Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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WHEN Linda Hamlyn arrived, unannounced, at her aunt's farm, she found that lady in despair. Things had been going badly, and it was due to something more than sheer bad luck. Dartmoor was a long way from the town of Golden, in America, where Linda had lived, but she soon settled down with her aunt. A series of unpleasant incidents nearly ruined them, but Linda and her aunt finally succeeded in outwitting the unscrupulous attempts to turn them from their home.
A LOUD crash roused Miss Ellen Hamlyn. Tired out with a long morning of work in her garden under a blazing sun, she had dropped asleep in her chair after dinner. She started up to see the horned head of a big bullock actually inside the porch. The beast had knocked down one of her cherished pots of geraniums which lay, smashed to atoms, on the flagged floor.
With a cry of dismay she jumped up and ran at the intruder, waving her arms. It was not a wise thing to do, for the bullock wheeled round and sent the pot on the other side flying. Then it charged away across the garden, breaking down two rose-bushes and leaving great hoof-marks inches deep in the little lawn.
With a clumsy leap the creature scrambled through a gap in the stone wall which divided the garden of Damarel Farm from the newtake; then, to Miss Hamlyn's dismay, two more bullocks charged up out of the kitchen garden behind the house and followed their leader.
Miss Hamlyn hurried round and pulled up short, gazing in horror at the scene before her. All the summer cabbages were gone, so were the lettuces; the carrot- and turnip-beds no longer existed, and the late spinach under the shelter of the wall had also disappeared. Whole branches had been torn from her cherished apple-trees, which are so hard to grow on Dartmoor. The whole garden had been destroyed, for what had not been eaten had been trampled flat.
Tears started from Miss Hamlyn's faded blue eyes and rolled down her thin cheeks.
"It's no use," she said slowly. "I may as well give up."
She went back into the porch and began picking up the broken fragments of the two large flower-pots. Then she got a broom and was sweeping up the earth when she heard steps and turned to see a short, stocky man with apple-cheeks and iron-grey whiskers gazing at her. There was an odd mixture of anger and dismay in his small bright blue eyes.
"They dratted bullocks again, Miss Ellen! But however did they get in?"
"Through the wall, Ben. See, it's down." Ben Cottle's round face took on a grim expression.
"Her was safe enough afore us went up to turf, and they bullocks didn't knock her down theirselves. There's dirty work here, Miss Ellen."
"Not for the first time," replied Miss Hamlyn bitterly. "And they've ruined the garden. But it's my fault. I was asleep." Ben saw she was crying again. He was distressed.
"Don't 'ee take on like that, Miss Ellen. Bain't your fault as 'ee took a nap, hot as her be, and working all morning like you been. Us'll build up that wall proper and they pesky bullocks won't get in no more."
It was no use. Miss Hamlyn was beyond comfort. She was sobbing as she went into the house, and Ben was swearing under his breath as he set to work piling up the big lumps of granite of which the garden wall was built. The heat was terrific and sweat poured down Ben's face as he wrestled with the heavy blocks. He looked up at the brassy sky.
"Storm afore night, I'll be bound," he said to himself.
Some time later Miss Hamlyn called him into the kitchen for a cup of tea. He drank it gratefully and ate thick slices of bread and butter. Miss Hamlyn drank some tea but Ben could not persuade her to eat. Ben went back to his work. Although the sun was getting low it was hot as ever. Not a breath of air moved. It was so still that he could hear the tinkle of the shrunken Flash Brook at the bottom of the valley a couple of hundred yards away.
Presently he heard something else. Heavy boots were crunching along the road leading up to the farm. He looked up and scowled at sight of the newcomer. This was a heavily-built man between fifty and sixty, with a leathery face, a long, clean-shaven upper lip and a fringe of greyish beard which framed an obstinate chin and long, narrow mouth. His eyes were something between green and grey and he had very large ears. In spite of the heat he wore a suit of heavy, dark grey cloth and a hard hat. The latter was too big for his head and sat right down on his big ears.
"That old twoad!" Ben growled beneath his breath. "Come to worrit Miss Ellen again, I'll be bound."
The old toad, whose name was Seth Yatton and who lived at Viper's Holt, half a mile or so up-river, did not even glance at Ben. He went straight up the paved walk to the front door and knocked. Miss Hamlyn did not scowl, but there was no welcome on her face as she received her visitor.
"Good evening, Mr. Yatton," she said quietly. "Your bullocks have been in my garden this afternoon and have completely ruined it. When I let you that newtake you gave me your word you would put sheep in, not bullocks."
"I don't recollect as there's anything like that in the agreement," Seth Yatton answered. "All the same I'm proper sorry about the beasts getting in your garden. But that there wall o' yours wouldn't keep a sheep out. It did ought to be rebuilt."
"The wall is good enough, Mr. Yatton. I'll ask you to take the bullocks out of the newtake."
"I'd have a job to do that. This here dry weather my grass is all grazed down. See here, Miss Hamlyn, I don't want to make trouble for a neighbour. Tell 'ee what I'll do." He paused and his sharp little eyes were fixed on her face. "I'll buy Damarel off 'ee."
Miss Hamlyn's eyes widened. She looked as if she could not believe her senses.
"Buy Damarel," she repeated slowly. She raised her head and straightened her toil-bent back. This worn, middle-aged woman turned suddenly into a dignified lady. "You don't understand, Mr. Yatton. Damarel has been in our family for five hundred years. I would as soon think of selling my soul."
"It wouldn't fetch much," returned Yatton coarsely. He was very angry. "You're one of these folk as think the earth was made for 'em, but I tell 'ee you're nigh bankrupt this minute. You can't even pay your rates. It don't pay to be proud when you bain't got no money to back it."
"I have no wish to listen to your insults any longer," said Miss Hamlyn. "I will ask you to leave my house, Mr. Yatton, and never enter it again."
"Next time I comes in you won't be here and it'll be my house," snarled the other.
"I'll bet it won't," came a voice which made them both start.
A girl was standing in the open door. She was quite young, probably not yet sixteen, fairly tall and beautifully built. Not one of these large-fisted, athletic young women. Indeed her hands and feet were rather small for her height. But she was deep chested, and held herself remarkably well. She was pretty, too, with big grey eyes, clear skin, rather large but well-cut mouth, firm chin and fair curly hair. But what struck Miss Hamlyn more than anything else was the girl's air of competence. She looked as if nothing would flurry or upset her, as if she could keep her head in any emergency.
Miss Hamlyn stared at her and Yatton scowled. Both were wondering who she was and where she came from.
"I guess you better go, Uncle," the girl said to Yatton.
"I bain't your uncle," he snapped back.
"I'm mighty glad of that," replied the girl with a laugh. "Move right along. I'm tired of waiting."
Yatton opened his mouth as if to speak, thought better of it and slouched out. The girl watched him until he was clear of the gate, then turned to the amazed Miss Hamlyn.
"Guess I arrived just the right minute, Aunt Ellen," she said.
"WHO—;who are you?" Miss Hamlyn managed to ask.
"I'm Linda Hamlyn," the girl told her, and now she spoke in a different and much softer voice. "I'm your brother John's daughter. Weren't you expecting me?" Miss Hamlyn gazed at her.
"I never even knew you existed, my dear. But—;but—;yes, you are John's daughter. I can see the likeness." She stepped forward, put her arms round Linda's neck and kissed her. Linda hugged her.
"Oh, but it's good to see my own kin again," she said quickly. "I've been real lonely since Dad died." She drew away and stood with her hands on Miss Hamlyn's shoulders. "And you're just lovely," she added warmly.
No one had ever called Miss Hamlyn "lovely" and, though the poor lady did not know that it was American for "charming," she flushed pinkly.
"And now tell me who was that nasty old mossback who wanted to buy your place," Linda went on.
"His name is Seth Yatton. He lives at Viper's Holt, and is a most unpleasant person. But," said Miss Ellen with unexpected spirit, "if you think I'm going to talk of him or anything but you this evening, you're mistaken. And the first thing is to get you some tea."
"I'd love a cup of tea," Linda declared. She wanted to help get it, but Miss Ellen ordered her to sit still.
"After you've walked all the way from Taverton in this heat!" she exclaimed.
"I didn't," Linda said. "I hired an auto. A nice old fellow drove me and told me all about the tors and the prison. My, but it's fine country. Dad told me about it many a time."
Presently the two sat down to splits and clotted cream and whortleberry jam; to saffron buns and a big pot of strong tea. Linda ate with a healthy appetite and Miss Hamlyn felt so much cheered that she, too, made a good tea.
"Now tell me about yourself," Miss Ellen said. "The last time I heard from your father was nearly twenty years ago, when he wrote that he was going up to some place called Alaska; and never a word since then."
"He did go there, Aunt, and I reckon he nearly starved. Then he moved over into Alberta and found a prospect and made a bit of money. His partner died and Dad married his daughter, my mother. But Dad was never one to keep money; he was a born wanderer and, for years and years, we moved from one place to another. I guess he was ashamed to write because he couldn't send you any money. Mum died when I was ten and Dad sent me to school at a town called Golden.
"Somehow he always managed to pay for me and, every now and then, he'd come and see me. But each time he looked thinner and older, and I used to beg him to let me go with him and look after him. He wouldn't hear of it. About three months ago I had word that he was ill and went off right away. He had pneumonia. I nursed him over the worst of it and thought he was going to get well. Then he had a heart attack." Linda paused and her voice faltered.
"He had just time to tell me before he died that I was to go to you."
"You poor dear, and all alone!" said Miss Ellen softly. Linda went on.
"I wrote you a letter, then I started straight away."
"I never got the letter," her aunt told her. "And you mean you travelled all those thousands of miles by yourself?"
"It was quite easy. Folk were very kind to me. I got to Liverpool yesterday and took the train this morning." She smiled. "Seems I got here just the right time."
The two had been talking so eagerly they had not noticed how dark it had got. Now came a blaze of light followed by a crash of thunder that shook the house.
"My goodness, and the windows all open!" cried Miss Ellen as she jumped up and ran to close them. Linda helped. She was closing the kitchen window when Ben Cottle hurried in out of the rain which was now coming down in sheets. Linda gazed at him a moment then put out her hand.
"You must be Ben Cottle," she said. "Dad's told me about you."
As it happened, Ben had not seen Linda's arrival. He had been busy with the chickens when she came. Now he stood, stock still, his bright little eyes fixed on her face.
"You—;you be Master John's girl," he said in a tone of absolute certainty.
"Sure I am, Ben. I got to England yesterday."
"You come the right time, missy." Another peal of thunder made them pause, then Linda spoke.
"Just in time to turn that nasty old fellow out of the house."
"Bain't that, I mean, missy. Miss Ellen she be nigh ruined. She have lost heart."
"As bad as that, is it?" said Linda gravely. "You and I must see what we can do, Ben."
Before Ben could answer there was a blaze of light followed by a roar like the crack of doom. Linda was flung backwards and fell to the floor with such force that she was almost stunned.
Almost but not quite. She scrambled up. Ben lay flat on the floor. The room was full of smoke and burning embers were everywhere. The chimney had been struck, and a quantity of masonry had fallen into the wide old-fashioned hearth where a peat fire always burned. The hearth-rug was afire.
Linda sprang to the sink, where a pastry-bowl stood full of water. She flung this on the rug, then snatched up a broom and swept the peat embers back into the grate.
Next she turned to Ben. To her relief he was sitting up, looking dazed but seemingly not much the worse.
"I must find Aunt Ellen," she said, and ran out of the kitchen. She met Miss Hamlyn at the foot of the stairs, white and shaken.
"Oh, what has happened, Linda?" she asked.
"Lightning struck the chimney. I don't reckon there's much harm done. Are you hurt, Aunt Ellen?"
"I feel all stunned and stupid," was the answer, so Linda put her strong young arm round the elder woman, helped her to an armchair, and brought her a glass of water. Then she hurried back into the kitchen.
There was no danger of fire for rain was coming down in a stream through the opening. The damage was worse than Linda had thought, for the whole of the heavy stone chimney-stack was cracked to pieces and half a ton of broken masonry blocked the fireplace. Ben was looking at the ruins with dismay.
"This be the end," he muttered. "'Twill cost pounds and pounds to build up that there chimney again."
"It might have been a sight worse," replied Linda tartly. "We might all have been killed."
Miss Ellen came into the kitchen. She said nothing, but the look on her face as she saw the damage frightened Linda.
"What's the matter, Aunt Ellen? It isn't as if the house was afire. The damage isn't so very bad."
"You don't understand, my dear," said her aunt in a voice of despair. "It will cost twenty or thirty pounds at least to put this right, and I don't think I have much more than thirty shillings."
Linda looked startled. True, Ben had told her that her aunt was 'nearly ruined,' but Linda had not imagined that things had come to such a pass as this. Thirty shillings! Why, it wouldn't keep them in food for more than a week. She hurried out of the room.
Miss Ellen was speaking to Ben.
"We shall have to sell the rest of the sheep, Ben." Ben's face fell.
"They be the last of the stock, Miss Ellen. How do 'ee expect to live next year without no lambs?"
"We can't let the cows go. We must have milk and butter for Linda."
Ben shook his head sadly. He did not speak. He had nothing to say. Then Linda came flying back into the wet, smoky kitchen. She had a small bag in her hand. It was made of untanned leather and seemed heavy for its size. She untied the string and tumbled the contents out on the well-scrubbed table top.
"This will pay for the chimney, Aunt Ellen," she said. Miss Hamlyn saw a quantity of coarse yellow dust, some fragments of which were as big as a sixpence.
"What is it, Linda?" she asked doubtfully.
"Dust, Aunt, gold dust. Only a little more than twenty ounces, but it's worth about a hundred and fifty pounds of your money. Take it, Aunt dear. You can't think how glad I am to give it you."
MISS HAMLYN woke next morning to find Linda, trim in a light cotton frock covered with a big apron, beside her bed. On a small tray was a pot of tea with a cup and milk and sugar. Miss Hamlyn sat up quickly. She gazed at the tea, then, to Linda's dismay, tears begun to roll down her cheeks.
"Don't you like tea, Aunt Ellen? Was it wrong of me to get it?"
"It—;it isn't that," sobbed Miss Hamlyn. "It's—;it's because no one has ever brought me a cup of early tea since my dear mother died." Linda kissed her aunt.
"You're going to have it always in future. What do you reckon is the use of a great big niece if she can't bring her aunt a cup of tea? It's a lovely morning after the rain. Drink up your tea, then we'll see what we can do about the chimney. But first I'll have to go to a bank to change my dust for pounds, shillings and pence."
"It's dreadful to think of taking your money," said Miss Hamlyn in a troubled voice.
"You can give me a share in the farm to make up," said Linda with a laugh, and her aunt brightened.
"But, of course, it will be yours some day, my dear."
"I wouldn't want a house without a chimney," Linda declared with her infectious laugh. "Tell me, have you a pony I can ride into the town?"
"Ben shall drive you into Taverton with old Bob. You mustn't carry all that money, alone."
"Fine!" said Linda as she took the tray and departed.
When Miss Hamlyn got down she found breakfast already on the table. Tea, eggs and bacon and a quantity of delicious little hot, baking-powder rolls.
"My dear, what extravagance!" cried Miss Hamlyn.
"What—;biscuit! We have them for every meal in Canada. Just flour, baking-powder and a little lard. I baked them in the Dutch oven. Try one."
"They're nice, my dear," declared Miss Hamlyn as she bit into one. She looked at her niece. "Dear me, Linda, you've only been here a few hours and you seem to have changed everything. In spite of the chimney, I'm happier than I've been for years."
Linda's eyes sparkled.
"You're making me happy," she cried. "Oh, I'm going to love being here."
Ben brought round the old horse harnessed to an ancient jingle. Linda got her bag of dust and they started. Old Bob did not hurry but Linda didn't mind. She was enjoying the bracing air and the wonderful scenery. Little streams of water sparkling in the sunshine were tumbling down off the high tors. The Flash Brook was a thundering torrent of peat-brown water which foamed against the buttresses of the old bridge. The steep roads were scoured clean by the torrents of overnight.
To the right of the bridge stood a square house of granite with a slate roof. There was not a tree or bush near it: no garden, nothing but a yard behind it with a row of dirty cowsheds.
"Ugh!" said Linda. "That house gives me shivers."
"It be Viper's Holt where they Yattons live," Ben told her.
At this moment a man came down the cart-road from the Holt on a bicycle. A youngish man, squat, heavily built, wearing a ready-made suit of cheap flashy tweed and a cap. He reached the road ahead of the jingle and pushed on up the slope.
"And that be Asa Yatton," Ben added. "He be nigh as bad as his father."
"A pity we have such neighbours," said Linda.
"You be right, missie. They be nasty folk. But don't 'ee go for to think as all moor-folk be that bad."
"I'm sure they aren't," said Linda quickly. "The Moor is too lovely to have many people like that on it."
They climbed the hill and saw the big ugly prison away to their left with parties of convicts busy in the big stone-walled fields; then turned to the right down a long hill. Asa Yatton was no longer in sight and Linda was glad. He seemed to her a blot on the wild and lonely landscape.
At the bottom, the road crossed the Stone Brook by a narrow crooked bridge and climbed steeply again. To the right was the big but now unworked Meripit stone quarry and, for a couple of hundred yards, the road was bordered by a great heap of "spoil" from the quarry, a bank forty feet high and almost precipitous.
Bob was walking slowly up the hill when from the top of the bank came a rumble. Linda looked up and saw a great mass of rugged granite rolling slowly down from the rim above them. It was coming straight for the trap and, as it rolled, was loosening other lumps which formed a regular stone slide. Ben saw it, too. He gave Bob a sharp cut with the whip and the old horse, astonished at treatment which he had never before experienced, leaped forward.
The leap proved too much for the swingle-tree. The bolt holding it gave with a loud crack and Bob plunged clean out of the shafts, leaving the jingle in the middle of the road in the very path of the thundering avalanche.
THE hill was so steep that, the moment Bob was clear of the shafts, the jingle began to run backwards. This was all that saved Linda and Ben from the big stone which hit the road, bounced forward and, missing the pair of them by not more than a yard, struck the shafts, snapping them like carrots.
Almost at the same moment Linda jumped and, landing on her feet like a cat, sprang round to the front of the jingle. She caught hold of the broken ends of the shafts and wrenched them round so that the wheels locked and the trap came to a standstill.
"My, but that was close!" she cried. "Are you all right, Ben?"
"I bain't hurt, missie, but I be proper scared," was the reply.
"And Bob's all right, too," said Linda, for the old horse, after galloping a little way, had stopped and turned round. He was snorting with surprise and fright. Linda went after him, caught and led him back.
"Does this sort of thing often happen, Ben?" she asked.
"Never knowed nothing like it afore," replied Ben. He was looking at the spoil heap. "That rock didn't fall herself. I'll tell 'ee that, missy."
"You're telling me someone pushed it down, Ben?"
"Aye, and I could make a proper good guess who did it. But bain't no use going to look. He'm far away enough by now."
"You don't mean it was Asa Yatton?"
"I bain't saying nothing, missy, but arter this I be keeping my eyes wide." He looked at the jingle. "Her's properly busted. Seems like we'd have to walk." Just as he spoke a car came over the bridge behind them and its driver, seeing the wreck, pulled up. The car was a small saloon and a boy jumped out.
"Looks like you've had a smash. Can we help?" he asked pleasantly. Linda saw that he was about her own age, tall and fair, dressed in rough fishing clothes. He had a shock of untidy hair and very clear blue eyes. She liked his looks, and told him quickly what had happened.
"By jove, you had a narrow squeak!" the boy exclaimed. "Where are you bound?"
"Taverton," Linda said.
"So are we. Dad and I were going in to get some flies and casts. We can give you both a lift."
"You take missie, master. I'll ride Bob home and fetch out some rope and take the jingle back."
"Right!" said the boy. He turned to the man at the steering-wheel.
"Dad, we can take the lady, can't we?"
"Of course," said the other. "Get in, Miss—;"
"I'm Linda Hamlyn," Linda told him.
"My name is Bourne," replied the driver. "This is my boy, Denny."
Denny was a cheery soul. He talked hard and, by the time they reached Taverton, Linda knew that he and his father were staying at The Feathers, at Moorlands, for the fishing, that his father was a solicitor, and that Denny himself was at Clifton. They left Linda at the Old Bank, promising to pick her up in half an hour and take her home.
Mr. Mortlake, the bank manager, was a middle-aged man with a thin, kindly face. When Linda had introduced herself and told her errand he took her into his office and, after weighing her gold, put it in the safe.
"It will have to be tested," he told her. "As you know, raw gold is not always pure, but I have not much doubt that this will be worth at least a hundred and fifty pounds. Do you wish the money put to your aunt's credit?" Linda said she did and Mr. Mortlake nodded approvingly.
"It will be a godsend to the poor lady. She has worked so hard and had so much ill-luck." He looked at Linda and smiled. "And I think, my dear, that you, too, will be a great help to her. I am very glad you have come home and I hope you will be happy." Linda flushed with pleasure.
"You are all so mighty kind to me I couldn't help but be happy," she declared. She shook hands with the banker, went out and found Denny. He told her his father was still busy and suggested they should go to Jessopp's and have ices.
Over the ices, the two talked a lot more and Denny was intensely interested to hear that Linda had lived all her life in the far North-West and that she could drive a team of husky dogs, travel on snow-shoes, and cook in the open. By the time Mr. Bourne had finished his business the two were fast friends. Mr. Bourne insisted on driving Linda back to Damarel where they were introduced to Miss Hamlyn. Both father and son were immensely taken with the quaint old house and its surroundings, but, most of all, with the Flash Brook.
"Yes, we have plenty of trout," Miss Hamlyn told them, "and you're welcome to fish in my water as much as you like."
"That is most kind of you," said Mr. Bourne, gratefully. "The Arrow, where we are fishing, has too many rods, but your stream does not seem over-fished."
"Ben takes out a few trout for me now and then," said Miss Hamlyn with a smile. "There seem to be plenty."
"Dad," put in Denny eagerly, "let's come this evening. The water's fining down. It will be all right for fly in a few hours."
"Come and have tea here," Miss Hamlyn urged. "You can fish afterwards."
"That will be delightful," said Mr. Bourne. He and Denny drove off and Miss Hamlyn and her niece had their midday meal.
Then Ben came back with old Bob and the jingle. He had been round by Moorlands and seen Steelyard, the builder, who had promised to come next day and repair the chimney. The afternoon was spent tidying up the kitchen. They carried the loose stones out, swept and washed the kitchen and Ben fastened a tarpaulin over the hole in the roof.
By four, tea was ready and a few minutes later the car drove up. Linda had made some more of the delicious little 'biscuits'; there was Devonshire cream, with home-made jam and a home-baked cake.
"I say, you people do understand teas," Denny declared as he began on his fourth biscuit. "I wish they fed us like this at the hotel. Linda, are you coming to fish?"
"I'd surely love to, but I haven't a rod."
"We have a spare one," Mr. Bourne said; "you are welcome to it." So after tea Linda went out with the Bournes. Denny put the spare rod up for her and was going to tie on a cast, but Linda told him not to wait—;that she could do that.
"You're a bit of a wonder—;for a girl," Denny remarked. "I'll go down a little way. You can fish up to the bridge."
Linda smiled to herself. She did not think that Denny could tell her much about fishing. She put on two small flies and walked up to the big pool below the bridge. The flood had run down but the water, still high, had cleared to the colour of freshly-made coffee. Trout were rising in the tail of the pool. Linda saw a nice one under the far bank and, kneeling down, dropped her flies lightly just above the ring made by the rising trout.
Up he came, Linda struck and the line screamed off the reel as a strong half-pounder raced up the pool. To Linda, accustomed to the great fierce trout of Northern rivers, it was child's play; but all the same it was fun. She drew the fish up on to a patch of shingle, unhooked and killed it and put the plump speckled beauty into her basket. There were plenty of trout in this brook and Linda realised that they would be a great help in the food supply for her aunt and herself.
She began to cast again closer to the bridge. Suddenly a large stone splashed into the pool close to her flies. Linda looked up. Leaning on the stone parapet she saw Asa Yatton. There was a malicious grin on his sallow face. Linda laid her rod against a bush, climbed the bank and walked up to the wall. Over this she vaulted as lightly as a boy and walked deliberately up to the bridge.
THE grin faded from Asa's face, an uncertain look showed in his muddy eyes, and Linda knew at once that there was a yellow streak in him. But he turned and faced her. After all—;Linda could read his thoughts—;this was only a girl. She would never stand up to him.
"You threw that stone," said Linda. Though she was very angry her eyes and voice were perfectly steady.
"Ain't no law against throwing stones," Asa retorted with an ugly grin.
"I don't reckon there's a law against it," Linda agreed, "but no decent fellow would do such a thing."
"Ho, so that's what you say!" sneered the youth.
"I do surely say it, and I'll tell you something more. In the country I come from a man who did such a nasty trick would mighty soon find himself in the river."
"Perhaps you'd like to put me there," said Asa coming a step nearer.
"I reckon I could if I tried," replied Linda calmly, "but I surely don't mean to try. And please keep right away from me. I don't reckon you have washed your hands since you moved those rocks this morning."
Asa flared up.
"What do you mean? What are you talking about?" he shouted.
"You know mighty well what I mean," Linda answered.
"Are you saying I rolled them rocks this morning?"
"You did if you know about it," she told him sweetly, "for I'm mighty sure no one has told you."
Asa saw that he had given himself away. Such a look of fury twisted his face that Linda was frightened. But she knew it would be fatal to let Asa see it, so faced him bravely. Asa's hands were clenching and unclenching. They were big, ugly hands with thick fingers and dirty nails. It made Linda shiver to think of them at her throat.
Asa glanced quickly from one side to the other. This was a lonely by-road and there was no one in sight. Mr. Bourne was far down the river and of Denny there was no sign.
"Put me in the river," he snarled. "There's two can play that game." He grabbed at her but Linda sprang aside. He seized her left arm. With her right hand Linda caught him a stinging slap on the side of his face which surprised him so that he let go. Linda whirled and ran and he came charging after.
Linda was fleet of foot but hardly a match for a powerful man like Asa. He was gaining fast when Denny's head and shoulders appeared over the low wall of the newtake. Denny put one hand on the top, vaulted over and, bending low, charged Asa. He got him round the knees in a perfect tackle and Asa went down on the road with such force that he skidded a yard or more, then lay gasping for breath. Linda turned and came back.
"That was fine, Denny," she declared.
"Who is the brute? What was he doing to you?" Denny was fairly flaming.
"He is Asa Yatton, son of a nasty man who lives at that farm over there, Viper's Holt. He threw stones into the bridge-pool to spoil my fishing and then said he'd throw me in."
"The dirty lout. He ought to be in prison." Denny took Asa by the collar and dragged him to his feet.
"Get up, you dirty coward! I'm going to give you a real licking."
Asa was no pretty sight. The skin was scraped off his nose and from the palms of his hands. The knees of his trousers were torn and, since this road was not tarred, he had collected a large quantity of dirt on his coat and waistcoat. He was in considerable pain and a furious rage.
Seeing that his opponent was only a boy he made up his mind to take vengeance and rushed at him furiously. Asa was of course much heavier and bigger than Denny, but he knew nothing of boxing, whereas Denny was a favourite pupil of the instructor at Clifton.
Denny dodged away and, as Asa came past, hit him hard under the ear. Asa howled with rage and drove savagely at Denny's head. Denny ducked and this time got in a beauty on Asa's nose. There is no blow which hurts more than a clean one on the bridge of the nose, and Asa stopped short, shaking his head. Denny was not taking any chances. He steadied himself, picked his spot and let Asa have it on the chin. That finished it. Asa went flat on his back in the road. Denny turned to Linda.
"That'll learn him," he said with a grin. He stooped, look hold of Asa's legs and dragged him on to the turf by the roadside.
"Now let's get some more trout," he said. "They're rising fine."
Between the three rods they took a couple of dozen trout, half of which were handed over to Linda. Miss Hamlyn was very pleased and gave Denny and his father permission to fish as much as they liked during their stay on the Moor.
Linda was careful not to tell her aunt of her encounter with Asa, but next morning she told Ben about it. Ben grinned broadly.
"Do un good," he said. "If he got a beating like that once a week might make a man of him. By gum, I wish I'd seed it."
About twelve, Mr. Bourne and Denny turned up in their car. Denny was excited. He took Linda aside and told her that Joe Caunter, the policeman from Moorlands, had called on them at their hotel earlier with a summons from Asa Yatton for 'assault and battery.'
"I have to appear in Taverton to-morrow before the Bench."
Linda's eyes widened.
"The fellow is surely crazy," she said scornfully. "He threatened to throw me into the river." She laughed suddenly. "Say, Denny, I'm coming in with you. I reckon the judge will find I'm a right good witness for the Defence."
"I'm jolly sure you will be," Denny declared. "But we don't have judges in these little country towns. They're just J.P.s—;that is, Justices of the Peace. There'll be a squire and a retired colonel, and a few people of that sort. They'll be quite decent."
