Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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WHEN the branch line train from Newnham Market crawled silently into the little station there was not a human being anywhere in sight.
"Marsh End! Marsh End! All change!" cried a porter, strolling leisurely out of the ticket office.
A jolly-looking, fair-haired girl of about twelve put her head out of the window.
"Marsh End!" she repeated. "A good name, Russ; it looks like the end of everything."
Russell Arnold, her brother, a tall young man with a keen, clever face, took a bag from the rack and opened the door.
"It's the end of the railway anyhow, Bess, and pretty nearly the end of our journey. I only hope that Mr. Jarvis has sent something to meet us."
"I'll ask," cried Bess, and ran after the porter.
"No, miss, there ain't nothing to meet you," replied the old fellow.
"But we wired this morning!" exclaimed Bess.
"Most like Mr. Jarvis ain't got the message. It's a main long way round to Salthorpe."
"I thought it was only three miles," put in her brother, coming up to them.
"Ay, three miles as the crow flies; but, you see, it's t'other side of the creek. And there ain't no bridge nearer than Sampford, seven mile away inland."
A look of dismay crossed Russell's face.
"Have we got to go all that way round?" he asked.
The porter glanced northward to where great mud flats glistened under the dull sky.
"No, Sir; the tide's out. You can take the sea road all right."
"The sea road?" repeated Bess, puzzled.
"Ay, there's a track along the beach which goes round the mouth of the creek. Saves more'n half the distance. I reckon old Chitty will drive ye round. I'll go and see."
Brother and sister watched him as he hobbled off.
"I didn't know there was a place like this left in England," said Russell, with a smile. "No wonder I never heard of Cousin Digby, if he lived here."
The porter came back.
"It's all right, sir. Chitty will take you."
Chitty was old and his horse looked older, but he said he could take them, and they got into the fly.
"Wherever are we going?" demanded Bess in surprise, as old Chitty drove straight across the sands toward the sea.
"It be all right, missy," said the old man. "The road be marked with they beacons."
He pointed with his whip to sticks set up in the sand making a line which ran northward parallel with the coast.
The horse splashed through shallow water and came out on a narrow ridge of hard, yellow sand. Chitty touched him up and he began to trot.
"We mustn't lose time," said the driver. "Tide's on the turn, and the water comes in right quickly."
"There's a fog out at sea," said Russell to him in a low voice.
"Ay, a bit of mist like, but that don't signify," replied the old chap.
Russell said no more because he did not want to frighten Bess, but, all the same, he was not easy in his mind. He kept watching the fog bank, and saw that it was slowly drifting toward the land. Before they had gone another mile ghostly grey wreaths were swirling across the track and beginning to hide the beacons.
The horse's pace dropped to a walk.
"Hadn't you better keep him going?" Russell whispered to Chitty.
"I don't dare," was the answer. "I got to watch for they poles. If we was to get off the causeway, there'd likely be trouble."
"Trouble! How do you mean?" asked Russell.
"Quicks," answered Chitty, in a low voice. "But don't you worry; we'll be right enough."
The fog got thicker and soon cut off all sight of the land. The horse went slower and slower, and presently Bess spoke.
"I say, Russ, the sea is coming right over the road," she said.
She was right. Little ripples were crawling across the track, and the horse's feet splashed through them.
Russell did not half like it.
"How far have we to go, Chitty?" he asked.
"'Bout another mile," was the answer.
Russell looked at the man and saw that he was frightened.
"Push on as quickly as you can," he said briskly, then turned to his sister. "We've only another mile, Bess. We shall be all right." He was wondering how much that brave little smile was hiding.
The water grew deeper, and suddenly Chitty pulled up.
"I've missed one o' they beacons," he told them.
"Missed it? How do you mean?" demanded Russell.
"I don't know. Mebbe one's fell down. If it ain't, I must be off the track."
"I'll get down and find it," said Russell.
"No, better not; you'll only get wet," replied Chitty. "We'll go on slow."
He sent the horse on again, but they had not gone a dozen yards before the animal was up to its knees. Then it began to struggle and kick.
"We be in a quick!" cried Chitty, in a terrified voice. "We be caught for sure!"
RUSSELL sprang out, and was at once knee deep. To his horror the sand beneath his feet was soft as soup. He sprang to the horse's head and pulled it round.
The poor old thing plunged and struggled and nearly fell. Russell had to keep lifting his own feet to save himself from sinking, but he was very strong and by main force managed to drag the horse round.
He struck a firmer patch.
"Sit tight, Bess!" he cried. "We are out of the quicksand!"
"Well done, Russell!" exclaimed Bess, as her brother led the horse back up the slope of the ridge into shallower water. "That's splendid! Now we shall be all right!"
"But I don't know where we be," moaned Chitty.
"Then wait where you are till I find out," returned Russell sharply, and he walked forward, searching for a beacon. He could not find one, and a few steps either way took him into deep water.
He went back, and at once got into another quicksand, which clutched at his ankles like a hungry beast. There was nothing for it but to struggle back to the fly. By this time Russell knew that they were in a very dangerous fix.
"There is only one thing to do," he said to Chitty. "Take the horse out, and let him find his way back to the shore. We must follow."
"But I'll lose my fly!" groaned Chitty.
"Better than losing your life," replied Russell curtly. "Quick, now! Do as I say. The tide is making fast!"
They got the horse out, and he at once started away. The fog was like a blanket, and they could see nothing except the grey, crawling waves. Russell took Bess on his back and held the reins. The old horse kept on steadily, but the water grew deeper.
Russell's heart was in his mouth. For all he knew, the animal might be going straight out to sea, yet he had to trust him. And even if they were going in the right direction there was no telling when they might plunge into another quick.
He was waist deep and the horse nearly swimming when he thought he heard the splash of oars. He shouted at the top of his voice.
"All right!" came back a voice through the fog. "I'm coming!"
A minute later and a small boat loomed through the fog. A boy was rowing, a red-haired boy who looked to be about fourteen. He was thin and ragged, his face was freckled, and his hands were brown as an Indian's. But Bess noticed at once that he had the straightest pair of blue eves that she had ever seen.
"So it's you, Chitty," he remarked quietly, as he came up. "Hadn't you got sense enough to turn back when you saw the fog? Put the little lady in the stern, sir," he said to Russell. "And get in carefully, for the boat's a bit cranky and I've got a lot of fish in her."
"Can't I walk?" asked Russell. "No, get in, sir. Chitty can ride his horse and follow us. It isn't very far to the beach."
So Russell got in, and Chitty clambered on the horse, and they started back for the beach.
"How do you know your way?" demanded Bess of the boy.
"I can hardly tell," replied the boy, with a smile which lit up his thin face. "Just feel it, I expect."
"It's very clever of you. What is your name?"
"Jack Seagrave. I work for Mr. Soper."
"Who is he?" asked Bess.
"He farms the Saltings. That's close to Salthorpe."
"That is where we are going," Bess told him.
Jack smiled again.
"Then you'll be Miss Arnold," he said.
"Yes, and this is my brother, who owns the school. Mr. Fearon left it to him."
Jack glanced at Mr. Arnold, and there was an odd expression on his face, but he said no more, and just then the boat's keel grated on the sand.
Jack got out and pulled her up.
"I'll show you the way up to the school," he said.
"But your fish," said Bess.
"They won't run away," returned Jack. "It isn't far, anyhow."
The path took them up the beach, over a great sea wall and across rich, flat meadows to a rising ground where, among big trees, there stood a large square, red-brick house.
In an enclosure to the left some boys were playing.
"That's Salthorpe," said Jack. "Now I'll be going."
"Wait!" said Russell. "First tell us what we can do for you to thank you for saving our lives."
"That was just luck, sir," smiled the boy. "I don't want any reward for that."
"Oh, please, Jack. You must let us do something."
Jack flushed a little.
"All right, Miss Arnold. If you have an old lesson-book or two to spare I'd be grateful for them."
"You shall have as many as you like," said Bess warmly. "And I shall bring them myself as soon as we are settled here."
"No, Miss Arnold. I'll come for them if you please," he said. Then he touched his cap and was gone.
"The nicest boy I ever met," declared Bess.
BESS and her brother made their way up to the front of the house.
"It's a dingy old place," remarked Bess.
"It does look as if it could do with a little fresh paint," allowed her brother. "But doesn't it thrill you to feel that we own all this, Bess?"
Bess shook her small head.
"I'm not sure," she said wisely.
A pathetic-looking old man in shabby livery opened the door.
"Mr. Jarvis, sir? Yes, he is in. Are you Mr. Arnold?"
"My name is Endacott, sir. I was Mr. Fearon's butler," said the old fellow.
"Then I hope you will remain here as mine," said Russell with a smile.
"Thank you, sir; thank you," replied Endacott gratefully. And just then a door opposite opened and another man appeared. "Mr. Jarvis, sir," said Endacott.
Russell Arnold went across and shook hands. "I'm Arnold," he said, "and this is my sister."
Jarvis was tall, but stooped badly. He stared at the other from eyes deep-set under heavy brows.
"I wasn't expecting you," he said in a harsh voice.
"I wired," said Russell. "But I hear you did not get the message. Where can we talk?"
Jarvis led the way into a large dingy study, and Bess waited in the hall.
After about a quarter of an hour her brother came out. He looked rather worried.
"Bess," he said. "I am going down at once to the Saltings to see Mr. Soper. Will you come?"
"Then I shall see that nice boy again!" exclaimed Bess in delight. Then she looked up at her tall brother. "What's the matter, Russ?" she asked quickly. "What did that horrid man say to you?"
"Mr. Jarvis, you mean? Why do you call him horrid, Bess?"
"He is. I had only to look at him to know."
"But you must not take a dislike to him," reproved her brother. "He was Uncle Digby's assistant in the school, and he is managing everything now."
"What did he say?" demanded Bess.
"He says that Uncle Digby left no money except a couple of hundred pounds in the bank, and that we can't run the school without money. He has recommended me to sell the land."
"Sell the land! How much is there?"
"About two hundred acres. Mr. Jarvis says that Mr. Soper will buy it."
Bess looked round at the rich green pasture.
"I wouldn't sell if I were you, Russ," she said.
"I don't want to, dear; but I cannot afford to live here unless I keep on the school. And I cannot run a school without money. But here we are, and there is Mr. Soper. Will you wait a moment while I talk to him?"
Bess glanced at Soper.
"He's worse than Jarvis," she said briefly; and slipped away.
Farmer Soper was certainly not a beauty. He was fat as a hog, and had a large flat face, very white and shiny, and little greedy, pig-like eyes.
"Hallo!" he said gruffly. "What do you want?"
"My name is Arnold. I am the new owner of Salthorpe. I have come to see you by Mr. Jarvis's advice."
Soper's whole expression changed in a flash. He smiled an oily smile.
"Delighted to see you, sir," he said in a very different tone. "I shall be glad to be of any service to you. Please come into the parlour."
He took Russell into a stuffy room with horse-hair chairs and a large table in the middle.
"Sit down, sir," he said, rubbing his hands together. "What can I do for you?"
"I will come to the point at once," said Russell. "Salthorpe has come to me from my cousin, Mr. Digby Fearon, who died three months ago. I am a poor man and cannot afford to live there unless I keep the school going. In any case, I am a schoolmaster by profession, and should like to run a school. But I want capital. Mr. Jarvis tells me that you would like to buy the land which you now rent."
Soper's expression changed again.
"Some of it, sir," he said quickly. "I'd take the grazing land if the price was reasonable, But times are bad for us farmers and I couldn't afford to pay a great deal."
"What price are you prepared to offer?" asked Russell.
Soper considered a moment.
"I would go as high as twelve pounds an acre for the fifty acres of pasture under the sea wall." Russell stared at him.
"Twelve pounds an acre! Why, I understood this marsh pasture was worth at least forty pounds an acre," he said.
"Not here, sir. We're too far from market. Twelve pounds is a good offer. You won't get a better."
Russell's heart sank. He wanted at least two thousand pounds, and the offer of only six hundred staggered him.
"I couldn't take so little," he answered.
"Well, please yourself," said Soper. "But remember this, that the only way to reach your land is through mine. So you won't get another customer very easy."
The threat hidden in these words had hardly begun to sink into Russell's mind before there came a startling interruption.
"You horrid boy, let him alone!" rang out Bess's voice in sharp indignation.
Russell strode to the window. In the yard young Jack Seagrave was backed against the wall, and over him stood a great lout, ahead taller and two stones heavier, cuffing him brutally. Jack was trying hard to defend himself, but was half blinded by blood running from a nasty cut on his forehead. And Bess, her face blazing with indignation, was vainly trying to pull the bully away.
RUSSELL did not wait to go round by the door. In a flash he had flung up the sash and leaped out.
He heard Soper shout something, but did not catch the words. He was across the yard in half-a-dozen strides, and catching the big lout by one ear, jerked him away from his victim.
"Ow!" shrieked the lout.
"Leggo! Leggo o' my ear! You're hurting me!"
"Which is exactly what I meant to do," replied Russell. His voice was soft as silk, but his grey eyes were alight with indignation.
"How do you like it?" he added, giving the bully's ear another tweak.
The lout shrieked, and writhing round kicked viciously at Russell's shins. It was a foolish move on his part. Russell, who had played Rugby for his university, eluded the kick without the slightest difficulty, then suddenly shifted his hold to the other's arm, and with a quick twist held him so that he stood bent over backwards and quite helpless.
"I suppose you are under the impression that you can inflict as much pain as you please without suffering any in return," he continued. "I must teach you better. Bess, fetch my stick from the hall."
Bess fled to do her brother's bidding, but even as she turned, Soper himself arrived on the scene.
"What do you mean by treating my son like that?" he blustered. "You let him go, or it'll be the worse for you."
Russell, still holding the lout, gazed at the farmer calmly.
"So he is your son, is he? And may I inquire what he means by bullying this lad in so disgraceful a fashion, and what you mean by allowing him to do so?"
Two crimson spots showed on Soper's thick checks, and his small eyes had an ugly shine.
"I don't want none of your interference. You let Alfred go, or I'll put you through it."
Russell shook his head.
"If I may offer you some good advice," he remarked, "it would be that you go back into the house and remain there until I have given this young bully the punishment that he deserves."
"You're not a-going to touch him!" roared Soper, clenching his fists, each of which was about the size of a small ham. "Let go of him this minute!"
At this moment Bess arrived with her brother's stick, a light walking cane. Soper turned and snatched it from her with such force that he nearly knocked her down. Then he struck at Russell with it.
Like a flash Russell switched round, and the cane, instead of striking him, cut young Soper hard across the legs. The youth howled lustily, and Soper, with a furious exclamation, dropped the cane and sprang at Russell, striking out at his head with his big fist.
But when the fist arrived Russell's head was no longer there, and the next thing that Soper knew he was flat on his back on the muddy ground. Russell had not hit him, but merely tripped him.
Quick as light, Russell had picked up the stick, and catching the younger Soper by the collar gave him three sharp cuts.
"Now clear out!" he ordered curtly. " And next time you think of bullying a boy smaller than yourself remember that there is more where this came from."
Tears were running down young Soper's fat cheeks as he retreated, howling, towards the house. Russell turned to the elder man, and offered his hand.
"You'd better get up," he said. "You are not hurt."
Soper scrambled to his feet. He was not hurt, but he was purple with a mixture of rage and fear.
"I'll have the law on you for this!" he growled out hoarsely. "You'll be sorry for this the longest day you live."
Russell shrugged his shoulders.
"I am always sorry to quarrel with a neighbour," he said, "but when you are calmer you will realise that you brought this on yourself. Now I will say good evening. Come, Bess!"
BESS gazed at her brother. "You aren't going to leave Jack here!" she exclaimed. "That horrid Alfred will beat him again as soon as we are gone."
Russell gazed at his sister, then at Jack Seagrave. A puzzled frown crossed his face.
"What can we do?" he asked of Bess.
"Why, take him with us, of course," replied Bess without the slightest hesitation.
"But we have no right to," he answered.
"That's nonsense," said Bess confidently. "He doesn't belong to the Sopers. They picked him up on the beach when he was a baby, and he's been a sort of slave to them ever since."
"Is this true, Jack?" asked Russell.
"Yes, sir," Jack answered quietly. "Quite true."
"Then the Sopers have no right to keep you?"
"I think I have done enough to pay for my keep," said Jack rather grimly.
"But if I take you away what can I do with you?"
"I shouldn't stay after this in any case," said Jack. "I'd rather tramp the roads," he added.
"I am not a rich man," Russell told him. "If you come with me you will have to work."
"I'm not afraid of work, sir," said Jack simply.
Russell took one look at the small pinched face, the firm lips, and resolute eyes.
"We'll try you anyhow, Jack," he said kindly, and Bess gave a little cry of delight.
"Oh, I'm so glad!" she exclaimed, and danced away.
The Sopers made no attempt to interfere. They stood scowling but silent while the three walked away from the farm, and took the short cut back to the school.
Bess and Jack talked hard, but Russell said nothing. He was feeling far from happy, for he had not only failed to sell his land, but had also quarrelled with the only man who seemed likely to buy it.
"And yet I don't know what else I could have done," he said to himself. "I certainly could not let that lout bully Jack. And anyhow, I don't like those Sopers, and perhaps it is just as well that I shall not have any more to do with them."
Reaching the school, he was met in the hall by Mr. Jarvis, who led the way at once into the dingy study, and closed the door.
"Well?" he said eagerly, "did you get the business through with Soper?"
Russell shook his head.
"Very much to the contrary, I am afraid, Mr. Jarvis. So far from selling the land to Mr. Soper, I have quarrelled with him hopelessly."
A look of dismay showed in the other's deep-set eyes.
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
Russell did not quite like the tone in which Jarvis spoke, but he explained clearly just what had happened.
Jarvis frowned heavily.
"But this will never do," he exclaimed. "Whatever induced you to interfere in such a way?"
Russell drew himself up.
"I interfered because it was the only thing to do, and in the circumstances I should always act in the same way," he answered curtly.
Jarvis saw he had gone too far.
"Yes, I see that you could not help it," he said hastily, "but if you will leave the matter to me I think I can smooth things out, and even, if you wish it, arrange the sale."
He spoke so civilly that Russell calmed down.
"That is very kind of you, Mr. Jarvis," he answered, "but the price offered by Mr. Soper is absurdly low. I will look round for another purchaser."
"I am afraid you will have difficulty in finding one," said Jarvis regretfully. "To reach those fields it is necessary to cross Soper's land or to come through the school playground. That makes it awkward for any purchaser from a distance."
"That is what Soper told me. Indeed, he held it over me as a threat. I do not like Soper, Mr. Jarvis, and I shall not go farther with him till I am quite certain that I cannot sell to anyone else."
Jarvis shrugged his shoulders.
"Just as you please, Mr. Arnold, but please remember, that if the school is to be carried on, we must have money."
"I know that," replied Russell quietly. "And now if you are ready, we will go through the accounts."
THE accounts were not cheerful reading, and when Russell went out of the study he felt anything but happy. Bess met him outside, and at once saw that he was upset. She slipped her hand into his.
"What's bothering you, Russ? Is it that horrid Soper?"
"No, dear. I have just been going through the school accounts with Mr. Jarvis, and I see plainly that I shall never be able to carry on here without ready money. Mr. Jarvis says that he can arrange the sale of the land to that unpleasant farmer person, and it looks to me as though I should be forced to let it go."
"No!" said Bess. "No! You must not dream of selling it, for it will be much better to keep it."
Russell stared at his small sister with perplexed eyes.
"Keep it, Bess dear? What do you mean?"
"I will tell you," said Bess eagerly. "I have been talking to Jack. He says that it is the richest grazing land for miles and that it would pay you splendidly to work it yourself."
Russell frowned a little. "But I am no farmer, Bess."
"Jack is," said Bess confidently. "He knows all about it. He says that you could keep cows and sheep, and that the boys could help you to look after them."
"What—turn them into mud pups, as we used to call the farm pupils up at home in Worcestershire," laughed her brother.
But Bess remained perfectly serious.
"I don't see why not, Russell. It would be very good for them, and I'm sure they would love it."
Russell stopped laughing and gazed at Bess.
"It's not such a bad idea after all. Indeed, I believe that it is worth thinking about. Bess, send Jack to me, and I will talk it over with him. The boy has a head on his shoulders, and we may have done a good turn to ourselves as well as to him in taking him away from those Sopers."
Bess skipped off in the highest spirits. She found Jack watching the boys of the school, who were playing cricket on a very poor pitch, and sent him to her brother. Russell had found a seat on a garden bench.
"Sit down, Jack," he said. "I want to hear all about this plan of yours."
Jack's thin cheeks flushed.
"I hope you won't think it cheek of me, sir," he said, "but I know that Soper has made a good thing out of your land. He's been renting it for years past, and supplying the school with all their milk and butter and vegetables and eggs. I thought if you kept the land you could do the same and save a lot."
"It sounds most promising, Jack," agreed the master, "but I should have to buy cows and other farm stock, and frankly I have not the money."
"But couldn't you borrow it, sir?" suggested Jack timidly. "I know that Soper borrowed some money on a—mortgage, I think it was called."
Russell started slightly. "For a youngster of your age, you certainly have ideas," he said. "I will try to do so. I will go back to town at once and see what can be done." He paused. "You will stay here, Jack, till I return," he said. "I will tell Mr. Jarvis to look after you."
The colour faded from Jack's face; he seemed about to speak, but checked himself. "Thank you, sir," he said, and Russell, getting up, called Bess and told her what he had decided.
Jack went with them to the creek and rowed them across. Then he returned to the school.
As he came up the drive he was met by Mr. Jarvis, who stood and glared at the boy with a look so malignant that Jack shivered slightly.
"So it is you that I have to thank for this business," said Jarvis in a grating voice. "You, you beggar's brat! Your new friend will not be back for at least two days. That leaves me time to discipline you, and believe me, I mean to do it."
JACK SEAGRAVE'S heart sank, for this was exactly what he had been afraid of. He knew a great deal more about Mr. Jarvis than Russell ever suspected, but Jack had purposely refrained from telling Bess or Russell because he did not want to add to their troubles. Yet he faced the under-master quietly.
Jarvis glanced round to make sure that no one else was within hearing, then turned on Jack.
"I will give you one chance, Seagrave, one only," he said. "It is you who have put Mr. Arnold up to this ridiculous nonsense of farming the land himself. You will promise me that, when he returns, you will do your best to convince him that it would be useless to try anything of the kind."
"But supposing I don't think so?" replied Jack. Though he spoke quietly enough his heart was pounding.
"Who cares what a brat like you thinks?" retorted Jarvis furiously. "I'm giving you a chance, and if you don't take it, believe me, you'll be sorry."
