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´╗┐Title: Dick o' the Fens - A Tale of the Great East Swamp
Author: Fenn, George Manville, 1831-1909
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Dick o' the Fens - A Tale of the Great East Swamp" ***

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Dick o' the Fens; A Tale of the Great Eastern Swamp, by George Manville


A number of the actors in this tale speak in a broad Lincolnshire
Fenland dialect, which may make it a little hard for some readers. Some
of the more unusual words are annotated in square brackets.

The Squire sees the gradually encroaching bog and marsh in his land, and
realises that with drainage he could reclaim this as good farm land.  On
the other hand some of the locals would rather see the fen remain, along
with their various occupations, and the wonderful and fragile wet-land
natural history.  When digging begins there are a number of nasty
incidents--torching of houses, malicious woundings of horses and cows,
gunshot wounds to humans, and even murders.

A constable is called in, and takes a dislike to Dick, the Squire's son,
and to his friend Tom.  He tries to pin the blame on them.  At times
even Dick's father is inclined to think that way, too.  But eventually
the culprit is found.  There are the tense moments typical of this
author, and you will perhaps learn a lot about fenland natural history.
A good read, and better still to listen to it.  NH





Dick Winthorpe--christened Richard by order of his father at the Hall--
sat on the top of the big post by the wheelwright's door.

It was not a comfortable seat, and he could only keep his place by
twisting his legs round and holding on; but as there was a spice of
difficulty in the task, Dick chose it, and sat there opposite Tom
Tallington--christened Thomas at the wish of his mother, Farmer
Tallington's wife, of Grimsey, the fen island under the old dyke.

Tom Tallington was seated upon one side of a rough punt, turned up to
keep the rain from filling it, and as he was not obliged to hold on with
his legs he kept swinging them to and fro.

It was not a pleasant place for either of the lads, for in front of them
was a ring of fire where, upon the ground, burned and crackled and fumed
a quantity of short wood, which was replenished from time to time by
Mark Hickathrift, the wheelwright, and his lad Jacob.

At the first glance it seemed as if the wheelwright was amusing himself
by making a round bonfire of scraps, whose blue reek rose in the country
air, and was driven every now and then by the wind over the boys, who
coughed and sneezed and grumbled, but did not attempt to move, for there
was, to them, an interesting feat about to be performed by the
wheelwright--to wit, the fitting of the red-hot roughly-made iron tire
in the wood fire upon the still more roughly-made wheel, which had been
fitted with a few new spokes and a fresh felloe, while Farmer
Tallington's heavy tumbril-cart stood close by, like a cripple supported
on a crutch, waiting for its iron-shod circular limb.

"Come, I say, Mark, stick it on," cried Dick Winthorpe; "we want to go."

"'Tarn't hot enough, my lad," said the great burly wheelwright, rolling
his shirt sleeves a little higher up his brown arms.

"Yes, it is," said Tom Tallington.  "You can see it all red.  Why don't
you put it on cold, instead of burning the wood?"

"'Cause he can't make one fit, and has to burn it on," said Dick.

The wheelwright chuckled and put on some more wood, which crackled and
roared as the wind came with a rush off the great fen, making the
scattered patches of dry reeds bend and whisper and rustle, and rise and
fall, looking in the distance of the grey, black, solemn expanse like
the waves of the sea on a breezy day.

"Oh!  I say, isn't it choky!" cried Tom.

"Thou shouldstna sit that side then," said the wheelwright.

"Hoy, Dave!" shouted Dick Winthorpe.  "Hi, there: Chip, Chip, Chip!" he
cried, trying to pat his leg with one hand, the consequence being that
he overbalanced himself and dropped off the post, but only to stay down
and caress a little black-and-white dog, which trotted up wagging its
stump of a tail, and then beginning to growl and snarl, twitching its
ears, as another dog appeared on the scene--a long, lank, rough-haired,
steely-grey fellow, with a pointed nose, which, with his lean flanks,
gave him the aspect of an animal of a vain disposition, who had tried to
look like a greyhound, and failed.

This dog trotted out of the wheelwright's workshop, with his coat full
of shavings and sawdust, and lay down a short distance from the fire,
while the little black-and-white fellow rushed at him, leaped up, and
laid hold of his ear.

"Ha, ha! look at old Grip!" cried Tom Tallington, kicking his heels
together as the big dog gave his ears a shake, and lay down with his
head between his paws, blinking at the fire, while his little assailant
uttered a snarl, which seemed to mean "Oh you coward!" and trotted away
to meet a tall rugged-looking man, who came slouching up, with long
strides, his head bent, his shoulders up, a long heavy gun over his
shoulder, and a bundle of wild-fowl in his left hand, the birds banging
against his leather legging as he walked, and covering it with feathers.

He was a curious, furtive-looking man, with quick, small eyes, a smooth
brown face, and crisp, grizzly hair, surmounted by a roughly-made cap of

He came straight up to the fire on the windy side, nodded and scowled at
the wheelwright as the latter gave him a friendly smile, and then turned
slowly to the two boys, when his visage relaxed a little, and there was
the dawning of a smile for each.

"What have you got, Dave?" cried Dick, laying hold of the bunch of
birds, and turning them over, so as to examine their heads and feet;
and, without waiting for an answer, he went on--"Three curlews, two
pie-wipes, and a--and a--I say, Tom, what's this?"

Tom Tallington looked eagerly at the straight-billed, long-legged,
black-and-white bird, but shook his head, while Chip, the dog, who had
seated himself with his nose close to the bunch, uttered one short sharp

"I say, Dave, what's this bird?" said Dick.

The man did not turn his head, but stood staring at the fire, and said,
in a husky voice, what sounded like "Scatcher!"

"Oh!" said Dick; and there was a pause, during which the fire roared,
and the smoke flew over the wheelwright's long, low house at the edge of
the fen.  "I say," cried Dick, "you don't set oyster-catchers in the

"Yow don't know what you're talking about," growled the man addressed.

"Why, of course he didn't," cried Tom Tallington, a stoutly-built lad of
sixteen or seventeen, very much like his companion Dick, only a little
fairer and plumper in the face.  "They ain't swimmers."

"No, of course, not," said Dick.  "Kill 'em all at one shot, Dave?"

The man made no answer, but his little dog uttered another short bark as
if in assent.

"Wish I'd been there," said Dick, and the dog barked once more, after
which the new-comer seemed to go off like a piece of machinery, for he
made a sound like the word "kitch," threw the bunch of birds to the
wheelwright, who caught them, and dropped them in through the open
window of the workshop on to his bench, while Dave jerked his gun off
his shoulder, and let the butt fall between his feet.

Just then the wheelwright roared out, with one hand to his cheek:

"Sair--_rah_!  Ale.  Here you, Jake, go and fetch it."

The short thickset lad of nineteen, who now came from behind the house
with a fagot of wood, threw it down, and went in, to come back in a few
moments with a large brown jug, at the top of which was some froth,
which the wind blew off as the vessel was handed to the wheelwright.

"She's about ready now," said the latter.  "You may as well lend a hand,

As he spoke, he held out the jug to the donor of the birds, who only
nodded, and said, as if he had gone off again, "Drink;" and propping the
gun up against the crippled cart, he took off his rough jacket and hung
it over the muzzle.

In kindly obedience to the uttered command, the big wheelwright raised
the brown vessel, and took a long draught, while Dave, after hanging up
his jacket, stood and looked on, deeply interested apparently, watching
the action of the drinker's throat as the ale went down.

Jacob, the wheelwright's 'prentice, looked at the ale-jug with one eye
and went on placing a piece of wood here and another there to keep up
the blaze, while Dick went and leaned up against the cart by the gun.

Then the jug was passed, after a deep sigh, to Dave, who also took a
long draught, which made Jacob sigh as he turned to go for some more
wood, when he was checked by a hollow growl from Dave, which came out of
the pot.

But Jacob knew what it meant, and stopped, waiting patiently till Dave
took the brown jug from his lips, and passed it to the apprentice,
letting off the words now:

"Finish it."

Jacob was a most obedient apprentice, so he proceeded to "finish it,"
while the wheelwright and Dave went to the workshop, and as he was
raising the vessel high Tom Tallington stooped, picked up a chip of wood
from a heap, gave Dick a sharp look, and pitched it with so good an aim
that it hit the jug, and before the drinker could lower it, Tom had
hopped back against the cart, striking against the gun, and nearly
knocking it down.

"I see yow, Masr' Dick," said Jacob, grinning; "but yow don't get none.
Ale arn't good for boys."

"Get out!" cried Dick; "why, you're only a boy yourself.  'Prentice,

"Not good for boys," said Jacob again as he finished the last drop
perseveringly, so that there should be none left; and then went indoors
with the jug.

"Dick--I say," whispered Tom as, after slipping one band into the big
open pocket of the hanging coat, he drew out a well scraped and polished
cow-horn with a cork in the thin end.

Chip, the dog, who was watching, uttered a remonstrant bark, but the
boys paid no heed, being too intent upon the plan that now occurred to
one, and was flashed instantaneously to the other.

"Yes, do," whispered Dick.  "How much is there in it?"

"Don't know; can't see."

"Never mind, pitch it in and let's go, only don't run."

"It would be too bad," said Tom, laughing.

"Never mind--we'll buy him some more powder.  In with it."

"No," said Tom, hesitating, though the trick was his suggestion.

Dick snatched the powder-horn from his companion, gave a hasty glance at
the workshop, from which came the clink of pincers, and pitched the horn
right into the middle of the blaze.

Chip gave a sharp bark, and dashed after it, but stopped short, growling
as he felt the heat, and then went on barking furiously, while the two
boys walked off toward the rough road as fast as they could, soon to be
beyond the reach of the wheelwright's explosion of anger, for they
regretted not being able to stop and see the blow-up.

"What's your Chip barking at?" said the wheelwright, as the two men
walked out, armed with great iron pincers, the wheelwright holding a
pair in each hand.  "What is it, Chip?"

The dog kept on barking furiously, and making little charges at the

"There's summat there," said Dave in a low harsh voice.  "Where's they

"Yonder they go," said the wheelwright.

"Then there's summat wrong," said Dave, taking off his fox-skin cap and
scratching his head.

An idea occurred to him, and he ran to his coat.

"Hah!" he ejaculated in a voice that sounded like a saw cutting wood and
coming upon a nail; "keep back, Chip!  Here, Chip, boy; Chip!  They've
throwed in my powder-horn."

"Eh!" cried the wheelwright.

Pop! went the horn with a feeble report, consequent upon there being
only about a couple of charges of powder left; but it was enough to
scatter the embers in all directions, and for a few moments all stood
staring at the smoking wood in the midst of which lay the great iron
tire, rapidly turning black.

Dave was the first to recover himself.

"Come on," he shouted, and, pincers in hand, he seized the heated ring,
the wheelwright followed suit, the apprentice joined, and lifting the
glowing iron it was soon being hammered into its place round the smoking
wheel, the soft metal bending and yielding, and burning its way till,
amidst the blinding smoke, it was well home and cooling and shrinking,
this part of the business being rapidly concluded by means of buckets of
water brought by Jacob, and passed along the edge of the wheel.

"I say, Tom, it wasn't half a bang," said Dick as the two lads ran
towards home with the wind whistling by their ears.

"No," was the panted-out reply; "but I say, what will old Dave say?"

"I don't care what he says.  I shall give him a shilling to buy some
more powder, and he can soon make himself another horn."



"Yes, it's all right, Master Winthorpe," said Farmer Tallington; "but
what will the folks say?"

"Say!  What have they got to do with it?" cried Squire Winthorpe.  "You
boys don't make so much noise.  I can't hear myself speak."

"Do you hear, Tom, howd thy row, or I'll send thee home," said the
farmer; "recollect where you be."

"Yes, father," said, the lad.

"It wasn't Tom; it was me," said Dick quietly.

"Then hold your tongue, sir," cried the squire.  "Now look here, Master
Tallington.  If a big drain is cut right through the low fen, it will
carry off all the water; and where now there's nothing but peat, we can
get acres and acres of good dry land that will graze beasts or grow

"Yes, that's fine enough, squire," said Tom's father; "but what will the
fen-men say?"

"I don't care what they say," cried the squire hotly.  "There are about
fifty of us, and we're going to do it.  Will you join?"

"Hum!" said Tom Tallington's father, taking his long clay-pipe from his
lips and scratching his head with the end.  "What about the money?"

"You'll have to be answerable for a hundred pounds, and it means your
own farm worth twice as much, and perhaps a score of acres of good land
for yourself."

"But it can't be good land, squire.  There be twenty foot right down o'
black peat, and nowt under that but clay."

"I tell you that when the water's out of it, James Tallington, all that
will be good valuable land.  Now, then, will you join the adventurers?"

"Look here, squire, we've known each other twenty year, and I ask thee
as a man, will it be all right?"

"And I tell you, man, that I'm putting all I've got into it.  If it were
not right, I wouldn't ask you to join."

"Nay, that you wouldn't, squire," said Farmer Tallington, taking a good
draught from his ale.  "I'm saaving a few pounds for that young dog, and
I believe in you.  I'll be two hundred, and that means--"

"Twice as much land," said the squire, holding out his hand.  "Spoken
like a man, Master Tallington; and if the draining fails, which it can't
do, I'll pay you two hundred myself."

"Nay, thou weant," said Farmer Tallington stoutly.  "Nay, squire, I'll
tak' my risk of it, and if it turns out bad, Tom will have to tak' his
chance like his father before him.  I had no two hundred or five hundred
pounds to start me."

"Nor I," said the squire.

"May we talk now, father?" said Dick.

"Yes, if you like."

"Then," cried Dick, "I wish you wouldn't do it.  Why, it'll spoil all
the fishing and the 'coy, and we shall get no ice for our pattens, and
there'll be no water for the punt, and no wild swans or geese or duck,
and no peat to cut or reeds to slash.  Oh, I say, father, don't drain
the fen."

"Why, you ignorant young cub," cried the squire, "do you suppose you are
always to be running over the ice in pattens, and fishing and shooting?"

"Well, no, not always," said Dick, "but--"

"But--get out with your buts, sir.  Won't it be better to have solid
land about us instead of marsh, and beef and mutton instead of birds,
and wheat instead of fish?"

"No, I don't think so, father."

"Well, then, sir, I do," said the squire.  "I suppose you wouldn't like
the ague driven away?"

"I don't mind, father," said Dick laughing.  "I never get it."

"No, but others do, and pains in their joints, and rheumatics.  I say,
Tallington, when they get as old as we are, eh?"

"Yes, they'll find out the difference, squire; but do you know, that's
how all the fen-men'll talk."

"Let 'em," said the squire; "we've got leave from the king's magistrates
to do it; and as for the fen-men, because they want to live like frogs
all their lives, is that any reason why honest men shouldn't live like
honest men should.  There, fill up your pipe again; and as for the
fen-men, I'll talk to them."

There was a bonny fire in the great open fireplace, for winter was fast
coming on, and the wind that had been rushing across the fen-land and
making the reeds rustle, now howled round the great ivy-clad chimney of
the Hall, and made the flame and smoke eddy in the wide opening, and
threaten every now and then to rush out into the low-ceiled homely room,
whose well-polished oak furniture reflected the light.

The two lads sat listening to the talk of their elders, and after a time
took up the work that had been lying beside them--to wit, some netting;
but before Dick had formed many meshes he stopped to replenish the fire,
taking some awkward-looking pieces of split root which were as red as
mahogany, and placing them upon the top, where they began to blaze with
a brilliant light which told tales of how they were the roots of
turpentine-filled pines, which had been growing in the ancient forest
that existed before the fen; and then taking from a basket half a dozen
dark thick squares of dried peat and placing them round the flaming
embers to keep up the heat.

"I say, Tom," said Dick in a low voice, "I don't think I should care to
live here if the fen was drained."

"No," replied Tom in the same tone, "it would be a miserable place."

"Now, Tom, lad, home!" said the farmer, getting up.  "Good-night,

"Nay, I won't say good-night yet," cried the squire.  "Hats and sticks,
Dick, and we'll walk part of the way home with them."

As they left the glowing room with its cosy fire, and opened the hall
door to gaze out upon the night, the wind swept over the house and
plunged into the clump of pines, which nourished and waved upon the
Toft, as if it would root them up.  The house was built upon a rounded
knoll by the side of the embanked winding river, which ran sluggishly
along the edge of the fen; and as the party looked out over the garden
and across the fen upon that November night, they seemed to be ashore in
the midst of a sea of desolation, which spread beneath the night sky
away and away into the gloom.

From the sea, four miles distant, came a low angry roar, which seemed to
rouse the wind to shout and shriek back defiance, as it plunged into the
pines again, and shook and worried them till it passed on with an angry

"High-tide, and a big sea yonder," said the squire.  "River must be full
up.  Hope she won't come over and wash us away."

"Wesh me away, you mean," said Farmer Tallington.  "You're all right up
on the Toft.  'Member the big flood, squire?"

"Ay, fifteen years ago, Tallington, when I came down to you in
Hickathrift's duck-punt, and we fetched you and Tom's mother out of the
top window."

"Ay, but it weer a bad time, and it's a good job we don't hev such
floods o' watter now."

"Ay 'tis," said the squire.  "My word, but the sea must bite to-night.
Dick here wanted to be a sailor.  Better be a farmer a night like this,
eh, Tallington?"

"Deal better at home," was the reply, as the door was closed behind
them, shutting out the warmth and light; and the little party went down
a path leading through the clump of firs which formed a landmark for
miles in the great level fen, and then down the slope on the far side,
and on to the rough road which ran past Farmer Tallington's little

The two elder friends went on first, and the lads, who had been together
at Lincoln Grammar-School, hung behind.

To some people a walk of two miles through the fen in the stormy
darkness of the wintry night would have seemed fraught with danger, the
more so that it was along no high-road, but merely a rugged track made
by the horses and tumbrils in use at the Toft and at Tallington's Fen
farm, Grimsey, a track often quite impassable after heavy rains.  There
was neither hedge nor ditch to act as guide, no hard white or drab road;
nothing but old usage and instinctive habit kept those who traversed the
way from going off it to right or left into the oozy fen with its black
soft peat, amber-coloured bog water, and patches of bog-moss, green in
summer, creamy white and pink in winter; while here and there amongst
the harder portions, where heath and broom and furze, whose roots were
matted with green and grey coral moss, found congenial soil, were long
holes full of deep clear water--some a few yards across, others long
zigzag channels like water-filled cracks in the earth, and others
forming lanes and ponds and lakes that were of sizes varying from a
quarter of a mile to two or three in circumference.

Woe betide the stranger who attempted the journey in the dark, the track
once missed there was death threatening him on every hand; while his
cries for help would have been unheard as he struggled in the deep black
mire, or swam for life in the clear water to find no hold at the side
but the whispering reeds, from which, with splashings and whistling of
wings, the wild-fowl would rise up, to speed quacking and shrieking

But no thoughts of danger troubled the lads as they trudged on slowly
and moodily, the deep murmur of their elders' voices being heard from
the darkness far ahead.

"Wonder what old Dave said about his powder-flask?" said Tom, suddenly
breaking the silence.

"Don't know and don't care," said Dick gruffly.

There was a pause.

"I should like to have been there and heard Old Hicky," said Tom, again
breaking the silence.

"Yah!  He'd only laugh," said Dick.  "He likes a bit of fun as well as
we do."

"I should have liked to see the fire fly about."

"So should I, if he'd thought it was Jacob, and given him what he calls
a blob," said Dick; "but it wasn't half a bang."

"Well, I wish now we hadn't done it," said Tom.


"Because Dave will be so savage.  Next time we go over to his place
he'll send us back, and then there'll be no more fun at the duck 'coy,
and no netting and shooting."

"Oh, I say, Tom, what a fellow you are!  Now is Dave Gittan the man to
look sour at anybody who takes him half a pound of powder?  Why, he'll
smile till his mouth's open and his eyes shut, and take us anywhere."

"Well, half a pound of powder will make a difference," said Tom

"I'll take him a pound," said Dick magnificently.

"How are you going to get it?"

"How am I going to get it!" said Dick.  "Why, let Sam Farles bring it
from Spalding; and I tell you what, I won't give him the pound.  I'll
give him half a pound, and you shall give him the other."

"Ah!" cried Tom eagerly; "and I tell you what, Dick--you know that old

"What! that they dug up when they made the new cow-house?"

"Yes, give him a lump of that, and we'll help him melt it down some
night, and cast bullets and slugs."

"Seems so nasty.  Father said it was part of an old lead coffin that one
of the monks was buried in."

"Well, what does that matter?  It was hundreds of years ago.  Dave
wouldn't know."

"And if he did he wouldn't mind," said Dick.  "All right! we'll take him
the lead to-morrow."

"But you haven't got the powder."

"No, but Hicky goes to Ealand to-morrow, and he can take the money to
the carrier, and we can tell Dave we've sent for it, and he knows he can
believe us, and that'll be all right."

There was another pause, during which the wind shrieked, and far
overhead there came a confused gabbling noise, accompanied by the
whistling of wings, a strange eerie sound in the darkness that would
have startled a stranger.  But the boys only stood still and listened.

"There they go, a regular flight!" said Dick.  "If Dave hears them won't
he wish he'd got plenty of powder and lead!"

"Think the old monks'll mind?" said Tom.

"What! that flock of wild-geese going over?"

"No-o-o!  Our taking the lead."

"Oh!  I say, Tom, you are a chap," cried his companion.  "I know you
believe in ghosts."

"No, I don't," said Tom stoutly; "but I shouldn't like to live in your
old place all the same."

"What! because it's part of the old monastery?"

"Yes.  The old fellows were all killed when the Danes came up the river
in their boats and burned the place."

"Well, father and I aren't Danes, and we didn't kill them.  What stuff!"

"No, but it's not nice all the same to live in a place where lots of
people were murdered."

"Tchah! who cares!  I don't.  It's a capital old place, and you never
dig anywhere without finding something."

"Yes," said Tom solemnly, "something that isn't always nice."

"Well, you do sometimes," said Dick, "but not often.  But I wouldn't
leave the old place for thousands of pounds.  Why, where would you get
another like it with its old walls, and vaults, and cellars, and thick
walls, and the monks' fish-ponds, and all right up on a high toft with
the river on one side, and the fen for miles on the other.  Look at the

"Yes; it's all capital," said Tom.  "I like it ever so; but it is
precious monky."

"Well, so are you!  Who cares about its being monky!  The old monks were
jolly old chaps, I know."

"How do you know?  Sh! what's that?"

"Fox.  Listen."

There was a rush, a splash, a loud cackling noise, and then silence save
for the wind.

"He's got him," cried Tom.  "I wish we had Hicky's Grip here; he'd make
him scuffle and run."

"Think it was a fox?" said Tom.

"Sure of it; and it was one of those old mallards he has got.  Come on.
Why shouldn't the fox have duck for supper as well as other people?"

"Ah, why not?" said Tom.  "But how do you know the monks were jolly old

"How do I know! why, weren't they fond of fishing, and didn't they make
my ponds?  I say, let's have a try for the big pike to-morrow.  I saw
him fly right out of the water day before yesterday, when it rained.
Oh, I say, it is a shame!"

"What's a shame?" said Tom.

"Why, to do all this draining.  What's the good of it?"

"To make dry fields."

"But I don't want any more dry fields.  Here have I been thinking for
years how nice it would be, when we'd done school to have all the run of
the fen, and do what we liked, netting, and fishing and shooting, and
helping Dave at the 'coy, and John Warren among the rabbits."

"And getting a hare sometimes with Hicky's Grip," put in, Tom.

"Yes; and now all the place is going to be spoiled.  I say, are we going
right home with you?"

"I suppose so," said Tom.  "There's the light.  Old Boggy'll hear us
directly.  I thought so.  Here he comes."

There was a deep angry bark at a distance, and this sounded nearer, and
was followed by the rustling of feet, ending in a joyous whining and
panting as a great sheep-dog raced up to the boys, and began to leap and
fawn upon them, but only to stop suddenly, stand sniffing the air in the
direction of the old priory, and utter an uneasy whine.

"Hey, boy! what's the matter?" said Tom.

"He smells that fox," said Dick triumphantly.  "I say, I wish we'd had
him with us.  There! he's got wind of him.  I wish it wasn't so dark,
and we'd go back and have a run."

"Have a run! have a swim, you mean," said Tom.  "Why, that was in one of
the wettest places between here and your house.  I say, how plainly you
can hear the sea!"

"Of course you can, when the wind blows off it," said Dick, as he
listened for a moment to the dull low rushing sound.  "Your mother has
put two candles in the window."

"She always does when father's out.  She's afraid he might get lost in
the bog."

"So did my mother once; but it made father cross, and he said, next time
he went out she was to tie a bit of thread to his arm, and hold the end,
and then he would be sure to get home all right.  Why, there's a
jack-o'-lantern on the road."

"That isn't a jacky-lantern," replied Tom, looking steadfastly first at
the two lights shining out in the distance, and then at a dim kind of
star which seemed to be jerking up and down.

"Tell you it is," said Dick shortly.

"Tell you it isn't," cried Tom.  "Jacky-lanterns are never lame.  They
never hop up and down like that, but seem to glide here and there like a
honey-bee.  It's our Joe come to meet us with the horn lantern.  It's
his game leg makes it go up and down."

"Dick!" came from ahead.

"Yes, father," shouted the lad; and they ran on to where the squire and
Farmer Tallington were awaiting them.

"We'll say `good-night' now," said the squire.  "Here, Dick, Farmer's
Joe is coming on with the lantern.  Shall we let him light us home?"

"Why, we should have to see him home afterwards, father," said Dick

"Right, my lad!  Good-night, Tallington!  You are in for your two
hundred, mind."

"Yes, and may it bring good luck to us!" said the fanner.  "Good-night
to both of you!"


Dick supplemented his "good-night" with a pat on the head of the great
sheep-dog, which stood staring along the track, and snuffing the wind;
and then he and his father started homeward.

"I shall come over directly after breakfast, Dick," shouted Tom.

"All right!" replied Dick as he looked back, to see that the lantern had
now become stationary, and then it once more began to dance up and down,
while the two lights shone out like tiny stars a few hundred yards away.

"They've got the best of it, Dick," said the squire.  "Why, we were
nearly there.  Let's make haste or your mother will be uneasy.  Phew!
the wind's getting high!"



It was a tremendous blast which came sweeping over the sea, and quite
checked the progress of the travellers for the moment, but they pressed
on, seeming to go right through the squall, and trudging along sturdily
towards home.

"I begin to wish someone had put a light in the window for us, Dick,"
said the squire at the end of a few minutes' walking.  "It's getting
terribly dark."

Dick said, "Yes," and thought of the thread, but he made no allusion to
it, only laughed to himself and tramped on.

"By the way, how uneasy that dog seemed!" said the squire as they
trudged on with heads bent, for they were facing the blast now.

"Yes, father; we passed a fox."

"Passed a fox!  Why, you couldn't see a fox a dark night like this."

"No, but I could smell him, father, and we heard him catch a duck."

"Ah!  I see.  And did the dog scent out the fox?"

"Yes, I think so, and that made him whine."

"Come along, my lad.  Let's get on as fast as we can.  It's growing
blacker, and I'm afraid we shall have some rain."

No rain fell, but the sky was completely clouded over and the darkness
seemed to grow more and more intense.  The wind kept increasing in
violence and then dying out, as if it came in huge waves which swept
over them and had a great interval between, while as the rush and roar
of the gusts passed there came the deep hoarse murmur of the distant

"Dick," said the squire suddenly, "you are so young that you can hardly
feel with me, but I want someone to talk to now, and I may as well tell
you that I am going to risk a great deal of money over the draining of
the fen."

"Are you, father?"

"Yes, my lad, and I have been feeling a natural shrinking from the risk.
To-night sweeps all that away, for in spite of having lived here so
many years as I have, I never before felt how needful it all was."

"Do you think so, father?"

"Indeed I do, my lad, for anything more risky than our walk to-night I
hardly know.  What's that?"

The squire stopped short and grasped his son's arm, as, after a furious
gust of wind, the distant murmur of the sea seemed to have been
overborne by something different--a confused lapping, trickling, and
rushing noise that seemed to come from all parts at once.

"I don't know, father," said Dick, who was slightly startled by his
father's manner.  "Shall we go on?"

"Yes," said the squire hoarsely.  "Let's get home quick."

They started on again, walking fast, but at the end of a minute Dick
uttered a cry.

"We're off the road, father.  Water!"

As he spoke he was ankle-deep, and in taking a step to catch his son's
arm, Squire Winthorpe felt the water splash up around him.

"Can you see the lights at the Priory, Dick?" he said sharply.

"No, father."

"We can't be off the path," said the squire.  "Is it boggy and soft
under you?"

"No, father--hard; but I'm in the water."

"It's hard here too," said the squire, trying the ground with his feet;
"and yet we must be off the road.  Stand fast, my boy; don't move."

"Are you going away, father?" said Dick.

"No, only a few yards, boy.  I want to see where we got off the track,
whether it's to the right or left."

"It's so dark," said Dick, "I can hardly see my hand.  Mind how you go,
father; there are some deep bog-holes about here."

"Then you stand fast, my boy."

"Hadn't you better stand fast too, father?"

"And both perish in the wet and cold, my boy!  No.  I'll soon find the
road.  It must be close by."

Not a tree or post to guide him, nothing but the thick darkness on all
sides, as Squire Winthorpe cautiously moved one foot before the other,
keeping one upon solid ground while he searched about with the other,
and as he moved _splash_--_splish_--_splash_, the water flew, striking
cold to his legs, and sending a chill of dread to his very heart.

"It's very strange," he cried; "but don't be frightened, Dick.  We shall
be all right directly."

"I'm not frightened, father," replied the boy.  "I'm puzzled."

"And so am I, my lad, for I did not know we could find such solid bottom
off the road.  Ah!"

"What's the matter, father?"

"I told you not to move, sir," roared the squire, for he had heard a
slight splash on his right.

"I couldn't help it, father; my foot seemed to slip, and--why, here's
the road!"

"There?" cried the squire eagerly.

"Yes, father, and my foot's slipped down into a big rut."

"Are you sure, boy?"

"Sure!  Yes, father, it _is_ the road.  I say, what does it mean?"

The answer was a quick splashing sound, as Squire Winthorpe hurried to
his son's side and gripped his arm, to stand there for a few moments
listening and thinking as he realised the meaning of the strange
rushing, plashing noise that came from all round.

"I know," cried Dick suddenly; "the sea-bank's broke, and we're going to
have a flood."

"Yes," said the squire hoarsely; "the bank has gone, my boy."

"Hadn't we better push on, father, before it gets any deeper?"

"Stop a moment, Dick," said the squire, "and let me try to think.
Home's safe, because the Priory's on the Toft; but there's Tallington
and his wife and boy.  We must try and help them."

"Come on, then, father!" cried Dick excitedly.

"No, Dick, that will not do; we shall only be shutting ourselves up too
and frightening your mother to death.  We must get home and then on to
Hickathrift's.  He has a big punt there."

"Yes, father, but it hasn't been mended.  I saw it this afternoon."

"Then he has wood, and we must make a raft.  Come on.  Here: your hand."

For a few minutes there was nothing heard but the rushing of the wind
and the _splash, splash_ of the water, as they pressed on, the squire
cautiously trying to keep one foot by the rut which had guided his son,
and, when it became intangible, seeking for some other means to keep
them from straying from the submerged road in the darkness, and going
off to right or left into the bog.

It was a terrible walk, for they had a full mile to go; and to the
squire's horror, he found that it was not only against the wind but also
against the sharply running water, which was flowing in from the sea and
growing deeper inch by inch.

As if to comfort each other father and son kept on making cheery remarks
apropos of their rough journey.  Now it was Dick, who declared that the
water felt warmer than the air; now it was the squire, who laughingly
said that he should believe now in blind men being able to find their
way by the touch.

"For I'm feeling my way along here famously, Dick."

"Yes, father, only it seems such a long way--ugh!"

"What is it, boy?"

"One foot went down deep.  Yes, I know where we are."

"Yes, close home, my boy," cried the squire.

"No, no; half a mile away by the sharp turn, father; and I nearly went
right down.  We must keep more this way."

The squire drew his breath hard, for he knew his son was right, as the
road proved when they turned almost at right angles and plashed on
through the water.

Half a mile farther to go and the current rushing on!  It had been only
over their ankles, now it was above their knees, and both knew that at
this rate it would be waist-deep, if not deeper, before they could reach
the high ground at home.

"It is very horrible, Dick, my lad," cried the squire at last as they
kept on, with the water steadily and surely growing deeper.

"Oh, I don't mind, father!  We shall get on so far before it's over our
heads that we shall be able to swim the rest of the way.  You can swim,

"I used to, my lad; perhaps I have not forgotten how.  But I am thinking
of the people about.  I wonder whether Hickathrift has found it out."

"I dare say he's in bed, father," said Dick.

"That's what I fear, my boy; and then there's John Warren."

"He'll get up the sand-hills, father."

"If he knows in time, my boy; but Dave Gittan has no place to flee to."

"He has his little boat, father; and Chip would warn him if he has gone
to bed.  I know what he'd do then."

"What, my lad?"

"Pole himself along to John Warren and fetch him off, and come on to the

"Mind, take care, we're going wrong," cried the squire excitedly, as he
slipped and went in right up to his waist, but Dick clung to his hand,
threw himself back, and with a heavy splash the squire managed to regain
the hard road off whose edge he had slipped.

"We must go slower, father," said Dick coolly.  "You pull me back if I
go wrong this way and I'll pull you.  I say, isn't it getting dark!"

The squire made no answer, but feeling that their case was growing
desperate, and if they did not progress more rapidly they would be in
such deep water before they could reach the Priory that it would be
impossible to keep the track, and they would be swept away, he pushed
on, with the result that in a few minutes Dick had a narrow escape,
slipping right in and coming up panting, to be dragged back, and stand
still quite confused by his total immersion.

"We must get on, Dick, my boy," said his father; "the water's growing
terribly deep, and it presses against us like a torrent.  Forward!"

They recommenced their journey, wading on slowly over what seemed to be
an interminable distance; but no sign of the dark village or of the
island-farm in the fen appeared, and at last the water deepened so that
a chilly feeling of despair began slowly to unnerve the squire and set
him thinking that theirs was a hopeless case.

"Be ready, Dick," he whispered, as, after a tremendous puff of wind
which stopped them for the moment, he once more pressed on.

"Ready, father?" panted Dick.  "What for?"

"We may have to swim directly.  If it gets much deeper we cannot force
our way."

"Oh, we shall do it!" cried the boy; "we must be close there now."

"I fear not," said the squire to himself.  "Hold on, boy!" he cried
aloud.  "What is it?"

"Water's--up to my--chest," panted Dick; "and it comes so fast here--
it's--it's too strong for me."

"Dick!" cried the squire in agony.

"I must swim, father," cried Dick.

"And be swept away!" cried the squire hoarsely.  "Heaven help me! what
shall I do?"

He had gripped his son tightly in his agony, and they stood together for
a few moments, nearly swept off their feet by the swirling current, when
a bright idea flashed across the squire's mind.

"Quick, Dick! don't speak.  Climb on my back."

"But, father--"

"Do as I bid you," roared the squire, stooping a little, and bending
down he made of one hand a stirrup for his son's foot, who, the next
moment, was well up on his back.

"That's better, boy," panted the squire.  "You are safe, and your weight
steadies me.  I can get on now; it can't be far."

As he spoke a light suddenly flashed up a couple of hundred yards ahead,
and gleamed strangely over the water like a blood-red stain.

Then it died out, but flashed up again and increased till there was a
ruddy path of light before them, and behind the glow stood up the trees,
the long, low Priory and the out-buildings, while figures could be seen
moving here and there.

"I know," cried Dick.  "I see, father.  They've lit a bonfire to show us
which way to go.  Ahoy!"

"Ahoy!" came back in a stentorian shout, and something was thrown upon
the fire which dulled it for the moment, but only for it to flash up in
a tremendous blaze, with the sparks and flames of fire rushing towards

"Ahoy!" came the shout again.

"Ahoy!" answered Dick.

"That will do, my boy," panted the squire.  "The water's getting
horribly deep, but I can manage now, for I can tell which way to go."

"Little more to the left, father," cried Dick.

"Right, boy!"

"No, no, father," shrieked Dick; "left!"

"I meant you are right, my lad," said the squire, moving on, with the
water growing deeper still, while the stentorian voice kept uttering
cheering shouts to them, which they answered till they were only about
fifty yards away, when it became plain that someone was coming to meet
them, splash, splash, through the water, with a pole in his hand.

The figure, though only head and half his body were visible above the
plashing water, looked large, and for a few moments in his confusion
Dick was puzzled; but he realised who it was at last, and cried:

"Why, it's old Hicky!"

He was right; and just in the veriest time of need the great blacksmith
reached the fainting squire, and grasping his arm breasted the water
with him; and in another minute they were ascending the slope, with the
water shallowing, till they reached a blazing fire, where Mrs Winthorpe
clasped husband and son to her breast!

"All right, wife!" cried the squire.  "Glad you are here, Hickathrift!
All your people too?"

"Yes, squire, all safe here; but we're uneasy like about Dave o' the
'Coy and John Warren."

"But they've got the boat," cried Dick.

"Yes; I hope they're safe," said the squire.  "Hickathrift, my lad, that
was a brave thought of yours to light that fire.  It saved our lives."

"Nay, squire," said the big fellow; "it was no thowt o' mine--it was thy
missus put it into my yead."

The squire gave his wife a look as she stood there in the midst of a
group of shivering farm-servants, and then turned to the wheelwright.

"The boat," he said--"did you come in the boat?"

"Ay, squire.  She leaks a deal, but I thrust an owd pillow in the hole.
But I nigh upon lost her.  My Grip woke me howling, for we were abed.  I
jumped out and ran down, thinking it was the foxes after the chickens,
and walked right into the water.  I knowed what it meant, and got over
to the saw-pit, and just caught hold of the boat in the dark as it was
floating away.  Then I got my leaping-pole and run her under the window,
and made my missus give me a pillow to stop the leak 'fore I could bale
her out.  Then Jacob come, and we got the missus down and poled her
along here, but was nearly swept by."

"You're a good fellow, Hickathrift," cried the squire.  "Wife, get out
some hollands; we're perished.  Have a glass, my man; and then we must
go in the punt to Grimsey and get the Tallingtons out.  We're all right
here, but Grimsey Farm will soon be flooded to the bed-room windows.
Light a lanthorn, some one, and put in a spare candle.  You'll go with
me, Hickathrift?"

"Ay, squire, to the end of the world, if thou bids me; but I tell ye--"

He stopped short.

"Well, what, man?  Here, drink!"

"Efter yow, squire," said the big fellow sturdily.  "I tell ye that no
mortal man, nor no two men, couldn't take that punt across to Grimsey in
the dark to-night.  We should be swept no one knows wheer, and do no
good to them as wants the help."

"But we can't leave them to drown, man!" cried the squire.

"No; we can't do that, and we wean't," cried Hickathrift.  "They'll get
right on the roof if the bed-rooms gets full; and while we're waiting
for day we'll have the punt hauled up.  Jacob'll howd the light, and
I'll see if I can't mend the hole.  You've got a hammer and some nails
in the big barn?"

"Yes," said the squire; "yes, you are right, my man--you are right.
Come, Dick: dry clothes."

There was nothing else to be done; and as the bonfire was kept blazing
the punt was hauled up, and in the midst of the howling wind and the
rush of the water Dick stood looking on, his heart full as he thought of
Tom Tallington asking his help away there in the darkness; while tap,
tap, tap went the wheelwright's hammer, after his saw had rasped off a
thin piece of board.

"That'll do it," he cried at last; and the punt was placed ready for
launching when the day showed.

Meanwhile the squire gave orders for the fire to be kept well alight;
and fagots of wood and straw trusses were piled on, with the odds and
ends of broken farming implements and worn-out wooden shedding that had
been the accumulation of years.

The result was that the flames rose high over the wild weird scene,
gilding the wind-tossed pines and staining the flood for far, while
there was so much excitement in thus sitting up and keeping the fire
blazing that it would have been real enjoyment to Dick had he not been
in a constant state of fret and anxiety about his friends.

For, living as he did in that island of good elevated land in the great
wild fen where inhabitants were scarce, everybody was looked upon as an
intimate friend, and half the lad's time was spent at the bottom of the
slope beyond the ruinous walls of the old Priory, watching the water to
see how much higher it had risen, and to gaze out afar and watch for the
coming of boat or punt.

In truth, though, there was only one vessel likely to come, and that was
the flat-bottomed punt belonging to Dave, who worked the duck-decoy far
out in the fen.  The people on the sea-bank had a boat; but they were
five miles away at least, and would not venture on such a night.

"What should I do?" thought Dick as he walked down to the edge of the
water again and again.  "If Tom is drowned, and Dave, and John Warren,
they may drain the fen as soon as they like, for the place will not be
the same."

The night wore on; and Mrs Winthorpe made the people in turn partake of
a meal, half supper, half breakfast, and, beyond obeying his father's
orders regarding dry clothes, Dick could go no further.  He revolted
against food, and, feeling heartsick and enraged against the wheelwright
for eating a tremendous meal, he once more ran down to the water's edge,
to find his father watching a stick or two he had thrust in.

"Tide has turned, Dick," he said quietly; "the water will not rise any

"And will it all run off now, father?"

The squire shook his head.

"Some will," he replied; "but the fen will be a regular lake till the
sea-bank has been mended.  It must have been rough and the tide very
high to beat that down."

"Will it come in again, then?" asked Dick.

"Perhaps: perhaps not.  It's a lucky thing that I had no stock down at
the corner field by the fish-stews.  If they had not been up here in the
home close, every head must have been drowned."

"Do you think the fish-ponds are covered, father?"

"Five or six feet deep, my boy."

"Then the fish will get out."

"Very likely Dick; but we've something more important to think about
than fish.  Hark! what's that?" and he listened.

"Ahoy!" roared Hickathrift from just behind them.  "Hear that, squire?"

"Yes, my lad, I heard a cry from off the water."

Just then came another faint hail from a distance.

"That's Dave," said Hickathrift, smiling all over his broad face; "any
one could tell his hail: it's something between a wild-goose cry and the
squeak of a cart-wheel that wants some grease."

The hailing brought out everybody from the house, Mrs Winthorpe's first
inquiry being whether it was the Tallingtons.

"Pitch on a bit more straw, Dick," cried the squire; and the lad seized
a fork and tossed a quantity on the fire, while the wheelwright stirred
up the embers with a pole, the result being that the flames roared up
tremendously, sending out a golden shower of sparks which were swept
away before the wind, fortunately in the opposite direction to the
house, towards which the squire darted one uneasy glance.

"Ahoy!" shouted the wheelwright, and there was a fresh response which
sounded weird and strange, coming as it did from out of the black wall
of darkness seen beyond the ring of ruddy light which gleamed upon the

"They'll get here easily now," said the squire from the very edge of the
flood, as he tossed out a piece of wood, and saw that it was floated
steadily away.  "The current is slack."

He could not avoid shuddering as he thought of the way in which it had
pressed upon him as he waded toward the island with Dick upon his back;
but the memory passed away directly as a fresh hail came from off the
water; and as the group looked out anxiously and listened for the splash
of the pole, they at last saw the fire-light shining upon a figure which
gradually came gliding out of the darkness.  At first it seemed strange,
and almost ghastly; but in a few more moments those who watched could
see that it was Dave o' the 'Coy in his fox-skin cap standing up in his
little white punt and thrusting it along by means of a long pole, while
a man sat in the stern.

"Yon's John Warren along wi' him," cried Hickathrift.  "I thowt they'd
be all right.  Come on, lads, clost in here," he shouted; and without
making any reply, the strange-looking man in the bows of the boat pulled
her along till the prow struck upon the flooded grass, and he threw a
rope to the wheelwright.

"Got your gun, Dave?" cried Dick eagerly.

The man turned his head slowly to the speaker, laid the pole across the
boat, which was aground a dozen feet from the dry land, stooped, picked
up his long gun, and uttered a harsh--


As he spoke he threw the gun to the wheelwright, who caught it and
passed it to Dick, while the second man handed Dave another gun, which
was sent ashore in the same way.  Then, taking up the pole, Dave placed
it a little way before him, and leaped ashore as actively as a boy,
while the second man now advanced to the front, caught the pole as it
was thrown back, and in turn cleared the water and landed upon the dry

"Glad to see you safe, Dave," said the squire, holding out his hand.
"Glad to see you, too, John Warren.  You are heartily welcome."

The two men took the squire's hand in a limp, shrinking manner; and
instead of giving it a hearty grip, lifted it up once, looking at it all
the time as if it were something curious, and then let it fall, and
shuffled aside, giving a furtive kind of nod to every one in turn who
offered a congratulation.

They were the actions of men who led a solitary life among the birds and
four-footed animals of the great wild fen, and to be made the heroes of
an escape seemed to be irksome.

Just then there was a diversion which took off people's attention, and
seemed to place them more at ease.  A sharp quick yelp came from the
boat, followed by a bark, and, plainly seen in the fire-light, a couple
of dogs placed their paws on the edge of the little vessel, raised their
heads to the full stretch of their necks, and with cocked-up ears seemed
to ask, "What's to be done with us?"

"Hi!  Chip, Chip!  Snig, Snig!  Come, boys," shouted Dick, patting his
leg; and the dogs barked loudly, but did not stir.

"Come on, you cowards!" cried Dick.  "You won't get any wetter than I

"Here!" said Dave; and Chip leaped over and swam ashore, gave himself a
shake, and then performed a joy dance about Dick's legs.

This time there was a dismal howl from the punt, where the second dog
was waiting for permission to land.

"Come on!" said the second man, a frowning, thoughtful-looking fellow of
about fifty, the lower part of whose face was hidden by a thick beard--a
great rarity a hundred years ago--and the other dog leaped into the
water with a tremendous splash, swam ashore, rushed at Chip, and there
was a general worry, half angry, half playful, for a few moments before
the pair settled down close to the fire, as if enjoying its warmth.

"This is a terrible misfortune, Dave," said the squire.

"Ay; the water's out, mester," said the man in a low husky way.

"How did you escape?"

"Escape?" said Dave, taking off his fox-skin cap and rubbing his head.

"Seed the watter coming, and poonted ower to the Warren," said the
second man, thrusting something in his mouth which he took out of a
brass box, and then handing the latter to Dave, who helped himself to a
piece of dark-brown clayey-looking stuff which seemed like a thick paste
made of brown flour and treacle.

"I wish you men would break yourselves of this habit," said the squire.
"You'll be worse for it some day."

"Keeps out the cold and ager, mester," said the second man, thrusting
the box back in his pocket.

"Then you've been waiting at the Warren?"

"Ay, mester.  Me an' him waited till we see the fire, and thowt the
house hed kitched, and then we come."

"It was very good of you, my lads," said the squire warmly.  "There, get
in, and the mistress will give you some bread and cheese and ale."

"Arn't hungry," growled the second man.  "Can'st ta yeat, Dave, man?"

"Ah!" growled Dave, and he slouched round, looking at the ground, and
turned to go.  "Gimme mai goon," he added.

"The guns are all right, Dave," cried Dick.  "I've got 'em.  I say, John
Warren, will the rabbits be all drowned?"

"Drowned, young mester!  Nay, not they.  Plenty o' room for em up in the
runs where the watter won't come."

"But the foxes, and hares, and things?" cried Dick.

"Them as has got wings is flied awayer," growled the second man; "them
as has got paddles is swimmed; and them as can't find the dry patches is
gone down."

After this oracular utterance John o' the Warren, who took his popular
name from the rabbit homes, to the exclusion of his proper surname of
Searby, tramped heavily after his companion to the Priory kitchen, where
they both worried a certain amount of bread and cheese, and muttered to
one another over some ale, save when Dick spoke to them and told them of
his anxieties, when each man gave him a cheery smile.

"Don't yow fret, lad," said Dave.  "Bahds is all reight.  They wean't
hoort.  Wait till watter goos down a bit and you an' me'll have rare

"Ay, and rabbuds is all reight too, young mester," added John Warren.
"They knows the gainest way to get up stairs.  They're all happed up
warm in their roons, ready to come out as soon as the watter goos down."

"But how did it happen?"

"Happen, lad!" said the two men in a breath.

"Yes; what caused the flood?"

"Oh, I d'n'know," growled Dave slowly.  "Happen sea-bank broke to show
folk as fen warn't niver meant to be drained, eh, John Warren?"

"Ay, that's it, lad.  Folk talks o' draaning fen, and such blather.
Can't be done."

"I say, John, I don't want the fen drained," whispered Dick.

"Good lad!" growled John Warren; and then Dave shook his head at the
ale-mug, sighed, and drank.

"But don't let father hear what you say, because he won't like it."

"Nay, I sha'n't say nowt," said Dave.

"Nay, nor me neither, only natur's natur, and floods is floods," added
John Warren; and he too shook his head at the ale-mug, and drank.

"Now, then," cried the squire, coming quickly to the door, "Hickathrift
and I are going in the big punt to see if we can help the Tallingtons;
the stream isn't so strong now.  Are you men going to try to help us?"

"Get Farmer Tallington out?" said Dave.  "Ay, we are coming."

"Let me come too, father," cried Dick.

"No, my lad, I'm afraid I--"

"Don't say that, father; let me go."

"No no, Dick," cried Mrs Winthorpe, entering the kitchen, for she had
been upon the alert.  "You have run risks enough to-night."

"Yes; stay and take care of the women, Dick," said his father.

Dick gave an angry stamp on the floor.

"Mother wants me to grow up a coward," he cried.  "Oh, mother, it's too

"But, Dick, my boy," faltered the poor woman.

"Let the boy come, wife," said the squire quietly; "I'll take care of

"Yes, and I'll take care of father," cried Dick, rushing at his mother
to give her a sounding kiss, and with a sigh she gave way, and followed
the party down to the water's edge.



There was still a furious current running on the far side of the Toft,
as, well provided with lanterns, the two punts pushed off.  On the side
where the two last comers landed it had seemed sluggish, for an eddy had
helped them in; but as soon as they were all well out beyond the pines
the stream caught them, the wind helped it, and their task was not to
get towards Grimsey, but to retard their vessels, and mind that they
were not capsized by running upon a pollard willow, whose thin bare
boughs rose up out of the water now and then, like the horrent hair of
some marine monster which had come in with the flood from the sea.

"We've done wrong, Hickathrift," said the squire after they had been
borne along by the current for some distance; "and I don't understand
all this.  I thought that when the tide had turned, the water would have
flowed back again through the gap it must have broken, instead of still
sweeping on."

"Ay," said the great wheelwright, who was standing in the bows with his
long leaping-pole in his hand; "I do puzzle, squire.  I've been looking
out for a light to show where Grimsey lies, for here, in the dark, it's
watter, watter, watter, and I can't see the big poplar by Tallington's.
Hi!  Dave, where's Grimsey, thinks ta?" he shouted.

"Nay, I don't know."

"Can you make it out, John Warren?"

"Nay, lad, I'm 'bout bet."

"Then, squire, if they can't say, I can't.  What shall we do?"

"We must wait for daylight," said the squire, after peering into the
darkness ahead for some time.  "We shall be swept far past it if we go
on.  Can you hold the punt with your pole?"

"Nay, no more'n you could a bull with a bit o' tar band, mester.  We mun
keep a sharp look-out for the next tree, and lay hold of the branches
and stop there.  D'ye hear, lads?"

"Aye, what is it?" came from the other boat.

"Look out for the next tree, and hing on till daylight."

Dave uttered a grunt, and they floated on and on for nearly a quarter of
an hour before Dick uttered a loud "Look out!"

"I see her, my lad," cried Hickathrift; and he tried to give the boat a
good thrust by means of his pole; but though he touched bottom it was
soft peat, and his pole went down, and the next moment they were
crashing through the top of a willow, with the boat tilting up on one
side and threatening to fill; but just as the water began to pour in,
there was a whishing and crackling noise as it passed over the obstacle
and swung clear, with Hickathrift holding on to a branch with all his

"Look out!  Can you tek howd, lad?" came from the other boat, which came
gliding out of the darkness, just clear of the tree.

As it came on, Dick caught the pole Dave held out to him and checked the
progress of the little punt; but he had miscalculated his strength as
opposed to the force of the current, and after a jerk, which seemed to
be tearing his arms out of their sockets, he was being dragged out of
the boat, and half over, when his father seized him round the hips.

"Can you hold on, Dick?" cried the squire.

"A--a little while," panted the lad.

"Get howd o' the pole, mester," shouted Warren from the other boat.

"I can't, man, without loosing the boy.  We shall have to let you go."

"Let go, then," growled Dave; "we can find our way somehow."

"Nay," shouted Hickathrift.  "Howd hard a minute till I've made fast
here.  I'm coming."

As he spoke he was busy holding on to the elastic willow branch with one
hand, while with the other he drew the rope out of the boat's head, and,
with a good deal of labour, managed to pass it round the bough and make
it fast.

"There, she's all right," he cried, stepping aft carefully, the boat
swaying beneath his huge weight.  "Now, squire, I mun lean ower thee to
get howd o' the pole.  Eh! but it's a long way to reach, and--"

"Mind, man, mind!" cried the squire, "or we shall fill with water; we're
within an inch now."

"Nay, we sha'n't go down," cried Hickathrift, straining right over the
squire and Dick, and sinking the stern of the boat so far that his face
kept touching the water, and he had to wrench his head round to speak.
"There, I've got howd o' the pole, and one leg hooked under the thwart.
Let go, Mester Dick; and you haul him aboard, squire, and get to the
other end."

It needed cautious movement, for the boat was now so low that the water
rushed over; but by exerting his strength the squire dragged Dick away,
and together they relieved the stern of the pressure and crept forward.

"Now Dave, lad, haul alongside, and make your rope fast to the
ring-bolt," cried Hickathrift; and this was done, the punt swung behind,
and the great Saxon-like fellow sat up laughing.

"Is it all safe?" cried the squire.

"Ay, mester, so long as that bough don't part; but I've got my owd ear
full o' watter, and it's a-roonning down my neck.  But say, mester, it's
a rum un."

"What is, my lad?"

"Why, it wur ony yesday I wur saying to my Jacob as we'd get the poont
mended, and come out here with the handbills and brattle [lop] all the
willows anywhere nigh, so as to hev a lot to throost down about our
plaace to grow.  Now, if we'd done that there'd ha' been no branch to
lay hold on here, and we might ha' gone on to Spalding afore we'd
stopped.  Eh, but howding on theer made me keb."

[Keb: pant for breath.]

"Are you hurt, Dick?" said the squire.

"N-no, I don't think I'm hurt, father," replied Dick, hesitatingly;
"only I feel--"

"Well, speak, my lad; don't keep anything back."

"Oh, no, I won't keep anything back, father!" said Dick, laughing; "but
I felt as if I'd been one of those poor fellows in the Tower that they
used to put on the rack--all stretchy like."

"Mak' you grow, Mester Dick," said Hickathrift, "mak' you grow into a
great long chap like me--six foot four."

"I hope not," said the squire, laughing.  "Draw the line this side of
the six feet, Dick.  There: the stiffness will soon pass off."

They sat talking for a time, but words soon grew few and far between.
The two fen-men swinging in their boat behind had recourse to the brass
box again, each partaking of a rolled-up quid of opium, and afterwards
crouched there in a half drowsy state, careless of their peril, while
the squire and his companions passed their time listening to the rush of
the water and the creaking of the willow bough as it rubbed against the
side of the boat, and wondered, as from time to time the wheelwright
examined the rope and made it more secure, whether the branch would give
way at its intersection with the trunk.

The darkness seemed as if it would never pass, whilst the cold now
became painful; and as he heard Dick's teeth begin to chatter, the
wheelwright exclaimed:

"Look here, young mester, I ain't hot, but there's a lot o' warmth comes
out o' me.  You come and sit close up, and you come t'other side,
squire.  It'll waarm him."

This was done, and with good effect, for the lad's teeth ceased their
castanet-like action as he sat waiting for the daylight.

No word was spoken by the men in the little punt, and those uttered in
the other grew fewer, as its occupants sat listening to the various
sounds that came from a distance.  For the flood had sent the
non-swimming birds wheeling round in the darkness, and every now and
then the whistling of wings was quite startling.  The ducks of all kinds
were in a high state of excitement, and passed over in nights or settled
down in the water with a tremendous outcry, while ever and again a
peculiar clanging from high overhead gave warning that the wild-geese
were on the move, either fleeing or attracted by some strange instinct
to the watery waste.

But morning seemed as if it would never come, and it was not until hours
upon hours had passed that there was a cessation of the high wind, and a
faint line of light just over the water, seaward, proclaimed that the
dawn could not be far away.

"Can you see where we are?" said the squire, as it began to grow

"Ay, it's plain enough now, mester," was the reply; "and yonder's

"I can see Tom," said Dick just then; "and there's Farmer Tallington,
and all the rest, right on the top of the roof."

In a few minutes more all was plain enough, and the reason apparent why
the people at Tallington had not shown a light in the course of the
night or done anything else to indicate their position, for it was
evident that they had been driven from below stairs to the floor above,
and from thence to the roof, where they must have sat out the evening
hours, perhaps doubtful of how long the place would last before it was
swept away.

So intent had the squire and Dick been in watching for the dawn, that
the gradual cessation of the flowing water had passed unnoticed; but it
was plain now that the surface of the wide expanse out of which the Toft
rose, with the old Priory buildings a couple of miles away, was now
unruffled by the wind, and that the current had ceased to flow.

But for this the party of rescue in the two punts would not have been
able to reach the inundated farm, for it was only here and there that a
firm place could be found for the poles, which generally sank deeply in
the peat covered by the water to an average depth of about eight feet.

In the course of half an hour the boats were close up to the reed thatch
of the great farm-house, a rope made fast to the chimney-stack, and Mrs
Tallington, the farmer, Tom, a couple of maids and three men were
transferred to the boats, all stiff and helpless with the cold.

"I don't mind now," said Tom, shivering as he spoke.  "A boat isn't much
of a thing, but it will float, and all last night it seemed as if the
old house was going to be swept away."

"Are these your horses?" said Dick, pointing to a group of
dejected-looking animals standing knee-deep in company with some cattle,
about a quarter of a mile away.

"Yes, and our cows," replied Tom, shivering.  "Oh, I say, don't talk;
I'm so cold and hungry!"

All this time Hickathrift was diligently using the pole in the larger
boat, and Dave leading the way in the other, both being well laden now,
and progressing fairly fast toward the Toft, which stood up like an
island of refuge in the midst of the vast lake, dotted here and there
with the tops of trees.  At times the poles touched a good firm tuft of
heath or a patch of gravel, and the boat received a good thrust forward;
at other times, when the bottom was soft, Hickathrift struck the water
with it right and left as he stood up in the prow, using it as a kind of

Before they were half-way on their journey the sun came out from a
cloud, just at the edge of the inundation; and with it and the prospect
of warmth and food at the Priory, everybody's spirits began to rise.

"Might have been worse, neighbour," shouted the squire.  "You sold all
your sheep last week."

"Ay," said the farmer from Dave's punt; "and we might all have been
drowned.  It's a sore piece of business; but it shows a man what his
neighbours are, and I won't murmur, only say as you do, it might have
been worse."

"And thank God for sparing all our lives!" said the squire, taking off
his hat.

"Amen!" said Farmer Tallington, and for a time there was nothing heard
but a sob from Mrs Tallington and the splashing of the poles.

But two boys could not keep silence long with the sun shining and the
place around wearing so novel a guise; and Dick soon burst out with:

"Look, Tom; look at the teal!"

He pointed to a flock forming quite a patch upon the water some hundreds
of yards away.

"Ay," said the squire; "it's good for the wild-fowl, but bad for us.
The sooner the place is drained now, neighbour, the better, eh?"

"Ay, squire, you're right; but how are we to get rid of all this

"Ah, we must see," said the squire; and Dave and John Warren exchanged
glances and shook their heads.  "The sooner the draining works are
commenced the better."

"Toft Fen wean't niver be drained, mester," said Dave in a low voice, as
he rested his pole in the punt and stood there looking as if he believed
himself to be a prophet.

"Oh, you think so, do you, Dave?" said the squire quietly.  "I daresay
hundreds of years ago, before the sea-wall was made, some men said that
no farming could be done in the fen, but the sea has been kept out for
all these years."

"Ay, but it's come through at last in its natural way, mester," said
John Warren.

"Yes, John," said the squire: "but we men who think how to live, make
nature work for us, and don't work for nature.  So we're going to turn
the sea off the land again, and drain the fresh water off as well, so as
to turn this wild waste into fertile land.  Do you hear, Dick?"

"Yes, father, I hear," said the lad; and he looked at Dave and John
Warren, in whose boat he was, and read incredulity there; and as he
gazed over the inundated fen, and thought of fishing, and shooting, and
boating there, he felt himself thoroughly on the fen-men's side, while,
feeling ashamed of this, he bent over the boat side, scooped up some
water in his hand and drank, but only to exclaim, "Ugh!"

"Ah! what does it taste like, Dick?" said the squire.

"Half salt, father."

"Then it is the sea broke in," said the squire.  "Ahoy! all right!" he
shouted, standing up and waving his cap.  "Shout, Dick, and let your
mother see you're here.  Come, cheer up, Mrs Tallington; there's a warm
welcome for you yonder from the wife; the water will soon go down, and
we're going to try and protect ourselves from such mischief coming

The squire was right; there was a warm welcome waiting for the homeless
neighbours, to whom, after a good, snug, and hearty breakfast,
everything looked very different from what it had seemed during the long
dark stormy watches of the night.

[Wall, in fen-lands, the artificial bank or ridge of clay raised to keep
back river, drain, or sea.]



It was like standing on a very long low narrow island, with the
peculiarity that one side was sea, the other inland lake.  The sun shone
brilliantly, and the punt in which the squire, Farmer Tallington, Dave,
Warren, Hickathrift, and the two lads had come was lying on the inner
side of the sandy ridge covered with thin, wiry, harsh grass.

This ridge formed the island upon which they stood, in company with some
sheep and cattle which had instinctively made their way to the high
ground as the water rose.

The tide was down now; a great deal of the water had drained away, and
the party were standing by a great breach in the bank through which at
high-tide during the storm the sea had made its way.

"I can't quite understand how it could have broken through here," said
the squire; "but I suppose it was quite a small crack at first, and the
water soon washed it bigger."

There was a great channel at their feet, cut clean through the
embankment; and though the party were standing amongst the sand, they
could see that the bank which protected the fen from the sea, and ran up
alongside of the river, running inland, was formed of thick clay, matted
with the long roots of the grass.

"Who was it made this great bank, father?" said Dick.

"Your old friends you read about at school, they say, the Romans, first;
but of course it has been added to since.  Well, neighbour, we can do no
good by ourselves.  We must call together the adventurers, and it can
soon be mended and made stronger than it was at first.  Let's go back.
Unless we have a gale, no more water will come through this.  It's years
since I've been here.  If one had taken a look round one would have seen
the weak spot."

They re-entered the punt, and Hickathrift poled them back, being
relieved in turn by Dave and Warren, by whose solitary cottage they
paused--a mere hut upon a sandy patch, standing like an island out of
the watery waste, and here he elected to stay with the rabbits which
frisked about and showed their cottony tuft tails as they darted down
into their holes.

"How about your cottage, Dave?" said the squire, shading his eyes as he
looked across the flooded fen.

"Wet," said Dave laconically.

"Yes, there are four feet of water yonder, I should say.  You will have
to stop at the Toft for the present."

"Not I, mester," said the rough fellow.  "I don't mind a drop o'

"Not to wade through, perhaps, my man; but you can't sleep there."

"Sleep in my boat," said Dave laconically.  "Won't be the first time."

"Do as you please," said the squire quietly; and he turned to talk to
Farmer Tallington.

"I say, Dave," whispered Dick, "you're just like an old goose."

"Eh?" said the man with his eyes flashing.

"I mean being able to sleep on the water floating," said Dick, laughing,
and the angry look died out.

It was plain enough that the water had sunk a good deal already, but the
farmers had to face the fact that it would be weeks before the fen was
in its old state, and that if the breach in the sea-wall were not soon
repaired, they might at any time be afflicted with a similar peril.

But notice was sent to those interested, while the farmers here and
there who held the patches of raised land round the borders of the fen
obeyed the summons, and for about a month there was busy work going on
at the sea-wall with spade and basket, clay being brought from pits
beneath the sand upon the sea-shore, carried up to the breach, and
trampled down, till at last, without further mishap, the gap in the
embankment was filled up strongly, and the place declared to be safe.

Of those who toiled hard none showed so well in the front as Dave o' the
'Coy, and John Warren, and the squire was not stinted in his praise one
day toward the end of the task.

"Wuck hard, mester!" said Dave.  "Enough to mak' a man wuck.  John
Warren here don't want all his rabbits weshed away; and how am I to
manage my 'coy if it's all under watter."

"Ah, how indeed!" said the squire, and he went away; but Dick stayed
behind with Tom Tallington, and sat upon the top of the embankment,
laughing, till the rough fen-man stood resting on his spade.

"Now then, what are yow gimbling [grinning] at, young mester?" he said.

"At yow, Dave," said Dick, imitating his broad speech.

"Then it arn't manners, lad.  Thowt you'd been to school up to town
yonder to larn manners both on you?"

"So we did, Dave, and a lot more things," cried Dick.  "How to know when
anyone's gammoning."

"Gammoning, lad?" said Dave uneasily.

"Yes, gammoning.  You don't want the flood done away with."

"Not want the flood done away wi'!"

"No; and you don't want the fen drained and turned into fields."

"Do yow?" said Dave fiercely, and he took a step nearer to the lad.

"No, of course not," cried Dick.  "It would spoil all the fun."

"Hah!" ejaculated Dave, as his yellow face puckered up with a dry smile,
and in a furtive way which fitted with his fox-skin cap he turned and
gave John Warren a peculiar look.

"When may we come over to the 'coy, Dave?"

"When you like, lads.  Soon as the watter's down low enough for us to
work it."

"It's sinking fast, Dave," said Tom.  "It's all gone from our garden
now, and the rooms are getting dry."

"Ay, but my pipes are covered still, and it'll be a good month, my lads,
'fore we can do any good.  But I might ha' took you both out in the punt
for a bit o' shooting if you hadn't played that game on me, and spoiled
my horn and wasted all my powder."

"Ah, it was too bad, Dave; but there are a couple of fine large horns at
home I've saved for you, and we've bought you a pound of powder."

"Nay, I sha'n't believe it till I see 'em," said Dave.  "I did mean to
hev asked you lads to come netting, but I can't ask them as plays

"Netting!  What, the ruffs?"

"Ay, I weer thinking about heving a try for 'em.  But I shall give it

"Dave, you promised me a year ago that you'd take us with you some time,
and you never have," cried Dick.

"Nay, did I though?"

"Yes; didn't he, Tom?"

"Nay, yow needn't ask him; he'll be sewer to say yes," said Dave,

"Look here," cried Dick, "I'm not going to argue with you, Dave.  Are
you going to take us?"

"Some day, lad, when the watter's down, if my live birds aren't all
drownded and my stales [stuffed decoys] spoiled."

"Oh, they won't be!" cried Dick.  "When will you go?"

"When the watter's down, my lad."

"It's low enough now.  There are plenty of places where you can spread
your nets."

"Ay, but plenty of places don't suit me, my lad.  You wait a bit and
we'll see.  Get John Warren to tek you ferreting."

"Yes, that will do," cried Tom.  "When are you going, John?"

The man addressed shook his head.

"Rabbuds don't want no killing off.  Plenty on 'em drownded."

"Why," cried Dick, "it was only the other day you said that none were
hurt by the flood."

"Did I, Mester Dick?  Ah, yow mustn't tek no notice o' what I say."

"But we shall take notice of what you say," cried Tom.  "I don't believe
he has any ferrets left."

"Ay, bud I hev.  Theer I'll tek you, lads.  Why don't thou tek 'em wi'
you, Dave, man?  Let un see the netting."

Dave smiled in a curious way, and then his eyes twinkled as he looked
from one to the other.

"Well, you wait a week, lads, and then I'll fetch you."

"To see the netting?"

"Ay.  In another week there'll be a deal more dry land, and the ruffs
and reeves'll be ower in flocks, I dessay.  If they aren't, we'll try
for something else."

"Hooray!" cried Dick; and that evening there was nothing talked of but
the projected trip.



The water sank slowly and steadily, leaving dry patches here and there
all over the fen; but the lake-like parts far exceeded the dry land, and
two or three fields still contained so much water that the squire set
men to work to cut a drain to carry it away.

"Kill two birds with one stone, Dick," he said.  "It will be useful by
and by."

At the time Dick did not understand what his father meant; but it was
soon evident when all hands were hard at work cutting down through the
peat to make the dyke.  For, instead of digging in the ordinary way, the
men carefully cut down through what was not earth, but thick
well-compressed black peat, each piece, about ten inches square and
three or four thick, to be carefully laid up like so much open brickwork
to drain and dry.

Good store for the next winter's fuel, for it was peat of fine quality
stored up by nature ages before, and not the soft brown mossy stuff
found in many places, stuff that burns rapidly away and gives out hardly
any heat.  This peat about the Toft was coal's young relative, and
burned slowly into a beautiful creamy ash, giving out a glow of warmth
that was wanted there when the wind blew from the northern sea.

The two lads watched the process with interest--not that it was anything
new, for they had seen it done a hundred times; but they had nothing
else to do that morning, having tired themselves of gazing at the flocks
of birds which passed over to the feeding grounds laid bare by the
sinking water.  It had been interesting to watch them, but Dave had not
kept his word about the netting; the decoy had not been worked; and
gunning was reserved for those of elder growth.  So that morning, though
the great lakes and canals among the reeds were dotted with birds, the
lads were patiently watching the cutting of the little drain.

