Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
An RGL First Edition


THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

OUT OF BOUNDS

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RGL e-Book Cover

AN EXCITING STORY OF THE SECRET OF AN OLD RUIN


Ex Libris

Serialised in
The Children's Newspaper, 25 Sep 1920 - 19 Mar 1921

First book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-04-19
Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

Click here for more books by this author


Illustration

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Chapter 51
Chapter 52
Chapter 53
Chapter 54
Chapter 55



CHAPTER 1
A Queer Business

"DON'T, Stan! Don't do that; it makes me shiver!"

Standish Prynne, who was sitting on the outer ledge of the turret window, swinging his legs over fifty feet of empty space, looked round at his sister with an air of faint surprise.

"Sorry, Bee! What's up?"

"Don't sit like that," urged Bee. "Suppose you fell?"

"Why on earth should I fall?" asked Standish, opening his brown eves very wide. "All the same, if it worries you—"

And, with the utmost good nature, he turned and brought his legs back on to the turret stairs.

"What's made you so funky all of a sudden, Bee?" he demanded, looking shrewdly at his pretty sister. "You aren't, usually. Why, if it comes to that, you've got as good a head as I."

"Oh, I don't know!" Bee answered. "I—I just hate the idea of your going to school this term. And—and this is our last day together."

Stan's mouth opened as well as his eyes.

"But, my dear old thing, I thought you were pleased. Besides, where's the odds? 'Tisn't as if I were going away altogether. I shall be here all the time."

As he spoke he waved a hand through the window towards the school buildings, which lay almost beneath the ruined tower. They were, indeed, the modern part of the old stronghold of Storr Royal, the whole of which was owned by Mr. Franklyn Prynne, father of Standish and Beatrice.

"Sometimes I think it would be better if you really were going away altogether!" declared Bee, with unexpected vehemence. "I shall be seeing you in the distance every day, and we shall never have a word together. I think it's unkind of Dad to make you sleep in a dormitory and feed in hall."

Stan held up a hand.

"Steady, old girl!" he said gently. "You mustn't talk like that, you know. After all, Dad knows best, and he told me himself that the real reason why I was not to be a home boarder was simply so that the other chaps couldn't say I was being favoured, or anything like that. But I'm to come home to supper every Sunday evening, and then we can have jolly good talks, you and I. Besides, there are the holidays to look forward to."

But Bee was not to be comforted.

"What's the good of seeing you once a week?" she wailed. "I think it's perfectly horrid!"

Stan saw that she was really upset, so, like the sensible boy that he was, did not try to argue with her. He and Bee were Mr. Prynne's only children, and there was but a year between them. Stan was thirteen and Bee twelve, and the two had always been tremendous chums. Now that his father had decided that Stan was to become a member of the school all this was going to be changed. It would be well enough for Stan himself, for he, of course, would find friends in the school; but Bee was bound to be very lonely.

While these thoughts passed through his head Stan was gazing idly out through the narrow ivy-clad window, and suddenly he saw something which made him start up sharply.

"There's a boy there in the courtyard, Bee!" he exclaimed. "The first arrival!"

Bee was not a bit pleased.

"What's he come so early for?" she demanded. "It's hardly three yet. None of the boys come till the five o'clock train."

"Well, that's one, anyhow," Stan answered. "I—I believe it's Delmar, isn't it?"

Bee looked at the boy. He was dark, rather squarely built, and—well, almost too well dressed. Yet his clothes were good and fitted him perfectly.

"Yes, it's Adnan Delmar," agreed Bee. "He's a horrid boy, I think!"

Stan stared at her.

"Why do you say that?"

"Oh, I don't know! But I don't like him; he's too sleek and pussy-catty. He's always smirking and looking superior. If I were you, Stan, I wouldn't have anything to do with him."

"I thought he was all right," said Stan, rather blankly. "But, hulloa, he must have seen me! He's coming this way."

Bee pulled him quickly aside.

"I don't believe he's seen you at all; the ivy hides us up here. Wait and let's see what he's after."

"Why should he be after anything?" asked Stan, rather aggrieved.

"If he isn't, what's he coming here for? You know the ruins are out of bounds."

"So they are; I'd forgotten that. What a sell. Bee! I shan't be able to come here any more in term time."

"I know," said Bee. "It's horrid! But look at Delmar; he's coming straight here. And watch the way he's looking about. He's trying to make sure that no one is watching him."

Truth to say, there wasn't much doubt about it. The ruinous part of the buildings was on the north side of the great courtyard of Storr Royal, and separated from the newer part by a high iron-fence. After looking carefully round, Delmar had reached the gate opening through the fence, opened it, and slipped through. In a moment he was hidden from the sight of the two watchers above.

Stan and Bee looked at one another.

"This is a queer business," said Stan, in a low voice. "What does he want in the ruins?"

"And why did he come back before any of the other boys?" questioned Bee. "I think we ought to tell Dad."

"No; that would be sneaking," replied Stan quickly. "That would never do. Tell you what; I'm going down to scout around and find what he really is up to."


CHAPTER 2
Locked In

STORR ROYAL was nearly eight hundred years old, and the ancient castle still stood grand and massive on the higher ground to the north of the new buildings.

Even these were not new, having been built in the days of Queen Anne. Prynnes had lived there from time immemorial, but the present Mr. Franklyn Prynne, the father of Stan and Bee, had belonged to a younger branch of the family, and had never for a moment expected to inherit the great family place.

But for the war he never would have done so, but three cousins had been killed one after another, and in 1918 he found himself head of the family, and master of this magnificent pile of buildings.

Mr. Franklyn Prynne had been a schoolmaster all his life, and had very little money of his own, and the family money had been left away to the wife and daughters of the late owner. So he could not possibly afford to live in the huge house, and he could not sell it because the law of entail forbade.

So he hit upon the great idea of turning the place into a private school, and, having borrowed a considerable sum of money, Mr. Prynne carried out his plan.

He had held a post at a big public school, and, being a popular man and well known, he soon found plenty of pupils, and within two years had nearly sixty boys.

The newer part of the buildings had been turned into class- rooms and dormitories, and Mr. Prynne and his family lived in the dower house, which was, a few hundred yards away. As for the immense mass of ivy-clad ruins, with their great keep, broken staircases, and maze of cellars and dungeons below, these he had thought best to put out of bounds. It was too dangerous to allow the boys to climb about in. During the first term, and before the rule had been made, one boy had been badly hurt by a falling stone, so now there were severe penalties for any boy who trespassed in the ruins.

The thought of these penalties was in Stan's mind as he went quickly but quietly down the steep, winding staircase, followed closely by Bee.

Arrived at the bottom, he stopped and listened. After a moment he turned to his sister.

"I think I hear him," he whispered. "I believe he's gone down into the cellars. Yes, I saw the ivy move. Bee, you stay here and let me go and find him."

"Stay here!" replied Bee indignantly. "No. I'm going, too."

In the centre of the old castle was an old yard. It was deep in nettles, and great piles of rubble half blocked it. Stan stood at the door of the keep for a moment, then hurried across the yard to an opening opposite. Here was an ancient iron-studded door of huge thickness, and so covered with long trails of dark ivy that it was almost hidden.

It stood just ajar, and Stan nodded and slipped through, followed by Bee. A flight of massive stone steps descended into the darkness, but Stan did not hesitate: he went straight down.

The steps led down into an underground chamber with a vaulted roof. A little light leaked in from a narrow slit high overhead. The place reeked of damp, and the air felt chill and heavy.

Here Stan stopped again and listened.

"Can't hear him," he whispered. "But this is the way he went. I'm certain of it."

"He's gone on farther, then," replied Bee, in an equally low voice. "There are a lot of cellars beyond."

"I know. Beastly places. I don't believe even Dad's been through half of them. You'd much better go back, Bee."

"I'm not going to," vowed Bee. The words were hardly out of her mouth before there came a grating sound—then a clang.

"Oh, what's that?" cried Bee, starting.

"The door. Someone has shut the door," snapped Stan, and, spinning round, he ran like a flash back up the steps.

Bee, following hot-foot, found him with his shoulders against the closed door.

"It's no good," he panted. "It's bolted from outside."

"And—and we're locked in," gasped Bee.

"We're locked in," repeated Stan. "Then it's Delmar has done it," declared Bee, speaking with absolute certainty.

"But he went ahead of us."

"He didn't. He hid in the ivy, and waited till we were inside."

"Then he must have known we were after him."

"He knew all right. Either he saw us at the window or heard us coming down the keep stairs."

"I shouldn't wonder if you're right," said Stan, disconsolately. "But what are we going to do now? We might shout till we were black in the face, but no one would hear."

"Perhaps there's some other way out," suggested Bee hopefully.

"If there is I don't know it," answered Stan grimly. "Still, if we don't want to stay here for good, we'd best go and look for it."


CHAPTER 3
Introducing Mr. Hank Harker

STAN struck a match and held it up. The thin glimmer shone upon a low roof, stained with lichen and patches of damp, and upon a floor of cracked and broken pavement. It showed a vaulted passage running on, apparently, endlessly ahead, and to left and right arched entrances to other tunnels. The place was silent as a tomb, and the foul air held a heavy, sour smell.

The match suddenly went out, leaving them in a darkness that could be felt.

"Strike another match, Stan," said his sister.

"Sorry, Bee. That's the last."

Bee shivered.

"What shall we do?"

"Keep going, old thing," replied Stan with a cheerfulness he was far from feeling. They had now been wandering underground for nearly half an hour; and Stan had a horrid suspicion that they had got into one of the secret passages which were said to run from the castle all the way to Priest's Cove, under the sea cliffs. But the fact was that he had not the faintest idea where they were. These passages turned and twisted so that he had lost all sense of direction. They were hopelessly lost, and there was no use in pretending they weren't.

Bee was very plucky. She did not cry, but Stan knew that she was horribly frightened. He was scared enough himself.

But there was nothing to do but go ahead, and Stan groped along with one hand on the wall, the other holding Bee, and shuffling his feet for fear of falling into some pit.

Bee stopped.

"What is it?" asked Stan.

"Light, Stan. It isn't quite so dark, I'm sure."

Stan drew a quick breath.

"You're right, Bee. But where does it come from?"

"From in front. Let's go on."

Another fifty steps, then there was no longer any doubt. A grey gleam penetrated the blackness, coming from high overhead.

"It's a window," cried Stan.

"But it's so dreadfully high. We can never get to it," answered Bee.

"I'll get there," said Stan confidently. "There are steps."

Steps there were, or, rather, what had once been steps. Now they were nothing but ruins, indeed little more than a mere slope of rubble, which rattled and slipped under Stan's feet as he climbed.

Bee held her breath as great stones came clanking down. Each instant she expected to see Stan follow them. But Stan clawed his way like a cat, and in spite of several narrow escapes managed at last to reach the window.

Clinging to a rusty iron bar, he turned.

"It's all right, Bee. We must have come right back somehow. This window looks out on the school."

"Can you get out?"

"Too big a drop, I'm afraid. It's twenty feet to the ground. But wait. I see a chap. I'll hail him."

He shouted, and there was a short pause.

"It's all right, Bee," said Stan. "He's bringing a rope."

Four or five minutes passed, then Bee heard something hit the window with a swish, and saw Stan catch the loose end of a rope which had evidently been flung up from outside.

"Good shot!" said Stan. "Now wait a jiff, will you? I've got to pull my sister up from inside."

He pulled the rope through and flung an end to Bee, and with its help she came up the broken stairs fairly easily. She found herself looking down through the narrow window on to the school courtyard. Exactly beneath the window stood a boy she had never seen before— a tall, lean boy, whose face was just the colour of an old saddle. He had high cheekbones like an Indian, a straight nose, and a chin like the toe of a boot. His eyes were narrow and very bright, his hair dead black and smoothly parted.

"Well done, kid!" he said, as he saw Bee at the window. "But, say, you can't get down by yourself. You wait, and I'll come right up and give you a hand."

As he spoke he sprang into the ivy and began climbing upwards like a monkey.

"Stop!" cried Bee, horrified. "You'll break your neck."

Illustration

He paid no attention, but came straight up, and presently stepped lightly into the deep embrasure of the window.

"Guess Hank Harker's neck ain't easily broke," he remarked coolly.

"You're American," said Bee.

"Well, that ain't no crime that I'm aware of," replied the other, with a grin. "But say now, how in sense did you chaps get up here?"

"We'll tell you that afterwards," said Bee, secretly delighted at being classed as a "chap."

"Let's get down first. If Father finds us here he will be pretty cross."

"Why, you must be schoolteacher's kids," said Hank, with his cheery grin. "Here, missy, you get into the bight of this loop, and your brother and I'll lower you."

Hank was extraordinarily quick in all he did, and it seemed no time before all three were safe once more on firm ground.

Hank at once claimed Bee's promise, and Bee was just beginning to tell how she and Stan had been trapped when who should come strolling quietly up but Adnan Delmar himself.

Bee turned on him like a shot.

"Here's the boy who did it," she exclaimed.

Delmar's dark eyebrows rose slightly. He shrugged his shoulders.

"Really, Miss Beatrice, I haven't a notion what you are talking about," he answered.

"We saw you going into the ruins. Stan and I both saw you. We came down from the keep to see what you were doing."

Delmar laughed.

"Why, I have only just arrived," he said. "I came in with Penson and Clarke about ten minutes ago. I've never been near the ruins."


CHAPTER 4
Priest's Cove

YOUNG Delmar spoke with such complete assurance that his three listeners were left gasping, and for the moment not one of them could find a word to say.

Bee was the first to recover.

"But I saw you," she declared.

"We both saw you come across the quadrangle," said Stan, "and go straight through the gate into the ruins."

Hank caught Stan by the arm.

"Shut right up!" he whispered. "Here's your Dad."

Sure enough, Mr. Prynne himself was coming quickly past. He stopped.

"Ah, so you're back, Delmar," he said. "And you, Harker—I'm glad to see that you have arrived safely. You must come to see me later. Standish, take Harker and show him round. You and he are in the same dormitory. Bee, dear, you had better come with me. It's tea-time."

Bee paused. She was very upset, and for a moment it looked as if she were going to tackle Delmar again. But she caught a quick glance from her brother, and went off with her father, without a word.

Delmar turned and strolled away, leaving Hank and Stan together.

The two looked at one another.

"What's his game?" asked Hank.

"Ask me another. I haven't a notion."

Hank turned, and looked at the great mass of ivy-clad ruin towering against the blue September sky.

"It's a dinky old place," he said admiringly. "I'd like to go over it myself."

"It's out of bounds," Stan told him. "But some day I'll get my father to show you over."

"That's fine," said Hank, as he picked up his rope and coiled it. "Say, come around to the box-room while I put this rope away."

"It's a fine rope," said Stan, examining it. "So light and yet so strong."

"You bet. It's the one my old dad used for roping steers out in Montana."

"Is that your State?"

"It was. Dad's dead, you see."

"I'm sorry," said Stan quietly.

"It's tough," replied Hank. "He and I were good pals. But I've got Mother still, so that's something.

"She's English," he went on. "So now that the ranch is sold she's come back to her folk over here."

While they talked they had reached the big shed where the play-boxes were kept. As Hank put his rope away, Delmar came up. His box was next to Hank's. He opened it and took out a big, rich-looking plum-cake.

"Have some?" he said, as he began to cut it.

"Thanks, no," replied Hank curtly, and in the same breath Stan also declined.

"The chap's got cheek for ten," remarked Hank, as he and Stan walked off together. "He'll bear watching, Prynne."

Before night Stan had decided that Hank was one of the best, and he was pleased to find that Hank evidently returned his liking. Other boys chaffed Hank about his American way of speaking, but Hank took it all with good humour, and gave as good as he got.

As for Stan himself he felt a little strange at first, but he had the advantage of knowing a lot of the boys already, and he soon settled down.

After breakfast next morning the new boys went to Mr. Prynne to be examined for their places in the school, and Stan was delighted to find that he and Hank were in the same form, the Third.

This was Saturday, but regular lessons would not begin till the following Monday. Mr. Prynne, however, had no idea of allowing his boys to wander round at a loose end, and a notice was put up by Burton, captain of the school, that there would be a paper-chase that afternoon, and that all boys were expected to run.

"This is going to be a heap of fun," said Hank as, dressed in shorts and singlet, he joined the hounds at the starting point. "Say, Prynne," he went on, as he looked round, "where's that Delmar fellow? Ain't he running?"

"Not he," replied Stan. "He told Burton he'd got a bad ankle, and was excused."

Hank grinned, and just then the signal was given to start.

The trail of torn paper ran inland, then circled widely towards the coast. About three miles from the school the trail forked and there was a check. Hank grew impatient.

"Let's try this way," he said to Stan. "Looks to me like the right one."

Without waiting for a reply he started off, and Stan, though not feeling at all sure that he was right, followed.

Presently the trail failed completely. They could not find a scrap of paper.

"It don't matter," said Hank. "If we get up on top of that bluff there, I guess we can see the hares."

The hillside was steep, and when they did reach the top there was not only no trail but no sign of either hares or hounds. The two boys found themselves quite alone on the summit of a great cliff overlooking the sea.

"Now we've done it," said Stan. "Pshaw! What's the odds?" answered Hank. "Let the other fellows catch the hares. You and I can jog back along the top of the cliffs. The view's fine!"

Hank was right. The view was magnificent. A strong breeze was blowing and long breakers were bursting against the foot of the cliff, sending up great spouts of foam.

The pair went on easily side by side, and when within about a mile of the school came upon a small bay running deep into the land.

"Priest's Cove," said Stan. "Great place for smugglers in the old days."

"Guess there are some there still," replied Hank, peering over the edge of the cliff, and pointing to two figures on the strip of sand below.

Stan looked, and started.

"One of them's Delmar!" he exclaimed.

"You're right! Delmar it is, but he ain't got his school cap on. And who's the cove in the rat-catcher's kit he's so thick with?"


CHAPTER 5
The Sea Cave

DELMAR it was—Delmar wearing a tweed cap, and deep in conversation with a very queer-looking man. As Stan and Hank watched they saw the pair move off side by side across the strip of sand towards the cliff, which they began to climb.

"Delmar's ankle must have got well mighty quick," said Hank, drily.

"But what on earth are they after?" asked Stan, eagerly.

"Nothing good, I'll be bound. I reckon it's up to us to find out," replied Hank.

"Come on, then. I know the way down."

"No hurry, son. We don't want them to see us."

Flinging themselves down, they waited. Delmar and his queer companion clambered from ledge to ledge until they were about fifty feet above the beach. Then all of a sudden they disappeared.

"It's a cave! They've gone into a cave!" said Stan.

"That's about the size of it. I told you they were smugglers."

"Nonsense! That's all done with a hundred years ago."

"Well, they didn't climb all that way for nothing. But now's our chance to get down to the beach."

Stan led the way, and ten minutes later the two had reached the strip of beach at the foot of the cliffs. The tide was coming in, and the waves were breaking heavily upon the yellow sand.

Hank drew Stan behind a big rock, and had hardly done so before Delmar and his friend appeared again on the ledge opposite, and began to climb downwards.

"They haven't got any loot!" whispered Hank, staring hard at them.

"And they're looking pretty cross," added Stan.

"It's a queer go," said Hank thoughtfully. "Soon as they've gone, we'll go and squint around a bit."

To reach the path Delmar and his queer friend came right past the rock where the others were hiding. Delmar was frowning, and the other's face wore an ugly scowl. Delmar's companion was short but very broad, and had a low forehead and a crooked nose. He had not shaved for a day or two, and his chin and cheeks were covered with a blue stubble.

The minute they were out of sight, Stan and Hank started for the cave.

"We'll have to hurry," Stan said. "The tide's coming in fast, and it'll be all across the beach in less than an hour."

The climb was easy enough, and it was not long before the two stood at the entrance of a low, black tunnel, running straight into the heart of the cliff. The mouth was cunningly hidden by a big rock, perched on the ledge outside.

"A smuggler's cave all right!" said Stan, as he led the way in.

They went straight on until the light began to fail. Luckily Hank had matches, and, lighting one, they went on.

Suddenly the tunnel divided into two. One branch went straight on; the other curved away to the right.

"Straight on, I guess," said Hank examining the floor. "Here's their footmarks in the dust."

On they went, the tunnel sloping steadily upwards.

"This isn't a cave," said Hank. "It's a reg'lar tunnel, like a mine."

"They did mine tin here in the old days," replied Stan. "I wonder if there is tin here?"

Hank pulled up short.

"If there is we'll never know it," he said, drily. "For here's where we stop."

He struck a fresh match and held it up, and Stan gave a low whistle. The roof was down, and the whole passage choked with a mass of fallen rock.

"That's what made Delmar and Company so cross," grinned Hank. "Well, we'd better follow their example and get back."

There was nothing else for it, so back they went. Reaching the branch tunnel Hank stopped again.

"Let's have a peep at this," he said.

"All right. But hurry," said Stan. The roof here was higher, and, unlike the other, this was a natural tunnel. A few steps led them into a real cave, with a lofty, vaulted roof. The floor was rough and uneven, and very wet.

"Go slow, Hank," said Stan, warningly. "I can hear the waves plainly. There must be a hole somewhere, leading down to the sea."

"You're right. There's a wind, too. There goes my match!"

They pulled up and stood in the darkness, while Hank lit another match. This was difficult, for a strong draught blew through the place, while below, and seemingly quite close, the waves boomed with a deep, hoarse note, which had an unpleasantly threatening sound.

"This is a pig of a place," said Stan uncomfortably. "Let's get out of it."

"Just a jiff," answered Hank. "We're close to the end."

Shielding his match in both hands, he went on towards the end of the cave. Stan followed, but unwillingly.

Suddenly Hank pulled up again.

"You were right, son. Here's a hole, and don't you forget it!"

Stan drew a quick breath. He was standing on the very edge of a circular shaft, about ten feet across, which dropped sheer into utter darkness. It was like a rock pipe, and the sides were polished almost as smooth as glass. From the black depths beneath came a hoarse, angry rumbling, mixed with a strange hissing sound.

"A real ugly place," said Hank. "And see! The pipe goes right up through the roof of the cave."

"Thanks. I've seen all I want," said Stan. "And if we don't get back at once, we shan't get back at all today."

The words were hardly out of his mouth before there came a blast of air from the depths of the pit which not only blew the match out, but nearly blew them off their feet. Then, with a deep roar, a great body of water came spouting upwards. Stan felt it strike him like a wave, and bear him backwards. He was conscious of a yell from Hank. Then the wave was over his head and roaring in his ears. It had seized him, and was dragging him irresistibly towards the mouth of that terrible pit.


CHAPTER 6
Delmar Makes Threats

STAN'S outstretched hands groped wildly for something to hold on to, something to stop him from being dragged down into the roaring pit.

There was nothing, and he gave up hope.

Through the black, spray-filled gloom a glare of light cut like a knife, and a strong arm seized Stan around the body and plucked him back. The wave washed away, and sank down into the pit, gurgling and sobbing hideously.

"You young idiot, what possessed you to risk your life in such a place?" came a deep, strong voice.

Breathless, half-drowned, and half-blinded, Stan heard the words but could not at first answer.

"Where—where's Hank?" he panted, when at last he found his voice.

"Don't you worry. I'm all right," came Hank's reply, and Hank himself stepped into the light of the electric torch.

"What possessed you two young lunatics to venture into a place like this?" demanded the owner of the torch, whom Stan now recognised as Mr. Lacey, one of the assistant masters at the school.

"I didn't know there was any special danger, sir," answered Stan.

"You didn't know you were in the Blow Hole?"

"No, sir. I remember now I have heard that there was a Blow Hole in Priest's Cove, but I never saw it, and didn't know where it was. I'm tremendously grateful to you, sir."

"Be grateful to the good Providence that brought me here this afternoon," said Mr. Lacey gravely. "If I had not happened to come down here to take some photographs, and had not noticed you entering the cave, you would be beyond help this moment. But let us get away. It is all we shall do."

He was right. They were knee deep in salt water before they reached the path, and it was with feelings of very real gratitude that Stan found himself once more safe on top of the cliff.

Here Mr. Lacey stopped.

"What made you two get into that cave?" he enquired.

"We—Dr—we were just exploring, sir," replied Stan lamely.

"You knew of the cave before?"

"No, sir."

"Then how did you find the mouth? It is quite hidden from below. It can't be seen until you reach it."

Stan was fairly cornered.

"We saw a man come out, sir," he replied.

"Ah, I thought as much! And what was this man like?"

"He was short and rather broad, and had a crooked nose."

Mr. Lacey gave a low whistle.

"Caffyn," he said, half to himself. "Must have been Caffyn. Now, what was he doing there, I wonder."

He turned to the boys.

"Keep clear of that man, both of you. He is a bad lot. I shall not say anything to your father, Prynne. But I shall trust you not to run any foolish risks of this kind in the future. And as for the cave, it's out of bounds."

Stan did not sleep too well that night, and in his dreams lurid pictures of that dark sea cave with its roaring foam spout kept rising before his eyes. He was glad that the next day was Sunday, with an hour extra in bed and the prospect of seeing Bee again!

After dinner he went home, picked up Bee, and he and she went off for a walk. They took their favourite road up through Aphurst Forest, and as they went Stan told Bee about his experiences of the previous day.

Bee listened with shivering interest. Both were so deep in the story that they never noticed two boys standing under a big beech a little way off the road until they were nearly on them.

Bee saw them first.

"There's Delmar now," she whispered, "and another boy with him."

"Yes; it's Dutton," replied Stan. "He's a young cousin of Delmar. Fags for him, and that sort of thing."

"I'm sorry for him," said Bee.

"So am I. But walk straight on and pretend we don't see them."

At that moment Delmar looked up, saw the two, and at once came straight towards them.

"I want to speak to you, Prynne," he said.

The queer thing about Delmar was that no one could ever tell by his voice or face whether he were pleased or angry.

Stan pulled up.

"Go ahead," he said shortly.

"You've been sneaking," Delmar announced.

Stan stiffened.

"I've done nothing of the sort."

"Don't tell lies. I know better. I've seen my friend who was with me yesterday."

"Oh, that chap!" said Stan scornfully. "He doesn't count. But Harker and I kept your name out of it."

"He doesn't count, you say." Delmar spoke slowly and deliberately. "You may find that he counts a good deal more than you imagine."

He paused, and looked hard at Stan.

"You have interfered with me twice already. I'd advise you not to do it again."

The boy's tone put Stan back up thoroughly, but with an effort he kept his temper.

"You may be quite sure I shan't interfere with you as long as you leave me alone and keep clear of the ruins."

"What have the ruins got to do with you?" demanded Delmar.

"They happen to belong to my father," Stan answered quietly.

For once Delmar's self-control seemed to come near breaking.

"Your father!" he said sharply. "Your father had better go slow. If not—"

He pulled himself up short as if he had said too much, and without another word he turned and went back to Dutton.


CHAPTER 7
The Thief

"WHAT'S up, Stan?" asked Hank Harker as he met his chum in the passage outside their class-room.

Stan's set face relaxed to a smile.

"Not much. I've got to stick in this afternoon instead of playing footer. That young Dutton went and spilt ink all over my sheet of prose, and Mr. Cotter's given it me all to do again. He thought it was my fault."

"Poor luck, son! Have you had it out with Dutton?"

Stan shrugged his shoulders.

"What's the use? Of course, I could lick him, but he wouldn't fight. He'd only blub."

Hank nodded.

"Can I help you any?"

"Afraid not, Hank. Thanks, all the same. You go on up. I'll get through as soon as I can, and follow you to the playing- field."

Stan settled himself to his work in the deserted class-room. In the distance he could hear cheery shouts from the boys watching the match. It was one in which he himself had hoped to play, and he felt very sore that he could not do so.

Time passed. Stan had almost finished his task when he heard a loose board crack in the passage outside. The door was ajar, and the sound came plainly to his ears.

He grinned.

"One of Hank's jokes, I'll bet," he said to himself. "But he won't catch me napping. I'll give him the surprise of his life."

Picking up an old newspaper, he twisted it into a hard roll, then slipped silently out of his place and crept softly to the door.

Another board creaked, but there was no sign of Hank, so, softly pushing the door open, Stan looked out. Much to his surprise it was not Hank, or any other of his friends, but Dutton. And Dutton was stealing on tiptoe up the passage towards the Fourth Form-room.

Dutton reached the door, turned and looked back, and the expression on his fat, tallowy face startled Stan. For Dutton was clearly badly scared and fearfully nervous.

"Something wrong here," muttered Stan as, unseen himself, he watched Dutton creep noiselessly into the Fourth-room. He considered a moment, then followed. Having his indoor shoes on he was able to move as quietly as Dutton.

Dutton had left the door partly open; and Stan, peering round it, saw him standing in the far corner of the room. Opposite were several lockers built into the wall.

One of these Dutton opened, and from it took a metal box which jingled slightly as he moved it. He laid this on a desk, took the key from his pocket, unlocked it, and, taking out some money, slipped it into his own purse.

Stan's throat went dry. The whole thing was clear all at once. For this box, he knew, was the property of Glanfield, who was treasurer of the Fourth Form game fund. This money was the team fund, and Dutton, who had no right in the Fourth-room, for he belonged to the Third, was stealing it.

Stan stepped forward into the room. At the sound Dutton spun round, and his fat, mean face went the colour of tallow. He dropped the box with a clang on the floor, and stood, shaking all over, the picture of guilt and terror.

"You young sweep!" said Stan, striding forward.

Dutton's lips moved, but he made no reply.

"A nice game!" said Stan bitterly. "What do you think Glanfield will say when he knows this?"

Dutton found his tongue.

"Oh, please, you won't tell him?" he begged.

"Would you rather I took you to Mr. Lacey?" asked Stan.

Dutton dropped on a form and burst into tears.

"I shall be expelled!" he cried.

Stan felt beastly.

"You ought to have thought of that before," he said. "What did you do it for?"

Dutton raised his head.

"I—I owe money at the tuckshop. They said they'd tell the Head."

"Why didn't you write home for money?"

"I promised I wouldn't get into debt."

Stan had no reason to like Dutton, but the boy's misery touched his heart.

"If I don't let on, will you promise never to do it again?"

"I will. I promise I will. But—"

"But what?"

"I—I—that is—" He stopped, but his eyes were on the box.

A new suspicion flashed across Stan's mind.

"You don't mean to say that this isn't the first time?" he demanded.

Dutton's silence was as good as a confession.

"Then you can jolly well take your chance!" cried Stan angrily.

"Oh, please—please don't tell!" implored Dutton. "If you only knew how they badgered me! I've been almost crazy."

Stan was silent a moment.

"How much have you taken?" he demanded.

"I—I took seven shillings last Tuesday."

"Put back what you've taken now," ordered Stan. "Then lock the box, and put it back in the locker."

Dutton obeyed.

"Where did you get the key—out of Glanfield's pocket, I suppose?"

"Yes," admitted the other.

"Go and put it back where you found it—at once, before the chaps come down from the field. Then come to the Third-room, and I'll tell you what to do."

The boy scuttled away.

As Stan followed slowly a shadow crossed the window of the classroom, one which looked out on the quadrangle. But Stan, busy with his thoughts, never noticed the dark face which was pressed for a moment against the glass, and then disappeared as suddenly as it had come.

The face was that of Delmar, and could Stan have seen the gleam of gratified malice in Delmar's eyes he would have felt even more worried than he was at the moment.


CHAPTER 8
The Interview

DUTTON was back in the Third room almost as soon as Stan. He stood looking like a whipped dog.

"I've thought this out," said Stan. "I shall have some money on Saturday, and then I'll give you the seven bob."

"Thanks very much," said Dutton abjectly.

"Wait a minute," snapped Stan. "Don't fancy you're going to bag the key again and sneak the money back. You've got to take the cash to Glanfield and own up."

Dutton almost collapsed.

"I can't," he groaned. "I daren't."

"All right then. I shall tell him myself. We don't keep thieves at this school."

Dutton began to cry, and Stan lost patience.

"Dry up!" he ordered forcibly. "You're getting a chance, and that's more than you deserve. You needn't say where you got the money, and I shall keep my mouth shut. If Glanfield gives you a hammering that's no more than you deserve. But it's better than being expelled."

"Yes," replied Dutton feebly.

"Now clear out. I've got to finish my work."

Dutton did clear, and Stan went back to his interrupted work.

