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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES

THE LITTLE ADMIRAL
AND OTHER STORIES

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First published by William Collins, London, 1930

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-04-18
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"The Little Admiral," William Collins, London, 1930


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"The Little Admiral," William Collins, London, 1930


TABLE OF CONTENTS


Frontispiece.

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"Catch it, Mr. Robrtz—catch it!"


THE LITTLE ADMIRAL

CHAPTER I

"BLAKE! Blake!"

Blake Hawtrey, coming up the steep coombe side with a couple of trapped rabbits, heard his mother calling, and recognised an unusual excitement in her tone.

He shouted in answer, and saw her hurrying down to the garden gate. A very pretty picture she made, for at thirty-seven Mrs. Hawtrey was still a beautiful woman, and though her dress was of the plainest, her figure was slight and graceful. Her fair hair shone in the winter sun, and behind her was the cottage with its thatched roof and white-washed walls covered with dark green ivy.

"Blake, a letter from his lordship at last!" she said.

Blake doffed his cap. He treated his mother with a courtesy which was not yet old-fashioned in the year of our Lord 1797.

"He has not hurried in his reply, madam," he answered, in a slightly sarcastic tone. "And what is my uncle pleased to say?"

"He writes kindly, Blake. He wishes to see you. He promises a commission in His Majesty's Navy."

Young Hawtrey's tanned face flushed slightly.

"Ah, that is news worth hearing," he exclaimed.

"You are to go to him at once," continued his mother. "He is staying at the seaport of Plymouth, and desires that you should come to him there. He has sent a bank draft for your journey."

Suddenly her face changed. Tears filled her eyes.

"My boy!" she cried, "my boy, you will be leaving me—and when shall I see you again?"

Blake put his strong young arm around her.

"That cannot be helped, madam, dear," he said softly. "And do not think of the parting. Think of the change in our fortunes. Think of the time when I shall come home, with my pockets full of prize money, and able to give you the comforts which you have so long been without."

"I care not for luxuries, Blake, my dear. I have been very happy with you in this humble place. It will be lonely indeed in the days to come."

"I leave you in good hands, madam," said the boy. "Mrs. Judd will care for you. And Amos Judd—"

"Amos will not stay here. He vows he will go with you, my son. He will enlist himself upon the same ship. No, do not contradict me, Blake! I shall be happier to feel that he is beside you. Perchance his great strength will be of use to you."

"He is strong enough, indeed," said Blake, with a smile. "Ah, here he comes."

As he spoke, a boy came up the hill, bearing on his shoulder a log of wood that few men could have carried. He had a shock of red hair, and a pair of keen blue eyes. Though not seventeen, Amos Judd stood already six feet and an inch, and was famous through the quiet Devon country-side for his feats of strength.

"Mistress shall not lack for fuel this winter, Master Blake," he said. "When us are a shipboard, she shall be fine and warm, I warrant."

"So you have made up your mind to come with me, Amos?" said Blake with a smile.

"I reckon so," Amos answered sturdily. "Two's company, master, even if one's on the quarter-deck and t'other in the forecastle."

So it was arranged, and two days later the pair left the pretty cottage at Withycombe and started for Okehampton, where they were to get the coach for Tavistock and Plymouth.

Blake's heart was sore at parting from his mother, yet he was comforted by the feeling that she was in good hands. Amos's father and Mrs. Judd would look after her right well, and see that she lacked for nothing. And her income, though but a slender widow's pension, was at any rate sure.

Both the travellers were warmly but roughly dressed. Blake was in a suit of brown homespun, with worsted stockings and square heavy-soled shoes. They carried their small wardrobes on their backs in neatly-strapped bundles. But Blake had guineas in his pocket, and at Plymouth would buy a finer suit in which to present himself to his uncle.

Lord Chenton was his mother's half-brother. He had quarrelled with her about her marriage, for Captain Hawtrey, though of good birth, had little money and no prospects. For years he had never even written to her. It was only within the past few months that he had done so, and that—as he let her know—was because his brother's son, Ralph Crosier, had disappointed him. Ralph had become a gambler, and had ended in being accused of cheating at White's. So my lord had cast him off, and was minded to give his younger nephew a chance.

It was late in the afternoon when the two travellers reached Plymouth and were set down at the Feathers Hotel in the Barbican. Plymouth, in those days, was but a small place, and Devonport did not exist. Yet small as it was, it seemed large to Blake and Amos, and they looked in wonder at the Cattewater crammed with shipping, and at the stately men-of-war lying at anchor under shelter of Drake's Island.

"To think we shall be aboard one of those in a few days," exclaimed Blake. "And now, Amos, before we do aught else, we will find our way to a clothier's and get fresh suits. I would not wish to appear before my uncle in these rough things that I am wearing."

They went into the hotel, and Blake inquired of the boots the name and address of the best clothing shop.

A man who was lounging by the bar turned and glanced at Blake. Then he stepped up to him.

"I heard your question, young sir, and I may be able to answer it better than the boots. I should, were I you, go to Adams's shop in Treswell Street."

Blake looked quickly at the man. He was about thirty, smartly got up, and his voice and manner both seemed to warrant him a man of breeding. True, he had a somewhat dissipated appearance, but that was so common in those days that Blake thought little of it.

"I am obliged to you, sir. In Treswell Street, you say?"

"Yes, and as it happens, I am going that way. I shall be happy to guide you."

Blake thanked him again, and presently the three were threading their way through the narrow, dirty streets of old Plymouth. The sun was down now, and a sea mist blowing up. The air felt chill, and most people seemed to have gone indoors.

Blake was glad of a guide. He would never have found his way through such a maze of alleys.

They had turned into a street which seemed full of ships' chandlers shops. It reeked of tar and tallow. At the lower end they glimpsed dark water through the fog.

Suddenly came the heavy measured tramp of a strong body of men. A loafer, looking in at a shop window near by, started violently, then ran.

"The Press!" he shouted, as he passed the boys.

"The Press-gang, does he mean?" asked Blake sharply.

"Yes, but they will not meddle with you while you are in my company," replied their guide, swelling his chest. "Even they know a Greville when they see one."

Before Blake could speak again, round the corner came at least a score of men-of-war's men. Great, broad-chested fellows in striped slops and glazed hats, with their pig-tails hanging like ropes down their backs.

An officer led them, a stout, black-jowled man, with a hard face and a scar on his forehead. His eyes gleamed as they fell upon the two boys.

"Ha, here are a couple of likely lads!" he cried. "They'll do to serve His Majesty."

Instantly the boys were surrounded, and equally suddenly their guide, the self-styled Greville, vanished.

Blake kept his head.

"That is what I am in Plymouth for, sir," he said civilly. "There is no need to press me."

The officer laughed scornfully.

"I've heard that story before. It does not go down, my lad. Hold on to them, men."

Blake's colour rose at the insult.

"What I say is true," he answered sharply. "My name is Hawtrey. I am here to meet my uncle, Lord Chenton, who has procured for me a commission in his Majesty's Service."

"Ha! ha! A pretty tale for a country lad to tell! They grow them cunning in the Devon farms."

"You are pleased to insult me, sir," said Blake, with flashing eyes. "If you doubt my word, I have here a letter from my uncle, proving that what I say is true." As he spoke he thrust his hand into his breast pocket.

It came out empty. The letter was not there.

In a moment the staggering truth burst upon him. His pocket had been picked—and the culprit, no doubt, was the man who called himself Greville.

"A bluff! It is what the Yanks call a bluff," sneered the officer. "Now then, boy, I have no more time to waste on you. You will be wise to submit at once. I have the King's authority, and you disobey at your peril."

Young Judd suddenly burst loose from the men who held him.

"Master Blake tells you true, you black-faced ape!" he roared, and suddenly catching the officer by the throat hurled him to the ground.

"Run, Master Blake," he shouted.

It was useless. The seamen closed upon them. The odds were ten to one, and, though Amos fought magnificently, flinging the men to right and left, he and Blake were quickly overpowered.

The officer regained his feet. He thrust his dark face against Blake's.

"You mutinous hound!" he snarled. "You shall rue this night to the last day of your life."

"Take them away," he ordered. "Iron them when you get them aboard. By the Lord Harry, but I'll give them both a lesson before I'm done with them."


CHAPTER II

"NEVER mind Amos," said Blake Hawtrey. "Keep your spirits up. The Captain is bound to listen to me. All will yet be well."

Amos sat grimly silent. He looked as if he did not put much faith in Blake's comforting words, yet did not like to say so.

The two were seated on the bare floor of the lazarette of the big Salamis. It was a foul and noisome place, and so dark that, although it was now morning, the two could hardly see one another's faces. Outside, they could hear the plash of ripples against the planking; overhead bare feet thudded to and fro, and they caught the echo of hoarse orders.

Suddenly the hatch opened. A burly boatswain appeared. He had hands like legs of mutton, and on his bare arms were strange devices tattooed in Indian ink.

"Here, you! Captain'll see you, and sign you on. Sharp! We sails in a 'our. An' take my word for it, young fellers, you better be a bit more civil than you was to Lootenant Crosier last night."

Blake started sharply.

"Was that Lieutenant Crosier?"

"It were. And a purty tough customer, too, my lads. You never did a worse day's work than when you went for to put his back up. 'E won't forget it in a 'urry, I can tell ye."

As he spoke, he was unlocking their irons.

"You keep quiet, Amos," whispered Blake to young Judd. "I'll do the talking."

A minute later they were in the chart-room. The Captain—his name was Gallwey—sat at a table, a stupid, sodden-looking man, with a flushed face and his peruke awry. Behind him, to Blake's horror, stood his cousin, Ralph Crosier. There was a look of malignant triumph on his face.

"Names!" snapped the Captain; who was plainly in a peevish temper, caused, no doubt, by excesses overnight.

"My name, sir, is Blake Hawtrey," said Blake. "I am Lord Chenton's nephew, and—"

"I didn't ask whose nephew you were," retorted the Captain. "If you can write, sign your name here. If not, put a cross."

"I protest, sir," said Blake, with quiet dignity. "I tell you that I am Lord Chenton's nephew, and that I came to Plymouth on his promise to procure me a commission."

"If he's Chenton's nephew he must be your cousin, Crosier," said the Captain, turning to Crosier with a sly grin. "Do you admit the relationship?"

"I never saw the fellow in my life before, sir. It is an impudent masquerade. He looks like my lord's nephew, does he not?"

The Captain laughed vacantly. Blake could see in a moment that he was under Crosier's thumb, and realising that remonstrance was useless, decided suddenly to make the best of a bad job.

"No doubt Lieutenant Crosier has the best of reasons for denying our relationship," he said sarcastically. "Meantime—"

He took up the quill and signed his name in a firm hand, then passed the pen to Amos.

"You sign, too," he said. "We shall get our chance later," he added in a low voice.

"You'll get your chance of a hundred lashes if I have any more impudence from either of you," said Crosier, his dark eyes glowing with hate. Blake did not answer. He returned his cousin's glare coolly, and left the chart-room.

"Us be in for it now, Master Blake," said Amos ominously. "That chap's got eyes like a viper's."

"And the same temper, too, Amos. But you do your duty and keep clear of him, and all will be well. Ha, they are getting under weigh. That will keep him busy for a time, at any rate."

In this Blake was right, but once they were at sea they soon felt the weight of Crosier's ill will. Every filthy, dirty, and undignified job was put on Blake's shoulders. He was treated far worse than Amos, and at every possible opportunity Ralph Crosier lashed him with his evil tongue.

Life in a warship in those days was bad enough at best. The Salamis under Crosier—for Gallwey did not count—was a floating hell, and deep and dark were the murmurings of her crew.

Blake had two things in his favour. One, that he was never sea-sick, the other, that his quiet pluck and willingness soon made him a favourite with his mess-mates. As for Amos, the crew took him to their bosoms at once. The fact that he had knocked down the hated Crosier was a passport to their favour.

It was only the kindness of their fellows that made life bearable. Otherwise, Blake must have thrown up the sponge. All day and every day it was one lip-biting struggle not to turn on the brute who bullied him so wickedly. That was what Crosier was trying for. If he could only induce his cousin to turn upon him, he could have him tied up and lashed. And it was even betting whether Blake would ever have survived the awful ordeal of a hundred or even two hundred lashes. But Blake knew this as well as Crosier, and do what he would, the brute could not stir him to the hoped-for outbreak.

The Salamis sailed slowly southwards. She had letters of marque. But she was old and slow; her crew were badly disciplined and on the verge of mutiny. The more Blake saw of matters aboard, the greater were his doubts as to whether she would stand up against a Frenchman of her own tonnage, let alone anything larger.

As for himself, matters had reached such a pass that, as he said to Amos, "We should be no worse off in a French prison." And Amos, nodding his red head unsmilingly, agreed.

Blake's fears were only too well founded. They had passed through the Bay, and reached the latitude of Vigo, when they ran into fog—an unusual event in those waters. And when the mist began to clear, they found themselves within a mile of a great three-decker which was certainly not English.

Blake was in Crosier's watch, and he plainly saw the fear in his cousin's eyes as the latter caught sight of the tall ship, and he heard the quaver in his voice as he hastily gave orders to clap on all sail and make away.

His lip curled. So the fellow was coward as well as knave.

The man of-war broke out the Spanish flag, and turned in pursuit. Ordinarily speaking, a gun-brig like the Salamis should have been able to sail three knots to the Spaniard's two. But the Salamis was old and ill-found, her crew were ill-trained, most being pressed men, and consequently unhandy.

Also, the breeze was stiffening to half a gale, which gave the Spaniard a considerable advantage. She soon began to close, and then a long eighteen-pounder on her upper deck commenced to pitch round shot at the brig.

The shooting was bad. It was luck rather than skill that cut away the mizzen-topmast of the Salamis. In its fall it dragged down the main-topmast with it and the brig, utterly crippled, lay at the mercy of her big antagonist, which proved to be the seventy-four gun ship, the San Josef.

Even then Blake hoped she would make a fight for it. He almost choked with shame when he saw the white flag flutter out. The Salamis had surrendered without firing a shot.

Spanish boats came alongside; Spanish sailors, swarthy and reeking with garlic, swarmed over the brig. A prize crew was put aboard, and the Salamis' men were all taken aboard the San Josef and confined in her hold.

"So this be the end of it, Master Blake," said Amos Judd bitterly. "Us will spend the rest of the war in some stinking Spanish prison, I reckon."

And Blake for once was silent. He had no words of comfort.


CHAPTER III

"THIS be Crosier's work, I reckon, Master Blake," said Amos bitterly.

It was four days later, and the two lay together, but alone, in a little den off the after-hold of the San Josef. Their companions were on deck getting a breath of fresh air, but they two, of all the prisoners, had not been allowed up.

"Yes, I suppose that he has labelled us dangerous," replied Blake. "It is like his spite. Otherwise, we should certainly have been allowed up with the rest; for Captain Almeida, they say, is a true Spanish hidalgo, and treats his prisoners well."

"'Tis a pretty look-out for us when we get landed," said Amos. "They'll be handing of us over to the monks or something o' that sort."

"The Inquisition, you mean." Blake shuddered slightly.

"Amos, can we do nothing?" he added fiercely.

"Ay, Master Blake, we'll die fighting afore that," returned Amos.

Blake glanced at Amos in surprise. There was just light enough for him to see a grim smile on the other's face. His heart began to beat fast.

"Ay," repeated Amos. "They big muscles o' mine be some use, as Mistress said. I've worked them cords loose, and I reckon 'twon't be long afore I get my hands free."

"Splendid!" said Blake eagerly. "Keep at it, Amos."

Amos did, and though his wrists were raw from the strain it was less than an hour before his hands were free. Once he had done this, it was only a matter of a few minutes before he had unfastened the knots which bound Blake.

The two had been tied to a couple of ring-bolts, but with cords, not chains. Now they were, at any rate, free to explore the narrow limits of their prison.

The place where they were confined was below water line. The only light and air came through a grating overhead. They at once set to work to see if they could force this.

Between them they wrenched a long-shafted staple from the wall, and Amos, whose height enabled him to reach the grating, began on the fastening.

