tell my tale. Are you all safe and well?”
“Perfectly,” said Pilescu. “Now speak, Ranni. What is this strange news you bring?”Ranni Tells A Queer Talelighted his pipe and puffed at it. Everyone waited for him to begin, wondering what he had to tell them.
“I found a small camp,” said Ranni. “Not more than four or five men were there. They had been out hunting. When they saw me coming they all hid behind the rocks in terror.”
“But why were they so afraid?” asked Nora in wonder.
“Well, I soon found out,” said Ranni. “I can speak their language a little, because I have hunted round about this country before, as you know. It seems that they thought I was one of the strange folk from the Secret Mountain.”
“From the Secret Mountain!” cried Mike. “What do you mean? What secret mountain?”
“Be patient and listen,” said Pilescu, who was listening closely. “Go on, Ranni.”
“Somewhere not far from here is a strange mountain,” said Ranni. “It is called the Secret Mountain because for years a secret and strange tribe of people have made their home in the centre of it. They are not like the people round about at all.”
“What are they like then?” asked Jack.
“As far as I can make out their skins are a queer creamy-yellow, and their beards and hair are red, like Pilescu’s and mine. They are thin and tall, and their eyes are green. No one belonging to any other tribe is allowed to mix with them, and no one has ever found out the entrance into the Secret Mountain.”
“Ranni! This is a most wonderful story!” cried Prince Paul, his eyes shining with excitement. “Is it really true? Oh, do let’s go and find the secret mountain at once, this very minute!”
“Don’t be an idiot, Paul,” said Mike, giving him a push. The little Prince was very excitable, and Mike and Jack often had to stop him when he wanted to rush off at once and do something. “Be quiet and listen to Ranni.”
“All the people that live anywhere near are afraid of the Folk of the Secret Mountain,” said Ranni. “They think that they are very fierce, and they do not come this way if they can possibly help it. When they saw me, with my red hair, they really thought I was a man from the Secret Mountain, and they were too terrified even to run away.”
“Did you ask them if they knew anything about Daddy and Mummy?” asked Peggy eagerly.
“Of course,” said Ranni. “They knew nothing — but tomorrow a man is coming to our camp here, who saw the White Swallow come down, and who may be able to tell us something. But I think, children, that there is no doubt that Captain and Mrs. Arnold were captured by the Folk of the Secret Mountain. We don’t know why — but I am sure they are there.”
“We cannot search for them, then,” said Pilescu. “We must fly to the nearest town and bring a proper search party back here.”
“No, no, Pilescu,” cried everyone in dismay.
“We are going to look for our parents,” said Mike proudly. “Pilescu, this is the third great adventure we children have had, and I tell you we are all plucky and daring. We will not fly away and leave others to follow this adventure.”the children vowed and declared that they would not go with Ranni and Pilescu, and the two men looked at one another over the camp fire.
“They are like a litter of tiger-cubs,” said Ranni in his own language to Pilescu.Paul laughed excitedly. He knew that Ranni wanted to follow the adventure himself, and that this meant that Paul too would be with him, for he would not leave his little master now. Paul turned to the other children.
“It’s all right,” he said. “We shan’t go! Ranni means to help us.”a long time that night the little camp talked over Ranni’s strange tale. Where was the Secret Mountain? Who were the strange red-haired people who lived there? Why had they captured Captain and Mrs. Arnold? How in the world were the searchers to find the way into the mountain if not even the people round about know it? For a long time all these questions were discussed again and again.Pilescu looked at his watch. “It is very late!” he exclaimed. “Children, you must sleep. Ranni, I will keep watch tonight, for you must be very tired.”
“Very well,” said Ranni. “You shall take the first half of the night and I will take the other. We can do nothing but wait until tomorrow, when the man who saw the White Swallow will come to talk to us.”soon all the camp was asleep, except Pilescu, who sat with his gun in hand, watching the moving animal-shapes that prowled some distance away, afraid to come nearer because of the fire. Pilescu loved an adventure as much as anyone, and he thought deeply about the Folk of the Secret Mountain, with their creamy-yellow skins, red hair and curious green eyes.big Baronian was brave and fierce, as were all the men from the far-off land of Baronia, where Paul’s father was king. He was afraid of nothing. The only thing he did not like was taking the five children into danger — but, as Ranni had said, they were like tiger-cubs, fierce and daring, and had already been through some astonishing adventures by themselves.came, and with it came the native who had seen the White Swallow come down. He was very tall, but with a sly and rather cruel face. Carrying three spears for him came a small, thin boy, with a sharp face and such a merry twinkle in his eyes that all the children liked him at once.
“Who is that boy?” asked Jack, curiously. Ranni asked the man, and he replied, making a scornful face.
“It’s his nephew,” said Ranni. “He is the naughty boy of the family, and is always running away, exploring the country by himself. Children of this tribe are not allowed to do this — they have to go with the hunters and be properly trained. This little chap is disobedient and wild, so his uncle has taken him in hand, as you see.”
“I like the look of the boy,” said Jack. “But I don’t like the uncle at all. Ask him about the White Swallow, Ranni. See if he knows anything about Captain and Mrs. Arnold.”did not speak the man’s language very well, but he could understand it better. The man spoke a lot, waving his arms about, and almost acting the whole thing so that the children could nearly understand his story without understanding his words.
“He says he was hunting not far from here, keeping a good look-out for any of the Secret Mountain Folk, when he heard the sky making a strange noise,” said Ranni. “He looked up, and saw a great white bird that said ‘r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r,’ as loudly as a thunderstorm.”children shouted with laughter at this funny description of an aeroplane. Ranni could not help grinning, even though he knew the man had probably never seen a plane before, and went on with his translation.