Jack set his lips. "I'm not going to tell lies, whatever you say," he answered doggedly.
"Then take that!" snapped Jarvis, and swung a flat-handed blow at Jack's cheek.
But Jack ducked like a flash under the swinging hand, turned, and ran for all he was worth.
A little way to the left of the drive was a thick shrubbery, and Jack, knowing that on open ground Mr. Jarvis was bound to run him down, made straight for this. He reached it just ahead of his pursuer, plunged in, and wriggled and wormed his way into the thick of it. Jarvis, panting with rage, came rushing after, but Jack dodged under a thick laurel and flung himself flat on the ground.
He heard Jarvis crash past, then picked himself up and ran back the way he had come. He reached the drive again and paused an instant, for he had not the faintest idea in which direction to go. Soper's house was barred to him, and as for the school, if he went into the building he was simply giving himself up to the tyrant Jarvis.
He glanced back, saw that Jarvis was still hunting in the shrubbery, then raced away round to the back of the house.
The school had once been a large private house, and at the back was a big stable yard now used only for storage of coal and such like. As Jack scurried in through the entrance he almost ran into an elderly man in shirt-sleeves who was carrying a coal- scuttle. It was Endacott, once butler to Mr. Fearon, now man-of- all-work to the school.
Endacott pulled up short.
"What's the matter, Jack?" he asked.
"Mr. Jarvis is after me," Jack answered breathlessly. "He's in an awful rage because I told Mr. Arnold that he had best keep the land and not sell it to Soper."
"You was right, my lad," said Endacott. "Soper would rob Mr. Arnold, just like he robbed old Mr. Fearon. But 'tis a pity Mr. Jarvis has got wind of this."
"It will be something worse than a pity for me if I don't get out of his clutches," said Jack grimly.
"You can do that right enough," Endacott told him. "Here, I'll show you. Come along with me." He scurried away into one of the old stalls, and pointed to a crazy ladder leading up through a hole in the roof. "Get right up there, lad. Then I'll shift the ladder. Mr. Jarvis'll never guess where you've gone. I'll bring you some food after dark."
"You're a brick, Mr. Endacott," said Jack, and went up the ladder like a streak.
Endacott quickly removed the ladder and pushed it under the manger, then, picking up his coal-scuttle, went straight into the kitchen. As he looked out of the window he saw Mr. Jarvis come striding into the yard.
"My, but he's in a rage!" said Endacott to himself, and slipped away into the pantry.
Jarvis put his head into the kitchen.
"Endacott!" he shouted.
The old butler heard, but made no move.
"The old fool!" growled Jarvis. "Never here when he's wanted."
He turned, and Endacott, peering out, saw him leave the yard.
The old man chuckled softly.
"If I'm not mistook, you've had your day, Mr. Jarvis," he said to himself. "It's my opinion there's better times coming to Salthorpe."
FOR more than an hour Jarvis searched the premises, hunting high and low for Jack. Once he came into the stall above which Jack was hiding. But though he saw the opening in the floor above, he did not notice the ladder, and even if he had it would probably never have occurred to him that Jack could have used it.
At last he made up his mind that Jack had bolted altogether.
"A good job, too," he growled as he went in to his supper. "The brat knows too much. So long as he is out of the way I can handle Arnold."
For two days and two nights Jack lay hidden in the loft. Luckily for him there were a couple of trusses of old hay in a corner, and, opening these, he made himself a very comfortable bed. Endacott brought him food and some old magazines, and Jack was not half so bored as you might think.
The Arnolds' visit had been on a Monday. On Wednesday morning early Endacott brought Jack some breakfast, and told him that the Arnolds would be down by the two o'clock train that afternoon.
"Then I'll slip out and meet them," said Jack.
"That's right," said Endacott, "but don't let Jarvis see you."
"I won't do that," promised Jack. "I'll get off while he is taking morning school. No need to stick up the ladder. I can drop down all right."
Jack had no trouble in getting away unseen. Endacott had left a bucket of water for him and some soap, so he had a good wash, and it was a clean if ragged boy who stood on Marsh End platform eagerly awaiting the London train. It came rolling in, and almost before it had stopped Jack saw Bess jump out.
"Oh, Jack, how splendid!" she cried. "I'm so glad you came."
Her brother came up and shook hands.
"So Mr. Jarvis allowed you to come, Jack," he said with a smile.
"He didn't object, sir," replied Jack, with a faint twinkle in his eyes. He looked at the other. "Is it—is it all right, sir?" he asked nervously.
Russell smiled again.
"Quite right, my boy. I have the promise of enough money to carry on for the present. Now I am going straight to the school, and on the way we can discuss plans."
Jack had a boat waiting, and as the tide was right there was no difficulty in pulling across the creek. The luggage was to go round by road.
While Jack pulled, Russell told him that he had raised a thousand pounds on mortgage.
"But I have to pay fifty pounds a year interest, Jack," he explained. "So I must hope to make that money out of the farm."
"I think you can do that, sir," said Jack. "You will want to buy four good milch cows to begin with and build a small dairy. Then if you had some bullocks you could fatten them on the salt marsh and make eight or ten pounds on each when you sell them. I feel sure it will be all right, sir."
"I hope it will," replied Russell. "I shall have to rely largely on your advice, Jack, and in return I propose to enter you as a member of the school and give you your board and education."
Jack stopped rowing.
"Me—me in the school, sir!" he exclaimed.
"Why not, Jack?" asked the other.
"B-but I'm nobody—just a foundling. And they're gentlemen's sons at the school."
Russell leaned forward.
"Listen to me," Jack. At a big school such as I have come from, birth counts for nothing. It's what a boy does—what he makes of himself, not where he comes from. I've seen the son of a grocer fagging the son of an earl, and the earl's son was proud to be fagged, for the grocer's boy was captain of his house. You will go right into the school with the rest, and it will be up to you to make good."
Jack drew a long breath.
"I'll make good, sir," he said, and by the intense earnestness in his voice and manner, Russell and Bess both felt that this was something more than a mere promise.
They walked up from the ferry to the school.
"We have come to stay this time, Jack," said Boss. "We wrote to Mr. Jarvis to have our rooms ready. You will go into one of the dormitories."
Jack flushed hotly and suddenly Bess understood.
"Your clothes you are thinking of," she said, quickly. "But don't worry. My brother bought you some things in London, and they are in our luggage."
"It was you who thought of it," said Jack, with absolute conviction, and Bess smiled.
"Well, you know, you saved our lives last Monday," she laughed. Then she stopped. "Why, here is Mr. Jarvis coming to meet us," she said.
JARVIS it was, and Jack could have laughed at the dismay which showed on the man's face when he saw who was with the Arnolds. Jarvis had been quite sure that Jack had bolted, and to see him turn up like this made him fairly writhe with rage.
The worst of it was that he could not show his feelings. He twisted his face into a smile, a very crooked one, as he greeted Russell and his sister.
"I had your letter," he said, "and your rooms are quite ready for you."
"Thanks very much," said Russell. "I have come to stay this time. Now the first thing I wish to do is to speak to the boys."
"That will be quite convenient. They will be in at three o'clock for school," said Jarvis. "In fact, they are coming in now."
Russell turned to his sister.
"Get one of the maids to show you your room, Bess, while I speak to the boys."
Bess nodded and went off. Jack, too, made himself scarce. Then Russell followed Jarvis into the schoolroom.
There were only eighteen boys in all. There had been nearly forty in the old days, but the school had gone down badly during the past few years. Of course they all knew that this tall young man was the new Head, and they gazed at him with enormous interest.
Russell was quite at home with boys. He stood a moment looking at them with his pleasant smile.
"You all know that I am your new Head," he said. "Most chaps hate new masters, for they think they mean new work. I am no exception. I do mean new work." He paused and watched eighteen faces fall dismally. "Don't look so miserable," he said. "It is not indoor work. The work I want you to do is all out of doors."
Everyone picked up and looked so interested, that Russell almost laughed.
"You know the school owns a lot of land," he said. "What do you say to helping me to work it? Of course, I shan't ask any of you to tackle that sort of thing unless he likes to do so. Will those who would like to help me raise their hands." At first it seemed to Russell that every hand in the room went up, but presently he saw that two boys were sitting tight. One was a lanky, white-faced, black-haired boy, the other a fat youth who had his hair plastered down with brilliantine and wore a bright red tie.
"Sixteen, I see," he said. "Quite enough for my purpose. You will hear all about it in a day or two. Meantime I am asking Mr. Jarvis to give you a holiday for the rest of the day, and there will be jam for tea."
"Hurray!" shouted one boy, and all the rest cheered. Everyone looked happy except the two objectors and Jarvis.
As soon as the room was cleared Jarvis got his hat and, slipping out by a side door, went straight to Soper's. The fat farmer met him with a scowl.
"You've messed things up all right," he growled. "I seed that brat along with them Arnolds an hour ago."
"It is not too late to put matters right," replied Jarvis quickly. "Not if we can get rid of young Seagrave."
"How can we do that?" demanded Soper.
"What about that brother of yours, the one who owns the trawler?"
"Simon! My word. I'd never thought of him. But it's a good notion o' yours, Jarvis, a real good notion."
JARVIS fixed his small eyes on Soper.
"It's not merely a good notion," he said. "It's the only notion. You must get Simon to take this boy right away and land him in Holland. Once over there he will have to stay, for he will have no money to pay his passage back to England."
"You're mighty scared of this kid," said Soper with a touch of contempt in his voice. "After all, I don't see that he counts for such a lot."
"Then you're a bigger idiot than I took you for," retorted Jarvis. "The boy has got more brains than any lad of his age that I ever ran into. He has educated himself on the quiet, he's got an excellent memory, and I shouldn't wonder if he knew at least as much about farming as you do." He paused. "No, it's no use you getting angry, for I'm telling you nothing more than plain truth. And in any case the whole trouble came through your foolishness. You might have had more sense than to let that lout of a boy of yours go hammering young Seagrave right in front of the window when Arnold was here."
Soper scowled angrily, but did not interrupt.
Jarvis went on.
"With young Jack's help, this fellow Arnold will certainly make the laud pay, and then where are we? I shall have to carry on as assistant master on a beggarly two hundred a year, and you will have lost about half your income, to say nothing of the share of the sea marsh that you were to have. So you just bear in mind that the very first thing you've got to do is to see your brother and fix up the job with him."
"Simon will want to be paid for this," grumbled Soper.
"Then pay him," retorted Jarvis. "You started the trouble, so it's only fair that you should pay."
Soper frowned again.
"And if I do get Simon to agree, how are we going to get the brat aboard, I'd like to know? As you say yourself, he's no fool, and I can't see how we are going to tempt him aboard the Cormorant."
"You can leave that to me," said Jarvis curtly. "You make the arrangements with your brother, and I'll do the rest."
"You seem mighty sure," sneered Soper.
"Of course I'm sure," retorted Jarvis. "The boy is going to look after these beasts that Arnold will buy. He will be constantly down on the marsh. The Cormorant will lie off and send a dinghy ashore with two men who will lie up behind the sea wall, and wait their chance."
"That sounds all right, but you've got to remember kidnapping is a pretty serious offence, and if it got out we'd both find ourselves locked up before we'd time to turn round."
"Bah, you make me tired," exclaimed Jarvis. "Who's to hear or see? Those marshes are the loneliest spot on the coast. There isn't anyone crosses them once in a week. And surely two stout men can handle a brat of fourteen."
He rose as he spoke.
"I am depending on you to fix things up with Simon," he said, "and as soon as ever you have done so you are to let me know."
"All right," he said sulkily.
"There's one thing more," said Jarvis. "We've got to work things so that Arnold won't suspect us. I've kept on the right side of him so far, but, of course, if anything happens you're the first who'll be suspected. So you've got to patch matters up with Arnold."
"I'll not do it," growled Soper. "I hate that long, finicky fellow with his pretty clothes, and his drawling way of speaking."
"I hate him myself," said Jarvis, "but there's no way out of it. For the present we've got to be friendly. The best thing you can do is to write him a letter, apologising for your son, and offering him a good price for the land."
"I ain't going to pay any more than I offered first off," snapped Soper.
"Of course you are not. Can't you understand that now he won't sell?" replied Jarvis sharply. "You get to work and write that letter— and keep a copy of it."
BESS found her brother in the shabby study, very busy.
"You mustn't interrupt me, Bess," he said. "I am writing to all the parents to ask if they object to their sons doing a certain amount of work in the open."
"That's a good idea," replied Bess. "I just came in to tell you that the luggage has come and I have unpacked. And am I to give Jack his things, please?"
"Of course you can; then tell him to change at once, and after that he can go right in with the other boy's."
Bess sped off and found Jack round at the back, helping Endacott to wash up crockery. He followed her obediently into the room which was called the Wardrobe, and there were his things all laid out.
"A blue serge suit, Jack, some shorts, and a jersey; and here are your shirts and socks, boots, and the other things. You had better wear the shorts for the present, so go to your dormitory and put them on. Then my brother says you can go down and join the other boys."
Jack gazed at the things with a sort of awe. He had never owned a new suit in his life, for Soper had made him wear Alfred's dirty cast-off garments.
"All this for me?" he said in a voice that was not quite steady.
"Of course it is all for you. It isn't much," said practical Bess. "But when you want more you shall have them. Oh, and you are in B dormitory—that's the one on this floor—and your bed is the one next the door on the left."
Jack found his way to the dormitory, which at this time of day was empty. Then he stripped off his ancient rags, and changed. There was one looking-glass in the big room, and Jack went to it, tilted it, and looked at himself. He shook his head solemnly.
"I'd never have believed it," he remarked, and marched out.
Bess met him at the foot of the stairs. Her eyes widened.
"You, Jack!" she exclaimed. "I'd never have believed it."
"That's just what I said," grinned Jack. "I didn't know clothes make such a difference."
"You look half as big again," declared Bess. "Jack, I'm proud of you."
Jack went very red.
"I—I hope you always will be," he stammered.
"Of course I shall," said Bess. "Now go out and find the other boys. They are playing cricket."
Jack went out. He tried to put on a bold face, but inwardly he was horribly nervous.
When he reached the cricket ground the first person he saw was Mr. Jarvis, who was sitting in a camp chair looking on. He turned and, as his eyes fell on Jack, Jack saw him give a slight start. Then the look of surprise passed. His eyes narrowed, and Jack could almost feel the man's hatred like a wave sweeping outward.
But Jarvis was much too clever to show his feelings plainly. He began in a light, chaffing strain.
"Hullo, Seagrave, I understand from Mr. Arnold that you have come to join us in our studies and our games. Boys, I think you already know Seagrave. He has visited the school on many occasions in the humble capacity of milk boy. Perhaps you will hardly recognise him in this changed garb, but I can assure you he is the same. I hope you will all treat him nicely."
The boys, of whom seven or eight were gathered in a group, stared at Jack, and Jack felt his cheeks going crimson. Then Jenner, who was among them, gave a sort of snort.
"Nice thing to have a charity brat foisted on us like this!" he remarked audibly. "Come on, Pringle."
He stalked away, followed by his fat satellite. The other boys hesitated. Some looked indifferent, others hostile. Suddenly one of them stepped forward. He was a tall, slight youngster of about Jack's age, with a clear, dark skin, wide eyes and extraordinarily well-cut features.
"Very glad to see you, Seagrave," he said in a rather high- pitched voice. "I heard about your getting Mr. Arnold out of the quicks the other day. Jolly good business."
Jack could have hugged him. His whole soul was filled with gratitude. But he managed to pull himself together.
"It was just luck," he said with a smile. "I had been out fishing, and heard them shouting. You really must not give me any credit for that."
"It wasn't luck that you found your way to the beach in that fog," said the other. "Strikes me you'll be a jolly useful chap. Come and stroll round. My name is Gerald Darcy."
He slipped his arm through Jack's and started along the side of the field.
Jack heard one boy mutter, "Well, I'm jiggered," and he was conscious that Jarvis was staring after him with venomous eyes. He did not care, for this was the proudest moment that he had known in his life.
JACK kept silence until they were out of earshot of the others. Then he pulled up short.
"Darcy," he said, "it's only fair to tell you that what Jenner said is quite true. I'm nothing but a charity boy."
Darcy looked at him. "My good chap," he drawled, "what does that matter?"
"That's what Mr. Arnold said," answered Jack.
Darcy nodded. "Of course. Arnold's a sahib. He comes from Highclere, you know. I'm going there when I leave this. I was thinking of leaving this term, but now that Arnold has taken charge I believe I'll stay till Christmas. This farming stunt will be a great rag."
"You're keen on it?" questioned Jack.
"Keen as mustard." He chuckled. "More than Jarvis is."
"Yes, Jarvis is out to make trouble," agreed Jack. "I can't quite see why."
"He's a poisonous person," said Darcy. "My notion is that, when old Fearon died, Jarvis meant to collar the school and the whole outfit. He and that swab Soper had the whole thing planned out. It looks to me as if it was you who had spoked their wheel."
"What—by suggesting that Mr. Arnold should do his own farming?"
"That's it. But I don't quite see why he wants to farm."
"Because he has no money," Jack replied. "Mr. Fearon left him the place and the land, but there was no cash. He has had to raise money on mortgage so as to stock the farm."
Darcy stared at Jack in puzzled fashion. "I say, Seagrave, forgive my asking, but how the mischief do you know about mortgages and things like that? And how on earth do you manage to talk as you do? Anyone might think you'd been at a good school since you were a kid!"
Jack flushed, but this time with pleasure.
"Endacott has always given me books—old school books. I went to night school for a bit and learned to read, and I've spent all my spare time reading."
"It's no end creditable both to you and Endacott," said Darcy with decision. "And now to go back. Why isn't there any cash? Old Fearon had plenty of money. Where's it all gone?"
"I can't tell you anything about that," said Jack. "I wonder if Endacott knows."
"Good egg! We'll ask him," said Darcy. "Come on."
They found Endacott in his pantry. He was in his shirtsleeves and wearing an old green baize apron. Darcy wasted no time in putting his question.
"Money?" repeated the old chap. "Aye, Mr. Fearon always had a plenty."
"Then where is it?" demanded Darcy. "Didn't he make a will?"
"He made a will right enough," replied Endacott. "I know that, because I witnessed it."
"But there was no will," said Jack. "Miss Bess told me that, herself. The property came to Mr. Arnold because he was the only relative."
Endacott shook his head. "I don't know nothing about that. But I do know as there was a will. It was made a matter of two years ago. Of course I don't know what was in it. The old master didn't tell me that."
Darcy looked at Jack.
"Some monkey business here, my lad. That will's got to be found."
Jack looked doubtful. "If Jarvis has got hold of it the chances are that he has destroyed it," he said.
Darcy whistled softly. "Of course he has," he remarked, and just then a harsh voice broke in.
"What are you doing here, boys? Don't you know the back premises are out of bounds?"
Jarvis was standing just behind them.
JARVIS fixed his deep-set eyes on the two boys.
"I don't so much wonder at seeing you here, Seagrave," he went on with a sneer. "The society of servants is probably more congenial to you than that of educated people. Only Darcy knows better, even if you do not."
Jack bit his lip, for his temper was dangerously stirred, and he had the strongest impulse to turn on Jarvis, and tell him just what he thought of him. But Darcy remained perfectly calm.
"I had something to ask Endacott, sir," he said. "And Mr. Fearon never objected to any of us talking to Endacott."
The boy's coolness enraged Jarvis.
"Mr. Fearon is no longer alive!" he snapped, "and at present I am your master. It will be good for you to remember that fact!"
A faintly puzzled look crossed Darcy's face.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said very gently. "I thought Mr. Arnold was the headmaster now."
Jarvis's eyes narrowed, his face went almost black, and for a moment Jack thought he was going to strike Darcy. But he had just sense enough left to know that by doing so before Endacott he would put himself hopelessly in the wrong.
"Take five hundred lines for insolence!" he growled, and swung on his heel.
Darcy took Jack's arm again; he smiled at Endacott, then, turning the opposite direction from that in which Jarvis had gone, strolled slowly away.
"Oh, Darcy!" said Jack in dismay. "I am sorry. This is my fault."
"What do you mean, Seagrave? What is your fault?"
"Your getting this punishment, I mean," Jack replied.
"My dear chap. I'm not kicking. I'd do double the imposition for the pleasure of taking such a perfect rise out of the Jarvis bird. Did you see his face?" he added with a chuckle. "I thought he was going to have a fit."
"He can look ugly," Jack agreed, and paused. "I say, Darcy, do you think he overheard what we were saying about the will?"
"I don't know, and I don't think I very much care," replied Darcy. "You see, now that your friend Arnold has taken over, Jarvis don't count for a lot. It's only a matter of time before Arnold gets to know him, and once that happens the beggar will have the push quick enough to make him dizzy."
"I wish he was out of the place now," said Jack. "I suppose I couldn't give Mr. Arnold a hint?"
Darcy shook his head.
"No, my son," he said with decision. "That sort of thing's not done. You let matters run their course, and I'll bet you sixpence that Jarvis don't last out the term."
"I'd take the bet if I had sixpence, but between ourselves I never owned that much money in my life."
For once Darcy looked really startled.
"My only aunt!" he gasped. "What a perfect pig that fellow Soper must be! But you'll get your shilling a week pocket money here. All the boys have that."
"I don't want it," replied Jack. "I owe enough to Mr. Arnold as it is.
I shall take nothing more unless I can earn it."
"That's the proper spirit," he remarked. "That's the way to talk, Seagrave. I foresee that you and I are going to be good pals. Tell you what, let's go up to the tuck shop in the village, and I'll stand you a small feed to celebrate the occasion. There's plenty of time before afternoon school."
"But—but your lines?" said Jack.
"Jarvis was in such a wax he forgot to tell me when to show them up. I'm not going even to start 'em until he asks for them. Come along!"
So the two went up to the little shop in the village a mile inland from the school, and tucked into currant buns and three- cornered tarts, and got back in good time for five o'clock school.
JACK tapped at the door of Mr. Arnold's room, and was told to come in.
"What is it, Jack?" asked the master, looking up from his papers.
"There's a sale at Callow End, sir. Mr. Canty, the owner, is giving up and there are some good milch cows. I thought, perhaps, it might be worth your while to have a look at them."
"But we are not ready for them yet, are we, Jack?" asked Mr. Arnold.
"The dairy isn't finished yet, sir, but the old stalls are quite good enough to keep cows in, and the grazing is just going to waste."
"I will look at them if you like, Jack, but I should not know whether they are worth buying or not. You must come with me and tell me about that."
"Very good, sir," said Jack. "The sale is tomorrow, and Callow End is only two miles away."
"Then we will walk over," said the master. "Meantime you had better go and see about the stalls. I suppose they will need bedding down."
