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

BRIGHT ALEC

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RGL e-Book Cover
Based on the cover of "The Boy's Own Paper," June 1921


Ex Libris

A series of stories published in
The Children's Newspaper (1939-1940)
First edition in book form: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-06-10

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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TABLE OF CONTENTS


1. — THE HIDY HOLE

(From The Children's Newspaper, 8 July 1939)

CHAPTER 1
The Unwanted Guest

IT was a morning in late July, and Richard Kynaston with his brother Horace and his sister Annabel were sitting in the shabby old schoolroom at Bishop's Mead.

"It means, said Richard gloomily, that our hols will be a complete wash-out."

Richard was nearly thirteen; Annabel, better known as Babs, a year younger. Horace, plump, pink-faced, and less talkative than the other two, was ten. Babs spoke.

"Why do you say that, Dick? I think it will be nice to have another boy here."

"This isn't a boy," snapped Dick. "It's a freak. Dad showed me his photo. He's as old as I and nothing like so big as Horry. He's a poor, skinny little misery and wears glasses. He'll be afraid of getting his feet wet or his hands dirty. I don't know what Dad was thinking of to ask him here."

"His father had to go to Palestine in a hurry," Babs explained. "Perhaps he won't be as bad as you think, Dick. When is he coming?"

"This afternoon. Vince is meeting him at Taverton. I'm not going to wait in for him. Let's have tea in the Hidy Hole."

Bishop's Mead was a very old house standing on a terrace above the River Slane. The river ran through a valley with limestone cliffs on either side. These cliffs were full of caves, and one of these the three young Kynastons had fitted up as a den. They called it their Hidy Hole and spent a lot of time there.

There were plenty of caves in the cliffs, but the attraction about this one was that it was so hard to find. To get there you had to zigzag through clumps of brambles and gorse, and the mouth was hidden by a pile of boulders.

As usual the three went very cautiously. They did not walk together, but split up and crawled among the gorse. It would have taken very sharp eyes to spot them.

They had brought food, they had a spirit lamp in the cave and, once safe inside, they lit candles, put on water to boil, and made tea. Babs laid the table, an old packing-case covered with newspaper. There was plenty of bread and butter and home-made cake. The kettle boiled, the tea was made, when a rustle at the entrance made them start.

"May I come in?" came a clear voice, and out of the dark, narrow entrance stepped a very small boy. His thin face was brown, his large dark eyes were half hidden by spectacles, his black hair was cut short in the French fashion, his feet and hands were small, and he wore a suit of grey flannels.

The three stared at him, but he showed no signs of nervousness. "I'm Alec Renshaw," he observed. "Vince told me you'd be in your cave."

"He didn't show you the way!" Dick said sharply.

"No, I had to trail you," Alec answered.

"You trailed us!" Dick exclaimed.

"It was easy," said Alec. "Dad's tracker, Golam, showed me how to read spoor when we were in India."

"Did anyone see you?" Dick demanded.

"Not that I know of. Why?"

"You'd have jolly soon found out if Darky and Badger had spotted you."

Alec looked puzzled. "Who are they?"

"They're Raymond and Gilbert Shandon," Dick explained. "They live at Dunnacombe, the other side of the river. They're hulking bullies and have a down on us."

"Dick fought Darky," put in Babs.

"And got licked," said Dick grimly.

"He's a head taller than you," Babs added quickly.

Alec gazed at Dick through his glasses. "What are you going to do about it?"

"What can we do?" snapped Dick. "They're too big to lick."

"There are other ways of scoring off people."

Dick glared, and Babs, seeing that trouble was afoot, hurriedly offered Alec a cup of tea and some cake.

"I told you he was hopeless," said Dick to his sister after they had got home. "Silly young ass! Imagine a kid like that trying to score off Badger and Darky. They'd eat him."

"I wish we could do something about them," Babs said. "I hate all this dodging and crawling."

"So do I," Dick agreed, "but we can't. Anyhow, we have the Hidy Hole."

Dick wouldn't talk to Alec that evening, and Alec went to bed early. Next morning Alec was in the garden when Dick came up with a face like thunder. "You've messed it up properly. Darky and Badger must have spotted you yesterday. They've been in the Hidy Hole and wrecked it."


CHAPTER 2
The Trick Works

ALEC went off for a walk by himself. He was not happy. He had been looking forward no end to this holiday at Bishop's Mead, and now it seemed it was going to be a flat failure.

But Alec, small as he was, had no end of pluck and determination. He meant to put himself right with Dick if he possibly could, and, of course, the best—the only—way was to get square with these Shandons.

He went first to the Hidy Hole. As Dick had said, it was a wreck—everything smashed to bits.

"A nasty, cowardly business," Alec said aloud.

"So that's what you think," came a sneering voice behind him, and Alec turned to face two big louts of 14 and 15 who glared at him in a most unpleasant way.

"That is what I think," he answered so calmly that the Shandon brothers were taken aback.

Alec darted between them and was off like the wind. He flung himself down in the thick of the gorse and lay like a mouse while Darky and Badger charged by. The moment they had passed Alec turned to the left and crawled into a crevice between two great rocks, where he waited while the Shandons exhausted themselves vainly beating the long line of thick covert.

At last his enemies gave up and Alec crept out. Finding the coast clear, he began searching the cliffs for another Hidy Hole.

There were dozens of caves, small and big. Some were mere passages winding into dark depths; others were too open. Nearly all were wet. But at last Alec struck something that he thought might do and hurried home just in time for lunch. Afterwards he tackled Dick.

"I've found another Hidy Hole," he said.

"You've found a hole!" Dick sneered. "Babs and Horry and I have been all up and down the cliffs for years and never struck one that was any good except the one you gave away."

Alec stuck to it. "Come and see," he said.

Something about Alec made Dick yield.

"All right," he said gruffly; "but I know it's no good."

When they reached the place Dick grew angry again.

"Why, you idiot, anyone can see the mouth from ever so far away!"

"That doesn't matter," returned Alec. "Come in and I'll show you."

A passage with just enough head room led inwards. A little way in, this passage was cut by a deep gap quite eight feet wide. This was spanned by a plank.

"See what I mean," said Alec. "This plank which I found is a drawbridge. When we're inside we pull it up. When we go out we hide it."

"But they'll find it or get another," Dick objected.

"Let 'em," was Alec's astonishing answer. "That's what I want them to do."

Dick was too startled to speak. Alec pointed to a shelf of rock at the far side of the cave.

"I'll let them see me go in," he went on: "I'll be bait. You and I will fix up a rope so that I can climb to that shelf. I pull the rope up behind me. While they're looking for me you jerk away the plank. Then they're trapped."

"But so are you," said Dick.

"I shan't mind. I'll take some grub and a thermos and stay there all night if need be." He grinned. "They won't last that long, Dick. They'll be howling for help, and you can make terms with them."

Dick looked thoughtful. "It's not a bad scheme, Alec," he said, and there was a new note in his voice, which pleased Alec. "But if they catch you they'll half kill you."

"They won't catch me," said Alec. "How can they?"

"We'll jolly well try it," said Dick with sudden decision, "but I'll go up on the shelf, not you."

"That's no good, Dick. I'm not strong enough to pull out the plank."

Dick grunted. "No, I suppose not. All right. We'll bring the rope and things here after dark and tomorrow we can see how it works out."

After supper the two slipped away. They carried sandwiches, a thermos of cold tea, and a coil of rope.

That night Dick hardly slept at all. For years he and his brother and sister had been persecuted by the Shandons. Their father, who was an invalid, did not interfere, and there was no one else to help them. Dick was thrilled at the idea of getting even with the bullies.

Next morning he and Alec went up the valley. They made a pretence of dodging through the gorse, but did it in such a way that they could easily be seen from above.

When they got into the cave Dick's eyes were shining. "I saw them. They'll be here pretty soon."

"Right," said Alec. "Don't let them see you!"

"Not I. As soon as you're up I'll hide."

Dick's hiding-place had been already found. It was a deep recess in the passage wall. Alec crossed the plank, lit a candle and fixed it on a rock. He lost no time in shinning up the rope. Gaining the broad ledge, which was about eight feet from the floor, he drew up his rope.

Long minutes dragged by and Alec was beginning to be afraid that the bait had not been taken when he heard cautious steps in the passage. Then the steps sounded on the plank and Alec grinned.

Here came Raymond and Gilbert Shandon, and the light of the candle showed ugly triumph on their heavy faces. Raymond, nicknamed Darky, looked round.

"It's no good hiding. We've got you this time. Come out!"

There was no reply. Badger snatched up the candle.

"They're in one of these holes," he said, and began to search the deep recesses in the rock. They searched the whole cave, but of course in vain.

"There's some trick about this," Darky cried angrily.

Badger charged back to the entrance, and Alec heard a yell of dismay.

"The plank's gone!"

"Jump!" cried Darky.

"I can't. The roof's too low. Look here, Darky," he went on. "They had someone hidden outside to move the plank, but they're in here. They couldn't have dodged past us. We've got to find them."

The two went back into the cave and began a fresh search. Badger spotted the shelf.

"They're up there! Must have had a rope. Get some rocks. We can make a pile and climb up."

Alec felt unhappy. This was one thing he had never thought of. He crept to the back of the shelf and felt about, searching for some hole to hide in. It wasn't quite dark for some light was reflected from the candle below.

He found a hole. It was terribly small, but he had to try it for he could hear the Shandons rapidly piling stones. He wormed in. The hole grew smaller, and for a horrid moment he thought he was stuck. Then it grew larger and suddenly he was in a second cave. He grinned, for now he was safe. The hole was too small for the Shandons. Deliberately he wriggled back and fetched his rope and food. He was only just safe when he saw Badger's head over the rim of the shelf.

"They're not here, Darky," said Badger in an angry voice.

"I'm here," said Alec sweetly.

"I'll wring your neck, you little rat!" roared Badger.

"I'm sure you would if you could reach me," said Alec.

Badger plunged at the hole, rammed himself into it, and stuck. He yelled for help, and Darky pulled him out by the heels.

Alec spoke. "Are you ready to talk?"

"Talk! I'll hammer you to pulp," Badger threatened.

"Try not to be silly," Alec begged. "You're trapped and you know it."

"So are you," howled Badger.

"But I have plenty of grub and a thermos and candles. I'm quite happy. Before night you'll be in the dark and starving." He paused. "You two have been perfectly beastly to the Kynastons. Dick and I have decided that you'll stay here until you promise to keep your side of the river."

"I'll see you boiled before I promise anything of the sort," snapped Badger.

"All right," said Alec. "I'm taking a snooze. Call me tomorrow morning."

For a long time he listened to the Shandons' raving. It stopped at last, and they climbed down to see if there was any way out. Alec went sound asleep. He was roused by Badger's voice.

"You win," he said sulkily. "We promise to keep on our side of the river."

"Right," said Alec cheerfully. "Then I'm coming out."

"You did jolly well," said Dick, as he and Alec walked home together. "I'm sorry I was rotten to you yesterday." And added: "I think we'll have some topping times these hols."


