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First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 9 September 1916

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

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Headpiece from Chums, 9 September 1916

Kit Makes a Promise

IT was a tell-tale bit of fluff, by the gate of Broad Meadow, which opened Kit's eyes to the cause of the scarcity of hares on that particular part of the Cleave estate.

The young keeper stooped, and made a careful and methodical examination of the surroundings, and soon had the whole record of the previous night's proceedings as plainly as though he had read it in print.

Here was an atom of string which had been used to tie a net across from one gate-post to the other; here were marks in the dust where a man had been kneeling, and just inside the field, on a fresh mole-hill, he discovered the imprint of a dog's paw. He rose slowly to his feet, and stood poring thoughtfully.

"Sim Lagden, for any money. Yes, he's out of quod again, and mad to get even with me. He's taken advantage of my being up in the spinney last night to net Broad Meadow, and I dare say he's had half a dozen hares. That lurcher of his is a wonder, and I shan't have any peace so long as he and she are afoot.

"Well," he added, "if he worked Broad Meadow last night, the chances are that he will tackle Marsh Meadow the next opportunity he gets. It's up to me to see he gets it—and soon too."

This was not difficult to arrange. Kit mentioned that day, at the village shop, that he had a notion someone was after his partridges, and that he thought he had better keep an eye on them that night. Rumour flies in a little country place. He had no doubt that the news would reach the ears of that notorious poacher, Sim Lagden, and events proved that he was perfectly right.

Marsh Meadow was just across the road from Broad Meadow, and, like it, was a large, flat expanse of grazing ground which held a pretty heavy head of hares. About an hour after dark Kit slipped quietly down to the meadow, and hid himself in the ditch some fifty yards beyond the road gate. He dared not be closer, for he knew by experience how keen a nose was possessed by Bess, Sim Lagden's clever lurcher.

It was a mild autumn night. There was no moon, hardly any wind, and the stars were hidden by a veil of soft cloud. The countryside was so still that even the smallest sound was audible a long way off. Indeed, it was really too quiet; and Kit was afraid that Sim might think the same and not venture out.

An hour passed. Kit was getting stiff. He had begun to think that he might almost as well give it up and go home when he heard footsteps in the distance. The man, whoever he was, was walking on the grass at the side of the road, and moving as cautiously as a fox.

Kit Godwin chuckled noiselessly. His enemy was delivered into his hands.

Presently the steps ceased. There was a long pause. But Kit knew all about it. Sim was fixing his net across the gate. Hares, unlike rabbits, do not use bolt holes in hedgerows, but cross from one field to another by gaps or gates.

After an interval of perhaps ten minutes, Kit, peering through the hedge, caught sight of a tiny star of light moving rapidly yet soundlessly across the big pasture. No need to tell him that this was Bess the lurcher, carrying a tiny lamp attached to her collar, working the hares which were grazing or lying up in the field. The light was carried so that her master might know exactly where she was at any moment.

As soon as he saw this, Kit clambered softly out of the ditch and began to work up towards the gate. Sim himself had never moved more quietly than the boy-keeper.

Kit was within twenty paces of the gate, and just able to see a dim figure crouching beside one post, when there came a slight thud. It was the first hare striking the net. Like a flash Sim leaped forward, and before the poor creature tangled in the meshes could utter that thin scream which is the note of a hare in terror, he had gripped it, and with one quick wrench killed it.

This gave Kit his chance, and before the poacher could even lay aside the dead creature he was on the fellow's back.

Sim had no chance to put up a fight. Before he had the least idea that anyone was near, he was on his face on the ground, with Kit's sturdy ten stone of bone and muscle on top of him.

Regardless of the fellow's threats and struggles, Kit pulled his arms back, and tied his wrists firmly together with a piece of cord he had handy. This was not his first tussle with Sim, and a boy of barely seventeen cannot afford to take chances with a desperate man.

"Got you in the act this time, Sim. What a fool you are!" he remarked.

Sim's answer was unprintable. Kit paid no attention, and quickly began taking down the net which was fastened to the two gate-posts, the gate itself being wide open. He had just finished this when he caught sight of a brilliant spot of light rapidly approaching. It was Bess, Sim's lurcher. She knew that something was wrong, and was coming with all speed to find put.

Kit did not want to have to hurt her. Holding the net in both hands he sprang aside; then, as she came dashing up, he deftly flung the net over her, and she rolled helpless in its enveloping coils.


Kit deftly flung the net over the lurcher,
and she rolled helpless in its enveloping folds.

"Don't you dare hurt her!" Sim's voice had suddenly a new and very different tone. "For any sake don't go hurting of her, Godwin. 'Tain't her fault, anyways."

