Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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FISHING-ROD in hand, creel on back, Jock Freeland ran down the heather-clad slope of Pixies Tor towards the road. It was later than he had thought, and he knew just exactly what Great Aunt Sarah would say and how she would look if he was even one minute late for supper. The way her lips would pinch together and the cold glare of disapproval from behind her gold-rimmed glasses.
"I don't believe she ever was young," Jock said to himself, and just then he heard the deep hum of an engine and pulled up short to see a car coming up the valley road.
Nothing much in that, you will say, yet it was odd, for cars did not use this road, especially big cars, and this was a very big one and held four men and a tremendous pile of luggage. Queer-looking luggage, for it consisted of great boxes and long wooden cases covered with sacking. Opposite Jock the car pulled up.
"Hi, boy!" cried the driver in a big, deep voice. "Can you get to Taverton this way?" Jock came forward.
"You can, but it's a rotten road. Bad surface and awful hills." The driver laughed. He was big like his voice. He must weigh fifteen stone, Jock thought, yet his weight was mostly muscle. He had bright red hair and bright blue eyes, and gave Jock a feeling of tremendous power and force.
"I don't mind the hills," he said. "This old bus'll climb anything, and I reckon our tyres are good. How does the road run?"
"Right over the top of the Moor," Jock answered. The big man opened out a map.
"Is this it?" he asked, pointing with a huge forefinger.
"Yes, it passes the old Lar Tor tin mine."
"There's a track marked from the mine to the main road. Could I take the car down that?"
"You might," said Jock doubtfully. "But it's just a cart track, and hasn't been used for years." The big fellow turned to a dark-faced man sitting next him.
"Guess we'll try it, Tony."
"Just as you say, Red," replied Tony. Red spoke again to Jock.
"Thank you, son. We're bound for the fair at Taverton. Maybe we'll see you there to-morrow." Jock shook his head.
"Not likely, I'm afraid," he said briefly.
"Well, so long," said Red genially as he pushed in first gear and started up.
"Rum-looking outfit," said Jock to himself as he watched the big car boom away up the hill. Then he started running again and Just managed to reach Foxen Holt in time for supper.
It was a deadly meal. Once she had satisfied herself that Jock's hands were clean and his hair brushed, Aunt Sarah seldom troubled to make conversation. Jock was only too glad when it was over and he could escape. He decided to start his weekly letter to his father, who was an air-pilot in Mesopotamia, and went up to his rooms to do so.
It was growing dark and the night was still and very warm. A pleasant scent of heather came through the open window, and a curlew was calling mournfully as it winged through the late dusk.
"Dear Dad," Jock began, and paused for inspiration. Suddenly a beam of light shot up into the sky from the other side of Lar Tor, and Jock dropped his pen and stared in amazement.
"A searchlight in the middle of the Moor!" he exclaimed. "What on earth are they playing at?" The beam quivered, then steadied. It seemed to shorten, yet he could still see its glow. Up he jumped and slipped cautiously downstairs. Aunt Sarah was in the drawing-room, the door shut as usual, and he could hear Hannah rattling dishes in the kitchen.
The coast was clear, so snatching up his cap he let himself cautiously out of the front door, and next minute had passed through the wicket-gate at the end of the garden and was breasting the steep hill.
Lar Tor rises to fourteen hundred feet, and Jock was hot and breathless when he reached the top of the great ridge. Now he could see the light quite plainly. It came from a point near the old tin mine, a mile from where he was standing, and he saw that there was not one light but several.
"Landing lights," he said to himself, for as the son of an airman Jock was wise about this sort of thing. He had done a lot of flying with his father. "They must be expecting a plane."
He paused and tried to remember just how the land lay. "Yes," he went on, "there's quite a level patch and I suppose a plane could land there. But it would be beastly risky. And who on earth would want to land in the middle of the moor?" Then a new idea flashed through his mind. Smugglers! He knew that a deal of smuggling is done nowadays by air. He tingled with excitement. "I'm jolly well going to see what's up," he vowed as he hurried on.
He had covered about half the distance when he heard the unmistakable drone of a plane. It was far too dark to see her, but the sound told him she was coming from the north. Another minute and the drone ceased. The pilot had cut out his engine and was planing down. Then Jock saw the plane dropping into the lighted area. He saw it land, and next instant the lights went out.
Jock began to run, but the ground was treacherous, all covered with boulders and thick heather, and twice he took bad tumbles. It was a good five minutes before he reached the level ground. Now he had to go quietly if he did not want to be seen, so down he went on hands and knees, creeping silently through the heather.
By this time it was quite dark, but though there was no moon the stars gave light enough for him to spot the outline of a good-sized plane standing in the open. He stopped and listened and distinctly heard a car moving away down the old cart track towards the main road.
He stood up and saw its lights. It was bumping and jolting along on low gear. It appeared to be a big car, and Jock's thoughts flashed hack to the one he had seen two hours earlier on the valley road.
"Something fishy about this," he muttered. "Anyhow, I'm going to have a look at that plane." He went slowly forward and had nearly reached the plane when he stumbled over something lying flat in the heather. It was the body of a man.
JOCK'S heart seemed to turn over; he felt as if icy fingers were being drawn down his spine. Though he was boiling hot he shivered. Then the body moved and made a grunting sound, and Jock realized with the deepest gratitude that the man was still alive.
He found his matchbox, and with fingers not quite steady struck one. The light showed him a man lying on his face, with his hands and ankles firmly lashed. He was gagged with a piece of cloth. The man wore a leather jacket and helmet, and Jock knew at once that he was the pilot of the plane. Out came his knife, and the sharp blade made short work of the cords. Then he cut away the gag.
The man sat up with a jerk. He was a tall, slim fellow, and even in the dim light Jock could see that he was quite young.
"Who are you?" he demanded hoarsely—"one of them?"
"I'm Jock Freeland. I saw the landing lights. That's why I came." The other struggled to his feet.
"Landing lights. Yes, I thought I was over Okestock. They were on me like a shot the moment I got down. They got my stuff and are off with it," he added savagely. He gazed round, but by this time the car was out of sight. "Did you see them, Freeland?" he asked sharply.
"I saw a car," Jock told him. "It was going down the cart track towards the main road."
"A car," the other was all eagerness. "I thought they had a plane, but if it's a car there's still a chance. That is, if they haven't busted my plane." He sprang towards the plane, switched on a flash light and examined it swiftly.
"It's all right," he said sharply. "By gum, I'll go after them." He pulled over the prop, and the engine, still hot, started at once. Then he looked at Jock.
"Will you come with me. You'd he able to spot the car. Or would you funk it?"
"Funk it!" retorted Jock. "What's there to funk? Think I've never been up before? My dad's a pilot?"
"Freeland, you said your name was. You're not Ronald Freeland's boy?"
"I am," said Jock as he scrambled into the plane.
"Gosh, I'm in luck," cried the other as he followed. "My name's Hanley—Finch Hanley. Your dad taught me to fly. Put on that spare helmet. We can talk as we go." Jock slipped on the helmet and plugged in the phones.
"Can you get her up?" he asked. "You'll have to look out for rocks."
"I came down all right. I'd better turn her and get the same run. Luckily I have lights." He switched them on, then turned the plane and taxied back. Then he turned her again and opened the throttle. She went up like a bird, and as soon as she was off the ground Hanley switched off the lights.
"Where are we?" he asked Jock.
"Almost the middle of the Moor. Okestock's due north."
"Which way will the car go?"
"They'll strike the main road in less than a mile. If you go west you reach Taverton, the other way you can go to Plymouth ox Exeter."
"Plymouth's their line, I'll lay. The odds are they have a motor-boat ready and they'll make for Holland. That's the market for stones."
"Jewels, you mean?"
"Jewels. Gosh, didn't I tell you? They've got the Meripit Emeralds. Worth fifty thousand quid." Jock gasped. Fifty thousand pounds! It hardly seemed there was so much money in the world.
By this time the plane was about five hundred feet up, and beneath Jock could see a pale grey riband which was the road. He leaned out and caught a glow of headlights from a car that was speeding eastwards.
"There she is!" he cried. "You're right. She's going to Plymouth. At least she's on the Princetown road. And, my word, she's shifting."
"Let her shift. This bus is good for one hundred and twenty." He advanced the throttle and the great 250 horse-power engine filled the night with its thunder. In almost no time they were above the car.
"It's the same one," snapped Jock.
"The same one. What do you mean?" Jock quickly told him of the big car and its red-haired driver, and heard Hanley whistle softly.
"What are you going to do now?" Jock asked.
"You'll see," said the young pilot grimly. The big car was travelling at a furious pace. Wistern Wood was only a mile away, and Jock realized that the thieves hoped to reach its shelter where the car would he hidden by the trees. But before he could tell Hanley he felt the plane swoop downwards. For a moment he held his breath, waiting for the crash which seemed certain.
It was not the plane that crashed. As one broad wing swept across the car, almost touching it, the driver lost his nerve. Or perhaps he merely tried to swerve out of reach. Hanley brought the big machine up again in a perfect curve, and Jock saw the car strike the low bank at the edge of the road. She leaped high into the air, coming down with fearful force on her side and spilling her occupants like a child's bricks from an overturned box.
"Got 'em," snapped Hanley in sharp triumph. "Now if I can only find a landing-place." He switched on his lights and circled.
"A field!" he cried suddenly as the plane passed above a dry stone wall enclosing a pasture. "Plenty of room here," he went on, and next moment had cleverly set the plane down on the rough grass. In a flash he was out.
"Stay by her, Freeland," he ordered. "I'll go and clear up the mess. I won't be long." Picking up his flash-lamp, he hurried away in the direction of the road.
Fancy getting into a show like this! And only an hour earlier he had been lamenting the dullness of his holidays.
Time passed and Jock began to grow a little anxious about Hanley. And yet, he felt, there was no reason to be anxious, for Red Head and his companions must certainly have been stunned or otherwise damaged by the spill. All the same, he sighed with relief as he saw at last a light show over the wall. Some one was climbing over into the field.
A moment later a figure appeared within the flood of radiance cast by the powerful electric bulbs. A man was hurrying towards the plane carrying under his arm a good-sized box or parcel.
Jock stared. This was not Hanley. His heart seemed to jump straight up into his throat as he recognized the huge red-headed driver of the wrecked car.
FOR the moment Jock was so overcome with surprise and fright that he could not move. If Red Head had been coming quickly he must have seen the boy, but he walked so slowly that Jock had time to recover.
Jock realized that Finch Hanley's plans had gone wrong and that the big red-headed thief had, in some way, got the better of him. The question was what to do—whether to slip away out of the plane and go to Hanley's help, or to remain where he was.
"Stay by her." Suddenly he remembered Hanley's order as he had left, and instantly made up his mind to stay. But not where Red could see him. In a flash he flung himself down and crept aft. This was a mail plane, and there was a covered compartment in the rear where the bags could be stored. Jock slipped into this and pulled a tarpaulin over himself.
He was barely hidden before Red reached the machine. Red was breathing heavily and moved with a slowness which was in strong contrast to his energy when Jock had first seen him a few hours earlier.
"Must have got a bad bump when the car upset," thought Jock. "I wonder what he's going to do now." What Red did was to switch on, then go round in front and pull over the prop. The engine, still hot, burst into life, and next moment Red was scrambling into the pilot's seat. He advanced the throttle, pulled hack the stick, and almost before Jock knew it they were in the air.
Jock lay very still. Things had happened so quickly he was half stunned. Here he was, in a stolen plane, with a thief as pilot, driving away through the night towards some unknown destination.
It was not his aunt Jock was worried about. All his anxiety was for Finch Hanley, whom he thought of as lying stunned, perhaps badly hurt, by the upset car. Though he had known Hanley for less than half an hour he had already come to like him, and the fact that it was Jock's father who had taught Hanley to fly made a sort of bond between them.
After a while he crept a little way out from his hiding-place. He was desperately anxious to know which way they were going, but did not dare to raise himself high enough to look over the edge of the cockpit. Red, however, clearly had his destination fixed, for he was flying fast and straight. Judging by the chill of the air, he was pretty high, too.
Not being able to see where they were going, Jock turned his attention to the pilot. He noticed that the man sat slumped down in his seat and that now and then he swayed forward. He was evidently in pain. Presently Jock spotted something else. By the dashboard light he could see that the left leg of Red's trousers was darkly stained. The man was wounded, and blood was still running from the wound. In spite of everything, Jock could not help admiring the man's pluck.
The plane roared through the night. The sky was clear, and, looking up, Jock studied the stars. As we have said, he had done a deal of flying with his father, who had told him something about night-flying and navigation. By degrees Jock gathered that they were flying almost due north, and it seemed to him that Red must be making for Bristol.
The minutes dragged by, and Jock, glancing at his wrist-watch, saw that they had been flying for nearly an hour. They must be far up over Somerset by this time. Then suddenly the plane lurched. Red had fallen back in his seat, and in doing so had dragged the stick back. The plane was rocketing upwards.
Jock knew exactly what would happen. She would lose flying speed and drop into a spin. In a flash he was on his feet and had leaped forward. All these big planes have dual control, so all Jock had to do was slip into the seat alongside Red. He grasped the stick, pushed it slowly forward, and at once the plane came back to a level keel and drove steadily on.
Jock turned to Red and saw that his big face was horribly white. The man was still conscious, but only just. His intensely blue eyes were full of amazement. Jock leaned across and spoke into the man's ear:
"Stay where you are. I can keep her going." Red tried to speak, but though his lip moved, Jock could not hear what he said. Then he collapsed altogether.
Jock had at least as much pluck as the average boy, perhaps more than most. And he had the great advantage that he was familiar with the controls of an aeroplane. Yet to merely say that he was scared is putting it mildly. Here he was, in sole charge of a big machine thundering through the night. He did not know where he was or where Red was meaning to take the plane, and—when he glanced at the petrol gauge—he saw that there was not more than enough fuel for a couple of hours' flying.
Jock looked over and saw that they were flying over flat country at a height of about three thousand feet. Here and there he caught the lights of villages, but there was no sign of any large town. Away off to the left was the sea. The moon had risen and its pale light silvered the vast plain of water.
"Must be the mouth of the Bristol Channel," Jock said to himself. "Let me see, there's one good-sized town, Burnham. I ought to sight that pretty soon." But he was not so far north as he had thought, and twenty minutes passed before he saw the glow of a lighthouse and knew he was reaching Burnham. The petrol was sinking fast, and suddenly it occurred to Jock that perhaps Burnham had an aerodrome, and that he might land there instead of risking the flight to Bristol. He headed straight for the town, but to his dismay could see no sign of any aerodrome, or indeed of any place where it seemed safe to bring the plane down.
FOR a moment Jock felt again that nasty sinking, but he fought it successfully, and, as if by way of reward, suddenly saw beneath him a great stretch of smooth yellow sand. The tide was out, and the sands stretched for miles. They were wide, too, for in some places there looked to be a good half mile between the cliffs and the sea.
In a flash Jock took his decision. He would never find a better place to land, so, throttling down the engine, he pulled the plane round and began to descend. At first he pushed the stick too far over, and the plane's nose dipped and the whistle of the air in her wires warned him he was going far too fast.
"It's steady does it," said Jock aloud, as he racked his brain to remember everything he had been told. The wind. He had to head into it. That was the chief thing to remember, and, luckily for him, the ripple on the sea told him that the light breeze was coming from north of west. The moonlight was horribly treacherous, still it was better than nothing. He switched off and glided down.
The landing speed of a plane such as Jock was flying is about forty-five miles an hour. It is easy to imagine the crash if any mistake is made. Jock's heart almost ceased beating as he neared the ground. When it seemed that the plane's wheels were almost touching he eased the stick very gently, and went skimming just above the beach. Next moment he felt the wheels touch.
It was far from a perfect landing. The big plane ballooned, that is, jumped several feet into the air, then settled again with a bump that made Jock's teeth rattle. But no damage was done, and a few seconds later she had come safely to rest midway between the sea and the cliff.
For a full minute Jock did not move. He simply couldn't. The strain had been heavier than he knew, and he felt giddy and a little sick. That soon passed, and the first thing he did when he could scramble out of his seat was to turn his attention to Red. The big man lay slumped back in his seat. His eyes were closed, and for a horrid moment Jock thought he was dead. But presently Jock saw he was breathing.
Jock took out his knife and slit open Red's left trouser leg. Just above the knee was a great jagged gash. Jock's eyes widened as he saw the extent of the injury.
"My word, this chap's got pluck," he muttered as he began hunting round for some sort of bandage. He found a first-aid kit and it did not take long to douse the cut with iodine and strap a bandage tightly over it. Red was still insensible, and Jock wondered what he had best do. He did not like to leave the man, yet knew, of course, that he ought to get help.
All of a sudden his glance fell on the case which Red had been carrying, and he felt sure it must be the jewel box which Finch Hanley had failed to fetch from the car. He picked it up and, stone. Then dropping back he stood for a minute, fixing the spot in his mind. This was not difficult, for there was a long, queer- shaped rock lying on the beach just below the cleft, and a tree, a mountain ash he thought, growing just below the top of the cliff on a ledge. Thrusting a few pebbles into the empty box so as to make its weight right, he closed the lid and hurried back to the plane.
Red lay exactly as Jock had left him, but Jock saw that he was breathing more easily and that his face was not quite so ghastly as it had been.
"He's better," said Jock thoughtfully. "I believe I can leave him now." And then he got a shock, for just then Red's eyes opened and he looked up with a faintly puzzled expression. Then he smiled.
"So you made it, son?" he said.
"Got down, you mean?" Jock replied.
"That's what I mean all right, and I'll say it was lucky for me I shipped a pilot." He paused and gazed at Jock.
"Aren't you the chap who told me the way to Taverton?"
"Yes, only you weren't going there," said Jock bluntly. Red merely laughed.
"Oh, I might have been," he replied. "But I had a job to do first."
"A rotten job," returned Jock. Red shrugged.
"That's a matter of opinion, son, but we won't argue. At least not until I've thanked you for saving my worthless carcass."
"Perhaps I was thinking of mine," returned Jock, but Red took no offence.
"Whatever you were thinking you did a good job. Who taught you to fly?"
"I've never been taught, but I've been up with my father." There was real admiration in Red's blue eyes as he stared at the boy.
"And you picked a landing-place and brought this big bus down safely!" he exclaimed. "That was as good a bit of work as I've seen for a bit. And I know what I'm talking about. I was flying in the war." Jock flushed a little and changed the subject.
"What about Hanley?" he demanded.
"The pilot, you mean. Oh, he's all right. I had to tie him up again, but I didn't hurt him." Red fell silent, with his eyes fixed on Jock, and Jock did not speak either. He did not know what to say.
"And what am I going to do with you?" Red went on presently. "See here, if I turn you loose and give you money for your fare, will you go home and keep your mouth shut?"
"No," said Jock curtly. Red laughed rather ruefully.
"I didn't suppose you would. In that case you'll have to come with me."
"That 'ud be telling," replied Red, with a grin. "It isn't far, anyhow, and, thanks to you, I'll be able to finish the trip in the plane." Again he considered. "See here, I can't leave you on the beach, for you'd spot where I went and start someone after me, and that wouldn't suit my book at all. On the other hand, I don't want to tie you up or anything of that sort. Will you give me your word not to try to escape?"
Jock frowned. He did not know what on earth to say. Red might be a thief but he seemed a very decent thief, and he evidently wanted to treat Jock decently. Yet if he gave his word Jock would have to keep it, and what would happen when Red found that the jewels were gone?
For a moment he thought of making a bolt, but Red divined his intention and stretching out a huge hand caught him by the arm.
"No," he said quietly. "Whether you give your parole or not you've got to stay by me."
JOCK thought hard. He hated the idea of being tied up and carried like a pig in a net without a chance of seeing where they were going. Yet if he gave his promise not to escape he was even worse off, for, sooner or later, Red was bound to find out that the emeralds were missing from their case. He decided to bargain.
"I'll promise not to try to bolt until we get—wherever we're going. Will that be enough?"
"Quite enough," replied Red. He chuckled rather grimly. "By the way, what's your name?"
"Any relation to Captain Ronald Freeland?"
"He's my dad. Did you know him?"
"Met him once. A good man. Is he alive?"
"Yes, he's got a job in Persia."
"I'm not going to tell you my name, but you can call me Red if you like. Now we must be shifting." He looked at the petrol gauge and pursed his lips.
"Just enough to take us there, I reckon," he remarked.
"But you can't fly her," said Jock bluntly. Red laughed. It was marvellous how he had recovered.
"If I can't you can take on again, Jock, but I reckon I can handle her all right."
"What—with that hole in your leg!"
"You've patched it up. Wish you'd pull over the prop for me, Jock," Red added. "I'm not very good on my pins." Jock looked at him sharply.
"You aren't afraid I'd run?"
"No," said Red calmly, and Jock climbed out and did as Red had asked. When he had got in again Red advanced the throttle, and the big machine started forward. Next moment she was in the air and Red headed her out to sea.
"Yes, we're going across to Wales," he said, answering Jock's unspoken question. "Ever been there?"
"No," Jock answered truthfully.
"All the better for me," said Red with a grin. It was a most pleasant and infectious grin, and Jock could not reconcile it with the idea of this man being a thief. He took his seat alongside the other and said no more. It was barely twenty minutes before Jock saw the lights of a big town beneath them. Behind were high hills.
Red, flying very high, crossed the hills and kept on northwards. Beneath him Jock saw rivers, silver threads in the moonlight, hills, and once a good-sized lake; then they were over a great stretch of high moorland, and all of a sudden Red cut out and began to descend.
They were dropping, Jock saw, into a hollow, and beneath was a house half hidden by trees. In front of it lay a good-sized stretch of grass which sloped to a swift brook. As they came close to the ground Red switched on the lights and next moment made a perfect three-point landing.
"Here we are," he said cheerfully. "And here's my housekeeper coming to meet us."
Jock looked at the man whom he could see plainly in the glare of the wing lights. A tall, lean fellow of somewhere between thirty and forty, with a long, narrow face, a beaky nose, and tight-lipped mouth. Jock did not like the look of him.
"What's wrong, boss?" asked this man as he reached the plane. His voice was as harsh as his face.
"A heap," replied Red carelessly. "Car went smash. But don't worry, Jasper. I've got the stuff."
"You got something else," said Jasper, fixing his hard eyes on Jock.
"The lad's all right," replied Red. "You'll treat him decently, Jasper, for if it hadn't been for him, I'd have been busted higher'n a kite. But he'll have to stay here a day or two until things are fixed up. Put him in the top room, then come back for me. I've a hole in my leg and can't walk."
Jasper beckoned to Jock and Jock climbed out and went with him to the house. It was bigger than he had thought, and looked solid and comfortable. Creepers covered the grey stone walls and there were flower-beds beneath the windows. The front door opened into a square hall, the walls of which were covered with various birds and beasts beautifully set up.
But Jasper did not give him the chance of examining these things. He took him up two flights of stairs to the top of the house, opened a door, and signed to Jock to go in. So far he had not said a word, but now he spoke.
"I don't know who you are or why Red brought you. But I'll give you a word of warning. Try any monkey business and you'll be sorry you were born." Jock looked at him.
"Your boss told you to treat me decently. Do you call that sort of talk decent?" Jasper's greenish eyes narrowed.
"You crow loud, my cock sparrow. Likely you won't have so much to say after you've been here a week." Then he went out, slamming and locking the door behind him. Jock sat on the bed.
"I'd better have kept my mouth shut," he said to himself. He was tired and sleepy and the bed, though narrow and hard, had clean sheets. Jock stripped to his under-clothes, had a wash, and was just turning in, when the key turned, and the man Jasper came in again.
"Boss said you was to have some grub," he remarked sourly, and dumped down a tray on which was a plate of cold meat, bread, butter, and some rather mouldy-looking cheese. Jock thanked him politely, but Jasper only scowled and went off, and again the key turned in the lock.
Jock was not hungry. He blew out the candle, but now, instead of turning in, went across to the window. The moonlight showed that it was quite thirty feet from the ground. It showed something else, too—four stout iron bars fastened across the casement.
Jock tried them, one by one, but they were firm as the stout pine timber to which they were fastened. His heart sank. So far, it seemed, they had not found out about the emeralds, but Jock did not like to think of what Jasper would do when he discovered how they had been tricked. Red himself was a decent sort, but Jasper was a brute.
"He'll try to make me tell what I've done with the stones," Jock said to himself. "My only chance is to get away before he finds out."
JOCK had Scottish blood in his veins. It was that which gave him the dogged streak which never let him allow that he was beaten. He had made up his mind to escape, and, if it were humanly possible, he would do it.
The first thing was to find out how the bars were fastened. It was too dark to see, but feeling with his finger-tips, he was greatly relieved to find that they were screwed to the wood. Out came his knife. It was a biggish knife and, as it happened, one blade was broken off short and could be used as a screw- driver.
It was not as easy as he had hoped. The screws were rusted in and refused to budge. It would have been all right if he had had a real screw-driver, but the steel of the knife blade was brittle, and he was terribly afraid of breaking it. Then a bright idea came to him. He had been dry-fly fishing the previous afternoon, and still had in his pocket the little corked tube of thick paraffin which he had used to oil his flies. He got a feather out of the pillow and dabbed some of this oil on the heads of the screws and the woodwork around them.
While this soaked in he took the sheets off the bed, laid them on the floor, and began to cut them into strips.
Each he split into four and twisting the strips, knotted them firmly together, making a rope quite long enough to reach the ground. When he had finished it he tied one end to a window bar and tested it yard by yard. It seemed rather flimsy, yet he reckoned it would hold his weight.
Now for the screws. To his delight, the oil had done the trick, and the first screw came out easily. But the second—there were two to each bar end—was obstinate, and when Jock put his weight upon the knife suddenly there was a sharp snap, and the rest of the blade broke clean away.
For a moment Jock was utterly dismayed, for it seemed as if his last hope had gone, yet again the dogged streak came to his rescue. There was another blade, and he was on the point of breaking it off when he had a fresh inspiration. Instead of trying to turn the screw, he decided to cut it out.
The wood surrounding it was almost as hard as iron, but by degrees Jock carved it away, until he had a hole half an inch deep on one side of the screw.
Now, if he could only find a lever of some sort.
It did not take him long. The bedstead was an iron one, and pushing off the mattress, Jock took off one of the metal slats, and found that he had just the tool he wanted. He jammed the end under the screw-head, and worked until at last the wretched thing began to loosen. Then he took hold of the bar and pulled. There was a snap, which sounded so terribly loud that Jock stood breathless, quite expecting some one would rouse. But the silence remained unbroken, and Jock began to pull on his clothes.
All this had taken a very long time, and the false dawn was already dimming the stars. Jock had meant to be well away before daylight, yet, in spite of his hurry, he took good care to tie his sheet rope very firmly to a bar. At the last minute he remembered he had no food. So he filled his pockets with the bread and meat from the tray. Then he threw the end of his rope out, and squeezing between the bars, went down hand over hand.
To his horror, he found that there was a first floor bedroom window exactly below his. The upper part of the sash was open, so it looked as if some one was sleeping in the room. The blind was down, but not all the way. Each instant Jock expected to hear a shout, but there was no sound, and he reached the ground in safety.
He stood a moment looking round to get his bearings. All was open ground in front, but what Jock wanted was cover. There was a clump of laurels to the left, and he went swiftly towards it. His one object was to put as much distance as possible between himself and the house for that great white rope which, of course, he had been unable to remove, was a regular advertisement of his escape.
His troubles were not over. With a snarling growl a dog came at him out of a path leading through the shrubbery. A huge tawny beast with blood-shot eyes.
Jock had not even a stick—not that a stick would be much use against a creature like this—but he had something better, a knowledge and love of dogs. Instead of bolting he stood perfectly still, facing the great hound.
"Hulloa, old chap," he said in a casual sort of voice. The dog stopped too, but the growl still rumbled in his throat. "It strikes me you look a bit hungry. I don't expect you've had any breakfast. What about a bit of mutton?" Very quietly he slipped his hand into his pocket and brought out a slice of meat. And all the time kept on talking in the same slow, gentle voice.
He stretched out his hand towards the dog with the meat lying in the palm. The dog stopped growling and came a step nearer. He was hungry and the mutton smelt good. Jock stood like a statue, and step by step the dog approached.
"If he'll only take it!" thought Jock. Even now he could not tell what the dog would do. He might snap, and in that case Jock would lose his hand, for the dog's jaws were as powerful as those of a wolf.
He did not snap; he took the meat. He ate all that Jock had, and before he had finished Jock was stroking his massive head. When at last Jock moved away the dog followed him. At the end of the path was a wicket gate leading into a wood. Jock shut it firmly in the face of his four-footed friend, walked quietly till he was out of the dog's sight, then started to run.
The sun was up, it could not be long before his escape was discovered and then they would be after him. The path wound among the trees and he could not tell in the least where he was going.
All of a sudden he came out into the open. In front was a river thundering in a foaming rapid between high banks. Once there had been a foot-bridge, but some winter flood had carried it away. Jock pulled up short. There was no way across. At that moment he heard a deep baying in the distance. The great hound had been set on his track.
JOCK looked at the river, the long streaks of yellow foam gleaming in the light of the newly risen sun. He knew he was in a very tight place.
The question was whether to go up-stream or down. That did not take long to decide. Below the rapid there would be smoother, slower water, and Jock, a good swimmer, felt sure that he could cross in that way. Turning sharply to the right, he plunged into the wood and ran.
It was bad going. There was a lot of thick bracken and undergrowth which slowed him a lot. The worst of it was the noise he could not help making, crashing through it.
He heard the dog again. The deep bell-like bay rang through the calm air of the early morning, and the sound was nearer than before. Jock was getting blown. His build was too square and sturdy for sprinting. One thing was in his favour. The hill was not so steep, while the river was less noisy. He felt he must be getting near the end of the rapids, and if he could only find a still pool he meant to take to the water.
The baying broke out afresh and this time it was ahead of him. With a horrid shock Jock realized that Jasper must have guessed his direction and taken a short cut. Now there was nothing for it but the river, and wheeling to the left Jock plunged down the steep bank.
The sight was not a pleasant one. Though he was below the actual rapid, the river, which was very full, was running narrow and deep with a speed far beyond the power of any swimmer to fight across it. Yet Jock had no choice. He plunged in.
At once the strong stream seized him and carried him down like a chip. It was all he could do to keep his head up while the current took him down.
Looking up, he saw the bushes part as the big hound came leaping down the bank. Next minute he was carried round a bend, and in spite of the cold and the danger he almost laughed to think how he had fooled Jasper.
"He'll think I'm drowned," he said to himself, and next moment found himself caught in a whirlpool and fighting hard to save himself from being actually drowned. His wet clothes felt heavy as lead, but just as he was almost giving up he managed to grab a big bough which overhung the pool. With the help of this, he pulled himself out of the swirl and got close to the bank. He could not get ashore because the bank was too high and steep, but he hung on and tried to get his breath back. He was badly blown.
Suddenly a stone came bouncing down the steep bank above. It crashed through the tree, missed Jock's head by a yard, and plumped into the water. Jock looked up in a fright, and nearly cried out, when he saw the long legs of Jasper just above him.
"I knowed you weren't drowned," said the man. "Come out of that." Instead of coming out Jock went in. He released his hold on the branch and struck out furiously.
"No you don't," snapped Jasper and dropped down the bank on to the branch. But the branch was not built to stand Jasper's weight. With a loud crack it broke off and together with Jasper soused deep into the pool.
Jock's spurt had taken him clear of the suck and he was carried swiftly down a long swift stickle. Glancing back, he saw Jasper clinging to the branch following him.
Fright gave Jock fresh strength. He swam as he had never swum before, and gained rapidly on Jasper. Next minute he was swung round another curve and found himself in a big circular pool, quite surrounded by trees.
"I say, isn't it a bit early for a bathe?" came a voice, and Jock saw a tall, slim, fair-haired boy seated in what looked like a large wicker basket, with a fishing-rod in his hand.
"I—I'm not bathing. They're chasing me," Jock answered hoarsely. He saw the other boy stiffen, saw him quickly lay down his rod and pick up his paddle, and knew that he had spotted Jasper.
"All right," said the fair-haired boy. "I'll give you a hand. Get hold of the stern and I'll tow you ashore." Jock gratefully caught hold of the gunwale of the queer craft.
"You can't get in," the other explained. "A coracle only holds one. And for any sake don't upset her. I don't want to lose my rod." Balancing the tiny boat in a way that seemed to Jock nothing short of a miracle, the tall boy wielded his paddle vigorously, and in a very short time had Jock ashore on the far bank. Jock scrambled out, dripping and shivering.
"T—thanks awfully," he said between chattering teeth.
