Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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NEIL FORSYTH stared. He rubbed his eyes with a hard brown hand and stared again.
"It is smoke," he said, in a tone in which horror and amazement were equally blended. Then he began to run.
A boy who has been brought up in a lonely lodge in the depths of the Highlands of Scotland may not be able to do a hundred yards in a level ten seconds, but on a rough hillside Neil Forsyth could leave any sprinter of twice his age panting behind him. Now the pace at which he raced through the deep heather was a record even for him.
You would have to be Scottish bred and born to realise the horror that filled him. This was Glen Tallach, one of the finest and best preserved moors in all Scotland, and it was hot, dry August weather. To see the heather afire at a time like this made Neil feel very much as you or I would feel if we saw our own house afire.
Besides, the danger was terrific. There had been no rain for a fortnight. The heather was like tinder. There was a breeze blowing. If the moor really got alight the damage would be frightful. The fire might spread for miles. It might destroy not only the moor and every living thing on its vast expanse, but spread to the great plantations of Scotch fir which lay on its flanks. It would certainly destroy the cottages on the west side and the keeper's house. It might even spread to the lodge itself.
As Neil came nearer he saw the culprit. A boy about his own age, who wore plus fours and a smart sports jacket. He was standing beside the clump of heather to which he had set fire, watching it with a queer, set expression.
Neil came at him like a whirlwind. He hit him in the chest with his fist; knocking him backwards into another clump. Then he tore off his own shabby coat and began pounding and beating out the blaze. Luckily the fire had not had time to spread to the next clump, but Neil was only just in time.
He had just finished his job by stamping out the last sparks with his heavy brogues when the other boy scrambled to his feet and came at him. His dark eyes were narrowed with rage and his fists clenched. He was taller than Neil and heavier, but Neil saw at a glance that he was not in good condition. He tried to hit Neil, but Neil dodged the flying fist, closed, caught the bigger boy round the waist, tripped him and laid him flat again. Then he knelt on him.
"Let me up. I'll kill you for this," screamed the dark-eyed boy, struggling desperately.
"You'd better keep quiet if you don't want to be hurt," remarked Neil, who was having some difficulty in holding his adversary. "I suppose you know you could be sent to prison for what you've done."
"Me sent to prison! You're crazy. Do you know who I am?"
"You may be the King of Siam, but you can't go setting light to the heather on Glen Tallach."
"Idiot! I can do as I like with my own. This is my moor."
Suddenly Neil remembered he had heard that the heir to Glen Tallach had come back from somewhere abroad. So what this boy said might be true. He felt rather sick. This might cost him his job.
"Who are you, anyhow?" demanded his prisoner. "What right have you on this moor? I could put you in prison for trespassing."
"No, you couldn't," Neil answered curtly. "I'm engaged as beater."
The other boy's lips curled.
"A beggarly beater! And you've got the check to interfere with me! You're sacked."
"Why should Forsyth be sacked, Archie?" came a deep voice from behind the boys, and, looking up sharply, Neil saw a tall elderly man in brown tweeds standing by. He jumped up quickly and lifted his cap. Archie, too, got up. Archie looked rather the worse for wear, but he was still in a fine rage.
"He hit me," he answered harshly.
The tall man's keen grey eyes were on the charred patch of heather and on Neil's scorched coat.
"It looks to me, Archie, as if you richly deserved it. Is it possible you were fool enough to set light to the heather?"
"It's my heather," returned Archie.
"Not yet," replied the other. "I think you are forgetting your cousin Duncan."
"What's he got to do with it?"
"More than you think, perhaps. Archie," said the other dryly. "Now go back to the house."
Archie looked as if he would dearly like to disobey, but there was a cold ring of command in the voice of the tall man which subdued him. He turned and walked off with a swagger. The tall man waited a moment then spoke to Neil.
"Lucky you were on the spot, my lad," he remarked, with his eyes on the burned patch. "Did you hit him?"
"No more than I could help, sir."
"Pity you didn't give him a good hammering. He needs it badly."
Neil's eyes widened, but he did not speak.
"You know who I am?" asked the other. "I think you are Mr Chard."
"That's it. And Archie Grant's guardian, worse luck!"
Neil began to feel better. Perhaps, after, all, he was not going to lose his job.
"I think I know your father," Mr Chard went on. "Are you Kenneth Forsyth's son?"
"Yes, sir. I'm Neil."
Mr Chard nodded. "What brought you here?" he asked.
"I'm engaged as beater, sir."
"Making a bit of pocket money, eh?"
"No, sir, My people will be glad of the money."
"Why—what's wrong? Your father owns Pittendirgh."
"Not now, Mr Chard. He had to sell. It was that Macbain business."
"The Aluminum Syndicate! He was in that? Dear me! I'm sorry."
"It ruined him, sir. He has only £200 a year left, and there are four of us. I didn't want to lose my job."
"Of course not." Mr Chard stood gazing at Neil. He was noting the boy's strongly-built body, sturdy legs, square jaw, and high forehead. No one could have called Neil handsome, but there was something solid and dependable about him that appealed strongly to Mr Chard.
Neil began to feel a bit uncomfortable, but he stood his ground. At last Mr Chard spoke. "I've a better job for you than beating, Neil. That is, if you're man enough to take it."
Neil thrilled. A better job!
"Well?" asked the other sharply.
"I'm game, sir," said Neil quickly.
Mr Chard smiled. "You're game, I can see that. But it will take more than just pluck and fighting to carry this job through. Sit down," he said abruptly, "I'll tell you."
"I TOLD you I'm Archie Grant's guardian," said Mr Chard. "You know who Archie is?"
"I think he is nephew of Colonel Grant, who used to own this moor."
"Exactly. Colonel Grant's brother was an Indian Civil Servant. Archie was born there. His mother died, his father travelled all over the country and the boy was left with Indian servants. He was never sent home to school, but bad a tutor who couldn't have been much good." He paused, frowning, then went on.
"Anyhow Archie has been utterly spoiled. He has no self- control and a vile temper. Do yon know why he fired the heather just now? It was simply because I told him he couldn't shoot tomorrow. In any case he has no idea of handling a gun. As for letting a boy with a temper like that come into a great property such as Glen Tallach it's not to be thought of."
"He's got pluck, sir," ventured Neil.
Mr Chard nodded.
"You're right, Neil. That's the saving clause. He's honest too. Now here's the state of affairs. Archie's father died a year ago and left the boy to his brother Colonel Grant. The Colonel died only a month later. I was his best friend, and he asked me to be Archie's guardian. The Colonel did not leave Glen Tallach to Archie. He has another nephew, his half-sister's son, a boy called Duncan Mackay. Like Archie he, too, is an orphan. He was brought up in America." He paused, then went on.
"Here is my trouble. Colonel Grant gave me a free hand. If I don't approve of Archie Duncan is to have the property, but it is not to be divided."
"You couldn't divide Glen Tallach!" exclaimed Neil.
"You couldn't, of course," agreed the other. "As you see, Neil, Archie has the better claim, and of the two I like him the better, in spite of his faults. But he's got to be broken in first." He looked at Neil. "Think you're man enough for the job, young Forsyth?"
Neil's lips parted, his eyes widened.
"Me!" he exclaimed.
"You, my lad. It's got to be someone of his own age. What about it? Will you take on the job? I shall, of course, pay all expenses and, whatever happens, you shall have fifty pounds. If you succeed I'll give you a place in my engineering works."
Neil drew a long breath. He felt as if he were dreaming.
"I'll try, sir," he said soberly; "but as to succeeding, I don't make any promises."
Mr Chard nodded approvingly.
"That's the way to talk. How do you propose to work it?"
"I'd have to take him away from here. I must have him all to myself."
"I see that. What about Garinish? It belongs to the Frasers, but is empty, and there isn't a town within twelve miles!"
"Just the place, sir."
"But how will you get him there? Mind you, he won't obey orders—not even mine."
"I think I can manage that, sir, if you'll let me stay here for a day or two."
"Stay as long as you like," said the other. "Archie's an unlicked cub, yet there's something likeable about him. If you can make a man of him, Neil, I'll be eternally grateful. Now come down to the house. I'll send someone over for your things."
When they reached the lodge they heard that Archie had gone fishing; so Neil was able to have a quiet lunch with Mr Chard and to get settled before his prospective pupil came back. Mr Chard sent a note over to Neil's father, and when the man came back Neil found he had been into the town and got him a complete new suit.
Archie came home just before tea and met Neil in the hall. He pulled up short and glared. "What the mischief are you doing here?" he demanded.
"Staying," Neil answered calmly.
"You're crazy. Get out."
"Don't be rude," said Neil. "And any how this isn't your house."
Archie gasped. "Not my house!"
"No; and never will be unless you behave yourself."
"You're crazy," cried Archie again.
Neil shrugged. "I wish you'd stop repeating yourself like a parrot. If I'm crazy so's your guardian. He asked me."
"Who are you?" burst out Archie.
"A chap that can lick you, and jolly well will, if you don't behave yourself."
This was enough for Archie. As Neil had known all along, he had plenty of pluck. He came for Neil like a bull. He hadn't a chance. Next minute he was flat on the floor, Neil sitting on him. All the same, Neil had been careful not to hurt him. This was all part of the game, for Neil knew the first thing he had to do was to prove to Archie that he had no chance in a scrap.
"Now will you be good?" asked Neil, with a grin.
Archie struggled desperately, but he knew nothing about rough- and-tumble. Neil simply held him.
"It's no use fighting unless you know how to fight, Grant," said Neil.
"I'll lick you one of these days," vowed Archie.
Neil laughed. "You'll have to do a bit of training first."
"I will too," said Archie between his set teeth. "I don't care if it takes me a year."
"Six weeks would do it if I had you in hand," Neil told him as he sprang to his feet. Archie got up more slowly.
"You mean you'll train me to lick you?" he asked, in a wondering tone.
"I like a chap with pluck," said Neil simply. He looked Archie up and down.
"You've good shoulders and plenty of muscle if it was developed. At present you're soft as pudding and know less of fighting than a rabbit."
Archie scowled. No one had ever before talked to him like this and it made him furious. All the same, he was realising for the first time in his life that what Neil said was perfectly true.
"All right. I'll pay you to train me. How much do you want?"
Neil stiffened. "I'm not a professional. A gentleman doesn't take money to help another."
"Are you a gentleman?" asked Archie in wonder. "I thought you were a beater."
"My name's Neil Forsyth of Pittendirgh," said Neil mildly. "We've been at Pittendirgh for about four hundred years."
Archie looked abashed. "All right," he growled. "I didn't know. When will you start?"
NEIL coming into the breakfast-room at the Lodge next morning, stood and stared. Archie looked up from his kidney and bacon and frowned.
"What's the matter? Don't you like my kit?"
"Fine," Neil answered, grave as a judge but wanting to laugh.
Archie wore khaki shorts, a brown shirt laced up in front, a wonderful green-and-yellow scarf, and tan stockings with green- tasselled gaiters. A cowboy hat with a leather band lay on the chair behind him.
"Fine," repeated Neil, carefully avoiding Mr Chard's eyes, "but you'll need a coat. It'll be cold in the hills." Then he sat down to his own meal.
Trouble began before they started. Archie's new rucksack weighed about thirty pounds.
"You wouldn't carry that five miles," Neil told him, as he turned it out and repacked. He left only brush and comb, pyjamas, a change of underwear, stockings, and spare shoes. Archie was first angry then sulky, but Mr Chard smiled to himself to see that Neil had his way. Just before they left Mr Chard got Neil aside.
"Here's money for the trip, Neil. And when you want more let me know. One thing I must warn you about. There are others besides Archie interested in Glen Tallach. Keep your eyes open."
Neil would have liked to ask what Mr Chard meant, but just then Archie looked in.
"Aren't you coming, Forsyth?" he asked disagreeably. "I thought you were so keen to start."
Neil took a footpath across the hills. For one thing he liked the moor better than the road, but his chief reason was Archie's clothes. He felt certain someone would start making fun of them, and he already knew something of Archie's quick temper. He tramped along quite happily but Archie was scowlingly silent. He was still regretting the pretty things Neil had forced him to leave behind.
They had not taken food with them, and toward twelve Archie growled that he was hungry. So Neil turned down into Farg, a small village in the glen below and went into the post office which was also the village shop. He was buying biscuits and cheese and apples when he heard a row outside, and, dropping his parcels, ran out.
"I'll teach you to make fun of me," Archie was shouting at a big untidy youth of 18 or so who was standing by a shabby two- seater and grinning at him. There was another young fellow in the car.
"I'm not making fun of you. I'm admiring you," replied the big chap. "What's the uniform? The Bootblack's Brigade?"
The insult was too much for Archie. Whatever his faults, he had pluck. He went for his tormentor hammer and tongs. He hadn't a chance. The big chap caught him by the scruff of his neck, swung him up and held him at arm's length like a rabbit. "What shall we do with him, Arthur?" he chuckled to his friend.
Then Neil arrived. "Put him down," he said sharply.
"Why should I?" taunted the other. "I'm going to take him along and sell him to the Zoo."
Neil did not wait to argue. He charged. His bullet head caught the tall fellow just above his belt, and with a surprised "Ouch!" he sat down hard in the road. The other youth sprang up. Before he could get out of the car Neil had dragged Archie up and got back against the wall.
The big fellow was on his feet again. He was very angry and things were looking ugly for the boys when out came the old postmaster.
"Nane o' that," he said sharply. "We'll no have brawling in Farg. Get ye gone, or I'll call the police."
"It's no business of yours," retorted the big chap angrily. "That boy knocked me down."
"And weel ye deserved it," said the postmaster grimly, "Maybe it will teach ye better than to be interfering wi' a lad because he's better dressed than yourself. Noo, are ye going?"
"Come on, Ben," said Arthur urgently. "We don't want trouble."
Ben glared at Neil. "You won't get off so easy next time," he threatened; but Neil was too wise to answer. The precious pair got into their car and drove off.
"Thank you very much," said Neil to the postmaster.
The old chap chuckled.
"It was just bluff," he told them. "There is no police in the village. But I'm thinking the word was enough for them. Yon car's licence was no the right colour. Noo come in and eat your dinner inside. There's gude Scotch beef and potatoes in the oven."
They had a capital meal with the old fellow and his wife and after a rest went on their way. Archie had got over his sulks, and Neil made him talk about India. He was quite interesting. Things went well for a couple of hours, then it clouded up, a cold wind began to blow and down came the rain. Both boys had waterproof capes but their legs got very wet. Archie hated it and began to grouse.
"How far have we to go?" he demanded.
"About five miles to Garrel," Neil told him.
"Five miles in this! Isn't there any place we can stop before we get to Garrel?"
"Afraid not," was Neil's reply, and the rain came down harder than ever.
"This is beastly," snapped Archie. "I was a fool to come." Just then they heard a car coming up behind. To Neil's surprise it pulled up alongside and the driver put his head out.
"Want a lift, boys?"
Archie did not wait to ask Neil.
"Thanks," he said, and scrambled beside the driver. Neil got in behind.
"Where are you going?" asked the driver, who was a thick-set man with sandy hair and a fair moustache.
"Garrel," Archie told him.
"So am I," said the other. "Quite a good inn. Do you know it?"
"I don't know Scotland," said Archie. "I'm from India. My name's Grant."
"Colonel Grant's son?"
"I'm his nephew," said Archie grandly.
"Is that so? I knew the Colonel mighty well, and a fine man he was. My name is Renny."
Neil, sitting behind, frowned thoughtfully. Surely if Renny had known the Colonel so well he must have known he had never married. Somehow he did not quite take to Renny.
With the car running well, it was only ten minutes before they reached the Garrel Hotel, a small place but very comfortable with a good fire in the sitting-room. Renny insisted on their having tea with him, and by the time they had finished their scones and Scotch pancakes the rain had stopped.
Neil would like to have pushed on but Archie had had enough for the first day. So he got a book from Macallum the landlord and put in the time very pleasantly till supper. Archie was talking to Renny. Archie seemed very interested but Neil could not hear what they were talking about.
Supper was at half-past seven. Afterwards Neil went out for a breath of fresh air. When he came in there was no sign of Archie and Renny.
"They've gone for a walk," Macallum told him.
NEIL felt annoyed. There was really no reason. Archie had a perfect right to go for a walk if he wanted to. But Neil did not trust Renny.
The clock struck nine. It was getting dark. He got up and went to the door. Macallum was in the porch.
"Which way did they go?" Neil asked.
"Up the glen," the landlord told him. "They ought to be back by now."
"I'll walk up and meet them," said Neil.
The only road up the glen was the fisherman's path by the river. It was a lovely night without a breath of wind. No moon, but the stars shining in a cloudless sky. The only sound was from the river. Not a roar, for the water was low and the rain had not been enough to raise it—just a low deep murmur, which Neil loved, though he had known the sound all his life. Now and then a rabbit flicked across the path, but nothing else moved. Neil went on and on, yet there was no sign of Archie or his companion. He came to rapids where the river boomed among great boulders. Here the path ran up steeply among big birch trees and, above, the floor of the glen was level and the river wider and more shallow.
Coming out from the shadow of the birches Neil pulled up short. In the distance he saw a red glow like that of a small bonfire. But it could not be a bonfire because it was over the water. He knew exactly what was happening. Poachers were after salmon with torches and spears.
Shine a light on a salmon lying in shallow water and the fish is dazzled and can be speared. "Burning the waters" they call it, and it is, of course, the worst form of poaching and one heavily punished.
"So that explains it," Neil said to himself, "and Renny and Archie are watching." He went on slowly, keeping a very sharp look-out. Which was just as well because presently he spotted a man standing just off the path on a bit of high ground. He was not surprised, for poachers of this sort work in a gang and always put out sentries to warn them against keepers.
Neil left the path and crept up into the heather on the left. In this way he passed the sentry without being spotted and moved cautiously along the hillside toward the scene of action.
Sure enough, there were at least a dozen men at work, most of them in the river. They wore long waders and were moving slowly up the broad pool in line abreast.
It was a picturesque scene lit by the smoky glare of the torches, but Neil did not think of this. He was too angry at this wanton slaughter of spawning fish. Also he was anxious about Archie. If, as he felt sure, Archie was watching, he might so easily get excited and give himself away, then the poachers, who were a hard-looking lot, might handle him roughly.
Crawling through the heather, he gradually got near to the pool where the poachers were working, and while he crept up saw two big salmon snatched. Suddenly he stopped short and, dropping flat behind a rock, lay staring down at the poachers. There seemed something familiar about one of them. At that moment this man, who was wading near the left bank, turned and in the red light of his torch Neil saw his face quite plainly. He was Renny.
Neil could hardly believe his eyes. Renny spearing salmon with this ruffianly gang!
Next minute Neil spotted Archie. He, too, was in the water but very close under the bank. Like Renny, he wore waders and had a spear. But his torch had gone out. That was why Neil had not seen him earlier.
Neil saw now that his first suspicions of Renny had been correct. The whole thing must have been planned. Renny had picked them up on purpose and had arranged the whole business in order to get Archie and himself into trouble. This fish-spearing was just the sort of thing that would appeal to Archie's romantic but foolish mind. Neil suddenly remembered Mr Chard's warning. There are others besides Archie interested in Glen Tallach. Keep your eyes open. And now, before they were a day out, he had failed to keep his eyes open and had tumbled into trouble.
He had to get Archie away but the question was how. It would not do to wait. If keepers turned up the first to be charged would be the wretched Archie.
The nearer he got to Archie the stronger was the light from the torches. He did not see how he could come close enough to speak to him without being seen. Then one of the men near the right bank speared a very big fish. He tried to lift it but couldn't. In his struggle he dropped his torch. Two other men moved over to help him and one stepped into a hole and went in over his head. His heavy waders pulled him down and a third man had to help him.
Now there was no one very close to Archie, and Neil took his chance.
"Archie!" he whispered urgently.
Archie, who was watching the rescue, heard him and turned.
"You, Forsyth?" he said sharply.
"Don't talk so loudly. Come out at once, Night poaching is a prison job."
"Then that pig Renny—" began Archie indignantly.
Neil reached over and pulled him in under the tree, but the damage was done. Archie had spoken so loudly that the nearest man had heard. He swung round, lifting his torch so that the light fell on Neil.
"Yon's a spy!" he cried harshly, and came plunging toward the two boys.
NEIL seized Archie and dragged him up on the bank.
"Come on, we've got to run for it."
"I can't. These waders," gasped Archie.
Neil fairly groaned. For the moment he had forgotten the waders, great things weighing five pounds apiece and strapped over Archie's shoulders.
The poacher came striding up out of the water. He was a fierce-eyed, red-bearded giant. "Aye, it's a spy," he bellowed, as he dropped his spear and grasped Neil with his mighty fist.
"Thraw him in! Droon him!" came angry voices.
"I'm no spy," returned Neil boldly.
"Ye'd say that," retorted the giant harshly, and, thrusting the lower end of his torch into the soft soil, picked up Neil as easily as if he had been a baby.
"He's not a spy," cried Archie, and caught the big man's left arm with both hands. "He came to meet me."
"And hoo did he get past yon guard?" demanded the big poacher. "Likely you're a spy, too."
"Nothing of the sort. Ask Mr Renny," returned Archie, with a spirit which surprised Neil. Then he spoiled it all. "Don't you dare lay hands on us. You'll suffer for it if you do."
There was a laugh at this.
"Mebbe he's the King o' Scotland," jeered one. "Thraw him in, Gibbie."
But Gibbie, the giant, hesitated.
"Whaur's Renny? We'll need to get to the bottom of this."
A sharp whistle rang through the still air.
"It's Andy," muttered one of the poachers. "The police!"
"Aye; the police," growled Gibbie. "I kenned I was richt." With one swing he hurled Neil out into the pool, then stooped, seized Archie and sent hint flying after. Neil, who swam like a fish, came up in a moment, quite unhurt, to see Gibbie and the others plunging away down the path. Then he saw men racing down the hill and heard loud shouts.
He turned to look for Archie, but Archie was not there, and Neil's blood ran colder than the water around him. The torches were gone except Gibbie's and it was pretty dark. It came to Neil with a shock of horror that Archie must have been thrown against a rock, been stunned and sunk. Then he caught a glimpse of something white farther out. A splash of foam. He got his feet down, for the water was only about three feet deep, struggled across and grabbed something. It was Archie.
"Are you hurt?" Neil asked anxiously, but got no reply. He dragged Archie to the bank and laid him down. Archie had swallowed more water than was good for him but he was not really much the worse, He sputtered and gulped.
"Where's that big brute who threw me in?" were his first words.
"A mile away. I say, can you walk? The keepers will be here in two-twos."
It was less than that, for, as Neil spoke, a powerful young fellow in rough tweeds came crashing down the bank.
"Here's two of them," he exclaimed and seized Neil.
"Steady on!" said Neil. "We're not poachers."
Gibbie's torch which he had stuck in the ground was still burning. By its light Neil saw the look on the young keeper's face.
"That's a lee," said the man flatly. "Look to his waders," pointing at Archie.
"Let me explain," said Neil, trying to speak calmly; but Archie spoiled it.
"I was humbugged into it," he said angrily.
"Aye, I've heard yon tale before," returned the keeper, with a sneering laugh. "Ye can tell it to the Justices in the morn," he added significantly.
Neil felt desperate. If he and Archie were run in there was no help for them. He and Archie would be sent to prison and then what would Mr Chard say? He made a last effort.
"Indeed, it's all a mistake!" he said.
"We two are on a walking tour—"
"Aye," broke in the other. "And the next walking ye do will be in the prison yard. Come on, noo. I've no time to waste wi' your blethering." Holding Neil with one big hand and Archie with the other, he hauled them up the bank to the path.
Archie lost his temper. "You'll hear more of this," he stormed. "You'll get the sack."
"And ye will get a cuff on the heid if ye don't stop your noise," said the keeper.
Neil said no more. He was feeling positively sick. Not a day away from home, and up to their necks in trouble.
By the birch grove, where the path dipped, an older man was standing, holding a flash lamp. He had a prisoner, but his face was bleeding and his coat torn.
"So ye have a pair of the beauties, Jock," he said with grim satisfaction. Then as he saw them more plainly, "Why, they're only lads," he added.
"Aye, but both were in the watter and one's wearing waders."
"It was Renny gave me the waders. He told me it was his water," shrieked Archie.
Neil paid no attention to him. He was staring at the elder keeper. "It's Hugh Lachlan," he exclaimed sharply.
Lachlan turned his flash on Neil.
"Young Mr Forsyth!" he replied, in an equally astonished voice. "And what is it you are doing in our river?"
"All I've done in the river was to pull Archie Grant out," Neil answered. "As he's trying to tell you, he was humbugged into it. If you'll listen a minute I'll tell you the whole thing."
"Aye, I'll listen," said Lachlan grimly. Neil told him exactly what had happened. The only thing he did not explain was Renny's probable motive in getting him and Archie into trouble.
"Weel," he said at last. "I'm no thinking a Forsyth would lee. But I'll need to hear what Macallum has to say. Jock, take ye charge of this mon and I'll go doon to the hotel."
Neil drew a deep breath of relief. He was pulled out of as ugly a fix as he had ever fallen into, but he shivered to think what might have happened except for his luck in meeting a keeper who knew him.
"IF ever I meet Renny again I'll give him a lesson," growled Archie, as he and Neil were strapping on their rucksacks before starting next morning.
"Don't worry," Neil answered dryly. "You'll meet him all right."
Neil had been thinking. After all, why not tell Archie just where he stood. It might do him good. "Come on," he said. "I'll explain as we go."
Macallum was waiting to say goodbye. "If you see Renny again I wish you'd let me know," he said. "The fellow sneaked off without paying his bill."
"I'll let you know," promised Neil. He shook hands and was off.
"Now listen to me, Archie," he said, as they rounded the first corner. "I believe that Renny is in with your cousin Duncan Mackay, and that between them they're trying to queer your pitch."
Archie's face went rather white.
"You mean it was a plant to get me into a row with Mr Chard?"
"I can't prove it, but that is exactly what I do mean," Neil told him.
Archie stopped and stamped, "The brute! I never heard of such a thing. He ought to be half killed!"
Neil chuckled. "So you'll have someone else to lick besides me, Grant," he said.
Archie sobered suddenly.
"Yes, but don't you think you're going to get off, Forsyth." He paused. "All the same, I'm obliged to you for pulling me out last night."
Neil was pleased. Archie might be all sorts of a fool, yet the stuff was there and would come out with proper treatment. He turned off the road through a gate.
"Going over the moor?" asked Archie.
"Yes, there's a short cut by the pass over Ben Harran. A bit of a climb, but good for your wind. And I know a jolly place, a sort of hollow, where we can lunch."
Archie grumbled but came, and soon the two were tramping up a path leading along the side of a tumbling mountain burn.
This was real deer forest arid wild, lovely country. Not a house in sight. To the right towered the enormous bulk of Ben Harran, to the left was a deep glen. The hillsides were purple with heather and here and there scattered birch trees clung to the precipitous slopes.
The path became steeper and Archie began to puff. Neil let him go slowly. As they gained height the air grew keener, but the sun was warm. It was a perfect day. Neil stopped again and pointed upward. A great bird, a good six feet from wing tip to wing tip, was soaring overhead.
"A golden eagle," he told Archie. "We may see ptarmigan on the tops."
The path led round a shoulder of the mountain. To the left the rocks dropped away in a tremendous slope, almost a precipice. Hundreds of feet below the burn shone like a thread of silver.
"Here's the place I told you about, where we'll stop for lunch."
Long—long ago a cloudburst must have broken on Ben Harran, and its force had scooped a great cavity in the mountainside. Its flat floor was now a beautiful green turf, while the rocky sides formed a complete protection from the chill breeze. A spring broke from under the cliff forming a rivulet which trickled across the path and seeped away down the steep descent.
"Not bad," agreed Archie as he flung himself down. "My word, I'm tired!"
"It will be all downhill this afternoon," Neil comforted him, and set to getting the lunch out of their haversacks. Macallum had given them tongue sandwiches, scones and butter, and some most excellent jam puffs packed in a cardboard box.
"Not a bad feed," admitted Archie, as he bit into a sandwich. The sandwiches vanished like magic, the two had got to the jam puffs when a shadow fell across them.
"Hae ye a bannock to spare?" came a whining voice.
Neil, looking up sharply, saw a tall, gaunt man standing over them. His skin was burned brown as an Arab's, his hair was long, black and greasy, and it was clear that he had not shaved for some time. Neither had he washed. His hands were like talons, the long finger-nails black as ink. Neil knew in an instant what he was—a tinkler, one of those Scottish gipsies who prowl about the Highlands, and live by peddling and thieving. This was the worst specimen Neil had ever seen.
Archie was glaring at the man. He was evidently on the point of ordering him off. That would be dangerous. The fellow was big enough and ugly enough to make serious trouble. Neil gave Archie a quick, sharp look and Archie saw it and had sense enough to keep quiet.
"We haven't much left," said Neil to the man, "but you're welcome to a bannock." He handed one over and the man wolfed it in two bites. Neil gave him the last one, and that went too.
"Hae ye ony tobacco?" was the tinkler's next question.
"No," said Neil. "We don't smoke."
"Then gie me a few coppers to buy some," whined the man.
Neil did not a bit like the look in his deep-set eyes, and this was about as lonely a place as any in Scotland. But he did not want trouble. He put his hand into the pocket of his flannel shorts and fished out some pennies. Unfortunately there was a half-crown among the coppers.
"I'll tak the siller," growled the man, and grabbed the half- crown.
Archie was boiling already and this was altogether too much for him.
"No you don't, you thief!" he shouted, and springing up went for the tinkler. He tried to snatch the half-crown away, but with a back swing of his long left arm the tinkler knocked him spinning.
"And I'll have the rest noo," he snarled as he turned on Neil.
Neil know he would have no chance at all once in the grip of this big brute. He darted away. The tinkler came after him with long strides. Neil made for the opening toward the path. Alone he could probably have outrun the tinkler, but there was Archie to think of. The best thing seemed to him to be to draw the tinkler away down the path and give Archie a chance to recover.
The luck was against Neil. As he raced through the opening, going all out, he put his foot on a loose stone and stumbled to his knees. He was not hurt, but before he could get to his feet again the tinkler was on him, and he felt the man's great horrible hands clutch him by the shoulders. The fellow caught him a clout on the head that half stunned him. "That will learn ye to try to rin awa," he growled. "Noo gie me all ye have and be sharp aboot it."
NEIL had nearly ten pounds about him, money that Mr Chard had given him for the trip. He was not going to lose this without a struggle. He felt he could not break loose from the tinkler's hold and he did not try to; what he did was to kick out backwards. The heel of his heavy brogue caught the tinkler on the shin, and with a cry of pain he let go.
But only for a moment. Before Neil could get clear the man managed to grasp him again with one long arm. Neil struggled desperately but it was no use. And now the tinkler was so angry that Neil felt a nasty little chill of fear creep down his spine. The tinkler flung him flat on his face and held him.
"I'll hae all ye got and your clothes too," he told him. "And gin ye dinna keep quiet it'll be waur still for ye."
Neil kept quiet. It was no use being beaten as well as robbed. He felt the man's hand in the breast-pocket of his jacket. The tinkler pulled out the wallet that held the notes, and he heard him gasp with delighted amazement as he counted the money.
"Nine pounds!" he muttered. "Who wad think a bairn wad hae all this money?"
"Let him up, you beastly thief!"
It was Archie's voice ringing with indignation, and next instant Archie had flung himself on the tinkler's back. Archie was no mean weight and the unexpected shock sent the tinkler sprawling. Neil slipped out from under and sprang to his feet. The tinkler, too, was up almost instantly and went for Archie.
Neil was worse scared than ever. The tinkler was in a fury, and Neil felt sure he would hurt Archie badly. He did not think that even the two of them had a ghost of a chance in a fight with this half-savage fellow, but he had to do what he could. As the tinkler turned on Archie Neil caught him from behind by one leg and jerked with all his might. The natural result was that the tinkler pitched forward on to the ground. The tinkler's head struck a hard patch and the shock stunned him.
"Well done, Neil!" cried Archie, hopping about in high delight. "That's finished him."
"You didn't do so badly, yourself," Neil admitted, as he picked up his wallet and the notes and thrust them back into his pocket. Then he looked at the big tinkler. "He's only stunned. He'll come round in a minute or two. Strikes me we'd better skip out before he does or there'll be the very dickens to pay. The fellow will be mad as a hornet."
"Let's tie him up," suggested Archie.
"What with? Besides, if we did, what would happen to him? He'd simply lie here and starve."
"And serve him jolly well right."
"Perhaps, but you can't do things like that. Let's clear."
They were quite near the top of the pass and the path was fairly level for a bit before it began to drop. The boys went at a jog-trot and hoped they had seen the last of the tinkler. They were mistaken. They had not gone a quarter of a mile before a yell pealed out behind them and here was the man running after them, his long legs striding over the ground at a terrible pace.
"I told you we ought to have tied him," panted Archie. Neil looked back over his shoulder. The tinkler was gaining fast.
"Sprint, Archie," he said briefly. He saw that if they kept to the path the tinkler was bound to catch them, and this time it would be worse than robbery. If they were to escape they had to try something else but just running. Luckily Neil had been over this mountain before. A possible means of escape came to him.
