Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 23 August 1919

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-08-07

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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Like a panic-mad horse, she cleared the rim
of the cliff and shot forward into the void.

A Mystery

BOB GREENHOW lay flat on his face on the edge of the cliff and peered downwards into the depths of empty space which lay between his eyes and the wrinkled sea that crawled so far below.

At last he wriggled slowly and cautiously back, and when safe from slipping rose to his feet.

"I can see the nest all right, Alec," he said, addressing a second boy who had been standing just behind him. I got a good sight of it. It's on a ledge about half-way down. But, honestly, I don't think we can reach it."

Alec Iredale, who was a quietly competent-looking youngster of about fifteen, raised his eyebrows slightly.

"Why not. Bob? It's only a matter of plenty of rope and a good stout crowbar with a double-purchase pulley."

"It's more than that," replied Bob. "We've got to have a man to help us. It would take two to handle the rope with either of our weights on it."

"H'm, I hadn't thought of that," said Alec in an annoyed tone. You're right all the same, Bob. But can't we get a man?"

"Yes, if we pay him. But how are we going to do that? It'll cost half a crown just for the hire of a rope, and we'd have to give a man at least five bob to come all the way up here. We simply haven't got the cash to do it."

Alec looked much disappointed.

"Then I suppose we shall have to give it up," he said; "but I did want a chough's egg badly. There's not a chap at the school who has got one. They're getting very rare indeed. Still, as we can't afford it, we must chuck it for the present. We'll wait a day or two and something may turn up."

"It's the only thing to do, Alec," agreed Bob. "But I'll tell you what we might do—take the boat and have a look at it from below. There's just the chance we might find a way up."

"A way up," repeated Alec eagerly. "Yes, let's try that. Can we go this afternoon?"

Bob looked at his watch.

"Just time, I think," he said. "But we must hurry or we'll be late for supper."

The two started off at a sharp pace. It was a good two miles back from Pendren Head to the little village of Poltman, where they were staying.

Their way led across some rough land with heavy clumps of gorse; then they reached the old coast road, which was now a mere track, grass grown and deserted since a new and better road had been made farther inland.

It was just after they got into the old road that Alec pulled up short.

"Who the mischief was that, Bob?" he asked in a quick whisper.

"I didn't see anybody," answered Bob in surprise.

"I did! The head of a man, just over that gorse bush—a red-haired, foxy-looking chap."

"Oh, it's one of those poaching Trengellys, I expect," replied Bob with a laugh. "They're always mooching around after rabbits."

"H'm, he didn't look like a poacher to me," said Alec doubtfully. "Still, I suppose it doesn't matter. Let's shift on and get the boat."

It was about an hour and a half before they had made the round by road and sea and were once more back at the Head. Only this time they were under, not on top of, the cliff.

It was a perfect evening, and although there is always a ground swell on those Cornish cliffs, yet they were able to tie up safely and land.

"Now where's the nest?" asked Bob.

Alec did not answer. He was staring upwards in a curiously intent fashion.

"What's up?" demanded Bob rather impatiently.

"That man. That red-haired fellow. The same I saw before. He was looking down over the edge of the cliff."

"Are you sure?"

"Dead sure! Bob, I believe the beggar is a collector and is after our chough."

"Well, he can't get down without help—that's a sure thing," said Bob. "And another thing that's sure," he added ruefully, "is that we can't get up. Even a monkey couldn't climb a rock face like that."

Alec shook his head.

"I'm afraid you're right again, old chap. No, it's a rope from above or nothing. We may just as well get back to Poltman.

The Strangers

ALEC TREDALE'S father was a mining engineer, but none too well off. At present he was employed in surveying one of the old Cornish tin mines in a search for radium ore. He was an expert on this rare element.

Alec was at St. Dunstan's School, near Penwith, and had gone to spend his Easter holidays with his friend Bob Greenbow, whose father was the doctor at Poltman. The boys were both keen collectors of eggs, and they had long been trying to get a specimen of the egg of the chough, a red-legged, red-beaked bird belonging to the crow family, which is now becoming very rare and is seen nowhere but on the Cornish cliffs.

That night Alec lay awake a long time, thinking partly of the chough's nest and partly of the red-haired man. The man bothered him. In spite of what Bob had said, Alec was firmly convinced that he was a rival collector, and the idea of his getting at the nest first and perhaps taking all the eggs made him rabid.

