Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.
"BY Jove! This is grand! A letter from Ray Sinclair, asking me to join him in a trip to South America. Just the kind of thing I've been wishing and longing for ever since I was a kid. Splendid! Here's my chance at last!"
The speaker was young Lord Temperley, and the scene was the morning-room at Temperley Hall. He was seated at breakfast with Mr. Duncan, who acted in the double capacity of guardian and manager of the young man's estates.
For Lord Harry Temperley was not yet quite twenty-one; though no one would have thought so to judge by appearances alone.
Well built, muscular, almost a giant in stature, known at school and at his university as a splendid all-round athlete, he looked fully two or three years older than be really was.
In other respects he was equally well favoured by nature, being gifted not only with good looks, but with a sunny, good- humoured, genial disposition. Certainly he had very high spirits, which had caused his guardian at times to regard him as rather "a handful," but that only arose from an excess of energy. There was no vice in breezy, light-hearted, good-tempered Harry Temperley.
That something had happened now to rouse all his enthusiasm was evident as he sat there looking at the letter he held in his hand, his face aglow, his eyes dancing with excitement.
Mr. Duncan regarded him soberly. He was the exact opposite of his ward, being elderly, precise, and staid. But the look in his eyes was less stern than his bearing.
"What are you so excited about, Harry?" he asked quietly. "Surely you are not thinking of starting off to South America at a moment's notice just because someone you know is going?"
"As to that, Mr. Duncan, Ray Sinclair's uncle and my father were very great friends, as you know, and they once travelled together in the very part of the world Ray is now going to. And he says his uncle wished him to get me to go with him—and you know that my dear old dad always wanted to take me abroad with him, only at first I was too young, and afterwards he became an invalid."
The late Lord Temperley, Harry's father, had been dead nearly two years; while Ray Sinclair's uncle, Sir Ralph Sinclair, had died a few months before.
Thus Ray and Harry, who had been school-fellows together, had both been left alone in the world while still quite young men. For Sir Raymond Sinclair—to give him his full name and title—was only a year or so older than his chum.
"I hope you are not going to raise all sorts of disagreeable objections, Mr. Duncan?" said Harry, looking at his guardian with the quizzical, open-eyed, innocent air that the old gentleman often found so hard to resist.
"Hum! Hum! What's he going out there for?" Mr. Duncan asked, judicially. "Better read out to me what he says."
A slight shadow fell upon the face of the young enthusiast, and his brow became puckered with a puzzled frown, the reason being that his friend Ray was either a very bad writer or had written in a very great hurry, and with unusual carelessness. Anyway, his letter was not an easy one to decipher.
"All right, sir," said Harry. "I will read you what he says—that is," he added, hopefully, "as fast as I can make it out. For Ray has sent me the most awful scrawl that I—. However, here goes:
"'Dear Jumper,' he says—that's me, you know, Mr. Duncan. They always called me Jumper at school, because—"
"Because you were always like a cat on hot bricks, I expect," murmured Mr. Duncan. "But go on."
"'Dear Jumper,'" Harry repeated slowly. "Faith, it's not so easy to 'go on.' However, here goes once more—I'll begin again, so that you don't lose the thread. 'Dear Jumper,—At last I'm glued to—' Gracious! that's wrong, surely! Oh! he means 'glad.' 'I'm glad to say, I've got myself kettled.' I say, that can't be right! He can't have got himself kettled, you know!"
"Settled, perhaps," Mr. Duncan suggested.
"Why, yes—of course, it's 'settled.' He means he's got all his affairs settled up after his uncle's death."
"He was a very clever scientist—his uncle—wasn't he—as well as a great traveller?"
"Yes—a naturalist; and besides that, an inventor. He invented—or discovered—several very clever things."
"And the nephew, young Sir Raymond, takes after him in that respect, doesn't he?"
"Well, yes—or tries to. He's always trying to invent something new. However, to go on with this letter; he says his uncle left him a—'a sacred trust'—a mission. He is to go out to deliver something very important to the chief of an Indian tribe."
"In—er—British Guiana. Then he says when he has fulfilled his uncle's wishes, he will be free; and ready to travel with me anywhere—from Tottenham to Timbuctoo, or from the earth to Mars by special airship—if I like."
"Tut, tut! British Guiana, indeed!" said Mr. Duncan. "The idea of two young fellows like you going out there alone!"
Harry stared, evidently disappointed at this cold douche. "But—Mr. Duncan," he urged, "you know that my father wished me to go, and would have taken me himself if he had been well enough. I shall only be carrying out his wishes. And Ray says his uncle—Sir Ralph—particularly wished him to get me to go with him, because the Indians he is going to see knew my father. So, you see, sir, I can't very well refuse."
"H'm! Well, young man, it rests with yourself. In six months' time you will be twenty-one, and your own master, and you would go then, I expect, if I said 'no' now. So what can I say? Only this, my lad, that if you decide to go, I wish you good fortune and a safe return. And you can have an easy mind while you're away. I'll continue to manage everything at home for you, as I have done since your father's death."
Harry seized the old gentleman's hand, and thanked him warmly.
"Now I must go and rout out Barney," said he. "I must tell him he's got to come with me."
"Ah! Yes—that's a good idea," Mr. Duncan agreed. "Of course! He went over that ground, I remember, with your father. He'll help to take care of you."
Harry came upon Barney digging, bareheaded, in the garden of the little cottage which the late Lord Temperley had given him to live in.
He was a veteran hunter, and had, in his time, travelled almost all over the world. In particular, he had been the trusted servant and companion of Harry's father in his travels. He looked up as he saw his young master, and smiled a glad welcome.
"The top o' the mornin' to ye, me lord," said he.
"You rascal!" exclaimed the young man. "Call me 'me lord' again and I'll heave half a brick at you! How many more times am I to tell you of that?"
"Faith! Oi forgot. Misther Harry"
"That's better, me bhoy," Harry returned, blithely imitating the other's brogue. "It's Misther Harry ye always used to call me, an' it's Misther Harry ye'll go on sayin'—or I won't take ye with me where I'm goin'."
"An' where moight that be, me—Oi mane Misther Harry?"
Harry looked at him whimsically.
"D'ye know a place called British Guiana, Barney?" he asked.
Barney stared; then understanding came, and his face lighted up.
"Arrah, it's jokin' ye are, sorr" he said doubtfully. "Ye're niver thinkin' that—"
"But I am, Barney. And I'm more than thinking—I've made up my mind. And you're coming with me. So you can set to work packing. Clean up all our rifles and revolvers, and get out a list of the things we shall have to buy."
Barney shouted for joy, and would doubtless have thrown his cap in the air if he had been wearing one. As it was he pushed his spade into the ground with tremendous energy, dug up an immense clod, and flung it skywards with great gusto. It came back in a shower of small particles.
Then a thought struck him.
"Anybody else goin', sorr?" he queried.
"Only my chum, Ray—you know, Sir Raymond Sinclair."
Barney's face fell. He looked troubled. "Only him!" he muttered.
"Why—you knew him well enough—"
"Oh, ay, sorr, Oi knows him well enough, as ye says. Don't Oi remimber him—the bothersome young spalpeen, as he used t' be! Will Oi iver forgit him? He's the wan they said had a gennious for invintin'—"
"That's right, Barney—"
"Wasn't he allus invintin' some fresh trouble an' botheration t' get me into ivery day whin he spent his holidays here?"
"I'm afraid that's true," laughed Harry. "But he's older, and less bothersome now, ye'll find. Though it's also true that he still prides himself on being a bit of an inventor. But you'll get on with him all right. He always liked you."
"Oh, ay, Oi'll get on wid him! I allus loiked him, too, in spite 'av his thricks. But I hope he won't thry his invintions on us. Didn't his uncle invint some newfangled explosive, as they said would blow a man farther off the airth than anny man had been blowed yit?"
"I believe he did, Barney, A most clever invention."
"Well, Oi don't know. Good old gunpowder's strong enough, an' cliver enough fur me. If a man were t' go on loike that, he moight blow the whole airth up into—into—well—it's little stars 'twould be, I expect, at the end av it."
Two days later Harry and his companion arrived at Tamberton Court, young Sir Raymond's residence, on foot, having walked from the station, where they had left their luggage.
Joseph Gower, the butler, opened the door, and stared at the two visitors in surprise.
"Sir Raymond's not in, my lord," he said. "He couldn't have expected you by this train—at least, he said he was uncertain—"
"That's all right, Gower," returned Harry genially. "My fault, I expect—I wrote and merely said I should catch the first train I could. Now where has he gone? Can we go to find him?"
"If your lordship pleases," said the well-trained old servant. "He is down at the pavilion on the island—where the old master had his laboratory. But I'll send—"
"Oh, I know my way. Don't trouble. I'll go and hunt him up myself. It will be a joke to take him by surprise. Come on, Barney."
And the two set off across the park in the direction of the seashore, which, Hurry knew, was not more than a mile or so distant.
Now, as they went on their way, Harry was asking himself one or two questions, and his thoughts led him to glance now and again at Barney, who strode on cheerfully beside him. Harry had written and told Ray that he was going to bring Barney, and he (Harry) was now cogitating as to whether Ray's absence from his home at the time of their arrival might have been intentional.
As Barney had not forgotten, Ray had been fond, in the past, of playing jokes on the old hunter. Had his chum—Harry wondered—some little joke in store for them now? It was somewhat curious—Harry thought—that Ray should so have arranged that his visitor had to go to seek him at the place which had been his uncle's laboratory and workshop—where all kinds of curious instruments and machines, no doubt, were to be found.
However, such speculations just then were vain; so he philosophically cast them aside, thinking that "time would show." As it did.
It was a pleasant morning in early spring, and the air was fresh and sweet. Stepping onwards at a swinging pace, they approached the shore and came in sight of the island of which the butler had spoken.
On this island—which lay in a sheltered little bay, separated from the shore by a strip of water two or three hundred yards wide—was a long, rambling building of two floors, partly modern, and partly very old. It had a high tower at one end which looked like the remains of some ancient castle. The rest of the building was in the style of a waterside pavilion.
In front, on the side facing the sea, a high, strong flagstaff rose from the shore.
A flag was hanging limply from the upper part of this mast, and there was a small door in the side of the building facing the mainland. The water between was smooth and inviting—but no boat was to be seen by which it could be crossed, the door was fast closed, and there was no one about.
The whole place looked deserted, and Harry began to think either Ray had not come there or that he must have gone away again before they arrived.
Not a soul was to be seen, either up or down the shore, who might direct them or answer a question. In the distance, on a headland, there was a lighthouse. Doubtless someone might be found there, but it was too far away to be of service to them just then.
"Well, this is lively! What on earth are we to do now?" cried Harry. "If Ray is there, why doesn't he show himself? How are we to let him know we are here? I can't see a boat anywhere. Can you, Barney?"
Barney could only shake his head.
"Not a sign av a wan, sorr, can Oi see," he answered. "Per'aps they expects visitorrs t' stand an' shout, loike they would at a ferry."
"Ah! That's not a bad idea," Harry agreed. "Perhaps they do. So let's shout."
They shouted, both of them. Barney called out "Ferry!" Harry cried, "Boat, boat!" and then "Ray, Ray, ahoy!"
But it was all in vain. No answer came back. No one appeared. The place seemed utterly lonely and untenanted.
Then Barney made a discovery.
"Shure," said he, "here's a post—wid a nothice- board!"
"So there is!" Harry muttered, going across to inspect it. "Let's see what it says."
He had seen it before, but thinking it was some ordinary "Trespassers beware" sort of notice, he had not troubled to go near it.
Now he found it bore a very different legend.
"To call the boat, please ring," it ran; and just below was a little white knob, with the word "Push" neatly printed thereon.
So Harry "pushed," and then stood staring across at the island, awaiting developments.
"Shure, there's a boat comin'," cried Barney suddenly, "but niver a person can Oi see in the same."
He proved to be right. From out of some hidden corner a boat had appeared, quietly making its way towards them across the placid water.
But neither oar nor sail was to be seen; nor was there any sign of human occupant. How it was propelled or controlled was a mystery. Nevertheless, it came on as steadily, and as straight, as though rowed by some ghostly oarsman, and steered by an invisible coxswain.
"Holy saints defind us!" gasped Barney, as he noted, with staring eyes, the boat's uncanny progress. "Phwat's sinding it along?"
Harry had to admit that he was himself no less puzzled. He could only watch with fascinated interest, while the mysterious craft gradually drew nearer and nearer.
Finally it ran alongside the landing-place, ending the little voyage as neatly as any human hand could have managed it.
"May Hiven protect us!" Barney cried.
"Shure, the craythure must be aloive! Will it spake next, Oi wonder?"
As though in answer, a large card suddenly popped up from somewhere inside the boat. Upon it was printed, in big, plain lettering:
PLEASE GET IN AND SIT DOWN.
"Oh, no fear! Not fur me!" exclaimed Barney, after he had made out the wording. "Faith! Thrust meself in a controivance loike that? No; it's bewitched, it is!"
He shook his head and drew back with such sudden haste that Harry could not help laughing.
"Come, come! I expect it's all right. Barney," he said, stepping forward, and looking into the boat with great curiosity. "It's evidently the way they manage things nowadays in this part of the country; only you and I have never seen it before, or we should have got used to it."
As he spoke he glanced across at the island, rather expecting to catch sight of his chum, Ray, watching them and enjoying their perplexity. But there was still no sign of life; the two windows looking that way had no peeping face behind the glass. The affair reminded him of fairy tales he had read about enchanted castles, where visitors were waited on by invisible hands.
He got into the boat, and sat down on a cross seat; and he noticed that the craft was pointed at both ends so as to go in either direction without turning.
Suddenly he heard a sharp click. The card vanished, and another one rose up in its place.
"All aboard? Hurry up, or you'll be left behind." was the legend which the fresh card displayed.
Barney, inspired by his master's example, had been about to risk it and jump in; but on seeing the card thus changing of their own accord, he drew back—or rather he tried to draw back. But Harry, who felt the boat moving, gripped him by the arm, and with his powerful grasp drew him forward, then bundled him unceremoniously into the middle of the craft.
There he tumbled on to the flooring boards, where he sat up, and looked helplessly and reproachfully at his young master.
Meantime, the boat had started, on its return journey, travelling smoothly and easily, without either jerk or vibration, while little ripples splashed merrily against its sides with a pleasant, soft, tinkling sound.
Suddenly there was another click, and this was followed by a whirring sound. It was like the preliminary flourish of a gramophone about to burst into metallic song.
Barney started, and grew more terrified than ever. He cast despairing looks at the fast-receding shore, then glanced apprehensively at the part of the interior the sound had come from.
The whirring sound increased in volume. And then, sure enough, a weirdly thrilling voice—albeit a little squawky in tone, perhaps—sang out:
"A life on the ocean wave,
A home on the rolling deep!"
Barney gave a great jump, nearly capsizing the boat. Indeed, it must have gone over but for Harry a presence of mind in rolling to starboard just as his startled companion had lurched to port.
The joyous, squawky voice ceased singing and called out:
"Barney, it's frightened ye are! Kape still! Ye're interruptin' me in me song—an' ye'll have the boat over!"
"Murther an' witchcraft!" moaned Barney. He took out a big, red handkerchief and mopped his forehead. "Did iver annybody see the loikes av this?"
Barney's face was such a picture that Harry roared with laughter. He knew now that Ray was somehow "engineering" all this, and was pretty certainly watching everything that went on from some concealed post of observation on the island—probably through glasses. Also, there must be a telephone on board connected with the pavilion.
Getting down on his knees he peeped and felt about under the seat round the end. And there he found what he sought. Partially concealed in a sort of casing was a curious, bell-like affair, something between the receiver of a telephone and the "trumpet" of a phonograph. It worked on a swivel, and he swung it out.
"Who are you?" he shouted into this contrivance.
"Shure, Oi'm the g-gh-ost av Bh-harney's brither!" came the answer.
Barney shivered and groaned.
"Ray, it's no use! I know your voice even through your cracked old trumpet!" Harry shouted back. "Come out into the open, and let's have a look at you, you rascal!"
The boat, by this time, was three parts of the way across, and was fast approaching the island; and, as he spoke, Harry glanced expectantly at the closed door of the pavilion.
Nor was he disappointed. As if in response to his demand, the door flew open, much as does the little door in a cuckoo-clock, when the bird pops out to "cuckoo" the hour.
But instead of a bird figure, there stood, framed in the doorway, as it were, the tall, sturdy form of Harry's chum, Ray Sinclair, smiling, bowing, and waving with his hands a graceful welcome to his visitors.
Ray Sinclair was, as stated, tall and sturdy, in which respect he resembled his friend; but in place of Harry's curly, fair hair and grey eyes, he had dark hair and eyes of clear, deep brown.
Perhaps his face was rather more thoughtful when in repose than Harry Temperley's, but as he came forward to greet the two, it was full of harmless, mischievous amusement.
He knew that he had roused their wonder and interest in the way he had received them, and he was evidently enjoying the joke.
The boat glided quietly alongside a landing-place and stopped; and by that time Ray was waiting to receive its occupants.
He shook hands heartily with Harry. Then, turning to Barney, shook his hand, too.
"Well," he cried briskly, "have you had a pleasant voyage?"
"You'd better ask Barney," he returned. "I'm afraid he was a bit upset. Anyway, he nearly upset the boat."
"Why, Barney, was it seasick ye were?" Ray asked the hunter.
"Arrah, now, doan't ye belave him, Misther Ray—if I may make so bould as t' call ye so. Misther Harry, he tould me to—"
"Quite right, Barney." said Ray, genially. "To you I'm merely Mister Ray—same as I used to be. I like it best so; it's more like old times. But you haven't answered my question."
"Shure, it's not say-sick I was, sorr; but I doan't loike witchcraft, an' magic, an'—"
"Well, that's all right. Now, are you hungry, either of you? Because if not, Harry, I'd just like to take you round the place. It's the only chance you'll have to see some of my uncle's curious machines and things until we come back from our travels."
Harry declared he was in no immediate need of refreshment. He would rather have a look round.
"Then come with me, Harry. But Barney wouldn't say 'No' to a little refreshment, I'll bet?"
He gave a peculiar whistle, and at once there appeared in the doorway a young negro, who came towards the three with eyes that showed the whites as he rolled them about, and a genial grin which revealed a fine set of white teeth.
"Tom!" said Ray quietly, "this is the gentleman I told you of. And that is his servant, Barney. Take him with you, give him a glass of milk, if he likes that best, and make him comfortable. Now, be off, the pair of you. I'll whistle when I want you."
The young darky's grin grew, if possible, wider than ever, as he made a half-military sort of salute to Harry; and then, putting an arm familiarly through Barney's, led him away.
"Come wit me, Massa Barney," Harry heard him say. "I'll take care ob you. You an' I's goin' t' be heap pals. Me show you lots o' fine tings—make you laugh, an' have good time."
"Hallo!" exclaimed Harry, as the two disappeared through the door. "Who's that? Where did you pick him up?"
"Took him away from a circus, where he was being badly treated," Ray replied. "The poor chap came over with a troupe to England from abroad, and he was made a slave and led a dog's life. I rescued him, and he's devoted to me now. I'm going to take him with us."
"Looks a cheeky young rascal. I should say he's 'all there,'" was Harry's shrewd comment, as they walked together towards the doorway.
Ray led his chum indoors, and up some stairs, to a large, lofty room with windows front and back, the former facing seawards, and the latter looking towards the mainland.
The place was evidently a combined workshop and laboratory. Around the floor were many weird and wonderful-looking machines; upon the benches was a collection of chemical apparatus; on the walls were boards with numerous switches; and, finally, there were two or three telescopes on stands. Ray laughed as he pointed to the switches, saying:
"That's the 'magic and witchcraft' which caused honest Barney so much perturbation, and, I expect, has been puzzling you. I merely turned those switches on and off, and so controlled the boat, while I looked at you through that telescope. Look through it and see how powerful it is! I could see the faces of you two as plainly as I can see yours now, and could read what you were saying by watching your lips. My gracious! You looked so comical, both of you, I was nearly bursting with laughter."
Harry peered through the telescope, and laughed, too. "Yes, I can see it's a most powerful glass," he said. "Splendid. Ray, you're a bit of a marvel."
A shadow fell on the young fellow's good-looking face, and for a space he became grave.
"Not I," he declared, modestly shaking his head. "It's dear old Uncle Ralph's doing! He taught me, you know. And it is in order to carry out his last wishes that we are going abroad."
Harry, now serious, too, nodded his head.
"Ah! You have not explained about that yet," he reminded his friend. "At present I'm quite in the dark as to what we're going for. Though, for that matter," he added briskly, "I'm jolly glad to have the chance of going with you, even if there were nothing particular to go for."
"It's a curious story," Ray returned musingly, "and I won't reel it out just now—time enough for that—but there's a spice of mystery attached to it which I don't understand myself. It's puzzling me a bit. Do you know, somehow, that young darky you saw seems to be mixed up in it!"
"How can that be? What on earth can that nigger rascal have to do with it?" he asked.
"That's the riddle. And It's not him so much as the people I took him from that I'm thinking of. You know I told you I took him from a circus?"
"The show has been in this district for some time—in fact, it's still not far away. Now the people he was with, and who were ill-treating him, were Indians—an Indian troupe—and they came from—of all places—British Guiana—the place where we're going to! Now, is that a mere coincidence, or is there something at the back of it? That's what's puzzling me."
Harry uttered a long-drawn whistle.
"By Jove! That sounds strange!" he commented. "What reasons have you for thinking so?"
"Well, for one thing, these Indians—they perform with alligators and serpents, and so on—are the very same tribe as those I have to pay a visit to. And for another—"
Just then there came an outcry from outside. Barney's voice was heard raised in terrified accents, and he was calling on all the saints for protection.
The two chums hurried to the window facing the sea, which was open, and, looking out, they saw a curious sight.
The mast, of which mention has been already made, which was fixed on the shore, and rose out of a square, roomy platform, had an immense ball attached to it. That is to say, the mast ran through a hole in the ball, so that the latter could move up and down when made to do so by some hidden machinery.
It was, in fact, an affair like that at Greenwich Observatory, where the ball rises and falls at a certain hour every day, so that captains of passing vessels can set their chronometers to exact Greenwich time.
In the present case, Tom, who knew that the time was near when the ball would rise, had, with every appearance of innocence, persuaded Barney to get on the platform, and then climb on to the top of the ball, in order to "see what a lily-lily, bountiful! view"—as the young deceiver expressed it—could be had from that elevated position.
Then Barney had felt the ball tremble and begin to move. He had instinctively put his arms round the mast; and was now, as the two chums looked out at him, slowly rising in the air shouting and groaning with bewilderment and fear.
As to Tom, the mischievous cause of his plight, he was down on the shore, simply dancing with delight, rolling his eyes, and clapping his hands.
For some moments neither Harry nor Ray could speak for laughing, so ludicrous was the figure cut by poor Barney, and so extraordinary his antics, as he was forced, farther and farther, upwards. Finally, the ball reached the top of the mast, and remained there.
Then Ray shouted to him not to be alarmed. All he had to do was to hold tight, and in five minutes the ball would duly descend, and he would be able to get back on to the platform again.
"Can't we get him down before?" Harry asked, when he could control his laughter.
"No; it's worked by an electric current from Greenwich." Ray explained. "It rises at five minutes to one, and sinks again precisely at one o'clock. But Barney will be all right if he sticks to the pole. This is that rascal Tom's doing—you can see that."
But a strange Nemesis was to fall upon the larking young negro. There was a sudden rush, several figures appeared unexpectedly on the beach, and darted at the laughing youngster.
The figures wore strange costumes, and had dark-red complexions, and uttered weird cries in some unknown tongue. In short, they were Indians!
Ere the two at the window above well grasped what was happening, the strangers had seized upon Torn, and, in spite of his struggles, were carrying him off to a boat which had stolen up to the island unperceived and was lying just round the corner behind the other end of the pavilion.
"Quick! We must rescue him!" cried Ray. "There's a motor-boat below, Come down with me, and we'll go after them! This is monstrous—outrageous! They sha'n't have that youngster again to ill-treat and torture. We must get him back."
"I'm with you there!" exclaimed Harry. "We'll get him away from them if we have to fight the whole impudent gang!"
By the time they had reached the place where Ray's boat was housed. Barney had come down, and at their call ran to join them.
In a moment he seemed transformed. All his fears and annoyance had fled, and he was now the alert, cool-headed, determined hunter, ready to meet the Indians on their own ground, so to speak, as he had done with others like them, years before, in their native wilds.
"Shure, we'll git the young imp out av their hands, Misther Ray. It's meself as knows how t' dale wid them gentry!" he cried.
RAY led his chum to a boathouse on the shore, where lay a motor-boat ready for use at any moment.
"Here we are, Harry," he cried, as he himself sprang on board. "Just unhitch that rope while I start the engine! Those beggars have got a long start, and they carry a big sail, but I think we ought to be able to catch them up before they can get away."
Lord Harry cleared the mooring-rope, and as he jumped in he was followed by Barney, who came racing along and scrambled on board just as the boat began to move.
"Bad scran t' the spalpeens!" he muttered, shaking his fist at the craft they were about to chase. "Phwat would they want t' be doing now wid that young nigger?"
"That's just what I can't tell you, Barney," Ray answered, "except that I've no doubt they want to revenge themselves on the poor lad for leaving them and coming with me. That's why we must get him out of their hands at once—before they have time to do him any harm."
"You'll find a pair of marine-glasses in that locker, Harry," Ray added to his chum. "Just get them out, and have a look at what those people are doing. My hands are full, and I want to know what they're up to."
Harry found the glasses, and peered through them at the Indians in the boat ahead. Then he uttered an angry exclamation:
"They're tying him up," he said. "And none too tenderly! I saw one of the beggars strike him! I'll mark that fellow, and make him feel sorry when we catch him!"
Though he had seen so little of the negro, yet, he had already got to like him.
The youngster was, he could see, a genuine child of nature, brimful of fun, and possibly of mischief, but with a lot of good feeling lying beneath. Harry, who was a quick, shrewd observer, had noticed the look he had cast at Ray when he had first appeared. It was full of love and loyalty—the eloquent, faithful look one sees in the eyes of a Newfoundland dog when watching its master.
Harry loved his old schoolfellow with a whole-hearted affection, and was ready to like and trust this waif from other lands for that one look alone.
Meanwhile, the two boats were racing along, parallel with the shore, at a good speed, for the breeze was freshening each moment; and this was in favour to some extent of the fugitives. It increased their pace, while the rising waves hampered the much smaller motor-boat.
The water was growing more lumpy, and the little craft began to ship so much, as she tore through it, that presently Harry had to start Barney bailing.
"Where are we going—or rather, where are they going?" Harry asked dubiously. "They show no sign of any intention to land."
"No; that's what's puzzling me," Ray answered. "They seem to have some game of their own on which I can't fathom. I suppose, though, they'll be going ashore eventually; so we can follow them up later, even if we can't catch them on the water."
As he spoke, Ray was scanning the distant horizon, as though looking for something. Harry noticed it, and asked what he expected to see.
"Why, my yacht, the Swallow," he said tersely. "It's just on the cards that she may turn up in time to head off these johnnies."
"Your yacht!" Harry repeated, a bit bewildered. "I didn't know—"
"A little surprise I was going to spring on you old chap," he said. "I did not tell you, but we're going on our travels in style—in our own private yacht. And she's—well, never mind; you'll see for yourself when she appears."
"You rascal!" exclaimed Harry. "Fancy keeping a thing like that secret! Well, there's no time to rag you about it just now or to ask questions. Just you wait! Hallo! What's that coming up yonder? Is that your mysterious yacht?"
They were just rounding a headland, and in the distance could be seen a vessel in full sail coming towards them. Harry caught up the glasses and directed them at the stranger; but Ray took only one glance, and then uttered an exclamation of disappointment and vexation.
"No; that's not the yacht," he said. "It's a sailing vessel—a schooner—and—. By all that's wicked, she's waiting about here for those Indians! Look! They're heading straight for her!"
Sure enough, the boat they were chasing had altered her course, and was turning away from the land and steering towards the stranger, which was much farther out.
"They must have friends on that vessel," Ray went on. "If they get to her first, and take poor Tom on board, we're done! And it doesn't look as if we can overhaul them in time!"
It certainly did not; for though the motorboat was gaining, it was not doing so at a very fast rate. And the worst of it was, nothing could be done to increase its speed.
Ray and Harry looked at one another. Their faces were stern and set.
"Well," muttered Harry, "if they get on board, we must follow them."
But Ray shook his head.
"Depends upon where they go," he pointed out. "If they put out to sea we're done. We can only follow if they hug the coast; and that they're scarcely likely to do."
It was certainly anything but a hopeful position. Most persons in their situation would probably have given up any further attempt to follow the Indians.
Now that they were going farther out, the sea was getting rougher, and the motorboat was taking in more water. The three in her were already nearly wet through from the flying spray. And now the wind freshened still more, so that their position was growing dangerous as well as uncomfortable.
And, after all, why were they taking all this trouble, and why should they run further risk? Merely on behalf of a negro lad who had no claim upon either of them!
But no idea of turning back or giving in entered the thoughts of these sturdy, determined young Britons. They only set their teeth and held on their way; but Harry had now to join Barney in the work of bailing.
Suddenly the Irishman uttered a shout.
"Shure, here's another av thim!" he cried.
Ray and Harry had been so intent on watching; with grim interest, the sailing boat and the schooner she was making for that they had not looked to the right or the left for some minutes. Now, at Barney's words, they glanced in the direction of another headland, and there saw a second large vessel.
Owing to the nature of the coast at that part, she had not shown up very clearly. Now, however, a white streamer that was floating in the air above her indicated that she was a steam- vessel.
Harry seized the glasses and stared at her; but Ray did not need them.
"Hurrah!" he cried. "That's the Swallow!"
"What—your yacht?" Harry asked.
"Rather! And she's coming to take a hand in this little game. She's seen us! Markham—that's the master—my navigating captain, you know, must have been keeping a pretty sharp look-out. I'll raise his screw for this."
The yacht was coming towards them at a great rate. There were black clouds now pouring out from her funnel and mingling with the white vapour from her steam-pipe. From her bows two fountains of foam curled and seethed and hissed as they raced past her sides.
"Hurrah!" shouted Ray again, "She's going to head them off! Now, my beauties, the tables are turned! Ah! I thought so! They're steering towards the shore. Now's our chance to head them off on that tack, too!"
The Indians had evidently grasped the fact that the yacht was bent on cutting them off from the schooner; and, in fact, would do so if they held on. So they gave up the idea of reaching her, and had decided to try to gain the shore before the motor-boat could intercept them. As to the yacht, they knew she would not dare to follow them far into the shallow water.
The new race which followed was a swift and exciting affair. The motor-boat had to cross over at an angle, and was therefore at a disadvantage; but, on the other hand, the nearer it approached the shore the smoother the water became, and the greater its speed.
Presently the sailing-boat was within two hundred yards of the beach, with the pursuing craft only about the same distance away. Still, the former was now fairly safe, for it was scarcely possible for the other to catch it up in the distance that was left.
Ray and Harry uttered smothered exclamations, and the latter stood up. Barney was talking to himself, gabbling away incoherently; and then suddenly he gave a great shout. There had been a splash ahead of them. Something or someone had gone overboard.
And Barney had seen what—or rather who—it was. It was the young negro, who had cunningly managed to wriggle himself from the cords that had bound him, and had leaped into the sea.
For a few moments no further sign of him could be discerned; he had dived, and was evidently cunningly swimming under water as far as possible.
But another figure rose up in the sailing boat and dived into the waves. One of the Indians had plunged in after the young nigger.
Then there was a splash beside the motorboat, which had now come so near to the place where the lad was swimming that Ray shut off the engine. The splash was caused by Harry, who had sprung in to aid the youngster against the Indian.
Another Indian followed the first, and Barney, with a wild whoop, plunged in to help Harry; so that there were, by this time, four in the water at once.
The sailing boat, unable to stop quickly like the other, had forged on ahead, and though the sail had been promptly lowered and oars were got out, she could not turn and get back in time to take any part in the struggle which followed.
What precise form that contest took none of the onlookers could probably afterwards have clearly stated. There was much splashing and diving, some amount of determined fighting, during which Ray fairly danced about with excitement, seeking some way to aid his friends, but finding none that seemed effective.
He dared not jump in himself, as it would have been folly to leave the boat to itself; and the most he was able to do was to fling things whatever he could catch up—at the two Indians. Unfortunately, being afraid of hitting his friends instead of their enemies, his assistance in this direction was not of much value.
The Indians in the sailing boat had brought her round, and were beginning to row back, when shouts not far away caused them to pause.
The yacht had drawn up as near as her skipper thought safe, and a boat had put off from her, and was now coming towards the scene of strife, urged along by four stalwart rowers.
Then the Indians in the water broke away and swam to their boats, which once more headed for the shore.
Harry and Barney were then seen swimming towards the motorboat, holding up the negro lad between them. And it was well they were there to help him, for he had been struck by some missile thrown by one of his enemies, and half stunned.
However, they, with Ray's aid, got him safely on board, just as the boat from the yacht ran alongside.
In the stern sat a stout, bluff, seafaring man with a weather- beaten, clean-shaven face, whom Ray introduced to his dripping chum as Captain Markham.
"You'd better come back to the yacht with me, my lord," said Markham, "and change your clothes for some dry togs. Unless, sir," he added, with a glance at Ray, "you want me to follow up those dark-skinned pirates, yonder," indicating the Indians.
"No, no, Markham," said Ray. "Let 'em go. We've got the lad; and, as you say, Lord Harry needs a change. So do these other two. We'll all come on board, and you can let one of your men take charge of this boat."
"Ay, ay, sir!" was the skipper's prompt response. And a few minutes later the whole party were mounting the ladder to the yacht's deck. And here a fresh surprise awaited Ray's chum.
As he stepped upon the deck a young girl—quite a child, and daintily dressed in a blue and white yachting costume—came forward and gravely greeted him. She was holding a pair of glasses in one hand.
"Thank you, sir," she said, with a charming mixture of diffidence and friendliness. "Thank you for what you did for poor Tom. I was looking, and saw. Oh, it was very, very brave and good of you! I wonder if Tom has thanked you?"
She turned to the negro, who was now standing near, wet and dripping, but otherwise none the worse for his adventure. Indeed, if anything, he seemed more perky, and his grin was wider than ever.
"Me not tank de gentleman bery much, Missie Eva," he volunteered. "Um mouth too full ob de salt water. Me no love drinking salt water. S'pose you tank him for me?"
"Get along, you cheeky young rascal!" exclaimed the skipper. "Is that all the gratitude you have to offer Lord Harry for risking his life for you?"
"Lord Harry!" repeated the child, wonderingly. "I've heard about you. Sir Ray told me what a very nice man you are. You're his friend—his great friend, aren't you? So you must be my friend, too; because I like him very much."
Harry laughed. "Why, of course I'll be your friend, my little lady," he replied. "But—who are you? Tell me your name."
Here a young man—also attired in a yachting suit—stepped forward, laughing.
"She is my sister, Eva, Lord Harry," said he, extending his hand. "I hope you won't be offended at her patronising you as she has been doing. It's a way she's got. We've all got to put up with it."
Harry turned in wonder. He had not seen the young man standing there.
"Why Lowther," he said, heartily, as he shook hands. "Fancy meeting you here! This is another of the numerous surprises Ray has sprung upon me to-day. And so this is your young sister! I don't wonder that she queens it over you. I've fallen under her spell myself already. What—if I may ask—are you doing here, you two? Just out for a morning sail?"
Harry had known young Lowther at Oxford, but had only seen him once or twice since leaving the university.
Ray answered for Lowther, and said that he and his sister were going to be their companions for a little while.
"His father and mother, and his other sister," he explained, "are coming over from America with the American millionaire, Mr. Vanderton, and his family in their yacht. We shall meet them on our way out, and put Lowther and his sister on board. See?"
"Capital, capital!" cried Harry. "We ought to be quite a jolly party together! And now I'll go and get these wet clothes off."
LORD HARRY'S words came true—they were quite a jolly party on board the Swallow when, a few days later, she set sail for America.
He made a friend of Captain Markham, whom he found to be a good fellow, a skilful seaman, and very proud of the yacht he had charge of.
Well, indeed, he might be, for she was a splendid vessel, fitted, as Harry quickly found, with all the latest appliances and inventions, from wireless telegraphy to a water-plane. Indeed, there were several clever and useful contrivances on board which were so new that they had not yet become known to the world generally.
As for Gerald Lowther's young sister, Eva, she was enjoying herself immensely. She was not troubled with sea-sickness, everybody liked her and petted her, and—finally—she was going to meet her father and mother and sister, whom she had not seen for nearly a year—for they had been travelling abroad all that time.