"Archie, how's your head?" he asked swiftly. "I mean, can you stand heights?"
"I don't know. I've never tried."
"You've got to try now. It's our only chance. Follow me." He turned and scrambled up the bank to the right of the pass. It was very steep but there was plenty of heather to hang on to. The tinkler saw and shouted in triumph. He thought he had them.
Neil had to help Archie, who was puffing like a grampus. Somehow he hauled him up and they gained the top, some 50 feet above the pass. The tinkler started after, but when Neil picked up a big stone in both hands and sent it crashing down the bank the long fellow leaped back in a hurry and took shelter behind a rock.
"Fine!" panted Archie. "We've stopped him now."
"Don't think it. All he has to do is to go back a bit and climb up after us. No, what we've done is to gain a little time, and that's what I wanted. Now we must run again."
"I can't run much," Archie owned.
"You've got to try. That fellow will be nasty if he catches us."
The ground was fairly level but was covered with clumps of heather and thick, coarse grass. There were gullies every few yards where the black peat lay deep and sticky. These Neil jumped, but Archie was beyond jumping and could only plunge through knee deep.
There was mist up here near the top of the mountain and it was getting thicker every minute. Archie got slower and slower. He was doing his best, but was too soft for this sort of thing. There came a great bellow out of the mist behind them.
"He's seen us," panted Archie.
"No, but he's found our tracks," Neil answered. "One more sprint, Archie. I've found what I was looking for. Now keep quite close to me and do just as I do."
Archie hadn't the faintest idea what Neil was talking about, but ho did as he was told. All of a sudden he stopped in horror. "Look out!" he gasped. "There's a thundering great precipice just to the right of us."
"And another to the left," Neil answered calmly. "This is what they call the Seventy Steps."
"The Seventy Steps," echoed Archie in a strangled whisper.
"Yes, because it's just seventy paces across. It's a ridge which connects up with a lower peak of the mountain, and it's pretty narrow in the middle. But if we can get across it the tinkler won't follow us. Are you game, Archie?"
All the bluff and swagger were gone from Archie. He stood looking down into the misty depths and said nothing.
Just then came a fresh shout. There was a thud of heavy boots pounding through the heather. Archie shivered. "I'll try," he said, in a very small voice.
"KEEP quite close to me. Hang on to me, if you like," said Neil, and the whole tone of his voice had changed. He spoke gently, encouragingly. "And don't look down if you can help it. Now for it." He began to walk forward very slowly and quietly, and Archie, setting his teeth, followed.
It was bad enough where the drop was to be seen on one side only, but after a few steps Archie realised that there was just as big a drop on the other. He found himself walking along the top of a rock ridge not more than a yard wide, rough and uneven, with precipices falling away to left and right. The mist swirled past in grey, ghostly veils carried by a chill breeze. He remembered what Neil had said about not looking down, and fixed his eyes on the middle of Neil's back. Neil walked on with absolute confidence, but Archie, in spite of the cold wind, was sweating with terror.
The ridge grew narrower. In spite of himself Archie could not help looking down. The coiling mists hid the bottom, but through them he saw the vague shape of dark rock pinnacles at an immense depth. His head began to spin, and his fingers tightened convulsively on Neil's coat.
Neil stopped. "You've been looking down, Archie."
"I c-couldn't help it. N-Neil, I-I'm going to fall."
"Sit down," Neil ordered curtly. "Like me—one leg each side." Archie did so. "Feeling better? That's right. Now—don't—look—down! Keep your eyes on the back of my head, and hotch along behind me."
"Come back or I'll stone ye," came a furious shout from the tinkler, who had at last spotted them.
Neil laughed. "Don't worry, Archie. He'll have to go a long way to find stones. And he's funking it. You're doing something he's scared to do. Think of that!"
The idea cheered Archie immensely, and though he was still in a blue fright he kept his eyes on Neil's back and copied each movement. The narrowest part only lasted for a few yards, then the crag widened again. Another few moments and the boys were able to get to their feet again; a few steps more and there was turf beneath their shoes. Archie dropped and lay breathing hard.
"I wouldn't do that again for anything you could offer me," he said hoarsely.
Neil clapped him on the shoulder.
"You did fine, Archie. And I'll bet you sixpence that in a month's time you'll run across there."
"I don't believe it," Archie answered. "I was never so scared in my life." He scrambled up again. "We'd better shove along or that chap'll be after us again."
"You don't need to worry about him," Neil told him. "It would take him the best part of two hours to get round here, and then the odds are he'd lose himself in the mist. You can take it just as easily as you like, Archie."
Neil started down the hill, but the way took a lot of finding for the mist thickened and the hillside was steep and rough. They came to a corrie with sides so steep they could not climb down into it, and they had to go a long way to find a way across.
Neil grew a little anxious. Though he had told Archie that there was no danger of meeting the tinkler again in his heart he was not so sure. The money that he carried was a fortune to the tinkler, and Neil knew the man would strain every nerve to catch them again before they reached the village in the glen below.
Neil reasoned that he would wait for them somewhere near the foot of the pass, and decided to keep off the path altogether. It meant climbing along a hillside so steep that in many places they had to hang on to rocks and tufts of heather to keep from sliding down.
Neil heaved a sigh of relief when they came below the mountain mist and saw Darragh beneath them. It was past teatime when they came to the door of the Athol Arms and Archie could hardly put one foot in front of the other. A bath and a good tea did him good, but after tea he lay in an armchair in the sitting-room with his eyes closed. Neil chucked softly.
"He won't go poaching tonight. That's one thing sure," he said to himself. Then he sat down to write to Mr Chard and tell him that so far all was well. He wrote a second letter to his mother.
"Archie isn't half a bad chap (he wrote). He and I are getting on first-rate. I'm quite looking forward to our stay at Garinish. Won't it be fine if Mr Chard takes me into his works? I'll be off your hands and Dad's for good."
The fog had come down in earnest when Neil went out to post his letters. It was a regular Scotch mist, thick and wetting. Lights from the windows shone dimly through the smother. The post-office was at the other end of the village, but Neil found it easily, slipped his two letters through the slot and started back. The street was deserted. It was no night for anyone to be out. The hotel stood on rising ground, and the road ran up through a plantation of beech trees. Just as he reached the foot of the slope Neil heard footsteps behind him. The person who made them was walking very cautiously. Neil glanced round but the mist was so thick he could see nothing.
Suddenly he remembered that he still had his money about him. Quick as a flash he pulled himself up to the top of the stone wall bordering the road and dropped softly among the dead leaves the far side.
Someone was coming up along the footpath. But it was not the tinkler; this man was shorter and squarer. Neil could not see his face. The man stopped.
"I'm certain I saw him," he growled to himself. "Where's he gone?"
Neil ducked down and stood, bent double, hardly breathing. For the voice was that of Renny.
NEIL dropped down below the wall. It was pitch dark there and he felt sure he could not be seen.
But the next moment came the flash of a torch and by its light he saw Renny's head above the wall. It was no good trying to hide any longer and Neil jumped up. He felt rather a fool.
"I knew you were there," said Renny coolly. "No need to be scared of me, Forsyth."
"It wasn't you I was scared of," returned Neil curtly. "It was someone much more dangerous."
Renny laughed. "In that case you might as well come over. I want to have a talk with you."
"That's more than I do," Neil answered.
Renny merely laughed again. "I can't force you to talk, Forsyth; all the same, you'll find it much better to have a few words with me."
On second thoughts Neil decided that perhaps the man was right. At any rate, he himself would know where he stood. He vaulted to the top of the wall and dropped lightly down. "What have you got to say?" he asked bluntly.
"We can't talk here," said Renny. "Will you come to my place? I'm in rooms. You needn't be nervous," he added, as Neil hesitated, "my landlady is a respectable old lady, by name Mrs Mackinnon. The house is in the middle of the street."
Neil did not trust Renny an inch, but he knew he was speaking the truth.
"All right," he said briefly, and the two started back down the street. Renny stopped at the door of a decent-looking house, unlocked it, and took Neil into a room on the left. It was small but very clean and tidy, and a good fire was burning in the grate.
"What made you play that dirty trick on Grant and myself?" demanded Neil.
The question was abrupt, even rude, but Neil, who was no fool, noticed that the ruder he was the better Renny seemed to like it. The man bothered him. Renny was well dressed, seemed well educated, and had a sense of humour.
"My notion was to get Archibald Grant into prison."
Neil stared. It was just what he had suspected, but he had never dreamed of Renny confessing like this.
"Listen to me," Renny went on. "Archie Grant is no good, and never will be. It would be plumb crazy to let him own a place like Glen Tallach. Anyway, he's younger than Colonel Grant's other nephew, Duncan Mackay, and Duncan's worth ten of him. I'm Duncan's cousin on his father's side and I'm all for Duncan being the heir."
Neil cut in. "It's Mr Chard you ought to be talking to, not me."
"I've talked to Chard. It wasn't a mite of use. He didn't like Duncan's father." He paused and looked hard at Neil. "You're a straight fellow, Forsyth. The reason I got you here tonight was to tell you the facts. I know the job Chard gave you. You're to take Archie on a walking tour and see what you can make of him. I tell you plainly you won't make anything of him. You're just wasting your time."
Neil was on the point of telling Renny he was talking nonsense but he restrained himself. He wanted to know more.
"I've taken the job. I'm well paid for it. It's up to me to see if I can do it," he answered quietly.
Renny was gazing at him again, and his eyes were sharp as a weasel's.
"I don't know what Chard is paying you, but I'll give you double as much if you'll give up and go home. No, wait," he went on quickly, as he saw the anger in Neil's face. "You can go on and finish your tramp, only when you get back you must report to Chard that Grant is a hopeless case. That will be no more than the truth, anyway."
Neil was boiling. "Suppose I tell, you that I don't consider it hopeless. Suppose I say that I think there's jolly good stuff in Archie Grant. What then, Mr Renny?"
Renny shrugged. "Then I should tell you that you are going to be proved wrong. I like you, Forsyth, and I'd rather have you on our side than against us. But it doesn't really matter. Nothing you can do will make any difference. No," he went on, "don't say anything more now. Go back and sleep on it, and in the morning send me a note as to what you decide."
Neil was furious to think that anyone could believe he would be guilty of such treachery. His first impulse was to turn on Renny and tell him exactly what he thought of him and his precious proposal. Instead, he looked down so that Renny should not see his blazing eyes.
"All right," he said gruffly. "I'll think it over. But, mind you, I still believe in Archie Grant. You'll have to prove to me that Mackay is the better man of the two."
"That'll be easy," said Renny, and Neil caught relief in his voice. "I'll fix it for you to meet him. Good-night." He opened the door and Neil went out into the fog.
At first he was so angry that he could hardly think, but as his head cleared he felt very grateful that he had managed to keep his temper. For the moment he had fooled Renny, and this gave him time to do something. Before he reached the hotel he had decided what to do. And the first thing he did was to have a short talk with the landlord.
Archie was still dozing in his chair by the fire. He roused as Neil came into the room.
"I thought you were never coming back," he complained. "I want to go to bed."
"You'd best go at once," Neil told him. "We have to be up at five. We've got to clear out. I've ordered a car. We're driving to Pitlochry to take the train."
"I thought this was a walking tour," said Archie.
"You'll get all the walking you want before we've finished. One easy day won't hurt you."
"Easy—when we've got to get up at five!" groaned Archie. Yet, to Neil's surprise, that was all he said.
EARLY next morning Archie and Neil sat on the platform at Pitlochry Station waiting for the train from Perth.
"But you're not going to fool Renny this way," said Archie sourly. "The driver is sure to tell him we came here and took the train for Blair Athol."
"That's exactly what I want him to do. Only we aren't going to Blair. Athol. We're going right up to Inverness."
"To see the monster in Loch Ness?" asked Archie sarcastically.
"If you like. Here's the notion, Archie. Inverness is a big place; lots of people and no one will notice us specially. We'll slip off the train quietly, go to some outfitting shop and get a change of clothes. Then we start afresh. I think it will take Renny all his time to find us again."
Archie pursed his lips. "The best thing we could do would be to go straight back to Glen Tallach. I'm fed up with messing about the country." His face had a sullen, dogged expression. He was in one of his worst moods.
"That's exactly what Renny is hoping you'll do," Neil said quietly.
"Gives him a chance to tell Mr Chard you're a slacker."
"He doesn't know anything about the reason for this crazy tramp," retorted Archie. "I tell you I'm fed up. I'm going home."
"Then I was right," sneered Neil. "You are a funk."
Archie swung round. His fists were clenched, his face crimson. "I'll teach you to call me a funk."
At that very moment the train came thundering in.
"I'm going on," said Neil coldly. "You can find your own way back."
Archie bit his lip. "I'm coming if it's only for the pleasure of licking you. And I'll give you double for this."
Neil smothered a grin as he followed Archie into a third-class carriage. Archie dropped into a corner and sat sulking until a waiter came along and asked if they would have breakfast. Then he woke up. "I'm hungry," he growled.
"So am I," agreed Neil. "Let's go and get something to eat."
Bacon and eggs and hot coffee made a lot of difference to Archie's outlook, and when they reached Inverness he was almost cheerful. Neil took him off into the town and found a cheap shop of the sort he had been looking for. Then came another struggle, for at first Archie flatly refused to part with his wonderful khaki outfit, and it took Neil all his time and tact to persuade him that it was necessary.
At last Neil got him into a suit of plain grey flannels, for which he had to pay two pounds, and the shopman agreed to post the khaki suit back to Glen Tallach.
They went into a restaurant and had lunch, then started off by the road leading west to Beauly. Neil felt happier when they were clear of the town. He did not think Renny would track them very easily.
They found a little hotel in which to spend the night and for the next three days kept going steadily westward. Twice a passing motorist gave them a lift, so that about six on the fourth evening they saw the lodge of Garinish standing on a hillside above a small loch.
"And here's our tent," exclaimed Neil, pointing.
"Good job too," replied Archie gruffly. "I'm all in."
"You've walked 20 miles today," said Neil. "You couldn't have done that a week ago."
"Another week and I'll give you that licking," remarked Archie; but Neil only laughed and led the way down to the loch shore where the tent was pitched. Drummond, the man whom Mr Chard had employed to establish the camp, had done his work well. The tent was on a patch of level ground close to a tiny burn; a ditch had been dug all round the tent to keep the water from running in if it rained, and there were good guy ropes to hold it if it blew. Inside were two cots with blankets, two folding-chairs, a folding-table and an oil stove. There was a big case of groceries, a bag of potatoes, a drum of oil, a kettle, two sauce- pans and a frying-pan, besides the necessary crockery.
"Every single thing we want," said Neil, looking round very pleased.
"Except a cook," returned Archie. "Who's going to cook for us?"
"You for one."
"Me!" exclaimed Archie, in a tone of horror.
"Yes; and to start you can fetch a bucket of water from the burn while I fill and light the stove."
Archie scowled but obeyed.
Neil had the stove going in short order. He peeled potatoes, cut them in thin slices and fried them with bacon. He made a big pot of tea and opened a tin of peaches.
"You cook rather well," said Archie condescendingly, as he finished the last of his bacon.
"Any ass can fry bacon," Neil answered. "Making bread's another job."
"But surely we can buy bread," exclaimed Archie.
"Yes, if you want to walk 15 miles to Mulzie. That's the nearest town, shop, or post office. We're pretty well off the map here."
Archie's face was a picture of dismay.
"What a place! I'm not going to stay here, Neil."
"All right. Go ahead," said Neil.
"Oh, I'll stay tonight. I'm tired. I'm turning in at once."
"Got to wash up, tidy the place, and make our beds first."
Archie went sulky again, but Neil insisted, Archie's fingers were all thumbs. Luckily the plates were of enamelled iron so he couldn't break them, but Neil realised more plainly than ever how helpless the fellow was and what a job it was going to be to teach him anything useful. It was not that Archie was lazy; he thought it beneath his dignity to wash dishes. He grew sullen, and if he had not been so tired there would have been trouble. But he really was done, and Neil let him off lightly.
Neil himself was quite ready for bed and was not long after Archie in turning in. For a little while he lay on his cot, enjoying the peace and quiet of this lonely beautiful place. The only sound was the faint tinkle of the burn tumbling down among its pebbles to the loch. It was a most soothing sound and soon he was deep in dreamless sleep.
When Neil woke the sun had risen. Archie was still asleep so Neil got up, took a towel, and went down to the loch which lay, a sheet of golden glass, in the dawn calm. The water was cold but deliciously bracing. He swam a few strokes, came out, towelled himself well and went back to the tent to dress. He got into his shorts and shirt, then turned to light the stove. But his matchbox was in his jacket pocket, and he picked up the jacket which he had left hanging on the chair by his cot. The matchbox was there but something else was missing. His wallet was gone. Neil hunted round on the floor, then went outside and began hunting around.
Five minutes later he was back in the tent and shaking Archie awake.
"Someone's been here in the night and stolen my wallet, Archie."
"Your money, you mean? Nonsense! You've dropped it."
"I haven't. A man slipped in here while we were asleep and sneaked it. I've found his tracks in the soft ground by the burn."
"IT couldn't have been the tinker," said Archie.
Neil shook his head. "I'm afraid it's Renny."
"Renny!" replied Archie sharply. "How could he have trailed us?"
"I can't say for certain. He may have a spy among the servants at Glen Tallach. Anyhow, the damage is done and we're left here without a penny. What's worse, the fellow, whoever he is, may come again and steal our food."
"He won't. We'll be watching for him next time." Archie paused a moment, then went on. "But what's it matter? You said there were no shops nearer than Mulzie, and we have plenty of grub and stuff here."
"That's the way to talk, Archie," Neil declared. "And of course you're right. We don't want any money for the moment. But we shall when we start back."
Archie nodded. "We'll have to write to Mr Chard for some."
Neil laughed rather bitterly. "We haven't even the price of a postage stamp."
"I've a wrist watch. We can raise something on that."
"Stout fellow!" cried Neil. "That's what we will do. Do you feel like walking into Mulzie today?"
"And back! That's about thirty miles. No, thanks. I've a blister on my right heel and I'm going to take it easy till that's cured. Besides, if we both leave the tent this brute may come back and smash up everything."
"I don't think he will," said Neil. "There's no place he could stay anywhere near here. Anyway, it needn't stop us from having breakfast. Go and take a dip in the loch, Archie. I'll fix up some food." He lit the stove and put on bacon and eggs. There was bread for a day or two; later he would make scones.
Archie came back, shivering. He vowed he did not see how anyone could bathe in water as cold as that. Bacon and eggs and hot coffee made him more cheerful, and while they ate they talked. Archie's heel was pretty sore, so Neil said he would leave him at the camp while he himself went and told Drummond the keeper what had happened.
When Neil reached Drummond's cottage, which was at the top of the loch, he found it locked up, so he came back and tried to follow the trail by himself. He tracked the thief as far as the road, but there lost the marks. More than a mile beyond the spot where he had first struck the road he reached a damp patch, and there he found them again. The thief had gone back east, and as it was no use following him Neil returned to camp, to find Archie lying on his cot, very bored.
"Nothing to do," he grumbled. "How I'm going to stand it till I can walk I don't know."
"If you can't walk you can row. We'll go fishing," Neil told him. Drummond had left a boat for them, and after lunch they went out. But though the weather was fine very few trout were rising.
"Change coming," Neil said, but he did not for a moment realise what sort of weather the next day had in store. They got four fish in all and Neil grilled them for supper. Afterwards Neil said that he thought he had better go to Mulzie next day and send a letter to Mr Chard asking for some more money.
Archie scowled. "And I've got to stay here, alone, all day."
"You can fish and there are some books. I'll fix up lunch before I start."
That night nothing disturbed them, and morning dawned still and very warm. Neil was ready to start at seven. It was a hilly road and it would take a good four hours each way. It was strangely hot for this northern country and ominous-looking thunder clouds were rising over the mountains behind him.
"I'll get to Mulzie before it breaks," said Neil to himself, and started off again. It was hotter than ever; not a breath of air moving. He had covered another two miles when he heard the first peal of thunder.
Almost the whole sky was black and the sea away to the right looked like a sheet of lead. Neil looked round for shelter but all he could see was a small wood to the left, and that was no place in a thunderstorm.
"It'll cool me down anyhow," he remarked grimly, as he realised he was in for a ducking. The storm was coming up behind him and the darkness increased every minute. Presently it was split by a jagged fork of fire and this time the thunder was like a great roll of drums.
Then came a fresh sound, a low roar, and, looking back once more, Neil saw the blue-black cloud turning into a grey sheet which swept across hill and valley with the speed of an aeroplane. It was rain driven by a mighty wind. Neil spotted a biggish rock on the hillside below the road. He raced for it, reached it and flung himself down on the lee. Next instant the storm struck, and he crouched, blinded and almost deafened by the rush and the roar of it.
Never had Neil known such rain. Inside five minutes the whole hillside was laced with torrents. Lightning blazed and glared all round. A birch tree not a hundred yards below was struck and blown up; nothing but a ragged stump was left.
Neil was soaked to the skin. The temperature dropped many degrees and soon his teeth were chattering with cold. The fury of the storm lasted about half an hour, then it passed, but still the rain poured down. Neil clambered back to the road and tramped on toward Mulzie. At any rate, he would not be quite so cold walking.
The road led down into another glen, and as he came near the bottom of the long hill he heard a hoarse, ominous roar; but the rain was like a fog, and it was not until he was quite close that he saw the flood.
A small burn usually running ankle deep had been changed into a thundering torrent, which had swept away the bridge. Some broken timbers still swung in the rushing brown foam, but it was only too plain that there would be no crossing today. Bitterly disappointed, he turned and started on the long tramp back to Garinish.
IT was late when Neil woke next morning.
Archie was still asleep. Through the open flap Neil could see the water of the loch gleaming in bright sunshine. A strong breeze was blowing and the air was fresh and bracing.
A couple of oyster catchers were standing on the lake shore. Pretty birds, and Neil, who loved wild things, watched them with pleasure. All of a sudden they took flight.
"Now what frightened them?" Neil asked himself. It occurred to him that Drummond might be coming to pay a call and, getting up, he went to the opening.
A man was coming, but it was not Drummond. Neil knew Drummond, who was a tall, rangy fellow, but this man was thick-set, black- haired, and had a harsh, unpleasant expression. Yet he had the look of a keeper and carried a gun.
Neil stepped out.
"Good-morning," he said pleasantly. Instead of answering his greeting the man came up and, stopping in front of him, looked him up and down in a most offensive way.
"Are you Neil Forsyth?" he asked in a harsh voice.
"That is my name. Who are you? And why are you trespassing here?"
The man laughed. The sound was rather like the bark of an angry dog.
"Trespassing!" he sneered. "My name's Maciver, and I'm in charge here."
By this time Neil was fairly boiling, yet he managed to hold himself in.
"Drummond is keeper here," he answered curtly. "I never heard of you."
"Drummond is in hospital and will no' be back for a month. I am keeper while he's awa'."
Neil was getting very near the end of his patience.
"In that case you know that we have leave to camp here, and that you have no right to be rude to us," he answered curtly.
Maciver laughed again.
"And have ye a right to rob the lodge?" he asked brutally.
The accusation was so unexpected, so utterly astonishing, that for a moment Neil could not find words to answer.
"Aye, ye thought I wouldn't find out," Maciver sneered.
"I think you must be out of your mind. I've been up to the lodge, but not inside it."
"Ye waited ootside while he went in," said Maciver, jerking his thumb toward Archie, who had been roused by the voices and was now standing behind Neil.
Neil turned. "Have you been inside the lodge, Archie?"
One of Archie's virtues was that he wouldn't tell a lie.
"Yes, I was in there yesterday," he answered. "When that storm came up I thought the tent would blow away, so I ran up to the lodge. I meant to take shelter in an outbuilding, but I found a back window unlatched and went inside and waited till the thunder was over. Any reason why I shouldn't?" he added.
"This man seems to think something has been stolen," Neil said scornfully.
"It's no' thinking," snapped Maciver. "I ken just what's been taken."
"Are you accusing me of stealing?" demanded Archie. His face had gone quite white and his eyes were blazing dangerously.
"Steady, Archie!" Neil said warningly. "No use losing your temper. This man Maciver doesn't know us any more than we know him. He says Drummond is in hospital and that he has taken his place. If something has been stolen, I suppose he has a right to make inquiries, though there's no need for him to be so unpleasant about it."
Maciver's face went almost black.
"A right to make inquiries!" he shouted. "I'd think I had, and I'll do it too! Stand aside; I'm going to search your tent!"
Archie sprang. He was almost crazy. Neil caught him just in time to stop him flinging himself on Maciver.
"Stop it, Archie," he panted, for it was all he could do to hold him. "Let the fellow search, and afterwards perhaps he'll have the decency to apologise."
Maciver pushed roughly past into the tent and began turning things over. He looked in the grocery case and threw everything out. Finding nothing there, he pulled the clothes off Neil's cot; then he tried Archie's bed, which was close against the canvas of the tent.
Suddenly he stood up and stretched out his right hand. In it he held a small silver salver. He pointed to it with the other hand.
"The laird's arms. Noo, what have ye to say?"
Neil stared, He simply could not believe his eyes. Archie was the first to recover.
"Say! Why, that you hid it there yourself, you blackguard!"
Maciver's lips twisted in a bitter sneer.
"Aye, and brought it here in my trouser pocket, ye will be saying."
Neil pulled himself together.
"No, you didn't do that. I saw you find it under the mattress. But Mr Grant did not steal it. Someone took it and put it there to spite us. Probably the same man who robbed us of our money."
"Robbed ye of your money?" questioned Maciver, with ominous softness.
"Yes; came in when we were asleep and took all we had."
"Aye, and that's why ye had to steal to get money for your needs."
Too late Neil saw the trap into which he had fallen, but he was not going to give in.
"Don't be a fool," he said curtly. "We have only to write to Mr Chard, who is Mr Grant's guardian, to have all the money we want."
"I'd believe that when I'd heard it from Mr Chard. Anyways, ye can tell it to the baillie at Mulzie, and we will hear what he has to say aboot it."
"You mean you're going to take us all the way to Mulzie on this ridiculous charge?" said Neil sharply.
"Aye, that will be just what I do mean. Ye can dress and come with me at once."
"You'll have a job to get us there," said Neil coolly. "The bridge over the Carron burn is down."
"We'll no need to cross any bridge," said the man grimly. "I'm taking ye by boat."
Archie burst out again.
"Neil, are you going to let this fellow lug us all the way to Mulzie on this trumped-up charge? It's all a plant. I don't believe he's a keeper at all. Most likely he's the same man who stole our money."
Maciver's great fist balled. Neil sprang between him and Archie.
"None of that!" he cried, in a tone of such sharp command that the big keeper took a step backwards. "What Mr Grant says sounds reasonable to me," Neil went on. "Have you any papers to prove you are Drummond's successor?"
"So that's your game, is it?" jeered Maciver. He put his hand in his breast-pocket and pulled out some papers. He chose a letter and handed it to Neil. "Mebbe that will convince ye," he said. Neil looked at it.
"Seems all right, but I wish Drummond were here instead of you. He would know better than to suspect us of burgling."
"Aye, mebbe ye could fool him. Ye can't fool me. Noo get your clothes on, and be sharp."
IT was about a mile down to the sea and only one of the three did any real talking on the way. This was Archie.
Maciver had forced the boys to come away without breakfast—at least, without giving them time to cook, and that had hit Archie almost harder than the accusation of theft. He was so furious that Neil was afraid every minute he would go for Maciver or that Maciver would lose patience at Archie's taunts and thrash him.
It had been blowing briskly when Neil woke. Down at the landing-place the wind was stronger and the waters of the Garnoch Forth were running in white caps. Neil looked at the boat, an 18- foot open craft. She carried mainsail and foresail, had an outboard motor, and seemed sound. She would stand it all right in the Firth, but the wind was south-west and they had to face the open sea once they were outside. Maciver saw Neil's doubtful look.
"Ye needna be scared," he sneered. "I can handle her."
Maciver made the boys get in and sit amidships. Then he got in himself and cast off. The tide was running out, which, of course, made the sea worse, for the wind was over it. But a small point of rock gave them shelter, and Maciver got up the sails and set to beat down toward the mouth.
The moment they were clear of the point they began to catch it, and spray dashed over the boat, wetting them all. Neil watched Maciver and saw that he did seem capable of handling the boat. But the wind was strengthening all the time, and the boat lay over dangerously.
"You'll need a reef," Neil said in a high, clear voice.
"Mind your ain business and I'll mind the boat," retorted Maciver sourly.
Neil waited a little. Then a fresh gust rushed up, tearing the spray from the wave crests and the boat lay down so that the water lipped the gunwale and poured over it. Neil picked up an oar.
"If you want to be drowned, Maciver, we don't. Run her in behind that next point and reef down the mainsail."
Maciver's face worked and his eyes narrowed dangerously, but he was helpless, for he could not let go either of the tiller or the sheet. He ran the boat into smoother water behind a point of rock, and Neil helped to lace down the reef points. In this way the size of the sail was lessened, and when they ran out again into the open the boat stood up to it better.
But the motion was tremendous, and Archie, who was not accustomed to this sort of thing, was dreadfully sick. He crouched cold, wet, and miserable, and soon became speechless. Neil himself did not suffer from sea-sickness, but he grew more and more angry. Neither he nor Archie was dressed for a trip of this sort.
Things became worse when they reached the mouth of the Firth and turned south. Here a real sea was running, and the small boat pitched and tossed in terrifying fashion. The wind was dead against them, so that they had to make long tacks and actually sail at least three miles for every mile they gained in the right direction. Neil saw that, at the very best, they would take five hours to reach Mulzie, even if nothing went wrong.
He looked at Archie. Archie's lips were blue and his face was dead white. He was huddled in the bottom of the boat, too ill to care what happened. Neil turned to Maciver.
"You're simply killing Mr Grant," he shouted. He had to shout to make himself heard above the roar of wind and sea.
"I didn't make the weather," retorted Maciver.
"You'd no business to take us out in this," Neil answered. "Have you petrol?"
"Aye; but what's it to do wi' you?"
"This—that you'd better start up the engine. Without it we'll be beating to and fro here all day and Mr Grant will probably get pneumonia before we reach Mulzie. If he's harmed I give you my word Scotland won't be big enough to hold you."
Neil spoke with a quiet force that impressed Maciver. He scowled, but he was a bit frightened. Even his thick head could take in the fact that Archie was in a bad way. Besides, the wind was strengthening all the time, and he was seaman enough to realise that this boat was not big enough to stand the seas if they got any worse. He tacked again and ran for shelter close in to the coast. The coast was broken with long points of rock, and, reaching quieter water in the lee of one of these points, he lowered the sails and started up his motor.
"What power have you?" Neil asked.
"She's three and a half," Maciver answered sulkily.
"Not much to buck this sea," Neil remarked. "If you had any sense you'd run back to Garnoch and wait for better weather."
"Ye know a lot aboot it," sneered the other, as he steered out into the open again.
It was worse than ever now. The little boat was driving straight into the short, steep seas, and the tops splashed into her. Within a very few minutes there were several inches of water in the bottom.
"Bale!" cried Maciver.
"Bale yourself," retorted Neil. "It's no business of mine!"
Maciver could not bale. It was taking him all his time to handle the boat. Neil knew that as well as he did, but by this time Neil was so thoroughly roused that he was ready to risk anything.
"If ye don't bale we'll all droon!" cried Maciver.
"I'll bale if you'll put back," Neil answered doggedly.
Maciver bit his lip. A bigger wave than any yet broke over them, and left six inches of water sloshing in the bottom. Still Neil sat perfectly still. His lips were set firmly.
"Bale!" roared Maciver. "I'll turn her." He put the helm up and the boat came round. As she turned another wave broke over her, and now Neil began to bale like mad, for it was clear that one more of the same sort would sink her.
It was no use making for the point they had just left, for there was no landing-place there—nothing but rocks. Neil thought that Maciver meant to run back to the Firth.
With the gale behind the boat travelled fast, yet hardly fast enough to escape the seas that roared up astern. And Neil knew that if one of the waves caught them and broke over the stern the boat would sink like a stone.
The little engine chugged away steadily, and in the next half- hour they covered as much distance in a direct line as they had in the long tacks of the two previous hours. The mouth of the Firth was opening up, Neil was beginning to feel a degree more cheerful when the engine-beat stopped.
NEIL did the only thing possible. He dropped his bailer and sprang forward to hoist the foresail. Before he could get it up the boat was half full of water. As the sail came up and the wind filled it the boat began to move again, but sluggishly because of her water-logged condition. Neil snatched up his bailer and began flinging out the water with desperate energy.
Every gallon flung out made a difference; Maciver steered skilfully, and once more a gleam of hope came into Neil's heart. He glanced round and saw they were running for the mouth of the Firth. But now the tide was nearly out and the waves were breaking terribly on the bar. Neil's spirits sank again, for he did not see how they could possibly weather through.
Almost before he knew it they were in the surf, and the wave tops leaping like white spires on every side. The roar was deafening. Neil bailed desperately. He could not even look to see what was happening but it seemed to him they were winning through. He felt the boat rise beneath him and swirl forward.