"Yes, sir. There is some old bracken that will do. I'll go and see to it."
Jack was hunting in the yard for a pitchfork when suddenly Jarvis marched in after him.
"I thought so," he said grimly. "You are out of bounds again. I let you off the other day because you were ignorant of the school rules, but now you cannot make that excuse. You will do me five hundred lines, and show them up tomorrow night. No," as Jack tried to speak. "It is no use trying to beg off. Get in at once and begin your imposition!" He grasped Jack by the arm as he spoke.
"But—" began Jack.
"Keep silence!" roared the under-master; and Jack, seeing that it was useless to remonstrate, set his teeth, and kept step as best he could with the long strides of the angry man.
Jarvis whirled Jack round to the side door, flung it open, and was dragging the boy through when he found himself face to face with Mr. Arnold, who pulled up short.
"I do not wish to interfere in any matter of discipline, Mr. Jarvis," said the master; "but may I ask the nature of Seagrave's offence?"
"I found him out of bounds, Mr. Arnold," replied Jarvis, "the second time since he came here."
"Out of bounds—where was he?"
"In the stable yard."
"Mr. Arnold gazed at Jack.
"But did you not tell Mr. Jarvis that I sent you, Seagrave?"
"I tried to, sir," Jack answered quietly.
Jarvis went very red, and there was a dead and uncomfortable silence for some seconds. Then Mr. Arnold spoke.
"A mistake, I see," he said, quietly. "Seagrave was on an errand for me, Mr. Jarvis, and in future owing to the special work he does, the stable-yard will not longer be out of bounds for him."
Jarvis muttered something and hurried away, leaving the other two together.
"How have you managed to upset Mr. Jarvis, Jack," asked Mr. Arnold a trifle sternly.
Jack paused an instant. He could not sneak; he hardly knew what to say.
"I don't think he quite likes me to be in the school, sir," he answered lamely.
"Oh, but that is absurd, Jack," exclaimed Mr. Arnold. "Try to please him. It would be a pity to be in the bad books of one of your masters. Now get on with those stalls."
The first person Jack met as he came back into the school after finishing the stalls was Darcy.
"I saw it all," he chuckled. "A lovely sell for Jarvis and Jenner!"
"Jenner—what had he to do with it?" asked Jack, quickly.
"He was watching you," Darcy answered. "He saw you go into the yard and rushed off to fetch Jarvis."
"I thought it was rather queer, Jarvis turning up so quickly. I say, Darcy, I'm beginning to think it's time I had it out with Master Jenner."
Darcy's eyes twinkled.
"Don't go looking for trouble. You'll get your chance before long. I'm sure of that."
MR. ARNOLD and Jack stood in a corner of the yard at Callow End Farm.
"Soper is here, sir," said Jack.
"Why should not he be here?" asked Mr. Arnold. "Probably he is buying something."
"He is after the cows, sir. He will out-bid you if he can."
"You are too suspicious, Jack," reproved the other. "Soper no longer has any grudge against me. I had a letter from him, apologising for the upset the other day."
Jack's eyes widened.
"Someone put him up to that," he said, sharply.
Mr. Arnold shook his head.
"It's no wonder that you are prejudiced against the man, Jack. But you must try not to harbour ill feelings."
"I will try, sir," said Jack, "but all the same I think you will find that Soper will try to get the cows. There are four worth buying. Those three Herefords are all good, and the black and white one is a good milker, but has a bad temper."
"How much shall I give for them?"
"Up to thirty pounds for the red ones, but not more than twenty- four or five for the black and white. The auctioneer is just going to take them so we'd best move over, sir."
Jack was right, for Soper evidently wanted the cows, and almost at once it became a duel between him and Mr. Arnold. Jack was careful to stand well behind Mr. Arnold so that Soper could not see him, and he prompted the master in the bidding.
Mr. Arnold, who had perfect confidence in Jack's judgment, bid firmly and quickly, but Soper, who loathed parting with money, hesitated, and Mr. Arnold secured the three red cows, the first at £26, and the other two at £28 each.
Then came Blacky. She was a fine beast, but her eyes were wild, and she kept on tossing her head. Mr. Arnold bid £18, Soper a pound more, and the price went up pound by pound till Arnold bid £24.
"That's enough, sir," whispered Jack. "Don't go any farther. She's not worth more."
The auctioneer glanced at Soper and he, enraged at losing the first three, nodded.
"Twenty-five pound bid," cried the auctioneer. "Twenty-five. Any further offer?" Up went his hammer, then down. "Mr. Soper," he said to his clerk.
"A pity," said Mr. Arnold regretfully.
"Perhaps you won't think so, sir, before the day is over," Jack answered. "She's an ugly-tempered beast, and I wish Soper joy of his bargain."
The sale was over early in the afternoon, and Jack volunteered to drive the three cows back to Salthorpe. Mr. Arnold, who had to be back earlier, got a lift home. The Herefords gave no trouble, but Jack, of course, walked them very slowly, for nothing is worse for milch cows than to be hurried.
Jack was about a mile from the school when he heard shouts, and looking back saw Soper and his son driving their cow. She had evidently been troublesome, and they had a rope halter on her by which Soper led her.
Jack frowned. The Sopers were the last people he wanted to run into, but with his three cows he could not hurry. Alfred Soper spotted him.
"Ho, look at the gentleman's pet all in his new clothes!" he jeered.
"Ain't he pretty?"
Jack paid no attention, merely walked steadily on. Next moment a large handful of wet clay struck him on the back of the neck.
"That takes the gilt off the gingerbread," shouted young Soper.
Jack swung round. He was boiling.
"Naughty! Naughty!" sneered Alfred. "He's lost his temper!"
It was quite true, for Jack was so angry that he had suddenly lost all fear of consequences. He ran straight at Alfred, and before that worthy had the least idea of what was going to happen had planted his fist between the youth's eyes.
The blow was so unexpected that Alfred lost his balance and went flat on his back in the muddy road.
His father gave a roar of rage.
"Hit Alfred, will you! But I'll learn you, and there's no one to interfere this time."
With that he dropped the halter rope and with his great fists clenched started for Jack.
Jack knew that he was in a very tight place, and that if Soper got hold of him he was in for a terrible thrashing. The man had a dangerous temper, and, as he had already said, there was no one to interfere.
On the other hand, it was no use Jack trying to bolt, for Soper could certainly run him down. Besides, Jack had his cows to look after.
"I'll learn you!" bellowed Soper again, as he bore down on Jack.
JACK kept his head and, just as the big farmer was almost on top of him, sprang nimbly aside, then, darting forward, managed to get the black cow between himself and his enemy.
Round came Soper again angrier than ever.
"Wait till I get my hands on you!" he cried. "I'll make you sorry."
Jack glanced desperately around, but the road was a lonely one and there was no one in sight.
"I'll be lucky if I get out of it alive," was the thought that flashed through his mind. More than once Soper had beaten him till he was almost insensible, but never before had he seen the man in such a fury as he was now.
Help came from the last quarter that Jack had expected.
The black cow had hated being taken from her home and had already made several attempts to turn back, attempts which had been met by showers of blows from Soper's stick and violent abuse from him and his son. The blows, the heat and thirst, had not improved her queer temper, and now, seeing her enemy ahead instead of behind her, and apparently charging straight at her, she suddenly took the offensive.
Down went her head, and a Spanish bull could hardly have charged more swiftly.
"Look out!" yelled Jack, and Soper with a violent contortion did just manage to escape Blacky's full rush.
But one of her horns went right through the right-hand flap of Soper's coat, and in an instant he was twisted round, whirled off his feet, and banged against the cow's side.
To save himself he flung one arm around the cow's neck.
"Help! Help!" he shrieked as he was dragged along backwards by the rush of the infuriated animal.
"He'll be killed," thought Jack as he darted after the cow.
She, hampered by the farmer's sixteen stone of weight and half blinded by the coat which was over one eye, could not run as fast as she otherwise would have done, and with a tremendous effort Jack managed to catch the trailing halter rope, then, digging both heels into the ground, he flung his weight backward.
He was dragged for several yards, but his weight and Soper's together checked the cow's mad rush; and just at that moment Soper's coat ripped, and he fell with a heavy thud in the road.
Released from his weight, and more scared than ever, the cow quickened her pace, and Jack could hold her no longer. The rope was dragged from his hands, and Blacky swerved, turned right round and went galloping away in the direction of her old home.
Soper's breath had been knocked out of his body by the fall, but now he was scrambling to his feet again.
"Stop her! Stop her!" he panted hoarsely. "Stop her, Alfred!"
But Alfred, seated by the roadside with a dirty handkerchief pressed to his bleeding nose, showed no inclination to do anything of the sort.
"It's all your fault!" roared Soper, advancing again on Jack in a very threatening style.
Jack glanced at his own cow's, which were grazing peacefully on the strip of grass by the roadside. They at any rate showed no signs of bolting.
"I'm not going to let him catch me again," he said to himself, and, turning quickly, jumped the low fence down into the marsh which lay between the road and the sea-wall.
THIS so-called sea-marsh was pasture land reclaimed from the sea and protected from the tide by a great sea-wall. It was drained by broad ditches which emptied through the wall by means of sluices. Here and there were planks laid across the ditches to enable labourers to cross them.
Jack had hardly landed on the soft grass before he heard Soper crashing after him. But he had his plan already cut and dried, and was not particularly scared. He sprinted with all his might for the nearest of these plank bridges, and gained it thirty or forty yards ahead of his pursuer. Darting across, he stooped and, seizing the plank, hauled it after him.
Soper was furious when he realised how he had been caught. He raved, he stamped, he swore, and Jack stood facing him, with tight lips and a scornful look in his eyes.
"Put that plank back," shouted Soper. "Put it back, I tell you!"
"That is exactly what I have no intention of doing," returned Jack with a slight smile.
Soper stopped fuming and stared at him.
"If you think that, just because that fine friend of yours has taken you up, you can give me cheek I'll tell you you're mistaken," he said with vicious emphasis. "He'll soon find the place too hot to hold him, and as for you, I've got you taped out, my lad."
There was something so malignant in the man's face and voice that Jack felt a shiver run down his spine. But he kept a bold face.
"Thank you for warning me," he answered. "But it would take more than you to scare Mr. Arnold; and, if you ask me, I think it's you who will be cleared out, not he."
Jack's words sent Soper into a fresh fury, and suddenly he turned and ran back a few steps. Before Jack quite realised what the man was about, Soper had taken a short fierce run and leaped the ditch.
Leaped it, that is, in so far that his feet actually struck the bank on Jack's side. But the bank overhung a little, and the overhanging edge was not strong enough to bear the big man's weight. It broke, letting him down into the dyke with a tremendous splash.
The water was less than two feet deep, but the bottom was mud—dark grey, soupy stuff made of fine clay silt, about the consistency of stiff porridge and as holding as warm glue. Into this Soper sank to his knees while the water came well above his waist.
Clutching at the bank with both hands, he made an effort to climb out, but whenever he lifted one leg the other sank deeper. His great shiny face went grey and Jack saw cold fright in his little pig-like eyes.
"Help me out!" he shrieked.
Jack stood and looked at him.
"Why should I?" he asked.
"Help me out," begged Soper. "I'm drowning."
"Oh no, you are not," said Jack. "You won't drown as long as you hold on to the bank. And you can hardly expect me to help you after your threats."
"I won't touch you. I promise I won't touch you," cried Soper.
"I know your promises," said Jack coldly. "And I wouldn't trust you on your oath. I'm not taking any more chances. I'll send Alfred to help you."
Without giving Soper another chance to speak Jack turned, ran up the dyke, crossed it by another bridge, and regained the road where he found Alfred still sitting disconsolately on the hedge bank.
Jack went straight up to him. Oddly enough, he had lost all fear of the big lout, and he could not help smiling a little as he saw Alfred shrink away.
"Your father's fallen into a dyke, Alfred," said Jack quietly. "He's stuck in the mud, and you'd best go and pull him out. Be sharp, or he'll stick there for good."
Without a word, Alfred got up and crossed the road, and Jack, paying no further attention to him or his father, walked after his cows and drove them steadily back to the school.
NOT a word did Jack say to Mr. Arnold, but at tea he told Darcy just what had happened. When he spoke of Soper's threat he was surprised to see Darcy turn suddenly serious.
"Got you taped out. Is that what the fellow said?" demanded Darcy.
"Those were his words, Darcy, but I don't think they amount to much. Soper was always the sort to bluster."
"I've a notion this is a bit more than bluster, Jack my lad," replied Darcy. "Look at the way you've been knocking him the last few day's. Soper has lost those sea-marshes and all that rich grazing. He's lost the milk contract for the school. You put Arnold up to buying the best of those cattle, and now you've ended up by licking his son and leaving him in a muck hole. If I was in his shoes I wouldn't love you, Jack, and you take it from me that Pa Soper has it in for you."
Jack was impressed by Darcy's unusual gravity.
"But what can he do?" he asked. "Of course I know he would hammer me if he got a chance, but, you can trust me, I'm not going to give him the chance."
"I hope you won't," he said drily, "but merely licking you won't help him. What he'd like to do is to shift you altogether."
"But he couldn't," he said slowly. "Don't be too sure about that, old son. Meantime keep your eyes open, and don't go mouching about alone. And now you'd better come along to the playing-ground. We're going to have a knock-up."
"But I don't play cricket," said Jack.
"Then the sooner you learn the better," answered Darcy. "I'm captaining one side and I'll have you in my lot."
Jack knew it was no use objecting, and anyhow he was anxious to learn; but when he found that Jenner was captaining the other side, and that Jarvis was present, he did not feel happy.
Jenner scowled when he saw Jack, but did not venture to object openly. Secretly he was rather afraid of Darcy, who was quite the best boxer in the school and about the best all-round at games.
Jarvis was not so reticent.
"So there is something our cowboy does not know," he said sneeringly. "He is coming to learn the game of cricket?"
Darcy spoke up.
"If he's as good with the bat as he is with his fists he'll be all right, sir."
"What do you mean?" demanded Jarvis sourly. "Has he been fighting?"
"A lout attacked him on the road, sir, son of that chap Soper. But Seagrave knocked him out."
Jarvis's face went black as thunder and he glared at Darcy, whose face, however, was looking as innocent as a lamb's.
Darcy won the toss, and his side went in to bat. Jenner bowled at one end, Pringle at the other. Jenner bowled a fast, straight ball, and wickets fell fast. Indeed, Darcy was the only one able to keep his end up.
He had made 27 out of 43 when it came to Jack's turn to bat.
Jack saw a nasty gleam in Jenner's eyes as he faced him, and he knew that he was in for a hot time. Sure enough, the first ball came straight at his legs, and hit him hard on the knee. It hurt like fury, but he bit his lip and managed, not without difficulty, to block the next two with his bat.
For the fourth ball Jenner took a longer run than usual and slung the ball in with all his force. It bumped, took Jack in the middle, and next moment he lay writhing on the turf.
Darcy turned on Jenner.
"You did that on purpose," he said, in a level voice, and without another word he put up his fists and knocked Jenner down.
Jarvis, who was umpiring, strode up.
"What do you mean by striking the bowler?" he demanded, glaring at him furiously.
"I did it because he deserved it, sir," replied Darcy. "He threw the ball at Seagrave."
"He did nothing of the sort," retorted the master. "It was a perfectly fair ball. This comes of your bringing in a boy who knows nothing of cricket."
Darcy gazed up coolly at the angry man.
"At any rate, Seagrave tries to play the game," he answered.
Jarvis glared at Darcy as if he could not believe his ears. Then his temper went to the winds, and catching hold of Darcy by the shoulders he shook him until his teeth rattled.
"I'll teach you to be impudent," he snarled. "I'll read you a lesson."
Again and again he shook him savagely until Darcy went limp in the great hands that gripped him.
The other boys came running up.
"What shall we do?" gasped one. "He'll kill Darcy."
JACK was unable to interfere; the other boys were afraid too; and it seemed quite likely that Jarvis in his blind rage would damage Darcy seriously, when all of a sudden a small figure in short skirts came racing across the turf, and Bess fairly flung herself on Jarvis.
"Stop Mr. Jarvis! Stop!" she cried, at the top of her voice. "Can't you see how you're hurting him?"
So far as strength was concerned Bess, of course, counted for nothing. It was her voice that somehow reached Jarvis's brain, and suddenly he dropped Darcy, who fell limply to the ground, and turned and stared vaguely at Bess.
His cheeks were dull red, and his eyes were oddly glazed.
"Oh, it was cruel of you!" cried Bess, as she flung herself on her knees beside Darcy, "Gerald, are you much hurt?" she asked anxiously.
Gerald Darcy opened his eyes.
"I—I'm all right, Bess," he said thickly. "L-look after Jack, will you."
Bess glanced at Jack, but by this time he was sitting up. He looked very white but was recovering. Bess fixed her eyes on Jarvis.
"If I hadn't come you would have killed Gerald," she stated quietly.
The boys who stood round were quite breathless. As for Jarvis, he went crimson to his very ears.
"N-nonsense, Bess!" he stammered. "Darcy was extremely impertinent, and I gave him no more than he deserved. But it is all over now, and we will say no more about it."
"I daresay you won't," said Bess flatly, then bent over Darcy and paid no more attention to the master.
As for Jarvis, he stood a moment biting his lip and looking extremely uncomfortable. Then he spoke to the boys.
"The game is over for the evening," he said curtly, and walked away in the direction of the school.
Darcy pulled himself together.
"It's all right, Bess," he declared. "I was just giddy for a bit, but it's going off now." He chuckled. "Jarvis lost his wool properly," he added. "It's true I did talk pretty straight to him, but he brought it on himself."
"What happened?" asked Bess. "How was Jack hurt?"
Darcy told her. Bess turned on Jenner.
"So it was your fault!" she exclaimed. "You're just a bully, Jenner."
Jenner muttered something under his breath and slouched away. He was afraid of Darcy.
Bess stood looking after him.
"He's a horrid boy," she declared, emphatically.
"He don't count for much unless Jarvis is there," said Darcy. "It's Jarvis who is doing all the damage."
"I know," Bess answered. "I must tell Russell."
"No," said Darcy quickly. "No sneaking, Bess, if you please. You leave things to Jack and me. We can handle Jarvis and Jenner."
Just then Jack came up.
"Darcy is right, Bess," he said. "Please don't say anything to Mr. Arnold. It will only worry him, and he has worries enough already."
Bess looked doubtful.
"But it is not right that a man like Mr. Jarvis should be master here. He's got a dreadful temper, and he is hurting the school."
"True for you, Bess; but don't worry. If we give him rope enough he'll hang himself. It's much better to wait till your brother gets on to it, himself. Jarvis won't last out the term. I'm pretty sure of that."
"Very well," said Bess. "I won't say anything this time. But if he does anything of the sort again I shall go straight to Russell. And now I must go in."
TWO days later, about four in the afternoon Gerald Darcy lay flat on the top of the sea-wall.
His straw hat was beside him, piled with lovely fresh mushrooms which he had been gathering in the marsh. But for the moment he had forgotten the mushrooms and was gazing at a small vessel which lay at anchor just off the mouth of a small creek to the south.
She was nothing much, just a rusty-looking old steam trawler with her name Cormorant in dingy letters on her bow; but it was unusual to see any craft lie so near shore, besides, all ships interested Darcy. He had an elder brother Ralph, in the Navy, who commanded one of the small gunboats of the fishery patrol, and more than once Darcy had had some glorious days aboard her.
As he watched, Darcy saw two men climb into the Cormorant's dinghy and pull ashore.
"Rum place to go ashore!" said Darcy to himself. Then his face cleared. "Why, they're going to call on Soper," he remarked, with a grin. "After fresh vegetables, I suppose. And Soper hates visitors. I'd better go and give 'em a hint."
Leaving his hat, Darcy dropped down the sea-wall on the inner side and started off. But he had a good way to go, and before he reached the creek the boat was already at Soper's landing. But what surprised Darcy was that Soper himself was standing on the little wharf, chatting quite amiably with one of his visitors.
Darcy did not want Soper to see him, so he dropped behind a tall bunch of sea holly and waited. The visitor was dressed in ordinary fisherman's kit and Darcy saw that he was of much the same build as the farmer, only not quite so fat. All the same, he was a great bull of a man.
Presently he turned to go and Darcy saw his face.
"Well, I'm jiggered," he remarked. "The fellow's the dead spit of old Soper."
As the trawler-man got into his dinghy Soper said something in a voice just loud enough for Darcy to hear.
"This evening?" he said. "Yes, this evening. Not later than six."
The boat pulled away, Soper went back to the house, and Darcy returned along the sea-wall to pick up his mushrooms, which he took straight back to the school. There he hunted up Bess and handed over his spoil.
"For you and the boss," he said.
Bess was delighted.
"They'll make a splendid breakfast," she said, "and Russell is so fond of them. But I wish there were enough for the whole school."
"Don't worry about that," smiled Darcy. "We're feeding like fighting-cocks. All that new milk and fresh butter and eggs. I tell you, it's a bit of a change from the grub before you came. I'm getting fatter every day, and I'm jolly sure that once the news gets round, you'll have chaps simply begging on their knees to come here."
Bess flushed with pleasure.
"I'm so glad you like it," she answered. "And now we have another idea. We are going to get our own pigs and cure our own bacon and ham, and we mean to grow all our fruit and vegetables. My brother has just started some of the boys digging in the old garden."
"That will be top-hole," declared Darcy. "Where's Jack, Bess?"
"Cleaning out the cow-stalls. He is going to teach me to milk."
Just then five began to strike, and the tea-bell rang. Mr. Arnold had changed the school hours, and the boys had tea at five, then played games, helped about the place, and had a light supper at half-past seven before going to bed at eight.
Jack came to tea rather late, and Darcy had not a chance to talk to him. Jack hurried through his tea and went off to fetch in the cows which were grazing down in the sea-marsh.
Darcy took his time, then went out with some of the others to help in the garden, which had been dreadfully neglected, and was full of weeds. But six pairs of willing hands were making short work of the docks and groundsel and bindweed, and already a big space was clear and ready for digging.
Darcy had been hard at it for half an hour or so when Bess turned up.
"Gerald," she said, "Jack has not come back with the cows. I'm afraid they have wandered. Would you mind going to help him?"
"Rather not; I'll go at once!" said Darcy, and ran off. But when he got down to the marsh there were the cows grazing under the sea-wall but not a sign of Jack.
DARCY gazed quickly round.
"This is rum!" he remarked to himself. "Jack must have gone over the sea-wall for something." He walked sharply towards the wall, and just as he reached the bottom of it saw something lying in the grass. He stooped and picked it up.
"Jack's stick!" he said, as he examined the old ash-plant. "What made him leave it here, I wonder? " He climbed the wall, which was about twenty feet high, and gazed down on the other side.