"So much for my birthday half-sov," he said to himself. "And I was meaning to put it towards a new pair of fives gloves. Well, it can't be helped, and if he gives me ten bob there'll be three left. Enough to stand dear old Hank a feed. If only Dutton keeps straight it's worth it. He's had a jolly good scare, and I think it'll do him good."

He finished his job, took it round to Mr. Cotter's room, then went up to the field. The match was over, and the boys, hot and muddy, were coming down.

Hank, racing so as to be first for a bath, waved to Stan as he passed, and Stan turned, thinking he might as well go back. Just then he felt a hand on his shoulder, and, looking round quickly, saw big Burton, the captain of the school football.

"Hallo, young Prynne, why weren't you up today?" he asked.

"Kept in, Burton," answered Stan ruefully.

"Well, you'll please come up on Saturday. I'm trying out the lower boys for the second team. I noticed you the other day in the kids' match, and saw you'd got a turn of speed. I'm choosing your pal Harker, and if you buck up there's no reason why you shouldn't be in."

Stan glowed all over.

"Thanks, Burton; I'll buck up for all I'm worth," he promised.

He returned to the school much more cheerful than when he had come up, and was waiting in the Third room for Hank when a small boy named Penson came in with a note.

"This is for you, Prynne," he said.

Stan took it, wondering a little, and opened it.

It ran as follows:


We want to see you about something. Come round to the fives court at once. It's important. No kid about this.

J. Glanfield
R. Webster.


Stan frowned as he read it.

"Dutton must have weakened and owned up," he said to himself.

The fives court lay on the far side of the quadrangle, and at this time of day was rather a lonely spot. Clouds had covered the sky and a fog was drifting up from the sea as Stan walked across.

A narrow entry led into the place, and Glanfield and Webster were already waiting there. Glanfield was a tall, gaunt youth, and not too popular. He was one of Delmar's friends. Webster was sallow and black-haired, and in the same form as Glanfield. Stan noticed at once that they were both looking very grave.

"Just as well you came," said Glanfield significantly.

Stan opened his eyes.

"Why shouldn't I?" he answered. "You wanted to see me."

"I should rather think we did! When I tell you we've found you out, perhaps you won't be quite so cheeky."

Stan simply stared.

"It's no use your playing the giddy hypocrite," said Webster sourly. "I thought you were a rotter, but I didn't think you were a thief."

Stan went rather white.

"Take that back!" he said quickly.

"Take it back!" broke in Glanfield harshly. "If that isn't a little too good. You young sweep, you were seen in the Fourth class-room this afternoon."

In a flash Stan understood, and for a moment his heart seemed to stop beating. It was all clear enough. One of them had seen him through the window. They had discovered that money was missing from the cash-box, and they suspected him of the theft.

He opened his mouth to blurt out hastily the whole truth of the matter. Then suddenly he remembered his promise to Dutton. His lips were sealed—at least until he had first seen Dutton.

"So that hits you?" sneered Glanfield. "You thought we were all up at footer, and that the field was clear for you to sneak our cash. It was just pure luck that Delmar happened to pass and spot you."

"Delmar, was it? I might have known it!" snapped Stan.

Then he paused, and, pulling himself together, mastered his anger.

"It's perfectly true that I was in the Fourth room this afternoon," he said quietly. "But as for my taking your money, I never touched it."

Glanfield's lip curled.

"All I know is that I'm seven bob short, and that Delmar saw you in our class-room this afternoon when you were supposed to be doing an extra lesson in the Third. Another thing, my keys, which I left in my right-hand trouser pocket in the changing room before I went to footer, were in the left-hand pocket when I came down. You'll find that a bit hard to explain away, I fancy."

Stan hesitated. It was, indeed, impossible to explain unless he brought in Dutton, and that he couldn't do until he had seen the boy.

"See here," said Glanfield, a little less roughly. "We don't want to be hard on you. You're a new chap, and son of the Head. Own up, and hand back the money, and Webster and I will keep dark."

Stan looked Glanfield straight in the face.

"I give you my word I never touched the money," he said.

"You stick to that?" cried Webster.

"Of course I stick to it! It's the truth. And you'll have proof of that before you're many days older."

Glanfield reddened.

"Of all the young liars I ever saw, you take the cake!" he exclaimed. "You admit you were in our class-room. The money's gone, and you swear you know nothing about it."

"I didn't say I knew nothing about it. What I said was I did not touch or take your money. Will that satisfy you?"

"No, by Jove, it won't!" retorted Glanfield. "And I'll tell you this. If you don't own up we shall take further steps. Delmar wanted us to do it right off, only I said it was right to give you a show."

Stan's lip curled.

"Delmar would. And now I'll tell you: I'm sick of this, and, so far as I'm concerned, you can tell anyone you please; but if you do it's you that will suffer, not me."

So saying, Stan swung round and walked off, leaving the two Fourth Form boys in a state of rage and puzzlement difficult to describe.


CHAPTER 9
Sent to Coventry

STAN, too, was very angry, and was wishing heartily that he had never had anything to do with the horrid business. But as he had started he meant to go through with it, and the first thing to do was to see Dutton, tell him what had happened, and make him go straight to Glanfield.

He must do it quickly, too, for once the story got out there would be no saving Dutton from the consequences of his folly.

He went straight back to the Third class-room and, standing at the door, looked round.

Hank, drinking cocoa which he had brewed over a gas jet, hailed him gleefully.

"Say, Stan, come right along and have a mug of this."

"Can't just now, Hank. I want Dutton."

"Dutton. What—haven't you heard? The silly juggins has gone and fallen down the dormitory stairs. They've toted him off to the hospital."

Then Hank saw Stan's face, and, getting up quickly, came across.

"What's wrong?" he whispered. "Everything," groaned Stan. "And, the worst of it is, I can't tell even you."

Hank frowned a little, but his mind was quick to grasp things, and like a flash came his next question. "Something to do with Dutton, I reckon?"

"That's it. And if I can't see him tonight it's going to be an awful mix up."

Hank shook his head.

"By all accounts he's pretty badly hurt, and I don't reckon you can see him tonight. But no one knows the rights of it, and won't till the doctor's seen him. See here: I'll go across to hospital and see if I can get any news."

"That's very decent of you," replied Stan gratefully. "See if you can get a word with Mrs. Griffin, the matron, and tell her I want to see him for about two minutes as soon as he's fit to talk."

"Right you are, son. Meantime, you perch yourself, and take a mug of that cocoa."

"Hank's one of the best," thought Stan, as he poured out his cocoa. It was good stuff, hot, thick, and well sugared, and it did Stan good. He found, to his disgust, that he was quite shaken.

In about five minutes Hank was back. The usual twinkle was missing from his grey eyes.

"No use, old lad. Ma Griffin says he's a sight too bad for anyone to see him tonight. He's had a nasty crack on the head. He's got to be kept in the dark, and no one's to speak to him."

Stan said nothing, but the look on his face told Hank a lot.

"Bad as that, is it?" he asked in a low voice. "Well, don't worry, Stan. Guess you and I can see it through."

The two sat and talked until it was time for afternoon school. After that was over came tea. Stan was walking alone across the quadrangle towards the dining-hall when he met a boy called Warne, a member of the Fourth, whom he knew rather well.

"Hulloa, Warne!" he said. Warne did not seem to see him, and Stan thought he had not heard.

"How goes it, Warne?" he said. Warne turned, looked Stan straight in the face, and walked past without a word.

Stan drew a quick breath. In a flash he understood. Glanfield and Delmar had lost no time. They had spread the story through the school, and he was to be sent to Coventry as a thief.

After tea the boys went into big school for an hour's preparation. Then there was a break before bedtime. This time was spent in the class-rooms, and now Stan began to realise the ordeal before him. Delmar and Co. had done their work well. Four- fifths of the form treated him as if he did not exist.

Only Hank, Chester, and two boys called Willoughby and Hume stuck to him.

The next day was terrible. Stan was thankful for the hours spent in school. Outside not a soul but the four mentioned would speak to, or even look at him.

Late in the day Hank got Stan alone. And Hank's usual expression of dry amusement was gone. His face was very grim.

"See here, Stan," he said, "I can't stick this. Why don't you tell those swabs in the Fourth the truth? I reckon you know right well who took that money and are just trying to let him down easy. But it ain't right. It's not fair to you or to the rest of us."

But with Stan a promise was a promise.

"Can't do it, Hank," he said. "I've got to play the game."


CHAPTER 10
A Council of War

THE next day was worse. Stan, too plucky to remain in the seclusion of the Third Form classroom, met black looks on every side, and more than once heard whispers of "thief."

Schoolboys are very like sheep, and when one sets an example the rest follow. It never seemed to occur to any of them to doubt the story which Webster and Delmar had set afloat.

Even in class the boys next Stan sat as far away as they possibly could, and treated him as if he were a leper. He ground his teeth in silent rage, and fought down an insane desire to go for these fellows and pound them well.

His only consolation lay in the fact that Hank stuck to him through it all, and that a few others, such as Chester, Willoughby, and Hume, refused to join the common cause against him.

As for Hank, he really suffered almost as much as Stan, and when evening came was feeling desperate. By this time he had pieced things together, and come to a pretty shrewd idea of the real truth of the matter. From the first he had been sure that Stan was shielding another boy, and, remembering how Stan had inquired for Dutton on the previous day, he had more than a suspicion that Dutton was the real culprit.

It could not, he felt, be Delmar, because Delmar always had heaps of money.

The question was how to use his knowledge. He thought for a while of going to Burton and telling him his suspicions, but on second thoughts decided that this was too much like sneaking. Then, as he racked his brains for some other way out, the thought of Bee flashed into his mind.

"Gee, but I've got it!" he said to himself. "Bee's the one to talk to."

The question was how to get at her. After thinking it over he posted her a note asking her to meet him after morning school next day at a place at the bottom of the master's garden, which he knew would be deserted at that hour.

When he arrived at the agreed spot she was waiting. Hank was not troubled with shyness, and wasted not a minute in telling the whole story.

Bee's pretty face went white, and for a moment Hank was scared. He almost thought she was going to faint. But there was no weakness of that sort about Bee. It was sheer anger that had for the moment upset her.

"It's that dreadful boy Adnan Delmar," she burst out.

"I allow he's at the bottom of the trouble, Miss Bee," said Hank, "but 'twasn't he who stole the cash. So far as I can judge, the thief was that pasty-faced chap Dutton."

"Dutton! He's Delmar's cousin. Yes; I expect you're right, Hank. And you say he's in hospital?"

"That's so. Tumbled downstairs and cracked his head. But I doubt whether he's as bad as they think he is."

"Or as he says he is," rejoined Bee quickly. "No, Hank; I shouldn't wonder a bit if he were shamming. I wish I could find out."

"I was sort of thinking you might be able to find out," said Hank. "Doesn't your mother go and visit the boys in hospital?"

"Of course she does! And I've been with her once or twice. Yes, Hank; I think I see my way to manage it. I'll pick some flowers and ask Mother to let me take them to the matron. She's an old dear, and I'll get her to take me round, so that I can put the flowers in the rooms."

"That's fine!" declared Hank. "And you'll get a word with young Dutton if it's any way possible?"

"It's going to be possible," said Bee firmly. "You and I, Hank, are going to clear Stan of this horrible accusation."

"And put the blame where it belongs. Miss Bee."

Bee stamped her foot.

"That's the second time you've called me 'Miss.' You're, not to do it; do you hear?"

"All right, Bee," said Hank, his old irrepressible grin lighting up his queer brown face. "And now I must be scooting back to Stan. So-long. You'll let me know how it works?"

"She's a little topper," he said to himself as he doubled back to the school. As for Bee, she stood where she was a minute, evidently thinking hard, then went in through the lower gate of her father's garden and on to the house.

If Mrs. Prynne were a little astonished at Bee's sudden desire to take flowers to the matron she did not say so. She gave her permission, and Bee went off at once on her errand.

In a very short time she presented herself at the door of Mrs. Griffin's room with a great armful of chrysanthemums.

Mrs. Griffin, stout, elderly, with a kindly face, made her welcome; and Bee, concealing her real eagerness, began to talk about the boys in hospital. It appeared that there were only three—Withers and Marston with colds, and Dutton.

Dutton, Mrs. Griffin told her, was much better. He had certainly had a tumble, and been stunned, but the doctor had said that he was nearly well.

"But he doesn't seem in any hurry to go out," said Mrs. Griffin, smiling significantly.

"I expect he thinks it's more comfortable in here," said Bee.

At this moment the bell rang. Mrs. Griffin got up.

"Another visitor, my dear. Wait here a minute."

She went out, and a moment later Bee heard a voice which made her spring to her feet. It was Adnan Delmar's.

Standing just inside the half-closed door Bee heard him and Mrs. Griffin pass.

"Yes, you can see him, Master Delmar," Mrs. Griffin was saying. "He is very much better."

Bee waited till they had passed; then watched them into Dutton's room. Bee's heart was beating hard. At all costs she must hear the interview between them, for she had an absolute conviction that Delmar had come to talk to Dutton about the stolen money.

The question was how to manage it. She looked round, and suddenly saw a way.

The hospital was a bungalow built on one floor, and at the back of each room French windows opened on to a verandah. Quick as a flash Bee was out of Mrs. Griffin's room, and, closing the window softly behind her, slipped across to the window of Dutton's room. It was a warm day, and the window was open. Crouching down behind it, Bee set herself deliberately to listen.


CHAPTER 11
Bee Listens

MRS. GRIFFIN was not in the room. Bee could see that much, and only hoped that she would not come out on the verandah. Anyhow, she had to take that chance. She was ready to take any risk—to do anything—for Stan's sake.

Delmar was standing close beside Dutton's bed.

"It's no use your denying it," he was saying. "You took the money."

"Prynne promised he wouldn't tell!" burst out Dutton.

"He didn't," sneered Delmar.

"The ass kept his mouth shut. Result is every one thinks he took it."

"How do you know I took it?" Dutton asked.

"I spotted the whole business through the class-room window."

Dutton groaned, but said nothing.

"What are you going to do about it?" asked Delmar.

"Do? Own up, I suppose!"

"Then you're a bigger idiot than I took you for," said the other. "Have you thought what will happen if you own up?"

"I shall get the sack, I suppose."

"Yes, and be ruined for life. Now you listen to me. Everyone thinks that young Prynne has taken the money. Let 'em go on thinking it. He can't prove that he didn't, and, if it comes to that, I can prove he did. Your name won't appear at all, and if he tries to put it off on you it will be all the worse for him."

This was too much for Bee. Springing to her feet, she was just about to run into the room when the inner door opened and Mrs. Griffin entered.

"You have been here long enough, Master Delmar," she said. "You must go now, please."

Bee bit her lip. But her chance was gone. She went quickly out through the garden, into the playing-field, and so back home.


CHAPTER 12
The Match

"BURTON ought to know better than to put Prynne in the team!"

It was Webster who spoke, and the words came plainly to Stan's ears.

Next moment the whistle blew, and the game began.

It was a fine day, with a brisk easterly, breeze, and the turf was fast and dry. Burton kicked off, and in a moment Stan was in the thick of it.

The seniors were, of course, a bigger lot than the juniors, and on the face of it the match seemed one-sided. But if the juniors were smaller and lighter, they had several very good players, who made up in pace and cleverness for lack of size and weight.

Hank, for one, was clever and quick, and young Chester was like a flash of lightning. As for Stan, he flung himself into the game with reckless joy. For the moment, at any rate, he would forget the miseries of the past few days in the delight of using all his strength and brains.

Chester kicked the ball to him, and, dribbling cleverly, Stan went right through the senior half-backs, and before they realised what was happening was right up to their full-back Cotter, who charged him over.

But not before Stan had cleverly centred to Hank.

It was a fine bit of play, but instead of the roar of applause that should have greeted it there was a deadly silence.

Hank took the shot, but, unluckily, the ball, instead of going into the net, hit the goal-post and bounced off into play.

But it had been so near to a goal that the seniors had had a nasty scare, and after that they were very careful, and for the rest of the half neither side scored.

When the second part of the game began the wind was with the seniors, and they made the most of it. But the juniors worked hard, and managed successfully to defend their goal. About five minutes before time the seniors made a big effort, and rushed the ball down the ground towards the juniors' goal. Their centre- forward made a dash and sent in a red-hot shot.

But Hume, the junior goalkeeper, was ready, and, making a supreme effort, leaped up, and, just touching the ball with the tips of his fingers, turned it out.

The ball dropped behind the line, and the seniors claimed a corner.

As the ball was taken out to the corner flag, Stan, who was about a dozen yards from the side of the net, took a quick glance round. The nearest senior half-back had come close in. It seemed that he expected his wing half to kick high, and trust to the wind carrying the ball into the net.

Next moment the ball was in the air. It did rise; then a cross puff of wind caught it, and it came back. Stan dashed in, met it cleverly as it fell, and headed it neatly over the shoulder of the senior half. Before he could turn Stan was past him. He dodged the full-back, and at once was clear of everyone, with no one between him and the opposite goal but Clandon, the goal- keeper.

Stan's strong point was his speed, and he dashed down the ground with the ball flying in front of him. Losing his head, Clandon dashed out to meet him.

It was just what Stan had been hoping for. A quick swerve, a smart sideways kick, and the ball was safe in the net.

Stan, and Stan alone, had won the match for his side.

"Oh, well played, Prynne! Well played!" came a voice. It was Burton, captain of the seniors.

"Well played! Well played!" echoed Hank and two or three others.

But from the ropes not a sound.

Next moment the whistle blew, and Stan, feeling more miserable than ever he had felt before, was walking off the field.

It was not until he had nearly reached the line that he saw his father standing among the boys.

Mr. Prynne's face was very grave, and as Burton came up the headmaster beckoned to him.

"What does this mean, Burton?" he asked.

Burton was silent.

"Please tell me," said Mr. Prynne quietly.

"There is a ridiculous story, sir, that he has stolen some money."

Mr. Prynne's lips tightened.

"Ridiculous or not, the school seems to believe it," he said. "I want the details."

Burton told him.

Then Mr. Prynne saw Stan.

"Stanley," he said in a voice that all could hear, "is it true that you were seen alone in the Fourth Form class-room on Wednesday afternoon?"

Stan was paler than his father.

"It is quite true," he answered.


CHAPTER 13
The Saving of Stan

FOR a second or two Mr. Prynne looked at his son as though he could not believe his ears.

"Is that all you have to say?" he asked at last.

"That is all," replied Stan quietly.

"Go to my study and wait for me," ordered his father.

As Stan turned to obey Hank stepped forward.

"It wasn't Stan, sir," he said sharply.

Mr. Prynne swung round upon the American boy.

"What do you know about it?" he demanded.

"Guess I know he didn't do it," answered Hank curtly.

"Then who did?"

"I don't know—for certain."

"But I do."

It was Bee's voice, and Bee herself, her pretty face flushed and her eyes shining, came suddenly upon the scene. Behind her, with hanging head and face putty-white with terror, followed Dutton.

"What does this mean, Beatrice?" asked her father in a terrible voice.

Bee was not dismayed.

"Dutton, you tell them."

Dutton stood shivering. He opened and shut his mouth like a fish out of water, but no sound came. As for the boys who were looking on, they seemed hardly to breathe.

Mr. Prynne, angry as he was, could not help pitying the boy.

"Tell us what you know, Dutton," he said gently.

At last Dutton found his voice.

"It wasn't Prynne, sir. It was me," he said thickly.

"You mean that you took this money?"

"Yes, sir," answered Dutton, and his voice was suddenly choked by a sob.

"But I don't understand," said Mr. Prynne helplessly. "Stanley, I am told, was seen in the room. Can anyone explain?"

"I think I can, sir," spoke up Burton. "I don't know all the facts, but Prynne was kept in that afternoon, and my impression is that he heard Dutton in the Fourth Form room, and saw him taking the money, and has been trying to shield him."

"Is this true, Dutton?" asked the master.

"Yes, sir," replied Dutton miserably. "He made me put back what I'd taken, and said he'd make up the rest out of some money he would have today. He made me promise I'd go and tell Glanfield, and I was going to when I fell downstairs."

Mr. Prynne drew a long breath of relief. His face cleared like magic. But before he could speak again some boy in the background gave a shout: "Three cheers for Stan Prynne!"

They were given with a will. Stan stood with his eyes on the ground, looking extremely unhappy, but as for Bee, her small face glowed with delight.

Suddenly Glanfield pushed out of the crowd and came to Stan.

"I'm beastly sorry, Prynne," he said. "But I couldn't help it, could I? It all pointed to you."

"That's all right, Glanfield," said Stan; and the boys cheered again as the two shook hands.

Mr. Prynne put his hand on Dutton's shoulder. "Come with me," he said. "You, too, Bee."

And the three slipped quietly away down to the school.

The boys were thronging round Stan. A number had the grace to apologise. Only Delmar and a few of his particular pals and toadies stood aloof.

Hank turned to Delmar. "Guess it's up to you to say you're sorry," he observed briefly.

Delmar looked him full in the face. "When I want lessons from you I'll ask for them," he answered.

"Then maybe you'll get more than you want," retorted Hank.

Then he joined Stan, and all went down to the school together.

"Say, Stan," said Hank, when he had got him to himself, "if it hadn't been for your sister you'd have been properly in the soup."

"How on earth did she come to know anything about it?" asked Stan.

"I told her. But the rest she did herself. She's a topper, Stan."

Stan nodded? "So are you, old chap," he said gratefully. "I shan't forget in a hurry the way you stuck to me."

"Oh, shucks!" jeered Hank. "It didn't take any Sherlock Holmes to see you were taking the blame for some other chap."

Stan started slightly. "I'd almost forgotten Dutton. I say, Hank, I don't want to see that chap, expelled. I must ask Dad what he's going to do."

Hank nodded. "You're the only chap that can. You'd best go right along."

He went, and was away nearly an hour. He never told Hank what happened at that interview, but its success was proved by the fact that Dutton was not expelled. He was not even caned. Mr. Prynne was wise enough to know that his punishment would be no light one. The other boys would see to that. He gave him his chance, and told him plainly that it was up to him to take it.


CHAPTER 14
A Bit of the Wild West

HANK was in the box-room when Stan came round the corner and saw him. "I've been looking for you everywhere," he exclaimed.

"Well, I guess you've found me," said Hank who was busy coiling that wonderful rope of his. "And what's it all about?"

"Father's given us an extra half-holiday this afternoon."

Hank nodded. "So I heard," he said drily.

"And there's no match. Let's go on the bust."

Hank's answer was to turn solemnly both trouser-pockets inside out. They were quite empty.

Stan put his hand into his and pulled out—a handful of silver.

"Say, what bank have you been burgling?" asked Hank.

"Birthday tips," chuckled Stan, "two of ten bob each. I bought some new fives-balls, and here's the balance. Now, what do you say to a tramp over to Pirley Cove and tea at the tuckshop?"

"I'm right there," replied Hank. "But say, Stan, wish we could ride. I'm plumb tired of walking."

Stan laughed.

"Bring your rope, and we'll catch a couple of the cliff ponies," he said.

"Sounds good to me," said Hank. And just then the dinner-bell rang, and the pair ran.

Dinner over, the two chums set out together. It was a lovely autumn day, with a bright sun and just enough chill in the air to make walking pleasant. Their way led across the broad commons facing the sea, where the late gorse still shone with golden bloom.

Hank was rather silent, but Stan was in great spirits.

"Delmar's taking a back seat nowadays," he said.

"Just shows how cute he is. You notice how cleverly he slipped out of all that business last week. But you keep your eyes skinned, Stan. That chap's got it in for you, and don't you forget it!" Then suddenly he changed the subject. "Say, there are two ponies."

"What about them?" asked Stan, in surprise.

"What's the matter with catching and riding 'em?"

Stan stared. He had quite forgotten his chaffing remarks made before dinner.

Hank was unbuttoning his coat, and, to his amazement, Stan saw that he had his rope wrapped round his body.

"You don't mean you're really going to try to catch those ponies?" he exclaimed, in amazement.

"Won't be much trying about it," said Hank drily. "They'll be as easy as two old sheep."

"But, my dear chap, they're not ours!" objected Stan.

"I'm not going to steal 'em. I only want a loan of 'em," said Hank, as he uncoiled his rope.

Stan saw that the American boy was in earnest, and suddenly the fun and adventure of the whole thing seized him.

"All right," he said; "but I don't believe you can catch one, all the same."

"Watch me," Hank answered, and went forward.

The ponies were shaggy, stocky little beasts belonging, no doubt, to one of the commoners. As Hank approached they both looked up and ceased grazing. Hank stopped dead till they began to eat again.

Then he went on, and, bit by bit, worked up till at last he was within a score of yards of the nearest.

All of a sudden his lasso, which had been hanging in loose coils at his side, leaped into wide circles. The nearest pony heard its hiss, and, kicking up its heels, started away. It was too late. Like a live thing the whizzing rope leaped towards it, and the loop settled squarely round its neck. Hank flung himself right back, and the jerk brought the pony up all standing.

In a flash Hank had reached it and was on its back. Then began a show such as Stan had never seen outside a circus. The pony kicked and bucked, plunging all over the place; but Hank sat as if glued, gripping like wax with the calves of his legs.

It was a gorgeous display of horsemanship.

Finding it impossible to get rid of its rider, the pony bolted. Hank, leaning forward, seized its nose and tried to turn it. But the pony was not taking any.

"Look out, Hank!" shouted Stan. "Look out! He's going straight for the hedge!"

A stiff quick-set bounded the common on the landward side. Stan, running hard, could see a red-tiled roof beyond. He saw the pony reach the hedge, and held his breath, expecting it to stop short and shoot Hank over its head.

Not a bit of it! Sitting tight as ever, Hank rammed in his heels, and up went the pony, soaring over the hedge in splendid style.

Followed a splintering crash, a yell from Hank, a shriek of terror from somebody else, and Stan, flinging himself breathlessly through a gap, saw Hank flat on his back in the middle of a scattered pile of faggots, a girl running like mad towards a small house beyond, and the pony, with the rope trailing behind it, galloping across a potato patch at high speed.

Next instant the pony had jumped the opposite fence and vanished, and Stan was picking Hank out of the sticks.

"Hurt, old chap?" he asked anxiously.

"No!" snapped Hank. "Idiots! Why in sense do they want to stack sticks against a hedge like this? The beastly things brought the pony down, and me too! And now the beggar's gone, and I'm done out of my ride, and my rope too!"

Stan stifled his laughter.

"Just as well," he answered soberly. "You've got to remember this isn't the Wild West, Hank. You've frightened that girl into a fit, and dug up about a row and a half of potatoes. We'd better go and apologise."

He led the way to the house, and they knocked and knocked; but there was no answer. He tried the door, but it was locked.

"No go!" he said at last. "That girl ain't going to trust herself with bandits like us. We'd better go on."

It took Hank some time to recover from his spill. His feelings were hurt. But the tea at Pirley was a remarkably good one, and by degrees he became himself again.

They got back in time for evening call-over, and by next morning had almost forgotten the excitement of the previous day. The two went into breakfast together, and both found letters in their plates.

Stan's was from Bee, who was away on a short visit to an aunt, but was due back next day. He was deep in it when Hank jogged his elbow.

"Stan," he said, "read this!" Stan took the letter, which was badly written on a ruled sheet of cheap paper. It ran as follows:


To Mr. Harker.

Sir, it has cum to my nolledge that you was the gent as rode a pony across mi garden and broke mi pea stix, and frytened mi dorter so they say she'll newer be the same agane. I estermates the dammage done to mi garden and stix as one pound ten shillings, and there's the doktor's bill for Mary as well. You better cum and see me about this job, for if you don't I shall cum and see yore marster. So no more at present from yores truly,

Isac Horton.


"What do you think of it?" asked Hank. Stan frowned.

"I don't half like it," he said. "But how on earth did the fellow get your name?"

"Beats me," replied Hank. "But it's blackmail—no less! Thirty bob for ten cents' worth of pea sticks! Why, it's daylight robbery!"

"All the same, we'd better go," said Stan. "It'll never do to let the business come to my father's ears. He'd make a fuss about roping that pony."

"I guess he would. All serene We'll go right along after dinner and talk real nice to Mr. I. Horton."


CHAPTER 15
The Trap

IN sharp contrast to the previous lovely day the sky was dull and lowering as Hank and Stan left the school and hurried away towards the coast.

When they came out on the open common above the cliffs Hank slowed down a little.

"Did you see Delmar, Stan?" he asked.

"Delmar? No!"

"He was up at his dormitory window squinting out at us as we left."

Stan frowned. "He's always watching us. I can't think why he bars us so."

"There's more to it than just hating us," answered Hank darkly. "I don't just know what, but I guess we'll find out one of these days."

The pair walked on in silence till in sight of the house and garden which they had invaded so suddenly on the previous afternoon.

"What are we going to say to this fellow Horton?" asked Stan.

"Say—oh, I guess we'll bluff him all right," grinned Hank. "You leave it to me, old son."

He strode up the path and gave a good thump on the door. It opened at once, and Hank stepped back so suddenly that he nearly trod on Stan.

"Gee!" he muttered, and stood staring at the oddest figure he or Stan had ever seen. The man in the doorway was short and very square. His head was covered with a thick thatch of blue-black hair, while his face was almost hidden by whiskers and beard of the same inky hue. He wore blue glasses, from behind which a pair of deep-set eyes were fixed on the boys.

"So you've come?" he growled.

"That's so," replied Hank, recovering himself. "My name's Harker; this is Mr. Prynne. I guess you're Mr. Horton."

"That's my name. Be you come to pay up?"

"Well, we've come to see what we've got to pay for. It's plumb foolishness to talk of thirty shillings for knocking a dozen or two potatoes out of the ground."

"That ain't all. There's the gal and the pony."

"The pony! What's the matter with the pony?"

"You've lamed him."

"Oh rats!" retorted Hank. "There wasn't much lameness about him when he went over that far hedge."

"That's what you say," answered Horton sourly. "Well, you come along round to the stable and see."

"You bet I'll see," said Hank; and he and Stan followed Horton round the house to a row of outbuildings behind.

Horton unlocked a door and stood aside for them to pass. It was very dark inside.

"Where's the pony?" demanded Hank.

"To the left," said Horton. Hank stepped to the left, and Stan after.

The door swung to behind them.

"Steady!" said Hank sharply. "It's dark as—" He broke off short, and, whirling round, leaped for the door. Too late! There was the click of a turned key, a hoarse laugh, followed by the sound of footsteps hurrying away outside.

"The son of a gun!" cried Hank. "He's locked us in."

"But what does it mean?" exclaimed Stan. "Is the man mad?"

"Madness with a method, I reckon," returned Hank drily, as he wrenched vainly at the door.

Finding it fast he wasted no strength on it, but stopped and took a quick glance round.

"What about that window, Stan?" he asked, pointing to a window in the end of the place. It was narrow and so covered with dirt that hardly any light came through it.

"It's barred," said Stan. "Wait, I'll have a squint at it."

Hank struck a match and looked about. The place was not a stable, at all, but a sort of wood and tool shed. A quantity of logs were piled in a corner, and garden tools leaned against the wall.

"Window's no good," came Stan's voice. "Two bars, and they're both firm."

"There's a lot of tools here," said Hank, and picked up a spade.

But the door was too solid and fitted too well for them to break it open. Things looked pretty blue when Stan had a brain wave.

"What about the roof?" he asked. "It's only slates, Hank."

"We can't reach it."

"Yes we can, if we pile those logs."

"Bully for you! That's the trick," cried Hank, and the two set to working like beavers. The walls were no great height, and they soon had a platform high enough to reach the eaves.

Hank climbed up with the spade, forced the blade between the slates, and pulled. With a crack and a crunch the nails gave; a slate went clattering down outside.

"Hurray!" said Stan. "That's the ticket."

Hank wrenched and tore at the slates, and within five minutes had a hole two feet square.

"Give me a boost, Stan," he said. Stan helped him, and in a moment he was up. Straddling the hole, he stooped and hauled up Stan; then there was nothing to do but drop to the ground.

Stan started for the house.

"What do you reckon to do?" enquired Hank.

"Have it out with that swab Horton," replied Stan.

"Guess you won't find him in the house," said Hank drily.

"W-why, what do you mean?"

"I mean that his name isn't Horton, that this isn't his house."

Stan could only stare.

"Mean to say you didn't recognise him?" asked Hank.

Stan shook his head.

"I did, but just too late. I spotted his crooked nose. He's Caffyn."


