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´╗┐Title: Paul the Courageous
Author: Quiller-Couch, Mabel, 1866-1924
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 "Paul the Courageous" ***

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PAUL THE COURAGEOUS.

by

MABEL QUILLER-COUCH



1901
This e-text was prepared from a reprint of a version published in 1901.



CONTENTS.


   Chap.

   I.      A DISAPPOINTMENT.

   II.     HOW PAUL BORE IT.

   III.    PAUL'S HOPES RISE.

   IV.     THE REWARD OF OVER-CONFIDENCE.

   V.      THE RESCUE.

   VI.     A SLOW LEARNER.

   VII.    A TROUBLESOME PAIR OF BOOTS.

   VIII.   A MIDNIGHT SEARCH.

   IX.     THE OPEN WINDOW.

   X.      RUMOUR AND APPREHENSION.

   XI.     A TEST OF BRAVERY.

   XII.    STELLA'S ADVENTURE.

   XIII.   PAUL CONFESSES.



CHAPTER I.


A DISAPPOINTMENT.

Slewbury was a very fine town in its way; a little quiet and sleepy
perhaps, as country towns often are, but it was large and handsome, and
beautifully situated on the side of a steep hill.  It had a grand
market-place, a large town-hall where concerts were often given, and some
well-kept public gardens, of all of which the Slewbury people were very
proud, and justly so.

But then, as Paul Anketell and his friends often remarked, "What was there
for boys?"  There was absolutely nothing.  No river, no sea, no mountains,
or anything.  All there was for them in the way of amusement was to go for
walks and pick flowers, and wander about a field or two.  Certainly one
could climb a tree, and whittle sticks or make whistles, but one could not
be doing that all the time.  No, Paul had long since come to the
conclusion that Slewbury was a miserable place in which to live; he hated
it; and he could not understand why his father had ever settled there.

When he was a man, he declared over and over again to Stella and Michael,
he would have a house close to a river, a mountain, and the sea, then he
would have boats and rods, and a sailing boat, so that he would never be
hard up for something to do.  To a great extent Paul was right; Slewbury
was a dull, sleepy and prim old town, but boys ought to be able to make
amusements for themselves anywhere; they should have resources within
themselves.  Paul had loads of toys, and books, and tools, and a nice
large garden to play in when the weather was fine.  But he was a restless
boy, full of longing for adventure and travel, and new sights, and sounds,
and experiences, and the happiest time of the whole year to him was the
summer holiday when all the family went away to the sea, or to some
beautiful spot amongst the mountains.

True, the sea had always been the English sea--at least it had come to
them at an English seaside town--and the mountains had been either Welsh
or Scotch mountains, but the three little Anketells were true British
children and were quite sure there could be no more beautiful mountains or
coasts anywhere in the world.

As soon as the Christmas holidays were over and school work had set in,
the children began to think of where they should go when the summer
holidays came, and what they would do, and many and many a discussion they
had as to their favourite spots, and whether they should go to an old
favourite, or try a new one.  Plans were made, toys collected, and boxes
packed long before the happy day came, but it all added to the pleasure
and excitement and importance of the long-looked-forward-to event.

But dearly as they loved their own country, they had no objection to going
further afield, and when one day Mr. Anketell suggested that that year
they should spend their holiday in Norway, their excitement knew no
bounds.  All previous travels and expeditions seemed to sink into
insignificance beside this.  To be actually going to live, and sleep, and
eat, on board a real steamer, and to cross the sea to another land seemed
to them a splendid outlook.  Every book and picture that could tell them
anything about Norway was eagerly hunted up, all the Norwegian fairy tales
were read again and again, until Stella and Michael at last felt quite
sure that they would meet fairies, and dwarfs, and Vikings wherever they
went.  They had no idea what a Viking was like, but they thought it must
be something between a giant and a knight, with all the good qualities of
both.

There never could have been a greater inducement to learn geography and
history than this long-talked-of trip.  All through the term Stella and
Mike studied the map of Norway until they very nearly knew it by heart,
and when Paul came home for the Easter holidays they met him brimful of
information on the subject.  But Paul was not going to allow himself to be
taught anything by 'the children,' as he called them, and he soon had them
sufficiently awed by his superior knowledge and loftier understanding.
He cared nothing for fairies, and quickly dashed all Stella's hopes of
seeing any, but he could teach them a great deal about the sports, and the
shooting, and the other attractions to be found there--at least, he
thought he could--but his father and mother had often to smile to
themselves as they listened to the marvellous stories he told the
children, and sometimes they had to check him to set him right on various
points, a thing he objected to very much indeed.  For Paul had read so
much, heard so much, and thought so much of the marvels of that northern
land, that nothing was too impossible and improbable for him to believe,
and one night, just as he was going to bed, a new idea came to him, an
idea so splendid that it prevented for a long time his going to sleep, and
even after he was asleep he dreamed the whole night through that he was
having a terrific fight with a huge bear, and when he awoke in the morning
and thought that his dream might very likely prove a reality, he hardly
knew how to contain himself until he had made sure.