In a few days the Swallow had got so far on her outward journey that they were hoping to pick up a wifeless message at any hour from the Iris—the large yacht they were to meet; and both Eva and her brother were in a state of eager expectancy.
They, of course, were anxious to know, in the first place, that all was well with the Iris and those on board; and, beyond that, they were looking forward to having "a chat by wireless"—a strange marvel to them in itself—and to exchanging news on both sides.
Meantime, Eva had found plenty to do. Sometimes she was fishing over the side with Barney and Tom, getting together a collection of wonderful kinds of seaweed, which Harry showed her how to preserve in a special album made for the purpose.
At other times she followed the captain or his officers about, asking questions, and, if they were not too busy, receiving replies which added immensely to her little stock of information about ships and shipping and the sea generally.
And she reigned over them all, for the time being, as Harry had put it, like a little queen, carrying a feeling of sunshine and pleasure wherever she went, and giving back to all alike, rich or poor, masters or servants, bewitching smiles and beaming, delighted looks for the slightest kindness or little service offered her.
"Oh! Here you are, Eva!" cried Harry, coming upon her suddenly on the deck. "I've been looking for you! They've got in touch with the Iris, and everybody's right as nine-pence on board! There's a message from your mother for you; and one from your father for your brother. We must find him at once."
Brother Gerald was quickly found, and Ray, too; and then the whole party trooped into the wireless operator's little office to hear the news and exchange messages with their friends.
Now these little details are noted here chiefly because of the exciting and trying experiences which followed, and which brought home to all concerned the uncertainties and dangers of ocean travel—the sudden and unexpected perils which lie in wait for those "who go down to the sea in ships."
It was yet early morning, though quite light, when Captain Markham entered Ray's private cabin and woke him quietly.
"Why—what on earth's the matter, Markham?" exclaimed the young owner of the yacht. "Your face is enough to scare—"
But the worthy captain laid his fingers on his lips with an air so grave that Ray became serious at once.
But had started up scarcely quite awake, he had had, at first, a hazy idea that the skipper was playing some little joke upon him. Perhaps he (Ray) had overslept himself, and the captain had come with a solemn face to tell him that breakfast was long since over.
"There's bad news, Sir Raymond," Markham said, in hurried accents, hardly above a whisper. "Don't speak loudly—I don't want others to hear just at present. Maybe it will turn out later to be better than it looks just now. Can ye come to my cabin, sir?"
Ray hastily threw on some clothes, and followed his skipper to his private cabin.
On the way he vaguely realised two or three things; one was that it was still very early—not long past dawn. Another was there had been a great change in the weather; from being fine, warm, and calm, it had become rough, cold, and foggy.
The yacht was tumbling about in a heavy sea; the wind was gusty and there was a driving sea mist which shut out the horizon, and, indeed, prevented them from seeing more than a mile or two in any direction.
Ray remarked upon the latter.
"It's been a bad night, sir; worse than it is now," Markham answered, as he closed the door of his room behind him. "Very thick—the sort of night when ships are apt to run into one another."
He said this with such an evident suggestion of a deeper meaning that Ray became really alarmed.
"Something has happened, captain?" he said quickly, and, as the other nodded gloomily, he exclaimed: "Something wrong with the Iris? For heaven's sake, man, don't keep one in suspense! Tell me—is she—is she—"
"Indeed, sir, I do not know how things are at this moment; I brought you here to tell all there is to say, and then to ask you to decide what shall be done about telling the others."
Not long before, he went to say, they had received a wireless message headed "S.O.S." It had come from the Iris, and stated that she had been run into, in the dark, by an unknown vessel, which had slipped off into the night without offering help, or even inquiring what damage had been done.
"The message had just got as far as that, sir," Markham explained, "when the current seemed to fail—or something went wrong with their apparatus. It tailed off into nothing. I told Curtis to stay on the watch, and let me know at once if anything more came through, while I came to call you."
The two stood and looked at each other with eyes which told of thoughts neither dared to put into words.
"And—the message did not give you the bearings of the Iris?" said Ray at last. "We can't go to her assistance if—if—"
He meant "if she was still afloat," but somehow his tongue seemed to refuse to say the words. The mere fact that the message had been headed "S.O.S." told that the senders must have considered themselves in grave danger.
"Perhaps, Sir Ray," the captain went on, "the wireless outfit may have been damaged, and they may be repairing it. I hope and pray that that may be the reason of our hearing no more. I pray to Heaven it may be so."
"I must go and rouse Lord Harry," said Ray, after an interval of silence. "I must consult him—and then we shall have to break the news to Mr. Lowther. We must tell him, of course."
"Of course, sir."
"But, meantime—can we do nothing? Can we not go in search of the Iris?"
"I'm doing all I can, sir—all I dare do in the circumstances," Markham returned, "I've put on speed—ye must have noticed it. We are running fast—as fast as this head-wind will let us; but we're in a difficulty, ye see. We might overshoot the mark. I was going to suggest firing a gun now and again. But I couldn't do it till—till ye'd told Mr. Lowther."
"No; I see. Of course not. Well—I'll see to that at once. He must be told, of course."
At that moment, even as Ray was turning sadly away, a seaman came to the door of the cabin and knocked; then he opened it, and spoke hurriedly.
"Sir, sir. Mr. Curtis 'as got her agen. He sent me to tell ye, an' t' ask ye t' come quick!"
There was a fervent "Thank heaven!" from both men, and at once they scurried off to the box of the wireless operator—Curtis. The seaman's words had been rather "mixed," as it were, but they understood him. He meant that Curtis had had another message from "her"—"her" meaning the Iris.
How grateful, how relieved they felt, can be better imagined than described. They were still terribly anxious; but anxiety was very different from the black despair that had been settling down on their hearts.
Curtis, they found, was fully as anxious and excited as themselves.
"She's afloat, sir!" he burst out. "And I've got her bearin's, and she isn't very far away—nearly ahead of us, as far as I can guess. But you will be able to tell better than I can, captain. I've written it down here." And he handed the skipper a sheet of paper.
"Ay, ay!" muttered Markham, as he scanned it. "We're on the right track. But it don't say—"
Curtis raised his hand to enjoin silence. He had clapped the ear-piece on to his head again, for he knew that yet another message was coming along.
"Write it down, sir," the young man said. And Ray seized paper and pencil, and waited in eagerness:—
"Thankful to hear you are on the way. (That's in reply to a message I sent, sir," Curtis explained rapidly.) "How long will you be? Fear our ship is sinking, though slowly. Wireless machine damaged, got it going again, but still not reliable. Our boats badly damaged, and one missing. Hurry all you can, or fear the worst. All on board well otherwise, except a few slight injuries.—H. Martin, captain."
"I'll see the chief engineer, sir, and tell him to drive his engines for all they're worth. An' I think we'd better fire our gun," said Markham. "They may hear it on board the Iris, and fire theirs in return, and that may help us t' find 'em. Otherwise—in this fog—ye see, it'll be like lookin' for a needle in a bottle of hay."
Ray nodded his head. "Do all—everything you can, Markham," he urged. "Run risks if needful. We must save them, man, we must save them!—or how shall I ever be able to look that child in the face again? Poor kid! Poor little Eva!"
The captain nodded in silence. There were tears in his eyes, and in Ray's, too, as he went off to find Harry and Lowther, and break the news to them.
THE steam-yacht Swallow was threshing her way through a heavy sea, and against a nasty head-wind which brought with it a driving sea mist. In this fog she was trying to find the Iris, and her engines were being driven at their utmost speed, but no success had attended the efforts made. Those on board began to despair.
It was now getting on towards noon, and still the mist, which had so hampered their movements, continued to impede their view of their surroundings. To make matters worse, no further wireless message had come from the yacht they were seeking for several hours.
Had the Iris already foundered, with all on board, or did it only mean that her wireless machinery had again failed?
This and other anxious questions were being asked by all on board the Swallow. By all, that is, perhaps save little Eva Lowther. She, so far, had been kept in ignorance of the fact that the Iris, on which her mother, father, and sister were travelling was in a sinking condition.
Her brother Gerald had not dared to tell her, no one else dared to do so; but very difficult they all found it to keep up a cheerful appearance before her. She only knew—or guessed, from the sombre looks she caught now and then on the faces of her friends, that something had gone amiss.
Presently her brother managed to persuade her to start sticking some seaweed in one of the books she was using for that purpose, and, having seen her well engaged upon this occupation, he returned to the deck to seek such solace as could be found in the company of his friends there.
Lord Harry was walking up and down with a quick, nervous, uncertain tread, very different from his usual measured, easy step. His chum, Sir Ray, was running backwards and forwards to the little office of the young wireless operator, Curtis. Each time he went there his face lighted up a little with hope; but each time he returned it wore, if possible, a yet more gloomy expression.
Now and then the brass cannon on the fore deck sent out a sullen, deep, booming note, which, however, did not seen to carry as far as usual. The heavy, damp sea fog appeared to act like a wet blanket, and to muffle the sound and prevent it from travelling.
Captain Markham was in the chart house, with a slate before him covered with figures in a manner which would have made ordinary people giddy even to look at. But the way he kept starting and going to the door and looking about, expecting—or hoping—for something which never came, showed that he was unable to keep his mind upon his work.
Then, unexpectedly, another message was received, and the anxious ones gathered round Curtis to hear it read out. It was more urgent than the last that had come to them, for it said that the Iris seemed to be gradually settling down, and imploring the would-be rescuers to hasten.
Gerald was becoming distracted, so was the captain; and so, it may be said, were all on board—with the exception of the child—for Fate seemed to be working against them.
Vainly did the captain pore over his slate and his bewildering array of figures—he could not hit off by calculation exactly where the Iris lay, and the fog still prevented their seeing anything farther than half a mile away.
"What can we do, what can we do?" Ray asked, for the hundredth time, of no one in particular. "This is awful, terrible! To think we are so close, as Markham says he is sure we are, to the Iris, and yet we can't find her."
The yacht had now stopped, or very nearly. She was only going just fast enough to keep steerage-way on her; for the captain declared it would be a mistake to go away from that part. So she was travelling slowly in a wide circle, hoping thus to come across the vessel in distress.
Harry had asked Curtis to send a message: "We are firing our cannon at intervals. Are you firing yours in return? We cannot hear it."
Curtis had sent the message, but no reply had come to it; and he expressed the opinion that the machine on the Iris must have failed again, and was once more too weak to receive the current, or to send off any answer.
To Eva, seated at a table in the saloon, with her book before her, there entered Tom, the young negro. He stole in cautiously, for it was forbidden ground for him at other than meal times, when he was wanted to help wait at table. Eva, looking up, saw his eyes peering round the door like two shining black beads set in a milk-white frame.
"What d'you want, Tom?" Eva said. She was glad of an excuse for desisting from her occupation. And she frankly said so when Tom, in return, asked what she herself was doing.
"The boat rolls about so, and the table goes up and down in such a nasty way—it makes my head ache," she complained. "By the way, can you tell me what they are firing that wretched cannon for?" she asked. "That's another thing that is giving me headache; it makes me jump every time it goes off."
Now Tom, partly because he was a youngster, and partly for fear he might blurt it out before Eva, had not been told anything, and knew nothing of what was going on, except what he saw and heard.
There was the firing—and there was the ship almost stopped; and there, as he said to Eva, "was all de folks lookin' so glum an' cross, as if dey all feel bery ill."
And as to the firing, he was just as much puzzled as Eva, because, as he put it again, "dey fire at noting—dere is noting to shoot at, an' noting to see."
Perhaps, however, he speculated, it was a match—their ship was "trying to make more noise dan de oder ship."
"What other ship do you mean, Tom?" Eva asked, with a yawn; this had been a very dull, uninteresting morning for her. "I haven't heard any other ship firing, and I did not know there was one near.
"Me hear it lily much times. Dere! You hear dat? Dat's de oder ship!"
But Eva heard nothing of the sort, and, as she supposed she would be able to hear better on deck, she left the cabin, and Tom went his way.
Eva, however, found she could hear no better on deck than down below, and began to think Tom had been playing tricks upon her.
She asked Harry's opinion, and Harry, at first too abstracted to answer carefully, became more interested as she persisted in her questions.
Finally he sent for Tom, and requested him to explain himself; but it took a little while to arrive at the point that this young child of Nature could hear sounds the others on board could not hear. He had, in fact, been hearing them for some time, had wondered what they meant, and now wondered still more when Lord Harry suddenly seized hold of him and hurried him off to the captain's cabin. There they found Sir Ray looking at the captain's slate, and trying to sec if he could read anything new in the rows of figures.
There were questions and answers, and cross-questions, and some wondering talk on Tom's part, which ended in the ship's head being swung round and kept in a straight line for a while.
And then it was that the feverishly eager listeners heard, at first faintly, but soon more plainly, the occasional boom of a distant gun!
"Full steam ahead!" was at once the order telegraphed from the captain to the chief engineer, and the receipt of the signal was followed by the appearance of the skipper himself in the stokehole, much to the astonishment of his men. They were still more astonished at the way he made them work during the next half-hour.
But they did not mind this when they understood what the reason was. Indeed, they heard the "reason" itself ere long, as the deep boom of the distant gun grew plainer, and they heard it sending forth its urgent summons to the rescuers.
What a transformation the sound brought about! Faces that had been filled with heavy, sombre despair began to light up with the joyous throb of returning hope. Listlessness on the part of the crew gave place to bustling activity.
Nearer and yet nearer came the sound, and the eager listeners on deck hurried into the bows of the ship, straining their eyes in the endeavour to catch a first glimpse of the vessel they were seeking so anxiously.
The Swallow raced through the water as she had never done before, and her boats were swung out ready for instant launching when the time should come.
And then the mist suddenly lifted a little; the excited watchers could see quite a long way on either side, and there, almost straight ahead, lay the Iris.
What a rousing cheer went up as they all caught sight of her! How good it seemed to be able to cheer like that!
But it was better still to hear the answering cheer which came back to them. It told the rescuers at once that they were in time.
Then, to Eva's great surprise, Harry picked her up and kissed her rapturously; and Ray followed suit, and so did her brother.
She was surprised—not at the kisses, but at the way they were given, for she was still unconscious of the fact that it was through her artless chatter about what Tom had said that they had found the Iris.
They almost indeed felt ready to give Tom himself something in the nature of a hug perhaps, but his reward in that way was to come later.
"You will soon see your papa and mamma and sister Eva," said Lord Harry, in a voice that had a catch in it, as he set her down and hurried away to where the boats were being got ready.
By that time the Swallow had drawn as close as she could to the sinking vessel, and it could be seen that the rescuers had no time to lose. Already the doomed vessel was settling down; she had a bad list to port, and the stern was very much lower in the water than the bow.
The moment the signal was given Ray and Gerald took their places in one boat, while Harry scrambled over the side and dropped into another. Then, each pulled by two sturdy pairs of arms, they started on a friendly race, each boat striving for the satisfaction of being the first to reach the sinking boat's side.
Scarcely more than half an hour elapsed ere they had returned, bringing the first of the castaways; and the scene can be better imagined than described as they came on board, amid the resounding hurrahs of the sailors.
The rescuers started back at once, and in a short while the whole of the people on the Iris had been transferred to the Swallow.
Then, amid the congratulations and rejoicing, the rescued ones learned how their rescue had been brought about, and heard of the fateful results which had followed from Eva's little talk with Tom in the cabin.
Eva was clasped once more in the arms of her weeping mother—weeping, that is, with joy and thankfulness, and Tom was made much of, too. Indeed, Mrs. Lowther actually kissed him—an honour the young darky appreciated so much that he was filled with pride, and gave himself such airs that Barney was almost afraid to speak to him.
But they only fully realised how much they owed to the negro's quick hearing when, less than an hour afterwards, they saw the unfortunate Iris give a great heave, and then plunge, with a mighty swirl, beneath the waves.
"WELL, now, gentlemen, we want to know the whole story. How was it you came to be run down?"
It was Ray who spoke, and he was addressing Mr. Vanderton, the owner of the Iris, and Mr. Lowther, who had been his guest and friend on board.
"Well, now you've asked me something I can't tell you," returned the American. "I can only say that there's something tarnation mysterious about it."
There was that in the millionaire's tone which excited the strong curiosity of his hearers, which latter included Harry and Gerald Lowther.
They glanced at the speaker in surprise, and from him to Mr. Lowther. And it was Mr. Lowther who answered their looks of inquiry.
"The fact is," he said, in slow, grave tones, "there are some facts which are puzzling us, and for which we can find no satisfactory explanation. One of our party is missing—"
"Missing!" cried two or three voices in surprise.
"Yes, Mr. Jacob Harker, who was Mr. Vanderton's private secretary."
"Knocked overboard in the collision and drowned, I suppose, poor fellow," said Harry, feelingly.
"As to that, we can't say, my lord," Mr. Lowther returned. "We do not know what to think, because, as you have already heard, one of our boats is missing, too!"
"That certainly sounds strange," Ray commented thoughtfully. "Do you mean to suggest that he went off in the boat by himself, unknown to you?"
"Well, of course, we can't say for certain," said Mr. Lowther, with a glance at the millionaire, who was moodily smoking a cigar. "And Mr. Vanderton does not like to admit the possibility of such a thing. Yet what are we to think?"
"I can't believe that Harker would have gone off in a boat in the darkness by himself," muttered Mr. Vanderton gloomily. "Why should he? Anyway, if he did, he must have been mad at the time, for it was a mad thing to do."
"There's another mysterious point about it" Mr. Lowther went on. "The other boats of the Iris were all so damaged as to be useless. That was why we were in such terrible danger. We had not a boat we could turn to; and if the vessel had gone down before you arrived, you see our only chance of escape had been destroyed beforehand. Now that's a very suspicious circumstance."
"But I suppose they were injured in the collision?" Ray suggested.
"Well, there's the question. Thompson, the captain, thinks not. It is a bit difficult to say, but he declares it as his opinion that, though perhaps one or two may have been injured in that way, it was certainly not the case with all of them."
"That," remarked Ray gravely, "is as good as to say that they must have been injured intentionally—probably before the collision took place?"
"That is my own deliberate opinion," Mr. Lowther replied, with conviction. "It is also Captain Thompson's. But our friend here, Mr. Vanderton, won't listen to it. He says it is impossible."
The American, a tall, fine-looking old gentleman, with a quiet, pleasant voice and manner, bit his lip and shook his head.
"No," he said emphatically; "I don't want to believe anything of that sort, and I won't until it is proved beyond all doubt. See here! You know quite well that to say so is to accuse my secretary, who, as far as I know, has probably been drowned, poor fellow. It is difficult to say who else could have done it. It is, then, actually suggested that he smashed up all the boats except one, and then went off in that one, and purposely left us to our fate. Why, no one but a monster would do a thing like that! It is accusing an absent man, one who may be dead, and it does not seem a proper thing to do. Besides, after all, why should he do it?"
"I admit, my friend," said Mr. Lowther, "that that is the point which puzzles me. I cannot understand any more than you can why he should do such a thing."
"No, of course you can't, nor anybody else!" Mr. Vanderton returned. "He was a capital secretary, a most clever man, very civil, and attentive to his duties. We were very friendly, and I trusted him completely. Why, I repeat, should such a man attempt a crime of this nature, and seek to do me such an injury?"
"Perhaps he went suddenly demented," Harry suggested. "The shock of the collision may have upset his mental balance. Such things have been known to happen."
"The whole thing is an enigma, my lord," the millionaire commented finally. "And, as I fear there is no doubt the poor fellow is dead, we shall most likely never learn the real truth."
There the matter was allowed to rest, and the talk turned to other subjects. One of these was the likelihood of their encountering one of the big liners on her way to England.
Ray and Harry had conferred together, and agreed to return to England if it should be really necessary to land the castaways, and the yacht's head had been turned in that direction. But it was hoped that they would in the meantime fall in with some homeward-bound ship which would take them on board.
But the Iris had been a long way from the beaten track at the time of the accident, and the Swallow was therefore now heading towards England in a slanting direction, in order to try to intercept a liner; and a sharp look-out for other vessels was being kept.
It was blowing harder, and the yacht was tumbling about in a heavy sea, but the fog had cleared off, and the clouds on the horizon lifted towards evening.
There was even a gleam of sunlight, but the wind increased in force, if anything, and the captain shook his head. In his opinion, he said, it was likely to be "a dirty night."
Presently, however, the clouds lifted still more, and the setting sun shone out in all its golden splendour, gilding everything it fell upon a rich ruby-gold tint.
And one of the things it touched and thus lighted up was a floating wreck—the hull of a stout-built steamer, with masts broken off to within a few feet of the wave-washed deck.
And there, lashed to the stumps, were three men—whether alive or not it was difficult to say. Certainly they could have had, at the best, but very little life in them, for they hung limp and listless, swinging this way and that with every lurch of the rolling wreck.
It was a painful sight. All those on the deck of the Swallow at the time were filled with sympathy, and watched the poor creatures with bated breath.
"Are they alive?" "Can nothing be done for them?" "Can't they be rescued?" These were some of the questions asked eagerly and excitedly, albeit but a little above a whisper.
Just then one of the three unfortunates seemed to revive a little. He held his head up and gazed round, and he must have caught sight of the yacht, for he joined his two hands and lifted them in mute appeal.
Mr. Vanderton uttered a startled exclamation. He had been looking at the three through marine-glasses, and had noted something vaguely familiar about this particular man. He was clad in better clothes than the other two, who were evidently sailors; and at a second glance the millionaire recognised him.
"Harker!" he cried. "It's Harker! It's a strange thing how he should come to be on board that wrecked vessel. But he must be saved! I'll offer—"
Harry put up his hand in protest. "No need to offer any reward, I should say, Mr. Vanderton. Of course, the poor fellow must be saved. We'll send a boat at once—eh, Ray?"
Ray nodded his head, but before anything more could be said Captain Markham came up.
"It'll be a ticklish business, my lord," he declared. "But we can ask for volunteers. It's as much as any boat can do to live in such a sea."
"We'll have a good try, anyhow," Harry answered. "I'm ready to go, for one.
"And I," cried Ray and Gerald Lowther.
"No need for all to go," Markham pointed out. "One of ye'll be enough, with some men for the oars."
"Then we'll have to cast lots!" exclaimed Harry. "And we can do that while the boat's being got ready."
As there seemed no other way to settle the matter—all being equally eager to help and equally obstinate in refusing to give way—lots were drawn, with the result that the choice fell upon Harry.
A few minutes afterwards the boat left the ship's side, watched with tense interest by everybody on board.
It was a terribly hard struggle, and often the hearts of the spectators came into their mouths as they saw the little craft sink down between two great waves and disappear from sight.
There would be a long-drawn gasp of relief as it was seen climbing up the next wave. A hush as it poised on the foaming crest, and another gasp as it took the dizzy plunge down the other side and once more disappeared.
This was repeated again and again, till at last the boat approached the heaving, tumbling wreck. And then came what was really the hardest and most dangerous part of the adventure.
It was impossible to run alongside. The boat would have been smashed to pieces at once. So it had to be manoeuvered round to the lee side, and kept there, as well as the rowers could manage it, while the castaways were somehow got into it.
But this was where the great difficulty lay. The men on the wreck were helpless. They had not the strength to cut themselves loose, jump into the sea, and swim to the boat. It became necessary that someone in the boat should swim to the wreck and climb on to it, taking his chance of being smashed against the side of the hulk in making the attempt.
Even the hardy, sturdy men of the crew shrank from this; and when Watson, the first officer, who was technically in charge of the men, called for a volunteer, there was no response.
"No need to trouble, Watson," said Harry. "I'm going myself."
"You, my lord!" exclaimed Watson. He looked aghast at the idea. "You mustn't think of such a thing, my lord! It—it's—"
"It's no worse for me than for anyone else," laughed Harry, throwing off his yachting jacket. "It won't be the first time I've had a swim in a sea like this. Then it was only for fun and pleasure. Surely I may do as much now when there are these poor fellows' lives at stake! Hallo! What's up now?"
This last exclamation was drawn from him by the fact that something or someone had suddenly risen up from beneath a heap of cordage and canvas in the bow, and plunged overboard.
There was scarce time to see what or who it was. It went like a streak—not a light streak, but a dark one. Harry rubbed his eyes, half wondering if he had really seen what he fancied he had.
For it was Tom who had thus suddenly appeared and gone over the side. No one had known that he had been there. How he had concealed himself seemed a marvel. There, however, he was in the water, swimming for the wreck as hard as he could go.
And Harry saw that, he had taken a rope with him.
"Come back, you young rascal!" he cried. But, of course, there was no response. The howling wind drowned the words, or carried them away, so that they were scarcely heard even by those in the boat.
The next moment Harry had dived in, and was swimming vigorously in the wake of the negro, with a hold on the line, thus aiding to drag it through the water.
Harry wanted desperately to catch Tom up and to order him to go back, under all sorts of dire penalties. But he tried in vain. Tom reached the wreck first, clung to its side like a limpet, and finally climbed on to the slippery deck.
There he coolly turned and held out a hand towards Harry as though to help him. And, by the way he rolled his eyes and grinned, he seemed to think the whole affair a vastly amusing joke.
As a matter of fact he did aid Harry in climbing up on to the heaving deck, though how he—Tom—contrived to cling on himself the while was a puzzle.
Once on the deck, however, the two lost no time. They pulled upon the light line Tom had brought, and Harry was greatly relieved when, at the end of it they came to another one, much stouter and stronger, as well as a second light one. The stronger one was pulled in far enough to make fast to the stump of the mast the men were lashed to. Then Watson secured the other end to a thwart; and so managed the boat as to keep the line fairly taut without putting too great a strain upon it.
Now came the task of getting the three castaways to the boat. They were able at first to assist but little themselves, though they roused up considerably when they found that there was really a chance of being rescued.
They were all bruised and knocked about; indeed, as it afterwards turned out, Harker had been badly stunned, and was still suffering from the effects of concussion.
There followed a terribly hard fight with the cruel sea for the lives of these three men.
Inspired by the example of Harry and his companion, one of the sailors in the boat plunged in, and started to their assistance. He carried a third line—for Watson had taken care before starting to have a good supply of rope—and, aided by the stout cord which had been fixed to the mast, made the passage in safety.
Harry saw him coming, and grasped his hand as he clambered up the side.
"You're the sort Nelson would have liked to shake by the hand, Reid," he said cheerily. "But now comes the tug-of-war—the sea'll have these men, or one of 'em, if we're not careful."
"Naw, naw, not wi'out it takes me, too! Heaven helping us, we'll pull 'em through, me lord!"
It was literally a case of "pulling through." The men had to be first secured by tying a line round their bodies, and then hauled through the tumbling waves by the people in the boat, the while that the three brave swimmers supported them in the water as best they could.
But it was done at last. They were lifted into the boat, one after the other, which then set out for the yacht, and, after another strenuous battle with the wind and waves, reached it in safety. There the rescued men were handed over to the care of the ship's doctor.
By the time this was done darkness had settled down on the scene, and the chief actors in it were glad to seek their berths and get some sleep; for they had had a trying twenty-four hours, and were tired out.
Mr. Vanderton, however, felt, so concerned about his secretary that he remained up to assist in looking after him, and to hear from the doctor how he was going on.
"He is in a bad way, sir," the doctor told the millionaire, "and it is touch and go whether we can pull him through. The other two men are doing well."
"I have no wish to worry either of the poor fellows while they are in the present state, but I should like to ask them a few questions when they are able to answer them. I can't make out, for the life of me, how my secretary, Harker, came to be on that wreck; and I should like to hear the story from one or the other, as soon as it can be told."
"Naturally, sir. Well, I will come and let you know when the right time has arrived."
But it was Harry who was sent for first. The doctor came and woke him up in the middle of the night saying that Harker had expressed an earnest wish to see the one who had rescued him.
"He said something else, my lord," the doctor went on in a low, grave tone. "He said he had a confession to make. He evidently thinks he is going to die, and there seems to be something on his mind, though from a word he let fall without intending it, I fancy it is a matter affecting Mr. Vanderton rather than yourself."
"Then Mr. Vanderton ought to be called." Harry decided promptly. "I will go to him myself at once."
A few minutes later, he, Ray, and the millionaire entered the cabin, where the injured man lay, and asked him what he had to tell them.
And then Harker launched out into a story so startling and unexpected, that it almost took their breath away.
"I am not ungrateful to you, my lord," he began; and, as Harry started in surprise, he went on, "I know who you are, because the doctor told me. You behaved splendidly, my lord. I would not have believed any man would have braved what you did for a mere stranger—"
Harry checked him with a gesture.
"We did not come here to listen to that," he said quietly.
"No, I know that, sir; you're not that sort. But I must say what is in my mind, and, besides, it has to do with the rest. I wish to thank you, if you do not scorn thanks from one like myself, and I want to say that you risked your life to save that of a bad man. It was that thought made me feel how despicable I was, and led me to resolve to tell the truth."
He paused and seemed to gasp for breath; then, resuming, plunged at once into particulars of the plot he had engaged in.
He told now what that scheme had been—it was nothing less than to hold the millionaire to ransom.
Harker had been partly bribed, partly persuaded to join in it by a man named Ruffler, who had hired an old tramp steamer called the Hawk, in order to carry it out. He had fitted her with wireless, so as to be able to communicate with Harker on board Mr. Vanderton's yacht, the Iris, secretly at night, when the operator on board was asleep.
The scheme had been that the Hawk should run into the Iris in the night, and then sail away—as had been done. Afterwards she was to return, pretending to be another vessel which had come upon the scene by accident.
Then she was to offer to rescue the millionaire and his party for some extravagant price—a million of money, or as near thereto as could be obtained.
Harker, as his part in the foul plan, had during the night given drugged drinks to the men on watch, then damaged the wireless apparatus and all the boats save one. In this one uninjured boat he had put off as soon as he had seen the Hawk coming near, and had afterwards been picked up by her.
IN one of the cabins of the yacht lay Harker, who Lord Harry had rescued from the drifting wreck. Harry and his chum, Ray, were standing looking on and listening, whilst the man unfolded his story to the American millionaire, Mr. Vanderton. He explained how he had arranged with a man named Ruffler, who was captain of the Hawk, to ram the Iris. They intended only to damage the yacht, and then demand a fabulous sum from the millionaire to rescue them. But, unfortunately, more damage was done than they intended.
Then, however, things had gone wrong. The fog which had come up disarranged their plans. They could not find the Iris again; and while wandering about in search of her the Hawk had herself run into some drifting wreckage with such force that she had become a mere water-logged wreck herself.
The wireless apparatus had been swept away with her falling masts, a quarrel had broken out between Harker and his confederate, and they had come to blows, Harker getting the worst of the encounter.
Then Ruffler and all his men save two had taken to the boats, and gone off, leaving the injured secretary and the two sailors to their fate.
It was a sordid story of a most foul plot and those who listened were filled with indignation as they realised how the Iris had been lost and the lives of so many innocent persons placed in jeopardy for so vile a purpose.
Yet, at the back of their natural anger and disgust, they could not repress a feeling of pity for the guilty man who made the confession. It was evident that he now saw his own conduct in its true light, and he seemed genuinely repentant. He was very anxious, too, to absolve from blame the two sailors whom his rescuers had saved with him. He declared, with great earnestness, that they were only ordinary seamen who had known nothing of the plot.
"And so you see, my lord," he said, at the end of his story, "as I said before, you risked your life to save a bad man! Yet that doesn't make it any the less a noble thing to do—and if you would only say that, bad as I am, you don't despise my thanks, I—I should die easier, sir."
He looked at Harry so wistfully, and with such utter misery in his eyes, that the young fellow could not find it in his heart to refuse the man's request. He took his hand.
"I want no thanks," he said gently, "but if it will please you, or ease your mind, let it be so. There are others you should appeal to, whom you have injured."
Harker shook his head sadly.
"It is too late for that, my lord," he muttered dejectedly.
Harry looked at Mr. Vanderton, and the American understood, and made up his mind. He would not be behindhand:
"No, Harker," he said, with quiet decision. "It is not too late, so far as I am concerned. You have my forgiveness, and let me tell you that the doctor does not think you are so ill as you yourself believe. You may get well yet—and if Heaven wills that it should be so, do not forget that it is never too late to mend. You may yet live to lead a better life, and I hope with all my heart that it may turn out so."
For a space Harker made no reply. He lay there and stared, as though scarcely knowing whether to believe what he had heard.
Then suddenly he burst into tears.
"Heaven bless you, sir," he murmured, in broken tones. "And may Heaven forgive me and help me to try to do better if I have the chance!"
Here the doctor interfered. He saw that the man was exhausted, and he signed to the others to leave the cabin, which they did, one by one.
Then, after a short talk together, they sought their bunks, glad at last to take a rest.
The next day was fine and sunny, after a somewhat stormy night. The wind had dropped, and the sea was already becoming almost calm. So much so that Harry, coming on deck after breakfast, found Eva and her brother having an improvised game of cricket, with Tom as bowler.
"Look out!" she cried, and Harry ducked only just in time to avoid bringing his head in contact with the flying ball.
There was a burst of childish laughter, and he was turning to field the ball for the young cricketer, when he heard his name shouted out.
It was Ray who had called, and seeing that he was looking serious, Harry gave up the chase of the ball, and went towards him.
Ray was standing outside the wireless operator's box, and as Harry drew nearer, he saw that Mr. Vanderton and Captain Markham were within.
"What's the matter?" Harry asked, surprised to see that they all looked grave.
It was the skipper who explained. They had picked up some wireless messages. They were not very clear, it seemed, for the Swallow, being a comparatively small vessel, the range of her wireless installation was limited. The news which the operator, Mr. Curtis, had caught was consequently scrappy, and some of it was unintelligible.
"But," said the skipper gravely, "we've heard enough to warn us that things are looking very black at home. So far as we can make out from these bits of news there's likely to be war between Germany and Russia and France. And, of course, England may be drawn in."
Harry and Ray looked at each other.
"By Jove!" Harry exclaimed. "I've had so much to occupy my thoughts in other ways lately, I forgot all about the political outlook at home."
"The same here," Mr. Vanderton put in. "This comes as a surprise to me. Say, lads, your country isn't going to fight the German Emperor, surely?"
"Oh, no! I don't think there's much chance of that, Mr. Vanderton. It must be just a scare."
"That's it," Ray agreed. "Everything seemed all serene when we left England. It is not likely that anything so serious could have arisen so quickly."
"I don't know, young man," said the millionaire thoughtfully. "That German Kaiser chap's bin the means of very nearly raising Cain a good many times in my lifetime. One of these days it'll be a real scare. And this may be that time, for all we can tell."
Which showed that the American was a very shrewd observer.
However, as they had nothing certain to go upon, little more was said just then; and Mr. Vanderton went on discussing with the skipper their chances of falling in with a homeward-bound liner.
Here fortune seemed to favour them the very next day. She was not a liner, as it happened, the vessel they ran across, but a large vessel called the Rainbow, a cargo steamer really, but having good passenger accommodation. And, as it happened, this was not taken up, for she had only two passengers on board.
This suited Mr. Vanderton and his party exactly. They were too crowded on board the Swallow; there was plenty of room on the Rainbow, and the captain, named Grant, was willing to take them.
Mr. Vanderton closed with his offer, and there followed a scene of bustle and excitement, for it was not an easy matter to transfer the millionaire and Mr. and Mrs. Lowther and their people from one ship to the other.
However, fortunately, the weather continued fine, and the sea had gone down, still more, so that it had become quite calm.
Harry and Ray went on board the Rainbow to escort their friends, and say goodbye. And having finished their last talks and handshakes, were on the point of descending the ladder to their waiting boat, when Captain Grant surprised them by making an unexpected request.
Might he come on board their yacht with them? he asked. He would very much like to have a closer look at her—she seemed to be such a fine vessel for her size.
This request, as a matter of fact, more than surprised the two chums—it astonished them. It seemed an extraordinary thing that the captain of a vessel like the Rainbow should keep her waiting about in mid-Atlantic while he made trips to a passing yacht to look her over!
However, they could not well say no. If he chose to waste his time in that way it was his business—or the affair of his owners—not theirs. So they naturally raised no objection. Apart from other considerations, the request was, of course, a compliment, and Captain Grant was personally a very agreeable man.
So they returned to the Swallow together.
"And now, if you please, conduct me to your private cabin," said the captain. "I have something of the greatest importance to say to you—something I did not wish to say on board my own vessel for reasons which you will understand by and by."
And the chums, wondering more than ever, led the way to their state cabin.
Seating himself here, in response to their invitation, Captain Grant regarded them for a space without speaking.