Six men were busy, and making steady progress, for the peat cut easily,
the sharp-edged tools going through it like knives, while the leader of
the gang busied himself from time to time by thrusting down a
sharp-pointed iron rod, which always came in contact with sand and
gravel a few feet down.

"No roots, my lad?" said the squire, coming up.

"No, mester," said the labourer.  "I don't think--well, now, only think
of that!"

He was thrusting down the iron rod as he spoke, and the point stuck into
something that was not sand or gravel, while upon its being thrust down
again with more force it stuck fast, and required a heavy jerk to drag
it out.

"That seems to be a good one," said the squire, as the lads watched the
process with interest.

"Shall we hev it out, mester?"

"Have it out!  Oh, yes!" said the squire; and a couple of hours were
spent widening the drain at that part, so as to give the men room to
work round what was the root of an old tree, just as it had been growing
in the far-distant ages, before the peat began to rise over it to nine
or ten feet in thickness.

It was a long job, and after the great stump had been laid bare, axes
had to be used to divide some of the outlying roots before it was
finally dragged out by the whole force that could be collected by the
hole, and finally lay upon the side.

"Just like the others, Dick.  There must have been a tremendous fire
here at one time."

"And burned the whole forest down?"

"Burned the whole of the trees down to the stumps, my lad, and then the
peat gradually formed over the roots, and they've lain there till we
come and dig them out for firewood."

"And they haven't rotted, father, although they have been under the peat
and water all this time."

"No, my boy; the peat is a preservative.  Nothing seems to decay under
the peat.  Why, you ought to have known that by now."

"I suppose I ought," said Dick rather dolefully, for he was beginning to
wake up to the fact of what an enormous deal there was in the world that
he did not know.

As he spoke, he picked up some of the red chips of the pine-root which
had been sent flying by the strokes of the axe, to find that they were
full of resin, smelling strongly of turpentine.

"Yes, it's full of it," said the squire; "that's one reason why the wood
has kept without rotting.  Here you two boys may as well do something
for your bread and butter."

Dick said something to himself answering to nineteenth-century Bother!
and awaited his father's orders.

"You can drag that root up to the yard.  Get a rope round it and haul.
Humph, no! it will be too heavy for you alone.  Leave it."

"Yes, father," said Dick with a sigh of relief, for it was more pleasant
to stand watching the men cutting the peat and the birds flying over, or
to idle about the place, than to be dragging along a great sodden mass
of pine-root.

"Stop!" cried the squire.  "I don't want the men to leave their work.
Go and fetch the ass, and harness him to it.  You three donkeys can drag
it up between you."

The boys laughed.

"I'm going up the river bank.  Get it done before I get back."

"Yes, father," cried Dick.  "Come along, Tom."

The task was now undertaken with alacrity, for there was somehow a
suggestion to both of the lads of something in the nature of fun, in
connection with getting the ass to drag that great root.

The companions ran along by the boggy field toward the farm buildings on
the Toft, to seek out the old grey donkey, who was at that moment
contemplatively munching some hay in a corner of the big yard, in whose
stone walls, were traces of carving and pillar with groin and arch.

Now some people once started the idea that a donkey is a very stupid
animal; and, like many more such theories, that one has been handed down
to posterity, and believed in as a natural history fact, while donkey or
ass has become a term of reproach for those not blessed with too much

Winthorpe's donkey was by no means a stupid beast, and being thoroughly
imbued with the idea that it was a slave's duty to do as little work as
he possibly could for those who held him in bonds, he made a point of
getting out of the way whenever he scented work upon the wind.

He was a grey old gentleman, whose years were looked upon as tremendous;
and as he stood in the corner of the yard munching hay, he now and then
scratched his head against an elaborately carved stone bracket in the
wall which took the form of a grotesque face.

Then his jaws stopped, and it was evident that he scented something, for
he raised his head slightly.  Then he swung one great ear round, and
then brought up the other with a sharp swing till they were both cocked
forward and he listened attentively.

A minute before, and he was a very statue of a donkey, but after a few
moments' attentive listening he suddenly became full of action, and
setting up his tail he trotted round the yard over the rotten peat and
ling that had been cut and tossed in, to be well trampled before mixing
with straw and ploughing into the ground.  He changed his pace to a
gallop, and then, still growing more excited, he made straight for the
rough gate so as to escape.

But the gate was fastened, though not so securely but that it entered
into a donkey's brain that he might undo that fastening, as he had often
undone it before, and then deliberately walked off into the fen, where
succulent thistles grew.

This time, however, in spite of the earnest way in which he applied his
teeth, he could not get that fastening undone; and, after striking at it
viciously with his unshod hoof, he reared up, as if to leap over, but
contented himself with resting his fore-legs on the rough top rail, and
looking over at the free land he could not reach; and he was in this
attitude when the two lads came up.

"Hullo, Solomon!" cried Dick.  "Poor old fellow, then!  Did you know
we'd come for you?"

The donkey uttered a discordant bray which sounded like the blowing
badly of a trumpet of defiance, and backing away, he trotted to the far
end of the yard, and thrust his head into a corner.

"Where's the harness?" said Tom.

"In the stone barn," was the reply; and together the lads fetched the
rough harness of old leather and rope, with an extra piece for fastening
about the root.

"I say, Dick, he won't kick that root to pieces like he did the little
tumbril," said Tom, who for convenience had placed the collar over his
own head.

"Nor yet knock one side off like he did with the sled," replied Dick
with a very vivid recollection of one of Solomon's feats.  "Now, then,
open the gate and let's pop the harness on.  Stop a minute till I get a

"Get a thick one," said Tom.

"Pooh! he don't mind a thick stick; he rather likes it.  Hicky says it
loosens his skin and makes him feel comfortable.  Here, this will do.
Must have a long one because of his heels."

"Oh, I say, Dick, look at the old rascal; he's laughing at us!"

It really seemed as if this were the case, for as the lads entered the
yard Solomon lowered his head still more in its corner, and looked at
them between his legs, baring his gums the while and showing his white

"Ah, I'll make him laugh--_gimble_, as old Dave calls it--if he gives us
any of his nonsense!  Now, you, sir, come out of that corner.  Give me
the collar, Tom."

As Dick relieved his friend of the collar, and held it ready to put over
the donkey's head, though they were at least a dozen yards away, Solomon
began to kick, throwing out his heels with tremendous force and then
stamping with his fore-feet.

"Isn't he a pretty creature, Tom?  He grows worse.  Father won't sell
him, because, he says, he's an old friend.  He has always been my

"You always whacked him so," cried Tom.

"No, I didn't; I never touched him till he began it.  Of course I wanted
to ride him and make him pull the sled, and you know how he ran after me
and bit me on the back."

"Yes, I know that somebody must have ill-used him first."

"I tell you they didn't.  He's always been petted and spoiled.  Why,
that day when he kicked me and sent me flying into the straw I'd gone to
give him some carrots."

"But didn't you tickle him or something?"

"No, I tell you.  A nasty ungrateful brute!  I've given him apples and
turnips and bread; one Christmas I gave him a lump of cake; but no
matter what you do, the worse he is.  He's a natural savage, father
says; and it isn't safe to go near him without a stick."

"Well, you've told me all that a dozen times," said Tom maliciously.
"It's only an excuse for ill-using the poor thing."

"Say that again and I'll hit you," cried Dick.

"No, you won't.  Here, give me the harness again and I'll put it on,
only keep back with that stick.  That's what makes him vicious."

"How clever we are!" cried Dick, handing back the collar.  "There: go
and try."

"Ah, I'll show you!" said Tom, taking the collar with its hames and
traces attached, and going up toward the donkey, while Dick stood back,

"Take care, Tom; mind he don't bite!"

"He can't bite with his hind-legs, can he?" replied Tom.  "I'll mind.
Now, then, old fellow, turn round; I won't hurt you."

Solomon raised his tail to a horizontal position and held it out

"Don't be a stupid," cried Tom; "I want your head, not your tail."

Dick burst into a roar of laughter, but Tom was not going to be beaten.

"You leave off laughing," he said, "and go farther back with that stick.
That's right.  Now, then, old boy, come on; turn round then."


Poor Tom went backwards and came down a couple of yards away in a
sitting position, with the collar in his lap and an astonished look in
his countenance.

"Oh, I am sorry, Tom!" cried Dick, running up.  "You, Solomon, I'll half
kill you.  Are you hurt, Tom?"

"I don't know yet," said the lad, struggling up.

"Where did he kick you?" cried Dick, full of sympathy now for his

"He didn't kick me at all," said Tom dolefully.  "I was holding the
collar right out and he kicked that, but it hit me bang in the front and
hurt ever so."

"Let me take the harness; I'll get it on him."

"No, I won't," cried Tom viciously.  "I will do it now.  Here, give me
that stick."

"Why, I thought you said I ill-used him!"

"And I'll ill-use him too," said Tom savagely, "if he doesn't come and
have on his collar.  Now, then, you, sir, come here," cried Tom sharply.

By this time the donkey had trotted to another corner of the yard, where
he stood with his heels presented to his pursuers, and as first one and
then the other made a dash at his head he slewed himself round and
kicked out fiercely.

"This is a nice game," cried Dick at last, when they were both getting
hot with the exercise of hunting the animal from corner to corner, and
then leaping backward or sidewise to avoid his heels, "Now, just you
tell me this, who could help walloping such a brute?  Hold still will

But Solomon--a name, by the way, which was given him originally from its
resemblance to "Solemn-un," the latter having been applied to him by
Hickathrift--refused to hold still.  In fact he grew more energetic and
playful every minute, cantering round the yard and dodging his pursuers
in a way which would have done credit to a well-bred pony, and the
chances of getting the collar on or bit into his mouth grew more and
more remote.

"I tell you what let's do," cried Dick at last; "I'm not going to run
myself off my legs to please him.  I've got it!"

"I wish you'd got the donkey," grumbled Tom.  "I don't see any fun in
hunting him and nearly getting kicked over the wall."

"Well, don't be in a hurry," said Dick; "I know how to manage him.
Here, catch hold of this harness.  I know."

"You know!" grumbled Tom, whose side was sore from the donkey's kick
upon the collar.  "What are you going to do?"

"You shall see," cried Dick, busying himself with the wagon rope he had
brought, and making a loop at one end, and then putting the other
through it, so as to produce an easily running noose.

"What are you going to do with that?" asked Tom.

"Hold your noise," whispered Dick; "he's such an artful old wretch I
don't know that he wouldn't understand us.  I'm going to make you drive
him round by me, and then I'm going to throw this over his head and
catch him."

"I don't believe you can," cried Tom.

"Well, you'll see.  There, that'll do.  I'm ready; take the stick and
make a rush at him.  That will drive him round near me, and then we'll

Tom laid down the harness, took the stick and made the rush at Solomon.
The latter kicked out his heels and cantered round by Dick, who threw
his noose, but failed to lasso the donkey, who took refuge in another

"Never mind," cried Dick, gathering up the rope, "I shall do it next
time.  Now, then--I'm ready.  Drive him back again."

Tom made another rush at the obstinate animal, which cantered off again,
working considerably harder than it would if it had submitted patiently
to being bitted.  This time he gave Dick a better chance, and the boy
threw the rope so well that it seemed as if it must go over the
creature's head.  But Solomon was too sharp.  He shied at the rope and
tossed his head aside; but though he avoided the noose and escaped it so
far, as he plunged he stepped right into it, tightened it round his
fore-legs, and the next instant fell over at one end of the rope,
kicking and plunging as he lay upon his side, while at the other end of
the rope there lay Dick upon his chest.  For he had been jerked off his
feet, but held on to the rope in spite of the donkey's struggles.

"I've got him, Tom; come and lay hold," panted Dick as the donkey made a
desperate plunge, got upon his legs, and then fell down again upon the
loose ling and straw, kicking out as if galloping.

This gave Dick time to rise, and, seeing his opportunity, he ran to the
gate and passed the slack rope round, drew it tight, and shouted to Tom
to come and hold on.

Just as Tom caught hold of the rope the donkey rose again and made a
plunge or two, but only to fall once more, slacking the rope to such an
extent that the boys were able to haul in a couple of yards more and
hold on, stretching Solomon's legs out and drawing them so tightly that
he uttered a piteous cry like the beginning of a bray chopped off short.

"Do you give in, then?" cried Dick.

The donkey raised his head slightly and let it fall again, gazing wildly
at his captors, one of whom rushed round, avoided a feeble kick, and sat
down upon the helpless animal's head.

"Now," cried Dick, "we've got him, Tom; and I've a good mind to play the
drum on his old ribs till he begins to sing!"

"Don't hit him when he's down," said Tom.  "It isn't English."

"I wasn't going to hit him," said Dick.  "He's a prisoner and has given
in.  Bring me the bit."

Solomon opened his mouth to utter a bray; but Dick put the stick between
his teeth, and he only uttered a loud sigh.

"Ah! now you're sorry for being such a brute, are you?" cried Dick.
"Come along, Tom."

"I'm coming, only the things have got all mixed," was the reply.

"Give 'em to me," cried Dick.  "That's it.  Now, then, you sit on his
neck, Tom, and then I'll get up.  And look here, you, sir," he added to
the donkey, "you come any more of your games, and I'll knock your head

Solomon's flanks heaved, but he lay quite still, and did not resent
Tom's rather rough treatment as he bestrode his neck and sat down.  On
the contrary, he half-raised his head at his master's command, suffered
the bit to be thrust between his teeth and the head-stall to be buckled
on, after which Tom leaped up.

"Take the rope from about his legs now, Tom," cried Dick.

"Suppose he kicks!"

"He won't kick now," cried Dick.  "He'd better!  Here, you hold the rein
and I'll take it off."

"No, I'll do it," said Tom sturdily; and going cautiously to work he
unknotted the rope and drew it away, the donkey lying quite motionless.

"Now, then, Sol, get up!" cried Tom.

The donkey drew his legs together, leaped to his feet, shook himself
till his ears seemed to rattle, and uttered a sound like a groan.

"He is beaten now," said Dick.  "Come and put on the pad and well go.
That's right; buckle it on."

Tom obeyed, and the rough scrappy harness was fixed in its place, while
Solomon twitched his ears and rolled them round as if trying to pick up
news in any direction.

"He won't kick now, will he?" said Tom.

"Not unless he feels a fly on his back, and then he'll try to kick it

"Why, he couldn't kick a fly off his back if he tried," said Tom.

"No, but he'd try all the same.  Look out!--there he goes!"

Tom leaped aside, for the donkey kicked out fiercely for a few moments.

"Why, there are no flies now!" said Tom.

"Must be.  Look out!--he's going to kick again!"

The donkey's heels flew out, and Tom made a feint of punching his
companion's head.

"How clever we are!" he cried.  "Just as if I didn't see you tickling
him to make him kick!"

"Tickle him!" said Dick laughing.  "Why, I wasn't tickling him when he
kicked up in the corner there.  But come along or we shall never get
that log up to the yard, and father won't like it.  Now, Sol!  Open the
gate, Tom."

Tom opened the gate, and with Dick holding the rein the donkey walked
along by his side as meekly as if he had never kicked or shown his teeth
with the intention of biting in his life.  The rope was doubled up and
thrown over his back; and when they had gone a few yards Dick, without
pausing, made a bit of a jump and struggled on to the animal's back,
getting himself right aft, as a sailor would say, so that it seemed as
if at any moment he might slip off behind.

But Solomon made no objection; he just twitched and wagged his tail for
a moment or two, and then put it away out of sight.  For the donkey
chained, or rather harnessed, became an obedient slave--a very different
creature from the donkey free.

When they reached the dyke where the men were standing delving out the
peat, it was to find a group of three fresh arrivals in the persons of
Hickathrift the wheelwright, Dave, and John Warren, and all in earnest
converse upon some subject.

"Yow may say what yow like," cried Dave, "but fen-land's fen-land, and
meant for the wild birds."

"And rabbuds," put in John Warren.

"Ay, lad, and rabbuds," assented Dave; "and it weer nivver meant to grow
corn and grass.  Yow can't do it, and yow'll nivver make fen-land
fields.  It's agen natur."

"So it is to ride in a cart or on a sled, lad," said Hickathrift
good-humouredly; "but I make 'em, and folk rides in 'em and carries
things to market."

"Ay, but that's different," said Dave.  "Fen-land's fen-land; and you
can't dree-ern that."

"You can't dree-ern that," said John Warren, nodding his head in assent.

"Well, they'll drain these fields, at all events," said Hickathrift.
"Yow can't say they weant do that."

"I say fen-land's fen-land," reiterated Dave, taking off his fox-skin
cap and rubbing his ear viciously; "and it can't be dree-ernt."

"Ah! you two are scarred about your 'coy and your rabbud-warren," cried
Hickathrift good-humouredly.  "I wish they'd dree-ern the whole place
and have roads all over it, so as to want carts and wains."

"Nay, they nivver will," said Dave sourly.  "Tek to makkin' boats and
punts, mun.  Them's best."

"Hullo, Dave!" cried Dick; "how about the ruffs and reeves?  You said
you'd take me to the netting."

"Well, haven't I come for you, lad?" said Dave quietly.

"Have you?  Oh, Tom, and we've got this old stump to draw away!  I can't
go now, Dave."

"There's plenty o' time, lad.  I'm not going back yet Hicky's got to put
a bit o' plank in my boat 'fore I go back."

"Come on, Tom, and let's get it done," cried Dick.  "Here, give us the

He took the rope, fastened it to one of the roots, and then joined the
traces together, and tied the rope about them.

After this the donkey was turned so that his head was toward the sharp
slope, leading to the Priory on the Toft, and a start was made.  That is
to say, the donkey tightened the traces, stuck his hoofs into the
ground, tugged for a minute without moving the stump, and then gave up.

"Why, Mester Dick, yow'll have to get root on a sled or she weant move."

"Oh, we'll do it directly!" cried Dick.  "Here, Tom, you give a good
shove behind.  Now, then, pull up!"

Tom thrust with all his might, while Dick dragged at the donkey's
head-stall, and once more, after offering a few objections, Solomon
tightened the traces and rope, and tugged with all his might, but the
root did not move.

"Yow weant move her like that, I tell you, lad," said Hickathrift.

"Won't I!" cried Dick angrily; "but I just will.  You Tom, you didn't
half push."

"Shall I give her a throost?" said the wheelwright, smiling.

That smile annoyed Dick, who read in it contempt, when it was only
prompted by good temper.

"We can do it, thank you," cried Dick.  "Now, Tom, boy, give it a heave.
Pull up, Solomon."

Tom heaved, but Solomon refused to "pull up;" and after his late
disappointments, and his discovery that the root was heavier than he, it
took a great deal of coaxing to get him to stir.  At last, though, just
as Hickathrift was coming up good-temperedly to lend his aid, it seemed
as if the donkey anticipated a tremendous blow from the long staff the
wheelwright carried, for he made a plunge, Dick took tightly hold of the
rein and gave it a drag, and Tom sat down on the great root, to follow
Hickathrift's example and roar with laughter, in which the men who were
delving peat joined, while Dave and John Warren, men who took life in a
very solemn manner, actually smiled.

For Solomon's sudden plunge, joined to Dick's drag at the head-stall,
showed that it was quite time a new fit out of harness was provided,
inasmuch as the old leather gave way in two or three places, and the
donkey, with nothing on but his collar, was off full gallop, feeling
himself a slave no longer, while Dick, after staggering backwards for a
yard or two, came down heavily in a sitting position, and in a very wet

"Yes, it's all very well to laugh," said Dick, getting up and looking
ruefully at the broken bridle and bit which he held in his hand; "but
see how cross father will be."

"And look where old Solomon has gone!" cried Tom.  "I say, how are we to
catch him?  Ha! ha! ha!  Only look!"

Everyone but Dick joined in the laugh, for Solomon was rejoicing in his
liberty, and galloping away toward the fen, shaking his head, and
kicking out his heels; while every now and then he stretched out his
neck, grinned, and bit at the wind, for there was nothing else to bite.

"Nice job we shall have!" grumbled Dick.  "Oh, I say, Tom, we are in a

"Oh, there's nowt the matter, Mester Dick!" said Hickathrift
good-temperedly, as he picked up the broken harness and examined it.
"Why, I could mend all this in less than an hour with some wax-ends and
a brad-awl."

"Yes, but will you, Hicky?"

"Of course I will, my lad.  Theer, don't look that how.  Go and catch
the Solemn-un, and me, and Dave, and John Warren'll get the root up to
the yard for you."

"Will you, Hicky?" cried the boys joyfully.  "Oh, you are a good old
fellow!  Come on, Tom, and let's catch Solomon."

The harness was thrust aside by the wheelwright, ready to take home, and
then at a word the two fen-men came forward, and together they rolled
the awkwardly-shaped root over and over toward the farm; while, once
satisfied that the pine-root was on its way, Dick gave his companion a
slap on the shoulder, and moistened his hand to get a better grip of his

"Get a stick, Tom," he said.  "I don't want to drum old Solomon's ribs;
but I'm just in the humour to give it him if he plays any of his

That was just what the donkey seemed determined upon.  He had been shut
up for a fortnight in the yard, and hardly knew how to contain himself,
as he bounded along in a way he never attempted when he was not free.
There were spots which he knew of where succulent thistles and water
plants grew, and after a long course of dry food he meant to enjoy a

The boys shouted as they ran, and tried to get ahead; but the more they
shouted the more Solomon kicked up his heels and ran, performing a
series of capers that suggested youth instead of extreme old age.

"We shall never get him," cried Tom as he panted along.

"We must catch him," cried Dick, making a furious rush to head off the
frolicsome animal, which seemed as if he thoroughly enjoyed teasing his

Dick was successful in turning the donkey, but not homeward, and he
stopped short unwillingly as he saw the course taken.

"I say, Dick, isn't it soft out there?"

"Soft!  Yes.  Mind how you go!"

This advice would have been thrown away upon Solomon, though, had he
comprehended it, the effect might have been beneficial.  For, whatever
knowledge the donkey might have possessed about the flood, he did not
realise the fact that since he last tickled his palate with the spinous
thistle--an herb which probably assumed to his throat the flavour that
pepper does to ours--there had been a considerable depth of water over
the fen, and that it was very soft.  The result was, that while the lads
stopped short, and then began to pick their way from tussock to tussock,
and heather patch to patch, Solomon blundered on, made a splash here, a
bit of a wallow there, and then a bound, which took him in half-way up
his back; and as he plunged and struck out with fore-legs and heels, he
churned up the soft bog and made it softer, so that he sank in and in,
till only his spine was visible with, at the end, his long neck and
great grey head, upon which the ears were cocked out forward, while an
expression of the most intense astonishment shone out of his eyes.

"Oh, Tom, what shall we do?"


Solomon burst out into the most dismal bray ever heard--a long-drawn
misery-haunted appeal for help, which was prolonged in the most
astounding way till it seemed to be a shrill cry.

"I don't know," responded Tom, wiping the tears out of his eyes.

"Oh, come, I say," said Dick, "it isn't anything to laugh at!"

"I know it isn't," cried Tom; "but I can't help it.  I feel as if I must
laugh, and--Ha! ha! ha!"

He burst into a tremendous peal, in which his companion joined, for
anything more comic than the aspect of the "Solemn-un" up to his neck in
the bog it would be hard to conceive.

"Here, this won't do," cried Dick at last, as he too stood wiping his
eyes.  "Poor old Sol, we mustn't let you drown.  Come on, Tom, and let's
help him out."

How Dick expected that he was going to help the donkey out he did not
say; but he began to pick his way from tuft to tuft, avoiding the soft
places, till he was within twenty feet of the nearly submerged animal,
and then he had to stop or share his fate.

"I say, Tom, I can't get any farther," he cried.  "What shall we do?"

"I don't know."

"What a fellow you are!" was the angry reply.  "You never do know.  Old
Sol will be drowned if we don't look sharp.  The bog is twenty feet deep

"Can't he swim out?"

"Can't you swim out!" cried Dick.  "What's the good of talking like
that?  You couldn't swim if you were up to the neck in sand."

"But he isn't up to his neck in sand."

"But he's up to his neck in bog, and it's all the same."

"Ahoy! what's matter?" came from a couple of hundred yards away; and the
lads turned, to see that it was Hickathrift shouting, he and the others
having just succeeded in taking up the root to its destination.

"Ahoy!  Bring the rope," shouted Dick.

"He-haw--haw--haw--haw!" shouted the Solemn one dismally, as if to
emphasise his young master's order.

"Why, how came he in there?" cried Hickathrift, trotting up with the
rope, but picking his way carefully, for the peat shook beneath his

"He went in himself," cried Dick.  "Oh, do get him out before he sinks!
Make a noose, and let's throw it over his head."

"We shall pull his head right off if we do," said Hickathrift, but
busily making the noose the while.

"Oh, no, I don't believe you would!" cried Tom.  "He has got an awfully
strong neck."

"It won't hurt him," said Dave, who came up slowly with the rest.

"Well, there's no getting it under him," said the wheelwright; "he'd
kick us to pieces if we tried."

"I'll try," said Dick eagerly.

"Nay, I weant let you," said Hickathrift.  "I'll go my sen."

"It weant bear thee, neighbour," said John Warren warningly.

"Eh? wean't it?  Well, I can but try, mun.  Let's see."

The good-natured wheelwright went cautiously towards where Dick was
standing waiting for the rope; but at the third step he was up to his
middle and had to scramble out and back as fast as he could.

"I'm too heavy," he said; "but I'll try again.  All right, I'm coming
soon!" he added as the donkey uttered another dismal bray.

But his efforts were vain.  Each time he tried he sank in, and at last,
giving up to what was forced upon him as an impossibility, he coiled up
the rope to throw.

"Thou mun heave it over his head, my lad.  Don't go no nigher to him; it
isn't safe."

He threw the rope, and Dick caught the end and recoiled it preparatory
to making a start over the moss.

"Nay, nay, stop!" shouted Hickathrift.

"I must go and try if I can't put it round him, Hicky," cried Dick.

"Come back, thou'lt drownd thysen," shouted Dave excitedly.

"No, I won't," said Dick; and picking his steps with the greatest care,
he succeeded in stepping within ten yards of the donkey, which made a
desperate struggle now to get out and reach him, but without success;
all he did was to change his position, his hind-quarters going down
lower, while his fore-legs struck out into the daylight once or twice in
his hard fight for liberty.

"Now, my lad, heave the rope over his head, and we'll haul him out,"
cried Hickathrift.

But Dick paid no heed.  He saw in imagination the poor animal strangled
by the noose; and with the idea that he could somehow get alongside, he
struck out to the left, but had to give up, for the bog was more fluid

On the other side it was even worse, and Dick was about to turn and
shout to the men to try if they could not get the punt up alongside,
when a fresh struggle from Solomon plainly showed him that the animal
must be rescued at once or all would be over.

Dick made one more trial to get nearer, in spite of the cries and
adjurations of those upon the firmer ground; but it was useless, and
struggling to a tuft of dry reed, he balanced himself there and gathered
up the rope, so as to try and throw the loop over the donkey's head.

As he held it ready there was another miserable bray, and the lad

"It means killing him," he muttered.  "Poor old Solomon!  I never liked
him, but we've had so many runs together."

His hand dropped to his side with the rope, and he tottered, for the
reed tuft seemed to be sinking.

Solomon brayed again and fought desperately to free himself, but sank

"Heave, Dick, heave!" shouted Tom.

"Throw it over, my lad! throw it over, or thou'lt be too late!" cried
the wheelwright; but Dick did not move.  His eyes were fixed upon the
donkey's head, but his thoughts were far back in the past, in sunny days
when he had been riding by the edge of the fen to the town, or down to
the firm sand by the sea, where Solomon always managed to throw him and
then gallop off.  Then there were the wintry times, when the donkey's
hoofs used to patter so loudly over the frozen ground, while now--

Perhaps it was very childish, for Dick was a strongly built lad of
sixteen, and had his memory served him truly it would have reminded him
of that terrible kick in the leg which lamed him for a month--of the
black-and-yellow bruise upon his arm made by the vicious animal's jaws
one day when he bit fiercely--of that day when he was pitched over
Solomon's head into the black bog ditch, and had to swim out--of a dozen
mishaps and injuries received from the obstinate beast.  But Dick
thought of none of these, only of the pleasant days he had had with the
animal he had known ever since he could run; and, whether it were
childish or not, the tears rose and dimmed his eyes as he stood there
gazing at what seemed to be the animal's dying struggles, and thinking
that it would be kinder to let him drown than to strangle him, as he
felt sure they would.

"Why don't you throw, Dick?" cried Tom again in an excited yell that was
half drowned by Solomon's discordant bray, though it was growing more
feeble as the struggles were certainly more weak.

All at once Dick started and his eyes grew more clear.  It was not at
the warning shout of the wheelwright, nor the yell uttered by the other
men, but at the action of the sufferer in the bog.  For, feeling himself
surely and certainly sinking lower, the donkey made one more tremendous
effort, extricating his fore-legs and beating the fluid peat with them
till it grew thinner, and with neck outstretched and mouth open it sank
more and more back, till head and legs only could be seen.

Dick did it unconsciously.  His eyes were fixed upon the struggling
beast, but his ears were deaf to the shouts behind him.  All he heard
was the dismal bray enfeebled to a groan so full of despair that the lad
threw the rope, and in throwing lost his balance, fell, and the next
moment was struggling in the mire.

He tried to rise, but it was impossible, and as he fought and struggled
for a few moments it was to find that the bog was growing thinner and
that the patches about him, which looked firm, were beginning to sink.

Was he too going to drown? he asked himself, and something of the
sensation he had felt on the night of the flood came over him.

Then he felt a snatch, and a voice like thunder brought him to himself.

"Howd tight, lad!"

The next moment Dick felt himself gliding over the soft bog, and
directly after Dave had hold of one of his hands and drew him to a place
of safety before running back to the rope.

"All together, lads!  Haul!"

There was a shout and a tremendous splashing, and Dick Winthorpe
struggled to his feet, wiping the black fluid bog from his eyes, to see
Solomon hauled right out, slowly at first, then faster and faster, till
he was literally run over the slippery surface to where there was firm

"I got it over his head, then?" said Dick huskily.

"Ay, lad, and over his legs too," cried Hickathrift, as he bent down and
loosened the noose.  "Eh, bud it's tight.  That's it!"

He dragged the rope off, and the donkey lay perfectly motionless for a
few moments, but not with his eyes closed, for he seemed to be glowering

"Is he dying, Hicky?" said Dick.

"Nay, lad; yow can't kill an ass so easy.  Seems aw reight.  There!"

The last word was uttered as the donkey suddenly struggled up, gave
himself a tremendous shake, till his ears rattled again as the bog water
flew; and then stretching out his neck as if he were about to bray, he
bared his teeth and made a fierce run at the wheelwright.

But Hickathrift struck at him with the rope, and to avoid that, Solomon
worked round, made a bite at Dick, which took effect on his wet coat,
tearing a piece right out.  Then he swerved round like lightning and
threw out his heels at Tom, tossed up his head, and then cantered off,
braying as he went, as if nothing had been the matter, and making
straight for the yard.

"Well, of all the ungrateful brutes!" cried Tom.

"Ay, we might just as well hev let him get smothered," said the
wheelwright, joining in the laughter of the others.  "Didn't hurt you,
did he, Mester Dick?"

"No, Hicky.  Only tore my coat," replied Dick, turning reluctantly up to
the house, for he was wet and now felt cold.

"I say, Dick, what about the netting?" cried Tom.

The lad looked piteously at Dave and his companion of the rabbit
warren--two inseparable friends--and felt that his chance of seeing the
ruffs and reeves captured was very small.

"Are you going--to-day, Dave?" he faltered.

"Nay, lad," said Dave dryly, "yow've had enough o' the bog for one day.
Go and dry thysen.  I'll coom and fetch thee to-morrow."

So the lads went up to the house, the men returned to their draining,
and the wheelwright walked slowly away with Dave and John Warren.

"Let's run, Dick," said Tom, who was carrying the rope; "then you won't
catch cold."

"Oh, I sha'n't hurt," said Dick, running all the same; and in passing
the yard they closed the gate, for Solomon was safe inside; but as they
reached the house, where Mrs Winthorpe stood staring aghast at her
son's plight, Solomon burst forth with another dismal, loud complaining:



Dave did not keep his promise the next day, nor the next; but Dick
Winthorpe had his attention taken up by other matters, for a party of
men arrived and stopped with their leaders at the Toft, where they were
refreshed with ale and bread and cheese, previous to continuing their
journey down to the seaside.

The squire and Farmer Tallington accompanied them down to their
quarters, which were to be at a disused farm-house close to the mouth of
the little river; and incidentally Dick learned that this was the first
party of labourers who were to cut the new lode or drain from near the
river mouth right across the fen; that there was to be a lock with gates
at the river end, to let the drain-water out at low tide, and that the
banks of the drain were to be raised so as to protect the land at the
sides from being flooded.

Fen people from far and wide collected to see the gang, and to watch the
surveyors, who, with measuring chain and staves and instruments, busied
themselves marking out the direction in which the men were to cut; and
these fen people shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders, while
more than once, when Squire Winthorpe addressed one or the other, Dick
noticed that they were always surly, and that some turned away without
making any answer.

"Never mind, Dick," said the squire laughing.  "Some day when we've
given them smiling pastures and corn-fields, instead of water and bog
and ague, they will be ashamed of themselves."


"Well, but what, sir?" said the squire as the lad hesitated.

"I was only going to say, father, isn't it a pity to spoil the fen?"

The squire did not answer for a few moments, but stood frowning.  The
severe look passed off directly though, and he smiled.

"Dick," he said gravely, "all those years at a good school, to come back
as full of ignorance and prejudice as the fen-men!  Shame!"

He walked away, leaving Dick with his companion Tom Tallington.

"I say," said the latter, "you caught it."

"Well, I can't help it," said Dick, who felt irritated and ashamed.  "It
does seem a pity to spoil all the beautiful pools and fishing places,
and instead of having beds of reeds full of birds, for there to be
nothing but fields and a great ugly drain.  Why, the flowers, and
butterflies, and nesting places will all be swept away.  What do we care
for fields of corn!"

"My father cares for them, and he says it will be the making of this
part of the country."

"Unmaking, he means," said Dick; and they went on to watch the
proceedings of the strange men who had come--big, strong,
good-tempered-looking fellows, armed with sharp cutting spades, and for
whose use the lads found that a brig had come into the little river, and
was landing barrows, planks, and baskets, with a variety of other
articles to be used in the making of the drain.

"I'm afraid we shall have some trouble over this business, Tallington,"
said the squire as they went back.

"Well, we sha'n't be the only sufferers," said the farmer
good-humouredly.  "I suppose all we who have adventured our few pounds
will be in the people's black books.  But we must go on--we can't stop

The next day Tom came over, and the lads went down towards the
far-stretching fen, now once more losing a great deal of the water of
the flood.

They passed the Solemn one apparently none the worse for his bath, for
he trotted away from the gate to thrust his head in the favourite corner
by the old corbel in the wall, and look back at them, as if as ready to
kick as ever.

"Poor old Solomon!" said Dick laughing, "I should have been sorry if he
had been lost."

"Oh, never mind him," cried Tom; "is old Dave coming over to fetch us?
Why, Dick, look!"

"I can't see anything," said Dick.

"Because you're not looking the right way.  There!  Now he's behind that
bed of reeds a mile away."

"I see!" cried Dick.  "Why, it is Dave, and he's coming."

The lads ran down to the edge of the fen, and made their way to the end
of a long, open, river-like stretch of water, which was now perfectly
clear, so that everything could be clearly distinguished at the bottom;
and before long, as they walked to and fro, they caught sight of a
little shoal of small fish, and soon after of a young pike, with his
protruding lower jaw, waiting for his opportunity to make a dash at some
unfortunate rudd, whose orange fins and faintly-gilded sides made him a
delectable-looking morsel for his olive-green and gold excellency the
tyrant of the river.

"He's coming here, isn't he?" said Tom, gazing out anxiously over the
reedy waste.

"Yes; I can see his old fox-skin cap.  He's coming safe enough."

"Oh, Dick!" cried his companion.

"Well!  What?"

"The powder.  You've never given him the powder, and he'll be as gruff
as can be.  Has he had the horn?"

"Had two," said Dick, watching the approaching punt, which was still
half a mile away, and being poled steadily in and out of the winding
water-lane, now hidden by the dry rustling reeds which stood covered
with strands of filmy conferva or fen scum.

"But he hasn't had the powder we promised him."

"No," said Dick loftily; "not yet."

"Why, you haven't brought it, Dick!"

"Haven't brought it, indeed!  Why, what's this, then?"

He drew a bottle from his pocket, took out the cork, and poured a little
of its contents into his hand--dry, black grains, like so much sable
sand, and then poured it back and corked it tightly.

"You are a good fellow, Dick; but I haven't paid my share."

"I don't want your share," said Dick loftily.  "Father gave me
half-a-crown the other day."

"I wish my father gave me half-crowns sometimes," sighed Tom; "but he
isn't so rich as yours."

"There, don't bother about money!" cried Dick.  "Let's think about the
birds.  Hooray! here he comes!  Hi, Dave!"

Sound travels easily over water, and the decoy-man must have heard the
hail, but he paid no heed, only kept on poling his punt along, thrusting
down the long ash sapling, which the fen-men used as punt-pole, staff,
and leaping-pole in turn; and then as the boat glided on, standing erect
in her bows like some statue.

"Now, what a dried-up old yellow mummy he is!" cried Dick.  "He can see
us, but he's pretending he can't, on purpose to tease us.  Look at that!
He needn't have gone behind that great reed patch.  It's to make us
think he is going down to your place."

"Let's run down and meet him," said Tom eagerly.

"No, no; stop where you are.  If he sees us go down there he'll double
back directly and come here.  He's just like an old fox.  I know.  Come

Dick started up and ran in the same direction as Dave had taken with the
punt before he disappeared behind the reed-bed.  Tom followed, and they
raced on along the edge till a clump of alders was reached.

"Pst!  Tom, round here," whispered Dick; and leading the way he doubled
back, following the long low bed of swamp-loving wood, and keeping in
its shelter till they were once more opposite to the spot where Dave
should have landed.

There, still hid among the trees, Dick stooped down in a thick bed of
dry reeds, pretty close to the water, and in full view of the rough
winding canal leading far and wide.

"Let's hide for a few minutes," said Dick chuckling.  "You'll see he'll
come here after all."

The lad had a good idea of Dave's ways, for before they had been
watching many minutes there was the splashing of the pole heard in the
water, and the rustling of the reeds, but nothing was visible, and Tom
began to be of opinion that his companion had been wrong, when all at
once the reeds began to sway and crackle right before them, and before
Tom recovered from his surprise the punt shot right out of the middle of
the long low wall of dried growth, and in answer to a vigorous thrust or
two from the pole, glided across to within a dozen yards of where the
lads crouched.

"Come on, Tom!" said Dick, and they stepped out at once so suddenly that
the decoy-man, in spite of his self-control, started.  A curious smile
puckered his face directly and he stood staring at them.

"Why, you have been a long time, Dave," cried Dick.

"Long, boy?"

"Yes, long.  You asked us to come over and see the netting."

"Ay, so I did, boy; but there soon wean't be no netting."

"Then come on and let's see it while there is some," cried Dick.  "When
we used to be home from school you always said we were too young.  You
can't say that now."

"Ay, bud I can," said the man with a dry chuckle.

"Then don't," said Dick.  "You've brought your gun there!" he cried

"Ay, I've brote my gun," said Dave; "but I hevven't any powder."

"Yes, you have, Dave," cried Dick, tugging the wine-bottle from his
pocket.  "Here's some."

"Eh?  Is that powder or drink?" said the man, taking the bottle and
giving it a shake.  "It arn't full, though."

"No, it isn't full," said Dick in a disappointed tone; "but there's a
whole pound, and it's the best."

"Ah, well, I daresay it'll do," said Dave slowly.

"Load the gun, then, and let's have a shot at the snipes as we go," said

"Nay, she wean't go off till she has had a new flint in.  I'm going to
knap one when I get back."

"Jump in, then," cried Dick.  "I'm going to pole her across."

"Nay, I don't think it's any use to-day."

"Why, Dave, this is just the sort of day you said was a good one for

"Did I, lad?"

"Yes; didn't he, Tom?  And what's that wisp of birds going over the
water, yonder?"

"Quick, in wi' ye, lads!" cried the decoy-man, with his whole manner
changed.  "The right sort.  Look, lads, another wisp!  See how low they
fly.  They mean feeding."

The boys leaped into the punt, and Dick was about to seize the pole, but
Dave stopped him.

"Nay, lad, let me send her across.  Save time."

"Then may I have a shot at the first heron I see?"

"Nay, nay; don't let's scar' the birds, lad.  It's netting to-day.
We'll shute another time when they wean't come near the net."

Dick gave way, and Dave took the pole, to send the light punt skimming
over the water, and in and out among the reed-beds through which,
puzzling as they would have been to a stranger, he thrust the vessel
rapidly.  They were full of devious channels, and Dave seemed to prefer
these, for even when there was a broad open piece of water in front he
avoided it, to take his way through some zigzag lane with the reeds
brushing the boat on either side, and often opening for himself a way
where there was none.

The man worked hard, but it seemed to have no effect upon him; and when
the lads were not watching him and his energetic action, there was
always something to take up their attention.  Now a heron would rise out
of one of the watery lanes, gaunt, grey, and with his long legs
stretched out behind to look like a tail as his great flap wings beat
the air and carried him slowly away.

Then with a loud splash and cackling, up would spring a knot of ducks,
their wings whirring as they rapidly beat the air in a flight wonderful
for such a heavy bird.  Again a little farther and first one and then
another snipe would dart away in zigzag flight, uttering their strange
_scape, scape_.  And all tempting to a lad who sat there within touch of
a long heavy-looking gun, which had been cleaned and polished till every
part was worn.

But he had been told that it was not charged and that the flint-lock was
in a failing condition; and besides, Dick felt that it would be
dishonourable to touch the gun now that it was almost trusted to his

In spite of Dave's ability and knowledge of the short cuts to the part
of the fen where he lived, it took him nearly three-quarters of an hour
to punt across, where the lads landed upon what was really an island in
the fen, though one side ran pretty close up to some fairly dry land
full of narrow water-lanes and pools, all favourite breeding ground for
the wild-fowl.

The boys leaped out while Dave fastened the punt to an old willow trunk,
and, quite at home in the place, went on first to a rough-looking house
nearly hidden among alders and willows, all of which showed traces of
the flood having been right up, submerging everything to a depth of
three to four feet.

"Hullo, Chip!  Chip!  Chip!" cried Tom, and the decoy-man's little
sharp-looking dog came bounding to them, to leap up, and fawn and whine,
full of delight at seeing human faces again.

There was the twittering and piping of birds, and the scuffling,
scratching noise made by animals in a cage, as they reached the
roughly-fenced yard, more than garden, about Dave's cottage, the boys
eager to inspect the birds, the ferrets, the eel-spear leaning against
the reed thatch, and the brown nets hung over poles, stretching from
post to post, as if to dry.

"Why, it's months sin' you've been to see me," said Dave.

"Well, whose fault's that?" said Dick sharply.  "I say, Dave, these nets
are new."

"Ay, every one of 'em.  Made 'em all this summer."

"Didn't you get lots of things spoiled when the flood came?" cried Tom.

"N-no, lad, no.  Nearly had my birds drownded, but I got 'em atop of the
thack yonder."

"But hasn't your cottage been dreadfully wet?" asked Dick, who was
poking his finger in a cage full of ferrets.  "I say, what are John
Warren's ferrets doing here?"

"Doin' nothing, and waiting to be took out, that's all, lad."

"But wasn't your place horribly wet?"

"What care I for a drop o' watter?" said Dave contemptuously.

"Look here, Dick, at the decoys," cried Tom running to a large wicker
cage in which were four of the curious long-legged birds known as ruffs
and reeves.

"Was six," said Dave.  "I lost two."


"Fightin', lad.  I niver see such bonds to fight.  Gamecocks is babies
to 'em.  I'm going to try a new improved way of ketching of 'em by
challenging the wild ones to fight."

"Never mind about them," said Dick eagerly; "are you going to start

"Ah! you're so precious eager to begin, lad," said Dave; "but when
you've been sitting out there on the boat for about a couple of hours
you'll be glad to get back."

"Oh, no, we sha'n't!" cried Dick.  "Now, then, let's start."

"Ay, but we've got to get ready first."

"Well, that's soon done.  Shall I carry the birds down to the boat?"

"Nay; we wean't take them to-day.  I've sin more pie-wipes than ruffs,
so let's try for them."

He went round to the back of the hovel and took from the roof a cage
which the lads had not yet seen, containing seven green plovers, and
this was carried to the boat, where the frightened birds ran to and fro,
thrusting their necks between the wicker bars in a vain attempt to

This done, a bundle of net, some long stout cord, and poles were
carefully placed in the stern, after which Dave went into his cottage to
bring out a mysterious-looking basket, which was also placed in the
stern of the boat.

"That's about all," said the man, after a moment's thought; and
unfastening the punt after the boys were in, he pushed off, but only to
turn back directly and secure the boat again.

"Why, what now, Dave?" cried Dick.  "Aren't you going?"

"Going, lad! yes; but I thowt if we caught no bohds you might like me to
shute one or two."

"Well, we've got the gun and plenty of powder."

"Ay, lad; but I've lost my last flint, and I've got to knap one."

The boys followed him ashore, leaving the plovers fluttering in the
cage, and Dave went inside his cottage, and returned directly with a
hammer and a piece of flint, which he turned over two or three times so
as to get the stone in the right position, as, taught by long
experience, he struck a sharp blow.

Now Dave, the duck-decoy-man of the fens, knew nothing about lines of
fracture or bulbs of percussion as taught by mineralogists, but he knew
exactly where to hit that piece of flint so as to cause a nice
sharp-edged flake to fly off, and he knew how and where to hit that
flake so as to chip it into a neat oblong, ready for his gun, those
present being ignorant of the fact that they were watching workmanship
such as was in vogue among the men who lived and hunted in England in
the far-distant ages of which we have no history but what they have left
us in these works.  Dave Gittan chipped away at the flint just as the
ancient hunters toiled to make the arrow-heads with which they shot the
animals which supplied them with food and clothing, the flint-knives
with which they skinned and cut up the beasts, and the round sharp-edged
scrapers with which they removed the fat and adhering flesh as they
dressed and tanned the skins to make them fit to wear.

Dave chipped one gun-flint very accurately, failed to make a second, but
was triumphant with the third attempt, and fitting it exactly in the
lock of his piece with a piece of leather at top and bottom, he loaded
the gun with a great deal of ceremony, measuring the powder with a tiny
cup which fitted over the top of his powder-horn, and his shot with the
same vessel, so many times filled.

These rammed down in place with some rough paper on the top, and the
ramrod measured to see whether it stood out the right distance from the
barrel, the pan was primed and closed, and the gun carefully laid ready
for use.

"There," cried Dave in an ill-used tone, "I don't know why I'm tekkin'
all this trouble for such a pair o' young shacks as you; but come

"It's because he likes us, Dick," said Tom merrily.

"Nay, that I don't," cried Dave.  "I hate the lot of you.  Not one of
you'll be satisfied till you've spoiled all my fen-land, and made it a
place where nivver a bird will come."

"Why, I wouldn't have it touched if I could help it--St!  Dave, what
bird's that?" said Dick.

"Curlew," replied Dave in a low voice, whose tones were imitated by the
lads as the boat was softly punted along.  "See them, boys!"

He nodded in the direction they were going, towards where a number of
birds were flying about over some patches of land which stood just over
the level of the water.  Now they looked dark against the sky, now they
displayed feathers of the purest white, for their flight with their
blunted wings was a clumsy flapping very different to the quiver and
skim of a couple of wild ducks which came by directly after and dropped
into the water a quarter of a mile ahead.

"You come and see me next spring, my lads, and I'll show you where
there's more pie-wipes' eggs than ever you found before in your lives."

"But you'll take us one day to the 'coy, Dave?" said Dick.

"Nay, I don't think I can," said Dave.

"But it's my father's 'coy," said Dick.

"Ay, I know all about that," said the man harshly; "but it wean't be
much good to him if he dree-erns the fen."

Dave's voice was growing loud and excited, but he dropped it directly
and thrust away without making the slightest splash with his iron-shod

As they came near one bed of reeds several coots began to paddle away,
jerking their bald heads as they went, while a couple of moor-hens,
which as likely as not were both cocks, swam as fast as their long thin
unwebbed toes would allow them, twitching their black-barred white tails
in unison with the jerking of their scarlet-fronted little heads, and
then taking flight upon their rounded wings, dragging their long thin
toes along the top of the water, and shrieking with fear, till they
dropped into the sheltering cover ahead.

Snipes flew up from time to time, and more curlews and green plovers
were seen, offering plenty of opportunities for the use of the gun, as
the punt progressed till a long low spit of heathery gravel, about forty
feet in length and five wide, was reached, with a patch of reeds across
the water about a couple of hundred yards away.

"Is this the place?" cried Dick excitedly; and upon being answered in
the affirmative--"Now, then, what shall we do first?"

"Sit still, and I'll tell you, lads," was the stern reply, as Dave, now
all eagerness, secured the boat and landed his net and poles.

"Don't tread on her, my lads," he said.  "Now help me spread her out."

He showed them how to proceed, and the net, about a dozen yards in
length, was spread along the narrow spit of land, which was only about a
foot wider than the net, at whose two ends was fixed a pole as spreader,
to which lines were attached.

The net spread, the side nearest to the water was fastened down with
pegs, so adjusted as to act as hinges upon which the apparatus would
turn, while as soon as this was done Dave called for the
mysterious-looking basket.

This being produced from the punt and opened was found to contain about
a dozen stuffed peewits, which, though rough in their feathers, were
very fair imitations of the real things.

These were stuck along the edge of the net outside and at either end.

"Now for the 'coys," cried Dave, and Tom brought the cage of unfortunate
peewits, who had a painful duty to perform, that of helping to lead
their free brethren into the trap that was being laid for them.

Each of these decoy-birds was quickly and cleverly tethered to a peg
along the edge of the net upon the narrow strip of clear land, a string
being attached to one leg so long as to give them enough freedom to
flutter a little among the stuffed birds, which seemed to be feeding.

"There!" cried Dave, when all was ready; and at a short distance nothing
was visible but the group of birds fluttering or quiescent, for the net
was wonderfully like the ground in colour.  "There, she's ready now, my
lads, so come along."

He bade Dick thrust the punt along to the bed of reeds; and as the lad
deftly handled the pole, Dave let out the line, which was so attached to
the ends of the poles that a vigorous pull would drag the net right

It was quite a couple of hundred yards to the reeds, through which the
punt was pushed till it and its occupants were hidden, when, having
thrust down the pole as an anchor to steady the little vessel, the line
was drawn tight so as to try whether it would act, and then kept just so
tense as to be invisible beneath the water, and secured to the edge of
the punt.

"That ought to bring them, lads," said Dave, with his eyes twinkling
beneath his fox-skin cap, after beating a few reeds aside so that they
could have a good view of where the unfortunate peewits fluttered at the

"But suppose they don't come?" said Tom.  "I know if I was a piewipe I
wouldn't be cheated by a few dummies and some pegged-down birds."

"But then you are not a piewipe, only a goose," said Dick.

"Hist!" whispered Dave, and placing his fingers to his mouth he sent out
over the grey water so exact an imitation of the green plover's cry that
Dick looked at him in wonder, for this was something entirely new.

_Pee-eugh, pee-eugh, pee-eugh_!  And the querulous cry was answered from
a distance by a solitary lapwing, which came flapping along in a great
hurry, sailed round and round, and finally dropped upon the little
narrow island and began to run about.

"You won't pull for him, will you, Dave?" whispered Dick.

Dave shook his head, and the boys watched as from time to time the man
uttered the low mournful cry.

"Wonder what that chap thinks of the stuffed ones?" whispered Dick.

"Why don't the live ones tell him it isn't safe?" said Tom.

"Don't know; perhaps they're like old Tom Tallington," said Dick:
"whenever they get into a mess they like to get some one else in it

"You say that again and I'll hit you," whispered Tom, holding up his
fist menacingly.

"Hist!" came from Dave, who uttered the imitation of the peewit's
whistle again, and a couple more of the flap-winged birds came slowly
over the grey-looking water, which to anyone else, with its patches of
drab dry weeds and bared patches of black bog, would have seemed to be a
terrible scene of desolation, whereas it was a place of enchantment to
the boys.

"They come precious slowly," said Dick at last.  "I thought that there
would have been quite a crowd of birds, like you see them sometimes.
Look at the old bald-heads, Tom."

He pointed to a party of about half a dozen coots which came slowly out
of the reeds and then sailed on again as if suspicious of all being not
quite right.

Then there was another little flock of ducks streaming over the fen in
the distance, and their cries came faintly as they dashed into the
water, as if returning home after a long absence.

"There goes a her'n," whispered Tom, who was not very good at seeing
birds and worse at telling what they were.

"'Tisn't," cried Dick; "it's only a grey crow."

"If you two go on chattering like that we shall get no birds," said Dave
sharply.  "What a pair o' ruck-a-toongues you are; just like two owd

"Well, but the birds are so long coming," said Dick; "I'm getting the
cramp.  I say, Dave, are there any butterbumps [bitterns] close here?"

"Plenty; only they wean't show theirsens.  Hah!"

They had been waiting a couple of hours, and the peewit's cry had been
uttered from time to time, but only a straggler or two had landed upon
the strip of land.  Dick had been eager to capture these, but Dave shook
his head.  It wasn't worth while to set the net and peg out decoys and
stales, he said, to catch two pie-wipes that weren't enough for a man's

So they crouched there in the punt, waiting and growing more cold and
cramped, fidgeting and changing their positions, and making waves seem
to rise from under the boat to go whispering among the reeds.

Every now and then Tom uttered a sigh and Dick an impatient grunt, while
at these movements Dave smiled but made no other sign, merely watching
patiently.  His eyes glittered, and their lids passed over them rapidly
from time to time; otherwise he was as motionless as if carved out of
old brown boxwood, an idea suggested by the colour of his skin.

"I say," said Dick at last, as there were tokens in the distance of the
day coming to an end with mist and fine rain, "I am getting so hungry!
Got anything to eat, Dave?"

"When we've done, lads."

"But haven't we done?  No birds will come to-day."

Dave did not answer, only smiled very faintly; and it seemed as if the
lad was right, for the sky and water grew more grey, and though the
stuffed birds appeared to be diligently feeding, and those which were
tethered hopped about and fluttered their wings, while the two free ones
ran here and there, flew away and returned, as if exceedingly mystified
at the state of affairs on that long, narrow strip of land, Dave's calls
seemed to be as vain as the snares he had made.

"I wonder whether these birds break their shins in running over the
meshes of the net!" said Dick after a long yawn.  "Oh, I say, Dave,
there's no fun in this; let's go!"

"Hist! pee-eugh, pee-eugh!" whistled Dave loudly, and then in quite a
low tone that sounded distant, and this he kept up incessantly and with
a strange ventriloquial effect.

The boys were all excitement now, for they grasped at once the cause of
their companion's rapid change of manner.  For there in the distance,
coming down with the wind in scattered flight and as if labouring
heavily to keep themselves up, appeared a flock of lapwings pretty well
a hundred strong.

"Hooray!  At last, Tom!" cried Dick.  "Will they come and settle on the
net, Dave?"

"Not a bird of 'em if thou keeps up that ruck," whispered the man

The next minute he was imitating the cry of the peewit, and it was
answered from the distance by the birds coming along, while the two
stragglers which had been hanging about so long now rose up, circled
round, and settled again.

"Look at them!" whispered Dick.  "Lie low, Tom; they're coming."

Both lads were on the tiptoe of expectation, but it seemed as if they
were to be disappointed, for the flock came on slowly, uttering its
querulous cries, and circled round as if to pass over, but they were
evidently still attracted by the decoy-birds, and hesitated and flew to
and fro.

"Oh, if they don't light now!" said Dick to himself.  "They're going,"
he sighed half aloud, and then he seized Tom's arm in his excitement,
and gripped it so hard that the boy nearly cried out, and would have
done so but for the state of eagerness he too was in.

For after farther signs of hesitation and doubt, all of which were in
favour of the flock going right away, one of them seemed to give a
regular tumble over in the air, as if it were shot, and alighted.
Another followed, and another, and another, till, to the intense
excitement of the occupants of the boat among the reeds, the long, low
spit of gravel, almost level with the water, became alive with birds
running here and there.

It was on Dick's lips to cry, "Now, Dave, pull!" but he could not speak,
only watch the thin, keen, yellow man, whose eye glittered beneath his
rough hairy cap as he slowly tightened the line, drawing it up till it
was above the surface of the water, which began to ripple and play about
it in long waves running off in different directions.  There was so
great a length that it was impossible to draw it tight without moving
the spreader poles; and as the lads both thought of what the
consequences would be if the line broke, the movement at the ends of the
long net spread the alarm.

There was a curious effect caused by the spreading of the wings of the
birds, and the whole island seemed to be slowly rising in the air; but
at that moment the water hissed from the punt right away to where the
flock was taking flight, and as the line tightened, a long filmy wave
seemed to curve over towards them.  By one rapid practice-learned drag,
the net was snatched over and fell on to the water, while a great flock
of green plovers took flight in alarm and went flapping over reed-bed
and mere.

"Oh, what a pity!" cried Dick, jumping up in the boat and stamping his
foot with rage.

"And so near, too!" cried Tom.

"Sit down, lads," roared Dave, who was dragging the pole out of the
ground, and the next moment he was thrusting the light boat along over
the intervening space, and the more readily that the bottom there was
only three or four feet below the surface, and for the most part firm.

"Why, have you caught some?" cried Dick.

The answer was given in front, for it was evident that the net had
entangled several of the unfortunate birds, which were flapping the
water and struggling vainly to get through the meshes, but drowning
themselves in the effort.

The scene increased in excitement as the boat neared, for the birds
renewed their struggles to escape, and the decoys tethered on the island
to their pegs leaped and fluttered.

In an incredibly short time the skilful puntsman had his boat alongside
the net, and then began the final struggle.

It was a vain one, for one by one the plovers were dragged from beneath
and thrust into a large basket, till the net lay half-sunk beneath the
surface, and the feeble flapping of a wing or two was all that could be

The boat was dripping with water and specked with wet feathers, and a
solitary straggler of the plover flock flew to and fro screaming as if
reproaching the murderers of its companions; otherwise all was still as
Dave stood up and grinned, and showed his yellow teeth.

"There!" he cried triumphantly; "yow didn't expect such a treat as

"Treat!" said Dick, looking at his wet hands and picking some feathers
from his vest, for he and Tom after the first minute had plunged
excitedly into the bird slaughter and dragged many a luckless bird out
of the net.

"Ay, lad, treat!--why, there's nigh upon fourscore, I know."

Dick's features had a peculiar look of disgust upon them and his brow
wrinkled up.

"Seems so precious cruel," he said.

Dave, who was rapidly freeing his decoy-birds and transferring them to
the cage, stood up with a fluttering plover in one hand.

"Cruel!" he cried.

"Yes, and treacherous," replied Dick.

"Deal more cruel for me to be found starved to death in my place some
day," said Dave.  "Pie-wipes eats the beedles and wains, don't they?
Well, we eats the pie-wipes, or sells 'em, and buys flour and bacon.
Get out wi' ye!  Cruel!  Yow don't like piewipe pie!"

"I did, and roast piewipe too," cried Dick; "but I don't think I shall
ever eat any again."

"Hark at him!" cried Dave, going on rapidly with his task and packing up
his stuffed birds neatly in their basket, drawing out his pegs, and then
rolling up and wringing the wet net before placing it in the punt, and
winding in the dripping line which he drew through the water from the
reed-bed.  "Hark at him, young Tom Tallington!"--and he uttered now a
peculiarly ugly harsh laugh--"young squire ar'n't going to eat any more
bacon, 'cause it's cruel to kill the pigs; nor no eels, because they has
to be caught; and he wean't catch no more jacks, nor eel-pouts, nor yet
eat any rabbud-pie!  Ha--ha--ha--ha--ha!"

"Look here, Dave!" cried Dick passionately, "if you laugh at me I'll shy
something at you!  No, I won't," he shouted, seizing the cage; "I'll
drown all your decoys!"

"Ay, do!" said Dave, beginning to use the pole.  "You're such a
particular young gentleman!  Only, wouldn't it be cruel?"

"Ha--ha--ha!" laughed Tom.

"Do you want me to punch your head, Tom?" roared Dick, turning scarlet.

"Nay, lads, don't spyle a nice bit o' sport by quarrelling," said Dave,
sending the boat rapidly homeward.  "I wean't laugh at you no more,
Mester Dick.  I like you for it, lad.  It do seem cruel; and sometimes
when I weer younger, and a bud looked up at me with its pretty eyes, as
much as to say, `don't kill me!'  I would let it go."

"Ah!" ejaculated Dick with a sigh of relief.

"But what did that bud do, lad?  If it was a piewipe, go and kill
hundreds o' worms, and snails, and young frogs; if it was a heron, spear
fish and pick the wriggling young eels out of the mud.  No, lad, it
wean't do; buds is the cruellest things there is, pretty as they are--
all except them as only eats seeds.  Everything 'most is cruel; but if
they wasn't the world would get so full that everything would starve.
We've got say fourscore pie-wipes--not for fun, but for wittles--and
what's fourscore when there's thousands upon thousands all about?"

"Why, Dave, you're a philosopher!" said Dick, who felt relieved.

"Yes," said Dave complacently, but with a very foggy idea of the meaning
of the word; "it's being out so much upon the water.  Now, there's a
nice couple o' ducks swimming just the other side o' them reeds, as a
lad might hit just as they rose from the water when we come round the
corner; and I'd say hev a shot at 'em, Mester Dick--on'y, if I did, it
would hurt your feelings."

Dick was silent for a moment or two as he tried to keep down his human
nature.  Then he spoke out:

"I beg your pardon, Dave, after what you did for us.  May I take up the

"Ay.  Steady, lad!--keep her head over the stem, and I'll turn the boat
round and send you along gently.  Now you lie down on your chesty and
rest the barr'l on the net, for she's too heavy for you to handle.  Then
wait till the ducks rise, and let go at 'em."

There was another interval full of excitement; the punt was sent quietly
toward the end of the reed-bed; and in obedience to his instructions
Dick knelt ready to fire--Tom watching him enviously, and wishing it
were his turn.

Nearer, nearer, with the punt allowed to go on now by the force of the
last thrust given to it, till the last patch of reed was cleared; and
there, not twenty yards away, swam a fine shieldrake and four ducks.

As the punt glided into sight there was a splashing and whirring of
wings, a great outcry, and away went the birds.

"Now, lad!" cried Dave; and the gun was fired with a deafening report.
But no feathers flew--no unfortunate duck or drake dropped,
broken-winged, into the water.  The only living being injured was Dick,
who sat up rubbing his shoulder softly.

"I say," he said, "how that gun kicks!"

"Yes," said Dave dryly, "I put a big charge in her, my lad; but it was a
pity to waste it."

"I couldn't help missing," said Dick.  "They were so quick."

"Nay, you wouldn't try to hit 'em, lad, because you thought you'd hot
'em," said Dave, chuckling; and Tom laughed, while Dick sat and nursed
the gun in silence, till the punt was poled ashore and its contents

"Now," said Dave, "I've got a rabbud-pie as I made mysen.  Come and hev
a bit, lads; and then you shall take home a dozen pie-wipes apiece.
It'll be moonlight, and I'll soon punt you across."

That pie, in spite of the rough surroundings, was delicious; and Dick
forgot to pity the poor rabbits, and he did not refuse to take his dozen
lapwings home for a welcome addition to the next day's dinner.

"You see, Tom," he whispered, "I think I was a little too particular.
Good-night, Dave, and thank you!" he shouted.

"Good-night, lads--good-night!" came off the water.  Then there was a
splash of the pole, and Dave disappeared in the moonlit mist which
silvered the reeds, while the boys trudged the rest of their way home.



The number of workers increased at the sea-bank, quite a colony growing
up, and Dick paid several visits to the place with his father to see how
busily the men were delving, while others built up what was termed a
_gowt_--a flood-gate arrangement for keeping out the sea at high water,
and opening it at low, so as to give egress to the drain-water collected
from the fen-land.

Both lads were eager enough to be there to witness the progress of the
works at first; but after going again and again, they voted the whole
thing to be uninteresting, and no more worth seeing than the digging of
one of the ditches on the farms at home.

And certainly there was no more difference than in the fact that the
ditches at home were five or six feet wide, while the one the
adventurers were having cut through the fen-land would be forty feet,
and proportionately deep.

So the big drain progressed foot by foot, creeping on as it were from
the sea-shore, an innocent-looking channel that seemed valueless, but
which would, when finished, rid the land of its stagnant water, and turn
the boggy, peaty soil of the fen into rich pasture and corn-land,
whereas its finest produce now was wild-fowl and a harvest of reeds.

"We're getting on, neighbour," said the squire to Farmer Tallington one

"Ay, but it's slow work," said Tom's father.  "It'll be years before
that lode is cooten."

"Yes, it will be years before it is finished," said the squire,

"Then, what's the good of us putting our money in it, eh?  It'll do us
no good, and be robbing our boys."

"Then why don't you leave off, father?" said Tom stoutly.  "Dick
Winthorpe and I don't want the fen to be drained, and we don't want to
be robbed.  Do we, Dick?"

The two elders laughed heartily, and the squire was silent for a few
minutes before he began to speak.

"The drain's right, neighbour," he said gravely.  "Perhaps you and I
will reap no great benefit from it; though, if we live, we shall; but
instead of leaving to our boys, when they take up our work, neighbour,
either because we are called away to our rest or because we have grown
old, these farms with so much good land and so much watery bog, we shall
leave them acre upon acre of good solid land, that has been useless to
us, but which will bear them crops and feed their beasts."

"Yes," said Farmer Tallington, "there's something in that, but--"

"Come, neighbour, look ahead.  Every foot that drain comes into the fen
it will lower the level, and we shall see--and before long--our farm
land grow, and the water sink."

"Ye-es; but it's so like working for other people!"

"Well," said the squire laughing, "what have you been doing in that half
acre of close beside your house?"

"That!  Oh, only planted it with pear-trees so as to make a bit of an

"Are you going to pick a crop of pears next year, neighbour?"

"Next year!  Bah!  They'll be ten years before they come well into
bearing."  [This was the case with the old-fashioned grafting.]

"So will the acres laid bare by the draining," said the squire smiling,
"and I hope we shall live to see our boys eating the bread made from
corn grown on that patch of water and reeds, along with the pears from
your trees."

"That's a clincher," said the farmer.  "You've coot the ground from
under me, neighbour, and I wean't grudge the money any more."

"I wish father wouldn't say _coot_ and _wean't_!" whispered Tom, whose
school teaching made some of the homely expressions and bits of dialect
of the fen-land jar.

"Why not?  What does it matter?" said Dick, who was busy twisting the
long hairs from a sorrel nag's tail into a fishing-line.

"Sounds so broad.  Remember how the doctor switched Bob Robinson for
saying he'd been _agate_ early."

"Yes, I recollect," said Dick, tying a knot to keep the hairs from
untwisting; "and father said he ought to have been ashamed of himself,
for _agate_ was good old Saxon, and so were all the words our people use
down here in the fen.  I say, what are they talking about now?"

"Well, for my part," said the squire rather hotly, in reply to some
communication his visitor had made, "so long as I feel that I'm doing
what is right, no threats shall ever stop me from going forward."

"But they seem to think it arn't right," said the farmer.  "Those in the
fen say it will ruin them."

"Ruin!  Nonsense!" cried the squire.  "They'll have plenty of good land
to grow potatoes, and oats, instead of water, which produces them a
precarious living from wild-fowl and fish, and ruins no end of them with
rheumatism and fever."

"Yes, but--"

"But what, man?  The fen-men who don't cultivate the soil are very few
compared to those who do, and the case is this.  The fen-land is growing
about here, and good land being swallowed up by the water.  Five acres
of my farm, which used to be firm and dry, have in my time become
water-logged and useless.  Now, are the few to give way to the many, or
the many to give way to the few?"

"Well, squire, the few think we ought to give way to them."

"Then we will not," said the squire hotly; "and if they don't know
what's for their good, they must be taught.  You know how they will
stick to old things and refuse to see how they can be improved."

"Ay, it's their nature, I suppose.  All I want is peace and quietness."

"And you'll have it.  Let them threaten.  The law is on our side.  They
will not dare."

"I don't know," said Farmer Tallington, scratching his head as they
walked out into the home close.  "You see, squire, it wean't be open
enemies we shall have to fear--"

"The Winthorpes never feared their enemies since they settled in these
parts in the days of King Alfred," said Dick grandly.

"Hear, hear, Dick!" cried his father, laughing.

"No more did the Tallingtons," said Tom, plucking up, so as not to be

"Nay, Tom, my lad," said the farmer, "Tallingtons was never fighting
men.  Well, squire, I thought I'd warn you."

"Of course, of course, neighbour.  But look here, whoever sent you that
cowardly bit of scribble thought that because you lived out here in this
lonely place you would be easily frightened.  Look here," he continued,
taking a scrap of dirty paper out of his old pocket-book; "that bit of
rubbish was stuck on one of the tines of a hay-fork, and the shaft
driven into the ground in front of my door.  I said nothing about it to
you, but you see I've been threatened too."

He handed the paper to Farmer Tallington, who read it slowly and passed
it back.

"Same man writ both, I should say."

"So should I--a rascal!" said the squire.  "Here, Dick, don't say a word
to your mother; it may alarm her."

