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

THE KING'S CUP

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Based on a Victorian print

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First published in The Children's Newspaper, 16-23 July 1938

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-11-24

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CHAPTER 1. — BOGGED

BOY DURHAM put his curly head in at the door of his cousin's room.

"Uncle wants to see us," he said. "Now: this minute."

Jack Ballard dropped his book and jumped up.

"What's up?" he asked uncomfortably, but Bob was rattling downstairs. Jack followed without delay: you didn't waste time when Uncle Nicolas Acland wanted you.

As he followed Bob into the study Jack was racking his brain to think what he had done or left undone.

Mr Nicolas Acland stood on the hearthrug in the library. He was tall with a long, lean face, grey eyes, and thick silver hair. A hard man yet a just one, but he did not understand boys. He was a rich bachelor but lived very quietly at Carne Royal. Bob Durham and Jack Ballard were his nephews and of the two Bob, cheeky and careless, was his favourite, while Jack, a year younger, and really worth two of Bob, could never hit it off with his uncle.

"I am going to Plymouth," Mr Acland stated. "Barrett will drive me. I shall not be back until late. I have given Sarah leave to spend the night at her home, so there will be no one in the house except Mrs Setters. You boys can amuse yourselves as you like, but I wish you to be in by seven o'clock and not to go out after that hour. You quite understand?"

"All right, Uncle," said Bob. "We'll sit tight."

"Mind you do," was the warning, and just then the ancient Rolls driven by Barrett, the old butler-chauffeur, came crunching over the gravel of the drive and Mr Acland went out.

Bob watched him drive away. He gave a shout of joy. "Hurray! We'll have a few hours to ourselves. Let's get Mrs Setters to give us dough cakes for tea. Then I'm fishing."

"It's going to rain," Jack told him.

"So much the better. Trout will rise. You coming?"

"Yes, I'll come, but remember we have to be back by seven."

Bob laughed. "Old Nick isn't here to watch the clock. If we're in by dark that's good enough. What does he think is going to happen to his old house?"

"It's the burglars he's thinking of, the men who broke in Brend's place at Taverton last week."

"Burglars! Whoever heard of burglars on Dartmoor—except in the prison," Bob jeered, and went off to the kitchen.

Bob was a favourite with deaf old Mrs Setters, the cook at Carne Royal, and the tea she served was a really fine effort. There were saffron buns, Devonshire cream, and strawberry jam. As soon as they had finished the boys took their rods and went down to the Arrow which ran close below the gardens of the old house.

It was a close, hot afternoon and trout were not rising. Jack, who was fishing downstream while Bob had gone up, saw a fish move in Weir Pool and was casting over it when he heard someone shouting. He scrambled up the steep bank and ran in the direction of the sound.

Just below, the river made a loop and the ground inside the loop was flat and boggy. A pony colt had blundered into the bog, and a small, elderly man who looked like a gipsy was trying his best to get it out. But the poor little beast was deep in the black mire and the man, in trying to help it, had got in himself, up to his waist, and was as helpless as his pony.

Jack knew all about bogs. "Keep still!" he shouted. "Wait till I get a plank. I'll have you out."

He had noticed a loose board on a fence which he had passed a couple of hundred yards back, so, leaving his rod, he ran, wrenched the board off, and was back quickly.

The bog patch was deep but luckily small so Jack was able to push the board to the man. The man pulled it in front of him, got across it, and, acting on Jack's directions, managed to heave himself out of the sticky mess. Then Bob took a length of cord from his creel, tied a stone to one end, flung it across and pulled the old fellow to firm ground.

"You got a head on you," said the man. "And I be proper obliged to 'ee. But I reckon it'll beat 'ee to get that pony out."

"We can do it between us," Jack told him. "But we'll need a lot of boards. There are plenty on that fence and we can use stones to knock them off. Come on."

The old chap came with Jack, and between them they wrenched off a dozen boards and were able to push a couple under the colt's body. But the poor little beast was too tired to help itself and its owner and Jack could not lift it.

"We need a rope," Jack said. "If you wait I'll go to the house and get one."

"Bain't no need to go that far. I got rope to my cart," was the answer, and off the old chap went to a covered cart which stood on the moor a little way off. Jack saw that two other ponies were grazing near by. From the cart he got a coil of stout rope and a broad girth. He fastened the girth round the colt's body, tied the rope to it, then he and Jack together pulled hard, and out came the colt. It was so exhausted it could hardly stand, but when it had rested a little it recovered and the old man took it to the stream, carefully washed off the mud, then led it up to his cart and dried it with an old sack. It was not until he had finished that he spoke to Jack.