“He says the big white bird flew lower, and came down over there. He stayed behind his tree without moving. He thought the big white bird would see him and eat him.”everyone laughed. The tribesman grinned too, showing two rows of flashing white teeth. The little boy behind joined in the laughter, but stopped very suddenly when his uncle turned round and hit him hard on the side of the head.
“Oh my goodness!” shouted Jack in surprise. “Why shouldn’t he laugh too?”
“Children of this tribe must not laugh if their elders are present,” said Ranni. “This man’s nephew must often get into serious trouble, I should think! He looks as if he is on the point of giggling every minute!”man went on with his story. He told how he had seen two people climb out of the big white bird, which amazed him very much. Then he saw something that frightened him even more than seeing the aeroplane and the pilots. He saw some of the Folk of the Secret Mountain, with their flaming red hair and pale skins!had been so interested in the aeroplane that he had stayed watching behind his tree — but the sight of the Secret Mountain Folk had given him such a scare that his legs had come to life and he had run back towards his village.
“So you didn’t see what happened to the White Bird people?” asked Ranni, deeply disappointed. The man shook his head. The small boy watching, imitated him so perfectly that all the children laughed, disappointed though they were.man looked behind to see what everyone was smiling at and caught his nephew making faces. He strode over to him and knocked him down flat on the ground. The boy gave a yell, sat up and rubbed his head.
“What a horrid fellow this man is,” said Pilescu in disgust. “Ranni, ask him if he can tell us the way to the Secret Mountain.”asked him. The man showed signs of fear as he answered.
“He says yes, he knows the way to the mountain, but he does not know the way inside,” said Ranni.
“Ask him if he will take us there,” said Pilescu. “Tell him we will pay him well if he does.”first the man shook his head firmly when Ranni asked him. But when Pilescu took a mirror from the cabin of the plane, and showed the man himself in it, making signs to him that he would give it to him as well, the man was tempted.
“He thinks the mirror is wonderful. He is in the mirror as well as outside it,” translated Ranni with a grin. “He says it would be a good thing to have it, because then if he is hurt or wounded, it will not matter — the man inside the mirror, which is himself too, will be all right, and he will be him instead.”smiled to hear this. The man had never seen a mirror before, he had only caught sight of himself in pools. It seemed as if another himself was in the strange gleaming thing that the red-haired man was offering him. He stood in front of the mirror, making awful faces, and laughing.asked him again if he would show them the way to the Secret Mountain if he gave him the mirror. The man nodded. The mirror was too much for him. Why, he had never seen anything like it before.
“Tell him we will start tomorrow at dawn,” said Pilescu. “I want to make sure that we have everything we need before we set off. Also I want to look at the engines of the White Swallow and our own plane to see that they are all ready to take off, should we find Captain and Mrs. Arnold, and want to leave in a hurry!”children were in a great state of excitement. They hardly knew how to keep still that day, even when the great heat came down, and they had to lie in the shade, panting and thirsty. It was so exciting to think that they really were to set off the next morning to the strange Secret Mountain.
“I’m jolly glad Ranni and Pilescu are coming with us,” said Nora. “I do love adventures — but I can’t help feeling a little bit funny in the middle of me when I think of those strange folk that live in the middle of a forgotten mountain.Coming Of Mafumuand Ranni tinkered about with the White Swallow, which stood not very far off, and with their own plane most of the day. The children, of course, had thoroughly examined the White Swallow, feeling very sad to think that Captain and Mrs. Arnold had had to leave it so mysteriously.had thought that there might have been a note left to tell what had happened, but the children had found nothing at all.
“That’s not to be wondered at,” said Pilescu. “If they had had time to write a note, they would have had time also to fly off in the plane! As far as I can see there is nothing wrong with the White Swallow at all — though I can see where some small thing has been cleverly mended. It seems to me that Captain and Mrs. Arnold were taken by surprise and had not time to do anything at all.”
“Both planes are fit to fly off at a moment’s notice,” said Ranni, appearing beside Pilescu, very oily and black, his red hair hanging wet and lank over his forehead.
“Ought we to leave anyone on guard?” asked Mike. “Suppose we come back and find that the planes have been damaged?”frowned. “We will lock them of course, but I don’t think anyone would damage them. I just hope a herd of elephants doesn’t come and trample through them! We must just leave the planes and hope for the best.”had got ready big packages of food and a few warm clothes and rugs. Paul laughed when he saw the woollen jerseys.
“Good gracious, Pilescu, what are we taking those things for? I’d like to go about in a little pair of shorts and nothing else, like that small boy wears!”
“If we go into the mountains it will be much cooler,” said Pilescu. “You may be glad of jerseys then.”day passed slowly by. The children thought it would never end.
“Why is it that time always goes so slowly when you are looking forward to something lovely in the future?” grumbled Mike. “Honestly, this day seems like a week.”it passed at last, and the sudden night-time came. Monkeys chattered somewhere around, and big frogs in the washing-pool set up their usual tremendous croaking.day, at dawn, their guide arrived, and behind him, as usual, came the little boy, his nephew, wearing his scanty shorts. The boy wore no hat at all, and the five children wondered why in the world he didn’t get sunstroke.
“I suppose he’s coming too,” said Jack, pleased. “I wonder what his name is. Ask him, Ranni.”boy grinned and showed all his white teeth when Ranni shouted to him.