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

KEPT BACK

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THE FRUSTRATING OF CERTAIN RASCALS

Ex Libris

First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 15 September 1917

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-11-06

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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Illustration

The man's face was convulsed with rage. He swung up the knotted stick.


CHAPTER 1. — DONALD SELWYN GROWS SUSPICIOUS

"IT'S blowing a bit, Don," said Lieutenant Archibald Selwyn, as he rose from his chair by the wardroom stove. "Don't you think you'd better doss here to-night, and go ashore in the morning?"

Donald Selwyn, a tall, fair-haired youngster of about fifteen, looked up at his elder brother. "Don't I jolly well wish I could, Archie?" he said longingly. "But it's not to be done. Old Rabbits would be in a frightful wax. I gave him my word I'd be back by eleven. Unless, of course, you say you can't send a boat ashore?" he added hopefully.

"Oh, it's not so bad as that," replied the other with a smile. "And I say"—glancing at his wrist watch—"are you aware it's past ten? It'll take you all your time to reach the school by eleven. And there'll be a bit of a bobble off the Point, too. The wind's over the tide."

"Oh, that's all right," said Donald readily. "We needn't go round the Point at all. Your chaps can shove me ashore in Longstone Cove. There's an easy way up the cliff, and from there it's not much more than a mile to Wimshurst."

"Cross country, you mean?"

"Yes, but I know every bit of it, and it isn't dark. There's a good moon behind the clouds."

"All right, then," responded his brother. "I'll tell Warman to drop you in the Cove. Sentry!"

The sentry entered and Selwyn told him to pass the word for Warman. The latter, who was Selwyn's marine servant, appeared almost at once, and the Lieutenant ordered him to get the dinghy over, and for him and Bellstaff to pull Mr. Selwyn junior to the shore.

"Wish you could have stayed," he said to his brother, as he accompanied him on deck. "It's a poor game for you having to spend your holiday at school."

"Oh, it isn't so bad," Donald replied pluckily. "Rabbits is really very decent, and I get lots of grub. Suppose I shan't see you again?" he added rather sadly.

"You will, if I'm here, old son. But, of course, we may be shifted any minute. You never can tell in war time. Anyhow, I'll let you know. I'll be sending Warman ashore to-morrow and he'll bring you word from me. So long."

Donald dropped lightly from the deck of the destroyer into the dinghy which bobbed alongside, and took the tiller. His brother was right. There was quite a breeze and the spray splashed over the small craft as she drove shorewards. But under the strong and skilful arms of Warman and Bellstaff she reached the beach in safety.

Donald scrambled into the bows and watching his chance took a flying leap ashore. He shouted good night to the men, then turned and made straight for the cliff.

This was really only a steep, sandy bluff and he was soon on top. He found himself on a stretch of rough turf full of rabbit holes, and backed by a plantation of wind-bent firs. Clouds were flying across the moon, making sharp changes between light and darkness, changes which might have puzzled anyone not familiar with the lie of the land.

But Don knew every yard of the rough ground and tramped away across it, whistling cheerily as he went.

A tall figure stepped out from behind a gorse bush and barred his way. A big, rough-looking man in a cap, carrying a heavy cudgel.

"'Oo are you?" he demanded gruffly. "What are you doing 'ere?"

"Me!" retorted Don. "What do you mean? This is common land. I've got as much right here as you."

"Not much you ain't," replied the other in a threatening tone. "This here is Mr. Warner's land and you're trespassing. 'Ow do I know you ain't poaching?"

"Warner! Do you mean that fellow who used to be called Wagner?"

"I dunno what 'is name used to be. Anyways, it's Warner now, and this is 'is land and no one ain't allowed on it no more."

"I don't believe it for a minute," returned Don curtly. "Anyhow, I'm not doing any harm, and as for poaching, do you think I should be fool enough to be whistling if I was looking for rabbits?"

"Wot brings you here then at this time o' night?" demanded the big fellow suspiciously.

"I'm walking home to Wimshurst, if you want to know. And if you want any further information about me you'd better apply to Mr. Roberts."

Don's boldness seemed to impress the fellow. "Orl right, then," he growled. "You go straight 'ome, and don't let me catch you 'ere again or there'll be trouble. I'm Mr. Warner's keeper, and I'm paid to keep trespassers off of this warren, so you mind."

"Very good," replied Don, and continued on his way briskly.

He did not look back, yet was conscious that the fellow followed him for some little distance. The whole business puzzled him, and being a sharp lad for his years it also aroused his suspicions. The land was common, he was sure of that. And as for Warner, who was lord of the manor, he was a naturalised German. There was something fishy about it all and Don suddenly made up his mind to investigate.

