Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
STEPS sounded on the cobbled path leading from the gate to the door of Walnut Tree Farm, then came a loud, decided knock at the door. Miss Selina Tuckett looked up from the accounts she was vainly trying to balance.
"Good gracious, who can it be at this time of night?" she exclaimed.
The knock came again; she took up the lamp and went to the front door.
When at last she got it open the light showed two boys standing in the porch. They seemed to be about 12 and 14, but somehow looked older. They were roughly yet tidily dressed, and each carried a small suit-case.
"Is this Walnut Tree Farm?" asked the taller of the two, speaking with a strong American accent.
"Yes," said Miss Tuckett.
"Then I reckon you're our Aunt Selina," said the boy, stretching out a large hand.
Miss Tuckett nearly dropped the lamp. "Who—who are you?" she stammered.
"I'm Sam Tuckett, and this is my brother Dan. We're Jim's sons."
"My brother Jim! I never knew he had any sons," exclaimed Miss Tuckett. Then she dumped the lamp down on the hall table, threw her thin arms round Sam's neck and kissed him. After that she kissed Dan.
"Come along in, my dears. I'm that glad to see you. And how is your dear father?"
"Dad's dead," Dan said in a low voice.
"Dead!" cried Miss Tuckett.
"He was drowned in the rapids in Cascade Creek," Sam told her. "His paddle broke and the canoe hit Twin Rock. We seed it but we couldn't do a thing. Dan and me got his body out and buried him."
"You buried him," repeated Miss Tuckett, horrified.
"There wasn't no one else to do it," Dan told her.
"But where did this dreadful thing happen?" she asked.
"Up north of the Peace River Country," the boy answered.
"But that is in Canada. However did you get here?"
"Dad left a little gold, and he'd always said that if he went out we was to go to you. So Dan and me, we just packed up and left. We got to Quebec all right and took passage on a cargo boat. We come into Southampton this morning, and a policeman told us how to get here."
Miss Tuckett gazed at the boys in silence. To her it seemed beyond belief that these lads could have found their way more than 6000 miles from the wilds of the North-West to her little house in this English village. And the most amazing thing was that they seemed to think nothing of it.
"Trouble is we've spent all our money," Sam went on. "But I reckon we can get a job. We're good workers."
"Workers!" cried Miss Tuckett. "You are my dear nephews and you must not talk of work. Sit down while I get you some supper."
"We can help," Dan said. "Sam's a right good cook."
Dan was not boasting. The boys insisted on helping to get the meal, and their aunt was filled with fresh wonder at their handiness. No English boys of their age that she had ever seen were half so competent. There was no fresh meat, but luckily plenty of bacon, eggs, butter, bread, and milk. The bread was homemade, and Miss Tuckett felt a glow of pleasure when Sam pronounced it "the best ever."
"We're sour-doughs, Dan and me," he told her, and explained that, as they had no yeast in the North, they kept some dough over from each baking so as to start a new fermentation.
And how they ate! Six rashers of bacon and four eggs each!
After supper the boys insisted on washing up and putting everything tidy. This was a new and very pleasant experience for their aunt. Then they sat and talked, and in two hours Miss Tuckett learned more about the great North-West than she had ever dreamed. At last she insisted on their going to bed.
After she had left them the poor lady went back to the sitting-room. She was far too excited to sleep. This was the most amazing thing that had ever happened in all her lonely life, but she wondered desperately how she could keep these two fine fellows, for the little farm was not paying and she was desperately poor.
When at last she did go to her room and get to sleep she overslept, and was roused by Sam knocking at the door and bringing her a cup of tea. "Breakfast will be ready right soon," he said.
When she got down a fire was burning and breakfast was on the table.
"Dan's fed the horse and the chickens and pigs," Sam said. "You got a right nice place here, Aunt."
"It would be, Sam, if I had the money to work it properly," she answered; and the boys listened with interest as she told of her difficulties. Then Sam nodded. "Don't you worry, Aunt. Dan and me, we'll fix things up for you."
In the middle of the morning a man came walking up to the front door. He was a stranger to Miss Tuckett and she did not much care for his looks.
"Miss Tuckett?" he asked.
"I am Miss Tuckett, sir."
"My name is Crumm—George Crumm. I understand you own this farm."
"I do," said Miss Tuckett.
"Would you consider selling it? I have a client who is looking for a small place of this sort."
Miss Tuckett was horror-stricken. The idea of selling the house and land owned by her family for generations shocked her so that she could hardly speak. And then suddenly she remembered the boys, and her desperate need for money.
"How—how much are you offering?"
CRUMM told her he could give her £700.
"Seven hundred!" repeated Miss Tuckett. "Why, there are 30 acres of good land, to say nothing of the house."
"Land is worth very little nowadays," said Crumm. "But I don't want to be hard. I will make it £800."
Miss Tuckett shook her head. "I don't think I will sell," she said.
Crumm looked hard at her. "You'll never get a better offer. Ask any house agent."
Miss Tuckett was flustered. "I—I must have time to think."
Just then the door opened and in came Sam. He stopped short. "Sorry, Aunt. Didn't want to butt in. Came for a drink of water."
"This is my nephew, Mr. Crumm," said Miss Tuckett. "Sam, this gentleman wants to buy the farm."
"What's he offering?" Sam asked.
"Eight hundred pounds."
"That's 4000 dollars. It ain't enough."
Crumm favoured Sam with a scowl. "You seem to know a lot about it, my lad."
"I ain't your lad and I knows good land when I sees it."
Crumm managed a laugh. "On Master Sam's recommendation I will raise my offer to £900. That is my limit."
Sam watched him as he went back to his car.
"That fellow's a crook, if ever I seed one," he pronounced. "I wouldn't have nothing to do with him." He went out and joined Dan in the garden and told him all about it.
"Looks like this Crumm knowed something," Dan said thoughtfully. "Do you reckon there's gold anywheres round?"
"Ain't no gold in England," Sam replied, "but might be mineral."
"Reckon we'll have a look," Dan said, and went on with his work.
At dinner Sam inquired of his aunt about the land she owned, and afterwards he and Dan walked round the fields. There was a coppice behind the house, and below it a hollow. The boys had brought spades with them and, after examining the ground pretty thoroughly, came back to this hollow.
"Soil's kind of red," said Sam. "I reckon this is the place to dig."
They dug, and in a couple of hours were down six feet. Then the spades rang upon rock. Sam straightened his back.
"We'll need to blast," he said.
Dan nodded. "But where will we get the stuff?" he asked. "Ain't likely Aunt has got powder."
"We can ask," said Sam, who never wasted words. They went to the house.
"Aunt, you got any giant powder?" Sam inquired.
"Giant powder! What is that?"
Sam explained, and horror dawned on Miss Tuckett's thin face.
"Good gracious, no!" she exclaimed. "It's terribly dangerous."
Sam went back to work. After a while he said to Dan, "We'll take a walk round after supper."
After the dishes were washed they told their aunt they were going to have a stroll, and the brothers set off at a brisk pace. They had passed a quarry on their way from the station, and it was for this that they made.
It was a good-sized granite quarry, but when they reached it work was over for the day and the place seemed deserted. Dan pointed to a cottage a little way down the hill. Smoke was coming from the chimney and an elderly man was leaning over the wall, smoking. He stared at the boys.
"Strangers, baint ye?" he asked.
"You're right, mister," replied Sam. "We only come to England yesterday."
The old chap's eyes widened. "Well, I never! Where do 'ee come from?"
"Canada," Sam told him.
"I had a son went to Canada. Place called Vancouver. Joe Colston his name was. You ever met him?"
"We was further north. Up in the gold country," Sam answered.
The old fellow was thrilled. That was what Sam wanted. He had spotted him for caretaker of the quarry. They were asked in, and presently Sam told him that they were Miss Tuckett's nephews.
"A proper nice lady she is," said old Colston, "but it be hard on her, running that farm without help."
"She's thinking of selling," Sam said. "To a man called Crumm. Know him?"
"Don't know nothing good of him," replied Colston sourly.
"That's what Dan and I thought," said Sam. "We placed him as a crook. Say, do you reckon there's granite or anything like that on the farm?"
Colston shook his head.