As she dropped again there was a terrible shock. He heard her timbers splintering beneath him and knew that she had struck. He made a wild grab at Archie and next moment found himself swimming.
Luckily for him, Archie was so far gone that he was almost insensible. He did not struggle, and Neil, a fine swimmer, was able to hold him while he looked round for the shore. To his intense relief it was not far away and he struck out toward a beach of yellow sand.
In calm water Neil would have thought little of the swim, but these short breaking waves made it terribly difficult to keep his own and Archie's head above water. Also he was dog tired with his long spell of baling. Yet he fought on steadily and presently was able to get his feet down. A minute later he had dragged Archie up on the beach, and the first thing he did was to turn and look for Maciver.
Something dark was flung up on a wave top just inside the bar. It dropped into a trough, rose again and Neil saw it was Maciver clinging to something, probably an oar. He did not seem to be making any attempt to swim.
Neil hesitated. He was nearly done, and for the moment it seemed to him unreasonable that he should have to risk his life again for the man whose stupid obstinacy had led them into all this trouble. Maciver was flung up again on another wave. Neil saw him throw up one arm in a despairing gesture. Clearly the man could not swim.
"Got to do it," he muttered, as he plunged once more into the waves. The tide was full ebb and there was practically no stream running. Neil reached Maciver pretty easily. He found he had managed to get both oars and was hanging on to them, but his face was ghastly.
Neil caught the end of the oars and began the struggle back to the beach.
It took the last ounce of his strength to drag Maciver clear of the water. Then he himself dropped on the wet sand and lay panting for breath. Steps close by made him open his eves and he looked up to see an elderly man with a grey beard standing over him.
"Mon, I saw ye and it was fine," the old chap said breathlessly. "I cam as soon as I could but I was awa on the hill above and I canna run fast. Are ye bad hurt?"
"I'm all right," Neil whispered hoarsely. "Look after the others. Archie, the boy—he's bad."
The old fellow, who was evidently a crofter, turned to examine the others. Neil tried to sit up but he was weak as a child. The old man came back to him.
"The lad's well enough but the mon's hurt bad. Rib's broke, I'm thinking. Gin ye can wait I'll go get my bit cart and carry ye up to the cot." He hurried off, and after a bit Neil managed to struggle up. Archie's eyes were open and he stared up at Neil with a dazed look. "I—I thought we were all drowned," he muttered.
"We came precious close to it," Neil told him. "But it's all right. There's a crofter's hut just above the beach and the old lad's gone to get a cart."
"Hope he'll be quick. I'm jolly near frozen. Where's Maciver?"
Neil pointed. "He's pretty bad," he whispered.
"Serve him right." said Archie viciously.
"Wait and I'll have a look at him," Neil said. He still felt shaky but he was tough as whipcord and was rapidly recovering.
Maciver lay flat on his back. He seemed only half conscious and was groaning.
"What's the matter?" Neil asked.
Maciver opened his eyes. "My side," he said hoarsely.
"You'll be all right," Neil comforted him. "A man's coming to take us up to his house."
The old crofter came up with a two-wheeled cart drawn by an ancient horse. A young fellow of about 20 was with him. Between them they lifted Maciver and laid him on the straw which filled the bed of the cart. Then Archie was helped in. Neil declared he would walk.
On the way up Neil told the old man, whose name was Donald Herries, about the wreck. Of course he did not speak of the reason for their trip.
Herries's house was just two rooms with a lean-to kitchen behind and an attic above. A poor little place, yet everything beautifully clean and neat, and a big fire of driftwood burning on the hearth. While Herries and his son put Maciver to bed Mrs Herries looked after the boys. She made them strip off their soaked things and put on some clothes of her son Malcolm. Then she set them by the fire and made them drink great glasses of hot milk.
Malcolm came out of the other room "Yon Maciver is michty ill, Mother," he said. "I'm riding for the doctor."
"I'll hae supper for ye when ye come back," was all his mother said.
Presently old Herries himself came out and his face looked grave. "Maciver's asking for you, Master Forsyth."
"Is he very bad?" Neil asked.
Herries shook his grey head. "I doot he's dying," he said, and his words gave Neil an ugly shock.
Neil went softly into the bedroom. Maciver lay with his eyes closed. His heavy face had a nasty leaden colour. In spite of all he had suffered at this man's hands Neil felt profoundly sorry for him. Maciver opened his eyes and Neil saw that all the spite and viciousness had gone out of them.
"I couldna dee wioot seeing ye first, Mr Forsyth," the man said slowly. "Ye pulled me oot at the risk of your ain life, and I'm no ungrateful. I'm wanting to tell ye it was all a put-up job. Mr Grant did na steal that piece of siller. I hid it there my ain self. I—I'm sorry and shamed—" His voice died suddenly, his eyes closed.
Neil ran to the door. "Mr Herries, he's dying," he called sharply.
MACIVER was not dying. He had fainted.
Herries got him round, and early in the afternoon Dr Ruthven arrived.
"Three ribs broken and he has internal injuries," was his verdict, and he told Herries that next day he would send an ambulance and have Maciver taken to the infirmary at Mulzie. He asked how Maciver had been hurt and Neil told him.
"You say he was taking you to Mulzie in an open boat in weather like this," the doctor said sharply. "Why the man must have been crazy."
"I told him so," Neil answered.
"What possessed you to go with him, boy?" demanded Ruthven.
Neil looked at the doctor and saw that he was a strong-faced, sensible man.
"I'd like to tell you, sir, but I want you to promise it won't go any farther."
"I'm not making any promises," returned the other curtly.
"Will you take me to Mulzie, sir, in your car? I want to telephone to Mr Chard, who is at Glen Tallach in Perthshire. If he will give me leave I can tell you the whole tiling."
Ruthven stared at Neil. Seemingly he liked what he saw.
"Very good. I'll take you in and you can come back with the ambulance tomorrow—that is, if you want to come back."
"I must come back. Grant and I are camping at Garinish."
"Then there can't be much wrong with you. All right, Forsyth. I'm going straight back."
Neil explained things to Archie, and for once Archie made no objection. The fact was he was still feeling pretty limp after his experiences of the morning. All he wanted was to loaf.
Neil enjoyed his drive. Dr Ruthven was good company, liked the same sort of things that Neil did and talked about them. He offered him a bed for the night in his own house, and Neil gratefully accepted. The doctor was a bachelor, but had a first- class housekeeper, and the tea that awaited them was Scotland's best.
Afterwards Ruthven had to go out again, but he told Neil to use his telephone.
Neil was lucky enough to catch Mr Chard at home, and quickly told him what had happened. He heard the lawyer grunt, then laugh.
"You have certainly had your share of adventures, Neil," he said. "So far you have done very well, and I hope you can keep it up. The money will be all right. I will telegraph the bank at Mulzie to let you draw what you want. I suggest you take ten pounds to begin with. Then tomorrow you can go back to your camp at Garinish. I will let Mr Anderson know about this fellow Maciver, and ask him to put in a decent man while Drummond is away. If Renny tries any fresh tricks it may be necessary for you to take Archie elsewhere. In any case, I am giving you a free hand."
"Thanks," said Neil; "and do you mind if I tell Dr Ruthven?"
Mr Chard laughed again.
"I've told you I'm giving you a free hand. Doctors are a safe sort of people, so tell him if you like. All I ask is that you keep out of the hands of policemen and people of that sort. I don't want Archie's name or mine in the papers. Goodbye."
"It's all right," said Neil, when the doctor came back. "Mr Chard says I can tell you."
"How Maciver humbugged you," said Ruthven shrewdly.
"That's just about the size of it," agreed Neil. "You see, he had accused Archie of burgling the lodge at Garinish." As he explained about the finding of the silver salver in the tent Ruthven's face darkened.
"Maciver ought to be in prison," he said.
Neil shook his head. "Mr Chard doesn't want anything like that. It would bring Duncan in too and there'd be a scandal."
"All right, Neil. I won't say anything yet, but if Renny tries any more tricks I shall take a hand. Now for supper."
Neil enjoyed his night at Mulzie, and felt all the better for it. He got back to the Herries's cottage quite early next day.
"Did you get the money?" was Archie's first question.
"Yes, and brought some bread and biscuits and stuff."
"To eat," said Neil mildly.
"You're not going back to that camp?" cried Archie.
"Plain, isn't it?" retorted Archie. "Now that Renny knows we're at Garinish it would be simply silly to stay there. He's probably burned our tent by this time."
Neil looked thoughtful.
"I don't think he'd dare do that. But I'll go and have a look. You see, Archie, we've nowhere else to stay. We can't expect these people to put us up in their tiny little place."
Archie showed more sense than usual.
"I suppose not. I'll come with you to Garinish, but if the camp is bust up we'll have to come back here."
It was only a couple of miles to Garinish, and when they topped the slope above the loch the first thing they saw was their tent looking just as usual.
It was just as Maciver had left it—everything topsy- turvy. Neil set to work to tidy up and Archie looked on. In India native servants had done everything for him, and Neil almost despaired of teaching him anything useful. They had bread and cheese and fruit for lunch, and went out fishing.
Neil tried to teach Archie to cast a fly, but Archie was dreadfully clumsy. He got his line tangled, he snapped the flies off the cast, but at last, more by luck than skill, he did hook a nice trout and land it. Then he got quite keen, and it was nearly dusk when the two returned to the tent.
Neil cleaned some trout and started to grill them.
"Give me the salt, Archie," he said.
Archie handed him the tin in which they kept their salt. Neil tried to shake some on the fish but it wouldn't come out.
"Why, it's all wet!" he exclaimed.
"And so's the sugar!" cried Archie.
Struck with a horrible suspicion, Neil opened the tea-caddy. The tea was soaking, so was the flour. All the groceries were dripping wet. Even the tins of fruit had been punched full of holes.
"I told you," growled Archie.
Neil's eyes narrowed. "All right, Master Renny," he said in a queer, hard sort of voice. "You're on top for the minute, but you won't stay there. I'll beat you if it takes me a year."
DR RUTHVEN looked at Neil and there was a twinkle in his keen grey eyes.
"A sort of Puss in the Corner game," he said. "But you're right. If you want to do anything with Archie you must take him to some place where this precious Renny can't find him or you. Have you any ideas on the subject?"
"I thought of Loftholm, sir."
The other nodded.
"I know. It's that little island about five miles off Skye. Not a bad place if you can slip off there without being spotted. But is there any house on it?"
"There are the two lighthouse men," Neil told him. "No one else, so far as I know. But there's fresh water and it ought to be a good place to camp. Then it's so small that we could easily spot a boat coming from any direction."
"Except at night."
"One lighthouse man is always on duty. He would warn us."
"So he would. It's a good idea, Neil. The next question is how to get there without being seen. It's quite clear that Renny has a spy watching you."
"Yes, the same fellow who sneaked in and spoiled all our groceries yesterday. I only wish I could spot him."
"I wish you could. You'd better remember that he is almost certain to know you are in Mulzie today."
"I thought of that, sir. I planned it out this way. Old Herries told me of a man called Gault who has a motor-boat for hire and would take us over to Loftholm Island."
"I know him," put in Ruthven.
"Well," said Neil, "I didn't like to go straight to him for fear I should be seen by Renny's spy. So I thought, sir, that perhaps you would go and arrange about the boat while I did a bit of shopping."
Ruthven nodded again.
"Good idea; but I need not go there at all. Gault has the telephone at his place and you can give your instructions from here. The question is, how are you going to leave without Renny finding out where you've gone?"
"I've thought of that," Neil answered. "My notion is to have the launch sent up at night to the Firth. Herries and his son will be at Garinish before daylight and take our tent and things down in their cart. We shall get aboard and be off before dawn."
"That's as good a scheme as any," Ruthven agreed. "How about stores? All yours, you say, have been spoiled."
"I shall buy them here and have them sent up in the launch."
"Won't they see you buying them?"
"They may, but the spy, whoever he is, doesn't know we are leaving Garinish. Archie's there now."
"And what does Archie say?"
Neil grinned. "I haven't told him too much, sir. I believe he thinks that Loftholm is about as big as Skye."
The doctor chuckled.
"He won't like it when he gets there."
"I don't suppose he will," agreed Neil. "Luckily he's still keen on giving me that licking he has promised me so often."
"He's a queer lad, but if anyone can make a man of him you will, Neil. Now go and telephone. I have my surgery to attend. Afterwards I'll drive you back."
Neil thanked him gratefully and went to the telephone.
Gault said he had a good launch and agreed to do exactly as Neil asked him. He would send the boat up to the Firth that same night and be waiting at four in the morning opposite Herries's house. The stores would be aboard. The charge would be four pounds. Neil agreed, hung up and went out to buy food. He ordered enough to last a month, and he also bought some sea-fishing tackle.
Ruthven gave him tea and drove him back up the coast road as far as Herries's place, and after a few words with old Herries Neil walked back to the camp. He had been a bit nervous of leaving Archie alone there, but Archie told him that he had not seen a soul all day but that he had caught two trout. Neil had brought some bread-and-butter with him, and a small packet of tea, so the two had quite a good supper.
Neil had already told Archie his plan for leaving the mainland, and now he explained what he had done about the move. Archie was so keen on getting ahead of Renny that he made no objections.
They turned in early and seemed to have hardly got to sleep before Herries roused them. Archie complained bitterly but no one paid any attention. Down came the tent, and in a very short time everything was on the cart.
It was a fine night but very dark. Neil was pleased because it would be all the harder for Renny's spies to see the move. Old Herries, who was in the secret, said he was certain no one had been watching.
When they reached the beach Herries whistled, and at once a small light showed and the launch came softly up to the fiat rock which was used as a landing-stage.
"Have you my groceries?" asked Neil.
"Aye. Two cases," was the gruff reply. "Put your goods aboard quick. The tide's nigh oot and we'll be aground if we're not awa' soon."
The two Herries and Neil made short work of the loading, then Neil gave the old man a pound note for his trouble and shook hands with him and his son. The boys scrambled aboard, the engine started up, and they drove away across the dark water.
"Fine!" said Neil. "I fancy we've left our friend guessing this time."
"Hope so, anyhow," growled Archie. "How far have we to go?"
"About twenty miles. Do it in two hours. Tell you what, Archie. You lie down in the cabin and take a nap. It's flat calm here, but there might be a little motion outside. If you're asleep you won't notice it."
Archie obeyed with unusual meekness, and Neil sat on deck and watched the pink dawn break over the hills.
For the first time for days he felt at peace. The gentle motion was very soothing, and presently he leaned back against the deck-house and slept. A voice roused him. "That'll do. He's safe enough now."
Neil opened his eyes and looked up into a pair of greenish eyes which belonged to a man with a very freckled face, a snub nose, and a very wide and very thin-lipped mouth. This man had just finished tying Neil's arms to his sides. He had already knotted a stout cord round Neil's ankles. Neil looked at the cords and he looked at the man.
"What's the game?" he asked sharply.
"Game!" repeated the man, and gave a cackling laugh. He raised his voice. "Dugald, he thinks it's a game."
NEIL had a queer dazed feeling. He knew something was wrong, but for the moment could not realise just what. It seemed absurd to think that this launch he had hired so secretly could be in the hands of his enemies.
"It's a game all right," came a voice from the steering-wheel, the same voice that Neil had heard when he and Archie first came aboard. It had been too dark then to see the speaker but now he was in full sight, a fat man with a dirty face and greasy black hair. "A mighty fine game for us, Jupp."
Neil pulled himself together. "Perhaps you'll explain it," he said sharply.
"Plenty of time for that," jeered Jupp. "Sit still and be good and maybe you'll hear about it."
Neil bit his lip. It was in his mind to shout for Archie, yet he knew that was no use. They had probably tied Archie up first. Jupp stood over Neil with a taunting grin on his thin lips.
"Kind of you to go to sleep. Made it nice and easy for us." He chuckled again, and Neil thought he had seldom heard so nasty a sound. "You're a smart lad, young Forsyth, but not quite so smart as you think yourself. I've been one jump ahead of you the whole time."
Neil knew the brute was just trying to draw him, so kept his mouth shut and refused to say a word.
"Sulky, eh?" sneered Jupp, and, muttering, he turned away.
Neil tried to collect his thoughts. It was plain that he and Archie had been trapped by some of Kenny's people, but how he could not imagine. In some way his plan for getting away had leaked out and this fellow Jupp had probably substituted another launch for the one he had ordered.
Neil began to work his hands in an effort to get free, but it did not take long to convince him that this was out of the question.
The launch ploughed on steadily across the sunlit sea and the mainland faded. Neil wondered where they were going. He had done some sailing on the west coast but never been so far west as this. He wished he could see what was ahead of them.
Another hour passed. Neil was hungry and thirsty but there was no sign of Jupp. Nor could he hear anything from Archie. He dared not call out to him. Then quite suddenly the engine was cut off and the launch glided silently between two walls of rock. Curious rock, for it was very dark and looked as hard and sharp as glass. The cliffs rose dark and desolate from black water. The man Jupp sprang forward and threw out a rope fender.
"Back her a bit, Dugald," he called, and Dugald started the engine afresh and the reversed screw stopped the way of the launch. Presently she came quietly to rest alongside a sort of natural rock pier and Jupp tied her up. Then he came to where Neil was lying. "Here's where you get off, young feller," he said.
"What is this place?" Neil asked.
"Well, it ain't Loftholm," jeered the other.
"I can see that. I asked what it was."
"If you want to know, it's called Calpay. And it's a mighty long way from anywhere. Now are you going to get off or have Dugald and I to throw you off?"
Neil looked at the man and saw it was not the slightest use appealing to him for justice, let alone mercy.
"How long are we to stay here?" he asked.
"That's one thing I can't tell you. The boss knows. I reckon he'll take you off some day. One thing's sure. No one else will."
Neil's heart sank but he still kept a brave front. "You're landing our stores?"
"Aye, but only if you go quiet. You kick up a bobbery, and we leave you to fend for yourselves. But you ain't answered my question. Are you going ashore quiet if I take them ropes off you?"
"We haven't much choice," Neil said bitterly.
"Which same is a true fact," remarked Jupp. "All right, I'll cut you loose."
He did so, and at the same time Dugald came out of the deckhouse, dragging Archie.
"What's this mean?" shouted Archie, as he caught sight of Neil. "When I woke up I found this fellow had tied me up and gagged me. What's it mean?"
"It means that we're in Renny's hands," Neil told him. "These are Renny's men and this one has just told me that they are marooning us on this island."
Archie's face was scarlet. It was the first time in his life he had been handled in this fashion, and he was almost beside himself. He made a sudden violent struggle to get free, but Dugald kicked his legs from under him and he came down with a thump on the deck.
"That'll learn him," Jupp jeered. "Now then, off you go."
Neil helped Archie up.
"Keep quiet," he whispered in his ear. "We can't do anything, and they won't land our things for us if we try to fight them."
Archie did not say a word. The fact was he was in such a passion he was beyond speech. Neil got him ashore and Jupp and Dugald threw their things out after them. Threw them so roughly that one case split and some of its contents fell into the sea. Neil was busy salvaging what he could when he saw Jupp casting off.
"Our tent," he cried. "You haven't put it ashore."
"Can't wait any longer," returned Jupp. "Tide's falling. There's caves you can live in." He leaned over the rail. "Enjoy yourselves," he said spitefully. Then the launch swung round and drove out to sea.
ARCHIE turned on Neil. "This is your doing," he said fiercely.
Neil saw that it was no time to argue. "It looks that way," he admitted quietly. "But how they got on to our plan I can't imagine."
"And you let them tie you up?" sneered Archie. "A fine chap, you are."
Neil kept his temper.
"I was asleep," was all he said.
"You'd no business to be asleep," stormed Archie. "Now how are we going to get away from this beastly rock?"
"We can't get away," said Neil patiently. "We have to stay until Renny takes us off."
"Renny takes us off!" Archie was fairly foaming. "If we've got to wait for that we shall be here the rest of our lives."
"Then we'd better start to make ourselves comfortable," replied Neil.
"I'm not going to do a thing," retorted Archie. "You got me into this hole, it's up to you to get me out."
Neil's lip twitched. He had an intense desire to turn on Archie and give him the hammering he needed. But Neil had a wonderful command of his temper and in a few seconds had hold of himself again. Without another word he turned away and began climbing the steep rock slope.
It was so steep that he had to scramble, but about twenty feet up he found a ledge along which it was possible to walk. It was very narrow and in one place he had to squeeze round a corner with his face to the cliff and a sheer drop behind into deep water. Beyond this corner the ledge was wider, and there was a deep recess in the cliff face.
At the inner end of this recess Neil found a small cave about twelve feet deep, eight wide and six high. The rough floor was covered with loose stones, but at the far end was a small pool of clear water. Neil tasted it and found it fresh and sweet. He noticed that the pool overflowed and that a tiny runnel seeped away through a crack in the floor of the cave.
"It's a spring," he said to himself. "This is a bit of luck."
The first thing Neil did was to clear the floor of the cave of stones and pile them in a wall to keep off the wind. Then he went back to the landing. Archie was sitting hunched on a rock with his chin on his hands, staring out to sea with a queer set expression on his face. Neil took no notice of him, but gathering the bedding started back up the cliff. As he came down for a second load Archie got up.
"We can't stay here. We've got to get back," he cried wildly. "I hate this place. It scares me."
Neil went up and stood quite close to him.
"How far can you swim, Archie?" he asked quietly.
"What do you mean? I can't swim. You know that as well as I do."
"Look at that sea," Neil said. "Thirty miles of it. Even if you could swim like Captain Webb you couldn't get back to Scotland. We have to stay here until someone comes for us. Get that into your head."
"They'll never come for us," cried Archie. "We shall die on this beastly rock."
"Why should we die? We have food. I've found fresh water and a cave where we can sleep. And as for no one coming for us, you can be jolly sure that Mr Chard will start looking for us when he finds we're not on Loftholm."
"He'll never find out. He'll think I stole that stuff from Garinish. He'll leave me here."
"You've forgotten Ruthven," Neil said.
"What good can he do? He doesn't know what's happened."
"No, but I told him we were going to Loftholm. When we don't come back he'll begin to ask questions. He'll write or phone to Mr Chard, and they will start looking for us."
He spoke so cheerily that Archie began at last to share a little of his confidence. Neil turned to the broken case.
"Let's have some grub. Then we'll fix up our cave. Then we'll explore the island."
Archie groaned, but Neil was glad to see that he was losing that nasty dazed look.
"I am hungry," Archie allowed.
"All right," said Neil briskly and picked up the kettle. "I'll get some water. You open a tin of biscuits and one of sardines." He went back to the cave and got water.
Hot tea and sandwiches of biscuits and sardines did them good, and afterwards Neil took Archie to the cave. Archie balked at the corner.
"I can't get by there," he cried in a fright.
"It's quite easy really," said Neil, and showed him how to manage.
"Have we got to pass that corner every time we go to the cave?" Archie asked in dismay.
"It may come in jolly useful to keep other people out," Neil told him, "but all the same I think I can make it a bit easier." He got a big stone and with this knocked off some of the projecting angles of rock. "Now we'll fetch our stuff up," he went on.
They carried all their things to the cave and made the place as comfortable as they could, then Neil suggested they should explore the island.
They went along the ledge to the west of the cave and Neil found a gully up which he could scramble. But it was too much for Archie.
"I'm no monkey," he said sourly, so Neil went on alone and after a long but not hard climb reached the top about 300 feet above the sea. Here were some five acres of fairly level ground covered with turf, plenty of sea birds, and Neil was pleased to see a few rabbits.
Neil stood on the highest point and looked round. Far to the west land was visible but not the mainland. He thought it might be Tiree. To the north he could also see a loom of land, Barra, perhaps, but he could not be certain. His heart sank as he thought of the fiendish ingenuity of Renny in choosing a place like this, a mere rock out in the Atlantic. It did not look as if anyone ever visited the place. There was nothing to bring them. At present, though it was a fine summer day, there was not a vessel in sight.
But Neil was never one to give way to despair. They had water, food, and shelter. The next thing to find was fuel. Their small drum of oil would not last long. He saw that there was a strip of beach at the western end of the island, and started down toward it. The slope was not so steep on this side and he got down easily. He was rejoiced to find masses of driftwood wedged in clefts in the rocks. All sorts of stuff. He collected a bundle of short pieces and carried them back to the cave, where he found Archie stretched out lazily, munching biscuits.
"Thought you were never coming back," Archie said crossly. "And what's all that wood for?"
"Fire," Nell told him. "And, Archie, you'll have to go slow with those biscuits."
"Can't I have some lunch if I want it?"
"Of course, but we have only food for a month at most, and we may be here longer than that."
"Do you mean we're going to starve?" asked Archie, going rather white.
"Starve—nonsense! There are rabbits here and fish."
"We haven't a gun or a rod. How are we going to get them?"
"I have sea tackle, As for the rabbits we'll snare them. I'm going to try for some fish now. Come on down."
Using mussels wrenched from the rocks as bait, Neil dropped his leaded hook off the end of the point and quickly got a bite. Up came a coal fish weighing a couple of pounds, and in half an hour he had as much fish as they could eat.
"We shan't starve anyhow," he said with much satisfaction. "Now let's go back and cook supper."
Neil filleted the fish and fried them, and they made a good meal and turned in early. Tired out, Neil was sleeping like the dead when Archie shook him awake.
"There's someone here," he said in a voice that quivered with excitement. "I heard a dog bark."
NEIL rolled out of his blankets and, without even waiting to put on his shoes, went out of the cave on to the ledge.
It was very dark and still. He stood listening, his ear straining for any sound.
"I can't hear a thing," he said in a low voice. "Can you?"
"Not now. But it was a dog. It barked twice. I heard it as plainly as I ever heard anything in my life."
"That sounds as if he was on a boat, but what would a boat be doing under these cliffs in the dark and without a light? How far off do you think it was, Archie?"
"I don't know. Not very far. The sound was quite clear. Let's shout."
They shouted for all they were worth and their voices echoed along the cliffs. But there was no reply. Neil went back into the cave, got his torch and shone it. The small ray was lost in the immense gloom and showed nothing. It was chilly outside here, and Neil got Archie back into the cave where they sat, wrapped in blankets.
"There might be a dog somewhere on the island," said Neil, "off a wreck, or left by someone who had landed there. There are rabbits, and it could have lived by catching them. I can't believe the bark you heard came from a vessel because no seaman in his senses would come messing about here by night. The sea's a mass of rocks."
"I don't know," said Archie despondently. "You may be right. All I know is that it was a dog."
The result of all this excitement was that they were late up next morning. Neil was glad to see that it was a bright day, but there was a strong breeze blowing, and the surf against the cliff flung up great spouts of spray. When they had had breakfast and tidied things he suggested they should start to look for the dog.
"Up that beastly cliff?" groaned Archie, but he was so keen that he made no real objection and, with a little help from Neil, went up very well. When they got to the top Archie was disappointed.
"There's no place here for a dog to live."
"No, this is where he would hunt rabbits," Neil said. "He'd live in some cave or hole on the slopes."
"Have you been all round?"
"No; I haven't looked at the south side. Let's go over."
Archie got to the edge first.
"Don't go too near!" he cried, drawing back quickly. "It's all hollow."
Neil came up cautiously, then went down on his stomach and crawled to the rim of the cliff.
"You're right," he said in a surprised voice. "There's a big overhang. Archie, get hold of my ankles. I want to look over. Lie flat and you can easily hold me."
Archie was scared, but he did as Neil told him and lay flat on the turf, grasping Neil's ankles with desperate force. Neil wriggled forward till he got his head and shoulders right over the edge.
"All right," he said presently. "Pull back."
Archie looked rather white as he scrambled to his feet, but Neil's eyes shone with excitement.
"It's the rummiest place I ever saw. The cliff goes right back a tremendous way. I looked straight down into deep water quite behind those two big pinnacles of rock. And, Archie, I could just see part of something that looked like a ship."
"A ship! Then that's what the dog was on."
Neil shook his head. "No. It's a wreck."
"Couldn't she have been wrecked after we heard the dog?"
"Impossible! That was the other side of the island, and the wind, remember, was north-west. Of course, the dog might have come from her when she was wrecked. A dog swims well, and might have got ashore when everyone else was drowned."
"It was a dog I heard," insisted Archie.
Neil stood frowning. He was evidently thinking hard.
"I'm wondering if there's any way of getting to that wreck," he said slowly. "There might be all sorts of stuff aboard that was useful to us. There might even be a boat."
"A boat!" gasped Archie. "And we could get away in it. I say, what a sell for Renny!"
"It would be," Neil answered with a sudden chuckle! "But don't count your chickens too soon, Archie, for quite honestly I don't see how we're going to get anywhere near this wreck."
Archie's face fell. "No. We should want a lot of rope. It must be about 300 feet down to the sea."
"Yes, and if we had a rope and one of us did get down how would he ever get back again?"
Archie frowned. "We haven't a rope, so it's no good thinking of it."
"I don't know. We might do it without a rope."
"You're crazy," said Archie.
"See here," Neil went on. "I'm going to work along the rocks and try to get round the corner. If I do I may be able to see into that cave and find out what the wreck is."
Archie looked at the big waves crashing upon the reefs and flinging rainbows of spray high into the sunny air. "You'll only get drowned," he said.
"I promise you I won't take any risks, but the tide's low, and it's a good chance to see how far I can go."
"It's no use saying anything if you've made up your mind. But do be careful. Those rocks are like razors."
RAZORS was rather a good word, for the ridges which Neil set to scramble across were as jagged as the teeth of a rake. To make matters worse, they were covered with wet seaweed so that they were slippery as a greased pole. These ridges sloped out into the sea like the fingers of an open hand, and between them were channels, some so deep that they were never dry. Neil had to wade to cross them.
He did not hurry. This was no place or time to take silly chances, and he spent a good half-hour in reaching the south- western corner of the island. Here he struck real trouble, a channel too deep to wade and too dangerous to swim. Dangerous because each wave as it broke came surging up the channel with force and fury enough to smash any swimmer to pulp.
"Looks as if I was done," thought Neil. He looked at the cliff and spotted a ledge. It was too narrow to walk on but its edge was sharp and it ran all the way across the gap. It might be possible to claw his way along it!
With his face against the cliff he found he could just reach the ledge and, getting a good grip, began working his way across. There was absolutely no hold for his toes, and he had to depend entirely on his hands. Beneath him the green, foam-streaked waves roared ominously and Neil knew well that if he let go he was done. But he was much too keen on the ship to think of anything else, and he slowly worked his way across until he got his feet on the top of the next ridge. Another minute and he was round the corner, and he almost shouted with joy to find himself on a narrow, rocky beach which stretched all the way to the next point.
The tide was beginning to turn, Neil knew he had no time to waste and he certainly did not waste any in reaching the point. Here he found a vast pile of broken rock fallen from above, and climbing on it was able to get full sight of the great sea cave.
It was the strangest place. A vast pool of deep water protected from the Atlantic surges by two tall pinnacles of rock which almost closed the entrance, while it was roofed by a great curve of smooth basalt.
And there was the wreck, a three-masted wooden ship of five hundred tons. She lay with her bow cocked up on a reef of rock close under the inner wall of the cave. Her rigging was all to bits, yet her hull seemed fairly sound.
She was a timber ship, for part of her deck load of white wood was still in place, secured by rusty chains. Norwegian, Neil thought, by the look of her, though it seemed a bit strange how a Norwegian ship could have come ashore so far west. A huge storm wave must have swept her through the narrow passage and left her where she lay.
From the point where Neil stood to her stern was only about 200 yards.
"Might swim it," he said to himself, but then he noticed the sweep of the tidal current and shook his head. "Not good enough," he muttered. A big wave sent spray dashing over the rocks on which he stood and reminded him that the tide was turning. He turned and ran for the Point.
When he reached the gap the waves were thundering up it in terrifying fashion. The water actually sucked at his ankles as he crossed, and he was glad indeed to reach the other side. As he did so a hand reached out and grabbed him, and there, to Neil's amazement, was Archie.
"You silly ass!" he said fiercely. "You promised you wouldn't take any risks."
Neil stared, for Archie looked quite white and shaken.
"But I didn't," he protested.
"What! Not when you do the tight-rope act over a place like that? I was scared stiff."
"It's not so bad really," Neil said mildly.
"It was decent of you to come after me."
"I thought you were drowned," growled Archie.
Neil took him by the arm. "Come on; the tide's flowing. We must hurry."
It was tough work getting back, and more than once Neil had to help Archie. For all that Archie was climbing rocks in a way he could not have begun to do a week earlier.
"Did you find anything?" Archie asked, when they reached firm ground.
Neil told him just what he had found.
"A ship! And you say she's sound!" Archie was excited. "Has she any boats?"
"Yes, there's one left, but I think pretty badly smashed."
"We must get it," vowed Archie. "Can't we build a raft?"
"That's the only chance. The currents are too bad to swim."
"There's lots of wood here," said Archie. "Some may have nails in it and we could use stones for hammers. Let's try."
"I'm game," Neil answered. Secretly he was pleased at Archie's keenness. "Only we should have to wait for a flat calm to get a raft round there."
"Oh, it'll be calm some day. Let's start at once."
They started pulling out planks. There were plenty of them, but nails were scarce and what there were rusted tight into the timbers.
