Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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"HEY there, stop!"
The boy to whom this order was addressed pulled up and faced another lad rather older than himself, who had stepped out from behind a tree at the side of the road. The two stared at one another.
Small wonder, for no two boys were ever more different. The younger was tall, slim, with very fair hair, a clean-cut face, and intensely blue eyes. He wore shorts, a shirt open at the throat, and a pair of canvas shoes. The elder, who had given the warning, was short and stocky, had red hair, a snub nose, and his eyes were greenish grey. He was dressed in dirty brown overalls.
The younger boy spoke first. "May I inquire why you request me to stop?"
The other's eyes widened. "Lumme, you do talk fine, don't you?"
"I endeavour to speak good English," replied the fair-haired boy, "but you have not informed me why I may not proceed."
"My English ain't as good as yours," said the red-haired boy, "but I reckon it's good enough to explain that if you proceeds you'll likely get killed. Fangs is loose and, sure as my name is Ted Tormer, he'll eat you alive."
"I do not understand. Who and what is Fangs?"
"Fangs is a husky dog, half wolf, and a proper terror. Some ways he got out of his cage in our show and bit Jack Jupp something, cruel. He's somewhere in this little wood just over the hill, and the boss, Mr Corbett, told me to stop anyone from going through afoot."
"Is Mr Jupp seriously injured?" the younger boy asked.
"You bet he's injured. Fangs chewed chunks out o' him. The doctor's with him now."
"I am in search of a doctor. I have come from Crinan Cove to fetch one."
"You come from Crinan! Seven mile, ain't it?"
"I should imagine that is about the distance. It has taken me nearly an hour."
Ted Tormer stared. "Seven mile in less than an hour, and all uphill! Say, who are you, anyway?"
"My name is Colin Carne," said the younger boy simply. "I came from the island of Balta this morning with our serving man, Duncan Macbain. Our boat was wrecked and Duncan was hurt. I fear his right arm is broken. I have left him at the cottage of a shepherd named Andrew Fraser, who told me that I should find a doctor in Whitebridge."
"And you've run seven mile after being shipwrecked," said Ted, looking at Colin with sudden respect. "Seems like you keeps yourself proper fit."
"My uncle taught me to take care of my body," Colin answered gravely. He paused a moment, then went on. "I am not afraid of dogs. If you will permit me I will proceed."
"You can take it from me I ain't doing any permitting," said Ted. "It won't be long afore they gets Fangs, and I reckon the doctor'll take you back in his car."
"Do you mean a motor-car, Mr Tormer? That will be very interesting, for I have never ridden in one."
Ted's eyes bulged. "You're kidding me."
"Kidding you? A kid is a young goat. I do not understand. But it is true that I have never been in a motor-car. You must understand I have lived on Balta all my life where there are no motor-cars."
Ted ran his fingers through his rough hair. "You'll be telling me next you never been in a train?"
"I have never even seen one."
"Lumme!" gasped. Ted. "What about wireless?"
"Ah, that is different. My uncle had a very fine set and I have listened to programmes from all parts of the world. Some day I hope to see London and other wonderful cities from which I have heard music and talks."
Ted shook his head.
"You are a rum un," he said.
"Ted, you there?" The harsh shout came from among the trees on the crest of the slope.
"I'm here," replied Ted.
"Come along up and be sharp about it," was the order.
"That's Big Beddoes," said Ted quickly. "I got to go. Stick around and I'll be back soon." He ran off, leaving Colin alone.
Colin waited for quite five minutes, but there was no sign of Ted or of anyone else. At last he moved on slowly. A few steps and he was between trees growing thickly on each side of the narrow road, but still nobody in sight. Colin decided to push on. He knew that Duncan must be suffering and was anxious to get the doctor as soon as possible. As for the dog, it was hard to believe that any dog, even if half-wolf, could be as bad as Ted made out.
Colin passed the crest of the hill and walked on down the far slope with his light, springy stride. The trees were alders and birches, and here and there were open spaces. In one of these was a great patch of wild raspberries, and Colin caught a slight movement in the thicket.
He went up quietly, then stopped short. A dog lay there, licking a wounded paw. It was a magnificent brute, black and mouse grey in colour, with a massive head and pricked ears. Colin saw blood on its foot, and instantly forgot that this was the terrible Fang. To Colin all animals were friends. He went straight to it.
Had anyone been there to watch they would have been paralysed with terror, expecting each instant that the fierce dog would spring upon the boy and tear his throat out. Fang raised his great head. A growl rumbled deep in his throat. Had Colin hesitated or shown any sign of fear that would have been the end of him.
But Colin was not afraid. The dog knew it, and as Colin laid a hand on his head the growl died and he lay perfectly still.
SITTING down beside Fang, Colin gently took up the hurt paw. At once he saw that a piece of rusty iron wire was bedded in the pad.
"No wonder you were cross, Fang," he said, as he took hold of the exposed end and, with one quick motion, drew it out. Fang winced slightly, then began licking the paw again. "That is the best thing that you can do," said Colin.
For a minute or two he sat beside the dog stroking its rough back, then suddenly Fang raised his head, his eyes glowed, and his growl was terrifying. Colin, looking round, saw a huge man striding towards him, carrying a double-barrelled gun. Seeing Colin, the man stopped short, and a look of extreme amazement crossed his heavy face.
"Get out of that, boy!" he ordered. "Stand clear. I'm going to shoot the murdering brute."
Colin rose to his feet and stood between the man and the dog.
"You will not shoot him," he answered. "The dog is not dangerous any longer."
"A lot you know about it," snapped the other. "Do as I say and quick about it." Colin was startled, for this was the first time in his life that anyone had ever spoken to him in such a tone. But this feeling only made him more determined to protect Fang.
"I shall not move," he told the big man. "You will have to shoot me before you shoot this poor dog."
Big Beddoes's face went crimson with rage. He took a step forward.
"What's all this about?"
Another man, not as tall as Beddoes, but equally broad, came out of the wood on the far side of the road. He had a big nose, jutting chin, and shaggy brows almost hid his grey eyes. He saw Colin with his hand on the great dog's head, and stopped as suddenly as Beddoes had done.
Beddoes spoke in a voice thick with rage.
"It's this brat, Mr Corbett. He won't move to give me a chance to shoot the murdering brute."
Corbett paid no attention.
He was staring at Colin and the dog as if he could not believe his eyes.
"How in the name of sense did you do it, boy? I'll lay you're the first that ever put a hand on Fang."
"That, sir, is because Fang has not been properly treated," Colin answered. He held up the piece of wire. "The dog had this in his foot and was in great pain. It seems to me to be unfair to shoot a dog under such circumstances."
"And you took that out of Fang's foot?" exclaimed Corbett. "Boy, you're a wonder."
"I do not think that there is anything wonderful about it," Colin said. "If, sir, you are the owner of the dog I should like to be assured of his safety."
"Gosh, boy, you talk like a professor! Yes, I own the show. Do you reckon you could take Fang back to the circus?"
"I feel positive I can do so if I am not interfered with."
Corbett turned to Beddoes. "I'm giving Fang another chance. You clear out, Beddoes, and get back to the big tent."
Beddoes scowled. "You'll be sorry," he growled.
"That's my look-out," returned Corbett curtly. "Anyway, you ought to have known better than to leave the beast with that wire in his foot. Make any animal mad. Go on back. The dog don't like you."
Beddoes's face was a mask of fury, but he obeyed.
"He's a good worker," Corbett said to Colin when the other was out of hearing, "but he has a rotten temper."
"He appears to be somewhat irascible," said Colin. "Now, if you please, sir, we will proceed. I have come from Crinan to fetch a doctor."
"From Crinan! Why, you're the lad Ted Tormer's been telling me about. Lived on an island all your life, he said."
"On Balta, sir." Colin turned to Fang. "Come, Fang," he said in his quiet voice, and the great dog rose and followed obediently.
Corbett fell into step, and as the two walked together down the long slope Colin told his new friend of his life on Balta with his uncle, Dr Gilbert Carne, and their serving man, Duncan Macbain.
"Duncan," Colin said, "is deaf and dumb, and Uncle Gilbert did not permit me to visit the mainland. So until today, when I was obliged to come ashore for stores, I have never spoken to any other person except once or twice to fishermen in passing boats."