His keen, grey eyes seemed to be engaged in summing up their character. Then they travelled round the cabin as though to search of yet other material from which to form a judgment.
Finally he said:
"I noticed that your yacht is fitted with wireless. Are you in possession of the latest news?"
Ray explained how matters stood in this respect.
"I may say," he added, "that we only know that the outlook at home is very threatening."
"It is worse than that," said the skipper of the Rainbow gravely. "It is evident you do not know what has really happened. Your news is far from being up-to-date. The actual facts are that Germany and Austria are at war with Russia and France, and that Great Britain has joined in. England has declared war on Germany!"
The chums were so startled at this news that they started to their feet in amazement, and stared at the captain and then at one another, as though they could scarce believe the statement to be true.
They took long breaths, and uttered half-smothered exclamations.
"By Jove! This is news with a vengeance!" cried Harry. "I suppose—er—excuse me, Captain Grant—I suppose there is no doubt about it?"
"Unfortunately, none at all. We received the news by long distance wireless last night."
"But," said Ray, "so far as I could see, your ship is not fitted with wireless."
Captain Grant smiled.
"She is not supposed to be," he explained. "She was not when we left port, and we hide it away when we meet other vessels. There is a reason for that—I will come to it presently. All I need say now is that you may regard my statement as strictly authentic. Great Britain has declared war, and we are now at war with Germany!"
HARRY looked at their visitor in perplexity now as well as surprise.
"That will affect our position on the high seas, I suppose?" he pondered.
"That is just the point," Grant returned. "Mr. Vanderton has told me who you are—that you are two young gentlemen of means travelling for pleasure, chiefly, and to see the world. If that is so it occurred to me, my lord, that you might be willing to give up pleasure for the moment, and do something for the service of your King and country?"
"Good gracious, yes!" Harry exclaimed. "Of course. If there's anything we can do you have only to let us know. Eh, Ray?"
"R-a-t-h-e-r!" cried Ray. "It is true that I was going out to South America, and that I had an object in doing so. But in the grave circumstances you tell us of that object can be postponed. I think, in any case, we ought to turn back and see what we can find to do, as you say, sir, in the service of our King and country."
"Ah!" smiled Captain Grant, with evident relief and satisfaction. "I was not mistaken in my estimate of your characters. Now it so happens that—"
"That you have something ready to hand for us to do?" Ray broke in with enthusiasm.
"That is so," Grant replied. "I will explain it to you fully. I am quite satisfied that I am doing right in entrusting you with the secret.
"My ship is supposed to be merely an ordinary cargo steamer homeward bound this journey, carrying ballast mostly, and a couple of ordinary passengers. As a matter of fact, my only cargo consists of specie—a large sum of money, which I am taking to Liverpool."
"Jupiter!" exclaimed Harry, "And we are at war! Aren't you afraid of being overhauled by some German cruiser—and—"
"That's just what I am afraid of," said Grant. "And that's where I want you to help me. I have treasure to the value of over two millions on board—a nice little haul for the Germans, you see!"
"This sounds interesting," he put in. "How can we help you, captain?"
"Well—what is the speed of your yacht?"
"We call it 25 knots—but she'll do more if she's hard driven. I reckon we can do 30 knots an hour."
"Splendid!" Captain Grant's face cleared, and a look of great relief came into it. "Now," he went on, "you say you are willing to turn back. Would you consent to take this treasure on board, and undertake to deliver it for me at Plymouth?"
Ray drew a long breath, and looked at his chum.
"We'll do our best if you care to entrust it to us," he declared. "Of course, we can't say what may happen—"
"Quite so; we must trust to Providence. There is one thing more. I want you to take my two passengers with you. They are really Special Commissioners from the Canadian Government, and are the bearers of most important documents to the Government at home. I was entrusted with the mission of taking them and this treasure secretly to England. It was thought that in case of war breaking out before they could reach England, they might be safer on board a ship like this than on an ordinary liner."
"I understand," said Ray. "Of course they can come with us—and we will do our best. But—why do you think it will be safer for us to do all this than for you to keep them on board?"
"I will tell you." And the captain's face clouded, again with an anxious look. He even lowered his voice, and glanced round uneasily. "You know, probably, that there are German spies about everywhere—"
"Not here," said Harry, with a laugh. "You need not be afraid of there being any on board the Swallow."
"No, no; I did not intend to suggest that. But I mean that they have abounded in all parts—and out in Canada, as well as in England and elsewhere. And I have reason to fear that in spite of all our precautions to keep my mission a secret, some spy or other has found out about it, and warned his people. I believe I am being followed—dogged would be the word—by a German cruiser."
"Oh, Jemina! This grows more and more interesting!" cried Harry.
Both the young fellows were now becoming intensely excited. They began to see what sort of an adventure they were in for, and their flushed faces and glistening eyes told how they were entering into the spirit of the thing.
"Dogged by a cruiser, eh?" Ray repeated. "How do you know? Have you seen her?"
"We've seen a vessel at night—following us stealthily—showing no lights, and dropping behind when dawn was near. So far, you see, she could not touch us. But now that war has been declared, of course it is different. In short, I expect that this very night, or in the morning, they will try to come up with me. And my vessel has only a speed of 20 knots."
"But—what makes you suspect all this?" Harry asked, a bit mystified. "Perhaps, after all, you are alarming yourself needlessly?"
Captain Grant's good-looking, honest face took on a very shrewd look, and he smiled slightly.
"It's this way," he explained. "I told you that when my ship left port she was not fitted with wireless. Now that fact was known. The Government agent wished me to have it installed, but I declined. That is, I let it be known that I declined, on the ground that there was no time to fit it up. But I secretly took on board all the necessary apparatus, and we fitted the ship with it when we got to sea. Consequently, I have been able not only to keep myself well posted as to news, but I have picked up certain messages in German not intended for my ears."
"I see, I see!" exclaimed the two chums in chorus. "That was a splendid idea! A jolly good ruse!"
"It has answered very well so far, and given me the warning," Grant went on. "The vessel following me, which I believe to be a cruiser, is in communication with some vessel ahead, and they have been exchanging messages as to my exact position—so that I shouldn't escape them by suddenly changing my course—and as to what British vessels there are likely to pass near, and so on. There; now you can see how awkwardly I am situated! And you can also see, by the way, what an awkward thing this sudden declaration of war is for everybody on the high seas."
"You want us to take the treasure, and the two gentlemen you spoke of, with their plans and State documents," said Ray, thoughtfully, "and go off with them as hard as we can pelt—so as to give these German Johnnies the slip?"
"That's the idea. And I believe with your yacht, you can do it. If you succeed you will be rendering the State a very great service—and you will earn a liberal—"
Ray waved his hand. "We want no reward," he declared. "We are ready to do all we can, and to risk our ship, and our lives, if need be, for our country's sake. So far we are agreed. But—what about you—and our friends on board your ship?"
"I think we shall be all right," Captain Grant affirmed. "If the Germans search us they will find nothing worth taking. I have no cargo, and only your friends as passengers, of whom Mr. Vanderton is an American citizen. As war has only just been declared, and we have nothing worth taking, I can't see why they should interfere with us. That is, if they try to. But—"
"I have it!" cried Ray. "We'll let this German chap, who is following you, see us together, and when he gives chase, we'll go one way, while you go the other. He'll guess what has happened, and follow us; then you will be all right!"
"That's the ticket!" Harry agreed. "Now we'd better get the treasure and your friends on board before it gets dark."
They remained a few minutes longer discussing details, during which Harry suggested a further improvement upon their plans; and then they set to work to carry out the necessary preparations.
In an hour or so the Rainbow was the poorer by some two millions' worth of treasure; and the Swallow was the richer by that sum.
"By Jove!" said Harry, rubbing his hands, "what a strange adventure! Who would ever have dreamed, when we started out in the Swallow a week or so ago, that we should be bringing her back laden with treasure with a German cruiser at our heels!"
FORTUNATELY the night proved to be a dark one. Heavy clouds had covered the sky, completely obscuring the moon, though the wind continued fairly light.
The Swallow and the Rainbow sailed near together for some time, the former carrying the usual lights, while the latter showed none at all.
Then the Swallow eased her engines, and dropped behind, while the Rainbow altered her course, and, going ahead full speed, was soon lost in the night.
The two chums paced the deck with the two gentlemen they had taken on board—named respectively, Landsdown and Faulkner. They talked In low-tones, and kept looking astern at intervals through their night glasses.
"I can't help feeling anxious, you know," said Mr. Faulkner. "You two gentlemen are behaving very pluckily in risking your yacht. I only hope it will turn out all right. I don't think the cruiser that has been following us can steam more than 25 knots—but you see—"
"Oh, we shall be all right, sir," Ray declared cheerfully. "We'll show her a clean pair of heels, never fear! We'll trick the German chap! It will take him all his time to catch us up. I think, Harry, we might put on speed now. I should say the Rainbow has got safely out of the way by this time."
A deep, sullen report came across the dark waters, and the next moment a searchlight flashed out astern, and, after glancing this way and that, finally found the yacht and remained there, lighting her up.
"That gun's a signal for us to heave to, sir," came Captain Markham's voice from the bridge.
"By jingo, she's crept up nearer than I thought for!" cried Ray. "Full speed ahead, Markham! Tell 'em to carry on for all they're worth!"
"Ay, ay, sir!" Bells were heard tinkling, and the yacht seemed to give a great heave. A few seconds more, and the foam was flying past from her bows, hissing and seething, and scurrying away astern in a broad, white wake.
"Boom!" came again, and there was an anxious moment. Were they within gunshot? If they were, they were in a tight place!
"Shot fell short, sir," said the captain, from the bridge, in quiet tones.
"Hurrah!" shouted Harry.
"Hurrah!" cried a shrill voice at his side.
Harry turned to see who it was, and just then there was another deep-toned report.
And this time a shot came plunging over the waves and exploded not far astern.
"Dat am better," said the shrill voice complacently. "Next time p'r'aps dey hit someting."
Harry saw now that Tom had perched himself on the bulwark, and was watching the firing. He seemed to be quite enjoying himself.
"Come out of that, you young rascal," cried Harry, "and go below. We don't want to have you in hospital." Then, catching sight of Barney, who had come an deck on hearing the firing, he added, "Take him below, Barney, and see that he stays there."
"Shure, Misther Harry, it's meself as tried t' take the young monkey down there. But he got betwane me legs an' upset me, an' the next Oi knew war that Oi war there by meself wid nobody wid me!"
TOM was perched on the bulwark, and watched the firing from the German boat.
A shot had come rebounding off a billow, and had whizzed past the vessel's side. It seemed to have been fired from a different gun, for it was solid. Captain Markham noted the fact, and called out a terse comment from the bridge:
"Found out they can't reach us with shell, sir. If they don't hit us in the next five minutes we'll be clear!"
Harry and Ray made no reply. They were waiting and watching, with breathless interest.
And well they might; for it was a queer turn for their pleasure cruise to take. Suddenly they had found themselves, first, the custodians of a great treasure, and then pursued by a German cruiser, with the cheerful prospect of being hauled off as prisoners of war if their yacht failed to sail away from her!
Suddenly above the sound of the sea and the noise of the pounding engines, there were heard shrill cries coming from the stern.
Scuffling and deep, hoarse ejaculations followed, and then Barney appeared, dragging a man with him.
"Tom caught him, sorr, makin' signals t' the innemy wid a lantern. He's a spy, sorr, an' he'd have killed the youngster in another second if Oi hadn't pounced on him!" the Irishman declared.
Harry and Ray looked at the prisoner as he was brought into the light. He was one of the two men they had saved with Harker from the wreck of the Hawk.
"A spy—a German spy—on board our ship! I can scarcely believe it!"
So spoke Harry, as Barney brought his prisoner into the light of a lamp on the deck of the yacht.
They were tearing through the water at a great rate. The Swallow's engines were pounding away for all they were worth; the foam and spray were flying in hissing clouds from her bows.
And over the long white wake left behind there played a searchlight, which proceeded from what looked like a large, vague, sinister shadow.
That was all that could be seen of the pursuing vessel—the German cruiser, as Captain Grant had declared her to be. She might just then have been some phantom of the sea for all they could make out. But the very practical proofs of her identity which had come from her in the shape of shot and shell left no room for doubt.
Just now she had ceased firing for a while, and there was therefore nothing, to interfere with the examination of the accused man.
"It certainly hardly seems credible!" Ray agreed.
"Shure there can't be much doubt about it, Misther Harry," muttered Barney.
"Phwat else would the spalpeen be doing making signs wid a lantern?"
"You saw him doing that?" said Ray to Tom.
Tom rolled his bright, dark eyes, and nodded his curly head vigorously.
"Yah, yah, Massa Ray. I watched him for eber so long 'cause I wondered at first what he could be doing. He go like dis—"
The negro took off his cap and went through a pantomime with his hands showing how the prisoner had been acting with a lantern at the stern of the yacht. His imitation of a person signalling in this way was so striking that Ray cried at once:
"The Morse code! Yes, Harry, there seems to be no doubt about it. This scoundrel—this man whom you rescued at the risk of your life—has been communicating with our enemy—with the ship which is now chasing us. Look at him—you see the fellow's impudent, defiant look! That tells its own tale. Oh, it's a pity almost that you did not leave him on that wreck to drown!"
Ray spoke with such bitter scorn and contempt that the man's expression changed, and he took on a sullen, hang-dog look and cast down his eyes. Evidently, bad as he was, he did not care to meet the honest, open, but pained glance of the man to whom he owed his life.
Harry, his kindly, good-looking face, troubled and anxious, looked bewildered as well. The thing was so startling and so unexpected. His mind went back to Captain Grant's visit to the yacht, and their momentous talk in the cabin.
Harry remembered the captain's fear of being overheard, and how he (Harry) and his chum had smiled—laughed even—at the mere idea. Their amusement had, after all, seemingly, been misplaced, and their confidence not justified.
"The question is," Ray went on, "what was the scoundrel saying to our enemies? He must have had something to say, you know."
Ray took his chum aside, and whispered into his ear. "Do you think he knows anything about the treasure we have on board—and—and—the other matters—Mr. Landsdown, and so on?"
Harry bit his lip as he considered. Of course this man would know about the treasure—the two millions of money which had been transferred to the yacht from Captain Grant's ship, the Rainbow. He could not very well help knowing, for most of the yacht's crew knew—or, at least, guessed.
But if this fellow had been spying about, he might know more. It was even possible that he might have been concealed in the cabin, say, when Captain Grant had made his statement. Suppose this were so, and that he had been communicating his knowledge to the vessel that was chasing them!
In that case, of course, the enemy would know that Rainbow had gone off in another direction, and would know they were not chasing that vessel, but another one—to which the treasure had been transferred.
Harry whispered all this to Ray; and the two conferred as to what it all meant to them.
"We'll have to consult Captain Markham about all this," said Ray, at last. "And as I know he won't care to leave that bridge just now, we'd better go up to him."
"Yes, but what about this johnny? We must settle what to do with him first."
"Markham will settle that for us, too," Ray answered. "Barney will take care of him meanwhile. Let's go up to the bridge."
Ray turned to make his way to the bridge, and Harry was about to accompany him, when he happened to catch the prisoner's eyes following his chum. Ray had spoken the last words loud enough to be overheard. The man had caught them, and was now looking after the speaker with an expression in which Harry's keen glance read a sort of sneering triumph.
"What was it the fellow was looking go evilly satisfied about?" Harry wondered.
Then a sudden thought came to him.
"Wait a moment, Ray," he said, watching the spy's face all the time. "We've forgotten that this scoundrel has a mate on board. Where is he now? We'd better look after him, and see that he's not up to mischief, too, before we do anything else."
At once, by the change he saw in the prisoner's face, Harry knew he had guessed aright. When Mr. Vanderton and his party had gone on board the Rainbow they had taken the injured man, Harker, with them. But the two sailors who had been rescued with him from the wreck of the Hawk had been left on the yacht.
Harker having declared that these two had been innocent of any complicity in the plot against the American millionaire, the chums had prevailed on Captain Markham to retain them as seamen on the yacht—and they had professed great gratitude for the favour thus shown them.
Now, however, it was only reasonable to suspect that if one was a spy the other would probably be his confederate. And, at a time like that, when they were being chased by a hostile vessel, it would be only common prudence to keep an eye on both as well as the one.
Now Tom had also heard Harry's words, and he put a finger to his forehead, and then rubbed his head, with an air of profound cogitation.
"You mean Kolner, Massa Harry," he said—such was the name the man had given—the other, their present prisoner, being known as Medlitze. "Me tink me can tell you where he be gone. Me saw him lilly while ago an'—you come an' me show you."
He led the way towards the hatchway leading down to the engine-room, and stokehold.
Then, suddenly, with a smothered ejaculation of rage and baffled spite, the prisoner broke, away from Barney, and made a rush at the negro.
So quick was he, and so fierce and savage his rush, that he had actually seized the youngster, and was carrying him to the bulwark to throw him over, before anyone had had time to realise what he was doing.
It was Harry who grasped the situation first. With two or three great bounds he reached the villain's side, and caught him in a grasp which made him not only pause but utter an involuntary gasp of pain.
The rescuer was only just in time. Another second or so and Tom would have been hurled over the side. As it was, the prisoner's hold relaxed, and the negro dropped on the deck.
"Get away, you others," growled Harry, as Barney and Ray hastened to his assistance. "Leave this to me! This low fellow stands in need of a lesson! I'm going to give him one!"
He swung the prisoner round, and though the man showed fight, and struggled like a wild cat. Harry held him and shook him as a terrier might a rat.
The young fellow was filled with a sense of righteous indignation, which seemed to give him for the moment the strength of three ordinary men.
"You scoundrel! You coward, to try to murder the lad in that way! You have seen how I can help a drowning wretch like you were when I thought you an honest man; you shall see now how I can trounce a sneaking, murderous spy!"
And, as a matter of fact, the man did see—and feel, too. Ere Harry had done with him he howled for mercy, but the young giant in whose iron grip he vainly wriggled and wrestled, took no notice, till he had served him as he considered he deserved.
"There!" he said at last, as he deposited him, limp and exhausted, on the deck, "Now I will hand you over to others to take care of. Here, Watson," he went on, "take this man below and put him in irons, and see that he is well guarded."
Watson, the chief officer, had just come up, and was standing looking on with some members of the crew who had been attracted by the man's outcry.
"I'll see to it, sir;" said the officer. "I came to say the cap'en wants to see you on the bridge."
"We'll go there directly," Harry answered. "But we've got something else to do first. Now, Tom, lad, where did you see Kolner go?"
Tom led the way down into the engine-room, where they came upon McCarthy, the chief engineer.
"Seen anything of Kolner, McCarthy?" Harry asked.
"Why, yes, my lord," said the sturdy-looking Scotsman. "I set him to wurrk, as ye said I was to—though I don't think he's a mon likely t' be muckle use t' me down here, fur—"
"What's that?" exclaimed Harry, in astonishment. "Kolner told you I sent him down to you? Why, I haven't seen or spoken to the fellow! Rout him out and bring him here at once! There's some mischief afoot! Hurry, man, or you may be too late!"
McCarthy hastened away, whistling to a couple of his men to come and help him in his search; and while he was gone the other two chums stood and stared at one another.
"More plotting!" muttered Harry. "What a little world of mischief and deceit we seem to be in all of a sudden! Grant knew what he was talking about when he said that the Germans have spies everywhere!"
Ray nodded thoughtfully. "You can guess what the man came down here for?" he asked.
"No—can't say I do, old man. That's what's puzzling me."
Ray gave a short laugh. "Why, to damage the machinery in some way, of course. A nut unscrewed here, or a spanner dropped 'accidentally' amongst the revolving wheels there—eh? Can't you see?"
"Why, yes—of course. Now, what sort of a pair of fiends have we got hold of here? And why in the world should they try to serve us in such a way?"
"Don't ask me," returned Ray with another dry laugh. "It was you who brought them on board—not I. However, I read it this way. These men are Germans. When they heard that war had been declared, and came to know about the treasure we are entrusted with and all that, they put their heads together to contrive some way of making some profit out of it for themselves.
"They know that a German armed vessel is pursuing us, and they know that the people on board her would probably pay them well if they helped them to secure the prize. So one has been signalling to them (in German, of course) to tell them about the treasure, and what they—these two—are going to do to help them to gain it, while the other came below here with a craftily invented excuse, looking for a chance to damage the machinery. Then, of course, the German vessel would be able to catch us up. And in that case, there would be no need to go on firing at us. That is why they have stopped firing."
"I guess you must be right. What a cunning little plot! But for young Tom prowling about on deck we should have known nothing about it—and, by this time, perhaps—Goodness! What on earth's that?"
A cry—a terrible shriek—had suddenly rung out, as of someone in deadly fear. It rose above all the noise of the whirling, roaring machinery; and the two chums made a rush in the direction of the sound.
They were met by McCarthy and two of his men, carrying between them a man who lay motionless in their arms. It was the man Kolner, whom they had come down there to look for.
"WHAT'S the matter, McCarthy?" asked the two chums in a breath.
"There's been an accident, me lord," was the answer. "We caught this man just as he was trying t' do something wicked t' my engines. An' he was sae frightened when he saw he was discovered, that he jumped back sudden—an' got caught among the wheels! It's a bad business—but it looks t' me like the punishment of Providence."
"Better send for the doctor," said Ray, "and let us know what he says. We're going up to speak to Captain Markham on the bridge. As you say, it's a bad business; but I'm afraid he brought it on himself. He was going to do something villainous in order to cripple us so that the German vessel astern would catch us up. A shameful plot—but it has recoiled on his own head."
"Aye, it has indeed, Sir Ray. We may thank Heaven for upsetting his schemes. I had ma doots when he said he'd been sent down t' wurrk here—but he said Lord Temperley sent him—an' I couldna weel go agen that."
"No; it was a cunning idea. Let us hear what the doctor says."
A few minutes later they were on the bridge, where they told Captain Markham what had occurred.
The veteran seaman drew a long breath.
"We do seem beset by peril," he remarked. "I understand now why the people astern stopped firing. There's one good thing come out of it, though—we've got beyond reach of their guns. We're leaving 'em behind nicely."
"Is that so?" Ray asked. "Are you sure. I should have thought that a cruiser—"
"She's not a regular cruiser, Sir Ray."
Markham averred. "If she had been she could have blown us out of the water before now if she had liked—and very likely would, at the first go off. No doubt now that she has been told we've got such a lot of treasure on board, and she does not want to sink us. But she might do even that, in revenge, rather than lose us. But she can't now."
"Why?" Harry queried. "Surely—"
"I said she's no cruiser, my lord," the skipper explained. "She's just one of these 'converted merchant vessels,' as they call 'em, as the Germans have been holding ready t' turn cruiser at a few hours' notice. Pirates, nothing but pirates, I call 'em. However, though they've got guns of a sort, they've nothing very big, d'ye see?"
"Oh, oh! I begin to understand," Harry returned. "I suppose she'll be a large liner, converted into a cruiser, and armed with some comparatively light guns? But in that case she's sure to be a fast boat—and it's lucky if we're able to get away from her."
"Just so, my lord. That's just how the case stands. At present we seem t' be doing wonderful well. But—well, she may not be doin' her best yet—an'—there's always accidents t' be considered. So we're in for an anxious time. I wish our wireless had a greater range—then we might get in touch with a British man-o'-war. There's sure t' be some up aid down now on the look-out."
"True," Ray assented. "The worst of it is the enemy astern is sure to pick up any messages we send out. They'll read them—and very likely answer them in their own way to try to lure us into some trap. Now, what could we do to deceive them in our turn?"
"That requires some thinking out," Harry mused. "We must all put our considering caps on. Meanwhile, we may as well go and have a talk with Curtis and explain the position to him. Perhaps he can think of something. At any rate, we can ask them to tell us everything that comes this way. Maybe we could get a hint from them."
This was agreed to; and a little later the two chums were closeted with the wireless operator in his little box, listening to what he had to tell them.
But they could hear of nothing likely to help them, and there was little to be done beyond waiting as patiently as they could for daylight. For there are always more wireless messages flying about at sea in the daytime than by night.
They were too excited and anxious, and their position was too critical for them to be able to seek any rest. So they passed the night pacing the deck and chatting in turn with the skipper and Curtis, who also remained on the watch.
Thus the hours dragged by; and, when at last daylight came, they had the satisfaction of seeing that their pursuer was still a long way astern.
It was also now clear that Captain Markham had been right; the vessel astern was not a man-o'-war, but a 'converted merchantman.'
"She's a liner," Markham decided, after a long scrutiny through his telescope. "And I believe I know her. I am almost sure she is the Kaiser William the Great—to put it in English."
Ray grunted. "I don't see that knowing her name helps us much," he muttered. "It would be more satisfaction to me if she were too far away for you to recognise her."
The skipper laughed good-humouredly.
"That's so," he agreed. "Still, all seems to be going well. We are certainly farther ahead than we were in the night."
"But with a little matter of two millions of money at stake, I should feel more comfortable if we increased our lead at a greater rate," Ray grumbled. "See! She's firing up in earnest now! They're evidently getting impatient, and are going to make extra efforts to catch us up. Surely they can't have any chance of doing so? It must be just a last effort before giving up the attempt."
The two Canadians, who were now on deck, shared their anxieties, and as the day drew on, and it was seen that the yacht had not gained anything, they all grew more and more uneasy.
Presently, to their surprise and alarm, it became unpleasantly obvious that their pursuer was slowly drawing nearer. For some reason or other she was doing better, or the yacht was not doing so well.
They could not understand it.. The captain and Ray both visited the engine-room again and again, and had excited conferences with McCarthy, But nothing altered the bare, startling fact that the distance between the two vessels was being slowly but surely lessened.
And as this grew more evident, the state of excitement they were all in became more feverish. And now the two chums passed much of their time in Curtis's room, vainly hoping, amongst the jumble of wireless messages flying about to pick up something that would help them.
"Suppose we send out the S.O.S. Message," Harry at last suggested. This message, "Save our Souls," is supposed to be made use of only by vessels in danger of sinking, or otherwise in extreme distress.
Ray pointed this out, but Harry saw no force in the argument.
"We're in distress—that's certain," he urged. "And we can't say 'Save our Gold,' you know. So why not send out the S.O.S., with our latitude and longitude, and ask any vessel receiving it to please pass it on?"
"It gives us away so completely to the chaps who are after us," Ray objected. "It's as good as to say we're in an awful funk, and they're sure to catch it and read it—and it will put new heart into them."
"That's the objection, of course," Harry admitted. "But what are we to do? Are we to stick about, and do nothing, while these German beggars are creeping up closer and closer?"
At last they resolved to send out the S.O.S. as a last recourse.
The whole ship's company by this time knew the position, and they all went about with anxious faces, gloomily watching the vessel astern, and then casting eager looks around on every side.
But no sail came in sight; no distant trail of smoke appeared telling of the presence of another steamer. And no answer came to their S.O.S. appeal, save jeering ones from the pursuing ship. This was what they had feared; and it made their position more unendurable.
Only one on board was there who seemed quite unaffected by the state of affairs; and this one perhaps it was needless to say, was Tom.
That young irrepressible was seated astride the bulwark coolly fishing. Imperturbable, and deeply engrossed in his amusement, he baited his hooks, threw his long lines over, and hauled them in again in due course, a little elated perhaps when he got a catch, but philosophically calm when he drew a blank.
One thing, however, presently began to worry him; again and again his hooks caught in something, and, when he pulled hard, he broke his line.
After awhile he became curious as to the cause of this; and seeing Barney strolling near, he called to him to come and try to discover the cause of his trouble.
Needless to say, he did not get much sympathy from the Irishman, who was too full of trouble of another kind to have any thought to give to trifles of that sort.
Suddenly, however, he woke up to the fact that Tom had no business to be fishing at all.
"It's helpin' t' stop the ship, ye are, ye young whipper- snapper," he cried, wrathfully. "Come out av that, now, an' lave the lines alone."
Tom argued that a bit of line like that could not make much difference in the speed of the yacht—hardly any, in fact. But Barney refused to listen, and Tom saw it was no use arguing.
"Well, den," he said at last, by way of compromise, "I gib up fishing if you come an' find out what it am dat broke my lines."
In the end, Barney began to feel a little of the negro's curiosity, and he tried two or three casts himself. Sure enough, once the hooks caught in something just, below the surface, and near the side of the ship.
Then Barney began to consider. He knew that, properly speaking, there should be nothing thereabouts for hooks to catch in. Moreover, by a little experimenting, he came to the conclusion that the "something" felt like a rope towing from the vessel itself.
Then an idea came to him. In eager haste he got a grapnel at the end of a stout rope, and threw it over the side. And after two or three attempts he managed to get it caught in the same way as the fishhooks had got caught.
Then he and Tom hauled away as hard as they could. They could not get the "something" up, but at last, with a great heave, they hauled it far enough to get it just above the surface and see what it was.
It was a length of thick rope—a small cable—and it evidently had something heavy at the end of it, for it sank out of sight again the next instant.
But Barney had seen enough. He ran off to "Misther Harry" and told him of the discovery. Harry called Ray and Watson, and they hastened to the place, and began fishing operations anew, on a larger scale, and with stronger tackle.
In fact, they passed one end of their rope through a pulley- block—with the result that they eventually landed their "fish."
It consisted of a number of logs of wood and pieces of iron securely fastened together, and thrown into the water at the end of a long piece of cable. The metal was heavy enough to keep the wood below the surface, so that it could not be seen by anyone looking over the side.
The effect, of course, in the circumstances, had been very seriously to retard the speed of the yacht. And it fully explained why the pursuing vessel had been gradually gaining on her.
Relieved of this impediment, the Swallow once more went ahead, and that so fast that by the afternoon the Kaiser William the Great was hopelessly out of the race.
Needless to say, there was an investigation into the affair. Captain Markham and Watson interview the man Medlitze in a way of their own, and with such success that he ended by making a confession which involved a member of the crew, one named Stock.
Medlitze had induced him by the promise of a big reward to arrange the towing cable contrivance and get it fixed just before daylight, with the result that from that time the yacht had lost ground.
The man Stock was put in irons beside his tempter—a sad example of how an honest man—for he had been honest till then—may be tempted into traitorous wickedness by the lure of gold.
"I shall be jolly glad when we get rid of this treasure," said Harry, with a shrug of the shoulders. "Goodness only knows what mischief it might cause if we had to carry it a few weeks longer."
But, by the time he said this, they were approaching the shores of the English Channel, and they knew they were safe from prowling German craft. As to their pursuers, they had retired from the chase while they could do so in safety, or, rather, at what they considered a safe time. As a matter of fact, they were pursued in their turn, thanks to information given by the yacht to a passing man-o'-war, This was a scout-cruiser on the look- out, called the Highflyer, and she at once went in chase, and eventually captured and sank the German "pirate," as Captain Markham called her.
THE two boys sailed into Plymouth, and handed over the treasure to the authorities, very thankful to get rid of it. They were warmly congratulated on their feat in having saved it from the enemy, and were offered a large reward, which they accepted on condition that it should be contributed to the Prince of Wales's Fund for sufferers by the war.
As it seemed, on examination of the yacht, that she had suffered some strain, she was sent into dock for repairs, and the chums decided to wait a few days in the place till she was ready for sea again.
During this time the spies, who had been handed over to the military authorities, were tried and sentenced.
A little later they heard from Captain Grant that the Rainbow had reached Liverpool in safety, and that all on board were well.
Then, suddenly, there came a mysterious letter from Ray's old butler, to whom he had written saying he was back in England.
"There's something going on at the old tower I don't like," wrote the faithful servant. "Strange parties have been seen coming and going, and I be afeared as they be after some of your uncle's scientific things there. What shall I do about it?"
"Great Scott! We'll have to go and see into this ourselves!" exclaimed Ray. "You'll come, I suppose?"
Harry required no urging, and that same day saw them in the train, with Tom and Barney, en route for the scene of the Irishman's well-remembered adventures before leaving England.
"Well now, Gower, let us hear more about this mysterious letter of yours. Who are the people who seem to be interested in the old tower?"
Ray had arrived at his house, Tamberton Court, and, after greeting the old butler who had been left in charge, had put the query.
"I don't know much about it myself, Mr. Ray," was the answer. "What I wrote to you was told t' me in confidence like. But I've got the parties here to tell you themselves. As soon as I knew what time you was comin' I sent 'em word; an' they've bin waitin' for your arrival."
Gower was privileged in regard to his young master, and still addressed him as "Mr. Ray," though the young man was now Sir Raymond; in this, following the example set by Lord Harry in the case of his servant, Barney.
"You're rather vague, Gower," laughed Harry, who had arrived with his chum. "Who are these mysterious 'parties'? I hope it's not a mare's nest; for we've cut short our stay in Plymouth and travelled specially in order to inquire into the matter.
"Well, ye see, my lord," the old retainer began, but Harry pulled him up quickly:
"Now, now, Gower; none of that, you know; don't 'my lord' me. We don't want that 'twixt you and me."
"Well, Mr. Harry—it's only some boys—"
"Good gracious!" exclaimed Ray. "Have you brought us rushing back hero because of a cock-and-bull story told you by 'some boys'?"
"It's Master Alec Rendal, sir," the butler replied quietly. "You know him—and he was so very earnest and seemed so anxious, that I—"
"Oh, Alec Rendal," Ray repeated thoughtfully, and he turned to Harry and explained. "Alec is the leader of a patrol of boy scouts down here, and it's quite possible that he has something to tell us worth listening to. He's an intelligent, cool-headed youngster, not likely to make a mountain out of a molehill. We'd better see him at once. Where is he, Gower?"
"He's in the dining-room, sir. I didn't know exactly where to tell him to wait—all the rooms have been shut up, ye see, and—"
"That's all right, Gower. I quite understand. Come along, Harry. We'll interview the young gentleman, and hear what he has to say."
Harry followed his chum out into the hall, and then into the large dining-room, where, to their surprise, they found half a dozen boys in neat scout dress, who stood up and saluted smartly, then remained for a moment or two at "attention," as if uncertain what to do next.
Then suddenly from their young throats a cheer broke forth, so hearty, so enthusiastic, so ringing, that it might have been uttered by twice or thrice their number.
"Three cheers for the Swallow!" "Cheers for Lord Harry and Sir Ray!" they shouted, and hurrahed so lustily and so long that the two chums grew quite embarrassed.
"Come, lads, that will do," said Ray, when there came a second or two of quiet. "I'm sure we've done nothing to deserve all this—"
But the lads would not be repressed:
"Who saved the treasure from the Germans?" one shrill voice piped.
"Who saved the people on the Iris?" another asked.
"Who swam to a wreck and saved three lives?" a third inquired. Then the cheers rang out again louder than ever.
Evidently the news of the adventures of the two chums had penetrated to the village near by, where the lads lived. They had read about it, or it had been read out to them; they had heard how the two young men had been publicly thanked and complimented, and they were proud of being there to extend their boyish welcome.
The genuine, innocent delight and pride of the youngsters, as Harry and Ray walked round, shaking each one in turn by the hand, visibly affected the objects of their admiration.
"Tell them a little about it all, sir, if you can spare the time," Alec, their leader, entreated. "It will do 'em heaps of good."
Ray laughed and shook his head. "No time just now, lads," he said. "But you shall come to see us another day, and then we will talk to you. Meantime, let me tell you how pleased I am to see that our village can turn out such a smart patrol. Keep it up, lads! Don't let your zeal cool! No one can tell what help you may be able to afford! You are numbered now, you know, amongst the defenders of your country. The Government have recognised you! Keep it up, try your best, in however small a way, and you will deserve the thanks of your King and country quite as much as if you went forth to fight!"
Renewed cheers greeted this little speech, and then, at a sign from their leader, the other lads marched out to wait for him on the terrace outside.
"Well, now, Alec lad," said Ray. "Gower says you have something to tell us. From the few words he has used I gather that you have reason to fear that some evil-disposed persons have designs on my laboratory down on the island?"
"It's something more than that, Sir Raymond," returned the youth, gravely. "There is some affair to come off to-morrow night—and though I don't know exactly what it really is, I feel quite sure it is far more important than a sort of burglary. I could have guarded against that by going to the police. But I am certain it is different, from that sort of thing. That's why I took it on myself to beg Mr. Gower to send to you, and ask you to come and look into it yourself, I hope you won't think I've been too officious."
He was a good-looking, well-built, English lad, with steady, honest eyes, and a rather thoughtful manner for his age. Ray had known him all his life, and knew his character. He was the son of the local doctor.
"Whom have you spoken to about this?" Ray asked.
"No one except my father, and he is not very well just now, or he would have tried to do something himself. And you see there isn't much time. It's to be—whatever it is—to-morrow night."