"Who's your friend on the branch?" asked the other. "Strikes me he isn't doing much chasing. I don't believe he can swim. Hadn't I better pull him out—?" He broke off. "Hulloa, what's this?" he exclaimed. The big hound had suddenly appeared on the far bank. Without hesitation he plunged in, swam out to Jasper, caught hold of his coat, and began to tow him ashore.
Jasper reached shallow water and scrambled out. He turned and glared at Jock.
"You're clear for the minute, but don't fancy I've done with you yet. I told you that if you played the fool you'd be sorry. And you will." He swung round, plunged in among the trees, and vanished. The dog followed. The tall boy turned to Jock, and the smile was gone from his face.
"You're right," he said gravely. "That chap's dangerous." Then he saw how white Jock was. "But you're all in," he added. "Come up to the house and I'll find you some dry kit. And I'm crazy to hear what's happened. We don't get much excitement in these parts."
A NARROW path led steeply tip through hanging woods. At the top of the hill they came upon a road, and a little way down it was a gate leading into a garden which sloped upwards to a small but comfortable-looking house.
"This is our place," said the tall boy. "Dad and I live here, but he's away just now. He's Major Bellingham; I'm Tim."
"My name's Jock Freeland," Jock told him.
"Jock," repeated the other, and laughed. "Suits you down to the ground. I bet you're Scotch."
"Half," said Jock. "But dad's English. You're Irish, aren't you?"
"My mother was," said Tim. "She's dead," he added quietly.
"So's mine," Jock answered. Tim looked at him and just nodded. But in that moment began a friendship which was to lead to things which neither of the boys could possibly foresee.
"Got any fish, Master Tim?" came a voice from the porch, where a man, who looked like an old soldier, was polishing the brass bell-pull.
"One, Ballard. A big un. Here he is." The man turned and his eyes widened. Then he smiled, and Jock liked his smile.
"He's wet, anyway. Did you fall in, sir?"
"Had to," said Jock with a grin.
"Tell you afterwards, Ballard," said Tim. "I'll take him up and get him some dry things. Tell Margaret we're both jolly hungry.
"Ballard was dad's batman in the army," Tim explained. "He and his wife run the house. Come on up." In his bedroom Tim soon raked out a change for Jock.
It was a great relief to get out of his soaked clothes and into dry ones, and by the time Jock had changed, breakfast was ready. A big dish of well-grilled bacon, crisp toast, home-made bread and butter, marmalade and tea. Tim did the honours, and would not let Jock talk until he had finished his share of the bacon, then when they got to the second course of bread and marmalade he began to ask questions.
Jock told him the whole story, from the time he had first met Red in the car until he had escaped from Red's house and taken to the river. Tim stopped eating, and leaned forward with his chin on his hands and his Irish grey eyes shining. He never said a word until Jock came to being left alone in charge of the plane.
"And you got her down without a crash!" he exclaimed.
"More luck than skill," said Jock, but Tim shook his head.
"Don't tell me. I know."
"You fly?" asked Jock quickly.
"A bit. I'm mad on it," was Tim's answer. "But go on." Jock went on. When he had finished, Tim drew a long breath.
"My word, you have been mixing it. I say, what do we do now? You can't leave fifty thousand quids' worth of jewels stuck in a hole in a cliff. And there's another thing. This fellow, Red, will know just where to look for them. I mean, when he finds the casket empty."
"I've thought of that. Yes, he'll know that I hid them somewhere near where we came down, because that was the only chance I had. But he'd have a job to find them."
"Still, he'll look," said Tim, "and I'll lay he won't waste much time in looking."
"He's got a bad hole in his leg. I don't believe he'll be able to do much for a day or two."
"Then he'll send Jasper or one of his other pals. See here, Jock, the thing for us to do is to get to that beach as quick as ever we jolly well can. We have to beat 'em to it."
"We," repeated Jock. "It's nothing to do with you, Tim. And, besides, what would your father say?"
"If dad was here he'd have started already," Tim declared. "And since he isn't, it's up to me to lend a hand. Don't say no, Jock. It's the first bit of real excitement that's ever come my way."
"I'll be jolly glad to have you," said Jock. "But I say, don't you think we ought to go to the police."
"What would be the use?" retorted Tim. "Griffiths, the local constable, has about as much brain as a tortoise. If we tell him he'll go all the way to Llandovery to telephone to the Chief Constable. Then the Chief Constable would have to come and see us. Why, they wouldn't get started until to-morrow, and by that time Red will have been there and gone."
"I expect you're right," said Jock slowly. "But suppose we tackle the job, how are we going to manage it? I haven't a bob. And we shall want a lot of money for fares and one thing and another." Before Tim could answer, Ballard stuck his head in.
"Have you finished, Master Tim? If you have I'd like to clear. And here's the newspaper."
"Give us five minutes, Ballard," said Tim. "We've been yarning and forgotten the time. Is there any news?"
"Big jewel robbery. Plane tricked down by false landing lights on Dartmoor, and Lady Meripit's emeralds stolen. It's in the stop press." Tim grabbed the paper and opened it.
"Here it is. Here's the yarn. And, Jock, listen. There's five thousand pounds reward for the recovery of the emeralds."
"Five thousand pounds!" repeated Jock. "Why, if I had even half that, dad could come home and buy that partnership he's so keen on." Tim brought his fist down on the table with a thump that made the crockery rattle.
"Then, by gum, you shall earn it, and I'll help." Even stolid Jock showed signs of excitement, but he did not let it overcome his common-sense.
"I'm as keen as can be, Tim, but you haven't answered my question. Where are we going to get the money? Have you any?"
"I've got about thirty bob. Can't get any more till dad comes back."
"That's not enough," said Jock firmly. "Remember, we have to go all the way round by Bristol." Tim bit his lip. Then suddenly he jumped up, knocking his chair backwards.
"I've got it. We'll bag the plane. I can fly her all right."
Jock stared. Then all of a sudden he shook his head.
"It's no good. Even if we could get her there's only petrol for about half an hour left in her tank." Tim was not at all dashed.
"That don't matter. Dad and I are members of the Llanfechan Flying Club. The aerodrome's less than twelve miles from here and the instructor's a pal of mine. We'll fly her over there, tell him the whole yarn, and he'll give us all the petrol we want." Jock grinned.
"You've an answer for everything, Tim. Well, I'm game if you are. Only before we leave I want to do two things. First, send wires to my old aunt to tell her I'm still alive, and to Finch Hanley, who'll probably be at Taverton. Then I think we ought to leave a note for your father so that he'll know where we are in case anything goes wrong."
Tim nodded his approval.
"Ballard will send the wires if you'll write them. I'll write the note, then we'll shove along."
Ten minutes later the two left the house and headed for the pool where they had left the coracle.
AS they neared the edge of the pool Jock pulled up.
"One thing you've forgotten. The coracle won't hold us both."
"Don't worry, I didn't forget the string," replied Tim, taking a ball of stout string from his pocket. For a moment Jock looked puzzled, then he nodded.
"I see. One goes over, the other pulls the coracle back."
"Go up one," grinned Tim, and got into the queer little bowl- shaped boat. He paddled across, trading the string behind him, and Jock pulled the coracle back. It was the crankiest craft he had ever sat in, and it beat him how any one could fish from it, but Tim declared it was quite easy when you got used to it.
Tim chatted gaily as they went up through the steep woods opposite. The two might have been off on a picnic instead of the extremely risky venture they were engaged on.
Gaining the top, Tim stopped talking and went forward cautiously. He led the way, for he knew the lie of the land better than Jock.
"I've been to Garve House," he told Jock, "but not since the present man has had it."
"What's he call himself?" Jock asked.
"Spain, but I'll bet that's not his real name."
"He's a queer chap," said Jock. "I must say he was very decent to me."
"I doubt if he will be this time—that is if he catches us," Tim chuckled.
"I'm not worrying about him," said Jock. "It's that chap Jasper. He's a nasty piece of goods."
"I don't believe he'll be here at all," declared Tim.
"Then there'll be somebody else. You can just bet on that," declared Jock.
"We shall soon see," Tim said. "We're coming to the edge of the wood. Duck down and creep through the bracken." They ducked and crept, and presently were on the edge of the wood. The meadow was in front of them, Garve House to the right, and to the left, about a hundred yards away, the brook which ran into the bigger river just below the pool where they had crossed. The plane lay almost in front of them at a distance of about a couple of hundred paces.
"There's a man working on it," whispered Tim. "What luck! He's filling the tank."
"Luck, do you call it?" growled Jock. "How do you think we're going to get it away with that chap hanging round?" Tim was not at all dismayed.
"Let's go round by the brook. We can creep up the bed of it, rush him, and tie him up."
"And then sit there for ten minutes while the engine warms up?" asked Jock sarcastically.
Tim looked a little dashed, but not for long.
"I expect the man will start warming her up as soon as he's filled her. Your friend, Red, will want to get rid of the machine as soon as he can. So long as it's here it's evidence against him." Jock frowned.
"You may be right about that, but anyhow your plan's too risky. It's quite a long way from the brook to the plane, and he'd be pretty certain to spot us. Then he'd lay for us with a spanner, and what chance should we have?"
"He wouldn't have an earthly against the two of us," declared Tim. "And if we don't do that I'd like to know what else we can do."
"We might create a diversion, as my dad used to say. Fire a gun or something like that."
"We haven't a gun, and there's no time to fetch one," said Tim flatly.
"We'd get one in the house," said Jock. Tim's eyes widened.
"For a canny Scot you've got large ideas," he said. But Jock was not listening. He was frowning, thinking hard.
"Tell you what, Tim, I think I've got it. When I came through the shrubbery this morning, just after I'd got away from the dog, I spotted a big pile of branches. If I was to run up there and stick a match into the pile there'd be a jolly fine bonfire. That might fetch the chap."
"It might work." Tim's voice was a little doubtful. "We'll try it anyway."
"No need for you to come. I can do it," said Jock.
"Yes, and run into trouble. See here, Jock, we're in this together, and we stick together." Jock grinned. The more he saw of Tim the better he liked him.
"All right," he agreed. "Only if the dog comes out, remember he's my pal, not yours."
"I'm not jealous," laughed the other. "Come on."
It did not take long to make their way up through the wood to the wicket gate. There they paused and listened, but there did not seem to be any one about, so they went quietly through it and crept up under the garage wall. That hid them from the house.
There was the pile of branches stacked up six feet high. Jock peeped round the end of the wall, then finding the coast clear slipped out, and, striking half a dozen matches at once, thrust them into the heap. He waited only long enough to make sure the stuff was alight, then scuttled back. As the two raced through the shrubbery into the wood there was a crackle like fireworks behind them, but next moment this was drowned by the far louder sound of the plane's engine.
"There, I told you," said Tim, "He's warming her up. And as for that fire, he'll never hear or see it." Jock looked a bit worried.
"I expect you're right. We'll have to try your plan and go round by the brook."
"That'll work all right," said Tim confidently. "Anyhow the chap will never hear us."
"He won't hear us, he'll see us," Jock said. "There's no cover once we leave the brook.
"Don't grouse. We've got to have that plane."
It was all right down in the bed of the brook, for the bank was high enough to hide them so long as they kept their heads down. But it was difficult to run all doubled up, and some of the pools were quite deep. It was more than five minutes before they gained the spot nearest to the plane.
"My word, that fire's going great guns," said Jock as he poked his head up over the bank. "Look at the smoke."
"But the man isn't paying any attention to it," Tim answered. "It's no use waiting. Let's go," Jock caught Tim by the arm.
"Wait a jiffy," he whispered urgently. "He's getting up into the plane."
"Then the odds are he's starting," replied Tim sharply. "Come on, Jock, or he'll be away with her, and then our goose will be properly cooked." Instead of starting, the man switched off, and the silence that followed was broken only by the distant crackle of the bonfire. Jock's face lit up.
"That's better. Now he's bound to spot the fire. Yes, I told you so." The man was looking round at the great cloud of smoke which a faint breeze from the north-east was carrying towards the house. It was so thick that the house itself was almost entirely hidden.
"He's getting out. He's going to investigate," breathed Tim, who was quivering with excitement. "Now's our chance, Jock."
JOCK was as excited as Tim, but he did not show it so much. He waited till the man had nearly reached the edge of the smoke, then let go of Tim's arm.
"All right," he said. Tim went off like an arrow from a bow. He was in the plane before Jock reached it. As Jock ran round in front he saw Tim already in the pilot's seat.
"Can you handle her?" panted Jock.
"Rather. At least I can fly her. I don't know so much about navigating. But I say, the wind's all wrong. I'll have to turn her into it to get her up." Jock glanced round to see what the mechanic was doing.
"Then you'll have to be jolly quick," he said. "There are two men coming from the house. And one of 'em is Red."
"Red! I thought he was in bed."
"He isn't. He's walking with a stick. I don't know who the other chap is, but he looks hefty."
"Give her a turn then," cried Tim. Jock did so, and the engine, well warmed, started at once. Jock scrambled in. Tim advanced the throttle, and the roar became deafening as the plane began to move.
At present her nose was pointed towards the brook, but there was not space enough on the down slope for her to rise. In any case an aeroplane must take off into the wind, so Tim started to bring her round. But a plane doesn't turn like a car. She has to come round in a wide sweep. Jock was watching Red and his companion, and the moment the engine started the latter also started and came sprinting down the meadow with great strides. By the time Tim got the plane round, the man was quite close.
He was tall and powerfully built, and the savage look on his weather-beaten face augured ill for the boys if he once got his hands on them. He ran directly for the plane. She had not got her pace yet, and was bumping badly over the uneven ground. It looked all odds that the big man would reach her before Tim could get her going.
Tim kept his head admirably. Instead of turning the machine away and trying to escape, he deliberately swung her round and headed straight at the man. In order to escape being knocked down the man was forced to leap aside. His quickness was wonderful, and as the wing passed him he made a grab and caught the tip. His weight checked the plane, and if the wing had hit the ground would have stopped or upset her.
But Tim had spotted exactly what the man meant to do, and as the fellow seized the wing he quickly swung the machine in the opposite direction.
"He's down! You've bowled him over," shouted Jock. The left wing rising sharply had caught the man in the chest and knocked him sprawling. Before he could get up the plane was far out of his reach and travelling at thirty miles an hour. A moment later Tim raised the stick back, bumping ceased, and the big machine took the air. Jock leaned over.
"Good work, Tim," he shouted in Tim's ear. Tim grinned. His grey eyes were dancing.
"I knew we'd manage it," he shouted back as he circled upward. "I say, Jock, try and find a couple of helmets and a phone. We'll probably do a lot of talking, and I hate having to shout."
Jock nodded and clambered back into the after part of the plane. In a locker he found two helmets and phones and also a leather waistcoat and an overcoat. This was real luck for, even on a summer day, the upper air is distinctly cold. He put on the waistcoat and brought the overcoat for Tim. Then they put on the helmets, connected the phones and sat comfortably side by side.
"I'm taking her pretty near due south," Tim said.
"Where are we?" Jock asked. "I don't even know what county this is."
"Carmarthen," Tim told him.
"Then south is about right or a bit east of south. We passed over a big town last night. I expect it was Swansea."
"I don't know about that. It might have been Barry Dock or Cardiff. Where did you leave, Somersetshire?"
"A little east of Weston as far as I could gather. It was a biggish place and I spotted a lighthouse."
"You're a bit vague, old man," replied Tim. "If the place was Weston, we have to go a lot to the east of south."
"Let's try that first anyhow," said Jock. "If it's wrong we can go west down the Bristol Channel. I'm pretty sure I'd recognize the place. There's a queer-shaped rock on the beach and a mountain ash exactly above the hole where I planted the emeralds." Tim nodded and pulled the plane round until her compass showed south-east.
"First time I've ever flown a big bus like this," he told Jock. "Feels like a Rolls Royce compared with a baby car. But, my word, how she does travel!" He opened the throttle a little and the needle of the dial crept up to one hundred and twenty miles an hour. "We'll be there in about forty minutes," he added.
Jock was looking over the edge of the cockpit.
"There's a lake," he said eagerly. "It's the one we passed last night. We're on the right track."
"Then Cardiff's your town," Tim replied. The lake faded away behind them and hills rose in front. As they swept over the crest, the broad waters of the Bristol Channel showed in front, shining under the bright sun. They passed over Cardiff at about three thousand feet, and Tim held the big plane straight out across the Channel.
"There's my lighthouse," Jock said presently. "At least I'm pretty sure it's the one I spotted last night."
"That's Weston," Tim told him. "I'll keep just east of it, and we'll fly low up the beach until you get your landmarks."
At the pace they were moving they were across the Channel in about a quarter of an hour and Tim dropped lower and turned east, flying up the beach at a height of about five hundred feet, while Jock scanned the cliffs on the star-board side, watching keenly for the spot where he had set the plane down on the previous night. Tim came lower still and the plane roared along only a little above the level of the cliffs, startling the seabirds with the rattle of her exhaust. The cliff ran out to a point in front, and as they rounded this great mass of rock Jock exclaimed in dismay.
"There's a plane there already, Tim—on the beach. Do you see?"
Tim whistled softly.
"I see her all right. Yes, and two men searching the cliff. Looks to me as if your friend, Red, had stolen a march on us, Jock. What are we going to do? The beach is the only place to land, but it would be simply crazy to bump down on top of those chaps. With fifty thousand pounds at stake they won't stop at much."
JOCK knew Tim was right. With jewels of such immense value the thieves would not stop at much, and it was clearly out of the question to alight on the beach. On the other hand, there did not seem any other place where there was a chance of landing in safety, for all the ground above the cliffs looked rough and broken.
Looking down, he saw the men below staring up at the plane. He could not recognize their faces, yet one, it seemed to him, looked curiously like Red. Yes, it was Red himself for he was walking with a stick. He must have been mistaken about the men he had seen just before they left Garve House.
"Keep on," Jock said to Tim. "Fly right on and see if there's any place where we can land."
"There isn't," Tim told him. "The only thing will be to go on to the nearest aerodrome and get help."
"And by that time Red and his pal will have got the stones and cleared out."
"It's rotten luck, Jock, but I don't see how it can he helped. I'd only crash if I tried to put her down here." Jock's brain always worked best in a tight place. Now, suddenly, an idea flashed through his brain.
"Listen," he said eagerly. "Don't go on to Bristol. Throttle down and fly in a circle."
"Do you mean so that we can watch them?" Tim asked.
"No. I'm going down."
"Are you crazy?" demanded Tim.
"Not a bit. There's a parachute in behind. I spotted it when I was looking for the helmets."
"A parachute! Have you ever used one?"
"No, but I've seen it done ever so many times. I've helped a chap to put one on." Before Tim could say anything more, Jock had disconnected the phones, and scrambled back and was groping around in the after compartment of the plane. When he came back Tim saw that he had the pack strapped on his back. Tim was very upset.
"Jock, it's a beastly risk," he said as Jock reconnected the phones. "Even if the thing opens all right you can't tell where you'll drop."
"The wind's north-west," Jock told him, "so I shan't go into the sea anyhow. As for risks, well, we've taken a few already, and five thousand pounds reward is worth a few more. Don't worry, Tim. I shall be all right."
He was so confident that Tim felt a little happier. In any case Tim knew it was no use arguing. Though his acquaintance with Jock was only a few hours old, it had been long enough to realize that his new friend had a will of iron. Jock was speaking again.
"Go up to about three thousand, then come round right over the beach. That's where I shall get off. Afterwards you'd better fly to Bristol, and ask 'em to send help as quick as they can." Tim's lips set firmly.
"Right you are, Jock. I only hope we find you whole and not in small pieces." Jock laughed and Tim was inwardly amazed. Whoever was scared it certainly was not Jock.
Tim obeyed Jock's directions implicitly. He rose and circled while Jock watched for the right spot at which to make his start. He had again disconnected the phone. Presently he stood up. The chill air stung his face, but he paid no attention. He drew a long, deep breath, then stepped over the side of the cockpit as calmly as if he were getting off a train.
The wind whistled and screamed past his ears as he dropped into space. He yanked at the cord which would release the bundled parachute, yet nothing happened, and for a few horrid seconds he felt real panic. Then came the welcome crack and snap of the silk as it unfolded above him. The parachute opened and grew taut, and with a jerk the stout harness tightened around his body. After that he was able to breathe easily and found himself floating in mid-air as softly as a bit of thistledown.
The roar of the plane was still loud in his ears and looking up he saw it headed for Bristol, travelling at great speed. He grinned. "Stout fellow, Tim. He isn't going to waste time bringing help." Then he looked down. The robbers' plane was still on the beach but he could not see Red or his companion. The breeze was carrying him inland and they were hidden from him by the cliff.
A nuisance, this wind. Already he saw that, instead of landing near the edge of the cliffs as he had hoped, he would be taken at least half a mile inland.
The air grew warmer. Cradled in the harness, the descent seemed endless. Yet presently he was near enough to the ground to realize that he was really falling quite fast. He remembered something his father had once told him—that if you don't bend your knees there is every chance of damaging yourself badly. He found himself being swept across a rough looking field at a height of about a hundred feet.
He drew up his legs and almost before he knew it his feet had touched the ground. He flung himself flat and was dragged along for some distance. It was lucky for him that it was grass on which he had dropped for, if it had been hard ground, he would have been badly bruised. The great expanse of silk flattened against the ground and Jock was able to unstrap the catches and free himself from the harness. He did not wait to fold up the 'chute. That could be left till later. Picking himself up he ran hard for the edge of the cliff.
The distance was greater than he had thought. He was panting and drenched with perspiration by the time he reached the top of the cliff.
He looked over. There was nothing there at all, no plane, no men, not a living thing except a few gulls.
JOCK stared. He could hardly believe his eyes. He looked up into the sky but could see no sign of the robbers' plane. He certainly had not heard it go, but come to think of it the cliffs might have shut off the sound.
Anyhow, it was gone, and Jock's heart sank at the thought that Red must have found the emeralds and taken them away. In that case he feared they were lost beyond all hope of recovery, and with them went all chance of the reward. Jock himself was not a greedy sort, but it was his longing to get his father back to England that made him so desperately keen for a share of that five thousand.
All this passed through his mind in a flash, then he was running along the cliff top, looking for a place to climb down. His one idea was to find out whether Red had actually discovered the hiding-place. He found a gully and started down. It was a horrid, dangerous place for the steep slope was covered with loose shale. Yet for once Jock's usual caution deserted him and he clambered down at reckless speed.
The result was very near to being disaster, for the loose stuff began to slide under his feet, and if he had not managed to grasp a projecting rock which was solid enough to hold him, he would probably have been buried in the young landslide that roared to the bottom of the gully. This scared him, and the rest of the way he went more carefully. He ran down the bottom of the gully and out on to the beach. The small muddy waves of the Bristol Channel broke on the sand but, look as he might, he could see nothing else.
It occurred to him that Red might have left his companion to watch him, and Jock paused long enough to carefully survey the cliff face. But he saw no place where a man could hide, and feeling sure that there was no one in sight, ran down the beach to the spot where the odd-shaped rock lay. He got his bearings between it and the stunted tree on top of the cliff and climbed quickly up to the hiding-place.
He found it without trouble, and drew a long breath of relief as he saw that the stones with which he had wedged the mouth were still in position. Pulling them out he thrust his hand in and drew out the bundle of stones still wrapped in his own dirty handkerchief.
"Good luck!" he cried joyfully, and sliding down, waited a moment to take a glance at the sparkling gems. They were all there. "Won't Tim be pleased?" he said to himself, "and Hanley. Even if we share the reward between the three of us it'll be over sixteen hundred pounds apiece."
A shadow fell across him and he looked up. A plane, with engine cut out, was swooping down swift and silent as a vast hawk. Jock's heart turned over as he recognized it for the one he had seen on the beach little more than half an hour earlier. Stuffing the emeralds into the pockets of his jacket, half one side, half the other, he turned and ran for all he was worth for the cleft by which he had gained the beach.
From the first he knew it was hopeless. What could he do against a plane? Red had been too cunning for him. Red must have recognized the other plane at once and taxied away down the beach to a safe distance from which he could watch what was happening. Far easier to let Jock find the stones than spend hours in what would probably have been a vain search.
As Jock gained the mouth of the cleft he heard the plane land close behind him.
"Just as well chuck it, Freeland," came Red's deep voice. "You can't possibly get away from us." Jock knew it, yet he never turned his head but made a frantic run at the steep slope down which he had come. His rush carried him some twenty feet up the slope then, just as his outstretched fingers were almost touching the projecting spike of rock, the treacherous shale gave way, and he felt himself sliding downwards. As he reached the bottom a pair of hard hands gripped him.
"You young fool!" growled a harsh voice. "Didn't you hear what Red said?"
Jock was not done yet. Instead of pulling away he ducked down and drove his head into his captor's stomach. Down went the man flat on his back, and Jock spun round and made another dash up the slope. It was no good. That miserable shale again betrayed him and he slipped back once more, helpless, into the grasp of his enemy.
"Butt me in the stomach, will you?" The man's horny hand smacked Jock across the jaw with a force that made his head ring.
"Chuck that, Mark!" Jock had never yet heard Red angry, and the sound of his voice was almost terrifying. "Didn't I tell you I wouldn't have the kid hurt?" Red's very blue eyes were blazing. In spite of his lame leg he looked so formidable that the man named Mark shrank.
"He butted me in the wind," he said sulkily.
"Serve you right for not watching him. I told you he was a fire-eater." Red stood leaning on his stick, looking at Jock.
"Fortune of war, son," he said in a very different tone. "I'll have to ask you for those emeralds." Then as he saw Jock glance round—"It's no use, my boy. There's no one within sight or hearing. Give 'em up. I don't want to be forced to take them."
Give Jock a ghost of a chance and he would fight like a fury, hut now he was beaten and knew it. He pulled the emeralds from his pocket and handed them over.
"But I'll have them back, Red," he said very quietly. Red did not laugh.
"If you were five years older I believe you would," he answered candidly. "How the deuce did you get away with that plane—did you knock out the mechanic?"
"No. You'll hear about it when you get home."
"It'll be a long time before I see Garve again, Freeland," Red laughed.
"Let's go, Red," Mark cut in. "There'll be police planes out after us if we aren't sharp."
"Yes, I reckon we must be moving," said Red. "See here, Freeland, I don't want to take you with me and anyhow I don't suppose you want to go. But I can't have you running off for help. I've got to tie you up. Someone will find you before long."
"Better take him along and dump him somewhere," growled Mark. "He knows too much." Red turned on the man with sudden fierceness.
"Shut your mouth. Who's running this show?" he said in a tone which made the other shrink. Then he took some cord from his pocket. Mark put out his hand for it, but Red shook his head.
"I'll do the tying," he said dryly. "I don't want the boy left like a mummy. He's got more pluck than you, anyhow, Mark." Mark scowled, but said nothing, and Jock saw he was afraid of Red. Red directed Jock to walk out into the middle of the beach.
"They'll see you more easily," he explained. Then he made him lie down and tied his wrists behind his back and, afterwards, his ankles. He made good solid knots, but did not pull the cord brutally hard.
"So long, Freeland," he said. "No ill feeling, I hope."
"None at all," Jock answered. "All the same, I'll have those emeralds before I've done."
"I wonder," said Red, and with a last nod hobbled off to the plane and scrambled in. Mark followed, and Jock saw him pull over the prop. The engine roared, the plane began to move. It gained pace, rose, and turned north. Jock watched it rise to a great height and drive away across the Channel. As it disappeared in the distance a wave of bitterness swept over him, and for a little while he felt as if nothing mattered.
But that did not last long. Jock was not the sort to give up to despair. By this time Tim would be in Bristol. Help would come soon, then the wires would be busy, and pursuit organized. He could accurately describe Red's plane, and it would be watched for and spotted. He waited, with his eyes fixed on the eastern sky, hoping each moment to see Tim's plane appear. But it did not come, and the beach itself remained empty and deserted. This was evidently a very lonely spot.
The plash of the waves was growing louder, and when his eyes turned in that direction he got a shock. The tide was coming in fast, and the water was no more than twenty paces from where he lay. He realized with a nasty shock that the spot where Red had left him was below high-tide mark, and that within a very few minutes the rising tide would reach him.
Alone, he was helpless. Unless help came, and came soon, he was doomed to be drowned. Again he looked at the sky but, except for a few gulls, it was empty, and though there were ships passing up and down the Channel, they were all far out of hailing distance.
EACH moment the tide crept nearer. Jock saw that within less than five minutes it would reach him, and it was not a pleasant thought.
"If someone doesn't come soon I'm going to be drowned," he remarked aloud, and once more took a despairing glance round the horizon.
He saw nothing, but suddenly he heard, and jerking himself to a sitting position, he stared at the sky. A dark speck was visible against the eastern horizon, and Jock gave a shout of joy as he realised it was a plane. Tim—it must be Tim. Now the only question was whether he would arrive in time.
The plane grew rapidly larger, and the hum rose to the familiar roar. Suddenly the sound ceased as the engine was cut off, and Jock saw the big machine planing down towards the beach. He shouted, and saw a handkerchief wave over the edge of the cockpit, then down it swooped, landing with such precision that it came to rest within a dozen paces of where he lay.
Out sprang Tim. Tim wasted no words, but pulling out his knife, slashed the cords that bound his friend, and dragged him to his feet before he spoke.
"Who did this?" he demanded, and Jock had not known that Tim Bellingham could look or speak so fiercely.
"It was Red," began Jock, but Tim broke in angrily.
"Left you to drown here. I thought you said he was decent."
"He is. He didn't think of the tide. But never mind about that. He's got the emeralds."
"Got the emeralds!" Finch Hanley put his head over the edge of the cockpit and his face showed blank dismay. "Tim here told me you'd hidden them."
"So I had, but he was too cute for me. I thought he was gone, and I'd just got the stones out of the hiding-place when he and his pal swooped down on me. It was all my silly fault," he added bitterly.
"Don't talk rot, Jock," said Tim sharply. "I'll bet anything you weren't to blame. Then he's gone?"
"Yes, he and a man called Mark. They've gone north in their plane."
"How long ago?" demanded Finch Hanley.
"Can't tell exactly, but not more than half an hour."
"What sort of plane?" Finch asked quickly.
"A low-winged monoplane two-seater. Not very big and painted yellow."
"A Dexter, I expect. And you say she went north."
"Across the Channel anyhow, but she was travelling a bit east of north." Finch frowned.
"They won't go back to this Welsh place. The odds are that they'll make for the continent. Hop in, you chaps. There's just a chance we might catch them." Jock and Tim were hardly in their places before Finch was taking off. They put on the phones so that they could talk, and the first thing Jock asked was how Tim had come to find Finch Hanley.
"He was at Bristol Aerodrome. Finch got our message at the police station at Taverton; he managed to get hold of a Moth and flew straight up to Bristol. He meant to come across to Wales but stopped for petrol. He and I came in almost at the same time."
"Jolly lucky," said Jock.
"It would have been better luck if you hadn't come down here, Jock. With the start they've got, I don't see how on earth we're going to catch them. A Dexter's a pretty fast machine. I doubt if this is ten miles an hour faster."
"Suppose they are making for the Continent, as Finch thinks, how long will it take them?" Tim considered a moment.
"It's about five hundred miles from here to Rotterdam and the wind's nor'-nor'-west. It'll take all of five hours." Jock frowned ruefully.
"And they have a start of about sixty miles. No, it doesn't look as if we have much chance of picking them up. Tim, I could kick myself for letting them get those stones."
"Shut up, you ass. It wasn't your fault, and precious few chaps would have taken the risk of going down in the parachute. Buck up. We have a good plane and a tophole pilot. Oh, and another thing. Finch has talked to Lord Meripit over the telephone, and the old lad was awfully decent. Gave him a free hand. Told him to hire the plane for as long as he liked and charge it up to him."
"That was decent," Jock agreed. "Have we plenty of petrol?"
"Yes—filled up at Bristol. Enough for five or six hundred miles." Jock shivered suddenly.
"I say, it's getting awfully cold," he remarked. "It generally is—at five thousand," Tim answered dryly. Jock looked over the edge of the cockpit. The plane was so high that the water of the Channel beneath them looked flat as a pond and the ships had dwindled to toys.
"Why is he going so high?" Jock asked.
"To get out of the north wind. If he can find a westerly current it's worth at least twenty miles an hour to us." Jock nodded.
"I see. Instead of fighting into the teeth of the wind we should get one to help us. But won't Red do the same?"
"He may try it, but this bus has a higher 'ceiling' than his. I mean it's able to fly higher because of its bigger wing spread." Finch turned his head.
"Wrap up all you can," he shouted above the din of the engine. "I may have to go to ten thousand before I find the wind I want."