"Decent?" repeated Linda, puzzled. "I reckon that's an English expression."
"Kind—;civil," he translated. "And there's another thing, Linda, which will be a nasty shock for Asa. Dad's a solicitor."
"A lawyer, you mean?"
"Yes, and rather a good one. He's going to defend me, and I'll bet he'll turn Master Asa inside out."
"That will be fine," said Linda, then she turned serious. "Denny, I'll have to tell Aunt. I'm afraid she'll be real upset."
"There's nothing to be upset about," Denny declared. "It'll be great fun."
But Linda was right. Her aunt was upset. Luckily Steelyard arrived and Miss Hamlyn grew so interested in the chimney repair that she forgot about the summons. Steelyard, a big, stolid, cheery man, declared that the damage might have been worse and said he could put things right in three or four days' work. The cost would be only eight or ten pounds. He suggested putting in a small cooking range which would cost another six pounds, but make cooking much easier. Linda was all for it.
"It will save a lot of fuel and be much quicker and cleaner," she declared. "And we need a proper sink as well, with water laid on." Steelyard said he could do this at the same time for there was plenty of water in the little leat which came down from a spring in the tor above. He would begin the work next morning.
Linda asked Denny and his father to midday dinner but Mr. Bourne, who knew by this time the state of Miss Hamlyn's finances, hesitated. He suggested very courteously that he could well afford to pay. Miss Hamlyn was so horrified that he did not press his point. Denny, who had been listening, said to Linda:
"Why don't you take P.G.s?"
"What are they—;some kind of chickens?"
Denny roared with laughter.
"Linda, you'll be the death of me. Paying guests, I mean."
"Oh, boarders," said Linda. "Now, that's a right good notion. But why, would they come here?"
"Of course, they'd come here. Look at the fishing, to say nothing of a lovely old house and smashing grub!" He went on eagerly. "You have five spare bedrooms. You could charge three pounds a week and, even if you hired a maid to help, you'd make a nice profit."
Linda's eyes brightened.
"Denny, you are surely one bright boy. I reckon you've solved our troubles. There is furniture in all those rooms. All I'll need to get will be sheets and towels, a few rugs for the floors and pretty curtains for the windows. Yes, and some up-to-date cooking pots and pans."
"But what will your aunt say?" asked Denny, suddenly sober.
"She'll have a fit, but I reckon she'll come round. She'll do anything to save the old place. I'm going to talk to her this very day."
Linda was never one to shirk an unpleasant task and, as soon as the table was cleared and the plates washed and put away, she tackled her aunt. Miss Ellen went quite pale.
"Make a hotel of our old home?" she asked faintly.
"Why not? I've read of lords and ladies doing just that thing. It will just keep us going until we get the farm paying again. And we'll have nice people. Folk who fish are mostly nice." Linda had a way with her and before long she had not only persuaded her aunt but got her quite interested in the suggestion.
When the Bournes came back from fishing Linda told Denny that it was all right and he promptly told his father. Mr. Bourne smiled.
"Then," he said to Linda, "Denny and I are going to be your first guests. We shall move in just as soon as the chimney is finished."
"WEATHER'S a bit fishy," said Denny as he met Linda outside the house the following morning. "Another thunderstorm brewing, I believe."
"So long as it doesn't knock down any more chimneys I don't mind," Linda laughed. "I'm all ready, shall we start?"
"May as well," Denny agreed. He glanced at his wrist-watch. "It's only a little after ten and we're not due till eleven. We've time enough."
Ben came tearing round from the back.
"Missy, there be smoke rising up from Braky Furze. I'll lay that there old twoad has put fire to un so us won't get to Taverton."
Linda ran; so did Denny and his father. Braky Furze was a patch of gorse on the hillside about a quarter of a mile from the house. It was the finest bit of fox cover in the country, thick as a hedge and eight feet high. Brambles grew there and in September there were masses of blackberries.
Sure enough smoke was rising from the north side and they could already see little tongues of flame darting up. Ben dashed into an outbuilding and came out with half a dozen wet sacks.
"If her don't blow us may stop un," he cried, and each took a sack and ran.
"There's hardly any wind," said Denny as he ran alongside Linda.
"But what there is comes from the north-east," Linda answered. "And look at the clouds! It's surely going to blow hard very soon."
The smoke was rising almost straight up and, as they got near, they could hear the sharp snapping of the flames as the green gorse stalks burst with the heat. Linda, who knew all about forest fires, felt very doubtful whether they could stop it; and it seemed to her a dreadful pity that this great extent of lovely gorse, which for most of the year was yellow with scented bloom, should be reduced to a black ruin. If, as Ben said, this was the work of Seth Yatton, the man ought to be put in prison; but what chance had they of pinning the guilt on him? She was so angry that for the moment she forgot all about their summons to Taverton.
They were quite close to the gorse when a strong gust of wind swept past.
"That's finished it," groaned Denny as the flames roared up. But Linda stopped, looked round and gave a cry of delight.
"It's from the west. The wind has changed. See, it's blowing the fire back."
Almost before the words were out of her mouth, the smoke went whirling back eastwards. So did the flames. On the east side of the high covert was rough ground covered with heather and whortleberries. The fire swept back into this and fairly raced across it. They all four charged into the gap and began beating out the little line of fire which was trying to creep against the wind into the covert. With the wind at their backs and no smoke to bother them, this was easy.
Ben gave a shout. It was almost a roar.
"There he be! What did I tell 'ee?"
He pointed to a figure dim in the smoke, pounding down the hill a couple of hundred yards away. It was Seth Yatton. It was plain what had happened. Seth had hidden in a clump of heather where, of course, he had thought himself safe; but he hadn't reckoned on the change of wind which had brought the flames racing towards his refuge until he was driven out and forced to bolt.
"Yoicks!" shouted Denny and he and Ben were off after the fugitive. Denny outran Ben and gained fast on Seth. They saw him spring on the man's shoulders and bring him down with a force that must have knocked every bit of breath out of his thick body. Then Ben reached the spot. Ben hauled Seth up and shook his fist in his face.
"You old twoad, you! Setting fire in other folks' land. Now I tell 'ee what you'll do. You'll come and put un out and I'll stand over 'ee so long as the last spark be left."
"What be talking about?" panted Seth. "I never set fire in the gorse."
"Bain't a bit o' use, your telling lies," returned Ben getting a grip on Seth's collar, and Seth came like a lamb, if a rather unwilling one. There was, however, no need for his services for just then down came the rain. Mr. Bourne addressed a few words to Seth.
"Arson is a pretty serious crime, Yatton. And the object you had in mind, which was to stop us from reaching Taverton, makes it worse. I am a lawyer and I intend to look after Miss Hamlyn's affairs. If I hear of your interfering in any way with her property or herself I shall see to it that you suffer. Now you can go."
Seth Yatton slunk off like a whipped dog and Ben chuckled gleefully.
"He'll think twice afore he tries any new tricks," he remarked. "Now I reckon you better get in out of the rain."
They were all pretty damp by the time they reached the house, but not too wet to tumble into the car and drive off with all speed.
Luckily for them their case was called a little late and all were in time when it was taken. There were more people in Court than usual. A case of assault | is always an attraction and everyone stared at Asa Yatton when he stood up in the box. Close by was his lawyer, a lean, sharp-nosed man whose name was Joseph Salcombe.
"He've been in the wars, sure enough," Linda heard a farmer mutter to his neighbour.
"Only wish it had been his father—;the measly old I toad!" replied the other, and Denny just managed not to laugh. Asa had two lovely black eyes and his unpleasant face looked all lop-sided because of the lump on his chin. But his injuries had not interfered with his speech and he told a glib story.
He said he was standing on the bridge peacefully gazing down at the river when a girl came up and accused him of throwing stones at her. He told her he had done nothing of the sort, whereupon she abused him and said he ought to be put in the river. He was trying to pacify her when young Bourne climbed over the wall, ran at him from behind and flung him on his face in the road. As he got up Bourne had hit him in the nose and the jaw, stunning him. When he came to, he had found himself alone. Mr. Bourne put in one question.
"On which side of the bridge were you, Mr. Yatton, when the incidents of which you speak took place?"
"I were looking down the river," Asa answered sulkily.
Linda was then called to give her evidence. Linda was deeply interested in her surroundings and quite composed. The story, as she told it, was naturally very different from Asa's version and was heard with evident interest both by the Bench and the audience. When she told how Asa had seized her by the arm there was a murmur of indignation.
"And what happened then?" asked old Sir Bernard Tucker, the senior magistrate.
"I slapped his face, sir," Linda answered frankly. A chuckle ran through the audience and the Clerk called for silence.
"And then?" said Sir Bernard.
"He let go, but came right at me again. He looked real ugly so I ran away. I can run pretty fast," Linda went on, "but he was faster. Then Denny Bourne jumped over the wall and caught him round the legs. It wasn't from behind. It was a regular football tackle. Denny was real angry. He told Asa to get up and Asa did get up and hit at Denny. But Denny beat him." She paused. "I guess that's all," she ended.
Mr. Salcombe, Asa's lawyer, rose.
"It is not all, your Honours," he said harshly. "My client has a witness who will tell you a very different story. With permission I will call Gregory Mold."
MOLD was long and lank, with a dark, sour face and deep-set eyes under bushy black eyebrows. He was sworn in and Salcombe began to question him. He gave his name as Gregory Mold, and said he was general labourer in the employ of Mr. Seth Yatton.
At about half-past five on Tuesday evening he was walking down the river to drive the cows up for milking, when he heard a girl's voice very loud and angry. He looked up and saw the girl—;he pointed as he spoke at Linda—;and Asa Yatton on the bridge. Then, he said, she boxed Asa's ear. He could hear the smack. Asa stepped back and the girl turned and walked away.
"Did Mr. Yatton run after her?" Salcombe asked.
"He didn't run. He walked. Looked like he wanted to make it up with her."
"What happened then?" asked the solicitor.
"That young chap Bourne he come over the wall and jumped on Asa's back. Knocked him flat on the road and, when Asa tried to get up, hit him with his fists."
"Mold's evidence, your Honours, seems to support that of my client in every particular," Salcombe said, addressing the Bench.
Sir Bernard frowned and there was an uncomfortable silence in the Court. Most of those present disliked the Yattons, but Mold's evidence was clear and distinct and things looked bad for Denny Bourne.
Denny's father rose and asked leave to cross-examine the last witness. Mr. Bourne was a very quiet-looking man and his voice was low, even gentle. Mold gave him a scowl then, seeming to think he was harmless, got ready to answer questions.
"You were fetching the cows, I think you said, Mr. Mold?"
"Aye, they got to be fetched up from the medder to be milked," Mold replied rather scornfully.
"It was a very fine evening, I remember, and the air was clear. You were able to see well?"
"I got good eyes," Mold retorted.
"Quite so. Very sharp ones," said the other mildly. "At the same time you might have been too far away to see all that you have described very clearly."
"I weren't far away. I were quite close."
"How far would you say? A hundred yards—;fifty yards?"
"Less'n that. I weren't any farther away from the bridge than the length of this here room."
Mr. Bourne measured the distance with his eyes.
"I see—;no more than ten yards. And you were on the bank of the brook?"
"Right on the bank," said Mold confidently.
Mr. Bourne looked at him in silence for a moment or two. The room had become remarkably still. Then Denny's father addressed himself to the Bench.
"Your Honours, the height of the centre of the bridge in question is eighteen feet above the banks of the Flash Brook. The height of the stone wall on either side of the bridge is three feet. A person standing where Mold says he stood could see nothing of what was happening on the crown of the bridge unless the actors in the scene were actually leaning over the wall on the upper side. Now Mr. Asa Yatton has already told us that he was on the downstream side of the bridge. I submit, therefore, that the last witness actually saw nothing of what was happening, and was therefore merely telling the story as he had been instructed to tell it."
There was a moment's silence, then someone chuckled and in a moment a perfect roar of laughter went up. The Clerk shouted for silence. It was no use, for even the three magistrates on the Bench were smiling. Salcombe was biting his lip while Mold, who clearly realised the trap he had been led into, looked scared. When quiet had been restored Sir Bernard spoke.
"We may take it that these measurements of yours are accurate, Mr. Bourne?" Mr. Bourne produced a sheet of paper.
"They are here, your Honour, and are confirmed by Mr. Adkins, the District Council surveyor."
Sir Bernard glanced at the paper and nodded. He turned to his fellow-magistrates and conferred with them for a few moments. Then he spoke again.
"The Bench is agreed that the evidence of Mold is fictitious and that there is no case against Denny Bourne. There will be no need to call him. The case is dismissed."
There were cheers from the audience and, as Denny and his father, with Linda, went out of the court room the same big farmer who had already expressed his dislike of the Yattons clapped Denny on the shoulder.
"You let me know next time you have a scrap with Asa, and I'll be there to see fair play." Then he added in a lower voice. "But watch out for him, young master. They Yattons never forgives, nor forgets. Don't let 'em catch 'ee walking alone in the dark." He turned to Mr. Bourne. "I never did hear nothing neater than the way you turned that there Mold inside out. I'd like to congratulate 'ee, sir."
Mr. Bourne smiled and thanked him and the three got out to the car and drove home. Linda, who had heard the farmer's warning, was not happy.
"You'll have to be mighty careful, Denny," she said. "It would be dreadful if you got into trouble on my account."
"It's you I'm worrying about," Denny answered quickly. "You and your aunt live next door to these blighters and we shall be gone in a few days."
"Oh, not a few days, Denny!"
"You know what I mean, Linda. You're the one who will have to be careful."
Linda's eyes narrowed a little.
"If you ask me, Denny, I reckon Asa Yatton is the one who will have to be careful. I'm not standing for any more nonsense from that man or his father. And, if I can't handle it myself, I'll mighty soon call the police." She laughed in her engaging way. "I'm getting real vicious. I guess we'll put the Yattons out of our mind and think of something nicer."
The Bournes dropped Linda at Damarel and drove to The Feathers. The farmhouse was all in confusion with the work going on, but Mr. Bourne was looking grave.
"Linda has heaps of pluck," he said to Denny, "but I'm afraid she does not realise the treacherous nature of those Yattons. They would be quite capable of burning the house over Miss Hamlyn's head if they thought they could get away with it. You must make her understand this, Denny."
"I'll try, Dad," Denny answered, "but it's jolly difficult. Linda simply doesn't know how to be afraid. There's one thing, the Yattons have had a lesson and everyone knows about them now. I'll bet they'll lie low for a bit."
Denny was right. The Yattons lay very low. They even took their bullocks out of Miss Hamlyn's newtake. Linda herself was too busy to give them a thought. The Bournes drove her down to Plymouth where she was able to buy pretty chintzes cheaply. She spent some money, too, on linen. She and her aunt made and hung the curtains. They polished the old furniture and within a week the new range was in and the Bournes moved to Damarel.
By Mr. Bourne's advice, Miss Hamlyn put an advertisement in the Western Morning News and had several replies. A young married couple, Charles Wadsworth and his wife Kathleen, booked rooms and so did a man named Horace Cavender.
The Bournes stayed a fortnight and enjoyed every day of their stay. Denny was quite upset when the time came to leave. Miss Hamlyn, who had grown very fond of him, kissed him and Denny kissed her back, and rejoiced her heart by saying he had never had such a good time in all his life. Then he turned to Linda and put out his hand.
"You can give me a kiss, too, if you like," said Linda; and Denny, very red, kissed her solemnly on one cheek.
"We shall come again next year, if you'll have us," his father said. "And remember this, Miss Hamlyn, if you are in any legal trouble with the Yattons or anyone else, all you have to do is write to me."
Linda and her aunt felt very desolate after the Bournes had driven away. But they had plenty to do, for Mr. Cavender was coming next day, and the Wadsworths next week.
Mr. Horace Cavender arrived in a hired car from Taverton and Linda's eyes widened at sight of him. He seemed to be between forty and fifty, short, heavily built. He wore a very badly-cut suit of smooth brown cloth. He had small greenish eyes, a snub nose and a very wide mouth. On his left cheek was a large red birthmark. Altogether he was one of the ugliest men that Linda had ever seen. But what seemed most strange to Linda was that he had no fishing-rod or gun.
"I'M no sportsman," Mr. Cavender explained to Miss Hamlyn. "Geology and archaeology are my hobbies. Hut-circles, stones and minerals," he explained. "I'm told there's amethyst to be found and I'm looking for some good specimens."
"I'm afraid you'll find it very quiet, Mr. Cavender," Miss Hamlyn said.
"Quiet suits me," he declared. "All I ask is a good bed and plenty to eat. It looks as if this place would just suit me."
Miss Hamlyn took him to his room and he said it was very nice. At supper he complimented Linda on her 'biscuit' and afterwards went off for a walk.
"He's so ugly he almost frightens me," Miss Hamlyn confided to Linda, but Linda only laughed.
"I don't reckon his looks make any odds, Aunt, so long as his money is good. And if he's out all day he won't give us much trouble."
Linda was right. The new guest gave little trouble and paid up promptly. Every fine day he went off, carrying a bag and a geological hammer, but Linda noticed that he rarely brought anything back in his bag.
Ben was very busy putting the garden to rights. Linda had bought a roll of barbed wire which Ben fixed round the wall so that sheep and cattle could not get in. She also bought some more chickens, for she said they would need more eggs with all these boarders coming.
The Wadsworths arrived and proved to be pleasant people, both keen on fishing; then two young men, Morris and Williams, Oxford undergraduates, came. They had a car of their own and were very good in giving Miss Hamlyn and Linda lifts to Taverton or Plymouth for shopping.
With five people in the house besides themselves, Miss Hamlyn and her niece had plenty to do, but the odd thing was that the extra work did not seem to hurt Miss Hamlyn. One morning Linda placed her hands on her aunt's shoulders and gazed at her.
"You're looking younger every day, Aunt Ellen. But I'm right tired of seeing you in this old grey dress."
"My dear, it's quite good enough for me and I have my black for Sunday."
"That black is ten years out of date, Aunt, and getting green with age. See here, Mr. Williams is driving me down to Plymouth this afternoon. I want you to come along and get another frock. Mrs. Wadsworth will fix up tea."
"We can't afford anything like that," Miss Hamlyn declared.
"That's not so, Aunt. We're making a real nice profit. It's not a bit of use your objecting. I have the whole thing fixed up in my mind."
Miss Hamlyn gave in. She always did, for Linda had far the stronger will. At three o'clock that afternoon she found herself in Stringers' big shop, with Linda explaining to an interested assistant just what her aunt required.
"Blue," said Linda, "not navy, something more like royal blue. A dress and jacket."
Miss Hamlyn was a stock size and the dress, when found, fitted perfectly. When she saw herself in the long glass she was startled.
"It—;it's too young for me, Linda dear."
"If you mean that it makes you look ten years younger, you're right," said Linda, gazing at her admiringly.
"You're right, miss," added the assistant. "It's wonderful the difference it makes. Madam looks ever so young." Miss Hamlyn's cheeks went quite pink, her eyes brightened.
"If you think it is suitable—;" she faltered.
"It's just right," Linda declared. "Only now you must have new shoes and stockings and, of course, a hat."
These were quickly found, then Linda insisted on her aunt changing on the spot into her new garments.
"Mr. Williams is taking us to tea at Goodbody's," she said. "You must do him credit."
The expression on the face of young Williams, when he saw his hostess in her new outfit, was a testimonial to Linda's good taste. For a moment he stared open-eyed, then—;for he was a nice lad—;quickly apologised.
"I really didn't know you, Miss Hamlyn. You'll forgive my saying so, but you look more like Linda's sister than her aunt."
"It's all Linda's doing," said Miss Hamlyn happily, "but I don't mind saying, Mr. Williams, that I hardly know myself."
"It's a very pretty dress and suits you perfectly," said young Williams gallantly. "And now what are you going to have for tea?"
It is safe to say that Miss Hamlyn had the most delightful afternoon that she had known for many years, and the climax came when little Mrs. Wadsworth met her at the door of Damarel and, after gazing a moment in amazement, clapped her hands and called to her husband to come and see the transformation. Even Ben took notice.
"You looks like you used to afore old missus died," he remarked. "I tell 'ee Miss Linda's changing us all. Seems like I'll have to get me a new suit for Sundays."
Ben was very cheerful these days. He was getting his pay regularly and quite a little extra in the way of tips. But it was not the money that appealed to his faithful soul so much as the knowledge that Miss Hamlyn was on her feet again. Wages or no wages, he would never have left her. He was equally devoted to Linda. Nothing was too good for her. He helped her in all sorts of ways and brought in rabbits and mushrooms and whortleberries, which were all most useful in the kitchen and saved much expense.
Before long, Linda and her aunt had got back the money they had spent on the repairs and Linda's original hundred and fifty pounds formed a comfortable nest-egg. All the guests were so pleased that when they left they declared they would come again, and Linda said to her aunt that, at this rate, they would have to add on some new rooms before the next season and build a proper garage. At present the visitors' cars were housed in the cart-sheds.
One evening Mr. Cavender came home in a state of unusual excitement. He told Linda that he had found an old stone cross on the High Moor.
"There are several of them on the Moor," he said. "Three are well-known, but this is one that has never yet been found. The reason is that it has fallen down. It's a beautiful piece of work and I intend to see if I can't re-erect it. But I'll need some help."
"Can I help?" Linda asked in her frank way. "I'm real strong." Cavender nodded.
"That would be very kind of you. I am sure you and I could manage it between us. I must get some tackle, a rope and pulley, a spade and a crowbar. Then we'll go and see what we can do."
A few days later, Cavender told Linda that all was ready and asked if she could go next day. Linda said she could not go till after lunch and Cavender told her that would be all right.
Ben got to hear of the expedition. He found Linda in the garden and told her bluntly that she had better not go. Linda laughed.
"You never did like Mr. Cavender, Ben."
"That be true," Ben admitted, "but bain't that why I'm warning 'ee. There be fog coming on afore night. You been on Dartymoor long enough to know what that do mean."
"If it comes on foggy we'll turn back, Ben," said Linda. Ben saw he could not stop her from going.
"If so be you means to go, go you will, but I'll ask 'ee to take a passel of food along."
"I'll do that," Linda agreed, and before starting she put a large piece of cake and some chocolate in the pocket of her light waterproof. This she carried on a strap round her waist.
Cavender carried a small spade and a light crowbar; Linda had a coil of rope and a pulley, and as soon as the midday meal was over they started.
ALTHOUGH Linda had been at Damarel for a couple of months and had done quite a lot of walking, she had never yet been on what is called the High Moor. This is a great tableland which lies about 1,700 feet up. It is mostly bog and the rainfall is the heaviest in England, south of Cumberland. Here all the Moors rivers rise; the two Darts, the Tavy, the Teign and others. It is a dreary piece of country for there is no life at all except for a few meadow pipits and crows. Sheep and ponies can find no grazing, and there are no rabbits or foxes. It is impassable in winter and, even in summer, is dangerous.
Cavender evidently knew his way and they followed the Flash Brook clear to its source. Linda was surprised to find how much water it held in its upper stretches. There were flat pools of deep, dark brown peaty water where small trout were rising freely. Nearer to its source the stream ran through a very deep channel in the peat, so narrow that a child could step across it.
Cavender passed the source and their way ran in great curves around the edges of huge dreary bogs where acres of black slime glittered evilly under the afternoon sun. So far there was no sign of fog, but Linda was aware that no man knew moor weather better than old Ben, and she kept a sharp look-out on the high tors to the north.
Cavender picked his way cleverly through the bogs and they came to firmer ground on the west side. They reached one of the old stone causeways which the tinners of the Middle Ages had built to carry their ore down to the smelters in the valleys. Most of these have sunk beneath the peat, but there was a short stretch still visible and, beside it, the fallen cross.
It was really a beautiful thing and well worth restoring. Cavender seemed to know what he was about. He drove the crowbar into the ground a few feet away and fastened the pulley to it. He then dug away the turf from around the cross and made a hole for the base of it. Next he rove the tackle to the top of the cross and so got a double purchase. Then he and Linda took the loose end of the rope and set to pulling.
The cross rose slowly, but its weight was too great for the rope. This snapped and the cross fell back, luckily without being damaged. Cavender shook his head.
"This rope is not strong enough," he said. "We'll have to get something thicker." He pursed his lips. "Can't do any more to-day. We'd better leave the tools here and get home."
Linda had been so interested in what they were doing that she had forgotten to look at the sky. Now she noticed that the tors towards Okehampton were hidden and that the sun, too, had vanished behind a veil of grey mist.
"Fog coming," she said quickly.
"So it is," said Cavender, and pursed his lips again in that odd way he had. It struck Linda once more what an amazingly ugly man he was. She felt quite sorry for him. He went on:
"It'll be too thick to find our way across the mire. I know the ground pretty well but I won't risk it."
Linda's eyes widened.
"Then how do you reckon we're going to get home?"
"Won't be no trouble. We'll go west and over Luscombe Head. A bit longer but better walking. We'll make the road before dark. You're not tired, I hope?"
"Sakes, no! I reckon I can walk as far as you."
"Come on then," he said and started. He struck in a southerly direction and the ground, though wet in places, was not so bad as what they had been through. But before they had covered half a mile the fog was on them. It rolled over them like a grey wave driven by a thin chill breeze and almost instantly Linda found that she could see no more than ten paces in any direction.
Most girls of Linda's age would have been a bit scared, but Linda had been out in a blizzard with the temperature 40° below zero and an ice-storm raging. A mere fog on a summer evening did not strike her as anything to get alarmed about. The more so as Cavender seemed to know his way. He trudged on steadily and Linda followed close behind.
The fog grew thicker. It was wet stuff like a Scotch mist, and Linda paused a moment to put on her waterproof. It was now late August and the days were shortening. The sun, Linda knew, must be getting low, and before long it would be dark. She only hoped they would be off the Moor before the last of the daylight went. The ground dropped, Cavender's heavy boots squelched into mud and water. He pulled up short and there was a puzzled look on his queer face.
"Looks as if I'd got a bit off the track," he said. "You wait here a minute, Miss Linda, while I cast over to the right. Don't move away or I'll be apt to lose you."
He walked away to the right, and before he had taken a dozen steps had melted into the fog. Linda stayed where she was. She shivered slightly, not so much from cold as from a queer sense of loneliness. She had been alone often enough before and in much wilder country, but had never had just this odd feeling. She strained her ears, but could not hear a sound except the drops of water that fell from her hat on to her waterproof and, now and then, a faint soughing sound as the thin breeze moved the unseen reeds in the mire in front of her.
Minutes passed, each seeming to be multiplied by ten, but Cavender did not return. For the first time since leaving the farm, Linda felt a touch of nervousness. Suppose Cavender had got lost, how would he ever find her again? And if he did not, what was to happen to her? She had not the faintest idea where she was and these mires were really dangerous. Ben had often told her that they were deep enough to swallow cattle or ponies and that every year the moor farmers lost stock in this way.
At last she decided that she would shout, but even as she opened her mouth to do so there came a sudden scream. Muffled as it was by the fog, it was difficult to tell from what direction or distance it came. The only thing of which Linda could be certain was that the voice was Cavender's and that he was in bad trouble.
A wave of terror swept over her, but she refused to give way to it. Instead, she stood quite still for a moment, breathing deeply. Then, when she had gained control of herself and her voice, she shouted back.
There was no reply. Once, twice, three times she called loudly but no answer came back. Then, at last, she turned to the right and walked steadily in the direction in which Cavender had disappeared. She now had the breeze on her right cheek and knew that if the wind had not shifted, she was going in a south-westerly direction.
She crossed a low ridge and began to descend a slight slope. The ground was changing. It was much drier and Linda noticed little patches of dwarf heather under her feet. She was puzzled and went more and more slowly.
Presently she stopped altogether. Her ears were very sharp and she was almost certain that she could hear the sound of running water, though it seemed a long way off. But up here in the central morass there was no running water. What did it mean? She strained her ears and presently became certain that what she heard was water running among rocks.
Once more she moved very slowly onwards. By this time dusk had fallen and it was impossible to see more than a step or two ahead. Her caution saved her life, for suddenly she was on the crumbling edge of a tremendous rift. One more step and she must have gone to her death in those fog-filled depths.
FOR the second time within a few minutes Linda had to pull up and stand quite still in order to regain breath and self-control. Her thoughts were racing. That cry she had heard. There was no longer any doubt in her mind as to its cause. It was Cavender's death-cry. Despite his knowledge of the Moor he had blundered over the edge of the chasm and his broken body must now be lying far below.
Linda's first impulse was to go down and find the body, but one glimpse at the sheer cliff falling away like a wall beneath her was plain proof that this was impossible. Even in broad daylight a rope would be needed to descend into those depths. There was nothing for it but to find her way back to civilisation and inform the police.
Another girl, in Linda's place, would have hurried blindly away on her errand and almost certainly lost her way or—;more probably—;her life. Not so Linda, whose experience of wild country gave her some degree of confidence. She remembered what Cavender had said about crossing Luscombe Head. If Linda had never yet been on this part of the Moor she had studied the big map which hung on the wall at Damarel. It came to her that this gorge must be Tavy Cleave through which the River Tavy ran down through Taverton towards Devonport, where it emptied into the Hamoaze. All she had to do was to follow the river down until she was past the Cleave. She knew there was a village called Peter Tavy not very far down. There she would find help.