"Timber's rotten as punk," he said gleefully to Blake.

The words were hardly out of his mouth before a distant boom made the air tremble, then all of a sudden the whole ship thudded with the rush of feet.

The two boys stared at one another.

"A British ship!" gasped Blake. "A fight!"

Boom, again. Then, with a crash that made the great ship quiver, a whole broadside burst out.

"A battle!" cried Blake. But penned as they were in the darkness, neither could know that one of the greatest battles of naval history had begun—the tremendous fight off Cape St. Vincent.

Within a few moments the guns of the San Josef began to speak. The roar was deafening.

"There are other ships as well," cried Blake. "Listen! It must be a fleet action. Oh, Amos, why aren't we able to take our part?"

"Us soon will be, I reckon," declared Amos, setting to work on the grating with renewed energy. It mattered not how much noise he made. The roar outside drowned all lesser sounds. Hundreds of guns, many of them twenty-fours, were being fired at top speed.

From overhead came crash after crash, as the heavy round-shot, fired at almost point-blank range, tore through the timbers. Spars crashed down from aloft. Now and then a scream of agony rose above the tumult.

A heavy shot, striking the San Josef on the water line, just above the cell in which the boys were confined, splintered the ship's side, and sea-water came oozing through.

Blake and Amos hardly noticed. They were working like furies to get out of their prison. The wood, rotten with age, broke away in large flakes, but even so its thickness was so great that it took a long time to get through.

Amos gave a shout.

"Her'll go now. Up on my shoulders, Master Blake. Heave!"

To Blake's intense joy the grating lifted and fell back. But before he could clamber through, there came a shock which flung them both to the floor.

"They've boarded her!" cried Blake, picking himself up. "Our fellows are aboard her."

He was wrong. It was another Spanish ship, the San Nicolas, which, badly mauled by Commodore Nelson's own ship, the Captain, had swung round and fallen foul of the San Josef.

"Up you go again, master!" cried Amos, and picking up Blake in his mighty arms, literally flung him through the opening. A moment later he had followed himself.

The two found themselves on the lower deck. The place was thick with smoke. Through it they could see a few Spaniards still serving their guns, but most of the pieces were dismounted, and their crews lying dead around them. From overhead came stampings, shouts, all the sounds of furious hand-to-hand combat.

"Our fellows are aboard!" cried Blake, with flashing eyes. "Come, Amos. We may yet be in time to help."

He made a dash for the ladder leading up to the next deck. No one interfered. The few remaining Spaniards were too busy firing their guns. He reached the main deck some way ahead of Amos, and here the scene was similar. He was rushing towards the next ladder when down through the hatch above came a tall Spaniard, an officer by his dress. In one hand he carried a flaming torch, in the other a cocked pistol. His olive face was set and desperate.

Paying no attention whatever to Blake, he dashed past him, and dropped through the hatchway below. It was not until he had disappeared down it that Blake suspected his purpose.

He spun round.

"Stop him, Amos!" he shouted.

But the man was already past Amos, and Blake wasted no more breath. He tore after him.

Amos, slower in the uptake, and not understanding what was happening, wasted a second or two before following. By the time he had reached the hold Blake had disappeared.

He heard a wild yell of defiance, the ringing crack of a pistol shot, the thud of a heavy fall, and reached a doorway to find the Spanish officer flat on his back, with Blake on top of him.

"Hold him! Tie him, Amos," cried Blake hoarsely. "Don't let him get away."

Then he rolled over and lay quiet, the blood streaming from a wound over his temple.

Amos instantly pinned the Spaniard. The latter was in no case to resist. Indeed, his head seemed to be split open. Rapidly Amos tied him with his own neckerchief, then turned his attention to Blake.

Blake opened his eyes.

"It was the magazine, Amos. The fellow would have blown us all up. I hope I have not killed him."

"More like he's killed you," said Amos bitterly; but Blake did not hear him. He had fainted.

Amos gathered him in his great arms and went staggering towards the upper deck. His one idea was to find a surgeon, and in his haste he did not see a figure which stood back in the shadows, or a pair of dark and dangerous eyes which gleamed from the gloom.

"The cub is dead!" muttered Ralph Crosier, in tones of incredulous triumph. "My luck is in at last."

Dripping with perspiration, Amos laid his insensible burden in a quiet corner, and rushed off in search of a surgeon. So great was his anxiety on Blake's account he hardly noticed that the fighting was over, and the ship in British hands.

As luck had it, he ran upon Mr. Dougall, the surgeon of the Salamis, just finishing binding up the wounded arm of a young English lieutenant.

"My young master, sir. He's dying," he begged hoarsely, and Dougall, who was not a bad fellow, came at once.

Indeed, Blake looked like death, and the surgeon's face was grave as he bent over him, and with a pair of scissors began to snip away the blood-matted hair on his scalp. But when he came to the wound his face cleared.

"Cheer up, my lad," he said to Amos. "'Tis not so bad after all. The bone is but scraped, not broken. Your master, as you call him, will live to fight another day."

"Thanks be to God," said Amos reverently, and stood by while the surgeon dressed the wound.

With eyes fixed on Blake, Amos never noticed a slim, one-armed man in the uniform of a British Admiral who came past at that moment, accompanied by a taller, stouter man in the crimson tunic of the 69th Regiment. Both stopped close by, and the Admiral spoke kindly to a burly British tar, who, with one leg broken, lay propped against an overturned gun.

At the same moment two other men came up through the main hatch, bearing between them the insensible body of a Spanish officer, the very same whose bullet had come so near ending Blake's life.

The Admiral turned.

"Who is this?" he asked, in his quick, decided voice.

"An officer of the ship, sir," answered Ralph Crosier, who was one of the two bearers. "He was in the act of putting a torch into the magazine."

"And you prevented him?" Nelson exclaimed. "A very gallant action, sir. What is your name, and how is it that you who do not belong to my ship are here aboard the San Josef?"

"I am a prisoner of war, sir," answered Crosier. "I was first officer of the gun-brig Salamis, which was taken by this ship four days since. My name is Crosier."

Nelson fixed his piercing blue eyes on Crosier.

"So you lost your ship? Well, you have atoned for it. But for you, we should all have been blown sky-high ere now, I'll warrant."

"But for him! Why, he had naught to do with it, sir. 'Twas my young master here as stopped the chap from a-blowing of us up!"

And Amos, his honest face aglow with anger, towered suddenly over Crosier.

For a moment there was an amazed silence. Then Nelson himself spoke.

"What mean you, fellow?" he asked sharply.

"Just what I say, sir. 'Twas young Master Hawtrey as fought the Spaniard at the door o' the magazine, and nigh got his head blowed off for his pains."

Nelson's keen eyes studied Amos's face for a breathless instant. Then he turned to Crosier.

"Explain if you can, sir."

Ralph Crosier shrugged his shoulders.

"I think, sir, that the young man is over-excited, or perhaps it may be a wish for revenge. Unhappily, I was officer of the party who pressed him, a few weeks ago, and he has been heard to vow that he would be even. I have only to say that there is not a word of truth in his accusation."

"Liar!" cried Amos, with bitter scorn. "'Tis true ye pressed me—true, too, that ye pressed your cousin here, and did it for dark purposes o' your own."

Crosier did not turn a hair. He turned to the Admiral.

"I hardly think I need say more, sir. The mere fact that this youth, whom I have never seen before he was pressed, claims to be my cousin, Blake Hawtrey, is in itself sufficient proof that the whole story is an invention."

Nelson glanced at Blake, who was still insensible. He was indeed a pitiable object; dirty, blood-stained and roughly dressed in the garments of an ordinary seaman. He realised that Crosier had all the weight of evidence on his side, and that it was absurd to doubt him. Yet, with his keen insight, he had felt the ring of truth in Amos Judd's indignant words.

And while he hesitated, came a most dramatic interruption. The Spaniard, whom all had thought to be dying, sat up and gazed around him. His fierce eyes fell upon the British uniforms, and a groan escaped him.

"Then I failed!" he cried despairingly.

Nelson, always the first to acknowledge gallantry in an enemy, spoke courteously.

"You failed, sir, and for that we are all thankful. But even an enemy can honour a brave man, and can believe that he will not be the last to be grateful for the failure of so desperate a project."

But the Spaniard took no comfort.

"To be foiled at the last moment!" he groaned, "and that by a mere lad!"

Instantly Nelson was all attention.

"A lad, you say, sir. Can you recognise the one who stopped you at the door of the magazine?"

The Spaniard looked round, and his glance fell on Blake.

"There he lies!" he said. "I fear I have slain him, but the mischief was done. This big fellow was on me before I was able to rise."

The conversation had been in Spanish, but Crosier had understood. Now Nelson turned upon him, and in the flashing eyes of the Admiral the villain read his condemnation.

He turned and ran.

"Stop him!" cried Nelson.

It was too late.

With a bound, Ralph Crosier reached the side, and springing through a gap in the broken rail, plunged headlong into the blood-stained sea. Nor did he rise again.

"Sic pereunt!" quoted the Admiral gravely, then turned once more to Amos.

"My lad, you spoke well. I am pleased with your loyalty to your master. Master surgeon, see that your patient is brought aboard the Captain as soon as he can be moved, and that every care be taken of him."

So it was that, twenty-four hours later, Blake, with his head bound up, and still somewhat pale from loss of blood, found himself in Nelson's own cabin, telling his story to the "Little Admiral."

Nelson heard him to the end before he spoke.

"My lad," he said, "you have done well, and you are well rid of this cousin of yours, who, it is plain, meant you no good. You tell me that my Lord Chenton promised you a commission in His Majesty's Navy. There shall be no need for him to extend his favour, for I myself will see to the matter.

"No"—as Blake began to stammer out his thanks—"there is no need to thank me. I and many others owe you our lives, and this is but scant payment of your services. Is there aught else you would ask?"

"There are two things, sir," Blake answered. "One, that I might not be separated from Amos Judd; the other, if it please you, that we might both be allowed to serve on your ship."

Nelson's rare but charming smile illumined his thin face.

"Both granted, my lad. Both your requests are granted. Now go and tell your young giant that he and you are enrolled aboard this ship."

Blake left the cabin with his head high and his eyes sparkling. He asked nothing better than to serve under the great little man who had been so kind to him.

Nelson kept his word. In every commission from then onward, Blake Hawtrey was in Nelson's own ship, until in 1805 he became lieutenant aboard the Victory and took part in that greatest of all sea-fights off Cap Trafalgar on October 21 of that year.

But his joy in the victory was marred by the death of his great commander, and as soon as peace was declared he retired from the Service.

By this time Lord Chenton was dead, and Blake succeeded to great titles and possessions.

But the lessons of his early days were never forgotten, and to the end of his life he kept on the little cottage at Withycombe, and there, in company with Amos, he would spend his happiest days, catching trout in the brook or shooting on the open moor.


IN MERLIN'S MIRE

CHAPTER I

HEAD down, facing the chill autumn wind, Sam Eccles strode heavily down the main street of Moorlands.

"Hallo, Sam, you look a bit peaked," came a kindly voice, and Sam, glancing up, found himself face to face with a square-built man of middle age dressed in a dark blue uniform. On his shoulder the letters "P.W." in brass showed that he was a Principal Warder at the great prison which stood at the upper end of the long village street.

"Peaked!" repeated Sam, with a look of bitterness which sat oddly on his usually cheerful face. "I've a right to be, Mr. Taber. They've turned me down."

"What! For the police?"

"That's it."

Sam held up his right hand from which the top joint of the forefinger was missing.

"Just because of that," he said.

"It's hard," declared Taber. "Mighty hard. 'Tis a foolish thing for sure to turn down a likely young fellow like you.

"But I must be getting on," he added quickly. "I've got to go on duty down to Harrowell."

"What for?" asked Sam, astonished.

"Haven't you heard? No, of course you've been away all day. There's a chap done a bunk this morning. Ran from Stonebrook Newtake in that storm of rain. Beddoes his name is. 'Big Beddoes,' they call him."

"I've heard of him," said Sam. "Your boy Dicky told me. Bad lot, isn't he?"

"The worst," replied Taber, with emphasis. "Well, good-bye, Sam. See you again some day soon."

He hurried off, and Sam walked on. At first the exciting news of the escape filled his thoughts, but this soon passed, his head sank again, and the light went out of his clear gray eyes.

Down the long hill he tramped, the wind blowing cold out of a dull sky, and when he came to the bridge over the Stone Brook he found another warder on guard there, with his overcoat collar turned up to shield his cheeks from the bitter breeze.

"Seen anything of our chap, Eccles?" asked the warder.

Sam shook his head.

"I'm just up by the train," he answered.

"Well, keep your eyes skinned," said the other.

"Did he go our way?" asked Sam.

"No, he ran north to start with. Most like he's up on the High Moor. I only hope we'll get him before dark. It'll be no sort of night to spend out o' doors."

"I hope so, too," agreed Sam, and went on.

Stonelake Cot, where he lived with his mother and sister and younger brother, was four miles out by road, but there was a shorter cut across the moor. Turning to the right, he climbed the wall, and made across the rough boggy ground, picking his way among the sopping heather and gray boulders.

Again his thoughts went back to his bitter disappointment of the morning. He had always wanted to wear the blue uniform, and now that his brother was old enough to look after the little farm, it seemed that his chance had come.

It had never occurred to him for a moment that the finger damaged in a quarry accident, two years before, would stand in his way. Apart from that, he knew himself to be as fit and strong as any young fellow of his age for miles round.

He had gone down to Tarnmouth by the early train, full of hope and pleased with himself and every one else. Now he was coming back, plunged in despair, and feeling as if life was hardly worth living.

The path led down into Giant's Gorge, a deep ravine which was really an old surface tin working. A thin mist driven by the wind swirled among the great rocks which cumbered the gloomy place.

Sam knew every inch of the way. He did not trouble to look to one side or the other. It was not often that he was so careless, and now he was to pay for it. Silent as a ghost, a drab clad figure rose from behind a huge boulder and sprang on him from behind.

Sam never saw the man. All he knew was that he was suddenly flung flat upon his face with a force that half stunned him. Fingers, hard as boards, clutched his neck. He struggled desperately, but the choking grip did not relax. Black specks danced before his eyes, and presently he lay limp and insensible.


CHAPTER II

SAM'S teeth were chattering. He was chilled to the very bone. Those were his first sensations as he came to himself again.

Small wonder, for presently he realised that he had nothing on but his underclothes. His good blue suit, his cap and overcoat, all were gone. His boots had also been pulled off, but they lay close by. So, too, did a suit of hideous drab garments plentifully besprinkled with broad arrows. There was no need to look farther. They explained the whole situation.

Sam sat up. He had a bump on his forehead as big as a small egg, and was feeling sick and dizzy.

"So 'twas Beddoes!" he muttered ruefully. "And serve me right for being such a careless fool!"

He stood up, shivering, and picked up the lag's discarded garments. He looked at them with great distaste.

"Nice things to meet mother in!" he observed. "Well, it's Hobson's choice, and I'll perish if I don't put something on."

He got into them quickly and walked on fast.

He was hardly out of the ravine before a figure dimly seen in the mist dodged out of the path behind a clump of gorse.

He made a dash at it. As he reached the gorse the figure rose suddenly and flung itself upon him.

But Sam was not to be caught napping a second time. He threw his arms around it and bore it to the ground.

It went down with unexpected ease.

"Why—why!" gasped Sam, as he realised that it was a mere boy he had hold of. "I thought it was Beddoes."

"Beddoes, you idiot! Aren't you Beddoes?" came the indignant reply.

Sam let go and jumped up.

"Great Christopher! It's Dicky Taber."

The other, a red-headed boy of about sixteen, with a jolly freckled face, stared at his aggressor for a moment, then went off into a shriek of laughter.

"Oh! Oh!" he gasped. "It's Sam!"

He lay back and rolled on the wet grass in paroxysms of mirth.

"Dry up, you young idiot!" growled Sam. "Here, get up off that grass."

Dicky Taber struggled to his feet.