Up and up climbed the big biplane, and still Finch kept the stick back. Seven thousand was passed, and then eight. Jock's breath froze into hoar-frost, and he shivered in the bitter chill. Another five hundred, then Finch Hanley turned again and this time his eyes were bright with excitement.
"We've found it," he shouted in high delight. "We've struck the south-west current. Now watch us shift. See her shadow on the clouds."
Far below the plane, great white cumulus clouds were driving down from the North, and dark against them Jock saw the cross- shaped shadow of the big plane.
The air indicator showed one hundred and twenty, but Jock knew that, with this favouring wind, the actual speed of the plane across the land was more like one hundred and fifty miles an hour.
Two and a half miles a minute. This was travelling. His spirits rose with a bound. Red would not get away after all.
THE cold was cruel. Jock's fingers were blue, his feet were numb. Yet he hardly thought of the discomfort, for all his mind was set upon overtaking the other plane.
He had moved back alongside Tim, and the two sat close and watched the broad lands of England reel away beneath them. But still there was no sign of Red's monoplane.
They passed north of Reading, crossed over St. Albans and saw the mighty mass of London half-hidden under its smoke haze to the south-east. And still no sign of Red's plane. They crossed the border of Essex, and still no sign of their quarry. Tim grew troubled.
"After all it's only guess work," he said to Jock. "Though Red said he was not going back to Wales, that might have been just to put you off. For all we know he went back there to hide the jewels."
"I don't believe he was lying," Jock said bluntly. Tim shrugged.
"I hope you're right, but there are plenty of other places he might have gone. A chap like that who is master of a gang of crooks will have hiding-places all over the shop."
"His men are crooks all right—at least Jasper and Mark," said Jock; "but Red's a sort of Robin Hood. I can't help liking him, Tim." Tim was not listening.
"There's the sea," he said, pointing eastwards, "and—and isn't that a plane?" Jock hastily reached for the glasses and focused them.
"You're right," he answered rather breathlessly. "It's a plane and a yellow one. Yes, it's the Dexter. Tell Finch."
The yellow plane was winging north-east. She was a long way below them and a good many miles ahead. Finch swung the big biplane and advanced the throttle. The speed index rose to one hundred and forty, and she fairly screamed through the air.
"They see us," said Jock to Tim. "They're shoving her for all they're worth."
"But we'll overtake them before they can reach the coast," Tim answered.
"And what then?" Jock asked crisply. "We haven't got a machine-gun, and if we had we couldn't use it. It looks to me as if we have to follow them all across to Holland. And that won't be much fun, for it'll be pretty near dark before we get across." Tim glanced at the sun now low in the west.
"We have two hours' daylight left, and you can trust Finch not to let them get away from us." He paused and frowned. "All the same, it's going to be awkward, for, once we're out of England, we haven't got the police to back us."
The monoplane was fast, but Finch Hanley's big machine had the legs of her, and slowly the space between the two diminished. Instead of making straight east for Harwich, Red was now heading north-east towards the Suffolk border.
"What's the fellow playing at?" Tim exclaimed at last. "I don't believe he's going out to sea at all."
"Perhaps he hasn't got petrol," suggested Jock.
"That's about the size of it," agreed Tim. "But what will he do?"
"Land, steal a car, and hook it," was Jock's answer.
"You're right," Tim's voice quivered with sudden excitement. "He's going down now." Sure enough the yellow plane was dropping fast and heading, so the boys could see, for a small wood. They were over Suffolk now, that thinly inhabited, sandy strip of country which runs in a long line, parallel to the coast.
"Finch!" Tim shouted, but there was no need for his warning. Their pilot was watching keenly, and already they were diving with the wind screaming in their wires.
The ground seemed to rush upwards. Yet, fast as they came down, the yellow plane had made its landing while they were still a mile away, and the boys saw Red and the man called Mark scrambling out.
"We've got 'em," cried Tim in triumph. "Red can't run with that damaged leg."
"Don't you be too jolly sure," Jock retorted. "I'll bet Red's not running blind. He's got something up his sleeve." Before Tim could reply the big plane touched ground; she bumped a little over the tufts of tough heather, then came to rest almost alongside the yellow plane. Finch sprang out and scrambled into the other plane.
"Tank's almost empty," he told them swiftly. "Thought as much. You fellows stay with our plane while I go in and tackle these chaps."
"What's the good of that?" Jock asked bluntly. "They'll only ambush you and tie you up." Finch hesitated. He was full of bull- dog courage, yet realized that Jock was right.
"What else can we do?" he demanded.
"You can lock the ignition of the plane, can't you," said Jock.
"Then do it, and all go into the wood. If we spread out and keep in touch we can spot them."
"And when we do," said Finch, "what's the good? They'll be armed. We are not. And in spite of all you say about Red, I wouldn't trust him."
Jock was very cool.
"I don't believe we shall see them at all. Tim thinks they have a hiding-place, and so do I. All we have to do is find it, then two can stay and watch while the other fetches help." Finch nodded.
"You kids have got brains," he admitted, "and the odds are that you're right. Get to it. Let's search before it's too dark."
They spread out, Finch in the middle, one boy on each side, and went straight into the wood. It was a plantation of young beeches and firs about thirty feet high, and the ground beneath was thick with heather. They walked slowly and as quietly as possible. Tim found footmarks in a bare spot and pointed them out to the others. They closed in and followed them.
It was growing dusk, clouds had covered the low sun, and the wind moaned in the tree-tops. It was an eerie business tracking through the dark wood. There was not a sign of Red or his companion. Suddenly Tim pulled up.
"Smell it?" he asked.
"Smoke, isn't it?" asked Finch doubtfully. Next moment came a sharp crackle and a spurt of red flame. The bone-dry heather was all afire and the wind sweeping the blaze down upon them.
"Red's done us again," growled Jock. "Come on, you chaps. We'd better get out if we don't want to be roasted."
IN a trice the dark wood was changed into a burning, fiery furnace. The fir trees caught and blazed like torches, great sheets of flame leaped high into the air, and the crackle and roar were terrific. Finch and the boys had to run for their lives, the fire driven by the strong breeze racing after them.
"The planes!" cried Tim as they stumbled into the open. Sparks were already falling on the wings of the two planes. Finch Hanley leaped into the biplane, Tim pulled over the prop, and she started at once. The two boys seized a wing and helped to turn her, and she bumped away to safety. Then they turned to the Dexter. Tim scrambled in, and Jock swung the propeller. Luckily the engine fired at once, and Tim got her round and taxied away to a safe distance. Finch met them.
"And what do we do now?" he asked sarcastically. "Go and collect the ashes?" Jock's stolid common sense came to the rescue.
"You'd better go and fetch help, Finch. Tim and I will watch for Red."
"He's a mile away by this time," retorted Finch, who was very angry and upset.
"No," said Jock. "I'm willing to bet he's lying low. Just remember his crocked leg."
"Lying low in that furnace!" said Finch scornfully.
"Yes—in some hiding hole. There's probably an old quarry or something of that sort in the wood," he added. "That's where they are—depend on it." Between them they convinced Finch.
"Fly to Harwich," Tim begged. "There'll be a lighted landing- ground there. Get some police in a car. Jock and I will hang round and watch for Red and his pal. If they see the plane going off they'll think we've chucked it."
"Right you are," said Finch. "But watch out, you chaps, and whatever happens don't go tackling the thieves." He got back into the plane, the engine of which he had left idling. The boys watched him make a quick take-off and rise swiftly towards the stormy sky. The wind was hardening all the time, and it looked like a bad night. But the boys were too keen on getting back the jewels to think of the weather. Jock spoke.
"No use splitting up, Tim. We mightn't find one another again very easily. Best thing will be to go round the wood to windward and hunt some place where we can lie up and watch." Tim nodded.
"Yes, that's the best thing to do, but all the same I don't see how we shall spot them. It'll be pitch dark in an hour."
"They may come out before that," replied Jock. "They may be coming out this minute. Remember they're at the back of the fire, so there's nothing to stop them." He started running sturdily on his short legs, and Tim kept pace with him easily. A rough hedge ran out from the south-western corner of the wood. They scrambled over it and dropped almost into the arms of a large and furious farmer, who seized Jock before he could dodge, and held him in a grip of iron.
"Burn my wood, will ye? I'll learn ye to do a thing like that." He started shaking Jock violently, but Tim seized his arm.
"Shut up and don't be stupid," he cried sharply. "We didn't set fire to your wood. We're after the chaps who did it." The farmer wrenched his arm free and seized Tim. He was a man of forty, so tremendously broad and powerful that he was more than a match for both the boys. He had a big, hard, weather-beaten face, with narrow eyes under very thick bushy eyebrows. In the light of the burning wood those eyes positively blazed with fury.
"After the chaps who did it! A pretty story!" he sneered.
"It's the truth," Tim cut in angrily, but Jock pulled him up.
"Steady, Tim. No use losing your wool. You can't blame the chap for getting angry about his wood being burned." He set himself stockily and addressed the farmer.
"The men who fired your wood are the thieves who stole Lady Meripit's emeralds. They set it afire to keep us from chasing them. Now they'll be trying to escape. If you stop us going after them they'll get away." The big man was not a bit impressed.
"A likely story," he retorted harshly. "I suppose there ain't any police in England, so they send kids like you after thieves."
"We came because we had a plane," Jock said steadily. "The pilot has gone to Colchester for help. Come and help us to catch the thieves. There's a big reward."
"Cunning, ain't ye? But I'll have the law on you if there's law in England. I'm agoing to lock ye up till I can fetch the police." Tim grew desperate. He tried to wrench free. His effort only made the big man angry. He shook Tim savagely.
"Come on at once, or I'll take the law in my own hands, and then I'll lay you'll be sorry."
"You'll be sorry all right," said Tim bitterly. "You'll probably find yourself in prison before you've finished."
"Shut up, Tim," said Jock sharply. "You're only making him angrier. Finch will be hack soon with the police."
"And meantime Red will be miles away," retorted Tim.
"Shut your jaw and come on, or I'll make ye," roared the big man, and started dragging them away across the field. The big farmer did not relax his grasp for an instant; he dragged them across two fields, and then they saw lighted windows in a hollow below. He did not take them into the house, but led them through a yard behind, where he thrust them into a small building, and, pulling the door to, locked it on the outside.
"And there you'll stay till the police comes and takes you to prison," he threatened through the door. "Not but what prison's too good for the likes of you."
"AND that's finished it," groaned Tim hoarsely as he leaned against the wall of the dark, musty little place.
"Don't be silly," replied Jock bluntly. "Got a match?" Tim felt in his pockets.
"Yes, here's a box. Shall I strike one?"
"Not yet. Wait till that chap has gone." As Jock spoke they heard an engine start to life. By its rattle and roar it was something pretty ancient. There was a shriek of tortured gears, then the machine bumped noisily past their prison, and the clatter dwindled in the distance.
"Now," said Jock, and Tim struck a match. The light showed a place about twelve feet long and six wide. It had no windows at all, and was built of brick with a tiled roof. Shovels, rakes, and other tools hung on nails driven into the walls.
"It's a tool-house," said Jock, looking round. "What luck!"
"Luck—what do you mean? It's all solid brick, and even with a pick-axe it would take hours to get out. Anyhow, there isn't a pick-axe."
"Here's a grub hoe. That's just as good," said Jock coolly. "Let's have a look round." He paused. "If we'd only got a candle."
"Here's an old lantern on the wall," said Tim.
Just as his match burned out he reached it down. "Got some oil in it, too," he added eagerly. A moment before Tim had been in the depths of despair; now he was quite keen. The fact was that Jock's steadiness balanced him so that the two together made a capital team.
The lantern had not been used for months. When at last it was going it gave about as much light as an old-fashioned night- light. Yet it was enough to see their surroundings.
"The floor's all bricks," said Tim. "Still we could get them up with the grub hoe."
"Take too long," Jock answered curtly. "What about the roof? There are some packing cases in that pile. Heft out a couple of them." By putting three packing cases, one on top of the other, Jock got at the roof. There was no ceiling; the tiles were nailed to the stringers. Jock tried a number of them, and at last found one loose. He quickly had it off, then, using a spade as lever, got another away. Tim caught them as Jock dropped them.
Within ten minutes Jock had a hole big enough to worm himself through. He crawled up, Tim followed.
"Spoilt his roof for him," said Jock, "but it serves him right." He slid to the edge and dropped softly to the ground. Tim did the same.
"Wait here a minute, Tim," said Jock. "I'm going to scout. He slid silently away into the gloom, and Tim waited anxiously. A couple of minutes passed, then Jock was back.
"All serene," he said briefly. "There's a gate at the back of the yard. We can get out that way."
It was quite dark now and blowing fairly hard. They saw no one and got quietly away. Jock found a hedge and they followed it up.
A dull red glow showed over the hill-top, and, reaching the place, they found the undergrowth still smouldering and some of the fir trees flaring like torches.
"Don't wonder old Eyebrows was upset," said Tim. "The whole place will have to be replanted. I wonder if Finch is back."
"Red's plane is there still," replied Jock as he scrambled through the hedge.
"But where's Red?" Tim asked.
There was no sign of Finch Hanley, and the boys consulted what they had best do. Tim declared that Red had left long ago, and Jock was inclined to agree.
"All the same we'll scout round," he said.
"We'd better look sharp," returned Tim. "If our friend from the farm catches us again we shan't get away so easily next time." Jock nodded.
"You're right, and we'd better keep back out of the glow. Eyebrows could see us half a mile away."
They made a wide circuit of the burnt wood, and reached the northern edge which was still unburnt. Here the ground fell away into a little valley with a stream at the bottom, and up the valley came the sound of surf on a beach, reminding the boys that they were only a mile or so from the sea. The wind was blowing in heavy gusts, and now and then a few drops of cold rain fell. Jock looked about.
"No road, no path," he muttered. "I wonder which way they've gone."
"One thing's jolly sure, we can't track them in this darkness," Tim said. "Hadn't we better get back, Jock? Finch can't be very long now." Jock's answer was to seize Tim by the arm and drag him down behind a clump of bushes.
"Two chaps coming," he whispered in Tim's ear. "I spotted them close under the wood—just where that little glow of light leaks through. Crawl for that next clump, and then we can go down the slope into the valley. Plenty of cover down there."
Silent as two Red Indians, the boys crept away. There was no need to go all the way down the slope, for just over the hill they found a thick patch of gorse which made a perfect hiding- place. There they lay, flat on their faces, peering out through peepholes in the thick stuff. The wind and the distant surf made so much noise they could not hear footsteps, and there was hardly any light.
Suddenly there was a crash up in the wood. A tree, partly burned through, had fallen, and as it fell a burst of flame shot up, flinging a weird red light through the night. Jock grabbed Tim's arm.
"Look!" he whispered. But Tim had seen them already—two men who came straight down past the gorse clump. And one of them limped as he came, leaning his weight on a thick stick.
"Red," muttered Tim.
"Red and Mark," said Jock. "I told you they were hiding in the wood."
"You were right. But where the mischief are they going?"
"They're going to the sea," Jock answered.
"Of course. They'll have a launch waiting somewhere close. I don't believe they ever had any idea of flying to Holland."
"But their plane," Tim objected.
"What's a second-hand plane compared with fifty thousand pounds' worth of stones." As he spoke he was getting to his feet.
"Come on. We've got to follow them."
"I suppose Red's got the emeralds," said Tim eagerly.
"He's got 'em all right," replied Jock with a slight chuckle; "but if you imagine you're going to get 'em away from him, just think again."
"But if they've a launch they'll get away, and we can't follow them," said Tim as he followed Jock down the hill.
"It's going to be awkward," Jock allowed. "But you never know what may happen."
If they had known what was going to happen, even Jock would have thought twice before following Red and his companion down that lonely valley to the sea.
FOLLOWING was easy. With his lame leg Red could not go fast, and the roar of the wind which was rapidly rising to gale force drowned any small sounds the boys might make.
There was not much danger of losing the men, for, unless they waded the stream, it was plain they must follow it down to the sea. Tim put his lips close to Jock's ear.
"Finch will be wondering what on earth has become of us."
"I know, but we can't help that. He'll guess we're following the thieves."
"Couldn't we leave some message for him?" Tim suggested.
"That's a good notion, but there isn't time to write anything."
"No, but what about tying my handkerchief to a bush? It's got my name on it."
"All right. And I'll put mine a little farther on." There were plenty of thorny bushes along the bank of the stream, and they hung up their handkerchiefs so that no one coming that way could fail to see them.
Down here in the valley they did not feel the wind much, but as they came nearer to the sea the roar of breakers warned them that the storm was growing worse. Gusts of rain swept across, but it was blowing too hard to rain much. It was very dark.
Red kept on slowly but steadily, and after about a quarter of an hour's trailing the two boys found themselves close to the mouth of the river, where it opened out into a broad shallow stream and lost itself in the shingle. Ahead they could see the vague shapes of waves breaking like white ghosts on the beach, while on both sides of the cove rose low cliffs. Jock pulled Tim in behind the last bush, and they waited to see which way Red and his companion would go. They turned to the left and, wading ankle deep through the shallow water, made for the northern edge of the little bay.
"I can't think what they're up to," grumbled Tim. "No one in his senses would go to sea on a night like this."
"Why not?" Jock asked.
"Look at the weather," replied Tim.
"You've never lived on the sea, have you, Tim?"
"That explains it. I can tell you it would take a jolly bad storm to hold up a well-built launch with a powerful motor engine. And that's what I'm pretty sure they've got."
"Then we'd better hurry up and stop them before they get aboard," said Tim.
"We'll try anyhow," Jock answered, but inwardly he did not feel very hopeful.
He and Tim splashed through the stream and made their way across the beach. The gusts were so strong, the boys had to bend their heads to meet them. Salt spray stung their faces. They came to the cliff and found that it broke down into a point of tumbled rocks, among which the waves sucked and moaned ominously.
"This isn't any place for a boat," said Tim irritably. And just then Jock pulled up short and pointed. Outlined against the night sky they saw the figures of two men on the top of the ridge. "They must he making for a cave," Tim insisted. "They couldn't have a boat anywhere near those rocks. It would be battered to pieces."
"All the same we'll have a look," said Jock. "Go slow, Tim. There's no great hurry, and the rocks are horribly slippery. You'd feel a fool if you sprained your ankle."
"What about yours?" retorted Tim, whose nerves were beginning to fray a bit under the strain. Jock only grinned and clambered cautiously up the ledge. Just as he had said, it was a nasty place; but he and Tim got up safely, and the first thing they saw when they reached the top was a dim glow of light below them.
It came from the binnacle lamp of a small cabin cruiser which lay in a perfect little natural harbour. There was a second spit of rock only about thirty yards from the first, and this ran out for quite a distance. Between the two spits was a deep, calm pool the existence of which no one would have suspected.
"Told you so," Jock could not help saying.
"I give you best," said Tim, "but where are Red and the other chap? I can't see them in the launch."
"Look to the left. There's a cave."
"So there is," Tim's voice shook a little with excitement. "And a light in it. I say, do you think they're hiding the emeralds?"
"I don't. I expect they're getting petrol."
"What do we do—bag the boat?"
"That's not a bad notion," said Jock calmly. "I can run a launch all right. Trouble is that she's either tied up or anchored. If it's only a rope we could cut it, but if it's a chain it's going to be awkward."
"We'll see, anyhow," Tim declared, and before the more cautious Jock could stop him he was scrambling down the slope. A big flat ledge of rock ran a few feet above the water and from this it was easy to jump aboard the launch. Tim was across like a cat and Jock followed. It was a crazy performance, but both knew that if they could get the launch away Red and Mark were in a pretty hopeless condition.
"Watch Red," said Jock swiftly. "I'll see to the moorings." It did not take him long to find that the launch was moored by two thick ropes, one on each side. Heavy "fenders" made of coir protected her sides against the rocks.
Groping in the dark he had started to cast off the port side mooring when he heard a sharp hiss from Tim, and looking up saw the two men coming out of the cave mouth. Red carried a lantern, the other, two large tins of petrol. There was no time to do anything except hide, and ducking low Jock darted for the companion hatch. He and Tim together flung themselves down into the dark cabin and hid under the table which was covered with a heavy cloth hanging down almost to the floor. Next moment heavy steps were heard overhead.
They waited breathlessly. All depended on whether Red and his companion had more petrol to fetch. For the success of Tim's project it was essential that both men should go ashore again. They heard the tins dumped down then came Red's voice:
"All right, Mark, cast off."
JOCK'S heart went right down into his boots.
"We're in the soup," he muttered in Tim's ear.
"My fault," Tim answered bitterly.
"No. We took a chance. I'd have done it if you hadn't. But keep your tail up. We're not done yet." Mark's harsh voice was heard.
"What about a bit of grub, Red? We shan't have much chance to eat after we start."
"All right," said Red carelessly. "Only don't be too long. It's a nasty night and getting worse, and we've a long way to go before morning."
"Just bread and cheese and a drink," Mark answered; and the boys flattened closer to the floor as the man dropped down into the cabin. Red followed more slowly, yet seemed to walk fairly well. Jock, who had seen and dressed the wound on his leg, wondered how he could get about at all.
Mark went into the little pantry at the end of the cabin and got out biscuits, cheese, butter, and some bottles and glasses. He put them on the table and the two men sat down to eat. The boys made themselves as small as they could. It was lucky for them that the tablecloth was as long as it was.
"Quite a day," said Red. "But I wish we'd been able to fly across."
"That chap would have caught us," growled Mark.
"And what could he do? He hadn't a gun and wouldn't have dared use it if he had. And, anyway, we could have dodged him in the dark."
"We'd never have had him after us at all if it hadn't been for that boy," Mark answered, and there was an ugly tone in his voice. "I told you that kid would make trouble for us."
"He's got pluck, that lad," Red said with a laugh. "Pluck and brains, both. I hope he came to no harm." Mark grew angry.
"Any one would think you were in this game for pleasure instead of profit," he sneered.
"So I am—pleasure and profit, both. Half the fun is fooling the Law."
"May be your idea, but it ain't mine," snarled Mark. "Soon as I get a stake I quit."
"And what will you do?"
"I'll find plenty to do. You can have fun when you've got money."
"I've had money. I don't think it brought me much fun," said Red thoughtfully.
"You're crazy," Mark said. "I only wish I had the worth of them stones. You wouldn't hear me talking the way you talk. And speaking of the stones, do you reckon they're safe where they are?"
"They're safe enough," said Red briefly. "Get her under way. It's time to go." Mark went on deck again and Red followed. There was a sound of ropes being cast loose.
"We've got to find some other place to hide," said Tim urgently.
"You're right," Jock answered as he crawled out. "Come up forrard. There'll be some place where we can lie doggo." He was right; but it was only a sort of fore-peak, very narrow, dark and uncomfortable and crowded with stores. They had hardly reached it before they heard the engine start and felt the launch moving out of her harbour. With a resounding thump a sea struck her bows and she bucked like a frightened horse. The engine beats quickened to a steady drum and she drove through the breakers out into the stormy sea.
"I wish I knew where they were going," said Jock after a while. "You see, Tim, from what Red said, it's quite clear that he's hidden the emeralds somewhere. It may be in the cave or it may be in the wood. Anyhow, we're only wasting our time in this launch, and wherever she goes we've got to get back." There was no answer.
"Didn't you hear, Tim?" Jock asked, but still no reply. "What's the matter?" Jock demanded sharply.
"It's—it's the motion," came Tim's answer in a weak, hoarse voice. "I—I never felt anything like it, Jock. I—I'm going to be sick."
And so he was—very, very sick. Small blame to him for the launch pitched and rolled like a mad thing.
Jock was much upset. He ventured to strike a match, and by its light pulled down some of the pile of gear. He found an old "oily" and wrapped Tim in it. The light showed Tim's face white as paper. His pallor fairly scared Jock. The boy looked as if he was dying. Tim opened his eyes and pluckily tried to smile.
"It's all right, old man," he whispered. "I shall be better after a bit." Then a fresh spasm seized him, and Jock grew desperate. He remembered seeing a bottle of brandy in the cabin, and that some one had told him brandy was a good medicine for sea sickness. He decided to go and fetch it.
By this time Tim was almost unconscious and Jock left him and stole away. He peered out cautiously. A lamp was burning in the cabin but there was no one there. He took it that Mark was attending to the engine and Red steering. There was the brandy bottle in the rack. He staggered across and got it, but wanted a spoon. He was looking for this when he heard a startled exclamation, and turning sharply saw Mark at the opposite door.
The man's narrow slate-grey eyes were fixed on Jock with a look in which unbelief and amazement were about equally mixed. Indeed, Mark was not quite sure whether he was seeing a real boy or a ghost.
So for a moment the two stood, Mark clinging to the door-post, Jock to the table, for the pitching was so violent it was impossible to stand without support.
"You!" Mark got out at last. "How in sin did you get here?" Jock shrugged.
"It doesn't matter how I got here, but we're both here, and Tim is awfully ill. I came for some brandy for him. Let me give it him. I can't get away, so you needn't worry about that."
"Get away!" Mark's voice was suddenly savage. He made a dash across the cabin and seized Jock. "No, you won't get away this time, not if I know anything about it." He started dragging Jock towards the companion.
Jock made no attempt to resist. He knew it was useless. Mark hauled him up on deck. Just what Mark intended to do Jock never knew, for, as they reached the deck, the launch rose to a tremendous wave and the deck tilted at a terrific angle. Mark lost his balance, caught at the edge of the companion hatch to save himself, but missed it, and fell. Jock twisted free, caught the rail, and, hanging to it, scrambled aft.
Red was at the wheel. The look of amazement on his face when Jock came stumbling round the screen was almost laughable. Jock wasted no time.
"Tim Bellingham and I got aboard. That man, Mark, found me. He was in a frightful rage, but he fell down and I got away."
"You would," said Red, recovering himself. "'Pon my Sam, young Freeland, you've got as many lives as a cat. And what do you think you're going to do now—hold us up and take the emeralds?"
"It isn't the emeralds I'm thinking of," replied Jock bluntly. "It's Tim. He's up in the fore-peak, frightfully ill."
"You'd better take him into the cabin and give him some brandy or make him some tea." Before Red could say more Mark arrived. His face was black with rage. He seized Jock again.
"It's no use your talking, Red," he snarled. "I've had enough of this kid."
"OH," said Red calmly, "and what do you propose to do about it?"
"You know as well as I do," replied Mark in his ugliest tone. Red holding the wheel with his left hand stretched out his long right arm and grasped Mark by the collar. His movement was so swift it caught the other quite unprepared, and with one sharp jerk Red brought him crashing to the deck. His head struck the planking with a force that stunned him and he lay still.
"Tie him up, Freeland," said Red. "Quick, before he recovers. Anything will do—your tie, your handkerchief." Jock, who had been staring open-eyed at Red's amazing display of strength and speed, roused from his trance and hastened to obey. With the little launch pitching madly it was no easy task, yet in a matter of a very few minutes the unpleasant Mark was helpless.
"And now," said Red, "you'd better get a rope and make him fast somewhere. If we get a sea over us the odds are he'll be washed overboard. It wouldn't be much loss, but still—" he shrugged his massive shoulders and smiled. Jock hastened to obey. Mark had come round now and the look in his narrow eyes would have scared most boys. Jock struggled back to Red.
"Can you manage all right?" he asked.
"I'm all right so long as the engine holds out. Know anything about launch engines?"
"Just enough to run one," Jock told him.
"You would," said Red, and chuckled. "Go and get your friend brandy or tea. Tea I'd say for choice, with perhaps a spoonful of brandy in it. You can make me a mug, too, if you like."
"Right you are," said Jock, and went off as quickly as the tremendous pitching of the launch allowed.
For the next ten minutes he was properly busy. First, he switched on the electric kettle which he found in the saloon, then he lugged Tim out of his cramped quarters forrard, laid him on a sofa in the saloon, and wrapped him in a blanket. Then he made the tea.
This was no easy job, for all the time he had to hang on with one hand while he worked with the other. The wind was very nearly a full gale, and the stout little launch was making very heavy weather. The only comfort was that her engine seemed to be standing up nobly to the strain. He managed to get Tim to drink a little tea, then had a cup himself and a biscuit, afterwards filled a mug, covered it with a saucer, and made his way on deck again. The wind met him like a wall, and the salt spray stung his face.
"Good man," said Red as he took the mug and drained it. "You're worth two of that blighter, Mark. How's your pal?"
"Pretty bad," Jock answered. He looked round and spotted a light to starboard. It was a revolving light, by which Jock knew that it was a lighthouse, and that they were making up the coast and not across the North Sea. He had suspected as much already, for he knew the gale was out of the north, and had seen that they were heading into it. Red, too, saw the light, and saw that Jock had seen it. He grinned again.
"So you know we're making north. That's Harwich, but we're going farther than that." His smile changed to a frown.
"You're the problem, boy. If I take you where I'm going I've got to keep you there." Jock said nothing. He knew when to keep his mouth shut. But he would dearly like to have known Red's destination. Red's big hand grasped the wheel; he seemed to steer instinctively, and he did it amazingly well. But his broad forehead was wrinkled, and Jock saw he was thinking hard.
"I've got it," he said at last. "I'll drop you on Waveney Spit. D'ye know it, Freeland?"
"I don't know it, but I've heard of it. A bird sanctuary, isn't it?"
"Right. And there's a hut on it. The bird man will probably give you shelter for the night, but you'll have to chance that. Anyhow, you'll find cover of some sort, and you'll need it, for I think it's going to rain like sin as soon as the wind drops."
"It's jolly good of you, Red," said Jock simply, "especially after the way we've chased you."
"Oh, that's all part of the game," Red laughed. "I don't bear you any malice. I leave that to Mark and Jasper."
"I don't know how you can stick chaps like those," said Jock curtly.
"Beggars—and thieves—can't be choosers." Red's voice was suddenly bitter. "Fact is, Freeland, I was born in the wrong century. If I'd had any choice I'd have lived in Robin Hood's days, or in the seventeenth century, when I'd have commanded a privateer."
"Why don't you try South America?" Jock asked. "They say there's plenty of fighting there."
Red shrugged a pair of massive shoulders.
"I'm not keen on dagoes," he answered briefly, and suddenly changed the subject. "Look out for an occulting light, red and white. That'll be Orness, and will give me my bearings."
"Won't it be awkward landing us?" Jock asked. "The surf will be pretty bad."
"It'll be all right," Red told him. "There's a creek which I know pretty well. And once in behind the Spit the water will be calm enough."
"The light!" Jock pointed as he spoke, but it was several seconds before Red got it.
"You've good eyes," he said. He glanced at the compass, then changed course, turning several points easterly.
"You'll be in the creek in half an hour," Red said, and after that fell silent. Jock wondered what thoughts were passing in the man's mind. Red was a thief. He made no bones about it. Yet the more Jock saw of him the better he liked him. It was the queerest thing that Jock had come across in all his short life, and he was badly puzzled.
A LONG white line showed through the darkness ahead, and above the shriek of the wind and the hiss of driven spray came a dull thunder of sound. Jock knew it for surf- breaking on the coast. The tide was making, and, with the wind almost dead behind them, the launch travelled swiftly towards the land.
Jock stood quietly beside Red. On the face of it, the launch seemed to be driving straight into the breakers, but Jock was not scared. He had complete confidence in Red's seamanship. A light became visible through the gloom. Red pointed to it.
"That's the Waveney lighthouse. It's on the hill the other side of the marshes. There's plenty of water, so we'll be all right." The roar grew louder. Huge waves were breaking on the long beaches below the towering sand-dunes, but Jock, straining his eyes through the night, was able to see a gap in the long line of white surf. Red headed the launch for the opening, she drove through, and he turned her to starboard.
Dim to the left rose a great sand-dune, and the moment she was behind it the wind was shut off, and all of a sudden the launch was in calm water under lee of the point.
"Better fetch up your pal, Freeland," said Red, but Jock hesitated.
"What about you, Red? Are you going out to sea again?"
"Yes. I have a long way to go before daylight. Fetch up your friend." Poor Tim was very white-faced and tottery as he came on deck, but now that the motion had ceased he was quickly recovering. The launch lay close under a steep bank of sand and shingle, and Red directed Jock to run out the gang plank while he held the little ship in position, with her screw slowly turning.
"The hut's about a quarter of a mile down the Spit. You can't miss it. Have you a torch?"
"I've a torch all right. I say, won't you wait here a bit till the wind goes down?"
"No. I can't risk being caught by daylight. Good-bye, Freeland. I don't suppose I shall see you again, so I'll wish you luck."
"Oh, I think we'll meet again quite soon," said Jock. "Good- bye, Red, and good luck." He and Tim scrambled ashore, shoved back the plank, and waited while the launch turned seawards again.
"What made you say that, Jock?" Tim asked abruptly.
"About meeting Red again."
"I don't quite know," said Jock slowly. "But come on. I think Red was right, and it'll rain floods as soon as the wind drops."