The tide had been ebbing for about two hours, and below the wall was a strip of mud and emerald-green sea-grass shining under the afternoon sun. But there was not a soul in sight. The only signs of life were the gulls and sanderlings.
Darcy stared out to sea, but no boat was visible. The only craft in sight was the trawler which he had seen nearly three hours earlier, and which was now churning her way slowly out to sea.
Darcy was conscious of a sudden sense of discomfort, almost of fear. For the life of him he could not imagine what had happened to Jack. There was no place where he could be hiding, even if he had wanted to hide. Suddenly there flashed through his mind the recollection of what he had seen when he was picking mushrooms, and the words that Soper had used: "This evening, not later than six."
Darcy drew a quick breath.
"Six—the very time Jack always comes for the cows. "I've got it," he said in a tone of absolute certainty. "Soper has bribed that beggar in the trawler to collar Jack and take him away."
He glanced at the Cormorant, realised that she was beyond recall, turned, and ran full pelt back for the school.
As he tore in at the gate he almost ran into Jarvis.
"What's the matter?" exclaimed Jarvis, harshly. "Where have you been, Darcy?"
"On an errand for the Head, sir," replied Darcy.
Jarvis looked at him queerly.
"Well, get back to your work," he said in a sour tone, and Darcy hurried round into the yard.
"Where's the boss?" he asked of the first boy he met.
"Gone out," was the answer. "I saw him and Bess strolling off about twenty minutes ago."
"Where have they gone?"
"Ask me another. I didn't watch. Why, what's the matter with you?" as Darcy bit off an angry exclamation.
Darcy did not wait to explain. He was already running towards the shed where the boys kept their bicycles, where he stopped a moment to scribble a note in pencil. He was just getting his machine out when he saw Jarvis coming in his direction, and he was forced to dodge back and hide.
Jarvis loitered about, watching the boy's at work on the new pigsty, while Darcy almost danced with impatience. At last the junior master passed on, and as soon as ever he was out of sight Darcy wheeled his machine out, slipped round to the back of the buildings, gave the note to Endacott, then went through a side gate and springing into the saddle, pedalled off like fury.
Mr. Arnold and Bess, who had been to a neighbouring farm to inquire about some pigs, got in just before half-past seven, and Mr. Arnold went into the dining-room where the boys were just sitting down. He glanced round, and at once noticed that the number was two short.
"Who is not in yet?" he asked. "Seagrave and Darcy, sir," volunteered Jenner.
"Where are they?" asked the master.
At that moment Jarvis came into the room.
"Seagrave has not been back since he went for the cows, Mr. Arnold. And the cows are still in the marsh and have not been brought up or milked."
Mr. Arnold's face turned suddenly grave.
"What have you done about it, Mr. Jarvis?" he asked quickly.
"I have been hunting about, but I can find no trace of the boy," replied Jarvis, equally gravely. "I came back to report to you, and ask what had better be done. Of Darcy I know nothing except that I saw him less than an hour ago."
IT was Marsh End post office that Darcy made for, and he went straight to the telephone and asked for Yarmouth. After a few minutes' delay he got Yarmouth post office.
"Can you tell me if the Dolphin is in harbour?" he asked.
"Yes," replied the operator. " She is in harbour, but there is no telephone extension to her."
"Please listen," said Darcy quickly. "My name is Darcy, and I am brother to Lieutenant Darcy who commands the Dolphin. It's tremendously important for me to get him. I can pay anything necessary for a messenger to fetch him to the telephone. Do you think you could possibly get him?"
"You can send him a telegram," said the operator. "Pay at your end. I'll hold the line."
"Thanks," said Darcy fervently, and he lost no time in handing over his shilling. "Please come to telephone at once. Most urgent. Gerald. Marsh End post office," was the message he sent to his brother. "I'll wait here for the answer," he told the operator. Then he hung up the receiver and waited.
That wait was as trying a half hour as Gerald had ever known. All the time the Cormorant must be getting farther and farther out to sea. Yarmouth was a long way up the coast; and even if Ralph could help him if would be dark before he could start.
Then another thought came to him. Suppose, after all, he had been mistaken and Jack was not aboard the Cormorant? What an ass he would feel if the Cormorant was stopped and Jack was not in her after all!
The minutes dragged like lead, but at last came the ring, and a moment later he heard the deep-pitched familiar voice of his brother. "Hullo, Jerry, what's up? School burnt down?"
Gerald explained, and, cool-headed, though he was, his voice shook a little as he tried to tell in a few words what had happened.
"Phew!" exclaimed Ralph. "So your pal has been kidnapped! What do you suppose they mean to do with him?"
"Dump him down somewhere a long way off, and as he hasn't a penny he won't be able to get back. That's my notion."
"About right, too, I expect. They'll probably drop him in Holland. But Jerry, old son, I can't help you. The Dolphin is coaling, and couldn't possibly sail for twenty-four hours."
"Coaling? Oh, Ralph, what on earth shall I do?" groaned Gerald.
"I think you'll have to tell your Head, and see if he can hire a launch and go in chase." He paused. "No. wait a jiffy. I have a bright idea. You're at Marsh End, are you not?"
"Well, my old friend Tommy Benham is there. I heard from him only this morning, asking me if I could get away to see him. He owns the Bluebird. She's a forty-tonner with motor auxiliary. Find him, tell him what you've told me, and I'll lay he'll do all he can to help you."
"Oh, thanks, Ralph!" said Gerald gratefully. "I'll go and find him this minute. I mustn't waste any time, for it will be dark in a couple of hours."
"Good-bye then, and good luck," answered his brother.
Gerald waited just long enough to leave a message with the postmaster, then ran hard down the village street towards the wharf.
A longshoreman was leaning against a bollard, smoking a pipe, and Gerald made straight for him.
"Which is the Bluebird?" he asked.
The man took his pipe out of his mouth and pointed with it in the direction of a smart-looking craft which was swinging to the tide a hundred yards out.
"That there," he said. "And 'ere's the owner," he continued, indicating a big blue-eyed man in grey flannel trousers and a reefer jacket who was just getting into a dinghy at the foot of the steps.
"Who's asking for me?" he demanded.
"I am, sir," Gerald answered. "I'm Ralph Darcy's brother, and he told me to come to you."
Benham gazed at the boy, saw that he was in real trouble, and beckoned him into the boat.
"Now tell me," he said quietly.
Gerald wasted no time in spinning his yarn and the other listened intently.
"Right you are, my lad," he said. "From what you tell me there's not much doubt that your pal is aboard this trawler. We'll chase her and see if we can't catch her before dark. There isn't much wind, but we can do eight knots with the motor. Sharp, now, and get aboard, for there's only just water enough to take us out."
THERE was complete silence in the dining-room while Jarvis spoke and for a moment or two afterwards. The boys sat with their eyes fixed on their two masters. They were too excited even to whisper.
At last Mr. Arnold spoke.
"Where did you see Darcy, Mr. Jarvis?"
"In the yard. He had just come in, running hard, and said he had been on an errand for you."
"An errand for me?" repeated Mr. Arnold, then broke off. "And where did he go?" he continued.
"I sent him to work with the rest, and did not see him again. I fancy he may have gone off to join Seagrave. The two were friendly."
Mr. Arnold looked hard at Jarvis.
"Do you mean to say, Mr. Jarvis, that you think Seagrave has run away?"
Jarvis shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know what else to think, Mr. Arnold," he said in a sad sort of voice.
"Run away! Jack run away! Why should he run away?"
Everyone turned to the door, where Bess had suddenly appeared. Her small face was rather white, but her eyes were alight with indignation. In her hand she held a crumpled slip of paper.
"Bess!" exclaimed her brother reprovingly. "What do you mean? You must not speak like that."
"I am sorry, Russell," she answered in a quieter tone, "but you and I know that Jack would never run away. What has really happened is that he has been taken away."
"How do you know that?" exclaimed Mr. Arnold, in great surprise.
Bess handed him Darcy's note, and his eyes widened as he read it. He turned to Jarvis.
"Be good enough to take the boys for tea, Mr. Jarvis," he said quickly, and hastily left the room with Bess.
As the door closed the boys all began to talk at once, and for a wonder Jarvis did not make any attempt to check them. He sat eating nothing, and looking horribly uncomfortable; then, after hastily drinking a cup of tea, he got up and, leaving the boys in charge of Mrs. Hood, the matron, went out. He snatched up his hat, and went round to the back, where Endacott was busy as usual.
"Has Mr. Arnold gone out?" he demanded.
"Yes, sir. He and Miss Bess have gone up the road towards Marsh End."
Jarvis nodded and strode off. At the gate he looked round to be sure no one was watching him, then took the field path to Soper's. He went at a tremendous pace, and in less than ten minutes had arrived at the farm. He found Soper busy in the yard, and strode up to him.
"Here's a nice business!" he exclaimed. "Arnold has found out that the boy has been taken off, and there'll be the mischief to pay."
Soper's big face went an ugly grey and his eyes goggled.
"You're crazy!" he declared bluntly. "I was a-watching myself and I know there wasn't no one in sight when they took him."
"There must have been. That kid Darcy must have been hidden somewhere about, for it's he has brought the news to Arnold."
"Do you mean that he actually saw Simon's men taking off the boy?"
"I can't tell for certain, for he's not up at the school. He has gone off somewhere—to get help, I expect. You know he's got a brother in the Navy."
"Darcy of the Fishery Patrol!" gasped Soper, his face going the colour of lead.
JARVIS passed a hand over his forehead. It was moist with perspiration.
"The Fishery Patrol," he repeated. "I didn't know that. Then Gerald Darcy will have wired to him, and he or someone will be after the Cormorant. Soper, this is worse than I thought."
"It's awful," Soper said thickly. "If they catches Simon with that there kid aboard it's the finish for him and for us, too."
"Then they must not do so," declared Jarvis. "We have got to stop it."
"Stop it!" snarled Soper. "I'd like to know how. It's just on eight now, and by this time the Cormorant is ten or twelve mile out on her way to Rotterdam. Unless you can hire one o' them flying machines I don't know how you're a-going to overtake her."
"Has she got wireless?" asked Jarvis eagerly.
"No, them small trawlers don't carry no wireless. We're done for, Jarvis, and the sooner you and me packs up and clears the better chance we has for keeping out of the lock-up."
Jarvis swung on him with a snarl.
"Don't be an idiot, Soper. And don't get the wind up like that. The game is not lost yet. The Cormorant is a slow craft, the weather is fine. Surely we can find a launch or some craft which will be fast enough to overtake your brother, and warn him."
Soper raised his head, and Jarvis saw a gleam of relief in his narrow eyes.
"You've hit it, Jarvis!" he exclaimed "There's Bert Emmett's big launch. She's lying in the creek up at Marsh End."
"Bert Emmett? That chap they suspect of smuggling?" asked Jarvis. "Is he trustworthy?"
"He's a smuggler right enough," agreed Soper, "but he'll do the job all right if he's paid for it."
"Then you go right off and find him and start him. Hurry! He's got to pick up the Cormorant before dark. Tell him that."
"Ain't you coming?" asked Soper.
"Me! How can I? I've got to he back at the school before Arnold returns. If I'm not, the fat will be in the fire. No, this is your job, Soper."
"It's always my job," snarled Soper! "It was your notion to have the boy took away."
"And the only notion, too, for if we don't get rid of him our plans are smashed, and don't you forget that."
"But ain't Emmett to bring him back?" asked Soper, in astonishment.
"No you idiot! No, of course not, Emmett is to take him off the Cormorant, run straight across to Holland, and dump him there. Then if they do hold up the Cormorant they'll be left guessing. And as for the boy, once he's safe in Holland we needn't worry about him any more. He won't find his way home in a hurry."
Soper stood gazing at Jarvis.
"Don't stand there like a dummy!" roared Jarvis in a fury. "Get on with it. There isn't a minute to spare."
"But it'll cost a fortune," groaned Soper. "Sending that launch all the way to Holland."
"Twenty-five pounds at the outside. Get along with you at once!" snapped Jarvis; and Soper went limply out to harness up his horse.
Jarvis waited till the farmer had started, then made off back for the school as hard as he could go.
He had barely reached his room when he saw Mr. Arnold and Bess coming in at the gate wheeling their bicycles. Jarvis went straight out to meet them.
"Any news?" he asked, with a great show of anxiety.
"Yes," replied Mr. Arnold. "There seems to be no doubt that Seagrave has been taken aboard this trawler, though why I cannot imagine. But Gerald Darcy has cleverly managed to find someone to go in chase. He is a Mr. Benham who owns a good-sized yacht, and they started half an hour ago. Why, what is the matter, Mr. Jarvis?" he asked sharply, for Jarvis had staggered as if someone had struck him.
JACK had gone down to the cows as usual just before six, and had found them grazing close under the sea-wall. As he walked towards them he saw a man on the sea-wall walking slowly with his head bent down. The stranger, who looked like a sailor, went a little way, then turned and came back. He did not seem to see Jack.
Jack noticed his worried look, and stopped.
"What's up?" he asked. "Anything I can do for you?"
The man looked up.
"I've lost my pipe," he said. "I were resting here, having a smoke, and I reckon I went to sleep and my pipe dropped out of my mouth. When I woke I seed my mate coming for me in the dinghy and I got up in a hurry. Now I can't find it."
Jack scrambled up the bank.
"My eyes are pretty good," he said good-naturedly. "Perhaps I can find it."
"It's kind o' ye," said the other. "Mebbe it's rolled down the far side."
"Hurry up, Bill," came a voice, and as Jack reached the top of the wall he saw a second man in a dinghy pulled up on the Saltings, and noticed a trawler lying a little way out. He began to grope in the thick grass which covered the wall, and suddenly spotted the missing pipe lying a little way down the far slope.
"Why, here it is!" he exclaimed; then, as he stooped to pick it up, a sack was flung over his head and a pair of powerful arms gripped him and flung him down.
"I got him, Sam," he heard Bill say.
Jack struggled furiously, but he was half suffocated by the sack and had not a chance.
"Keep still," growled Bill angrily. "Keep still, can't ye, or I'll hurt ye."
A great hand closed round the nape of his neck, crushing his face into the ground, and Jack had sense enough to realise that fighting would only make matters worse.
"Be sharp, Sam," he heard Bill say, and between them the two tied and gagged him, then lifted him and carried him across the muddy Saltings and dumped him into the boat.
The sack was still over his head, so it was only by the sounds that he knew what was happening.
"Some of Soper's work," was the thought that shot through his brain as he was rowed out. "What an ass I've been to let myself get caught like this, especially after the warning I had from Darcy."
Presently the dinghy bumped against the iron side of the trawler, and Jack heard another voice.
"Got him, have ye?" it said gruffly. "That's right. Shove him aboard quick afore anyone see him."
Jack was lifted bodily aboard, carried below, and thrown roughly down on hard planks. A hatch, fell with a crash and he was left alone. Rolling over, he discovered that he was free of the sack, and thus able to breathe more easily.
He found himself in almost complete darkness in a place which simply reeked of fish, and knew that his prison was the fish-hold of a trawler. Next minute came the clank of the chain as the anchor was got in, then the engine started, and the vessel began to quiver as she moved out across the calm sea.
Jack's first idea was, of course, to free himself, but he very soon found that Bill and Sam had made much too good a job of the knots to give him any chance of loosening them. There was nothing to do but to remain still and wait for what would happen.
But though his body was helpless his mind was active as ever. Jack was no stupid, and he was certain that he had Soper or Jarvis—probably both—to thank for his present plight. They were afraid of him and meant to get rid of him, and it was not long before he had come to the perfectly correct solution that he was to be landed somewhere at a distance, and left there without any way of getting back. "Holland, most likely," he said to himself, and just then the hatch was lifted and light shone down into his darksome prison.
BILL'S face appeared in the opening, and the man dropped down on to the narrow floor.
"Skipper says as ye can come out o' that and help the cook," he remarked as he took the gag out of Jack's mouth. "You willing?"
Jack had already made up his mind that it was no use making a fuss.
"I've got no choice," he answered quietly.
"That's a fact," said the other with a hard grin. "You behave yourself and you won't come to no harm."
In a few minutes Jack was free, and he followed Bill up on to the deck. He glanced round quickly, but by this time the English coast was only a dim line on the western horizon.
Bill chuckled harshly.
"Bit too far to swim," he remarked. "There's the galley. Now go right in and peel the spuds, and ef ye does it right, mebbe there'll be some supper for ye. But you try anything"—his voice was a sudden growl—"you try anything, and see what happens."
Jack would dearly have liked to try something, but he had too much sense, so without a word he went into the little galley, where a sour-faced cook set him to peeling a great bowl of potatoes.
Having finished this job he was curtly ordered to lay supper, and soundly cuffed because he did not know where to find the mugs and the plates.
At last, after the crew had fed, he was allowed to make a meal of what was left over, and was then set to washing up. He was busy at this task when he heard a shout from forrard. The cook was out of the way for the moment, so Jack ventured to look out, and the first thing he saw was a good-sized launch coming straight for the trawler. She was still a good two miles away, but by the feather of water under her bows and the trail of snowy wake aft was evidently travelling very fast.
The man named Sam was at the wheel. He shouted, and next moment the skipper came running up. Jack had already noticed his likeness to Jabez Soper, and had drawn his own conclusions.
"See that there launch?" said Sam excitedly. "If you asks me, she's arter us."
The skipper gazed at her a moment, made an ugly remark, and rang the engine-room telegraph for full speed.
"That ain't no good," said Sam disdainfully. "She can do two knots to our one."
"That don't matter," retorted the skipper. "We can dodge her. Look over there."
He pointed eastwards, and Jack, glancing in the same direction, noticed a bank of sea mist lying white and heavy across the calm evening sea.
"Head right for that there lump of fog," continued the skipper; and Sam at once put the wheel over.
They were firing-up down below, and Jack felt the whole of the rusty hull quiver as the beats of the screw quickened. The launch, too, saw what the trawler was about, and began to make signals.
Sam spotted them.
"Skipper," he said, "they're asking us to heave-to. They says they got a message for us."
"You bet they got a message!" growled the skipper. "Don't pay no attention to 'em. It's that there schoolmaster, chap has got wise someways."
Jack's heart beat hard. Was it really possible that Mr. Arnold had in some way learned what had happened, and that he was in pursuit? It did not seem possible, yet evidently that was the skipper's idea.
He watched the launch, and saw that she was being driven at top speed. But she was still more than a mile away. He glanced at the fog bank which was now only a few hundred yards distant. His heart sank, for, barring accidents, it seemed, certain that the trawler would reach it. before the launch could come up.
ALREADY there was a slight dimness in the air and the blue sky was turning to grey.
Once more Jack looked towards the launch. It was still visible, but her lines were no longer distinct. A man was standing up in her bow vigorously signalling in Morse, but though Jack knew something of the code, he could not follow out the message.
Every instant the launch grew dimmer, then the blue sky vanished altogether, and so did everything else beyond a radius of a few hundred yards.
Jack realised that the trawler skipper was right, and that he had reached the belt of fog ahead of his pursuer. At once the course was changed, and with her engines working at reduced speed the trawler turned her bow in a south-easterly direction.
"Fooled 'em!" Jack heard the skipper chuckle presently, and his heart went to his boots, for now the fog hid the trawler so effectually that it seemed impossible she would be sighted again.
She drove on steadily, but did not pass through the fog. On the contrary, it got thicker and thicker. It was wet stuff, too, for the moisture collected on the shrouds and fell in big drops upon the deck. It was a grey world, with nothing visible beyond a radius of some fifty or sixty yards.
By now it was getting late. The Sun had set and the light was beginning to fail.
The skipper spoke again.
"I reckon we're all right now. Better get her on her course again, Sam."
Almost as he spoke the hoarse bellow of a fog-horn roared faintly out of the surrounding gloom.
"One of them dratted cargo boats!" growled the skipper. "Sam, I'll take the wheel. Go below, and tell Ben not to sound our horn unless I gives him the order."
Sam stepped to the hatch, and, as he disappeared, the big steamer's fog-horn sounded again and nearer.
Jack did not pay much attention to it, for he was still peering through the murk in the hope of spotting the launch. But there was no sign of it.
Another sound came out of the fog. It was the distant barking of a dog, and it came from a different direction from that in which the fog-horn had sounded.
Jack guessed that there were two craft in the neighbourhood of the trawler; and so did the skipper, for he was staring round in every direction, and looking anything but happy.
Sam came up again, and, as he passed the galley, Jack heard him growl to himself, "We'd ought to be sounding our horn. "Tain't right taking risks like this here." And now for the first time Jack began to feel a little uncomfortable.
Suddenly came the fog-horn again, a tremendous blare of sound that made Jack jump.
He darted out of the galley, and, to his horror, saw a great ship driving straight down upon the trawler. Her tall, steel bows towered cliff-like above the little fishing vessel.
"Look out!" he heard Sam shout. "Look out! She's right on top of us!"
Now the trawler's horn began tooting violently, and at the same time the skipper flung the wheel over, whirling the spokes with all his might.
The swift turn over of the wheel gave the trawler a wrench that threatened to pull the very rivets out of her, and the whole ship seemed to groan beneath the strain.
For a moment Jack thought that they were clear, but it was too late.
Next moment, with a grinding crash, the big steamer struck the trawler abaft the bow, and Jack felt her roll over beneath the tremendous impact.
The trawler heeled right over, so that her deck suddenly took a slope like that of a house-roof, and Jack went reeling down it, grabbing helplessly at anything to give him a hold. He heard yells and screams from the trawler's crew, and saw the two engine-men come tearing up on deck. All around them was a babel of sound—the cracking of wood, the grinding of steel plates against one another, and the "snap" of the trawler's main mast as it broke off and fell crashing into the water. Then, in a moment, he was in the sea swimming for dear life.
THE news that someone else was on the missing boy's track was so startling that it took Jarvis a few moments to recover his composure.
"They ought to catch her quite easily," he replied, endeavouring to make his voice as natural as possible.
"I don't know. There is a fog out at sea," replied Mr. Arnold.
Jarvis shook his head.
"That's bad. Of course, you have informed the police, Mr. Arnold?"
"No. I want no scandal if I can avoid it, and, whatever happens, the police can do nothing. If, however, I get no news by morning, I shall have no other choice."
Secretly Jarvis breathed a sigh of relief, for by morning the police, even if they knew, would not be able to do anything. But he pulled a long face.
"It is a bad business, Mr. Arnold," he said gravely, "and I am very sorry for your worry. I am sorry, too, that I even suggested that young Seagrave might have run away. I ought to have known better."