"No, there ain't no granite there. As for mineral, there's iron-stone, but I don't reckon it's worth working."
Sam told him of the hole they had dug and the rock they had found and of Miss Tuckett's horror when they had asked for blasting powder. Old Colston burst out laughing. "I surely don't blame her—she'd be scared you'd blow yourselves up."
"We know powder—and dynamite," Sam told him. "Helped Dad many a time to fix a charge and cut a fuse. We'd like mighty well to find what's under that rock, and one stick of dynamite would do it."
The old man looked thoughtful. "I couldn't give 'ee dynamite, boys, for if anything happened I'd be blamed. But maybe I could come along down tomorrow, night and bring a stick with me."
"Fine!" said Sam. "We'll be watching for you."
All next day the boys worked in the garden. They were watching for Crumm, but he did not turn up. Evening came at last, and after supper they saw old Colston walking down the road. Sam hurried to meet him and took him across the fields to the hollow. The old man looked at the pit and shook his head.
"You won't find nothing here," he said.
"Let's try, anyhow," said Dan. He took the stick of dynamite, tamped it into a hole cut in the rock and fixed the fuse. He lit it, scrambled out of the hole, and the three moved off to a safe distance.
Wump! The ground shivered a little and a small cloud of dust rose from the hole.
"That's busted her," said Sam as he went back to the pit. He and Dan looked in. All they could see was a quantity of dirty-looking water bubbling up furiously from under the broken rock.
"Struck a spring," said Sam sadly. "See the pace it's coming up. Gee, we'll need a force pump to get the water out and see what's underneath."
Dan shrugged. "Take more'n a pump to handle that flow, Sam. She'll be running over in two ticks."
He was right. Almost as he spoke the water reached the rim of the pit and began to run over. The boys watched in dismay.
"All we done is to drown Aunt's land," muttered Sam. "Nice sort of tale to have to take along to her."
"I reckon 'ee couldn't take her no better news," said old Colston dryly, and the boys stared at him in amazement. "Don't 'ee know as there ain't no water in Nether Slapton?" he went on. "Looks like you got enough for the whole village. The council will pay proper for a spring like this."
Sam looked at Dan. Then both solemn faces broke into a broad grin. "So we found something after all," said Sam.
"We did that," replied Dan. "Let's go along and tell Aunt."
They met Crumm at the door, and when they told him that Walnut Tree Farm was not for sale his language shocked their aunt, but convinced her that it was the water he had been after all along.
SAID Sam: "Aunt Selina, haven't you got no friends?"
Miss Selina Tuckett, sitting at the other end of the breakfast table, was so startled at this abrupt question that she dropped her knife with a clatter.
"What do you mean, Sam?" she asked.
"There ain't nobody comes to see you except the school-mistress," Sam stated. "You're worse off than we was up at Cascade Creek, and up there folk are pretty scarce."
Miss Tuckett gazed at Sam. She was not so thin as she had been on that cold night when her two surprising Canadian nephews had arrived out of the blue: she was better dressed; the worried look had left her face. The discovery by the boys of the big spring on her farm had made all the difference, for the county council had paid her no less than £2000 for the right to pipe the water to a pumping station built outside her land.
The boys ran the garden; Miss Tuckett managed the poultry; Walnut Tree Farm was prosperous and looked like paying well.
"You are right, Sam," Miss Tuckett said at last. "I have very few friends. I have been too busy to go to see my neighbours and too poor to entertain them." She shook her head. "Now I fear it's too late."
"Ain't never too late to make friends," Sam said briefly. "Ask some of the folk to supper."
"But I don't know them, Sam," his aunt answered.
"That don't matter. I never seed anyone as would refuse a nice meal in a nice house, run by a nice lady."
Miss Tuckett flushed at the compliment. Then she tried to explain.
"Things are different in England from what they are in Canada, Sam. In England you must call on your neighbours. You go to see them and leave cards."
"I don't get this card business," said Sam, frowning. "Where do they come in?"
"If the people you call on are not at home you leave cards to show you have called. In any case, when you make a first call you always leave cards."
Sam let the subject drop, but later tackled his brother. "Ever see one of these here visiting cards, Dan?"
"Not that I know of," Dan answered.
"Do you reckon old Colston knows what they're like."
"He might," agreed Dan cautiously. "Let's mooch up there this evening," Sam suggested.
Colston, the quarry watchman who had helped the boys to find the spring, was pleased to see them and asked them in. They chatted a while, then Sam asked his question.
"Visiting card," repeated Colston. "Yes, surely I've seed one. Nothing but a bit of pasteboard with your name and address on it."
Sam began to talk of the neighbours. "Some mighty nice people round here?" he suggested.
"Surely," replied Colston. "Mr Stubbs as keeps the Black Crow, he's a proper gentleman, and Ezra Herd, the butcher, I likes him too."
Sam looked blank. Colston's idea of a proper gentleman was all right in its way, but not what he was wanting.
"Who lives in the big house on the road to Bryanstone?" he asked.
"Cottrell Court, you mean? That belongs to Mrs Digby Dobbs. She'm rich, she is. They do say she got three motor-cars and a great glasshouse where they grows grapes and pineapples. I reckon she'm richer than the Countess herself."
"What's a countess?" inquired Sam with interest.
"Wife of an earl. Her husband's the Earl of Lamburn. She's the great lady of these parts. Lives at Cope Hall."
Sam said it was near supper-time and the boys left.
"Nothing to it," he said to Dan as they walked home. "I'll fix up some of these here cards and we'll call on Mrs Digby Dobbs. Sounds like she'd make a good friend for Aunt. Likely the Countess would be too high toned."
With his Aunt's scissors Sam cut some squares of cardboard, on which he printed very carefully in ink:
SAM AND DAN TUCKETT
NEPHEWS OF MISS TUCKETT
OF WALNUT TREE FARM
Next day was Saturday, and after the midday meal the boys went up to their room, changed into their Sunday suits, and slipped out quietly the back way. The result of their call was to be a surprise to Miss Tuckett.
The boys entered Cottrell Court through a pair of huge iron gates leading into a long drive. Halfway up the drive a voice hailed them. "Hi! you fellows, what do you want?"
The owner of the voice was a lanky youth of about 18, dressed in baggy flannel trousers, a sports jacket, and suede shoes. A cigarette was between his lips and a sour-looking Alsatian at his heels.
Sam pulled up. "Any business of yours?" he asked.
"This is my property," said the other loftily.
"I thought it belonged to Mrs Digby Dobbs."
"I am Alfred Digby Dobbs," said the youth. "We don't want any boy scouts or cadgers on the place."
Sam looked the tall youth up and down. "We ain't boy scouts and we ain't cadgers," he said flatly.
"Then what's your business?" demanded the other.
"If you want to know, we're going to call on your ma," was Sam's answer.
The cigarette dropped from Alfred's lips. For a moment he seemed paralysed, then he recovered and grinned broadly.
"Go ahead. She'll be glad to see you," he said, and then dived into the trees, where, by the sounds, he seemed to be having a fit.
"Loony," was Sam's brief comment as he and Dan walked on.
The house was huge and square, the flower-beds blazed, the lawns were perfectly cut. Sam marched up and pressed the bell. The door was opened by a stout butler. "What are you doing at the front door?" he inquired with a frown.
"We ain't seed any other door," Sam told him. "And we come to see Mrs Digby Dobbs."
"The mistress is lying down in her boudoir. She wouldn't see you in no case, so you'd better go away."
"I'd think it was for her to say whether she'd see us and not you," Sam answered, with spirit; "but if she's sick I reckon we'll have to call another day. You give her these cards, mister."
The butler's face as he took the pasteboards would have been worth a close-up in any picture. Before he could recover Sam and Dan had swung round and were striding down the drive.
AS they neared the park wall there came a growl, a yelp, and the shriek of a small dog in pain. Then a shout. "Pull that brute off!"
Sam broke into a hard run, and he and Dan burst through the trees to see the big Alsatian worrying a pretty little Cairn terrier. A small rough-haired boy of about ten was trying pluckily but vainly to rescue his pet. Alfred Digby Dobbs stood by, not lifting a finger to help.