"Oh, Sam, I made sure you were Beddoes!" he gasped out.

"And I thought you were," replied Sam, rather sheepishly.

"What's happened?" asked Dicky, wiping his eyes with his handkerchief.

Sam explained, and told Dicky how he had come to be caught napping.

"It was Big Beddoes, of course," said Dicky, suddenly grave. "And just to think I missed him by so little! I found his marks by the brook over there and have been trailing 'em for an hour. You can spot the broad arrows on the soles of his boots wherever the ground's a bit soft."

Sam looked thoughtful.

"Tell you what, Dicky. There's no sense in giving up. If you tracked him this far, the two of us ought to be able to get him. What do you say?"

"Rather!" replied Dicky delightedly. "Specially as you know the moor better than any of our chaps up at the prison."

He paused and looked doubtfully at the other.

"But I say, Sam, are you fit to go on? You've got a baddish bump on your head."

"That don't signify. Besides, the beggar's stolen my best suit o' clothes. I'm bound to have them back some way."

"Right-o! The only thing is that you'll have to look out for warders or they'll be running you in like I tried to."

"I'll not go to sleep again," returned Sam grimly. "Now let's go back along to Giant's Gorge. That's where we pick up the trail."

The arrow-marks of the convict's nailed boots were plain enough all round the spot where Sam had been attacked, but it was some minutes before they found that Beddoes had gone straight on up the Gorge.

The Gorge sloped upwards to the north-east for nearly a mile. They found the marks where Beddoes had scrambled up the steep slope at the upper end, and followed them on to a bleak and empty hill-side.

"Where do you reckon he's gone now?" asked Dicky Taber, coming to a stop.

Sam, a queer figure in the lag's discarded attire, stood staring uphill through the thin mist.

"Okestock," he said slowly. "He'll be making across Radden Ridge, then he'll lay up somewhere below the Artillery Camp and make a push for the junction. There's trains in plenty, and now he's got my clothes and the money in 'em he'll either stow away in a truck or take a ticket for Bristol."

Dicky nodded. "I expect you're right. But see here, Sam, there won't be much in the way of marks up among the stones here. Hadn't we best cut right across the ridge and look for his tracks along the edge of the boggy ground down below?"

"That's a good notion. He's bound to leave a trail somewhere along the valley. Come on."

Sam, who was hard as nails, had almost got over the effects of his mauling, and as for Dicky, he was as wiry as they make them. The two wasted little time in crossing the ridge.

They were pushing rapidly down the far side when a strong gust of wind suddenly swept up the mist, and in a moment opened up the whole of the wide, desolate valley below.

Dicky seized Sam by the arm and dragged him down behind a rock.

"I see him," he whispered breathlessly.


CHAPTER III

"WHERE?—ah, I've spotted him. Right away up to the left. But what in the name o' goodness is he doing there?"

"Blessed if I know," returned the boy. "He's clean off the Okestock track. And yet he knows the moor pretty well. I heard father say so this morning."

Sam started.

"I've got it, Dicky. He means to make a short cut up Challacombe Cleave."

Dicky turned eagerly to the other.

"Challacombe Cleave," he repeated. "But that leads right into Merlin's Mire."

"So it does. All the same, there's a way through. By Jinks, I wonder if he knows it."

"I don't," confessed Dicky. "I was up there last winter after snipe, but it was as ugly a place as ever I hit. I came back the same way I went."

"I reckon you did. You'd never find the cut unless you knew. You have to climb up the right-hand side of the Cleave a good piece before you reach the edge of the bog. There's a ledge runs all the way, but you can't see it from below.

"If Beddoes knows it," he added, "he can save all that climb over Radden."

"And beat us out," put in Dicky sadly.

"Wait," said Sam quickly. "Wait a jiffy. I reckon we can diddle him after all."

"How?—how?"

"Just listen to me. He'll be out of sight in a minute in the mouth of the Cleave. Then I shall start and run for the Ridge, and up along the east side of the Cleave. It's farther than he has to go, but he'll have to be mighty careful, while I can run all the way. What I'm after is to get to the neck of the Cleave ahead of him. I'll wait for him on the ledge just round the corner above the bog, hide behind a rock, and take him by surprise as he comes past."

"I see. But what about me?" questioned Dicky.

"Why, Dicky, you'll have to go right back to the prison and fetch help. I don't reckon I can bring him in alone—especially in this rig!"

"But why shouldn't I come along with you?" demanded the boy, in a sadly disappointed tone.

"Because we aren't taking any risks, that's why. I'm sorry, Dick, but you'll have to go."

When Sam spoke in this tone, Dicky knew it was no use to remonstrate.

"All right. I'll be as quick as I can."

He started off, then turned.

"Be a bit careful, Sam," he said quickly. "Big Beddoes is a pretty hard case. He wouldn't stop at much, you mind that."

Sam nodded. Then, as he saw the convict disappear between the cliffs which hemmed in the Cleave, he rose to his feet, and set off at a swinging trot.

It was no easy job he had before him. Even if he could reach the Neck above the Mire before Beddoes he still had to stop him, and he had no weapons of any sort—not even the truncheon which warders carry.

But he hardly thought of that. He was very sore at having been caught so easily, and he fully meant to have his best suit back. And Sam Eccles, when he had once made up his mind to anything, was not an easy person to turn from his purpose.

He kept going hard till he was across the valley, then slackened as he began to climb the opposite slope. There was no sense in winding himself. The mist kept rising and falling, but never grew very thick.

When he reached the top of the great bare ridge there was not a living thing in sight.

He began to run again, and in another ten minutes had reached the edge of the Cleave at its southern end.

He peered cautiously over, but there was no sign of Beddoes. The convict, no doubt, had already rounded a bend some way farther up.

Sam set off again as hard as he could go, and made such good time that, when he reached the upper end of the Gorge, he was ready to bet that he was well ahead of the convict. At the north end of the Cleave was a sort of bowl. The sides were steep, but not precipices like those of the Cleave itself. The bottom was all marsh, but the worst of the marsh was just at the exit from the Gorge.

Here was a vast pool of black slime covered with great patches of livid green bog moss. Old moormen believed the place to be bottomless. Dozens of cattle and ponies had been swallowed there, and never a horn or hoof seen again. Sam shivered a little as he thought of all the skeletons down in those oozy depths.

He went quickly down the slope, but trod carefully. It would not do to start loose stones. To his left opened the upper gate of the Cleave. Dusk was beginning to fall, and the mist lay thick in the gloom of the darksome ravine.

When about twenty feet above the level of the mire, he turned sharp to the left and worked along towards the mouth of the cleft. The bank grew rapidly steeper, and soon he was scrambling along the side of a rocky cliff. The mire lay directly beneath him, and a single false step would send him plunging down into its thick black slime.

But Sam made no false steps. He had been here before, and his head was as steady as any man's on the moor. Within a very short time he had reached the spot of which he had spoken to Dicky, and there he pulled up and waited.

A great rounded boulder bulged from the cliff face, and the ledge, here not much more than a foot wide, ran round the outside of it. It was quite impossible for a person coming up the Cleave to see another hidden behind the boulder until he had clambered round it.

Sam stood very still. His heart was beating a little more quickly than usual, but his square, honest face and steady gray eyes showed no signs of any inward uneasiness.

For some minutes he waited, listening hard. Then all of a sudden he bent forward a little. A rustling, scratching sound had reached his ears, and he knew that his man was very close.


CHAPTER IV

"ALL right, my beauty, it's my turn this time," he muttered soundlessly.

Then, before he expected it, a large dirty hand came into sight, feeling for a hold around the curve of the boulder.

Like a flash Sam reached out and grabbed the thick brown wrist.

A yell of terror went ringing down the Cleave, sending the echoes beating in an extraordinary fashion. The hand was jerked back with such force that, if Sam had not already braced himself, he would certainly have been pulled right over the edge.

"No, you don't," said Sam, as he laid his weight back. "It's a fair cop, and you may just as well come now as later."

But Big Beddoes apparently did not share his opinion. He pulled and jerked with surprising force and fury, while the threats he poured forth were of a positively blood-curdling character.

Sam's quick ears caught a low but ominous cracking sound. "Chuck it, you fool!" he cried. "The rock won't stand this sort o' game."

But Beddoes only pulled the harder.

The cracking came again. Bits of earth and gravel began trickling down the face of the cliff. The cracking changed to a crunch, and Sam had just time to let go of Beddoes and spring back to safety before the ledge outside the big rock broke away and fell with a loud crash into the valley below.

High above the crash came a wild shriek of terror. Sam saw a great burly figure falling outwards from the cliff, clutching vainly at thin air. Then with a heavy splash Big Beddoes landed on his back in the mire beneath, sending up a splatter of ink-black spray.

Before Sam could recover from the shock, there was a fresh and much louder cracking, and to his horror he saw that the great boulder itself was coming away bodily from the cliff face.

Slowly and majestically it bent outwards, seemed to hang suspended for a second or two, then turned over and dropped with a sullen plunge into the great slime pit.

A geyser of mud rose as high as the ledge itself, spattering Sam all over and half blinding him with the ill-smelling filth.

With the sleeve of the convict jacket he dashed the horrible stuff from his eyes, and stepped quickly forward to the edge of the ledge.

An amazed exclamation burst from his lips. He had never expected to see Beddoes again. He had, of course, felt absolutely certain that the man had been crushed under the ponderous mass of stone.

To his intense astonishment, Beddoes was still visible. Apparently the rock had turned in its fall. It lay some yards to the left of the lag, its gray top just visible like an island in a pool of ink. Beddoes, up to the waist in the mire and sinking steadily, was making frantic efforts to reach it.

Frantic, but quite useless. The mire held him like glue. Unless help came his doom was sealed.

His great gaunt face was turned upwards, his deep-set eyes, dull with terror, were fixed on Sam.

"Help!" he moaned. "Help!"

"A fat lot of help you'd give me if I was there, and you up here," growled Sam. "Keep still, you idiot! Spread your arms out. Don't struggle. I'll give you a hand when I get down."

He flung himself flat on his face and examined the cliff face below the ledge. His quick eyes caught a little jut of rock some six feet beneath. Deliberately he turned round with his face to the cliff, grasped the edge of the path with both hands, and felt with his toes till he found the projection.

He got foothold, then very cautiously turned round. The risk was extreme. If the projection broke away, if he slipped or lost his balance, he was done for. He knew that quite well, but did not hesitate.

From this projection he reached another a little to the left and about five feet lower. Below, the cliff face was sheer.

"Got to jump for it," he muttered, as he judged with his eyes the distance between his narrow perch and the top of the boulder.

"I reckon watching won't make it look any prettier," he remarked, with a wry smile, as he balanced himself carefully. Next moment he had taken off.

For a hideous instant he thought he had missed his mark. He did drop a little short, but his outspread arms reached the top of the boulder, and he lay there for a few seconds breathing hard and up to his waist in the cold mire.

Then he pulled himself up and gained his feet.

Even now he was out of reach of Beddoes. Only a yard or two, however, and that was easily remedied. He pulled off the slop jacket, and holding it by one sleeve flung it across to its proper owner, who grasped it with the energy of despair.

"Pull me up," said the lag hoarsely. "Pull me up. I'm perishing cold."

Sam looked at the man, looked at the little island of stone on which he stood himself.

"Can't be done, Beddoes. No room for two. You'll have to stick it out till help comes."

Beddoes' great coarse face was convulsed with rage.

"Pull me up!" he cried, with an oath. "Pull me up, or I'll do you in when I get my 'ands on you."

"Ah, that's just what I thought you'd do," returned Sam mildly. "Now, if I were you, I'd keep quiet, or maybe, if you don't, I'll let go altogether."

"I feel almost tempted to recommend you to do so, Eccles," came a calm, leisurely voice from the far side of the bog. Sam, looking up sharply, saw a square-set man, with a fair moustache and sleepy blue eyes seated on a horse, close to the opposite edge of the mire.

It was Captain Noble, deputy-governor of the prison.

"I didn't mean no 'arm," whined Beddoes, all his bluster gone in a moment.

"I'm sure you didn't," drawled Noble. "At any rate I will take good care you have no chance to do any for some time to come."

"Eccles," he continued, in his quiet voice. "I've got a rope. Your young friend Dicky Taber advised me to bring one. Just hang on to that joker a minute, while I tie my horse and come round the head of the bog. I think I can get you out without much trouble."

Captain Noble, being known far and wide as one of the strongest men in the prison service, had no great difficulty in carrying out his undertaking, and as soon as Sam was safe on the ledge, he and the deputy, between them, drew Beddoes out of the mire and towed him out on the more level ground at the head of the Cleave.

By this time Dicky had arrived with two warders, and the latter taking charge of Beddoes marched him off.

"I say," said Sam anxiously, as they started. "Those are my clothes Beddoes is wearing. You'll remember that, if you please."

"Ah," said Captain Noble softly, "now we begin to understand why you took all that trouble to get the beggar out, Eccles."

Sam smiled ruefully.

"It's my best suit, sir."

"Was, you mean. I'm afraid it won't be much use to any one after this—"

He paused, and regarded Sam thoughtfully.

"How would you like to exchange it for another?" he asked.

Sam stared.

"Also blue," said Noble. "See here, young Taber tells me you've been turned down for the Police. But if it's only that finger, that won't bar you from prison service. And as we've lost a lot of our ex-service chaps, we are very short-handed, and want good men. Think it over, Eccles."

"No need to think, sir," answered Sam promptly. "I say yes now."

"Good man!" said Noble. "Then come and see me to-morrow."

He turned his horse.

"Good-night," he said, and cantered off.

Dicky stared at Sam.

"So you're coming on as a warder?"

"Looks like it," said Sam.

Dicky flung his cap in the air.

"Hurray!" he shouted gleefully.


THE MASTER OF THE MARSHES

GUN on shoulder, Don, his big water spaniel, at his heels, Bob Wetherell was in the act of opening the gate leading into the Upper Marsh, when he was met by a square-set man in gaiters who was a complete stranger to him.

"I'm sorry, sir," said the latter, "but you can't shoot here."

Bob stared.

"Can't shoot here," he repeated. "Why I've shot here all my life."

"You can't do so any longer, sir. My orders are that the marshes are to be preserved as well as the covers."

The man's tone was perfectly respectful, but very firm.

"Whose orders are those?" asked Bob rather sharply.

"My employer's, sir, Mr. Cassidy's. He's taken Saltern Park, and he wants a good head of hares on the marshes."

"But I'm not going to shoot hares. I'm after wild fowl."

"Yes, sir, but you can't come on the marshes without Mr. Cassidy's leave. You'll have to try the sea wall down below."

Bob looked grave.

"There'll be trouble about this, you know," he said. "It does not matter so much to me, for with me it's only sport. But the marshmen won't take it so easy. It's their livelihood."

"I can't help that, sir. I have my orders."

"I understand. It's no fault of yours. But I tell you straight I shall call on Mr. Cassidy, and put the thing before him."

The keeper shook his head.

"I'm afraid you won't do no good, sir. Still, of course, you can try."

"I shall try at once. I shall go up to the house this afternoon. Good-morning."

Bob was only just home from school. That was why he had heard nothing of the new tenant of Saltern Park. On his way home he met old Peter Cray, one of the finest fowlers on the coast. The old chap was boiling.

"It's a shame, Master Robert, a right-down shame. Him with all his money to go for to stop us a-shooting the duck. I never did hear such a thing. And me with two sons in the Navy. But there—he's a furriner, and what do he care for the likes of we?"

"A foreigner?" repeated Bob.

"Ay. Comes from America, he do. Why, a French would know better. There'll be trouble, Master Robert. Mark my words, there'll be trouble."

"Well, wait till I've seen him," said Bob. "It may be that he doesn't know the way of things. I'm going there this afternoon."

"I hopes you'll have luck," said Peter. "But I doubt it."

Peter's doubts were justified. Arrived at Saltern, Bob was informed by a pompous-looking butler that his master was away from home. Bob asked to see the agent, and was directed to his house.

The agent, a sharp-faced man named Deane, had no comfort to offer.