"I felt sure that he would not have done that in any circumstances," replied the other quietly. "And I am obliged to you for your sympathy, Mr. Jarvis. Now you had better go to bed, for it is getting late, and you will have to take morning school tomorrow."
"Very good, Mr. Arnold. But do not scruple to call me if you want me. You know, I shall be glad to help you in any way possible."
"He seems to be kind," said Russell to Bess, after Jarvis had left the room.
"He's just pretending," returned Bess sharply.
Her brother shook his head.
"You are curiously set against Mr. Jarvis, Bess," he said. "You should try not to yield to these ideas of yours. But you too must go to bed. It is long past your usual time."
"And you, Russell," said Bess. "You are looking very tired."
"I will go soon, my dear," he told her; but it was past midnight before he finally went to his room, and even then it was a long time before he could sleep.
He was roused by someone shaking him. Bess, in dressing-gown and slippers, was beside his bed, and her small face was very white.
"They are back, Russell," she told him.
He jumped up.
"Have they got Jack?"
"No. Oh, Russell!" she cried "The trawler has been sunk, and nothing found but bits of wreckage floating about. Jack—Jack is drowned!"
By breakfast-time the news was all over the school, and the boys whispered together as they ate.
Even Jarvis looked subdued. Jarvis was a bad lot, but the news of Jack's death had shocked him. He had meant to get the boy out of the way, but he had never dreamed of this tragedy, and now he felt much upset and even more scared—scared because he was afraid that in some way his share in the business might leak out.
He was most anxious to see Soper, but could not get away till after dinner, and it was nearly three in the afternoon before he at last arrived at the farm.
Jabez was busy in the barn as Jarvis came in, and he looked up with a scowl.
"What's the matter with you?" he demanded. "Your face is as long as a fiddle."
For once Jarvis did not answer back.
"I have bad news, Soper," he said. "The Cormorant has been sunk in a collision, and I fear that everybody has been drowned."
"Simon drowned!" he exclaimed. "Who told you that?"
"This fellow Benham picked up wreckage and a lifebuoy with the trawler's name on it. There's no doubt she's gone."
"And the boy with her?" asked Soper slowly.
"It looks like it," said Jarvis. "Benham said that there was a thick fog, and it's hardly likely that Emmett found her before the collision."
"It'll save us a bit if he didn't," said Soper. "He can't charge us so much if he didn't have to go across to Holland."
"But I'm going to charge ye," came a harsh voice, and both men jumped round to see the burly form and fierce, red face of Simon Soper in the entrance. "I'm a-going to charge ye," he repeated harshly. "It's your fault that I lost my boat, and you've got to pay for a new one. If ye don't, I'll tell on ye."
The two stood staring stupidly. Even Jarvis could find nothing to say, for once in his life.
JACK could swim like a fish, so he was in no immediate danger. Treading water, he looked round and saw the trawler heeling over farther and farther as the great bulk of, the steamer pressed her down.
For the moment the two vessels were locked together, and even as he watched he saw the trawler's skipper clambering frantically into the forechains of the tramp. Bill followed and the engineer, in his grimy overalls, was scrambling after him.
"Not thinking of me," said Jack to himself scornfully. "I can drown for all they care."
The trawler was doomed, and presently she rolled right over and began to sink. Jack's first impulse was, of course, to swim for the steamer, and he had taken a couple of strokes in her direction before he realised that she still had way on her, and that there was danger of being sucked in under her screw.
Swinging round he swam away. The steamer was travelling faster than he had thought, and in a few moments was past. He shouted for all he was worth, but apparently no one heard, and before he knew what was happening she was lost in the smother of fog.
The trawler's rusty keel was visible for a few moments, then her stern cocked up and she sank with a great gurgling sound. Luckily for himself. Jack was far enough away from her to be safe from the suction that followed the trawler's disappearance.
As she disappeared all sorts of things rose to the surface. Hatches, loose planks, old fish baskets bobbed in the eddies, and broken pieces of mast rose and fell in the swell of the water.
Jack swam back, got hold of a spar, hung on and looked about him. All was fog. The clammy grey folds enveloped him so that he could not see fifty yards in any direction. By this time the tramp had finally disappeared, and he was all alone.
Jack knew the North Sea and was aware that a fog like this might last for hours. Night was coming on, and although the, water was not very cold it was unlikely that he could keep afloat until morning. For a moment chill fear clutched at his heart.
Just then he heard the dog bark again. The sound was closer, and it had a wonderfully comforting effect. He shouted as loudly as he could.
No answer, and he waited and listened. Presently a fresh sound reached his ears, a sound which he recognised as the steady drone of a launch's engines.
"Help!" he shouted again. "Help!"
A puff of wind creased the glassy, grey sea and lifted the fog a little. Next minute Jack caught a glimpse of a dark object which seemed to be heading in his direction.
"Help!" he called once more.
The dog barked again, then came the sound of a human voice. Next moment the launch had shot into the little opening in the fog and Jack saw her plainly.
"Bert Emmett!" he said hoarsely. Did anyone ever strike more cruel luck?"
At the same moment Emmett spotted Jack. "Hi, Nick," he called out to his companion. "There's the kid himself in the water!"
HAVING lived all his life at Soper's, Jack knew as much, or perhaps more, about Bert Emmett than was known to Soper himself. He knew all about his smuggling games, but these he thought little of. There was a worse and more dangerous side to the man's character, so much so that Jack would actually have felt safer aboard the trawler than in Emmett's hands.
Jack had heard what Emmett had said to his companion, and in a flash realised that somehow or other Emmett was in the plot. How he could not tell, but Emmett had given himself away and Jack meant to act accordingly.
He had not, however, much time to think, for next moment the launch had reached him. The dog, a big, half-starved looking collie, barked again, and Emmett roughly ordered it to be quiet.
"What on Earth are you doing there?" he demanded of Jack. "Where's the trawler?"
"Sunk!" Jack answered. "Run down in the fog. Help me aboard."
"Sunk!" repeated Emmett in amazement, as he caught hold of Jack and hauled him over the side. Then, as he noticed the floating wreckage: "My word! Nick Lewin, it's a fact. The Cormorant's gone to Davy Jones. Where's Soper and the rest of 'em?" he demanded of Jack.
Jack fell down into the cockpit of the launch. He was somewhat exhausted after his swim, but nothing like so much as he was pretending to be. "They're all right," he answered hoarsely. "They got aboard the other craft."
"And left you to swim, eh?" said Emmett with a grin on his hard face. "That's Simon Soper all over. It's a mighty good thing for you that we came up when we did."
"It certainly was," agreed Jack. "I'm very grateful to you. Which way are you going?"
Emmett scowled. "Ask no questions and you won't hear no lies," he said harshly. "Get forrard and go below."
Jack knew better than to disobey. He crawled slowly down through the hatch into the dirty little cabin where he stripped off his wet clothes and rubbed himself down with an old sack. Then he found a blanket, wrapped himself in it, and lay down in one of the bunks. He closed his eyes, but though he pretended to sleep his brain had never been busier.
The matter was quite clear. Emmett had been looking for him. Someone must have commissioned the smuggler to follow up the trawler and take him off. Who had done this and why they had done so he could not imagine, but, in any case, it had not improved his chances of escape. He racked his brain to think of some way of getting clear, but could see no plan.
Presently he heard someone moving, and Lewin put his head into the cabin. He stared at Jack for a moment, and then went back.
"He's asleep," Jack heard him say to the other. "Pretty nigh done in, I reckon." Then he must have glanced at the compass, for suddenly he exclaimed: "Why, you've turned her right round, Bert. You're a-heading west again."
"In course, I am. Ye didn't think I was coon enough to go all the way to Holland, did ye?"
"But what are ye going to do with the lad?" inquired Lewin.
"There's places a sight nearer than Holland where we can dump him," replied Emmett, and the way he spoke sent shivers crawling down Jack's spine.
"If that's your notion, why did ye trouble to pick him up?" demanded Lewin.
"You're a bit crazy Nick. That's what's the matter with you," sneered Emmett. "Don't ye see the pull we gets over Soper so long as we holds the boy?" He lowered his voice, and, try as he might, Jack could not catch the next few words.
Then he heard Lewin laugh. "You are a oner, Bert," he said. "We can keep him safe there in the cave, and, mebbe, make him useful as well."
Now, at last, Jack began to understand. These two scamps meant to keep him prisoner in some hiding-place of their own, and use him for their own purposes. This was much worse than being merely landed in Holland where, at any rate, he would have been at liberty, and might have been able to find his way home.
EMMETT'S motor-boat was not much to look at, but certainly she could travel, and it was not much more than an hour from the time she had picked up Jack before Jack felt her slowing to an anchorage.
Through the skylight he could see she had run out of the fog, but it was now almost dark, and there was not light enough to make out his surroundings. Another few moments and the engine stopped, and there was the sound of the anchor chain running out.
Presently Emmett stuck his head into the cabin.
"Rouse out," he ordered sharply; and Jack, who had struggled back into his wet clothes, came out to find the launch lying at anchor in a tiny cove almost surrounded by cliffs. He could see that the cliffs were not very high, and that at the other end of the cove was a narrow beach; but it was too dark to see more.
"Get into the dinghy," Emmett bade him. "You can row us ashore. It'll keep you warm," he added, with his unpleasant chuckle.
Jack rowed, Emmett steered, and very soon the dinghy was beached on a steep slope of rough shingle close under the cliffs.
"Get on up with you," said Emmett roughly. "Tie the boat to that there post. Then follow us."
Emmett led the way under a shoulder of rock, turned sharp to the right, and vanished. The trigger of an electric torch clicked, and a strong, white light showed a passage just man-high leading straight into the heart of the cliff.
A few steps, then the roof rose, and Jack found himself in a fair-sized cave. The cave itself was natural, but the floor had been smoothed, and the place was roughly but comfortably furnished. There were an oil stove, a couple of cots, a table, two chairs, a big cupboard, and some packing-cases. A drum of oil was in a corner and a large oil lamp stood in the corner on the table.
Emmett lit the lamp.
"Grub's in that cupboard," he said briskly to Jack. "Light the stove and get supper."
When Emmett had finished supper he turned again to Jack.
"See here," he said. "You're here and you'd better make up your mind to stay. You'll do the cooking and keep the place clean, and if you do your job you'll get your rations."
"And how long do you expect to keep me here?" Jack inquired.
"That's none o' your business. I've told you before to keep your mouth shut," replied Emmett, with a scowl on his hard face. "I don't want any back-chat, and the sooner you makes up your mind to do your job and keep a still mouth the better it'll be for you. One thing you'd better bear in mind, there's no way out, 'cept by water, and if you try to swim for it you'll drown sure as a gun. Ain't that so, Nick?"
"That's so," agreed Lewin. "I don"t reckon a Channel swimmer could swim out of this cove."
"He's right," he said to Jack. "So if you tries it and drowns, don't blame me. Now you can eat and wash up them dishes, and after that you can get to bed. There's blankets in the cupboard and you can lie on the floor."
Jack was boiling inwardly, but he had the sense not to answer back.
"Least said, soonest mended," was his motto, and the more quietly he seemed to take things, the less likely the precious pair would be to watch him.
"There must be some way out," he said to himself. "And if there is it's up to me to find it."
JACK was hungry and made a good supper. As he ate the dog crept out of the corner where it had been lying since they came ashore, and stood looking at him, with big, brown, pathetic eyes.
Though a mongrel, it was a fine creature, and would have been good-looking if it had not been such a mere bag of bones. Its thick coat was matted with salt and dirt.
"Poor old lad," said Jack softly, as he petted it; then he made up a pan of odds and ends and fed it.
Emmett looked round.
"Don't you go wasting grub on that there Bingo," he growled.
"They're only scraps," Jack answered, but though he spoke very quietly he was more angry than ever. Men who could treat a dog like this must be brutes.
He washed up, made all tidy, and got out his blankets. He found a bundle of straw, fixed up a bed of sorts, and turned in. But though he pretended to close his eyes he was really wide- awake and busy thinking out his surroundings.
The first thing he had noticed on entering the cave was that there was a second opening opposite the entrance, a narrow passage sloping upward. He had no doubt but that it led into some inner store cave. He noticed exactly where the table lay, and saw that Emmett's flash lamp was lying on it. Then he got the exact direction of the main entrance.
Emmett and Lewin sat for a time talking in low, gruff voices, and smoking; then, at last, they went off to bed.
Jack lay quite quiet, and it was an hour or more before he ventured to sit up. By their snores his gaolers were sound asleep, so, carrying his boots in his hand, Jack crept silently towards the table.
His eyes fell upon the inner passage and suddenly he made up his mind to see what was behind. It was not that he thought there was any way out, for if there had been Emmett would certainly have taken good care to block it. It was more curiosity than anything else that started Jack up that passage, but he also had a vague idea that he might find something useful.
The passage, like the cave, was natural, but it seemed to have been enlarged and the floor to have been roughly smoothed. It went up at a slight slope, and both walls and floor were wonderfully dry. Jack still had Emmett's flashlight as well as a box of matches, and he also had two candle ends which he had stuffed into his jacket pocket.
As he walked quickly up the passage he heard Bingo at his heels. The poor dog was so delighted to find someone who was kind to him that he followed Jack like a shadow.
Jack had gone no more than twenty paces before he found himself in a second chamber, quite small, but with the walls on both sides piled with cases.
"Smuggled stuff, I'll bet," he said, as he sniffed the close air, and realised that it was strongly tainted with the odour of tobacco.
He held the light up and looked round. Then, with a little thrill of excitement, he saw that the passage continued.
He hurried across the cave and entered the passage. It was very narrow and dusty, and he saw at once that no one had used it for years. Like the other, it went upwards, and Jack's heart began to thump as he wondered if by any possible chance it offered a way of escape. The roof came down so low that he had to bend his head; then the passage curved, and suddenly came to an end in a mass of broken rock and rubble.
Jack stood staring at the fall of rubbish.
"I might have known it," he said dolefully.
His thoughts went back to the school at Salthorpe as he crept noiselessly back to his blankets.
"I suppose they think I'm drowned," he said bitterly. "I can't blame them if they do, for they must know by now that the trawler was sunk; and now Jarvis and that pig Soper will have things all their own way."
Jack was awakened next morning by Emmett's harsh voice ordering him to get up and cook breakfast.
"I'm going out to get some fish," he heard Emmett say to Lewin. "You coming?"
"May as well," replied Lewin; and presently the two, with their pipes in their mouths, loafed down to the dinghy.
"Have dinner at twelve," Emmett called over his shoulder as he left the cave.
"They must feel pretty sure of me," muttered Jack, as he watched them push off. "Yet surely there must be some way out."
He waited till the dinghy was out of sight, then went along the beach and had a good look at the cliffs.
It was no use. There was not a place where even a squirrel could have climbed, and, feeling more downhearted then ever, he went back to the cave.
A SMALL, dark shadow shot across the passage floor almost at his feet, and Bingo gave a yelp and dashed after it, almost upsetting Jack, and it ran straight up the passage and over the pile of rocks.
Bingo hurled himself after it, and, making a great jump, landed nearly at the top of the slope. Stones and pebbles rained down as he scrambled upwards, and the dust filled the narrow place.
"Steady! Steady, Bingo!" cried Jack. "Come back, you silly dog!
"But Bingo had vanished. He had gone clean over the top of the rubbish through a narrow gap between the pile of rubble and the roof, and Jack could hear him moving beyond.
"Bingo! Bingo!" called Jack again, and presently he heard the dog trying to get back.
It seemed, however, that he was unable to do so, for he began to whine.
"Here's a go!" said Jack, in dismay. "I've got to get him out somehow."
He turned his light on the place, and, sure enough, there was a hole as big as the mouth of a fox-earth where Bingo had gone through.
"Nasty-looking place." muttered Jack. "But I can't leave Bingo there. Here goes."
Holding the flashlight between his teeth so as to be able to use both hands, he scrambled up the slope.
The stones rolled away beneath his feet, but he did not mind that. It was the roof he looked at, and that, fortunately, seemed fairly firm. The hole was bigger than he had thought, and when he flashed the light through it he saw an open space beyond; but beneath was a sheer drop of four or five feet, too high for Bingo to jump up.
Jack did not like it a bit, but there did not seem any help for it. If he was to get Bingo back he must go down the far side. It was out of the question to leave the dog, his one friend, to starve in this black prison.
He set to work to enlarge the hole, throwing the stones down behind him, and it took only a few minutes to make a gap big enough to get through.
Then he turned and wriggled through, feet first, and a moment later was standing on firm rock in a fair-sized chamber, with Bingo dancing round in huge delight.
"This is all very well, old chap," said Jack, "but it isn't going to be so easy to get back as it was to come through. Anyhow, as we are here we'll just have a look round before we return."
The first thing Jack noticed was that the air, though rather musty, was fresh enough to breathe.
"Which means that it's coming through from the outside," he said to himself. He drew a quick breath. "I wonder if there's a way out!" he whispered.
A fresh thrill of excitement shot through him as he suddenly noticed the mouth of a passage leading upward out of the cave. He reached it in half a dozen strides, and sure enough here was a passage a good five feet to the roof, and, like the other one running upward at a fairly steep angle.
He remembered that the cliffs outside were not more than fifty or sixty feet high, and it came to him that the place where he stood, was quite thirty feet above the beach.
"Come on, Bingo," he said rather breathlessly, and started up the tunnel.
A few yards farther, and he came to the foot of a flight of steps cut in the living rock. The treads were worn into deep hollows, and Jack's heart began to throb so that he could hardly breathe. He switched off his light, and, looking up, saw a patch of blue sky above.
"We've done it, Bingo!" he cried out aloud. "We've done it! We're one up on our smuggler friends."
He ran up the steps like a lamplighter, and found himself standing on the top of the cliff. He could have shouted with sheer joy, but restrained himself, for the last thing he wanted was to attract attention, and the cliff top was bare, there being no cover except grass and heather.
Bingo, however, had no such scruples. Delighted at getting out of the darkness, he set up a loud barking.
"Shut up, you idiot!" snapped Jack; and Bingo, looking rather dismayed, crouched at Jack's feet.
But the mischief was done, for as Jack looked round there was the dinghy with Emmett and Lewin right in the mouth of the cove, and it was quite plain that the men had heard the barking.
They were pulling like mad. But they were not rowing into the cove. They were heading due south around the point of cliffs.
In a flash Jack realised that Marsh End lay to the south, and that the men intended to cut him off.
"Anyhow, I'll give 'em a run for it" he said grimly, and raced away straight inland.
SIMON SOPER glared at his brother.
"What are you going to do about it?" he snapped. "Which of ye is going to pay for my boat?"
"If you don't keep quiet you will get nothing," replied Jarvis so sternly that Simon's jaw dropped. "Listen to me," he continued coolly. "You have messed up the whole business, Simon. It's no use saying anything more. You'll only get into worse trouble if you do. It's two to one, remember, and everything against you."
Simon gave a sort of groan.
"And you're going to turn me down?" he gasped. "I'm not going to have a penny?"
"I didn't say that," replied Jarvis more genially. "I only spoke as I did to show you how useless it is for you to try to threaten me. Your brother and I are going to make a bit before we have finished, and then you won't be forgotten."
All the bluster was gone out of Simon, and presently he went off quietly.
Jabez watched him go. "You did handle him proper!" he said with a sort of grudging admiration.
Before Jarvis could answer there came a crash from outside, like a motor-car hitting a fence, followed by shrill cries of terror.
"What's up now?" cried Jarvis as he leaped for the door.
The first thing he saw as he dashed out of the farmhouse door was a huge gap in the wooden fence surrounding Soper's yard, and the next, the hindquarters of a great beast disappearing through the hole.
"Your bull, Soper!" he shouted. "The brute's broken out."
"Broken out!" roared Soper as he tore in pursuit. "Let out. I'll lay."
Jarvis's legs were longer than the fat farmer's, and he was the first to reach the gap. There was the bull, a huge, dull-red brute, whose wicked temper had earned it the name of Ugly, charging furiously across the marsh hard at the heels of two boys. The boys were Jenner and his friend Pudding Pringle.
As he passed the gap Jarvis stooped quickly, and snatched up a piece of broken timber, a solid, three-foot length.
Jenner was running for dear life, and Pringle, fat as he was, kept well up with him. Jarvis gained a little on the bull, but already saw that he could not possibly come up with it before it overtook the boys.
The next moment Jenner had reached the first of the dykes. He saw it too late, jumped short, and went flop into it. Pringle, close behind, fell on top of him. For a moment both disappeared beneath the water.
Ugly was at their very heels, and he could not stop himself. But his jumping powers were much greater than theirs, and over he went with a splendid leap, and gained the far side in safety. He pulled up, stood glaring about him, but had not sense enough to realise what had become of his enemies. Then all of a sudden he gave a fresh bellow, lowered his great head, and was off again full tilt.
"What on earth—" began Jarvis, then, as he saw what the bull was after, he stopped with a gasp. For there was Bess close under the sea-wall.
She had a basket in her hand and had evidently been picking mushrooms, and now she was standing stock still, with nothing between her and the furious brute.
"Bess!" yelled Jarvis. "Climb the wall!"
His words roused her from her trance, and, dropping her basket, she turned and scrambled rapidly up the steep slope of the sea wall. Jarvis, too, swung to the right and went up the sea-wall as hard as he could go. He saw that the slope, steep as it was, was not going to stop the bull.
The tide was high, the Saltings on the seaward side of the wall were covered so that Bess could go no farther. She was penned between the bull and the sea. But the short pause had given Jarvis his chance, and he reached the spot just before Ugly made good his footing on the top of the wall, and down came his club with a crash on the bull's nose.
The blow was a terrible one, and the wretched Ugly, losing his footing, rolled over and went crashing down to the foot of the wall.
"Glad I was in time, Miss Arnold," said Jarvis quietly, but inwardly he glowed with triumph. He had saved Bess's life, and so put her and her brother under an obligation they could never forget.
AS he ran, Jack looked in every direction for cover, but could see none. In front was a great stretch of barren, heathy land without anything bigger in sight than a few gorse and thorn bushes, and, what made matters worse so far as Jack was concerned, was the fact that the ground sloped upward to a long, bare ridge, the top of which was nearly a mile away.
Jack, of course, had not the faintest idea where he was except that this part of the coast was somewhere north of Marsh End; he did not even know how far he was from the school though he thought it could not be more than fifteen miles.
Meantime he ran as fast as he could, straight inland toward the ridge; and Bingo raced beside him. Jack knew that his pursuers would strain every nerve to catch him, for if he got away it would mean ruin to them. Once the secret of their hiding- place was known, they would not only lose everything but be heavily fined and probably sent to prison.
Yet Jack was not badly scared. He had got a good start, and it would take the smugglers some time to climb the cliff. He felt pretty sure that he could reach the ridge before they caught him, and once over the ridge, he had an idea that he would be safe.