"Don't worry!" Kit answered curtly. "I never hurt a dog yet willingly, and I'm not going to begin now. I'll take the net off her if you'll tell her to lie quiet."

"Down, Bess!" Sim ordered. "Down, and keep you quiet!"

The dog—a long-limbed, smooth-coated creature, with a lean, pointing head—obeyed instantly, and Kit at once lifted the net away. Then he turned to get Sim to his feet. Instantly came a deep, menacing growl from Bess's throat.

"Best not touch me," said Sim. "I can get up."

He scrambled to his feet, Kit picked up his gun, the net and the dead hare, and, followed by Bess, they started for the village.

"What—got him again!" grinned Rundle, the policeman, as Kit brought his prisoner into the station. "Strikes me he'll get it warm this time. Why, he's only just out!"

Sim was strangely meek.

"You'll look arter Bess, Godwin," he begged.

"Yes, if she'll follow me."

"She will, if I tells her to. You won't let 'em hurt her?"

"No; I'll be responsible for her But I tell you straight, I don't know whether you will get her back."

Sim groaned. "I were a fool to risk her," he said bitterly.

He spoke to the dog, and to Kit's surprise she followed him home without demur. He kennelled her securely, gave her food and left her.

Next morning he went up to the big house to make his report to the squire.

"Excellent!" said Mr. Corynton, with warm approval. "I congratulate you, Godwin, on a very clever capture. You can keep the hare and the net, and I have no doubt but that you will sleep more easily for some weeks or months to come. Lagden will doubtless get a longer sentence this time. The fellow is perfectly incorrigible."

Kit was just leaving the room when his employer called him back.

"Did you get hold of that lurcher of Lagden's?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. I have her safely."

"What—at the kennels?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good heavens! you are surely not wasting food on a creature like that? Shoot her at once."

Kit hesitated. He wanted to appeal, but the expression on the squire's face showed him that—for the moment, at least—this was perfectly hopeless. He knew the quick, hot temper of his employer, and was aware that, if it was roused, he would probably come down and see the dog shot at once. Having given his word to Sim to look after Bess, he had no intention whatever of destroying her; but he made up his mind that he must disobey for the present, and take the chance of an appeal at some better opportunity.

All the same, he was not quite easy in his mind as he walked off on his usual rounds. The squire was an ill man to disobey. He determined to keep the dog out of his way for the time being.

That evening he sent a message over to a friend of his, Arthur Stapleton, son of a keeper on a neighbouring estate, and asked him if he would take charge of Bess. Arthur wrote back that he would be glad to oblige Kit, and Kit could bring her over any time he liked.

Kit walked over the very next afternoon, and left the lurcher with Arthur, who promised to look after her for so long as was necessary.

Sim went before the bench at Taviton on the Saturday, and this time got two months' hard. He defiantly observed that he could do it "on his head," which remark deprived him of any little sympathy that Kit might otherwise have felt for him. Later, however, he got a note scrawled in pencil from the prisoner.

"Remember as you promised to take care off Bess. I won't forgit it to you if you do, nor if you don't.—S. Lagden."

Kit smiled as he tore up the scrap of paper. He had promised, and that was all there was about it. Bess would be there when Sim came out, but whether he would give her up to him or not depended on several things.

Sim Pays a Debt

THE time passed quickly. Kit was always busy, and a busy man or boy is generally a contented one. Christmas came and passed, and the one slackish season of the keeper's year approached. Shooting is over in January, and it is not until February that pheasants have to be caught and penned for stock.

Things had run so easily of late that Kit, in his regular round of duties, had almost forgotten Sim. It gave him quite a shock when, late on a January evening, a gaunt figure, with close-cropped head and sallow face, came slipping silently up to the back of the cottage, where Kit was busy at the moment feeding his ferrets.

"You got Bess safe?" were the first words of this weird-looking visitor.

"She's safe enough," Kit answered curtly.

"Be she here?"

The eagerness in the man's voice touched Kit. Sim was a brute, but his love for his dog was human enough.

"No, I couldn't keep her here. She's up at Stapleton's."

"Will he give her over to me?" asked Sim anxiously.

"Not without a letter from me."

"You'll gimme that, won't you?"

"And have you using her to nobble my hares or rabbits again to-morrow night?" retorted Kit, with some bitterness.

Sim straightened his bent figure.

"You give me back Bess, and I'll take my oath I'll never use her on Cleave ground again," he said.

He meant it too. There was no doubt about that.

"Nor I won't touch none o' your game myself," added Sim.

Kit hesitated.

