Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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First published in 1925

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-09-29

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IN all England there is no lonelier place than Marindin Marsh, and on this particular evening of late autumn the dull sky and the stillness of the air gave it an eerie loneliness difficult to describe.

The only sounds that broke the utter quiet were the faint, distant call of sea-birds, and the squelching, sucking sound of a pole being thrust into the mud and then withdrawn. This last sound came from a small, flat-bottomed punt, which a boy was working up a deep channel in the marsh. The water was low, and the channel too narrow for pulling, so Dick Chidley was obliged to use his pole.

A big, strapping, broad-shouldered youngster was Dick, and you could see the muscles ripple in his bare arms as he thrust forward with all his might.

Chill as the air was, perspiration streamed down his face, and it was plain that he was in a great hurry.

This was the fact. He had been out fishing, and was on his way home to his mother's cottage with a nice string of whiting. But he had stayed out longer than he had intended, and now the tide was running out so fast that it was just a chance whether he could make the landing at the head of the creek.

If he failed he would have to leave his boat and take to his mud pattens; and, well as he knew the marsh, Dick had no liking for such a venture, especially with darkness falling.

On he went, driving with all his strength. On either side were tall banks of smooth, grey mud, so that he could see nothing of the surface of the marsh. He came to a place where the creek forked. The right hand branch was the deepest, but the longest. The left would save him nearly a mile.

Even so he hesitated. He was thinking that this led him past the old hulk, and he remembered the ugly stories he had heard of this ancient craft which had lain for so many years forsaken on the mud.

It was said that a man had once starved to death there in a winter storm, and that his ghost haunted the rotting hulk. Dick remembered that, only a week or two ago, he had heard old Ensor the fisherman say that he had seen a strange light on the hulk at night.

But his hesitation did not last long.

"Ghosts don't bite," laughed Dick, and set to working up the channel.

He had not gone far before he found the water failing him. Though the punt drew only a few inches her flat bottom was scraping on the mud. He shoved for all he was worth, and got into somewhat deeper water.

But this did not last long. Soon he was on the mud in real earnest, and could go no farther. He must either wait where he was for the flood, or strap on his pattens and try his luck across the marsh.

If he waited for the tide, he would not reach home till three in the morning, and, meantime, his mother would be nearly out of her mind, so, though he knew the risks of crossing the mud, he determined to try it.

First, he strapped on the broad-soled pattens, then, taking the setting pole, got out of the punt. Carrying the rope to the bank, he made it fast, and, with his string of fish slung over his shoulder, set to climb the bank.

It was an ugly job, and by the time he had finished it the light was failing fast, and in the heavy gloom the great stretch of mud had a most forbidding appearance. Away ahead he saw the black outline of the old hulk dark against the lowering sky, and guiding himself by this he started cautiously for the distant sea wall.

Soon it was quite dark, and at every step he had to test the ground before him with his pole. Though most of the surface was firm, every here and there were slime pits which would swallow a man like a quicksand.

He was level with the hulk, and about two hundred yards to the left of it, when he struck bad ground, and was forced to edge away to his right. At last he was no more than fifty paces from the hulk, and still soft ground lay before him.

A faint light was reflected from the surface of the shining mud; Dick started round, and his heart dropped a beat as he saw a thin blue glow appear above the bulwarks of the hulk. Then a head rose, and he saw that it was a man lighting a pipe with a sulphur match.

The match went out. Dick stood perfectly still, but the man had seen him.

"Hi, you there!" came a harsh voice. "What are you a-doing of?"

"Trying to get home," replied Dick ;"but the mud's so soft I can't cross it."

There was a pause, then the voice again.

"Come along this way. Come aboard, and I'll show you."

Dick wondered a good deal as he made his way to the hulk. What on earth was this fellow doing out in the middle of the great marsh? The only possible explanation was that he was a wild-fowler, waiting for the tide to drive the fowl in from the flats by the sea.

"Come aboard," invited the man; and though his voice was harsh, the tone seemed meant to be polite.

Dick had to unstrap his pattens before he could climb over the low side. The deck was not as rotten as he had expected, but the man was a great, hulking, loosely-built fellow in sea-boots and a jersey.

Dick was hardly aboard before the other caught him by the arm, and whirled him sharply across the deck towards the open hatchway. The attack was so sudden and unexpected that Dick was almost at the edge of the hatchway before he had realized what was happening, and that the other quite clearly meant to force him down below and make a prisoner of him.

But Dick was quick and strong, and the moment he saw his danger he swung sharply to one side.

Dick, as it happened, wore nailed boots. The nails held on the slimy deck. But the man's sea-boots, with their rubber soles, slipped. Dick saw him falling, and wrenched himself free.

Next instant his assailant had skidded over the edge of the hatchway, to fall with an echoing crash into the depths of the hold below.


Next instant his assailant had skidded over the edge of the hatchway.

Quick as a flash, Dick stooped, grasped the hatch, flung it into place, and kicked the heavy, rusty iron bolt into its hasp.

"Let me out," came a bellow from below. "Let me out, I say!"

Dick did not wait to hear any more. With his pattens over his arm, he made a flying leap off the deck on to the marsh, and, hitting by good luck fairly firm ground, made off into the darkness.

The noise that came from the hulk was like the beating of a great drum. The man was trying to force his way out. Dick wasn't afraid of the hatch, but for all he knew there might be some other way of escape. He pushed on hard.

Suddenly he was in up to his knees, and it was all he could do to struggle back to safety. At all risks he must get his pattens on again.

As he stooped to do so he caught a sound approaching. It was the clop-clop of a pair of pattens, and his heart sank to his boots as he realized that either his enemy had got loose or a companion was in pursuit.

Next moment a stream of white light cut the gloom, and the glare of an electric torch falling across his face almost blinded him.

"Here's one of them," came a curt voice; and, before Dick could do anything to help himself, a pair of powerful hands seized him.

"Why, it's a boy!" came a second voice; and, looking up, Dick found himself face to face with a keen-eyed, clean-shaven man, who certainly bore no resemblance whatever to his late captor.

And the second man, though he wore sea-boots and mud-pattens, was the policeman from Hailsham.

"Why, it's young Chidley!" said the latter, in great astonishment.

"You know him?" snapped the other.

"Yes, sir. He lives over at Hailsham with his mother."

The keen-eyed man looked hard at Dick.

"What were you doing on that hulk?" he demanded.

Dick explained.

"What!" said the other. "You penned that big fellow down in the hold?"

"Yes, sir, and shoved the bolt home."

"Good for you, my boy!"

He turned to the policeman.

"It's Stenning himself," he said. "Not a doubt about it. This is luck for us all. Come along. We can catch him now without trouble."

They hurried off, to return in less than five minutes with the big man. The prisoner was safely handcuffed, and, after one glance at his face in the light of the torch, Dick felt very thankful that he was no longer free. He said as much to Baynes, the policeman.

Baynes nodded.

"You may well say that, Dick," he answered, in a low voice. "He's one of the most dangerous criminals in England. He escaped ten days ago from Colchester Gaol, and it was Detective-Inspector Gaunt here who tracked him to the hulk. We were wondering however we could tackle him when you did the job for us.

"And I'll tell you something else, Dick!" he went on, sinking his voice still lower. "There's a reward out for his arrest. I wouldn't wonder if you'd get a share of it."

He did, too, for about a week later the postman left a registered letter for Dick—a letter which, when opened, proved to contain four five-pound notes.


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.