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First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 12 August 1916

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-07-17

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Headpiece from Chums, 12 August 1916

Billy Lends a Hand

HAVING fed the ferrets, the dogs, the chickens, their own two pigs and the cow, Kit Godwin came into the cottage and found his mother busy setting the table for supper.

"Tired, lad?" she said, looking up from her work.

"Nothing to speak of, mother," Kit answered, but all the same he was aching all over, for he had been on foot for nearly fourteen hours on end. To look after the game on twelve hundred acres is a big task for a grown man, and Kit, who had taken his dead father's place as gamekeeper to Squire Corynton, of Cleave, was not yet seventeen years old.

"But I'm just about ready for supper, mother," he added cheerfully, as he went into the back kitchen to have a wash.

Home-cured bacon, new-laid eggs, fresh butter, and bread baked that morning in the brick oven, formed a feast that could not have been bettered on any table in the land, and Kit sat down to it with a sigh of content.

He had just helped himself to a couple of rashers of bacon and was cutting a noble slice from the crusty loaf, when the door opened, and in came a smart-looking, bright-eyed youngster, a couple of years younger than Kit.

"Hallo, Billy." Kit greeted him with a smile. "Just in time for supper. How do you like Poulton's?"

"It's all right," replied Billy, who was Kit's younger and only brother, and who, having just left school, had got a job as errand-boy at the village shop.

Kit looked at him.

"You're rather solemn, Billy. What's the matter?"

"Tell you afterwards," replied Billy.

The little party finished their supper, then Billy went outside and Kit followed him.

"Well?" said Kit questioningly.

"Bad," answered Billy. "There's a chap after the salmon."

"The mischief there is!" exclaimed Kit. "Tell me."

"Barnes the carrier told me. There were four good fish sent off by train from Taviton early this morning. He don't know who sent 'em, but he can guess pretty near."

"Sim Lagden?" growled Kit.

Billy nodded.

Kit was silent a minute. His face was clouded.

"I thought as much," he muttered. "It's just the chance for that sweep to play me a trick like this."

"The early run, you mean, Kit?"

"That's it, Billy. You see, that big flood last month brought the salmon up from the sea a good six weeks earlier than usual. Now the water has gone low again, and the pools are clear, and you can see almost every fish in the river. Sim has been raking them out with a gaff, and I have been too busy with my young pheasants to watch the pools."

Billy nodded sagely.

"Sim'll be out at dawn," he said.

"Sure to," replied Kit.

Billy considered a moment.

"I'll take a turn early to-morrow. I don't have to be at Poulton's till eight o'clock."

"Thanks," said Kit. "We'll go together."

"Better stay abed," said Billy. "You look fagged."

But Kit flatly refused, and the two went off to bed at once.

The sun had not yet showed above the rock-crowned summits of the eastern hills when the two brothers had set out across the dewy grass in the direction of the Burle. The river ran through the Cleave estate for nearly two miles. It was a beautiful trout stream, with deep runs and big spreading pools. The banks were high, but for the most part bare. Here and there a few old oaks or gnarled mountain ash trees overhung a pool. It was in a small patch of the latter that the brothers hid themselves and waited.

Everything was calm and still, as it can only be in the early dawn of a summer morning. Not a breath stirred, and the pool below the bluff was smooth as a mirror.

Billy painted downwards, and Kit, lying flat, with his head over the edge of the rock, caught sight of two great fish side by side behind a table-shaped rock in the centre of the pool. They were salmon of perhaps eighteen pounds apiece, and looked simply gigantic—preposterously large for such small water. And yet this was one of the deepest pools in the river.

"If you can see them there you can see them anywhere," whispered Kit.

Billy nodded, then held up his hand for silence. Somewhere in the distance a stick cracked.

"There's someone up in the wood behind us," Billy muttered.

"Sim, I'll warrant," Kit answered. Then he was silent, and the two lay breathless, waiting.

Minutes passed, then they caught sight of a figure emerging from the coppice and walking quickly along the fisherman's path by the edge of the stream.

"It's Sim all right," said Billy in Kit's ear.

The man came nearer. He was a tall, thin, narrow-faced fellow, and walked on his toes like a cat.

Billy's eyes gleamed. He gripped his stick more closely. The path ran straight past their hiding-place, and Sim was walking right into their clutches.

He was within a dozen paces when Kit sprang to his feet.

"Good morning, Lagden," he said grimly.

Sim Lagden showed no sign of surprise.

"Why, it's the kid keeper," he remarked jeeringly. "What's he a-doing out of his little bed this time in the morning?"

"Watching for you, Sim," returned Kit.

"Seeing as I didn't fall in the river, I suppose " answered Sim with a nasty grin.