He tumbled into his bath and out again, and into his clothes in a shorter
time than it usually took him to make up his mind to get out of bed; and
rushing downstairs two or three steps at a time, burst like a tornado into
the dining-room, where his father and mother had assembled for prayers.

"I say," he shouted, without a thought as to whether he was interrupting
any conversation--"oh, I say, father, mother, aren't there big white bears
in the Norwegian fjords, white Polar bears, I mean?  And shall we see
them, and if there are, may we go hunting when we are there? It would be
simply splendid; I'd rather go bear-hunting than anything; it would be
grand to kill a bear."

He had been so eager to get down and satisfy himself on this point that he
had not stayed to dress himself properly, and he burst into the room with
his collar unfastened, and his tie missing altogether.  He was so eager,
too, that he did not notice the anxiety on his parents' faces, or in their
manner, and only wondered why they looked at him so sadly, and without
answering any of his burning questions.

At last he grew impatient.  "Father, do tell me, shall you take your guns
with you? and mayn't I have one?"

"Hush, hush, dear, do not be so excitable!  There are no bears to shoot
where we thought of going, nor wild animals of any kind, you may be quite
sure, or we should not have dreamed of taking Stella and Michael there for
their holidays."

"But, mother, dear, they would be quite safe with father and me to take
care of them.  Do let's go to a part where there are bears!  I'd give
anything to bring home a fur rug with a great head on it, and say I'd shot
it myself."

"Paul, do not talk any more now.  Father is dreadfully worried, and has a
very great deal to think of.  You understand, dear.  Now fasten your
collar and go to your place, I hear the servants coming in to prayers."
And Mrs. Anketell stooped and kissed him.  "Pray God to help dear father
in his troubles," she whispered, "and make us all brave to bear our
share."

Paul went to his seat quietly, wondering very much what it all meant.
Surely his father had plenty of courage to face anything and everything,
and he knew that he himself had.  As for his mother and Stella--well,
mother did not need to be brave with father to take care of her, and
Stella was only a girl, and no one would expect much of her; as for
Michael, he was only six, a mere baby.  He sat in his chair puzzled, and
wondering, and coming no nearer a solution of his mother's meaning.  But
Paul was soon to learn it, and he never forgot the hour which followed,
when the servants had left the room, and he and his father and mother were
seated alone at the table.

The urn was hissing and singing, the sweet spring sunshine shone in on the
silver on the table, on the bright covers, and on the big bowl of yellow
daffodils on the old oak sideboard.  A deep consciousness of all these
details, and of the beauty of the scene, was impressed on his mind then--
though at the time he was wholly unaware of the fact--and through all his
after life remained with him so vividly that he could recall every detail
of the scene, and the look of everything in the low, familiar room as it
was that morning.  He could recall, too, the unusual gravity of his
parents, the anxious face of his mother, and how the tears sprang to her
eyes when his father looked up and noticed her anxiety and tried to cheer
her.

"Darling, you must not take it so hardly," he said tenderly; "things might
be much worse.  With some self-denial and economy we shall weather this
storm, as we did many when first we were married."  Then they smiled at
each other, and Paul saw that they grew happier again at once.

"Shall I tell the boy about it now?" asked Mr. Anketell.  "He must know
sooner or later."

Mrs. Anketell looked at Paul for a moment with an expression on her face
that he could not read, but he thought she looked sorry about something,
and very, very sad; then she looked away at her husband and nodded assent.

"Paul, my son," said his father, turning to him and laying his hand gently
on the boy's arm, "I want you to listen to me, and give me your whole
attention.  You are old enough now to be our confidant in many things, and
of course you will understand that what we may confide in you we trust to
your honour to respect as a confidence, and to speak about to no one."

Paul said, "Yes, father," in rather a frightened voice.  He knew that it
was considered 'sneakish' to tell a secret, but he had never dreamed that
secrets could be such very solemn things.

"Well, my boy, we have met with a very great misfortune, and have lost a
large sum of money, and from being a comparatively wealthy man, I have
suddenly become a comparatively poor one.  If only I myself were concerned
I would not care, but for your mother's sake, and for the sake of you
children, I am very much troubled and grieved.  I am afraid we shall all
have to give up many things, and do without many things, and save in every
way we can."

Paul had grown very grave, and for a moment he sat thinking, wondering
what he could do; he was very anxious to help.  "Father," he cried, at
last, "I know one way we can save a good bit of money every year: I can
leave school, and I could go out to work.  I know Farmer Vinning would
give me a job; he said he wished he had a boy half as spry as I am, and--
and then I could bring home my wages every week to mother."  And for the
moment Paul could not see what hardship people found in being economical.
But his father only shook his head and laughed.

