Timothy sat up suddenly. "Oh look here," he said, "I'm for a quiet life after this."
"Well, you won't exactly have one," said Nancy. "Not yet. You can' expect it. Not with the Swallows coming, and Uncle Jim, and five whole weeks of the holidays still to go."
~The Picts and the Martyrs
. 1932 .
Dick was proud.
He had reason to be proud, really. Scarab swooped across the murmuring lake almost as well as did Amazon. No longer were those embarrassing moments when the sail luffed impatiently when he couldn't find the wind or jibed just when he didn't want it too.
He glanced at Amazon as she gurgled along a few yards from them. They never jibed unless on purpose, their sail never luffed when they came about, they always seemed to know where the wind was and how best to capture it. Dick glanced up at Scarab's red sail and pulled in the sheet a wee bit. He would learn to sail just as well as they.
Dorothea was at the tiller; not clutching it for dear life as she had when she had first learned, but holding it gently. It always worked better that way.
"Ready about!" Dorothea said clearly. Scarab's sail only flapped once before she settled on her new course. Peggy put Amazon's tiller over and followed a boat length behind.
"Just think of all we'll be able to do this year with three boats," Nancy said suddenly from the middle thwart of the Amazon. "We'll be able to have a real war…especially with Uncle Jim and Timothy. The GA is gone, the Swallows are coming and there are four whole weeks of holidays left to go. We're going to have to start stirring things up."
Dorothea wondered what Nancy meant by 'stirring things up'. She'd just finished stirring everybody up without the GA noticing. Nancy was a master at stirring.
"Are you quite certain they're coming today?" Dorothea asked.
"Mrs. Walker sent mother a telegram saying they were all coming today-John, Susan, Titty and Roger that is-Commander Walker and Mrs. Walker and Bridget aren't coming for another two days. I wonder if Commander Walker ever walked the plank? I'll have to ask."
There was no talking for a bit as a sudden gust of wind caught them and made the water gurgling laughingly under their forefoots. There was Rio ahead of them and they could see that the bus was still in sight, they'd be taking it in a moment.
They stood on the platform for five minutes before Peggy heard the distant whistle of the train. It rattled around the corner, smoke billowing from its tall black stack and the huge wheels flashing in the sun. It labored past them and groaned to a stop outside the station with a terrific exhale of steam.
"Hello! I say! Hello!"
They looked up to see Roger's head poking from a compartment window. A moment later, the door opened and he came tumbling out.
"Hello!" Nancy called, "Shiver my timbers, but are we glad to see you…I'll take the suitcase…Hello mister mate…hello able seaman!"
"No pigeons this year?" Titty asked, grabbing her hat as the train let loose another blast of steam.
"We knew just when you were coming," Nancy said, taking Titty's suitcase. "But we'll have something splendid this year-three boats!"
"Yes, very splendid," Titty said, but somehow her words seemed rather hollow and Peggy was the first to realize what was wrong.
"Where's John?" she asked.
Nancy glanced at her, "In the train, hasn't he come out yet?"
"Didn't mother tell you?" Susan asked, "He's not coming this year."
There was a full second of silence.
"He's started sea training," Susan continued. "He's on the HMS Iron Duke in the south Atlantic."
"But-" Nancy began, then stopped. Sea training? Then another thought came to mind, how dare he?
"You knew he was going to Britannia Royal Naval College since he was twelve," Titty said.
"Yes of course I knew…I just didn't realize." Nancy stopped again.
"Technically he wasn't supposed to start this year, but he entered the college in the fall after he turned twelve, so he's a bit ahead. He doesn't write much, but he's having a wonderful time."
"Let's go," Nancy said abruptly.
They caught the bus in the nick of time and got off in Rio. They were a quite group as they walked down to the wharves, but not silent. Peggy and Susan were talking, Titty was telling Dick about an eagle she'd seen as they came up on the train.
"I suppose Susan will have to be the Captain of Swallow." Dorothea said.
"She'll only be acting captain," Nancy said almost fiercely.
"I'll be captain," Roger said grinning. "After all, I'll be the only man."
"Some man," Nancy said, grinning.
"Isn't your mother going to meet us?" Susan asked.
"No, much better than that," Nancy said suddenly joyful, "We're going to sail!"
Susan, still talking to Peggy, stepped into Amazon. Titty followed Dick and Dorothea into Scarab.
"She's beautiful!" Titty exclaimed as she sat down. "It must be lovely having her all to yourselves!"
"Here are your suitcases," Nancy handed them down, "shove them in somewhere."
"That's all of them!" Titty exclaimed. "Can't you take any in your boat?"
"No," Nancy said, grinning. "Ballast, you'll go faster with them. We'll have to race."
Roger cast off and stepped into Scarab's bows, finding them a little too small for comfort. He scrambled forward and squeezed in next to the suitcases. Dick had the tiller, watching the sail earnestly. A moment later, a puff of wind came and Scarab heeled over.