"No, father, I sha'n't say anything; but--"

"But what?  Speak out."

"May I read it--and Tom?" he added, for he saw his companion's eager

"Well, yes, you've heard what we've been talking about--what neighbour
Tallington came over for."

"Yes, father," said Dick, taking the piece of paper, and feeling very
serious, since he knew that it contained a threat.  But as soon as he
grasped its contents--looking at them as a well-educated lad for his
days, fresh from the big town grammar-school--he slapped his thigh with
one hand, and burst into a roar of laughter, while his father looked on
with a grim smile.

"What is it, Dick?" cried Tom eagerly.

"Here's a game!" cried Dick.  "Just look!"

There was not much on the paper, and that was written in a clumsy
printing-letter fashion, beneath a rough sketch, and with another to

"Why, here's a hollow turnip and two sticks!" cried Dick aloud; "and--
and what is it, Tom?"

  `stope the dyke
  or yow hev 2

"Stop the dyke or you'll have to dig," said Tom eagerly.  "You'll have
to dig!  Does he mean dig the ditch?"

"No!" roared Dick; "that's the way he spells die, and that long square
thing's meant for a coffin."

"Yes, Dick, and that's the spirit in which to take such a cowardly
threat--laugh at it," said the squire, replacing the letter in his
pocket-book.  "I only wish I knew who sent it.  Who's this coming?"

"Why, it's Dave!" cried Tom eagerly, as the man came slowly along one of
the winding lanes of water in his punt.

"Oh, yes, I remember!" said the squire; "he was here yesterday and said
he would come and fetch you, Dick, if you liked to go, over to the

"And you never said a word about it, father!  Here, come along, Tom."

The latter glanced at his father, but read consent in his eyes, and the
two lads dashed off together.

"Seems to be letting him idle a deal," said Farmer Tallington

"Not it," said the squire.  "They're both very young and growing.  Let
them enjoy themselves and grow strong and hearty.  They've had a long
turn at school, and all this will do them good."

"Ay, it'll mak 'em grow strong and lusty if it does nowt else," said the

"And as to the big drain," said the squire; "we're farmers, neighbour,
even if I do work my land as much for pleasure as for profit."

"Ay, but what's that to do with it?"

"This," said the squire, smiling; "a man who puts his hand to the plough
should not look back."

"That's true," said Farmer Tallington; "but when he gets a letter to say
some one's going to kill him, and draws coffins on the paper, it's
enough to mak' him look back."

"It's all stuff, neighbour!  Treat it as I do--with contempt."

"Ah! you see you're a gentleman, squire, and a bit of a scholar, and I'm
only a plain man."

"A good neighbour and a true Englishman, Tallington; and I'm glad my son
has so good and frank a companion as your boy.  There, take my advice:
treat all this opposition with contempt."

"Theer's my hand, squire," said Farmer Tallington.  "You nivver gave me
a bad bit of advice yet, and I'll stick to what you say--but on one

"What's that?" said the squire, smiling.

"You'll let me grumble now and then."

Long before Farmer Tallington had parted from the squire at the
beginning of the rough track which led from the Priory to Grimsey, Dick
and Tom were down by the water's edge waiting for Dave, who came up with
a dry-looking smile upon his face--a smile which looked as if it were
the withered remains of a last year's laugh.

"How are you, Dave?" cried Dick.  "We only just knew you were coming.
Are there plenty of ducks?"

"Mebbe.  Few like," said Dave in the slow way of a man who seldom

"_Wuph_! _wuph_!" came from the boat.

"What!  Chip, boy! how are you?" cried Dick, patting the dog, which
seemed to go half mad with delight at having someone to make a fuss over
him, and then rushed to Tom to collect a few more friendly pats and

"Shall we get in, Dave?" cried Tom.

"Get in, lad!  Why, what for?"

"Now, Dave, don't go on like that," cried Dick impatiently.  "Let's get
on, there's a good fellow.  I do want to see you work the decoy."

"Oh, you don't care for that!  'Sides, I want to go to Hickathrift's to
see his dunky pigs."

"Nonsense!  What do you want to see the dunks for?"

"Thinking o' keeping a pig o' my own out thar, lads.  It's rayther
lonesome at times; and," he added quite seriously, "a pig would be

The boys looked at one another and smothered a laugh for fear of giving

"What, with a place like a jolly island all to yourself, where you live
like a Robinson Crusoe and can keep tame magpies and anything you like,
and your boat, and your dog, and eel-spear?"

"And nets," put in Tom.

"And fishing-lines," said Dick.

"And gun," said Tom.

"Ay, lads," said Dave gravely; "seems aw reight to you, but it be
lonesome sometimes when the bootherboomps get running out o' the reeds
in the dark evenings and then go sailing high up and round and round."

"Oh, I should like that!" said Dick.

"Nay, lad, yow wouldn't.  It would scar yow.  Then o' soft warm nights
sometimes the frogs begins, and they go on crying and piping all round
you for hours."

"Pooh!" said Tom; "who'd mind a few frogs?"

"And then o' still nights theer's the will o' the wipses going about and
dancing over the holes in the bog."

"I say, Dave, what is a will o' the wisp really like?"

"What! heven't you niver seen one, lad?" said Dave, as he seated himself
on the edge of the boat.

"No; you see we've always been away at school.  I can remember one of
our men--Diggles it was--pointing out one on a dark night when I was
quite young, and I saw some kind of light, and I was such a little
fellow then that I ran in--frightened."

"Ay, they do frecken folk," said Dave, putting a piece of brown gum in
his mouth; "only you must be careful which way you run or you may go
right into the bog and be smothered, and that's what the wills like."

"Like! why, they're only lights," said Tom.

"They'm seem to you like lights, but they be kind o' spirits," said Dave
solemnly; "and they wants you to be spirits, too, and come and play with
'em, I s'pose."

"But, Dave, never mind the will o' the wisps.  Come on to the 'coy."

"Nay, it's no use to go there; the nets that goes over the pipes has
been charmed [gnawed] by the rats."

"Yes, I know," cried Dick, laughing; "and you've put all new ones.  I
heard you tell father so, and he paid you ever so much money.  He's only
playing with us, Tom."

Dave laughed like a watchman's rattle, whose wooden spring had grown
very weak.

"Look here, Dave, now no nonsense!  Want some more powder?"

"Nay, I don't want no poother," said Dave.

"Do you want some lead to melt down?  I'll give you a big lump."

"Nay, I don't want no poother, and I don't want no lead," said Dave in
an ill-used tone.  "I can buy what I want."

"He does want it, Dick."

"Nay, I don't, lad; and things a man do want nobody asks him to hev."

"Why, what do you want, Dave?"

"Oh, nowt!  I don't want nowt.  But there is times when a man's a bit
ill out there in the fen, and he gets thinking as a drop o' sperrits 'd
do him good.  But I d'n know."

"All right, Dave!  I won't forget," said Dick.  "Jump in, Tom."

"Nay, what's the good?" said Dave.

"All right, Tom!  He's going to take us to the 'coy."

Tom followed his companion into the boat, the dog leaped in after them,
whining with pleasure; and shaking his head and talking to himself, Dave
followed, seized the pole, giving a grunt at Dick, who wanted to preside
over the locomotion, and then, with a tremendous thrust, he sent the
punt surging through the water.

"Nay, I'll pole," he said.  "Get us over sooner, and we can begin work."

Dick exchanged glances with his companion, and they sat playing with the
dog and watching the birds that rose from the reeds or swept by in
little flocks in the distance, till, after about half an hour's poling,
Dave ran the boat into a narrow lane among the uncut reeds, after a
warning to be quite still, which the lads observed and the dog
understood, going forward and crouching down in front of his master,
with his eyes glittering and ears quivering with the intense way in
which he was listening.

The way through the reeds was long, and in spite of the stealthy way in
which the boat was propelled, several birds were startled, and flew up
quacking loudly, and went away.

At last, though, they emerged from the dry growth into a little open
pool, and crossing this, landed by a low house thatched with reeds and
hidden in a thick grove of alders.

"Now, lads," said Dave in a whisper, "not a word.  Stay here while I go
and look.  I wean't be long."

He secured the boat to a stump of wood, and landed, leaving the lads
seated in the punt, and gazing about them.  But there was very little to
see, for, save in the direction of the patch of reeds through which they
had passed, there was a low dense growth of alders and willows running
up to the height of twelve or fifteen feet; and it was beyond this that
the sport was to be had.

They had not very long to wait before Dave returned, with Chip the piper
at his heels--not that the dog had any musical gifts, but that he was
clever in doing certain duties in connection with a pipe, as will be
seen, and to perform these adequately utter silence was required.

Dave seemed quite transformed.  His yellow face, instead of being dull
and heavy, was full of anxious lines, his eyes twinkled, his mouth
twitched and worked, and his brown wiry hands were fidgeting about his

As he came up he held a finger in the air to command silence, and with
stooping body and quick alert way he paused till he was close to the
boys, and then whispered:

"You couldn't hev come better, lads; there's a boat load of 'em in the

"What sort?" whispered Dick excitedly.

"All sorts, lad: widgeons, teal, mallards, and some pochards.  Only
mind, if you say a word aloud, or let that theer dog bark, we sha'n't
get a duck."

Dick clapped his hand over his mouth, as if to ensure silence, and Tom
compressed his lips.

"Come along, then, boys, and I'll set yow wheer yow can look through a
hole in one o' the screens and see all the fun."

"But can't we help, Dave?" asked Tom.

"Help, lad! no, not till the ducks are in the net.  Then you may.  Now,
not a word, and come on."

Dave led the way to the little house, where he filled his pockets with
barley and oats mixed, out of a rough box, and as he did so he pointed
to one corner which had been gnawed.

"Been charming of it," he whispered.  "Eats!  Now come, quiet-like;" and
he stepped out and into a narrow path leading through the dense alder
wood, and in and out over patches of soft earth which quivered and felt
like sponges beneath their feet.

Dave glanced back at them sharply two or three times when a rustling
sound was made, and signed to them to be careful.  Then once he stopped
in a wider opening and tossed up a feather or two, as if to make sure of
the way the wind blew.  Apparently satisfied, he bent towards the two
lads and whispered:

"I'm going to the second pipe.  Come quiet.  Not a word, and when I mak'
room for you, peep through the screen for a minute, and then come away."

The boys nodded, and followed in silence through a part of the alder
wood which was not quite so dense, for here and there patches of tall
reeds had grown out of a watery bed, and now stood up seven or eight
feet high and dry and brown.

Then all at once Dave stopped and looked back at them with a sly kind of
grin upon his face, as he pointed down to a strong net stretched loosely
over some half hoops of ash, whose ends were stuck down tightly in the
soft ground so as to form a tunnel about two feet wide.

This was over the soft earth, upon which lay the end of the net, tied
round with a piece of cord.  A few yards farther on, however, this first
net was joined to another, and the tunnel of network was arched over a
narrow ditch full of water, and this ditch gradually increased in width
as the man led on, and ran in a curve, along whose outer or convex side
they were proceeding.

Before long, as the bent-over willows spanned the ditch or "pipe," as it
was called, the net ceased to come down quite to the ground, its place
being occupied by screens made of reeds and stakes, and all so placed
that there was room to go round them.

The boys now noted that the dog was following close behind in a way as
furtive as his master, and apparently quite as much interested as he in
what was to take place.

The water ditch increased in width rapidly now till the net tunnel
became six feet, twelve feet, twenty feet, and, close to the mouth,
twenty-four feet wide, while the light ash-poles, bent over and tied in
the middle, were quite twelve feet above the water.

They were now near the mouth of the curved ditch, whose narrow portion
bent round quite out of sight among the trees, while at a signal from
Dave they went to a broad reed screen in front, and gazed through an
opening, to see stretching out before them, calm and smooth beneath the
soft grey wintry sky, a large pool of about a couple of acres in extent,
surrounded by closely growing trees similar to those through which they
had passed, while at stated intervals were openings similar to that by
which they stood, in all five in number, making a rough star whose arms
or points were ditches or pipes some five-and-twenty feet wide, and
curving off, to end, as above told, sixty or seventy yards from the
mouth, only two feet wide, and covered right along with net.

All this was well-known to them before, and they hardly gave it a second
glance.  What took their attention were some half dozen flocks of
water-fowl seated calmly on the smooth surface of the pool and a couple
of herons standing in the shallow water on the other side, one so
hitched up that he seemed to have no neck, the other at his full height,
and with bill poised ready to dart down at some unfortunate fish.

Here and there a moor-hen or two swam quietly about flicking its
black-barred white tail.  There were some coots by a bed of reeds, and a
couple of divers, one of which disappeared from time to time in the most
business-like manner, and came up at the end of a long line of bubbles
many yards away.

Nearest to them was a large flock of quite a hundred ordinary wild
ducks, for the most part asleep, while the others sat motionless upon
the water or swam idly about, all waiting patiently in the secluded
pool, which seemed to them a sanctuary, for nightfall, when slugs and
snails would be out and other things in motion, ready to supply them
with a banquet on some of their far-off feeding grounds.  The drakes
were already distinct enough from the sober-feathered ducks, but the
former were not in their spring plumage, when they would put on their
brightest colours and their heads glisten in green and gold.

Away to the left were a number of flat-looking squatty-shaped pochards
with their brown heads and soft grey backs, while to the right were
plenty of widgeons and another little flock of teal, those pretty
miniature ducks, with here and there a rarer specimen, among which were
pintails, drakes with the centre feathers of the tail produced like
those of a parroquet.

The lads could have stopped for an hour gazing at the manners and
customs of the wild-fowl dotting the lake in happy unconsciousness of
the enemies so near; but, just as Dick had fixed his eyes upon a
solitary group of about a couple of dozen ducks nearly across the pond,
he felt a tug behind him, and turning, there was Dave signing to him to
come away.

Dave made the lads follow him till he could place them in among the
trees with a tuft of reeds before them, which proved sufficient screen
and yet gave them a view of part of the pool, and the entrance to the
pipe upon whose bank they had been standing.

"Now, look here, bairns," he whispered; "if you move or says a word,
there'll be no ducks."

The lads nodded and crouched in their places, while Dave disappeared
behind them, but appeared again close to the screen of reed which hid
him from the birds in the pool.

Matters were so exciting now as the watchers looked on that Dick
relieved his feelings by pinching Tom's leg, and then holding up his
fist, as if in promise of what was to follow if he made a sound.

Meanwhile, with Chip close at his heels, Dave went to the farthest
screen and peered through the opening, and after satisfying himself they
saw him thrust one hand into his pocket and make a sign to Chip, while
almost simultaneously he scattered a handful of the oats and barley
right over the water, the grain falling through the meshes of the
outspread net.

Just then Chip, in the most quiet matter-of-fact way, made his
appearance on the fore-shore of the pool, and, without barking or taking
notice of the ducks, trotted slowly along toward the entrance to the
pipe, leaped over a low piece of wood, and disappeared from sight to
join his master behind the screen, when the dog was rewarded for what he
had done with a piece of cheese.

The coming of the dog, however, had created quite a commotion upon the
lake, for the knot of two dozen ducks on the other side no sooner caught
sight of him than, uttering a prodigious quacking, they came swimming
and half flying as rapidly as they could toward the mouth of the pipe,
to begin feeding upon the oats scattered upon the water.

"Look at the decoy-ducks," whispered Dick, and then he watched in
silence, for these two dozen were regularly fed wild-fowl which had
become so far half tame that, knowing the appearance of the dog to be
associated with corn and other seeds at the mouth of the pipe, they came
at once.

This was too much for the strangers, which followed them, mingled with
them, and began to feed as well.

Dave was at this time behind the second screen waiting for Chip, who
showed himself for a moment or two at the edge of the long water ditch,
trotted on towards the second screen, leaped over a low wood bar at the
end, and joined his master, to receive a second piece of cheese.

That white dog was a wonder to the wild ducks, which left off eating
directly and began to swim slowly and cautiously up the netted tunnel to
try and find out what he was doing.

Had Chip stopped and looked at them, and barked, they would all have
taken flight, but the dog was too well taught.  He was a piper of the
highest quality, and knew his business, which was to show himself for a
short time and then trot on to the next screen and leap over and
disappear just as if he were engaged in some mysterious business of his

This was too much for the ducks, which cackled and bobbed their heads up
and down and swam on, moved by an intense curiosity to find out what was
Chip's particular game.

But Chip's proceedings were stale to the decoy-ducks, who had seen him
so often that they cared nothing, but stopped behind to partake of the
food, while quite a hundred followed their leaders up the pipe in happy
ignorance of the meaning of a net.  What was more, the decoy-ducks often
found food at the mouths of the pipes when their wild relatives were off
feeding, and hence they troubled themselves no more.  All that was
impressed upon their small brains was that the appearance of Chip meant
food, and they stayed behind to feed.

Chip was invisible eating a piece of cheese.  Then he appeared again
higher up, trotted on, leaped over the low wood bar, and joined his
master for more cheese.

And so it went on, Dave going higher and higher from screen to screen,
and the dog slowly following and alternately appearing to and
disappearing from the sight of the ducks, which never of course caught
sight of Dave, who was too well hidden behind the screens.

At last they were lured on and on so far by the dog that they were where
the ditch began to bend round more sharply and the pipe was narrowing.
This was the time for a fresh proceeding.

Dave had gone on right up to the farthest screen, and suddenly dived
into a narrow path through the trees which led him, quite concealed from
view, round and back to the first screen.  He passed the boys, making
them a sign to be silent, and then went right round that first screen
just as Chip was appearing far up by the side of the pipe--and the flock
of ducks were following--and quickly now showed himself at the mouth of
the trap.

The ducks saw him instantly, and there was a slight commotion as he took
off and held up his hat; but there was no attempt at flight, the birds
merely swam on rapidly farther toward the end and disappeared round the

Dave went quickly on past a screen or two and showed himself again, the
curve of the pipe bringing him once more into view.  He held up his hat
and the ducks swam on, out of sight once more.

This was continued again and again, till the ducks were driven by
degrees from where the ditch and its arching of net decreased from eight
feet wide to six feet, to four feet, to two feet, and the flock was
huddled together, and safe in the trap that had been prepared for them.

All at once, while the two lads were watching all these proceedings,
Dave came into sight for a moment and waved his hand for them to come,
but signed to them at the same time to be quiet.

It was as well that he did, for otherwise they would have uttered a
shout of triumph.

"We've got 'em, lads," he said, with his yellow face puckered up with
satisfaction; "but don't make a noise.  I like to keep the 'coy quiet.
Come along!"

"Is there any fear of their getting away now, Dave?" whispered Dick as
he followed.

"Yes, to market," said Dave grimly.

As they neared the end of the pipe there was a loud cackling and
fluttering heard, and the ducks were disposed to make a rush back, but
the sight of the man sent them all onward once more to the end of the
pipe, where they were driven to leave the water for the dry land, over
which the net was spread for the last few yards, forming a gigantic
purse or stocking.

And now a tremendous fluttering and excitement ensued, for as, in
obedience to their leader's sign, the lads stopped once more, Dave
stepped forward rapidly, detached the final portion of the net which
formed the bag or purse from the bent-over ash stick, and twisted it
together and tied it round, with the result that the birds were all shut
up in the long purse and at his mercy.

Just then Chip performed a kind of triumphal dance, and leaped up at
Dick and again at Tom before becoming quiescent, and looking up at all
in turn, giving his little stumpy tail a few wags, while his whole
aspect seemed to say:

"Didn't we do that well?"

"That's a fine take, my lads," said Dave in congratulatory tones.

"Yes," said Dick, looking down at the frightened birds scuffling over
each other; "but--"

"Nay! don't, man, say that!" cried Dave.  "I know, my lad.  But wild
duck's good to yeat; and they've got to be killed and go to market.  Yow
wanted to see me ketch the duck, and theer they are.  Going to help me
kill 'em?"

"No!" cried Dick in a voice full of disgust.  But he helped carry the
capture to the boat after the slaying was at an end and the empty short
net replaced, ready distended at the end of the tunnel or pipe.

"There we are!" said Dave.  "Ready for another flock?"

"And are you going to try for another in one of the pipes over the other

"Nay, not to-day, my lad," was the reply.  "The 'coy-ducks wean't be
hungry and come for their food, so we'll wait for another time."

"Don't the 'coy-ducks ever go right away, Dave?" asked Tom, as the boat
was being quietly poled back.

"Sometimes; but not often, and if they do some others taks their places,
and stops.  They get fed reg'lar, and that's what a duck likes.  Good
uns to eat, ducks.  They mak' nests and bring off broods of young ones,
and keep to the pool year after year, and seem to know me a bit; but if
Chip here went barking among 'em, or I was to go shooting, they'd soon
be driven away."

"But do they know that they are leading the wild ducks into the pipe?"
said Dick eagerly.

"_Not_ they.  Ducks can't think like you and me.  They come to be fed,
and the others follow 'em, and then get thinking about Chip and follow

"Does Chip know?" said Tom.

"Ask him," said Dave, laughing in his grim, silent way.  "I think he
doos, but he never said so.  Hello!"

They were passing the edge of a great bed of reeds, and rounding a
corner, when they came in sight of three or four teal, and no sooner did
the birds catch sight of them than they began to scurry along the water
preparatory to taking flight, but all at once there was a rush and a
splash, and the party in the boat saw a huge fish half throw itself out
of the water, fall back, and disappear.

"He caught him," said Dave grimly.  "You see, lad, other things 'sides
me ketches the ducks."

"A great pike!" cried Dick, standing up to try and catch sight of the
tyrant of the waters.

"Ay!  One as likes duck for dinner.  He'll eat him without picking his
feathers off."

"Wasn't it a very big one, Dave?" cried Tom.

"Ay, lad, a thirty-pounder like enew," said Dave, working his pole.

"Dave, shall you know this place again?" cried Dick.

"Should I know my own hand!"

"Then let's come over and try for that fellow to-morrow or next day."

"Right, lad!  I'll come.  We'll set some liggers, and I dessay we can
get hold of him.  If we can't theer's plenty more."

"To-morrow, Dave?"

"Nay, I shall be getting off my ducks.  Two hundred wants some seeing

"Next day, then?"

"Say Saturday, my lads.  That'll give me time to get a few baits."

So Saturday was appointed for the day with the pike, and the ducks and
the boys were duly landed, the latter to go homeward with four couples
each, and Dick with strict orders to ask the squire whether he wanted
any more, before they were sent off in Hickathrift's car to the town.



It was Friday night.  Dick had been over with the squire and two or
three gentlemen interested in the great drain, to see how it progressed;
and the lad had found the young engineer in charge of the works ready to
ask him plenty of questions, such as one who had a keen love of the
natural objects of the country would be likely to put.

The result was that Squire Winthorpe invited him over to the old Priory
to come and make a fishing, shooting, or collecting trip whenever he

"You are very hospitable, Mr Winthorpe," he said.

"Oh, nonsense!  Shame if we who bring you people down from London to do
us good here in the fens, could not be a little civil."

This was after the inspection was over, the young engineer at liberty,
and he was walking part of the way back with Dick.

"Well, I must frankly say, Mr--ought I to say Squire Winthorpe?"

"No, no, Mr Marston," was the laughing reply, "I am only a plain
farmer.  It is the fashion down here to call a man with a few acres of
his own a squire.  I'm squire, you see, of a lot of bog."

"Which we shall make good land, Mr Winthorpe," said the engineer.  "But
I was going to say it will be a treat to come over from my lonely
lodgings to some one who will make me welcome, for I must say the common
people here are rather ill-disposed."

"Only snarling," said the squire.  "They daren't bite.  They don't like
any alterations made.  Take no notice of their surly ways.  The soreness
will soon wear off.  Cruel thing to do, Mr Marston, turn a piece of
swamp into a wholesome field!"

They both laughed, and soon after parted.

"I rather like that young fellow, Dick," said the squire.  "Knows a deal
about antiquities.  Little too old for a companion for you, but people
who collect butterflies and nettles and flowers generally mix regardless
of age."

"Do you think the people about will interfere with the works, father?"
said Dick, as they trudged along homeward.

"No, I don't, Dick," said the squire.  "I should like to catch them at

Dick went to bed that night very tired, and dropped asleep directly,
thinking of Dave and the expedition to set trimmers, or "liggers" as
they called them, and he was soon in imagination afloat upon the lanes
and pools of water among the reeds, with Dave softly thrusting down his
pole in search of hard places, where the point would not sink in.  Then
he dreamed that he had baited hook after hook, attached the line to a
blown-out bladder, and sent it sailing away to attract the notice of
some sharking pike lurking at the edge of one of the beds of reeds.

Then he dreamed that the sun was in his eyes as it went down in a rich
glow far away over the wide expanse of water and rustling dried reed,
where the starlings roosted and came and went in well-marshalled clouds,
all moving as if carefully drilled to keep at an exact distance one from
the other, ready to wheel and turn or swoop up or down with the greatest
exactness in the world.

That dreamy imagination passed away, and he became conscious that he was
having his morning call, as he termed it, and for which he always
prepared when going to bed by pulling up the blind and drawing aside the
white curtains, so that the sun who called him should shine right in
upon his face.

For the sun called Dick Winthorpe when he shone, and as the lad lay upon
his side with his face toward the window the sun seemed to be doing his
morning duty so well that Dick yawned, stretched, and lay with his eyes
closed while the glow of red light flooded his room.

"Only seem to have just lain down," he grumbled, keeping his eyes more
tightly shut than ever.  "Bother!  I wish I wasn't so drowsy when it's
time to get up!"

At last he opened his eyes, to stare hard at the light, and then with a
cry full of excitement, he threw off the clothes and leaped out of bed,
to rush to the window.

"Oh!" he ejaculated; and darting back to the bed-side he hurried on his
trousers, opened his door, and the next moment his bare feet padded over
the polished oak floor as he made for his father's room and thumped at
the door.

"Father, quick!--father!"

"Hallo!  Any one ill?" cried the squire, for thieves and burglars were
known only by repute out there in the fen.

"Tallington's farm's in a blaze!" cried Dick, hoarsely.

He heard a thump on the floor, a hasty ejaculation from his mother, and
then ran back to his own room to finish dressing, gazing out of his
window the while, to see that the bright glow about Grimsey was
increasing, and that a golden cloud seemed to be slowly rising up
through the still air.

"Now, Dick!" shouted his father, "run down and rouse up the people at
the cottages."

Dick ran out, and down past the old Priory ruins, to where a cluster of
cottages, half-way to Hickathrift's, were occupied by the people who
worked upon the farm; and, distant as the fire was, he could yet see the
ruddy glow upon the water before him.

Half-way there, he heard a shout:

"Who's there!"

It was in a big bluff voice, which Dick recognised at once.

"That you, Hicky?  Fire! fire!"

"Ay, my lad, I was coming to rouse up the folk.  You go that end, I'll
do this.  Hey!  Fire!  Fire!"

He battered cottage door after cottage door, Dick following his example,
with the result that in their alarm the people came hurrying out like
bees whose hive has been disturbed by a heavy blow.

There was no need to ask questions.  Every man, while the women began to
wail and cry, started for the Tallingtons' farm; but they were brought
up by a shout from the squire.

"What are you going to do, men?" he cried.

"The fire!"--"help!"--"water!"--rose in a confused babble.

"Back, every one of you, and get a bucket!" cried the squire.  "You,
Hickathrift, run into the wood-house and bring an axe."

"Aw, reight, squire!" cried the wheelwright, and in another minute every
man was off at a trot following Dick's father, and all armed with a
weapon likely to be of service against the enemy which was rapidly
conquering the prosperous little farm at Grimsey.

Two miles form a long distance in a case of emergency, and before the
party were half-way there they began to grow breathless, and there was a
disposition evinced to drop into a walk.  One or two of those in advance
checked their rate, others followed, and for the next two or three
hundred yards the rescuers kept to a foot-pace, breathing heavily the
while, and speaking in snatches.

"Which is it, Dick--the house or the great stack?"

"I can't see, father," panted the lad; "sometimes it seems one,
sometimes both."

"Stacks, squire, I think," cried Hickathrift.  "I don't think house is
afire yet, but it must catch the thack before long."

The faint sound of a dog barking at a distance now reached their ears,
but it was evidently not from the direction of the farm, and the
squire's thoughts were put into words by Dick, who, as he looked on now
between his father and the wheelwright, exclaimed in a hoarse voice:

"Why, father, don't they know that the place is on fire?"

"Nay, that they don't," cried the wheelwright excitedly.  "They're all

"Let's run faster," cried Dick.

"No.  We have a long way to go yet," cried the squire, "and if we run
faster we shall be too much exhausted to help."

"But, father--oh, it is so dreadful!" cried Dick, as in imagination he
pictured horror after horror.

"Can you run, Dick--faster?"

"Yes, father, yes."

"I can't," panted Hickathrift; "I've growed too heavy."

"Run on, then, and shout and batter the door.  We'll get up as quickly
as we can."

"Ay, roon, Master Dick, roon!" cried the wheelwright.  "Fire's ketched
the thack."

Dick doubled his fists, drew a long breath, and made a rush, which took
him fifty yards in advance.  Then he trotted on at the same pace as the
others; rushed again; and so on at intervals, getting well ahead of the
rest.  But never, in the many times he had been to and fro, had he so
thoroughly realised how rough and awkward was the track, and how long it
took to get to Grimsey farm.

As he ran on, it was with the fire glowing more brightly in his face,
and the various objects growing more distinct, while there was something
awful in the terrible silence that seemed to prevail, in the midst of
which a great body of fire steadily rose, in company with a cloud of
smoke, which was spangled with tiny flakes that seemed to be of gold.
Tree, shed, barn, and chimney-stack, too, seemed to have been turned to
the brilliant metal; but to the lad's great relief he saw that the
wheelwright was wrong, the "thack" had not caught, and so far the house
was safe, though the burning stacks were so near that at any moment the
roof of the reed-thatched house might begin to blaze.

At last there was a sound--one that might have been going on before, but
kept by the distance from reaching Dick's ear--a cock crowed loudly, and
there was a loud cackling from the barn where the fowls roosted.

Then came the lowing of a cow; but all was perfectly still at the house,
and it seemed astounding that no one should have been alarmed.

Only another hundred yards or so and the farm would be reached.  Dick
had settled down to a much slower speed.  There was a sensation as if
the fire that shone in his face had made his breath scorching, so that
it burned his chest, while his feet were being weighted with lead.

"Tom!" he tried to shout as he drew near; but his voice was a hoarse
whisper, and it seemed to be drowned by the steady beat of the feet
behind upon the road.

"Tom!" he cried again, but with no better result, as he staggered on by
the wide drain which ran right up to the farm buildings from the big
pool in the fen where the reeds were cut.

And now that full drain and the pool gleamed golden, as if they too were
turned to fire, as Dick pushed by, realising that the hay-stack, the
great seed-stack, and the little stack of oats were blazing together,
not furiously, but with the flame rising up in a steady silent manner
which was awful.

There was a rough piece of stone in the way, against which Dick caught
his foot and nearly fell; but he saved himself, stooped, and picked up
the stone; and as he panted up to the long low red-brick farm, he hurled
it through a window on his left, and then fell up against, more than
stopped at, the door, against which he beat and kicked with all his

The crashing in of the leaded pane casement had, however, acted like the
key which had unlocked the silent farmstead.

Tom Tallington rushed to the window.


He would probably have said "that," but he turned his sentence into the
cry of "Fire! fire!"

The alarm spread in an instant.  Farmer Tallington's window was thrown
open; and as he realised all, he dashed back, and then the rest of the
party came panting up, and Hickathrift cried, "Stand clear, Mester

He threw himself against the door, to burst it open, just as the farmer
came down, half carrying his wife wrapped in a blanket, and Tom ran out,
to dart down to the end of the long low building where a second tenement
formed the sleeping-place of the two men and a big lad who worked upon
the farm.

They were already aroused, and came out hurrying on their clothes, while
the squire and Hickathrift got out the women, who, with Mrs Tallington,
were hurried into a cart-shed.

"Why, neighbour, you'd have been burned in your bed!" cried the squire.
"Now, lads, all of you form line."

"She's caught now!" shouted Hickathrift, who had been round to the back.

"Then we must put it out," said the squire, as he busily ranged his men,
and those of Farmer Tallington, so that they reached from the nearest
point of the big drain to the corner of the farm, and in a double line,
so that full buckets of water could be passed along one and returned
empty along the other.

"Hickathrift, you go and dip."

"Ay, ay, squire!" roared the great fellow, and he rushed down to the
water's edge like a bull, while the squire went to the other end.

"Neighbour," cried Farmer Tallington excitedly, "you'll go on, wean't
you?  I must get in and bring out a few writings and things I'd like to

"Here, Tom, let's you and me get out the clothes and things."

"Yes, and the small bits of furniture, boys," cried the squire.  "Now,
my lads, ready!"

There was a general shout from the men, who fell into their places with
the promptitude that always follows when they have a good leader.

"Get all you can out in case," shouted the squire; "but we're going to
save the house."

"Hurrah!" shouted the men as they heard this bold assertion, which the
squire supplemented by saying between his teeth, "Please God!"

"Bring up that ladder," cried the squire--"two of them."

These were planted against the end of the house, and none too soon, for
the corner nearest the burning stacks was beginning to blaze furiously,
and the fire steadily running up, while a peculiar popping and crackling
began to be heard as the flames attacked the abundant ivy which mounted
quite to the chimney-stack.

"Ho! ho! ho! ho!" came now from the front of the cart-shed in a regular
bellowing cry.

"What is it, wench--what is it?" cried Farmer Tallington, as he hurried
out of the burning house, laden with valuables, which he handed to his
quiet business-like wife.

"My best Sunday frock!  Oh, my best Sunday frock!" sobbed the red-faced
servant lass.

"Yes, and oh my stacks! and oh my farm!" cried her master, as he ran
back into the house after a glance at the squire, who, in the midst of a
loud cheering, stood right up with one foot on the ladder, one on the
thatched roof, and sent the first bucket of water, with a good spreading
movement, as far as he could throw it, and handed back the bucket.

The flames hissed and danced, and there was a rush of steam all along
the ridge, but the water seemed to be licked up directly.

Another was dashed on and the bucket passed back, and another, and
another; but the effect produced was so little that, after distributing
about a dozen which the wheelwright sent along the line, making the men
work eagerly, as he plunged the buckets into the drain and brought them
dripping out, the squire shouted, "Hold hard!" and descended to change
the position of the long ladder he was on by dragging out the foot till
it was at such an angle that the implement now lay flat upon the thatch,
so that anyone could walk right up to the chimney-stack.

"Now, then!" cried the squire, mounting once more.  "We want another
flood just now, my lads, but as there isn't one we must make it."

"It arn't safe," muttered one of the men.  "See theer, lad!"

The others needed no telling, as the speaker, who had followed the
squire on to the roof so as to be within reach, now felt the flames
scorch him, though what he had alluded to was the top of the ladder
which was beginning to burn where it lay on the burning thatch, and
crackling and blazing out furiously.

_Whizz-hizz_ rose from the water as the first bucket was thrown with
such effect that the ladder ceased to burn, and, undismayed by the smoke
and flame that floated towards him, the latter in separated patches with
a strange fluttering noise, the squire scattered the water from his
advantageous position, and with good effect, though that part of the
house was now burning fast, the fire having eaten its way through the
thatch into the room below.

Meanwhile, as the burning stacks made the whole place light as day, Dick
and Tom rushed in and out of the house, bringing everything of value
upon which they could lay their hands, to pass their salvage to Mrs
Tallington and the women, who stored them in a heap where they seemed
safe from the flames.

"Look at that, Tom!" cried Dick, as he paused for a few moments to get
breath, and watch his father where he stood high up on the burning roof,
like some hero battling with a fiery dragon.

"Yes, I see," said Tom in an ill-used tone.

"Isn't it grand?" cried Dick.  "I wish I was up there.  Don't it make
one proud of one's father?"

"I don't see any more to be proud of in your father than in mine," said
Tom stoutly.  "Your father wouldn't dare to go into that burning house
like mine does.  See there!"

This was as Farmer Tallington rushed into the house again.

Dick turned sharply upon his companion.

"There isn't time to have it out now, Tom," he said in a whisper; "but I
mean to punch your head for this, you ungrateful beggar.  Afraid to go
into the house!  Why, I'm not afraid to do that.  Come on!"

He ran into the house and Tom followed, for them both to come out again
bearing the old eight-day clock.

"Its easy, that's what it is," said Dick.  "Hooray, father!" he shouted,
"you'll win!"

It did not seem as if the squire would win, for though he was gradually
being successful in extinguishing the burning thatch, the great waves of
fire which came floating from the blazing stacks licked up the moisture
and compelled him from time to time to retreat.

Fortunately, however, the supply of water was ample, and, thanks to the
way in which Hickathrift dipped the buckets and encouraged the men as he
passed them along, the thatch became so saturated that by the time quite
a stack had been made of the indoor valuables there seemed to be a
chance to leave the steaming roof and attack the burning stacks.

This was done, the ladder being left ready in case of the thatch
catching fire again; and soon the squire was standing as close as he
could get to the nearest stack, and sending in the contents of the

There was no hope of saving this, but every bucket of water promised to
keep down the great flashes of fire which floated off and licked at the
farm-house roof as they passed slowly on.

It was a glorious sight.  Everything glowed in the golden light, and a
fiery snowstorm seemed to be sweeping over the farm buildings, as the
excited people worked, each dash of water producing a cloud of steam
over which roared up, as it were, a discharge of fireworks.

For some time no impression whatever appeared to be made, but no one
thought of leaving his position; the squire and those nearest to him
were black and covered with perspiration, their faces shining in the
brilliant light, and the leader was still emptying the buckets of water,
when Farmer Tallington ran up to him.

"Let me give you a rest now," he cried.

"Nay, neighbour, I'll go on."

The friendly altercation seemed to be about to result in a struggle for
the bucket, when Dick, who had been in one of the back rooms, came
running out of the house shouting:--

"The stable--the stable is on fire!"

This caused a rush in the direction of the long low-thatched building on
the other side of the house, one of a range about a yard.

There was no false alarm, for the thatch was blazing so furiously, that
at a glance the lookers-on saw that the stable and the cart lodge
adjoining were doomed.

"Did any one get out the horses?" roared Farmer Tallington.

There was no answer, and the farmer rushed on up to the burning building
through tiny patches of fire where the dry mouldering straw was set
alight by the falling flakes.

The squire followed him, and, seeing them enter the dark doorway, Dick
and Tom followed.

It was a long low building with room for a dozen horses; but only two
were there, standing right at the end, where they were haltered to the
rough mangers, and snorted and whinnied with fear.

Each man ran to the head of a horse, and cut the halters, lit by the
glow that came through a great hole burned in the thatched roof, from
which flakes of fire kept falling, while the smoke curled round and up
the walls and beneath the roof in a silent threatening way.

It was easy enough to unloose the trembling beasts; but that was all
that could be done, for the horses shivered and snorted, and refused to

Both shouted and dragged at the halters; but the poor beasts seemed to
be paralysed with fear; and as the moments glided by, the hole in the
roof was being eaten out larger and larger, the great flakes of burning
thatch falling faster, and a pile of blazing rafter and straw beginning
to cut off retreat from the burning place.

"It's of no use," cried Farmer Tallington, after trying coaxing, main
force, and then blows.  "The roof will be down directly.  Run, boys,

"You are coming too, father?" cried Tom.

"Yes, and you, father?" cried Dick.

"Yes, my lads; out with you!"

"Try once more, father," said Dick.  "The poor old horses!"

"Yes, but run!" cried the squire.  "I must run too.  Off!"

There was a rush made through the burning mass fallen from the roof;
and, scorched and half-blind, they reached the door half-blocked by the
anxious men.

"Safe!" cried the farmer.  "Here: where's squire?"

As the words left his mouth there was a fierce snorting and trampling,
and those at the door had only just time to draw back, as the two horses
dashed frantically out, and then tore off at full gallop across the

"Winthorpe!" cried Farmer Tallington.  "This way!"

"Father!" cried Dick in an agonised voice, following the farmer into the
burning building; but only to be literally carried out by his companion,
as they were driven back by a tremendous gush of burning thatch and wood
which roared out of the great doorway consequent upon a mass of the roof
falling in.

As soon as he could recover himself, Dick turned to rush in again; but
he was checked by Hickathrift.

"Stand back, bairn! art mad?" he cried.  "Not that way."

Dick staggered away, and nearly fell from the tremendous thrust given to
him by the big wheelwright, and as he regained his equilibrium, it was
to see Hickathrift with something flashing in his hand, making for the
other end of the stable, which was as yet untouched.

A few blows from the axe he carried made the rough mud wall collapse,
and, without a moment's hesitation Hickathrift forced his way through
the hole he had broken, and from which a great volume of smoke began to

Dick would have followed; but Tom clung to his arm, and before he could
get free, during what seemed to be a terribly long period of suspense,
the wheelwright appeared again, and staggered out, bearing the
insensible body of the squire.

For a few minutes there was a terrible silence, and Hickathrift tottered
from the man he had left where he had dragged him on the ground.

For the wheelwright was blinded and half strangled by the smoke, and
reeled like a drunken man.

He recovered though, directly, and seized a bucket of water from one of
the men.  With this he liberally dashed the squire's face, as Dick knelt
beside him in speechless agony, and grasped his hand.

For a few minutes there was no sign.  Then the prostrate man uttered a
low sigh, and opened his eyes.

"Dick!" he said, as he struggled up.

"Yes, father.  Are you much hurt?"

"No, only--nearly--suffocated, my boy; but--but--Oh, I remember!  The

"They're safe, neighbour," cried Farmer Tallington, taking his hand.

"Mind the knife!" cried the squire.  "I remember now.  I was obliged to
be very brutal to them to make them stir."

He looked down at the small blade of the pocket-knife he held, closed it
with a snap, and then stared about him at the people in a vacant
confused way.

Several of the men, led by Hickathrift, began to carry pails of water to
the burning stable, and this building being so low, they were not long
in extinguishing the flames.

Hardly had they succeeded in this before the shrieks of the women
gathered together in a low shed drew their attention to the fact that
the roof of the house was once more blazing, and this seemed to rouse
the squire again to action, for, in spite of Hickathrift wanting to take
his place, he insisted upon re-climbing the ladder when the buckets of
water were once more passed along till all further danger had ceased,
and the farm-house escaped with one room seriously damaged and one side
of the thatched roof burned away.

The men still plied the buckets on the burning stacks, but only with the
idea of keeping the flames within bounds, for there was nothing else to
be done.  One rick was completely destroyed; the others were fiery
cores, which glowed in the darkness, and at every puff of wind sent up a
cloud of glittering, golden sparks, whose course had to be watched lest
a fresh fire should be started.

And now the excitement and confusion died out as the fire sank lower.
The women returned to the house, and the men, under the farmer's
direction, carried back the household treasures, while Mrs Tallington,
with the common sense of an old-fashioned farmer's wife, spread a good
breakfast in the kitchen for the refreshment of all.

It was a desolate scene at daybreak upon which all gazed.  The
half-burned roof of the farm-house, the three smoking heaps where the
three stacks had stood, and the stable roofless and blackened, while the
place all about the house was muddy with the water and trampling.

"Yes," said Farmer Tallington ruefully, "it'll tak' some time to set all
this straight; but I've got my house safe, so mustn't complain."

"Yes; might have been worse," said the squire quietly.

"Ay, neighbour, I began to think at one time," said Farmer Tallington,
"that it was going to be very much worse, and that I was going to have
to bear sad news across to the Toft; but we're spared that, squire, and
I'm truly thankful.  Feel better?"

"Better! oh yes, I am not hurt!"

Just then Dick asked a question:

"I say, Mr Tallington, wasn't it strange that you didn't know of the
fire till I came?"

"I suppose we were all too soundly asleep, my lad.  Lucky you saw it, or
we might have been burned to death."

"But how did the place catch fire?"

"Ah!" said Farmer Tallington, "that's just what I should like to know.--
Were you out there last night, Tom?" he added after a pause.

"No, father, I wasn't near the stacks yesterday."

"Had you been round there at all?" said the squire.

"No, not for a day or two, neighbour.  It's a puzzler."

"It is very strange!" said the squire thoughtfully; and he and Farmer
Tallington looked hard at each other.  "You have had no quarrel with
your men?"

"Quarrel!  No.  Got as good labourers as a man could wish for.  So have

"Yes, I have," said the squire; "but those stacks could not catch fire
by accident.  Has anybody threatened you?"

"No," replied the farmer thoughtfully.  "No!  Say, neighbour--no, they
wouldn't do that."

The wheelwright had come up, and stood listening to what was said.

"What do you mean?" said the squire.

"Oh! nothing.  'Tisn't fair to think such things."

"Never mind!  Speak out, man, speak out!"

"Well, I was wondering whether some one had done this, just as a hint
that we were giving offence by joining in the drain business."

"No, no!" cried the squire indignantly.  "People may grumble and be
dissatisfied; but, thank Heaven, we haven't any one in these parts bad
enough to do such a thing as that, eh, Hickathrift?"

"I dunno 'bout bad enew," said the big wheelwright; "but strikes me
Farmer Tallington's right.  That stack couldn't set itself afire, and
get bont up wi'out some one striking a light!"

"No, no!" said the squire.  "I will not think such a thing of any
neighbour for twenty miles round.  Now, Mr Tallington, come over to my
place and have a comfortable meal; Mrs Tallington will come too."

"Nay, we'll stop and try to put things right."

"Shall I lend you a couple of men?"

"Nay, we'll wuck it oot oursens, and thank you all hearty for what
you've done.  If your farm gets alight, neighbour, we'll come over as
you have to us."

"May the demand never arise!" said the squire to himself, as he and his
party trudged away, all looking as blackened and disreputable a set as
ever walked homeward on an early winter's morn.

Dick had made a good meal, and removed the black from his face after
deciding that it would not be worth while to go to bed, when, as he went
down the yard and caught sight of Solomon, he stopped to stare at the
cunning animal, who seemed to be working about his ears like semaphores.

"I've a good mind to make him take me for a long ride!" said Dick to
himself.  "No, I haven't.  Somehow a lad doesn't care for riding a
donkey when he gets as old as I am."

He walked away, feeling stiff, chilly, and uncomfortable from the
effects of his previous night's work, while his eyes smarted and ached.

"I'll go over and see how old Tom's getting on," he said as he looked
across the cheerless fen in the direction of Grimsey, where a faint line
of smoke rose up toward the sky.  "Wonder who did it!"

_Plash_! _plash_! _plash_! _plash_!

He turned sharply, to see, about a hundred yards away, the figure of
gaunt, grim-looking Dave standing up in his punt, and poling himself
along by the dry rustling reeds, a grey-drab looking object in a
grey-drab landscape.

Then, like a flash, came to the lad's memory the engagement made to go
liggering that day, and he wondered why it was that he did not feel more
eager to have a day's fishing for the pike.

_Pee-wit_! _pee-wit_! came from off the water in a low plaintive
whistle, which Dick answered, and in a minute or two the decoy-man poled
his boat ashore, smiling in his tight, dry way.

"Now, then, young mester," he said, "I've got a straange nice lot o'
bait and plenty o' hooks and band, and it's about as good a day for
fishing as yow could have.  Wheer's young Tom o' Grimsey?"

"At home, of course!" said Dick in a snappish way, which he wondered at

"At home, o' course?" said Dave quietly as he stood up in the boat
resting upon the pole.  "Why, he were to be here, ready."

"How could he be ready after last night?" said Dick sharply.

Dave took off his fox-skin cap after letting his pole fall into the
hollow of his arm, and scratched his head before uttering a low
cachinnatory laugh that was not pleasant to the ear.

"Yow seem straange and popped [put out of temper] this morning, young
mester.  Young Tom o' Grimsey and you been hewing a bit of a fight?"

"Fight! no, Dave; the fire!"

"Eh?" said the man, staring.

"The fire!  Don't you know that Grimsey was nearly all burned down last

Dave loosened his hold of his pole, which fell into the water with a

"Grimsey! bont down!" he exclaimed, and his lower jaw dropped and showed
his yellow teeth, but only to recover himself directly and pick up the
pole.  "Yah!" he snarled; "what's the good o' saying such a word as
that?  He's a hidin' behind them reeds.  Now, then, lad, days is short!
Coom out!  I can see you!"

He looked in the direction of a patch of reeds and alders as he spoke,
and helped himself to a pill of opium from his box.

"Tom Tallington isn't there, Dave!" cried Dick.  "I tell you there was a
bad fire at Grimsey last night!"

"Nay, lad, you don't mean it!" cried Dave, impressed now by the boy's

"There was!  Look! you can see the smoke rising now."

Dave looked as the lad pointed, and then said softly:

"Hey! bud theer is the roke [smoke or vapour] sewer enough!"

"Didn't you see it last night?"

"Nay, lad; I fished till I couldn't see, for the baits, and then went
home and fitted the hooks on to the bands and see to the blethers, and
then I happed mysen oop and went to sleep."

"And heard and saw nothing of the fire?"

"Nay, I see nowt, lad.  Two mile to my plaace from here and two mile
from here to Grimsey, mak's four mile.  Nay, I heered nowt!"

"Of course you wouldn't, Dave!  The light shone in at my window and woke
me up, and we were all there working with buckets to put it out!"

"Wucking wi' boockets!" said Dave slowly as he stared in the direction
of Tallington's farm.  "Hey, but I wish I'd been theer!"

"I wish you had, Dave!"

"Did she blaaze much, mun?"

"Blaze! why, everything was lit up, and the smoke and sparks flew in

"Did it, though?" said Dave thoughtfully.  "Now, look here, lad," he
continued, taking out his tobacco-box; "some on 'em says a man shouldn't
tak' his bit o' opium, and that he should smoke 'bacco.  I say it's
wrong.  If I smoked 'bacco some night I should set my plaace afire,
'stead o' just rolling up a bit o' stoof and clapping it in my mooth."

"I don't know what you mean, Dave," cried Dick.

"Then I'll tell'ee, lad.  Some un got smoking his pipe in one of they
stables, and set it afire."

"No, no; some one must have set fire to the stacks."

"Nay!" cried Dave, staring in the lad's face with his jaw dropped.

"Yes; that was it, and father thinks it was."

"Not one o' the men, lad; nay, not one o' the men!" cried Dave.

"No, but some one who doesn't like the drain made, and that it was done
out of spite."

Dave whisked up his pole and struck with it at the water, sending it
flying in all directions, and then made a stab with it as if to strike
some one in the chest and drive him under water.

"Nay, nay, nay," he cried, "no one would do owt o' the soort, lad.  Nay,
nay, nay."

"Ah, well, I don't know!" cried Dick.  "All I know is that the stacks
were burnt."

"Weer they, lad?"

"Yes, and the stables."

Dave made a clucking noise with his tongue.

"And the house had a narrow escape."

"Hey, bud it's straange; and will Tallington hev to flit [move, change
residence] then?"

"No; the house is right all but one room."

"Eh, bud I'm straange and glad o' that, lad.  Well, we can't goo
liggering to-day, lad.  It wouldn't be neighbourly."

"No, I shouldn't care to go to-day, Dave, and without Tom.  What are you
going to do?"

"Throost the punt along as far as I can, and when I've gotten to the end
o' the watter tie her oop to the pole, and walk over to see the plaace."

"I'll come with you, Dave."

"Hey, do, lad, and you can tell me all about it as we go.  Jump in."

Dick wanted no second invitation, and the decoy-man sent the punt along
rapidly, and by following one of the lanes of water pursued a devious
course toward Grimsey, whose blackened ruins now began to come into

Dick talked away about the events of the night, but Dave became more and
more silent as they landed and approached the farm where people were
moving about busily.

"Nay," he said at last, "it weer some one smoking.  Nobody would hev set
fire to the plaace.  Why, they might hev been all bont in their beds."

Tom Tallington saw them coming and ran out.

"Why, Dave," he cried, "I'd forgotten all about the fishing, but we
can't go now."

"Nay, we couldn't go now," said the man severely.  "'Twouldn't be

Tom played the part of showman, and took them round the place, which
looked very muddy and desolate by day.

"I say, Dick, do you know how your father made the horses come out?" he
said, as they approached the barn, which had been turned into a stable.

"Hit 'em, I suppose, the stupid, cowardly brutes!"

"No; hitting them wouldn't have made them move.  He pricked them with
the point of his knife."

"Did he, though?" said Dave, who manifested all the interest of one who
had not been present.

At last he took his departure.

"Soon as you like, lads," he said; "soon as it's a fine day.  I'll save
the baits, and get some frogs too.  Big pike like frogs.  Theer's
another girt one lies off a reed patch I know on.  I shall be ashore
every day till you're ready."

He nodded to them, and pushed off.

"You won't go without us, Dave?" said Dick, as the boat glided away.

"Nay, not I," was the reply; and the boys watched him till he poled in
among the thin dry winter reeds, through which he seemed to pass in a
shadowy way, and then disappear.



A stormy time ensued, lasting about a fortnight, during which the
draining business was hindered; but, upon the whole, the progress made
was steady, for a number of men were now employed, and the fen people,
who visited the outfall now and then, began to realise what kind of dyke
it was that would run across the great swamp.

At last one evening, as the lads had wandered down to Hickathrift's, and
were talking to the great bluff wheelwright as he worked away with his
axe at roughly shaping the shaft of a sledge, Dave came silently up,
followed by the little decoy-dog; and the first knowledge of his
presence was given by an attack made upon Hickathrift's big lurcher,
which, after showing its teeth angrily, settled down, and seemed to look
scornfully at the little animal, before closing its eyes as if to go to

"Hallo, Dave!" cried the lads together; "want us?"

"Nay, I don't want you, my lads."

"Well, then, we want you," cried Tom.


"To take us out after the pike, as you promised."

"Nay, it would be too cold, and you wouldn't like it."

"How do you know, Dave?" cried Dick.  "Come, when shall we start?"

"Well," said Dave, looking about him as if in search of a good piece of
wood which might prove useful, "I dunno.  You lads do as you likes; but
if I wanted to go, I sud say as the weather was nicely sattled, and
start to-morrow morning."

The hour was settled, as well as the weather, and after obtaining the
requisite permission the lads were punctual to their time, and found
Dave waiting in his punt, upon whose thwart he was seated gravely tying
a hook on to a stout piece of twisted horse-hair.

"Got everything ready, Dave?" cried Dick.

"Ay, lad; all ready."

"So are we.  Look, Dave," cried Dick, swinging up the big basket he
carried, "pork-pie, bread and cheese, and a lump of bacon, and--"

Dave's face twitched as he listened, but he did not speak, only waited;
till, after waiting awhile to whet the man's anxiety, Dick added:

"And a big bottle of beer."

"Oh, I don't want no beer!" grumbled Dave.  "Watter's good enough for

"Let's leave it behind, Tom," said Dick archly.  "It will only be heavy
in the boat."

"Nay, put it in," said the man with a dry look.  "Mebbe the fish would
like a drop.  Mak' 'em bite."

The boys laughed, and stepped into the punt, which was soon gliding over
the dark waters that lay in pools and winding lane-like canals, Dave, in
his fox-skin cap, standing up in front and handling the pole, the boys
carefully examining the contents of the boat.

"What's in that bucket, Dave?"

"Never mind; you let it alone," said Dave gruffly; and Dick dropped the
net he was raising from the pail.

"Well, let's look at the basket, Dave."

"Nay; I wean't hev my hooks and lines tangled up just after I've laid
'em ready.  Yow two wait and see when we get acrost to wheer the pike

"Oh, very well!" said Dick in a disappointed tone.  "I would have shown
you what we've got in our basket."

"I know what you've got yow telled me," retorted Dave.  "I don't want to
look at vittles; I want to taste 'em."

There was a pause, while Dave worked steadily away with his pole.

"I shall be glad when the summer comes again," said Tom.

"So shall I," cried Dick.

"Theer, I towd you so," cried Dave.  "I knowed you'd find it ower cowd.
Let's go back."

"Go on with you!" cried Dick; "who said it was cold?  I want the summer,
because of the sunshine, and the reeds and rushes turning green again,
and the birds."

"There's plenty o' birds," said Dave.

"Yes, but I mean singing birds, and nesting, and flowers, and the

"Theer, I towd you so.  You are cowd," cried Dave.

"When I'm cold I'm going to use the pole," said Dick.  "I say isn't it
deep here, Dave?"

"Ay, theer's some deep holes hereabouts," said the man, trying in vain
to reach the bottom with his long pole.  "They wean't dree-ern they in a
hurry, Mester Dick."

"Good job too, Dave!  We don't want our fishing spoiled.  Now, then, how
much further are you going?"

"Strite across to wheer we saw that big pike rise, my lad."

"Shall we catch him, Dave?"

"Mebbe yes; mebbe no, my lad.  If he wants his dinner, and we sets it
down by his door stoop, he'll tek it.  If he's hed his dinner he wean't
touch it."

"Then let's make haste and get there before dinnertime," cried Tom.
"Pole away, Dave."

"Nay, we've got to go quiet-like, my lad.  We don't want to scare the
fish, and send 'em to the bottom to lie sulky.  Nice wisp o' duck yon."

He nodded to a long string of wild-fowl flying low over the
melancholy-looking water, and they were watched till they disappeared.

"Caught any more in the 'coy, Dave?" asked Dick.

"Few, lad, few.  Not enew to tek' to market.  Me and John Warren sent
'em wi' the rabbits."

"Ah! he promised us a day with the ferrets.  Let's stir him up, Tom.
Now, Dave, do let's begin."

The man shook his head and smiled as if he were enjoying the tantalising
process he put the boys through, and kept on poling till they were quite
a couple of miles from the Toft, when he suddenly laid down his long
pole, and seated himself in the boat by the big basket.

"Now," he said, "if you want to see you shall see;" and he began to take
out carefully so many short fishing-lines, the hook in each case being
carefully stuck in between the osiers so as not to catch.  To every one
of these lines was attached a bladder, save and except four, which were
bound to as many black and compressed pieces of cork, which looked as if
they had been washed ashore after doing duty as buoys to some
fishermen's nets.

"Theer we are: ten of 'em," said Dave smiling as if he were anticipating
the pleasure he would feel in getting some monster tyrant pike upon the
hook.  "You, young Tom Tallington, pass me that theer boocket."

Tom lifted the bucket, which stood at the side, covered over with some
old pieces of netting, and placed it between Dave's knees in the spot
from which he removed the basket.

"Now you can both hev a look," he said with a sly glance from one to the
other.  "Hey, little boys, then; hey, little boys: back yow go!"

This was to a couple of frogs, which had been in the water the bucket
contained, but had climbed up the side, to try and get through the
meshes of the net, but only to force their heads through and hold on
with their claws.

Dave poked one of the frogs with his finger, but the little reptile
swelled itself out, and took hold more tightly of the net.

"Here, let go, will you!" cried Dick, taking the frog between his
fingers gently enough; but the little creature clung more tightly, and
began to squeal loudly, till it was dislodged and dropped into the pail,
the other being shaken free, and falling with a splash beside his
fellow, when there was a tremendous commotion in the pail; for, beside a
couple more frogs, there were about a dozen small fishes scurrying about
in the water.

"Theer," cried Dave, looking up; "what do you say to them for bait, eh?"

"Why, they're gudgeons, Dave!" cried Dick.

"Ay, lad, gudgeons."

"Where did you get them?" asked Tom.  "There are no gudgeons in the fen

"Not as I iver see," said Dave with his quiet laugh.  "I went right
across to Ealand, and then walked four mile with my net and that boocket
to Brader's Mill on little Norley stream and ketched 'em theer, and
carried 'em all the way back to the boat--four mile.  For, I says, I
should like they boys to ketch a big pike or two, and gudgeons is best
baits I know."

"Better than roach and rudd, Dave?"

"Ay, or perch, or tench, or anything.  Carp's a good bait; but you can't
always ketch carps."

"You are a good chap, Dave!" cried Tom.

"Ay, that I am, lads.  I say, though, talk 'bout ketching; hev the
squire and Farmer Tallington ketched the chap as sat fire to Grimsey

"Nobody set fire to Grimsey stables," said Tom.  "It was to the stacks."

"Nay, lad, I knows better than that," cried Dave, shaking his head.
"Why, didn't I see with my own eyes as roof weer all bont off the top o'
stable, and doors gone."

"Yes; but the stable caught fire from the stacks," said Dick.

"Yah! how could it?  Why, it's reight the other side o' the house."

"Well, couldn't the sparks and flames of fire float over and set light
to the thatch?" cried Dick.

"Set fire to the thack!" said Dave.  "Ah, well, I warn't theer!  But hev
they ketched him?"

"No, and not likely to.  There, never mind Tallington's stacks; let's
try for the pike."

"Ay, lads, we will," said Dave, and, plunging his hand into the bucket,
he took out a transparent gudgeon, whose soft backbone was faintly
visible against the light; then carefully passing the hook through its
tough upper lip, he dropped it over the side of the boat into the water

"Theer, lads," he said; "now over with that blether."

Dick seized the line, and as the gudgeon swam off he dropped the bladder
over the side, and it was slowly towed away.

"I wish fishing wasn't so precious cruel," said Tom, as he watched the
bladder dance upon the surface, while the punt was slowly thrust away
from the neighbourhood of the reed-bed, where the big pike was supposed
to lie.

"'Tisn't cruel," said Dick.

"'Tis.  How should you like to be that gudgeon with a hook in your
mouth, or the pike when he's caught?"

"Sarve him right for killing all the little fishes," growled Dave,
punting gently along.

"Why did you come fishing?" said Dick sharply.

"'Cause I like it," said Tom frankly; "but it's cruel all the same.  Oh,
look!  Look!"

They were about fifty yards from where the line with its buoy had been
put over the side, and as Tom had casually looked back he had seen the
bladder give a bob, and then begin to skim along the surface.

"Well, I can see," said Dick, "it's the gudgeon swimming fast."

"Nay," said Dave, ceasing to pull; "something's got it.  I shouldn't
wonder if it's the big pike."

The lads breathlessly watched the bladder go skimming along.  Every now
and then it gave a bob or two, and then on it went farther and farther
from them toward a patch of reeds all broken down and shattered by the
wind and lying by itself quite a hundred yards from where the bait had
been dropped in.

"Is it the big pike, Dave?" said Dick eagerly.

"Dunno," was the laconic reply.  "Mebbe 'tis, mebbe 'tisn't."

"You'll give it time, Dave," cried Tom excitedly, forgetting all his
previous qualms.

"Ay, we'll give him time," said Dave with his face tightened so that the
ruddy portion of his lips had disappeared, and his mouth was represented
by what seemed to be a scar extending right across the lower portion of
his countenance.  "Who's going to hook him out?"

"I will," cried Dick quickly.  "No, you shall have first go, Tom."

"May I?" cried the lad, flushing.

"Yes; go on.  Where's the big hook, Dave?"

"Why, s'pose I forgot it," said Dave slowly.

"You haven't," said Dick.  "There's the stick," and he picked up a short

"Ay, lad, bud there be no hook."

"Now, none of your old games, Dave," cried Dick; "just as if we didn't
know!  Come, out with it!  You've got it in your pocket."

Dave chuckled, and produced a hook made by bending round a piece of thin
iron rod and sharpening the point.

This hook he inserted in the staff and handed to Dick, who immediately
passed it to Tom, the latter standing up ready to hook the line when the
time should come.

But that was not yet, for the floating bladder was more than a hundred
yards away, and still skimming along.

"Be a long time making up his mind to swallow it," said Dave, slowly and
softly reducing the distance between them and the buoy, and then pausing
while they were still fifty yards away.

"He has stopped now," said Dick in a hoarse whisper as the bladder
gleamed quite white a few yards away from the reeds, and gently rose and
fell in the ripple caused by the wind.

"Why, he's gone!" said Tom in a disappointed tone.

_Bob_ went the bladder as if to contradict him, giving one sharp
movement, and then remaining still once more.

"Nay, he hasn't gone," said Dave.  "Give him a bit more time.  We'll set
another while we're waiting."

As he spoke he laid the pole across the head of the punt, and quickly
baiting another of his hooks, dropped it over the boat side away from
the direction in which they had to go; and after checking it once or
twice till the bait took the right course, he let it go.

Meanwhile, the lads were impatiently watching the bladder, which now
remained perfectly still; and in imagination they saw a monstrous pike
swallowing the unfortunate gudgeon which bore the hook.

"Theer!" said Dave, rising and taking up his pole.  "He've hed plenty
time now.  Get the basket ready, young squire Dick.  Think it'll hold

"If it won't we'll curl him round, Dave," said the lad, laughing.  "Now
Tom, don't miss."

The boat approached slowly, and Tom was awkwardly placed; but Dave was
prepared for this, and after giving the little vessel a sharp impulse he
thrust down the pole to the bottom, and checked the head, so that the
stern swung round and gave Tom a fair chance, which he stood ready to
seize as the boat drew nearer.

They were soon only about ten yards away, and the bladder remained so
motionless that the lads' hearts sank with disappointment, for it seemed
as if the bait had been left.

"Look out, lad!" said Dave, however, for his quick eyes had detected
what was about to happen, and he gave the boat a tremendous thrust just
as the bladder glided rapidly away.

Tom bent down and made a dart with his hook, and so earnestly that he
would have gone overboard had not Dick caught him in the nick of time.

"Missed him," he cried.

"Here, this awayer," cried Dave.  "You was a chap!" and he held up his
pole with the line over it.  For when Tom missed, his opportunity came,
the boat gliding so near that he dropped the pole down over the line,
and a tremendous disturbance of the water began.

Tom rushed forward, leaned over the side, and deftly hooked the line
which ran through to the bladder as Dave drew away his pole.

"It's a monster!  Oh Dick!" cried Tom, as he drew the bladder in.  "Now,
then, catch hold of the line as I draw it in."

"Yah!  Why yow make as much on it as if it weer one o' they long
studggins, or a big porpus pig," growled Dave, laughing, as Dick secured
the line.  "Haul him in."

"I say!  'Tisn't a very big one, Tom; but he's strong," said Dick,
pulling the captive to the side, for his companion to gaff and lift into
the boat.  "Why, it's a perch!"

A perch it was--a fine one with ruddy fins and boldly-barred sides, and,
though fine for his kind, less than three pounds in weight.

"I thowt that was what he was," said Dave, laughing, "when I sin him
skim that theer blether along.  Pop him in the basket, lads, and let's
get all the rest of the liggers out, or we shall make a poor time of

He plied the pole vigorously and soon stopped to let the boat glide
towards an opening in the reeds, where a long water-way ran in.  Here
another buoyed bait was left, and then they went on to lay another and
another, the old decoy-man, with the knowledge bought by very long
experience, selecting choice spots till the whole set were disposed of
in the course of an hour, over a space far exceeding a mile.

"We shall never recollect where they were all set, Dave," said Dick at
last, as he stood up looking back along the side of one of the big pools
to which they had made their way through what resembled a little river
running among the reeds and joining two great pools together.

"You wouldn't," grumbled the man; "but p'raps I may.  Now let's go
reight back, and see if theer's any on, or--don't you think, lads, it's
'bout time to try and ketch me?"

Dick stared.

"He means he wants you to try if he'd take a corner of the pie, Dick, if
you offered it to him as a bait," cried Tom laughing, while Dave's
yellow visage developed into something like a grin.

"Ay, that's it, lad--I feel as if I could coot a loaf in two, and eat
half wi'out winking.  Nay, wait and I'll throost the boat up to yon
trees.  Hey, look at that!"

He shaded his eyes, and gazed at a large flock of birds flying as
closely together, apparently, as starlings, and hundreds upon hundreds
in number.  They were flying swiftly at a good height, when all at once,
as if by a signal, they changed their direction, and, with the accuracy
of drilling, darted down in a great bird stream straight for the earth,
disappearing behind a low patch of willows.

"Golden plovers!" cried Dick, excitedly.  "Oh, Dave, if you were there
with a gun!"

"Ay, lad, and I'm here wi' a pole," said Dave.  "Niver mind, I may get a
few perhaps wi' my net.  Now, then, never mind the pie-wipes; let's wipe
that theer pie."

He rapidly thrust the boat along till it was close to the side of the
mere, where he anchored it with his pole and then leaned over and washed
his hands, which he dried upon a piece of rag.

"Are your hands fishy, Tom?" said Dick.

"No--I washed them."

"Well, then, cut some bread."

The next minute the pie was falling to pieces, the bread undergoing a
change, and the ale sinking rapidly in the stone bottle.  After which
the basket was found to contain a certain number of apples, which were
converted into support for the active human beings in the boat, with the
result that the basket was tapped upside down on the edge to get rid of
a few crumbs before the empty pie-dish and stone bottle were replaced,
and the whole tucked away so as to leave all clear.

"Now, lads, I think we ought to do some wuck," cried Dave, seizing the
pole.  "I thought so," he added; "I knowed there'd be something here."

"Eh!" cried Tom.

"Don't you see?" said Dick.  "There, that bladder's fifty yards from
where it was laid down."

"Hundered," said Dave, plying his pole.  "'Fraid it's another peerch."

Dave was wrong, for as they approached the bladder it went off with a
swift dart, and there was a swirl in the water which indicated that a
big fish must be on.

A good ten minutes' chase ensued before Dick was able to hook the line.

"I've got him," he cried: "a monster!"

It certainly was a large pike of probably ten or twelve pounds, but in
spite of its struggles it was drawn close in, with Dave smiling tightly
the while, and ending with a broad grin, for as, in the midst of the
intense excitement connected with their capture, Tom took the line and
Dick leaned forward to gaff the pike, there was a struggle, a splash,
the fish leaped right out of the water, and was gone.

"Hey, but why didn't thou whip the hook into him?" cried Dave.

"I was trying to," said Dick ruefully; "but just as I touched his side
he wagged his tail and went off!"

