The Island Camp

This short 1923 novel is filled with mystery, plus (for me) a few guessing games, for it is set in England, and there are several words I had to assume the meaning of based on the context of sentences.

Robin and Peter Vaughan were brothers and Scouts, their sister Jan was a Guide (think Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts), and all were awaiting a visit from their cousins Dick and Donald Lennox, who were also Scouts. It would be the first time they’d met their cousins, who’d never before seen the ancestral home called the Chase.

The Vaughn siblings were sure their cousins would want to camp out on the Island in the middle of the river that flowed past the family’s garden. The Island had a small cottage where the gardener / handyman, Mr. Brown, lived with his wife, who went by the name of Brownie. Most of the Island was left as a home for birds and other wildlife.

It was a shame Dick and Donald couldn’t see the Chase at its best, but most of the old rambling house was shut up and empty, for there had been a reverse in fortunes that had never been explained to the children. When Dad returned from the War he might be willing to talk about it, but for now the children believed a terrible family secret had killed their Grandfather, and caused the loss of most of the family money.

Jan had noticed there was a gap in the family portrait gallery, between the childhood pictures of Dad and their Aunt Agnes, but when she’d asked Mother about it her parent wouldn’t tell the reason for a missing picture. Perhaps the Lennox cousins, who’d be arriving in a few hours, knew about the family secret.

Robin, Peter and Jan rowed over to the Island and began to scout out a good camping spot, but then they heard the horn that meant they had to return home immediately. They rowed towards home, but Mother ordered them to stop before reaching the river bank. Their cousin Donald hadn’t come, for he’d gotten sick and couldn’t travel for a few days, and Dick had begun his train trip before becoming ill. He arrived covered in spots. Mother had sent for the doctor, and it was believed Dick had scarlet fever.

Since anyone who entered the Chase would be quarantined it was decided the children would camp out on the Island. Mother wouldn’t allow Jan to sleep outdoors because she’d once had pneumonia, but Brownie (Mrs. Brown) could prepare the spare room for her, and the attic could be cleared out for the boys to use on rainy nights. It would be a perfect opportunity for the boys to earn their Pioneer Badge.

A temporary shelter was built for the boys to sleep in that first night, and Jan went into the cottage to her room. She looked out the window before going to bed and saw a light in the empty portion of the Chase. Jan thought it thoughtful of Mother to light a lamp as a way for her children to know she was thinking of them.

The boys soon fell asleep outside, but Peter was awakened and called out to Robin to ask if he’d heard that odd thumping and tinging noise. Robin sleepily told him he’d been dreaming. The next day, when the children rowed over to speak with Mother from the safety of the boat, Jan thanked her for lighting the lamp. But Mother said Jan had dreamed she’d seen it, for no light had been lit in a closed up room.

Mother told them Dick had a mild sort of scarlet fever, and Donald had just had a bilious attack (fancy name for stomach ache) and would soon be traveling to visit them.

Several enjoyable days were spent outdoors, but then came a rainy day, which the children spent cleaning out the cottage attic, filled with belongings left by Mr. Hooker, the young gamekeeper who’d once lived in the cottage. Robin found an old snapshot of a young man, and though the man looked as though he could be a younger version of Dad, his smile was much different.

Robin showed the photo to Brownie and asked who it was. She began to say what good friends the man and Hooker had been, but then she stopped and declared she couldn’t tell them anything more.

Despite the new mystery the boys slept soundly that night, but in the morning Jan told of a strange banging and tinging noise. The same noise Peter had heard earlier!

The next day cousin Donald arrived to share in the camping adventure, and they began to tell him about all the mysteries. When Donald was shown the old photo he identified it as Uncle Derrick, brother to both his mother and his Vaughan cousins’ father.

The children rowed over for their daily talk with Mother, and when shown the photo she admitted it was their Uncle Derrick, and said it may have been wrong to try and keep sad news from them. Mrs. Vaughan declared it wasn’t the time or place for her to inform them now, but said Brownie was free to tell the story.

Brownie told them Uncle Derrick and Hooker were the same age and had been best of friends. Derrick had asked his father to hire Hooker as gamekeeper, and he’d done a fine job. But a crime had been committed and grudge-holding Mitchell, the keeper who’d been dismissed when Hooker was hired, blamed it on Derrick and Hooker.

The two honest young men were put on trial, found guilty, and sentenced to seven years in prison. That had been fifteen years ago, and no one knew what had happened to Uncle Derrick and Hooker after they finished serving their sentences. The shock of the scandal killed their grandfather, and though he left the Chase to the Vaughan children’s father, all of the money was left to Derrick, for whenever he returned home.

Quite a shocking family story for the three Scouts and one Guide. But after that came good news. Dick was nearly over his mild case of scarlet fever, and he was about to be moved into a room in the closed off portion of the house so that the sick room could be fumigated. In fact, he was to be moved into the room where Jan had seen that mysterious light.

A few days later there was a heavy rainfall, which meant the Scouts had to spend the night up in the attic. The boys were preparing for bed when Jan knocked on the door, and told them of loud banging noises she was hearing from her room. The boys quickly dressed and rushed to Jan’s room to investigate. And then, well the mystery was solved, and the truth of what happened fifteen years ago was revealed.

The Island Camp is only 61 pages long, so it’s both a quick and entertaining read. If you’d like to know the entire story the book can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/59705