It was Archie who made the big find—a length of rope tarred and still sound. There was about 60 feet of it.
"Fine!" Neil told him, and Archie was happier than Neil had ever seen him.
By four in the afternoon Archie was done and Neil had a job to get him home. He fell asleep over supper, yet next morning woke keen as ever and, in spite of sore hands and aching muscles, insisted on starting at once after breakfast. And this time he went up the cliff without help.
Day after day the two toiled on their raft. They did not hear the dog again and were too busy to search for it. The only time they took off was to catch fish. Neil did that, and he also caught rabbits with snares made of the string that had tied up their parcels. The tea, flour, and sugar he rationed strictly, and Archie, who by this time had the appetite of a wolf, grumbled but submitted.
It was the first time in his life that Archie had ever helped to make anything and it amazed Neil to see how keen he became. Not only keen, but clever, for it was Archie who hit on the idea of making a fire and burning old pieces of wreckage to get the nails and iron out of them. Another thing was that he was no longer. sulky. He got angry every now and then but he no longer nursed his grievances. He was too busy. He ate hugely, slept like a log, and the change in his body was as great as in his mind. The fat changed to muscle, his ruddy complexion turned to a rich brown, his eyes cleared.
At the end of a week they had all the stuff ready for their raft. Archie stood and looked at it, then turned to the box in which he kept his treasured nails.
"If we only had a hammer," he said longingly. Neil picked up a lump of iron which Archie had burned out of an ancient timber.
"We'll make one all right," he declared. He glanced at the great red sun, the rim of which was just dipping into the sea. "Time to get back, Archie but first I'll see if there's anything on that line I left out." Turning, he scrambled out along a ridge of weed-clad rock to draw in the fishing line which he had left there tied to a stake rammed into a cleft. He took hold of the line, which was pulled out taut.
"I've got a whopper," he shouted and began to pull. The fish struggled furiously. "A regular whale, Archie. I'll have to look out or it will break the line."
The fish came to the surface. It was a ling weighing all of 20 pounds. Neil drew it in and leaned over to get his fingers in its gills and lift it. The fish made a final struggle and just then a wave rose and caught Neil.
Archie saw him plucked off the reef and swept away by the undertow.
ARCHIE rushed forward, then paused a moment. He knew Neil was a fine swimmer and expected to see him bob up and swim back. Neil's head did rise, but Archie was horrified to see that he made no effort to swim. Next moment he disappeared again.
"He's hurt," gasped Archie, and suddenly realised that, if Neil was to be saved, he had to do it.
Archie was no coward, yet for a moment his legs shook under him and he was almost, sick with fright. That passed in a matter of seconds, then he was leaping back toward the raft for the rope.
With the coil on his arm he rushed out along the rock ridge. At that speed he ought to have broken his leg or his neck. Yet he kept his feet and gained the point in safety. Neil was on the surface again, but the backwash was taking him out. Archie flung one end of the rope to him, but Neil seemed unable to grasp it.
Archie could not swim, the sea was rough and bitter cold. He was terrified at the idea of going into it; yet he did not hesitate. Quickly knotting one end of the rope to Neil's stake, he grasped the coil that he had swung out with his left hand and plunged in. A wave broke over his head, then he was up the far side of it and the outrush was carrying him toward Neil.
How he got to him he never could remember. The first thing he knew was when he got hold of Neil by the collar of his thick flannel shirt Then he had to fight his way back again.
A week earlier he could never have done it, but now his muscles were hard and his wind good, and he was no longer frightened. His desperate longing to get Neil to safety swamped every other feeling. Getting the rope round his right leg, he began to pull himself in with one hand, holding Neil with the other.
Luckily the tide was running from south to north and the two were stranded together on the upper side of the rock ridge from which Neil had fallen. Here was a hollow with shingle in it; Archie got his feet down and with a last desperate effort dragged Neil out.
For a moment everything spun round him and black specks danced before his eyes. But Neil lay limp, and Archie had a horrid fear that he would die if he was not looked after at once. He took a long breath, picked Neil up and staggered back to the flat spot where the timbers lay.
The fire he had been using was still smouldering. He laid Neil close to it, then built it up to a blaze. Neil lay very still and Archie began to panic. He had not the faintest idea what to do next. Neil's coat was close by. With clumsy fingers Archie began to pull off Neil's soaked shirt.
Suddenly Neil groaned, then opened his eyes. "My arm," he muttered.
"Sorry, Neil. Is it broken?"
"I don't think so. Shoulder banged against a rock." He paused and looked up wonderingly at Archie.
"By gosh!" said Neil, and that was all; but the tone made Archie's cheeks go scarlet.
A little colour was coming back into Neil's face. He was about as tough and hard as any boy could be and was already beginning to recover.
Archie did not try to hide his anxiety.
"I'll be all right in a bit," Neil assured him. "Just wrap that coat round me and heat up the remains of that tea we brought for our luncheon. A hot drink won't hurt either of us. And stick your own coat on. You're shivering. Oh, and you might see if that fish is still on the line. We can't afford to lose a hook."
Archie put the tin pot on the fire, then went after the fish. To his surprise it was still on, and he dragged it ashore and killed it. He found Neil sitting up and rubbing his shoulder.
"It's all right," Neil said. "No bones broken. By Jove, I'm glad you got the fish. Give me another ten minutes and I'll be able to make it back up the hill."
A mug of hot tea apiece was very helpful, and presently they started back. But it was a slow journey and quite dark before they reached the cave.
"You go straight to bed," said Archie gruffly. "I can't cook but I can make a pot of tea and open a tin."
Neil made no objection. The fact was he was completely done and in a good deal of pain. He was only too glad to lie quiet between his blankets. Archie managed to make tea, and this with biscuits and potted meat was their supper.
Luckily they had a bottle of liniment among their stores, and before turning in Archie gave Neil a good rubbing. Neil had not said another word about his rescue, but Archie was not disappointed. In fact, Archie was feeling happier that nigh than ever in his life before. He had never had a friend and now quite suddenly he knew he had one. They finished their meal in silence, then suddenly Neil chuckled.
"What's up?" demanded Archie.
"I was looking at you," said Neil.
"What's the matter with me?"
"Nothing's the matter with you."
"You're wanting that licking," growled Archie.
"So that's why you pulled me out."
"Of course," said Archie, but Neil only grinned. Again there was a long silence. Archie broke it. "Wish you'd teach me to swim."
"Rather," said Neil.
Neil did not sleep well that night and in the morning his left arm and shoulder were black and swollen, while his head ached a good deal. Archie gruffly ordered him to stay in bed and was hugely pleased when Neil obeyed.
In four days Neil was up and about and they went down to the raft and started to put it together. The tides were getting bigger, and Neil showed Archie the high-water mark and explained to him that this was where they would launch the raft. They put two small tree trunks beneath it to act as rollers before they nailed the pieces together.
Seeing that their only tools were knives and a small hatchet which they had brought for cutting up firewood, the raft was, of course, a rough job, yet Neil had no doubt it was big enough to hold them both. To drive it they had two roughly-made paddles and a couple of poles. They had also an old boat-hook which they had found on the beach and a couple of ancient cork belts which they had found among the wreckage. Neil made Archie wear one of these belts and found a sheltered pool among the rocks. He spent half an hour each day in teaching him to swim, and within a week Archie was able to wallow along quite comfortably.
The tides grew higher day by day, and at last came the evening before the day of the big spring tide when the launch was due. No two boys ever watched the weather more closely, and when that night the sun sank in a clear red sky Neil nodded his satisfaction.
THE morning was fine—beautifully fine. More important, there was very little wind. Tide was high just after eleven, and before that hour the boys had everything ready. As the small waves came lapping up to the belt of dried seaweed which marked the highest tide mark they both set to work with levers. The clumsy raft rumbled forward and splashed into the sea.
"Hurray!" cried Archie. "She floats finely. Let's start!"
Neil stopped him.
"It's a big risk," he said gravely. "We don't know the currents, and we may not be able to work the raft with our paddles. If we're swept out to sea we can't get back."
"What's the use of building a raft if we're not going to use it?" Archie demanded.
"We're going to use it," said Neil with decision, "but we are not taking any more chances than we have to. In the first place, we are taking grub and water, and I've brought this blanket to use as a sail. Here's the mast, and you see I've fixed a place to step it."
The mast was a piece of a broken spar. The food was put in a box fastened to the middle of the raft so that it would not wash off and the drinking-water was in their pail, over which Neil had tied a piece of cloth to keep it from splashing out.
All this took some time and it was past midday when they pushed off. Archie was all eagerness but Neil, who knew more than he about the ugly currents which swirled around the island, was not so happy.
At first all went well. The tide was running from north to south, and all they had to do was to keep clear of the rocks. Trouble began when they reached the point on the west side of the great sea cave. Here the tidal stream turned and ran outside the two big pinnacles which guarded the entrance. The heavy raft began to be dragged away from the mouth of the channel.
"Paddle!" cried Neil, who was working desperately.
"Doing all I know," panted Archie, and he was. The muscles stood out like cords on his bare arms and big drops of perspiration streamed down his face.
It was no use. In spite of their best efforts the raft drifted crab-wise toward the nearest pinnacle. Neil glanced round. His face was set and anxious.
"The sail. It's our only chance," he said, and, dropping his paddle, set swiftly to work to fix up the blanket sail.
"There's hardly any wind," said Archie.
"But what there is comes from the south-west," Neil told him as he fastened the spar to the mast.
Archie paddled all the time, yet even in the few minutes while Neil set the sail the raft had drifted behind the first pinnacle. Neil was scared, for he knew that once they were carried past the cave mouth there would be no getting back. There was no landing- place beyond. He snatched up his paddle and set to work again.
A little puff ruffled the calm sea and the blanket bulged and filled. The drift stopped and the raft remained almost motionless, exactly opposite the narrow channel between the two great pinnacles.
"Paddle!" yelled Neil, and both worked like furies.
The cat's paw died away. Again the raft began to drift. The paddles had no effect. They were almost opposite the eastern pinnacle when another faint draught drew them forward.
"Look out! We shall bump into it!" said Archie hoarsely.
Suddenly Neil dropped his paddle, snatched up the boat-hook and reached forward. He had spotted long tendrils of dark brown seaweed trailing out from the base of the pinnacle and he drove the hook into them and twisted it. It held, and he began to pull.
Archie made a last effort. The raft bumped against the rock and for a moment tilted badly. But Neil ripped his boat-hook loose and fended off. A moment later they were past the danger point. The raft floated safely in the oil-smooth water which floored the cavern. After that it was only a matter of minutes before they drew alongside the stern of the wreck. Neil tied the raft firmly alongside.
The stern of the wreck was almost level with the water and the boys were able to step aboard without trouble. Archie looked at the piles of lumber.
"Neil, there's enough wood here to build a new ship," he said eagerly.
"Plenty if we knew how," said Neil. But Archie was already scrambling up the tilted deck in the direction of the one remaining boat which lay in chocks amidships.
"Here's our ship ready made," declared Archie.
"With a thundering great hole in her," Neil added.
"We can mend that."
"We might," allowed Neil, "but how are we going to launch her?"
"Cut the chocks away and use rollers."
Neil's eyes widened. This was a new Archie.
"I'm game to try. But first we'd better search the ship. You've forgotten that dog."
"Dog. It's tools I want," said Archie.
"Then let's go below and look for them."
The stern of the vessel was mostly under water but, from the saloon forward, she was dry enough. Archie stood in the saloon and looked round. "She must have been a fine ship," he said.
"She's not worth much now," Neil told him, "though the timber might be worth salving. Her hold's full of it."
"Let's look for those tools," said Archie.
"And for food," added Neil.
He took Archie forward and they found the store-room up in the bow. Archie began pulling things out and presently gave a crow of delight as he held up a saw. It was rusty but otherwise good.
"And here's a hammer and a regular stock of tools. Nails too, and paint—whole tins of it. Neil, we'll soon fix up that boat."
Neil laughed. It pleased him to see Archie so keen. "Right you are, Archie. Get out all the tools you want and clean them. I'm going after the stores."
The lazarette, where the stores were kept, was below the saloon and mostly under water. Neil stripped off and, first fixing a rope to give him hand-hold, went down and managed to retrieve a number of tins. He carted four or five dozen up on deck.
"Let's eat," he called out, "Here's some perfectly good mutton and we brought some biscuits with us."
"Fine!" said Archie, and he went aft to fetch the biscuits. When he came back he was not looking so cheerful.
"I say, the wind's getting up," he said.
Neil sprang up and looked out. A very anxious expression crossed his face.
"You're right. It's blowing quite hard. We can't get back in this, Archie."
ARCHIE looked rather blue but quickly brightened up.
"We've a pailful," he declared. "We can make it last two days. It may be quite calm tomorrow."
"We'd better hope pretty hard," Neil said drily.
"It's no use worrying," Archie answered. "Let's get to work on the boat. If we can mend that it would take a storm to stop us from getting back."
Neil smote Archie on the back.
"You're right, Archie." He looked at the boat. "If we could make her really watertight we might almost get back to the mainland in her."
The boat was a dinghy, 12 feet long and fairly heavily built. She was in fair condition, but she had been badly damaged. There was a hole two feet long in her side.
Neil looked rather blue. "That's going to take some mending," he said. "We shall have to put in fresh planking. First, we must saw off the broken ends then put in the new stuff. Luckily we have plenty."
"Heaps," said Archie, picking up a saw.
"Steady. We have to get her off the chocks first and turn her over. All the nailing has to be done from the outside."
Archie pursed his lips.
"I don't see how we're going to lift her out of that cradle—chocks you call them."
"We can do as you suggested—saw through the chocks, then turn her over with a couple of stout levers."
"I see. I'll do the sawing. You get two pieces for levers."
Archie hadn't spent a week over that raft for nothing. He soon sawed the chocks through. Before turning the boat over Neil laid an old sail doubled on the deck for the boat to roll on; and it was as well he did so, for she had dried out so that the calking fell out of her seams.
"It's going to be a job to make her watertight," said Neil. "Let's get to it."
They worked hard all the rest of the day, and by evening had nearly all the broken timbers replaced. But every seam would have to be re-calked with oakum and the whole boat tarred before she would float.
It was still blowing when they knocked off for supper. There was plenty of fuel, and Neil lit the rusty galley stove and made a stew of mutton and tinned vegetables. They were both very thirsty, but could only allow themselves one potful of tea—that is, two cups apiece. Then they got up some rather mouldy blankets and put them in front of the stove to dry.
Before turning in Neil went on deck to look at the sky. It was not a cheering sight. A watery yellow sunset with hard edged clouds. More wind coming, and Neil felt very worried. They would not be able to use the raft until it was calm again, and it would certainly be three days before the boat was fit for use. Meantime what in the world were they to do for water?
They slept very comfortably on the settees in the saloon, but the moment Neil awoke he knew by the noise that it was blowing hard. He ran on deck and was appalled at the weather. A full gale was roaring up out of the south-west, and even in the cavern the water was so rough that the raft was bumping against the wreck. He turned to find Archie behind him.
Archie was looking a bit scared. "I didn't reckon on this," he said.
"It's too bad to last," Neil said hopefully. "Let's have breakfast."
"I'll put the kettle on," said Archie, and went to the galley.
Neil stood a moment to watch the weather and was turning when he heard a thump from the galley. Next moment Archie came out.
"Neil," he said, in a queer, thick voice. "I've upset the bucket and every drop of water's gone. I wish you'd kick me."
For a moment Neil could not speak. The thought of hours—days—without water appalled him, But it was not in his heart to reproach Archie. Archie was suffering enough already.
"It can't be helped, Archie, so it's no use feeling bad about it. We must just see what we can do. There might be some tins of fruit and if there are the juice will keep us going."
"Hadn't we better get on with the boat?"
Neil shook his head. "The boat can't be finished for at least two day's and even if she was ready now she'd be no help to us. No pull-boat could live in a sea like this."
Archie looked at the huge waves bursting against the pinnacles and flinging spray high against the murky sky. "No, I suppose not," he said, and turned to go below.
Neil stripped off again and went down into the drowned lazarette. The water was very cold, but he got several more tins and brought them up. He opened one or two, but they were all meat except a few vegetables. Not one tin of fruit or even tomatoes.
Archie meantime was searching the galley but with equally little success. At the end of an hour they had searched every likely place, and when they met again both were looking pretty blue.
Archie was badly scared. "What are we going to do, Neil?" he asked.
Neil refused to be downcast. "I'm wondering if we can't rig up some way of distilling sea water. You know what I mean—condense the steam. We have kettles and fuel. We want some rubber tubing and a vessel of some sort that we can fix the tubing on to."
A gleam of hope showed in Archie's eyes. "I'd never have thought of that. If only we can find some tubing!"
"Copper pipe would do," Neil told him.
They began a fresh search. Neil went into the captain's cabin. He thought there might be a medicine chest there with rubber tubing in it. He noticed a box under the bunk and hauled it out. It was a heavy chest and locked. He got a cold chisel and forced it open. There were clothes all more or less spoiled by mould and he found a small but heavy metal box. With some difficulty he forced this open. It was full of Treasury notes.
FOUR or five hundred pounds. More money than Neil had ever seen at one time in all his life.
Archie came into the cabin.
"Neil, I can't find an inch of tubing, metal or rubber," Then he saw the notes and his eyes widened.
"Great Scott! Where did you get that?"
Neil told him.
"After all, it's not ours," he said. "It belongs to the captain or the owners of the ship. I'll put it away."
"What are we going to do about water?" Archie asked.
"Get on with the boat, or perhaps it will be better to build up the raft and fix a proper sail on her. If the wind goes down we might get off tomorrow." He paused. "It's going to be pretty tough, Archie. Do you think you can stick it?"
"Me! Of course, I can stick it," returned Archie violently. "It's my fault, isn't it?"
"Just bad luck, Archie," said Neil quietly, then suddenly he stiffened.
"What's that noise?" Both listened.
"It's water, Neil," said Archie a moment later. "Sounds like a tap turned on." He rushed for the door and he and Neil raced for the deck.
"Raining!" roared Archie, and he was right. It was coming down in sheets driven by the south-west gale, and a regular stream of water was pouring down on the stern of the wreck. The stern lay just clear of the brow of the great overhang of rock and the rain, beating against the cliff, was coming down on the deck with such force it splashed in every direction.
Without a word the boys bolted for the galley and came back with buckets. Within five minutes they had almost everything in the ship that would hold water at the stern, and never had either heard a more welcome sound than the splash as, one by one, these filled and were lifted aside.
It was not until they had at least twenty gallons that either ventured to take a drink. They each drank about a quart.
"Gosh, I never knew how good water was," Archie remarked. "I say, Neil, I'm hungry."
"Me, too," Neil agreed.
"Let's get breakfast. Then we'll clean out the tank and put all this water in it."
Neil, who was quite a good cook, made a dry hash of corned beef and tinned potatoes, and while they ate they talked.
"I've been wondering what will happen if Renny comes back while we're here and can't find us," Archie said. Neil chuckled.
"He'd get a scare. But you needn't worry. He won't come in this weather." Archie frowned. "He's bound to come some time."
"Yes, he'll come or send for a certainty. Mr Chard would raise Cain if we were missing."
Archie still looked thoughtful.
"That brute Jupp said they would tell Mr Chard that I'd stolen that salver—said he could prove it. Do you think he can?"
"Of course not," said Neil sharply. "Mr Chard wouldn't believe it, and even if he did Dr Ruthven could tell him better."
"He might not meet Ruthven."
"He's sure to sooner or later. I phoned him from the doctor's house."
Archie was not satisfied. "But if we are missing like this, won't it look fishy?"
"I shouldn't worry, Archie. Renny's bound to come for us sooner or later."
"I'm a bit scared of Renny," Archie confessed.
"So am I," said Neil frankly. "He's a dangerous sort, and I don't think he'd stick at much to get you out of Glen Tallach. All the same, I'm sure he won't succeed."
"I hope you're right," said Archie soberly. "I'm just beginning to realise that I want that place badly." He paused, then went on, "It isn't altogether for the money either, Neil." Neil stared. He had known that Archie was changing a lot, but this was an absolutely new Archie. A little glow ran through his veins.
"This funny old island has done something for you, Archie," he remarked.
"And you've done a sight more," growled Archie.
Neil laughed, but the laugh covered a much deeper feeling.
"Come and get to work, you old ass," he said. "That tank's got to be cleaned." They cleaned the tank; and as it continued to rain nearly all day got enough fresh water to make them safe for a fortnight. Then they went on with the boat. It took the rest of that day and all the next to finish the work, and they made a real good job of it. They re-calked every seam with oakum and put on two coats of Stockholm tar.
The storm lasted 48 hours, but on the third day blew itself out and that evening they launched the boat.
"She'll leak a bit," Neil told Archie, "but by morning her timbers will have swelled and she ought to be fairly tight."
"Where shall we keep her?
"In the cove where we landed first."
"But, then, if Renny turns up he'll see her. Wouldn't it be a good idea if we found some other place?"
Neil nodded. "It will be as well to have a card up our sleeve. We'll sail round the island and see if we can find another place."
"And what are you going to do about that money?"
"Take it with us and hide it in our cave. You see, if there was wind, we shouldn't be able to get in here after it."
"One way and another we shall have a pretty good load," said Archie; and he was right. When they were ready to leave next morning the boat was absolutely packed. They had blankets, tins of food, pots and kettles, tools, a lot of rope and canvas, candles and matches. Neil had found some books with which he was very pleased and a pair of excellent field-glasses, also a tin of giant powder and fuse.
"We could stay here three months if we had to," Archie said, as he stuffed the things into the boat.
The boat had been half full of water in the morning but, after baling her, she only leaked a little. Neil took the oars and they went out in great style. There was not much wind and the sea was fairly calm, so Neil decided to pull right round the island and look for the second harbour Archie was so keen about.
All the south side of Calpay was sheer cliff, but when they got round the east they found several deep clefts besides the one in which Jupp had originally landed them.
It was Archie who found the ideal spot, with a mouth so narrow it was hardly visible from outside; but inside a little deep, calm pool which might have been made for a harbour. The best of it was that it lay only a couple of hundred yards from their cave.
It was a steep climb up the rocks, and it took them the rest of the morning to carry' their stuff up to the cave and stow it. Neil was coming down when he spotted a small craft on the horizon.
Hurrying back to the cave, he got his glasses and went part way up the cliff again. Then he sat on a rock and focused his glasses. After one good look he hurried back again and went down to the harbour, where Archie was fishing. "Archie," he said, "a launch is coming."
"Is it Jupp?"
"I haven't a notion. She's too far off to tell, but I'd say it was Renny."
ARCHIE was looking rather grim. "And what do we do?" he asked.
"I wish I'd known they were coming. I'd have got ready for them," Neil said.
"I'd thought of a scheme for collaring the launch and going off and leaving them here," Neil answered.
Archie's eyes widened.
"Neil, it's the finest idea I ever heard of," he exclaimed. "Can't we possibly do it? I'd give anything to get square with Jupp and Renny, and to maroon them here would be simply perfect."
"We might try," Neil said. "We must hide among the rocks and lie low. But our only hope is if they moor the launch here and then all go off to look for us."
"If they left only one man in charge we might handle him," said Archie eagerly.
"We might," Neil said slowly. "Let's hide anyhow. We'll have to get properly out of sight, and we must be quick before they see us."
"That's easy," Archie said. "There's a cleft just below our ledge that would hold a dozen. And we can get there without being seen. I know the way. I'll show you." He picked up his fishing tackle and started. The whole place was a jumble of rocks and boulders and it was easy enough to find cover. Within a very short time they were hidden in the cleft Archie had spoken of.
The launch came on steadily and Neil, who had his glasses, focused them on the vessel.
"That's not the launch we came in," he said. "She was the Spray. This one is called Storm King. She's bigger." He looked again. "I can see three men aboard her, but can't recognise any of them. I don't see Renny or Jupp."
"Perhaps it's a launch sent by Mr Chard."
"It might be, but I think we'd better wait and make sure." Neil kept his glasses on the launch. As she came nearer he could see that she was a very rough-looking craft with paintwork cracked and a generally shabby appearance. Soon she was close enough for Archie to see her plainly.
"They're not coming into the harbour," he said. "Looks, as if they were going to keep a good way out."
The launch was in fact turning away from the island and keeping a course parallel to the cast end of it, but a good quarter of a mile out.
"Perhaps we'd better signal them," said Neil. "We shan't have a chance if we don't do it now."
"I vote we don't," replied Archie with decision. "I don't like the look of them."
"But they'd take us off," said Neil. "And you're keen to get back."
"Who said I was? Anyhow, we have a boat of our own."
"Our boat's much too small to get back in," Neil told him. "Make up your mind, Archie. If we don't signal quickly we shall be too late."
"I've made up my mind. I don't want to have anything to do with that crowd. We're waiting till Renny comes, then we'll bag his launch."
"They're coming in again," said Archie eagerly. "Do you think they could be after the wreck?"
"That's an idea," Neil agreed.
"The money," Archie went on. "They may have found out that gold was aboard."
"They might know of gold being aboard the Anita, but I can't imagine how they'd know the ship was still above water. She's been in that cave for at least a year."
Archie would not give up.
"Let's go up to the top," he said, "and see if she spots her."
This time it was Archie who set the pace, and Neil was really amazed at the way he went up the steep slopes. He had seen from the first that Archie had a fine, strong body, but he would never have believed that he could have developed so much in three weeks.
"Be a bit careful," said Neil, as they reached the top. "We don't want them to see us."
Archie turned. "If they board the wreck they're sure to see that someone has been there lately."
"They will that," Neil answered, "but we don't want them to suspect there's anyone on the island. Luckily we didn't make any fire at lunch-time, and our boat is well hidden."
Archie raced across the level and got to the far edge ahead of Neil.
"Can't see the launch anywhere," he said quickly. "I believe she's in the cave. Look over, Neil. I haven't got the head for it yet. I'll hold your legs."
Neil lay down and peered over. Presently he signed to Archie to pull him back.
"They're there all right. The launch is tied up astern of the Anita, but I couldn't see the men. They're aboard."
"Looking for the gold," said Archie. He grinned. "They won't find it."
Neil frowned. "I'm a bit bothered. Suppose they are the owners and it really belongs to them."
"I wouldn't suppose anything of the sort. They're a shocking- looking set of sweeps. I could see that, even without the glasses. Besides, we can take the notes back with us when we go and hand them over to a bank or somebody and tell them to advertise for the owner."
Neil nodded. "We can do that. All the same, I hate having it here. It might lead to all sorts of trouble."
"Rats!" remarked Archie briefly, and Neil let it go at that. They decided to wait where they were and see if the launch left. It was a long wait and the Sun was setting before they heard the launch engine started.
This time they both got a good sight of her as she moved her way cautiously out between the Pinnacles. She was certainly a rubbly-looking craft, and her crew matched her. Three rougher- looking specimens you would have gone far to find. Dirty, unshaven, and dressed in greasy overalls.
"They've taken a lot of stuff, Neil," whispered Archie. "Canvas and rope and things."
"Good thing we got ours first," replied Neil.
"I'm jolly glad you didn't leave the money, Neil," said Archie. "I'll lay they are not the owners. They're just beachcombers."
Neil watched the launch thoughtfully.
"No, they're not the owners," he said presently. "I say, Archie, I hope they don't come looking for us."
"No, they're moving off," said Archie.
"But they might come back. Tomorrow I'm going to fix things so that, if they do come, they can't get at us."
NEIL began operations after breakfast next morning. He took his tin of giant powder to the angle of the ledge where it overhung the sea and, with a crowbar which they had brought from the wreck, began picking a hole in the rock.
Archie frowned as he watched. "You're not going to blow up the path?"
"I'm going to blow a gap in it just too wide to jump."
"And how are we going to cross?"
"With a plank. Don't you see it will be like a drawbridge. When it's up no one can get at the cave."
Archie's face cleared. "I see. Not a bad idea. All the same, a chap who was active might climb to one of the higher ledges and get to the cave."
"Yes, but it would take him a long time and we could easily stop him by getting up above and rolling down rocks. Besides, I'm going to camouflage the cave as well—build up the mouth with painted canvas that will look like rock. It's worth a bit of trouble in case those wrecking fellows come back."
"All right, Neil. And it might help, too, when Renny comes."
"We should have to leave the plank for him," Neil said. "We'd want him out of the way while we bag his launch."
"I'm longing for him to come," Archie declared, and again Neil looked at him.
"I really believe you are," he said, and went on with his job. Having finished the bore hole, he packed it with powder and fixed a length of fuse. The mouth of the hole he tamped with damp clay. Then he lit the fuse, and he and Archie drew off. The fuse fizzed, then came a boom, a thump and a quantity of rock fell splashing into the sea. Archie looked at the gap.
"I'd hate to jump that," he remarked, as he dragged up the plank he had cut and laid it across the opening.
"We'll have a spare length hidden down by the cove," Neil said, "just in case of accidents. Now for the cave."
The cave mouth was small and was already partly blocked with rocks. Neil cut a piece of canvas big enough to cover the opening and daubed it with clay and paint. When it was fixed in position no one would have known that there was a cave unless they had gone quite close. Neil was not yet satisfied for he cleared the track up the gully beyond the cave so that anyone could see it was used for a path and would naturally follow it.
Next day was fine and calm, and they took the boat and went round to the wreck. Everything was in a shocking mess. The crew of the Storm King had ransacked the saloon, cabins, and everything aboard.
"Set of thieves!" growled Archie. "Jolly lucky you took that money, Neil. That's what they were looking for."
Every day they kept a good look-out. They saw fishing craft occasionally and, once, a small steamer that looked like a whaler, but nothing came within miles of Calpay.
They kept busy. Both kept extremely fit and Archie seemed to grow bigger day by day. All his fat was gone and he began to be proud of his muscle. He could actually carry a bigger load of driftwood than Neil. One morning Neil, who had been scribbling in his pocket diary, looked up.
"Archie, do you know we've been here a month? This is the 28th day since we landed." He chuckled. "How you hated it!"
"I don't hate it now," said Archie soberly. "I like it. I never had such a good time in my life, and I never felt so fit."
"I'm jolly glad to hear it, but, all the same we ought to think about getting back."
"Because it's the third week in September and the weather's due to change pretty soon. If we don't get away in the next two or three weeks we might be stuck here all the winter. We haven't food for that, or clothes or blankets, You can't catch fish in winter—at least, not much."
Archie's face fell. "I hadn't thought of all that. But of course you're right. We'll have to make the trip in the boat."
"We must try it," Neil agreed, but he was not too happy. He knew the risks of so long a sea passage in a very small boat.
He got up and went out, but a moment later came back and picked up his glasses.
"There's a launch in sight," he said quietly.
Archie followed him out and waited while Neil focused his glasses, He had a good look, then handed the glasses to Archie. Presently Archie spoke. "It's the Spray."
"So I thought. Then we'd best get busy."
Both knew exactly what to do and worked swiftly. Each picked up a few odds-and-ends from the cave and took their waterproof capes. Archie took also a couple of lengths of stout cord. The launch was still a long way out when they had finished. They hurried along the cliff path toward the landing. For the success of their plan it was essential that Renny's people should not see them go down to the cove. Neil felt sure they could not see them unless they were using glasses, and that was not likely.
"Leave the plank," Neil said. "We want them to go up this way."
He dropped down into the cove and Archie followed. Their hiding-place was on the opposite side from the flat rock where they had first landed. They had dug a hole behind a big rock and left there some tins of food and bottles of water. Seated on two stones the boys waited. It seemed a very long time before the launch came again into sight, but now she was making straight for the cove. As she came nearer a man stood up and stared at the island. Neil pinched Archie's arm. "Renny," he whispered.
"And there's Jupp steering," said Archie, "Neil, I believe I could lick him."
"I hope you won't have to try. I say, do you think you can steer the launch if we manage to collar it? I shall have to start her up and I don't know much about it."
"I'll steer her all right," declared Archie. "Hush! They're coming in."
"There are three people aboard," muttered Archie. "Look at that boy coming out of the deckhouse."
"Who is he?" Neil whispered.
"I don't know for certain," said Archie as he peered round the rock at the launch, "but it looks like my cousin Duncan."
Neil pursed his lips in a soundless whistle.
The launch glided slowly into the tiny cove, the engine was reversed, and she backed close in to the landing-place. Renny sprang ashore with a rope and made fast. Duncan followed him.
"Say, where are those kids?" he asked in a high-pitched American voice. "I reckoned they'd be here to meet us."
"They've probably finished one another by now," said Renny, with a sneer. He looked round. "That seems like a path. We'll go and look for them. You stay here. Jupp, with the launch."
RENNY went up the cliff path and Duncan followed. Jupp watched them go. There was a scowl on his narrow, freckled face. It seemed he was not pleased at being left behind. He waited until they were out of sight round the corner of the cliff then he too stepped ashore.
Archie was fairly quivering, and Neil pinched his arm for caution. Jupp scrambled up to the ledge and went as far as the corner. But either he did not like the look of the plank bridge or perhaps he was afraid to disobey Renny. Anyhow he came down the rocks again; but he did not go straight back to the launch; he went round the inner end of the little cove in the direction of the spot where the boys were hidden.
For a nasty moment Neil believed he must have seen them but a little thought made him certain that he could not. He was just exploring to pass the time. Still, if he, came a little farther he was bound to stumble on them.