Again Corbett gazed at Colin as if he could not believe his senses.
"Of all the rum starts I ever heard, this beats all. I take it your uncle is dead?"
"He was drowned two days ago while bathing," Colin answered in a very low voice. "Without doubt cramp seized him."
"And what do you reckon to do now?" Corbett asked kindly.
"I must go back to Balta."
"But your boat's bust."
Colin looked puzzled, then his face cleared. "Wrecked—yes. But we have a second boat at Balta."
"What about cash? Did the old gentleman leave you enough to carry on?"
"He had a pension, but he left between seven and eight pounds in his desk. I have the money with me."
Corbett shook his head. "That won't last long, son. Haven't you any relations?"
"My parents died when I was very small, but I have heard Uncle Gilbert speak of cousins named Pearce who live in London, in a part called Kensington."
"That won't help a lot, Colin. There's maybe half a million people in Kensington. Here's the show," he went on, pointing to a great white tent which stood in a field just outside the town. "If you'll put Fang in his cage I'll see about the doctor."
Colin's eyes were wide as, leading Fang, he followed Corbett into the tent. Animals that he had read and dreamed of, but never seen, were in cages all around. Men and girls, busy at various jobs, stopped and stared, and he heard amazed exclamations on all sides. Fang went quietly into his cage, and Colin asked Mr Corbett for a bandage and antiseptic to dress the paw.
"I'll send them right along," said the owner of the circus. So Colin went into the cage with Fang, and at once a small crowd collected to gaze at the two. Ted came hurrying.
"Here's the stuff, Carne," he said. "Gosh, boy, but you're a wonder!"
Colin set to work on Fang's paw. The great dog hardly moved while he bathed, cleaned, and bandaged the wound. The spectators watched in breathless silence. When Colin had finished a little gasp went up.
"The kid's a marvel," said a solemn little man who was actually a clown.
Suddenly Fang sprang up, his head and shoulders bristled to twice their natural size, his eyes glared with hate, and he snarled hideously. Ted went pale.
"Come out o' that, Colin," he called urgently. "The brute'll kill you."
Colin rose to his feet and stood steady as a rock.
"Fang is not angry with me," he said in a voice loud enough for all to hear. "It is Mr Beddoes whom he fears."
"Fears, does he?" shouted Beddoes, pushing forward. "He'll fear me a lot more before I'm through with him." He cracked a whip as he spoke. The man was half drunk.
"You're through with him now."
The speaker was Corbett, who had just come into the tent. "You're through with me too. Get your money and get out."
Beddoes's great fists clenched. But Corbett faced him, unafraid, and after a moment the huge bully turned and slunk out. Corbett came up to the cage.
"Colin," he said, "the doctor is ready to start. Do you want to go with him?"
Colin looked longingly at the great husky. "I do not like leaving Fang, sir, but I must of course go with the doctor."
"How'd you like to come back here, son?" Corbett asked.
Colin's face lit up. "Oh, if that were possible it would delight me."
"Might delight some of the rest of us," said the circus man dryly. He turned to the others. "What do you say, boys?" The little clown spoke up.
"The answer, boss, is in the affirmative."
"So say we all," came a shout, and as Colin came out of the cage a dozen hands were stretched to meet his, and he felt such happiness as he had never known in all his life.
"YOU are a funny boy!"
Colin Carne, who was sitting inside the cage of Fang, the great wolf dog, with the head of that formidable animal resting on his knees, looked up to see a little girl of about twelve standing outside the cage, looking at him with an amused expression on her elfish face. He had never seen her before and he gazed at her quietly for a moment before he spoke.
"Why do you say that I am funny? I am not conscious of that quality."
She clapped her hands. "Dad said you talked like that. You're the boy from Balta."
"I am from Balta, but you have not explained why you consider me funny."
"I expect I'm wrong," said, the girl. "My teacher would say unusual."
"In that you are probably right," replied Colin in his clear, quiet voice. "Having spent all my life isolated from any other people except my dear uncle I may be considered peculiar. But I assure you that I am learning rapidly. I know, for instance, what 'kidding' means, and understand what my friends here intend when they call Mr Corbett The Boss."
The girl laughed merrily. "Oh, you're splendid! You mean Dad."
Colin rose and bowed courteously.
"Then you are Miss Sheila Corbett. I am happy to meet you."
"But don't call me Miss. I'm just Sheila, and I'm going to call you Colin."
"That will be very pleasant," Colin answered. "Won't you come in and talk to my dog?"
Sheila shrank back. "I've been in the lions' cage, but never in Fang's. Everyone was frightened of him, even that big brute Beddoes."
Colin frowned slightly. "Beddoes abused him. Fang is now as good as can be. I give you my word he will not hurt you."
"Then I'll come," said Sheila, and as Colin opened the cage door in she walked.
"Fang, this is a friend," said Colin.
The dog stood up and looked at Sheila with his strange yellow eyes. Colin took her hand in his and placed it on the great dog's head. To Sheila's amazement and delight Fang licked her other hand.
"Colin, you're a wonder!" she said.
"There is nothing wonderful about it," Colin assured her. "It is merely that I love Fang and he knows it."
The circus had moved from Whitebridge, where Colin had joined it, to Levern, a good-sized Scottish town which lay at the lower end of Lidsdale. Colin was already friends with everyone in the show, from Mr Corbett down to the tent men. Of course, they chaffed him a lot, but he was too sweet-tempered to mind. His simplicity and utter fearlessness made him immensely popular and he seemed able to make friends with any animal. Even Dode, the crusty old Himalayan bear, would take food from Colin's hand. Mr Corbett had become very fond of the boy and had told him that he would keep him with the show as long as he liked. So far Colin's only duty was to look after Fang, but he was already proving helpful with other difficult animals.
Sheila told Colin that she wanted to walk up the glen as far as the Tryfan Waterfall, and Colin said he would go with her. "But I can't get away till after feeding time," he added.
"Then I'll go ahead and you come as soon as you can," Sheila said, and Colin agreed.
When he went back to the big tent his friend Ted Tormer, a lad a little older than himself, hurried to meet him.
"Colin, I saw Beddoes in the town this morning," he said. "You watch out. He's looking ugly."
Colin laughed. "I do not think that he could catch me very easily, Ted."
"Well, you keep away from him. He don't love you," said Ted.
Colin, busy with his work, forgot all about Beddoes. As soon as he had finished he went straight off along the road leading up the glen. He was a mile outside the town when a youth stopped him.
"Your name Carne?" he asked. Colin looked at the fellow, who was undersized, shabby, and rat-faced.
"That is my name," he said.
"You works for Corbett?"
"Well, it ain't no business of mine, but I saw a big chap catch Corbett's little girl a bit up the road. He took her away across the moor."
Colin felt a curious chill pass down his spine. It was followed by a wave of such anger as he had never known. Yet his training held good and his voice was not raised as he spoke.
"Can you point out the direction in which the man went?"
The youth pointed. "I reckon he was going up to that big hill. There's caves there."
"Thank you," said Colin steadily. Without another word he was off, running at a speed which made the rat-faced boy's eyes widen.
Through heather and over rocks Colin sped. He knew of course that it was Beddoes who had kidnapped Sheila. All he thought of was rescue. It never occurred to him that he ought to have returned for help. Soon he was up in wild country with a huge cliff towering in front. He reached the mouth of a deep corrie and paused a moment, trying to decide which way he had better go.
From behind a great boulder Beddoes stepped out, and his huge hand clamped on Colin's shoulder.
"So you walked right into it," he remarked in a gloating voice. "Now I got both o' you, and I'll sting Corbett proper."
"SHEILA," said Colin, "I have been extremely unwise. I ought to have gone back for help instead of running blindly after you."
"I'm so glad you're here," said Sheila, shivering. "If I was alone I should be scared to death."
The two sat together on the floor of a small cave. The mouth was a mere hole in the face of the cliff with a sheer drop to the rocks below. Beddoes, who must have planned the whole thing beforehand, had taken them up by a rope ladder, which, when he had descended, he had removed with the aid of a long pole. He himself had a tent carefully hidden in the gorge of a tiny burn, about a hundred yards away. Colin and Sheila could see it, but it was quite invisible from below. He had left his prisoners a loaf of stale bread and a jug of water—no other food.