"It would be poor economy to take you away from school for a long time
yet, my son," he said.  Then, seeing how Paul's face fell, he went on:
"The things we can do for the greatest advantage to others and ourselves,
too, are not always the things we would like best to do.  To be a real
help and comfort to us, you must stick at your work as hard as you can,
and make the best use possible of the next few years.  Then you will, I
hope, be able not only to help your mother, but to give them all a home if
they should need one."

"But I want to help now," said Paul, dolefully.  To work harder at school
seemed a very poor way of saving money.

"You will be able to, dear, at once, too.  We shall all have to give up
something, many of the things we care for most.  You can help by giving up
cheerfully," said his mother.

"Oh, that's nothing," said Paul, still doleful.

"It means more than you can imagine now," she said, softly; "a trouble
bravely born and smiled over is lightened for everyone of half its
weight."

"Can't I give up my music;" Paul burst in on his mother's speech, too
eager to notice what she was saying.

Mrs. Anketell laughed in spite of her sadness.  "We are very anxious to
give you all as good an education as is possible, and for the sake of the
future you must not give up any of it yet.  No, what we shall have to give
up will be our pleasures.  The horses must go, all but Nell for father,
and Jumbo for the hard work.  Some of the servants will have to go, too, I
am afraid," she said, looking at her husband, and once more the anxious
look came back to her eyes.

"I can clean boots," said Paul, "and I can wash the dog-cart."

"Very good," said Mr. Anketell, encouragingly.  "You can learn to work in
the garden, too.  A boy of your age can give a good deal of help there."

Now, if there was one thing more than another that Paul hated, it was
gardening, and his response to this suggestion was not hearty.
Mrs. Anketell was silent for a few moments, then she said with, Paul
thought, but little concern, "We shall have to give up the Norwegian
cruise, of course, John; but that is only a trifle compared with other
things."

Paul's heart seemed to leap right up into his throat, and then sank right
down, down, as, it seemed to him, no one's heart could ever have sunk
before.  He could not believe but that there was some mistake, that his
ears were deceiving him.  "What did you say, mother?" he cried.  "Give up
the Norwegian cruise!  Oh, no, no, we couldn't give that up!  We _must_ go
to Norway; we can save in other ways--I'll begin at once.  I won't want
any new clothes for a year, and I'll go back to school without a hamper,--
but we _must_ go to Norway."

"I see you have already begun to save your neckties," said his father
mischievously; but Paul was far too much upset to laugh at anything.

"Father, we _must_ go!" he cried.  "We have counted on it for weeks, and
had planned everything, and--"

"So had we, Paul, and it will be a keen disappointment to us, keener than
you can understand; but it has to be, and we must put a brave face on it.
This is the first trial, my boy.  It is very easy to talk of trials, and
how we will face them; but it is the actual facing them, not the talking,
that tries our courage and shows what we are made of.  It requires no
courage to give up what we care little or nothing about.  Be as brave as
you know how to be over this disappointment, my boy, and don't add to your
mother's troubles by grumbling and complaining.  We feel terribly any pain
that this loss may bring to you children, and to know you are fretting and
grumbling will make it a hundred times harder for us."

"Of course we will go somewhere for the summer holidays," said Mrs.
Anketell gently.  "Stella and Michael will need a change before winter,
and father needs one too, I am sure."

"Not as much as you do, dear," he said, tenderly, looking sadly at her
pale face.

She shook her head and smiled.  "I don't deny I shall be glad of one; in
fact we shall all be better for it," she said; "but it must be a much less
expensive one than the one we planned."

Here was another grievance to add to his list.  Paul's feelings were hurt
that he had been left out as not requiring a change, and altogether the
blow which he had had was too much for him to bear well at the first
shock; so that he felt a very unhappy and ill-used boy as he left the
table and made his way slowly up to the nursery.



CHAPTER II.


HOW PAUL BORE IT.

Stella and Michael had finished their breakfast and were playing together.
Michael was standing up in the high window-seat, grasping a long pole with
a curtain hook at the end of it, with which he made frantic but futile
efforts to land Stella, who was dashing about in a perfectly break-neck
fashion in a box on the floor.

"We are playing at being in Norway," he shouted, when he caught sight of
his elder brother.  "Stella has been wrecked, and is trying to get to land
in a boat, but the waves are dashing it on the rocks so hard, she will be
wrecked before I can land her, if I don't take care."

Here Stella banged her box against the wall, and rebounded again.
"I have got to catch her with the boat hook, and then I shall drag her
boat--"  But Stella had caught sight of Paul's face, and abandoning her
boat to the mercy of the waves, she walked out of her apparently perilous
position and caught Paul's arm.

"What is the matter?" she asked anxiously.  "They haven't made the
holidays shorter, have they?"  This was always one of her greatest fears.

"Don't be silly!" snapped Paul crossly.  "As if they could.  Why, if they
were to try to I'd refuse to go."

Stella looked awed, but anxious.  "Do tell me, Paul, what is it!
Is father cross with you?"