Reaching the belt of firs, he slipped in among the thickest of them and hid. A few moments later the keeper passed at a little distance and vanished. Don chuckled softly and crept back on his tracks, then turned to the right and went along through the trees in an easterly direction.

In about five minutes he reached the end of the fir plantation and looked out on a stretch of wind-swept downs. Just then the clouds rolled away and brilliant moonlight flooded the scene, revealing to Don's astonished eyes a large motor-car standing a couple of hundred yards away.

The car was in a slight hollow with a rise of ground hiding it from the sea, and thick gorse protecting it from view on the landward side. There were two men in it, or rather one was in and the other standing by the tonneau, apparently packing something away inside the car. They were too far off and the light was too bad to identify them.

Don watched breathlessly. The man finished his packing and got in again. Then the car, which was evidently provided with a self-starter, was backed a little, turned, and went jolting slowly off across the rough ground in the direction which Don knew was that of Lonestone Manor House.

"Rum! Very rum!" muttered Don. "Now, I'd like to know what the mischief those beauties were playing at. They couldn't be signalling, for I saw no lights. Besides, if they had, Archie would have spotted 'em double quick. But I'll vow they were up to no good, and I'll jolly well get word to Archie to-morrow."

Suddenly it occurred to him that he had wasted an awful lot of time, and that he would probably be late back. He looked at his watch. It was ten minutes to eleven.

"My hat, but there'll be trouble!" he said ruefully, and started off at a brisk run for Wimshurst.

He was quite right. There was trouble. And the worst of it was that Mr. Roberts who, even in holiday time, could not quite forget that he was a schoolmaster, ordered him as a punishment to stay in the next morning and work at his holiday task.

Don was frantic. He was crazy to send a wire or some sort of message to his brother. He might, of course, have told his housemaster, but the latter was not a very sympathetic person, and Don was secretly afraid of being jeered at. So he resolved to wait until the afternoon, then go down to the village and send a boat off.

The moment lunch was over he was away. But luck was against him. The sea was still rough, and he could not find anyone who would undertake the long row round the Point to where the Whimbrel still lay. Don was getting desperate enough to go to the local police when, to his great delight, he saw Warman, smart in his dark blue marine uniform, marching up the street.

He gave him a shout, and Warman turned.

"I was just going up to the school to leave a note for you from the Commander, sir."

He handed it over, and Donald ripped it open.

"My dear Don,—Orders are we sail to-morrow morning. Don't know where and mustn't tell you if I did. Poor luck, but I'll write first chance and tell you if we're coming down this way again. Be good.

"Yours ever, Archie."

"Off to-morrow, he says, Warman. I'm awfully sorry. But, see here, Warman, I've got a message I want to send to my brother. When are you going back?"

"Not yet, sir. I've got a list o' commissions nigh a yard long."

"How long will they take?"

"An hour, I dessay, sir."

"Well, I'll write a note, and if I don't see you I'll leave it at Parton's, the pastry-cook's. You'll be sure to take it, won't you? It's jolly important."

"Right you are, sir. I won't forget it."

Parton was an ally of Don, and while Don indulged in a small pastry and a cream bun, he got him pen and paper, and Don wrote a full description of his adventure of the previous night. He had only just finished it when Warman came in.

"Got through quicker'n I thought, sir. Is this the letter?"

"Yes, and you be careful of it, Warman," whispered Don. "Between you and me, I ran into some hanky-panky business up on the cliffs last night—two chaps with a motor-car up on the common—and I've a strong notion they're spies. I want the Commander to send a boat ashore to-night and investigate. See?"

Warman's eyes brightened.

"I hope he sends me, sir," he said eagerly.

"I hope he does. Tell him I'm going to slip out and have a squint round. It's not far from where you landed me last night."

"All right, sir," said Warman; "but you keep your eyes open, Mr. Donald. Them there spies don't stick at much if they think there's anyone on to their dirty tricks."

Warman's warning came back to Donald a few minutes later when he noticed a heavy-shouldered man looking into a shop window on the other side of the street, and spotted him for the keeper who had tackled him on the previous evening. He watched the fellow a moment or two, but the man did not seem to see him, so Donald continued on his way back to the school.


CHAPTER 2. — THE LAST GASP

DONALD knew well enough that there was not the smallest chance of Mr. Roberts, giving him leave to go out after dark. But there was no hurry. He went off to bed at nine, turned in and deliberately waited for an hour, when he heard the master go up to his own rooms. Then he himself got out, dressed, and, carrying his boots, went softly down to the library. This had french windows opening on the lawn, and as Donald had already taken the precaution of greasing the hinges and bolts, he was able to slip out without making a particle of noise.