In the Amazon Peggy and Susan were caching up on a winter of lost time. Nancy took the tiller and set herself to catch up Scarab. The wind was stronger now than before and they were running before it.
"Land ho!" Roger called, pointing to a distant island.
"We've been afloat for ages and ages and we're seeing land for the first time," Titty said quietly.
The trees on the island rippled in the breeze. Dick steered a wide course around the rocks at the end of the island. For one moment they could all see into the harbor, they could see a white cross glowing on a tree, then they were past it and rounding the other side.
Dorothea hauled in the sheet as another gust of wind caught them.
"It's getting pretty nippy!" Nancy called cheerfully over the water.
They could see houseboat bay now and the old blue houseboat, low on the water, a huge flag rippling from the flag staff.
"I say, who are they?" Titty asked.
Just ahead, between them and the bay, a large white motor launch was running gently through the water. Three small boys were just climbing into a little rowboat.
"Look out!" Roger suddenly yelled and they all looked at Amazon. She had jibed, hard. The wind, dead aft, had shifted slightly and the boom had smashed overhead with incredible force. Nancy, Peggy and Susan now suddenly all had their weight on the windward side. Amazon's sail slapped the water and her crew were tumbling overboard with a terrific splash.
There were shouts over the water and the white launch swung around. The row boat cast off and the boys started rowing toward them fit to burst.
"Man overboard!" Roger yelled.
Staring over his shoulder, Dick suddenly brought Scarab into the wind and Titty, unthinkingly, grabbed the tiller. Scarab's sail filled again, but she was sailing away, not toward the shipwreck.
"Captain Flint's coming to the rescue!" Roger called. A long grey rowboat was shooting out of houseboat bay. The boys in the other boat took one look and redoubled their efforts.
"Drat these oars," one of the boys said, his voice echoing clearly across the water, "Is she sinking?"
"No," another said, "They're drownding, they are."
"In," shouted the first boy, "out…in…out…in…there's another boat out to salvage 'em. Pull, Bill, pull!"
Nancy had gone under at once. One moment the boom was crashing overhead, the next, she was under swirling water, the tiller still in her hand. She let go and kicked toward the surface, coming up once under the sail and again at Amazon's stern.
"Everyone all right?" she shouted.
"I am," Nancy saw Susan treading water a few feet away. A moment later the water broke and Peggy was shaking water out of her eyes.
"I cast off the main sheet."
"Good work," Nancy said, "We'll have her up in a jiffy. I want you both at the centerboard."
They paddled around Amazon's keel. A rowboat they were sure hadn't been there before was approaching fast.
"Good," One of the boys in it called, "Here's our chance. That boat'll be worth our fare home. Now then, easy, Bill. Get your oars out of the way. Drat these pins!"
An oar splashed hard in the water and Nancy went under to avoid it. The next moment a hand grabbed her firmly by the hair and pulled.
"Got her!" a voice said vaguely through rushing water, "She's a strong one!"
Choking, she thrashed frantically, hitting out. The grip broke and she rushed to the surface. The hand grabbed her hair again.
"Look out! You drown her!" Susan shrieked from where she treaded water next to Amazon's keel.
"Do I bat her one?" the voice asked, "Never hold her, else. She's gone…"
Breaking loose again, Nancy dove. Someone grabbed her waving ankles and Nancy kicked hard with no mercy. The hands lost her and she twisted around again and came up, panting for breath.
"Shiver my timbers!" Nancy called angrily, "What are you playing at? Tearing my hair out at the roots. Hullo! Did I get your nose? Good!"
"We're salvaging your boat," one of the boys at the oars said.
"No you're not!" Nancy said, "Clear off, we don't want you!"
"Dick, Dick!" Dorothea stood up suddenly in Scarab, "It's the Coots!"
Scarab had come about and was coming to the rescue, but Dick's steering was not steady and Scarab's sail flapped angrily again. A moment later, Amazon's sail rose out of the water as Peggy kneeled on her centerboard and Susan added her weight. Peggy hauled herself aboard, grabbed tiller and mainsheet and steadied Amazon's flapping sail. Susan climbed in a moment later.
Scarab was under way again, Dick had the tiller with both hands, aiming for the place where Nancy still was treading water. Captain Flint was there first.
They had all forgotten about him until now. He had stopped by the white launch to have a word, because the launch had gained speed and Scarab was rather out of control. Captain Flint wasn't too keen on another shipwreck.
"Hullo Nancy," he said, resting his oars, then leaning over and pulling her out of the water. "I've caught a mermaid."
"Shut up," Nancy said, "those boys almost drowned me."
Captain Flint glanced over his shoulder, backwatered and brought the rowboat alongside Scarab.
"Hullo Roger, Titty, glad to see you. Where's the skipper? Don't tell me he's drowned and at the bottom of the lake."
"Didn't mother tell you?" Titty asked, "He's started sea training."
"Sea training? Good for him! I take it we won't see him this year?"