"I can do nothing, Mr. Wetherell. Mr. Cassidy gave me certain directions, and I must carry them out. And if you will allow me to say so, I don't know what you are complaining of. The marshes belong to the Saltern Estate. Mr. Cassidy has a perfect right to close them."

"I know that," said Bob bluntly. "But they have been open to all the fowlers ever since any one can remember, and if Mr. Cassidy knew how hot the feeling is, and how many men stand to lose their livelihood, I believe he would think twice before closing them."

"That is not my opinion," answered Deane with cold politeness. "Good-day to you."

Bob went home, feeling very sore and angry. As he came across the dyke by the Lower Marsh, he met a big brown-faced boy in a knitted blue jersey and stocking cap. He was Dan Cray, old Peter's grandson.

"Any luck, Master Robert," inquired the boy eagerly.

"None," growled Bob. "Mr. Cassidy's away, and the agent says we've got nothing to kick about—that the marshes are Mr. Cassidy's to do as he likes with."

"Dad was afeared you wouldn't get no satisfaction," answered the boy, shaking his head. "There be chaps putting up barbed wire all along the marshes this minute."

"It's too bad, Dan," said Bob. "Especially now the frost has come at last. There'll be plenty of fowl in the creek by to-morrow."

"And plenty of ice, too," said Dan, glancing up at the red sunset. "'Tis peering proper to-night. We won't be able to take a punt out or maybe we'd pick up some widgeon off the flats."

Bob looked at the creek. The wide expanse of dull gray water was rimmed on either side by broad bands of white. Up to high-water mark the saltings were covered thick with musky ice, and now it was freezing harder than ever. The next tide would lift all that stuff and fill the creek with floes.

"No, we'll never get a punt out, Dan. But I'll tell you what. I shall go down to the lower sea wall after breakfast to-morrow, and see if I can bag a few mallard or teal. If you come along you can have any birds I get."

"I'll come—and gladly, Master Robert," answered the boy. "Good-night to 'ee."

He was off, and Bob went home to Netherham, where his father, a country squire of the old school, ruled a snug little estate of some six hundred acres. Bob, however, said nothing to him of the day's doings. Mr. Wetherell's temper was hot, and if he heard of Cassidy's high-handed action he would certainly fly into a rage, and perhaps do something that afterwards he would regret.

Bob had an early breakfast next morning, and by nine o'clock he and the spaniel were down by the sea wall, where Dan was already waiting.

"'Tis proper hard this morning," said Dan. "Have 'ee seed the creek, sir?"

"Only from the distance. But I could see there was lots of ice."

"It's all a-going down with the tide. You can hear it from here."

It was true. Even through the great thickness of the high sea wall there came to their ears a constant rustling, varied by an occasional heavy crunching sound. The floes were just beginning to go out with the ebb.

"What about birds?" asked Bob.

"There's plenty out on the watch," answered Dan. "Sheldrake mostly and a loot o' coots. There'll be some on the saltings as they begins to bare."

"Lets go up and have a look," said Bob, and began creeping up the slope of the grass-covered embankment.

The saltings had only just begun to bare; and there were no birds in the mud. But the creek itself was worth watching. Its whole surface, gleaming under the red winter sun, was dotted with regular arctic ice-floes. Some were mere rafts of ice, others were piled up to a height of three or four feet above the surface. There were thousands of them, all moving down in a long stately procession towards the sea.

Some sailed steadily, others spun round, caught in tidal eddies. Frequently one would catch another and crash into it, at times riding right over it and driving it under water. These floes were all white as snow, and shone brilliantly in the pale sunlight.

Bob turned to Dan.

"No, it's no place for a boat," he remarked.

"You're right, Master Robert. I'd be main sorry to take a punt out in that. They big ice rafts would break her like a eggshell."

"Hallo, there's some one at it already!" said Bob sharply, as the distant report of a gun came from far up the creek.

"Get your head down," urged Dan. "Get down low, sir. That'll send the birds right along over us."

He was right. Next minute a couple of teal came sailing overhead, their short wings working vigorously, and driving them at the pace of an express train.

Bob flung up his gun. Two reports rang out in quick succession, and one of the two teal shot downwards in a long volplane, striking the top of the dyke fifty yards behind them and bouncing along it.

"Seek, Don!" said Bob, and the spaniel dashed off, to return in a minute carrying the dead bird carefully in his mouth.

"There'll likely be some more down soon," said Dan, and sure enough a couple of mallard flew over a few minutes later, and Bob got them both.

Then came a long pause.

"That chap above has stopped shooting," said Bob. "I wonder why. There ought to be plenty of fowl up that way."

The words were hardly out of his mouth before there came two shots, and then, in quick succession, two more.

"Hallo, he's a lot closer," said Bob, and cautiously put up his head over the edge of the bank.

Next moment he was on his feet.

"The idiot!" he cried. "Look at him! he must be crazy."

Dan sprang up.

"Ay,—crazy sure enough," he said gravely. "Didn't he know no better than to get in that there boat?"

For a few moments the two boys stood side by side on the top of the sea wall, watching a small boat which had just appeared in sight around a bend in the creek above. She was only a little cockle shell of a dinghy, and in her was a boy who looked to be about fifteen. He was sitting in the stern, paddling with one oar, and as they watched him, he picked up his gun again and fired shots, evidently as signals of distress.

The ice was all around him, and the tide, now running faster every minute as the ebb grew stronger, was carrying him swiftly down towards the open sea. But the sea was two miles away, and, long before he could reach it, the dinghy must be caught and crushed between the ice.

A great floe swept sideways at the dinghy. The boy flung down his gun, and seizing the paddle in both hands drove his little craft forward. Next instant the floe had caught another, and the crash of their meeting came plainly to the ears of the watchers. The dinghy was safe, but only for the moment. Below her the ice was thicker than ever.

"Come on! Come on!" cried Bob, suddenly starting forward. "We can't let him drown."

The two ran together down the wall and out across the saltings through the freezing mud to the edge of the cold gray water.

The boy in the boat saw them.

"Help!" he shouted, "help!"

"'Tis all very well to talk about help, but us can't get near him," said Dan.

Bob put both hands to his mouth to form a speaking trumpet.

"Paddle in. Shove her in as close as you can."

"That's what I'm trying to do," shouted back the other. "But I've lost one oar, and the tide's running like smoke."

Another great chunk of ice bore down on him as he spoke, and one end of it caught the dinghy and ran under her. She tipped half over, and it seemed a miracle she did not upset. Bob felt half frantic.

"This is ghastly," he said to Dan. "Can't we do anything? Where's the nearest boat?"

"None nearer than Graystone," answered Dan. "Two mile away if it's an inch. I reckon he've got to save hisself or drown."

Dan only put into words what Bob was thinking. They could do nothing but watch and wait.

As for the boy in the boat, he had pluck, for he kept his head, and whenever he saw half a chance drove the dinghy a little closer to the shore.

By a series of miracles he got safe through fifty yards or more of the ice run, and, by the time he was opposite the spot where Bob and Dan were standing, he was not more than thirty yards from the shore.

But here was the very worst of it. Some freak of the tide had brought in so much ice that there was more ice than water. As Bob watched breathlessly he saw a little cave open between the packed floes.

"Now!" he shouted at the pitch of his voice. "Now, take your chance."

The boy saw, and with all his strength drove the dinghy into the gap.

"Hurray!" cried Bob. "That's right, You'll do it!"

At that very instant he saw the dinghy suddenly tilt. A long narrow piece of ice, which had somehow been forced beneath the rest, had risen to the surface exactly under the boat.

Slowly but surely she tilted, until the water began to run in over the gunwale. The boy flung his weight across; he did his level best to force her off with his oar. It was no use. The keel came into view, then quite suddenly over she went altogether, shooting her occupant out into the icy water.

Even now he did not lose his head. He was up again in a minute, and, grasping hold of the edge of one of the floes, began trying to pull himself on to it.

But he could not do it, and by the look on his face Bob saw that he knew his number was up.

"I can't stand this," said Bob in a sort of groan, and before Dan knew what he was about, he had made a flying leap on to the nearest floe.

"Come back! Come back!" cried Dan in horror. "'Tis no good two being drowned instead of one."

Bob paid no attention. The sight of the other boy drowning before his eyes had screwed him up to a pitch of absolute recklessness. If he had stopped to think, he would have known that he was going to almost certain death, for, even if the floes were big enough to bear his weight, this salt water ice was rotten slushy stuff, much of it no better than half-frozen snow.

In spite of the madness that had seized him—because of it, perhaps—he had never been cooler-headed in all his life. He landed clean and clear in the centre of the floe, balanced while he looked for another strong enough to bear his weight, then sprang again.

The second began to sink under him, but, even as the water gushed over it, Bob was off it and on to another much larger.

He was now half-way across the gap which separated him from the other, but here he had to stop a moment, until another ice raft large enough for his purpose drew near.

"Hold on!" he shouted, and his clear confident tones gave the boy fresh courage. "Hold on tight. I'll have you out."

His floe banged against another with a shock that nearly knocked him off his balance, but the new one was fairly big too, and he made a fourth jump in safety.

The next one beyond was wide but low and slushy. It looked all odds against its holding him, but a quick glance at the boy showed that he must risk it, for the latter, being farther out from the shore, was being carried down the more rapidly, and would soon be out of reach. He waited until it was quite close, stepped lightly upon it, and slid rather than ran to the far side. It was actually breaking under his weight as he flung himself on to another, and landed on hands and knees.

This one was a good two feet out of the water, and though slushy on the top there was plenty of solid stuff in it.

Looking over to the far side, he found himself within a few feet of the drowning boy.

"Swim!" he cried. "If I can get you up on this one you'll be all right."

The boy pluckily let go of the piece of ice to which he was clinging and struck out. But he was cramped with cold, and had not strength enough to struggle against the swiftly running tide.

Bob was in an agony. To be so near and yet unable to help was simply ghastly. He was on the point of plunging in, yet knowing perfectly well that, if he did, he would never be able to climb back, let alone hoist the other up.

"Your coat," muttered the boy hoarsely, and Bob, calling himself an idiot for not having thought of it before, whipped off his thick Norfolk jacket and, holding it by one sleeve, flung it across to the swimmer, who just managed to grasp it before being swept out of reach.

When the strain came Bob felt himself slipping. He flung himself flat on his face in the slush, and digging in his toes hauled for all he was worth. Next minute he had the boy close enough to grasp him by the collar.

Then came the worst of it all. The boy by this time, was practically helpless. Bob had to haul him out of the water by main force. There was not only the danger of slipping, but the floe itself threatened every moment to turn turtle. If it did—why, there was the end of things for them both.

When in the end he had the boy safe on top of the floe, he was so done that he could hardly breathe, much less think of how they were going to get back again.

At last he pulled himself together and scrambled to his feet again.

"Dan!" he called, "Dan!"

There was no answer. He looked back towards the shore.

Dan had vanished. There was not a sign of him or of any one else.

"Suppose he's gone for help," he said blankly. "But I wish he'd stopped to give us a hand."

"I say"—this to the boy whom he had pulled out, and who was still lying all in a heap on the ice—"how do you feel? Are you up to trying to get ashore?"

"There isn't much jumping power left in me," he answered between chattering teeth. "Tell you the truth, I'm so beastly cold I don't reckon I could walk a yard without falling down."

"We've got to get back somehow," said Bob grimly. "If we don't we shall jolly well float out to sea. That is, if we don't freeze first."

"Hasn't the other chap gone for a boat?"

"I expect so. But the nearest is at Graystone, two miles up the creek. And then I don't know how they'll ever get here through all this ice."

"And all through my fool fault." As he spoke he tried to scramble to his feet, but was so numb that he slipped back again.

"It is beastly cold," said Bob, who himself was pretty well wet through from lying flat on the slushy ice. "Look here, I'll give you a good rubbing. Then we must take our chance when we get it and try to nip ashore. If we don't we shall simply freeze stiff."

He bent over the stranger and began to rub and pommel him vigorously. The exercise probably warmed him more than his companion, but at any rate it saved them both from being absolutely frostbitten.

Suddenly the floe began to spin rapidly. Bob glanced up and a gasp of dismay escaped him.

"Here's a go! The tide's taken us right out of the pack. How the mischief are we going to get back?"

The other paused a moment before answering.

"You'd better have left me alone," he said quickly. "It was real decent of you to come out after me, but it was no use two being drowned instead of one."

The words were almost the same as those Dan had used, and Bob, looking round, realised that they were pretty likely to come true. Their ice raft was now out in the full run of the tide, and going seawards almost as fast as a man could run. As for getting ashore across the ice, that was out of the question. A squirrel could not have done it. The gaps between the floes were yards instead of feet in width.

"Isn't there any house along the bank—coastguard station or anything of that sort?" asked his companion. Bob shook his head.

"Nothing."

"No boats likely to be out this weather, I reckon?"

"There might be outside, but that's no use to us. There's the bar, you know, at the mouth."

"Rough water, you mean?"

"Always. Enough at any rate to break up a bit of ice like this."

"Then I guess we're gone in?"

Bob set his teeth.

"No—not yet. We may drift back again near the shore. Dan may bring help."

The other boy looked hard at him. He was tall and slight, and had rather a delicate appearance, but there was no flinching in his dark eyes.

"No use of thinking of Dan," he said. "Not if he's got all that way to go first. We'll be on the bar before he can get to Graystone. Say, how much water is there on the bar?"

"Depends on where we strike it. Tide's high still, and it will be out of our depth, unless we strike pretty close inshore."

"I guess we've got to wait. That's all."

While they were talking they were being swept down more and more rapidly. The tide was running a good five knots. They were now a mile below the spot where they had started, and half-way to the bar.

Here the creek was much wider, and there was less risk from other floating ice. All the same they were both kept busy, fending off floes which swung in and threatened to wreck them. And the cold was cruel. Their wet clothes were stiff with ice. Both realised that when the end came they would neither of them have strength to swim.

They watched the bank eagerly as it slid by. But there was not a soul in sight. On all the east coast there was hardly a more desolate spot than the marshes fringing the mouth of Saltern Creek.

They swept round the last bend and the bar was in sight. Bob shivered inwardly. Though the line of surf which broke upon it was narrower than usual, it was filled with fragments of broken floes tossing and crashing together with a low thunder, which sounded terribly near through the clear frosty air.

"Doesn't look healthy," said the second boy. "Wonder if there's any chance of getting through it. There's a craft of some sort out in the bay."

"I'm afraid she's too far off to be any use to us," answered Bob. He turned as he spoke, and stared back up the creek.

"Looking for Dan, eh? I don't guess he can get here in time to help us. Anyway, I doubt if any one would be fool enough to take a boat out in all that ice—except me," he added with a wry grin.

"Not take out a boat!" exclaimed Bob indignantly. "You don't know the marshmen. They wouldn't think twice if it was a case of saving life. They're as plucky a crowd as you'd find in England."

At that moment the floe on which they stood gave a jerk which nearly flung them off. Another much larger, almost a small iceberg, had suddenly crashed into her.

"Quick!" shouted Bob. "Here's our chance." He seized his companion by the arm, and together they made a wild scramble on to the other floe.

"Close call, eh?" said the tall boy as he saw their late refuge ground down and sunk by their new ice raft. "Say, this one's a good three foot out of water. She must draw about eight feet. Maybe she'll ground and give us some sort of a show."

"Let's hope so, anyhow," said Bob as he anxiously watched the surf. They were now terribly near to the inner edge of the broken water. The pounding of the broken floes was deafening.

"If we were only a bit closer in!" he added as he measured with his eyes the distance that separated them from the mud on the right.

"What are we to do?" asked his companion. "Hang on or jump in and chance it?"

"Hang on," answered Bob, "hang on and trust to her grounding. The water's shallow enough inshore, but there's eight or ten feet out here."

As he spoke, the floe came to a sudden stop, then lurched slowly forward.

"Hold on!" shouted Bob, and was just in time to seize his companion and save him from slipping head-long into the broken foam which boiled around them.

