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

THE SMUGGLER'S PATH

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Based on a painting by Sarah Louise Kilpack (1840-1909)

Ex Libris

Collected in Rousing Stories for Boys,
Blackie & Son Limited, London, 1929

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-10-16

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Rousing Stories for Boys with "The Smuggler's Path"



"HERE'S the old place, Jim," said Midshipman Gilbert Stratton to young James Langley as the two reached the top of the steep path leading from the beach of Catherall Cove to the summit of the cliff.

"It hasn't changed much," he added.

Jim, a capable looking youngster, who had been in the same term at Dartmouth with Gilbert, stared at the fine old house which stood among its great trees on the opposite slope.

"Topping!" he remarked at last.

"Isn't it?" replied Gilbert. "I only wish to goodness I could show you over it, but as you know, Gregory and I have parted brass rags, and I've a notion he'd sooner entertain Old Nick himself than allow me to set foot inside the Chase."

"Then he'd be his own host," said Jim with a brief chuckle.

"And this ought all to be yours, Gil!" he added.

"No use thinking, old son—not a bit! All the thinking in the world won't alter matters. Catherall Chase is Gregory Chard's own property, to do as he likes with. I don't get a look in any way."

Jim frowned. "I call it wicked. A place that has belonged to your ancestors for a hundred years and more, and then to fall into the hands of a chap like Gregory Chard. Even now, I don't understand how it happened."

"It's simple enough. Dad was a child in the hands of his second wife, Gregory's mother. She had no use for me from the beginning, and set all her wits to work to make Dad leave everything to her, and to Gregory, her son by a previous marriage. It would have taken a stronger man than he to resist her. She had a will like iron, and a temper to match it. Poor old Dad needed pity much more than I do."

"But to leave everything away from his own son! It seems a bit off. Surely he might have given you some money, Gilbert?" A slight frown crossed Gilbert's sun-tanned face.

"That's the rum part of it," he said. "The money seems to have disappeared. At any rate it doesn't look as if Gregory has been able to lay his hands on it. See how neglected the place is! The lawns are not half mown, the flower-beds are in a shocking state, and just look at the drive—it's green with weeds."

"But your father was well off, Gilbert?"

"He always seemed to be," answered Gilbert. "We had a lot of servants, and lived very well."

"Perhaps Gregory is a miser," Jim suggested.

"If he is, it's a new development," said Gilbert with a laugh. "He used to be a most extravagant beggar, always running up to town and doing himself well. He turned out in a new suit about once a week. I remember, when I was at Dartmouth, how I used to pull his leg about his ties. They were the loudest things I ever saw. And how he hated being chaffed!" Gilbert chuckled at the recollection.

"Can't we go a bit nearer?" suggested Jim.

"Yes," replied Gilbert. "So far as I know, this cliff path is a right-of-way. We'll go up it, and cut into the road behind the house."

Bees hummed among the gorse and heather which bordered the footpath, to the left the waves murmured gently at the foot of the cliff, while to the right the lovely old house with its gabled roofs slept peacefully in the sultry autumn sunshine. It was as pretty a scene as Jim Langley had ever set eyes on, yet he could not enjoy it. It made him hot to think that all this should rightfully have been the property of his pal.

The path bent away from the sea and led over a stile into a small pasture. The two were climbing the stile, when there was a sound of heavy footsteps, and a man came through a gate a little farther up.

"Who are you? What are you doing? Don't you know you're trespassing?" he bellowed.

"Gregory himself!" said Gilbert to Jim, and turned to meet the other.

"Hulloa, Gregory," he remarked. "You don't sound exactly friendly."

The other pulled up short. He was a heavy, thick-checked young man dressed in large black-and-white checks, and wearing a tie that was one degree more vivid than his complexion.

"Y-you, Gilbert?" he stammered.

"Myself, Gregory," replied Gilbert sweetly.

Gregory glared. "What do you mean by coming here? What are you doing spying on my land?"

"Oh, don't be an ass, Gregory," said Gilbert patiently. "At least not a bigger ass than you can help. We're not on your land This is a public footpath."

"It—it's nothing of the sort. It's a private way across my estate."

"I shouldn't boast about my ownership, if I were you, seeing the way you got it," scoffed Gilbert.

Gregory Chard's fat cheeks took on the colour of a ripe plum.

"Here—don't have a fit," said Gilbert hastily. "Come on, Jim. He's not pretty, and he's not nice, and I'm not going to introduce him."

Gregory was making unpleasant noises in his throat. He was quite beyond speech. The two left him choking and gasping.