"Niver mind, lad," cried Dave.  "Let's look at the line.  Ah, I thowt as
much!  Hook's broke."

"Any chance of catching him if we threw in again?" said Tom.

"Nay, he isn't worth trying for.  Mebbe he'd bite; mebbe he wouldn't.
He's gone the gainest [nearest] way to his hole.  Let's try the next."

The buoy attached to this was not in the place where it had been left,
and for a few minutes the lads looked round in a puzzled way, till, with
a grim smile, Dave thrust the boat close up to a reed patch, when, just
as the punt began to rustle against the long crisp water-grass, a
splashing was heard inside somewhere, and after parting the growth with
his pole Dave stood aside for his companions to see that the bladder
attached to the line had been drawn in for some little distance, and
then caught in the midst of a dense tangle, beyond which a good-sized
fish was tugging to get away.

It needed some effort to force the boat to where the fish was churning
up the water; but at last this was effected, and this time, by leaning
forward and holding Tom's hand as a stay, Dick managed to gaff the
captive and lift it into the boat.

"A beauty!" said Tom, as they gazed at the bronze, green-spotted sides
of the ferocious fish, whose fang-armed jaws closed with a snap upon the
handle of the gaff, from which a strong shake was needed to detach it.

"Yes, but not a quarter as big as the one which got away."

"Nay," growled Dave, "there weren't much differ, lads."

Whatever its size, the pike, a fish of several pounds weight, was placed
alongside of the perch, upon which, by hazard or natural ferocity, it at
once fastened its peculiarly hooked back-teeth, making it almost
impossible to loosen its hold when once its jaws were closed; but the
discussion which followed upon this was interrupted by the sight of the
next bladder sailing away into the broadest part of the pool which they
now entered.

"There's a big one howd o' that bait, my lads," said Dave, "and he'll
give us a race.  Shall we leave him?"

"Leave him! no," cried the lads together.

"Ah, you heven't got to pole!" said Dave thoughtfully, as he gazed at
the bladder skimming along a couple of hundred yards away.

"Then let me do the poling," cried Dick eagerly, "I'm not tired."

"Nay," said Dave quietly, "neither you nor me can't do no poling theer.
Watter's nigh upon twenty foot deep, and a soft bottom.  Pole's no use

"What shall we do then?"

"I weer thinking, lad," said Dave, following the direction taken by the
bladder.  "He's a makkin for yon way through the reeds into next pool."

"Then let's go there and stop him, Dave," cried Dick.

"Ay, lad, we will.  Round here by the side.  Longest way's sometimes
gainest way."

Dick looked blank upon seeing the boat's head turned right away from the
fish that was caught.  Dave saw it, and handed him the pole.

"Give her a few throosts, lad," he said.

Dick seized the pole and thrust it down into the water lower and lower
till his hands touched the surface.

He tried again and again, but there was no bottom within reach, and the
lad handed back the pole.

"Why, you knew it was too deep here!" he cried.

"Ay, I knowed, lad," said Dave, taking the pole; "but yow wouldn't hev
been saddisfied wi'out trying yoursen."

He proceeded to row the punt now for a few yards, till, apparently
knowing by experience where he could find bottom, he thrust down the
pole again, gave a few vigorous pushes, and was soon in shallow water.

It was a bit of a race for the river-like opening, but Dave sent the
punt along pretty merrily now, while the bladder came slowly along from
the other direction till it was only about fifty yards away, when there
was a series of bobs and then one big one, the bladder which gleamed
whitely on the grey water going down out of sight.

Dave ceased poling, and all watched the surface for the return of the
bladder, as whale-fishers wait for the rising of the great mammal that
has thrown his flukes upward and dived down toward the bottom of the
sea; but they watched in vain.

A minute, two minutes, five minutes, then quite a quarter of an hour,
but no sign of the submerged buoy.

"Yow two look over the sides," said Dave.  "I'll run her right over
where the blether was took down."

Dave sent the punt along slowly, and the lads peered down into the dark
water, but could see no bladder.

"She'll come up somewheers," said Dave at last, sweeping the surface
with his keen eyes, and then smiling in his hard, dry, uncomfortable
way, as he looked right back over the way by which they had come, and
nodding his head, "There she is!" he said.

Sure enough there lay the bladder on the surface forty yards behind them
perfectly motionless.

"Yow take howd o' this one, young Tom Tallington," said Dave; and the
lad prepared to hook the line as the punt was carefully urged forward.

"Take care, Tom!" whispered Dick excitedly.  "Now, now!  Oh, what a
fellow you are!"

Tom did not dash in the hook when his companion bade him, but all the
same he managed to do it at the right time, catching the line just below
the bladder, and then stooping to seize it with his hand ready for the
struggle which was to ensue.

Both boys were flushed with excitement, and paid no heed to the grim
smile upon their companion's face--a smile which expanded into a grin as
the line came in without the slightest resistance, and the lads looked
at each other with blank dismay.

"Clap the line in the basket, Mester Dick," said Dave; "he's took the
bait and gone."

"Why, what a big one he must have been!" cried Tom.

"Ah, he would be a big one!" said Dave with a chuckle, as he urged the
punt rapidly on; "them as gets away mostlings is."

"Didn't you feel him a bit, Tom?" asked Dick.

"No, he had gone before I touched the line," was the reply.

It was very disappointing; but there were the other trimmers to be
examined, and though it would have puzzled a stranger, Dave went back
with unerring accuracy to the next one that had been laid down.

This did not seem to have moved; and as it was drawn in, the bait was
swimming strongly and well.

"Let him go, Dick," said Tom.

"Well, I was going to, wasn't I?" was the reply.  "There you are, old
chap, only got a hole in your gristly lip."

He dropped the gudgeon into the water, and it lay motionless for a
moment or two, and then darted downward as the punt glided on.

Another trimmer, and another, and another, was taken up as it was
reached, all these with the baits untouched, and the disappointed look
grew upon the boys' faces.

"I thought we should get one on every hook," said Tom.  "Ar'n't we going
to catch any more?"

"Why, you've got two," said Dave.

"Well, what are two, Dave?" cried Dick.

"More'n I've got many a day," said the man.  "I often think I'd like a
pike to stuff and bake; but lots o' times I come and I never get one.
There's one for you yonder."

"Is there--where?" cried Tom.

Dave nodded in the direction of the little bay they were approaching,
and it was plain to see that the bladder had been drawn close in to the
boggy shore.

"Oh, he's gone!" cried Tom.  "I don't believe there's one on."

Tom was wrong, for upon the spot being reached the bladder suddenly
became, as it were, animated, and went sailing along bobbing about on
the surface, then plunging down out of sight, to come up yards away.

"There's a niste one on theer, lads," said Dave.  "Yow be ready with the
hook, Mester Dick, and yow kneel down ready to ketch the line, young Tom

It was quite a long chase; the bladder bobbing and dancing away till
Dave forced the punt pretty near, and by a back stroke Dick caught the
line, drew it near enough for Tom to seize, when there was a tremendous
splash and plunge, and Tom fell backwards.

"Gone!" cried Dick in a passion of angry disappointment.

"Gone!" said Tom dolefully, "and I'd nearly got him over the side!"

"Ay, that's the way they gooes sometimes," said Dave, sending on the
boat.  "Put the band in the basket, lads.  Better luck next time."

"Why, the line's broken!" cried Dick, handing it to its owner.

"Sawed off agen his teeth," said Dave, after a glance.  "Theer, put 'em
away, lad.  He's theer waiting to be ketched again some day.  Theer's
another yonder.  Nay, he hesn't moved."

This one was taken up, and then others, till only two remained, one of
which was set where the great pike had been seen which took down the
duck.  One had not been touched, but had had the bait seized and gnawed
into a miserable state; another bait was bitten right off cleanly close
to the head; while another had been taken off the hook; and one bait had
probably been swallowed, and the line bitten in two.

"We are having bad luck," cried Dick dolefully.  "I thought we should
get a basket full."

"I didn't," said Dave.  "Nivver did but once.  Here, we'll tak' yon last
one up first, and come back along here and tak' up the big one, and go
thruff yon reed-bed home."

"Big one!" said Tom.

"You don't think he's on, do you?" cried Dick.

"Hey, lad, how do I know!  Mebbe he is."

"Then let's go at once," cried Dick excitedly.

"Nay, nay, we'll try yon one first," said Dave, for both the remaining
trimmers were in sight, and though not where they had been laid down,
they seemed to be no farther off than a lively bait and the wind might
have taken them.

"Theer, lads, yow'll hev to be saddisfied wi' what yow've got.  No more

"Oh, very well!" said Dick; "but I wish we'd got something more to eat."

"There's one on," said Tom excitedly, as they neared the most remote of
the two trimmers.

"How do you know?"

"Saw it bob."

"Yah!  It doan't move."

Dick glanced at Dave, whose face was inscrutable, and then the bladder
seemed to be motionless, and as if Tom's "bob" was all imagination.
Once more it seemed to move slightly, but it was nothing more than the
bait would cause.

"In wi' it, lads," cried Dave.  "You, young Tom.  I wean't stop.  Ketch
it as we go by."

Tom reached over and thrust in the hook, just catching the line as the
trimmer seemed to be gliding away.

"Something on," he shouted, as he got hold of the line with his hands,
and threw down the hook into the boat.  For there was a strong sturdy
strain upon the cord; and but for the progress of the boat being
checked, either the line would have been broken, or Tom would have had
to let go.

"Why, you've got hold of a stump!" cried Dick.  "What shall we do,
Dave--cat the line?"

"Howd on, lads, steady!  Ah, that's moved him!"

For just then, in place of the steady strain, there were a series of
short sharp snatches.

"Eel, eel!" cried Dick; and at the end of a few minutes' exciting play,
a huge eel was drawn over the side of the boat, tied up in quite a knot,
into which it had thrown itself just at the last.

"Coot the band close to his neb," [mouth or beak] said Dave, and this
being done, and the line saved from tangling, the captive untwisted
itself, and began to explore the bottom of the boat, a fine thick fellow
nearly thirty inches long, and the possibility was that it might escape
over the stern, till Dave put a stop to the prospect by catching it
quickly, and before it could glide out of his hand, throwing it into the
basket, where the pike resented its coming by an angry flapping of the

"That's better," said Dick, placing the trimmer in the other basket.  "I
say, Dave, would a fellow like that bite?"

"Nigh tak' your finger off: they're as strong as strong.  Say, lads,
shall we go home now, or try the other ligger?"

"Oh, let's get the last!" cried Dick; "there may be something on it."

Dave nodded, and poled steadily over to where the last trimmer lay off
the reedy point, and perfectly motionless, till they were within ten
yards, when there was a heavy swirl on the water, and the bladder dived
under, reappeared a couple of dozen yards away, and went off rapidly
along beside the reed-bed.

"Is that another perch?" cried Tom, as Dave began to ply his pole
rapidly, and the boat was urged on in pursuit.

"Nay, that's no perch," cried Dave, who for the first time looked
interested.  "It's a pike, and a good one."

"Think it's that monster that took down the duck?" cried Dick.

"Nay, lad, I d'know," said the decoy-man; "all I say is that it be a
girt lungeing pike o' some kind."

Dave plied his pole, and the boys, in their excitement, turned each a
hand into an oar, and swept it through the water as the pursuit was kept
up, for the bladder went sailing away, then stopped, and as soon as the
punt drew near was off again.  Sometimes it kept to the surface, but now
and then, when in places where Dave's pole would not touch the bottom,
no sooner did the punt glide up, than there was an eddying swirl, and
the bladder was taken down out of sight.

Once or twice Dick made a dash at it with the hook, but each time to
miss, and they were led a pretty dance.

"He's a girt big un, lads, a very girt big un," said Dave, as he rested
for a moment or two with the end of the pole in the water, waiting for
the bladder to reappear, and then rowed the punt softly in the direction
in which it was gliding.  "Says, shall a give 'em up?"

"No, no," cried Dick.  "Here, lend me the pole.  I'll soon catch him."

Dave smiled, but did not give up the pole.

"Nay, lad, I'll ketch up to un.  Wait a bit; fish'll be tired 'fore Dave

The pursuit continued in the most exasperating way, and to an onlooker
it would have been exceedingly absurd, since it seemed as if the man and
his companions were off oh the great mere with its open spaces of water
and islands of reeds, and lanes through them like so many little crooked
canals, in pursuit of a white pig's-bladder tied round the middle to
make it double.  There it would lie till the boat neared, and then off
it went with a skim that took it twenty, thirty, or forty yards.  Next
time the boat neared, instead of the skim it would begin to dance as if
in mockery, bobbing down whenever Dick reached over with his hook, and
always keeping out of his reach, just as if a mocking spirit directed
all its movements and delighted in tantalising them.  Again, after a
long run over the deep water, it would be quite still, and the punt
would be sent forward so cautiously that the capture seemed to be a
moral certainty; but so sure as Dick crept to the extreme end of the
punt and reached out, there was a tremor for an instant visible on the
water and the bladder disappeared.

"He must be a monster!" cried Dick, whose face was scarlet.  "Oh, Dave,
do go more quietly this time!"

"Let me try!" cried Tom, making a snatch at the hook.

"No!  I'll have him," said Dick.  "I wouldn't miss this chance for the

"Ay, I'll goo up quiet-like," said Dave, pausing to give himself an
opium pill before resuming his task.  "Yow be quicker this time, lad--a
bold dash and you'll get him!"

The double-looking bladder seemed now to be quite divided in two, for
the string had grown tighter in being drawn through the water, and as it
lay quite still, about forty yards from them, it looked a task that a
child might have done, to go up to it softly and hook the string.

"Now!" said Dave as he propelled the boat stern foremost by working the
pole behind as a fish does its tail.

"Oh! do get it this time, Dick!" panted Tom as he knelt in the boat.

"One quick dash, Mester Dick, and you hev it!"

Dick did not answer, but lay prone upon his chest well out over the
stern of the boat, holding on with one hand, the hook stretched out over
the water, ready, his heart beating and his eyes glittering with

As the punt glided on Dick's face was reflected in the dark amber-tinted
water--for there was not a ripple made--but he saw nothing of the glassy
surface; his eyes were riveted upon the gleaming white bladder, into
which the string had cut so deeply.

Another moment or two and he would be within striking distance, but a
glance at his hook showed that, perhaps from looseness in its socket,
the point was turned too much away.

He had barely time to turn it, as the moment arrived to strike, and
strike he did, just as the bladder was plunging down.

A yell came from behind him from Dave!

A groan from Tom!

Dick rose up in the boat with a feeling of misery and disappointment,
such as he had never before experienced, for he was perfectly conscious
of what he had done.  The bladder had been snatched under so quickly,
that when he struck, instead of the hook going beneath and catching the
string, the point had entered the bladder.  He had even felt the check,
and knew that he had torn a hole in the side.

"Hey, but yow've done it now, Mester Dick!" said Dave, laying the pole
across the boat and sitting down.

"I couldn't help it, Dave.  I did try so hard!" pleaded the lad.

"And you wouldn't let me try--obstinate!" grumbled Tom.

"Deal better you'd have done it, wouldn't you!" cried Dick in an
exasperated tone.

"Done it better than that!" cried Tom hotly.

"Nay, yow wouldn't, lad," said Dave coolly.  "It's a girt big un, and
he's too sharp for us.  Well, it's getting on and we may as well go
home.  He's gone!  Blether wean't come to the top no more!"

"But will he take a bait again, Dave?" said Dick; "I mean, if we come
another time."

"Will yow want any dinner to-morrow, lad?" said Dave, laughing.  "Ay,
he'll tek a bait again, sure enough, and we'll hev him some day!  Theer,
it's getting late; look at the starnels sattling down on the reeds!"

He pointed to the great clouds of birds curving round in the distance as
he stooped and picked up the pole, ready to send the punt homewards, for
the evening was closing in, and it would be dark before they reached the

"What's that?" cried Tom suddenly, as he swept the surface of the water,
and he pointed to a faint white speck about twenty yards away.

"Hey?  Why, it is!" cried Dave.  "Tek the hook again, Mester Dick, lad;
there's a little wind left yet in th' blether, and it's coom oop!"

"Let me!" cried Tom.

"Shall I do it, lad?" said Dave.

"No, let me try this once!" cried Dick.  "Or, no; you try, Tom!"

Tom snatched at the staff of the hook, but offered it back to his

"No, Dick," he said; "you missed, and you've a right to try again!"

"No, you try!" said Dick hurriedly, as he thrust his hands in his
pockets to be out of temptation.

"Nay, let Mester Dick hev one more try!" cried Dave; and the lad took
the staff, went through all his former manoeuvres, struck more deeply
with the staff, and this time, as he felt a check, he twisted the hook
round and round in the string, and felt as if it would be jerked out of
his hand.

"Twist un again, mun!  Get well twissen!" cried Dave; and as the lad
obeyed, the punt, already in motion, was for a short distance literally
drawn by the strong fish in its desperate efforts to escape.

"Let me come this time, young Tom Tallington!" cried Dave.

"No, no; I'll help!" cried Tom.

"But I shouldn't like you to lose this un, lads.  Theer, go on and
charnsh it.  You get well howd o' the band while young squire untwisses
the hook.  He's 'bout bet out now and wean't mak' much of a fight!"

Tom obeyed, and Dick, who was trembling with excitement, set the hook at

Meanwhile the fish was struggling furiously at the end of some fifteen
feet of stout line; but the fight had been going on some time now, and
at the end of a few minutes, as Dave manoeuvred the punt so as to ease
the strain on the line, Tom found that he could draw the captive slowly
to the surface.

"Tak' care, Mester Dick, throost hook reight in his gills, and in wi' un
at onced."

Dick did not reply, but stood ready, and it was well that he did so, for
as Tom drew the fish right up, such a savage, great, teeth-armed pair of
jaws came gaping at him out of the water, that he started and stumbled
back, dragging the hook from its hold.

But before he could utter a cry of dismay there was a tremendous sputter
and splash, for Dick had been in time, and, as the fish-hook was
breaking out, had securely caught the pike with the gaff.

The next moment, all ablaze in the evening light with green, and gold,
and silver, and cream, the monster was flopping on the floor of the
punt, trying frantically to leap out, and snapping with its jaws in a
way that would have been decidedly unpleasant for any hand that was

The monster's career was at an end, though.  A heavy blow on the head
stunned it, and a couple more put it beyond feeling, while the occupants
of the boat stood gazing down at their prize, as grand a pike as is
often seen, for it was nearly four feet long, and well-fed and thick.

"Look at his teeth!" cried Tom excitedly; "why, there's great fangs full
half an inch long."

"Yes, and sharp as knives!" cried Dick.

"Ay, he've hed nice games in his time here, lads!" said Dave, grinning
with pleasure.  "I'm straange and glad you've caught him.  Many's the
time I've sin him chase the fish and tak' down the water-rats.  One day
he hed howd of a big duck.  He got it by its legs as I was going along,
and the poor thing quacked and tried to fly, but down it went d'reckly.
Big pike like this un'll yeat owt."

"And if he got hold of them with these hooked teeth, Dave, they wouldn't
get away."

"Nay, lad, that they wouldn't.  He'd take a pike half as big as hissen,
if he got the charnsh."

"Well, he won't kill any more," cried Dick triumphantly.  "Oh, Tom, if
we had lost him after all!"

"I'd reyther hev lost a whole tak' o' duck, lads," said Dave, shaking
each of his companions' hands warmly.  "There'll be straange games among
all the fishes and birds here, because he's ketched.  Look at him!
Theer's a pike, and they're a trying to dree-ern all the watter off from
the fens and turn 'em into fields.  Hey, lads, it'll be a straange bad
time for us when it's done."

"But do you think it will take off all the water, and spoil the fen,
Dave?" said Tom.

"Nay, lad, I don't," said Dave with sudden emphasis.  "It's agen nature,
and it wean't be done.  Hey and we must be getting back."

He plunged the pole into the water as he spoke, and it seemed to grow
blacker and blacker, as they talked pike over their capture, till the
shore was reached, and the prize borne to Hickathrift's workshop, where
a pair of big rough scales showed that within a few ounces the pike
weighed just what Dave guessed, to wit two stone and a half old
Lincolnshire weight of fourteen pounds to the stone, or thirty-five



The wintry weather passed away with its storms and continuous rains and
floods, which hindered the progress of the great lode or drain, and then
came the spring sunshine, with the lads waking up to the fact that here
and there the arums were thrusting up their glossy-green spathes, that
the celandines were out like yellow stars, and that the rustling reeds
left uncut had been snapped off and beaten down, and had rotted in the
water, and that from among them the young shoots of the fresh crop were
beginning to peep.

Bold brisk winds swept over the fen and raised foamy waves in the meres,
and the nights were clear and cold, though there had been little frost
that year, never enough to well coat the lakes and pools with ice, so
that the pattens could be cleaned from their rust and sharpened at
Hickathrift's grindstone ready for the lads at the old Priory and
Grimsey to skate in and out for miles.  But, in spite of the cold, there
was a feeling of spring in the air.  The great grey-backed crows were
getting scarce, and the short-eared owls, which, a couple of months
before, could be flushed from the tufts in the fen, to fly off looking
like chubby hawks, were gone, and the flights of ducks and peewits had
broken up.  The golden plovers were gone; but the green peewits were
busy nesting, or rather laying eggs without nests--pear-shaped eggs,
small at one end, large at the other, thickly blotched and splashed with
dark green, and over which the birds watched, ready to fall as if with
broken wing before the intruder, and try to lure him away.

Many a tramp over the sodden ground did the lads have with Dave, who
generally waited for their coming, leaping-pole in hand, and then took
them to the peewits' haunts to gather a basketful of their eggs.

"I don't know how you do it, Dave," said Dick.  "We go and hunt for
hours, and only get a few pie-wipes' eggs; you always get a basketful."

"It's a man's natur," said Dave.

"Well, show us how you know," said Dick, shouldering his leaping-pole,
and pretending to hit his companion's head.

"Nay, lad, theer's no showing a thing like that," said Dave
mysteriously.  "It comes to a man."

"Gammon!" cried Dick.  "It's a dodge you've learned."

Dave chuckled and tramped on beside the lads, having enough to do to
avoid sinking in.

"She's reyther juicy this spring, eh?  They heven't dree-ernt her yet,"
said Dave with a malicious grin.  "See there, now, young Tom
Tallington," he cried, stepping past the lad, and, picking up a couple
of eggs in spite of the wailing of their owners, as they came napping
close by, the cock bird in his glossy-green spring feathers, and a long
pendent tuft hanging down from the back of his head.

"How stupid!" cried Tom.  "I didn't see them."

"Nay, you wouldn't," said Dave, stepping across Dick, who was on his
left; "and yow, young squire Dick, didn't see they two."

"Yes, I did, Dave, I did," cried Dick.  "I was just going to pick them

"Pick' em up then," cried Dave quietly; "where are they then?"  Dick
looked sharply round him; but there was not an egg to be seen, and he
realised that Dave had cheated him, and drawn him into a declaration
that was not true.

He was very silent under the laughter of his companions, and felt it all
the more.

They went on, the lads sometimes finding an egg or two, but nearly all
falling to Dave, who, as if by unerring instinct, went straight to the
spots where the nests lay, and secured the spoil.

Now and then a heron flew up, one with a small eel twining about its
bill; and more than once a hare went bounding off from its form among
the dry last year's grass.

"We want Hickathrift's dog here," cried Dick.

"What for, lad? what for?" said Dave, laughing.

"To catch the hares."

"Nay, yow want no dog," said Dave.  "Easy enough to catch hares."

"Easy!  How?" cried Tom.

"Go up to 'em and catch 'em," said Dave coolly.

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Dick, and his companion joined in.  "I should like
to see you catch a hare, Dave."

"Shouldst ta, lad?  Very well, wait a bit."

They tramped on, with Dave picking up an egg here, a couple there, in a
way that was most exasperating to the boys, whose luck was very bad.

"I never saw such eyes," said Tom.  "I can't see the eggs like he can."

Dave chuckled as if he had a rattlesnake in his throat, and they went on
for a while till Dick stopped suddenly, and pointed to the side of one
of the fen ponds.

"That isn't a heron," he said.

"No.  One o' them long-legged ones--a crane," said Dave.  "Getting
straange and scarce now.  Used to be lots of 'em breed here when my
grandfather was a boy.  Nay, nay, don't scar' him," he cried, checking
Dick, who was about to wave his hands.  "Niver disturb the birds wi'out
you want 'em to eat or sell.  Now, then: yonder's a hare."

"Where?" cried Tom.  "I can't see it."

"Over yonder among that dry grass."

"There isn't," said Dick.  "I can't see any hare."

"Like me to go and catch him, young Tom?"

"Here, I'll soon see if there's a hare," cried Dick; but Dave caught him
by the shoulder with a grip of iron, and thrust the pole he carried into
the soft bog.

"I didn't say I was going to run a hare down," he said.  "Theer's a hare
yonder in her form.  Shall I go and catch her?"

"Yes," said Dick, grinning.  "Shall I say, `Sh!'"

"Nay, if thou'rt going to play tricks, lad, I shall howd my hand.  I
thowt yow wanted to see me ketch a hare."

"Go on, then," said Dick, laughing; "we won't move."

Dave chuckled, swung his basket behind him as if hung by a strip of
cow-hide over his shoulder, and walked quietly on, in and out among the
tufts of heather and moss, for some five-and-twenty yards.

"He's laughing at us," said Dick.

"No, he isn't.  I've heard Hickathrift say he can catch hares," replied
Tom.  "Look!"

For just then they saw Dave go straight up to a tuft of dry grass, stoop
down and pick up a hare by its ears, and place it on his left arm.

The boys ran up excitedly.

"Why, Dave, I didn't think you could do it!" cried Dick.

"Dessay not," replied the decoy-man, uttering his unpleasant laugh.
"Theer, she's a beauty, isn't she?"

The hare struggled for a moment or two, and then crouched down in the
man's arm, with its heart throbbing and great eyes staring round at its

"Kill it, Dave, kill it," cried Tom.

"Kill it!  What for?  Pretty creatur'," said Dave, stroking the hare's
brown speckled fur, and laying its long black-tipped sensitive ears
smoothly down over its back.

"To take home."

"Nay, who kills hares at the end of March, lad?  Hares is mad in March."

"Is that why it let you catch it, Dave?"

"Mebbe, lad, mebbe, Mester Dick.  Theer, hev you done stroking her?"

"No.  Why?"

"Going to let her run?"

"Wait a bit," cried Dick.

"Tek her by the ears, lad, and putt thy hand beneath her.  That's the

Dick took the hare in his arms, and the trembling beast submitted
without a struggle.

"How did you know it was there?" said Tom.

"How did I know she was theer!  Why, she had her ears cocked-up
listening, plain enough to see.  Theer, let her go now.  She's got a
wife somewheers about."

"_She's_ got a wife!  Why don't you say _He_?" cried Dick.  "Now, Tom,
I'm going to let him go; but he won't run, he's a sick one.  You'll see.
Anyone could catch a hare like this."

He carefully placed the hare upon the ground, holding tightly by its

"There," he cried; "I told you so!  Look how stupid and--Oh!"

The hare made one great leap, and then hardly seemed to touch the ground
again with its muscular hind-legs; but went off at a tremendous rate,
bounding over heath and tuft, till it disappeared in the distance.

"There's a sleepy sick one for you, Mester Dick!" cried Dave.  "Now,
then, goo and ketch her, lad."

"Well, I never!" cried Dick.  "I say, Dave, how do you manage it?  Could
you catch another?"

"Ay, lad, many as I like."

"And rabbits too?"

"Nay, I don't say that.  I hev ketched rabbuds that ways, but not often.
Rabbud always makes for his hole."

As he spoke he walked back to where he had left his pole standing in the
bog earth, and they trudged on again to where a lane of water impeded
their further progress.

"Too wide for you, lads?" said Dave.

"No," replied Dick, "if it's good bottom."

"Good bottom a little higher up here," said Dave, bearing off to the
left.  "Now, then, over you go!"

Dick, pole in hand, took a run without the slightest hesitation, for
Dave's word was law.  He said there was good bottom to the lane of
water, and he was sure to know, for he had the knowledge of his father
and grandfather joined to his own.  If it had been bad bottom Dick's
feat would have been impossible, for his pole would have gone down
perhaps to its full length in the soft bog; as it was, the end of the
pole rested upon gravel in about three feet of water, and the lad went
over easily and describing a curve through the air.

"Look out!" shouted Tom, following suit, and landing easily upon the
other side; while Dave took off his basket of plovers' eggs by slipping
the hide band over his head, then, hanging it to the end of his pole, he
held it over the water to the boys, who reached across and took it
together on their poles, landing it safely without breaking an egg.

The next minute, with the ease of one long practised in such leaps, Dave
flew over and resumed his load.

Several more long lanes of water were cleared in this way, Dave leading
the boys a good round, and taking them at last to his house, pretty well
laden with eggs, where he set before them a loaf and butter, and lit a

"Theer, you can boil your eggs," he said, "and mak' a meal.  Mebbe
you're hungry now."

There was no maybe in the matter, judging from the number of slices of
bread and butter and hard-boiled plovers' eggs the lads consumed.

Over the meal the question of the draining was discussed

"No fish," said Dick.

"No decoy," said Tom.

"No plovers' eggs," said Dave.

"No rabbiting," said Dick.

"No eeling," said Tom.

"No nothing," said Dave.  "Hey bud it'll be a sad job when it's done.
But it arn't done yet, lads, eh?"

"No, it isn't done yet," said Dick.  "I say, where's John Warren?  I
haven't seen him for months."

"I hev," said Dave.  "He's a breaking his heart, lads, about big drain.
Comes over to see me and smoke his pipe.  It'll 'bout kill him if his
rabbud-warren is took awaya.  Bud dree-ern ar'n't done yet, lads, eh?"

Squire Winthorpe was of a different opinion that night when Dick reached
home after seeing Tom well on his way.

"They're going on famously now," he said to Mrs Winthorpe, who was
repairing the damage in one of Dick's garments.

"And was the meeting satisfied?"

"Yes, quite," said the squire.  "We had a big meeting with the gentlemen
from London who are interested in the business, and they praised young
Mr Marston, the engineer, wonderfully fine young fellow too."

Dick pricked up his ears.

"I thought Mr Marston was coming to see us a deal, father!" he said.

"He's been away during the bad weather when the men couldn't work--up in
town making plans and things.  He's coming over to-night."

"And do the people about seem as dissatisfied as ever about the work?"
said Mrs Winthorpe.

"I don't hear much about it," said the squire.  "They'll soon settle
down to it when they find how things are improved.  Well, Dick, plenty
of sport to-day?"

"Dave got plenty of pie-wipes' eggs, father.  I didn't find many."

"Got enough to give Mr Marston a few?"

"Oh, yes, plenty for that!  What time's he coming?"

"About eight, I should think.  He's coming along the river bank after
his men have done."

"And going back, father?"

"Oh no! he'll sleep here to-night."

The squire went out to have his customary look round the farmstead
before settling down for the night, and Dick followed him.  The thrushes
were piping; sounds of ducks feeding out in the fen came off the water,
and here and there a great shadowy-looking bird could be seen flapping
its way over the desolate waste, but everywhere there was the feeling of
returning spring in the air, and the light was lingering well in the
west, making the planet in the east look pale and wan.

Everything seemed to be all right.  There was a loud muttering among the
fowls at roost.  Solomon laid back his ears and twitched the skin of his
back as if he meant to kick when Dick went near the lean-to shed
supported on posts, thatched with reeds and built up against an old
stone wall in which there were the remains of a groined arch.

Everything about the Toft was at peace, and down toward the
wheelwright's the labourers' cottages were so still that it was evident
that some of the people had gone to bed.

The squire went on down the gravel slope, past the clump of firs, and by
the old ivied wall which marked the boundary of the ancient priory,
when, after crossing a field or two, they came to the raised bank which
kept the sluggish river within bounds.

"Looks cold and muddy, father," said Dick.

"Yes, not tempting for a bathe, Dick; but some day I hope to see a river
nearly as big as that draining our great fen."

"But don't you think it will be a pity, father?"

"Yes, for idle boys who want to pass their lives fishing, and for men
like Dave and John Warren.  Depend upon it, Dick, it's the duty of every
man to try and improve what he sees about."

"But natural things look so beautiful, father!"

"In moderation, boy.  Don't see any sign of Mr Marston yet, do you?"

"No, father," replied Dick after taking a long look over the desolate
level where the river wound between its raised banks toward the sea.

"Can't very well miss his way," said the squire, half to himself.

"Unless he came through the fen," said Dick.

"Oh, he wouldn't do that!  He'd come along by the river wall, my boy;
it's longer, but better walking."

The squire walked back toward the house, turning off so as to approach
it by the back, where his men were digging for a great rain-water tank
to be made.

The men had not progressed far, for their way was through stones and
cement, which showed how, at one time, there must have been either a
boundary-wall or a building there; and as they stood by the opening the
latter was proved to be the case, for Dick stooped down and picked up a
piece of ancient roofing lead.

"Yes, Dick, this must have been a fine old place at one time," said the
squire.  "Let's get back.  Be a bit of a frost to-night, I think."

"I hope not, father."

"And I hope it will, my boy!  I like to get the cold now, not when the
young trees are budding and blossoming."

They went in, to find the ample supper spread upon its snowy cloth and
the empty jug standing ready for the ale to be drawn to flank the pinky
ham, yellow butter, and well-browned young fowl.

"No, wife, no!  Can't see any sign of him yet," said the squire.  "Dick,
get me my pipe.  I'll have just one while we're waiting.  Hope he has
not taken the wrong road!"

"Do you think he has?" said Mrs Winthorpe anxiously.  "It would be very
dangerous for him now it is growing dark."

"No, no; nonsense!" said the squire, filling his pipe from the stone
tobacco-jar Dick had taken from the high chimney-piece of the cosy, low,
oak-panelled room.

It was a curious receptacle, having been originally a corbel from the
bottom of a groin of the old building, and represented an evil-looking
grotesque head.  This the squire had had hollowed out and fitted with a
leaden lid.

"Think we ought to go and meet him, father?" said Dick, after watching
the supper-table with the longing eyes of a young boy, and then taking
them away to stare at his mother's glistening needle and the soft grey
clouds from his father's pipe.

"No, Dick, we don't know which way to go.  If we knew we would.  Perhaps
he will not come at all, and I'm too tired to go far to-night."

Dick bent down and stroked Tibb, the great black cat, which began to

"Put on a few more turves, Dick, and a bit or two of wood," said his
mother.  "Mr Marston may be cold."

Dick laid a few pieces of the resinous pine-root from the fen upon the
fire, and built up round it several black squares of well-dried peat
where the rest glowed and fell away in a delicate creamy ash.  Then the
fir-wood began to blaze, and he returned to his seat.

"'Tatoes is done!" said a voice at the door, and the red-armed maid
stood waiting for orders to bring them in.

"Put them in a dish, Sarah, and keep them in the oven with the door
open.  When Mr Marston comes you can put them in the best wooden bowl,
and cover them with a clean napkin before you bring them in," said Mrs

"Oh, I say, mother, I am so hungry!  Mayn't I have one baked potato?"

"Surely you can wait, my boy, till our visitor comes," said Mrs
Winthorpe quietly.

Dick stared across at the maid as she was closing the door, and a look
of intelligence passed between them, one which asked a question and
answered it; and Dick knew that if he went into the great kitchen there
would be a mealy potato ready for him by the big open fireplace, with
butter _ad libitum_, and pepper and salt.

Dick sat stroking the cat for a few minutes and then rose, to go to the
long low casement bay-window, draw aside the curtain, and look out over
the black fen.

"Can't see him," he said with a sigh; and then, as no notice was taken
of his remark, he went slowly out and across the square stone-paved hall
to the kitchen, where, just as he expected, a great potato was waiting
for him by the peat-fire, and hot plate, butter, pepper, and salt were

"Oh, I say, Sarah, you are a good one!" cried Dick.

"I thought you'd come, Mester Dick," said the maid; and then, with a
start, "Gracious! what's that?"

"Sea-bird," said Dick shortly, and then he dropped the knife and ran
back to the parlour, for another cry came from off the fen.

"Hear that, father!" cried Dick.

"Hear it! yes, my lad.  Quick! get your cap.  My staff, mother," he
added.  "Poor fellow's got in, p'r'aps."

The squire hurried out after Dick, who had taken the lead, and as they
passed out of the great stone porch the lad uttered a hail, which was
answered evidently from about a couple of hundred yards away.

"He has been coming across the fen path," said the squire.  "Ahoy! don't
stir till we come."

"Shall we want the lantern, father?" cried Dick.

"No, no, my lad; we can see.  Seems darker first coming out of the

A fresh cry came from off the fen, and it was so unmistakably the word
"Help!" that the squire and his son increased their pace.

"Ahoy, there!" cried a big gruff voice.


"Ay, mester!  Hear that! some un's in trouble over yonder."

The wheelwright's big figure loomed up out of the darkness and joined
them as they hurried on.

"Yes, I heard it.  I think it must be Mr Marston missed his way."

"What! the young gent at the dreeaning!  Hey, bud he'd no call to be out

"Where are you?" shouted Dick, who was ahead now and hurrying along the
track that struck off to the big reed-beds and then away over the fen to
the sea-bank.

"Here! help!" came faintly.

"Tak' care, Mester Dick!" cried Hickathrift as he and the squire
followed.  "Why, he is reight off the path!"

"I'll take care!" shouted Dick.  "Come on!  All right; it isn't very
soft here!"

Long usage had made him so familiar with the place that he was able to
leave the track in the darkness and pick his way to where, guided by the
voice, he found their expected visitor, not, as he expected, up to his
middle in the soft peat, but lying prone.

"Why, Mr Marston, you're all right!" cried Dick.  "You wouldn't have
hurt if you had come across here."

"Help!" came faintly from the prostrate traveller, and Dick caught his
arm, but only to elicit a groan.

"Well, he is a coward!" thought Dick.  "Here, father!  Hicky!"

"Rather soft, my boy!" said the squire.

"Ay, not meant for men o' our weight, mester," said the wheelwright; and
they had to flounder in the soft bog a little before they reached the
spot where Dick stood holding the young man's cold hand.

"He has fainted with fright, father," said Dick, who felt amused at
anyone being so alarmed out there in the darkness.

"Let me tackle him, mester," said the wheelwright.

"No; each take a hand, my lad," said the squire, "and then let's move
together for the path as quickly as possible."

"Reight!" cried Hickathrift, laconically; and, stooping down, they each
took a hand, and half ran half waded through the black boggy mud, till
they reached the path from which the young man had strayed.

"Poor chap! he were a bit scar'd to find himself in bog."

"Pity he ventured that way," said the squire.

"Here, Mr Marston, you're all right now," said Dick.  "Can you get up
and walk?"

There was no answer, but the young man tried to struggle up, and would
have sunk down again had not the squire caught him round the waist.

"Poor lad! he's bet out.  Not used to our parts," said Hickathrift.
"Here, howd hard, sir.  Help me get him o' my back like a sack, and I'll
run him up to the house i' no time."

It seemed the best plan; and as the young man uttered a low moan he was
half lifted on to Hickathrift's broad back, and carried toward the

"Run on, Dick, and tell your mother to mix a good glass of hollands and
water," said the squire.

Dick obeyed, and the steaming glass of hot spirits was ready as the
wheelwright bore in his load, and the young man was placed in a chair
before the glowing kitchen fire.

"My arm!" he said faintly.

"You wrenched his arm, Hicky," said Dick, "when you dragged him out."

"Very sorry, Mester Dick."

"Ugh!" cried the lad, who had laid his hand tenderly on their visitor's

"What is it?" cried Mrs Winthorpe.

"Blood.  He has been hurt," said Dick.

"Shot!  Here," said the young man in a whisper; and then his head sank
down sidewise, and he fainted dead away.

Mr Marston's faintly-uttered words sent a thrill through all present,
but no time was wasted.  People who live in out-of-the-way places, far
from medical help, learn to be self-reliant, and as soon as Squire
Winthorpe realised what was wrong he gave orders for the injured man to
be carried to the couch in the dining parlour, where his wet jacket was
taken off by the simple process of ripping up the back seam.

"Now, mother, the scissors," said the squire, "and have some bandages
ready.  You, Dick, if it's too much for you, go away.  If it isn't:
stop.  You may want to bind up a wound some day."

Dick felt a peculiar sensation of giddy sickness, but he tried to master
it, and stood looking on as the shirt sleeve was cut open, and the young
man's white arm laid bare to the shoulder, displaying an ugly wound in
the fleshy part.

"Why, it's gone right through, mother," whispered the squire, shaking
his head as he applied sponge and cold water to the bleeding wounds.

"And doctor says there's veins and artrys, mester," said Hickathrift,
huskily.  "One's bad and t'other's worse.  Which is it, mester?"

"I hope and believe there is no artery touched," said the squire; "but
we must run no risk.  Hickathrift, my man, the doctor must be fetched.
Go and send one of the men."

"Nay, squire, I'll go mysen," replied the big wheelwright.  "Did'st see
his goon, Mester Dick?"

"No, I saw no gun."

"Strange pity a man can't carry a gun like a Chrishtun," said the
wheelwright, "and not go shutin hissen that way."

The wheelwright went off, and the squire busied himself binding up the
wounds, padding and tightening, and proving beyond doubt that no artery
had been touched, for the blood was soon nearly staunched, while, just
as he was finishing, and Mrs Winthorpe was drawing the sleeve on one
side so as to secure a bandage with some stitches, something rolled on
to the floor, and Dick picked it up.

"What's that, Dick--money?"

"No, father; leaden bullet."

"Ha! that's it; nice thing to go through a man's arm," said the squire
as he examined the roughly-cast ragged piece of lead.  "We must look for
his gun to-morrow.  What did he expect to get with a bullet at a time
like this?  Eh?  What were you trying to shoot, Marston?" said the
squire, as he found that the young man's eyes were open and staring at

"I--trying to shoot!"

"Yes; of course you didn't mean to bring yourself down," said the
squire, smiling; "but what in the world, man, were you trying to shoot
with bullets out here?"

The young engineer did not reply, but looked round from one to the
other, and gave Mrs Winthorpe a grateful smile.

"Do you recollect where you left your gun?" said Dick eagerly, for the
thought of the rust and mischief that would result from a night in the
bog troubled him.

"Left my gun!" he said.

"Never mind now, Mr Marston," said the squire kindly.  "Your things are
wet, and we'll get you to bed.  It's a nasty wound, but it will soon get
right again.  I'm not a doctor, but I know the bone is not broken."

"I did not understand you at first," said the young engineer then.  "You
think I have been carrying a gun, and shot myself?"

"Yes, but never mind now," said Mrs Winthorpe, kindly.  "I don't think
you ought to talk."

"No," was the reply; "I will not say much; but I think Mr Winthorpe
ought to know.  Some one shot me as I was coming across the fen."

"What!" cried Dick.

"Shot you!" said the squire.

"Yes.  It was quite dark, and I was carefully picking my way, when there
was a puff of smoke from a bed of reeds, a loud report, and I seemed to
feel a tremendous blow; and I remember no more till I came to, feeling
sick and faint, and managed to crawl along till I saw the lights of the
farm here, and cried for help."

"Great heavens!" cried the squire.

"Didn't you see any one?" cried Mrs Winthorpe.

"No, nothing but the smoke from the reeds.  I feel rather faint now--if
you will let me rest."

With the help of Dick and his father the young engineer was assisted to
his bed, where he seemed to drop at once into a heavy sleep; and,
satisfied that there was nothing to fear for some time, the squire
returned to the parlour looking very serious, while Dick watched him
intently to see what he would say.

"This is very dreadful, my dear," whispered Mrs Winthorpe at last.
"Have we some strange robber in the fen?"

"Don't know," said the squire shortly.  "Perhaps some one has a spite
against him."

"How dreadful!" said Mrs Winthorpe.

"One of his men perhaps."

"Or a robber," cried Dick excitedly.  "Why, father, we might get Dave
and John Warren and Hicky and some more, and hunt him down."

"Robbers rob," said the squire laconically.

"Of course, my dear," said Mrs Winthorpe; "and it would be dreadful to
think of.  Why, we could never go to our beds in peace."

"But Mr Marston's watch and money are all right, my dear.  Depend upon
it he has offended one of the rough drain diggers, and it is an act of

"But the man ought to be punished."

"Of course, my dear, and we'll have the constables over from town, and
he shall be found.  It won't be very hard to do."

"Why not, father?"

"Because many of the men have no guns."

"But they might borrow, father?"

"The easier to find out then," said the squire.  "Well, one must eat
whether a man's shot or no.  History does not say that everybody went
without his supper because King Charles's head was cut off.  Mother,
draw the ale.  Dick, tell Sarah to bring in those hot potatoes.  I'm
hungry, and I've got to sit up all night."

There proved to be no real need, for the squire's patient slept soundly,
and there was nothing to disturb the silence at the Toft.  But morning
found the squire still watching, with Mrs Winthorpe busy with her
needle in the dining parlour, and Dick lying down on the hearth-rug, and
sleeping soundly by the glowing fire.  For about four o'clock, after
strenuously refusing to go to bed, he had thought he would lie down and
rest for a bit, with the result that he was in an instant fast asleep,
and breathing heavily.

By breakfast-time Farmer Tallington had heard the news, and was over
with Tom, each ready to listen to the squire's and Dick's account; and
before nine o'clock Dave and John Warren, who had come over to
Hickathrift's, to find him from home, came on to the Toft to talk with
Dick and Tom, and stare and gape.

"Why, theer heven't been such a thing happen since the big fight wi' the
smugglers and the king's men," said Dave.

To which John Warren assented, and said it was "amaazin'."

"And who do you think it weer?" said Dave, as he stood scratching his
ear; and upon being told the squire's opinion, he shook his head, and
said there was no knowing.

"It's a bad thing, Mester Dick, bringing straangers into a plaace.  Yow
nivver know what characters they've got.  Why, I do believe--it's a
turruble thing to say--that some of they lads at work at big dree-ern
hevven't got no characters at all."

"Here be Hickathrift a-coming wi' doctor," said John Warren.

And sure enough there was the doctor on his old cob coming along the fen
road, with Hickathrift striding by his side, the man of powder and
draught having been from home with a patient miles away when Hickathrift
reached the town, and not returning till five o'clock.

"He'll do right enough, squire," said the doctor.  "Young man like he is
soon mends a hole in his flesh.  You did quite right; but I suppose the
bandaging was young Dick's doing, for of all the clumsy bungling I ever
saw it was about the worst."

Dick gave his eye a peculiar twist in the direction of his father, who
was giving him a droll look, and then they both laughed.

"Very delicately done, doctor," said the squire.  "There, Dick, as he
has put it on your shoulders you may as well bear it."

"Ah, let him!" said the doctor.  "Now, what are you going to do?" he
said aloud; "catch the scoundrel who shot Mr Marston, and get him
transported for life?"

"That's what ought to be done to him," said John Warren solemnly, as he
looked straight away over the fen.

"Ay," said Dave.  "How do we know but what it may be our turn or
Hickathrift's next?  It's a straange, bad thing."

"I must talk it over with Mr Marston," said the squire, "when he gets
better, and then we shall see."



Mr Marston declared that he had not the most remote idea of having
given any of his men offence, and then looked very serious about the
question of bringing over the constables from the town to investigate
the matter.

"It may have been an accident, Mr Winthorpe," he said; "and if so, I
should be sorry to get any poor fellow into trouble."

"Yes, but it may not have been an accident," said the doctor.

This was in the evening, the doctor having ridden over again to see how
his patient was getting on.

"Heaven forbid, sir," said Marston warmly, "that I should suspect any
man of such a cowardly cruel deed!  Impossible, sir!  I cannot recall
having done any man wrong since I have been here.  My lads like me."

"How do you know that?" said the squire dryly.  "Men somehow are not
_very_ fond of the master who is over them, and makes them fairly earn
their wages."

"Well, sir, I don't know how to prove it," said Marston, who was lying
on a dimity-covered couch, "but--"

"Hallo!" cried the squire, leaping up and going to the window, as a loud
and excited buzzing arose, mingled with the trampling of feet, which
sounded plainly in the clear cold spring evening.

"Anything wrong?" said the doctor.

"Why, here's a crowd of a hundred fellows armed with sticks!" cried the
squire.  "I believe they've got the rascal who fired the shot."

"No!" said the doctor.

"Father!  Mr Marston!" cried Dick, rushing up stairs and into the
visitor's bed-room; "here are all the drain-men--hundreds of them--Mr
Marston's men."

"Not hundreds, young fellow," said Marston smiling, "only one, if they
are all here.  What do they want?  Have they caught anyone?"

"No, sir.  They want to see you.  I told them you were too bad; but they
say they will see you."

"I'll go and speak to them and see what they want," said the squire.
"Is it anything about paying their wages?"

"Oh dear, no!" said Marston.  "They have been paid as usual.  Shall I go
down to them, doctor?"

"If you do I'll throw up your case," cried the doctor fiercely.  "Bless
my soul, no!  Do you think I want you in a state of high fever.  Stop
where you are, sir.  Stop where you are."

"I'll go," said the squire, "before they pull the house down."

For the men were getting clamorous, and shouting loudly for Mr Marston.

The squire descended, and Dick with him, to find the front garden of the
old farm-house full of great swarthy black-bearded fellows, everyone
armed with a cudgel or a pick-axe handle, some having only the parts of
broken shovels.

"Well, my lads, what is it?" said the squire, facing them.

A tremendous yell broke out, every man seeming to speak at once, and
nothing could be understood.

"Hullo, Hickathrift!  You're there, are you?" said the squire.  "What do
they want?"

"Well, you see, squire," began the wheelwright; but his voice was
drowned by another furious yell.

"Don't all speak at once!" cried Dick, who had planted himself upon a
rough block of stone that had been dug out of the ruins and placed in
the front of the house.

There was something so droll to the great band of workmen in a mere
stripling shouting to them in so commanding a way, that they all burst
into a hearty laugh.

"Here, let Hicky speak!" cried Dick.

"Yes!--Ay!--Ah!--Let big Hickathrift speak!" was shouted out.

"Keep quiet, then," said the wheelwright, "or how can I!  You see,
squire," he continued, "the lads came along by my place, and they said
some one had put it about that one of them had fired a shot at the young
engyneer, and they're all popped about it, and want to see Mr Marston
and tell him it isn't true."

"You can't see Mr Marston, my lads," said the squire.

Here there was a fierce yell.

"The doctor says it would do him harm," continued the squire, "and you
don't want to do that."

"Nay, nay, we wean't do that," shouted one of the men.

"But I may tell you that Mr Marston says that he does not believe
there's a man among you who would do him any harm."

"Hooray!" shouted one of the men, and this was followed by a roar.  "We
wouldn't hurt the ganger, and we're going to pay out him as did."

There was a tremendous yell at this, and the men nourished their weapons
in a way that looked serious for the culprit if he should be discovered.

"Ay, but yow've got to find out first who it was," said Hickathrift.

"Yes, and we're going to find out too," cried one rough-looking fellow
standing forward.  "How do we know as it warn't you?"

"Me!" cried Hickathrift, staring blankly.

"Ay, yow," roared the great rough-looking fellow, a man not far short of
the wheelwright's size.  "We've heered all on you a going on and pecking
about the dree-ern being made.  We know yow all hates our being here, so
how do we know it warn't yow?"

The man's fierce address was received with an angry outburst by the men,
who had come out on purpose to inflict punishment upon some one, and in
their excitement, one object failing, they were ready to snatch at

It was perhaps an insensate trick; but there was so much of the frank
manly British boy in Dick Winthorpe that he forgot everything in the
fact that big Hickathrift, the man he had known from a child--the great
bluff fellow who had carried him in his arms and hundreds of times made
him welcome in that wonderland, his workshop, where he was always ready
to leave off lucrative work to fashion him eel-spear or leaping-pole, or
to satisfy any other whim that was on the surface--that this old friend
was being menaced by a great savage of a stranger nearly as big as
himself, and backed by a roaring excited crowd who seemed ready for any

Dick did not hesitate a moment, but with eyes flashing, teeth clenched,
and fists doubled, he leaped down from the stone, rushed into the midst
of the crowd, closing round the wheelwright, and darting between the
great fellow and the man who had raised a pick-handle to strike, seized
hold of the stout piece of ash and tried to drag it away.

"You great coward!" he roared--"a hundred to one!"

It was as if the whole gang had been turned to stone, their
self-constituted leader being the most rigid of the crowd, and he stared
at Dick Winthorpe as a giant might stare at the pigmy who tried to
snatch his weapon away.

But the silence and inert state lasted only a few seconds, before the
black-bearded fellow's angry face began to pucker up, his eyes half
closed, and, bending down, he burst into a hearty roar of laughter.

"See this, lads!" he cried.  "See this!  Don't hurt me, mester!  Say,
lads, I never felt so scared in my life."

The leader's laugh was contagious, and the crowd took it up in chorus;
but the more they laughed, the more angry grew Dick.  He could not see
the ridiculous side of the matter; for, small as was his body in
comparison with that of the man he had assailed, his spirit had swollen
out as big as that of anyone present.

"I don't care," he cried; "I'll say it again--You're a set of great
cowards; and as for you," he cried to the fellow whose weapon he had
tried to wrest away, "you're the biggest of the lot."

"Well done, young un--so he is!" cried the nearest man.  "Hooray for
young ganger!"

The men were ready to fight or cheer, and as ready to change their mood
as crowds always are.  They answered the call with a stentorian roar;
and if Dick Winthorpe had imitated Richard the Second just then, and
called upon the crowd to accept him as their leader, they would have
followed him to the attempt of any mad prank he could have designed.

"Thank ye, Mester Dick!" said Hickathrift, placing his great hand upon
the lad's shoulder, as the squire forced his way to their side.  "I
always knowed we was mates; but we're bigger mates now than ever we was

"Ay, and so 'm _I_," said the big drain delver.  "Shake hands, young un.
You're English, you are.  So 'm I.  He's English, lads; that's what he
is!" he roared as he seized Dick's hand and pumped it up and down.  "So
'm I."

"Hooray!" shouted the crowd; and, seeing how the mood of all was
changed, the squire refrained from speaking till the cheering was dying
out, when, making signs to the men to hear him, he was about to utter a
few words of a peacemaking character, but there was another burst of
cheering, which was taken up again and again, the men waving their caps
and flourishing their cudgels, and pressing nearer to the house.

For the moment Dick was puzzled, but he realised what it all meant
directly, for, looking in the same direction as the men, it was to see
that the young engineer had disregarded the doctor's orders, and was
standing at the open window, with his face very pale and his arm in a

He waved his uninjured arm to command silence, and this being obtained,
his voice rang out firm and clear.

"My lads," he cried, "I know why you've come, and I thank you; but these
people here are my very good friends, and as for the squire's son and
the wheelwright there, they saved my life last night."

"Hooray!" roared the leader of the gang frantically; and as his
companions cheered, he caught hold of Hickathrift's hand, and shook it
as earnestly as if they were sworn brothers.

"As to my wound," continued the engineer, "I believe it was an accident;
so now I ask you to go back home quietly, and good-night!"

"Well said, sir; good-night to you!" roared the leader as the window was
closed.  "Good-night to everybody!  Come on, lads!  Good-night, young
un!  We're good mates, eh?"

"Yes," said Dick, shortly.

"Then shake hands again.  We don't bear no malice, do us?  See, lads.
We're mates.  I wean't laugh at you.  You're a good un, that's what you
are, and you'll grow into a man."

The great fellow gave Dick's hand another shake that was very vigorous,
but by no means pleasant; and then, after three roaring cheers, the
whole party went off, striking up a chorus that went rolling over the
fen and kept on dying out and rising again as the great sturdy fellows
tramped away.

"I'm not an inhospitable man, doctor," said the squire, as the former
shook hands to go, after giving orders for his patient to be kept quiet,
and assuring the squire that the young fellow would be none the worse
for the adventures of the night--"I'm not an inhospitable man, but one
has to think twice before asking a hundred such to have a mug of ale.  I
should have liked to do it, and it was on my lips, but the barrel would
have said no, I'm sure.  Good-night!"

"Now, sir," said the squire as soon as he was alone with his son, "what
have you got to say for yourself?"

"Say, father!" replied Dick, staring.

"Yes, sir.  Don't you think you did about as mad and absurd a thing as
the man who put his head into the lion's jaws?"

"I--I didn't know, father," replied Dick, who, after the exultation
caused by the cheering, felt quite crestfallen.

"No, of course you did not, but it was a very reckless thing to do,
and--er--don't--well, I hope you will never have cause to do it again."

Dick went away, feeling as if his comb had been cut, and of course he
did not hear his father's words that night when he went to bed.

"Really, mother, I don't know whether I felt proud of the boy or vexed
when he faced that great human ox."

"I do," said Mrs Winthorpe smiling, but with the tears in her

"Yes, I think I did," said the squire.  "Good-night!"

"Don't you think some one ought to sit up with Mr Marston?"

"No: he is sleeping like a top; and after our bad time with him
yesternight, I mean to have some sleep."

Five minutes after, the squire's nose proclaimed that it was the hour of
rest, and Dick heard it as he stole from his bed-room, to see how the
wounded man was; and this act he repeated at about hourly intervals all
through the night, for he could not sleep soundly, his mind was so busy
with trouble about the injury to their visitor's arm, and the wonder
which kept working in his brain.  Who was it fired that shot?

The doctor was right; the wounded man's arm soon began to mend; but
naturally there was a period when he was unable to attend to his duties,
and that period was a pleasant one for Dick Winthorpe, inasmuch as it
was the commencement of a long friendship.

John Marston was for going back to his lodgings near the outfall or
_gowt_ as it was termed; but the squire and Mrs Winthorpe would not
hear of it, and to the boys' great delight, he stayed.

He was an invalid, but the right kind of invalid to make a pleasant
companion, for he loved the open air, and was never happier than when he
was out with the boys and Dave or John Warren, somewhere in the fen.

"It's all gammon to call him ill, and for the doctor to keep coming,"
said Tom Tallington.

"Oh, he is ill!" said Dick; "but you see he's only ill in one arm."

Dick had only to propose a run out, and John Marston immediately seemed
to forget that he was a man, became a boy for the time being, and
entered into the spirit of their pursuits.

One day it was pike-fishing, with Dave to punt them about here and there
among the pools.  At another time ordinary tackle would be rigged up,
and Dave would take them to some dark hole where fish were known to
swarm, and for hours the decoy-man would sit and watch patiently while
the three companions pulled up the various denizens of the mere.

One bright April morning Dave was seen coming out of the mist, looking
gigantic as he stood up in his boat; and his visit was hailed with
delight, for the trio had been wondering how they should pass that day.

"Morning, Dave!" said Marston as the fen-man landed slowly from his
boat, and handed Dick a basket of fresh ducks' eggs.

"Morn', mester!  Tak them up to the missus, Mester Dick.  They be all
noo-laid uns.  Straange thick haar this morn," he continued, wiping the
condensed mist from his eyelashes.  "Re'glar sea-haar."  [sea-fog--mist
from the German Ocean.]

"Take those eggs up to mother, Tom," said Dick imperatively.

"Sha'n't.  I know!  You want to be off without me."

"Hallo, young fellow!" said the squire cheerily.  "What have you got

"Yes, mester, fresh uns for the missus."

"I'm going in, and I'll take them," said the squire, thus disposing of
the difficulty about a messenger.  "There's a canister of powder for
you, Dave, when you want some more."

"Thanky kindly, mester.  I'll come and get it when I'm up at house."

The squire nodded and went on, but turned back to ask when Mr Marston
was going over to the works, and upon hearing that it was in the
afternoon, he said he would accompany him.

"And how's your lame arm, mester?" said Dave as soon as the squire had

"Getting better fast, Dave, my man."

"And with two holes in it, mester?"

"Yes, with two holes in it."

"But are they both getting better?"

"Why, you've been told a dozen times over that they are!" cried Dick.

"Nay, Mester Dick, I know'd as one hole was getting reight, but Mester
Marston here nivver said as both weer.  I'm straange and glad.  Heered
aught yet 'bout him as did it?"

"No, my man, and don't want to."

"Hark at that, Mester Dick!  Why, if any one had shot at me, and hot me
as they did him, I'd have found him out somehow afore now.  Mebbe I
shall find this out mysen."

"Why, you're not trying, Dave."

"Not trying, lad!  Nay, but I am, and I shall find him yet some day.
Look here, boys.  If you want to find out anything like that, you
mustn't go splashing about among the reeds, or tug-slugging through the
bog-holes, or he hears you coming, and goos and hides.  You must sit
down among the bushes, and wait and wait quiet, like a man does when he
wants to get the ducks, and by-and-by him as did it comes along.  Dessay
I shall catch him one of these days, and if I do, and I've got my pole
with me, I'll throost him under water and half-drownd him."

"Never mind about all that, Dave.  What are you going to do to-day?"
cried Dick.

"Me, lad!  Oh, nowt!  I've brote a few eggs for the missus, and I shall
tak' that can o' powder back wi' me, and then set down and go on makkin
soom new coy-nets."

"That's his gammon, Mr Marston," cried Dick.

"Nay, nay, mester, it's solemn truth."

"'Tisn't; it's gammon.  Isn't it, Tom?"

"Every bit of it.  He's come on purpose to ask us to go out with him."

"Nay, nay, nay, lads," said Dave in an ill-used tone.  "I did think o'
asking if Mester Marston here would like to try for some eels up in the
long shallows by Popley Watter, for they be theer as thick as herrin',
bubblin' up and slithering in the mud."

"Let's go, then, Mr Marston.  Eel-spearing," cried Dick.

"But I could not use an eel-spear," said the young engineer, smiling.

"But Tom and I could do the spearing, and you could put the eels in the

"When you caught them," said Marston, laughing.

"Oh, we should be sure to catch some!  Shouldn't we, Dave?"

"Ay, theer's plenty of 'em, mester."

"Let's go, then," cried Dick excitedly; "and if we get a whole lot,
we'll take them over to your men, Mr Marston.  Come on!"

"Nay, but yow weant," said Dave, with a dry chuckle.

"Why not?"

"Mester Hickathrift has got the stong-gad to mend.  One of the tines is
off, and it wants a noo ash pole."

"Here, stop a moment," said Marston, laughingly interrupting a groan of
disgust uttered by the boys; "what, pray, is a stong-gad?"

"Ha--ha--ha!" laughed Tom.  "Don't know what a stong-gad is!"

"Hold your tongue, stupid!" cried Dick indignantly, taking the part of
his father's guest.  "You don't know everything.  What's a dumpy
leveller?  There, you don't know, and Mr Marston does."

"But what is a stong-gad?" said Marston.

"Eel-spear," said Dick.  "How long would it take Hicky to mend it?"

"'Bout two hours--mebbe only one.  I could mak' a new pole while he
forged the tine."

"Come along, then.  Hicky will leave anything to do it for me."

"Nay, he's gone to market," said Dave.

"Yes; I saw him pass our house," said Tom.

"What a shame!" cried Dick.  "Here, I say, what's that basket for in the
punt?" he added eagerly.

"Why, he's got a net, too, and some poles," cried Tom.  "Yah! he meant
to do something."

"Why, of course he did," cried Dick, running down to the boat.  "Now,
then, Dave, what's it to be?"

"Oh, nowt, Mester Dick!  I thought to put a net in, and a pole or two,
and ask if you'd care to go and get a few fish, but Mester Marston's too
fine a gentleman to care for ought o' the sort."

"Oh, no, I'm not!" said Marston.  "I should enjoy it, boys, above all

"There, Dave, now then!  What is it--a drag-net?"

"Nay, Mester Dick, on'y a bit of a new."

"But where are you going?"

"I thowt o' the strip 'tween Long Patch and Bootherboomp's Roostens."

"Here, stop a moment," cried the engineer.  "I've heard that name
before.  Who was Mr Bootherboomp?"

"Hi--hi--hi! hecker--hecker--hecker.  Heigh!"

That does not express the sounds uttered by Dave, for they were more
like an accident in a wooden clock, when the wheels run down and finish
with a jerk which breaks the cogs.  But that was Dave's way of laughing,
and it ended with a horrible distortion of his features.

"I say: don't, Dave.  What an old nut-cracker you are!  You laugh like
the old watchman's rattle in the garret.  Be quiet, Tom!"

"But Mr Bootherboomp!" roared Tom, bursting into a second fit of

"It's butterbump, Mr Marston.  It's what they call those tall brown
birds something like herons.  What do you call them in London?" said

"Oh, bitterns!"

"Yes, that's it.  Come on!"

"Nay," said Dave; "I don't think you gentlemen would care for such poor
sport.  On'y a few fish'."

"You never mind about that!  Jump in, Mr Marston.  Who's going to

"Nay, I'll pole," said Dave.  "If yow mean to go we may as well get
theer i' good time; but I don't think it's worth the trouble."

"Get out!  It's rare good fun, Mr Marston; sometimes we get lots of

"I'm all expectation," said Marston as Dave smiled the tight smile,
which made his mouth look like a healed-up cut; and, taking the pole,
began to send the punt over the clear dark water.  "Shall we find any of
those curious fish my men caught in the river the other day?"

"What curious fish were they?" asked Dick.

"Well, to me they seemed as if so many young eels had grown ashamed of
being so long and thin, and they had been feeding themselves up and
squeezing themselves short, so as to look as like tench as possible."

"Oh, I know what you mean!" cried Tom.  "Eel-pouts! they're just about
half-way between eels and tench."

"Nay, yow wean't catch them here," said Dave oracularly.  "They lives in
muddy watter in rivers.  Our watter here's clean and clear."

It was a bright pleasant journey over the mere, in and out of the lanes
of water to pool after pool, till Dave suddenly halted at a canal-like
spot, where the water ran in between two great beds of tender-growing
reeds, which waved and undulated in the soft breeze.  Here he thrust
down his pole and steadied the punt, while he shook out his light net
with its even meshes, securing one end to a pole and then letting the
leaden sinkers carry it to the bottom before thrusting the punt over to
the other side of the natural canal, to which he made fast the second
end of the net in a similar way, so that the water was sealed with a
light fence of network, whose lower edge was close to the black ooze of
the bottom, held there by the leaden sinkers of the foot line, the top
line being kept to the surface by a series of tightly-bound little
bundles of dry rushes.

"Theer," said Dave as soon as he had done, his proceedings having been
carefully watched; "that un do!"

"Will the fish go into that net?" said Marston.

"Nay, not unless we mak 'em, mester," said Dave, smiling.  "Will they,
Mester Dick?"

"Not they," cried Dick.  "Wait a minute, Mr Marston; you'll see."

Dave took his pole and, leaving the net behind, coasted along by the
shore of the little island formed by the canal or strait, which ran in,
zigzagging about like a vein in a piece of marble; and after about a
quarter of an hour's hard work he forced the punt round to the other
side of the island, and abreast of a similar opening to that which they
had left, in fact the other end of the natural canal or lane, here about
twelve or fourteen feet broad.

"Oh, I see!" said the engineer.  "You mean to go in here, and drive the
fish to the net at the other end."

"That's the way, Mr Marston," said Tom Tallington.  "Wait a bit, and
you'll see such a haul."

"Perhaps of an empty net, Mr Marston," said Dick with a grin.  "Perhaps
there are none here."

"You set astarn, mester," said Dave.  "I'll put her along, and you tak'
one side, Mester Dick; and you t'other, young Tom Tallington."

The boys had already taken up two long light poles that lay in the boat,
and standing up as Dave sent the boat along slowly and making a great
deal of disturbance with his pole, they beat and splashed and stabbed
the water on both sides of the boat, so as to scare any fish which might
happen to be there, and send them flying along the lane toward the net.

This was a comparatively easy task, for the coming of the boat was
sufficient as a rule to startle the timid fish, which in turn scared
those in front, the beating with the poles at either side sending
forward any which might be disposed to slip back.

There was more labour than excitement in the task; but the course along
the lane of water was not entirely uneventful, for a moor-hen was
startled from her nest in a half-liquid patch of bog, above which rose
quite a tuft of coarse herbage; and farther on, just as Dick thrust in
his pole to give it a good wriggle and splash, there was a tremendous
swirl, and a huge pike literally shot out of the water, describing an
arc, and after rising fully four feet from the surface dropped
head-first among the tangled water-weeds and reedy growth, through which
it could be seen to wriggle and force its way farther and farther, the
waving reeds and bubbling water between showing the direction in which
it had gone.

"Hooray, Dave! a forty-pounder!" cried Dick.  "Push the punt in and we
can easily catch him."

"Not you," said Dave stolidly; "he'll get through that faster than we

"But, look, look!  I can see where he is."

"Nay, he'll go all through theer and get deeper and deeper, and it's
more wattery farther on.  He'll go right through theer, and come out the
other side."

"But he was such a big one, Dave--wasn't he, Mr Marston?--quite forty

"Nay, not half, lad," said Dave stolidly, as he thrust the boat on.
"Beat away.  We'll come and set a bait for him some day.  That's the way
to catch him."

Dick uttered an angry ejaculation as he looked back towards where he
could still see the water plants waving; and in his vexation he raised
his pole, and went on with the splashing so vigorously, and, as legal
folks say, with so much _malice prepense_, that he sent the water flying
over Dave as he stood up in the bows of the punt.

Tom chuckled and followed suit, sending another shower over the
puntsman.  Then Dick began again, the amber water flying and sparkling
in the sunshine; but Dave took no notice till the splashing became too
pronounced, when he stopped short, gave his head a shake, and turned
slowly round.

"Want to turn back and give up?" he said slowly.

Dick knew the man too well to continue, and in penitent tones exclaimed:

"No, no, go on, Dave, we won't splash any more."

"Because if there's any more of it--"

"I won't splash any more, Dave," cried Dick, laughing, "It was Tom."

"Oh, what a shame!"

"So you did splash.  Didn't he, Mr Marston?"