CHAPTER 16
Hard on the Trail

"THEN it was a plant to get us out of the way?" panted Stan. He and Hank were running side by side back towards the school, and the pace was stiff.

"That's the way it looks to me," Hank answered.

"But what for?"

"Search me—unless they are taking another go at the ruins."

"That's it. I'll bet anything on it. And, being an extra half- holiday, there won't be a soul in the place."

Hank chuckled.

"Looks like we'll be in time to spoil their little game."

"But it's out of bounds, Hank."

"I guess there is one time that bounds don't count," said Hank.

"But if we go through the quad Lodgy will see us."

"The gate porter? Yes, that's so. But he'd see Caffyn, too. Can't we get in any other way?"

"Yes, of course. Through father's garden."

"Then that's Caffyn's game."

"All right," said Stan. "We'll try it."

At the pace they were going it did not take long to get back, and very soon they were at the spot at the back of Mr. Prynne's garden where Hank had met Bee on that day when the two had planned to clear Stan of the charge made against him by Delmar.

Stan opened the gate, and looked round.

"There's no one about," he said. Hank chuckled.

"What's the matter?" asked Stan.

"Only it's a bit comic your being out of bounds in your own dad's garden. But never mind. How do we get up to the ruins?"

"I'll show you. Keep behind these raspberry bushes."

The pair crept through the bushes like two Red Indians. At the top of the bed Hank caught Stan by the arm.

"Steady, Stan!" he said in a low whisper. "I can see Caffyn."

The place where they were hidden was close under the south side of the ruins, the tall, ivy-clad walls of which bounded the garden on the north. Mr. Prynne's house could not be seen because of a row of big plum and pear trees which ran between the kitchen and the flower garden. One of these pear trees, the biggest of the lot, grew quite close to the wall of the ruins, its branches almost touching the thick ivy covering the wall.

It was to this tree that Hank was pointing, and Stan at once saw that there was someone in the pear tree climbing cautiously up.

"I see!" he whispered. "Jolly cute on his part. There's a window just opposite, and not very high up. He's going to get through it. Look here! You go and stand under the tree, and I'll slip along and fetch help. Then we're bound to nab him."

Hank stretched out a long arm and caught hold of Stan.

"No, sir!" he answered curtly. "That won't help any."

"Why not?"

"Because you can only run him in for trespassing. He'll swear he's after birds' nests or something of that sort. What we've got to do is to find out what his real game is." Stan nodded.

"I see; but how?"

"Guess I can climb as well as he. We'll wait till he's through the old window, then I'll shin up after him."

The man—they could not see his face, but were sure it was Caffyn—was climbing out along a big branch towards the window. He stopped, and they saw him fling something forward.

"It's a rope!" whispered Hank—"a rope with a hook on it. My word, but he ain't taking any chances!"

Next moment the man had swung himself across. They watched him wriggle a moment, then draw himself up, pull the rope in behind him, and vanish through the opening.

Hank was up like a lamp-lighter. He climbed like a cat. Stan saw him crawl along the branch. But having no rope. Hank had to get farther out than Caffyn. The bough creaked and bent.

"Careful, Hank!" warned Stan.

"Keep your wool on! I'm going to jump!"

Before Stan could remonstrate, Hank had poised himself and made his jump. Stan saw his hands reach and clutch the ivy opposite. For a moment he dangled full length against the thick, green leaves. Then, to Stan's horror, the ivy began to break away. Hank made a frantic grab at the sill of the window, but it was just out of his reach. A great mass of ivy came peeling away from the crumbling stones, and down came Hank with a heavy thud, flat on his back in a carrot bed.

Stan's heart was in his mouth as he flung himself down beside his friend. Before he could say a word there was a quick patter of feet, and Bee came flying along the path.

"Oh, Stan, is he killed?"

"K-killed!" growled Hank, gaspingly. "N-not by several chalks! But say, if your dad's at home, you had better fetch him. Tell him there's a chap burgling the ruins."

Mr. Prynne could not have been far off, for it was not much more than a minute before he came striding up the path.

It was Stan who explained, and for once he had the pleasure of seeing his father really startled.

"You mean to tell me that this man trapped you and then came here? It's beyond belief!"

"If you'll let us fetch a ladder, sir, guess I can prove it pretty quick," said Hank.

His tone seemed to convince Mr. Prynne.

"You stay here, Harker. Stan, come with me and get a ladder. Bee, run round to the gate lodge, tell the porter that there is a man in the ruins, and order him to watch the other side!"

Once Mr. Prynne got started, things moved. He and Stan were back in no time with a light ladder, which they put up to the window. Hank, who had fallen on soft earth and was not really hurt, rattled up and looked through the window.

"His rope is here, sir," he called.

"Very good," said Mr. Prynne. "Pull it up."

Hank did so.

"Shall I go through?" he asked.

"Certainly not! Can the man return that way without his rope?"

"I shouldn't think so, sir."

"Then come down again. We will go through the south door, and see if we can trace him. And we had better have some sticks."

All three went quickly to the house, and Mr. Prynne provided them with sticks. As he came out again he looked up at the sky.

"How dark it is getting," he said.

Stan and Hank, however, were too eager to give a thought to the weather, and followed Mr. Prynne to the south entrance, a great arched gateway with a modern door, which was kept locked. Mr. Prynne unlocked it, and they entered the great, open court, and headed back for the window through which Caffyn had entered.

"Now, I wonder which way he went," said Mr. Prynne, frowning.

"I'll soon find out, sir," answered Hank, who was already on his knees examining the ground.

He started off like a bloodhound on a drag, and the other two followed, wondering greatly.

They were half-way across the courtyard when the clouds above were split by a blinding flash; there followed a peal of thunder, then down came the rain in sheets.

"Of all the bad luck!" snapped Hank in disgust. "That's finished it, sir. Washed every mark out before you could say knife!"


CHAPTER 17
Caffyn at Bay

THE thunderstorm that had been threatening all day had broken with a vengeance, and there was nothing for it but to make an undignified bolt for shelter. Mr. Prynne and the two boys stood side by side under the arch, and watched the rain lash the surface of the yard.

It was dark as night, a darkness broken every few moments by fierce flashes which flung up everything with blinding radiance.

"I'd like mighty well to know which way Caffyn went," said Hank.

"Caffyn—is that what you call him?" inquired Mr. Prynne.

"That's who he is, sir. Mr. Lacey told us."

"How does he know anything about it?"

Hank hesitated.

Mr. Prynne seemed to understand.

"Tell me or not, as you like, Harker; but you can remember that you are my guest at present, and not in school."

"Thank you, sir. That's real white of you," answered Hank, much relieved; and without more ado he told the story of the day they had seen Caffyn in the cave. The only part of the business he left out was that Delmar had been there.

"This is most extraordinary," said Mr. Prynne. "Do you think the man is quite sane?"

"He's not mad, sir—just bad, if you ask me," replied Hank.

"Then you think he has some object in view?"

"It certainly looks that way to Stan and me, sir."

Mr. Prynne frowned.

"It might be mineral," he said. "I've heard that tin was once worked along this coast."

"That's what Mr. Lacey said," put in Stan.

"But that would only account for the cliff exploration, not for this attempt to get into the ruins. We must do our best to find the man, and make him own up."

"I guess he's got his lie ready, sir," said Hank, so quaintly that, in spite of himself, Mr. Prynne smiled.

"Then what would you recommend, Harker?" he asked.

"Why, trail him, sir, and see for ourselves what his game is."

"Good advice, my boy, but difficult to follow. Even I don't know half the cellars and dungeons that lie below our feet. There are said to be two storeys of them, and some of the places very dangerous."

Hank was silent. He knew of these dangers from Stan.

"Is there any way he can escape, father?" Stan said.

"I should not think so, but I can't be quite sure. The place is a perfect warren. But the front is guarded, and we are here."

"And Caffyn don't know we're after him, sir," cut in Hank.

He paused.

"See here, sir, if you'd let Stan and me go down below while you watched here, we might have a chance of cornering him."

Mr. Prynne shook his head.

"Too dangerous, Harker. I know that you are more capable than most boys of your age, but I could not risk your wandering in these dark cellars and passages."

"Then, maybe, you'd come along with us, sir. You could get someone else to watch here."

Mr. Prynne hesitated.

"Why not Wilkes, father?" suggested Stan. "I'll fetch him."

Mr. Prynne looked at the sky. The rain was slackening.

"Very well," he said, "fetch Wilkes. And bring the large electric lamp from my study."

Stan darted off and was back in no time, carrying the lamp, and followed by a panting gardener. The man, Wilkes by name, was left on guard; then Mr. Prynne led the way below.

He did not go by the entrance through which Stan and Bee had followed Delmar on the first day of term. Indeed, he probably did not know of it, for the entrance was entirely hidden by long trails of ivy. He went down the main flight of steps, which were quite close to the entrance.

They tried to walk as quietly as possible, but even so their footsteps rang hollow on the damp stone flags of the passage- way.

"If the beggar is anywhere about it's a cert he'll hear us," whispered Stan to Hank.

"And see our light, too," answered Stan. "Shall I ask father to switch off?"

"What's the use? These thundering old cellars are so black we'll break our necks if we try to move in the dark. I feel as if I were down in a mine."

Just then they came out of the passage down which they had been moving into a great vaulted place with rows of huge stone pillars supporting the roof. Suddenly Hank glided up to Mr. Prynne.

"I hear something, sir. Switch the light off."

There was a faint click. Out went the light, and they were plunged in black darkness.

Then Stan put his mouth close to Hank's ear.

"I hear it," he whispered.

"He's in beyond there," said Hank, in a breathless whisper. "What's there, sir?"

"I hardly know, Harker. Another vault, I believe."

"Then that's where the chap is sir. And now's our chance to stalk him. Are there any holes in the floor?"

"Not that I know of," said Mr. Prynne; "but if we are to walk in the dark we must go carefully. I will lead the way."

He started and, for so big a man, walked with extraordinary silence.

The two boys stole after him. The darkness was so intense that their eyes ached with the vain effort to pierce it, the air was heavy and chill, and the utter silence was broken only by the distant mysterious tapping and scratching.

It was Caffyn, without a doubt, and Stan longed to know what the man was after.

Mr. Prynne pulled up.

"There's a light," he whispered. Sure enough, a faint glow was visible in the distance. It was just a reflection from a shaded light, but where the light itself was they could not see at all.

Still, it gave them a guide of some sort, and they went on again as slowly and cautiously as before.

Mr. Prynne's outstretched hands touched a pillar. He moved to the right.

Next moment he had tripped and fallen heavily on his knees. At the same time there was a heavy crash over to the right.

"A wire. Look out!" gasped Mr. Prynne.

On the instant the distant glow vanished, and there came a quick patter of feet.

"It's Caffyn! Look out!" cried Hank, and dashed recklessly in the direction of the sound.

Caffyn, if it were he, was running straight towards them. Before Mr. Prynne, badly shaken by his fall, could regain his feet, the man came speeding past. He must have had eyes like a cat or he never could have run in such darkness.

"The light, father!" cried Stan; and Mr. Prynne managed to switch on his torch. The white ray cut the gloom and showed up Caffyn's squat figure as he raced past, and Hank right in his path.

Head down, arms wide apart, Hank went straight at him.

Caffyn never paused or altered his course, and the two met with a thud. Stan had a vision of Hank reeling backwards and of Caffyn trampling right over him. A fury of anger seized him, and without a thought of anything else he dashed away in pursuit.


CHAPTER 18
On the Face of the Cliff

NOW Caffyn had switched on his light again, and with its aid raced through the pillared vault and down the long passage beyond.

Stan heard his father shout, but could not catch what he said. Anyhow, he paid no attention. His one idea was to catch Caffyn. Stan thought he could do it before the man reached the steps, but found himself badly out. Caffyn was nearly at the top of the steps before Stan reached the bottom.

"Look out, Wilkes!" shouted Stan as he clattered up the steps. He reached the top just in time to see Caffyn making for the archway as hard as he could go, and Wilkes standing there waiting for him.

Caffyn might be a blackguard, but he had pluck. He never swerved an inch, but went for Wilkes just as he had gone for Hank. Wilkes, too, was plucky enough, but he was not very young, and was slow and awkward. Caffyn charged him, bowled him over clean as a whistle, and went straight on.

So did Stan. Stan's blood was up and he meant to catch Caffyn. He was too excited to think how little he could do to stop the man even if he did overtake him.

Caffyn went straight through the garden, bursting his way through Wilkes's cherished vegetable beds, making straight for the gate at the bottom. He flung it open, and banged it behind him. Stan was delayed a moment, releasing the catch, then he raced on again.

They crossed the road, and Caffyn doubled down the lane leading to the common above the cliffs. Arms well in to his sides, breathing deeply, Stan stuck to him, but he was a good hundred yards behind and in spite of his efforts could not close the distance.

Now Caffyn was heading for the cliffs—not those above Priest's Cove but farther to the left, and Stan could see the sea grey and bleak under the dark clouds which covered the sky.

Close to the edge of the cliff was a belt of thick gorse. Crashing through this Caffyn was lost to Stan's sight.

Stan followed. In his haste he caught his foot on a tough, twisted gorse root and shot headlong on hands and knees.

He had not known how close he was to the cliff edge. Just beyond the gorse was a tremendously steep slope of short, slippery turf. It was on this that Stan landed, and before he realised what was happening found himself sliding helplessly down it towards the spot where it broke short off.

Stan clutched with his fingers at the turf, and tried to drive in his toes. It was useless; there was nothing to hold on to. His feet shot over the edge, and he dropped into space.

He held his breath for the plunge into the sea. Instead, he was conscious of a crackle, a crash, then with a thud he was brought up short.

All the breath was knocked out of him, so that for the moment he could only lie and gasp. It was nearly a minute before he had recovered sufficiently to understand what had happened. Then he found that he had fallen plump into a dense patch of gorse and brambles which grew on a spur of rock projecting from the cliff.

It was the most amazing piece of luck, for if he had fallen only half a dozen feet to one side or the other nothing could have saved him from going straight into the sea below.

As it was, barring scratches, he was unhurt. Though he had dropped a dozen feet the gorse had formed a perfect cushion. He got up rather shakily and looked round.

The very first thing he saw was Caffyn. The man was about fifty yards away, and a good deal below the spur on which Stan had fallen, and was making his way along the face of the cliff like a lizard on a wall. How he had got there Stan could not tell, but it was plain that he knew what he was about and was making for some refuge of which he alone knew.

Stan's tumble had knocked the wind but not the pluck out of him, and now that he had got his breath back he was just as keen as ever to catch Caffyn. Luckily for himself, Stan had a capital head for heights, and was able to look down from his lofty spur into the crawling foam so far below without going giddy.

His sharp eyes roved across the cliff face, looking for any way by which he could follow Caffyn.

These cliffs were not bare rock by any means. They were broken by crevices and crags. Here and there were patches of turf and of gorse and wind-twisted oak-scrub. Even so, it was not a nice place for climbing.

The place where Stan stood was a particularly nasty one, for just below was a sheer drop. To his right, however, was another spur, and beyond that it looked easier.

The gap between his spur and this next was not very wide, probably not more than six or seven feet. Not much of a jump under ordinary circumstances, but when failure means certain death it makes the jumper nervous.

Stan licked his lips as he measured the distance.

"Won't get any better by looking at it," he said to himself, and, setting his teeth, gathered himself and sprang.

He landed on hands and knees, but safely, and, scrambling up, was delighted to see that the way beyond was easier than he had supposed. He started scrambling rapidly after Caffyn.

Caffyn heard him, and turned and began climbing straight up the cliff.


CHAPTER 19
On the Ledge

CAFFYN climbed like a great ape. It was positively terrifying to see the way in which he scaled the wall- like face of the cliff, and it gave Stan a new idea of the immense strength and activity hidden in that ungainly form.

At the same time Stan was puzzled, for, instead of coming straight at him, Caffyn appeared to be making for the top of the cliff.

Stan hesitated, wondering what was in the man's mind.

He very soon knew. Reaching a ledge some way above the point where Stan was clinging, Caffyn doubled back along it, and at once Stan saw that he meant to gain a point exactly above his pursuer.

Stan's blood ran cold, for it was clear that the tables would be turned, and he, instead of being the hunter, would be the hunted. He would be at Caffyn's mercy.

There was just one thing in Stan's favour. He was nearer the cliff top than Caffyn, and with such a start there was just a chance that he might beat him to the top. At any rate it was the only chance, and without a moment's delay he began clambering upwards.

But Caffyn gained from the first. He had twice Stan's reach and twice his strength, and the way he swung himself from crag to crag showed that he was clever as well as strong.

Stan's heart sank as he saw how he was being beaten, but he stuck to it. It was bad climbing at best, and horribly dangerous. Besides, it was so steep that Stan could never see what was above him, and so got into all sorts of difficulties.

Caffyn, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly what he was about and what to aim for.

The man was almost level. Stan made a desperate spurt. He saw a gorse bush above him, caught its stem, and tried to haul himself up. The gorse bush came out by the roots, and Stan slipped back.

Mercifully there was a ledge beneath, but for a hideous moment he felt he was done for. He dropped back on the ledge with the perspiration streaming from him, and a horrible all-gone sensation at the pit of his stomach.

When he looked again he saw Caffyn much higher up, saw, too, that the man had seen him slip, and that there was a grin of triumph on his thin lips.

What was worse, Caffyn was coming across the cliff face so as to get directly above him.

Now Stan realised that he was beaten, and that there was no longer any chance of gaining the summit ahead of his enemy.

He looked wildly round. The ledge on which he clung ran away to the right and disappeared under a bulging shoulder of rock. It looked as if the bulge were big enough to protect him, and he saw that the cliff above was like a wall.

He resolved to make for this shelter.

The ledge was terribly narrow, and there was hardly any handhold. Flattened like a limpet against the bare rock, Stan crept along it.

It grew more and more narrow. Stan's heart was in his throat. Beneath him the cliff was perfectly sheer, and he saw that if he missed his foothold he would drop plumb into the sea. He could hear the hiss and gurgle of the current as the swift tide swept along the base of the cliff.

A puff of wind came off the sea, feeling like cold fingers wrenching him from his delicate balance. He had to stand quite still till it passed. Then on again, inch by inch, and foot by foot.

For the moment Stan had forgotten Caffyn. Every ounce of energy was concentrated in keeping his balance.

The ledge widened again, and Stan became aware that he was actually underneath the bulge. He stopped to get breath, and as he did so there was a crash overhead; then, with a thud which seemed to shake the cliff, a great boulder struck the overhang just above him, ricochetted off, and, hissing through the air, struck the water far below with a sullen plunge.

A moment later down came another rock, cutting off chunks of turf and bringing down an avalanche of rubble.

Stan saw a narrow crevice under the overhang and crouched there.

Minutes dragged by and no more stones fell, but Stan dared not move. He felt certain that Caffyn was waiting like a cat at a mouse-hole, ready to send another rock thundering down the moment he could see movement below.

As no help had come it seemed to Stan no one knew where he had gone; and as he dared not move it looked as if he were doomed to spend the night perched like a fly on the face of the cliff.

It was October and the night would be cold, and he wondered if he could stick it.

The storm cloud had blown away; the sun came out. Stan saw it was getting very near the horizon, but he was grateful for its light and warmth. The breeze off the sea struck cold on his sweat-soaked clothes.

What seemed a very long time passed, and still there was no sound. Then all of a sudden a thrill shot through him. From the heights above someone was calling.

"Stan! Stan, where are you?"

It was Bee's voice. Bee—and Caffyn just below her! Stan's heart began thumping again.

Why had she come? Things had been bad enough before; the added responsibility of Bee seemed to Stan just then more than he could bear.

"Get back, Bee!" he shouted at the top of his voice. "Get back! Caffyn will catch you."

"Caffyn? He's ever so far away," came the answer in Bee's sweet, high voice. "But where are you, Stan?"

"Are you sure about Caffyn?" shouted back Stan.

"Sure as anything. He's in a boat. I've just seen him rowing out of Priest's Cove."

Stan bit his lip.

"And I've been cowering here like a scared rabbit!" he muttered disgustedly.

Then aloud, "All right, Bee. I'm coming."

It was easier said than done. Cramped and cold with long waiting, it was a terrible job to work along that ledge, and when he had done it, and reached the wider part, he looked up at forty feet almost sheer climb, and felt he could never do it.

Bee saw him.

"Oh, Stan," she cried, in a frightened voice; "don't try it. You can't do it; you'll fall!"

"Don't worry, old thing," Stan answered, speaking more cheerily than he felt. "I'll manage."

"All right, old sport," came another voice, and to Stan's intense relief it was Hank's.

"Hang on to this," shouted Hank.

Next moment a snake-like coil of stout cord came slithering down the rock face, and Stan, catching hold, was able to climb confidently back to the cliff top.


CHAPTER 20
Bad News

"SO the beggar has got clean away?" were Stan's first words as Hank and Bee hauled him into safety.

"Yes; he's done us in the eye this time, Stan," replied Hank. "There's no mistake about it. But don't look so mighty sad. I reckon Caffyn's plumb scared, and that we're quit of him for some time to come."

"Hope so," growled Stan, who was feeling very sore. "But, I say, how did you find out where I was?"

"Guess I didn't. It was Bee here. She watched you chase that galoot over the cliff, and came right back and fetched me."

"Good for you, old girl!" said Stan, approvingly. "I can always depend on you to do the right thing."

Bee flushed with pleasure at the praise.

"But what about Father?" went on Stan. "Was he cross?"

Hank spoke up.

"Say, I clean forgot you hadn't heard. Just as the boss and I came out of the cellar a telegraph boy came along and gave your dad a message. I don't know what it was about, but it certainly seemed to upset him a whole lot. 'I've got to go to London,' he said, very short and sharp. 'Harker, I trust you to find Stanley and bring him back.' Then he was off as if something had bit him."

"Why, Hank, you never even told me," said Bee reproachfully. "What could it have been?"

"Search me!" Hank answered, shaking his head. "But maybe your mother will know."

Mrs. Prynne met them at the door of the master's house. Her gentle face was drawn with trouble.

"Mummy, what is it? Is anyone ill?" cried Bee.

"No, dear," answered her mother, kissing her. "Nothing so bad as that, I am thankful to say. It is some business of your father's that has gone wrong. Come in, Bee; and Stan and Harker, you come, too."

Then she saw the state Stan was in—covered with mud, his face scratched, his fingers bleeding, and his clothes torn.

"My dear boy, what have you been doing?" she exclaimed.

It was Bee who explained, and Mrs. Prynne listened horrified.

"My dear Stan, you must never do such a thing again," she said. "Now go and put on some clean things, and, Bee, order tea. Yes, you shall all have tea together."

When they were tidy Bee took them to her own school-room where a maid presently brought tea—new bread, fresh butter, a pot of quince jam, and a splendid homemade dough cake hot from the oven.

Bee poured out tea, and while they hungrily tackled the good things all three talked hard.

Hank had always been convinced that there was something in the ruins which Delmar and Caffyn were after, and now both Stan and Bee agreed with him.

Hank was strongly of the opinion it was tin.

"There's a lot of tin been worked along this coast," he said, "and I guess it's not been worked out either. Those two chaps are looking for a lost vein."

"But what would Delmar know about tin?" asked Stan.

"Guess he don't. That's why he got hold of Caffyn."

"But even if he found it, the land belongs to Father."

"That's a fact, but only as far as the garden. All that land out towards the cliffs is common, and I reckon you can get a grant from the king to work mineral there."

"Did you and Father go and see what Caffyn was hammering when we first heard him down there?" enquired Stan.

"No. Caffyn mighty nigh knocked me out when he hit me. I wasn't in shape to do any searching for quite a time. And when I did begin to crawl round it was you we were thinking of more'n anything else."

Stan frowned.

"We've got to find out, Hank. When Dad comes back we must get him to take us down and have a real good search. I shan't be happy till I've got to the bottom of this mystery. And I very much want to know what Delmar has got to do with it."

Hank nodded.

"Yes; that's a real funny business, for the chap's always got plenty of money, and they say his folk are just rolling in cash. You wouldn't think he'd want to worry about a parcel of tin ore."

After the two boys had said good-bye to Bee they walked back together to their class-room. As the inner gates were shut, they had to go round by the road and through the main gates. Just as they reached the entrance they met Delmar coming up from the other direction. He was soaking wet, his boots were covered with mud, and he looked as if he had had a hard tramp.

But though he saw Stan and Hank plainly, he passed them with a cool stare, and went on up towards his dormitory.

"Say, Stan," growled Hank, "what's he been up to?"

"No good, I'll be bound," said Stan.

"I reckon not, but I'll lay it's something to do with his pal Caffyn."

Stan merely nodded, and the two walked on up the quadrangle.

Just as they got to the classroom door Hank stopped.

"Don't you forget to tackle your Dad, Stan, first chance you get," he said. "Ask him to take us down below there and let us have a right good search. I'll go plumb crazy if I don't get wise to this mystery business pretty soon."

Stan promised, and next morning sent word to Bee to meet him at the back of the garden.

She was there to the minute, and as she came up Stan saw by her face that there was something wrong.

"Father's back, Stan," were her first words, "and Mum says that he's lost all his money."

"Lost his money?" repeated Stan horrified.

"Yes; the bank has broken. That's what the telegram was about."


CHAPTER 21
New Plans

STAN stared at his sister.

"Is—is he ruined?" he asked. "I mean, is all his money gone?"

"I don't think it's quite as bad as that," replied Bee, "but it's a dreadful lot. Mother says it's all he was saving up to build the new dormitories."

"For the new boys. Yes, I know he was going to build on. He said last hols that ever so many more boys wanted to come than he had room for."

"That's it," said Bee. "It's all that money that is lost, and more besides."

"Won't he ever get it back?"

"He may get a little, but not much; and not any for perhaps a year or more. He told mother that he would have to borrow a lot in order to go on. He's going to raise what they call a mortgage."

"A mortgage?" repeated Stan. "Yes, I know. You ask a man to lend you so much money, and then, if you can't pay, he can take your house and furniture and everything you've got."

Bee looked horrified.

"What, take the school?"

"I expect so. But it's all right, Bee. Father will make lots more, and be able to pay back when the chap wants his money. He knows what he's about."

Bee gave a sigh of relief.

"Yes; I'd forgotten that he's getting money all the time from the fathers of the boys. I do hope it will be all right, Stan."

"It will be all right. Of course, it's a horrid nuisance, and I expect we shall have to be very economical, and all that sort of thing; but you can trust Dad."

He paused; then went on again:

"Bee, I wish we could find that tin mine. That would help Father."

"I do wish you could!" Bee replied earnestly. "Talk to Hank. Hank's clever about things like that. He's seen mines and ore veins in America."

"All right. I'll have a yarn with him. Now I must be getting back. Good-bye, old thing."

Stan took the first chance of talking to Hank, and Hank was as interested as he.

"See here, old man," he said, wrinkling up his face in his queer fashion. "You tackle your dad, and ask him to take us down into those cellars again. I guess that's our only way of finding out what Caffyn was after. Tomorrow's Sunday. Take your chance."

"I'll do it," said Stan.

And, sure enough, next day, when he went home to tea, he went into his Father's study and put forward his request.

Mr. Prynne, whose desk was covered with papers, looked up rather sharply. Stan noticed that his face seemed to have grown thinner and sharper, and that the grey streaks in his hair seemed thicker than they had been.

"Why do you want to go down into the ruins?" he asked.

"Well, you see, Father, Hank and I think that Caffyn was trying to find a vein of tin ore."

Mr. Prynne stared a moment. He shook his head.

"No, Stan. I confess I had thought that myself, so I asked Mr. Cotter to go down. He has examined the place, but found nothing—tin nor anything else."

Cotter! Inwardly Stan raged. Mr. Cotter, he knew, was the last man to make anything like a real search. He was a prim, precise sort of man who would simply hate the dark, dirty, damp dungeons beneath the ruins.

"Perhaps he didn't search very hard," said Stan. "Please let Harker and me have a look."

"No, my boy. The place is out of bounds, and I shall make no exception in your favour simply because you are my son."

"Then won't you go with us, Father?"

Mr. Prynne shook his head.

"I have no time at present for anything of the sort. Even today, Sunday as it is, I have letters to write. Set your mind at rest, my boy, and leave these matters to your elders. Now you must go. I am very busy."

Stan went off, feeling anything but happy, and that evening had another talk with Hank.

Hank looked rather grim.

"This is plumb foolishness, Stan," he said. "Now, see here, old son, if your dad won't let us go and search the ruins, our only chance is to get on to Caffyn."

"How do you mean—get on to him?"

"Trail him; see what he's up to. Find out whether he's on his own, or who's employing him."

"But we don't even know where he lives."

"Then we've jolly well got to find out! It ain't a great way from here, I'll lay."

"Even if we do find him, it isn't likely he will talk."

"Maybe not, but you never can tell. Anyway, our job is to get wise to the chap's movements. As we know already, there's something between him and Delmar. We've seen 'em together twice. If we watch Delmar the odds are that he'll take us to Caffyn."

Stan nodded.

"Yes, that's on the cards, Hank. Right you are; we'll keep an eye on Delmar."

They did so, but the days passed and Delmar seemed to jog on much as usual. He didn't do anything suspicious.

On Wednesday, one of the two weekly half-holidays, Stan and Hank had to go up to football. When they came down both went for a hot bath before changing, and afterwards met in the Third class-room.

"Did you see Delmar?" was Hank's first question.

"No."

"He came to the bath-room just as I got out, and I guess I never saw anyone much more muddy."

"But he wasn't playing footer."

"Sure he wasn't. Then what had he been doing? This is the second time we've seen him like this."

"Can he have been down in the ruins?"

"I guess not. He wouldn't have got all that mud down there. He looked as if he'd been digging."

"Then what has he been up to?"

"Search me! But I wish we'd watched him."

"We'll keep an eye on him next half," said Stan.

They did. The minute after dinner the pair hid themselves in a little plantation on the school side of the playing-field. It was a spot which stood rather high, and from which they could watch the quad gates.

They had not long to wait. In less than five minutes Delmar came out alone. He was smartly dressed and carried a small parcel. He paused a moment, took a quick glance all round, then turned to the right and walked off briskly.

Hank winked at Stan.

"He's not going digging today," he said.

"No; but we'll jolly well find out what he is going to do!" replied Stan. "Come on!"


CHAPTER 22
The Bolting of Firedrake

IT was all very well to say "Come on," but it was not so easy to follow Delmar without his spotting his trackers, and if it had not been for Hank, Stan would have failed.

Hank was wonderful. He made cuts across fields, dodged under hedges and walls, and managed to keep Delmar in sight until they reached Aphurst Forest. Here, of course, it was easier, for the trees gave good cover, and they were able to keep closer.

Delmar kept going at a steady pace. Once away from the school he evidently thought himself safe, for he no longer kept watch.

The forest was about a mile across, and at the far side the village of Aphurst lay in a narrow valley. Delmar kept straight on down the road into the village, and Stan and Hank, following cautiously, saw him go into a small inn.

"That's where Caffyn lives. I'll be bound," said Stan.

"Maybe," replied Hank cautiously, "but this is where we have got to go slow. You follow me, and be mighty careful."

Presently the pair were standing in an entry from which they could see the front of the inn. They had hardly got there before a dog-cart drawn by a chestnut mare drove out from the yard. Two people were in it—a man and a boy.

"That's Delmar," snapped Stan. "And he's got a hat on instead of his school cap."

"But not Caffyn," replied Hank. "I guess that's the proprietor."

Next moment the cart was out of sight round the corner.

Hank shrugged his shoulders.

"That sees our finish," he said.

Stan said nothing. He was feeling rather flat.

"May as well be getting back," said Hank.

"No, wait!" cried Stan.

Hank stared at him.

"What's bitten you?" he asked.

"Look there," said Stan, pointing to a bright coloured poster on the opposite wall.

"What about it?" demanded Hank.

"Don't you see? Stancombe Races. And they're on this afternoon. That's where they've gone."

"Gee, but I wouldn't wonder if you were right. Say now, where's Stancombe?"

"Three miles by road, but not more than half that over the hill. I know the way."

"Show it, then," said Hank.

The pace those two kept up right across country was so smart that, when they reached the top of the hill above Stancombe, there was the trap just driving in at the main entrance to the enclosure.

Hank turned to Stan.

"That's out of bounds."

"Of course it is, unless a master takes you."