Sam got there first. A boy who has handled savage huskies has no fear of an Alsatian. In an instant Sam had it by the scruff of the neck with one hand, while the fingers of the other hand clamped over its nose, cutting off its breath.
It dropped the terrier—it had to or suffocate—and the little boy snatched up his dog. The Alsatian turned on Sam, but Sam fell on it, clamped it with his knees, and forced its head down against the ground. Alfred thought it time to interfere.
"Let that dog go," he ordered angrily.
Sam never even looked at him. He meant to give the Alsatian a lesson it would not forget.
Alfred strode up, but before he could reach Sam the silent Dan took a hand in the game. Running at Alfred head down, he butted him in the stomach. Dan was hard as nails and strong as a bull calf. Alfred staggered back and sat down. He sat just over the edge of the bank of the pond, with the result that he did a back somersault and landed with a resounding splash in four feet of water. Dan gave one sharp bark of laughter, then turned quickly to the little lad.
"Gimme the dog," he said. "I can tell if he's bad hurt."
The Alsatian meantime had given Sam best; but Sam had not finished with the Alsatian. With a great effort of strength, for the dog weighed 40 pounds or more, he picked the animal up and slung it into the pond. Alfred had just found his feet and got his head up when the dog hit him in the chest, and down he went again with the Alsatian on top. The Alsatian was the first to recover. It had had plenty, and, swimming hard to a place where the bank was low, scrambled out and went off as hard as its legs would carry it.
Sam stood on the edge and waited for Alfred to come up a second time. Then he caught hold of him and hauled him up the bank. Alfred was a sorry sight. Such parts of him as were not covered with black mud were mostly concealed by green weed. He was furiously angry.
"You'll go to prison for this," were the first words he sputtered out.
Sam nodded. "Come right along, mister. We'll find a policeman. You come along too, Dan. And the kid and the dog, if it ain't too bad hurt."
"I'll come," said the small boy with unexpected spirit. "And I'll tell the policeman how that man set his dog on Tarry."
"I'm going home first," Alfred said. "I'm all wet and I'm going to change."
"No you ain't," said Sam grimly. "Take his other arm, Dan."
The brothers caught him and began to lead him to the gate.
Alfred's anger changed to fright. With a sudden jerk he tore himself loose and went off across the field in the same direction as his dog, and almost as fast. The boys stood and watched him.
"I guess that's the last we'll see of him," said Sam. He turned to the small boy. "Come on, kid. There's a vet in the village and you better let him look over the pup."
The three walked back to Nether Slapton, and were lucky enough to find old Mr Chard, the veterinary surgeon, at home. He examined the terrier and washed and dressed its wounds. He told its small owner that it would be all right in a week, and the boy almost wept with joy. Sam wanted to pay the bill but the little lad pulled out a ten-shilling note.
"You've jolly well done enough already," he declared. "I say, do you live here?"
"At Walnut Tree Farm," Sam told him. "We're nephews to Miss Tuckett. See here, we got a pony trap. Like us to drive you home?"
"That's very decent of you but you needn't bother. I'm staying at the Rectory. Mr Slade is coaching me."
"Coaching you?" repeated Sam.
"Cramming me up for my school entrance exam. I'm going to Blundell's next term."
"I get you," said Sam briefly. "So long, kid. Let's hear how the pup goes."
"Of course I will," the boy promised, and went off, carrying Tarry.
"A right nice kid," said Dan, as he and Sam walked off in the other direction.
"More'n you could say for the long lad," Dan put in.
Sam grinned. "I don't reckon his ma will return our call. We've surely messed things up this time, Dan."
That was Saturday. Sunday passed peaceably as usual, and on Monday the boys were hard at it in the garden. There had been a nice rain overnight and a lot of young stuff had to be planted.
At four that afternoon a big car drew up at the gate.
"Gosh!" said Sam, looking up. "Mrs Dobbs has come after all."
"But not to call," Dan answered. "Most like she's on the warpath."
Sam stuck his spade in the ground. "We better go and back up Aunt," he remarked.
They hurried into the back kitchen, washed their hands, and were putting on their coats when their aunt came through from the front.
"Lady Lamburn has called," she told them in an awed voice. "She wants to see you."
"What for?" asked Sam suspiciously.
"She'll tell you. Come along."
As the brothers entered the parlour a charming woman rose to meet them.
"So you are the boys who rescued Jacky and Tarry," she said as she shook hands.
"He told me about it yesterday and I came at once to thank you."
"Jacky," repeated Sam. "He didn't say what his name was. Are you his mother, ma'am?"
"Not ma'am—my lady," Aunt Selina prompted gently.
"I am his mother," said Lady Lamburn with a smile. "His proud mother. I think a lot of Jacky."
"You're right, ma'am—my lady," replied Sam. "He's a fine lad."
"And you put Alfred in the pond," said Lady Lamburn, twinkling.
"Who was it you put in the pond?" demanded Miss Tuckett. Then the whole story came out. And how Lady Lamburn laughed!
She stayed to tea, and before she left the four were firm friends, and Lady Lamburn had asked them all to tea at Cope Hall.
"MR SLADE'S going off for a fortnight, Aunt," said Sam Tuckett one evening as he and his brother Dan sat down to supper. "So I reckon Dan and me will get along with the garden."
Mr Slade was rector of Nether Slapton, and the brothers Tuckett went to him every day for lessons, which they shared with their young friend the Honorable John Fisher Fortescue, better known to them as Jacky.
Miss Tuckett considered. "You boys ought to have a holiday. You haven't had one since you came from Canada."
"What price you, Aunt?" asked Sam. "When did you last have a holiday?"
"It's fifteen years since I slept away from this house," Miss Tuckett answered.
"Gee! That was before I was born," said Sam. "It's you needs the holiday, Aunt. Ain't no reason why you shouldn't take one. Page can run the place for a week or two. Only question is where to go."
"I know where I should like to go," said Miss Tuckett. "Dartmoor."
"Where the prison is?" asked Dan.
"You needn't go within miles of the prison. Dartmoor's big, with lovely hills and trout streams. And ponies running wild."
"Sounds fine," said Sam. "Got any place in your mind?"
"Yes. A farm called Brake o' Firs near Huxworthy. The Warnes owned it. They are distant cousins of ours. That's where I spent my last holiday."
"Right!" said Sam. "You sit down and write to Mr Warne and ask if he can fix us up. Get to it, Aunt. I'll post the letter."
Two days later came the reply. Mr Warne and his wife and son would be delighted to see Miss Tuckett and her Canadian nephews.
"I'd like to ask you as guests," the old man wrote, "but times are bad and letting our rooms is all that keeps us afloat. We have no one here now, so there's lots of room."
Miss Tuckett enjoyed every minute of the journey, and when they reached Morton Hampstead, and saw the great tors rising against the horizon, even Dan agreed that it was all right. Young Ted Warne met them with a car which, though old, could still climb the steep hills. The Tuckett boys were vastly interested.
"Say," said Sam to Ted, "this here is gold country."
"More tin than gold," Ted told him. Sam pointed to a brook they were crossing.
"I'll lay I can get colour out of the bed of that."
"You'll get more trout than gold," Ted answered with a laugh. He pointed. "Here's our place."
"It looks a right nice place," Sam stated.
Dan agreed, and neither of them found any reason to change their opinion. That there was no bathroom did not worry them a bit, for each morning they swam in the mill dam. The food pleased them greatly. Splits, saffron cakes, and Devonshire cream they pronounced to be prime and the amount of whortleberry jam they put away was prodigious.
The only thing that bothered them was that the old people were so sad. Mr Warne was crippled with rheumatism and his wife was terribly troubled about him.
"It's too damp and cold for him," she said to Miss Tuckett. "If we could sell out and go down to Looe he'd be another man. And Ted's no farmer. He wants to join the Air Force. But we can't sell. Who'd buy a place that wants £1000 spent on it before it's fit to live in?"
"Wish we could buy it," Sam said to Dan. Dan frowned thoughtfully.
"You was talking about gold, Sam. It's been a long time since anyone washed a panful of Dartmoor gravel. And gold grows."
"Reckon we'll try," said Sam. "There's an old milk pan in the barn. Get that and I'll find a shovel."