This was all very well up to a point, but Linda quickly realised that it was far from plain sailing. It was now growing darker every minute and the risk of walking near the rim of the Cleave was appalling. It was not as if it was straight. The edge was very broken and the chances were that landslides had cut great gaps. One false step and that was the finish so far as Linda was concerned. On the other hand, if she kept back from the rim it was almost a certainty that she would lose it altogether and soon find herself back in the bogs from which she had escaped.
Of the two Linda decided that the bogs were the worse, so set herself to walk along the edge of the cliff. Of that walk the less said the better. Linda, herself, is never likely to forget it. If she had had a stick it would not have been quite so bad, but there are no sticks on the top of Dartmoor. She had almost to crawl, stooping double and pushing each foot forward before she dared put her weight on it. Cold chills ran down her spine. And all the time it grew darker and darker.
Linda reckoned that it took her an hour to cover a mile. Then she came to a big rock. She was exhausted not so much from muscular effort as from nervous strain. She dropped down on the leeward side of the great boulder and drew long breaths. Suddenly she remembered her cake and chocolate. She took the cake out of her pocket and unwrapped the parcel. It was just plain seed-cake, but as Linda bit into it, she thought that she had never tasted anything so good. She ate it very slowly and it was wonderful how it put new strength into her.
She had just finished it when she felt a breeze in her face. She got up quickly and found that the wind had backed from north-west to south-west and was strengthening. The mist was turning to rain. Linda drew a long breath of pure relief. Rain was nothing if it would only clear the fog.
Sure enough, within five minutes it was raining hard, but the fog had quite gone. It was, of course, very dark, but nothing to the smothering embrace of that thick grey cloud. Linda started forward again at a much brisker pace and after another hour of walking, found herself going downhill quite steeply. The sound of the river grew louder, then a faint light gleamed through the steady downpour and Linda knew that she was nearing a house.
The house, when she reached it, proved to be a mill on the river. She knocked and the door was opened by a burly man with a red face and even redder hair, who stared at her keenly for a moment then stood aside and asked her to come in.
"Mother," he called, "here be one of they trippers got lost."
"I am not a tripper," cried Linda indignantly. "I am niece of Miss Hamlyn, of Damarel." The red-haired man stared.
"Niece of Miss Hamlyn! Be you the girl as smacked the face of Asa Yatton?"
"Yes, but I've something else to talk about. The man I was with, Mr. Cavender, has fallen over the edge of the Cleave and I'm afraid he is killed."
Before the red-haired man could speak a stout, motherly woman came forward.
"Why you poor dear, you be all sopping. Come to the fire and set yourself down. Then you can tell Caleb what you have come about."
Linda found herself placed in a big chair in front of a glowing peat fire and, while her hostess hurried to get her a hot drink, she explained to the red-haired man, whose name she found was Cunliffe, just what had happened.
Now that he knew who she was, he was kind as possible. He told her that he would get James Dawe, his neighbour, and go up the Cleave with lanterns and look for the body.
"But I doubt we'll find un—;not afore morning," he added, as he donned a heavy black oilskin and hurried out.
Mrs. Cunliffe brought Linda a cup of hot tea, which was just what she most needed. Then she dug out some dry shoes and stockings. Linda's feet and legs were soaked, but the waterproof had kept the rest of her fairly dry.
It was now nearly eight o'clock and Linda knew that her aunt would be very worried. She explained to Mrs. Cunliffe and the good soul told her that young Richard Dawe, James's son, had a baby Austin. Dick Dawe, she said, was a cripple. He had a twisted leg and could not walk without a crutch. But he could drive his little car. She would ask him to take Linda home. She was sure he would do it.
The Dawe's house was only a few yards away and Mrs. Cunliffe hurried across. In a few minutes she was back, to say that Dick would be pleased to take Linda, and very soon the car came round. It was years old and young Dawe had bought it for £20, yet it went. Dick was a pleasant-spoken lad and, in spite of his lame leg, drove well.
At Taverton Linda got him to stop at the Police Station where she told the Constable-in-Charge what had happened. He promised to 'take steps' and the little car went away up the long steep hill towards Moorlands. It was blowing a gale on top, and raining in sheets, yet Dick got Linda home in safety.
It was as well that Linda did get back that night, for her aunt was nearly out of her mind with anxiety, and Ben had had a job to keep her from starting out to search for Linda. While she ate supper, which Dick shared, Linda told the whole story of her expedition. When she spoke of the shriek that she had heard Miss Hamlyn went white, but Ben was unmoved.
"I don't believe he fell over," he said bluntly.
"What do you mean, Ben?"
"He bain't dead," replied Ben stubbornly. "I'll lay'ee a week's wage as that Cavender 'ull come back, safe and sound."
"Ben," said Linda severely, "I know right well you don't like Mr. Cavender, but you're not suggesting that the whole thing was a frame-up?"
"You wait and see, missy," said Ben darkly, and took himself off.
Miss Hamlyn wanted Dick to stay the night, but he politely refused and pushed off. Then Linda went to bed and, in spite of her anxiety on Cavender's account, slept soundly. She did not wake up until nearly nine, when she found her aunt at her bedside with a cup of tea.
"Ben was right, Linda," said Miss Hamlyn in a half-frightened voice. "Mr. Cavender is alive; he isn't even much hurt. He's just arrived in a car."
WHEN Linda came down Mr. Horace Cavender was sitting in a big chair in the parlour. He had a bandage round his head.
"You'll forgive my getting up, Linda," he said. "My head is still pretty bad though I must allow I got off cheaply. But the first thing I want to say is how sorry I am for leaving you in such a fix, and how deeply I congratulate you on getting out of it and finding your way to safety."
For once Linda hardly knew what to say. Before she could frame a question Cavender went on.
"You're wondering how I come to be alive. As I've no doubt you realise, I fell over the cliff. I understand you heard me shout as I fell. Of course, I ought to have been killed but, by sheer luck, I dropped on a ledge only about ten feet down. However, the fall stunned me and I must have been unconscious for some time, for what roused me was rain beating down on me. The fog had lifted.
"I got to my feet and found that I could stand all right, but my head ached pretty badly. Just then I spotted a lantern down in the Cleave below and shouted. It was Cunliffe and his friend. They shouted back and told me to stay where I was, but I was feeling better and managed to climb back to the top and there I waited until they came up and found me. I spent the night at Cunliffe's house and your friend Dick drove me to Taverton, where I hired a car and came out. I'm sorry indeed for giving you all such a fright."
"Never mind about that," said Linda warmly. She was full of remorse for having allowed Ben's suspicions to influence her. "Aunt and I are only too glad you are safe. But don't you reckon you ought to be in bed?"
"I'm not bad enough for that. Luckily I've a thick skull. I shall be all right in a day or two."
Later in the day Linda tackled Ben.
"You ought to be right down ashamed of yourself for putting such ideas into our heads, Ben."
"I were right, weren't I?" Ben retorted. "I telled 'ee as he weren't dead. No more he was. Bain't much hurt, either, if you ask me."
"I'd surely hate to be anyone you took a dislike to, Ben."
"Most folk be my friends," Ben remarked and took himself off. Linda went to her housework. She had plenty to keep her busy, for Damarel was getting to be known as a comfortable place with good fishing, and naval officers from Devonport began to come up. At week-ends there was never a room empty.
People came and went. The only one who stayed was Cavender. He recovered quickly from his accident and was out every fine day, taking long solitary walks on the Moor. He did not ask Linda to come with him again and Linda did not offer to do so. Somehow, she could not like this odd, ugly man, though she had absolutely no reason for disliking him.
In spite of being so busy there were days when Linda took a little time off, and usually she went fishing. She now had a rod of her own and what she liked best was to get out for the evening rise. She seldom came back without trout for breakfast.
One afternoon she had got off earlier than usual and walked to the lower end of the Damarel water. Down here was a large pool known as Weir Pool because of a wall of rock which dammed it at the lower end forming a fall, over which the river dropped with a low roar.
There were bushes along the near side of the pool and Linda saw the tip of a rod rise and fall rhythmically. Someone was fishing there and Linda wondered who it could be. She was sure that it was no one from Damarel, so obviously it must be a poacher.
Keeping behind the shelter of a line of hazels, Linda worked up, unseen, to within about fifty yards of the fisherman. Sure enough, he was a stranger, a tall, lean man dressed in worn tweeds. The wicker creel he carried on his broad back was old and bleached by long exposure to weather. His rod, too, looked as if it had seen years of service.
Linda's first impulse was to go straight up and ask the man what business he had on private water, yet she did not do so. The fact was that his skill made it a delight to watch him. A fine fisherwoman herself, Linda took a real joy in the craft of this poacher. The leisurely draw-back of the rod, the line flying straight out across the pool, and that last delicate turn of the wrist that made the single fly at the end of the cast drop like a feather on the dimpled surface.
A trout had just risen under the hanging branches of the old alder on the far side of the pool. Linda knew that fish and had tried for him in vain. He was a wily old fellow who never moved out into the open, but lay in that leafy shelter, sure that anything which dropped from above would be real, not artificial. The stranger saw the rise and waded in up to his knees. He made a couple of false casts, then out shot the line and the fly dropped daintily clean under the sheltering leaves. It was a marvellous cast.
In a flash the fish had it and raced up the pool at such speed that the line screamed off the reel. He was a very big trout for the Flash Brook. The angler raised his point and checked gently. There was no hurry, no excitement, but within a couple of minutes the trout, which weighed well over a pound, was netted. The fisherman killed it with one sharp rap and slipped it into his creel.
"Very pretty," said Linda to herself, "but now I'd better talk to him."
She went forward, keeping under shelter of the bushes. But when she reached the pool there was no one there. Hardly able to believe her eyes, Linda looked all round and suddenly saw the fisherman walking swiftly down the far bank quite a hundred yards away. Then she understood. Though he had not seemed to look round he must have spotted her some minutes earlier. Feeling pretty sure that she would not interfere until he had finished playing his fish, he had waited until he creeled it, then slipped down under the near bank, climbed the rock rim of the fall and waded through the swift shallow water below.
"Stop!" Linda cried. He heard her, turned, took off his battered hat politely, then went off at a fast walk.
Linda had to laugh. The cool impudence of the poacher caused her more amusement than annoyance. She let him go and began fishing, herself.
Some time later she saw another man coming upstream, and recognised him as Jack Bellamy, the water bailiff. Jack was a friend of hers. He was a well-educated young man whose father had put him into business. But Jack could not stand a stuffy office; his health failed and he had the good sense to get out and take an open-air job. He was employed by the Association and, though this was private water, he occasionally came up the Flash Brook to see that all was well.
He greeted Linda cheerfully and asked if she had any fish.
"I have a brace," she said, "but I've just watched a poacher take that big trout out of Weir Pool." She told Jack all about it and he listened eagerly.
"I know the man, Miss Linda. He's just about the cleverest poacher in the county. Hang the chap! I've never been able to catch him though I've tried more than once. He seems to have a sixth sense, which warns him when anyone is watching him."
"But he's a right good sportsman," Linda urged.
"He's all of that," Jack agreed, "but why he can't take out a licence and fish like other folk, I don't know. I believe he does it out of sheer devilment. He just enjoys taking chances."
"There are men like that," Linda said. "Do you know his name, Jack?"
"He calls himself Harman, but I don't believe that's his real name. I don't know where he lives or anything about him." He laughed rather ruefully. "I wish all my poachers were as decent as he. Salmon are beginning to run in the Arrow and I'll have plenty of trouble on my hands in the next few weeks."
"You look fit enough to deal with any of them, Jack," said Linda.
"I'm fit enough, thanks to this fine air and living out of doors; but you must remember I'm single-handed. I can't make much show against a gang of half a dozen quarrymen when they start burning the river."
"I wish I could help you," said Linda impulsively. Jack looked at her slim, strong figure admiringly.
"I'd sooner have you than some men," he declared; then he changed the subject.
"How are you getting on at Damarel? Are you having any trouble with the Yattons?"
"They have sort of quieted down," Linda told him, "but I just hate passing them on the road. They scowl at me like savages."
"They're both of 'em blots on the landscape," Jack agreed. "I wish they could be cleared off the Moor altogether." As he spoke Jack was gazing at the river. A puzzled look came upon his face.
"Look at the water, Miss Linda. It's falling. Why, it's gone down a foot since we have been talking."
LINDA stared at the river. Jack was right. The water was falling fast—;so fast that a broad strip of wet shingle showed on each side of the pool by which they stood. What was more, it was still dropping. The long stickle above the pool was a mere dribble, the merry chatter of the current tumbling among the stones was being rapidly stilled. Linda turned to Jack.
"I've seen this before—;up North. But only in the spring when snow-slides block a river."
"It isn't snow. That's one thing sure. It must be a landslide of some kind. Up in the gorge, I expect."
"What are we going to do about it?" Linda asked anxiously. "If this goes on there won't be any water at all. Then what about the trout?"
"We'll go straight up there," Jack said. "There's still a couple of hours' daylight left."
"We shall have to cross Viper's Holt land," said Linda.
"I'll do that. See here, Miss Linda, you hurry back to the farm and get Ben. Tell him to bring a shovel. And have you any dynamite?"
"I reckon Ben has a few sticks."
"Right! Tell him to bring 'em and some caps. Then come right up to the gorge." He paused. "But are you up to such a tramp?"
"I'll be there mighty nigh as soon as you," Linda declared, and was off across country at a run. Jack gave her an admiring glance.
"She's a wonder, that girl." He frowned. "I'll lay this is some of Seth Yatton's dirty work," he muttered. Then, in spite of the fact that he had been on foot all day, he was off at a sharp trot upstream.
No one stopped him on Viper's Holt. There was no one there. The house door was closed. No smoke came from the chimney. Jack's eyes narrowed.
"Trust them to lay low," he said and went on fast.
The gorge was two miles up above the road and it was stiff travelling, all uphill. The brook had shrunk to a mere thread of water and, here and there, trout were struggling in the shallows trying to find their way back into the remaining pools. Jack saw that if something was not done pretty soon, there would be serious loss of fish. He pushed on at full speed, keeping to the right of the river. In less than half an hour he had gained the mouth of the gorge. Here, for nearly a mile, the brook ran through a narrow cleft which averaged about fifty feet deep. In many parts it was less than that in width.
He stopped and looked up. Usually the gorge was full of the roar of water falling over great ledges into deep black pools. Now all was quiet. The pools were there but hardly a drop of water came over the ledges. Jack climbed the steep slope to the top of the right-hand bluff and after walking about three hundred yards reached the source of the trouble. A huge mass of rock and earth had fallen from the bank just beneath him and formed a lofty dam which completely blocked the stream.
Behind it the water was ponding up, but there had been no rain for the past fortnight. The stream had not much force and it would be twenty-four hours or more before there was enough water behind the dam to come over the top.
He heard the sound of steps, and turned. Here was Linda, a little flushed and breathing rather fast, but looking marvellously fresh.
"Ben's riding Bob up," she told him. "He is bringing a spade, a pick, and dynamite." She looked over the edge.
"My, but that's a big slide." A puzzled look crossed her face. "It's mighty funny, Jack; there's been no rain. What made all that rock slip?" Jack was peering over the edge. He was sniffing. He picked himself up and turned to Linda.
"It has nothing to do with rain. That was dynamite."
"Then it was the Yattons," said Linda with conviction.
"Of course it was, but you can be jolly sure they have covered their tracks. There was no one at the farm when I came by. Probably they have all been to Taverton."
"Then how was this done?"
"Most likely a time fuse. But we'll never know." Linda looked down again on the hundreds of tons of stuff that blocked the gorge.
"I reckon it will take all of twenty-four hours before the water gets over the top, Jack. Meantime, what will happen to the fish?"
"It's going to be pretty bad for them."
"Can't we blow out the dam?" Jack shook his head.
"We'd need a score of men and a very big charge of explosive, and then I doubt if it could be done in less than a day."
"Oh, Jack!" said Linda, "are we going to lose all the fish? If we do, we lose all our boarders. And that will just about kill Aunt Ellen."
Jack Bellamy's good-looking face hardened. His strong jaw stuck out.
"We're not going to lose the fish. I've a notion how to get water back into the river. Are you game to take a chance, Linda?" Linda's eyes shone.
"Anything you say, Jack. I'll back you to the last ounce."
JACK BELLAMY pointed across the gorge to the great slope of Wistern Tor.
"Have you ever been up there, Linda?"
"Yes, I've been right to the top to get the view out over the sea." She gave a sudden start. "Jack, I know what's in your mind. The Silver Dagger Mine leat."
Jack looked at her admiringly.
"You've hit it in once. If we break the bank of the leat we get a flow of water down the hillside, enough to keep the Flash Brook running and to save the trout."
Linda's cheeks were pink with excitement.
"We'll do it, Jack. One stick of dynamite will be plenty. Here's Ben coming now."
"There'll be trouble," Jack warned her. "It's true the mine isn't working now, but they're talking of starting it again. And old Mr. Gilliford who owns it is a terror."
"I surely can't see that he's going to make trouble. We'll mend his old leat for him in a day or two. Anyway, it's Flash Brook water. He can't complain if we borrow it." She paused. "But see here, Jack. You're not going to have anything to do with it. If Gilliford heard that you'd helped to open his leat, you might lose your job."
"He'll never hear anything about it for nobody will know but Ben and you. Anyhow we'll wait till dark to do the job."
Linda did not like it. She tried hard to persuade Jack to leave it to Ben and herself, but he flatly refused.
"You wouldn't know just where to cut the bank," he assured her, and she had to yield.
Then Ben ambled up on the old pony and they showed him the slide and told him what they planned to do. Ben scowled as he glared down at the mass of rubble.
"Took 'em more'n a day to fix that, I'll lay. That were a big charge and put in deep. Likely they'd have had help with that job."
"Where would they get help?" Jack asked. "They wouldn't trust any outsider."
"Bain't so sure about that," Ben growled, but he refused to explain his suspicions. He glanced at the sky. "Sun be down. Reckon us better be moving. Got to cross the brook and climb the hill and Bob there, he'll take some time to get up it."
"We won't take Bob, Ben," Linda said. "We'll leave him tied somewhere out of sight and carry the tools ourselves. If anyone came after us, Bob would only hinder us."
"You're right," Jack agreed. "But if you come with me no one's going to see us. There's a vein in the side of the tor where a cloudburst once came down. It's all of ten feet deep and even in daylight no one could see us unless they were right on the edge."
Jack was right. The vein or gully was deep enough to hide a horse, though a horse would have had difficulty in walking up it for the steep bottom was all loose stones. The three went as quietly as they could and, when they reached the leat, it was almost dark.
The leat was an artificial water channel, a tiny canal about five feet wide, which had been dug all along the curving sides of the tor, to bring water to the Silver Dagger Tin Mine. There were about six inches of water in it which had been diverted from the top of the Flash Brook, where it came down off the High Moor. At this point, the leat was about eighty feet above the level of the almost dry bed of the Flash Brook.
Jack put his head up over the edge of the vein and looked cautiously around.
"Nothing in sight. Not even a pony. And it's clouding up."
"Aye, her will rain afore morning," Ben said. "Now us best get along with the job."
"One stick of dynamite will do the trick," said Linda.
"Better not use dynamite," Jack advised. "The night is so still that the bump would be heard a long way. We can do it with the pick and shovel. Linda, you'd best go up the hill a bit and keep watch. If you see or hear anything give a curlew cry. Curlews sometimes fly by night. You can do it, can't you?"
"Sure!" said Linda and, springing across the leat, went away up the slope beyond.
The two men set to work, but it was not easy, for beneath the turf covering the bank on the lower side of the leat, were blocks of granite tightly packed. Each had to be levered out separately with the pickaxe. Difficult enough in daylight, the darkness made the task much harder. Unless there is fog it is not often really dark on the Moor on a summer night, but the clouds were gathering thicker and thicker and it became almost impossible to see what they were about. The only illumination was an occasional flicker of sheet lightning.
Both were soon dripping with perspiration, and presently Jack stopped to drink from the leat. As he did so the eerie cry of the curlew sounded out of the darkness.
Instantly both men dropped back into the vein and lay quiet as two hares.
Footsteps were heard in the distance. Then someone stumbled and swore at the darkness. Ben put his lips close to Jack's ear.
"I reckon her be Ezra Greer, the mine-keeper," he whispered.
"Then Heaven send he's walking on the upper side of the leat," Jack answered in an equally low voice. "If he's this side he'll fall into the hole we've made." They waited, breathless. Suddenly came a flash high in the clouds above them and the white glare showed plainly the figure of a man groping his way with the aid of a stick along the far side of the leat.
Ben drew a quick breath. As for Jack, it was all he could do to keep from crying out. For both recognised this late prowler as Horace Cavender.
They waited until his footsteps died away in the distance, then Ben got slowly to his feet.
"Did 'ee see, Master Bellamy?"
"I saw," Jack whispered back. "What in the name of sense was Cavender doing up here at this time of night?"
"No good, I'll tell 'ee," said Ben viciously. "Tell 'ee what, I be going to keep a sharp eye on that fellow from now on." He took up the pick. "Us better finish the job and get home. Her'll rain afore the night's old."
The rest of the work did not take long. Three more big stones were levered out and laid across the leat channel below the gap to form a dam. With the next one came a spurt of water which hit Ben in the chest.
"Drat her!" he muttered. "I be wet as a weasel."
"But you've made a real fine job of it," came Linda's voice out of the gloom. "Say, I do wish it was light so that I could see the water running down the hill."
"You can hear un, missy," Said Ben. "And if that Cavender be about her can hear un too. Us better get home."
"Cavender—;what do you mean, Ben?" Linda asked quickly.
"I mean as Mister Horace Cavender were the chap as come walking past here a while back. Same you heard and warned us of, Miss Linda."
Linda was plainly amazed.
"Whatever was he doing?"
"Spying, I reckon," spat out Ben. "I tell 'ee, her bain't no friend to you, missy, nor to missus."
"Come on, Linda," Jack broke in. "This is no place for us to stay talking, now we've done our job. Let's get home."
Linda was very silent as they made their way back down the steep slope. Beneath them, in the vein, they could hear the water of the leat gurgling among the rocks and, when they reached the brook, it was already pouring into the almost dry bed.
"I guess we've saved the fishing," Linda said gratefully. And just then a drop of rain hit her cheek. By the time they had picked up the pony and got up the far slope it was coming down steadily.
Jack accompanied them as far as the road but refused to come to the house. Before saying good night, he warned Linda and Ben not to say a word to anyone, not even to Miss Hamlyn, of the night's events.
"All you need tell her is that the water stopped running and you went upstream and found there'd been a landslide in the gorge. You can say that, with this rain, the water will be over the dam before morning and no harm done."
Linda promised to obey these instructions. She thanked Jack warmly then went back to the farm with Ben. It was late and everyone except Miss Hamlyn had gone to bed. Cavender was in his room. Miss Hamlyn said that he had been out for a stroll after supper and got in just before it began to rain.
Linda had her supper and went straight to bed. The rain was now a steady downpour and, through her open window, Linda heard it beat on the parched ground. Her mind was relieved about the fishing. She was soon asleep.
WHEN Linda woke it was raining even more heavily than it had been when she went to bed. No wind, just a steady, relentless downpour. Every gutter was pouring water in spouts; there were pools in every hollow in the newtake. Clearly it had been raining all night.
"And a good job, too," said Linda gratefully. "There'll be plenty of water for the fish."
She dressed quickly and was down before anyone else; she lit the kitchen fire and put on a kettle, then donned her waterproof, a pair of rubber boots and an oilskin hat, and ran out into the rain. She was anxious to get a glimpse of the river.
Actually it was fuller than it had been when she went out fishing on the previous afternoon, for every ditch was pouring its stream into the channel. And very soon, thought Linda, it would be coming over the top of the dam. If the rain went on there would be a real flood; then the salmon and peal would be running up. But Linda frowned when she remembered the great barrier in the gorge. That would prevent either salmon or sea-trout from reaching their spawning grounds.
She was turning away, intending to go straight back to the house to prepare breakfast, when a dull roar came to her ears. At first she thought it was thunder, but there was no sign of a thunderstorm and there was none of the booming echo which thunder always causes. She stopped and stood, gazing upstream.
Next moment she saw it. A wave that was nearly twenty feet high and was coming down the valley with the speed of a race-horse.
"The dam!" she gasped.
"Aye, missy," came Ben's voice just behind her. "The dam be out. Now see what her does to Viper's Holt."
Linda did not answer. Her eyes were fixed on the wave. It was deep brown in colour and crested with every sort of rubbish and the noise it made was like that of a train in a tunnel.
The Yattons' house stood on a hump of rising ground about fifty yards back from the bed of the river, and the brook made a U-shaped bend around the base of this knoll. As Linda watched, the wave struck the knoll and instantly spread out and rushed up in a great surge.
"Her's hit the house!" cried Ben in huge delight. "The yard be full o' water, and I'll lay her's a foot deep in the kitchen and sitting-room." He chuckled and went on. "Seth, he'll get first wash he's had since the last one his mother gave un." He caught Linda by the arm. "Best get a bit back, missy. Her'll mighty nigh cover this field."
They went back on to higher ground near the garden, which was just as well, for a minute or so later the wave hit the bridge. The massive stone piers resisted the shock and split the flood which surged up over the road on either side then came rushing up over the newtake below, covering the spot where they had been standing a couple of feet deep. Much reduced in height, the great flood wave went racing away down the broad valley. Ben's gaze was fixed on Viper's Holt.
"Talk about chickens coming home to roost, see what the water have done to Seth's place!" he exclaimed gleefully. "Her have took out the whole of his cabbage patch; there's thirty yards and more of the wall gone; I'll lay he ain't got a ton of manure left in the yard, and it'll take 'em a week's work to clean up the house." He started for the house. "I be going to borrow missus's glasses. Mebbee I'll be able to see the look on Seth's face when he comes out. Do me more good than my breakfast."
"I reckon you're a spiteful old man, Ben," said Linda, but she herself could not help laughing for, like Ben, she believed that the Yattons were responsible for the slide; and she couldn't help being tickled at the way in which their revenge had recoiled on their own heads. Twenty pounds would not cover the damage that had been done to their place, to say nothing of the amount of work that would be required to clean up. And Seth, a regular miser, would be raging.
As she went into the house she met Cavender, who had just come down.
"A bad flood," he said gravely. "I trust it has done no harm to your aunt's property."
"None, I reckon," Linda replied. She paused a moment. "But it seems to have damaged Viper's Holt quite a lot."
"A pity," was all that Cavender said, and went into the sitting-room. For the life of her Linda could see no change in his ugly face. All the same she was beginning to share Ben's distrust of the man, though what object he could possibly have in doing harm to her aunt or herself she could not imagine. He was no friend of the Yattons. He had never been to their house and she had seen him and Seth Yatton pass on the road without exchanging a word.
The rain ceased about ten and the flood soon ran down. Late in the afternoon, Linda took her rod and walked downstream. There was still too much water for fly-fishing. She wanted to see whether the flood had done any harm. Here and there great sections of the bank had been ripped away and in places the bushes lining the river had been torn out by the roots. Some of the pools were changed entirely. There were pits where there had been shallows, while pools that yesterday had been deep were now choked with shingle.
Presently she met Jack Bellamy.
"I was coming up to see you," he told her. "You needn't worry about the leat. I went up there at dawn and stopped the hole and took the stones out of the channel. No one spotted me."
"That was mighty good of you," said Linda warmly. "I hope I'll be able to do a good turn for you one of these days. Say, did you hear what the flood did to Viper's Holt?" She told him and he laughed. Then he turned serious.
"Seth Yatton will be as vicious as a snake with his tail trodden on. You'll have to be really careful from now on."
Linda was unmoved.
"He couldn't hate me any worse than he does. But don't worry about me, Jack. I shan't run my head into the Viper's mouth."
They talked a while and Jack said that the flood was bringing up a big run of salmon and some were coming up the Flash Brook. He told her that she and Ben would have to watch for poachers.
"They'll be burning the waters," he said.
"That sounds funny to me," Linda said. "What do they do? Pour petrol in and set fire to it?"
"Not quite. Burning the waters means night-fishing with a spear and a torch."
"I get you. Fire-fishing we call it up North. I'll watch out, Jack, and if you want help Ben and I are ready."
Jack walked a little way up the river with her and suddenly both saw a short, thick-set man busy turning over stones on a newly formed bank of shingle. He was Cavender and, as he saw Jack and Linda, he climbed the bank and came across.
"You're a bit off your beat, Bellamy," he said.
"It's the flood brought me along," Jack answered. "Miss Linda tells me there was a big slide up in the gorge yesterday." He looked keenly at Cavender but the man merely nodded.
"A very big slide," he agreed. "The flood has washed a lot of interesting stuff out of the bank. I've found some tin ore, and even a tiny nugget of gold." He showed them a bit of yellow metal about as big as a grain of wheat and Linda looked at it with interest.