"You done me a proper good turn, young master," he said. "Jasper Tuckett be my name and anything as I can do for you, why, you've only to ask. If you'd stay and take supper with me I'd be pleased."

"I'd like to," Jack said, "but I promised my uncle to be back before seven and it's nearly that now."

"Then I'll not keep 'ee, young master," said Jasper. "And you best hurry for it will rain mighty soon."

Jasper was right for, by the time Jack reached the house, it was raining steadily. Bob was not in, and at half-past seven, when Jack had changed and come down for supper, there was still no sign of him. Now that the rain had come the fish would be moving, and the odds were that Bob would not be back till dark. Jack had his supper alone, then went and sat in the hall with a book. It was growing dark and the house was very quiet. Mrs Setters no doubt was in the kitchen, and in this big old house the kitchen was a long way from the hall. There was no sound but the trickle of water in the down pipes.

Presently Jack got up and went to the front door to see if there was any sign of his cousin. He opened it and, as he stepped out into the porch, heard a rustle. Before he could turn a heavy horse rug was flung over his head, powerful arms gripped him. He struggled desperately, but it was no use. The thick folds of the rug not only blinded but suffocated him. He gasped for breath, then all of a sudden went limp.


CHAPTER 2. — THE GAP

WHEN Jack came to himself the rug was no longer over his head and he could breathe again but he could not move.

He was tied to a chair, his feet to the two legs, and a rope round his body and arms fastening him tightly to the back of the chair. He was also gagged with a handkerchief so that he could not make a sound. He was in pitch darkness.

For a while he was so giddy and stupid he could not collect his wits. Then out of the darkness came a deep, heavy thud. It was a muffled explosion and suddenly Jack knew exactly what was happening.

The burglars were blowing open the safe in the library. .

In this safe Mr Acland kept the best of his plate, among it his greatest treasure. This was a lovely old silver cup which had been given to one of his ancestors by King Charles the First. It was known as the King's Cup, and from its age and workmanship was worth many times its weight in gold. As an heirloom it was priceless. It made Jack shiver to think of his uncle's feelings when he knew it had been stolen.

Those next minutes were the worst Jack Ballard had ever known. He listened with straining ears to the low, muttered talk of the men in the next room; he heard them packing up the stolen goods; then came shuffling steps as they went out through the hall into the black night. After that silence, except for the drip of the rain and the ticking of the grandfather clock.

Minutes dragged by, each seeming as long as an hour; he heard the clock strike. One stroke—half-past eight. Was it possible that it was only half an hour since he had been trapped? It seemed a week. "Then came another sound. Footsteps outside. The front door opened.

"Why's it all dark?" came Bob's voice. "Jack, were are you?"

He heard Bob dump his creel on the floor and strike a match. But he could not see the light, for the door of the little study, in which he had been shut, was closed.

"Jack!" came Bob's voice again half angry, half anxious. Jack struggled so furiously that he upset the chair and he and it fell with a crash that shook the floor. Next instant the door burst open and there was Bob with a lighted candle. He stood staring and Jack saw surprise, then terror in his eyes. "What's up? What are you playing at?" Bob demanded.

When at last he realised that Jack was not playing the fool but actually helpless, he hurried forward, laid down the candle and, pulling out a knife, cut his cousin loose and untied the gag. Jack's jaw was so stiff he could hardly speak, but he managed to get out a few words.

"Burglars. They've blown open the safe. Got the King's Cup. Gone!"

Bob went white. He was properly frightened. "Oh, my hat! What will Uncle Nick say?"

"That you ought to have stayed at home," Jack answered curtly. "And that I ought to have kept the door locked. I went out to look for you and they got me."

"Don't tell him that," Bob begged.

Jack's lip curled. "Seems to me it's a bit previous to talk that way. What about getting the stuff back?"

"But how can we? Those fellows had a car. I heard it move off as I came up."

"Did you, by jove! Then they've gone Taverton way. If we only had the telephone we could have them stopped."

"But there isn't any telephone nearer than Taverton, and we haven't a car."

"We've got bikes. Come on. Let's get after them."

"All right," said Bob sulkily. "I'll try if you like but they're miles away by now."

Jack was not listening. He had flung on a cap and was running out. He stopped a moment. "Tell Mrs Setters," he said to Bob, "then come along."

