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.
"HULLO, Branson! Who'd have thought of seeing you up here! Thought you were away yachting with your dad! Did you get too seasick in that last gale, and decide to turn a landsman?"
The scene was Paddington Station. At the bookstall a young lad had been buying a paper, when he had heard himself addressed as above, and had felt a light touch on his arm.
He was a good-looking youngster, neither very dark nor very fair, and rather stout-built; somewhat, it may be said, of the sturdy, John Bull type of figure. His dark-blue suit, with its bright metal buttons, betokened the young, seafaring cadet. His keen, grey eyes, as he turned them towards the one who had addressed him, were frank and honest-looking.
He saw, standing looking at him, another lad about his own age, and dressed in a suit almost identical with his own. A fair, curly-headed, rather slim youngster, with, he thought, the merriest, most roguish-looking blue eyes he had ever seen.
"I—er—beg your pardon," he said, "but were you speaking to me? Did you say Branson? That's not my name—"
"Eh? Not your name? Oh, I'm sorry! I can see you're not Branson now I've got a better look at you. But you're uncommonly like—like, well, like one of our crowd!"
"That's all right. No harm done," was the answer given with a good-humored nod. "Are you one of the Dolphin chaps?"
"Hit it first time, sonny," returned the other, with an air of easy-going nonchalance. "I'm a Dolphin boy, right enough; name, Wilfrid Caryll, commonly known as Will Caryll for short; sometimes—about December in each year—called Christmas Caryll, by cheeky kids who think they've hit upon something new. But you, sonny? If you're not Branson—and I can see now you're not—you're a bit darker—who are you? Where d'ye hail from, and where are ye bound for?"
The first lad smiled at the stranger's jaunty, free-and-easy manner.
"My name's Jack Kendall," he said, "and I'm on my way to join the Dolphin too. Perhaps if I tell you that I have a cousin—Clement Branson—already there, it may explain what's puzzling you."
"Oh, that's the explanation! Of course I know Clem Branson; but, I say"—here the speaker paused—"if you're a new boy, and Branson your cousin, I s'pose he knew you were coming; so why didn't he tell us? Never a word has he said about it, so far as I've heard."
Kendall flushed, and looked embarrassed; but ere he could reply another voice—a man's voice this time—broke in:
"What, Branson? I did not know you were up here!"
Kendall swung round, and found himself face to face with a tall, fine-looking, elderly gentleman, who was standing regarding him with a perplexed frown.
Young Caryll stepped towards him and explained:
"It's not Branson, dad. I've just made the same mistake. This is a new boy, who's on his way to join us."
"H'm!" said the stranger. "I see, I see. Yes, of course; I see now. But, bless me, how like young Branson! At first I really I bought—humph! Strange, very strange!"
Muttering thus, more to himself than to either of the two, the stranger continued to look at the lad with such a keen, penetrating gaze as to add greatly to the latter's embarrassment.
Seeing this, young Caryll took it upon himself to formally introduce the two:
"His name's Jack Kendall, dad." Then to Jack: "This is my father, Sir Keith Caryll."
Sir Keith still, for a few moments, gazed at the youngster with a glance that seemed to scrutinise every detail of his face. Then, suddenly rousing himself, as it were, he murmured with an air of increased interest:
"Kendall—Jack Kendall! Yes, it must be so! I can trace the same likeness; but this lad must be like his mother. Tell me, my lad, are you, then, the son of John Kendall, who, I heard, died a few months ago?"
"Yes, sir," Jack returned quietly, a shade passing over his face at the reminder.
"Ah! I thought so. I was sure of it. And your mother, lad? I used to know her—er—years ago. Is she well?"
Sir Keith seemed to wait anxiously for the answer. It was as though he feared to hear she was dead too.
"My mother is well, sir, thank you," said Jack. "She is over there. She has come to see me off."
"Good, good!" said Sir Keith. He turned, and, looking across the platform in the direction indicated, saw a lady, attired in deep mourning and widow's weeds, standing beside the waiting train.
"I'll—why, yes, I'll go and speak to her!" exclaimed Sir Keith, and went off towards her.
Young Caryll turned to Kendall:
"It seems my dad knows your people," he said, as though that fact properly clinched matters; "so you and I ought to be friends, I guess. Where's your kit?"
"Over there," Jack was going to say, "by that third-class carriage," but he hesitated.
"You'd better bring it along and get in with us. There are several of us going down together. I'll introduce you. You can see 'em waiting yonder. Come on!"
Kendall, glancing across the platform, saw a knot of lads in cadet uniform grouped round a carriage door. And again he hesitated, and his face once more flushed, for it was as he had been fearing. They were going first class, while he knew that the ticket his mother had taken for him was third class.
He was conscious, indeed, of something more than a passing flush; he felt himself go hot and cold all over.
This was another of the unpleasant "rubs" to his pride he had been receiving at intervals ever since his father had died and left his mother practically penniless. Before that time he had been used to riding first class and to similar little luxuries, like these other lads. But since then he had known what the "pinch of poverty" meant.
Jack Kendall's position was certainly at this time, a trying one. He was being sent to join the Dolphin at the expense of a very wealthy, but eccentric, old bachelor uncle, Mr. Robert Kendall, the brother of Jack's late father. In response to an appeal for assistance, made by Mrs. Kendall, that gentleman had agreed to pay the cost of sending him to join the Dolphin training-ship, to undergo a preliminary training, on probation, as it were. If his conduct were satisfactory, and he succeeded in passing the necessary "exams," then Mr. Kendall might be disposed to help him still further. That was all he would promise; and as this assistance had seemed to be given grudgingly, and without any display of either affection or interest, Jack felt sorely that he was little better than a pauper, living on a relation's charity. Mrs. Kendall, however, had been only too glad to accept the offer—indeed, her circumstances had left her no alternative.
It is not to be wondered at, then, that Jack flushed up and felt uncomfortable when his new friend said "come in with us." Presumably, all these youngsters, his future shipmates, were the sons of more or less wealthy people, able to send them down first class and supply them with plenty of pocket-money. But Jack's uncle had omitted pocket-money from his list of the expenses he was willing to defray, and had even shown himself almost miserly over the lad's outfit. What then, Jack asked himself bitterly, was his position likely to be amongst these other lads?
Then, suddenly, his thoughts took another and a higher turn. The recollection of the sacrifices he knew his mother had made for him, in adding various articles to his outfit alone—not to mention a hundred other ways—rose up in reproof. Should all the sacrifice, all the quiet heroism under adversity, fall to her? Should he be mean enough, cowardly enough, to wish to shirk his share?
This question no sooner presented itself thus in the lad's mind than his better nature answered it. There was, after all, no shame in honest poverty, and he was not going to show himself ashamed of it.
He drew himself up, squared his shoulders, and stepped out briskly beside his new acquaintance, his head in the air, ready to bear his part honestly and fearlessly whatever might betide.
"Here you are, sonnies!" cried Caryll, as the two marched up to the waiting group. "Here's someone else to join our party! Captured him over by the bookstall, and brought him along, all alive O! Now, a penknife to a bath-bun, you can't tell me his name first go off! Now, then, be quick! Hurry up, look sharp! Shout it out!"
"Why, it's Branson, of course," three or four shrill young voices called out.
"Ah, then it isn't! Thought I'd have you there! Caught you nicely! This is a new boy, sonnies; name, Jack Kendall; profession, rank, or calling, Clem Branson's cousin!"
At this announcement there were cries of surprise. One or two looked indignant, and seemed to think they had been unfairly "had." But they clustered round to inspect the new arrival, and some shook hands cordially, while others preferred to be noncommittal, as it were, and to hold themselves in reserve.
Nearly all the lads were about Jack's own age. The two exceptions were Will Caryll's brother Bruce and a friend who was with him. To this brother Will whispered something, and he then came forward in a patronising way, and good-naturedly extended to the new arrival the favour of a friendly greeting. As he was the oldest boy there, the fact had a distinctly favourable effect upon the others; and Jack was soon chatting away busily, answering questions and putting queries in his turn.
In the midst of this Will Caryll said suddenly:
"Hullo! Dad's beckoning. Wants you too, Bruce, I think."
So saying, he slipped his arm into Jack's and marched him off, his brother following in their wake. As they drew near to Sir Keith he motioned to his sons to come forward.
"Come, hurry up, you two! I want to introduce you to this lady. Here they are, Mrs. Kendall! Here are the two young budding Nelsons! The other one—Trevor—is at Osborne. Went back there yesterday."
Mrs. Kendall received them with a gracious kindliness that put them thoroughly at their ease. It was easy to see that she must have been at one time a most beautiful and attractive woman. And even to-day, though her face bore the marks of recent grief and distress, she exhibited a winning, lovable nature which attracted the two lads and won their hearts at once.
They had no mother of their own—for Sir Keith was a widower—and perhaps that was one reason why they appreciated the kindly, motherly way in which she greeted them and began chatting with them.
Sir Keith, meanwhile, led Jack away with him. He took him to the booking-office, where he exchanged his third-class ticket—which he must have obtained from Mrs. Kendall—for a first-class one. This he gave him, at the same time slipping two half-sovereigns into his hand.
"Tut, tut! There, there!" he muttered, as Jack essayed to thank him. "I'm a very old friend of your mother's, my lad. Knew her years ago; and I'm taking an old friend's privilege. You can't do without pocket-money, my lad, and I fear your mother can't allow you much now."
Jack felt a lump in his throat, and his eyes grew moist, as much at the kindliness of the words and tone as at the little load of worry that had been lifted from his mind. And it was all so unexpected! It was little enough he had experienced in the way of kindness from either friends or strangers since his father's death!
Want more pocket-money! Yes, he knew he would; for, as Sir Keith had shrewdly guessed, it was little enough his mother had been able to give him. He could foresee what his position was likely to be amongst these other lads, who were sure to be well supplied. Still, he could do with less than a sovereign. Ten shillings more would be enough; it would indeed be wealth compared with what he had expected to carry down with him, and the other ten shillings his mother wanted more than he did. Therefore—
But at this point Jack's thoughts were interrupted by the necessity for hastening back to the train. It was nearly time it started, and the guard was looking about and hurrying up the porters.
There were hasty good-byes, Jack was folded in his mother's arms in a last long embrace, doors were slammed, whistles sounded, and the train moved off.
On the platform, amongst other groups, stood Mrs. Kendall and Sir Keith, watching a number of caps dodging about outside a carriage window like a swarm of gigantic bluebottles, and listening to a chorus of shrill cheers from lusty young throats, gradually dying away as the train receded.
Thus was young Jack Kendall launched upon his seafaring career under more promising conditions than but a few minutes before had seemed to him likely or possible.
It was characteristic of him that even during the hurry of leave-taking he had managed to slip into his mother's purse one of the two half-sovereigns.
THE compartment in which Jack Kendall found himself was uncomfortably crowded. Boys were squeezing one another on the cushions, with others perched on the arms between, and still there was an overplus of youngsters who had to manage as best they could.
If these latter could have found sitting accommodation on the racks above they would doubtless have cheerfully climbed up there. That, however, not being feasible, they had to stand.
The party had, much to their surprise and displeasure, one strange fellow-traveller. He was an old gentleman, with grey hair and whiskers, who had rushed in—had almost been tossed in, in fact, at the last moment, as the train was on the move.
He had subsided into the corner by the door, and there remained, getting his breath, while the youngsters crowded round and nearly deafened him with their shrill cheers, and half- smothered him as they pressed to the window to look out and wave their caps.
When they had finished their cheering, and the excitement of starting had died down, the old gentleman, on the one side, and the lads on the other, mutually "took stock" of each other.
The lads were inclined to resent the stranger's intrusion, and many furtive glances and nudges were exchanged amongst them. He, however, appeared unconscious of anything amiss, and beamed upon them benevolently through his gold-rimmed spectacles.
"Aha!" he murmured. "Young sailors, I see! Returning to your ship, I suppose, eh?"
He addressed himself more particularly to Will Caryll, that young gentleman having, after a fierce but short tussle with two of his shipmates, secured the corner opposite.
Now, it was one of young Caryll's natural gifts that he could, when he so willed it, summon up a smile that was almost seraphic in its sweet, babyish innocence. The present seemed to him a suitable occasion for such a display; and thus it was that he and the old gentleman beamed mutually upon one another.
"Yes, sir," said Will—and his tone was as respectful as his manner was engaging—"I am piloting these young sailors back after our Easter holidays. I am afraid they must have annoyed you with their noise, sir. I will try to keep them quieter the rest of the journey."
"Oh, never mind, never mind! And what ship do you belong to?"
"The Dolphin training-ship, sir, at Wincombe."
"Oh, the Dolphin! Let me see, I've heard of her. She's Captain Probyn's ship is she not?"
"Yes, sir. Do you know him, sir?"
The other shook his head. "No; I've never met him; but I've heard of him. He trains young gentlemen, I believe, for both the Navy and the merchant service."
"Quite right, sir, Navy first; then, if you fail to pass the examinations for a naval cadet, you can stay on and train for the other."
The old gentleman nodded. "And how do you like the life there?" he asked next. "What sort of a man is Captain Probyn?"
"Well, sir, I hardly like to say. He knows his work well—he's a thorough good seaman and all that, but he's a bit crotchety in some things."
"Ah! You think he knows his work well. That's good, very good indeed," returned the stranger, evidently amused. "But crotchety, eh? In what way, now, is he crotchety?"
"Well, sir, he has his crochets about the simple life and all that. Thinks we ought to be taught to look after ourselves and pick up our own living, as it were. So we have rather a queer life of it at times. For one thing, we have to live on what we can catch."
"Live on what you can catch!" exclaimed the old gentleman, greatly amazed. "How do you mean?"
Before replying to this query Will glanced round at his shipmates. These were domestic secrets, and he seemed to be mutely inquiring of them whether it would be right to reveal them to a mere stranger.
Jack Kendall was listening with great interest, anxious to learn all he possibly could as to what his life on board the Dolphin would be like. He felt much impressed by Will's manner, and he particularly noted the serious expression in his eyes, from which the look of laughing, lurking mischief had completely disappeared. Not a trace of it remained; it had fled, as though for ever.
Will seemed satisfied with what he read in the faces of his friends, and turned his quiet gaze once more from them to his questioner.
"Well sir," he said slowly, "we don't want it to be talked about, but the fact is we have to fish for ourselves. And it takes all our time, I can assure you, sir, to pick up a living for two or three hundred boys with lines over the ship's sides, catching small crabs, and starfish, and jelly-fish—"
"Eh? Starfish? Jelly-fish?" exclaimed the listener. "Surely you don't eat jelly-fish?" And he looked round at the others as though in doubt.
"We're allowed shrimp sauce with it, sir," said Will's particular chum, a lad named Boulter. "That is, when we can catch the shrimps."
"Good gracious!" the stranger ejaculated. "What a strange diet to be sure!"
"We're half starved on it most of the week," another "budding Nelson," named Steele, feelingly asserted, "unless we manage to get some eels for pies."
"Oh, yes, we're all right then," Will agreed. "That is, if we can contribute some jam amongst us. Eel-and-jam pie is awfully nice, sir," he added, looking at the old gentleman with his open- eyed gaze, and without so much as the flicker of an eyelid. "Did you ever try eel-and-jam pie, sir?"
His auditor looked aghast. He evidently scarcely knew whether to believe these surprising statements or not. But as he glanced wonderingly at the faces around, they looked back at him with an air of such conscious rectitude that he scarcely liked to hint disbelief.
"But—er—there are other fish—whiting, soles, and so on—to be caught, I suppose, eh?" he suggested.
"Oh, yes, sir," returned Will, with something like a sigh; "but you see, they don't come swarming round the ship in the river. We have to go after them in boats out to sea, beyond the mouth of the river. We are allowed to do that on a Saturday—that is our holiday—so as to get a catch for our Sunday dinner."
"Then there is the cooking," a boy named Egerton reminded Will.
"Ah, yes," murmured that young gentleman, shaking his head. "Captain thinks we ought to learn to cook, so we have to do the cooking in turn. And—perhaps you'll scarcely believe it, sir—but some of the chaps don't know how to cook any more than—than—well, than you might yourself, sir! At any rate, they often send up the grub half-raw."
"Dear, dear, dear!" said the old gentleman. "And yet," he continued, with a gleam of humour in his eye, "you seem to do pretty well on it. You don't look starved, you know."
Will gave another sigh, and shook his head again sadly.
"We've been on holiday, you see, sir," he explained. "We've had three weeks' feeding up at home. You should have seen us when we left the Dolphin!"
"But—you're not all Dolphin boys, I see," said the traveller, looking across at Bruce Caryll and his friend, and eyeing the badges they wore. These two had appropriated to themselves the two corner seats beside the further door, by virtue of their superior age and rank.
So far, neither had said anything. They had merely looked on and gravely nodded their heads here and there.
"That's my brother and his chum, sir," Will volunteered. "They're not going with us all the way; they will have to branch off presently for Dartmouth. They are full-blown Naval cadets there, where—you know, sir," and he leaned over and whispered, as though afraid to speak the words above his breath, "where—er—the—er—you—"
The old gentleman nodded knowingly, and seemed to be trying to look as wise as Will himself.
"I know, I know—I understand," he returned. Then to Bruce and his friend: "And how do you fare, my lads?"
"Oh," said Bruce, with a lordly air, "We are treated very differently, sir. They treat us like gentlemen. They wouldn't dare do otherwise, we have so many young swells amongst us—sons of some of the highest people in the land."
"Quite so. And what sort of diet do they give you young swells?"
"Well, sir, the grub's all right—nothing to complain of on that score—plenty of salmon and cucumber, and chicken, game in season, and all that."
How long these remarkable accounts of the way the young sailors were treated would have continued, or how far they might have allowed their fertile imaginations to carry them, it is difficult to say. It so happened, however, that an interruption occurred. The engine gave a series of warning whistles, the brake was applied, and finally the train came to a stop.
One or two of the lads thrust their heads out of the window. They saw the guard coming along to meet the station-master from a small station a little way ahead. Judging from this that the stoppage was likely to be more than a brief one, they promptly opened the carriage door and swarmed out on to the line. By the time the guard had come up Will Caryll and two or three more had scrambled on to the roof of the carriage, in order, as they said, to see what the trouble was.
Needless to say, their fellow-traveller was greatly perturbed at this, and mildly, but vainly, expostulated.
"Now then, young gents, come down, come down!" growled the guard as he drew near. "Get back at once—we're goin' on."
"There's no hurry, Bruce," said Will coolly from the roof, "There are some sleepers on the line in front, and the guard's going to wake 'em up before we can go on."
"I don't want none o' your chaff!" snapped the guard irritably. It was easy to see he was put out by the stoppage, and was in no humour for joking.
"You should say raillery—not chaff, guard," smiled Will. "Every well-informed railwayman ought to know that."
"Come down, young gentlemen," pleaded the stationmaster, "What you're doing is against the byelaws."
"Looks as if we'll have to make our beds here and pass the night," grumbled one of the passengers, looking out from the next window. He was evidently getting impatient at the delay.
"Couldn't do that, I guess, sir," Will put in slily. "It would be against their by-by-laws."
The passenger laughed, but the stationmaster frowned; and a man with him, who had the appearance of an engine-driver, muttered something angry under his breath.
"Who's that, I wonder?" asked Boulter.
"Only an uncivil engineer," said Will as he climbed down, followed by the others. They had seen signs of a start.
As a matter of fact, they were only just in time, for they had scarcely crowded in before the train was on the move.
"Ah, you were almost left behind, you see," said the old gentleman, with a grave shake of the head. "It was very foolish of you to get out and climb on the roof. Might have turned out dangerous too. Why did you do it?"
"Force of habit, sir," returned Will serenely. "You see, on board ship we're accustomed to climb the mast to get a good look- out. They don't have masts on trains, and the engine-funnel was too far away, so we had to do the best we could."
"If I'd been as venturesome as you," remarked the old gentleman, "I would have liked to take advantage of that stoppage to change into my own carriage where I left my things. I could not find it at the last moment at starting, and that's why I got in here. However, I do not regret it, since it has enabled me to pick up from you boys some—er—most interesting information."
But he seemed to have obtained all the information he wanted for the time being, for he asked no more questions, but buried himself in his newspaper till the train stopped at Swindon. Then he quitted the compartment and went in search of his own.
Then the Dolphin young gentlemen turned their attention to the "new boy," and supplied Jack with a further stock of particulars and details relating to their life on board the Dolphin, of an even more extraordinary character than that he had already listened to.
The two Dartmouth cadets, in their turn, not to be outdone, treated him to some startling yarns of the doings of themselves and some of their highly aristocratic associates. These included stories of pranks in which names were casually mentioned which almost took Jack's breath away, and to which he listened in wondering awe. It is hardly surprising that before they reached their journey's end he was in a state of hopeless bewilderment, not knowing what to believe or what to disbelieve.
There was one point, however, upon which he gained some useful information. He learned that Sir Keith Caryll had himself been in the Navy, from which he had retired just before coming into his present title and an extensive estate.
His residence, Coombe Hall, Will told him, was situated near the coast, between Dartmouth and Wincombe.
"So you see," said Will, "both Bruce and myself are within easy reach of our home, and we are each allowed to go there sometimes on a half-holiday. And dad's always pleased to see any of our chums. Bruce brings over some of his young swell friends sometimes, and I can take anyone I chose. So you will be able to come too."
"I should be very pleased," said Jack, hesitatingly. "But—"
"Oh, we can't have any 'buts,'" laughed Will. "And there's another thing—our motor-launch will be at the landing-place to-day to take me and my friends off to the Dolphin, and we can take you as well. That will save you from being fleeced by those old sharks of boatmen, who are always on the lookout for new boys who don't know the ropes."
Jack began to express his thanks for this welcome offer, when his new friend once more interrupted him.
"Oh, but I forgot. Perhaps you are expecting your cousin Branson to meet you and take you in tow?"
Again, at the mention of his cousin's name, Jack flushed. But he only shook his head.
"Oh, well," Will went on, "that idea occurred to me because I noticed—H'm! I hardly know how to explain, but, you know, I expect, that Branson has been passing his holiday on board his father's yacht? That is your uncle's yacht, I suppose?"
"Yes. Mr. Branson is what they call an uncle by marriage."
"Well, they've been at Wincombe, cruising about there, and—funny thing!—I happened to notice a man who is, I know, one of the yacht's crew, at Paddington Station. And he seemed to be watching you."
"Watching me?" exclaimed Jack, astonished. "What should he want to watch me for?"
"Don't know. Struck me he might have some message from your cousin to give you; and when he saw you with a crowd, hung back till he had a chance to get you alone."
"No," replied Jack, with decision; "you must have been mistaken, I think."
Just then the train began to slacken speed, and no more was said. They were approaching the junction for Dartmouth, and Bruce and his companions began collecting their property.
At the junction the two got out and joined a number of fellow- cadets who had travelled in other parts of the train.
Then, amid fresh volleys of cheers, the train moved on again, and a short time afterwards it deposited the Dolphin lads at their destination—Wincombe Station.
"MY word!" exclaimed Will Caryll as he and his little crowd marched from the station towards the landing-place on the river-bank. "Here's a pretty go! A sea-fog! We shall have trouble, I'm thinking, in finding our way to the ship."
All the way down till a little while ago the weather had been bright and sunny. Then the wind had changed, the sky had become overcast, and it had grown colder, and now they could see that a driving mist was coming in from the sea.
It came swirling up the river, blotting out the landscape, and hiding not only the further side, but all the craft upon the water.
As they trudged along, all pretty well loaded with their belongings. Will grumblingly expressed surprise that his father's servant had not been at the station to meet him.
"But look here, Kendall," he said aside to Jack, "I saw another chap at the station from your uncle's yacht, and it struck me again that he was looking for you. Yet he didn't speak. Seemed to me, too, that he followed us down, though I don't see him now."
"I am sure you must be mistaken, Caryll," Jack assured him. "If you must know, I may as well tell you now in confidence that—well, my uncle, Mr. Branson, is not very friendly with my mother. So neither he nor Clement is likely to trouble about me."
Caryll whistled softly.
"Oh, I see. Sorry I spoke. That, I suppose, then, accounts for Clem Branson saying nothing about your coming, and not being here to meet you?"
"Yes; that's all there is to be said," Jack answered quietly. "And now, don't let's talk any more about it."
He could not tell this new friend how matters really stood, how badly he and his mother had been treated by these same relatives since his father had died. He could not tell him yet, at any rate. But the thought of it brought a flush to his face and an indignant light to his eyes, which his observant companion noticed, and from which he, no doubt, drew his own conclusions.
"Righto!" said Will cheerily. "But it makes it seem all the more funny seeing those two chaps from their yacht, one up in London and one down here, as if they were watching for you."
"I tell you you must have been mistaken," Jack declared again. "If not—well, it must just have been a curious chance, a coincidence."
Upon the landing-place, when they reached it, there was quite a crowd of lads standing, cold and shivering. Some were looking for boats they had expected to be ready for them, others were bargaining with boatmen to take them off; and the boatmen, on their side, were taking advantage of the fog to try to get extravagant prices for the work.
"Never mind those chaps," said Will to Jack; "you stick to me, and I'll get you aboard ail right. Crimmins, there's that fellow again that I saw at the station!"
Jack looked round, but the man had already moved away.
Will walked on towards one end of the quay, followed by Jack and four or five others. There, moored to the side, they found a roomy, well-fitted, comfortable looking motor-boat, with the name Comet painted upon her bows.
Beside her stood a big, powerfully-built man, seemingly half sailor, half manservant, who came forward as he caught sight of Will to relieve him of what he was carrying. His hair and beard were red, turning to grey, and it was soon made clear by his speech that he hailed from "Ould Oireland."
He was evidently well known to Will's chums, for he received a chorus of friendly greetings from them, some being playfully couched in an imitation of his own brogue.
Jack noticed amongst other details that he had a fresh red weal across his nose as though he had but recently been in the wars somewhere.
"Hallo, Dennis," said Will, as he handed over his little load, "where have ye been loitering? I thought ye'd have been at the station to meet us, and—Why, man, what's the matter with your nose?"
"Sure," put in Boulter, "he's been promoted, only they've put the stripe on his nose instead of his arm!"
"Oi've had throuble here, Masther Will," said Dennis. "Oi did start fur the station, but whin a fog came on Oi turned back t' look t' the cushions, an' Oi found two spalpeens aboard. It's makin' free wi' the boat they wor."
"Making free with the boat!" exclaimed Will, astonished. "What for? Who were they?"
"Faith an' it's meself as can't tell ye that same, sorr. Thavin' rascals, I guess lookin' fur phwat they could pick up. Annyways, Oi hustled thim out pretty quick; but in the scrimmage Oi slipped, and banged me face on the rail. An' thin they sloped off in the fog. So Oi didn't lave the boat agin."
"Oh, Dennis, Dennis!" sighed Steele. "Fahncy it's foightin' ye've been! An' ye niver let us knowt' give us a chance to join in! Whin ye've stowed that cargo, sthand by an' look out for more. We've plenty here amongst us."
"But two men on board our boat!" said Will, in a puzzled tone. "Do you know them at all? Ever seen 'em before, Dennis?"
"Sure it's strangers they wor, Masther Will. Oi never see 'em before; but Oi'd know 'em again annywheer. Low-down, sneakin'- look-in' pirates they wor."
Amidst a general chorus of ejaculations and many guesses, all more or less vague and some very wild, the youngsters stowed themselves and their belongings on board, and the boat moved slowly oat into the fog.
It was necessary to go cautiously, for there were evidently a good many craft about. They could be heard, but not seen. The swing of oars in the rowlocks came from several directions at once, and the whoop of a siren told that a steamer or tugboat was somewhere on the move.
And amongst the other sounds there could now be heard the "jug, jug" of a steam launch quite close at hand.
Dennis, however, knew his way, for he went on steadily, and without hesitation. But he turned his head more than once, and glanced inquiringly in the direction of the sound made by the launch.
"Sure it's follerin' us she seems t' be," he muttered at last. "It's runnin' into us they'll be if they don't care."
"It sounded to me as if they started when we did, or a little after," said Will. "Was there a launch alongside the landing- place, Dennis? I didn't see one."
"Niver a bit av wan, sorr, as far as Oi saw. But it's follerin' us she seems t' be."
"Hallo!" cried Boulter suddenly. "Why Will, your boat must be leaking badly—the water's coming in!"
"Eh, what? Our boat doesn't leak!" Will declared.
"She does—she must! The water's coming in," exclaimed first one and then another.
Jack, who was farther forward than the rest, pulled up a loose flooring-board and put his hand down.
"Why," he called out, "there must be a hole here! The plug's got out."
"There ain't no plug, nor no hole theer," said Dennis.
Dennis stopped the motor and left the helm, and, snatching up a piece of oiling rag, went forward to investigate.
"Sure, an' ye're roight, sorr!" he exclaimed; and he stooped down and began stuffing his rag into the hole under the water.
Will and other lads crowded forward, too, in wondering excitement.
Then from out the mist the launch they had heard suddenly appeared—a boat far larger and heavier than the Comet.
Jack and Caryll were amidships, the latter stooping over Dennis, when Jack, glancing round, saw the sharp prow of the launch coming straight at him.
With a quick cry of warning he sprang forward, making a grab at Will as he went in a gallant endeavour to drag him with him.
But his hold slipped as Caryll, warned by the cry, started to his feet, standing up almost in the very place from which Jack had jumped. He, too, saw the oncoming prow of the launch, and instinctively put up his hands as though to fend her off. The next moment she struck him with terrible force as she crashed into the side of the boat, and sent him flying overboard.
Jack saw Will fall like a log, and guessed that he must have been stunned by the blow. And at once, without a second's hesitation, he sprang after him into the swirling waters.
JACK KENDALL was a splendid swimmer and a clever diver, and it was well for him that it was so. For when he came up, after grasping the unconscious form of Will Caryll, he found himself underneath the steam launch which had run into them.
He had therefore to dive again and swim a short distance under water ere he could come to the surface to breathe—a feat which, encumbered as he was, none but a first-class swimmer could have accomplished.
When, finally, his head rose for a moment above the water, and he was able to draw a gasping breath, he felt almost too exhausted to support the dead weight of the unconscious lad he had brought up, and began to fear he would let go his hold.
Fortunately, however, another one was swimming close at hand. This was Will's chum Boulter, who had witnessed what had happened, and had jumped in specially to lend his aid.
He saw Jack come up with his burden, and swam towards him at once. A few quick strokes brought him to his side.
At the same moment something fell with a splash in the water beside them. It was a lifebelt flung by Dennis, and it had a line attached to it.
There ensued a babel of shouts, as those in the motor-boat called out to the two swimmers, advising them to do this and warning them not to do the other.
Jack and Boulter, however, managed between them, and aided by the lifebelt, to hold up their still unconscious friend the while that those in the boat hauled on the line, and so gradually drew them to her side.
Then Will was lifted on board, and his two plucky rescuers scrambled in after him.
"It's gettin' his breath he is—Heaven be praised!" Jack heard Dennis say a little later. It was his way of announcing that Will was coming to, and very glad and thankful the others were to hear his words.
Reassured in that direction, they began to look round to see what damage the boat had sustained, and ascertain who it was that had done the mischief.
"Whoy—they've sheered off—the blunderin', murtherin' vagabones!" exclaimed Dennis in tones of indignant disgust. "Phwat dirty spalpeens!"
Jack stared round in amaze. True enough, however, was it that the launch had backed away, and had completely disappeared in the fog. The people on board, whoever they were, had been mean enough, callous enough, to take advantage of the preoccupation of those they had so nearly run down to make their own escape.
They had not even stayed to ascertain what harm they had done, or whether anyone had been drowned. And, of course,—as Boulter put it—they had left no card giving their name and address.
"But who could they be?" said Jack. "What was her name?" queried another. "What were the people like on board?" asked a third.
Strange as it seemed, no reply was forthcoming to these questions or to the many others which they now hurriedly asked of one another. They had all been too excited and anxious, and too much taken up in watching for Jack and Caryll, to take much notice just then of the launch.
"An' faith. Oi didn't see anny av the galoots at all at all," Dennis declared. "An' I belaves they wor all too mane t' show theirselves."
This seemed, in fact, to be the general opinion. And as the launch had been decked forward—they all agreed upon that point, which was about all they could positively remember—whoever was on board must have intentionally remained hidden behind it.
Two there were—Jack and Boulter—who had a confused recollection of having seen a figure leaning over the aft part of the launch; but they had been naturally too intent on their work of rescue to pay particular attention to the fact just then.
So her identity and that of the people in her was a mystery, and seemed likely to remain one.
Caryll was now able to sit up and talk, and Dennis finished plugging the hole in the bottom of the boat. Fortunately he had already stopped it temporarily before the collision had taken place.
Then, as no great damage had been done to the side of the boat, he started the motor, and set off once more to find the Dolphin.
This he managed to do within a short time, the three lads who had been overboard sitting, meanwhile, covered up under a pile of rugs and wraps he had fished out.
Then, through the mist, there loomed out a vast form which, as they drew nearer, resolved itself into a huge, wooden three- decker, "one of the olden time." The white portholes showed up on the high, dark side of the old man-o'-war, while overhead there towered the great masts, strong and heavy-looking yet graceful amid a maze of ropes and cordage and pulleys, through which the wind whistled and moaned.
Suddenly, from the upper deck, there came a sharp challenge, uttered in a shrill young voice:
"Boat ahoy, there! Who are you?"
"That's Evans," said Boulter to Jack, while Caryll sang out an answer to the challenge. "I know his voice. He's one of our set. Won't he be surprised when he hears we have been overboard?"
The boat was brought round under the quarter, where there was an accommodation ladder, and the youngsters quickly swarmed up it, followed by Dennis, carrying some of their things.
They were received on deck by a small crowd of boys and a petty officer, who had come forward on hearing the challenge, and who gravely inspected the luggage, including Jack's outfit, before allowing it to pass.
There was a buzz of talk amongst the knot of lads when it was seen that some of the newcomers were wet through.
"Lost their boat in the fog and had to swim aboard, I guess," said one.
"Had too much lemonade before starting, and fell into the water. Shocking!" commented another.
"It's Caryll," said a third. "I suppose that antiquated motor- boat has come to grief at last. I always said it would. Petrol took fire, I expect, and they had to jump overboard and get half- drowned to save 'em from being burnt alive."
Meantime Dennis had explained matters briefly to the petty officer who, turning to the three, ordered them to go below and change into dry clothes, while he conducted Dennis himself to the officer on duty, to report more fully what had occurred.
Such was the manner of Jack Kendall's arrival on board the training-ship—an arrival as unusual and noteworthy in its way, as some of his after adventures proved to be.
CARYLL led Jack, by devious ways and complicated passages, to a spacious apartment on a lower deck. The long rows of neatly folded hammocks proclaimed it to be a dormitory.
"By good fortune," said Will, "this hammock next to mine happens to be vacant. I spoke to Joyce—he's the petty officer you saw—and he said you could take it for the present. I don't know if you'll be able to keep to it, but I will have a try to get it for you. Boulter's is on the other side of mine."
This was good news, and Jack murmured his thanks. He would be berthed in the company of someone he knew to start with, at any rate.
"Here's your kit coming," Will added, as he opened his own chest and began hunting for fresh clothes.
Jack glanced round, and saw a long, lanky youth approaching, bearing his sea-chest, which he put down, and then stood and looked at the three with a set grin on his freckled face. This youth was one of the servant staff, and his name was Simmons, wherefore, and on account of his habit of grinning, the cadets had dubbed him "Smiling Simon." His present grin, therefore, was no product of the moment; it was always there. Indeed, it was a settled article of belief amongst the lads that it had been stamped on Simmonds in his infancy, and so firmly that it had never since come off, even for an hour or two.
"Clothes seems t' fit a bit tight, gen'l'men," he giggled. "Ye looks as if ye might be wet. Did ye swim 'ere?"
Then he noticed Jack more particularly.
"I'm bothered if 'ere ain't another Mr. Branson!" he exclaimed.
"You keep your remarks till they're asked for, Smiling Simon, and hook it," said Boulter. "You're not wanted here. Now, will you go, or will you wait till something comes sailing in a bee line for your head?"
Simon went off, still grinning, as though vastly amused; but he did not venture on any further comments.
"He gives me the worries, that chap," Boulter complained. "He always seems to be laughing at you. He's a regular Cheshire cat! Why, here he comes back again—oh! H'm! Yes! You can set that down."
Simon had returned bearing a tray with three cups of steaming hot cocoa, which Petty-officer Joyce had sent down to help warm up the shivering lads.
They seized on them gladly, and Boulter, who was always ready to appreciate anything in the eating or drinking line, even condescended to nod approval at the bearer.
"If it wasn't for your mouth, Smiling Simon," he said, "I might get to like you in time,—especially if you could bring me another cupful where this came from. Oh, don't!" he exclaimed, as Simon's smile seemed to grow broader than ever. "Try to whistle, man—try to whistle!"
Simon shook his head and went his way, and a few minutes later the three, having completed their change, finished their cocoa, and hung their wet clothes up to dry, marched up to report themselves to Mr. Melfort, the officer on duty.
He was really Lieutenant Melfort, for he had been in the Navy and had retired with that rank. But when he had joined Captain Probyn he had dropped the title, and was generally known as plain "Mr." He was still a fairly young man, with a fine, well-setup figure, a clean-shaven face and keen but withal kindly eyes.
"Come aboard, sir," said Caryll and Boulter, saluting; and Jack imitated them as well as he could.
Mr. Melfort glanced at Jack with evident interest, and Caryll introduced him.
"New boy, sir—Jack Kendall." Then to Jack's surprise and confusion, he continued: "Saved my life, sir. I should have been done for, I'm afraid, if it hadn't been for him."
It was the first reference Caryll had made to what Jack had done for him. So far, he had seemed to take it very much as a matter of course. But Caryll, who was always a quick observer, had divined exactly how Jack felt, and had guessed that it would only worry him to proffer his thanks. So he had bided his time, and brought the matter up now in his own way.
"Ay, ay, so I've been told," returned Mr. Melfort. "And I heard that you were both nearly drowned, for he came up with you under the launch which ran into you."
"That's true, sir," Boulter put in. "I can't think how he managed to hold Caryll up as he did. It was almost a miracle!"
"Y-y-you helped me—you know you did!" spluttered Jack, who now felt extremely uncomfortable, and wished they would talk about the weather, or the crops, or anything rather than the particular subject they had pitched upon. Mr. Melfort, looking at him with his keen, steady gaze, saw his embarrassment, and guessed the reason.
"Well, well," he said quietly, "you and Boulter both behaved pluckily, I was told, and very pleased I am to hear it. We ought all to feel thankful it ended as it did."
"It hasn't ended yet, sir," said Caryll. "I've got to tell my dad, and he will have something to say about it." And he glanced meaningly at Jack, who returned his glance reproachfully. He had just begun to feel easier, thinking the matter was going to be dropped. And now Caryll must not only keep harping on it himself, but threaten him with his dad in the future into the bargain! Jack looked for the moment almost as if he wished he had let Caryll drown, when, to his great relief, Mr. Melfort changed the talk to the steam launch.
"I must say I could scarcely credit what has been reported to me about the people who ran into you," he said. "I could not have believed anyone—anyone about here, at all events—would have gone off leaving the victims of their negligence to drown, as seems to have been the case here. We must have this matter looked into. I feel sure that Captain Probyn will make inquiries, and do all he can to find out who it was who was guilty of such a dastardly action."
Mr. Melfort did not often express himself so strongly as he did on this occasion, and it rather surprised the two who knew him. He, however, felt that the lives of these lads had been recklessly endangered by blundering navigators, who were too cowardly to face the consequences of their carelessness. And he was full of indignation and disgust at such conduct.
With Jack Kendall—at whom he shot one of his swift, penetrating glances—he felt particularly pleased. "A brave, modest, honest-looking youngster," he said to himself. "I shall take care that Captain Probyn hears how he has behaved. Unless I am mistaken he is a lad who will be a credit to us in the future."
He put a hand on Jack's shoulder.
"I'm pleased to welcome you to our ship, my boy," he said, "and hope you will get on well here. And you, Boulter"—laying another hand on him, "you too have done well to-day, and it will not be forgotten. I shall speak of you—of both of you—to Captain Probyn."