"And the people you suspect—who do you suppose they are?
The answer came short and prompt, and was given without the slightest hesitation; and somehow it caused the two chums to be impressed by the lad's quiet, confident manner—a manner entirely free from "cocksureness" or boastfulness.
"Tell us more, Alec," said Harry. "Don't be afraid to say exactly what you think."
Then Alec told his story. It seemed that as soon as the war had broken out he had obtained permission from his father and from the parents of the other boys, for the lads to devote their time to patrolling the district, giving their attention to the coast in particular. The coastguards had now many extra duties to perform, and Alec and his companions wanted to help them in any way they could—if it were only in carrying messages, etc.
Going to and fro in this way at night, between the coastguard station on one side of Tamberton Park and the Ledrock Lighthouse on the other, they had frequently passed within view of the island on which stood the old tower, and their attention had been roused by seeing lights in it more than once.
Alec had spoken to Gower about this, and he had gone to the place and looked over it, but everything seemed all right, he said. So far as he could see no one had been there and nothing was missing.
But Alee had not been satisfied, and feeling that a crowd of boys would be likely to give warning to the people, whoever they were, he pluckily resolved to watch the place himself and alone.
This he did at considerable personal risk though he did not now refer to that, and one night—only a few nights ago—he had come upon a group of men on the shore who were talking together and making signals to someone on the sea.
Keeping on high ground and well in the shadow, he had crept to a ledge just above them, and there had heard some of their talk.
They spoke in German—which Alec, as it happened, understood—and he distinctly heard them refer to something which was to "come off" on the night he had already mentioned.
"That will be to-morrow night," he concluded, "and though they did not actually say so, I believe, from what I heard, that the island and the old tower have something to do with it."
"To-morrow night," said Ray thoughtfully. "It may—probably has—to do with the coast—with the sea. Probably with some vessel or vessels expected to pass—do you see my meaning, Harry?"
"Yes—I understand your idea, I think, Ray," Harry returned. "But I don't see how we are to get any nearer unless we could communicate with the Admiralty, and ask what vessels of importance are expected to pass here in the night. And, of course, if we did they would not tell us. If we'd only known of this before, we might have asked the admiral when we were talking to him at Plymouth. There is no time to go back to see him. As we found to-day, the trains are running anyhow—so many trainloads of troops being hurried to the coast, you know."
"Ah!" cried Ray, starting up. "You've just hit it! I know now! I heard something the admiral let fall when he was speaking to one of his officers, and—yes—it was to-morrow night they were to start! Eureka! I have it! Now we must put our heads together to see whether we can't spoil these gentry's little game!"
"BARNEY, lad, what d'you tink ob dis?"
Barney was sitting on a rock on the shore of the island placidly fishing, and for a moment or two he did not look up.
His whole attention just then was absorbed in his occupation. His eyes were fixed eagerly on the float of his line which had begun to "bob" in a very promising fashion. He held up a hand to enjoin silence.
"Whist now!" he said, in a tremulous whisper. "Don't ye see that float? It's a big fish that's makin' it bob like that, an' ye'll frighten it away if ye makes a noise."
It was a beautiful summer afternoon, and the Irishman was enjoying a few minutes' sport while waiting his master's call.
Behind him was the building which has been before described, partly modern and partly very old, with the ancient tower at one end. On the first floor was the laboratory and workshop which had been used by Ray's late uncle. Outside was the stout, high mast with the "time ball"—now no longer in use—which had played such a trick on the Irishman at his former visit there.
Beyond him was the open sea, and, behind, the high ground of Tamberton Park, sloping down to the beach. In the distance, about a mile or more along the coast, was the Ledrock lighthouse.
Though the place was an island when the tide was up, there was a causeway which was uncovered at half-tide, by which one could cross without a boat.
"I guess it be only a lily crab or a shrimp, maybe," said Tom, unsympathetically.
"It's wrong ye are, me son," Barney maintained. "It's a big fish Oi'm afther catching."
"Well, you won't catch him, so don't worry. I want you t' look at me."
Barney turned his head for a second, gave one glance, and then nearly slipped off the rock into the water below, so startled was he at the grotesque dress the young negro had put on.
Where he had got the materials from was a puzzle; but it was pretty obvious he had strung them together himself, and the result was certainly startling.
"Phwhat de ye call that rig-out, ye gossoon?" Barney asked. His hand holding the line shook now as with silent laughter. "Go away, ye guy. It's all up wid me fish it will be if it sees ye."
"You be very rude, Massa Barney," Tom declared, in an offended tone. "This am my scout dress. Me going t' be boy scout."
The meeting of the previous day with the boy scouts of Alec Rendal's patrol had clearly had its effect on Tom's mind. After a good deal of cogitation he had resolved to have a scout dress of his own, and this extraordinary get-up was the result.
Barney now did not attempt to conceal his laughter, but just then there came a tremendous swirl in the water, and such a tug on his line, as nearly pulled him off his perch.
"Here, Tom!" he cried out. "Help me t' hould the crayther."
Tom made a dart and gripped the line, and for a few seconds they both held on for all they were worth.
"I see him!" cried Tom. "His ain't a shrimp, it am a whale, I tink. Hold him tight, Barney, else him get away. No, it ain't a whale, it am de great sea-serpent!"
Now at that moment there appeared above the surface for a second or two a grisly shape, which might truly have been the sea-serpent—it was, in fact, a small sea-serpent—for it was an enormous conger eel.
It had probably seized on the fish which had just taken Barney's bait—and now it was making tremendous efforts to free itself from the hooks.
Barney, who had never before seen so fearsome looking a beast, was considerably disturbed, and when the ugly, hideous head, with its open mouth and bristling teeth, began to bark like a dog, the Irishman's superstitious fears became too much for him.
He grabbed at Tom as he started backward in an attempt to get away. Tom, no less startled, gripped hold of him. The giant eel with a mighty plunge carried off hooks, line, and fishermen too—or would have done so if the latter had not let go.
But in their struggles they overbalanced and rolled off the rock into the water.
Two heads appeared at the open window of the laboratory above.
"What on earth are you two up to?" Ray's voice asked.
But there was no reply. The two had their mouths full of seawater, and were too much engaged in spluttering and gasping, and floundering to shore to be able to talk.
"You've spoiled my new scout dress," Tom cried, resentfully, when he had reached the shore.
"No har-rum in that, me son," Barney answered philosophically. "Faith, I thought that crayther were goin' t' eat me!"
"His eat us bote, if we hadn't let go," said Tom.
Barney looked at him disdainfully. "No fear, it's all right ye were in that rig-out. In fact, I guess it wor that as frightened the thing away."
"Then you ought t' be very tankful, Massa Barney. Widdout me you'd bin chewed up Irishman now."
Barney shrugged his shoulder scornfully, and there was silence between the two as they moved off to go indoors for a change of clothes.
"It am strange," then said Tom, reflectively, "how some tings come about. Dis biz'ness minds me ob someting I was goin' t' tell you. Can you keep a secret, Massa Barney?"
"No," said Barney, shortly. "Ye don't get over me wid yer blarney. Oi don't want yer saycrets."
"Oh, bery well! I was only goin' t' say dat dere's a secret passage between de old tower an' de shoah yondah."
"Eh?" exclaimed Barney. "How d'ye know that? Did yer masther tell ye?"
Tom shook his curly head. "No, me find it out all my own self."
"Thin ye tould yer masther?"
Again the nigger shook his head. "No," he said, confidentially, almost in a whisper. "Me not tell him den; we want t' wait an' look an' find out where de passage go to. Den me tell him. But we go 'way, an' I nearly forget. Now I want you t' help me find out all 'bout it, den we tell Massa Ray an' gib him heap big surprise. See?"
"Oi don't know?" said Barney, doubtfully. "It's a sly dog, ye are, Tom. Oi doan't like it. If it wor me, Oi should 'a told me masther at wance. Ye ought t' tell him now—this day."
Tom considered. Finally, the idea of a kind of compromise came to his aid.
"Look hyah," he said, artfully. "Massa Ray goin' way soon for lily while to him dinnah. When he gone me show you de secret passage, an' you say what you tink. If you say so, we tell him when he come back."
And Barney, after a little more argument, at last agreed to the suggestion.
Meanwhile, Ray and Harry, up in the laboratory, were poring over a map of the coast, and Ray had been explaining to his chum some of the scientific hobbies his late uncle had given his time to.
One it seemed had had to do with the destruction of an enemy's ship by mines laid in the channel or fairway, and exploded from the shore by electric current.
"He laid down many such mines," Ray said, "and used to explode them at times when no shipping was near, by way of experiment. On this map are marks showing their positions, and it occurs to me that when he died he left some of the mines charged. I did not know for certain at the time, and he said nothing to me before his death. But perhaps he forgot; and, of course, now one comes to think about it, with a state of war around us, we ought to take steps to make sure."
"You mean they might explode by accident under some passing ship, and blow her up," Harry said.
"Yes—or," Ray went on drily, "if any evil-disposed person knew the secret, and wished to make a wicked use of it, they might cause terrible destruction amongst our fleet by merely turning certain switches here, and with perfect safety to themselves. No one would know. They would not be suspected. If anyone were suspected, it would be most likely myself. And to- night a large portion of our Army starts on its way to France, and the ships carrying them pass this way. Now do you see what is in my mind?"
Harry whistled, then drew a long breath. He even turned a little pale as the full and terrible significance of Ray's words came home to him.
"You mean—if anyone else knew, and were so infamous as to try to make use of their knowledge?" he breathed. "But—how should anyone know? Did your uncle have any assistants who would know his secrets?"
"Why, yes, he did. And one was a foreigner—a man named Lidner."
"Well, these, of course, are only speculations—and perhaps rather wild ones. Only—somehow—especially after what young Alec Rendal told us yesterday, I feel we ought to take every precaution. So I have disconnected all the wires and batteries, and have done what I can to render any attempt of the kind useless. And then, if we watch here all night to make sure that no one comes here to try any hanky-panky business, we shall make things doubly safe. Now let's go home to get some dinner. Afterwards we will come back to stay the night; and we can leave Barney and Tom here on the watch while we're gone."
"Righto!" cried Harry. "I'll follow your lead, old chap. You know about these scientific dodges of your uncle's. I only hope we sha'n't blow ourselves up by mistake."
"NOW, Massa Barney, you an' me can do what we said. Hab you got lily electric lamp?"
"I'll get one," Barney replied, in a tone which showed that he was still dubious as to whether he was doing what was strictly correct. "Ye moind, now, we've got t' tell Mister Ray this noight."
Strangely enough, Ray was certainly destined to know about the secret passage that night, though in a different way from anything either of them imagined.
The two chums had gone up to the Court to have dinner, crossing over by the causeway, as the tide was then low.
It was near evening, the sun was already setting. There was little wind, and all around seemed peaceful. Barney took a last look outside before entering upon the exploration of the unknown passage.
They shut up and fastened all doors and windows, and then Tom led his companion up to a room adjoining the laboratory. It was part of the old building, and was, in fact, a portion of the old tower itself.
It had a large, old-fashioned fireplace, very elaborately carved. Tom took hold of a portion of the carving, and lo! a door swung open, revealing a sort of lobby with steps going both up and down.
"Me find dis out one day when me be dusting an' polishing de fireplace," he explained. "Dat way go up to top ob de tower, De oder go down, down, an' seem to go under de sea—trough de causeway, me tink."
"Oh, oh! Through the causeway!" Barney repeated, nodding his head sagely. "Then it'll be the shore it'll go to. Where would it come out, now?"
"Dat what me want t' find out," was the answer. "Now me show you how dis shut up. Den we turn on de light an' go down de steps."
The sun set and darkness fell on land and sea. Across the causeway, which was still uncovered, though the tide was rising, lurking shadows flitted.
They prowled round the island, looked at the building, now all dark and seemingly deserted, then returned to the mainland. There another shadow met them.
"All right, there," one whispered. "No one there. They seem to have shut up and gone."
"Are you sure," the other asked, "Sinclair and his friend have gone to the Court, we know, but I have not seen the two servants—the Irishman and the nigger—leave the place."
"Well, they must have done. It's all shut up and in darkness. They must have gone without you seeing them."
Though they spoke in whispers, there was that in the talk of one, at least, which proclaimed that he was not an Englishman. The other one spoke English well.
"Get to your places, then," he now said, "and do not move or speak again till I give the signal. Then make your rush. But no shooting, mind! We don't want to bring the coastguards about our ears."
A few minutes later the two chums came walking unsuspectingly down the slope leading to the causeway. It was now very dark, for, though there would be a moon presently, it had not yet risen.
But they knew their way perfectly—or, at least, Ray did—and they were chatting together as they came.
Suddenly, from out of the very ground at their feet, as it seemed, dark forms rose and sprang at them.
There was a hard-fought encounter, in which both the young fellows wielded their fists in a way that left their marks upon their antagonists. But, bravely as they fought and struggled, they were overborne by numbers, and in the end were securely bound, so far as their arms were concerned.
Then they were marched across the causeway into their own place, one of their captors opening the door with a key. Lanterns were produced, and three of their assailants went with them upstairs, leaving others of the gang on guard below, ready to seize upon Barney and Tom when they appeared.
But they did not appear on the scene below, and that for the reason that they were in the recess behind the fireplace, just about to step out into the room, when they heard the sound of strange voices and of many footsteps coming up the stairs.
Guessing that something was wrong, Barney put one hand over Tom's mouth, lest he should utter any sound, and gripped him with the other, as a sign to keep still and not open the secret door.
He had already put the electric torch out, and now the two stood there in the dark, scarce daring to breathe, listening for whatever they could hear.
This is a condensed account of what they heard:—
"Now, see here, Sir Raymond," said a voice quite unknown to either of them. "It is useless for you to pretend ignorance of your uncle's arrangements here, or to say you cannot do what I have told you I want. I find, on looking about, that the wires have been disconnected, and some keys and switches and things removed. I want all that restored, and you've got to do it, or to tell me where you have put the things."
"No, Lidner, you traitorous, treacherous villain!" exclaimed Ray. "Do what you like—kill me if you like—I will not do what you ask."
"Very well, I will leave you two together for half an hour, while we make our preparations. When we return it will either have to be 'yes' sharp, or something you will find more unpleasant than you have any idea of."
"Do your worst! Do it now! I defy you, you callous German spies!" was Ray's final defiance.
A minute or two later the two chums were left alone, each bound seated on a chair, tied fast to it hands and feet, with only the light of a lantern.
Their enemies shut the door, locked it outside, then went downstairs, where they were heard talking together in low tones.
Ray was about to speak to his chum, when a slight sound made him look round.
To his astonishment, a sort of door had opened in the fireplace, and there, dimly revealed, stood Barney and Tom.
"Whist!" the Irishman warned, in a low whisper. "Kape quiet now, sorr; an' we'll cut ye free, an' show ye a way t' trick them spalpeens afther all!"
Ray and Harry obeyed and remained quiet while their bonds were cut, and they were led, walking on tip-toe, to the fireplace.
Once inside, the door closed noiselessly upon them, and Barney, turning on his electric lamp, pointed to the steps leading downwards.
LORD HARRY and his chum, Sir Ray, looked with astonishment at the dark passage to which the Irishman and the young negro had conducted them.
In Ray's mind, indeed, the feeling was something like amazement, for never had he known of the existence there of a secret passage. His late uncle could scarcely have been aware of it, or he would have told him.
Yet Ray had heard various vague rumours—there was even an ancient legend which hinted at something of the kind. But its secret had somehow been lost for a least a generation.
However, there it was, revealing itself at the very time when he and his chum had been in such a tight corner. It was wonderful; and he could only marvel in silence, for it was no time to ask questions.
Their enemies—the gang of German spies—were downstairs, within earshot, and might return at any moment. Therefore it behoved them to make no sound.
Critical as their situation was, however, there was one who was not only enjoying it, but was almost bursting out into laughter. Needless to say, this was the irrepressible young negro.
His eyes rolled, his teeth showed in a wide grin, there was a muffled, half-smothered sort of sound in his throat. He was shaking with stifled amusement, and he appreciated to the full his master's surprise and perplexity.
How he—Tom—would be able to crow over Barney, who had so objected to his little voyage of discovery that evening! How would they have known what to do—have been certain they could save both their masters—if they had not already explored the passage, and made sure that there was an outlet at the other end? Thus Tom looked at it.
The Irishman now pointed to the stairs, which could be seen going downwards, and the two chums, albeit wonderingly, began the descent.
Then Ray produced another electric torch from a pocket, and this enabled them to get on faster than with Barney's alone.
For some distance they went downwards in a sort of spiral. Then they arrived at what must evidently have been the very foundations of the ancient tower, and here the passage, turned off on the level.
"We think, sorr," Barney here ventured to whisper, "as this do go through the causeway."
Ray nodded. The same idea had occurred to him.
"But where does it come out?" Ray breathed.
"In a place in a wood in the park, sorr. Ye'll see presently."
"And when did you find it out?" Ray whispered again.
"Shure, it's only this very night it wore," was the unexpected and puzzling reply.
But it was no time for talk. Though the passage was wonderfully clear, considering, there had been falls here and there, and in places it was almost choked up, so that they had some difficulty at times in scrambling through.
But Barney and Tom were able to profit sufficiently by their own previous experience to assist their masters, and in due course they traversed the level part, and began the ascent of another flight of steps at the other end. Finally they came to the end of the steps.
Then Barney indicated a heavy flap overhead, and, this being pushed up, they emerged into an old log cabin, now in ruins, and with the floor so overgrown that there was no trace to be seen of the rusted old trap-door.
"Ye know this place, perhaps, sorr," Barney now said in a low tone to Ray.
"Why, yes; but never have I suspected any thing of this sort," he declared. "How on earth did you come to know of it?"
He and Tom gave an account between them, which it was necessary to cut short, as they had no time for the full story.
"We must take steps at once to capture that gang at the tower," Ray pointed out. "And we have no time to lose."
"Well, we wanted assistance," broke in Harry. "Where can we get it now, do you think?"
The Court has been shut up—save for the butler and the caretaker—during Ray's adventures on the Atlantic in the yacht, so there were no servants there they could call upon. And at the village, some two miles away, there was only one man.
"There's the coastguard," said Ray, as he considered these points, "but they're rather a long way off; and there are the men at the lighthouse on Ledrock Point. The latter are the nearest, and I heard that they have an extra man or two there just now. We'd better make our way there as quickly as possible, and see if they can help us. If not, we must go to the coastguard."
While speaking he had been leading the way out of the wood, and when they had got outside the first thing they noticed was that there was now a moon in the sky amongst the clouds, though it did not give much light.
Ray stood for a moment taking a survey of their surroundings. Below them was the shore, with the island and the old tower swept along to the point where a lighthouse warned mariners of the existence of a long, jagged, dangerous reef of rocks, which ran out suddenly, as it were, almost into the fairway.
Then Ray uttered an exclamation.
"Why," he cried, in great excitement, "there's no light to- night on the point! What can be wrong there?"
They stared at the lighthouse in surprise and consternation. Whatever the cause, it was in absolute darkness. There was no sign of the powerful, far-reaching rays which were wont to send their priceless warning message to "the ships that pass in the night."
"Come on, lads!" exclaimed Ray. "We must see into this at once. This looks like another foul plot."
"Can we come, too, Sir Ray?" asked a voice out of the shadow's of the wood near which they had been standing.
Ray turned, and stared into the darkness. "Who's that?" he asked sharply.
A lithe, young form now stepped forward, and became dimly visible in the obscurity.
"Why, it's you, Alec!" Ray breathed. "Have you got your little troop with you?"
"Yes, Sir Ray, they're here. We came out, and have been waiting about, trying to see you; but the causeway's covered now, and I couldn't get across without a boat. I was just thinking of going to the lighthouse myself to see why the light is not burning. Can we come with you?"
"Yes, my lads, and never more welcome!" Ray replied heartily. "There's trouble brewing to-night, I can see, and you may be of great use to us to carry messages, and in other ways. But be silent and wary, for there are a lot of German spies in the old tower, and we have only just escaped from them!"
PROCEEDING at a smart trot, the little party were not very long ere they drew near to the lighthouse, situated on what was known as Ledrock Point.
But, as they approached it, Ray whispered a few warning words, which the others understood at once—for they were one and all good scouts—and the group melted away, as it were, so completely that an onlooker could hardly have said which way they had gone.
They had all, indeed, gone different ways, bent on stalking the place from different points, all meeting there in due course.
It was Tom, who, taking advantage of his sable colour, got to the door—which was standing open—first. He wriggled up to it and through it like a snake. He came back a moment later on his feet.
"Massa Ray, Massa Ray, come quick!" he cried. "De men am tied up!"
At this startling statement all the rest of the party threw caution to the winds, and rushed into the lower chamber of the lighthouse. It was in complete darkness, but, on their electric lamps being turned on, there, sure enough, on the ground lay the two lighthouse-keepers, Pullar Rodwell, and their extra man, Buer.
They were lying there, unable either to move or cry out, for they had been not only bound, but gagged as well.
Their bonds were quickly cut, and then they told their story—though, as it seemed, they had not much to tell.
"We were set upon by a gang o' crooks, sir," Pullar said, "an' knocked about an' threatened wi' pistols. An' that's about all we knows. 'Twere in the dusk 'twere done. They come 'ere in a boat, sayin' they had lost their nets, an' asking us t' lend 'em some, An', thinkin' they was honest fisher folk, we said 'yes,' an' was lookin' round fur some nets, when they set about us. And now, sir, I must go an' see to the light. Goodness knows what may happen while that isn't goin'!"
"We'd better go with him, Harry. You others stay and watch till we come back," said Ray. "Mind you keep a good lookout."
"We can go along the shore a little way, Sir Ray," Alec offered, "in the direction of the tower, you know, to see if we can make out anything." On the way to the lighthouse Ray had told the lad what had happened at the tower, so that he knew the sort of people who had taken possession of the place.
"I wasn't far wrong in my ideas, then, sir," Alec said. "It was no 'mare's nest'?"
"Very far from it, my boy," Ray replied, with breezy cordiality. "We shall owe you some thanks over this."
"Oh, you mustn't talk like that, sir," the lad answered, and he seemed quite pained. "A good scout just does his duty, you know—or what he can—his best—and expects neither reward nor thanks."
This was said so earnestly and honestly that the two chums could only listen in silent approval. Evidently the lad would feel hurt and offended if he were thanked or praised.
Ray started off up the ladders leading to the upper part of the lighthouse, with Harry at his heels, and they finally came out on the platform where the great lantern was placed. There they heard Pullar's voice, and from the first words knew that what they had been fearing had happened.
The apparatus for working the light had been damaged.
"Not only that, sir," said Pullar, "but the damage is more than I can set right at once. It will take some time at the best—may be hours."
Then the lighthouse man and the two friends held a council of war.
"I suppose," observed Harry, "that the effect of the light being out will be to cause the vessels coming along the Channel to bear too far inland, so that they are likely to be wrecked on the rocks, or to run aground on the beach?"
"Aye, and what is worse even than that," Ray declared, with a very grave face "on their way they will pass over the sunken mines placed off the shore by my worthy uncle—though little did he dream of their ever being put to such a dreadful use as these miscreants evidently intend. That is, of course, if Lidner finds a way of exploding the mines while the ships are passing over them. And those ships, mind you, are packed full of our soldiers going over to France, with their horses, guns, and stores! Now you can understand the danger! The question is, Pullar, what can we do to warn the ships of their peril?"
"We might go out in a boat, sir," said the lighthouse-keeper, wrinkling his brows. "But, then, we ain't got a boat. Them pirates 'ave stolen ourn."
"Then that's no good. Can't you wire, or telephone, or something, and call up the coastguards?"
The man shook his head, and pointed to one corner, where was a telephone instrument which had been purposely smashed. "Ye see, sir! Broken, so as we shouldn't use it. An' it was only put in special the other day!"
"Then we must send a messenger at once," Ray decided.
He was about to go down to find Alec, when that young gentleman appeared at the top of the ladder, and with him was Tom.
It seemed that the young negro's sharp ears had heard a boat approaching, while as yet none of the others had detected anything. And as Tom insisted on coming to tell his master, Alec had come with him.
"Hark! Me hear him now," the darky asserted, going to the edge of the platform. "Me hear him plainer! Two oahs—dey make only lily sound—and dey come from de tower way. Dey come hyah, I specs, t' see if de men be tied up all right, You catch 'em, eh, Massa Ray?"
"The chap's right, sir," said Pullar, "I can hear a boat now, rowing with muffled oars. I dare say he's right as to the rest, too; they're coming back to look after us and make sure we're all right."
"Two oars, you say," Harry observed. "And one man to steer, I suppose, making three. Oh, well, we'll easily account for them. I'll go down and wait for that boat, and you may reckon it as ours, Ray, and decide what we're going to do with her."
"All right," he said. "However, I'll come, too. I must have a finger in that pie. I owe these chaps a grudge, you know, as well as you."
A question elicited from Pullar the information that one of his mates had a bicycle. This was borrowed, and one of the scouts was dispatched with a message to the nearest coastguard station, scribbled on one of Ray's cards.
By the time this had been done the boat had come near, and the two chums and their allies prepared to receive her.
These three men—for Harry was right in his guess as to number—were probably some of those who had set upon the friends in so cowardly a fashion and taken them captive into the tower. Now, therefore, as may be supposed, the two were glad of an opportunity of another fight in which this time they would not be taken at a disadvantage.
Harry, however, in his impatience, and the natural indignation he felt at the treatment he had received, scarcely waited long enough. He made a dart at the boat before the men had landed, the consequence being that they were warned, and almost had time to push off and get away. And the fight which ensued took place half in and half out of the water, instead of on dry land, as would otherwise have been the case.
Harry rushed into the water, heedless of a blow aimed at him with an oar by one of the men, while his fellow was pushing on with the other.
Perhaps Harry recognised the man as one of those who had attacked them; at any rate he felt like having a particular personal grievance against him—and he showed it.
The man was a burly-ruffian—but the fact availed him nothing. Harry snatched at the oar, wrested it with a tremendous twist from the man's hand, flung it away, and then, seizing him in his iron grip, hauled him over the gunwhale by sheer bodily strength.
For a space they stood swaying and wrestling in the water, then, finally, the wrathful young fellow got the upper hand and coolly ducked the man again and again, until he actually cried out for mercy, and Ray laughed so much that he almost let go of the fellow he had taken in hand himself.
He and Barney were both pretty busy, in fact; and for a while there was much splashing in the shallow water, and much fierce language uttered by the men they attacked. But at last the little fight was over, and the three men hauled ashore and made secure in their turn. Then they were deposited in the lighthouse in a safe place—the store-room in which Pullar kept his extra stores.
"They can't hurt there," he remarked, as he locked the door, "and they can't get away. Now, I can go and finish my job."
"I'll come and see if I can be of any use," Ray offered again; and he and Harry mounted once more, to the platform, where they noticed now that a breeze was getting up.
TOM, left below with the scouts, was inclined to be a little bumptious. He had distinguished himself a good deal that night—for the escape of his master and his friend from their captors had been due to his urging Barney to explore the secret passage—and now he had been the first to hear the oncoming boat.
He was inclined to give himself airs, and in the course of ten minutes or so managed to get at loggerheads with no fewer than three out of the little party of scouts. In fact, if Barney had not interfered, there might have been a sturdy but very unseemly little bout of fisticuffs.
"It's ashamed ye ought t' be, ye graceless young scamp," said the Irishman, wrathfully. "Ye knows we've got inimies about, and this is the toime ye chooses t' be squabbling. It's too bad ye are, entoirely! Why doan't ye set to an' do something useful?"
"What can I do, Massa Barney?" the darkey asked demurely.
"Arrah! Sit still, if ye can, an' watch the stars."
Tom, perhaps a little repentant, but more in roguish fun, sat down on the bench and stared up at the sky.
"Barney!" he presently said.
"Well—pwhat is it now?"
"De sky am very strange to-night. I see lights flashing about. Am dat what you wanted me to look for?"
"Eh? It's larkin' ye are agin, I guess! Eh? Why no—I can see ye're right. It's sarchlights they'll be. Run up and tell the masthers at wance."
Tom scuttled off, and a minute later Ray and Harry were busy gazing starwards. There, after a few seconds, they could make out distant flashes, which they guessed, as Barney had done, must be searchlights.
"It's the fleet!" Ray cried. "The ships with the troops for France! There is no time to be lost. I was in hopes the coastguards-men would be here before the ships. Harry, we must act at once!"
"I'm your man. Just say the word. You're at home—on your own ground—here, you know, while I am almost a stranger. Shall I go out in the boat we've captured, and try to intercept the ships?"
"Y—yes—you, or I, or both—and yet—"
"No, no; you're wanted at the tower when the coastguards come. I know that. You stick to your job, and I'll keep to mine. But I want a chap to act as pilot, not knowing the channel, you see—"
"Our extra man—Buer—is as good a man as ye could have, sir," Pullar put in. "And my mate'll come, too, if ye like. Ye'll want another hand or two, fur there be a breeze gettin' up."
"What about Alec?" Harry asked of Ray. But he shook his head.
"No, no," he returned, hastily, but decidedly. "You forget, Harry! I don't say there is any certainty as to what that man Lidner can do. But still—"
"Oh, ah, yes; I forgot," said Harry, composedly. "There are your late uncle's mines to be considered. We may be blown up instead of the fleet—eh? Especially, if the beggars at the tower get nasty, if they find themselves baulked—eh? Well—it's all in the fortune of war. For King and Country, you know! Now then, I'm ready! Give that chap Buer his instructions about the channel. We don't want to get aground on some shoal and be stuck there ignominiously."
"Oh, yes; I'll do that—and direct him—so far as I can from memory—how to avoid those other things. Harry!" Ray's voice fell and he hesitated. "Somehow I can't get it out of my head that you are running into a great danger! Let me go—or, at least, let me come too!"
But Harry pooh-poohed this, and started off without ado. A few minutes later he and Barney, with the two lighthouse men, were scudding along, at a slant, towards a headland on the farther side of the bay.
There was a good breeze on their quarter, and they sped along merrily. But the tide was against them, and they did not progress so fast as Harry would have liked. He kept casting anxious glances towards the headland they were making for.
Over the top of it lights were now flashing, each minute more plainly. It was clear that the fleet of vessels was coming on very fast. The tide was with them, and that was a great danger; it would make it so much more difficult for them to back out even if they were warned in time.
Still, there was nothing the would-be rescuers could do save to keep on, and to trust in Providence.
And this, in very truth, Harry did. Never did anyone pray more heartily than he did, as he stuck to the tiller, watching the sail, and doing his utmost to reach the headland in time.
It was too awful to think what the price of failure would be—to think of a large part of England's fine army, with warships and sailors, cast upon that long line of rocks which ran out from Ledrock Point, or haply blown up by deadly mines!
And all that cruel wreckage and loss of life might be brought about by the wickedness of a handful of spies, and the treachery of one man—Lidner—who had been entrusted with some of his master's secrets!
The boat passed in front of the tower, and was getting on a little faster, when, all of a sudden, from the top of the tower, a powerful searchlight flashed out. And Harry gave a cry of dismay:
For there, scarcely more than a quarter of a mile away, was a large boat under sail, and with four long oars out, coming after them as if in pursuit!
And this searchlight which the man Lidner had no doubt managed somehow, to produce, showed their position plainly to the strange boat.
Then Harry uttered another involuntary exclamation—and this time, it was almost a groan. He saw that the searchlight might be put to a double use. For when the oncoming fleet saw it, it would mistake it for the light on Ledrock Point—and the doom of the whole flotilla—ships and men—would be made the more certain.
But there was no time for thought. With a shout which could be heard across the water, the strange boat came on, under both sail and oars, in chase.
At a sign from Harry, Barney and one of the lighthouse men put out an oar each, while Buer watched the waves ahead, and aided in the management of the sail.
It was evident that the wind was rising fast; and out on that ugly line of rocks the white breakers would now be roaring and tumbling. Buer knew this, and he told it, in awed whispers, to Harry.
And thus, for awhile, the two boats raced on, the stranger creeping up a little at a time, while ever the lights ahead grew brighter.
Suddenly there was a report, and a bullet splashed into the water not far astern. Their pursuers were firing at them!
Another shot followed—and another, and they came nearer; but Harry took no heed. He had no weapon with which to reply, and so could only "sit tight," and hope for the best.
Then came a surprise. From out of the semi-darkness a little farther out, a small steam pinnace appeared unexpectedly, and to Harry's great joy he saw that it was a coastguard boat.
The pursuing boat now eased off, and put about, while Harry swung round to the pinnace.
A petty officer greeted him, and asked if he was a friend of Sir Raymond Sinclair, and on his replying in the affirmative, he said:
"Your boy scout messenger reached our station, where I happened to be just starting for a cruise up and down to see that all was clear for the fleet. When I read your message, I came on here at once, and now, what is that boat which was after you?"
Harry explained. "But don't trouble about her," he added. "We have to save the fleet with the troops on board. Can you take me in with you? Then we can go and intercept them round yonder headland."
This was agreed to; and on their way the officer stated that he had sent another party of men to the lighthouse by land.
"Good!" exclaimed Harry. "Very good! Now Sir Raymond will be able to catch that gang while we are warning the fleet!"
The first part of this programme, however, as Fate willed it, was not to be carried out. The fleet were duly warned, and Harry returned later to the tower, where he found Ray and the rest. But they had reached the island too late. Warned by the appearance of the steam pinnace, the gang had an cleared out, and left the place empty.
But the great service which had been rendered remained; and it was not forgotten. A few days later there came a letter from the admiral at Plymouth, thanking all concerned in the affair; and this time the names included those of Alec Rendal and his little band of boy scouts.
THE Swallow lay at anchor in the bay opposite Tamberton Park, looking exceedingly smart and trim.
She had been repaired and refitted after the adventures in which she had played such an important part; her hull had been repainted and all her brasswork polished till it shone like burnished gold. Her deck had been holy-stoned till it looked almost too dainty to walk upon.
Her owners, Sir Ray and Lord Harry—for the latter had prevailed on his chum to allow him to become part owner—paced her deck in noiseless india-rubber shoes, with a feeling of reasonable satisfaction and pride at being once more on board their gallant craft.
She had in fact only returned the night before, after being docked, and this morning was her first appearance at her old moorings.
Captain Markham was even prouder of the vessel he sailed than his breezy, good-humoured young employer; and he had put on his best gold-laced reefer and cap in honour of the yacht's return to active service.
He was in high good humour, was the captain. He had been presented by the Admiralty with a gold chronometer and a handsome cheque in acknowledgement of the part he had played in saving the treasure in the S.S. Rainbow from falling into the hands of the Germans, And though he was one who looked for no reward for doing his duty, it was, of course, pleasant to have his services thus officially acknowledged.
Now, as he looked, with keen, critical eye along the deck, quick to note whether every rope end was coiled as it should be, he became aware of a presence which did not exactly meet with his approval.
The presence in question was, to put the matter shortly, that of Tom, Ray's young negro attendant. And the reason that his presence disturbed the worthy skipper arose out of the fact that by some means or other he—the said Tom—had become possessed of a brand-new extremely showy-looking midshipman's dress.
It was as smart in its way as the dress of the captain himself. The blue was as deep and "tony," the gold braid was as brightly resplendent as that which the captain wore. But it cannot honestly be said that the comparison could be carried much farther. Captain Markham's suit fitted him to a T, and well set- off a fine and manly figure. The middy's dress, on the other hand—well, it only adorned the figure of the coloured waif—and it fitted none too well at that.
The worthy captain was annoyed. He had an uneasy feeling that the cheeky young nigger had got hold of this uniform and put it on on purpose to make fun of him—the skipper—and the thought made him inclined to be angry. The more so, indeed, that he caught the youngster evidently trying to imitate his—the captain's—walk; and saw several broad grins on the faces of some of the crew standing about on deck.
Captain Markham strode up to the two churns, and saluted stiffly.
"Beg pardon, my lord—Sir Raymond," he said, shortly, "have you authorised—er—that young nigger to wear that uniform?" Ray and Harry had not noticed Tom—they had been engaged in looking through their glasses at some oncoming ships.
They turned now, and when they saw the queer figure on the other side of the deck it was too much for their gravity. They both roared with laughter.
"Where on earth did he get that rig-out?" exclaimed Ray.
"No more idea than you," returned Harry. "But what's the trouble, captain? Are you not proud of your new midshipman?"
Then Markham's stern look relaxed, and he joined in the laugh.
"I suppose it was absurd of me to take the youngster seriously," he said, good-naturedly. "However, we must teach the young puppy his duties now he's made a start in the sea line."
"That's right, captain," Harry put in. "Make him into a good seadog. I can answer for it, he's a good watchdog already."