2. — THE BLACK BARGE

(From The Children's Newspaper, 15 July 1939)

CHAPTER 1
Footprints

"THEY'VE taken them all. Even Bumblefoot. There isn't one left."

Babs Kynaston was not the crying sort, but now tears were running down her cheeks and her voice was choked with sobs.

During the night thieves had visited Bishop's Mead and stolen the chickens. They were Babs's property and she was very fond of them, but particularly, of a little white hen with a twisted leg which she called Bumblefoot.

Dick Kynaston chimed in.

"This isn't the first time, either. Last year they got our rabbits and Vince's gun, and Setters at Muddy Lake had some of his lambs taken."

"Who are they?" questioned Alec Renshaw.

Alec was the same age as Dick—that is, thirteen—but nothing like so big. He wore glasses and at first sight looked insignificant, but anyone taking a second look at his face might change his mind, for Alec had a fine, high forehead and a strong chin and, if he was small, was wiry. He had only been a week at Bishop's Mead yet the three Kynastons, Dick, Harry, and Babs, who had at first despised him, now looked on him as one of themselves.

"That's the bother," Dick answered. "No one knows. Two brothers called Chowne are suspected, but the police down at Tarnmouth where they live have never been able to get any evidence." He stopped and gazed at Alec. "Alec," he said, "you tracked us to the Hidy Hole the first day you came here. Do you think you could find which way they went?"

Alec looked doubtful. "There'd been rain that morning. There was none last night. I don't think there'd be any tracks left."

"I suppose not," said Dick slowly. He looked very disappointed. Babs did not speak at all. She turned and went back to the house and Dick followed.

Alec stood where he was. He was very troubled about Babs. Men who would steal a little girl's poultry must be regular brutes, and Alec felt he would give a lot to punish them. Presently he began circling round the chicken house, examining the ground as he went. There was a patch of wet soil where some water from the chickens' drinking trough had been spilt, and there Alec spotted footprints: two pairs, one pair huge. The boots that made them were tens and heavily nailed. Their owner must have been a very heavy man.

Alec searched further. It was no use. The ground was so hard and dry there were no prints left. Then he remembered what Dick had said about the Chownes living at Tarnmouth. That was the fishing village at the mouth of the river four miles away.

"They'd have had a car," he said to himself, "a car or a cart. They wouldn't have carried thirty chickens on their backs."

He made for the road. Sure enough, a car had been standing there recently, for he found where some oil had dripped from a leaking back axle. He searched the side of the road and discovered nail marks. Alec was not a Scout, but Golam, his father's Indian tracker, had taught him how to follow any kind of trail. He saw that the car had gone in the direction of Tarnmouth and decided to follow.

There was little traffic on this road, which was not tarred, and the tyre marks were plain in the dust. The car, he knew, was a "Baby" and, judging by the narrow tread, a very old one.

On and on he went down out of the cliff-rimmed valley into flat country. The river widened to a broad estuary and in the distance Alec saw the roofs of Tarnmouth and, beyond, the sea blue under the hot August sun. Again a dark patch of oil showed in the dust at the side of the road. Here the car had been stopped a second time. Alec began to search again and, sure enough, there were nail marks in the turf at the road side.

The road ran alongside the river and only fifty paces from the bank. There was nothing but bare, sheep-bitten grass between the low hedge and the estuary. The tracks showed Alec that the man who had made them had squeezed through a small gap in the hedge and gone towards the river.

Alec went straight to the bank. The tide was out and in front was a great width of mud with deep channels winding through it. He searched the bank and almost at once found the giant footprints in the soft mud of the saltings just below the bank.

He nodded thoughtfully, for now it was all plain. The thieves had carried their spoil to a boat and no doubt one of them had rowed down—or possibly across—the river, while the second man drove the car on to Tarnmouth.

He stood on the bank and was staring out across the mud, wondering in which direction the thief had gone and where he had hidden the stolen chickens, when suddenly he noticed a black hulk lying in a deep channel. It was an old barge which most people had taken for a wreck but which Alec saw was sound enough. He couldn't see much of it because it lay so deep, but his suspicions were aroused and he decided to get a closer view.

He stepped down off the bank and began to pick his way along a ridge which seemed more sand than mud. He had not gone ten steps before he was up to his knees, and he had a job to struggle out of the slimy stuff which clung like glue. He was in a filthy mess when at last he managed to get back to firm ground, and had to walk a long way to find a pool where he could wash the mud off his boots and stockings before starting home.

The minute lunch was over Dick grabbed him, hauled him into the schoolroom and locked the door.

"You've found something. Tell me!"

And Alec told.

"You've found the right place," said Dick. "We'll get a boat and go and see."

"No, Dick. They'd spot a boat. We have to get there afoot."

"But we can't. Why, you only went a few steps and stuck in the mud."

"We can cross the mud all right," Alec assured him. "We'll use mud pattens."

"What are they?"

"I'll show you. Get a saw and a hammer and some nails. Oh, and I want some leather for straps."

"I'll get 'em. Meet me in five minutes in the tool-shed."


CHAPTER 2
A Slip

AT ten next morning Dick and Alec were seated on the edge of the saltings, putting on their pattens. These were made like snow-shoes but of wood. They were light enough to walk in, yet large enough to keep the feet of the wearers from sinking in the mud. They were strapped on like skates. Alec had also brought two poles about six feet long which would help to balance them as well as to probe the mud.

"Tide's just turning," said Alec as he stood up, "but we've plenty of time."

"Do you think they'll be aboard?" Dick asked.

"No. The odds are they'll be away in the daytime. They wouldn't want to be seen. But we'll be careful, and if we see anyone moving clear out at once. They can't follow us."

Dick was a bit scared of the mud but Alec led the way, and once Dick got the hang of sliding his feet along the soft surface he got on well enough; it wasn't long before they were on the ridge just above the barge.

"They're not here," Alec said.

"How do you know?"

"There's no boat," Alec pointed out. Dick looked rather crestfallen. "I ought to have spotted that," he admitted.

It was a job to get down the steep slope, and they had to wade nearly waist deep to reach the barge. Once they got to it they found it easy to climb aboard, and presently both were standing on the deck. Alec looked all round but the only living things visible were gulls and ox-birds. He sat down and took off his pattens, and Dick did the same.

"It looks like a wreck," Dick said doubtfully.

"But it isn't. See that stove chimney. And there are two hatches, both quite sound." He went to the after hatch and, with Dick's help, slid it back. A reek of warm, stuffy air came up.

"You're right," said Dick eagerly. "Let's go down."

"Wait! Let's try the other hatch. Just to make sure no one is below."

They opened the forward hatch, but all they could see was a lot of barrels and boxes, so they pushed it to and went back aft. A short ladder led down into a good-sized cabin. It was furnished with bunks, cupboards, chairs, a table, an oil stove, and there was a carpet on the floor. Quite snug and comfortable but dirty and untidy. Dick stepped quickly across the room and took down a gun from a rack.

"It's Vince's," he exclaimed. "Alec, I'll wager all this stuff is loot."

A search proved that Dick was right.

The boys found all sorts of things which they were sure had been stolen, and in a cupboard was a sheepskin with a brand on it which Dick declared was that of Setters of Muddy Lake.

"We've got them on toast," he said gleefully. "If we take these things to the police the fellows are bound to be convicted."

"I think you're right, Dick. But we'd better be pushing along. We've been down here ever so long."

They climbed the ladder and got a shock. The tide had risen alarmingly, and it was out of the question to get back to the bank. Dick looked scared but Alec remained calm.

"We'll just have to wait until the next tide. There's plenty to eat."

"But suppose they come back?" said Dick. He pointed suddenly. "There's a boat now. See! Coming up with the tide." Alec looked. The boat was still a long way off, but he could see that one of the two men pulling was a giant. They were the Chownes—not a doubt of it, and Alec felt a nasty chill creep down his spine.

"Get below," he said sharply. "We must hide up forward. But first we must put things straight in the cabin."

They plunged down to the cabin, tidied up swiftly, then went through a door into the forehold. They piled some cases against the door, then sat down and waited. A few minutes later they heard a boat bump against the barge, then heavy steps on the deck. The men went down into the cabin. The boys could hear the rumble of their voices but not what they said.

"They're getting their dinner," Dick whispered. He stopped and stiffened. "What's up?" he asked sharply. "They're getting excited about something."

Alec raised his hand for silence. The men's voices were louder now. "Someone been here! What do you mean?"

"Look at these!" answered the other, the big man, by his great roaring voice.

"Then they're here now," snapped the first speaker.

Alec went pale. "The mud pattens," he hissed in Dick's ear. "We forgot them and they've found them."

"Then they'll find us," Dick answered grimly. "And they'll probably slay us." Alec sprang up.

"The hatch," he whispered; "the forward hatch. That's our only chance. We left it unbolted." He hurried forward. There was no ladder to this hatch and they had to stand on a box to reach it. The hatch was very heavy and very stiff and, though both pushed for all they were worth, it did not move.

There came a great crash at the door behind them.

"They're in here, Joe," roared the big man. "They've blocked the door."

Desperation gave the boys fresh strength. The hatch yielded and slid. But it creaked horribly. Dick caught the edge and swung himself up. He lay flat on his stomach, reached down and got hold of Alec. The pounding was awful. The door behind them was giving.

Dick dragged Alec up. "The boat," he gasped.

"No. Close the hatch first."

They slid it back and bolted it.

Dick started for the boat again, but for a second time Alec stopped him.

"The forward hatch. If we close that they're stuck."

Both raced for it. They were only just in time, for the Chownes, who had heard their feet on the deck, had left the door and the first was already on the steps. His great angry face was almost level with the deck as the boys got hold of the hatch cover, slid it into place and pushed the heavy iron bolt into its socket.

"That's boxed them," Alec panted.

"Listen to them!" gasped Dick.

"I don't want to," said Alec. "Come on. If we take the boat they're safe here till the tide goes out."

"Let's row straight down to Tarnmouth," Dick suggested.

"Not against this tide. Walking will be quicker. We must get to the shore." Even this took some doing, for the tide was running up like a mill race, but at last they managed it and went off hot foot. Luckily for them a car came along, and the driver was no other than Moses Setters, the sheep farmer. When he heard what they had found he was delighted, and went with them to the police-station at Tarnmouth.

There they found Sergeant Taylor and poured out their story. Taylor was as pleased as Setters.

"We've had our eyes on those chaps for months past but we couldn't get the goods on them," he said. He stopped and chuckled. "To think of you two lads doing what we've failed in all this time!"


3. TOFT'S TOWER

(From The Children's Newspaper, 22 July 1939)

CHAPTER 1
Cousin Jonas Drops His Glasses

MR JONAS WENTWORTH looked up from the guide book he was studying.

"This is what I want to see, Richard," he said in his loud, harsh voice. "Toft's Tower. The guide bock speaks of it as an interesting ruin. Who built it?"

Mr Richard Kynaston laid aside a stamp he was studying under a magnifying glass.

"I really do not know, Jonas," he answered vaguely.