Boulter, it may be here said, was a little inclined to be fat—a consequence of his love of good living, which had already been hinted at. He often went, indeed, by the nickname of "Podge" amongst his fellows. But he was, all the same, a good- hearted, vivacious youngster, somewhat given to be hot-headed at times, but loyal and true when he once gave his friendship, and, as we have seen, by no means wanting in courage.
Caryll, seeing the mood Mr. Melfort was in, astutely put forward the request he wanted to make concerning Jack's place in the dormitory. And, greatly to Jack's delight, Mr. Melfort granted it at once. Then, with a few more words of kindness and encouragement, he dismissed them.
Caryll and Boulter went off to stow away some sundries they had brought aboard in their lockers, which were in an apartment adjoining the ward-room, and Jack started to go with them.
He felt in a particularly happy state of mind. The first day, to which he had looked forward with considerable misgivings, was turning out so entirely different from what he had feared it might be.
Where he had expected to meet strangers, and to be received perhaps with stand-off coolness, he had found only friends and cordiality; he had been welcomed and complimented by the chief officer; and last, but not altogether least, he had enough pocket-money to be able to feel himself on a fair equality amongst his fellows.
All, so far, had been plain sailing in smooth waters, and his spirits rose accordingly. He smiled to himself at his former fears, and congratulated himself on having tumbled amongst such a breezy, jolly, good-natured set of messmates.
But his innocent rejoicing was about to receive a rude shock.
As the three wended their way along the decks they came upon a group of lads who seemed to be engaged in a rather warm argument. Amongst them was Fred Steele, who had been one of Jack's companions in the train and the motor-boat.
Just when the three came up, Steele called out to Jack, and the latter heard him say:
"Here he is. You can ask him for yourselves."
Jack, with his ready good humour, went across to Steele, asking what he wanted. Boulter went with him, while Caryll passed on.
"I've been telling these fellows about our little adventure to-day," said Steele, "and they won't believe me. They think I'm yarning. I want you to tell 'em about it yourself."
Jack laughed lightly, and glanced round at the other boys. Then, all suddenly, he divined that here he was amongst a very different set from those he had previously met. Instead of cordiality and welcoming handshakes, he saw sneers and scowls, furtive glances of doubt and suspicion, impudent leers and mocking smiles.
He knew intuitively that he had made a mistake. He had blundered, or had been purposely entrapped, amongst a hostile crowd, though why they should show themselves hostile to a stranger he could not then understand.
The two who seemed to be the leaders of this coterie were—so he afterwards learned—named Dawney and Forder, and they were both older and bigger than himself. Dawney was a stout-built boy, with a hard, square jaw, and eyes that had at times a markedly cruel gleam in them. Forder, his intimate friend, had a loose, weedy figure, red hair, and appeared about equally blended.
Caryll and Boulter could have told Jack that both were notorious bullies, and also that they were Branson's particular cronies. But naturally they had felt diffident about warning him against the friends of his own cousin.
"Oh," said Dawney, "so you're Jack Kendall, the new boy, the young hero who goes about performing heroic feats!"
"We're going to be lectured about him by the captain, and sermonised by the chaplain, and have him held up to us as the virtuous model we all ought to bow down to and worship and copy, I suppose," sneered Forder.
Ere Jack could reply Steele struck in. He had called upon Jack in all good faith to confirm the account he had given of what had happened, and he was indignant at the way things were going. At the same time, he stood in awe of the two bullies, and dared not openly flout them.
"Nobody's said any such nonsense as that," Steele declared. "You said you didn't believe what I told you, and—"
"You shut up, you kid, or you'll get it hot!" Dawney warned him in a threatening tone. Then he turned his unwelcome attentions to Jack:
"Can you fight as well as swim?"
"Yes, I can," returned Jack quietly, "when there's good reason for it, but—"
"Bah! He's only a milksop, after all. I thought so," said Forder, with his usual sneer. "Pretends he can fight, but, of course, is too virtuous to do so."
"Try me!" said Jack warningly, advancing a pace nearer.
"All right!" returned Dawney, looking round at the other lads. "Fight one of these chaps."
"No; let him fight Boulter," was Forder's cynical suggestion.
"I shall do nothing of the kind!" Jack declared indignantly. "Boulter's done nothing to offend me. Why should I fight him?"
"Told you so. He's a coward, a boaster," said Forder.
"Let's take him at his own word," Dawney suggested. "We'll make Boulter do something to offend him, as he calls it—"
"No, you won't!" said Boulter stoutly. "I'm not going to—"
By way of answer to his defiance Dawney stepped across and struck the lad. It was a cruel, heavy blow, which sent him reeling against the bulwarks. Not content with that, the bully followed him up with the evident intention of hitting him again, when Jack sprang between them.
"Leave him alone!" he cried.
Dawney stared at him in amazement. The idea of a youngster daring to oppose a senior like himself seemed to him almost too funny for words. But it was a thing that had to be put down at once, and suitably punished later on.
"Get out of my way, you impudent fellow!" he growled. "I'll deal with you presently."
He took him by the collar and tried to throw him to one side, but Jack suddenly closed with him, and there was a fierce but very brief tussle. Then, all at once, Dawney gave a sharp cry of pain.
"He's going for me like a wild cat!" Dawney shouted almost in a scream. "He's biting me or something! I believe he'll break my arm! Pull him off, Forder; pull him off!"
This unexpected appeal caused a sensation amongst the lads around, and a murmur arose. They did not then know, of course, that Dawney's wild talk about "biting" was absolutely untrue. The simple fact was that Jack happened to have been taught something of ju-jitsu, and had merely practised upon the bully one of the commonest devices of the Japanese wrestler.
Now, just at that moment Captain Probyn himself came on the scene. He had just come on board, after being delayed by the fog, and was in a bad humour in consequence.
He had overheard Dawney's words without having witnessed what had gone before. He separated the combatants himself, and ordered them to follow him to his room at once.
On their way they passed Mr. Melfort, who merely looked curiously at them as he saluted his chief. Unfortunately for the luckless Jack, he was going ashore. He had already been kept waiting about by the captain's delay, and was now hurrying to keep an overdue appointment.
Hence, in Jack's interview with the captain, Dawney had it all his own way. Captain Probyn was a strict disciplinarian, and, according to Dawney's account, Jack seemed to have acted in a manner which, in a newly-arrived boy, seemed nothing less than an outrage.
A severe lecture followed, with the sequel that the unlucky Jack was mastheaded.
Petty-officer Joyce was summoned to see the order carried out, and under his directions Jack crept up the damp, slippery rigging, to pass his first evening on board in the cold, penetrating fog at the masthead.
WHILE the newly-joined cadet was shivering at the masthead in the fog, that same fog was doing him a service in another way.
It had been mentioned that the first officer, Mr. Melfort, had gone ashore to keep an appointment with a friend. But it turned out, when he reached the shore, very much after time, that the friend had grown tired of waiting and had gone away.
Thus Mr. Melfort had his trip for nothing, and instead of staying away all the evening, he returned within a short time to the ship.
There he heard of Jack Kendall's disgrace, and, feeling sure there must be some mystery connected with it, he set to work to make a few inquiries.
As a sequel, he sought out the captain, and laid the results before him. And he told him in addition, the story of the collision with the unknown steam-launch and Jack's plucky behaviour in connection with it.
"I do not believe," he declared, "that the lad I saw and conversed with, who seemed to me then so modest, almost shy, about what he had done, so honest and truthful in his appearance and speech, would go forth from my presence and behave in the manner Dawney led you to believe. And, indeed, I am satisfied now that he did not."
"But he made no defence," Captain Probyn pointed out. "He did not attempt to contradict a word of what Dawney said."
"Tut-tut! You forget the code of honour, the unwritten law, amongst boys against what they call 'sneaking.' Dawney, on his side, distinctly broke that law in accusing Kendall to you as he did; while, Kendall, in declining to defend himself, was only sticking sturdily to that same code under great temptation to throw it over. Really, I consider he would have been well justified, in the circumstances, if he had out with the truth. Evidently, however, he refused to lower himself to Dawney's level, and I must say I admire him for it."
Captain Probyn rose and began to pace thoughtfully up and down.
He was a tall, fine figure of a man. His dark hair and close- cropped beard were sprinkled with grey, but his bearing was that of a man in the prime of life, and his steady grey eyes were as bright and full of fire as those of many a younger man.
He was, as had been said, a stern disciplinarian, but he always strove to combine firm discipline with strict justice and impartiality. He and Melfort were staunch friends, and there was implicit confidence between them. Their friendship was indeed of such old standing that the conventional "sir" was generally dropped when they were alone.
"If your idea of the matter is the correct one, Melfort," he presently said, "I have done this lad a grave injustice, while over and above that I have been grossly deceived by Dawney. If that is really so, the wrong must be righted as quickly as possible. But it sounds a big 'if.'"
He continued to pace the cabin, his hands behind him, and a perplexed frown on his face.
It was a hard thing to have to confess himself in the wrong to a boy. But he was determined to be just if he were once convinced he had been misled.
"But how are we to get at the facts?" he went on. "You say that what you have told me was imparted to you under the seal of secrecy?"
"It was. You know how difficult it is to get boys—that is, some of 'em—those with the highest sense of honour—to speak out in such a case. So I had some trouble, and I only learned what I have told you after promising to keep the name of my informant a secret."
"Humph! But how am I to get at the facts if that is the case?" grumbled the captain.
"I suggest that you recall Dawney and question him again in my presence. I think I can get the truth out of him now. And," added the chief officer, with a shrug of the shoulders, "if we find that he has been telling 'fairy tales'—well, unfortunately, it won't be the first time I have found him out in something of the kind."
"Very well, Melfort," Captain Probyn decided. "Send for Dawney."
Meantime Jack had been passing a cold and uncomfortable time up aloft; but he was less sensible of the physical discomfort of his position than of bitterness at the thought of being punished on the very first day of his arrival, and of indignation at the injustice of it.
From agreeable surprise and high spirits he now passed to despondency and a gloomy outlook on life, and as he sat aloft in the fog and darkness—it had been already dusk when he had been sent aloft—he brooded bitterly over what had happened.
Presently, however, there had reached his ears from below some soft scratching and scraping sounds, as of someone stealthily climbing the rigging.
A little later, first Boulter, and then Caryll, had crept softly up, and taken their places beside him.
"It was through taking my part that you were sent here," Boulter whispered, "and I couldn't let you be here alone. I say, it's a burning shame! Caryll thinks the same, and he's come too."
"Thank you!" said Jack warmly, and he pressed Boulter's plump hand. "But is it allowed?"
"Oh, that's all right! No one will know. We shall slip back before we're missed."
So Jack had a better time aloft than had seemed likely at first. His stay was also a great deal shorter than they had expected, for the three had not been very long together when Joyce's voice was heard hailing him from the deck and telling him to come down.
Then they had reason to be glad of the fog, which hid the two interlopers from the sharp eyes of the petty officer.
Jack answered the hail, and came down, while his companions stayed behind till the coast was clear.
When he reached the deck he was conducted to Captain Probyn, who was awaiting him with his chief officer, and, to Jack's astonishment, the captain extended his hand to him.
"My lad," he said kindly, "thanks to Mr. Melfort's good offices, this matter has now been put before me in a way which leads me to take a very different view of what has happened. I am very sorry that I acted hastily and on insufficient information. The entry will be erased from the punishment-book, and I am free to welcome you, not only in the ordinary way as a newcomer, but as one who brings with him the record of a most courageous action."
"Thank you, sir," said Jack simply, "and I thank Mr. Melfort also."
"Well, now," said the captain, "I want to know more about this affair of the steam-launch. I intend to make inquiries in order to find out what boat it was and who was on board her. Mr. Melfort, will you please send for the other lads who were there. I want to hear their evidence separately."
It was easy enough to summon Steele and Egerton, but at first neither Caryll nor Boulter could be found, the fact being that they had experienced some difficulty in eluding observation in their descent from the masthead. However, they fortunately turned up a little later, and Captain Probyn was not in the mood just then to ask unpleasant questions as to the reason for their delay.
When they had all been questioned in turn they were dismissed, and Jack went off with them to get his first supper on board.
"What's happened?" Boulter asked, as soon as they were free to talk. "We met Dawney and Forder as we came along, and they both seemed pretty down in the mouth. As to Dawney, he looked as if he'd like to eat me, but he didn't say anything."
Jack told them all he knew, which, however, was really very little, and did not throw much light upon the question; but a little later they heard that first Dawney had been sent for by the captain, and then Forder, and they formed their own opinion as to what had taken place.
"Mr. Melfort made 'em own up, I guess," Boulter shrewdly suggested.
"If so, Dawney and Forder will be for having their knives into you, Kendall," Caryll warned him, "so you will have to look out."
JACK felt glad and thankful that his first day on board was not to be stained by a punishment mark, and, that trouble being lifted from his mind, he was full of curiosity and interest in his new surroundings.
As he sat down to supper beside his two chums he wondered a little what he would get to eat, but soon discovered that any misgivings on that score were uncalled for. The menu did not consist of jellyfish, starfish, and the like, as the veracious statements he had heard in the train would have led him to expect.
Certainly, on the other hand, there was nothing savouring of luxury in the diet. It was just plain, wholesome fare, such as he would have expected at any ordinary good school.
For a few minutes little was said. Most of the lads had come back that day, and, having travelled far, were hungry, and not much in the mood for talk.
As the edge was taken off their appetites, however, there arose a low murmur, which gradually swelled into a confused buzz of conversation.
Opposite to Jack was a boy a little bigger than himself, with a thin, freckled, ferret-like face, surmounted by a fringe of sandy hair. This lad, while munching vigorously away at the fare provided, kept looking first at Caryll and then at Kendall.
Jack did not like the way this boy regarded him, and gave back look for look. He felt instinctively that he had here to do with another would-be bully.
Presently, having partially filled the void within, the youngster addressed himself to Caryll.
"Hullo, Baby," he began, "got a new child in tow? Looks like another chip off the Branson block, only wants knocking into shape."
"Baby" was a nickname applied to Caryll, in consequence of the look of baby-like innocence, of which mention has already been made.
Caryll, however, had his mouth full at the moment, and made no direct reply. He only mumbled something about "some boys being chips for blockheads."
Boulter answered for him.
"I wouldn't advise you to try the knocking into shape," he muttered. "One chap's tried it on already, and had to squeal out to his chum to come and rescue him."
This was a reference to the Dawney incident, the freckly-faced lad being one of that young gentleman's followers. He had evidently heard of it, for he looked savage.
"I didn't speak to you," he retorted rudely. "I asked Baby Caryll there."
But the latter was still too busily employed to speak, the questioner addressed himself directly to Jack.
"What's your name?"
Jack looked at him steadily.
"What's yours?" he asked.
"I'm called Skinner. The name was bestowed upon me because I'm always ready to skin any new kid who cheeks me—and don't you forget it!"
"There's another reason," said Caryll, who had got his mouth free.
"What may that be?" Jack inquired, with interest.
"Because he comes of a long line of skinflints."
Jack at that moment stretched out his hand to take a piece of bread. It happened to be the last one on the dish.
"I want that, new kid," said Skinner, and snatched the dish away.
As a matter of fact he did not want it, for he had finished, and he only wished to annoy Jack.
A boy sitting next to Skinner good-naturedly gave the dish a shake, thus tossing the piece towards Kendall, who secured it.
Skinner turned fiercely on his neighbour.
"What d'you mean by that, Horby?" he growled.
At the same time he gave Horby a dig with his elbow.
The assaulted one returned it with interest, and a squabble had begun, when a stern voice called out, "Order there!" and the little storm died down.
Jack glanced in the direction of the voice and saw that it had come from one of the officers, who had his eyes on that part of the table.
"That's Groder, our mathematical master," whispered Boulter. "He's a hard nut. You have to mind your p's and q's with him."
Then he went on to indicate the other masters round the board, and gave their names.
"That man over there is old Brigson, who'll teach you all about the rigging and sails, and initiate you into the mysteries of knots and splices."
"You haven't told me your name yet, new kid," Skinner put in. "I s'pose it's because you're ashamed of it."
Jack flushed up; but before he could say anything Boulter spoke.
"His name's Jack. I don't see why you shouldn't know it—Jack—"
"Comes of a long line of Jacks, I s'pose," sneered Skinner. "Descended from Jack the Giant-killer you'll tell me next. More likely, though, his father was a cheap-jack—"
"You leave my father out of it!" exclaimed Jack, through his closed teeth. "You can say anything you like about me, but leave my father alone. He has not been dead long."
"Oh!" said Skinner; and for a wonder he had the decency to say no more.
Just then came the short grace, which indicated the end of the meal, and all rose from table.
The lads made their way out in a confused crowd, and Jack became separated from his friends. He followed the stream, and was nearing the companion when two or three coming the other way pushed against him. One of them suddenly put out a foot and tripped him up.
Jack fell heavily, and his head struck a stanchion with such force that for the moment he felt half-stunned.
Rising slowly, and looking round in a dazed way to see who it was that had caused his fall, he found himself face to face with Dawney and his (Jack's) cousin, Clement Branson.
JACK KENDALL and his cousin stared at one another for some moments in silence, the while that Jack rubbed at his head where he had struck it in his fall.
He was still too dazed to notice details particularly, else he would have seen the expression on Clement Branson's face change from satirical amusement to apparent friendliness.
"Hallo, Jack!" he exclaimed. "This is a surprise! I'd no idea it was you! How long have you been aboard? Come down to-day?"
He held out his hand, and Jack took it, still scarcely knowing what he was doing. Clement went on:
"My guv'nor said he had heard you were going to join; but he didn't seem very certain about it. However, here you are! How're you getting on?"
"All right," answered Jack, in a noncommittal tone. "Shall soon settle down, I suppose."
Branson turned to Dawney.
"This is my cousin—Jack Kendall. I suppose you haven't seen him yet?"
"Oh, yes," said Jack. "We've met before. We're quite good friends already." And he looked steadily at Dawney. "He knows the sort of chap I am."
But Dawney only scowled, and pulled Branson by the sleeve. "Come on," he muttered; "I want a talk with you."
"See you again presently, Jack," Branson said, with assumed cheeriness, and went off with the other.
"Now, I wonder which of those it was tripped me up?" murmured Jack to himself, as he looked after them. "I feel pretty sure it was one of the two. Suppose it must have been Dawney. Clem would hardly begin that sort of thing just yet; though I can tell he's anything but pleased at seeing me. Well, I'm thankful that I'm not beholden to his father for being here, anyway!"
Then Caryll and Boulter, who had been looking for him, came up, and the three went to the upper deck for a blow before turning-in time.
The fog had cleared off, and the lights on shore and on other vessels lying at anchor in the river could be plainly seen. Above, the moon was shining down with a cold, silvery gleam, and there was a keen, almost frosty nip in the air.
As the three hung over the bulwarks, chatting in low tones, they heard a hail from the officer of the watch, and saw that a boat was nearing the ship.
"The captain's gig," whispered Boulter. "Bringing the young ladies. I suppose they went ashore early in the day, and the old man didn't like to bring them back through the fog."
"The young ladies?" Jack repeated, in surprise. "I didn't know you had young lady cadets."
The other two laughed.
"It's the captain's daughter, Alma, and her cousin, Bertha Fordyce," Caryll explained. "Two jolly girls! They're with the governess, Miss Chalford."
Jack whistled; and he looked on with much curiosity as the boat came alongside and the three ladies climbed the accommodation ladder.
Evidently used to it, they nimbly gained the deck, where they were received by Mr. Melfort, who had heard the hail and had come forward to meet them.
Jack saw, first, two girls about his own age, and then a young lady, whom he supposed must be the governess. She and the chief officer stood talking together, while the two girls looked round.
Groups of cadets were standing about on deck, and they lifted their caps as the girls glanced at them, with a nod and a smile here and there. Then the two caught sight of Caryll, who, as it happened, was the nearest.
They stole across quickly and shook hands with him and Boulter.
"How's Mabel?" one asked.
"Quite well—sent her love to you, Alma," answered Caryll; and Jack knew that the fair young girl with the golden hair, and the laughing, roguish eyes, must be the captain's daughter. The other one was darker, with sparkling brown eyes, and dark-brown hair. Both now stood looking at Jack with a puzzled expression.
Caryll's face lighted up with the mischievous look his new chum had seen there before.
"Aren't you going to speak to Clem Branson, and welcome him back, too?" he asked.
One of the girls—it was Alma Probyn—put her hand out slowly, and, as Jack thought, rather coldly.
"Sorry!" she said, "I didn't—" And then she drew back, as her friend Bertha laughed.
"It's not Clem Branson, Alma; I saw that almost directly," she said. "That's a bit of Will's nonsense. It's someone else—a new boy!"
"That's right!" Caryll put in, quite unabashed. "It is a new chum of ours—Jack Kendall is his name. But he's a cousin of Clem Branson, anyway."
"Oh!" murmured Alma; and Jack noticed that the announcement of the relationship was not received with any enthusiasm. She was once more about to shake hands, however, when the voice of the governess was heard calling. And with a quick good-night, to Caryll and Boulter, the two hurried away.
As to Jack, he was left in a very confused state. The meeting with the two girls had been so sudden, and so utterly unexpected, that he had, for the moment, quite lost his presence of mind. He reproached himself now for having stood there and never said a word.
"You look flabbergasted!" said Caryll, giving Jack another of his mischievous glances.
"Not used to ladies' society, evidently," Boulter commented. "We'll have to educate him up to it. Quite took him aback."
"It was rather a surprise," Jack admitted, with a laugh. "I never expected to meet any girls here. Who's Mabel?"
"Mabel's my sister," Will Caryll explained. "These two come over to our house sometimes to see her."
"Oh, I didn't know you had a sister. You didn't mention her when you told me about your home, you know."
"It isn't his fault," Boulter observed. "Chaps can't help having sisters. I've got two myself. However, you'll find Alma and Bertha a good sort. You needn't be afraid of them. They're not stuck up, and don't give themselves airs, as some would, because they're the captain's girls."
The talk changed to other matters, and Jack's companions gave him various bits of information about the ship and his fellow- cadets.
One of the most noteworthy was that the first-term cadets were sub-divided informally into two lots, one lot sleeping in a dormitory on the starboard side of the vessel, while the sleeping-place of the others was on the port side.
There was a certain amount of rivalry between the two sets; and they were known as Light Blues and Dark Blues respectively. Each set had a leader, whom they styled their captain: the captain of the Light Blues—to which set Caryll and Boulter belonged—was named Neville; while the leader of the Dark Blues was called Vyner. This division, however, was not recognised by the officers, but was purely a custom amongst the cadets themselves which had been handed down, as Boulter declared, "from time immemorial."
"They're a wild, mischievous crew, the Dark Blues," he went on. "They're always trying to plan out some fresh prank to play on us."
"Ah, yes," Will chimed in, with a reproving shake of the head. "You never know what trick they'll be up to next."
"Of course you never play any tricks on them in return?" Jack remarked, with becoming gravity.
Caryll stared at him with a look of wondrous innocence.
"Of course not!" he exclaimed, as though shocked at the mere suggestion. "Think of the example we're expected to set! It would never do for us Light Blues—"
Just then there was a sound as of someone talking angrily, yet in low tones, so as not to attract the attention of the officer of the watch.
A group of three or four boys came in the direction of the chums, the boy Skinner in the midst of them. As they got close, Skinner suddenly let fly something at Caryll. It was something pretty large, and seemed to be shot out of a handkerchief, sling fashion.
But Will, who was evidently on the alert for something of the sort, cleverly ducked, and the thing thrown, passing over his head, came full at Joyce, who was coming from the other direction.
It was an immense jellyfish; and it landed on the side of his head and neck with a loud, plump squelch, and scattered in all directions.
"You impudent young monkey!" spluttered the petty-officer, as he made a run and seized the thrower. "I'll report you for this! Come with me!"
"I didn't mean it for you, Mr. Joyce," pleaded the delinquent. "I threw it at Caryll, there. He put it in the pocket of my jacket while it was hanging up, and I found it there when I put it on and slipped my hand into the pocket. Horby saw him there at the time. I only meant to give it him back."
But Joyce was too angry to listen to excuses or explanations, and Skinner was hauled off loudly protesting.
"Fancy his blaming it on to you—like his cheek!" said Boulter to Will, with a laugh.
"You didn't deny it," Jack observed, in a perplexed tone.
"I'm afraid I couldn't," was the nonchalant reply. "He checked you at supper, and I wanted to pay him out for it. I came across the jellyfish in a bucket, and saw Skinner's jacket hanging up handy. And it struck me as a good way of teaching him manners. He wants teaching badly—like the rest of the Dark Blues."
"That's so!" Boulter agreed with a solemn shake of the head. "The longer you live here, Kendall, the more surprised and shocked you will be at the wickedness and the—er—the dreadful depravity of the Dark Blue chaps! I've heard that in the old days they used to confine prisoners in the place which is now their dormitory; and I often think there must be some criminal taint left in the air which gets into the blood."
"And what was our dormitory used for in those days? Saints, I suppose!" laughed Jack.
"You shouldn't joke and laugh about these matters," Caryll put in, with great seriousness. "These poor chaps can't help being Dark Blues. It's their dismal destiny. By the way, your cousin, Branson, is one of them."
"Oh!" said Jack with a smile. "Then he's in bad company."
Just then came the signal for turning in, and the lads went off to their dormitories.
"Come this way," Boulter said to Jack. "We generally go down No. 6 companion—it's nearer to our bunks, and you avoid the crowd." And he led the way to the top of a ladder leading to the deck below.
There were only half a dozen lads going that way, and Jack noticed amongst them Steele and Egerton, who had travelled in the train, and been in the subsequent motor-boat adventure with him.
Boulter went down first, remarking that it looked pretty dark below.
"Some one must have forgotten to light the lamp," he said, as he began the descent.
Then he disappeared in what seemed to Jack, who was following him, a curiously quick fashion.
He himself had only put his foot on the second step of the ladder when he slipped, disappeared just as suddenly from the view of the others.
He heard the cry come up from below him and there was another as he came bumping down on Boulter, who was sprawling on the deck below in the dark.
"Oh, oh!" gasped Boulter, as Jack plunged on top of him. He tried bravely to sing out, to warn the others from above, but his breath failed him, and a moment later Caryll came tumbling on top of them.
WARNED by thuds, the half-smothered cries, and the other unusual sounds from below that something was wrong, Steele, the lad who was behind Kendall, drew back when on the point of descending the ladder after him.
He also good-naturedly put out a hand to stay the next one, Egerton: but Egerton refused to be stayed, waved the warning hand scornfully aside, and forged ahead.
"You want to get down first and play me some idiotic trick, I guess," he remarked, as he turned about and put one foot on the first rung. "I tell you I'm going"—here his foot slipped, but the other foot brought up for a moment on the next rung—"I'm going!" he repeated in a determined tone, and then he disappeared as suddenly as the others had done.
"Gone!" commented Steele dryly. "I thought so! Boys, look out! The ladder's been greased! Better go the other way." And taking the hint, they all set off at a run for another ladder.
Meanwhile Kendall, and his unlucky companions were floundering about on the deck below, a wriggling, squirming, gasping little crowd, with bruised legs, arms, and bodies, trying, but vainly, to get on their feet.
Kendall, being new to it all, was wondering vaguely whether this was the cadets' usual way of going downstairs to bed; while Boulter called upon all and sundry to show a light, and asked if anybody had a match.
Just then someone who happened to be passing with a lantern, hearing the noise and the call for a light, stopped and turned the lantern upon the struggling group.
It was "Smiling Simon," and his habitual grin broadened out so much that it threatened to reach to his ears on either side.
"Why, whatever be you young gentlemen a-doing there?" he cried.
"Can't you see we're trying to get up? Why don't you put that thing down and help us, you grinning ape?" This from Egerton, and if it was not a polite way for asking for assistance, it must be allowed that there were extenuating circumstances.
The fact was that not only the steps and sides of the ladder, but the floor below, had been so thoroughly greased that it was all as slippery as glass. Nor had the perverted ingenuity of those who had planned the trap stopped there. A network of strings had been stretched backwards and forwards in such a way as to trip up again even those who managed, for a fleeting moment, to get on their feet.
Thus it came about that Simon, when he went to the aid of the unfortunates, caught his foot, and made the confusion worse by sprawling on top of them, a feat which brought further personal remarks upon his innocent head.
Just then a stern voice broke in upon the babel, and in peremptory tones ordered the strugglers to "Get up!"
The speaker was petty officer Joyce, and instantly there fell a silence, save for such gasps and groans as refused to be suppressed.
Then the experienced officer, guessing at what was amiss, proceeded, with characteristic energy, to rescue the helpless victims.
Whipping out his knife, he cut the strings nearest to him, and treading gingerly at the edge of the treacherous, greasy track, he reached over. Then, grabbing at an ankle here, and an arm there, he hauled, first one and then another across the pitfalls, and deposited them on the clear deck beyond.
"Now sheer off!" he gruffly commanded, and the quartet "sheered off" in shuffling silence, only too glad to escape the expected reprimand.
They owed their reprieve, be it here said, solely to the fact that petty officer Joyce was himself too much engaged in stifling the laughter which fought for expression to be able to lecture them with the requisite sternness.
Kendall, however, had no suspicion of this; and as he followed his friends he was wondering more than ever whether this was one of their usual ways of "going downstairs."
They managed to get into the dormitory under cover of a little squabble which was going on near the entrance concerning the alleged wrongful changing of someone's blanket for someone else's. Quite a number of disinterested spectators, all more or less in "undress uniform" had noisily started in to take sides, and the late comers crept in unobserved.
"I expect this is some of the Dark Blues' work," said Egerton, in tones that savoured of exasperation. "And I shouldn't be surprised if Skinner was at the bottom of it."
"Shouldn't you? I should," Boulter replied.
"Why?" Egerton asked sharply.
"Because," returned Boulter, with conviction, "it was I who was at the bottom of it all, and well I know it! I only wish," he added, between his teeth, "that Skinner had been at the bottom, and that I'd fallen on him! As for you, you came off best of all; you only fell on top of us. I'm a mass of bruises."
"So am I," Kendall chimed in sympathetically.
"Never mind your bruises," Caryll advised. "Slip into your hammocks sharp, and try to look as if you've been there a week. We shall have the officer on duty making his rounds here directly, and there'll be trouble if he finds that we came in late."
Jack tried to follow this advice, but being unaccustomed to hammock beds, he overdid the "slipping in." That is to say, he promptly slipped out again on the other side, alighting on the floor with a bump which added another bruise or two to the assortment he already possessed.
Boulter came to his help, and under his instruction the new cadet managed to get into bed and stay there.
So ended Jack Kendall's first day in his new life. It had certainly turned out far more eventful than he had expected, and he did not feel sorry when it had come to an end. He was dog- tired, and, in spite of the smarting of the bumps and bruises, he was quickly asleep.
For a wonder he was allowed to have his night's rest in peace. The old time-honoured practical joke of cutting the new boy's hammock ropes and pitching him out in his sleep, was not tried upon him—then. Perhaps the mischievous ones were satisfied with the tricks they had already played, or they were like him tired out with travelling, and did not care to forego their own repose.
THE next few days passed without anything happening of special note. Jack gradually fell into the routine of the training ship, and settled down to his new duties. He began to pick up all sorts of knowledge relating to ships and matters maritime. He became expert in climbing the rigging, and learned the names of the various spars, sails, and ropes; he became used to drilling, both aloft and below, and commenced various courses of instruction in navigation, signalling, and so on.
There were also boat drills, swimming, gymnastics, boxing, wrestling, and other exercises, always available to fill up leisure time.
Then there were the recreation grounds belonging to the ship. These were situated on the high ground to the east of the river and the little town of Wincombe, and were of considerable extent. There were playing fields for cricket, football, hockey, and other sports, and over and beyond these were other fields and stretches of wood comprising quite an estate, all of which belonged to Captain Probyn, and was reserved by him specially for the use and enjoyment of his cadets.
They were thus able to ramble about and obtain plenty of fresh air and outdoor exercise without going "out of bounds." There was even a small farm, where fresh milk, teas and other refreshments could be purchased.
Nearly every day the lads were landed in batches, under their officers, and allowed three hours in which to wander about these recreation grounds, or engage in such games there as they might choose amongst themselves.
On Saturdays, however, they had nearly the whole day to themselves, which, in fine weather was to a large extent spent on shore in this way. When the first Saturday came Jack Kendall was carried off by his two particular chums, Caryll and Boulter, to this place, in order, as they said, he might make himself familiar with the limits within which he was free to wander about at will.
It was a fine, sunny, spring day, the air was clear and bracing, and the lads were in good spirits. They left the crowd of cadets in the street—where many lingered round certain "tuck shops"—and following first a by-lane, and then a field path, reached the highest part of the hill without trudging along the main road.
"Now you can see a bit of the country round about," Caryll said, as they paused on the top of a knoll, which, Jack noticed, was close to a road. "Here you can see for miles on every side. There's the mouth of the river, and there is the sea—not very far away, you perceive. That way—to the east—Dartmouth lies, and yonder you can see my home."
"Your home!" exclaimed Jack.
"That's right," Boulter put in. "That is Coombe Hall over there; you can see the upper part above the trees, with the sea behind it. That's where Will lives. It's nearly five miles away by the main road, but there's a nearer way along the cliffs, which is not much above three."
"Yes," sighed Caryll, "I could easily nip across there, stay a while, and be back here in time to return to the ship with the rest."
"And you mustn't go?"
"No; it's out of bounds. I mustn't go without a special permit, and they won't grant that so soon after you come back."
"No; I can understand that," said Jack thoughtfully. "Yet it seems hard lines to be so near to your home and yet not able to go there. I only wish I were as near to—to mine, so that I could go and see my mother sometimes. As it is, I shan't see her probably for a year."
"Hey! That's a long time," said Caryll. "How's that?"
"She's going to France to stay, and I don't suppose I shall be able to go over there to her when the next holidays come."
"H'm! That's harder lines than mine here," Caryll muttered. He offered no further comment then, but he was making a mental note of the statement. "However, you see," he went on, "if I can't go home to my people, they can come over and see me, and that's what has brought me straight up here this morning."
"Oh," exclaimed Jack in surprise, "you said nothing—"
"I know I didn't," Will chuckled, "because if I had I knew pretty well for certain you would have wanted to back out. The fact is, I've come to meet here Mabel, my sister."
"Quite true," Boulter confirmed solemnly. "We've come here to meet Mabel."
"Alma and Bertha, too," he added a moment later.
"Alma and Bertha, too!" exclaimed Jack.
"Oh, yes!" Will returned carelessly, as though he had forgotten the fact till then. "You see, Mabel's coming over with our pony-carriage to fetch them over for the day; so it gives me the chance of seeing her for a few minutes. That's the reason I came here. But she ought to be here before this," he continued, consulting his watch rather anxiously. "The other two will be here directly; they're sure to stroll up the road to meet her—and I wanted a chat with her first. Suppose we go along the road and meet her before they come?"
Putting the suggestion into action, Will scrambled over the low wall which fenced off the field, and began to walk briskly along the road in the direction of his home.
The other two followed, and they went round a bend till they came to a place where the road forked. There Will paused.
"H'm! Now I'm done!" he muttered. "Say, you go that way, and I'll go this. We've got a whistle each, and which ever sights her first is to blow it. There's only a strip of wood between the two roads for a long way, and a whistle will be heard right enough."
Jack and Boulter started off by themselves, while Caryll took the other road.
The way now lay between woods, and still curved sharply, so that one could not see very far ahead.
Suddenly, Jack heard voices evidently raised in anger. Then came a loud scream and a cry for help.
In a moment he had started off at top speed, and Boulter was but a few paces behind him.
Turning a corner they came upon a scene that filled them with anger and indignation.
There was the pony-carriage they were looking for, with a young girl in it whom Boulter knew to be Mabel Caryll.
But the reins were hanging loose, the pony was kicking and plunging, while the girl was trying to defend herself from the attack of two gipsy-looking men, beating at them pluckily with the butt-end of her whip.
Jack did not hesitate. Drawing his whistle and blowing at it lustily as he went, he rushed forward and threw himself bravely between the girl and her brutal assailants.
AS matters turned out, it was a fortunate thing that Will Caryll had asked his chums to whistle for him if they met his sister, and that Jack, even in the critical circumstances that had arisen, had remembered and acted upon the injunction.
The two big, brawny ruffians who had attacked Will's sister, and against whom Jack had thrown himself with such impetuous courage, would have made short work of the two youngsters had it not been for that whistle.
But they were, no doubt, aware that numbers of the lads' fellow-cadets were wandering about, many, perhaps, within earshot, and the thought made them hesitate. To deal with the two before them was one thing, but to face a whole swarm of them would be quite another matter.
Even if they managed to beat them off, they would be followed by a crowd of lads. There would be a hue and cry, and in the end they would almost certainly be run down.
So reasoned the two rascally assailants, and they decided upon instant flight. And instead of turning on the two plucky lads—for Boulter had imitated Jack's example and darted at the other man—the cowardly pair thought only of shaking them off, and making a dash into the wood. Once thus hidden from sight they hoped to be able to cover up their tracks.
The one Boulter had encountered, therefore, contented himself with throwing him off, and then, turning, ran along the road towards the gap through which they had sprung out upon the girl.
Jack was not so easily disposed of. He clung to his opponent with obstinate determination. It was all in vain that the miscreant rained cruel blows upon him. The brave lad held on like a bulldog, and it was only when he had been dragged almost to the gap that he was finally shaken off.
Bruised and sore, and feeling a little giddy, he staggered to his feet, and looked round as he heard a warning cry from Boulter. His hair, disordered in the struggle, was over his eyes, and obscured his view. But he quickly grasped what the new trouble was.
The pony had started to run away, with the girl still in the carriage behind it, and the reins hanging loose.
It had swung right round, and was going back the way it had come.
As it came galloping past Jack he pulled himself together and sprang forward, with the hope of being able to catch at its head. But, half dazed as he was, he was not quick enough. The frightened animal rushed past, and Jack had a narrow escape of being struck by the wheels.
He just managed, however, to turn and make a clutch at the back rail. Then, after two or three flying steps along the road, he made a spring, and tumbled rather than climbed over on to the seat.
Mabel Caryll had managed to grasp the reins just as they had been slipping down into the road, and she still held them, but she seemed unable to do more. She was exhausted with the efforts she had been making to keep her brutal assailants at bay, and now, for the moment, the courageous girl's strength and nerve had both deserted her.
Jack slid down on the seat beside her, and, snatching the reins from her hand, gathered them in and began to pull steadily upon the pony's mouth.
Then ensued a desperate struggle for the mastery.
The pony, a high-mettled, strong chestnut, was in a panic, and tore madly on, even though its mouth was being drawn slowly down upon its breast.
Well was it for Jack that he had been taught to drive, otherwise he would almost certainly have made the mistake so often committed by flustered drivers in similar cases of pulling unevenly on the reins, and so guiding the flying horse into the ditch or whatever might be beside the road.
Suddenly the girl seemed to wake as from a stupor.
"The cliff, the cliff!" she cried, in accents of fear and horror. "Oh, quick, quick! Stop him before we get there!"
At that Jack looked more carefully at the road ahead. Hitherto he had been too intent on watching the pony to give more than one or two quick glances. So far as he had been able to see, the road before them continued straight and on the flat.
But what he now saw fully explained the note of terror that had rung out in his companion's voice. For there, straight in front, he saw the sea. The road made a sudden turn just before it reached the edge of the cliff. As they were now going, therefore, they were heading straight for the brink of a precipice, and unless the pony could be stopped in time there was nothing to save them from going over. To turn the sharp corner in safety at their present speed would be almost hopeless.
As Jack grasped these facts he made a great effort, and threw all his strength into his hold on the reins. But though the speed decreased a little the frightened animal still held on.
Then he called upon the girl for aid.
"Pull! Help me!" he gasped. "Catch hold, and pull for your life!"
She, suddenly gathering her wits together, snatched at the reins too, and, exerting themselves to the utmost, they both pulled and tugged for dear life.
Their combined efforts began to tell. Very gradually, but quite perceptibly, their headlong speed was checked, and this inciting them to further efforts, they little by little got the upper hand.
It was a near thing. But providentially the exertions they made proved effective in time, and the pony was brought to a standstill when only twenty or thirty yards from the brink.
In the sudden stillness that followed, as the pounding hoof- beats and the rattle of the wheels ceased, they could hear the roar of the waves tumbling on the beach two hundred feet below them.