"I don't want to hear no more about it, Mester Dick.  I know," growled
Dave.  "I only says, Is it to be fishing or games?"

"Fishing, Dave.  It's all right; go on, Tom; splash away gently."

"Because if--"

"No, no, go on, Dave.  There, we won't send any more over you."

Dave uttered a grunt, and forced the boat along once more, while Marston
sat in the stern an amused spectator of the boys' antics.

Everything now went on orderly enough, till they had proceeded a long
way on, in and out, for a quarter of a mile, when at a word from Dave
the splashing and stabbing of the water grew more vigorous, the punt
being now pretty close to the net, the irregular row of bundles of
rushes showing plainly.

And now Dave executed a fresh evolution, changing the position of the
punt, for instead of its approaching end on, he turned it abreast, so
that it pretty well touched the reedy sides of the canal, and with the
poles now being plied on one side, the boat was made to approach more

"Now, mester, you'd better stand up," said Dave.

"Yes, Mr Marston, stand up," cried Dick.  "Look!"

Marston rose to his feet, and as he looked toward the entrance where the
net was spread there was a wave-like swell upon the surface, which might
have been caused by the movement of the boat or by fish.

There was no doubt about its being caused by fish, for all at once,
close by the row of rush bundles, there was a splash.  Then, as they
approached, another and another.

"They're feeling the net," cried Dick excitedly.

"Ay, keep it oop, lads, or they'll come back," cried Dave, making the
water swirl with his pole, which he worked about vigorously.

Even as he spoke there came another splash, and this time the sun
flashed upon the glittering sides of the fish which darted out and fell
over the other side of the top line of the net.

"There goes one," shouted Tom.

"Ay, and theer goes another," said Dave with a chuckle as he forced the
boat along slowly.

And now, as Marston watched, he saw that the irregular line of rush
bundles which stretched across the mouth of the canal was changing its
shape, and he needed no telling that the regular semicircular form it
assumed was caused by the pressure of a shoal of fish seeking to escape
into the open mere, but of course checked by the fragile wall of net.

"There must be a lot, Tom," cried Dick excitedly.  "Look, Mr Marston!
There goes another.  Oh, Dave, we shall lose them all!"

This was consequent upon another good-sized fish flying out of the
water, falling heavily upon one of the rush floats, and then darting

"Nay, we sha'n't lose 'em all," said Dave coolly.  "Some on 'em's safe
to go.  Now, then, splash away.  Reach over your end, young Tom
Tallington, or some on 'em 'll go round that way."

Tom changed his place a little, to stand now on what had been the front
of their advance, and thrusting in his pole he splashed and beat the
narrow space between him and the dense boggy side, where the sphagnum
came down into the water.

Dick followed suit at the other end, and Dave swept his pole sidewise as
if he were mowing weeds below the surface.

"Oh!" cried Dick, as he overbalanced himself, and nearly went in from
the stern.  He would have gone headlong had not Mr Marston made a
bound, and caught him as he vainly strove to recover his balance.

The effort was well timed, and saved him, but of course the consequences
of jumping about in a boat are well-known.  The punt gave such a lurch
that Dave almost went out, while, as for Tom, he was literally jerked up
as from a spring-board, and, dropping his pole, he seemed to be taking a
voluntary dive, describing a semicircle, and going down head-first, not
into the narrow slit between him and the boggy shore, but right into the
semi-fluid mass of sphagnum, water, and ooze, where he disappeared to
his knees.

Tom's dive sent the boat, as he impelled it with his feet, a couple of
yards away; and for a moment or two those who were in it seemed half
paralysed, till a roar of laughter from Dick, who did not realise the
danger, roused Dave to action.

For the dense mass, while fluid enough to allow Tom to dive in, was not
sufficiently loose to let him rise; and there he stuck, head downwards,
and with his legs kicking furiously.

"Now if we was to leave him," said Dave sententiously, "he wouldn't
never be no more trouble to his father; but I suppose we must pull him

"Pull him out, man?  Quick, use your pole!"

"Ay, I'm going to, mester," said Dave coolly.  "Theer we are," he
continued, as he sent the end of the punt back to where poor Tom's legs
went on performing a series of kicks which were sometimes like those
made by a swimming frog, and at others as if he were trying to walk
upside down along an imaginary flight of aerial stairs.

The time seemed long, but probably it was not half a minute from the
time Tom dived into the bog till the young engineer seized him by the
legs and dragged him into the boat, to sit upon the bottom, gasping,
spitting, and rubbing the ooze from his eyes.  But it was a good two
minutes before he was sufficiently recovered to look round angrily, and
in a highly-pitched quavering voice exclaimed:

"Look here: who was it did that?"

"Nobody," roared Dick.  "Oh, I say, Tom, what a game!  Are your feet

Tom turned upon him savagely, but everyone in the boat was laughing, and
his countenance relaxed, and he rose up and leaned over the side of the
boat to wash his face, which a splash or two relieved from the pieces of
bog and dead vegetation which adhered.

"I don't mind," he said.  "Only you wouldn't have found it a game if
you'd been there."

"Let's get back quickly," said Mr Marston, "or the boy will catch

"Oh, it won't hurt me!" cried Tom.  "Let's catch the fish first.  They
never get cold."

"Yes: let's haul the net out first," said Dick.  "Tom won't mind a

"Ay, we're going to hev out the net," said Dave.  "Splash away, my lad.
That'll keep away the cold."

Poor Tom's feet had not been wet, but as he stood up with the water
trickling from him, a couple of streams soon made their way down the
legs of his trousers into his boots.  This was, however, soon forgotten
in the excitement of the hauling.

For, after a fresh amount of splashing, though Dave declared the fish
had all come back, the punt was run pretty close up to one side, the
lines and pole taken on board, and the punt thrust toward the other

Before they reached it the bobbing of the rush floats and the
semicircular shape of the top line showed plainly enough that there were
a good many fish there; and when Dave had secured the lines at the other
end, removed the poles, and by ingenious manipulation drawn on the
bottom line so as to raise the cord, it was not long before the net
began to assume the shape of a huge bag, and one that was pretty heavy.

Every now and then a swirl in the water and a splash showed where some
large fish was trying to escape, while sometimes one did leap out and
get away.  Then the surface would be necked with silvery arrows as
swarms of small-fry appeared flashing into sight and disappearing, these
little bits of excitement growing less frequent as the small fish found
their way over the top of the net, or discovered that the meshes were
wide enough to allow them to pass through.

"How is it, Dave, that all the little fish like to keep to the top of
the water, and the big ones out of sight down at the bottom?" said Dick.

Dave chuckled, or rather made a noise something like a bray.

"S'pose you was a fish, young mester, wouldn't you, if you was a little
one, keep nigh the top if you found going down to the bottom among the
big uns meant being swallowed up?"

"Oh, of course!" cried Dick.  "I forgot that they eat one another.
Look, Mr Marston, that was a pike."

He pointed excitedly to a large fish which rose to the surface, just
showing its dark olive-green back as it curved over and disappeared
again, making the water eddy.

"They do not seem to have all gone, Dave," said Mr Marston.

"Nay, theer's a few on 'em left, mester," replied Dave.  "Now, my lads,
all together.  That's the way."

The lines were drawn, and the weight of the great bag of meshes proved
that after all a good fair haul had been made, the net being drawn close
to the boat and the bag seeming to shrink in size till there was a mass
of struggling, splashing fish alongside, apparently enough to far more
than fill a bushel basket.

"What are you going to do?" asked Mr Marston, who was as excited now as
the boys, while Dave worked away stolidly, as if it was all one of the
most commonplace matters for him.

"Haul the net into the boat," cried Tom.

"Nay, my net would break," said Dave.  "There's a lot of owd rushes and
roots, and rotten weeds in it."

"I don't believe there are, Dave," said Dick.  "It's all solid fish."

"Nay, lad, but net'll break.  Let's hev out some of the big uns first."

"Look! there's a fine one," cried Dick, making a dash at a large fish
which rose out of the writhing mass, but it glided through his hands.

"Howd hard!" said Dave.  "You lads go th'other side o' the punt or we
shall capsize.  Let me and the London gentleman get them in."

"Oh!" groaned Tom.

"No, I've only one hand to work with," said Marston, who saw the
reasonableness of the old fen-man's remark, for the side of the boat had
gone down very low once or twice, and the effect of dragging a portion
of the laden net on board might have been sufficient to admit the water.
"I'll give way, and act as ballast."

"No, no!" cried Dick.  "You help, Mr Marston."

But the young engineer remained steadfast to his proposal, and seated
himself on the other side.

"Better let me lade out a few o' the big uns, Mester Dick," said Dave,
"while you lads hold on."

The boys hardly approved of the proposal, but they gave way; and each
taking a good grip of the wet net, they separated toward the head and
stern, while Dave stayed in the middle, and taking off his jacket,
rolled up his sleeves close to the shoulder, and then plunging his arms
in among the swarm of fish he brought out a good-sized pike of six or
seven pounds.

This was thrown into the basket, to flap furiously and nearly leap out,
renewing its efforts as another of its kind was thrown in to keep it

"Is there a very big one, Dave?" cried Dick.

"Nay; nought very big," was the reply.  "Draw her up, my lads.  That's

As Dave spoke he kept on plunging his hands into the splashing and
struggling mass of fish, and sometimes brought out one, sometimes
missed.  But he kept on vigorously till, feeling satisfied that the net
would bear the rest, he drew the loaded line well over into the boat,
and, giving the boys a hint to tighten the line, he plunged in his arms
once more, got well hold, and the next minute, by a dexterous lift,
raised the bag, so that its contents came pouring over the edge of the
punt in a silvery, glittering cataract of fish, leaping, gliding, and
flapping all over the bottom about his feet.

Then a few fish, which were hanging by their gills, their heads being
thrust through the meshes, were shaken out, the net bundled up together
and thrown into the fore part of the boat, and the little party came
together to gloat over their capture.

"Theer, lads," said Dave, coolly resuming his jacket, "you can pitch 'em
all into the baskets, all the sizable ones, and put all the little ones
back into the watter.  I'll throost the punt back, so as young Tom
Tallington can get some dry clothes."

These latter were the last things in Tom's mind, for just then, as Dave
resumed the pole, and began sending the boat quickly through the water,
the boy was trying to grasp an eel, which had found the meshes one size
too small for his well-fed body, and was now in regular serpentine
fashion trying to discover a retreat into which he could plunge, and so
escape the inevitable frying-pan or pot.

Irrespective of the fact that a large eel can bite sharply, it is, as
everyone knows, one of the most awkward things to hold, for the moment a
good grip of its slimy body is made, the result seems to be that it
helps the elongated fish to go forward or slip back.  And this Tom found
as he grasped the eel again and again, only for it to make a few
muscular contortions and escape.

Then Dick tried, with no better effect, the pursuit lasting till the
active fish made its way in among the meshes of the net, when its
capture became easy, and it was swept into the great basket, to set the
pike flapping and leaping once more.

Then the sorting commenced, all the small fish being thrown back to
increase in size, while the rest of the slimy captives went into the

There was no larger pike than the one first taken out of the net by
Dave, but plenty of small ones, all extremely dark in colour, as if
affected by living in the amber-tinted water, and nearly all these were
thrown back, in company with dozens of silvery roach and orange-finned,
brightly gilded rudd, all thicker and broader than their relatives the

Many scores of fish were thrown overboard, some to turn up and float for
a few minutes before they recovered their breath, as Tom called it, but
for the most part they dived down at once, uninjured by what they had
gone through, while their largeness fortunate friends were tossed into
the basket--gilded side-striped perch, with now and then a fat-looking,
small-eyed, small-scaled tench, brightly brazen at the sides, and
looking as if cast in a soft kind of bronze.  Then there were a couple
of large-scaled brilliantly golden carp; but the majority of the fish
were good-sized, broad, dingy-looking bream, whose slimy emanations made
the bottom of the punt literally ask for a cleansing when the basket was
nearly filled.

By that time the party were well on their way to the Toft, and as they
neared the shore, it was to find the squire waiting to speak to the
engineer, while John Warren was close behind with his dog, ready to join
Dave, in whose company he went off after the latter had been up to the
house and had a good feast of bread and cheese and ale.

That evening the squire and Mr Marston went over to the works to see
how matters were progressing, to find all satisfactory, and the night
passed quietly enough; but at breakfast the next morning, when some of
the best of the tench appeared fried in butter, a messenger came over to
see the engineer on his way to the town for the doctor, to announce that
Hez Bargle, the big delver, who had been leader of the party who came
over so fiercely about the attack upon Mr Marston, had been found that
morning lying in the rough hovel where he slept alone, nearly dead.

The man was sharply examined by the engineer, a fresh messenger in the
shape of Hickathrift being found to carry on the demand for the doctor.
But there was very little to learn.  Bargle had not come up to his work,
and the foreman of the next gang went to see why his fellow-ganger had
not joined him, and found him lying on the floor of the peat-built hut
quite insensible, with the marks of savage blows about the head, as if
he had been suddenly attacked and beaten with a club, for there was no
sign of any struggle.

Mr Marston went over at once with the squire, Dick obtaining permission
to accompany them; and upon their arrival it was to find all the work at
a stand-still, the men being grouped about with their sleeves rolled-up,
and smoking, and staring silently at the rough peat hovel where their
fellow-worker lay.

The engineer entered the shelter--it did not deserve the title of
cottage--and the squire and Dick followed, to find the man nearly
insensible, and quite unable to give any account of how the affair had

The men were questioned, but knew nothing beyond the fact that they had
parted from him as usual to go to their own quarters, Bargle being the
only one who lodged alone.  There had been no quarrel as far as Mr
Marston could make out, everyone he spoke to declaring that the work had
gone on the previous day in the smoothest way possible; and at last
there seemed to be nothing to do but wait until the great, rough fellow
could give an account of the case for himself.

The doctor came at last, and formed his opinion.

"He is such a great, strong fellow that unless he was attacked by two or
three together, I should say someone came upon him as he lay asleep and
stunned him with a blow on the head."

"The result of some quarrel or offence given to one of the men under
him, I'm afraid," said the engineer with a look of intense vexation in
his eyes.  "These men are very brutal sometimes to their fellows,
especially when they are placed in authority.  Will he be long before he
is better?"

"No," replied the doctor.  "The blows would have killed an ordinary man,
but he has a skull like an ox.  He'll be at work again in a fortnight if
he'll behave sensibly, and carry out my instructions."

A couple of days later Bargle was sitting up smoking, when the engineer
entered the reed-thatched hut, in company with Dick.

"Hallo, youngster!" growled the great fellow, with a smile slowly
spreading over his rugged face, and growing into a grin, which accorded
ill with his bandaged head; "shak' hands!"

Dick obeyed heartily enough, the great fellow retaining the lad's hand
in his, and slowly pumping it up and down.

"We're mates, that's what we two are," he growled.  "You ar'n't half a
bad un, you ar'n't.  Ah, mester, how are you?  Arm better?"

"Mending fast, my lad; and how are you?"

"Tidy, mester, tidy!  Going to handle a spade again to-morrow."

"Nonsense, man! you're too weak yet."

"Weak!  Who says so?  I don't, and the doctor had better not."

"Never mind that.  I want you to tell me how all this happened."

"He ar'n't half a bad un, mester," said the injured man, ignoring the
remark, as he held on to the boy's hand.  "We're mates, that's what we
are.  See him stand up again me that day?  It were fine."

"Yes; but you must tell me how this occurred.  I want to take some steps
about it."

"Hey! and you needn't take no steps again it, mester.  I shall lay hold
on him some day, and when I do--Hah!"

He stretched out a huge fist in a menacing way that promised ill to his

"But do you know who it was?" said the engineer.

"It warn't him," growled Bargle, smiling at Dick.  "He wouldn't come and
hit a man when he's asleep.  Would you, mate?"

"I wouldn't be such a coward," cried Dick.

"Theer!  Hear that, mester!  I knowed he wouldn't.  He'd hev come up to
me and hit me a doubler right in the chest fair and square, and said,
`now, then, come on!'"

"Then someone did strike you when you were asleep, Bargle, eh?"

"Dunno, mester; I s'pose so.  Looks like it, don't it?"

"Yes, my man, very much so.  Then you were woke out of your sleep by a
blow, eh?"

"Weer I?  I don't know."

"Tell me who have you had a quarrel with lately?"


"Well, row, then."

"Wi' him," said the big fellow, pointing at Dick.

"Oh, but he would not have come to you in the night!"

"Who said he would, mester?" growled Bargle menacingly.  "Not he.  He'd
come up square and give a man a doubler in the chest and--"

"Yes, yes," said the engineer impatiently; "but I want to know who it
was made this attack upon you--this cowardly attack.  You say it was
while you slept."

"Yes, I s'pose so; but don't you trouble about that, mester.  I'm big
enough to fight my bit.  I shall drop on to him one of these days, and
when I do--why, he'll find it okkard."

Mr Marston questioned and cross-questioned the man, but there was no
more to be got from him.  He s'posed some un come in at that theer door
and give it him; but he was so much taken up with Dick's visit that he
could hardly think of self, and when they came away Mr Marston had
learned comparatively nothing, the big fellow shouting after Dick:

"I've got a tush for you, lad, when I get down to the dreern again--one
I digged out, and you shall hev it."

Dick said, "Thank you," for the promised "tush," and walked away.

"I don't like it," said Mr Marston.  "Someone shooting at me; someone
striking down this man.  I'm afraid it's due to ill-will towards me,
Dick.  But," he added, laughing, "I will not suspect you, as Bargle lets
you off."



The time glided on.  Bargle grew better; Mr Marston's wound healed; and
these troubles were forgotten in the busy season which the fine weather
brought.  For the great drain progressed rapidly in the bright spring
and early summer-time.  There were stoppages when heavy rains fell; but
on the whole nature seemed to be of opinion that the fen had lain
uncultivated for long enough, and that it was time there was a change.

The old people scattered here and there about the edge shook their
heads, especially when they came over to Hickathrift's, and said it
would all be swept away one of these fine nights--_it_ being the new
river stretching week by week farther into the morass; but the flood did
not seem to have that effect when it did come.  On the contrary, short
as was the distance which the great drain had penetrated, its effect was
wonderful, for it carried off water in a few days which would otherwise
have stayed for weeks.

Dick said it was a good job that Mr Marston had been shot.

Asked why by his crony Tom, he replied that it had made them such good
friends, and it was nice to have a chap who knew such a lot over at the

For the intimacy had grown; and whenever work was done, reports written
out and sent off, and no duties raised their little reproving heads to
say, "You are neglecting us!" the engineer made his way to the Toft,
ready to join the two boys on some expedition--egg-collecting, fishing,
fowling, or hunting for some of the botanical treasures of the bog.

"I wish he wouldn't be so fond of moss and weeds!" said Tom.  "It seems
so stupid to make a collection of things like that, and to dry them.
Why, you could go to one of our haystacks any day and pull out a better
lot than he has got."

Dick said nothing, for he thought those summer evenings delightful.  He
and Tom, too, had been ready enough to laugh at their new friend
whenever he displayed ignorance of some term common to the district; but
now this laughter was lost in admiration as they found how he could
point out objects in their various excursions which they had never seen
before, book-lore having prepared him to find treasures in the
neighbourhood of the Toft of whose existence its occupants knew naught.

"Don't you find it very dull out there, Mr Marston," said Mrs
Winthorpe one day, "always watching your men cut--cut--cut--through that
wet black bog?"

"Dull, madam!" he said, smiling; "why, it is one continual time of
excitement.  I watch every spadeful that is taken out, expecting to come
upon some relic of the past, historical or natural.  By the way, Dick,
did that man Bargle ever give you the big tusk he said he had found?"

"No, he has never said any more about it, and I don't like to ask."

"Then I will.  Perhaps it is the tooth of some strange beast which used
to roam these parts hundreds of years ago."

"I say, Marston," said the squire, "you'd like to see your great band of
ruffians at work excavating here, eh?"

"Mr Winthorpe," said the young man, "I'd give anything to be allowed to
search the ruins."

"Yes, and turn my place upside down, and disturb the home of the poor
old monks who used to live here!  No, no; I'm not going to have my place
ragged to pieces.  But when we do dig down, we come upon some curious
old stones."

"Like your tobacco-jar?" the engineer said, pointing to the old carven

The squire nodded.

"You've got plenty of digging to do, my lad," he said, laughing.
"Finish that, and then perhaps I may let you have a turn my way.  Who's
going over to see John Warren?"

"Ah, I wish you would go," said Mrs Winthorpe, "and take the poor
fellow over some things I have ready, in a basket!"

"I'll go," said Dick.  "Hicky will take us in his punt.  There'll be
plenty of time, and it's moonlight at nine."

"I'll go with you, Dick," said Marston.  "What's the matter with the

"Our own particular complaint, which the people don't want you to kill,
my lad," said the squire.  "Marsh fever--ague.  Years to come when it's
swept away by the drainage, the people will talk of it as one of the
good things destroyed by our work.  They are rare ones to grumble, and
stick to their old notions."

"But the people seem to be getting used to us now."

"Oh yes! we shall live it down."

Dick sat and listened, but said nothing.  Still he could not help
recalling how one old labourer's wife had shaken her head and spit upon
the ground as his father went by, and wondered in his mind whether this
was some form of curse.

"Tak' you over to the Warren, my lad?" said Hickathrift, as they reached
the wheelwright's shed, where the big fellow was just taking down a hoe
to go gardening.

"Why, of course I will.  Straange niced evening, Mr Marston!  Come
along.  I'll put on my coat though, for the mist'll be thick to-night."

Hickathrift took his coat from behind the door, led the way to the place
where his punt was floating, fastened to an old willow-stump; and as
soon as his visitors were aboard he began to unfasten the rope.

"Like to tak' a goon, sir, or a fishing-pole?"

"No: I think we'll be content with what we can see to-night."

Hickathrift nodded, and Dick thought the engineer very stupid, for a gun
had a peculiar fascination for him; but he said nothing, only seated
himself, and trailed his hand in the dark water as the lusty wheelwright
sent the punt surging along.

"Why, Hickathrift," cried Mr Marston, "I thought our friend Dave a
wonder at managing a punt; but you beat him.  What muscles you have!"

"Muscles, mester?  Ay, they be tidy; but I'm nowt to Dave.  I can shove
stronger, but he'd ding [beat] me at it.  He's cunning like.  Always at
it, you see.  Straange and badly though."

"What, Dave is?" cried Dick.

"Ay, lad; he's got the shakes, same as John Warren.  They two lay out
together one night after a couple o' wild swans they seen, and it give
'em both ager."

It was a glorious evening, without a breath of air stirring, and the
broad mere glistened and glowed with the wonderful reflection from the
sky.  The great patches of reeds waved, and every now and then the weird
cry of the moor-hen came over the water.  Here and there perfect clouds
of gnats were dancing with their peculiar flight; swallows were still
busy darting about, and now and then a leather-winged bat fluttered over
them seeking its insect food.

"What a lovely place this looks in a summer evening!" said Mr Marston

"Ay, mester, and I suppose you are going to spoil it all with your big
drain," said the wheelwright, and he ceased poling for a few moments, as
the punt entered a natural canal through a reed-bed.

"Spoil it, my man!  No.  Only change its aspect.  It will be as
beautiful in its way when corn is growing upon it, and far more useful."

"Ay, bud that's what our people don't think.  Look, Mester Dick!"

Dick was already looking at a shoal of fish ahead flying out of the
water, falling back, and rising again, somewhat after the fashion of
flying-fish in the Red Sea.

"Know what that means?" said the wheelwright.

"Perch," said Dick, shortly.  "A big chap too, and he has got one," he
added excitedly, as a large fish rose, made a tremendous splash, and
then seemed to be working its way among the bending reeds.  "Might have
got him perhaps if we had had a line."

Mr Marston made no reply, for he was watching the slow heavy flap-flap
of a heron as it rose from before them with something indistinctly seen
in its beak.

"What has it got?" he said.

Dick turned sharply, and made out that there seemed to be a round knob
about the great bird's bill, giving it the appearance of having thrust
it through a turnip or a ball.

"Why, it's an eel," he cried, "twisting itself into a knot.  Yes: look!"

The evening light gleamed upon the glistening skin of the fish, as it
suddenly untwisted itself, and writhed into another form.  Then the
heron changed its direction, and nothing but the great, grey beating
pinions of the bird were visible, the long legs outstretched like a
tail, the bent back neck, and projecting beak being merged in the body
as it flew straight away.

Hickathrift worked hard at the pole, and soon after rounding one great
bed of reeds they came in sight of the rough gravelly patch with a
somewhat rounded outline, which formed the Warren, and upon which was
the hut inhabited by John o' the Warren, out of whose name "o'-the" was
generally dropped.

The moment they came in sight there was a loud burst of barking, and
Snig, John Warren's little rabbit-dog, came tearing down to the shore,
with the effect of rendering visible scores of rabbits, until then
unseen; for the dog's barking sent them scurrying off to their holes,
each displaying its clear, white, downy tuft of a tail, which showed
clearly in the evening light.

The dog's bark was at first an angry challenge, but as he came nearer
his tone changed to a whine of welcome; and as soon as he reached the
water's edge he began to perform a series of the most absurd antics,
springing round, dancing upon his hind-legs, and leaping up at each in
turn, as the visitors to the sandy island landed, and began to walk up
to the sick man's hut.

There were no rabbits visible now, but the ground was honey-combed with
their holes, many of which were quite close to the home of their tyrant
master, who lived as a sort of king among them, and slew as many as he
thought fit.

John Warren's home was not an attractive one, being merely a hut built
up of bricks of peat cut from the fen, furnished with a small window, a
narrow door, and thickly thatched with reeds.

He heard them coming, and, as they approached, came and stood at the
door, looking yellow, hollow of cheek, and shivering visibly.

"Here, John Warren, we've brought you a basket!" cried Dick.  "How are
you?  I say, don't you want the doctor?"

"Yah! what should I do with a doctor?" growled the man, scowling at all
in turn.

"To do you good," said Dick, laughing good-humouredly.

"He couldn't tell me nothing I dunno.  I've got the ager."

"Well, aren't you going to ask us in?"

"Nay, lad.  What do you want?"

"That basket," said Dick briskly.  "Here, how is Dave?"

"Badly!  Got the ager!"

"But is he no better?"

"Don't I tell you he's got the ager!" growled the man; and without more
ado he took the basket from the extended hand, opened the lid, and
turned it upside down, so that its contents rolled upon the sand, and
displayed the kind-heartedness of Mrs Winthorpe.

Dick glanced at Marston and laughed.

"Theer's your basket," growled John Warren.  "Want any rabbuds?"

"No; they're out of season, John!" cried Dick.  "You don't want us here,

"Nay; what should I want you here for?" growled the man.  "Can't you see
I've got the ager?"

"Yes, I see!" cried Dick; "but you needn't be so precious cross.

John Warren stared at Dick, and then at his two companions, and, turning
upon his heel, walked back into the hut, while Snig, his dog, seated
himself beside the contents of the basket, and kept a self-constituted
guard over them, from which he could not be coaxed.

"Might have showed us something about the Warren," said Dick in an
ill-used tone; "but never mind, there isn't much to see."

He turned to go back to the boat.

"I say, Hicky," he said; "let's go and see Dave.  You won't mind

"He says I won't mind poling, Mester Marston," said Hickathrift with a
chuckle.  "Here, come along."

John Warren had disappeared into the cottage, but as they walked away
some of the rabbits came to the mouths of their holes and watched their
departure, while Snig, who could not leave his master's property,
uttered a valedictory bark from time to time.

"I say, Mr Marston," cried Dick, pausing, "isn't he a little beauty, to
have such a master!  Look at him watching that food, and not touching
it.  Wait a minute!"

Dick ran back to the dog and stooped down to open a cloth, when the
faithful guard began to snarl at him and show his teeth.

"Why, you ungrateful beggar!" cried Dick; "I was going to give you a bit
of the chicken.  Lie down, sir!"

But Snig would not lie down.  He only barked the more furiously.

"Do you want me to kick you?" cried Dick.

Snig evidently did, for not only did he bark, but he began to make
charges at the visitor's legs so fiercely that Dick deemed it prudent to
stand still for a few moments.

"Now, then," he said, as the dog seemed to grow more calm; "just see if
you can't understand plain English!"

The dog looked up at him and uttered a low whine, accompanying it by a
wag of the tail.

"That's better!" cried Dick.  "I'm going to pull you off a leg of that
chicken for yourself.  Do you understand?"

Snig gave a short, friendly bark.

"Ah, now you're a sensible dog," said Dick, stooping down to pick up the
cloth in which the chicken was wrapped; but Snig made such a furious
onslaught upon him that the boy started back, half in alarm, half in
anger, and turned away.

"Won't he let you touch it, Mester Dick?" chuckled Hickathrift.

"No; and he may go without," said Dick.  "Come along!"

They returned to the boat, Snig giving them a friendly bark or two as
they got on board; and directly after, with lusty thrusts, the
wheelwright sent the punt along in the direction of Dave's home.

The evening was still beautiful, but here and there little patches of
mist hung over the water, and the rich glow in the west was fast fading

"I say, Mr Marston," said Dick, "you'll stay at our place to-night?"

"No; I must go home, thank you," was the reply.

"But it will be so late!"

"Can't help that, Dick.  I want to be out early with the men.  They came
upon a great tree trunk this afternoon, and I want to examine it when it
is dug out.  Is that Decoy Dave's place?"

"That's it, and there's Chip!" cried Dick, as the boat neared the shore.
"You see how different he'll be!"

Dick was right in calling attention to the dog's welcome, for Chip's
bark was one of delight from the very first, and dashing down to the
water, he rushed in and began swimming rapidly to meet them.

"Why, Chip, old doggie!" cried Dick, as, snorting and panting with the
water he splashed into his nostrils, the dog came aside, and after being
lifted into the boat gave himself a shake, and then thrust his nose into
every hand in turn.  "This is something like a dog, Mr Marston!"
continued Dick.

"Yes; but he would behave just the same as the other," said the

"Here's Dave," said Dick.  "Hoy, Dave!"

The decoy-man came slowly down toward the shore to meet them, and waved
his hand in answer to Dick's call.

"Oh, I am sorry!" cried the latter.  "I wish I'd brought him something
too.  I daresay he's as bad as John Warren."

Dave's appearance proved the truth of Dick's assertion.  The decoy-man
never looked healthy, but now he seemed ghastly of aspect and
exceedingly weak, as he leaned upon the tall staff he held in his hand.

"We've come to see how you are, Dave," cried Dick as the boat bumped up
against the boggy edge of the landing-place.

"That's kindly, Mester Dick.  Servant, mester.  How do, neighbour?"

Dave's head went up and down as if he had a hinge at the back; and as
the party landed, he too shivered and looked exceedingly feverish and

"Why, Dave, my man, you ought to see a doctor!" said Mr Marston,

"Nay, sir, no good to do ought but bear it.  Soon be gone.  Only a
shivering fit."

"Well, I'm trying to doctor you," said the engineer, laughing.  "Once we
get the fen drained, ague will begin to die out."

"Think so, mester?"

"I am sure so."

"Hear that, neighbour?" said Dave, looking at Hickathrift.  "Think o'
the fen wi'out the shakes."

"We can't stop, Dave," cried Dick; "because we've got to get home, for
Mr Marston to walk over to the sea-bank to-night; but I'll come over
and see you to-morrow and bring you something.  What would you like?"

"What you heven't got, Mester Dick," said the fen-man, showing his
yellow teeth.  "Bit of opium or a drop o' lodolum.  Nay, I don't want
you to send me owt.  Neighbour Hick'thrift here'll get me some when he
goes over to market."

Hickathrift nodded, and after a little more conversation the party
returned toward the boat.

"Straange and thick to-night, Mester Dick," said Dave.  "Be thicker
soon.  Yow couldn't pole the boat across wi'out losing your way."

"Couldn't I?" cried Dick.  "Oh, yes, I could!  Good-night!  I want you
to show Mr Marston some sport with the ducks some day."

"Ay; you bring him over, Mester Dick, and we'll hev' a good turn at the
'coy.  Good-night!"

They pushed off, and before they were fifty yards from the shore the
boat seemed to enter a bank of mist, so thick that the wheelwright, as
he poled, was almost invisible from where Mr Marston and Dick were

"I say, Hicky, turn back and let's go along the edge of the fog," cried

"Nay, it's driftin' ower us," replied the wheelwright.  "Best keep on
and go reight through."

"Go on, then," cried Dick.  "Feel how cold and damp it is."

"Feel it, Dick?  Yes; and right in my wounded arm."

"Does it hurt much?"

"No; only aches.  Why, how dense it is!"

"Can you find your way?"

"Dunno, mester.  Best keep straight on, I think.  Dessay it'll soon pass

But it did not soon pass over; and as the wheelwright pushed on it
seemed to be into a denser mist than ever.

For a long time they were going over perfectly clear water; but soon the
rustling of reeds against the prow of the boat told that they must be
going wrong, and Hickathrift bore off to the right till the reeds warned
him to bear to the left.  And so it went on, with the night falling, and
the thick mist seeming to shut them in, and so confusing him that at
last the wheelwright said:

"Best wait a bit, Mester Dick.  I dunno which way I'm going, and it's
like being blind."

"Here, let me have the pole!" cried Dick.  And going to the front of the
boat, the wheelwright good-humouredly gave way for him, with the result
that the lad vigorously propelled the craft for the space of about ten
minutes, ending by driving it right into a reed-bed and stopping short.

"Oh, I say, here's a muddle!" he cried.  "You can't see where you are
going in the least."

"Shall I try?" said Mr Marston.

"Yes, do, please," cried Dick, eager to get out of his difficulty.
"Take the pole."

"No, thank you," was the laughing reply.  "I cannot handle a pole, and
as to finding my way through this fog I could as soon fly."


A heavy dull report of a gun from close by, and Hickathrift started
aside and nearly went overboard, but recovered himself, and sat down

"Here! hi!  Mind where you're shooting!" cried Dick.  "Who's that?"

He stared in the direction from which the sound had come, but nothing
but mist was visible, and no answer came.

"Do you hear?  Who's that?" shouted Dick with both his hands to his

No answer came, and Hickathrift now shouted.

Still no reply.  His great sonorous voice seemed to return upon him, as
if he were enveloped in a tremendous tent of wet flannel; and though he
shouted again and again it was without result.

"Why, what's the matter with your hand, man?" cried Mr Marston, as the
wheelwright took his cotton kerchief from his neck, and began to bind it
round his bleeding palm.

"Nowt much, sir," said the man smiling.

"Why, Hickathrift, were you hit?"

"S'pose I weer, sir.  Something came with a whuzz and knocked my hand

"Oh!" ejaculated Dick; while Mr Marston sat with his heart beating,
since in spite of his efforts to be cool he could not help recalling the
evening when he was shot, and he glanced round, expecting to see a flash
and hear another report.

Dick seized the pole which he had laid down, and, thrusting it down,
forced the punt back from the reeds, and then, as soon as they were in
open water, began to toil as hard as he could for a few minutes till the
wheelwright relieved him.  Declaring his injury to be a trifle, he in
turn worked hard with the pole till, after running into the reeds
several times, and more than once striking against patches of bog and
rush, they must have got at least a mile from where the shot was fired,
by accident or purposely, when the great fellow sat down very suddenly
in the bottom of the boat.

As he seated himself he laid the pole across, and then without warning
fell back fainting dead away.

A few minutes, however, only elapsed before he sat up again and looked

"Bit sick," he said.  "That's all.  Heven't felt like that since one o'
squire's horses kicked me and broke my ribs.  Better now."

"My poor fellow, your hand must be badly hurt!" said Mr Marston; while
Dick looked wildly on, scared by what was taking place.

"Nay, it's nowt much, mester," said the great fellow rather huskily,
"and we'd best wait till the mist goes.  It's no use to pole.  We may be
going farther away, like as not."

Dick said nothing, but stood listening, fancying he heard the splash of
a pole in water; but there was no sound save the throbbing of his own
heart to break the silence, and he quite started as Mr Marston spoke.

"How long is this mist likely to last?"

"Mebbe an hour, mebbe a week," was the unsatisfactory reply.  "Bud when
the moon rises theer may come a breeze, and then it'll go directly."

Hickathrift rested his chin upon his uninjured hand, and Dick sat down
in silence, for by one consent, and influenced by the feeling that some
stealthy foe might be near at hand keen-eyed enough to see them through
the fog, or at all events cunning enough to trace them by sound, they
sat and waited for the rising of the moon.

The time seemed to be drawn out to a terrible extent before there was a
perceptible lightening on their left; and as soon as he saw that, though
the mist was as thick as ever, Hickathrift rose and began to work with
the pole, for he knew his bearings now by the position of the rising
moon, and working away, in half an hour the little party emerged from
the mist as suddenly as they had dived in, but they were far wide of
their destination, and quite another hour elapsed before they reached
the old willow-stump, where the wheelwright made fast his boat, and
assuring his companions that there was nothing much wrong he went to his
cottage, while Mr Marston gladly accompanied Dick to the Toft, feeling
after the shock they had had that even if it had not been so late, a
walk down to the sea-beach that night would neither be pleasant nor one
to undertake.

Dick was boiling over with impatience, and told his father the news the
moment they entered the room where supper was waiting.

"A shot from close by!" cried the squire, excitedly.

"Yes, Mr Winthorpe," said the engineer; "and I'm afraid, greatly
afraid, it was meant for me."



"Nay, lads, I don't say as it weer the will-o'-the-wisps, only as it
might have been."

"Now, Hicky," cried Dick, "who ever heard of a will-o'-the-wisp with a

"Can't say as ever I did," said the wheelwright; "but I don't see why

"What stuff!  Do you hear what he says, Tom?  He says it may have been
one of the will-o'-the-wisps that shot and broke his finger."

"A will-o'-the-wisp with a gun!" cried Tom.  "Ha! ha! ha!"

"Why shouldn't a will hev a goon as well as a lanthorn?" said
Hickathrift, stolidly.

"Why, where would he get his powder and shot?" said Dick.

"Same place as he gets his candle for his lanthorn."

"Oh, but what nonsense!  The will-o'-the-wisp is a light that moves
about," cried Dick.  "It is not anybody."

"I don't know so much about that," said the wheelwright, lifting up his
bandaged hand.  "All I know is that something shot at me, and broke my
finger just the same as something shot at Mester Marston.  They don't
like it, lads.  Mark my words, they don't like it."

"Who don't like what?" said Tom.

"Will-o'-the-wisps don't like people cootting big drains acrost the fen,
my lads.  They don't mind you fishing or going after the eels with the
stong-gad; but they don't like the draining, and you see if it don't
come to harm!"

"Nonsense!" cried Dick.  "But I say, Hicky, you are so quiet about it
all, did you see who it was shot at you?"

The big wheelwright looked cautiously round, as if in fear of being
overheard, and then said in a husky whisper:

"Ay, lads, I seen him."

"What was he like, Hicky?" said Tom, who suffered a peculiar kind of
thrill as the wheelwright spoke.

"Somethin' between a big cloud, shape of a man, and a flash of lightning
with a bit o' thunder."

"Get out!" roared Dick.  "Why, he's laughing at us, Tom."

"Nay, lads, I'm not laughing.  It's just what I seemed to see, and it
'most knocked me over."

"It's very queer," said Dick thoughtfully.  "But I say, Hicky, what did
the doctor say to your hand?  Will it soon get well?"

"Didn't go to the doctor, lad."

"Why, what did you do then?"

"Went to old Mikey Dodbrooke, the bone-setter."

"What did you go to him for?"

"Because it's his trade.  He knows how to mend bones better than any

"Father says he's an old sham, and doesn't understand anything about
it," said Dick.  "You ought to have gone to the doctor, or had him, same
as Mr Marston did."

"Tchah!" ejaculated Hickathrift.  "Why, he had no bones broken.  Doctors
don't understand bone-setting."

"Who says so?"

"The bone-setter."

"Well, is it getting better, Hicky?"

"Oh yes!  It ar'n't very bad.  Going down to the drain?"

"Yes.  Mr Marston's found a curious great piece of wood, and the men
are digging it out."

"Don't stop late, my lads," said the wheelwright, anxiously.  "I
wouldn't be coming back after dark when the will-o'-the-wisps is out."

"I don't believe all that stuff, Hicky," said Dick.  "Father says--"

"Eh!  What does he say?" cried the wheelwright, excitedly.

"That he thinks it's one of Mr Marston's men who has a spite against
him, and that when there was that shot the other night, it was meant for
the engineer."

"Hah!  Yes!  Maybe," said the wheelwright, drawing a long breath and
looking relieved.  "But I wouldn't stop late, my lads."

"We shall stop just as long as we like, sha'n't we, Tom?"


"Then I shall come and meet you, my lads.  I sha'n't be happy till I see
you back safe."

"I say, Hicky, you've got a gun, haven't you?" said Tom.

"Eh!  A goon!" cried the wheelwright, starting.

"Yes; you've got one?"

"An old one.  She's roosty, and put awaya.  I heven't hed her out for

"Clean it up, and bring it, Hicky," said Dick.  "We may get a shot at
something.  I say, you'd lend me that gun if I wanted it, wouldn't you?"

"Nay, nay; thou'rt not big enew to handle a goon, lad.  Wait a bit for

"Come along, Tom!" cried Dick.  "And I say, Hicky, bring the
forge-bellows with you, so as we can blow out the will's light if he
comes after us."

"Haw--haw--haw--haw!" rang out like the bray of a donkey with a bad
cold; and Jacob, Hickathrift's lad, threw back his head, and roared till
his master gave him a sounding slap on the back, and made him close his
mouth with a snap, look serious, and go on with his work.

"Jacob laughs just like our old Solemn-un, sometimes," said Dick
merrily.  "Come along!"

The morning was hot, but there was a fine brisk breeze from off the sea,
and the lads trudged on, talking of the progress of the drain, and the
way in which people grumbled.

"Father says that if he had known he wouldn't have joined the
adventure," said Tom.

"And my father says, the more opposition there is, the more he shall go
on, for if people don't know what's good for them they've got to be
taught.  There's a beauty!"

Dick went off in chase of a swallow-tail butterfly--one of the beautiful
insects whose home was in the fens; but after letting him come very
close two or three times, the brightly-marked creature fluttered off
over the treacherous bog, a place of danger for followers, of safety for
the insect.

"That's the way they always serve you," said Dick.

"Well, you don't want it."

"No, I don't want it.  Yes I do.  Mr Marston said he should like a few
more to put in his case.  I say, they are getting on with the drain,"
Dick continued, as he shaded his eyes and gazed at where, a mile away,
the engineer's men were wheeling peat up planks, and forming a long
embankment on either side of the cutting through the fen.

"Can you see Mr Marston from here?"

"Why, of course not!  Come along!  I say, Tom, you didn't think what old
Hicky said was true, did you?"

"N-n-no.  Of course not."

"Why, you did.  Ha--ha--ha!  That's what father and Mr Marston call
superstition.  I shall tell Mr Marston that you believe in

"Well, so do you.  Who can help believing in them, when you see them
going along over the fen on the soft dark nights!"

"Oh, I believe in the lights," said Dick, "but that's all I don't
believe they shot Mr Marston and old Hicky; that's all stuff!"

"Well, somebody shot them, and my father says it ought to be found out
and stopped."

"So does mine; but how are you going to find it out?  He thinks
sometimes it's one and sometimes another; and if we wait long enough, my
gentleman is sure to be caught."

"Ah, but is it a man?"

"Why, you don't think it's a woman, do you?"

"No, of course not; but mightn't it be something--I mean one of the--
well, you know what I mean."

"Yes, I know what you mean," cried Dick--"a ghost--a big tall white
ghost, who goes out every night shooting, and has a will-o'-the-wisp on
each side with a lantern to show him a light."

"Ah, it's all very well for you to laugh now out in the sunshine; but if
it was quite dark you wouldn't talk like that."

"Oh yes, I should!"

"I don't believe it," said Tom; "and I'll be bound you were awfully
frightened when Hicky was shot.  Come, tell the truth now--weren't you?"

"There goes a big hawk, Tom.  Look!" cried Dick, suddenly becoming
interested in a broad-winged bird skimming along just over the surface
of the fen; and this bird sufficed to change the conversation, which was
getting unpleasant for Dick, till they came to the place where the men
were hard at work on the huge ditch, the boggy earth from which, piled
up as it was, serving to consolidate the sides and keep them from
flooding the fen when the drain was full, and the high-tide prevented
the water from coming out by the flood-gates at the end.

Mr Marston welcomed the lads warmly.

"I've got a surprise for you," he said.

"What is it--anything good?" cried Dick.

"That depends on taste, my boy.  Come and see."

He led the way along the black ridge of juicy peat, to where, in an
oblique cutting running out from the main drain, a dozen men were at
work, with their sharp spades cutting out great square bricks of peat,
and clearing away the accumulations of hundreds of years from the sides
of what at first appeared to be an enormous trunk of a tree, but which,
upon closer inspection, drew forth from Dick a loud ejaculation.

"Why, it's an old boat!" cried Tom.

"That it is, my lad."

"But how did it come there?" cried Dick, gazing wonderingly at the black
timber of the ancient craft.

"Who can tell, Dick?  Perhaps it floated out of the river at some time
when there was a flood, and it was too big to move back again, and the
people in the days when it was used did not care to dig a canal from
here to the river."

"Half a mile," said Dick.

"No, no.  Not more than a quarter."

"But it doesn't look like a fishing-boat," said Dick.

"No, my lad.  As far as I can make out, it is the remains of an old war

"Then it must have belonged to the Danes."

"Danes or Saxons, Dick."

"But the wood's sound," cried Tom.  "It can't be so old as that."

"Why not, Tom?  Your people dig out pine-roots, don't they, perfectly
sound, and full of turpentine?  This is pine wood, and full of
turpentine too."

"But it's such a while since the Danes and Saxons were here, Mr
Marston," said Tom.

"A mere yesterday, my lad, compared to the time when the country about
here was a great pine and birch forest, before this peat began to form."

"Before the peat began to form!"

"To be sure!  Pine and birch don't grow in peaty swamps, but in sandy
ground with plenty of gravel.  Look all about you at the scores of great
pine-roots my men have dug out.  They are all pine, and there must have
been quite a large forest here once."

"And was that farther back?"

"Perhaps thousands of years before the Danes first landed.  The peat
preserves the wood, Tom.  Bog is not rotten mud, but the decayed masses
that have grown in the watery expanse.  Well, Dick, what do you think of

"I wish we could get it home to our place to keep as a curiosity?"

"But it would want a shed over it, my lad, for the rain, wind, and sun
would soon make an end of it."

"Then, what are you going to do?"

"Get it out and up that slope they are cutting, along some planks if we
can, and then fill up the trench."

The lads inspected the curious-looking old hull, whose aspect seemed to
bring up recollections of the history of early England, when
fierce-looking men, half sailors, half warriors, came over from the
Norland in boats like this, propelled by great oars, and carrying a
short thick mast and one sail.  All the upper portions had rotted away,
but enough of the hull remained to show pretty well what its shape must
have been, and that it had had a curiously-projecting place that must
have curved out like the neck of a bird, the whole vessel having borne a
rough resemblance to an elongated duck or swan.

The boys were, however, by no means so enthusiastic as the engineer; and
as a great figure came looming up behind them, Dick was ready enough to
welcome the incident of the man's reminder about the disturbance at the

"We're mates, we are," cried the great fellow, holding out his broad
hairy hand to take Dick's in his grasp, and shake it steadily up and
down.  "I heven't forgot, I heven't forgot."

"Are you all right again, Bargle?" said Dick, trying in vain to
extricate his hand.

"Yeees.  Knock o' the yead don't hot me.  See here."

He slowly drew out of his pocket a great piece of dark-yellow ivory,
evidently the point, and about a foot in length, of the tusk of some
animal, probably an elephant.

"Theer's what I promised you, lad.  That's a tush, that is.  What yer
think o' that?"

Dick did not seem to know what to think of it, but he expressed his
gratitude as well as he could, and had to shake hands again and again
with the great fellow, who seemed to take intense delight in smiling at
Dick and shaking his head at him.

How long this scene would have lasted it is impossible to say; but at
last, as it was growing irksome, there came a shout from the end of the

"They've found something else," said Mr Marston; and the lads needed no
telling to hasten their steps, for the finding of _something_ buried in
the peat could not fail to prove interesting; but in this case the
discovery was startling to the strongest nerves.

As they neared the end of the drain where the men were slowly delving
out the peat, and a section of the bog was before them showing about
twelve feet of, the wet black soil, Mr Marston stepped eagerly forward,
and the group of men who were standing together opened out to let him
and his companions pass through.

Dick shuddered at the object before him: the figure of a man clothed
apparently in some kind of leather garb, and partly uncovered from the
position it had occupied in the peat.

"Some un been murdered and berrid," growled Bargle, who was close

"No, my man," said Mr Marston, taking a spade and cutting down some
more of the turf, so as to lay bare the figure from the middle of the
thigh to the feet.

"Lemme come," growled Bargle, striding forward and almost snatching the
sharp spade from his leader's hand.

"Don't hurt it," cried Mr Marston, giving way.

"Nay, no fear o' hotting him," growled Bargle, grinning, and, bending to
his work, he deftly cut away the black peat till the figure stood before
them upright in the bog as if fitted exactly in the face of the section
like some brownish-black fossil of a human being.

It was the figure of a man in a leather garb, and wearing a kind of
gaiters bound to the legs by strips of hide which went across and across
from the instep to far above the knee.  There was a leathern girdle
about the waist, and one hand was slightly raised, as if it had held a
staff or spear, but no remains of these were to be seen.  Probably the
head had once been covered, but it was bare now, and a quantity of long
shaggy hair still clung to the dark-brown skin, the face being half
covered by a beard; and, in spite of the brown-black leathery aspect of
the face, and the contracted skin, it did not seem half so horrible as
might have been supposed.

"Why, boys," said Mr Marston after a long examination, "this might be
the body of someone who lived as long back as the date when that old
galley was in use."

"So long back as that!" cried Dick, looking curiously at the strange
figure, whose head was fully six feet below the surface of the bog.

"Got a-walking across in the dark, and sinked in," said Bargle gruffly.

That might or might not have been the case.  At any rate there was the
body of a man in a wonderful state of preservation, kept from decay by
the action of the peat; and, judging from the clothing, the body must
have been in its position there for many hundred years.

"What's got to be done now?" said Bargle.  "We want to get on."

Mr Marston gave prompt orders, which resulted in a shallow grave being
dug in the peat about fifty yards from where the drain was being cut,
and in this the strange figure was carefully laid, ready for exhumation
by any naturalist who should wish to investigate farther; and after this
was done, and a careful search made for remains of weapons or coins, the
cutting of the drain progressed; till, after an enjoyable day with the
engineer, the boys said good-bye, and tried to escape without having to
shake hands with Bargle.

But this was not to be.  The big fellow waylaid them, smiling and
holding out his hand to Dick for a farewell grip, and a declaration that
they were mates.

About half-way back, and just as it was growing toward sundown, they
were met by Hickathrift, who came up smiling, and looking like a Bargle
carefully smoothed down.

"Thought I'd see you safe back," said Hickathrift so seriously that a
feeling of nervousness which had not before existed made the boys glance
round and look suspiciously at a reed-bed on one side and a patch of
alders on the other.

"What are you talking like that for?" cried Dick angrily; "just as if we
couldn't walk along here and be quite safe!  What is there to mind?"

The wheelwright shook his head and looked round uneasily, as if he too
felt the influence of coming danger; but no puff of smoke came from
clump of bushes or patch of reeds; no sharp report rose from the alders
that fringed part of the walk, and they reached the wheelwright's
cottage without adventure.

Here Hickathrift began to smile in a peculiar way, and, having only one
hand at liberty, he made use of it to grip Dick by the arm, and use him
as if he were an instrument or tool for entrapping Tom, with the result
that he packed them both into his cottage, and into the presence of his
wife, who was also smiling, as she stood behind a cleanly-scrubbed
table, upon which was spread a tempting-looking supper.

"Here, Hicky, don't!  What do you mean?" cried Dick, whom the great
fellow's grip punished.

"Wittles," said the wheelwright, indulging in a broad grin.

"Oh, nonsense!  We're off home.  Tom Tallington's going to have supper
with me."

"Nay, he's going to hev his supper here along o' uz," said Hickathrift.
"Didn't I say, missus, I'd bring 'em home?"

"Yes, Mester Dick," cried Mrs Hickathrift; "and thank ye kindly, do

"Oh, but we must get back!" cried Dick, who shrank from partaking of the
wheelwright's kindly hospitality.

"Theer, I towd you so," cried Mrs Hickathrift to her husband, and
speaking in an ill-used tone.  "They're used to table-cloths, and
squire's wife's got silver spoons."

"Nay, nay, never mind the cloths and spoons, Mester Dick; stop and have
a bite."

"But, Hicky--"

"Nay, now," cried the wheelwright interrupting; "don't thee say thou'rt
not hungry."

"I wasn't going to," said Dick, laughing, "because I am horribly hungry.
Aren't you, Tom?"

Tom showed his teeth.  It was meant for a smile, but bore a wonderful
resemblance to a declaration of war against the food upon the table.

"Don't be proud, then, lad.  Stop.  Why, you nivver knew me say I
wouldn't when I've been at your place."

That appeal removed the last objection, and the boys took off their
caps, sat down with the wheelwright, and Mrs Hickathrift, according to
the custom, waited upon them.

It is unnecessary to state what there was for supper, and how many times
Dick and Tom had their plates replenished with--never mind what--and--it
does not signify.  Suffice it to say that for the space of half an hour
the wheelwright's wife was exceedingly busy; and when at the end of an
hour the trio rose from the table, and Hickathrift filled his pipe, both
of his visitors seemed as if they had gone through a process of taming.
For though a boy--a hearty boy in his teens--living say anywhere, can,
as a rule, eat, in the exception of boys of the old fen-land, where the
eastern breezes blow right off the German Ocean, they were troubled with
an appetite which was startling, and might have been condemned but for
the fact that it resulted in their growing into magnificent specimens of
humanity, six feet high not being considered particularly tall.

It was quite late when the boys reached the Toft, to find the squire
standing outside smoking his pipe and waiting for them.

"Where have you been, lads?" he said; and on being told, he uttered a
good-humoured grunt, and laying his hand upon Tom's shoulder, "Here," he
said, "you'd better stop with Dick to-night.  They won't be uneasy at

"No, sir," said Tom naively; "I told father perhaps I should stay."

"Oh, you did, eh!" said the squire.  "Well, you're welcome.  If you
don't want any supper, you'd better be off to bed."

Both lads declared that they did not want any supper, but Mrs Winthorpe
had made certain preparations for them which they could not resist, and
something very like a second meal was eaten before they retired for the

As a rule, when one boy has a visitor for bed-fellow, it is some time
before there is peace in that room.  Set aside unruly demonstrations
whose effects are broken pillowcase strings, ruptured bolsters, and
loose feathers about the carpet, if nothing worse has happened in the
way of broken jugs and basins, there is always something else to say at
the end of the long conversation upon the past day's occurrences or the
morrow's plans.

But in this instance it was doubtful whether Dick fell asleep in the act
of getting into bed, or whether Tom was nodding as he undressed; suffice
it that the moment their heads touched pillows they were fast asleep,
and the big beetle which flew in at the open window and circled about
the room had it all to himself.  Now he ground his head against the
ceiling, then he rasped his wings against the wall, then he buzzed in
one corner, burred in another, and banged himself up against the white
dimity curtains, till, seeing what appeared to be a gleam of light in
the looking-glass, he swept by the open window, out of which he could
easily have passed, and struck himself so heavily against the mirror
that he fell on the floor with a pat, and probably a dint in his steely
blue armour.

Then came a huge moth, and almost simultaneously a bat, to whirr round
and round over the bed and along the ceiling, while from off the dark
waters of the fen came from time to time strange splashings and uncouth
cries, which would have startled a wakeful stranger to these parts.  Now
and then a peculiar moan would be heard, then what sounded like a
dismal, distant roaring, followed by the cackling of ducks, and
plaintive whistlings of ox-birds, oyster-catchers, and sandpipers, all
of which seemed to be very busy hunting food in the soft stillness of
the dewy night.

But neither splash nor cry awakened the sleepers, who were, like Barney
O'Reardon, after keeping awake for a week; when they went to sleep they
paid "attintion to it," and the night wore on till it must have been one

The bat and the moth had managed to find their way out of the open
window at last, and perhaps out of malice had told another bat and
another moth that it was a delightful place in there.  At all events
another couple were careering about, the moth noisily brushing its wings
against wall and ceiling, the bat silently on its fine soft leather
wings, but uttering a fine squeak now and then, so thin, and sharp, and
shrill that, compared to other squeaks, it was as the point of a fine
needle is to that of a tenpenny nail.

The beetle had got over the stunning blow it had received, to some
extent, and had carefully folded up and put away its gauzy wings beneath
their hard horny cases, deeming that he would be better off and safer if
he walked for the rest of the night, and after a good deal of awkward
progression he came to the side of the bed.

It was a hot night, and some of the clothes had been kicked off, so that
the counterpane on Tom's side touched the floor.  In contact with this
piece of drapery the beetle came, and began to crawl up, taking his time
pretty well, and finally reaching the bed.

Here he turned to the left and progressed slowly till he reached the
pillow, which he climbed, and in a few more moments found himself in
front of a cavern in a forest--a curiously designed cavern, with a cosy
hole in connection with certain labyrinths.

This hole seemed just of a size to suit the beetle's purpose, and he
proceeded to enter for the purpose of snuggling up and taking a good
long nap to ease the dull aching he probably felt in his bruised head.

But, soundly as Tom Tallington slept, the scriggly legs of a beetle were
rather too much when they began to work in his ear, and he started up
and brushed the creature away, the investigating insect falling on the
floor with a sharp rap.

Tom sat listening to the sounds which came through the window and heard
the splashing of water in the distance, and the pipings and quackings of
the wild-fowl; but as he leaned forward intently and looked through the
open window at the starry sky, there were other noises he heard which
made him think of sundry occasions at home when he had been awakened by
similar sounds.

After a few moments he lay down again, but started up directly, got out
of bed, and went to the window to listen.

The next minute he was back at the bed-side.

"Dick," he whispered, shaking him; "Dick!"

"What is it?"

"There's something wrong with the horses."


"There is, I tell you.  Sit up and listen."

"Oh, I say, what a nuisance you are!  I was having such a dream!"

Dick sat up and listened, and certainly a sound came from the yard.

He jumped out of bed and went with Tom to the open window, but all was
perfectly still round the house, and he was about to return to bed when
a dim shadowy-looking creature flew silently across the yard.

Dick uttered a peculiar squeak which was so exactly like that of a mouse
that the bird curved round in its flight, came rapidly up toward the
window, and hovered there with extended claws, and its great eyes
staring from its full round face.

The next moment it was flying silently away, but another shrill squeak
brought it back to hover before them, staring in wonder, till,
apparently divining that it was being imposed upon, it swooped away.

"What a big owl!" said Tom in a whisper.  "There!  Hear that?"

Dick did hear _that_!  A low whinnying noise, and the blow given by a
horse's hoof, as if it had stamped impatiently while in pain.

Directly after there was a mournful lowing from the direction of the
cow-house, followed by an angry bellow.

"That's old Billy," said Dick.  "What's the matter with the things!
It's a hot night, and some kind of flies are worrying them.  Here, let's
get to bed."

He was moving in the direction of the bed; but just then there was
another louder whinnying from the lodge where the cart-horses were kept,
and a series of angry stamps, followed by a bellow from the bull.

"There is something wrong with the beasts," said Dick.  "I'll call
father.  No, I won't.  Perhaps it's nothing.  Let's go down and see."

"But we should have to dress."

"No; only slip on our trousers and boots.  You'll go with me, won't

"Yes, I'll go," said Tom; "but I don't want to."

"What! after waking me up to listen!"

"Oh, I'll go!" said Tom, following his companion's lead and beginning to

"Tell you what," said Dick; "we'll get out of the window and drop down."

"And how are we to get back?"

"Short ladder," said Dick laconically.  "Come along.  Ready?"

"Yes, I'm ready."

The boys moved to the window, and, setting the example, Dick placed one
leg out, and was seated astride the sill, when the bed-room door was
suddenly thrown open, and the squire appeared.

"Now, then!  What does this mean?" he cried angrily.

"We heard something wrong with the beasts, father, and we were going to
see," cried Dick.

"Heard something wrong with the beasts, indeed!  Yes, and I heard
something wrong with them.  Now, then, both of you jump into bed, and if
I hear another sound, I'll--"

The squire stopped short, for there was a piteous whinny from the stable

"There, father! and old Billy's got something the matter with him too,"
cried Dick eagerly, the bull endorsing his statement with a melancholy

"Why, there is something wrong, then, my boys!" said the squire, angry
now with himself for suspecting them of playing some prank.  "Here,
let's go down."

He led the way directly, and lit a lantern in the kitchen before
throwing back the bolts and going out, armed with a big stick, the boys
following close behind, and feeling somewhat awe-stricken at the
strangeness of the proceedings.

"Hullo, my lads, what is it then?" cried the squire, entering the rough
stable, where three horses were fastened up, and all half lying in the

One of them turned to him with a piteous whinny, and then the great soft
eyes of all three of the patient beasts were turned toward them, the
light gleaming upon their eyes strangely.

"Why, what's this?" cried the squire, holding down the lantern, whose
light fell upon the hocks of the poor beasts.  "Oh, it's too cruel! what
savage has done this!"

As he held down the light the boys hardly realised what had happened.
All they could make out was that the light gleamed horribly on the
horses' hind-legs, and Dick exclaimed:

"Why, they must have been kicking, father, terribly!"

"Kicking, my boy!" groaned the squire.  "I wish they had kicked the
monster to death who has done this."

"Done this!  Has anybody done this?" faltered Dick, while Tom turned
quite white.

"Yes; don't you understand?"

"No, father," cried Dick, looking at him vacantly.

"The poor beasts have been houghed--hamstrung by some cruel wretch.
Here, quick!"

He hurried across to the lodge where a favourite cow and the bull were
tethered, and as he saw that these poor beasts had been treated in the
same barbarous way--

"Did you hear or see anyone, Dick?" he cried, turning sharply on his

"No, father.  I was asleep till Tom woke me, and told me that the beasts
were uneasy."

"It is too cruel, too cruel," groaned the squire huskily.  "What is to
happen next?  Here, go and call up the men.  You, Tom Tallington, go and
rouse up Hickathrift.  We may be in time to catch the wretches who have
done this.  Quick, boys! quick!  And if I do--"

He did not finish his sentence; but as the boys ran off he walked into
the house, to return with his gun, and thus armed he made a hasty survey
of the place.

By the time he had done, Dick was back with the men, and soon after,
Hickathrift came panting up, with Tom; but though a hot search was
carried on for hours, nothing more was found, and by breakfast-time five
reports had rung out on the bright morning air, as Squire Winthorpe
loaded his old flint-lock gun with a leaden bullet five times, and put
the poor helpless suffering brutes out of their misery.

"Three good useful horses, and the best-bred bull and cow in the marsh,
squire," said Farmer Tallington, who had come over as soon as he heard
the news.  "Any idea who it could be?"

"No," said the squire; "thank goodness, no.  I don't want to find out
the wretch's name, Tallington, for I'm a hot-tempered, passionate man."

"It's the drain, neighbour, the drain," said the farmer, shaking his
head.  "Let's be content with the money we've lost, and try to put a
stop to proceedings before we suffer more and worse.  There's them about
as hev sworn the drain sha'n't be made, and it's the same hands that
fired my stacks and those shots, neighbour."

"I daresay it is, farmer," said the squire sternly; "but do you know
what it says in the Book about the man who puts his hand to the plough?"

"Ay, I think I know what you mean."

"And so do you, Dick?" said the squire.

"Yes, father."

"Well, my boy, I've put my hand to the plough to do a good, honest,
sensible work, and, knowing as I do, that it's a man's duty to go on
with it, I shall stand fast, come what may."

"And not leave me in the lurch, Mr Winthorpe?" said a voice.

"No, Marston, not if they hamstring me in turn," cried the squire,
holding out his hand to the young engineer, who had hurried over.  "I
suppose I shall get a bullet in me one of these days; but never mind,
we've begun the drain.  And do you hear, all of you?" he shouted;
"spread it about that the fen will be drained, and that if they killed
me, and a hundred more who took my place, it would still be done."



There was a good deal of inquiry made about the houghing of Squire
Winthorpe's horses, and there was a great deal of excitement before the
poor beasts were skinned, for their hides to go to town to the tanyard
and their carcasses were carted away.

People came from miles in all directions, including all the men who were
at work for Mr Marston--every one to stand and stare at the poor dead
beasts and say nothing.

Small farmers, fen-men, people from the town, folk from the shore where
the cockle-beds lay, and the fisher-people who were supposed to live
upon very little fish and a great deal of smuggling.

Even Dave and John Warren punted themselves over, both looking yellow
and thin, and so weak that they could hardly manage their poles; and
they too stared, the former frowning at the bull and shaking his head at
the horses, but wiping away a weak tear as he stood by the cow.

"Many's the drop of good fresh milk the missus has given me from her,
Mester Dick," he said with a sigh; "and now theer's no cow, no milk, no
nothing for a poor sick man.  Hey, bud the ager's a sad thing when you
hev it bad as this."

There was a visit from a couple of magistrates, who asked a great many
questions, and left behind them a squinting constable, who took very bad
snuff, and annoyed Dick by looking at him suspiciously, as if he
believed him to be the cause of all the mischief.  This man stopped in
the village at a cottage next to Hickathrift's, from which place he made
little journeys in all directions, evidently full of the belief that he
was going to discover the people who did all this mischief in the

This constable's name was Thorpeley, and he did a great deal of business
with a brass box and a short black clay-pipe, in which he smoked short
black tobacco.

"I don't know," said Dick one day as he stood with his arms folded,
leaning upon Solomon, talking to Tom Tallington and staring at Thorpeley
the constable, who was leaning against a post smoking and staring with
one eye at the fen, while with the other he watched the group of three
in the Toft farm-yard.

"Well, I'm sure I don't," said Tom.  "He never goes over to the town to
buy any."

"And Hicky says nobody fetches any for him, but he always seems to have
plenty though he hasn't any luggage or box or anything."

"No; I saw him come," said Tom.  "He only had a small bundle in a red

"And he keeps on smoking from morning till night."

"And watching you!"

"Yes.  He's always watching me," cried Dick in an aggrieved tone.
"Stand still, will you?  Yes, you'd better!  You kick, and I'll kick

This was to Solomon, who had hitched up his back in an arch, laid down
his ears, thrust his head between his fore-legs and his tail between his
hind, giving himself the aspect of being about to reach under and bite
the tip of the said tail.  But that was not the case, and Dick knew by
experience that all this was preparatory to a display of kicking.

Solomon may have understood plain English or he may not.  This is a
matter which cannot be decided.  At all events he slowly raised his head
and twisted his tail in a peculiar manner, stretched out his neck, and
cocking his ears he sighed loudly a sigh like the fag-end of a long
bray, all of which seemed to point to the fact that he felt himself to
be a slave in leathern chains, gagged with a rusty bit, and at the mercy
of his master.

"Flies tease him," said Tom apologetically.  "Poor old Sol!"

"Don't touch him!" cried Dick, "or he'll kick you."

"Poor old Sol!" said Tom again, and this time he approached the donkey's

"Don't touch him, I tell you!  He'll bite if you do!  He's in a nasty
temper because I would put on his bridle, and I was obliged to persuade
him to be quiet with a pitchfork handle."

"What a shame!" said Tom.

"Shame, eh!  Just you look here," cried Dick, and down one of his coarse
worsted stockings, he displayed a great bruise on his white leg.  "He
did that three days ago, and he tried to do it again this morning, only
I was too quick for him."

"Haugh! haugh-h-haugh!" sighed Solomon in a most dismal tone.

"Says he's sorry for it!" cried Tom, grinning.

"Oh, very well then, I'm sorry I hit him with the pitchfork handle.  I
say, Tom, I gave him such a whop!"

"Where did you hit him?"

"Where I could.  You can't pick your place when you try to hit Solomon.
You must look sharp or you'll get it first."

"But he wouldn't be so disagreeable if you were kind to him," said Tom.
"Poor old Sol, then!"

There was a sharp twist of the donkey's neck, and, quick as lightning,
the fierce little animal made a grab at Tom.  Fortunately he missed his
shoulder, but he got tightly hold of the sleeve of his coat, and held on
till Dick gave him a furious kick, when he let go.

"Kick him again, Dick!" cried Tom, who looked very pale.  "Ugh! the
treacherous beast!"

"It's his nature," said Dick coolly, as he resumed his position and
leaned over the donkey's back.  "He always was so from a foal!  Father's
always kind to dumb beasts, and feeds them well, and nurses them when
they're ill; but he often gives Solomon a crack.  I say, look at old
Thorpeley; he's watching you now."

"He isn't; he's looking all round.  I say, Dick, you can't tell where he
is looking.  I wonder what makes any one squint like that!"

"Had one of his eyes knocked out and put in again upside down," said

"Get out!" cried Tom.

"Haugh, haugh, haugh, haugh, haugh, haugh!" cried Solomon.

"There, he's laughing at you.  I say, Dick, do you think he really does
watch us?"

"Sure of it.  He thinks I houghed the poor horses.  I know he does, and
he expects to find out that I did it by following me about."

"How do you know he suspects you?"

"Because he is always asking questions about our window being open that
night, and about how I found out there was something the matter with the
poor beasts.  I say, Tom, I hate that fellow."

"So do I," said Tom in tones which indicated his loyalty to his friend.
"Let's serve him out!"

"Oh, but you mustn't!  A constable is sworn in."