"Seeing that you don't take anything out of the river that doesn't belong to you," said Kit sternly. "We suspect you of salmon snatching, Sim, and I'm going to search you."

Kit had fully expected defiance. Instead Sim laughed.

"Search me, eh? You're welcome, Mister Godwin. Here, I'll take my coat off as a starter."

He did so, and handed the ragged garment to Kit.

"Mind you look careful," he jeered.

Kit ran through the pockets. There was no sign of gaff, or hooks, lines or leads. His face fell.

"What, nothing there?" sneered Sim. "Try my waistcoat and my trousers. You never knows what you might find."

Kit looked him up and down.

"You've got ahead of me this time, Lagden." he said quietly, "but don't you halloa till you're out of the wood. I'll get, you sooner or later."

Sim burst into a jeering laugh.

"I'll bet you will—some day when you're growed up into a man. And now. If you've quite done with me, Mr. Keeper, I'll go about my business. This here path's public, and you ain't got no call to interfere with me."

He took off his greasy cap with much courtesy, and walked off.

Kit looked savage.

"Our fault, Kit," said Billy briefly.

"How do you mean, Billy?"

"He spotted our footprints in the dew, and hid his gaff up in the wood there."

Kit started.

"That's it, Billy. You've hit it. Wonder if it's any use looking?"

"Not a bit. Even if you find it, you can't do anything. You can't prove it's his."

"That's true," agreed Kit. "May as well go home and get some breakfast."

But Kit did not forget this episode. Sim Lagden and he were old opponents. Sim had been after the keeper's job from the beginning. Since he had failed to get it he was out to make trouble for Kit. Kit knew this and meant to defeat the other if it was in any way possible.

All that day, while at other work, he thought of plans, but could not hit on any thing. Indeed, he was at Sim's mercy. So long in the weather remained fine the salmon would stay where they were, and with all his other work it was out of the question for Kit to keep a proper watch on the river. Nor could he get anyone to help him. Almost every man in the place had already enlisted. Labour was not to be had for love or money.

He thought of going to the squire and asking his advice. But he did not like to worry him, and, after all, this was his own job.

Over and over again he looked up at the sky, longing for a good downpour. A heavy rain would cause a flood, and with it the salmon, having already spawned, would drop back towards the sea, and so out of danger. But the sky was cloudless, the glass high and steady. It looked as though there would be no rain for a month.

Next morning Kit was out again at earliest dawn, and up the river. But he saw nothing of Sim. He hardly expected to. Sim no doubt knew his every movement, and was not going to venture near the river until Kit had safely disappeared into the coverts a mile away.

Kit walked on and on until he was surprised to find that he had passed the bounds of the squire's property and reached the open moor beyond. The Burle here was good trout water, but the salmon did not run so high. They were stopped by a big fall at the edge of the high ground.

A snipe rose a little way off and went away like a wind-blown leaf. It was evidently a home-bred bird, and Kit walked across to the belt of reeds from which it had come, wondering if there were more about. The squire had told him that he wanted to hear about the snipe. His son, Captain Jack Corynton, who would soon be home on leave, was dead keen on snipe shooting.

Kit found himself on the edge of a deep, dark-looking pool about half an acre in extent, surrounded by sedge and rushes. He knew the place. It was an old tin mine working that had fallen in, and was known as Craston Well Pool.

As he stood staring down into the dark gloomy-looking water he noticed that a little rill ran out of the pool, carrying the overflow into the Burle.

All of a sudden he brought his hand down with a smack on his thigh.

"Got it, by Jingo!" he exclaimed. "My goodness, what a scheme!"

For a minute or two he remained looking first at the pool, then down at the river some fifty yards away, and perhaps thirty feet below. Then he turned and walked home again at a round pace.

Billy was just sitting down to breakfast as Kit arrived. He looked up.

"You caught-Sim?" he said, as he noticed the light in his brother's eyes.

"No, but I've got a plan for stopping his salmon poaching," answered Kit. And there and then he explained it fully.

"Sounds all right," Billy said. "Tell you what. When I leave work to-night I'll go up to Merepit Quarry and get Soames to let me have a stick or two of the stuff."

"Two sticks will be plenty," said Kit. "And bring some fuse. I shall do it to-morrow morning. Don't tell Soames what it's for."

Billy merely grinned.

"I'll help," he said, and applied himself to his cold bacon and bread-and-butter.

Foiling the Poacher

THAT evening Billy brought home a small parcel which he treated with evident respect and stored in an outhouse. He found Kit busy doctoring a setter with a sore foot.

"See here, Kit," he said. "The thing will be to go before daylight. There's the chance there might be trouble if anyone saw what we were about. Warren, the Association keeper, might object."

Kit nodded.