They had not gone far before they came to a little landing- place—just a few planks on trestles running out into the creek. But there was no boat.
"This must be the keeper's landing-place," said Jock. "Yes, here's a path of sorts." The path led inland, and in a hollow among the dunes they found a small wooden house. There was no light in the windows.
"Keeper's away," said Jock. "I hope we can get in." Tim tried the door. It was locked. They tried the windows, but they, too, were closed and shuttered.
"It's no good," said Jock. "I could break in, but I don't like to. Let's try that shed behind."
"Anything for cover, for here's the rain," said Tim. Big drops spattered their faces as they bolted into the shed. It was a bare, comfortless place, but at any rate it kept them dry. They found a bundle of marram grass, spread it against the wall, and sat on it while the wind whistled overhead and gusts of rain lashed the roof.
"What's the time?" Tim asked; and Jock, looking at his wrist- watch, found it was only just after two.
"Four hours to daylight. What price a wink of sleep, Tim?"
"Good notion," agreed Tim, and they lay down back to back on their scanty couch of grass and were soon asleep.
Tim was the first to wake. It was dawn and still blowing hard, while the sky was thick with cloud. It was colder, too, and Tim shivered as he looked out at the barren sand-dunes and the broad creek covered with white caps. Jock roused. He, too, was cold.
"A cup of hot cocoa wouldn't come amiss, eh, Tim?" he grinned.
"Don't talk about it," groaned Tim. "I'm empty as a drum."
"Afraid we've got a long tramp before breakfast. It's four miles down the Spit and along the sea-wall to the village, so Red told me." Tim stood up.
"Then let's get to it," was all he said, and the two tramped away together. It was not raining, but still blowing hard off the sea. The deep sand made walking difficult, but the boys plodded steadily along.
"I wonder where Red is," said Tim presently. "I've a notion he's got another secret harbour or creek somewhere up the coast," Jock answered. "There are some pretty wild bits just north of the Wash. I say, Tim, have you any money?" Tim felt in his pockets, and produced three shillings and ninepence.
"That's the lot," he said. "It's enough to buy breakfast anyhow." Jock shook his head.
"We shall have to use part of it to wire to Finch at Colchester. We've got to get back there as quickly as we can."
"Red's hidden the emeralds either in the cave or in the burnt wood. I heard Mark ask if he thought they were safe." Tim frowned.
"That's funny. You'd think he'd have taken them with him."
"Yes, it is odd. What I think is that he knows the police are looking for him, and perhaps believes he'll be safer if they catch him and don't find anything on him."
"I expect you're right. But I say, Jock, we'll have to get back in a hurry if we want to find the stones."
"Just what I'm saying. That's why we must wire for Finch. He'll come with the plane and take us back in no time. Another reason why we've got to be quick is because of Mark. I'm quite sure that, if he gets half a chance, he'll slide back and collar the emeralds. I heard him talking to Red, and I wouldn't trust him an inch."
"He looks a nasty sort of chap," agreed Tim. "All right, Jock, we'll sink a bob on a telegram, but that only leaves us two and nine to live on until Finch comes."
"It'll buy quite a lot of bread and cheese and butter," Jock comforted him. "Come on. Stick your best foot foremost."
They passed the big dunes which formed the northern end of the Spit, and now were travelling along a narrower, more level stretch. The wind beat upon them and the sand whistled past in an endless drift. It was very hard going. The Spit grew more and more narrow, but the light was growing stronger, and they could see the village in the distance stretching up a hillside with a big church at the back. Half a mile farther was the dyke or sea- wall which protected the wide, green marshes from the inroads of the sea.
"I say, Jock," Tim said sharply, "are you sure this isn't an island? It looks to me as if there was water between us and the sea-wall."
"Can't be," Jock answered; "Red said it was a spit of land, and that we could walk to the village." But though he spoke stoutly he had his doubts, for he could distinctly see the grey gleam of waves between them and the wall.
Another hundred yards and there was no longer any doubt at all. There was a gap quite fifty yards wide in the narrowest part of the Spit through which great waves were breaking with tremendous force and fury.
"It's the storm has done it," said Jock soberly. "It's broken through the Spit."
"It doesn't matter what's done it," said Tim sharply. "Our trouble is that we're marooned. The Spit's an island, and we can't get off it. And by the look of the weather we shan't be able to get off to-day."
JOCK looked at Tim blankly. For once even his stout heart failed. Of course, Tim was right. With the sea breaking into the creek and right across it, the last thing likely was that any boat would visit the Spit.
"Can't—can't we signal somehow?" Jock said at last.
"How?" asked Tim.
"Light a fire," Jock suggested.
"There's nothing to light it with except marram grass, and that's all wet."
"We might find some driftwood," urged Jock.
"What—on the beach?" Tim asked sarcastically; and Jock realised that, with the tremendous surf that was breaking, any such idea was out of the question.
"We can't stay here," Tim added, and his voice was a little sharp. He was very cold and very—very hungry.
"No," said Jock slowly. "We can't stay here. We'd better go back to the keeper's cottage."
"But it's locked."
"We can break in, can't we?"
"Shan't we get into an awful row?" asked Tim uncomfortably.
"No use worrying about that," replied Jock a bit shortly. "Besides, we must have some grub."
"Do you think there's any there?"
"Sure to be. Come on, Tim." They tramped back to the hut.
With its locked doors and shuttered windows the hut had a forbidding look, but now it was raining again and growing steadily colder. Searching in the shed, Jock lit on a rusty old iron bar. He found a window, the frame of which was a little loose, worked one end of the bar under the sash, and by main force prised the sash up, breaking the catch. Then he made short work of the shutters, and he and Tim scrambled in.
The little house had three rooms—living-room, bedroom, and kitchen. All was very neat, but the place felt chilly, damp, and musty. The first thing they did was to open the shutters and windows and let the wind blow through, then they went into the kitchen, where they found an oil-stove and a drum of paraffin.
"I'll light the stove," Jock said. "You look for some grub, Tim." In a cupboard Tim found tea, flour, salt, and other stores. A side of bacon was in a rack under the ceiling.
"But there's no bread," he told Jock.
"I can make some," Jock said. "Is there any baking-powder?" There was, and Jock set to mixing flour, salt, and baking-powder in a bowl. Meantime Tim sliced bacon and laid the rashers in a frying-pan. The oven heated quickly, and within little more than half an hour the two boys sat down to a meal of hot scones, fried bacon, and tea.
"By Jove, these scones are prime," Tim declared. "I'll have to learn to cook."
"The bacon's all right," Jock assured him.
"We've eaten an awful lot of it," said Tim uncomfortably. "And I've only that three and ninepence."
"What's the use of worrying? Finch will bring some money when he comes. Help me wash up." Tim yawned.
"I'm feeling a heap better, but the grub has made me sleepy as a log."
"Me, too," agreed Jock. "Since we can't do anything else we may just as well have a snooze." They washed up, then both lay down in the bedroom and went sound asleep.
Tim was the first to wake. The first thing that struck him was that everything was wonderfully quiet and peaceful; the second, that it was nearly dark. He sat up in a hurry.
"Jock—Jock, we've slept all day," he exclaimed in dismay. Jock was up in a moment. He grinned.
"About the best thing we could do. I feel all new. I say, the wind's gone down."
"Yes, the wind's down, but there's still a big sea. Listen to it." The dull roar of surf thundered on the outer beach, but the creek, when they went out, was calm enough. Jock looked longingly in the direction of the land, but no boats were in sight. Tim knew what was passing in his mind.
"It's all right," he said. "Even if that chap Mark does mean to steal the emeralds, it'll take him some time to get back there." He sighed. "No use worrying," he went on. "Let's get some supper." They sat a long time over their meal, and had just decided to wash up when Jock, whose ears were sharp as a terrier's, stiffened.
"Some one coming," he said, and, jumping up, went to the door. Two men stepped into the lighted room, and Jock stared as he saw that one wore the familiar blue uniform of a country constable. The other was a middle-aged, bearded man in sea-boots and a blue jersey.
"So we got you this time," said the policeman; and Jock liked his hard voice as little as his long, obstinate face. "Suppose you thought the weather was too bad for any one to come out and catch you at your tricks."
"TRICKS!" cried Tim angrily; but Jock stopped him.
"Let me do the talking, Tim."
"Talking won't help you," said the constable grimly. "In case you don't know it, house-breaking's a pretty serious offence. Are you coming quietly?"
"Wait a moment," said Jock, standing up square and resolute. "We broke into this house because we were half-frozen and starved. I don't think that's any crime, officer."
"Not if it was true," said the policeman dryly. "And I suppose the last time was the same excuse."
"Last time!" returned Jock. "This is the first time we have ever been on this coast at all."
"Gosh, but he lies with a straight face, don't he?" said the man in the blue jersey. Tim could restrain himself no longer.
"You dare call Jock a liar," he cried, and would have flung himself on the man, but the policeman caught him in a powerful grasp.
"Fighting won't do you no good," he said sourly. Jock spoke up.
"Please keep quiet, Tim. Listen to me, officer. We were landed here last night from a launch owned by the man who stole Lady Meripit's emeralds. We had been chasing him by aeroplane, but he got away, and then we managed to smuggle ourselves aboard the launch. He found us and, as I tell you, landed us here. We tried to get round to the town, but the storm had broken through the Spit. We were wet and hungry, so we had no choice but to break in here for shelter and food. We are quite ready to pay for what we've taken." For a moment the policeman stared, then an unpleasant smile crossed his face.
"Got it all pat, haven't you?" he remarked with heavy sarcasm. "All the same you might have cooked up a more likely story."
"It's true, you idiot," snapped Tim, but this only made the constable angry.
"I may be an idiot, but I got sense enough to know nonsense when I hears it," he said grimly. "This is the second time as this place have been broke into, and I reckon you're the same chap as did it afore. Anyways, I'm taking you back and locking you up, and to-morrow you goes before the magistrates and I hopes you both gets a month," he added harshly. Jock shrugged.
"Perhaps the magistrates will have more sense than you," he said. "At any rate they will want some evidence before convicting us."
"Gaymer, here, and I can give 'em all the evidence needed," returned the policeman. "Now you shut your mouth and come right along." The boys, seeing that there was nothing to be gained by arguing, went quietly to the boat, a rough little launch driven by an out-board motor. It was quite dark now, but Gaymer evidently knew the twisting channel, and half an hour later they arrived at the landing-place. There was nobody about, and the policeman, whose name, they found, was Tibbetts, took them straight up to the police station and ushered them into the one cell of which it boasted. Jock made a last effort.
"You said you didn't believe our story. Will you telegraph or telephone to Mr. Finch Hanley at Colchester, who will tell you that it is true. We will pay for the message." But Tibbetts was still angry.
"Time enough for that in the morning," he answered stiffly.
"And time enough for the thieves to get away with the emeralds," retorted Jock. "If they do, you'll catch it from your inspector."
"Emeralds, indeed!" was all Tibbetts said, as he went away, locking the door behind him.
"Pig-headed ass!" exclaimed Tim angrily.
"Never mind," said Jock. "We've scored in one way. We're ashore."
"How does that help us when we're locked up and that chap won't send a message for us?"
"If he won't sent it some one else must," replied Jock coolly. "Got a pencil, Tim?"
"Yes, but what good is it?"
"You'll see," said Jock, as he went to the window and looked out. The window faced the village street but was well and soundly barred.
"You can't get out there," growled Tim.
"I'm not thinking of that," was Jock's answer. Tibbetts had left them one candle by the light of which Jock set to work, writing a message on a sheet torn from his pocket-book. Tim watched him with interest.
"I want two of your shillings," said Jock presently.
"That only leaves us one and nine," remarked Tim, as he handed them over. There was a bit of yellow soap by the sink in the corner of the cell, Jock took it and wedged the two coins into it. The note, too, he fixed in the soap.
"You must have written a pretty long message," said Tim.
"No, one shilling is to pay for the telegram, the other is for the chap who sends it."
"He'll probably bag both the shillings and tear up the telegram," prophesied Tim; but Jock refused to be discouraged. He waited until at last some one came past, then pitched the lump of soap through the bars with such good aim it dropped at the man's feet. The boys saw him pick it up, stare at it in an astonished way, then shove the whole thing in his pocket.
"Even betting whether he sends it or not," grinned Tim. But all Jock said was:
"Let's turn in. There's nothing else to do." The cots were hard but clean and in spite of their restful day the boys managed to sleep pretty well. At eight next morning Policeman Tibbetts in his shirt sleeves unlocked the door and brought them some breakfast. Only bread and butter and tea, but they were quite ready for it.
"The Bench sits at eleven," he told them in his grimmest voice.
"What about that telegram?" Jock asked.
"Their worships will attend to that," was all the answer he got; then they were left to themselves again.
Ten struck from the big clock in the church tower, and the echo had hardly died before it was followed by a distant humming sound.
"A plane!" cried Jock.
"No reason why it should be Finch," Tim said.
"No, I suppose not," replied Jock slowly. The sound died away and the boys still waited. Nothing happened.
"It wasn't Finch," said Jock at last. At a quarter to eleven Tibbetts turned up in full uniform and led them out. Jock and Tim were painfully conscious that they had had to make their toilets without hair- or tooth-brush, and that their clothes were muddy and stained with sea-water. But they set their teeth and accompanied the officer to the Town Hall.
The court-room was on the first floor and three magistrates sat on the bench. One was the Mayor, a stout tradesman; one was a military man, Colonel Carver, a stiff-looking man with close- cropped grey hair and grey moustache; the third was the squire of Waveney, Mr. Walter Whitney. He looked the most human of the three. Jock and Tim were put in the dock and Tibbetts told his story. It was the second time, he said, that the bird-man's house had been broken into. On the first occasion money as well as food had been stolen, but this time he had seen the light in time to go out and catch the thieves before they could get away. Gaymer's evidence backed up that of Tibbetts.
At last Jock's turn came to speak, and he told his story well and clearly. Colonel Carver cut in:
"You say that you two boys chased the thief in an aeroplane?"
"No, sir. I said we were in the aeroplane, which was piloted by Mr. Finch Hanley." The Colonel pursed his lips.
"The whole story sounds to me highly improbable. What do you think, Mr. Mayor?"
"I agree with you, Colonel."
"I'm not so sure," said Mr. Whitney. "It is quite true that these emeralds have been stolen, and the papers mention Mr. Hanley."
"But nothing is said about these boys," returned Colonel Carver. "I suggest they should be remanded for inquiries."
"Will you telephone to Mr. Hanley?" Jock asked.
"Or to my father?" put in Tim.
"Inquiries will be made through the usual channels," said Colonel Carver coldly. "Meantime you will be remanded in custody."
Tim threw a despairing look at Jock, but Jock merely shook his head. He realized that it was hopeless, and his heart was like lead as Tibbetts ushered them both out of the dock.
"HOW long will they keep us?" Tim whispered anxiously in Jock's ear, as they followed Tibbetts towards the door.
"Goodness knows," replied Jock. "I suppose they'll write to- day and post it to-morrow."
"Silence!" snapped Tibbetts turning on them, and suddenly the door was flung open.
"Hulloa, you chaps. Sorry I'm so late. Couldn't help it. No place to land. Had to go a mile or more and tramp all the way back." The Court had gone dead quiet, and every one in the big room was staring at the sturdy figure in leather jacket and flying helmet.
"What's the meaning of this? Who are you?" demanded Colonel Carver in a terrible tone. Finch saluted.
"Sorry, sir. Didn't quite realize where I was. And I was so jolly glad to see these chaps safe and sound. We all thought they must have come to grief in the storm. You see they managed to get aboard the thieves' launch, though how the deuce they did it I can't imagine. But no doubt they've told you all about it."
"They did," said Mr. Whitney, "but my brothers on the bench did not believe their story. You, I take it, are Mr. Hanley?"
"That's my name, sir. Finch Hanley. I was taking the emeralds to their owner when they were stolen from me. You'll have seen all about that in the papers."
"I have," replied Mr. Whitney, "but the papers said nothing of these boys."
"No, sir, they didn't know anything about them; but Jock Freeland here gave me a lot of help. He followed the thief to Wales and came precious near to getting the emeralds back. It was just bad luck he failed. And Tim here flew my big plane all across Wales to help. I tell you, sir, these boys have done more in the past couple of days than most men would have dared do—and done it well, too." Finch Hanley's voice rang through the big room, and his straight-forward manner and open face made a great impression. The Mayor grew red, Colonel Carver fidgeted in his seat. Then he spoke:
"It seems to me that we have been mistaken. These boys cannot possibly be the same who broke into the bird-watcher's hut on the previous occasion. Do you agree with me, Mr. Mayor?"
"I do, sir. It seems clear that the story they told is true," said the Mayor.
"In that case," said Colonel Carver, "all we can do is to offer them an apology and release them without a stain on their characters." There was a murmur of applause from the audience. Jock spoke up:
"Thank you, sir," he said. "Then I suppose we can go with Mr. Hanley?"
"Indeed, you can," replied Colonel Carver, who was the senior magistrate. "And we wish you luck in your quest for the stolen jewellery."
Tibbetts was at the door. He was looking rather blue.
"You can't blame me?" he said in a tone of gruff apology.
"I've no ill feelings," Jock told him, "only you might have sent that wire for me last night."
"He did. I got it," Finch put in.
"Well, that's all right," said Jock with a grin; and they went off, leaving poor Tibbetts sadly puzzled.
"Plane's in a field top of the hill a mile away," Finch said. "You fellows like to walk out?"
"No, get a taxi or something," replied Jock quickly. "We haven't a minute to waste. I'll explain on the way." There were no taxis, but they got a car from the hotel which whisked them out in no time. On the way Jock explained about Mark, and how certain he felt that the man was going after the emeralds.
"Don't believe it," returned Finch bluntly. "If this chap, Red, is anything like what you say, he's not going to let any of his gang rob him."
"But he's still lame from his wound. Remember that," Jock urged.
"Still, I don't think there's much risk. According to what you say, Red's gone a longish way up the coast. Unless Mark has got a fast car or another plane he's not likely to get back to Horn Quay very quickly, and I don't see Red letting him have either."
"Horn Quay—is that the place we started from?"
"That's the name of the village just to the south. I say, it was smart of you to tie those wipes on the bushes. I found my way to the beach by them, and when I struck that little bay I could guess pretty well what had happened. But it was no use trying to follow in that gale, so I flew back to Colchester and sat tight, waiting for a message."
They came to the field, and it did Jock's heart good to see the plane once more. He had told Finch what he had heard about the emeralds being hidden, and it was decided that they should fly straight back to Horn Quay and search, first the sea cave and then the wood.
"And we'd best hurry," said Finch curtly. "There's weather brewing."
Jock looked up at the sky and saw that Finch was right. It had turned not merely hot, but sultry; and now a leaden haze hung over the North Sea.
"Thunder," said Jock thoughtfully, and Finch nodded agreement.
"But we've only about seventy miles to go," said Jock. "We ought to do it before the storm breaks."
"If we don't run into it," remarked Finch rather grimly, as he climbed into the plane.
Tim pulled over the prop.
"Contact," he said, and Finch repeated the word. Nothing happened and Tim tried again. Still no result.
"She gave trouble this morning. I fancy the mixture's too rich. Try turning the screw back a few times." Meantime he opened the throttle.
This worked, and at last the engine fired. But it had meant a delay of several minutes, a delay which seemed likely to prove costly, judging by the speed at which the clouds were rising out of the sea, and by their ominous blackness. And even when the engine had fired, it was necessary to wait another two or three minutes until it had got properly warmed up.
They took off well and Finch went up to two thousand. At that height the plane struck a strong sou'-easterly current and Finch had to go down again in order to avoid it.
"Thunder weather all right," he shouted to Jock. Thunder weather it was, and coming up like smoke off the sea—so quickly Jock saw that it was bound to catch them before they reached the end of their journey. Even as he watched, the edge of the great cloud covered the sun and a leaden shadow fell over the landscape beneath. Next moment a livid glare lit the heart of the vast mass of purple vapour, and Jock saw a white line racing across the dark sea.
"Wind," he said to Tim, and Tim nodded.
"Hail, too," he added. Jock saw that Finch was looking very anxious.
"I'M going to try to get above it," Finch called to the boys, and sent the plane upwards at a steep angle. The needle showed four thousand feet, then five; but still the vast cloud bulked like a mountain in front of them. A part of it had swung in beneath them, so that they could no longer see the ground. What they could see was the most magnificent and terrifying display of fireworks in the shape of lightning, while the crash of thunder was louder even than the crackling exhaust of the big plane's engine.
Finch still struggled upwards, but it was no use, and next minute the plane was swallowed in a mass of inky vapour so thick they could hardly see her wing tips. At the same moment the wind hit her. She bucked like an unbroken horse, and it took all Finch's skill and strength to keep her on anything like a level keel.
Tim was very pale.
"It's the lightning," he told Jock. "I hate a thunderstorm."
The worst was still to come. Suddenly they were struck by a smashing downpour of hail—lumps of ice nearly as big as marbles which rattled on the metal of the machine like rifle- shots. Finch was protected by the wind-screen, but the boys had to duck their heads and cover up as best they might.
The hail ceased suddenly, there followed a blaze that nearly blinded them, and with it an explosion that made the whole machine shudder and feel as if she was falling to pieces. The plane stalled and pitched forward in a nose-dive. For a horrid moment Jock fully believed that they had been struck, and that they were all going to smash. For endless seconds the big machine spiraled downwards, the frightful spinning making the blood rush to his head, and Jock was holding his breath for the crash when suddenly the nose swung up, the engine roared, and once more the plane was on level keel.
"Haven't a notion where we are," Finch sang out presently. "I'm just carrying on by compass. It's all I can do." By degrees the rain slackened. Jock looked at his watch. They had been flying for nearly an hour, and if they had held anything like the right course, must be somewhere near Horn Quay. Suddenly Tim gave a shout.
"The sea! There's water beneath us, Finch." A rift in the cloud had shown long lines of white waves a couple of thousand feet below, and Finch at once swung the plane round to the west, but had hardly done so before Jock caught an ominous sound. The engine was missing on one cylinder. The boys exchanged glances.
"No luck," said Tim, but Jock refused to be discouraged.
"I can see the cliffs," he told Tim. "We'll do it all right."
Yet both boys knew they were in for a forced landing, always a risky business, and all the more so because they were now over water and not land. Alone, they would have been certain to come to grief, but Finch was a pilot of long experience and knew exactly what to do. He turned the nose slightly downward and carried on straight towards the land. The plane, of course, steadily lost height, and to the boys it seemed certain they would be forced to come down in the sea.
But the wind was behind them and they were still travelling at a good pace. Yet to the boys the seconds seemed like hours as they sat motionless, waiting to see what would happen. Tim was the first to realize they were going to reach land.
"We're all right," he cried suddenly. "We shall just make it." Jock heaved a sigh of relief as he saw that Tim was right, yet the plane was barely a hundred feet up as she crossed the rim of the cliff. Beyond was a stretch of rough ground with gorse growing in clumps and sheep feeding here and there. With infinite skill Finch Hanley kept the plane gliding with just speed enough to save her from stalling. The machine was so near the ground it was impossible to turn into the wind, but luckily for all of them the wind was dropping quickly. The ground came nearer and nearer, then just at the right moment Finch lifted her nose a trifle and the wheels touched ground. She rushed forward, narrowly missing a clump of gorse which would have wrecked her, ran up a slight slope, and came to rest half-way up.
"Fine, Finch!" exclaimed Tim. Finch turned, and his face under the helmet was rather pinched.
"I was scared stiff," he confessed. "I thought we should hit the cliff."
"It was jolly good work," said Jock gruffly. "But I say, where are we?" Finch looked round, then pointed south.
"See that headland—about two miles away? Horn Quay is just below it." Jock nodded.
"Then Tim and I had better shove along, Finch. We'll send some one to help you with the plane." Finch frowned.
"What's the hurry? Give me an hour and I can get her running again. We've plenty of petrol." Jock shook his head.
"We haven't an hour to spare. Tim and I can get to the cave in less than half that time."
"I don't see half an hour will make all that difference," grumbled Finch. "And I hate the idea of you kids tackling the job alone."
"Jock's right," put in Tim. "We've got to hurry."
"Why?" Finch demanded. "Myself, I don't believe for a moment that this fellow Mark will ever get off to go after the necklace. And, anyhow, what difference can an hour make?"
"A lot," said Tim. "There's a fast car gone down the coast road not five minutes ago. I spotted her from the plane."
"There's probably a car every five minutes," retorted Finch. "You chaps have got Mark on the brain."
"Perhaps we have," said Jock very quietly. "But we have good cause for it, Finch. I know the man, and I heard what Red said. Let us go and don't be cross about it." Finch grinned, but it was rather a rueful grin.
"I seem fated to be out of all the fun. But I'm not cross. Go ahead, and I'll be with you just as soon as I can fix up this blamed old engine. Where are you going first?"
"The cave. That's nearest," Jock told him. Finch nodded.
"All right. But keep a good look out for the gent with the eyebrows. He won't let you off a second time if he gets his big paws on you, and I don't want to have to bail you out of gaol."
JOCK lay flat on his stomach on the top of the cliff, peering down into the little hidden cove. Tim had hold of his ankles to keep him from slipping, for the ground sloped dangerously to the verge. Jock turned his head.
"All right. Pull me back," he said. Tim did so, and Jock scrambled to his feet. "It's no use," he told Tim. "Tide's right up into the cave. We'll have to wait for the ebb before we can do any searching there."
"Then we'd better tackle the wood," replied Tim. Jock glanced across the valley where the stream ran to the burnt and blackened wood which crowned the opposite slope. He nodded.
"Yes, but we'll have to be jolly careful. It's broad daylight and there's precious little cover, and I wouldn't give much for our chances if old Eyebrows spots us."
"We'll be all right," said Tim easily. "The farm's out of sight from the wood, and it's all odds against the old lad being in among those burnt trees. It's past twelve, and the chances are he's at home eating his dinner."
"I hadn't thought of that," said Jock; "but you're right, and this is our best chance. All the same, we'll go careful." There was not a soul in sight as they walked down the slope and crossed the brook.
"Gosh, it's a mess!" said Jock, as he stopped and stared at the wood. "I'd be as vexed as old Eyebrows if any one burnt up my plantation like that."
"Your friend, Red, did that," said Tim sarcastically.
"I'll bet he didn't. That was Mark's work," retorted Jock. "Come on. We ought to find the quarry easy enough." They pushed in among the blackened trees.
"Can't see anything like a quarry," said Tim presently. Jock stopped and stared round.
"No more can I, yet there must be some hiding-place. Let's try over to the left there. I see there's a bit of the wood that escaped the fire."
"That was the rain," said Tim as he followed Jock. The unburnt patch was bigger than they had thought, but they could find no sign of any quarry.
"I don't believe there is a quarry," declared Tim as he pushed through the undergrowth.
Suddenly he pulled up so short that Jock bumped into him. "You're right and I'm wrong," he cried; "and if I'd gone another two steps I'd have been into it. Look here." He pointed to a hole in the ground which looked like the mouth of a large well. It was circular and about six feet across. Bushes grew all round and met above it, so that no one could see it unless they stumbled upon it as the boys had done. Jock went cautiously forward and peered down into the black depth.
"A regular shaft," he said slowly. "But what the mischief is it? Surely no one would be crazy enough to dig a well in a place like this."
"And anyhow, no one could get down it," Tim added; "at least not without a rope. And I'll vow those chaps hadn't a rope when we followed them to the shore."
"Then the rope's hidden here somewhere," Jock answered with conviction.
Suddenly he pointed to the trunk of a gnarled old hawthorn which overhung the pit.
"There's where the rope was tied," he declared. "You can see where the bark is all frayed."
"You're right. Then the rope must be here somewhere. See if it's up the tree." It was not up the tree, and a search all round showed no sign of it. Yet the boys kept on hunting, for they felt it must be hidden close by. Suddenly came a shout from Tim.
"I've got it," and from a hole under the roots of the hawthorn he tugged out a large coil of rope.
"Good man!" said Jock; "but for any sake don't shout. Some one might hear you."
"I forgot all about that," said Tim in dismay.
"It's all right," Jock comforted him. "I'm pretty sure no one's near. This is luck," he declared; "it's a regular rope ladder. Let's fix it and go down."
"It's your show," Tim declared. "I'll do sentry. But be a bit careful, old lad. It looks a nasty sort of pit and deep as the very dickens. Have you a light?"
"I have my torch all right—and some matches," Jock answered.
"You ought to have a candle."
"Can't be helped," said Jock. "It won't take long anyhow. Keep your eyes wide, Tim, and give a whistle if any one comes." He swung on to the ladder and started down. The ladder swayed badly. A rope ladder always does unless it is anchored at the bottom, but Jock went steadily downward. Presently he switched on his torch, and to Tim's surprise the light was reflected from white walls. Though the ground above was gravelly, down below it was solid chalk.
Hanging on to the trunk of the thorn and peering down, Tim could see that the pit was bigger below than above. Its shape was like that of a great flask. So far as Tim could judge, it was about forty feet deep. He saw Jock reach the bottom in safety and step on to the floor. Then Jock held up his torch so as to let the light shine all round.
"See anything?" Tim asked.
"There's a tunnel that runs out in a southerly direction," came Jock's voice ringing up hollow out of the depths. "The stuff's hidden there—depend on it. I'm going in."
"Be careful," Tim begged. "The roof may be rotten." Tim had had experience of Welsh lead-mines and knew what he was talking about, but either Jock did not hear or he paid no attention, and the light vanished as he entered the tunnel. Next minute Tim heard a crunch, then a thud.
"Jock!" he cried sharply, but there was no reply. In a flash he had swung himself on to the ladder and was climbing down at reckless speed.
TWICE Tim bumped heavily against the side of the shaft, but he paid no attention to his bruises. His mouth was dry, and he felt sick with anxiety.
What he saw when he reached the bottom confirmed his worst fears, for Jock was lying flat on the floor of the tunnel; and by the light of the torch which was still burning, Tim saw that his body was half-covered with a mass of chalk. With a groan of despair Tim flung himself on Jock and, careless of the risk of another fall, began to drag him out.
"Steady, old man. Pull the stuff off me first or you'll skin me." The relief of hearing Jock's voice and knowing that he was still alive nearly finished Tim.
"I—I thought you were killed," he gasped.
"Not by a long chalk," replied Jock, and chuckled. "I didn't mean that silly pun," he added. "It's only loose stuff that fell. It knocked me flat, but I'm none the worse." Tim raked away the loose stuff with both hands, and out came Jock, white as a miller with the dry chalk, yet quite unhurt.
"That's where the stuff is," he said eagerly, and was going in again when Tim laid hold of him.
"Stop it, you ass!" said Tim sharply. "Wait till I test the roof." He took a big lump of chalk and flung it against the roof, but only a few small bits fell. Yet he was not content, and tried it several times before he would allow Jock to enter the tunnel again.
"Seems all right," he said at last. "Here, give me the torch and I'll go first."
Jock made no objection, for he realized that Tim knew more about these underground places than he did. The passage was high enough for them to walk without stooping, and the sides and roof looked as clean as if they'd been cut last week.
"Do you suppose Red cut this?" Jock asked.
"Red, you duffer!" retorted Tim. "Why, it's a dene hole."
"What's a dene hole?"
"A storehouse of the ancient Britons."
"Then Red just found it and used it?"
"I expect so. I say, look at this!" Just ahead was a good- sized chamber cut, like the passage, in the solid chalk, and the flashlight showed a pile of kegs and small cases stacked against the walls.
"You were right, Jock," Tim went on eagerly. "This is Red's storehouse. All sorts of loot by the look of it." Jock shook his head.
"That's not loot. It's smuggled stuff—tobacco and spirits. Can't you smell it?"
"Yes, of course I can smell it," replied Tim; "but why shouldn't Red have smuggled the stuff? He has that launch. They say lots of contraband is brought over on the sly from the Continent." Jock's face relaxed a little, but he still looked doubtful.
"It's not a bit what I expected to find," he told Tim. "I don't believe Red would smuggle." Tim turned.
"Which is worse—smuggling or stealing?" he asked sharply. "I wish you wouldn't make a sort of hero of this chap, Red."
"I'm not," said Jock simply, "but I can't help liking him. Perhaps you're right, and this is his stuff. Anyhow, let's see if we can find the emeralds."
It was no easy job, for the packages were large and well nailed and corded. It was more than an hour before they had got everything open, and by that time there was enough tobacco lying about to stock a shop. But there were no emeralds or anything of the sort. Jock straightened his aching back.
"They're not here," he said. "I believe we're too late, and that Mark has been here and taken them."
"Oh, don't be so gloomy," said Tim impatiently. "Why shouldn't they be in the sea-cave?"