Colin went to the edge and peered down. "The risk of dropping would be too great," he said. He looked at the tent, but Beddoes was inside. Colin could see the smoke of his pipe rising in the still air. He began to examine the face of the cliff. After a while he went back.
"Sheila," he said, "I can get out. There is a crack in the rock by which I can reach a ledge above the cave mouth, and from that I can descend to the ground. Within an hour I can be at the circus. Are you brave enough to stay here alone for a little while?"
"Oh, Colin, can't I come with you?"
"That would be impossible," said Colin, firmly.
"But Beddoes will see you," Sheila, objected. "And if he catches you he will hurt you."
"Beddoes is in his tent and it will not enter his mind that I can possibly escape. I could not do so if I had not learned to climb crags."
Sheila had plenty of pluck. She would not have been her father's daughter without it. She saw that Colin was determined to escape so did not try to prevent him. She crept to the entrance and, lying flat on the floor, watched him start. All her life she had been accustomed to see the circus acrobats do their wonderful tricks, but what she saw now terrified her.
The crack to which Colin trusted himself was only a few inches deep and the nearest foothold three yards away. Colin hooked his fingers in the crack and worked along, with his body flat against the cliff face, hanging by his arms. Far below were masses of sharp-edged granite, on which if he fell he must be killed or badly hurt.
As she watched Sheila dug her nails into her palms to prevent herself from screaming, yet Colin himself was perfectly calm. He got one foot on the little knob of rock, rested a moment, then started again, all the time climbing higher and higher until at last he came to the ledge of which he had spoken. The ledge was level with the crack, and to Sheila it looked as if Colin could never climb on to it, for below it the cliff seemed flat as a brick wall. But Colin found some sort of purchase for his right foot, and by an amazing effort of skill and strength raised his body until he was able to roll over on to the ledge.
The ledge itself was barely a foot wide, but to Colin it seemed as good as a turnpike road, and the pace at which he went down it made Sheila shiver again. She drew a long breath of intense relief as Colin leaped lightly to firm ground, then her heart seemed to stop beating as she saw Beddoes come striding up out of his hiding-place.
"Run, Colin," she shrieked. "He's after you."
Beddoes flung a savage yell at her and started to run.
Sheila's warning had given Colin a slight start and he went away downhill, light-footed as a rabbit. But he was tired with his desperate climb, while Beddoes was fresh. And Beddoes's great legs were, twice as long as Colin's.
Sheila saw that the big man was gaining and was filled with despair. Colin too saw it; but Colin had brains as well as speed. He turned sharply to the right and sped downhill towards the gorge of the River Lid. Beddoes gave a roar of delight, for he saw at once that the boy would be trapped. There was no bridge across the river, and the stream was deep and swift.
A heavy man cannot run as fast down a really steep slope as on the level. Colin gained a little and reached the river some distance ahead of his huge pursuer. He ran down the bank a little way, and Beddoes, certain that he had him, came charging after. To his utter amazement, he saw Colin stop, raise his arms, and leap far out into a foaming pool.
Beddoes was scared. Brute as he was, he did not want to be accused of murder, and it did not occur to him that anyone, let alone a boy of thirteen, could swim in such water.
"Come out!" he yelled. Colin came up, looked round at Beddoes, then at the opposite bank. He saw that he could not climb this, so let himself go with the stream. He was not a bit scared. A boy who has learned his swimming in stormy seas thinks little of a river, and he found the cold water refreshing. Presently he was swept into a wider, quieter pool He struck out, gained the opposite bank, and climbed the rocks. Beddoes's fear changed to fury.
"I've still got the gal," he roared. "If you don't come back I'll take it out of her."
Real fear chilled Colin. He was a good three miles from the town, while Beddoes was less than a mile from the cave. There was plenty of time for the big man to go back and carry Sheila away to some new hiding-place. And Sheila would be terrified.
He paused uncertainly. He was so inexperienced in the ways of the world that he did not realise that Beddoes was bluffing. Beddoes saw his advantage.
"Come back around by the bridge and I won't hurt you or the gal. I ain't got no grudge against you, but Corbett, he's got to pay me for turning me off. Once he's paid I'll let you both go."
"And supposing that Mr Corbett refuses to pay?" Colin asked.
"Don't you worry about that, kid. Corbett'll pay."
For once Colin was at a loss what to do. The last thing he wanted was that Mr Corbett should be forced to pay money to this blackguard, and if he had been alone he would have taken any risk to prevent it. But Sheila was his first thought.
"Where is the bridge?" he asked.
"Half a mile down. Hurry!" said Beddoes harshly. "And don't play no tricks. Remember, I've got the gal."
Colin quite understood that Beddoes was most anxious not to be seen, so refused to hurry. Beddoes kept along the opposite bank, shouting angrily at him every now and then.
Suddenly Beddoes stopped short, turned, and ran furiously in the opposite direction. He reached a tree, seized the lowest branch, and swung himself up with a speed amazing in so big a man. For a moment Colin was utterly amazed. There was no one in sight. He could not imagine what was happening.
Next instant something came across the bridge at such a pace Colin could barely see it, and Fang leaped high against the trunk of the low-branched oak into which Beddoes had climbed.
"Take him away. He'll kill me," Beddoes screamed. Frightened almost out of his life, the big brute was scrambling frantically into the upper branches.
"Hey, Colin!" came a shout, and Colin saw Ted Tormer top the rise to the right and come running down the slope. He came up, panting and breathless, yet with a broad grin on his freckled face.
"I knowed it was Beddoes," he gasped; "but it don't look like he'll trouble you much more. Where's Miss Sheila?"
Colin told him, and Ted's face went grim. Then he chuckled again.
"Listen, Colin! You and me will go and fetch her and leave the dog to watch Beddoes."
Colin nodded. "That, I think, will be a wise plan, Ted. It will teach Beddoes what it feels like to be a prisoner."
Regardless of Beddoes's yells for help, the two walked back towards the cave and the waiting Sheila.
"WHAT'S the matter, Colin?" asked Mr Corbett. "You're not looking as spry as usual this morning."
The tall, slim lad who had won his way into Mr Corbett's circus by taming the giant wolf dog Fang handed over a letter.
"This comes from Hugh Fraser the fisherman, brother of Neil, who is looking after Duncan Macbain. The news it contains troubles me greatly."
Mr Corbett took the letter, and after reading it he too looked serious.
"Who is this man Torgan who is claiming your island?"
"I do not know, sir. I have never heard of him."
"I thought your uncle owned Balta," said Mr Corbett.
"That was my belief," replied Colin.
Mr Corbett looked at the letter again. "I wonder why this fellow Torgan wants it. Is the island valuable?"
"Uncle Gilbert said that there was marble, sir. That, I believe, is valuable."
"It certainly is! That's the secret. Not a doubt. See here, Colin; we must do something about this. Who was your uncle's lawyer?"
"Unfortunately I do not know, sir. My uncle did not speak to me of business."
Mr Corbett frowned thoughtfully, then spoke again.
"There's only one thing to do. We must go to Balta and examine your uncle's papers. They will give the name of his solicitor. I can spare a day. We'll start at once."
Once Mr Corbett made up his mind he did not waste time. He had his car out, and within fifteen minutes he and Colin were on the road. The circus was still at Levern and the distance to the coast was less than forty miles. It was not yet ten o'clock when the car pulled up outside Neil Fraser's cottage.
Deaf and dumb Duncan Macbain, with his arm in a sling, came to meet them, and Colin talked to him swiftly in signs.
"Neil is at the sheep fold, Mr Corbett," Colin explained. "I can fetch him quickly."
But there was no need to fetch him, for Neil had seen the car and was already on his way down the hill. Neil was a stocky middle-aged man, rather silent like all shepherds, but his face lit at sight of Colin.
"It's full time ye came, lad," he said. "Yon Torgan is trying to rob ye." He went on to explain that Torgan had been at Crinan and had tried to hire the boat of Hugh Fraser, Neil's brother, but that Hugh, not liking the look of the man, had refused to take him out to Balta. Torgan had used very bad language and driven off in the direction of Oban. "Ah'm thinking he wad be hiring a motor-boat," Neil ended.