They picked a pool out of sight of the house where gravel and sand lay thick on the bed rock. Dan filled the pan with fine gravel and water and Sam began swishing it round and round, constantly flinging out the coarse stuff until only a little fine sand and water remained.
When at last only a few spoonfuls of sediment remained he filled the pan once more with water, and poured this away very slowly and gently until very little remained. Once more he rotated the pan, feathering out the contents in a thin thread around the bottom. The sand rolled ahead, behind it was a streak of dark iron sand, and at the tail were a few tiny flecks of yellow no bigger than grains of fine sugar, but flatter.
Sam poked them with his finger. "Colour," he said.
"Colour," agreed Dan, "but not ten cents worth. Don't look like you could make day wages."
"Do you mind telling me what you are doing?"
The voice startled them; they turned to see a small boy in grey flannel shorts and jacket. He had a fishing rod in one hand and under the other arm a crutch. His left leg was strapped up in irons. His face was thin, but he had nice, even teeth and very bright blue eyes. Sam looked him over and approved of him.
"Panning for gold, sonny," he told him.
"Gold!" repeated the lad.
Sam pointed to the yellow dots. "That's colour," he said, "but it's a poor showing. I've washed as much as five dollars a pan on Cascade Creek."
"Northern Canada, kid. Dan and me, we lived there till a few months ago."
The small boy's eyes widened.
"You lived there! Oh, would you tell me something about it?"
"Sure, we will. Sit down and rest that leg o' yours. What you done to it—broke it?"
"No. I had a fall and something's gone wrong with my knee. Dad sent me up here to get well. I'm staying with the Prices. They're very kind, but it's dull when you can't do much."
"Looks like you're doing some fishing," said Sam kindly.
"I try, but I haven't caught anything. I don't think I know much about it."
"The trout sees you," Sam explained. "Say, you come along to the mill dam over to Brake o' Firs. There's trout there. Reckon you can walk that far?"
"Rather!" said the boy stoutly.
Dan took the lad's rod, Sam gave him an arm, and the three made back slowly to the farm. On the way Sam learned that the lad's name was Boyd Collard, that his mother was dead, and that his father was owner of the great china clay pit at Ashenden.
There was no breeze and it was very hot. The surface of the dam was like glass. Sam shook his head.
"Got to wait for some wind," he said. "We'll have a swim. Can you swim, Boyd?"
"No, but I'd love to try."
"Right: I'll soon teach you."
They threw off their clothes and Sam took a splendid header. Then he stood in shallow water and helped Boyd in. Boyd's left leg was terribly thin and weak, and the knee quite stiff. Dan showed him how to strike out and Boyd took to it like a duck.
SUDDENLY Boyd gave a shriek of pain.
Sam lifted him and carried him to the bank. "What's up?" he asked anxiously.
"My knee. Something cracked in it. Oh, Sam, it hurts!"
Sam examined it. "You've broke down one of them stiff muscles," he said. "That hurts but it don't do no harm. Wait a while and the pain will go off."
Sure enough the pain soon grew less, and, with help from the others, Boyd was able to dress. All of a sudden the boy gave another shout. "Sam, my knee's not stiff anymore. See, I can bend it."
"Fine!" said Sam. "I reckon if you swim every day you'll soon get right again. Now I guess you better come home with us and have some dinner. We'll show you how to catch fish in the evening."
Late in the afternoon a breeze sprang up, and this time it was Dan took Boyd in hand. Dan was a first-class fisherman and under his tuition Boyd caught his first trout. It was only about six ounces, but Boyd was overjoyed. Ted drove him back in the car, but before he left he told the Tucketts that he had never had such a jolly day in his life.
"They are the nicest boys I ever met in my life," he confided to Miss Tuckett before he left, "and the cleverest. Why, there's just nothing they can't do."
Boyd came every day after that, and Sam and Dan, though they wouldn't admit it, grew fond of him. The boy was always so cheery and plucky. The weather stayed hot and Boyd was in the water for hours. His knee improved rapidly. The muscles came back and, sure enough, at the end of a week he found he could put his weight on the lame leg without pain.
The weather broke and there was a real Dartmoor rain. Next morning the river was in flood, but the sun was blazing again, and Sam said this was the chance to get a big basket of trout. So he, Dan, and Boyd went off with their rods and packets of sandwiches. The Tucketts left Boyd beside a big pool and went higher up over ground too rough for the lame lad. Sam was pretty nearly a quarter of a mile up-stream when he heard a bellow, then a yell.
"Sam! Sam! Help!"
Sam dropped his rod and ran. Dan saw and followed. There was a fall at the top of the big pool. Reaching it, Sam saw a dozen Black Highland cattle on the edge of the pool. At their head was a bull, and the bull was in a nasty mood. He was bellowing and tearing up the grass with his horns.
Boyd had taken to the water, but the current was too strong for him to swim and he was clinging to a half-submerged rock. Sam turned to Dan, who was at his heels. "Go in and hold on to him. I'll drive the bull off."
Dan took a header over the fall and in a few strokes reached Boyd and held him.
"Can't cross," he shouted to Sam. "Far bank's too high."
"All right," said Sam, and, picking up a stone, flung it at the bull. It hit him with a sounding thwack; then Sam got a shock, for the bull, instead of making off, turned on him. With fire in its eyes it raced up the slope, and Sam in his turn had to take to the river. The current above the fall was like a mill race, but with the help of rocks Sam struggled across.
Dan was laughing, but Sam realised that this was no laughing matter. The bull was thoroughly roused. He turned and ran up the bank, hoping the bull would follow. It did for a little way, then turned back to the pool. Sam didn't know what to do. Boyd could not stay in the pool very long for this flood water was very cold.
Suddenly he spotted some half-dead gorse bushes on the opposite side and an idea came to him. He managed to cross again, and with his knife hacked at a bush till he got it loose. Then he felt for his matches. Like all Canadians, he kept them in a watertight box.
Now he went back quietly towards the pool. The bull was still ramping at the edge. Sheltering behind a boulder, he struck a match and put it to the gorse, which flamed up. Sam knew it would only burn for a very short time, so sprang up at once and dashed at the bull.
For a nasty moment he thought the brute was going to stand its ground. It did until the crackling bush was thrust actually in its face. That was too much for it. It swung round and galloped off, followed by the rest of the herd.
"Good egg!" said Dan briefly as he towed Boyd ashore.
"It was just splendid," cried Boyd, gazing at Sam with worshipping admiration.
"It took brains as well as pluck," came a man's voice behind them, and Boyd, with a yell of "Dad!" flung himself upon a tall man in tweeds.
Mr Collard's eyes opened wide.
"Boyd!" he exclaimed in sheer amazement. "You're walking."
Boyd pointed at Sam. "He cured me."
"Then he's done what none of the doctors could do," said Mr Collard in a tone of warmest gratitude.
"He did it himself," growled Sam, growing red. "Just swimming."
"But you taught me to swim," Boyd insisted. "And you told me it would put my knee right. Dad, I'm nearly well. If I had a bit longer here I believe I could run."
"You shall have a year if you want it," declared his father.
"But Sam and Dan are leaving the day after tomorrow," said Boyd sadly.
Sam had a bright idea. "You could keep Boyd up here all the time if you wanted, Mr Collard," he said. "You're rich, ain't you?"
"Pretty well off," allowed the other with a smile.
"Then you better buy Brake o' Firs."
Boyd gave a shriek of joy. "Oh, do. Dad!"
"Is it for sale?" asked his father.
"It is," said Sam, "and it's a right nice place, but I ought to tell you it needs fixing up! It ain't got no bathroom nor any frills."
"We might run to a bathroom," said Mr Collard gravely.
That very night Mr Collard agreed to buy the old farmhouse. Mr Warne's delight was pathetic. Before he left next morning Mr Collard had persuaded Miss Tuckett to stay on another week, he paying the bills.
"And as for you, Sam," he said, "and you, Dan, just remember this is the house where you spend all your holidays in future."
"SAM!" came a voice from the other side of the hedge, and Sam Tuckett, who was digging potatoes, stuck his spade in the ground and went across.
"I thought it was you, Lady," he said with a smile as he saw Lady Lamburn sitting at the wheel of her smart two-seater.