"They might be," said Jock quietly. "We'd better go and see." They went back down the passage. As Tim came out into the rounded bottom of the pit Jock saw him stop short, and heard him give a queer gasp.
"What's up?" he demanded.
"The ladder's gone," said Tim.
"The ladder gone!" repeated Jock in amazement. "But it can't."
"See for yourself," said Tim as he turned the torch beam upwards. The light showed the walls of white chalk going up endlessly into the gloom above, but of the ladder there was no sign at all. For a few moments the two stood in a stunned silence. Tim was the first to speak.
"Who has done this?" Tim asked harshly.
"The smuggler," Jock answered. "The chap who hid this stuff down here."
"No, I don't mean Red. If you ask me I'd say it was that farmer fellow—Eyebrows." Tim considered this, and Jock saw his face slowly whiten as the conviction was forced on him that Jock had probably hit on the truth.
"Then you mean that he and Red work together?" he said at last.
"I believe the farmer is the smuggler, and that Red knows of this hiding-place and uses it when he needs it."
"Then you think Red really did hide here the night before last?"
"Yes, and I still believe he left the emeralds here."
"Then it's Eyebrows who's bagged them."
"It may be, but it's more likely to be Mark."
"But it's not Mark who lifted the ladder. If he's been here before us he'd have cleared off at once with the stones."
"No," said Jock. "It's the farmer who's pulled up the ladder."
"But he's not going to leave us here!" Tim's voice had gone suddenly sharp. "We—we should starve." Jock put a hand on Tim's arm.
"Steady, old lad. Don't panic. Finch knows where we went. He won't desert us." Tim bit his lip.
"Sorry, Jock, but I don't mind owning I'm scared. You—you see we can't climb out. And—and I don't see how Finch is going to find the hole. It was just luck that we stumbled on it."
"Don't worry," replied Jock with a confidence he was far from feeling. "Finch will go through the place with a fine toothcomb, and when we hear him we can shout. We may have to wait a while, but we'll be out of this before night."
He saw the colour come back into Tim's face and was glad. Actually, he was just as badly frightened as Tim, for he knew how many things might happen to prevent Finch from finding the pit, and Finch was their only hope. Even with picks and shovels they could never get out, for the sides of the pit sloped inwards, so that they were trapped like mice in a bottle.
"I BELIEVE he means to leave us here," said Tim. "I'm sure of it, Jock," he added harshly. Jock glanced quickly at the other. Tim's face, he saw, was white and pinched, and there was a look in his eyes which Jock did not like at all.
It was now three hours and more since they had found themselves prisoners in the dene hole, and those hours had dragged out till they felt like three weeks.
Jock was not feeling any too good himself, for he knew too well how slim their chances were. Finch would have been looking for a quarry, not a small hole in the ground, and when he failed to find it would, no doubt, have gone off to the sea cave.
"The old beast!" Tim went on passionately. "He's going to leave us here to starve. You'd only got to look at his face to know the kind he is." Jock felt it time to speak.
"I didn't think you were a funk, Tim," he said deliberately. Tim sprang up. His eyes were blazing.
"A funk! What do you mean?" he cried.
"Just exactly what I said," replied Jock stolidly. "You've done nothing but grouse ever since we've been stuck here."
"You're crazy. I've hardly said a word."
"No, but you've sat there like a bump on a log, with a face as long as a fork. If that isn't grousing, what is?" The anger went out of Tim's face, and for several moments he stood quite still, gazing at Jock. At last he spoke.
"You're right, Jock," he said very quietly. "I am a funk, only I didn't know it till now. I'm glad you told me." Jock, too, stood up.
"And I'm a funk, too, old man. I don't mind telling you I'm scared stiff. So you needn't feel bad about it."
Tim stared, then nodded. "It's all right, Jock. I'm not going to grouse any more." He kept his word, and the two sat on packing-cases at the bottom of the great pit and talked in low voices. They got to know one another very well during those ugly hours.
Up above the shadows shifted, and gradually the daylight began to fade. By this time both boys were beginning to get dreadfully thirsty. They were hungry, too, but that they hardly felt. Neither had had anything to eat or drink since that early breakfast in the police cell, and they had done some hard work opening these cases.
"There's whisky in those kegs," said Tim at last, but Jock shook his head.
"That won't help us. It would make us more thirsty. Dad told me that long ago."
"Then I hope old Eyebrows is going to haul us out before night," remarked Tim, trying to smile, but making rather a poor job of it. Suddenly Jock stiffened.
"I think he's coming now," he said softly, and Tim leaped to his feet.
"Steady!" said Jock, but inwardly he was as tense as Tim.
"You're right," said Tim in a harsh whisper. "There's some one up there. Let's shout."
"Wait one moment, Tim. If it's Eyebrows we don't want to seem too keen."
"But it might he Finch," Tim's voice cracked a little. "And—and he might miss us."
"All right. Shout if you want to." Tim let out an echoing yell.
"Finch—Finch, we're here."
"It isn't Finch," came a deep voice, and they saw a big head appear over the edge of the pit.
"It's Red," gasped Tim.
"So that's where you are," Red's voice was suddenly grim. "You, too, Jock?"
"Yes, I'm here, Red," Jock answered. "We got down by the rope ladder hours ago, but some one pulled it up. I expect it was the farmer."
"The dog!" rumbled from Red's throat. It was a terrifying sound. "And he'd do the same to me if he had a chance. Can you chaps scramble up if I drop the ladder?"
"Just try us," replied Jock, and down came the ladder.
"You first, Tim," said Jock, and Tim knew it was no use arguing. Up he went and as soon as he was at the top Jock followed. Red stretched out a great hand and pulled him over the edge.
"So this was Grimball's work?" Red asked.
"We call him Eyebrows," said Jock.
"You can call him mud in future," Red answered in an ominous voice, and there was a glow in his very blue eyes which boded ill for the farmer. "Where's your friend Finch?" he asked.
"Haven't a notion," said Jock. "We got caught in a storm and had to make a forced landing a couple of miles away, so Tim and I came on afoot."
"And you found the pit—that was smart of you."
"It was pure luck," Jock told him.
"Then you have the necklace," said Red. Jock shook his head.
"No, we haven't got it. Tim and I opened every package and we're both certain it's not there."
"ALL the packages," repeated Red, "—the case painted black?"
"Yes, I noticed that one specially. It was full of packets of plug tobacco, and we pulled them all out. There was nothing else in it." It was characteristic of Red that he did not doubt Jock's word for a moment.
"I was afraid I should be too late," he said, with a sort of grim quiet.
"Who was it—Mark?" Jock asked. Red's face hardened and a curious glitter showed in his blue eyes.
"Mark and Jasper between them," he answered.
Tim cut in: "you had Mark with you. How did you come to let him get away?"
"I didn't, but I was fool enough to let him out of my sight for a while. I know exactly what happened. He wired Jasper, and Jasper took them." He paused, then went on. "The two are brothers. Their name is Lovell and they are gipsies. Years ago they did me a favour and I was grateful. I've done a good deal for them since, but this—this is the finish."
"Let's get it clear," said Jock. "You mean that Jasper came all the way over from Wales, got the emeralds, and has gone back with them?"
"I don't know where he has gone, but probably back to Wales. Anyhow he has the stones, I'm as sure of that as if I'd watched him take them."
"I'd hardly have thought there was time," said Jock thoughtfully.
"Plenty. It's only about two hundred and fifty miles. If he got the wire yesterday he could easily do the journey in eight hours with the big six cylinder which was at Garve. He probably got here at dawn, took the emeralds and was away again by six."
"And you think he's gone back to Wales?" asked Jock.
"Yes, and I'll tell you why. Jasper's never been abroad, and he can't talk any language but his own. So I don't think he's gone to Holland. In any case, he'd leave the selling of the stones to Mark, and until he can get into touch with Mark he'll hide them in his own country."
"Mark's probably with him by now," put in Tim. A grim smile crossed Red's face.
"No, Tim. Mark is not with him. Mark is up north and he'll stay there for the present." He gave Tim a sharp glance. "You're not looking too good, son. Both of you must be about starved. My car's handy and there's food in it. Never mind the emeralds. Come and feed."
"If you said come and drink it would be more to the point, Red," said Jock with a grin. "We're horribly thirsty."
"I've coffee in a thermos," Red told him. "Come on." Jock noticed that Red still limped a little, but saw that he no longer used a stick. It was wonderful how he had recovered from his wound.
Red had parked his car in a field behind a high hedge where no one could see it from the road. He fetched out coffee, sandwiches of tongue and ham, and chocolate; and Tim and Jock had never enjoyed a meal more than this supper which they ate, sitting on the running board of the car. The colour came back into Tim's face, and Jock, too, revived. Jock finished his mug of coffee and laid it down.
"What puzzles me is what's become of Finch Hanley," he said. "Did you see the plane, Red? It was on the hill over there not far from the road."
"It wasn't there when I passed," Red told him. "It may be up at the back of the wood."
"I'll go and see," said Jock.
"Keep under cover," said Red, "and if Hanley is there you might come straight back and give me the office. He might think it his duty to run me in." Jock grinned. He couldn't help it.
"All right," he said, and went. But there was no sign of Finch or of the plane, and Red's Dexter, too, had been taken away. He went back, but had hardly reached the car when the faint drone of an aeroplane engine was heard from the south.
"He's coming now," said Red, as he got up quickly and flung the lunch basket back into the tonneau. "And I'm going."
"To Wales?" Jock asked.
"Maybe," said Red. "But you will?"
"If Finch will take us. We'll have to tell him, Red."
"Tell him all you like," Red answered. "Only don't let him chase me. That would be waste of time anyhow."
"It's Jasper we're chasing," Jock reminded him. Red nodded.
"I wish you luck, but remember Jasper Lovell is cunning as a fox and cruel as a wolf. So watch your step." He got into the car and started the engine.
"Catch Jasper if you can," were his last words. "You may get to Wales ahead of me, but it's I who will have him. Good-bye." He turned the car through the gate into the lane and, changing up, went quickly off towards the main road.
"Don't watch him," said Jock. "We don't want to know which way he goes." Tim grinned and turned his back.
"After that supper I'm all for Red," he observed. "Now for Finch."
"Yes, but let me do the talking," Jock asked, and again Tim agreed. By the time the two reached the top of the wood the plane was down, and the boys saw that Finch had two men with him. At sight of Jock and Tim, Finch swung out and ran towards them.
"You young lunatics!" he cried. "You've scared me stiff. Where have you been?"
"In the wood the whole time," replied Jock. "It's your fault you didn't find us."
"Find you! I searched the blessed wood for hours, and finally went off to Colchester for help. Here, I'll introduce you—Flying Officer Eyre and this is Aircraftman Mason."
"Sorry we gave you all this trouble, sir," said Jock to Eyre, who was a firm-lipped young man of about twenty-five. "Fact is, we were down a pit searching for these emeralds."
"Did you get them?" demanded Eyre.
"No, we didn't get the emeralds, but we found a lot of other stuff—tobacco and liquor."
"Smuggled?" exclaimed Eyre.
"Yes," said Jock. "I'll show you if you like."
"Rather!" cried Eyre, "Come, Mason." They all went to the dene hole, and Eyre and Mason shinned down the ladder. They were both keen as mustard. Finch eyed Jock.
"What's the game?" he demanded suspiciously. Jock took him by the arm and drew him back a little.
"The game is to get those chaps out of earshot so that Tim and I can tell you what really did happen. Here's the lay out." Though it was nearly dark, Jock could see Finch's eyes widen as he spun the yarn.
"Hang it!" Finch growled. "You two do scoop all the fun."
"It wasn't much fun waiting down there, Finch. We didn't know whether we should ever get out."
"No, that was pretty tough. So Jasper's got away with the loot. What happens now? Where do we go from here?"
"Wales," said Jock firmly; "and right off." Finch shook his head.
"If you think I'm going to start on a two hundred and fifty mile night flight without any supper or rest, you've got another guess coming. I'll take you to Colchester, where we'll fill up and sleep and start at dawn. Now, what about it?" Jock frowned.
"I hate wasting time, but I suppose you know best."
"There's something else you might like to know," remarked Tim. "Two chaps have just come into the wood, and I'm willing to gamble that one is old Eyebrows. The other's pretty hefty, too. What are we going to do about it?"
"And Eyebrows is the owner of all this smuggled stuff," said Finch softly. "Looks like I'm coming in at the finish after all."
"It'll be finish for you all right if Eyebrows gets his big paws on you," said Jock. "Get back among the bushes—quick!"
GRIMBALL came crashing through the wood. His great beefy face was almost purple, and his thick eyebrows bristled like the whiskers of an angry cat. With him was a swarthy fellow who wore gold rings in his ears.
"A rum-looking bird," whispered Finch, but Jock pinched his arm for silence. Grimball reached the edge of the pit and saw that the ladder was down. He turned and glared at his companion.
"I told you they'd get here afore us," he exclaimed. His voice was like the growl of an angry bear. "Now them there dratted boys has got out. It's all your fault. I'll lay you was sleeping in a haystack instead of keeping a proper look-out." Gabriel scowled.
"I vas not asleep any more zan you," he retorted. "I tell you as soon as I see the airplane."
"The damage is done now," snapped Grimball. "And we'll have the coastguards here afore we're many hours older. Only chance is to get the stuff away quick as ever we can." Gabriel looked round. The expression on his face was not happy.
"And eef zey come while we down ze pit zey get us and ze stuff, too."
"Scared, are you?" said Grimball scornfully. "Well, I ain't asking you to go down. You can stop up here and keep watch." He approached the top of the ladder and Finch started forward again. Jock hung on to him tightly.
"But we've got to warn Eyre," protested Finch.
"Plenty of time for that," hissed Jock in his ear. "If Grimball's on the ladder we've only one of them to tackle."
"You're right," Finch answered in a rather shame-faced tone; "I hadn't thought of that." Grimball swung his great body on to the ladder and started down; Gabriel stood watching him. Finch, who was all for a fight, was quivering like a hound on a leash, but Jock hung on to him until Grimball was nearly half-way down.
"Now," he whispered, and he and Tim and Finch all sprang out together. There was light enough left to see the amazement on Gabriel's face.
"Look out, Greemball!" he shrieked. "Here zey come." Then he turned and bolted. Finch, keen as mustard, fairly leaped after him and caught him before he could get clear of the thick bush. With a huge jump Finch flung himself on the man's back, and the two went down together with a mighty crash. Jock and Tim reached the spot to find the pair struggling furiously together on the edge of the burned ground.
"All right," panted Finch; "I've got him." But just as he spoke Gabriel wrenched free, leaped to his feet, and bolted again. Finch sprang up only to topple over.
"My ankle!" he gasped as he collapsed.
"Catch him." Tim raced off, but Jock shouted to him to come back.
"Let him go, Tim. We don't want him. It's Grimball we must catch." He hurried back to the pit mouth.
"Mr. Eyre, look out. Grimball's coming down."
"That's all right," came Eyre's cool voice from below. "We're waiting for him." And Jock, looking down, couldn't help grinning. The two competent-looking airmen were at the foot of the ladder with their light on Grimball, who hung just over their heads as helpless as a fly in the web of a spider. Next moment Eyre reached up, caught the farmer by the leg, and pulled him down. In a trice the two had him safely tied. Jock turned back to Finch. Finch was furious.
"The first bit of fun I have, and then I'm bust up like this. And I didn't even get the blighter."
"Don't worry," Jock comforted him. "We didn't want him. Grimball's the man, and he's tied up all right. Let's look at your ankle." He got Finch's shoe off. The ankle was already beginning to swell, and Jock saw that Finch would be lame for some days to come. He was bandaging the injury with torn-up handkerchiefs when Eyre arrived. Jock explained to him what had happened.
"It's rough luck on Hanley," said Eyre, "but never mind. We've got Grimball, and there's a wonderful lot of stuff down there. But we want help. What about one of you boys going to Horn Quay for the Preventive men?" Finch spoke up.
"Can't you send Mason, Eyre? The boys are none too fresh. What I suggest is that they take me back in the plane to Colchester. You can look after things here, and there ought to be a nice bit of reward from the Customs for all the baccy and stuff down below." Eyre frowned.
"But you can't fly with that ankle, Hanley."
"Tim will be pilot," Finch answered.
"Well, he flew the plane half across Wales," retorted Finch. "And if I'm not afraid to trust him, you needn't worry."
"I didn't know," replied Eyre. "All right. We'll see friend Grimball to gaol. But first, I'll give you a back to the plane."
"Jolly good of you," said Finch gratefully.
The boys lifted Finch on to Eyre's back, and all four went quietly up through the wood to the plane. Finch was stowed alongside the pilot's seat and Jock climbed in behind. Then Eyre gave the prop a twirl, and, as soon as the engine had started, went back to the dene hole.
Out here on the hilltop there was still light enough for Tim to get the machine up. With Finch alongside to direct him he had no trouble, and within a quarter of an hour brought the plane down safely on the lighted aerodrome at Colchester.
Finch explained his plight to the mechanic who came up. An ambulance was brought, and the doctor took charge of Finch while the boys were taken to the mess. The officers had heard of them already from Finch, and were kindness itself. Hot baths were got ready, clean shirts found, and a first-class supper provided.
"I feel clean and comfy for the first time in about a week," Tim remarked as he began on a plate of most excellent cold roast beef with pickles and salad.
"A week," jeered Jock. "It's only three days since we first met."
"I hear you say it, but I don't believe it," replied Tim with a grin. He turned to Finch, who, with his ankle properly bandaged and his damaged leg on a stool, was also enjoying his food. "We'll have to get off early to-morrow," he said. Finch looked up sharply.
"You must wait till I'm fit, Tim," he answered. "You'll be quite comfortable at our place," said Tim calmly.
"What do you mean—your place?"
"Our place in Wales. Gwydyr it's called. You know I can fly the bus all right."
"But you've no licence, Tim."
"That's only because I'm not old enough. If you come along no one can say anything. I'll pilot and you navigate." Finch frowned.
"What's the hurry? Wait a couple of days and I'll be all right."
"And the emeralds will be gone," cut in Jock. "I'll lay Red's nearly there already." Finch frowned again.
"You kids are the limit," he protested. "But you'll probably steal the plane if I don't agree. All right, I'll come. Tell them to have the plane ready at six. And let's hope we have a decent day," he added. "I'm fed up with storms."
THE morning looked as if Finch's wish was granted, for there was not a cloud in the sky; but the mechanic who had been warming up the engine shook his head.
"Sun rose red," he told them. "You'll run into rain before you're two hours out."
"Don't croak," growled Finch, as he settled his lame leg more comfortably. "All set, Tim?"
"Contact," cried Tim, and the engine roared. The plane drove out across the field. Tim lifted her like a professional and rose steadily to three thousand feet, then he levelled out and drove due west. There was hardly any wind, the sun was brilliant, and the fields and villages reeled past beneath them.
"This is what I call flying," said Tim, then he looked round at Jock who sat silent behind him. "What's the matter, Jock? Aren't we going fast enough to suit you?"
"If you'd got Stainforth's Schneider Cup machine it wouldn't be fast enough," replied Jock glumly. Tim's eyes widened, but Jock went on. "Red's bound to be ahead of us. The chances are he's there already."
Tim realized that Jock had a fit of the blues.
"All right, old man. We'll carry on. After all, even if Red has all the luck, he can't reach Garve before daylight. And by that time he'd be half dead for want of sleep. He'd need grub and a rest before he started after Jasper."
"But he may have caught Jasper."
"Not likely. Jasper isn't going to sit down at Garve and wait for him. He and Mark are both afraid of Red."
"Keep a bit more south, Tim," put in Finch. "There's Banbury below us." The engine was running perfectly and one county after another spun away behind the plane. They were over the Avon valley at the edge of Worcestershire when they saw a cloud bank across the Western horizon.
"That mechanic chap was right," growled Finch. "We're running into rain."
"It may be only a shower," said Tim hopefully.
"It's a mighty big shower," Finch answered grumpily, "but carry on." They passed Pershore where the plums grow, and presently Worcester lay beneath them with the Severn, like a huge grey snake, coiling across the country. The cloud was thicker now and closer. The Welsh Hills were hidden by a thick grey pall. Finch was watching anxiously, and after a while he spoke.
"It's no use, Tim. You can't rise over that cloud and it's going to rain like blazes. Better land and wait until it's over."
"Where can we land?" Tim asked. "Must we go back to Worcester?"
"No. There's Bringstye Common just ahead. Good ground to land." He pointed as he spoke, and Tim turned the nose downwards. As the first drops splashed on the wind-shield Tim turned her nose towards the white riband of road which crossed the common. She was within fifty feet of the ground when Jock gave an agonized yell.
"Look out! There's a man just below." The man, with his jacket over his head, was running from the road to the shelter of a thorn bush. Seemingly he never saw the plane and it looked as if the whirling screw would hit him and cut him to ribands, but Tim lifted a little, and the screw, at any rate, missed him.
"He's down," muttered Jock looking back, as Tim brought the machine to ground.
"Is he dead?" gasped Tim, as the plane came to a stop.
"Dead—not a bit of it," declared Finch. "He's getting up." Jock sprang out and ran to the man.
"No, I ain't hurt, Mister. Just scared," he said rather shakily. "Never seed that there airyplane until it come right over me. Then I throwed myself down."
"Best thing you could have done," Jock told him. "Come in out of the rain." He helped him to scramble in, and the old chap, who was evidently the local roadman, looked round curiously.
"First time I ever been in one of these here things," he said. "Times be changed since I were a lad, what with airyplanes and motor bandits."
"You don't get motor bandits here," said Finch with a smile.
"Ho, don't we? You'd oughter been here last night, Mister. Had a proper bit of excitement, we did." His pale blue eyes were shining with excitement, and the others stared.
"But not motor bandits?" Finch said.
"That's what it were, Mister," declared the old man. "I'll tell 'ee. I lives down in that there cottage close to the road, and about a hour before sun up I were woke by some one shooting. Pop-pop-pop—quick like that. A pistol it were. I jumped up and ran to the window, and two cars come by. Fair racing they was, and a chap in the first one shooting at the one behind. Seed the flashes, I did. All of a sudden the car behind, she run right off the road up on the grass and turned over. T'other was gone like a flash.
"I run out—didn't even wait to put on my trousers—reckoned to find un dead, and dead enough he looked, lying there with blood on his face and his eyes shut, and broken glass all round. Pity, too, I thought—him being such a fine big man." The boys exchanged quick glances but neither spoke. The old chap went on.
"All of a sudden he opened his eyes—wonnerful blue eyes he had—and says he, 'no, I ain't dead. Help me out.' So I helped him, and he got up. Limped a bit, he did, but not a lot the worse. Then he took a look at the car. 'Ballet hit the tyre,' he said. 'That's what threw me off the road.'
"'Lucky he didn't shoot you,' I told him, and he just grinned.
"'Trying to rob you, was he?' I asked him.
"'Oh, he robbed me all right,' he said, and showed all his white teeth again. 'Can you get help to right the car?' he asked me. 'There's a quid for you, if you can.' Well, a pound don't come my way every day, and I says I'll take my bicycle and go into Bromyard and get chaps out from Milligan's Garage. So I leaves him at my place and goes off. They fetched a car and righted and towed it into Bromyard. Two quid he give me. A proper gent, I'll say."
"Did—did he have red hair?" Jock asked breathlessly. The old fellow shook his head.
"A wig," Tim put in quickly. "He'd be disguised, of course."
"Then you think it was Red?"
"Sure of it," replied Tim with decision.
"YOU knowed the gent?" the roadman asked.
"Yes," replied Jock quietly. "We've been yachting with him on the east coast." Tim bit his lip to restrain a grin. "I'm jolly glad he wasn't hurt," Jock went on. "I suppose you don't know where he went after he left Bromyard." The old chap shook his head.
"I never seen him again. But I reckon it ud be some time afore he got that there car mended. Mudguards was buckled something cruel." Jock nodded.
"Have some coffee?" he suggested. "It's still coming down in buckets, so we may as well use the time lunching." As they got out the food, Jock whispered to Tim:
"Tim, you rather gave the show away, talking about Red's wig."
"I don't think the old lad noticed," Tim whispered back; "but, I say, now we may get to Wales ahead of Red." Jock nodded.
"Yes, it looks like it. But just think of Jasper shooting at Red!"
"Red warned you, didn't he?" Jock nodded again.
"He did. Well, it means that Jasper has got the emeralds."
"He's got 'em all right," Tim agreed grimly. "And what's more, he's reached Wales a long way ahead of us."
"Never mind. We'll find him," Jock said quietly. They shared their coffee, cake, and sandwiches with the old roadman, whose name, they found, was Samuel Watkins. By the time they had finished, the rain, too, was ending, so they bade the old chap a cordial good-bye and prepared to take off. The ground was so wet that this was rather an awkward job, but Tim managed successfully. An hour later Tim made a capital landing in the paddock in front of his father's house.
Old Ballard hurried out to meet them, and Tim's first question was whether his father was at home.
"No, Master Tim. He ain't back; but there's a letter for you, come yesterday morning, and the writing's his hand. Did you and Master Jock get them there stones?"
"Not yet, Ballard, but we're still hot on the trail. Help Mr. Hanley up to the house. He's got a sprained ankle."
They got Finch up to the house, and while Jock and Ballard helped him on to a sofa Tim found his letter and opened it. Jock saw an amazed look cross Tim's face.
"Nothing wrong, I hope, old man?" he asked.
"Dad's gone to South Africa," Tim blurted out.
"To South Africa," repeated Jock. "What for?"
"We have property there. An orange farm in Natal. My Uncle Alan runs it. His house has been burnt down and he's hurt. Dad writes that he was taking the very next boat. He must have sailed this morning."
"I'm awfully sorry," Jock said simply. Tim shrugged.
"It's rotten luck. And Dad's so upset he hasn't even said whether he had my letter. I wrote him, you know, about what we were doing."
"Then you're in charge here," said Jock.
"Oh, Ballard can look after the place all right." Tim turned and faced Jock. "I'm not going back on you, old man."
"You must do just as you like," said Jock. "I shan't kick if you think you ought to sit tight." Tim shook his head.
"No, Jock. I'm carrying on. I'm sure Dad wouldn't forbid me. And now I'm keener than ever because, with this loss, a share of the reward will come in precious handy." He glanced at the dock. "It's barely two. What about going over to Garve and having a sniff round?"
"Just what I was thinking," said Jock. "Only we'll have to be a bit careful."
"Yes, we don't want to run into Jasper," Tim agreed.
"Jasper won't be there," Jock declared.
"Then who is there?"
"That tall chap who tried to stop the plane. He might be in the house." Tim chuckled.
"He'd be properly pleased to meet us—after the way we served him. And there's that mechanic, too."
"Yes, he'd spot us," said Jock. "Tell you what, Tim. We won't go to the house at all. We'll just coast round, keeping in among the trees, and try and find out who is there."
"Right you are. We'll tell Finch, then get along."
Finch was not pleased.
"If you find yourselves at the bottom of another dene hole I hope Red will pull you out, for I can't."
"There aren't any dene holes in Wales," Tim said gravely.
"But there's this beggar, Jasper, and I dare say half a dozen as bad. Go slow, you chaps, do."
"We will," Jock promised, and then they started. There had been no more rain since the storm, but it was a grey sort of afternoon. No sun, and the hilltops were shrouded in mist. They crossed the river in the coracle and made their way up the opposite slope through the dripping woods, until they reached the edge of the big field in front of Garve.
"Not a soul in sight," said Jock to Tim as he peered through the bushes.
"No smoke from the chimneys either," replied Tim. "I don't believe there's any one there."
"Let's go round to the back," suggested Jock, and Tim nodded agreement. It was wet work creeping through the thick woods, but they crossed the path down which Jock had run on the morning of his escape, and climbed the hill behind the house without seeing any living thing except a few birds and rabbits and a couple of squirrels.
At last they came out on a patch of fairly level ground under a clump of firs, and found themselves exactly behind the house and about level with the chimneys. Beneath them the ground dropped steeply to the kitchen garden, which was surrounded by a high brick wall. The garden was full of vegetables, and fruit trees were trained against the walls. The garden looked well cared for, but it was as empty of life as the rest of the grounds.
"It's funny," Jock muttered. "Surely Red must have left some one in charge."
"He did," Tim answered. "Here he comes."
AS Tim spoke a man came out from the door of a tool-house built against the northern wall of the garden. He carried a spade. Jock had his field-glasses with him. He got them out and focused them on the gardener.
"I don't know who he is," he said. "I never saw that chap before."
"Nor I," agreed Tim, as he took the glasses from Jock and had a look at the man. "He's quite old. His hair is white. We might go down and ask him if Red is at home." Jock shook his head.
"I don't think it would be a bit of good, Tim. You can be jolly sure that all Red's people have orders to keep their mouths shut."
"But we must do something," said Tim impatiently. "Jasper's getting farther and farther away all the time."
"We can't chase him until we know where he has gone," Jock answered stolidly. Then suddenly he held up his hand.
"What's that chap doing?"
"Planting a bush," said Tim.
"Yes, but watch him. Look at the trouble he's taking to find a place for it."
"What are you driving at, Jock?" Tim asked sharply.
"I don't know—at least not yet. Only that man is acting oddly. He keeps looking round. Any one would think he wanted to be sure no one was watching him."
"You are a suspicious beggar," growled Tim.
"I'm learning to be," Jock admitted with a grin. "But watch that chap."
The grey-haired man had at last found a place that suited him. Now he was digging a hole. He dug with energy, but it seemed to the boys that he was not an expert in the use of a spade.
"Look at the depth of the hole," muttered Jock. "Does he want to bury the tree?"
"It is rather big," Tim agreed.
"And it's square—not round," added Jock. "I don't believe he's a gardener at all." The man finished the hole, straightened up, and stuck his spade in the ground. Then, instead of picking up the little tree, he took something from his inside jacket pocket. Tim gave a quick gasp, but said nothing. Both boys lay craning eagerly forward.
The object the grey-haired man had taken from his pocket was a small oblong parcel, and it was wrapped in oiled silk or something of the kind. He looked at it as if he was loath to part with it, then knelt down and placed it in the hole. Beneath it he laid a flat stone, and placed another on top. Then he quickly shovelled some earth into the hole. He picked up the bush and jammed it in on top.
Having finished the job, he looked all round again very carefully, then took the spade back to the tool-shed, left it there, and went into the house.
"Well," said Jock, "am I too suspicious?" Though he turned to speak quite naturally, his tone was a little breathless.
"You're a bit of a wonder, Jock," said Tim with warm approval. "It'll be a long time before I call you suspicious again. The chap was burying the necklace."
"It certainly looks like it," agreed cautious Jock. "But who was he?"
"Why, Jasper in disguise."
"Yes, that's what I think." Jock drew a long breath.
"Well, we've been lucky enough to spot Jasper's little game. The question is, what do we do next?"
"That's simple," replied Tim. "We wait till night, climb over the wall, and dig up the stones. And now I think we'd better go back to tea. We won't tackle this job till well after midnight."
Finch was much relieved to see them safely back. He stared when he heard their story.
"You are a couple of lucky blighters," he declared. "And here am I tied by the leg," he added bitterly.
"Never mind, Finch. You'll get your share of the reward," Jock promised.
"Me! You're crazy, Jock. Since I was fool enough to lose the stones, I certainly can't touch the reward."
"You'll get a third," Jock said firmly, and Tim confirmed Jock's statement. They had supper, then took it easy until it was time to start. They waited till twelve, then got ready. They took two torches, a light shovel, and their sheath knives. Also a length of rope to help them over the wall, and some other small articles which Jock's training in the wilds had taught him might be useful.
"Keep your eyes skinned," was Finch's last words.
"We'll be careful, Finch," Jock promised. "With any luck we ought to be back about three, but don't wait up for us."
"Poor old Finch," he added as he and Tim slipped out into the night. "It's rough luck on him."
"Yes, I wish he could have come with us," Tim said rather gravely. "Still the two of us can handle the job all right."
"Ought to," replied Jock briefly.
The night was dark, and it was none too easy finding their way through the thick trees. It was nearly an hour before they found themselves under the back wall of the garden.
There was a door in the wall, and to their surprise and delight it was not locked. Another minute and they were inside. All was quiet, and the two groped slowly forward until they had found the newly planted apple tree. Then Jock took the spade and began to dig. The ground was soft, he had the bush up in no time, and in less than two minutes his spade struck something hard. It was the stone covering the case.
"Got it," he whispered as he reached down. He heard a sound and turned sharply, but before he could gain his feet a heavy rug fell over his head and a pair of powerful arms grasped him.
"And we've got you," came a sneering voice through the heavy folds.