"Will Hugh take us out to the island?" Mr Corbett asked, and Neil at once said that he would.
Luckily Hugh was at home; luckily, too, the wind was right, and in a very short time Colin and Mr Corbett were on their way to Balta in Hugh Fraser's fishing boat. The island was about five miles off shore, and within an hour they were entering the little harbour above which stood the small house which Dr Carne had built and where Colin had lived all his life.
"A lovely spot," said the circus owner, then stopped and stared as a gull came flying toward the boat, swooped down, and landed on Colin's outstretched arm.
"She is Juno," Colin explained, as he stroked the bird's smooth head. "She broke her leg and I mended it. She is so glad to see me."
The next thing that happened was even more startling. An immense grey seal, usually one of the shyest of creatures, put its head up and, when Colin whistled, came straight to the boat and allowed Colin to rub its back. Mr Corbett hardly breathed, and even stolid Hugh Fraser looked amazed.
"Are all your creatures tame like this, Colin?" asked Mr Corbett when they reached the little pier.
"Why should they not be?" asked Colin, smiling. "They are just my friends."
They were hardly ashore before another of Colin's pals came running. This was a fine ram with short curled horns, a coat like felt, and large, intelligent eyes. The moment he saw the strangers down went his head, but Colin called to him. "It is all right, Billy. They will not hurt you," and, catching the creature by one horn, led him up.
"This is Billy Butter, Mr Corbett. Uncle Gilbert fetched him from the mainland when he was a tiny lamb and we brought him up on a bottle. He has almost as much sense as a dog."
"We ought to have him in the show," said Mr Corbett. He looked round and spotted two rabbits peacefully feeding close by.
"This place is the perfect sanctuary," he declared. "It must never go out of your hands, Colin. If it's any way possible I'll make sure that you keep it. Now let's go to the house and see if we can find any useful papers."
Colin had the key of the front door, and Mr Corbett exclaimed in delight when he entered the big living-room with its deep fireplace, polished floor, and wide casement windows. But Colin pulled up short.
"Someone has been here since I left," he said. He hurried through a door into a smaller room, and Mr Corbett, following, heard the boy draw a long breath. There was no need to ask what was the matter. Every drawer of the handsome desk against the far wall had been forced and pulled out and papers strewed the floor.
TOGETHER they picked up the papers and looked through them. There were scores of letters, mostly old, and from people of whom Colin had never heard. But not a single paper of importance— nothing that gave any idea of the late Dr Carne's business. There was not even a cheque or bank book. Mr Corbett's face grew grave.
"This fellow knew what he was about, Colin. He has taken everything that might tell us what we want to know. Yet your uncle may have papers elsewhere in the house. We must search."
Search they did, and it took a long time. At midday Hugh Fraser cooked a meal for them, and in the afternoon they worked again. There were a great many books, all of which Mr Corbett examined in the hope of finding a will. But there was nothing of the sort.
Suddenly Colin spoke. "Mr Corbett, I must tell you something. There is a cave in the cliffs which my uncle visited sometimes. But he never allowed me to go there and made me promise not to do so. Do you think that his death releases me from that promise?"
"I'm sure of it," the other answered. "If he were alive, your uncle would be grieving to think of this lovely spot being turned into a quarry and all your birds and beasts driven away or destroyed."
Colin's face cleared. "I believe that you are right. I do not, of course, know whether there is anything in the cave, but I can very soon find out."
"I'll come along," said his friend.
"There is no need, sir. The path is narrow and steep and I can travel it more quickly alone. If I go at once I can return within half an hour."
"Then go, boy. And I hope you find something worth while."
A belt of trees surrounded the house. Colin plunged through them and went swiftly up the steep slope beyond. A path took him to the top of the cliff, from which was an almost sheer drop of two hundred feet to the green swells which surged and thundered at the foot of the crag.
Merely to look over the edge of that tremendous drop would have made most people giddy, but Colin stepped over the rim as naturally and easily as if he had been merely going down a flight of stairs, and found himself on a ledge about two feet wide which sloped steeply across the face of the rock. One false step and death was certain; but Colin did not know what it was to be giddy, and went down the ledge with a light, easy stride.
Fifty feet or so below the verge the path widened to a platform of rock, from which opened a tunnel about four feet high leading straight into the cliff. Colin switched on his torch and went in, bending his head to clear the low roof.
A dozen paces from the entrance the tunnel roof rose and Colin found himself in a small rock chamber. It was a natural cave, but Colin saw at once it had been much used, for the floor had been levelled and dust lay on it. Something crunched under his feet, and looking down he saw that it was a human shin bone brown with age. A pile of these bones were stacked in one corner, and now he knew why his uncle had forbidden him the place. It was the burial cave of some forgotten folk.
Colin flashed his torch round, and the bright ray fell upon a small iron deed box which stood in a recess cut in the wall. He forgot the bones; he forgot everything except that he had found what he was searching for. He took the box and tried to open it.
He could not do so for it was locked, but that did not trouble Colin greatly. It was not too heavy to carry, and once at the house he could easily force it with a chisel. Delighted beyond words, he tucked the box under his arm and made his way back out of the cave and up the path to the top of the cliff.
Thick clumps of gorse grew here and there, and as Colin stepped blithely along, never dreaming of danger, a man rose suddenly from behind one of these clumps and pointed a pistol at him.
"Drop that box," he ordered harshly. "Then go back over the edge of the cliff, and wait for half an hour."
"Are you Mr Torgan?" Colin asked in his clear, quiet voice.
"Never mind who I am. Didn't you here me tell you to drop that box and go back over the edge of the cliff?"
"I heard," said Colin, "but I do not understand why I should obey such an order. The box is mine, not yours."
The stranger was a large man who looked as if he had once been an athlete but had let himself run to seed.
"Don't dare to argue with me, boy," he snarled. "Do as I order or I will shoot you."
Colin remained calm.
"If you do that you will be hanged," he said. "You cannot get away, for the shot would be heard by my friends at the house."
Torgan of course had not any idea of shooting Colin. He had supposed it would be easy to frighten him with the pistol, but Colin's refusal to be scared knocked all his plans end-way's and filled him with blind rage. He made a rush at Colin.
Colin had read Torgan's intention in his eyes and was off before Torgan had taken his first stride. He went away downhill towards the house as hard as he could run.
Torgan had once been a runner, and rage made him forget his fat. Even so he would have been no match for Colin if the boy had not been hampered with that awkward box. He had to use both hands to carry it, and it slowed him badly. Torgan realised that he was beginning to gain and made a desperate effort. He came nearer and nearer until his outstretched right hand almost touched Colin's shoulder.
Colin had all his wits about him. He jinked like a hunted hare and Torgan, unable to stop, went past. Close by was a patch of thick gorse. Colin ran round it and stopped a moment to take breath. Torgan had hardly any breath left, yet wasted some of it swearing at Colin. Then he made a fresh rush.
The gorse was too thick to get through it, and Torgan had to go round. But when it came to that sort of dodging Colin was the quicker of the two. Torgan became desperate. Those papers meant a fortune to him. He stooped suddenly, picked up a stone, and hurled it at the boy.
He failed to hear a sort of whistling sniff behind him. The sound came from the throat of Billy Butter, who had been grazing somewhere among the gorse clumps and been roused by the sound of running feet.
Whether Billy realised that Colin was in trouble or whether he merely saw a good target just ahead no one will ever know: the fact remains that he charged. Before Torgan had the faintest idea of what was happening an avalanche of bone and muscle struck him a terrible blow in the back, such a blow as lifted him completely off the ground and shot him headlong into the thickest of the gorse.
Colin saw his chance and took it. He sped away down the hill with Billy capering alongside. Five minutes later Colin had put the box in Mr Corbett's hands and was telling him what had happened.
The circus man broke into a shout of laughter. "Oh, why wasn't I there to see?" he gasped. "Do you think he is still in the bush, Colin?"
"I think, sir, that by this time he has probably escaped. No doubt he has a boat on the other side of the island."
"I expect you're right, boy," said the other, wiping the tears of mirth from his eyes. "Let's open the box and see if this is what we want."