The ridge, however, was a long way off, the day was very warm, and big drops of perspiration were soon streaming down Jack's face. But he was tough as wire, and did not check for a moment until he was quite close to the top of the ridge. Then he ventured to glance back.
To his dismay he saw that Emmett and Lewin were not only up the cliff, but already half a mile inland, and they were coming on very fast!
Jack drew a long breath and sprinted for the top of the ridge. Another couple of minutes and he had reached it. A bitter disappointment was in store, for the country on the far side of the ridge was as open and almost as bare as that which he had already crossed. True, there was a road, but only an ill-kept track without a sign of traffic on it.
To the right—to the north—and about three-quarters of a mile away was a wood. It looked thick, and Jack at once made up his mind that this would give him the best chance of dodging the smugglers, so without a moment's hesitation he ran towards it.
The ground was all rough common, but at any rate he had the slope in his favour, and he ran for all he was worth. He had nearly reached it when the earth gave way beneath his feet, and he came down with a crash that knocked all the wind out of him.
He lay for a moment so breathless that he was quite unable to move, and it was not until he was able to struggle to his feet that a stab of agony shot through his left ankle, and he realised that it was badly damaged.
He looked back.
Cold despair clutched at Jack's heart. All hope was gone, but the thought of being dragged back to that horrible cave prison filled him with such horror that, for the moment, he almost forgot the pain in his ankle, and began to limp to the edge of the wood.
The agony was so intense that it made him feel faint and sick; yet he would not give in, and somehow he managed to gain the shelter of the trees. He found a stout stick, and using it as a crutch, limped onward, hoping against hope that he might find some shelter.
Suddenly he came into a little clearing, and could hardly believe his eyes when he saw a house. It was a deserted looking place, with hardly a pane of glass in the windows. Still, it was cover of a sort, and he hurried as fast as he could towards the door.
He had never dreamed that the place was inhabited, and he was amazed when from inside came the sound of a cracked voice humming some queer old tune. He did not wait to knock, but pushed the door open, and stumbled into a low-ceilinged room where an old man was busy cooking at a rusty stove.
The old man turned, and Jack nearly collapsed with sheer amazement. "Endacott!" he exclaimed. "Why, what are you doing here?"
The old man stared at him.
"Who are you? How do you know my name?" he asked.
Jack stared at him.
"Don't be silly!" he retorted. "I'm Jack Seagrave."
"Jack Seagrave," repeated the other. "You—you must be the lad Seagrave that Ben tells of."
"But—aren't you Benjamin Endacott?" asked Jack sharply.
"I'm Paul, his brother."
"I never knew he had a brother," replied Jack; "but there's no time to explain. Bert Emmett and Nick Lewin are after me—the smugglers from Causton Cove."
Paul's dim old eyes lit up.
"They ain't a-going to catch you," he said quite curtly. "Not while I got my wits about me." As he spoke he laid down his frying-pan, and stepping to a cupboard in the wall to the right of the fireplace, opened it. Then stooping down he gave a sharp jerk.
Jack saw the whole floor of the cupboard roll back, displaying a dark opening below, with the head of a ladder showing beneath.
"Can you manage them there steps?" asked Paul anxiously.
"I'd manage worse than that to get away from Emmett," replied Jack, as he swung himself into the opening and, half-hopping, half- sliding, clambered down into the dark, cold depths beneath.
Next instant the house door crashed open.
"Where's that boy?" came Emmett's voice hoarse with rage and running. "I know he's here, and it's no use telling us he's not!"
ABEZ SOPER glared at Jarvis. "You've nigh killed my bull," he said. "If he dies, you've got to pay for him!"
"The bull is none the worse," retorted Jarvis sharply; "and even if it were, what I've done is worth half a dozen bulls. I have put myself right with Arnold. Before this he was beginning to get suspicious, but last night he thanked me almost with tears in his eyes for saving his sister from old Ugly."
"That's all very well," grumbled Soper. "But it won't pay for my bull. And I'm short, I tell you. I'm missing that milk money I got from the school before Arnold came, to say nothing of all that grazing I lost."
"You shall have some money at once," promised Jarvis. "What about that litter of black pigs of yours? You haven't sold them yet, have you?"
"No, nor likely to!" snapped Soper. "And I doubt if they'll pay for fattening. They're no good."
"Arnold has just finished building his new styes," he said. "He's looking for pigs to fill them, and I mentioned yours. I said they were a fine litter, worth live pounds apiece, and that it would be a neighbourly act to buy them from you. I said I'd see you did not overcharge."
Soper's little eyes widened.
"Well, you are a oner!" he exclaimed. "You mean Arnold will give me five pounds apiece for them?"
"He will; and as there are ten of them, that's fifty pounds."
"But supposing he finds out?"
"Who is there to tell him now that boy is out of the way? Why, Arnold himself doesn't know a Black Suffolk from a Berkshire."
Which was perfectly true. The pigs were sold, and were duly installed, in their new stye. Bess was the only one to pass any comments on them. She thought they looked small and said so; but Soper assured her they would grow.
As she was busy weeding a row of carrots that day, Darcy joined her.
"The garden looks top-hole!" he declared cheerfully.
"Yes, Jack will be pleased when he comes back and sees it," Bess answered.
Darcy opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. But Bess saw.
"You don't believe he will come back, Gerald?" she said quietly.
"I—I don't know," stammered Darcy. "Bess, I'm horribly afraid he was drowned with that trawler."
Bess shook her head.
"No, Gerald, I am sure he wasn't. I dreamed about him last night, and he was alive. But he was in awful trouble of some sort."
Gerald, saw tears in her eyes.
"If he's alive he'll get out of the trouble," he said quickly.
And just then the supper bell rang, and they had to run.
That night Bess dreamed again of Jack, and somehow it seemed that he was near her. She almost thought she heard his voice calling to her. She woke with a start and lay listening intently.
There came a sound from outside, the click of a latch, and jumping out of bed, she ran to the window which looked over the yard. The night was still, and the Moon high in the cloudless sky.
In the shadow under the far wall a figure was stealing softly along. It was that of a boy, but the shadow was too deep and dark for her to make out who it was.
Bess's heart began to pound. Could it be Jack? In a moment she had slipped on her dressing-gown and slippers, and was hurrying quietly down the back stairs.
THE back door was locked and barred, and Bess knew that it would take some little time and cause a deal of noise to undo the fastenings.
But there was another and an easier way out, through the pantry window which opened on the yard, and slipping back the catch, Bess pushed up the sash and looked out.
The boy whom she had seen from her bedroom window was in the act of passing through a door in the wall on the left side of the yard. Bess got only a glimpse of him, but that was enough to show her that he was not Jack.
"Who can it be?" she asked herself; "and what in the world is he doing at this time of night?"
She did not hesitate a moment, but climbing out, dropped down on to the gravel below, and ran towards the door.
The boy had closed it behind him, and by the time Bess had reached and opened it he was out of sight. Either he had climbed in at a ground-floor window or got round to the front of the house.
Bess hesitated a moment, and just then she heard a sound in the opposite direction. It was the grunting of pigs.
Now Bess knew enough about pigs to be sure that at such an hour as this they ought to be asleep in their sties. She stood listening, and a moment later a crash reached her ears, followed by a clatter of broken glass. The sound came from the garden, and in a flash Bess was running hard in that direction.
The garden was square and walled and lay behind the yard. Reaching the nearest door, Bess flung it open, and then a cry of dismay escaped her. For the place was full of pigs—all the ten young porkers which had come from Soper's on the previous afternoon were loose and roving about among the beds, grubbing out the plants with their snouts and grunting with delight as they gobbled up the young vegetables.
The crash had been caused by one that had managed to force its way into a frame full of young marrows, and in so doing had upset the cover and broken it all to pieces.
"Oh!" gasped Bess, in utter dismay. "Oh, what shall I do?"
She felt like crying, for it was simply heartbreaking to see the damage that had been done. In the bright moonlight the carefully tended beds looked as if they had been freshly ploughed, and every moment the greedy beasts were adding to the ruin.
But Bess was not the sort to give way to tears so long as there was something to be done. Gathering up the skirts of her dressing-gown she ran round by the wall, shooing the pigs away from the beds, and driving them towards the open door.
But the active little brutes ran grunting and squealing joyfully in every direction except the right one. Their sharp hoofs cut deep into the neatly raked beds, flinging young turnips and carrots in every direction and "making hay" of a newly- planted celery bed.
"You horrid, horrid things!" cried Bess, as she picked up a stone and flung it at the nearest. She hit it, too, and frightened it, and it charged straight for the door and bolted through; and luckily the others followed it.
Where they went Bess did not see, nor did she care. Quite exhausted and out of breath she was closing the door, when suddenly someone came running up from the direction of the school.
"Bess, is that you?" came the voice of Gerald Darcy. "I heard the noise; that's why I came. Whatever is the matter?"
"Oh, Gerald, the pigs!" cried Bess. "They were all in the garden, and they have just ruined it."
"Pigs in the garden! But how did they get there?" demanded Darcy.
"Someone left the door open," said Bess unsteadily.
"Yes, but who turned the pigs in? They didn't get out of the sty by themselves."
Then Bess remembered.
"That boy!" she exclaimed. "The boy I saw stealing across the yard. He went out by the south door, and I couldn't catch him."
"Was it Alfred Soper?" asked Darcy quickly.
"No, he was not big enough. I—I—think—"
"And I know," cut in Darcy, and was off like a streak.
LIKE Bess, Gerald Darcy had a way of getting in and out without bothering about doors. Discipline had gone slack in Mr. Fearon's time, and Darcy and some of his pals had been in the habit of getting out into a big cedar, of which the boughs almost touched the dormitory window, and going down to the sea for a bathe at dawn.
Now Gerald was up the tree in a twinkling, and climbing in at the window, paused a moment to make sure that no one was watching.
The five other boys in the dormitory seemed to be all sound asleep; and Darcy went out into the passage and listened for a moment at the door of the next room. He heard someone moving, and as he turned the handle was certain someone dived into bed. Yet when he was inside there was not a movement, and all that he could hear was the deep breathing of sleeping boys.
Darcy, however, did not hesitate a moment, but going straight to a bed in the far corner took hold of the bedclothes and with one quick jerk ripped them off. There lay Jenner with his pyjama jacket on, but still wearing trousers and socks.
"So it was you!" said Darcy, in a tone of bitter contempt, and the words were not out of his mouth before Jenner was up and at him.
But that was just what Gerald had been expecting, and he was not caught napping. As Jenner sprang at him Gerald hit out and his fist, catching Jenner cleanly on the bridge of the nose, sent him sprawling back across his bed.
"What's up?"came a sleepy voice from the next bed. "Hallo, Darcy, what are you doing in our room?"
"When you go and look at the garden tomorrow you'll know what's up, Vaughan," replied Darcy. "Jenner has turned the pigs into it, and the place is like a ploughed field."
Vaughan, a biggish chap and a keen gardener, sat up suddenly.
"Turned the pigs into the garden!" He swung round on Jenner. "You—you're worse than a pig yourself!" he said angrily. "But wait till tomorrow, and you'll know all about it!"
The truth of Vaughan's prophecy became all too clear to Jenner next morning, for the story went through the school like a flash, and before breakfast practically every boy at Salthorpe had been to look at the damage.
By daylight it looked even worse than by moonlight, and the boys, who were almost all keener on the garden than on anything else in the place, were furious.
When Jenner came to breakfast not a soul would speak to him, and the boys who had to sit next to him, deliberately moved away as far as they could.
He was in Coventry and he knew it, and though he boiled with rage he was perfectly helpless. Not even his dear chum Pringle dared say a word to him, for Vaughan and others had warned the fat boy that, if he did speak to Jenner, he, too, would go to Coventry.
Jenner was not only furious, he was frightened, for he was expecting every minute to be called up before the headmaster. The last thing that his mean mind was able to understand was that Mr. Arnold knew nothing about the business. Darcy and Bess had talked it over, and Darcy had told her that he and the rest would attend to Jenner, so Bess was to say nothing to her brother.
Meanwhile, the pigs had to be rounded-up out of the meadow, where they were running loose, and put back in their sty, and about a dozen boys had been hard at work with rakes and hoes tidying up the garden and concealing as well as they could the results of the raid.
By dinner-time it had begun to dawn on Jenner that he had not been reported, and he felt a little easier in his mind. But the way the other boys avoided him made him angrier than ever. For some terms he had been accustomed to boss the school and bully and fag the younger boys, but now even the little fellows refused to come near him. And he dared not try force, for well he knew that if he did so, he would have Darcy and Vaughan and half a dozen others down on him like a ton of bricks.
After dinner most of the boys went to cricket, but Jenner skulked among the trees behind the school and waited until all was quiet. Then he slipped cautiously back, and, making sure that no one was watching, went to Mr. Jarvis's room and knocked.
JACK, seated on the lowest rung of the ladder in pitch darkness, listened with straining ears to what was going on above. He heard Emmett's harsh threat and waited breathlessly for the answer.
"Hey?" he heard Paul Endacott grunt. "What did ye say?" And in a flash he realised that the old man was pretending to be deaf.
"That boy," roared Emmett, in a voice that made the rafters ring. "Where is he?"
"Boy," repeated Endacott. "Oh, aye! It'll be young Garge Gibbs you're looking for. He were here this morning wi' a pint of milk. A present from his old dad. Ye sees, I helps drive the cows up for him evenings, and—"
"You old imbecile!" burst out Emmett in a furious rage. "It's Seagrave—Jack Seagrave— we're looking for."
"No, he don't live by the sea," responded Paul. "Milton Farm is where he bides."
Emmett gave a sort of howl, and Jack, in spite of the pain in his ankle, nearly burst out laughing.
"Here, Nick, you talk to him," snapped Emmett. "You see if you can make the old dotard hear."
Lewin started in with a bellow that seemed to shake the floor. "Seagrave—Jack Seagrave—the boy as came along just now!" he shouted.
"I tell ye he ain't got nothing to do with the sea," repeated Paul in his toneless voice; and Emmett burst into a torrent of angry words that made Jack shiver.
Lewin spoke again. "Write it down, Bert," he suggested.
Emmett apparently began to do so, for presently Jack heard Paul speak again. "That ain't no use, mister. Written words don't mean nothing to me."
Emmett roared out again.
"It ain't no use talking, Bert," growled Lewin. "We're only wasting time. Best thing we can do is to search the place."
"Aye, that'll be best," agreed Emmett. "You go up and I'll try down. Quick now, for that brat's sharp as paint; and, even if he did take a fall, it don't follow as he's hurt hisself anything bad."
Jack heard heavy steps overhead, then Paul's voice raised sharply.
"Here, what be you a-doing of? I told ye Garge waren't here."
The smugglers paid no attention, and next moment Jack heard the cupboard door flung open. He held his breath. But Emmett evidently had no reason to suspect that the cupboard was anything but what it appeared to be, and the next moment was striding away in the opposite direction.
For some minutes the search continued, the men upsetting furniture and banging everything about. Then Jack heard Lewin speak again.
"He ain't upstairs, Bert."
"Nor he ain't down!" snarled Bert, who was clearly in a most evil temper. "Yet if he ain't here, I don't know where he's got to. It didn't look to me like he could do more than hobble."
"Might have been just a ricked muscle," suggested Lewin. "That sort o' thing passes off quick, and like as not he's away over the fields towards Ruston."
"We've got to get him," declared Emmett desperately. "If he gets away he'll split on us, and that'll see our finish. We've got to get him alive or dead," he repeated.
The repressed fury in the man's tones made Jack shiver, yet for all that he breathed more easily. Not only was his hiding- place undiscovered, but neither of the men appeared to have even suspected its existence.
"Come on, then," he heard Lewin say; and the next moment the door banged, and they were gone.
Jack moved, and a stab of pain shot through his damaged ankle. He stooped, and, fumbling with the laces, began to get his boot off. Presently he beard three taps on the floor overhead, and took it as a signal from Paul Endacott that he was to listen. Then he heard Paul's voice through the floor saying: "Keep quiet, Jack. I don't know but what they may be watching the place. They're dangerous men, them two."
"I'm all right," Jack answered. "Don't bother about me."
"I'll wait a while," said Paul. "As soon as I'm sure they're gone, I'll drop you down a candle and some bandages, and something to eat."
"Don't risk it yet," Jack answered. "I'd rather stay a week in the dark than chance being caught again. Those fellows would kill me rather than let me get away. They—"
He broke off short as a fresh sound reached his ears. A dog was whining outside the house.
With a horrible shock it came to him that he had completely forgotten Bingo, who must have been shut outside when he himself first entered the house. And now if Emmett and Lewin saw the dog, they would know for certain that their quarry was hidden in the ruin.
JARVIS looked up sharply as Jenner entered the room, and frowned angrily.
"What do you mean by coming in here, Wilfred?" he demanded sharply. "Haven't I told you that you were never to come? Suppose Arnold found out that you were my nephew?"
"I couldn't help it, Uncle Lester," Jenner answered. "I'm in a hole. They've got on to this pig business, and they've put me in Coventry."
"Got on to it?" repeated Jarvis. "Who has got on to it?"
Jenner told him what had happened on the previous night.
"Now the fat is in the fire with a vengeance. The chances are that Arnold will expel you."
"He doesn't know," said Jenner. "I'm sure of that, for he hasn't said a word or sent for me. Darcy hasn't told him."
Jarvis grunted. "Well, you've got something to be grateful for."
"Precious little," replied Jenner. "So long as I'm in Coventry I can't be of any use to you, and it's not very jolly for me."
Jarvis shrugged his shoulders.
"I can't help you," he said. "You've let yourself in for this, and Darcy has got you where he wanted you."
"That's just it, and if Darcy was out of it I should be all right again," said Jenner. "You should remember that Darcy was Seagrave's friend, and now he is more help to Arnold than anyone else."
Jarvis fixed his hard eyes on his nephew.
"You mean that you have some idea for getting rid of the fellow?" he asked.
"Yes; I believe l can get him expelled, only I want your help."
The two talked earnestly for some little time; then Jenner slipped out and stole softly away, and Jarvis, putting on his hat, walked across the fields toward Soper's.
Cricket lasted till tea-time, and when that meal was over, Darcy and Vaughan went out to help in the garden. Presently a small boy named Barry came up to them.
"I say, Darcy, there's something making an awful row in the wood at the back of the playing field, I was bringing in the cricket stumps when I heard it."
"What sort of a noise?" asked Darcy.
Shrieking. I think it's one of the school cats caught in a trap."
Darcy looked at Vaughan.
"It may be Bess's cat. We've got to get it out, Vaughan."
Vaughan whistled softly.
"But that's on the Willand ground, Gerald. And it's absolutely out of bounds. Why, it was only last week that Arnold specially warned us about it. He said we were not even to go after a ball if it was hit over the fence. He was fearfully strong about it."
"It's that new baronet, isn't it?" asked Darcy.
"Yes, Sir Guy Grindley. He has just bought Willand Park, and he's put down silver pheasants and all sorts of things. The place is stiff with notices and keepers, and the head one, Wilsher, is a regular terror."
"All the same, we can't leave Bess's cat to die in a trap," said Darcy firmly, and was off.
"Hold on, I'm coming, too," said Vaughan, and the pair raced across the field.
"The kid was right," exclaimed Darcy, as they neared the fence. "I can hear it. Listen to the poor thing screaming!"
"It's in a trap sure enough," agreed Vaughan, "but I say, Gerald, that fence is a twister. Six—eight—yes, ten strands, of barbed wire."
"There's a branch hanging over," said Gerald, and swung himself up like a monkey.
Vaughan followed, and in a few moments had dropped safely on the far side of the fence.
"This way," said Darcy, as the scream rose again from somewhere among the thick bushes beyond.
"Why, it's a hare!" Vaughan heard Darcy exclaim. "Hold on, I'll have it out in a jiffy."
Gerald was on his knees, loosening the wire, and Vaughan was holding the hare to prevent it hurting itself by its violent struggles when a dry stick cracked under a heavy boot.
"I knowed I'd get ye if I only waited," said a harsh voice; and there was Wilsher, Sir Guy's dreaded head-keeper, standing over them. "You poaching young varmint, you'll come right along with me to the big house."
GERALD finished freeing the hare, and saw it hop away. Then he stood up and faced Wilsher.
"You are off the trade, keeper," he said quietly. "We heard the hare screaming, and thought it was Miss Arnold's cat. That's why we came over the fence."
"A likely yarn," returned Wilsher with a sour grin. "I heard one o' ye setting the snare at dinner-time, only I couldn't get here in time to catch him." Darcy shrugged his shoulders. "Are you coming, or do I have to drag you?"
"Please keep your hands off me," said Darcy dryly.
"Then walk ahead," answered Wilsher sourly.
It was something less than a mile to Willand House, but when they got there Sir Guy was not at home.
"He'll be back some time this evening," said the butler, staring with interest at the keeper's two prisoners. "What are you going to do with the lads, Wilsher?"
"Stow them in the old harness room," said Wilsher grimly, and he marched them off.
As there were no longer any horses at Willand, the harness room had little harness, and was almost empty. Wilsher thrust his prisoners into it, and they heard the key turn in the lock.
"This is a bit of a bore, Vaughan," observed Darcy. "We ought to be back to help fold those sheep."
"That fellow has no right to lock us up," said Vaughan angrily. "Can't we get out?"
Darcy looked round. The one window was barred and the door was solid.
"Not much chance, I'm afraid," he answered.
"There's a trap-door up above," said Vaughan.
"Yes, but no way of getting to it," replied Gerald, then looked up quickly. "Did you hear that?" he asked sharply.
"A rat in the loft."
"A jolly big rat! Why it's moving the trap-door."
Vaughan stared upwards in amazement, for Gerald was right. The trap-door was moving. Very quietly it was moved and laid back, then a face appeared in the opening. Vaughan made a queer sound in his throat.
"Bess!" he gasped.
"Yes, Bess," was the quick answer from above. "I saw you being taken off by that horrid keeper, and I followed. When I saw where he was putting you, I slipped into the stable next to this and climbed up by the hole they put the hay through, and waited till Wilsher had gone. There is no one about now, and this is your chance to get away."
"It was absolutely topping of you, Bess," said Darcy; "but what about a rope? We can't get up to you without one."
"Take those reins," said Bess, pointing to a pair of harness reins which hung in a corner. "If you tie them together and throw up one end to me I think I can make it fast."
"That's splendid," said Darcy as he hurried to obey.
The reins were quite strong enough to bear their weight, and inside three minutes the boys had joined Bess in the loft. They pulled their life line up and carefully closed the trap. Darcy chuckled under his breath.