"Charming creature," drawled Jim. "Reminds me of a fat pig."

"That just about sizes him up, though if you'd said 'hog' it might have been better," replied Gilbert.

Lightly as he spoke, Jim knew what his friend was feeling.

"It's pretty sickening for you, old man," he said quietly.

"Don't worry, Jim, I've got what Gregory Chard can never have. And that's a pal." He looked at the sky and whistled. "Gosh, look at that cloud over the Beacon. Thunder, or I'm a Dutchman. We'd better hook it."

Gilbert's prophecy was more than justified. He and Jim only just reached their rooms in the village before the storm burst. It began with thunder and developed into a night of such wind and rain as had rarely been known along that coast.

The house shook, the windows rattled, even Gilbert, accustomed as he was to all sorts of weather, found it difficult to sleep. When at last he did doze off, it was only to be roused by a crash louder and deeper than any thunder. The earth shook and the whole house seemed to rock.

Gilbert's door opened. Jim looked in.

"What the dickens was that?" he demanded.

"Felt like an earthquake," responded Gilbert. "But I expect it was just a fall of cliff."

"It sounded as if the whole country was falling down."

"Must have been something pretty big," said Gilbert. "We'll see in the morning."

In spite of his broken night, Gilbert was awake soon after six. Leaving Jim peacefully asleep, he dressed quietly and went out.

The storm clouds had swept away, and the sunlit air was deliciously fresh and crystal clear. Making his way down to the beach on which a heavy surf still thundered, he walked westwards towards Catherall Cove. From his knowledge of the coast, he had a pretty fair idea of where the fall had occurred.

He expected to find it somewhere near the western point of Catherall Cove, where as a boy he had more than once seen the overhanging sandstone collapse in heavy masses during a storm.

He was right, but although from the roar of the fall he had been prepared for something big, he had not for a moment expected what had actually occurred.

As he rounded the point, he found the whole landscape altered. The beach, for a distance of more than a hundred yards, was completely blocked by a gigantic pile of raw red rock and earth. It was a new promontory, over the seaward end of which the rollers broke in sheets of dazzling foam.

"My word, that's something like a fall!" he said aloud, as he stared at the mountain which barred further progress. "Why, the cliff path has gone down with it, and half a field into the bargain. And won't Gregory be cross?" he added with a chuckle. "He's lost a good acre of grazing."

The whim seized him to climb the fall. It was muddy, steep and not altogether safe, but such considerations troubled him not at all, and he was soon on top of the great heap of tumbled crags, examining the immense, semi-circular scar in the cliffs above. In many places water was oozing from the wounded face, and now and then a stone, loosely bedded in the muddy surface, would break away and rattle down to join the debris beneath.

He was turning to scramble down again when, just on a level with the upper edge of the fall, he noticed a small opening in the cliff face.

"Looks like a cave," he muttered, and went towards it. "It is a cave, too," he continued, and prompted by a boyish delight in exploration, made at once for the entrance.

It was a tough scramble, but he reached it and found himself in the mouth of a tunnel, about six feet high and four wide, which ran at a slight upward slope, straight into the heart of the living rock. Chisel marks were plain on the soft sandstone walls, while the roof and the floor were quite smooth and regular.

He went on a few steps, then stopped and gave a low whistle.

"Dashed if I don't believe it must be Penberthy's Passage!" he exclaimed. "Yes, there's not a doubt about it. It's the old smugglers' passage Dad used to talk about, the one that St. John Stratton used more than a century ago. And if that's so," he added, "it must lead right up into the Chase. What a joke! I must see, anyhow."

He felt in his pocket for matches, found that he had a full box, and started at once. Since the house was hardly more than a couple of hundred yards inland, he did not anticipate any particular trouble in reaching it, and the idea of paying a surprise visit to his old home, without the knowledge of Gregory Chard, tickled him immensely.

For the first fifty feet there was enough light from the entrance to see his way. After that he had to strike matches. There was no difficulty or danger about the tunnel itself. The men who had made it had done their work so well that it was as sound after more than a hundred years, existence as the day it was finished.

Gilbert had been counting his steps. At the two hundred and eightieth he came to a door. The honest oak of which it had been constructed was black as ink yet still sound, but the iron work had rusted away. Hinges and locks alike were little more than red dust. He set his shoulder against it, and one good shove did the trick. It toppled inwards, and Gilbert, not expecting it to go so easily, went with it. He and the door together landed with an awful clatter on what seemed to be a floor of stone flags.