"Come in," he suggested.
"No, it's you I came to see, not your aunt. Come out here."
So Sam in his shirt sleeves went round by the side gate and stood beside the car.
"Sam," said her ladyship, "we are going on a picnic to Brantholme on Friday. Will you and Dan come?"
"Sure," Sam answered readily. "That'll be fine."
"I'm not asking your aunt," said Lady Lamburn. "She does not like the sea. The car shall call for you boys at ten. We shall expect you to build the fire and boil the kettle."
"That'll be all right," Sam told her.
Friday dawned fine, but there were wind clouds in the sky. Sharp at ten a Cope Hall car called for the Tucketts. Terry, the chauffeur, a great friend of the boys, had some news for them.
"Did you hear about young Mr Digby Dobbs? He's got into proper trouble. Ran down an old lady with that sports car of his and broke her arm. The magistrates have taken away his licence and fined him £50."
"Won't come out of his pocket," said Sam. "His ma will have to pay."
The car entered the drive and the beautiful old red-brick house came into sight, with its broad lawns and gay flower beds. There were several people in the porch, and Dan, whose eyes were sharp, spoke up suddenly. "If that ain't him!"
"Who?" Sam asked.
Sam's eyes widened. He knew Lady Lamburn's opinion of Alfred Digby Dobbs and was amazed. But Dan was right. There was Alfred, wearing white flannel trousers, a blue blazer with gilt buttons, and a yachting cap.
Then, as the car drove up, Alfred saw the Tucketts, and his face registered such horror that Dan nearly laughed. But Lady Lamburn frowned at him and Dan kept a straight face. He even succeeded in saying Good-morning quite civilly to the big youth. But Alfred did not offer to shake hands. Then the whole party got into the big Daimler and set out for Scarport, where Condor, the Lamburns' yacht, was lying.
Brantholme Island, which belonged to the Lamburns, lay about seven miles off the coast. It was a mile long but quite narrow. The north end was craggy, the south low and covered with coarse grass and bushes. Thousands of sea-birds nested there, and in the spring a watcher lived in a hut on the island. But now nesting time was over and the island was given up to the birds.
Condor lay to a few hundred yards off shore and the dinghy was put over. Then Lady Lamburn asked Alfred if he would be good enough to go ashore with the Tucketts and start a fire to boil the kettle. "Lord Lamburn and I want to sail round the island and have a look at the birds," she explained.
Alfred looked anything but happy, but could not find an excuse for refusing, so climbed clumsily into the boat.
"We'll row," Sam said. "You steer."
By this time there was quite a strong breeze and the small boat tossed in lively fashion, while spray blew over her. Alfred did not attempt to steer. He sat in the stern sheets, grasping the sides. His flabby face went a sickly yellow. As the boat's keel grated on the sand Sam and Dan, who were in shorts and bare-legged, jumped out and hauled her up.
"All safe, mister," said Sam. "Climb out and help collect driftwood."
Alfred climbed out shakily, but the firm beach gave him confidence.
"I will leave that to you," he said freezingly, and took a seat on a tussock.
Sam and Dan exchanged glances. They said nothing, but set to collecting driftwood, of which there was plenty. They scraped a trench in the sand under lee of a rock, lit a neat little fire, unpacked the hamper, and put on the kettle. By the time they had spread the cloth and laid out the food the yacht was in sight again, coming round the south end of the island. The wind was increasing and her sails were reefed.
"She'll have a job to get back," Sam remarked soberly.
"Reckon they'll use the engine," Dan said.
The Condor came on slowly, but the wind was against her and she seemed to be getting, farther away rather than nearer.
"She's signalling," Sam said sharply, as flags broke out at the mast head. "What's that? .... Will fetch you when weather improves." The flags fell, the Condor put about and went flying back in the direction of the mainland.
Alfred sprang up. "What's this mean?" he cried.
"It means, I reckon, the engine's broken down, and we've got to stay here till they can come and fetch us," Sam told him.
"On this beastly island. Don't talk nonsense. I'm not going to stay here."
Dan pointed to the dinghy. "There's the boat, mister. You got nothing to do but get in and row yourself home."
Alfred glared. "Don't be a fool. I can't row. And look at the waves."
"You might swim," Dan suggested.
"Swim!" shorted Alfred, With bitter contempt.
"If you can't, row and can't swim I reckon you better sit down and eat," said Sam. "Which'll you have, salmon salad or game pie?"
But Alfred was too upset too eat.
"Suppose they don't come back before night," he groaned.
"Won't hurt us," Sam answered. "There's blankets and grub in the watcher's shack."
"But I have no pyjamas—not even a razor," Alfred moaned.
"You'd look fine with a beard," said Dan heartlessly. "This pie is prime. Better have some."
But Alfred was not listening. He was watching the white sails of the yacht fading in the distance.
BY the time the boys had finished lunch and packed up half a gale was blowing.
"Guess we'd better go look over the shack," Sam said, and started. The cabin had one good-sized room and a lean-to kitchen. There were bunks against the wall, a stove, table, chairs, and in a cupboard plenty of bacon, flour, tea, sugar, and tinned things.
"Right nice," said Sam. "Lots of grub and everything."
"But who is going to cook?" demanded Alfred.
"You, for one," Sam told him.
"I never cooked in my life," Alfred said curtly.
"Time you learned," was Sam's unfeeling answer. He looked at the sky. "Rain coming soon. Guess we'd better get some wood in. Come on, Alfred."
"My name is Digby Dobbs," said Alfred haughtily.
Sam's face hardened slightly.
"It don't matter what your name is. So long as we're stranded here you've got to do your share."
Alfred turned sulky.
"If you think I'm going to ruin my clothes carrying filthy firewood you're jolly well mistaken," he snapped.
Sam only smiled. He nodded to Dan and the two went out.
"You're treating him easy," said Dan.
"Plenty of time," was all Sam said.
An hour later they were back with big loads of wood. Alfred was lying on a bunk, looking very sulky. The Tucketts never even glanced at him. They started tidying up the place.
The weather grew worse, and by five a full gale was roaring across the island. Sam lit a fire in the stove, Dan began to peel potatoes. With these and onions and a tin of beef he made a stew. About six Dan set the table. By this time the stew filled the place with a most savoury smell. Dan dished it up as neatly as any woman. Alfred roused. He had had no lunch and now was hungry. He dragged a chair over to the table.
"I'll have some of that stew," he said.
"Nothing doing," Sam told him. "Those that don't work don't eat."
Alfred flamed up. He snatched at the dish. Before he could reach it the two boys were on him. He struggled, but his muscles were flabby. He hadn't a chance, and before he knew it was back on his bunk and—what was worse—tied to it.
He raved, but the boys paid no attention. They calmly finished their supper, washed up, then, as the rain had stopped, went for a walk.
It was dark when they got back. They lit a lamp and released Alfred.
By next morning Alfred was hungry for the first time in his life--really hungry. He got up very early while the brothers were still asleep and crept into the kitchen. There was not a mouthful of cooked food. Sam had seen to that. Also the cupboard was locked. Alfred crawled back to bed and spent two aching hours before the boys roused. They jumped up and took towels.
"Coming to bathe?" Sam asked Alfred.
"I don't bathe," replied Alfred.
"You do," replied Sam firmly. "If you want any breakfast."
Alfred, realising that he had no choice, took the towel that was offered him and went down to the beach. It was a bright morning, but there was still a lot of wind. Alfred, boiling inwardly, shivered as he stepped into the sea. "I can't swim," he snarled.
"Time you learned," Sam said, and Alfred found himself securely held by both arms and run out into four feet of water. Then he was turned, face to shore, and made to take a few strokes. A wave broke over his head and he was hauled out, snuffling and snorting. Between rage and exercise, he was quite warm when he got back. Sam let him off cheaply. All he had to do was slice the bacon for breakfast, and of this he made such a mess that Dan took it from him and finished it. They had porridge, bacon, fried bread, and tea; Alfred did not leave a crumb.
Sam spoke. "Dan and I are going fishing. I reckon you can wash dishes. Get to it."