For a minute they sat motionless. Jack was afraid to move, even to speak, lest the still trembling animal might be startled afresh.
He was now in another difficulty. He wanted to jump out and go to the pony's head, yet he was afraid to risk letting go of the reins. Besides, he reasoned with himself, how could he get out and leave his companion alone? If the beast should start off again!
An idea came to him, and he whispered to her.
"Speak to the pony," he breathed. "It knows you, I expect. Then slip out quietly."
She acted on the hint, and, as the animal pricked up its ears at the sound of her voice, she got out, and, still talking to it soothingly, stole forward and laid one hand on its neck and the other on the rein close to the bit.
The pony turned its head round towards her and let her stroke its nose.
"It's all right now. You can get out too," she said to Jack.
Jack climbed down, but very cautiously, and on the alert for the slightest sign of any further obstreperousness on the animal's part.
It seemed now, however, quite quiet and docile. Still Jack was not satisfied until he had turned it round, with its back to the horrible precipice.
He and the girl stood and looked at each other for a moment or two in silence, and then she burst into tears. The strain of all that had happened had been a terrible one, and now came the natural reaction.
"I d-don't know who y-you are," she sobbed out, "but you've be-behaved splendidly. I d-don't know how to thank you."
"There, there, Miss Mabel, don't cry!" said Jack anxiously. "Don't be upset, it's all right now—and please don't bother about thanking me! I'm only too jolly glad if I've been of any use."
"U-use?" cried Mabel, with a shudder "You've saved my life. Wh-where should I—I be now if—if it hadn't been for you?"
"Saved my own life, too," said Jack philosophically.
"Y-yes; but you risked it by getting in with me."
"But I only thought of helping you to stop the pony. I didn't know of anything else," Jack persisted modestly. "But, there, what need to talk about it now? It's over and done with, and we'd better go back and find your brother. He'll be anxious about you."
Mabel began to dry her tears.
"Who are you," she asked, "and how do you know my name?" Then, with a keen, sharp, glance, which took him in, as it were, from his ruffled hair to his dusty shoes, she suddenly answered her own question:
"I know! You're Jack Kendall!"
"That's my name," Jack admitted. "It's my turn now to ask how you knew?"
"Because Will wrote and told me about a—about a new friend who had joined. He told me a lot about you and what you had done—his letter was full of it," she added shyly.
Jack felt himself colour up. He felt vexed with Will, and hardly knew what to say next. Now that the excitement of the adventure was wearing off, his usual shyness in the presence of girls was returning.
It was a relief to him to hear a shout, and to see, as he glanced along the road, that someone was running towards them.
"Why," he exclaimed, after a second glance, "here's Will coming after you. And Boulter, and—and—oh, a whole crowd of people!"
Mabel looked round and saw, as Jack had said, quite a crowd hastening along the road towards them. Her brother and Boulter were running in advance.
"Why, there's Miss Chalford—and Alma and Bertha!" she said. "I was coming over to fetch them, you know—they're coming to spend the day. I shouldn't wonder if they're afraid to drive with me after this. And there's Mr Melfort—of course there would be—and he'll have something to say! He'll be anxious about Miss Chalford, I'll warrant. Oh, Rogue, Rogue, whatever possessed you to play me such a trick? A nice bother you've let me in for!"
These last words were addressed to the pony, as they were walking with it, one on each side, leading it back to meet the on-coming party.
"Oh, his name is Rogue, is it?" Jack remarked, laughing. "A very appropriate name, I should say."
"Not at all—not in the way you mean," Mabel returned, flushing up at once in defence of her pet. "We call him Rogue because he's so playful, and so full of little tricks. But they've all been innocent ones so far. He's never run away before."
Then her brother came up and began asking questions, and a minute or two later the others were crowding round, including, as Mabel had said, the first officer, Mr. Melfort, and several of the cadets.
There were questions and cross-questions and various exclamations as Mabel told her little story. All there knew the place, knew how the cliff had broken away so that the edge was now close to the road, where it turned sharply to the left. They had no need, therefore to walk on further in order to understand the danger the two had escaped.
"You ought not to have come alone, Mabel," Will commented. "Why didn't Dennis drive you over?"
"There isn't room—not comfortably—you know, Will," his sister reminded him. "There will be four of us going back."
"Well, at any rate, you ought to have come by the other road," Will went on. "You know dad would be angry if he knew. He doesn't consider this road safe for driving now that the cliff is breaking away so fast."
"And I agree with Sir Keith as to that," said Mr. Melfort, looking gravely at the girl. "It would be much wiser to use the other road."
"I was in a hurry to get here, you see, Mr. Melfort, or I should have come the other way," Mabel explained. "I was late in starting, and was afraid that Miss Chalford would be waiting for me."
"Well, well, we must be thankful that the affair has ended as it has," Mr. Melfort said finally. "All's well that ends well. But I haven't said anything about the part Kendall took—Hallo, what's that?"
There was an interruption in the form of an outburst of distant shouts and cries, coming, seemingly, from somewhere in the woods. Kendall felt himself turning first hot and then cold as he heard Mr. Melfort mention his name. He had guessed what was coming, and, as was usual with him, he shrank from hearing himself praised—especially before the present company, and he welcomed the diversion.
"What is it? What did it mean?" he asked Caryll in an aside.
"A lot of our fellows are hunting for those beasts who attacked my sister," Will answered, "and I expect it means they've caught them, or come in sight of them. Can't we go and help, sir?" he asked Mr. Melfort. "It's my sister they set upon—the brutes! And now that I know she's safe, can't I go and help catch them?"
"And I, sir?" came a chorus from the other cadets.
"Very well," said Mr. Melfort, with a smile. "But take my advice, lads, keep together. Don't get separated."
"All right, sir!" cried Will. "Come on, Kendall! Come and help to run down the wretches!"
And he and the other lads set off at a run.
BEFORE following Kendall and his companions in their search for the two ruffians who had attacked Caryll's sister, it is necessary to go back to the time when they had been standing on the knoll, watching for her to come along the road.
While thus engaged they had been watched in their turn by a group of lads who had followed behind them from the town. This group consisted of Dawney and Forder and two or three of their cronies, amongst the latter being Skinner and Kendall's cousin, Branson.
The two first-named were smarting under the remembrance of their encounter with Jack Kendall on the day of his arrival, and the wigging they had received from Captain Probyn in consequence. They had been nursing their wrath ever since, and were hoping that to-day, out in the fields and away from the supervision of their officers, they would be able to take their revenge.
"Fagging," as such, was strictly prohibited under Captain Probyn's rule. Something very like it existed, notwithstanding, as has always been the case, and probably always will be, amongst boys. For it would be difficult to find any such community which did not contain a few bullies.
Though Jack had, unfortunately for himself, and through no fault of his own, incurred the high displeasure of Dawney and Forder, their animosity was far less dangerous to him, had he but known it, than the enmity which actuated his cousin, Clement Branson.
For one thing, the ill-will of the former was more or less open, and it had no more solid cause than ordinary boyish spite and meanness. But Clem Branson's hostility was veiled under a pretence of friendliness; it had its root in an intense jealousy, and an idea that Jack was threatening his (Branson's) whole future. Lastly, this state of mind on Clement's part had been fostered and encouraged by his father.
Mr. Branson was a shipowner, and was reputed to be a very wealthy man; but he had had bad losses of late, and his position was by no means what it had been. In these circumstances, his one great hope had been that Mr. Robert Kendall would make Clement his heir. Up to recently there had been a sort of tacit understanding that this would be the case. But now that Mr. Kendall had seemed to have taken up with the other nephew, both Mr. Branson and his son had become filled with dire fears and suspicions that Jack might succeed in ousting Clement from his position of "heir-apparent," and step into that place himself.
Hence the hearts of both father and son were filled with bitter hatred of Jack, and with a ruthless determination to do everything in their power to prevent what seemed to their selfish minds, to be threatening.
They had resolved that, in some way, whether by fair means or foul, whether by getting Jack discredited in his uncle's eyes, or even worse, his supposed rivalry must be got rid of.
Thus it was that, when Clement found there was already bad blood existing between Jack and Dawney and Forder, he did all in his power to secretly pour fuel on the smouldering fire. He could do this all the more easily, seeing that he was himself, though they were older boys, one of Dawney and Forder's cronies.
These three, then, with two or three of their followers, were watching Kendall and Caryll as they stood with Boulter waiting for Mabel. Presently they saw them go off along the road.
"Oho!" cried Dawney, "they're going out of bounds! So much the better for us! We shall have all the better chance to pounce on them alone!"
"Yes; and you can say," Branson put in craftily, "that you wanted to bring them back into bounds, and they resisted. That will account for your having to trounce them, and will get them into a row besides. Of course, I needn't take any part in it myself. You'll understand if I stand on one side, and just see that no undue violence is used." And he laughed cynically.
"Wait a moment," said Forder. "It strikes me that perhaps Caryll's going to take them to his home for the day, hoping to be able to sneak back without being found out. We'd better follow quietly and see. If that's the case, we can get them into a pretty bad mess by merely telling on them, without further trouble. Then, if you like, we can keep the thrashing we owe them till next time."
This suggestion roused Branson's jealousy against Jack still further. Previously, when going to his home, Will Caryll had often invited him (Clement) to accompany him. It looked, therefore, to his mean mind as though Jack was already supplanting him, even in the matter of visiting at Coombe Hall.
"He can't have got a special permission?" he growled.
"They never grant one so soon after the holidays," said Dawney. "No: if they're going, they're doing it on the sly. If so, I agree with Forder. We'll spy on them, and then tell on them. That'll get them into quite enough trouble for one day, anyway."
In accordance with this generous resolve, they set off along the road after the others.
Now, although they were aware that the captain's daughter and niece occasionally went to Coombe Hall to visit Mabel Caryll, it never occurred to them that they might be going that day.
Nor had they seen the captain's boat come ashore with the two girls and their governess. If they had, they would have kept a more wary look-out for Mr. Melfort. For that officer was very often to be found escorting Miss Chalford and her pupils.
Thus it happened that, just as Dawney and his friends scrambled over the fence into the road, and disappeared round a bend in front, another group came round a curve lower down. They were Miss Chalford and her two charges, and Mr. Melfort, with Egerton, Steele, and several other cadets; and they were strolling along the road, after having waited at the landing- place for Mabel, in the hope of meeting her.
"There goes Dawney—yes, and Forder!" whispered Egerton to Steele—the two were walking together in front. "They've gone out of bounds! Wonder if Melfort saw them?"
"Melfort" had seen them, but being farther round the bend, had only caught sight of their heads and shoulders over the top of the fence. So he was not quite sure of their identity.
"Who are those lads?" he called out to the two in front. "Did you see who they were?"
"I—I'm afraid I couldn't say, sir," Egerton responded hesitatingly. "I didn't see them go very plainly."
"Did you see them, Steele?" asked Melfort.
"Not properly, sir, I could see they looked like some of our fellows."
The chief officer glanced at them a little suspiciously, and seemed to be about to say more. But he must have thought better of it, for he turned to Miss Chalford, by whose side he was walking, and quietly resumed his talk with her.
This little incident is worth noticing, as showing, better than a long description could do, the very different code of honour existing amongst Caryll and his chums from that which found favour with Dawney and his set. Had the cases been reversed, the latter would not have hesitated to betray Steele and Egerton; and these two knew it. Yet they themselves had resorted to subterfuge rather than give even their enemies away.
Meantime Dawney and his companions had reached the place where the roads forked, and there they paused in uncertainty.
Suddenly they heard a distant scream, then a whistle; and a moment or two later Caryll came tearing back along the left-hand road.
As he drew near the watching group, and saw whom he had to deal with, he tried to dodge past them, in order to get into the other road. But Dawney and Forder rushed at him, and seized him on the grass at the side. They had caught him alone, and it was not in their nature to let such a splendid opportunity of punishing him escape them.
Nor did they lose any time about it. They asked no questions, gave him no chance to explain why he was in a hurry—for he, having been farther along the road, had heard Mabel's call for help so plainly as to recognise her voice—but began to cuff and hit him about in brutal fashion.
Poor Will made as brave a fight as he could, but, desperately as he fought, he could, of course, do nothing against two lads both bigger than himself. Even when he tripped and fell, the two bullies did not cease their blows, but struck him again and again as he lay on the grass.
How long this cowardly scene might have continued it is impossible to say. It was interrupted by a stern voice calling upon the two by name.
Turning abruptly, they found themselves confronted by Mr. Melfort, beside whom were Miss Chalford, and the captain's daughter and niece, all gazing at them, with indignation and disgust plainly written in their faces. Around were the cadets who had been strolling up with them, and who were only kept from rushing in upon them by the presence of their officer.
Mr. Melfort put a hand upon each of the two assailants, and pulled them off the prostrate lad, handling them none too tenderly in doing so. Egerton and Steele then ran to help Caryll up, but the governess was before them, and it was she who aided him to rise. She began to brush his clothes with her handkerchief, and in other ways to try to remove such traces of the treatment he had received as she could.
Miss Chalford, it may be here said, was a young lady of perhaps twenty-four or twenty-five. Without being exactly beautiful, she was extremely good looking, and had a very kindly, sympathetic manner. She was held in great esteem and respect by all those among the cadets who came in contact with her. The looks she now cast at Dawney and Forder probably made those two young bullies as much ashamed of themselves as their natures would allow.
It was much the same in the case of the two girls, who plainly showed their sympathy for Caryll and their resentment against his enemies.
Will stood there for a few moments, half dazed. Then, suddenly coming to himself, he remembered what he had heard.
He was about to tell Mr. Melfort, when there came a shout from farther along the road. Looking round, they all saw Boulter running towards them, calling out something as he ran, and making violent signs with his hands.
Mr. Melfort, who had been about to address himself to Dawney and Forder, guessed that something serious was the matter, and, turning from them, hastened to meet the new-comer.
Then Boulter, whose clothes showed that he had rolled in the road, and who bore other signs of bad usage, breathlessly told what had occurred. He ended by gasping out that the pony had run away with the carriage, with Mabel in it, and Kendall clinging on to the back rail. They had disappeared round a curve in the road, and then he had run back for assistance.
Mr. Melfort acted promptly as far as circumstances allowed. He ordered Dawney and Forder to return at once to the ship and report themselves for punishment. Then he told off some of the cadets to go back and bring all the help they could—cadets, officers, or whomsoever they could find to join in the hunt for the two miscreants, whilst he himself set off at a run to find the pony-carriage. He took with him Caryll and Boulter, and others of the lads.
Miss Chalford would not be left behind, and she and her pupils set off too, all following the chief officer as well as they could, till, to their inexpressible relief, they came in sight of the missing ones, as has been related in the last chapter.
All this Caryll and Boulter told briefly to Jack as they raced along the road, which, having turned abruptly to the left, here continued between the woods on the one side and the edge of the cliff on the other.
Will had chosen this way as being likely to lead them in the right direction, he thought, more quickly than trying to make their way through the woods.
As it turned out, it was fortunate he had done so; for after they had proceeded about a mile they came, quite suddenly, upon a man standing gazing seaward. The man turned, and they saw that it was Dennis, Sir Keith Caryll's servant.
He explained to Will that Sir Keith had arrived home; and hearing that Mabel had gone out alone, and had not yet returned, had sent him out to look for her.
But he had other and more startling news to tell. He had just seen two men, he said come out of the wood, creep across the road, and go over the cliff, evidently making for the beach below. And he was standing there in two minds, uncertain whether he ought to continue on the errand he had been sent, or turn aside to go after them.
"For, Masther Will," said he, "they're the two spalpeens as wor makin' free wid the boat that day! They're the pirates as must 'ave bored that hole in her, an' might 'aye drowned us all."
"My word!" cried Will, excitedly. "Show us which way they went, Dennis, and come along with us! My sister is all right now. But two scoundrels tried to rob her, and I expect the men you saw must be the ones we are after!"
"THE masther's in a foine way at me allowin' Miss Mabel to droive the pony by herself," Dennis confided to Will, as they hurried towards the edge of the cliff.
"He'll be in a worse way when he hears what has happened," Will returned.
"Phwat will I do?" muttered Dennis disconsolately. "Sure, an' it wor not my fault, Masther Will. Oi said Oi w'u'd go, but Miss Mabel said there wouldn't be room comin' back; an' Miss Caryll said so too. So phwat could Oi do?"
"Aunt said so too?" questioned Will, in some surprise. "H'm! In that case I s'pose you're not so much to blame. But I tell you what. Help us to catch these villains who tried to rob my sister, and you'll find that dad will be too well pleased to grumble much about the other matter. She might have lost her life over it—had a terribly narrow escape—all through those wretches! So we must make sure of 'em."
"The mane, cowardly, murtherin' sons o' mischief!" cried Dennis. "Sure, we'll run thim down if it is to be done!"
The Miss Caryll referred to was Sir Keith's sister, an elderly lady who kept house for the baronet, and fulfilled the part of a mother towards his children.
"Did you hear some shouting in the woods in this direction before we came up?" Will asked of Dennis.
"Sure, an' Oi did, sorr. It wor jist before Oi percaved thim raskils."
"Ah! Now I wonder what it meant? Did some of our chaps sight them in the woods before you saw them come out? If so, why haven't they followed them? And where are our chaps now?"
But no one could answer these queries, so Will gave them up for the time, and devoted all his thoughts to the work in hand.
Between the road and the edge of the cliff was a strip of rough, uncultivated ground running the whole way, and getting broader as it went on towards Coombe Hall. It was only at the turn they had left behind them that the cliff-edge was close to the road.
For the most part this tract was fringed with small stunted trees and bushes. Caryll and his companions now spread themselves out amongst these, and peered cautiously through them down the face of the cliff and at the beach below. There was no trace of the two men; but Kendall espied a boat in the distance hauled up on the beach, and left there unattended.
It was so placed between the two ridges of shingle and amongst an accumulation of seaweed as to be scarcely noticeable, and none of the others had seen it till Jack pointed it out.
"Is there any way down the cliff opposite where that boat is lying?" Jack asked.
Dennis said there was. It was a rough, steep path, but practicable.
"Then I vote we keep along the top and get down there as quickly as we can. If the boat belongs to the men we are after, that will be our only chance of intercepting them—for if we go down here we shall be behind them, and they're pretty sure to see us. That'll set them off running for their boat; and with the start they've got, of course, we shall have no chance to catch them up."
"But s'pose the boat doesn't belong to them?" a lad named Evans objected. "Then we shall lose them."
"Not at all," Jack returned. "If it's not their boat, they may use it all the same when they see it, if we drive them that way. Whereas if we get to the boat first, they can't. We can still follow them up along the shore afterwards just the same."
"Yes, yes; that's right," Evans agreed. "It's a good idea—indeed, yes!"
Evans was a Welsh lad, a good-looking youngster with dark hair and eyes. A bit fiery and quick-tempered at times, but good- hearted and plucky.
Dennis, however, proffered an amendment. It was that some should go forward and get down to the boat, as Jack had proposed, while two or three others remained where they then were, on the watch. Then the latter could descend the cliff at that point as soon as they saw that the others had reached the boat. In this way the men might be caught between the two parties.
This suggestion was promptly adopted, and Dennis was told off to make for the boat, with Evans and two others, named Moray and Swain, whilst Caryll, Jack, and Boulter remained behind.
Dennis set off at once with the three lads, and the others took up a good position for watching both the beach and the road, being screened from view amongst the bushes near the edge.
While thus waiting, they speculated on what the rest of their comrades were doing.
"Seems funny," remarked Jack, "that they don't seem to be coming this way. Can they have gone off another way, on a wrong scent, I wonder?"
"Perhaps it's we who are on the wrong scent," said Boulter. "What if that shouting we heard meant that they had captured the men?"
This suggestion was depressing, and it made the three look at one another rather gloomily.
"But Dennis was very positive," Caryll put in. "I don't think he could have made a mistake."
"Perhaps, after all, these are not the same men we want, but two others," Jack ventured. "That would be funny, wouldn't it?"
"Well, if they're the two who bored a hole in our boat, we want them, anyway," said Caryll determinedly. "So we shall be right in following them up. It would help us to get to the bottom of that mystery."
"I have wondered several times," he went on, "whether that and the launch running us down were connected with one another?"
"Why," exclaimed Jack, "you don't surely mean you think they ran into us on purpose?"
"I do mean it," he declared. "Don't you remember Dennis saying we were being followed by a launch all the time? She seemed to have started from the landing place at the same time that we did. We were easy to follow, if anybody wanted to, by the noise our motor made."
"But," Jack said, almost aghast at the suggestion, "that's a dreadful thing to say! Besides, why should anybody want to? Who would be likely to do such a thing? Where does the motive come in?"
"Can't say!" Will answered, shrugging his shoulders. "Somebody might have a grudge against—against some of us. That's all I can think of."
This talk had been carried on in very low tones as the three sat concealed amongst the bushes, but keeping a sharp look-out on both the beach and the road all the time.
The idea thus suggested by Caryll seemed to Jack a horrible one—too horrible to be seriously entertained. Honest, sincere, straight-forward himself, he could not conceive anyone being so wicked. The people in the launch had, it was true, shown a cruel callousness in going off and leaving the victims of their carelessness to their fate. That was bad enough; and he could only suppose it had been done either in sheer thoughtlessness or a cowardly desire to avoid being publicly blamed. That had been the worst Jack had thought about them.
He was about to say so, when Will suddenly clapped a hand upon his mouth, while, with his other hand, he gripped Boulter's arm, as a signal for complete silence.
Further along, someone had looked stealthily out of the wood, and was then standing, half-concealed by a tangle of boughs, gazing up and down the road. Finally, the road appearing to be deserted, he now started across in a hurried, furtive way.
It was not a man this time, but a boy, and at first the watching lads thought it must be one of their comrades. But his dress was different, and he had no cap on. He carried one of some sort, however, in his hand, in such a way that it screened his face.
He went straight across to the edge of the cliff, and there disappeared, as though he had started to climb down to the beach.
The three watchers remained silent. They were afraid to speak lest their voices might be heard. But they looked at one another, and somehow Jack thought that Will's glance at him was unusually keen and searching.
Jack was puzzled. For the matter of that, so were all three. Here was a complication! Whoever the stranger had been, his presence there disturbed their plans. He might or might not be some one in league with the men they wanted to find. If he were, he must be watched, in his turn. If not, he was likely to alarm the men, and might scare them away before the pursuers could sight them.
Jack was full of vague speculations, the stranger's dress had appeared so curious, and his manner so furtive. Then a sudden idea came to him, and he ventured to whisper:
"D'you think it might have been one of our chaps doing a bit of the 'amateur detective' on his own? Looked as if he might have turned his jacket inside out as a disguise—or something of that sort, you know."
Will glanced at him again, then nodded his head. "Might be," he whispered back, "Anyway, I'll creep along and see if I can get a better view of him. You chaps stop here and keep a look-out below."
With that he glided silently away towards the place where the mysterious youngster had disappeared.
Exercising great care not to tread on a dry twig or loose stone, he was drawing near the spot when he was startled by hearing the sound of voices near at hand. At once he threw himself down at full length and listened.
Very low and guarded were the voices, and they must, he knew, be somewhere close by.
Then an idea came to him, and he crawled along to the very edge of the cliff and looked over.
Still he could see no one, but the voices were plainer, though, even now, not plain enough to enable him to distinguish the words. There was only a sort of confused murmuring.
There was but one explanation that he could think of. There must be a ledge somewhere below him, which he could not see, because the cliff must overhang it, and the two he could hear talking must be on the ledge. Yet Will knew the cliffs well all the way along, and had climbed up and down them many a time at almost every point where it was practicable, and he knew of no such ledge.
"It must be well hidden in some way," he thought to himself. Then another idea flashed upon him. "Perhaps there's a cave there?" he said to himself.
His attention was suddenly diverted by an outburst of shouting which came from the beach below. Looking towards the boat, he saw a man crossing the beach as if making for it, while, further along, Dennis, and the lads with him, had come into view from the other direction.
They were running, and now the man was running, evidently trying to get to the boat first. As he ran he shouted to someone to come down and help him.
Then a man on the ledge beneath Will uttered a startled exclamation:
"Look!" he cried, in a hoarse, rough voice, "I must go down and lend a hand, and help to fight that little crowd off!"
This was, in effect, what he said: but the words were mixed up with coarse expressions and more than one fierce oath.
Will heard a sound as of someone scrambling down, and at the same time there came to his ear other sounds. Kendall and Boulter were shouting to him to come with them.
They had seen what was going on below, and had already started down to the aid of Dennis.
Caryll jumped up and rushed off to join them, every other thought now driven from his mind. It was clear there would be a fight for that boat; and Dennis and those with him would want all the help they could get.
As he ran back to follow the other two he heard the sound of wheels, and, giving a hurried glance along the road, saw the pony carriage, with his sister and her guests, on the way to Coombe Hall. He waved his hand excitedly to them, and then disappeared over the cliff's edge.
CARYLL being more used to cliff climbing than Jack Kendall, soon began to catch him up. And, seeing this, Jack halted for a space.
"They're not the men!" he said, when Will had come close enough.
"Hey? What's that?" cried Will.
"They are not the men who attacked your sister," he answered. "So far as those brutes are concerned, therefore, we're on the wrong track."
Will, who had now come quite close, was a little taken aback. He thought a moment, "Well, but if they're the men who tampered with our boat, we want 'em just the same," he then said.
"Yes; but, you see, we've only Dennis's belief as to that. He might be mistaken. And suppose he's wrong. We may all get into trouble."
"What did they run away for, then, if they're not the men Dennis says they are?" Will argued. "Besides," he added, seemingly more to himself than to his companion, "there's another reason, and we ought to find out who they are anyway—Hullo! What's up now?"
A fresh development had occurred on the beach below them. A third man had suddenly appeared from somewhere close to the boat and had begun pushing it down the beach towards the water.
Almost at the same moment the first of the two they had been after reached the boat and helped him.
"Why, there's another of 'em!" Will exclaimed. "And they'll get clear away if we don't hurry." And with that he and Jack continued their descent.
By the time they drew near the boat a hot argument was in progress between Dennis and the three men, for all three were then there.
Dennis had demanded their names and addresses, and the men had not only refused them, but had laughed him to scorn, declaring they had never seen him before, nor he them.
Honest Dennis was angry and indignant, and had he been alone he would certainly have tried to capture one, if not both, of the men whom he suspected of having tampered with the motor-boat. The fact that they were three to one would have weighed with him not at all, for, as he had many times proved, the Irishman was as brave as he was hot-headed. Had these fellows proved to be the villains who had assaulted his master's daughter he certainly would not have let them go.
But as things were he was conscious that his case against these two was by no means a very strong one. He had only seen them in the fog and mist, and though he suspected that they had committed the mischief in the boat, there was no one to corroborate his story.
Finally, he had all these lads with him to consider, and he felt he must not lead them into what might turn out an awkward piece of business.
So he had to exercise a sharp restraint on himself, and to put up with seeing the men row away without let or hindrance.
They had, in fact, just started when Caryll and Kendall came running up in the wake of Boulter.
"Why, they're going off!" cried Will, staring blankly at the departing boat.
Dennis came over to him and whispered briefly in his ear. Will nodded, but bit his lip and looked very disappointed.
So, for the matter of that, did all the rest of the lads there. They stood and stared after the receding boat almost as though they were trying to force it to come back by hypnotic influence.
"Well, they weren't the two who attacked Mabel," Boulter said at last to Will, by way of consolation.
"I know; so Kendall told me."
"But where are they, then? We're out of the fun altogether. It's too late to do anything anywhere else, and this is a dismal failure. It's hard lines."
The failure had certainly been annoying. There was nothing even which promised anything as regarded the future. The boat had no name, there was nothing by which it could be traced any more than the men.
In the end, after some further talk, Dennis started off to return to the Hall, while the lads slowly made their way back to their own grounds.
Arrived within bounds, they speedily met other lads, from whom they learned something of what had happened elsewhere. The two men who had molested Mabel had, it seemed, been followed and sighted, and one all but captured; but somehow, in the end, both had got clear off. That, briefly, was the substance of the various confused accounts they heard first from one and then from another.
"Well, the others were no more successful with their men than we were with ours," was Jack's final comment.
"Yes, it seems to amount to that," Will replied.
There was something a little peculiar in his tone—so Jack thought—as though the speaker was talking in an absent-minded way whilst thinking of something else.
"You're cut up about this business," observed Jack sympathetically. "I don't wonder you feel angry with such villains."
"No," answered Will, seeming to wake up a bit. "I haven't thought so much about that; but I have thought a good bit of what it might have led to, and what a plucky thing it was of you to hang on to the back of the carriage and climb over and stop the pony. It makes me shudder to think what would have happened. Mabel told me what a neat thing it was—"
"Oh, stop it!" exclaimed Jack, looking very red and worried. "Why, anyone would think I'd done a wonderful thing, but wouldn't you have done the same if you'd been there? Of course you would. What else could you have done? But there, stop it!"
"Oh, very well, it's stopped for the present," laughed Will. "And now what shall we do? Where shall we take you next?"
"Take me somewhere where we can get something to eat," was the practical reply. "And let's hurry up. I'm half famished."
"Now, that's the most sensible thing you could have said," Boulter chimed in. "What would you prefer—bread and cheese at the farm, or cakes at a tuck-shop?"
Jack preferred the former, and the three repaired to the farm to which reference has before been made.
The hungry ones made a hearty meal off homely but wholesome fare, and were just leaving the place when Mr. Melfort appeared.
He came straight up to the three, and they gave him an account of what had happened since he had seen them.
"H'm! It's a pity you could not have done something to find out who those men were," said the chief officer. "But it cannot be helped. I do not see that you could have done more than you did, in the circumstances. Your man Dennis was wise in holding himself in, and not leading you youngsters into trouble with such people."
"Yes, sir," Will answered. "I know it was only our being there that kept him back. But for us he wouldn't have hesitated to do his best to bring them to book."
"Well, well, perhaps another opportunity will come along," said the officer. "And now, Kendall, I have a word to say to you. I had a longer talk with Miss Mabel after you had gone, and she told me all about what had happened, and how pluckily you behaved."
Poor Jack turned first hot and then cold. He honestly disliked being praised, and he glanced this way and that, not knowing where to look or what to say.
Seeing his embarrassment, the officer forbore to say even as much as he had intended. He only, therefore, put a hand on the lad's shoulder in a kindly manner, and told him he was glad he was justifying the good opinion he had formed of him at the first.
Then he turned and went his way, but had not got far before he noticed that Caryll had followed him.
Caryll had a little request to make, it seemed. Might he walk back and meet his sister on her return? He had had no opportunity, he reminded Mr. Melfort, of talking to her of what had occurred; and he wanted particularly to speak to her further, and send a message to his father about it.
After some demur, Will obtained the desired consent, on condition that he went alone. "There is no need, if you only want a chat with your sister, to take anyone else with you," Melfort decided.
Will ran back to his chums and told them. "You look after Kendall," he said to Boulter. "I'll be back as soon as I can—in time to go aboard with you, anyway."
The other two accompanied him as far as they were allowed. Then he set off once more for the scene of the events of the morning, running most of the way, for he was anxious to get to the place where he had last seen the pony carriage before it returned as far on its way back.
Ever since then he had had in his mind the memory of the voices he had overheard just below the top of the cliff. There was here a mystery which tantalised him, and which he was determined to probe if he could. And the singular thing was that he was anxious to do this, not so much on his own account, as on behalf of Jack Kendall. Jack had saved his life; and now he had, that morning, saved his sister from a terrible fate; and Will was full of gratitude and good feeling towards him. And if, as he (Will) believed, he was on the track of something which might affect his chum's future happiness, he felt he was bound to try to follow it up.
It was thoughts somewhat like these that had really made him wish to return there more than the desire to see his sister. Vague, indefinite thoughts they were, dim suspicions, which took no exact form, but which filled him with disagreeable misgivings.
He reached the top of the cliff where he had seen that mysterious individual cross the road in so furtive a fashion, and soon found the place where he must have commenced to climb down. There was very little sign of a path there, and for a time he was at fault.
He, however, began a systematic search, keeping his ears open all the time for the sound of carriage wheels from the road above, and in a few minutes was rewarded by sighting a ledge further along, to which it was possible with care to make his way.
There were some bushes growing on it which hid the rock directly behind it, and his heart beat faster as he looked at it, for he began to think he was near what he had hoped to find.
And this hope became certainty as he reached the ledge and looked behind the bush. For there, sure enough, was the concealed entrance to a cave.
Cautiously and noiselessly he crept into the entrance, which was low; but it opened out, to his surprise, into quite a roomy cavern, which seemed to run back a considerable distance.
The place bore evidence of having recently been occupied. There were the remains of a fire, and some empty tins and other little articles were lying about.
And then something white caught his eye. Stooping down, he picked up a letter. Turning it over, he saw that it had been through the post, and a second glance made him start.
It was a letter addressed to Clement Branson, on board the Dolphin!
"Ha!" he murmured to himself. "Then it is as I suspected. It was Branson who came sneaking across here!"
But the discovery seemed in no way to please him or fill him with elation. Instead, he breathed something very like a sigh. He only thought just then of Jack and of the trouble this would be sure to cause him if he knew.
As he stood looking at the letter, it was suddenly snatched from his hand, and he was seized in the embrace of a big, burly ruffian.
"The spy! the spy!" roared a deep voice in his ear. "What shall I do with him?"
And then from somewhere within the recesses of the cave a sound came which seemed more like the hiss of a serpent than a human voice.
"Throw him over! Pitch him down the cliff!"
AS Caryll felt himself being dragged towards the brink he involuntarily sent forth a cry for help. Little hope had he that it would be heard, but it might make his assailant pause to consider the position, and, as a matter of fact, it did.
"Hold yer row!" the villain growled, giving the helpless lad a vicious shake. "Ye'll only go over all the sooner for it. Now—"
Just then there came another low, hissing sound from the interior of the cave. What it meant was unintelligible to Caryll, but the man seemed to understand it, for he stood still and held Will out at arm's length towards the edge.
"Now, look 'ee 'ere," he muttered. "I doan't know why ye came here, or what ye wants. P'r'aps it wur a accident, an' ye ain't no spy. But if so, I carn't leet ye go onless ye takes a solemn oath as ye'll never say anythink about it to a livin' soul. D'ye understan'?"
"Take an oath?" Will repeated.
"Ye've got t' take a solemn oath as ye'll never tell anybody about this place, or about that letter as ye caught up."
"I haven't read it," said Caryll.
"No; but ye was readin' the address. Now, it was me as dropped that letter—the gent as it be addressed to ain't never bin 'ere, an' it'll get me inter a precious row if ever anybody finds out as I was careless enough to drop it. See? If ye'll take yer oath I might let ye go, bein' as 'ow I don't think ye'll dare to break it, coz if ye does I'll—ay, I'll—" And he ended with a threat that made the lad shudder in spite of himself.
"Now, will ye say the words of the oath after me?" demanded the miscreant again.
"No," was the resolute answer. "I'm not going to take any of your vile oaths. But—"
"But? Doan't have no buts wi' me!" And the man gave Will another vicious shake.
"I'm not a sneak," Will went on disdainfully. "And I am not going to speak of this to anyone—at present; but not because of your threats. I had made up my mind not to before I knew anyone was here. So there's no need for all this fuss. Let me go!"
"That rubbish won't wash wi' me—not much. I don't let ye go wi'out you says the words of the oath I means ye t' take. Ye'll say it arter me."
"I won't, then!"
For answer to this defiance the man began again to push him towards the edge; and Will, in spite of himself, uttered another cry.
And as it ceased there came a startling surprise. A voice cried out:
"What are you doing to my brother?"
The scoundrel who was holding Will started and stared upwards; and there saw, looking down upon him, the face of a young girl. It was Mabel Caryll!
"Let him go—do you hear? Let him go, if you don't want to be had up for murder. I have seen your face, and shall know you again anywhere!" said the plucky girl.
A voice as before came forth from inside the cave. What it really said Will could not tell, but the man evidently knew, for he suddenly relaxed his hold, and slunk back out of sight. And Will, only too glad to be free, speedily climbed back to the top of the cliff.
There Mabel was waiting for him. She was looking very pale and frightened, and began to question him eagerly.
But Will wanted time to think things out a little, so he put her queries aside lightly.
"Hush! I don't want anything said to the others, Mab! Can't you run across and ask them to go on, and you and I will walk quietly behind them? Tell them that I got leave specially to come and meet you to have a little talk with you. But don't go to them with that face, or you'll alarm them, and they'll be asking all sorts of questions. All you need say is that I was waiting here on purpose to see you."
Mabel bravely did her best to compose her features as suggested, Will was her favourite brother; there was complete confidence between the two, and it was seldom that she refused anything he asked her to do.
She ran across the grass to the road, where Dennis was standing holding the pony's head, while Miss Chalford and her two pupils had remained in the carriage awaiting her return.
She repeated Will's request, and after a query or two, which she answered as well as she could, the carriage proceeded at a walk, Dennis leading the pony. Mabel ran back to her brother.
"Now tell me what it means," she said, as they followed the carriage, but well out of earshot. "What was that dreadful man doing to you? Was he really going to throw you down, as I heard him say he would?"
Her fair young face had again become clouded over with a troubled look. She had Will's large blue eyes, and as they glanced at him he saw there were teardrops on the lashes.
Will put his arm round his sister.
"It's all right, Mab," he declared cheerfully. "Tell me—how did you come to be looking over?"
"Why, Dennis told us all that had occurred—about the men with the boat and all that; and I heard dad say that the boat ought to be traced. So, as we were coming past the place, I thought I would get out for a moment to see if the men might, by any chance, be still there. They might have come back, you know. Then I heard someone call out, and felt sure it was your voice. So I crept to the edge, and lay down and peeped over, and there I saw you and that—that dreadful man!"
Mabel shuddered, and a look of horror came into her eyes.
"What did it mean?" she asked.
"Well, I can't tell you, Mabel—not just now. It isn't my secret, you see—it has to do with Kendall.
"With Kendall—the new boy—the one who—"
"Yes; it has to do with him and his cousin Branson. It's a bit of a secret, but I'll tell you all about it another time—as soon as ever I can. And now I want to know all dad said; and then I want you to tell me more about the other affair—about those two scoundrels who stopped you. What did they want—to rob you?"
"Yes; they said they would not hurt me if I would give them some money. And when I said I hadn't any, they said they must have my gold necklace."
"It seems pretty certain that they were only ordinary thieves, and had nothing to do with the others," Will muttered to himself. And then they went on to talk of the motor boat affair, and what Sir Keith had said about it.
"Dad is very angry and upset over it," Mabel told Will; "and he declares he is not going to let the matter drop. He is determined to keep on with his inquiries till he has got to the bottom of it."
And so the two talked together till they came once more "within bounds," when Will found Boulter and Kendall looking out for him.
Mr. Melfort was there too, waiting to act as escort to Miss Chalford and her charges, who got out of the carriage to walk down with him. Then Mabel and Dennis got in and started back, and Will strolled off with his chums.
He had already made up his mind to say nothing about his adventure, and he adhered to this, though it went much against the grain to keep the discovery of the cave to himself. But he had an instinctive sense of delicacy in regard to Kendall. He began to feel pretty certain that Branson was Jack's enemy, and was plotting some mischief against him. Yet he had no proof, and he felt he ought not to say anything to Jack against his cousin till he was quite certain. So he would keep his own counsel for the present, and take care to watch Branson meantime.
"I say," said Boulter. "Swain has been telling us about Dawney and Forder—how they met you alone and set on you, like the pair of cowards they are; and how Melfort caught 'em a treat. You didn't tell us about it."
"Forgot it," said Will, "Such a lot of other things—put it out of my head."
"Swain says Miss Chalford and the two girls were there too—came right on the scene, and saw the whole business. What a show-up for those beggars! And it was nearly as bad, Swain says, for Skinner and Branson, for they were looking on. They didn't take your part, did they?"
"No," said Will, with a side glance at Jack. "But never mind about that now. By the way, have you seen anything of Branson?"
"No; and no one else since then, as far as I can make out. Someone said p'r'aps he's gone back on board to keep his precious friends company."
Jack flushed up. He was gradually finding out how unpopular his cousin was with the set whom he reckoned as his (Jack's) own friends. He had no cause to love his cousin, yet he was conscious of a touch of pain each time he heard something disagreeable said against him.
"Why, there he is!" exclaimed Boulter.