"Don't know," repeated Mr Wentworth in a scornful tone. "A place of historic interest and only a few miles from your home. I suppose you will tell me you have never been there."

"I never have," admitted Mr Kynaston.

His cousin got up and began stamping up and down the room.

"What a man you are, Richard! You sit indoors with your precious stamps and take no interest in anything else. No wonder your estate is in the mess it is."

He was so excited he dropped his glasses. They hit the edge of the table and there was an ominous tinkle of broken glass. Mrs Kynaston sprang up.

"Oh, Jonas, your glasses are smashed," she said in dismay.

She knew that her husband's cousin was so short-sighted he was almost blind without his glasses.

"A great nuisance," growled Mr Wentworth. "Still, I'm not such a fool as to travel with only one pair."

He fished another spectacle case out of his pocket, took from it a pair of steel-rimmed spectacles and put them on.

Young Dick Kynaston spoke up.

"We could take you to Toft's Tower, Cousin Jonas. Bob Collins would row us over."

"Very well. We will go tomorrow morning. Arrange about the boat, Dick. And let me know what Collins will charge."

"All right, sir," said Dick and went out.

His brother Horace and Alec Renshaw followed him to the schoolroom.

"What a pig!" Dick said angrily.

"He is rather," Alec agreed.

Alec Renshaw was staying with the Kynastons for the summer holiday. He was the same age as Dick, that is, thirteen, but nothing like so big. Also he wore glasses. When he first arrived at Bishop's Mead the three Kynaston children had begun by despising him, but Alec had proved that, if his body was small, he had plenty of pluck and good sense, and now they accepted him as one of themselves.

"I do hate the way he sneers at Dad," said Babs Kynaston. "It's such bad manners."

"Rotten!" growled Dick. "And he's mean as can be. He's rolling in money and he's never even given us a Christmas present."

Horry spoke up. Horry was a plump, silent boy, but when he did speak he generally had something to say.

"He's going to pay for you to go to Marlborough, Mum says. So you'd better keep the right side of him, Dick."

Dick grunted. He knew that what Horry said was true, but it didn't make him like Cousin Jonas any better.

"We're taking him to Torn Island anyhow. Alec, you'd better come with me to Bob Collins and see about the boat."

"And mind you ask the price!" Babs put in.

Toft's Tower stood on a great lump of broken rock in the estuary of the Arrow. It was just a ruin and no one knew who had built it. The island was more worth seeing than the Tower for it was a picturesque crag which had been eaten away by the waves until it was almost cut in two. It was about half a mile from the village of Saltmouth and a favourite mark for sea fishermen. Not many people landed there, for there was only one spot where one could land at all, and that only in fine weather. It was certainly the last place that quiet, retiring Mr Richard Kynaston would have chosen to visit.

The boys found Bob Collins on the quay, painting a boat. He was a fine old fellow and a friend of Dick. Dick explained to him about the proposed trip and Bob chuckled deep in his throat.

"Seems like the old gentleman is careful with his cash," he remarked. "Tell un I'll take him there and back for half-a-crown. But only if 'tis a fine day. I bain't risking my boat on they rocks if there's a breeze."

"The glass is high and steady," Alec said.

"Aye, weather looks to be all right, young gentleman. But 'ee can't never tell what the morning'll bring. Tide'll be right along about eleven o'clock, so you be here then."

Mr Kynaston had no car, so Vince, the man about the place, drove them down to Saltmouth next morning in the old-fashioned waggonette. It was a very fine morning, but there must have been wind somewhere, for a slow swell was rolling in from the open sea.

Bob Collins looked doubtful.

"Her will be a job to land," he told them. "All right for you boys, but what about the old gentleman?"

"I am perfectly able both in mind and body," snapped Mr Wentworth, who was much annoyed at being called old.

Bob winked at the boys.

"No offence meant, sir," he said, "but it bain't as if there was a proper landing place."

They got into the boat and pulled off. The sea was like glass, yet the boat rose and fell on long, slow swells. They could see these breaking in foam on Torn Island.

Bob guided the boat skilfully into the narrow inlet between two great weed-hung crags and checked her opposite a flat table of rock.

"Us can't tie up," he said, "and 'tis too deep to anchor. I got to hold the boat with the oars. You boys jump ashore and be ready to help Mr Wentworth when he comes, along."

Mr Wentworth was not looking as happy as when he started. He did not like the way in which the boat rose and fell, or the dull roar of the swells as they broke into the cave at the end of the inlet. But, having boasted so much about being fit and capable, he could not back out.

The two boys sprang lightly on to the flat rock and Mr Wentworth stood up in the stern. The boat rose slowly.

"Jump, sir," cried Bob, and Mr Wentworth obeyed.

But he was not so agile as he thought. He waited just a moment too long and, when he jumped, the boat was beginning to drop. He did just reach the rock, but caught his toes, slipped, and would have had a bad fall if Dick and Alec between them had not managed to catch him. As it was he came down on his knees with a bad bump.

"My glasses!" he yelled, as they flew from his nose.


CHAPTER 2
The "Clumsy Idiot"

DICK made a snatch at them but was too late. They dropped over the edge of the rock and vanished in the smooth swell.

"Clumsy idiot!" stormed Mr Wentworth, but Alec spoke up sharply.

"It wasn't Dick's fault."

"I didn't say it was," retorted Mr Wentworth sourly. "I meant that boatman. He told me to jump when the boat was already falling." He paused and glared round helplessly. "Now what am I to do? I haven't a third pair. How deep is the water here?"

"Ten foot, if her's an inch," Bob Collins told him sharply. "And the fault weren't mine, mister. You was too slow. If you'd ha' jumped when I spoke you'd ha' been all right."

"Could you get some glasses in Saltmouth, Mr Wentworth?" Alec asked.

"At a place like that! Of course not. These are special lenses. Even if I telephone to my man in London it will be at least three days before I can get another pair. Meantime, what am I to do?"

He looked so helpless that Alec felt really sorry for him.

"Better get into the boat, sir, and we'll take you back," he said.

It was a difficult business to get him into the boat for, without his glasses, he was almost blind. The boys had to steady the boat while Bob helped him in. He sat glumly in the stern and didn't say a word during the pull back. When they got ashore Alec managed to get Dick aside for a moment.

"You go back with him, Dick. I'm not coming yet."

"What are you going to do?" Dick demanded.

"I'm going after those glasses."

"Don't be a silly ass. You'll only get drowned."

"I won't. I'll have Bob with me. But see here, Dick, don't say a word to the old chap. I don't want to raise false hopes."

"I think you're crazy." Dick said. "And a nice time I'm going to have, driving home with him!"

Alec grinned.

"I don't envy you." Then he, turned serious. "Dick, if the old boy is left two days without glasses he'll drive everyone in the house crazy. The odds are he'll have a row with your people and refuse to pay your school bills. Go with him and be as civil as you can. I have to wait until the tide's down, but if I can get those glasses, it'll save a heap of trouble."

"It certainly will," replied Dick grimly, "but if you get drowned there'll be worse trouble."

"I promise you I won't get drowned. Here's the waggonette. Go ahead. I'll be back for tea."

Alec had a way with him and Dick yielded. The waggonette drove off and Alec tackled Bob. Bob's eyes widened as Alec talked eagerly.

"Sounds funny to me, Master Alec. But her might work. All right. I'll take 'ee out. But us'll have to wait till 'long about three. Then there won't be no more than five or six foot of water."

"All right. Then I'll go and do my bit of shopping."

"Try Hook's, the ironmonger. Her'll be the most likely one. Arter that you come around to my place and I'll give 'ee a bite of dinner. My old 'ooman were making a pasty when I left."

"Thanks," said Alec. "I love pasties." He nodded and went off into the village.


CHAPTER 3 Alec Does The Trick

IT was nearly five when Alec reached Bishop's Mead. The first thing he saw was the waggonette at the door; the next, Vince carrying two suitcases down the steps; the third, Horry standing at the door.

"What's up?" Alec asked.

"Cousin Jonas is leaving," Horry answered solemnly. "He and Dad had a bit of a row."

"Had a row!" repeated Alec. It seemed impossible that anyone could quarrel with gentle Mr Kynaston.

"Hush, here he comes!" said Horry, and Cousin Jonas came blundering down the steps and almost bumped into Alec.

"Goodbye, sir," said Alec. He pulled something out of his pocket. "Hadn't you better take your glasses?"

The other pulled up short.

"My glasses!" He took them, put them on his nose and stared at Alec. "They are my glasses! How in the name of all that's wonderful did you get them, Alec?"

"With a magnet, sir. The frames are steel, you see, so a magnet on the end of a string did the trick."

There was a moment's silence, then Cousin Jonas gave a sort of yelp.

"And I hadn't the sense to think of it."

He turned. "Richard! Richard!" he shouted.

Mr Kynaston came out.

"Richard, this boy's got better brains than I. I told you he was a rude little beast because he didn't drive home with me and all the time he was busy recovering my glasses. I hate apologising, but I've got to."

"Hadn't you better come back, Jonas?" said Mr Kynaston mildly. "Vince, bring those suitcases in again. Mr Wentworth won't be leaving today."

He took Cousin Jonas by the arm and drew him back into the hall, and Alec, who was very wet, went up to his room to change.

A little later Dick came bursting in. He smote Alec on the back.

"Alec, old son," he cried. "You've done the trick. Cousin Jonas is simply purring and Mum and Dad are no end pleased. Come on down. There's strawberry jam and cream for tea."


4. — SWITHIN'S STONES

(From The Children's Newspaper, 29 July 1939)

CHAPTER 1
A Funny Business

YOUNG Dick Kynaston lay on the rim of the sheer rock wall and looked down on the River Arrow which flowed swiftly through the ravine oddly-named The Long Man's League.

"There you are, Alec," he said. "Those are Swithin's Stones." He pointed to large stepping stones set across the river a little way up stream, at the head of the ravine.

Alec Renshaw, who lay beside Dick, looked and nodded. Alec was small for his age and wore glasses and, when he had first arrived at Bishop's Mead, the home of the Kynastons, to spend his summer holidays, the lusty young Kynastons had rather despised him. Now they knew better, for Alec had more brains than any of them and had proved it by pulling them out of various scrapes.

"Jolly fine stepping stones," Alec agreed, "but why are they called Swithin's?"

"It's quite a yarn," Dick said. "Swithin was a chap who fought for Monmouth. He was an ancestor of Mum. When Monmouth got licked at Sedgemoor Swithin bunked back here and hid in a cave in this cleave. His people brought him grub. They came across the steps. A man called Clarke spotted them and told somebody, and Swithin was caught and tried by Judge Jeffreys."

"Hanged, I suppose," said Alec.

"No, he wasn't. The reason was that Swithin was believed to have a wonderful jewel that Monmouth had given him to take care of. They said they'd give him his life if he handed over the jewel. He laughed at them so they put him in prison and kept him there for years. They say he died there but no one knows. And no one knows what became of the jewel."

"Sounds a dreary sort of business," said Alec; "but where was the cave?"