"Row enough to rouse even Gregory," he observed, and rising, stood in the pitch darkness, listening intently. But the silence remained unbroken, and he ventured to strike another match.

The small flame illuminated the interior of a good sized cellar, but Gilbert, looking round, could not recognize it as one he had ever seen before. It seemed to be cut in the rock, like the passage, but the floor was flagged, and one side was lumbered up with a lot of ancient-looking kegs and cases. The air smelt thick and musty, but was quite breathable, and the place was wonderfully dry. He looked round for any way out, but at first could see none except the one by which he had come.

Then he caught sight of the remains of a heavy wooden ladder clamped against the right-hand wall. In the roof above was a trap-door made of a single flat stone. He went across to the ladder, but found that even the remaining rungs were too rotten to bear his weight.

"Had my pains for my trouble," he said ruefully. "No chance of startling Master Gregory after all."

He was turning to get back again, when it occurred to him to first have a look at the heap of rubbish on the far side of the cellar.

A pile of small kegs barred the way. He lifted one, but it was empty.

"No luck, I'm afraid," he smiled. "A keg of French brandy a century old would be worth having." Striking another match, he pushed his way round the kegs.

Between them and the wall was a widish space, and at the foot of the wall lay an object which gave even Gilbert's tough nerves a nasty shock.

It was the body of a man flat on his face on the floor.

For several seconds Gilbert stood stock still, breathing quickly, and conscious that his heart was beating rather more rapidly than he liked. His match burnt his fingers, and he lighted another in a hurry.

Now he saw the body more plainly, noticed the grey head and the dark-coloured clothes. But these were modern, it was not the corpse of one of the old sailor men who had made this haunt in the wild days of 1812.

He stooped and resolutely turned it over, then started back again with a choked exclamation.

"It's old Martin!"

Martin it was—his father's old butler, as devoted a servant as had ever lived. Face and body alike had mummified in this dry, cool air, and the features were still perfectly recognizable.

But how had he got here? Why? What could he have been doing in this deserted cave? For the life of him Gilbert could find no answer to these questions.

Another match, and now he saw what had before escaped his notice—a hollow in the wall about three feet up, and in it a box. A black, japanned dispatch-case. Also there lay on the floor the displaced bricks, a trowel and a small cone of long-dried mortar. It was the simplest possible calculation that Martin had been in the act of hiding this box when death came upon him.

Gilbert lifted out the box. It was locked, but with one of the bricks he easily forced it open. It was filled with bundles of papers neatly tied and docketed. On the top was a letter, and the envelope was inscribed in his father's well-known hand "To my dear son, Gilbert."

Gilbert's fingers shook a little as he tore it open. Holding a match over the page, he read as follows:


My Dear Gilbert,

I am dying, and you are at sea. I cannot bear to think that you should be deprived of all, and so I have trusted this box to Martin, who knows the secret of the old smuggler's cellar, and will hide it there until he has an opportunity to hand it over to you personally. It contains securities, bonds to bearer, for a little over twenty thousand pounds, which I give to you, with my love, to make up in some degree for the loss of the Chase. You will think me a coward, Gilbert. I am. I know well that I have no right to leave the old house to my wife. But I have her promise that, after her death, the place shall go back to you.

Ever your affectionate father,

George Stratton.

P.S. No one but Martin knows the secret of the cellar. There is not a soul else I dare trust, and being bed-ridden, I cannot make another will. She watches me too closely.

G.S.


Gilbert's eyes were moist as he read this pitiful letter, written in a hand already shaky with the near approach of death. For a moment, he even forgot the fortune contained in the box.

"Dear old chap!" he said softly. "Dear old chap—so he didn't forget me after all!"

Still another match burnt out. He had used fully half his box. He lit another, and with one last glance at the poor, withered body at his feet, tucked the dispatch-case under his arm and made his way rapidly back through the tunnel.

Reaching the beach, he sprinted and arrived at his lodgings to find Jim just sitting down to breakfast.

"Out early, old son," said Jim, then looking up caught sight of his friend's face. "What's up? You're all over mud. And what's that box?"

Gilbert laid the box on the table. "Give me a cup of coffee, then I'll explain, or try to."

He drank his coffee, and told his story.

Jim listened breathlessly. "Twenty thousand pounds! Fine work, old lad!" Then he frowned. "But your poor old dad. What he must have suffered!"

Gilbert nodded. He could hardly trust himself to speak.

Jim went on. "See here, Gilbert, the letter says that your stepmother promised to leave the Chase to you."

"A promise which she evidently hadn't the least intention of keeping," said Gilbert curtly.