Jupp came down the rocks toward the water. He was looking at the launch, not in the direction of the boys. Suddenly Archie broke loose. With one surprising jump he leaped clean out of the hollow. Jupp heard and turned, but Archie was quicker than he. Archie's bare arms came together round the man's scrawny neck and next moment all Archie's weight was pulling him backward.
Jupp was far stronger than Archie but he had been caught by surprise. He had not the remotest notion that anyone was near him. He lost his footing and came down with a thump on the rock. Before he had time to get back his breath Neil too was on him, pinning his legs. At the same instant Archie slipped his noose of rope over the man's body and drew it tight, pinning his arms to his sides. Jupp opened his mouth to yell for help but Neil, snatching off his battered old felt hat, jammed it between Jupp's teeth.
"Better keep quiet if you don't want to be hurt," said Neil curtly.
Jupp eyed Neil venomously, but he had sense enough not to struggle. There was something in Neil's face that told him it would not be wise. Archie knotted the cord around Jupp's body and arms, then took another length and tied his ankles.
"Better gag him," he said quickly.
"You let me loose," Jupp threatened. "Renny'll about kill you both for this."
"Renny won't have a chance to do anything of the kind," Neil told him drily, and pulling Jupp's own dirty handkerchief out of his pocket gagged him well and truly. Then between them they dragged the man back into their hiding-place.
"We've done it!" Archie was almost beside himself with delight.
"We've only done half of it," replied Neil, as he snatched up his waterproof and went scrambling round the cove to the launch. He and Archie reached it together and sprang aboard.
"I'll untie her," said Archie breathlessly.
"Not yet. We have to start the engine."
Neil could handle a sail boat as well as anyone, but he had little experience with the engines of motor-boats. The only one he had ever handled had a starting handle. This, he saw, had a self-starter but he had first to find the petrol tap and turn it on and also to find the ignition switch. All this took time and Archie was on fire with impatience. "Renny'll be coming back, Neil," he said sharply.
"I'm doing my best," Neil told him.
At last the engine started.
"Now cast off, Archie," cried Neil.
"I can't," gasped Archie. "Take out the clutch. She's pulling against it."
"Cut it, man. I can't find the clutch."
Archie got out his knife and sliced the taut rope. Then he jumped for the tiller. The moment the launch was loose her screw churning violently sent her shooting ahead and Archie saw she was making straight for the opposite side of the cove. He pulled the tiller right over, and the launch, spinning like a top, came round and pointed her bow for the rocks on the north side.
"Look out!" yelled Neil in horror.
Archie made a fresh effort to turn but it was too late. The heavy craft struck the rocks with a rending crash. Her bow rose high in air, then she slid back, and Neil heard the water rushing in through a great hole in the bow.
Archie was so horrified that he sat perfectly still; but Neil kept his head.
"Out, Archie!" he snapped, as he sprang up. "Get ashore. She's sinking."
When the launch first struck the boys might have got ashore, dry. Now the bow was a good ten feet from the rocks and sliding back quickly. There was only one thing to do, to swim for it, and Neil was grateful indeed that Archie needed no help. Together they struck out for the flat rock and together they scrambled on to it and gained the top, dripping.
"Oh, Neil, I am a fool," said Archie miserably. "It was all my fault!"
Neil gave one glance at the launch, which was just disappearing beneath the surface. "Never mind whose fault it was," he said. "Get across the other side and hide. It's our only chance." He started over the rocks and Archie followed. They gained the hollow and flung themselves down beside the helpless Jupp just as Renny and Duncan came into sight around the angle of the cliff path. Renny stopped short. "What has that fool Jupp been doing?" he demanded angrily. "Where's the launch?"
"Looks like he's cleared out," replied Duncan in a puzzled voice. "I surely heard him start her up."
"He must be plumb crazy," said Renny.
Neil nudged Archie.
"He doesn't know she's sunk," he whispered. "The ripple hides her. Wait till they get down on the rocks then we'll make a run for it."
Duncan spoke. "Say, Renny, where's Jupp gone? I can't see the launch anywhere. And there's not been time for him to get out of sight." Renny strode down the rocks to the cove and Duncan followed. The puff of wind which had rippled the surface of the little cove had passed and the water was clear again. Renny pointed at a patch of oil which stained the surface with iridescent colour.
"He's sunk her!" he gasped, and stood staring.
"Now's our chance," Neil whispered in Archie's ear. "Follow me close and go quiet as a cat."
NEIL stole out from their hiding-place. Bent double, he dodged from rock to rock and Archie followed. Renny and Duncan were still staring at the scene of the wreck and talking excitedly. Neil heard Duncan say: "Then Jupp's drowned."
The inner end of the cove was one mass of boulders and it was impossible to go fast, Archie was treading on Neil's heels but Neil refused to be hurried. A fall would be fatal. The two had actually reached the lower end of the ledge before they were spotted, and then it was Duncan, not Renny, who saw them.
"Look!" Duncan screeched. "There's Archie and the other chap."
Neil went up the steep rocky path like a bullet from a gun and Archie was not far behind. They were across the plank and had jerked it up before Renny reached the corner. Renny pulled up at the far side of the gap. He was rather white but he had got his voice under control.
"I reckon it was you sunk that launch, Forsyth?" he remarked. "Kind of silly, wasn't it?"
"You don't suppose we did it on purpose," returned Neil.
Renny looked at Neil, and Neil did not half like the expression in his eyes. Renny was a very different person from Jupp and far more dangerous.
"So you were trying to get away in it?" said Renny.
"Of course we were," exclaimed Archie, "and we'd have done it if we'd known how to run the beastly thing."
"The beastly thing, as you call it, is now at the bottom of the sea," said Renny in a voice that grated a little. "I supposed you would have known we came to take you off."
"I'm not so sure of that," replied Neil shrewdly. "You might have come just to see whether we were still alive."
Again Renny looked hard at Neil. He seemed to be sizing him up. "Know something, don't you?" he observed.
"I've met you before," said Neil sweetly. "Also a gentleman called Maciver."
A queer hard look came in Renny's eyes, but it passed in a moment and he laughed.
"Maciver was a fool," he said, "and I'm not sure that Jupp is much better. What happened to him? Is he drowned?"
"Not a bit of it. You'll find him behind that big rock tied up in a parcel."
This time Renny's face showed real surprise.
"I reckon I have underestimated you, Master Forsyth. I shall be more careful in future." He shrugged. "Well, I guess we're all in the same box now, marooned until someone takes us off. Do you feel like calling it a truce for the time being?"
"I don't," said Neil bluntly. "I wouldn't trust you any farther than I would Jupp."
"You're honest, anyway. I'd like to know what you reckon to do about it. Are you going to leave us to starve or freeze? Maybe you'd say that would be all right for Jupp and me, but we have young Duncan along and, even if you don't think a lot of him, he's Grant's own cousin."
"Birds of a feather," put in Archie, scornfully. "He can sleep on the beach for all I care."
But Neil looked troubled.
"I'll talk it over with Grant," he said. "Wait a minute, Mr Renny."
Neil drew Archie out of earshot.
"Renny's right," he said. "We can't leave them on the beach. They've nothing to eat, no shelter of any sort. They'll be half dead by morning."
"Serve 'em jolly well right," replied Archie vindictively. "They kidnapped us and brought us here. They're out to do us down by every kind of dirty trick. Jupp said himself they'd prove to my guardian that I was a thief. They don't get any mercy from me, Neil, don't you think it."
Neil was a good deal astonished. He had started to harden Archie and it began to seem to him that he had gone a step too far. Archie's jaw was set resolutely and he seemed to have made up his mind to go any length rather than yield.
"They are brutes, Archie," Neil said slowly. "I dislike Renny and Jupp every bit as much as you do. But I don't think you quite realise that you're condemning him and the others to a slow death, from cold and starvation."
Archie grew angry. "All right then. Give them each a blanket and some grub and let them stay down in the cove."
"That means we can't go down there to fish or to get our boat. And if we're going to be stuck here for weeks that's going to be pretty awkward."
"Awkward! It's perfectly foul, if you ask me," said Archie. "Oh, if I hadn't been such an idiot as to wreck that launch!"
"That was my fault as much as yours. Anyhow it's done and can't be helped. But it's left us in a mess. And we have to get out of the mess the best way we can. It's up to us to find that way and we shan't do it by getting angry." Neil spoke so slowly and steadily that Archie had to listen.
"I am angry," he confessed. "I'm furious. But you have a better head than I, Neil. I'll leave it to you."
Renny was still waiting on the far side of the gap.
"Well, Forsyth," he said with a smile. "Have you settled things with Grant?"
"It's with you I have to settle them," Neil answered curtly.
"I'm listening," said Renny cheerfully. "Say anything you like. Beggars can't be choosers, and it looks as if Jupp and Duncan and I were the beggars. You have the food and the shelter and we have nothing at all."
"You're right, Mr Renny. Grant and I have the food and the shelter, and we have decided that we can't risk letting you past this gap. But of course we can't leave you to starve. We haven't much food and we have been living chiefly on fish. What we have we'll share with you. We are going to bring you rations for a day and a blanket apiece. That's all we can spare. You'll have to find a cave to sleep in."
"Well, I suppose it's all we could expect and we must be grateful for small mercies. I'll go back and untie Jupp while you fetch the food and stuff."
He turned back to the cove and Neil went west to join Archie. He told Archie what he had arranged, and Archie merely grunted. Then they went back to the cave together and began sorting out the food.
"Lucky we got those extra blankets from the wreck," Neil said.
They had just finished making up the blankets and food in a bundle when Neil heard or thought he heard a slight sound behind him. He was in the act of turning when a pair of bony arms caught him round the body and flung him to the ground.
"Thought you was so smart, Mr Neil Forsyth," came Jupp's jeering voice in his car. "But maybe you ain't so smart as you thought yourself."
NEIL struggled hard, but it was no use for Jupp's whole weight was on him. The man crushed him back against the hard, rough rock.
"If you've got any sense at all you'd better keep quiet," said Jupp viciously.
Neil kept still. It was no use wasting his strength. Another violent struggle was going on close by. Renny had Archie down, but it seemed was having his work cut out to hold him. Archie was big for his age and, now that he had hardened up, a match for most men.
But Renny, though not tall, was very powerful, and presently had Archie pinned down and unable to move.
"Going to behave yourself, Grant?" he asked in a jeering voice. "I've got to have your promise or else I shall tie you."
Archie remained sullenly silent. Renny looked across at Neil. "What about you, Forsyth? Will you go quietly if you are let up?"
"What do you mean?" Neil asked curtly. He was so sick and savage it was all he could do to speak at all.
"I mean I want your promise you won't fight or bolt? If you'll give that you can get up and carry on as usual."
"How do you know, we'll keep it?"
"I'll take a chance on that."
"And how long for?" Neil demanded.
"Say a week."
Neil hesitated. "What do you say, Archie?"
"Anything you like," said Archie drearily. "They've been too smart for us."
"All right, Mr Renny," said Neil. "Truce for a week."
"You'll be sorry if you let 'em go," growled Jupp. "Much better tie 'em tight."
"And let you do the cooking?" sneered Renny. "Not if I know it. Let Forsyth get up."
Jupp obeyed with a very ill grace, and Neil got to his feet.
"You forgot the launch," Renny said. "One of the floorboards floated up and I fished it out. It made a capital bridge across the gap. I was only waiting to get you out of the way before I used it."
He chuckled and Neil bit his lip. All his precaution had gone for nothing. Renny went on.
"As I said before, we're all in the same box and we have to make the best of it. You boys seem to have made yourselves quite comfortable here and, by the look of your furniture, you must have found plenty of driftwood. I'll ask you to carry on with the housekeeping, Forsyth. How much food have you here?"
There was no use trying to hide anything. Neil showed him.
"But you didn't bring all those tins of meat with you," said Renny shrewdly.
"We got them off a wreck."
"A wreck!" Renny's voice was eager. "Where is it?"
"On the other side of the island. We reached it with a raft."
Neil was not giving away any more than he had to, and he meant to keep the boat secret as long as possible.
"Is there any rigging left on the wreck?" Renny asked.
"Yes," said Neil.
Renny turned to Jupp. "We might rig a shear legs if we could get spars," he said, "and raise the launch. She's not in deep water."
"A fat lot of good she'd be," said Jupp.
"We could repair her. She'd float," Renny insisted.
"She'd float," growled Jupp. "She wouldn't go. The magneto's done in with the salt water."
Renny refused to be discouraged. "We could rig a sail. She'd move then."
"I don't know nothing about sails," said Jupp sullenly.
"I guess you're right, Renny," said Duncan, speaking for the first time. "We could get home in her."
Renny looked at Neil.
"Are you game to help, Forsyth?"
"I'd help if I thought you'd take Grant and myself back to the mainland."
"I'll give you my word on that," Renny answered.
Neil looked hard at him and Renny laughed. "I mean it," he said. "We talked of a truce and I meant it. You two play the game and I'll do the same. My promise is that so long as we are together here on this island we three will do nothing to harm or injure you two. We'll take our share of the work and try to make things comfortable generally."
"And afterwards?" Neil could not help asking.
Renny's lips tightened.
"That's a different story. This agreement is at an end when you and Grant are put ashore in Scotland. Now what do you say about it?"
"I say what you said a while back. We can't help ourselves. What about you, Archie?"
"Anything you say, Neil," Archie answered heavily, and Neil saw that he was taking it very hard indeed. Renny, on the other hand, was pleased.
"I'm glad you're so sensible," he said. "Now we might have something to eat."
Neil set to work to light a fire. He and Archie were both wet through and he felt some hot food would be a good thing. They had brought several tins of coffee from the wreck and he used some to make a pot. Renny was helpful. He set the table. Duncan, who was a tall fellow with a big, beaky nose and a very American voice, simply sat and looked on, while Jupp was equally useless. Neil saw from his expression that he was in a very sulky mood. Renny saw it too, and took a chance of a word aside with Neil.
"Don't you worry about Jupp," he said in a low voice. "He's in a bad temper, but I can handle him. And he's a first-class mechanic, the only one of us who can fix up a way to raise the launch. If we can get stuff from the wreck we'll soon have her above water."
"We'll try," said Neil briefly. What was bothering him was the fact that they could not get to the wreck without the boat, for they had not bothered to bring the raft back. He waited till he could speak to Archie without being overheard and told him his dilemma.
"Do you want them to use the boat?" Archie asked.
"I don't see any way out of it," Neil answered. "With these three fellows to feed we must get more grub from the wreck and some more blankets."
They had lunch, and Renny complimented Neil on his cooking and especially on the coffee, The man had good manners and could make himself extremely pleasant. Neil told him about the boat and Renny's eyes widened. "Why didn't you go back in her?" he asked.
"Not unless we had to," said Neil. "She's only a dinghy."
"She'll be mighty useful to us right now," said Renny. "I reckon you and I and Jupp will go the first trip."
The sea was fairly calm and there was no difficulty in pulling round to the wreck. Renny chatted away as if he was Neil's best friend, but Jupp sat silent and his face was venomous. The dinghy drove in between the Pinnacles and Renny stared in surprise at the vast heights of the great sea cave. "How in sense did a ship ever get in here?" he exclaimed.
Neil did not answer. His eyes were on Jupp. Jupp, at sight of the wreck, had started quite sharply, and the dull, sullen look in his eyes had changed to one of lively curiosity.
"He's seen her before," said Neil to himself. "No doubt about that."
THEY came alongside and climbed aboard.
"I reckon you have looted her pretty thoroughly," Renny said to Neil.
"We've taken only what we wanted," Neil answered. "Food and blankets and tools. The lazarette is under water, and we had to dive for some of the stuff. But there ought to be more tins and a few more blankets."
"You haven't been through her papers?"
"We didn't bother about that. All we know is that she is the Anita and her captain's name was Lowry."
"A timber ship, I see," said Renny. He turned to Jupp. "Plenty of stuff for rigging a shear legs," he remarked.
"Plenty, but the spars are too big to load in this boat," replied Jupp.
"We can tow them," Renny said. "Better see what we need and get them ready, Jupp."
"I can see them easy enough," Jupp answered. "It's the blocks and tackle will be the trouble. I'll go forrard and have a look in the carpenter's stores."
Neil smiled to himself. Jupp wanted a chance to explore. He decided to watch the man. Could he know anything of the money?
"I'll collect the rest of the food," Neil said, and went toward the galley.
Renny got busy with the rigging. Neil waited until Renny's back was turned, then slipped quietly below.
Sure enough, Jupp was in the captain's cabin. Neil could hear him pulling out drawers. Neil crept cautiously into the cabin opposite and hid behind the door. It was risky, but he had to chance it, for he felt he must find out what the man was after. He could hear Jupp talking softly to himself; then he caught words.
"Grier said the box was here. I'll lay those brats have found and hid it."
Neil smiled. He kept very quiet and waited, hoping it would not occur to Jupp to enter this cabin where he was hidden. He heard Jupp putting back the drawers he had pulled out; then the man came out, and Neil held his breath as Jupp stood still in the passage. He was intensely relieved when the fellow went on forward, and, waiting only until he was out of sight, Neil slipped out of his cabin and hurried back up the companion.
He stripped off, went down into the lazarette and got the rest of the tins. He also got four more blankets and a quantity of other useful odds and ends. Jupp came up with coils of rope and some large blocks, and by this time Renny had the three spars that were wanted. These were lashed together, and lowered into the water; then the other stuff was loaded into the dinghy and, towing the spars, they started back toward the cove. The spars were heavy and made the pulling hard, but fortunately the sea was still smooth and they got slowly back.
The first thing Neil noticed, when he reached the cave, was that Archie had a black eye; the next that Duncan had a pair. Renny saw it too, but made no remark. Archie was in much better spirits than a few hours earlier.
When the weather was fine they did their cooking on a fireplace built of stones outside the cave. It was while Neil was making the fire to cook supper that he got his first chance of a word with Archie.
"Did you lick him?" he asked in a whisper.
"I licked him all right," said Archie briefly. "He was slacking round and I told him to help me to cut wood. He said he wasn't there to cut wood, and made a few remarks about my sinking the launch. So then it started."
He chuckled softly. Neil laughed too.
"Good for you, Archie! It's just what he wanted. He won't be so bumptious next time." He looked round. "Jupp knows the Anita, and he knows there was money in her."
"But he can't find it," Archie whispered.
"I'm not so sure. You know I hid it in a crevice at the back of the cave. It's just where he might think I'd put it."
"Then you'll have to shift it."
"Hush, here's Renny," whispered Neil.
"We've done well today," said Renny cheerfully. "Jupp says we ought to be able to rig the shears tomorrow and raise the launch next day. If she isn't much damaged we might be off in a week."
"Time, too," said Neil quietly. "This weather isn't going to last very long, and once it breaks we'll have a job to get back to the mainland."
All five slept in the cave and the night passed quietly. Renny had them all up at daybreak, and after breakfast they all went down to the cove and set to erecting the shears for raising the launch. By lunch-time the whole thing was ready.
They ate food they had brought with them and rested a while; then Renny spoke.
"Next thing is to fasten the ropes to the launch. It's a diving job."
Neil would have offered, but to his surprise Duncan stood up.
"Guess I can do that," he said, and began stripping off.
"I'll have a look at her first," he said, and took a beautiful header.
His long body disappeared beneath the surface. The others waited for him to reappear, but the seconds ticked by and nothing happened.
"He's hurt!" cried Renny suddenly.
Neil, bending over, got a glimpse of something white struggling far beneath the surface. Duncan was caught in something. Snatching his knife from his belt, he dived from the ledge.
IT was a rope. A loose end floating out in the tide had in some way got wrapped round Duncan's body. He was still sensible, still trying to free himself, but he had no knife, and it was clear he was nearly done.
Neil caught the rail of the launch with his left hand and with the knife in his right sawed at the rope. It was horribly tough, and it seemed an age before he managed to draw the blade through it. By that time Duncan had collapsed and lay limp and helpless. Neil had to drop his knife in order to get hold of him. Then, getting his feet against the deck of the sunken launch, he forced himself and Duncan upward.
As Duncan's head came above the surface Archie seized him and dragged him ashore, and Renny helped to lift him out. Neil followed. Renny had gone quite white. For once he had lost all his usual calm, and Neil saw he was badly scared.
"Is he dead?" he asked.
"Dead," repeated Neil. "Of course not. He hasn't been under a minute. Lay him flat on his face."
Neil had had ambulance training with his Scouts and knew what to do. Within a couple of minutes Duncan had got rid of most of the salt-water he had swallowed, and was breathing regularly. Neil dried him with some canvas, helped him into his clothes, and made him comfortable in a sunny corner among the rocks out of the wind. Then he himself went in again to fix the rope.
Once this was done Jupp took charge, and much as Neil disliked the man he had to confess that Jupp was a good mechanic. He knew exactly what he was about, and how best to use the man-power at his command. Before dinner-time they had the launch out of the water and resting on a cradle of planks, which they had made ready beforehand. Then they examined her bow.
"We can mend that all right," said Archie confidently. "It's not as big as the hole in the dinghy. I could almost do it myself."
Neil saw Renny staring at Archie, and it was plain to him that Renny was both astonished and displeased. He chuckled inwardly. This Archie was a very different person from the one whom Renny had fooled so easily over the salmon poaching, and Renny himself was just beginning to realise this fact.
"You're right, Archie," Neil said. "We can mend her up all right."
"Then you'd better get to it," said Jupp sourly. "I don't know nothing about carpenter's work."
"You see to the engine, Jupp," Renny advised.
Jupp shrugged his bony shoulders. "Fat lot of good that's going to do. The salt-water's ruined the mag, and we ain't got no spares. Best thing'll be to take the engine out altogether. She'll sail better."
"Then take it out, if you can do it without damaging the hull," said Renny. "We will get to work on the bow."
They had the planking brought from the Anita and plenty of tools, and Renny did his share with the rest. Archie, who had become really keen on carpentering, cut and planed the pieces for mending the hole and more or less took charge. It tickled Neil's sense of humour to notice Archie giving orders to Renny and Renny obeying them.
There was a lot of work to do. First the hull had to be made watertight, then a mast cut and stepped and stayed. It would take a good deal of sail to move the launch at anything like a reasonable speed. Neil, who knew more of sailing than the others, took charge of this part of the work.
Two days they worked; then came a day of rain so heavy that they had to stay under cover. But Neil put on his waterproof cape and said he would catch some fish off the rocks at the west end of the island. Archie remained in the cave. It was understood between them that one should always keep an eye on Jupp in case he started hunting for the money.
Neil found a nook among the rocks, where he got a little shelter and had already a nice basket of fish, including three codling, when he heard someone coming. To his surprise it was Duncan who came slowly and rather clumsily over the slippery rocks.
"Anything wrong?" Neil asked sharply.
"I guess not," replied Duncan in his high-pitched voice. "I came to see how you were getting along. I see you've got a real nice lot of fish."
"Pretty fair," agreed Neil.
He could see Duncan was embarrassed, and wondered what he had come for; but he was not going to ask. Duncan stood watching as Neil drew in his line, took off a coal fish, rebaited, and flung it out again. The rain had cased off to a drizzle, but the sky was still heavy with clouds. There was a long silence. At last Duncan spoke again. "I kind of wanted to thank you for pulling me out of the water that time, Forsyth. Don't seem to have had a chance until now. It was fine of you."
"Someone had to do it," said Neil rather ungraciously.
"I don't reckon there was anyone else there could have done it but you," replied Duncan. "And I'd have drowned if you hadn't been so quick."
Neil looked round. "You've nothing to thank me for. It just happens I'm pretty much at home in the water."
Duncan's face fell. He looked so sad, that for a moment Neil felt half sorry for him.
"Guess I'd better have kept my mouth shut," Duncan said mournfully. "I know you don't like me, and there's some that, in your place, would have let me drown."
Neil grew angry. "Let you drown! That's a nice way to talk. It must be mixing with people like Renny that puts such rotten ideas into your head."
Duncan looked surprised.
"Renny's all right. What's the matter with Renny? He's only standing up for my rights."
"Your rights!" repeated Neil. "What rights do you think you've got?"
"I'm older than Archie. I reckon that gives me the right to Glen Tallach."
"Age has nothing to do with it," retorted Neil. "By your uncle's will Mr Chard was left to choose between you and Archie. He might have chosen you if you and Renny had not played all these dirty tricks on Archie and myself. As it is you've simply cooked your own goose, and there isn't the slightest doubt in my mind that Archie will have the place."
"Played dirty tricks!" repeated Duncan, staring at Neil. "That's a right nasty thing to say, Forsyth. It's true that Renny took you over to this island, but that was only to keep you out of the way for a bit until he could talk to old Chard. You had your stores all right, and he was bringing you fresh stuff this trip. Anyway, he was going to fetch you back before the winter."
It was Neil's turn to stare. Was it possible that Duncan knew nothing of what had happened at Garinish and of Renny's other attempts to get Archie into trouble?
HE was thinking how best to explain things when there came a loud shout from the hill behind, and here was Archie running hard toward them. He had a coil of rope slung round him.
"What's the matter with you, Archie?" was Neil's greeting as the other raced up.
"You—you're all right?" gasped Archie, who was almost breathless with the speed at which he had come.
"Of course we're all right. Did you think Duncan was slaying me?"
"Jupp—Jupp said you'd been caught by the tide," panted Archie. "He'd been up at the top. He—he shouted to me that you were out on the rocks, with the water all round you. Told me to bring a rope."
Neil looked at the other. "Poor old Archie! And it never struck you he was kidding you?"
"Kidding me!" Archie's jaw dropped, and a look of almost comical dismay came upon his face. "But—but what for?"
As he spoke Neil gave Archie a look of sharp warning. Archie groaned.
"So that was it. Of course you're right. But it never struck me till now."
He looked so dreadfully downcast that Neil could not be angry. He smacked him on the shoulder. "It may be all right. Let's get back and see." He turned to Duncan, who was looking completely puzzled.
"Do you mind bringing those fish, Mackay?" Then, leaving Duncan to collect the fish, he and Archie went off uphill at full speed.
"Of course it's no good, Archie," said Neil as the two reached the top. "He must have got the box by now."
"I'm afraid he has," groaned Archie.
"What about Renny? Was he there?" Neil asked.
"No; he went down to the cove when the rain let up."
"Then Jupp had a clear field."
"I know," said Archie miserably, "but I never thought of the box. All I thought of was you being up on that rock."
"Of course you did," said Neil kindly. "I should probably have done the same myself if I'd been in your place. Slack up a bit and let's see if Jupp's in sight."
"Can't see him," replied Archie. "Likely he's in the cave."
Neil shook his head. "We got him down and tied him up the other day, and he knows we could do it again."
The cave was empty. Neil went straight to the recess at the back of the cave where he had hidden the box.
"It's gone," he said briefly.
Archie's face was a picture of despair. "All my fault," he groaned.
"Don't be silly," returned Neil quite sharply. "And, anyhow, there's no real need to worry. Jupp can't take the money off the island. He had to hide it somewhere outside. We'll get it back all right."
"I don't see how," said Archie dolefully.
Neil looked round to be sure no one was within hearing. But Duncan was still a long way off. "He's got to take it in the launch. That's when we get it back. If he makes any trouble I shall tell Renny. Renny's all sorts of a brute, but I'm pretty sure he won't stand for his man stealing somebody else's cash. He's playing for bigger stakes."
Archie grinned suddenly. "You mean you'll set Renny on Jupp. Jolly good idea. They might slay one another."
"You're a bloodthirsty beggar, Archie," remarked Neil. "Let's go down to the cove and help with the launch. Don't let Jupp see you know anything."
Archie scowled. "I'll try," he answered, but Neil had a feeling that he was not going to try very hard.
The rain had stopped. Renny and Jupp were at work on the launch. Jupp looked up at Archie and a crooked grin crossed his freckled face. After a bit Duncan turned up and they all worked steadily. Jupp was still busy getting out the engine. Archie came behind him, carrying a plank, and the end of the plank knocked Jupp's hat off and gave him quite a sharp rap on the head.
"Sorry," said Archie, but he did not look very sorry. Jupp swung round and swore at him.
"You did that on purpose," he shouted.
"I've told you I was sorry," said Archie. Jupp lost his temper and lashed out at Archie. Archie jumped back, at the same time twisting his plank round swiftly. The end caught Jupp behind the knees and knocked him off his balance. There was only a narrow space between the launch and the rim of the rock lodge. Jupp toppled over the edge and disappeared with a splash into the cold salt-water below.
His head bobbed up. There came a strangled yell, then down he went again.
"Why, he can't swim," cried Archie and, before Neil could stop him, in he went.
"Keep clear, you ass. He'll drown you," shouted Neil, as he flung off his coat and took a header.
Archie knew just enough of swimming to keep his own head above water, and when Jupp got him by the leg he was helpless. It was lucky for them all that Duncan was there. Duncan was as good in the water as Neil, but even so Jupp and Archie were both half drowned before they were lugged out, and that was the end of work for the day.
Jupp was so bad that they had a job to get him back to the cave, and then they had to put him to bed. Archie had not swallowed so much water, and was pretty well himself again by supper-time.
"You did that on purpose," Neil accused Archie, when he got him alone after supper.
"So Jupp said," replied Archie.
"You'd better be careful," Neil warned him. "He'll have it for you after this."
"He may be scared to try anything more," said Archie significantly; and once more Neil was left wondering at the amazing change in his pupil.
Jupp was all right next day, and in two more days they finished and rigged the launch. They tried her, and she sailed fairly well.
"Better start tomorrow if it's fine," said Renny, and Neil agreed. They were all tired that night, and turned in early. Neil was sound asleep when he felt someone shaking him awake.
"I heard that dog again," Archie said, in his ear. Neil sat up swiftly. "There it is again," whispered Archie.
Neil jumped up. "I heard it. Come on."
THE bark sounded a third time. It came from the direction of the sea.
"The dog must be on the rocks outside," said Archie in a puzzled voice.
Neil stood still. "It's not a dog, Archie. It's a seal."
"A seal? Does a seal bark?"
"Yes, that's a seal. It's on the rocks below. I'll show you, if you like. It's bright moonlight."
"It's jolly hard to believe it's not a dog," said Archie, as he turned toward the mouth of the cave. Suddenly he stopped.
"Where's Jupp?" he asked, pointing to that worthy's sleeping- place, which was empty. Duncan and Renny were both on their grass couches, sound asleep.
Instead of answering, Neil hurried outside. He held up his hand for silence. The night was very quiet and fine, and the only sound was the slow wash and splash of the surf on the rock-bound shores of the island. But Neil's keen ears caught something else, a rattle of metal against wood.
"He's clearing out," said Neil swiftly. "I hear him setting the sail. Quick, Archie!" As he spoke he snatched up a plank and raced away along the path. He felt absolutely certain that he was right and that Jupp had sneaked out, taken the cash-box from its hiding-place, and was off in the launch to the mainland. He felt equally certain that the man would have lifted the bridge. That was why he took the plank. Archie seized the other end of the plank, and the pace at which they travelled along that rough narrow ledge was amazing.
Just as Neil had expected, the plank was gone. They flung theirs into position and dashed across. As they came to the corner above the cove the first thing Neil saw was the sail of the launch flapping in the light breeze. Jupp was aboard.
Neil spurted, and went down that perilous steep in a series of tremendous bounds. The flapping of the sail and the rattle of cordage drowned the sound of his approach, and he reached the ledge just as Jupp was in the act of casting off. Neil did not hesitate. With one bound he was aboard. Jupp saw him, and flung himself out of the way. Neil lost his balance on the deck, which was wet with dew, and came down, sitting. Jupp spun round like a top and struck at him with his fist. His bony knuckles crashed on Neil's forehead, knocking him flat and stunning him. At that moment Archie arrived.
"You brute!" he shouted as he also leaped aboard.
That shout was a mistake. It warned Jupp and gave him time to turn. Next moment Archie, too, measured his length on the deck. Jupp cast an anxious glance at the path, but there was no sign of anyone else coming. He gave an ugly chuckle, then, snatching up a length of rope, tied Archie's wrists and ankles so firmly that he was quite helpless. He looked at Neil, but Neil was still insensible.
"Got me a crew, anyway," said Jupp with malicious triumph, as he loosened the second rope and took the tiller. Although Jupp had said he knew nothing of sailing he was quite well able to handle a boat so long as the weather was not too bad. Tonight conditions could hardly have been better, for a light breeze from the west filled the big sail and in a very few moments drew the launch safely out of the little harbour. Jupp grinned again as he sat at the tiller.
"Got the cash and the kids," he remarked to himself with great satisfaction. "Couldn't have been better." He reached out and stirred Neil with the toe of his dirty shoe.
"Wake up, you!" he ordered. "You've got to work so long as you're in my crew."
Neil was just coming round. His head still sang with the heavy blow Jupp had dealt him, and he felt very dizzy, but he was hard as nails and in the very pink of condition, so that the effects of the blow were rapidly passing.
But Neil was too smart to let Jupp think he was as well as he was. He groaned and lay still. Yet out of his half-shut eyes he was taking everything in. He saw that Archie was tied up, and rather wondered that he himself had not shared the same fate. He wondered, too, whether Archie was much hurt, but presently saw that he was stirring, so hoped he was not.