"You're right, as usual, Billy. We'll set the alarum for three, and be up there before daylight. We shall want a spade and a pick."

For the third night in succession Kit turned in the minute supper was over. He was working so hard that it was absolutely necessary to get at least six or seven hours' sleep.

Even so, it seemed as if he had hardly laid his head on the pillow before the alarum clock set up its horrible rattle. He stumbled out, blinking sleepily, and roused Billy.

The brothers wasted very little time in dressing; they had a glass of milk apiece, and went out into a world whose only light was the twinkling stars. One shouldered a pick, the other a shovel; Kit put the parcel into a shooting bag which he slung over his shoulder, and off they went up the river.

Dawn had not yet dimmed the stars when they reached Craston Well, and here they laid down their tools, while Kit explained his plan in detail to his brother.

Billy nodded, and took up the pick.

"Ought to work all right," he said in his brief way. "Suppose we'd better begin from below."

Kit stepped about ten yards down the runnel and measured the fall with his eyes.

"About here, I should say," he answered. "We must cut something of a channel first."

They set to it at once. The ground was soft and peaty, with a big stone here and there. The air was cool, and it is wonderful how much work two healthy youngsters can do in an hour when they really put their backs into it. By the end of that time there was a channel a couple to three feet deep and perhaps four wide Leading up to within two yards of the edge of the pool.

"Now for the dynamite." said Kit.

Billy fetched it, while Kit cut a deep narrow hole in the dam, which was all that kept the water of the pool from running out into the channel. The dynamite was put in, a fuse cut and attached, and the whole thing tamped carefully with large, heavy clumps of turf.

"That's the ticket," said Billy, and grinned. "Touch her off Kit. We want to be as far away as possible before she goes up."

Kit stooped, struck a match, and touched it to the end of the fuse, which at once began to sputter angrily. Then they picked up their tools and ran.

They were more than a hundred yards away before a deep booming sound broke the stillness of the dawn. Turning, they saw a fountain of mud, stones and turf leap high, into the air, and subside with a series of thuds and splashes.

The last piece had not fallen before, with a much louder roar, a cataract of dark-coloured water came leaping down the steep bank, thundering into the river below.

"That's done the trick, Billy," exclaimed Kit exultingly. "That'll wake up the salmon."

"Shouldn't wonder if it waked something else too, Kit. The Burle runs through the village. My word, that flood's going to scare some of 'em.

"But come on," Billy continued, "We don't want to be spotted."

"You're right," said Kit, and together they began to run down the fishing path.

The sun was not yet up, but there was light enough to see the river. From a clear brook purling among its boulders it was suddenly transformed into a raging yellow flood.

The mass of water let loose by the explosion rapidly cut away the turf and excavated for itself a deep channel, down which the whole contents of the pool, released from its long confinement, came leaping and roaring rejoicingly.

The dry rocks vanished under the surging torrent. The river went rolling down in the majesty of full flood. Every now and then came a crash and a huge splash, as a mass of overhanging bank was cut away and plunged forward into the seething foam.

Kit and Billy raced the flood homewards. They were not quite sure about the legal aspect of what they had done, and wanted to be safe home before the people in the village realised what was happening. Not that there was likely to be any serious trouble, for the flood was no bigger than some caused by sudden thunder plumps on the high moor near the source of the Burle.

They could not keep up with the great wave. It went booming ahead, filling the quiet valley with its echoes.

Suddenly Billy pulled up short.

"Who's that?" he exclaimed with unwonted excitement. He pointed as he spoke to a figure springing from rock to rock in the middle of the channel just where the banks were highest. The roaring flood was at his very heels, but the banks were too high for him to escape.

"Sim! It's Sim Lagden," cried Kit. "Great heavens! he's done for."

As he spoke he dropped his spade and spurted for all he was worth, running so hard that he left Billy toiling behind.

Just as the flood reached him, Sim made a desperate leap and seized an oak branch which overhung the river. Next instant the brown wave caught him, and they heard his shrill scream of terror as he was plucked off his feet and swung out horizontally.

Kit strained every nerve to reach him, but he was still twenty yards away when the strain proved too much for the bough. It snapped, and Lagden was swept away like a straw.

Caught in an eddy, he was spun round and round. As Kit came up he saw the man's sallow face twisted with terror and the glare of horror in his greenish eyes.

Kit did not stop. He raced onwards, making for another oak, a gnarled pollard, the branches of which hung low over the bed of the brook.

His plan was already formed. To jump into the water was only to share. Sim's fate. No swimmer could live for one minute in that boiling rush. The one chance was to catch Sim as he was swept by, and, if possible, hold him.

With one leap he was into the tree, and as Billy came up he saw his brother clambering with monkey-like rapidity out on to the stoutest branch above the river.