"I'd rather never use her again than lose her," said Sim earnestly. "I reckon she's the only thing as ever cared for me, or me for her."

"All right," said Kit gruffly. "You wait here, and I'll give you the note."

When he came out with the note Sim almost snatched it.

"You've treated me right, and I won't forget it," he said, and without another word hurried off.

"I believe I'm a fool," muttered Kit. "But, hang it all, I can't find it in my heart to separate a man and his dog."

He proceeded to forget all about the matter, only to have it brought back with unpleasant force a couple of days later.

He was on his way up to the Hall to take his weekly accounts to Mr. Corynton, when the latter, accompanied by his little grandson, Jim Desmond, came walking down the drive. They met quite close to the big iron gates.

"Good morning, Godwin," said the squire amiably. "You can go on up to the house. I shall be in shortly."

Kit touched his hat and walked on. He had not gone many steps when he heard the squire call out to him sharply, and he turned.

"Who is that?" demanded the squire, pointing out into the main road.

There was no mistaking the slouching figure that was loafing down the road, with a battered hat on his head and an old clay pipe in his mouth.

"Lagden, sir," replied Kit.

"And what is that dog at his heels?"

"His lurcher, sir."

The look which the squire turned on him was grim indeed.

"The same that he had before his last sentence?" he asked sternly.

Kit's heart sank, but his voice was steady enough as he replied that it was.

"The dog I ordered you to shoot?" demanded Mr. Corynton.

"Yes, sir; but I couldn't find it in my heart to do it."

"You couldn't find it in your heart, eh? So you're pleased to set up your judgment against mine?" The squire's voice was terrible. "In fact, you deliberately disobeyed me!"

Kit was silent. There was no use arguing with the squire in his present mood.

"You deliberately disobeyed me," repeated the squire. "And into the bargain, you have handed back the miserable animal to that poaching scoundrel."

Still Kit did not speak.

"Why don't you answer me? Am I to consider that you are in league with that blackguard?"

"You know better than that, sir," returned Kit, stung by a sense of abominable injustice. "Poachers have hearts, like other people, and it would have broken Lagden's if his dog had been shot."

The squire snorted. He was furiously angry. "I never heard such absurd nonsense. Boy as you are, Godwin, you have known me long enough to be aware that there is one thing I will not tolerate from anyone in my employ. That is disobedience. I ordered you to shoot that dog. You disobeyed, and you must have known what the consequences would be. You will take a week's notice from to-day."

Kit himself was so angry he could not trust himself to speak. He turned on his heel and went straight away, out through the drive gate on to the road.

So this was his reward for ten months' solid work—successful work too. Not even in his father's time had there ever been a better head of game on the Cleave estate. He was kicked out at a week's notice. He, his mother and his brother would have to leave their snug cottage, and go off somewhere; he had not the least idea where. And his mother—how was he to tell her? It would break her heart to leave her old home.

He walked blindly on, not noticing where he was going, seeing nothing around him, and was suddenly startled by a hoarse voice at his side.

"What's up with you, Godwin? Be you ill?"

Kit started. It was Sim Lagden whom he had overtaken. For a moment he was on the point of turning on the fellow, and letting off steam on him. It was Sim who had been, the cause of this horrible catastrophe.

But something checked him. There had been a note of sympathy in the poacher's voice which—sick and sore as he was—made him refrain.

"No, I'm not ill, Lagden," he answered shortly. "Just a bit upset about something. Thanks for asking." And without another word he hurried on.

Sim watched him.

"Bit upset, eh? 'Tis more'n that. I'll lay the squire's been jumping on him with all four feet. Silly old fool; he don't know a good man when he've got one."

For a moment or two Sim stood still. By the expression on his face he was evidently thinking deeply. Then, after a quick glance up and down the road so as to make sure that no one was watching, he melted into the hedge.

Kit was half-way home before he remembered that he had never given the squire his accounts. He pulled up short.

He hated the idea of going back; he felt as though it would be impossible to speak to the squire while the sense of injury rankled so strongly within him.

And yet it was his duty, and Kit had never been one to shy from his duty, however unpleasant. At last he turned and walked slowly back towards the big house. This time he went round by the back drive. It was a longer distance, but it gave him time and opportunity to get hold of his temper.

He had to ring twice before he got an answer. Then the door was opened by a maid, whose face and manner showed that she was much upset.

"My goodness, but I'm glad you've come, Kit!" she exclaimed, not giving him a chance to speak. "They were just going to send down for you."

"What's the matter?" asked Kit, amazed.

"Haven't you heard? Why, young Master Jim's lost!"