It was. Inside the box was a deed for a long lease of the island and a will leaving the island and house to Colin.
"We'll leave Duncan in charge," said Mr Corbett. "And I don't see why Balta shouldn't be a home of rest for some of my animals. What do you say, Colin?"
"I shall be delighted," said Colin gravely.
"GOING shopping, are you?" said Mr Corbett, the circus owner, looking at Colin Carne with a smile. "You're getting quite a man of the world, Colin. But, see here, you'd best take Ted with you. He knows the way about Carchester."
"I will do as you suggest, sir," replied Colin, in his precise English, and off he went. But Ted Tormer was not to be found, and as Colin was in a hurry he walked off by himself.
The big tent was pitched in a field on the outskirts of Carchester, a large manufacturing town, and there were a lot of back streets to pass through before reaching the shopping centre. No wonder then that Colin lost his way. A stout, thick-set youth in shabby clothes stood with his back against a wall, and Colin stopped.
"Would you kindly direct me to the shop of Messrs Hargreaves?" he asked.
The other stared. Colin in shorts, a silk shirt, and grey tweed jacket, with his very fair hair and remarkable blue eyes, was a startling sight in this dingy alley.
"Hargreaves—you mean the jewellers in Main Street?"
"That I believe is correct," replied Colin. "You work for them?" asked the fellow.
"No," said Colin. "I am employed in Mr Corbett's Circus. I wish to make a purchase at Messrs Hargreaves."
"A diamond tarara?" grinned the youth.
Colin was puzzled. There were so many slang words he did not yet understand.
"No, not diamonds," he said. "I am buying a present for a friend."
A greedy look showed in the stout youth's small eyes, but it passed in a moment. "All right, pal," he answered. "I ain't got nothing to do. I'll show you the way."
"That is extremely kind of you," said Colin as he fell into step with the other.
"This here is a short cut," remarked his guide as he turned into a squalid court.
"What an extremely unpleasant place," said Colin.
"It's where I lives," said the other.
To Colin, with his love of the open, it seemed terrible that anyone could live in such a sunless, ill-smelling place.
He hated going into the place, yet was too courteous to refuse. As he passed into a half-dark passage he got a thump on the head that sent him sprawling to the floor and completely stunned him.
It must have been some time before Colin came to himself, for when he opened his eyes he was in a room. As his head cleared he got up and went shakily across to the window. Although the panes were thick with dirt he saw that he was now upstairs, high above a narrow paved yard. Opposite was a blank brick wall.
"But why did he do it?" Colin said aloud, then suddenly thrust his hand into his jacket pocket. At once he knew. His wallet, with the three one-pound notes that he had been so carefully treasuring, was gone, and with the money was gone his hope of buying the wrist-watch, the birthday present for Sheila Corbett.
His uncle, who had brought Colin up on the lonely island of Balta, had carefully trained the boy against giving way to fear or anger. Colin was not afraid, but he would hardly have been human if he had not felt a spasm of rage. It lasted only a moment, and gave way to a firm resolve to find his treacherous guide and get back his money.
He went to the door and tried it, but it was locked. He listened, but there was no sound. The house seemed empty. He went back to the window.
It was a sash window and looked as if it had not been opened for years. The fastenings were rusted, but Colin had his knife, and managed to force the catch and push up the lower sash. The outlook was not promising. It was a long way to the ground. Ten feet below the window was a pent-house roof, but this was so steep that Colin saw he could not possibly drop on it. But he could reach it if he had a rope.
He looked round the room. There was a bedstead, but no clothes on it, a washstand, and a couple of chairs. No carpet, nothing that he could cut up to make a rope. It seemed hopeless, and Colin felt close to despair. It was not of himself he was thinking as much as of Sheila Corbett. To-morrow was her birthday, and he knew how much she wanted a wrist-watch and how delighted she would be with such a present. A bright idea came to him. The sash cords. If he could get them out and if they were not too rotten they would be long enough to reach the pent-house. The question was whether he could get them out. He probed the woodwork over them with his knife and found it flimsy, so decided to have a try. He saw that it would be a long job, therefore, as he did not intend to be interrupted, he began operations by wedging the door with pieces of a chair, which he broke up for the purpose. Then he set to work on the window. It took a good hour before he had the boards loose, and by then it was growing dusk.
Having tried the cords, he lugged the bedstead over to the window, tied one end to the leg and slung the loose end out. Colin knew he was taking big chances, for even when he reached the roof below he would still be a long way from the ground, and he would have no more rope to help him. It was the sort of risk no ordinary boy would have taken, but Colin, accustomed to clambering on the sheer cliffs of Balta and with the muscles of an acrobat, was certainly not ordinary.
He slipped down easily to the roof, only to find that he was still a good 15 feet from the ground, and that the gutter was so rusty and rotten it would not bear his weight.
IT was then that the cat appeared—a poor, skinny alley cat that came into sight over the left-hand corner of the roof. Colin, the friend of all animals, called to it softly. At first the creature crouched down suspiciously, but presently it got over its fright and came to him. He stroked its thin back and it purred. After a bit it moved off, going back by the way it had come.
Colin, watching eagerly, saw it slip easily off the roof, and felt sure that it had some way down. The question was whether the "way" would hold his weight. He had to try, so started crawling cautiously across the dirty slates.
He was nearly at the edge before he saw it. It was a pole, probably an old wireless pole, which was leaning against the wall. He sighed with relief, for he saw at once that it was quite strong enough to hold him. He got hold of the end, locked his legs round it, and slid to the ground.
To have escaped from such a prison would have satisfied most boys, but it was not enough for Colin. He wanted his money back. He believed the thief was still in the house, and he meant to find him. Colin saw a light coming through a curtained window to his left, and found he could see through a gap in the ragged curtains into a kitchen. A fire was burning in a rusty range and a smoky oil lamp stood on a dirty table. Three men sat round the table, and one of them was the stout, shabby youth. Of the other two, one was a hook-nosed fellow with beady black eyes, while the second was a great lump of a man who had a red comforter round his throat.
But it was not the men Colin stared at. His eyes were fixed upon the amazing collection of jewellery which strewed the table. Rings, brooches, necklets—the stones with which they were set winked and glimmered in the lamplight. Colin was no fool. He saw at once that these things must be stolen goods.
The men were talking, and Colin's ears were so sharp that, in spite of the window being closed, he could hear every word. They were arguing about the selling of the stuff on the table. At last they came to terms, and the hook-nosed man began packing the loot in a shabby suitcase. The man with the comforter spoke to the youth. "What about that kid upstairs, Simon?"
"Strewth, I'd clean forgot him," replied the other. "Corbett'll pay for him."
The hook-nosed man looked up. "If you've got any sense you won't try nothing like that with Corbett. He's a hard one, he is. That's the kid as tamed the big wolf dog, and Corbett sets a heap of store on him."
"All the more reason he'll pay," said Simon sharply.
Red Comforter cut in. "I don't hold with kidnapping. Too risky, Simon. You better do as Ike says and turn him loose."
"And have him bring the police on us," retorted Simon. "You're crazy, Joe."
"I don't mean turn him out in the street," Joe answered. "Blindfold him, put him in the car, drive him out a few miles and dump him. He'd never find his way back here. You said he was lost when you took him. Anyway," he added, "we ain't stopping in Carchester."
Again there was argument, but in the end Simon was persuaded it would be best to turn Colin loose.
"I'll come along and help bring him down," Ike said, and he and Simon went out of the room together, but Joe sat in his chair and did not move.
Colin wondered what to do. When Simon and Ike found him gone there would be trouble and he knew he ought to escape. Also he ought to get help to arrest these thieves. But, so far as he could see, there was no way out of this little backyard except through the house. He stepped softly to the back door, to find it locked. The only way of escape was through the kitchen, yet it was out of the question to pass the burly Joe.
Suddenly there was a noise upstairs. For the moment Colin had forgotten he had wedged the door. Simon and Ike could not get in and were trying to force the door.
Seemingly Joe too heard the noise, for Colin saw him sit up straight, and listen. Then he got up and opened the door. Colin waited, breathless. The big man paused, then as there came fresh crashing from above he went through and disappeared.