"What difference does that make?"

"I don't know, but he is; and he has a little staff in his pocket with a
brass crown upon it, and he says, `In the king's name!'"

"Well, let him if he likes.  The king in London can't know what we do
down here in the fen.  I say, let's serve him out!"

"No," said Dick, "it might get father into trouble.  I say, I know what
I'll do if you like."

"What, take him out in a boat and upset it?"

"No, lend him Solomon to ride!"

As he spoke Dick looked at Tom and Tom looked at Dick before they both
burst into a hearty fit of laughter.

"Here, let's get away.  He's coming!"

Dick turned to go, but Solomon objected.  Possibly he understood what
had been said.  At all events he stood fast, and refused to move till,
in obedience to a call from his friend, Tom took hold of the bridle and
dragged, while Dick made a sudden rush behind, as if to deliver a
tremendous kick.

Solomon sighed and consented to move, and, evidently considering himself
mastered, he became amiable, made a playful attempt to bite, and then
started off at a canter.

"Jump on, Tom!" cried Dick.

The lad wanted no second invitation, but scuffled on to the donkey's
back as it went on, and the trio trotted along for about a hundred

"Where shall we go?" cried Tom.

"Straight on.  Let's see how Mr Marston's getting along.  Here, you
ride on to the alders' corner and tie up Sol, and then go on."

"I say: here's the constable coming."  Dick looked back and frowned.

"There, I told you so!" he cried.  "It doesn't matter what I do, that
man watches me."

"He's only going for a walk."

"Going for a walk!" cried Dick fiercely; "he's following me.  You'll see
he'll keep to me all the time.  I should like to serve him out."

Tom was going to say something else, but his words were jerked out at
random, and the next died away, for, as if he approved of the smell of
the salt-sea air, Solomon suddenly whisked his tail, uttered a squeak,
and after a bound went off at a tremendous gallop, stretching out like a
greyhound, and showing what speed he possessed whenever he liked to put
it forth.

The sudden spring he made produced such comical effects that Dick
Winthorpe stopped short in the rough track along the edge of the fen, to
laugh.  For Tom Tallington had been seated carelessly on the donkey's
back right behind, and turned half round to talk to his companion.  The
consequence was that he was jerked up in the air, and came down again as
if bound to slip off.  But Tom and Dick had practised the art of riding
almost ever since they could run alone, and in their early lessons one
had ridden astride the top bar of a gate hundreds of times, while the
other swung it open and then threw it back, the great feat being to give
the gate a tremendous bang against the post, so as to nearly shake the
rider from his seat.

The jerk was unpleasant, at times even painful; but it taught the lads
to hold on with their legs, and made them better able to display their
prowess in other mounts which were tested from time to time.

They were not particular as to what they turned into a steed.  Sometimes
it was Farmer Tallington's Hips, the brindled cow, when she was fetched
from the end of the home close to be milked.  This would have been one
of the calmest of rides, and afforded plenty of room for both boys to
ride Knight-Templar fashion, after old Sam had helped them on, but it
was not a ride much sought for, because Hips was not a mollusc.  Quite
the contrary: she was a vertebrate animal, very vertebrate indeed, and a
ride on her back represented a journey upon the edge of a Brobdingnagian
blunt saw, set up along a kind of broad lattice covered with a skin.

There was a favourite old sow at the Toft which was often put in
requisition, but she only carried one.  Still it was a comfortable seat,
only in the early days of the boys' life that pig's back was wont to
tickle; and then too she had a very bad habit.

Of course these rides were not had in the sty, nor yet in the farm-yard,
but out along by the edge of the fen, and the enjoyment was nearly
perfect till it was brought to an end, always in the same way, as soon
as a nice convenient shallow pool was encountered, for here Lady
Winthorpe, as she was called, always lay down for a comfortable wallow,
when it was no use to wait for another ride, for the seat became too

Tallington's ram was splendid when he could be caught, which was not
often; but upon the rare occasions when he did fall captive to the boys'
prowess, he had rather a trying time, considering how big he was, and
how thin his legs.  But his back was beautiful.  The wool formed a
magnificent cushion, and a couple of locks could be grasped for security
by the rider, while the attendant, who waited his turn drove with a
branch of furze or heather.

A pole across a stone wall was another splendid aid to horsemanship,
see-saw fashion, or turned into a steed for one, by wedging the thick
end into a hole and riding the thin end, spring fashion; while, as the
years rolled by and the boys were back from school, an occasional mount
was had upon Saxon, Tallington's old grey horse, falsely said to be
nearly two hundred.  But if he was not, he looked it.

Of course it was pleasant to be seated on high upon his back, but the
ride was not exhilarating, for whether he was bound for the ploughed
fields, or to harrow, or to fetch home a load, it seemed to make no
difference to Saxon, who always seemed to be examining the ground before
him with his big dull eyes before he lifted a foot to set it down in
advance.  He was a cautious beast, and this may have arisen from his
having been often bogged.  These rides were, then, not much sought
after, and when Solomon was placed at Dick's disposal he was voted by
far the best, and the donkey was not long in finding that his young
master had learned how to ride; as, with his long head he debated how he
might best rid himself of such incubi as Dick and his friend.

All this is explanatory of the reason why Tom Tallington did not slip
off at Solomon's first bout, but kept on when he came down by hooking
himself, as it were, with his leg and gripping a piece of the donkey's
skin with his hand.

By these means he regained his perpendicular, but only for a moment,
Solomon having at command a perfect battery of ruses for ridding himself
of a rider.  No sooner was Tom upright than the donkey gave the whole of
his skin and muscles a wrench sidewise, which felt as if the seat was
being dragged away.

The consequence was that Tom nearly went off to the right.  He was too
good an assman, though, and by a dexterous gymnastic feat he dragged
himself once more upright, when Solemn-un's back suddenly grew round and
began to treat Tom as if he were a ball.  Now he was jerked up; now he
was jerked forward; now he was jerked back--bob--bob--bob--bob--till he
nearly went off over the tail.  There was another bout of kicking, and
away went Tom again forward till he was a long way on toward the
donkey's neck, but only to shuffle himself back to the normal seat upon
the animal, after which, in token of defeat, Solomon went on out of
sight at a rapid canter, leaving Dick laughing till he had to wipe his

"He will be so sore and so cross!" cried Dick, as he walked swiftly on;
when, involuntarily turning his head, he saw that the constable was
following him.

"The idiot!" cried the lad angrily.  "Well, he shall have a run for it."

Setting his teeth and doubling his fists, he bent his head, and started
off running as hard as he could go, with the result that as he was going
somewhat after the fashion of a hare making use of his eyes to watch his
pursuer, and not looking ahead, he suddenly went round a curve, right
into Hickathrift's chest, and was caught and held by the big

"Why, Mester Dick, what now?"

"Don't stop me, Hicky.  I was running because that stupid constable
fellow is after me."

"Hey, and what should make you run away from constable, lad?" said
Hickathrift severely.  "You've done nowt to be 'shamed on?"

"No, of course not!" cried Dick, shaking himself free.  "Did you meet
Tom Tallington?"

"Ay, iver so far-off, trying to stop old Solomon, and he wouldn't stay."

Dick nodded and glanced at him; and then, as he ran on again, the lad
ground his teeth.

"It's a shame!" he cried.  "Why, old Hicky thinks now that there's
something wrong.  I'll serve that old stupid out for all this; see if I

He ran on, getting very hot, and beginning now to abuse Tom Tallington
for going so far before he tied up; and at last saw the donkey browsing
by the side of a tree, while Tom was well on along the track to the
drain, walking as fast as he could go.

Solomon pointed one ear at Dick, as he came up, but took no further
notice, being engaged in picking nutriment out of some scraps of as
unlikely looking vegetation as could be found in the fen.  Perhaps it
was the thistly food he ate which had an effect upon his temper and made
him the awkward creature he had grown.

"My turn now," cried Dick, unfastening the rein, which was tightly tied
with string to the stout stem of an alder.

Solomon had cocked one ear at his master as he came up.  The animal now
laid both ears down and began to back so rapidly along the road, keeping
the reins at their full stretch, that it was impossible to mount him,
and it was evident that a long battle was beginning, in which the ass
might win.

Dick, however, found an ally in the shape of Grip, Hickathrift's
lurcher, who had been evidently off on some expedition upon his own
account, and was now hastening to overtake his master.

Solomon's attention was taken up by Dick, and he did not perceive Grip
coming up at full speed till, with a rush, the dog made a bound at him,
and sent him towards Dick, who was dragging at the reins.

Grip seemed to enjoy the donkey's astonishment as it backed from him and
then wheeled sharply round to deliver a goodly kick; but before this
could be planted satisfactorily, Dick had mounted and began tugging at
the reins and drumming with his heels in a way there was no resisting,
so Solomon went off at a gallop and Grip followed his master.

At the end of a mile Tom had been passed, and Dick drew up by the first
scrubby willow he reached, to tie up the donkey and leave it for his
friend; but a glance back showed him the constable returning toward the
Toft, so the boy stood leaning over Solomon's back, waiting.

"I don't want to ride," he said to himself.  "Tom can have the donkey,
and I'll walk."

"Why didn't you go on?" cried Tom, as he came up with a very red face.

"Don't want to be alone," replied Dick lazily, as he gazed away over the
wide-stretching fen-land with the moist air quivering in the glorious
sunshine.  "I say, Tom, what a shame it seems!"

"What seems a shame?"

"Corn-fields and pastures and orchards are all very well, but the old
fen does look so lovely now!"

"Yes, it does," said Tom; "and father's horribly sorry he joined in the
draining scheme.  He says it's going to cost heaps of money, and then be
no good.  But come along."

"Where?" said Dick.

"I don't know.  Where we're going."

"We're not going anywhere, are we?"

"Well, you are a fellow!  Come galloping off here into the fen, and then
say you don't know where we're going!"

"I did it to get away from that Thorpeley.  What shall we do?"

"Pst!  Look there!  What's that?"


"No; it's an adder.  Look!"

"'Tisn't," said Dick; "it's a snake.  Adders aren't so long as that.
No, no; don't throw at it.  Let's see what it's going to do."

The reptile was crossing the track from a tuft of alders, and seemed to
be about three feet long and unusually thick, while, as it reached the
dense heath and rushes, interspersed with grey coral moss on that side,
it disappeared for a few moments, and they thought it had gone; but
directly after it reappeared, gliding over a rounded tuft of bog-moss,
and continued its way.

"Why, it's going to that pool!" cried Dick.

"To drink," said Tom.  "No wonder.  Oh, I am hot and thirsty!  Here, I
could knock him over with a stone easily."

"Let him alone," said Dick, who had become interested in the snake's
movements.  "How would you like to be knocked over with a stone?"

"I'm not a snake," said Tom, grinning.

"Look!" cried Dick, as the reptile reached the edge of one of the many
deep fen pools, whose amber-coloured water was so clear that the
vegetation at the bottom could be seen plainly, and, lit up by the
sunshine, seemed to be of a deep-golden hue across which every now and
then some armoured beetle or tiny fish darted.

To the surprise of both, instead of the snake beginning to drink, it
went right into the water, and, swimming easily and well, somewhat after
the fashion of an eel, sent the water rippling and gleaming toward the

"Look!" cried Tom.  "Oh, what a bait for a pike!"  For just then one of
these fishes about a foot long rose slowly from where it had lain
concealed at the side, and so clear was the water that they could make
out its every movement.

"Pooh! a pike could not swallow a snake," said Dick, as the reptile swam
on, and the pike slowly followed as if in doubt.

"Oh, yes, he could!" said Tom, "a bit at a time."

"Nonsense!  Don't make a noise; let's watch.  The snake's a yard long,
and the pike only a foot.  I say, can't the snake swim!"

It could unmistakably, and as easily as if it were quite at home,
gliding along over the surface and sending the water rippling away in
rings, while the little pike followed its movements a few inches from
the top so quietly that the movements of its fins could hardly be made

"Now he'll have him!" said Tom, as the snake reached the far side of the
pool, raised its head, darted out its tongue, and then turned and swam
back toward the middle, glistening in the sun and seeming to enjoy its

But Tom was wrong; the pike followed closely, evidently watching its
strange visitor, but making no effort to seize it, and at last, quite
out of patience, the lads made a dash forward.

The result was a swirl in the water, and the fish had gone to some
lurking-place among the water plants, while the snake made a dive, and
they traced its course right to the bottom, where it lay perfectly

They sat down to wait till it came up, but after a time, during which
Tom had lamented sorely that he had not killed the snake, which seemed
comfortable enough in its prolonged dive, they both grew tired, and
returned to where Solomon stood making good use of his time and browsing
upon everything which seemed to him good to eat.

"Here, let's go and see how they're getting on with the drain," said

"But we're always going to see how they're getting on with the drain,"
grumbled Tom.

"Never mind!  Mr Marston may have had something else dug up."

"I don't want to see any more old boats; and as for that other thing--

"Never mind!  Come along!  Perhaps they've found something else."

"Don't believe it.  Are you going to ride?"

"No; you can ride," said Dick.  "I'll walk."

The heat of the day seemed to make the boys silent as they walked and
rode in turn, gazing longingly the while over the spreading pools
glistening in the sunshine, with the dragon-flies glancing here and
there upon their gauzy wings which rustled and thrilled as they darted
and turned in their wonderful flight, chasing their unfortunate winged
prey.  Every now and then a beautiful swallow-tail butterfly, plentiful
once in these regions, flitted by, inviting pursuit where pursuit was
impossible; while from the waving beds of giant grass which rose from
the water and now began to show their empurpled heads, came the
chattering of the reed-birds, as if in answer to the chirping of the
crickets in the crisp dark heath.

"Look at the bulrushes, Tom!" said Dick lazily.  And he nodded in the
direction of a patch of the tall, brown, poker-like flowers and leaves
of the reed-mace.

"Oh, yes, look at them!" said Tom sourly.  "What a shame it is that we
weren't born with wings!  Everything grows where you can't get at it.
If there's a good nest, it's surrounded by water."

"Like an island," assented Dick.

"The best butterflies are where you can't get them without you go in a

"You can't catch butterflies out of a boat," said Dick contemptuously.

"You could, if you poled it along fast enough.  Here, you jump on now.
What a hot back old Solomon has got!"

"I daresay he thinks you've got horribly hot legs," said Dick, laughing.
"Here, come along quick!"

"What for?"

"Can't you see!" cried Dick, starting off in the direction of where the
men were at work; "there's something the matter."

Certainly something did seem to be wrong, for the men were hurrying
along the black embankment of the great drain in the direction of the
sea; and as the boys reached the spot where the digging had been going
on, the explanation was plain.

The last time they were there, the men were at work in the bottom of the
oozy dike, where a little water lay, soaked out of the sides; but now,
right away to the flood-gates, there was a glistening lane of water, the
open ditch resembling a long canal in which a barge could have been

"There isn't anything the matter," said Tom.  "They've let the water in
to try how it goes."

But when at last they reached the sea end, it was to find Mr Marston
very busy with his men closing the great gates to keep out the tide,
which had risen high and threatened to flood a good deal of low-lying
ground.  For probably by carelessness the sluice-gate down by the sea
had been left open, and the tide had come up and drowned the works.

The two lads stood looking on for some time, until the gates were
closed, and then, as the men sauntered away to their lodgings, Mr
Marston joined them.

"What did you fill the dike for, Mr Marston?" said Dick.

"Yes: wasn't it to try how it would go?"

"No," said the young engineer.  "I did not want it filled.  The gates
were left open."

"And what are you going to do now?"

"Wait till the tide's down, so that we can open them and let the water
run off."

"You can't do anything till then?"

"We could begin digging farther on," said Mr Marston; "but as the tide
will soon be going down I shall wait.  It is a great nuisance, but I
suppose I must have some accidents."

The lads stayed with him all the afternoon, waiting till the tide had
turned, and getting a good insight at last into how the drain would act.

It was very simple, for as soon as the tide was low enough the water ran
rapidly from the drain; and that evening the gates were closed tightly
to keep out the next rise, the great dike being quite empty.

The engineer walked back with the boys, for there was no riding.  They
had left Solomon tethered where he could get a good feed of grass and
tender shoots; but upon reaching the spot when they were ready to return
there was the tethering line gnawed completely through, and the donkey
was out of sight.

"Not taken away?" said Mr Marston.

"No: he has gone home," said Dick.  "That rope wasn't thick enough to
hold him.  I thought he would get away."

"Then why not have asked me for a thicker rope, Dick?"

"What's the good!  If I had tied him there with a thicker rope, he'd
have bitten through the bridle.  He wanted to go back home, and when he
does, he will go somehow."

"He seems a wonderful beast," said Mr Marston, smiling.

"I don't know about being wonderful.  He's a rum one, and as cunning as
a fox.  Why, he'll unfasten any gate to get into a field, and he'll get
out too.  He unhooks the doors and lifts the gates off the hinges, and
one day he was shut up in the big barn, and what do you think he did?"

"I know," said Tom; "jumped out of the window."

"Yes, that he did," said Dick.  "He climbed up the straw till he got to
the window, and then squeezed himself through."

That evening, after tea, the squire was seated in the orchard where the
stone table had been built up under the big gnarled apple-tree, and the
engineer was talking to him earnestly as Dick came up from going part of
the way home with his companion.

"Shall I go away, father?" asked the lad, as he saw how serious his
father looked.

"No, my boy, no.  You are getting old enough now to think seriously; and
this draining business will be more for you than for myself--better for
your children than for you.  Mr Marston has some more ugly news about
the work."

"Ugly news, father?"

"Yes, Dick," said Mr Marston; "that was no accident this afternoon, but
a wilful attempt made by some miserably prejudiced person to destroy our

"But it did no harm, Mr Marston."

"No, my boy; but the ignorant person who thrust open that gate hoped it
would.  If it had been a high-tide and a storm, instead of stopping our
work for a few hours he might have stopped it for a few weeks."

"And who do you think it was?" asked Dick.

"Someone who hates the idea of the drain being made.  I have seen the
constable, Mr Winthorpe," continued Marston.

"Well, and what does he say?"

"That he thinks he knows who is at the bottom of all these attacks."

"And whom does he suspect?" cried Dick excitedly.

"He will not say," replied the engineer.  "He only wants time, and then
he is going to lay his hand upon the offender."

"Or offenders," said the squire drily.

"Yes, of course," said the engineer; "but the mischief is doubtless
started by one brain; those who carry it out are only the tools."

Mr Marston had come with the intention of staying for the night at the
Toft; and after a ramble round the old orchard and garden, and some talk
of a fishing expedition into the wilder parts of the fen "some day when
he was not so busy," supper was eaten, and in due time Dick went to bed,
to stand at his window listening to the sounds which floated off the
mere, and at last to throw himself upon his bed feeling hot and feverish
with his thoughts.

"I wish Tom was here to talk to," he said to himself.  "But if I did
talk to him about it he'd only laugh.  That constable thinks I'm at the
bottom of it all, and that I set the people to do these things, and he's
trying to make Mr Marston believe it, and it's too bad!"

He turned over upon one side, but it was no more comfortable than the
other; so he tried his back, but the bed, stuffed as it was with the
softest feathers from the geese grown at the farm, felt hard and thorny;
there was a singing and humming noise made by the gnats, and the animals
about the place were so uneasy that they suggested the idea of something
wrong once more.

Then at last a drowsy sensation full of restfulness began to come over
the weary lad, and he was fast dropping off to sleep,

A shrill and sonorous challenge came from one of the lodges, which made
Dick start and throw one leg out of bed, sit up, and throw himself down

"Ugh! you stupid!" he cried angrily.  "I don't believe I've been asleep

He seized his pillow, gave it a few savage punches, and lay down again,
but only to find himself more wakeful than ever, with the unpleasant
feeling that he was suspected of fighting against his father's plans;
and after turning the matter over and over, and asking himself whether
he should go straight to his father in the morning and tell him, or
whether he should make Mr Marston his confidant, he came to the
conclusion that he should not like to, for it might make them
suspicious, and think that he really was concerned in the case.

Then he resolved to tell Hickathrift and ask his advice, or Dave, or
John Warren.

Lastly, he resolved to tell his mother; and as he thought of how she
would take his hand and listen to him attentively, and give him the best
of counsel, he asked himself why he had not thought of her before.

But he grew more hot and uncomfortable, thinking till his troubled brain
seemed to get everything in a knot, and he had just come to the
conclusion that he would say nothing to anybody, for the constable's
suspicions were not worth notice, when there was a sharp rap on the
floor as if something had fallen, and he lay listening with every sense
on the strain.

He had not long to wait, for from beneath his window came a low familiar

"Why, it's Tom!" he thought, starting up in bed; and as he was in the
act of gliding out, a second thought troubled him--Tom there in the
middle of the night!  And if the squire heard him he would believe they
were engaged in some scheme.

"Tom!" he whispered, as he leaned out of the open window.

"Yes.  May I come up?"

"No, don't.  What do you want?  Why have you come over?"

"Nobody knows I've come.  I got out of the bed-room window and ran

"What for?"

"I can't tell you down here, Dick; I must come up."

He ran away softly over the grass, and came back in a few minutes with
one of the short ladders, of whose whereabouts he knew as well as Dick,
and planting it against the window-sill, he ran up and thrust in his

"I say, Dick," he whispered, "I couldn't sleep to-night, and I went to
the window and looked out."

"So did I.  Well, what of that?  Here, be quick and go, or father will
hear you, and we shall get into trouble."

"There's going to be something done to-night."

"What! the horses again, or a fire?"

"I don't know, only I'm sure I saw two men creep along on their hands
and knees down to the water."

"Pigs," said Dick, contemptuously.

"They weren't.  Think I can't tell a man from a pig!"

"Not in the dark."

"I tell you they were men."


"Men! and they went down to the water."

"To drink, stupid!  They were pigs!  They look just like men crawling in
the dark!"

"Pigs don't get in punts and pole themselves along the mere!"

"You didn't see two men get in a punt and pole themselves along!"

"No, but I heard them quite plain."

"Well, and suppose you did, what then?"

"I don't know.  Only I couldn't sleep, and I was obliged to come over to

"And wake me out of a beautiful sleep!  What was that you threw in?"


"Then now go back, and don't come here in the night to get me into
trouble!  What's the good of going and dreaming such stuff and then
coming along the dark road to tell me?  What's that?"

Tom was going to say _lightning_ as a brilliant flash made their faces
quite plain for a moment, but before he could give the word utterance
there was a heavy dull report as of a cannon, which seemed to run over
the surface of the mere, and murmur among the reeds and trees.

"Why, it's out at sea," said Tom in a whisper.  "It can't be a wreck!"

"I know!" cried Dick excitedly.  "Smugglers and a king's ship!"

Just then a window was heard being opened, and the squire's voice
speaking to Mrs Winthorpe.

"I don't know," he said; "sounded like a gun.  That you, Marston?" he
cried aloud as another window was thrown open.

"Yes.  Did you hear a report?"

"Yes.  Like a gun out at sea."

"I heard a slight noise a little while ago, and I was listening when I
saw a flash and heard the report.  Mr Winthorpe, I'm afraid there's
something wrong again."

"No, no, man!"

"I'm afraid I must say, Yes, sir.  That sound was not off the sea, but
much nearer the house.  Who's that?"

"Hallo! who's on that ladder?" cried the squire, turning sharply round
at the engineer's query.  "Tom Tallington?"

"Yes, sir," faltered Tom.

"What are you doing here, sir?  Is Dick there?"

"Yes, father."

"What's the meaning of this, sir?"

"We saw a flash, father, and heard a report!"

"Where?" cried Mr Marston.

"I think it must have been close to the outfall of the big drain,

"There! you hear," said Mr Marston in a low voice.  "There is something

"Stop a moment," said the squire sternly.  "You, Tom Tallington, why are
you there?"

"Tell him, Tom," said Dick in a low voice.

"Speak out, sir," cried the squire.  "What are you whispering there,

"I was asking him to tell you, father," faltered Dick; for their being
caught like this a second time, and the feeling that he was suspected,
troubled the lad sorely at that moment.

"Once more, then, my lad," said the squire.  "Why are you here?"

"I came to tell Dick, sir, that I had seen two men come from the town
way past our place, and that I heard them get into a boat and go away
across the mere."

"You saw that?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, what of it?  Why did you come and tell Dick that?"

"Because I thought there was something wrong, sir."

"You hear?" said Mr Marston again.

"Yes, I hear," muttered the squire, "but I don't like it.  These boys
know more than they care to say."

The squire's window was heard to shut, and his heavy footstep sounded
loudly on the floor in the silence of the night, while the two lads
stood listening.

"What shall we do, Dick?"

"I'm going to dress," was the reply; and the speaker began to hurry on
his things.  "You had better go home."

"No," said Tom sturdily; "if I've got you into a hobble I'll stand by
you.  But I didn't mean any harm."

Five minutes later all were standing down in the great stone porch, the
squire with a stout staff and Mr Marston similarly armed.

The squire looked very hard at the two lads, but he did not speak.
Still there was something in his glance, dimly seen though it was in the
star-light, which made Dick wince.  It was as if something had risen up
between father and son; and, rightly or wrongly the lad felt that his
father was looking upon him with doubt.

At the end of a few moments Dick mastered his awkwardness, and spoke to
his father as the latter came down from saying a few parting words to
Mrs Winthorpe.

"Shall I come with you, father--I mean, shall we?"

"If you like," said the squire coldly.  "Come, Marston."

Dick made a movement to speak to the latter, but he was staring straight
out across the fen in the direction of the draining works, and fretting
with impatience at the delay.

The next minute a start was made, and the boys were left behind.

"Mr Marston might have said come," said Tom in a low sulky voice.

"They both think we've been at some mischief," said Dick sadly.

"Then don't let's go with them.  I should have liked to go though."

"And so we will," cried Dick angrily.  "We'll go and show them that
we're not afraid to face anybody.  I wish people wouldn't be so

"So do I," cried Tom.  "But I say, Dick, it does look suspicious when
you're found getting into anybody's house in the middle of the night
with a ladder."

"Well, I suppose it does," replied Dick thoughtfully.

"Why, my father would have shot at anybody he saw climbing in.  I say,
are we going?"

"Yes, come along," cried Dick; and the two lads started off at a rapid
pace, following in the tracks of the squire and the engineer, whose
voices could be heard in a low murmur now some way ahead.

The night was glorious, and the stars were reflected in the face of the
mere, whose black smooth waters seemed to form an inverted curve to
complete the arch of spangled glory overhead.  From far and near came
the many sounds peculiar to the wild fen, while every now and then there
was a solitary splash, or perhaps a loud flapping and beating of the
water following closely upon the whistling and whirring of wings.

The lads had an hour's walk before them, and if they wished to keep up
with those in front, an arduous and sharp walk, for it soon became
evident that they were hurrying on at a great rate.

"We shall have to run directly," said Dick, after they had been going on
for about twenty minutes.  "Hist! what did Mr Marston say?"

"That he must have been mad to stop away from his lodgings to-night,"
whispered Tom, who had been a little in advance on the narrow path.
"Here, what's that?"

"Somebody on the mere," cried Dick excitedly.  "Hi! ho!"

"Hi! ho!" came from out of the darkness where the splashing of water had
been heard, accompanied by the peculiar sliding sound made by drawing a
pole over the edge of a boat.

"That you, Dave?"

"Yes, Mester Dick.  Hear a noise?"

"Yes.  Did you?"

"Something like thunder, and it wakkened me.  I think it weer a

These words were shouted as the man forced the punt along rapidly, till
it was abreast of the rough road track which ran along by the edge of
the mere.

"Wheer are you going?" cried Dave as soon as he came close up.

"Down to the drain-works," said Tom.

"Think it fell theer?" asked Dave.

"Yes: there was a flash of light went up."

"Hey, bud I'll come wi' you," said Dave earnestly.  "I'd best land here,
for I can't get much farther."

For thereabouts the track went wide of the edge of the mere, and Dave
was just landing, talking volubly the while, as the squire and Mr
Marston pressed on, leaving them behind, when there came another hail
off the water.

"Why, it's John Warren!" cried Tom.

"What's matter?"

"We dunno, lad," shouted back Dave.  "Fireball come down, I think."

"That all?" said the rabbit-catcher.  "Any mischief?  Don't see no

"Nay, bud we don't know," replied Dave.  "Squire and engineer chap's on
ahead, and we're going to see.  Coming?"

"Nay, I'm going back to bed again.  Busy day wi' me to-morrow.  I thowt
someone was killed."

There was a faint glimpse of the man and his boat seen for a moment, and
the water flashed in the rays of the stars as he turned; then his voice
was heard muttering, and the splash of his pole came more faintly, while
Dave secured and stepped out of the boat, to burst out suddenly in his
grating unmusical laugh.

"He, he, he!  His, hec, hac!  Seems straange and disappointed, lads.
Talks as if he wanted someone killed.  Now, then, come on."

By this time the squire and Mr Marston were a long way ahead, and Tom
proposed a run to overtake them.

"Ay, run, lads.  Keep up a trot.  Dessay I shall be clost behind."

"Come along!" cried Dick; and they started off along the track, with
Dave increasing his stride and seeming to skim without effort over the
ground, his long wiry legs and great strength enabling him to keep up
with the boys, who, whenever they looked back, found him close behind.

"You needn't mind about me, lads," he said with a chuckle; "I sha'n't be

They were rapidly gaining upon those in front; knowing this fact from
the murmur of their voices as they kept up an animated discussion, when,
all at once, it seemed as if the squire had begun to talk much more
rapidly, and that Mr Marston was replying to him at a terrible rate,
their voices becoming blurred and confused, as it were, when Dick
realised what it meant.

"There's a party of the drain-men coming.  Let's run!"

Dick was right, and five minutes after, he and his companions had joined
a group gathered round Mr Marston, while Bargle, the big labourer, was

"Ay, mester, we _all_ tumbled out, and went away down to the gaats as
soon as we'd tumbled out, and they're all knocked down and the water

"Knocked down!" cried the squire.

"Ay," cried another of the men, "far as we could see; one's smashed to
bits, and brickwork's all ploughed up."

"Come along!" said the engineer.  "Two of you run on first and get

The big labourer and another went off back with a heavy trot, and the
party were advancing again when a heavy step was heard behind.

"Who's that?" said Tom.

"Me, lad, me," came back in the thick hearty voice of the wheelwright.
"What's amiss?"

They told him.

"I was straange and fast asleep," he said, "and didn't hear nowt; but my
missus wakkened me, and I come on."

"Ay, bud it wakkened me, neighbour," said Dave, who was busy
administering to himself a pill.  "I've slep' badly since I had that
last touch of ager, and I thowt some un was broosting in the wall, and
as soon as I jumped up and looked out, the plaace seemed alive, for all
the birds in the fen were flying round and round, and you could hear
their wings whistling as they flew away.  I was scarred."

Half an hour later they were picking their way along the embankment at
the side of the great drain, now once more filled with salt water, while
when they reached the mouth, where a peculiar dank saline odour was
perceptible, the two men who had been flitting before them with
lanthorns like a couple of will-o'-the-wisps, went cautiously down the
crumbling bank, followed by the engineer, and the mischief done was at
once plain to see.

Apparently a powerful blast of powder had been placed in the hollow of
the stone-work, where the mechanism for opening and closing the great
sluice-gates was fixed, and the result of the explosion was a huge chasm
in the stone, and one of the gates blown right off, leaving the way for
the water free.

A dead silence fell upon the group as the engineer took one of the
lanthorns and carefully examined the damage, the squire holding the
other light, and peering forward in the darkness till the engineer
climbed back to his side.

"They've managed it well," he said bitterly.

"Well!" cried the squire angrily.  "I'm not a harsh man, but I'd give a
hundred pounds down to see the wretch who did this lying dead in the

"Ay, mester," said Hickathrift in a low hoarse voice; "it be a shaame.
Will it spoil the dreern, and stop all the work?"

"Ay," said Dave, as he stood leaning upon his pole, which he had brought
over his shoulder; "will it stop dreern?"

The two lads leaned forward to hear the answer, and there was a peculiar
solemnity in the scene out there in the wild place in the darkness,
merely illumined by the two lanthorns.

"Stop the drain!" exclaimed the squire hoarsely, and in a voice full of

"No, my men," said the engineer coolly.  "It will make a job for the
carpenters and the masons; but if the madman, or the man with the brains
of a mischievous monkey, thinks he is going to stop our great enterprise
by such an act as this, he is greatly mistaken.  You, Bargle, be here to
meet me at daylight with a double gang.  Get the piles up here at once,
and if we work hard we can have the piles in and an embankment up before
the next tide.  A few days' hindrance, Mr Winthorpe, that's all."

The men broke into a cheer, in which Dave and Hickathrift joined; and as
nothing more could be done, the little crowd separated, the men going
slowly back to their huts, while the squire and Marston made for the
track so as to return, talking earnestly the while.

"You talked as if the thing were a trifle," said the squire angrily.
"It will cost us hundreds!"

"Yes, but it might cost us thousands if we let the scoundrels know how
big a breach they have made in our works, and they would renew the
attack at once."

"Hah, there's something in that!" said the squire, drawing his breath in
angrily through his teeth.  "If I only knew who was at the bottom of it!
Marston, it must be the work of a gang among your men."

"Think so?" said the engineer quietly.

"I do."

"But why should my men do such a dastardly act?"

"To make the job last longer."

"Nonsense, my dear sir!  We have work before us that will last us for
years, for this drain is only the first of many."

"Then who is it--who can it be?"

"I think I've got an insight to-night," said Marston.  "Tom Tallington
saw a couple of men coming along the road and creep to the edge of the

"True!  I had forgotten that," said the squire sharply.

"And that shows us that our enemies belong to a party somewhere at a
distance, and that we should be wasting time in searching here.  Hallo!
who's this?"

The exclamation was caused by the appearance of a dark figure coming
towards them from the direction of the Toft.

"Why, it's Thorpeley, the constable!" said Dick in a whisper to his

"Oh, it's you!" said the squire gruffly.  "Pity you weren't down here

"Has it been an explosion, sir?" said the constable in a smooth unctuous

"Yes," said the squire abruptly, and he walked on with the engineer.

"Ah, I was going on to see!" said the constable; "but as you're all
going back, I'll go back too."

No one spoke, but all walked on in silence, for the man's coming seemed
to have damped the conversation; but the opportunity for making himself
heard and showing his importance was not to be ignored.

"They're very clever," he said in a high voice, so that the squire and
Mr Marston, who were in front, could hear; "but I've got my hye upon

"Why didn't you ketch 'em, then, 'fore they did this here?" said Dave
with a little laugh.

"Ay, why didst thou not stop this?" growled Hickathrift.

"Because the thing was not quite ripe.  I shall tak' 'em yet red-handed,
and then--"

He paused and rubbed his hands.

"What then?" asked Dave.

"Transportation or hanging--one of them," said the constable with a

"Ay, but you heven't found 'em yet," said Dave, shaking his head.

"Nay, bud I can put my hand on 'em pretty well when I like."

"Wheer are they, then?" said Hickathrift excitedly.

"Ay, wheer are they?" said the constable.  "Going about stealthily of a
night, creeping behind hedges, and carrying messages one to the other.
I know!  They think no one suspects them, and that they're going to be
passed over, but I'm set here to find them out, and I've nearly got
things ready."

"Look here, my man," said the engineer, stopping short; "can you say for
certain who's at the bottom of this mischief?"

"Mebbe I can, sir."

"Then who was it?"

"Nay," said the constable with a little laugh; "if theer's going to be
any credit for takkin of 'em, I mean to hev it, and not give it over to
someone else."

"Pish!" ejaculated the squire angrily; "come along!  The man knows

"Mebbe not," said the constable with a sneer.  "Mebbe if people treated
people proper, and asked them to their house, and gave 'em a lodging and
a bit of food, things might hev been found out sooner; but some people
thinks they know best."

The squire understood the hint, but he scorned to notice it, and went on
talking sternly to the engineer; but Thorpeley was not to be put down
like that, for he continued:

"Mebbe theer's people in it--old people and young people--as wouldn't
like to be exposed, but who hev got to be exposed, and--"

"Look here," said Dick boldly, "if my father won't speak, I will.  Do
you mean to say you believe Tom Tallington and I know anything about
these cowardly tricks?"

"Nay, I'm not going to show my hand," said the man.  "Wait a bit, and
you'll see."

"No; you speak out now," cried Dick.  "I won't be suspected by any man.
Do you mean to say Tom Tallington and I know?"

"Nay, I shall na speak till proper time comes.  I know what I know, and
I know what I've seen, and when time comes mebbe I shall speak, and not

"He don't know anything," cried Tom, laughing.  "He's a regular sham."

"Nay, I don't know as boys steals out o' windows at nights, and goes
creeping along in the dark, and playing their games as other people gets
the credit on.  I don't know nothing.  Oh, no!"

"Why, you cowardly--"

Dick did not finish his speech, for at that moment Hickathrift stretched
out one of his great arms, and his big hand closed with a mighty grip on
the constable's shoulder, making the man utter a sharp ejaculation.

"That'll do," he growled.  "Yow shoot thee neb.  Man as says owt again
Mester Dick here's saying things agen me."

"What do you mean?" cried the constable.  "Are you going to resist the

"Nay, not I," said Hickathrift.  "I am a good subject o' the king's.
God bless him!  But if yow says owt more again Mester Dick, I'll take
thee by the scruff and pitch thee right out yonder into the bog."

"Ay," snarled Dave, spitting in his hands and giving his staff a twist;
"and I'll howd him down till he says he's sorry."

How the constable was to beg Dick's pardon when held down under the
black ooze and water of the mere was not very evident; but the threat
had a good effect, for the man stared from one of the speakers to the
other, and held his peace till they reached the Toft.

The explosion proved to have done more mischief than was at first
supposed, and necessitated the taking down of all one side of the gowt
and the making of a new sluice door.  It was all plain enough, as the
engineer had surmised upon the first inspection: a heavy charge of
powder had been lowered down by the miscreants who were fighting against
the project, and they had probably used a long fuse sufficient to enable
them to get far enough away before the explosion.

What followed was, however, quite enough to daunt the most determined
foe, for in place of disheartening the engineer, the mishap seemed to
spur him on to renewed exertions.  He was on the spot by daybreak, and
before long a strong dam was made across, to prevent the entrance of the
sea-water; the drain was emptied, and while one gang was engaged in
taking down the ruined side of the gowt, the rest of the men went on
with the delving, as if nothing had happened, and the dike increased.

Dick and Tom were down at the works directly after breakfast, but Mr
Marston took very little notice of them, and it seemed to Dick that the
engineer shared the squire's doubts.

The consequence was, that, being a very natural boy, who, save when at
school, had led rather a solitary life, finding companionship in Tom
Tallington and the grown-up denizens of the fen, Dick, who was by no
means a model, turned sulky, and shrank within his metaphorical shell.

"I sha'n't go begging him to talk to me if he doesn't like," he said to
Tom; "and if my father likes to believe I would do such things I shall

"Go where?" said Tom, looking at him wonderingly.

"I don't know--anywhere.  I say, let's find an island and build a hut,
and go there whenever we like."

"But where?--out in the sea somewhere?"

"No, no, I mean such a place as Dave's and John Warren's.  You and I
could retreat there whenever we liked."

Tom stared, and did not seem to grasp the idea for a few minutes; then
his eyes brightened.

"Why, Dick," he cried, "that would be glorious!  We could catch and
shoot birds, and have our own fire, and no one could get to us."

"Without a boat," said Dick slowly.

"I'd forgotten that," said Tom thoughtfully.  "How could we get there,

"We'd borrow Hicky's punt till we had built one for ourselves."

"But could we build one?"

"Of course we could, or make one of skins, or a raft of reeds.  There
are lots of ways."

"But what will your father say?"

"I don't know," said Dick dolefully; "he thinks I'm fighting against
him, so I suppose he'll be glad I've gone."

"But how about your mother?"

Dick paused a few moments before answering.

"I should tell her as a secret, and she'd help me, and lend me things we
should want.  I don't care to be at home now, with everybody looking at
one as if there was something wrong."

"I don't think my father would let me go," said Tom thoughtfully, "and
I'm sure my mother wouldn't; and I say, Dick, isn't it all nonsense?"

"I don't think it's nonsense," said Dick, who was taking a very morbid
view of matters, consequent upon a mistaken notion of his father's ideas
and thoughts at that time, and matters were not improved by a
conversation which ensued in the course of the next day.

Dick was in the garden with Tom, paying court to the gooseberry trees,
for though fruit by no means abounded there, the garden always supplied
a fair amount of the commoner kinds, consequent upon the shelter
afforded from the north and bitter easterly sea-winds by the old
buildings which intervened.

"Here, I want to talk to you two," said the squire; and he led the way
into the house, where Mrs Winthorpe was seated at work, and, probably
by a preconcerted arrangement, to Dick's great disgust she rose and left
the room.

"Now," said the squire, "I don't like for there to be anything between
us, Dick; and as for you, Tom Tallington, I should be sorry to think
anything about you but that you were a frank, straightforward companion
for my son."

"I'm sure, sir--" blundered out Tom.

"Wait a minute, my lad.  I have not done.  Now, I'm going to ask you a
plain question, both of you, and I want a frank, manly answer.  But
before I ask it, I'm going to say a few words."

He drew his tobacco-jar towards him, and took down his pipe, carefully
filled it, and laid it down again.

"Now, look here," he said.  "I'm a great believer in keeping faith and
being true to one another, and looking down with contempt upon a
tale-bearer, or one who betrays a secret.  Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," said Tom, for Dick felt that he could not speak.  "You mean,
sir, that you don't like a sneak."

"That's it," said the squire; "but I should have liked to hear you say
that, Dick.  However, that is what I mean.  There are times, though,
when lads have been led into connections where things are done of which
they are heartily ashamed.  They have joined in them from the idea that
it was a good bit of fun, or that there was some injustice being
perpetrated, and they have, as they think, joined the weaker side.  But
I want you both to see that in such cases as we have had lately it would
be weak and criminal to keep silence from the mistaken notion that it
would be cowardly to speak, and betraying friends."

Dick's face was scarlet, and his bosom swelled with emotion as he felt
choked with indignation at his father suspecting him, while he changed
countenance the more as he saw his father watching him keenly.  In fact
the more innocent Dick strove to look the worse he succeeded, and the
squire seemed troubled as he went on.

"Now, my lads, as you are well aware, there are some cowardly outrages
being perpetrated from time to time; and I want you to answer me at
once--do you either of you know anything whatever about the persons who
have done these things?"

"No," said Tom at once; and the squire turned to Dick.

"Now, my boy," he said, "why don't you speak?"

Dick felt as if he would choke, and with his morbid feeling increasing,
he said in a husky voice:

"No, father, I do not know anything either."

"On your honour, Dick?" said his father, gazing at him searchingly.

"On my honour, father."

"That will do," said the squire in a short decisive tone.  "I must own
that I thought you two knew something of the matter.  I suspected you
before that meddling, chattering idiot shared my ideas.  But now there's
an end to it, and I shall go to work to find out who is fighting against
us, since I am sure that you two boys are quite innocent.  That will

"Father doesn't believe me," said Dick bitterly as soon as they were

"Nonsense!" cried Tom.  "Why, he said he did."

"Yes, but I could see it in his eyes that he did not I know his looks so
well, and it does seem so hard."

As if to endorse Dick's fancy, the squire passed them an hour afterwards
in the garden and there was a heavy frown upon his countenance as he
glanced for a moment at his son, who was, of course, perfectly ignorant
of the fact that his father was so intent upon the troubles connected
with the drain, and the heavy loss which would ensue if the scheme
failed, that he did not even realise the presence of his boy.

It was enough, though, for Dick; and he turned to his companion.

"There," he said, "what did I tell you?  Father doesn't believe me.  But
I know what I'll do."

"What will you do--run away from home?" said Tom.

"Like a coward, and make him feel sure that I knew all this and told a
lie.  No, I won't.  I'll just show him."

"Show him what?"

"That I'm innocent."

"Yes, that's all very well; but how are you going to do it?"

"Find out the people and let him see."

"Yes, but how?" cried Tom eagerly, as he knocked an apple off one of the
trees and tried to take a bite, but it was so hard and green that he
jerked it away.

"I don't know yet; but someone does all these cowardly things, and I
mean to find it out before I've done."

"Oh, I am disappointed!" said Tom dolefully.

"Disappointed!  Why?  Won't you help me?"

"Yes, I will.  But I thought we were going to find an island of our own
somewhere out in the mere, where no one ever goes, and have no end of

"And so we will," said Dick eagerly.  "We could keep it secret, and
there would be the sort of place to be and watch."

"What, out there?"

"To be sure!  Whoever does all this mischief comes in a boat, I'm sure
of that, and he wouldn't suspect us of watching, and so we could catch

Tom screwed up his face in doubt, but the idea of starting a sort of
home out there in the middle of the wild fen-land had its fascinations,
and the plan was discussed for long enough before they parted that day.



The two lads had left the grammar-school in the county town about a year
before in consequence of a terrible outbreak of fever; and, Mrs
Winthorpe declaring against their going back, they had been kept at
home.  But though several plans had been proposed of sending them for
another year's education somewhere, the time had glided by, the business
of the draining had cropped up, and as the lads proved useful at times,
the school business kept on being deferred, to the delight of both, the
elongated holiday growing greatly to their taste.  Even though they were
backward from a more modern point of view, they were not losing much,
for they were acquiring knowledge which would be useful to them in their
future careers, and in addition growing bone and muscle such as would
make them strong men.

Hence it was that the time glided pleasantly on, with the two lads
finding plenty of opportunities for the various amusements which
gratified them when not occupied in some way about the farms.

It was a few days after the conversation with the squire that Tom
proposed a turn after the fish in Hickathrift's boat.

"We could pole ourselves without Dave; and let's ask Mr Marston to
come.  It's a long time since he has had a holiday."

Dick's brow was overcast, and he wore generally the aspect of a boy who
had partaken of baking pears for a week, but his face cleared at this,
and he eagerly joined in the plan.

"We'll get Hicky to lend us his boat, and pole down as far as we can,
and then run across to Mr Marston."

Their preparations did not take long, and though they were made before
they knew whether they could have the punt, they did not anticipate any
objections, and they were right.

Hickathrift was busy sawing, but he looked up with a broad grin, and
leaving his work went down with them to the water side.

"Course I'll lend it to you, lads," he said.  "Wish I could come wi'

"Do, then, Hicky.  It's a long time since we've had a fish."

"Nay; don't ask me," was the reply.  "I wean't leave the work.  Ay, bud
it's nice to be a boy," he added, with a smile.

"Couldn't you do your work afterward?" cried Tom.

"Nay, nay, don't tempt a poor weak fellow," he cried.  "I'm going to do
that bit o' sawing 'fore I leave it.  Now, theer, in wi' you!"

The boys made another appeal to the great fellow to come; but he was
staunch.  Still he uttered a sigh of relief as he gave the punt a
tremendous thrust from the bank into deep water, where it went rustling
by the willow boughs and over the wild growth where the pink-blossomed
persicaria sent up its pretty heads.

"If we had pressed Hicky a little more, I believe he would have come,"
said Dick.

"No, he wouldn't.  He never will when he says he won't."

Just at that moment Hickathrift was muttering to himself on the bank, as
he watched the boat.

"Straange thing," he said, "that a girt big man like I am should allus
feel like a boy.  I wanted to go wi' they two straange and badly.  I
will go next time."

Taking it in turns, the boys sent the punt quickly over the amber water,
the exercise in the bright sunshine chasing the clouds from Dick's
countenance, so that before they reached their intended landing-place on
the edge of the mere, as near as they could go to the spot where Mr
Marston's men were at work, he was once more his old self, laughing,
reckoning on the fish they would catch with the trimmers that lay ready,
and forgetting for the time all about the plots to injure the drain and
its projectors.

There was a low patch of alders at the spot where they intended to land,
and Dick was just about to run the punt close in, when he suddenly
ceased poling and stood motionless staring before him.

"What's the matter?" cried Tom.

There was no answer, in fact none was needed, for at that moment Tom's
eyes fell upon the object which had arrested his companion's action, to
wit, the flabby, unpleasant-looking face of Thorpeley, the constable,
that individual being seated by the low bushes smoking his pipe in a
position where he must have been watching the lads ever since they

Dick's teeth gave forth a peculiar gritting sound, and then, thrusting
down the pole, he ran in the punt, leaped on to the quivering shore with
the rope, fastened it to a bush, and signed to Tom to follow.

The man said nothing, but there was a curiously aggravating leering grin
upon his countenance as he sat taking in every movement on the part of
the boys, who walked away rapidly with the full knowledge that they were

"Don't look back, Tom," said Dick between his teeth.  "Oh, how I should
have liked to give him a topper with the pole!"

"I wish old Dave was here to pitch him in the water," growled Tom.

"Did you ever see anything so aggravating?  He's following us.  I can
hear his boots.  Don't take any notice.  Let's go on fast as if he
wasn't there."

"I don't know that I can," grumbled Tom.  "I feel alloverish like."

"Feel how?"

"As if I couldn't do as I liked.  My head wants to turn round and look
at him, my tongue wants to call him names, and my toes itch, and my
fists want to feel as if it would be like punching a sack of corn to hit
him in the nose."

"Come along!" cried Dick, who was too angry to laugh at his companion's
remarks.  "Let's make haste to Mr Marston."

As they reached the works the first man they encountered was big Bargle,
who stuck his spade into the soft peat and came slowly up the
embankment, to stand wiping his fist on his side, before opening it and
holding it out, smiling broadly the while.

He shook hands with both lads, and then went back to his work smiling;
and as they walked on they could hear him say confidentially to all
around him:

"We're mates, we are, lads; we're mates."

The engineer was coming towards them; and as they met, Dick unfolded his
plan, but before he had half-finished his words trailed off, and he
stopped short.  For the severe countenance before him checked his

"No," said Mr Marston, shortly.  "I am too busy.  Good day!"

He went on to speak to his men, and Dick looked at Tom with a dismal
expression of countenance which spoke volumes.

"Come along back!" he said.

Tom obeyed without a word, and glancing neither to the right nor left,
the two boys walked heavily back over the dry surface of the quaking
bog, so as to reach their boat.

Before they had travelled half-way they met Thorpeley, who leered at
them in a sinister way, and, as they passed on, turned and followed at a

"Look here, Dick," whispered Tom, "let's give him something to think
about.  Come along!"

Tom started running as if in a great state of excitement, and Dick
followed involuntarily, while after a momentary hesitation the constable
also began to run.

"I say, don't go that way," said Dick, as his companion struck off to
the left.  "Bog's soft there."

"I know: come along!  Keep on the tufts."

Dick understood Tom's low chuckling laugh, which was just like that of a
cuckoo in a bush, and divining that the object was to reach the boat by
a detour, he did not slacken his speed.

Long familiarity with the worst parts of the fen enabled the lads to
pick their way exactly, and they went on bounding from tuft to tuft,
finding fairly firm ground for their feet as if by instinct, though very
often they were going gingerly over patches of bog which undulated and
sprang beneath their tread, while now and then they only saved
themselves from going through the dry coat of moss by making a
tremendous leap.

They had pretty well half a mile to run to reach the boat by the alder
bush, and the constable soon began to go heavily; but he was so
satisfied that the boys had some sinister design in view, and were
trying to throw him off their scent, that he put forth all his energies,
and as Dick glanced back once, it was to see him, hat in hand, toiling
along in the hot sun right in their wake.

"You'd better not go round there, Tom," said Dick as they approached a
patch of rushes.  "It's very soft."

"I don't care if I go in; do you?" was the reply.

"No, I don't mind," said Dick sadly.  "I don't seem to mind anything

"Come along then," cried Tom; "and as we get round let's both look back
and then try to keep out of sight--pretend, you know."

They reached the patch of tall rushes and reeds, which was high enough
to hide them, and giving a frightened look back at their pursuer,
plunged out of sight.

"Oh, I say, isn't it soft?" cried Dick.

"Never mind: some people like it soft," said Tom.  "Follow me."

He had arranged his plan so deftly that while keeping the patch of reeds
between them and their pursuer, Tom managed, with no little risk of
going through, to reach a second patch of the marsh growth, behind which
he dodged, and threw himself down, Dick following closely; and they were
well hidden and lay panting as the constable came round the first patch,
glanced round, and then made for a third patch still more to the left,
and beyond which was quite a copse of scrubby firs.

"Ho--ho--ho!" laughed Tom in a low voice, as he nearly choked with
mirth, for all at once there was a splash, a shout, a strange wallowing
noise, and as the lads parted and peered through the rushes they could
see that the constable was down and floundering in the bog.

"Oh, Tom," cried Dick, struggling up, "he'll be smothered!"

"Sit down; he won't.  It'll be a lesson to him."

"But suppose--"

"No, don't suppose anything.  He'll get out right enough."

The constable had a hard struggle for a few minutes, and doubtless would
have got out sooner if he had worked a little more with his brains; but
finally he crawled to firmer ground, just as a scuffle began between
Dick and Tom, the former being determined to go to his enemy's help, the
latter clinging to him with all his might to keep him back.

"Now, come along down to the boat.  We can get nearly there before he
sees us," whispered Tom.

"But do you think he will get back safe?"

"Of course he will.  He won't try to run any more."

Dick took a long look at the constable to see that he was really out of
danger, and feeling satisfied at last that there was nothing to mind, he
followed Tom once more, the two managing so well that after losing sight
of them altogether for some time, their inquisitive pursuer had the
mortification of seeing them enter the punt and push off, leaving him to
make a long and tedious circuit, crawling part of the way, and when he
stood erect, wanting as he was in the boys' experience, making very slow
progress to the regular track.

As soon as the excitement was over, and the boat reached once more,
Dick's gloomy feelings came back, and but for his companion's efforts he
would have relapsed into a mournfully depressed condition, which would
have done little towards making their trip agreeable.

Tom, however, worked hard, and using the pole with vigour he drove the
punt along, till Dick roused up from a fit of musing on his father's
severe looks and Mr Marston's distant manner, to find that they were
close to Dave's home.

"Why have you come here?" he cried.

"To see how he is," replied Tom; and, thrusting down his pole, he soon
had the punt ashore.

"Why, he isn't at home!" said Dick.

His words proved correct, for the punt was missing, and unless it lay on
the other side of an alder patch or was drawn out to be repaired, the
master must have it far away somewhere on the mere.

It need not be supposed that the two lads were troubled with more
curiosity than is the property of most boys of their age, because they
landed and looked round, ending by going up to the fen-man's hut and

It was not a particularly cleanly place, but everything there, dealing
as it did with Dave's pursuits, had its attraction, from the gun hanging
upon a couple of wooden pegs to the nets and lines above the rough
bed-place, with its sheep-skins and dingy-looking blanket.

"I should like to take the gun and have a turn by ourselves," said Dick,
gazing at the long rusty piece longingly.

But it remained untouched, and, returning to the boat, the boys pushed
off and made for the more remote portion of the fen, passing from one
open lake to another as they followed the long meandering lanes of
water, in and out among reed-beds and alder patches, islands of
bog-plants, islets of sedge, and others where the gravel and sand
enabled the purple heather and lavender ling to blow profusely, in
company with here and there a little gorgeous orange-yellow furze.

The hours went by, and the sun was declining fast as they neared at
length a spot which had attracted them for some time past.  It was
either a little promontory or an isthmus, where the ground was strong
enough for fir-trees to flourish, and this promised dry ground, wood,
and a good site for a little hut if they set one up.

Dick brightened at the sight, for there was a cheering notion in his
mind that he was going to find rest, peace, and happiness here in a
little home of his own making, to which he could retire from the world
to fish, shoot, and eat the fruits he would be able to gather in the

In short, Dick Winthorpe, being in a marsh, was suffering from a sharp
fit of goose, such as attacks many boys who, because matters do not go
exactly as they like at home, consider that they are ill-used, and long
for what they call their freedom--a freedom which is really slavery,
inasmuch as they make themselves the bond-servants of their silly
fancies, and it takes some time to win them back.

The clump of firs here, which they had before seen at a distance,
surpassed their expectations, for it was a good-sized island, far from
the shore, and promised fishing, fowling, and security from
interruption, for it was not likely that any one would venture there.

But the evening was rapidly coming on, and the punt's head was turned
homewards, the distance they had come proving startling, as they began
now to feel that they were very hungry, and that they had hours of work
before them before they could reach the Toft.

"Not many fish to land," said Dick rather dismally.

"Why, you wouldn't fish!" replied Tom.  "Never mind, we've found the
island.  Shall we build a place?"

Dick's reply was in the affirmative, and for the next two hours they
debated on the subject of what they should take over, and how soon, and
so passed the time away till after dark, when, being still quite a mile
from home, there came the sharp report of a gun, and then they fancied
that they heard a cry.

"Why, who can be shooting now?" said Dick in an awe-stricken whisper.
"Is anything wrong?"

"I don't know.  Look! look!"

Tom whispered these words, and pointed in the opposite direction, to a
lambent light which seemed to be moving slowly over the marshy edge of
the mere.

The light was in a portion of the shore where the mere narrowed; and the
two lads let the boat drift as they sat and watched, each thinking of
the place in the light of experience.

"Why, Tom, that can't be a boat," whispered Dick.

"Boat!  No, it's land there."

"Land!  It's soft bog that nobody could walk on!"

"Then it couldn't be a boat.  Why, it's a will-o'-the-wisp."

"Yes," said Dick, after a sceptical pause, during which he watched the
lambent light as it played about in a slow fantastic way, just as if it
were a softly-glowing lantern carried by a short-winged moth, which used
it to inspect the flowering plants as it sought for a meal.  "Let's go
over and look at it."

"No, no! no, no!" whispered Tom excitedly.

"Why not?  Are you afraid?"

"No, not a bit; but I don't want to go.  I'm tired and hungry.  I don't
believe you want to go either."

"Yes, I do," said Dick eagerly.  "I feel as if I wanted to go, but my
body didn't."

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Tom, but very softly, as he kept his eyes fixed on
the distant light.  "That's a nice way of backing out of it.  Why,
you're as much afraid as I am, only I'm honest and you're not."

"Yes, I am," whispered Dick.  "I'm as honest as you are, and I'll show
you that I am.  There, I should feel afraid to go by myself."

"Will you go if I go with you?"

Before Dick could answer there was a long, low, piteous cry from the
other direction, that from whence they had heard the shot.

"I say, what's that?" whispered Tom in an awe-stricken tone.

"I don't know.  It sounds very queer.  There it is again."

"Is it a bird?" whispered Tom.

"No.  I never heard a bird cry like that."

"What is it then--a fox trapped?"

"Nobody would trap the foxes, and it can't be a rabbit, because that
would be a squeal."

The cry came again over the dark water of the mere, and sounded so
strange and weird that Dick shivered.

"It's something queer," said Tom huskily.  "Take the pole and let's get
away.  Don't make a noise."


"No, no; don't stop.  We don't know what it is.  Perhaps it's one of
those things Hicky talks about that he has heard sometimes."

"Father says it's all nonsense, and there are no such things in the

"He'd better say there are no will-o'-the-wisps to lead people astray,"
whispered Tom.

"He doesn't say that.  He says there are jack-o'-lanterns, but they
don't lead people astray--people go astray to try and catch them."

"Hist! there it is again!" said Tom, gripping his companion's arm, as
the long piteous cry came faintly over the water.  "It is something

"It isn't," said Dick.  "It's someone in distress."

"People in distress never cry out like that."

"Why, Tom, it's that Thorpeley stuck in the mud somewhere; and it's our

"It's his own if he is stuck there.  But I don't believe it is.  Why,
it's two miles nearer home than where we left him."

"Then it's somebody else in trouble," said Dick excitedly.

"It isn't.  Let's go home."

Tom was, as a rule, no coward; but he was faint and tired, and the very
fact of being seated out on the dark waters with the gloom so thick that
they could see but a short distance, and with an unnatural-looking light
on one side and a strange marrow-thrilling cry coming on the other, was
enough to startle stouter-hearted lads than he, and he held more tightly
to his companion as Dick seized the pole.

"Let's get back home," he said again.

"You said I was afraid to go to the will o' the wisp," said Dick
stoutly.  "You're afraid to go now and see what it is makes that noise."

"Well, I can't help it," said Tom appealingly; "but if you go I shall go
with you.  There, listen!  Isn't it horrible!"

He spoke as the cry came again faintly but piteous in the extreme.

Dick drove the pole down into the soft bottom of the mere and sent the
punt surging through the water, determined now to go straight to the
spot whence the cry seemed to come; and, guided by the sound, he toiled
away for about ten minutes before giving way to Tom, who worked hard to
reach the place.

For, once the two lads had taken action, they seemed to forget their
nervous dread, while what was more encouraging to them to proceed was
the fact that as they reduced the distance the cries gradually seemed to
be more human, and were evidently those of some person in peril or great

It was a weird strange journey over the water now, the excitement lent
by their mission seeming to change the aspect of all around.  The reeds
whispered, the patches of growth looked black, and every now and then
they disturbed some water-fowl, whose hurried flight seemed suddenly to
have become mysterious and awe-inspiring, as if it were a creature of
the darkness which had been watching their coming and had risen to hover

But there was the cry again and again, sometimes faint and distant,
sometimes sounding as if close at hand, and, as is often the case,
apparently varying in position to right or left as it was borne by the
soft night wind.

"We cannot go any farther," cried Dick at last as he drove the boat in
amongst the broad belt of reeds which fringed the edge of the mere.

"Yes, we can.  There's a way here," cried Tom excitedly, pointing
through the gloom to his left where there was an opening.  "Coming!" he
yelled as the cry rose once more.

Dick backed the boat out, with the reeds whistling and rustling
strangely, and the next minute he had it right in the gloomy opening,
which proved to be quite a little bay, where, at the end of a few good
thrusts of the pole, the prow of the punt bumped up against the
quivering moss.

The two boys got out cautiously; the pole was driven down into the peat,
and the boat made fast; and then they paused and listened for the next

Everything now was perfectly silent, not so much as the whisper of a
reed or the whir of the wing of a nightbird fell upon their ears; and at
last, in an awe-stricken whisper, Tom said:

"Hicky is right.  It was something strange from out of the marsh.  Let's
get away."

Dick was stouter-hearted than his companion, and lifting his voice he
shouted, and then stood silent.

"Help! help!" came faintly in reply.

"There!" cried Dick turning sharply.  "It's a man."

"Think so?"

"Why, of course!  Come along!  Here, I can see where we are now."

"Yes, I think I know where we are," whispered Tom.  "But is it safe to
go after it?"

"You mean after _him_," said Dick.  "Yes, it's pretty firm here--yes,
it's all right.  We're amongst heath and bilberry as soon as we get by
this bit of bog.  Hoy! shout again," he cried as he plodded on
cautiously, with his feet sometimes sinking in the bog, sometimes
finding it pretty firm.

But there was no answer; and though as far as was possible Dick walked
in the direction of the sound, the guidance was of the most
unsatisfactory nature, and at the end of a minute or two they listened

"It must be that Thorpeley regularly bogged," said Dick at last, and a
curious shiver ran through him.  "I hope he hasn't sunk in."

"He couldn't," said Tom.  "I know this part.  It's all firm ground
between the water and the track to the sea."

"I can't quite make out where we are," said Dick, staring about him.

"I can.  There's the big alder clump, and beyond it there's the river
wall."  [Mud embankment.]

"So it is.  Yes, I know now.  Why, it is all firm about here, and nobody
could be bogged unless he got into a hole.  Ahoy!"

He shouted once more, but there was no answer; and when he raised his
voice again it was only for the sound to seem to come back, just as if
they were shut up in some large room.

"He must be hereabout," said Dick.

"Shall we find our way back to the boat?" said Tom in a doubting tone.

"I don't know, but if we don't we could walk home in half an hour.  Come
along.  Ahoy!"

Still no answer; and in spite of his companion's suggestions and strange
doubts Dick kept on hunting about in the darkness among the patches of
alders and the heath that here grew freely.  For, save in places, the
ground was sandy and firm, and, dark as it was, they had no difficulty
in making out the watery spots by their faint gleam or the different
character of the growth.

They shouted in turns and together, listening, going in different
directions, and all to no purpose.  Not a sound could they get in reply;
and at last, with a curious feeling of horror stealing over him,
compounded of equal parts of superstition and dread lest the person
whose cry they had heard had sunk in the mire of some hole, Dick
reluctantly gave way to Tom's suggestion that they should go back to the

"I knew it was something queer," whispered Tom.  "If we had gone on, we
should have been led into some dangerous hole and lost."

"Don't believe it," said Dick, as they trudged slowly back, utterly
worn-out and hoarse with shouting.

"You're such a doubting fellow!" grumbled Tom.  "If it had been anybody
in distress we should have found him."

"Perhaps," said Dick sadly.  "It's so dark, though, that we might have
passed him over."

"Nonsense!" cried Tom; "we were sure to find him.  There wasn't anybody.
It was a marsh cry, and--oh!"

Tom uttered a yell and went headlong down, with the effect of so
startling his companion that he ran a few steps before he could recover
his nerve, when he returned to extend his hand to Tom, who rose
trembling, while Dick stood staring aghast at the dark figure lying
extended among the heath, and over which his friend had stumbled.

"Why, Tom, it's Thorpeley!" cried Dick, as he went down on one knee and
peered into the upturned face.  "Mr Thorpeley, Mr Thorpeley!" he
cried; "what's the matter?"

There was no reply.

"It must have been him," whispered Dick.  "He had lost his way."

"Then let him find it again," grumbled Tom, "instead of watching us."

"But perhaps there is something the matter.  Mr Thorpeley, Mr

Dick laid his hand upon the man's shoulder and shook him, but there was
no response.

"Is he dead?" said Tom in an awe-stricken whisper.

"Dead!" cried Dick, leaping up and shrinking away at the suggestion.
"No, he can't be.  He's quite warm," he added, going down on his knee
again to shake the recumbent man, who now uttered a low groan.

"What shall we do, Dick?" said Tom huskily.  "I hate him, but we can't
leave him here."

"Well," said Dick, "I'm not very fond of him, but it would be like
leaving anybody to die to go away now.  We must carry him down to the

"Come on then, quick!"

Dick placed his hands beneath the constable's arms and locked his
fingers across his breast, while Tom turned his back as he got between
the man's legs, stooped in turn, and proceeded to lift them as if they
were the handles of a wheel-barrow.



"Then both together."

The two lads lifted the constable, staggered along a few yards, and set
him down again.

"Oh, I say!" groaned Tom.  "Isn't he heavy?"

"Come and try this end," retorted Dick.  "He's an awful weight.  We must
go a few yards at a time, and we shall do it yet.  Now then."

"Stop a minute," said Tom, who had picked up a handful of moss, and was
rubbing one hand.  "I--it's warm and sticky, and--oh, Dick, he's

Dick lowered the insensible man down again, and, shuddering with horror,
stepped to his companion's side.

Then kneeling down he tried to examine the spot pointed out by Tom, to
find out as well as was possible in the dim light that the constable was
bleeding freely from one leg.

"Dick, what shall we do?" cried Tom piteously.

"Why, what would anybody do if he had cut his finger?" cried Dick
manfully, as he undid his neckcloth and doubled it afresh.

"I don't know," cried Tom, who was sadly scared.

"You don't know!  Suppose you had cut your finger, wouldn't you tie it

"Yes, I suppose so," faltered Tom, whom the situation had completely

"Take off his neckerchief while I tie this on," said Dick, whom the
emergency had rendered more helpful.  "How can he have hurt himself like

As he spoke he busied himself in tightly bandaging the man's leg, and
added to the bandage the cotton cloth that Tom handed to him.

"I think that has stopped it," said Dick.  "Now then, we must carry him

"But we shall sink into the bog with him," faltered Tom.

"No, we sha'n't if we are careful.  Now, then, are you ready?"

"I don't like to try and lift him now," said Tom.  "It's so horrible.
The man's bleeding to death."

"More shame for you to stand still and not try to help him," said Dick
hotly.  "Here, you come and carry this end."

Tom hastened to obey, heedless of the fact that the task would be the
harder; and setting to with a will, the lads carried their load a few
yards before setting it down again to rest.

This time, in spite of Tom's appeal not to be left alone, Dick went on
for a bit so as to explore and make sure of the best way to get back to
the boat, and not without avail, for he was able, in spite of the
darkness, to pick out the firmest ground, his knowledge of the growth of
the fen and its choice of soil helping him.

But it was a long and painful task.  The lads were faint and terribly
hungry.  They had been working hard for several hours propelling the
punt, and the load they were carrying would not have been an easy one
for a couple of stout men.  Still, by means of that wonderful aid to
success, perseverance, they at last got past bog and water-pool, patch
of sphagnum, bed of reed, and slimy hollow, where the cotton rushes
nourished, and reached the belt of waving reeds which separated them
from the water.

It was not done without tremendous effort and a constant succession of
rests; but they stood there at last bathed in perspiration, and waiting
for a few minutes before lifting the sufferer into the boat.

Up to this time they had been so busy and excited that they had not
paused to ask the question: How was it that the man had been wounded?
but as they lifted him carefully into the boat, Tom being in and Dick
ashore, they both burst out with the query, as if moved by the same

"I know," said Dick, as the truth seemed to flash upon him.  "Some one
must have shot him."

Tom had taken up the pole and was just about to force the boat along
when this announcement seemed to paralyse him, and he stood there
thinking of what had taken place before.

"Why, Dick," he whispered, "isn't it very horrible?"

"Don't talk," cried his companion, entering the boat; "let's get home."

The pole plashed in the water, which rippled against the bows, and once
more they glided over the surface, just as the injured man uttered a low

"We sha'n't be very long," said Dick, kneeling down and carefully
feeling whether the kerchiefs he had bound round the leg were fulfilling
their purpose.  "Are you in much pain?"