"Jim Desmond? Why, I saw him not half an hour ago with Mr. Corynton."

"Yes; and while the master was talking with you the little lad must have run into the shrubbery. The master called and called, and couldn't see nor hear him. Then he came up to the house, and sent everyone out as could be spared. A pretty taking he's in—his only grandson and all!"

In a moment Kit had forgotten his own troubles. Like everyone else at Cleave, he was devoted to the little lad.

"I'll go at once," he said quickly. "Tell squire I've gone."

Down the drive he hurried, and plunged into the plantation close by where he had met the squire. He began at once to search for the footmarks of the child, but could find no sign of them. Presently he ran into Bryce, the elderly chauffeur, who was searching vigorously through the thick laurels.

"He can't have gone far," said Bryce, in a puzzled tone. "'Tisn't more than half an hour since he was missed. But I'm blessed if I can see any sign of the kid."

"It's no use plunging up and down like this," returned Kit. "We've got to make a line—men and women—and work right through the plantations. That's the only way."

Bryce agreed, but it took some time to collect all the servants and helpers. Kit placed them about thirty yards apart in a long line, and, bidding them keep their distance, set them sweeping through the thick covert.

By lunch-time they had searched every yard of the Home Plantation, and had not found a sign of the boy. Some of the women were crying. The squire himself, who had been on horseback all round the place, was in a terrible state of mind.

Kit was fairly puzzled. There had been no tracks at all, and there was no pond any where near into which Jim was likely to have fallen. Thinking it out while he ate a hasty meal with Bryce, he came to the conclusion that the little lad must have gone in the other direction, and got out on to the road.

As soon as he had finished his dinner he started off across the park, keeping to the right of the drive. As he moved along, with his eyes on the ground, he suddenly saw some thing which made his heart leap. It was a tiny footprint on a mole-heap.

Slowly but surely he followed the tracks to a small gap in the hedge. On the far side of the road was a gate leading into a plantation. Here he got the tracks again, only to lose them on the hard pathway.

He cast and cast about, but could make nothing of it, and was turning to go back and start again when he heard a rustle in the bushes; and Sim Lagden, with Bess at his heels, rose in front of him.

Sim put his finger to his lips for silence.

"Ain't found him yet?" he said.

"No, What are you doing here?"

"No harm. I passed you my word to that."

Kit stared at his old opponent. Something in Sim's voice or manner puzzled him.

"Haven't thought of putting a dog on the trail, I suppose?" suggested Sim.

"No. Nothing we've got is any good for that."

"Wot about Bess here?"

"What! Will she trail?"

"Bet your life she will. Where was the kid seed last?"

"I found his footsteps at the gate here," Kit answered quickly.

"You jest show me," said Sim.

Kit hurried eagerly back to the last mark. Sim showed it to Bess.

"Seek, old girl," he said. "Seek—find!"

Bess looked up with a positively human expression in her dark eyes, then dropped her nose, and without any hesitation started off. A few yards farther on she turned in among the trees, and, still with her nose close to the ground, went on at a sharp pace.

So they went in silence for about half a mile, and then came out into an open space where a rick of dried bracken had been stacked. Bess went straight up to the rick, stood up and placed her fore-paws against it. Then she gave one low whine.

"Looks like he must be here," said Sim.

"Jim! Jim!" cried Kit eagerly. There was no answer. The rick had been cut. Kit sprang quickly up it. There in the thick dry fern lay the little lad sound asleep.

It was on the following evening that Sim Lagden came loafing up in his silent fashion to the Godwins' cottage.

"Was it all right, Godwin?" asked Sim.

"Yes. Thanks to you," Kit answered warmly.

"And to Bess," grinned Sim.

"And to Bess," agreed Kit, stooping to stroke the lurcher's sleek head. "You needn't worry about her any more, Sim. I believe the squire would give you fifty pounds for her if you'd take it."

"Which I wouldn't," returned Sim, and grinned again.

"Well, I'm glad you're all right again," he continued. "You did me a good turn over Bess, and I don't forget good turns any more than bad ones." Again he laughed.

"What's amusing you?" asked Kit.

"Like me to tell you?" said the other.

"That's why I'm asking."

"Well, 'twas the way I fooled you all. I watched the nipper run off, and knowed where he was all the time."

"The mischief you did?" exclaimed Kit.

"Don't go for to get shirty," said Sim. "I reckon I did the best, and killed two birds with one stone—saved you from being sacked, and saved Bess from getting a charge o' shot in her. What do you think?"

Kit burst out laughing. "You're right, Sim. You are quite right. And just remember, the next good turn is due from me."


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.