The wind had fallen, the moon was only two days from full, and though there were a few clouds about, it was nearly as light as day. Donald slipped through the shrubbery, climbed a fence and made off briskly across country.

Nearing the common he checked a bit. It was so much lighter than the previous night that it was quite necessary to go quietly. If there were spies about he had no idea of letting them spot him first.

So he did a regular Red Indian stalk across the open ground, dodging from one gorse bush to another in the most approved style, and flattened himself when he reached the trees, that no one could possibly have seen him.

He gained the end of the wood and looked out. Not a sign of any living being, and no sound but the plash of the waves on the beach below the bluff.

Don was conscious of a pang of real disappointment. He had positively counted on the car being about again. Had he warned his brother and brought him ashore on a wild goose chase? Archie would not be pleased if this was the case.

He turned and went westwards again, keeping well under the trees, and flitting from one trunk to another like a shadow.

Still nothing. Don was awfully sick. He came to a place where there was only a strip of rough ground, about three, hundred yards wide between the coppice and the cliff, and decided to cross to the cliff edge and see if the boat was coming in.

He was quite near the cliff when a sound made him drop. It was the unmistakable hum of a motor-car engine. He crouched in some tall grass, listening hard.

The sound came nearer, and peering out of his refuge he saw the car with the two men in it, creeping along very slowly under the edge of the coppice.

It stopped at last—stopped no more than a couple of hundred yards from where he stood—and the men got out. They unpacked something and began jointing lengths of piping together, like men putting up a fishing rod. Then they raised the poles, which were about ten feet high, and Don's heart beat furiously as it dawned upon him that these were for wireless work. He could actually see the wire that was stretched between them. It glistened in the moonlight.

They went on working briskly. Don got frightfully excited. They were getting and probably sending messages. He glanced at his watch. It was nearly eleven. What on earth had become of Archie and his men? They ought to have been ashore long ago.

Minutes went by, and still the spies were busy. Don grew almost desperate. He knew that he could do nothing by himself, and yet the temptation to try was very strong. At last he left his refuge and began creeping nearer to the car.

He was so keen on the two men that he had no eyes for anything else, and he got the shock of, his life when a shadow fell across him and a deep, hoarse voice gave a startled cry.

"The brat! It's the same one again! By the living Jingo! I'll give you something to remember me by this time!"

A huge paw shot out, and catching Don by the collar swung him off his feet.

"Now, what ye got to say for yourself?" snarled the so-called keeper in a fierce whisper.

The man's eyes glared down on him, the big, ugly face was working with fury, and Don saw that his captor grasped in his right hand an enormous cudgel.

Don was scared. What youngster in his place would not have been? But he kept his head.

"I should think I ought to ask you that," he retorted. "A fine lot of good you're doing, looking after rabbits, when there are German spies actually running wireless right under your nose!"

For an instant the fellow seemed staggered. It was clear that he had not thought Don knew so much. But he recovered himself in a moment.

"That's done you in, my lad," he said in a grating voice. "You knows too much, you do!" To Don's horror he raised his great club.

"So you mean to murder me?" cried Don. "But it won't do you any good, you beastly spy. There'll be a boat in from my brother's ship in about two two's."

The fellow laughed jeeringly.

"Ho, will there? You take me for as big a fool as yourself. Suppose you think I didn't see you down in the village to-day, a-giving of that letter to that marine chap? But I did, and your letter's in my pocket this minute."

Don's blood ran cold, but he managed to keep a stiff lip.

"I don't believe it?" he retorted. "Warman wouldn't give it up to a chap like you, I know."

"Give it up!" jeered the other. The brute seemed to take the same joy in torturing his victim as a cat does in playing with a mouse. "He didn't. I took it from him."

"You're a liar!" replied Don flatly.

The man's face was convulsed with rage. He swung up his cudgel over his head.

"That's your last word, my lad," he exclaimed.

If Don had jerked back, trying to break loose from his captor's grip, next moment his skull would have been cracked. Instead he plunged forward, and flung both arms round the big brute's body.

With a yell of fury the fellow brought the club down, but he was too late. The only result was that he nearly dislocated his wrist, and the great knotted stick flew out of his hand.

Don's head was saved, but that was all. It was only a moment's respite, for if one thing was surer than another it was that the big brute could kill the boy with his hands almost as easily as with his club.

Don heard a savage oath and felt a great fist almost as hard and heavy as the club strike him a crushing blow on the left shoulder. It shook him so that his head swayed, but still he would not give up. Wrapping his left leg round the other's right, he flung his weight forward.

The man staggered, and for an instant Don thought he had him down. He would have, but for the unlucky fact that his opponent was standing on higher ground than he.