Colin did not waste a moment. Wrapping his fist in his cap, he broke a pane of the window, pushed back the catch, and scrambled through. He ran to the inner door and looked out. A flight of stairs went up from the end of a passage, and by the sounds all three men were trying to force the door of the upper room, using blood-curdling threats of what they would do to their prisoner if he did not open up. Colin still hesitated. He was thinking of his £3.
A crash louder than any yet reached his ears. They must have smashed a panel.
"Why, he ain't there!" came an amazed voice, then a second. "The window's open. He've throwed himself out."
Colin decided he had better not wait any longer. He started for the front door.
Suddenly he remembered the loot and, spinning round, dashed back into the kitchen, snatched up the suitcase, and ran. The front door was locked. As Colin turned the key he heard heavy feet pounding down the stairs. In the nick of time he got the door open, banged it behind him, and fled.
It was quite dark now and Colin had no idea which way to go. As he got out of the court into the alley he heard the three men behind him. He sprinted at top speed and came out of the alley into a street. It was a slum, but at any rate it was lighted.
Down it Colin went, hard as he could pelt, but the suitcase hampered him sadly and the thieves were gaining. They ran in furious silence. If Colin had chosen to throw away the case he could easily have outrun the men, but the dogged streak in him forbade him to do so. Ike's greedy hands were almost on his shoulder when Colin reached the end of the street and ran slap into the arms of a policeman.
"What's all this about?" demanded the officer sternly.
"They are thieves," panted Colin, and turned. But Ike had disappeared. He had vanished like a shadow, and so had Simon and Joe. The policeman pulled Colin under a street lamp and looked him over. Colin was a sad sight, covered with filth from the roof and dripping with perspiration.
"What you got there?" inquired his captor, indicating the suitcase.
"A quantity of jewellery," Colin answered. "I am under the impression that it has been stolen."
The officer took the case and opened it. He nearly dropped it. "Goodness, boy, where did you get this?" he gasped. "Here, come along to the station. This is a job for the Super."
At the station Colin explained in full.
"It's the loot from Charters Castle." said the Superintendent. "I congratulate you, lad. Lord Charters will be grateful to you."
"I am glad to have been instrumental in recovering stolen property," said Colin gravely, "but this man Simon has robbed me of £3. Do you think you could recover this money?"
"I doubt it," said the Superintendent; "but don't worry, lad. You'll get a nice reward for recovering these jewels."
Colin looked sad. "But I needed the money today. I was intending to buy a wrist-watch for a friend. Her birthday is tomorrow."
"Three pounds," repeated the Superintendent. "We might manage that for you." He turned to the big policeman.
"Jackson, take the lad to Hargreaves and see that he gets what he wants. Here's the money."
"You are extremely kind, sir," said Colin. The other laughed. "You can repay me out of your reward," he said.
"I hope it will be large enough," Colin said doubtfully.
"If it's anything less than £100 I'm a Dutchman," was the answer. And that, as it turned out, was exactly the sum which Colin received a few days later, together with a letter of the warmest thanks, from Lord Charters.
SAID Ted Tormer, "It's right enough to ride trained horses in the ring, but you ain't ever been on an unbroken horse. Now, there's a pony I'll lay you couldn't ride." He pointed as he spoke to a bay pony grazing in the big field through which He and Colin Carne, the Boy from Balta, were walking.
"Possibly you are right, Ted," Colin agreed. "But in any case I could not even attempt to ride a horse which does not belong to me."
"Who'd care?" retorted the freckle-faced Ted. "The owner wouldn't mind. You wouldn't be hurting it. I'll lay you can't get on its back without being throwed off."
Colin was tempted. Surely, as Ted had said, he could do the pony no harm by getting on its back, and it would be a new and interesting experience.
Colin had an amazing way with animals. The secret was that he was not afraid of any creature, wild or tame. The pony recognised this just as quickly as Fang, the wolf dog, had done. After one suspicious glance it stood still, and allowed Colin to stroke its nose and gently pull its ears. Then Colin put a hand on its withers and vaulted lightly on its back.
Ted, watching and grinning, fully expected to see Colin bucked off. Instead the pony went off at full gallop.
Colin had strong legs and a fine sense of balance. Though it was the first time he had ridden a horse in the open he found little difficulty in sticking on. He enjoyed the rush through the air and the fine swing of the spirited little animal beneath him. The trouble was that, as he had no bridle, he could not stop.
The pony went straight for the low hedge at the top of the field and over it with one easy leap. Colin found it a grand sensation. Now he was in a park with big trees. The pony galloped straight ahead, and Colin saw a big house in front with wide lawns which were faced by a sunk fence. The pony soared up over the sunk fence like a bird, and Colin was horrified to find himself galloping across beautifully kept turf. His mount swerved on to a gravel drive, passed the house, and took him straight into a great stable yard, where it pulled up quietly. A groom with his shirt sleeves rolled up stepped out of a loose box and glared at Colin.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"My name," said the boy, "is Colin Carne. I mounted the pony in a field and he galloped away. As I was totally unable to control him I was obliged to remain upon his back, and, as you have observed, he has brought me here."
"I don't believe a word of it," snapped the man, scowling. "More like you were trying to steal the pony."
Colin, who had slipped off Spin's back, stiffened. "The facts are as I have related," he answered, with a dignity that impressed the angry groom. He looked doubtful.
"You'll come in and see the master," he said at last in a rather quieter tone. "He'll know how to deal with you."
"I shall be happy to explain and apologise to him," Colin replied, and went with the man to the house. An elderly butler met them at the hall door.
"Who's this, Sandor?" he asked.
Sandor explained. "I'm taking him to the master," he said.
"Sir Hereward is out."
"Then I'll have to lock the boy up somewheres," said Sandor.
"There is no need to lock me up," Colin said in his clear voice. "I shall not run away."
"He can sit in my pantry," suggested the butler.
"Who's going to sit in your pantry, Burley?" came another voice, and Colin saw a frail, white-faced boy of about his own age standing at the door of a room opening into the hall.
"This lad was caught riding Spin, Master Roy," said the butler. "We are keeping him till Sir Hereward can see him."
Roy came forward slowly. He stared at Colin. "I say, you do look fit," he said enviously. "How came you to ride Spin?"
Colin told him, and Roy's pale blue eyes widened. "You mean you rode him without saddle or bridle?"
"It was not difficult," Colin told him. "The pony has beautiful paces."
"And I can't ride even with a saddle," Roy said sadly.
"I am so very sorry," Colin replied, and the other boy felt that he meant it. He spoke to the groom.
"Sandor, this boy can stay with me until Sir Hereward comes back. And, Burley, please send up tea to my room."
"Very good, sir," said Burley meekly, and he and Sandor went off.
"Come to my room," Roy said, and Colin, wondering, followed.
ROY'S room was beautifully furnished. There were masses of flowers, a fine wireless set, and quantities of books. Roy sank on an invalid couch.
"Now tell me all about yourself," he demanded.
Colin, who felt really sorry for this sickly-looking lad, began to tell him about his life on Balta with his hermit uncle. He never had a more interested listener. Roy leaned forward, almost breathless. When Colin came to the death of his uncle, his trip to the mainland, and his meeting with Fang, Roy could not contain himself.
"But weren't you frightened?" he asked in a quivering voice.
"No," Colin said simply. "There is no need to be frightened of any animal unless it is frightened first."
While Roy was trying to take this in tea arrived.
"I hope you are hungry," he said.
"I am," admitted Colin. "And so is Ted, I am sure. I wish he were here."
"Ted—you mean the boy who was with you. I'll send for him. Burley, send Jim to look for a boy called Ted. He is in the lower meadow."
"He is here, Master Roy," said the butler sourly. "He has just arrived at the back door, looking for his friend."
"Splendid!" said Roy. "Send him in." Burley looked utterly disapproving but made no protest, and presently freckle-faced Ted came in.
"Nice scare you give me, Colin," was his first remark. "But ain't that a pony! Crikey, I wish we had him in the circus."
"The circus!" Roy exclaimed. "Do you belong to a circus?"
Ted nodded. "Corbett's Colossal."
"You mean you belong to it too?" Roy demanded of Colin.