"Coarse gold," she said. "Looks as if it came from a pocket."
"I'd forgotten you were an expert. I must go and see if I can find more."
Jack watched Cavender return to the river.
"What do you make of him, Miss Linda?"
"I'm beat," said Linda. Then added, "I'd be right pleased if you'd drop the 'Miss.'"
"Thank you," said Jack quietly. "And now I'll say good night, Linda. I have to go right down to Arrowmeet before I go home to supper."
"You do a sight too much, Jack," Linda said. "Get to bed as soon as you can to-night and don't forget me if you have any news of salmon poachers."
THE next days were fine and calm and so was everything at the farm. People came and went; Cavender was the only one who never went away. He paid his three guineas weekly and occasionally complimented his hostesses on their cooking. His only eccentricity was an occasional tramp after supper. He walked almost all day and seemed tireless.
On the following Thursday, Cavender went to Taverton to get his hair cut and buy tobacco. He came back to supper full of news. The barber had told him that the Leeper gang had been at work down the Arrow on the previous night. The keeper at Yardrey had gone after them and they had thrown him into the river and nearly drowned him.
"The barber said that the river is full of salmon coming up to spawn," Cavender went on, "and that these fine, calm, moonless nights are ideal for spearing the fish. The chances are that the poachers will be up this way before long."
Linda said nothing, but she thought a good deal. Jack Bellamy would have to face these fellows single-handed, and he, too, might be thrown into the river. Linda had no delusions about these poachers. They were conscienceless thieves as bad as any inside the big prison up at Moorlands.
After supper she went out to find Ben, but Ben was not about. No doubt he had walked up to the Warren Inn for a glass of beer and a chat with some of his cronies. Linda went to her room and changed into fishing-kit: a short divided skirt made of thornproof tweed and a khaki shirt. She put on a pair of woollen stockings and stout brogues; then, waiting until the house was quiet, picked up a stick in the hall and slipped out.
The night was fine, warm and very still. There was no moon but the stars gave light enough to show Linda her way. In any case she knew every yard of the river-banks right down to the point where the Flash Brook joined the Arrow.
As she neared Weir Pool she heard a slight sound. It was the swish of a line being cast. Linda stopped short and listened. Someone was fishing. It must be a poacher, for none of the Damarel party were out. And whoever the poacher was, he was after peal—;that is sea-trout. On most Devonshire streams peal rise at night, but taking them is no easy matter for you have to fish by sound rather than sight. So this poacher was a sportsman, and at once Linda remembered the mystery man whom she had failed to catch on a previous occasion.
"I'll have him this time," she said to herself, and began creeping up cautiously as a cat stalking a mouse.
Presently she saw him. He was standing on a bank of shingle running out into the pool and, though he was only a shadow, there was no mistaking that beautiful action as he cast. This time Linda did not wait. She came up behind him and the darkness hid her. She was within a yard of him when she spoke.
"I reckon I've got you this time," she remarked.
He came round like a flash and Linda realised that, if she had been a man, he would have sent her spinning and bolted. Instead, he stopped short.
"So it's you, young lady," he remarked dryly. "Very enterprising of you." He laughed suddenly. "To think of my getting caught by a girl!"
"Poachers always get caught sooner or later," Linda answered. "What does the policeman say? 'Are you coming quietly?'"
He laughed again.
"Where are you taking me, Miss Policeman?"
This was rather a stumper for Linda. It was no use taking her captive to the farm, and it was a good four miles to the police station at Moorlands. If he ran she knew she could not hold or catch him. She considered a moment.
"Give me your name and address," she said.
He shook his head.
"I have a lot of names and almost as many addresses. If I gave you one of them, you wouldn't find me there." His voice and manner were so nice that Linda felt herself weakening. She tried to be stern.
"Why do you poach? Can't you afford a licence? If you'd called at the farm and asked for leave, Aunt would never have said no."
"I'll tell you the truth, Miss Hamlyn. I do it just for the excitement. Nothing seems to me worth while unless there's some degree of risk in it. Do you understand?"
"I think I do," said Linda.
The other looked at her, trying to see her face in the dim light.
"Let me off, Miss Hamlyn, and I'll give you my word I won't poach again on your water or on Bellamy's stretch."
"I don't reckon I've got any choice. All right. I'll take your word, mister." She was turning away but he stopped her.
"I want to say that I admire your pluck and good sense, Miss Hamlyn. Will you shake hands?"
"Surely," said Linda. So they shook hands solemnly; then the poacher reeled up his fine, stepped up on the bank and melted into the darkness.
Linda waited a little then went on downstream. A mile below, the valley narrowed between steep wooded banks where badgers had their earths and the tinkle of the brook was drowned by the deeper sound of the larger Arrow. Linda passed through the gorge and, as she reached the far side, stopped.
A dull red glow shone through the trees a few hundred yards below.
Her heart-beats quickened. Her hunch had been correct. The gang were at work. They were burning Hurdle Pool.
LINDA wondered what best to do. She was far too sensible to suppose that she, single-handed, could stop the poaching. But it was in her mind that Jack Bellamy might try to do so, for she was fairly sure that he would be on the river to-night. Anyhow, Linda thought that, if she could get a look at the poachers this might be useful, for then she would be able to describe them to Jack.
So she made up her mind to push on. She knew the lie of the land and did not think there was any risk to speak of. There was a strain of adventure in Linda's blood, and she could never be satisfied to stand aside. She always wanted to be in the heart of things.
She kept away from the bank and walked cautiously along the hillside about a hundred yards back from the river. Clumps of gorse gave plenty of cover and she easily gained a spot well above Hurdle Pool.
The light had disappeared and Linda could not see much so she began to work downhill nearer to the pool. Presently she was crouching behind a small clump of gorse no more than twenty paces from the edge and, perhaps, ten feet above the water.
Now she could see almost the whole of the pool, which was about a hundred yards long and fifty to sixty feet in width. She could see the stars reflected in its calm surface. Presently she heard voices; gruff harsh voices, but she could not distinguish words. The men who spoke were farther down the pool.
Linda waited. She was puzzled. If these men were fire fishing where were their torches? There was no light at all. In fact, she had not seen any light since that first red gleam.
There came a splashing sound. Four men were wading in the lower end of the pool. They were dragging something between them and it did not take Linda long to recognise that it was a net.
They were all big men, but one was enormous. Jack had told her that Leeper was very tall and powerful.
Linda watched them stretch the net across the whole breadth of the pool, then the four began to drag it slowly upstream. This was worse than fire fishing, for the net would take every fish of any size, including salmon, peal and brown trout. Only the small fry could escape. Linda was boiling, but what could she do? She thought for a moment of going up to the road which ran along the top of the hill only a few hundred yards back from the river and calling on the first car that passed for help. Then she realised that it was already nearly eleven o'clock, and that she might have to wait an hour before anyone came along. Even if they did they would not be keen for a struggle with a gang of desperate poachers.
The men came slowly up the pool. The net was heavy and they were pulling it against the stream. Fish began to leap out in the middle. Linda could hear them and presently caught a silver gleam as a salmon sprang high in the air and came down in safety on the lower side. One of the poachers swore. The two nearside men were now almost opposite Linda. They were so close she could hear their panting breath. One of them, she saw, was the huge fellow, Leeper, whose reputation for brutality had gone far and wide across the Moor.
The bush in front of Linda rustled as a sturdily-built figure rose to his feet.
"That'll be about enough, Leeper," came Jack Bellamy's voice, crisp and cool. "Drop the net and come out of the water."
Linda drew a quick breath. A surge of warmth went through her. If there was any quality she admired it was pluck and it took pluck for a youngster like Jack, armed with nothing but a stick, to face, single-handed, four powerful and desperate men.
"It's the keepers!" exclaimed one of the men in a scared voice.
"Keepers!" sneered Leeper. "There ain't but one of 'em." He turned his head. "If you wants me, Bellamy, come in and get me." He laughed harshly. "Keep on pulling, Ike. He can't do nothing."
There was a moment's pause. Linda held her breath. Then Jack stepped down into the water and raised his stick.
"Come out or take what's coming to you, Leeper."
Leeper laughed again. To Linda it was a hideous sound.
"I'm a-coming," he said, and, dropping the net, turned in towards the bank.
Now Jack could have cracked him over the head with his stick and floored him, but was too chivalrous to do so. Fatal mistake, for Leeper's great arms went out and clasped Jack round the body. Jack hit out, but there was no force in his blow. He was too close to the other.
Once in the grip of the giant the younger man was helpless. Leeper wrenched his stick away.
"Now I'll learn 'ee to meddle," he said, and the tone in which he spoke made Linda's blood run cold. "Us'll see if 'ee can swim down the Long Stickle."
The Long Stickle! Linda knew it, a raging rapid which even the otters avoided. No man could pass it and live. Desperate, Linda rose from her hiding-place, sprang forward and brought the knob of her heavy ash plant down upon Leeper's head.
The blow was so sudden, so unexpected that Leeper staggered and dropped Jack. In a flash Jack was on his feet and as Leeper, roaring with rage jumped in. Jack hit him under the jaw with all his force. Leeper staggered back, lost his balance and crashed into the pool.
There was a howl of fury from the man, Ike, and he came charging at Jack. At the same time the other two men dropped their net, scrambled ashore and ran down the far bank, to cross at the bottom of the pool and avenge their leader.
"Get back, Linda!" Jack said urgently.
"Not unless you come," Linda answered.
There was no time to say more for Ike had reached the bank. He came at Jack like a bull. Jack sprang back. He was not going to get caught a second time. He used his fists and hit Ike between the eyes, a blow that checked him. Again Ike made a rush but Jack fought him off.
If Ike had been alone Jack was skilful enough to handle him, but now, with a mighty splashing, Leeper was up again.
"Hold him, Ike," he roared, "I'm coming." At the same time the two other poachers, who had splashed through the shallow water at the tail of the pool, had reached the bank and were coming full tilt.
Four to one! The odds were impossible and Linda's heart was like lead. She was certain that they would kill Jack.
JACK and Ike struggled desperately. Ike was the stronger of the two, but Jack the more active. Ike, knowing that help was near, kept on trying to get to close quarters, but Jack fought him off with punishing blows.
Linda saw Leeper coming up over the bank. Again she raised her stick and struck at him with all her force. He saw the blow coming and caught it on his arm. He saved his head but for the moment his arm was paralysed. He yelled with pain and his language made Linda shiver. That he would skin her alive was the least of the threats he used.
Again he came up the bank, this time with a rush and Linda knew that it was the end. Then came a rustle, the sound of light feet behind her. Someone brushed past her and she heard the clear sharp smack of a clenched fist on flesh. For a second time Leeper went backwards into the water.
Ike, startled by this sudden and utterly unexpected onslaught, looked round. Jack saw his chance and took it. Hitting with all his might, he smote Ike in the jaw and he, too, went down. The loose bank crumbled beneath his weight and he rolled over into the pool on top of Leeper.
The man who had outed Leeper had not wasted a second. He turned and ran down the bank to meet the other two poachers. Excited as she was, Linda could not help seeing and admiring the man's marvellous speed and activity.
In a flash Jack was after him. The sudden defeat of their leader and his companion and the determined attack upon themselves completely scared the remaining poachers. They spun round and ran for their lives.
Jack was for chasing them but the other stopped him.
"Leeper's not dead yet," he remarked dryly. "And he's worth the rest put together."
"You're right," said Jack, and turned back.
Leeper was half drowned when they got him out. That last sock had knocked him silly and he had swallowed more water than was good for him. They had to give him first aid before he could breathe again. Ike gave no trouble. He had had all he wanted. When Leeper came round, the tall man took a couple of short lengths of whipcord from his pocket and tied the hands of each of the poachers behind their backs.
"They'll give you no trouble now," he said. "Good night to you both."
Jack caught him by the arm.
"Hang it all! You're not going till I've thanked you. You just about saved my life—;and Linda's, too, for that matter." For the first time since the trouble began Jack was close enough to get a good look at the stranger. He drew a quick breath.
"You—;you are Linda's poacher."
"I knew that the minute I saw him," said Linda, "but, Jack, he's promised not to poach on your water any more."
"If I were not bailiff I'd say fish and welcome. Anyhow, if you'll allow me, I'll buy you a licence, sir."
"If there were more keepers like you, Bellamy, I'd have to chuck poaching," said the other ruefully. "And that would spoil all my fun. I poach for fun," he added, "not for profit like these swine. I'm only glad I turned up in time." He paused, then went on: "See here! It's late and a long way to Moorlands. I have my car on the road. I'll lift you and your prisoners to the police station, Bellamy, and we can drop Miss Hamlyn on our way."
The offer was too good to refuse, so presently one poacher was driving two others and a bailiff through the night. The car stopped opposite Damarel and Jack helped Linda out.
"Linda," he said softly, "I think you're the bravest girl I ever met. Good night."
Before Linda could reply he was back in the car. Linda, with a nice, warm feeling all through her, walked quickly back to the dark, silent house and let herself in.
To her aunt, Linda did not say a word of her midnight adventure. The only person she told was Ben. Ben was not pleased.
"You didn't ought to be taking them kind o' chances," he said. "If that there chap hadn't come along when her did, likely us ud have been looking for your body down the river this morning. How come as you knowed that gang were to work?"
"Jack told me they'd be along after the big flood," Linda said.
"Her didn't tell 'ee they'd be out last night. Did that Cavender say anything about it?"
"He did say that the barber in Taverton told him about the gang, but he didn't suggest my going after them."
"He wouldn't. He's too clever for that."
Linda grew a little annoyed.
"Ben, you have surely got Cavender on the brain. What possible object could he have for getting me into trouble?"
"That be what I be going to find out," Ben said. "And all I hope is I bain't too late doing it." He turned back to his work, leaving Linda feeling distinctly uncomfortable.
Perhaps it was lucky for Linda that she was too busy to have time to brood. The house was full and she and her aunt had to hire a daily maid to help them with the work. Linda's American 'biscuit' and cookies did much to make Damarel popular and she had very little time for fishing.
Leeper and Ike, who had been kept in custody, were to go before the Bench in Taverton on the following Tuesday. Late that evening Jack Bellamy came out to the farm on his motor-bicycle. Linda met him and saw that he was looking worried.
"The fools!" he exclaimed. "They've let Leeper and Ike off with a fine of five pounds each!"
Linda's eyes widened.
"You don't say! I reckoned they'd go to the penitentiary for quite a long spell."
"Yes, I made sure they'd get at least three months. The trouble was that our poacher pal never turned up to give evidence. Something must have prevented him, for he told me he'd come."
"Then why in the world didn't you send for me?" asked Linda sharply. "I'm right sure those magistrates wouldn't have stood for Leeper telling a girl he'd skin her alive."
Jack looked embarrassed.
"I wanted to keep you out of it, Linda. Your aunt would have been so upset if she heard you'd been in such danger."
"It wouldn't have killed her," said Linda dryly. "Jack, you've surely botched this business."
"I'm afraid I have," Jack confessed. "Leeper paid the money and now he's free and I don't mind confessing I'm scared."
Linda did not make the mistake of thinking that Jack was scared on his own account. She knew better than that.
"Don't you worry about me, Jack. I shan't go night-fishing. Anyway, I'm too busy right now. It's you who will have to watch your step."
"I don't think Leeper will lay for me, Linda. If I were beaten up the police would know exactly whom to look for. But the man is dangerous and quite unscrupulous. This is the first time that he has been convicted and, into the bargain, he has been knocked out and half-drowned. I'm quite sure that he will look for revenge of some sort."
"I reckon I'd be sore if I were in his shoes, Jack, but I don't see just what harm he could do."
"He'd do anything to get even," said Jack with conviction. "He'd burn the house over your head if he got the chance. I'm going to watch him and I want you and Ben to keep your eyes very wide open."
"We'll be real careful," Linda promised, and asked Jack to stay for supper. But he declared he was too busy and Linda watched him walk away down the river-bank.
IT was now the beginning of September, the last month of fishing. But Damarel was still full, and Linda and her aunt were as busy as they could be even with a daily maid to help them.
In spite of being on her feet most of the day, Miss Hamlyn grew younger. She was so cheerful that it delighted Linda. She hummed snatches of old Devonshire songs as she busied herself in the kitchen; she took pride in her appearance and was always ready for a chat with her visitors with whom she was most popular.
Many of these visitors had booked rooms for the following spring and Linda had already talked to Steelyard about building four new bedrooms. She had also consulted with Jack Bellamy about re-stocking the Flash Brook with trout from a hatchery in North Devon.
Linda saw little of the Yattons and heard less. They had taken a contract for supplying stone for the roads and had two men at work in a quarry at the foot of Dark Tor. Then, one morning, Ben spoke to Linda. He told her that Leeper had been up at the Warren Inn the night before. He had got very drunk and begun to boast of what he would do to get even with Jack and those who had helped him.
"Did he say what he would do?" Linda asked.
"Her wouldn't talk plain noways. I bought un a couple o' they sloe-gins, hoping as they would open his lips, but 'tweren't no use noways."
"Then you didn't get a lot out of him, Ben."
"Us got this much. He has some dirty plan in his head. If I'd ha' been as big as him I'd have took him by the neck and wrung it out of him."
Linda laughed. She couldn't help it.
"Ben, you're an old dear," she said, "but you haven't told me anything I didn't know before. Jack says that Leeper would burn the house over our heads, if he dared; but I don't reckon he'll be quite so foolish as to try anything like that."
"If he does try it I got old scatter-gun loaded with duck shot. Don't matter how big he is, that'll blow un in two if it hits un."
He was still muttering as he went off to the cowsheds, and Linda's face was serious as she returned to the house. She thought to herself how pleasant life would be if the Moor could only be rid of people like the Yattons and Leeper. For the twentieth time she wondered what harm Leeper could do, but could find no answer to her question. It was no use worrying. After all there were police, even up here on the Moor, and there were nearly always young men in the house. No, Leeper would hardly risk violence; yet, all the same, Linda was not happy.
This was Friday and that evening two young naval officers arrived for a week-end of fishing. They were Lieutenants Donovan and Courtney, and they came in a car belonging to Donovan. The first question they asked was whether any salmon were running.
Linda told them that she had seen several fish at the lower end and that there were peal as high up as the Bridge Pool, so at once they set to work to get their tackle in order. They declared they would be out first thing in the morning.
These two men were already old friends of Linda. They had been at Damarel several times before and never forgot to bring chocolates or some small present for their young hostess. So next morning Linda was up earlier than usual to put the kettle on and give them a cup of tea before they started. They were very grateful and declared they would bring back a salmon or, at least, a good dish of trout. Then they went off and Linda took her aunt a cup of early tea and set to preparing breakfast.
Suddenly she heard steps hurrying back up the flagged walk to the front door and, wondering who was calling so early, went through the passage to see. To her astonishment, she saw Donovan and Courtney and from the look on their faces, realised that something was seriously wrong.
"What is it?" she asked anxiously.
"That's what we want to know, Linda," said Donovan, a tall, dark Irishman. "The river is full of dead fish."
"Someone's been using dynamite," said Linda sharply.
"It's worse than that, Linda. Dynamite only affects the pool where it has been exploded. We've been down nearly half a mile and it's the same all the way down."
Linda felt her heart sink. There was a horrible emptiness within her. Without waiting to put a hat on or change her indoor slippers, she ran out through the dew-wet grass of the newtake. The two young men followed her. Linda reached the bridge pool and saw at least a score of trout lying belly upwards in the shallows, stone dead. Among them was her pet trout, one known to all at Damarel as Cuthbert. He had lost part of his tail and could not swim very well and had become so tame that he would come close to the bank to take food thrown to him. No one ever fished for him and in any case he had been far too cunning to take an artificial fly.
White-faced and silent, Linda started downstream. It was as Donovan had told her. Dead fish dotted every pool, and even in the runs there were dead trout wedged among the stones. Farther down, in Oak Pool, which was ten feet deep, she saw two dead salmon, one a great beauty of fourteen pounds. There were also a number of peal, their silver undersides shining in the morning sun.
At last she could stand no more. She stopped and turned to the two silent, anxious-faced young men who accompanied her.
"It's poison," she said in a hard, dry voice.
"That's what we thought," replied Donovan; "but who could have done such an utterly foul trick?"
"Leeper, I expect."
"The infernal swine!" growled Courtney, who had already heard the story of the defeat of the gang. "Linda, if Donovan and I can find him we'll break the blighter's neck."
"That won't bring the fish back," Linda said. "I guess we'd better go back to breakfast."
She did not try to talk as they walked back to the house. Brave as Linda was, she was very near to tears. It was not only the knowledge that this fish murder meant disaster to her aunt but the feeling that anyone, even Leeper, could have been guilty of such an utterly brutal act.
Donovan and Courtney, who knew the struggle she had had and who both liked her greatly, were too wise to try to console her. When they reached the house, she went straight out to the back to find Ben.
Ben's rage, when he heard what had happened, frightened Linda. He snatched up the gun and vowed that he would find Leeper and kill him.
"And get yourself hung and then what will Aunt and I do?" returned Linda. She managed to quiet him, then had to go and tell her aunt.
Poor Miss Hamlyn! She could not believe it. And even when Linda had persuaded her that it was true Linda saw that she did not fully realise the inevitable consequences. The trout fishing was what brought people to Damarel, and, without it, they would have no guests.
The news spread fast and later in the morning Jack Bellamy arrived and examined some of the dead fish.
"I'd say it was creosote," he told Linda, "and it must have been poured over the bridge during the night. But it would take a lot of the stuff to do so much harm. A couple of barrels, I'd say. I'd like to know how Leeper got the stuff, how he brought it here and who helped him put it in." He paused and looked at Linda. "I wonder if it was Leeper?" he said slowly.
LINDA gazed at Jack.
"Not Leeper," she said slowly. "Then who?"
Jack pointed up at Viper's Holt.
"The Yattons use sheep-dip," he said. "That's about as poisonous as creosote. And they could buy and have it without suspicion. Somehow I don't see Leeper doing this thing even if he had the money, which I doubt. Those fines must have pretty well cleaned him out." He paused and lowered his voice. "Here's Leeper himself coming down the road. Don't look, Linda. Pretend not to see him. If he did it he may give himself away."
Leeper came slouching down the road. He was a formidable looking brute, and the scowl on his heavy face did not improve his appearance. Now that she saw him for the first time in daylight Linda wondered how she had ever had the pluck to hit him. But she tried to appear unconscious of his presence and went on talking to Jack.
Leeper spotted the keeper and the girl and his scowl deepened. He checked, then thought better of it and went on. He reached the bridge, stopped and leaned upon the wall. Jack was watching him now—;watching keenly. So was Linda. Both saw him stiffen.
"Hey, keeper!" he shouted. "What be all those dead fish doing?"
Jack walked steadily up to him.
"They've been poisoned," he said deliberately, "and some folk are saying that you did it."
"Me poison fish!" Leeper's voice was a roar, and his great fists clenched dangerously. "Who said that? Were it you?" He towered over Jack and Linda felt a spasm of fright. Jack did not budge an inch.
"I was just telling Miss Hamlyn that I did not believe it was you. I said that I did not see you buying drums of creosote and dumping them in the river to kill the fish, even if you could afford it, which I didn't think you could."
Leeper glared at him.
"If you'd have said it was me I'd have chucked you over the wall into that there pool. I takes fish to sell. What ud be the use of poisoning 'em? I tell 'ee, if I knows who did this trick I'd break his dirty neck."
"You wouldn't have to look very far," said Jack. "There's Seth Yatton pretending to work in his newtake but watching us all the time."
Leeper whirled round.
"You reckon as it was him as put the stuff in the brook?"
"I've no proof that he did, but I can't think who else did it. He and his son have a down on Miss Hamlyn and have been playing dirty tricks on her for a long time past. Here, steady!" he broke off, but it was too late. Leeper had dashed down off the bridge, vaulted over the low wall and was approaching Seth with giant strides.
Jack almost laughed when he saw the look on Seth's face. Almost but not quite. This was too serious. It might develop into murder. He raced after Leeper.
Seth raced before Leeper. Seth did not quite know what had happened, but he realised only too plainly that Leeper's intention was to do him bodily harm and he went away at a pace surprising for a man of his age and build. At the same time he yelled at the top of his voice for help.
Leeper was not in the best of condition. He had been drinking heavily for two days past, but his years were half those of Seth and his legs twice as long. He overtook his quarry before the latter had covered fifty paces and his enormous right hand closed on the back of Seth's thick neck.
Seth squealed like a rabbit caught by a stoat.
"Poison the fish would you, you dirty dog!" Leeper roared and, picking Seth up by the collar of his coat and the seat of his trousers, flung him into the river.
It was lucky for Seth that there happened to be a fairly deep pool at this point. If he had been thrown into a shallow he would almost certainly have been killed. As it was, he disappeared with a terrific splash and at the same moment his son came running from the farm, armed with a double-barrelled gun.
"Get out, Leeper!" Jack ordered. "Get away quickly. He'll shoot, and he has a right to."
Leeper glanced at Asa; he snarled and, for a moment, Jack thought that he would stay and chance it. Luckily his rage was dying out of him and he had sense to know that Jack was right. He turned and went away with great strides.
Seth had come to his feet. The water was only about four feet deep. He had lost his hat, his hair and beard streamed with water and his face was a mask of terror. Jack stepped down the bank and gave him a hand. As he came struggling out Asa arrived.
"What's all this? What are they doing to you, Dad?"
Seth could not explain. He had swallowed too much water. He had dropped down on the bank, choking and coughing.
"Put that gun down, Yatton," Jack ordered in so crisp a tone that Asa obeyed. Jack went on. "Leeper is under the impression that you or your father put sheep-dip in the river to kill the fish. Someone has accused him of doing it. He is not pleased. Personally I think he is perfectly right. Which of you did it—;or was it both?"
Jack had his eyes fixed on Asa and Asa's face was worth watching. Rage and fear were perfectly mixed.
"What do you mean, Bellamy?" he stuttered. "What would make us do a thing like that?"
"The fact that you've been trying to drive out Miss Hamlyn and buy her property for a year past." Jack's voice was very clear and distinct and Linda had never seen so stern a look on his usually pleasant face. "That's your motive."
Asa was pulling himself together. His voice was more steady as he spoke again.
"It's true enough that Dad offered to buy Damarel, but it's a lie to say that we'd put poison in the river. And I'll tell you, Bellamy, that if we find out who started such a story, we'll prosecute him for slander."
"You'd better be careful to clear up the evidence first," said Jack coldly. "Personally, I'm convinced you did it, and, if you want to prosecute me, you can." He turned to Linda. "Let's get off this land, Linda. I find it a bit difficult to keep my temper with these two gentlemen."
"Get off and keep off," Asa snarled, but Jack paid no attention. He and Linda walked back to the road. It was not until they reached it that he spoke.
"Not much doubt, is there?" he said.
"None in my mind," said Linda.
LINDA had a letter from Denny Bourne.
Dad and I are frightfully sorry to hear about the fish being poisoned. Dad says that if you have any evidence against those Yattons he will come down and help prosecute. Anyhow, fish or no fish, we're coming next year. Perhaps you can re-stock.
Love from Denny.
The letter cheered Linda, but she had to write to Mr. Bourne and tell him that they had no evidence against the Yattons and that, even if they could afford it, it was no use re-stocking the river with trout when the Yattons were still there to pour fresh poison into the stream.
It was now the end of September and still lovely weather, yet every one of their guests except Cavender, had left. Cavender stayed on. He declared he had never been so comfortable anywhere else and Linda had to confess that his three pounds a week was a great help.
She and her aunt had £80 left in the bank, but that was all. They could not see any more coming in for, now that there was no fishing, there was nothing to attract visitors. True, they had chickens and garden stuff, but the long winter was before them and they had to buy food not only for themselves but for the horse and the cows. If the weather were bad the sheep, too, would have to be fed.
Linda finished her letter to Mr. Bourne, sealed and addressed it, then sat with her chin on her hands, vainly racking her brain for some way of making the money necessary to carry on. Miss Hamlyn came quietly into the room and Linda looked up. She noticed that her aunt had grown thinner again, she stooped a little she looked older. Linda got up, went across and put her arm around the elder woman's shoulders.
"Aunt, dear, you mustn't worry. Trust me. I'll fix things up some way."
"I'm not worrying, my dear; not about myself, anyhow. But it's too hard that all you've done should be spoiled and ruined by those terrible people."
"I reckon there are always bad folk around," said Linda. "There were some real bad ones up in the North. But one time they go too far and something happens to them. Then the others get their chance."
"I can't think of anything that's likely to happen to the Yattons, my dear," said Miss Hamlyn with a ghost of a smile. "They're too clever to give themselves away."
"They gave themselves away right badly in Taverton that time," Linda answered. "I guess we'll find some way to fix them."
"I won't have you sitting and working your brain like you do, Linda," said Miss Hamlyn with unexpected spirit. "Put on your hat and your stout shoes and have a good walk. It's a lovely morning and you haven't been off the place for days."