"That's another funny thing. They never found the cave."

Alec lay silent, frowning thoughtfully. It was, as Dick said, a funny business, but Alec knew that there was generally a lot of truth in these old stories handed down from father to son. Presently he got up and began to walk slowly along the edge of the cliff in the direction of the Stones. He was scanning the opposite rock wall with great care. It was almost sheer but broken by deep crevices and there were terraces where broom and gorse grew thickly. He stopped and turned.

"Dick, I believe I can see the mouth of a cave."

Dick came running.

"My word, I believe you're right! There is a hole. That's funny for I've been up here lots of times and never seen it before."

"I'll tell you why," said Alec. "That hole was covered by a rock slide and quite lately there's been another slide and opened it up again. You can see a regular pile of stuff down below."

"I can. I say, Alec, do you think it could be Swithin's cave?"

"It might be. Let's go and look. We can climb to it all right."

Dick started forward then stopped.

"We can't," he said sadly. "It's on Calvin Clarke's side."

"Who's Calvin Clarke?"

"A queer chap. Supposed to be a descendant of the fellow who sneaked on Swithin. He owns all that land on the other side and makes a peck of trouble if anyone trespasses."

A stubborn look came upon Alec's small face. "We shan't do his land any harm. There's no law against your crossing another man's land so long as you don't do damage. Anyhow who's going to see us?"

"Clarke's always snooping round," Dick said doubtfully.

"He can't do worse than order us off," Alec told him. "I'm going, Dick. If you don't feel like it trot back and find Horry and Babs."

"Don't be an ass! If you're going I'm coming, too."

They had to make a round to reach a spot where they could climb down to the stepping stones. Dick kept looking about, but there was not a sign of Clarke or anyone else: just a few rabbits and a pair of water ousels—nothing else alive.

The stones were like small pillars with flat tops and the river rushed black, deep, and swift between them. The two boys skipped across and Alec led the way up the opposite cliff. Alec had already spotted a way to the cave mouth and, though it was a stiff climb, it was not particularly difficult or dangerous. The only really awkward bit was just before they got to the mouth where the rock was almost sheer. But Alec found a deep niche, the sort of thing that mountaineers call a chimney and, getting his back against one side and his legs against the other, he forced his way up, then leaned over and gave Dick a hand.

They found themselves on a narrow ledge with an opening in front. It was only about a yard high, but after they had crept a little way in it became larger and they were able to stand up. Alec, who always carried matches in a corked tube, lit one and the light showed a small rock chamber about ten feet across.

"Look!" cried Dick, pointing to a pile of what seemed like very ancient hay on one side. "It's a bed. That's where Swithin slept."

"Believe you're right," said Alec as he struck another match. "Yes, and here's an old jug. I expect he used it to get water from the river." He picked up the brown earthenware jug from the ledge on which it stood. Something rattled inside. Alec turned it upside down and some small object fell out into his hand. With fingers that were not quite steady he lighted a third match and at once a crimson glow was reflected from the stone he held in his palm.

"A ruby!" he said swiftly. "Dick, we've found Monmouth's jewel."


CHAPTER 2
Alec Scores Again

THE sunlight seemed dazzling when the two boys crept out of the dark little cavern on to the ledge outside. Alec stepped to the edge of the ledge and, as he did so, an angry shout came from below.

"You boys, what are you doing there? You're trespassing!"

"I told you so," said Dick to Alec. "It's Calvin Clarke. Now we're for it."

Alec, looking down, saw a big powerfully-built man with a red face, a high, hooked nose and sandy hair, standing on the stepping stones and glaring upwards. Alec was not at all dismayed. "We are not doing any harm, sir," he said politely.

"That's for me to judge. You're on my land. Come down at once," roared the other in a voice that echoed like thunder.

"I think, sir," said Alec, "that we will stay where we are until you have recovered your temper."

That put the lid on it, of, rather, lifted the lid, for Clarke boiled over and his language was disgraceful.

Alec drew Dick back into the cave.

"He can't reach us and there's no hurry. He'll get fed up after a bit and go home."

"He won't," said Dick darkly. "He'll stay there all night. I believe he suspects we've found the cave."

"That's why we're sticking here. Your mother is going to have that ruby, Dick."

"Gosh! I'd forgotten about the ruby. If Clarke gets his hands on it we'll never see it again. All right. We'll stay."

Alec produced a stick of chocolate and they ate it slowly. Half an hour passed, then they heard a crash below and Dick peeped over. He turned a scared face to Alec. "He's done us, Alec. He's pulled over one of the stones. Now we can't cross the river."

Alec looked and his face lengthened. Sure enough, Clarke had managed somehow to topple over the middle stone of the stepping stones, leaving a gap too wide for even Dick to jump. Swimming was out of the question for the power of the current was too great.

"He does seem to have snookered us," said Alec slowly. He turned and looked upwards, but that was no good. Above the cave the cliff was like the wall of a house. "We'll go down and have a look-see," Alec continued. "We might find an old tree trunk or a bit of driftwood."

They went down and found plenty of sticks, but nothing strong enough to span the gap. And it was no use waiting for Horry and Babs, because they were fishing down-stream. Dick shrugged.

"We'll just have to stick here until they miss us and come to look for us," he remarked at last.

"And be rescued like a couple of lost kids," retorted Alec in an unusually sharp voice. "To say nothing of your father running into Clarke and having a row with him. Not if I know it, Dick!"

"Well, what are you going to do about it?" retorted Dick sarcastically. "You're smart, Alec, I'll allow, but this is a hole that even you can't get out of."

Alec recovered his temper. He laughed.

"I'm going to have a jolly good try. Pick me a few short, dry sticks from the driftwood, there's a good chap."

Dick looked mystified but obeyed.

Alec meantime took a notebook from his pocket and began to write with a pencil. Dick brought the sticks, Alec cut them into short lengths and tied some lengths with string to make a little raft. In the centre of this he fixed a mast about six inches high and to it tied a sheet on which he had written a message.

It was not until he stooped and set this afloat in the river that Dick realised what he was after. Dick gave a yell of delight.

"Shut up, you idiot," Alec ordered. "Do you want to bring Clarke back?"

"Sorry! I forgot. But, I say, we must put a lot of these in. Some may get stranded before they reach Horry."

"Of course we must. At least six." As he spoke Alec was busy fixing up a second little boat. The first was already out of sight down the stream. He finished it, tied the message to it, and was setting it afloat when there was a crashing among the bushes on the far side.

"Clarke!" gasped Dick.

Clarke it was and looking savage enough to scare anyone. But Alec was not dismayed.

"Sit tight, Dick! He can't reach us," he whispered. And Dick, seeing this was true, took courage.

"I thought you'd get sick of roosting up on that cliff," said Clarke with an ugly laugh. "Now I've got you."

"Have you?" Alec answered sweetly. "Your legs are pretty long, but I don't believe you dare try to jump that gap. And, talking about trespassing, aren't you off your own land?"

This was true, for now Clarke was on the far side of the river.

Alec's retort drove Clarke to fresh fury. His big face went crimson, he stamped with rage. Suddenly he swung round and plunged back into the bushes. Alec turned to Dick. "He's gone for a plank. We'll have to nip back up to the cave."

The two boys went up like lamplighters and, when Clarke got back with a plank, were again out of his reach. Again he stormed and raved.

"I'll have you if I stay here all night," he roared.

Dick looked unhappy.

"Your dodge won't be any good, Alec," he said. "Even if the kids get your message they won't be able to help us."

"It does look black," Alec allowed. "But Clarke's not going to have that ruby, not if I have to stay here a week."

Dick was looking over. "I say, he's fixed the plank. He's coming after us."

"He'll break his neck if he does," Alec answered calmly.

Clarke was across. He began to climb. Strong as he was, he was heavy and clumsy, but he was obstinate and came slowly up.

"Alec, he's going to do it," Dick cried. Clarke was about half-way up. He reached up and grasped a root to help him from one ledge to the next. With a loud crack it broke and he slid back. He yelled with terror.

Dick went white.

"He'll be killed," he gasped. But the man got hold of the trunk of a small sycamore and this held. He lay spread-eagled on a steep slope. He managed to get a hold for one toe and there he stuck, unable to get up or down.

"Come on, Dick," said Alec, and started down again.

"What can we do?" Dick asked. "He's too heavy for us."

"We've got to try, Dick."

"Dick!" came a shout from below. "It's Horry," cried Dick. "And he's got a man with him. It's Kelly, the water bailiff."

Alec breathed deeply. He had never felt more relieved.

"Kelly," he cried, "Mr Clarke is stuck. We'll need a rope."

"Baint no rope," said the bailiff. "But don't 'ee worry. I'll fix un." Up he came like a great cat and, lying flat on a ledge above Clarke, he leaned over and pulled him up.

Clarke was badly scared.

"Baint you got no better sense than to climb a place like this?" asked Kelly scornfully.

"I was after these boys," said Clarke recovering. "They're trespassing."

"Trespassing!" repeated Kelly with scorn. "I seed 'ee t'other side this morning with a gun. And who's gone and pulled over one o' Swithin's Stones? Were that some o' your work?"

Clarke could not deny it and Kelly went on. "They stones belongs to the Fishery Board. If I reports you there'll be a noise, I tell 'ee."

"I'll put it back," said Clarke hastily.

"Aye and you'll do it by tomorrow night, or I'll know why. Come along, young gentlemen. It's time I got home to my tea."


5. — CATHEDRAL CAVE

(From The Children's Newspaper, 5 August 1939)

CHAPTER 1
A Pretty Big Job

ALEC RENSHAW lay flat in a patch of bracken gazing through his cherished field-glasses. They were focused on a dirty-looking tent which had been pitched in a hollow where a little spring broke out and trickled in a rill down the combe towards the sea.

Outside the tent a small fire of sticks was burning, and over it a man was cooking something in a black pot. A second man came out of the tent and spoke to the first, but the distance was much too great for Alec to hear anything. A frown puckered his small, intelligent face.

"Rum-looking birds, Simon called them," he murmured. "He was jolly well right. I don't like the look of them one bit."

Almost anyone would have agreed with Alec's remark, for the two men were dirty, unshaven, and hard-faced. They looked as if they came out of some horrible slum, and it was strange to see them in this wild and lovely country on the edge of Brake Head.

Alec knew what they were after. Simon Chowne, once his enemy, now his friend, had told him they were searching for the famous church plate stolen from Melcombe parish church long ago and hidden, it was believed, in a cave in Brake Head.

Alec had gone off, alone, to investigate. He had not even mentioned the matter to his great pal, Dick Kynaston, with whose people he was spending the summer holiday. Dick was a good chap, but a bit reckless, and Alec intended to have a quiet look at the men and observe the lie of the land before he spoke to Dick or anybody else. The only person who knew of his intention was Simon, and today Simon was out fishing.

James Cathcart, rector of Melcombe, was a friend of the Kynastons and had been very nice to Alec. Alec's idea was that if he watched these strangers long enough they might lead him to the hiding-place. What a triumph it would be if he could only get back the lost plate! It never occurred to him that it was a pretty big job for a small boy of thirteen. But Alec did not mean to take risks. At present he was just scouting. Later he might get Sergeant Tucker from Tarnmouth to lend a hand.