Just then there was a hail from the lookout man.
"Fleet coming up channel, sir."
"Ah! I thought so," cried Ray. "Some more of our troops going across to France. Get ready to salute them, Markham."
"Ay, ay, sir," was the skipper's prompt response, and he issued two or three sharp orders, which were followed by the bo'sun's whistle.
"All hands on deck. Shall we dress ship, sir?"
The chums laughed good-humouredly, and merely nodded as a sign that they left it to him to do what he thought best.
Slowly, as it seemed, yet swiftly in reality, the squadron came on, standing close in across the bay, and making for the fairway outside Ledrock Point—as they—or another flotilla like unto them—had been intending to do that night when the action of the two chums had saved them from disaster.
Very majestically they steamed along—the "scouts"—torpedo boats and destroyers—in advance, and after them the cruisers, many-funnelled and with crowded decks; and then the great Dreadnoughts, ugly, yet with a suggestion of irresistible strength and power; and finally, more "scouts" to bring up the rear.
Then suddenly a strange thing happened. Markham was just about to issue his order for dipping their flag, when his employer intervened.
"Why, see!" cried Ray. "If they're not saluting us."
"Great Scott, that's true!" Harry chimed in. "What d'ye think of that, captain? Give the order to return it—and—er—would it be incorrect if we were to fire a salute, I wonder?"
It was quite true—the British Fleet, with its great ships and its smaller crowd of scouts, was dipping the colours in honour of the modest steam yacht, lying there in the sunlight!
Those on the yacht could scarcely believe their eyes. The people on the ships must be aware that the Swallow belonged to the two young men who had prevented a terrible calamity a few nights before—and this was another mark of their appreciation.
It can be imagined how delighted the two chums were—as was, indeed, every man on board. Captain Markham felt just a pang to think that he had had no part in that stirring adventure; but he appreciated none the less the honour paid to his employers—and to the ship he sailed.
Acting upon Harry's suggestion the yacht's guns were fired in salute—for, be it understood, she had more now than the cannon she had carried when searching for the lost Iris.
To-day the Swallow was quite well armed, and equal, if need should arise, to taking her own part against any vessel of her own size.
Scarcely had the smell of the powder drifted away when it was answered by a deep booming roar from the flagship herself, and this was followed by the rousing sound of distant British cheers.
The yacht and its owners and crew were being saluted and cheered by the troops bound for France!
Captain Markham was evidently profoundly moved. There were almost tears in his eyes as he stood up and gravely saluted his employers, and congratulated them.
"My lord—Sir Raymond," said he, "this is the proudest moment of my life! Never did I expect to have a share in such honour—small though my share in it has been—"
Harry seized the worthy skipper's hand, and shook it heartily.
"Don't talk like that, Markham," he said. "How should we ever have found the Iris, or saved the treasure, without you? It was only by accident that you were not here the other night, and had no part in what took place."
Ray took the veteran seaman's hand no less cordially, and echoed his chum's words, adding:
"And, you know, Markham, other opportunities will arise when you and we shall hope to do yet more for King and Country."
Markham looked away at the passing fleet.
"That's one thing that's troubling me, sir," he said. "I have no right, of course, to ask questions, but I've been wondering what your future plans may be? Will there be a chance, as you say, of doing more useful service?"
"Why, of course, man! You don't suppose we're going to lead a life of ease and pleasure, do you? However, we'll talk of that another time. What does this chap want that's coming into the bay?"
"This chap" was a fussy, splashing, torpedo-boat, tearing along through the water, sending a great wave from her bows, pouring out smoke from her funnels, and seemingly heading direct for the yacht.
"Is he going to run into us?" Harry queried, as he watched her swift approach.
But the vessel swung round in a curve, and ended by running almost alongside the Swallow.
"Yacht ahoy!" sang out a cheery voice. And as Captain Markham answered the voice went on: "Owner aboard?"
The voice was cultured, and the uniform showed that the speaker was the lieutenant-commander of the vessel.
Markham indicated the two owners, and the officer turned to address them, but stopped, hesitated, and stared in amazement.
"Good gracious!" he cried. "Why, it's Jumper!"
"By Jove, if it isn't Rattler!" exclaimed Harry, springing forward.
Ray had given a gasp of surprise, too. "Don't you know me, then, Rattler?" he asked, with a smile.
"Oh—my aunt—two of you!" the officer said, evidently more and more surprised. "I must come aboard and have a talk to you two!"
They were old schoolfellows, but had not met for years!
"You must know," said the Honourable Wilfred Sackville—such was "Rattler's" proper designation—when the three old friends were in the cabin of the yacht—"that I have brought a request from the admiral. He knows that you possess some kind of aircraft—an aeroplane, or water-plane, or something—"
"How did he know that?" Ray broke in, still further surprised.
"It's his business to know such things," he said. "And I may tell you that if you were not so well known you would have been asked questions before this as to what you want such machines for at this present time. However, that's by the way. The admiral wants to make use of them—or rather wants you to use them on his behalf."
"Certainly, certainly!" said Ray. "No need to ask. We've already been using my machine with that object—we've been scouting up and down the coast on the look-out for anything suspicious.
"Good. And—you've seen nothing?"
"No, nothing that struck us as important. What is it you have in your mind?"
"Well, it's this way," said the lieutenant, lowering his voice, and speaking confidentially. "We have information that one of Germany's long-distance submarines—as they are called—has succeeded in eluding us, and has got across to this side of the channel. Now, of course, that means a very great danger to us. For certain reasons we believe she is in this district. You've seen nothing of the kind?"
"Nothing," said Ray. "But I admit I was not looking for submarines."
"No, and when they are submerged you would not see them unless you were on the qui vive. Even then you want practice. As a matter of fact, they can be spotted from an aeroplane, but it is not easy, and requires very keen sight."
"I'll take jolly good care to keep a sharp look-out in future." Ray assured him.
"H'm, yes. But we are anxious, you know. The admiral suggested that perhaps you would not mind taking me for a trip round. I might see something which might escape you."
"Only too delighted," Ray declared. "We'll soon have the machines out. Then you'll have a surprise. She is not the ordinary kind of thing. She was designed by my poor old uncle, Sir Ralph, you see, and is to a great extent his special invention. She is a composite, and can either float on water or run on land."
In less than half an hour the aerial craft was ready, and the lieutenant took his place in her beside Ray.
The word was given, the motor started, and the machine rose in the air seemingly as usual. Then, however, she gave an awkward lurch.
Tom had made a dash at the last moment, and was now seated astride, just behind the two, and holding on like a monkey!
There were shouts of anger and dismay from the decks of the yacht and the torpedo-boat, then an ejaculation from the officer, as, turning his head, he saw the strange apparition of a nigger in middy's dress perched behind him.
Ray said nothing, but only bit his lip. He was vexed and annoyed, of course, but not much alarmed. He guessed he could trust the foolish youngster to keep still and hold on for his own sake. For the rest—well, there was nothing to be done but continued their flight.
"What's this grotesque young imp doing here?" asked the Hon. Wilfred. "Is he a young lunatic?"
Ray shook his head laughingly.
"Not a bit of it; he's very much 'all there,' I can assure you," he said, "Though I wish, all the same, that he were not 'all here.' However, I think we may trust him to hang on. I'll give him a talking to when we get back—no use saying anything now."
So they sailed onwards, keeping to the line of the coast, and keenly scrutinizing all coves and inlets, as well as the shore in general.
By this time the fleet had passed onwards. They could see it in the distance, and presently, in fact, they overtook it, sailed over it, and exchanged signals with the flagship.
"The admiral sends his compliments, and bids me thank you for what you are doing," said, or rather shouted, Sackville, reading the signals.
"An' what him say to me, massa?" came Tom's shrill voice behind, raised above the roar of the engine, "Me nearly got tumbled off when me came to help."
"A good thing, too, if you had been—so long as you fell into the sea, and only had a bath," Ray told him over his shoulder. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself! You might have upset the machine, and perhaps killed the three of us!"
At once Tom was repentant. Ray's tone told him that he was serious, and the youngster had had no thought of endangering his master's life. Rather would he, mischievous though he might be, give his own to save it at any time.
"Me sorry, Massa Ray," he answered contritely. "But it be fine up here. Me feel like great, beau'ful bird."
"A fine, beautiful bird you make, indeed," Ray commented. And then he and his companion gave their attention to surveying the coast, and the water near it.
Certainly, as Tom had said, it was "fine up here." There was a feeling of exhilaration in moving so freely and swiftly through the clear, fresh air, with the blue sky and sunlight above, and the wonderful ever-changing map of sea and land spread out beneath them.
It gave one some idea of the feeling a bird may be supposed to experience in its easy, soaring movements.
More than once Ray descended and rested for awhile, now on the water, now on some grassy knoll on the shore, to prove to his passenger that his machine could perform all that he had claimed for it.
Finally, they returned to the Swallow, when the lieutenant had another talk with the chums.
"By the way," said he, "there is one of our sailors who has been wounded, and was sent home to get well. He lives somewhere near you, I believe. His name is Foster—Joe Foster. D'ye know him?"
"Of course I do," Ray answered at once. "We have formed a little society here, with the vicar of the parish, for looking after the wives and other relatives of every man who has gone away to serve. And now that Joe has come back, we're looking after him, too. He's going on capitally, and will soon be all right."
"I'm glad to hear it," said Sackville. "He was wounded in that brush we had with the Germans off Heligoland. He did me a good turn in that fight—as good as saved my life—so I owe him a good turn, too. Just to show him I have not forgotten, I've got a parcel I want sent to him. Not much—just something likely to be useful to his old mother and his sweetheart—for I learned from him that he had both. Can you deliver the parcel for me?"
"It shall go at once," Ray promised. "I know his mother, and his sweetheart, Elsie Weston. They will be so pleased to hear your praise of Joe—apart from any present.
"And now, Rattler, we want to ask your advice. Harry and I would wish to be like the rest of the young men, rich or poor. That is, we want to go and fight, you know. But the admiral at Plymouth has hinted to us that having this yacht, and so on, we might be more useful in certain other directions, which he indicated confidentially. So we are between two minds—whether to join the Army or take up the confidential mission he practically offered us. What would you do in our place?"
The lieutenant did not hesitate.
"If," he said, rather bluntly, "you had been in the Service you would know that the first duty of a sailor or a soldier is to obey orders. If the authorities decide that you are likely to be more useful in the direction they have in view than in some other, surely you ought to place yourselves at their disposal."
Ray looked at Harry, and they both gravely nodded.
"I think that settles it Harry," said Ray.
"Hit the right nail on the head," Harry agreed. "I confess I would have liked—. However, I am sure Rattler is right."
THE torpedo-boat steamed away, and Ray called Barney to him and handed him a parcel.
"The boat will dinghy you ashore, Barney," he said, "and you will take this parcel to the village, and hand it to Joe Foster, with this note and my compliments. Mind you take care of the parcel."
"Shure, Oi'll moind it as if it wor gold, sorr."
"And, Barney, there's no harm in your knowing what Lieutenant Sackville said about Joe." And he repeated the words of the young sailor's superior officer.
Barney was honestly pleased. He liked Joe, and was glad to hear he had done so well. "It's very proud an' plazed his ould mother will be whin Oi tells her—an' Miss Elsie, too—bless her bright eyes," he murmured.
Tom, hearing from Barney of his mission, hurried to divest himself of his naval masquerade and don his usual dress.
"Me come wid you, Massa Barney," he said, "Me got someting me want to do."
They paid their visit to the Fosters, but Joe was out; so, leaving the parcel and the note, they went on to a fishing hamlet near the shore where Elsie, Joe's sweetheart, lived with her parents.
But she was not in either, and her mother could only say that she was probably out for a walk with Joe.
"It's wait we will, mother," said Barney. "We'll stroll around an' look at the foine scenery, an' whin we come back per'aps they'll be in. It's good news we have for thim both."
But he would not satisfy the mother's curiosity by saying more. Making a sign to Tom, they went off together along the shore.
By this time the afternoon had gone, and it was getting dusk. Barney left Tom—who knew the locality—to lead him where he pleased. And presently they sat down on a bank overlooking the sea. Barney, who had been working hard on board the yacht in the sun, and was tired and sleepy, fell into a doze; and Tom did not disturb him for the reason that he had something inside his sable head which was causing him a lot of thought.
And what he thought about was this: During the flight through the air he had, of course, seen many things. There, below them, had been passing ships on the sea, and on shore people, in places—fishermen mostly—coming and going.
He had no idea of the reason of their flight, but, as they flew along at a low altitude, his sharp eyes had noticed many things which, perhaps, Ray and his passenger had paid no attention to.
In particular Tom had noticed a fisherman in a boat, apparently engaged in the innocent occupation of looking after some lobster-pots.
But Tom had noticed that the man had started guiltily when he saw the aeroplane. It had not been a mere start of surprise—so Tom decided. The man had begun to row away from the place, as though anxious to make it appear that he had no particular interest in it.
There were other little details which made Tom think a good deal. For one thing he recognised the man and the boat—though so far below him, and he knew him for a man he—Tom—did not like. He was a man named Job Sendal, said to make a very good living, as a longshoreman, for he owned several boats, and was reputed to be well-to-do.
The reason Tom did not like him, however, was that it was locally known, that Sendal wanted to marry Elsie Weston—Joe Foster's sweetheart. And during Joe's absence her father and mother had favoured his suit, and put pressure on the girl to marry the man, saying that perhaps Joe would be killed in the war, and would never come back.
Tom had heard this gossip in the village; and he was sorry for Elsie, who had always been so kind and gracious to him, whereas many other village people had treated him with coldness, or had even jeered at him and made fun of him.
Now, while Tom sat there beside Barney, turning these matters over, rather hazily, in his young brain, voices were heard coming near, and Tom recognised them; one was Elsie's, and the other was not Joe's, as he expected, but—Sendal's!
The two sitting down were screened from the path by some bushes, and could not be seen by the girl or her companion.
And as the latter came closer, Tom heard that Elsie was crying, and was making some appeal to the man which he refused to listen to.
They halted for awhile, and Tom heard a good deal, but not very clearly. Nor was it the sort of talk he could exactly understand. But as to the general drift of it he had no doubt whatever. The man was threatening her, and threatening Joe—swearing if she did not marry him he would be revenged on Joe. There was no doubt in Tom's mind as to that, and it was enough for him.
The picture of Elsie's kindly, smiling face, as he had seen it, came up before his mental vision. He recalled the little kindnesses she had done him, and her innocent gaiety and high spirits. And he pictured her as he knew she must now be, with tear-stained face and frightened eyes, miserable and unhappy—and all because of this man's brutal threats.
The two passed on, and Tom got up and looked after them, and shook his small fist.
"You bad man—heap bad heap!" he muttered. "Me b'lieve you do bad tings along de shoah. Me watch you an' find out, an' me see if me can't pay you out for making missie cry like dat."
Just then the man left the girl and came back, and Tom bobbed down behind the bush like a young rabbit. The man passed and went along the shore.
"Him going back to dat place where me see him to-day," thought Tom. "Me follow him an' make sure dis time what he be up to."
He woke up Barney and cautiously explained his idea and reason; and Barney, nothing loth, at once agreed to go with him to watch Sendal.
They followed him to the little lonely cove, where Tom had seen him from the aeroplane, and they saw him get a small boat from amongst a lot of reeds and bushes where it was completely concealed, and ran it down in a furtive way to the shore.
Then he pushed off and went out, presumably to attend to some lobster-pots or fishing-lines.
But Tom knew enough of fishing thereabouts to be aware that this was not a likely place to set tackle. No other fishermen found the place worth coming to. And, besides, there was the stealthy, suspicious manner in which the man was acting.
"Him bad man. Him up to no good."
Tom said to Barney, on their way back, later. "To-morrow we go an' find out what he got dere. No good to-night."
Next day Ray was startled by receiving a visit from Joe's mother, who was in great distress. Joe had been arrested, charged with being a spy, and she sobbed out an incoherent statement that the police had searched their cottage, and had discovered—so they said—some paper and plans of a terribly compromising character.
Ray and Harry could scarce believe their ears. Knowing what they did about Joe—especially remembering what their friend Sackville had said—the whole story seemed absurd.
Yet when they went to the police-station to make inquiries, they found that Mrs. Foster's statement was only too true.
"It looks very black against him, Sir Raymond," the police- inspector declared. "And we have received other information which we think will lead to even worse evidence."
All the same, the chums refused to believe in it. They saw Joe in his cell, and shook hands with him; visited his mother and his sweetheart, and cheered them up; and, finally, using all their influence, got the young fellow released on bail.
That night. Barney and Tom resumed their watch upon the man Sendal.
First, finding that he was in the village inn, and likely to remain there for some time, Tom went off to the little cove where the boat lay, leaving Barney to keep guard outside the inn. He would endeavour to detain Sendal on some pretext if he issued forth too soon.
Tom, meantime, went down on the shore, "borrowed" the man's boat, went out to the "lobster-pots." and examined the surroundings with an electric-torch. And he fished up something which certainly was not bait, and which he regarded with great curiosity.
"Me take this to Massa Ray, an' show him," he mentally decided. "Him will know what it be, an' what to do with it. Now we wait an' see what Sendal do—if he miss what me got—an' if him get very savage."
Later on, Sendal left the inn, and came down on another visit to his boat. But this time, instead of coming back soon, as he had done before, he remained in the boat a little way from the shore where it shelved suddenly down into deep water, Tom and Barney watching him from a rock close by.
Here he acted certainly very curiously, playing the light from a powerful electric-lamp over the surface of the water—which, as it happened, was very calm and still that night—the while that he carefully shielded it so as to prevent it, as far as possible, from being seen from a distance.
Barney began to think that, perhaps, after all, the man was only experimenting with some new-fangled fishing dodge. He had heard of such a thing as fish being attracted by strong light played on the surface of water.
Full of curiosity, he left his place of concealment and crept down almost to the water's edge.
Something extraordinary was decidedly going on—something which looked to Barney very like witchcraft. The water began to "boil," as if some great fish were moving and twisting about beneath—and then the "something" appeared, and rose steadily up out of the water.
Higher and higher it rose, till, in the semi-darkness, it looked like some horrid "sheeted ghost."
Then Barney, who knew little or nothing about submarines, and certainly was not acquainted with their personal appearance, gave a smothered cry, and turned and fled away into the surrounding darkness.
IN our last chapter it was told how that Barney, when he saw the grey-white form of the submarine rising bodily from out of the sea, uttered a smothered cry of terror and fled from the scene into the darkness of the night.
Now this was not due to any want of courage on his part; but, as has been stated before, he was, like many Irishmen, superstitious in certain ways. He had a belief in witchcraft, and a horror of it; and it seemed to him that the utterly unexpected apparition which appeared "out of the vasty deep" must owe its presence there to some form of uncanny art.
Not that he had not heard of submarines. Of course he had, but he had never seen one, knew nothing as to what they were like, and had heard nothing about one being in the locality.
So the worthy Irishman's panic can, in the circumstances, be understood. And as to Tom—who followed him, infected by his evident fear—he, of course, knew even less as to the meaning of what they had witnessed.
It was not until they had gone some distance on the way back to the village that Barney pulled up. Then his first idea was to doubt the actual truth of what he thought he had seen. Perhaps, after all, his senses had deceived him, and it had only been what the doctors know as a "lucynation"—so Barney styled it.
The first thing was to find out whether Tom had seen anything, and if so, what. Barney, therefore, proceeded to question him discreetly.
"Arrah now, Tom, ye young imp, phwat 're ye running like that for?"
"Me want to see what you runnin' after, Massa Barney," Tom replied innocently.
"Ah! An' did ye see it?" Barney asked carelessly.
"No, where's it got to?"
Barney tried another tack. "Did ye see anything down by the shore, now—afore—afore ye started—"
"Before you started to run, Massa Barney?" Tom corrected, with his innocent air. "Before you make dat offal cry dat make my blood run cold, an' start off an' run like as if wild bull was after you?"
"Never moind that. Answer me question. Did ye see annything?"
Tom considered. He had got over his own fright now, and was sharp enough to see Barney's object in plying him with these questions. And the mischievous side of his nature urged him strongly to carry on the game and try to worry and mystify the Irishman. But another feeling reminded him that Sendal, the "bad man," was mixed up in the business, and that there was, therefore, probably something sinister in it.
The latter feeling got the upper hand—for had they not come there to help Missie Elsie against Sendal? So Tom answered soberly and honestly.
"Me see someting rise out ob de water," he told Barney. "Someting to do wid de bad man, Sendal. An' me tink we ought t' go back an' see what he be doin' now; an' den go an' tell Massa Ray."
Barney knew this was sensible advice, and his head urged him to follow it. But his heart was still in a bit of a flutter, and he was dubious about going back.
"Ye think we ought t' go back, sonny?" he returned. "Well—if ye think the coast is clear—"
"Me hope not," said Tom boldly. "Me want t' find out what dat man be doin'."
This was said with such decision that Barney threw off all doubts. He even felt a pang of shame as he realised that they were wasting the opportunity of solving the mystery of Sendal's visits to the lonely cove.
"Ye're roight, sonny," he said shortly. "Come on! We'll face the spalpeens an' foight 'em if they're flesh an' blood."
Great was his mortification when, having returned to the cove, he found there was nothing whatever to be seen. At least he told himself that he was disappointed and vexed; but it is not unlikely that there was a trace of relief at finding that the fearsome apparition had disappeared.
So had Sendal; so had Sendal's boat. There was nothing to show that anything unusual had occurred there, no trace left of Sendal or his uncanny doings.
Doubtless the man had heard Barney's half-suppressed cry, had seen that someone was running away, and thus warned, both he and the people he came there to meet had cleared off also.
But Tom had secured a trophy—and he carried it stowed safely away in an inner pocket as he and Barney made their way home.
The next morning the two chums sat in the morning-room at Tamberton Court, holding a council of war.
Captain Markham was there, and so was Mr. Stacy, the vicar who had been called in to assist.
"It seems certain," said Ray, "from the account given by Barney and Tom, that they actually tracked down the German submarine which our friend Lieutenant Sackville asked us to look out for. So there we had her located. But unfortunately, neither Barney nor Tom understood the value and importance of their discovery—which I may say was really a very clever bit of detective work. And Barney admits that he ran away in a fright, and so lost the chance of finding out anything further. When we visited the place this morning there was, of course, no trace of the submarine or her crew."
"You have been there this morning?" the vicar asked.
"Yes, Mr. Stacy; but the birds had flown. Still, we now know that this dangerous vessel is concealed somewhere along this coast, as Mr. Sackville believed to be the case. And it is a most serious, a most dangerous state of affairs. War vessels of ours are coming and going, many of them filled with troops destined to reinforce our army in France, and this deadly vessel may issue forth at any moment of the day or night and blow them up with her torpedoes. It is a state of things which must not be allowed to continue for a single hour longer than can be helped."
"Have you sent word to the authorities?" the vicar asked.
"Oh, yes, and I expect we shall have plenty of 'sea scouts' buzzing about here before long. But what we should like to do, of course, is to track the vessel down again before they come."
"And capture her, eh?" Mr. Stacy asked, with a smile.
"That's the ticket," Harry observed.
"It's a big order, my lad," Captain Markham remarked reflectively. "Mustn't forget their torpedoes."
"I'm willing to help, if you think I can—and I'm very glad you confided in me and invited me to confer with you," said Mr. Stacy. "What do you think I can do?"
"It's this way, sir," Ray explained. "If it got about amongst the country people that there was a German warship dodging about the neighbourhood, it might lead to a bad scare. Therefore, we want it kept quiet; we do not want it talked about. At the same time we want information. We want questions asked discreetly amongst the fishermen, and so on, and a hint given to them to keep a look out for signs. And, as you know the people about here so well, we thought you might help us in that direction while we are working in others."
"Certainly, certainly. I'll do that."
"And there's another thing, Mr. Stacy—you know this coastline well—no one better, I should think. We know you are constantly taking walks on the look-out for natural history specimens. And you go fishing a good deal, and know the inlets and small bays, and, I expect, the depth of water. Can you suggest the most likely places where a large submarine like this could hide itself?"
"I'll think it over, Ray," the vicar answered—for he had known the young baronet from his boyhood. "And now what about Joe Foster? Are we any nearer to finding out anything likely to clear him? It is pitiful to see the distress of his mother and his sweetheart."
"I think we are, Mr. Stacy. Tom made a clever capture last night of some papers—probably messages or instructions intended for the enemy. But they are in some cipher code, and we'll have to get them translated into ordinary language. Meantime, Sendal has taken alarm and disappeared, thereby practically admitting that he was in league with the Germans. Maybe he has been in their secret service as a spy for a long time—and that is how he has had so much money to spend—for you know that it is difficult for any fisherman to make so much at fishing hereabouts as he seems to have done. He is in love with Elsie Weston, Joe's sweetheart, and wanted to marry her, as you also know, And I have very little doubt that this accusation against Joe is a foul plot engineered by Sendal."
"I believed that, too; but, of course, belief is not proof," Mr. Stacy answered. "Still, if Sendal has disappeared, doesn't that in itself help Foster?"
"No, sir—because, so far as the police are concerned, Sendal never appeared in the matter at all, though I expect he wrote the anonymous letter which, as I hear, lead them to search Foster's house. No, we must be patient yet awhile and see what these papers contain. There may be something in them which will help us and Joe Foster, too."
Then the two chums and the captain fell to discussing the purely adventurous side of the affair, if it may be so described. That is, the question of capturing the submarine.
As the skipper had said, it was "a big order" for the Swallow to take in hand—though, in saying that, he had no idea of losing the chance of making the capture. But, of course, there were proper precautions that must be taken.
The modern submarine is a vessel which even the largest war vessels have to beware of; and, needless to say, therefore, a vessel like the Swallow would have reason to be careful.
The vicar presently withdrew, remarking that in this department he was not likely to be able to help them.
"But I will think about the other matters," he promised, "and, in particular, I'll jot down every likely place I know along the coast where the water is deep enough and the surroundings favourable for a submarine to hide in, and send you the result. For the rest, I can only commend you to Heaven's care. You are engaging in dangerous work, but it is in a good cause. Do not enter into it in too light a spirit, and I feel sure all will go well. You will have our prayers at home here for your success."
A little later the council broke up, and they went their several ways. Captain Markham in the Swallow started on a cruise up and down the coast, while Ray accompanied him overhead in his aerial craft.
Harry went with him as passenger, and at the last moment he decided to take Tom. "He managed to stick on, in his own way, when Sackville and I went up," Ray remarked, "and he was certainly useful. It was through his noticing the man Sendal, you know, that we have discovered what we have."
"Yes, he may as well come," Harry agreed. "He may spot something we don't see."
And, as a matter of fact, he did, though it was not till rather late in the afternoon that the incident occurred.
They had covered a great deal of ground, had examined methodically every inlet, creek, or bay at all likely, and, finally, had reached a very wild part of the coast several miles beyond the scene of Barney and Tom's adventure.
Here cliffs rose high into the air, and they were just rounding their bases, scarred and bitten into by the everlasting wash of the waves, when Tom was heard to utter an exclamation.
Ray showed no sign of having heard, but nevertheless, changed the direction of his flight, and swept round landward in a long curve.
"What did you see, Tom?" he then asked.
"Me see mighty big fish, sah," was the answer.
"Where you sang out?"
"Yes, sah. Him bery, bery big."
"Lying quietly down under the water, eh?" Ray went on.
"Yes, sah. Him not move."
"Where was it?" Harry asked, in suppressed excitement.
"I know the place," Ray declared. "I guessed when I heard Tom called out, and looked down. I didn't see any 'big fish,' but I marked the spot. You know it, Harry. You know 'the Seals' Cave?'"
Harry took a long breath.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "Of course—the Seals' Cave! Wonder we did not think of it before. There's no more likely place about here!"
"That's so," Ray agreed. "Now we'll turn back and make for home, passing the place again, casually as it were. Mind you and Tom keep a sharp look-out."
They did so, but nothing was seen. Either Tom had been mistaken, or the "big fish" had moved off.
"What do you think?" Ray asked, on their way back. "Shall we act on the hint—or do you think Tom may have been mistaken?"
"Let us act upon it, by all means,"
Harry advised. "I believe we can trust Tom's sight. And, after all, it's the most likely place I know."
And, curiously enough, when they got back, they found a note from Mr. Stacy. He wrote briefly: "Try the Seals' Cave. It's the most likely place I know."
THE Raven's Crag was a dark, gloomy headland jutting out into the sea at a wild and desolate part of the coastline seldom visited even by fishermen.
If by day it was sombre and forbidding, it was still more so at night, especially when there were drifting clouds, overhead, and only just enough moon to outline the great, rocky mass against the sky line.
This was the case when the two chums approached the place about the middle of the night following their aeroplane trip past the Seals' Cave.
This cave was, in fact, situated in the headland—at its base. And it could only be reached in two ways—one, by a passage from the sea, completely under water when the tide was up—the other, by a perilous climb down the face of the cliff from above.
Here there was another passage or gallery—several, in fact—leading down into the cave—a large interior grotto quite big enough to receive and hide even a submarine.
Ray and Harry were skilled cragsmen, as they had need be to venture to climb down the cliff face in the semi-obscurity; and as to their companions—three in number—they were all good at climbing—Barney, who, as a hunter, had been used to it in many forms; Tom, who could stick on like a limpet almost anywhere; and lastly, Joe Foster, who had often, as a boy, scaled the dizzy crag after sea birds' eggs.
Joe had been invited by the chums to accompany them for two or three reasons. For one thing, it was a kindly way of intimating their confidence that he was innocent of the crime that had been charged against him; for another, because, as stated, he knew the place—and lastly, for the reason that he had been employed in a British submarine. Hence, if they should succeed in capturing the one they were after, his special knowledge might come in useful.
In perfect silence, like mere, dark shadows, the five made their way along the steep rock, halting here and there when they came to a knoll or ledge which afforded a secure resting place.
Truly it was perilous work. Though they had pocket torches with them, they dared not make use of them there, lest someone might be on the watch and see them. Often, therefore, when darker clouds passed above, they had to feel their way with hand and foot.
Below, the waves rose and fell, moaning and hissing, with monotonous, tireless persistence. One slip, in some places, would have meant a terrible, fatal descent into their cold embrace.
It was rather curious that, after all, they were undertaking this dangerous adventure on the mere chance of finding what they were in search of.
Still, to them, the chance appeared worth the trouble and risk; for suppose it turned out successful, what pride and pleasure would be theirs! What honest satisfaction at having been able to remove such an enemy, one so dangerous to their country!
Thus they reasoned, cheerfully incurring the risk for the sake of the possible advantage to King and Realm.
And now they moved with, if possible, even greater caution. They were nearing the entrance to the gallery. In front of it, they knew, was a large hollow, a basin-like depression, which, in fact, screened the entrance from the beach below, and from the sea; which doubtless was one reason why the place was so little known.
Harry laid a hand on Ray to stay him for a moment. He scarce could have told why he did so, save that a sudden, idea or perception came to him that someone was there.
It was as well, perhaps, that it happened so, for a dark shape rose suddenly up; there was a guttural exclamation, a German oath, and even in the slight light there was the gleam of a pistol barrel.
Harry, who was always quicker or more impetuous in such matters than Ray, sprang forward.
Another instant, and he had the man in his powerful grasp, and had knocked the weapon from his hold even before it could be fired.
There was a short, sharp struggle, some heavy gasps and broken words, and then the man was on his back, with Harry bending over him.
Barney was on to him, too, and was already tying him up, whilst Harry held him and prevented him from crying out. A minute or two later the fellow was lying helpless, though unharmed, and quite unable either to move or cry out.
It can be imagined the effect this had upon the adventurers. It told them at once that, they were on the right track, and the results were electrical. They saw success already in their grasp.
One by one they entered the opening, Ray and Foster leading the way as knowing the place best. And once inside, their lamps could be brought into use, and the path made clear.
In Indian file they commenced a zig-zag descent, eventually reaching a large hall or chamber in the rock.
And here they saw a strange sight. A number of men in German naval uniform were lying about on the floor fast asleep. Yet they were evidently taking no chances—or so they thought—for each man had a revolver lying by his side handy for use if they should be surprised.
Thanks to Ray and Foster's extreme caution, they continued in their deep slumber, hearing nothing of what was going on around them, and undisturbed by the carefully shaded light Ray used—all the others having been extinguished.
Obeying his signs, his companions picked up all the revolvers; then, stepping noiselessly across the chamber, they passed onwards, through a door-like opening, into a still larger grotto, in which the sea was slowly rising and falling.
And here, all but submerged, lay the submarine herself, with deck awash, and the periscope open!
The two churns looked at each other with sparkling eyes. Here was a splendid chance indeed to capture the vessel! Was it possible it would prove as easy as it looked? Surely there would be some on board, down below, in charge, who would be pretty sure to give the alarm?
There was a hurried, whispered consultation; then Harry and Barney took their stand in the entrance-way between the two grottos. In each hand they held a revolver, and their special mission was to overawe the recumbent Germans if they should awake too soon.
Ray and Foster, meantime, crept silently down into the interior of the vessel. They, too, each had one of the enemy's pistols in one hand, and an electric-lamp in the other.
But there was no one below, and for a few minutes they busied themselves examining the machinery and all the numerous arrangement of switches and valves.
Ray knew something of the working of the machinery, and when Joe Foster grinned and nodded, he nodded in return. And their nods meant that they intended to try to take the vessel out between them.
Both knew the passage well which led out to the open sea. Not only had they come in and out in boats, but they had swum through it when the tide was too high for any vessel to pass through, taking a rest in the grotto inside before returning.
Foster turned on the searchlights beneath the surface, and was relieved to find that they worked all right, for he had to depend upon them to find his way out.
Ray climbed up again, and signed to the others left on guard. They came to join him, and descended the narrow ladder. Then the opening was closed and the vessel began to sink lower and lower.
But this, of course, could not be done noiselessly, and the effect was to wake up the sleepers.
But they were in total darkness, for Harry had been careful to extinguish the one feeble lantern which had been burning in a corner, and for a while they only raced about in confusion, bumping into one another, saying things, and even fighting with each other in their panic.
It was some time before they could find lanterns and get them lighted, and when they did, lo! the submarine had vanished!
Certain swirls they saw on the surface of the water told them that it had not as yet gone very far; and in their mad rage they seized upon the loose rocks lying about and hurled them savagely into the water.
This accounted for certain loud thumps the adventurers heard as they continued to sink farther and farther below the surface. But they did no harm, and ceased as the vessel moved slowly forward along the passage leading to the open sea.
Captain Markham, keeping a careful watch on board the Swallow opposite the Seals' Cave, was amazed and alarmed when a disturbance on the surface of the sea almost alongside seemed to presage the appearance of the dreaded submarine.
Dreaded she must be by any vessel situated as the Swallow was, whether yacht or warship, so long as she was believed to be in the hands of the foe.
It is scarcely to be wondered at if something like a panic seized upon not only the gallant skipper but all on board, as the grey shape rose slowly out of the sea. But in his case, at any rate, it was only momentary. Then his voice was heard giving orders, the telephone-bells rang, and the yacht swung round.
A few seconds, and she was pointing end on towards the rising form. If the latter proved to be an enemy, Markham had resolved to run her down before she could move, even if he and his vessel were blown up with her as a consequence.
He could scarce dare to hope that his employers had captured the ugly, dangerous-looking monster; though he thought it just possible that that might be the meaning of its sudden and unexpected appearance just then.
He was not kept long in suspense. A figure appeared in the opening above the deck, and waved a handkerchief. There followed a cheer, in which Tom's shrill tones were distinctly audible.
Then all those on the yacht understood. In a moment they had turned from apprehension to triumphant joy, and such a thundering cheer rang out as might almost have been heard in the interior of the Seals' Cave itself.
A little later a boat left the Swallow for the shore, with an armed party of men, whose mission was to search for the Germans.
Needless to say, they found they had disappeared from the cave. But the party went off and started the hue and cry in various directions, and soon police, coastguards and scouts were scouring the country. And as the Germans were unarmed and dressed in uniform, it was not long before they were all captured.
Amongst them was the man Sendal—also dressed in a German uniform; and when he was confronted next day with a translation of the papers Tom had recovered from his "lobster-pots," he made a full confession. He admitted that Joe Foster was innocent, and that he—Sendal—had himself managed to secrete the compromising documents in Mrs. Foster's cottage.
The two chums and all concerned in the capture were once more complimented and honoured. And the only person who seemed annoyed was the Honourable Wilfred Sackville—otherwise "Rattler."
"You might have waited till I arrived, and let me join you in the scoop, Jumper!" he said to Lord Harry when he came on the scene next morning.
