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The Talking Parcel
When Simon and Peter landed at Athens to stay with their cousin Penelope, and the doors of the plane were opened, the heat hit them like a warm wave from an oven, and the brilliant sunshine made them screw up their eyes. After the generally soggy and gray weather they were used to in England, it was simply splendid, and the boys stretched and blinked with half-closed eyes, like cats in rent of a fire, listening entranced to the crackle and pop of the Greek language being spoken all around them.
At first sight, their Uncle Henry, who had come to meet them, was a bit of a shock. He was rather large, like a big, brown eagle, with a swooping nose and a mane of white hair and enormous hands which he waved about incessantly. They wondered how on earth anyone who looked like Uncle Henry could be the father of someone as pretty as Penelope, for she was very slender, with huge green eyes and chestnut-colored hair.
"Ah," said Uncle Henry, glaring at them ferociously, "so you've arrived, eh? Good, good. Glad to see you. Glad to see that you're a little less repulsive than you were when I last saw you-just after you were born. You looked like a couple of baby white mice, all pink and horrible."
"Daddy," said Penelope, "don't be rude."
"Rude, rude?" said Uncle Henry. "I'm not being rude, just telling them."
"Is that your luggage over there?" asked Penelope.
"Yes," said Peter, "those two cases and the boat."
"Boat?" said Uncle Henry. "What boat?"
"It's a collapsible dinghy," Simon explained. "Dad bought it for us."
"What a very sensible thing to bring," said Uncle Henry. "Howvery intelligent of you both."
The boys glowed with pleasure and decided that perhaps Uncle Henry was not so bad, after all.
When they had collected their luggage, they piled it into the trunk of Uncle Henry's big, open car, and then they drove off in the hot sunshine through a landscape that soon became dotted with silvery olive trees and dark green cypress trees standing like spear blades against the blue sky.
Uncle Henry's villa was a large, rambling house, set in the hills above the blue sea, and its wide verandas were shaded by vines heavy with the biggest bunches of grapes the boys had ever seen. The house had white walls and huge green shutters which, when half closed, turned the rooms cool, dim, and as green as an aquarium. The boys' room was enormous, with a tiled floor and a french window leading out onto the vine-covered veranda.
"Wow," said Peter appreciatively, "I'll be able to pluck a bunch of grapes every morning before breakfast."
"And there are oranges and tangerines and figs in the garden," said Penelope, "and watermelons, apricots, and peaches." She was sitting on one of the beds, watching them unpack.
"I can't really believe we are here yet," said Simon.
"Neither can I," said Peter, "except that it's so hot, so it must be real."
Penelope laughed. "It gets much hotter than this."
"Swimming, that's the answer," said Peter.
"That's what I thought we'd do this afternoon," said Penelope. "After lunch. There's a huge beach just below us here, and it's marvelous swimming."
"And we can launch the dinghy," said Simon.
"Wonderful," said Peter. "We'll go on a voyage of discovery."
So, when they'd finished a delicious lunch, the three children changed into their bathing suits, took the dinghy and its pump, and made their way down the stony hillside, which smelt deliciously of thyme and myrtle, to the great dazzling white beach that stretched away in each direction as far as the eye could see. The blue waters were as still as a lake and as transparent as glass.
It was hot work pumping up the dinghy, and the children had to keep stopping to have a cooling dip in the sea before continuing. But at last it was pumped up, and it floated fatly in the shallow water, like a plump blue cloud. They scrambled aboard, taking with them the essentials of travel that Penelope had insisted they bring: a large beach umbrella and a bag containing some bottles of lemonade. Then, with Simon and Peter rowing and Penelope steering, they set off down the coast.
The sun beat down on them, and from the shore they could hear the faint zithering cries of the cicadas in the olive trees. After they had progressed a quarter of a mile or so the boys paused in their rowing and wiped the sweat from their faces.
"It's jolly hot work," said Peter.
"Yes," agreed Simon. "I'm simply roasting."
"Perhaps we've gone far enough," said Penelope. "After all, it is your first day and it is hot. Why don't we make camp somewhere?"
Simon glanced over his shoulder. A few hundred yards away a long, low sandbank stuck out from the beach, forming a tiny bay. "How about there?" he suggested. "Let's anchor there, by the sandbank."
They rowed into the bay, anchored the dinghy in the still waters, and climbed out onto the sand. They put up the umbrella (which cast a patch of shade the size of a mushroom) and Penelope opened three bottles of lemonade. They lay there and drank the lemonade thirstily. Then, drugged by the heat and exhausted by their rowing, the two boys fell asleep, their heads pillowed on their arms.
Penelope finished her lemonade and dozed for a while, and then decided to climb to the top of the sand dune. The sand was almost too hot to walk on, but she reached the top of the dune. Ahead the beach stretched to the horizon, it seemed, but in the distance it was so shimmering with heat haze she couldn't really make out anything. She was just about to return to the welcome shade of the umbrella when she noticed the thing in the water.