It was a race with time and Kit won, but only by the narrowest margin. He was hardly in position before the whirlpool above tired, of its burden, and shot Sim out with the speed of a bullet from a catapult.

Lying flat on his stomach, his legs wrapped around the limb, Kit stretched out both hands, and, as Sim was whirled past, just managed to grip him by one arm.


Lying flat on his stomach, his legs wrapped around the limb, Kit stretched out
both hands, and, as Sim was whirled past, just managed to grip him by one arm.

The double weight, combined with the pull of the racing flood, caused the bough to sag dangerously. To his horror Billy saw Kit, bough and all, dipped right into the yellow water. But the spring of the stout oak brought it up again.

Even so, Kit was helpless. He could not lift Lagden. Like a flash Billy was in the tree, and choosing a second branch went out along it. Wrapping himself around it just as Kit had done he succeeded in getting hold of Sim by the other arm, and between them the brothers were able to keep the fellow's head above water. Nevertheless, they could not pull him out.

"We must wait until it drops a bit," shouted Billy.

Kit nodded, and for nearly five minutes the two lay where they were, hanging on for dear life, with their perches swaying like pendulums.

Then the first rush was over, the water began to fall a little, and the strain relaxed a trifle. But it was not for a couple of minutes more that they ventured to begin to work their way back.

A most difficult and ticklish job it was, too, for by this time Sim was insensible and a dead weight on their hands. It took them both all they knew and a bit over to drag him back inch by inch, until at last they had him in slacker water under the bank. Then they rested a little to get their wind back, and, finally, with a heave and a haul, lifted him clear and rolled him, dripping, on to the bank.

"A mighty fine poacher, isn't he?" jeered Billy.

"He's pretty bad, it seems to me," said Kit in some alarm, as he bent over the man.

"Bless you, no! He's all right!" replied Billy confidently. "Only swallowed a little more water than he's been accustomed to. Turn him over and let it run out of him."

They did so, and Kit also untied the dirty muffler which was round Sim's throat, so as to give him a better chance to breathe. The treatment, rough as it was, worked all right, for presently Sim choked and began to be very sick.

Billy caught his brother by the arm.

"Come on!" he said in a low voice.

"We can't leave the fellow," objected Kit.

"Nonsense! He'll be all right inside five minutes. Come on!" he added urgently.

Billy generally had good reason for his proceedings and Kit yielded. Billy hurried him away, and did not stop until they were out of sight of the spot.

Then at last he condescended to explain.

"He never saw us, and he don't know who pulled him out. You don't want him to, do you?"

"No, of course not," Kit agreed. "I quite see, Billy."

"Thought you would. Our next meeting may be a bit interesting."

The next meeting, however, was delayed for some days. Billy brought news from the village that Sim Lagden was in bed "with a cold." It was not until the following Saturday that anything happened.

Then Kit went down to the village late in the afternoon to do some necessary shopping, and as he waited about for Billy so that they could walk home together, Sim Lagden came suddenly round the corner and right upon him.

Sim pulled up at once.

"Why, here's the kid keeper," he began in a loud voice. "Hope you're well, Mister Godwin. You been catching any o' them dratted poachers lately?"

"I've only had one this week," Kit answered with a smile. He also spoke rather loudly, and several passers-by stopped to listen. Sim looked rather startled. Before he could reply, Kit went on: "You're looking very clean to-day, Mr. Sim Lagden. I do believe you've had another wash since the day Mr. Ladd put the hose on you."

This was a sore subject. Sim turned vicious at once.

"Wot you mean?" he demanded threateningly. "Wot are you a-talking about?"

"I thought I made myself clear," said Kit innocently. "I was talking about you. I said you'd had another wash lately—Wednesday, wasn't it?"

Sim's face fell. He turned away, muttering angrily. But Kit had no idea of letting him off. He stepped in front of him.

"The day I found you swimming in the river," he went on in a clear voice. "By the by, how many salmon did you get?"

By this time there were a score of people around. Sim glared at them.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he burst out savagely.

"I'm afraid the shock of the cold water must have spoilt your memory," replied Kit sympathetically. He turned to the crowd.

"Sim went down for an early bathe," he told them. "Somehow a flood caught him. You should have seen him swim."

There were roars of laughter. Sim Lagden's hatred of cold water was notorious.

"Don't laugh," said Kit. "He's trying to reform."

Yells of laughter. Sim put his head down and bolted, driving his way through the crowd like a football player. All the way up the street he was pursued by shrieks of mirth. A heavy hand fell on Kit's shoulder. He looked found and saw Ladd, the burly, red-faced innkeeper.

"You young limb!" he said, with a great grin on his broad face. "Who started that there flood?"

Kit laughed outright. "That would be telling, Mr. Ladd," he answered.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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.