But, all the same, he admitted what a relief it was to them all that this dreaded menace to the fleet had been so quickly and cleverly removed.
"YE seem to have met wid somethin' extra interestin' in that letter ye're reading, Harry. Moight an ordinary body loike meself inquire whether ye can confide it t' your frind?"
Raymond Sinclair, adopting for the nonce the Irish brogue, as he sometimes liked to do, was addressing his chum, Lord Harry Temperley, as they sat together at breakfast.
Harry had been reading a letter which had just arrived, and by such expressions as "By Jove!" "Well, I never!" and "That's very curious now!" uttered in jerky, surprised accents, had raised the curiosity of his chum to fever pitch.
"Shure, it's terribly selfish ye arre, thin," Ray continued, "t' kape all that t' y'self. It's meself as'll be laving ye—"
"No, no, old chap!" cried Harry, as Ray, to emphasise his threat, half rose from his seat. "I'm sorry to seem to tantalise you, but really this is so very curious—coming at this present moment, too—that I couldn't help reading it through when I once started on it.
"This is a letter from a chap at Liverpool, who has been having a talk with a captain of a liner which has just arrived in port. My friend knows we are going past the region the vessel sailed through, so he has sent me an account of the captain's report.
"It is to the effect that, sailing farther to the north than vessels usually do in order to keep clear of possible German cruisers, you know, he went closer to the Sargasso Sea than he had ever done before, and was surprised to see a great alteration in its general appearance."
"H'm! In what way?" Ray asked.
"He declares he could see long, wide channels of open water, extending, seemingly for an indefinite distance into the weed. It is, he declares, a most extraordinary phenomenon, and seems to offer a capital opportunity to anyone who wishes to explore the region. Now fancy that! What a curious thing to hear at the time when we are about to pass by that particular part of the world!"
The two chums had been entrusted by the authorities with a confidential mission to one of our colonies across the Atlantic, and the Swallow was being fitted out for the voyage. As Harry's words indicated, their route would take them near the Sargasso Sea, a region they both felt a great interest in.
"Eureka!" exclaimed Ray, suddenly forgetting his assumed brogue. "Seems to me this is just the chance we wanted. Harry, I think we might spare time, on our way out to have a look round there. Don't you?"
Ray rose without waiting for an answer and went out, returning a minute or two later with a book, which he opened.
"Here you are. See what it says here," he said. "'Sargasso Sea—that strange marine meadow of interlaced sea plants covering a vast area in mid-Atlantic between the Antilles, the Azores, and Cape Verde, fills a romantic place in history and literature. Columbus sailed for a fortnight over it, thinking at first that it was merely an almost endless marsh. A migratory marine-plant forest, with an estimated area of over a million square miles, it holds the wrecks of countless numbers of ancient ships, besides all kinds of trees and plants washed down from the great Amazon and Mississippi rivers.
"'Columbus dreamed strange, romantic dreams concerning it, speculating as to what might exist hidden away in the inner, inaccessible parts. And many a man has speculated and dreamed in like manner since; but the tract holds its secret to-day as it did then, no one having succeeded in exploiting it, though numbers have tried. Some, indeed, have sacrificed their lives in the attempt, dying miserably of slow starvation after their boats had been caught and held fast in the tenacious weed, which, it is said, never gives up what it has once seized hold of.'"
"It must be a most weird, uncanny sort of place," Harry commented, "with possibilities about it exciting enough to fascinate a wooden image! Yes, I certainly think we ought to have a look round there as we pass it. Especially if it is the case that the channels this captain speaks of extend for any considerable distance, and we find they are still open."
"It's a splendid, a wonderful chance for us!" Ray murmured, with flushed face and sparkling eyes. "Such an opportunity may never offer again. And with our aeroplanes as well, eh, Harry?"
"Right-ho, yes! We ought to be able to make some fine discoveries. We'll certainly have a shot at it anyhow."
So much interested did the two feel that, during the next day or two before the Swallow sailed, they made inquiries in many quarters as to what was known about the Sargasso Sea, beginning with Captain Markham, the worthy skipper of the yacht, and ending with the sailors; and, eventually, the fishermen along the shore who had travelled far. In return for their inquiries they were treated to an astonishing crop of marvellous and often hair- raising yarns, poured forth by all the imaginative mariners who had ever sailed—or said they had sailed—within a thousand miles of the Sargasso Sea.
"Phwat's all this stuff in the wather, Tom? Shure it's all over the place."
"It's weed, Massa Barney," said the young negro, without taking his eyes off a fishing-line he had trailing over the side.
"Weed? Phwat weed?" Barney wanted to know.
"Dunnow. Guess I heard 'em callin' it some outlandish name, but dis chile can't 'member it."
"Oi've heard tobacco called 'the weed,'" muttered the Irishman, reminiscently; "but it couldn't be this stuff. Besides, they wouldn't let it run t' waste like this."
"Is baccy a weed?" asked Tom.
"I guess so."
"Ah, me got it!"
"Got what, you young shaver?"
"De name—what dey call dis stuff. You said it. 'I guess so.' Dat's de name. Iguesso weed."
Barney pondered. "Don't see anny sinse in it," he commented. "Howsomever, it must be very common, useless stuff else people 'ud make some use ov it."
There was certainly enough of it to be seen. As far as the eye could reach on one side of their route the whole expanse of sea was green with it. Even where they were steaming there was so much of the weed about as to render it necessary to take special measures to keep the yacht's propeller clear of it.
Ray and Markham between them, had, indeed, schemed out a special contrivance for this purpose. That was why they were able to be so far inside the outer fringe, as it were, of the desert of weed as they then were.
While Barney and the darky were speculating upon the subject somewhat listlessly Ray and Harry were talking about it in a way that was the reverse of listless.
"Well, here we are at last!" cried Ray eagerly. "We're on the very borders of the wonderland. I wonder what we shall meet with here?"
"Ye may meet with your deaths, young gentlemen, if ye're too venturesome," the skipper warned them. "And ye wouldn't be the first, as ye've heard me say before. But I didn't tell ye all I know an' have heard. There was, for instance—"
"Now don't, captain; pray don't." said Harry, laughing. "Don't freeze our young blood with any more of your terrible tales of the Sargasso Sea. Here we are with it before us. We shall be able to find out things for ourselves now."
"Humph! I suppose ye'll have yer own way. It's no use warning ye," Captain Markham returned, with a shake of the head. "Well, if ye're bent on bein' wilful an' venturesome, the question arises, which way am I to steer?"
"Steer so as to try to find those open channels that Liverpool skipper spoke of," returned Harry. "I wrote and obtained the exact bearings, you know."
"Ay, ay, my lord. I've got 'em here. But ye understands, I'm not going to venture this vessel into the weed. Ye've given me the command of her, and—"
"And, of course, you don't want to lose our ship for us. That's quite right, captain. Nor do we want to lose her. Nor do we wish to risk the lives of the brave, faithful sailors on board. We'll leave it to you entirely to say where the yacht may go and where she may not venture. But in one of the boats—and still more, in our aeroplanes—"
"Ay, ay, sir; that's another matter," the bluff mariner agreed.
They sailed on and on in what was really the arc of a wide circle, but the afternoon passed and night came, and still showed them nothing but weed, weed, everlasting weed, everywhere.
Through glasses—particularly through very powerful telescopes—they could indeed catch the gleam of light upon distant tracts, showing that there were spaces of open water inside the outer ring, as it were. But they could see no means of reaching them by boat.
They could also make out the masts, and in some cases even the rigging and sails of ships. There were derelicts abandoned at sea, which had not foundered but had drifted perhaps for years, until they had eventually been swept by the wind and currents into the weed, and held there.
"Scientists say," Ray explained, "that the whole Atlantic Ocean is a great whirlpool, revolving very slowly, with this part—the Sargasso Sea—for its centre. Thus, everything adrift that floats long enough gets swept here sooner or later."
The entangled ships greatly interested the chums.
"I wish we could get near them—go on board and have a look at them," Ray said. "How lonely and miserable they look over yonder. Yet it's a sort of refuge for them—a quiet haven—in their old age, after all their drifting, buffeted about by wind and waves."
As there seemed nothing to be done for the time, they turned in early.
"We'll be up with the dawn," said Harry. "Then, maybe, you'll have something to show us, captain."
"Ay, ay, sir! I shall let her thresh along quiet through the night. I shall stay on the bridge myself. It won't do to trust to anyone but one's self in this place."
So the chums turned in, and the captain marched to and fro on the bridge alone. Only the man at the wheel and a lookout man for'ard remained up with him.
The moon rose presently in great splendour. It was at the full, shining as it only shines in the tropics. And as the yacht moved on the character of the surroundings altered somewhat.
The weed seemed to be denser piled up or packed more tightly, so to speak, while the spaces of water between became not only more frequent but clearer.
That is to say, the weed held together more closely, and there was less of it floating about loose.
Watson, the chief officer, who presently came on to the bridge in case the captain desired to take a rest, looked about him through his glasses.
"Seems t' me, cap'en," he said, "that it's different stuff here—stronger, and growing in long, trailing lengths which twist together and interlace and get bound together in tangled masses. It's easy to see how they'd hold on to the biggest ship once they got round her.
"An' it seems t' me," he went on, "that we must be getting into the neighbourhood of those open channels we were told t' look out for. See that one there now? That's the widest I've seen yet."
"Ay, lad, It does begin t' look like it," Markham answered. "I'm thinkin', p'r'aps, we'd better call the guv'nors. They'd like t' see this, maybe."
There were now many of these openings. The yacht kept passing the ends of them, and they were like canals running up into the midst of the weed. And the farther the yacht travelled the broader they seemed to get.
Down each one, in turn, they saw the reflection of the moon's rays, glistening as upon a surface of burnished silver.
Suddenly there was a warning cry from the look-out man. The captain set bells and telegraphs going, and roared out orders to the man at the wheel.
The yacht's head swung round, away from the vast fields of weed towards the open sea.
And it was well that the vessel had been turned in time, for there had been but a few seconds in which to meet the peril.
And a terrible danger it was! It took the form—not infrequent in these seas—of a big tidal wave, moving forward at great speed, and altogether without warning, save a dull booming roar.
On it came, an upstanding wall of blue water, with a white, foaming crest, threatening to engulf the yacht and all on board her.
And engulf her it would have done had she not turned to face it. Had she been caught broadside on nothing could save her.
As it was, her bow went up and was lost to view amidst that mass of white, hissing foam. There was a shock, almost as though she had run aground. She shook and shivered from stem to stern. Her decks were all under water, and those on them had to hold on to whatever they could get their hands on for dear life.
She rose high in the air, poised, shuddered, then plunged down into a cauldron of boiling, seething madly tossing waters.
But the good ship withstood the shock bravely, and emerged upon the other side of the mighty wave safe and sound, shaking the frothing water from her as a Newfoundland dog might do.
And as she settled down amid the turmoil of dancing waves in the wake of the great roller, the men on her deck looked after the wave in silent wonder.
Those who had been below, rudely awakened by the shock and the deafening roar, came tumbling up, and now stood beside the others, asking excited questions, and gazing in awe at what followed.
The two chums reached the bridge, and after the captain had assured them that the worst had passed, stood like the rest, fascinated by the extraordinary scene.
In the clear, brilliant light of the full moon in the cloudless sky overhead, everything could be seen distinctly, for it was almost as light as day.
Looking across the expanse of weed, great columns of foaming water could be seen rising and falling like strange, white ghosts, with tossing dark arms that stretched out, writhing and twisting as might long, sinuous serpents.
The great tidal wave had swept onwards, passing beneath the weed, and then forcing its ways through it from below, here and there, where the tangled masses were less dense.
Through the openings thus made by the irresistible power of the mighty wave, the water shot up in great spouts, carrying with it long streamers of the weed, which it tossed about in all directions.
Amid the confused hissing roar of the water as it shot upwards, could be heard loud, booming, tearing sounds, as the weed was torn asunder and flung upwards. Then crashes, as water and weed fell back, only to leap up again and again. And the moonbeams glistened and sparkled on it all.
It was a scene such as can scarcely be described, and it continued for a long time, with gradually lessening force.
Even after the area immediately before them had settled down somewhat, the spectators could both see and hear that the same thing was still going on far away, as the wave reached distant parts of the weed.
When they were able to give their attention to other details, they became aware that opposite to them was a wide, open waterway, extending as far as they could see.
And floating towards, them in the middle of it was a strange looking dark mass, like the dismasted hulk of some vessel of other days.
"WHAT is that?" Ray asked, almost in a whisper as he levelled his glasses at the mysterious vessel. "Where did it come from? I did not see it a few minutes ago."
There was not much wind, but what there was was blowing towards them, and was helping the stranger on its way. There was evidently, too, a current aiding to send it along. A decided current which was now persisting in its course in spite of the temporary influence of the tidal wave.
"It looks to me like an ancient Spanish galleon," said Harry, staring through his own glasses, and equally puzzled. "I suppose it's some old hulk that has been set free from the weed by the shock of the tidal wave, and is now drifting towards the sea. By Jove! Ray, we must get a boat out and go and have a closer look at her!"
"I should think so," Ray agreed. "We can't let a possible prize like that slip through our fingers."
A boat was lowered accordingly, and the two chums started off to investigate.
Seen from the lower level of the small boat, the stranger looked larger and more imposing. Her high poop loomed up against the sky line, dark and grim. Her timbers were black with age, and two stumps showed where her masts had once been.
Very ghostly and mysterious she appeared, in the midst of the glowing ripples around her, floating silently down on them as though steered by unseen hands.
Presently the boat ran alongside, and the two chums, followed by Barney, climbed over her rotting bulwarks and stood upon her crumbling deck.
They had brought lanterns and electric torches, and with their aid they began to explore, first the whole of the deck and then the cabins.
The state cabin, aft, had certainly once been a gorgeous affair. Even now the rich carvings were almost intact in places, and the fixed table in the centre was a work of art in mosaic.
What, however, attracted their attention even more than these details, was the sight of some open chests which were lying around. Strong iron chests they were, with bronze bands and fastenings; and it was easy to guess that they had once held treasure.
Ray and Harry looked at one another.
"She was a treasure ship!" said Harry, in low, wondering tones.
"For sure," Ray assented. "But the chests have been rifled of their contents by—well, by thieves, or treasure-seekers, I should say. See, they were broken open; the locks were smashed. That doesn't look as if the proper owners of the treasure had emptied them."
"No," Harry answered, regarding the chests thoughtfully, "Nor does it look to me as if it's very long since they were broken open. Look at these marks," and he pointed here and there. "You see that the metal is quite bright where it has been scraped and torn—it is almost bright."
"An' shure, here's some 'av the treasure," said Barney, showing a gold piece he had picked up off the floor.
"Another sign that they've not been opened long," Harry commented gravely, as he examined the ancient coin, "it's almost as bright as if it had been in circulation, though the inscription is so worn I can't read it."
"Here, sah's, some more boo'ful old money," Tom suddenly put in. He had stowed himself away on board the boat and had passed unnoticed. "Me find dem outside on de deck."
"Hallo! I didn't know you were here," exclaimed Harry. "Found them on the deck outside? Ray, this seems to me to suggest still more clearly that this treasure has only recently been taken away, and that whoever took it was in a tearing hurry. Else they would not have dropped coins all around like this, and not even taken the trouble to pick them up."
"Looks like it," Ray assented. "Who, then, could it be—and where are they now?"
Harry made no immediate reply. He was thinking. It is not a pleasing, satisfactory sort of feeling—the idea that one has just missed finding a lot of treasure, even if one is not needy, or greedy.
"This old hulk," Harry presently mused, "came floating down from somewhere farther afield. Maybe the people who took this money are still there—where it floated from. We may come across them; they may not have gone away yet."
"Well reasoned, oh, wise one," laughed Ray. "But I don't see that it is of much interest to us if they haven't gone. You wouldn't propose to set upon them and rob them of what they have found, would you?"
"Goodness no!" exclaimed Harry, laughing himself at the idea. "I was only thinking that someone seems to have got there before us, and to have made discoveries—very interesting discoveries. What others can do we can do. We may make other discoveries."
"Quite so. We'll have a good try, anyhow. When it's daylight we'll get the 'Swan' out, and we'll skim around on an exploring trip."
The "Swan" was the combination water-plane, of which mention has already been made. Harry, seeking about for a name for her, had suggested "Wild Swan," which Ray had adopted, but shortened to the one word "Swan."
A further examination of the cabin resulted in the discovery of several interesting—and even valuable—old relics, such as a sword of very fine-tempered steel, with a jewelled hilt, some pieces of armour, beautifully inlaid, and other things.
"Now these are really valuable as articles of vertu, you know, apart from the intrinsic worth of the jewels," Harry observed. "Proof positive, to my mind, that these treasure-seekers left in a hurry. Queer, why should they do that? Let's look round further. Maybe we shall light on something that will suggest a reason."
They wandered about the deck, and down into the fore cabin, where they found many articles of ancient make, interesting as antiquities, but not of any particular value.
Then Barney had another find. On one side, against the bulwark, a glint of light caught his eye, and following it up he found, as though it had rolled there—an empty wine bottle!
Harry whistled. "Fancy that!" he exclaimed. "Not been very long there, either," he decided, as he smelt at it. "My stars, Ray, this is getting more curious than ever!"
"Strikes me we'd better give up our search for to-night," said Ray. "We can return in the morning and look round by daylight. We shall see better then."
"Good idea," Harry returned. "Let's be oft to bye-bye now, and finish our night's rest. We will arrange with Markham to make a halt here, and to take care that the old hulk does not give us the slip."
The next morning they were up betimes, and were giving orders for the boat to be out, when they discovered that it was missing. Tom had already gone off in it, one of the sailors announced, and he pointed to the darky, who was sculling away with one oar over the stern.
"What's the young rascal up to now?" Harry asked, biting his lip. There were other boats, of course, but they had their covers on, and were not ready for immediate use, as this one was.
It looked as though the youngster was going off to the ancient hulk. This was lying some distance away, having been secured by a grapnel and light cable. A sailor had been left on board, too, to make sure she did not drift off.
However, Tom did not go so far. He stopped about half-way, and made a grab at something that was floating past. It looked so small that those on the yacht could not distinguish what it was, and it was certainly rather remarkable that the negro should have seen it from the ship, when it was even farther off. Still more that he should have recognised what it was.
He now returned to the yacht, and as he ran alongside he held up his prize triumphantly to the gaze of the group impatiently awaiting him.
"Look!" he cried, rolling his eyes about and grinning till his mouth seemed wider than ever. "Me find dis! Me see it comin' 'long, an' me go an' fetch it. It be anodder—like de one you find in der night."
It was another empty wine-bottle!
The two chums were naturally disappointed—almost disgusted, if the truth were told. They had expected something of more interest.
"Something seems to be about who has brought plenty of bottled wine with him," Harry muttered. "To find one, was useful. It suggested a good deal. But to find another adds nothing to our knowledge."
Ray looked at the bottle, and finally took it from the youngster as he clambered over the bulwark and on to the deck.
"See," he said, "this one is stoppered—in fact, it's sealed carefully." He held it up to the light and his face became at once more animated. "And—yes—there's something inside—a paper!" he finished excitedly. "This may be more important than it looks, Harry."
He opened the bottle hastily and drew out a paper with writing on it. Unfolding this, he read out the message it brought:
"Schooner Shamrock. Stuck fast in the weed, through foul play. Must starve to death unless help arrives. If this comes into the hands of any ship-master we beseech him, for pity's sake, to come to our aid. If the current we can see from the ship takes this down, it may be a guide by which to find us."
There followed some directions about the open channel and how to find it—which were almost pathetic in the circumstances—it was so unlikely that any ordinary "ship- master" would ever have found the bottle, or the channel afterwards, if he had looked for it.
"But we know where it is!" cried Harry, as he glanced at the open waterway in front of them. "The bottle came drifting down yonder—that's certain—from the same direction as the old hulk. We must go off at once to the assistance of these poor people, whoever they are. Fancy—starvation staring them in the face—entangled in the weed! And through foul play, too! Oh, there's some queer story hanging on to this. Shouldn't wonder if it's connected with those empty treasure chests. Better get the Swan out, Ray, and let us set off at once on our hunt. That will be quicker and surer than any boat."
Half an hour later the Swan rose easily and gracefully from the surface of the water, and sailed away over the vast wilderness of weed—the first aerial craft, to float above the Sargasso Sea and search out some of its hidden secrets.
FOR some little while the view over the expanse of Sargasso weed was clear and uninterrupted, and the two chums were fascinated with the strange scene upon which they looked down.
The Swan, the name of the water-plane in which they were flying, rose and fell in a series of long, easy, swinging glides through the air. And the knowledge that the adventurers were gazing upon what no man probably had ever seen before, filled them with feelings of mingled pride and delight.
"I wonder," murmured Harry, as he gazed thoughtfully down, "what some of our scientists at home would give to be here with us now? Some of the big-wigs of the Royal Geographical Society, for instance!"
"I don't think they'd care much to be with us unless we had better accommodation to offer them than there is here," said Ray. "They would look funny if they had to hang on as Tom is doing."
They had taken the young negro with them to assist them as an "observer," as it is called; hoping that, as in the case of their search for the German submarine, the lad's ultra-sharpness of vision might be specially useful. And they knew by this time that, insecure as his perch would have been for anyone else, there was little danger of his falling off.
Tom clung on, indeed, as a monkey might have done; and he gazed around and below with as much serene confidence as that animal would no doubt have shown.
But his eyes were alert, his vigilance unceasing, and he knew what it was he had to look for. But he sought—they all three sought—in vain.
Vessels there were—plenty of them—entangled in the weed; vessels of all sorts and kinds and shapes. They were dotted about at intervals, here and there, in all directions.
Some of these the travellers had seen from the open sea. But now, from their higher position, they could see more—many more. But the vessels in view were all old hulks—derelicts, deserted, often mastless, worm-eaten, rotting wrecks. They looked in vain for a modern schooner such as they expected to come across.
Apart from their anxiety on account of the unknown castaways, whose appeals for help, enclosed in a bottle, had so strangely come into their hands, there was plenty to interest them.
The farther they went the older became the type of vessel they saw. By and bye they passed over other old hulks similar to the one that had drifted down to them in the night—the ancient galleon, or Spanish treasure ship, as they judged her to be.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Ray, as he scrutinised each one in turn through his glasses. "What a happy hunting-ground for the treasure seeker and the lover of antiquities! I'll be bound to say there's a lot of money on board some of these ancient hulks, to say nothing of other queer old relics. Pity we haven't time to indulge in a good hunt!"
"It strikes me," remarked Harry, "that if we don't mind where we're going and look to our bearings, it will require a good hunt to find the Swallow again. Do you notice that mist rising?"
Ray had not noticed it. He had been too busily engaged in looking down at the various vessels. They had been flying quite low so as to be able to see them plainly, and in his eagerness to "spot" the lost schooner he had looked very far ahead or around. Now he saw that a mist was gathering on all sides.
"This won't do," he muttered uneasily. "How are we going to find our way back? Which is the waterway we've been following?"
"I'm jiggered if I know," Harry confessed, with a perplexed air. "I didn't notice till this moment, but there's evidently a sort of labyrinth of channels—a regular maze of waterways. Why on earth didn't we pay attention as to which way we came?"
As he said, the whole region was a maze of canals and channels—some wide, some narrow, some straight, others winding. And as the one they had been following was of the latter kind, and there were others like unto it opening into it or branching off this way and that, they had really no notion which one it really was.
On all sides there was now a bank of mist, which was not only creeping nearer and near, but seemed to be coming down on them from the clouds, shutting out the sun and rendering it impossible to guess in which direction the Swallow lay.
For once Tom was as much at sea as they were themselves. He, too, had been giving all his attention to seeking for the lost schooner, and somehow his sense of locality, which had often proved to be out of the common, failed him here.
"Me no able to tell where de yacht is," he said disconsolately. "Dis bad mist make eberywhere look alike."
"I wonder," Harry suggested, "whether we could get above the fog if we went up pretty high?"
"It's worth trying, anyway," Ray returned. "We'll put her nose towards the sky, and let her climb for awhile. There's one thing, though, if we don't get the view we want up there, we shall be coming down somewhere else, and may be worse off than ever."
"We can hardly be that," Harry declared, with a laugh. "If we fail, we can come down, take a rest on the water, and wait. That will be better than using our petrol sailing blindly about in this mist."
This was certainly true; and Ray nodded his head in agreement, at the same time that he raised the horizontal rudder, and the craft shot upwards.
In a series of spirals it climbed into the upper air, but all in vain. They merely ran into thick, heavy clouds, where they could see nothing whatever, and found themselves more utterly lost than even they felt before.
"It's no use, Harry," said Ray. "We'd better get down again and rest the machine. As you said just now, it's no use wasting our petrol keeping the motor going in this fog. If we do that we may not have enough to enable us to find the yacht when it clears off later on."
"Just what was in my mind," Harry agreed. "We'll have to land somewhere and be patient. It would never do to run short of petrol!"
It certainly would not; the mere thought of such a thing sent a shiver through their nerves.
"Fancy being stranded in the midst of this wilderness!" Ray muttered.
"There are some poor beggars who are in that very position, somewhere about here, and we can't find them," Harry reminded him. "What you say enables one to have some idea of what they must be suffering. It also makes me more determined not to leave this region till—Heaven helping us—we have found them."
"Amen to that, old chap," Ray joined in heartily. And little more was said as they volplaned down, looking eagerly about as they neared the surface of the weed for some convenient spot to land on.
And here a great surprise awaited them. The mist had cleared a little in the part just below them, and there they saw—a rocky island!
How far it extended they could not tell. But there, as if it had been made for them, was a spacious platform of flat rock, rising twenty or thirty feet above the strand.
A little later they settled upon it.
"I should think you'll be glad of a rest, Tom, anyhow. I must say you've clung on pretty cleverly, but I guess you were a bit cramped, eh?" Harry asked.
"Me more hungry dan anytink else, Massa Harry," Tom answered. "It must be past dinna time."
"Ha, ha! You're no sooner on terra firma than you get hungry, eh?" Ray laughed.
"Me don't know 'bout dat," Tom replied slowly; "Me only terror be for fear you say we got noting to eat."
"That's a joke, I suppose," Harry remarked. "Not bad for a young darky, eh—Ray? Shall we reward him by giving him some lunch?"
They had brought a basket with some food and drink, and Tom was allowed to possess himself of it and spread it out on the rock. Then they all three sat round it, and had a rough sort of picnic.
"H'm!" Harry commented, as they commenced their repast. "This region's not all weed and sea, then! Here's a rock—an island, seemingly—and where there's one there may be more. Who knows but what there may be larger islands hidden away somewhere in the interior?"
Ray signified his agreement by a grunt. He was busy eating, for like Tom, he found he had an appetite. Harry made a like discovery as regards himself, and thus it came about that there fell a silence between the three.
It was in the midst of this silence that they heard curious, odd sounds somewhere behind them. Then suddenly there was a confused murmuring as of many people talking together in low tones.
The chums listened, stared at each other, then sprang noiselessly to their feet and looked about them.
The platform of rock on which they had landed was sparsely covered near the edges, with a sort of rank, scrubby bush. This was particularly the case behind where they had been sitting, and to these bushes they now crept stealthily.
Peering cautiously through them they could see a tract of strand or beach below, and there they beheld a most unexpected and extraordinary sight.
THE strand was alive with strange-looking creatures, and not the shore only, but the water as well. They were swimming about in all directions—tumbling, rolling over and over, tossing and turning like human eels.
And never had the chums seen or heard of such odd beings. So far as their long, gaunt legs and large splay feet were concerned, they might be likened to frogs rather than human beings. Upon those long legs a small, squat, "woodeny" body was set, with long, powerful arms. Finally, they had queer, vacant- looking faces, and long hair which came down over their shoulders.
They wore but little clothing, and were evidently much more at home in the water than on land, for they stalked about, when on the shore, with jerky steps, almost like wooden figures; whereas in the water they moved about with an ease and freedom which seemed astonishing.
"Look!" said Ray, in an awed whisper. "They've got big, webbed feet!"
"By Jove—yes!" Harry replied. "I say, what can they be—human beings, do you suppose, or—what?"
"They must be human, of course, of a sort," he declared. "Look! Here comes a canoe. It's a very primitive kind of craft, as you can see, but it's a canoe right enough. Now only human beings could make canoes, you know."
"Yes, I suppose that's right," Harry assented. "And I expect that that old johnny lolling at the end of it is a sort of chief. You see, he's got others to paddle him about, to save him the trouble of swimming. Faith! If I had not seen them myself, I don't think I would have believed that such creatures existed on this earth!"
"Well," laughed Ray. "I don't think they do exist on the earth much. You can see they can hardly walk about. Whereas in the water they're as much at home as a family of seals. And then their wonderful webbed feet! How exactly they're adapted, as you can see, to the water. I wonder how many generations it took to evolve those extraordinary feet!"
"I wonder!" Harry pondered thoughtfully. "See those over yonder in that thick weed! It doesn't trouble them in the least—they slip in and out, and go through it more easily than eels. Jupiter, it's a wonderful sight! I wonder what they're like as regards disposition? What would happen if we showed ourselves? Would they swim off like frightened fish, or turn and attack us? For the matter of that, I don't see how they could, though, having no weapons."*
(* These are not purely imaginative creatures. A race similar to them was discovered amongst some of the islands of the Pacific, by the Chief Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Australia, who described their webbed feet and the extraordinary ease with which they swam about, even in water covered with thick weed.)
At that very moment something happened which came, as it were, as an answer to the question. Two forms suddenly appeared running round from the side of the island, and made a dash towards the canoe.
The intruders were two men of burly build, dressed as sailors. They had brutal-looking faces, and their whole manner and behaviour was brutal, as they quickly showed.
With a rush they pounced on the canoe, which had just reached the shore, and seizing the paddles tried to throw the paddlers overboard. They had been carrying short, heavy clubs, and these they now used unmercifully upon the paddlers and others who came to their assistance.
The old chief, as he appeared to be, they turned out of the craft into the water. Then, getting in themselves, they began to paddle away—or rather one did, while the other was employed in beating off the swimmers who swarmed around the canoe and tried to prevent it from being carried off.
Now, as may be supposed, the two chums were not inclined to look on indifferently at these high-handed proceedings.
For awhile, it is true, sheer surprise kept them from doing anything. Then, however, they began, as by one impulse, scrambling down the face of the rock to the shore.
Dashing forward, and drawing their revolvers as they ran, they levelled them at the two sailors.
"Hands up! Throw down that paddle or I fire!" cried Harry to the paddler.
"And drop that club if you don't want to die suddenly!" said Ray to the other man.
The two, startled, seemed at first inclined to reel. But a glance at the stern, determined faces of the two young fellows caused them to think better of it. Sullenly they obeyed, one of them muttering:
"Who the dickens may you be? And what d'you want to interfere with us for? What business is it of yours?"
"What do you want to steal that canoe for?" Harry demanded. "Why should you rob these poor natives?"
The man gave a contemptuous snort.
"Rob—poor natives!" he sneered. "We want the canoe—and they can easily make another one."
"But why do you want it, I wish to know?" Harry persisted. "It may be you have a good reason. But if so, why not have got it from them peacefully? Why not have offered these poor people a present of some kind in return? Then, perhaps, they might be quite willing to let you have it."
"That's our business, what we wants with it," returned the man, plucking up courage a little, as he perceived that Harry was evidently a good-natured young fellow. But if he thought he could take advantage of the fact he was quickly undeceived.
Harry's brain worked quickly. He remembered the note enclosed in the bottle. That appeal had said expressly that the castaways had met with "foul play."
If that were so, there must be people about responsible for that "foul play"—people who, perhaps, had gone off and left others to their fate.
And these might be two of the guilty ones. The very thought of such a thing filled the young man with indignation.
"Look here, my man," he said, more sternly than he had yet spoken, "there is something about all this that requires explaining—and it will have to be explained to our satisfaction before we let you go. You will come out of that canoe, the two of you, holding your hands, up all the time, and I shall bind you until you have satisfied me that you are honest men. And don't you try any tricks, for I have reason to believe you are a pair of would-be scoundrels; and if that is the case I'd shoot you as soon as look at you!"
The two looked at him, scowling and fierce, and seemed to be taking his measure. But something they read in his eyes cowed them.
"Very well, guv'nor," said the one who had spoken before. "O' course you've got the drop on us now. But look out for yourselves! We're not 'ere alone. We've got friends as'll make it hot for ye, if ye harms us."
"We'll take our chance of that," Ray now put in. "Tom, pull the canoe close in, and when they get out, tie them up while we keep watch on them."
The darky jumped readily into the shallow water and pulled the craft to the edge of the strand, and the two men stepped moodily on shore.
"Feel in their pockets, Tom," said Harry, "and see if they have any arms."
One of the men started, and one hand came down, but went up again at once as Harry stepped closer.
Tom plunged a hand into one of the fellow's pockets and brought out—a pistol.
"I thought so," he said quietly. "Now tie him up, Tom."
But Tom had no cord handy. He felt in his own pockets, but only found a little thin twine. He was about to make a start with this, when the queer-looking old chief intervened. He had scrambled on shore, and he and the rest of the strange creatures had been watching all that went on.
His followers were watching him, too, waiting for a sign from him as to what they were to do. He now waved one arm to them, and spoke in a peculiar, low, cooing sort of tone. And at once his people acted.
Diving into the water they brought out some long, trailing pieces of weed, and going up to the two men began to bind them with it. This they did in a manner peculiarly their own. It was so deft, so quickly done, yet so effective that it drew words of approval from the two chums.
"By Jove! That was smartly done," Harry remarked. "They're no fools, these froggy people, evidently."
"Yes, they seem intelligent," Ray agreed. "Now what is to be the next move? Who are these sailor scoundrels? How did they come here? And what did they want to steal that canoe for?"
"We shall have to find out presently. But, for the moment. I'm more interested in these funny frog people. They don't seem a bad sort. The boss there looks an amiable old johnny. Let's see if we can make friends with him. I suppose they live round here and know their way about, and they may be useful."
"That's true. And apart from that they're worth studying from a scientist's point of view," Ray returned. "Let's see if we can rout out something to please them in the way of a present."
"Good thought!" laughed Harry. "Though I don't know what we can give them just now. If we had only known we might have brought plenty of likely trifles from the yacht."
While speaking they had strolled near to the canoe which had now been drawn close in shore.
The stranger was now inside the craft, which was quite a large affair, and was engaged in putting back in their places a number of articles which had been disarranged in the violent jolting she had undergone. And the two chums, looking down for the first time at the interior, were surprised to see the number and variety of articles that were stored there.
Bows and arrows, fishing spears and nets—quite a little collection of useful things, of primitive make, were stored away in racks neatly fitted along the sides.
"No wonder they didn't want to lose their canoe," Harry remarked. "It's a storehouse for a good part of their worldly possessions. I should say. I'm glad we've saved it from being carried off. I expect it took them a long time to fashion all those things, to say nothing of the canoe itself. Hallo! Look at that young rascal Tom! He seems to have found some playmates after his own heart."
Ray glanced in the direction indicated by his friend, and there, to his amazement, saw the darky disporting himself in the water in the midst of the strangers, and enjoying it as if he had been to the manner born.
He had divested himself of most of his clothes, and was swimming, diving, splashing, rolling and tumbling about, scarcely less easily and skilfully than the natives themselves. In fact he was evidently enjoying a good game of romps with them, on terms of perfect amity and equality.
"The young monkey!" exclaimed Ray. "Talk about making friends with these people—he seems to have done that for us already, on his own account. And it hasn't taken him long either."
"Well, that's settled it as regards the others," Harry answered. "Now if we can manage as well with the old chap here, we shall be all right. We can't become half-frogs ourselves—as Tom seems able to do—so we must try my plan of coaxing him with a present or two."
However, this was not really needful. The stranger was so grateful for their interference on his behalf, that he responded at once cordially to their advances. And for a little while the three were engaged in the oddest, quaintest exchange of mutual courtesies that can well be imagined.
Then Tom came ashore, and approached them, wet and dripping, and evidently greatly excited.
"Ship, not far away," he declared, rolling his eyes and grinning as if the fact were something highly diverting. "Dey offer t' take me dere."
Now, as may be supposed, this unexpected statement astonished the two friends. They stared at the lad, then at one another; and Ray, in his eagerness, took him by the shoulder and shook him, sending a shower of raindrops around as from a wet dog when he shakes himself.
Ray was naturally anxious, to know if there was any real foundation for the youngster's assertion, or if he were only making a random and foolish statement.
For how could Tom know—how could they have told him? And, above all, how could they possibly have offered to guide him to the vessel?