"That is true," said Colin with a smile. Roy looked utterly amazed. "But—but you speak like a gentleman."
"No reason why a gentleman shouldn't belong to a circus," said Ted shortly.
"I—I beg your pardon," Roy said. "But you see, I have never been to a circus."
"Never been to a circus!" repeated Ted. "Why, what's the matter with you?"
"I have been ill all my life," Roy answered. "I hardly ever go out."
"You don't look that bad," said Ted bluntly. "But that there tea's getting cold and I could do with a cup."
Roy hastened to pour out, and while Ted and Colin tucked in Roy told them about himself. He had always been delicate, and his mother had taken great care of him. She had died when he was seven, and his father had got a nurse for him.
"But my father is always out of doors," said Roy wistfully, "and I don't see much of him. My cousin Guy looks after me."
Colin felt terribly sorry for the lonely boy, but it was Ted who spoke his mind.
"You'd be a heap better if you went round a bit. You ain't lame or anything. You ought to come to the circus and see Colin riding our horses."
Roy clasped his thin white hands.
"Do you ride horses in a ring?"
"I am learning," said Colin.
"Do you stand on their backs?"
"You bet he does," said Ted, as he took his third slice of cake.
"I'd give anything to see it," Roy declared earnestly. He started up. "We have a quiet old mare called Bess. If Sandor put a pad saddle on her do you think you could stand on her back, Colin?"
"I would not mind trying," Colin answered with a smile. "But your father might object."
"He's out, and so is Guy. It's a splendid chance." Before they could stop him he had rung the bell for Sandor.
Sandor's rather grim face was a study when Roy put up his plan. But he liked Roy and had always felt sorry for him. He noticed now how bright and interested Roy looked. Suddenly he smiled. "Very good, Master Roy. I'll put a pad saddle on Bess."
Bess was a grey mare, elderly and amiable. She was accustomed to carrying panniers for shooting parties. When the three boys went out they found Sandor had put the pad saddle on her and a halter with a long rope attached. They all went out into the park, and Sandor set Bess to ambling round in a circle.
Colin kicked off his shoes, vaulted on to her back, then rose to his feet and stood up straight. Bess's gait was different from that of the circus horses. Colin lost his balance, jumped, landed lightly on his feet, and was up again in a flash.
"That's circus work all right," declared Sandor with real admiration.
"It's perfectly wonderful," cried Roy. "Oh, if I could only do that!"
"Have you not ever ridden, Roy?" Colin asked, springing down.
Roy shook his head.
"Try now. I'll hold you."
"Oh, do you think I could?"
Sandor looked round, but no one was watching.
"Try it, Master Roy," he said, and lifted him to the saddle.
Colin got on behind and held him. First Bess walked, then cantered. Roy was enchanted.
"It's splendid," he panted.
"You're doing fine," shouted Ted. "And looking fine too," he added to Sandor.
"It don't seem to do him no harm," the groom agreed, then suddenly a dismayed look came upon his face. "Here's Mr Compton. Now there'll be trouble." A tall young man in smart tweeds, came striding up. "What is going on here?" he demanded in icy tones. "You on a horse, Roy!" He swung upon Sandor. "Have you gone crazy?"
Bess stopped. Colin helped Roy off. He faced the furious Guy Compton.
"There is no need for you to be angry with Mr Sandor," he said calmly. "The fault, if any, is mine. But the ride has done Roy no harm. You can see for yourself that he is looking better."
Guy glared at Colin. "Who are you? And what are you doing here?"
"He is Colin Carne," Roy answered. "He is the nicest boy I ever met. He owns an island."
Guy looked a trifle staggered. A boy who owned an island must be somebody, and Guy Compton was a snob at heart.
"But how does he come here, and who is this other youth?"
"This is Ted Tormer," Roy explained. "He comes from Corbett's Colossal Circus."
"He looks like it," Guy sneered. "Clear out!" he ordered scornfully.
Ted was not at all alarmed. "I'll clear," he said, "and Colin too. We couldn't be too far from a sour-faced chap like you."
"Oh, you're not going," cried Roy.
"They're going at once," said Guy. "And you're coming to lie down. You'll have a heart attack after this."
"I think you're a perfect pig, Guy," Roy cried, "and I don't believe there's anything the matter with my heart."
Guy's jaw fell. This was something quite new. Roy had never before defied him. For years he had encouraged Roy to think himself an invalid because he hoped that he himself would be left to manage Lane Park, Sir Hereward Hawke's great property. But he recovered quickly.
"You boys, go at once," he ordered. "Roy, you will come back to the house."
Roy rebelled. "I'm not going into the house," he said flatly.
Guy lost his temper. He caught hold of Roy so roughly that the boy cried out with pain. That was enough for Colin. He stepped forward. "You are hurting Roy. Let him go," he said.
Guy struck out, knocking Colin down. But he had not reckoned with Ted. Ted ran at him, head down, and next moment Guy was on his back.
It was at this moment that a big man with a grizzled moustache came cantering up on a tall horse. He sprang off.
"What's happening here?" he demanded. Sandor explained.
"Mr Compton handled Master Roy roughly and these boys interfered, Sir Hereward."
Sir Hereward turned to Roy. "Is this true?"
"Quite true, Dad," replied Roy, and poured out explanation.
Sir Hereward gazed at his son.
"Why, you have a colour, Roy. I never saw you look so bright." He paused. "I wonder if I've been mistaken about you."
Colin spoke. "If you will allow me to say so, sir, all that your son requires is fresh air and exercise."
"By gad, boy, I believe you are right," the baronet answered. "At any rate we'll try your prescription. Come into the house, young Carne. You too, Tormer. I believe you're the doctors, and I want a good talk with you both."
MR CORBETT and Colin Carne sat in the pleasant dining-room of the house on Balta. Breakfast was over and the others had gone out.
"Colin," said the circus man, "Sir Hereward wants you to come and live with him and Roy at Lane Park."
"That is very kind of him, sir," replied Colin in his clear, even voice, "but I would rather stay with you and Sheila."
"I like to hear that, Colin; but Sir Hereward can give you much more than I can."
"He cannot make me any happier than I am with you," Colin answered.
"But you are fond of Roy."
"I like him greatly," Colin agreed. "I only wish we could all live here together always."
Mr Corbett laughed.
"I want to do what is best for you, Colin, and I am going to talk things over with Sir Hereward this evening. We leave to-morrow."
"I know, and I am sorry. We shall have to make the most of today."
Mr Corbett nodded. "Yes, have a good time. It's a lovely day. Tomorrow I will tell you what is settled."
Colin left the room. In the hall Guy Compton was reading a book. Guy did not like Colin any better than when they had first met, some weeks earlier, but was very civil to him nowadays. He knew what a favourite Colin was with Sir Hereward.
"Going fishing?" he asked.
"We are going over to Foulin to see the birds," Colin answered politely.
"When are you starting?"
"In about an hour," Colin told him.
"It's nice and calm. I'm sure you'll enjoy it," Guy remarked, but his smile changed to a scowl as Colin went out of the front door.
Outside Colin found Roy, a very different Roy from the sickly lad he had met on his first visit to Lane Park. Roy was still thin, but he had a healthy colour, and his eyes had lost that pale, washed-out look and were almost as bright as Colin's. He shouted with delight when Colin told him his plan.
"This is a topping place," he declared.
"I'd like to live here always."
"So, too, would I," Colin agreed. "But that, I fear, is impossible. Still, we can always come here for holidays. Find Sheila, please, and tell her to put on her rubber boots and a warm coat."
"Right you are," Roy answered, and Colin went off to the kitchen to get sandwiches. A little later the three, Colin, Roy, and Sheila, were in the dinghy, pulling out of the little harbour where the Cygnet, Sir Hereward's motor yacht, was lying.
The whole party had come to Balta for a short holiday. Roy had been crazy to see the island and was enjoying every minute of his stay. Even the presence of Guy did not trouble him, for Sir Hereward had told Guy forcibly that Colin, not he, was Roy's doctor.