"I'd give something to see Wilsher's face when he finds we are gone," he said, as he followed Bess to the opening over the stable.
It was simple enough to drop down into the manger below, then Darcy went to the door and peeped out.
"The coast is clear," he said. "I don't think we can be seen from the house. See here, the dodge will be to run round the end of the stable and into the shrubbery. Then we shall be safe."
"That's the ticket," agreed Vaughan.
They all ran, and in a moment were round the end of the stable. The shrubbery was just opposite, but there was a road—the back drive—between them and it, and on the far side solid oak palings about four feet high.
"Now for it!" said Darcy, and, taking Bess by the arm, he ran.
At this very moment the blare of a motor horn cut the silence, and a car came at a great pace round the curve of the drive.
"Quick!" cried Darcy, but before he could get Bess over the fence, he heard the screech of brakes, and, as the car came to a standstill, a tall, hawk-faced man in rough tweeds sprang out.
"What are you doing?" he demanded sharply.
"Crikey!" gasped Vaughan. "It's Sir Guy himself!"
JACK'S first thought was to get Bingo in.
"Endacott!—Endacott!" he called.
"I hear you," answered the old chap. "I ain't so deaf as I let on to them chaps," he added with a chuckle.
"I know you're not. But that dog—let him in quick."
"He's mine. That is, he belongs to Emmett, but he came with me. If Emmett sees or hears him he will know I'm here."
Jack heard old Paul make a sort of whistling sound, then hurry to the door and open it.
Bingo's paws pattered overhead, then the door was closed again. Paul came across and lifted the false bottom of the cupboard.
"I've let him in, and I didn't see anything of them two bad chaps," he said. "But I've locked the door to make sure they don't jump in on us."
"A good thing, too," said Jack. "There'd have been trouble if they had seen Bingo. They'd tear the whole place down rather than let me get away. You see, I know where their smuggled stuff is hidden, and it would be ruin to them if the revenue officers got to know."
"I quite understand that," replied Paul. "Then, maybe, you'd better stay where you are for a bit. Here's an old bandage you can put round that ankle o' yours, and some liniment I always keep by me. It's fine stuff for a sprain."
He dropped them down, and Jack caught them.
"I'll have some dinner ready soon," added Paul.
"Thanks," said Jack, as he set to bandaging his ankle. "I'm quite ready for it, but I'd much better stay down here till we are quite sure that the coast is clear."
The words were hardly out of his mouth before the door handle rattled, then came Emmett's voice hoarse with rage.
"It's locked, Nick. The old beggar's locked it. By gum, then the boy's in there as well as the dog."
"I reckon he is," came Lewin's reply. "Burst it down, Bert."
In a flash old Paul closed the trap, and Jack heard him move softly away to the fire. Then the door creaked and groaned under heavy pressure. Nick Lewin spoke.
"There ain't no need to waste ourselves breaking down the door. The windows is broken and rotten."
Jack's heart sank as he waited. There was silence for a few seconds, then a loud crash as the window frame was smashed, and a clatter of glass on the floor.
"Here—what do you think you're a-doing of?" came Paul's voice high and angry.
"You'll mighty soon find out what we're doing," roared Emmett.
Jack twisted in the loose end of the bandage and stood up. Though his ankle still hurt vilely, he was at any rate able to put some weight on it. He began to climb back up the ladder. If these two ruffians really meant to assault Paul Endacott it was up to him to do what he could to help him. It made him groan to think how little he could do.
"The dog's here," he heard Emmett growl. Then the man bawled at the top of his voice: "Where's that boy? Where's young Seagrave? It's no use you pretending you don't know. The dog wouldn't have come scratching at your door if he wasn't here."
"There ain't no boy, I tells you," replied Paul. "Haven't you looked for yourself?"
"He ain't so deal as he pretended," snapped Nick Lewin. "Put him through it, Bert. He'll own up."
There came a gasp of pain. Not much of a sound, but Jack knew that it came from Paul, and he hesitated no longer. Pushing up the trap in the cupboard floor, he scrambled up and looked out. The sight before his eyes made him boil, for Emmett had Paul by the wrist and was twisting his arm round so that the poor old man's body was bent right back.
"Where's the boy?" roared the brute. "Tell me quick, or I'll give your arm another twist."
In spite of his anger Jack did not lose his presence of mind. He noticed that Emmett had his back to the fireplace, and that the other fellow was watching Emmett so closely that he had no eyes for anything else. This, Jack saw, gave him a chance of making a surprise attack if he could find a weapon.
But there was the rub. He had not even a stick, and he knew too well that it was simply madness to tackle the two grown men with his bare hands.
SIR GUY was frowning. "What are you doing?" he demanded again.
Darcy spoke up. "We were running away, sir."
"From your head keeper, Sir Guy. He locked us up in the harness room, but we got out and were just going back to the school."
"My keeper locked you up?" repeated Sir Guy. "What for?"
"He caught us on your ground, taking a hare out of a trap."
"You young scoundrels. Were you poaching my game?"
"No, sir. We heard a hare screaming, and thought it was Bess's cat. That's why we climbed the fence."
Sir Guy still frowned. "But who had the impudence to set a snare in my coverts?"
At this moment someone came striding out of the yard. It was Wilsher himself, hot and angry.
"So you got them, Sir Guy! How they got out I can't imagine, for I locked them safe in the harness room. But there—"
"Be silent, Wilsher," ordered his master. "I am doing the talking. Boy, who set the snare?"
"I have not the least notion, sir. I never was in your woods before—at least, not since you came to Willand. Mr. Arnold told us specially not to go there."
"Mr. Arnold! You mean your schoolmaster?"
"You are telling me you obey your master's orders so carefully as all that?" he said, with a touch of sarcasm.
Bess broke in. "Indeed they do!" she exclaimed. "You see, they happen to like him."
"And who are you, my girl? And what have you got to do with this business?" asked Sir Guy.
"I am Bess Arnold, Mr. Arnold's sister. I got them out," replied Bess.
Sir Guy's eyes widened.
"The mischief you did! How?"
Bess told him, and Sir Guy's face changed as he turned to Vaughan. "You bear out your friend's story?"
"Darcy has told you the exact facts, sir," said Vaughan clearly.
"It's a pack of lies, sir," broke in Wilsher.
Sir Guy swung on him.
"Did I, or did I not, tell you that I was doing the talking, Wilsher? You can clear out. I will settle this matter."
Wilsher bit his lip and cleared.
"A good keeper, but a bit above himself," remarked Sir Guy. "Darcy, have you a brother in the Navy?"
"Yes, sir. He commands the Dolphin."
"That's good enough," said Sir Guy, and now he was really smiling. "I'd trust Ralph Darcy's brother anywhere. Well, I have to apologise to you for Wilsher's blunder. What do you say to coming in for some tea?"
The three looked at one another; then Darcy spoke up. "We'd love to, sir, but Mr. Arnold is bringing home some sheep this evening, and we ought to be there to help to pen them."
Sir Guy stared.
"Sheep? What, in the name of all that's wonderful, is your headmaster doing with sheep?"
"That's rather a long story," said Darcy.
"Well, jump into the car, and I'll drive you back. Then you can tell me on the way," said Sir Guy.
It was a gorgeous car, and looked as if it could do a mile a minute, but Sir Guy drove very quietly, and Darcy had time to give him a pretty good idea of what happened during the term. Sir Guy was tremendously interested.
"But does your brother know anything about farming, Bess?" he asked.
"Not much," said Bess. "He reads it up in his spare time."
"Reading's no good," replied Sir Guy, shaking his head. "It's practical knowledge he wants."
"Jack Seagrave had that, sir," replied Darcy sadly.
"What, the boy from Soper's?"
"Yes, a really good sort, sir. We miss him frightfully."
"And he is drowned, you say?"
"I don't think so," said Bess. "I believe he will come back."
"I am sure I hope you are right," said Sir Guy gravely. "But here we are, and here are the sheep."
Mr. Arnold, helped by half-a-dozen boys, was driving a flock of sheep into the meadow.
"What a lot he has got!" exclaimed Bess.
"Well over a hundred, I should say," said Sir Guy. "And—by Jove!—Welsh at that!"
The last of the sheep were in the field, and Mr. Arnold, turning, saw the big car. There was a look of surprise, almost dismay, in his eyes.
"It's all right, Mr. Arnold," said Sir Guy. "Your young people were in such a hurry to get home to help with the sheep that I gave them a lift."
"How very kind of you!" said Mr. Arnold warmly. "But the sheep are all right, I am glad to say."
"Are you sure of that?" asked Sir Guy.
Mr. Arnold looked horrified. "You don't mean they are diseased?" he said sharply.
"Not a bit of it. By the look of them I should say they were a hard, healthy lot. What did you pay for them, if it is not a rude question?"
"Two pounds five a head; and there are a hundred and eighteen of them. I have good pasture here, and I am told I can make a pound apiece on them when they are fat."
"Easily, I should think," said Sir Guy, "if you can keep them."
"I don't understand," answered the other, puzzled.
"They are Welsh, Mr. Arnold."
"I know that. I am told they are very hardy."
"Exactly, and the most awful brutes to keep in a field. If you leave them where they are, they'll be all over the parish by tomorrow morning."
Mr. Arnold looked dismayed.
"I never knew of that," he said.
"No; of course the seller did not tell you," answered Sir Guy drily.
"Then what am I to do?" asked Mr. Arnold.
"You will have to wire them in."
"But I have no wire."
"I'll lend you a lorry in the morning, and you can send to Newnham Market for what you want. Tonight you must pen them. What about the playing-field? That seems to have a strong fence round it."
"A good idea," said Mr. Arnold. "And I am immensely obliged to you, Sir Guy."
"Not a bit. Glad to help a neighbour, and in any case I owe these boys of yours something for wrongful arrest and imprisonment." He laughed. "My keeper thought they were poaching, but I know now that they were not. I must get home, but I hope I shall see more of you, and especially of this enterprising sister of yours."
Bess blushed hotly, but Sir Guy laid a kindly hand on her shoulder.
"I mean it, Bess," he said. "You and these boys must come to tea with me one day. And I do hope Jack Seagrave turns up safely."
He shook hands all round and drove off.
THERE was a poker, but it lay on the left of the fireplace, and before Jack could reach it Nick Lewin was bound to see or hear him. So that was no good.
"Where's the boy?" repeated Emmett in a voice that made the windows rattle. "Own up, or I'll make you sorry!"
"If he was here I wouldn't tell you," retorted Paul in a voice that was hoarse with pain. And just then Jack's eyes fell upon something which did offer some chance of making his attack a success. What was more, it was within reach on the chimney- piece.
He snatched it down, and hopped out through the door into the room.
Lewin heard him and whirled round.
"Here he is!" he roared triumphantly, and made a dash at Jack.
Jack's right hand shot forward, and the big brute reeled back, shrieking, for Jack had flung the whole contents of Paul's pepper-pot full in his face, and his eyes, as well as his nose and mouth, were full of the stinging, burning powder. He banged against the table and fell upon it, shrieking, with his hands over his face.
` Bert Emmett dropped Paul.
"You would, would you?" he thundered, and made for Jack, who swung away toward the door. But he was far too badly crippled to escape, and Emmett was bound to have had him but for a quite unexpected help.
Bingo, who all the time had been crouching under the table, suddenly decided to take part in the proceedings, and, making a rush, caught his hated owner by the leg.
Emmett was evidently better at inflicting than bearing pain, for he gave a shriek that nearly raised the roof, then, kicking out backwards, broke Bingo's hold.
The delay, brief as it was, gave Paul time to recover, and the old man, snatching up a walking-stick which lay on a shelf against the wall, hurried forward.
At first he evidently intended to hit Emmett on the head, but at the last moment he changed his mind, and instead hooked the fellow round the leg and gave a sharp jerk. Emmett, in the very act of plunging again at Jack, was caught entirely by surprise, and, losing his balance, fell heavily forward.
He had not even time to fling out his hands to save himself, and it was his head that first hit the boards. The force of the fall knocked him out completely. He twitched once or twice, then lay still.
"Splendid!" cried Jack. "Splendid! But look out for Lewin."
"He's got a job to look out for himself," said old Paul, with a half chuckle. "That was a real smart trick of yours, my lad, and it'll be some time before the chap can see to do any more harm. But I'll just make sure of him." As he spoke he took a length of cord from the shelf and stepped across toward Lewin.
Lewin could not see, but he could hear, and, as Paul came towards him, he sprang up.
"You touch me!" he roared, as he blundered forward, swinging his great fists.
Paul jumped out of the way, and Lewin, catching his feet on Emmett's prostrate body, tripped and fell, Jack was just behind, between Emmett and the wall. He tried to hop aside out of the way, but his lame leg prevented him, and Lewin's clutching hands caught him, and pulled him down.
The two fell together, Jack underneath.
"I'll learn you!" shouted Lewin, and, raising his fist, drove it brutally into Jack's face.
Before he could do any more harm Paul snatched up the stick and brought it down on the back of the fellow's head. With a gasp Lewin fell forward on top of Jack and lay quiet.
"Jack! Jack! Be you hurt?" cried Paul, in distress. But Jack did not answer. He lay as still as the other two.
Paul stooped and dragged Lewin off Jack.
"I'll take good care as you don't do any more harm," he muttered wrathfully, and, getting some cord out of a cupboard, tied the man up like a mummy. Then he treated Emmett in the same way, and turned to see what he could do for Jack.
Jack was coming round, but he seemed dazed, and Paul, with a great effort, lifted him on to a rough couch made of packing- cases and sacking.
He got some cold water, and sponged his face, and presently Jack opened his eyes.
"Where are they?" he asked hoarsely.
"Tied tight as wax," replied Paul. "They won't worry you no more. You lie still, my lad, and I'll get you a cup of tea."
The tea freshened Jack, but his head ached horribly.
"What are you going to do with them?" he asked.
"I'll go along to the village and fetch Sergeant Carr. He'll take 'em away."
"And I must get back to the school," said Jack.
Paul shook his head.
"You ain't fit, lad. You've had a rough time. Best make up your mind to stay here a day or two."
"I must go," said Jack obstinately. "I've a lot to do."
"You can't!" Paul answered quite sharply. " You can't walk with that there ankle o' yours, and you'll have to wait till I can get young George Gibbs to drive you. And that won't be till Thursday, for tomorrow's market day over at Newnham."
"Then I must write," said Jack.
"You ain't fit to write. You keep still, and I'll send a letter for you."
"You could send a wire," suggested Jack. "I've got a shilling." He fished in his pocket and found the coin, which Paul took.
"I'll go right along to the village," he said. "You keep still. Them chaps can't hurt you."
He shuffled off, but instead of going to the village made for a farm about half a mile away. In the field was a boy hoeing turnips. Paul went up to him.
"George, I've got two chaps up at my place as have broke in and tried to kill me."
"Broke in and tried to kill you!" repeated George Gibbs, in wide- eyed amazement.
"That's what I said; but I got 'em tied up, and I wants you to go down and fetch Sergeant Carr to take 'em away."
George dropped his hoe.
"I'll go this minute," he declared, and was off at a run.
Paul watched him reach the house, and presently saw him racing away down the road in a clattering old Ford car. Then he himself turned back to the cottage.
The two prisoners were still on the floor, and Jack lay on the couch, apparently dozing. He opened his eyes as Paul came in.
"You've sent that wire?" he asked anxiously.
"Aye," lied Paul. "She's gone."
PAUL ENDACOTT came in through the door of the cottage and across the room to where Jack was sitting with his leg up.
"What's the matter, lad?" he asked.
"I heard you talking to someone. I thought it was a message from the school."
"No, Jack, that was George Gibbs, but there ain't no message."
"But there ought to be," said Jack, in distress. "It's four days since you sent that wire. I can't understand it at all. It could not have reached Mr. Arnold."
"Maybe it didn't. Telegrams sometimes go wrong," said the old man.
Jack gazed at him, and noticed that Paul was not looking at him, but down on the floor. A queer suspicion came into his mind. "Paul, are you sure you sent that wire?" he demanded.
"Of—of course I sent it," Paul protested, but still he did not look up.
"Paul, tell me the truth. I'm worried ill."
Paul looked up suddenly.
"You're right, Jack," he said, in a low, husky voice. "I didn't send that telegram."
Jack went rather white.
"Why not?" he asked, in a very quiet voice.
"Because you wasn't fit to be moved. You've been pretty bad these last four days."
Jack's eyes were fixed on the old fellow's face.
"That wasn't the reason, Paul. You knew well enough that they wouldn't want me to move till I was fit."
A flush rose to Paul's withered cheeks, but he remained silent.
Jack spoke again.
"Paul, you've been tremendously good to me, and I am grateful. Don't tell me if you don't feel like it."
The old man gave a sort of groan. "I knowed as this would come sooner or later; but I'm a coward, I am."
"Don't say that, Paul. You weren't a coward when you tackled those smuggler chaps the other day."
Paul shook his head.
"That don't go for anything, Jack, and it's true what I said. I'm a proper coward. No, you sit still. I'm a-going to tell you the whole thing; then, perhaps, you won't think so bad of me."
"I shan't think badly of you, anyhow," put in Jack. "And I don't want you to say a word unless you feel like it."
"I do feel like it, and I'll be happier if I tells you. It's like this. I used to work for Mr. Digby Fearon. Ben was inside man, and I was out. Ten years ago I came in for a bit of money from an old cousin, and I told the master I'd leave. I'd always wanted a bit of land of my own. He didn't want me to, and no more did Ben, but I was set on going. So I came over here and bought this patch of land and the old cottage, meaning to do it up and start raising chickens.
"A chap came along—Renwick he called himself—with a tale of a wreck he'd found off the coast that he could buy cheap. Had a lot of silver in the cargo, he said. Talked like honey, he did, and persuaded me into going partners, and, like an idiot, I gave him nearly all I had left." He paused. "I never seed him again," he said hoarsely.
"The brute!" growled Jack. "But, Paul, wouldn't Mr. Fearon have helped you?"
"I wouldn't ask him," cried Paul. "I was ashamed. Don't you see, he and Ben both had the notion as I'd get done down; but I had my pride, and do you think I'd let them know they were right? Mr. Fearon, he never knew, and Ben don't know to this day."
Jack drew a long breath.
"I see. You were afraid that Ben would come over and find you living like this."
Paul covered his face with his hands.
"That's it, Jack. That's the truth," he said heavily.
EARLY next morning Bess was feeding the ducks and chickens when Darcy came scurrying up.
"Sir Guy was right," he said breathlessly. "Quite a dozen of those wretched sheep have managed to get out, though how they did it without wings I haven't a notion. I expect it was that old ram who led them. We've found him and nine others and got them back, but two or three are still astray. We shall have to hunt them after breakfast."
"There won't be much time then," Bess told him. "The wire will be here by ten o'clock and everyone is to lend a hand to build the fence. There won't be any school today."
"Topping!" chuckled Darcy. "I'd rather dig post holes any day then sit indoors and mug up a book."
"We shall see what you say by evening, Gerald," Bess smiled. "This is going to be real hard work, and my brother says we must really hurry because the glass is falling like anything."
"Sky looks a bit rum," agreed Gerald, glancing up at the mares' tails which streaked the pale blue. "Well, I'll go to brekker, and be ready in half an hour."
By half past eight the whole school was at work down in the marsh. There was a sound fence on the landward side; it was the two ends that needed re-fencing, especially that which divided the school property from Soper's. At that end there was an old barbed-wire fence, much broken and patched. Mr. Arnold had ordered new iron posts and latticed wire fencing guaranteed to defeat even the most venturesome of mountain sheep. He himself, with the help of a man whom Sir Guy had lent him, had marked out the distances for the posts, and the boys, with every spade and shovel they could find, were set to cutting the holes.
Knowing the urgency of the work, the whole school had volunteered. Even fat Pringle was working. The only one who was not doing his share was Jenner, who still stuck sulkily to the idea that manual work was beneath him.
In order to prevent the sheep from straying again Darcy and Vaughan had lugged the ram with them down to the marsh, and tethered him where the grass was thickest. Gerald had nicknamed him Bucking Billy, which was not a bad name, for he had the ugly temper of a bucking bronco and almost the same power of jumping.
Jenner, more sulky than ever since the failure of his carefully- thought-out plan to get Darcy into trouble, was mooning about by himself up at the school when he saw his uncle coming towards him.
"Why are you not working, Wilfred?" demanded Mr. Jarvis.
"Why should I? I didn't come here to dig," retorted the boy.
"I sometimes wonder what you did come here for," replied the other scornfully. "You are not doing me or yourself any good by standing aloof like this. If you won't work you can make yourself useful by going down to Soper's and telling him that I must see him this evening. And, listen, don't go round by the upper path, and don't let Arnold or anyone spot you."
"I'm not such an ass," growled Jenner, so crossly that the other lost his temper.
"Don't speak to me in that tone!" he exclaimed, giving him a cuff on the side of the head. "Now go, and be quick about it."
Jenner was boiling as he mouched off. He had been having a bad time lately, but this was the limit.
"Uncle Lester had better look out," he growled vengefully. "If he does that again I'll round on him. What would happen if I went and told Arnold what I know? Uncle Lester would be in the soup all right."
Second thoughts, however, convinced him that he would share in his uncle's disgrace, so he decided to obey orders and go down to the farm.
He went a roundabout way, and, as luck had it, the first person he ran into was Alfred Soper, who was cutting some green feed in a field close to the farm.
Alfred saw him coming and came across to meet him, and Jenner did not half like the look on the big lout's face.
"A nice mess-up you've made of it," began Alfred sneeringly.
"What do you mean?" demanded Jenner.
"Ain't I making myself plain? I'm a-talking about what you did yesterday. You give me the bother and risk of setting that there snare, and all as has happened is that young Darcy's made friends with that there barrowknight."
Jenner's sorely tried temper cracked.
"Is that any fault of mine?" he shouted. "Why, you big idiot—" His flow of words was checked abruptly by Alfred's fist catching him a smack on the jaw.
"Idiot, you call me! I'll learn you who's the idiot," cried the farmer's son.
Jenner reeled back, and almost fell; then, maddened with the pain of the blow, sprang at Alfred, hitting out desperately. But he was no match for the other, and next moment was flat on his back in the mud. "I'll learn you," roared Alfred, drawing back his big boot to kick the prostrate boy.
AT that instant who should come up but Darcy.
"Stop that!" he shouted.
From the higher ground on the edge of the marsh he had seen what was happening, and had raced to the rescue.
Alfred heard and turned. His lip was split, and what between that and his scowl he was not a pretty sight. He recognised Darcy as Jack's friend, and remembered that day when the two had bested him on the marsh road. Now it seemed to him that he had a chance to get his own back.
"That for you!" he jeered, and deliberately kicked Jenner in the ribs.