"Then Delmar's reckoning there isn't one handy."

"Must be. Halloa, what's up?"

"Race started. Let's get down a bit lower. We'll be able to see mighty near as well as if we were on the course."

Other people evidently thought the same, for as they got down into the field below they found quite a number lining the hedge and watching, free of charge.

The race was on; there were seven horses all going as hard as they could pelt. The bright colours of their jockeys' silk jackets showed up brilliantly under the clear autumn sun.

"That's Barrymore, him with the green and yellow," exclaimed an apple-checked old countryman who stood close to the boys. "He's the fav'rite."

"'E won't beat Firedrake," retorted a gipsy man.

"Firedrake! He ain't no good. No one can't hold him," declared the countryman. "There!" he cried. "What did I tell you? He's bolting this minute."

"So he is!" exclaimed Stan. "He's clean gone off the course!"

Sure enough Firedrake, a great raking bay, had swung clean out of the course and leaped the rails. There were screams from the spectators, who scattered in every direction. His jockey had lost one stirrup, and was hauling helplessly on the reins. Firedrake, with the bit in his strong teeth, paid no attention whatever to his rider, and was heading straight for the hill. A narrow and sunken road ran between the course and the hillside. Firedrake never checked. With a tremendous leap he cleared the whole business, but, reaching the field opposite, he pecked and stumbled, throwing his jockey.

Stan had been watching so keenly he had never noticed that Hank had left him.

"'Ere, look at that boy!" cried the gipsy.

Suddenly Stan saw that Hank was over the hedge and simply streaking towards the horse.

So quick was Hank that he reached the spot where Firedrake had fallen before the horse was well on his legs again.

He went straight for his head, caught the reins, and like a flash was in the saddle.

"Crikey, but that's smart work!" exclaimed the gipsy.

Stan watched, breathless. For a moment the big horse was so surprised that he did not seem able to understand what had happened.

When he did he gave a squeal of rage and began bucking madly.

Up he went, his great back arched, his head between his forelegs, and all his feet close together; then down with a jar fit to loosen the teeth of his rider.

"'Old 'im!" yelled the gipsy.

But though Hank sat the great bucking brute with amazing skill, it seemed beyond his power to hold him. Two bucks, then Firedrake leaped forward and bolted again. He went down the field straight for the crowd near the gate.

The people scattered right and left. Up went Firedrake, taking the six-barred gate like a bird. Then he was thundering down the lane.

At that moment a pony carriage with a lady and two children turned into the road from a lane leading into it at right-angles. Stan gave a terrified gasp, for the pony carriage blocked the whole road and there was no room to pass either to right or left. It seemed as if nothing could prevent a terrible smash.


CHAPTER 23
A Surprise for Stan

THE lady in the pony carriage had seen the great horse with his small rider charging straight at her. Paralysed with horror, she made no attempt to move.

Yet Hank kept his head. Instead of trying any longer to hold the great horse he gave him his head, and, shouting to him, rammed both heels into his glossy sides.

Firedrake understood, and made a magnificent leap. For a breathless second it seemed to Stan that the horse was suspended in mid air over the heads of the people in the pony carriage. Then down he came on the far side, landing without a falter.

Next moment Stan was over the hedge and running down the hill.

Firedrake, after his astonishing jump, seemed to have suddenly made up his mind to behave. Or else it was that Hank, with his uncanny knowledge of horses, had managed to get the upper hand. At any rate, after galloping on for a hundred yards or so, he quieted down to a walk, and when Stan arrived Hank, leaning forward, was patting his neck and talking to him.

"I say, Hank, that was topping," cried Stan, his face glowing with excitement. "I thought you and the pony trap and all would be smashed to smithereens."

As Stan spoke a man came quickly through a gap in the hedge close by. He was a small, compactly built man with quick eyes, dressed in a tweed coat with riding breeches and gaiters.

"You've saved a good horse for me, young sir," he said to Hank, and, though his tone was quiet enough, both the boys could see that he was very much in earnest.

"Firedrake would have killed himself, and maybe others as well, if you hadn't stopped him."

"He needs a quiet hand on him," said Hank. "He's the sort that goes mad if you take hold of him hard."

"That's the truth, mister," said the other. "Humour him, and he's right as a trivet, but start pulling him about and he's a demon. I'm his trainer, so I know. You ride him on down," he continued.

Firedrake paced along as quietly as any old hack, and his trainer and Stan walked alongside. At the paddock entrance Hank pulled up.

"Come along in," said the trainer. "You're my guests, if you please."

"It would be out of bounds for us," Stan told him.

"Aye, if you was by yourselves," answered the other; "but I reckon your master wouldn't object if he knew you was with me. My name's Broadwood."

"Oh, I know," said Stan. "You live at Manaton."

"I do. Mr. Prynne knows me."

"He's my father," replied Stan. "I've heard him speak of you."

"Then I guess it's all right, eh, Stan?" said Hank.

"It'll be right enough," said Broadwood, and led the way in. He took them to a canvas stable, where Firedrake was unsaddled. There were numbers of people about. Several who had seen the whole business came up and congratulated Hank on his smart work. Hank took it all very calmly. He seemed to think that it was all quite ordinary, and Stan had never been quite so proud of his friend.

Stan was enjoying himself, yet he was not quite happy in his mind. He was not sure what his father would say. Mr. Broadwood came up to him.

"My missus is making tea, Mr. Prynne. You and Mr. Harker come along and have a cup."

Stan had done a lot of walking, and the mention of tea made him feel he was uncommonly thirsty, so he gladly followed his host out on to the grass, where they found a plump, pleasant- looking lady pouring out tea for quite a party.

She made the boys welcome, and they sat down to sandwiches and cakes of all kinds. They tucked in royally and had a good time.

When tea was over Stan suggested that they ought to be going.

"I wonder where Delmar is," said Hank. "You slip up towards the stand and see, and try to make out if any of the masters are about."

Stan nodded and moved off cautiously. It was not long before he caught sight of Delmar. He was sitting quite close to the edge of the stand, and next him was the publican who had driven him. The two were talking, and Stan, wedged in the crowd below, was able to hear what they said.

"I'm going to back Argent," said Delmar in his deliberate way.

Delmar betting on horses! Stan whistled. Suddenly his eyes fell on a figure in a dark suit not far away. It was Mr. Cotter—the last person he wanted to see.

Stan turned and slipped away.


CHAPTER 24
Christy Minstrels

HE went quickly back.

"Mr. Broadwood," he said in a low voice, "we've got to clear—quick, too. Mr. Cotter is after us."

"Cotter on the job!" said Hank. "That's bad luck. I guess we've got to quit."

Mr. Broadwood frowned. "Surely the master won't make trouble?"

"Oh, won't he!" said Hank drily. "I guess that's just what he came here for—to catch chaps from the school, for he himself hardly knows a horse's head from its tail."

"There he is," said Stan. "I can see him shoving his way through the crowd."

"Well, he's no right in the paddock unless he's paid for a ticket," said Broadwood drily. "I'll fix him up for you. Come along with me." He took them quickly past the tents and up to a van which stood behind them. "Get in there, both of you," he said. "It's all right. Now you lie doggo. I'll let you know when the coast's clear."

"This is a game!" chuckled Hank.

"It's all very well, Hank," said Stan soberly, "but I don't quite like it. If he does find us he can say we were dodging him. I'd rather have met him straight, and told him how we came to be here."

Five minutes passed, then Broadwood came to the door of the van and tapped, and Stan opened.

"The gent's given up looking for you," he said, "but it's quite clear he suspects you're somewhere about. He's posted himself at the entrance, and that's where he means to stay, I reckon, until you come out."

Hank gave a low whistle. "Then it's all up with little Willie," he said.

"I'm not so sure of it," returned Broadwood. "I shouldn't sleep tonight if I thought he'd got you boys. Just you wait a bit longer. I think I see my way to getting you out all right."

He went off again to return shortly with the oddest-looking person. At first sight the boys thought he was a nigger, but presently saw that he had merely blacked his face. He was short and square, and wore a frizzly black wig, a purple coat, broadly- striped trousers, a tall collar, and a huge bow tie. He carried a banjo decorated with coloured streamers.

"Let me introduce Mr. Mark Benbow," said the trainer.

"Pleased to meet you, sirs," he said in a deep voice.

"You're not half so pleased as we are," replied Hank; "that is, if you can get us out of this fix."

Mr. Benbow's eyes twinkled.

"That's what I'm here for, mister. You're going to walk out right along with me and the rest of my party."

Hank's quick mind caught on to the idea at once. "Two little coons, I reckon?" he chuckled.

"You've got it," answered the other beaming. "This here's my van, and all the stuff's handy. No, you won't need to take off your own suits. A taste of burnt cork, a couple of wigs, and your mother wouldn't know you."

Mr. Benbow knew his job, and he worked like greased lightning. In ten minutes the two boys were utterly transformed. Stan looked at himself in the glass. His face was black as cork soot could make it. His mouth appeared twice its usual size, and the whites of his eyes seemed to have grown in like measure.

Hank laughed outright. "If I look anything like you I'll scare the horses," he said.

"You—you look like a Red Indian painted black," retorted Stan.

Outside they found the rest of Mr. Benbow's outfit—three men got up like himself. They were all in the know, and immensely tickled at the joke.

Benbow himself led the procession, strumming on his banjo and occasionally doing a few cake-walk steps. The boys walked with the other men. As they approached the gate there was Mr. Cotter, standing just inside it, and peering this way and that with his rather short-sighted eyes.

Though Stan had every confidence in his disguise, he could not help feeling a little nervous, but the master gave one glance at the black-faced throng, turned up his delicate nose in evident disgust, and paid no further attention to them. But all was not over yet. As Hank came opposite Mr. Cotter, what must he do but stop, pull off his cap, and present it to the master!

"Ain't yo' got nothin' for the minstrels?" he asked.

Stan nearly fainted. He felt certain that Hank would be recognised. But Mr. Cotter merely pushed the cap pettishly aside.

"No—no!" he snapped; and Hank, grinning, walked on.

"You idiot!" whispered Stan.

"I couldn't help it," chuckled Hank. "But did you see his face?"

"Yes, and Delmar's, too. He was only about thirty yards away, and watching like a cat. But how are we going to get rid of these things if we go back to school in them? I should like to know."

"That'll be all right," said Benbow. "Mr. Broadwood's man is waiting for you with the car under those trees."

Sure enough, a few minutes later the pair were safe in the car, and being whirled away at a great rate. The driver stopped at Mr. Broadwood's house near Aphurst, and there the boys went in and washed and made themselves presentable. Then, after thanking him, they started back to the school.


CHAPTER 25
A Witness for the Defence

"MR. HARKER! Mr. Prynne!"

The two boys, back again in the safety of their own class room, jumped as a voice called their names. It was the gate porter.

"What's up, Lodgy?" asked Stan.

"The headmaster wishes to see you both at once," said the man, and left.

The pair exchanged glance's of dismay.

"Someone's given the show away. Come on! We've got to face the music," said Hank.

Stan was anything but happy as he entered the door of his own house. It was not that he was afraid of punishment. It was that his father had told him, before he entered the school, that he looked to him to keep rules and set a good example.

"Come in!" came a stern voice in answer to his knock; and, as he expected, there was Mr. Cotter looking as sour as vinegar.

"Standish," said Mr. Prynne, "Mr. Cotter, tells me that you and Harker attended Stancombe Races this afternoon. Is this true?"

"It is true we were there, sir," responded Stan; "but—"

"I don't want any 'but,' nor do I wish to be told that you did not know that a racecourse is as much out of bounds as a public- house."

Stan coloured hotly. This was not quite fair.

"It wasn't Stan's fault, sir," cut in Hank.

"I do not care whose fault it was," replied Mr. Prynne, who was very angry. "It was a disgraceful breach of rules, and so serious that there is only one penalty, which will meet the case. You will both be flogged in public tomorrow."

Stan stiffened. As for Hank, he drew himself up.

"Think you're not being fair, sir," he said boldly.

Mr. Cotter nearly had a fit. As for Mr. Prynne, he was struck dumb for a moment. Never in all his life as a schoolmaster had any boy ever dared to accuse him in such a fashion. He could hardly believe his ears.

"What do you mean, Harker?" he demanded in a terrible voice.

"Just this, sir. In court the judge doesn't find the prisoner guilty without taking evidence from both sides. You've heard Mr. Cotter against us, but you haven't heard us."

Mr. Cotter made a gurgling sound in his throat. His rather prominent pale-blue eyes seemed to be starting out of his head. Mr. Prynne restrained himself with an effort. He had a hasty temper, but was at bottom a very just and fair man.

"Your objection, Harker, sounds very like impertinence. Yet I will never have it said that I was unfair to any boy. What witnesses have you got for yourselves?"

"Mr. Broadwood, the trainer, sir."

Before he could say anything further there was a tap at the door.

"Mr. Broadwood, sir," said the maid; and on her heels the trainer himself entered the room.

"Ah, I thought there was trouble," he said in his curt way. "It seems to me it's a good thing I came. If anyone's to blame in the matter it's myself, not a boy like that who saved the lives of three people, to say nothing of a valuable horse today. There's a lady outside who's waiting to thank him now."


CHAPTER 26
Delmar Makes a Request

HANK shuffled his feet uneasily.

"Don't want any thanks," he muttered.

But no one was listening.

"Who saved the lives of these people?" demanded Mr. Prynne.

"Young Mr. Harker, sir. A horse of mine, Firedrake, bolted off the course in the second race, and was galloping across the country when Mr. Harker caught him, and jumped on his back to bring him in. Firedrake tried to buck him off, and when he couldn't do that he bolted.

"A pony carriage pulled into the road with a lady and two children, and I never was worse scared in my life. I thought they'd all be killed, and the horse and Mr. Harker too.

"What does he do? Instead of losing his head, like most boys would, he digs in his heels and jumps the whole lot; then gets the horse quiet and brings him to me.

"Well, sir, I ask you, could I help but take the two young gentlemen in to tea? They didn't want to come. Your son said it was out of bounds, so I said I'd be responsible, and it was my wife gave them tea, and they were under her eye or mine. Was there anything wrong about that?"

"No," replied Mr. Prynne. "I will admit that this explanation puts a very different complexion upon matters."

"If there's any blame, put it on me, sir," said the trainer. "Whatever happened was my fault. But you know me, sir, and I think you know I wouldn't let any boy get into bad company or trouble."

"That is true," allowed the master.

He turned to Mr. Cotter.

"When did you recognise the boys?"

"Mr. Cotter did not see the boys at all, sir," cut in Broadwood. "It was another of your boys who informed out of spite, because—"

"Mr. Broadwood," broke in Hank in an agonised voice, "don't you go telling!"

"Silence, Harker!" ordered Mr. Prynne. "I must hear all that Mr. Broadwood has to say. Mr. Cotter, what boy was it who informed you?"

"No boy, sir," returned Mr. Cotter, quite indignantly. "If it had been I should have brought him before you. It was a man named Beamish who came to me, the landlord of the Dog and Fox at Aphurst."

"How do you think he'd ever recognise one of your boys, let alone one as only came last term?" asked Mr. Broadwood. "The boy I'm speaking of came to the races with Beamish."

Mr. Prynne looked very grave.

"Who is this boy?" he demanded. "It is news to me that any of my scholars attend race meetings."

"Name of Delmar, sir," said Broadwood.

"Delmar!" repeated Mr. Prynne, and, stepping across to the bell, pressed his finger upon it.

"Delmar!" he repeated. "Then you did not see him, Mr. Cotter?"

"No, Mr. Prynne; I did not. I should have deemed it my duty to inform you if I had."

The maid appeared.

"Ask the gate porter to tell Mr. Delmar that I wish to see him at once," said Mr. Prynne.

"Gee, the fat's in the fire now," whispered Hank to Stan.

Stan did not answer, but looked very uncomfortable. He would have liked to get away before Delmar appeared, but could not venture to ask to do so. Anyhow it was now too late to interfere. Delmar was in for it, and he knew his father too well to attempt to say anything. In any case, it was not he or Hank who had informed.

"Lodgy" evidently did not waste much time, for it was only a minute or so before he appeared with the culprit, and Delmar entered the room in his usual quiet way.

Stan, glancing at him, saw that he appeared a little less cool and collected than usual, and that there was a slightly pinched look on his dark face. When he saw Stan and Hank his eyes narrowed like those of a cat, and his lips tightened a little.

Mr. Prynne wasted no time.

"I am told you were at Stancombe Races this afternoon, Delmar," he stated.

Delmar hesitated just the fraction of a second, but, seeing Broadwood, shrewdly concluded that it was no use attempting to make any denial.

"Yes, sir," he answered. "Was it any harm?"

"Harm!" repeated the master. "You know as well as I do that any racecourse is out of bounds."

"I didn't know that, sir," replied Delmar quietly.

Mr. Prynne's face hardened.

"If that is the case, why, then did you send a message to Mr. Cotter, informing him that two other boys were there?"

Delmar licked his dry lips.

"I did nothing of the sort, sir," he denied boldly.

Mr. Prynne's eyes were fixed on Delmar's face.

"The person who gave the information was Beamish, the man with whom you drove to the races."

Delmar was cornered and knew it. Yet he still bluffed.

"I know nothing about that, sir."

Mr. Prynne's face grew sterner still.

"I do not believe that you are speaking the truth. It is extremely unlikely that this man Beamish should have had any private grudge against Harker or Prynne."

"Will you ask him, sir?" said Delmar.

"I shall not trouble to call him. Apart from this, your offence is quite sufficient. You have broken bounds in a most flagrant fashion, an offence for which you are liable to expulsion. But I do not wish to blight your career by such a sentence. I shall, instead, flog you—in front of the whole school."

Stan and Hank saw a curious change come over Delmar's face. His olive cheeks paled to a greenish hue. They realised that he was scared—badly scared. He bit his lips till they whitened, and somehow managed to keep his composure.

"May I speak to you a moment in private, sir?" he asked in a strained voice.

Mr. Prynne gazed at him for a moment.

"Yes," he said curtly. "Harker, you and Prynne may go."

He glanced at the others and they all left the room.


CHAPTER 27
Hank Makes a Bolt for It

BEE was in the hall. She ran to them as they came out.

"Oh, Stan, what is it?" she asked.

"Not a thing to worry about," cut in Hank quickly. "And we'll spin you the whole yarn right away. But, Bee, is there a lady in the drawing-room?"

"Yes, a Mrs. Austin. She wants to see you, Hank. She declares you saved her life."

"I never did anything like that," replied Hank hurriedly. "Let's get out the back way."

His alarm was so real, and at the same time so funny, that Bee laughed outright. At this the drawing-room door burst open, and out came a plump, middle-aged lady.

The moment she saw Hank she made for him.

"My preserver!" she exclaimed in a deep, rich voice.

Hank looked wildly round for some means of escape, but there was none. Next moment the lady had her arms round his neck and was kissing him.

"My dear boy, I owe you my life and that of my dear children. What can I say or do, to prove my gratitude?"

Hank, whose cheeks were the colour of a ripe tomato, struggled vainly in her embrace.

"Not anything, ma'am, if you please!" he gasped, in embarrassment. "It's—it's the horse did the trick, not me."

"No, no; the horse would have killed us all. It was your skill and daring. I can never—never be grateful enough to you!"

As she spoke she kissed him again. It was too much for Hank. Somehow he wriggled out of her arms, and, seeing the front door open, made a clean bolt.

Mrs. Austin's jaw dropped. She stood looking after him in utter amazement.

"Oh, what is the matter?" she cried. "Did I hurt him?"

But Stan and Bee were beyond answering. They were holding on to one another, rocking in an ecstasy of mirth, and the poor lady gazed at them as if she thought they had suddenly taken leave of their senses.

With a really heroic effort Stan pulled himself together.

"He's—he's shy, ma'am," he managed to say.

"Like all heroes," declared Mrs. Austin. "The brave are always modest. But I will write to him. Will you tell him so, please? And perhaps your master would allow him to come to tea with me, and the children shall thank their preserver."

"I'll tell him, ma'am," promised Stan, in a very choky voice.

Then, much, to his relief and Bee's, the good lady took her departure, and Stan was free to give Bee a detailed account of what had really happened.

She listened with eager interest till Stan came to the part where they had blacked their faces and got themselves up as Christy Minstrels. That finished her. She went off into a shriek of laughter.

At that very moment the study door opened, and out came Delmar. One look at him stopped Bee. His face was perfectly livid.

He stepped up to Stan.

"You beastly sneak!" he said, and the nasty thing was that, though he was quite clearly in the last stage of fury, he did not raise his voice one atom.

Bee flared up instantly. Her eyes fairly flashed.

"Sneak yourself!" she cried. "Stan never said a word, but you told about him and Hank. Go away! You are not fit to speak to anyone, and if you are beaten, as I hope you will be, it's no more than you deserve."

Delmar gazed at her for a moment. His lips were tightly set, and his expression was not pretty. Then, without a word, he turned and went out of the door.

"He's a pig!" declared Bee vehemently. And just then the tea bell went, and Stan had to rush away.

"Has that woman gone?" was Hank's first question as he saw Stan.

"She's gone all right," said Stan, grinning; "but she wants you to come to tea so that her children can thank their preserver."

The look on Hank's face set Stan off again, and it wasn't till Hank threatened to punch him that he stopped.

News gets about a school quickly. At tea everyone was whispering that Delmar was going to be flogged; But a little later there was a new rumour, which was that he had been let off with a month's "gating" and an extra lesson each day. It was a pretty stiff punishment, for a boy who was gated could not even go up to the playing-field or down to the tuck shop. Still, no one seemed to have many regrets to waste except Delmar's toadies, who were naturally disappointed that he could not stand them feeds at the tuck shop.

Stan was secretly puzzled that Delmar had been let off the flogging, but Delmar gave no reason, and naturally Stan could not ask his father.

Nor did Bee know.

The next week passed on quietly enough up till Wednesday. On that night Hank had a touch of toothache and could not sleep. As he lay awake feeling very bored and annoyed, suddenly, above the quiet breathing of the other boys, he heard the sound of a board creaking in the passage outside.

He was out of bed like a shot, and, shoving his feet into a pair of slippers, crept across to the door, opened it softly, and looked out.

There were no blinds to the passage window, it was a clear night, and a flood of moonlight silvered the broad, shallow oak staircase. Hank, peering over the heavy balustrade, saw a boy, wearing a thick dressing-gown, going softly down the stairs.

The boy was Delmar, and, by his cautious tread, he was evidently anxious not to be overheard.

In a moment Hank had forgotten his toothache, and was stealing noiselessly in pursuit. There was not a boy in the school to match him in this sort of thing, and Delmar had not the faintest notion he was being followed as he slipped into the science class-room which, as Hank knew, opened, not on the quadrangle, but on a private road running close under the walls.

Delmar closed the door softly behind him, but Hank opened it as noiselessly, and stood with his head just inside the crack. There was a blackboard close to the door which cut off Delmar from his sight.

He heard Delmar push up the window.

"That you?" came a deep mutter from outside. "You've kept me waiting long enough."

The voice was Caffyn's.

"Here's a game," said Hank to himself, and, still and silent as a stone image, he set himself to listen.


CHAPTER 28
Hank is Puzzled

"I COULDN'T help it." It was Delmar's voice. "There was a chap moving in the next bed to mine. I couldn't be quite sure he was asleep."

"I've been here nearly an hour," Caffyn growled. "I'm simply frozen."

"I'm sorry," said Delmar. "How's the job getting on?"

"It isn't! Fact is, it ain't to be done single-handed. It takes two."

"Well, you know why I can't help you."

"I know right enough. I warned you not to go to the races."

"I thought it was safe enough," replied Delmar.

"So it might have been if you hadn't let your spite run away with you. All the trouble came of your sending Beamish to tell about the two kids."

Hank heard Delmar make a queer sound as if he were swallowing something.

"It was sheer ill luck," he answered in a voice that was sharper than usual.

"Sort of luck you'll always have if you go trying to play off your private spite when we've got a real job on hand," retorted the other. "The wonder was you didn't get a whacking from that there school-master of yours. You didn't tell me how you got off."

"Prynne knew better than to touch me," answered Delmar, and, low as his voice was, Hank started quite badly.

"What does the chap mean?" he asked himself. "He's loony."

"You don't mean to say you went and held that job over his head?" snapped Caffyn.

"Don't excite yourself. I'm keeping that threat for a better occasion," said Delmar. "As a matter of fact, I told him my heart was weak."

Caffyn made a scornful sound.

"If you'd been a man you'd have taken the licking instead of being tied up here inside the school for a month."

"Do you think I would allow myself to be thrashed in public before those gaping coons?" returned Delmar. "If you do, you're a bigger idiot than I fancied."

There was a pause, then Caffyn's voice again, harsh and distinct.

"If you talk to me again like that I chuck the whole job, and then you see what your dad will say to you."

What the threat meant Hank had not, of course, the remotest idea, but it certainly worked.

"Don't be so hasty, Caffyn," said Delmar quickly. "And don't let us quarrel. I've risked a bit to get down here to speak to you, and you haven't told me yet what you are doing about the work."

"I've told you it's not to be done single-handed," said Caffyn harshly. "And I'll tell you, further, that if you can't help me I'll have to get someone else."

"You must not do that," said Delmar with decision. "We must not have anyone else in the secret. In any case, I shall be able to help you when my gating is over."

"That'll be nigh a month from now. We haven't the time to waste. Just suppose old Prynne was to take it into his head to make a proper search! No; I tell you what it is, you've got to make another try from this side."

"That's impossible," said Delmar with decision. "I should be certain to be caught."

"Bah! You haven't got the pluck of a rabbit," retorted Caffyn, scornfully.

"It's not a question of pluck at all. There are people about all day in term time. The only way in is through the gate, and that, as you know, opens on the open quadrangle."

"What's the matter with trying after dark, then?" demanded Caffyn.

"I can't do that, either. The quadrangle is lighted. Besides, we are in our class-rooms except for half an hour after tea."

Caffyn made an angry noise.

"The thing's got to be done some way. Can you let me in after dark?" he demanded.

"Out of the question. The gates are locked at six."

"Then what's the reason why I can't come in before six, and hide up somewhere?"

Delmar paused.

"That might be managed," he said thoughtfully. "But how would you get out again?"

"I reckon I'd have to wait till late and get out over the wall."

"You couldn't take the stuff with you."

"I could take the best and hide the rest. See here—"

At that moment Hank, who was leaning forward listening eagerly to every word, distinctly heard steps approaching from somewhere outside.

Caffyn broke off short.

"Someone coming. Sounds like a bobby. I've got to quit."

As Delmar drew quickly back, Hank shrank away, and hid himself behind the blackboard. There was no light in the room except the moonbeams coming faintly through the window.

Hank stood still as a mouse, hardly breathing while Delmar passed him and went softly through the door. It was not until a good two minutes had elapsed that Hank followed him.

"Sweet pet!" he muttered to himself as he crept towards the stairs. "But, say, I wish I'd heard a bit more. This thing's kind of getting on my nerves. I'd like to know what those two galoots are so keen after."

He paused a moment and listened. There was no sign of Delmar, and he surely must have reached his dormitory. Suddenly Hank's quick ear had caught a sound of some sort.

Then, before he could make up his mind what the sound was, a door to his right, which led in from the masters' gardens opened abruptly, and a strong light glared upon him.

"Harker!" came Mr. Cotter's sharp, high-pitched voice. "What on earth are you doing here at this hour of the night?"


CHAPTER 29
Under the Moon

FOR a second Hank was too startled to reply, but only for a second. Then he was his cool, imperturbable self again.

"I was awake, sir, and heard a noise below. I thought it might be burglars. But perhaps it was you I heard?"

Mr. Cotter glared at Hank suspiciously. He had not forgotten the unpleasant time he had had in Mr. Prynne's room over the matter of the Stancombe Races, and, not unnaturally, was still pretty sore with Hank and Stan.

"You could not have heard me. I have only just come in from a dinner party at the vicarage. How do I know you are telling the truth?" he said.

Some boys would have lost their temper at such a suggestion, and gone sulky. Not so Hank.

"You can tell if we find the burglar, sir," he said, with perfect good nature. "I think the noise really came from the science class-room."

"We had better see," said Mr. Cotter severely, and made for the class-room in question. The moment he got inside he saw that the window was open, and that a bitter draught was blowing in from outside.

He held his hand up as a sign for silence, and Hank grinned to himself as he saw the other tiptoeing gingerly across the room, glancing as he went from one side to the other.

Seeing nothing in the room, he put his head cautiously out of the window.

"Here he is!" he cried sharply, and made a grab at something beneath the outer sill.

Hank got the shock of his life, for, of course, he had thought that Caffyn was by this time far enough away.

He darted forward.

As he ran he heard a burst of angry language beneath the window.

"Let go! Let go, I say!"

But Cotter, duffer as he was in some respects, had pluck, and hung on to his struggling captive like a good one, shouting meantime at the top of his voice.

Hank stumbled over a big stone carboy, used in chemical experiments, which lay on the floor, and this delayed him a moment.

He reached the window just in time to see Cotter pulled headlong over the sill. His patent leather shoes gleamed in the moonlight, and there was a heavy thud outside as the unfortunate master landed bodily on the pavement. Then Hank saw Caffyn—for it was he—turn and administer a brutal kick to the prostrate man.

His blood boiled.

"You cowardly brute!" he roared, and made a flying leap out of the window almost on top of Caffyn.

Caffyn swung an ugly blow at Hank's head, but luckily for Hank missed his mark. Then he turned and bolted down the road. Hank's blood was up, and, never heeding the fact that he was wearing nothing more than a coat over his suit of pyjamas and on his feet a pair of thin slippers, he started in pursuit.

He had hardly gone ten yards before he heard the click of a pair of shoes on the pavement just behind him.

He glanced back.

"All right, Hank," came a voice, and there was Stan spurting frantically in pursuit.

In a moment he was alongside.

"Heard you," he said shortly. "Caffyn, isn't it?"

"That's who. The beggar's half slain the Cotter bird. We've got to catch him this journey."

"In that kit? You'll freeze."

"Not enough to worry about as long as we keep up this pace. But don't gas! Run!"

Run they did. Caffyn, as Stan knew already, was no mean sprinter in spite of his build, and as the chase promised to be a long one Hank and Stan went steady. There was something weirdly exciting about this race through the moonlight along the bare and empty road.

The night was dead still, with not a breath of wind, and the only sound was the clop-clop of Caffyn's boots as he ran straight down the centre of the road, and the lighter tread of the slippered feet of the two boys.

Of the policeman there was no sign at all, but then, as Hank realised, there had probably never been a policeman. The footsteps which had first startled Caffyn had probably been those of Mr. Cotter crossing the road on his way back into the school grounds.

Caffyn crossed the bridge over the brook and breasted the opposite hill. He was running inland in the direction of Aphurst Forest. Black under the moon rays the boys could see the distant line of trees. It seemed that Caffyn was making for Aphurst village, in which direction Stan and Bee had seen him on the first Sunday of term.

Sure enough, he turned up the by-road leading to the forest. He was running as hard as ever, with the boys about a hundred yards behind.

The black line showed higher and nearer, and soon they reached a point where they could see the white road disappearing into the dark trees.

"Look out he doesn't turn and lay for us," muttered Hank, and Stan nodded in reply.

Next minute Caffyn had vanished under the trees, but they could still hear his boots clack-clacking against the hard surface of the road.

The sound ceased, and Stan paused.

"He's off the road, Hank."

"Yes, but I still hear him, swashing through the dead leaves. Now for a spurt, Stan. We've got to get him quick or he'll fool us in all this scrub."

He was off with a rush, cutting straight in under the wide- spreading beeches. The dead fern was nearly waist high, and beneath it the dry leaves lay thick and soft. And still they could hear Caffyn crashing through the bracken. The sound grew clearer, and it was plain they were closing the distance.

The big trees broke away a little, and suddenly they were in a small, open glade, faintly lighted by the moon.

"Tally ho!" yelled Stan, carried away by excitement. "There he is, Hank!"

Sure enough, there was Caffyn's squat figure dark in the moonlight. He was swaying as he ran, and they could hear him panting. Both boys made a final spurt, and Hank gained a little.

Suddenly Caffyn swung sharp to the right around a thick clump of brambles. Hank, with arm outstretched, was almost touching him when, all in a flash, the ground seemed to sink beneath him and he shot out of sight, vanishing as if the earth had completely swallowed him up.