"He's all alone too, for a wonder; and"—here he dropped his voice—"it looks as though he'd been somewhere out of bounds. I wonder where he's been alone all the afternoon, and what he's been up to?"
Caryll said nothing, and the three sauntered on, one of many groups making their way in the direction of the river, as the time for returning on board was drawing near.
Branson came on behind them. He was walking fast, and appeared preoccupied. He passed several batches of boys, seemingly without noticing them; and was doing the same in the case of the three chums, when he suddenly looked up and saw them.
He started, half stopped, hesitated, and finally walked on more quickly still, without saying anything.
"My word!" exclaimed Boulter, when he had gone by. "Did you see how he looked at you, Will? Might have thought you were a ghost by the way he stared. And he seemed as frightened as if you had been one. What's the matter with him, I wonder?"
But Will said nothing; and as Jack also made no comment, Boulter's thoughts veered round to another matter that was worrying him.
"I've been thinking," he said, "that it's about time we did something to get our own back on those dark blues. They're getting too cheeky. We've never paid 'em back, you know, for soaping our ladder and strewing the deck below with lines. It was a poor, stale old trick to play, anyway, and I should like to pay 'em back in some newer coin, eh? Why haven't we set about it? Kendall, can't you think of something?"
"I'm afraid not. I haven't given it a thought," returned Jack, with a laugh. "But as you seem to think it so important, I'll give it due consideration."
"I wish you would," Boulter urged seriously. "The account's on the wrong side at present, and we can't let it go on that way. They'll get too cheeky to live with. The ship won't hold 'em."
"All right. I'll keep it in mind," Jack promised.
He made the promise rather from a natural wish to back up his chums than with any expectation that he would be able to offer any acceptable suggestion.
But it happened that Dame Fortune stepped in and favoured him. That very evening he noticed the boy Skinner behaving in what struck Jack as rather a strange manner, so that he was led to watch him.
And the result was so promising that Jack sought out his two chums.
"You wanted some little plans for getting a bit of your own back on the dark blues," he said. "I think I've got just the sort of thing you want—a chance to pay 'em back in their own coin!"
JACK KENDALL'S announcement that he had a plan for the discomfiture of the Dark Blues was received with much satisfaction by his hearers. Boulter offered a soft but expressive whistle, while Caryll's face lighted up as though with the very spirit of mischief.
"What's the scheme?" Boulter asked.
"I'll tell you," said Jack. "I went into the bathhouse to hunt for a stud I thought I must have dropped there this morning. I guessed it had rolled under one of the baths, and got down beneath the pipes; but I was a bit late, and so couldn't wait to search for it at the time. So, as I said, I went to try to find it this evening.
"I was raking about with a stick under the pipes, and striking lucifers to see by, when I heard someone coming. The match I had alight went out just then, leaving me in the dark; and, thinking it was only one of our chaps I was going to strike another light, when I saw Skinner through the half-open door. He was coming along stealthily on tiptoe, with a dim lantern light in his hand. As I knew he had got no business there, I thought I'd wait and see what he was up to, so I flopped down behind a bath and lay quiet. He peered about in a cautious way, and, not seeing anyone, put down the lantern and crept back.
"I guessed then that he must be up to some mischief, and would return; so I crawled along on all fours to one of the linen closets and wriggled in under a heap of things there, so as to be able to keep a watch without being seen.
"In a minute or so he appeared again: and this time he had young Trott with him, and they were carrying two canvas bags which they set down on the floor beside the lantern. I could see the sides of the bags wobbling about, so that I knew there must be something alive inside them."
"Something alive? What—rats?" Caryll asked.
"You'll hear directly. They went along the baths, lifting the covers one by one, took something out of the bag, dropped it in, and shut down the covers on them. And then I knew what they had brought in the bags. They were crabs—big ones, too; hideous-looking things, with tremendous claws, the ugliest beasts of the kind I have ever seen."
The two listeners took long breaths, and looked at each other, and then at Jack.
"Crabs!" said Caryll. "Big, dark, ugly beasts, eh? I know 'em! They're the black crabs. You can catch 'em by the dozen about here when the tide's down. But you have to look out, for they're awfully vicious brutes, and if they get a chance to nip you, they grip like steel pincers."
"Rather!" Boulter corroborated. "One got hold of my leg once, when I was bathing in the river, and made me yell, I thought it was a shark, at least, after me—and I carried the marks of it on me for weeks after."
"They put 'em into our baths, eh?" said Caryll. "That's so that we shall get bitten when we have our tubs in the morning! The artful, cunning, ungrateful fellows! After all the good things we tried to do for 'em too! What do they deserve?"
"It struck me," said Jack demurely, "that they deserve we should fish out their pets and transfer 'em to their own baths. It seems only fair that as they've been at the trouble of catching 'em and smuggling 'em on board, they should have the full benefit of them themselves. We needn't wait to be thanked, you know. Just pop 'em in, and skip off without saying anything."
Caryll and Boulter looked at each other again, and their faces broadened into smiles of rapturous approval.
"Right, O! If we can only manage it!" cried Boulter, in a burst of admiration. "Oh, what a game! Truly, as you said, Kendall, it's paying 'em back in their own coin."
"H'm; but it won't be an easy thing to manage!" murmured Caryll doubtfully. "It'll take time, you know, to fish them all out, and take them round and drop 'em in the other place. It will have to be done during the night, and we can't manage it by ourselves. We shall want some chaps to help us by scouting and watching, to make sure we're not caught."
"Yes; it'll never do to let ourselves get pounced upon," Boulter agreed. "It would spoil the fun, and get us into trouble instead."
"On second thoughts," said Jack, "wouldn't it be best to tell Neville about it at once, and let him deal with it? You see, this little plot isn't directed against us in particular; it would affect all the first squad of bathers. I think all the chaps ought to take it up."
This suggestion was duly discussed, and eventually the other two decided that Jack was right, though Caryll and Boulter felt some reluctance in saying so. They had been counting on the honour and glory that would have accrued to them in the eyes of their comrades had they been able to turn the tables on the Dark Blues by their own exertions alone.
Since, however, this could not be so, it would be wiser to adopt the course Jack had proposed. For Neville was the recognised leader or captain of the Light Blues, and in the case of anything which affected the whole dormitory, he was evidently the one who ought to be first taken into their confidence.
The result was that that night, when turning-in time came, a peculiar low whistle was heard, the well-known signal that something was afoot which called for the attention of them all.
Every cadet was on the alert at once, the murmur of voices ceased, and a hush fell upon the assembly. Then it was noticed that Kendall and Caryll had taken up positions at each end respectively, and, after a sharp look round outside, had first posted scouts there, and then closed the doors with an air of great mystery and importance.
Mat Neville was a good-looking lad, with honest eyes, and a rather square chin, that denoted determination. He was generally liked and respected by the Light Blues, because he never bullied any of the younger ones himself, nor, if he could help it, allowed anyone else to do so.
It was, in fact, through this that he had won his position amongst them, for though one of the seniors, he was not the eldest in the dormitory, nor was his leadership recognised by their officers. Again and again he had interfered and protected youngsters from ill-usage by bigger and stronger lads, and that had led to several conflicts, from which, however, he had so constantly emerged victorious, that no one now cared to dispute his informal authority.
This was the lad on whom the eyes of all his comrades were now fixed, as, after seeing that the doors were shut, he mounted on his own chest beside the hammock.
"Fellow cadets of the good ship, Dolphin," he began, in tones so clear that though they were low they reached everyone present. "Followers of the immortal Nelson, Sinbad the Sailor, and other great navigators, true and loyal sons of the flag which for thousands and thousands of years has braved the bottle—I mean the battle and the breeze, it is my duty to inform you that—thanks to the alert watchfulness of one of our number, one who has but recently come amongst us, but who has already shown in many ways that we can rely upon him as an able and faithful messmate—it has come to my knowledge that a most gross and unfeeling outrage has been planned against us by our traditional enemies the Dark Blues!
"What form do you suppose their diabolical cunning has taken on this occasion? Ah, fellow mariners, who sail the stormy seas—or hope to do so one of these days—you would never, never guess, unless I enlightened you! The truth—the horrible, cruel truth is this. They have smuggled on board a collection of those vicious, fearsome beasts called black crabs—big ones, too—and have craftily, fraudulently, and surreptitiously dropped them into our baths. (Sensation, groans, and low cries of "Shame!").
"Yes, my fellow sons of tailors—I mean sailors—that is the outrage they have thrust upon us, that is the little scheme which they had hoped to play off upon us, but which has been detected in time by the new-comer amongst us to whom I have already gratefully alluded. (Low, suppressed cheers).
"Now, my friends, Shakespeare—or some other johnny—has said that those who live on board ship must expect to be 'crabbed, cabined, and confined.' Well, cabined and confined is all right—we must expect that—but is there any reason why we should allow ourselves to be crabbed in this way by the Dark Blues?" (Cries of "No, no!" and "Certainly not!")
"No, of course not! And we're not going to! But if not, there is only one thing to be done. We must arise in our wrath, and capture those fierce untamed creatures which are at present lying in wait for us in our wash-tubs. And when we have caught them, what is to happen? Shall we return them to their native element—in other words, pitch them overboard? No; I think not! What do you think? I think we can find a better resting- place for them in the wash-tubs over the way. There they can lie in wait for their proper owners, who will, no doubt, be only too delighted to find their pets ready to welcome them when they go to bathe in the morning, and to receive from them all those little caresses and squeezes, and other signs of affection they had so kindly and thoughtfully intended should be bestowed upon us.
"Arise, then, comrades, as I said before! Let each one take his sword—I mean his landing-net—and presently, in the dead of night, let us sally forth and prove ourselves true Britons; prove that we will never, never be slaves to anybody, and least of all to that cheeky lot who call themselves Dark Blues!" (Enthusiastic applause.)
Then the speaker descended from his perch, and the cadets crowded round him, asking questions, and offering their comments and suggestions.
But he waved them aside, and refused to say anything more, save that they must turn in then, and keep quiet for an hour or two, till he gave them the signal. Then some whom he had selected were to sally forth with their landing-nets, whilst others posted themselves in various strategic positions, to give timely warning in case of necessity.
When, half-an-hour later, Petty-officer Joyce looked in on his rounds the whole dormitory seemed to be hushed in sleep. There were even here and there sounds of such deep breathing as almost amounted to snores.
Perhaps knowing that the lads had had a somewhat exciting day, he regarded these sounds as signs that many of them were dead tired, and did not wish to do anything to wake them. At any rate, he forbore to take his usual walk up and down between the rows of hammocks, and turned and went his way.
If he had returned at the end of another hour in such a way as to see without being seen, he would have witnessed an unexpected sight, which would probably have puzzled him not a little.
He would have seen a troop of white-robed figures marching out of the dormitory in Indian file, silent as ghosts, and guided only by the beams of a small electric torch.
The most curious thing about these mysterious night roamers was that each one carried a net with a long handle to it. A stranger might perhaps have wondered if they were going on deck with the idea of catching moths round about the masts and rigging of the ship.
As a matter of fact, however, they would have been seen to march noiselessly into the corridor where their baths were situated, where they went through some strange manoeuvres.
It should here be explained that Captain Probyn had had a number of iron baths fitted up for the use of each dormitory, planned on the latest and most up-to-date principles. They were fixed in rows, and so connected by pipes that all could be filled up or emptied at the same time by merely turning taps at one end. They were usually filled overnight with cold water pumped up from the river, so as to be ready for use in the morning. They could also be supplied with hot water on certain specified days. Each bath was fitted with a hinged cover which could be lifted and fastened back.
They served the double purpose of baths in the morning and laundries during the day; for the washing of the cadet's linen was carried out here, and the covers of the baths made convenient dressers and ironing boards. In places were cupboards for drying and storing the linen.
The mysterious night-roamers visited every bath in turn, lifting the lids and fishing with their nets in the water they contained. And the numerous catches they made would have been surprising to anyone not in the secret. Indeed, the whole affair was so unusual that the silent fishers were hard put to it to keep down the bursts of laughter that strove to gush forth, threatening ruin to their little scheme.
However, no one broke the stillness with anything louder than a smothered chuckle, and the fishing proceeded apace until every bath had been visited and every one of the repulsive-looking intruders recovered.
Then the successful anglers stole out and across a passage to a similar arrangement of baths, from which they shortly returned empty-handed, so far as their struggling catches were concerned. And having thus achieved their purpose, they finally, amid much half-smothered giggling, crept into their hammocks, and were soon fast asleep.
WHEN the two dormitories turned out the next morning it was just getting light. It was reckoned by the authorities as being light enough at that time of the year to render artificial light unnecessary, and so perhaps it would have been if the sky at dawn had been reasonably clear.
But it happened to be unusually dull and gloomy, and the cadets found it as much as they could do to move about briskly without running into one another.
Very naturally there was much curiosity on the part of the Light Blues to find out what was happening on the other side as the result of the fishing-party of the previous night.
Some of the lads showed an inclination to get round the outer door of the bath-house and open it a little so as to hear the better. Neville, however, came along and cleared them away on the ground that to thus show curiosity might give a hint to the Dark Blues that their plot had miscarried, and so raise their suspicions.
The Dark Blues, meantime, on their side were equally curious as to what was taking place in the Light Blues' "bathing laundry," as some of them called the place, and they began to cluster round the outer door of their bath-room in a similar way, holding it ajar, and peeping through. Upon these Forder and Dawney swooped down, and sent them packing, for fear they might warn the Light Blues.
There were ten baths in the Dark Blues' bath-room, and the first use of these was sacred to the two leaders and eight of their favourite cronies. None others dared use them first, even when the favoured ones, as often happened, had a lazy fit, and put off turning out till almost the last moment.
This particular morning, however, the select ten, being full of anticipation of what was supposed to be taking place on the other side, turned out promptly, though the two leaders, Forder and Dawney, were in a very bad temper. They had initiated the little business of the crabs in the early part of the previous day, and had looked forward with great gusto to enjoying the fun. But since then they had been caught in their cowardly attack on Will Caryll, for which they were to be punished on the morrow. So it was no great wonder, perhaps, that they were in a disagreeable mood, and that even what they expected to happen in the port bath-room failed to afford them the satisfaction and delight they had hoped for.
Having cleared off the crowd, Dawney and Forder, and their particular chums—Branson and Skinner being two of them—opened the door, and peeped out and listened. But they heard nothing unusual.
"Humph," growled Dawney. "They must be late. No one seems to have started yet. Shows what lazy beggars they are!"
"Well, it's jolly cold standing here," grumbled Forder. "I shall have my swill at once, and by that time p'r'aps the sluggards will have turned out."
This seemed good advice, and one and all turned towards the baths and lifted the lids. It was still scarcely light outside, and in the bath-room there was barely light enough to see to wash.
It was certainly too dark to perceive the creatures awaiting them at the bottom of the baths, and they jumped in, one after the other.
"NEVILLE," said Mr. Melfort, "I want to know the meaning of what occurred in the starboard dormitory this morning. You know, of course, that there was a most unseemly disturbance?"
"Y-yes, sir. We heard some noise. There seemed to be some squabbling going on."
"Squabbling? It was something more than that," returned the chief-officer irritably. "It was heard even in the captain's quarters, and he is very much annoyed about it. But as it was in the other dormitory I suppose you can't enlighten me?"
"Well, sir," returned Neville, hesitatingly, "I might have a guess, but I have not been told anything by anyone in the starboard dormitory."
"And you don't want to tell me what your guesses are, eh?" said Melfort. "Well, well, perhaps it isn't quite fair to come here to fish out information."
Neville flinched a little at the word "fish," and glanced quickly at the chief-officer. He felt considerably embarrassed, for he was determined not to tell what he knew, provided he could refrain from doing so without telling an untruth.
This talk took place shortly after the morning meal, and Melfort had already paid the Dark Blues a visit and questioned them. But they, on their side, though smarting sorely at the way their rivals had turned the tables on them, were no more desirous than Neville was to have the facts known. They were naturally averse to being made a laughing-stock of by the whole ship's company.
Melfort, guessing shrewdly that Neville was in a difficulty, forbore to press him further, and went his way, much to that young gentleman's relief.
The chief officer returned to the captain with his report, which, however, did not amount to much.
"You see, sir," he explained, "Dawney and Forder are already awaiting punishment for what occurred yesterday. You will have to deal with them for that, and I could not well question them very far about this other matter. They took refuge in a sulky silence, and none of the others would give me any particulars."
"Sulky, are they? In a bad temper, no doubt," the captain commented. "H'm! That's just it; it confirms my impression that they are to blame for what we heard. I expect they were venting their spleen on some of the youngsters on their side."
"That's not unlikely," said the chief officer.
"Ah! But if it is so, it's all wrong, Melfort. And it brings forward once more a question that has been in my mind very often of late. We seem, somehow or other, to have got an unruly lot in the starboard dormitory. There are some boys there who want dealing with with a firm hand—boys we should be better without, for they are gathering others round them and making them as bad as themselves. I wish we could weed them out, but since that can't be done at present, they must be watched carefully, and any nonsense must be put down sternly. You understand my meaning? There is no need to say more."
"I think I understand, sir, and I shall not fail to act upon your wish whenever occasion arises. I have had much the same idea myself lately."
"On second thoughts," said the captain, "I think I will give them a hint myself. If those I have in my mind like to profit by it, well and good. If not, there's trouble ahead for some of them."
The cadets always attended Divine service on board their ship. It was conducted by the chaplain, the Rev. Arthur Leigh, but Captain Probyn himself frequently gave a short address in addition.
This being Sunday, afforded him the opportunity of carrying out the intention he had expressed, and he resolved to take advantage of it.
Thus it came about that the cadets found themselves detained after the service for a few minutes, to listen to a little homily from the captain.
He spoke kindly, almost appealingly; mentioned no names, but intimated that he had seen with pain and regret, in certain quarters, an increasing tendency towards a wrongful disposition which went beyond mere harmless, boyish mischief. He hoped those who were the chief movers in this direction would take the hint he was throwing out, and cease from giving them cause for anxiety. And he appealed, specially and earnestly, to the younger lads not to be led on into following bad examples.
He made no threats, and was careful not even to look particularly at those he had in his mind, but tried to influence them by an appeal to their better feelings rather than by the fear of punishment.
That evening there was a little private meeting between Dawney and Forder, and two or three of their intimates—to wit, Branson, two elder boys named Coleman and Bowsher, and Skinner.
They were in a furious mood, for no one knew better than they that the captain's warning had been meant for them. To apply a well-worn phrase, "the cap fitted" too well for them to pretend not to understand.
It so happened that they had learned that they had Jack Kendall, chiefly to thank for their discomfiture over the baths episode. Such things leak out, somehow, amongst a large and mixed company of boys, and the knowledge had caused them to centre their revengeful feelings principally upon poor Jack. Almost every one of them had received a pinch from the vicious creatures they had themselves smuggled on board for the use and benefit of others, and they were all the more wrathful in that they felt constrained to say nothing openly about it.
Branson took advantage of the chance thus offered of fanning their animosity against his cousin, and tried in every way to goad them on into taking their revenge.
"All this trouble and unpleasantness," he cunningly suggested, "seems to me to have come about since Kendall joined. He has only been here a week, and see what has happened already. You two"—addressing Dawney and Forder—"have been punished once, and are in a hole again. This morning there was the bath business, for which we now know we have to thank him, and then the captain must talk at us as though we were the only black sheep on board. Though Kendall is my cousin, you need not consider me in regard to anything you choose to do. I am disgusted with him. I feel ashamed to think he is a relation!"
"Well, we must find a way to pay him out, that's all. And I have a little plan which I think will be just the thing," said Dawney darkly. "Are you sure there's no spy about, listening?"
A look round and a brief search having satisfied the plotters upon this point, Dawney proceeded to unfold his scheme—a scheme specially designed to bring, not only passing trouble, but permanent shame and disgrace, upon the head of the innocent object of their hatred.
"WHAT'S in the wind? What was the 'old man' after this morning, Melfort?"
The speaker was Richard Drummond, the second officer of the Dolphin, and the words were uttered as they sat together in the chief's private cabin late in the evening.
Drummond was a young man of some twenty-eight years. He had a tall, well-setup figure, a face that, like Melfort's, was clean shaven, and fair hair. He was known as a capable officer and a first-rate, all-round athlete, and was well thought of by both the captain and his chief officer.
Melfort puffed thoughtfully at his pipe before he replied. They were off duty, and therefore free to indulge in their evening smoke. Then he glanced at his companion.
"Can't you guess?" he asked quietly. "I was wondering whether you would tumble to it."
"H'm! Well, of course, I might guess; and I might be right, or I might be wrong. Why not tell me? Is there any secret about it?"
"Oh, dear no," returned Melfort. "I'd have told you at once, only I was rather curious to know whether certain ideas had struck you as they have the captain and myself. To cut the matter short, he is a bit bothered about some of those lads of the No. I starboard dormitory."
"Oh, I expect you mean Dawney and Forder, and—and—"
"Yes, those two—with or without the 'ands'—they being the ringleaders, or chief actors, in the business."
"Humph! They may appear to be that; but, if you ask me, I'll tell you that, in my opinion, the prompter of all the mischief that's been going on, the real cause of it all, is another lad altogether. A youngster—not a senior."
Melfort blew a short, low whistle, and raised his eyebrows.
"So, so! You seem to have gone more deeply into it than we have, and to know more about it. But, if so, why haven't you spoken to the captain? He's seen the rot spreading, and it has worried him, but he hasn't known enough to be able to discern where it started, or how to put a stop to it."
Drummond, in his turn, now took a few meditative whiffs before replying. His brows wrinkled in a thoughtful frown, and his clear, steady, grey eyes stared at the opposite side of the cabin.
"It's easy enough to explain why I have not said anything," he replied slowly, after a pause. "Captain Probyn has not asked me, and he might not be best pleased at my proffering opinions uninvited. It's different with you. You are an old friend of his, whereas I have only been here three years. However, since you seem to wish it, I am ready to tell you frankly what I think, provided you promise to treat what I say in strict confidence."
"Certainly, certainly, Drummond," Melfort answered, looking rather surprised. "But it ought not to be necessary to speak of strict confidence between you and me in regard to matters relating to discipline and the management of the boys under our joint charge."
"No, of course not, if it began and ended there. But in this case there is something behind it all—something I happen by chance to know about, and which has been told me in confidence by others. Something that might have very serious consequences for me and—and those others, if it were known that I had talked about it."
"H'm! All this sounds very mysterious, and a bit serious!" exclaimed Melfort, his look growing more and more puzzled.
"Well, it is serious, to my mind; but you shall judge for yourself. My father is a sea-captain, as you know. He has been in charge of ships for many years, and knows, not only the sea, but many of the chief shipowners. He has acted as captain for some of the best-known and most reputable owners. At present, unfortunately, he is in the employ of Branson & Co."
"Unfortunately!" exclaimed Melfort.
"That's a strange word to use. Surely Branson & Co. are also reckoned amongst the best-known and most reputable owners?"
"Were, Mr. Melfort—were. In the strictest secrecy, I tell you my father declares they are no longer so. They are getting a bad name. The underwriters are looking askance at them, and do not care to insure their vessels."
"Phew!" The other uttered a significant whistle. "Can this be true? It is a very grave statement to make."
"I know it is. You see now how necessary it is for me to be careful to whom I speak about such things. But it was stated to me as a fact by my father, and he ought to know. It is causing him great trouble and anxiety. He wishes with all his heart he was in the employ of almost any other firm than that of Branson & Co."
"H'm! I see. I am sorry to hear it. It must be troubling you both."
"Of course it is. I know that he is very unhappy about it. It may affect our whole future; it is not easy for a captain who has been with a doubtful firm to get employment afterwards with first-class owners. Such a man is regarded with doubt, and, perhaps, even with suspicion. My father only discovered what I have told you a short time ago. He would never have accepted a post with them if he had known it in time."
"A most unpleasant and anxious position to be in," said Melfort, "but, I must confess, I don't see exactly what this has to do with the matter we were talking about. Mr. Branson has a son here, but we can't hold him responsible for his father's business position. It wouldn't be fair or just."
"Not in the ordinary way—not if the lad behaved so as to earn our respect and trust on his own account. But Clement Branson has not done so. I am certain that he is at the bottom of the 'rot' which, to use your own expression, seems to be spreading amongst the lads in his dormitory. Dawney and Forder may be lads of a bad or doubtful disposition—they are—but of themselves they would be comparatively harmless. They were so, in fact, before Branson came upon the scene. They were here long before Branson, you know. Carry your mind back to that time. We had very little trouble with them then compared with what has happened during the few months Branson has been with us."
"Yes, that's so," Melfort admitted. "But Branson is younger. How can he have influenced them?"
"I will tell you. Branson, young as he is, is of a boastful, bragging disposition. He is fond of flattery, and likes to lord it over others. From the first he has bragged about what a rich man his father is, boasted of the ships he owns, and the power and influence he wields. He has boasted—whether truly or not I can't say—that several of Captain Probyn's cadets have found berths in his father's vessels; and hinted, not obscurely, that he, through his influence with his father, will be able to secure berths in the future for those of his present messmates whom he may choose as his friends. See?"
"Yes, I can see that a clever and unscrupulous youngster, one who is ambitious, and not over-truthful, might in that way get a considerable influence over credulous boys. But—"
"He does not use that influence for good. He is naturally of an aggressive, bullying disposition, and with those lads who are too independent to truckle to him he is vindictive, and eggs on his older friends, such as Dawney and Forder, to bully and ill- treat them. He goes farther, and plots to get them into scrapes, so that the weaker ones are frightened, and become his creatures against their own better feelings. In that way his influence has become wider and more far-reaching than one would have thought possible. Yet he is so artful that he himself keeps in the background, and does not appear to be what he is—the prime mover. Thus, when things go wrong, and some of his little tricks come to light, it is others who seem to be to blame—not Branson. You must have noticed that he himself has very seldom been punished."
"That's true," Melfort muttered reflectively. "This is all strange to me."
"There is another thing. He could not have managed all this as he has but for the fact that his father has supplied him lavishly with money. Mr. Branson has behaved absurdly in this respect. You have no idea the amount of money young Branson receives. And he pretends to be extremely liberal with it. He is always ready to lend. Those who are in the know, if they are hard up, can always borrow from Branson. And, of course, it is not always convenient to pay it back. Branson does not want them to; he does not press them. That is not his plan. He prefers that they shall remain in his debt, so that he has them under his thumb. Now you see the secret of the great influence he has obtained over the weaker of the lads in touch with him."
"This is a revelation to me!" exclaimed Melfort. "But are you certain of it? I can scarcely believe a youngster to be so precociously artful."
"I thought so, too, at first; but I am not saying this without warrant. Now you see why I referred first of all to his father, and how the two things are connected. I have good reason for believing that his father is a scheming, unscrupulous man, and that his son has learned all this from him."
"Well," said Melfort slowly, "what you say about Mr. Branson may be true enough. Your father is no doubt in a position to know, and I feel sure he would not tell you what he has without reason. But how do you know all this about young Branson?"
"I only learned it myself the other day. I have suspected him and watched him for some time, but could not get at anything definite.
"But, by a strange chance, one of our lads—I don't want to tell you his name, because I promised I would not divulge it—was staying with some friends I visited during the Easter holidays. I saw that he had some secret trouble. He seemed cowed and nervous, especially with me when he found I was staying there. I had my suspicions, and questioned him, and at last he broke down and made a clean breast of it.
"He had borrowed money of Branson, and could not repay it, and went in terror of the fact becoming known to his people. Unfortunately, I cannot bring the matter before Captain Probyn because I passed my word to this lad. There was no other way to get him to talk."
"Does he owe the money now?" Melfort asked.
"N-no; I have put that straight for him," Drummond said reluctantly. He had evidently not intended to disclose the fact that he himself had found the amount necessary to pay Branson off. "Well, you see," he added apologetically, "I could not let the foolish youngster remain in the position he was in."
"You acted wisely as well as kindly, Drummond," said Melfort feelingly. "You have the satisfaction of knowing that you have got one of this promising youth's victims out of his clutches, at any rate.
"It seems, as you say, to be a deeper and more serious business than I had any idea of. I must consider what it will be best for me to do—whether to tell Captain Probyn at once, or wait a few days and make some inquiries first on my own account."
MELFORT was silent for some time, puffing slowly at his pipe, and evidently thinking deeply. And Drummond, seeing this, remained silent too.
Presently the senior officer spoke, and his words indicated that his thoughts had taken a fresh direction.
"Look here, Drummond," he said. "What about Branson's cousin, who has lately joined—Kendall? Heard anything about him?"
"Well, yes, but not much, beyond the fact that he is a poor relation. His father was Branson's brother-in-law, and died, leaving his widow—Kendall's mother—very badly off. But he—that is, Mr. Kendall's father—had a brother who is very well off—very rich indeed—Mr. Robert Kendall, an eccentric, rather miserly old fellow, so I have heard. And I was told that it was he who was to pay for sending young Kendall to us."
"Oh!" Melfort's "Oh" was short, but significant. "H'm! I see! There's a rich uncle in the case?"
"So it would appear."
"And the rich uncle is paying for Jack Kendall being here! Branson is also a nephew of the rich uncle, and if the said uncle should take a fancy to Jack, that might rather put young Branson's nose out of joint. It might upset expectations he had in that quarter, eh?"
"I suppose it might happen so."
"Especially if, as you think, Mr. Branson is not so well off now as some people suppose."
"Y-yes. There may be something in your idea, though I never looked at it in that light. I haven't thought much about young Kendall, beyond the fact that I'm inclined to like him. He seems a well disposed, straightforward lad."
"And a jolly plucky one too. We know that," Melfort put in.
"Yes; he has one or two plucky things to his credit already."
"It so happens," Melfort went on, "that I have observed him pretty closely, and he appears to me to be not only plucky, but thoroughly conscientious. He has made for himself friends, too, I have noticed, amongst the best lads of his term, which is another thing in his favour, I am saying this because if Branson is a bad lot, one naturally begins to wonder whether his cousin might take after him—how far, you know, it might run in the family."
"Just so; it is a natural point to keep in mind. But Kendall's father was a different sort of man from Mr. Branson, I believe. I do not think they were even friends."
"What you say about Kendall's mother accounts for one thing I have remarked. Kendall is either a little close-fisted, or he has very little pocket-money. I imagine the explanation must be that his mother cannot afford to allow him much; and so the rich uncle, being a bit of a miser, thinks he has done enough when he has paid the lad's expenses here. He does not consider, I suppose, that boys ought to have much pocket-money."
"Perhaps not; and that's rather a pity for the lad, especially as he has made friends with a set whose parents can afford to be liberal in that line—Caryll and his chums."
"Yes; and that reminds me. When Branson first came, he, too, took up with those lads, as you may remember. Sir Keith Caryll invited him to his house, and Branson was often there. But latterly the friendship seems to have cooled off. A little curious that."
"Not altogether strange, especially after what I have told you. Neither Caryll nor his particular chums have any necessity to be borrowing money; so Branson could not get any influence over them that way. My idea is that when he found that was the case, and that they were not boys of his particular fancy, he drifted away from them."
"And a good thing too, for them. Caryll is a young monkey, as full of mischief as an egg is full of meat; but he is a young gentleman. He would not tell an untruth or stoop to a mean action, I believe, to save his life. I always believe anything he says. But I don't feel the same confidence with Branson. Well, we shall have to watch him carefully. It is a rather awkward position you see. If Captain Probyn were absolutely assured of what you have told me, I know he would prefer to find some excuse to get rid of him. But how could he do it? As you say, Branson is artful enough to avoid getting into any serious trouble himself; and Captain Probyn dare not allege rumours against his father as a reason. So far as is generally known, Mr. Branson is a man of wealth and standing."
"Oh, yes, of course; I know that," said Drummond bitterly. "He flaunts himself down here, with his luxurious yacht, and allows his son to invite his cronies to go for cruises in it with him, and so on. And all the time my father, who is in his employ, is eating his heart out, dreading—well, I hardly know exactly what he dreads. But he says that no man's honour is safe while he is dependent for his bread and cheese upon a firm in the position he knows Branson & Co. to be in."
"Can't he get away from them?"
"It's not so easy, and, in any case, it must take time. And, meanwhile, he feels he does not know what may happen."
After some further talk the two officers separated and retired to rest. But Melfort, at any rate, did not go to sleep for some time. Drummond had given him something to think about. Like Captain Probyn, he took a real and kindly interest in the lads under his charge. And he had had experience enough to know the insidious manner in which a canker, once started, will sometimes spread, and how difficult it may become to root it out.
It so happened, however, that nothing further occurred during the next few days to disturb the ordinary routine, at least, on the surface. It rather looked as though the plotters of mischief had taken the captain's warning to heart, and had, for the time being thought it better to keep on the safe side.
Melfort was not deceived by this, and he passed much of his spare time in anxious thought; but it gave him time for careful consideration of the best course to take in the immediate future.
Though he little guessed it, there was another one who was also uneasy in his mind owing to the same cause, and that was Will Caryll. He carried about with him what was, for him, a weighty secret, which was troubling him not a little.
What Drummond had recently learned about Branson had been known to Caryll for some time. It had caused a coolness between himself and Branson, but Caryll had not bothered himself greatly about that. They had drifted apart, though outwardly still on fairly sociable terms; and as Branson had contrived to get himself shifted into the other dormitory, and there made other friendships, no special quarrel or open breach had occurred between them.
Jack Kendall's arrival, however, had threatened to alter this neutral position. Caryll perceived from the first Branson's dislike for his cousin; whereas he himself had been strongly attracted by Jack's breezy, sturdy, straightforward character.
Then Kendall had undoubtedly saved Caryll's life, and not only that, but his sister's also. And that being so, it is small wonder that Caryll's first feeling of liking had grown into one of devotion and affection towards this plucky new chum.
Now, Mr. Melfort had spoken no more than the truth when he had said that Caryll, mischief-lover though he was at times, was a young gentleman at heart, and despised anything mean. His private knowledge, therefore, that Jack had the misfortune to have a cousin on board of a mean disposition had caused him, as a loyal chum, keen pain on Jack's behalf. That was why he had from the first said so little to Jack about his cousin. He could not honestly say anything in Branson's favour; and, with true delicacy, he did not wish to hurt his feelings by telling what he knew.
But now chance had brought to his knowledge something which went beyond all this. He now suspected—he more than suspected, in fact—that Branson was worse than he had had any idea of. He was clearly carrying on a clandestine intercourse with some bad characters outside. What the object was Caryll knew not as yet; but it could not be a harmless one, and some instinct led him to believe that it was directed against Jack himself.
Caryll knew nothing of the rich uncle in the background, or of Branson's jealousy in regard to him, or he would have understood how the land lay quickly enough. He only had a vague idea that Branson was plotting serious trouble of some kind, and he felt a generous indignation at the idea, mingled with anxiety as to what the consequences might be for his chum. Had he but known what was in the minds of the first and second officers, had he but heard what they had been discussing, he would have gone to Mr. Melfort at once, laid all he knew before him, and left the rest to him.
But not knowing this, he shrank from anything that savoured of what is known amongst boys as "sneaking." No one had a greater contempt for that than he himself had. So he kept his discoveries to himself, greatly, however, to the disturbance of his own peace of mind.
For some days, as stated, nothing of note happened. Then occurred a startling incident which came near to being a tragedy, and to ending Jack Kendall's seafaring career once and for all.
It was the day set apart for the drill aloft, and the lads of the two junior dormitories were practising the setting, reefing, and furling of sails.
Each one here had his allotted station, and Caryll and Kendall were at work in the fore-mast rigging. Caryll's post was the mainstay sail, and Jack's was the maintop mast-sail, and he was therefore high above Caryll's head.
Brigson, the officer directing operations, was standing in the maintop; while the second officer, Drummond, was on deck in charge of a number of cadets engaged in other ways.
It was rather a breezy day for the work in hand, and the wind whistled shrilly through the rigging, causing the sails to fill out one moment and flap vigorously the next in a manner which was at times disconcerting to the lads, especially the new hands, and rendered their task by no means an easy one.
Suddenly there was heard a report like the sound of a pistol shot, followed by a cry. The maintopmast stay had snapped off near the mainmast, and Jack Kendall, who had one foot on it at the moment, went hurtling through the air down to what looked like certain death.
Caryll, below, glanced up at the sound of the breaking rope, and as Jack came down instinctively put out a hand and managed to grasp his arm, pulling him towards him as he did so.
The effect of this was that the falling lad, instead of going sheer down, was brought against the mainstay, and managed to cling to it.
There he hung, with but a precarious hold, and half-dazed; while Caryll, who had not let go, did his best to help him to cling on until other help should reach them.
FORTUNATELY for Jack, Drummond, the second officer, was standing close to the fore-mast, just below where the treacherous rope had given way. More fortunately still, a petty officer and some cadets were doing something with a spare sail close by.
Drummond looked up, saw Jack's downward plunge, and saw his fall checked for a moment by the mainstay.
He could see enough to make him doubt whether the lad would be able to keep his hold long enough for anyone to reach him by running up the shrouds. With sailor-like promptitude, therefore, he turned to those with the spare sail.
They, like many more, were staring aloft, horror-stricken at what they saw; but a quick, sharp, order from Drummond awoke them to action.
There was no time for more speech. The second officer seized one corner of the sail, and the others, partly obeying his signs, partly divining his intentions, grasped the remaining corners and the sides, and, spreading it out, held it well up off the deck.
They were but just in time. The next moment, as it seemed, Jack Kendall had fallen into it with a crash which must have broken almost every bone in his body had not the sail been there. Even as it was, it "sagged" so much under the sudden strain as to touch the boards with a distinct thump.
Drummond knelt down beside the lad, and raised him to a sitting posture.
"Go and fetch the smelling-salts, Scott, he has fainted," said Drummond, turning to the petty officer.
Scott returned speedily, bringing not only the salts, but Dr. Burrows, the ship's doctor, and Mr. Melfort, while the captain himself followed close upon their heels.
By that time Jack was coming to, and presently the doctor was able to give those around the welcome news that there was not much the matter beyond the shock natural under the circumstances.
"You're sure—you're quite sure, doctor?" asked a voice half-choked with emotion; and the doctor, turning, saw Caryll standing, white and haggard, looking up into his face with appealing, tearful eyes. "I—I tried to hold him," he sobbed out; "but I couldn't, and when he slipped from me it seemed to drive me mad. I—I don't know what I did, or how I got down here, or how it was I didn't fall too," he finished, looking about him in a helpless way.
"Cheer up, my lad, it's all right now!" said Drummond, putting a hand kindly on the trembling lad's shoulder.
"But—but I—I didn't hold him, sir. I—I let him go, and I ought not to have let go," wailed the boy, his voice full of bitter self-reproach.
"It's a good thing you did, my lad, or you would have fallen too. Besides, Caryll, you saved his life. I saw what occurred, and I know you did. You caught at him and held on bravely as long as you could, and so broke his fall, thereby giving us time to get the sail ready to catch him. So cheer up, my lad, cheer up! It ought to cheer you up to think that it was really your prompt action that saved him. In fact," continued Drummond, turning to the others, "its a miracle that Caryll didn't come down with him and lose his own life. I saw him nearly fall as he snatched at Kendall with one hand while he was holding on with the other, and only one foot on the foot-rope."
At this Captain Probyn stepped up to Caryll and patted him on the back.
"You seem to have behaved with great courage, and without any thought for yourself, my boy," he said in tones that showed he felt deeply. "You have certainly no cause to reproach yourself. I am proud that one of my boys should have behaved like it. So, as Mr. Drummond says, you must cheer up. Come! You and I will take Kendall down to my quarters. The doctor says he must lie down for a while and be perfectly quiet. He shall lie down in one of my cabins, and you had better stay and keep him company."
At this Caryll brightened up considerably. Jack was half- carried, half-led, for he insisted on trying to walk, to one of the captain's rooms. There he was made comfortable on a couch under the personal supervision of Captain Probyn, who then returned to the deck to inquire into the cause of the mishap.
He had given orders that nothing was to be touched, and no one was to leave the deck while he was away. He now proceeded to hold an inquiry and to question and cross-examine those who had witnessed the occurrence.
The captain was greatly upset. Never had anything of the kind happened before on his ship, and he could not understand how it could have come about. He was keenly sensible of the fact that a tragedy had been but narrowly escaped, and while he was thankful that it had been averted, he was filled with angry surprise that such a thing had been possible.