He saw that Jupp was making for the mainland. Well, it would take some time to get there, and there might be a chance to cut Archie loose. If he could get that chance he had little doubt but that he and Archie between them could get the better of Jupp.
The launch was sailing quite well with the wind aft of the beam. Jupp, finding that Neil did not seem inclined to move, grew angry.
"I know you're shamming, young Forsyth," he said in a nasty voice. "If you don't get up sharp I'll chuck a bucket of sea- water over you."
The night was none too warm, and Neil certainly did not want a ducking. He sat up slowly. "So you've got us at last, Jupp," he remarked. "What are you going to do with us?"
"You're going to do some work first, you brat!" snapped Jupp. "What'll come after depends a lot on how you behave."
"You mean you want us to help to sail the boat?"
"I can sail it myself all right," retorted Jupp. "You'll do the cooking. As for him (pointing to Archie), he'll lie there!"
"Ah, you'd be scared to turn him loose," said Neil softly.
"Scared? I could knock the stuffing out of six like him!" retorted Jupp. "You go light the oil-stove and get me a cup o' hot coffee. And see you ain't too long, or I'll know why."
Neil obeyed. He did not want a row at present but, rather, time to think things over and see what could be done. With this breeze the launch was not doing more than five knots, and even if the wind held the passage to the mainland would take six or seven hours. He glanced at the sky. It was still quite clear; a little too clear, if anything. He fancied the wind would harden with the dawn, and perhaps come from another quarter.
There was food aboard the launch. They had loaded her up on the previous evening. Neil lit the oil-stove and put on a kettle. By this time Archie had come to himself and was vainly trying to wriggle loose. It was a hopeless job, and Jupp's jeers were not improving his temper. Neil managed to catch Archie's eye and sign to him to keep quiet. Archie understood and subsided. The kettle boiled, Neil made the coffee and took a mugful to Jupp. Then he took another to Archie.
"Who told you he could have any?" Jupp snapped angrily.
"Don't be silly. There's plenty for all of us," Neil said. He knew very well that Jupp could not leave the tiller unless he first lashed it, and that would take a minute or so. Jupp contented himself with a threat.
"If you don't do what I say you'll find the difference when we gets ashore."
Neil paid no attention and Archie got his coffee, and it did him good. Then Neil had a cup himself and felt the better for it.
By this time the first streaks of dawn were visible in the east, and as the light increased Neil noticed long streaks of dark, hard-edged cloud across the yellow sky. It was going to blow. The question was from what direction? If it came on hard from the south-west they would make a quick passage, but if it changed and blew out of the north or east it was going to be awkward. He did not think Jupp knew much about sailing. Indeed, he was certain of it, for any sailor would know what those clouds meant.
"Well, I'm not going to tell him," said Neil to himself, and settled down to wait.
AN hour passed; the Sun was up, but the breeze still held westerly and moderate. The change was not coming yet. By this time Calpay was seven or eight miles astern, and no more than a dot on the horizon. But the mainland to the east was much clearer and Neil could trace the tops of familiar mountains on the skyline.
He wondered where Jupp intended to land. Certainly it would not be at a town, but more likely in some lonely bay or river mouth. Neil's thoughts turned to the money. He was firmly resolved that Jupp should not go off with it.
Poor Archie shifted restlessly on the deck. He was miserably uncomfortable, and kept looking at Neil imploringly. Neil had a great command over his temper, but all the time he was getting more and more angry with Jupp. He felt it was only a question of time before he boiled over. What he was waiting for was the shift of wind. He knew it would come, and probably with a strong puff. When it did and Jupp was busy with sheet and tiller then would come his chance. He would cut Archie loose and together they would fall on Jupp.
Suddenly Neil spotted a vessel of some sort far to the east. Jupp had not yet noticed it, and Neil dared not stare at it for fear of attracting his attention. Presently he saw it was a launch coming out from the land in the direction of Calpay.
Could it be Mr Chard or Dr Ruthven? If only it were!
The launch came steadily nearer, and still Jupp failed to see her. The fact was that the sail was between him and her, while Neil, further forward, saw her under the foot of the sail. There was something familiar to Neil about the launch, and presently he recognised her. She was the Storm King, the same ancient, and untidy craft that he and Archie had seen more than a fortnight ago and whose disreputable-looking crew had searched the wreck of the Anita. Hardly had Neil become certain of this fact before he saw that the Storm King was changing course; she was turning in the direction of the Spray.
Neil hardly know what to do. Should he tell Jupp at once, or leave him to find out? In any case he was bound to see her soon. He did see her, and Neil saw him stiffen while a look of suspicion, almost alarm, showed in his greenish eyes.
"What's that craft?" he snapped out.
"She's the Storm King," Neil told him. "And her crew are three of the toughest-looking fellows I ever saw. They're worse than you," he added.
"None o' your cheek!" roared Jupp furiously. "What do you know about 'em?"
"I know they're after the notes you've stolen," Neil told him plump and plain.
"How do you know that?"
"Because Grant and I watched them search the wreck some days before you and Renny turned up, and because we heard what they said when they were leaving."
The colour drained from Jupp's face.
"It's Grier!" the man muttered in a shaken voice. "Crooknose himself. Of all the wicked luck!"
Neil realised that Jupp knew the crew of the Storm King, and was scared half to death of them. But it was not Jupp he considered; it was the money. These fellows were out to get hold of it, and once they had it, it would be gone for ever.
"Hadn't you better turn and try to get away?" he said to Jupp.
"What's the use?" Jupp asked despairingly. "With their engine they can run rings round us."
"I'm not so sure of that. Look out!" he cried sharply. "Here's the wind! Tack, or you'll be taken aback!"
Up to the north the sea had gone dark, under a sudden squall. The wind had gone right round from almost due west to north-east. Jupp seemed lost. He was so frightened he hardly knew what to do. With one bound Neil sprang into the cockpit, forced the man aside and seized the tiller and the sheet. He was only just in time. Next moment the Spray had come round and was racing away in the opposite direction.
"Reef her down," Neil ordered curtly.
"I don't know how!" Jupp confessed.
"Then cut Grant loose. He can do it. Quickly, or we shall lose the sail!"
Jupp obeyed like a lamb. He was horribly frightened. But the squall passed swiftly and the deck levelled again.
The Storm King was now only a few hundred yards away, and although the Spray was travelling pretty fast the other, with the wind behind her and her engine running full out, was gaining. Jupp was staring at her, with horror in his eyes.
"It's Crooknose!" he gasped. "He'll finish the lot of us if he gets aboard!"
Neil thought it quite likely, and secretly was almost as scared as Jupp.
Within another five minutes the Storm King was within hailing distance, and Neil saw a man rise, an enormously tall, gaunt fellow. He had a face like a rusty hatchet, with a huge nose which had been broken at some time, giving him a most sinister appearance. Crooknose Grier!
For a moment Grier stared at the shrinking Jupp, then suddenly he laughed.
"It's Jupp, boys! I knowed it was. Now I can see him. Hey, Jupp, lay to. We want to talk to you!"
"Gosh, what an awful-looking brute!" muttered Archie, who had come over close to Neil. "What are we going to do, Neil?"
"I wish I knew. I'm all for carrying on as long as we can."
"All right. I've got this boat-hook, only I'm not showing it. And I've got a big wrench for you. We might beat them off!" Archie's eyes were shining.
Grier spoke again.
"I told you to lay to, Jupp! You boy at the tiller, throw her up into the wind."
THE wind was still strengthening and the pace at which the Spray was travelling was really astonishing. Neil could never have believed a motor-launch would move so well under sail. He noticed that the Storm King was not living up to her name. She was labouring badly in the rising waves and was hardly doing more than keep her distance. He hardened his heart. "I'm not coming about in this sea," he cried.
A look of fury showed on Grier's face.
"Then, by gum, I'll run you down." He turned. "Wyon, give her all you've got."
Wyon, the man in the cockpit, growled out something which Neil could not hear. It sounded like a protest. But he advanced the throttle and the speed of the Storm King increased.
Jupp spoke suddenly, "Stop her, Forsyth. It's no good. Grier'll drown the lot of us if we don't do as he says."
"I not so sure of that," Neil answered. "Listen to that engine of theirs. It's making a noise like nothing on earth."
"Do as I say," snarled Jupp, and turned savagely on Neil. He had forgotten Archie. Archie caught his leg from behind and brought him down with a smash that knocked not only all the wind but all the sense out of him.
"Look out, Neil!" cried Archie sharply. "She's trying to ram us."
"She daren't," cried Neil in triumph. "She'd sink before we did; Grier knows it."
Neil felt certain he was right, for the Storm King was quite close to the Spray yet had not attempted to ram. The fury on Grier's face was another proof.
Neil set to sail the Spray for all she was worth, and with the wind that was now blowing the way she walked was surprising. Quite plainly the Storm King was doing all she knew to even keep up.
Archie could hardly hold himself for excitement.
"Carry on, Neil. We'll beat 'em."
"We've a chance if this wind holds," muttered Neil, who was having his work cut out to hold the leaping, plunging vessel on her course.
The end came with startling suddenness. A horrible crunching noise came from the Storm King, a cloud of smoke rose from her exhaust, and she stopped short.
"Big end gone!" yelled Archie, in a transport of delight.
Neil glanced round. The man Wyon had managed to get the Storm King round head to wind and all three of her crew were working desperately to get out a sea anchor to hold her bow to the waves.
"I suppose she's all right," said Neil doubtfully.
"I suppose you'd like to go and rescue them," returned Archie with sarcasm.
"Might have to if they were sinking."
"Sinking! Not they. They have their sea anchor out and they're rigging a sail. What are we going to do?"
Neil looked at Jupp, who was just beginning to stir. "Tie that beggar up. Then we can decide."
Archie made short work of the job. He was getting quite expert. Jupp was still too dazed to protest.
"Looks like a good chance to get back home," said Archie.
Neil shook his head. "The wind's pulling round east and hardening all the time. It would mean a beat the whole way and this tub does not reach well. Frankly, I don't think it's good enough."
"You mean we must go back to Calpay?" Archie asked, in a very disappointed voice.
"I'm as keen to get home as you, but the odds are we should come to grief. It would be dark before we got in. We've no chart, and I don't know the coast. On the other hand, we can get back to Calpay in little more than an hour."
Archie shrugged. "You know best. Carry on."
Neil nodded and headed round.
"What about the money," said Archie. "Shall I look for it?"
"Yes. The odds are it's in the cabin. But before you search reef her down. This wind's getting pretty stiff."
Archie managed the reefing quickly and well, and under reduced sail they made better weather. Then Archie went into the cabin. It was nearly five minutes before he came out with the metal box under his arm, and by the look on his face Neil saw there was something up. Archie winked and looked at Jupp, and Neil understood.
"Put him in the cabin," he suggested.
Archie got hold of Jupp by the shoulders, lugged him into the cabin and shut the door. Then he came back to Neil.
"I say, there's more than money in that box, Neil," he said in an excited whisper.
"What is there? I didn't see anything but the notes."
"Letters. I found them in a compartment at the bottom. The box has been banged about and a false bottom has broken loose." As he spoke he opened the box. "See?"
"I see, but why are you so excited about a few letters?"
"Didn't you tell me that your father had lost his money in that MacBain Aluminum Syndicate?"
"Yes," Neil answered in a surprised voice. "What's that got to do with it?"
"A whole lot," Archie paused. "I say, I hope you don't mind," he added in an embarrassed tone. "I read the letter."
"Don't be an ass. Of course I don't mind. Tell me just what it says. I can't read it while I'm sailing the ship."
"The letter is from Captain Lowry of the Anita to a firm of solicitors, Messrs Sutherland and Snaith of Edinburgh. It seems that Lowry put some money into this syndicate and found that MacBain had cleared out with the cash. Somehow he got hold of the information that MacBain had gone to Norway, where he has taken the name of Stensen. He's changed his appearance, got hold of false papers of identity, and is living there on the proceeds of his swindle. This letter was to instruct the solicitors to get him—what's the word?—extradited. I suppose Lowry had written the letter during the voyage and meant to post it as soon as he got to port. But he was wrecked and I'm afraid he's drowned."
Neil's eyes were alight with excitement. "But this is wonderful news. Dad may be able to get back some of his money!"
"Wait!" said Archie mysteriously. "There's more in the letter than that. Lowry gives the names of the people who were in with MacBain in this swindling company. And one of them is Renny."
RENNY! Neil was so surprised that for a moment he neglected his steering and the Spray yawed badly. He straightened her quickly. Archie was speaking again.
"You needn't look so surprised, Neil. We know that Renny's a crook, and I guess he's got his fingers in all sorts of queer pies."
"Yes, but the coincidence!" said Neil. "It was Renny dumped us on Calpay. If he hadn't we should never have found the wreck and never have got hold of this evidence against him. Of course, this finishes him."
"Yes, if we can keep it till we reach the mainland."
Neil looked round. "Do you think Jupp knows anything about this letter?"
"Not likely. The money's all he wants,"
"There won't be a chance to hide the box," said Neil slowly. "Renny and Duncan will be down at the cove, waiting for us. And Renny, of course, will want to know what's been happening."
"We shall have to tell him," Archie said. "I mean he will have to know why Jupp cleared out. Strikes me, Neil, the best thing you can do is to hide the letter in your pocket and let Renny see the box and the money. Tell him straight out that the notes belong to Captain Lowry and that we are going to see that he or his heirs get them back."
By this time they were less than a mile off the island, and the boys could plainly see two figures on the rocks above the cove.
Neil nodded. "I suppose it's the only way out, but I don't like it a bit, Archie. If Renny had the faintest idea of this letter he wouldn't stick at anything to get hold of it."
"It's not a bit likely," Archie answered. "Here, give me that false bottom and I'll chuck it overboard. And stick the letter in your breast-pocket."
The island grew larger every moment. The masses of white spray leaping high against its black rocks showed the violence of the gale, and Neil realised it was not going to be easy to get the launch safely into the tiny cove. He ran as near as he dared before dropping the sail, then he and Archie each snatched up a long pole to fend off as the boat went through the narrow entrance.
Renny and Duncan were ready, and in a few moments the Spray was safely tied up in the sheltered pool.
"Had a nice trip?" Renny asked, as the boys stepped on to the ledge. There was a sarcastic ring in his voice which did not please Neil.
"Fine, thank you," he answered.
Renny looked round. "Where's Jupp?"
"In the cabin," Neil told him curtly.
"Alive or dead?" Renny asked.
"Oh, he's quite alive, but we had to tie him up."
A puzzled look showed for a moment in Renny's eyes.
"Sorry, Forsyth," he said in quite a different tone. "You'll have to forgive me. I got a bit worried. I'd be glad if you'd tell me just what did happen."
"Jupp sneaked off in the night and Grant and I were just in time to jump aboard the launch as he pushed off. He knocked us both out, but the weather got too bad for him so we brought him back."
"So that's it," said Renny. "I was under the impression you two had bribed him to take you to the mainland."
"It was quite his own idea, I assure you," Neil answered. Again the puzzled expression crossed Renny's face. He shrugged.
"Frankly, I can't imagine what induced him to bolt in that fashion, Forsyth. I may say I pay him well." Suddenly he noticed the cash-box which Archie had under his arm, and Neil saw quick suspicion in his eyes.
"Does that explain it?" he asked sharply.
"That explains it all right," said Archie bluntly. "There's nearly five hundred in notes in this box. Forsyth and I took it off the wreck. I suppose Jupp thought a lump sum better than the wages he gets from you."
"Five hundred pounds!" said Renny slowly, and Neil realised that he was suddenly suspicious. "Quite a lot of money. You, I take it, were going to restore it to the owner."
"Of course," said Archie curtly. "That's what we are going to do."
"How did Jupp find it?"
"It was hidden in the cave."
Renny nodded but asked no further questions. "I'll let Jupp loose and give him a piece of my mind," he remarked. "I'll guarantee he won't try this trick a second time."
Neil and Archie went quickly up the path toward the cave. When they were round the corner and out of sight and hearing of the others Neil spoke.
"Archie, did you notice that Renny is suspicious?"
Archie half turned.
"I don't know what you mean, Neil. He can't know anything about that letter."
"I'm not so sure," said Neil quickly. "Didn't you see he had my glasses?"
"That's natural enough. He was watching the launch."
"Just so, and the odds are that he saw the Crooknose gentleman tackling us. If he was watching us as we came in with the glasses he'd have seen you hand me that letter and then chuck that false bottom from the cash-box overboard."
"We shall have to be careful, that's all. Hush, they're coming."
They were both pretty hungry, for they had had no breakfast except one cup of coffee, so Neil made a fire and put on some fish. Meantime, Duncan, who was beginning to realise that he had to earn his keep, set the table.
At dinner Jupp sat silent and scowling, but Renny made himself extremely pleasant. Renny had knocked about a lot and could talk well. Neil listened and answered politely when Renny spoke to him. But he was not easy in his mind. He felt certain that Renny was simply trying to allay suspicion.
It was still blowing hard when they finished the meal, and Renny remarked how lucky it was that they had not all started for the mainland that morning. "How long is it going to blow, Forsyth?" he asked.
Neil cocked an eye at the sky.
"Another day and night," he answered.
"Then we might get away the day after tomorrow," Renny said.
"We might," Neil agreed.
They cut wood and did odd jobs that afternoon, and before night Neil managed to wrap up Lowry's letter and tie it next his body under his arm. They turned in early and presently Neil began to breathe deeply. But actually he remained very wide awake.
An hour passed, two hours. At last someone moved and Neil felt a queer tingle run through his body. Renny was creeping across the rough rock floor.
NEIL'S coat hung on a peg which Archie had driven into the wall of the cave. In spite of the dim light Renny knew exactly where to go, but what Neil most wondered at was the wonderful silence in which the man moved.
With practised fingers Renny went through each pocket. There was no light to see his face, but Neil could imagine his anger and disappointment when he failed to find what he was looking for. The search lasted no more than thirty seconds, then with equal silence Renny glided back to his bed and lay down again.
Neil had never moved. All he had wanted was to make certain whether Renny had really any suspicion of the existence of the letter. Now he knew. It speaks well for Neil's nerves that, five minutes later, he was deep asleep and that he did not stir until the morning light roused him.
Renny was polite and courteous as ever at breakfast. He was not giving anything away any more than Neil. He spoke of the weather, and complimented Neil on being a true prophet. It was still blowing, though the sky had cleared. He asked Neil what the prospects were for next day, and Neil said he feared it would blow for some time.
Fishing was out of the question owing to the sea that was running, the launch was all ready for a start, and there was very little left to do. Neil wanted a chat with Archie, but had a job to get it, for Renny kept on talking to him. At last Neil got away on the excuse that he had to take up his rabbit snares, and went away up the hill. He knew Archie would follow. Sure enough Archie came after, and the two got away together to a spot where they knew no one could overhear them.
Neil told Archie what had happened the previous night.
"You see," he said, "we can be certain that Renny believes we have the papers."
"Why didn't you go for him?" demanded Archie, "I'd have helped."
"And what would Jupp have been doing?" asked Neil sarcastically.
Archie grunted. "I suppose you're right, but it's only putting off the scrap. It's bound to come."
"I don't want a scrap," said Neil. "It's too risky. It would finish everything if Renny got hold of the letter, for of course he would destroy it at once and then there'd be no evidence for my dad to work on."
"But how—?" began Archie, then Neil stopped him. "Wait a bit, Archie. If you don't want to fight what's the other thing?"
"Run away, I suppose," growled Archie.
"That's what I thought of doing," Neil said quietly.
Archie shook his head. "It's no go. Renny's taking jolly good care that no one bolts again with the launch. He took the sail out of her yesterday afternoon and brought it up to the cave."
"I know. But he has forgotten the dinghy."
"I thought you said she wasn't fit for the trip."
Neil shrugged. "It's a risk to go, Archie, it's a bigger risk to stay. From the look of the sky I believe the weather will be all right tomorrow. But if you don't feel like it just say so. I shan't think a bit the worse of you if you decide to stay and go with Renny. If you do I'll stay too."
"Stay!" burst out Archie. "Don't talk rot. Of course I'll go with you. I'd have gone long ago if you'd been willing. We've sailed that dinghy a lot, and I'd just as soon be out in her as in the launch, I mean so long as the weather was anything like decent."
Archie's face was as set and firm as Neil's. There was not the least doubt he meant what he said, and once more Neil felt that glow of pleasure, for Archie was now as good a man as even Mr Chard could desire.
"All right," Neil said. "Then I vote we get off as soon as we can."
Archie looked doubtful. "It's still blowing like old boots," he observed.
"I'm pretty sure the wind will drop by night," Neil said.
"Then Renny will want to start."
"Yes, but I put him off. He won't be in any hurry. My notion is to get everything ready tonight and slip off before daylight."
"There isn't much to get ready," said Archie. "All we want is grub and water for a day. But we'll have to risk all three of them being sound asleep when we go."
"We'll have to chance it."
"Yes," said Archie firmly. "We'll have to chance it. But the odds are that I shall be asleep."
"I can wake any time I like," replied Neil, "I think it will be all right."
"Tell you what," said Archie. "After supper I'll pretend I've got a tummy-ache and am feeling sick. Then they won't think anything of it if I do slip out in the night."
Neil laughed. "Then we'll go back and sneak some grub," he replied. "We can hide it outside and you can pick it up as we go. We must have water too, for we might be becalmed and take a couple of days over the trip."
Luck was with them for, when they got back, Renny had gone down to the launch while Duncan was taking a walk. It was only a matter of minutes to hide some biscuits, two tins of meat, and four bottles of fresh water in a handy crevice among the rocks. Then Neil started to cook supper. Archie watched.
"You're fixing up a regular Christmas dinner," he said presently.
Neil winked. "Part of the game. The more they eat the sounder they'll sleep. And I was right about the weather," he added. "The wind's veering. It will be southerly or westerly by morning."
They had fried fish, a capital stew of tinned meat and vegetables, and one of the few remaining tins of fruit as a sweet course. Even the sour and silent Jupp seemed to enjoy his supper. A little later Archie was noticed to be sitting all doubled up, with an agonised expression on his face.
"What's the matter?" Renny asked.
"Eaten too much or something's disagreed with me."
Neil suppressed a desire to laugh, and suggested that Archie had better turn in. Archie obeyed like a lamb. An hour later the lights were out and all were in their beds.
FOUR o'clock. Just as if an alarm clock had gone off inside his head Neil was wide awake. He lay for a while quite still, listening hard. So far as he could tell all the rest were sound asleep. He reached over, took Archie by the arm and shook him gently.
Archie opened his eyes. He understood and lay quiet.
Again they waited, but none of the other three stirred. Archie got up, picked up his clothes and slipped out. Neil was just about to follow when someone moved.
"Who's that gone out?" came Renny's voice.
"It's Grant," replied Neil in a drowsy tone. "Feeling a bit sick, I fancy."
"I'm sorry," said Renny, and lay down again.
Neil thanked his stars for Archie's pretence of the evening before, but all the same he was very uneasy. Now he would have to wait until Renny was asleep again, and—suppose Archie got bothered and came back?
Still there was nothing for it but to lie quiet, and the next five minutes were a heavy strain on Neil's nerves. But there was no sign of Archie, and at last Renny's breathing seemed to prove that he was asleep again.
Neil could wait no longer. He picked up his things and, walking on tip-toe, crept soundlessly out of the cave. There was Archie just round the corner. The night was fine, and though there was no moon the stars gave some light—enough at any rate for him to see that Archie was dressed.
They had not reached the corner before they heard a shout.
"Hi, where are you going?" The voice was Renny's.
"Run!" said Neil urgently. He raced for the corner, and the moment he and Archie were across the gap turned and tipped away the plank.
"That'll stop him," said Archie.
"You'd better come back," called Renny, who had stopped on the far side of the gap. "We are bound to catch you."
But Neil was not wasting any time. In spite of the fact that the sharp rocks cut his bare feet he leaped swiftly down the steep descent to the tiny bay where they kept the dinghy. He had a moment's fear that perhaps Renny had meddled with the boat, but so far as he could see all was right.
"Pull out, Archie!" he ordered. "I'll get the sail up."
How thankful he was that he had taught Archie to row. The dinghy shot out into the open and Neil had the sail up in record time. Just as he had expected, the wind had gone round and was blowing from the south-west, a steady moderate breeze.
"I'll steer; you get your clothes on," said Archie. "It's pretty cold."
Neil dressed in record time, then took Archie's place at the tiller. As the dinghy drew clear of the island she caught the full force of the wind and began to move more rapidly. But the sea was heavy for so small a boat and the wave tops broke over her so that Archie had to bale. Neil, was very anxious.
"They'll be after us, and the launch will travel a lot faster in this sea than we can," he told Archie. "Our only hope is that they won't see us. It's pretty dark."
"But they'll know which way we're going," said Archie.
"Which is more than I do," returned Neil. "I've only the wind to guide me, and if it changes before daylight we shall be properly in the soup. They've a compass in the launch."
"They're starting, I believe," said Archie, straining his eyes in the direction of the island. "I believe I can see her sail."
"Then they'll see ours," said Neil, a bit grimly. "Well, there's nothing for it but to carry on. Watch out, Archie, and tell me if you see her. It's taking me all my time to sail this boat."
"She's sailing jolly well," Archie declared, and he was right. Considering how small she was the way the dinghy ripped along was most encouraging. Up one wave, down another, she was leaving a good wake behind her and moving, Neil thought, at something between five and six knots.
It was roughly thirty miles to the mainland. If this wind held they might hope to do the passage in five to six hours. But there was no saying if the wind would hold.
"Can you see her, Archie?" Neil asked presently.
"Can't be sure. Sometimes I think I catch a patch of white against the sky, but it may be only a breaking wave."
"Then she's not close, anyhow."
A small boat takes a lot of sailing in a rough sea, and Neil had his hands full. So had Archie, for a deal of water came aboard and he had to keep his baler going. So the time wore on until at last the stars began to dim and a ghost-like greyness showed in the east.
"Dawn's coming," said Archie.
"I'm glad," said Neil. "Now we shall see where we are."
"So will Renny," Archie remarked.
"Don't croak. He may be miles away," returned Neil. But he wasn't. As the light increased Archie, who was keeping a sharp look-out, suddenly pointed.
"There's the launch!" he said sharply. Neil looked and whistled softly. "Less than a mile away," added Archie, "and almost level."
"But north of us," said Neil.
"Does that make any difference?"
"A heap," Neil told him. "If she was to the south she'd be on us in ten minutes. As it is—" He paused.
Archie looked puzzled, but only for a moment. "I see!" he exclaimed. "We've been sailing nearer the wind than she."
"That's it, old lad, but we can sail closer still if we want to."
"We'd better. They've seen us."
Archie was right, for the bow of the launch came round, and she headed for a point about a mile ahead of the dinghy. Renny evidently thought he could pick the dinghy up within that distance.
Neil at once answered by turning the dinghy into the wind. The dinghy, from her shape, was able to sail closer to the wind than the flatter-bottomed launch. She did not, of course, sail so fast with the wind on her beam as she had been doing while running free, but the same applied to the launch.
Now the chase was on in earnest, and, as the Sun rose and turned the dull sea to flashing green and snow-white, it was just as if the two craft were sailing a match. So they were; Neil thought and wondered greatly what the outcome would be. He knew Renny too well to expect any mercy if he caught them. In spite of his suave manners the man was hard as nails and set on nothing but his own advantage. Oh, it was going to be bad if the launch proved the better ship!
"She's not gaining," said Archie presently.
"She's not losing either," said Neil.
"See here, Archie, this is going to be a long job and I have to sail the dinghy for all I'm worth. I wish you'd give me a drink of water, and a biscuit."
A look of horror crossed Archie's face. "Neil, I've forgotten the grub," he said in a tone of the deepest distress.
FOR a moment Neil sat quite still and silent. No food, no water, and he was thirsty already.
"I'm a perfect fool," Archie went on bitterly. "My head's like a sieve. Neil, I ought to be kicked."
"Then you'll have to kick yourself, Archie," said Neil. "And me too, for I ought to have reminded you." He laughed. "Don't look so sad, old man. We shan't die. With this wind we ought to be ashore about lunch-time."
Archie shook his head. "It's decent of you to take it like that, but yesterday you said we might take two days."
"If we do Renny will nab us long before we get there," laughed Neil. "Listen, Archie, this is awkward, but it isn't so serious as you think. I believe the wind will hold, and if it doesn't get too strong I think we can keep ahead of the launch. In that case we'll be ashore before dark and then we'll have the finest supper money can buy."
Archie cheered up a little and looked again at the launch. He watched her for some time and turned to Neil.
"She's sailing faster than the dinghy and yet she doesn't seem able to gain a bit," he said, with a puzzled face.
"That's because she can't point into the wind as we do," Neil explained. "Renny is trying to hold her on the same course that we are on, and as you say she is travelling faster than the dinghy. But she's making leeway all the time. I mean she's drifting sideways a foot for every six or seven she goes forward. Do you get me, Archie?"
Archie nodded. "I see. I suppose it's her high side catches the wind."
"Partly that and partly her build. She hasn't as much keel as this dinghy. If the wind fell light we should gain."
"I wish it would," began Archie, then paused. "But if it did," he went on, "we might not get to land for hours, perhaps not before dark."
"That's a fact," agreed Neil, "and that would be awkward, for I don't know much about the coast. But from the sky I think the breeze will hold. It may even strengthen. I hope it doesn't for, if we had to reef down, we shouldn't stand much show. Hulloa, here's a puff." He threw the dinghy into it and she lay down and cut through the water. While it lasted the dinghy gained fast, but as soon as the squall reached the launch she soon made up her leeway.
So it went. Neil sailed the dinghy with such skill that, do what he would, Renny could not come up. Another hour passed, the Sun rose higher and it got quite hot. Neil's throat was growing very dry but he said nothing. In fact, the excitement of the chase did not give him much time to think of anything else. By ten o'clock the outlines of the mainland were getting clearer.
"There's Ben Liath," Neil said, pointing.
"It looks quite close," said Archie.
"It isn't more than twenty miles away. If I could let the dinghy run free we could be ashore quite early in the afternoon. The trouble is that I have to be edging into the wind all the time. It makes the passage ever so much longer and we shall land up miles south of Mulzie."
Midday came. The breeze had fallen light but was stead. The sea was slight. Renny still hung on but, do what he would, could not gain. The coast was now only four or five miles away, and a little to the south the boys saw a wide bay with muddy shores.
"That looks the sort of place we could land," said Archie.
Neil was doubtful. "I can't see a house," he answered. "It's a most desolate-looking spot. I was hoping to see a town, or village. We should be all right then. Renny wouldn't dare to touch us if there were people about."
"There may be houses farther up," said Archie hopefully. "Anyhow it's the only place for us. The rest of the coast is all rocks. I say, the boat's sailing well but we don't seem to be getting on very fast."
"Tide's against us," Neil told him. "Ebb's running out strongly."
It was nearly four in the afternoon when the dinghy entered the bay.
"Hadn't we better land?" Archie asked. Neil pointed to the wide mud flats bared by the receding tide.
"How are we going to cross those? We should be in up to our necks."
Archie groaned, and Neil knew what the trouble was: he himself was so thirsty that it hurt when he breathed. It was now 22 hours since either of them had swallowed a drop of anything liquid. Once more he glanced round and what he saw gave him a shock. The launch had caught a strong puff and was coming up hand over fist. She was less than half a mile away. The dinghy lay almost becalmed.
"Get the oars out, Archie. Pull!" cried Neil.
Archie had the oars in the rowlocks in no time, but though he pulled desperately the launch still gained. In the nick of time the dinghy caught the puff of wind and then she too began to move. Yet though she seemed to be tearing through the water the drag of the tide made the banks pass terribly slowly. The water ran out fast, the mudbanks widened, while the channel grew more and more narrow.
"We're in the mouth of a river," Neil said at last. "I don't like it, Archie. There's not a house in sight and how we are to cross that mud I can't guess."
Cut off by the land the breeze fell light again and presently the launch once more drew up. This time both the boys had to take to the oars.
Neil's breath was wheezing in his throat, the last drops of moisture in his parched body were streaming down his face and still he pulled desperately. The launch was so close he could see Renny's triumphant face.
"The mud, Archie," he croaked. "Pull for the mud."
THEY turned the boat toward the mud.
It was a forlorn hope for, even if they reached it before the launch there did not seem any way of crossing it.
The dinghy's bow bedded itself in the bank. It was simply slime; it would be suicide to try to land on it. So they were caught after all.
Came a shout from Archie. "The launch! She's stopped, Neil."
Neil looked round. There was the launch only about twenty yards away, but stock still. Jupp and Renny were desperately at work with long poles trying to push her off the mudbank on which she had stuck.
"Hard aground," muttered Neil. "That gives us our chance, Archie. Pull!"
Renny called to them.
"You think you've beaten, me, Forsyth. Don't be too sure. I still have a card up my sleeve." He spoke with a nasty certainty which gave Neil a queer, chilly feeling. But Archie was not at all impressed.
"You can't bluff us, Renny," he cried. "Goodbye. We'll never see you again unless it's in the dock." Renny made no answer, just stood watching them as they rowed quickly away. Yet the look on his face made Neil very uneasy.