The rain was heavier than ever now. Jack was soaked before he had got his bicycle out of the stable. He hardly noticed. He lighted his lamp, jumped on and pedalled down the drive. The steep road running down to the river was streaming with water. The light of his lamp showed the gutters running like torrents. Jack knew the road and, if he could not catch the car, he could reach Taverton six miles away, tell the police and get the news of the robbery broadcast. The odds were that the thieves were not hurrying. They believed it would be hours before the robbery was known.

As Jack coasted down toward the river he became conscious of a deep, sullen roar. He knew what that meant. The river was in big flood. Probably there had been a cloudburst on the High Moor where the high hills caught the rain clouds off the Atlantic. Jack turned the last bend and went flying down toward the narrow, humped bridge which carried the road across the river. He was almost on the bridge when a light flashed on the far side and a voice shouted loudly.

"Stop! The bridge be down."

Jack braked desperately, the machine skidded, and he tumbled off but luckily without hurting himself. He leaned the bicycle against the wall and walked cautiously forward to find that the central pier had gone and that there was a gap ten feet wide in the centre of the bridge. On the far side of the gap stood the gipsy, Jasper Tuckett, holding a paraffin flare which blazed smokily in the pouring rain.

"By gum, I weren't much more than in time," he shouted.

"I'm glad you were in time," Jack answered. "I shouldn't have stood much show down there." He pointed as he spoke to the seething brown flood that curled in a great wave over the broken pier. "I say, did you see a car?"

"I seed one a while back. Come over the bridge it did just afore the big flood wave broke it. They was surely lucky to get over."

Jack's spirits sank to the depths. The car was gone and the thieves out of reach.

"What be matter?" Jasper asked. "You look sort o' peaked."

Jack came as near the edge as he dared and quickly told Jasper of the burglary at Carne Royal. "And now I can't even get to Taverton to telephone," he ended.

"Bain't no reason why you shouldn't," Jasper answered. "If I gets the rope from my cart us can tie it across the gap and I reckon 'ee got strength to come over."

"Splendid! Get it quickly," Jack cried.

Jasper was off like a shot from a gun. He got the rope, flung one end across to Jack, and Jack made it fast to the rail of the bridge. Then he stopped.

"But what about my bike?" he asked.

"What do a bicycle signify?" Jasper answered. "Bain't I got two good ponies?"


CHAPTER 3. — JASPER TAKES A TOSS

PONIES! Jack had forgotten all about them, but now remembered the two sturdy animals he had seen tethered by Jasper's cart.

A minute later the two sure-footed animals were trotting sharply along the hilly road to Taverton. They had covered about half the distance when they came to a great bend where the road swung to the right around the foot of Mellifer Tor. The clouds were breaking, the moon was up, and the huge bulk of the hill rose like a wall against the silvering sky. Jack pointed to the hill. "I have a brain-wave," he said. "What about riding up the tor and over the top? We save two miles or more. These ponies can climb?"

"Aye, they can climb," Jasper replied. "It be a good notion, I reckon. Lead on, young master."

It was a good notion, but how good neither of them knew until, after a hard scramble, they reached the top. The top was a flat tableland covered with a growth of stunted heather and, now that the moon was well up and the clouds had cleared, there was a wide view on three sides. The Taverton road was visible for two miles or more as it curved round the foot of the hill, while out to the south they could see the lights of Taverton itself in the deep valley where the town lay. Jack's eyes followed the road, and suddenly he started, and caught Jasper's arm.

"Look!" he said, in a hissing whisper. "A car!" He pointed as he spoke to a spot where the road curved around the eastern foot of the tor. A car was standing there. The moonlight was not enough to make out details, but the car seemed to be a small, dark-coloured saloon.

Jasper's eyes narrowed.

"That be them. No doubt about it. They've broke down. We're in luck, young master." He was starting again, but Jack stopped him.

"I don't think they've broken down. See, the headlights show water across the road in front of the car. Probably they're scared of driving through it for fear of getting stalled. Yes, I'm right. There's a man out of the car. He's going to see how deep it is."

Jasper gave a sudden chuckle. "You be right. He've took off his trousers. He'll find her cold, wading this time o' night."

Sure enough, the man was wading into the water splash which filled the hollow. He went cautiously and there was no doubt he did find it cold. But he waded to the middle before he turned and, so far as Jack and Jasper could see, the water did not come above his knees.

"Looks like they be able to get through," Jasper said in a disappointed tone.