At these words a recollection of his father's gentleness and trouble came
over him, and he felt a little ashamed and sorry.  "No, no," he said,
sinking into a chair by the table, and letting his head fall forward on
his arms, "I wouldn't mind that so much if--if, oh, it's awfully hard
lines, it--"

Stella waited patiently.  She was a sensible little woman, and not such a
baby as Paul chose to consider her.  Because she had meals with Michael in
the nursery, that she might be a companion for him, Paul was in the habit
of looking on her as of Michael's age, and understanding.  He forgot that
at her age he had considered himself old enough to quit the nursery meals
for the dining-room, and had done so too.  Stella was four years older
than her younger brother, and there was a great deal of the little mother
in the way she cared for him.  But Paul, boy-like, saw only that she
joined in Michael's games, and was apparently quite content, so he rather
despised her.

"What is it, Paul?  Do tell me!" she pleaded at last.  She longed to put
her arms about him, and try to comfort him; but since he had been at
school he had grown, as does many a boy, to object to endearments, and to
think them something to be ashamed of.  Her heart grew heavy with a
nameless fear.  Michael, too, ceased to complain of Stella's having left
her boat and her game, and looked with wondering eyes at his
grief-stricken elder brother.  It was so unusual to see Paul cast down
like this.

"We aren't going to Norway, after all," said Paul--he spoke gruffly to try
to conceal the sob in his throat,--"and I call it beastly hard lines.
It isn't as though it would cost so very much more than any other holiday,
and father knows we have never been so far before, and how we were looking
forward to it, and that I--"

"Not going to Norway!" cried Stella, in an accent almost of relief.
"Oh, is that all?  I was afraid something dreadful had happened."
She could not help the feeling, she had been so frightened by a nameless
fear she could scarcely have put into words.  But when the first relief
was over the disappointment came home to her keenly.  Paul had painted in
such glowing colours all the joys, and adventures, and wonderful things
which lay in store, that that trip was no ordinary one for them.
It was the great event of their lifetime.  It was to have been one long
experience of travel by day and night, by sea and land, and of adventure
with strange and wild creatures--Vikings, wolves, reindeers, Valkyries,
giants, ice-mountains, and caves, fairies and fairies' homes.  Stella had
never been able to make up her mind as to what Vikings and Valkyries would
be like, but they were all one delightful thrilling jumble of wild
animals, giants, and strange people, such as ordinary persons never set
eyes on.

"Oh, Paul, it can't be really true?" she cried, in great distress.

"Oh, you don't care," snapped Paul, crossly, "so don't pretend.  You can't
care, so don't put it on.  You said 'Is that all?' as if it were nothing.
But of course one can't expect much from a girl.  I believe you were
really frightened at going and are glad we are not."

Stella's lip quivered.  "I was _not_ frightened," she said stoutly,
"and I am _not_ glad; but I thought at first something dreadful had
happened to father or mother--I didn't know what, but something dreadful."

Paul snorted contemptuously.  "I wouldn't have minded anything else as
much as this," he said loftily, putting on a very superior air.

"If you had your leg cut off you couldn't _never_ go to fight wolves,"
said Michael soberly.  He had been standing, boat-hook in hand, listening
to the conversation.  To him to have a leg cut off seemed the most
dreadful thing that could happen.

"But, Paul, why can't we go?" asked Stella, her brother's injustice fading
at once from her mind.  "Do you know?"

"Yes, I know.  Father told me all about it.  He has lost a heap of money,
and we've got to get rid of most of the horses and the servants, and--"
He stopped suddenly in alarm; he was already abusing that confidence his
father had placed in him.  Nurse was in the adjoining room and the door
between was open.  Supposing she had heard, what should he do?  He could
never undo his foolish speech!  He peeped at her in a state of great
alarm.  No, she was dusting under the bed, and could not have heard,--at
least he thought not.  Stella and Michael must be bound over to secrecy.
"Don't you ever dare to tell any one what I have told you!" he said
sternly.  "Promise, honour bright.  Mind Mike, if you do, I'll--I'll--
well, you'll soon find out who comes after sneaks!"

"Be quiet, Paul.  How dare you?  You are not to frighten him like that,"
cried Stella indignantly.  "Mikey is not a sneak, and you ought not to
tell stories about bogies coming.  You know there aren't any."

"Frighten!" retorted Paul; "he _must_ be a coward if that frightens him,"
but he had the grace to look ashamed.

"You meant to frighten him," said Stella stoutly; "you know you did, and
you are very mean."

Paul tried to turn the conversation.  He felt ashamed of himself, and did
not like the feeling at all.  "Well, if you want to know why we are not
going to Norway, you had better go and ask mother.  I mustn't tell you
what father told me, so it is no use to try to make me."

"Is mother--is mother unhappy about it, Paul?"

"I should just think she is, and father too."

"Did daddy cry?" asked Michael, his big eyes growing bigger with awe.

"Cry!  Men don't cry; but mother did."