The only result was a volley of foul abuse, and another blow which caught Don in the middle of the back and shook all the wind and almost all the life out of him. He still clung on, but he felt his grip weakening. He was sick and giddy and gave himself up for lost. Down came the great fist once more and Don let go. He heard a yell of triumph, then this was cut short by a stunning crash.

A blinding flash leaped before his eyes and a blast of air struck him and flung him and his adversary both down upon the rough grass.

As he lay there gasping, unable to move, hardly able to breathe, there was a second terrific explosion, and in its vivid glare some huge dark object like a monstrous bird rushed roaring overhead with incredible speed.

He was too dazed to understand in the least what had happened or what was happening. All he did make out was that the big man was moving. He seemed to be trying to regain his feet.

Don made a frantic effort and rolled away back into a little hollow under a rock. He saw the other on his knees struggling up and glaring round like a wounded wild beast.

"Ah!" he growled deep in his throat, and before Don's horrified eyes he drew a long-bladed knife from a sheath at his belt. The blade glittered in the moonlight and the man's face was like a fiend's in the pale gleam.

Now Don finally gave up all hope. The other gained his feet, and though he reeled like a drunken man, he came forward.

Suddenly from over the edge of the cliff a figure came flying.

"Ah, would ye?" he shouted, and taking a great jump, landed full on the back of the big brute.

The keeper pitched forward and his head struck the rock just above Don with a sound like a butcher's pole-axe meeting a bullock's skull.

"Reckon I warn't too soon," panted the newcomer, as he picked himself up. He stooped down and lifted Don.

"He ain't hurt you, sir, has he?" he asked anxiously.

"N-no, Bellstaff. I'm all light," Don answered feebly.

Then the burly figure of the bluejacket swam before his eyes, he dropped back and lay very quiet and completely insensible.

When he came to someone was dabbing cold sea-water in his face with a rolled-up handkerchief.

"Steady on," he said weakly. "It's all going in my eyes."

"That's all right, Warman," he heard Bellstaff say in a tone of great relief. "He's a-coming round. Give him a drop out o' that there flask."

The strong spirit stung Don's throat, but it sent the blood rushing through his veins again. He opened his eyes.

"Did you get them?" he asked eagerly.

"The chap as was trying to do you in, sir?" replied Bellstaff. "Why, I don't reckon he'll give any more trouble, unless it is to a coroner's jury. His skull's busted like a egg."

"Not him," replied, Don hastily. "The wireless chaps, I mean."

"Them with the car? Oh, the airyplane got them all right. One's gone in and t'other's got his leg broke."

"Hurray!" Don exclaimed feebly. "That's great! But I say, how did the 'plane get here? I don't understand a bit. And how did you fellows come? That beggar who tackled me vowed he had my note to my brother in his pocket. What's it all mean, Warman?"

Warman hesitated a moment.

"So he has, sir, for all I knows," he answered uncomfortably. "Fact is, sir, he doped me. Offered me a drink and I were fool enough to take it. About two minutes after I heeled over and went to sleep, and I reckon he robbed me."

"Then how on earth did you get here in time?"

"Well, you see, sir, Bellstaff here he were ashore too, and he found me and give me cold pig till I woke up. That were about eight o'clock. Then 'e pulled me out to the ship and by that time I were just getting my thinking box working again.

"So I told the commander what you'd said to me, and, knowing as it were getting mighty late, he wirelessed over to Tarnport, asking 'em to send a 'plane along in a 'urry. Then him and me and Bellstaff we came along in the dinghy."

"And got here just in time," said Don with faint grin. "And where's my brother now?"

"Here," camp a voice, and Lieutenant Selwyn's tall figure came striding across. "How are you, old son?"

"Tophole," declared Don, sitting up. "So you got those Boche rotters, Archie?"

"The 'plane did. Dropped a bomb each side, and scared, them so that they drove off full speed, fell in a hole, and busted themselves pretty badly.

"Well, Don," he added, "thanks to you, this has been a jolly good night's work. We've wiped up the worst gang of spies on the coast, and if you don't get something out of it you ought to. Now, I'm going to take you out to the ship and send Bellstaff over to explain your absence to Roberts."

"He'll be in an awful wax," said Don apprehensively.

"Oh no, be won't," replied Archie with a laugh. "Or if he is you won't hear anything about it."

In this Lieutenant Archibald Selwyn proved a true prophet, for after the first shock Mr. Roberts, so far from punishing Don, actually congratulated him.

And when, a few days later, an official-looking envelope arrived from the Admiralty addressed to Donald Selwyn, Esq., Don himself was not more delighted than the housemaster at finding that it contained an autograph letter of congratulation from a very high personage indeed, accompanied by a cheque for 100.


THE END


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.