Then it occurred that possibly the stranger would be glad to co-operate or go into partnership. If he—the stranger—would provide the rope and his own strength to haul on it, Alec himself would go down, and they would have an egg a-piece out of the nest for their pains. Before he went to sleep Alec had made up his mind to go up to the Head again next day, see if he could find the red-haired stranger, and if he could, make the offer.

In the morning, over the grilled pilchards which they had for breakfast, Alec told Bob what he meant to do and asked him if he would care to come too.

"I'd come like a shot," said Bob, "but I can't do it. Dad's asked me to take a friend of his, Mr. Champernowne, out in the bay to fish for bass."

Alec nodded.

"Never mind," he said. "If you don't want me, I'll go up to the Head alone."

"I can get along all right," replied Bob. "But see here, Alec, don't you count on that red-haired chap. It's my firm belief he's only a poacher."

Alec laughed. "Perhaps you're right. Still I'm going to have a look." He got up from the table as he spoke. "So long, Bob," he said.

Bob jumped up and followed him.

"Alec," he said, "don't go playing any fool tricks. I mean, you won't go climbing about on those rocks on your own?"

Alec laughed again. "Not me, old son. I haven't any ambition to break my neck. Don't you worry. I'll be careful."

He put on his cap and walked off. Again it was a glorious day, and once he was out of the village and up on the cliffs, he stopped to look out over the wide bay with the sun sparkling on the rich blue of the sea, and the trail of steamer smoke from the big liners and tramps lying along the skyline to the southward.

There was a delicious breeze up on the Head, and here on the old road Alec stopped again to look round for the red-haired man.

He saw nobody, and was beginning to think that, after all, Bob had probably been right and that the red-haired man had been a poacher, when all of a sudden he heard a motor-car approaching.

At first he thought the car was on the main road which, as has been explained, ran some way inland, but presently he realised that it was coming up the old track.

Sure enough, a minute later, it came into sight, bumping along the rutty road. It was a moderate-sized car with two men in it, and one, Alec saw at once, was the red-haired stranger.

The red-haired man caught sight of Alec, and his face changed. He pulled up, and Alec saw him speak to his companion. The latter was a short, dark-complexioned, black-haired man, with a stiff black beard. Then the red-haired man got out and came towards Alec.

"Good morning," he said, and he seemed to mean to be friendly. All the same, Alec did not quite like his looks. His nose was too sharp, his lips were very thin, and his eyes were of a greenish-grey colour.

"You are up here early," he added.

Now Alec was not sure whether the stranger actually knew of the nest or not, and he certainly did not mean to give away his own knowledge.

"Yes, it's jolly up here, isn't it?" he answered politely. "I say, didn't I see you up here yesterday?"

The red-haired man started slightly and gave Alec a quick, sharp stare. Then he smiled.

"Oh, so you saw me?" he said. "You've got sharp eyes, my boy. By the by, aren't you the son of Mr. Iredale of the Gurneas Mine?"

"Yes," replied Alec. "Do you know my father?"

"Yes, I know him well. My name is Judd, and this is my friend, Mr. Graul."

Mr. Graul, who had got out of the car and come up, shook hands with Alec. To say truth, Alec did not like the looks of him any better than he did the face of Mr. Judd. Still, if Judd knew his father, he thought it must be all right. All the same, he was wondering more than ever what had brought these men up on the Head at such an early hour, and what they could possibly be doing with a car. Perhaps they had brought up ropes and tackle in it. He meant to try and find out.

"Is your father staying down here?" asked Judd.

"No, he's still at the mine," replied Alec.

"Is he coming down soon?"

"He may," allowed Alec, who was getting more and more puzzled.

"Suppose he's taught you a bit about mining, eh?" suggested Graul.

"Oh, a little," Alec answered, "but I'm keener on natural history than geology."

"Ah, you study plants and animals and that sort of thing?" questioned Judd.

"Yes, animals—and birds," replied Alec, who was getting more and more certain that these men were after the chough's nest.

"Was it birds you were looking at over the cliff yesterday?" asked Judd with pretended carelessness. But there was a look in his eyes which startled Alec.

"What do you want to know for?" he demanded suddenly.

Judd seemed startled. As for Graul, he scowled.

Judd gave Graul a warning glance that was not lost upon Alec.

"See here," he said. "We're at cross purposes. I reckon I'd best explain things to Mr. Iredale, eh, Graul?"

"You can do as you like," said Graul sulkily.

A Mad Leap

JUDD turned to Alec.