Had Kendall been killed there would, of course, have been an inquest; and though, no doubt, the result would have been to prove that the affair had been a pure accident, it would have done him incalculable injury. Parents would have quickly shown that they did not care to confide their sons to one under whose management such accidents were possible.
This was impressed yet more forcibly upon Captain Probyn's mind when he examined the broken rope. It would have been a grave scandal indeed had the evidence made public the fact that the ropes to which the lads on his ship were compelled to entrust their lives were not to be depended on.
Small wonder was it that Captain Probyn's investigation was long and searching. Small wonder that his bearing was now stern, even to harshness, towards all concerned.
He himself climbed into the rigging to examine the broken rope, and he was filled with anger and indignation when he looked at it. For it could be seen that the ends were frayed and broken as though by something having rubbed against it.
He cut off a short piece on each side of the break and put them carefully away in his pocket for future security. Then he remained for some time examining the surroundings, vainly searching for anything that could account for the fracture. At the moment the solution of the problem entirely evaded him.
MEANTIME, Jack Kendall was lying in the cabin to which he had been taken, which was one of Captain Probyn's private suite, as distinguished from his official quarters.
At first Jack had been content to obey the doctor's injunctions to rest and keep quiet, while Caryll sat beside him in sympathetic silence, but, like the captain himself, trying to understand how the mishap could have come about.
He went over in his mind, as well as he could remember, everything that had occurred just before the rope gave way. But his cogitations did not shed much light on the problem; and then, as Jack began to feel better, they ventured to talk together in low tones to avoid any possibility of being overheard.
Jack asked his chum about the room they were in, if he had ever been there before, but Will shook his head. He knew nothing about it, he said. This part of the ship was sacred ground so far as the cadets were concerned.
They received occasionally, it is true, the honour of an invitation to the captain's dinner-table, but it was a privilege that only came at rare intervals to each one in turn. And the honoured ones saw nothing of the private apartments beyond the dining saloon.
So the two glanced round now, not only with interest, but with a sense of awe.
The first thing that attracted their attention was a litter of books and papers, slates, inkstands, pencils, pens, and other articles on the table. These, and some maps hanging on the walls, suggested that it could hardly be used as a private sitting room.
Caryll's sharp eyes wandered from one thing to another until they fell upon some copy-books lying open on the table, and these roused his curiosity.
He had been badly shaken by the trial he had passed through, and up to a minute or so before had still been in a most distressed and unhappy state of mind. But now his mercurial temperament quickly asserted itself.
Into his face—anon so dolorous—there flashed the mischievous look which Jack by this time knew so well. An overpowering desire came upon him to get a nearer view of these copy-books, and, acting on the impulse, he rose swiftly from his seat and went across to the table. Jack put out a hand to stay him, but was too late. He had gained the table, and was standing with one of the copy-books in his hand. A critical frown, and an amused smile, hovering round his lips, told that he had found something at once interesting and entertaining.
At that moment the door of the room softly opened, and a face peeped in. No sooner did the eyes belonging to it perceive how Caryll was occupied than there came a rush.
Caryll had not heard or seen anything to tell him of the presence of the third person, and the first he knew of it was the sound of light but rapid footsteps. He had a vague vision and then, next moment, ere he could realise what was happening, he received a box on the ear which made him jump, a pair of hands gathered at one swoop both the book he was holding and the others lying adjacent, and then he and Jack were alone once more.
"Was that a cyclone?" he exclaimed, rubbing the assaulted ear, and staring round with a bewildered air.
Jack was trying his best to stifle his laughter.
"You've put your foot in it nicely now. Somebody saw you peeping at her school-work, and you'll be in sad disgrace as a consequence."
Will's face had by this time changed again. There had now come into it that look of unearthly innocence which had gained him the nickname of "Baby."
"My word!" he murmured. "Yes, of course, it was Alma!" Then he added, as though the idea had just flashed upon him, "I suppose this must be the room where she and Bertha have their lessons?"
"I guess it must be; that fact dawned on me at once," Jack returned drily. "And I tried to stop you from looking at their work, but you had got beyond my reach. And, if you ask me, I don't think it has taken all this time for the idea to soak into your mind."
"Well," said Will coolly, "perhaps it will be a lesson to them of another kind—a warning against being so untidy. They shouldn't have gone away and left their books and things lying around and open for the first comer to read. I suppose it's because their governess wasn't with them; I saw Miss Chalford and Mrs. Probyn go ashore early this morning."
He glanced round again with a critical air, and shook his head reprovingly.
"We don't do this sort of thing in our classrooms, do we, Jack? We could teach them something in that line—"
"Could you, indeed, Mr. Impertinent?"
Will spun round, and found himself confronted by Alma Probyn, looking very angry and resentful. In the background, just outside the door, Bertha Fordyce was to be seen, evidently doing her best to back up her cousin in the casting of withering looks.
"So it's not enough," Alma went on scornfully, "that we should be turned out of our own place in a violent hurry to make room for two rude boys, but they must be mean enough to poke their noses into what we leave about, and make personal remarks because we were not allowed time to put our things away!"
Jack, though he himself had been guiltless in the matter, was conscious that the rebuke was not undeserved, and felt considerably embarrassed. But Caryll's serenity was quite undisturbed.
"I'm sorry to hear you were turned out on our account, Alma," he said sweetly. "We had no idea of that. And I was only admiring the nice way you make your pothooks and hangers; I think they're the most beautiful ones I've ever seen. It shows what a clever teacher you must have. If Kendall and I could only come here to learn, I'm sure we should get on ever so much faster with our studies."
"I'm doubtful about that, and, at any rate, you needn't bring me into it," Jack put in, "I think—"
But Alma did not wait to hear what Jack thought. She stamped her foot, and an angry flush mounted to her face.
"If it were not that I suppose it would be considered what you boys call 'sneaking,'" she declared, "I would tell my father how you have behaved here, and I feel sure he would be very angry! Why he brought you here I can't think, unless"—a fresh idea came to her—"unless it is that you are already in disgrace and are going to be punished. I shouldn't be surprised. You seem bad enough for anything!"
Caryll shook his head, and regarded her with a pained, almost pitying expression.
"Only shows," he remarked, "how foolish it is to jump to hasty conclusions. You say you don't know why we are here. I'll tell you, and I hope you'll feel sorry when you see how unkindly you are acting. When a poor chap has fallen from the masthead, and been taken up for dead, and brought into your place because the doctor says he requires perfect rest and quiet—and noisy, worrying girls come bouncing in on him like a tornado—"
"What!" cried Alma, staring at Caryll, and from him to Jack. "You—you don't mean it? This is some more of your nonsense, Master Will!"
"No nonsense at all, Alma. It's the unhappy truth—or very near to it. Ask Kendall himself. You can believe him if you won't me. He's one who never, never—at least, hardly ever—"
It suddenly dawned upon the two girls that for all Caryll's irrepressible levity there might be some foundation for what he had said. The fact that he and Kendall were there at all was altogether unprecedented; and there was the further fact that Kendall was lying full length on the couch. He would not have dared do that in the captain's private apartments unless something very unusual had occurred.
Both girls now came forward; and Jack, seeing the looks of anxious inquiry in their eyes, briefly and modestly told them what had happened. His manner gained their confidence and belief at once, and they hastened to show their sympathy.
"I should have thought," said Alma, with another reproachful look at Caryll, "that such a thing happening would have made Will a bit serious for once."
"He was anxious enough a little while ago, I can assure you," Jack declared generously, anxious to defend his chum. "He was crying—"
"I'm sure—!" Caryll exclaimed.
"Don't take any notice of what he says now," said Jack. "He was so shaken and upset, poor chap, that they had almost to carry him here like they did me."
"He must have soon got over it," Bertha remarked doubtfully.
"Only because he saw I was getting better more quickly than had seemed likely," Jack explained. "As soon as he felt quite sure I was all right, he—er—became himself again."
"He did—evidently," Alma commented drily. "You're quite right there. But how did this dreadful thing happen? How did it come about?"
"We know no more than you do. A rope broke—snapped off somehow—that's all we can tell you. The captain is investigating it now, I expect."
"He will be very much troubled," said Alma, knitting her brows in thought. "It is such a dreadful thing to happen—to have a rope break. It's as good as to say that the rigging is not safe for you boys to trust to. And father would never like such a thing to be said."
"It wasn't his fault, of course—" Jack began; when Alma took him up quickly.
"No; but whose fault was it?"
That was a question that could not be answered. Neither Kendall nor Caryll had anyone in his mind. They looked at one another as though each wondered what the other would say to the question. But Jack only shook his head.
"I've no idea," he said.
"It must have been the fault of someone," Alma argued—"someone who's supposed to look after the rigging and all that sort of thing. At any rate, it's a very strange affair. Nothing like it has ever occurred before, so far as I know. And," she added, half to Caryll and half to herself, "it's stranger still that it should happen to you!"
"Me again!" exclaimed Caryll. "What have I done to be talked at like that? Besides, it didn't happen to me, but to Kendall."
"Well, you were mixed up in it. What I was thinking was that there've been several little upsets lately—more than have occurred for ever so long—and they've all had something to do with you or your friend Kendall or Mabel. Now, isn't it so?"
"Well, yes," Caryll agreed. "But I don't see that it is my fault."
"I don't mean that it is—of course it can't be—but it struck me as curious, that's all. Now it has occurred to me—"
But what it was that had occurred to Alma remained untold, for at that moment Bertha intervened. She had been going to and fro, sometimes on one side of the door, sometimes on the other. Now she rushed in hastily.
"Alma! The captain's coming!" was all she said; but the effect was electrical. A moment later Caryll and Kendall were alone again. Their late visitors had vanished as though they had never been.
CAPTAIN PROBYN returned to his quarters with his officers, to continue there the inquiry he had been conducting on the deck.
He paid a brief visit to Kendall, and asked kindly how he was getting on.
"Capitally, sir," was the cheerful answer, "I feel well enough to go back to duty now, sir."
"Better wait till the doctor has seen you again. He will be round presently," said the captain, and went back to his own room.
Several witnesses were brought before him—petty officers, cadets, sailors, and others—who had either been actual eye-witnesses of the accident, or had been on deck or in the rigging at the time it took place. These told in turn all that they knew or could suggest in connection with it. But they were able to tell nothing which threw any light upon the actual cause of the mishap.
The captain placed the two pieces of rope which he had cut off before him on the table, and scrutinised them carefully. He showed them to his officers, and handed them to the oldest and most experienced of the witnesses, who all duly examined them, but always with the same result.
"Something must have fretted and scraped against it, and so broken it away," voiced the general opinion; but when it came to define what that "something" was, the deponents shook their heads.
"Now, gentlemen," said the captain, when he had dismissed the witnesses and was alone with his principal officers, I want your help in this affair; I want your honest opinion. It is a matter of the utmost importance to me in view of the fact that the lives of the lads in my charge are at stake. The question seems to me to narrow itself down to two points—either this is an accident or it is not. If it is an accident, then there has been gross carelessness on someone's part in inspecting and overhauling the rigging; and this carelessness must have continued for some time, for such an injury could not have been caused accidentally in a day or two. That, gentlemen, points to a most serious dereliction of duty on the part of some of the staff.
"The only alternative to this," the captain proceeded slowly, "is, of course, that the occurrence is due, not to an accident at all, but to foul play; and that is so grave a suggestion that one can only fall back upon it in the very last resort. Surely, it is not conceivable that we have amongst us, on board my ship, any being who could be guilty of such an infamous crime?"
There followed a long discussion, which, however, failed to bring them any nearer to a satisfactory conclusion. In the end the council separated, leaving the matter very much where it had been at the beginning.
Captain Probyn was extremely annoyed at this unsatisfactory result; while his officers, on their side, were not less vexed, for they felt that the affair reflected indirectly upon them.
"I would give a good deal to be able to get to the bottom of this business," said Melfort to Drummond, when the two happened to be together in the chief officer's cabin. "Have you formed any theory in your own mind? Straight, now, as between one gentleman and another?"
"Well," returned Drummond, with evident hesitation, "I know no more than you do about it, probably; but there is one thing I remarked as a coincidence." He paused, and then muttered, as though to himself, "Surely, surely, it can be nothing more!"
"Tell me exactly what is in your mind, Drummond," said the chief officer earnestly. "Even the slightest trifle may be of use."
"Ay; but trifles are not proof, and they may get a man into trouble if mentioned."
"Just so; I quite appreciate that. Now, if I pass you my word that it shall go no further, will that suffice?"
"Oh, of course, I know I can trust you! Well, you remember what I mentioned to you in confidence about Kendall and his cousin, young Branson?"
"Yes; I know what you refer to. You pointed out one or two queer coincidences."
"Well, here's another. Branson was working close to the stay which gave way."
"Are you certain?"
"Of course, or I would not say so. I saw him there—and Brigson, who was in the top must know he was there, too, I should say; though I don't want you to ask him; it might set him talking and cause trouble. But Branson was there right enough; and it's almost a wonder he didn't fall too. It might have happened so, as you know—"
"Of course. I see that. But I don't quite see—"
"Wait a moment. Branson must have been handling the very rope that broke. Therefore he may be said to have had, in a way, a narrow escape. Yet he said nothing about it; he has not volunteered any evidence."
"Captain Probyn didn't know of this, or he would have had Branson before him and questioned him," muttered Melfort. "Why didn't you mention it to him?"
"For one thing, I wanted to wait and see whether Branson came forward of his own accord. For another, I do not feel justified in insinuating anything against the lad when there is so little to go upon."
"But, Drummond," exclaimed Melfort, "what I want to know is this—do you mean to say you think that rope was deliberately cut through or broken in some way by someone who knew that Kendall was standing on the lower end of it?"
"Think? I think nothing, my dear fellow, except that it is a curious coincidence that someone was there at the time—that's all."
"Yes; but that someone was one of our lads—was, in fact, Kendall's cousin—Branson."
"Just so," returned Drummond, in a tone that indicated he desired to end the talk; "and Branson is the son of his father, the rich shipowner, who'd have me up for slander and smash my career, and my father's too, if he knew I had said the half of what I have told you."
He laughed—a half-bitter, half-reckless kind of laugh—and went off to his duty.
THE following Saturday the cadets went ashore as usual, and were scattered over their playing-fields, engaged for the most part, in their outdoor sports.
Jack Kendall was playing football. He was in the best of spirits, and was enjoying himself immensely. He was one of those who throw their whole energies into whatever they take up, whether it be work or sport. To-day he seemed to be outdoing himself. More than once a round of cheering had greeted some clever bit of play on his part, and his fellow-cadets congratulated themselves upon the appearance amongst them of a new player who promised so well.
Jack had reason for being in particularly good spirits just then. He had had a letter that morning from his mother, who wrote telling him how pleased she felt at the accounts she had heard about him.
"Sir Keith Caryll has been to see me," she wrote, "and he was full of praise of your behaviour. He could talk of nothing else. He declares you have saved the lives of two of his children—that of his son Will and of his daughter Mabel. He said he came specially to tell me, because he felt sure you would not be likely to write and tell me all about it properly yourself. There he was quite right; for what you have told me in your letters gave me but a very faint idea compared with what I now find really happened. I know now that you have behaved just as I would have had you do, and I write a few lines to tell you what a comfort it is to me to hear you so well spoken of.
"I have been so anxious about you, knowing what a great trial it would be to you to be thrown entirely amongst strangers. And I have been praying that I might have no reason to be disappointed in you. It has filled me, therefore, with unspeakable gladness to know that you have already made good friends, and shown yourself worthy of their kindness and confidence. I am more pleased and thankful, my dearest boy, than any written words of mine can convey. I hope and pray that you may be led to continue in the same path."
It is needless to say that Jack was more than pleased to receive such a letter. Some lads would have become puffed up with conceit and arrogance, but that was not his nature. Of what he had done to bring him such praise from Sir Keith he thought little. Sir Keith had been very good to him—a mere stranger—and Jack felt glad he had done something in return to please the kind-hearted baronet. What he was really most gratified about, however, was that his mother was satisfied with him. He had been aware that, as she said, she had been very anxious about him, and he knew that now she would be more at ease concerning him. The news that he was making friends for himself would be a great load off her mind, and he valued that fact much more than any praise he had gained for himself.
Now it so happened that that same morning Clement Branson had also had a letter from his father. Instead of raising his spirits and filling him with content and joyous gladness, as in Jack's case, it had made him moody and bad-tempered.
So sullen and morose did he feel, indeed, that he left his usual companions and wandered about alone. So abstracted was he that he stood and stared vacantly at a football game without really seeing what was going on, or noticing who the players were.
That he had not been really watching the present game was apparent when, roused from his reveries by a sudden outburst of cheering, he discovered that his hated Cousin Jack was one of the players, and that the cheers had been called forth by some particularly smart play on his part.
Branson turned away in disgust, biting his lip, and angry with himself for having been caught looking on.
He strolled away, in a worse mood than ever, to an unfrequented part where there was a fir thicket surrounded by an iron railing. Perching himself on the top of this railing he drew out the letter he had received that morning, and began reading it over again, with an expression which showed that the perusal afforded him anything but pleasure.
He had, indeed, from his selfish point of view, strong reason for dissatisfaction, for the letter contained a great disappointment. Mr. Branson had refused to send him some money he had written for.
That was bad enough, but there was something worse behind it, which made the disappointment more bitter. This most unexpected behaviour on Mr. Branson's part was indirectly due to Jack Kendall.
Clement went through the letter once more, line by line, with a mind full of evil thoughts.
Here are some extracts from what he read:
"What is all this I hear about your cousin Jack Kendall? Sir Keith Caryll has actually taken upon himself to call upon your Uncle Robert and to launch out into an extraordinary account of this scheming young interloper and his doings. What is the meaning of it? Sir Keith seems to have told some marvellous tales of what young Kendall has done. Your uncle has been full of them and, needless to say, I had no patience to listen to him.
"According to his version, Kendall must be a sort of young marvel, going about saving lives wholesale. At any rate, your uncle says that Sir Keith declares he has saved his son Will from drowning, and his daughter from being dashed over a precipice by a runaway pony. Nice things for me to have to sit and listen to!
"And what did I hear about you? Nothing! What have I heard from you yourself as to what you are doing? Nothing again—nothing accomplished. Tales—which may be fairy- tales for all I know—of clever plans and ideas you are going to carry out, but so far they have either never been really attempted or have miscarried. Meantime, this young rival of yours is making all the running. Though a stranger to all around him, he seems to be making friends and gaining praise on all sides.
"What do you suppose will be the end of it? I can tell you in very few words, for I can see it already looming in the near distance. Young Kendall will cut you out utterly, and become your uncle's heir; you will be left out in the cold, and I shall be ruined. For, as you have heard me say before, I am looking to your Uncle Robert to get me out of my present financial troubles; and this he certainly will not do if he becomes displeased with you and takes up with young Kendall instead. Already I hear he has accepted an invitation to go and stay at Coombe Hall, and with Sir Keith dinning into his ears, day after day, praises of your cousin, what do you suppose is likely to be the result?
"I am not sending you the money you asked me for. You do not seem to be doing any good with all you have had, and perhaps if I keep you short for a while it may act as a spur to your ideas. If you cannot find a way to do what we planned in regard to Kendall, or while you are waiting a suitable opportunity, can't you take a leaf out of his book? Can't you do something to get yourself praised and talked about? Can't you manage to save somebody's life—or appear to do so? Surely there must be more than one way of gaining our ends!
"If you have any opportunity of watching what letters Kendall receives you should keep your eye on them. I doubt if your uncle would go so far as to write to him direct; but he might do so, and if such a thing happened it is important that I should know of it at once."
Such were some of the contents of this precious letter—a strange epistle, indeed, for any father to write to his son. What a contrast to the letter Mrs. Kendall had written to Jack! Little wonder is it, perhaps, that with such a parent, Clement Branson should have already developed a precocious cleverness in shady ways.
Mr. Branson had concluded his letter with strict injunctions that it was to be carefully destroyed; and Clement, having committed the chief points in it to memory, considered what he had better do with it.
To carry it about with him was to incur a certain amount of unnecessary risk. He could not burn it then and there, having no matches. He looked round at the small thicket. No one ever went into it—there was nothing to induce people to do so; and there was a thick undergrowth of bushes and briars.
He proceeded, therefore, to tear the letter up, and getting over the railings, he threw the pieces away amongst the bushes, reflecting that the first downpour of rain would convert the bits of paper into sodden pulp.
Scrambling over the fence again, he sauntered moodily, with hands in pockets and a preoccupied look, away from the place, and was soon out of sight.
Then, from round the other side of the thicket, a lad came stealthily, and having looked about carefully in all directions to make sure that Branson nor anyone else was in sight, he, in his turn, got over the railings and crept in among the bushes. There, with patient industry, he picked up the scraps of paper and put them into an envelope, which he thrust in his pocket. Then he went off in the same direction that Branson had taken.
The lad was that young gentleman's most intimate, most trusted friend, Gus Forder!
BRANSON wandered about for some time quite alone, purposely seeking out those places where he was least likely to meet any of the other cadets.
He was in a state of simmering anger—anger against his father for sending him no money, and for complaining that he had done nothing to bring about what they desired; anger at the "cheap advice" (so Clement called it), to "save somebody's life—or appear to do so."
That he was also angry with the unconscious Jack needs not to be told. His hatred for his cousin was becoming almost too great to be hidden. All his (Branson's) schemes against him had, somehow, as his father had expressed it, "miscarried"; and when he considered the risks he himself had run in trying to carry them through he felt more savage than ever that Jack should have escaped. Now, worst of all, almost, it was this same Jack who had prevented him from getting the money he had expected by that morning's post.
Lastly, Branson was angry with himself because he felt he had somehow bungled things. At least, that was what he thought had happened. It never seemed to occur to him that there might be a Higher Power against which he would but fight in vain, guarding the widow's son from harm, and bringing the evil plots against him to nought. Or, if conscience whispered this to him at times, he resolutely put the idea aside as absurd.
One thing was certain. Before he could hope to persuade his father to send him money freely again he would have to make some decided move. He knew his father too well to write and ask him again just then or until he had some such definite plan in view.
But try as he could, cudgel his brains as he might, he could not think of anything sufficiently promising.
"I'll see Forder," he muttered at last. "He said he had a plan which would do all that would be necessary. It would get Kendall he declared, into disgrace, but he hasn't said anything about it since. I'd better find him and sound him carefully."
Looking about, whom should he see but Forder himself coming across in his direction, and he congratulated himself on the fact, "Better he should seek me out," he thought, "than that I should seem to be running after him."
Had he, however, been able to read his crony's thoughts just then, he might not have been so ready to welcome the coming interview.
"I've had no end of a job trying to find you, Branson," Forder began. "What's wrong with you to-day? Anyone would think you were trying to avoid me."
"Can't I keep to myself for an hour if I choose?" Branson answered roughly. "I'm not your slave or fag, or anything of that kind. It hasn't come to that yet—that I'm not my own master." The thought of his various worries came surging back on him with a rush, and he added surlily, "besides, very likely you only wanted to borrow money from me. I've got none to-day, so if that's your idea you can put it aside at once."
"That's just what I do want," said Forder quietly. Strange to say, he showed no heat at Branson's words, or the surly manner in which they had been uttered.
"Well, I've got none," Branson returned moodily. He had already seen the foolishness of saying rude things to the one whom he wanted to help him; but he could not yet throw off his bad temper altogether.
"You'll have to find me some," said Forder firmly. "I want it particularly, and you must let me have it."
Apart from the unexpected, cool assurance of these words, there was that in the tone in which they were uttered, and in Forder's whole manner, which struck Branson as something quite new.
A vague, undefined fear seized hold of him. He divined instinctively that he was here threatened with some fresh trouble, though for the moment he could not imagine what form that trouble was going to assume.
Certainly Forder had never looked at him like this before. He had, it was true, often attempted to bully him more or less, for that was his nature. But a reminder by Branson of the fact that Forder owed him money which he couldn't pay had always been sufficient to bring him to reason.
"Perhaps," thought Clement cautiously, "he is beginning to think he can presume upon what he knows. If that is the case, it's not safe to trust him any further, so it may be better to rely on myself alone. In that case, if I don't want him, I can bully back."
In accordance with this reasoning, Branson gave his simmering ill-temper full vent.
"Look here, Forder," he said, "I've been thinking matters over, and I've come to the conclusion that you owe me too much already. You have promised often enough that you would pay me some back when you got this or that remittance, but you never did. I cannot afford to let you keep having money to go on squandering it. It will have to stop."
"Who says it will have to stop?" Forder demanded in an insolent, bullying tone.
"I do. As I say, you owe me too much already. And, besides," he added, his resolution already quailing a little before the other's tone and look, "I haven't got it."
"That's an untruth!" said Forder bluntly. "You told me the other day that you had written to your father for some, and that you were expecting to hear from him. Well, you had a letter from him to-day. I saw it."
"I know I did. All the same there wasn't any money in it." Branson snapped this out quickly, and with a look of injured virtue. He knew he was speaking the truth, and for the moment it made him feel quite brave.
"I don't believe you," Forder said again, curtly, "and therefore I tell you plainly you must let me have some here—now."
Forder had Mr. Branson's letter in his pocket, but he had not yet had time to piece it together and read it. So he believed that what Clement said was untrue.
"You know very well," he went on, "that you have always boasted how little your father thinks of money, and that he always sends you some directly you ask for it. Sometimes more than you ask for; so you have said."
"That's true enough," Branson returned doggedly, "but this is an exception. It is the first time it has ever happened. I tell you again you can't have anything from me to-day, because I haven't got it."
"And I tell you," Forder flashed, advancing and looking at Clement truculently, "I don't believe you! You'll have to let me have some, otherwise—"
"Well, what?" Branson queried, with a sneer.
"Otherwise some of the officers will be asking curious questions. They will be asking who cut the mainstay through? Who cut the rope your cousin Kendall was on, and caused his fall?"
Branson started back. He was white and trembling now. He seemed as if he did not know which way to look. His eyes shifted this way and that, with a staring hunted expression.
"It—it—wasn't—cut!" he gasped.
"No;" Forder answered coolly. "You're quite right there. It was filed through, not cut, and I've got the file. I've got it put away in a safe place."
"Why, you've been at my chest—and—stolen it, then!" cried Branson.
"Ah, you've said it now! Yes," Forder declared, "I thought it wasn't a very safe place for it to be hidden, and that it would be doing you a good turn to take possession of it and put it where it would be more secure."
FOR a moment, or two a fierce, vengeful light gleamed in Branson's eyes; but he realised that resistance was useless. Forder held the upper hand, and Clement had no other course open to him than to make the best of it.
"I don't know why you should have treated me like this, Forder," he complained in a whining tone. "I've always treated you well. As to anything I've done concerning Kendall—well, you've known all along that there has been no love lost between us. I've made no secret of it. You and Dawney offered to help me against him—"
Forder took him up sharply.
"That's just it! You pretend you want our help, and agree for us to work for you, and then you try to wriggle off on your own and work without us. You've made use of us when you thought it suited you, and then, without notice or warning, you try to shunt us."
"How do you mean?"
"How do I mean? Haven't you kept out of our way all the morning? Haven't you refused, not ten minutes ago, to lend me any money after promising to let me have some directly you heard from your father? Isn't that trying to get rid of us?"
Branson shook his head.
"You're wrong!" he declared. Now that he saw Forder was willing to temporise he had got a little the better of his fright, and was summoning all his cunning to his aid. "The fact is, I was in a bad temper because the gov'nor hadn't sent me any money. And, moreover, it was all owing to Kendall that he refused. Yes, it's all through him that I've got no money to-day! Can you wonder that I was in a bad temper? Now, will you listen for a minute if I tell you all about it?"
"Well, of course, I'll listen," Forder returned in a non- committal tone. "But I won't say how much I shall believe of it."
Then Branson gave him a short account of what his father had written about Jack Kendall.
"There!" he said at the finish. "Now you know how things stand."
The two talked on for some time, and gradually Forder "thawed" a little, so to speak, or seemed to.
"Well," Forder finally said, "about this accident that happened to Kendall. Dawney and I consider you've not only acted badly towards us, but very foolishly. I admit it was cleverly done. I don't quite know how you managed it, but it's puzzled 'em all. But it was too risky. They may tumble to it yet, and if they should, then there'll be trouble. What made you do it?"
"It was a sudden idea. I found the file—it was an old rough rasp—by accident, and it struck me how easily anyone could sever a rope with it so as to look like a natural break."
"It was a silly thing to do—too dangerous! Our plan will do all you want, and there will be no risk to you nor to us in it. Only, after what the captain said, we thought we'd better lie low for a week or two."
"I'm sorry I got impatient. I shall be only too glad to have you help me," Branson said in a humbled tone.
"H'm! Well, you'll have to see Dawney about it. He's expecting me to take you to him, so we'd better go and find him."
The two plotters moved off together to find their fellow- conspirator, but Branson began to feel more as though he were in the custody of a warder than in the society of a friend. He saw pretty clearly now that Dawney must have sent Forder to him to bring him to heel and teach him his true position in the future.
Thus did Clement Branson begin already to taste some of the bitter fruits of the seed he had been sowing. In the hands of these two, both older and more astute than himself, he had been but as clay. While he had been, as he thought, lording it over them, they had been plotting against him, watching him, and biding their time. Now their turn had come, and they had given the first turn to the screw. Henceforth he would be but their bond-slave.
With these bitter reflections in his mind, Branson walked on with dragging steps, neither noticing nor caring which way he was going till an exclamation from Forder made him look up.
They were crossing a knoll overlooking the road. Some hundred yards or so away was a gate, round which several persons were clustered, some being in the field and some in the road. There were some ladies and girls, and a number of boys; and they were evidently in a state of great excitement, for they were shouting and gesticulating wildly.
Forder started off at a run for the gate, and Branson, throwing aside for the moment his gloomy thoughts, dashed after him.
"I'D no idea you could play footer like that, Kendall! You must join our club. Next season we ought to be able to play you against the Dartmouth lot."
It was Neville who spoke, and Jack Kendall flushed up with pleasure.
It was the first time he had played football there. It was only a "practice" game between scratch sides; but he had quickly taken foremost place, securing two goals out of five scored by his side.
Now that it was over, and they were standing about discussing the incidents of the play, Neville, the Light Blues' captain had sought Jack out and specially invited him to join their football club.
"It's a big compliment for you, I can tell you," Caryll said a few minutes later, as the three chums were starting off for a stroll. "Neville's never said as much to me. I had to invite myself to join the club. If I'd waited for him to 'invite' me I should be waiting now."
Though he spoke in a tone of chagrin, it was more assumed than real. There was no place for anything that resembled envy in the disposition of merry, open-hearted, mischievous Will Caryll.
"Same here—same with me," Boulter put in, with a heavy sigh.
"Oh, you! You're too fat!" Caryll declared, with a laugh of scorn. "You'll have to learn to eat less before—why, I declare, if he isn't eating now!"
Boulter had pulled a biscuit from his pocket and was munching it with great gusto.
"Where are we going?" Jack asked. There was just the suggestion of a note of suspicion in his tone. They were, he knew, walking in the direction of the road. Caryll had led him there, in the same seemingly innocent manner, once before, and it had ended in his being mixed up in adventures with Will's sister, and so on. Was Will trying to inveigle him into something of the same sort now?
Jack had not by any means got over his natural shyness in the presence of ladies or girls. Caryll sometimes declared he believed that rather than meet them Jack would cheerfully tackle a swarm of bees. So if he—Will—wanted to bring him in their way, he had to lead him gently up to it, as one might coax a shy horse up to a jump he didn't like the look of.
As it happened, Caryll was just then manoeuvring to get Kendall to meet his aunt, Miss Caryll. That lady was coming into Wincombe with her niece, and she had written to Will saying she wanted to meet the boy who had saved Mabel's life.
So Jack, all unconsciously, was being led to the place which Miss Caryll was expected to pass. Boulter, on one side, and Will on the other, were watching him very much as clever dogs might who had been ordered to bring a sheep to a certain place without worrying or frightening it.
"Which way are we going?" Jack asked again.
"To that gate yonder," said Boulter, with his mouth full of biscuit.
"Why," said Jack doubtfully, "that leads into the road."
"Yes-s. We cross the road," Boulter began, "and then we—er—that is to say, we cross the road—"
There he seemed to stick, looking the while at Will to help him out.
At that moment some shouting was heard which seemed to come from the road, and at once the three started to run towards the gate.
Just as they neared it half a dozen lads came tumbling over it out of the road in a violent hurry. Two or there of them were cadets, the others were country lads.
"The bull! The bull!" they cried in frantic, frightened tones. "Look out! He's coming along the road!"
Jack looked over the gate. At first he could see nothing but the white, dusty, winding road. To the left, up the hill, he could see only for a short distance, for then it took a sharp turn. But to the right he could see for some few hundred yards, when the road wound round out of sight.
The sound of voices to the left made him turn sharply in that direction again. A party of ladies had come into view, and he recognised Miss Chalford, Mabel Caryll, and Alma Probyn, walking with an elderly lady who was a stranger to him.
The lads who had just got over the gate began calling out to them:
"The bull! The bull! It's coming up the road! Come on quick! Get over this gate!"
Scarcely understanding what was said, yet alarmed by the outcry, Miss Chalford pushed Alma and Mabel on in front of her, telling them to run on and get over the gate, while she herself took hold of Miss Caryll's arm and tried to hasten her movements.
Boulter was fumbling with the fastening of the gate, only to discover that it was padlocked. Will was getting over when the two girls came up, and he helped them to scramble into safety just as a fresh outburst arose.
"There he is!"
"Here he comes!"
"Look out there!"
"Hurry up and get over!"
Such were the various warnings yelled frantically by the boys who were on the right side of the gate, just as a bull appeared round the bend racing up the hill.
The road was shut in by a stone wall on each side, with a sloping grass bank in places.
Kendall was on the top of the gate at the moment the animal was sighted. His glance rested on it for a second, then turned the other way. He saw that the girls had scrambled over, but Miss Chalford and her companions had not yet reached the gate.
Without a moment's hesitation he sprang down into the road, between them and the charging animal.
TO intervene between a charging bull and its prospective victims may be either a very foolish or a very heroic action, according to circumstances. Jack, however, had no idea that he was acting in either the one way or the other. He saw that it was necessary that Miss Chalford and her companion should get over the gate in the shortest possible time, and he instinctively wanted to help them.
That was all—or, at least, all he was conscious of at the moment.
And it was possible that it was all he would have thought of doing but for the accident that, just as he landed in the road, the flurried Miss Caryll dropped an umbrella she was carrying.
There had been a shower of rain in the morning, and the umbrella had been brought into use and was still unfolded. As it fell the wind caught it, and seemed to be trying to open it.
This gave Jack an idea. He had read somewhere about bull-fights in Spain, and how that, when one of the bullfighters is being pursued by an infuriated bull, and is in danger, a colleague rushes up and, brandishing a flag before the eyes of the bull, draws it off in another direction.
Jack had no flag, he had a pocket-handkerchief but that was scarcely large enough. Here, however, was an umbrella flapping about in the wind; why not try that as a substitute for a flag?
These thoughts passed through Jack's mind in a flash—far more quickly than it takes to write or even to read about them.
In another flash, as it were, he had picked up the umbrella, opened it, and had turned to meet the bull.
He mounted the grass bank at the side, and as the animal came tearing past he held the open umbrella out at arm's-length in front of it.
With a snort of rage, indignant, no doubt, at being interfered with in this way, and having its vision obstructed at such a time, the bull turned its head and lunged furiously with one horn at the offending umbrella. The horn went clean through it, and another twist of the horn tore the whole affair out of Jack's hand.
And there it remained, impaled upon the horn, where it was shaken, banged, torn, and soon twisted and bent out of all recognition. But still it danced up and down in front of the brute's eyes with every toss of the head, obstructing its view and compelling it to stop.
With a roar of furious anger and impatience, the bull put its head down and tried to get rid of the tantalising headpiece by dashing it against the road, and then against the bank. The silk was ripped into ribbons, the ribs were broken, and stuck out this way and that on the animal's great head, giving it a resemblance to some new kind of porcupine. But still the frame work hung out on the horn and refused to part company with its captor.
By this time the two ladies had, assisted by Will and other lads, managed to get over the gate, Jack had scrambled over the wall at the top of the bank, and the drovers from whom the bull had escaped had come up the road and were taking measures to secure their charge.
There being no further cause for anxiety, therefore, the lads and the two girls were nearly shrieking with laughter at the comic picture the bull presented, and the absurd contortions into which it twisted itself in its frantic efforts to get rid of its encumbrance.
Will Caryll and Boulter had run to join Jack as he came scrambling over into the field; and now that all danger was over the three of them were looking over the wall and laughing as heartily as the rest.
Just then Jack felt a hand upon his arm, and, looking round, found himself confronted by Miss Chalford and the ladies whom he had seen with her.
"Miss Caryll—Will's aunt, you know," Miss Chalford said gently, "wants to speak to you, Kendall. She wants to thank you for what you have done. And then, after that," she added, with emotion, "I want to thank you on my own account."
Now Jack had been thoroughly enjoying himself. With the lightheartedness of youth, he had already ceased to trouble about the danger he had been in, and in concert with his two chums was laughing at the antics of the bull.
When, however, he turned and found that he was in for an interview with ladies, all his confidence and gaiety deserted him. He blushed and stammered and looked very much as though he were contemplating a sudden dash by way of escaping from the ordeal.
Miss Caryll, an aristocratic-looking lady, still extremely handsome, looked at him with kindly eyes, in which amusement at his evident embarrassment and thankfulness for her recent escape were curiously blended.
She took his hand in both hers.
"So you are Jack Kendall, of whom I have heard so much!" she said, "I wanted to see you to thank you on behalf of my brother Sir Keith, for what you did for Will and Mabel. And now, it seems, not content with that, you must lay us under yet another obligation by what you've done to-day for me!"
Jack felt terribly worried, and, catching Will's eye at that moment he cast an appealing glance at him, mutely begging him to come and help him out. But Will made no move, so Jack was thrown on his own resources. Then, all of a sudden, there came to his remembrance the fact that he had seized this lady's umbrella—a very expensive affair with a gold handle—and devoted it to destruction without so much as saying "by your leave."
He wondered what Miss Caryll would think about it. Perhaps she had forgotten it for the moment, and when she came to think of it she might be angry. Of course he ought to apologise, and ask her pardon for making use of it as he had done.
"I—I'm very sorry, Miss Caryll," he began. "I—I assure you I—I did not mean to—that is, I really did not think, at the moment—"
"What—what is he talking about?" Miss Caryll turned to the governess. "Says he's sorry—what does he mean?"
Miss Caryll evidently began to think the adventure must have upset Jack's wits a little.
Miss Chalford was about to question Jack, when he blurted out:
"The umbrella, you know. It's ruined, I'm afraid—and I never asked your permission!"
Miss Caryll burst into a little peal of laughter.
"Good gracious, the boy's worrying himself about my umbrella!" she exclaimed. "As though such a trifle was of any account in such circumstances! There! put all ideas of that sort out of your mind, my boy. But, dear me, you've spoilt all I was going to say to you, and I don't know how to begin it all over again!"
Jack looked so obviously relieved at hearing this that once more Miss Caryll laughed in spite of herself.
"You are incorrigible!" she declared at last. "I've heard something of this kind about you before, so—well, I see it is no use trying to say what I wanted to now. We'll let it remain till another time."
Jack's manner showed again such relief and satisfaction that she was more amused than ever. She liked him all the better for it, however, and tried, by talking of other things, to put him at his ease.
Then Jack found his tongue readily enough. He chatted away freely to his new friend, whom he was disposed to like immensely, as she made him walk between her and Miss Chalford down towards the town.
As Will and Boulter and the two girls fell in behind, and several other cadets followed them, there was quite a little procession, all talking and laughing merrily, as they discussed the recent incidents.
They left behind them, however, two who had no part or parcel in the pleasant feelings which animated the party; two who looked after them with anything but friendly eyes. They were Branson and Forder, who had witnessed, from a little distance, all that had happened. They had seen Jack jump over the gate between Miss Caryll and the bull, and Clement had felt something of a sense of rapture rush over him as he noted what he considered his foolhardy act, and saw the imminent danger in which he stood. Clement could not see or imagine any possible way in which that danger could be averted, and in his heart he rejoiced to think that at last his hated rival was to be perhaps removed from his path.
But when he had seen what followed his satisfaction experienced a sudden fall, and he had stood looking on, scowling and biting his lip.