At which Stella's little heart overflowed with love, and her eyes filled
with tears.  "I'm going to see her," she said tearfully.  "She mustn't be
sad.  I'll tell her it doesn't matter a bit, we don't mind not going.
I don't want to go for a cruise.  I'd quite as soon stay at home, and--I
can take care of Michael, or I can dust, or--or--"  The rest of her
sentence was lost as she rushed out of the nursery and down to her
mother's room.

"Mother!" she cried, flinging herself into her arms, and clasping her
round the neck.  "Mummy, dear, I am so sorry; but we don't mind the least
little bit.  We don't want to have any holiday at all this year, only
don't you cry any more, mummy darling," and she kissed her again and
again, striving all she knew to make up to her for the trouble which had
befallen them.



CHAPTER III.


PAUL'S HOPES RISE.

A few days later Paul returned to school, and Stella and Michael settled
down to lessons at home with their governess.  They missed their elder
brother very much, for though he domineered over them a good deal, they
looked up to him as a hero, and a very splendid fellow, and they felt sad
and lonely when he went back to school.

At first Paul, too, felt very miserable, and out of spirits.  When it came
to leaving his home he felt more real sorrow for the trouble they were in
than he had at all, and real shame for having behaved so crossly and
unkindly about his disappointment, and he became filled with a great
desire to work well, and make up in that way for his past behaviour.
So the weeks sped by; half term came and went, and early in July came a
letter from Stella.  They were to go away for a summer holiday, after all,
she wrote excitedly, and evidently impressed with the idea that she was
conveying wonderful news.  They were to go to Dartmoor.  Father had taken
rooms in a big farmhouse on the moors, and it was lovely; there were
horses and wagons, and hay-fields and orchards, and big tors where they
could go for picnics.

"Dartmoor!" exclaimed Paul, as he thrust the letter into his pocket.
"What a place!  What is there for me to do?  Just go for walks with the
kids, I s'pose; I'd quite as soon stay at home."  And he sniffed
scornfully, and went about all day in a bad temper.

"Dartmoor is a ripping fine place!" Paul had confided his woes to his
chum, Dennis Rogers, and that was the response he met with.  "I only wish
I was going there this summer.  We were there two years ago; oh, my, it
_was_ jolly!  I wonder what part you are going to, and if you'll be
anywhere near the convict prison."

Paul pricked up his ears.

"The convict prison," he cried eagerly.  "I'd forgotten that that was down
there.  Oh, I do hope we go quite close to it.  I'd like awfully to see
the convicts.  Did you ever see any of them?  Were you near them?"

"See them!  I should just think so.  I saw a convict's funeral once, too;
the coffin was carried by the convicts all in their prison clothes, with
whacking great broad arrows over them."

"What were they like?  Did they look like murderers?  Did you see any of
those that are in Madame Tussard's?" asked Paul, full of curiosity.

"Some of them were pretty bad-looking, but the rest were just like
ordinary people.  You'd never think from their faces, that they were
murderers, and burglars, and forgers, and all that sort of thing.
I felt awfully sorry for them, but my mater hurried me away, and wouldn't
let me have a good look at them.  I know one thing, I would have helped
them to escape if they had tried to."

"I do hope we shall be in that part," said Paul, excitedly.  "I'd give
anything to see the prisoners and the prison.  I say, did any escape while
you were there?"

"No, 'twas hard luck.  One got away in the winter after we left, and
wasn't caught for a day or two; it was foggy, and that helped him, of
course.  Then there is otter-hunting in some of the rivers," went on
Dennis, tiring of the subject of the convicts.  "Oh, it's an awfully fine
place!  There are wild cattle on the moor too, and they are no end of
excitement; they go for you like anything if you rile them.  You _are_ in
luck's way, old chap.  I wish I was going too, instead of to some silly
place in Norway where there's nothing to do when you get there but walk.
I hate being shut up in a stuffy steamer too.  I'm ill all the time--so
are most of the people--and I don't see where the fun comes in.
But my people are set on it, so I suppose I've got to go.  I don't want
to, a bit."

"Don't you!" said Paul sarcastically, all his old disappointment
returning.  "I wish we could change places then.  I think Dartmoor is
awfully tame compared with Norway."

And then a hot discussion followed, each boy sticking up, of course, for
his own favourite place.

But when, three weeks later, Paul travelled homewards, his disappointment
was quite forgotten, and he was in the best of spirits, for it is beyond
the power of any ordinary boy to feel morose and sulky the day his school
breaks up and he goes home for his summer holiday; and when the family
joined him at Slewbury station,--all except his father, who was to follow
later,--and they journeyed on together, he was the life of the whole merry
party.

"Mother," he exclaimed with sudden recollection, after the home news had
been listened to and school news told, "what is the name of the place we
are going to?  Shall we be near the convict prison?"