The men turned out the contents of the pot and made a meal, then they sat a while and smoked; after that they got up and mooched away down the combe towards the sea.

Alec moved too. He did not follow them, but worked parallel to the combe, along the high ground. There was heaps of cover. Great gorse bushes, and here and there gnarled old whitethorns, sloes, brambles, and patches of heather. Keeping well under cover, he reached the top of the cliff, and crouched there, waiting and watching.

Brake Head is an immense mass of limestone, rising two hundred feet from the sea. The cliff is weathered into all sorts of strange shapes, with ledges and pinnacles and deep crevasses, and is covered with bushes almost down to high-water mark. Gulls wheeled and screamed, but there was no other sign of life.

Alec could see the mouth of the combe some distance to the left, but the two men were not in sight. He wondered what had become of them, and after a bit got up and began to move quietly nearer to the combe. He went on and on, every now and then stopping to have a look, but still could see nothing.

Alec was long-sighted. He saw very well at a distance, but had to wear spectacles to see at close range. He had taken off his spectacles to use the glasses, and that was why he did not see a figure moving softly through the bushes behind him. But if Alec's eyes were not too good there was nothing the matter with his hearing. He caught a rustle and turned.

"Who are you? What are you a-doing of?" came a hoarse voice, and Alec caught a glimpse of a red, unshaven face and a big dirty hand outstretched to grasp him. He spun round and ran for all he was worth, back along the rim of the cliff.

Behind him he heard his enemy's big feet pounding. The man was so close Alec could even hear his heavy breathing. He could also hear the second man coming up the slope.

He was scared, but did not lose his head. He knew he could not hope to escape by running, but remembered a deep crevasse which he had passed. It was so narrow that, if he could only reach it and drop down into it, he felt sure the man could not follow him.

He never reached it. Something caught him across the back of the legs. It was a stick thrown by his pursuer. He tripped, made a frantic effort to recover himself, failed, and found himself sliding down a tremendously steep slope of slippery turf.

He tried to dig his fingers into the grass, but there was no hold; his feet went over the edge and he dropped into empty space.


CHAPTER 2
The Cave in the Cliff

ALEC held his breath for the smash on the rocks below. Instead there was a crackle, a crashing, and with a thud he brought up short. All the breath was knocked out of him, and it was several seconds before he realised that he was firmly wedged in the middle of a great clump of gorse and brambles growing out from a projecting spur of rock.

It was an amazing piece of luck, for had he fallen a few feet one way or the other he would have missed the clump and gone straight to the bottom, to be either smashed on the rocks or swept away by the fierce tide and drowned.

As it was he was unhurt except for scratches, but he had the sense to lie quite still where he was. Looking up, he saw the head of the man who had chased him looking over the edge. His expression showed that he was badly frightened, and Alec saw he fully believed that his victim was at the bottom or in the sea. The bush hid Alec completely.

Alec waited until the head was withdrawn. He could hear the man talking excitedly to his companion. Then the voices died away. In spite of his uncomfortable position Alec grinned.

"Scared stiff," he observed, and set himself to climb back on to the rock.

This he did without trouble, but when he had taken a look round he was not happy. To climb up was out of the question, and climbing down appeared equally hopeless. Yet somehow he had to get down. There was no one to help him.

The cliff below was almost sheer, but a little to the right was another spur on which grew a stubby, wind-twisted oak tree. If he could reach that there was a ledge beyond, which sloped downwards. The distance between his spur and the next was no more than six or seven feet. Not much of a jump under ordinary conditions, but when failure means certain death it is bad for the jumper's nerves. Alec had no choice. He set his teeth and sprang.

As was only natural, he jumped too far and came within an ace of pitching clean over the far side of the rock point. He managed to grasp the oak bush and saved himself. He found himself shaking, and paused and took long breaths. Then he started again.

The ledge was terribly narrow and broken, and beyond it he had to scramble across the sheer face of the cliff. Clinging like a fly to a wall, he worked on yard by yard.

Once he slipped, and but for a trail of ivy, which he caught at desperately, would have gone to the bottom. As it was, he remained dangling m mid-air for a good half minute before he could claw out a hold for one foot. The accident shook him badly, but farther down he reached a fresh ledge and got on better.

Suddenly the ledge broke off and Alec found himself gazing straight down into the sea. He almost despaired. He was getting tired too. But it was no use bemoaning his fate. He climbed back and tried another tack. Climbing upward he reached a broader ledge and worked along it. He got on well for some distance, then the ledge broke off sharp, and he saw below a sort of pit in the cliff side with bushes growing thickly. He grasped an ivy stem and tried to swing across.

The ivy broke off short and he dropped straight into the bushes. Again he escaped harm, and, scrambling to his feet, found himself standing at the mouth of a dark hole in the cliff face.

Caves had a fascination for Alec, but the thought that this might be the cave sent a thrill through him. He had plenty of matches and a couple of candle ends in his pocket, so at once started into the tunnel.

This led downward. It was steep and dangerous. In places he had to crawl. Down—down he went, and suddenly a breath of cold salt air blew out his candle. He lit it again, went forward a few steps and saw dim daylight. He blew out his candle, and found himself in a great rock chamber with a smooth sandy floor and a high vaulted roof. Light came in through several small holes in the wall to his left, and through these came too the plash of waves. The shape of the cave was like that of a church aisle, and the resemblance was heightened by a sort of platform of rock at the inner end which looked like a raised chancel.

"A regular cathedral," Alec breathed. "Just the place to hide church plate."

Filled with excitement, he started to search the place, but found nothing of the loot for which he was looking. What he did find was a spring of fresh water, where he drank deeply. Then it struck him that he was getting very hungry, and, looking at his wristwatch, found it was past four. He had had nothing since breakfast, so no wonder he was hungry. He also began to realise that he was in an ugly fix. Although he was near sea-level there was no way of escape. These cliffs were dangerous and boats gave them a wide berth. No one knew where he was, and he might very well starve to death before he was found.

His spirits sank very low as he stood on the floor of the cave and looked up at the small holes through which daylight leaked. A mass of broken rock filled this end of the cave, and Alec started to climb in an effort to reach one of the openings. Halfway up he stepped upon what he at first thought was a square rock, but a second look showed that it was a small chest of solid oak clamped with rusty iron bars and fastened by an enormous old padlock.

"The plate!" he gasped, and, forgetting all his troubles, picked up a heavy stone and began to hammer the padlock. At the third blow it broke away, and Alec levered up the lid with the blade of his sheath knife. The chest was full of objects wrapped in chamois leather. Alec unrolled the first and found a lovely silver patten.

"It is the plate," he repeated happily, and, closing the lid again, climbed on up to the first opening.


CHAPTER 3
The S O S

THE hole was half hidden by hanging ferns, so it was small wonder no one had seen it or the other holes from outside. Alec opened it out and found there was room through which to squeeze his small body.

He was only a few feet above high-tide mark and was looking out on a wide expanse of calm, sunlit sea. It was low tide, and beneath were loose boulders and a little steep shingle beach. No way out, and once more Alec's spirits fell sharply.

Something moved in the distance. A boat. Alec's field-glasses were still safe in their case slung around his neck. He had them out and focused them quickly.

"Simon—it's Simon Chowne's boat!" he exclaimed.

The glasses showed Simon at anchor, fishing, but he was a good mile away, far beyond shouting distance. For the life of him Alec could not see how he could attract his attention. But, as Dick had said, if Alec wasn't big he had plenty of brains, and, after racking them for a few moments, an idea flashed through his mind.

He scrambled back into the cave, reached the chest, opened it again, took out the patten and, using the chamois in which it was wrapped, set furiously to polishing it. Soon it was clean as the day it was made; then Alec went up the rock side again, through the hole, and stood on the ledge outside. The evening sun shone full on the cliff face, and Alec started flashing signals to Simon.

But Simon was busy with his line. He was pulling in whiting; he did not look up. Alec was almost desperate, when at last the fish stopped biting and Simon got up to raise his anchor. Then at last Alec saw him stiffen and, shading his eyes with his hand, stare towards the cliff.

"SOS!" Alec signalled time and again. He could have shouted with joy when at last Simon settled to his oars and began to pull towards him.

"The plate! I've found the plate!" Alec yelled as the boat came close.

"You'm found the plate! You be crazy, lad!"

"Well, here's a piece of it, anyhow," retorted Alec as he sprang down to meet the boat.

Simon stared and drew a long breath.

"Do 'ee know as there's a reward of a hundred pounds, young master?"

"And half is yours, Simon," cried Alec. "Pull up the boat and I'll show you where the chest is. Be quick, for those two fellows chased me at the cliff top."

Simon grinned.

"They two won't hurt 'ee, mister. Don't know what 'ee done to 'em, but I seed 'em from the boat a long time back. Running like mad, they were."


6. — THE HUMBLING OF HODGE

(From The Children's Newspaper, 23 December 1939)

DICK KYNASTON seized both of Alec Renshaw's hands and his pleasant face broke into a broad grin.

"You look fine, old chap," he declared.

"I feel fine," said Alec in his quiet voice. "I took your tip, Dick. I've been doing gym all last term. Got into my House Eight."

"Good for you!" said Dick heartily.

"Alec's grown," observed Horry, Dick's younger brother.

"But I'll never be big like you chaps," Alec answered.

"Who cares?" put in Babs Kynaston. "Lots of the best men have been small ones."

"I'm jolly glad to be back," Alec declared.

Babs shook her head. "It's not going to be like last summer, Alec—with this war."

Alec nodded. "I know. But, after all, we're a jolly sight better off here at Bishop's Mead than the people in the towns. There are rabbits and stuff out of the garden and plenty of milk. We'll do fine."

Dick agreed. "And there are heaps of these town kids down in Devonshire. We'll have to start games for them."

"Got any in the house?" Alec asked.

"No, we're full up," Dick told him; "but"—he lowered his voice—"we've got someone else here, a chap called Vernon Hodge."

"Shut up!" said Horry Kynaston in a whisper. "He's coming."

Hodge the Haughty

THERE were steps outside; the door of the schoolroom opened and in walked a boy whom Alec had never seen before. The new arrival was tall, well built, with fair hair and blue eyes, and wore an expensive-looking knickerbocker suit of Shetland tweed. His pullover, stockings, and heavy brogues were all of the best. He held himself well, and would have been distinctly good-looking if his expression had not been so hard and arrogant.

"I'm going out after rabbits," he said to Dick. "Are you coming?"

"I'll come," said Dick. "This is Alec Renshaw, Vernon," he added.

Vernon Hodge barely glanced at Alec.

"How d'ye do?" he said, then went out of the room. Dick, with an apologetic look at Alec, followed. As the door closed Babs spoke. "Sweet creature, isn't he?"

Alec laughed. "Seems to think quite a lot of himself, Babs. Who is he?"