"Pain!" groaned the man.  "Hah!  Give me some water."

There was no vessel of any kind in the punt, and Dick had to scoop up
some water in the hollow of his hand, and pour it between the injured
man's lips, with the result that he became sufficiently refreshed to sit
up a little and begin muttering.

Dick now took the pole, and it was Tom's turn to try and administer a
little comfort in the shape of words as to the time that would elapse
before they could reach the Toft; but the only result was to produce an
angry snarl from their patient.

"How does he seem?"  Dick asked, as Tom went to his relief.

"Better not ask him."

"Why not?"

"Perhaps he'll bite you.  He nearly did me.  I say, how much farther is

"Take another quarter of an hour.  Oh, I shall be glad, Tom!  Work

Tom looked in his companion's face, and uttered a low laugh, as he
toiled away at the poling, and that laugh seemed to say more than a
dozen long speeches.  Then there was nothing heard for some time but the
regular plash and ripple of the water, as it was disturbed by pole and
punt, while the darkness seemed to increase.  At the same time, though,
the hopes of the two lads rose high, for, standing as it were alone in
the midst of the black darkness, there was a soft yellow light.  At
first it was so dull and lambent that it suggested thoughts of the
will-o'-the-wisp.  But this was no dancing flame, being a steady glow in
one fixed spot, and Tom expressed his companion's thoughts exactly as he

"There's Hicky's old horn lanthorn!"

A few minutes more and the big bluff voice of the wheelwright was heard
in a loud hail.

This was answered, and the sounds roused the wounded man.

"Nearly there?" he said hoarsely.

"Very close now," replied Dick; and snatching the pole from Tom he drove
it down vigorously, making a tremendous spurt to reach the patch of old
pollard willows by the landing-place, on one of whose old posts the
lanthorn had been hung, and beyond which could now be seen the light in
the Hickathrifts' cot.

"Why, I was a-coming swimming after you, lads," shouted Hickathrift.
"You scarred me.  Squire's been down twiced to see if you'd got back,
and the missus is in a fine way."

"Don't talk, Hicky," shouted back Dick.  "Is Jacob there?"

"Ay, lad.  Why?"

"You'll want help.  Look here, send for the doctor."

"Doctor, lad?"

"Yes; I know.  Let Jacob go and tell my father, and he'll send down the
old cob.  Thorpeley's hurt badly."

They heard a low whistle, then the wheelwright's orders given sharply to
his apprentice, followed by the dull _thud, thud_ of his boots as he ran
off; and directly after the punt glided in and its bow was seized by the
big strong hand upon which the soft glowing light of the horn lanthorn

"Hey, but what's the matter with the man?" cried Hickathrift.  "We've
been wondering why he didn't come back."

"I don't know, only we heard a shot," said Dick excitedly; "and then we
heard someone calling for help, and found him lying ashore."

"Let me get a good howd on him," said the wheelwright; and with one foot
in the boat he passed his great arm under the constable and lifted him
out as tenderly as if he had been a child.

But, gentle as was the wheelwright's act, it roused the injured man, who
seemed to be driven into a fit of fury by the pain he suffered, and he
burst into a torrent of bad language against Hickathrift and the two
boys, which he kept up till he had been carried into his lodging and
laid upon his bed.

"Hey, lads," said the wheelwright with a low chuckle, as he walked down
with the boys to where the lanthorn still hung upon the willow-stump,
the care of the constable having been left to the women; "he don't seem
to hev lost his tongue."

"But he's very bad, isn't he?" said Dick anxiously.

"I should say no," replied Hickathrift.  "Man who's very badly don't
call people."

"But his leg?"

"Ay, that's badly.  I give the hankycher a good tighten up, and that hot
him, so that he had to howd his tongue."

"That made him hold his tongue, Hicky?"

"Ay, lad.  I med him feel that if he didn't shoot his neb, I'd pull
tighter, and so he quieted down.  Now, tell us all about it."

"Give us some bread and butter first, Hicky; we're nearly starved."

"Hey, lads," cried the wheelwright.  "Here, coom in to missus and--"

Hickathrift's speech was cut short by the coming of the squire, who
hurried up.

"Here, boys," he cried; "what's all this?"

Dick told all he knew, and the squire drew a long breath and turned by
the light of the lanthorn to gaze first in the lads' faces, and then to
speak to the wheelwright.

"This is bad, Hickathrift," he said hoarsely.

As he spoke he gazed searchingly at the great workman.

"Ay, squire; it is a straange awkard thing."

Mr Winthorpe gazed in his great frank face again; and then, with his
lips compressed, he went to the bed-side of the injured man.

"Bad business," said Hickathrift; "but lads mustn't starve because a
constable's shot.  Coom along.  Here, missus, let's hev bit o'--Nay,
she's gone to see the neighbours, and hev a bit o' ruckatongue."  [A

That did not much matter, for Hickathrift knew the ways of his own
house; and in a very short time had placed a loaf and a piece of cold
bacon before the hungry boys.

This they attacked furiously, for now that they were relieved of the
responsibility of the injured man, their hunger had asserted itself.
But they had not partaken of many mouthfuls before they heard the
squire's voice outside, in hurried conversation with Hickathrift.

"Yes, I sent him off directly on the cob," the squire said; "but it must
be some hours before the doctor can get here."

"Think he's very badly, squire?" came next, in Hickathrift's deep bass.

"No, not very bad as to his wound, my lad; but this is a terrible

"Ay, mester, it is trubble.  Straange thing to hev first one man shot
and then another.  Say, squire, hope it wean't be our turn next."

"Go on eating, Tom," whispered Dick, setting the example, and cutting a
slice for his companion, while Tom hacked the bread.

"I'm hard at work," said Tom thickly.  "I shall eat as much as ever I
can, and make mother give Hicky a piece o' chine."

"So will I," said Dick; "and a couple o' chickens."

The hungry lad had taken a piece of pink-fleshed bacon upon his fork,
and was about to transfer it to his mouth, when he stopped short with
his lips apart and eyes staring, while Tom let fall his knife and thrust
his chair back over the stone floor.

They had been eating and listening to the conversation outside, till it
reached its climax in the following words:

"What, man?  You don't know what he says."

"What he says!" chuckled the wheelwright.  "Ay, I heerd what he said; a
whole heap o' bad words till I checked him, and let him feel he'd best
howd his tongue."

"But you know what he says about who shot at him?"

"Nay, but if he says as it were me, I'll go and pitch him into the

"You did not hear, then?" cried the squire, huskily.  "Hickathrift, he
says it was done by those boys!"

"What!" roared the wheelwright.

"It's a lie, father!" shouted Dick, recovering himself and running out.
"Here, ask Tom."

"Why, of course it's a lie," cried Tom.

"But that man says--" cried the squire.

"Yah!" shouted Hickathrift angrily, "they never shot him; they heven't
got no goon."



Thorpeley was not badly hurt, so the doctor said when he came; but, as
usual, he added, "If it had been an inch or two more to the right an
important vessel would have been divided, and he would have bled to

But if the constable was not badly wounded, though the injury caused by
a bullet passing through his leg was an ugly one, the reputations of
Dick Winthorpe and Tom Tallington had received such ugly wounds that
their fathers found it difficult to get them cured.

For Thorpeley stuck to his first story, that he suspected the two boys
to be engaged in some nefarious trick, and he had watched them from the
time they borrowed the wheelwright's punt.  He went on to describe how
he had offended them by keeping his eye upon their movements, and told
how they had tried to smother him by leading him into a dangerous
morass, while just at dusk, as he was watching their boat, he saw them
start towards him, and evidently believing that they were unseen from
where they had tied their punt, they had deliberately taken aim at him
and shot him.

The squire questioned him very sharply, but he adhered to everything.
He swore that he saw them thrust the punt away, and go into the misty
darkness; and then when they had heard his cries, they came back and
landed, evidently repentant and frightened, and then helped him down to
the boat.

"But," said the squire, "it might have been two other people in a punt
who shot at you."

"Two others!" shouted the man; "it weer they, and I heered 'em laughing
and bragging about it as I lay theer in the bottom o' the boat nearly in
a swownd, bud I could hear what they said."

This charge was so serious that, as a matter of course, there was a
magisterial inquiry, which was repeated as soon as the constable was
sufficiently well to limp into the justice-room in the little town where
he had been removed as soon as the doctor gave permission, the
neighbourhood of the Toft and Hickathrift having grown uncomfortably

At that last examination the magistrates shook their heads, and, after
hearing a great deal of speaking, decided that Thorpeley must have been
deceived in the darkness, and the charge was dismissed.

In those days the law had two qualities in an out-of-the-way place that
have pretty well died out now.  These qualities were laxity and
severity--the disposition to go to extremes; and in this case some idea
of the way in which the work of petty sessions was carried on will be
grasped when it is told that after the examination the chairman of the
bench of magistrates, an old landholder of the neighbourhood, shook
hands with the squire, and then less freely with Farmer Tallington.

"Look here, you two," he said; "we've let off these two young scamps;
but you had better send them to sea, or at all events away from here."

"I don't understand you, sir," said the squire hotly.

"I can't help that," was the gruff reply.  "You take my advice.  Send
'em away before there's more mischief done.  I sha'n't let 'em off next

Hickathrift, who had watched all the proceedings, heard these words; and
as the two lads trudged home beside him, with the squire and Farmer
Tallington in front, he told them all that had been said.

Dick said nothing, but Tom fired up and exclaimed angrily, while the
wheelwright kept on talking quietly to the former.

"Niver yow mind, lad; we don't think you shot at him.  It's some o' they
lads t'other side o' the fen.  They comes acrost and waits their chance,
and then goes back, and nobody's none the wiser.  Niver you mind what
owd magistrit said.  Magistrit indeed!  Why, I'd mak' a better magistrit
out of owd Solomon any day o' the week."

It was kindly spoken; but if there is a difficult thing to do it is to
"never mind" when the heart is sore through some accusation that rankles
from its injustice.

"Yes, Tom," said Dick, when they were about half-way home; "they'd
better send us away."

He looked longingly across the fen with its gleaming waters, waving
reeds, and many-tinted flowers; and as he gazed in the bright afternoon
sunshine it seemed as if it had never looked so beautiful before.  To an
agricultural-minded man it was a watery waste; but to a boy who had
passed his life there, and found it the home of bird, insect, fish, and
flower, and an ever-changing scene of pleasure, it was all that could be
called attractive and bright.

"I'm ready to go," said Tom sturdily; "only I don't know which to do."

"Which to do!" cried Dick, with his face growing red, and his eyes
flashing.  "Why, what do you mean?"

"Whether to go for a soldier or a sailor."

"Haw! haw!"

Hickathrift's was a curious laugh.  At a distance it might have been
taken for a hail; but a fine heron standing heel-deep in the shallow
water took it to be a cry to scare him, so spreading his great flap
wings, and stooping so as to get a spring, he flew slowly off with
outstretched legs, while the squire and Farmer Tallington looked back to
see if they had been called.

"What are you laughing at?" said Tom angrily.

"Yow, lad, yow.  Why, you arn't big enew to carry a goon; and as for
sailing, do you think a ship's like a punt, and shoved along wi' a

"Never mind," grumbled Tom.  "I'm not going to stop here and be
suspected for nothing."

"Nay, nay, don't you lads talk nonsense."

"It's no nonsense, Hicky," said Dick bitterly.  "I've made up my mind to

"Nay, nay, I tell thee.  Thou wean't goo, lads."

"Indeed but we will," cried Dick energetically.

"What, goo?"


"Height awayer?"

"Yes, right away."

"Then what's to become of me?" cried the wheelwright excitedly.

"Become of you!  Why, what's it got to do with you?" cried Tom surlily.

"Do wi' me!  Why, iverything.  What's the good o' my punt? what's the
good o' me laying up a couple o' good ash-poles for you, and putting a
bit o' wood up chimney to season, so as to hev it ready for new soles
for your pattens [skates] next winter.  Good, indeed!  What call hev you
to talk that clat?"

"You're a good old chap, Hicky," said Dick, smiling up at the big
fellow; "but you can't understand what I feel over this."

"Hey, bud I can," cried the wheelwright quickly; "you feel just the same
as I did when Farmer Tallington--Tom's father here--said I'd sent him in
his bill after he'd sattled it; and as I did when my missus said I'd
took half a guinea outer money-box to spend i' town.  I know, lads.
Yes, I know."

"Well, I suppose it is something like that, Hicky," said Dick sadly.

"Ay, joost the same; bud I didn't tell Farmer Tallington as I should go
for a soldier, and I didn't turn on my wife and tell her I should go to

Dick was silent the rest of the way home, but he shook hands very
solemnly with Tom, and Tom pressed his hand hard as they parted at the
farm.  Then Dick went on beside the wheelwright, while the squire walked
swiftly ahead, evidently thinking deeply.

There was a meaning in that grip of the hand which Hickathrift did not
understand; but he kept on talking cheerily to the lad till they were
close up to the Toft, when, just as the squire turned in and stopped for
Dick to join him, the wheelwright shook hands with the lad.

"Good day, Mester Dick!" he said aloud; and then in a whisper:

"Don't you go away, lad, for if you do they'll be sure to say it was yow
as fired the shot."



The squire was very quiet over the evening meal, but he looked across at
Dick very sternly two or three times, and the lad did not meet his eye.

For certain plans which he had been concerting with Tom wore so strange
an aspect in his eyes that he felt quite guilty, and the old frank light
in his face seemed to have died out as he bent down over his supper, and
listened to his father's answers to his mother about the proceedings of
the past day.

Bed-time at last, and for the first time since he had returned Dick was
alone with his mother, the squire having gone to take his customary look
round the house.

"Good-night, mother!" said Dick in a low sombre manner, very different
to his usual way.

Mrs Winthorpe did not answer for a moment or two, but gazed full at her

"And so the magistrate thought you guilty, Dick?" she said.

"Yes, mother," he flashed out, "and--"

"Ah!" exclaimed Mrs Winthorpe, flinging her arms about his neck.
"That's my boy who spoke out then.  Dick, if you had spoken out like
that to your father and everyone they would not have suspected you for a
moment.  There, good-night!  It will all come right at last."

Dick said "good-night" to his father, who gave him a short nod, and then
the lad went slowly up to his room, to sit on the edge of the bed and
think of the possibility of building a hut out there in the island they
had found in the fen, and then of how it would be if he and Tom did so,
and went there to live; and when he had debated it well, he asked
himself what would be the use, and confessed that it would be all
nonsense, and that he had been thinking like a child.

"No," he said; "I'm no baby now.  All this has made a man of me, and Tom
Tallington is right; we must go and begin life somewhere else--where the
world will not be so hard."

"He will not be here for an hour yet," he thought; so he employed
himself very busily in putting together the few things he meant to take
on his journey into that little-known place beyond the fen, where there
were big towns, and people different to themselves; and as Dick packed
his bundle he tried to keep back a weak tear or two which would gather
as if to drop on the lavender-scented linen, that reminded him of her
who had that night called him her boy.

But there was a stubborn feeling upon him which made him viciously knot
together the handkerchief ends of his bundle, and then go and stand at
the window and watch and listen for the coming of Tom.

For he had made up his mind to go with Tom if he came, without him if he
failed, for he told himself the world elsewhere would not be so hard.

One hour--two hours passed.  He heard them strike on the old eight-day
clock below.  But no Tom.

Could he have repented and made up his mind not to keep faith, or was
there some reason?

Never mind, he would go alone and fight the world, and some day people
would be sorry for having suspected him as they did now.

He laughed bitterly, and stepped to the open window bundle in hand.  He
had but to swing himself out and drop to the ground, and trudge away
into that romantic land--the unknown.  Yes, he would go.  "Good-bye,
dear mother; father, good-bye!" he whispered softly; and the next moment
one foot was over the window-sill, and he was about to drop, when a
miserably absurd sound rose on the midnight air, a sound which made him
dart back into his room like some guilty creature, as there rang out the
strange cry:

"He--haw, he--haw!" as dismal a bray as Solomon had ever uttered in his
life; and for no reason whatever, as it seemed, Dick Winthorpe went back
and sat upon his bed thinking of the wheelwright's words:

That if he went away people would declare he fired the shot.

"I can't help it," cried Dick at last, after an hour's bitter struggle
there in the darkness of the night; and once more he ran to the window,
meaning to drop out, when, as if he saw what was about to take place,
Solomon roused the echoes about the old buildings with another dismal

"Who can run away with a donkey crying out at him like that!" said Dick
to himself; and in spite of his misery, he once more seated himself upon
the bed-side and laughed.

It was more a hysterical than a natural laugh; but it relieved Dick
Winthorpe's feelings, and just then the clock struck two.

Dick sat on the bed-side and thought.  He was not afraid to go--far from
it.  A reckless spirit of determination had come over him, and he was
ready to do anything, dare anything; but all the same the wheelwright's
words troubled him, and he could not master the feeling that it would be
painful for the constant repetition to come to his mother's knowledge,
till even she began to think that there must be some truth in the
matter, and he would not be there to defend himself.

That was a painful thought, one which made Dick Winthorpe rise and go
and seat himself on the window-sill and gaze out over the fen.

From where he was seated his eyes ranged over the portion where the
drain was being cut; and as he looked, it seemed to him that all his
troubles had dated from the commencement of the venture by his father,
and those who had joined in the experiment.

Then he thought of the evening when Mr Marston had been brought in
wounded, and the other cases which had evidently been the work of those
opposed to the draining--the fire at Tallington's, the houghing of the
horses, the shots fired, the blowing up of the sluice-gate.

"And they think I did it all," he said to himself with a bitter laugh;
"a boy like me!"

Then he began considering as to who possibly could be the culprit, and
thought and thought till his head ached, and he rose sadly and replaced
the articles in his bundle in the drawer.

"I can't go," he said softly.  "I'll face it out like a man, and they
may say what they like."

He stood looking at his bed, with its white pillow just showing in the
faint light which came through the open window, but it did not tempt him
to undress.

"I can't sleep," he said; "and perhaps, if I lie down, I may not hear
Tom coming, if he comes.  Why is one so miserable?  What have I done?"

There was no mental answer to his question, and he once more went softly
across the room, and sat in the window-sill to gaze out across the fen.

How long he had been watching he could not tell, for his brain felt
dazed, and he was in a half-dreamy state, when all of a sudden he grew
wakeful and alert, for right away out over the mere he saw a faint gleam
of light which flashed upon the water and then expired.

For a moment he thought that it might have been the reflection of a
star, but it flashed out again, and then was gone.

The marsh lights always had a strange fascination for him, and this
appearance completely changed the current of his thoughts.  A few
moments before and they were dull and sluggish, now they were all
excitement; and he sat there longing for the next appearance when, as of
old, he expected to see the faint light go dancing along, as a moth
dances over the moist herbage, disappearing from time to time.

He strained his eyes, but there was no light, and he was beginning to
think that it was fancy, when he heard a faint rustling apparently
outside his door; and as he listened, he felt that someone must be going
down stairs.

Then there was complete silence for a few minutes, and he was ready to
think that both the light and the sound were fancy, when all doubts were
set at rest, for the door below opened and someone passed out.

It was still very dark, in spite of a faint sign of dawn in the
north-east; but the watcher had no difficulty in making out the figure
which passed silently along in the shadow of the house, and close
beneath him, to be that of his father.

What did it mean?  Dick asked himself as he sat there holding his
breath, while he watched intently, and saw his father steal from place
to place in the most secretive manner, taking advantage of bush, wall,
and outbuilding, and every now and then pausing as if gazing out across
the fen.

"I know," thought Dick, as a flash of comprehension came across his
brain.  "He saw that light, and he is watching too."

The thought was quite exciting.

The reaction as depressing, for directly after he very naturally said to
himself: "My father would not get out of bed to watch a

But suppose it was not a will-o'-the-wisp, but a light!

He sat thinking and trying to trace which way his father had gone; and
as far as he could make out, he had gone right down to the nearest spot
to the water, where, about a hundred yards away, there was fair landing,
by one of the many clumps of alder.

Dick had just come to the conclusion that he ought not to watch his
father, who was angry enough with him as it was, and who would be more
suspicious still if he again caught him at the window dressed, and he
was about to close it, after wondering whether anyone would be on the
water with a light--Dave, for instance--and if so, what form of fowling
or netting it would be, when there was a low hiss--such a sound as is
made by a snake--just beneath his window.



"Couldn't come before.  Ready?"

"No," said Dick shortly, for the plan to run away seemed now to belong
to some project of the past.

"I couldn't come before," whispered Tom.  "I was all ready, but father
did not go to bed for ever so long; and when at last I thought it was
all right, and was ready to start, I heard him go down and open the

"And go out?" whispered Dick.

"Yes.  How did you know?"

"I didn't know, but my father has done just the same."


"Did yours come back?"

"No," said Tom; "and I daren't start for ever so long.  But I've come
now, so let's start off quick."

"Which way did your father go?"

"I don't know, but we're wasting time."

"Did he take the boat?"

"How should I know?  I didn't see him go.  I only heard.  Come, are you

"No," said Dick hoarsely, and not prepared to tell his companion that he
had repented.  "How can we go now with them both somewhere about?  They
would be sure to catch us and bring us back."

It was a subterfuge, and Dick's face turned scarlet, as he knew by the
burning sensation.  The next instant he had felt so ashamed of his
paltry excuse that he blurted out:

"I sha'n't go.  I'm sorry I said I would.  It's cowardly, but I don't
mean to go--there!"

The hot tears of vexation and misery stood in his eyes as he made this
confession, and rose up prepared to resent his companion's reproaches
with angry words; but he was disarmed, for Tom whispered hastily:

"Oh, Dick, I am so glad!  I wouldn't show the white feather and play
sneak, but I didn't want to go.  It seemed too bad to mother and father.
But you mean it?"

"Yes, I mean it!" said Dick, with a load off his breast.  "I felt that
it would be like running away because we were afraid to face a charge."

"Hooray!" cried Tom in a whisper.  "I say, Dick, don't think me a
coward, but I am so glad!  I say, shall I go back now?"

"No; stop a bit," whispered Dick, with his heart beating, and a strange
suspicion making its way into his breast.  For in an incoherent vague
manner he found himself thinking of Farmer Tallington stealing out of
his house in the middle of the night.  He had a boat, as most of the fen
farmers had, for gunning, fishing, and cutting reeds.  What was he doing
on the water at night?  For it must have been he with a light.

Then a terrible suspicion flashed across him, and the vague ideas began
to shape themselves and grow solid.  Suppose it was Farmer Tallington
who had been guilty of--

Dick made a strong effort at this point to master his wandering
imagination, and forced himself to think only of what he really knew to
be the fact, namely, that Farmer Tallington was out somewhere, and that
the squire was out too.

"My father must have come to meet yours, Dick," whispered Tom at that
point.  "I know they suspect there's something wrong, and they have gone
down to watch the drain, or to meet Mr Marston."

"Yes," said Dick, in a tone which did not carry conviction with it.
"That must be it."

"What shall we do?  Go back to bed?"

"Ye-es, we had better," said Dick thoughtfully.  "I say, Tom, we have
done quite right.  We couldn't have gone away."

"Hist! did you hear that?"

For answer Dick strained out of the window.  He had heard that--a sudden
splashing in the water, a shout--and the next moment there was a flash
which cut the darkness apparently a couple of hundred yards away, and
then came a dull report, and silence.

The boys remained listening for some moments, but they could not hear a
sound.  The signs of the coming morning were growing plainer; there was
a faint twittering in some bushes at a distance, followed by the sharp
metallic _chink chink_ of a blackbird; and then all at once, loud and
clear from the farm-yard, rang out the morning challenge of a cock.

Then once more all was still.  There was no footstep, no splash of pole
in the water.

For a few minutes neither spoke, but listened intently with every nerve
upon the strain; and then with a catching of the breath as he realised
what had gone before, and that he had seen his father steal carefully
down in the direction of the mere, Dick sprang from the window and
gripped his companion by the arm.

"Tom," he gasped, "quick! come on!  Some one else has been--"

He would have said _shot_, but his voice failed, and with a cold chill
of horror stealing over him he remained for a few moments as if

Then, with Tom Tallington close behind, he ran swiftly down towards the



They did not know exactly where to go, for the guidance afforded by a
sound is very deceptive, but there had been the splash of water, so that
the shot must have been from somewhere at the foot of the Toft, down
where the meadow land gave place to rough marsh, bog, and reedy water.

Dick listened as he ran; but there was no splash now--no sound of

As the lads advanced the dawning light increased, and a startled bird
flew out from the bushes, another from a tuft of dry grass; and once
more there was the _chink_--_chink_ of a blackbird.  The day was
awakening, and Dick Winthorpe asked himself what the dawn was to show.

It was still dark enough to necessitate care, and over the mere as they
neared it a low mist hung, completely screening its waters as they
vainly attempted to pierce the gloom.

Plash, plash through the boggy parts of the mere fringe, for Dick had
not paused to follow any track, stumbling among tufts of grass and marsh
growth, they hurried on with eager eyes, longing to shout, but afraid,
for there was a growing horror upon both the lads of having to be
shortly in presence of some terrible scene.

They neither of them spoke, but mutually clung together for support,
though all the time there was a strange repugnance in Dick's breast as
he now began to realise the strength of the suspicion he entertained.

But if they dared not shout, there was some one near at hand ready to
utter a lusty cry, which startled them as it rang out of the gloom from
away down by the labourers' cottages and the wheelwright's.

"Ahoy!  Hillo!" rang out.

"Hillo, Hicky!" yelled Tom.  "Here!"

"Where away, lads?" came back; and then there was the dull low beat of
feet, and they heard the wheelwright shout to his apprentice to follow

The two little parties joined directly, to stand in the mist all panting
and excited, the wheelwright half-dressed, and his bare head rough from
contact with the pillow.

"Hey, lads," he cried, "was that you two shouting?"

Dick tried to speak, but he could not frame a word.

"No; we heard it from somewhere down here," panted Tom.

"I heered it too," cried Jacob, "and wackened the mester."

"Ay, that's a true word," cried Hickathrift.  "What does it mean?"

"Hicky," panted Dick in piteous tones, "I don't know--I'm afraid I--my
father's out here somewhere."

"Hey!  The squire?" cried Hickathrift with a curious stare at first one
and then the other.  "Yow don't think--"

He paused, and Dick replied in a whisper:

"Yes, Hicky, I do."

"Here, let's search about; it's getting light fast.  Now, then," cried
the wheelwright, "yow go that way, Jacob; I'll go this; and you two

"No, no," said Dick.  "It must be somewhere close by here, near the
water.  Let's keep together, please."

"Aw reight!" muttered the wheelwright; and following Dick they went as
close to the water's edge as they could go, and crept along, with the
bushes and trees growing more plain to view, and the sky showing one
dull orange fleck as the advance guard of the coming glory of the morn.

They went along for a couple of hundred yards in one direction, but
there was nothing to be seen; then a couple of hundred yards in the
other direction, but there was nothing visible there.  And as the light
grew stronger they sought about them, seeing clearly now that the
ghastly figure Dick dreaded to find was nowhere as far as they could
make out inshore.

"Hillo!" shouted Hickathrift again and again; "squire!"

There was no reply, and the chill of horror increased as the feeling
that they were searching in vain out and in pressed itself upon all, and
they knew that the man they sought must be in the water.

"Here, howd hard," cried Hickathrift.  "What a moodle head I am!  You,
Jacob, run back and let loose owd Grip."

The apprentice ran back as hard as he could, and the group remained in
silence till they saw him disappear behind the shed.  Then there was a
loud burst of barking.

Hickathrift whistled, and the great long-legged lurcher came bounding
over the rough boggy land, to leap at his master and then stand panting,
open-mouthed, eager, and ready to dart anywhere his owner bade.

"Here, Grip, lad, find him, then--find him, boy!"

The dog uttered one low, growling bark, and then bounded off, hurrying
here and there in the wildest way, while the boys watched intently.

"Will he find him, Hicky?" said Dick huskily.

"Ay, or anyone else," said the wheelwright, who alternately watched the
dog, and swept the surface of the mere wherever the mist allowed.

"There!  Look at that!" he cried, as, after a minute, the dog settled
down to a steady hunt, with his nose close to the ground, and rapidly
followed the track lately taken by someone who had passed.

"But perhaps he is following our steps!" said Dick excitedly.

"Nay, not he.  Theer, what did I tell you?" cried Hickathrift as the dog
suddenly stopped by the water, opposite to a thick bed of reeds a dozen
yards or so from the bank.

Dick turned pale; the wheelwright ran down to the edge of the mere; and
as the dog stood by the water barking loudly, Hickathrift waded in
without hesitation, the boys following, with Grip swimming and snorting
at their side, and taking up the chase again as soon as he reached the

It was only a matter of minutes now before the dog had rushed on before
them, disappeared in the long growth, and then they heard him barking

"Let me go first, Mester Dick," said Hickathrift hoarsely.  "Nay, don't,

There was a kindly tone of sympathy in the great fellow's voice, but
Dick did not give way.  He splashed on through the reeds, his position
having placed him in advance of his companions, and parting the tall
growth he uttered a cry of pain.

The others joined him directly, and stood for a moment gazing down at
where, standing on the very edge of the mere, Dick was holding up his
father's head from where he lay insensible among the reeds, his face
white and drawn, his eyes nearly closed, and his hands clenched and
stretched out before him.

Hickathrift said not a word, but, as in similar cases before, he raised
the inanimate form, hung it over his shoulder, and waded back to firm

"Hey, Mester Dick," he said huskily, as he hurried towards his cottage,
"I nivver thowt to hev seen a sight like this."

"No, no," cried Dick; "not there."

"Yes, I'll tak' him home to my place," whispered Hickathrift.  "You'd
scare your mother to dead.  Here, Jacob, lad, don't stop to knock or ask
questions, but go and tak' squire's cob, and ride him hard to town for

"Tell my father as you go by, Jacob," cried Tom excitedly; and as the
apprentice dashed off, Tom's eyes met those of Dick.

"Don't look so wild and strange, Dick, old chap," whispered the lad
kindly; and he laid a hand upon Dick's shoulder, but the boy shrank from
him with a shudder which the other could not comprehend.

Hickathrift shouted to his wife, who had risen and dressed in his
absence, and in a short time the squire was lying upon a mattress with
Hickathrift eagerly searching for the injury which had laid him low; but
when he found it, the wound seemed so small and trifling that he looked
wondering up at Dick.

"That couldn't have done it," he said in a whisper.

The wheelwright was wrong.  That tiny blue wound in the strong man's
chest had been sufficient to lay him there helpless, and so near death
that a feeling of awe fell upon those who watched and waited, and tried
to revive the victim of this last outrage.

It was a terrible feeling of helplessness that which pervaded the place.
There was nothing to do save bathe the wounded man's brow and moisten
his lips with a little of the smuggled spirit with which most of the
coast cottages were provided in those distant days.  There was no blood
to staunch, nothing to excite, nothing to do but wait, wait for the
doctor's coming.

Before very long Farmer Tallington arrived, and as he encountered Dick's
eyes fixed upon him he turned very pale, and directly after, when he
bent over the squire's couch and took his hand, the lad saw that he
trembled violently.

"It's straange and horrible--it's straange and horrible," he said: "only
yesterday he was like I am: as strong and well as a man can be; while
now--Hickathrift, my lad, do you think he'll die?"

The wheelwright shook his head--he could not trust himself to speak; and
Dick stood with a sensation of rage gathering in his breast, which made
him feel ready to spring at Farmer Tallington's throat, and accuse him
of being his father's murderer.

"The hypocrite--the cowardly hypocrite!" he said to himself; "but we
know now, and he shall be punished."

The boy's anger was fast growing so ungovernable that he was about to
fly out and denounce his school-fellow's father, but just then a hasty
step was heard outside, and a familiar voice exclaimed:

"Where is my husband?"

The next minute Mrs Winthorpe was in the room, wild-eyed and pale, but
perfectly collected in her manner and acts.

"How long will it be before the doctor can get here?" she said hoarsely,
as she passed her arm under the injured man's neck, and pressed her lips
to his white brow.

"Hickathrift's lad went off at a hard gallop," said Farmer Tallington in
a voice full of sympathy.  "Please God, Mrs Winthorpe, we'll save him

Dick uttered a hoarse cry and staggered out of the room, for the man's
hypocrisy maddened him, and he knew that if he stayed he should speak
out and say all he knew.

As he reached the little garden there was a step behind him, a hand was
laid upon his shoulder, another grasped his arm.

"I can't talk and say things, Dicky," said Tom in a low half-choking
voice; "but I want to comfort you.  Don't break down, old fellow.  The
doctor will save his life."

This from the son of the man whom he believed to have shot his father!
and the rage Dick felt against the one seemed to be ready to fall upon
the other.  But as his eyes met those of his old school-fellow and
companion full of sorrowful sympathy, Dick could only grasp Tom's hands,
feeling that he was a true friend, and in no wise answerable for his
father's sins.

"Ay, that's right," said a low, rough voice.  "Nowt like sticking
together and helping each other in trouble.  Bud don't you fret, Mester
Dick.  Squire's a fine stark man, and the missus has happed him up
waarm, and you see the doctor will set him right."

"Thank you, Hicky," said Dick, calming down; and then he stood thinking
and asking himself how he could denounce the father of his old friend
and companion as the man who, for some hidden reason of his own, was the
plotter and executor of all these outrages.

At one moment he felt that he could not do this.  At another there was
the blank suffering face of his father before his eyes, seeming to ask
him to revenge his injuries and to bring a scoundrel to justice.

For a time Dick was quite determined; but directly after there came
before him the face of poor, kind-hearted Mrs Tallington, who had
always treated him with the greatest hospitality, while, as he seemed to
look at her eyes pleading upon her husband's behalf, Tom took his hand
and wrung it.

"I'm going to stick by you, Dick," he said; "and you and I are going to
find out who did this, and when we do we'll show him what it is to shoot
at people, and burn people's homesteads, and hough their beasts."

Dick gazed at him wildly.  Tom going to help him run his own father down
and condemn him by giving evidence when it was all found out!
Impossible!  Those words of his old companion completely disarmed him
for the moment, and to finish his discomfiture, just then Farmer
Tallington came out of the cottage looking whiter and more haggard than

He came to where the wheelwright was standing, and spoke huskily.

"I can't bear it," he said.  "It is too horrible.  Might hev been me,
and what would my poor lass do?  Hickathrift, mun, the villain who does
all this must be found out."

"Ay, farmer, but how?"

"I don't know how," said the farmer, gazing from one to the other.  "I
on'y know it must be done.  If I'd gone on this morning I might have
found out something, but I went back."

Dick gazed at him searchingly, but the farmer did not meet his eyes.

"I've been straange and fidgety ever since my fire," continued the
farmer; "and it's med me get out o' bed o' nights and look round for
fear of another.  I was out o' bed towards morning last night, and as I
looked I could see yonder on the mere what seemed to be a lanthorn."

"You saw that?" said Dick involuntarily.

"Ay, lad, I saw that," said the farmer, rubbing his hands together
softly; "and first of all I thowt it was a will-o'-the-wisp, but it
didn't go about like one o' they, and as it went out directly and came
again, I thought it was some one wi' a light."

"What, out on the watter?" said Hickathrift.

"Yes, my lad; out on the watter," said the farmer; "and that med me say
to mysen: What's any one doing wi' a light out on the watter at this
time? and I could on'y think as they wanted it to set fire to some one's
plaace, and I couldn't stop abed and think that.  So I got up, and went
down to the shore, got into my owd punt, and loosed her, and went out
torst wheer I'd seen the light."

"And did you see it, mester?" said Hickathrift.

"Nay, my lad.  I went on and on as quietly as I could go, and round the
reed-bed, but all was as quiet as could be."

"Didn't you see the poont?" said the wheelwright.

"What punt?" said Tom sharply.

Hickathrift looked confused.

"Poont o' him as hed the light, I meant," he said hurriedly.

"Nay, not a sign of it," said Farmer Tallington; "and at last I turned
back and poled gently home, keeping a sharp look-out and listening all
the way, but I niver see nowt nor heered nowt.  But if I'd kept out on
the waiter I should p'raps have seen and saved my poor owd neighbour."

"You might, mebbe," said the wheelwright thoughtfully; while, after
gazing in the faces of the two men and trying to read the truth, Dick
turned away with his suspicions somewhat blunted, to go to his mother's
side, and watch with her till the sound of hoofs on the rough track told
that the messenger had returned.



Dick leaped up and came to the window as soon as he heard the beating of
the horse's hoofs; and to his great joy, as the mounted man turned the
corner he saw that it was the doctor, whom he ran down to meet.

"Hah, my lad! here is a bad business!" exclaimed the doctor as he
dismounted.  "Well, come, they cannot say this was your doing.  You
wouldn't shoot your own father, eh?"

"Oh, pray, come up, sir, and don't talk," cried Dick excitedly.  "Poor
father is dying!"

"Oh, no," said the doctor; "we must not let him die."

"But be quick, sir!  You are so long!" cried Dick.

"Don't be impatient, my lad," said the doctor smiling.  "We folks have
to be calm and quiet in all we do.  Now show me the way."

Dick led him to the room, the doctor beckoning Hickathrift to follow;
and as soon as he reached the injured man's side he quietly sent Mrs
Winthorpe and Dick to wait in the next room, retaining the great
wheelwright to help him move his patient.

The time seemed interminable, and as mother and son sat waiting, every
word spoken in the next room sounded like a moan from the injured man.
Mrs Winthorpe's face appeared to be that of a woman ten years older,
and her agony was supreme; but like a true wife and tender mother--ah,
how little we think of what a mother's patience and self-denial are when
we are young!--she devoted her whole energies to administering comfort
to her sorely-tried son.

A dozen times over Dick felt that he could not keep the secret that
troubled him--that he must tell his mother his suspicions and ask her
advice; but so sure as he made up his mind to speak, the fear that he
might be wrong troubled him, and he forebore.

Then began the whole struggle again, and at last he was nearer than ever
to confiding his horrible belief in their neighbour's treachery, when
the doctor suddenly appeared.

Dick rose from where he had been kneeling by his mother's side, and she
started from her seat to grasp the doctor's hand.

She did not speak, but her eyes asked the one great question of her
heart, and then, as the doctor's hard sour face softened and he smiled,
Mrs Winthorpe uttered a piteous sigh and clasped her hands together in
thankfulness to Heaven.

"Then he is not very bad, doctor?" cried Dick joyfully.

"Yes, my boy, he is very bad indeed, and dangerously wounded," replied
the doctor; "but, please God, I think I can pull him through."

"Tell me--tell me!" faltered Mrs Winthorpe piteously.

"It is a painful thing to tell a lady," said the doctor kindly; "but I
will explain.  Mrs Winthorpe, he has a terrible wound.  The bullet has
passed obliquely through his chest; it was just within the skin at the
back, and I have successfully extracted it.  As far as I can tell there
is no important organ injured, but at present I am not quite sure.
Still I think I may say he is in no immediate danger."

Mrs Winthorpe could not trust herself to speak, but she looked her
thanks and glided toward the other room.

"Do not speak to him and do not let him speak," whispered the doctor.
"Everything depends upon keeping him perfectly still, so that nature may
not be interrupted in doing her portion of the work."

Mrs Winthorpe bowed her head in acquiescence, and with a promise that
he would return later in the day the doctor departed.

Dick found, a short time after, that the news had been carried to the
works at the drain, where Mr Marston was busy; and no sooner did that
gentleman hear of the state of affairs than he hurried over to offer his
sympathy to Mrs Winthorpe and Dick.

"I little thought that your father was to be a victim," he said to the
latter as soon as they were alone.  "I have been trying my hand to fix
the guilt upon somebody, but so far I have failed.  Come, Dick, you and
I have not been very good friends lately, and I must confess that I have
been disposed to think you knew something about these outrages."

"Yes, I knew you suspected me, Mr Marston."

"Not suspected you, but that you knew something about them; but I beg
your pardon: I am sorry I ever thought such things; and I am sure you
will forgive me, for indeed I do not think you know anything of the kind

Dick quite started as he gazed in Mr Marston's face, so strangely that
the engineer wondered, and then felt chilled once more and stood without

Mr Marston took a step up and down for a few moments and then turned to
Dick again.

"Look here, my lad," he said.  "I don't like for there to be anything
between us.  I want to be friends with you, for I like you, Richard
Winthorpe; but you keep on making yourself appear so guilty that you
repel me.  Speak to me, Dick, and say out downright, like a man, that
you know nothing about this last affair."

Dick looked at him wildly, but remained silent.

"Come!" said Mr Marston sternly, and he fixed the lad with his eye;
"there has been a dastardly outrage committed and your father nearly
murdered.  Tell me plainly whether you know whose hand fired the shot."

No answer.

"Dick, my good lad, I tell you once more that I do not suspect you--only
that you know who was the guilty party."

Still no answer.

"It is your duty to speak, boy," cried Mr Marston angrily.  "You are
not afraid to speak out?"

"I--I don't know," said Dick.

"Then you confess that you do know who fired at your father?"

"I did not confess," said Dick slowly.  "I cannot say.  I only think I

"Then who was it?"

No answer.

"Dick, I command you to speak," cried Mr Marston, catching his arm and
holding him tightly.

"I don't know," said Dick.

"You do know, cried Mr Marston angrily, and I will have an answer.  No
man's life is safe, and these proceedings must be stopped."

For answer Dick wrested himself free.

"I don't know for certain," he said determinedly, "and I'm not going to
say who it is I suspect, when I may be wrong."

"But if the person suspected is innocent, he can very well prove it.
Ah, here is Tom Tallington!  Come, Tom, my lad, you can help me here
with your old companion."

"No," cried Dick angrily, "don't ask him."

"I shall ask him," said Mr Marston firmly.  "Look here, Tom; our friend
Dick here either knows or suspects who it was that fired that shot; and
if he knows that, he can tell who fired the other shots, and perhaps did
all the other mischief."

"Do you know, Dick?" cried Tom excitedly.

"I don't know for certain, I only suspect," said Dick sadly.

"And I want him to speak out, my lad, while he persists in trying to
hide it."

"He won't," said Tom.  "He thinks it is being a bit of a coward to tell
tales; but he knows it is right to tell, don't you, Dick?"

"No," said the latter sternly.

"You do, now," said Tom.  "Come, I say, let's know who it was.  Here,
shall I call father?"

"No, no," cried Dick excitedly, "and I won't say a word.  I cannot.  It
is impossible."

"You are a strange lad, Dick Winthorpe," said the engineer, looking at
them curiously.

"Oh, but he will speak, Mr Marston!  I can get him to," cried Tom.
"Come, Dick, say who it was."

Dick stared at him wildly, for there was something so horrible to him in
this boy trying now to make him state what would result in his father's
imprisonment and death, that Tom seemed for the moment in his eyes quite
an unnatural young monster at whose presence he was ready to shudder.

"How can you be so obstinate!" cried Tom.  "You shall tell.  Who was

Dick turned from him in horror, and would have hurried away, but Mr
Marston caught his arm.

"Stop a moment, Dick Winthorpe," he said.  "I must have a few words with
you before we part.  It is plain enough that all these outrages are
directed against the persons who are connected with the drainage scheme,
and that their lives are in danger.  Now I am one of these persons, and
to gratify the petty revenge of a set of ignorant prejudiced people who
cannot see the good of the work upon which we are engaged, I decline to
have myself made a target.  I ask you, then, who this was.  Will you

Dick shook his head.

"Well, then, I am afraid you will be forced to speak.  I consider it to
be my duty to have these outrages investigated, and to do this I shall
write up to town.  The man or men who will be sent down will be of a
different class to the unfortunate constable who was watching here.
Now, come, why not speak?"

"Mr Marston!" cried Dick hoarsely.

"Yes!  Ah, that is better!  Now, come, Dick; we began by being friends.
Let us be greater friends than ever, as we shall be, I am sure."

"No, no," cried Dick passionately.  "I want to be good friends, but I
cannot speak to you.  I don't know anything for certain, I only

"Then whom do you suspect?"

"Yes; who is it?" cried Tom angrily.

"Hold your tongue!" said Dick so fiercely that Tom shrank away.

"I say you shall speak out," retorted the lad, recovering himself.

"For your father's sake speak out, my lad," said Mr Marston.

Dick shook his head and turned away, to go back into the wheelwright's
cottage, where, suffering from a pain and anguish of mind to which he
had before been a stranger, he sought refuge at his mother's side, and
shared her toil of watching his father as he lay there between life and



The next fortnight was passed in a state of misery, which made Dick
Winthorpe feel as if he had ceased to be a boy, and had suddenly become
a grown-up man.

He wanted to do what was right.  He wished for the man who had shot his
father in this cowardly way to be brought to justice; but he was not
sure that Farmer Tallington was the guilty man, and he shrank from
denouncing the parent of his companion from childhood, and his father's
old friend.

Mr Marston came over again and tried him sorely.  But the more Dick
Winthorpe thought, the more he grew determined that he would not speak
unless he felt quite sure.

It was one day at the end of the fortnight that Mr Marston tried him
again, and Dick told him that his father would soon be able to speak for
himself, and till then he would not say a word.

Mr Marston left him angrily, feeling bitterly annoyed with the lad,
but, in spite of himself, admiring his firmness.

Dick stood in the road gazing after him sadly, and was about to retrace
his steps to the old house, to which his father had been carefully
borne, when, happening to glance in the direction of the track leading
to the town, he caught sight of Tom coming along slowly.

Dick turned sullenly away, but Tom ran before him.

"Stop a minute," he cried; "let you and me have a talk.  I don't want to
be bad friends, Dick."

"Neither do I," said the latter sadly.

"But you keep trying to be."

"No, I do not.  You try to make me angry with you every time we meet."

"That's not true.  I want to have you do your duty and tell all you
know.  Father says you ought, as you know who it was."

"Have you told your father, then?"

"Yes, I told him to-day, and he said you ought to do your duty and

"Your father said that?"

"Yes: and why don't you--like a man."

Dick's brow grew all corrugated as if Black Care were sitting upon the
roof of his head and squeezing the skin down into wrinkles.

"Come, speak out, and don't be such a miserable coward.  Father says you
don't speak because you are afraid that whoever did it may shoot you."

Dick's brow grew more puckered than ever.

"Now, then, let you and me go over and see Mr Marston and tell him
everything at once."

Dick looked at the speaker with a feeling of anger against him for his
obstinate perseverance that was almost vicious.

"Now, are you coming?"

"No, I am not."

"Then I've done with you," cried Tom angrily.  "Father says that a lad
who knows who attacked his parent in that way, and will not speak out,
is a coward and a cur, and that's what you are, Dick Winthorpe."

"Tom Tallington," cried Dick, with his eyes flashing, "you are a fool."

"Say that again," said Tom menacingly.

"You are a fool and an idiot, and not worth speaking to again."


That is the nearest way of spelling the back-handed blow which Tom
Tallington delivered in his old school-fellow's face, while the
straightforward blow which was the result of Dick Winthorpe's fist
darting out to the full stretch of his arm sounded like an echo; and the
next moment Tom was lying upon the ground.

There was no cowardice in Tom Tallington's nature.  Springing up he made
at Dick, and the former friends were directly after engaged in
delivering furious blows, whose result must have been rather serious for
both; but before they had had time to do much mischief, each of the lads
was gripped on the shoulder by a giant hand, and they were forced apart,
and held beyond striking distance quivering with rage, and each seeing
nothing but the adversary at whom he longed to get.

"Hey, lads, and I thowt you two was such friends!" cried the herald of
peace, who had sung truce in so forcible and convincing a way.

"Let go, Hicky!  He struck me."

"Yes; let me get at him," cried Tom.  "He knocked me down."

"And I'll do it again a dozen times," panted Dick.  "Let go, Hicky, I
tell you!"

"Nay, nay, nay, lads, I wean't let go, and you sha'n't neither of you
fight any more.  I'm ashamed of you, Mester Dick, with your poor father
lying theer 'most dead, and the missus a-nigh wherritted to death wi'

"But he struck me," panted Dick.

"And I'll do it again," cried Tom.

"If you do, young Tom Tallington, I'll just pick you up by the scruff
and the breeches and pitch you into the mere, to get out as you may; so
now then."

Tom uttered a low growl which was more like that of a dog than a human
being; and after an ineffectual attempt to get at Dick, he dragged
himself away to kneel down at the first clear pool to bathe his bleeding

"Theer, now, I'll let you go," said Hickathrift, "and I'm straange and
glad I was i' time to stop you.  Think o' you two mates falling out and
fighting like a couple o' dogs!  Why, I should as soon hev expected to
see me and my missus fight.  Mester Dick, I'm 'bout 'shamed o' yow."

"I'm ashamed of myself, Hicky, and I feel as if I was never going to be
happy again," cried Dick.

"Nay, nay, lad, don't talk like that," said the big wheelwright.  "Why,
doctor says he's sewer that he can bring squire reight again, and what
more do you want?"

"To see the man punished who shot him, Hicky," cried Dick passionately.

"Ay, I'd like to see that, or hev the punishing of him," said
Hickathrift, stretching out a great fist.  "It's one o' they big shacks
[idle scoundrels, from Irish _shaughraun_] yonder up at the dree-ern.
I'm going to find him out yet, and when I do--Theer, go and wesh thy

Dick was going sadly away when a word from Hickathrift arrested him; and
turning, it was to see that the big fellow was looking at him
reproachfully, and holding out a hand for him to grasp.

"Ay, that's better, lad," said the wheelwright smiling.  "Good-bye, lad,
and don't feight again!"

The result of this encounter was that Dick found himself without a
companion, and he went day by day bitterly about thinking how hard it
was that he should be suspected and ill-treated for trying to spare Tom
the agony of having his father denounced and dragged off to jail.

Constables came and made investigations in the loose way of the time;
but they discovered nothing, and after a while they departed to do duty
elsewhere; but only to come back at the end of a week to re-investigate
the state of affairs, for a large low building occupied by about twenty
of the drainers was, one windy night, set on fire, and its drowsy
occupants had a narrow escape from death.

But there was no discovery made, the constables setting it down to
accident, saying that the men must have been smoking; and once more the
fen was left to its own resources.

Mr Winthorpe grew rapidly better after the first fortnight, and Dick
watched his convalescence with no little anxiety, for he expected to
hear him accuse Farmer Tallington of being his attempted murderer.  But
Dick had no cause for fear.  The squire told Mr Marston that he had
seen a light on the mere, and dreading that it might mean an attempt to
burn down some barn, he had gone out to watch, and he had just made out
the shape of a punt on the water when he saw a flash, felt the shock,
and fell helpless and insensible among the reeds.

This was as near an account as he could give of the affair, for the
injury seemed to have confused him, and he knew little of what had taken
place before, nothing of what had since occurred.

"But your life has been spared, Mr Winthorpe," said Marston; "and some
day I hope we shall know that your assailant and mine has received his

"Ay," said the squire; "we must find him out, for fear he should spoil
our plans, for we are not beaten yet."

"Beaten! no, squire," said the engineer; "we are getting on faster than
ever, and the success of the project is assured."



The time rolled on.  The drain-making progressed, and for a while there
was no further trouble.  Mr Winthorpe improved in health, but always
seemed to avoid any allusion to the outrage; and after the constables
had been a few times and found out nothing, and the magistrates of the
neighbourhood had held consultation, the trouble once more dropped.

Dick Winthorpe always lived in apprehension of being examined, and
pressed to tell all he knew, but his father never said a word, to his
great relief, and the matter died out.

"I can't take any steps about it," Dick said to himself, "if my father
doesn't;" and there were times when he longed to speak, others when he
wished that he could forget everything about the past.

"Yow two med it up yet?"  Hickathrift used to ask every time he saw
Dick; but the answer was always the same--"No."

"Ah, well, you will some day, my lad.  It arn't good for boys to make
quarrels last."

There was no more warm friendship with Mr Marston, who, whenever he
came over to the Toft, was studiously polite to Dick, treating him as if
he were not one whose friendship was worth cultivating, to the lad's
great disgust, though he was too proud to show it; and the result was
that Dick's life at the Toft grew very lonely, and he was driven to seek
the companionship of John Warren and his rabbits, and of Dave with his
boat, gun, and fishing-tackle.

Then all at once there was a change.  The outrages, which had ceased for
a time, broke out again furiously; and all through the winter there were
fires here and there, the very fact of a person, whether farmer or
labourer, seeming to favour the making of the drain, being enough to
make him receive an unwelcome visit from the party or parties who
opposed the scheme.

So bad did matters grow that at last people armed and prepared
themselves for the struggle which was daily growing more desperate; and
at the same time a feeling of suspicion increased so strongly that
throughout the fen every man looked upon his neighbour as an enemy.

But still the drain grew steadily in spite of the fact that Mr Marston
had been shot at twice again, and never went anywhere now without a
brace of pistols in his pocket.

One bright wintry morning John Warren came in with a long tale of woe,
and his arm in a sling.

It was the old story.  He had been out with his gun to try and get a
wild-goose which he had marked down, when, just in the dusk, about
half-past four, he was suddenly startled by a shot, and received the
contents of a gun in his arm.

"But you'd got a gun," said Hickathrift, who was listening with Dick,
while Tom Tallington, who had business at the wheelwright's that
morning, stood hearing all.  "Why didst na let him hev it again?"

"What's the use o' shuting at a sperrit?" grumbled John Warren.
"'Sides, I couldn't see him."

"Tchah! it warn't a sperrit," said Hickathrift contemptuously.

"Well, I don't know so much about that," grumbled John Warren.  "If it
weern't a sperrit what was to mak my little dog, Snig, creep down in the
bottom of the boat and howl?  Yow mark my words: it's sperrits, that's
what it is; and it's because o' that theer dreern; but they needn't
shute at me, for I don't want dreern made."

"Going over to town to see the doctor, John?" said Dick.

"Nay, lad, not I.  It's only a hole in my arm.  There arn't nowt the
matter wi' me.  I've tied it oop wi' some wet 'bacco, and it'll all grow
oop again, same as a cooten finger do."

"But someone ought to see it."

"Well, someun has sin it.  I showed it to owd Dave, and he said it weer
all right.  Tchah! what's the good o' doctors?  Did they cure my ager?"

"Well, go up and ask mother to give you some clean linen rag for it."

"Ay," said the rabbit-trapper with a grim smile, "I'll do that."

So John Warren went to the Toft, obtained the clean linen rag, but
refused to have his wound dressed, and went off again; while the squire
knit his brow when he returned soon after, and, taking Dick with him,
poled across in the punt to see Dave and make him promise to keep a
sharp look-out.

A week passed away, and the frost had come in so keenly that the ice
promised to bear, and consequent upon this Dick was at the wheelwright's
one evening superintending the finishing up of his pattens, as they
called their skates.  Hickathrift had ground the blades until they were
perfectly sharp at the edges, and had made a new pair of ashen soles for
them, into which he had just finished fitting the steel.

"There, Mester Dick," said the bluff fellow with a grin; "that's a pair
o' pattens as you ought 'most to fly in.  Going out in the morning?"

"Yes, Hicky, I shall go directly after breakfast."

"Ay, she'll bear splendid to-morrow, and the ice is as hard and black as
it can be.  Hello, who's this?  Haw-haw!  I thowt you'd want yours
done," he added, as he heard steps coming over the frozen ground, and
the jingle of skates knocking together.  "It's young Tom Tallington,
Mester Dick.  Come, you two ought to mak friends now, and go and hev a
good skate to-morrow."

"I'm never going to be friends with Tom Tallington again," said Dick
sternly; but he sighed as he said it.

Just then Tom rushed into the workshop.  "Here," he cried, "Dick
Winthorpe, come along.  I've been to the house."

"What do you want?" said Dick coldly.

"What do I want!  Why, they don't know!" cried Tom.  "Look here!"

He caught Dick by the collar, dragged him to the door, and pointed.

"Fire!" he cried.

"Hey!" cried the wheelwright.  "Fire!  So it is.  But there's no house
or stack out theer."

"Only old Dave's.  Father said he thought it must be his place.  Come
on, Dick."

"But how are we to get there?" cried Dick, forgetting the feud in the

"How are we to get there!  Why, skate."

"Will it be strong enough, Hicky?"

"Mebbe for you, lads; but it wouldn't bear me, and I couldn't get along
the boat nor yet a sled."

Tom had already seated himself, and was putting on his skates, while
Dick immediately began to follow suit, with the result that in five
minutes both were ready and all past troubles forgotten.  The memory of
the terrible night when his father was shot did come for a moment to
Dick, but the trouble had grown dull, and the excitement of Dave's place
being on fire carried everything before it.

"Poor owd Dave!" said Hickathrift, as he gazed over the mere at the glow
in the black frosty night.  "He's got off so far.  Mebbe it'll be my
turn next.  Come back and tell me, lads."

"Yes, yes," they shouted, as they walked clumsily to the ice edge, Dick
first, and as he glided on there was an ominous ringing crack which
seemed to run right out with a continuous splitting noise.

"Will it bear, Hicky?"

"Ay, she'll bear you, lad, only keep well out, and away from the reeds."

Tom dashed on, and as the wheelwright stood with the group of labourers,
who were just beginning to comprehend the new alarm, the two lads went
off stroke for stroke over the ringing ice, which cracked now and again
but did not yield, save to undulate beneath them, as they kept gathering
speed and glided away.

Far ahead there was the ruddy glow, showing like a golden patch upon the
dark sky, which overhead was almost black, and glittering with the
brilliant stars.  The ice gleamed, little puffs of white powder rose at
every stroke of the skates, and on and on they went, gathering speed
till they were gliding over the ringing metallic surface like arrows
from a bow, while as soon as the first timidity had passed away they
began to feel their feet, and in a few minutes were skating nearly as
well as when the ice broke up last.

The feud was forgotten, and it had lasted long enough.  With a buoyant
feeling of excitement, and a sensation of joy increased by the brisk
beat of the freezing wind upon their cheeks, the two lads joined hands
in a firm grip, kept time together, and sped on as Lincoln and Cambridge
boys alone can speed over the ice.

Not that they are more clever with their legs than the boys of other
counties; but from the fact that skating has always been a favourite
pastime with them, and that when others were longing for a bit of
bearing ice, and getting it sometimes in a crowded place, the marsh and
fen lads had miles of clear bright surface, over which they could career
as a swallow flies.

Away and away over the open ice, unmarked before by skate-iron and
looking black as hardened unpolished steel, stroke for stroke, stroke
for stroke, the wind whistling by them, and the ominous cracking
forgotten as they dashed on past reed-bed and bog-clump, keeping to the
open water where they had so often been by punt.

"His reed-stack must be on fire," panted Dick as they dashed on.

"Ay, and his peat-stack and cottage too," shouted Tom so as to be heard
above the ringing of their skates.  "Oh, Dick, if I only knew who it was
did these things I think I could kill him!"

Dick was silent for a minute, for his companion's words jarred upon him.

"How much farther is it?" he said at last.

"Good mile and a half," said Tom; "but it's fine going.  I say, look at
the golden smoke.  It must be at Dave's, eh?"

"Yes, it's there, sure enough.  Oh, Tom, suppose some one were to burn
down the duck 'coy!"

"It wouldn't burn so as to do much harm.  Look, there goes a flock of

They could just catch the gleam of the wings in the dark night, as the
great flock, evidently startled by the strange glare, swept by.

"I say!" cried Dick, as they dashed on as rapidly as the birds

"What is it?"

"Suppose poor Dave--"

"Oh, don't think things like that!" cried Tom with a shudder.  "He'd be
clever enough to get out.  Come along.  Look at the sparks."

What Tom called sparks were glowing flakes of fire which floated on,
glittering against the black sky, and so furiously was the fire burning
that it seemed as if something far more than the hut and stacks of the
decoy-man must be ablaze.

And now they had to curve off some distance to the right, for they came
upon an embayment of the mere, so well sheltered from the icy blast that
to have persevered in skating over the very thin ice must have meant
serious accident to one, probably to both.

For a long time past the ice had been blushing, as it were, with the
warm glow from the sky; but now, as they drew nearer and passed a little
copse of willows, they glided full into the view of the burning hut and
stacks, and found that a bed of dry reeds was burning too.  At this
point of their journey the cold black ice was lit up, and as they
advanced it seemed as if they were about to skim over red-hot glowing

"Now, then," cried Dick excitedly, "a rush--as fast as we can go!"

But they could get on at no greater speed, and rather slackened than
increased as they drew near to the fire; while a feeling of thankfulness
came over both as all at once they were aware of the fact that a tall
thin figure was standing apparently with its back to them staring at the
glowing fire, against which it stood out like a black silhouette.

"Dave, ho!" shouted Dick.

The figure turned slowly, and one hand was raised as if to shade the

"Dave, ho!" shouted Tom.

"Ay, ay!" shouted back the man; and the next minute the boys glided up
to the firm earth and leaped ashore, as their old fishing and trapping
friend came slowly to meet them.

"How was it, Dave?" cried Dick.

"Was it an accident?" cried Tom.

"Accident!  Just such an accident as folks hev as shoves a burning
candle in a corn stack.  Just you two slither out yonder straight away,
and see if you can see anyone."

"But there can't be anyone," said Dick, looking in the direction

"Ice wouldn't bear, and they couldn't come in a punt."

"Nay, they coom i' pattens," said Dave sharply.  "I joost caught a blink
of 'em as they went off, and I let 'em hev the whole charge o' my goon."

"A bullet?" said Tom huskily.

"Nay, lad; swan-shot.  I'd been out after the wild-geese at the end of
the bit o' reed-bed here, when I see a light wheer there couldn't be no
light, and I roon back and see what they'd done, and let fly at 'em."

"And hit them, Dave?" said Dick.

"Nay, lad, I can't say.  I fired and I heered a squeal.  Ice wouldn't
bear for me to go and see."

"Come along, Tom," cried Dick; and they skated away once more, to curve
here and there in all directions, till a hail from the island took them

"Can't you find 'em?"


"Then they must have got away; but they've took some swan-shot wi' 'em,
whoever they be."

"But, Dave, were there two?"

"Don't know, lad.  I only see one, and fired sharp.  Look ye here," he
continued, pointing to the glowing remains of his hut, "I nivver made no
dreerns.  They might have left me alone.  Now they'll come back some day
and pay me back for that shot.  All comes o' your father makkin dreerns,
Mester Dick, just as if we weren't reight before."

"It's very, very sad, Dave."

"Ay, bairn, and I feel sadly.  Theer's a whole pound o' powder gone, and
if I'd happened to be happed up i' my bed instead of out after they
geese, I should hev gone wi' it, or been bont to dead.  Why did they
want to go meddling wi' me?"

"They've been meddling with every one, Dave," said Tom.

"'Cept you two," grumbled Dave.  "Theer was my sheepskin coat and a pair
o' leggin's and my new boots."

"Were the nets there, Dave?" asked Dick.

"Course they weer.  Look, dessay that's them burning now.  All my shot
too melted down, and my tatoes, and everything I have."

"Where was the dog?"

"Over at John Warren's.  Wasn't well.  Nice sort o' neighbour he is to
stop away!"

"But he couldn't come, Dave," said Tom in remonstrant tones.  "The ice
wouldn't bear anyone but us boys."

"Why, I'd ha' swimmed to him," growled Dave, "if his place had been

"No you wouldn't, Dave.  You couldn't when it's frozen.  I say, couldn't
we put anything out?"

"Nay, lads.  It must bon right away, and then there'll be a clear place
to build again."

"But," cried Dick, "a bucket or two, and we could do a good deal."

"Boocket's bont," said Dave sadly, "and everything else.  They might hev
left me alone, for I hates the dreerns."

The trio stood watching the fire, which was rapidly going down now for
want of something to burn; but as they stood near, their faces scorched,
while the cold wind drawn by the rising heat cut by their ears and
threatened to stiffen their backs.  The reeds and young trees which had
been burning were now smoking feebly, and the only place which made any
show was the peat-stack, which glowed warmly and kept crumbling down in
cream-coloured ash.  But when a fire begins to sink it ceases to be
exciting, and as the two lads stood there upon their skates, with their
faces burning, the tightness of their straps stopped the circulation,
and their feet grew cold.

"I say, Dave," said Dick just then, "what's to be done?"

"Build 'em up again.  I builded this, and I can build another, lad."

"Yes, but I mean about you.  What's to be done?  The ice won't bear you,
and you've got no shelter."

The rough fellow shook his head.

"Nay, but it wean't rain, and I can sit close to the fire and keep mysen

"But you ought to have some cover."

"Ay, I ought to hev some cover, and I'll get my punt ashore, and turn
her up, and sit under her."

"And no wraps!  Look here, I shall be warm enough skating back.  I'll
lend you my coat."

"Nay, nay, lad," said Dave, with his eyes twinkling, and his face
looking less grim.  "Keep on thy coat, lad, I wean't hev it.  Thankye,
though, all the same, and thou shalt hev a good bit o' sport for that,
Mester Dick.  But, theer, you two had best go back."

"But we don't like leaving you," said Tom.

"Thankye, lads, thankye.  Bud nivver yow mind about me.  Look at the
times I've wetched all night in my poont for the wild-geese, and wi'out
a fire, eh?  Yow both get back home.  Wouldn't bear me to walk wi' ye to
sleep in one of the barns at the Toft, would it?"

"I don't think it would, Dave."

"Nay, it wouldn't, lad; and I don't want to get wet, so off with you."

The boys hesitated; but Dave was determined.

"Here, give me a hand wi' my poont," he said; and going to where it was
moored, he took hold of the boat, drew it close in, and then, he on one
side, the two lads on the other, they ran it right up ashore, and close
to the glowing peat-stack, where, with a good deal of laughter at their
clumsiness in skates ashore, the punt was turned over, and Dave propped
one side up with a couple of short pieces of wood.

"Theer," he said.  "Looks like setting a trap to ketch a big bird.  I'm
the big bird, and I shall be warm enew faacing the fire.  When it goes
out I can tak' away the sticks and let the poont down and go to sleep.
Come and see me again, lads, and bring me a moothful o' something.
Mebbe the ice'll bear to-morrow."

"We'll come, Dave, never fear," said Dick, taking out his knife as he
reached the ice, and cleaning the mud off his skates, for the ground was
soft near the fire, though hard as iron everywhere else.

"I don't fear, lads," said Dave smiling, and letting off his
watchman-rattle laugh.  "It's a bad job, but not so bad as Farmer
Tallington's stables burning, or squire's beasts heving theer legs
cooten.  I'll soon get oop another house when I've been and seen
neighbour Hickathrift for some wood.  Now, then, off you go, and see
who's best man over the ice."

"One moment, Dave," cried Dick, checking himself in the act of starting.
"It was easy enough to come here with the fire to guide us, but we must
know which way to go back."

"Ay, to be sure, lad," cried Dave eagerly.  "You mak' straight for yon
star and yow'll be right.  That star's reight over the Toft.  Now,

There was a momentary hesitation, and then the boys struck the ice
almost at the same time.  There was a ringing hissing sound, mingled
with a peculiar splitting as if the ice were parting from where they
started across the mere to the Toft, and then they were going at a
rapidly increasing speed straight for home.



There are many pleasures in life, and plenty of people to sing the
praises of the sport most to their taste; but it is doubtful whether
there is any manly pursuit which gives so much satisfaction to an adept
in the art as skating.

I don't mean skating upon the ornamental water of a park, elbowed here,
run against there, crowded into a narrow limit, and abortively trying to
cut figures upon a few square feet of dirty, trampled ice, full of
holes, dotted with stones thrown on by mischievous urchins to try
whether it will bear, and being so much unlike ice that it is hardly to
be distinguished from the trampled banks; but skating over miles of
clear black crystal, on open water, with the stars twinkling above like
diamonds, the air perfectly still around, but roaring far on high, as
Jack Frost and his satellites go hurrying on to mow down vegetation and
fetter streams; when there is so much vitality in the air you breathe
that fatigue is hardly felt, and when, though the glass registers so
many degrees of frost, your pulses beat, your cheeks glow, and a faint
dew upon your forehead beneath your cap tells you that you are
thoroughly warm.  How the blood dances through the veins!  How the eyes
sparkle!  How tense is every nerve!  How strong each muscle!  The ice
looks like steel.  Your skates are steel, and your legs feel the same as
stroke, _whish_! stroke, _whish_! stroke! stroke! stroke! stroke! away
you go, gathering power, velocity, confidence, delight, at the unwonted
exercise, till you feel as if you could go on for ever, and begin
wishing that the whole world was ice, and human beings had been born
with skates to their toes instead of nails.

Some such feelings as these pervaded the breasts of Dick Winthorpe and
Tom Tallington as they glided along homeward on that night.  Every now
and then there was a sharp report, and a hissing splitting sound.  Then
another and another, for the ice was really too thin to bear them
properly, and it undulated beneath their weight like the soft swell of
the Atlantic in a calm.

"Sha'n't go through, shall we?" said Tom, as there was a crack as loud
as a pistol-shot.

"We should if we stopped," said Dick.  "Keep on and we shall be on fresh
ice before it breaks."

And so it seemed.  Crack! crack! crack!  But at every report and its
following splitting the lads redoubled their exertions, and skimmed at a
tremendous rate over the treacherous surface.

At times it was quite startling; but they were growing so inured to the
peril that they laughed loudly--a joyous hearty laugh--which rang out to
the music made by their skates.

They were in the highest of glee, for though they did not revert to it
in words, each boy kept thinking of the past quarrel, and rejoicing at
its end, while he looked forward to days of enjoyment in companionship
such as had gone before.

The star--one of those in the Great Bear--did them good stead, for it
was easy to follow; and saving that they were always within an ace of
going through, they skimmed on in safety.

From time to time they glanced back to see the glare of the fire dying
out to such an extent that when they were well in sight of the light at
the landing-place which they felt convinced Hickathrift was showing, the
last sign had died out, and just then a loud crack made them forget it.

"Don't seem to be freezing so hard, does it?" said Tom.