"Oh, I hope not," cried Stella, her pretty blue eyes becoming round with
dismay, "I should hate to be near convicts, I should be afraid of them.
Supposing any of them run away, and come to Moor Farm, whatever shall we
do?"

"We are not any very great distance from the prison, I am afraid,"
Mrs. Anketell answered, "though it is further than either of us could
walk.  But you know, dear, the poor creatures are well guarded and we
shall be well guarded; and I want you to feel nothing but pity for them,
my Stella.  You must be a brave little woman.  Many of the poor creatures
there are quiet and harmless, and would not hurt a little child."

"_I_ am jolly glad we are so near," said Paul delightedly; and he talked
so much about it that Stella soon began to share his excitement, and lose
much of her nervousness, while Michael sat very still and quiet, listening
to all that was being said.  But presently they grew tired of that
subject, and turned their attention to the country through which they were
hurrying, and the quaint little stations at which they stopped, where the
one porter shouted such odd names in so funny a voice that they could not
help laughing; then on they went again through rich yellow cornfields,
past streams where men were fishing, and then they saw the high hills in
the distance, standing so solitary on the great browny-grey moor.

It was hard to picture a big, gloomy prison anywhere near such a lovely
land, or hundreds of sinful, unhappy men shut in behind high grey walls,
seeing nothing of the beauty about them.

"Mother, mother, there's Row Tor, and there's Brown Willy, and there--"

"And here is our station," said Mrs. Anketell, smiling, getting up to
collect baskets and parcels, "and there is Farmer Minards himself with his
car and a cart for the luggage."  Then out they got, the only passengers
for that little station, while the people in the train stared at them,
enviously the children thought, and the people on the platform looked with
curiosity and interest at them, and their big pile of luggage.
Then Stella and Michael and Mrs. Anketell were shown in to the funny
little car, which was called the 'pill-box,' but Paul asked if he might
ride up in the front of the cart on which the luggage was piled, and was
allowed to, and a few minutes later they started off in procession down
the road on their way to Moor Farm.

The boy who drove the cart was shy at first, and sat very stolid and stiff
beside Paul apparently absorbed in guiding his horse, but Paul was not
troubled with shyness, or anything else but curiosity, and after he had
looked at the horse and cart, and everything about him, his tongue refused
to be silent any longer, and a stream of questions was poured into the shy
boy's ears.  As they were nearly all questions he could answer he did not
mind, and replied very patiently, and soon grew more at ease, especially
as some of Paul's questions made him laugh too, and feel how much more he
knew than 'the young master,' which is always a comfortable feeling.

"And that is Cawsand Beacon, isn't it?" said Paul at last, pointing to a
big, big hill, in the near distance.  He spoke in an off-hand casual sort
of way, and was rather proud of his knowledge until the boy laughed.

"No, sir, that there is Crockern Tor.  Cawsan' Baycon be right 'way
'tother side of Dartymoor, right 'long up in the narth, Oke'ampton way."

"Is Crockern Tor as high as Cawsand Beacon?" asked Paul, more humbly.

"I reckon not, not by a brave bit," said the boy, "but it's a purty place
to go to."

They were driving now along a rough road across the moor itself; the
'pill-box' had outstripped them and was out of sight.  "Let's drive on the
grass," said Paul suddenly, "t'would be ever so much jollier than jolting
along like this.  Why don't you drive across there to the farm," pointing
to a stretch of smooth, green turf, "instead of going all around by this
road?"

The boy laughed again.  "I reckon 'twouldn't be no quicker by time us had
hauled the 'orse and cart out.  That there green is'n' no turf 't'all,
'tis a bog."

Paul's attention was riveted in a moment.  "That isn't one of the bogs
that suck people right down, and kill them, is it?" he asked excitedly.

"That's one on 'em," answered the boy; "that isn't so bad as some.
Anybody small and light might get across by keeping right 'way out to the
very edge if they was quick, but a horse and cart wouldn't stand no
chance.  Don't you never go trying of it, sur, you'd be swallowed up in no
time.  Gee, wug, Lion," he called to the lazy horse.  "Would 'ee like to
drive a bit, sur?"

But Paul's thoughts were far away.  "Anybody light and small might get
across," he was repeating to himself, and he made up his mind that
somebody light and small would try.  After all, Dartmoor wasn't such a bad
place, he admitted already.  He would have something, anyhow, to tell the
boys when he got back.  Something worth telling too.  He thought there
would be few with a better story than his to tell.



CHAPTER IV.


THE REWARD OF OVER CONFIDENCE.

For a day or two their new surroundings kept the children fully
occupied in and about the farmyard, and the barns and orchards.
Everything was new to them and delightful, from the pump in the yard,
and the chickens, to the horses and wagons, the lofts with their smell of
hay, the sweet-smelling wood-ricks, the cool dairy, the 'pound' where the
cider was made.  Then there were sheep-shearing, rat-hunting and countless
other joys.  But before very long the desire to wander further in search
of adventure grew strong in Paul's breast.  The children were left
wonderfully free in those days, for, owing to their straitened means, Mrs.
Anketell had determined to do without a nurse, and she was necessarily
obliged to leave them much to themselves, and trust them not to get into
any serious mischief.