"A kind of cousin. His father has gone to France; so Vernon came to us. And you're right, Alec; he thinks a lot of himself. He isn't exactly bumptious. He just looks on us as a lot of kids. Dick he takes with him because Dick can handle ferrets." She shook her head. "He's going to spoil our Christmas."

"You thought I was going to spoil the summer holidays," Alec said, with a twinkle behind his glasses. "Don't worry, Babs.

It will pan out all right. Let's go round the place and see the pigs and chickens."

Vernon and Dick came in at dusk with a dozen rabbits. Tea was ready for the whole family in the hall. Again Vernon took no notice of Alec. He sat beside Mr Kynaston and talked to him. Dick came over to Alec.

"Vernon can shoot," he whispered. "He hardly wasted a cartridge."

"That's good," said Alec cheerfully. "I like rabbit pie."

"You'll come out tomorrow, Alec," Dick said.

"What's the use? I can't shoot, and I'm no use with ferrets. Horry and I are going to the Mere to fish."

Sam Runs Away

NEXT day was fine. There had been a little snow overnight, but this melted fast and the sun was out. Alec, Horry, and Babs started out as soon as breakfast was finished. Vernon was on the porch, cleaning his gun. He looked up.

"Fishing?" he remarked. "The sea, I suppose?"

"No, the Mere," Alec told him. "Perch and eels."

Vernon's lip curled slightly.

"Oh, coarse fish," he said, and went on with his work.

"Pig!" Babs muttered, but Alec only smiled.

"Don't get cross, Babs. He doesn't know any better."

They had a good morning and came back for lunch with a creel full of fat perch and two big eels. Dick, who had got in a few minutes earlier, met them.

"Alec, you remember Calvin Clarke?"

"The nasty fellow who got after us at Swithin's Stones. Rather! What's he been up to?"

"They billeted two kids from Bristol on him and one of them has run away."

"I don't blame him," said Alec dryly.

"Yes, but this little chap, Sam Hicks, has gone up on the moor, so Vince says. If he isn't found before night the odds are he'll be finished."

"We must go after him," Alec said at once.

"I'll fetch him back," said Vernon Hodge. He had come up behind and listened to what they said.

"Do you know the moor?" Alec asked.

"I've shot in Scotland," said Vernon briefly. "Show me which way he went and I'll soon run him down."

"The moor is a bit different from the Scottish hills," Alec told him.

Vernon's lip curled. "What do you know about it?"

"I've been in Scotland," Alec answered.

"Perhaps you'd like to come with me and see that I don't fall into a bog," Vernon remarked.

"It might be a good idea," Alec agreed.

Vernon looked him up and down. "Don't blame me if I have to leave you behind. I doubt if you can keep up with me."

"I'll try," said Alec mildly. "I'll change my shoes and be with you."

After he had gone off Vernon turned to Dick.

"Does that kid really mean to come with me?"

"Alec can get along," was all that Dick said, and in a minute or two Alec was back. He had changed his shoes to heavily nailed brogues, and had a light haversack strapped on his back.

"All set," he said briefly, and led the way out of the room.

Footprints

CALVIN CLARKE was scared. Well he might be, for it was his fault that Sam Hicks had bolted. Clarke bullied everyone who couldn't resist, and it was notorious that he had been treating the boy badly. He was only too eager to show Vernon and Alec which way he thought Sam had gone, and came with them as far as the foot of Crooked Hill where the road ran up to the moor.

The hill was steep. Vernon went up it with long strides, but when he reached the top Alec was alongside and breathing easily. In front the moor stretched, grey and desolate. The road wound across it like a great snake. Up here the snow lay in patches and the high tors to the west were white. Clouds were drifting up.

In front the road forked, and a signpost said that Taverton was seven miles to the south and Okestock twelve to the west.

"He will have gone to Taverton," Vernon said.

"I don't think so."

"Why don't you think so?" Vernon asked curtly. "Taverton's the nearest station."

"Sam had no money, so he couldn't buy a ticket. Okestock is a junction with a lot of goods traffic. I think Sam's idea was to hide in a goods van."

"He is only ten. Would he know enough for that?" Vernon asked.

"Yes, for his father is a platelayer on the Great Western."

"How do you know that?"

"Clarke told me," said Alec.

Vernon made no answer, but began to search along the Taverton road for footprints. Alec went along the other road.

"I've found them," he sang out presently, and, sure enough, they were plain in a patch of snow.

For about three miles the two walked sharply along the road. Every patch of snow showed the small footprints. Alec stopped.

"He turned off here," he said, and pointed to prints on the left of the road.

"What did he do that for?" questioned Vernon.

"He was tired or hungry. I expect he went over to that house to see if he could get grub."

The building stood above a small brook on a hillside, but when the two boys got there they found it was nothing but an old mine house, empty, ruinous, and deserted.

"We've come a long way for nothing," Vernon said sarcastically.

"Not for nothing," Alec answered. "Sam didn't go back to the road."

"Then where did he go?"

"Up this path." Alec pointed to an old pack track running across the brook. "Here are his footprints."

Vernon scowled. He fancied himself as a tracker, but Alec's eyes behind his glasses seemed to see more than his.

"The kid must be crazy," he said. "Where did he think he was going?"

"He thought he was taking a short cut," said Alec gravely. "We have a job before us. We've only an hour of daylight, and if we don't find him he'll not live through the sort of night we're going to have."

"Sort of night! What do you mean?"

"That it's going to snow," Alec answered, and went straight on.

All In

THEY topped a long rise and saw below them the huge expanse of Merlin's Mire. The setting sun broke through the clouds and the black slime pools glowed an ugly crimson in the red light. Vernon shivered slightly. He had never seen anything so dismal.

The track curved along the high ground to the west of the great bog, and the wind was bitter as they faced it. Here and there they could still see the prints of Sam's small boots in the snow. It was Alec who spotted the point where they left the track and turned sharply uphill away from the Mire.

The ground was bad, clumps of frostbitten heather and loose stone; it was hard to follow the tracks. The clouds had closed again and twilight was falling.

"Surely he can't have gone much farther," said Vernon, and for the first time Alec noticed irritation in his voice.

"I don't think he has. I think we'll find him in the Tor. There's a sort of cave up there."

They came to a huge pile of weather-worn granite at the top of the hill. Alec stopped and shouted. A small snub-nosed boy crept out and stared at them suspiciously. His face was blue with cold; he looked exhausted.

"It's all right, Sam," said Alec. "We're friends. We're not taking you back to Mr Clarke."

"I wouldn't go back there if you dragged me," Sam said.

He came forward, stumbled, and fell flat on his face.

"He's all in," said Alec gravely.

"I'll carry him," Vernon answered, and hoisted the boy on his back. "Lead the way, Renshaw."

Alec started back downhill. By the time they reached the bottom it was nearly dark. Then Alec felt the first chill flake of snow on his face. There came another and another. Inside five minutes the air was full of snow and the wind getting up.

Vernon's pace slowed. Though Sam was small, it was no joke carrying him over this bad ground. Alec stopped.

"Lost the way?" Vernon asked sharply.

A bright light shone out. Alec had taken a small torch from his pocket and switched it on. "We're all right," he said.

The storm grew worse; it was hard to find the track. Vernon was stumbling badly, and presently Alec pulled up again.

"Put Sam down and we'll each give him an arm. He can walk with help."

"But you can't help him."

"Try me and see," Alec answered.

The snow was blinding. Without Alec's torch they could never have kept the track.

"How far have we to go?" Vernon panted.

"About 300 yards," Alec told him.

"You're crazy. It's all of four miles to your place."

"We'd never get there," said Alec. "We're going to the mine house."

"We can't spend the night there. We'll die of cold."

"I hope not," said Alec. "There it is," he added, pointing to a grey mass just ahead.

A Lesson Well Learned

IT was something to get out of the wind, but the building was a desolate place—no glass in the windows, no door, just a great shed with stone walls and stone floor.

"We can't stay here," Vernon repeated.

"Wait till we light a fire," Alec said.

"There's not a bit of wood."

"We'll find some," Alec answered, and went through into the adit, the tunnel leading into the old tin mine. "Plenty here," he called. "Lend a hand, Hodge."

Vernon left Sam and followed. He found Alec pulling out a balk of timber which had been used to prop the roof. It was damp and half rotten. They got it into the shed, and Alec produced a large sheath knife and whittled off shavings.

Soon he had a small fire burning; then they went in again and got more wood. The blaze crackled and roared, and even Sam revived.

Vernon spoke. "If we had a bit of something to eat we could get along."

Alec unstrapped his haversack and took out a paper parcel. In it were three large hunks of home-made cake, three bars of plain chocolate, and three big apples. He handed these round.

"Keep a bit for breakfast," he advised. "There'll be drifts in the morning."

Vernon took his cake, but instead of eating it sat on his log and stared at Alec.

"I thought I knew the moor," he said presently, so bitterly that Alec started. "I didn't know one single thing about it," Vernon went on. "And if it hadn't been for you, Alec, I'd have been done in. You brought the torch, you found the wood, you had the grub. If you want to kick me you're welcome."

Alec wanted to laugh, but was too wise.

"If it hadn't been for you, Vernon, we'd never have saved Sam. I couldn't have carried him. I'd give a lot to be as strong as you."

Vernon looked at Alec.

"For your size you're stronger than I. Anyhow, this has been a lesson to me. And so I'll tell Dick tomorrow."

He kept his word, and, as Babs said next day, "You know, Alec, Vernon is quite human."


7. — SNELL'S SLIDE

(From The Children's Newspaper, 13 January 1940)

BABS KYNASTON was ruffled as she came into the schoolroom at Bishop's Mead. Alec Renshaw, who was boring holes in a skate strap, looked up.

"What's the matter, Babs?"

"Those Vacs," Babs answered shortly.

"Vacs?"

"That's what I call them. Short for 'evacuees.'"

"I thought you'd got them all nicely in hand."

"So we have—most of them. But Sid Hardy and Clem Cole give more trouble than the rest put together. I caught them snowballing the chickens. When I told them to shut up Sid checked me."

"I'll talk to him," put in Dick Kynaston. "Those two kids are all right really. I say, what are we going to do this afternoon?"

"It's freezing again," said Alec. "How about tobogganing? The snow will be good up on Omen Tor."

"That's an idea," remarked Vernon Hodge. Vernon was a big fellow, much older than the rest, who was staying with the Kynastons for the Christmas holidays. "All in favour say Aye!"

"Aye," said all at once, and just then the gong sounded for lunch and they all trooped down to eat Irish stew and apple pudding. The minute lunch was over they were off. It would be dark by soon after four, and it was a good half-hour's walk to the big slope of Omen Tor.

The Frozen Mere

THE way led out of the valley in which Bishop's Mead lay. The snow-clad road wound in curves up through the limestone cliffs, then turned north and skirted the edge of the heights above Marracombe Mere. As it happened, Vernon had never been up this way, and presently he stopped.

"This is a rum-looking place," he remarked.

"It's called Snell's Slide," Dick told him.

"I'm jolly sure no one ever slid down there," said Vernon, as he gazed at the tremendous slope.