"I dare say you're a bit puzzled seeing us up here with a car," he said. "If I tell you the reason, have I your promise to tell nobody?"

"Certainly," replied Alec, "so long as you're not breaking the law."

"Oh, no, we're not doing anything illegal. The fact is we're running a new film play. It's called 'The Smuggler's Revenge,' and we've picked this spot for the big scene."

Alec stared—then laughed.

"I see," he said. "Yes, of course. The very place for it."

"Yes, and we want to keep it quiet. If people get to know there's always a crowd, and that spoils the whole show."

"Of course it would. Then I'd best clear out, too."

"No, don't do that. If you've nothing else to do, we'd be glad of your help."

"I! I can't act," exclaimed Alec in amazement.

"Can you drive a car?" inquired Judd.

"Yes, I've driven a bit," allowed Alec.

"Then if you can do that, it's all that's wanted. It's a boy we need for this particular stunt, and as ill-luck has it, the young chap who was going to help is down with flu. If you care to take his place I'll pay you a pound, and the whole thing won't take more than a few minutes."

Alec could have shouted with joy. A pound was a small fortune to him, and above all it was enough to do the chough-climbing business twice over.

"I'll do anything you like for a pound," he answered.

"Then listen to me. This is an up-to-date story. The smuggler runs saccharine from the continent in an aeroplane. He lands it here on this lonely cliff top, and a car is waiting to take it away. He is betrayed and followed, but his son—that's you—manages to dodge the excise men. He unloads the plane, puts the stuff in the car and drives away across the moor."

"Where does he go?" asked Alec.

"That doesn't matter. All you've got to do is to drive the car along the old track here as hard as you can split, until you're round the corner and out of sight below the crest of the hill. I do the chasing; Mr. Graul here handles the camera."

"What, only one chasing?" asked Alec.

"Yes. One's enough just for this scene. We can fake the rest up at the studio."

"All right," said Alec. "I can do that much easily enough."

"Then we'll just have a rehearsal first," said Judd. "I want to see what pace you can get up. It's not much of a car, but naturally we didn't bring anything good to run over ground like this."

He led the way to the car. Graul did not move. There was a very odd expression on his sallow face as he stood watching.

Alec got in, and Judd explained the controls. The car, as Judd had said, was a rubbly old thing, but Alec had no difficulty in getting the hang of her.

"I'll take her to the right place for the start," said Judd, and did so.

"Now," he said, "that's all right. What you have to do is to run her down the track full clip, and swing her well round the curve on the slope beyond. The faster she goes the better, so far as the pictures are concerned."

"It's a bit steep beyond, isn't it?" said Alec.

"Yes; but you can cut out the engine and put on the brakes before you come to the steep part. Don't be afraid of damaging her. She'll stand a lot. Now are you ready?" he asked.

"I'm ready," said Alec.

"Then let her go!" answered Judd.

Alec was already in the driving seat. He let the clutch in, and the car began to move. He changed quickly up to second, then to top. For an old machine, the car ran well. In a minute she was bumping over the lumpy track at twenty miles an hour.

Alec gave her more gas. The speed rose to nearly thirty. But the bumping was terrific. He could hardly keep his seat.

"Let her out!" he heard Judd bellow. He put his foot hard down, and the old car leaped like a live thing.

The old road swept in a wide curve across the breadth of the headland, then swung sharply to the left towards the slope leading to the lower ground beyond.

Almost before Alec realised it, he was at the top of the hill. He glanced round, saw that he was out of sight of Judd and Graul. Then he cut out the engine and clapped on both brakes.

To his horror, the car did not check. The brakes, it seemed, were not working. He pressed with all his might upon the foot brake, and pulled the side brake back into its last notch. It was not the slightest use. The car went faster than ever. She was tearing down the steep towards the sharp curve, and Alec saw that this curve was far too sharp to round at the headlong speed at which he was travelling.

A Fine Ending

ALEC wrenched the steering wheel round, but it was too late. The front wheels were already on the bank at the right-hand side of the curve.

Then, and not till then, did Alec realise that the road at this point ran within a dozen yards of the edge of the cliff.

He sprang to his feet, intending to jump. He had not time. The car fairly leaped the slope beyond the road, and her forepart left the ground altogether. There was a tremendous shock as her back wheels struck the upper edge of the bank, then with an indescribable thrill of horror Alec felt her plunge forward once more. There was nothing to stop her. Like a panic-mad horse, she cleared the rim of the cliff and shot forward into the void.