THE whole thing had happened so suddenly that it was a second or two before Jock realized what was up. Then he began to fight like fury; but the grip of powerful arms tightened like the hug of a grizzly.
"Stop it, you little fool," cried his captor angrily. "Stop it or it'll be the worse for you." He pulled the folds of the coarse rug down round Jock's head so that Jock could hardly breathe, then swung him clean off his feet and thumped him on the ground. The shock knocked the last of the breath out of Jock's body, and he lay quiet enough.
"You ain't killed him?" came an anxious voice.
"Killed him!" Dazed as he was, Jock was able to recognize Jasper's harsh, unpleasant tone. "Serve him right if I had, but he ain't hurt. You got the other?"
"I've got him safe enough," was the sulky response.
"Then bring him along. I ain't got time to waste." He picked Jock up as he spoke, swung him over his shoulder, and strode away. Jock was still half-stupid and knew he was in no shape to put up a fight, so very wisely kept still and tried to save himself for the first chance that came. He knew he was being taken to the house, and presently the steps of the man who held him rang on flags, and by the change in the sound he felt that they had passed through a door.
"Straight down," snapped Jasper; and Jock, though he could see nothing, became aware that he was being taken down a flight of steps. His spirits, low enough already, went right down to his boots. Jasper reached the bottom of the steps and dropped Jock.
"Don't try any monkey games," he warned him, then he whipped the rug off. "Not that it 'ud do you any good if you did," he added with a sneer. Jock's heart sank still farther, if that were possible, as he realized the truth of Jasper's words, for the place in which he found himself was an underground cellar lit by a single smoky oil-lamp which hung from a hook in the roof. With its solid walls of ancient stone and slabbed floor the place was a regular dungeon, and the only air or light came through a barred grating at the far end which, he saw plainly, was quite out of reach.
"Nice sort o' place, ain't it?" Jasper chuckled harshly. "I reckon as it'll keep you and your little friend out of any more mischief for a bit. Set the other chap down, Hutton," he ordered; and his companion, the same tall man whom Tim had knocked over when he had tried to stop the aeroplane, dumped Tim down on the floor and pulled the rug off him. Tim's face was white, but his grey eyes were blazing.
"What do you mean by this?" he demanded of Jasper. Jasper chuckled again.
"Cocky, ain't you? Looks like I might ask you the same question, my lad. What was you meaning to do, trespassing by night on private property?"
"Don't be a fool," retorted Tim. "We were trying to recover stolen property."
"Oh, was you?" sneered Jasper. "And what proof had you as there was any stolen property on the premises?"
"Why, we watched you bury it," cried Tim. Jasper burst out laughing. It was a harsh, unpleasant sound, yet his mirth was genuine enough.
"Watched me bury it, did you? And what did you think I was burying? Old Mother Meripit's emeralds, I'll be bound. And you two a-lying there with your eyes goggling, watching me put an old razor case underground. A nice pair of detectives, you be. Suppose you thought as Hutton and me was blind and deaf and couldn't see nor hear a aeroplane pitching down into Glwydr. Why, we was watching for you all the afternoon and had fixed up just how to catch you afore you ever started out." Jock bit his lip, Tim got red as fire. It was the bitterest moment that either of them had known. At last Jock spoke.
"What are you going to do with us?" he asked curtly.
"If I did right I'd take you up in the hills and lose you. There's some bogs up there as you'd have a job to get out of. I ain't soft like Red," he added with a sneer. "But as it happens, I'm busy, and that's lucky for you. So I'm leaving you here, with Hutton to look arter you, and how long you'll stay depends on how things go. But first I'm going to take care as you don't get loose for I'll allow you're tricky. Got the rope, Hutton?"
"It's here," said Hutton, pointing to a coil of thin, strong cord lying on the floor. Jasper picked it up. He turned to Jock.
"Now don't try anything," he said ominously. "The door's locked and the key's in my pocket, so, even if you does play up, you can't do nothing. If you keeps quiet I won't hurt you, but if you fights I'll tie you so as you'll know what cramp means afore morning."
"All right," Jock said quietly. "I know when I'm beaten." Tim stared at him as if he could not believe his ears. It was so utterly unlike Jock to give in. But there was Jock standing meek as a sheep. Tim was worried. Jock must be hurt.
Jasper got busy. He ran a length of rope round Jock's body, looped it, then carried both ends back. Standing on a step-ladder which had been put ready, he knotted the ends to the beam which carried the lantern.
"Now," he said, surveying his work with satisfied eyes, "unless you've got a knife you can't get loose. And afore I leave I'll be darn sure you ain't got one." He searched Jock's pockets and took away everything except his handkerchief. "Now for the other one," he said, and Tim was led up and tied in similar fashion, but Jasper was careful to fasten him to the other end of the beam so that he could not reach Jock or Jock reach him. Tim's pockets were also searched and only his handkerchief left him.
"They'll be safe enough like that," Jasper said to Hutton. "You can give 'em a blanket apiece, and some grub in the morning. Now I got to be off. If Red comes, well, you don't know nothing and you ain't seed me?"
"All right," said Hutton. Though a bigger man than Jasper, he seemed to be under Jasper's thumb. Jasper went up the steps out of the cellar and Hutton followed. The door clanged, the key was turned on the outside and the two boys left alone in their prison.
TIM turned anxiously to Jock.
"Have they hurt you, old chap?"
"Hurt me," repeated Jock. "Yes, they've hurt my feelings like simple sin. I never felt such a fool in my life."
"I don't mean that," said Tim quite sharply. "It's the way you crumpled up. I—I—"
"Thought I was scared," Jock ended for him. "Is that it?"
"What else could I think?" growled Tim. Jock grinned.
"Have you ever been tied up properly? No, I thought not. Well, I have, and you don't know what pain is until you've had cramps all over you for hours and hours. You might almost as well be burned alive. Besides, if we were properly tied we'd never have got loose."
"We can't get loose now," replied Tim in a voice that was almost sulky. "The knots are out of reach, and the rope's new and tough. I've got pretty good teeth, but I don't believe I could ever chew through it."
"You don't have to, Tim," replied Jock, and, stooping, pulled something out of a slit in the heel of his heavy shoe. It was a safety razor blade. "Listen, Hutton will be down with the blankets in about two twos." As he spoke Jock was busy cutting through the rope which bound him.
"What do we do?" Tim asked eagerly, "—tackle him between us?"
"Too risky. He's a big, powerful chap. Might knock us both out. No, they tricked us and we've got to trick Hutton." By this time he was loose and he passed the blade to Tim.
"But how?" Tim asked anxiously.
"The steps," Jock said, pointing to the flight of stone steps that led down from the cellar door. "A bit of rope across them. If we stand here under the beam Hutton'll never suspect anything. Give me the razor. I want to cut a length." The steps came down alongside the wall with a guard rail on the outer side. Jock found a ring in the wall and knotted the rope to it, tying the other end to a post of the banister. He held up his hand. "Hush! He's coming. Get back to your place, but be ready to jump him the moment he tumbles."
Breathless with excitement, Tim tiptoed back to his place under the beam and held the rope around him; Jock did the same. Next moment the key grated in the lock and the door opened. Hutton's tall figure appeared, carrying a couple of big, coarse blankets rolled up in a rough bundle. The light was so dim that the boys felt sure he would not spot the trap, but all the same they hardly breathed as he came down the steps. The rope was across the fourth from the bottom. He walked straight into it and, with a yell of dismay, pitched forward and measured his length on the stone floor below.
He was hardly on the ground before the boys were on him. The blankets had saved him from serious hurt, but the force of his fall had knocked all the breath out of his big body, and before he could even begin to struggle the boys had tied him fast. One length of rope round his ankles, another round his body fastening his arms to his sides. Jock stood up and drew a deep breath.
"There, I feel better," he said. "You and Jasper took the first trick, Hutton, but looks to me as if we'd squared the matter."
"How'd you do it?" asked Hutton in a dazed voice. "We took your knives, didn't we?"
"Our teeth are sharp," Jock grinned. "Well, we must say good- night. Hutton. We've a lot to do before day."
"You ain't going to leave me here?" moaned Hutton.
"Indeed we are, but we'll put the blankets under you, and call for you again in the morning. Where's Jasper gone?"
"You knows as much as I do," returned Hutton.
"And that's probably the truth," said Jock to Tim. "Come on, old son." They spread the blankets and hauled Hutton on to them, then hurried up the steps.
"It's all very well," said Tim as he slammed the door behind them, "but seems to me we're absolutely at a dead end. Jasper may be anywhere."
"Jasper's gone up in the hills. Didn't you hear what he said about those bogs?"
"The hills," Tim repeated. "Yes, I expect he has. But the hills are pretty big, Jock."
"You know them, Tim. Where would he be likely to hide the stones? He's got to hide them until he can get in touch with his brother."
"One of the old mines," replied Tim thoughtfully. "Somewhere up in the Curgins."
"Sounds a bit vague," said Jock, "but that's where we have to go."
"Then we'd better find some candles and some grub," Tim answered. "It's going to be a long trip."
"All right. Search round. If you find the larder you ought to get all we want. Oh, and I must write a note for Finch. He's sure to send Ballard round in the morning." Jock wrote the note in the library, and presently Tim came in with a couple of bundles.
"Found our own stuff," he said swiftly. "Torches and knives, and I have candles and matches and some bread and cheese."
"Right you are," said Tim, as he folded his note and put it in an envelope. "I'm tacking this on the front door with a drawing- pin. Now let's shove along." It seemed very dark outside and Tim paused.
"It's pretty hopeless, Jock. Honestly, I haven't a notion which way Jasper would go." Jock was silent a moment, then suddenly he exclaimed:
"The dog. Prowler. I never thought of him till now."
"You mean he'll trail Jasper?"
"Of course. He's part bloodhound. Give him something of Jasper's to smell and he'll follow him from here to Jericho. Get a sock of Jasper's. I'll fetch the dog."
"I'd rather get the sock than the dog," Tim said with a grin.
"Oh, he knows me," Jock answered, and went round to the kennels. The great hound greeted him with a savage bay, but at sound of Jock's voice became perfectly peaceful, and actually licked his hand. Jock had no difficulty in knotting a length of cord to his collar, then brought him round to the front, where Tim was waiting with one of Jasper's shirts, which he had found in the man's room.
Jock gave it Prowler to smell, and at once the big dog put his nose to the ground and began circling about. Then all of a sudden off he started, with a jerk that nearly pulled Jock over. Next moment they were all three going down the path leading to the river.
Before reaching the river Prowler turned to the left, along a narrow footpath that led steeply upwards through the thick woods; and the boys had all they could do to keep up.
"Where are we going?" panted Jock, whose short legs made it hard for him to go uphill at such a pace.
"Straight up into the Curgins. I tell you, Jock, we've a tough journey ahead."
"Is there any old mine up this way?"
"Yes, the lead mine above Llyn Gader. Come to think of it, that's just the place where Jasper might hide the stones."
"Do you know it?"
"I've been near it, but never in it. It's a pig of a place to get to."
"Never mind, so long as we can get there. And don't bother about me—Prowler's pulling me." After that neither spoke. The hill grew steeper, and after a bit they came out of the trees on to a great slope covered with heather. Prowler never hesitated. Nose down, he kept steadily on, dragging Jock behind him. They reached the top of the first ridge, and Jock forced Prowler to stop.
"Got to get my wind," he panted. "Hulloa, there's a lake."
"Llyn Gader," Tim told him, pointing to the dark sheet of water which lay some two hundred feet below them to the right. "The mouth of the mine is above the western end."
"I suppose there's a road to the mine," Jock asked.
"A sort of a one," Tim answered; "but it's not been used for a century, and it's all broken away in places, especially where it's cut in the rock above the lake."
"If Jasper can get there we can. I suppose it's pretty certain that's where he was bound." For answer, Tim caught him by the arm and pointed. Far away up by the head of the deep, gloomy lake a tiny spark of light had shown for an instant.
"A match," whispered Jock.
"Yes, Jasper lighting his pipe," replied Tim. He chuckled. "What a sell for him. He's given himself away properly."
"I hope so," said Jock soberly, "but we've a long way to go, Tim, before we get those emeralds."
TIM was right. The road to the mouth of the old lead mine above Llyn Gader was in a shocking state. During the many long years that had passed since the mine had last been worked, rain and frost had shattered the shaly rock so that in places there was nothing more than a ledge a couple of feet wide. They dared not take Prowler with them, for fear he should fall into the lake. So they led him back and tied him in a little cave.
In the darkness the path was abominably dangerous, but Jock and Tim, knowing that Jasper had just been along it, pushed on steadily. In one place there was actually a gap more than a yard wide, with a drop of forty or fifty feet to the black water lying at the base of the cliff. They crossed it safely, but in doing so Jock kicked a loose stone, which fell with a plop into the lake below.
"Hope Jasper didn't hear that," he whispered uneasily, but Tim comforted him.
"He's inside the mine by now. He wouldn't hear it if you'd rolled a rock instead of a pebble." After that it was easier, and they came very quietly and cautiously up to the mouth of the mine. This is what is called an adit, a tunnel running into the face of the hill and sloping slightly upwards. The floor was muddy, and a trickle of water ran out and dripped down the rocks into the lake below. The boys stood quite still for some minutes, listening intently. But there was not a sound except the faint tinkle of the drainage water dropping down into the lake.
"It's all right," Tim whispered. "Jasper's inside."
"What do we do—follow him?" Jock asked in an equally low voice.
"No. It would only mean a fight, and if he got the better of it he'd get away with the emeralds; all we have to do is to wait for him to come out, then go in and hunt up the stones."
"All right. Where are we to wait?" Tim pointed to the left.
"There's a ledge we can climb to, and if we lie flat Jasper won't see us."
"We'll have to be jolly careful," Jock answered, as he followed Tim up the rock face. The ledge was broad and fairly dry, and they were able to stretch themselves at full length. Jock glanced at his wrist-watch, which had a luminous dial.
"Just four," he muttered. "It will be dawn before long."
"The sooner the better," said Tim. "It's pretty chilly up here." Half an hour passed, and the east began to turn pink.
"He's taking the dickens of a long time," Jock whispered. Tim agreed and Jock went on. "You'd think he'd want to be out and away before daylight."
"There's not much risk of any one seeing him. At least that's what he'll be thinking," replied Tim. "This is an awfully lonely spot."
The sun climbed up over the eastern ridge and a light breeze rippled the lake; sheep began to graze, tit-larks were calling, and here and there, below them, a trout rose for an early fly. But still no sign of Jasper. Tim grew worried.
"I believe he's come to grief, Jock. These old mines are beastly dangerous." Jock nodded and stretched his cramped limbs.
"I know. Roof-falls and that sort of thing."
"We can't wait here for ever," said Tim. "Let's go in and look for him."
"Wait a while longer," advised the cautious Jock. "We'll eat a bit of our bread and cheese first." They breakfasted on a crust of bread and a chunk of cheese apiece. The sun rays warmed their chilled bodies pleasantly. At last Tim spoke.
"Jock, if we don't start soon I shall go sound asleep." Jock sat up.
"Right you are. We've waited long enough. We'll go in." They slid silently down from their perch and peered cautiously into the adit.
"There are his footmarks," said Jock in a low voice. "He's gone in, but he hasn't come out again." That was plain enough, and both boys began to feel unpleasantly certain that Jasper had met with some mishap. They started into the mine. Twenty paces and it became so dark they were forced to switch on a torch. They went very slowly and quietly, following Jasper's tracks, but presently the mud gave place to hard rock, and there were no more footmarks. Galleries opened to left and right, a regular maze of them, and Jock stopped.
"This is hopeless. It'll take a week to search all these miles of passages." Tim looked rather blue.
"It's a pig of a place," he agreed. Jock pursed his lips.
"The only thing will be to get Prowler on the job," he said. "I'll go and fetch him."
"I'll come, too," said Tim. "It'll take the two of us to get him over that gap." They started back, and were about half-way to the mouth of the adit when the silence was broken by a shattering roar. A blast of wind blew back upon them, sending them staggering against the walls of the passage, and the air became thick with smoke and choking dust. For a moment they were too dismayed to speak. Jock was the first to recover. He seized Tim by the arm and dragged him back out of the smother.
"W-what's happened?" Tim asked hoarsely.
"Not much need to ask," Jock answered. "Some one's fired a dynamite cartridge in the mouth of the adit."
"And closed it?" gasped Tim.
"Closed it all right," said Jock grimly. "There's about fifty tons of rock between us and daylight." The colour faded from Tim's face.
"Then—then we're buried alive," he said slowly.
JOCK put a hand on Tim's shoulder.
"Steady, old son. It isn't as bad as that. There's Finch and Ballard."
"But they don't know where we are." Tim was horribly frightened, yet was trying to fight down his panic.
"They'll make a pretty good guess. Ballard knows this country, doesn't he?"
"He knows it better than I."
"Then that's all right, and there's my note on the door at Garve to guide them, to say nothing of Prowler." Tim was silent, but the colour was coming back to his face. After a while he spoke.
"Jasper must have known all the time where we were. He was lying in wait for us."
"It looks like it," Jock agreed. And that was my fault. "That stone I knocked into the lake. And now he's off again—emeralds and all."
"You think he's taken them?"
"Sure. He'd never leave them here for us to find."
"Then it's good-bye to them, as far as we're concerned," remarked Tim.
"Don't be too jolly sure," said Jock sturdily.
"What do you mean? Even if old Ballard finds us, it'll take days to dig us out."
"Why wait for that?" Jock asked serenely. "Why not find a way out for ourselves?"
"You're crazy," declared Tim frowning.
"Not a bit of it. See here, I don't know much about lead mines, but I know a whole lot about tin mines, and I expect they're much the same thing. Listen to me. There's always more than one level. Sometimes there are half a dozen cut to work the different seams or layers of ore. They're connected by stopes or winzes. A winze is a shaft. Each level has its own adit, and I expect there's another level and an adit above this one. If we can find our way up to it we can get out all right." Tim listened eagerly.
"That sounds good," he said quickly. "Luckily we have plenty of candles, so we'd better start looking at once. You go first, Jock."
"All right. We'll go on until we find a passage sloping upwards and follow that." They started, and had not gone fifty paces before they found a gallery sloping steeply to the right.
"Just what we were looking for," exclaimed Tim in delight.
"Don't shout like that," Jock told him, "unless you want to bring down this rotten roof."
"A pig of a place," Tim muttered as they came to a safer part. "Once I'm out of this you won't catch me in a mine again very soon." Jock stopped.
"Never mind about that. We're up against it. Here's the end of this gallery." Sure enough, a blank wall loomed black and forbidding in the feeble light of the candle.
"Wait a minute," said Tim eagerly as he pushed past Jock. "There's a ladder."
"A ladder," repeated Jock. "So there is." Overhead was a shaft running up into blackness, and against the right-hand wall of this shaft was a rough ladder made of two long poles connected by heavy treads. The candlelight was not strong enough to see the top.
"It's a ladder all right," Jock went on, "but it's bound to be rotten after all these years." Tim went nearer and examined it.
"I'm not so sure. The uprights are sound. Jock, I'm going to try it."
"Better let me go first," said Jock stolidly. "I'm heavier than you. If it bears me it'll bear you."
"B—but suppose it doesn't."
"Oh, I'll go slow. If the treads go I can hang on to the uprights." As he spoke he lit a second candle-end, and with a lump of clay from the floor fixed it on his cap, then he started up. Tim's heart was in his mouth as he watched Jock's stocky figure moving slowly upwards. Jock tested each tread as he came to it, clinging tightly to the uprights. Tim heard a sharp crack. A tread had gone, and he sprang forward to try and catch Jock. But Jock clung safely.
"Don't worry," came his voice echoing hollow from above. "It's only one tread. The next is all right." Up he went again, his candle gleaming feebly against the black sides of the shaft. To Tim the wait seemed endless as he stood with head craned backwards, watching breathlessly. At last Jock's voice came again.
"All serene, Tim. Come on." Tim went up quicker than Jock, and found himself in another gallery higher and much drier than the one below.
"Good business, Jock," he exclaimed. "Where do we go now?" Jock took out a pocket-compass and laid it on the floor.
"This way to the lake," he said. "But don't be too chirpy, Tim. We may run into another blind alley."
"I don't think so," Tim answered. "The air is quite fresh. Why, the candle's flickering." Sure enough, there was a draught blowing inwards, and they went briskly down the passage. Tim saw it first.
"Daylight!" he shouted, and blew out the candle he was carrying.
"You're right," said Jock, as he started quickly towards a square of pale light in the distance. The two reached it together, and found themselves at the mouth of a second adit about fifty feet above the first, and a good deal to the left of it. Tim looked out over the lake and the great stretch of hills all brilliant in the morning sunlight. He drew a long breath of the fresh warm air.
"Oh, Jock, isn't this good?" he exclaimed.
"It's all right," said Jock soberly; "but what I'd like to know is how we are going to get down." He pointed to the track, and Tim saw that this had been swept away by a landslide fallen from above. It was practically a sheer rock face all the way down to the water.
Tim had a good look at it, then his face cleared.
"It's all right, we can climb down."
"We can climb down into the lake," Jock said. Tim shrugged.
"Our morning bathe," he remarked.
"Ugh, it will be cold," Jock growled.
"Don't grouse," said Tim. "I'm so jolly glad to be out of the mine, I feel I could swim right across the lake. No use looking at it. Come on."
Jock came. It was a tough scramble, but they managed it, and reaching a ledge just above the water, made their clothes into bundles and tied them on their heads. Then they stepped in. The water was like ice, but luckily they had not far to go before they were able to climb out. Then they dried themselves as they best could with handkerchiefs, and hurried off to release poor Prowler, who was overjoyed to see them. Jock looked at his watch.
"I say, Tim, how long do you think we were in the mine?"
"Hours and hours," said Tim. Jock grinned. "It's less than an hour since Jasper let off that cartridge. If we hurry we may catch him yet." Tim stared.
"I suppose I've got to believe you. Let's put Prowler on Jasper's trail. He must have gone down the old track. He couldn't have got out any other way." Jock turned to do so and gave a sudden start.
"There he is! Look—just crossing the hill opposite." A man looking no bigger than a fly—for he was nearly three miles away—had just reached the top of the great slope to the west. Tim whistled softly, and to Jock's surprise a look of dismay crossed his face.
"What's up?" he asked. "Why are you looking so solemn?"
"Because Jasper's bound for Glynt. He must be, or he wouldn't be going in that direction."
"And why shouldn't he go to Glynt?" Tim's eyes widened.
"That means you've never heard of Glynt!" he exclaimed.
JOCK shook his head.
"You forget I've never been in Wales till this week. What's all the excitement?"
"It's a quarry village," Tim said. "A big slate quarry was running there thirty years ago. Then it shut down, and the workpeople drifted away. There was nothing to keep 'em, for it's the back of beyond. The houses stood empty, and the gipsies found the place and made it a sort of winter quarters. Tramps came along, and now there's a nice lot there. If Jasper gets there we can't follow him."
"But would he dare take the emeralds there?" Jock asked shrewdly.
"I expect he has pals there," Tim said. Jock's eyes grew hard.
"All right, Tim. Then we must get him before he can reach this place. How far is it?"
"Ten or twelve miles, I should think. And all across the hills."
"And Jasper has three miles start. We shall have to jolly well hurry." Hurry they did, and when they had gained the top of the vast slope where they had last seen Jasper they saw him again. And now he was not more than two miles ahead.
"He isn't hurrying," said Tim. "Of course he doesn't know we're after him."
"And we'll have to be precious careful he doesn't spot us. There's not much cover in this country." Tim made a suggestion.
"If we cut right down through the valley to the left we'd save nearly a mile," he said. "Jasper's keeping to the footpath—but it's tough going," he added.
It was tough going, and both boys began to feel it. They had been up all night, and hard at work most of the time. When they gained the next crest they flung themselves down and rested a few moments. Jasper, who was taking it easily, was now not more than a mile in front. They watched him disappear over another great heather-clad hill.
"He's dropping into the gorge of the Lowy," Tim said, "but we'd best keep on the top. We shall be above him and can watch him."
Tim was right. When they reached the spot where Jasper had disappeared they found themselves on the upper rim of the deep and narrow gorge which the Lowy had cut through the mountain. Jasper was out of sight for the moment, but presently they caught sight of him clambering a steep pitch beside a fall. He was now only about half a mile ahead.
"We can catch him all right," said Tim quietly, "but what then? Have you any plan in your head, Jock?"
"I haven't," Jock confessed. "I've been simply racking my brains for some dodge of stopping him and getting the stones away from him, but honestly I can't think of any."
"It looks as if we'd have to get ahead of him and jump him," said Tim.
"I'd hate to try it," replied Jock. "We're both pretty fagged and Jasper's no weakling. All the same we must stop him before he gets to Glynt. If we don't, it's good-bye to the emeralds."
"I know," growled Tim, then suddenly he pulled up. "There's a man ahead—right up the valley. See?" Jock nodded.
"I see. Looks to me like a water bailiff." Tim's tired eyes brightened.
"That's just who he is. It's Gwynne Williams. I say—if we could only get him to help us." Jock stood silent a moment. He was gauging the distance. Then he shook his head.
"Can't do it, old man. At least not without Jasper spotting us." He paused a moment. "There's one thing," he went on, "Williams may stop to speak to Jasper, and that will give us a chance to catch up; then we could shout to Williams to hold Jasper."
"That's the ticket," said Tim eagerly. "Let's hurry." They had gone about a quarter of a mile when they saw Jasper stop. Jasper had just spotted the bailiff, and the sight of this big man evidently alarmed him. The boys saw him duck down behind one of the great grey boulders which lined the river bank. Tim clutched Jock's arm.
"Watch him," he said. "He's hiding something." Jock was as excited as Tim, but he didn't show it.
"You've jolly good eyes, Tim. I shouldn't have noticed it if you hadn't. It's the emeralds, of course."
"Yes, he's shoved them in there under the rock," said Tim breathlessly. "He's afraid of Williams."
"That's it, of course," Jock agreed. "Jasper's leaving them there until Williams has passed, then he'll go back for them." He chuckled under his breath. "Only he won't get them."
"No," breathed Tim, and started forward. Jock caught him.
"Steady, you juggins! Wait till Jasper's gone on a bit." He waited until Jasper had moved on. Jasper walked on steadily towards the bailiff, and it was not until he had actually reached him and stopped to talk to him that Jock let go of Tim.
"Don't hurry too much. Take cover all you can, and for any sake don't start any loose stones," he said sharply, then he dived over the edge and Tim followed. The slope was frightfully steep, and here and there they had to drop down faces of almost sheer rock. And all the time they were obliged to keep one eye on Jasper and Williams.
Luckily Williams was too busy talking to Jasper to look up, and they gained the belt of scrub oak near the water without being spotted by either of the men. Their troubles were not over, for they had still to cross the river. The water was waist deep, the current strong, and the bottom all loose stones. Tim got across first, and, scrambling out dripping, flung himself down under the big rock. He thrust his arm into the hole beneath.
"Got it!" he cried eagerly as his hand came out grasping the long, narrow case which held the jewels.
JOCK kept perfectly cool.
"Now we've got to hide," he said.
"We must hook back past that bend below. Round there the bank isn't quite so steep, and I noticed a sort of gully as we came along. If we can climb up that we shall leave Jasper guessing."
"Good chap! You do use your eyes, Tim," said Jock warmly, and together they turned and ran hard down the fisherman's path. As they tore round the curve Jock looked back over his shoulder.
"All right. No sign of Jasper. Tim, I believe we've turned the trick at last."
They gained the bottom of the gorge which Tim had spotted. It was a deep wash where the overflow from some heavy storm had cut its way down the steep slope. It was deep enough to hide them, but it was fearfully steep and the bottom one mass of loose stones. Yet there was no help for it, and up they went. By this time even Jock was feeling the strain. As for Tim, he was almost all in. Yet he was plucky as could be, and climbed quickly and steadily.
"We'll be all right once we get to the top," Jock encouraged him as they went up side by side. "We can lie down and take a rest. Jasper'll never know where we've gone." Tim only nodded. His face was white with exhaustion, but he kept going. Jock felt a glow of admiration for his pluck.
They were nearly at the top when something sprang up in front of them and bolted wildly. It was one of the half-wild mountain sheep.
"Of all the rotten luck!" growled Jock.
"You think Jasper will see it?" panted Tim.
"Bound to. Tim, I'm afraid that's given away the whole show."
"Never mind," said Tim pluckily. "We'll carry on." Another two minutes of desperate scrambling, then they were over the top, in a hollow at the bottom of which a pool of stagnant water still lay.
"Lie down," said Jock curtly. "Get your wind back. I'm going to have a look—see." Tim flung himself down and lay breathing hard; Jock crawled up the side of the hollow and peeped cautiously over. For perhaps half a minute he lay there, then turned and came back.
"Sorry, old son. Jasper's on the job. He's just started up the bank." Tim's lips tightened.
"What do we do—roll rocks on him?"
"We shouldn't hit him if we did. He could dodge anything we sent over before it reached him. Besides, there's heaps of cover. We've got to clear out." Tim shook his head.
"You'll have to do the clearing. I'm all in. Honestly, Jock, I can't do any more running."
"We won't run." Jock's voice was confident.
"See that hill back there?" He pointed to a conical hill which ran up very steeply a little way behind where they were hiding. "I've spotted a hollow about a hundred feet up. If you can get that far I think we can keep Master Jasper at bay. The slope's quite smooth—no cover at all. That's where we can roll rocks, Tim. Come on, I'll help you."
"Help your grandmother," snapped Tim. "I'm not as bad as all that." He climbed to his feet, staggered and nearly fell, then started. The whole distance was not more than a quarter of a mile, but it took almost the last ounce out of Jock to do it, and how Tim managed was a bit of a miracle. Yet somehow they succeeded and stumbled over the edge into the most curious place that either of them had ever seen. It was more a cave than a hollow. It looked just as if a giant had taken a monstrous shovel and scooped out a shelter in the hillside. The place was almost circular and about fifty feet across. The back was rock with a big overhang, the front was guarded by a parapet of rough stones.
"Not the first time it's been used as a fort," said Jock shrewdly as he glanced round.
"Never mind that," retorted Tim, who lay flat on his face, completely cooked. "Where's Jasper?"
"Down at the bottom. I can't hear what he's saying, but by the look on his face perhaps that's just as well."
"Tell me when he starts up. Then I'll help with the rocks."
"You'll jolly well keep still," said Jock roughly. "I'll attend to Master Jasper." There were plenty of stones in the ring. He picked up a big one, pitched it over the edge, and saw it go leaping and bounding down the steep slope. Jasper saw it, too, and did not like it at all. Jock chuckled.
"That's made him think a bit. Tim, let's have a scrap of bread and cheese while we're waiting. We need a bit of stoking after all we've done, and there's plenty of time. Jasper's going to do a lot of thinking before he tackles us."
As he spoke, Jock was getting the food out of his pocket. Tim lay where he was and munched the bread and cheese; Jock stayed on the edge where he could watch Jasper. The rest was everything to the two boys, and the food did them good. Tim began to revive.
"The worst of it is there's no water up here," he said.
"There might be," said Jock. "I'll have a look round presently. You mean, if we have to stand a siege, but I don't reckon on that. Jasper must know it's hopeless."
"He won't give up very easily," Tim said gravely. "Fifty thousand pounds is a lot. You said so yourself, Jock."
"What can he do? He's got no grub. We can stick it longer than he, and when it gets dark, we can clear out." Tim shook his head.
"He'll get help, Jock. He'll go to Glynt, and we'll have the whole gang at our heels."
"How far is Glynt?" Jock asked.
"Only a couple of miles." Jock whistled softly.
"That does rather mess things up." He looked over the edge.
"You're right, Tim. That's just exactly what Jasper is doing. He's gone to Glynt, and is out of sight already."
THE two boys looked at one another, and Tim's grey eyes were full of dismay. But Jock's were merely thoughtful.
"Two miles to Glynt, you say. Then Jasper will have to collect his forces and they'll have to walk back here. We've a good hour, Tim; probably a bit more."
"What good is that going to do us?" Tim asked bitterly. "We're both of us done to the world. Even if we start back for Garve those beggars are bound to catch us before we get half-way."
"We might stay here," said Jock. "We could hold back an army with these rocks."
"Y—yes," agreed Tim, "but what about water? We can't last long without water in this heat, and it isn't as if they'd give up very easily. We might be besieged here for days."
"I'll have a look," said Jock. "This is an old fort. You can see that by the breastwork of stones. And the people who held it originally must have had water." He started to search. At one spot under the cliff face at the back the ground seemed a little moist. He tried to dig, using the blade of his clasp knife, and almost at once struck something hard. He pulled it out of its earthy bed and found it was a metal cup or porringer of quaint shape. It was black as coal, and so heavy it seemed to be made of lead or pewter. But there was no water. He came back to Tim and showed him the pot.