Centuries ago a tremendous landslide had fallen, carrying away the cliff for a width of three or four hundred yards, and making an immense gap in the rock wall. The slide led right down to the edge of the mere, which was now frozen over. The slope was one of nearly 45 degrees—that is one foot in two—and the total drop nearly 300 feet. So Vernon had good ground for what he had said.

Dick shrugged. "It doesn't look as if you could go down without a rope," he answered, "but the story is that a chap called Snell did it. He was a Cavalier, and was being hunted by some of Cromwell's troopers. His horse gave out and the troopers were getting very close. There was a lot of snow, just as there is now. He took the saddle off his horse and used it as a toboggan, and they say he got to the bottom alive, and was picked up and taken to Bishop's Mead."

Vernon went nearer to the edge. He shook his head.

"It's a good yam, Dick, but I don't believe it. It would be almost sure death to try it on a toboggan, let alone a saddle. Just look at those jags of rock sticking out!"

He turned away and strode up the road, which went sharp uphill. The others followed, and after another quarter of an hour reached the foot of the great ridge called Omen Tor.

It was now freezing sharply, and the snow was in beautiful order. Among them the party had three Swiss luges shod with steel, like skates, and one old Canadian toboggan, a flat-bottomed sledge made of wood, with a turned-up end. These toboggans are made to use on ice runs and don't travel so well on loose snow, but they have one advantage, that they are much more flexible than the Swiss luge.

They picked a good run and broke it with the luges. Once the snow was flattened a little the toboggan ran well, and Alec took Babs down on it.

Alec was streets ahead of the rest in handling either a toboggan or luge. He had spent his last Christmas holidays in Switzerland and been taken down the famous Cresta Run. Even big Vernon could not steer half so smartly, but Vernon took it very well. Since that afternoon and night on the moor, when between them they had saved Sam Hicks, Alec and Vernon had become excellent friends.

The run got better and better. It was almost all ice, and one after another they went shooting down. Then came the hard tramp back again to the top. The sun was low in a red sky when Dick shouted it was time to get back to tea.

"Some of those kids are coming and we must get home in good time," he told them.

So presently they were all on their way home, making short runs downhill on the sledges. Alec was very clever in getting round the sharp curves and reached the level above the cliffs ahead of the rest.

"Take care! Don't go over!" Dick shouted to him, then stopped short, for Alec had jumped off his luge and was standing on the very rim of the cliff.

"What's up?" cried Dick.

"Those two young idiots are on the ice," Alec answered. He turned, and they heard him shouting.

"Come back! The ice won't bear!"

All the other four raced down, and when they reached the top of the cliffs there, were Sid Hardy and Clem Cole right out on the frozen mere.

"Come back!" Vernon bellowed. He had a very big voice, and the two "vacs" heard him.

Clem looked up and put his fingers to his nose. Then he walked farther out on the ice. Those on the cliff top heard it crack. The ice was less than an inch thick, and though the lads did not weigh much it was quite plain it would not bear them.

"Oh, Alec, they'll be drowned!" cried Babs. "What can we do?"

"I'll go round," said Vernon, and started at a hard run along the road. He went with great strides, but Alec shook his head. It was half a mile to the nearest way down the cliffs, and then Vernon would have to come all the way back along the lower road. Alec stood on the very edge of the cliff close to the great slide.

"Clem," he called, and his voice was very clear and distinct. "Clem, that ice won't bear you. You'll fall in and be drowned."

Clem heard, and—what was more—believed what Alec said. He turned, and Babs sighed with relief as the boy came back toward the bank. All would have been well if Sid Hardy had not come up alongside Clem. Both were town boys. They knew nothing about ice, and it never occurred to Clem that what would bear the weight of one would not carry two.

There was a crack like a pistol shot, the ice broke, and instantly the two little lads were struggling in the bitterly cold water.

A Perilous Descent

BABS cried out in horror. Dick started running down the road, but Horry stood quite still.

"It's too late!" He muttered.

Alec kept his head. With one jump he reached the luges. Out came his knife and he slashed the cords from all three. He thrust these inside his jacket, then seized the toboggan, ran with it to the centre of the Slide, flung himself flat on it, and pushed it over the rim.

"He'll be killed. Alec will be killed," wailed Babs as she ran frantically to stop him. But Alec did not hear. He was flying down Snell's Slide at terrific speed.

Alec was wearing a pair of heavy shoes fitted with what are called rakes. They are steel prongs used for steering. These he dug into the snow in an effort to brake his speed, but the snow was so soft and powdery that they made little difference.

The chief danger was from the boulders, sharp-edged snags of limestone which stuck out of the snow in all directions. He knew that if he hit one of these he must be killed, or at least seriously injured. And he was not a quarter of the way down before he saw one right ahead. He pressed down with his left foot to turn the toboggan aside, but dared not brake too hard for fear of turning too sharply, in which case he would be flung off headlong, while the toboggan would go on without him.

For an instant his heart seemed, to be in his mouth, then, missing the boulder by inches, he was past and whizzing onwards.

The pace was terrific and the humping frightful. The toboggan was in the air as much as on the ground. Alec had all he could do to keep it straight, for each time it came down from a jump it swerved. He was bruised and breathless, yet somehow hung on.

Now there were two boulders right in front, and Alec saw he could not avoid them. The only chance was to go between them. The gap was terribly narrow and the least mistake would spell finish. He dug in both rakes and caught them in a root under the snow. His arms were nearly pulled out of their sockets, but the mad pace checked a trifle and he was able to drive straight for the gap. He touched the right-hand rock, and found afterwards that he had ripped a long splinter right off that side of the toboggan. Then he was past them in safety.

The bottom of the Slide was in sight, but between him and it Alec saw that there was a sheer drop of six feet. He had not time to think before he was over it—to find himself flying through the air. He expected to be killed; instead, he landed in a drift and, though he was flung head over heels off the toboggan, he fell into three feet of powder snow. In a flash he was up and out. For the moment his eyes, ears, and nose were so full of snow he could not tell where he was, but he scraped it away with his hands as he ran to the edge of the mere.

The Rescue

TO Alec it seemed as if that perilous slide had lasted minutes. Actually it was less than 30 seconds since he had left the top. There were the two boys clinging to the ice at the edge of the hole into which they had fallen. Clem was terribly scared, but Sid Hardy had kept his head.

"It's all right, Clem," Alec heard him say. "Keep quiet and it'll be all right. This chap'll get us out."

"That's right," Alec called cheerily. "I have a rope. I'll get you out in no time."

As he spoke he was knotting together the three lengths of cord which he had cut from the luges. Stepping to the edge, ho coiled the rope and flung one end outwards.

It was not quite long enough to reach, and Alec dared not step on the ice.

"Wait a jiffy!" he cried. "I'll get the toboggan." He sprang back, hauled the toboggan out of the drift, and pushed it on to the ice. Lying flat on it, he threw the rope again, and this time Sid managed to grasp the end.

Alec anchored the toboggan by driving his rakes into the ice.

"How are you making it, Sid?" he asked. "Can you hang on a minute?"

"I can hang on," Sid told him.

"Then get the rope to Clem."

Clem grasped the rope with despairing energy and Alec began to pull. But the minute Clem's weight came on the ice a great sheet of it broke away and both boys went under. Sid, who had the pluck of a dozen, got his head up again, but to save himself had to grab the rope, and Alec, who might have hauled them in one at a time, had not the weight or strength to get them both. He pulled them to the edge of the hole and gave fresh orders.

"Sid, get both arms over the edge of the ice and see if you can hang on."

"I'll try, but I'm terribly cold,", the boy answered.

His teeth were chattering, and Alec, though outwardly calm, was getting desperate. He hauled with all his might.

Clem came up out of the water, and now the ice held though it was cracking. Clem struggled, but Alec told him sharply to lie flat and not move. Another minute and he had dragged the boy to safety.

"Run hard!" he ordered, and cast the line out to Sid. By this time Sid was so cold he was almost helpless. He managed to get hold of the rope, but when Alec pulled the cord slipped through his numbed fingers.

There was only one thing to do. Alec pushed the toboggan toward the hole. The ice bent and cracked, and Alec was desperately afraid it would give way altogether. Yet at last he got close enough to catch the youngster by the arm and so help him up out of the water. Once he was out the rest was easy, and in another couple of minutes Sid was on the bank.

Just then Vernon came tearing up. He could hardly breathe, he had run so hard.

"You got them out?" was all he said, but his look of amazement said more than words.

"Cowen's cottage!" panted Alec, who was nearly as done as Vernon. "Got to get them to a fire."

He caught Clem by the arm and Vernon took hold of Sid and made them run along the path. Cowen, the old water-bailiff, lived barely half a mile away, and both the youngsters had stopped shivering by the time they got there.

Luckily Mrs Cowen was at home. She whipped the clothes off the lads, wrapped them in blankets, and put them to bed. Then she started to make hot tea.

And then old Cowen himself came hurrying in.

"I seed un all," he exclaimed. "I were cutting reeds the far side of the mere. I seed Master Renshaw come down the Slide. Wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't have seed it with my own eyes. I tell 'ee I held my breath. I reckoned he'd have his brains scatted."

"I've still got 'em," said Alec with a twinkle.

"And you used 'em, mister," said Cowen with emphasis. "Hadn't been for you they two lads would be dead and drowned this minute. I'd say 'ee ought to have a medal for what 'ee done today."

Alec laughed again.

"If you knew how scared I was you wouldn't talk of medals. Anyhow, it's tea I want, nothing else. And here it comes."

With the tea came tough cakes, Devonshire cream, and whortleberry jam. Mrs Cowen gave of her best, and her plump face beamed as she saw how Alec and Vernon enjoyed that tea.

Before they left Vernon got a word aside with Cowen.

"You're right about that medal, Cowen. You and I will see he gets it."

They did see to it, and a month later Alec was presented with the medal of the Royal Humane Society.


8. — THE STOPPED STREAM

(From The Children's Newspaper, 3 February 1940)

"THE coldest spell I ever remember," said the fine-looking man in the grey tweed suit who sat on a stone by the side of Marracombe Mere, taking off his skates. "Looks like lasting, too," he added.

"It will thaw in 24 hours, sir," said young Alec Renshaw, who had just come to the bank.

Squire Barham looked up.

"Why do you say that?" he asked, so sharply that Alec was surprised.

"The green tint in the western sky, sir," he answered, and pointed. The sun was just setting, a ball of red fire, but above it the sky, instead of its usual blue, had a peculiar green hue. It was very lovely, but rather weird. "An old fisherman at Yarmouth told me about that," Alec went on. "He said it was one of the few weather signs that was certain. He had never known it to fail."

"I don't think I ever saw it before," Mr Barham answered. "But if you are right, Alec, it's a bad job for me."

"I'd have thought you'd have been glad, sir. This snow's bad for the stock."

"But good for what I have in hand. Come with me and I'll show you. There's time before dark."