Alfred got to it. He broke a cup and got his white trousers in a horrid mess. Then he went out to look for the yacht. No sign of it, and he grew so bored he went for a walk. He strolled along the beach till he came to the cliffs. There he sat down in a sheltered cove and promptly went to sleep.
He was roused by a swash of cold water. A wave had broken over his legs. It had never occurred to him that the tide rose over this beach. He looked round to find himself completely cut off. He could not go forward or back.
To say that Alfred was scared is putting it mildly. He couldn't swim, the boat was not in sight and the tide coming in fast. He flung himself on the cliff behind him and clawed his way to a ledge about ten feet up. It was impossible to climb higher. There he sat, shivering and shaking while, the water rose remorselessly. Time and again he shouted but there was no answer. The roar of the surf drowned his voice.
A wave top splashed his ledge. Alfred had given himself up for lost when the dinghy with the two boys rounded the point to the north. Alfred let out a shriek that scared the sea-birds and instantly the dinghy came racing inwards. The boys held it a few yards from the ledge.
"Jump!" Sam ordered. "Jump! We'll pull you out."
Spray dashed in Alfred's face. He realised blindly that the boat could come no nearer. He jumped.
What happened after that he hardly knew. For that matter, Sam never knew where he got the strength to haul Alfred's heavy body in over the stern. After that nothing was said until they reached the landing place. Alfred got out and helped to pull the boat up on the shingle. Then he turned to the boys. "Thanks," he said gruffly.
They reached the hut and set to getting dinner. Without being asked, Alfred began to lay the table. Dan's eyebrows rose.
"Bit of a change," he whispered to Sam.
It was a week before the Condor arrived. Lady Lamburn was at the rail as the dinghy came alongside. There were the two Tucketts, and with them a brown-faced youth in shirt and shorts with sun-tanned legs and arms.
Lady Lamburn turned to her husband. "That's never Alfred!" she said in a tone of utter amazement.
Lord Lamburn grinned. "It was," he said. Then Alfred himself swung lightly aboard and Lady Lamburn came forward.
"I'm so sorry—" she began, but Alfred cut her short.
"You needn't be. I've had a topping time. I'm going to ask Mother to buy me a boat. It beats a car any day. And she won't need to be scared, for I've learned to swim."
Lady Lamburn looked at him, noted the clear skin and the muscles showing in his forearms. She saw too that the sulky look had quite gone from his eyes.
"I think you have learned more than that, Alfred," she said gently, and Alfred nodded. "I jolly well have," he answered.
Later Sam got a word aside with Lady Lamburn. "Lady," he said, "what was the matter with that engine?"
Her eyes twinkled. "Not a thing," she answered.
Sam grinned. "I knew it was a plant."
SAM TUCKETT had gone to the village to do some shopping for his aunt, and as he came out of Stubbs's store his sharp eyes noticed two things. One was Albert Edward Lavers standing on the pavement opposite, the other a skinny, rough-coated puppy sitting in the middle of the street.
Albert Edward was Sam's pet aversion. He was a large youth, good-looking in a coarse way. He was son of the village innkeeper; he never did any work if he could help it, and spent his father's money on smart clothes. At present he wore a brand-new suit of black and white stripes, bright yellow shoes, and a round grey hat with a feather in the band. He had a silver-headed cane in his hand and was looking very pleased with himself.
The scene changed suddenly. Round the corner came a motor cyclist riding at well over the legal limit.
"Look out for the dog!" yelled Sam, but his warning seemed to be too late, for the unfortunate puppy was rolled sideways. Yet it was not badly hurt, for with a shriek of terror it struggled up, dashed for the pavement, and collided blindly with Albert Edward's shins. Albert Edward staggered and nearly fell. His shining shoes were blotched with mud, and there was a long smear on the left leg of his brand-new trousers.
Fury convulsed his face and, raising his stick, he struck at the dog.
If he had hit it he would probably have killed or at least maimed it, but the puppy, which seemed to realise the crime it had committed, was already bolting down the side street. Livid with rage, Albert Edward raced after it.
So too did Sam. Stockily built as he was, Sam had a surprising turn of speed.
Albert Edward gained on the half-starved puppy, and was almost level with it in a few strides. Up went his stick again, and this time the little mongrel's fate was sealed but for Sam. Just as Albert Edward was in the act of striking Sam reached him, and all his eight stone of hard muscle struck the larger fellow from behind like a battering-ram.
Albert Edward pitched right over the puppy and skidded along the greasy pavement on hands and knees for a couple of yards. When he arose no skill of the tailor could ever restore those striped trousers to their former condition, for both knees were split and the flesh beneath them was sorely bruised. It took Albert Edward several seconds to recover his breath, and several more to realise what had happened. Long before he got into his stride Sam had scooped up the puppy and disappeared.
Some twenty minutes later Miss Selina Tuckett, entering the back kitchen, found her elder nephew feeding a disreputable-looking animal with bread-and-milk.
"Good gracious, Sam, what have you got there?"
"I don't rightly know. Aunt, and I don't reckon it knows itself." In a few words he told her of his encounter with Albert Edward Lavers.
"That nasty boy!" exclaimed Miss Tuckett. "I'm just glad you pushed him down. I—I almost hope you hurt him."
"I hurt his trousers more than I hurt him," returned Sam with a brief grin. "Anyway, I got the dog. Wonder who owns him."
"He is a curious-looking creature. Do you know what breed he is?"
"If we were up North I'd say he was half husky, but there aren't any husky dogs in England."
"Sledge dogs, you mean, Sam? If I were you I'd ask Colston. He may know the owner."
"I'll do that," said Sam; "but first I'll give the critter a wash. It's coat's plumb solid with mud."
Sam's hands were gentle and the puppy made no objection to the tub of warm water or the kitchen soap. Sam left it to dry on a cushion before the kitchen fire, and when, an hour later, he came in from the garden he could hardly believe his eyes. The puppy's coat had dried and turned to a rich cream colour, and Sam noticed that its eyes were yellow. His brother Dan came in.
"Where did ye get that husky pup?" he asked in surprise.
"So you reckon he's husky?" said Sam, and told him about its rescue. After tea that evening they took the puppy with them and went to see their old friend Colston at the quarry. He inspected the dog with interest.
"I don't know what sort her be," he told them, "but Mr Valentine up to Keir House Kennels, he got a dog looks like this one."
"Reckon we'll go along," said Sam.
Mr Philip Valentine was a big man with a long, hard face. He glanced scornfully at the yellow-eyed puppy.
"My dog!" he snapped. "Yes, one of my Samoyeds was the mother, but what the father was no one knows. The best thing you can do is to tie a large brick round its neck and sink it in the deepest pond you can find."
A small white spot showed in each of Sam's saddle-brown cheeks. By that Dan knew that he was very angry. But Sam held on to his temper.
"Then you aren't wanting it, mister?"
"Then I may keep him?" said Sam.
"Do anything with the miserable beast so long as you take him away from here," retorted Valentine.
Sam turned to his brother. "You're witness to what the owner says, Dan?"
"Sure," said Dan.
"Take the useless brute away, and yourselves too!" roared Valentine.
Sam faced him coolly.
"I'll take him along, mister, and I reckon he'll get better treatment than he ever got here."
SAM knew dogs, and under his care Mutt grew and filled out at a pace which delighted Sam and almost frightened his aunt. Within six months Mutt weighed 60 pounds and was the most strikingly handsome dog Sam or Dan had ever seen. His coat was a rich creamy yellow, very thick but rather short, he had pricked ears, a bushy tail, and eyes that were almost golden. He adored Sam, and Sam thought the world of him.
Mutt had beautiful looks and beautiful manners, but he was no use on the farm. Sam tried to teach him to bring in the sheep, but Mutt would have nothing to do with such animals. He had an equal dislike for cattle. For sport he cared nothing at all. He would not even chase out of the garden a rabbit that was devouring Sam's carefully-grown lettuce. Marshall, the farm man, called him useless, and this annoyed Sam.
"Husky dogs never see sheep and cattle. You wait till winter, then you'll see what Mutt can do," he retorted.
Mr Collard, the father of their friend Boyd, was now living at Brake o' Firs Farm, and a letter came from him to Miss Tuckett asking them all to spend Christmas with him.