"Gosh, I was nearly gone!" gasped the tall stranger as the freezing spray dashed over him.

Bob could not answer. It took all his strength and breath to keep his hold. The small waves were breaking clean over the floe and washing away all the ice which covered it. The stuff below was hard and smooth and slippery. The cold was dreadful. Each wave was a bath of liquid ice. He realised that, within a very few minutes, all their muscles would be numb and paralysed; then they would be swept off and drowned at once.

He twisted his head round so as to get his mouth close to his companion's ear.

"It's no use," he said. "We must make a dash for it. We'll be frozen stiff inside another couple of minutes."

"Just my notion," was the answer, and, in spite of the fact that the speaker was looking into the very jaws of death, his tone was cool and collected as ever.

As he spoke he struggled up on his knees.

"Come on!" he cried. "It's sink or swim, but quick sinking's better than slow freezing."

He fell rather than plunged in, and his head went under at once. But Bob followed and hauled him up, and together they struck out through the breaking waves and churning ice.

It was perhaps sixty yards to the nearest point of the low sandy bank. Before he had gone ten, Bob knew that they would never do it. The tide was dragging them out into rougher water, and the cold was striking to the very marrow of his bones.

He caught a glimpse of the other boy's face beside him. It was white and set.

"I'm done!" he gasped. "Tell dad I—"

A wave washed over his head and cut his words short.

"Hold on—hold up! One minute!"

The voice seemed a long way off, yet Bob recognised it, and, seizing his companion's collar, made a last effort to keep him up and raise his own head above water.

Some one was galloping furiously across the sand on a big horse. It was Dan.

With a rush he came straight into the sea, the water splashing up on either side.

The sight gave Bob fresh strength. Still holding his companion, he managed to get an arm over a floating piece of ice.

Dan had a coil of rope over his arm. He rode on until the horse was almost off his feet.

"Catch it, Master Robert—catch it," he yelled, and flung the rope with all his might towards Bob.

The end dropped almost across Bob's face, and he grasped it with the energy of despair.

"Hold on. I'll get you out," shouted Dan, as he turned his frightened beast towards the shore.

The strain was awful. Bob felt as if he were being pulled in two. But somehow he managed to hang on, and both boys together were drawn steadily through the churning foam and pounding ice, until at last Bob felt firm sand beneath his feet, and still holding the rope, staggered forward to the shore.

"Well done, Dan!" he gasped, and then everything swam before his eyes, and he tumbled flat on his face on the sand.

* * * * *

GETTING warm again after being half frozen is almost as painful a business as the freezing itself, and Bob, as he struggled back to consciousness, was aching so badly that it was a minute or two before he realised that he was in a bunk in a small cabin, well rolled in blankets, and that the craft, whatever it was, was travelling at a high rate of speed.

He looked round vaguely, and saw the boy whom he had rescued lying on a sofa just across the cabin. Over him was standing a tall, lean man in a suit of thick blue serge.

Hearing Bob move, the latter turned.

"So you've come round, sonny. I'm mighty glad of it."

"Where am I?" asked Bob vaguely.

"Aboard my motor yacht, the Gull, and shoving back up to Saltern as fast as this pesky ice'll let us."

Bob looked up at the keen, masterful face.

"Are you Mr. Cassidy?" he asked.

"I am, and it's my son Randolph that you and that fine young marshman saved out of the creek."

"I'm jolly glad," said Bob simply.

"So am I, sonny," and though the American spoke lightly enough there was real feeling behind his words. "Randolph's all I've got, and I'm that glad I'd like to make every one else round these parts as glad as me."

"You can do it," said Bob quickly.

The other stared.

"How?"

"Open the Saltern marshes again to the fowlers."

"That's too easy," said Mr. Cassidy.

"It'll be quite enough," answered Bob.

And, as it turned out, he was right.


VOLCANO GOLD

TOSSING on the long rollers, Clem Carey's little cat-boat looked a mere dot in the immensity of gray sea and stormy sky. Caught off the Florida coast by a sudden storm, he had been drifted out of sight of land, and all night had been bailing for dear life. Now a second storm was blowing up and Clem, glancing at the scud of cloud, shook his head. "This is the finish," he said briefly.

He was aching all over, his eyes were sore with lack of sleep, and if he had not been as hard as nails, he would never have lasted so long as he had. A great wave tossed him high, and suddenly a dark shape loomed out of the storm drift behind him. She was a schooner, evidently motor driven, for with hardly a rag of sail she was forging rapidly onwards.

Clem gave a hoarse shout, and standing up waved frantically. Then he was in the trough again and lost sight of the ship. The suspense of the next few minutes was horrible, for the chances seemed all against those aboard the schooner seeing anything so small as the tiny cat-boat in the heavy sea. But at last he got an answering wave from the rail of the ship, and breathed a prayer of gratitude as he saw her shift helm in his direction. Soon she was close above him. "Catch hold," cried a harsh voice, and a coil of line hissed over him. Clem caught it, made fast, and was dragged alongside.

"Can you get my boat aboard?" he asked.

"Your boat," roared the voice with an oath. "What do you think this is—a floating dockyard? Cut her loose and get aboard sharp, or stay with her and drown if you want to."

It hurt Clem like a blow to see his boat go, for she was almost the only thing he owned in the world. But there was no help for it, and as he scrambled over the rail he saw her drift into the schooner's wake, then a sea broke over her and she was gone.

"When you've finished star-gazing perhaps you'll tell me who you are," said the same brutal voice. Its owner, who towered over Clem, was all of six feet high. He had red hair, bristling red eyebrows, greenish eyes, a great hooked nose and a mouth like a slit. A regular slave driver by the look of him, and Clem's heart sank. "Carey is my name," he explained briefly. "I was out after mullet and got caught in last night's gale."

"Britisher?" inquired the other with a sneer.

"I am English," replied Clem curtly.

"Say 'sir' when you speak to me," snarled the big man, aiming a blow at Clem's head. Clem ducked and sprang aside. His eyes were blazing.

Suddenly a girl ran in between them. A slip of a thing who looked about fourteen. She had great dark eyes, but even these were not so dark as her hair. "How can you be so unkind, Captain Coppin," she cried indignantly. "Can't you see that the boy is half dead."

Coppin scowled. "I guess he'll wish he was deader before I am done with him if he don't mend his manners. I only picked him up because I am short-handed, and he'll have to do his share. But you can take him below and give him some grub. To-morrow I'll see what he's made of."

The girl led the way below and Clem followed. "It's awfully good of you to help me," he said. "But I say, what sort of ship is this?"

She shook her head. "A terrible ship," she said gravely, "but never mind now. You must have some food first, then I will tell you all I can."

The schooner was a big craft and several cabins opened off the saloon. The girl opened the door of one of these cabins. "Go in there," she said, "and I will get the steward to bring you some dry things and something to eat."

The steward, a little shrivelled Cockney, brought Clem a rough suit out of the slop chest, and a bowl of soup. The soup was greasy but hot and nourishing, and Clem felt fifty per cent. better when he had swallowed it. He had a good rub down before he changed his clothes, and came out to find the girl waiting for him in the big cabin. "You'd better rest while you can," she told him, speaking good English, but with a foreign accent. "You will not get much rest after to-night."

"I can't rest until I know where I am and something about things," replied Clem.

The girl looked round cautiously. "Tell me who you are?" she asked in a low voice.

"Clem Carey is my name," said Clem frankly. "I came from England two years ago with my people to Florida. Dad's got some land, but it's scrub and no good, so we've been keeping ourselves by fishing. Yesterday I got caught in a storm, and you know the rest."

The girl looked at him as if she approved of him. "If you are English I feel that I can trust you," she said. "My name is Felizia Almeida. We are Spaniards, but I was born in the States. My father chartered this ship, the Wekiva, to hunt for a treasure." She stopped short as the steward came into the saloon. He passed through and went aft. "Oh, I'm frightened—frightened," whispered the girl.

"Never mind," said Clem consolingly. "I'll help you if I can."

"I feel you will, but you are only a boy, and there are so many of these dreadful men. Listen now; Coppin, the captain, has come to know about the treasure and he has stolen the directions from my father. I don't know what dad and I will do."

"Treasure," repeated Clem. "You must tell me more."

"It is on the island of Pedrogao. My father had the directions from the grandson of the man who hid the gold and pearls there more than a hundred years ago. We had to wait until now before we could get money enough to charter a ship, and now see what has happened."

"It sounds pretty bad," agreed Clem. "It looks as if Coppin will go straight to this island, bag the treasure, and probably maroon you and your father somewhere."

"That is what father thinks, but there is one thing in our favour, the directions are written in Latin, and no one aboard except father can read them."

"That's all to the good," said Clem comfortingly, but before he could say more the crooked little steward was heard coming back.

"We mustn't be seen talking," said Felizia. "Go forward and sleep. To-morrow, perhaps, we can do something."

She slipped away, and Clem, who was so done that he could hardly keep his eyes open, went forward to the fo'c'sle, found an empty bunk and, in spite of the violent motion of the schooner, was asleep in a minute.

A great roaring voice roused him. "Hey, there! turn out, you scum." Clem was up in a flash and lost not a moment in reaching the deck. Other men of the watch were running with him, and behind them Coppin and his bucko mate driving them with fists and boots. "Tail on to the halliards," shouted the mate, and Clem managed to get there one step ahead of the brute's toe. For his age—not yet fifteen—Clem was a big, strong lad and he put his weight into the job. It was a lovely morning after the storm, with a fresh westerly breeze, and sails were being set on the schooner.

He was breathless when at last the work was done, and he had a moment to look round. Close behind him was a short squarish man who looked less of a brute than the rest. "Is this the usual way they do things on this ship?" Clem asked in a low voice.

"Ay," whispered back the other. "She's sure a terrible ship, this, kid, and you'd have been better off it you'd stayed in that there boat of yours."

"But what do they do it for?" questioned Clem. "Surely the men would work without being beaten like this."

"Jest becos they're dirty bullies. Coppin's the worst, but Monkton the mate is nigh as bad. Sure as my name's Horner, some night he'll go over the side with a knife in his back."

"Now then, ain't ye got nothing better to do than stand and gawp like two old women," roared a voice, and Monkton was upon them. Clem dodged, but Horner was not so lucky, for a blow on the jaw sent him sprawling. Clem boiled with wrath, and the bucko mate got the shock of his life when the boy's fist caught him square on the end of the nose, hard enough to stagger him.

With a bellow like a mad bull he turned, and one blow of his great fist sent Clem, stunned, insensible, into the scuppers. Monkton leaped after him, but as he raised his boot for a kick that would have stoved Clem's ribs, suddenly Coppin was between them. "None of that, Mr. Mate. We're short-handed enough as it is and I ain't going to have you break that boy up. Wait till he comes round. Then you can rope-end him all you have a mind to. But you break up any more men and you'll hear from me. Here, one of you, chuck a bucket of water over the kid."

Clem came round to find Horner looking at him in a sort of dumb amazement. "What's the matter?" he asked hoarsely.

"Matter is as you're alive," replied Horner, "which you'd not have been if the old man hadn't have interfered. Monkton was sure going to kill you. But get up and get to work or they'll be arter us again."

A terrible ship Horner called the Wekiva, and that was what Clem found her during the next two days. But there were two things in his favour. One that the crew, having seen him stand up to the dreaded mate, treated him much better than they would otherwise have done, the other that Monkton himself, though he lashed Clem with his tongue and gave him every filthy job to do, did not hit him again. It almost seemed as if he was scared to do so.

Meantime the Wekiva sped southwards. Though old, her lines were those of a yacht, and she made wonderful speed.

Clem tried hard to get a word with Felizia, but this was out of the question. For whenever she was on deck, Coppin had his eye on her and her father. Almeida himself was a delicate looking man, and Clem watching him saw that he almost was worried to death and badly scared. "He knows what he is up against," thought Clem. "I wonder what is going to be the end of it all."

One evening when the schooner was running before a fair breeze, Clem saw a loom of land to the west. "What land is that?" he asked of Horner.

"South America, I reckon. That's all I knows."

"We've been making a lot of easting," said Clem. "I believe that's Trinidad, and that we are passing the mouth of the Orinoco."

"Likely you're right. Me, I don't know the names of them places. I never was in these waters before."

"Trinidad is British," said Clem, "but I am not sure we're so far south. That might be Martinique. However, we'll know soon, for Trinidad is flat and Martinique has a big volcano."

"How come you to know so much geography?" came a harsh voice, and Clem turned to find the skipper glaring down at him.

"I learnt it at school, sir," he answered quietly.

"Oh, so you are educated," grunted Coppin. He paused. "Come below," he ordered curtly, and Clem, wondering greatly, followed.

Coppin took him to his own cabin, and seating himself at the table, fixed his cruel eyes on the boy. "Do you know languages?" he demanded suddenly.

Clem saw daylight, or thought he did. "Some of them," he answered modestly. "I can read French."

"What tongue's this?" Coppin took a sheet of paper from a locked drawer and pushed it across the table.

Clem inspected it. "It is Latin, sir," he answered. "I am a bit rusty on my Latin, but I think if I had time I could puzzle it out."

"Think you can read it?" said Coppin sharply. "Then sit down here and get to work. Here's paper and pencil."

Clem, of course, did not need to be told that the paper was the one which Coppin had stolen from the Almeidas, and his heart was beating rapidly as he ran his eyes through it. Although the paper was old and yellow, the writing was clear enough, and he soon saw that it would not be difficult to translate. The treasure, it appeared, was gold, in bars, and a parcel of valuable Panama pearls, and was hidden in a cave at the end of a deep cleft in the island of Pedrogao.

Some minutes passed, then Coppin spoke. "Have you got it?" he demanded.

Clem was thinking furiously. Now he sat back in his chair and faced the captain. "Yes, sir," he answered quietly, "I can read it. I have read it. But I won't read it aloud, except on conditions."

Coppin leaped to his feet. His face went dark with fury, the pupils of his eyes contracted to pin points. He snatched a pistol from his pocket and pointed it straight at Clem's head.

Clem was badly scared, but kept his head. "If you kill me, captain, the paper is useless. No one else aboard can read it except Mr. Almeida, and you've tried him already."

Coppin hesitated. "Well, what is it you want?" he asked harshly. "Speak out."

"I want a share," said Clem boldly.

"How much of a share?" sneered Coppin.

"The treasure is worth 50,000 or more, and I want 5000," said Clem.

"All right," replied Coppin, still sneering. "You shall have that. Now read it."

"No, sir," said Clem firmly. "I won't translate it until we reach the island."

Coppin stared, then gave a short bark of a laugh. "For a Britisher you've got more sense than some," he remarked. "All right, then, we'll wait till we reach the island." He paused. "But you try any games on me, my lad," he added fiercely, "and I'll make you wish you had never been born."

Days went on and still the schooner slipped southwards. Clem found the waiting fearfully trying. What he wanted above all things was a chance of speaking to Felizia, but he was constantly watched both by Coppin and Monkton. One night Coppin was at supper and Monkton was on deck. It was a very dark night and had begun to rain, when suddenly a red glare showed up against the black sky on the starboard bow and some one sang out that it was a ship afire. Monkton cursed the speaker. "Ship! you something fool, that ain't no ship. Go and call the skipper."

Coppin came up, and as he and Monkton began to talk eagerly, Clem took his chance and ran aft. He met Felizia at the head of the stairs. "I was just coming to speak to you," he said quickly.

"So was I," answered Felizia. "They say there is a light in sight."

"Yes, over there."

"It is the island. That is a volcano on Pedrogao. But—but now you have joined them—" she wrung her hands hopelessly.

"I haven't," Clem answered. "I only pretended."

"But you read the paper."

"I read it all right, but I didn't tell them. I told Coppin I wouldn't tell him what it was until we reached the island. I pretended I wanted a share!"

"Yes," she answered breathlessly, "but now what can you do? As soon as Coppin knows, he will take the treasure and leave us on that dreadful island. Very likely he'll kill us."

