On the last day of the summer holidays, Nancy Blackett sat in the garden at Beckfoot, frowning intently at the open pages of her notebook and chewing on the end of a pencil. The page had started as a letter to the Swallows, with the most interesting parts heavily abbreviated or replaced by Morse code dots-and-dashes in case of interception by unfriendly natives. It was, however, quickly turning into a list of ideas for things to do on their next holiday together - maybe searching for buried treasure? - with many of the entries crossed out. The older she and the others grew, the more freedom their parents gave them to make their own decisions about where to go and what to do. It seemed to her that this made it both more interesting and more difficult to choose.
She remembered the holidays she and Peggy used to spend with Uncle Jim, as he was still known back then, back before they'd even met the Swallows. Exploring the lagoon by the boathouse, the first time they'd been allowed to camp overnight on Wild Cat island (their uncle had stayed with them, but they'd been in their own tent at least); they'd seemed like first-rate adventures at the time, but now they hardly qualified at all. And while she still couldn't think of their first voyage in the Amazon without breaking into a grin, you couldn't really call something a true adventure when it had all been planned by a native. Even Captain Flint was something of a native at times, and although he was really pretty good at coming up with things to do, it wouldn't do for a grown-up to always be in charge.
"Nancy!" She looked up at the sound of her sister's voice and turned to see her come around the side of the door at a sharpish trot. "What have you been doing? Mother says-"
"I've been thinking about what what we're going to do at Christmas."
"Christmas? But it's not even autumn!"
"I know that, you chump. But the Swallows will be back at Holly Howe for the winter holidays this year, and there'll be no Great Aunt to keep us from doing whatever we like this time, so I need to think of something really good."
"We've got all term to think about it, though, and Mother sent me out here to tell you that you won't get any dinner until you've finished packing."
The idea of dinner struck her as a good one, and she stood up abruptly. "I'm going, I'm going. You take this," she handed Peggy the notebook and pencil, "and if I think of anything while I pack you can write it down. All right?" Without waiting for a reply, she marched quickly down towards the house, not noticing whether or not Peggy was following her.
Peggy sat on the edge of Nancy's bed, watching as she threw clothes and schoolbooks alike haphazardly into her trunk. Nancy was right, she thought. All their unused plans would be no good until next year now; the next time they were all together it would be winter, and what was a great plan in July was often a terrible one in December.
Sinking the Swallow had been horrible, of course, but at least her crew had been able to spend some of the holidays exploring the moors. She and her sister had wasted most of the summer being Margaret and Ruth, and it felt like they'd hardly had a chance to be pirates at all this year. She looked down at her sister's list, thinking.
"What do pirates do in the winter?"
Nancy stopped what she was doing and looked at her, frowning. "What do you mean?"
"It's just - well. It's usually just us at Christmas time, so we don't usually bother much with being Amazons. If the Swallows are going to be here, we should be, though."
"That's true. I don't know what an Amazon does in the winter, now that I think of it. You never hear about pirates doing anything but sailing and looking for buried treasure, and we won't be able to do much of either in winter. Let's have another look at that list - I've finished packing now, anyway."
They sat side by side on the bed, looking over Nancy's scribblings one more time, but still nothing suggested itself. After staring at it for a few more minutes with no success, Nancy sighed heavily and shook her head.
"It's no use. I can't think of anything at all. We might be able to sail if they get here before the lake starts freezing, and go skating and sledging and things, but there's nothing pirate-y to do at all. I'd better finish writing this letter, I suppose - maybe Titty will think of something."
"But Titty's not a pirate, either. Perhaps..." She paused, thinking Nancy might not like this next part. "Perhaps we shouldn't be pirates after all, this time."
Nancy did seem taken aback at hearing this from her First Mate, of all people, but her expression soon turned thoughtful. "I suppose we could be something else, just for the winter."
"And we could go back to being pirates as usual, once the weather's right for it," Peggy continued.
"That's not a half-bad idea - we could all be explorers for a change. Arctic explorers, if it snows. Can the Swallows skate, do you think?"
"I don't know. Roger probably can't, at least... but if the lake freezes enough for skating, it'll be jammed so full of natives we won't be able to move."
"You're right. An arctic explorer doesn't want to be asked how they're getting on at school any more than a pirate does. But we can skate on the tarn or something, instead, and perhaps Captain Flint would let us borrow his sledge -- his toboggan, I mean."
Peggy opened her mouth, but was interrupted before she could answer by their mother's voice calling them from downstairs. "That'll be dinner." Her sister made no move to stand. "Are you coming?"
"You go, I'll be down in a minute."
Nancy picked her notebook back up from the bed and turned over to a new page. Arctic exploration, she wrote, and smiled to herself. It wasn't quite a plan yet, but it was a good start.