Linda looked out across the sunny newtake to the sparkling river.
"I guess I will," she said and went up to her room.
When she came down her aunt had a packet of sandwiches and cake ready wrapped up. Linda kissed her and started off.
Since she was careful never to set foot upon the Yattons' ground, Linda went up the road and crossed the bridge before turning on to the Moor. Then she climbed uphill until she reached the mine-leat, the same that Jack Bellamy and Ben had opened the night before the flood. There was a path all along the upper side of the leat, which would bring her out near Devil's Tor. From there she intended to swing to the left down the Yarcombe and so home by Moorlands. It was a ten-mile round, but that was nothing to Linda.
She was a couple of miles up the leat when she saw a man walking up the Flash Brook valley, parallel with her course but about half a mile away, and naturally a long way below. He was too far away to recognize, but Linda's eyes were remarkably good and, from his long lank frame and the way he walked, she was pretty sure that he was Mold, the Yattons' man. Another thing Linda noticed was that he was keeping under cover of the bushes by the stream. It was only by chance she had seen him at all.
She began to wonder what he was after. It was too late in the year for digging turf, and anyhow he had not a spade; so far as she knew there were no ponies or cattle as far up as this, and he wasn't after rabbits for he had no gun. He certainly would not be walking for amusement, and it began to dawn on Linda that he was following her.
Linda was first angry, then a little alarmed. True, she had nothing about her worth stealing, but Mold was a surly fellow and had a grudge against her ever since his evidence had been riddled in Taverton. And the last thing she wanted was to meet him alone up here in this wild, desolate country.
She began to wonder what best to do. If she turned back, Mold would see what she was doing and be able to cut her off. Her wisest plan, she thought, was to keep straight on, as though she had not seen him; then, as soon as she was round the next bend of the leat, to turn sharp to the left. There was a dip between Stony Tor and Devil's Tor by which she could reach the lower ground and so gain the Taverton road.
With her heart beating a little faster than usual, Linda walked steadily on. She was careful not to hurry, nor did she look back. She hoped that Mold would not know that she had seen him.
The dip seemed a long way off but, when she reached it, she turned and walked fast. She wouldn't run. She might have to do that later and must save her strength. She crossed the height of ground and went with a long free stride down the slope through thick heather, some of which still showed purple bloom. It was not until she reached the bottom that she stopped and looked back.
There was Mold on the top and he was travelling much faster than she.
For a moment Linda was close to panic. The road was more than two miles away. There was no house nearer than that. To her left was the huge steep shoulder of Misty Tor; to the right, the vast expanse of Sunk Mire, its pools of black slime glistening evilly under the afternoon sun. In front, rough moorland sloped gently up towards the road.
It was no use thinking of reaching the road, for Mold would catch her long before she got there, yet the only alternative seemed to be to climb Misty Tor. Linda had done plenty of mountain climbing and had a good head. If there had been a crag or cliff she would have tried to escape that way, but the side of Misty Tor, if steep, was merely a hill. Mold's long legs could certainly beat her going up that.
Linda turned and looked at the Mire. She had crossed 'muskeg,' the swamp country of the North-West, but had never seen anything that looked quite so repulsive as this bog. No way out there, she decided.
Suddenly she remembered that there were old mine workings in the east side of Misty Tor. She had never been in them but had once passed the old adit and remembered that it was open. Here was a possible hiding-place if she could manage to reach it in time. She turned to the left and started to run. Glancing back over her shoulder, she saw that Mold, too, was running.
LINDA was thankful now that she had saved herself and had not started running earlier. The slope was steep and the ground covered with heather. She knew that she was as fit as any girl of her age could well be, yet was unpleasantly aware that it was going to be a very stiff task to reach the mine ahead of Mold.
Even if she did beat him to it, there was no certainty that she would be able to get away. The adit might be blocked a little way in or, if it were not blocked, Mold might be able to follow her in.
Some girls would have given way to panic, but not Linda. She ran steadily, breathing deeply. Looking back again, she saw that Mold had changed his direction. He had evidently guessed what she was making for, and was cutting across the side of the tor.
Now Linda was really frightened, but still she would not allow panic to master her. She quickened her pace and her heart began to thump with the strain of running up this steep hill. Mold was gaining fast. He was now near enough for her to see his face, and its expression did nothing to calm her fears.
The mouth of the old tin-mine was in plain sight, with the enormous dump of reddish rock and soil spreading beneath it. But the mouth of the adit was still nearly a quarter of a mile away, and Linda's heart sank with the knowledge that she would never be able to reach it before Mold overtook her.
It was in her mind to turn and make down for Sunk Mire. Even that might be preferable to being caught by this evil-faced brute. But the Mire was now a long way off. She was certain she could not reach it ahead of Mold.
She struggled on. Her breath was rasping in her throat, her mouth was dry and a stitch in her side was becoming horribly painful. Her legs felt like lead.
She found herself suddenly on the edge of a deep hollow in the side of the hill and—;she could hardly believe her eyes—;at the bottom was standing a pony, saddled and bridled, cropping the grass. But of his owner there was no sign at all.
Linda had never before stolen a horse, but now she made up her mind that this was exactly what she was going to do. She dropped down quietly over the rim of the hollow; the pony looked up but made no attempt to move. Next moment Linda had him by the bridle, she swung on to his back and, turning him, sent him at a brisk pace down the hill.
She heard a howl of rage behind her but did not even glance back. All her energies were needed to keep the pony from stumbling on the steep slope. But the pony, a sturdy bay of about thirteen hands, was evidently accustomed to the Moor. He made no mistake and soon Linda was on more level ground. She put her stolen mount to a gallop and made for the road.
After covering half a mile she checked and looked back. The first thing she saw was that Mold had given up and was returning by the way he had come. For the first time for more than an hour Linda felt free of fear and now she began to wonder whose pony she had stolen and where the owner was. It seemed to her that, whoever he was, he must have been visiting the mine, and he would get a nasty shock when he came out to find his pony gone.
Linda decided that she must take the creature back, but she did not turn at once for fear Mold might notice. Instead, she pulled gradually to the left so as to get the bulk of the great hill between her and Mold. It was not until she was quite sure that he could no longer see her that she turned and rode back towards the mine.
When at last she reached the edge of the hollow where she had first found the pony, a boy was standing at the upper end.
"What are you doing with my pony?" he asked in a sharp, imperious voice. Linda looked at him. He was a slim, good-looking youngster of about fourteen, wearing breeches and gaiters and a well-cut tweed coat, all of which, as well as his hands and face, were plastered with red mud.
"I've been riding him," said Linda. "A man was chasing me and I took your pony to get away, but you see I've brought him back."
"A man chasing you!"
"I guess it sounds crazy," allowed Linda, "but it's true. It was a man named Mold. He works for the Yattons at Viper's Holt. But maybe you don't know about them."
"I've heard of them," said the boy. "Dad says they're rotters." He paused and looked at Linda. "Are you American?"
"No, I'm from Canada."
"You're not the girl that gave evidence against the Yattons in that case back in the summer?"
"That's me," said Linda with a smile. "I'm Linda Hamlyn."
"Then I'm very glad you did take the pony," said the boy handsomely. "Are you sure this brute of a fellow has gone?"
"He went back when he saw he couldn't catch me. I'm right safe now."
"I'm glad. See here, I'm in trouble. My dog Dan has gone into the old mine after a rabbit and I can't find him. I was in there when you came along. That's why you didn't see me."
"Can you hear him?" Linda asked.
"No," said the boy looking worried. "I'm frightfully fond of Dan. I've simply got to find him."
"I'll give you a hand," said Linda readily.
"You? But you must be all in, running from that man."
"I'm rested again with my ride," said Linda smiling. "That's a right good pony of yours."
"Peter is a nice beast. You can leave him. He won't go away. If you're not really tired let's go and look for Dan."
Linda slipped out of the saddle. But when her feet touched the ground she staggered.
"You're all in," said the boy, catching her arm.
"I'm not really," Linda insisted. "See here. Dan has probably got down over some ledge too high for him to jump out. I don't suppose he is hurt. I have some sandwiches in my pocket. If we sit down and eat them I shall be quite all right in a few minutes." She unwrapped sandwiches made of home-baked bread and home-cured ham. Also two big saffron buns. She sat down and offered a sandwich to the boy.
He took it up and after the first bite looked up.
"That's the best sandwich I ever ate," he declared. "I'm glad to hear that, for I made the bread and helped to cure the ham. I say, what is your name?"
"Herbrand. Brand I'm called. I'm glad you don't think Dan is hurt. But I'm afraid it's going to be a job to find him. It's frightfully dark in the mine."
"We'll have to have candles," Linda said. "If we don't we'll probably fall down a winze and break our necks. See here, Brand, you'd better get on your pony and ride over to the road. There's a cottage belonging to a quarryman called Brent."
"I know it," Brand cut in. "You mean I get candles there."
"That's it. You'll be back in half ah hour. Oh, and get some rope, too. We may need it."
"You're not afraid to be left alone?" Brand said.
"Not a bit now that Mold has gone." Brand nodded, mounted the pony and was off. Linda leisurely finished her sandwiches then went up to the mine.
The adit was a tunnel leading into the hillside. A small stream of water trickled out through deep, sticky mud. Inside, the air was cold and heavy with the smell of rotting wood. Linda, who knew mines, saw that the timbering which supported the walls and roof was terribly decayed. Masses of whitish fungus clung to the mouldering props and, a little way in, the floor of the tunnel was littered with sharp-edged rock which had fallen from the roof.
Linda struck a match and looked about her. She shook her head for this was the most dangerous place that she had ever been in. Then, from somewhere in the dark depths far in the hill, came the faint whining of the imprisoned terrier.
LINDA loved dogs and that desolate whining stirred her deeply. She was greatly tempted to go forward and try to rescue the terrier. But she had been underground in gold workings in the North-West and knew that it would be sheer madness to push on into the darkness without candles. She turned and made her way back to the entrance and, almost at once, saw Brand cantering sharply back from the direction of the road.
The pony was sweating as he pulled up just below the dump and came climbing up, and Linda saw that the boy was carrying not only rope and candles but two hats of the old bowler type made of hard black felt. Brand arrived at the adit, breathless.
"I've got the rope and the candles, Linda, and Mrs. Brent made me take these hats. She says all the miners wear them to save their heads from falling stones. She says that this place is dangerous and we'll have to be awfully careful. Her husband is working at the quarry or she would have got him to come with us."
"Mighty queer hats," said Linda as she took one, "but they're surely solid enough to save our heads. But, my, they're dirty."
"That's from grease," Brand explained. "You fix a candle on the brim so that you don't have to carry it. Mrs. Brent showed me how you work it." He fixed a stub of candle on the front of each hat, making it firm with melted wax. "Now we're all right," he said. "Let's go after Dan."
"I heard Dan," Linda told him. "He was whining. It sounded a long way in."
Brand looked at his companion. Her shoes were covered with mud.
"You've been in."
"A little way," Linda confessed.
"That's awfully brave of you, but I don't think you ought to go in. It isn't fair to take a girl into a place like this."
"I reckon I know mines a sight better than you, Brand. I've been in plenty in Canada."
"Have you really? I say, you're rather a wonder. All right. Let's go."
Linda led the way and they waded through the wet mud and came to drier ground higher up the tunnel. They found themselves in a wider space where a cross gallery cut the adit. Linda stopped.
"I was here when I heard Dan whining. Call him, Brand."
"Dan!" cried Brand loudly and next moment there was a thud as a large lump of jagged stone fell from the rotten roof just behind them. Brand looked scared and Linda spoke.
"You mustn't shout. It doesn't take much to bring the roof down." They stood silent, listening; then from the dark depths came a faint whine.
Linda put her ear against the wall for rock carries sound better than air.
"He's over to the right here," she said, and turned in that direction. The props set along the walls of this passage were just touchwood. Some had crumbled altogether. The candlelight shone upon a mass of boulders. Above them was a great hole in the roof from which they had fallen.
"Go softly," Linda breathed. "There are tons of rock ready to fall." They crept over the boulders like mice and Linda saw in front of them a wall of rock. She stopped.
"This is a dead end," she whispered. "I can't understand, because the whining came from this direction."
Brand passed her and went on a few steps.
"There's a hole in the floor," he said in an equally low voice.
"A winze," Linda murmured. She knelt down and held her candle over the opening. "It isn't very deep," she added. "Brand, put the rope round my waist. I'm going down."
"You're not. That's my job."
"But if you go down I shan't have the strength to pull you up. I reckon you could pull me up, couldn't you?"
Brand bit his lip. He hated to let Linda take the risk yet saw that she was right.
"I can pull you up, Linda, but I simply hate the idea of your going down into that beastly black hole." Linda held up her hand for silence. Then both heard a faint splashing sound from the darkness below.
"Your dog is in water. Brand," Linda said. "He will drown if we're not quick. Tie the rope round me."
Brand did not know the proper knot so Linda tied the rope herself. She made Brand sit down with his heels against a ledge in the floor; then she went over. The drop was only about eight feet and she landed on a firm floor. In front she saw a slope which dropped very steeply and at the bottom the light of her candle was reflected from inky black water. Then she saw Dan. She turned.
"Brand, can you hear me?"
"Dan is in a pool of water at the bottom of a steep slope. He keeps on trying to climb out but it's too steep and slippery for him. I'm afraid he is nearly exhausted. I must go down and help him. Let the rope out very slowly. I think it will be long enough to reach."
"There's about twenty feet left," Brand told her. "But, Linda, do be careful. Supposing you get in the water and can't get out."
"I can get out as long as I have the rope. I only wish there was something you could tie it to."
"I'm all right. I'm well anchored."
"Then hold tightly."
Linda's voice was steady but actually she was nervous. The slope was quite twenty feet long and very wet and slimy. Water was dripping on it from the roof above. Linda had her doubts as to whether the rope would reach the bottom. It was only the sight of the poor little dog, now so exhausted that its head was barely above the water, which induced her to take the risk.
"I'm starting," she called and went over the edge of the slope. The slope was rock, covered with greasy mud. It was slippery as a toboggan slide. It was only the rope that held her. Without it she would have been helpless. Above she could hear Brand panting with the strain, and that sound did not make her feel happier.
It was as she had expected. A yard from the edge of the pool she was checked.
"That's all I can give you, Linda," Brand cried.
Linda could now see Dan plainly. He was still struggling to get foothold but there was no hold for his claws on the slippery surface. He was very tired and his big brown eyes were fixed on her face with a piteous gaze which went to Linda's heart. She vowed to herself that she would save him, whatever the risk.
"All right, Brand," she replied. "Keep a good hold. I'll manage."
The light of her candle showed a small knob of rock projecting from the right-hand wall of the sloping tunnel. She got her right foot against this and balanced herself while she quickly untied the knot which secured the rope around her body. This gave her the extra yard she needed.
Grasping the extreme end of the rope firmly with her right hand, she let herself slide. With her left hand she caught the terrier by the scruff of the neck and dragged him up out of the water. He was so exhausted that he hung limp. He was quite unable to help himself.
Now came the tug of war. Could Linda cling to the rope with one hand while Brand dragged her back to the top of the slope? It was not only her own weight that had to be borne but also that of the dog and he, with his wet coat, weighed quite fourteen pounds.
"I have him, Brand," she called, "but I've had to untie the rope and I'm only holding on to it with one hand. I want you to pull very slowly and gently until I get to the top of the slope."
"Right!" came Brand's voice. "Are you ready?"
"Yes, go ahead."
The rope tightened, Linda felt as if her right arm was being pulled out of its socket. But she had to bear it. There was no choice.
BRAND did his bit and it must have taken some doing. Linda weighed as much as he did and, with the dog, more. Somehow he got her to the top of the slope and, once on a level floor, Linda was able to lay the dog down, sit down herself, and rub the aching muscles of her right arm and shoulder.
"Are you all right, Linda?" Brand asked anxiously.
"I'm fine. Brand," Linda answered untruthfully. "I'm going to tie the rope round Dan and you can pull him up." As she did so the terrier gratefully licked her hand. He was a fine, sturdy little rough-coated dog of the famous old Jack Russell breed. Brand had him up in no time and Linda heard Dan's whimper of joy as he met his master. Then Linda spoke again.
"Now I've got to come up, Brand, but I don't know how we're going to manage. You could only just pull me up the slope. You can't possibly lift me."
"I'll have a jolly good try," Brand vowed.
"Is there anything you could tie the rope to?" Linda asked.
"I believe there is. There's a timber in the wall just behind me which seems sound. Wait till I try." There was a minute's pause, then Brand's voice came again. "It's quite solid and it's smooth. I can reeve the rope round it and use it as a pulley."
"No," said Linda. "Tie the rope to it and I'll swarm up. It's only a short way and you can help me when I get near the top."
Swarming up a pole is a fairly simple matter, but climbing a loose rope is very hard work and Linda was not too fresh after all she had done already. To make matters worse, her right shoulder was painful. If she had not known that there was no other way of getting out of this place she could never have done it.
Brand helped nobly and at last Linda was safe in the upper gallery. But Brand was frightened to see how white her face was and made her rest a while before they started out of the mine. Dan, who seemed to understand that Linda had saved him, insisted on licking her face.
"I never saw him take to anyone as he has to you," Brand declared. "Have you a dog, Linda?"
"No such luck," Linda answered. "We have an old cattle-dog at the farm, but I haven't a dog of my own. Now I'm all right. Let's get out of this horrid place."
They got past the big rock-fall in safety and both sighed with relief when they came out from the damp gloom into the fresh air and sunshine. Linda still had her two cakes left. They sat on the turf and ate these and felt better.
"We're a pretty looking pair," Brand remarked presently.
"We surely do look like a couple of mud-pies," she agreed. "Let's go down to the brook and wash."
"I've a better idea," Brand said. "We'll go to Mrs. Brent's house and get a clean up. And you are going to ride that far."
Linda was more tired than she had been for a very long time and consented to riding as far as Mrs. Brent's. Brand walked alongside; and Dan, quite himself again, trotted along, stopping now and then when he got the scent of a rabbit.
Mrs. Brent was Cornish, small, slim and dark. She was horrified at the appearance of her visitors, but at once provided hot water and soap. While the two cleaned themselves she got tea for them and a hot cup did more than anything to restore Linda.
"Now I'm going to see you home," Brand said.
"You can't, Brand. It's four miles."
"There won't be no need," put in Mrs. Brent. "The post car for Moreton will be along presently. It goes right past Damarel and I'm sure Jessop will give Miss Hamlyn a lift. Why, there it is now!" she exclaimed as she ran out.
Jessop, who was actually Mrs. Brent's cousin, made no objection: so Linda said good-bye to Brand and her hostess and was driven off. The rescue of Dan had taken a long time and it was now six o'clock. The sun was down when Linda was landed at her own gate. Her aunt came running out and Linda saw that she was very upset.
"Oh, my dear, I'm so glad to see you. Are you much hurt?" were her first words.
"I'm not hurt, Aunt Ellen. What tale have you been hearing?" Miss Hamlyn looked at Linda as if she could not believe her eyes.
"A lad came here to say you'd had a fall up by Stony Tor. Ben went off at once to help you."
Linda's face showed her surprise.
"I had no fall. I was delayed helping a boy to get his terrier out of the old mine-workings on Misty Tor. That's how I got so muddy. Who was the boy, Aunt?"
"Ben didn't tell me and I was so worried I didn't even ask."
"And Ben's up on the Moor, looking for me. I'll have to go back and find him."
"You can't, Linda. Why, you're tired out."
"But I can't let Ben go wandering about, looking for me."
"It won't be any good your looking for him. It'll be dark in half an hour."
Quick steps sounded on the flagged path and they turned to see Jack Bellamy.
"I was on the river," Jack said, "and I saw you getting out of the post car, Linda. I noticed that your clothes were all muddy. Is anything wrong?"
Linda explained, but not about her chase by Mold. She would not mention that to Jack because she felt sure that Jack would at once hunt up Mold and thrash him.
"It's a funny business," Jack said, frowning. "Looks to me as if someone wanted to get Ben off the place. But I'll find him, Linda, and send him home. I can reach Stony Tor before dark." He did not wait for thanks but hurried off. Linda and her aunt went into the house. There was no one else there, for Cavender had not yet come in.
"You must change, Linda," said Miss Hamlyn.
"Have you fed the chickens?" Linda asked. "If not I reckon I'd better do it before I change."
"I never even thought of it; I was so worried," Miss Hamlyn confessed.
"Then I'll do it," said Linda. "I'm quite rested after my drive and you have your indoor shoes on."
Linda went out to the locked shed where the feed was kept and filled a large measure with wheat and cracked maize. She had spent a good deal of money on buying new pullets and hoped to make a profit on them in the spring. Then she walked on to the wired-in poultry run which was at the back of the small farmyard. Usually all the inhabitants of the run came hurrying to their evening feed with much clucking and flapping of wings. This evening there was a complete and ominous silence.
Puzzled, Linda hurried forward. The sight before her brought her to a dead stop. The floor of the chicken-run was strewn with dead bodies. So far as she could see there was not one bird left alive. Stunned by the shock, she went in and mechanically picked up a fine pullet. Its body was still warm, but there was blood on its throat.
'A fox,' was Linda's first thought, but the whole place was carefully wired and she was certain that no fox could possibly have got in. She picked up a second bird and saw that its throat, too, was torn.
"A stoat," she said aloud, yet surely one stoat could not have killed more than fifty chickens. Bird after bird she examined and all had been killed in similar fashion. Suddenly the truth dawned on her.
"Ferrets!" she cried. "That's why they got Ben away."
It was too much for Linda. Tears were running down her cheeks as she walked sorrowfully back to the house.
MISS HAMLYN almost collapsed when Linda told her what had happened.
"It's no use trying to go on," she moaned. "They poison our fish, they kill our fowls. What makes men act like this?"
"Money," said Linda grimly. "The Yattons want our place, Aunt Ellen. They're just trying to drive us out. But they shan't." She clenched her hands and straightened herself to her full height. "They never shall."
"You are a brave girl, Linda," came Cavender's voice. He had just come in and must have heard Linda telling her aunt about the murder of their chickens. "You are very brave," he repeated in his odd, heavy voice. "But it seems to me you are fighting a losing battle. These people are too cunning for you to cope with."
Linda's eyes blazed as she turned on him.
"What do you suggest we should do, Mr. Cavender—;"give in—;clear out?" He shook his big head.
"I don't feel competent to advise you. Of course, I would not sell to the Yattons. But you might find some other customer who would give you a fair price for the farm. A man could keep his end up better than—;"
"Two women," added Linda. "Perhaps he could, perhaps not. Anyhow, Mr. Cavender, here are two women who are going to fight as long as they have breath in their bodies. If they have enemies, they have friends. If Seth Yatton were here I would tell him that to his face." She turned and went into the kitchen, leaving Cavender with a sheepish look on his ugly face.
For all her brave front Linda slept little that night. Again and again she went over the events of the past day. It was plain to her now that Mold had been sent merely to keep her away from the farm until the ferrets could be slipped into the chicken-run, and that it was for the same reason that Ben had been decoyed away. She racked her brain to think of some way in which the crime could be brought home to the Yattons, but was forced to realise that it could not be done. Mold would, of course, deny that he had been on the Moor, and Linda had no witness—;only her bare word. Nor would there be any proof against the Yattons themselves.
Next morning she went out to see Ben. He was busy plucking and cleaning such of the fowls as were fit for market, and Linda had never seen the faithful old chap look so dour.
"I tell 'ee, missie, I'm minded to take the gun and go right over and fill that old twoad so full o' lead as water won't float un. Aye, I knows I'd be hung, but I'd think it cheap at the price if you and Miss Ellen was left in peace." He meant it, too, and Linda had her work cut out to calm him.
Linda took a couple of the fowls into the house to cook them for the evening meal. Her aunt was busy in the kitchen but was looking so dreadfully downcast that Linda felt distracted. She had a certainty that, if this persecution went on much longer, her aunt would collapse. She was looking thinner and older every day and there were grey threads in her hair. Linda's spirits sank lower than ever at thought of the long winter and the likelihood of fresh persecutions from the abominable Yattons. If only something cheerful would happen, something to take her aunt's thoughts off their present troubles.
And suddenly it did happen. A silver-grey saloon car pulled off the road and stopped at their front gate. A boy jumped out and Brand's cool, aristocratic voice called:
"Linda! Are you at home, Linda?"
Bare-armed and aproned, Linda ran out in time to see a lady get out of the car and follow Brand up the path.
"This is my mother, Linda," Brand said. The lady was tall and slim and looked hardly old enough to be Brand's mother. She was plainly dressed in a coat and skirt of red-brown tweed, yet Linda knew instinctively that this visitor was someone quite out of the common run.
"So you are Linda," she said, and her voice was extraordinarily sweet and clear. "Brand and I have come to thank you for what you did yesterday." She took both Linda's hands in hers and looked at her. "Yes, my dear," she went on. "Brand did not exaggerate. And I am very pleased to make your acquaintance. Now will you introduce me to your aunt."
"But I don't even know your name," said Linda.
The other laughed.
"Isn't that like Brand? I am Lady Lamerton, Linda."
Miss Hamlyn was at the door. Her eyes were wide and there was a slight flush on her thin cheeks.
"I would know you, my lady," she said. "I have seen your picture so often. And I have read of the wonderful work you have done for the children of the poor unemployed miners in Cornwall."
It was Lady Lamerton's turn to blush.
"I like to hear you say that, Miss Hamlyn. That I have helped them a little is the one thing I am proud of." She turned to Linda. "Linda, take Brand round your farm. I want to talk to your aunt."
Half an hour later, when Linda and Brand came back to the house, Lady Lamerton and Miss Hamlyn were still talking. Linda was amazed at the change in her aunt. She looked bright, eager, interested.
"Linda," she said quickly, "Lady Lamerton wants us to take charge of her younger son, Aylmer. He has been ill and she thinks the Moor air will do him good. Are you willing, my dear?"
"I'd simply love it," Linda said.
"Then that is settled," said Lady Lamerton quietly. "Now, Linda, will you come with me to the car? I have something to show you." Much wondering, Linda went with their guest. Lady Lamerton opened the car door.
"Ruff!" she called, and a dog which had been lying on the back seat stepped out. He was a big dog, mostly white, but with some dark marking. He had a tremendously thick coat and a very short tail. His golden eyes were half hidden under long hair and his expression was singularly intelligent.
"Linda," said Lady Lamerton, "Brand says you have no dog. He told me, too, of the man who followed you on the Moor and your aunt has told me a good deal more about your difficulties here. We want you to have Ruff. His father was an old English bobtail, his mother a Samoyed. He is only eighteen months, young enough to take to you, and you will find him a very good guard."
Linda was overwhelmed. Here was the dog of her dreams.
"He's a husky," she said softly, and, dropping down on the grass, put her arms round the dog's neck. Ruff looked at her, approved and licked her face.
Steps came on the flags behind them. Ruff drew away from Linda. His ears went back. He growled deep in his throat.
The newcomer was Cavender.
CAVENDER paid no attention to the dog. He raised his hat and went into the house.
"Who is that?" Lady Lamerton asked.
"Our one remaining lodger," Linda answered. "Mr. Cavender."
"Ruff does not like him. I wonder why?"
"We have nothing against him, Lady Lamerton. And really he has been a godsend to us for, as Aunt Ellen will have told you, it has been mighty hard to get on since the fish were poisoned." She looked at Ruff again. "I don't know how to thank you," she said in a voice that faltered slightly. "Of all the presents anyone could have given me, Ruff is the one I'd have liked best."
"It makes me very happy to hear you say so, my dear," said Lady Lamerton. "I feel sure that you and he will be great friends. And I shall be sorry for anyone who tried to molest you if Ruff is with you. I can see that he has adopted you already. Now I think that Brand and I must be going."
"Won't you stay to lunch?" Linda begged.
"I can't to-day, Linda. I have a meeting in Plymouth this afternoon. But, when I bring Aylmer over on Friday, will you give me some tea?"
"Indeed we will," Linda said warmly.
Linda and her aunt watched their visitors drive away. Brand waved to them as the car turned on to the road.
"I always heard that Lady Lamerton was charming," said Miss Hamlyn, "but I never dreamed that she could be like that. Why, I might have been her sister, the way she talked to me."
"She's sweet," said Linda. "And fancy her giving me this wonderful dog! Aunt, dear, I think our luck is changing."
"I think so, too, my dear. She is going to pay us four pounds a week for looking after Aylmer. That will be a wonderful help."
"I should just think it would," declared Linda. "And if he's anything like his mother we shall love having him. I'm going out to tell Ben. It will cheer him. He's surely in the dumps."
Ben's gloom lightened a little at Linda's news.
"Her's a proper lady," he said. "And I be glad you got that dog, missie. Take a lot off my mind if I knows he's along with 'ee." He laid his gnarled hand on Ruff's head and Ruff accepted the attention politely. He seemed to approve of Ben.