Stan pulled up short, just in time to avoid plunging after him down a dark pit that yawned in front.

"Hank!" he cried in horror. "Hank!"

Next instant a pair of hands met in the middle of his back, and forced him violently forward.

"Go and join him, you brat!" cried Caffyn fiercely; and Stan, unable to help himself, found himself toppling helplessly down into the black depths.


CHAPTER 30
Into the Depths

TO the end of his life Stan never forgot the horror of that plunge into the pit. He believed it to be the mouth of an old mine shaft, and had not the faintest doubt but that he would be dashed to pieces on hard rock perhaps hundreds of feet below.

The thought had hardly time to flash through his mind before he had reached the bottom and fallen apparently upon a feather- bed. Even so, the shock was enough to knock the breath out of him, and for a moment he lay panting, breathless. The first thing he realised was that someone else was breathing hard close by. Then came a muffled voice.

"That you, Stan?"

"Yes," gasped Stan. "Caffyn shoved me over. Where are we?"

From above came a hoarse laugh. "Where are you, eh? You'll soon find out. You're trapped, you prying brats. You've give me the chance I was looking for."

Hank pulled himself together and sat up.

"Don't you be too cock-a-hoop, Caffyn," he answered. "We'll square it up some time."

Caffyn laughed again scornfully.

"You had better keep a civil tongue in your head," he said threateningly. "Just remember I'm the only one that knows where you are, and that you stay there and starve if I choose. There's no one to help you unless I send someone, and, do what you like, you can't get out without help. Bye-bye," he added jeeringly.

They heard his steps crashing away through the dead bracken, and presently all was still.

By this time Stan had scrambled up and found himself standing knee deep in a vast pile of rotting leaves. It was these which, drifting in from above and collecting on the floor of the pit, had broken their fall.

Hank, too, was on his feet and looking upwards.

"I say, Stan, this is some trap," he said.

"I should rather think it was," growled Stan. Then more hopefully, "But it's not very deep. I don't think it's more than twenty or thirty feet."

"It don't seem deep enough for a mine shaft," said Hank, "or wide enough for a quarry."

"Wait a jiffy. I've got matches," said Stan.

"That's a bit of luck! Light up, and let's have a look round."

Stan had flung on his clothes before leaving the dormitory, and most fortunately there was a box of matches in his pocket. He struck one, and the small flame illuminated the black darkness of the pit.

They stared about them.

"My word, but it's a queer place!" said Hank. "Looks like a bee-hive with a hole in the top."

He could not have described the pit more accurately, for while the floor was quite thirty feet across, the opening at the top was no more than six. The walls, of dirty white chalk, curved inwards from the floor to the outlet, and though this was little more than twenty feet above their heads, it was plain as a pikestaff that there was no getting out except with the help of a rope.

"Caffyn was right," drawled Hank "We're properly boxed. It's like one of those elephant traps I've seen pictures of."

"Wait a minute," said Stan Sharply. "There's a passage out."

He pointed as he spoke to a low-roofed tunnel, half blocked with leaves, leading out of the pit.

Next moment the match burnt his fingers, he dropped it quickly, and they were once more in darkness.

"I saw it," replied Hank. "Guess we've got to try that. But who on earth ever cut a pit like this, and what did they do it for?"

"It's what they call a dene-hole," Stan told him. "I've heard Dad talk of them. No one knows who dug them, but they're supposed to have been used for storehouses and hiding-places ever so long ago."

"Stored us, right enough," replied Hank with a flash of his old humour. "But strike another match, Stan, and let's get to it."

On this point Stan had his doubts. Still, anything was better than staying where they were and freezing, for the air was bitterly cold and damp. Lighting another match, he led the way to the mouth of the tunnel. The leaves were so thick that they had to burrow among them to get through; but once inside they found head room. The tunnel, clean and smooth as the day it was cut, ran straight away into the chalk, the match-light flickering on its white walls.

"How many matches have you got?" demanded Hank.

"About fifty, I suppose."

"And, for all we know, this here burrow may be five miles long. Guess we've got to walk it in the dark, Stan."

"But suppose there's a pit in the floor?"

"You don't catch this bird falling in twice on one night," replied Hank drily. "I'll lead the way and you stick right close behind me. If we each keep one hand on the wall, and I shuffle my feet good and careful, there's not much risk."

"I can do better than that," said Stan. "I've just found a piece of good stout cord in my pocket. If I tie one end round your waist, and hold the other, I can jerk you back if you get into trouble."

"That's a good notion," allowed Hank, and the cord having been fixed they started.

It was a slow and tedious journey, and though there did not seem to be any holes in the floor, Stan soon found that the whole passage sloped downwards. The darkness, too, was trying. It was the sort that presses upon you like a weight.

Suddenly Hank stopped.

"What's up?" asked Stan.

"A break in the wall. Strike a light."

The match showed that the break was caused by a cross passage turning sharp to the right. Both passages were alike in size and shape. There was nothing to distinguish them.

"We had better keep straight on," said Hank, and taking cut his knife began cutting into the soft chalk.

"What are you doing?" demanded Stan.

"Blazing the trail," replied Hank. "It's a senseless game to take a trip like this without being able to come back on your tracks."

On they went again. It was a deadly monotonous business. And though neither of them said much they were not feeling too cheerful. They met more cross passages, and at each Hank cut a mark to show which way they had taken.

An hour passed. They were getting tired, and horribly sleepy.

Came another break. Another match was lit, and this time, instead of a cross passage, they found themselves in another big chamber like the first they had fallen into. Stan looked up at the stars which blinked in the blue overhead, and gave a startled gasp.

"I say, Hank, see where we are?"

Hank nodded. "We've been going downhill a piece," he answered.

There was no doubt about that—not the slightest. The opening overhead was at least eighty feet instead of thirty above their heads.


CHAPTER 31
More Trouble

"WE had better go back," said Stan.

"Go back! That first hole's no better than this. Twenty feet or two hundred, it's all the same. Besides, I guess the old chaps who dug these holes didn't have wings."

"They might have had rope ladders," suggested Stan.

"That's a fact, but my notion is that they didn't haul all the stuff they dug out of these galleries by rope ladders. Take it from me there's a way out if we can find it."

Hank's pluck and cheeriness made Stan a little ashamed, and he vowed to himself he would grumble no more. They went right through the pit, out the far side, and began again their slow, cautious tramp through the gloom.

At last, after what seemed hours, the floor began to rise again. It seemed too good to be true, but at the next crossing the match-light showed that it was a fact. The passage was sloping steadily upwards.

Neither said much, but Stan's heart was thumping as they crawled up and up the long, slow slope.

Suddenly Hank stopped and gave a shout which echoed weirdly up and down the tunnel.

"Stars, Stan! I told you we'd fetch it."

Three minutes later, utterly exhausted, but entirely grateful, the two stumbled out of the blackness into the open.

They stood still, looking round, filling their lungs with the chill, fresh air.

"It tastes good!" said Hank.

"Topping! But where are we?"

"Ask me another," said Hank. "We're clear of the forest, anyway."

The moon was down, but it was not yet dawn. As far as they could see in the faint starlight they were on an open hillside, with an open plain beyond. They could see lights in the distance, but those seemed a very long way off.

"Ugh, it's cold!" said Stan, shivering.

"It's all of that," replied Hank, "and I guess I've got mighty little sole left to my slippers. My feet are real sore."

"You poor old chap!" said Stan. "Get on my back."

"I'm not so bad as that," laughed Hank. "But say, we can't stand here, or we'll freeze stiff. Let's push along and see if we can find some sort of shelter."

Quite plainly this was the only thing to do, and they walked down the hillside. Every blade of grass held its drop of half frozen dew, and their soaked feet grew numb with cold.

They scrambled through a hedge and found themselves in a big field. The lights were still a long way off, and Hank was now limping badly.

Another hedge, a big one, and they had to coast along it to find a gap. When at last they got through it was only to find themselves in a second field. And now the distant light was gone, and they no longer had anything to guide them.

"I'm mighty sorry," said Hank, "but I don't reckon I can go a lot farther."

Stan was almost in despair. He looked all round, then suddenly clutched Hank's arm.

"Look!" he said breathlessly. "That dark thing! It's a rick or a shed."

It was a rick—a big hayrick with a wooden fence round it. The rick had been cut at one end, and a quantity of loose hay lay on the ground.

"Talk of lucky strikes!" muttered Hank, as he flung himself into the thick of it and began piling the dry, fragrant stuff all over himself.

Stan followed his example and fairly buried himself. In a few minutes his teeth stopped chattering and a delightful warmth stole through his chilled and aching body. He began to feel drowsy.

"Are you comfy, Hank?" he asked in a sleepy whisper.

The answer was a gentle snore. Stan closed his eyes. In half a minute he was sound asleep.

* * * * *

Stan dreamed that he was back in the bottom of the dene-hole. Only now the leaves were many feet deep, and he was sinking, sinking into their depths.

Suddenly a giant's arm and hand was thrust through the opening above. It stretched down and seized him in a cruel grip.

Then he woke—woke to find it was broad day and that a real hand, a big and hard one, was grasping him by the shoulder, while the angry eyes of a tall, stout, heavily-built man were staring down into his.

"Of all the cheek I ever knowed!" he cried. "Here they be, Joe," he shouted—"two of 'em."

"Young spies!" came a second voice, and another man, smaller than the first, and with a pair of very blue eyes in a wizened, weather-burnt face, jumped forward, and, catching hold of Hank, lugged him roughly out of his warm nest.

Hank had been still asleep when the man called Joe had laid hold of him. Now he woke up—woke with the astonishing quickness which was part of him, and, instantly closing with Joe, caught him round the waist and back-heeled him.

"Ouch!" yelled Joe, as all Hank's weight came on him.

The bigger man was furious.

"You would, would you?" he roared, and, letting Stan go, turned to seize Hank.

It was not a wise move on his part. Stan, who was as annoyed as Hank at being treated so roughly, at once made a dive at him.

The stout man gave a groan, and doubled up like a concertina.

"Good for you, Stan," cried Hank. "Now scoot!"

As he spoke he was through the fence and off full tilt, and Stan, leaping over the prostrate body of his opponent, followed.

They made straight for the nearest hedge, but long before they had reached it Joe and the other man were on their feet again, and hard in pursuit.

Stan glanced back, and did not half like the look on their faces.

"We're in for it if they catch us," he panted, as he raced alongside Hank. "And there's no cover."

"Wouldn't be much use if there was," replied Hank rather grimly. "I'd forgotten my feet till I started."

Stan looked down at Hank's feet. Even the remains of His slippers were gone. He was running barefoot, and both his feet were stained with blood.


CHAPTER 32
In Which Joe Apologises

HANK stuck to it pluckily, but his feet were covered with cuts, and blistered, and every step was agony. His face was white and twisted with pain.

Stan glanced back and saw that their pursuers were gaining, and that they were bound to be caught. In a flash he made up his mind.

"Stop, Hank!" he cried, at the same time pulling up short.

He turned as he spoke, and walked straight back towards the men who were chasing them.

"You young rascals, so you knew you couldn't get away?" said the big man as he came striding up with one hand outstretched.

"Keep your hands off me," said Stan sharply. "You can see I'm not going to run away."

"Because you know it's no good," retorted the other. Yet in spite of his tone he was staring at Stan as if he were a bit puzzled.

"Come to that, we should never have moved from the rick if you and that other fellow had not attacked us as you did."

The man's eyes opened widely. "We attacked you! Well, of all the cheek I ever heard!"

"I mean what I say," retorted Stan. "There's no crime that I know of in sleeping in a hayrick. If we've done any damage, we'll pay."

The other grew angry again. "You won't humbug me with talk of that sort. Here, Joe, let's take them along to the master."

"Who is your master?" demanded Stan.

"Listen to him!" jeered the big man. "But you'll know soon enough when you get his whip about your shoulders."

"He's crazy," said Hank briefly. "Come on, Stan. Looks as if we're heading for a lunatic asylum, but anything's better than standing out here in the cold. Lead on!" he said to the big man.

With the boys between them, the men made for the nearest gate. The grass was covered with hoar frost, and Hank limped along, hardly able to put one foot before the other.

"Wait," said Stan, pulling out a handkerchief. "Here, wrap this round one foot, Hank!"

Joe, scowling, took out a bandana.

"You have this," he said sourly.

"That's a heap better," said Hank pluckily. "I'm obliged to you, Joe."

Passing through the gate they found themselves in a very big field. Round it was a track where the grass had plainly been worn by the hoofs of horses. Hurdles and jumps were set up at intervals. In the distance was a house with a long row of stabling behind it.

"Why, it's a stud farm!" said Stan.

For some reason this remark seemed to amuse their gaolers.

"Did you ever hear the like?" chuckled Joe. "If we didn't know who they were we might think they were innocent little schoolboys!"

"We are schoolboys, if you want to know," retorted Stan. "I can only hope your master has more sense than his men."

"Sense enough to deal with a couple of young scamps like you," growled Simmons. "Ah, and here he is," as a man came cantering towards them on a stout cob. "Now you'll learn something, my lads."

The rider came up rapidly.

"Who have you got there, Simmons?" he shouted.

"Couple of young racecourse spies that Joe and I found hiding."

"Spies!" snapped the other angrily. "Upon my word, I'll give them a lesson!"

"We've had about all the lessons we want for one day, Mr. Broadwood," remarked Hank.

The trainer nearly fell off his horse. He and his men alike were struck dumb for the moment.

"It isn't—it can't be Mr. Harker," said Broadwood at last.

"What's left of him," replied Hank quietly. "All that's left after as funny a night as ever two chaps put in, Mr. Broadwood."

Joe recovered his breath.

"You don't mean it's the young gentleman that caught Firedrake when he ran away?"

"Of course I do!" snapped his employer. "Were you and Simmons so blind that you couldn't recognise him?"

"He never said anything of the kind," said Joe, in an injured tone.

"You didn't give us much chance, Joe," answered Hank smiling. "But never mind. We'll forgive you."

"You can do that another time," said Broadwood. "Now, you climb up on this cob behind me; and when you get to the house you can tell me how you got your feet in that state."

When he got them to the house Broadwood could not do enough for the boys. A roaring fire was lit in a bedroom, clothes were raked out, hot baths made ready.

By this time breakfast was ready.

The Broadwoods heaped their plates, and while they enjoyed the good things the boys told the story of the doings of the previous night.

It was all new to Mr. Broadwood. Delmar, of course, he had seen and sized up, but he had never heard of Caffyn or the queer business of the ruins.

"Well, if this isn't the craziest business!" he exclaimed. "To think of such goings on in a quiet place like this! But, see here, they'll have missed you from the school by this time, and I expect everyone will be out looking for you. Won't that be giving this scamp Caffyn just the chance he's looking for?"

Hank stopped with his coffee-cup half-way to his mouth.

He laid the cup down, and got stiffly to his feet.

"I guess you're right, Mr. Broadwood. We'll have to be moving."


CHAPTER 33
Mr. Prynne Puts His Foot Down

BROADWOOD did all he could to stop him. He promised to send a man on horseback with a note to Mr. Prynne; he vowed Hank was not fit to move.

Hank politely but firmly refused his offers, and Stan backed him up.

"We'd never forgive ourselves if Delmar and Caffyn got ahead of us," Stan told the trainer. "You see that, don't you?"

"All right, then. I'll have the car out and drive you back myself," said Broadwood.

Five minutes later the two were in the car, rushing through the frosty sunshine at a good thirty miles an hour. At this pace it took them less than ten minutes to reach the school.

Hank made Broadwood pull up a little way from the gates, and, thanking him warmly for all he had done for them, they went in.

"Broadwood was right," said Stan in a low voice. "Quad's absolutely empty. I do believe the whole show have turned out to hunt for us. What shall we do? Go and tell Father we're all right?"

"I think not," said Hank with decision. "We're going right across to the ruins."

"There'll be a dreadful row if we're caught."

"And a worse one if Caffyn isn't," replied Hank drily.

"Yes, you're right," allowed Stan.

"But can you walk?"

"Far enough for that," said Hank; and, keeping their eyes well open, the two started out across the empty quadrangle.

"Don't see anyone about the ruins," said Stan, as they came in sight of the iron railings which separated them from the school.

"You wouldn't. If Caffyn's there, he's underground."

At that moment a shrill whistle cut the silence.

Stan started, and looked all round. "What was that?"

Hank gave an exclamation of intense annoyance. "I might have thought of it," he growled.

"What do you mean, Hank?"

"I mean that you and I ought to be whipped. That's Delmar, of course, up at some window, and it's the signal to his pal that he's spotted us."

"I never thought of that! Yes, I expect you're right. But if Caffyn is underground, perhaps he can't hear. Anyhow, he's got to get out."

"He'll get out the back way;— through your garden. Come on. It's our last chance of nabbing him. You can go faster than me," he added. "Run!"

There was not a deal of run left in Stan, but, all the same, he did not waste much time in getting to the gate leading out of the quadrangle into the master's garden. It was the gate through which his father passed half a dozen times daily, and, as a rule, it was merely latched.

Stan seized the handle and turned it, only to find that the gate would not move.

"It's locked, Hank!" he cried. Hank's face went hard and grim.

"I might have known it!" he snapped. "Go on round, Stan. Try the door by the science room."

Stan fled round, but quick as he was it took several minutes. This door was unlocked, and in a flash he was through and down the steps, and hurrying towards the kitchen garden.

"Wilkes!" he shouted.

There was no answer. The gardener was not there. Stan looked up at the window by the pear-tree. There was no rope. He hurried past to the arched gateway leading into the ruins, and was just going in when a clear voice rang out.

"Stan! Stan, is it you?" And Bee came running hard from the direction of the house, and fairly flung herself into his arms.

"Oh, Stan, where have you been? We've been frightened to death, Mother and I."

Stan hugged her tight.

"It's all right, dear. Hank and I were chasing Caffyn. I'll tell you all about it. But, look here, have you seen Caffyn about the ruins this morning?"

"Caffyn? No, Stan."

"You're sure, Bee? You see Hank and I made certain he'd take advantage of everyone being away to come here."

"I'm sure, Stan. There hasn't been anyone here except a mason who came to mend that hole in the garden wall where the tree fell."

"A mason!" repeated Stan.

"Which one was he?"

"I don't know, Stan. Just one of Hurcombe's men from the village."

"Is he here now?"

"He ought to be. Let's go and see."

She led the way, and Stan followed. The gap was at the far side of the garden, but when they reached it there was no one there, nor had one stone been removed.

Stan turned to Bee.

"It was Caffyn—Caffyn in disguise. I'm sure of it. And Delmar's whistle warned him, and he's gone off by the back gate."

Bee looked dreadfully distressed.

"Oh, Stan, and I never even dreamed of it! I am sorry."

"Not your fault, old thing; not a bit your fault, so you mustn't mind. How long ago did he come?"

"Not more than half an hour."

Stan gave a sigh of relief.

"Then he can't have done much. But I do wish we'd been in time to catch him. This mystery business is getting a bit too much for me. Father simply must let us go down and explore the cellars below the ruins."

Heavy steps coming along the gravel path made them both swing round, and here was Mr. Prynne himself coming towards them.

"So it's you, Standish, at last!" he exclaimed in a voice between vexation and relief. "A nice fright you've given us!"

"Stan couldn't help it, Dad," Bee declared stoutly. "It was Caffyn again."

"Caffyn! I'm sick of the very name of the fellow. Explain yourself, Standish."

So for the second time that morning Stan told the story of the night's adventures, the chase of Caffyn, the fall into the dene- hole, their long wanderings underground, and of how Mr. Broadwood had come to their rescue, and brought them back in his car.

"And Caffyn was here," added Bee eagerly. "He was disguised as a mason, and I thought he was one of Hurcombe's men."

Stan put in his plea.

"Father, the man is after something in the ruins. Do let us find out what it is."

Mr. Prynne's face hardened. He had been very worried and more upset than he would admit.

"The ruins have been searched already," he answered sternly, "and nothing would induce me to let you boys go wandering there. I am sick of this business—sick and tired of it, and I will take very good care that neither you nor Caffyn nor anyone gets in there in future. The entrances will be bricked up, and I shall put barbed wire above the fence. In future no one will be able to get in or out of the place."

Stan looked at his father, but one glance was enough to show him that Mr. Prynne meant every word he had said.


CHAPTER 34
The Board Creaks

"THEY'VE made a mighty good job of it," remarked Hank, rather grimly, as he sat dangling his heels on the wall by the brook below the master's garden.

He, Stan, and Bee had foregathered there on a bright, sunny morning about a fortnight after their adventure in the dene hole.

"You mean the fence, Hank?" said Bee.

"Fence, wall—the whole show," replied Hank. "The fence looks like a barbed wire entanglement, and the gate's got a big chain around it and two patent locks that would beat any burglar."

"But isn't that all the better, Hank?" suggested Bee. "Now we shan't have any more trouble."

"Maybe," said Hank, but his tone was doubtful.

Bee grew a little cross.

"There's no 'maybe' about it. I'm quite sure it's all right now, and, anyhow, it's given you and Stan a chance to play football instead of hunting Caffyn all over the country and falling into pits and things."

A slow smile dawned on Hank's leathery face.

"It's a fact we've both got our Second Eleven colours," he admitted. "And I'll allow your Association football's a fine game. But, to say truth, Bee, I feel a bit lost these times. Seems as if things had got kind of slow."

"Hank, you're horrid!" retorted Bee. "You ought to be back in your Wild West, with your revolvers and ropes and things."

Hank grinned again.

"Oh, I dunno! But seems to me, Bee, that someway we're not through yet with Delmar and his outfit."

"What makes you say that, Hank?" demanded Stan.

"Well, see here, Stan, those chaps wouldn't have taken all the chances they have if they hadn't had something pretty big at the end of it. Now, I've sized up Caffyn as a real bad man, and it's my notion that a few strands of barbed wire aren't going to keep him out of those ruins—not permanently, anyway."

"How's he going to get in?"

"Haven't a notion; but I feel it in my bones that he'll try. And my motto is, 'Keep an eye on Delmar.'"

"Has he been doing anything suspicious lately?" asked Bee.

"Not that I've been able to spot. But I live in hopes."

"I think your hopes are horrid, Hank," declared Bee. "I don't believe anything will happen."

Hank grinned once more.

"You watch," was all he said; and just then the school bell rang, and the little meeting broke up.

It was quite true what Hank had said. He had been keeping a very close eye on Delmar's doings for some time past. But Delmar, had so far kept his "gates" carefully, and, to the best of Hank's knowledge, had had nothing to do with Caffyn.

Nor had Caffyn been around the school. Neither Stan nor Hank had seen a sign of him since that night when he had tricked them into the dene hole.

Stan and Hank were in the same dormitory. Delmar was in the next room, but all the dormitories were connected one with another by an open passage running through them.

Now, Hank had not forgotten how Delmar had crept out to talk to Caffyn at the science room window. And, though that window had since been carefully barred so that no one could get in or out, there was nothing to prevent two people talking through the bars, and Hank had it in his mind that this was what Delmar would try again one night.

The worst of it was that Hank could not, of course, stay awake every night to listen, so he had set his wits to work and had devised a little trap. One day, when everyone was out, he had slipped up to Delmar's dormitory, and, by partially drawing the nails holding the two floor boards next to Delmar's bed, so loosened them that if they were stepped on they were bound to creak.

It was the sort of noise that would never be noticed when boys were moving about in the daytime, yet would sound quite loud at night.

And Hank, with his long training in the Far West, had learned to sleep with one ear open, like a dog.

This ingenious trap had been in action for nearly a fortnight, but it was not until two nights after his talk with Stan and Bee that it was first sprung.

Hank heard the sudden creak, and in a moment was wide awake. For an instant he lay perfectly still, listening intently. Then the creak came again, and this time was followed by a faint shuffling sound.

"So he's on the job again," said Hank to himself, and next moment he was out of bed, and stealing silently towards the opening in the wall between the two dormitories.

The night was fine and calm, but there was no moon, and the dormitories were very dark.

Hank crept along barefooted, guiding himself by gently touching with his fingers the foot-rails of the beds. Reaching the opening he stopped, flattening himself against the wall, and just peeping around the corner.

Slowly his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, and he was able to make out a dim figure against the faint starlight which leaked through the opposite window.

Though it was far too dark to distinguish face or features Hank was certain that the figure was Delmar. It was Delmar's bed which was next to the window, and, besides that, those loose boards creaked every now and then.

For the life of him Hank could not at first make out what the fellow was about, but presently he became sure that he was dressing. Yes, he was putting on his coat.

Then Delmar stooped, and for the moment disappeared completely. He seemed to be getting out something that was hidden under his bed.

Yet even Hank was not prepared for what followed. Delmar rose again, and turned towards the window.

Now, the dormitory windows of the school were kept open day and night, except in the worst of weather, and the next thing Hank saw was Delmar bending forward, with his head out of the window, apparently letting something down outside.

Hank drew a deep breath.

"Cool!" he muttered soundlessly. "If that isn't a rope I'll swallow it. I'd never have thought the chap had sand enough for a game like this!"

But he had. There was no doubt about it, for a moment later he had put one leg across the sill. There was a slight creak as the rope tightened. Then, slowly and with extreme caution, Delmar crawled on to the outer sill and vanished.


CHAPTER 35
The Dummy

HANK crept across towards the window. It was necessary to exercise extreme caution, for Webster, Delmar's particular pal, slept in the next bed, on the other side of the window.

Hank passed close to Webster's bed, and watched and listened. But Webster was breathing regularly and seemed sound asleep.

Hank gained the window, and the first thing he was up against was a rope. It was tied apparently to one leg of Delmar's bed.

He looked out. The rope was still vibrating, and Hank became aware that Delmar was still on it. Looking out cautiously, he was able to distinguish Delmar some ten feet below the window, and climbing cautiously downwards.

The dormitory was on the first floor, and the window less than twenty feet from the ground. In a few seconds more Delmar's toes touched the grass below, and he was standing on the turf of the masters' garden.

Hank was watching breathlessly, fully expecting to see Caffyn somewhere around. But there was no sign of anybody else.

Delmar stood quite still for a few moments, apparently listening. Then he turned and stole softly away.

So far as Hank could tell he was making back through the kitchen garden for the wicket gate at the bottom, where the road led along the edge of the common. Hank's first impulse was to follow. But Hank, though on occasion he could do the maddest things, had the coolest head possible.

Getting out of the school by night was, he knew, about as serious an offence as any boy could commit, and was punishable with expulsion. Suppose he did follow Delmar; suppose that their absence was discovered—why, he, as well as Delmar, was done for. He would not be able to explain why he had gone out, for that would be sneaking.

No, on the whole, it would be better to stay where he was. Suddenly a smile flickered across his face.

"I've got it," he said to himself. "I'll give the beggar the scare of his life."

With that he took hold of the rope and rapidly but noiselessly pulled it in, hand over hand. He coiled it back under Delmar's bed, then went back to his own, and slipped into the comforting warmth of the blankets.

"He'll get a bit of a shock when he finds it gone," he chuckled. "Only wish I could tell Stan, but I suppose it would be a bit too risky to wake him. What'll Delmar do? Chuck up gravel, I suppose. Then I'll let the rope down again, and speak a few kind words to him when he comes in."

So Hank lay, waiting and watching, but the minutes went by, and nothing happened. And then, somehow, without the least meaning to do so, Hank dozed off.

He not only dozed, but presently fell sound asleep. Nor did he wake again until a harsh clatter roused him sharply, to realise that it was morning.

"I've done it now," he muttered.

He hurried to the entrance of the other dormitory and looked across. He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw that Delmar's bed was occupied. There he lay with the bedclothes drawn up around his ears.

"How in sense did the chap get in?" he marvelled. Then his face cleared. "Why, Webster, of course! I guess Webster was in it all the way through," he said to himself with a wry smile, and, picking up his sponge and towel, he rushed off to the bath- room.

Coming back, he finished dressing a good five minutes before anyone else, and again had a squint round to see what Delmar was doing.

Hank had every intention of tackling him on the first convenient opportunity about his midnight escape.

To his surprise, Delmar was still in bed. Just then Webster came in from his bath, and it seemed to strike him that Delmar was running things rather fine.

"Hi, Delmar!" he said. "You'd better get up. Prayer bell will go in ten minutes."

There was no answer or any movement.

"Fellow sleeps like a dog," growled Webster, and, bending over Delmar, took him by the shoulder and shook him.

Next instant he had staggered back, with a look of blank surprise on his face.

"L-look at this!" he stammered, and pulled the bedclothes back. "D-Delmar isn't here at all! It's a dummy!"

There was a sort of gasp of amazement all round the dormitory, then half a dozen boys ran forward. Burton, the captain of the school, came pushing through them.

"What's up?" he demanded. "Where's Delmar?"

About six boys tried to answer at once. Burton shut them up.

"You tell me, Webster."

"I don't know, Burton," Webster answered; and Hank saw that he was really surprised and scared. "I thought it was about time Delmar got up, and when I pulled the clothes off I found this dummy made out of a pillow and a sponge-bag."

"Was he here last night?"

"Yes, of course he was. And he was here after lights were out, for I heard him turning over in bed."

Burton bent and inspected the dummy. Then his eyes fell upon the rope, and he jerked it out. When he found that one end was tied firmly to the end of the bed he gave a low whistle.

"Well, I'm blessed!" he said. "This seems to explain what's happened. The fellow's got out of the window."

"But if he did, how did the rope get back inside the room?" inquired Webster harshly.

"I suppose someone let him down and then pulled it back," said Burton in his matter-of-fact tones.

Hank felt suddenly dismayed. This was a point of view that had never occurred to him—not a pleasant one either. It seemed quite on the cards that he was going to be hauled over the coals as an accomplice of Delmar.

Still, the truth had to be told, and there was nothing to be gained by waiting. He stepped forward.

"Guess it was I pulled the rope up, Burton," he said quietly.

Burton swung round upon him, and his usually good-humoured face was very stern.

"You, Harker! 'Pon my word, I'd never have thought you were the chap for a game like this."


CHAPTER 36
Delmar's Defiance

DEAD silence followed Burton's words.

By this time there were a score of boys grouped round Delmar's empty bed, and all eyes were on Hank.

Hank remained quite unmoved.

"You didn't understand me, Burton. I said I pulled the rope in—not let it out."

Burton stared hard at him. Burton had not risen to be captain of the school without knowing pretty well when a boy was telling the truth or a lie. Besides, he knew Hank, and liked him.

"Who did let it out, then?" he asked in a quieter tone.

"Delmar himself. I heard him, and watched him slide down. Then, just to give him a scare, I hauled the rope up. You see, I reckoned to let it down again when he started chucking stones at the window, but, like an ass, I went to sleep and never woke up till the bell went."

A look of astonishment came into Burton's eyes.

"Where did Delmar go?"

"Search me," replied Hank. "It was nearly dark. I couldn't see."

"And no one knows where he is?"

"I guess not," said Hank drily.

Burton considered a moment. His glance rested an instant on the clock above the fireplace.

"Hurry up and finish dressing, you chaps," he ordered. "Harker, you come with me."

Hank followed Burton out of the dormitory, leaving everyone talking. Outside, Burton turned to Hank.

"I say, Harker, this is a bad job. If Mr. Prynne gets on to it, he'll fire Delmar."

"That's a fact," replied Hank gravely. "I'm mighty sorry about my share in it, too. Say, can't we find Delmar, or isn't there any way he could have got back into the school?"

"There's no way that I know of," replied Burton, frowning; "and just at present there's no time to look for him. The bell for prayers will go in about three minutes. It's a bad mix up."

"That is so," agreed Hank, and looked up at Burton. "You know I don't like Delmar, Burton; but I guess you won't believe I did this on purpose," he said earnestly.

"No, I'd never think that of you, Harker," Burton answered; "but I'm afraid some of the chaps will. Delmar himself is sure to."

"Delmar can think anything he likes," said Hank slowly. "I reckon he can't hate me much worse than he does already. All the same, I'd give a lot to pull him out of this trouble."

The two walked on together down the stairs and out into the quadrangle. Hank looked up at the big clock.

"Burton," he said quickly, "I'm going to cut prayers and see if I can find that chap."

"You'll get into an awful row," began Burton; but Hank was already hurrying towards the school gates, which had just been opened by the lodge-keeper.