"Yes," Jack agreed, "but there's another splash beyond and that'll delay them again."

"Then we'd better ride as hard as we can for Taverton," said old Jasper. "We'll be there pretty nigh as soon as the car."

Jack shook his head.

"Nearly as soon, perhaps. But once they're through the town they have a fine road either north or south, and we can't tell which way they'll go. It's up to us to catch them before they reach Taverton."

Jasper shrugged. "Seeing as these here ponies bain't got wings, that be a bit beyond us, master."

"I'm not so sure of that," Jack answered quickly. "You know Capp's Cut?"

"Aye."

"They are widening the road there. There are red lamps along the side. Capp's Cut is only two miles away. If we could get there ahead of the car we could string the red lamps all across the road and stop the thieves. If there's a watchman there he'll help us."

Jasper looked at Jack with admiration.

"I said as 'ee'd brains. That be a fine notion. Fine enough to try, anyways."

Jack took one more glance at the car. The man had climbed in again, and the car, apparently on low gear, was ploughing steadily through the splash.

"Right you are, Jasper," he said. "But be careful going down the hill. It's frightfully steep and stony."

"You don't need to be scared," Jasper told him. "They ponies be sure-footed."

He was right. Jack's mount never even stumbled. When they got to more level ground the car had reached the second splash and had stopped again.

"We'll do it!" said Jack exultantly, and, with a touch of his heels, set his pony to a sharp canter. Jasper came up alongside and they rode neck and neck across the moor, making across towards the back of the hill beyond which the road ran through the pass known as Capp's Cut.

The wind whistled past Jack's ears as he rode, water splashed as his pony's hoofs struck a wet patch, then all of a sudden Jasper's pony put both front feet into one of those treacherous little bog holes that may be found anywhere on the moor and came down with a crash, sending Jasper flying over its head. Jack pulled up sharply and sprang off, but before he could reach Jasper the little man was on his feet.

"I bain't hurt," he said. The pony too had picked itself up and stood with head hanging. Jasper took the bridle and led it on to sounder ground.

"He have wrenched his shoulder," he groaned. "He be dead lame." He turned to Jack. "What be you waiting for? That car bain't going to wait. Ride hard. I'll follow afoot."


CHAPTER 4. — RED LAMPS FOR DANGER

JACK drove in his heels and rode. The ground was better and the sturdy pony made little of Jack's light weight. He couldn't see the car now for Cut Hill was between him and the road. The pony fairly flew up the slight rise, then down a short slope on the far side and, almost before he knew it, Jack pulled up on the very edge of the Cut. He looked up the road. Nothing in sight. He sprang off, pulled the reins over the pony's head and left him standing. Then he dropped down the bank to the road.

The red lamps were there—half a dozen of them. In frantic haste Jack collected them and planted them all across the narrow road. Then it occurred to him that a few lamps were not going to stop the burglars for very long. They would pull up, then, finding that there was no real obstruction, would drive on. If he could only find some way of blocking the road! He looked round and saw a couple of tar barrels standing on a rocky ledge.

He ran for the nearest and flung himself against it, but its weight was too great for him to move it. Then he saw something else, a crowbar leaning against the side of the cutting. That would help. As he grasped it he heard the distant hum of an engine.

He forced the end of the crowbar under the barrel and levered with all his strength. The barrel tilted, it toppled over, it fell with a crash into the road, burst open and a flood of black tar poured out all across the one-way track. At this moment the glare of headlights showed around the bend of the road. Jack dropped behind the second barrel and crouched down.

The car—it was a small saloon—was coming fast. Jack heard a startled yell from someone inside it and the screech of hastily-applied brakes. The driver could not pull up in time to avoid the lamps; he crashed into them, knocking over three. Jack heard the crackle of breaking glass. Then came a report like a pistol shot as a tyre burst. The car skidded violently and, swinging round broadside, her bonnet struck the bank at the opposite side of the road.

Jack waited breathlessly. He had sense to be sure that it was no use plunging in till he knew whether the men inside the car were hurt or not. He hoped they weren't: he hadn't bargained for this. He had only meant to delay them. The door opened, a man got out. A big fellow, no doubt the same who had caught him on the porch. He was not hurt, but he was furious.

"Coming round a corner like that!" he hissed. "And call yourself a driver!"

There was no reply, and suddenly the large man seemed to realise that there was not likely to be. He reached in and drew out a little rat of a man who was limp as a rag doll. "He's Hurt! Or dead! Now what am I going to do?"