"No, he won't. Listen. I have a plan. When we get to the island, Coppin will take me and Monkton with him in the boat. From the map, that deep cleft where the treasure is hidden is a nasty place. My notion is to get them to row in there and wait for me to fetch the pearls. But as soon as I get ashore I'm going to sink the boat with a big rock. Oh, it's a bit of a risk, I know, for they may shoot me, but they won't suspect me of trying any such trick, because they think I want a share. Now listen. While we're away you get hold of Horner. He's white and there are two or three others who'll help him. Horner will come off in another boat and I will swim out with the pearls and meet him. Then we leave Coppin and his gang on the island and clear out with the schooner."

"It—it's a terrible risk," gasped Felizia.

"Not so bad. I swim pretty well," said Clem, smiling. "Now I must go, but keep up your spirits, and all will come right."

"I'll try," promised Felizia. "And—and thank you a thousand times."

The red light was that of the volcano, and next morning the Wekiva lay off the island of Pedrogao. It was a gloomy looking place. Gaunt black rocks rose grimly from the jade green sea, and in the centre was a blunt, cone-shaped mountain from which volumes of smoke belched thick and dark, driving away down wind.

"'Orridest-looking place I ever seed," Clem heard the Cockney steward remark, and he thoroughly agreed with him.

Coppin was gazing at the island through his glasses and scowling as he did so. He shut them with a snap. "Get the small boat over," he ordered. Clem was surprised, for he had expected the big cutter to be lowered. His surprise changed to dismay when he saw Monkton coming up from below with Felizia and her father. There was worse to come, for the next thing that happened was that Coppin ordered Horner and two others of the more decent men into the boat. "You'll go ashore with them, Mr. Almeida," he said smoothly, but with a wicked grin. "We're following later."

Clem saw Felizia cast a despairing glance at him, but he could do nothing, for Coppin was watching with his cynical grin.

Coppin beckoned to Clem. "Are you ready to read that paper?" he asked curtly

"Yes, but what about my share?"

Coppin's grin was worse than his scowl as he took a pad of paper from his pocket, scribbled a few words on it and handed it to Clem. "That's for you," he said. "Now where's the stuff hid?"

"In a sea cave at the end of a cleft half a mile from the south-east point of the island. The treasure is on a ledge about thirty yards inside the cave."

Coppin glared at Clem. "Is that the truth?"

"Of course it's the truth. You don't think I want it all, do you?"

Coppin stared and sniggered, and Clem saw he was convinced. Yet for all his bold face Clem was almost at his wit's end. All his plans had gone wrong, for now, even if he succeeded in sinking Coppin's boat, he saw no chance of getting away with the treasure. The chances were that Coppin and Monkton would easily swim ashore and grab the other boat before he could get Felizia and her father away in it. But there was no time to think, for Coppin and Monkton were going over the side into the cutter.

"That's the creek," said Coppin, pointing. "Pull, you swine."

A long swell was running and breaking in great spouts of foam on the black cliffs. The air was hot and sticky. Monkton was watching the volcano. "She's smoking a lot," he said, scowling.

"She's always smoking," said Coppin.

"Ay, but there's more than there was an hour ago."

"We'll be away before there's any trouble," said Coppin with his cruel grin; and then no more was said until the boat came opposite a narrow inlet which ran curving deep into the mouth of the island. The great swells charging inwards in smooth, green hills, broke in roaring foam at the curve. "A regular death trap," growled Monkton. "How in thunder are we going to get in there?"

Coppin pointed to a strip of beach to the left. "We'll land there," he said. "Likely there's some way round."

A minute later the boat grounded on the shingle and two men jumped out to pull her up. Suddenly the boat rocked violently, and at the same time the two men staggered and one fell.

"What are you playing at?" roared Coppin, springing out. But as his feet reached the beach they seemed to give under him, and he too fell. "Who tripped me?" he demanded fiercely.

"No one tripped you," snapped Monkton. "It's an earthquake. Here, let's get out of this."

"Get out of it," snarled Coppin. "Have you gone yellow like the rest?"

"No," sulkily, "but if the volcano opens up, gold won't help us."

"You make me tired," snorted Coppin. "Here, get ashore all of you, and get the ropes out. We're going to climb over that spur and take a look at the inner end of the gulley."

If scared of the volcano, the men were worse scared of Coppin. They obeyed, and Coppin, with Clem and Monkton, started to climb. It was tough going, but at last they gained the summit, and were able to look down into the inner end of the inlet. A triangle of heaving green showed beneath, and the rollers, sweeping across it, disappeared beneath an overhanging ledge, breaking out of sight with a dull roar. "It's the cave right enough," said Coppin. "We can't get in yet, but when the tide's down it will be all right. Get back to the beach. We'll wait there."

Back on the beach Coppin ordered a fire to be made and food cooked. There were constant tremors of earthquake, but Coppin himself was so set on the treasure that he thought of nothing else. The men, however, as well as Monkton, were looking very blue. Two hours passed, the quakes became more frequent, and an ominous roaring told that the crater itself was in action. Clem was very worried about Felizia. His only comfort was that Horner was there to look after her. The men were getting more and more terrified. Suddenly there was a worse quake than any yet, and a huge rock dislodged from above and fell with a thunderous splash into the inlet. Monkton sprang up. "I'm not staying any longer," he cried. "We'll all be dead if we don't clear out."

Coppin pulled out a pistol. "You'll be dead anyway if you talk like that. I've not come all this way to go back empty-handed. Get into the boat," he ordered, "we're going in." At pistol point he drove the terrified ruffians into the boat, and he himself took the tiller. "Give way," he ordered, and the cutter, lifting on a great roller, went rushing into the gap. Jagged rocks rose on every side, but, tiller in hand, Coppin swung the boat away from each. Brute as he was, his nerve and seamanship thrilled Clem.

The inlet narrowed. The shadow of the black rocks lay dark across the boat. The roar of the breaking surges was deafening. Clem was too excited to be afraid, yet he did not believe that the boat could live to round the curve. She dropped into a trough and the water broke over and half filled her, then in the nick of time another wave lifted her and sent her soaring.

"Pull," roared Coppin, and the oars beat the water desperately. Then quite suddenly the curve was passed and the boat riding in safety in the inner end of the inlet. "There's the cave," shouted Coppin. "In with you; sharp about it."

As he spoke came a roar that drowned the thunder of the surf, and Clem, looking up, saw a huge avalanche of rock sliding down the cliff face directly above the mouth of the cavern. Quick as a flash he was on his feet and, leaping over the side of the boat, dived deep into the face of an oncoming breaker. Down he went, down until his lungs were almost bursting before at last he dared to let himself rise again. Reaching the surface he dashed the water from his eyes and looked round. The sea, dark and discoloured, was boiling and seething, and between him and the cave-mouth a mass of rubble rose above the surface. Of the boat or of its occupants there was not a sign.

Horrified as he was, it would be absurd to say that Clem felt any sorrow. Rather it was relief that Coppin and Monkton were out of the way. He climbed on to the new-made islet and took breath. At any minute a new convulsion might bring the whole cliff down on him, and his first instinct was to swim for the open sea. Next moment he realised that this was impossible, for the strongest swimmer on earth could never have forced his way through the great rollers which crashed into the gulley. Clem's lips tightened. "Better if I'd stayed in the boat," he said grimly. He looked up, wondering if there was any possibility of climbing the cliff, and suddenly saw a white something fluttering high above. It was a handkerchief, and Felizia stood on the cliff edge waving to him. "But how can she help me?" he asked himself. Then as he watched her he understood, for a coil of rope came swinging down the cliff-side. Clem was on the point of plunging in to swim across to the rope when he stopped short. The treasure! He had clean forgotten the treasure. He cupped his hands over his mouth and shouted: "The pearls! I'm going after the pearls." He pointed to the cave-mouth.

"No—no, don't wait," came Felizia's voice shrilly. "It's not safe."

"It's worth the risk," he shouted back, and next moment was swinging hard for the mouth of the cave.

For the moment the earth movement had ceased, but there was still a deep rumbling from somewhere in the heart of the island and Clem fully realised the fearful risk he was taking, for at any moment a fresh shock might bring the roof down on him. Within the cave the light, though dim, was strong enough to show him his surroundings. He struck to the left. The directions were clear in his mind as if he had the paper before him. He saw the ledge, reached it, and catching a projecting spur, dragged himself up. As he did so, he felt the rock quiver like the lid of a boiling pot.

Panic seized him and he was on the point of dropping back and swimming for dear life out of the sea cave when he caught sight of something in the distance which shone with a dull yellow gleam. Forgetting his fears he climbed on to the ledge, and, crawling along it, reached the spot.

"Gold," he cried, as his fingers closed on a great bar of the precious metal. There were others beyond, ten in all. He tried to lift one but could barely move it. "No good," he groaned; "riches for us all, and I can't get away with a pound of it."

The rock was quivering again, and stones, breaking from the roof above, dropped heavily into the deep water. There was nothing for it but to clear out, but as Clem turned to dive into the water he noticed a small, dark object lying between two of the bars. He picked it up. It was a small bag of raw hide, so old that the leather was hard. He shook it and something rattled inside. "The pearls," he gasped, then came a fresh quake. Thrusting the bag into a pocket he sprang into the sea and swam hard for the entrance.

The rope still dangled from above and Felizia waved frantically. "Hurry," she cried, and Clem realised that the need for haste was urgent. He fastened the rope round his waist and was hauled rapidly up.

"I've got the pearls," he panted as he came over the edge of the cliff.

"Pearls ain't worth lives," answered Horner. "Look at that." Clem saw a great flood of lava rolling in a white hot river down towards the sea.

"We've got to cross in front of that to reach the boat," said Horner grimly.

"We'll do it," declared Clem. "Come on."

The ground was fearful and the going made worse by constant earthquake shocks, while from above the smoking torrent of lava came crashing over the ledges. Felizia's father kept stumbling, but Horner and Peterson, the other man, dragged him along between them. As they crossed in front of the lava it was so close that its heat scorched their faces as they rushed by.

"Hooray," cried Clem, "we're saved."

"Best not crow too soon," said Horner, pointing out to sea.

In spite of the heat Clem felt cold chills running down his spine, and his legs went weak under him. For a wave, a huge wall of water, was rolling in upon the island. They saw the schooner swing high on its mighty crest, then with a frightful crash the wave broke upon the island, shaking the solid cliffs.

"Boy, I reckon this is the finish," said Horner in Clem's ear.

"The schooner is still afloat," answered Clem.

"Ay, but she ain't got another boat."

Clem's heart was in his boots, for what Horner said was true, and now, since the wave must have smashed their own boat to atoms, there was no way of getting off the island where, even if not killed by the fury of the eruption, they were doomed to die of hunger and thirst. But Clem would not give up. "There may be wreckage left to build a raft," he said. "Wait while I go to the beach and see." But when Clem reached the beach he found it bare as the palm of his hand, scraped to bed-rock by the fearful force of the earthquake wave. Numb with despair, he was staring out to the schooner, when a wild shout from above made him turn. "Say, Carey, it's all right," roared Horner. "The boat's here."

"You're crazy," retorted Clem.

"Not by a long sight. By some miracle the boat's caught up here and still as sound as a bell."

Hardly able to believe his ears, Clem scrambled back, and sure enough there was the boat cradled between two rocks and, as Horner had said, quite unharmed. Even the oars were still in her. Between them they got her down, and just as the lava flood came pouring over the rim of the cliffs and hissing into the sea, the five pushed off and pulled away towards the schooner. Once aboard, they got the engine going, and before nightfall the red beacon of the island volcano had faded on the southern horizon.

* * * * *

THAT night Clem, with Felizia and her father, talked together in the saloon. "I am heading for Georgetown, Demerara," said Mr. Almeida. "The engineer tells me there's oil enough to take us that far, and once in a British port we should be all right."

"What about the men?" said Clem.

"We shall have no trouble," was the answer, "for I am promising them five hundred dollars apiece in addition to their wages, and Horner and Peterson are to have a thousand each."

"That's a lot," said Clem.

"One pearl will sell for enough to do all that," he said. "And there are forty large ones, besides more than a hundred smaller."

Clem whistled softly. "Why, it's a fortune," he said.

Mr. Almeida nodded. "Yes, my boy—fortunes for all three of us."

"For all three!" repeated Clem. "I have got nothing to do with it."

"You had everything to do with it, for without you Felizia and I should have lost not only the treasure but also our lives. It is her wish as well as mine that you take half the pearls."

Clem got very red. "I couldn't," he declared.

Felizia spoke. "You can and you will, Clem. Remember that you have to buy a new boat as well as a new home for your people."

Clem gasped. "Why, I can take them all back to England," he exclaimed.

Felizia laughed merrily. "Yes, and in your own steam yacht, if you like to buy one, Clem."


THE LAST CHANCE

GUY watched the man in the shabby blue serge suit, raging at the end of the pier, as the Molly slipped out into the open sea. He could not hear what the fellow was saying, but from the expression on his face it must have been something pretty bad.

He turned to old Job Landry, his mate, who was standing beside him.

"Just in time, Job," he said grimly.

"And 'oo might the chap be, sir?" inquired Job in a puzzled voice.

"A bailiff," Guy Escott answered, with a tight-lipped smile. "He was going to attach the Molly for debt."

Job's bearded face lengthened. "Bad as that, be it, cap'n?"

"As bad as that," replied Guy. "In fact, Job, it couldn't well be worse. I'm in debt up to the neck, and Skinham & Hunter are going to seize the boat, and sell her, if I don't pay up a matter of 200.

"It's not my fault," he went on curtly. "I put every penny into the Molly and her fitments. All my gratuity as well. The trouble is she's only a sailing craft, and can't compete with steam. So far I haven't paid expenses. If I'd had a motor in her, it would have made all the difference."

"Ay, it would that," agreed old Lantry. "But you've had bad luck, sir. We haven't had one good trip since we started. We've never had the hold even half full of fish."

"We've got to fill it this time," said Guy curtly. "It's our last chance, Job. That's why I chanced it and skipped out. If we can bring in a real good catch this time, I can stave off my creditors. If I can't"—he shrugged his shoulders—"well, that's the finish."

He turned as he spoke and went below. Job stood where he was. There was a troubled expression in his clear blue eyes. Like all the rest on the Molly, he was devoted to his young skipper.

"Too bad!" he muttered. "Too bad! and arter what he did in the war, it's cruel. That's what it is—cruel!"

By this time the Molly was outside the Head, and beating through a stiff lop. Landry looked at the sea and then at the sky. He noted the long lines of wind cloud strung across the blue, and the cold, yellowish light along the horizon. He saw how large and pale appeared the setting sun.

"The last chance, he said," he muttered in his beard. "And a slim chance, too, I'm afeard. It's a-going to blow. Ay, it's coming up bad."

Old Landry knew the North Sea like the palm of his hand. Man and boy, he had sailed it for forty years. And he knew its weather too. But even he was not prepared for what came upon them some twelve hours later.

It was not an ordinary North Sea gale, but a storm of almost hurricane force. It burst with the suddenness of a tropical tempest, and caught the Molly with her trawl down. Though every effort was made to save the trawl, it was impossible. They could not get it in, but were forced to cut the bridle, and leave gear of the value of about a hundred and fifty pounds at the bottom of the sea.

By the time this was done the sea was already too tremendous to allow them to turn and run for port. All they could do was to get out a sea-anchor and lie to, under bare poles.

"The last chance doesn't seem to have panned out," said Guy to Job, as the two crouched together in the cockpit aft. His voice was as level as usual, but Job saw the lines on his skipper's brown young face.

"Ay, luck's against us," Job answered sadly, then silence fell between them. Talking in any case was difficult, for the shriek of the gale and the roar of the seas combined in a deafening chorus.

Hours dragged by, and there was no abatement in the fury of the storm. Guy became more and more uneasy.

"We're drifting pretty fast, Job," he said, "and with the wind in this quarter, we're being set right back on the coast."

"If it don't change southerly, we'd ought to make the Humber, sir," said Landry.

"But that's just what it is doing," rejoined Guy. "It's pulling down sou'-east. We'll get piled up somewhere on the Yorkshire cliffs."