"He's right, Archie," he said. "The beggar has some plan in his mind. I wish I knew where we were or where we were going. I tell you straight I don't like this place. We may be pulling into some blind end that we can't get out of."
The channel narrowed fast, with high banks of grey mud on either side which cut off all sight of the surrounding country, but the water was fairly deep. A curve shut out all sight of the launch, and the only sign of life was a flock of dunlins feeding on the mud.
They went on and on until Neil's tongue was like a dry stick in his mouth. By Archie's breathing Neil knew that he was in just the same plight, yet Archie never uttered a word of complaint. Looking back over his shoulder, Neil saw a wall of mud ahead.
"A blind end," he muttered. Was this what Renny had meant? Did he know they would be stranded here in this open boat without food or water? He looked at Archie, but Archie's face was set in dogged lines. "We'll have to cross the mud— somehow," he said.
"Pull on to the end," Neil told him. "We'll have a look at it, anyhow."
The tide was now full ebb, and the water in the channel lay stagnant. In a little while the flood would begin, and then Renny could follow them. It was a horrible fix, and for once Neil felt almost despairing. A hoarse call from Archie roused him.
"There's a channel, Neil. It runs to the south. I believe there's enough water to float us. Anyhow, it's worth trying."
The mouth of the channel was narrow, and it ran between steep banks of mud quite six feet high. There was barely room to dip the oars, yet water enough to float the dinghy. The channel wound in and out among the mudbanks. At every turn Neil hoped for a glimpse of dry land, but they went on and on and yet there was none. At last the banks began to look drier and patches of thrift were seen growing on them. Then, all of a sudden, they came out into a small loch and both pulled up and stared round in astonishment. Archie was the first to find his voice.
"A house, Neil!" he exclaimed.
"A burn," retorted Neil, pointing to a rill of water that came down the slope opposite and tumbled into the loch. Without another word they both dipped their oars and pulled straight for the burn. The loch was very small, only about a quarter of a mile long, and it was but a few minutes before the bow of the dinghy crunched on the shingle by the little tumbling waterfall. Both were out in a flash and down on their knees by the water.
Archie drank in great gulps, but Neil stopped him.
"Go slow," he warned him. "You'll get cramp in your tummy if you drink too much at once."
Archie nodded and stopped awhile. Presently they both stood up.
"I feel all made over," said Archie. "Gosh, I never knew before how good cold water could be."
"You never needed it so badly," said Neil. "Now what about the house?"
"Rum-looking place," said Archie.
It certainly was a queer-looking building. In the first place, one was driven to wonder what anyone could want with building a house in such a lonely spot. It was not a farm, for there was not a square yard of cultivated ground, and Neil did not think it was a lodge, because the low hills behind had little heather. Therefore, there were no grouse. Nor was there any fishing. The only sport would be wild-fowling on the marshes.
It did not look like a lodge, either. It was too old. Nearly all the Scottish shooting lodges have been built in the last century, but this house looked as if it had weathered two and perhaps three centuries. Nor was it any marshman's cottage. It was much too big for that.
"No one there," said Archie.
"It doesn't look as if anyone had lived in it for ages," he agreed. "See the garden? One mass of nettles."
"I don't like the look of it," said Archie, frowning.
"A bit ghostly," Neil allowed. "Still, it's the only house in sight. And it'll be shelter. I think it's going to rain."
They started and rowed across. The house was quite close to the water's edge, and there was a landing-stage built of stone, with steps up. They tied the dinghy to an iron ring set in the solid masonry, and went up the steps.
The nearer they came to the old house the grimmer it looked. The outside was perfectly bare, no ivy or creepers of any sort, and the windows were small. The glass was still in them, but it was so dirty that it was impossible to see through. The front door was of ancient oak and iron bound, the roof was thick blue slates. A soft veil of cloud had covered the sky and in the grey light the place had a wretchedly dreary look.
"Gives me creeps," growled Archie, as he turned the door handle. "Locked, I reckon," he grumbled; but to his surprise it was not locked, and opened with a creak of rusty hinges.
Inside was a small square hall thick with dust. The only furniture left was a moth-eaten stag's head above the stone fireplace. A swing door from which hung fragments of green baize opened into a passage at the end of which was the kitchen. The rusty range was full of ashes. There were shelves and a pump, but no other furniture. Neil examined the fireplace.
"There's been a fire here not so long ago," he said. "These ashes are fresh."
"Don't see any coal," Archie answered.
"They've been burning peat. Let's try the yard. We might find something to burn. It wouldn't be so bad if we had a good fire."
A door opened into a yard with out-buildings and a stable. Neil found a store of peat in a shed. "Dry as dust," he said, as he began to fill an old box with the stuff. "Still, it will burn."
"And here's some straw in the loft," Archie called from above. "We can make a shake-down."
They were turning back to the house when the silence was broken by the strangest sound, a dreadful, desolate moaning. Archie pulled up short. "What's that?" he asked in a shaken voice.
NEIL was as startled as Archie. "It might be a water pipe," he said. "I've heard them make funny noises at home."
"Yes, when there's hot water in them," said Archie, "but not in an empty house. Neil, I'm scared. Let's clear out."
Just then a big drop of cool rain struck Neil's face.
"Feel that, Archie?" he asked. "It's going to be heavy soon. Do you feel like spending the night up in the hills there in a rainstorm? No shelter, no food, soaked to the skin, bitter cold."
"Can't we use the boat?" Archie asked. "We should only run into Renny."
"But won't he come after us anyhow?"
"I don't see how he can. He can't sail up that channel, it's too narrow. And he's got no oars."
Archie shrugged. "All right. We'll stay here till daylight, but just as soon as it's light enough to see I'm off."
"Same here," Neil said. "I hate the place as much as you. But let's get a fire burning, Then it won't be quite so bad."
They soon had a good fire in the rusty old stove and Archie arranged the straw for them to sleep on.
"It wouldn't be so bad if we had something to eat," Archie said. "I'm simply aching, I'm so hungry."
"Me too," Neil answered. "Shall we have a look round the house?"
Archie jumped up eagerly and the two started their search. They had already looked into the larder and pantry but these were empty. They went upstairs and tried the upper floors. All were the same, bare, empty rooms with great damp stains on the ceilings and paper peeling from the walls.
They went down again and through the whole of the ground floor. One room was in better order than the rest. It had painted walls and a fine ceiling. But it too was empty. As Neil walked across the floor he stopped.
"I believe there's a cellar below," he said. "This floor sounds hollow."
Before Archie could answer the moaning noise began again. A horrible sound, ending in a dreadful choking gurgle which died slowly into silence.
Archie went white but Neil stiffened.
"It comes from below, Archie, from the cellar," he said eagerly.
"Someone must be tied up there," Archie answered in a shaky voice.
"We must get down and see," Neil said quickly.
They started at once on a search for an entrance to the cellar, but after hunting in the house and all around outside could find nothing of the kind. By this time it was nearly dark and raining steadily. They went back into the kitchen to find the fire almost out. The dry peat had burned away.
"I must get some more before it gets quite dark," Neil said. "We couldn't stick it without a fire."
They got two old boxes and started filling them with peat. It was very dark in the shed and suddenly Archie caught his foot on something. He stopped and lit a match to see what it was.
"An iron ring, Neil," he said. "There's a trap-door. I say, I believe this must be the way down into the cellar." He took hold of the ring and pulled, and at once a square slab of stone rose, showing a flight of stone steps leading downward. The two boys stood gazing into the black gloom below.
"What about it, Archie? Feel like trying it?" Neil asked.
"What about light?" Archie asked.
"I have my torch," Neil said. "And nearly a full box of matches."
Archie set his lips. "All right, let's go."
"Wait!", said Neil. "We'll close that door and pile up some peat around this hole. Someone might turn up."
"Yes, it's on the cards he may know of this house. He was horribly sure he would catch us." He closed the shed door and bolted it, then piled peat around the trap-door so that no one, looking in, would notice that the trap was open. Then he started down the steps and Archie followed.
The steps were of stone, sound and in good order, and led into a large cellar. Neil turned his torchlight to the floor.
"Footmarks," he observed briefly.
"Yes, someone's been here, and not long ago," Archie agreed. "I say, there's a regular track across to the far wall."
"This cellar is under the yard," Neil pointed out. "There's another under the house, for that's where the queer noise came from." He stepped across, following the muddy marks on the flagged floor. "Yes, a door," he went on; "but it's locked."
"And here's the key," said Archie, as the light fell on a large key hanging by a string from a nail fixed in the wall.
"Funny!" muttered Neil, as Archie thrust the key into the lock. It turned easily and the door opened.
"Go slow, Archie," Neil whispered. "Someone's been here pretty lately. That lock was oiled."
"What did they want to lock it for if they left the key?" Archie asked.
"I suppose so that people couldn't get through from inside," Neil answered. "I wonder if there's anyone shut up here." He threw the beam of his torch into the second cellar, and it fell on great piles of cases stacked against the wall.
NEIL whistled softly. "The place is not so empty as we thought," he muttered.
"Neil," said Archie, "I smell cheese."
"Cheese!" Neil's mouth began to water.
He turned the light and as the thin white beam swept the place they both saw things that filled them with amazement. The cellar was a regular storehouse. At least two hundred cases of goods were stored there, piled against the walls. And they could smell, not only cheese, but tobacco and scent and the strong raw odour of spirits.
They paid no attention to these things—in fact, they hardly noticed them. What made them forget everything else was a shelf against the near wall on which stood plates, mugs, cooking- pots, and a number of tins. Near by was an up-to-date oil stove, and there was a table as well.
"Grub!" cried Archie. "Neil, did you ever know such luck?"
Neil was too hungry to think about luck. He hurried forward, and almost the first tin he opened was full of biscuits. He handed out a couple to Archie and began to munch himself while he explored for further spoil. This was a tin of tongue, which he chopped open with his sheath-knife. He cut slices and laid them on a plate. Archie meantime found butter and mustard, and with the biscuits they made a pile of excellent sandwiches. The whole tongue vanished before they were satisfied.
"What next?" asked Archie. "There's a tin of pineapple. Shall we try that?"
"Don't forget we're eating stolen food," said Neil.
"Oh, hang that! We can pay for it," returned Archie recklessly.
"I've had enough to keep me going," Neil said. "Suppose we have a look round before we open your tin of pineapple. We haven't found out yet who made that horrid row—" He stopped short and switched off his light. "There's someone up above," he said in a quick whisper.
"Yes, I hear," Archie answered. "Someone's come into the house. More than one. Who on earth can it be?"
"Renny!" Neil answered, in a tone of cold conviction.
"But you said they couldn't get the launch through that channel!"
"Not then. But the tide's been flowing these three hours, and if Renny knew the channel he could get through. He and Jupp could have used the poles."
"I don't believe it's Renny," said Archie, and almost as he spoke Renny's voice was heard through the floor of the room above.
"They're here. There's a fire in the stove, and look at all this straw. They must mean to sleep here."
"Meant, you mean," came Jupp's voice. "They heard us coming, and hooked it."
"I don't believe it!" Renny's voice was sharp and angry. "Their boat's tied up at the wharf, so they didn't go by water, and Forsyth's a Highlander born and bred. He'd know better than to take to the hills on a night like this. Why, they'd both be dead by morning. They're hiding in one of the outhouses. I'll put my share of that five hundred pounds on it. Come out, Jupp, and help me to search." Feet pounded away in the direction of the back door.
"That's done it, Neil," said Archie. "They're bound to find that trap-door."
"Don't forget I bolted the door on the inside. That bolt's about half an inch thick and they've got no tools."
"They have," returned Archie. "There are some in the launch."
"No axe or heavy hammer. We can lock that in-between door and pile cases against it." As he spoke he switched on the light and went back to the door. He locked it on the inside, lit a candle which he had found among the stores, stuck it in a bottle-neck, and by its light he and Archie set to piling up a barricade of cases. Within a few minutes they had a barricade that would have stopped a regiment.
Archie wiped the perspiration from his forehead and looked at Neil. "This is all very fine, but what does it amount to? It's true they can't get at us, but then we can't get out. We're simply prisoners."
"I'm not so sure of that," Neil said. "Do you notice the air is quite fresh here, but it certainly doesn't come through from the ceiling. There's no grating. Another thing: All these stores. How did they come here? My notion is that there's some other way."
Archie's face brightened. "You may be right. Let's look."
"Light another candle or two. We want light, and plenty of it."
Archie hastily lit three more candles. The small flames flickered, showing that a draught was blowing in this cellar. Neil pointed to the east wall.
"The draught comes from that side. Come to think of it, that wall must face the loch. Yes, it all fits in, for probably the stuff was brought here by water."
"But what for? Do you think this stuff is smuggled?"
"Smuggled or stolen, or both. It must be, for no honest person would hide all those cases in a lonely spot like this," he added as he began to shift a pile of cases. Suddenly he stopped. "Hush! They're back in the house. Listen!"
"What did I tell you?" said Jupp in a sneering tone. "They've gone."
"And I tell you they haven't. They're in that locked shed. Go down to the launch and get a screwdriver. We'll take the door off its hinges."
"Oh, have it your own way!" growled Jupp, and the boys heard his steps going toward the front door.
Archie nudged Neil.
"This isn't Renny's place," he whispered, "or he'd know about the trap-door. Let's go on with the boxes."
"No." Neil's lips were close to Archie's ear and he spoke in the lowest whisper. "If we can hear them they can hear us. Wait till they go out to the shed again."
It was only a minute or two before Jupp was back.
"It's not much of a screwdriver," he grumbled, "and I'll lay those screws are rusted in." He stopped, and the boys heard him gasp with dismay. Small wonder because, for a third time since their arrival, the moaning began again. Then, as before, it died away in hideous splutterings.
"What's that? What is it?" Jupp's voice above was a scream of terror.
"Those boys, most likely," was Renny's reply, "trying to scare us."
"I don't reckon they could make a noise like that," said Duncan, and his voice, too, was a bit shaky.
"I suppose you think it's a ghost?" said Renny scornfully. "I'll soon show you!"
As he strode off Archie turned to Neil.
"It was here, Neil, in this place!"
"I know. And I've a pretty good notion now what it is. It's water."
"Yes. Quite simple. Worked like a ram. You have a little trickle from a tap which fills a reservoir. When it's full it drops and works a thing on the principle of an old-fashioned motor-horn."
Archie stared; then a broad grin crossed his face.
"And that's what's been scaring the stuffing out of me. Of course, it's fixed by the owners just to keep people off."
"That's about the size of it," Neil agreed.
"Thanks, old man, I feel a heap better," Archie declared. "I'm not half so scared of smugglers as I am of spooks. Renny and Jupp have gone. Let's get on with our job."
The cases were piled three and even five deep, not against the wall, but at the distance of a yard or so. The boys had not shifted many before Archie spotted the door.
"You were right, Neil. Here it is, and just where you said it would be." As he spoke he tried the handle. "Locked!" he exclaimed in a very disappointed voice.
He stopped short. "What's that?" Both stood quite still, listening to a sound which came gradually nearer.
"A motor-engine," said Neil presently. "A motor-boat is coming up to the landing. It looks to me as if we'd got out of the frying-pan into the fire."
NEIL was already across the cellar and busy shifting the boxes, which they had stacked against the inner door.
"What on earth are you playing at?" exclaimed Archie in amazement.
"Our chance. Don't you see?" said Neil urgently. "The odds are the smuggler fellows will come in this way. If they see the door open they won't worry about us. Anyhow, we shall be hidden. They'll go straight through and bump into Renny and Jupp. Meantime we nip out, bag their launch, and hook it."
"O-oh!" gasped Archie, and set to work like a Trojan.
It was work, too, for everything depended on getting the job done before the newcomers landed and entered the cellar. Each moment Neil expected to hear the key turn in the outer lock. Instead there were loud, angry voices outside.
"They've found the Spray and the dinghy," Neil panted, as he pulled away the last of the cases.
"That's upset them properly," returned Archie, with a faint grin. At that moment they both heard the key being inserted in the lock. Neil blew out the candle and they darted for the hiding-place they had already agreed on, a hollow space between a great pile of cases and the northern wall of the cellar. They were just in time, and dropped into the dark cavity at the very moment the door was flung open. A man entered, an enormously tall man who carried a powerful electric lamp. Archie pinched Neil's arm.
"Grier!" he whispered in the other's ear.
"Might have known it. Jupp said they were pirates," replied Neil, in an equally low voice. "This is their hide-out and storehouse."
The first thing Grier saw was the open door opposite. He stopped and stared. The stout man behind him let out a roar of rage. "They've been here. Look at that there door!"
Grier turned on him like a fury.
"Shut your mouth, Purvis. Have ye got no sense at all? If it's the Preventives you've given the whole show away."
Purvis, a thick-set, flat-faced man, looked sulky but made no answer.
"Don't worry, Grier," coolly remarked the third of the party. This was Wyon, a wizened little fellow who walked with his head poked forward. He had prominent eyes and hardly any chin, which made him look rather like a large lizard. "No need to worry," he declared. "These ain't Preventives: they'd have a proper launch. That boat outside is the Spray, the same as we chased the day it blew so hard, and I'll lay it's Renny and Jupp who are in the house."
"Likely you're right," agreed Grier scowling, "but what I want to know is how they found their way down here and where they are now."
"Up in the loft, I'll lay," said Wyon, who seemed to have his wits about him. "Let's go and round 'em up."
"Wait a bit," said Grier, who had pulled himself together. "I'm not going to have anyone coming on us from behind." He turned, stepped back to the door and locked it, then put the key in his pocket.
Neil's spirits dropped with a bump. This was fatal to his plan of escape. With sinking heart he watched Grier and his two unpleasant followers pass through the door into the outer cellar.
"Fine!" chuckled Archie at his elbow.
"Fine, indeed!" retorted Neil bitterly. "This is no good to us. The door is locked, so we can't get to the launch."
"Why shouldn't we follow them?" asked Archie boldly. "While they're looking for Jupp and Renny we'll have a chance to slip round to the landing."
"We might," agreed Neil. "It's risky but it's a chance."
"It's our only chance. Come on."
"Wait one moment." Neil was pulling open his shirt. "This letter of Lowry's. It's too important to risk. We might be caught. I'm going to hide it here in a chink in the wall. We can always come back for it if we get away."
He thrust the all-important letter into a chink in the rough stone wall and risked flashing his torch a moment to find a handful of loose mortar to close the hole.
Before the two could scramble out of their hiding-place there came loud shouts and a sound of blows.
"Grier must have met Renny on the steps," muttered Neil.
Next minute came Grier and his merry men, dragging Renny and Jupp into the cellar. Both were much the worse for wear. Jupp had a black eye, and his coat was ripped all down the back, Renny's nose was bleeding. The wrists of both men were tied behind their backs.
"Light candles, Purvis," ordered Grier. "We've got to find how they came here."
"Now Renny will give us away," Archie whispered in Neil's ear.
Grier began to talk. "So you thought you'd put one over me, Renny, eh?"
Renny was angry, but he was much too clever to give way to rage.
"You are wrong, Mr Grier," he answered smoothly. "Until an hour ago I never set eyes on this house. Never knew of its existence. As for running my head into your business, that is the last thing I should dream of."
Grier opened his mouth to say something but Renny raised his hand.
"Wait, please. I want to explain. Two boys I had on Calpay took their hook this morning and came up the bay. I chased them but their dinghy drew less water than the Spray, and they got away. As soon as the tide rose I went after. There was only one channel, so I followed it. That's how I got here. When you came along Jupp and I were searching in the outhouses for these boys."
"Forsyth and young Grant, I reckon," said Grier.
For a moment Renny looked a little surprised. Then he shrugged. "Yes, those are the boys."
"And I reckon they got away with about £500 in notes, eh?"
Renny shrugged again. "Thereabouts," he said briefly.
Grier raised his arm.
"You tell me you didn't know that money was mine?" he said angrily.
"I didn't know anything of the sort."
"Well, it was. Wrecks is my perquisite, and I went all the way out to Calpay after that money. You say those boys have got it. Where are they?"
"That's what I want to know. Their dinghy's tied up outside, so it's a sure thing they landed here. And they've been in the house. There's a fire in the stove."
Neil caught Archie by the arm. "It's our last chance," he whispered. "Another minute and they'll be looking for us."
ARCHIE sprang into action. Flinging themselves out of their hiding-place, the two raced for the door into the outer cellar. They were so quick that they were through, and had slammed it shut and locked it, before Grier or his pair of beauties had recovered from their amazement.
Neil darted for the steps and rattled up them, and Archie was close at his heels. Their meal had given them fresh energy, and they were fit to run for their lives.
"We can't take the dinghy," said Archie.
"No, we've got to trust to our legs. Up the loch side and over the hills. Praise be, it's stopped raining."
Loud shouts rang out from the landing as the two fled away through the darkness, running parallel with the west bank of the loch. Grier's rusty voice rose above the rest, uttering appalling threats.
Grier's long legs would carry him over the ground fast, but Neil had no doubt that he himself could get away from any or all of them. His wind was better, and he knew the hills as they could not know them. He was not so sure about Archie. True, Archie had come on amazingly in the past month and was fit and hard, but he had never run a long distance and the question was whether he could stand the strain of running uphill. He would not know how to save himself as Neil did.
They came to the brook which fell into the head of the loch. Neil glanced back. It was too dark to see his pursuers, but he could hear them thudding along. By the sound he judged they were a couple of hundred yards behind. He jumped the brook, which was quite narrow. Archie jumped alongside, spurted, and drew ahead.
"Steady!" said Neil sharply, for they were on bad ground, soft and swampy, and just ahead he caught a darkness which might be water or mud. It was mud. His warning was just too late, and next moment Archie was in up to his waist.
"Throw yourself back, Archie," Neil ordered sharply, and as Archie obeyed caught him by the hands and pulled desperately. The mud was liquid peat, stiff as warm glue, and though he pulled till his muscles cracked he could not move Archie. And every moment the thud of Grier's great feet sounded nearer.
Neil shifted his stance and tried once more. Archie was moving now. Neil made a last desperate effort and out Archie came.
"Run!" gasped Neil, who was himself completely blown by his tremendous exertions. "Keep to the right."
Archie made a fine effort, but he was plastered with mud which weighed him down like lead.
Even so, he and Neil might have done it if it had not been for the patch of bog. This barred their way; they could not cross it, and had to run round it. Just as they reached the head of it Grier was on them, his huge hand fell on Neil's shoulder and jerked him backward with such force that he fell flat on the ground.
Archie came round like a top and went at Neil's captor with the pluck of a bull terrier. He tried to collar him round the legs, but Grier thrust out a great bony knee which Archie hit with a force that almost stunned him. He reeled backward, and sat down heavily. Grier stooped and jerked Neil to his feet. "Though you could get away?" he sneered.
"So we could," Neil retorted, "if it hadn't been for the bog. See here, Grier. Give me ten yards' start and I'll lay all I've got you can't catch me across the moor."
Grier stared, then gave a hoarse chuckle. He was pleased at having been the one to catch the boys, and Neil's challenge amused him. "I get all you have without racing you, brat," he remarked. "Fork it out. I know you've got it."
How Neil blessed his own foresight in hiding the letter! The money was nothing compared with that. All the same, he was not going to let it go too easily.
"It's not yours," he said boldly. "It belongs to Captain Lowry."
"All right. I'll give it to him when I'm done with it. Fork it out," he ordered with sudden ferocity.
There was no choice. The notes were in Neil's inside pocket, tied in a bundle. He pulled them out and Grier snatched them and thrust them into his own pocket. At this moment Wyon arrived.
"So you got 'em, boss," he panted.
"No thanks to you," returned Grier sourly. He spoke to Neil. "You coming quiet?" he asked in a menacing tone.
"Don't seem to have much choice," remarked Neil. "If you'd wait till I grew up it might be different."
Grier chuckled again. He was in high good humour at recovering the five hundred pounds. "You'd have to grow a lot to stand against Israel Grier," he remarked.
All the way back Neil was wondering what would happen next. The letter was safe. That was the great thing, and he felt sure that Renny would say nothing about it. The last thing Renny wanted was to let Grier know of its importance. Renny would hear, of course, that Grier had the money, but he could not tell whether or not he had the letter. Renny was cunning and would keep his mouth shut and wait for his chance. Would he get a chance? That was the question. Grier could not afford to turn him and Jupp loose, but, on the other hand, he could not keep them indefinitely in the haunted house.
Grier took them straight down to the cellar where Renny and Jupp were in charge of the flat-faced Purvis. Purvis grinned when he saw the boys.
"I thought they wouldn't get far," he remarked. "Did you get the cash, boss?"
Grier took the notes from his pocket.
"Five hundred of the best," he remarked. Then he looked at Renny and Jupp and scowled. Jupp too was scowling. The loss of those notes was a very sore point.
"What are we going to do with them?" Grier asked.
"Let us go," Renny said quickly. "You can have our word that we will never mention this place, and if you'll give me those two boys, Grier, I'll give you another hundred pounds."
A cynical grin crossed Grier's face.
"Your word! A fat lot of good that would be to me or anyone." He turned to Wyon. "This place is no good to us any longer. But there's a lot of stuff here, and it'll take time to shift it. And we can't spare a chap to look after these fellows. Where'll we put 'em?"
"Why not take them back to Calpay, boss? They'd be safe enough there. And the kids too."
GRIER considered. "Yes, I reckon we'll take 'em over to the island," he said at last. "Renny and Jupp, anyway. I'm not so sure about the kids."
"They can talk as quickly as we," put in Renny harshly.
His remark was a blunder, for a cunning look came into Grier's eyes.
"Reckoning to make something out of 'em, ain't you?" he said. "Yes, I'm not forgetting you offered me a hundred to let you take 'em. If you're offering that much it's a sure thing you're going to make more."
"You can be sure of that, boss," put in Wyon. "Looks as if Renny's kidnapped them and is holding them for reward. They're sons of gents and I wouldn't wonder if we'd get five hundred, or a thousand, for sending them back to their own folk."
"Likely you've hit the right nail on the head, Wyon," Grier said, "Anyway we'll keep them and see what happens." He stopped and yawned. "Fix up something to eat, Purvis, and in the morning we'll settle things up."
Purvis lighted the oil stove and Wyon pointed to the two boys.
"Better tie them up, eh, boss? Don't want them running off again."
Grier looked at Neil and Archie, especially Archie, who was one plaster of black mud.
"You going to play hooky again?" he asked.
"First chance we get," replied Archie defiantly; but Neil interrupted.
"Not tonight, Grier. I don't believe either of us could do a lot more running just now."
Grier grinned sardonically. His own men obeyed him so implicitly that the independence of the two boys amused him. Besides, Grier was no fool.
"You'll give me your word not to bunk before morning?" he asked of Neil.
"I will," said Neil. "What about it, Archie?"
"All right," replied Archie, but in rather a sulky tone.
Grier nodded. "There's straw in the corner. You'll have to make out with that. I reckon you've had some supper already."
"Thanks," said Neil. "We did help ourselves to some food." He laughed. "I fancy we've paid for it. Do you think it would run to a cup of tea or cocoa? Grant is wet and cold."
"Aye, you can have a cup of coffee. Make it for yourselves after Purvis has finished."
It was at this moment that the groaning began again. Jupp went white under his freckles and even Renny looked scared. It certainly was a horrible noise. Neil and Archie, however, paid no attention. Grier chuckled.
"Ghosts don't worry you, eh?" he remarked.
"Not when you know what they are," Neil retorted. "I'll admit it's a pretty smart idea."
"I'll lay it scared you the first time you heard it," grinned Grier.
"A bit," Neil allowed, then went across to the stove to help Purvis. Purvis was quite ready to let Neil do the work and the result was that the three pirates had the best supper they had eaten for a long time.
Renny and Jupp were given food, but they were still kept tied up, and only allowed one hand to feed themselves. Jupp's face was like a thundercloud. It made him furious to be tied while the boys were left free. But Grier, it was plain, was taking no chances. Wyon and Purvis went off to sleep in the loft but Grier stayed in the cellar. He pulled out a mattress and blanket from a corner and made himself comfortable. Renny and Jupp had straw, and so had the boys.
It was chilly and damp down here in the cellar, but Neil and Archie were too tired to be particular. Their trip from Calpay in the dinghy had taken a lot out of them. They made the best of their truss of straw and lay down. Neil put his lips close to Archie's ear.
"Where's Duncan?" he asked, in the lowest possible whisper.
"Just what I've been wondering," Archie answered.
"He's hiding out somewhere," Neil said. "Duncan's no fool. Shouldn't wonder if he was waiting his chance to set Renny loose."
In spite of their hard bed the two boys slept like logs and did not wake until Purvis roused them.
"As you're so good at the job you can cook breakfast," the flat-faced man told Neil.
"All right, only let us have a wash first."
"You'll have to ask Grier about that," returned Purvis.
Neil did so, and Grier grinned crookedly. "Going to do another bunk, eh?"
"Not till after breakfast," Neil told him. "Grant and I want a dip in the loch. We'll leave our clothes here, if you like."
"Gosh, ain't it cold enough for you here?" Grier asked in real surprise.
"A swim will warm us up," Neil answered. "Do you good to have one too."
Grier actually laughed.
"Reckon I'll wait till the water's a bit warmer. All right, you can go and freeze yourselves if you want to—but no monkey business!" he added, with a sudden scowl.
The morning was beautifully fresh and fine after the rain and Neil and Archie enjoyed their dip. Some sacking did duty as towels, and they came back, glowing, to cook breakfast. The minute the meal was over Grier and his men hurried Renny and Jupp aboard the Storm King. Purvis was left in charge of the boys.
"He's going to keep you locked in the cellar," Grier told them, as he stood at the water gate of the underground place. "You'll have to amuse yourselves best way you can. I'll be back before dark." He pulled the door to behind him and they heard the key turn in the lock. A moment later the sound of the launch's engine came to their ears.
Archie looked at Neil. "And what do we do now?" he asked sarcastically. "Grier means to make money out of us if he can, and it looks as if he was going to keep us here until he can force our people to pay ransom. That's not going to please Mr Chard."
"I'm sure it isn't! Hush, here's Purvis coming back."
"I'm going for a walk," he told them. "I'll be back for dinner. And mind it's a good one."
"All right," Neil answered calmly. "And mind you're not late."
Purvis scowled. "None of your cheek!" he growled. "I'll come back when I've a mind to, and not a minute before." He slammed, the door and went out. They heard the key turn.
"What did you want to talk to him like that for?" demanded Archie.
"So that he'd stay a bit longer than he'd meant to," replied Neil coolly. "That will give us more time to break down the door."
Archie stared, then laughed.
"I've got to hand it to you, Neil. I'd never thought of that. Let's get to work. Are there any tools?"
The only tool Neil could find was an old cold chisel used, no doubt for opening cases. With this he tackled the inner door. He and Archie worked for half an hour, but did nothing at all.
Then, as they were standing looking at the door, suddenly they heard someone on the other side put the key in the lock. Both sprang away.
THE door opened and in walked Duncan Mackay. He looked at Neil and Archie, and a slow grin crossed his rather plain face.
"Guess I saved you a heap of trouble," he remarked.
Neil recovered quickly. "Where's Purvis?" he asked.
"Last time I saw him he was on the hill above the loch. Looking for rabbits, I reckon. He'd got a gun along."
Neil stared at Duncan.
"Are you letting us out, Duncan?"
"Looks like it," drawled the other.
"Are you coming with us?"
"I ain't staying here."
"Come on, then," said Neil swiftly.
"Wait a bit," put in Archie, and ran for the store shelf, "We're not going hungry this time." He grabbed a tin of biscuits and a couple of tins of meat. Then he picked up the kettle which was full of fresh water. "All right," he said, "I'm ready." The three were out and up the stairs in no time.
It was no use trying to get off without Purvis seeing them; all they could do was to bolt for the dinghy and get aboard as quickly as possible.
As it happened, Purvis did not notice what was up until the boys had reached the boat, and for a moment he was so paralysed with surprise that he simply stood and stared. It must have been a shock for the wretched man to see the boys he had left so carefully locked up at liberty, and to see three of them instead of two. But once he got started it was astonishing how quickly he came.
But he had a good quarter of a mile to cover, and over rough ground. Long before he reached the landing-stage the boys were in the dinghy, had untied it, and with two at the oars had nearly reached the channel leading into the bay.
Purvis had no breath left to yell. He put his gun to his shoulder and fired twice, but the small shot peppered the water a long way behind the boat. Then he plunged into the Spray and began to hoist the sail.
Duncan looked alarmed, but Neil laughed. "That won't do him any good. The tide's running out, and there's hardly enough water to float the Spray in the channel. He'll go aground for a certainty. Pull, Archie, I believe we're out of our troubles at last."
Driven hard, the dinghy shot through the channel and gained more open water beyond. The breeze, however, was still westerly so they could not put up the sail. It was clear they would have to pull all the way down to the sea.
Neil looked back.
"Told you so," he said presently. "Purvis is on the mud and there he'll stay till the flood." He turned to Duncan.
"Where did you hide yourself last night?"
"I was in a loft over the peat shed. There was a ladder, but I pulled it up and Grier never spotted it. I found some straw and slept there."
"You meant to loose Renny?"
"That's a fact," Duncan admitted. "And the reason I'm coming with you is to get a launch and go to Calpay after him."