"This is another nice experience," he muttered sarcastically to Forder, after the departure of the others. "Quite a pleasant day I've had of it one way and another. You've brought me here to look on and see that cousin of mine perform another of his life- saving displays!"
"I didn't bring you," Forder answered roughly. "I couldn't help it. We had to come this way and it happened so. It's been no more pleasant to me than it was to you!"
"I don't see it's very surprising that I got impatient," Branson went on, in a grumbling tone, "You said you had a plan, yet you did nothing; and now things are worse than ever. My father's refused to send me money, and Kendall has had another opportunity of making himself popular. This will all be against us when it comes to getting him into disgrace, as you talked about. He'll have too many friends by then. Can't you tell me now what your idea is?"
Forder shook his head.
"You must see Dawney; he's the one to settle what's to be done."
Branson's thoughts went back to his father's letter, and a crafty idea came into his mind. His father had said, "If you have an opportunity of watching what letters Kendall receives, you should keep your eye on them. I doubt if your uncle would write direct, but if such a thing happens, it is important I should know of it."
Clement did not know exactly how Forder might take the suggestion he was about to make, and he glanced at him doubtfully for a few moments before speaking. Then, making up his mind, he said:
"Look here, Forder! You showed yourself pretty—er—clever in getting something out of—er—my chest. Do you think you could get at Kendall's chest or his locker, and get me a sight of the letters he is receiving? Because, if you could, I believe I could get my gov'nor to send me some money, and, of course, there would be some for you."
Forder looked at him curiously, and for a space seemed as though he were going to break out nastily at being reminded of how "clever" he had been. Then, however, he evidently thought better of it, for he uttered a low, soft, cunning laugh, and said:
"Well, if it's a case of getting some money, I dare say I could. But I'm not going to do your dirty work for nothing. I shall want to be well paid for it!"
KENDALL, meantime, happily oblivious of the plotting of his secret enemies, was getting over his natural shyness in the presence of ladies, and found himself chatting away to Miss Caryll almost as though he had known her all his life.
That lady was one who had the gift of understanding young people. She had quickly put him at his ease, and gained his confidence. So much was this the case, indeed, that almost before he was aware of it he had told her more about himself than he had confided to anyone since he had joined the Dolphin.
Before they reached the outskirts of the town she had gathered a pretty shrewd idea of how he was situated, and had formed her own opinion of his character. And it may be said at once that, while she had been inclined before to like him from what she had heard about him, she was now his firm friend.
Before she came to the town she halted, and had a little talk apart with her nephew. The result of this was that Will proposed to Jack that he should accompany him to carry out a little errand with which his aunt had entrusted him.
So good-byes were said; and while Miss Caryll, with her party, went on into the town, Jack went off with Will in another direction.
"Isn't Boulter coming?" Jack asked.
Will Caryll shrugged his shoulders.
"He said he was," was the answer. "He promised to catch us up; but he must needs go off to the tuck-shop first to get some more to eat. That's the worst of Ted—he's always eating! It's what's making him so fat, you know, and it's what makes him puff so when he runs. He'll turn into a puffball in time if he doesn't mind."
This awful forecast of Boulter's future seemed to give both of them too much to think of to be able to talk; and for a while neither spoke. Will had a brown paper parcel under his arm, and Jack wondered what was in it, but did not like to appear inquisitive.
He looked round this way and that, and became aware that they were going towards the river-mouth. They had already gone farther towards it than he had been before.
"Where are we going?" he asked at last.
"To the beach at Undercliff," Will answered. "I've got to see someone there for Aunt Lydia. I have to deliver this parcel and a message. It won't take me long; and then we shall have time to look at my boat. You'd like to have a look at her, wouldn't you?"
Jack had heard of Undercliff, though he had not as yet been there. It was a place a mile or two out of the town, near the mouth of the river, where dwelt a colony of fisherfolk There was a sailing boat club among the cadets, and their headquarters were at Undercliff.
Some of the cadets, too, had private sailing boats of their own, which they kept there. Will had one, so Jack had been told; but as none of the boats had yet been brought out of their winter quarters, he had not, so far, actually seen it.
He fell in with Caryll's suggestion at once.
"I should rather think I would like to see it!" he exclaimed. "It must be jolly to have a boat of your own—one in which you can go out alone, or with anybody you choose. How far are you allowed to go without getting out of bounds?"
"It depends; there are various rules. You'll get to know them all in good time. We're coming now to where the fishermen live. They're a rough lot; but some of them are good sorts, really, when you get to know them. This parcel is for old Mrs Riggs, she used to live near us before her son got drowned at sea. Aunt Lydia is very fond of the old lady, and generally brings her some little present when she comes this way. Her son-in-law, Dan Croft, is coxswain of the lifeboat. Fine chap he is—as brave as a lion! He's taken the lifeboat out in the most fearful weather, when other men were afraid and declared it was madness to venture, and brought her back safely, and with rescued people on board who would all have been drowned but for him."
Jack's face lighted up, and his eyes glistened.
"I should like to know a man like that, and be able to talk with him!" he exclaimed.
"We may run up against him if he's not away fishing. Well, this is Mrs. Rigg's cottage. Will you wait here while I go in, or—Tell you what. Yonder is our boathouse—that wooden building over there. I can see it's open. So perhaps you'd better walk over there and have a look at the boats, and I'll come to you as soon as I can."
Mrs. Riggs lived in a clean, tidy-looking cottage, snugly packed away under the shelter of the precipitous cliffs. The afternoon sun was shining on it, and it looked warm and comfortable. From its little front garden one had an extensive view of the river and the sea beyond.
Will went up to the door and knocked; and Jack turned to make his way to the building that had been pointed out to him. He found, as he walked on, that there was quite a small town there, consisting almost entirely of fishermen's cottages and huts.
He passed all these, and went on to the boathouse; but as he drew near he saw a young fellow in boatman's garb close the door, lock it, and walk away. So, disappointed at getting a peep inside, Jack strolled past it to see what the shore was like round the bend.
The boathouse was, in fact, the last building of any size in the place. There were a few small sheds scattered about beyond it, but that was all. From these onwards the beach turned round eastwards, facing the sea, and out of sight of the fishers' homes, with a background of towering rocks.
The shore here was bold and picturesque, but it seemed deserted and lonely; and Jack was about to turn back to look for Caryll when something caught his attention a little further on.
Just where a dent in the cliff made a small cove he saw three or four figures, and wondered what they were doing. At nearly the same moment he heard someone cry out; certainly, he decided, a cry of distress.
He started off running at once, and as he came close to the group he could see that it consisted of some cadets and a fishing-boy—quite a youngster. The cry of distress was repeated, and Jack hurried on faster; and now he could not only make out who the lads were, but could see what was going on.
The real facts of the case were these:
Skinner and his two friends, Horby and Trott, had come upon a little fisher-lad as he was on his way home alone. He had been after cockles, and having been unusually successful, he was carrying his bagful cheerily towards home, when Skinner had asked him to let him look inside.
The lad had complied readily and civilly, had opened the bag, and shown its contents with some pride; when Skinner took out a handful of cockles, and began pitching them about, as though to see how far he could throw them. His companions followed suit; and in a minute or two the poor youngster's bag, which had cost him so much time and trouble to fill, was half empty.
First he had appealed to them; but in vain. Then he had sat down and begun to cry, whereat his young persecutors had mocked and teased him, and exasperated him, as some boys know so well how to do when they set themselves to it. The young bullies carried this so far that the lad, driven at last to desperation, attacked one of them; upon which they all set upon him, and beat him unmercifully. They laughed at his threats of complaining about them, relying upon their being able to make their own story good.
As Jack arrived on the scene the lad had just been knocked over again, and Jack distinctly saw Skinner give the poor little fellow a kick as he lay on the ground.
The sight of three of them setting on to one smaller than themselves, and treating him thus shamefully, was more than he could endure.
Throwing all discretion to the winds, he darted forward, and stood between the prostrate lad and his assailants.
"You cowards! You mean, cowardly brutes!" he cried. "Can't you find one of your own size to knock about? You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!"
The others stared at him at first, not a little surprised at his hardihood. They looked round to see what friends he had with him, and were still more surprised, as well as relieved, at finding that he was alone.
Now this was just what Skinner had long wanted. He was—as had been before noted—both older and bigger than Jack, and he conceived that he could beat him easily in a stand-up fight. Though mean and cowardly enough to bait and bully boys younger and weaker than himself, Skinner was by no means wanting in a certain kind of brute courage. That is to say, he never shirked a fight with a boy, especially one smaller than himself—if that can be called courage. He had been seeking for some time for an opportunity of giving Jack a beating, and therefore welcomed the present chance.
He walked up to him now, as he stood between him and his victim, and deliberately slapped his face.
"Take that for your pains!" he said viciously. "And hit me back if you dare!"
Jack had had no thought of seeking a fight, but he saw that he was in for it now; and knowing the cause to be a just one he did not flinch from it. But first he turned to help the fisher-lad up.
"I'll attend to you directly," he told Skinner, he set the boy on his feet, and began brushing the sand and dirt from his clothes.
A round of jeers and jibes from Skinner and his friends greeted this proceeding. He had taken the blow so quietly and tamely that they thought what he was doing was a mere excuse to gain time, or find a way of avoiding a contest.
The fisher-lad evidently had doubts as to what the result might be. When he understood that this boy who had befriended him was going to fight his persecutors, he clung to him, and tried to dissuade him.
Tears were still on his face; but he pulled himself together sturdily, and showed himself both plucky and unselfish.
"Never mind me, sir," he said, in a whisper, "But don't you fight him. You clear off, else them three'll give it ye 'ot! I'm all roight," he added, with determination. "Just get me a start, an' I can run for it, an' you come along after."
"Not I, youngster," said Jack, laughing. "Don't you fear for me. Just you toddle off home while you've got the chance. I'll see that no one stops you!"
"Oh, will you?" Skinner sneered. "Well, I'm going to stop him! I've not done with him yet—nor with you, either!"
Jack made no answer in words, but quietly took off his jacket, put it on the ground, with his cap, and once more placed himself between Skinner and the boy.
"Now," he said, "I'm ready. And, I say, you will let him go home! Before you can touch him again you must get past me!"
SKINNER stood and stared, evidently a good deal surprised. This cool, quiet preparation for a fight was unexpected. And as he stood thus he heard his cronies behind him sniggering.
"Don't be afraid, Skinner," said Horby. "If you get the worst of it we'll see that he doesn't hurt you."
Skinner cast an angry look at the speaker; then, in imitation of Jack, took off his jacket and hat, which he threw to Trott. A moment later Jack's first stand-up fight since he had joined the Dolphin had begun.
He soon found he had taken on a very hard task. Skinner was no mean antagonist. Always a quarrelsome lad, he was frequently in the wars, and thus, to say no more, had a good deal more practice than Jack.
But he had now worked himself into a passion. He had, or imagined he had, a heavy score to pay off against Jack; and he was so impatient to pay it that at first he scorned all caution. When he found that Jack parried his blows so skilfully that he seemed unable to hit him, he rushed blindly in and closed with him.
Now this was just the worst thing he could have done.
Had he given the matter a moment's thought he would have remembered that even Dawney—a boy older and bigger than Skinner—had had to cry out when he had come to close quarters with Jack. He had then discovered that Jack had been taught a little ju-jitsu.
The first "scrimmage" was a short one. Instead of throwing Jack, by sheer weight and impetus, as he had expected, Skinner found himself seized in what seemed to him a grip of iron. In a moment he was helpless. He could not move without suffering excruciating pain, and he involuntarily cried out.
His cronies, at this, threw all notions of fair-play to the winds, and dashed in to his assistance. In order to force Jack to release his hold, they struck him viciously in the face.
Jack let go, and as he did so someone else intervened. A boatman had just come down a cliff-path. He had seen all that had occurred, and he turned on Horby and Trott with no gentle hand.
"Ye cowardly young rats!" he cried, his look and tone full of wrath and scorn. "Can't ye fight fair? But, o' course, who'd expect it o' galoots as 'ud treat a boy like ye did this one?"
Horby and Trott got each such a stinging box of the ears as they had not had for many a day, and then the man stood aside and regarded the two combatants.
"'Ere, look 'ere, sir," he said to Jack, "I dunno who ye may be, but this is my affair. They've been a-bullying my nevvy, an' they all desarves a thrashin'. An' they'll either 'ave t' take it, or let me complain t' Cap'n Probyn, which they likes. I ain't no whinin' sneak, fond o' makin' trouble for young lads wi' the Cap'n. He do know that; an' what I says goes wi' 'im. But if they don't want me t' tell 'im, they can take their choice of a spankin' on the spot. Onless, that is," he added, looking judicially from one to the other, and finally at Jack, "ye feels as ye doan't want me t' interfere. In that case I'll look on and see fair-play. An' if ye can wallop 'im, an' save me dirtying me hands wi' him—why, I'm perfectly willing!"
"It's for him to choose," said Jack. "I did not seek a quarrel, but I could not stand by and see three of them ill-use the poor little chap, as they did, and not interfere."
"I saw it all—everything—from the top o' the cliff," the new-comer declared. "I wor' comin' down t' interfere meself as quick as I could, but I didn't call out 'cos they'd 'a made off afore I could 'a laid me hands on 'em. But I see it—I see it all—the cowardly young scoundrels!"
"You saw what, Dan?" another voice asked.
They looked round, and found Caryll and Boulter. They had been looking about for him near the boathouse, and, not seeing him, had concluded he must have strolled along the shore, so had come to look for him.
"Ah, it's you, Master Will!" said the boatman. "Why, I seed these three a ill-usin' Freddie, an' started down to get 'old on 'em, but this young gent wor' here first, an' he cut in fine, an' brave as a bulldog, agen the three of 'em on behalf of my nevvie, he did. I dunno who he be, however."
"He's my chum, Dan," Caryll said, not without a touch of pride in his tone. "It's just the sort of thing he would do. But what's to happen now?"
"Happen now?" Skinner burst in, in a fury. "Why, he's got to fight me. He said he would, and I'm going to keep him to it. I suppose," he snapped rudely, "you'll make some excuse for his getting out of it between you; but mind, if you do, I'll brand him as a coward! Everybody shall know that, after bragging and boasting he was ready to fight me, he backed out!"
"If that be the case, Master Will, I doan't see as we can interfere," the one Caryll had called Dan decided. "I think we'd better leave them alone."
Caryll was dubious. He knew Skinner, and knew his prowess—knew that he himself could not stand up to him, for he had tried and failed, and he was, therefore, anxious on Jack's account. He looked at him for some sign that he would like him to interfere, but Jack gave no such sign.
He hated fighting as much as anyone could, but he had never yet flinched from a contest when it had been forced upon him. And here, not only did he feel that he was thoroughly in the right, but he honestly believed that it would be wiser to have it out with Skinner once for all.
Skinner's arrogance and petty spite towards Kendall had been more and more in evidence, and the more Jack had tried to avoid an open quarrel the more determined the other had shown himself to force one upon him.
"So," Jack mentally decided, "as it's only a question of time, it may as well be settled now one way or the other."
Thus he would have argued it with his chums, had there been any time or opportunity for discussing the matter. But there was not, so he braced himself up in expectation of a trying ordeal.
Nor was he disappointed. The combat which ensued was a strenuous one, hard fought on both sides, and, be it said, fairly fought. Under the watchful eyes of the boatman and Jack's two chums, Skinner had no chance to play any little tricks. There is no need to describe it in detail. It lasted quite a long time, for both combatants were stubborn, and, as Skinner was the heavier and bigger of the two, Jack's only chance lay in tiring him out—supposing that his own reserve of strength allowed him to do so. In the end Skinner gave in, to the consternation and dismay of his two cronies, and Jack, battered and knocked about, but still far from being exhausted, was acknowledged as the winner.
"Well, that's all right. That's settled it all right an' square," said the boatman. "And now ye'd better come along t' my place, and we'll do the best we can t' make ye look 'spectable. I knows what the Cap'n is," he added, looking at Will with a grin, "an' he's apt to ask 'orkard questions when he sees marks o' hard knocks on lads' faces."
"You're right, Dan. It's a good idea of yours," Caryll answered. "We'll come right enough; but as to Skinner, he must do as he likes."
But Skinner was too ill-tempered to accept the well-meant suggestion. And he refused to shake hands when Jack offered.
"I haven't done with you yet," he snarled, "I'm not quite myself to-day, or things would have been different. They may turn out different next time, so don't you go thinking you've settled with me."
Jack was genuinely sorry to hear this. He had had one or two fights at school before coming to the Dolphin, and they had resulted in his being the best of friends afterwards with those he had fought. He had hoped it would be so here.
He turned away with a sigh.
"I'm ready to come with you," he said to Will.
The boatman, however, had something to say before he left Skinner and his two faithful consolers.
"Look 'ee here!" he warned them. "This matter be ended fur me, 'cos my nevvy 'ave seen the one as set on him well licked, an' that's good enough fur both of us. But doan't ye go fur t' try t' interfere wi' him agen, fur if ye do I'll settle wi' ye meself, an' you'll wish ye'd never bin born."
Then, as he and Caryll walked away together, he said, referring to Jack, who was walking behind with Boulter and the lad:
"An' now tell me who he be?" There was a very puzzled, perplexed look on his face. "I reely thought, at fust, it wur Master Branson, an' I says t' meself, how he must 'a changed t' behave like that."
Caryll gave a short laugh.
"Yes; everybody notices the likeness, but they're very different in other ways. All the same, this is Branson's cousin. His name's Jack Kendall."
This reminded Will that he had not properly introduced the two to each other, so he now proceeded to do so. He called to Jack.
"Jack," he said, "you know I told you to-day about Dan Croft, cox of the lifeboat, and you said you'd like to know him? Well, here he is."
Jack impulsively held out his hand, and his manner showed his delight at the meeting.
"I'm no end glad to meet you," he said, "My chum, here, told me about you, and I wanted so much to see you."
Dan Croft was an elderly man, with iron-grey hair and beard, and a weather-beaten visage. He had a fine, upright, muscular figure, and his face now took on a kindly, good-humoured expression.
"I be glad to hear ye say so, sir," he said, taking Jack's hand and shaking it with a grip that made him wince. "An' I be as pleased t' meet one like what ye've showed yerself to be. An' I thanks ye kindly fur takin' my young nevvy's part like ye did. I won't say no more now, but if I can do anythin' fur ye at any time, jest you call on Dan Croft, an' see if he forgits."
"Well, now," he went on, after a pause, "what be ye goin' t' do about gettin' aboard? I don't want t' be told as if they see ye like that ye'll be in trouble. We'll try an' do ye up as well as we can."
They went to Mrs. Rigg's cottage, and there the experienced old boatman "did his best" for Jack, but the "signs" still remained. Dan shook his head.
"Ye'll 'ave t' wait an' get back as late as ye can," he solemnly advised. "Maybe, in the darkness, theer's just a chance for ye t' slip by."
At that moment there came a knock at the cottage outer door. Mrs. Riggs entered.
"It's Mr. Melfort, o' the Dolphin," she said. "He wants to see you, Dan, an' he be askin' if there be any of his cadets here."
MRS. RIGG'S words created consternation in the minds of the three cadets, and they stared at one another in dismay. Dan Croft, too, looked round at them with a disconcerted air. This sudden descent of the chief officer was certainly about the last thing any one of them had looked for.
But Dan was a man of promptitude and resource. It may be taken for granted that he would not be the coxswain of the lifeboat had he not been a man of action.
He grasped the situation, and made up his mind. It would never do, he decided, for Mr. Melfort to see Kendall as he then was, without being prepared for it in some way. So, opening a door at the back, he bundled the three out, with whispered instructions to remain there until they were called. Then he went to meet his visitor and ask him into the sitting room.
Mr. Melfort came in, and spoke first about the chief object of his visit, which was a matter concerning some fish for the Dolphin, Croft being one of those fishermen from whom Captain Probyn bought supplies. Having settled this matter, the chief officer said:
"By the way, Croft, one of our cadets was coming to see you, I believe—I mean young Mr. Caryll—and there were two others with him. I suppose they have been here? Do you know which way they went afterwards? I rather expected to have met them as I came along. I suppose, however, they must have gone back some other way."
"No, sir; they be here. They be in my back garden," returned Croft. "But there's been trouble 'tween them—or one of 'em—an' some others of your lads. An' so I took the liberty of wishin' to speak a word to ye afore ye sees 'em."
The chief officer frowned, and looked annoyed. "That means, I suppose," he said, "that they've been getting into mischief?"
"Well, no, sir. Only a bit of a scrimmage like, 'tween themselves."
"Ha! Fighting! So they've been fighting!" said Mr. Melfort sternly.
"Well, sir, if ye calls it fightin' for one lad to take the part of a little 'un, and fight another lad bigger an' older than himself, to stop 'im from ill-treating the youngster—well, then it is fightin' he've been!"
"Tell me about it," the chief officer requested curtly.
Croft related what had occurred, telling how he had seen, from the top of the cliff, three lads ill-using his little nephew Freddie. How he had hastened down to interfere, and how, before he could reach them, another cadet—a stranger to him—had boldly taken Freddie's part against the three bullies, and all that had followed in consequence.
"It wur a fair, stand-up fight, sir, I can assure ye—I saw t' that," he concluded. "An' the stranger lad beat the other, fair an' square, fur all the other chap wur older and bigger. But, you see, he didn't come off wi'out a bruise or two; an' well, I thought I'd better explain afore ye sees 'im!"
"A stranger to you? But you asked his name, I suppose? Is it Kendall you are talking about?"
"That's his name, sir."
"Ah!" The officer paused for a space, considering. "Well, I want to run in and see a neighbour of yours," he then said. "After that I will come back and see for myself what young Kendall looks like. But you may make your mind easy meantime. Captain Probyn is very strict in the matter of fighting; but the circumstances are exceptional here. I can promise that he will not be punished, and you can tell him so yourself, if you like. And tell all three to wait till I come back."
Mr. Melfort went away, and Croft went to tell the three lads what their officer had said.
Now, when the three had been sent outside and told to wait a while, they had found old Mrs. Riggs there, doing some gardening work. Little Freddie was making laudable efforts to assist her by wheeling a lot of weeds and other garden refuse away in a wheelbarrow very much too big for him.
As soon as the little fellow saw Jack he ran to meet him, and, after a few words together, Kendall, with characteristic good- nature, set to work to help him by wheeling the barrow to and fro.
It was while they were thus engaged that Croft came out to them, his face beaming with satisfaction and delight at being able to tell them that they need have no further fear of getting into trouble on account of the fight.
Having delivered himself of this good news, he further showed his pleasure at finding Jack working away in the garden with such good humour, in spite of his hard knocks and bruises. Croft gazed at him with evident approval and admiration.
"Ah," he muttered, half to himself and half to Caryll and Boulter, "he be one o' the right sort! Ain't ashamed to put his hand to a bit o' work to 'elp anybody, no matter who it be."
Then he turned and went back into the cottage, to await Mr. Melfort's return, leaving Caryll and Boulter feeling a little uncomfortable at this last remark.
"Kendall seems always to know the right thing to do," Boulter remarked, a little enviously. "I'd be just as willing to lend anyone a hand, no matter who it was, only I didn't happen to think of it."
"Kendall joined the Boy Scouts before he came to us, so he was telling me one day," Caryll observed reflectively; "and I think perhaps he learned it there. He told me about the rule, or whatever it is they have, that they ought to try to do a good turn to someone every day."
"Ah, I expect, as you say, that that's where he got it from. Well, s'pose we make a start now in the same line? We've got to kick our heels about here till the chief comes back."
"All right," Caryll readily agreed. "Let's go and help shovel that stuff into the barrow."
Mrs. Riggs had followed Croft indoors, leaving Jack and Freddie to carry on her work. But when Jack's chums tried to join in, they found that Freddie would have none of them.
Jack, who had taken the little fellow's part, and engaged in such a hard-fought contest on his behalf, was a big hero in Freddie's eyes; and now that he had got him there helping him, he wanted to keep him all to himself. So he stoutly repulsed the advances of the other two, and pushed them away, declaring that "he and Mr. Kendall" could do all that was required.
"You'll have to find something else to do," said Jack laughing. "Freddie evidently won't have you at any price. Still, I dare say there are lots of other little jobs you can find to do if you look round."
So Caryll and Boulter looked round to see what they could take up, and the first thing they noticed—or, rather, Boulter noticed—was a ladder standing against the wall, with a pail and brush hanging from a hook on one of the rungs. Croft had evidently been whitewashing the wall of the cottage, when something had called him away.
"I know what I'll do!" exclaimed Boulter, "I'll go on with Croft's work for him! I'll do some whitewashing! It's just the sort of thing one can do without any teaching, you know!"
Here a difficulty arose. Caryll thought it was just the kind of thing he would like to take on, and this led to a lively discussion between the two.
"I saw the ladder and pail first, and I was the first to think of it," Boulter argued. "And there's not room for more than one on the ladder at a time. Besides, there's only one brush."
"We might take it in turns," Will suggested. "You have six dabs with the brush—or twelve if you like—and then come down and have a rest while I go up and have the same number."
"Pooh! That's not the way to do it. We should only get laughed at," Boulter rejoined. "Leave this job to me. It's only fair; I thought of it first. You can easily find something else. Look at that pigsty yonder! You can see a lot of slates have fallen off the roof, and Croft is going to put some fresh ones on. I can see 'em lying down there in a heap at one side. I'm sure Croft will be glad to have that done for him!"
Will looked in the direction indicated, and saw that things were even as Boulter had said. The roof was, of course, a low one, and he could easily climb on to it without a ladder; and on the whole the idea seemed a good one.
"But," he said doubtfully, "don't you want nails and a hammer? I'll go and ask Mrs. Riggs."
"Oh, no, you needn't make all that fuss about it! I don't suppose they use nails at all—they just fit the slates together so that they overlap and hold one another up."
Caryll went down to the end of the garden where the pigsty was, and looked at the low roof, and then at the pile of slates on the ground waiting to be fitted in their places.
Then he looked over the gate, and saw a large pig standing just below the tileless roof. It was looking up at him in a melancholy way, as though thinking of the rain it let through on wet nights.
It was evidently a very tame pig, for as soon as Caryll appeared it came forth and trotted up to him, as he leaned over the gate, as though expecting either to be fed or stroked, Will did not know which. Having nothing to offer in the food line, he tried the other, and piggy grunted with satisfaction.
However, he had not come there to pass his time in stroking pigs. He wanted to do something useful, some hard work, as Kendall was doing, and by this time Boulter also. So, picking up an armful of slates, and unfastening the gate, he carried them inside, and lodged them on the low roof. Then he took in other lots, and finally clambered up himself and set to work.
It seemed easier than he had feared. He found he could fit the slates in, as Boulter had said, quite easily without nails.
Soon he had used up all the slates he had at hand, and he paused to admire his handiwork. As he did so he saw that the pig was looking up from below in an interested way, as though it were also admiring what had been done.
Then, however, Caryll saw something else—he had forgotten to shut the gate of the sty.
FORTUNATELY, the pig had not noticed that the gate was open, or it would probably have been out and racing about the garden long ago. Will made up his mind he must get down, slip past the animal, and shut the gate at once.
Acting on the impulse of the moment, he moved so suddenly that he knocked away some of the lower row of slates. Down they slid, bringing others above after them with a clatter, which startled the pig almost out of its senses. When, however, in addition to the racket, the slates came shooting down on it, hitting it here, and banging it there, it is small wonder that the frightened creature turned and bolted for its life through the open gate and up the garden, squealing all the time as though it were being killed.
Will Caryll slipped down amidst the avalanche of slates, and made a desperate attempt to stop the pig from bolting out of the sty.
Now, naturalists tell us that the pig can start running and get up its utmost speed more quickly than any other animal in existence. This particular specimen seemed anxious to keep up the reputation of its kind in this respect, for it had dashed out of the sty with a celerity which left Will altogether out of it. He did not succeed in so much as touching the tip of its tail.
Tearing along the garden-path like a wild boar charging on its enemies, it now exhibited another characteristic of its race—it obstinately persisted in pushing itself where it was least wanted.
It so happened that just then Jack, with his wheelbarrow full of weeds and other garden refuse, was passing close to the foot of the ladder on which Boulter, the whitewasher, was splashing away with his whole energy. It also happened that Mr. Melfort, having returned, had told Croft that he would now like to go into his garden, where Kendall was, and see what he looked like.
Thus it came about that, just as Croft opened the cottage door and the two stepped out almost under the ladder, the pig charged into Jack and his barrow.
Taking no sort of care where it was going, the animal, with true pig-headed foolishness, first overturned Jack into the barrow, and then pushed the barrow itself against the bottom of the ladder. The ladder tilted and fell, Boulter came down with a crash alongside Jack on top of the load of green-stuff, which luckily broke his fall, and the pail of whitewash came down on the top of the two, turning a somersault on the way, and sending its contents around in all directions of the compass.
Mr. Melfort and Croft escaped with a few splashes, but they had some difficulty in avoiding the falling ladder. When the chief officer had extricated himself from the tangle, and looked round for Kendall, he saw him sitting in the barrow beside Boulter, both of them looking almost as white as a couple of millers.
They were staring at him sheepishly, wondering what he would say; but, rather to their surprise, he said nothing. He merely swung round abruptly, went back into the cottage, and shut the door.
The noise brought Mrs. Riggs out, and, after the first shock of astonishment, she set to work with Croft to do the best that could be done for the victims of misfortune.
How the three chums got back to their ship that night they scarcely afterwards knew themselves. Kendall and Boulter managed to borrow some wraps to hide their damaged clothes; but even then they were compelled to resort to many little devices and stratagems to avoid observation.
Fortunately, the chief officer, foreseeing their difficulties and troubles, and compassionating their situation, left instructions with the petty officer on duty, who first kept a sharp lookout for them, and then turned his back and pretended not to see them.
Thus they were able to creep down to their dormitory without being challenged.
Owing to this mishap, Jack never heard something which Mr. Melfort had intended to say to him. In his modesty Jack would, no doubt, have been glad at having escaped it, had he known that it was a little speech of thanks on behalf of Miss Chalford for having saved her from almost certain injury from the bull. For Mr. Melfort was one of that young lady's admirers, and he felt very strongly about it.
However, the occasion passed, and not being able to say it at the time, the chief officer kept it to himself, putting it by, as it were, as something to be remembered, in Kendall's favour, should the occasion ever arise.
Captain Probyn sent for him, and spoke of his appreciation and approval in kindly words, which pleased the lad without making him feel embarrassed. Of the episode of the fight nothing whatever was said; but that, also, was remembered to his credit. For, sternly as the captain set his face against fighting amongst his lads when it meant merely an ordinary outbreak of bad temper, he had nothing to say against a lad acting as Jack had done in defence of little Freddie.
There were others, too, who wished to do something to show their recognition of Jack's behaviour that eventful afternoon. Both Sir Keith Caryll and his sister, Miss Caryll, talked the matter over, but were unable just then to decide what exactly would be the best way of showing their appreciation. They shrank from sending him a present in money, and so decided to defer their decision until they could get a talk with Will. They thought he might be able to tell them what Jack would like best in the way of a present.
It is, perhaps, needless to say that a present of money was the sort of thing which would have been most useful to Jack just then, though he would have been the last one to avow it to anyone.
But what he thus most needed came to him in a curious and very unexpected manner. Jack's uncle, Mr. Robert Kendall, went to stay at Coombe Hall just at this time, and he heard Jack's praises sung by his hosts. One day Sir Keith said to him, in his bluff, direct way, "I know that you are generously paying for your nephew Jack on board the Dolphin, and that you also paid for his outfit. But there is one thing I believe you have forgotten, and that is to provide him with pocket-money. Now, if that is so—I only say 'if'—you are making a great mistake, and placing the lad in a false position instead of helping him. The other lads, his companions, have mostly wealthy parents who supply them pretty liberally with pocket-money, and think how trying it must be to be the only one, perhaps, who cannot afford to act like the rest!
"I'm not talking about money for sweets and cakes and all that. There are other expenses. There is the football club, and the cricket club, and the sailing club, and so on. And each of these brings in its wake other little expenses. Well, I won't say any more. Perhaps, you'll think me impertinent, and that I have already said too much. But I only say it because I feel strongly about it. I would send him some money myself, only I know he's such a high-spirited youngster it would probably only hurt him and make him wish he could send it back."
To Sir Keith's surprise, Mr. Kendall, after remaining silent for a while, pulled out a pocket-book and took from it two five- pound notes.
"Sir Keith," he said, "you are right! It did not occur to me in that light, but I see it now. I have been wrong. If I was going to send him there at all, I ought, as you suggest, to have done the thing properly. I should like to put it right, but there are difficulties in the way. My relative, Mr. Branson, is terribly jealous about this lad, and I have no wish to annoy him, as I think would be the case if he knew I proposed to do more than I have done. Now, see here, here are ten pounds, take them and send them to Jack in your own way, so that he does not know that it comes from me. Do you understand? Can you promise me that he shan't know? He mustn't know, then he can't tell others."
It was now the baronet's turn to take a minute or two to consider. He could not, of course, send it to Jack in his own name, and he did not see very well how else to do it. At the same time he knew that Mr. Kendall had a reputation for eccentricity, and if he did not give the required promise he saw that poor Jack would have to go without. So he gave it.
"Very well, Mr. Kendall," he said at last, "I will take charge of this money for your nephew on those conditions. I shall send him half now, and the rest later on."
"Good," rejoined Mr. Kendall. "And when you think he wants some more, just let me know, on the quiet, and I will send it to you." Thus was the matter arranged to Sir Keith's great satisfaction—as he thought. But could he have foreseen the trouble and misery it would be the means of bringing to the one he wished to benefit he would have refused the conditions, and have preferred to risk hurting Jack's feelings by sending him some money of his own in a more open manner.
Great was Jack's astonishment when, one day, a fortnight after his eventful meeting with Miss Caryll, he had a letter from Sir Keith enclosing a five-pound note.
The letter informed him that it was not a gift from Sir Keith himself, but from someone who had more right to offer it than he had. But that person desired to remain anonymous, and Sir Keith could only send it on these conditions—that Jack gave his word of honour that under no circumstances would he say from whom or through whom he had received it, and that he would make no effort whatever then or subsequently, to discover for himself who had sent it. He was not even to mention it to Will or others of his messmates. If these conditions were properly observed he might expect more from the same person in the future.
Jack was willing enough to send the required promises, in view of the assurances the good-hearted baronet had given him, and he wrote at once saying so, and thanking him in the best terms he could. No need to say how delighted Jack was. He had been feeling the want of enough pocket-money rather badly of late. For though he had tried to be extremely economical and self-denying, there were, as Sir Keith had pointed out to Mr. Kendall, little expenses which he could not well avoid.
There came back to Jack again, with a rush, the remembrance of how his mother had denied herself, in order to add little articles to his outfit beyond what his uncle had allowed. Now, therefore, would be the time for him to show her how he appreciated what she had done. Now was his opportunity of lightening her load a little by sending her some of this most unexpected "gift from the gods." He determined to send her half.
Now, Forder, who had shown himself so clever in opening Branson's chest, and possessing himself of certain incriminating evidence to be held as a rod over that young gentleman, had found no difficulty in similarly visiting the locker of the innocent- minded, utterly unsuspicious Kendall. He had, in fact, taken a peep inside it at intervals ever since Branson had suggested it. Sir Keith's letter, therefore, was quickly known to him, and he read there of the amount enclosed and the promises Jack had been called upon to give in return.
Forder coolly purloined the letter, and showed it to Dawney and Branson.
"The question is," he said slowly, "can Kendall be absolutely depended upon to keep those promises?"
And the other two, though they both hated Jack, declared that they felt certain that he would.
"Then," said Forder, with a smile of evil, triumphant malice, "we'll get him expelled in disgrace within the next two or three weeks!"
"I SAY, Will, got any money handy? I want a shilling or two. Give it you back next remittance day."
Thus Ted Boulter to his chum Caryll, coming suddenly behind him as he stood with his arm on the taffrail, gazing idly over the ship's side.
The request was accompanied, or rather, preceded by a slap on the back of so hearty a character as to make Caryll jump.
He turned suddenly, and with an air of such evident irritation, that Boulter was not a little surprised. Still more surprised was he when he caught sight of his friend's face. He had expected to see the usual mischievous, good-humoured glance; to hear some laughing raillery about his—Boulter—being "hard-up"—to be followed by a ready response to his request, taking the shape of the production of some current coin of the realm. Instead, however, Caryll shook his head gloomily, shrugged his shoulders, and, without a word, resumed his interrupted study of the flowing tide.
"Why, what's up?" exclaimed the applicant. "You look about as cheerful as a bear with measles!"
"Can't you guess? I was thinking just now of coming to you to lend me half-a-crown, only I remembered that you were not likely to have any cash just at present."
"You don't mean to say you're stumped?"
Boulter's fat, round face grew very long with astonishment and dismay.
"Why shouldn't I be as well as you?" Will asked curtly.
"Oh, well, with me it's different, you know. Everybody knows that it's getting near remittance time with me. But you! Why, I thought for certain you'd be in funds, after last week, you know!"
Many of the cadets were accustomed to receive regular monthly supplies of pocket-money from their parents or guardians; and it was nothing unusual for those who ran short meantime to borrow from one of those they chummed in with who happened to be better off at the moment. Caryll and Boulter were on such intimate terms that they accommodated one another, backward and forward, in this way as a matter of course. It is true that Boulter was the more frequent borrower of the two, for his people were not so liberal in this way as Caryll's, but that was a matter neither of them troubled about.
It was near the end of the week following Miss Caryll's visit, and Boulter knew that she never failed to leave a tip for Will behind her. At least, he had never known her to do so. Hence his surprise.
"Fact is," said Caryll, in a sepulchral tone, "Aunt Lydia forgot me the other day."
"No!" cried his chum, in amaze. He uttered a long, low whistle. "I say, that's bad news! Whatever shall we do? I haven't a copper."
"You'll have to starve, I suppose," Will told him. "It will make you a bit thinner, but then you'll be all the better for that, you know," he added consolingly.
For it was a matter of common knowledge that Boulter spent nearly all his pocket-money in eatables of one kind and another. Therefore, to be short of money meant to him a sort of semi- starvation.
Boulter took off his cap and rubbed his hair. Then he looked down at his feet, almost as a starving traveller in the desert might look who was wondering if leather was good to eat, and exhibited other signs of being in a state of deep perplexity. There were only two or three other lads he would have cared to ask, and he happened to know that they also were just then waiting impatiently for their next remittances.
"I say, isn't it rotten?" he muttered, at last.
"Yes, it is rotten!" Caryll agreed moodily, "I knew aunt was coming, and thought for certain she would give me the usual, else I needn't have run myself so short!"
"Just so," said Boulter sympathetically.
He put his arms on the taffrail; and thus, side by side, the two friends gazed mournfully down in to the water.
"It makes a fellow look so silly!" murmured Caryll.
"Yes, the other chaps are bound to find it out, and they're sure to say so," said Boulter.
"It makes me wish I was one of those jellyfish," he added feelingly, as he noted some floating past. "They don't have to bother about money and other rotten troubles, like human beings have to."
"I think," Caryll suggested, as an amendment to this sentiment, "I'd rather be a bird than any kind of fish. Birds, you know, can fly about wherever they please, and always find plenty of food at hand."
"That's true enough," Boulter agreed, with a sigh. "There are lots of worms to be had wherever they go."
Then there was silence, while each pondered on the question of how they were to tide over the interval between then and the next remittance to one of them—no matter which.
"I say," said Boulter suddenly, "there's Kendall over there! Do you think he's got any coin to spare?"
Now, for all that they had grown to be so friendly with Jack, no little transactions of this kind had ever passed between him and either of them. Poor Jack, so far, had had very little that he could have lent to anybody, and both Caryll and Boulter knew it, by some subtle instinct, as well as if he had expressly said so. And for that reason neither had ever asked him for a loan. Thus Jack, as a possible lender, was "an unknown quantity." And he, on his side, was too sensitive in such matters ever to think of borrowing from anybody, even from these, his greatest friends.
"I doubt it," said Caryll, answering Boulter's question. "I don't think he's very well off that way, though I'm quite certain he wouldn't refuse if he had it, even if he couldn't really spare it. That's why I don't care to ask him."
"It's only for a few days," said Boulter reflectively. "Mine is due next week, and we may get some even sooner—perhaps to-morrow. Miss Caryll may suddenly remember, and send it on."