"Lodgy" had gone back into his rooms; and Hank, seeing that the coast was clear, slipped out unseen, and next moment was scuttling round towards the back of the buildings. He was barely round the corner when the big clock began to strike, and at the same moment he heard the loud clanging of the school bell. He quickened his pace, and in a few moments was round at the back of the masters' gardens, near the edge of the common.

The first thing he did was to go to the wicket gate and examine the ground. His lips tightened.

"There's his tracks—that's a sure thing," he muttered. "Now, where on earth did he go?"

"Take you some time to find out that," said a voice behind him; and Hank, starting round, saw Delmar standing close behind him, and gazing at him with a look of such concentrated malice as he had never before seen on any human face.

Delmar's face was curiously white, his boots were thick with red mud, and his clothes, a suit of old flannels, were also stained with clay. His hands, too, were dirty.

"So you've been spying again?" went on Delmar.

"Don't be an ass!" returned Hank, impatiently. "I've cut prayers to try and find you and give you a chance. The wicket gate's open. If you scoot through quick, before the other chaps come out, you can get back to dormitory and change before school."

"So that's your game, is it?" answered Delmar, glaring at Hank. "And who's waiting there to catch me when I get through?"

Hank lost patience. As it was, he knew he was in for a pretty stiff imposition for absence from prayers.

"Guess you judge everyone else by yourself!" he snapped. "I tell you straight you'll get the sack if you are caught, and every minute you waste here, jawing, makes the chances against you all the bigger. Cut through the little gate and you'll be all right."

Delmar's lips curled.

"Nothing you could say would make me believe you, Harker," he retorted. "I can look after myself."

Hank's fists tightened, and a very dangerous look flitted across his face. At that moment there was nothing he would have liked better than to give Delmar the thrashing he so badly needed. But with an effort he restrained himself.

"All right," he said. "You can go your own way so far as I am concerned. But I tell you this, it's the last time I lift a finger to help you out."

He stood aside and watched Delmar go quickly past. Instead of going towards the wicket gate, the boy went right round the buildings into the road beyond, making evidently for the main gate.

"Plumb crazy!" said Hank, bitterly; then, as he himself was out of bounds, he dodged back under cover of the trees until he reached the wicket gate, and slipping through it without being noticed, gained his classroom. He had hardly done so before the boys came streaming out into the quadrangle.

"That's done it!" said Hank, grimly, and stood looking out of the window towards the gates. Nor was he mistaken, for as he watched he distinctly saw Delmar put his head in at the main gates, then dodge back.

He was too late. At that very same moment Mr. Cotter, who had lodgings outside the school and was hastening to his breakfast, reached the gates. Hank saw him quicken his pace. Another minute and he was back, and with him Delmar firmly clutched by the arm.

"That's done it!" groaned Hank. "That's settled it!"


CHAPTER 37
Delmar Sends a Wire

"THAT'S settled what?" came a voice behind Hank, and, turning, Hank saw Stan.

"Look!" said Hank.

Stan gave a low whistle.

"The fat's in the fire, and no mistake. And Cotter bars Delmar. He'll take him straight to my father."

"But your father won't know that Delmar's been out all night!"

"No; he doesn't know that, but I should think he'd guess it. And, anyhow, Delmar has broken his gates, and that's bad enough."

"Will your father expel him?"

"I don't know what he'll do, Hank. He hasn't got much use for Delmar, you know. I think he'd be glad to be quit of him.

"But see here, Hank," he went on, "you'd better hurry up if you want any breakfast. You're in for it already for cutting prayers."

"Guess I don't need any breakfast," said Hank gloomily. "I'm real worried about this job."

"Don't be. There's no reason for it," replied Stan, as he took Hank by the arm and dragged him down the passage towards the dining-hall. "You've done what you could, and, anyhow, none of us are going to shed tears if Delmar goes."

"I wouldn't care if it wasn't my fault," said Hank, unhappily. "But it doesn't matter how bad a chap is, one don't want to feel that one has done him a bad turn like this."

"You haven't. He did it himself. Come on. I've got a new pot of marmalade. And there are kippers today."

In the end Hank made a pretty good breakfast, but in spite of the excellence of the marmalade he did not waste long over it, and he and Stan were first out of the hall.

"I want to find out what's happened," he said to Stan. "Do you reckon Bee will know anything?"

"She's more likely to than anyone else. Let's go down to the garden gate, and I'll whistle."

Bee knew Stan's whistle, and presently they saw her flying down through the garden.

"Oh, Stan," she began at once, "what has happened? Dad is so angry. I heard him tell Mother that he is going to ask Delmar's father to take him away."

Hank gave a low whistle.

"I told you so, Stan. Is he going to sack him straight off, Bee?"

"No, I don't think so. He's to leave at the end of the term. But tell me what's happened. I don't know anything about it."

Hank explained. He told her of Delmar's midnight escapade, and of how he had pulled up the rope.

"You see, Bee, I didn't reckon to go to sleep again. I only meant to give the chap a scare."

"I'm jolly glad you did pull up the rope," declared Bee, with sparkling eyes. "It's the best thing that could have happened. Delmar deserved it all."

Hank didn't look happy.

"You don't understand, Bee," he began, but Bee cut him short.

"I understand quite well," she vowed.

"It's more than Delmar will do," said Hank, ruefully. "And there's others besides him will think I haven't played the game. Well," he added, "I did my best to put things straight this morning, and if the idiot had only done what I told him, he'd have got off all right. But he went and ran his head right into it. And Cotter just loved nabbing him. He hasn't forgotten that race-meeting business yet."

Bee saw that Hank was really upset.

"You've done nothing wrong, Hank," she said, soberly. "And I'm quite sure most of the boys will be as glad as we are that Delmar has to leave. He's done nothing but make trouble ever since he has been here."

The bell began to ring. Stan waited a moment before rushing off.

"Bee," he said, "you'll keep us posted as to what happens, won't you?"

"Yes, I will. Come down here after dinner, and I'll tell you if I've heard anything more."

News gets about a school very quickly. Before the morning was over every soul in the place knew that Delmar had been "requested"—that is, that his father had been requested to remove him at the end of the term. It was not so bad as being expelled, but it was bad enough.

Just as Bee had prophesied most of the boys were quite pleased that Delmar was going. But there were a few, like Webster, who were furious. They were the ones who had been accustomed to share Delmar's big feeds and his hampers. From these Hank got black looks and whispered threats.

As for Delmar himself, he seemed to be less concerned than any of the rest. His dark face was as impassive as ever.

"He don't seem to care a cent," said Hank to Stan, as they met at dinner-time.

"You never can tell. By the by, I saw him giving Webster a telegram to send for him."

"To his father, I reckon," said Hank. "Sort of getting the news in first."

Stan nodded.

"I'll see if Bee's got anything to tell us afterwards," he said.

But Bee had nothing beyond the fact that her father was very silent and evidently upset, so Stan and Hank, by way of making the best of things, changed and played a hard game of football.

Next day was bright and frosty. After morning school Hank and Stan were watching a match in the fives court when there came the deep hoot of a motor horn, and into the quadrangle rolled a huge car.

Everybody turned and stared at it, and no wonder, for none of them had ever seen anything more magnificent.

It had a great limousine body painted royal blue. The metal work was all silver and blinked in the autumn sun. The driver was in a dark blue livery, and inside was one passenger, a big stout man with a very dark complexion. He wore a magnificent fur-lined overcoat.

The car pulled up just inside the gates, and the porter came out.

The stout man put his head out of the window.

"Is Mr. Delmar about?" he asked.

"Yes, sir; I believe so."

"Tell him his father is here."

Stan and Hank looked first at the stout man, then at one another.

"Delmar's dad," said Hank in a low voice. "Come to try and beg his son off, I expect."

"If he has, I'm sorry for him," replied Stan. "Once Dad has made up his mind, there's nothing on earth will shift him."

At that moment, Adnan Delmar came hurrying past.

He spotted Hank and Stan, and a malicious smile curved his lips.

Hank frowned.

"There's something up," he muttered. "Say, Stan, I wish I knew what it was."


CHAPTER 38
Hank Talks Straight

ADNAN DELMAR went straight to the car.

"Good-morning, Father!" he said, speaking as quietly as if the arrival of his father in his giant car were the most commonplace thing in the world.

"Where's that master of yours?" demanded Mr. Delmar in a voice as big and loud as himself.

"In his study, I expect. You'd better get out, Father, and I'll show you the way."

Delmar Senior got out. In his great fur coat, and with a glossy silk hat upon his big head, he was an imposing figure.

"Just look at him! What a bounder!" whispered Stan to Hank. "No wonder his son is what he is."

Hank was not listening. His eyes were fixed on someone who had just come through the small gate leading up from the master's house.

"Say, there's your father, Stan," he said sharply.

Adnan Delmar, too, caught sight of the headmaster.

"There's Mr. Prynne, Father."

"Ho! that's him, is it? All right, my lad, you leave him to me. I'll tackle him."

His voice carried plainly to the fives courts. The boys who were playing stopped their game. Others came hurrying up.

As for Stan, two spots of colour had appeared in his cheeks and his eyes glittered oddly.

"The man's a cad!" he exclaimed, and this time he did not whisper.

Hank caught him by the arm.

"Don't you worry, Stan. I guess your dad can handle him—or a dozen like him, for that matter. You wait and see."

The elder Delmar was now striding across the gravel, towards Mr. Prynne. He paid no attention to the boys.

The two met half-way.

"Are you Mr. Prynne?" demanded the stout man, in a loud blustering tone.

"I am, sir. May I ask your name?"

"Phineas Delmar, that's my name. I hear from my son as you've turned him away from your school."

Mr. Prynne's face hardened. He drew himself up to his full height. In his cap and gown he was a fine and dignified figure; and Stan, watching, felt a thrill of pride run through him.

"I have already written to you to that effect," replied the master in a quiet, deliberate voice. "In my letter I have given you the reasons why I consider that your son's presence is no longer good for my school."

Delmar swelled like a turkey-cock, and his dark cheeks went darker still. He glared at the master.

"Your school!" he repeated scornfully. "Mine, you had better say."

Mr. Prynne merely raised his eyebrows.

"I am not deaf," he said mildly. "And might it not be as well if this discussion were conducted in private? It is not very edifying for my pupils."

"Anyone is welcome to hear what I've got to say!" bellowed Delmar. "It'll show 'em the sort o' master they've got. You—that I could break between my finger and thumb!"

This was a bit too much for Hank. He dropped Stan's arm and stepped forward.

"See here, sir, I'd like you to know we boys are mighty well satisfied with our master, and we don't care to hear you roaring at him like a bull in his own school-yard. I'd advise you to tone it down a bit, or maybe your school will put you outside."

"We jolly well will, too!" cried young Chester, who had just come up with Willoughby and Hume. There were a dozen more behind them, and it was quite clear that every one of them was game to back Hank to the last ounce.

The elder Delmar swung round on Hank. Hank never stirred an inch, but stood looking squarely at the angry man. Stan, too, was beside him, and it was quite clear that it only needed a spark to start such an explosion as the grey old walls of Storr Royal had not seen in a hundred years.

Mr. Prynne stepped forward.

"That will do, boys. I am very much obliged to you, but I think you can safely leave me to manage this gentleman."

The quiet emphasis he put on the last word brought a grin to many of the boys' faces.

Adnan Delmar caught his father by the arm.

"Do what Mr. Prynne says, Father," he said, under his breath. "Go to his study with him. Can't you see you are only making trouble for me as well as for yourself?"

It was odd how these words affected the elder Delmar. He seemed to wilt at once. He took out a large red silk handkerchief and passed it over his face.

"All right, Adnan," he said, in a sulky sort of voice. "I don't want to make trouble for you. I'll go along with Mr. Prynne and talk this business over with him."

"Then come this way, if you please, Mr. Delmar," said Mr Prynne, with icy politeness, and led the way back towards his own house. The two Delmars followed.

The three were hardly out of earshot before babel broke loose. Everyone was talking at once.

"What did he mean about its being his school?" demanded Chester angrily. "What's he talking about?"

"We ought to have chucked him out as soon as he started," chimed in Willoughby. "Did you ever see such a bounder? Now we know why Delmar is what he is."

If Webster or any of the rest had a word for Delmar they certainly dared not open their mouths to say it. Nine boys out of ten of those present were simply boiling.

Hank turned to Stan.

"Guess there was something, after all, in what young Delmar told Caffyn that night at the Science Room window," he said, in a low voice. "It's plain as a pikestaff that those Delmars have got some sort of a strangle-hold on your dad. How do you reckon they've managed it?"

Stan shook his head.

"It beats me, Hank," he answered very gravely. "And I don't know how I'll find out either."

"Don't you worry, old son. I guess Bee's going to help us on that job. 'Tisn't a lot your sister misses, and you can bet your boots she's wise to this shindy already."

"I hope she won't miss this," replied Stan. "Anyhow, I'll go down after dinner and see what she's got to say."


CHAPTER 39
The Boys Decide

DINNER was a queer meal that day. Everyone talked in whispers. A curious air of suspense seemed to brood over the school. Adnan Delmar was in his accustomed place, and his face was as impassive as ever. But Mr. Prynne, who usually occupied the big chair at the head of the top table, was not there, and Mr. Astley took his place.

"Has Delmar's father left?" asked Stan of Hank.

Hank, who had been waiting outside till the last minute, nodded.

"I guess so," he said. "Anyway, the car's gone."

"Good job for him," said Stan grimly. "There wouldn't have been a lot left of him, or the car either, if he'd come through the quad again when the chaps were about. I don't believe that all the masters in the place could have held them."

Dinner over, the boys trooped out.

"I'm going to look for Bee. You coming, Hank?" said Stan.

Hank hesitated.

"Guess not!" he said; and Stan merely nodded and went on.

He knew Hank—knew the real delicacy hidden behind his queer speech and abrupt ways. This was a family affair, so Hank thought, and he would not intrude into it.

As Stan walked round the garden gate he noticed that the bright sunlight of the morning was gone. Clouds were moving up across the sky, and a chill wind fluttered the dead leaves of the big elms into rustling heaps.

There was no need to whistle. Bee was there already.

"I knew you'd come, Stan," were her first words; and Stan noticed at once that she had been crying, or something very near it.

But he didn't say so, for he knew how Bee hated to let anyone think that she ever gave way to tears.

Stan kissed her.

"You've heard all about the business this morning. I can see that," he said.

"Yes, Dad told us. I say, Stan, that was fine of Hank to speak as he did."

"Old Hank's a topper!" said Stan briefly. "But what's happened since, old thing?"

Bee's face fell.

"It's dreadful, Stan! That awful man owns the mortgage on the school!"

"What? You mean he's the one that Father borrowed all that money from?"

"Yes; but Father didn't know it. Mother says he borrowed it from a firm called Lucas. Now it seems that Lucas is really Delmar."

Stan gave a dismayed whistle.

"This is the mischief and all, Bee! Then you mean that Delmar's father was right when he said the school was his?"

"Not quite that, but very near it. But Father owes him more money than he can possibly pay off at once, and this dreadful man says that he's got either to let his son off and not make him leave the school, or else pay up all the money with the interest on it at—at Lady Day, I think it is."

Stan listened in blank amazement. For a moment he seemed unable to speak.

"And—and what did Father say?" he got out at last.

"What a silly question, Stan! You know Dad."

"Y-yes, of course. Of course he wouldn't do it."

"Do it! He told that fat man that it was the most insulting thing that had ever been said to him, and that if he had not already passed sentence on his son he would have expelled him today."

"Then what happened?"

"There was an awful scene! Though I was in the drawing-room and they were in the study, I could hear quite plainly what Mr. Delmar said. He shouted like a bull. 'Then I'll ruin you!' I heard him shout. 'I'll take every penny the law allows me! I'll sell the place over your head, and kick you and your family out into the street!'"

"B-but can he?" gasped Stan.

"He can if Father doesn't pay. And it's no use paying part; Father has to pay all."

"Do you know how much it is?"

"About seven thousand pounds. Mother says."

Stan's jaw dropped.

"Seven thousand pounds! That's an awful lot of money, Bee. I say, what can we do?"

"I don't know," answered Bee in a very choky voice.

There was silence for some moments. Stan was the first to break it.

"I'll go and talk to Hank, Bee. He knows a lot more about money than you or I do. He might be able to suggest something."

"Yes, talk to him, Stan," agreed Bee. "Hank's clever about things like this. All the same, I don't know what a boy can do."

Stan slipped his arm round his sister.

"Not a boy, Bee. Two boys and a girl. Remember that."

"That's dear of you, Stan!" said Bee gratefully. "Well, tell me tomorrow what Hank says."

It was full school that afternoon, so there was no football match on. Stan found Hank and carried him off for a walk; then he told him all that he had learned from Bee. Hank nodded.

"That's quite right, Stan. Lots of money-lenders trade under other names, and if a man holds a mortgage on a place and the debt isn't paid, he can foreclose, as they call it. Then the property has to be sold, and if it doesn't fetch enough to cover the debt I believe the creditor can collar the lot."

"Well," said Stan, "I don't see how Father is ever going to pay seven thousand pounds down next spring. You remember how his bank broke, and he had to borrow money to carry on."

"You bet I remember! That was the day Caffyn got into the ruins, and you chased him to the cliff and—"

Hank stopped short.

"Stan," he said, "I guess there's only one thing to do."

"What's that?"

"Why, do what Caffyn did. Go right down into the ruins and find what he and Delmar were after. I'll lay it's something worth while."

Stan stared at his friend, but Hank's face was deadly set and serious. Quite clearly he meant every word he said.

"All right," said Stan briefly. "I'm game!"


CHAPTER 40
The Great Gale

THE gale that had sprung up at midday was growing steadily stronger as Hank and Stan walked onwards. The great trees were swaying, and the last of the leaves torn from the branches were fluttering down in thousands. The wind caught them as they reached the ground, and whirled them in eddying drifts.

"Some storm, I guess," said Hank. "Stan, I reckon we had better get back to the school."

"I expect we had," agreed Stan. "We shan't be able to stand if this gets much stronger. Besides, we'd better have another look round and see if there's any possible way of getting into the ruins."

Hank nodded.

"That's going to be the trouble, old son. It was bad enough before, but with all this wire around, I guess it's going to be awkward."

"Couldn't we get a pair of those nippers they used to use in France? They'd cut it fast enough."

"Yes, and give the whole show away. Suppose anyone came along while we were inside there and noticed the wire was cut?"

"But they wouldn't know we were there."

"They'd know someone was there, and they'd mighty soon come to look for us. And just you remember, Stan, we are not going to walk right on top of this thing, whatever it is. I reckon Caffyn and Delmar have done quite a lot of searching below there, and I don't believe they've found anything yet. You and I have got to get a whole afternoon down there and have a proper rout round."

"I wish I knew what it was," sighed Stan.

"Something worth looking for," Hank answered with emphasis. "As I said before, people like Adnan Delmar and Caffyn are not going to take such big chances as they have taken unless they're due to gain a big stake."

"That's true, Hank. But do you still think it may be tin ore?"

Hank shook his head.

"I don't reckon it's tin ore. So far as I could see when we were down there the other day all of those underground places are walled in with big stones. There wasn't bare rock showing anywhere round."

"Then if it's not tin, it may be treasure of some sort," said Stan.

"It's not a bit of use making guesses, son. We've got to look."

As they entered the quadrangle they were met by a gust so strong they could hardly stand against it. Waiting until it passed, they walked slowly up around the left-hand side of the quad, past the fives courts, and so along beside the fence which enclosed the ruins.

Without appearing to do so, both carefully examined every yard of the fence. When they got to the end of it, they strolled towards their class-room.

"Not what you might call encouraging," said Hank grimly.

"It's worse than I thought," replied Stan. "I don't see how on earth we can get over the wire without a ladder!"

"That garden side's all closed up, too, isn't it?" said Hank.

"Every bit of it. There's no way through there. Father's had that tree cut down—the one, I mean, by which you could climb to the window."

"We're certainly up against it," allowed Hank, "but I reckon there's always a way of doing a job if you only try hard enough."

At evening school the roar of the gale was so great that the masters' voices could hardly be heard. By tea-time it was even worse, and Mr. Prynne gave the order that no boys were to go outside on any excuse whatever, for the slates, wrenched from the roofs by the fury of the gale, were flying dangerously across the quadrangle.

By bedtime such a storm was raging as none of the boys had ever before seen. The roar was deafening, and even the great solid buildings quivered under the battering shocks of tremendous gusts.

Stan couldn't sleep for the noise, and lay awake listening to the thunder and rush of the savage gale. At last he dozed off, only to be wakened by such a crash that for the moment he really thought the roof was off. The noise woke everyone in the dormitory.

"Some bump!" came Hank's voice.

"It isn't the roof, anyhow," said Willoughby.

"It's only a tree," spoke up Burton. "Get to sleep again, you chaps. It's all right."

The gust which had done the damage, whatever it was, seemed to be the climax of the storm. Though it still blew hard, the gale began to ease off, and Stan soon went sound asleep. When he was roused by the first bell the wind had dropped completely, and a thin drizzle of misty rain was falling.

He dressed quickly and hurried out into the quadrangle, which was littered with broken branches and slates. One glance was enough to show him what had caused that appalling crash. The biggest elm in the quad was down. It was one which had stood about half-way along the fence surrounding the ruins, and it had fallen across the fence, which was flattened like a pancake under the enormous weight of the giant trunk.

Stan felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Mighty useful gale that," came Hank's familiar voice. "Guess it's done the trick better than we could."

"How do you mean, Hank?"

"You're not properly awake, son," grinned Hank. "What's the matter with walking right into the ruins along the trunk?"


CHAPTER 41
The Ringed Slab


EVERYTHING favoured the two conspirators.

The drizzle, having lasted till nearly midday, was succeeded by a fog so heavy that it was difficult to distinguish figures the length of the quadrangle. Games were out of the question, so, though it was a half-holiday afternoon, practically every boy in the school stuck in his class-room or study, reading or ragging, as the mood seized him.

Hank and Stan, having made all their plans beforehand, put on their overcoats as if they were going for a walk, and sallied out, but instead of making for the gates they went straight across to the fallen tree. One moment they stood there while Hank cast one swift glance round.

"All serene!" he said curtly, and dived in among the mass of branches. Stan followed, and, clambering rapidly through the tangle, they reached the inner court without the least trouble.

"And that's that," said Stan, as he slipped in through the hidden entrance behind the ivy.

The pockets of their overcoats were stuffed with various things which they had collected for their enterprise. They had a candle lantern, and plenty of candle-ends and matches. They had a heavy hammer and a cold chisel, some stout cord, and a big ball of fine twine. Also a packet of chocolate, and various other odds and ends.

Hank lit the lantern, and they made their way down the steep, broken steps. Stan's heart was beating rather quickly as he found himself at last on the forbidden ground. He and Hank were breaking one of the strictest of the school rules, and he knew his father far too well to suppose that any exception would be made in their favour if they were caught.

"Best go on to where we saw Caffyn that day," he said to Hank, and Hank nodded agreement. These underground places seemed colder and damper than ever, and their steps rang hollow in the dim silence. It did not take them long to find the spot where they had first seen the light on that day when Stan had chased Caffyn. It was at the far end of the great pillared crypt and in the mouth of the passage that led to it.

Here they searched vigorously, Hank carefully hunting for footsteps. These were fairly plain to his practised eye, and he followed them for some way down the passage.

"Here's where Caffyn stopped," he said presently. "We'd better search the wall and the floor."

They did so, tapping everywhere with their hammers, but without any success.

"I guess we interrupted him before he'd got to his spot," said Hank. "Let's try on a bit."

"Perhaps he didn't know the spot," suggested Stan. "Perhaps he was just searching, like us."

A little farther on they came to a cross passage. The floor of this showed no marks at all, so they knew they were on new ground.

At Stan's suggestion they kept to the left, but before they went on Hank marked the wall at the corner with a piece of white chalk. The passage trended steadily downwards, though at a gentle slope. The great blocks of stone which formed the massive walls were stained with moisture, and here and there, where the water had leaked through the roof, small grey stalactites hung down.

Hank pulled up short.

"Say, Stan," he remarked in his quiet drawl, "I'm kind of glad we've got a light."

As he spoke he held out his candle, and Stan shivered as he saw that his chum was standing on the very edge of a black pit, a great shaft leading down they could not tell where, and covering the whole breadth of the passage.

Hank took a marble from his pocket and dropped it. There was no sound until you could have counted five, then from the depths came a faint splash.

"Their well," said Stan. "They always had to have water in castles in the old days in case they were besieged."

"Caffyn wasn't after water," said Hank. "We'll try to the right."

They did, and found themselves in a criss-cross of passages and subterranean chambers. What they were all meant for it was difficult to guess, and it was staggering to consider the enormous amount of labour that must have been spent upon excavating and building them. In one dungeon they found some dry bones, and that was all.

For quite an hour they tramped here and there, and each passage, as they traversed it, they marked with crosses of chalk on the walls. And then, at last, they found themselves back at the very spot from which they had started, the inner end of the great pillared crypt.

Stan was feeling very discouraged. The intense silence and gloom of the place were getting on his nerves.

"Hank, I don't believe there's a thing down here except those horrid bones," he said.

Hank shook his head slowly.

"I allow it's discouraging," he admitted, "but we're not going to give up yet awhile, old son. Let's scout round this big cellar."

He took out a fresh candle, lit it from the guttering stump of the old one, and fixed it in the lantern. Then he started walking round the crypt, keeping quite close to the wall. He had hardly gone ten steps when the sound of his footsteps changed abruptly, and he and Stan both stopped short.

"There's a hollow under this flag," said Stan.

"Sure thing!" said Hank, and next moment both were down on their knees examining the floor.

The floor was covered with thick dust, which here was very dry. Stan brushed it away with an old handkerchief. Next moment he started.

"Here's a ring," he said, in a breathless whisper.

He got hold of the ring as he spoke, but it was rusted tight into its bed. A little persuasion with the cold chisel soon remedied this, and the next thing Hank did was to slip a length of rope through the ring. He laid the lantern aside.

"Take hold, Stan," he said. "Let's see if we can shift her."

The two put their backs into it, but at first the slab resisted all their efforts. Hank rove on a long piece of rope and carried it round the nearest pillar, so as to get extra leverage. Then they pulled again.

"She's a-coming," said Hank, and sure enough she was. Inch by inch the big flat slab rose from its ancient bed until at last it gaped wide open.

"Don't let her go right over," warned Hank. "She'll make an awful row. You hold the rope, and I'll prop her."

This he did with some pieces of loose stone. Then he picked up the lantern again.

"No; it's not a well this time," he remarked.

Stan's heart was thumping.

"A well. Rather not! There are steps," he exclaimed. "Come Hank. Quick!"

Hank shook his head.

"You don't catch me napping twice over," he said. "You take the lantern, and go on down, Stan. I'll stay here and keep watch."

"What for?"

"Caffyn or Delmar. Nice we'd look if they were to come along and drop this grave-stone on top of us."

"Phew! I hadn't thought of that. All right. I'll go down."

"Well, go slow, and watch out for bad air. I don't reckon there's a lot of ventilation down there. The candle'll burn dim if the air gives out."

Stan took the lantern. His foot was on the top step when suddenly from behind a pillar close by a figure stepped quickly out into the small circle of light.

"Ah, I thought it was you two beauties!" remarked a sneering voice. It was Delmar who stood before them, and in his right hand was a heavy knobbed stick.


CHAPTER 42
The Big Black Chest

SECURE in the possession of the club-headed stick, Delmar stood enjoying his superior position.

"You thought no one saw you," he sneered. "As a matter of fact, I spotted the tree being down as soon as you did, and of course I knew you'd try it. I've been watching the whole time. I—"

Just then something happened. It was merely that Hank had made a jump. But it was a jump as quick as that of a cat.

Adnan Delmar had not a ghost of a chance. He was not even able to lift the stick before Hank was upon him, and Hank's wiry arms had clipped him round the waist. Hank's right foot shot out, his right heel crooked behind Delmar's left, he flung his body forward, and down went Delmar, flat on the flags, with all Hank's weight on top of him.

The back of Delmar's head hit the pavement with a sound like that of a croquet mallet hitting a ball, and as Hank jumped up again the other lay limp as a wet rag.

"Silly ass!" said Hank drily. "If he'd hit first and talked afterwards we'd have been in the soup. As it is—" He grinned faintly.

Stan looked with some dismay at Delmar's motionless form.

"I say, Hank, you haven't slain him?"

Hank chuckled outright.

"I guess his head's a bit harder than that," he answered. "Bless you, son, he'll be as right as rain in five minutes, and since he'll probably begin to make a noise then, we'd better fix him so that he can't."

As he spoke he pulled out a piece of cord, and, bending Delmar's arms back behind him, tied his thumbs together. Then, taking a cord from his pocket and wrapping it in a handkerchief, he made a soft gag.

"I'll just wait till he comes round before I put that in his mouth," he said. "I don't want to suffocate him. Stan, take the lamp, and scout round."

"What, do you think Caffyn might be with him?"

"Not likely, for I don't believe the fellow would dare come into the quad in daylight. Still, it's as well to make sure."

Stan went all round the crypt, but there was no sight of anyone else. When he came back Delmar's eyes were open, but Hank had gagged him so that he could not make a sound. The expression on Delmar's face was not pretty to see.

"It's all right, Hank," said Stan. "No one about. Shall I go down?"

"Right away," replied Hank briefly. "And look slippy. We've been down here a rare long time. It's past four already, and there's call-over at five."

Stan went slowly down the steps. By Hank's advice he had the lantern at the end of a string swinging about the level of his ankles. If there were bad air the lantern would show it before he got his head into it. Carbonic acid gas, of course, is heavier than air, so lies on the floor like invisible water.

But the candle burned well enough, and though the place smelt heavy and musty the air itself was breathable.

Stan found himself in a small underground chamber, the floor of which was the natural rock, while the walls were bricked with very old red bricks.

The place was no more than a dozen feet in length and about ten in width. There was just head room for a man standing up. With one exception the little room was empty and bare as the day it was made, but that exception was quite enough for Stan, and he stood staring at it, his breath coming and going quickly, so excited that he hardly dared believe his eyes.

"Say, is there anything wrong?" Hank's voice from above made Stan fairly jump.

"Wrong!" he answered shakily. "Wrong! Not that I know of. Hank—Hank, old chap, I—I believe we've found it at last."

"What have you found?" demanded Hank.

"A chest—a big, old, black chest just like the one in the vestry in the church."

"Is that so? What's in it?"

"How do I know?" Stan felt half irritated by Hank's coolness. "It's got iron clamps on it, and a padlock as big as my two fists."

There was a clank on the floor behind Stan.

"Here's the hammer and chisel. Get to it, old son, and find out whether there's anything inside."

Stan laid down his lantern, picked up the chisel and hammer, and set to work. He was surprised and annoyed to find how unsteady his hands were. But, after all, this was only natural. Such a tremendous lot hung on the question whether there really was treasure in the chest.

Steadying himself with an effort, he set to work to cut through the hasp of the padlock.


CHAPTER 43
The Prynne Plate

THE sound of the blows was deafening in that narrow space, but though he put all his strength into the work Stan found that he was making no progress. The hasp was as thick through as his thumb and of fine wrought iron.

As he paused to take breath Hank's voice came again.

"Haven't you got it open yet?"

"No; this iron is as tough as steel, and the chisel keeps slipping off the hasp."

"Well, see here; don't try to cut the hasp. Get at the woodwork and cut a staple out of it."

"Right!" Stan answered, and set to work again.

Soon he made better progress. True, the old oak of which the chest was composed was almost as hard as iron, but now he could get a good purchase, and the wood began to flake away. Presently he was able to get the point of the chisel under the staple and use it as a lever. A few more heavy blows, and out came the staple bodily.

Stan tried to lift the lid, but the wood was swollen by damp, and he could not move it. He had to force the edge of the chisel into the slit. Then a sharp blow or two, and up came the lid.

Picking up his lantern, Stan held it over the open chest. His first sensation was one of bitter disappointment. What he saw was a quantity of old, black, withered-looking leather bags which had split here and there, and through the gaps in which he caught a glimpse of dull, tarnished metal.

"Got it open?" questioned Hank from the top of the steps.

"Yes, but I don't believe there's anything but a lot of old copper."

As he spoke Stan took hold of one of the bags. Its weight startled him. He had to take both hands to lift it. He dragged it out laid it on the floor, and began to pull away the leather. There came to light a great metal platter more than a foot across, and the first thing Stan saw was his own family crest, a stag's head, engraved in the centre of the dish.