There are situations so absolutely ghastly that they go beyond reality. Alec felt as if he were in the grip of some hideous dream. A few moments earlier he had been eagerly looking forward to earning the sovereign which meant reaching the chough's nest. Now he and the car were dropping down the cliff face, past the chough's nest into the sea fully a hundred feet below.

During his last holidays Alec, had been taken by his father to Plymouth, and there had seen one of those trick bicyclists ride off a sloping plank and drop into a small tank about fifty feet below. The feat had made a great impression upon him, and he had asked a lot of questions about it. He had been told that the great thing the performer had to learn was to get clear of his bicycle during the fall.

In a flash this came back through Alec's brain. He was already standing up in the car, and quick as the thought came he acted on it. He made a frantic leap sideways, and next moment struck the water feet foremost with a force that sent him fathoms deep into the dark green depths.

Down, down he went, the cold dark water roaring in his ears. He had not lost consciousness, but he felt that he was going to the very bottom of the Channel. He did not believe he could ever rise again.

Yet, with the instinct of a practised swimmer, he managed to hold his breath, and at long last, just as it seemed that the weight of water above him would crush his head, he began to rise.

And presently, to his intense surprise, his head was above the surface of the calm sea, and he was able to fill his lungs once more with clean, fresh air.

He looked round, and saw a weed-clad rock just above the surface, and almost within reach. With a last desperate effort he reached it, and clung, panting, shaken, and only half conscious, to the long thick trails of seaweed.

"Alec, Alec! Is that you? What's happened?"

It was Bob's frightened voice, and Alec was vaguely conscious of the splash of oars. He tried to answer, but his voice was only a husky whisper.

Next minute a pair of strong arms seized him and lifted him into the boat.

"He's alive, thank goodness!" he heard a voice say gravely. Then everything faded away, and the next thing Alec was aware of was that he lay in his own bed in the Greenhows' house, aching in every limb, yet with a happy sense of peace and security.

He was alone, but a light was burning in the room.

"Bob!" he called.

Instantly the door opened, but it was not Bob. It was Dr. Greenhow who came in.

"My dear lad, how are you?" he asked, bending over Alec.

"A bit sore; otherwise all right," declared Alec with a faint smile.

"Are you up to telling me what happened?"

"Of course I am," Alec answered, and told his story.

Dr. Greenhow's usually pleasant face went very grim as he listened?

"The blackguards!" he said when Alec had finished. "A more dastardly attempt at murder I never heard of. And all planned beforehand, without a doubt."

Alec stared.

"Murder?" he exclaimed.

"Just so. All, of course you know nothing about it. Your father told me to keep the matter entirely to myself. Listen, Alec. When your father was here on his way to Gurneas, a month ago, he and I walked up Pendren Head one day. You know what an eye your father has for mineral. Well, in the face of the cliff he saw a band of colour which he feels certain is tin ore. He was so sure that he told me he would come back as soon as ever he had finished at Gurneas and explore the cliff thoroughly."

"And these men, Judd and Graul, must have been watching," cut in Alec.

"No; I don't think so," said the doctor. "More likely they came on the scene later and spotted the tin. Then they saw you exploring the cliff face. They recognised you as your father's son, made up their minds that you were on the track, and deliberately made up their minds to wipe you out."

Alec shivered slightly. "They came jolly near it," he said. "I say, do they know they made a mess of it?"

"I can't tell about that. Anyhow, they've made themselves scarce for the present.

"I've wired your father, Alec," continued the doctor. "He'll be here to-morrow. And it isn't going to take him long to get to work up there."

"But supposing Judd and Co. have bought the land already?" suggested Alec.

"If they had," replied the doctor shrewdly, "why should they have tried to finish you?

"Besides," he added with a smile, "as a mutter of fact, your father and I have already secured an option to purchase."

Alec laughed outright.

"What a sell for them!" he chuckled.

"It'll be something worse than a sell for them if we lay our hands on them," said Dr.. Greenhow. "Now get to sleep, Alec. If I am not much mistaken our hard-up days are nearly done, and next year you and Bob won't have to earn the shillings you need for ropes and climbing apparatus.

"That'll be topping," replied Alec sleepily, and, turning over, he went happily to sleep.

That all happened eight years ago. To-day the Pendren Head Mine is one of the best-paying properties in Cornwall. Alec, back safely after four years of fighting, is now in charge of the works. Often as he goes down the cable way over the cliff face he thinks of that day when he, in the car, shot downwards into the sea.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.