"We're a goodish bit off that yet," said Job comfortingly. "And mebbe it'll slack off afore night."

He spoke rather of what he hoped than expected. At nightfall it was blowing as hard as ever, and soundings showed that they were approaching the coast. What part of it they could not guess.

Guy made up his mind to risk it. Rousing out all hands, he got a rag of foresail on her and put her about. By superb seamanship he got her round in safety, but five minutes later a savage gust sent the foresail flying into the gloom like a pocket-handkerchief, and they were left perfectly helpless.

They got out the sea-anchor again, and once more drifted helpless through the roaring darkness.

It was about two in the morning when the look-out shouted a warning of breakers, and, dark as it was, Guy could see a line of livid white leaping to the westward. Above the shriek of the storm came the deep-toned roar of the surf.

Guy strained his eyes through the gloom. It was better to end like this. But he was not the sort to give up so long as the least chance remained. Once more he set a storm jib. He took the tiller himself.

A huge sea nearly buried the Molly as she came round, but the stout little craft shook herself free, and for a moment Guy hoped she might claw off.

Then came a shout, "Rocks ahead, sir. A big cliff," and Guy saw that they were in the mouth of a narrow bay. Job sprang to his side. "Run her right in, sir. It's our only chance," he shouted.

"But the breakers?" replied Guy.

"It's high tide, sir. She might get over. I reckon this must be Granite Gap. It's a bad place, but there's a break in the reef near the middle."

"Take her, Job," said Guy. "Do your best."

The next two minutes seemed a lifetime, as the trawler went dashing into what appeared to be certain destruction. No one spoke. All eyes were fixed on that roaring wall of white towards which they were speeding at a furious pace.

Up soared the Molly on the top of a huge wave. All held their breath. The reef was actually beneath them. It looked as though the little ship was being flung down upon the rocks as a boy might fling an egg upon a stone floor.

A dizzy downward swoop, a slight grating sound. Then a huge shout of joy and relief, and the Molly was floating in almost calm water.

* * * * *

THE gale had blown itself out, and Guy Escott, coming on deck at dawn, found his little ship securely anchored in a tiny triangle of sea, with tall cliffs to right and left, a speck of beach at the inner end of the bay, and to the eastward a wall of weed-grown rocks through which there seemed to be no channel wide enough even for a row-boat.

"Can't think however we got in, sir," came old Job's voice behind him.

"Providence and your good steering," answered Guy. "The question now is how we are going to get out."

"Have to wait for the tide, sir. Then I reckon we can tow or warp her out."

Guy looked round. "I shall go ashore after breakfast and see how the land lies. I shall have to make a survey of the reef before we risk the passage."

If they had not fish enough for market they had plenty for breakfast. Afterwards they got the dinghy over, and Job pulled Guy ashore. There was a ledge of rocks under the cliffs on the north side of the little bay, and Guy made his way out along these in order to get a view of the reef. Job followed after him.

Almost opposite the reef Guy paused and pointed to the mouth of a cave. "There's a rare lot of driftwood and wreckage there, Job. This place must be a regular death-trap."

"There's firing for a month o' Sundays, sir," replied Job. "Let's have a look inside. Mebbe there's something worth picking up."

"You can have a look," said Guy carelessly. "I'll go out along the reef."

He began jumping from rock to rock. It was risky work, for these rocks were covered with slippery weed. He came to a gap too wide to cross, and was looking at it when he heard Job's voice.

"Come back here, sir."

Job's voice quivered with eagerness, and Guy wasted no time in getting back.

"Well, what is it?" he asked.

Job drew him into the shelter of the cave mouth, and produced—an empty petrol tin.

Guy stared. "What's the use of that?" he asked.

"Smell of it, sir."

Guy did so. "It reeks of petrol," he said.

"Which means it ain't been in the water, sir. This ain't no wreckage."

Guy started. "You mean—" he began.

"I means what you means, sir. It's an old Boche nest what ain't never been found."

"And there might be drums of the stuff still left there?"

"Ay, enough mebbe to make up for the fish."

Guy's tired eyes brightened. "It's a chance," he said quickly. "Come. Let's see."

The cave curved sharply a few yards in, and Guy reached the bend first. Job heard him give a short laugh. Following, he found him facing a great mass of rock and rubble which completely blocked the whole passage. "A mare's nest, Job," he said briefly.

"The roof's fell down," muttered Job, in a sadly disappointed voice. "I wonder if them beggars blew it down."

"Doesn't matter to us whether they did or not. If we all dug for a month of Sundays we couldn't get through."

He turned and made his way outside again.

"I couldn't get along the reef," he said. "And I rather shy at taking the dinghy in among those rocks. I wish I could climb up high enough to get a squint at that gap."

"No reason why you shouldn't, sir," replied Job. "If we was to go back a bit there's a easy way up."

"I didn't notice it. Show me."

As Job had said, it was easy enough, and after a scramble the two found themselves on a steep grassy slope high above the bay.

"That's good," said Guy, as he stared down at the reef. "Yes, I see where we go. Now we'll get back."

He turned carelessly, his foot slipped, and the next instant he was sliding helplessly down an ever-steepening slope towards the sheer drop below.

"That bush. Catch hold of that there gorse-bush!" roared Job.

Guy saw the bush, and rolling over, caught it. The bush came up by the roots, a fissure yawned in the turf, and before Job's horrified eyes his young skipper disappeared into a living grave.

By the time Job reached the spot he was fairly sweating with terror. Lying flat, he put his face to the opening and looked down into a yawning gap.

"Cap'n. Mister Guy!" he shouted.

To his amazement Guy's voice answered.

"All right, Job. I'm not hurt. Go back to the ship, and get a rope. I shall be all right."

It was not more than twenty minutes before Job, with two other men, the rope, and an iron bar, was back on the spot.

"Are you there, sir?" he cried.

"I'm here, Job. And there's more than me to get up.

"What in the name of goodness are you talking about, sir?" demanded Job.

"I'm in the cave," came the quiet answer. "I'm on the inner side from the fall. And you were right, Job. There's something to make up for the fish—and the trawl."

"What do you mean, sir? Is it petrol?"

"No. It's spirits. Brandy, I think. The kegs are perfectly good, and if the brandy is as sound as the kegs, it ought to be worth its weight in gold."

Late that evening, the Molly successfully slipped through the gap in the reef, and set sail for her home port. In her hold were thirty-two kegs of brandy which, though perhaps a hundred years old, was in perfect condition.

It fetched something over 1200.

The Molly, equipped with the latest in motor engines, is to-day affording her young owner a very handsome income, and as Job and the others work on shares, they form a very prosperous and happy crew.


THE HEELBARROW HOARD
A FISHING HOLIDAY AND WHAT CAME OF IT

THERE was dismay on Bob Silver's usually cheery countenance as he burst into the study which he shared with his chum Antony Lyle.

"I say, Tony, it's all up," he exclaimed in a tone of despair.

Tony, a tall, dark boy, with a resolute face, looked up from his book.

"What's up, Bob?" Then catching sight of the other's expression, "What's the matter, old chap?" he asked more seriously.

"Everything. I've just had a letter from Uncle Richard. He can't have us after all for these holidays. He has been called away to America by some horrid business. There's nowhere for us to go. Oh, Tony, we shall be stuck here at Meripit for the whole of the holidays."

"It does seem like it," answered Antony seriously. "All our people being away in India makes it pretty difficult, doesn't it? Still, I've had to spend the holidays here before, and though it's pretty quiet, one can have some sort of a time."

Bob gulped.

"I know, but I was counting on such a jolly good time this summer. Uncle Richard was going to give us some top-hole fishing, and he said there'd be a couple of ponies for us. It's beastly to get turned down at the last minute like this."

Tony nodded. "It is, old chap. But didn't your uncle suggest anything else?"

"No, but he sent ten pounds, and said that he hoped it would help us out."

"Help us out—" Tony paused and considered a moment. "By Jove, so it will. Tell you what, Bob. Why shouldn't you and I go off and get a bit of fishing on our own?"

Bob's eyes widened.

"What a ripping idea! But I say, Tony, ten pounds won't go far to keep the two of us for the whole seven weeks. We couldn't take rooms, let alone stay at an hotel."

"Of course we couldn't," answered Tony dryly. "I wasn't thinking of that. But what about a tent? We could go and camp up on the moor where the fishing is free. We'd have plenty of money to hire a tent and buy all the grub we wanted. And we could get milk and butter from one of the farms. What d'ye think?"

"Think—why, that it's the most gorgeous notion I ever heard of," declared Bob enthusiastically.

It was only three days to the end of term. All their spare time during those three days the two boys spent in preparation for their excursion. They hired an old but sound bell tent in Tarnport for half-a-crown a week; they bought tea, sugar, bacon, and a good stock of jam and tinned stuff. They got four old army blankets very cheap, and these and other odds and ends they arranged to have sent by rail up to Moorlands station on the moor.

Tony did most of the business part. He was a year older than Bob, and, though not so square and sturdy, was much more practical.

Early on the morning of breaking-up day they started, and by eleven o'clock were stepping out of the train at Moorlands station.

"My word, this air smells good!" said Bob, sniffing the keen breeze with much appreciation. "Where are we going, Tony?"

"Out Stonebrook way. Farmer Cornish is going to drive us. Ah, here's the trap."

A weather-beaten moorman had just driven up, with a rough pony in the shafts of a two-wheel trap.

"Jump in, young gents," he said. "I got all your stuff in already."

They did not waste much time in doing so, and Cornish drove them straight out to Bear Hill Farm, where they made an excellent luncheon on pasties, cider, and cheese. Then they went out prospecting for a good site. It was not long before they found just what they wanted—a sheltered hollow set amid the heather-clad hills. It was not far from the brook, yet high enough to be fairly dry. By night-fall they had got everything to the spot, had set up their tent, and, lighting their fire, contentedly cooked their supper.

"We'll have trout to-morrow, Tony," said Bob, as he finished his last mouthful of bread and jam. "The water's just about right. I say, this is fine, isn't it? No one to bother us and—"

"Hallo, who's this?" he broke off sharply, as a tall figure strode suddenly into the circle of firelight, and, stopping short, stood towering over the boys.

"What are you doing here?" demanded the visitor harshly.

For a moment the two stared up without answering. The new-comer was a most curious-looking personage. His face was thin and haggard, his eyes, very large and dark, reflected the firelight in the strangest way. His hair was longer than usual, and he had a rough beard and moustache. His clothes, too, were old and much worn; yet they looked as if they had been cut by a good tailor. Neither of the boys had ever seen any one in the least like him before.

"What are you doing here?" he asked again.

"Camping," answered Tony quietly.

"Camping! You are spying. Clear out at once. I won't have you here."

The boys exchanged glances.

"Mad," was the word Bob's lips formed.

Tony answered. "We are not spying or anything, sir. We are just fishing. We thought this was open moor, free to any one."

"It is not. It is my leasehold. You will go at once. Do you hear?"

Tony thought it best to humour him.

"I am sorry we are trespassing. We didn't know. But surely you will let us stay here to-night?"

"Not another minute. How do I know what you may be doing in the dark? You were sent here by Mannering. Don't deny it."

"I never even heard of the gentleman," answered Tony. "We come here from Meripit."

The other glared. "I don't believe you. I know Mannering's tricks. Clear out now at once."

Tony got annoyed at last.

"Look here, sir. We have no proof that you own this place. What is your name?"

"Grattan—that's my name. You don't believe I own the ground? I'll soon prove it. One of you come to my house and I will show you my deed. Ah, even Mannering can't steal that from me."

Tony turned to Bob. "I'm afraid we've got to move," he said, biting his lip.

"Where to?" growled Bob, very much annoyed.

"You can go anywhere above the stone wall half a mile north of this," answered Grattan with unexpected civility.

"Can't we stay here to-night, sir?" asked Tony. "It's pretty late to make fresh camp. We will shift first thing in the morning."

"No," answered Grattan sharply. "You must go now."

There was no help for it, and the two began to pack up and strike tent. It was pitch dark and very chilly when the two boys, tired out and cross, crawled into their blankets in a hastily pitched tent on the high ground to the north.

When daylight came they found that the new camping ground was exposed to every wind that blew, and the worst was that there were no shelter except on boggy ground down by the brook.

"This is rotten," said Bob, looking round disconsolately.

Tony frowned. "What beats me is what on earth Grattan wants with such a desolate patch of moor."

"And who's Mannering?" added Bob. "And why is Grattan so hot against him?"

"Tell you what," said Tony. "We'll go up to Bear Hill for our milk, and ask Cornish. He'll tell us."

Cornish gave a great laugh when he heard their story.

"Too bad!" he said. "I'd ought to have told you about Mr. Grattan, but I didn't ever think he'd kick up a rumpus. He's got the lease all right. Mining lease it is. 'Tis the old Heelbarrow Mine, and he's got some notion in his head as there's good ore there."

"Is he working it?" asked Tony.

"No. Seems he ain't got the money."

"And who's Mannering?" added Bob. "And why's Grattan so hot about him?"

"Mr. Mannering lives over to Torcrest. A rich man he be. But what the trouble is atween him and Grattan I don't rightly know."

"Then I suppose there's nothing for it but to stay where we are?" said Tony.

"Not unless you likes to camp in my newtake. But I reckon that's a bit far from the river, ain't it?"

"It is," said Tony. "Thanks all the same. Come on, Bob. Let's get our breakfast and make the best of it?"

Fried eggs and bacon did them both good, and, as the day was fine with a soft westerly wind, they got their rods out and started to fish. As they did not want any more trouble about trespassing they went upstream.

The air was delicious, the sun bright and warm, the hills were purple with heather, and as the fish were coming well the two soon forgot their troubles, and began thoroughly to enjoy themselves.

About a mile up they came to a long deep pool with a waterfall at the top. Bob took the lower end. Tony began to put his flies across the top.

Bob heard a shout.

"Hi, Bob. Landing net. Quick! I've got a beauty."

Bob dropped his rod and ran. He saw a fine trout of nearly a pound leap high out of the broken water. The line was screaming off Tony's reel. Again and again the fish jumped, shaking his head furiously in an effort to free himself from the hook. Bob sprang out on a rock with the net ready in his hand.

Five minutes' desperate excitement, then at last Tony managed to work the fish in close to his chum. Bob slipped the net under, and with one quick flick flung him out.

"My hat, but he's a whopper!" he exclaimed as, after killing the fish, they stood over him, gloating on the crimson speckled beauty. "Prime condition, too!" They were so interested that they never noticed a curious drumming noise until it was close upon them. Suddenly Tony sprang to his feet and glanced round.

"Look out, Bob!" he yelled. "Look out!"

Bob looked and saw, not fifty yards away, a whole herd of a score or more of Highland cattle charging down upon them. Their shaggy heads were carried low. Their savage eyes glowed. They were coming straight at the boys.

"Follow me!" cried Tony, and made a leap for the rock upon which Bob had been standing when he landed the fish. From that he jumped to another farther out.

Bob followed, and the two reached a great, smooth granite boulder, which reared its gray head from the centre of the pool, just as the old bull which headed the herd came dashing into the edge of the pool.

"The brutes!" muttered Bob breathlessly. "I say, Tony, they're coming after us."

It was true. The bull was wading out, snorting furiously as he came. The others stood upon the shore, tossing their heads and bellowing.

Tony waited until the bull was almost up to their rock. Even then he was not swimming. His long sharp horns were within a yard of their legs.

"We'll have to take to the water," said Tony. "Come on."

He sprang in nearly up to his shoulders, and Bob followed. They struggled across and gained the opposite bank, which was of peat and about a yard high. Here they thought they would be safe, but nothing of the kind.

The bull came swimming after. The boys stoned him vigorously, but could not stop him. What was almost worse, the rest of the herd were in the water forging their way across.

"It's no use. We'll have to run for it," aid Tony rather breathlessly. He realised that they were both in very considerable danger.

The ground rose beyond the brook, but not very steeply. Before they had gone more than a couple of hundred yards the whole herd were thundering in pursuit.

