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Half an hour before daybreak three of the boys assembled, as they had agreed, near the old bridge. The fourth, a boy by the name of Tolly, had not turned up. His absence did not greatly surprise the others. They knew that his mother did not want him to come on this expedition into the forest.
Charles, who was the oldest and their accepted leader, waded downstream to the place where their boat was tied up in the shelter of some overhanging bushes. Then he rowed the boat back to the shallow water near the bridge, where the boys loaded it with the provisions, blankets and other things which they were taking on their journey.
Dawn was just breaking as they climbed into their boat and pushed off from the bank. A swift current carried them downstream, so there was no need to row. They took it in turns to keep the boat in the centre of the river. Three hours later they entered the forest where they intended to spend the next few days.
"Let's go ashore now and make some tea," suggested Charles. "No one will see us here."
It was forbidden to light fires in the forest, but people rarely came this way.
While Charles tied the boat up, the other two boys set about gathering wood for a fire. When they came back, each with a large handful of sticks, they found Charles looking very worried.
"We haven't got any matches," he announced gloomily. "Tolly was going to bring them."
This was bad news. They were miles away now from the neares shop.