Tom himself found it difficult to explain. By some subtle sympathy between the young negro and these people of the weed wilderness, some form of telepathy or thought-reading, perhaps they had conveyed to him the information he had stated.
Pointing to the canoe they had made signs which evidently, to his mind, meant that they had seen a much bigger vessel. Then they had pointed to the two chums, and somehow indicated to him that people like unto them were on board. This much he was able to explain with tolerable clearness; but the rest was either pure guesswork, or some such form of communication as already suggested.
Anyway, in the end, the two friends were so far impressed as to determine to follow up the idea. After a brief consultation it was agreed that Harry should trust himself in the canoe with the old chief and Tom, and start off on a little voyage of discovery. And Ray, meantime, would follow overhead in the Swan, watching their progress, and ready to assist if required.
The two prisoners were left in charge of some of his people selected by the old chief.
Tom took it upon himself to pronounce this arrangement quite satisfactory.
"Dey no let 'em get loose, Massa Ray," he declared, wagging his head sagely. "Dey too angry wid 'em. Find 'em heah when we come back."
"Well I hope you're right," Harry put in, as he prepared to embark. "It'll be a fine sell if we come back and find they're gone."
A few minutes later a strange procession passed along the waterway in which the island was situated.
There was the big canoe, with its froglike paddlers forward, and at the stern their queer-looking chief, who might truly have been classified as a man-frog, so far as appearances went.
Even his face was frog-like, and the masses of white hair around it gave it an almost uncanny effect as of some grotesque monster of "weed land." Then his long gaunt legs, with their big, webbed feet, stretched out as he reclined at his ease, made up as great a contrast to the figure of the athletic, well-built young Britisher beside him, as can well he imagined.
And beside the canoe swarmed numbers of the chief's people, some in front leading the way—in some cases clearing it of weed to open a passage—some behind, all rolling, tumbling about like a school of porpoises.
And high up above them the Swan now sailed, at first greatly to the terror of the "frog" people, as Harry, for want of a better name had dubbed them.
But, with Tom's aid, he quieted their alarm and thus they traversed the channel for some miles, the mist meantime slowly getting thinner.
Then all suddenly there came to their ears the sound of shots—revolver and rifle shots—somewhere ahead of them, and certainly not very far away.
The paddlers hesitated in dismay; whereupon Harry sprang up, and taking a paddle from one of them, commenced to send the canoe along on his own account with long, powerful strokes. And Tom, in obedience to an order, took a paddle also, and did his best to help.
Then the canoe shot forward at such a rate that the swimmers were left behind, and it went on ahead of them, guided now only by the sound of the firing.
THE schooner Shamrock lay like a ship becalmed, still and helpless amid the clinging masses of weed which surrounded her.
Upon her deck half a dozen persons sat in attitudes of utter despair, or rose suddenly now and again and walked feverishly to and fro in restless but helpless impatience.
One was a manly young fellow in yachting costume, another was his young wife, a sad-faced yet beautiful girl—she was little more—who hugged in her arm their child, a little girl.
Beside them, with a fixed, hopeless stare, sat an old man, her father—one who spoke no word and seemed not even to hear when addressed.
Forward, seated on coils of rope, were two men in sailor dress, who sat and smoked, but spoke no word. Some cards, scattered on the deck, told that they had been playing a game, no doubt to distract their thoughts, but had tired of it. And now they only smoked in silence.
They had passed a fortnight in this way, more or less, since one morning when they had woke up to find that the skipper and nearly all the crew had deserted them in the night, taking all three boats, and leaving them entangled in the weed to starve to death so soon as the stores left in the ship should give out.
It was a cruel, horrible thing to do, and it was the worse, as it were, in this case on account of the fact that the vessel was but a few yards from a wide channel clear of weed.
Had they had but a boat they might have towed her out into clear water. Had there been anything they could have pushed at with long poles or spars they might have managed to force a way out. Had there been a good wind at first they might have sailed out. But it had been calm day after day, and the clinging weed had now closed round, holding them tighter and tighter in its fatal embrace each twenty-four hours.
And this was all the harder in that the open channel was so near—so near that they had been able to throw bottles into it, with messages inside, in the hope that they might be carried by the current to the open sea, and there be picked up by some passing vessel.
And one of these bottles had been seen, as has been told, by Tom, the young negro, with his sharp eyes and the message had been read by the wondering owners and captain of the Swallow.
Suddenly one of the two sailors started up from his coil of rope.
He stood with his hand shading his eyes, peering along the open channel. He had evidently heard something, and now he could see that which almost made him jump.
The mist, which had been very thick all the morning, was fast clearing, and there, coming along the channel, he saw several canoes filled with natives who were behaving in a way which proclaimed them to be savage enemies.
They were gesticulating, brandishing bows and arrows and spears, and soon their menacing shouts became audible.
"Mr. Owen, for goodness' sake, send Mrs. Owen below—and the old gentleman," the sailor, stealing up beside the young fellow, whispered. "I'll go down and get the firearms, and maybe, with the help of Providence, we may be able to fight 'em off."
The young man woke up at once to the situation. Gently, yet firmly, he conducted his wife and child, with the old man, to the cabin, and a minute later reappeared on deck carrying revolvers and rifles. The two sailors came up almost at the same time with some cases of ammunition, and the three set to work to make such preparation as they could for defence.
"There's one thing to be said, Jim," the young man muttered, "we're entrenched, as it were, behind this weed. I don't see how they're going to get close enough to board us."
"Don't 'ee trust t' that, sir," said the sailor, shaking his head. "Ye may be sure they're used t' that sort o' thing, livin' about here. And I misdoubt whether a bit o' weed is goin' t' keep 'em from boarding us if they once close round and get near enough. What we've got t' do is t' keep 'em at a distance as long as we can."
And then there commenced a fight which was terribly unequal in one respect—there were but three men to defend the ship against a horde of savages. It is true the three had firearms, while their enemies had only bows and arrows.
But these latter are formidable weapons in skilful hands; and it would probably not be long before the three defenders were hit—and then their case would be hopeless indeed.
Meantime, however, they put up a sturdy fight, and for some time kept the savages at bay. But after a while Jim was wounded, then the other sailor, and thus in a short time there was only the young man who had been addressed as Mr. Owen left to carry on the hopeless conflict.
What his feelings were—what dark despair crept into his heart—can only be imagined. What is certain is that he was still fighting desperately for those he loved, when through the clearing mist an extraordinary sight burst into view.
From a direction opposite to that the savages had come from, a single large canoe appeared, surrounded by what at first looked like an immense number of swimming animals or fishes.
But in the canoe sat a white man in a yachting suit, who was firing with a revolver at the savages; while, most extraordinary of all, from the clouds above an airship came sailing down, and, swinging round, rushed to and fro over the heads of the assailants.
Here, again, a white man rained down shots on the people in the canoes, now shrieking with terror at the awful apparition above them; while the young fellow on the schooner and his wounded companions looked on at the sight in such bewilderment that they were scarcely able to believe their own senses.
They rubbed their eyes, and asked themselves if they were awake or dreaming.
IN a remarkably short space of time the hostile natives had disappeared. The mist was clearing fast, but what remained of it helped to cover their escape, and the rescuers did not trouble to pursue them.
They were, indeed, far more interested in the schooner and the people on board her.
Harry, from the canoe, stared at them in frank curiosity; and they looked at him and his strange companions with no less interest and surprise.
Truly it is not to be wondered at that they could hardly believe the evidence of their own senses.
Here they were, cast away in the desolate expanse of weed, where there were, so far as they knew, no human beings, save themselves and certain others who had deserted them.
They had been thus imprisoned for what had seemed a long and terrible time; and they had suffered cruelly as they realised that the only prospect before them was ultimate starvation.
The young husband and wife, on the one hand, and the old gentleman—the wife's father—on the other, had passed the long drawn-out days and nights with this awful certainty staring them in the face. And the strain of the continual contemplation of it had brought them very near to the verge of madness.
And they knew this. They felt hourly as though they might go mad at any moment.
Then had come to them in quick succession a series of remarkable happenings. They had been attacked by native savages in a region they had thought uninhabited, and had had to fight for their lives.
In the midst of the excitement of the fight other beings had appeared, as if by magic, in this same region—beings so utterly opposite to each other that it was amazing to see them arrive in company.
They consisted, first, of a number swimming creatures, so grotesque as to seem fitted rather to a pantomime than a scene in real life.
Second, with them, seemingly on quite friendly terms, was a wholesome, good-looking young Englishman, who nodded and smiled at them with breezy friendliness.
Third, there was an aeroplane flying overhead, with someone in charge who was evidently on friendly terms with the other strange newcomers below.
Is it to be wondered at if the sorely tried people on the schooner were almost inclined to deem themselves under the spell of some weird dream?
Indeed, so bewildered did they appear that Harry could not help laughing.
"We are real flesh and blood, and I am a very ordinary kind of white man. So's my friend flying up above," he called out cheerily, divining their thoughts. "You are not dreaming, though I can quite understand your feeling a bit doubtful about it."
Then the young fellow roused himself.
"Whoever you are, sir," he answered, in a voice full of emotion, "you come, I can see, as friends, and therefore you are more welcome than any words of mine can tell. I can't express to you—"
"Don't try, then, my dear sir," Harry interrupted. "We are only too delighted to think we have come upon you. We've been searching around for hours, and had almost begun to think we should never find you."
The young fellow stared more than ever at this.
"H-how could that be?" he exclaimed. "How could you know we were here?"
"Didn't you send a bottle out with a message in it?"
"Yes, certainly. In fact, several—"
"Ah! Well, we found it—or one of 'em. That's how the miracle came about, as I suppose it seems to you. We were cruising round in our yacht, looking about, and thinking of starting on a little voyage of discovery—"
"In search of treasure?" the other asked, with an obvious shiver.
"Oh, no. We're not hungry after treasure."
"Ah! Would that we had never been! It was that which brought us to this pass."
"So! Well, you shall tell us your story presently. The first thing seems to be to consider how we are going to get your vessel out of that weed in which she is entangled. And then, further, how we can get her down to the open sea."
"If you can only do that you will earn our heartfelt gratitude. I am sorry to say we cannot offer any large sum—"
"Tut, tut! Did I not tell you just now that we are not eager after money? Of course we will get you down to the sea, somehow or other. I rather doubt if our skipper, who navigates our yacht, would care to venture here to take you in tow. But there are other ways. By the way, we saw a large old hulk float down to the open sea where we were last night, and where she managed to drift, I suppose your vessel can go."
"Was she a—sort of—ancient galleon?" the young man asked eagerly.
"Why, yes; that's just what she appeared to be—and an ancient treasure ship, too, I should say, from what we found when we boarded her. But someone had carried off the treasure—"
"Ah!" exclaimed the other, with a sort of gasp. "Then those wretches got it, after all!"
"Who got it?"
"The scoundrels who deserted us and left us here to starve and die," was the reply, given as between close-shut teeth. "But you shall hear all about it later on."
Ray now sailed down with a graceful sweep, his machine coming to rest on the water near them as easily as her namesake might have done.
Harry waved his hand towards him, and said to those on the schooner:
"My chum, Sir Raymond Sinclair." Then, to Ray: "These are the people right enough who sent out that message in the bottle which brought us here, Ray. Also they have, some connection with that old galleon which we boarded last night. Thereby, I am told, hangs a tale, which we shall hear in due course. The first thing is, how the dickens are we going to get 'em out into the channel here? You can do marvels with your machine. Do you think you could tow the ship out?"
But Ray shook his head. That was rather beyond his power. And for a while there was a pause as they looked at the thick masses of weed in which the vessel had become entangled, and from that again to the deck.
In the meantime the young fellow's wife and child had come up from the cabin, and were staring in astonishment at the scene which met their eyes.
"Lookee, massa," said Tom suddenly, pointing to their queer allies, "dey be goin' do someting."
Harry's attention had been fixed on the people on deck, especially since the unexpected appearance of the young married lady and her little one; and he had not noticed what had been going on.
Now, to his surprise, he saw that the "frog people" were very busy round the imprisoned ship. Evidently they had some plan, and were working hard at it; and there were a lot of them, too—quite a swarm of them, as Tom remarked a little later.
It was Ray who first divined their object.
"They're trying to clear the weed away, so as to free the schooner," he exclaimed.
And that was, in fact, what they were working so hard at, as very soon became manifest.
It was a hard task, for the weed was remarkably tough and exceedingly tenacious, and the tools of the workers were, seemingly, crude and primitive. They were, indeed, only sharp flints; but the workers certainly knew how to use them wonderfully well.
Ray watched them with great interest; and he particularly noticed these crude tools, which told a story of their own, as he remarked to Harry:
"Where do they get those flints?" he asked significantly. "Flints are not to be found mixed up with weed. It is evident to me there must be some pretty extensive tracts of land somewhere in the midst of the weed."
"The mist has cleared off," Harry now said. "Don't you think it might be worth while to take a look up above and see if you can discover the yacht."
"Yes, good idea—while our froggy friends are carrying on their tussle with the weed. I should say I ought to be able to find the yacht pretty easily now, with the aid of the compass—which, however, was precious little use in the fog."
"Lemme come, Massa Ray," Tom entreated. "Massa Barney get anxious if me stop away too long."
"I don't think he'll break his heart about that," said Harry. "I expect he's congratulating himself on having a quiet time, free from bothersome nigger boys."
"Oh, well, let him come if he wants to," said Ray.
In a moment Tom had sprung over the side of the canoe, and was swimming vigorously towards the aeroplane—or water-plane, to give the machine its more appropriate name.
A little later he was climbing into the seat as a passenger, and then the whole affair rose slowly and gracefully in the air, and mounted upwards in a series of wide spirals.
"Can't you manage to get in close enough to come on board, sir?" said the young fellow on the deck. "We could talk better then."
"It's a good suggestion," Harry returned. "But I'm not sure if it can be managed. And now that my interpreter has left us—that young negro, you know—I don't know how to make these johnnies understand."
"Oh—then they're not regular friends of yours," the other returned with a smile.
"No—never saw 'em before an hour or so ago."
"Then is the negro their friend—or how does he know their language?"
"He doesn't, it's all signs, or guesswork, or a sort of mental telegraphy. However, I'll have a try."
Harry addressed himself to the old chief, who was sitting placidly in the canoe, watching his people at their work of clearing the weed.
There were only a few yards of it between the sides of the vessel and the clear water in the channel where the canoe lay, but it was evidently a difficult business to cut through it.
The chief directed and encouraged the workers by curious jerky sounds—they hardly sounded like words—which he uttered from time to time.
Harry listened, and watched and waited awhile. Then he caught the chief's attention.
"Hi, old joker!" said he, in a tone he tried to make like the one the other spoke in, "can't you push on ahead a bit?"
As this appeal produced no result, he tried again, this time imitating the young darky.
"Me want go to um big ship," he jerked out, pointing to the schooner.
Unfortunately, his efforts were misunderstood, for the chief gave an order to the paddlers, and they began to back the canoe in the opposite direction, away from the vessel.
Those on the deck looked on in amusement, and the child laughed openly. Harry felt that his dignity was at stake. He seized one of the paddles and began to use it vigorously. But as the other paddler went on stolidly in his own way, the net result was to cause the craft to spin round.
Then the young fellow on the deck had an inspiration. He got a long rope, in a coil, and flung it as far as he could across the irritating band of weed.
"Good idea!" cried Harry, as he saw that the end was almost within reach. "Why on earth didn't we think of that before?"
With trouble and patience he managed to manoeuvre the canoe up pretty close, and to make the chief see what was wanted. He directed some of the swimmers, and they finally seized the end of the rope and brought it to the canoe.
Harry took it and hung on to it; those on the schooner pulled at it, and the canoe was slowly drawn bodily over the top of the weed to the ship's side. A few seconds later Harry had ascended the accommodation ladder and stood on the deck.
THE old gentleman shook Harry warmly by the hand.
"My name is Lawson, sir," he said. "This is my daughter, Mrs. Delmar, and this"—indicating the younger man—"is my son-in-law, Mr. Owen Delmar. And now sir, will you do me the favour to step down into our cabin? We can talk better there—and I will tell you how we came to be in this unhappy predicament."
The speaker had completely roused up out of the lethargy in which he had been plunged before the attack of the savages.
He spoke briskly, and had a straightforward manner which impressed Harry very favourably. His first impressions were also pleasing ones as regarded Owen Delmar and his wife. They, on their side, shook hands with him with obvious emotion, and seemed to wish to say more in the way of expressing their gratitude, but Mr. Lawson led him away.
Seated together in the cabin, the older man started at once to give voice to his thanks. But Harry stopped him.
"We haven't got you out of the wood—I mean the weed—yet, you know, sir," he said, in his cheery, good- humoured way. "Wait till we've finished things up, shipshape and satisfactory."
"Tell me your name then, sir. Let me know the names of both our rescuers. Your friend, I think you said, is Sir Raymond Sinclair?"
"That's right. And my name's Temperley—Harry Temperley. So now we know one another, and I want to hear how you came here."
"It's my fault, sir," the old gentleman declared, with a sigh. "I have shown myself to be a foolish old man—credulous and, I fear, almost criminally careless. But for you and your friends we should have met our deaths here—horrible deaths, by starvation and thirst—I and my dear daughter and her child, her husband, and those two sailors you saw—the only honest men out of the crew we engaged. The rest, including Roker, the skipper, are thieves and would-be murderers, for they drugged our coffee one night, then somehow worked the schooner into the weed somewhat as you see her, only she was farther from the channel than she is now. Then they went off in the night and left us."
"But what did they go in?" Harry asked, a bit mystified. "Surely they would not go off in open boats?"
"Oh, no. They have a steamer—a large tug-boat. We brought her, too, as a precaution."
"Yes; she is called the Rover, and her owner's name is Roker—the man I spoke of just now. He undertook to navigate both vessels for me, putting a mate in charge of the tug, while he sailed the schooner himself."
"But how did all this come about?"
"Ah, you may well ask! 'Twas this way. He came to me with a story about having picked up a shipwrecked sailor who had formed one of a party of treasure-seekers. Perhaps you may know that from time to time such parties come to this region to try their luck, for it is supposed that there are many old treasure ships lying entangled here in the weed, if they could only be got at. A few, I believe, have actually been successful, but the majority have failed, I fancy, and many have lost their lives over it and have never been seen or heard of again. In all probability they have got caught in the fatal weed and have starved to death, as we should have done but for your kind-heartedness and courage in acting upon the appeal in the bottle we sent out, and coming to search for us.
"However, to my story. I listened to Roker's account—how this castaway had declared that his party had succeeded in reaching an old Spanish treasure ship. They managed to secure a small iron chest—one of several they saw—and were about to return for the others, when a great storm, which had been brewing, burst on them. They had to make for the open sea hurriedly, but their vessel became waterlogged and finally foundered. The crew took to their boats, but only this one man finally escaped; and he subsequently died.
"Such was the man's story, and Roker declared that, before his death, he had given him (Roker) such particulars as would enable him to find the treasure which had been left behind. For the box which had been carried off had been filled with gold and silver, and there was little doubt that the others were similarly filled.
"Well, to cut the tale short, Roker induced me to finance an expedition to search for this old galleon. Though he owned the Rover, he had no spare cash to put up, and, indeed, the Rover was mortgaged, he told me and could hardly be called his own.
"In the end, I realised what small fortune, I had, and risked it all over this wild scheme—and you see what has become of it. This scoundrel, having got me out here, and having, at my expense, found the ancient ship, determined to get rid of me—and with me my beloved daughter, and the others now here with me, so that he could have the whole of the treasure for himself, instead of the share he agreed to take. And so, in my greed for gold, my wish to become rich—though, Heaven knows, it was for my daughter's sake, not for my own—I have very nearly been the means of sacrificing all our lives! That thought has been ever with me all the time we have been imprisoned in the weed, and has nearly driven me mad. I shall never forget what I have suffered, and I shall never forgive myself for having allowed this man to lead me and those dear to me into this death-trap!"
"Nay, nay, my dear sir," said Harry, gently. "I do not see that you need reproach yourself so. All's well that ends well, and you'll be all right now. But I don't see why those scoundrels should be allowed to go off triumphant with the treasure. They must still be about here somewhere."
And he told Mr. Lawson about the two sailors who had tried to steal the canoe.
"My idea is," he went on, "that these men had landed on the island with others, and had been left behind, possibly accidentally. That would account for their being so anxious and determined to have the canoe. Maybe we shall come across this precious Roker and his tug-boat; and, if so, we will see if we cannot recover the treasure for you. They have forfeited all claim to any share in it."
"Oh, I don't want that," Mr. Lawson declared. "My fortune has gone—I am a ruined man, for this schooner is only hired; but I shall be well content to get back to where we came from—Jamaica."
"Well, we shall see," Harry returned. Then, as he heard voices raised on deck, he asked. "What's going on up there? We'd better go up and see."
The two went on deck and found that the "frog-people" had almost cleared the weed from the bow of the vessel, and were now trying to haul her out into the channel by means of the rope Delmar had thrown overboard.
The young fellow himself and the two sailors were assisting as far as they could, and there was, in consequence, a good deal of shouting and some laughter, for the efforts of the swimmers as they splashed about in the water in their frantic efforts, were certainly rather amusing.
Suddenly some shouts were heard from a distance, and the proceedings were stayed. Harry thought at first that his friends had arrived from the yacht in a boat.
But it proved to be a far different business, for Mr. Lawson, after one sharp look, gave a cry of warning, and sang out to the sailors to get their rifles.
"It's that infamous Roker and his gang," he said hastily to Harry. "We shall have to fight for our lives again now! He won't let me get safely away if he can help it, as he knows I can have him arrested for conspiracy and attempted murder."
"Give me a rifle," cried Harry. "I'll help you against the wretches. Great Scott! What scoundrels! I only wish the yacht was within call. We'd give them a lesson! I can see that they've been to the island, and taken off those two we took prisoners. I expect I was right; they had been left behind by mistake, and I suppose Roker went back to look for them. When they see me here they'll be pretty anxious, I guess, to get their revenge. I didn't handle them very gently when they tried to steal that canoe. By the way, where is it? What has become of my froggy friends?"
They had all disappeared—vanished as if by magic. No one had ever noticed which way they had gone, so completely had their attention been taken up by the fresh arrivals.
As to these, they looked a decidedly ugly lot, and Harry, brave as he was did not like the position by any means. He did not fear on his own account, but there were the young mother and her child. How cruel it was; they had only just began to recover from their long strain, and now another peril threatened them.
Harry, with Delmar, saw them safely down into the cabin, then returned to the deck, and, with hard, set face, took a rifle, and sent a bullet whistling over the heads of the oncoming gang as a warning.
The reply was a fusillade, and several bullets spat against the bulwarks, whilst others sang amongst the rigging.
Then the rifles of the other defenders spoke, and a scream from the boat told that one of their enemies, at any rate, had been hit.
But now things grew worse, for a second boat appeared round a bend in the distance; and Mr. Lawson told Harry that she belonged to the same band.
It was certainly a serious outlook for those on the schooner. They had no time for consultation or for forming any plan of defence, and their assailants were determined that they should not escape, after all.
And, to make matters worse, there was not much ammunition on board.
Roker and his gang had carried off all they could lay their hands on. It was only thanks to the fact that Delmar had a private stock in his cabin, of which Roker had not been aware, that they had any at all.
"We'll keep 'em off while we can, at any rate," said Harry, setting his teeth. "My friend will be coming back soon, on the aeroplane, and, well, he could help us in several ways—take a message to the yacht, or—"
Just then Mr. Lawson uttered a sharp cry, staggered, and would have fallen if Harry had not caught him.
"Are you badly hurt?" cried the young fellow, eagerly. Delmar came running across at the same moment, and helped to carry the wounded man to a sheltered position.
"It is a punishment on me," wailed the sufferer. "It is my fault that all this has happened. I have brought this upon you all, and my dear, beloved daughter, and her poor, innocent, little child."
At that moment a loud cheer was heard coming from a direction opposite to that the hostile boats had come from.
Harry darted to the rail and looked over. Then he came back to the injured man.
"Thank Heaven, we are safe!" he cried. "Do not worry yourself any further, Mr. Lawson. My friend is returning on the aeroplane, and is showing the way to two boats from our yacht—our motor-boat towing another one."
Not only that—as soon appeared—but the Swallow herself was following. Her captain had not hesitated to bring her when he had reason to fear that something was wrong.
Harry having assured himself that Mr. Lawson was not dangerously wounded, went on board, and himself directed the chase and capture of the scoundrel gang—now trying to escape.
With the help of Ray and Tom, in the aeroplane, the band were followed up, and, in spite of their resistance, were made prisoners.
Then Ray and his sharp-eyed "passenger" discovered the whereabouts of the Rover, and, as there had been only two men left in temporary charge, she was easily captured, too, with the treasure taken from the old galleon.
This the chums handed over to Mr. Lawson, declining to accept anything for themselves, and they had the satisfaction of seeing the would-be murderers tried and sentenced after they all reached the West Indies.
"Ah," remarked young Tom, after the capture of the Rover, "good ting me went wid Massa Ray. Me hear you all firin', and he not believe, it at first. But me make him believe, an' den dey get de boats out an' come quick."
"That's quite true, Harry," Ray confirmed. "We none of us heard the firing, and I should have returned without any boats, after I had found the yacht, if the young rascal had not insisted that he could hear rapid firing going on, and so convinced us that there was something wrong."
"MASSA BARNEY, Massa Barney! See what I got heah!"
Tom, the irrepressible young darkey, had suddenly appeared in the forest clearing where his masters were encamped, bearing something in his arms covered with a cloth.
Had the Irishman looked round, one glance at the youngster's rolling, mischievous eyes and grinning lips would have warned him to be on his guard.
But Barney was deeply engaged in the duties of cook, which important office he was filling temporarily in the hunting encampment of the two chums, Lord Harry Temperley and Sir Raymond Sinclair.
In pursuance of the mission they had come upon, they had left their yacht at Georgetown—the chief town of British Guiana—and had travelled into the interior with a party of friendly Arawak Indians.
They were in search of Amanda, the chief of the native tribe known as Carib Indians, one of the fiercest races of the country, whose loyalty to the British was, just then, somewhat doubtful.
These Carib Indians roamed about through the wildest forests and least known savannahs of the hinterland, and the adventurers had had no small difficulty in locating them. But after much travelling their Arawak friends had at last brought them near to the Caribs' present settlement.
And now the chums and their followers were resting for a day or two while arrangements went forward for a palaver with Amanda, the fierce Carib chief.
"Massa Barney!" cried the young nigger again, "me brought you a present!" Then, as Barney refused to reply, he added, "somet'ing you can hang on your Chris'mas-tree." Not that Torn knew anything about such things as Chris'mas-trees; but he had heard his masters mention the word two or three times lately, for it happened that it was getting near that time of the year.
Little enough was there to remind them of it, however, where they then were, in almost the hottest part of the world, and in a country sweltering under the heat of the tropical sun.
Now it so happened that Barney just then was also thinking of Christmas, and wishing that he were going to pass it at his master's English home instead of where they were. But, since that was not possible, he had been wondering whether, with the limited resources at his disposal, it would be possible to cook anything at all approaching a respectable Christmas pudding.
So deeply was he pondering over this fascinating problem that he only partly heard Tom's words and misunderstood them.
"Arrah, now—can't ye see Oi be busy?" he said. "All the same, if you've really got anything as'll help me t' make a Christmas pudding—"
"Me got de very t'ing!" exclaimed Tom, with an impish laugh. "Me just caught him."
And stepping up behind the absorbed Irishman, he placed on the back of his neck a small black monkey!
Small it was as to size, but to Barney it seemed a monster of fierceness and viciousness. It had been struggling, and biting, and kicking all the time inside the cloth Tom had wrapped it in. And now that it was loose it meant to have its revenge on someone.
That someone, in this ease, was the much-enduring Irishman; and for a brief space there was a wild scene.
Barney jumped about in a fashion which would have rivalled a kangaroo, had there been one at hand the while that the enraged animal stuck to its position, pulling at his hair and scratching and biting its hardest.
Finally the victim raced off—with what object it were hard to say—but his erratic career was brought to a stop by a collision with a stranger, and the two fell to the ground together.
As Barney rolled over, the monkey was underneath, and was so squeezed that it let go, wriggled itself free, and, with a little cry of fright, raced for the nearest tree, up which it shinned.
Barney sat up, rubbing the back of his neck, and "saying things" to himself, the while that he stared hard at the stranger, who was now sitting up also.
Suddenly the Irishman ceased his complaints—or whatever they were—and became interested in the other—so interested that he sprang to his feet and went to help the stranger to regain his feet.
He was but a youth, and Barney had seen that in his face which told him that he was exhausted, and was, in addition, in a state of terrible fear.
He was white—a strange thing in those forest wilds—and dressed as a white would be, save that his clothes had been torn, evidently in his passage through the forest.
"Arrah, now, doan't be afeared, me lad," said Barney gently. "Ye're wid fri'nds here. Doan't worry yerself."
"Thank Heaven—oh, thank Heaven!" breathed the youth, fervently. "I had no idea there were any white people near; and I've been wandering, lost in the forest!"
"There, there! Be aisy now, be aisy." said Barney, soothingly. "Whin ye feel betther ye can tell us pwhat the throuble is."
"It's my father," the lad answered, almost sobbingly. "He's a prisoner with Amanda, the cruel Indian chief, who threatens to torture him to death. We were both prisoners there, but I managed to escape. I thought I might, perhaps, be able to bring someone to save my father—though I had no idea where to find them. So I've been wandering about, nearly starved, hunted by wild beasts, and tormented with thinking that I should do no good, and only make things worse, perhaps, for my father, after all...."
He broke down, and buried his face in his hands.
Barney almost broke down, too. The lad's condition was so pitiable, his terror so obvious, and the despair in his voice so hopeless, that the good-hearted Irishman felt a lump rise in his own throat when he essayed to speak.
"Cheer up, my lad!" he said, as cheerily as he could. "My masther knows something about this Amanda. He's going t' see him; an' ye may be sure he'll do all that can be done t' save yer father. He'll niver lave him t' the tinder mercies av thim Carib beauties. If he's aloive now he'll be rescued; ye can make sure av that."
These were no mere empty words on Barney's part, uttered to console the lad for the moment. For here, in the wild life of the forest and savannah, Barney was thoroughly at home. He had passed years in the region as a hunter, knew nearly all the different tribes, and had been on friendly terms with most of them.
Sir Ralph Sinclair—Ray's late uncle—with whom the Irishman had travelled, had said of him that he was the best shot, the cleverest hunter, and the most resourceful cook he had ever met with in the tropical wilderness.
The lad looked at him gratefully, yet only half reassured.
"I'm sure you mean kindly," he said; "but you don't know Amanda, I'm afraid. He's not like the other Indian chiefs. He's the most cruel of them all."
"Oi know that. Shure he's a bad lot. There be only one worse, p'r'aps, an' that be old Wolfsfang, his wicked old 'medicine- man'—if the same is still aloive."
The youth looked at him in surprise.
"You know, then? You know that terrible—"
He shivered, and seemed almost afraid to utter his thoughts aloud, for he spoke under his breath.
"It's meself as knows the cunning old fox," he returned. "But, tell me now, phwat's the trouble all about?"
The lad's face took on its frightened look again, and he glanced round apprehensively, as if afraid of being overheard. Then, sinking his voice to a whisper, he leaned over, and spoke one word:
And Barney started. His face became troubled, and there followed a silence between them.
For the old hunter knew what "kanaima" meant. It is the native name in this region for a blood feud of the most deadly and relentless character. It resembles the Sicilian vendetta in some respects, but exceeds it in the ferocious determination with which it is carried out to its direful end.
When a tribe once declares "kanaima" against an individual he is doomed, as a rule, past recall. He may flee and take refuge with another tribe, or try to hide himself in far places, but the "kanaima man" follows implacably upon his track, and no matter where he hides—in the depths of the forest, out on the wide wastes of the savannahs, amidst the savage gorges of the mountains, or in the busy haunts of men—the "kanaima man" will find him, sooner or later, and bring him to his fate.
That, at least, is the usual result in Guiana; and such is the dread of it in the native mind that the very name sets Indians, who may be as brave as lions in other respects, shivering with fear.
No wonder, then, that this lad was in such sore distress; or that Barney, who knew the native customs so well, became grave and thoughtful.
"Come wid me an' see me masther," he presently said. "Shure am Oi that he will do all he can for you."
As the two turned to make their way to the tent occupied by the leaders Barney saw that Tom was standing near, and had been listening. For a wonder, he was looking serious, too.
"Me know about kanaima," he declared. "Him very bad man. But Massa Ray goin' t' make him feel sorry. We take you to Massa Ray—him very clevah medicine man."
And Barney suddenly remembered that it was from some Guiana Indians that Sir Raymond had rescued the negro.
WHEN the young stranger was brought before the two chums, and had been kindly received, duly fed, and made to feel at home, he told them his story.
He was a good-looking, sturdy youth, with fair, curling hair and honest blue eyes, and both Harry and Ray took to him at once.
His name, he said, was Charley Graham, and his father, an Englishman, owned a ranch at a settlement some few days' journey away at a place known as the White Valley, where he had numerous Indians and a few white men working for him. The Indians were of the Arawak tribe.
Amanda and his Caribs had formerly taken up their abode on the banks of a river near there, where they had formed a settlement of their own, and lived for some time.
Unfortunately, disputes had arisen about the fishing on the river between Mr. Graham's Indians and the Caribs; and there had been several squabbles, and even fights, in consequence.
At last these culminated in the murder of one of the Arawaks by a Carib who was of some importance in the tribe, and Mr. Graham, coming on the scene in time to see the crime, shot at the flying murderer, and killed him.
Then the Caribs went away, and nothing had been heard of them till about a week ago, when they had suddenly swooped down, attacked the ranch at a time when the hands were nearly all away at work elsewhere, captured Mr. Graham and his son, and carried them off.
"They brought us to the place near here where they are now living," said Charley Graham. "A long and dreadful journey, for they treated us very cruelly on the way. And they declared they were going to torture us both to death. They will carry out that threat now on my father, all the more surely for my escape."
"Ah, well, we will see about that, Charley," said Ray kindly. "I've got some business of my own with these people, and we're going to have a palaver with them. We'll see if we cannot get them to take a ransom for your father. We have brought with us many things which Indians prize highly—fine rifles, in particular, which Amanda would rather have than lumps of gold, I expect. I do not think he will be able to resist our offers."
"It is very kind of you, sir," Charley returned, gratefully. "And I should feel hopeful if there were only Amanda to be considered, for though cruel and bloodthirsty, he is very greedy, I know. I have heard my father say so. But there is the medicine man—Wolfsfang they call him. He is the worst of them all. And he hates my father because he always used to laugh at him and treat him with contempt; and it is Wolfsfang who has declared the kanaima against us."
"Yes, we know all about that old johnny," Ray answered. "And we've brought with us some things which we hope will enable us to deal with him also. By the way, I have heard that he is ornamented, amongst other things, with steel bracelets on his wrists which are said to be without a joint, and which he wears night and day, as they cannot be taken off. Is that the case—does he still wear them?"
"Oh, yes. I noticed them the other day, sir."
"Good! And you say that the Indians your father has at his ranch are Arawaks—the same tribe as those now travelling with us?"
"That is fortunate, too," observed Ray, turning to his chum. "Our Indians, then, might, perhaps, be willing to fight these Caribs when they come to hear this lad's story. Buck up Charley lad! We'll get your father free, even if we have to fight Amanda and his crowd. However, I don't think it need come to that; I have another plan of my own for dealing with these johnnies."
"Can you shoot, Charley?" Harry asked of the youngster.
"Yes, sir. I have a rifle of my own at home," Charley replied modestly.
"Right! I was just going out when you arrived on the scene to try to shoot something for our larder. You can come with me if you like. Barney is very busy this morning with some mysterious cooking business he has on, and as my friend, Sir Ray, has something else to attend to, I was going to take a stroll out alone. So I shall be glad of your company."
"I shall be delighted," answered the lad, and his eyes lighted up as Harry handed him a small but useful-looking rifle.
"We'll go in the direction of the Carib village," Harry said. "I know where it is, though I have not been there yet. We're going to pay them a sort of State visit to-morrow."
The two strolled out of the clearing, where the party had encamped, and struck into a forest path, emerging after a while on a slope overlooking a valley.
Here an extensive view was spread out before them consisting of hill and dale, and alternate patches of wood and open savannah, with a river in the midst of it all.
In the distance, beside the stream, was an Indian village, consisting principally of clusters of benabs (native huts).
Some Indians could be seen on the river banks engaged in fishing and other occupations.
"There you are—that's their settlement!" Harry remarked.