Next instant it seemed to him that a brick had hit him. He could never have believed that a boy of Darcy's size had such a punch. The blow was so unexpected that he staggered, caught his foot in the lucerne which he had been cutting, and went flat on his back.
"And that for you," remarked Darcy drily. "Come on, Alfred. Get on your feet. You're not hurt, only scared."
"Scared!" Alfred bellowed as he scrambled up and came at Darcy with his big arms swinging like flails. "Scared of a rat like you! I'll hammer you till you can't see for that."
Alfred meant every word of his threat, but the trouble was that when he tried to carry it out Darcy was no longer there.
Gerald was only too well aware that one of those whirling fists would knock him out if it got home, so dodged neatly away; then, as Alfred blundered past, caught him again on the jaw, jarring all his teeth and hurting him abominably.
"Look out!" came Jenner's voice, hoarse and scared. "Here's Soper."
Soper it was—Soper armed with a heavy hoe, and fairly raging.
"Bunk!" said Gerald briefly, and led the way back towards the fence at top speed. Jenner followed, and after them came Jabez.
For weeks past Soper had been getting steadily sourer and more angry, and now all his long-bottled-up fury had bubbled over, and for the moment he was little better than a lunatic. Gerald quite realised this, and knew that if the man caught him or Jenner the result would be serious.
For a big, stout man the pace at which Soper ran was surprising, and the boys were very little ahead of him when they reached the fence.
At this point the old fence was still standing—four strands of barbed wire. Darcy dodged neatly between two strands, and waited to help Jenner, who was badly blown. Jenner's coat caught, and it was only just in time that Gerald dragged him loose.
As Gerald jerked him away Soper reached the fence, and swinging up his hoe, made a terrific swipe at Jenner. His blow missed; he slipped and fell against the fence. The nearest post, which was completely rotten, broke with a loud crack, and Soper came down on the wire.
Too angry even to feel the pain, he tried to scramble up, but the barbs caught in his coat and brought him down again. He screamed with rage, and tore himself loose. There was a terrible ripping sound, and when he at last got to his feet his clothes hung round him in flapping rags.
"Look at the scarecrow!" chuckled one of the boys.
Soper heard him and swung on him with a howl of rage. The youngster dropped his spade and bolted like a rabbit.
"Look out, you fellows!" shouted Darcy. "He's dangerous. Keep clear, all of you!"
Vaughan saw that Darcy was right. "The fellow will kill some of them," he said, and suddenly a bright idea occurred to him. Running to where Bucking Billy was tied, he unhitched the picket rope, then flung himself fiat on the ground.
Billy, who was very cross at having been tied up, glanced round and saw Soper raging across the field. He lowered his head, and making a queer bleating sound, went straight for the farmer.
NEVER had Jack felt quite so sorry for anyone as he did for Paul Endacott. It almost made him cry to think of the poor old man struggling on alone in his ruined cottage, with only one idea in life—to keep his foolishness in losing his money from his brother's knowledge.
"But see here, Paul," he said gently. "Haven't you ever seen him in all this long time?"
"Aye," Paul answered. "I seed him once. When Ben wrote me the master was ill, I went over to Salthorpe. I'd still got one good coat to my back, and I let on I was doing well. And Mr. Fearon, dying as he was, was that pleased. 'I never thought you'd got it in you, Paul,' he said. 'I thought you'd be sure to lose your money.' And he gave me ten pounds and some letters to take care of for him. He didn't trust that there Jarvis."
"Then Ben writes to you?"
"Aye, writes once a month regular. That's how I come to know about you and Mr. Arnold. Course, I seed you when you was a little lad at Soper's, but you was too young then to mind me."
"And didn't Ben ever want to come and see you?" he asked.
"Aye, but I always put him off, and after a bit he gave up writing about it. Ben's got his pride like me." Paul raised his head and looked at Jack. "You see how it is," he said sadly.
"Of course I do, and I don't blame you. And you can trust me never to let on to Ben."
"You're a good lad, Jack, and a sight better to me than I deserves. But I ain't a-going to keep you here any longer. I spoke to George Gibbs just now, and he've promised to drive you and Bingo back this evening as soon as he's finished work."
"But that will cost a lot!" exclaimed Jack. "It's all of twenty miles."
"It's eight mile to the railway," said Ben. "So you might just as well drive all the way. And it won't cost you nothing. Farmer Gibbs owes me a bit for one or two jobs I've done. Don't say any more about it, for 'tis all fixed up; and now we'll have a cup of tea before you start."
Jack had been really ill for three days, for the blow on his head had been a bad one. But he felt really himself again, arid his only trouble was that his ankle was still rather weak. He was delighted at the idea of getting back, and too modest to think that anyone had missed him much. The thing that did trouble him was the thought of what might have happened on the farm, for he could not help feeling that Mr. Arnold knew very little about the work.
Paul brewed an extra strong pot of tea and opened a pot of jam, the only one in the cupboard. "You'll tell Ben I'm well, Jack," he begged. "And—and you won't say nothing to him about the state the house is in?"
"You can be sure of that," Jack answered earnestly. "And the first chance I get I'm coming back to see you."
"And I'll be proper glad to see you," said Paul. "Here's George with the car. I hope you get safe there before dark."
George drove up in a bustle.
"Dad says it's going to blow tonight," he told them. "So I wants to get back afore it gets bad."
A minute later the car was bumping down the lane, with Jack and Bingo as passengers, and the last sight Jack had of Paul was of the old man standing all alone by the gate, waving his battered hat in farewell.
It looked as if Farmer Gibbs's prophecy was likely to come true, for never had Jack seen a wilder sky. Small, black, greasy- looking clouds were drifting rapidly up from the sea, and the sky itself had that hard, yellowish tinge, which is a sure sign of bad weather. The road ran all along the coast, and as they came out above the high cliffs near Dunsands a heavy gust of wind roared up out of the southeast with such force that it actually slowed the car.
"It's surely going to be a bad night," said George, as he pressed down the accelerator, and the poor battered old Ford jumped forward, squeaking and rattling, into the teeth of the storm. Like many farmer's sons, George drove well, and in spite of the gale the miles reeled away rapidly behind the ragged tyres.
The weather grew steadily worse; soon the sky was one mass of clouds, and the note of the gale rose to a scream. The sea was a mass of leaping waves, and the thunder of the surf was deafening. Sheets of spray were carried far inland, and Jack felt the salt taste on his lips. What made things worse was the fact that it began to get dark an hour before the usual time.
"George, you'll never get back tonight," said Jack.
"I'll be all right," replied George cheerfully. "It'll be behind me going home."
"We're not far off," said Jack. "There are the lights of Marsh End."
The words were hardly out of his mouth before there came a horrible crunching sound, and the old car staggered to a standstill.
George made an exclamation of dismay.
"The gear's burst," he cried.
THE spot where Bucking Billy had been tied was to the left of the line along which Soper was running, and the angry man was far too keen on catching his tormentor to heed anything else.
So Billy had a clear field, and made the most of it. Coming up behind the farmer, he butted him with such force that he lifted him clear off his legs, and Soper landed on all-fours in a most undignified position.
There were roars of laughter from the boys. But Billy had not done with him yet. He drew off again, and, just when the farmer was scrambling to his feet, struck him a second time. Unluckily for Soper, he was just on the edge of one of the big drains, and this time he went head foremost into the very middle of it, and vanished with a mighty splash. Billy stood still a moment, apparently puzzled at the sudden disappearance of his quarry, then turned and trotted off contentedly in the direction of the school.
By this time, Jarvis, who had come down to the Marsh, had seen what was happening, and came running; but Gerald Darcy and Vaughan got there first. As Gerald reached the spot Soper got his head up. At least, Gerald supposed it was his head, though it was so completely covered with mud that no features were visible.
"Get him out quick," said Gerald to Vaughan, and between them they got hold of the man and lugged him out of the drain.
If Soper had been angry before he was now perfectly crazy with rage. He spat the mud from his mouth and scraped the slime from his face with both hands, and while he did so his whole body quivered with fury.
"Look out, Gerald," whispered Vaughan. "He's absolutely loony."
At this moment Jarvis arrived.
"Who did this? Who is responsible for this outrage?" he demanded, angrily.
Soper got his voice back. "I'll tell you who did it," he roared, beside himself with passion. "Your pie-faced nephew did it, and you set him on to it. You've double-crossed me all the way through with your promises. You swindler, where's the money you've been promising me and never paid me? Where's young Jack Seagrave as you sent to his death? Tell me that. Aye, you thought you'd done with me, but it ain't so. I'll drag you through every court of law in the country, if it costs me my last penny."
By this time at least a score of boys had gathered round, and were listening with burning interest. All loathed Jarvis, and were ready to credit him with every sort of ill-doing, yet even to Gerald and Vaughan these accusations seemed a bit beyond the limit.
As for Jarvis, his dark face had gone almost the colour of ash, and he was actually trembling. But at last he managed to pull himself together.
"You are mad, Soper," he said harshly. "You are evidently too excited to know what you are saying. If I did not think so I would sue you for slander."
"Sue me for slander!" repeated Soper with a fierce bitterness quite beyond description. "Try it and see who is the first to go to prison." He came a step nearer to Jarvis, glaring at him. And Jarvis—the boys all saw it—Jarvis's nerve was gone, and he could not face him.
"You are crazy," he repeated hoarsely.
"Aye, but not crazy enough to keep in with you any longer," retorted Soper. "I'll settle your hash and don't you forget it."
Without another word he wheeled and tramped away. And comic figure as he was, with the slime still streaming off his tattered garments, no one even smiled.
Jarvis looked round at the boys. He tried to speak, but no words came. Then he, too, swung round and hurried off in the direction of the school.
Everyone began to talk at once.
"What does it mean? What was Soper talking about? I say, what did Jarvis do to Jack Seagrave?"
Gerald spoke up. "It may be lies or it may be truth. We shall know pretty soon, anyhow. But see here, you chaps, we promised the Boss to finish this fence tonight and put the sheep in, and it's up to us to do it. I vote we finish the job. What do you say?"
"Right you are, Darcy," sang out someone, and they all raced back to their work.
THE damage was beyond repair, and there was nothing for it but to push the car to the side of the road and continue their journey on foot.
"I've got friends in Marsh End," said George. "They'll put me up for the night. What'll you do, Seagrave?
Get someone to put me across the ferry. It's no distance on to the school."
"It will be a nasty job crossing the ferry a night like this," observed George.
He was right. At first the ferryman said it could not be done, but when he realised that the passenger was Jack Seagrave, about whose disappearance there had been such a fuss, he consented. But he had to get two men to help him, which caused further delay; and then the pull itself took half an hour, so that when Jack at last found himself on the Salthorpe side of the creek it was pitch dark.
It had not yet begun to rain. It was blowing too hard, but out on the horizon lightning was beginning to stab the darkness.
When Jack climbed the dyke protecting the creek the wind met him like a wall, almost throwing him down. He was thankful to get below the level of the dyke, but, even so, he could barely struggle against the gale. Bingo did not like it, and kept very close to his young owner's heels.
Jack saw the lights of Soper's house just ahead, and kept to the right, close under the sea wall. The tide was rising and already the waves were thundering against the outer side of the wall.
Jack struck the new fence and wondered. Then a flash of lightning showed a white object beyond.
"Sheep!" he exclaimed, and Bingo whined. "Hulloa, so you're a sheep dog," said Jack, patting Bingo's head.
Jack paused, uncertain where to find a gate, and, as he stood, suddenly he heard a deep-booming sound which certainly was not wind nor, he thought, thunder. At the same moment the ground trembled slightly beneath him.
"What on Earth—?" he exclaimed, and just then came another flash, and its glare showed him a figure which ran furiously along under the sea wall.
Jack got but a glimpse of the man, not enough to identify him, but he had little doubt about it being Soper himself.
With a dreadful suspicion in his mind, Jack flung himself at the fence, scrambled over somehow, and, forgetting all about his weak ankle, raced for the sea wall.
Sheep scattered in front of him; he nearly blundered into a ditch, but just saved himself, and at last reached the sea wall.
Once more the lightning blinked through the blackness and showed up a ragged breach in the great embankment.
Jack pulled up short. In a trice all was clear to him. Soper, for some reason which Jack could not for the moment fathom, had dynamited the sea wall, and now, in less than an hour, the rising tide, driven by the fury of the gale, would pour through the gap and drown the whole Marsh and everything in it.
"The brute! The crazy brute!" groaned Jack as he stood staring at the dreadful gap, and trying to make up his mind what best to do.
At first it seemed that his only course was to hurry to the school and call for help to dam the gap; but next moment he realised that this was useless. There was no time. Already the ghostly white tops of the breakers were beating in foam through the crumbling earth. The Marsh must be drowned, and it seemed to Jack as though the sheep, too, must perish.
AT that moment a fresh flash of lightning showed Jack that someone else was on the Marsh. A boy was running towards the sea wall.
"Hulloa, who's that?" he shouted.
"Me—Jenner. Who are you?"
Jenner gave a hoarse cry.
"It can't be. Jack's dead," he gasped.
"I'm quite alive, thank you," Jack answered drily. "Now you are here you had better give me a hand with these sheep. They'll all be drowned if we don't get them out of the Marsh."
"I—I can't. I've got to find my uncle."
"Your uncle?" repeated Jack. "Who is he?"
"Uncle Lester, Mr. Jarvis. He's had a row with Soper, and he has been threatening to get even with him. He went off, and I followed as soon as I knew. But it's so horribly dark; I've lost him."
Jack stiffened. What Jenner said seemed perfectly crazy, yet there was no doubt that the wretched boy was in deadly earnest. A fresh suspicion flashed across his mind.
"Listen, Jenner," he said urgently. "Someone has dynamited the sea wall, and the water is already breaking through. I thought it was Soper, but—"
"It wasn't. It was Uncle Lester," he said.
"Whoever it was, we've got to get the sheep out," said Jack quickly. "Cut along and fetch Soper. Tell him his place will be swamped like ours if he isn't quick. Run! He will know what to do. And after you've told him go to the school and tell Mr. Arnold."
Jenner hesitated no longer, and the next flash showed him running hard along the sea wall. Jack spoke to Bingo. "Work 'em, lad! Round 'em up," he ordered.
A moment later Jack heard his short, sharp barks sounding above the dull roar of the wind.
He hurried off as fast as he could to the gate at the top of the Marsh. "Here, Bingo!" he shouted. He turned to watch the sheep coming up. Across the lower ground the sea was spreading in a silver sheet.
The first of the flock came charging through the gateway, and Jack drew back into the Marsh to give them passage. He felt, rather than saw, a tall figure rise from the hedge behind him, and turned to find himself facing Jarvis.
"So it is you, after all!" said Jarvis, in a voice like the snarl of a wolf. "But you shall never tell what you have seen." As he spoke his great fist shot out.
Jack ducked, and the blow, instead of reaching his jaw, met his temple. A shower of sparks seemed to explode before his eyes, he reeled away and fell.
Suddenly behind Jarvis came a savage snarl, and Bingo, leaping on him, fixed all his teeth in the calf of the man's leg. With a shriek like nothing human, the man raced away straight across the Marsh, while the terrified sheep poured through the gate into the field above.
MR. ARNOLD had promised a special supper if they finished the fencing in the day, and when the boys reached the dining-room they found he had kept his word. There were jellies and pastry as well as several sorts of jam and cake, and they all feasted, while outside the raging gale roared.
When supper was over and the boys were trooping out, Gerald suddenly found Jenner beside him. "Er—Darcy, I wanted to thank you," he stammered awkwardly. "It—it was very decent of you to tackle Alfred."
Darcy was so surprised he could hardly speak.
"That's all right," he managed to say, then stopped short, for Jenner had gone.
Just then Mr. Arnold came striding down the passage. He saw Gerald and stopped. "Darcy, come to my study, will you?" he said.
Gerald, feeling rather uneasy, followed the master, and as soon as they were inside the room Mr. Arnold closed the door and turned to him. "Darcy, I have heard from my sister that there was a quarrel between Mr. Jarvis and Soper this afternoon. You were there. Will you tell me about it?" Gerald hesitated.
"It is important for me to know," said the master. "I don't think it could be classed as sneaking."
"All right, sir," replied Gerald. "I'll tell you what I saw."
When he had finished Mr. Arnold looked very grave. "Thank you," he said. "I take it, then, that Jenner must be Mr. Jarvis's nephew?"
"That is what Soper meant, sir," answered Gerald. "And—and there seems to have been some queer business between Soper and Mr. Jarvis."
"I fear there is, and I mean to get to the bottom of it. Will you send Jenner to me?"
"Yes, sir, I'll find him at once," said Gerald, hurrying off. Ten minutes later he was back. "I can't find him anywhere, sir."
"Then I must see Mr. Jarvis," said the master, frowning. "How it blows!" he exclaimed, as a furious gust made the building rock.
"Yes, sir," said Gerald. "It's bad, and I'm a bit worried about the sheep. Do you mind if I run down to the Marsh and have a look?"
The door of the study opened and Bess came running in. "Russell, Mr. Jarvis has gone," she exclaimed.
"No one knows. Endacott says he left before supper."
"Must have gone to the village," said Mr. Arnold.
"I think he has gone for good," said Bess. "And—and I hope he has."
Her brother looked absolutely dismayed. "I must find out about this," he said, and hurried away.
Gerald spoke to Bess. "I'm going down to the Marsh to look after the sheep," he said.
"Then I'll come too," declared Bess. "Oh, Gerald, everything is wrong today? I do hope the sheep are safe."
The moon was hidden as they ran out, and the force of the wind staggered them. With heads bent they struggled across the playground; then the moon flashed out and Bess gave a cry. "Oh, Gerald, look at the sheep. They're all out!"
"And look at the water!" gasped Darcy. "It's all over the Marsh."
Someone came running violently. "Is that you, Darcy?" he panted. "The sea wall is down and the Marsh flooded. And Jack Seagrave is back."
"Jack—Jack back!" screamed Bess. "Oh, Jenner, where is he?"
"Driving the sheep. Where's Mr. Arnold? We've got to get everyone out to help fill the breach in the wall. Soper says bring all the sacks we can find."
"I'll tell him," cried Gerald, and ran. But Bess was running the other way. "Jack!" she cried at the pitch of her voice. "Oh, Jack, where are you?" But there was no answer, and Bess ran on, more and more frightened with every step she took.
BESS came to the edge of the great flood, which was spreading remorselessly over the Marsh. "Jack!" she called again. "Jack, where are you?"
Suddenly out of the gloom a dog howled mournfully. Bess shivered at the sound.
As the Moon flashed out once more, she saw a big collie standing in the edge of the flood. Again he flung up his head and howled, and now Bess saw that he was standing over some dark object that lay half in the water, half out. "Jack!" she cried once more, and next moment she was down on her knees, hauling at Jack's body with all her strength.
Somehow she dragged him out, but the cruel water followed. Her strength was gone, and another moment she would have dropped beside him when someone came hurrying up behind.
"You, Miss Bess?" came old Ben's voice.
"Help me, it's Jack," she panted.
Ben lifted Jack bodily and carried him to safety. Lights flashed, and here was Mr. Arnold himself. He stooped and felt Jack's heart.
"Don't cry, Bess," he said gently. "He is alive."
They carried him in and put him to bed, then, leaving Bess and the matron in charge, the whole school hurried to help in the fight against the sea.
BREAKFAST was late next morning, and as the boys had been up half the night the master announced that there would be no school that day. About twelve o'clock Mr. Arnold went up to see Jack, whom he found awake and quite himself.
"Is there any news of Mr. Jarvis, sir?" was Jack's first question.
"None at all. I have telephoned to the police, and they are searching for him. Now, Jack, if you are able, I want you to tell me what you have been doing."
So Jack told him the whole story. The only thing he kept back was about Paul Endacott's losing his money.
"You have had a lucky escape, Jack," said the master gravely. "I am very glad to have you back."
"And I can't tell you how glad I am to be back, sir," replied Jack. "But about the farm, sir?"
The other shook his head. "That is finished, Jack," he said. "I shall have to sell out, and find a post again as assistant master."
Jack went rather white.
"But you shall come with me, Jack," promised Mr. Arnold.
"I wasn't thinking of myself, sir," Jack answered quietly.
"No, I am sure you were not," said the master, and then there was silence. It was broken by a loud knock, and Ben Endacott hurried in.
"My brother is here, sir," he exclaimed.
"Paul!" cried Jack. "What has he come for?"
Paul himself pushed by his brother. He was very excited.
"George Gibbs come back this morning and said you was drowned, Jack. What did he want to tell a lie like that for?"
"Don't blame him, Paul," said Jack. "I nearly was drowned."
"That man Jarvis assaulted him most brutally, Endacott," said Mr. Arnold.
"Jarvis," snapped Paul. "Aye, Mr. Fearon didn't like him. That's why he give me them letters to take care of so Jarvis shouldn't have them."
"What letters?" asked Mr. Arnold quickly.
Paul drew a packet out of the pocket of his shabby coat. "Here they be, sir. I was talking of 'em to Jack, and that minded me to bring 'em along."
Mr. Arnold took them, and Paul began to question Jack about the previous night. Suddenly Mr. Arnold sprang to his feet with a shout which startled them both.
"He did leave money, after all," he cried.
"Who did?" gasped Jack.
"Mr. Fearon. Here are records of his investments. Ten thousand pounds or more. Paul, you and Jack between you have saved me. I shall have money to drain this Marsh, mend the sea wall, stock the farm, and put up new buildings."
Paul's old face beamed. "I'm real glad, sir," he cried. "You been so good to Jack here you deserves a bit of luck."
"You shall share it," declared Mr. Arnold, his face aglow.
The door was flung open and Bess ran in. "What is the matter, Russell?"
"Everything that's good, Bess. The missing money is found, and the school is safe. And we owe it all to Jack and Paul here."
Bess laughed happily. "How splendid! And what are you going to do for Jack, Russell?"
"Adopt him. He'd make a good brother, wouldn't he, Bess?"
Bess flung her arms round Russell's neck. "You couldn't say anything nicer," she vowed. She ran to the door. "I must tell Gerald," she called.
A few minutes later there was a roar of cheering down below.
"She's told more than Gerald," grinned Jack.
JARVIS was never again seen or heard of. Whether he was drowned in the flood or made his escape no one knows. Jenner, quite reformed, stayed on for another term, while Paul Endacott came back to the school and helped on the farm, which is now flourishing greatly.
As for Soper, he had had his lesson, and today the boys wander over his farm as if it were their own. Emmett and Lewin will do no more harm for some time to come, for both were sent to prison for a long term. Jack still runs the farm, and Bingo helps. Later, Jack is to go to a big agricultural college, where he hopes to take a scholarship.
Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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