"You'll be a fool if you do," said Archie.
"That's my business," retorted Duncan.
"He's right, Archie," said Neil. "I'm all for a chap who sticks to his friends."
"Renny's nobody's friend except his own," replied Archie stubbornly.
"But Duncan hasn't found that out yet," said Neil, "and anyhow you ought to be grateful to him for letting us out."
"That's a fact," agreed Archie more mildly. "I say, Neil, where are we going?"
"Wind's south-west," Neil said. "Once we're outside we can sail north up the coast to Mulzie."
It was a long and weary pull down the channel. The wind was against them and the tide too slack to help much. It was long past midday before they were able to hoist their sail and take a much-needed rest and a mouthful of food. The breeze was so light that the dinghy's pace was a mere crawl.
Another hour passed. The dinghy was creeping round the tongue of land.
"Another river comes out there, Neil," said Archie, pointing to the broad sandy estuary almost opposite. "Any idea what it is?"
Neil shook his head.
"There's a craft of some kind," said Duncan, pointing. "A launch, I reckon, and coming this way."
Neil stared at it. "It's a launch all right," he said slowly. "And if I'm not very much mistaken it's the Storm King."
"The Storm King—Grier!" Archie cried. "You're right, Neil. I never dreamed they'd get back so soon. Now we're properly in the soup."
"If Grier's spotted us," said Neil quietly.
"Of course he has," said Archie sharply. "He has glasses. Yes, look! he's changing course."
"We'd best get to land, Forsyth," said Duncan. "We might beat Grier across those sands, but he's got the legs of us on the water."
"Duncan's right, Neil," said Archie. "Sail her for all you're worth, Duncan and I will row."
In the nick of time a puff filled the sail, and they gained the mouth of the river a quarter-mile ahead of the Storm King.
It was a desolate place, with great sweeps of naked sand on either side, stretching away to the distant heather-clad shores. Gulls stood on the low hummocks while overhead curlews wheeled, uttering their sad cries. The tide had turned, and the dinghy went swirling up the estuary at a swift pace. But the tide helped the launch too. She gained fast.
"We'll have to land, Neil," said Archie. Neil looked at the wide waste of sand.
"I suppose we must," he answered doubtfully.
"What's worrying you?" asked Archie.
"The tide," Neil told him. "It's a big spring tide tonight. It will cover these flats in no time."
THE three scrambled ashore and ran.
Reaching the top of the bank Archie glanced back, and was amazed to see that Grier had not landed. "Neil, we're all right," he cried. "Slack off. He's not coming after us."
"He knows too much," Neil answered. "Run, you idiot!"
"Grier's going on up," said Duncan. "Reckons to cut in on us from above, I guess."
"Don't waste breath talking," Neil said curtly. "Run!"
Archie knew that when Neil spoke in that tone he meant something. He did run. But Duncan, who did not know Neil so well, was inclined to argue. Neil stopped an instant.
"Listen, Mackay! What do you hear?
"Sounds mighty like a train in the distance."
"Train! That's the tide bore. That's why Grier has stayed in his boat. If you don't want to drown, run! Run as you never ran in your life before."
Duncan needed no more advice. He ran, All three ran, and as they ran the low thunder in the distance grew louder.
The going was good. There was none of the mud they had met with in the southern estuary. This was all hard sand. But it was not level. There were humps and hummocks—here a smooth stretch, there a deep channel with steep banks. And the shore was a long way off, and all the time that low, ominous roar grew steadily louder.
Neil blamed himself bitterly. He knew this coast better than the others and he had known that a big spring tide was due. He said to himself that he might have guessed that these were the infamous Knockfahr Sands. He had heard of them often enough and the many tragedies of which they had been the scene. For here the whole force of the tide, penned back by the big headland to the south, comes rushing in with the same force and fury that it does across the sands of Mont St Michel on the French coast. At big springs the incoming wave travels faster than a man can run, and no swimmer has a chance if caught in the sweeping surge.
He glanced back. The Gut up which they had rowed was brimming and the launch, driving ahead under full power of its engine, was already far up the channel. He looked at the dunes which bordered the edge of the estuary. In the dim evening light they seemed still a long way off. Behind was the rush and hiss of the swiftly advancing flood. There was nothing for it but to run and run and hope that escape was still possible.
Archie and Duncan kept going steadily. Duncan's long legs served him well, but Archie was beginning to blow. The pace was killing. He saw Neil's anxious look.
"All right—when—got—second—wind," he panted, and even in this dangerous moment Neil felt once more that little glow of pleasure at Archie's pluck.
Was it fancy or was the ground rising a little? It really seemed as if they were gaining now on their awful enemy, which hissed and foamed behind them.
"We'll do it," gasped Neil. "One more sprint, Archie."
His eyes were fixed on the tall dune which rose not two hundred yards away. "Well run! We've beaten—" The words died in his throat as the fading daylight glinted on a strip of foam-streaked current which raced through a deep gut between them and safety. The flood had got ahead of them and was crowding up the channel of this burn which ran into the estuary half a mile above the point where they stood.
All three pulled up short and stared at the rushing stream which cut them off from safety. Neil glanced down then up.
"No time to get round the top," he said.
"We can swim it," Duncan answered.
"You and I might. What about Archie?"
Archie grew angry. "Don't talk rot, Neil. Come on."
There was no time for discussion. As Archie ran forward Neil spoke a few quick words in Duncan's ear. "Keep him between us."
Three steps and they were swimming. The strong salt tide was swirling up at five miles an hour. It seized and carried them while the undertow tore cruelly at their legs. It was of course out of the question to strike straight across the creek. Their only hope was to go with the swirling tide, struggling foot by foot across it and so reach the far bank. And every moment Neil expected to see the tidal wave pour in a thundering cataract upon them over the south bank.
Alone he could have fought across. So could Duncan. But Archie had only just learned to swim. Twice the undertow dragged him under and the others pulled him up, sputtering and gasping.
The roar increased. A quarter mile below them the great flood wave was over the bank and thundering into the creek. Neil knew they had but a very few moments left. He thought he had been doing all possible before, yet now he redoubled his efforts. The bank was close; he put one foot down.
"Bottom! I'm on the bottom," he cried. He put both feet down and dragged Archie forward. Then as he took a step forward he felt a stab of agony in his right foot. He stumbled forward and went under.
"He's hurt," gasped Archie, and seized him. Neil's weight pulled Archie down, but Duncan's height and strength saved them. He had his feet firm on the ground, and with a last frantic effort dragged both safe to the bank. Blood was spurting from Neil's foot as, between them, the other two carried him up the bank and dropped him safely just above high-tide mark.
ARCHIE was horror-stricken. "What can we do? He'll bleed to death," he cried.
But Duncan was already busy. He had learned something of First Aid during his schooldays in America and already was twisting a handkerchief round Neil's foot above the ugly gash.
"Thanks," said Neil. "That's fine. I'll be all right in a minute."
"It's a right bad cut," said Duncan anxiously. "Looks as if you'd trodden on something horribly sharp."
"May have been the fluke of an old anchor. Yes, it went right through my shoe." Neil paused. "Thanks for pulling me out, Duncan," he added briefly.
Duncan's leathery cheeks reddened a little. It was the first time Neil had called him by his Christian name.
"That's all right," he said gruffly. "What's worrying me is how we're going to get you anywhere. This is the most desolate country I ever did strike."
"Don't worry," Neil said. "I'll rest a while then I shall be able to walk."
"Walk!" snorted Duncan. "You won't put foot to ground for a week. And that cut needs iodine, or it will poison. I wish I knew where there was a doctor."
Archie got up. "I'll find a doctor," he said. "You stay with Neil, Duncan."
"Man, you don't even know which way to go," exclaimed Duncan, but Archie was already on his way. At the top of the dune he turned and waved. "I shan't be long," he called.
"I didn't reckon he had it in him," grumbled Duncan, but Neil smiled. "You don't know Archie, Duncan."
Archie, meantime, was striding forward through the deepening dusk. He had not the least idea of how or where he was going to find a doctor, yet he was quite sure that he would do so. If he went far enough he must find a road, and if he went far enough on the road he would come to a town. He was fully prepared to walk all night, if need be. He was so utterly set on getting help for Neil that he had no thought for anything else.
For a long time he struggled up a heather-clad hillside. At last he reached the top, and there, far below, a faint white line in the last of the twilight, was a road, Archie made straight for it.
Still there was no house in sight, and the road seemed as empty as the rest of this desolate country. Archie set to plodding along it. He had gone about a mile when a beam of light showed in the distance. Archie's spirits rose with a bound, for these were the headlights of a car. He stepped in the middle of the road and waited.
On came the car, a small two-seater. So far as Archie could see there was only one person in it, the driver. On it came and did not stop. It looked to Archie as if the man meant to drive straight over him. Yet Archie stood his ground, waving his arms frantically, and shouting at the top of his voice. The driver was forced to check or knock him down.
"What's the matter?" came, a sharp, peevish voice as the owner of the car pulled on his brake. "What do you mean by stopping me? I'm in a hurry."
In the light from the dashboard Archie saw a small man with a pinched-up face, pale eyes, and thin sandy hair.
"My pal is badly hurt. I want you to take me to a doctor."
"Doctor!" the man's voice was a snarl.
"There's no doctor where I'm going."
"But there's one at Mulzie."
"Mulzie's fourteen miles away. It's where I've come from. Do you think I'm going back there at this time of night?"
Archie saw the man's hand go to the brake. In a flash he had wrenched open the door and jumped in.
"Get out of this!" shrieked the man. "What do you mean by it? I'll have the law on you." He released the brake and struck at Archie with his clenched fist.
The next thing of which Archie was conscious was that the little man was lying on the grass at the side of the road, and that he, Archie, was telling him that he could jolly well stay there until the cows came home, or words to that effect.
Then Archie got into the car, turned it round and drove away north. The little man was on his feet shouting threats of police and prison, but Archie was far beyond worrying about such things. He pushed the car up to her top speed, and half an hour later saw the lights of a town in a hollow below him.
"Aye, it's Mulzie," the first man he met told him. He also informed Archie of the way to Dr. Ruthven's house.
To Archie's dismay Ruthven was not at home, but his housekeeper said he might be back any time. Archie explained things to her and, as Neil was a favourite of hers, she made Archie come in and wait, and gave him hot cocoa and cake, which did him a world of good.
Half an hour passed, and Archie got worried. He hated to think of Neil sitting out there on the side of a sand dune, in pain, and wondering if help would come. At last he heard someone at the door and stepped out into the little hall. At the same time the front door bell rang, and Mrs Reid, the housekeeper, appeared.
"It's not the master, Mr Grant," she told him. "He would na be ringing." So Archie went back into the dining-room. He heard a man's deep voice. Then there were heavy steps in the hall, and the dining-room door opened.
"The policeman to see you, Mr Grant," said Mrs Reid in an agitated voice. The constable came in. He was a broad, powerfully-built man with a broad, stolid face.
"Your name is Grant, I understand," he said, and Archie did not at all like the tone in which he spoke.
"Archibald Grant is my name," he answered.
"Yon car at the door, is it yours?" Archie's spirits went down with a thump. For the moment he had been thinking so much about Neil he had forgotten all about the car.
"No, it's not mine," he said.
"But ye came to Mulzie in it," remarked the constable sternly.
"Yes, I came in it, I had to come—to fetch the doctor."
"I am informed that ye stole the car." The big man's voice was harsher even than before. "Mr Wylie, the owner, has telephoned the police station that a young fellow answering your description stopped him on the road near the Carrick burn, jumped in, beat him and threw him out and took the car away. I am asking ye, is, this correct?"
Archie felt desperate.
"I'll tell you the whole thing, officer. My friend Neil Forsyth is on the hillside beyond that burn, badly hurt. I went for help. I met this man in the car and begged him to drive me to Mulzie to get the doctor. He refused. He tried to hit me. I lost my temper and pulled him out and took the car. I'm waiting for Dr Ruthven."
Not a muscle in the constable's face changed as he listened.
"I take it, then, ye are admitting your offence," was all he said.
Archie lost patience.
"Offence! Do you call it a crime to take a car to save a chap's life?"
"The motive does na concern me. That is for the bailie. I'll ask ye to come to the station with me."
"You mean to lock me up?" cried Archie.
"Aye. It is too late to take ye before the bailie tonight."
"But you can't take me how. I've simply got to see Dr Ruthven."
"Ye can leave a message for the doctor," replied the constable stolidly! "I'm bound to lock ye up." He laid his huge hand on Archie's shoulder.
TO Archie that walk down the street of Mulzie to the police-station was a nightmare. It was not his own plight of which he was thinking; all his mind was on Neil. It drove him nearly crazy to think of Neil lying out there in the cold night on the desolate sand dune.
The policeman, whose name was Maccoll, led Archie into a spotlessly clean but bare little cell. "Ye can have some supper if ye require it," he remarked.
"Supper!" barked Archie. "Do you think I can eat with Neil lying out there in the night waiting for me?"
"Aye, ye can cat if ye are hungry," replied Maccoll.
Archie made a last appeal.
"You're a policeman. You've got to look after people who are hurt as well as those who've stolen things. Don't you believe me when I tell you that Neil Forsyth may be bleeding to death and no one doing anything to help?"
"I doubt he's as bad as ye think he is," replied Maccoll dryly. "And anyway word's been left wi' the doctor. I canna do more."
"If I was a bit bigger I'd make you do something," said Archie dangerously. "You are the most stone-hearted brute I ever ran across."
For the first time, Maccoll showed annoyance.
"I'll have ye know I've my duty to attend to in this town," he retorted. "Do ye think I can be skelping awa' fourteen miles and more in the middle o' the night?"
"I never asked you to go. I want to go myself. See here. Ring up my guardian, Mr Chard, at Glen Tallach. He'll tell you I'm to be trusted to come back. He'll put up bail."
"Ye will have to wait till the morn. I have my duties the noo." With that Maccoll stalked out of the cell, closing and locking the door behind him, and Archie dropped on the cot and sat there, feeling more miserable than ever in the whole of his life.
It was only now that he had begun to realise just what Neil had done for him. He looked back at himself as he had been the day he left Glen Tallach and wondered if he were the same person. He was not, and he knew it, and knew, too, that he owed it all to Neil. And now, the first time he had a chance of doing something in return, he had messed it all up.
Minutes ticked by, but their passing only made Archie more desperate. He got up and went to the window and wrenched at the bars. No hope there. The Scottish mason had sunk them deep in the solid stonework. Then, just as Archie was beginning to feel he could not bear it for another moment he heard voices.
One was Maccoll's, the other the sharp, eager tones of a younger man. For a minute or more they argued, but the door was so thick Archie could not hear what was said. Then the key turned, the door opened, and in stepped Dr Ruthven.
"So you've landed yourself in quod, Grant!" was his greeting. "Maccoll tells me you're a desperate criminal, and have been stealing cars with violence. Is it a true bill?"
"True? Of course it's true!" burst out Archie, "and I'd do it again this minute, if I had to. Neil's badly hurt, doctor—got his foot most horribly cut. He and Duncan Mackay and I were caught by the tide on the Knockfahr Sands and only just got out alive. I went for help, and met a chap with a car. When I asked him for a lift the little brute flatly refused, so I yanked him out and left him by the side of the road, and came on as quickly as I could. Then, like a fool, I left the car outside your house, so of course the policeman spotted me."
Ruthven's keen eyes widened as he listened to the story which Archie poured out. It was only a month since he had last seen Archie Grant at Herries's cottage and wondered to himself whether Neil would ever make anything of such a heavy, sulky fellow. To him the change in Archie's appearance seemed a miracle. And, by the way he talked, the change in the boy's mind was as great as that in his body.
"My car's outside," he said briefly. "I'm a magistrate, and I've told Maccoll I'll be responsible for you. You can tell me the rest of your story as we go."
Archie sprang for the door.
"By Jove, you're a brick, sir," he exclaimed as he scrambled into the car beside the doctor.
While they went Ruthven questioned Archie, and Archie gave him a brief outline of what had happened since their last meeting, and of their adventures on Calpay.
"My word! But you've certainly been through the mill," said the doctor, and there was a touch of envy in his voice. "And it's made a man of you, Archie."
"That's Neil, sir," replied Archie, briefly.
"A good sort, Forsyth," said the doctor heartily. "I hope he isn't badly hurt?"
"You'll soon be able to tell," answered Archie. "Here's the place to stop. It's a pretty good tramp from here," he added.
"All right. Lead the way," said Ruthven, as he parked the car on the grass.
It was very dark now, but Ruthven had a torch, and by its light they found their way over the hill. Beyond, the stars were reflected in a vast stretch of water running far inland.
"There's the dune, sir," said Archie. "The one with the three pines on top." He hurried on so fast that Ruthven had his work cut out to keep up. As they neared the foot of the big dune Archie shouted. The only answer was an echo.
"Neil!" shouted Archie again, but still there was no response. He broke into a run. Ruthven came up, with him standing in a hollow on the side of the dune.
"Here's where I left them," said Archie. "They aren't here now What's it mean?"
Ruthven was sorry for Archie's distress.
"Someone may have cropped up to help them," he suggested.
"How could they?" Archie asked sharply. "There's not a house within miles."
"Then perhaps they managed to get to the road," Ruthven suggested.
"They couldn't. Neil couldn't put his foot to the ground," Archie's face was white and haggard in the torchlight as he turned it to the doctor. "I'll tell you what has happened," he said bitterly, "That scoundrel Grier has got them."
"You can't be certain," replied Ruthven. Archie stooped suddenly, and picked up something from the ground.
"Here's his handkerchief," he said swiftly. "And—and something's written on it." He held it to the torch.
Grier coming! Can't get away! were the words scrawled in pencil on the bit of linen.
"I told you so!" Archie added, and suddenly he staggered and would have fallen if Ruthven had not caught him.
ARCHIE braced himself in a moment.
"Sorry, sir. I'm all right, but—but I don't know what to do. We've no boat. I don't know where the dinghy is."
"A lot of good it would be to us if we did have it," Ruthven replied. "You can't chase a launch in a sail-boat. The question is where has Grier taken Neil and Duncan? Would it be to this haunted house you talked of?"
"Not likely," said Archie. "He knows that I know of it. I expect he, has some other hide-out."
"All right. We'll find it," Ruthven answered briskly. "First thing is to get back to Mulzie."
"All the way to Mulzie!" exclaimed Archie in dismay.
"We must. We need a launch—and a fast one. Luckily there is one and I can get it. Jimmy Murdoch's Busy Bee. Jimmy's a pal of mine and there's nothing he'll enjoy more than hunting pirates."
They found Jimmy at home. He was just going to bed, but when he heard Ruthven's story he let out a whoop of joy.
"Give me just half an hour," he answered. "Be at the wharf in exactly thirty minutes. Ready? I'll be ready. I don't get a chance of chivvying pirates every night of my life."
The launch lay at the wharf. Archie had never seen anything like her. She seemed one mass of machinery, with barely room for her passengers in the cockpit.
Jimmy sprang up to meet them. He was short, plump, and had a round face and very blue eyes. He looked about Archie's age, but was really 22. His father had been a member of a firm of shipbuilders on the Clyde and had left Jimmy very comfortably off, and Jimmy, himself a first-class mechanic, spent all his time and money in designing new motor-boats, each faster than the last.
Jimmy gave Archie a grip, the strength of which amazed him.
"Nip in," he ordered, "she's all ready to go. All you've got to tell me is which way these pirates are travelling."
He made his passengers put on oilies, then dropped down behind the wheel and started up his engines, which burst into life with a roar that must have awakened half the town. Archie held his breath as the low-built craft darted like a live thing out of the little harbour.
"G-great Scott, she does go!" he gasped.
"Go. She hasn't started yet," replied Jimmy pityingly. "Hold on." He swung the Bee round in a hissing half-circle, and next moment Archie felt as if the cushioned seat was being lifted away from under him. A great gale seemed to spring up and the roar of the engines turned to a deafening blast of sound. For the next few moments all he could do was to hang on and try to collect his scattered senses. Jimmy was talking, or rather shouting.
"Topping night! Sea's like a pond. I say, Grant, what sort of craft have these pirate chaps got?"
"She's called the Storm King. Pretty old, by the look of her."
"Storm King! Jumping Jupiter! If you tried to get ten knots out of her you'd bust her wider open than an oyster. I thought we'd got to chase something."
"Just remember she has two hours' start of us, my son," replied Ruthven.
"Say 16 knots," said Jimmy. "I'm doing 40. If she carries on we ought to sight her in something under an hour."
"And what do we do when we do sight her?" Archie asked bluntly. "Grier's a big chap and Wyon, the man with him, is an ugly customer."
Jimmy laughed. "We'll run round 'em in circles till we make 'em dizzy," he chuckled. "Don't worry, Grant. I don't mind how big or ugly they are. I can handle 'em." He was so confident that Archie felt relieved.
In spite of his anxiety Archie was beginning to enjoy this mad travelling. The Bee now seemed to be skimming the surface of the sea rather than ploughing through it. Now and then as she hit the top of one of the big, smooth combers she was actually out of the water and leaping through the air. Behind her in the starlight stretched an immense wake of snowy white trailing out as far as eye could reach. To the left cliff and headland swirled past in endless succession. Almost before Archie knew it there was the big hill over which he had tramped on his way to the road, and beyond it opened out the wide gleam of Knockfahr still filled with the brimming tide. Jimmy glanced at the clock on the dashboard in front of him.
"Twenty-two minutes. Not too dusty! But she's only just getting warmed up. If this chap Grier has gone straight down the coast we ought to sight him in half an hour."
"Does he know of your launch, Jimmy, do you think?" Ruthven asked.
"Can't say. I know that old Storm King, but I can't say I've ever seen Grier. Can't think what the feller wants with those two lads," he added, in a puzzled tone.
"He thinks he'll get a ransom," Archie explained. "Besides, he knows that Duncan was with Renny and he wants to keep a hold over that chap."
While they talked Jimmy was swinging his Bee out to sea to circle the end of the big promontory round which the dinghy had tailed so painfully.
"Lot of nasty reefs," he explained. "Got to give it a wide berth. Lucky it's such a fine night."
The night was indeed perfect; there was no wind at all and not a cloud in the sky. Even though there was not a moon it was far from dark. The Bee's engines brought crashing echoes back from the tall cliffs as she sped past them at the same terrific speed. Jimmy ran in close to the mouth of the muddy Darrig and checked while Ruthven used the night glasses to examine the estuary.
"Nothing in sight," he said.
Cliffs again, then another rocky point. The Bee raced round it in a wide curve, and as they cleared it suddenly Ruthven picked up the glasses and focused them on a point ahead.
"It's a launch," he said swiftly, as he handed the glasses to Archie.
Archie took a long look.
"She's the Storm King," he declared, and there was a slight tremor in his voice. "But they've seen us. They're heading into shore."
Jimmy whistled. "That fool's making for the Daingean!"
"What's the Daingean?" demanded Archie.
"Outlet of the Daingean Loch. Nastiest place on the whole coast." He frowned. "This is a peach of a business," he growled.
ARCHIE had not a notion what Jimmy was talking about. "What's the matter with the place?" he demanded.
"I'll tell you," said Jimmy, suddenly serious. "There's a big loch at the end of this passage. It's tidal, of course, but the channel is too narrow to fill it to the level of the tide outside in a few hours; and it's worse still when it comes to emptying it. Talk of a mill race! A mill race is not in it with the torrent in the Daingean."
"But if it's like that they'll be drowned, Neil and Duncan too," exclaimed Archie.
"Don't get excited, Grant. It's not as bad as that. You see it's just the top of the tide now and if this Grier knows his way in he probably thinks he'll be able to dodge us. He'll get up to the loch and lie there until the top of the next tide. Or he might land and clear off somewhere."
"And meantime Neil will die of blood-poisoning," said Archie bitterly.
"Don't worry. We'll smoke the old fox out," replied Jimmy confidently. "Where he can go I can—and a bit faster," he added, as he steered his powerful craft in toward the entrance.
Archie was watching the Storm King. It was plain that Grier knew his way into the Daingean, for his launch was now almost between the two jaws of black rock which marked the entrance. The Bee crept after. The tide was still running in and there was plenty of water, but the flow was slacking. It was just the top of the flood.
The Bee ran gently in between the low bare headlands. In the dim starlight these had a curiously grim aspect. Then they were in the channel, which was only about a hundred yards wide, and edged on each side by walls of dark rock. The water was very smooth yet full of queer twists and tide rips.
Grier, now that he had found his way safely through the barrier of rocks at the entrance, had increased his speed, and in the quiet of the calm night the rattle of his ancient engine echoed from cliff to cliff.
"Tide's turning," said Ruthven presently.
Jimmy nodded. The channel curved and narrowed, and Grier's launch began to slow. She was meeting the first force of the ebb.
Another curve. Beyond it a much wider space, almost a small loch. Jimmy hugged the left bank but suddenly Grier turned right, cutting diagonally across the open.
"The fool!" burst out Jimmy in sudden alarm. "Surely he doesn't think he can cross the Claw!"
"The Claw?" repeated Archie.
"A big rock almost a reef. You can see the swirl over it. It bares at half tide, and—" He stopped short, then yelled at the top of his voice. "Look out, Grier!"
But Grier, evidently thinking he could either cross over the top of the rock or cut inside it and then gain a good half-mile, drove on at full speed.
"He's over it," muttered Jimmy, and as the words passed his lips the Storm King stopped with a jerk. "He's on it!" Jimmy added with a gasp.
"Back her!" came a hoarse shout from Grier, and Wyon reversed the engine.
Reckless of danger Jimmy turned his Bee and drove across toward the Storm King. Grier's boat was still hard aground, though the ebb was piling against her bow. The way in which the stream was sluicing out was terrifying.
"Better stay where you are, Grier," shouted Jimmy, as he came up astern. "The bottom's out of her."
Grier was in the bow. He had a pole out and was pushing against the rock with all his great strength.
Grier took no notice, and just then, between his efforts and the reversed screw, the Storm King began to move backward and slide off the reef. She came almost on top of the Bee.
"Neil!" yelled Archie, and heard a muffled shout from inside the deckhouse. The Storm King came, stern first, past the Bee, and even Archie could hear the water rushing into her.
"The crazy idiot!" snapped Jimmy, as he swung in pursuit. Archie's heart was in his throat. Neil tied up inside that deckhouse!
"Get alongside her," he hissed at Jimmy.
Jimmy was not listening. He was telling Ruthven to get a rope. Archie sprang out of the cockpit and dashed up into the bow. The Bee was already overhauling the other launch and her bow was only a yard from the other's stern. Grier was yelling to Wyon to get the pump going.
Before either Jimmy or Ruthven realised what Archie was about Archie had made a desperate leap. He landed with all his weight on top of Wyon, knocking him silly.
With a roar Grier came at him. But Archie was beside himself. For hours past the knowledge that Neil was hurt and in sad need of doctor's help had been burning within him. He had been feeling all the time that it was Grier's fault, and his one thought had been to get even with the big pirate. He went for Grier with a sort of silent fury. His head struck Grier in the stomach and at the same time he flung both arms round the man's legs.
Archie was heavy and hard and the force of his charge sent the long man staggering backward. Grier had dropped his pole to tackle Archie and it lay across the deck. Grier's heels caught against it and over he went, Archie on top of him. In falling, the back of his head rapped against the corner of the deckhouse, and once down he lay like a log. But as he fell one knee flew up and struck Archie on the forehead and Archie lay as still as Grier. The Storm King, with no one in control, drifted swiftly away.
"A ROPE!" gasped Jimmy. "Be quick, Ruthven. She won't float five minutes."
Ruthven was already on his feet and had ready a coil of rope. Jimmy had turned his Bee and was pushing her alongside the other launch.
Out at sea the rescue would have been a simple matter, but here it was very much the reverse. The tide was already sluicing out and was carrying the Storm King over toward the south bank of the channel, where a maze of dangerous rocks lay just below the surface. Jimmy spoke again.
"I'll shove alongside her and you'll have to take the rope over. Make it fast first."
Ruthven merely nodded. He understood the danger every bit as clearly as Jimmy Murdoch did. Five people to be rescued, and less then five minutes to do it in.
Jimmy had switched on his big headlight and its white glare lit the rushing current and showed it lined with long streaks of foam. Ruthven made one end of the line fast to the bollard aft and got ready to jump. Just then some freak of the tide twisted the Storm King round.
"I can't reach her," cried Ruthven.
He was scared, for every moment the smuggler's launch was lower in the water. Just then Archie stirred. He sat up, looked round, and saw Ruthven.
"Catch!" cried Ruthven and flung the rope. It fell right across the Storm King. Archie staggered up and caught it. He was still so giddy he reeled as he moved, yet somehow he managed to make his end fast. Instantly Jimmy opened his throttle and started, dragging the pirate launch away from the rocks into safer water. The moment both craft were clear he slacked off and Ruthven, using all his strength, pulled the Storm King alongside the Bee.
Archie meantime had found his way into the deckhouse and cut Duncan loose, and Duncan came out, carrying Neil. With Ruthven's help he lifted Neil into the Bee.
The Storm King's deck was almost level with the water. It was plainly only a matter of moments before she sank. And Grier and Wyon were still aboard her. Ruthven sprang across and, picking up Wyon bodily, fairly flung him into the Bee, but Grier was too big for him to shift single-handed.
Duncan came to the rescue. Pluckily he jumped back into the sinking craft and he and Ruthven between them managed to lift him. The water was actually bubbling up in the cockpit of his launch as they rolled him over the gunwale of the Bee, and as they too followed him the bow of the Storm King dipped. It was Archie who cut the rope; then Jimmy opened his throttle again and drove away just as the smugglers' launch dived to her end.
With nimble fingers Ruthven knotted a length of rope round Grier's ankles and another round his wrists, then picked up Neil and carried him into the cabin.
"So Archie got to Mulzie?" said Neil as Ruthven stripped the dirty bandage from his damaged foot.
"He got there. Stole a car to do it."
"Stole a car!" Neil repeated. "No!" He burst into a chuckle. "He didn't steal this launch too, did he?"
"No; she belongs to Jimmy Murdoch, the lad who's handling her." He lowered his voice. "Neil, you seem to have done a good job. Grant's been fairly making me gasp. You ought to have seen him tackle that long Grier."
"Archie's all right," said Neil happily.
"Have you finished with my foot?"
"For the present. You'll have to keep it up for a week, my lad. Now I must see to Grier. He's got a hole in his head."
"One minute, doctor," begged Neil.
"Couldn't we get the letter tonight?"
Neil explained about Captain Lowry's letter hidden in the haunted house and the £500 which Grier had stolen.
"I'll ask Jimmy. If there's water I've no doubt he'll do it. Meantime you lie quiet."
Ten minutes later he was back. "Jimmy says it's all right. We're just turning up the Darrig now. And here are your notes." He handed the bundle of banknotes to Neil, who stowed them in his pocket.
It was a race against the tide to reach the haunted house while there was sufficient water to float the Bee. But Jimmy's powerful engines made light of the distance.
Purvis, hearing the strange launch come roaring into the loch, bolted. They did not wait to hunt him. Archie ran in and got the papers, and in five minutes the Bee was racing down with the ebb to the sea.
It was just dawn as they reached Mulzie, and their first task was to rout up Maccoll and hand over the prisoners. Then the rest went up to Ruthven's house in his car. As Ruthven was putting the latchkey in the lock the door opened and there was Mr Chard, cool and composed as usual.
"I came by car the minute I got your phone message, Dr Ruthven," he said. "Got here twenty minutes ago." He glanced round. "It looks as if you'd been successful."
"Fairly," replied Ruthven, with a twinkle in his eye. "We've, recovered Neil and Archie, we've caught two smugglers, got back a quantity of stolen money, and found a house full of smuggled goods. And we owe our success mainly to Archie Grant."
"Archie!" repeated Mr Chard, and stood gazing at Archie as if he could not believe his eyes. Archie's clothes were still covered with dried mud, his hands and face were the colour of mahogany, and his once sleek head of hair was an unruly mop.
"Where do you think I found him tonight, Mr Chard?" Ruthven went on.
"Shut up, doctor," begged Archie.
"I'm doing the talking, Archie," Ruthven retorted. "I found him in prison. But let's go in and sit by the fire and you shall hear the whole story."
Mr Chard never said a word until the doctor had finished. Then he got up, went across to Neil, and grasped his hand.
"You win, Neil. I felt you would." He turned to Archie. "Archie, I'm proud of you. Glen Tallach is yours."
"What about Duncan, sir?" Archie asked sharply. "We'd never have got through without him."
"Duncan shall be provided for. And I hope now that he realises Renny's real character from those papers of Captain Lowry he will give him up."
Duncan frowned. "Reckon I've got to. But I'd like to get him off that island."
"We'll see to that," said Mr Chard.
Archie spoke again. "Couldn't you take Duncan for your works, sir?"
Mr Chard's eyes widened. "I've promised that to Neil."
"No, sir," said Archie boldly. "I can't get on without Neil. When he comes of age he's got to be factor at Glen Tallach."
Mr Chard hesitated. "But perhaps he doesn't want to be factor. It looks as if his father would get back his money."
"Want it," cried Neil. "There's no job in the world I'd like better."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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