"Oh, yes, I think so; only we must be going over ice we cracked before.
Now, then, let's put on all the speed we can, and go right in to where
the light is with a rush."

Tom answered to his companion's call by taking stroke for stroke, and
away they went quicker than ever.  The ice bent and swayed and cracked,
and literally hissed as they sped on, with the white powder flying as it
was struck off.  The metallic ring sounded louder, and the splitting
more intense; but still they passed on in safety till they were within
one hundred yards of where the wheelwright was waiting, when there was a
sharp report as loud as that of a gun, a crack, and there were no
skaters on the surface, only a quantity of broken ice in so much black
water, and directly after a loud yell rose from the shore.

"Now, Jacob, out with it!" came in stentorian tones; and then there was
a cracking sound, a great deal of splashing, and the punt was partly
slid along the ice, partly used to break it up, by the two men who waded
by its side, and finally got it right upon the ice and thrust along till
it was close to the place where the lads had broken in.

"Now, then, where are you?" shouted Hickathrift as he peered around.

"Here we are, all right, only so precious cold!" cried Dick.  "It isn't
very deep here; only up to your chest."

"It's up to my chin," cried Tom with a shiver, "and I'm holding on by
the ice."

Hickathrift did not hesitate, but waded towards him, breaking opposing
sheets of ice with a thump of his fist, and at last, with some little
difficulty, all got ashore.

"Theer, both of you, run for it to the Toft and get to bed.  The missus
knows what to do better than I can tell her.  Nivver mind your pattens."

If they had stopped to get them off it would have been a terribly long
job with their rapidly-numbing hands, so they did not pause, but
scuffled over the ground in the best way they could to the house, where
hot beds and a peculiar decoction Mrs Winthorpe prepared had a double
property, for it sent them into a perspiration and off to sleep, one of
the labourers bearing the news to Grimsey that the heir to the house of
Tallington would not return that night, consequent upon having become
"straange and wet."

The next morning the boys came down to breakfast none the worse for
their wetting, to find that Mr Marston was already there looking very

He had been told of the burning-out of poor Dave, and he had other news
of his own, that three of the cottages had been fired during the past

"And the peculiar part of the business is," said Mr Marston, "that big
Bargle saw the person who fired the last of the houses."

The engineer looked at Dick as he spoke.

"Why didn't he catch him then?" said Dick sharply, for Mr Marston's
look annoyed him; "he is big enough."

"Don't speak pertly, Dick!" said his father sternly.

"It was because he is so big that he did not catch him, Richard
Winthorpe," said the engineer coldly.  "The ice bore the person who
fired the places, because he was skating."

"Skating!" cried Dick, flushing up.

"Yes, skating!" said Mr Marston.  "Bargle says that the man hobbled
over the ground in his skates, but as soon as he reached the ice he went
off like a bird.  The ice cracked and splintered, but it seemed to bear
him, and in less than a minute he was out of sight, but Bargle could
hear him for a long time."

"Well, it wasn't me, Mr Marston," said Tom, laughing.  "I was skating
along with Dick, but it was neither of us.  We went to another fire."

"Breakfast is getting cold," said Mrs Winthorpe, who looked troubled,
for the squire was frowning, and Dick turning pale and red by turns.

"Look here," said the squire suddenly; "I cannot, and I will not, have
unpleasantness of this kind in my house.  I must speak plainly, Marston.
You suspect my boy of firing your men's huts last night?"

"I am very sorry, Mr Winthorpe, and I do it unwillingly, but
appearances are very much against him."

"They are," said the squire gravely.

"I like Dick; I always did like Dick," said the engineer; "and it seems
to me horrible to have to suspect such a lad as he is; but put yourself
in my place, Mr Winthorpe.  Can you be surprised?"

"I am not surprised, Mr Marston," said Mrs Winthorpe, rising and going
to her son's side.  "Dick was out last night skating with Tom here over
the thin ice, and of course it must have been a very light person to
cross last night in skates; but you are mistaken.  My boy would not
commit such a cowardly crime."

The moment before, Dick, who was half-stunned by the accusation, and
ready to give up in despair, leaped to his feet and flung his arms about
his mother's waist.  His eyes flashed and the colour flushed right up
into his brows as he kissed her passionately again and again.

"You are right," said the squire.  "But speak out, Dick.  You did not do
this dastardly thing?"

"No, father," said Dick, meeting his eyes boldly.  "I couldn't."

"There, Marston," said the squire; "and I will not insult Tom Tallington
by accusing him."

"Oh, no, father! we were together all the time."

"But I say," cried Tom, "old Dave said it was a chap in skates who set
fire to his place, and he couldn't follow him over the ice."

"Yes; I'd forgotten," cried Dick, "and he shot at him."

"Then I am wrong once more, Dick," said Mr Marston.  "I beg your
pardon.  Will you forgive me?"

"Of course I will, Mr Marston," said Dick huskily, as he took the
extended hand; "but I don't think you ought to be so ready to think ill
of me."

"And I say the same, Mr Marston," said Mrs Winthorpe.  "My boy is
wilful, and he may have been a bit mischievous, but he could not be
guilty of such cowardly tricks as these."

"No," said Tom, with his mouth full of pork-pie; "of course he could
not.  Dick isn't a coward!"

"I humbly apologise, Mrs Winthorpe," said Marston, smiling, "and you
must forgive me.  A man who has been shot at has his temper spoiled."

"Say no more, Marston, my lad," said the squire warmly; "we all forgive
you, and--breakfast waits."

The subject was hurriedly changed, Dick being after all able to make a
good meal, during which he thought of the past, and of how glad he was
to be friends with Tom Tallington again; and then, as he had his second
help of pie to Tom's third, it seemed to him that the same person must
be guilty of all these outrages, and if so it could not by any
possibility be Farmer Tallington, for he never skated, and even if he
could, he weighed at least sixteen stone, and the ice had broken under
the weight of Tom's seven or eight.

"We shall find him yet, Marston; never fear," said the squire; "and when
we do--well, I shall be sorry for the man."

"Why?" said Mrs Winthorpe.

"Because," said the squire gravely, "I have been so near death myself
that--there, this is not a pleasant subject to talk about.  We will



Hickathrift shook his head; Mrs Hickathrift screwed up her lips, shut
her eyes, and shuddered; and the former doubled up his hard fist and
shook it in the air, as if he were going to hit nothing, as he gave out
his opinion--this being also the opinion of all the labouring people

"Ay, yow may laugh, Mester Dick, but they'll nivver find out nowt.  It's
sperrits, that's what it is--sperrits of the owd fen, them as makes the
ager, and sends will-o'-the-wisps to lead folkses into the bog.  They
don't like the drain being med, and they shutes and bons, and does all
they can to stop it."

"You're a great goose, Hicky," said Dick sharply.  "Who ever heard of a

"I didn't say ghost, my lad.  I said sperrits!"

"Well, they're all the same."

"Nay, nay, ghosts is ghosts, and sperrits is sperrits."

"Well, then, who ever heard of a spirit going out skating with a
lantern, or poling about with a punt, or shooting people, or blowing up
sluice-gates, or cutting beasts' legs, or setting fire to their houses?
Did you?"

"I nivver did till now, Mester Dick."

"It's all nonsense about spirits; isn't it, Tom?"

"Of course it is," was the reply.  "We're going to catch the spirit some
day, and we'll bring him here."

"Ay, do," said Hickathrift, nodding his head softly.  "Well, I'm glad
you two hev made it up."

"Never mind about that.  Has Dave been over?"

"Ay, lad.  Soon as the ice went away and he could get his punt along he
come to me and asked me to get him some wood sawn out; and we done it
already.  Ice is gone and to-morrow I'm going to pole across and help
him knock up a frame, and he'll do the rest hissen."

The damage was far more severe at the drainage works; but even here the
traces of the fire soon disappeared, and fresh huts were run up nearer
to where the men were at work.

One thing, however, was noticeable, and that was the action of the
squire, the engineer, and Farmer Tallington--the engineer, after hanging
away for a time, becoming again more friendly, though Dick never seemed
at ease in his presence now.

These three leaders on the north side of the fen held a meeting with
dwellers on the west and south, and after long consultation the results
were seen in a quiet way which must have been rather startling to
wrong-doer? and those who were secretly fighting to maintain the fen

Tom was the first to begin talking about these precautions as he and
Dick started to go down to the drain one morning early in spring, after
a long spell of bitter miserable weather, succeeded by a continuance of
fierce squalls off the sea.

"I say," he said, "father's got such a splendid new pair of pistols."

"Has he?  So has my father," said Dick staring.  "Are yours mounted with
brass and with brass pans?"

"Yes, and got lions' heads on the handles just at the end."

"Ours are just the same," said Dick.  "I say, Tom, it won't be very
pleasant for the spirits if they come now.  Hullo, what does Hicky

The big wheelwright was signalling to them to come, and they turned in
to his work-shed.

"Thowt you lads 'd like to see," he said.  "What d'yer think o' them?"

He pointed to a couple of muskets lying on the bench.

"Are these yours?" said Tom.

"Yes and no, lads.  They're for me and Jacob, and we've got orders to be
ready at any time to join in and help run down them as does all the
mischief; but it's a sorry business, lads.  Powther and shot's no use.
Yow can't get shut of sperrits that ways.  Good goons, aren't they?"

The pieces were inspected and the boys soon afterwards started.

"I don't see much use in our going down here," said Tom, "for if there
is anything stupid it's the cutting of a drain.  It's all alike, just
the same as the first bit they cut."

"Only we don't have to go so far to see the men at work.  I suppose one
of these days we shall have Mr Marston setting up huts for the men
about the Toft.  Hist! look out!  What's that?"

"Whittrick!" said Tom, running in pursuit of the little animal which
crossed their path.  "There must be rabbits about here."

"Yes.  Do you know what they call whittricks down south?"



"How stupid!" said Tom after a vain chase after the snaky-looking little
creature.  "They must be very silly people down south.  Do they call
them stoats in London?"

"Haven't got any in London--only rats."

The engineer greeted the lads warmly and went up to the temporary hut he
occupied to fetch his gun, when, in the corner of the room Dick saw
something which made him glance at Tom.

"Yes," said the engineer, who saw the glance; "we're going to show your
fen-men, Master Dick, that we do not mean to be trifled with.  I've got
muskets; and as the law does not help us, we shall help ourselves.  So
if anyone intends to come shooting us, blowing up our works, or setting
fire to our huts, he had better look out for bullets."

"But you wouldn't shoot anyone, Mr Marston?" said Tom.

"Indeed but we would, or any two, sir.  It's a case of self-defence.
There, Dick, don't look at me as if I were a bloodthirsty savage.  I
have got all these muskets down and shown my men how to use them, and I
am letting it be known that we are prepared."

"Seems rather horrible," said Dick.

"More horrible for your father to be shot, Dick, and for people to be
burned in their beds, eh!"

"Ever so much," cried Tom.  "You shoot 'em all, Mr Marston."

"Precaution is better than cure, Tom," said the engineer smiling.  "Now
that we are prepared, you will see that we shall not be interfered with,
and my arming the men will save bloodshed instead of causing it."

"Think so, sir?"

"I am sure of it, my lad.  Besides, if I had not done something, my men
would not have stayed.  Even Bargle said it was getting too warm.  He
said he was not afraid, but he would not stay.  So here we are ready for
the worst: self-defence, my lads.  And now let's go and get a few ducks
for dinner.  They are pretty plentiful, and my men like them as well as

The result was a long walk round the edge of the fen and the bringing
back of a fairly miscellaneous bag of wild-fowl, the engineer having
become a skilful gunner during his stay in the wild coast land.

Mr Marston was right; the preparations made by him and all the farmers
round who had an interest in the draining of the fen had the effect of
putting a stop to the outrages.  The work went on as the weeks glided
by, and spring passed, and summer came to beautify the wild expanse of
bog and water.  There had been storm and flood, but people had slept in
peace, and the troubles of the past were beginning to be forgotten.

There were plenty of fishing and fowling expeditions, visits to the
decoy with good results, and journeys to John Warren's home for the
hunting out of rabbits; but life was beginning seriously for the two
lads, who found occupation with Mr Marston and began to acquire the
rudiments of knowledge necessary for learning to be draining engineers.
Sometimes they were making drawings, sometimes overlooking, and at
others studying works under their teacher's guidance.

But it was a pleasant time, for Marston readily broke off work to join
them in some expedition.

One day, as they were poling along, Tom gave Dick a queer look, and
nodded in the direction of a fir-crowned gravelly island lying about a
mile away.

"When's the Robinson Crusoe business going to begin, Dick?" he said.

Dick laughed, but it was not a merry laugh, for the memory was a painful
one, and mingled with recollections of times when everyone was
suspicious of him, or seemed to be; and he was fast relapsing into an
unhappy morbid state.

"What was the Robinson Crusoe business?" said Marston; and on being
told, he laughingly proposed going on.

"Let's have a look at the place, boys," he said.  "Why shouldn't we have
a summer-house out here to come and stay at sometimes, shooting,
fishing, or collecting.  We cannot always work."

The pole was vigorously plied, and at the end of half an hour they had
landed, to find the place just as they remembered it to have been the
year before.  There were the bushes, the heath, and heather in the
gravelly soil, and the fir-trees flourishing.

"A capital place!" said the engineer.  "I tell you what, boys, we'll
bring Big Bargle over, and a couple of men; the wheelwright shall cut us
some posts, rafters, and a door, and we'll make a great hut, and--"

He stopped short at that point and stared, as they all stood in the
depths of the little fir-wood, with the water and reed-beds hidden from
sight.  For there, just before them, as if raised by magic, was the very
building Mr Marston had described, and upon examination they found it
very dry and warm, with a bed of heath in one corner.

"Some sportsman has forestalled us," said the engineer.  "One of the
farmers, I suppose, from the other side of the fen."

They came away, with the lads sharing the same feeling of
disappointment, for the little island was robbed of all its romance.  It
was no longer uninhabited, and the temptation to have a hut there was

"Plenty more such places, boys," said Mr Marston, "so never mind.
We'll hunt one out and make much of it before my drain turns all this
waste into fertile fields.  Now let's get back, for I have a lot to chat
over with the wheelwright."

The next morning Hickathrift was beaming, and he came up to the Toft to
catch Dick, who was feeding Solomon and avoiding his friendly kicks,
while he waited for Tom to go over with him to the works.

"Say, Mester Dick, on'y think of it!  Leave that owd ass alone, lad, and
listen to me."

"What is it, Hicky?"

"Why, lad, I'm a man full o'--what do you call that when a chap wants to
get on in the world?"

"Ambition, Hicky."

"That's it, Mester Dick.  I'm full on it, bud I've nivver hed a chance.
You see I've had to mend gates, and owd carts, and put up fences.  I did
nearly get the job to build a new barn, bud I lost it, and all my life's
been jobs."

"And what now?" said Dick warmly.

"What now, lad!  Why, Mester Marston's set me to mak three sets o' small
watter gates for sides o' the dreern, and I'm to hev money in advance
for the wood and iron work, and my fortune's about made."

"Hooray, Hicky!  I am glad," cried Dick; and Tom, coming up, was
initiated into the great new step in advance, and added his

"Why, you're carpenter and joiner to the works now, Hicky!" said Dick,

"Ay, lad, that's it, and I don't fear for nowt."

It was less than a fortnight after, that Dick lay asleep one night and
dreaming of being in a boat on the mere, or one of its many additional
pools, when he started into wakefulness with the impression that the
house was coming down.

"Eh?  What is it?" he cried, as there was a heavy thumping on the wall
close to his bed's head.

"Get up--fire!" came in muffled tones; and bounding out of bed he saw
that there was a lurid light on the water, evidently reflected from
something burning pretty near at hand, while there was the distant hum
of voices, mingled with shrieks and the barking of a dog.

Dick began hurriedly dressing, and threw open the window, to find that
the dog was Grip, who was out in the yard barking frantically, as if to
alarm the house.

"What is it, father?  Where?" cried Dick.

"Don't know; not here.  Labourers' cottages, I think," replied the
squire, who was still dressing.  Then, as a burst of flame seemed to
rush up skyward, and a cloud of brilliant sparks floated away, he added,
"Dick, my lad, it is poor Hickathrift's turn now."

He was quite right, for as they ran the few hundred yards which
separated them from the burning place, it was to find that the poor
fellow's house, work-shed, stock of wood, peat-stack, and out-buildings
were in a blaze; even his punt, which had been brought up for its annual
repair and pitching, blazing furiously.

Hickathrift, Jacob, Mrs Hickathrift, and the farm people were all at
work with buckets, which they handed along from the dipping place by the
old willows; but at the first glance the squire saw that it was in vain,
and that the fire had taken such hold that nothing could be saved.  Both
he and Dick, however, joined in the efforts, saying nothing but working
with all their might, the squire taking Jacob's place and dipping the
water, while the apprentice and Dick helped to pass the full buckets
along and the empty back, for they were not enough to form a double

For about a quarter of an hour this was kept up, the wheelwright
throwing the water where he thought it would do most good; but the
flames only roared the louder, and, fanned by a pleasant breeze,
fluttered and sent up sparks of orange and gold, till a cask of pitch
got well alight, and then the smoke arose in one dense cloud.

It was a glorious sight in spite of its horror, for the wood in the shed
and the pile without burned brilliantly, lighting up the mere, gilding
the reeds, and spreading a glow around that was at times dazzling.

"Pass it along quick! pass it along!"  Jacob kept saying, probably to
incite people to work harder; but it was not necessary, for everyone was
doing his or her best, when, just as they were toiling their hardest,
the wheelwright took a bucket of water, hurled it as far as he could,
and then dashed on the empty vessel and turned away.

"No good," he said bitterly, as he wiped his face.  "Fire joost spits at
me when I throw in the watter.  It must bon down, squire, eh?"

"Yes, my man, nothing could save the place now."

"And all my same [lard] in a jar--ten pounds good," murmured Mrs

"Ay, moother, and my Sunday clothes," said the wheelwright with a bitter

"And my best frock."

"Ay, and my tools, and a bit o' mooney I'd saved, and all my stoof.  Eh,
but I'm about ruined, moother, and just when I was going to get on and
do the bit o' work for the dreern folk."

The fire seemed to leap up suddenly with a great flash as if to
enlighten the great fellow's understanding, but he did not grasp the
situation for a few moments, till his wife, as she bemoaned the loss of
a paste-board and a flour-tub, suddenly exclaimed:

"It's them sperrits of the fen as has done it all."

"Ay, so it be!" roared Hickathrift.  "Ay!  Hey, bud if I could git one
of 'em joost now by scruff of his neck and the seat of his breeches,
I'd--I'd--I'd roast him."

"Then it was no accident, Hickathrift?"

"Yes, squire," said the man bitterly; "same sort o' axden as bont Farmer
Tallington's stable and shed.  Hah, here he is!" he added, as the farmer
came panting up with Tom.  "Come to waarm theesen, farmer?  It's my turn

"My lad!  My lad!" panted the farmer, "I am sorry."

"Thanky, farmer; but fine words butter no parsneps.  Theer, bairn," he
cried, putting his arm round his wife's waist; "don't cry that away.  We
aren't owd folks, and I'm going to begin again.  Be a good dry plaace
after fire's done, and theer'll be some niced bits left for yow to heat
the oven when fire's out."

"And no oven, no roof, no fireside."

"Hush! hush! bairn!" said the big fellow thickly.  "Don't I tell thee
I'm going to begin again!  What say, Mester Dick?  Nay, nay, lad, nay."

"What did Dick say?" said the squire sharply.

"Hush, Hicky!" whispered Dick quickly.

"Nay, lad, I wean't hoosh!  Said, squire, as he's got thretty shillings
saved up, and he'd give it to me to start wi'."

"And so he shall, my man, and other neighbours will help you too.  I'll
make Dick's thirty shillings a hundred guineas."

"Well, I can't do that, Hickathrift," said Farmer Tallington; "but if
ever you want to borrow twenty guineas come to me; and there's my horse
and sled to lead wood wheniver you like, and a willing hand or two to

Hickathrift turned sharply to say something; but he could only utter a
great gulp, and, turning away, he went a few yards, and leaned his head
upon his arm against a willow tree, and in the bright glow of the
burning building, whose gilded smoke rose up like some vast plume, they
could see his shoulders heave, while his wife turned to the squire, and
in a simple, homely fashion, kissed his hand.

The squire turned to stop Dick, but it was too late, for the lad had
reached the wheelwright and laid his hand upon his shoulder.

"Hicky," he said softly; "be a man!"

"Ay, lad, I will," said the great fellow, starting up with his eyes wet
with tears.  "It isn't the bont plaace made me soft like that, but
what's been said."

He had hardly spoken before there was a peculiar noise heard in the
distance, as if a drove of cattle had escaped and were coming along the
hard road of the fen; but it soon explained itself, for there were
shouts and cries, and five minutes later Mr Marston and his men, nearly
a hundred strong, came running up, ready to assist, and then utter the
fiercest of denunciations against those who had done this thing.

Then there was an ominous silence, as all stood and watched the burning
building till there was nothing but a heap of smouldering wood, which
was scattered and the last sparks quenched.



The fire at the wheelwright's lasted people nearly a month for gossip,
but Hickathrift would not believe it was the work of spirits now.

Then came the news of a fresh outrage.  The horses employed in bringing
stones for certain piers to water-gates were shot dead one night.

Next, a fresh attempt was made to blow up the sluice, but failed.

Last of all, the man who was put on to watch was shot dead, and his body
found in the drain.

After this there was a pause, and the work was carried on with sullen
watchfulness and bitter hate.  The denunciations against the workers of
the evil were fierce and long.

But in spite of all, the drain progressed slowly and steadily.  The
engineer was carrying his advances right into the stronghold of the
fen-men, who bore it all in silence, but struck sharply again and again.

"I wonder who is to get the next taste!" said Tom Tallington one day as
he and Dick were talking.

"No one," said Dick; "so don't talk about it.  The people are getting
used to the draining, and father thinks they'll all settle down quietly

"How long is it since that poor fellow was shot?"

"Don't talk about it, I tell you," said Dick angrily.  "Three months."



Dick was right; nearly three months had gone by since the poor fellow
set to keep watch by Mr Marston had been shot dead, and this
culmination of the horrors of the opposition had apparently startled his
murderers from making farther attempts.

"I tell you what it is," said Tom, "the man who fired that shot and did
all the other mischief has left the country.  He dare not stay any
longer for fear of being caught."

"Then it was no one over our side of the fen," said Dick thoughtfully.
"Perhaps you are right.  Well, I'm going to have a good long day in the
bog to-morrow.  It's wonderfully dry now, and I mean to have a good
wander.  What time shall you be ready?"

"Can't go," said Tom.  "I've promised to ride with father over to the

"What a pity!  Well, never mind; we'll go again the next day and have a
good long day then."

"Will Mr Marston go with us?"

"No.  I asked him, and he said he should be too busy at present, but he
would go in a fortnight's time.  He said he should not want either of us
for a week, so we can go twice if we like."

Tom smiled as if, in spite of his many wanderings, the idea of a ramble
in the fen would be agreeable.

"Shall you fish?" he said.

"N-no, I don't think I shall.  I mean to have a long wander through the
flats away west of the fir island."

"You can't," said Tom; "it's too boggy."

"Not it.  Only got to pick your way.  Do you think I don't know what I'm

"Better take old Solomon with you, and ride him till he sinks in, and
then you can walk along his back into a safe place."

"Then I'd better take another donkey too, and get him to lie down when I
come to another soft place."

"Ah, I would!" said Tom.

"I shall," said Dick.  "Will you come?"

"Do you mean by that to say that I am a donkey?" cried Tom half angrily.

"Yes, when you talk such stupid nonsense.  Just as if I couldn't get
through any bog out here in the fen.  Anyone would think I was a child."

"Well, don't get lost," said Tom; "but I must go now."

The boys parted, with the promise that Tom was to come over from Grimsey
to breakfast the next morning but one, well provided with lunch; that in
the interim Dick was to arrange with Hickathrift about his punt, and
that then they were to have a thoroughly good long exploring day, right
into some of the mysterious parts of the fen, Dick's first journey being
so much scouting ready for the following day's advance.

As soon as Dick was left alone he strolled down to the wheelwright's,
having certain plans of his own to exploit.

"Well, Hicky, nearly got all right?" he said.

"Nay, nay, lad, and sha'n't be for a twelvemonth," replied the great
bluff fellow, staring at his newly-erected cottage.  "Taks a deal o'
doing to get that streight.  How is it you're not over at the works?"

"Not wanted for a bit.  I say, Hicky, may I have the punt to-morrow?"

"Sewerly, Mester Dick, sewerly.  I'll set Jacob to clear her oot a bit
for you.  Going fishing?"

"Well--no," said Dick, hesitating.  "I was--er--thinking of doing a
little shooting."

"What at fend o' June!  Nay, nay, theer's no shooting now."

"Not regular shooting, but I thought I might get something curious,
perhaps, right away yonder."

"Ay, ay, perhaps so."

"Might see a big pike basking, and shoot that."

"Like enough, my lad, like enough.  Squire going to lend you a goon?"

Dick shook his head, but the wheelwright was busy taking a shaving off a
piece of wood, so did not see it, and repeated his question.

"No, Hicky, I want you to lend me one of those new ones."

"What, as squire and Mr Marston left for me and Jacob!  Nay, nay, lad,
that wean't do."

"Oh, yes, it will, Hicky.  I'll take great care of it, and clean it when
I've done.  Lend me the gun, there's a good fellow."

"Nay, nay.  That would never do, my lad.  Couldn't do it."

"Why not, Hicky?"

"Not mine.  What would squire say?"

"He wouldn't know, Hicky.  I shouldn't tell him."

"Bud I should, lad.  Suppose thou wast to shoot thee sen, or blow off a
leg or a hand?  Nay, nay.  Yow can hev the boat, bud don't come to me
for a gun."

Hickathrift was inexorable, and what was more, he watched his applicant
narrowly, to make sure that Dick did not corrupt Jacob.

His visitor noticed it, and charged him with the fact.

"Ay," he said, laughing, "that's a true word.  I know what Jacob is.
He'd do anything for sixpence."

"I hope he wouldn't set fire to the house for that," said Dick angrily.

Hickathrift started as if stung, and stared at his visitor.

"Nay," he said, recovering himself, "our Jacob nivver did that.  He were
fast asleep that night, and his bed were afire when I wackened him.
Don't say such a word as that."

"I didn't mean it, Hicky; but do lend me the gun."

"Nay, my, lad, I wean't.  There's the poont and welcome, but no gun."

Dick knew the wheelwright too well to persevere; and in his heart he
could not help admiring the man's stern sense of honesty; so making up
his mind to be content with some fishing and a good wander in the
untrodden parts of the fen, he asked Hickathrift to get him some baits
with his cast-net.

"Ay, I'll soon get them for you, my lad," said Hickathrift.  "Get a
boocket, Jacob, lad."

The next minute he was getting the newly-made circular net with its
pipe-leads from where it hung over the rafters of his shed, and striding
down to a suitable shallow where a shoal of small fish could be seen, he
ranged the net upon his arm, holding the cord tightly, and, giving
himself a spin round, threw the net so that it spread out flat, with the
pipe-leads flying out centrifugally, and covering a good deal of space,
the leads driving the fish into the centre.  When it was drawn a couple
of dozen young roach and rudd were made captives, and transferred to the
bucket of water Jacob brought.

"Fetch that little bit o' net and a piece o' band, lad," said the
wheelwright; and as soon as Jacob reappeared, Hickathrift bound the fine
net over the top of the pail, and lowered it by the cord into a deep
cold pool close by the punt.

"Theer they'll be all ready and lively for you in the morning, and
you'll hev better sport than you would wi' a gun."

Opinions are various, and Dick's were very different to the
wheelwright's; but he accepted his rebuff with as good a grace as he
could, and went home.

The next morning was delicious.  One of those lovely summer-times when
the sky is blue, and the earth is just in its most beautiful robe of

"Going on the mere, Dick?" said his father.  "Well, don't get drowned or

"Dick will take care," said Mrs Winthorpe, who was busy cutting

"Tom Tallington going with you?" said the squire.

"No, father; I'm going alone."

"I wish you could have come with me, Hicky!" said Dick, as, laden with
his basket of fishing-tackle and provender, he took his place in the

"Ay, and I wish so too," said the wheelwright, smiling, as he drew up
and uncovered the pail of bait to set it in the boat.  "Bud too busy.
Theer you are!  Now, go along, and don't stop tempting a man who ought
to be at work.  Be off!"

To secure himself against further temptation he gave the punt a push
which sent it several yards away; so, picking up the pole, Dick thrust
it down and soon left the Toft behind, while the water glistened, the
marsh-marigolds glowed, and the reeds looked quite purple in places, so
dark was their green.

Dick poled himself along, watching the water-fowl and the rising herons
disturbed in their fishing, while here and there he could see plenty of
small fish playing about the surface of the mere; but he was not in an
angling humour, and though the tempting baits played about in the bucket
he did not select any to hook and set trimmers for the pike that were
lurking here and there.

At last, though, he began to grow tired of poling, for the sun was hot;
and, thinking it would be better to wait for Tom before he tried to
explore the wild part of the fen, he thrust the punt along, to select a
place and try for a pike.

This drew his attention to the baits, where one of the little roach had
turned up nearly dead, a sure sign that the water required changing, so,
setting down the pole, he took up the bucket, and, lowering it slowly
over the side, he held one edge level with the water, so that the fresh
could pour in and the stale and warm be displaced.

Trifles act as large levers sometimes.  In this case for one, a few
drops of water from the dripping pole made the bottom of the punt
slippery; and as Dick leaned over the side his foot gave way, the weight
of the bucket overbalanced him, and he had to seize the side of the punt
to save himself.  This he did, but as he leaned over, nearly touching
the water, it was to gaze at the bucket descending rapidly, and the fish
escaping, for he had let go.

"What a nuisance!" he cried, as he saw the great vessel seem to turn of
a deeper golden hue as it descended and then disappeared, becoming
invisible in the dark water, while the punt drifted away before he could
take up the pole to thrust it back.

There was nothing to guide him, and the poling was difficult, for the
water was here very deep, and though he tried several times to find the
spot where the bucket had gone down, it was without success.

"Why, if I did find it," he muttered, "I shouldn't be able to get it up
without a hook."

This ended the prospect of fishing, and as he stood there idly dipping
down the pole he hesitated as to what he should do, ending by beginning
to go vigorously in the direction of Dave Gittan's newly-built-up hut.

"I'll make him take me out shooting," he said; "and we'll go all over
that rough part of the fen."

There were very few traces of the past winter's fire visible at Dave's
home as Dick approached, ran his punt on to the soft bog-moss, and
landed, securing his rope to a tree, and there were no signs of Dave.

He shouted, but there was no reply, and it seemed evident that the dog
was away as well.

A walk across to Dave's own special landing-place put it beyond doubt,
for the boat was absent.

"What a bother!" muttered Dick, walking back toward the hut, a stronger
and better place than the one which had been burned.  "Perhaps he has
gone to see John Warren!"

Dick hesitated as to whether he should follow, and as he hesitated he
reached the door of the hut and peeped in, to make sure that the dog was
not there asleep.

The place was vacant, and as untidy already as the old hut.  In one
corner there was a heap of feathers plucked from the wild-geese he had
shot; in another a few skins, two being those of foxes, the cunning
animals making the fen, where hunters never came, their sanctuary.
There were traces, too, of Dave's last meal.

But it was at none of these that Dick looked so earnestly, but at the
'coy-man's old well-rubbed gun hanging in a pair of slings cut from some
old boot, and tempting the lad as, under the circumstances, a gun would

Hickathrift had refused to lend him one, badly as he wanted it; and here
by accident was the very thing he wanted staring at him almost as if
asking him to take it.

And Dave! where was he?

Dave might be anywhere, and not return perhaps for days.  His comings
and goings were very erratic, and Dick tried to think that if the man
were there he would have lent him the gun.

But it was a failure.

"He wouldn't have lent it to me," said Dick sadly; and he turned to go.
But as he glanced round, there was the old powder-horn upon a
roughly-made shelf, and beside it, the leathern bag in which Dave kept
his shot, with a little shell loose therein which he used for a measure.

It was tempting.  There was the gun; there lay the ammunition.  He could
take the gun, use it, and bring it back, and give Dave twice as much
powder and shot as he had fired away.  He could even clean the gun if he
liked; but he would not do that, but bring it back boldly, and own to
having taken it Dave would not be very cross, and if he were it did not

He would take the gun.

No, he would not.  It was like stealing the man's piece.

No, it was not--only borrowing, and Dave would be the gainer.

Still he hesitated, thinking of his father, of Hickathrift's refusal, of
its being a mean action to come and take a man's property in his
absence; and in this spirit Dick flung out of the hut and walked
straight down to the boat, seeing nothing but that gun tempting him as
it were, and asking him to seize the opportunity and enjoy a day's
shooting untrammelled by anyone.

"It wouldn't do," he said with a sigh as he got slowly into the boat and
stooped to untie the rope, when, perhaps, the position sent the blood
rushing to his head.  At any rate his wilful thoughts mastered him, and
in a spirit of reckless indifference to the consequences he leaped
ashore, ran up to the hut, dashed in, caught up the powder-horn and
shot-bag, thrust them into his pockets, and seizing the gun, he took it
from its leather slings, his hands trembling, and a sensation upon him
that Dave was looking in at the door.

"What an idiot I was!" he cried, with a feeling of bravado now upon the
increase.  "Dave won't mind, and I want to shoot all by myself."

He glanced round uneasily enough as he made for the punt, where he laid
the gun carefully down, and, seizing his pole, soon sent the vessel to
some distance from the hut, every stroke seeming to make him breathe
more freely, while a keen sensation of joy pervaded him as he glanced
from time to time at the old flint-lock piece, and longed to be where
there would be a chance to shoot.

The day was hot as ever, but the heat was forgotten as the punt was sent
rapidly along in the direction of the fir-clump island, for it was out
there that the wilder part of the fen commenced, and the hope that he
would there find the birds more tame consequent upon the absence of
molestation made the laborious toil of poling seem light.

But all the same a couple of hours' hard work had been given to the
task, and Dick was still far from his goal, when it occurred to him that
a little of the bread and butter cut in slices, and with a good thick
piece of ham between each pair, would not be amiss.

He laid the pole across the boat, then, and for a quarter of an hour
devoted himself to the task of food conversion for bodily support.

This done, there was the gun lying there.  It was not likely that he
would have a chance at anything; but he thought it would be as well to
be prepared, and in this spirit, with hands trembling from eagerness, he
raised the piece and began the task of loading, so much powder, and so
much paper to ram down upon it.

But he had no paper.  It was forgotten, and Dick paused.

Necessity is the mother of invention.  Dick took out his
pocket-handkerchief and his knife, and in a few minutes the cotton
square was cut up, a piece rammed in as a wad, and a measure of shot
poured on the top.

Another piece of handkerchief succeeded, going down the barrel with that
peculiar _whish whash_ sound, to be thumped hard with the ramrod at the
bottom till the rod was ready to leap out of the barrel again.

Then there was the pan to open and prove full of powder, and all ready
for the first great wild bird he should see, or perhaps a hare or a fox,
as soon as he should land.

For it was thought no sin to shoot the foxes there in that wild corner
of England, where hounds had never been laid on, and the only chance of
hunting would have been in boats.  Foxes lived and bred there year after
year, and died without ever hearing the music of the huntsman's horn.

Dick laid the gun down with a sigh, and took up the pole, which he used
for nearly an hour before, with the fir island well to his left, he ran
the punt into a narrow cove among the reeds which spread before him,
and, taking the piece, stepped out upon what was a new land.

It must have been with something of the feelings of the old navigators
who touched at some far western isle, that Dick Winthorpe landed from
his boat, and secured it by knotting together some long rushes and tying
the punt rope to them.  For here he was in a place where the foot of man
could have rarely if ever trod, and, revelling in his freedom and the
beauty of the scene around, he shouldered the piece.

He would have acted more wisely if he had filled his pockets with
provender from the basket; but he wanted those pockets for the powder
and shot, and without intending to go very far from the punt he started,
meaning to go in a straight line for some trees he could see at a great
distance off, hoping to find something in the shape of game before he
had gone far.

It is very easy to make a straight line on a map, but a difficult feat
to go direct from one spot to another in a bog.

Dick did not find it out, for he knew it of old, and so troubled himself
very little as he plodded on under the hot afternoon sun, now on firm
ground, now making some wide deviation so as to avoid a pool of black
water.  Then there were treacherous morass-like pieces of dark mire
thinly covered with a scum-like growth, here green, there bleached in
the June sunshine.

It was always hot walking, and made the worse by the way in which, in
spite of all his care, his feet sank in the soft soil.  At times he
plashed along, having to leap from place to place, and then when the way
seemed so bad that he felt that he must return, it suddenly became
better and lured him on.

He panted and perspired, and struggled on, with the gun always ready;
but saving a moor-hen or two upon one or other of the pools, and a coot
sailing proudly along at the edge of a reed-bed with her little dingy
family, he saw nothing worthy of a shot.

Once there was a rustle among the reeds, but whatever made it was gone
before he could see what it was.  Once a great heron rose from a shallow
place, offering himself as a mark; but it took Dick some time to get a
good view of the grey bird, and when at last he brought the sight of the
gun to bear upon it, the heron refused to remain still, and the muzzle
of the piece described two or three peculiar circles.  When at last it
was brought steadily to bear upon the mark it was about a hundred yards
away, and the trigger was not pulled.

How long Dick had tramped and struggled on through mire and water and
over treacherous ground he did not know, but he did not get one chance;
and at last, when he stopped short with a horrible sinking sensation in
his inner boy, the only things which presented themselves as being ready
to be shot were some beautiful swallow-tailed butterflies, while, save
that the sun was right before him and going down, the lad had not the
slightest idea of where he was.

But he could not stand still, for he was on a soft spot, so he struggled
on to where the ground looked more dry, and fortunately for him it
proved to be so, and he stood looking round and thinking of going back.

"I wish I had brought something to eat," he said, gazing wistfully in
the direction in which he believed the punt lay.

But it was in vain to wish, so he determined to retrace his steps,
fighting against the thought that it would be a difficult task, for to
all intents and purposes he had lost all idea of the direction in which
he had come.  It was very hot, though, and the gun was very heavy.  He
was weary too with poling the boat and walking, and but for the romance
of the expedition he would have declared himself fagged out.

As it was, he thought he would have ten minutes' rest before starting
back, so picking out a good dry firm place, he laid the gun down, and
then, seeing how comfortable the gun seemed, he lay at full length upon
his back on the soft heather and gazed straight up at the blue sky.

Then his eyes wandered to a cloud of flies, long gnat-like creatures,
which were beginning to dance over the reeds, and he lay watching them
till he thought he would get up and be on the move.

Then he thought, as it was so refreshing to be still, he would wait
another five minutes.

So he waited another five minutes, and then he did not get up, but lay,
not looking at the cloud of gnats which were dancing now just over his
face as if the tip of his nose were the point from which they streamed
upward in the shape of a plume, for Dick Winthorpe was fast asleep.

How long it was Dick did not know, only that it was a great nuisance
that that bull would keep on making such a tremendous noise, bellowing
and roaring round and round his bed till it annoyed him so much that he
started up wide awake and stared.

It was very dark, not a star to be seen; but the bull was bellowing away
in the most peculiar manner, seeming as if he were now high up in the
air, and now with his muzzle close to the ground practising

"Where am I?" said Dick aloud; and then, as the peculiar bellowing noise
came apparently nearer, "Why, it's the butterbump!"

Dick was right, it was the butterbump, as the fen people called the
great brown bittern, which passed its days in the thickest parts of the
bog, and during the darkness rose on high, to circle round and over the
unfortunate frogs that were to form its supper, and utter its peculiar
bellowing roar.

Dick had never heard it so closely before, and he was half startled by
the weird cry.  The fen, that had been so silent in the hot June sun,
now seemed to be alive with peculiar whisperings and pipings.  The frogs
were whistling here, a low soft plaintive whistle, and croaking there,
while from all around came splashings and quackings and strange cries
that were startling in the extreme to one just awakened from the depths
of sleep to find himself alone in the darkness, and puzzled by the
question: How am I to get back?

No; return was impossible--quite impossible, and the knowledge was
forced upon him more and more that he had to make up his mind to pass
the night where he was, for to stir meant to go plunge into some bog,
perhaps one so deep that his escape with life might be doubtful.

"How stupid I was!" mused Dick.  "How hungry I am!" he said aloud.
"What a tiresome job!"

He looked around, to see darkness closing him in, not a star visible;
but the fen all alive with the sounds, which seemed to increase, for a
bittern was answering the one overhead, and another at a greater
distance forming himself into a second echo.

"I wonder how long it is since I lay down!" thought Dick.

It might have been four hours--it might have been six or eight.  He
could not tell, only that he was there, and that his mother would be in
a horrible state of dread.

This impressed him so strongly that he was about to start off in a vain
effort to find the boat, but his better sense prevailed, and he remained
where he was, wondering whether it would be possible to pass the night
like that, and, in spite of himself, feeling no little dread of the
weird sounds which seemed to come nearer and nearer.

Then the feeling of dread increased, for, though he could see nothing,
certain noises he heard suggested themselves as being caused by strange
creatures--dwellers in the fen--coming nearer to watch him, and among
them he fancied that there were huge eels fresh from the black slime,
crawling out of the water, and winding themselves like serpents in and
out among the rough grass and heath to get at him and fix their strong
jaws upon his legs.

Then little four-footed, sharp-teethed creatures appeared to be creeping
about in companies, rushing here and there, while whittricks and rats
were waiting till he dropped asleep to leap upon him and bite him,
tearing out little pieces of his flesh.

His imagination was so active that his face grew wet with horror, till,
making an effort over himself, he started right up and angrily stamped
his foot.

"I didn't think I was such a coward," he said half aloud; and then, "I
hope poor mother will not be very much alarmed, and I wish Tom
Tallington was here!"

The wish was so selfishly comic that he laughed and felt better, for now
a new idea came to him.

It was very dark, but the nights were at their shortest now, and it
would be daybreak before three--at least so light that he might venture
to try and regain the boat.

He stood for a while listening to the noises in the fen; the whispering
and chattering, piping and croaking, with the loud splashings and
rustlings among the reeds, mingled with the quacking of ducks and the
scuttering of the drakes, while every now and then the bittern uttered
his hoarse wild roar.

Then, growing weary, he sat down again, and after a time he must have
dropped asleep, for he rose feeling quite startled, and stood staring as
a peculiarly soft lambent light shone here and there before him.

It was apparently about fifty yards away, and looked like nothing which
he had ever seen, for when he had noticed this light before it had
always been much farther away.

He knew it was the marsh light, but somehow it seemed more weird and
strange now than ever, and as if all the tales he had heard of it were

For there it was coming and going and gliding up and down, as if
inviting him to follow it, while, as he seemed to feel that this was an
invitation, he shuddered and his brow grew cold and dank, for he
believed that to follow such a light would be to go direct to his death.

All the old legendary stories crowded into his mind as that light came
and went, and seemed to play here and there for what must have been half
an hour, when it disappeared.  But as it passed away he saw another away
to his left, and he was watching this intently when he noticed that far
beyond there was a faint light visible; and feeling that this was the
first sign of the dawn, he turned to gaze at the will-o'-the-wisp again,
and watched it, shuddering as it seemed to approach, growing bolder as
it glided away.

"But that was not dawn--that," he said, "that faint light!"  It was
growing stronger and it was nearer, and more like the rising of the sun,
or like--yes, it must be fire again.

Dick's heart leaped, and the chilly feeling of nervous dread and the
coldness of the temperature passed away, to give place to a sense of
excitement which made his blood dance in his veins and his cheeks flush.

He was not mistaken--he had had too much experience of late.  It was
fire, and he asked himself whose turn it was now, and why, after the
long lapse from outrage, there should be another such a scene as that.

It was impossible to tell where the fire was, but it was a big
conflagration evidently, for it was lighting up the sky far more than
when he first observed it, but whether it was in the direction of his
home or toward the far end of the fen he could not tell.

He thought once that he might be mistaken, and that it was the
forerunner of the rising moon; but he was convinced directly that it was
fire he saw from the way in which it rose and fell and flickered softly
in the sky.

He must have been watching the glow for quite a couple of hours, and it
was evidently paling, and he was hopefully looking for another light--
that of day, when it seemed to him that he could hear the splashing of
water and the rustling of reeds.

The sounds ceased and began again more loudly, and at last they seemed
to be coming nearer, but passing him by--somewhere about a hundred yards

The sounds ceased--began again--ceased--then sounded more loudly; and at
last, with palpitating heart, Dick began to move in the direction of the
noise, for he realised that either there was open water or a canal-like
passage across the bog, which someone was passing through in a boat.

Dick paused again to listen, but there could be no mistake, the sounds
were too familiar, and with voice husky with excitement he put his hand
to his mouth and uttered a loud hail.



To Dick Winthorpe's great surprise there was no answer to his cry, and
raising his voice again he shouted: "Who's that?  Help!"

His voice sounded wild and strange to him out there in that waste,
closed in as he was by the darkness, and as he listened he could not
repress a shudder, for everything now had become so silent that it was
terrible.  Away to his left there was the faint glow of light--very
faint now--but everywhere else darkness, and all around him now a dead
silence.  His cry had seemed to alarm every moving creature in the fen,
and it had crouched down, or dived, or in some way hidden itself, so
that there was neither rustle of body passing through the reeds, splash
of foot in the mire, nor beat of pinion in the air.  He looked around
him half in awe for the strange lights which he had seen gliding here
and there like moths of lambent fire, but they too had disappeared, and
startling as had been the noise he had heard, the silence seemed now so
terrible that he turned cold.

"What a coward I am!" he said to himself at last.  "What is there to be
afraid about?"

He shouted again, and felt more uneasy, for as his voice died away all
seemed more silent than ever, and he drew in a long hissing breath as he
gazed vainly in the direction from which the splashing had seemed to

For quite half an hour all was perfectly still, but he did not move,
partly from an intense desire to be certain, partly, it must be
confessed, from a feeling of dread which oppressed him.

Then there was a rustle and a splash from somewhere behind him, such a
noise as a bird might make.  Directly after there came from a distance
the scuttering noise made by a duck dabbling its bill in the ooze, and
this was followed by a low _quawk_ uttered by some nocturnal bird,
perhaps by one of the butterbumps whose hoarse booming cry had come so
strangely in the earlier part of the night.

As if these were signals to indicate to the animal life of the fen that
all was right, sound after sound arose such as he had heard before; but
there was one so different that it filled Dick Winthorpe's ears, and as
he listened he seemed to see a man in a punt, who had been crouching
down among the reeds, rising up softly, and silently lowering a pole
into the water to thrust the boat onward from where it had lain.

Even if it had been light the reeds and undergrowth would have hindered
him from seeing anything, and in that darkness the impossibility was
emphasised the more strongly; but all the same the faint splash, the
light rubbing of wood against wood as the pole seemed to touch the side
of the boat, the soft dripping of water, and the silky brushing rustle
of the boat among the reeds and withes, joined in painting a mental
picture upon the listener's brain till it seemed to Dick that he was
seeing with his ears this man in his boat escaping furtively so as not
to be heard.

Dick was about to shout again, but he felt that if he did there would be
no answer, and his heart began to beat strangely.

It was not fear now, but from a sudden excitement consequent upon a line
of thought which suggested itself.

"Why did not this man answer to his cry--this man who was so furtively
stealing away?  Was it from fear of him?"

Undoubtedly fear of being seen and known.

Dick absolutely panted now with excitement.  All feeling of dread passed
away, taking with it the chilly sensation of cold and damp.

He listened.

Should he shout again and order him to stop?  No; he knew that would be
of no use, for, as if to make all more sure, there, as Dick listened,
each and every nerve on the strain, was the increasing rapidity of the
thrusts made with the pole, as the man evidently thought he was getting
more and more out of hearing.

"Who is it?" thought Dick, as he realised that by his accident he had
discovered what had been hidden from all who had patiently watched.

It was all plain enough to him now; and as he listened to the sounds
dying away and growing lost among the splashings and rustlings made by
the birds, which were recovering their confidence, the excitement quite
took away the lad's breath.

For there it all was.  This wretch--some fen-man from the other side--
miles away--had stolen across in the darkness, wending his way along the
mere channels and over the pools, to commit another dastardly outrage,
firing another cottage or stack, and then stolen back, his evil work

Whose house had been burned?

It must be the huts of the drain-makers.  Dick felt sure of that.  He
did not know why, but there was the proof lately painted in the sky.
And this base wretch, who could it be? he asked himself.  Oh, if he
could but have seen!

Would this be the same man who had been guilty of all these crimes?
thought Dick, as he listened and found that the sounds had died out; and
now far away there was a soft faint opalescent light telling him of the
coming morn, and sending a thrill of joy through his breast.  For there
would be light and warmth, and the power to find the boat once more, and
with it food.  Better still, if he could get to his boat he might follow
the wretch who was escaping, and know who it was.

Dick felt directly that it was impossible, for the man would be beyond
pursuit long before he could find his boat; and after listening again he
began to creep cautiously back to where he had lain down and slept and
left Dave Gittan's gun.

The dawn was spreading, and it showed the watcher which was the east,
and hence taught him that the fire must have been somewhere in the
direction of the Toft, for the glare in the sky was certainly north of
where he now stood.

The dawn spread faster, and the reeds and alders about him began to be
visible; and--yes, there was the gun, all cold to the touch and wet with

"Not much shooting," thought Dick as he mentally planned getting back to
the boat, and hurrying across to Dave's hut to replace the piece and
suffer a good scolding.

"Never mind; I'll give him a pound of powder.  What's that?"

Splashing--the rustling of reeds--voices.

There was no concealment here, and besides the sounds came in a contrary
direction to that taken by the fleeing man.

"Hoi!" shouted Dick loudly.

"Hoi! hallo!" came back; and then a well-known voice cried: "Is that
you, Dick?"

"Yes, father.  Here!  Ahoy!"

There was more splashing, more talking, and Dick's heart leaped as he
felt that his father had come in search of him, and that he would have
an easier task than he had expected in finding his boat.

As the sounds approached the light increased, and Dick had no difficulty
in going to meet them, picking his way carefully through the bog till he
found himself close to a broad channel of reedy water, and here he had
to pause.

"Where are you?" came from about a hundred yards away.  And as he
shouted to guide the search party he soon saw through the dim light a
crowded punt propelled by two polers, and that there was another behind.

The next minute the foremost punt was within reach, and Dick stepped
from a clump of rushes on board.

"Got anything to eat?" cried Dick, obeying his dominant instinct, and
his voice sounded wolfish and strange.

"To eat!--no, sir," cried his father sternly.  "What are you doing

"I lost myself, father, and went to sleep--woke up in the darkness, and
couldn't stir.  Morning, Hicky!"

"Wheer's my poont?" said the wheelwright.

"Close round here somewhere," said Dick.  "Go on and we shall find it.
But where was the fire?"

The squire drew a hissing breath between his teeth as if in pain, and
yet as if in relief; for it seemed to him that once more he was
suspecting wrongfully, and that if his son had been mixed up with the
past night's outrage he would never have spoken so frankly.

"The fire, boy!" he said hoarsely; "at the Toft.  The place is nearly
burned down."

"Oh!" ejaculated Dick; and there was so much genuine pain and agony in
his voice that the squire grasped his son's hand.

"Never mind, Dick; we'll build it up again."

"Ay, squire, we will," cried Hickathrift; "and afore long."

"And what is better, my boy, we saw the wretch who stole off the mere
last night and fired the big reed-stack."

"Yes, father," cried Dick excitedly.  "And I heard him come stealing by

"You did, Dick?"

"Yes, father--not an hour ago."

"Marston!" cried the squire, hailing the other boat.


"We're right.  He came by here an hour ago.  Dick heard him."

"You did, Dick?" cried Mr Marston.

"Yes, but it was all in the dark, and I couldn't see who it was."

"That does not matter, my lad," said the squire.  "We know him now, and
we only want to run him down."

"Know him, father?"

"Yes, boy.  It was Dave Gittan."


Dick burst into a laugh.

"Why, father, his place was burned too!"

"Yes, boy, to throw us off the scent--the scoundrel! but we shall have
him now."

Dick sat down in the punt like one astounded, while Hickathrift poled
along the channel till he came to open water, where, just as the sun
rose above the horizon, they caught sight of the tied-up boat.

"We're too many in this," said Hickathrift, making for the other punt.
"You pole this here, and I'll tak' mine.  Will you come, squire?"

"Yes," said Dick's father; and the change being made, the three boats
were now propelled over the sunlit water, where, as the lad gladly
applied himself to the food he had left behind, he learned something of
what had taken place during the night.

Hickathrift was his informant, for the squire was very stern and silent,
and Mr Marston was in one of the other boats, which were manned by
drain-men and farm-labourers, and had for leaders Farmer Tallington and
the engineer, while many were armed with muskets.

"Is Tom there?" said Dick in a whisper.

"Ay, lad, he's theer," said the big wheelwright, "along o' Mr Marston."

And then in answer to questions he related that Mr Marston had been
over at the Toft, and stopped up watching with the squire for Dick's
return, dropping asleep at last, and then awakening suddenly to hear a
strange noise among the fowls.

The squire went out, followed by Mr Marston, and the truth was before

"The big stack was afire!" whispered Hickathrift, "and burning so as
they knew it would be impossible to put it out, and just as they
realised the terrible state of affairs there was the sound of a shot,
and then of another and another from somewhere down among the cottages,
and directly after the beating of feet, and a party of the labourers
hurried up, startled from their beds.

"`Your turn now, squire,' I says to him," whispered the wheelwright.

"`Ay,' he says, `my turn now.  Who fired that shot?'

"`Oh! some un here,' I says.  `We thought we seed him as did it going
off in the poont, but it was so dark we couldn't be sure.'

"Squire didn't ask no more, for there was too much to do getting out
your moother, lad, and trying to save the furnitur, 'sides throwing
watter on the fire.

"Bud, theer, it warn't no use.  Plaace burned like a bit o' paaper, and
we could do nowt bud save the best o' the things."

"Did you save the clock?" asked Dick.

"Ay, lad, I carried it out mysen, just as Mr Marston come oop wi' a lot
of his lads, and Farmer Tallington come from t'other way; and we saved
all we could, and got out the beasts and horses, but t'owd plaace is
bont out."

"And where is mother?"

"All reight along o' my missus, bless her; and when we see we could do
no more, squire began about who done it."

"Yes: go on."

"Well, theer's nowt much to say, lad, only that soon as squire knowd who
it weer he--"

"But how did he know who it was?" cried Dick.

"Some un towd him."

"Yes, but who told?"

"Him as fired his goon at him when he see'd him by the light o' the fire
poling along in his poont."

"And who was that?"

"Nay, lad, I'm not going to tell thee.  Some un as thowt he desarved a
shot for setting fire to folks's houses and shooting honest men.  Some
folk don't stop to think.  If they've got goons in their hands, and sees
varmen running away, they oops wi' the goon and shutes, and that's what
some un did.  Thou'lt know who it weer one day."

"And he told my father?"

"It weer our Jacob towd squire.  He sin his faace quite plain, and that
it weer Dave."

"Now, Marston, where for next?" shouted the squire, after taking a long
look round over the open water, now illumined by the sun.

"Try that island yonder," was the reply.  "There's a hut among the low
fir-trees, and I fancy it is his making."

The boats were turned in the suggested direction, and Dick felt a
curious sensation of nervous dread stealing over him as he thought of
seeing that hut not long before, and of how likely it was that Mr
Marston was right.

A strange sense of shock and horror came over Dick as he now seemed to
realise, for the first time, that he was one of a party engaged in
hunting down Dave Gittan, the man who had always been to him as a
friend, the companion of endless excursions over the mere; and his heart
sank within him as he glanced round in search of an opportunity to land
and get away from the horrible pursuit.

But there was no escape, for he knew that the pursuers would not turn
backward, and he glanced helplessly at where he could see Tom
Tallington's face in the farther of the other boats, and responded to
his wave of the hand.

There was a stern relentless look in every face he saw, and he thought
of how his father and Mr Marston had been shot, how first one and then
another had been nearly burned in his bed, while their property was
destroyed, and he felt the justice of the severe looks.  But all the
same there was a lingering liking for Dave, and he felt disposed to
stand up in his defence and say it was impossible that he could have
done these things, though all the time, as he ran over the matters in
his mind, he began to recall various suspicious incidents, and to think
that, perhaps, they were right.

One thing buoyed him up though, and that was the thought that they were
not going straight to the decoy-man's hut, and perhaps through this
delay he might escape.

It was a vain hope, one which was swept away directly after, for
Hickathrift whispered:

"We went straight to his plaace to try and ketch him, but he slipped
away in his poont, and dodged us about in the dark, till Mester Marston
held out that he was makking for the far part of the fen, and we
followed him theer, but lost all sound on him, and then you know, Mester
Dick, we fun you."

With a stern effort to be firm Dick watched the progress of the punt
toward the island that was to have been his abode when he felt huffed at
home, and wondered whether Dave were there now.

"He isn't there," thought Dick; and he turned to telegraph a look at Tom
Tallington, who he felt sure would be as anxious as himself about Dave's

"Do you want Tom Tallington?" said his father, who, though apparently
paying no attention, had noted every exchange of glances.

"Yes, father; there is more room here," said Dick boldly.

The squire made a sign to Hickathrift, who ceased poling, and the other
two boats came up on either side.

"Come in here, Tom," said Dick eagerly.

Tom obeyed with alacrity and stepped on board, while in short decisive
tones the squire spoke:

"We will divide now, and approach on three sides.  You, Marston, and
you, Tallington, get well over so as to command a view all round, for
this man must not escape."

"Escape!  No!" said Farmer Tallington fiercely.

"If he is there, I don't think he will escape," said Mr Marston

"Hah!" ejaculated the squire; "that is one reason why I waited for you
both to come up.  Now, gentlemen, and you, my good fellows, listen.
There must be no violence."

"No violence, eh!" said Farmer Tallington.  "Didn't he bon my place?"

"And shoot me?" said Mr Marston sternly.

"Yes, and his is evidently the hand which has committed a score of
outrages, but all the same we must act as if we were the officers of the
law: seize, bind, and hand him over to justice unhurt."

There was a low murmur from the drain-men in Mr Marston's boat.

"Yes, and that is why I speak," said the squire firmly.  "I am leader
here, and I insist upon this man being taken uninjured.  Let the law
deal with him.  It is not our duty to punish him for the crimes."

There was another low murmur here, but the squire paid no heed and went

"In the first place, not a shot is to be fired."

"Not if he shutes at us?" cried Farmer Tallington.

"No: not even if he fires at any of us.  If he should draw trigger, rush
in and seize him before he has time to reload, and then, with no more
violence than is necessary, let him be bound."

"Well," said Farmer Tallington, "perhaps you're reight neighbour; and as
long as he is punished I don't know as I mind much how it's done."

"Then we all understand each other, and you, my men, I shall hold you
answerable for any injury this man receives."

"What!  Mayn't us knock him down, squire?" grumbled the big wheelwright.

"Of course you may, Hickathrift.  Stun him if you like; he will be the
easier to bind."

"Hey, that's better, lads," cried the wheelwright, brightening up.
"Squire's talking sense now."

"But he'll shoot his sen oop in yon hut, squire, and fire at us and
bring us down."

"There will only be time for one shot, Mr Tallington," said Marston
quietly, "and we can fetch him out before he has a chance to reload.
Mr Winthorpe is right."

"Oh well, I wean't stick out," said the farmer rather sulkily; "but
Dave's a rare good shot and one of us will hev to go home flat on his
back before we get up to yon wood."

"He will not dare to fire," said the squire firmly.

"I do not agree with you, Mr Winthorpe," said Marston.  "The man is
desperate, and he will do anything now to escape."

"And if he can't," cried Farmer Tallington, "he'll die like a rat in a
corner, biting, so look out.  He's got that long gun of his loaded and
ready for the first man who goes up to yon hut, and that man arn't me."

"I will go up first," said the squire quietly; "and he will not dare to

"Bud he hev dared to fire, mester," said the wheelwright.

"Yes, at those who did not see him lurking in some hiding-place, but he
will not dare to fire now."

"He can't fire, father," cried Dick excitedly.


"Because I have his gun here in the boat."

"What?" cried the squire; and the matter was explained.

There was no further hesitation.  The boats divided as if going to the
attack upon some fort, and after giving the others time to get well on
either side of the island, the squire gave Hickathrift orders to go on,
and the punt glided swiftly toward the shore.

"You two boys lie down in the bottom of the boat," said the squire.

"Oh, father!" exclaimed Dick, as Tom slowly obeyed.

"What is it, Dick?"

"It seems so cowardly."

"It is more cowardly to risk life unnecessarily for the sake of
bravado," said his father; and then, reading the look upon his son's
face, the squire continued with a sad smile:

"I am captain of this little expedition, Dick, and the captain must

Dick never felt half so much inclined to disobey his father before, as
he slowly took his place in the bottom of the punt, while Hickathrift
sent it forward so quickly that it was the first to touch the gravelly
shore.  When the squire sprang out Hickathrift followed him, after
driving down the pole and securing the boat.

"I say, Tom," said Dick.

"I say, Dick," replied Tom.

"Do you think he would be very cross if we went after them?  I do want
to see."

Tom shook his head, and, landing, sat down on the edge of the boat, Dick
following and seating himself beside his companion, to watch his father
steadily approach the hut, of which not so much as a glimpse could be
obtained, so closely was it hidden among the trees.

By this time the squire was half-way to the fir-wood, and Dick could
bear it no longer.

"How could I meet mother," he cried angrily, "if I let him go alone like

"But he can't be shot," said Tom.

"No, but he may be hurt," retorted Dick; and he ran eagerly after his

"And so may my father be hurt," said Tom as soon as he was left alone;
and he looked in the direction by which Farmer Tallington must approach
the wood, but no one was visible there, and he ran rapidly after his
companion and rejoined him just as he was following his father into the

The morning sun shone brilliantly without, but as soon as they were in
the wood they seemed to have entered upon a dusky twilight, cut here and
there by brilliant shafts and bands which struck the ground in places
and made broad patches of golden hue.

No word was spoken, and in the dim wood with the rustling increasing,
the scene in some way suggested to Dick the fen during the night when he
was listening to the passing of the punt--evidently Dave's--and he fell
a-wondering whether the decoy-man was now far away on the other side of
the mere.

"That you, squire?" shouted Farmer Tallington from the trees beyond the
hut, which now appeared before them, sombre and gloomy, half hidden by
the growth.

"Yes, we are here," was the reply.

"He's in here some'ere's, for his poont's ashore."

"Where are you?" came from the other side, and, guided by the voices,
Marston soon came up, with his men.

The squire gave a short sharp order, and the two parties separated, so
as to surround the little hut.  Tom whispered to Dick what he was
already thinking.

"Why, Dick, old Dave's as cunning as a rat, and could slip through there

The moment the place was surrounded the squire gave a sharp glance back
at his son, stepped forward, stooped down, and entered the low hut.

Hickathrift was close behind him, and the next moment he, too, had

"Is he there, Mr Winthorpe?" cried Marston excitedly; and he, too,
stepped forward and entered the hut.

"Why, what's it all mean?" said Farmer Tallington impatiently; and he,
too, stepped up to the low doorway and entered.

"They're tying his hands and feet, Tom," whispered Dick excitedly; and
unable to control himself he ran up to the door, followed by his
schoolmate, but as he did so it was to encounter the squire coming out
with a peculiarly solemn look upon his countenance.

"Isn't he there, father?" cried Dick wonderingly.

"Yes, boy--no," said the squire solemnly, as the others came slowly out.
"He managed to crawl here to die."



It was a solemn party that returned to the Toft that day: three boats,
with the last propelled by Hickathrift, towing another behind.  That
last punt was Dave Gittan's, and in it, later on, the man was taken to
his last resting-place.

At the inquiry it was found that Dave had been mortally wounded by a
bullet; and in this state he had managed to force his boat to his hut,
and when pursued, to his lurking-place in the farther part of the fen,
to lie down and die.

Who fired the shot which took his life?  No one could say.  Five bullets
were sent winging to stop his career on the night of his last insane
act, when pretty well everything which would burn upon the Toft was
destroyed; but whose was the hand which pulled the trigger, and whose
the eye which took the aim, was not divulged.

Dave had well kept his secret, and struggled hard to stay the advance of
progress, but fought in vain, and with his fall almost the last
opposition to the making of the great drain died out.

There were old fen-men who murmured and declared that the place was
being destroyed, but for the most part they lived to see that great
drain and others made, and the wild morass become dry land upon which
the plough turned up the black soil and the harrow smoothed, and great
waving crops of corn took the place of those of reed.  Meadows, too,
spread out around the Toft, and Farmer Tallington's home at Grimsey--
meads upon which pastured fine cattle; while in that part of the wide
fen-land ague nearly died away.

It was one evening twenty years later that a couple of stalwart
well-dressed men, engineers engaged upon the cutting of another lode or
drain many miles to the north, strolled down from the Toft farm to have
a chat with the great grey-haired wheelwright, who carried on a large
business now that a village had sprung up in the fen.

His delight was extreme to see the visitors, and they had hard work to
extricate their ringers from his grip.

"Think of you two coming to see me now!  It caps owt."

"Why, of course we've come to see you, Hicky," said the taller of the
two.  "How well you look!"

"Well!  Hearty, Mester Dick, bless you! and the missus too.  Hearty as
the squire and his lady, bless 'em.  But your father looks sadly, Mester
Tom, sir.  He don't wear as I should like to see un.  He's wankle."

"Rheumatism, Hicky; that's all.  He'll be better soon.  I say, what's
that--a summer-house?" said Tom, pointing.

"That, Mester Tom!  Why, you know?"

"Why, it's the old punt!" cried Dick.

"Ay, it's the owd poont, Mester Dick.  What games yow did hev in her
too, eh?"

"Yes, Hicky," said Dick with a sigh.  "Ah! those were happy days."

"They weer, lad; they weer.  Owd poont got dry and cracked, and of no
use bud to go on the dreern, and who wanted to go on a dreern as had
been used to the mere?"

"No one, of course," said Dick, gazing across the fields and meadows
where he had once propelled the punt.

"Ay, no one, o' course, so Jacob sawed her i' two one day, and we set
her oop theer i' the garden for a summer-hoose, and Jacob painted her
green.  I say, Mester Dick, ony think," added Hickathrift, laughing

"Think what?  Don't laugh like that, Hicky, or you'll shake your head

"Nay, not I, my lad; but it do mak' me laugh."

"What does?"

"Jacob's married!"


"He is, Mester Dick, and theer's a babby."

"Never!" said Dick, laughing, to humour the great fellow, who wiped his
eyes and became quite solemn now.

"Yes, that he hes, Mester Dick, and you'd nivver guess what he's ca'd

"Jacob, of course."

"Nay, Mester Dick; he's ca'd him Dave."

Dick and Tom went down to the wheelwright's again next day to chat over
old times--fishing, shooting, the netting at the decoy, and the like;
and heard how John Warren had lately died, a venerable old man, who
confessed at last how he had helped Dave Gittan in some of the outrages
when the drain was made, because he hated it, and said it would ruin
honest men.

But it was not to see John Warren's nor Dave Gittan's grave that
Hickathrift led the young men to the one bit of waste land left, and
there pointed to a wooden tablet nailed against a willow tree.

"The squire give me leave, Mester Dick, and Jacob and me buried him
theer when he died.  Jacob painted his name on it, rather rough, but the
best he could, and we'd hev put his age on it, as well as the date, if
we'd ha' known."

"How old was he, do you think, Hicky?" said Dick.

"Don't know, sir, but straange and old."

"But why did you take so much interest in him?  You never liked the

"Nay, bud you did, lad, and that was enough for me."

"Poor old Solomon!" said Dick, smiling at the recollections the rough
tablet evoked; "how he could kick!"

"And so you and young Tom--I beg pardon, sir," said Hicky, "Mester
Tallington--are going to help Mester Marston wi the big dreerning out in
Cambridgeshire, eh?"

"Yes, Hicky, ours is a busy life now; but we're beginning to find people
more sensible about such matters.  Mr Marston was laughing over it the
other day, and saying that all the romance had gone out of our
profession now there was no chance of getting shot."

"Weer he, now?" said Hickathrift wonderingly.  "Think of a man liking to
be shot at!"

"Oh, he does not like to be shot at, Hicky!  By the way, though, who was
it shot Dave Gittan?  Come, now, you know."

"Owd Dave Gittan's been buried twenty year, Mester Dick, so let him

"Rest!  Of course; but come--you do know?"

"Yes, Mester Dick," said the wheelwright stolidly.  "I do know, but I
sweered as I'd nivver tell, and I'll keep my word."

"Ah, well, I will not press you, Hicky!  It was a sad time."

"Ay, my lads, a sad time when a man maks war like that again his
brothers wi' fire and sword, leastwise wi' goon.  That theer fen was
like a battlefield in them days, while now it's as pleasant a place to
look upon as a man need wish to see."

"A lovely landscape, Hicky," said Dick, gazing across the verdant plain.

"Ay, lad, and once all bog and watter, and hardly a tree from end to

"A great change, Hicky, showing what man can do."

"Ay, a great change, Mester Dick, but somehow theer are times when I get
longing for the black watter and the wild birds, and all as it used to

"Yes, Hicky," said Dick almost sadly as he saw in memory's mirror the
days of his boyhood; "but this is a world of change, man; we must look
forward and not back."

"Ay, Mester, Dick, 'cause all's for the best."

"Yes, Hicky, keep to that--all's for the best!  Come, Tom; it's time we
said good-bye to the old fen!"


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