But in the holidays no boy is quite as wise as he should be.
Certainly Paul was not, when he determined to go and find out for himself
if that morass was really as dangerous as Muggridge had said.
Muggridge was the boy who had driven the cart, and Paul had begun to have
a galling feeling that Muggridge had bean treating him as though he were a
baby, which of course was a thing not to be tolerated for a moment.
He must show him that he was a public-school boy, and had already seen
more of the world than Muggridge was ever likely to.

It was Saturday morning, and every one in the house, excepting the
children, seemed to be unusually busy and occupied.  Stella and Michael
sauntered out into the yard, and hung on the gate, swinging.
Paul strolled out presently and joined them, but the amusement was not to
his liking, so he went outside and stood in the road, and looked at the
country.

"Let's go for a walk on the moor," he said presently; "there is nothing to
do here, and it's looking jolly out there."

Stella and Michael, only too glad to be invited by their elder brother to
join him, followed at once with a shout of joy.  Paul looked back several
times to make sure no one was watching them, but there were no windows at
that end of the house, and everyone was busy.  When they had gone a little
distance they got off the road on to the soft turf at the side, and began
running about here, there, and everywhere.  "You had better see where you
are going," said Paul; "they say there are morasses here that suck one in
until one is gone right down, head and all."

Stella looked about her with wondering eyes, and seized Michael's hands.
"What do they look like, Paul?  Are they pools?"

"I don't know," said Paul, "I should think so."

"There aren't any here, then," she said eagerly, and with a sigh of
relief, letting Mike go again.  "I don't see any, do you, Paul?"

"Muggridge said there were, and that is why they go round by that silly
old road; but I don't believe him, and I'm going to find out for myself.
Perhaps he thinks I will swallow everything he chooses to tell me, and is
trying to see how much he can take me in."

"Did he tell you not to go there?" asked Stella, nervously.

"No, he did not tell me any such thing.  Why should he?  I should like to
see him dare to order me about.  He just said that I had better not; but
that was nothing.  I'm sure he was only trying to gull me.  He said
anybody light could get across if they kept to the edge, and nobody could
be much lighter than I am."

"But, Paul, you won't go?" pleaded Stella, anxiously.  "Don't go, Paul!
_Please_ don't! you might be killed."

"Killed!" with terrific scorn.  "You girls are such babies you are afraid
of your lives to do anything for fear you will be killed, or hurt."

"I am not," said Stella proudly.  "You would be frightened though if you
got into one of those marshes, and were sucked down."

Paul grew more and more nettled, and defiant.  "Anyhow, I am going right
away at once to look for one, and that'll show if I am afraid or not.
You _babies_ can stay where you are."  And he walked boldly forward.

Stella bore the taunt bravely, though her feelings were cruelly hurt, too
deeply hurt to allow her to follow her brother and appear to be thrusting
her society on him.  So she remained where he had left her, tightly
grasping Mike's hand as though to make sure that he at any rate came to no
harm.  For nearly half-an-hour Paul wandered about without finding himself
on the dangerous spot, and the more he searched the more convinced he
became that Muggridge had been laughing at him.

"Won't Farmer Minards be pleased when Paul tells him," said Michael after
a long and anxious silence, and Paul had wandered about in all directions
in safety.  But before he had finished his sentence they saw Paul stagger
as though he had stepped on something which had given way beneath his
feet, try to recover himself, and stagger again.  Stella jumped up
instinctively and ran to him; even then she did not dream of the real
danger he was in, until, as she flew towards him, his cry of "Help, help!"
reached her.  "Keep back'" he shrieked, as she came close.  "It's the bog!
My feet are stuck, I can't free them, Stella; what can I do?  Help, help,
help!"

Stella's heart stood still with fright.  Paul was in the mud; it would
suck him down till it closed over his head, unless some one saved him, and
there was no time to be lost.  What could she do, without a single
creature there to help her?  "Mike," she called, "run home as fast as ever
you can, and tell them to come at once.  Paul is in the bog, and it is
sucking him down."  The tears were trickling fast down her face, and at
sight of them Michael began to cry too.

"Help, help!" called Paul again, then suddenly burst into tears.  The mud
was half-way up his legs now, and his attempts to free himself seemed only
to hasten his fate.  Inspiration came to Stella; in another moment she had
torn off her big over-all apron.  It was strong and wide.  If Paul could
reach it she might be able to pull him out by it.   She threw it towards
him, but, in her anxiety, threw it to one side; she tried again, but the
breeze carried it away.  The third time it reached him, and he caught it
by the tips of his fingers, but the effort to reach it dragged him
forward, and swaying, staggering, in his endeavours to steady himself he
dragged poor Stella beyond her powers of resistance, and in another moment
she was in the morass too, and, losing her balance, fell forward on her
hands and knees.  Their condition now was truly appalling.  Paul grew
frantic with alarm.  "Pick yourself up, Stella, or crawl to the edge; you
are quite close."