"Copper!" It was Hank's voice again, and Hank was half-way down the steps. "Copper!" he repeated in a tone of scorn. "I'm a Dutchman if they're not solid gold. Here, let's have a look."

"Gold!" gasped Stan, as he sprang to his feet; and, lifting the dish, ran up the steps with it. "Hank, it can't be! Why, it's nearly black!"

Hank took the dish, and balanced it a moment in both hands. He chuckled softly.

"It's gold all right, son," he said.

"The weight alone would tell you that. But wait a jiffy. I'll just give it a scratch with my knife to make dead sure. You go and dig some more out."

Stan was shaking all over as he plunged his hands again into the chest. Up came another massive piece of plate. It was a tall cup beautifully engraved, and as he peeled the rotting fragments of leather from it, something caught the light of his candle and threw it back in twinkling flashes of many coloured lights.

"Precious stones!" gasped Stan, in a half-suffocated voice. "Diamonds and rubies, and—and emeralds!

"Hank!" he called loudly; and turned to carry it back up the steps for Hank's inspection.

It was just as he turned that he heard a smothered cry. There was the sound of a scuffle and of a fall. Dropping the cup, Stan raced up the steps, to see Hank on the ground and a man on top of him. The man was Caffyn, who was kneeling on Hank's chest, and holding him by the throat.

Like a flash Stan hurled himself at Caffyn, but, before he could reach him he was charged from one side, and found himself sprawling on the floor with Delmar bending over him.

"No, you don't," said Delmar, with an unpleasant gleam in his dark eyes. "The tables are turned, my young friend."

Stan did not waste time in replying. Wriggling aside like an eel, he scrambled to his feet.

"Hold him!" roared Caffyn. "Hold him! Don't let him get away or it's all up!"

Delmar came plunging at Stan with both arms out, only to get a smack in the face from Stan's fist that sent him staggering back.

"Idiot!" snapped Caffyn. "Idiot! Here, I'll do it."

There was a sharp click, and Caffyn was on his feet again. Stan saw that he had snapped a pair of handcuffs on Hank's wrists.

Stan, seeing Hank out of it, and knowing that alone he was helpless against Caffyn, looked all round for a weapon of some sort. But he had left the hammer by the chest below, and there was nothing with which to tackle the fellow.

Hank's voice cut the silence.

"Run, Stan! Run! Fetch help. It's our only chance."

Caffyn heard, too, and dashed at Stan, and Stan, though he hated to leave Hank at the mercy of his enemies, knew that Hank was right, and bolted.

He felt Caffyn's finger-tips on his coat-collar, but he doubled like a hare and dodged him around one of the massive pillars that supported the roof of the crypt. Then he was running for all he was worth up towards the end of the crypt.

But he had left his lantern in the treasure chamber, and, as for the other lantern, its feeble gleam was only enough to illuminate a small space around the raised flag. Almost at once Stan found himself in the outer darkness, and equally quickly he had lost all sense of direction. He could no longer tell which way he was running.

Caffyn's rubber shod feet thudded close behind. There was not a moment to waste or to decide which way to go. He bumped into a pillar, and though he saved his head with his outstretched hands, the force of the collision checked him. Again Caffyn's hands reached for him, again Stan swung out of reach around the pillar.

But this time Caffyn was ready, and, quickly as Stan himself, dodged round the other side. The two met with a thud which almost knocked the breath out of Stan's body; then, before he could recover himself, he was blinded by the glare of an electric torch flung straight into his eyes, and instantly Caffyn had gripped him.

Stan fought like a fury, hitting out with both fists, struggling like an eel. For a moment or two Caffyn, hugely strong as he was, had all his work cut out to hold the boy. But such a struggle, could only have one end, and presently Stan, breathless and exhausted, lay helpless on the floor, with Caffyn's weight crushing him.

"Now will you keep quiet?" growled Caffyn. "You try it again, and I'll pound you silly."

Stan was silent. He could not even answer. He could only lie still, panting for breath.

"Have you got him?"

It was Delmar's voice, and Delmar himself came hurrying into the circle of light.

Caffyn turned on him like a tiger. "Have you left Harker?"

"Don't you worry about him. I've tied him all right," sneered Delmar.

"Then hold this one while I tie him!" snapped back Caffyn.

Delmar, whose lip was split and bleeding from Stan's blow, dropped all his weight on Stan's body, and held him tightly while Caffyn, taking a short length of cord from his pocket, fastened Stan's wrists behind his back.

"That'll teach you," said Delmar slowly as he turned and looked down at Stan with an expression of triumph on his ugly face. "You've had your turn, young fellow. Now it's mine, and don't you forget it."

He turned to Caffyn.

"What are we going to do with them?" he asked.

"I'm not going to take anymore chances with 'em," replied the man. "You can be sure of that. Here, get up!"

He jerked Stan to his feet, and, catching him by the arm, led him across the crypt to the spot where Hank lay helpless on the flags.

"Hold this one," Caffyn ordered; and as Delmar grasped Stan's arm, Caffyn cut the cord that tied Hank's ankles.

"If you take my advice, you'll come quietly," he said, in a dangerously quiet voice.

Hank shrugged his shoulders.

"Guess you've taken pretty good care we can't do anything else," he said drily.

Caffyn laughed. "Then you'll come this way," he said. "You're going to see something you weren't ever meant to see, but, under the circumstances, I don't reckon that matters a lot. You, Delmar," he added, "bring Prynne along."


CHAPTER 44
The Smuggler's Passage

STRAIGHT on through the maze of passages Caffyn led the way, and Stan soon saw that the man knew them a deal better than he himself or Hank.

Caffyn's torch threw shifting shadow's back on the walls of the tunnels through which they passed. No one spoke, and the silence was only broken by their footfalls echoing down the long stone corridors.

Caffyn never hesitated an instant. Each turning he took with a confidence which proved that he was familiar with this underworld, and Stan soon realised that he must have been through every yard of it time and again.

They came to the spot where he and Hank had turned off into the passage leading to the great well. Stan's heart was thumping, and his breath came quick and short.

But Caffyn did not turn down it. He kept straight on, and Stan breathed more easily. Taking a bend first left then right they arrived at the entrance to another crypt, much smaller than the big one and very ruinous.

Stan recognised it as a place that he and Hank had seen earlier in the afternoon, but which they had avoided because it looked as if the whole roof might come down at any minute. Part of it had indeed fallen already, and great piles of rubble blocked the floor.

But Caffyn did not hesitate. Picking his way in and out among the heaps of broken masonry he reached the far wall, and there stopped and faced his prisoners.

"Stand where you are," he said to Hank. "Delmar, you'd better watch them."

Delmar nodded and tightened his grip on his stick. Hank half turned, and Stan caught a wink from him, which meant, he knew, that the time was not yet come for any attempt at escape.

Caffyn laid down his torch. Stooping, he took hold of an old broken door which lay against the wall, and lifted it aside. Behind it the boys saw an opening. This was newly made, for the edges of the masonry were raw and freshly broken away.

Caffyn stood back.

"Get in there!" he ordered; and Hank, with the slightest possible shrug of his shoulders, obeyed. As soon as he was inside Caffyn forced Stan to follow.

The tunnel was very narrow, and the roof so low that even the boys could not stand upright. The walls were raw rock and earth. As soon as they were inside, Caffyn, having whispered a few words to Delmar, followed them. But Delmar apparently turned back, for he did not come into the tunnel.

"Get on with you!" snapped Caffyn in his harshest voice.

Stan did his best to get on, but found it none too easy. The floor was rough and broken, and as his hands were tied behind his back he could not save himself if he stumbled.

By this time he was so furious that had his hands been free he would have turned and tackled Caffyn, even though he knew perfectly well that such a fight could have only one ending.

The narrow tunnel proved to be but a few yards long. Then it broke through into another, which was larger and evidently much older. Stan would have given anything to know where they were, or where they were going, but by this time he had lost all sense of direction.

The tunnel went on endlessly. There were no longer any turnings or branches.. The passage was perfectly straight and sloped gently downwards. Also, the air was quite fresh and sweet.

Stan began to count his steps. He had got somewhere over three hundred when the silence was broken by a faint sound. It was very slight, hardly more than a breeze would make blowing over grass, but as they went on it grew gradually louder and became a dull, low roar.

Hank heard it, too. He glanced back, and Stan saw that he at least knew what the noise was. A few seconds later, then Stan knew, too. It was water, the sound of waves breaking upon a beach.

"The cave!" he gasped out, then checked himself abruptly, as he heard Caffyn chuckle harshly behind him.

"So you understand at last?" jeered the man. "Ay, it's the cave in Priest's Cove that you two young idiots blundered into weeks ago. Bah! if you'd been as smart as you thought you were you'd have spotted the game then, but you never did, and now your luck has deserted you, and it's too late. I've won this game."

He chuckled again.

"Well, I'm obliged to you for finding the plate for me," he continued. "To think that, after I'd been hunting for it night after night, you two kids should stumble on it the first time you made a search. Sheer luck, as I said before, but a bit too good to last."

Stan hardly heard. His thoughts were bitter indeed, and a blind rage boiled within him.

Caffyn was right. Surely, if he and Hank had had their wits about them they must have realised that this old smugglers' passage explained everything. True, it had been blocked when they had first examined it, but they ought to have known that Caffyn and Delmar had set themselves to clear it and to open the way from Priest's Cove to the ruins.

Yes, it was all plain enough now. Here was the explanation of Delmar's mysterious disappearances and his muddy state when he returned. Stan understood now what Caffyn had been talking about when he had said to Delmar that he could not do the job alone.

And now it was too late. He and Hank had found the plate only to let it fall into the hands of these thieves—plate which was worth thousands of pounds, enough, probably, to pay the whole of the debt owed to the elder Delmar and to save the school.

Those were the bitterest minutes that Stan had ever known in the whole course of his life.


CHAPTER 45
The Triumph of Caffyn

THE sound of the waves grew louder, and Stan smelt strong salt air. Caffyn's torch shone on a litter of untidy rubble covering the floor of the passage, and Stan saw that they had reached the place where the mass of fallen stuff had been roughly cut through. A little farther, and he could see daylight leaking in through the mouth of the cave.

He quickened his pace, but Caffyn stepped up sharply.

"No, you don't," he snapped. "It's in to the left you go."

As he spoke he caught hold of them and forced them into the passage which led into the spouting hole.

Again Stan felt a nasty chill creeping down his spine. It seemed quite likely that Caffyn intended to leave them at the mouth of the blow-hole.

Caffyn appeared to guess his thoughts.

"Oh, you needn't be scared!" he said scornfully. "If I wanted to get rid of you I could have done it before. Behave yourselves nicely, and you won't come to any harm. Of course, it may happen that they won't know where to look for you, but that's no business of mine."

He laughed again in his unpleasant way, then, without the slightest warning, tripped them both, so that they lay flat on the hard rock floor.

Once down they were, of course, quite helpless; and Caffyn, grinning as if he enjoyed it, proceeded to tie their ankles tightly with some stout cord which he took from his pocket.

He stood up again and flashed the light on them, looking them over carefully to make quite sure they were safe.

"And that's that," he remarked with a grin. "Well, boys, I'm sorry to leave you, but duty's duty; and young Delmar and I have got a job before us to get all that plate down to the beach. But it's worth a lot of trouble, for if we get anything less than ten thousand pounds for it I shall be badly surprised. Bye-bye. Be good."

Chuckling again, he turned and went quickly back up the passage. Hank and Stan were left lying on the bare, damp, rock floor, in almost complete darkness.

Caffyn's footsteps died away in the distance till there was not a sound to be heard.

Though his body was tied so tightly that he could hardly move, Stan's mind was racing after Caffyn and Delmar towards the spot were the valuables were to be found, and great was his mental torture as he thought of all it would mean to his family if the two rogues were to succeed.

To his own personal safety he gave not a thought.

Suddenly he realised his position and broke the unbearable silence.

"The beggar was right. We are a pretty pair of idiots," he groaned.

"Yes; I guess we can't exactly congratulate ourselves," agreed Hank drily. "But never say die, old son. What's he put round your wrists—string?"

"Cord."

"Well, roll right over and get your back towards me. My fingers are free, and I reckon there's just a chance I might be able to loosen the knots."

"You'll be jolly clever if you can. The beastly stuff is cutting right into my wrists," answered Stan; but as he spoke he rolled over, so that presently they lay close together, back to back. Then Stan felt Hank's fingers fumbling at the knots in the cord.

There was silence for some time. At last Hank spoke.

"I'm real sorry, Stan, but I'll have to take a rest. I've got cramp in my wrists."

"Same here," replied Stan, and though the muscles of his arms were knotting into lumps and he was in agonies of pain, he lay quiet.

Outside they could hear the slow roar of the surf on the beach. Though the wind had gone down the sea still ran high. A bitter draught blew through the cave itself, and they shivered in the chill of it.

"I suppose they're getting the chest out," said Stan at last.

"Guess that'll take 'em some time," replied Hank. "She must be mighty heavy."

"Gold, Hank—gold and lovely stones. And—did I tell you?—it's all got our family arms on it. I should think there must be enough to pay Father's debt twice over."

"I reckon there will," replied Hank quietly.

"You reckon it will," returned Stan sharply. "You're crazy. We've lost it-all."

"I'm not so mighty sure about that. I've a strong notion that Delmar is not going to get away with it."

"Who's to stop him?" snapped Stan. "We can't."

"Sit tight, old son. Even if they do get away with it, maybe we can follow them."

Hank's spirit was wonderful. For the moment Stan felt ashamed of his despair. But time passed, the chill bit deeper into his bones, and his spirits sank again.

At length a new sound came to his ears.

"Steps, Hank," he whispered.

Steps they were, slow and shuffling. A light gleamed in the tunnel, and presently two figures came by, bent almost double under heavy loads.

"There go the two thieves," muttered Stan.

"That's barely half the stuff," replied Hank in the same low voice. "They'll have to go back for the rest."

Caffyn and Delmar dropped their loads and went straight back, and there was another long, cold, miserable wait until they returned with the rest.

This time they both came into the side cave.

Caffyn flashed his light upon his helpless prisoners.

"Feeling pretty good?" he asked. But the boys refused to be drawn or to answer.

This annoyed Delmar. He came up and stood over them.

"I told you I'd be square with you two," he said softly, "and I generally keep my word. This time I think you'll allow I'm a bit more than square."

"Square, you call it," replied Hank innocently. "Chaps like you they call crooks in the country I come from."

Delmar started angrily, but checked himself.

"Seeing that it's a country you're never likely to see again," he drawled, "it doesn't much matter what they say there or how they say it."

Caffyn broke in sharply.

"Stop that!" he said sharply. "Just remember we have to get the stuff down to the boat."

"Quite so," replied Delmar. "These little duties become a pleasure under the circumstances. Good-night, Prynne; good-night, Harker. But perhaps it should be good-bye."

He turned and followed Caffyn out of the cave, and Hank and Stan were left alone in the dark, lying helpless on the cold, bare rock.

They heard Caffyn and Delmar pick up their loads and carry them slowly down the steep slope to the beach; they heard them come back for their second loads.

These, too, they carried away. The sound of their steps died, and the silence was broken only by the boom and hiss of the waves on the beach below.


CHAPTER 46
Bee to the Rescue

STAN could bear the silence no longer.

It seemed impossible to do nothing, attempt nothing, while so much was at stake.

Of course, with a man like Caffyn to deal with the chances were badly against them; but even so, it was maddening to have to lie there helpless, bound hands and feet.

"Can't we do anything?" he asked desperately.

"Sit tight," replied Hank, with a certain grimness in his tone. "Just as soon as I've got these knots out of my muscles I'm going to have another shy at the cords round your wrists."

Presently Stan spoke again.

"Where do you think Caffyn and Delmar are going?"

"To Davy Jones, if they're not careful. There's a big sea still running, by the sound of the waves on the beach."

"But then all the plate will go too," cried Stan in dismay.

"Go slow, old son," replied Hank, quietly. "I didn't mean that. Caffyn is much too wily a bird to run risks. I expect they'll push up to Salton and land there. The chances are that Caffyn has a car there."

"Why there?"

"Because it's the nearest place where there's a good landing, and, being a town, people won't be so apt to ask questions."

"I see. But, Hank, there's another thing. Now that Delmar has stolen all that plate I don't see how he can come back to the school."

"Of course he can't! But, if you ask me, he doesn't mean to. My notion is that the only reason he ever did come here was to collar the plate."

"But how did he know about it?"

"Through his father. I guess moneylenders get to know a lot of funny secrets."

"But then, if his father was going to get hold of the whole of Storr Royal, why didn't he wait until he had it? Then he could have taken all the time he wanted to look for the plate, and it would have been his by law."

"That's so, Stan. You've hit the nail on the head. It's a point I've been worrying over. It certainly does seem a foolish trick to run the risk of stealing the stuff when they might have had it legally, as you say. But I guess he had a motive, and we'll find out the truth sooner or later."

"Too late, I'm afraid," groaned Stan, who by this time was in a state very near to despair. Stan was full of pluck and go so long as he could do anything. It was this business of lying inactive that took ail the heart out of him.

"I'm ready now," said Hank. "We'll have another shot at those knots, Stan."

The two rolled over again back to back, and once more Hank struggled to untie the cords around Stan's wrists.

But the handcuffs fitted him so closely that within a minute or two agonising cramp began to shoot through his wrists, and his fingers became useless.

Still his pluck did not fail.

"Have to rest a while again, I reckon," he remarked coolly. "I'll have another shot by and by."

Stan bit his lip to keep down a cry of despair. He felt that it was all hopeless. Here they were, and here they would stay in this dreadful cave until they starved or froze to death.

"Stan! Stan!"

The voice, shaking with fright yet full of a stubborn bravery, came whispering out of the gloom.

Stan recognised it.

"Bee! Bee!" he shouted back. "Oh, Bee, is that you?"

A slim little figure was outlined against the faint light which filtered in through the mouth of the cross-passage. It came groping forward with outstretched arms, and almost fell over Stan where he lay.

"Oh, Bee, how splendid of you!" cried Stan. "How did you do it?"

"Guess we won't worry how she did it," put in Hank, drily. "Not for the present, anyway.

"Bee," he went on, "I'm handcuffed, and Stan here is tied. You' get the string off his wrists. Then we'll start things."

"But are you hurt?" begged Bee, as she dropped on her knees beside Stan. "And—and where is that dreadful boy Delmar?"

"We aren't hurt, not a mite," declared Hank. "And Delmar and his pal have gone off in a boat with a lot of plate they've stolen. Get us loose, Bee—that's the first thing to be done—and let's be after them. We'll tell you all about everything afterwards."

"It's so dark. I can't see the knots," said Bee.

"There's a knife in my pocket, dear," said Stan—"right- hand coat pocket. That's it. Can you open it?"

Bee could and did, and Stan gasped with relief as he felt the biting cords drop away from his numbed wrists. He took the knife from Bee, and freed his own ankles. Then he cut Hank's feet loose, and helped him up. After that all three hurried, as fast as they could go, out into the open.

As they reached the mouth of the cave they found the fog was gone, though a haze still hung over the sea.

Hank and Stan stood straining their eyes across the water, but there was no sign of a boat.

"They're round the point," said Stan.

Hank nodded.

"That's so. And I'm dead sure that they're making for Salton. Now, if you can get these handcuffs off, I'm just going to light out there quick as ever I can go, while you two go up to the school, tell your dad, and ask him to get out a couple of cars quick as ever he can work it. One had better go straight to Salton, and the other make for Marnmouth in the other direction."

Stan looked at the handcuffs.

"We'll need a cold chisel for these," he said.

"Well, I guess you've got one in your own pocket unless you left it by the chest there."

Stan felt quickly in his pocket. His face cleared.

"Hurray! Here it is," he exclaimed, as he whipped it out. "Now for a stone."

Hank laid his wrists across an angle of hard rock, and Stan picked up a good-sized stone. Getting the chisel edge square across the links of the chain, and using the stone as a hammer, he very soon had the chain in two.

"That's fine!" declared Hank, as he stretched his cramped arms above his head. "Now I guess we won't be long. Remember—a car, Stan! Two, if you can get 'em. And don't forget that every minute is precious.

"So long," he cried, and, scrambling down to the beach, went straight off for the cliff path. Almost before the other two knew it, he was out of sight.

"He takes my breath away," said Bee, "Isn't he wonderful, Stan?"

"Not a bit more wonderful than you, old thing. How on earth did you find us?"

"I thought you and Hank would take advantage of the railings being smashed, so I watched. But the fog was so thick I didn't see you two. Then afterwards it cleared a little, and I did see Delmar, so I followed him. And, Stan"—she gave a little gasp—"I saw it all. I saw Caffyn catch you, and I was so frightened. I didn't know whether to go back for help or come straight after you. But I was afraid to go away because I thought he might hide you while I was gone, so I came after. And then Caffyn came back and I hid, and he passed quite close, and I was shaking. It was awful!"

"It was just splendid of you, Bee!" declared Stan. "But we mustn't stop here talking. We ought to go straight back. It's quickest up the tunnel, so let's go that way."

Bee looked doubtful. She hated that dark place.

"Besides, I want to see if the chest is still there," added Stan. "If I show it to Father he can't doubt our story."

Bee nodded and followed her brother up the tunnel.


CHAPTER 47
Stan Blunders

STAN still had candle-ends in his pocket, so they had light to find their way through the blackness of the subterranean passages.

As may be imagined, they did not waste much time about the business. When they got to the big crypt Stan darted across to the hiding-place. The slab lay open; the big oaken chest was still there, but it was empty. Caffyn and Delmar between them had completely stripped it.

Stan ground his teeth. It was maddening to think of all that beautiful old stuff being carried away by two wretched thieves.

"It was all gold, Bee," he told his sister; "gold and great big precious stones. I'm quite sure it would have paid off all Dad owed to that horrible man. And it was ours, too. Every piece had our crest on it."

"Oh, Stan, and those dreadful people have stolen it?"

"Every atom! But never mind. Somehow we'll get it back. Hank said we should, and I believe him. And now to see Dad and get that car."

Stan's mind was so fixed on the recovery of the plate that for the moment everything else had passed clean out of his head. Followed by Bee, he came scrambling out through the gap in the railings without giving one thought to the fact that he was out of bounds, and that he was breaking one of the strictest of the rules laid down by his father.

Several boys saw him and stopped short, staring in amazement. One or two ran forward to ask what was up, but Stan never even saw them.

He was hurrying, almost running in fact, towards the wicket- gate which led down into the master's garden, when there came a quick step behind him, and a hand fell heavily on his shoulder.

"What do you mean by this, Prynne?" came an angry voice. "Of all flagrant impudence, this is the worst I ever saw or heard of!"

Turning sharply, Stan found himself face to face with Mr. Cotter.

Still Stan had no thoughts for his offence.

"Don't delay me, sir! Please don't!" he begged. "I have to see my father at once!"

"See your father!" repeated the master, with heavy sarcasm. "You certainly shall see him, and though you are his own son you need not I expect to escape heavy punishment for this flagrant breach of rules!"

"Oh, you mean my being out of bounds?" said Stan quickly.

Cotter glared at him through his glasses.

"Ha! So you consider the breaking of bounds in this flagrant fashion a merely venial offence? You will be undeceived, my young friend—sadly undeceived."

Stan had been through a lot that afternoon. Small blame to him that his temper cracked a little.

"You have to go out of bounds sometimes," he said curtly. "This was one of the times."

Cotter was furious.

"So you think insolence will mend matters? Very well, I shall lock you up until you learn manners. Then I shall take you to the master."

Stan realised he had gone too far. He turned to Bee, who was listening in great distress.

"Bee, go to Father and explain. Tell him everything, and ask him—beg him—to send a car to Salton at once."

"Yes, of course I will," replied Bee. "And"—darting a defiant look at Mr. Cotter, whom she cordially disliked—"you shall go too, Stan. I promise."

She dashed away; and Mr. Cotter, slightly puzzled but still very angry, dragged Stan off to the detention-room, into which he led him.

"Now, if you have any explanations to make, you had better make them," he said coldly.

Stan looked him square in the face. "I have none to make to you, sir. I will explain to my father as soon as I see him."

Cotter glared at him a moment, then marched out, slamming the door behind him, and Stan heard the key grate in the lock. But he did not mind—at least, not much. He knew that Bee could tell all that was necessary, and he stood by the window which looked out over the master's garden, expecting every moment to see his father come hurrying out.

But minutes went by and nothing happened; and Stan, who knew that every moment was precious, grew more and more anxious.

At last the door did open, but it was Bee alone who came out. She looked this way and that. Stan, leaning out of the window, shouted to her at the top of his voice; and she, looking up, caught sight of him and came running.

"Oh, Stan!" she cried, in a tone of extreme distress. "Oh, Stan, Father is out! He went nearly an hour ago, and Mother doesn't know where he is. What shall we do?"

Stan stared at her in speechless dismay. This was a blow that he had never thought of. He did not know what to do, and the thought of Hank left all alone to deal with the thieves of the plate, and without help of any sort or even money, drove him nearly distracted.


CHAPTER 48
Mr. Astley Takes a Hand

FOR the moment Stan was at his wits' end.

"Bee, we're absolutely done for," he groaned. "Cotter's finished us."

"He's too stupid!" cried Bee, sharply; "too horribly stupid."

She stopped short.

"But Mr. Astley isn't!" she cried. "Mr. Astley is not a bit like that."

Stan gave a gasp of relief.

"I'd forgotten him—clean forgotten him, Bee. But you are right. He can help us, and he will, too. Run and find him. Tell him all you know, and ask him to come here. And listen, Bee. You can say that Delmar has run away."

Bee's face cleared like magic.

"I'll fetch him," she answered, and darted off.

Stan waited. He couldn't sit down, but kept walking up and down the room, looking out of the window at every turn.

Five long minutes dragged by, and Stan had about made up his mind that Bee had failed to find Mr. Astley when he heard quick steps outside, the key turned in the lock, and the door was flung open.

"Hullo, Prynne!" came Mr. Astley's cheery voice. "So you're in trouble. What's this yarn your sister has been telling me? Treasure and thieves; it sounds like a pirate story."

"It's true, sir," Stan answered earnestly; "every word of it. Harker and I found a big chest of plate in a cellar under the ruins this afternoon, and Delmar and that man Caffyn caught us and drove us into the outer cave in Priest's Cove through an underground passage. They tied us up, then went back for the plate, and took it away in a boat."

"Plate? What plate was it?"

"Gold plate, sir, and had our crest on it. Very old, it looked."

Mr. Astley whistled softly.

"Old? I should think it was! It must be the plate that your ancestor, Royal Prynne, hid in the seventeenth century to save it from the Roundheads. What an amazing find! But what happened next?"

"Bee found us, and let us loose, but the boat was gone. Hank—that is Harker—thought they would land at Salton, so he went along the coast, and told me to come back and get Father to send a car. Bee and I came back through the passage, and just as we got into the quadrangle Mr. Cotter caught me and brought me up here. He wouldn't listen to anything I said."

"He wouldn't," muttered Mr. Astley, below his breath. Aloud, he said: "You can't wonder, Prynne. You were breaking bounds most flagrantly. Still, this is an out-of-the-ordinary occasion, and I feel justified in acting on my own account."

He considered a moment.

"It is quite clear that we must get to Salton as soon as possible. There is not much doubt in my mind that Harker was right, and that is where the thieves have gone. My motor-bicycle will do it as quickly as any car, and you can come in the side- car. No; you must wait here until I have spoken to Mr. Cotter," he added. "Meantime, I will tell your sister to bring your overcoat and something to eat."

He was off at a great pace, leaving Stan much comforted, but still, of course, very anxious. The next thing Stan heard was the sharp rattle of the exhaust of a motor-bicycle, and very soon Mr. Astley was in the room again. With him came Bee, carrying Stan's overcoat and muffler and a large bunch of cake.

"It's all right, Prynne. Mr. Cotter knows. Come on as quickly as you can," said Mr. Astley.

Stan needed no urging, and inside another minute he was safe in the comfortable side-car and Mr. Astley in the saddle.

"Good-bye, Bee."

"Good-bye, Stan." Then, with a clatter like that of a machine- gun, the bicycle had started and was running rapidly out of the gates of the quadrangle.

The machine was a big eight horse-power Speedy, geared like a motor-car and able to give points and a beating to almost any car that was made, and the pace at which she spun along the undulating coast-road was a revelation to Stan.

It was not quite three miles to Salton, and it was barely seven minutes from leaving the school when Mr. Aston pulled up at a quiet garage in a side street.

"We'll look for Harker afoot," he said. "Whatever happens, we don't want those other fellows to know anyone is after them."

"They'll never dream it, sir," said Stan, earnestly. "They left us tied up, you know. I suppose we'd better go down to the quay first?"

"That's the idea. We must find if they landed here."

Salton was a small but busy seaport, with a big fishing industry. No one would be likely to pay any particular attention to a stray boat coming in. But at the quay Stan and Mr. Astley were in luck's way, for a blue-jerseyed longshoreman of whom they inquired at once told them that a boat, with a man and a boy in it, had come in about half an hour earlier.

"What be up wi' 'em?" he asked, as he took his pipe out of his mouth. "You be the second as has asked about them chaps."

"Was the other who asked you a boy?"

"Ay, a smart young chap— American, I reckon."

"Hank!" cried Stan. "Which way did he go when he left you?"

"Up back into town. But, bless you, I didn't watch particular."

Mr. Astley gave the man a coin, and, thanking him, he and Stan hurried away to look for Hank. They went up all the main streets, looked into shops, asked policemen, but couldn't find a trace of him.

Time was passing. It was nearly dark, and Stan was getting more anxious every minute.

"They must have spotted him, sir. Perhaps they've taken him away in the car."

"I'm very much afraid they have spotted him," replied the master, gravely. "If I could only find whether they had a car and, if so, where Caffyn started from!"

He thought a moment.

"We must go round and enquire at every garage in the place."

There were four garages, they found. They tried three without result, but at the fourth struck oil, or, rather, information. A mechanic there told them that a car with a man and a boy in it had stopped there about an hour earlier to fill up with petrol.

"But where did the car come from—that's the question?" asked Mr. Astley.

"She hadn't come far, sir. That I know for certain, because her radiator was still quite cool. I'd say she had only just started. She was a Ford car."

"From which direction did she come?"

"Out of that turning," the mechanic told them.

They went up the turning. A little way up was a blind alley running out of it at right angles, and here Stan stopped short.

"Tyre marks," he exclaimed eagerly—"American make, too."

"That's it, Prynne," answered the other, as keenly. "I believe we've got it at last. We must search this place."

Inside was an old deserted yard paved with cobbles. There was no one about. Stan peered about and shouted, but heard nothing. Then he found his way into a low-roofed, dusty old stable, and shouted again.

From above came a slight thudding sound, as if something were tapping a board.

Like a flash Stan raced up the rickety ladder, and found himself in a dark loft. The tapping still went on. He struck a match, and there against the far wall lay Hank, bound, gagged, and helpless.


CHAPTER 49
The Hiding Place

STAN'S shout brought the master running, and between them they soon had poor Hank free.

His lips were so swollen with the cruel gag that for the moment he could not speak.

"They've gone," were the first words he said.

"We know that," quickly replied Mr. Astley, "in a Ford car nearly an hour ago. But do you know where?"

"I don't know a lot," replied Hank ruefully. "You see, I saw them land, and followed 'em. The car was in the place below, and I took my chance of climbing up into the loft to see if I couldn't overhear their plans. I got up all right, and was lying on the floor with my ear to a crack when a loose board shifted.

"Caffyn was up the ladder like a streak, and he's so mighty strong and quick I honestly didn't have a dog's chance."

"Of course you didn't, Harker. There's nothing to be ashamed of in that," replied Mr. Astley. "Then you heard nothing of their plans?"

"Nothing to signify, sir. All I heard was Delmar asking Caffyn if he'd got enough petrol to go as far as Axworthy. I guess it must be some one-horse place no one ever heard of."

"Except me," replied the master, his face lighting up. "As a matter of fact, it's only five miles from my home."

"Where is it?" asked both boys at once.

"Up on Dark Moor. It's an old, disused tin-mine, and if I'm not mistaken just the very place that a man like Caffyn would pick to hide this stuff."

"What luck!" exclaimed Stan, in tones of the deepest relief.