"But can't you claim it now?"

Gilbert shook his head. "Not a hope. This letter won't help me in that respect. But I tell you what," he went on quickly. "I'm going up there this morning, and I'll give the good Gregory the worst quarter of an hour of his misspent life."

"How?"

"I'll tell you afterwards," replied Gilbert, and as soon as he finished his breakfast set off, alone.

As it happened, he had not so far to go as he expected, for he met Gregory on the top of the cliff, gloomily regarding the ruins beneath. He scowled as he saw Gilbert.

"I thought I told you this was private property," he snarled.

"I know you did," answered Gilbert, "but on this occasion I've come to call on you, my good Gregory."

"Then you can just clear out. I don't want to see you."

"I'm sure you don't. But this, you see, is a matter of business."

"I've no business with you, and I don't want to have any."

"Gregory," said Gilbert mildly, "as I told you yesterday, years have not improved your manners. They are distressingly bad."

"Hang you!" roared Gregory. "Will you clear out!"

"Not until I have done my duty. That is to tell you that you have an unburied body in your house."

Gregory glared. "W—what are you talking about?" he stuttered.

"I'll put it plainly. Old Martin is lying dead in the smuggler's cellar."

"Old Martin! H-how in sin do you know?"

"Because I saw him there less than two hours ago."

Gregory's face went almost black. The veins on his forehead swelled ominously.

"How did you get there?" he stormed.

"That's telling," smiled Gilbert. "Enough for you that I was there, and that I found Martin's body."

"It's a lie. No one knows where the cellar is."

"On the contrary it's quite true, Gregory. I can take you there if you like. And if you don't have the body removed, and give it proper burial, I shall be under the unpleasant necessity of informing the police."

"You tell the police?" snorted Gregory. "I'll have you arrested as a common burglar."

"That won't work either, Gregory. I can prove that I was there on my own business."

Gregory gasped for breath. His face was almost black.

"W-what did you find? Tell me—confound you—tell me at once!"

"Certainly I will tell you," Gilbert answered sternly. "I found my father's legacy which Martin had been hiding, for fear of you and your mother. I found more than that—"

A harsh cry from Gregory cut him short. Gregory threw up his arms as though choking, and suddenly began to tear at his collar. Before Gilbert could reach him, he swayed forward, and fell flat on his face.

Gilbert raised him quickly. Gregory was in a fit and, leaving him, Gilbert ran to the Chase for help. He found a man and between them they carried Gregory into the house, then telephoned for a doctor who pronounced it a slight apoplectic seizure.

Within an hour Gregory came round. He was shaken and badly frightened, and begged Gilbert to stay with him.

"I haven't any friends," he moaned, and looked so ill that Gilbert had not the heart to refuse. He had but three days' more leave and it was hard to give them up, yet he felt it was his duty. He sent word to Jim and settled down at the Chase.

The change in Gregory amazed him. All the man's surly cocksureness had gone. Within an hour he had become a terrified invalid. He confessed to Gilbert that he was desperately hard up. He had spent all the money his mother had left him and did not know how to carry on. He said that he had meant to sell the Chase.

"You haven't done it yet?" asked Gilbert.

"No," Gregory answered. Gilbert paused a moment before replying.

"The farm pays if it's properly worked," he said.

"I expect it would, but I've let it slide," Gregory replied. Again Gilbert considered.

"See here," he said slowly. "If I let you have a couple of thousand could you carry on?"

"I'd try," Gregory answered meekly.

"You promise?"

"I'll do my best—I give you my word."

"And not go to town and chuck the money away?"

"Likely, isn't it?" said Gregory bitterly.

"Sorry," said Gilbert. "I didn't mean to be brutal."

"You're not. You're a sight more decent than I deserve."

Gilbert reddened. "All right," he said hastily. "I'll see you have the money and a bit more if you need it. Now buck up and get fit again."

"You'll come and see me next time you have leave," Gregory begged.

"I will, and I expect to see the old place in fine shape."


GILBERT went back to his ship but he never again saw Gregory alive. Four months later came a letter from the lawyer to tell him that Gregory had passed away.

"He was very grateful to you for your help," the lawyer wrote, "and has left you the Chase and everything in it. I am very glad that the property has at last come back to the rightful heir."

"And now," said Jim, when Gilbert had showed him the letter. "I suppose you will chuck the service and settle down."

"Not I," Gilbert answered. "I'm much too fond of my job. I'm putting in old Martin's son as bailiff, and you and I will have good times there when we get a spot of leave."


THE END


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