Next day Haythorne, Lord Lamerton's keeper, came over on his motor-bicycle. He told them that his master had sent him to have a look at the river. He was a pleasant man of about forty, and Linda walked with him down the Flash Brook. He told her that it was good fishing water and well worth re-stocking if there was any guarantee that it would not be poisoned again. Linda had to answer that there could be no such guarantee so long as the Yattons remained at Viper's Holt.
"People like that have no right on the Moor," Haythorne said, frowning. "If you could prove that they'd done it there'd be no question of a fine. They'd go to prison." He paused. "I'm terribly sorry but I shall have to tell his Lordship that I can't recommend putting young fish in. But," he added, "trout will work up from the Arrow and some will come down from above. In a couple of years the fishing might be fair again."
"I reckon that will be too late for us, Mr. Haythorne," Linda said gravely. But the keeper still had some comfort for her.
"Tell you what you might do, Miss Hamlyn. Raise a stock of rabbits. This is fine country for rabbits and people will pay to shoot them. Then you have snipe here and golden plover and there'd be a few cock in winter. If I were you I'd think of that side of the business. These Yattons can't poison rabbits like they can trout."
Linda thanked him and told him that she would talk it over with her aunt; and Haythorne had a glass of cider and went off. Linda, watching his machine roaring along the road, noticed Asa Yatton looking over the wall from the Viper's Holt side. She saw that Asa was scowling and she herself smiled. She felt sure that he and his father knew about Lady Lamerton's call and that they were not happy to find that Miss Hamlyn had such powerful friends.
Late as it was in the year, the weather was warm with occasional showers and Ben told Linda that there were plenty of mushrooms in the horse pasture on the far side of the river. So next afternoon she took a basket and went off to get some. Of course Ruff went with her. Ruff had already taken to Linda. You might say he had adopted her. Ruff was a one-man or, rather, a one-girl dog. He was civil to Miss Hamlyn and Ben but Linda was his mistress and he made that perfectly clear.
To reach the horse pasture, which was part of Damarel, Linda had to cross the bridge and, as ill-luck had it, just then Asa Yatton came through the gate beyond out of Viper's Tor. He had a gun on his shoulder and with him was his dog, Grouse.
Grouse was half collie, half lurcher, a powerful beast with a head and jaws like a shark. He was a sour-tempered brute, but that was hardly surprising. He had probably never had a kind word since he was born, and he had certainly never had a comb through his tangled coat.
Linda would have turned back but it was too late, so she walked steadily on, looking straight in front of her. Ruff, like the gentleman he was, kept at her heels; but Grouse, spotting a new dog, came forward growling.
Scenting danger to his mistress, Ruff stepped quickly between her and Grouse. His hackles were up and his head high.
"Ruff! Keep back!" cried Linda, but Grouse was the attacker. With a snarl he rushed at Ruff and bowled him over. Then he fell on him, grasping him by the throat. Linda sprang forward.
"Call your dog off, Mr. Yatton."
"Why should I? The road's as much mine as yours."
Linda had no weapon but her basket. With this she beat Grouse over the head. The brute let go of Ruff and turned on her. In a flash Ruff was up and this time it was Grouse who rolled on the tarmac.
Ruff was brave as they make them, but was still young. He had none of the fighting experience of the other dog. In a flash Grouse had him again and the two went over and over, Grouse snarling hideously. Grouse again had a throat hold and only Ruff's heavy leather collar saved his jugular vein from the terrible teeth of his opponent.
Ruff's danger terrified Linda yet she kept her head. She had had experience in the North of handling fighting dogs. Quick as a flash she flung herself on the dogs and, risking a bad bite, got Grouse by the nose and pinched with all her might. Unable to breathe, the dog was forced to open his jaws and Ruff rolled clear. Grouse struggled desperately, making savage efforts to snap at Linda, but the whole weight of her strong young body was on his back and she was able to force his head against the ground. Ruff came in again, his golden eyes flaming, his white teeth showing, but Linda called to him to keep away.
"Let my dog up. You're killing it," he cried with an oath.
That was enough for Ruff. He hurled himself at the man with such fury that Asa went backwards. He fell flat with a force that almost stunned him, and screamed with terror. But Ruff was a gentleman. He was content to stand over his fallen enemy.
At this moment a third person came panting up. He was Cavender.
"Get up, Asa!" he ordered, and Linda had never known that Cavender's voice could be so fierce. "Get up and take that damned dog of yours away."
Asa staggered to his feet. He looked completely cowed. He caught Grouse by the collar, picked up his gun and went away without a word.
"Are you hurt, Linda?" Cavender asked as he helped her up.
"Only frightened," Linda said, trying to smile. She took up her basket.
"Thank you, Mr. Cavender," she said. "You came just at the right minute."
"I think you had better go home," said the man. "You are badly shaken."
Linda knew it was true. Also Ruff, though not badly hurt, needed attention. But as she walked back to the house a question was puzzling her greatly. How came it that Cavender called Asa Yatton by his first name? So far as Linda knew, the two had never met.
EARLY next morning Ben took the pony-cart and went to Taverton to do some shopping for Miss Hamlyn. Linda was busy upstairs, getting a room ready for Aylmer Lamerton, when her aunt called to her to come down.
"The water has stopped running," Miss Hamlyn said.
Linda went to look. The little leat or channel which brought their water supply from a spring up on the Moor was quite dry. Not a trickle was coming through.
"The Yattons, I guess," Linda said with a shrug. "Trying to get even for yesterday." She went into the house again.
"I don't reckon it's much, Aunt," she said. "I'll take the little spade and go up and clear it."
"I don't like your going alone, Linda," said Miss Hamlyn anxiously.
"I'll have Ruff along. Don't worry."
She got the spade and went off. The spring which supplied the water channel rose under Black Tor, a steep rock face some distance to the north-east of Miss Hamlyn's house. It was riddled with old tin mine-workings which were said to run far underground. But the tin had long been worked out and the mine abandoned. Black Tor was Yatton land, but by old Moor custom, which has the force of law, the water belonged to Damarel and could not be cut off. Linda knew this and was surprised that the Yattons should have taken the risk of interfering with the supply.
It was a lovely morning with hardly a cloud in the sky and a soft south-west breeze. The late gorse glowed golden and titlarks rose from the heather and fluttered away in front of Linda. She would have enjoyed her walk if she had not been so troubled.
Following the dry channel, Linda reached the dry-stone wall enclosing the large newtake which lay on the east side of the Yatton's farm. She looked round to make sure that neither the Yattons nor Mold were in sight. All she could see were some small shaggy black cattle grazing on the thin grass. Ruff at her heels, she climbed the wall, kept on up the leat and was within a hundred yards of the spring when she found the source of the damage. Here the leat, which was not more than a couple of feet wide, ran between low banks which appeared to have been broken down by the feet of cattle. The water ran out through the gap and leaked away into the ground.
Linda examined the broken bank, and was not so sure that the cattle were responsible. It looked to her as if a spade had started the cut and then the cattle had been driven across to conceal the damage. Anyhow, the gap was small and it would be only a few minutes work to repair it. Linda cut half a dozen sods with her small spade and stacked them expertly in the break.
She was just finishing her task when Ruff growled. Linda looked up quickly, expecting to see one of the Yattons. What she did see was a black bull no more than fifty paces away. His head was down and it was only too plain that he was making ready to charge.
Linda was amazed. The Moor cattle are most peaceful creatures. What she did not know was that these were Scottish Highland cattle, herds of which are occasionally brought to the Moor from the low country for summer grazing. They are wild and not to be trusted and the bulls may be savage. By Duchy law they are not allowed on the open unfenced Moor, but these were in a walled newtake.
Linda did not waste time wondering. She knew that she was in great danger. Her only weapon was the spade and that would not be much use. It was impossible to reach the wall before the beast caught her and there was not so much as a rock behind which to shelter. Her one hope—;and that a mighty slim one—;was Black Tor itself. If she could reach the rock face she believed that she could climb high enough to be out of reach of the fury.
She was off like a flash and, when Linda really ran, she could cover a hundred yards in thirteen seconds. The moment she started, so did the bull. A Highland bull may look stocky, but he runs like a deer, and Linda's heart sank when she realised that she was bound to be caught before she gained the foot of the Tor.
She had forgotten Ruff, but Ruff had his wits about him. He went for the bull like a bullet but, instead of running at his head, switched at the last moment and nipped his heels. With a bellow of fury the bull whirled and charged the dog.
Ruff was not to be caught that way. He could turn quicker than the bull and ran round him in circles. The bull forgot Linda and she breathlessly gained the foot of the Tor, made a wild jump and scrambled to a ledge some ten feet up. The moment he saw she was safe Ruff came racing towards her.
Linda saw the bull at his heels and was terrified, but Ruff outran the bull and made a dash for the ledge. Linda, flat on her chest, reached down, caught him by the collar and dragged him to safety. The bull, too, made a charge for the ledge, but Linda met him with a lump of granite which caught him between the eyes. He slid back and fell in a heap.
He picked himself up, shook his shaggy head and bellowed again, but he did not make any second attempt to climb the rock. Instead he settled down to watch his prisoners. He paced to and fro, and the glare in his angry eyes told Linda just what chance of life she had if she attempted to descend.
Linda looked at the steep cliff behind her. Alone, she thought she might possibly climb it, but she was very certain that Ruff could not do so, even with her help. She clambered to a second ledge a little higher than the first and pulled Ruff up, then sat down to take stock of the situation.
LINDA did not like it. The bull was not going to let her leave and her aunt would soon begin to worry because she did not return. Ben would not be back for several hours and, if he did come, he could not help her unless he brought his gun.
The Yattons were not going to help. Of that Linda was quite sure. Indeed, the more she thought of it, the stronger became her suspicion that the whole business was a plant. They had seen Ben pass, then hurried out and cut the leat with the object of getting Linda to enter the newtake and repair it.
"Plain murder," said Linda aloud. "And they'd have got away with it if it hadn't been for Ruff." She ran her fingers through the dog's thick coat and he laid his head on her knee. But all the time he kept a watchful eye on the bull.
The bull showed no sign of lifting the siege. Occasionally he cropped a mouthful of grass but never went far away. And if Linda moved he came straight back, pawing the ground and bellowing.
Linda collected some stones and pelted the beast. She might as well have shot peas through a pea-shooter, for all the harm she did. The only effect was to make him angrier than ever.
Time passed, clouds blew up, covering the sun and the air grew chilly. Linda began to grow hungry as well as cold, and to think longingly of the dinner that she was missing. She was very much afraid lest her aunt might come in search of her.
All of a sudden an idea flashed through her mind She got up and looked round. Her eyes brightened as they fell upon a clump of gorse a little way above her and to the left.
"Ruff," she said, "I reckon I've got it. Lie still now until I've cut some of that stuff."
Linda never moved without a knife and matches. That was one of the lessons she had learned in the great North-West and was never likely to forget. The knife she carried in a sheath attached to a belt round her waist, the matches were in a corked bottle so that they were always dry.
Without much difficulty she reached the gorse and set to hacking off a large piece of which the foliage was withered and brown. Gorse is tough stuff and the branch took a great deal of cutting. The bull, resenting any movement on her part, was tearing up the turf with his horns and bellowing savagely.
"You'll be making a different sort of noise pretty soon," Linda told him, and went on with her work. She got the first branch off but, not content with that, cut a second. This one was green. She pressed the two together until they were practically one, then climbed down to the lower ledge. Ruff was watching eagerly. He seemed to know that his young mistress had some plan for obtaining their release.
The bull, seeing Linda nearer, began to rage. Linda made him angrier still by pelting him with small stones. Presently he reared up against the bluff.
This was what Linda had been waiting for. Quickly striking a match, she lit her gorse torch and dropped it on the bull's head. It blazed up furiously, crackling like a bunch of squibs; and the bull, half mad with terror, wheeled and went off at terrific speed. One branch of the gorse fell off but the other stuck between his horns blazing.
Infected by their leader's panic, the rest of the herd, some forty in all, rushed away. It was as fine a stampede Linda had ever seen, and the thud of their hooves on the firm moor turf was like the sound of a squadron of cavalry. Crazy with terror, the bull drove straight for the gate of the newtake. He leaped it like a stag and the rest followed. But not all were as fine jumpers as he. A thick-bodied bullock hit the top rail and smashed it. Before the rest had passed the gate was matchwood.
The bull turned downhill towards the Flash Brook and the herd followed, pounding down the road. Linda, running hard behind, was terrified for she knew that, if they met anyone, they would smash him like an avalanche. Happily the road was empty and by the time the beasts had crossed the bridge they were getting blown. Their pace slackened but they still trotted quickly up the hill in the direction of Moorlands.
Linda did not take the road. She crossed it, scrambled over the far wall and followed the leat down through the Damarel land. Now she saw the Yattons and Mold galloping down from Viper's Holt towards the road. Even at this distance she could hear Seth shouting furiously.
The first person she saw as she reached the farm was Ben. He must have just got in, for Bob was still between the shafts. But Ben was at the wall, staring up the road. He heard Linda and turned.
"Save us, missy, whatever been happening? How did they Scotchies get loose?" Linda told him and he gazed at her in wonder.
"And you drove old bull off and started 'em running! If that don't beat all!" Suddenly he chuckled. "Seth, he be answerable for they bullocks. He will surely have a job to round 'em up. They be scary as hares. See! They be off again."
Frightened afresh by the three riders, the herd had again taken to their heels and were thundering up the road towards Moorlands.
A big lorry appeared round the bend above. At once the cattle wheeled and raced back downhill. Seth, his son and Mold, turned their ponies and galloped hard to get away. Ben burst out laughing.
The three riders came to the open gate leading into Viper's Holt and Mold and Asa swung through it. Seth, who appeared to have more pluck than his son, kept going. He went hard up the slope as far as the newtake gate and pulled up, evidently meaning to try and turn the cattle back into the enclosure.
There was no stopping them and to save himself Seth was forced to spur his pony into the newtake over the broken gate. The herd galloped on and soon disappeared on the open Moor.
"They be gone clean away," Ben said gleefully. "Reckon it'll take Seth a week to gather 'em." Linda did not answer. She was watching Seth, who had given up the hopeless chase and was now riding slowly back towards the bridge. As he came closer Linda could see that his heavy face was dark with rage. She waited until he came opposite the spot where she and Ben were standing by the wall.
"Mr. Yatton," she called in a high clear voice.
The man pulled up and stared at her. There was a curious mixture of fear and fury in his eyes.
"You done this," he snarled.
"You say that I did it," Linda answered scornfully. "You did it yourself, Mr. Yatton. You and your son plotted to kill me. You meant that bull to do it. You poisoned our fish, you killed our chickens, you have done your best to murder me. Every one of your plots has gone wrong. All you have done is to make new friends for us and more enemies and troubles for yourself. If you have any brains at all you will stop your senseless persecution. Go home and think it over."
Yatton's lips moved but no words came. Linda turned and, followed by Ruff, walked towards the house. Ben watched her as she went. His eyes were wide.
"To think as missy could talk like that!" he said in amazement. "Us wouldn't have believed it if us hadn't have heard it. Her surely be a wonder."
NEXT morning Linda and Ben were again in Black Tor newtake. The galloping herd had damaged the leat banks and only a trickle was coming through.
"Bain't nothing to worry about to-day, missy," Ben said. "They Yattons be out on the Moor, trying to gather they cattle. That'll be an all-day job, I reckon. I'd surely like to hear what they two be saying. Each blaming the other, I'll be bound." He chuckled as he skilfully wielded his shovel. Like all Moor men he preferred a long-handled shovel to a spade.
He finished his job and looked round. "Seems like someone's been busy up to old mine," he went on, and pointed to the adit which was hidden under the shoulder of Black Tor.
"There's someone coming out of it now!" Linda exclaimed in surprise. "Why, it's Mr. Cavender."
Cavender saw them and walked across.
"Have you turned tin-miner?" Linda asked him chaffingly.
"Not tin," Cavender answered in his slow heavy voice. "I have something which interests me more than tin ore." He took from his pocket a lump of crystal of a delicate mauve colour which flashed in the autumn sunlight.
"That's mighty pretty," Linda declared.
"It's amethyst," Cavender told her. "And a fine specimen. All the same I shan't risk going down there again. The roof of the adit is very unsafe."
"Looks to us like someone been working there," Ben remarked.
"Yes, I fancy the Yattons have been in there, hunting for stone. They appear to have a contract for road stone. They have done a little timbering but not enough to make the roof safe." He nodded and walked on. Ben watched him go.
"Her never got that stone in the old mine," he remarked. "That stuff be found in the rocks on top o' the ground. Leastways that's what my old father told me and he worked underground for forty years or more."
"Then why did Mr. Cavender go into the mine?" Linda asked in her direct way.
"That be something I'd surely like to know," Ben said as he shouldered his shovel and started home.
When they got to the house Jack Bellamy was there, talking to Miss Hamlyn. He came to meet Linda.
"I've been hearing that you were chased by that black bull yesterday, Linda," he said gravely. "But I don't suppose I've heard the whole story. Was this another of Yatton's tricks?"
"You might call it that," Linda said quietly. "If it hadn't been for Ruff I should have been killed." She told him just what had happened and Jack's lips tightened.
"So they have come down to murder. They must be getting desperate. Linda, there's more behind this than we know of. Brutes as the Yattons are, they'd hardly turn killers without some big object. Bigger, I mean, than a desire to buy this farm."
"I've thought that myself," Linda agreed, "but I haven't the faintest idea what it can be."
"Is there any story of treasure, Linda? You know the old Moor-folk didn't trust banks. They kept their gold in the house, often under the hearthstone. I was wondering if any of your ancestors had hidden money in the place and the Yattons had got wind of it."
"I've never heard anything like that, Jack. Aunt would have been sure to tell me if she had any notion of the kind." She laughed. "A bag of gold would come in mighty handy these days."
"I wish that I could help," Jack said. "But all I can do is beg you to be careful."
"I reckon, Jack, that it's Seth Yatton who is going to be careful. I put a real scare into him yesterday when I told him I was wise to his tricks. He hadn't a word to say."
"It's because he is frightened of you that he is trying to get rid of you, Linda. He knows that, with you out of the way, he could handle your aunt."
Linda laughed again.
"I'll take a lot of putting away, Jack. So cheer up. Now I have to get busy. Lady Lamerton is bringing Aylmer to-morrow."
Aylmer was a delightful little lad of seven. He had been ill with measles which had left him rather limp in body, but his spirits left nothing to be desired. He attached himself at once to Linda and declared he was going to have a wonderful time.
"I'm sending over his pony, Puck," Lady Lamerton told Linda. "I don't want him to walk much just yet. I shall come over once a week to see him. And thank you for the best tea I've eaten for years. Your scones are miracles."
Puck came the same evening. He was a Shelty only eleven hands high, but strong as a little carthorse and clever as a cat. With Aylmer on his back and Linda afoot, the two made long expeditions every fine day. But Linda was careful to go down river, never up on the Moors. She was not giving the Yattons any more chances. Ruff went with them. He was amazingly intelligent and Ben vowed that he understood every word Linda said to him. He and Puck became good friends and it was amusing to see them play together when Puck was loose in the newtake.
It was now October and there were days of heavy rain. But, in between, came soft and lovely spells of fine autumn weather. The extra money provided many comforts and Linda was able to save a little. She had to remember that Aylmer would be with them for only a few weeks and that Cavender might leave at any time. So far they had not had any enquiries from shooting people and both Linda and her aunt knew that it would be a struggle to get through the winter.
One day, about a fortnight after Aylmer's arrival, Cavender suddenly told them that he had to go away for a day or two. "I have some business to attend to," he said, "but please keep my room. I shall be back soon." Ben drove him to Taverton station in pouring rain and told Linda afterwards that Cavender hadn't even given him a glass of beer for his trouble.
"Her be a mean fellow," he said. "Glad I'd be if us never seed un again."
Linda made no reply for she, too, would have been glad to see the last of Horace Cavender. There was something oddly unlikeable about him. That evening Ben, who had got very wet, developed a bad cold and Miss Hamlyn made him go to bed early and gave him what she called a hot posset.
Next morning the old man was no better and was ordered to stay in bed. Linda said she would feed and groom Puck. When she went to the stable she got a shock.
The half-door was open and Puck had disappeared.
LINDA at once thought of the Yattons. It would have been just like them to turn the pony loose though she did not think they would dare to steal it. But when she examined the door she saw that the catch holding the latch had been broken away. It looked to her as if Puck, who was as clever as his elfish namesake, had deliberately put his weight against the half-door and forced it open.
She looked for tracks and found them at once. Puck had crossed the yard and jumped the low wall into the newtake. Yet he was not in the newtake now. She wondered where he had gone.
He would have to be found—;that was one thing sure, and it was up to her to find him. She went back to the house and changed into her stoutest shoes. She picked up her light waterproof, cut a large slice of cake, wrapped it and put it in the pocket of the waterproof, then went to find her aunt.
"Puck's loose, Aunt Ellen," she said. "I'm going to round him up." She spoke quite casually but her aunt looked frightened.
"You mean the Yattons have stolen him?"
"I don't mean anything of the sort, Aunt dear. The little mischief has broken the latch and got out by himself. Don't worry. I'll soon fetch him back." With Ruff at her heels she started.
The ground was soft after the rain and Linda easily picked up the tracks of Puck's small hooves. He had gone across the newtake at a sharp canter and jumped or climbed over the east wall which was only about three feet high. The tracks then turned left towards the road and Linda made up her mind that Puck had decided to go home. She was wrong, for the pony had turned east not west.
Instead of keeping to the hard road Puck had crossed to the strip of turf on the far side and trotted along. Linda followed as far as the east wall of Black Tor newtake. Here Puck had turned again and gone north along the wall.
Linda was now on open moor. She stopped and, shading her eyes with cupped hands, took a long look. There was nothing in sight, not even a sheep, and she was puzzled. It didn't seem natural that the pony should have gone away in this direction. When he got loose he would have kicked up his heels a bit, for he was a mischievous imp but, after a bit, he would surely have come back for his morning feed. Yet the tracks told her that he had gone up on to the Moor, so Linda set herself to follow. After all he might be grazing, out of sight. It would not do to leave him, for Puck did not know the Moor and might run into a bog and be unable to get out.
Feeling decidedly uneasy, Linda walked steadily northwards, parallel with the newtake wall. Here the ground was covered with short heather and tracking became more difficult. Yet, every now and then, there was a bit of soft ground where the prints of the small iron-shod hooves could be traced. Ruff seemed to understand what she was after and more than once found the tracks when his mistress was at fault.
The sun had been shining when Linda started. Two hours later clouds had covered the sky and a chilly breeze was blowing. Linda, now about three miles from home, stopped and looked about her. Frankly she did not like the look of things. The huge bare head of Barren Tor which towered up ahead was already capped with mist. It was almost certain that fog was coming down. Linda was hungry for she had had no breakfast and Puck was not in sight. She was strongly tempted to turn back. Yet here were the pony's footprints, proving that he had gone in this direction, and Linda felt certain he could not be far away. She made up her mind to go as far as Barren Tor. After all, when she caught him she could ride Puck back, for she had brought a rope halter with her.
Down came the fog. Although Linda was well accustomed to quick weather changes in the land of her birth, these Dartmoor fogs caught her napping. A cloud of vapour thick as smoke swept down, and in a matter of seconds the whole view was blotted out and Linda could not see more than ten paces in any direction.
She bit her lip.
"No luck for us to-day, Ruff," she remarked. "I'll have to trust you to take me home, my dog."
At that moment Ruff whined and darted forward.
"I reckon he sees or smells Puck," Linda said and started to follow. She had not taken a dozen steps before she had lost all sense of direction.
She stopped and called to Ruff. From some distance came a sound, half-bark, half-whimper. Linda knew that Ruff had found Puck and impulsively started forward again.
A gun roared, its heavy report dulled by the fog. Ruff yelped. Linda was nearly beside herself. Forgetting her own danger, she ran straight in the direction of the sound. She was half-crazy with grief and rage. Suddenly something or someone charged her from behind and gave her a tremendous shove. She felt herself falling. A deep pit yawned and she was tumbling into it. She landed in a horrible mixture of mud and water. From the gloom overhead came a low, wicked laugh. There was a sound of steps brushing through the wet heather—;then silence.
Linda had fallen soft. Though the breath had been knocked out of her body by the shock of the fall she was not hurt. She scrambled to her feet to find herself standing in several inches of water which lay above soft slimy mud. Of course, she was soaked to the skin. She did not give one thought to her own condition. All her anxiety was for Ruff. The knowledge that he was lying up there on the heather wounded—;perhaps dead—;filled Linda with such agony that she could hardly bear it.
The bank in front of her was of smooth black peat. It was so high she could not touch the top even by stretching up as far as possible. She made a desperate attempt to climb it but, though it was quite easy to drive her fingers and toes into it, the stuff would not hold. It just broke away and let her down.
She knew, of course, that this was a turf tie into which she had been thrown, but it was much bigger and deeper than any she had ever seen on the Moor. The bank on the opposite side was equally high and steep so it was no use trying to wade across to that.
Linda was a very level-headed girl not only by nature but by her hard training in the North-West. She was getting over the effect of the first shock and racking her brain for some way out of this horrible trap into which she had been thrown. She began to work her way along the wall in the hope of finding some place where it was lower. At every step she was half-way to her knees in the peat mire and the water was intensely cold. It was impossible to move quickly and, owing to the fog, it was equally impossible to see either end of the cutting.
With difficulty she reached the east end. No use. The bank was equally high and steep and there was nothing for it but to work back towards the western end. That proved to be worse still for the bottom there was so soft that Linda went in up to her knees and had a desperate job to get out again.
She struggled back to a spot where the mire was not so deep and stood still, breathing deeply and trying to collect her thoughts. It came to her that she must have been making a good deal of noise, splashing about, enough at any rate to be heard by the man who had pushed her in, if he were still anywhere near. She thought he must have gone. After all, why should he wait? He would know that she could never get out of this trap and that the odds were a thousand to one against anyone finding her in this lonely spot. Naturally he would have got away as quickly as possible. Whoever he was, he must be a moor-man for otherwise he would never be able to find his way in this smother of fog. But, of course, it was one of the Yattons or Mold. No one else would have been brute enough to shoot Ruff.
The loss of her dog wrung Linda's heart. Although he had been hers for only a few weeks, she had come to love him more than she had thought it possible to love any creature. For the first time in all her feud with the Yattons Linda hated them with an intensity that frightened her.
LINDA found herself shivering. No wonder, for she was wet through and this fog was deathly cold. She thought of the long hours before night came and was certain that she would never survive the hours of darkness.
Even so she refused to give up. If only for her aunt's sake she must do her best to live. Then an idea came to her. She had her knife. Might it not be possible to cut steps in the great bank in front of her and so climb out? It seemed a forlorn hope, yet it was better than nothing. She took the knife from its sheath. In doing so she felt a lump in the pocket of her waterproof. It was the cake which she had cut before starting. Linda's fear for Ruff had killed her appetite yet she knew she needed food. She broke the cake in two and slowly ate half of it. Then she set to work on the bank.
It was no use cutting nicks, the turf was too soft and wet to hold her weight. She would have to chop out deep steps up which she might climb. It would have been a big task even if she had had a shovel; with no tool but a knife it seemed impossible, yet there was no choice. She started work but had hardly begun before she stopped abruptly. A sound had come to her ears. A dog whining.
At first Linda could not believe her senses, but again she heard it.
"Ruff!" she called in a low voice, and suddenly there was Ruff's shaggy head over the rim of the pit. A dark splotch showed on the left side of his head and the hair was matted with blood. At once Linda realised what had happened. One shot or a bullet had grazed the big dog's head and stunned him. Now he had come to himself and at once he had come to search for her.
Linda's first feeling was one of intense relief, but this was followed by sheer terror. If the brute who had fired the shot was still within hearing it would be only a matter of moments before he fired again. And this time Ruff could not escape.
"Home, Ruff! Go home," she ordered urgently. But Ruff, usually obedient, would not move. He whined again and leaned over the edge, trying to reach his mistress, so that Linda was afraid he would fall over.
"Back!" she bade him sharply. "Get back. Go home!"
There came a hurt look in the dog's golden eyes, but this time he did move back a little. Yet he would not leave her. He knew well that she was in trouble and felt it his duty to stay with her. Linda realised that he would not go, and set to work again with desperate energy to hew a way out of the trap. Her one comfort was that her enemy must have left and that for the moment her dog was safe.
Linda's arms were black to the elbows before the first step was completed. She was getting tired, too. The fog had changed to drizzle and, though the air was not so thick, the cold rain trickled down her back and chilled her in spite of the work she was doing. Ruff, above, stood patiently watching. He seemed to know what Linda was about, and to be worried that he could not help.
Linda stepped up out of the mire on to her first made step. It collapsed like so much melting snow and she almost cried with bitter disappointment. It was useless. There was no way out of this ghastly trap and here she must stay until cold and exposure finished her.
It was at this moment she saw Ruff raise his head. He stood up, looked out across the Moor to the south. Linda had a spasm of fright. Was her enemy coming back? Then to her intense relief she saw that her dog was wagging his stump of a tail.