"You'll find it cold up here," he wrote, "but the house is warm and dry. There are ponies for Sam and Dan, and tell them to bring their snow-shoes. This is one place where we are likely to get snow in December. Bring Mutt too. He will love the moor. Boyd is fit as possible. You would not know he had ever been lame. I can never be grateful enough to your nephews for making me buy this place."
"You reckon we can go, Aunt?" Sam asked.
"There is no reason why we should not," Miss Tuckett answered. "Marshall can look after things for a week or so."
"Fine!" said Sam. "I surely like that moor."
Two days before Christmas they arrived at Moreton, and were met by Mr Collard himself and Boyd.
"Say, kid, you ain't the chap that was lame?" chaffed Sam.
"I can run a mile," Boyd declared. "And, Sam, is this Mutt?" Without waiting for a reply he flung his arms round Mutt's neck, and, to his intense delight, Mutt replied by licking his face.
"He's a handsome creature," said Mr Collard; "but come on, people. It's going to snow."
A big car was waiting outside and though the sky was black and it was freezing hard, they drove out to Brake o' Firs in great comfort. The old house had been beautifully done up, and Mrs Collard greeted them warmly. An hour later the first flakes of snow fell and by morning the great moor was sheeted in white.
"Don't look like riding today," said Sam when they came down to breakfast.
"But we can toboggan," cried Boyd. "We've got a beauty, Sam, and there's a splendid run down Strane Tor."
"You go along with Boyd, Sam," Dan said. "I'm helping Mr Collard to grease the car."
"We'll go," said Sam, and he and Boyd set off.
"Look at Mutt!" Boyd cried. "He's gone crazy."
Mutt, after taking one look at the snow, had plunged into a drift and was rolling and wallowing like a mad thing. Sam took it calmly. "He's a husky dog," he explained. "His folk came from snow country. That's why he likes it."
It was some way to Strane Tor, but there was no doubt about its being a fine slope. The toboggan was a Swiss luge with steel runners, and travelled so fast that Sam wouldn't let Boyd start from the top but made him try it from half way. Boyd had a couple of runs, then Sam and he went to the top. It was beginning to snow again and the sky was full of it.
"I'll take you down, kid, and after that I reckon we'll go home. If this was Canada I'd say there was a blizzard brewing."
"A blizzard! What fun!" cried Boyd. "You wouldn't think it was fun if you were in one," Sam said dryly as he stretched himself on the toboggan. Boyd was in front, Sam doing the steering. Sam gave a shove and they were off.
The toboggan was near the bottom and moving almost a mile a minute when the smash came. One runner hit a rock hidden under the snow. The toboggan shot into the air and turned over sideways, flinging the two boys in opposite directions. Boyd rolled over and over and picked himself up, laughing.
"Some smash, as you'd say, Sam!" he exclaimed; then, as he saw Sam's face. "Oh, Sam, are you hurt?"
"Busted my leg," said Sam quietly. "Sit tight, Boyd," he ordered. "You've got to get me out of this for I can't walk."
Boyd stiffened. He knew what pain was. "If you got on the toboggan I could pull you," he said.
"Not a hope, kid. It's two miles, and stony. But you can pull me as far as those big rocks. I'll get shelter there. Then you get along home and fetch Dan and your Dad."
"But you'll freeze, Sam."
"Not if you're spry, Boyd. And take Mutt along. He'll be useful if it gets thick."
Boyd obeyed orders, and presently Sam was seated on the toboggan in an angle between two big boulders. Mutt did not want to leave his master, but one sharp order from. Sam was enough. A minute later Sam saw Boyd and the dog disappear in the swirling snow.
Sam had been out in much greater cold, but then he had been dressed for it. Now he had ordinary English winter clothes on and not even an overcoat. And, though the boulders were some protection, the cold soon began to bite. To make matters worse, his leg hurt abominably. The small bone was broken just above the ankle.
The wind hardened, the snow came thicker and thicker. If it wasn't a blizzard it was a good imitation. The hard frozen stuff whispered and whistled as it piled into drifts, and, Sam began to wonder how long he could stick it.
Two miles. Boyd couldn't do it in less than half an hour. Another half-hour for Dan to reach him. An hour at the best. He wondered dully if the cold would get him first. He beat his arms across his breast and took deep breaths, but it wasn't much use. Soon his damaged leg went numb. Sam knew what frost-bite meant. With his gloved hands he raked the snow around himself. Even snow is some protection against frost. Harder it blew and harder, and the snow so thick Sam couldn't see five yards.
"They'll have a job to find me in this," he muttered, and that wasn't a nice thought.
Sam had heaps of pluck. He stuck to scraping up the snow in the hope of keeping his blood circulating, but his movement grew slower and slower. The frost sleep was creeping on him and he could fight it no longer. His head fell back, his eyes were closing, when suddenly something furry fell upon him and a warm tongue lapped his cheek. "Mutt!" Sam said thickly, and knew no more.
Sam was in his bed at Brake o' Firs when he came to himself. His leg ached but the rest of him was warm and comfortable. He opened his eyes, and there was Dan sitting by the bed, watching him anxiously. Mutt was sitting bolt upright beside Dan.
"How you feeling?" asked Dan.
"Fine," Sam answered. "But I reckon I wouldn't be feeling much of anything if you hadn't come when you did."
"It wasn't us," said Dan. "Mutt found you."
Sam reached out a hand and pulled one of the big dog's furry ears. "He ain't so useless after all," he remarked softly.
THE train was packed and, though the day was not hot, the carriage was stuffy. Miss Selina Tuckett leaned across to her nephew who sat opposite. "Sam, I'd like the window open a little, please."
Sam obliged, and spoke to his brother Dan, who sat beside him. "These little carriages don't give room to breathe."
"Time they had the American sort," replied Dan.
"You been in America?" asked the man who sat next Miss Tuckett and opposite Dan.
Dan looked at him, and secretly didn't think much of him. He was long and lank, his black hair was plastered with grease, and his eyes were too close together. He wore a decent blue serge suit, but his collar would have been the better for a wash, and so would his hands.
"Some," Dan answered shortly.
The black-haired man refused to be snubbed. "It's a great country," he declared.
Dan did not answer, but Sam did.
"Where were you at?" he asked.
"I been all round," said the man. "From Frisco clear across to Boston."
"You ever been North?" Sam questioned.
"No, I was never in Canada," the other answered quickly, then picked up his paper and began to read, and Sam sat back with a thoughtful look in his eyes. Miss Tuckett too lay back and dozed, and did not rouse until the train pulled into Paddington.
"My goodness, but it's all changed!" she exclaimed, as she picked up her bag and umbrella and stepped on to the platform.
"Likely it is," Sam answered, "seeing you said it was 27 years since you been—I mean, since you were—in London. Come on, Aunt, we'll take one of these taxicabs, like Lady said." They reached a cab, then Miss Tuckett stopped.
"If I haven't forgotten the number! Wait till I look for it."
She opened her bag and suddenly screamed. "I've been robbed. Oh, Sam, my money and all!"
Sam frowned as he looked at the empty bag. "It was that greasy-haired coot, I'll lay a dollar."
A policeman came up. "What's this, ma'am? You say you have been robbed?"
Sam explained. He described the man so accurately that the policeman complimented him. Then he took Miss Tuckett's name and address.
"We'll do our best, ma'am, but I doubt we shall recover your money. How much was it?"
"Three pound, seven shillings and ninepence," said Miss Tuckett sadly. "And my pocket-book and my best handkerchief and—and all my little things."
"It's not a mite of use worrying, Aunt," Sam said. "And we don't want to be late for lunch. I've got money to pay the cab."
"But I don't know the number," said poor Miss Tuckett.
"I reckon the driver'll know. There aren't many lords living in Chester Square."
"I know the house all right," declared the cabby, so all three got in and drove off.
"Dan," said Sam, "did you ever see that slick-haired chap before?"
Dan shook his head. "He was kind of like someone I've seen, but I never seen him."
"You noticed how he shied off when I asked him if he'd been North?"
"I did that."