The Keeper's Suggestion

THE Squire had his car on the road, and the road luckily had been cleared of snow. They drove quickly in a north-westerly direction, and within ten minutes came in sight of Ashcombe, the fine old house of the Barhams. The road crossed a deep gorge by a bridge, and here the Squire pulled up and got out.

"This is the Ravy," said Mr Barham, pointing to the river which ran at the bottom of the gorge.

"I know it, sir," Alec answered. "It joins the Strane and they make the Arrow."

"Correct! Do you know anything more about it?"

"Only that it's a good trout stream."

"Fair for trout but bad for salmon. The salmon that come from the sea all go up the Strane."

Alec nodded. "I've heard of cases like that. The West Dart is good for salmon, but very few go up the East though it's the bigger river."

"Do you know why?"

"Frankly, I don't, sir."

The big man laughed.

"Glad you don't know everything. Well, I'll tell you. The mouth of the East Dart is a mass of rocks and the fish have to fight hard to get up. They naturally choose the easier way. It's the same here. Look down."

Alec looked, and saw a great bar of granite running at a slant all across the narrow bed of the river. There was a pool behind the bar and the water poured over the ridge at the far corner, making a fall too steep for salmon to got up unless a very big flood was running. The Squire went on.

"You see how low the water is. That, of course, is owing to the frost. I've never seen it so low. Gold, my keeper, came to me today and suggested he should get some dynamite, and that tomorrow we should blast out that bar. The water is so low that we could wade up from the lower end of the gorge."

Alec nodded. "A pity you didn't do it today, sir. I'm afraid there'll be a flood tomorrow." He paused, then went on. "But why didn't you do it last summer. We had a dry spell in August and, even if you couldn't wade up the gorge, you could have got down with a block and tackle."

"I'll tell you. Andrew Chard, the farmer whose land runs next mine and who owns some miles of the Strane, is desperately jealous. His idea is that if I let the salmon up the Ravy they won't come up the Strane. It's a crazy notion for there are plenty of fish for both rivers, but he is all against my blasting out that bar. If I rigged up ropes and tackle he'd be bound to know all about it and there'd be a row. I hate quarrels with my neighbours, and that's why I have left the bar untouched."

"I see, sir. If you could walk up the gorge you could do the job on the quiet. The explosion would hardly be heard and Chard would be none the wiser. It is a pity it wasn't done today."

"It is a pity," agreed the other. "We may never get such a chance again."

Alec considered.

"I suppose there's no way of stopping the stream up above—damming it or turning it?"

"None whatever," said the Squire with decision.

"Do you mind if we walk up the gorge a bit? There's still some light in the sky."

"We'll walk as far as you like, but you won't find anything helpful."

Alec started at a sharp pace. The gorge, known as Narra Cleave, was only half a mile long. Above it the river came down from high ground between steep slopes now covered deep with snow. Alec stopped and gazed at these slopes. The Squire, watching him, wondered what thoughts were working in the boy's active brain.

"It might work," he heard him say.

"What might work?" he demanded.

"I don't know, sir. I have to think about it. Besides, it will depend on the weather."

"You have an idea. I'm sure of it. See here, Alec, you stay the night with me. I'll ring up Bishop's Mead and tell them you are here."

"All right, sir. I'll love to stay. But I'm not promising anything, and might Dick come?" he added.

"Of course. I'll tell him," said the Squire.

There were good things for tea at Ashcombe—home-made scones, cake, cream, and jam made from the raspberries in the big, walled kitchen garden. The Squire was a widower, but his housekeeper, Mrs Darnton, looked after him well. Dick cycled over after tea, and for dinner there was a brace of pheasants and one of those farmer's shapes made of bottled plums smothered with custard. Alec slept in a big bed in a suit of his host's pyjamas much too large for him. He woke next day to find a south-west gale blowing and rain falling heavily.

"You were right, Alec," said the Squire, as the boys came into the breakfast-room. "Here's the thaw, and there'll be a big flood before night. I'm afraid it's all up with our salmon pass."

"I'm not so sure, sir," Alec answered quietly. "If Gold can help us after breakfast we might do something."

Mr Barham laughed.

"After the way you travelled down Snell's Slide I'd believe almost anything of you, Alec. But I think this weather has you beat, and me too."

The Great Snow Slide

"WHAT'S the big idea, Alec?" Dick Kynaston asked as, with Gold the keeper, wearing rubber boots and oilskins, they tramped up river in the pouring rain. Already the snow was soft and at each step they sank deep in the slush.

"It's a bit loony," said Alec doubtfully. "I don't know whether it will work. I was thinking of using the snow to dam the river."

"The snow," repeated Dick, but old Gold understood at once.

"Slide her down off they slopes," he said quickly. "'Tis a notion, sure. Question is, will her hold back the water?"

"There's not much flood yet," said Alec. "And snow makes a good dam. How long would it take you to put in the charge in the gorge?"

"Blundell and I could do it in an hour."

"Shall we try?" asked Alec.

"'Tis worth trying," Gold said. "How do 'ee reckon to start the snow sliding?"

"Roll some snowballs up at the top and push two or three at once over the edge."

The snow was sticky, and between them they rolled four large balls which stood in a row on the very edge of the steep slope. At a word from Alec they pushed them over one after another as quickly as they could.

At first they rolled slowly, each picking up fresh snow and leaving a dark furrow behind it. As they reached steeper ground they rolled faster; then the biggest split and became two balls, each picking up snow. The others did the same, and soon there were a dozen balls rolling and leaping.

Alec watched anxiously. Snowballs would never dam a river. What was wanted was a snow slide.

It came. With a curious creaking sound the great sheet of wet snow covering the hillside began to move downward. The creaking grew to a roar, and the watchers saw the whole mass, weighing many hundreds of tons, peel off the steep slope and go thundering down.

"A regular avalanche," Dick cried.

Alec's eyes were shining.

"It's worked. See! The dam is quite 20 feet high. You have an hour—more than an hour, Gold. Get to it."

Gold shouted for his helper, Blundell, and the two went off as hard as they could go. They had the dynamite ready fused and capped, and all they had to do was to cut a hole with a steel drill in the ledge, push in the charge, tamp it, light the fuse, and clear out. Alec and Dick stayed to watch the dam and give warning to Gold in case it showed signs of giving way.

"Jolly smart idea of yours, Alec," Dick said warmly. "This dam is solid as rock."

"But the water is piling up behind very fast," Alec answered anxiously. "This rain melts the snow quicker than anything. There'll be a big flood by midday."

Dick's Triumph

THE two stood on the bare slope above the river, watching the pool behind the dam pile up and deepen. It was fascinating to see the little eddies of brown flood-water curve upwards over the grass. The boys were so interested that they never heard a rustling in the great clump of laurel behind them. Before they knew that anyone was near two men had stepped up behind and seized them.

"So it's you, young Renshaw," snapped the man who held Alec.

He was a heavily-built fellow with a queer, lop-sided face. One eyebrow was twice as wide and thick as the other. "I might have knowed it. Always poking your nose into other folks' affairs, but this time you poked it a bit too far. Andrew Chard don't allow no one to spoil his fishing."

"Don't be silly!" said Alec. "This won't spoil your fishing. Do you know you are trespassing on private property?"

Chard gave an ugly laugh.

"There ain't no one knows that but you and this other kid. And you can't do nothing." He turned to his companion. "Batty, you go on down and put a charge in that there dam. I'll tend to these boys."

"You idiot!" cried Alec. "You'll drown Gold and Blundell. They're in the gorge."

"That's their look-out," sneered Chard. "Go on, Batty."

Batty, a big, gaunt fellow, nodded and went. He was carrying a drill, dynamite, and fuse. Alec was nearly frantic. If the snow dam was blown out Gold and Blundell would most surely be swept away and drowned. He racked his brain but could see no way of helping or warning them.

Dick took a hand—or rather a foot. Wrenching round, he kicked Chard on the shin. It hurt abominably, and in his rage and pain Chard let go of the boys and raised his right hand to hit Dick.

He had not a hope. Dick ducked under the flying fist and bolted. Straight down hill he went, Chard lumbering after.

"Stop him, Batty!" Chard shouted; but Batty was laden with the dynamite and drill. Dick sped past him like a shot from a gun, gained the dam, and raced across it.

"Tell Gold!" he yelled to Alec; but there was no need for this advice. Alec was already running downstream as hard as he could pelt.

Chard and Batty reached the dam, and Chard was for following Dick, but Batty stopped him.

"Us can't catch un," he said briefly. "Best get on with the job."

It was good advice. Chard scowled but obeyed. Batty rammed his drill into the mass of packed snow and very quickly had the hole ready for the dynamite, which Chard at once began to pack in.

Alec meanwhile was running as hard as he had ever run in his life. Running through this deep, slushy snow was no joke, and soon his legs were aching and he was panting for breath. He realised that he would have no time to reach the bottom of the gorge. All he could do was to gain the bank above the place where Gold and Blundell were working, and shout to them. Even so it was doubtful if they could get at the lower end of the gorge before the flood caught them.

He could hardly breathe by the time he reached the top of the cliff above the rock dam, and his voice was like a frog's croak as he cried his warning. The two men, pounding away with drill and sledge, did not hear him. He had to throw a stone down to make them look up.

"Chard—he's blasting the snow dam," Alec yelled. "Run for your lives!"

They turned and ran, and at that very moment Alec heard the heavy thud of exploding dynamite.

Despair seized him. The water would come down in a solid wall and Gold and Blundell must be caught long before they could reach safety.

The boom was followed by a second, only this was a longer sound. Two cartridges! If Chard had used two the whole dam would go out in a moment.

Alec stood looking down in a terrible fright. The whole business was his idea, and if Gold and Blundell were drowned he felt that he would be responsible. Each instant he expected to see a wall of water come sweeping down the gorge.

Yes, here it was; but this was no flood. Only a foot or so!

Alec stared and stared. He could not believe his eyes. Chard had burst the dam but the water wasn't coming. What did it mean? He saw Gold and Blundell reach the lower end of the gorge and scramble to safety, then he himself ran back upstream.

He reached the head of the gorge and stopped. There was the snow dam apparently untouched, and on it was Mr Barham in the act of pulling out of the water a man who looked half drowned. It was Chard! Dick was on the bank, standing over Batty, who looked even worse.

Alec ran on. He reached Dick.

"What happened?" he demanded, more excited than Dick had ever seen him.

Dick grinned.

"See for yourself," he answered, pointing to the shivering Chard and Batty.

"I asked what happened. Tell me at once or I'll put you in the river."

Dick burst into a delighted chuckle.

"I'd like to see you try, Alec, this is the one time that Dick got ahead of Bright Alec. Look at that opposite bank."

Alec looked, and saw that it too was bare of snow. In a flash he understood.

"You started another slide. My word, that was smart of you, Dick. And then Mr Barham turned up and took a hand."

"You've got it. Now go and tell Gold to finish the job."

Alec was off at once. Before the second dam gave the job was done and the river was free for the spring salmon run.

As for Chard, he had had such a scare that he was ready to promise anything. And Alec, so far from being jealous, never tired of singing praises of Dick.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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