"It proves what I said—that some one held this place in the old days. But if there ever was a spring there it has dried up."
"Then we can't stay here," declared Tim. "See here, Jock. I'm getting a hit rested. I'm good for a mile or two. Is there any other place where we could possibly hide and dodge Jasper?"
"There's Glynt," said Jock. Tim's eyes widened.
"Have you gone quite loony?" he asked sarcastically.
"Not that I know of," replied Jock with a ghost of a grin. "After all, Glynt is the very last place that Jasper would expect us to make for. But, of course, I shouldn't go into the village itself. There seems to be a hill up above and a bit of a coppice on the side of it. My notion is that if we could get that far, we might lie up until it gets dusk and then make away across the hills to your place." Tim nodded.
"It's not half a bad idea, old man. Yes, if we could get there it might work. That little coppice is called Wiseman's Wood. The oaks are supposed to be about a thousand years old, and there's a regular tangle of undergrowth beneath. I don't believe any one could find us once we were in it."
"Then that's settled," said Jock cheerfully. "Feel up to starting, Tim?"
"I'm game," declared Tim, as he got stiffly to his feet.
"Sure you can manage it, Tim?" Jock's voice was anxious, but Tim smiled.
"Rather! The rest has done me heaps of good. I can't exactly run, but I can get there." Jock looked at the odd little leaden pot.
"Wish I could take this," he said. "It looks frightfully old. But it's too heavy," he added regretfully.
They hid it between two big stones and started. Prowler followed. They went out on the far side of the hill and walked some way to the right so as to get over the crest of the next ridge. Whatever happened they knew they must not risk Jasper seeing them.
Once over the crest they were able to take it more easily, and they were glad of that for it was a very hot day. Then they made a wide, half-circle, and at last gained a place where there was a patch of gorse on the crest of the ridge. Creeping through this they were able to look across the valley at Glynt.
Glynt was a ruin. Hardly a whole pane of glass in the windows, holes in the roofs, doors sagging outwards, and the once trim gardens turned into thickets of nettles. Barring three ragged children playing by a door there was not a person visible.
"Can you see Jasper?" Jock asked. Tim shook his head.
"He and his men are probably down in the valley. Shall we get on?"
To reach what Tim called Wiseman's Wood they had to go beyond Glynt, above the next curve in the river valley, then cross the deep ravine, wading the stream again. The cool water refreshed them, but the climb on the far side was stiff. At last they got to the top and stopped. Tim dropped all in a heap on the grass, but Jock went on a little way to a point of high ground from which he could see all the way down the gorge. For a few moments he stood there watching, then came back to Tim.
"See them?" Tim asked.
"I saw them," Jock answered.
"Jasper had three men with him," Jock said briefly. Tim looked at him.
"What's up?" he demanded. Jock looked uncomfortable and did not answer. Tim spoke again.
"Jock, there's something wrong. Do you mean they've spotted us?"
"No," Jock answered quickly. "They haven't seen us. They were going straight away down the gorge." Tim still kept his eyes on Jock's face.
"It's no use trying to humbug me, Jock. I can tell just as well as if you'd said it that something's worrying you." Jock bit his lip.
"They've a dog," he said—"a lurcher."
"That's torn it," muttered Tim. "The brute will scent us as easily as old Prowler here."
"I was a fool," said Jock sharply. "I ought to have thought of it. Then we could have waded up the river and put the beast off the scent." Tim shook his head.
"It wouldn't have been a hit of good. Once they know we haven't gone home they're bound to find us."
"HOW do you feel, Tim?" Jock asked presently.
"Rotten," was the disgusted reply. "I don't believe I could go another mile to save my life." He paused.
"See here, Jock, I can get as far as the wood, I'll hide there. You take the emeralds and clear. When Jasper and Co. find me, I'll humbug them."
"And what do you think they'd do to you?" asked Jock.
"They won't hurt me."
"Oh, wouldn't they! Old son, you don't know the gentle Jasper. But, anyhow, you can put the notion out of your silly head."
"Then we shall lose the emeralds," Tim prophesied.
Jock tried to laugh but it was not a very good attempt, and it did not deceive Tim. The fact was that Jock was pretty near the end of his tether. If he wasn't as tired as Tim he was so fagged that every bone in his body ached.
"We'd better have stayed where we were," Tim said at last. "We could have put up a fight with those stones."
"Yes, until dark," Jock said, "but once night came we were done. They'd have come in on all sides of us." He drew a long breath. "We've done all we could, Tim."
"I believe we have," Tim said slowly. "And that makes it all the more rotten for us to lose the stones. Hang it! I'd sooner Red had them than Jasper." Jock picked himself up.
"Let's get into the wood," he said. "If we climb up a tree we might puzzle the dog." Tim's tired face brightened a little.
"That's a notion." Then he gave a gasp. "But what about Prowler? He can't climb."
"I wonder if he'd go home if we told him."
"We'll try, anyhow," said Tim. "You tell him. He knows you better than he does me." Jock stood up and pointed to the east.
"Home, Prowler!" he ordered sharply. The big dog looked at him as if doubtful. Jock repeated the order, and Prowler went straight off.
"I say, that's luck," declared Tim, as he watched the dog going steadily away down the hill. "Now we'd better go to the wood."
It was a weird sort of place. None of the trees were much more than twenty feet high, but the trunks were thick as a man's body, and their gnarled and twisted branches formed a regular mat overhead. The ground below was a mass of boulders, among which bracken grew thickly. Jock looked round.
"If it wasn't for that dog they wouldn't find us in a month of Sundays," he declared.
"And if I wasn't such a crock we could have got clean away," groaned Tim.
"We couldn't," said Jock briefly; "I should conk out before I got another two miles." Tim dropped thankfully on a rock, and they waited. It was pleasantly cool up here, for a little breeze was blowing and they were in the shade. It seemed but a short time before a dot came into sight around the shoulder of the opposite hill. It was a dog. Another moment and four men showed up.
"There they are," said Jock quietly. "They're trailing us all right."
"Can't we do anything?" groaned Tim.
"I can't think of anything, Tim."
"It's sickening—just when we thought we had finished the job," said Tim. Jock patted him on the shoulder.
"Buck up, Tim. Things happen."
"I don't see what can happen now," said Tim, who was very down. "I say, they're crossing the gorge. We'd better get up a tree." Jock nodded. He had already picked a tree. He helped Tim up and followed him. They climbed right into the top, where they were quite hidden by the thick foliage, but could still see what was happening below.
Jasper and his gang were lost to sight for a little in the bottom of the gorge. It was ten minutes or more before they came up over the rim of the deep gully. Now they were less than a quarter of a mile away, and the dog followed exactly on the boys' tracks. Sometimes it paused a moment, but always picked up the scent again.
"Not a hope," groaned Tim. "They're bound to find us." Jasper evidently thought the same, for they saw him pointing towards the wood. The air was so clear they could even see the look of triumph on his hard face.
"We might just as well get down and give ourselves up," said Tim.
"Don't be silly," retorted Jock. "Always hang on as long as you can. You never know what may happen." As he spoke he stiffened. "Something is happening. They've stopped. Watch them. They're looking up at the sky."
"A PLANE—it must be a plane." Tim was gazing up into the sky. "It is a plane!" he said in a voice that quivered with excitement.
Forgetting for a moment the danger that was so near, both boys stared at the plane, which was coming fast from the east, at a height of hardly a thousand feet. Tim spoke again.
"It's Finch," he declared eagerly.
"It's Finch's plane all right," Jock answered, "but surely to goodness it can't be Finch. He couldn't fly a plane with that sprained ankle."
"No. I'll tell you what. Finch has phoned to the Flying Club at Llanfechan, the place where I learned. He's got the instructor to come over." Jock's eyes brightened.
"I expect you're right. Yes, that must be it. Come on down. We must meet him. I told you something would happen," he added with a chuckle.
"We mustn't let Jasper see us," Jock warned Tim. "We've got to keep inside the wood until we reach the far edge. Then we can signal him."
"He may not see us," said Tim in a panic. "He may go right over."
"Not he. If he hasn't seen us already he'll have spotted Jasper and his crowd. Come on." He led the way to the northern edge of the wood. Reaching the edge, Jock peeped out. Jasper and his men were not in sight. They were still on the west side of the wood, but the plane was now much closer and much lower down.
"Good old Finch! It's almost too good to be true," panted Tim, as he struggled along behind Jock. A little spur of brushwood ran out from the north edge of the wood. It was just enough to give them cover, and both boys came gladly out into the open. The plane was almost overhead and both waved frantically.
"It's all right. He's seen us," gasped Tim, as the plane turned in a tight circle, then, side-slipping, began to drop fast.
"Is it safe for him to come down?" Jock asked sharply.
"It's all right," Tim assured him. "Out there it's quite good turf. Anyhow Finch knows his job, and so does Soames, the instructor." The plane came lower, and suddenly Jock stiffened.
"There's only one man in her," he said; but Tim was not listening. He was looking back. Suddenly he seized Jock's arm.
"Jasper's coming," he whispered sharply. "I can hear him, Jock, we've got to get a move on." He started for the spot where the plane was just coming down, and got ahead of Jock. He ran hard for the plane, but Jock saw he was staggering as he ran. His legs hardly seemed to belong to him, and it was only excitement kept him going.
Down came the plane, making a beautiful landing quite close to the end of the wood. Jock saw Tim stop short, and he himself ran hard and caught up. Tim was standing staring at the plane in a sort of daze.
"It—it's not Finch," he said in a queer, hoarse voice. "It—it's Red."
"I saw that a minute ago," Jock told him. "Hold up!" he added sharply. But the shock and disappointment had been too much for Tim, and if it had not been for Jock, who threw an arm round him, he would have dropped.
Red saw. He was out of his pilot's seat and on the ground in a moment, and striding across to the boys. He still limped a little, but it was marvellous how quickly he moved.
"You chaps have been mixing it again, I see," he said, with a smile in his brilliant blue eyes. "Here, give him to me, Jock. I can carry him." Before Jock could speak he had picked up Tim and slung him over his shoulder. "Quickly!" he said, "Jasper's coming." Jock had to trot to keep up with him; and they had not quite reached the plane before there was a yell, and here came Jasper and his merry men charging up along the edge of the wood. Red lifted Tim into the plane as easily as if he had been a child.
"Get in," he said to Jock, and there was something in his voice that made Jock obey instantly. Red did not get in. He turned and faced Jasper and his companions. They were about as ugly a lot as Jock had ever set eyes on. Jasper pulled up short. He seemed to shrink, and Jock saw that he was scared half to death of Red. There was a scornful smile on Red's face.
"Late again, Jasper," he remarked.
"They got the stones," panted Jasper, who was badly blown.
"I don't care who's got them so long as you haven't," retorted Red. Then the smile left his lips and his whole face hardened and turned grim. "Get back!" he ordered. "And for the future keep out of my sight—if you want to live." He turned away and climbed into the plane. It was a fresh testimonial to his tremendous personality that the gang, though they scowled and muttered, made no attempt to rush him.
Before they had made up their minds what to do, Red was in his pilot's seat. The engine was still idling. He advanced the throttle, and with a roar the big machine bore straight down upon the gang who scattered with yells of terror and bolted for the shelter of the wood. Next moment the plane was in the air. Red did not speak until he had gained height, and Jock, too, was silent. Up they went, wheeling in great circles through the heat haze which, like a thin fog, dimmed the blue above. Jock who sat beside Red, leaned over and spoke in his ear.
"Hiding?" he asked.
"No use being seen any more than I can help," Red answered.
"Afraid Finch Hanley might be after you?" Red showed his strong, white teeth in a smile.
"Not much chance of that. He and Ballard are both safely locked up at Gwydyr."
"So you stole the plane?"
"I had to. A car's no good in this country, and mine was in a bad way."
"And where are you going?" demanded Jock. Red laughed.
"That would be telling," he answered.
JOCK went back, got out a thermos, lifted Tim, and poured some of the hot stuff down his throat. Tim gulped, choked a little, then swallowed. A trifle of colour came back into his cheeks.
"Sorry, Jock," he said hoarsely. "I—I never crocked up like that before."
"How are you feeling?" Jock asked anxiously.
"Better. It—it was seeing Red all of a sudden," he added.
"It was a bit of a shock," Jock agreed. "Red locked up Finch and old Ballard and bagged the plane."
"And where are we going now?" Tim asked. Jock shrugged.
"He won't tell me, but we're heading north."
"Pretty high, too, aren't we?" Tim asked. "It's beastly cold." Jock found a coat and made Tim put it on; he also found a coat for himself and went back to his seat beside Red. He had secured a flying helmet, and he connected the phones so that he could talk to Red without shouting.
"How did you find us, Red?" was his first question.
"I saw your note on the door at Garve, and, since I knew pretty well where Jasper would go, the rest was easy."
"Sounds easy, but I wonder you weren't scared of coming back here. The police might have been waiting for you." Red laughed.
"Not a chance. I'd already laid a false scent. They're looking for me over in Holland." He paused, then went on. "But never mind about me. Tell me your story, and how you got the emeralds from Jasper." Jock told him the whole thing—how he and Tim had been trapped at Garve, about their adventure in the old lead mine, and how they had seen Jasper hide the case containing the necklace, and so got hold of it.
"Then," said Jock, "we were so done we couldn't get away, so we hid in a hollow on the mountain-side, but Jasper came after us. We rolled rocks on him and he went off to Glynt. So we thought we'd go to Glynt, too, because it would be the last place where he'd look for us." Red broke into a delighted chuckle.
"You're the lad with the brains. It was the dog, I suppose, that bust up your plan."
"That's it. And Tim and I were getting properly scared when you hove in sight."
"Glad I got there in time," Red smiled, then his expression became serious again. "Well, Jock, I win the trick this time. You'd better hand over the emeralds."
"Nothing doing," said Jock calmly. Red turned his head and stared at the boy.
"Don't be silly, son. I've risked too much for those jewels—and spent too much—to lose them. In any case you can't keep them from me. You must know that as well as I do."
"I haven't got them," said Jock. For once a look of real surprise crossed Red's strong face. Then it passed.
"You mean Tim has them."
"I don't. They're not in the plane." Red's lips tightened, and Jock drew a quick breath. For a moment he felt scared.
"Where are they?" asked Red in a flat, cold voice.
"I left them in the wood."
"You young fool! Then Jasper has them, after all?"
"Not he. I hid them where he won't find them." For several seconds Red sat silent. Again he felt a little frightened. Suddenly Red gave a sharp bark of a laugh.
"You're too much for me, Jock. You've beaten me fairly and I give you best. I take it you hid the case the moment you saw me?"
"It was the only thing to do," Jock said simply.
"And it was just what not one fellow in a hundred would have thought of." Jock would hardly have been human if this praise had not touched him. He coloured under his tan. Again Red was silent. It was nearly a minute before he spoke again.
"It's no use asking you where you put them. All the same, I must have those stones. See here. I have come to understand pretty clearly why you are so keen on recovering them. That reward must mean a lot to you and your father. Now I'll make you an offer. Tell me where you have hidden them and I'll double the reward. I think you know me well enough to be sure I shall keep my word."
"I'm sure you'd keep your word, Red," Jock answered, "but you ought to see I can't do what you ask."
"Why not? The Meripits are rolling in money. The loss won't hurt them. But if I don't get the stones it will hurt me pretty badly. Not me, personally, so much as some one who counts for much more than I do." Jock looked up sharply. This was a tone he had never yet heard from Red, and suddenly he felt desperately sorry for the big man.
"I can't, Red," he said sharply. "You know I can't. It wouldn't be the game." Red's voice went harsh.
"The game," he repeated bitterly. "Who are you to judge the rules of the game?" Jock felt horribly embarrassed. He did not try to answer. He began to wonder where they were bound. All he could tell was that they were heading north, but they were at such a height it was hard to recognize any landmarks. He looked again over the edge of the cockpit. A vast plain of blue lay across the northwestern horizon. It was the sea, and Jock saw that they were nearing the north coast of Wales.
The sea came nearer, and after a time the plane crossed the cliffs and drove up past the Cheshire coast. Red began to veer in towards the coast, and in the distance Jock could see steep hills and narrow strips of blue. They were approaching the Lakes.
"Some place in the fells." Without meaning to, Jock spoke aloud, and the phone carried his muttered words to Red's ears.
"Not a bad guess," said Red curtly.
THE heat haze lay like a mist across the north, yet Jock could see the humped hills of Westmorland beneath them. Red was still keeping very high, so high that it was doubtful if any one below would see the plane or even notice the sound of its engine.
In spite of the heat below, it was bitter cold at this tremendous height. The plane, Jock knew, was very near her ceiling. Presently Red cut out and started the machine on a long downward glide. The sudden silence was almost startling, and Jock felt a singing in his ears as the air pressure rose. Within five minutes they had slid down out of winter into summer.
It was not the temperature Jock thought of. His eyes were fixed on the country over which they were passing. Great steep hills, deep valleys. Here and there lay a small farm with a field or two around it, but most of the country was open moorland where only sheep grazed.
The plane was dropping into the very heart of this wilderness, and Jock wondered where it would find a landing among all these crags and precipices.
A huge hill loomed up ahead. It was shaped like a great table with the legs at one end shorter than the other. With a gentle touch on the stick, Red guided the plane towards it. The plane glided across the bald top of the hill, turned easily into the wind, and suddenly Jock saw beneath them a great hollow in the mountain, a kind of broad ravine with sides that were walls of sheer rock but the bottom flat as a floor.
With infinite skill Red guided the plane into this ravine. Next moment the wheels touched the bottom, and Red had made a perfect landing. Jock drew a long breath.
"Glad it was you and not me," he said.
"I know the place," Red answered simply. He seemed to have quite recovered his temper. "Get out," he said; "I'll lift Tim." Tim was sleeping, and so soundly, he never woke while Red carried him up the ravine. At the upper end was a wide-mouthed cave, and Red went straight in, Jock following.
The sun was down, it was getting dusk, and the glow of a fire shone cheerfully as they came through a passage into a good-sized rock chamber which Jock saw was roughly, yet comfortably, furnished. An old man was busy over a fire, and Jock was surprised that he did not turn as Red came into the place.
"Deaf and dumb," Red told him. "His name is Purdy. He's a faithful soul and a good cook."
"Glad of that," said Jock. "The only things I want are some grub and about twelve hours' sleep."
"You shall have them," Red promised as he laid Tim on a bed of heather against the wall and covered him with a blanket. Tim never moved, but slept on peacefully.
Purdy turned and saw them. His pale, old eyes glowed with pleasure. Red shook hands with him, then began talking on his fingers. The old chap nodded and went back to his fire, which was burning in a sort of brazier under a hole in the roof.
"Like a wash?" said Red, and took Jock into a smaller cave where a tiny stream trickled into a basin cut in the rock. The water was cold as ice. When they got back into the main cave supper was ready. There was a rabbit stew, fresh bread, a tin of peaches, and a pot of excellent tea. Simple enough, but all very good, and Jock was hungry enough to have eaten dry bread. Jock was not asking any questions after his snub in the aeroplane, but presently Red began to talk.
"You and Tim will have to stay here a bit," he said. "You'll be quite comfortable."
"I'm sure we shall," said Jock politely; and suddenly Red grinned.
"You're thinking you'll clear out as you did from Garve. Well, you're welcome to try." Jock raised his eyebrows. "You're under the impression that old Purdy won't be able to stop you," Red went on. "He wouldn't and he won't try. But if you or Tim try, I warn you you will only break your necks."
"All right, Red," said Jock. "You know."
"I do know. You'll stay here until I come back."
"With the emeralds?" Jock couldn't help saying.
"No; I have come to have a wholesome respect for you, Jock, and I'm not taking any more chances."
"I don't think you'll get them," said Jock.
"I'll get them if I have to grub the trees up by the roots," Red told him, and though he did not raise his voice in the least, Jock felt that he meant exactly what he said. "I'm starting early," Red went on, "but I must first have a few hours' sleep. I'm turning in at once. What about you?"
"Can't be too soon for me," said Jock.
WHEN Jock woke sunlight was streaming in through a hole in the roof of the cave. Old Purdy was busy over the fire, but Red had gone. Jock got up and roused Tim, who sat up with a start.
"W—where are we?" he asked.
"In a cave at the top of a mountain. Somewhere in Northumberland, I believe." Tim stared round.
"Oh, I remember now. Red brought us. Where is he?"
"Gone off to hunt the emeralds."
"Jock, this is simply sickening. There's some beastly ill-fate about it. We shall never land that reward."
"Don't he silly. If you ask me, we've been lucky. A nice fix we should have been in yesterday if Red hadn't turned up. Here we are, snug as possible, and a jolly good breakfast waiting. Get up and let's have a wash and some grub. Then we can plan what to do." Purdy had oatcakes, bacon, and tea for them, and very good it was. Then the two went out of the cave to find a day of light wind and brilliant sunshine.
"Plane's gone," said Jock, "but, of course, I knew that. Let's get out of this pit and see where we are." They went out by the lower end and walked up on the hilltop. All around were big hills, and the nearest house was a farm at least two miles away.
"Red said we couldn't get away," said Jock. "I wonder why not." They walked over to the eastern edge of the mountain-top and found themselves on the rim of a sheer precipice quite two hundred feet high. They followed the edge all the way round, but it was just the same. Cliffs like walls and nowhere less than a couple of hundred feet high. At the south end the drop was more like five hundred.
"Red was right," replied Tim, frowning. "He's left us as safe as if we were locked in a cell in Dartmoor."
Jock was looking all round.
"Not quite that, Tim. Has it struck you that by this time Finch will be looking for us?"
"He may be, but this is about the last place he'd come to."
"Why? He knows that Red's hiding-place is somewhere up north. If you ask me, he'll be up in this direction before the day's out." Tim's eyes brightened, then he shook his head.
"You may be right, Jock; but even if he does come up here, the odds are he'd never spot us at all."
"I've thought of that. We can make jolly sure he does spot us."
"You know the way they mark the names of towns for airmen?"
"In big white letters. Yes. We haven't any paint or whitewash."
"There are plenty of stones," Jock suggested.
"Let's put T I M in big letters."
"Anything you like. Let's get to it."
"They got to it. As Jock had said, there were plenty of stones, and with two pairs of willing hands they soon had the name done. Each letter was about ten feet long, and, placed on the very crest of the hill, the huge T I M could not possibly escape the notice of any airman flying overhead. By the time they had finished it was past midday, and suddenly they became aware that old Purdy was coming towards them.
"Come on, Jock," said Tim; "it's lunch, I expect."
"But suppose Finch comes over while we're in the cave?" objected Jock.
"We'll be as quick as we can. Anyhow, Finch would hardly be here yet." They went, and the rate at which they put away cold corned beef and baked potatoes must have surprised old Purdy. Then they were out again, staring up into the sky. Then, just before three, Tim's sharp eyes caught a dot in the blue coming from the south.
"Finch?" he muttered.
"Might be. Sit tight," said Jock quietly. The plane came nearer. Like a great hawk hunting its prey, it swung to and fro. The deep note of its engine throbbed through the sunlit air.
"It's a Monospar. Randall flies one of those, Jock, it must be Finch and he."
"Looks like it," agreed Jock. "Only hope they come this way." The two could hardly breathe, they were so excited.
"She's turning. She's coming over," muttered Tim. He was right. The Monospar was coming almost straight towards them. Nearer she came, and nearer. She was less than a mile away when Tim gave a frantic yell.
"They see our sign." He was right. The plane turned her nose towards the hill and began to drop. Next minute she was overhead and only about three hundred feet above them.
"It's Finch. I can see him," shouted Tim. Sure enough it was Finch. He began to circle overhead. Tim was wild with excitement.
"Steady, Tim," said Jock. "Remember they can't land." Tim's face fell.
"What are we going to do?" he demanded. "Leave it to Finch. He'll see how we are fixed." Finch's head had disappeared, but the plane was circling over the hilltop. Suddenly Finch leaned over and dropped something which fell quite close to the boys. Tim reached it first. It was a little parcel, and when Tim tore it open he found a toy rubber balloon weighted with a pocket- knife.
"Has he gone crazy?" demanded Tim, staring at this curious gift.
"No, silly," retorted Jock. "There's a note. Read it."
"HOW did you get there? Can I land? Send up message by balloon and we'll try to catch it.—Finch."
These were the words scrawled in pencil on the note which the boys found tied to the toy balloon.
"What a topping idea!" cried Tim, but practical Jock was already scribbling a reply.
"Blow up that balloon, Tim," he said. "Be careful not to burst it." Tim blew it and tied the mouth. "Here's what I've written," Jock said, showing Tim the note:
"You can't land here. Too risky. We can't get down. All cliffs. Fetch rope—at least two hundred feet. Red not here.—Jock."
"That's all right," said Tim as he folded the paper and tied it to the balloon. Then they went to the leeward side of the mountain-top and let the balloon go. It rose nicely and sailed away, and the plane at once made for it. Jock frowned.
"I don't know how they'll catch it."
"Trust Randall. He knows his job," replied Tim confidently. He was right, for Randall, having got position above the little balloon, cut out the engine and planed quietly downwards. Just at the right moment he flattened out, and Finch, making a long arm, caught the balloon. Then before the plane could stall, Randall switched on again and began to circle once more overhead. Jock and Tim watching eagerly, saw Finch's head over the rim of the cockpit, saw him wave the note, then nod emphatically. Next moment the plane was off, flashing away at great speed towards the east.
"Where's he going?" Tim asked.
"Don't know. But there are plenty of places where he can buy rope. I should think he'd be back in an hour."
In point of fact it was just fifty-five minutes before the plane was seen returning. She came alone over the top, and Finch pitched out a heavy parcel. The boys swooped on it and found a great length of strong cord, also a couple of strong iron pegs.
"Fine!" declared Jock briefly, and carrying the rope, hurried off to the spot which they had already picked as the best to get down. They had chosen it, not because it was the lowest part of the cliff, but because there were two ledges which would make the climb much easier. Using a big stone as a mallet Jock pounded the pegs firmly into the ground, then fastened the rope to them and flung the loose end over.
"I'll go first," he said. "I'll stop on the first ledge and hold the rope, and you can follow."
It is a nasty business going over a cliff edge on a loose rope. Jock twisted and turned and bumped against the rough crag face. But he knew what he was about, kept his head, and went slowly down until he gained the first ledge, where he found good footing, and waited, holding the rope taut for Tim. The rest was fairly easy, and within a quarter of an hour both boys were safe at the bottom. Jock chuckled.
"Red said we couldn't get away."
"Well, we have," Tim answered, "but now, where's Finch?"
They had a walk of nearly a mile down a steep hillside before they saw the plane standing in a flat field by a brook. Finch spotted them and waved, and they broke into a run.
"So you've been mixing it again," were his first words. "What I want to know is how, in the name of anything, you got up on the top of that beastly mountain."
"Plenty of time to tell you on the way south," was Jock's answer, as he scrambled into the plane. "Have you petrol to get back to Wales?"
"Plenty," answered Randall, who was a powerfully built man of about thirty-five.
"Fine!" said Jock. "Red flew back to Glynt early this morning. He's after the stones which I hid in Wiseman's Wood. If we can reach there before dark we may be in time to get ahead of him."
"Get ahead of him," echoed Finch gloomily. "Why, he's had about ten hours' start. Odds are he's in Holland by now."
"No," Jock said quickly. "I tell you I hid the stones. They're under the roots of a tree, and he doesn't know which. It may take him all day to find them. If we hurry we have a chance."
"All right," snapped Finch.
He glanced at his watch. "We ought to be there by seven. Plenty of daylight left, even then. Give her a swing, Tim." The engine was till warm and fired at the first turn of the prop. Tim climbed in and they were off. Randall kept the big machine straight on her course as a homing swallow, and it was ten minutes to seven when he cut out and drifted quietly down on to the hilltop above Glynt.
"No one in sight," said Tim to Jock. "I'm afraid Red's gone."
Jock jumped out and ran hard to the spur of the wood where he and Tim had first sighted Red the previous afternoon and plunged in. He made straight for a small tree, dropped on his hands and knees, and thrust his arm into a cavity under the twisted roots. For a moment or two he groped, then stood up, but his hand was empty.
"Gone?" said Tim.
"Gone," repeated Jock. "I might have known," he added bitterly. "Red vowed he'd find them."
"What do we do now?" Tim asked.
"What can we do?" said Jock dully. "Finch was right. Red's in Holland by this time." Without another word he walked slowly back to the plane.
"Red's found the emeralds and gone, Finch. He's probably in Holland by this time."
"I'd like to know how he got there," said Randall. He had just come up from the wood.
"Why, in Finch's plane, of course," Jock answered.
"That he didn't," said Randall. "Hanley's plane is hidden in the edge of the wood." Jock's eyes widened and he gazed at Randall in amazement.
"Then where's Red?" he asked.
TIM was the first to speak.
"It looks to me as if Mark must have turned up," he said slowly.
"Mark, I'd clean forgotten him," Jock exclaimed. "But I'll bet you're right, Tim."
"Who is Mark?" Randall asked.
"Mark Lovell—Jasper's brother," said Tim. "They're both bad hats, but Mark's the worse of the two. And he's smarter than Jasper. If you ask me, Red is down somewhere in Glynt."
"A prisoner?" put in Finch.
"That's what I think," declared Tim.
"Then we'd better go and look for him," said Randall.
"Rather," said Tim, and Jock nodded.
"And I can't come," groaned Finch.
"Some one's got to look after the machine," said Randall, as he armed himself with a heavy spanner. Then all three went down the hill towards the village.
As before, the squalid place seemed deserted except for some ragged children. A woman came out of a house and looked suspiciously at the three, but said nothing. Randall stopped and asked if the Lovells were about. A look of positive terror crossed her thin face.
"I don't know nothing about them," she answered. Randall took two half-crowns out of his pocket.
"Yours, missus," he said, "for just a word. It's a friend we're looking for." Her eyes glowed as they fixed on the money.
"I ain't talking," she cried in a loud voice, and turned away. But as she did so they heard her whisper swiftly.
"Second house from bottom. And you can leave the money on your way back."
"Second house from the bottom," said Jock softly. "I wonder if it's Red or Mark."
"Or both," said Tim.
"Well, keep your eyes wide," said Randall drily, as he stopped at the door of the house and tried the handle. To their surprise it was not locked, and they found themselves in a narrow, dirty passage with stairs going up at the end. Randall took command.
"Jock, you watch the front; Tim, you take the back. I'll see who's in the place."
Tim went through to the back; Jock stayed in the front; Randall began opening doors. There was no one in either of the front rooms, but suddenly there came a horrified shout from Tim.
"Red's here and—and I think he's dead." Jock ran, so did Randall. There was a scullery at the back—a close, horrible little room. And there on the floor lay Red, tied hand and foot, his mouth gagged with a dirty handkerchief, and a great smear of dried blood down his left cheek.
For an instant Jock stood quite still; but his hesitation lasted hardly a second, then he leaped forward, ripped out his knife, and was cutting Red loose.
"Water—get water," he snapped at Tim. There was a pump in the corner, and it still worked. As Jock flopped a soaked handkerchief in Red's face the big man quivered, then his eyes opened.
"You, Jock!" he said in a hoarse whisper. "I—I might have known it."
Then his eyes closed again.
"Concussion," said Randall. "He's had a nasty crack on the head."
"W—will he die?" Jock asked.
"Not if he's looked after."
"We must get him to your place, Tim," said Jock.
"How?" Tim asked.
"In the plane."
"Can we three carry him?"
"I think so," said Randall. "At any rate we can try." They took a door off its hinges, laid Red on it, and carried him up the hill to the plane. On the way up Tim slipped aside and gave the woman her money. He asked her about the Lovells, but she would not speak.
Red was still insensible when they lifted him into the plane. Luckily she was big enough to hold him as well as the other four. Then they took off, and within a very few minutes were back at Gwydyr where they got Red to bed. Just then Red opened his eyes.
"Did you get Mark?" he asked, in a weak, hoarse voice.
"We didn't see him," Jock answered. "Did he get the emeralds?"
"Yes. Four of 'em jumped me. They were hidden in the wood. I suppose they took the plane?"
"No, it was still there," Jock told him. Red frowned.
"That's funny. Mark's a pilot."
"Mark a pilot!" repeated Jock. Just then the telephone bell rang and Tim ran out. In a minute he was back, his eyes blazing with excitement.
"Telephone from Llanfechan. Plane just passed over. They say it was Finch's."
"TOLD you," muttered Red, then his eyes closed again.
"And we left the plane there!" said Jock, biting his lip in bitter self-reproach.