She shouted and almost instantly came the reply.
"Linda! Are you there?" The voice was Jack Bellamy's, and Linda's delight was so great that it was some seconds before she could find voice to answer.
Jack's anxious face, as he leaned over the rim of the tie, seemed to Linda the finest thing she had ever seen. He wasted no time asking questions but knelt down ready to pull her out. Linda shook her head.
"You can't do it that way, Jack. The rope halter is on the grass over there. Get it, will you?"
Jack ran to find it, let it down, and in a minute had Linda safe on firm ground. He looked at her with horrified eyes but Linda flung herself down by Ruff.
"The man shot him," she said in a broken voice. She was feeling the wound on Ruff's head with careful fingers.
"It's only a graze across the scalp," Jack told her. "But who shot him? How came you in that bog-hole?"
"I never saw. The fog was so thick. But the same man who shot Ruff pushed me into the tie. It must have been one of the Yattons."
"It was not a Yatton, Linda," Jack answered gravely. "They are both at Taverton Market. They rode in about nine o'clock. I saw them pass."
"Then it must have been Mold."
"It wasn't Mold, either. He was carting stone on the road when I came by."
Linda's eyes widened.
"Then who was it?"
"I haven't an idea, Linda."
"Cavender is away," Linda said slowly. "Not that I could think he would do a thing like this." She paused. "Jack, I'm frightened. Who is trying to kill me?"
"My dear, I don't know. But don't stand there. You are soaked and shivering. The thing is to get you home and to bed."
"Puck is somewhere close," Linda said. "We must take him with us. Ruff, find Puck!" Ruff understood perfectly and led them to the pony which they found in a hollow at a little distance. Puck was hobbled by a rope fastened round his front legs.
"All planned out," said Jack savagely as he put the halter on the pony and removed the hobbles. "Linda, it's about time for a show-down."
"If we could only get it," Linda answered. "But now I am all at sea, Jack."
They started back, but Linda, after walking a little way, began to stumble. She was more tired than she knew. Jack put her on Puck's back and led the pony.
"You haven't told me how you came to find me," Linda said.
"I happened to meet Ben yesterday on his way back from Taverton. I spotted that he had a chill on him and gave him a drop of whisky from my flask. I felt sure he would be laid up, so came over this morning to see if I could be of any help. You know this is my slack time. Your aunt told me you had gone after Puck and that she was worried about your being out for so long. So I came after you quick as I could. I followed Puck's trail and was only a mile away when the fog came down. Then I got properly tied up and it was more luck than skill that brought me to the turf tie."
"It was luck for me," Linda answered gravely. "I could never have got out alone. And if I'd been left there all night I should have been finished."
"That's what this brute was reckoning on," Jack said ominously and, after that, they talked no more until they reached the farm. The fog was gone now but it was raining steadily, and both were soaked. As they came to the gate Jack called.
"I have her, Miss Hamlyn. She's safe."
Miss Hamlyn flung open the door and came out. Her face was white and terrified.
"They've got Aylmer," she cried. "They've taken him away."
"IT was just after you left, Jack. I went to give Ben his breakfast," Miss Hamlyn told them in trembling tones. "I wasn't away more than five or six minutes but, when I came back, Aylmer was not in the sitting-room. I thought he had run out or gone upstairs and went on with getting his breakfast and mine. Then I called to him. There was no answer." She paused, gulped down a sob, then went on.
"I went upstairs first and, when I was sure he was not there, I ran out. The sun was shining, for that was before the fog came so I could see all round. There was not a sign of him. I called and called." She stopped again. The tears were running down her cheeks. "You heard nothing?" Jack Bellamy asked.
"I heard a car pass. At least I believe I did, just as I left Ben's room; but I didn't think anything of it. It was on the road and, though there are not many cars at this time of year, it did not occur to me to go to look at it."
"Aylmer couldn't have gone to the river, Aunt?"
"Is it likely, my dear? He hadn't even his outdoor shoes on. He was sitting here, looking at one of his books when I left the room and he asked me if there would be scrambled eggs for breakfast. You know how fond he is of them." Again a sob choked her.
"He never went to the river, Linda," Jack said curtly. "He has been kidnapped. It all fits in. Puck was turned loose in order to lure you away." He stopped and frowned, then went on. "But wasn't there any message left, Miss Hamlyn? People who kidnap children generally do it for money. It seems to me that these fellows would have left a letter or some sort of written message."
"I never thought of that," replied Miss Hamlyn vaguely.
Jack began to search and almost at once found what he was looking for. An envelope lay on a corner of the chimney-piece, half hidden behind a china figure. It was addressed in typescript: "Miss Hamlyn."
Jack handed it to her but, shivering, she refused it.
"You read it," she said chokingly.
Jack tore open the envelope and unfolded a single sheet of plain typewriting paper. On it were typed these words:
We have taken the boy. We require £500 as ransom, to be paid by Miss Hamlyn. We give her three days to find the money, which is to be in small notes and must be placed under Monk's Cross on Pixie Tor. If his parents or the police are informed the boy will not be seen again.
(Signed) The Nightriders.
Miss Hamlyn dropped back in her chair. She had fainted. Jack picked her up and laid her on the sofa. Linda ran for sal volatile. The fainting fit lasted only a few minutes then Miss Hamlyn opened her eyes.
"I am sorry, Linda. I did not mean to be so stupid."
"Have you eaten anything to-day?" Jack asked her, and she confessed that she had not. Jack took charge.
"Linda, you will please go and change your clothes. You will be of no use to yourself or any of us if you catch a bad cold. I am going to put on the kettle and make some tea. While we drink it we can talk of what is best to be done. Aylmer is in no immediate danger. You may be sure that, as he is so valuable to them, these people will take very good care of him."
Linda obeyed at once. As for Miss Hamlyn she was thankful to have someone take charge; especially someone as competent as Jack Bellamy. Within twenty minutes Jack had a meal ready and, although they were all too anxious to have any real appetite, the food and particularly the hot tea did them good.
"The odds are that the Yattons are behind this business, but it was not they who stole Aylmer, for they are both at Taverton Market. Indeed, if they had planned the business, it is obvious that they must have fixed up some sort of alibi. But if they are behind it they will have at least two men with them: the one who kidnapped Aylmer, and the one who pushed Linda into the turf-tie and shot at Ruff."
"Why do you feel so sure it is these Yattons, Jack?" Miss Hamlyn asked.
"That letter is proof. You see they order you to find the money. They say that you are not to inform Lord and Lady Lamerton. They mean to force you to sell the farm."
"But I needn't sell it to them," said Miss Hamlyn with unexpected spirit.
"That is true," Jack agreed, looking a little puzzled. "Still, it does not change my opinion. And if I am right, then the Yattons won't have taken Aylmer very far. They are Moor-men and have lived here all their lives. It is my belief they will have hidden him somewhere on the Moor."
"At Viper's Holt?" put in Miss Hamlyn.
"Certainly not. That is the last place they would choose." He paused. "Did you by any chance notice which way that car was going?"
"East, I think," Miss Hamlyn told him. "Towards Moreton."
"Just what I should have expected. I have my bicycle here and I am going off in that direction." He looked at the clock. "It is not three yet and I have nearly four hours of daylight. I shall try and trace the car. I'm sure no others passed during the fog and there has not been one since we came back."
"Can't I come with you, Jack?" Linda begged.
"You can't," Jack said firmly. "You are worn out while I am still fairly fresh. I am not going to tell you not to worry, for you won't be able to help it. But rest as much as you can and expect me when you see me. I shall probably be back by seven."
"We will have supper for you," Miss Hamlyn promised. "And thank you so much, Jack, for what you have done and are doing. Without you we should be quite helpless."
"Aunt is right, Jack," Linda said. "Good-bye and—;and we will try not to worry too much."
They watched Jack ride away through a misty drizzle. When he had disappeared in the distance aunt and niece looked at each other. Suddenly Miss Hamlyn gave a bitter cry and buried her face on Linda's shoulder.
"Oh, my dear, my dear. That little boy! I don't know how to bear it."
THE afternoon dragged terribly. Linda was in the depths of misery yet tried her best to be cheerful for her aunt's sake. As for Miss Hamlyn, she too tried to be brave, but she was in such a state of nerves that Linda was frightened for her. Linda realised that, if the suspense lasted long, her aunt would collapse.
About five a car drove up and, to their great surprise, Cavender got out, carrying his suit-case.
"I finished my business quicker than I expected," he told them in an unusually cheerful voice. Then he suddenly noticed Miss Hamlyn's tear-stained cheeks. "What is the matter?" he asked quickly.
Linda looked straight at him.
"Aylmer has been kidnapped," she said bluntly.
There was not the smallest flicker in his dull eyes, only an expression of shocked surprise.
"How? When?" he demanded.
Miss Hamlyn took up the story. She told him how Aylmer had disappeared and showed him the letter left by the kidnappers. He shook his big head.
"This is a very bad business. What will you do, Miss Hamlyn? Will it not be better to neglect this threat and call in the police?"
"What, and have Aylmer killed!" cried Miss Hamlyn.
Cavender pursed his lips.
"I hardly believe that they would go to such terrible lengths. Yet perhaps you are wise. On the other hand, there is the question of the money. You would have difficulty in raising five hundred pounds, Miss Hamlyn."
"I should have to sell the farm," said Miss Hamlyn in a tone of despair.
Cavender looked at her quickly.
"No. I will tell you what you can do. You can raise a mortgage."
"Borrow money on the farm, you mean?" said Miss Hamlyn.
"Yes. The place is unencumbered, I take it?"
"I have never borrowed anything on it, if that is what you mean."
"Good! Then you will have no difficulty in raising this five hundred pounds."
"But I should have to pay it back," said Miss Hamlyn doubtfully.
"No—;not so long as you paid interest on the debt." He looked at the letter again. "They give you three days to get the money. If you wish, Miss Hamlyn, I will at once walk up to Moorlands and get on the telephone to my solicitor. I feel sure that he can arrange the matter for you."
"You are very kind," Miss Hamlyn said gratefully.
"Not at all. It is the least that I can do after all the kindness I have experienced during my stay here." He took up his hat. "I will go at once."
"He is kind," said Miss Hamlyn to Linda as they watched him stump away towards the bridge.
"Y-yes," said Linda doubtfully. "But, Aunt dear, how are we going to pay twenty-five pounds a year interest on this loan?"
"I don't know and I don't care," replied Miss Hamlyn passionately. "If I can get Aylmer back safe nothing else matters."
"I'll go and see about supper," Linda said. She felt she must do something. It was impossible to sit still while she was in such miserable suspense.
She had already bathed and disinfected the wound on Ruff's head and the dog seemed little the worse. She left him in the kitchen and took a cup of tea to poor old Ben. He had been told of what had happened and was frantic to help, but was not fit to move. His room was over the stable. As Linda looked out she saw a bicycle coming down the slope from the Moreton direction. The rider was Jack. Forgetting everything else, Linda ran to meet him.
"I know where he is. I've found where they have hidden him," were Jack's first words, and Linda felt quite giddy with relief.
"Oh, Jack, how wonderful! Come and tell Aunt," she cried.
"Don't be too jubilant, Linda," Jack warned her as he followed into the house. "We haven't got him yet."
"Jack has found the place where he is hidden," Linda told Miss Hamlyn, and the news left her aunt breathless. "Tell us, Jack," said Linda.
"I had luck," Jack began. "As I rode past Rush Brook newtake there was Harman with his dog, after snipe."
"Our poacher, you mean?" exclaimed Linda, and Jack nodded.
"The same chap, and I don't mind betting he was shooting without a Duchy licence. I stopped and he came over to the wall. He and I have been good friends since that night on the salmon pool. I told him what I was after and asked him if he'd seen a car.
"He flared up properly when he heard about Aylmer. He got really angry. I believe, if he could have laid his hands on those fellows, they'd hardly have got away alive. He told me he had seen a car. He met it as he was coming up from his place, and that was early because he started before the fog came on. He saw it was a tradesman's van—;quite small, and painted green. He noticed it because the man who drove it was no Moor-man. Harman said he looked like a gorilla.
"So we talked it over and suddenly he said, 'What about Powder Mills?'"
"Powder Mills," Linda repeated. "You mean those old ruins up the Rush Brook which they say are haunted."
"That's the place," said Jack, but Miss Hamlyn broke in with a cry of alarm.
"Do you mean that that poor little boy is shut up m that dreadful place, Jack?"
"I think he is, Miss Hamlyn; I hope he is because, if so, I don't think he will be there for very long. But please listen. Harman came with me as far as the place where the old road turns off to the Mills. A gate shuts it off now, but we found the gate had been opened. The van had not been driven in but it had stopped there and we found footmarks of two men leading up the road.
"Harman would not let me go far. He said they might be watching. He told me to wait while he made a round and climbed Steepy Tor, so I rested for an hour under a gorse-bush. Then he came back and told me he had seen a man leave the building and go down to the brook for water."
"One of the kidnappers?" Linda said eagerly.
"There's no proof, Linda," Jack answered, "but there does not seem a lot of doubt. No one lives there and there's no caretaker. No Moor-man would go near the place if he could help it. They all believe there is what they call a 'Power of Darkness' haunting the old stone bridge."
"I feel sure that is where they have Aylmer, Jack. What do you reckon to do about it?"
"I'm going back as soon as it's dark and Harman will meet me. Harman has a plan for getting the men outside, and, once they're out, we shall have them."
"You're mighty sure," said Linda sharply. "If they carry guns—;and I'll bet they do—;they'll shoot you up before you can get near them."
"I asked Harman if we did not need more men," Jack said. "He vowed that two were plenty—;that, if we had more, they'd only make a noise and warn these fellows who are holding Aylmer. Harman is pretty capable, Linda."
"So are you," Linda said with a half-smile. "Come into the kitchen, I have some hot soup ready."
As he went to the door leading to the kitchen Linda spoke to her aunt.
"Don't say one word about this to Mr. Cavender, Aunt."
Miss Hamlyn looked startled, but nodded.
"Very good, my dear. I won't say anything." Linda followed Jack and quickly got his soup ready. It was thick, rich stuff and Jack approved it greatly. While he ate, she told him about Cavender's return and his offer to raise the ransom money. Jack frowned.
"I don't trust the fellow."
"No more do I," Linda agreed. "Yet really we have nothing against him—;nothing definite, anyhow. And his money has been a great help. But I've told Aunt not to say anything to him about what you and Mr. Harman have found." She paused, then went on quickly. "Jack, I'm coming with you."
"You are not," Jack answered firmly.
"I must. Aylmer will be terrified. I want to be there to take charge of him after you have got him out. Listen. You will go ahead on your bicycle. I shall drive the pony-cart. I can wait somewhere in the background and, when you have Aylmer, I shall be there to drive him home."
Jack bit his lip.
"You're so venturesome, Linda. I should be terribly afraid of your getting into trouble."
"I'll be careful. I promise," said Linda, and very unwillingly Jack gave his consent.
CAVENDER was not yet back when Linda started. She had instructed her aunt to say that she was tired and had gone to bed.
The rain had stopped and the night was fine, though clouds were still moving slowly across the star-strewn sky. Linda had dressed very warmly and provided herself with a thick stick, one that Ben had cut for her weeks ago. She had also hot milk in a thermos.
She was so keyed up that she no longer felt tired, and Bob, fresh from a day in the stable with plenty of oats, trotted along briskly.
The distance to the Powder Mill gate was only about three miles, but the road was hilly and it took half an hour to get there. Linda opened the gate, drove through and tied Bob in a clump of stunted beech-trees a little way to the left. Then carrying her stick and a flashlight she walked up the road.
The Powder Mills had been built nearly a hundred years before, in days when the only explosive known was black powder. Large quantities were used at that date in the tin-mines of South Devon and North Cornwall, and the mill, worked by water-power from Rush Brook, had been a busy place for years. Then most of the mines closed down and, for those that remained, more modern explosives came into use. So the mill, too, closed and was deserted. Squatters lived in the old building until a quarrel took place between two families and ended in a savage battle. Two men were killed and a third, tied and gagged, was flung over the bridge into the dam below.
After that came tales of hauntings, and no Moor-folk would go near the place. Jack had told Linda of four young men from Plymouth, who went there one night to investigate. The story was that, when they had tried to cross the bridge, some invisible power prevented them; and when one, braver than the rest, dashed forward, he was flung over the lower parapet into the pool and was nearly drowned before the others could get him out.
A young moon was in the sky as Linda approached the place and, in its pale light, the ruined mill had a most desolate appearance. The low buildings were of stone with slate roofs, but the roofs had fallen in and the gaunt chimneys were broken and shattered by long years of storm and neglect. Behind rose a plantation of fir-trees, half of which had blown down, while many of those still standing were mere dead poles.
There was no sign of Jack or Harman and a brooding silence lay over the whole shallow valley. The only sound was the gurgle of the brook, and an occasional faint rustle of wind in the clumps of tall reeds which had given the stream its name.
Linda moved off the deeply-rutted road and worked her way cautiously among great heaps of stone. Centuries earlier the brook had been "streamed" for tin, and these stone heaps, which had been dredged from its bed, still remained.
A faint blue glow shone in the distance and, as Linda came nearer, she saw that the radiance was from the bridge. Pale clouds of phosphorescent vapour rose above the arch, and Linda's heart beat faster than usual as she remembered the story told by Jack Bellamy. But Linda's nerves were sound and she felt that her errand was such that no Powers of Darkness could interfere with it. She kept steadily on.
She was within fifty paces of the bridge when a figure appeared on the far side of the arch, a figure so horrific that Linda stopped short, her legs trembling beneath her. It was Old Nick himself or at any rate the very double of Linda's idea of his Satanic Majesty.
Tall, gaunt, garbed entirely in black, with horns rising from its goat-like head, it stood motionless in the blue glow which still rose from the arch of the bridge.
For some moments Linda stood, frozen with fear. But her terror passed. It came to her that this was a trick of the kidnappers to keep away intruders. Her shivering fit passed and was succeeded by anger.
The demon moved. It began to walk slowly forward right through the blue glare. As it moved so did Linda. She ducked into the dark shadow under the wall of the first building and crept forward in absolute silence.
Ahead of her there was the sound of a latch lifting. A door opened. There was just light enough for Linda to see a heavily-built man come out with a gun. He raised it to his shoulder and pointed it at the demon.
"Don't shoot, ye fool!" someone unseen ordered in a harsh whisper. "A shot ud be heard for miles a night like this."
Suddenly Linda understood. This demon was not one of the kidnappers. He must be Harman who had planned this ruse to get one or both of Aylmer's kidnappers into the open. But what good would it do? He was too far away to stop them and this fellow with the gun was just about scared enough to pull trigger and chance it.
Her question was answered almost before it was asked. From behind a clump of gorse growing close to the wall another figure shot up like a Jack-in-the-Box. The newcomer's arm flashed forward, there was a thud as a club came down, and the man with the gun dropped like a log, his weapon clattering on the stones.
Linda wanted to shout with delight, but, in an instant, her joy was changed to horror. The second kidnapper strode out of the door. He was a huge brute, at least six feet high and built like a bull. His immense arms clasped the man who had clubbed his companion and dragged him back through the door.
The demon sprang forward, so did Linda. Linda had less distance to cover than Harman. She reached the door first and thrust her stick between it and the jamb, just as the man inside banged it to. The force with which the door was banged obliged Linda to let go her stick, but she had succeeded in preventing the door from being closed.
"Well done!" came Harman's voice. "Gad, you're a well plucked un, my girl!" As he spoke he had hold of the door, forced it open, and plunged in.
He was just too late. There came the crash of a trap-door falling and as Linda, following Harman into the place, flashed her torch, they both saw that the room was empty. In the centre of the floor was the trap-door which was closed and no doubt bolted from below.
"So he got Jack," Harman remarked. He pursed his lips. "That big chap must be strong as two bulls. He picked up Jack like a ten-year-old kid."
"You take it coolly," said Linda sharply.
"Not a bit of use worrying. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Anyhow we have one of the blighters. We'd better tie him before he comes round."
The man outside was just beginning to stir as they got to him. Harman produced a length of cord from some pocket in his queer kit and tied the fellow's thumbs together behind his back. He then tied his ankles.
"Not pretty or nice," he remarked as he took Linda's torch and shone the light on the prisoner's face. "They hang 'em for kidnapping in America," he went on. "Even here they give 'em ten years."
The man's eyes opened. He had heard what Harman said and he was scared.
"Who bought you for this job?" Harman asked. He grinned. "Not ready to talk yet. But you will be," he said with sudden ferocity. "Oh yes, you'll talk fast enough before I'm finished with you." He turned to Linda. "Now we'll go and collect the other chap," he continued casually, and walked back into the building.
Linda followed. She had not the faintest idea how her poacher friend was going to set about it. Since the second man had two prisoners and was safe in a vault below a heavy trap-door, she could see no way in which Harman could make his promise good.
HARMAN took Linda's stick and rapped loudly on the trap-door.
"Hey, fellow, you ready to talk?"
"Talk," came a muffled bellow from below. "Looks like you're the one who'll do the talking. You can't do nothing else. That's one thing sure."
"That's what you think, my lad," Harman answered in his clear, resonant voice. "You've got two prisoners and have a notion that's something to trade on. But we have one, too, and we aim to make him talk. And what he will tell us about himself and you and Cavender will make mighty interesting hearing."
"Cavender," Linda repeated in a horrified whisper. Harman made her a sign to keep silence and the voice came again from below.
"You try anything like that and see what happens to this feller I just caught."
"You daren't touch him, old son," replied Harman. "If we can't get in, you can't get out; so, sooner or later, we get you. And you know what that means. A ten-year stretch at least." He beckoned to Linda and they went out. Their prisoner lay flat on the stony ground and was not looking happy. He scowled at them savagely but did not speak. Harman turned the light on his face which was so ugly it made Linda shiver.
"Are you ready to talk?" Harman asked softly.
"No," the fellow snarled.
"It don't matter," Harman told him and, stooping, gagged him with his own handkerchief. Then Harman sat down on a block of stone, took out a pipe and carefully filled and lit it. He smiled at Linda.
"Never hurry over a job like this," he advised. "Even that big beast down below there has some power of imagination. Let him use it. Let him think things over. He knows that he can't get out. After a bit he'll start sweating. That'll be the time to make terms."
"But Aylmer," said Linda anxiously. "Aylmer and Jack. Think what he may do to them!"
"Not a thing," replied Harman calmly. He glanced at her whimsically. "Are you good at screaming?" he asked.
Linda's eyes widened.
"Are you quite crazy?" she retorted.
"Devil a bit! I'm full of good sense. But maybe I'd better do the screaming. Your voice would be too high-pitched. Might give the show away."
Linda began to understand.
"You want that man to think that you are torturing the prisoner."
"That's about the size of it, my dear. When I've finished my pipe you'll see or rather hear what I can do. And if you want to make it a bit more realistic you can scream, too. Say you can't stand it. Beg me to shut up. You know the sort of thing."
In spite of the serious situation Linda nearly laughed. Harman was so delightfully calm and confident. He was the sort to get himself, or his friends, out of any kind of trouble and his confidence inspired Linda.
Harman finished his pipe, knocked out the ashes and put the pipe away in a pocket of his strange suit.
"I'm starting," he said. "Don't be scared."
It was just as well to have warned her for the howl that he emitted was so perfectly terrible it made Linda shiver. She could hardly believe that such a sound could come from human lips. It even scared the prisoner for his eyes nearly popped out of his ugly head. There was a slight pause then came another scream, even worse than the first.
Harman signed to Linda and she at once threw herself into her part.
"No! No!" she shrieked. "Stop it! I can't bear it!"
"Fine!" he said in a low voice. "I'll lay the big boy heard that all right. Now we'll let him sweat a bit. After that he'll be ready to talk, or I miss my guess." He waited another five minutes then went back into the room and thumped on the trap again.
"I've got pretty much all I wanted," he said loudly. "You ready to talk turkey?"
The answer came in the shape of a volley of sulphurous oaths.
"That won't help," Harman told him. "But go on if it does you any good."
Silence fell. The fellow was evidently waiting for Harman to speak again but Harman was too wise. Nearly a minute passed, then the big man's voice came from below but in a different tone.
"What do you want?" he asked sulkily.
"The boy," Harman told him, "and, of course, your other prisoner, too."
"And what do I get out of it?"
"I'll tell you that when you come up."
"Nothing doing," growled the other. "I'll stay here till the kid starves afore I give myself up."
Linda came close to Harman and whispered in his ear. "Let them go. We don't want a trial and a scandal."
"I hate to do it," he answered in an equally low voice. "We scotch the whole trouble if we lag these two swine."
"I'm thinking of Aylmer," Linda insisted. "He's not strong and he will be very frightened. I'm afraid, too, of his getting a bad chill down in that black vault."
"Maybe you're right," Harman said, then went on in a louder voice.
"The lady has been pleading for you. You and your pal won't be prosecuted if your prisoners are unhurt."
"You swear it?" came from below.
"You have my word," Harman answered. "Come on up."
As the trap-door began to lift Linda saw a heavy automatic suddenly appear in Harman's hand.
"Lift the boy out," he ordered. "You take him, Linda." Next moment little Aylmer was pushed upwards in the great hands of the giant and Linda grasped him.
"I wasn't frightened, Linda—;at least, not very," he said. "I knew you'd come for me."
Linda hugged him. She could not speak.
"Now, Bellamy," Harman ordered, and up came Jack looking rather sorry for himself. The big fellow was following but Harman confronted him with the gun.
"Not yet," he said coolly.
"So you're double-crossing me," snarled the man.
"Not a bit. All I promised was that you would not be prosecuted. If you think you're going to get off scot-free you have another guess coming. You and your pal can spend a night here in the dark and see what it feels like. Your boss, too, will get a proper scare. He'll be wondering what the devil has become of you. Down you go! Jack, lug the other fellow in here, if you can."
It took some doing but Jack managed it and the kidnappers, cursing savagely, were forced below. Then Harman and Jack piled rocks on the trap-door. Harman chuckled softly and Aylmer looked at him.
"Is he really the devil?" he asked. "I think he's rather nice."
Linda burst out laughing and Harman was delighted.
"I'm the sort of devil that helps little boys," he said. "Specially when they're brave little boys like you. Now Linda will take you back home and you'll have a nice supper and go to bed and forget all about these nasty fellows."
"Can I have scrambled eggs?" Aylmer asked eagerly.
"You shall," Linda promised.
"I'll carry him, Linda," Jack said. "You've done enough to-day."
Linda handed over Aylmer and turned to Harman.
"I don't know how to thank you, Mr. Harman."
"I ought to thank you. I've enjoyed it no end. And don't worry about these blokes in the cellar. Sometime to-morrow I'll turn 'em loose, and I'll lay it'll be a mighty long time before they show their noses on the Moor again." He turned away, then stopped.
"One other thing, Linda. Keep an eye on old Cavender. I know you haven't a thing against him but, from what Jack's told me, I'm chock up with suspicion. I wouldn't fire him. Better keep him under your eyes, but watch him every minute. And, if there's anything else I can do, Jack knows where to find me."
LINDA was surprised when, hearing a knock, she found Harman at the front door of the farmhouse. Three days had passed since the recovery of Aylmer from the kidnappers and they had been busy days for Linda.
Harman wore well-cut if rather shabby tweeds, yet with his tall, slim figure and broad shoulders, was a fine figure of a man. He saw Linda's look of surprise and smiled. When he liked, Harman could smile delightfully.
"I called to ask after the kid. I hope he's none the worse."
"Come in," said Linda. "Aunt Ellen will be so pleased to see you. She's always asking about you. I'll call her."
"Wait a minute," Harman said. "It's you I want to talk to. But you haven't told me about Aylmer."
"He's gone home," Linda said. "We had to tell Lady Lamerton what had happened and she and Lord Lamerton reckoned it was best that he should go back."
"They were right," he said. "The boy wasn't safe here and—;I don't want to scare you, Linda—;but I don't think you are, either." Linda stiffened slightly. If Harman said this, it meant something. Harman smiled at her.
"You don't scare easily, Linda. But I knew that. I shouldn't be talking like this if I didn't know it. Only I don't want to frighten Miss Hamlyn."
"She's had enough to frighten her already," Linda agreed. "But what's the trouble now?"
"My trouble is I don't exactly know," Harman said frankly. "But I am convinced that there's powerful influence against your aunt and yourself."
"Where did you get that from?"
"Those two hooligans. When I let them out I thought they'd be meek enough. They weren't. They threatened me—;not that it worried me—;and they swore you'd be sorry. I wish now I'd kept them there a bit longer. Forty-eight hours' starvation and I'd have made 'em talk. As it was, they defied me. One pulled a hidden gun and it was lucky for me I had my automatic. I'm not proud of myself, Linda. I've messed up this business."
"Nonsense!" said Linda stoutly. "If it hadn't been for you we'd never have saved Aylmer. You ought to have heard what Lord Lamerton said about you."
"So you've been singing my praises. I thought as much when I got a letter from his lordship, making me free of his fishing next season. Hang it all! I shall have to leave this country. If I stay here much longer there won't be a mile of water left to poach."