Arms in, heads up, the two boys ran side by side, sprinting for their very lives. But the ground was fearfully rough, all covered with matted heather and loose stones. The herd gained rapidly.

"If we could only get to that steep place!" panted Bob.

"They'll have us first," answered Tony grimly.

The rattle of the troop came nearer every moment. The two boys were nearly done. Bob stumbled, but Tony saved him from falling.

"Hi! Hi-yi! Hi!" It was a most extraordinary yell that suddenly rang out quite close at hand, and all of a sudden a man shot up like a Jack-in-the-box from behind a clump of furze, only a few yards away to the right, and, waving his arms frantically, rushed between the boys and the cattle.

Instantly the whole of the herd swung off after him, as, running with amazing speed, he went straight off at right angles to the course the boys had been taking.

"He's mad!" gasped Bob, choking.

"Go on, you two! Go on!" waved the man, glancing back over his shoulder.

"Get on. I'm all right!" he shouted again, as they still hesitated.

"He means it. Come on," panted Tony.

They dashed on and gained the rocky place in front. They scrambled up a few yards, then paused and looked round. A most extraordinary sight met their eyes.

The man, whom they saw now to be Grattan, was standing coolly in the middle of a hollow covered with reeds and rushes. The cattle were all around him, but not very close. They kept plunging forward, then stopping as if afraid to advance, They were bellowing with rage.

"Why—what—?" began Bob.

Tony burst out laughing.

"Don't you see? It's a bit of bog he's on. It will hold him, but not the cattle. I say, that's smart."

Grattan waved to the boys. Then he shouted.

"When you have got your wind back, one of you come down and draw them off. No hurry."

"All right!" came Tony's answer, and at his voice the cattle tossed their heads, and two or three faced round.

Tony deliberately climbed down, and, going a few paces from the foot of the cliff, began dancing about and shouting at the cattle. It was not long before these tactics proved successful. First, the old bull wheeled, and made a fresh charge, then the rest came galloping furiously after him.

Tony waited until they were pretty close, then made a run and a scramble, and with Bob's help was soon on a ledge well out of reach.

"Now we'll get a bit of our own back," chuckled Bob, and, picking up a stone, let the ugly-tempered bull have it well between the horns. It drove him nearly mad, and he raged up and down, making frantic efforts to charge up the bank. But it was too steep, and he fell back every time.

Meantime the boys sent down a regular rain of stones, and kept the herd really busy whilst Grattan, jumping coolly from tuft to tuft, got out of the bog, and, making a wide circle, came over the top of the bank behind the boys.

"That's enough," he said. "Better come along up now."

"Thanks, we will," answered Tony. But, when they got to the top, Grattan was gone. They could see nothing of him at all.

"He is a queer bird!" exclaimed Bob.

"He certainly is," agreed Tony. "But anyhow he saved our lives for us. Now let's circle back and see if we can get our rods without those brutes spotting us again."

They managed this in safety, and went back to their camp.

"Hallo!" said Bob, as he entered the tent. "Some one has left a letter for us."

A sheet of paper was pinned to the centre pole. Tony took it down.


You can fish in the water from Heelbarrow down.

(Signed) Theodore Grattan,


was what he read.


"Short," said Bob.

"But very much to the point," answered Tony. "He's not such a bad old bird after all."

"Just a bit loony on one point. Tell you what. Let's take him some fish to-morrow if we get any."

It blew that night, and twice they had to go out and tighten the tent pegs. It was very cold and uncomfortable, and they both wished devoutly that they had a better camping ground. However, the wind dropped towards morning, and after breakfast they went off to take advantage of the new bit of river.

It was better than the upper water, and they did very well. By three in the afternoon, when the fish seemed to have stopped rising, each had a pretty good basket, so, putting up their rods they started off to find Mr. Grattan's residence.

It lay in a sort of gorge running back from the river valley, a savage, gloomy place with steep sides covered thickly with screens of loose granite. In one place a great mound of reddish rubble was piled thirty feet high, the dump from the old mine.

A house stood beyond this, an ancient square building made of huge blocks of lichen-covered granite.

"What a place to live in!" said Bob. "Why, it's got hardly any roof!"

"That's not it," answered Tony. "See, there's a little wooden bungalow beyond."

"Ah, that's more like it," said Bob. "I wonder if he's at home?"

They waded knee-deep through the heather which grew almost up to the door, and Tony knocked. After a minute's pause, the door opened, and there stood Mr. Grattan.

He did not speak, but stood glaring suspiciously at the boys.

"We brought you a few trout, sir," began Tony courteously. "I hope you will like them. And we wanted to thank you for taking off the cattle yesterday. We should both have got killed but for you."

"Hm, you ought to have been looking out for them," grunted Mr. Grattan. "Any one would know they were dangerous."

"We didn't even know they were there," explained Tony, as he took half a dozen trout out of his creel.

"Come in," said Mr. Grattan. It was a command rather than an invitation. "Like Some cider?"

"Very much, sir," answered Tony with a smile.

The door opened straight into a little sitting-room. It was much better furnished than the boys had expected. There were some nice pictures, good armchairs, and neat matting on the floor.

Their host went into the other room, and came back with a jug of cider and glasses.

"Your very good health, sir," said Tony, raising his glass.

"It's a long time since any one has wished that," said the other dully. "There are some would be glad to see me dead."

"We're not among those, sir," answered Tony with a smile.

"No, I believe you are not. I took you for spies of that scoundrel Mannering at first."

His face darkened as he spoke. He looked positively savage.

"We never heard of the gentleman until Farmer Cornish mentioned him," said Tony.

"And what did Cornish say?"

"Precious little, sir, except that he was a rich man and lived at Torcrest."

"He's a swindler—worse than a swindler. He'd murder me if he dared," said Grattan violently.

"Ah, you think I'm crazy," he went on, with a shrewd look at the boys. "I can tell you better. Listen to me. I own the lease of this old mine. I bought it because I know that there is good ore left, and that it will pay to work it. But I am a poor man. I had no money to pay for the working. I went to Mannering and asked him to lend me enough to open up the old workings. He promised to provide money in return for a partnership. His terms were very hard, but I agreed. The papers were drawn up and I came to live here."

He paused, then went on with a snort of disgust.

"Bah, I was a fool to trust him. The next thing was that he refused to put up the money. He offered to buy me out. He had the insolence to offer me five hundred pounds for what is worth at least twenty thousand."

"But can't you get some one else, sir," suggested Tony.

"No. Because I am tied by the agreement I have signed. He and his lawyers have tricked me. I am bound hand and foot."

"Well, he can't get the ore if you can't. That's one comfort," put in Bob.

"You are wrong, boy. He is starving me out. I am almost at the end of my resources, and he knows it. Next Christmas I shall be unable to pay my ground rent to the Duchy. Then the lease lapses. Mannering will take it over, and I—I shall be ruined!"

He spoke with a bitterness that made a deep impression on the two boys.

"That's rotten luck, sir," said Tony. "I wish we could do something to help you."

"Hm, you're not bad fellows," said Grattan. "But I've talked a deal too much. Go back to your tent and forget it."

But neither Bob or Tony was likely to forget what they had heard. They talked of it a lot that evening and afterwards.

The next few days were very bright and hot. The water ran low and clear as glass. Fishing went off, and they amused themselves with long tramps in various directions.

A week passed, and they had seen nothing of the hermit, as they called Mr. Grattan.

Then came a night with a strong cold wind, and they sat in their overcoats over the camp fire.

"I wish to goodness the hermit had given us leave to go back to our first camping ground," grumbled Bob, pulling up his coat collar. "This is rotten. I think I shall turn in. It's the only way to keep warm."

"Yes, the wind is cold up at this height," agreed Tony. "All right. Let's rake the fire out and turn in."

Ten minutes later the fire was out, and the boys were snug in their blankets. Bob was soon asleep, but Tony lay listening to the moaning of the wind over the hills.

Suddenly he sat up.

"That wasn't the wind," he muttered. "It was steps."

He crept out quietly. It was not dark, for there was a moon behind the thin haze of cloud. He heard the steps again, and presently made out the figure of a man walking along the fisherman's path by the brook. At first he thought it was Grattan, but presently saw that the man was much shorter and squarer in build. He noticed, too, that he walked with a slight limp. He stopped just opposite the tent, then turned and crept up to it.

Tony slipped silently back and lay down. He wanted to know what was up. The man trod softly, and Tony's heart beat rather faster than usual as he realised that the stranger was actually peering in through the flap. He was just going to spring up, when the man turned and went away again. As soon as he was back on the path, Tony roused Bob, and told him.

"Get your boots on," he said. "We've got to follow the beggar. I'll lay he's up to some mischief."

Bob was all agog in a moment, and presently the two boys, each armed with a stick, were creeping away in pursuit of their mysterious visitor.

They followed him down the river until they came opposite the old mine. Then he turned up the gorge, and was lost to sight among the thick gorse and boulders.

"He's after Grattan," whispered Bob in high excitement.

"I believe you're right," agreed Tony. "We'd better warn Grattan anyhow. But go quietly. We might collar him with luck."

Bending double, they went quickly along the path leading towards the mine. They had passed the dump and were in sight of the bungalow, when Tony suddenly gripped Bob by the arm.

"Look!" he muttered. "Look!" He pointed as he spoke up the valley.

A couple of hundred yards beyond the mine house a small spot of crimson light had suddenly appeared. It rose almost instantly to a brilliant flame, which bent under the whip of the wind, and then began leaping along the ground.

"Great Scott!" gasped Bob. "He's fired the heather."

"Yes, and he's doing it farther on. See, there's another flame. Come on. We must stop that. The whole place will be burnt out."

Both started running as hard as they could go, and just as they reached the spot a third fire started. As the flame flashed up they both, by its light, distinctly saw a big heavily-built man in a dark suit rise to his feet and run straight away up the valley.

"Whoop!" shouted Bob, rushing in pursuit.

"Steady, Bob!" cried Tony. "Let him go. Our job is to put the fire out. Grattan will be burnt out if we don't. Here, you go and rouse Grattan. I'll try and beat it out."

Bob raced back towards the bungalow; Tony whipped out his knife and cut a green branch from a thorn-tree, and set to work on the burning heather.

It was too late. By the time he had beaten out the first blaze the second and third were quite beyond him. The heather and gorse, dry as tinder, were turned into torrents of crimson flame. Sparks flew in crackling showers, and the rocky sides of the grim gorge glowed in the tremendous flare. Driven by the wind, the blaze travelled straight down upon Grattan's wooden bungalow.

Tony saw that the only chance of saving the place was to start a back-fire—that is, to bum off the heather just around the house so as to leave no food for the first fire. He turned and ran back swiftly.

There was no light in the windows, and to his amazement he saw no sign of Bob. He pounded frantically on the door, and out came Grattan in trousers and shirt.

"What's up now?" Then as he saw the fire, he gave a horrified exclamation.

"I'm done for," he groaned.

"No, not yet," answered Tony. "Here, give me some matches. We can bum back and save the building, and I want two wet sacks."

Grattan had sense enough to see that the boy knew what he was about. The matches and sacks were produced in a minute.

Tony handed him one sack, and took the other.

"I'm going to light here at the corner," he said quickly. "You go to the other. You must burn a belt at least six feet wide. Beat it out as it burns. Quick as ever you can. We shall have to work hard to do any good."

Work they did. The next ten or fifteen minutes were one breathless, furious fight. The heather was like tinder, and the gusts blew sparks in every direction. And all the time that they were burning around the building, the main fire was racing down on them, lighting up everything with its crimson glare.

There was no sign of Bob. Grattan had seen nothing of him. As Tony wielded his wet sack, pounding away frantically at the ever-spreading flames, he kept on wondering what could possibly have become of his chum. He longed to go and look for him, but knew that, if he left this work for a single minute, the dwelling was doomed.

The heat increased every moment. Clouds Of pungent smoke swept down, stinging his eyes, making him cough and choke. Red tongues of fire leaped through the heather.

The fire was on them. Sparks rained on the bungalow. If it had not been for the space which they had already burnt clear, nothing could have saved the building. As it was, the woodwork was smouldering in half a dozen places, and, but for the fact that Grattan had water laid on from the old mine on the hill-side, the place must have been burned down.

Tony carried one bucket after another, and splashed the contents against the walls. He was dripping with perspiration, and aching all over with the strain.

At last the smoke thinned, and he took a moment to look round. To his intense relief, he saw that the long, red line of flame was already well past, and sweeping away down the gorge.

"We're all right, Mr. Grattan," he shouted. "The house is safe."

"Yes, thanks to you, my lad," answered Grattan warmly.

"And now I must find Bob," said Tony quickly. "I can't think what has happened to him."

"I hope no harm has come to him," Grattan replied. "Go on. I'll be after you in a minute."

The clouds had blown away, and the moon threw a clear light on the black, smouldering desert, which an hour before had been a mass of thick heather, moor-grass and gorse.

"Bob! Bob, where are you?" shouted Tony, as he worked to and fro across the burnt ground.

"Here. Here I am, Tony," came the answer in a curiously muffled voice. Tony stared all about, but could see nothing.

"Here in the hole. I can't get out," came Bob's voice again.

A moment later Tony was standing on the edge of a narrow cleft in the ground. The top was not a yard wide, but it seemed to open out below into a regular chasm. He heard a scuffling sound from the depths.

"Are you hurt?" he asked anxiously.

"Bit bruised," came the gruff reply. "You'll have to get a rope, old man. It's beastly deep. The top was all hidden with the heather. I never saw it till I fell into it."

"All right. Wait a jiffy."

Tony ran back, and in less than two minutes he and Grattan were at the spot with a rope and a lantern, and very soon Bob was hauled safely out of his subterranean prison.

"The bottom's all stones," he said, as he ruefully rubbed his bruised knees. "A great pile of small stuff. Looks as if some one had been hiding road metal there. Well, I'm jolly glad you saved the house anyhow."

"Small stones, you say?" exclaimed Grattan with sudden interest. "Here, hold the rope. I'm going down." He slipped over the edge and dropped lightly into the dark pit.

"Give me the lantern," he said sharply, and Tony handed it down.

Next moment came a shout which made both the boys start.

"Got it—got it at last," Grattan cried delightedly, and presently came scrambling out of the hole. His eyes were shining, his face glowed with triumph. He took a couple of dark-coloured lumps of stone from his pocket, and held them out for inspection.

"Why, I thought you'd found a gold mine," said Bob in a very disappointed tone. "What good are they?"

Grattan laughed. "They're the ore, my boy—the ore, and rich as they make it. And there are tons down there. I don't know who hid it, or how, or why, but there it is—tons of it. I can sell this for cash, and carry on and open the mine. You two have done me a better turn than you have any idea of."

"I'm jolly glad of that," answered Bob. "All the same, it was really the chap who tried to burn you out that did it."

"The man who set the fire. Did you see him?" exclaimed Grattan eagerly.

"We did," said Tony, and described him.

Grattan chuckled delightedly.

"Why, it was Mannering—Mannering himself. Oh, we've got him now. With your evidence, he'll never dare go to the courts. I'll make him tear up his agreement altogether. I'll run the whole thing myself."

He paused, then went on in a different tone.

"Here, you two come back to the house. You'll want a wash and something to eat. And see here, you'd best come and put up with me for the rest of your stay on the moor. There's plenty of room, and I shan't bother you. Will you come?"

"Rather!" answered Bob and Tony in one breath.

* * * * *

MR. GRATTAN proved himself an ideal host, and the boys enjoyed every minute of their stay. Before their holiday was over the gorge was already busy with workmen, and Mr. Grattan himself seemed to grow younger and more cheerful every day.

When the last day came, and Cornish's cart waited to take them to the station, their host bade them a warm farewell, and, just as they were going, slipped an envelope into Tony's hand.

"Don't open that until you get to the train," he said with a smile.

When Tony did open it he found that it was an agreement, making him and Bob partners in the Heelbarrow Mine, each to have one twentieth of the profits.

That was two years ago. To-day their shares are enough to pay their school bills, and to give them a better allowance of pocket money than any other boys at Meripit.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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