He laid the small man down by the side of the road and bent over him. He took out a flask and tried to force some of the contents down his throat. No use! Then he turned to the car and by main force dragged it back out of the bank. He tried the engine. It started. With feverish energy he got out the jack and set to work to take off the near front wheel.

Now he had his back to Jack and Jack resolved to take a desperate chance. He stole across the road and got behind the car without being seen. He reached the far side and peered in through the window. He saw a sack on the floor. The big man was wrestling with the nuts. The whole car was between him and Jack.

Jack's heart was thumping yet he was deadly cool. His hand did not shake at all as he cautiously turned the handle of the door. He pulled it gently open then reached in and took hold of the sack.

He was horrified to find how heavy it was. It weighed, he thought, quite 40 pounds. He could carry it, but he certainly could not run with it. He set his muscles and lifted it out very carefully.

His heart beat harder than ever. So far he had succeeded beyond his wildest hopes. Now, if he could only get away out of sight before the burglar spotted him!

He was 50 yards from the car. With every step he felt more confident. Another 20 yards and he would be round the bend. Then he could scramble up the bank without any risk of being seen. At that moment he heard a shrill yell and, glancing back, saw that the little man who had only been stunned, had come round and was sitting up.

"Ben, watch out!" he screamed. "Someone has sneaked the stuff!" With a bull-like bellow the big man sprang to his feet. He saw Jack staggering round the bend and, with another roar of fury, raced after him. Jack turned sharp to the right and scrambled wildly up the steep bank.

Before he was halfway up Ben was at his heels. Desperately Jack turned at bay and, as the great brute charged up the bank, he swung the sack in both hands and flung it at his opponent. The sack struck Ben in the chest. He threw up his arms in a mighty effort to keep his balance but failed and went over backwards. For the moment Jack was so confused he hardly knew what was happening then he found himself alone on the bank with Ben lying like a log on the stones at the bottom.

"Didn't I say as you was the lad with brains?" came a voice from above, and there was Jasper—his wizened face one grin—scrambling down the bank. "I'll lay he won't move for half an hour."

"Don't risk it. Tie him up," said Jack. "And there is the other one."

But the little man had a cut head and a sprained wrist. He made no trouble. Jasper and Jack tied them both, and Jasper rode on to Taverton on Jack's pony and fetched Inspector Caunter, who came in his car and collected the two battered burglars. He also took charge of the silver.

It was past midnight when Jack reached home and the first person he saw was his uncle sitting grim and upright in a straight-backed chair.

"I thought I requested you to be in by seven," he remarked in a voice which sounded as if it came from an iceberg.

Jack was silent. "And may I ask where you have been," his uncle went on with bitter sarcasm. "Evidently you did not expect to find me up, and so have not prepared an excuse. You may not be aware that burglars have broken in and stolen the King's Cup." He flared up suddenly. "You will leave tomorrow morning and I shall not ask your father to send you here again. Nor shall I feel inclined to contribute further to your school fees."

"That be a nice way to talk to your nephew," came a voice from the door, and Mr Acland swung round to see Jasper Tuckett standing there.

"Who are you and what are you doing here?" enquired Mr Acland.

"I be Jasper Tuckett, and that lad and me have spent half the night a-getting back your property. But now I'm sorry I took the trouble."

Mr Acland's jaw dropped. He looked fairly mazed. "Please explain," he said.

Jasper explained. He didn't mince words, and by the time he had finished Mr Acland was mild as a sheep. He turned to Jack.

"I can only say I am very sorry for accusing you as I did. You seem to have behaved in an extremely plucky fashion, and very wisely too. But why did you not tell me?"

"How could he tell 'ee without telling on that there cousin o' his?" cut in Jasper.

"I quite agree," said Mr Acland. "Shake hands with me, Mr Tuckett. I wish to say that I am deeply in your debt."

"It were Jack here did the job," said Tuckett, but all the same he shook hands cordially. "And, if you don't want the lad, Mister, I'll take him. I'm a warm man, I am, and there baint nothing I'd like better than to pay for his schooling."

Mr Acland laughed.

"Then there are two of us," he said genially. "But after all I'm his uncle."

Jack spoke. "You won't be too rough on Bob, Uncle Nicholas," he begged.

"For your sake I won't," was the answer. "Now what about a little supper? There is a cold pie in the dining-room. Come with us, Mr Tuckett. You are a man I wish to know better."


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.