"Yes. Of course, I recognise it," said Charley, in surprise. "But I had no idea it was so near! How I must have wandered about!"
"Ah! You kept to the forest, I expect?"
"Yes, sir. I was obliged to do so, for fear of being seen."
"Just so. And I expect you must have wandered round and round in a circle, as people generally do. So all the time you thought you were travelling away from the place you were really quite near to it, you see."
"Yes, and near to you, too! Oh, if I had only known!"
"Well, well; you ran against us at last, or, rather, against Barney and his monkey," Harry commented, laughing at the story of the meeting of the two, which Barney had told in his own quaint manner. "However, this is not what we came out for. We must get something for our larder before we get back."
They turned away from the village and reentered the forest for a space, finally emerging from it at another part on the borders of an extensive, grassy plain. And here, to their intense satisfaction, they saw a small herd of deer feeding not far away.
Harry pointed to sundry bushes and groups of small trees which would, he whispered, afford good cover for stalking their game.
"I will go to the right," he said, "and do you go to yonder thicket on the left. When I shoot at the nearest buck the sound of the shot should drive the rest of the herd over that way, past the thicket, and you should have a good chance of a shot there."
The lad nodded comprehension, and the two started upon their respective ways, wriggling along through the long grass like eels.
It was a long and tedious business, and not without risks and dangers of its own; for, as the younger one soon found, there were snakes here and there.
These generally cleared off in advance of him as they heard him coming, though not without a good deal of angry and threatening hissing.
But the lad had been used to that sort of thing at home and he proceeded warily. Only once was he in actual danger, when a "rattler" (rattlesnake) suddenly reared its ugly head only a yard or two away and tried to strike at him.
Fortunately, his quick ear had caught the sound of its rattle as it moved, slight though it had been, and even as the head rose the barrel of his rifle swung round, knocking it over and pinning it to the ground. There it was held while the youth drew his hunting-knife, and deftly severed the head from the body.
Making a detour to avoid the still struggling but now harmless reptile, he presently reached the thicket, and, selecting a suitable spot for an ambush, he lay there in concealment awaiting developments.
Harry, meantime, had reached the bushes he had pointed out without adventure, and after waiting awhile to give his young companion plenty of time, aimed at the nearest deer—a fine buck—and brought it down.
As he had foreseen, the rest of the startled herd set off in the direction of the thicket where Charley was lying, but, to the surprise of both, suddenly swerved and raced away at right angles; offering the lad no chance of shooting at them.
Much surprised and disappointed, Charley rose up and stared after them as they galloped off and disappeared round a distant piece of wood.
Then he turned his gaze towards the stricken deer, which lay quite still where it had fallen.
He saw Harry going towards it, and at the same moment saw something else.
The long grass was waving about a little to one side of where Harry was walking unsuspiciously, and Charley gave a warning shout.
But he was too late. A long, tawny, spotted body had sprung up from amongst the tall grass, and the next moment Harry was lying prone, with a large leopard on top of him.
Soon Harry, who felt his strength failing, would in all probability have been overpowered, when Charley's arrival beside him seemed to give him fresh courage, the while that it drew the animal's attention away.
Enraged at the thought that the newcomer intended to baulk it of its prey, the creature turned its head in savage menace, and gave the plucky youngster just the chance he wanted. He thrust the barrel of his rifle between the open jaws into the throat and pulled the trigger.
With a great roar, which ended in a smothered gurgle, the leopard leaped high in the air and fell over on its side.
Harry sprang to his feet, picking up his rifle as he did so, and put the muzzle to the beast's ear. There was a report, a convulsive struggle of the tense muscles, and their enemy lay dead.
The two hunters drew long breaths and looked at each other.
"My lad, you've done me a good turn—one that I shall never forget!" exclaimed Harry, as he grasped Charley's hand. "It was jolly plucky of you—splendid presence of mind, tool!"
"I—I only did—my best. It seemed to be put into my mind what to do," Charley answered modestly. "In fact," he declared solemnly, "it was Providence guided me—"
And then his voice seemed to fail him. Harry understood, and pressed his hand sympathetically.
"Aye, aye!" he said. "You are right, my boy—it is to Providence we ought to give thanks; but that does not alter the fact that you behaved with splendid pluck."
He saw that now the strain was over the lad was upset, almost trembling; and, to give him time to recover, he affected to be interested in examining the body of the leopard and admiring its sleek, glossy coat.
"You'll have a fine trophy to show your father, Charley, when we have got him out of old Wolfsfang's clutches," he said admiringly. "I envy you. You will have reason to be proud of a skin like that; and your father will have still more reason to be proud when he learns how you got it."
He spoke thus purposely; and, as he expected, the mention of his father roused the lad at once. He pulled himself together and looked at Harry wistfully.
"You still think you can rescue him?" he asked eagerly.
"Why, certainly! I had passed you my word already. You may be sure I shall be more determined than ever after what you have done for me."
"I wish you would not say anything more about that, sir," said the lad earnestly. "And as for the leopard's skin—it belongs to you. You killed the animal."
"Humph! I'm not so sure about that. It may be that your shot really did the trick. And, anyway, but for you I shouldn't have had a chance to shoot at all, I guess. So, Charley, the skin belongs to you—and we'll say no more about it. The next thing is to get some of our Indians to carry it to camp, and yonder buck, too. I suppose the leopard was a rival hunter; it was stalking the buck same as I was, and when I got in its way, well, it was naturally put out, and went for me."
He laughed, and began to look to the scratches he had received in the encounter. Luckily he had come off with but slight injuries, the leopard's claws having struck chiefly upon the bandolier he was wearing, which was deeply scored.
There was a spring of fresh, cool water Charley now remembered, in the thicket, and Harry went to it and bathed his wounds. Then, between them, they dragged both the leopard and deer to the thicket, hid them in the bushes there, and then started back to the camp.
As it happened, they met on their way half a dozen Indians who were just going off on a little hunting excursion of their own. Their chief, a stalwart, fine-looking buck,* named Ironhand, being told what had occurred, and having the place described to him, readily undertook to find the two carcases and bring them into the camp.
(* In British Guiana all able-bodied Indians are called "bucks," just as the North American Red Indians are called "braves.")
Having settled this, Harry and Charley continued on their way back at their leisure, talking confidentially as they went.
Now, as they neared the clearing in which the camp stood they heard certain rather curious sounds, which made the younger one prick up his ears in surprise.
Someone was beating a native drum with great energy and zeal, while other persons were shouting, and even yelling, in very excited fashion.
The only explanation that suggested itself was that some kind of native dance was going on; but this was, as the lad himself knew, a very unusual thing to happen in the daytime. It is mostly at night, by the light of blazing camp-fires, that the Indians indulge in their dances. Besides, they had just met some of the Indians—and it seemed strange, to one who knew their ways, that they should go off thus, just at the time when a dance was taking place.
So young Charley Graham was puzzled, and his perplexity showed itself so strongly in his face that Harry, who was watching him, was highly amused.
Making signs to him to be silent, he led the wondering lad up to some bushes and pointed to a place where they could get a view of what was going on without being seen.
Charley peered through, and this is what he saw:
In a small side clearing, as it were, well shut oft from the rest of the camp, were three persons who—considering who they were—might well have been deemed by a passing stranger to be a bit demented.
Two of them were dancing and capering about as though they were indeed utterly mad; whilst a third was beating with all his might upon a native drum in a way which suggested that he must be, if anything, even madder than the other two.
What was Charley's astonishment as he recognised in these three Barney, the Irishman, Tom, the young negro, and—Sir Raymond Sinclair!
Extraordinary as it seemed, there was no doubt, no mistake about it.
Barney was banging at the drum for all he was worth; in his excitement walking jerkily about, or even occasionally giving a leap and uttering a shrill yell.
Tom was evidently in his element, sometimes on his feet, but quite as often on his head, or doing "catherine-wheels" across the grass, his eyes rolling, his mouth grinning like a veritable dancing imp.
Finally, there was Ray, seeming, if possible, more crazy, more wild, and more excited than even the young darky. The frenzied way in which he danced, the wild capers he cut, the leaps and bounds he indulged in, the yells and cries he uttered, were so extravagant that the listening lad was fairly bewildered.
The only idea that suggested itself was that the whole trio were either crazy, or—it suddenly occurred to him—had been bitten by a tarantula spider, and were, in consequence, trying the effect of a "tarantula dance."
Yet, when he glanced at Harry, he saw that that young man was looking on with merely a smile of amusement on his good-humoured face. So Charley had to dismiss both these suppositions as obviously untenable. And he racked his brains for some other plausible explanation.
Just then Ray made a signal and ceased his amazing gyrations, and, pulling out a handkerchief, began to mop his face, down which the perspiration was pouring.
Barney ceased his strumming, Tom desisted from his antics, and all three looked quite sober.
"Arrah, now, but that wor capitally done. Misther Ray," Barney commented. "Ye're gittin' on grand! It's plazed Oi ahm t' see ye doin' so well."
This gracious compliment—which sounded strange to Charley's ears—was in no wise resented by Ray. He was evidently pleased by it.
"You think so, Barney?" he asked.
"Shure, sorr, Oi think it's grand! Ye bate even Tom in some av thim twists an' turns. Ye made me think av old toimes, whin we used t' dance the jig in ould Oireland."
"I'm glad you think I did it all right," Ray returned, quite seriously. "It would be hard lines to go through all this in such precious hot weather and then make a failure of it after all."
"Ye'll not fail, sorr; ye needn't fear," Barney declared, with conviction. And Ray seemed quite pleased.
All this seemed so strange to Charley Graham that he gazed at the three like one fascinated. Indeed, his face seemed so comically bewildered that Harry could no longer restrain his mirth.
He burst out into a hearty laugh. Then he clapped his hands:
"Bravo! Bravo!" he cried. "I agree with Barney, Ray—ye're doing splendidly! If ye were only dressed up no one would know that ye were not a born native dancer. What do you think, Charley? I expect you have seen plenty of that sort of thing. Don't you think my friend would make a good—er—well, say, a dancing medicine-man?"
"Yes; I certainly think he would, sir," Charley answered, in a tone which betrayed that he was still very much puzzled, and was a little doubtful whether the others were quite in their right minds.
Harry perceived this, and laughed again, more loudly than before; and Ray, catching his drift, laughed, too.
"I suppose you think we are all a bit daft?" he said, good- humouredly, as Harry pushed his way through the bushes and Charley followed. "But this, my young friend, we are doing partly on your account."
"On my account?" exclaimed Charley, more astonished still. "How can I—"
Harry laid a hand on the lad's arm.
"It's this way," he explained. "My friend is a very scientific sort of person, and he has all sorts of little scientific dodges up his sleeve, so to speak. You know that Wolfsfang's influence with his chief, Amanda, rests principally upon his reputation as a great medicine-man—one who is clever in magic?"
"Yes; I know that, sir. But, of course, it's all rot."
"Of course, it is. You, as a sensible young English lad, know that; and we, of course, know it, too. But Amanda doesn't, and it would be a very difficult, almost a hopeless, task to try to convince him by mere argument. Therefore my friend is going to dress up as a rival medicine-man, meet Wolfsfang on an equal footing, and try to beat him in his own way, and at his own game. Do you see? If he succeeds, Wolfsfang's influence will be gone. No native medicine-man can survive being beaten by another. Wolfsfang is supposed to deal in magic—my friend will out- magic him. Now you have the whole idea. That's why he has been dancing about in that idiotic manner. He was merely rehearsing for the grand pow-wow to-morrow night, when he is going to dress up as a medicine-man and challenge Wolfsfang to his face, before Amanda and all his assembled 'bucks.'
"If he succeeds," Harry went on, "we gain Amanda over, and we shall be able to settle all we want without further trouble. And, above all, we shall be able to get him to give up your father to us. Now you see what we're driving at?"
"It is very, very kind of you," returned Charley gratefully. "Only—forgive my saying it—suppose you don't succeed?"
"Then," said Ray, resolutely, "we shall fight them, and deliver your father by force. I have talked it over with Ironhand, our Indians' chief and he is willing to back us up with his band. He has paid Amanda a visit to tell him we are coming, and has counted up how many 'bucks' he has at his village just now, and finds that we are quite strong enough to tackle them if it turns out to be really necessary. At any rate, we're going to rescue your father, my boy—by peaceful means if we can, but by good, hard fighting if necessary, rather than leave him to Wolfsfang's tender mercies. And there's my hand on it!"
And Ray held out his hand, and the lad took it, and shook it, with eyes that had tears in them and a heart that was too full for speech.
"WELL, now," said Harry to Ray, "I have something to tell you which will surprise you. We have met with an exciting adventure, and our young friend here has done something which lays me under a deep and lasting obligation. He has saved my life!"
Ray stared at his chum. In the excitement of the whirling dance which he had been rehearsing, and his interest in the task which lay before them of rescuing the lad's father from the Caribs, he had not looked at either of the two critically. Or, if he had noticed anything unusual in his chum's appearance he had probably put it down to his having come into unpleasant contact with some "wait-a-bit" thorns in his passage through the forest.
Now, however, he saw that Harry bore the marks of a severe struggle of some sort, and he looked from one to the other in mute inquiry.
"No, no, Sir Ray," cried Charley modestly. "I assure you, sir—"
But Harry cut his protests short by plunging into a recital of all that had happened, to which Ray listened with breathless attention. At the end of it he seized Charley's hand, and wrung it in a manner which made the lad wince.
"What you have done for my chum, Charley," he said, with strong emotion, "you have done for me. And I shall not forget it, any more than he will."
The young stranger seemed quite overwhelmed, and evidently scarcely knew what to say.
"I'm sure it's nothing to make a fuss about," he murmured. "I'm quite certain you would have done the same for me if—"
"Ah! But it is not every lad of your age who would have had either the pluck or the presence of mind," Ray replied. Then, seeing the lad's evident embarrassment, he went on: "However, you have put us on our mettle. You have made us more determined than ever to get your father free."
"If you can only do that, sir—" said Charley in a low tone.
"We will—we must—so make your mind easy. Meantime, I am quite anxious to see the results of your prowess. I'm waiting to get a sight of the leopard and the deer. Two such trophies in one morning are something to be proud of."
These were brought in presently by the Indians, and were duly inspected and admired. And then the two friends called the chief, Ironhand, to their councils, and entered into a long discussion of their plans for dealing with the Caribs and their cunning "medicine-man."
At the end of it Ironhand was dispatched upon a visit to the Carib village, ostensibly to try to obtain some cassava—the favourite native foodstuff in Guiana—for his Indians. But his real object was to ascertain if Mr. Graham was safe so far, and whether he would be safe for another twenty-four hours.
He returned towards, evening with what was joyful news for the anxious lad. He had managed to see Mr. Graham for a few moments and to give him a message telling him that friends were near who were determined to set him free, and that his plucky young son was with them. Moreover, it was certain, Ironhand had ascertained, that nothing was likely to happen before the pow- wow, which had already been fixed for the next day.
He further reported that many of the Caribs were absent, having gone on a hunting expedition likely to keep them away for several days. This also was good news, for it meant that, if it came to a fight, the Arawak Indians who were with the chums would be about equal in numbers to the Caribs then in the village.
The pow-wow was held in due course, and, as the occasion was a special one, the Carib chief, Amanda, had ordered a great feast and a grand native dance.
The two chums were received with much ceremony, as became their position as bearers of a message from the British authorities. Also, it was known that they had a special mission of their own upon a matter of interest to the whole Carib nation.
The spot chosen for the meeting was a wide, grassy space near the village, bordered on one side by dense thickets which extended down to the river.
On either side of the valley mountain peaks soared, their lower slopes covered with woods, their summits tipped at times with the beams from a moon, which, however, was not high enough in the sky to be seen from below.
Consequently, the meeting-place was in semi-obscurity, partially lightened by numerous fires, fed with a wood which gave off a curious, incense-like perfume, and burned with flames of various colours.
A wind, which came in fitful gusts out of the tree-tops around, swept down upon these fires, now sending the flames leaping high in the air, and casting strange and weird shadows, anon dying away and leaving almost darkness behind.
Amanda, clad in leopard skin robes, sat upon a raised platform, with his visitors upon his right hand, but at a slight distance away.
Harry and Ray had with them, besides their two faithful attendants, Barney and Tom, Ironhand, the Arawak chief, and half a dozen of his head men and "bucks."
Ironhand was present ostensibly as interpreter, since he understood the Carib language. But this was not the only reason for his presence. Barney, who had passed years in the country before, and had travelled there with Ray's uncle, Sir Ralph Sinclair, knew enough of the Carib tongue to interpret it fairly well.
The real reason for the attendance of Ironhand was that he and his "buck" came as a bodyguard to the two Englishmen. And hidden in the thicket near, within call, were the rest of the Arawak's followers, who had come secretly through the woods in order to be at hand if needed. With them was Charley Graham.
After some curious preliminaries, the visitors gave their first message, which was to the effect that the Indians' Great Father, the mighty King who ruled over Great Britain and Guiana, and who was now at war with certain nations, having heard that the war was leading to unrest among some of the Indians, had sent the two visitors to give a warning that peace must continue throughout the country.
No tribe would be allowed to break the peace on any pretext whatever; and if any chief attempted to do so, he would quickly find that the great King their Father was not too much occupied with the war elsewhere to send and punish the offenders.
The visitors had brought certain presents, as a sign of the Great King's affection and goodwill, which were to be delivered, however, only if the bearers of them received satisfactory assurances that the King's commands would be obeyed.
Barney was entrusted with the translation of this into the native tongue. Standing up before the Amanda, he was struggling with the difficulties of the task, endeavouring to make what he had to say sound as impressive as possible, whilst the two chums watched him, and Amanda and the whole assembly, with mingled feelings of amusement, curiosity, and anxiety.
Amanda sat, a fine figure of a man, but with a face which was dark and inscrutable. At the mention of the word "presents" there came into it a sudden light, and his look grew, for a space, cunning, crafty, and greedy. But it passed almost in a moment, and his expression again became sombre and non-committal.
At his left were grouped his head men, who watched his countenance, and seemed, to try to regulate their own behaviour in accordance with it.
Of Wolfsfang, the mysterious medicine-man, nothing, so far, had been seen.
Suddenly Harry laughed softly, and Ray asked what was amusing him.
"I was wondering," was the reply, "whether Barney speaks in Carib with an Irish brogue, and, if he does, what the Indians think of it."
Ray could not help chuckling at the idea, little as he felt like laughing just then. He, too, was watching Amanda's face, and thinking that he did not like the look of it.
As to Barney—well, it may be that, as Harry had suggested, some of his mannerisms might have crept into his speech to the chief. They certainly showed up in his translation of Amanda's reply.
"Tell my white brothers, the noble ambassadors of the Great White King," said the chief of the Caribs, "that we are greatly pleased and honoured by their visit. Their message will be humbly considered by me and my head men, and we will deliver our reply later, after the feast and great dance which we are giving in their honour. We hope they will smoke the pipe of peace with us, and afterwards join us in our festivities."
This was the plain English of the chief's speech, though it was worded, in the native fashion, in far more flowery and magniloquent language.
Barney's translation was quaint and practical:—
"The gintleman in the leopard skin dress," he said, alluding to Amanda in his picturesque skin robes, "says he's plazed t' be afther welcoming ye—though he don't look it, the old fox—an' that he an' his haythen lot want time t' think it over. That manes as he's got to consult wid that ould rattler Wolfsfang, ye may be sure. An' he hopes ye will enjoy yourselves at the feast he's giving in your honour—which manes he's afther tryin' t' throw dust in your eyes, an' see phawt blarney will do first. But if ye takes my advice, ye'll kape a sharp eye on him an' his crowd, an' see that your rifles are ready for 'em if they try t' come anny ov their thricks; an' don't be deceaved by phawt he calls the pipe o' peace as he's goin' to hand round. It's meself as wouldn't thrust the spalpeens wi' a sight av the presents ye've brought. It moight be too much fur their sinse o' honesty."
Ray however, had his own plan, and he now produced the casket his uncle, Sir Ralph, had desired him to deliver to the Carib tribe. Sir Ralph had come upon it in a museum in England, and had managed to secure it—at a good price.
Ray placed it in Amanda's hands, who opened it, and found it contained an ancient "token," which—Ray explained through Barney—was said to have been dug out from some old ruins of a supposed temple in British Guiana. It was a small bronze lizard of remarkably skilful workmanship. And Amanda no sooner set eyes on it than his whole manner changed, and, forgetting his usual stoical demeanour, he sprang to his feet and held it aloft that all might see it.
He talked volubly now, so fast, indeed, that Barney confessed he could not follow him. But the effect of his oration was very quickly seen.
As a matter of fact, he was telling his people, that this heirloom of their race had been restored to them by a great white chief, now dead—Sir Ralph—in remembrance of kindness and hospitality he had received at their hands when he visited them years ago; and that the young white chief who had brought it was his kinsman.
The effect was electric. The head men, the hitherto silent "bucks," the women and children, even stood up and saluted Ray and his companions again and again. Then they fell on their knees as a mark of reverence for the lost "token" of their tribe, now restored to them after having been lost for so many years.
Amanda shook hands with Ray, and then the pipe of peace was brought out and handed round, and the festivities began with unwonted zest and enthusiasm.
Ray deemed this the fitting moment for making his fateful request, and he spoke a few words to Ironhand.
"Go and talk quietly with Amanda," he said, "and tell him that, in return for what I have brought him I have a favour to ask. I want him to set my friend, the White Chief Graham, free, that he may return with me to his people."
The Arawak nodded and complied, and as a consequence remained in animated discussion with Amanda for some time. Then he returned and reported the result to the two chums.
It was to the effect that Amanda himself was willing enough to grant Ray's request—especially, no doubt, as he had an eye to the presents the latter had brought with him. But he was afraid of Wolfsfang.
"He thinks Wolfsfang great medicine-man," Ironhand declared. "He and all his people very afraid of his magic—and Wolfsfang say no. He won't let white man go."
"Very well," said Ray. "Then I must try my original plan."
"And if that doesn't answer we'll take the one way left—we'll fight 'em!" Harry added, with grim determination.
"Good! Me and my 'bucks' help you," Ironhand promised. "Carib 'buck' kill my brother, and White Chief Graham kill him. That's why they bring him here. This is our bus'ness as well as yours."
THE feast was finished, and the dancing had begun. Men and maidens mingled together in a wild, whirling, dusky crowd, which seemed to have gone crazy with excitement.
The music consisted of the incessant beating of the native drums or tom-toms and a sort of tambourine.
It was a weird, fantastic scene, many of the dancers having disguised themselves in various ways, dressing up as animals being a favourite idea.
Clouds of smoke came at times from the fires, partially obscuring the dancers. Then, a moment later, the flames would assert themselves, lighting everything up with a rich glow in varying shades of colour.
Harry and Ray, and their companions, strolled about, watching the proceedings, and keeping an eye open for Wolfsfang, who had not yet deigned to put in an appearance.
Suddenly there were heard cries of afright or surprise, and the crowd of dancers opened to make way for a new comer.
A hideous figure had appeared amongst them, in what the chums agreed was "about the most ghastly, repulsive get-up" they had ever seen.
The face was hidden by a mask made in imitation of a skull. Round the neck, the waist, and the ankles, were circles of dry bones, which rattled at each movement. The dress was of alligator skin, with hundreds of snakes' and lizards' heads hung like tassels.
In one hand the man carried a skull with a candle inside, lantern fashion, and this he pretended to consult at intervals, holding it to his ear, and carrying on a sort of ventriloquial conversation with it.
On each wrist were metal bracelets, broad bands of polished steel which flashed as the firelight fell on them.
"Shure, sorr, that's Wolfsfang," said Barney. "And ye can see the steel bracelet things he's got on. There's no joint in 'em an' they won't come off, an' people says as they wor put on by magic when he wor a kid, an' have grown as he grew—the scoundrel! He's the cruellest, wickedest crayther in the whole country!"
The chums regarded him with much interest, Ray, in particular, taking in everything, his manner, his behaviour, and the queer, mad capers he indulged in.
Then Ray turned suddenly to the Irishman.
"Come oh, Barney," he said, "we've no time to lose. We must take a hand in the game now. Let's get away in this cloud of smoke."
Waiting only a moment to advise Harry of his intention, he and Barney vanished from sight in the smoke.
From the smoke they passed into the deep shadows beyond, and finally reached the belt of dense thicket which, as has been stated, surrounded the meeting-place.
Diving into this, they had not proceeded far before they were brought to a halt by a low, hoarse challenge.
A dusky figure had suddenly appeared, and now barred their further progress. But a word from Ray satisfied the watcher—one of his own party of Arawak Indians—and the two hurried on till they came to a clearing where were to be seen several lanterns, carefully shaded, and dark, shadowy forms moving amongst them.
Ray gave a low whistle, and he was answered by a voice he knew to be that of Charley Graham. "That you, Sir Ray?" it queried.
"Yes, Charley. Wolfsfang has turned up at last. He's amongst the dancers. Help us to slip into our things."
"Here they are, sir, waiting in readiness." said the lad; and as he spoke he took up a lantern and turned its light on to a heap of things on the ground.
Incidentally he lighted himself up to some extent, and Ray uttered an exclamation of surprise, for he saw there, apparently, not Charley, but a big ape!
The lad laughed.
"I'm coming, too, sir," he said. "It won't be the first time I've dressed up in this sort of thing and joined in a native dance. But then I did it for a frolic; now"—with a choke in his voice—"I'm doing it to help you to save my father."
"Me, too, sah!" chirped a shrill voice out of the shadows beside them. And then, on looking closer, Ray saw Tom dressed out as a monkey.
"H'm!" he said, "you look the part best of all." And the darky grinned his delight at the compliment.
A few minutes later Ray had donned his dress, and Barney also his disguise. The young scientist's was a rough imitation of the medicine-man's get-up, but with this difference, that he seemed to be humpbacked. What it was that he carried on his back, under that hump, he kept to himself for the time.
Barney, who, like Charley, had joined the Indian dancers in former times for the fun of the thing, had a fantastic make-up of his own contriving—something "between an Indian and a sweep," as Harry called it.
Then the four hastened back through the wood, and gained the edge of the clearing where the dance was going on, and, hatching for a favourable moment, dashed through the smoke into the midst of the whirling crowd of dancers.
The festivities, meantime, had been proceeding apace. The advent of Wolfsfang had evidently, for some reason, increased the excitement.
It was not that he was a favourite—that was clear enough to Harry, as he strolled round, looking on, with Ironhand and his "bucks." It was rather, that the medicine-man was feared, and those who found themselves near him showed at once extra agility in order to get away from him.
This seemed to afford him evil pleasure, for he would follow them up, holding out his skull as he chased them, as though it were the skull itself that was after them. Those he pursued in this way tried to hide themselves by mixing among the most crowded dancers, who, in turn, rushed off in dismay, coming into collision with others, and thus spreading the confusion.
At other times a group of young "bucks" and maidens would be strolling quietly round on the outside of the dancing-circle, when one of the young girls would feel something cold touch her cheek, and, turning in surprise, would see the hideous skull close to her face. Then would begin another frantic flight and pursuit. And so matters went on till, all unexpectedly, there rushed among the dancers a figure which scared them even more than Wolfsfang himself.
In mere grotesque "get-up" there was not much to choose, perhaps, between the new comer and the other, save, perhaps, that the former was very hump-backed.
Big he was, too—bigger than Wolfsfang—and endowed, seemingly, with extraordinary agility, for his wild, mad capers, his amazing leaps and bounds, and his frenzied gyrations threw Wolfsfang's performances in that line altogether into the shade.
What, however, amazed the revellers most, and inspired them with a fear amounting to awe, was that the strange figure's eyes, hidden behind its skull-like mask, gleamed very now and then with a fire so dazzling that the spectators could not face it, and had to turn their gaze away.
THEN, again, at times a light like a brilliant star would flash out on the figure's forehead; while round its neck and waist other stars came and went, flashing forth and lighting up the rattling bones which formed part of its adornment.
Here was a medicine man indeed! One who evidently far exceeded in magic powers anything that Wolfsfang had ever displayed. And after the first shock of disappointment and awe, the dancers, finding the new apparition did not hurt or menace them, gathered round and followed him about, curious to see what would happen when these two "magic-men" met.
This did not happen for some few minutes, and, meantime, the marvellous new-comer, who was accompanied by three "familiars"—an ape, a monkey, and a sort of nondescript attendant—joined hands and wheeled round and round with the wildest abandon.
Now and again one of them, breaking the ring, seized upon one of the spectators, and forced him, willy nilly, to whirl round with them. Then they added another one or two—when suddenly those who had thus joined their giddy dance leaped into the air as though shot, and then darted off in terror as if seized with temporary madness.
Wolfsfang now came up, and at first looked at the scene in calm contempt. Just then the "lights" had been turned off, and he saw nothing more than four strangers, one of whom was evidently a rival who must be put down—"a medicine man" who was usurping his (Wolfsfang's) proper place.
Consequently the usurper must be dealt with with a high hand.
The strangers ceased their dance, and stood looking at Wolfsfang, who advanced with a pompous, threatening air towards his rival.
Just as he drew quite near the "lights" in the unknown's eyes, on his forehead and on other parts of his body, blazed out so suddenly that Wolfsfang started and drew back in surprise—and probably in fear, though this he tried to hide.
There were laughs among the lookers-on, which roused Wolfsfang's anger. The disconcerting lights had gone, and he advanced again.
Again they flashed out, more dazzling than before, and he started back, this time stumbling and almost falling.
There were more laughs, and the Indian became more angry. He began a wild kind of invocation, perhaps intended to exorcise an evil spirit, waving his arms, and seeming to order it—the spirit—to depart.
Instead, the uncanny figure now advanced towards him. Wolfsfang fell back, but the other followed him up and seized him.
Then there followed a scene which was as astonishing as it was amusing. There was a slight tussle between the two, and when this was over it could be seen that the stranger had fastened a thin—very thin—cord round Wolfsfang's wrists, and was leading him by it as a man might lead a bear at the end of a chain.
And now the stranger produced a whip, and, cracking it, uttered commands in an unknown tongue; and, lo! the savage, fierce Wolfsfang, of whom everyone there stood in fear—even the chief Amanda himself—meekly obeyed the signs made to him by jumping up in the air!
Round and round he was led, to and fro, backward and forward, and at every step or so he sprang into the air like a tame performing kangaroo.
The marvel of the thing was that he made no attempt to break away—or so it seemed. Though the cord was so thin that one would have thought it would scarcely have held a small dog, yet the erstwhile swaggering, overbearing medicine man, the boastful tyrant of the Indian village, could not, or durst not, break free.
At last, worn out physically with so much jumping, and humbled in spirit at the ridiculous figure he had been made to cut, he was led in a most limp, abject condition before the wondering Amanda.
Then the stranger removed his mask, and, behold! everyone could see that it was one of their white visitors.
Ironhand came forward to explain.
"This young white chief is a great medicine man in his own country," he declared. "You can see for yourself, O Amanda! that his magic is more powerful than Wolfsfang's. When one medicine man show's himself more powerful than another, what is the Indian custom, O chief? Thou knowest the law! The one who is defeated is deposed from his position with the tribe, and cast forth to become a wanderer in the wilderness. Is it not so, O Amanda?"
"My brother chief has spoken truly," said Amanda hesitatingly. "But—in this instance—"
"Let me deal with him," Ray put in, in a low tone. "I am going to give this doubting chief a taste of my magic. Then you can ask him if he wants any more of it; because, if he doesn't, he'd better make up his mind at once that he's got to do what I ask him."
With that Ray went up to Amanda, holding out his hand in a friendly way. The chief took it wonderingly; but had no sooner grasped it than he uttered a cry, and began jumping about much as Wolfsfang had done.
And it could be seen that he was trying to get free, but was unable to.
Ray released him, and then Ironhand put his questions, as instructed.
And Amanda's reply was that he was quite satisfied that the young white chief was more powerful with his magic than Wolfsfang, and he wanted no further demonstration.
Wolfsfang, therefore, would be deposed from his position of medicine man to the tribe, and driven forth in disgrace.
And the request of the young white chief would be granted. His white friend would be set free at once.
There was a shout so startling that everyone looked about, wondering where it came from. They were somewhat surprised to see the "ape" shaking hands vigorously with the "white medicine man."
Charley Graham had thrown off his disguise, and the cry had come from him. It was a shout of joy and delight and deep gratitude. Then the chums hurried off with him to the village, where in a hut they found Mr. Graham, guarded by Indian gaolers.
He was released, and the two friends went back to the scene of the pow-wow, leaving the happy father and his plucky young son to follow at their leisure.
When they came to where Amanda and his headmen were still assembled, they found that the sentence on Wolfsfang had already been carried out.
He had been driven forth, amid curses and revilings from many whom he had treated cruelly in the past; and as Harry remarked, everybody appeared relieved.
They looked upon Ray as their deliverer from a detestable system of persecution, and trusted to him to save them from harm if Wolfsfang should try to injure them by means of his magic from a distance. So it will be understood the awe and respect with which they regarded him.
"This is the time to bring out our presents and settle this business up," said Ray. "Amanda has had a lesson, I don't think he will get restless again after we are gone. But we must impress upon him that if he does not keep his promise I shall return, and shall show him more magic—and next time of a yet more, powerful kind."
"Good for you, Ray," laughed Harry. "Yes, we will get our presents out and get the thing over, Then we can get back to our camp and have a chat with Mr. Graham, who, as far as I can see, seems to be a very decent old chap."
They sent Ironhand and Barney into the thicket, and they soon returned with other of their Indians bearing several cases.
These were placed before Amanda and opened, and joy and gladness reigned at once among his headmen, as well as among the rest of his people.
For in the cases were many beautiful new rifles and other presents—to say nothing of stores of coffee, tobacco, gunpowder, and lead with which to make bullets. For all these things are prized by the Indians out in the wilds more than silver or gold.
"Now tell me, Sir Ray," said Mr. Graham, as they were walking away from the pow-wow to find the Arawaks in the thicket, "how did you manage to outwit that horrible old wretch Wolfsfang? My son has told me something; but I do not quite understand."
Ray, who had not yet discarded his grotesque dress, held out a cord to the planter.
"Take hold of that, Mr. Graham, and you will see."
"Oh, snakes! Feel, you mean," Mr. Graham exclaimed, as he gave a great jump and dropped the cord. "I—I—h'm! Even now it's a bit of a mystery."
"Shake hands," said Ray, putting out a gloved hand.
"They were electric shocks," pondered Mr. Graham. "That I now understand—indeed. I guessed it at first. But how did you manage Wolfsfang?"
"I fastened this cord round one of the steel bracelets he always wears," Ray explained. "There is a wire inside, you know—it is really a wire covered with silk—and the end I twisted round his bracelet was bare. Once having managed that, I could send him as many electric shocks as I pleased from the battery I am carrying on my back. I brought it out from England on purpose for something of this sort, if the occasion should arise. You see, the glove I am wearing is india-rubber. When I shook hands with Amanda—and with you—I held the naked wire at the end of the cord in my hand, and I could then give shocks without feeling them myself through the india- rubber glove."
"But why, Sir Ray," Charley asked, "could not Wolfsfang break away?"
"Because I was watching him very closely," Ray explained. "And every time he tried to unfasten the wire or to break away, I sent a shock through, making him jump and throw his hands about. That is the simple explanation of my seemingly wonderful magic."
"Well, now," said Mr. Graham, "I have a request of my own to make to you. I cannot at present thank you enough."
The chums waved that aside airily; and the planter proceeded:
"I am anxious to get home to see how things are going on my estate in White Valley, and I want you to come with me and spend Christmas. It is next week, you know, and we can just get there a day or two before if we do not delay here."
Harry and Ray looked at one another. Then each nodded.
"Yes, we can manage that," said Harry. "And we thank you very much for the suggestion. We have executed the missions—there were two, you know—which brought us here, and are now free, to go where we please."
"Just so," Ray agreed. "It's very kind of you to think of it. We will certainly come and spend Christmas with you."
"You must do more than that, please." Charley pleaded. "I want you to make a good long stay with us—make your home with us for a time, and cease your wanderings—at any rate, until you get tired of us. Will you?"
"Why, yes—why not?" said Lord Harry, "A good idea," Ray agreed, "But you will have to put up with that young rascal, my negro servant, Tom, you know."
"And my loyal, faithful follower, Barney." Harry added.
Father and son declared they would be only too glad to have them all; and so it was settled.
And thus did the adventures of our heroes come to an end, for the time being, at any rate, For they spent a very enjoyable Christmas, and found White Valley so much to their liking, that they stayed on, helping Mr. Graham on his estate, and passing their leisure in hunting and fishing expeditions with his brave young son.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.