"Well, you didn't dream Mark could use it," put in Tim quickly. "So you can't blame yourself." Finch spoke:
"Randall, will you lend us the Monospar?" Randall hesitated.
"But you can't fly it. Your ankle's still bad."
"It's in plaster. As you see, I can walk. And if I can walk I can fly." Randall looked hard at Finch.
"All right," he said quietly. "I suppose you'll get off at once."
"This minute," said Finch. "Will Red here be all right?"
"Yes," Randall answered. "I'll stay the night." Finch was already on his feet and hobbling to the door.
"Come on, kids," he said briefly.
Within three minutes the big machine was in the air and headed for Llanfechan. Jock looked at his wrist-watch.
"Nearly seven," he said. "Only two hours daylight left. Think we've a chance, Finch?"
"Not a fat one," Finch admitted. "We'd have a better one if we didn't have to fill up. That means fifteen to twenty minutes delay. I wish I knew what sort of pilot this fellow Mark was," he added.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if he's just sort of picked it up like some of them do, he may funk night flying." Jock nodded. "You mean going over to Holland. Yes, I think Mark would funk it. On the other hand these Lovells are desperate. They daren't come down on any aerodrome in this country. They'd be pinched at once. By this time the people at Llanfechan will have phoned the news all over the place. Here's Llanfechan," said Finch. He cut out as he spoke, and they planed down on to the aerodrome. It was plain they were expected, for mechanics were waiting by the filling station.
"Heard you were coming," cried Harrison, the secretary, as he ran up to the plane. "We saw your plane go over, Hanley, and thought at first it was you. Then I remembered that you were with Randall, so I phoned to Gwydyr."
"Lucky you did," said Finch. "It's the two Lovells, and we believe they have the stolen emeralds."
"They'll be making for Holland, I suppose," said Harrison.
"Most likely, but there's no saying."
"You haven't much daylight left," said Harrison uneasily.
"That's the worst of it." He shrugged. "Well, we've just got to do our best."
"I've phoned Worcester in case they come down there for petrol, Hanley," said Harrison. Finch shook his head.
"They've plenty of juice. At least I think so. There, our tank's full. We'll be shifting."
"Wait a jiffy," said Harrison. "In case you're caught in the dark, you'll need some flares. Here are a couple." He handed them in and jumped back. "Good luck!" he cried, then a mechanic swung the prop, the engine roared, and the big plane ran out across the grass. Another few seconds and she was in the air going straight away west.
Finch went up to five thousand before he levelled out, then he opened the throttle and drove the big Monospar at the top of her speed. In spite of his damaged ankle, he seemed to have no difficulty in handling the plane. The boys, one on each side, kept watch, but since Mark and Jasper had at least fifty miles start, there was, of course, no likelihood of sighting them for some time to come. Within half an hour they were over Worcester. Finch dropped and came low over the aerodrome. A man stood out in the middle and signalled in Morse. It was just the one word "No."
"And that's that," said Finch to Jock. "But I never thought Master Mark would be fool enough to come over a big town."
"Where do you think he would go?" Jock asked. "Norfolk?"
"No—too far north. More likely towards north Essex. If he crosses Burnham or Brightlingsea he'll have a shorter sea passage. I've been trying to think myself in Mark's mind, and that's what I feel he would do."
"I believe you're right," said Jock soberly.
Roughly speaking, the distance from their starting-place in Wales to the east coast was two hundred and fifty miles. The Monospar could cover that in two hours' flying; and if they could only be sure which way Mark and Jasper had gone, there was a fair chance of catching them before they left England. But it was impossible to say exactly which route they had taken, and the only thing was to count on probabilities.
They were crossing north of Banbury when Tim called out that a plane was coming towards them. It was a Moth with one man in it.
"Think he wants to speak to us," Tim said. Finch slackened speed, and as the Moth came alongside cut out his engine. The Moth pilot, a small, dark-haired man with a keen brown face, did the same, and the two machines glided side by side.
"Are you Hanley?" called the Moth man.
"A plane answering the description phoned to Sywell from Worcester passed fifteen minutes ago. She was heading due east. Compass bearing for Colchester. Two men in her."
"Thanks awfully," Jock cried.
"Hope you'll catch her," was the cheery answer; then both engines roared, the Moth turned back to her own aerodrome near Northampton, while the Monospar raced eastwards again.
"YOU guessed right, Finch," said Jock.
"Yes, but they're fifteen minutes ahead, and we have barely fifty of daylight. It'll be touch and go, boy." Dusk was thickening as they passed over Epping and Chipping Ongar, and the wide flats of east Essex showed beneath them with their great muddy tidal creeks. Beyond lay the sea, dim in the twilight. Already stars were beginning to twinkle in the clear sky. Both Jock and Tim were still keeping tireless watch, but Jock was realizing, with a sinking heart, that if they did not soon see the other plane they would not see it at all.
Suddenly Tim cried out. He was pointing away to north of east, and Jock, straining his eyes in the dim light, saw something outlined against the pale yellow of the sky.
"It's a plane," he said sharply to Finch. "It—it's your plane, Finch."
By this time Finch, too, had seen their quarry, and with a slight turn of the rudder sent the Monospar hurtling in pursuit. He opened the throttle to the last notch, and the whole machine quivered as she roared through the quiet air.
"She's lower than us," he muttered. "That's all to the good." Finch paused a moment, then spoke again.
"You and Tim strap yourselves in," he ordered. They did so. Jock's heart was thumping. It looked as if things were going to happen. The big Monospar was fairly screaming through the upper air; she was gaining on the other hand over fist. Yet even now it seemed to Jock touch and go whether she would overtake her before both machines were over the sea. To their right lay Burnham-on- Couch with its fleet of yachts; to the north they saw the broad estuary of the Blackwater; below was sea marsh flat as a floor, but with narrow drainage channels criss-crossing it in every direction.
"A beast of a place to land," muttered Jock under his breath. Suddenly the nose of the Monospar tilted downwards; with engine still full on she went hurtling down in a long, steep swoop, and Jock saw that Finch was aiming he like a bullet at the other plane. Out of the thick dusk the shape of the lower plane grew like magic and Jock held his breath as it seemed that the two must crash together and fall in flames to the dim flats below.
But Finch knew what he was about. At the very last moment he turned her slightly and passed just over the other plane. Jock had a momentary glimpse of Jasper's face twisted with terror. Next instant Finch had pulled over the stick, and the Monospar shot up like a rocket. Finch hauled her round in a bank so steep that every stay sang, then turned a second time upon the thieves.
Now Jock saw that Mark was as scared as Jasper. He had swung to the right and was diving steeply. Jock began to realize Finch's purpose, but almost before he had time to think the Monospar was swooping again in a breath-taking dive. This time Jock was ready to vow that their landing wheels scraped the wings of the lower plane. Of course they did not, for the merest touch would have meant complete smash.
"That's done the trick," Tim shouted. "You've cooked his goose, Finch." Finch wrenched his plane round.
"Cooked all our geese and lost the emeralds," he said grimly, for Mark had lost his head and let his machine drop into a nose dive.
For horrified seconds the three watched the lower plane spinning downwards. It looked a sure thing that she must crash and bury herself deep in the marsh below. Luckily for Mark and Jasper they still had plenty of height, and after dropping about a thousand feet in one terrific corkscrew spin, Mark managed to pull her out and level her. Jock drew a deep breath of relief.
"Just in time," he gasped. "Now what will he do?"
"Go down," said Tim in a tone of absolute certainty. He was right. Mark's only thought was to feel firm ground beneath his feet. He had cut out his engine and was planing downwards. Finch followed. Up above there had still been some reflected light, but at ground level it was full night. They could barely see the shape of the plane they were following as she glided down.
"If he drops on the marsh he'll crash," Finch prophesied. "He's bound to run into one of those channels."
"He knows that. He's making for the saltings," Jock answered. The tide was out and there was a broad strip of sandy beach between the sea and the sea-wall. It was for this that Mark was making. His dive had given Mark a start of the Monospar, and Finch was still half a mile behind when the stolen plane vanished behind the great bulk of the sea-wall. Finch muttered something under his breath that was not a blessing.
"Where'll they go?" he growled.
"What about a flare?" asked Jock swiftly.
"Goodman! I'd clean forgotten them. Know how to handle 'em?"
"Yes." Jock had already flung off the phones and was busy with a flare. In almost no time he had lighted it and flung it out. It floated free, crackling and sparkling, then burst into a white hot flame which lit the whole scene for half a mile round. Everything stood out in the bluish radiance, the small waves breaking on the beach, the wide saltings, the tall, grass-clad sea-wall and—dead ahead—the plane they had chased so far and so fast, in the act of dropping on the beach.
The Monospar was right over her as she came to ground, and she had hardly finished her run before the two Lovells were seen piling out in a frantic hurry. Jock had fully expected them to turn inland, climb the sea-wall, and seek refuge among the marshes. They were both active men and his heart sank as he realized how easily they would get away in the darkness.
Instead, they both ran straight up the beach towards the north. Tim was the first to realize what was behind this unexpected move.
"They must have a boat," he cried.
"Can't see it," replied Jock.
"Another flare," snapped Finch, as he switched on again and flew up the beach. Jock's fingers shook a little as he lit the second flare and pitched it out. The first was sputtering into darkness. Again a livid glare was flung far across sea and land, and with a shout Tim pointed to a small launch lying in a creek mouth some three hundred yards ahead.
ONCE more Jock felt near to despair. If Mark and Jasper gained the launch they were bound to get away.
The plane, of course, travelled much faster than a man could run, and Jock saw that she would reach the bank of the creek ahead of the Lovells. But then what to do? Finch, with his damaged ankle, could not help; and Jock knew that he and Tim could never stop the rush of two angry and determined men.
There was not much time to think or plan; the whole thing was a matter of seconds. Jock took his decision in a flash. He put his lips close to Finch's ear.
"Set me down by the creek. I'll bag the launch," he said swiftly. Finch nodded. Next instant the wheels touched the beach and the plane shot forward. For a moment it looked as if she would run clean into the creek, but luckily the sand was soft. She stopped just in time, and Jock made a wild leap and plunged down the steep muddy bank towards the narrow channel where the launch lay.
The Lovells, realizing what he was after, redoubled their pace, yelling furious threats. Ankle deep in clinging black mud, Jock slithered down the bank and leaped aboard the launch. He saw at once there would be no time to start the engine before the Lovells were on top of him, and once more his heart almost failed him.
But he was not done yet. A big punt pole lay in cleats just under the gunwale, and this gave him an idea. Drawing his sheath- knife, he slashed the mooring rope, then snatched up the pole and pushed with all his might. The tide was almost out and the bow of the launch was hard on the mud. He could not move her.
He heard the engine of the plane roaring again, and glancing up saw that Finch was swinging her round. He realized that Finch was trying to stop the Lovells. He was succeeding, too, for they had to dodge in order to save themselves from being struck by the wide-spreading wings. Jock heaved harder than ever. His muscles felt as if they were cracking, and still the wretched boat remained fast. Her stern was afloat, but her bow was deep in the clinging mud.
"I'll never do it," burst sobbingly from Jock's lips.
Some one came squelching down the bank. Jock thought it was one of the Lovells, but it was Tim. How Tim had got out of the moving plane Jock could not tell, and there was no time to ask. Mud to his knees, Tim scrambled aboard and put his weight behind Jock's on the pole.
That did it. The launch began to move. Slowly—very slowly, yet Jock's heart leaped as he felt her shifting beneath him. And just then Mark, who somehow had managed to dodge Finch, arrived on the top of the creek bank.
"_Stop!^" he shrieked, his voice all wheezy with running. "_Drop that pole, I tell you, or^_ ^_I'll skin you alive.^" The boys only pushed the harder and Mark, panting with rage and exertion, came plunging down towards them. The boys redoubled their efforts, but the launch was moving only by inches. Mark seized the bow.
Excitement gave Jock and Tim a superhuman strength. They made a last furious effort, and suddenly the launch shot out from its muddy bed. Mark plunged after it, struggling frantically to get aboard. Jock jerked the pole loose from the mud in which it was embedded, and with a last effort gave Mark a jab in the chest. His hold broke, he staggered back and sat down with a loud splash in the edge of the creek. The launch, free at last, began to drift towards the sea.
Mark was not done yet. Sputtering threats, mad with rage, he managed to get to his feet, and started to wade after the launch.
"Better keep back," Jock warned him, as he threatened him with the pole.
"Look out, Jock!" cried Tim. "He'll get us. The water's shallow."
"More than the mud is," said Jock dryly. He was right. Mark had not gone six steps before he was in it properly. He struggled desperately to get his feet loose, but the more he struggled the deeper he sank. His fury turned to fear.
"Help!" he yelled. "Help me out, I'm sinking." Tim pushed the pole towards the man, but Jock stopped him.
"Steady, Tim. We're not out of the wood yet. Where's Jasper?"
"Can't see him. Must have hooked it, or perhaps Finch has bowled him over. But, I say, this chap will drown if we don't help him." Mark was still sinking. He was in nearly up to his armpits, and his eyes were wide with fright.
"I'm sinking," shrieked Mark. "If you ain't quick I won't be able to get out at all."
"What about those emeralds?" asked Jock. "We shall have to have those before we pull you out." Mark hesitated, but all the time the glue-like mud was sucking him down. He caved in completely.
"Take 'em," he howled, and plucking the case from his breast pocket, flung it to Jock, who caught it deftly. Whatever Jock felt, nothing showed in his face.
"Give him the end of the pole, Tim," he said calmly. "No, don't pull him aboard yet. He might be too much for us." Mark grasped the pole with despairing energy, but the launch was still floating, though very slowly, towards the sea. The last of the ebb had not yet quite run out, and without the engine or the pole the boys could not control her. The result was that Mark was pulled forward on his face, and, still clinging to the pole, dragged right under water.
"He'll drown," cried Tim in alarm, and it almost looked as if the man would, for his legs were still tight in the mud. Luckily he had the sense to hang on to the pole, the weight of the drifting launch pulled him loose, and he came up gasping and panting.
"Get a rope," Jock told Tim. "Make a noose." Tim did so. As Mark came in Jock deftly flung the noose over him and drew it tight, pinning his arms to his side.
"Now I don't think he can give any trouble," Jock said, as they towed him alongside and hauled him over the gunwale into the launch. Suddenly Tim let out a yell.
"Look out! Here's Jasper."
WHILE the boys were rescuing Mark, the launch had drifted back against the same bank from which they had released her, and Jasper, who had somehow dodged the plane, had seen his chance. Before they could stop him he came plunging in over the stern.
Tim had spun round as he shouted his warning. As Jasper landed on the stern, he flung himself at the man and grasped him round the knees. Jasper made a frantic effort to keep his balance, but failed, and he and Tim smashed over together into the bottom of the boat.
Mark, thinking he saw his chance, began to struggle violently, but Jock jumped back and jerked the cord with all his force, tightening it round Mark's body and arms, so that he yelled with pain. Tim was helpless, pinned under Jasper, and it was lucky for Jock that Jasper, himself, was half stunned with the force of his fall. Before Jasper had got back his scattered senses Jock was on him, and had the loose end of the rope round him. For all his square solidness Jock could move as quickly as any when the pinch came, and before Jasper had sense to know what was happening his arms were tied tightly to his sides. Jock caught hold of Tim and lifted him.
"Hurt?" he asked.
"N—no, only winded."
"Then tie Jasper to this ring bolt. Look out for his legs. He may kick." Mark was struggling again. Jock snatched up the pole.
"Keep still or I'll make you," he snapped, and Mark, seeing he meant exactly what he said, was quiet.
There was plenty of rope and the boys did not spare it. By the time they had finished, their prisoners were as secure as two mummies. Jock straightened up.
"Good for you, Tim," he said with warm approval. "Jasper would have had us both if you hadn't tackled him the way you did."
"No need to swap compliments," grinned Tim. "You did your bit. Well, I wonder if we shall keep the emeralds this time."
"We shan't lose them again," replied Jock, with calm conviction. "Let's tie the launch and get back to Finch. The poor old dear must be having fits."
"Not so much of your poor dear," came Finch's voice from the top of the bank. Somehow he had got out of the plane and hobbled across to try to help. The boys scrambled out of the launch and seized him, one on each side.
"Don't be an ass, Finch," said Jock. "You'll conk that leg of yours, and then won't be able to fly us back."
"Back—where to! If you imagine you're going all the way back to Wales to-night, you've got another guess coming."
"We must go back," said Jock earnestly. "There's Red to think of."
"It's the emeralds I'm thinking of," said Finch. "Where are they—in the creek?"
"In my pocket," said Jock.
"You've got 'em?" cried Finch.
"Of course I've got them. What do you think we've been doing all this time?"
"Scrapping like blazes by the row you made. But have you really got the stones?"
"Flash your torch and we'll soon see," Jock replied. He fished out the case and opened it and, sure enough, there were the great green stones gleaming in the white light. Finch drew a long breath.
"By Jove, you're a couple of wonders, you chaps," he said solemnly.
"Rats!" remarked Jock. "Where should we have been without you?"
"Chuck swapping compliments," put in Tim with a grin. "Kindly remember this isn't the first time we've had the emeralds. The job seems to be to keep 'em. What are we going to do about it?"
"Push off for Colchester and shove 'em in the safe at the aerodrome," said Finch.
"That sounds good to me," agreed Tim. "What about it, Jock?" Jock frowned.
"Yes, but we have to think of these prisoners."
Finch turned the light on the launch.
"Looks as if they'd keep," he remarked drily. "We can send some one down from Colchester in a car to collect them." Jock hesitated.
"Perhaps I'd better stop and watch them," he suggested.
"Nonsense!" Tim retorted. "We'll turn the petrol out of the launch and fix Finch's plane so they can't use it. Then, even if they do get loose, they won't go far."
"All right," said Jock slowly, and the others wondered a little what was worrying him. However they did as Tim had suggested, then got back into the plane. There was a good open run down the beach, and, though the sand was rather soft, Finch got the Monospar up without trouble, and they headed north for Colchester. Within fifteen minutes they had crossed the Blackwater and were over the aerodrome where Finch made a good landing. Several men came up. A loud, cheerful voice greeted them.
"Blest if it ain't Hanley and his flying circus! What news, my lads." It was Flying Officer Eyre, their friend of the Dene Hole. Finch beckoned him up.
"Plenty," he whispered, "but not for the crowd."
"All right," said Eyre. "Leave the machine. The mechanics will look after it. I'll take you to my quarters."
Within a few minutes they were settled comfortably, and Eyre had ordered his batman to get some food for them.
"Now for it. I'm crazy to hear it all," he said eagerly. Jock held up his hand.
"You must promise not to say anything of what we tell you, please, Mr. Eyre."
"Anything you say," replied Eyre with his jolly laugh. "Out with it, Jock." Jock did not waste words, yet on the other hand he didn't leave anything out, and Eyre listened eagerly.
"My word, you've had some fun, you chaps," he declared enviously. "But you've got the stones; that's the big thing. May I see them?" Jock showed him the emeralds, and he gazed at them in silence.
"Don't wonder folk want to steal them," he said at last. "What are you going to do with them—fly 'em back to their owners?"
"I'm not flying with those things again," said Finch firmly. "We want you to put them in the safe and keep them until they are called for."
"We can do that all right," Eyre answered. "But here's your supper."
"These go in the safe before I eat a mouthful," Finch declared; and with a laugh Eyre agreed. They all went together, and Eyre fetched his commanding officer, who solemnly locked up the emeralds and gave them a receipt. Then they went back to Eyre's quarters and tucked into cold beef and salad and cold apple tart with cream. They were all hungry, especially Finch, who had had nothing but a couple of sandwiches since breakfast.
"Thanks for a jolly good supper, Eyre," he said as he got up from the table. "And thanks be our job's done." Jock started up.
"Job done! Not by chalks." Finch's eyes widened as he stared at Jock.
"And what's biting you?" he asked lazily.
"Red," said Jock with decision.
"What about him?" asked Finch. "He's safe enough at Tim's place." A worried look crossed Jock's face.
"We have to get him away from there. Suppose the police find him?"
"If they do it can't be helped," said Eyre quietly. "After all, he did steal the emeralds, and if he goes to quod it's no more than justice."
"He shan't go to prison. He can't. It would kill him." The others had never seen Jock so distressed. They gazed at him in astonishment. Jock went on:
"You don't understand, any of you. Red is my friend. He's saved me more than once. And he isn't really a criminal. It is just, as he says himself, that he was born in the wrong century. Besides—" he paused again. "I don't know whether I ought to say it, but he isn't stealing for himself. It's for somebody else, some one he's very fond of." Finch pursed his lips.
"That does make a difference. But we can't run against the law. What do you want to do, Jock?"
"Go back now at once, get him into the plane, and take him up to his hiding-place in Yorkshire."
THE three sat gazing at Jock. No one spoke. At last Finch stirred in his chair.
"Jock, I'm with you all the way. We'll go at once if you say so." Tim spoke.
"Jock, Finch has had a tough day. He's flown about eight hundred miles. And his ankle's still pretty bad. I don't think there's any chance of the police visiting Gwydyr to-night. How about getting a wink of sleep, if Mr. Eyre will put us up, and starting at daylight?"
"Of course I'll put you up," said Eyre. Jock considered a moment.
"Thanks very much, Mr. Eyre. I expect Tim's right. If we can get off early in the morning it ought to be good enough."
"Oughtn't we to phone Meripit that we have the emeralds?" said Finch. Again Jock thought a little.
"Yes," he said at last, "and ask him to send some one for the stones. But, Finch, you needn't say anything about Red."
Finch nodded and hobbled off to the telephone. He was back in about ten minutes.
"I got him all right and he was as nice as possible. I just said that we had recovered the emeralds, and they were in the safe here. He was very anxious to hear all about it, but I said the story was too long to tell over the phone. So he wants us to meet him in London on Saturday next—all three of us—and lunch with him. I said we would. Is that all right?"
"That'll do fine," said Jock with a sigh of relief. Then they all turned in.
Jock was up first, to find a grey sky with a strong, cold wind. It was just what he had expected after that brilliant but treacherous sunset. Luckily it was not raining, and after a cup of coffee they got straight away in the Monospar.
Luckily for their flight, the wind had veered to north-east, so was more of a help than a hindrance, and at a little after eight they landed in the big field in front of Gwydyr. Old Ballard came out to meet them. He was looking tired and troubled.
"How's Red?" was Jock's first eager question.
"Bad, Mr. Jock. My wife and me, we thought he was going to pass out in the night. Mr. Randall, he's still here." Jock went rather white. He ran to the house. Randall was in the hall.
"It's all right, Jock," he said quietly. "He's better. But I don't mind saying I was scared. I was on the point of sending for the doctor, and I did wire for his mother."
"His mother!" gasped Jock.
"Yes. I found a letter from her in his coat pocket. She lives near London. She will be here some time to-day." Jock collected himself.
"I understand now. She's the person he wanted the money for. But, Mr. Randall, this is an awful mix-up. How shall we ever keep it from her?" Finch came hobbling in, helped by Tim and Ballard. He, Randall, and the two boys went into the library to talk things over. Ballard went to get breakfast.
"See here, Jock," said Finch. "We quite understand that you want to save Red from going to quod, and we all sympathize. That's so, isn't it, Randall?"
"Yes," said Randall with a smile. "I'm all for Jock."
"All the same," Finch went on, "the law's a queer thing to meddle with; and if the truth comes out, Red is bound to be tried for stealing the emeralds, and will get it hot. What's more, we shall get it in the neck for trying to shield him. Not that this cuts much ice with me. I'm willing to take a chance, only, first, I want to see if there's any way out."
"Of course there is," Jock said stoutly. "The Lovells had the emeralds. We found them in their possession."
"That's a fact," Finch agreed; "but when the Lovells come to trial, they'll spoil the whole story."
"They won't be tried just yet," Jock insisted. "We ought to be able to get Red away first."
"He can't possibly be moved for a day or two," Randall said.
"How soon can Mark and Jasper be tried?" Tim asked.
"They'll be brought up before the Bench and remanded," Randall told him. "The police will want you boys and Finch as witnesses." Jock looked blank.
"Then—then we shall be forced to tell all about it."
"I'm afraid you will," said Randall slowly.
"Isn't there any way out?" Jock asked despairingly.
"I can't see one for the minute," Randall answered; "but don't give up hope, Jock. After all you've told me about Red, I'm almost as keen as you to save him." There was a tap at the door.
"Breakfast is ready, gentlemen," said Ballard.
"And I'm ready for breakfast," Finch declared. They sat down to bacon and eggs and coffee and Welsh bakestone bread. Afterwards Randall went up to see Red. He came back to tell them that Red was sleeping quietly, and was evidently on the mend.
Jock wandered about. He could not sit still. Tim got tired of it.
"Better come for a walk," he said.
"But Red's mother might come."
"Not for hours yet. The train doesn't get into Llanfechan till half-past three. Tell you what, Jock, let's go and fetch that funny old lead pot you dug up."
"It's a long way," said Jock.
"Won't hurt you," replied Tim. "Come on." It was not as far as Jock had thought, for this time they had no need to go all round by the lake. They got to the old fort by midday and found the lead mug just where Jock had hidden it.
"It's pretty old," said Tim, as he examined it. "Wonder if there's any more where you found it." He went across to the damp spot and began to prod the ground with his knife. Jock, eating an apple which he had brought, watched him. Suddenly Tim began digging violently.
"I've got a plate," he shouted. "Come and help." The two dug for an hour, and at the end of that time had five more mugs and a dozen great heavy platters.
"That seems to be the lot," said Tim at last.
"Yes, and what are we going to do with them? We'll need a cart to carry 'em home."
"We'll take one of each and hide the rest," Tim said. "We can fetch 'em with a pony some time."
It was about three when they got back, to find a saloon car standing at the door.
"I say, she's come by car and we weren't here to meet her," said Tim in dismay. As they hurried in a lady was coming down the stairs. The most beautiful and stately old lady that either of them had ever seen. With her snow-white hair and delicate ivory complexion, she looked, Jock thought, exactly as if she had come out of a picture. Her face lit up as she saw the boys.
"Jock—Tim. Yes, I know which of you is which. I have been hearing about you from my dear son." What on earth has he told her, Jock wondered vaguely, but Tim kept his head and said how sorry he was not to have been there to meet her.
"We thought you were coming by train," he explained, "so we went for a walk."
"I should think you wanted one after all that flying," said Red's mother, and her voice was as charming as her looks.
"How is R—, that is your son, ma'am?" Jock asked.
"Wonderfully better. He wants to see you, Jock. Will you go up?" Jock was only too glad to escape. He found Red in bed. Red was looking a lot better, but there were lines on his face Jock had not seen before.
"Who sent for her, Jock?" were his first words.
"Randall. He thought you were dying, Red." Red bit his lip.
"This is a ghastly mess up. I'd have given my right hand before she came here. Jock, you realize she knows nothing."
"Of course. That's what's been worrying me. My idea was for Finch to fly you back up north and hide you."
"Too late for that now," said Red heavily. All the life seemed to have gone out of him. Jock stood silent. He had never felt so sorry for any one in all his life.
"SO you got the emeralds?" Red said presently. "I congratulate you, Jock."
"Don't!" said Jock sharply. "See here, Red, you can have my share of the reward, and as soon as you're fit to move we'll get you abroad. After all there's nothing against you, for Mark and Jasper had the stones." Red's eyes softened.
"Jock, it's like you, to make such an offer. But I think you know I couldn't accept it. Besides, it isn't myself I'm thinking of. It's my mother. She thinks I'm in business, selling aeroplanes. It will kill her to know I'm a crook. But now there's no way out."
"There must be," Jock said desperately. Red shook his head. There was a knock at the door; Tim put his head in.
"Jock, I want you." Jock hurried out.
"Meripit. Lord Meripit himself has just turned up. Seems he's got a big job in Africa. Has to go to-morrow. So he drove straight up." Jock's face was a picture of horror.
"This is the absolute limit."
"I know; but you'll have to see him. He's in the library with Finch. Red's mother is in the drawing-room." Jock hardly knew how he got downstairs or into the library. Finch at once escaped, and Jock found himself facing a tall, bronzed man of fifty who wore rough tweeds and looked like a soldier in mufti.
"So you're Freeland," he said, giving Jock a firm hand- grip.
"I'm Jock Freeland, sir—that is, my lord."
"Oh, hang the title. Say 'sir' if it comes easier. So you're the lad I have to thank for getting back my wife's emeralds."
"No, sir"—Jock's voice was very earnest—"it was Tim and Finch just as much as me."
"Not according to Finch—or Tim," said the tall man smiling. "Well, let's hear all about it. After all, you're the only chap who's been in it from start to finish."
"I—I—" Jock stammered and stopped. Lord Meripit gazed at him. The keen, pale blue eyes bored into his very brain. At least that's how it felt to Jock.
"Sit down," said Meripit. Jock's heart sank as he obeyed.
"There's something bothering you, boy," said the other keenly. "Be sure I don't want to worry you. I owe you too much. Tell me anything or nothing, just as you please." Jock's eyes were fixed on the other. Then all in a flash he made up his mind.
"I'm in a hole, sir," he said frankly. "If I tell you the whole thing I get a friend into bad trouble." Lord Meripit frowned a little.
"Could I get him out of this trouble?" he asked shrewdly.
"Yes, sir, but I don't know whether you'd be willing to."
"I'll do my best. Is that good enough?"
"Quite good enough. Then I'll tell you the whole story."
It took nearly an hour, and Meripit listened without saying one single word. When at last Jock finished the other just nodded.
"This fellow, Red, must be an interesting character," he said.
"He's the finest man I've ever met, sir," replied Jock.
"And born in the wrong century, as you've said. I—I'd like to meet him." Jock took a chance.
"So you can, if you wish, sir. He's upstairs."
"Then take me to him."
"You'll remember he's pretty ill, sir."
"Of course. And, Jock, I shan't make him any worse." A great load rolled off Jock's mind. He got up quickly, and Meripit followed him upstairs.
"In here, sir," said Jock as he opened the door.
"This is Lord Meripit, Red," he said. "And—and I think you'll like him." Then he slipped out, closing the door softly behind him, and went into his own room. It was half an hour before Red's door opened. Jock met Lord Meripit at the head of the stairs.
"You're right, Jock," said his lordship softly. "A man like that must never go to prison."
"But can you get him off?" Jock asked earnestly.
"Yes, I can refuse to prosecute. I can work it all right, Jock," he added with a smile. "What's more, I have a job for him—in Africa. I need a first-class man to manage aeroplanes. He's quite keen." Impulsively Jock thrust out his hand.
"You—you're a brick, sir. I—that is, you've made me most awfully happy."
"Which is just as it should be, old chap," said the other genially. "Now come down and we'll tell the others. After that I must go straight back to London and see the Home Secretary."
In the hall a little group were gathered round the table—Finch, Tim, and Red's mother.
"What a wonderful-looking old lady?" said Lord Meripit in a low voice to Jock.
"Red's mother, sir," whispered Jock.
"Introduce me," said his lordship, and Jock managed it very nicely.
"I have been talking to your son, Mrs. Spain," said Meripit. "I have persuaded him to take a job in Africa with me. I hope you don't mind."
"He will be honoured, Lord Meripit," said Mrs. Spain in her sweet voice. Tim broke in eagerly.
"Jock, Mrs. Spain says this old pot isn't lead at all. It's gold."
"Gold!" gasped Jock.
"Yes, and so is the platter. And all the rest, too. What's more, it's frightfully old and valuable." Meripit picked up the mug and examined it.
"She is right. This is fifteenth-century work. Where on earth did you find it?" Jock told him.
"Man, it's worth as much as my emeralds," exclaimed the other. "Of course, the British Museum will claim it, but you and Tim are the finders, and they will pay you its value." Jock was too overcome to speak. He could only stare. Meripit went on. "With this and your share of the reward you'll be quite rich folk, you and Tim. And, by Jove, you deserve it; don't they, Mrs. Spain?"
"Indeed, they do," said Mrs. Spain warmly. Lord Meripit picked up his hat.
"I must go. I have to be in London to-night. Good-bye, Mrs. Spain. I am happy to have met you and your son. Good-bye, Jock and Tim. Good-bye, Hanley." Tim could hardly wait till he was gone before dragging Jock aside.
"What's happened? How did you work it? Tell me quick or I'll bust." Jock told him and Tim whistled.
"Phew, but you took a chance!"
"It's worked all right."
"Yes, Red's safe and his mother will never know. Jock, you're a holy wonder."
"Same to you, old man," grinned Jock. "Now, let's get a couple of ponies and go and fetch the rest of the loot. And as soon as it's in, I'm going to cable dad to come home."
"Rather, and I'll do the same. I say, old man, things do work out sometimes." Jock's eyes twinkled.
"If you take chances," he chuckled.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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