It was Linda's turn to laugh, but her laugh was half-hearted.
"I wish I knew what it was all about," she said. "All I can make out is that the Yattons are trying to get hold of this farm."
"The Yattons are a couple of ignorant Moor-men," Harman answered. "There's someone behind them. Who it is I can't fathom. But he wants the place badly."
"I still don't know why. Jack Bellamy talked of treasure, money hidden somewhere in the house; but Aunt never heard any story of the sort. The land is quite good, but it doesn't seem valuable enough to start people murdering. Do you reckon there's tin here, Mr. Harman?"
"I don't know a thing about metals or minerals," Harman confessed, "but, even in Cornwall, there's hardly a mine still working, and all the Moor-folk tell me that there's no tin worth working on the Moor."
"Mr. Cavender found a little gold after the big flood," Linda told him, but Harman laughed.
"All the gold on the Moor was washed out by the old folk centuries ago. You'd have a job to find enough to make one sovereign."
"Then I give it up," said Linda.
"Yet there is a reason, if we only knew it," Harman told her. "Meantime you and your aunt ought not to be here. Can't you go away somewhere for the winter?"
"Run away!" exclaimed Linda indignantly.
"Not a bit of it. Merely what soldiers call a strategic retreat. Don't you see, if you're not here, these people have nothing to work on."
"But, of course, they have. What about our sheep and our buildings? They might burn the whole place down."
Linda paused and took breath.
"Anyway, we couldn't do it, Mr. Harman. We haven't the money. It's true we made some out of our boarders, but we spent a good deal in doing up the house. We were looking forward to making a lot next year, and we should, if it hadn't been for those horrible people poisoning our fish."
For the first time since Linda had known Harman she saw a worried look on his face.
"I don't know what to say, Linda. Frankly, I don't think that you and your aunt are safe here with no one but old Ben to look after you. Could you get Jack Bellamy to stay here?"
"It's too far from his work, Mr. Harman. Even in winter he has to be up and down the Arrow every day." She paused, then went on: "It's mighty kind of you to help us as you have done, but I don't reckon we can do anything more than we are doing. I promise you I shall stay right here. I shan't give them a chance to kidnap me. Ben is going to sleep in the house and Ben keeps his gun loaded."
"Keep your doors locked at night," Harman advised. "And I'll come and give you a call every now and then. Now I'll see your aunt, but I shan't tell her any of this stuff I've been telling you."
Linda called her aunt and Miss Hamlyn was delighted to meet Harman. He chatted to her so cheerily that he charmed her. She insisted on his staying for tea and both she and Linda were sorry when he left.
"You do make nice friends, Linda," said Miss Hamlyn after Harman had gone. "With a man like that to help us, I don't feel that anything bad can happen."
Actually nothing bad did happen and life at Damarel went on quietly for some weeks. Winter came with gales and heavy rainstorms, and thundering floods swelled the Flash Brook to a roaring torrent. Jack Bellamy came over occasionally and Harman turned up at least once a week. Apart from these two there were no visitors to the farm, but Cavender stayed on.
Even with his money Linda and her aunt found it hard to make ends meet. If it had not been for the rabbits Ben trapped and the game that Harman often brought them, keeping house would have been almost impossible. True, there was still a balance at the bank, but Linda never drew a cheque unless it was absolutely necessary.
One day towards the end of November a letter came for Miss Hamlyn. Linda saw a startled look on her aunt's face as she read it; then, without a word, she handed it to Linda.
It was from a firm of solicitors, Messrs. Grane, Curtis and Pilkington, who wrote from an address in Gray's Inn. They had a client who wished to purchase Damarel Farm. They were authorised to offer £3,000 for the property and trusted that Miss Hamlyn would consider this offer, which they thought a fair one.
"Three thousand pounds!" said Linda. "It is a fair offer, Aunt, especially now the fishing is ruined."
"But we've had the farm for hundreds of years, Linda. I couldn't bear to sell."
"I know how you feel," said Linda, "but with this money we could buy a good place on some other part of the Moor with fishing. All our boarders would come back and we should do well. And it would be much better for you, Aunt Ellen, to be out of all this trouble."
"I have lived here all my life. I couldn't bear to go anywhere else," Miss Hamlyn insisted. "Yet, for your sake, Linda—;"
"No. I don't count. Listen, Aunt Ellen. Mr. Harman is coming this afternoon. We'll take his advice before we do anything."
To this Miss Hamlyn agreed, and when Harman arrived she handed him the letter. He read it slowly and there was an odd gleam in his eyes as he looked up.
"Someone wants this place pretty badly. This offer is genuine. I happen to know of the firm and they are sound people. You'd get your money—;perhaps a bit more if you insisted."
"Miss Hamlyn's face fell.
"Then you think I ought to sell?"
"I don't think anything of the sort. There's something here that's worth a deal more than three thousand pounds. If I were in your shoes I'd turn the offer down."
LINDA spent hours in searching for some sign of anything that could make Damarel worth all this money. She found nothing. She worked quietly and was careful that Cavender did not see what she was about.
Cavender still went for long walks whenever it was fine enough. But there were many days of fog or rain when he stayed at home, reading or writing. Twice he was away for a couple of days. The day after he went off on his second trip Jack Bellamy came to Damarel. He signed to Linda that he wanted to talk to her so she went into the kitchen and he followed.
"Linda," said Jack, "I was in Plymouth yesterday doing a bit of shopping. As I walked up Union Street I saw Cavender coming out of an inn called 'The Last Post.' I didn't want to speak to him so I slowed up and looked at a shop-window. A minute later who should come out of the same place but Seth Yatton!"
"You think they'd met there?" Linda asked quickly.
"It looks like it. And if that's the fact it means that Cavender is in this business."
Linda bit her lip.
"I know you've always thought it. So has Mr. Herman. And if it's true it explains a lot of things. But, Jack, it's awful to think of a man living in our house for months and plotting against us all the time."
"It's bad," Jack agreed gravely. "And even now we have no proof. I followed Seth and he got on a tram bound for North Road Station. He must have gone straight home. I didn't see Cavender again."
Linda shook her head.
"I wish I knew what to do. I simply dare not tell Aunt. She'd be terribly upset."
"Don't tell her. As Harman said, it's better to have Cavender here under our eyes. Only we shall have to watch him more carefully than ever from now on."
"You reckon that something is brewing up, Jack?"
"I do think it. They're tried all sorts of ways to get hold of the place. That offer you had the other day was probably from Cavender and it must have hit him and the Yattons pretty hard when your aunt turned it down. They're growing desperate and I'll own that I'm worried. You see you are the one who is in danger. If you were out of the way they'd soon get round your aunt."
"They haven't got me out of the way yet and I'm taking very good care of myself, Jack. With you and Mr. Harman to back me, I'm not a bit nervous."
"You're the pluckiest girl I ever knew," said Jack, so warmly that Linda flushed. Then she laughed.
"Then I shan't come to much harm," she said. "Now come and talk to Aunt while I get tea."
Before Jack left he whispered to Linda that he would tell Harman about seeing Cavender and Seth in Plymouth. Then he turned up his coat-collar, for it was bitter cold, jumped on his bicycle and went off.
That night the first snow of the winter fell, and next morning Linda felt almost as if she were back in the North-West, for the whole Moor was white and the hollows held deep drifts. The great tors rose dazzling in the pale winter sun.
At breakfast Cavender remarked that he did not think he would risk going out. He had a slight cold and had better stay indoors. He had a fire in his room and went back there to read and write letters. Cavender had a number of books, most of them dealing with antiquities or with geology. He did not seem to care for story-books.
Linda made up her mind to a quiet day. It was not likely that Jack Bellamy or Mr. Harman would come over, the roads being so bad. She had plenty to do in the house and luckily there was food for some days. She looked at the old barometer which hung in the hall and noticed that it was still falling. Though bitterly cold, it was not actually freezing and Linda made up her mind that more snow would fall, or else there would be a thaw and it would turn to rain.
Cavender complained of headache when he came down to the midday meal. He said he would take an aspirin and he down afterwards, and asked that he might not be disturbed. Clouds covered the sky and, soon after four, it was quite dark. Linda put on a kettle and she and her aunt had a cup of tea together in the kitchen. There was no sign of Cavender, so they took it that he was still sleeping. Linda left some tea for Ben who was busy milking, then put on her rubber boots, her coat and an old fishing hat and went out to take some milk to the stable cat which had just produced a litter of kittens in the stable.
It was snowing again and very dark, so she took her flashlight. She fed the cat and came round by the front of the house.
Ben had cleared a path round the house but had not shovelled the snow from the flagged path leading to the front garden gate. The fight of Linda's torch showed footsteps in the soft snow along this path, and she noticed that these were not the marks of Ben's heavy-nailed boots. They were made by rubber boots and Linda, accustomed to noticing such things, saw at once that the tracks were those of Cavender.
Yet Cavender was supposed to be in his room, asleep.
At once her suspicions flared up and she set herself to follow the prints. They went through the gate and turned to the right along the cart-track leading to the high road.
Snow as falling thickly in soft wet flakes as Linda reached the road. Here Cavender had turned left in the direction of the bridge.
Forgetting everything else in her eagerness to discover where he had gone, Linda pushed steadily on. She crossed the bridge and came to the gate opening into the cart-track which led to Viper's Holt. The gate had been recently opened and closed, for she could see where the snow had been knocked off the latch. She shone her torch through the bars and now there was no longer any doubt in her mind.
Cavender had gone to visit the Yattons.
LINDA opened the gate and went through. She knew she was taking a risk but hardly gave it a thought. She had to know what Cavender was after. She felt sure that she would never have a better chance. Once she was certain that he was in with the Yattons she would tell Harman and Jack. Cavender would be driven out and Harman would read the Riot Act to the Yattons and frighten them thoroughly. Then the river could be stocked again and all would go well.
It was still snowing steadily as Linda made her way up the cart-track which led beside the river. There was just light enough to see the dark water flowing between its whitened banks. Cavender's large footprints were spaced at regular intervals in the snow. There were no other tracks at all.
Linda switched off her torch and put it in her pocket. Presently she was opposite Viper's Holt Farm. This was built on a hump of rising ground on the other side of the brook. The bridge had been taken out by the big flood but had been roughly rebuilt by the Yattons, who had laid heavy timbers between the buttresses and covered them with planks. Linda crossed the bridge and, under cover of the thick-falling flakes, approached the farm.
There was no garden. There had been one once, but now all there was to show for it was a ruinous stone wall and a few bare bushes of mountain-ash and elder. The house, solidly built of granite, showed only as a dark mass, but light came from one of the windows on the ground floor.
Linda paused and listened. There was a faint rasp of voices from inside the lighted room, but no other sound. It was not likely that anyone would be abroad in this weather and certainly Cavender could have no suspicion that he had been followed. She saw Cavender's tracks leading to the front door, but she herself turned towards the lighted window. She had not much hope of hearing anything. What she wanted was to actually see Cavender in company with the Yattons.
The window, with its small panes, was incredibly dirty. Since Yatton's wife had died some two years earlier, the only woman on the place was Mold's wife. She suffered from rheumatism and, though she managed to do some rough cooking, had certainly never made any effort to clean the windows.
The room was low-ceilinged and had a deep ingle-nook with a great peat fire burning on the hearth. The sort of room that might have been snug if it had not been so dirty and untidy. In the middle was a table covered with a stained cloth, and on this an old-fashioned paraffin lamp with a cracked and smoky chimney. It gave so little light that Linda was not in the least afraid of anyone inside seeing her as she pressed her face close to the window.
The occupants of the room were the Yattons, father and son, and Cavender. They sat on old wheel-back wooden chairs around the fire. Cavender was facing the window and, as she watched him, Linda shivered. This was not the Cavender she had known but a different man altogether. He was ugly as ever but his sleepy look had gone. He looked alert, alive, and formidable. He was speaking and, to Linda's surprise, she could hear what he was saying. Then she saw that the lower left-hand pane of the window had been broken and roughly mended with a sheet of paper pasted over it. Voices came through quite clearly.
"You will have to leave it to me," she heard Cavender say, then he stopped.
Judging by the sullen faces of Seth and Asa Yatton, Cavender had been pitching into them and the moment Cavender ceased speaking Asa Yatton answered.
"You haven't done such a lot yourself, Mr. Cavender," he said in an angry tone. "You tried to put her over the cliff into Chasm Cleave and made a mess of it. Then that flood, it did us more harm than anyone else. It was you fixed up that pony getting away, and nothing came of it; while stealing that kid was the worst flop of all. I wonder they didn't throw you out after that; for I'll lay that Harman suspected you and most like he told the girl."
Linda saw Cavender bite his lip and knew that he was very angry. But the man was able to restrain his anger and did so.
"At any rate I have tried to do something, Asa. As for you, all you could do was to get into a vulgar squabble on the bridge, a quarrel which nearly ended everything as far as we were concerned." He paused. His stony eyes were fixed on Asa and that youth wriggled uncomfortably. Cavender went on.
"The girl has had the devil's own luck and her friendship with Bellamy and Harman has helped her in more ways than one. Harman, I know, suspects something and we shall have to act quickly. That is why I came here to-night."
"You took a big risk," Seth said, speaking for the first time.
"I took no risk at all," Cavender retorted. "I told them I was ill in my room and was not to be disturbed. No one will have an idea that I have left the house and they will all be asleep when I return. The snow will have covered my tracks." He stopped again, but the Yattons remained silent. Cavender held up his big, thick-fingered hand.
"The girl has to go. I'm sorry in a way, for she's a good cook and has made me very comfortable. I have a plan and I think it's foolproof. Probably you won't like it, but I'll thank you not to interrupt until I've finished." He lowered his hand and went on slowly.
"I'm going to get her aside and tell her all about the clay."
"You're crazy," snarled Seth, but Cavender went on.
"I told you to keep quiet till I'd finished. Then you can talk. Can't you see, you fool, that by doing so I allay all her suspicions? I make her believe that I'm her friend and you are the only ones against her."
Seth scowled and Asa's lips tightened, but they did not speak. Linda, listening, could hardly breathe for excitement. She was at last going to hear the secret.
"I take her to the old workings," Cavender continued. "I actually show her the clay. Then one push. You know how deep the water is at the bottom of Number Two adit. There will be no one to help her and, when search is made and her body found, it will be obvious that she has been drowned by accident. Everyone knows how she has been searching the farm for something of value since the offer to purchase was made."
Linda drew a long breath. Chills that were not caused by the falling snow ran down her spine. That three men could sit in chairs around a fire in this ancient farmhouse and deliberately plot cold-blooded murder was almost beyond belief.
Yet, come to think of it, this was exactly what she might have expected. It only confirmed and crystallised the suspicions that had been growing for months past. Again she took a long breath and pulled herself together. It occurred to her that it was time that she was going. Yet an intense desire to hear more kept her fixed at her post. Clay—;what was this clay that was so valuable?
Cavender had stopped speaking. The other two were staring at him fixedly. Seth Yatton spoke.
"You'd have to be sure of two things. One that no one seed you going to the mine; the other as you didn't leave footmarks in the adit. You got to remember there's a sight of mud there."
"You're right, Seth. Those are the points I'll have to be careful about. But I'll take her there after dark. I shall tell her that this is in order that you and Asa won't see her. As for the prints, I'll cover them as I go out. Not that any of these country police are likely to notice that sort of thing, but it's as well to be careful. What do you think of my scheme?"
"I reckon it's all right," Seth said slowly.
"I only hope it works," Asa added viciously. "Nothing would please me more than to see the finish of that little—;—;."
The word he used is not to be repeated.
"Brute!" said Linda below her breath. It was odd, but at that moment she felt more resentment against Asa than against either of the elder men. Cavender pushed his chair back and a thrill of alarm ran through Linda. She turned and made back across the ruined garden for the bridge.
Luck deserted her. A shadow loomed behind her through the showering snowflakes and a harsh voice shouted. "Who's that?"
THE voice was Mold's. Linda ran for her life. In a flash she had crossed the bridge and turned down towards the main road. Luckily for her, Mold had delayed a moment to warn his employer that someone was lurking about. This gave Linda a small start.
In a short sprint on good ground Linda was probably more than a match for any of the four men at Viper's Holt, but the snow was a worse handicap to her than to a man like Mold with his long legs. She knew that it was out of the question to reach the road before being overtaken; she knew, too, that being caught meant being killed. These men could not afford to keep her alive, being aware that she must have listened to their murder plot. That they would probably be caught and hung was no consolation whatever to Linda.
Linda's wits were quick and she did not lose her head in an emergency. But if ever she needed quick thinking it was now, for already she heard sounds of pursuit. Apparently all four were after her.
There was just one point in her favour. The snow was still thick and with that and the darkness it was impossible to see anything at more than ten paces. Linda made a long stride to the left, slipped down over the bank into the river and crouched there.
Her heart was thumping not so much with the run as with sheer excitement. She was banking on her pursuers not carrying a light. Then, she thought, they would be sure to go straight on past her towards the gate.
Her hunch was right. They had no light and all four came plunging past almost within arm's length. Linda waited only until they were out of sight, then waded across the stream. The water came over the tops of her rubber boots and the chill was cruel. She hardly noticed it and, scrambling quickly up the far bank, started across the big newtake.
Her first impulse was to take the short cut back to Damarel, but a moment's thought told her that this was hopeless. Her pursuers would be strung out along the road, waiting for her. She was cut off from Damarel. For a moment she had a wild idea of making straight back for Viper's Holt and hiding in the outbuildings. She dismissed this as hopeless because her tracks in the snow would give her away as soon as the Yattons got a lantern. There was nothing for it but the open Moor and Linda's brave heart failed her at the prospect. Even if she could stand the exposure, sooner or later they would find her tracks and follow.
An idea came to her, a desperate, crazy notion, yet the only one that gave her any hope of survival.
Black Tor. If she could reach it ahead of her pursuers she could certainly beat them at climbing. She did not think that Seth and Cavender could climb; she did not imagine that Asa had any head for heights. Mold might be better than the others, yet she felt sure he had never done any cliff climbing.
Black Tor was little more than half a mile away. Of course, she could not see it, but she knew the direction and had two guides; one the lie of the land, the other the direction of the wind. The snow was coming out of the north-east. So long as she faced it and kept uphill she was bound to reach the tor. All depended on the start she had gained. Sooner or later the Yattons or Cavender would notice the break in her track and would go back and find where she had crossed the river.
She struggled onward. It is no fun wading through six inches of wet snow even on a good road, in daylight. Here she stumbled into drifts, sometimes nearly to her waist, while the ground beneath the snow was rough and boggy. Her boots were full of icy water, which made her task the harder. The worst of it all was the suspense. It was impossible to tell whether her enemies were on her track. Naturally they would run mute and it would be impossible to see them until they were upon her.
The ground began to rise steeply and Linda knew that she was nearing the tor. She looked back and a spasm of terror seized her for a light was dimly visible bobbing about behind her. So they had risked a lantern and were now trailing at full speed.
Linda dared not run. She had to save her strength for the climb. She glanced back again and reckoned that the men were not more than a couple of hundred yards behind. If only she could throw them off the trail, but of that there seemed no hope.
Suddenly she found herself on the edge of the little leat. She had gone too far to the right and the tor was still quite a distance away. The leat gave her a new idea, and stepping into it she turned downstream. She was careful to leave marks of her passage.
A little way down was a clump of gorse. Reaching this, Linda stepped carefully out of the little channel on to the far bank. She took two long strides and waited just long enough to smooth the snow over her footmarks. Then she circled away parallel with the leat towards the tor.
The ruse worked. To Linda's intense relief she saw the light go bobbing down the leat. They would find presently how they had been tricked, but meantime seconds counted and, once up that cliff, they would have their work cut out to reach her.
The slope grew steeper: she reached the head of the leat, and next minute was scrambling up those very rocks by which she had escaped the black bull.
It was different now with all this wet snow clinging to the cliffside, and Linda had a moment of panic when she slipped and nearly fell. A tuft of heather saved her and she dragged herself to a second ledge. Above this the rock face was so steep that hardly any snow had lodged on it. Driving her strong young fingers into cracks and crevices, she climbed slowly but surely until she reached a broader ledge forty or fifty feet up.
Looking down, she saw the lantern close below her, and its dull glow illuminated the long sour face of the man, Mold.
"She've gone up the tor!" The voice was Seth's, full of anger and amazement.
"Which is exactly what she would do," said Cavender with grim amusement. "She can't be very far up. Asa, go after her."
"Me! Think I can climb that there rock? You're silly."
"And you, Asa, are a very poor sort of coward," said Cavender bitingly. Asa snarled, but made no other retort to the insult. Cavender turned to Mold.
"What about you, Mold I'll give you five pounds to fetch her down."
"I bain't got no head for heights," Mold answered regretfully. Clearly he wanted that five pounds.
"It's no use asking you, Seth," said Cavender sarcastically. "Mold, it's you and I. And if you help me you get your five pounds."
"I'll try," Mold promised.
Flat on her face on the ledge above, chilled to the bone, Linda waited in horrid suspense. She was much more afraid of Cavender than of the others and, if he said he would climb, he would certainly do so.
Sure enough, he started. Standing on Mold's shoulders, he gained the first ledge. Linda heard him grunting with exertion. Next, it seemed that he pulled Mold up. They were tackling the second ledge. What made matters worse, the snowfall was thinning. Soon they would be able to see her. Linda decided that her only hope was to get higher. Tired and cold as she was, she believed that she could climb faster than Cavender.
The rock face behind her was almost sheer, but desperation drove Linda and she squirmed up over a breast of bare granite to find herself burrowing into a drift which filled a deep recess in the cliff-face.
The snow almost smothered her and it was so loose and wet she could get no hold. Knowing snow as she did, she was terribly afraid it would slide.
She heard a creaking sound. It was beginning to move. In desperation she clutched at something dark in the midst of the white mass. It was a broom bush. Clinging to it with both hands, she held on while the snow around her slid groaning downwards. Each instant Linda expected the bush to break away from its shallow roots and that, she knew, would be the end. She was at least sixty feet above the foot of the hill.
Yet the tough stem held. Then as tons of snow thudded beneath her came a yell of terror followed by a hideous scream.
GASPING with the strain, Linda managed to pull herself up over the bulge of the great rock and seat herself in safety on its smooth top. She looked down.
The snowstorm had almost ceased and there was light enough to see a wide black channel between her and the ground, where the slide had taken everything with it. Far below, the lantern cast a small glow on a great pile of hard-packed snow and two men standing motionless behind it.
"They be killed!" The terrified voice was that of Seth Yatton. In his fear he had gone back to the old Moor speech of his childhood.
"Cavender's killed," said Asa harshly. "Mold, too. But where's the girl? I didn't see her fall."
"Her's up there still," replied his father.
"We got to stop her mouth," snarled Asa. "If we don't we're in proper trouble. You stay here while I go fetch the gun."
"You daren't shoot," cried his father. "They'd hear you."
"Who'd hear? And if they did what notice would they take? It's that or go to prison. And I ain't going to quod." With that he started away towards Viper's Holt, leaving his father alone.
Linda was both angry and frightened. Even if he had a gun she did not believe that Asa could hit her, but she could not be sure. She slipped off the big rock down to the broad ledge where she had first sheltered. Cavender it seemed was finished and Linda was not even shocked at his sudden end. Her only feeling was intense relief. Then came a voice from below.
"Help me out!" To Linda the voice was like a bullet in her body. Hoarse and weak, it was Cavender's.
For a moment Seth stood as if paralysed, then flung himself forward and began pulling the snow away with his hands.
"Careful, you fool! My legs are broken," said Cavender.
Linda felt happier. At any rate Cavender could not chase her any more. She thought hard. Would it be best to climb down and run before Asa got back? Even if Seth saw her he would hardly catch her. She was very tired, very cold and longed intensely to be back home, warm and safe.
She decided to come down. With Linda to think was to act. She began to climb down but not by the way she had come up, which would bring her right on top of Yatton. At first it seemed easy, but Linda was very tired and her hands were numb with cold. The last bit was difficult and suddenly a mass of snow gave way and Linda felt herself falling.
Another girl would have screamed. Linda did not utter a sound, but the thud of the snow and her body reaching the ground together could be heard a long way off. Cavender heard it.
"The girl. She's fallen. Get her!" he ordered, and Seth came plunging through the darkness towards Linda.
Linda struggled up. She was badly shaken, and as she came to her feet felt a stab of pain in her left ankle. It was sprained or at any rate badly wrenched. A wave of bitterness came over her. It seemed too hard, after all she had done and all she had been through, to be caught like this at the last minute.
She tried to run. The pain was agonising. Even so she kept ahead. She came upon a patch of bog under the snow; her right leg went in almost to the knee and she pitched forward on her face.
"Got ye," she heard Seth mutter triumphantly, then for the first time Linda's nerve cracked and she screamed at the top of her voice.
"Shut your mouth," Seth ordered with an oath. She felt his heavy hand on her shoulder and knew it was the end.
"Missy, be that you?"
Ben's hoarse shout was welcome as an angel's voice. With a gasp of alarm, Seth sprang up and ran.
Bang! Bang! Ben let loose with both barrels. He had always longed for a shot at Seth and now he had good excuse. The range was too great for the small shot to do serious damage, but some of the pellets penetrated Seth's hide and he shrieked like a scalded cat and ran like one.
"Have he hurt 'ee, my dear?" panted Ben as he came plunging up.
In spite of her pain Linda almost laughed.
"Sprained my ankle, Ben. That's why I couldn't get away. Oh, Ben, I'm glad you came."
"Time, too, looks like," growled Ben. "Running off like that, after telling missus as 'ee wouldn't take no more chances."
"I took a big chance, and it's turned out trumps. I've found out the whole plot. Cavender's leg is broken. Mold is dead and—;oh, I forgot—;Asa went for a gun."
"Cavender broke his leg. Mold dead!" The news took Ben's breath. He rapidly thrust fresh cartridges into his old rabbit gun.
"Asa gone for a gun, have her? Us'll learn him when her comes back."
"But he won't come back. He will meet his father and they will know it's all up. I reckon they'll run away. Ben, my ankle is better. We must get help for Cavender. He got caught in a snowslide and he will die in it if we don't help him."
"And a good job, too," said Ben heartlessly. "Lean on me, missy. Us'll go see."
Between them they got Cavender out of the packed snow, but Linda saw at once there was more than broken legs. Both his legs were useless. He knew it, too.
"My back's broken," he told them curtly. "I'm booked." He looked up at Linda with an odd expression on his ugly face.
"You've had the luck all the way through, Linda," he said. "No, I'm wrong. I should have said pluck. It took pluck to do what you did to-night. Now you and your aunt are going to be rich. The china clay the Yattons found in the old mine runs right under your land. I never saw a richer deposit. It tempted me. I've never had much money and always wanted it." He chuckled sourly. "I'd rather you had it, Linda, than the Yattons. You always looked after me even though you disliked and distrusted me." He stopped and, in the light of the lantern, Linda saw that his face was going grey.
"Don't try to talk," she begged. "Let me wrap you in my waterproof. Then Ben and I will go for help."
"Take more than a waterproof to keep me warm," Cavender said. "The cold is inside." His voice was fading but he made one more effort. "The Yattons. Get them. Don't let them escape."
His head rolled sideways; he gasped, quivered and lay still.
Linda covered his face with a handkerchief.
"Help me back, Ben," she said quietly. "Then you must go for the police."
When the police reached Viper's Holt they found nobody there but Mrs. Mold. The Yattons had cleared out.
They did not get far. Both were arrested next day in Exeter as they were getting on a London train. They were brought to Taverton and gaoled. When the Bench of Magistrates had heard the evidence of Linda, her aunt, Jack Bellamy, Harman and Ben Cottle, the Yattons were put back to be dealt with at Exeter Assizes. They got off cheaply, so most people said, with seven years' penal servitude.
Meantime Harman and Jack took everything off Linda's hands. Harman went down and called on Lord Lamerton and the latter, when he had heard the whole story, offered to form a company to work the clay.
As soon as the roads were clear Lady Lamerton drove to Damarel and she and Miss Hamlyn and Linda had a talk.
"You will have to leave Damarel, Miss Hamlyn," Lady Lamerton told her. "The clay will ruin your land and your river."
"Ruin the river!" cried Linda and her aunt in one breath.
"There is no help for it," said their guest, "but you will be able to take almost any place you like. You will be very well off."
Miss Hamlyn's face went rigid.
"If the clay is going to spoil Damarel and the river then it will not be worked," she said firmly.
"You must think of Linda," said Lady Lamerton quickly.
Linda spoke up.
"I agree with my aunt, Lady Lamerton. I would not have Damarel spoiled for all the money in the world."
Lady Lamerton shook her head.
"But this means that you will both have to work hard for your living."
"We shall not mind that," said Miss Hamlyn quietly. "With the river restocked and no Yattons to worry us we shall do very well."
"We shall enjoy it," Linda declared.
Lady Lamerton looked from one to the other.
"You are two extraordinary women," she said at last. "Yet, after all, I believe that you are right."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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