Any character named Blackett or Walker belong to Arthur Ransome. Mrs Smith and Mrs Scott were unfortunately my responsibilty.

Chapter one

A selection of letters: September

Dear Susan,

Mummy has found a house for us. It has lots of rooms. School is nice.

Love from Bridget

Dear Susan and Titty,

I've found a house for us, for a year at least. Supposedly, it is furnished and I did wonder if we would have room for our things, but it is one of the least furnished fully furnished houses I have ever seen. What is does have is lots of rooms. At the moment Polly has a nice big room to himself. It has no carpet and no furniture, so he can't really do much damage and it keeps him away from Sinbad. Polly and Sinbad are not getting on all that well, I'm afraid. I'm sorry to say that Sinbad started it by attempting to pounce on Polly. Since then Polly retreats to his cage whenever he sees Sinbad and has nearly given Sinbad a couple of pecks when he sticks his paw through the bars. Polly started moulting feathers fast than usual and I was quite concerned about him but he has lost no more since he had a room to himself. Bridget goes up and talks to him twice a day. I sometimes go up there with mending or a book to keep him company, while Bridget is at school. She goes every morning now and will go for full days after half term.

The house has six bedrooms, although the three upstairs don't actually have furniture in at all. The first floor has three bedrooms and the bathroom. Hardly any of the floors are level, quite a few of the walls have cracks in and as your father says, it is definitely a house to rent not buy. I imagine it was built about forty years ago and not on one of the builder's best days. We will have beds for you all by half term! Are you still happy to share a room? The house isn't actually in Shotley, but in a very small village called Kirby Green just outside Shotley. Your father tells me it's a hamlet because it has no church.

Much love,

Mother (and Daddy)

PS. Feathers enclosed. Do Nancy and Peggy still want them?

Dear Nancy and Peggy,

I know you've only just arrived, but I'm writing to tell you to expect a visit from your Great Aunt. She is intending to visit you and take you out for tea on Saturday. She writes that the train-timetable won't allow her to take you out for lunch as well and she will be on her way here, so it will only be for a couple of hours. I'm sure I don't need to remind you about best behaviour.

I'm glad you like your new form-mistress, Nancy. If she's new you won't rag her, will you? Who have you got for your form-mistress this year, Peggy? You didn't say.

Be good, both of you!

With lots of love to you both,


Dear Titty,

Three cheers for Polly! (Although I'm sorry he's having a hard time with Sinbad). A room to himself to fly around in must be wonderful for him. Uncle Jim couldn't really trust him not to peck at things or drop them over the side in the houseboat. Polly's having a much better time with you. Thank-you for writing, and for sending the feathers on so quickly. It was very kind of your mother to remember about them. I'm glad Bridget likes school. Don't worry too much about the lacrosse. Everyone finds it difficult at first. If you caught the ball even once in your first lesson you're doing rather well, from that distance anyway. The great-aunt is coming to take us out to tea tomorrow on her way to Beckfoot. We'll have to keep her sweet because mother will have a whole fortnight of her.

Chin up Able-seaman, you're a Swallow. You crossed the North Sea in a howling gale, got the others safely out of that tunnel, discovered the North-west passage, fought a fire and discovered a well. You did all that just this summer, so a little thing like a new school isn't really going to be a problem for long. By Christmas you'll have loads of friends and be wondering what you were worried about.

Swallows and Amazons for ever!

Love, Nancy

Dear Susan,

How is your term going so far? Ours is pretty much the same as usual, except that the Great-Aunt has been to visit us and take us out to tea. We had to be on our very best behaviour because she was following it up with a whole fortnight with Mother. I expect she'll complain like mad about the wallpaper, so I don't want to give her anything else to complain about. The GA asked to be shown around school and then asked to speak to our form-mistresses. Peggy's was on her afternoon off. Lucky her!

The real reason I'm writing to Titty and you separately is that I wanted to apologise for going off surveying the last morning without telling you. I didn't want to tell John, in case we couldn't do it for some reason, because that would mean we would have been letting him down again. I could easily have left a note for you or even told you the night before, but I was such a galoot I just didn't think of it at all. In fact I didn't think of it until I was on the train coming to school. My fault entirely. I'm sorry if there was a row about the paint and Bridget's dress, too.

Love, Nancy

Dear Captain Flint,

I've got some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that Gibber is a father! The Zoo sent us a picture of Gibber and his family. The baby monkey is a girl.

The bad news is that they want Gibber to stay in the zoo to live permanently. In his sort of monkey apparently the mother and the father help to look after the baby. Mother and Father say it would be unfair to say he had to come back and live with us. I expect Mother is thinking of how Mrs Gibber would feel.

I'm really glad you gave me Gibber, and I don't want you to think I'm being beastly giving away your present to the zoo, but I can see that this is the best thing for Gibber and his family.

Yours sincely sincerely


Dear John,

I hope your term is going well.

I owe you an apology for messing up the survey and not mapping Peewit Land. I didn't realise we would be going so early of course, but I ought to have seen how important getting the survey finished was to you and somehow I didn't, not really, until it was nearly too late. I let you down, I shouldn't have done and I'm sorry.

It's still not rained since the beginning of term here and the grass pitches are still very hard, which if fine for us, but I imagine not much good for Rugby.

I've struck fairly lucky in the matter of form-mistresses. She is new to the school – and I suspect it's her first post. She's reasonably jolly, although I've occasionally seen her looking at me suspiciously since the Great-Aunt visited yesterday. Actually, I will have to put my nose to the grind-stone this year so she has no need to be worry, but I can't tell her that. I suppose you're getting that as well. I mean them jawing on about the importance of school cert., not the GA.

Anyway, if I don't get this into the post basket in the next ten minutes it won't go in the post tomorrow morning. The postman turns up to collect and deliver really early. I suppose it's because we are miles from anywhere.


Dear Nancy,

I was annoyed with you, but I'm not now, so don't worry.

The red paint nearly came out of Bridget's dress, but it is a bit pink and patchy. I did explain to Mother about that. Luckily it was one of the ones that had been mine, so it has been worn quite a bit. She would probably have grown out of it by next year. Anyway, that was Titty's fault really or Daisy's.

Mother has found a house to rent, so I'll send the address in my next letter to Peggy. I am in the netball team (wing attack) which I am pretty pleased about. Titty was a bit anxious at the start of term but she seems to have cheered up now.

Love to you both,


Dear Roger,

That is excellent news about Gibber and I think you have made absolutely the right decision. I hope little Miss Gibber is the first of a long family. I'm very impressed as a lot of animals don't breed in captivity. Do you get a say in choosing Miss Gibber's name on Gibber's behalf? Or do the zoo staff get to choose?

I'm glad your letter reached me when it did, as I'm off looking at mines (NOT searching for gold) in a couple of weeks' time. I may not be back for the Christmas holidays but I'm sure I shall see you all in the summer.

Best wishes,

Jim Turner (alias Capt. Flint)

Dear Captain Nancy,

I hope term has started well for you. They go on a bit much about school cert. but otherwise things carry on as normal. Other than that school is going reasonably well.

John stared at the letter. He couldn't think of anything else to say to her. Nothing he could write in a letter, anyhow. "I know I said it couldn't be helped, but I'm still really annoyed with you" was hardly the sort of thing he could write. It wasn't really the sort of thing he could say. He would let her write first and then he would have something to reply to.