Foulin was a low-lying islet only a mile or so off Balta and famous for its sea birds. To reach it they had to row along the west coast of Balta, The sea was perfectly calm and the sun shone brightly. Duncan Macbain, Colin's deaf and dumb caretaker, had told Colin that it would remain fine for the day but that wind would come at sunset. And Duncan was an excellent weather prophet. They were passing under the tall cliffs half a mile beyond the harbour when Sheila pointed to a great arched opening. "Colin, isn't that Column Cave?"
"Yes," Colin answered.
"Do let us go in and have a look," Sheila begged. "You said it was perfectly wonderful inside and that you would show it to us if it was calm. You couldn't have a calmer day."
Colin looked at the opening. Calm as it was, the smooth swells broke in foam at the cliff foot. He nodded. "Very well, Sheila; we shall not have a better chance. But it is a rather terrible place."
"I shan't be frightened with you," said Sheila happily as Colin turned the boat in towards the arch. Just outside he waited for a wave, then pulled hard, and the light boat shot out of the sunlight into a thunderous gloom. The cave was enormous, and in the dim light vast columns of rock towered to the lofty roof. Each swell as it broke and swung into the black depths roared hoarsely, then rolled back with strange sucking sounds which were echoed from the walls and roof.
Sheila held her breath.
Colin knew the cave well. He pulled up the central channel, then turned the dinghy into a little harbour and sprang out on to a flat rock. He tied the boat's painter round a projecting spike and helped the others out. Then he switched on a flash lamp and led the way over great steps of stone amid which lay deep, clear pools where crabs and sea anemones and tiny fish lived and moved. Sheila and Roy were fascinated. They hurried from pool to pool, finding fresh wonders in each.
"It's a marvellous place," Sheila declared. "I'd like to spend all day here."
"You would have to be a mermaid to do that," smiled Colin. "When the tide comes in all these rocks are under water."
Sheila looked at him. "I never thought of that," she said in a startled voice. "Then it's low tide now."
"It will be full ebb in less than an hour," Colin told her. "So, there is no great hurry. But we must start in about half an hour if we wish to get to Foulin."
"Here's a big crab," cried Roy, who was groping in a pool. "Help me to catch him."
For the next half hour they enjoyed every minute of the time, then Colin declared they must leave, and they clambered back over the rocks to the spot where they had left the boat.
There was no boat. The rope was there, but the boat had gone.
COLIN did not waste a minute.
"Stay here!" he said, and hurried away over the rocks towards the mouth of the cave. He came back as quickly as he had gone.
"I can see the boat," he told them. "It is drifting parallel, with the cliffs. You must wait here while I swim after it."
Sheila caught his arm. "Colin, you can't. The water's so cold, and the currents are bad."
"I know that," Colin answered gravely; "but I can stand a lot of cold, and I swim well. I must go. I don't want to frighten you, but to recover the boat is our only chance. The others don't know where we are, and this cave fills at high tide. Now do not worry. I shall be back with the boat quite soon."
Before Sheila could say anything more he was gone. Reaching the outer rocks again, Colin flung off all his clothes except his shorts and dived into the sea, and struck out for the boat.
There was hardly any wind and the boat was drifting with the tide. Colin had learned to swim when he was only three and few boys of his age could match him in the water.
He was about halfway to the boat when he noticed that it was turning and drifting out to sea. Next moment he saw the cause. A breeze was springing up, ruffling the glassy surface of the swells.
Now for the first time Colin felt a twinge of fear. He paused to note which way the wind was taking the boat, and at once realised that it was going right out to sea and that he could never catch it. The one hope left was to swim all the way back to the yacht, a distance of nearly a mile. He wished devoutly he had started that way at once from the cave mouth, for now the tide was turning and soon he would have to fight against it. He turned on his side and struck out with a powerful overhand stroke.
Half an hour later Colin, halfway to the mouth of the harbour, was fighting against a current which was rapidly gaining strength. He was growing tired and the chill of the sea was biting into his bones. But, knowing that the lives of Sheila and Roy depended on him, he struggled on. A rock rose from the sea a little way ahead. If he could reach that he could rest for a last effort.
The current strengthened steadily. When at last he reached the rock Colin was almost exhausted. It was out of the question to swim that last half mile. The cruel part of it was that he could see the mast of the yacht but not the hull, and the distance was too great for a shout to reach the ears of those aboard.
He scrambled on to the rock and lay panting. The tide was rising inch by inch. The rock would soon be covered. Colin doubted if he could even get back to the cave.
Out of the smooth water in the lee of the rock a sleek head rose and a pair of large, intelligent eyes gazed at Colin.
"Grandy," he said softly, and reached out a hand. The seal, a great creature weighing a quarter of a ton, heaved itself up and allowed Colin to stroke its head. Colin had known this seal ever since it was a pup and played with it many a time in the sea. He had fed it with fish. He slipped into the water and put his right arm round the seal's neck.
"Grandy," he whispered in the seal's ear, "I am in trouble. You must help me. Take me back to the harbour."
To most people such a command would seem simply silly. They would say that the seal could not understand. Colin thought otherwise. He fully believed the seal had been sent in the nick of time to help him and had no doubt that he could convey his wishes to his friend. Not perhaps by actual words, but in some more subtle fashion.
At any rate Grandy began to swim swiftly along the surface. At first he headed in the wrong direction, but Colin gently pushed his head round, all the time talking to him in a low voice. The seal changed course and swam toward the rocks which guarded the harbour. Chilled as he was, Colin glowed with happiness. Sheila and Roy were safe after all.
Grandy swam straight for the point, then, instead of entering the harbour, stopped under the rocks. Colin gave him a final hug, then, with a couple of strokes, reached land and scrambled up. Next minute he was shouting across a few yards of water to the men on the yacht.
In a matter of moments a boat was launched and Sir Hereward Hawke with two hands came pulling across. The first thing Sir Hereward did was to wrap Colin in a heavy overcoat, the next to ask him how he came there. When Colin told Sir Hereward refused to believe him.
"The seal brought you! Impossible!"
"Wait," he said, and gave a peculiar whistle. Almost at once Grandy's sleek head rose. "There he is," continued Colin. "I feel sure he would take me to the cave if I asked him."
Sir Hereward shook his head. "I give in," he said. "After this I'll believe anything you choose to tell me. Now let's go and fetch those two kids."
Sheila and Roy were overjoyed to see Colin safe.
"We saw you swimming with Grandy," Sheila cried. "It was wonderful."
"It was very fortunate for me that Grandy came when he did," Colin said quietly. "The tide had turned. Now we had better go and fetch the other boat."
Colin had a hot bath and came down to tea looking fit as ever. Later he asked Guy to come for a walk. When they two were well away from the house Colin stopped.
"Why did you cut that painter?" he asked quietly.
"What are you talking about?" cried Guy indignantly.
"It is useless to deny it," Colin said. "Duncan Macbain saw you."
The colour went out of Guy's face.
"It—it was just a joke," he stammered.
"It was not a nice joke," Colin said gently. "It might have ended in our all being drowned."
"I didn't know you were going into that cave," Guy answered. "Look here, Colin, don't tell Sir Hereward. He would never forgive me."
"I do not suppose that he would," Colin agreed, and Guy went whiter than before.
"You mean you are going to tell him?" he gasped.
"I believe that I ought to," Colin said, "but on one condition I will not do so."
"What's that?" Guy asked quickly.
"That you leave Lane Park,"
Guy bit his lip.
"All right," he said at last. "I'll take that job Uncle Hereward offered me down South." He turned and walked quickly back to the house. Colin drew a deep breath.
"I hope that I have done right," he said to himself. "I think that I have."
If Colin could have heard Sir Hereward and Mr Corbett talking together later that evening he would have had no doubts.
"Corbett," said the baronet, "you were right about Colin. A boy who can tame and ride a grey seal must not be wasted on an ordinary profession. You will keep him, and he will make your show the biggest and best of its kind. And this island of his must remain as a sanctuary for wild life."
"I would not wish to stand in his way, Sir Hereward," said the circus owner, "but I think he will be happier with me. I intend to train him as my successor."
"Quite so," agreed the baronet; "but first he must go to school. I want him and Roy to go to school together, and I shall pay for his schooling. Do you agree?"
"So long as Sheila and I have him for the holidays," smiled the other.
Sir Hereward thrust out his hand.
"That's a bargain," he said heartily.
Roy Glashan's Library
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