Hank nodded.

"Yes, sir," he said. "I kind of reckon that's just where they'll stow the plunder. But they've got a long start. We'd best be moving. Have you got a car, sir?"

"A motor bike and side-car." Hank's face fell.

"Then there won't be room for me, sir?"

Mr. Astley smiled. He was young enough to appreciate Hank's feelings.

"Plenty, if you don't mind the carrier."

Hank's face cleared like magic.

"Then come right along, sir."

"You've got to have a cup of tea first," insisted the master. "No; it won't take five minutes, and there's no such very great hurry. Even with three up, my machine can lay out any Ford that ever was built. I'm running this show, Harker," he added, with a laugh.

"Then what you say goes," agreed Hank.

They found a pastrycook's round the corner, and hot tea was swallowed in gulps. With buns in their pockets they hurried back to where Mr. Astley had left his machine, and in a very brief space of time were all aboard and off.

It was night now, but most fortunately a fine night, with a moon only two days off the full. Into the bargain the big Speedy had a powerful acetylene head-light, and Mr. Astley let her out in fine style.

The way in which she swept up the long slopes leading from the coast to the moor was most comforting.

As they rose higher and higher towards the line of rolling hills which lay against the night sky, the air bit cool and sharp. They roared through a couple of small villages, and came to a tremendous hill rising up between low stone walls.

The Speedy never faltered, and soon they reached the top.

"Twelve hundred feet up," said Mr. Astley. "That's Proudfoot Hill. Now we go down across the Stonebrook, which runs through the valley below, then we climb Black Tor, and from the next ridge we can see Axworthy."

In the valley the Stonebrook roared, brown and swollen with the previous night's rain. Just beyond shone the lights of a farm close on the road. Here Mr. Astley stopped.

"People I know," he said. "Cobleigh their name is. I'm going to ask if a car has passed."

He went up to the door, knocked, and the boys waited. Inside two minutes the master, was back.

"Good business!" he said joyfully. "A car did pass, and not a quarter of an hour ago. We are hot on their heels, boys."

Up the next long hill and near the top Mr. Astley stopped again, and covered his head-light; then on again until they reached the very summit of the ridge.

"That's Axworthy Tor," he said, pointing to a great dome- shaped mass a little to the east. "The mine is on this side. There used to be a good track up to the mine, but I don't know quite what state it's in now or whether we can take the bicycle up."

"I guess if it's good enough for a car it's all right for a bike, sir," said Hank. "Look between those two rocks, sir. If those ain't car lights I'm blind."

Mr. Astley gave a short laugh.

"You're right, Harker—you are perfectly right. Though their lights are dimmed, I can see them. Yes, Caffyn has driven his car right up close to the mouth of the mine, and I have not the least doubt that he is hiding his plunder there. We must follow."

Hank shook his head. "That won't work, sir," he answered. "They'll soon hear us if we try that."

Mr. Astley gave a faint whistle.

"Again you are right. I had clean forgotten that. Then we must follow them afoot. You two keep well behind me. Remember, please, that Caffyn is a dangerous man, and if we wish to come out of this with whole skins we must be very careful."


CHAPTER 50
The Second Start

THE tor side was steep as a house roof, and it was lucky for them all that Mr. Astley knew the ground so well as he did. He led the way, and the two boys followed.

The moonlight was now very bright, and so that Caffyn and Delmar should not see that they were being followed it was necessary to keep away from the road.

This meant slipping from one boulder and gorse bush to another, and over ground which was covered with loose stones or deep in heather.

There were also deep pockets of bog that had to be very carefully avoided.

Half-way up they paused a moment to take breath under shelter of a granite boulder the size of a small cottage.

"They're taking long enough," whispered Hank.

"They've a lot of stuff to move," replied Stan, "and I expect they are hiding it pretty carefully."

"The longer they take the better for us," said Mr. Astley. "It gives us more chance of catching them in the act. Now come on. We must not waste time."

There was less cover higher up, and the small stones were thick. Once Stan put his foot on a loose one and stumbled. The stone rolled away for some distance, and Stan paused in dismay. So quiet was the night that the noise seemed magnified a dozen times.

"Be careful!" said Mr. Astley in a whisper as he looked back.

But there was no sound from above, and, feeling reassured, the three went on again.

At last they were level with the mine mouth, and able to see the car standing on the rough track near the foot of the dump. But there was no sign of Caffyn or Delmar.

Mr. Astley beckoned the boys to follow, and, creeping up, they hid among the big stones near the mouth of the mine.

They were hardly settled before there was a sound of steps. Two figures were coming softly down the hillside, close to the entrance to the old mine.

Stan's heart beat hard. At last he was face to face with the thieves.

He and Hank crouched, breathless, while Mr. Astley, kneeling behind a big stone, was watching keenly.

Outside the mouth of the mine Caffyn stopped, and looked round carefully. He said something to Delmar, but in so low a voice the watchers could not hear.

Then, instead of coming straight down the hill, the two went off a little to the right, making for the car in a slight curve.

Hank leaned towards Mr. Astley.

"Now's our chance, sir," he whispered.

The master shook his head.

"No, Harker; I do not intend to rush them. Caffyn is probably armed, and we are not. What we are after is the plate, and, if I am not mistaken, they have just finished hiding the last of it. I shall wait until they have left; then we can recover Mr. Prynne's property at our leisure."

Hank looked bitterly disappointed.

"You don't mean to say you are going to let them go, sir?"

"I don't think we need trouble our heads about that, Hank. Remember they are bound to come back to pick up their loot. We have only to set a watch here, and they will tumble right into the trap."

Hank was not pleased, for he had been looking forward to getting a little of his own back. Yet he could not help realising that Mr. Astley was right. The recovery of the plate was the important matter. The thieves were sure to be taken sooner or later.

Caffyn and Adnan Delmar went straight to the car, and Delmar got in. Caffyn cranked up, then took the driving seat, and the car, heavily braked, went bumping slowly down the steep track.

The moment she was round the next corner Mr. Astley was up, and he and the boys ran for the mine mouth. It was a low tunnel cut in the rocky earth, the sides and roof were timbered, the bottom covered with deep red mud and water.

Mr. Astley waited till they were all well inside before switching on his lamp; then the three advanced up the passage. The boys looked this way and that, but there was no sign of any of the plate.

"Where have they put it?" asked Stan anxiously.

"There'll be a cross gallery farther up," Hank told him. "I guess they'll have found some place in behind the timbers."

Sure enough, they soon came to a cross gallery, and here Hank looked for foot-prints; but the mud was too soft to hold them, so first they tried the right branch.

They had not gone ten steps before they found the roof down. They then tried the left side, only to discover that this, too, was blocked by a fall. There was nothing for it but to go on up the main approach. But very soon this became ruinous. The timbering was rotten, and big stones had fallen from the roof, yet, dangerous as it was, they pressed on.

Once more disappointment was their lot, for about fifty paces from the mouth was another fall.

"It's not here at all," Stan cried sharply.

Mr. Astley frowned.

"Upon my word, I believe you are right, Prynne. There does not seem to be any place here where they could have hidden their plunder."

Hank, who had been peering among the rocks which littered the floor, started up sharply.

"They've never hidden it here at all, sir," he declared in a tone of absolute conviction. "They were just fooling us."

For a moment Mr. Astley stared hard at Hank and his lips curved in a soundless whistle.

"You mean they heard us?"

Hank nodded.

"I guess that's the size of it!"

"Then what have they done with it?"

"Taken it right along in the car," replied Hank briefly.

"And we've let them go!" exclaimed Stan in dismay.

"Never mind, Prynne. We have caught them once; we'll catch them again," said Mr. Astley, and there was a grim set of his jaw which boded ill for Caffyn and Co.

He plunged back down the muddy passage, the other two close at his heels.

"There they are, sir," cried Hank, pointing.

Nearly two miles away to the north-west the head-lights of a car made a golden gleam in the pale moonlight.


CHAPTER 51
The End of the Chase

THE pace at which the three went down the hill again was a wonder. It was just one wild race to reach the motor- bicycle, and when they did reach it they were all splashed with mud and panting for breath.

By this time the Ford was out of sight and out of hearing. Stan was about to step into the side-car when he paused.

"You this time, Hank," he said. "I'll go on the carrier."

Hank stepped back.

"Guess I'm not coming," he said briefly.

"What do you mean?" inquired Stan in astonishment.

Mr. Astley understood.

"The weight he is thinking of. We shall have to do some pretty tall travelling."

Hank nodded.

"That's it, sir. I reckon it'll just make the difference over these big hills. And you've got to catch them before they're off the moor. Once they reach that tangle of little lanes beyond you'd be mighty apt to lose them."

"You are quite right, Harker," said Mr. Astley. "The extra weight will make the difference."

Stan cut in.

"Then you go. Hank," he said generously. "I'll stay."

"No, Stan. It's your stuff, or rather your dad's. You go along."

"Yes, Prynne, Harker is right," said Mr. Astley. "Slip into your seat. And, Hank, go down to the farm. The Cobleighs will be good to you if you mention my name. Wait there till we come back. I dare say it won't be long."

Next moment he was in his saddle, and they were away. As they shot up the far slope Stan looked back and saw Hank all alone by the roadside, waving his cap, and his heart smote him. For he knew, better even than Mr. Astley, how Hank must be hating to be left out of the last scene of the big adventure.

The pace increased. Mr. Astley was letting out the Speedy to the very limit of her powerful twin engine. Stan had fancied that she had been doing her best earlier in the evening, but now he knew he had been wrong.

The road, though hilly, was straight and open, the moonlight was bright, and Mr. Astley was proving himself a driver of the finest type.

The roar from the exhaust clattered far and wide across the moonlit moor, sending shaggy ponies galloping wildly across the stony tor sides, and low banks flew by in a whizzing procession. The rush of the cold night air made Stan's eyes stream.

Never before had Stan travelled at such terrific speed, yet he was not in the least nervous, for he realised that the young master had perfect control over his splendid machine.

Up and down, up hill and down dale they flew, with never a pause except once, when some terrified moor ponies charged across in front with flying manes and tails, and again when a hairpin bend known as the Devil's Elbow had to be carefully negotiated.

They were averaging very nearly fifty miles an hour, and Stan knew that, however hard Caffyn was driving, they must be overhauling the Ford hand over fist.

Reaching the top of another hill, a long ridge called Omen Beam, Stan gave a sudden shout.

"There she is!" he cried.

"I see," said Mr. Astley without for a moment taking his eyes off the road. "We've got them, Prynne. With any luck we'll catch them on Caunter's Curve."

Stan did not know what Caunter's Curve was, but he very soon learnt. Having crossed one more valley and climbed the far side, they came to another down slope at least two miles long. It was not very steep, yet for some reason the road made a great loop half-way down.

Stan shouted again, for there was the Ford, less than a quarter of a mile ahead.

As the cycle came flashing over the top of the hill, Delmar, who was sitting in front of the Ford, next Caffyn, heard her and glanced quickly round.

Stan could plainly see him speaking urgently to Caffyn.

Next moment the pace of the Ford was slightly checked, then suddenly, to Stan's amazement, she seemed to shoot right off the road on to the moor.

At first Stan thought it was an accident, but next moment Mr. Astley explained.

"It's a short cut, Stan, a cart track which goes straight down the hill, and cuts out the curve. They think they'll save time and reach the bridge before us. Then I expect they will try to block the bridge by flinging down stones off the coping. I happen to know the stones are loose."

"Jolly cute of them," replied Stan; "but are you going to follow them, sir?"

"No, thanks. Not across that cut. Though the road is longer the surface is so much better that I am sure I can make as good time that way."

As he spoke they had come almost level with the entrance of the cart track, and were travelling at a tremendous pace.

The Ford, too, was going pretty fast, but Stan could see she was bumping in an unpleasant fashion.

Suddenly there was a crack like a gun shot and the Ford rolled like a ship in a storm.

"One of their tyres gone," yelled Stan, and, before the words were out of his mouth, the Ford, thrown out of her course by the sudden loss of her tyre, had swerved sideways and struck a boulder at the edge of the track. For a moment Stan saw the car apparently trying to stand on her head. Then over she went with a prodigious crash and a splintering of glass from her screen.

Both her passengers were flung out, one farther than the other.

Without a word, Mr. Astley stopped the cycle, and, leaving her at the roadside, he and Stan ran hard across the moor towards the scene of the accident.

Before they had gone half way one of the two figures had risen, and was running hard down-hill.

"It's Delmar!" panted Stan. Before they reached the spot he was out of sight in some thick gorse lower down.

It was Caffyn they found beside the smashed car, and Mr. Astley paused beside the fallen figure.

His face in the moonlight was very grave.

"I'm very much afraid he's done for," he said.


CHAPTER 52
Where is the Plate?

STAN drew a quick breath.

"Dead, do you mean, sir?" he asked.

Mr. Astley was on his knees by Caffyn's body. He had pulled open his shirt and had his ear on the man's chest. Presently he looked up.

"No, he is not dead; his heart is beating. But he is badly hurt, Prynne. Go to the quarry cottage below, and see if you can get two men and a hurdle or stretcher."

Stan hurried off.

He was relieved to find that the cottage people were still up, and when he told them what had happened two sturdy brothers named French got a quarry stretcher and came with him up the hill.

"Be he badly hurt, sir?" asked one as they reached the over- turned car.

"One leg broken and his head is badly cut," said Mr. Astley. "There may, of course, be other injuries, but we shall have to wait for the doctor to hear about those."

"A wonder he weren't killed outright," said the elder French. "What ever made the chap go driving a car over a track like that? Why, 'twas madness!"

Mr. Astley did not explain to them the cause of the smash, but helped them to carry the insensible man down the hill to the cottage, where they put him to bed.

One of the good fellows then said he would take his bicycle and go to Manaton for the doctor; so, promising to come back in the morning, and meantime leaving some money for expenses, Mr. Astley left the cottage and, accompanied by Stan, started once more up the slope.

"What about the plate, sir?" was Stan's first question as they walked through the deep heather.

Mr. Astley turned his head towards Stan.

"There is no plate," he answered quietly.

Stan was too astonished to speak. He merely stared.

"I have looked everywhere," continued Mr. Astley, "and I am convinced that it could not have been in the car when it upset. There is nothing of the kind in or about the car."

Stan gasped.

"B-but where is it?" he managed to ask.

Mr. Astley shrugged his shoulders.

"That is more than I can tell you, Prynne. I confess to being completely puzzled. It's quite certain that Delmar did not run away with any of it, and I do not think it likely that he and Caffyn dumped their cargo overboard."

Stan shook his head.

"Certainly that's not likely, sir. Not after all the risks they took in getting it. I wonder, if they had time to hide it when we lost sight of them after they left the old mine."

"I don't know where they could have put it if they did," replied Mr. Astley; "and I know the moor at least as well as Caffyn."

"But we can't go back without it!" exclaimed Stan in despair. "What will Father say?"

Mr. Astley looked sharply at the boy.

"Do you mean that you think he may let you off punishment if you bring back the plate, Prynne?" he asked, rather curtly.

Stan started as if stung.

"Punishment! It never entered my mind, sir. It's of Father I was thinking."

He paused, but the temptation to go on was too strong, and, anyhow, there was no particular reason why he should not tell Mr. Astley. If the plate were not recovered he would know soon enough. And he, like the rest, would suffer, for he would lose his position and salary when the school smashed up.

"Father is in debt, sir. He lost money in a bank smash, and had to borrow to carry on. Now the lender is threatening to—to foreclose, I think they call it, and if the money isn't paid soon they will take the school and everything."

Mr. Astley looked startled.

"I had no idea of this, Prynne," he said quickly. "So you are hoping that the value of the plate may pay the debt and save the school?"

"That's it, sir; so you won't wonder I am awfully anxious to recover it."

"Indeed no, my boy. Well, you and I will do our best, but for the present there does not seem anything to be done. We cannot continue our hunt in the dark—or rather by this moonlight."

He paused and considered.

"The best thing to do," he said, "will be to go back, pick up Harker, and return to Storr Royal. Tomorrow morning I will start out early, if your father will allow me to do so, and get what help I can. With a good party to scour the moor, and in broad daylight, there will be a better chance of discovering the hiding-place. Besides," he added, "we may get on the track of this young scamp Delmar, or, if not, it is possible that Caffyn may be induced to talk."

With this Stan had to be content, but his spirits were at their lowest ebb as, seated in the side-car, he was whirled along the road.

In an astonishingly short time they were back at the house of Farmer Cobleigh, who was waiting up for them.

"Your Mr. Harker be in bed and asleep, Mr. Astley," he said. "The lad were fair worn out, and it would be a pity to rouse him. Couldn't you let him stay here the night, and I'll send him along to the school in the post motor-van in the morning, or, if I can't catch that, in my own trap?"

Mr. Astley hesitated a moment He was not quite sure what the Headmaster would say. But he knew well what a very rough time Hank had had during the past seven or eight hours, and presently he made up his mind to do as Mr. Cobleigh suggested.

The farmer insisted on giving them some supper; then they got on to the road again, and, driving full speed down the long slopes, were back, at Storr Royal a little before eleven.

They found the main gate open, and the porter waiting for them.

"My goodness, sir, I'm glad you're back," was his greeting. "The master's in a terrible taking."

In all the excitement of the past few hours, and his intense anxiety to recover the plate, Stan had practically forgotten how he himself stood in the matter. Now he remembered that he and Hank had been guilty of breaking the most stringent of his father's rules. They had not only gone out of bounds, but done so in defiance of Mr. Prynne's direct orders.

He knew his father far too well to expect that any excuse he could offer would be accepted, and his heart sank very low indeed as he and Mr. Astley walked across to the Master's house.


CHAPTER 53
An Ultimatum from Mr. Delmar

STAN'S first sight of his father's face was not encouraging.

Mr. Prynne's lips were drawn in one straight line, his forehead was deeply creased, but, though he looked angry, he seemed also so dreadfully anxious and worried that Stan felt a pang of sorrow.

"So you are back?" he said; and Stan did not know whether or not there was a tone of relief in his voice. Then: "You will wait in the other room, Standish, until I have heard what Mr. Astley has to say."

Stan went out again quietly, and sat waiting for nearly a quarter of an hour before he was called in.

Mr. Astley had gone.

"I have heard the whole story from Mr. Astley, Standish," said Air, Prynne coldly. "I presume you realise that you have disobeyed the rules of the school in a most flagrant fashion, as well as running contrary to my own most explicit orders."

He paused and looked at his son, and Stan did not feel happy. He thought it best to keep silence.

"I shall not go further into the matter tonight," continued his father, in the same level tone. "To-morrow, when Harker returns, you will both come to me for the punishment you deserve. Meantime, you can go to your dormitory."

Stan went. But now his feeling of sorrow had changed to one of rebellion. He felt sore and hurt.

Outside he found Mr. Astley.

"Prynne," he said quietly, "your father is very much upset about the whole business, and more particularly about the disappearance of Delmar. Whatever he has said to you I would not take it too much to heart."

Mr. Astley's kindness very nearly finished Stan. He had been through a good deal that day. There was such a lump in his throat that all he could do was to mutter:

"Thank you very much, sir. Good-night," and then hurry away.

Everyone else in the dormitory was asleep, and for this Stan was very thankful. He undressed hastily and crept into bed, and so worn out was he that his head was hardly on the pillow before he was sound asleep.

Delmar's and Hank's empty beds had naturally caused a lot of talk, and next morning Stan was besieged by eager questioners. To all he made the same answer:

"I can't say anything now. You'll all know before long."

At breakfast the school was humming with suppressed excitement. As Stan went out of the dining room Mr. Astley met him, and took him aside.

"I am going up to the moor, Prynne, at once. Your father has asked me to do so. I wish I could take you, but your father will not allow it."

"Has anything been heard of Delmar, sir?" asked Stan.

"No, but I believe your father telephoned last night to tell Mr. Delmar that his son was missing."

He was gone again before Stan could recover from the shock of this announcement, and Stan went to his morning work with a very heavy heart. He had not even Hank with whom to discuss things.

All through school hours there was the same uneasy air of suspense. The boys were aware that something was wrong, but Stan was the only one of them all who knew the truth.

Even Mr. Cotter shared the general disquiet, and forbore to make himself as disagreeable to his form as he usually did.

Twelve came at last, and the boys trooped out of their classrooms. Stan's one idea was to get some news of Hank, but on inquiring at the gate he learned that nothing had yet been seen of him.

He had no heart to go to the playing field or gymnasium, but hung about, hoping for news.

It was not long in coming, but not in the shape in which he expected it.

He received a summons to attend in his father's study, and hurried off at once.

At the door of the house he met Bee. Her small face looked pinched and anxious, and she drew him quickly into the drawing- room.

"Oh, Stan," she said, "that dreadful Mr. Delmar is here again, and he has been just shouting at father. It—it's dreadful!"

She was nearly crying.

Stan pulled himself together, gave her a good hug, and kissed her.

"Cheer up, old thing!" he said, with a smile which looked almost genuine. "Mr. Delmar can't do anything, and he won't feel so bumptious after he's heard what I have to say. Mr. Astley has gone after the plate, and once we get that we can laugh at all our troubles."

He kissed her again, and hurried to the study.

Mr. Delmar stood opposite Mr. Prynne. His big face looked bigger and redder than ever; his eyes seemed to stick out of his head; he was evidently in a great rage.

There was something like relief on Mr. Prynne's face as he saw Stan.

"Standish," he said quietly, "I wish you to tell Mr. Delmar what happened yesterday. He seems"—there was a note of sarcasm in his voice—"to doubt my word."

The money-lender turned and glared at Stan, but Stan was not frightened. He started in at once, and briefly, but very plainly, told just what happened, from the time he and Hank had gone down into the ruins to the minute when Adnan Delmar had bolted from the car.

Nor did he spare Adnan in any way, but let his father know very clearly just what rascally part he had played in the theft of the plate.

The big money-lender grew redder and redder as he listened. He seemed to swell like a turkey cock.

Stan had hardly finished before he burst out in a fury.

"A pack of lies! I don't believe a word of it. My son has been a victim of foul play. I was a fool to send him to a place like this!"

Stan boiled inwardly, but he had learned to keep his temper.

"Every word I have said is absolutely true," he replied quietly, "and when Harker comes back he can corroborate it. So can Mr. Astley—at least, the last part of it. And the empty chest is there for you to look at if you want to."

"I don't want to," retorted Mr. Delmar fiercely. "The story is an invention from beginning to end."

He swung round on Mr. Prynne.

"My belief is that this is a plot to get yourself out of paying your debts. But don't think it!" He shook his fist. "You'll pay the last penny, and you'll find my son. If you fail in either I shall take legal proceedings at once. That is my last word."


CHAPTER 54
The Arrival of Adrian

THE money-lender's threat, so far from intimidating Mr. Prynne, seemed to stiffen him.

"Since you have already given me notice to turn out of Storr Royal next Lady Day your bluster does not go for much, Mr. Delmar," he said coldly. "As for your son, I have already sent one of my masters in search of him, and if he is not found very shortly I shall warn the police all over the county. May I say that your threat of legal proceedings counts for nothing with me?"

"Oh, don't it? I'll teach you it does," roared the big man, whose anger grew in proportion as Mr. Prynne became cooler. "I left my son in your care, and you're responsible for him, and if you don't produce him you'll find yourself in quod next thing you know."

There was a sharp rap at the door, and almost before Mr. Prynne could say "Come in," it opened, and in came Hank, dragging with him Adnan Delmar.

For once Delmar's olive face had lost its usual composure. The boy looked sullen, almost savage. Gone, too, was all his dandyism. His clothes looked as if he had slept in them; they were stained with red mud, and one trouser knee had a great triangular tear. His collar was dirty, his hair unbrushed, and over his right eye, which was badly blackened, was a large patch of sticking-plaster.

For a moment no one spoke. Stan, his father, and the elder Delmar simply stood and stared.

Stan first found his voice.

"Where did you get him, Hank?"

"Right where I expected to. Up by the old mine."

"By the mine—the place where you searched last night?" questioned Mr. Prynne rapidly.

"That's so, sir," answered Hank. "What was he doing?"

"I guess he was looking for the plate, sir—like me."

"You were looking for the plate? I don't understand. Mr. Astley said you searched the mine last night without success."

"We did that, sir," replied Hank, "but I thought it over afterwards and I wasn't real satisfied; and when Mr. Cobleigh told me first thing this morning that the plate wasn't in the car when Mr. Astley and Stan overtook it, why, I kind of thought it must have been left in the mine or near it.

"So, as soon as I'd had breakfast, off I went, and it wasn't much more than sun-up when I got there. First, I went into the mine and had a good look round, but I made pretty sure it wasn't in there anywhere. Then it struck me that the dump—the pile of stuff outside the approach—was a pretty good hiding- place, so I came out of the mine and went down there.

"I came over the heap the top-side, and just as I got near the brow. I heard someone on the slope, so I crept on quietly, and there was Delmar coming up.

"So then, sir, I just tackled him. He put up a bit of a fight, and that's how he got damaged, but, anyhow, I got him to the farm. There I found Mr. Astley just arrived on his motor-cycle, and he told me to bring him straight back here. We came in Mr. Cobleigh's cart, sir."

"And you didn't find the plate?" burst out Stan.

"No," said Hank, frowning. "I was wanting real bad to go back and have a look, but Mr. Astley wouldn't let me. He said that Mr. Prynne would be wanting Delmar, and I was to bring him back. That's why I couldn't get the plate."

"Plate!" snarled the elder Delmar. "I don't believe there ever was any plate. As I said before, it's all a put-up job."

Mr. Prynne spoke at last.

"Possibly your son can now throw some light upon the matter, Mr. Delmar," he said with quiet sarcasm.

The angry money-lender turned to his son.

"Speak up, Adnan. Tell 'em it's all lies. Say what you know about it."

"I don't know anything about it," responded the younger Delmar, in a voice as sullen as his face. "I'm feeling very ill. I wish you'd take me away, Father."

"And so I will," growled the big man, "but first I'll settle with this chap." He turned upon Hank, shaking his big fist. "What do you mean by ill-using my son like this?" he roared.

Hank was quite unmoved.

"Guess the boot's on the other foot," he said. "He mighty near killed me. He got hold of me by the leg and we went down that big slope of stones faster than I've ever travelled. I've got a bump the size of an egg on the back of my head, and the only wonder is we weren't both killed."

"You did very well, Harker, in catching him as you have," said Mr. Prynne. "And now, Mr. Delmar, as your presence here can serve no useful purpose, I will thank you to withdraw."

"I'll go," thundered the money-lender—"I'll go, and I'll take my son with me."

Mr. Prynne took a step forward. "That I cannot allow. Your son must remain here until this matter is cleared up. Later, I have little doubt but that you will be able to take him with you—and for good."

If Mr. Delmar had been angry before, he was now raving. He abused Mr. Prynne, Hank, and the school in a voice that could have been heard in the garden, and made every threat he could think of.

But Mr. Prynne remained quite unmoved.

"You will do yourself no good by abuse," he answered calmly. "And as for your threats of police and the law, it begins to seem to me that it is you or your son who will find himself in trouble."

The elder Delmar stood for a moment glaring at them all, then suddenly spun round and rushed out of the room, slamming the door furiously behind him.

Mr. Prynne turned quietly to Adnan Delmar.

"You will accompany me to the detention room, where you will remain until I have communicated with your accomplice, Caffyn."

Instead of obeying, Adnan Delmar made a sudden rush for the door and flung it open.

"Stop him!" cried Mr. Prynne, and Stan sprang after him. Before he could reach him, Mr. Astley appeared in the open doorway, dragging Delmar with him.

"Thank you, Astley," said Mr. Prynne. "I was just about to take the boy to the detention room when he bolted. This seems to me very like a confession of guilt."

"There is no particular need for that, sir," answered the assistant master rather grimly. "I have Caffyn's confession in my pocket duly signed and witnessed."


CHAPTER 55
Conclusion

AT these words Adnan Delmar went as white as a sheet and collapsed abjectly on the floor.

Mr. Astley jerked him into a chair.

"Here it is, sir," he said, as he took a sheet of paper from his pocket. "It's as well that I got there in time, for the man cannot live till night."

"Then it is true?" said Mr. Prynne, as he took the sheet. "It is true that this wretched boy stole the plate?"

"It is true that he had a share in it," replied Mr. Astley, "but I will say this in his favour—that he was absolutely in the hands of this scoundrel Caffyn. It seems that he owed him money—a good deal of money, and so he got into Caffyn's power, and then it seems he let out to Caffyn that this chest of old Royalist plate was supposed to be hidden in the ruins."

"But how did he know that?" demanded Mr. Prynne.

It was Adnan Delmar himself who answered.

"I saw it in some old papers my father had. I don't know how he got them," he said, in a queer, strained voice.

Mr. Prynne nodded.

"Go on, please, Mr. Astley."

"Caffyn at once got the idea of stealing the plate, but I fancy that he worked on this boy to make him believe that it was really his own."

Delmar broke in again.

"He swore it was his own!" he cried.

"Yes. Well, at any rate he promised Delmar that, in return for his help, he would not only let him off his debt, but give him a share of the proceeds. Delmar consented, and the rest you know."

"No, sir," cut in Stan. "We are still in the dark about the most important part. We don't know where the plate is."

Mr. Astley looked astonished.

"What! Did I not tell you? It was in the dump outside the mine, exactly where Harker said that he believed it was."

"And you've got it, sir?" cried Stan.

"Oh, yes; some is in my side-car and the rest safe at Mr. Cobleigh's."

"Hurray!" cried Stan. "Then the school is safe!"

Mr. Prynne looked at his son sharply, but checked himself.

"Mr. Astley," he said, "I am extremely obliged to you for all you have done. Now will you be good enough to see Delmar to the detention room? I will see you after lunch, and later I will speak to the whole school in the hall."

Mr. Astley left the room, and Mr. Prynne stood looking at Stan and Hank.

"There is still five minutes before dinner," he said. "I will deal with you both here and now."

So saying, he went across to a cupboard, and took out a cane.

* * * * *

"Your father's got a mighty straight eye," said Hank, rather ruefully, as he and Stan walked across to the dining hall.

Stan grinned.

"Goodness, you don't call that a licking, do you, Hank? He only did it just to keep his word."

"Gee, then I'd hate to get a real one!" returned Hank.

The punishment, however, did not seem to make any difference to their appetites, and both boys made a capital dinner.

The school was still simmering with ill-suppressed excitement, but when Mr. Prynne came in at the end of the meal and went to the platform opposite the door the silence was so intense you could have heard a watch tick.

Mr. Prynne was in cap and gown, and all knew that at last they were to learn the truth about the doings of the past twenty-four hours.

"Boys," began the master, "I have an unpleasant duty to perform. One of your number, Adnan Delmar, has been expelled for conduct which makes him no longer fit to associate with you."

He paused. Still the silence was unbroken.

"Two other boys have broken rules by going out of bounds into the ruins. They have been caned."

All eyes turned to Stan and Hank, who blushed and looked uncomfortable.

"Now I have something less unpleasant to tell you. These two boys went out of bounds for a special purpose, which has resulted in restoring to me a quantity of very valuable property. This property—I make no secret of it—has saved the school from a very serious danger which threatened it. I am not going to tell you of that, because you will hear it from Mr. Astley, who took a part in the matter.

"All I am going to add is that these two boys showed themselves both plucky and resourceful. They have been punished for their disobedience, and now I think I may fairly reward them by announcing that they have earned for the school a special whole holiday, which will be granted next Tuesday."

It was Burton, captain of the school, who sprang on a chair.

"Three cheers for Prynne and Harker!" he cried.

The raftered roof almost rocked with the roar.

"Now three for the master, and three more for the school!" bellowed Burton, and the boys cheered themselves hoarse.

Hank pinched Stan's arm.

"Let's scoot!" he whispered. "I don't mind Caffyn, but, gee, this scares me!"

"Me too," grinned Stan. "Besides, I want to see the plate. It's all in Dad's study now, and he told Bee we might have a look at it."

Together they slipped out, and a few minutes later Mr. Prynne found them gazing delightedly at the great golden bowls and plates.

"Will it be enough, Father?" asked Stan anxiously.

Mr. Prynne laid his hand on his son's shoulder.

"Enough and to spare, Stan, my boy. I estimate it to be worth at least ten thousand pounds. Thanks to you and Harker we are finished with money-lenders for ever."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
An RGL First Edition