"I only hope she will," Caryll muttered, "I never had to write to her for any yet, and I don't want to now."
Just then Jack caught sight of the two, and came across to them. He was smiling, and in high spirits, and began chattering away in his straightforward, breezy manner.
"I say, what are you two up to there? Am I intruding on some dark conspiracy? Truly, anybody would almost think you were plotting dark deeds! You look as happy as if someone had given you a tip of a sovereign apiece, and you had just discovered that the coins were bad!"
This offered such a very obvious opening that Boulter seized upon it at once, and, spite of a nudge and forbidding look from Caryll, he answered laughingly:
"It isn't quite so bad as that, Kendall; but, all the same, you're not far out. The fact is, we're both bankrupt. You see, my monthly remittance isn't quite due yet, and Will's Aunt didn't leave him her usual tip last week. And I expect, between ourselves, that was partly your fault. She was so interested in you and your doings that she forgot all about it."
"What nonsense you're talking, Boulter!" Caryll began. But Jack did not let him finish.
He laughed heartily.
"Well, now, it's funny, but if I didn't think it was something of the sort! Boulter looked so miserably hungry! Just as if he were saying to himself, 'No tuck-shop for me to-day!' But what duffers you are, the pair of you, to be grumbling in a corner like that, instead of asking a chap! How much do you want?"
Caryll here cut in before Boulter could reply:
"The question is, how much can you spare, Kendall?"
Now, as has been stated, Jack had been warned by Sir Keith that he was not to tell anyone—not even Will—about the money the baronet had sent him. He had put him on his honour, and Jack had no thought or intention of breaking the promise he had given. But it did not occur to him that to let others know he was suddenly well supplied was an indiscreet way of telling something about it. At the least it would be pretty certain to arouse surprise, pique their curiosity, and give rise to surmise and speculation as to where a lad, who had always been very poorly off for pocket-money, had obtained what appeared to be an unusual amount.
Not that such thoughts entered the heads of either Caryll or Boulter just then. They were quite content to take "what the gods provided," without asking questions, or even thinking them. And Jack was only showing the generous, liberal spirit which was really natural to him, but which he had been compelled by necessity to restrain since he had been on board. Moreover, he was very conscious that in this respect he was in the debt of these two. Both had had more to spend than he had had, and both had compelled him at times to be the recipient of little acts of liberality which, while he accepted them, it worried him not to be able to return.
Scarcely is it to be wondered at, then, that in his new-found ability to return their acts of kindness, he went farther than was either necessary or prudent.
Boulter was made radiantly happy by a loan which not only supplied his immediate tuck-shop requirements, but would carry him on in comfort until his next remittance day. Caryll accepted a more modest sum, which, he assured Jack, was ample for his needs; and Jack went away rejoicing in all innocence at having been able to oblige his two friends.
It so happened, however, that a boy had strolled up near to the three without their noticing him—near enough to hear what had been said, and to witness Jack's gushing readiness to offer loans. This lad's name was Bob Viner, a sandy-haired youngster with a face which had gained him the nickname of "Freckles." He, too, happened to be out of funds just then, and, not being of a very scrupulous nature, was not shy of borrowing.
He was not one to let slip such a chance as he here saw of supplying his pressing needs, and the result was that, a little later in the day, he found an opportunity of getting at Jack privately in a corner, and borrowing a few shillings from him.
Nor did it end there. Somehow, whether through Freckles or in some other way, it secretly got about that here was an open- handed lender, well supplied with more pocket-money than he knew what to do with, who was willing to lend to all and sundry.
At last the applicants became so numerous that Jack began to see how foolish he had been. Then he put his foot down, and refused all comers, which, of course, made him enemies in some quarters.
Even his well-intentioned, but misplaced generosity, however, was destined to tell against him a little later, and to be a cause of bitter trouble and cruel suffering and distress.
"OH, don't, don't! Please, please, stop! I'll never say a word! I'll promise—anything you want! But, oh—please—please let me go! It hurts so!"
The words were gasped out by a lad in frenzied, agonised appeal to two others who were standing beside him.
The scene was the edge of a pond in a little frequented piece of wood in the cadets' playing-fields lying in the direction of Undercliff.
Three cadets were there—Skinner, Horby, and Trott—the same three who had been ill-treating the fisher- boy Freddie at the time when Jack Kendall had interfered on his behalf. But now it was Trott who was being ill-used, and it was his own particular friends who were persecuting him.
Trott was the youngest of the three—indeed, he was one of the youngest cadets on the Dolphin. In a general way, the three were cronies. Skinner had somehow attached him and Horby to himself, and made fags of them secretly. He made them do his bidding, and work for him just as he had been attached, so to speak, by Dawney and Forder, and made to act as their creature.
Those two were hard taskmasters, and as they acted towards Skinner so did Skinner act towards these two still younger ones. They bullied Skinner, and he, in turn, bullied his two followers; and, since Trott was the youngest of all, so he had come off worst in the strange companionship, for he was bullied by both Skinner and Horby, sometimes by each in turn, sometimes by the two acting together.
Skinner was one of those young tyrants who take a savage delight in that sort of "teasing" which some boys are so clever in practising, that they can make the victim's life a misery to him. He seemed to delight in cruelty even for mere cruelty's sake, but more especially when he was meanly revenging himself on others for something that had been done to him by those he served.
Such characters are always to be found amongst a large assemblage of boys, whether in schools or on board ship. The petty, but often almost unbearable, system of persecution they institute, is rendered possible only by the unwritten law amongst them that no boy must "sneak"—that is, complain of ill- treatment to the masters or officers.
To-day the unfortunate Trott, driven in this way to desperation, had committed the unpardonable offence of threatening to tell the officer certain things he knew about Skinner and his clique. This had been reported to Dawney and Forder, who had sat in judgment on the delinquent, and had passed sentence. They had ordered Skinner and Horby to take him to this pond and give him a ducking, and otherwise to punish him, so as to act as a terrible warning, not only to the offender himself, but to any others who might be thinking of daring to defy their authority.
Acting upon these instructions, and interpreting them in his own cruel fashion, Skinner, aided by Horby, had not merely ducked their wretched victim in the pond, but had rolled him in the mud and slime. And now they were adding a form of refined torture to the rest.
The lad, wet through, his smart uniform mud-stained and torn in places, stood shivering and sobbing, with his elbows drawn back by a loop of cord passed from one to the other behind. Through this cord a short stick had been passed, and then twisted round and round, tightening the cord at every turn, till the sufferer had sung out with pain and made the piteous appeal recorded above.
"Give him another twist Horby, for yelping out like that," said Skinner brutally. "He has not had enough yet. We must teach him and other young sneaks, once and for all, what they have to expect if they dare to threaten to split on us!"
"I won't, I won't—oh, indeed, I won't! I didn't really mean to!" cried Trott. And then his appeal ended in a shriek of pain as Horby turned the stick still further.
Someone came rushing through the wood, came rushing like a charging bull upon the two torturers. Horby was seized and flung aside, and he rolled into the mud at the water's edge.
It was Jack Kendall who, passing the wood on his way to Undercliff, had accidentally heard the lad's cries. Pushing his way amongst the trees, while the two bullies had been too busy to hear him, he had seen and heard something of what was going on, and had guessed the rest.
Prompted by indignation which seemed for the time to lend him double his strength, he had tossed Horby away as though he had been a child, and was now hastily trying to release Trott from the cord which bound his arms.
Skinner rushed at him, but Jack turned on him with such a fire in his eye as daunted the bully, and he stopped short without touching him.
"Don't you touch me, don't you come near me, Skinner!" he warned him. "If you do, I'll treat you as you did this boy, as sure as my name's Jack Kendall!"
Skinner hesitated. He had felt the weight of Jack's arm already, had been beaten by him in a fair fight, and he was not anxious to get another such thrashing.
So he stood there, glaring with hate and baffled rage, while Jack set Trott free.
By then, however, Horby was on his legs, and Skinner, realising now that they were two to one, called upon him to help him, and made another rush at Jack, this time closing with him.
But once more he made a mistake. In his rage he forgot the lesson he had already learned about Jack's knowledge of ju-jitsu. There was a brief fierce struggle. Then Skinner uttered a sharp cry of pain as Jack forced him backwards, step by step, towards the pond.
Then Jack threw all his force into one effort. All the pent-up indignation at Skinner's savage cruelty came to his aid. He knew, too, that unless he did something decisive and quickly he would have Horby on him, and between the two all chance of rescuing from their clutches the youngster they were torturing would be lost. So he made a great heave with the object of throwing his opponent, and he succeeded too well; his foot slipped at the critical moment, and instead of throwing him on the grass he threw him into the pond.
At first he stood aghast at this result of his final efforts, but the next moment he perceived that it was really the best thing that could have happened. The pond was not deep enough for there to be any danger of Skinner being drowned, at the same time, owing to its muddy bottom and slippery state, he would find sufficient difficulty in getting out to give Jack the time he needed to deal separately with Horby.
Horby, meantime, had been drawing up to him with the intention of seizing him behind, yet half afraid to interfere. It was fortunate, therefore, that before he had quite made up his mind whether it would be safe to risk his own skin the struggle was over, and Jack had turned to confront him.
"Do you want me to throw you in, too?"
He looked so determined that, albeit Horby was about his own age and size, he shrank back.
"Then," said Jack disdainfully as he saw that the other declined the challenge, "the best thing you can do is to pull your precious friend out. I suppose I ought to give you the thrashing you deserve, but I've something else to do just now. So set to work and help him out."
He pointed to Skinner, splashing and gasping and floundering about in the muddy water; and Horby, like a cowed hound with his tail between his legs, slunk off to do his bidding. He picked up a long, dry branch lying on the ground, and held it out to Skinner, who grasped it.
Seeing that Horby would now be able to manage without his assistance, Jack turned his back on the pair, and gave his attention to Trott, who was sitting on the ground, sobbing bitterly.
Jack picked him up, and put him on his legs.
"Now, Trott," he said kindly, "you come with me. You must pull yourself together, and run, lad, or else you'll catch your death of cold! I'll take you somewhere where you can get your clothes dried, but you must try to run all the way. I'll help you along."
Trott, however, seemed still too much afraid of what Skinner might yet do to him to move. He cast frightened looks in his direction, at the same time that he clung to Jack, who was still holding him.
"I daren't!" he whispered, "they'll half kill me!"
"No, they won't," Jack declared stoutly, "I'll see to that. Come! You'll catch a fine cold if you don't."
Shivering, still sobbing, scarcely looking where he was going, he tried to do as Jack directed, and the two made their way through the wood.
Once outside it, Jack induced him to run as well as he could, though he cast many anxious, terrified glances behind him, evidently thinking that the other two would come after them.
But there was no attempt at pursuit. And so, sometimes running, sometimes walking, Jack at times half carrying and half dragging him, they got to Undercliff, where Kendall had been going to meet Caryll and Boulter at the boathouse.
Instead of going there, however, he took his charge to Mrs. Riggs' cottage, and when he had explained matters to her, she promptly put the youngster into a bed between warm blankets, and made him some hot, steaming tea whilst she dried his clothes.
While she was downstairs putting the things before the fire Jack administered the tea to the lad, packed him up as warmly as possible, and then sat down beside the bed to review the situation, and consider what was next to be done.
A few minutes later, looking up from a brown study, he saw Trott's eyes fixed upon him with such a wistful, sorrowful expression that he started. He noticed, too, that they were filling with tears.
"Don't start crying again, Trott," he said kindly. "No need to. You're quite safe now."
"I know I am while I'm with you," said the lad, in tones scarcely above a whisper. "It isn't that I'm thinking of, but of how good and kind you are to me, and how noble it was of you to go through all that for one who has behaved as badly to you as I have! Oh, Kendall!" Here he put out a hand, laid timidly on Jack's arm, and said tearfully, "Can you forgive me? Will you try to, if I assure you that I never wanted to behave like that, only they made me do it?"
JACK looked at the lad before him. His face bore marks of ill-usage, but otherwise it was, Jack thought, really a rather attractive, good-looking one, and it seemed so very young that a feeling of indignation rose up in his mind once more against Skinner and his set.
If they had forced this youngster into doing wrong against his will, then he was certainly more to be pitied than blamed.
He took Trott's hand, and pressed it.
"That's all right, sonny!" he said, cheerily, "I never bear malice, especially against anyone who says he's sorry. So make your mind easy. It's all forgotten so far as you and I are concerned."
"Thank you so much, Kendall!" the lad returned; and his face wore a happier look at once. "It isn't everybody who'd be so ready to forgive. You have made me feel very small; but I'm ever so glad all the same. I shall be able to write to my mother now and tell her."
"Your mother?" Jack repeated. "How do you mean?"
"I shall be able to say I know I have done wrong, but I have been forgiven, and I'm not going to do wrong any more!"
"Have you a father?" Jack asked, in a low tone.
The lad sighed.
"No; nor any brothers or sisters. I have only mother, and I haven't dared tell her, and I couldn't write to her properly. Now I shall tell her—everything. And she will be so glad!"
The boy's voice was choking again, but he tried to pass it off with a smile.
A great wave of pity and sympathy swept into Jack's heart.
"Look here, Trott," he said, "you and I are in one boat in this respect. I've got no father or brothers or sisters, either. Only a mother. But she is worth all—she is so good, and so fond of me!"
"So is mine!" murmured Trott.
"Well, as we're in the same boat, we ought to sail along together. Can't you cut your cable and break away from Skinner and his crowd, and let me help you to do what your mother wants you to do?"
"Oh, if only I could! But they won't let me go, I know! They'll threaten to—oh, all sorts of things!"
"Let them threaten!" said Jack stoutly. "They can threaten as much as they please, but if one of them lays so much as a finger on you again, he'll have to reckon with me! I don't care who he is! Look here," he went on, as a sudden idea struck him, "suppose we could manage to get you transferred to our dormitory. Would you come?"
"Oh, yes, yes! It would be such a relief! I shouldn't be afraid of them then. I should be near you." And Trott's face lighted up with such a glow of pleasure that Jack felt at once more than repaid for everything.
"I'll see what can be done. I'll get Caryll and Boulter round here, and ask their advice. You won't mind my telling them? You won't be afraid of them?"
"N-no; not if you say I need not be!"
"I'm sure you need not be. I'll get them round here at once, and we'll talk it over. They're somewhere about. I'll go out and find them, and bring them in."
Jack was as good as his word. He went out to the club boathouse, where many of the cadets were busy overhauling their various craft in readiness for the season, which would shortly commence. There he found his two chums, and, taking them aside, he told them all that had occurred, and what he wanted them to do. They agreed, readily enough, and went back with him to Mrs. Riggs' cottage.
Thus it came about that within a short time, Trott, still within the blankets, found himself the subject of a solemn discussion on the part of his three new friends. They formed themselves into a sort of committee, and sat round, one on the only chair, one on the side of the bed, and the third perched precariously on the iron railing at its foot.
The problem they had to solve was not an easy one. They had to find a way of safeguarding the lad against the vengeance that his oppressors were sure to attempt. And to do this they must, as Jack had suggested, manage to get him transferred to their own dormitory. All this would have to be done without sneaking; no complaint must be made to the officers against Skinner, or Horby, or anybody else. The authorities must know nothing of what had happened that day, or what had gone before in connection with it.
The problem was, however, to be solved for them in quite another way, and in a manner they little expected.
While they had been deliberating, Mrs. Riggs came in once or twice to see how Trott was getting on. They noticed that she seemed uneasy, and looked at him very keenly.
Then Dan Croft came in. He, too, wanted to have a look at Trott, and when he went downstairs again he said to Mrs. Riggs:
"I agree wi' you, mother. I doan't loike the looks on him. Now, I seed their doctor passing along here a while since. P'r'aps I could find him if he's still about. I'd like to go and see. It'll do no harm, anyway, to be on the safe side."
The result was that the three sitting in grave conference round Trott's bedside were surprised a little later by the unexpected arrival on the scene of Dr. Burrows.
He came bustling in, and the first thing he did was to clear the three councillors out, and to take their places for a while.
The vague, but kindly uneasiness of Mrs. Riggs and Dan Croft then proved to be well founded. The doctor pronounced that the lad was in the first stage of what seemed likely to be a bad, feverish cold, and must be removed at once to the infirmary. Dr. Burrows then went away to make the necessary arrangements, and to send an ambulance.
Before leaving, he questioned Kendall and Caryll as to what had happened, but all he could get out of them was that Trott had fallen into the pond in the wood and got a wetting. Not a word would they say against Skinner or Horby—not out of fear of the anger of those young bullies, but simply, as already explained, because their code of honour forbade it.
On the highest part of the cadet's playing-fields was a building which had been erected by Dr. Probyn as an infirmary for use in cases of illness which would be better dealt with on shore than on board ship. It stood in a very open situation, surrounded by well-kept gardens, and with a matron and nursing staff of its own.
Thither, then, Trott was carried, the other three accompanying the ambulance which was sent for him, and taking final leave of him just within the building.
"Don't forget your promise, Kendall," Trott said to Jack, in a hurried whisper, as the two shook hands. "When I am better I am to come into your dormitory, and we're going to be great friends, you and I, aren't we?"
There was something very pathetic and wistful in Trott's eyes as he said these words, and it was evident to anyone who could read the signs that they already had in them a feverish light. They seemed larger than usual, and Jack noticed it without understanding the reason exactly.
"I won't forget, sonny," he replied cheerily. "Keep up your spirits. You'll soon be all right, and we'll try to manage what you want by the time you are ready for it."
And so the two parted for what was to prove a longer separation than they had any idea of. Little, indeed, did they think how much was to happen before they met again!
Jack and his two chums set off on their way back to Undercliff, for they had as yet done nothing of what they had intended do so that day, which was to overhaul Caryll's sailing- boat.
"I say," said Jack thoughtfully, "if Trott's got such a bad cold from getting a wetting in the pond, how about Skinner? I threw him in, you know—"
"Hurrah!" cried Boulter.
"But I didn't mean to," Jack went on.
"Oh, pray don't apologise!" said Boulter making a wry face. "I sha'n't 'hurrah' any more if you do, and I shall lose all interest in you, Kendall, if you talk like that! The brute thoroughly deserved to be thrown in, and you know it. You did just the right thing, so why should you want to make out it was a sort of accident?"
"Because it was, really," Jack persisted. "But I was going to say, suppose he gets ill too? Perhaps we ought to find him, and see if he's all right."
"And get roundly abused and insulted for your pains, eh?" said Boulter. "No, thank you. Besides, you needn't worry yourself. He's all right. I'll warrant he's not a bit wet."
"Not wet?" Jack repeated. "How do you mean? He went in, and, of course—"
"Yes," said Boulter. "Of course, it would wet people like you and me, or a youngster like Charlie Trott, but Skinner—pooh! He's too thick-skinned for any water ever to touch him! I think we can keep our pity and sympathy for Trott. The poor little kid deserves it a lot more than Skinner does."
"Hear, hear! Cheers for you, Boulter! I'll say 'ditto' to you there!" Caryll burst in. "And there's another thing. Mrs. Riggs told me they soiled Trott's clothes for him. She says they're ruined. He could hardly put them on to go back to the ship. That means he will have to get a new uniform, and I heard that his mother's not very well off. I know she can't afford to allow him much pocket-money, anyway; so this will come rather hard on her."
Jack felt that if that were so, then he and Trott were more truly "in the same boat," figuratively speaking, than he had thought for when he had used the expression in talking to him. It would have been hard upon his—Jack's—own mother to have to pay for a new uniform unexpectedly; and he could, therefore, feel for Mrs. Trott in the present case.
"That's hard lines," he said musingly. "I suppose we couldn't subscribe and get him a new uniform on the quiet, without his mother being called upon for it?"
Caryll and Boulter both stared at him in astonishment. Kendall was really getting a bit too quixotic!
"You must have more to spend than I have," Caryll exclaimed, "if you want to go about buying kiddies new uniforms! And I guess you're forgetting there are other things we've all got to pay for. This is about the most expensive time of the whole year for us cadets. What with subscriptions to the sailing club, and the cricket club, and the lawn-tennis club, and one thing and another, you always seem to be paying out!"
Just then they overtook two other cadets belonging to their own dormitory, and with whom the three were ordinarily on good terms.
"Hallo, Egerton!" cried Caryll, as he glanced at the one nearest to him. "You look as if you'd got out on the wrong side of your hammock this morning! What's the matter?"
"Matter enough!" Egerton grumbled.
"Things have come to a pretty pass when your money isn't safe shut up in your own locker!" Caryll whistled.
"Whew! Have you lost some money, then?"
"Have I? I should think I have! Ten shillings! And I'm not the only one. Evans here has had five shillings stolen from his locker!"
"Quite true, inteet, yes," Evans declared. "And other chaps haff been complaining too. You must haff heard? Haffen't you lost anything?"
Caryll shook his head.
"No. I've heard about somebody complaining, but didn't take much notice of it," he answered. "It must be getting serious, from what you say."
"I should think it is—jolly serious for me!" Egerton grumbled.
"I was going to pay my subscription to the sailing club this afternoon, and here I am without a penny. For I'm not one of those fortunate chaps who have more money than they know what to do with!"
Both he and his companion Evans here glanced curiously at Jack, who flushed up under the strange looks with which they seemed to be regarding him.
KENDALL could not at all understand the curious looks cast at him by the two lads. Both of them belonged to Caryll's set, and usually they were on quite friendly terms with him.
Then an idea occurred to him. They knew that he had lent small sums to several boys lately. Perhaps they thought that, after what they had said, he ought to show his friendship by offering to do the same for them.
He flushed again as this explanation came into his mind. His own good nature suggested that he had been remiss in not making the offer without waiting for them to ask. So once again he made the mistake of being too generous.
"Look here, you two," he said confidentially, "I can let you have a little if you want it. You can pay me back any time you like."
To his surprise his offer was not only declined, but was refused in what seemed to be an intentionally offensive manner.
"No, thank you!" said Egerton. "I've no wish to borrow from you!"
"Nor I!" Evans chimed in. "I can manage without that. Inteet, yes."
Again Jack flushed up, this time with annoyance. He felt hurt. They need not have rejected his offer in such curt terms. However, he did not get angry or take offence. He could only suppose that the bad temper they were evidently in had made them fail to see the construction that might have been placed on their words and manner. And yet somehow he had an uneasy feeling that there was something more which he could not understand.
By the glances which Caryll and Boulter—the former especially—shot at the two, it seemed as though some notion of the kind had occurred to them also. However, they said nothing, but an embarrassing silence fell upon the party.
"Well, let's get on," Caryll presently said to Jack and Boulter. "We shan't have too much time for what we've got to do."
As it had been they who had overtaken the other two, and they had slowed down to speak to them, there was nothing marked now in their hurrying on in advance of them, and this they did.
They left them behind, and were soon out of hearing; but the three chums did not resume their talk. A charge had come upon them. Each seemed occupied with his own thoughts, and very little was said until they reached the club boathouse.
Here, as before, a number of cadets were busy overhauling their boats, polishing up brass fittings, unrolling sails, coiling and uncoiling ropes, and so forth. Caryll and his two companions made their way to his own boat, the Swallow, and were soon engaged upon her as busy as bees.
She was a beautiful craft from every point of view—one of the best there—and Caryll was justly proud of her. But for some reason to-day he showed less interest than was his wont. His glance kept wandering. In particular he was watching Egerton and Evans, who, having no boat of their own, were chiefly interested in those which were the joint property of the club to which they belonged.
Now, in an ordinary way, those two would have joined Caryll with offers of help, for he had many a time taken them out with him in the Swallow. But to-day they did not so much as want to come near. Indeed, they rather pointedly avoided even passing close to her—or so Caryll thought.
Presently he said suddenly:
"I say, I'm going away for a few minutes. Sha'n't be long. You two can keep at it till I come back."
Jack gave a hearty "All right!" by way of response, and went on industriously working at a taffrail he was polishing up. Boulter, too, seemed too busy to do more than nod his head. But he kept only one eye on what he was doing, and with the other saw Caryll saunter up to Egerton and Evans and speak to them. Then he saw the three lounge off together along the shore. They went round a bend, and were lost to view.
They went on past the last of the fishermen's sheds, till they came to a part which was quite deserted—the very place, indeed—where Jack had had his fight with Skinner—and there Caryll stopped and faced the other two.
"Now, Egerton," he said, in a determined tone, "I want to know the meaning of this. You know what I refer to. Out with it!"
Egerton looked uneasy and rather sheepish.
"I've no quarrel with you, Caryll," he answered sullenly. "Mind your own business."
"This is my business," Caryll declared stoutly. "You've insulted Kendall, only he's too good-natured and easy-going to take any notice of it. But if you insult him without a reason, you insult me! I want to know plainly why you did it."
"Mind your own business!" said Egerton again. "It's nothing to do with you! I've nothing to say against you."
"Ah!" exclaimed Will. "Then you did mean something! You have something against him. You must tell me what it is!"
Now that he was taken to task in this way Egerton began to wish he had not acted as he had. But he was in a bad humour, and resented Caryll's interference, and he would not give way.
He did not wish to say what he had been thinking, and he was not going to be forced to it if he could help it.
"If I'd known this was all you brought me here for," he grumbled, "I wouldn't have come. I'm going back."
But Caryll had made up his mind, and was not going to be denied. He placed himself in the other's path, and deliberately began taking off his jacket.
"You're not going back like that!" he declared. "You'll either tell me or fight me!"
"Fight you?" Egerton exclaimed, amazed. "I don't want to fight you! I said just now I'd no quarrel with you."
"Then tell me what I ask," said Caryll curtly "Either you tell me or fight, and be quick about making up your mind. Somebody will be coming by directly and interrupt us."
Here, Evans, who had listened in surprised silence, spoke for the first time.
"Look you," he said to Egerton. "Why not tell him? If it had been me he had spoken to like that, we should haff started fighting, and got it over nearly by this time! But if you don't want to fight, it iss not worth while to keep on quarrelling—inteet, no!"
Evans was known to be a very fiery young Welshman, and it was quite true what he had said. However, in the circumstances, as they were both chums of his, he thought it his duty to take up an impartial position.
Thus urged, Egerton spoke up, and, to do him justice, he now told what he had to say without heat or temper. But first he had his own complaint to make:
"It's hard lines on a fellow," he grumbled, "that you have turned round on me like you have, Caryll, seeing that you've known me so much longer than you have Kendall. After all, he's a new friend, and you don't know very much about him—"
"He saved my life—you were there at the time, and you know it! And when I went overboard and was stunned, and must have been drowned if someone hadn't jumped over after me, it was Kendall, 'the new friend,' as you call him, not you, who saved me!" Caryll reminded him.
"I—I—well, I hadn't time! It was all so quick—"
"Boulter found time to jump over too to help him," Caryll said again. "But go on."
"And it's jolly hard on me that it should fall on me to be the one to say anything against him," Egerton continued, in the same grumbling tone. "There are plenty more of the cadets you could have asked."
"Never mind about that. It's you who began it to-day, not the other chaps," said Caryll, with a sort of grim persistence. "Go on! Say it out!"
"Well, it's strange you don't seem to know anything about it, because I can only tell you what others are saying. I didn't start it, and it's not fair to talk as if it was my doing. You know that several of 'em have lost money from their lockers. Somebody must have taken it, and it's only natural that they should be wondering who it can be. And what they're saying is this, that there is one boy who, when he first came, seemed to be very poor, and to have very little pocket money. And when they see that same chap suddenly has plenty, more than most of us—well, it does look a bit suspicious, doesn't it?"
"I don't see that it does," Caryll returned, "I have more money sent to me at some times than others."
"Yes; but we know, or can guess, where yours comes from—But Kendall—well, it's known that his mother's very poor. She couldn't even afford to pay for him to come here. It's his uncle who's paying for that, and he's a mean old curmudgeon, who doesn't even allow him any pocket-money. So what the fellows say is—"
Caryll was staring at him in no little astonishment.
"You seem to know a jolly sight more than I do, if that's all true!" he exclaimed, "Where on earth did you pick all that up?"
"Why, everybody seems to know it."
"Well, I don't. It may be true, or it mayn't—I can't say. But when you talk about so many chaps losing money, I can only say I haven't—and Boulter hasn't."
"No, of course, because you and he and Boulter are such chums—"
He got no farther, for Caryll sprang at him, and if Evans had not promptly darted between them, there would have been a fight in real earnest, after all.
"You dare to say that!" Caryll cried, full of wrath and indignation, and trying to get at Egerton.
"No, no! He didn't mean that you had anything to do with it, or Boulter either," Evans assured him.
"That's right. I wasn't thinking of it the way you've taken it," Egerton protested. "You're so touchy to-day! But I'll tell you one thing—if you're going to take things that way, you'll soon be fighting more than half our two dormitories!"
"Yes, yes; that is quite true, look you!" Evans put in. "I know it!"
Caryll was silent. He was wondering how they all came quite suddenly, as it seemed, to know so much about Kendall's private affairs.
He could not guess that this was one of the details cunningly woven into their plot against the unfortunate Jack by Forder and Dawney, at the instigation of Clement Branson.
WILL CARYLL continued to look at his two messmates in silence. His feeling of anger had given place to one of bewilderment and pain, and the change was plainly reflected in his face.
Egerton and Evans saw it, and felt sorry for him. They were both good-hearted, well-disposed lads, and had always been on good terms with him. Neither felt any real resentment at his having taken Kendall's part as he had; and they would have been genuinely glad if he could have told them anything that would have explained what appeared so suspicious in Jack's behaviour.
But he could not. There was nothing he could say to put a different construction on it and it distressed him to think it should be so.
Not for a moment did he waver in his wholehearted loyalty to the one who had saved, not merely his own life, but that of his sister. He felt convinced there must be a perfectly innocent explanation of what appeared on the surface to be so awkwardly suggestive, but felt that only Jack himself could furnish it.
"I do think," he said at last, in an aggrieved tone, "that you chaps needn't have been so ready to speak badly of one like Kendall. He's always shown himself a regular brick, and I don't believe—and, what's more, I won't believe—that he could stoop to do anything mean, much less as bad as what you've been suggesting. He's been a good chum to both of you, too; never said a word against you, and I know he likes you both. So I think you might have been more ready to take his part, instead of being the first to round on him."
"It's not that," Egerton declared; "others have been saying it for some days, only you don't seem to have heard of it."
"Anyway, you're condemning him unheard—you haven't given him a chance to explain," Caryll persisted. "You ought to help me give him a fair chance."
"Well, I'm quite willing to do that," Egerton answered readily.
"So am I, look you," Evans joined in. "But what can we do?"
That was the difficulty; and now that he looked at it coolly Caryll was no more able to suggest a way than they were. It was a very delicate and disagreeable thing to go to Kendall and ask him point-blank where he had got so much money from. And he shrank even from being the one to tell him what was being said about him. Yet he felt it must be done; and perhaps as he was known to be Jack's most intimate friend, it lay with him to be the one to do it.
"I must think about it, you chaps," he said finally. "It's all so sudden, and—and astonishing, you know. I can't fully realise it yet!"
His voice shook, and there were almost tears in his eyes, and the other two saw his distress, and sympathised with him.
Egerton put his arm through his, and led him back the way they had come.
"Don't get upset, old chap," he said, "It's no fault of yours. As you say, it wants thinking over. It's no use saying any more now. Let's go back as if nothing was the matter, and perhaps we shall think of some way. You can have a talk with Kendall the first time you get a chance, and perhaps he may be able to explain it all easily enough. Of course, if he would only tell you in confidence where he got the money from—and he oughtn't to mind doing that—we'll believe him, and stick up for him against the others."
"Yes, yes, inteet we will." Evans joined in heartily.
And so the matter was dropped for the time being, by mutual consent.
All three went back to where Jack and Boulter were still busy, and made the best show they could of joining in the work. But there was a certain undercurrent of constraint and an unwonted absence of breezy chatter and banter; and they finished up earlier than had been intended, put everything straight and shipshape, and set out on their return to the town.
Egerton and Evans went off with another group, and Caryll, Boulter, and Kendall kept together as usual. But Caryll was very thoughtful, and little was said on the way.
After they reached the ship he managed to get Boulter by himself, and told him everything. And Boulter, after the first natural burst of indignation was over, had to confess himself as far from being able to decide what ought to be done as Caryll was.
"If only Kendall were not so close about his private affairs," he grumbled, "if he'd only told you of his own accord—if he'd only said, 'I've had a little stroke of good fortune; So- and-So has made me an unexpected present,' or something like that, it would be simple enough. It would be easy then to add a question or two, and so get at all that need be told. But as things are, I don't see how you're going to get an opening."
"All the same, it's got to be done. Things can't go on like this," said Caryll gloomily.
"If we could only find out who set it all going, and pin him down to a direct statement," Boulter mused, "it might make it a bit less worrying. We don't even know what it is that is really being said. They're keeping you and me out of it—that's clear."
It was about the only thing that was in any way clear in the unhappy business; and it made their position the more difficult.
"I'm pretty sure in my own mind," said Caryll, "that Branson's at the bottom of it. He's the only one who could know all that about Kendall's mother and his uncle paying for his being here, and that sort of thing, And, if so, then Forder and Dawney are pretty sure to be in it too."
"I quite believe that."
"Yes; but believing isn't proof. I wish dad was at home! I'd write and tell him and ask him what he thinks we had better do. He's taken a great liking to Kendall, and I'm sure he wouldn't believe any of this nonsense about him. But he's away with auntie and Mabel, and I don't like to write and weary him while he's travelling about. Besides, I don't even know where to write to him."
Unfortunately for Jack, it so happened that Sir Keith had gone on a visit to Paris with his sister and daughter, and Will knew they were moving about, and would not be home for perhaps another two or three weeks.
After some further discussion Caryll made up his mind in a somewhat curious fashion. "Now, what would Kendall himself do if he were in my position?" he asked himself. And he answered his own question: "Why, he'd do whatever he thought was his duty, whether it was agreeable or disagreeable. That's my belief! Then I shall do the same!"
Having once made up his mind, he lost no time in carrying out his resolve. He sought out Jack, and got a private talk with him.
"I needn't tell you, Kendall," he said, at the end of the narration, "I myself don't believe a single word of it! And if I could have my way I'd make a row about it, and follow it up from one to another till I found out who started it; and he'd either have to apologise and confess it was a wicked untruth, or fight me. I don't care who he is!"
"It's awfully kind of you, Caryll, to take my part as you have," said Jack gratefully, when he had got over his first surprise, and understood exactly how matters were. "As to what you ask me, I would tell you in a moment if it rested with me. But I can't. It is quite true that I did have what you may call a little windfall, and I should have told you about it at the time myself, only I was made to promise not to."
"Made to promise not to? But why? What harm could there be—"
Jack shook his head.
"I know no more than you do why I was made to promise," he declared. "But I did give my promise, and I am not going to break it—not even if the whole lot of the chaps turned on me and tried to make me. There is one who could tell you all about it in a moment—one whose word you would take unhesitatingly—but I must not tell you who it is."
"Is it your mother?" Caryll asked.
Again Jack shook his head.
At this Jack could hardly resist a smile. The idea of his uncle sending him pocket-money seemed so unlikely that at another time he would have laughed outright.
"No," he said. "It was not my uncle, either."
"It all sounds rather mysterious," Caryll commented thoughtfully.
"That's how it seemed to me," Jack candidly admitted.
And then he almost laughed again at the absurdity of all this cross-questioning, and guessing on Will's part, seeing that it was Will's own father who had sent the money to him.
But that thought gave him an idea.
"I'LL tell you what I'll do, Will," Jack exclaimed. "I'll write and ask permission to tell you! I'll explain the bother it's got me into, and declare that it is necessary I should be able to say openly where I got the money from. I think if I say that I shall get permission to tell you, and then—why, then you'll laugh at the whole affair."
Caryll's face cleared at once, and he brightened up.
"That's a good idea!" said he. "You do that and I'll do my best with these unbelieving fellows meantime."
But Jack did not know that Sir Keith Caryll was away from home, and thus it came about that, when he wrote his letter, to his surprise and dismay, it remained unanswered.
Moreover, this question as to where his money had come from was but the outside fringe, as it were, of the net which was being drawn around him. It served its purpose of directing attention to him, and raising vague suspicions against him. Then, however, came the next step, and the meshes of the net began to enfold Jack.
During the following week it began to be whispered about that someone had been seen at night going into the reading-room, where the cadets' lockers were. He had been—so it was asserted—almost caught in the act. At all events, he had been recognised, and it was declared that it was no other than Jack Kendall!
The days that followed were terrible ones for the unfortunate Jack. Gradually, yet all too surely, it became evident to him that he was being shunned by nearly all of those he had heretofore mingled with freely. The life of any boy thus treated by his comrades is a life of misery and hourly humiliation.
His two particular friends, Caryll and Boulter, stuck to him loyally and manfully; but he could see that it was at such cost to themselves that in his heart he almost wished they would not. He had no desire to draw them into the cruel suffering that had so strangely fallen to his lot, and he saw that it involved them in constant quarrels with their other messmates.
At first Egerton and Evans had stood by the three; but they had fallen away by degrees. It was from them still, however, that Caryll learned what was going on, and what fresh accusations were being made against his friend Kendall.
Jack, on his side, never ceased entreating his two staunch friends to cease taking his part; but they sturdily refused, and nothing he could say or do could make them alter their decision.
It was a wretched time for all three in those days of early spring, when they ought to have had the most enjoyable time of the year. They had paid their subscriptions to the cricket, lawn tennis, and sailing clubs, yet were debarred from taking part in what went on at any one of them.
The other lads refused to play cricket or lawn tennis with them, and though Caryll's possession of a boat of his own rendered them more independent as regards sailing, yet they could not pass their whole leisure time sailing about by themselves. They could not enter the Swallow for any of the sailing matches which were coming off. If the tide were low when they came in, and they wanted help to pull their boat up the beach, not a cadet would lend a hand. They had to turn to the fishermen for help, if there were any about.
All this time young Charley Trott remained at the infirmary. His cold had turned to pneumonia, and his condition was regarded with much anxiety by the doctor. Jack found some comfort in going to see him whenever he could do so. He would sit with him for as long as the nurse would allow, talking and trying to cheer him up a little. They chatted together of many things, but not a word did Jack say of his own misery.
One day, while he was sitting by the lad's bedside, a lady was ushered in, and he had to make way for her and cut short his visit, for, as he quickly learned, she was no other than Charley's mother.
Jack saw her face, in passing, after she had raised her widow's veil, and a pang seemed to shoot into his heart as he looked at her, for she reminded him of his own mother. Not that there was any personal likeness; it was rather in other ways—the sweet, winning, yet sad general expression; the gentle manner, the overflowing love and affection that beamed from her eyes, as she recognised her son lying in his bed; and the exquisite tenderness in her tones as she addressed him.
All this brought to Jack's mind again, as he had thought so often of late, the distress, the shame, the cruel disappointment his own mother would suffer when she came to know that he was being shunned by his messmates as a thief.
Tears welled up to his eyes, so that he could scarcely see his way out into the sunlit garden and grounds. From there he stumbled off to a wood near, and then, amongst the fresh young green leaves on the trees, and the spring flowers underfoot, he threw himself down and wept as he had never done since he had been a mere baby.
Mrs. Trott had been sent for on account of her son's serious condition. Jack guessed it must be so, and the fact made him feel so anxious that he called every day when he was on shore to inquire. But he did not try to see him again, hearing that Mrs. Trott was nearly always with him.
One afternoon, when he went to ask after him as usual, he met Mrs. Trott just coming out, and she stopped and spoke.
"You are Jack Kendall?" she said, looking full at him with her gentle, tender gaze, "The boy who comes so often to ask after Charley—the one he has talked so much to me about?"
Jack flushed, and, glancing almost timidly at her, said modestly that that was his name.
"I am glad I have met you at last," she said, in kindly tones. "I am going out for a little walk to get some fresh air. Will you come with me?"
Jack readily assented, he was only too pleased to be with one who spoke so kindly; and, besides, he wanted to learn all he could as to how Charley was going on.
For some little distance they walked on together in silence. Mrs. Trott seemed to know her way. Doubtless she had taken several little walks there alone to get air and exercise between her visits to her son. She led Jack to a retired spot where there was a rustic seat beneath a fine old beech-tree.