"Bill! Joe! Pete!" Dorothea was waving frantically.
"Do you know them?" Captain Flint asked, glancing at the other rowboat.
"Of course we do! They're the Coots! They're the Death and Glories!" she waved again.
"They must be the people they met on the Broads," Nancy said. "But what on earth are they doing up here?"
"What are you doing here?" Dorothea called, as Joe and Bill rowed towards them.
"We stowed away on the Bonnka," Pete called. He pointed at the white launch, now drifting, the owner watching them.
"She's built at Jonnatt's. Best builders around, my dad works there. She was being shipped up here and we thought we'd best see the mountains. Dick and Dot always talked about them."
"You stowed away?" Captain Flint called. "Do your parents know where you are?"
The boys were silent as the boats drifted closer.
"Jib booms and bobstays! You actually stowed away?" Nancy exclaimed suddenly. "What a jaunt! However did you do it?"
"It were the Admiral's idea," Joe said. "Said it 'twere a pity we couldn't go in her. So we did."
"You don't have any relatives around here? Friends?" Captain Flint asked incredulously.
"Just Dick and Dot," Joe said.
"We'll have to send you back."
"Must we?" Dorothea asked.
"We jolly well mustn't," Nancy said. "We'll send a telegram to say they'll stop here."
"No we won't, you young donkey," Captain Flint said, "We'll go to Beckfoot to lay it before your mothers. Doesn't Mrs. Callum know someone down there?"
"Yes," Dorothea said, "Mrs. Barrable."
"That's the Admiral," Pete said.
"Maybe she can smooth things over with irate parents," Captain Flint said, laying to his oars. "What about the Bonnka's owner? Is he sick of you, or can we invite him for lunch?"
There was some excitement at Beckfoot when the identity of the three unknown guests was made clear. Mrs. Callum sent a telegram to Mrs. Barrable and they had lunch while they waited for the reply. Dorothea, Dick and the Death and Glories told some of what had happened the summer before when they had turned themselves into the Big Six to solve crime on the Broads. Captain Flint quite admired Dick's final solution and Mr. Callum wondered if they still had the hand print on the chimney.
The Bonnka's owner enjoyed the story a great deal, then told them he'd pay their fare home.
"You took very good care of my boat; I'm quite obliged," he said, "even your white mouse-"
"Ratty's a rat," Joe said.
Everyone was on springs when the phone rang in the hall, and eagerly awaited Mrs. Blackett when she came back in the room.
"Telegram from your Mrs. Barrable," Mrs. Blackett said, then read: "Very hot water waiting for them here, but I think I can get it off the boil by the time they come back."
"That's all right then," Captain Flint said.
"But where are we going to put them for the night?" Mrs. Blackett asked. "I have no room and camping is off until the Commander and Mrs. Walker come. Holly Howe is full up…"
Peggy grinned, "The dog's home?"
"Isn't that something?" Peggy said as she undressed for the night, "Meeting the Coots! After we've heard so much about them!"
Nancy said nothing. She was fingering her hair. It was still damp and had gone all curly.
"Yes," she said finally.
Peggy dove into her bed and switched off the lamp. How nice it was to look out the window through the blowing curtains at the stars. The sky was quite prickly with them. In a couple days, they'd be back on the island, sleeping under the stairs as if nothing had changed…but it had changed, it always does.
They were all different really, Susan was. She was more grown up than ever, Roger had gotten so much taller, Titty seemed as if her feet were on the ground instead of in the clouds. John? Perhaps he had changed the most. He was really Navy now, he would never come back like he had.
Even I've changed, Peggy thought. She wasn't scared of thunder like she once was. It still bothered her, and she still climbed into Nancy's bed, but it didn't thrill her with terror like it used too. Nancy's changed, she thought. Nancy still shivered timbers, but not like she used to, she didn't even stir up people like she once had.
Peggy lay there quietly, watching the wind stream out the lacy curtains like ghosts in the night. All was silence.
Peggy woke again much later and lay in the dark staring up at the ceiling, not sure why she had woken up.
Then she heard it again; a muffled sob.
"Nancy?" Peggy whispered.
Nancy's bed heaved in the darkness.
"Are you all right Nancy?"
"Why does everyone have to grow up!" Nancy wailed.
. Author's Note .
Arthur Ransome wrote twelve books for children, but it was almost thirteen. Coots in the North, the incomplete novel, was found among Ransome's papers and published in the '80's. It starts off very strong with the Death and Glories stowing away in a motor launch and seeing the countryside flash past the windows. It begins to peter off once they reach the North Country and ends entirely with Nancy yelling, "Shiver my timbers! What are you playing at? Tearing my hair out at the roots. Hullo! Did I get your nose? Good!"
I'd always wanted to read Coots in the North, no matter how fragmented, and it wasn't until this spring that I was able to get a hold of a copy within my means. Immediately, I began to boil it down into a short story. I hope that I have done Ransome's beautiful style at least a little bit of justice.