The cab pulled up in front of the quiet-looking house that was Lord Lamburn's home in London, and Roberts, the butler, was smiling at them on the door-step. Lady Lamburn was in the hall to greet them. Her quick eyes noticed at once that Miss Tuckett was upset, and when she heard of the robbery she was full of sympathy.
"I knew the fellow was a crook," Sam growled. "If I'd had any sense I'd have watched him. But I didn't reckon on dips in a train."
"What's a dip, Sam?" Lady Lamburn asked.
"Chap that dips his fingers in other folks' pockets."
"Don't think of it any more," she advised, "but come to lunch. Do you know why I asked you today?"
"Thought maybe you'd like to see us," Sam told her as they took their seats.
She laughed. "Of course I do, Sam, but I didn't drag you all up to town for nothing. We have a private picture this afternoon. A film. One that ought to interest you boys. It shows gold-digging in the North-West."
"And you want us to tell you whether it's right," said Sam, so shrewdly that Lady Lamburn laughed again.
"It is always well to have expert opinion," she admitted, "especially as this is a property in which my husband is interested."
"I don't reckon Dan and me can tell much from a picture, Lady. It's mighty simple to salt any sort of digging."
"What is salting, Sam?"
"Sticking in a few ounces of dust before the panning starts."
She nodded. "I see. But this is just a film of gold-washing, and I know your aunt will be interested."
"I shall indeed," declared Miss Tuckett. "The boys have told me about it but I never could understand how it was done."
Lunch over, they chatted awhile, then the car came round and they drove to an address in Westminster. There was a shop on the ground floor. Above was a small hall, where they were met by a smartly dressed man who was introduced to Miss Tuckett and her nephews as Mr Hugh Langdale. Langdale was about 40, tall, well set up. He had sandy hair and very pale blue eyes.
"He don't look to me like a sour-dough," Sam whispered to Lord Lamburn.
"A miner, you mean," said his lordship. "He isn't; he is a mining engineer."
Only about a dozen people were there to see the film. The hall was darkened, and the operator started. Langdale sat next to the Lamburns, the boys just behind.
First an Arctic scene was shown. There was the river thick with ice and the hills deep in snow under the pale light of a winter sun. The only life was a dog sledge with two men which passed swiftly over the frozen snow. Then came spring, the ice melting, and being carried down by the freed waters, great cakes crashing and tumbling. The scene changed to summer, the river free from ice, the trees in full foliage, birds flying and a pair of chipmunks playing on a flowery bank.
Now men appeared. One went down to the river carrying a steel pan about 15 inches across and a shovel. He filled the pan with gravel and, squatting down, began twirling it, now and then dipping it in the water. By degrees the larger pebbles and stones were flung out, then the smaller, until nothing but sand was left. More water, more twirling, but gently now.
Sam and Dan were leaning forward eagerly, then suddenly the picture changed and only the pan was shown with its face to the audience. In it was a streak of dark iron sand and—behind this—a little trail of bright flakes. "Colour!" cried Sam.
LANGDALE turned quickly and glanced at Sam but did not speak. The picture changed again. Now a ditch had been cut, bringing water from up the river, and a set of sluice boxes had been built. There were bars at the top of the long sloping trough into which men were heaping gravel from the river. The bars prevented the large stones from getting into the trough, and the flat bottom of the trough itself was set with cross bars, called riffles, which caught the flakes of heavy gold as they were washed down the trough.
It was old stuff to the boys, who had helped their father in this kind of work since they were big enough to handle a shovel. Yet Sam's face was eager as he leaned forward. He nudged Dan.
"That long fellow," he whispered—"chap with black whiskers. You recognise him?" Dan nodded. "It's that skunk Brad Outerson," he whispered back.
"You're right, Dan! But that wasn't what I was thinking. He's the chap that was in the train, the one that robbed Aunt."
Sam sat back again, but his thoughts were racing. There was something crooked about this business. It was too much of a coincidence that this fellow Outerson, who had been thrown out of the Cascade Creek settlement for robbing a cache—that is, a food store—should be here in London. There was something fishy about the whole business, and it was up to him to tell Lord Lamburn the story.
The film ended, lights were turned up, everyone began to move. Sam saw that Lord and Lady Lamburn were talking to some of their friends and that he would have to wait for a better chance.
"What did you think of it, Mr Tuckett?" came a voice, and Sam realised that Langdale was speaking to him.
"A right nice picture," Sam said politely.
"I value your opinion," said Langdale, "for I understand you and your brother hail from that part of the world and have done a good deal of prospecting with your father."
"That's a fact," Sam agreed.
"Where were you digging?" Langdale inquired.
The other nodded. "That's only about 30 miles from Blue Springs where my property is situated. I am getting a good quality of flake gold. I have some samples which I should like to show you. Will you come into my office?"
"Sure," said Sam, and he followed Langdale into the office, which opened off the hall. Langdale unlocked a safe and brought out four small buckskin bag dust. Sam examined it.
"Pretty good grade," he said, then he looked Langdale straight in the face. "Who was that chap with the black whiskers in the picture?" he asked bluntly.
"One of my men. Not a beauty. Did his face scare you?"
"Faces ain't very apt to scare me," Sam replied. "What scared me was to see him doing a day's work."
Langdale started slightly. "What do you mean? Do you know him?"
"Dan and me, we know him all right," Sam answered. "And we know he's seven kinds of a skunk."
"Why do you say that?" asked the other, staring hard at Sam.
"Because he's a cache robber. He stole the grub from old Pete Lanahan's shack, all his winter stuff. They ran him out of the country, and he was lucky to get off that cheap."
Langdale shrugged. "I didn't know anything about that. He was just a man I hired for a few days."
"And you didn't know he was in England?"
Now there was no doubt about it. Langdale was frightened. "How do you know?" he asked sharply.
"Because I saw him this morning."
"I had no idea of that," said Langdale uncomfortably. He paused a moment, then went on. "As a favour to me I will ask you not to mention this to Lord Lamburn."
"Why shouldn't I?"
Langdale shrugged again.
"Because it may upset the formation of my company, of which I hope Lord Lamburn will be a director." He picked up a gold bag. "There's ten ounces in that; £70 worth. I'll make you a present of it if you'll keep your mouth shut."
Sam did not lose his temper easily, but now he saw red. His fist shot out and Langdale staggered back from a blow on the jaw such as he would never have believed a boy of 14 capable of striking. In a fury he hit back, and Sam went flat to the floor and lay stunned. The man looked down at him with an evil smile.
"I'll have Lamburn's signature before the young fool comes round," he remarked, and stepped towards his desk.
Before he reached it something hit him from behind like a battering ram. Flung off his balance, he plunged forward, and his head struck the front of the desk with a force that knocked the senses out of him. Dan stood over him.
"That'll learn you to beat up Sam," he said fiercely, and next moment in rushed Lord Lamburn and two of his friends.
"What's this, Dan?" demanded Lord Lamburn angrily.
Dan faced him doggedly.
"That man"—pointing to Langdale—"took Sam in here. I reckoned he was a crook, so I listened at the door. I heard him hit Sam, and came in and butted him."
There was a moment of amazed silence, then Lord Lamburn stooped, picked up Sam, and laid him on the couch.
"He's had a bad blow," he said, pointing to Sam's red and swollen jaw.
"Nothing to what Langdale's got," replied one of his friends, a man who looked like an army officer. He turned to Dan. "Why do you think Langdale is a crook?" Very briefly Dan told of Brad Outerson. "And he's the fellow that stole Aunt Selina's purse in the train," he ended.
The soldier nodded.
"It looks to me, Lamburn, as if the boy is right. Probably the purse was stolen in order to prevent these boys from attending the show. Langdale was afraid they might give him away."
Lord Lamburn looked very grave, and just then Sam stirred and opened his eyes. He glanced round and saw Langdale on the floor. "You do that, Dan?" he asked.
"I'll do it to any chap that hits you."
"What happened, Sam?" Lord Lamburn asked, and Sam told how Langdale had tried to bribe him. "So I socked him one," Sam said; "but he got back on me, and that's all I knew till I came round."
Lord Lamburn spoke. "Sam, you and Dan have saved me a pot of money. I am uncommonly grateful to you."
"Then don't say any more about it," said Sam. "We'd do as much for any friend."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page