There she seated herself, and motioned to Jack to sit beside her. Then, taking his hand in both her own, she said:
"My boy, I want to thank you for what you did for Charley. He has told me about it, and how kind you were to him afterwards. I believe if"—here her voice failed her for a moment, but after a pause she went on—"I believe if he recovers he will owe his life to you."
Jack was surprised into protesting against this, but Mrs. Trott persisted.
"Yes, yes; and it is the doctor's opinion, too! Charley will not even yet tell me the whole story as to what happened, and he has only said what he has after obtaining my solemn promise not to make any complaint against the young wretches who ill-used him! But I know that you rescued him out of their hands, bravely and unselfishly risking what they might have done to you, being two to one. And it is as certain as anything can well be that if you had not got him away when you did, if he had been kept out another hour in his wet clothes in the cold wind, the consequences to him, poor child, would have been fatal.
"I know, too, how, day after day, before I came, you visited him and sat with him; and since then I know how often you have called to ask about him. I have seen you come and go, more than once, from the window above, and I have tried to catch you in order to speak to you, but only succeeded in doing so to- day."
"If I'd known that, ma'am, I would have waited when I came," said Jack modestly.
"Never mind, we have met at last. Now I want to talk to you. I am in great anxiety about Charley, but I am not so taken up with my own trouble as not to think about the troubles of others. And I can see that you are in trouble, my child. You must not mind me speaking like that. I can't help having a motherly feeling towards one who has behaved as you have towards Charley. He has confessed to me, that urged on by wicked companions, he has behaved very badly to you at times. But you forgot all that, he said, when you saw him being ill-used, in turn, by the very lads who had led him to act so badly. For your readiness to forgive and help him in his need I can never thank you as I could wish; but I can pray to Heaven to reward you. And this I shall not cease to do. But one cannot look at you as I have seen you from the window when I looked out, or as I see you now, without feeling that you are in some heavy trouble yourself. Can you tell me what it is, my boy—tell me if there is anything I can do?"
Even before she had got thus far Jack had turned his face away, for the tears were again welling up to his eyes. She laid a hand on him and felt that he was trembling, and then it seemed as though all his pent-up misery rose up within him and tried to choke him. He had been able to keep up a fairly brave bearing thus far before those he had to face daily; but the deep tenderness and sympathy so evident in the tones of this gentle, kind-hearted lady were too much for him.
Presently she had so gained his confidence that he found himself pouring out all his troubles to her, so far, that is, as he felt himself able to do, without breaking the promise he had given to Sir Keith Caryll. As to that part, he said, she must trust him.
"I do trust you, my child," she said readily. "I am quite certain that you are a thoroughly truthful boy. There is much in all you have told me that seems strange and that I cannot as yet understand. But I shall get to know by and bye, I feel assured. And I feel convinced, too, that I shall see you emerge from beneath this cloud which has over-shadowed your young life into happier times, when your innocence will be clear to all, and the enemies who have brought your trouble about will be punished as they deserve."
They remained some time together, he now talking freely, sometimes about his own mother and his life at home with her, sometimes of his adventures and experiences since he had joined the Dolphin. To all she listened with interest and ready sympathy; and then she gave him such advice as she could, counselling him to keep up a brave heart, and never lose faith in God, just, as already stated, his own mother, he knew, would have done had she been there.
When at last Jack had left Mrs. Trott, he went away heartened and encouraged, strengthened in his belief and trust in a Higher Power, and he resolved to bear his present burden manfully, and wait in patience and hopefulness for the cloud to lift.
The thought that he had now one friend such as this one who had sought him out so unexpectedly when he was most in need of comfort, one close at hand whom he would be able to see soon again, was inexpressibly sweet and helpful. It seemed as though she had been specially sent by Providence to him to show him that, dark as was this shadow in which he then walked, he was not really forsaken or forgotten.
He had had no one up to then in whom he could wholly confide, no one older than himself to advise him. For reasons that can be well understood he had not even confided in his own mother. In that he had not acted wisely; but it had been only the wish to save her pain and suffering that had prompted him to put off doing so as long as possible. He had been hoping desperately, from day to day, that in some way the cloud would lift, things would come right, and he would be able to tell her all when the trouble had become a thing of the past, and the knowledge of it would not hurt her so much.
Mrs. Trott, when she had learned this, however, had told him he had been wrong, pointing out that the news would come with all the greater shock the longer it was put off, and had asked for Mrs. Kendall's address.
"If you like," she had said, "I will take it upon myself to write to her and explain. It may soften the effect of such unpleasant news if it comes from one who can assure her, as I shall take care to say, that I am convinced you cannot have done anything to be ashamed of." And Jack had gratefully assented.
That all this, coming just then, had been specially providential, seemed to Jack more certain than ever when he got back to his ship. For there he was summoned into the presence of the captain, who told him, with evident sorrow as well as surprise, that a most serious charge had been laid against him by one of the cadets. It was nothing less than the stealing of a postal order from the complainant's locker. The charge was, indeed, even more serious than mere stealing, for it was affirmed that he had forged the lad's name in order to get the cash at the post-office in the town.
JACK KENDALL'S horror at the charge brought against him can be better imagined than described. At first he could scarcely believe his own ears, and stood staring at Captain Probyn like one dazed or walking in his sleep.
"I—I don't understand, sir," he presently gasped. "There must be some horrible mistake! I have never stolen anyone's money in my life—I couldn't do such a thing! Is—isn't there some mistake, sir?"
"Let us hope it may turn out to be so, Kendall," Captain Probyn returned, with evident sincerity. "You may be able to show that it is. At present," he went on, with something like a sigh, "it is only fair to warn you that the case looks very black against you. I cannot tell you how grieved I am to see you in such a position. You are almost the last boy on board my ship of whom I should have thought such a thing possible. But the charge has been brought, and I am bound to investigate it in the ordinary way."
"Of course, sir, of course!" murmured Jack, still dazedly. "Though I can't in the least understand it. Why, I have had plenty of money of my own—more than I needed to spend—and it is absurd to think I should want to take anybody else's."
"H'm! That's just what has been said against you as tending to make the thing appear the more probable," said the captain. "It has been represented to me that whereas, from the time you first joined, until recently, you always seemed to be—well, none too well supplied—you have just lately appeared to have plenty—even more than you needed. It now appears—I only heard of it this morning—that this is not by any means the only instance of theft that has occurred, though it is the first concrete case which has been brought to my notice. I am now told, to my astonishment, and, I am bound to say, to my dismay, that there appears to have been a regular system of petty pilfering going on for some time, and that this period coincides almost exactly with the time during which you have been noticed to have more than usual.
"If you can explain this," he added, "tell me, in strict confidence, if you like, where you obtained that extra money from—who sent it you—and give me other particulars so that I can verify your statements, it would go far to confirming my confidence in you. It would not, of course, disprove this special charge against you, but it would dispel the cloud of prejudice which I can see from the inquiries I have made has gathered around you. Now, I'm sure, after that—I have put the matter as delicately as I can—you need have no hesitation in telling me in confidence, enough to at any rate, explain this—er—suspicious coincidence."
"I'm afraid I can't do that, sir," said poor Jack, in a low tone.
Captain Probyn looked at him doubtfully. He was evidently disagreeably surprised. He had been expecting a ready and frank explanation But he determined to make another effort.
"Come, come, Kendall," he said, still kindly. "I can't see, if you obtained this money honestly, what possible reason you can have for refusing to say where it came from. In the case of a lad in your position, there are only one or two sources that are likely; your mother or other relative, or some friend has tipped you more liberally than usual."
Captain Probyn paused. He remembered now that there was one who had more than ordinary reasons to feel liberally disposed towards this lad, and that was Sir Keith Caryll. It would not at all have surprised him if Jack had said that Sir Keith had sent him even as much as five pounds; he would have believed it at once.
"Well," he went on, "if you don't want others to know, you might at least tell me, in confidence, if I promise to take your word for it as a young gentleman, and say I won't even inquire of the person you name whether it is true. Come now! It was not your mother who sent it you. That we know—"
At this Jack stared so that the captain explained.
"For one thing," he said, "it has been stated that she is not in a position to do so; for another, it was mentioned incidentally when I was at the post-office making inquiries that you had yourself applied for a Post Office order for two pounds ten shillings in her name a fortnight or so ago. And you were seen to put it in a letter you had brought to the office with you, ready written and addressed, and post it. So it could not very well have been Mrs. Kendall who was sending money to you at that time, because it was you who were actually sending some to her."
Jack felt aghast—or something very like it—at this. The way he seemed to have been watched about, spied upon, staggered him. Even the fact that he had sent half of what he had received from Sir Keith to his mother was known, and was actually being used against him. It was being twisted into a suggestion that he had sent her stolen money—it seemed like trying to make her an accomplice in theft! The very idea of such a thing in connection with the one he loved, respected, reverenced, indeed, as he did his mother, filled him with indignation.
One thing they did not seem to know, and that was that Mrs. Kendall had sent it back, saying she felt he needed it, in the position he was in there, more than she did, and she was sure he would make a good use of it.
"No, sir," he said, "it was not my mother. I can only say that I would tell you directly if I could, but I can't."
There was a significant pause.
"Kendall," then said Captain Probyn, and now his voice had become stern, "either you refuse because you dare not, or you are afraid to trust my promise. In either case, I am bound to tell you your refusal will do you a lot of harm. However, I shall not pursue that branch of the inquiry. If you do not choose to confide in me, you have only yourself to blame if the worst construction is placed upon it. In regard to the special charge of stealing this post-order, forging another boy's name to it, and then cashing it, I shall, of course, take the usual steps. And that means that in the meantime you are under arrest."
At this Jack all but broke down. But he so far recovered himself as to blurt out, "I—I—don't—even know who—it is—says—I stole—his order—or how much it was for, sir!"
"Ah! H'm! I omitted to tell you that. I was thinking more just then of what I wanted you to tell me. Well, the boy is Forder, and the amount is two pounds."
"Forder? Two pounds?" gasped Jack.
"Why, Forder—" And then he stopped. He had been going to say, "Forder hates me, and would be just the one likely to get up a false charge against me." But that, after all, was no real answer.
Captain Probyn divined what was in his mind.
"Yes, of course," he said, a little less sternly, "I know that Forder is not well-disposed towards you. But I have to deal with the charge and the evidence, not with the one who brings the complaint. However, you may be sure of one thing—the matter will be thoroughly gone into, the evidence sifted carefully and quite impartially, and without fear or favour to either side. There! I can say no more, and I would not have said half as much but for the fact that you have hitherto borne such an excellent character, and that I feel very, very sorry to see you in such a position."
Jack was handed over to the custody of a petty officer, who led him below deck. And then truly he seemed to plunge deep into the "Valley of Humiliation" as he passed several cadets, who whispered together and pointed at him, and finally was shut up in one of the cells reserved for those against whom serious charges were made.
It was soon known all over the ship that Kendall had been arrested, and boys collected in knots and clusters to discuss the news. Caryll and Boulter loudly protested their entire belief in his innocence, but amongst the rest, though many had liked Jack, and felt sorry, few, if any, really thought he could be innocent.
The fact was that, as Captain Probyn had himself seen, stories had been put about for two or three weeks past in such artful fashion that a feeling of suspicion had been fostered, tending to make those boys who would otherwise have been favourable to him, or, at least, impartial, ready to believe almost anything against him.
Will Caryll and Boulter at once applied for and were granted permission to have an interview with the unhappy prisoner, at which they did their best to cheer and comfort him, asserting again and again their absolute faith in him.
"Forder, indeed!" cried Caryll, with petty scorn. "He's a pretty one to bring charges against people! Where did he get his order for two pounds from, I wonder? Who sent it to him? I don't believe he has friends who send him tips like that!"
Wherein Caryll was very near the truth, the fact being that the two pounds in question had been found by Branson, or, rather, by his father, and had been sent by post from London specially for this particular purpose.
Caryll was puzzled, and was more wrathful in consequence. He instinctively believed that the whole thing originated with Branson. And Branson kept so carefully out of it that no one except Caryll himself seemed to dream he had the least connection with it.
And that was what made Caryll wrath. If it had been Branson who had brought the charge, or if he had seemed to have been mixed up in it, Caryll had made up his mind that he would divulge his suspicious proceedings that day when the assault had been made upon Mabel, whether it was regarded by the other boys as "sneaking" or not. But, as things were, he did not see that he would be helping Jack by saying anything about it.
"The dad is coming home," he now said. "I've had a letter from him to-day. It was only a few lines scribbled in the waiting-room at Folkestone, and posted there. He does not seem to have had my letter about you, so I suppose it was never sent on. It must be lying at home; he'll have it now as soon as he gets back. But I shall write another to-night, and tell him all that has happened since."
"You wrote to him about me?" said Jack, in surprise. "And he never answered it?"
"Because he was away—moving about, don't you see?—in France. And they didn't send it on."
"I see," Jack murmured thoughtfully. That, then, explained why his own letter had never been answered. And it looked rather as if he might now expect to get a reply. If it gave him the permission he had asked for, it would, at any rate, enable him to answer the question Captain Probyn had put to him. But would it come in time?
The short time allowed for their interview passed all too quickly, and at parting Caryll asked Jack if there was anything he could do for him.
"Yes," Jack made answer. "Go and see Mrs. Trott as soon as you can—perhaps you might get special leave to go ashore—and tell her everything. You will be pretty certain to find her at the infirmary. Will you be sure to do this for me?"
Caryll was not a little surprised at the request, and his face showed it, but there was no time then left for explanations. So he gave the promise asked for, and hurried away to write his letter to Sir Keith.
SCARCELY had Caryll gone, and Jack had sat down to try to read for a while by the poor light allowed him, in the hope of distracting his thoughts a little, when the door opened again, this time very softly, and someone stole in on tip- toe.
It was Bertha Fordyce, and she came timidly forward, with her finger on her lips.
"Hush!" she whispered. "I had such trouble to get in—I had to—to—well, to what you call bribe that Joyce. But Miss Chalford knows. She is outside. And I came to bring a message from Alma. We don't believe what they're saying about you one bit—either of us, and we believe it's all made up! That Forder's a bad boy, and we wouldn't either of us believe him if he swears to it ever so! There! Now I must be off! I don't know what would happen if the captain caught me here!"
And, with that she vanished, but the welcome message of trust and friendship remained, and seemed inexpressibly sweet and comforting to the sorely-tried prisoner.
THE investigation of the charges against Jack took the form of a sort of trial, in which the chief officer, Mr. Melfort, acted the part of prosecuting counsel, while the prisoner was defended by the second officer, Mr. Drummond. The captain acted as judge and jury too.
As permission had to be obtained from the postal authorities for an assistant at the local post-office to attend with the necessary documents, it did not take place for two days. During this interval the prisoner was kept in his cell, and the time dragged by slowly and wearily enough. Yet was he glad rather than otherwise at being shut away from the rest on board; he felt it would have been a still more trying ordeal had he been compelled to pass the time amongst them while this terrible charge was hanging over him.
When, finally, the inquiry commenced, Drummond entered with zeal upon his task of defending the accused; while it was noticeable, on the other hand, that Melfort took the part of prosecutor with something very like reluctance. Forder's character was too well-known to him to allow him to feel any zeal on his behalf, and no one wished and hoped (secretly) more strongly than himself that the prisoner would be able to prove up to the hilt his absolute innocence.
Forder, however, had his story ready, and gave it glibly enough. And it was the more difficult to pick holes in it because it was comparatively simple and seemed to be told without heat or animus. He had had a letter, he said, from a friend, sending him a tip of two pounds in the form of a postal order. He had put it in his locker one day, and found it had gone the next, letter and all. After thinking it over, he had walked to the post-office and made inquiries, and found that someone had already been there and cashed it. That was all he knew. He did not accuse Kendall or anyone else; it was the post-office official, a young fellow named Gates, who had told him it was Kendall who had brought the order in and cashed it. It seemed Gates knew Kendall fairly well, as he had been there several times lately in connection with orders and stamps and so on.
Drummond questioned him as to whom the order had been sent by, but elicited nothing that seemed of any consequence.
Then Gates, the post-office clerk, gave his account, and said he knew Kendall, and was sure it was he who had cashed the order. He produced the order itself, which was signed in Forder's name. Forder then looked at it and declared that it was not his writing.
Drummond then cross-examined Gates closely, asking him if he knew Branson. He said he did—and he also knew him and Kendall well enough to know them apart, although, of course, there was a very strong resemblance in many ways, such as height, and build, and manner. But (he said) there were other points in which they were different, such as the colour of the hair and the complexion—Kendall being fresh-coloured and healthy- looking, while Branson was pale, sallow, and anaemic-looking.
Drummond insisted on Branson being brought in and placed beside the prisoner, and he questioned Gates further; but the latter adhered to his statement. He was quite positive it was Kendall and not Branson who had cashed the order.
Then a number of cadets were brought in who testified that they had lost various small sums from their lockers during the last few weeks. Two or three even said they had stayed up at night to watch, and one of them had seen and nearly caught a boy who was coming out of the room where the lockers were; but he had got away and disappeared in some mysterious way. That boy, he felt nearly sure, was Kendall.
Again Drummond cross-examined, and asked the witness if he was quite sure that it was Kendall and not Branson; but he said he still believed it was the former, though he acknowledged that the light by which he had seen him was a very dim one.
So strongly did Drummond try to show that it might have been Branson that when the luncheon interval came, Captain Probyn privately took the second officer to task about it, though mildly.
"I think, Mr. Drummond," he said, "you are hardly justified in bringing Branson into the case in this way. He seems really to have nothing at all to do with it! No one but yourself has suggested that he has. I really do not see you have a particle of reason for suggesting it. It is like accusing a lad without any evidence to justify it. What is the cause of the hostility you are showing against him?"
Drummond laughed lightly; he had no wish to prejudice Kendall's case by going farther than the captain—who was also the judge—might think fair, he said. "But, sir," he added seriously, "I know—I am certain—that Branson has a great animus against his cousin Kendall. He has shown it in many ways ever since Kendall came. And if you ask me which of those two cousins is the more likely to commit such an act as this theft, I should reply without hesitation—Branson!"
"Humph! That's all very well as a matter of your private opinion," the captain pointed out, "but here we have to decide according to the evidence—not according to our personal likes and dislikes."
After the midday meal the inquiry was resumed and Kendall was examined. He, of course, denied all knowledge of the matter, and declared positively that the signature on the order was not his. Asked if he could show that he was elsewhere at the time the order had been presented and cashed, he said he could not. He had been so used of late to taking solitary walks when ashore, that he could not name any companion who had been with him at the time.
So the case looked very black indeed against him, to those who had no sort of suspicion of the conspiracy that had been planned against him, and had only to form their opinion on the evidence as it appeared to them.
Captain Probyn had evidently made up his mind. He looked stern, yet sorrowful. Never had he felt more sorry at having to pronounce a sentence which must mean social disgrace to the delinquent, and must ruin utterly his future career, so far as the sea was concerned. But he could see nothing else for it! Justice—strict justice—must be done, whether to enforce it were a hard or a pleasant duty!
Before pronouncing his decision, however, he made one more attempt to get Kendall to explain whence he had obtained so much money about this particular time. But on this point, the boy was obdurate.
"I am very sorry, sir," he said respectfully, "but I can't tell you."
Captain Probyn flushed. This last refusal seemed almost like defying him! He looked round, and was about to speak again, when a petty-officer entered. A boat, he said, had just come off with a telegram for Captain Probyn. It said on it they were to send it by special delivery as it was very urgent.
Captain Probyn, evidently annoyed at the interruption, took the message, looked at it, then opened it.
Quickly his manner changed, and he glanced at Kendall in a way which told those looking on that it had something to do with him.
The captain frowned a little, as though puzzled or thoughtful, then his face cleared.
"This concerns you, Kendall," he said, with far less sternness in his tones. "It is from Sir Keith Caryll, and as it has a strong bearing on the case, I think it only fair and right I should read it out before all. It is rather long for a telegram, and—er—a little strong in its expressions. However, the sender evidently felt strongly, and thought it necessary to speak plainly on your behalf. This is what Sir Keith—who is a sailor, like myself—says in his bluff, direct way:
"THE MONEY SO MUCH FUSS ABOUT WAS A PRESENT TO YOUNG KENDALL FROM HIS UNCLE SENT THROUGH ME. FOR PRIVATE REASONS ASKED HIM NOT TO SAY FROM WHOM RECEIVED. YOUNGSTER EVIDENTLY DEEMS IT MATTER OF HONOUR TO KEEP PROMISE AT RISK OF BEING ACCUSED OF STEALING. COMING OVER SOON AS POSSIBLE WITH MR. KENDALL. LOOK TO YOU TO SETTLE NOTHING TILL WE ARRIVE.
The reading of the telegram produced a great impression on all those present, for the most part causing a very evident reaction in Jack's favour. All those who had given evidence, or were in any way directly connected with the case, were still present, including Caryll and Boulter. The latter showed signs of delighted relief, and Will even uttered a subdued "Hurrah!" under his breath, which brought upon him a sharp look of reproof from the captain.
But the lad's gladness on his friend's behalf was too great to be altogether repressed even then. He whispered to Boulter, "The dad's home, and has got my letters, and he's coming over! Jack's uncle too! What an eye-opener for Forder, Branson & Co.!"
Upon these latter—who were standing together with Dawney—the effect was just as marked, though it produced evident consternation instead of pleasure. They whispered together, till, suddenly realising that Drummond was watching them closely with his keen, searching gaze, they drew apart and endeavoured to appear unconcerned.
"Under the circumstances," said Captain Probyn, "I adjourn this inquiry till to-morrow. Remove the accused—and—er—you may allow him to see any of his friends." This last was addressed to Petty-officer Joyce, who acted as gaoler.
But before effect could be given to the captain's order there came another interruption. Another petty-officer appeared, who stated that a second boat had come along side, bringing a lady.
"It is Mrs. Trott, sir," he said. "And she says her business is most urgent. She must see you immediately, as it is something to do with the case."
This caused another sensation, and roused curiosity to the highest pitch. Few of those present could imagine what Mrs. Trott could know about the case that could be of such pressing importance. The only ones who seemed to suspect what it might be were the complainant Forder and Branson and their particular chums, Skinner and Horby. Upon these the news seemed to have the effect of a bombshell. They started, stared at the petty-officer, and then glanced in very evident fear and dismay at one another.
Again they caught Drummond's cold gaze fixed upon them, and they read in it something which added to their apprehension and confusion.
Mrs. Trott appeared in her widow's dress, and, throwing back her veil, asked breathlessly of Captain Probyn:
"Am I in time? Is the case finished?"
"No, Mrs. Trott," said the captain courteously. "It has been adjourned till to-morrow."
"Heaven be praised for that!" she murmured, with deep feeling. "I have something of the greatest importance to tell you, sir. Can I see you privately?"
Even while speaking Mrs. Trott's eyes had sought out the accused lad, and they flashed to him a message of such relief and encouragement as filled his heart with the gladness of a new hope. Somehow he felt assured—though he could not think how or why it could have come about—that she knew something which would clear him.
"Come to my cabin, Mrs. Trott," said Captain Probyn. "How is your son going on?"
"He has been very bad, sir," she answered sorrowfully, "but the doctor has better hopes now."
They went away together. The prisoner was conducted to his cell, followed by his two chums, who had never wavered in their loyal trust in him, and whose faces now were pictures of glad rejoicing at the turn things had taken.
Mrs. Trott, when alone with the captain, plunged into what she had to say without delay.
"Do you know, sir," she asked of the surprised captain, "a man in the town here who keeps a small shop—name of Cotter?"
"Why, yes, of course I do! He has a place where he sells sweetstuff and refreshments of a sort. But he does not bear a very good reputation, and my cadets have been warned that I do not care for them to deal with him."
"Ah!" she exclaimed, in tones of evident relief and satisfaction. "Then so far, at any rate, my son's statement to me is confirmed."
Captain Probyn said nothing, but waited for her to proceed.
"My son, sir," she continued, "has been at death's door, and I could not leave him before. The doctor said he must have something preying upon his mind which was keeping him back, and that he had little hopes of bringing him round unless I could induce him to disburden himself of it. I, of course, had noticed the same thing, but I could not persuade him to tell me what it was. He had been delirious, and from his talk I knew it had something to do with Kendall."
"With Kendall!" exclaimed Captain Probyn. "Why—h'm—why, then, did he not confide in you?"
"Because he was afraid, poor little chap! Captain Probyn my boy has been shamefully treated! He has been terrorised, tyrannised over—made to do and to join in things he loathed, and threatened with such dreadful punishment if he ever dared to divulge them that his life has been one long misery! He has been afraid till to-day even to tell me! I only succeeded in drawing the whole truth from him an hour or two ago!"
"Mrs. Trott, this is astonishing! I can hardly credit that anything of the kind can have been going on on my ship without my knowledge! Who are the boys who have acted in such a manner? Do you know them?"
Captain Probyn asked these questions in evident amazement.
"I know their names, sir, though I have never, so far as I know, seen them. But I have heard my son rave about them so much in his illness that I am never likely to forget them! Their names are Forder, Dawney, Branson, Skinner, and Horby. They are the chief ones!" She uttered the names as though she were reading them off from a written list. "And Branson, it seems, is the worst of the lot, because he has been supplying the others with money and so bribing them to carry out his infamous schemes. And the man Cotter is in it, too! He also, it seems, must have been bribed, for he has aided and abetted them in a conspiracy to bring this false charge against the lad Kendall, the design being to get him turned off your ship in disgrace!"
WHEN, the next morning, the trial was resumed, there were fresh surprises for all concerned.
Perhaps the most noticeable one at first was the unexpected presence of Mr. Branson senior. He had arrived the night before, really because he had been too impatient to await news of the result in London, so had travelled down, hoping to learn it on his arrival. When told that the inquiry had been adjourned he appeared annoyed but when he heard why, and further learned all that had occurred, his annoyance had turned to something like fury.
Sir Keith Caryll and Mr. Kendall had also arrived, and were present; and it was remarked that they merely nodded to Mr. Branson. They did not shake hands with him, or take any further notice of him, a circumstance which did not add to that gentleman's peace of mind.
At the very beginning he entered a complaint against Drummond for his cross-examination of the witnesses in regard to his son Clement. He protested, he said hotly, against his son having been made to stand up beside "the prisoner," and to the "infamous insinuations" against him which he understood Mr. Drummond had made by the questions he had put. And he wound up with a veiled attack upon the Captain himself, expressing his great surprise that he should have allowed such proceedings.
Captain Probyn scarcely took any notice of this. His face was very stern and set, and there was no longer any trace of the feelings of evident sorrow and pain which had been plain for all to read the day before. He merely said that if the results of the inquiry showed that the questions objected to had been uncalled for, he was quite sure that Mr. Drummond would himself be the first to make apology.
Jack Kendall was in different mood too. He was still serious and earnest, as befitted the occasion; but his bearing was upright and modestly confident. Sir Keith and Mr. Kendall had both shaken hands with him, and that alone had given him new courage. It was a matter for surprise that Mrs. Trott was not present. After what had occurred the previous day many expected that she would be the first witness, and some began to think that perhaps after all she had not anything very important to say.
The next surprise came when, instead of the witnesses expected, a local constable appeared bearing a box, and put it down on the floor in the centre of the saloon in which the inquiry was being held. And Drummond, turning his keen, steady gaze on Branson, Forder, and his particular friends, saw that they turned pale, and began to look scared.
Other boxes were brought in and placed in a row, and the expressions on the faces of the plotters turned to abject fear. Their eyes turned furtively this way and that, as though meditating a desperate attempt at escape from what they began to see was coming. And when a small, fat man, with a cunning-looking face and foxy eyes, was brought in by another constable, they seemed as though about to collapse utterly. He was the man Cotter, of whom Mrs. Trott had spoken to Captain Probyn.
Mr. Branson, though he knew not the meaning of these things, saw the change in his son's attitude plainly enough, and his face lost its bullying, truculent expression, and began to show alarm.
"Now, Cotter," said Captain Probyn shortly, "I believe those boxes belong to certain of my cadets, who have been in the habit of using your place as a sort of club; or, at least, they have had the use of them as private lockers?"
"Y-yes, sir," faltered Cotter.
"Point out to the constable those which belonged to two you know—Forder and Clement Branson."
Cotter did so.
Mr. Branson started forward as though to protest in some way, but the captain waved him aside with a peremptory motion of his hand and said:
"Officer, you will open those two boxes, and let us see what they contain. If Forder and Branson like to hand you their keys, well and good. If not, you will force them open. You are provided, I believe, with tools for that purpose."
There was a pause. Forder and Branson looked at each other. Neither made any move however, and the captain signed to the constable.
"I don't understand all this—I protest!" cried Mr. Branson. "What has all this to do with the charge against the prisoner?"
"You will see directly, sir," said Captain Probyn coldly. "Constable, break them open and show us the contents."
The officer did as ordered, and a moment or two later had both boxes open. They were filled with various articles—mostly things that were "contraband"—articles which it was known the cadets were not allowed to have on board the ship.
The constable pulled them out one by one, those who did not know what it all meant stood and wondered not a little. As Mr. Branson had said, "What had it all to do with the charge of stealing the postal order?"
A great deal, as soon appeared. The captain pointed to two articles in particular as they were taken out, and told the officer to keep them in his hands.
"One, as you can all see," said the captain, "is a wig; the other is a box of grease paints. That wig and those paints were used for the purpose of disguising a certain lad to resemble the accused, Jack Kendall, in order that, in collusion with the complainant in this case, he might cash the order himself and throw the blame on to Kendall. There is a great natural resemblance between the two, as everyone here knows, and with these helps the fraud was comparatively easy.
"I call upon that lad who used that wig to say whether he will confess and save us further trouble, or whether I must hold a separate inquiry to try him. I warn him that if I do, and the result is what I expect it will be, the matter will not end here. I shall make a police-court case of it, as a warning to all others who may think that, because I am not a martinet, they can plot and carry out things like this with impunity."
And he looked fixedly at Clement Branson.
The boy started forward, holding up his hands as if for mercy.
"I will confess, sir!" Branson gasped. "Don't—don't send me to the police-court! I am not really the guilty one! I was led into it—by—boys older—than—myself—who—who—ought to have known better—and—and—they drove me to it!"
This was uttered incoherently, and between gasps and sobs.
"Who were the boys who led you into it whom you accuse?" the captain demanded.
"Forder, sir, and—and—Dawney! You know, sir, they are older—and bigger—than I am—and—what could—I—do? They forced me to it!"
This pitiful, mean attempt to shift the worst of the guilt on to the other shoulders of course roused the rage and indignation of the two he had named. And in his anxiety to show that the plot had really originated with Branson, Forder went probably further than he at first intended. A wrangle ensued between him and Branson, which the captain allowed to go on because he saw that in their mutual anxiety to excuse themselves they were letting out more secrets.
At last Forder rushed across to his box, and thrusting his hand down, pulled out an old rasp.
"Here is the rasp with which he filed through the rope which let his cousin down!" he cried furiously. "Let him deny it if he dare! I had nothing to do with that. I found the rasp in his locker and took possession of it, and when I taxed him with it he said his father urged him on to take Kendall's life so as to get him out of his uncle's way. And that I know was true! It was his father himself who was urging him on! I'll say that for him! I know it was so because I have his father's letter now in my pocket. Clement tore it up and threw the pieces away; but I saw him do it, and after he had gone I went back and picked up the pieces and stuck them together. And here it is!"
And with that he put his hand in his pocket and drew out a strange looking document, which was evidently a sheet of foolscap with small scraps pasted upon it.
"Here it is—every bit of the letter, signature and all!" he declared. "Mr. Branson is here. Let him deny his own handwriting if he can!"
Then there was an uproar. Mr. Branson who seemed beside himself with rage and fury, made a rush at Forder, with the evident intention of snatching the incriminating letter from his hand. And he would probably have succeeded but for the prompt intervention of a burly constable, who threw himself between them. But Branson senior had quite lost his head. He saw all his scheming brought to nothing, and knew that it meant for him disaster; and the sudden realisation of this, just when he had thought all had been going well, turned him for the time into little better than a raving maniac. He fought and struggled with the policeman, and the other constable had to come to the assistance of his comrade before the maddened shipowner could be induced to be quiet.
When order was once more restored, Mr. Kendall stepped forward.
"Captain Probyn," he said solemnly, "this inquiry has become a more serious matter than any of us here, I imagine, had dreamed of. When, sir, you have pronounced your decision in regard to—er—the accused, I respectfully ask permission to say something."
"It is scarcely necessary to announce my decision," returned the captain. "It is evident to all here that Kendall is absolutely innocent. I myself wish to tell him how glad I am that he has escaped being made the victim of a most foul conspiracy. There is not a particle of suspicion against him any longer. And I would like to point out to all you lads," he went on, addressing those cadets who were present other than Forder and his intimates—"I would like to point out that this fortunate proving of his innocence has been brought about, under Providence, by an act of bravery and forgiveness on his part towards one whom he had every reason to reckon as one of his enemies. I allude to his rescue of young Trott from the ill-usage to which he was being subjected by two other boys. At another time I shall tell the whole story to all my lads, as a lasting example of pluck, unselfishness, and readiness to forgive. Kendall, my lad, you are free, and I want to be the first to shake hands with you. You are a credit to my ship!"
Jack came modestly forward, his eyes glistening, and with a lump in his throat. The strain had been a cruel one while it lasted, and he felt the reaction now. It was as much as he could do to avoid breaking down.
"And I want to be the next to shake him by the hand," exclaimed Sir Keith. "It has been partly through me that this trouble has been so near to turning into something more serious. If I had not foolishly asked him for a certain promise when I sent him the money his uncle placed in my hands for him—or if I had not been abroad the last two or three weeks, so that I received neither his nor my son's letters about the matter, I should have come here long ago to explain things a bit, and we might have cleared up the mystery without so much trouble and pain."
"Well," Mr. Kendall put in, "it was really my fault, that—not Sir Keith's. It was I who made the mistake of not wishing the lad to know the money came from me. I did so, I wish to state, from a wish not to cause annoyance and unpleasantness to others who have since been proved utterly unworthy of my consideration for them. I wish to say, sir," he went on, glancing at Captain Probyn, and then round on those present—"I wish to say, before you all, that I have made up my mind to take charge of that lad's future." He indicated Jack Kendall "He shall—subject to his mother's permission—be to me as my son, and I intend to make him my heir. I am purchasing an estate next to Sir Keith's, and I hope that Mrs. Kendall will come there to live, so that Jack and his friend Will Caryll will be near each other in their holidays, as they are here on board ship. Jack, my lad, let me be the next one to grasp your hand, and to tell you I endorse every word the Captain has said about you!"
If ever boy felt that he was overpowered with kindness, Jack certainly did then. But his thoughts went out to his mother, and that steadied him. How he wished she had been there to see and hear all this. Still, what glorious news his uncle had told him! There would be no need now for Mrs. Kendall to go away to France as she had intended—she had, in reality, been going to take a situation there. She would come to live in a home—as Jack thought proudly—befitting her, and she and the Carylls would be neighbours, and friends. And Boulter—well, he did not forget Boulter—he, of course, would be free to come and stay with them as much as he liked, and his people would let him. And Charley Trott and Mrs. Trott must come too.
Such were the thoughts that ran swiftly through Jack's young mind. What a contrast to the horrible despondence of the dark days just past! He felt so happy, so grateful and thankful, that he forgot to feel angry or indignant with those who had plotted so vilely against him. So far as he was concerned, he was ready to forgive and forget.
But his uncle thought differently. He saw now how Branson senior had plotted and schemed to get his money, and to induce him to make Clement his heir. And he was deeply, sternly angry and indignant to think how nearly the two had succeeded between them, and how recklessly criminal they had shown themselves in their cynical, callous determination to clear Jack from their path at any and all costs. But he did not know all even now.
Forder had been turning things over in his mind, and, looking at matters from his own cunning, selfish standpoint as usual, had decided that it would probably be to his advantage to tell all he knew while he was about it. And just as he had come to this conclusion Mr. Kendall spoke again:
"As I said just now, Captain Probyn, far more serious issues have risen up here than the one you started to inquire into. There is now the question of what steps are to be taken against the two who have instigated all this infamous business. Under other circumstances I should have felt bound to discriminate between the father and the son. The latter, might, to a great extent, have been his helpless tool. But really here, the son, young as he is, has shown himself such an adept in evil-doing, so utterly, cruelly callous, that—"
"Excuse me, sir, but I've got something else to tell you," Forder here put in boldly. "Mr. Branson tried to kill Kendall the very first day he joined."
"What's that?" exclaimed Captain Probyn.
"Why, sir, you remember Caryll and his party being run-down in his boat on their way to the ship in a fog?"
"It was Mr. Branson's launch that did it, the launch from his yacht. He was in it himself, steering her, and he followed Caryll's boat and ran her down on purpose. He saw Kendall as he came close, standing up, and steered straight for him to kill him; but Kendall dodged back, and Caryll, somehow, got in the way at the moment, and that's how it was he was knocked overboard instead of Kendall. And he'd have been drowned as you know, sir, if Kendall hadn't jumped over and saved him. I can give you the names of the two men in the launch at the time, and where to find them. Clement used afterwards to go out to meet them in a cave by the shore on the road to Coombe Hall. They were plotting something else just then, but it fell through, somehow."
The listeners were aghast at this further terrible revelation. Mr. Kendall seemed thunderstruck for a space; then, with stern, compressed lips, and frowning brow, he pointed out the two Bransons.
"Constables!" he cried, in harsh, angry tones, "I give those two into custody on charges of attempted murder—Branson and his son. Do your duty and take them in charge!"
"No, no, uncle—not Clement!" Jack pleaded earnestly. "It's such a dreadful thing for him! Please, please let him off!"
"My lad," said the old gentleman kindly, "a few years at a reformatory, or, better still, on a training ship, is the only thing, in my opinion, that can save him. A lad like that will grow up into a hopeless criminal unless he is taken in hand now."
"It'll be a bad thing for my unlucky father," Jack heard Drummond say to Melfort in an undertone. "You remember I told you he's one of his captains, and he'll find it hard to get a ticket with another firm after being with Branson & Co."
Jack resolved that he would not forget this; and he did not. At a later date he mentioned it to his uncle, begging him to use his influence on behalf of Captain Drummond, with the result that that officer obtained a much better post with a more reputable firm.
As regards Branson senior, however, it so happened that he was not tried for any of his plottings against Jack, after all. Once he was in custody, and the police had taken possession of his office and his books and papers, things came to light of even a more serious character, so that the first charges were dropped, and he was tried upon others. He was, in fact, sentenced to a long term of penal servitude for deliberately wrecking some of his own ships in order to get the insurance money.
The man Cotter was sentenced to imprisonment, too. It was proved that he had a large saloon at the back of his shop which, as Mrs. Trott had said, had been used by Forder, Dawney, and their cronies as a sort of club. Here they had their own lockers, where they kept numerous things they were not allowed to have on board the ship, and Cotter, of course, made money by charging them rent. It was also found that he was a receiver of stolen goods, and that brought him a severe punishment.
Forder, Dawney, Skinner, and Horby were all treated as they had tried to get Jack treated—they were expelled in disgrace—and the cadets as a whole were the better and happier for their departure.
It appeared that Mrs. Trott did not live very far away, and when, later, Mrs. Kendall came to reside in the vicinity, the two widow ladies became great friends. Mrs. Kendall felt deeply Mrs. Trott's affectionate sympathy with Jack at the time of his deepest distress, and could not forget what her intervention had achieved for him; while Mrs. Trott, on her side, always maintained that Jack, in acting as he had that day by the pond in the wood, had saved her son's life.
When Charley Trott returned to the ship, as he did in time—for he quite recovered—he found himself almost in a new world, where there were no elder boys who bullied, and no petty tyrants to be feared.
Jack, Caryll, and Boulter, were then, perhaps, the three most popular lads on board. All Jack's messmates tried to show their regret at having doubted him; and, with his breezy, innocent- minded character, always ready to do anyone a good turn who was in trouble, or in need, he made friends everywhere. To his two loyal, faithful chums—Will Caryll, of the baby face and the mischievous eyes, full of rollicking fun, yet never malicious or ill-natured; and Ted Boulter, more stolid, but not less true- hearted—he now added a third—young Charley Trott, in whose eyes he was, and would ever be, nothing less than a hero. And the four henceforth sailed, as he had once told Charley they ought to do, "in the same boat," trusted by their officers, and beloved by their comrades, the cadets of the good ship Dolphin
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.