"I can't," she said in an awe-stricken whisper.  She was too frightened to
cry now; the fearfulness of the fate which seemed to await them partially
numbed her senses.  "I can't, Paul," she said in laboured tones; "the more
I try the worse it is.  I think we had better keep as still as we can.
Poor mummie," she added presently, and at the thought of her mother's
grief her tears did flow, but she kept quite still, though she saw that
her hands had disappeared entirely, and her arms were fast being sucked
down.



CHAPTER V.


THE RESCUE.

Paul and Stella never forgot, to the end of their lives, that awful time
of waiting, when they were face to face with death, their hearts filled
with agony at the sight of each other in the clutches of that fearful
morass, and at the thought of their parents' grief.

All around them stretched the great brown moor, weird and lonely looking,
except for where, less than a mile away, Paul could see the chimneys of
Moor Farm smoking, and the sunlight shining on the windows.  Stella had
fallen with her back to the house, and all she could see was the moor, and
the hills in the distance.  She could not see even if any one was coming
to their assistance.  "Mike must have lost himself," she thought, "they
are so long--"

But at that moment Paul broke in on her thought.  "They are coming," he
shouted.  "Help! help! help!" and he waved his handkerchief excitedly.
Stella bowed her head and prayed, she hardly knew then in what words, but
to ask God's help, and to thank Him; she knew He would understand.

Three or four persons came running towards them with ropes and planks,
while behind came another and larger group with their mother amongst them.
Stella could only hear their voices, and do as they bade her.

"How be 'ee going to get the little maid, now?" said a voice she
recognised as Farmer Minards'; "'er's the awkwardest of the two to get
'old on, by a long way.  Hold up yer 'ead, missie dear, don't let yer face
touch the mud."

Stella raised her head as high as she could, but she was so exhausted that
it fell forward again, and she lost consciousness altogether.

"I can save the boy," said a voice, "if you'll give me a rope."
In a moment more a deftly thrown lasso quivered in the air, and falling
over Paul encircled his waist; then, by the aid of planks thrown across
the margin, long, strong arms soon dragged him into safety, and he lay
trembling, but safe, on solid ground, with his mother's arms around him,
and nothing but words of sympathy, and love, and kindness greeting him
instead of the sound scolding he so richly deserved.  But she saw he was
in no state to be scolded then.

A few moments later another shout went up.  Stella was safe.  Paul raised
himself, and called to her as they carried her towards him, but no answer
to his joyful cry came from the limp and senseless little form lying in
Farmer Minards' arms.  Her face was as white as the clouds above, her eyes
were closed.  Paul gave a great cry of fear.  "Stella, Stella," he called
in agony.  "Stella, speak!  She tried to save me, and--and it is all my
fault, and I've killed her."  And he burst into an agony of tears, for he
really thought his sister was dead.

Mrs. Anketell, who had run to her little daughter, quickly came back to
him.  "She is not dead," she said soothingly, great tears of thankfulness
in her own eyes.  "Thank God, Paul.  You cannot thank Him enough for
having spared you both.  She has fainted, that is all, dear.  Act like a
man now, and be ready to comfort her when she recovers.  This is bound to
be a terrible shock to her."

Mrs. Anketell was herself faint and trembling from the shock and the
anxiety; her hands shook visibly as she laid them on Paul's hot brow, and
her head swam so she feared she would have fainted too, but for the sake
of others she made a great effort to control herself, and succeeded.

They laid the little maid on the grass, and loosened her clothes.
The sight of her little hands hanging so helplessly, with the brown mud
dripping off them, and her little white feet, for her shoes and stockings
had come off in the mud, and her dead-white face, brought tears to many an
eye there, and Paul himself turned over on the grass and wept bitterly,
without shame, before them all.

"Better let him have his cry out," said the gentleman who had thrown the
lasso, and who proved to be a doctor; "it will relieve him and do him
good.  Now, you men, some of you carry him carefully home, he is not fit
to walk; and I will carry her, if you will allow me," he said, stooping
over Stella.  "I think they had better be got to bed as quickly as
possible.  And you, can you walk, do you think?" he added, kindly, to Mrs.
Anketell.  She nodded in reply; she was too much agitated to speak.
"Take my arm, please, if it would be any support to you."  His quick eye
noted the strain she was enduring, and he quietly did all he could to
cheer and distract her thoughts from the contemplation of the awful
tragedy which might have befallen two of her children.

So the sad little procession wended its way across the sunny moor again,
and Paul, all the way, was saying over and over again to himself he would
never, never again try to do what he had been told not to.  He would be
good, obedient, and humble, he would take care of Stella, and his mother,
and Mike.   And that night when his mother came to see him the last thing
before going to bed herself, he told her the whole story from beginning to
end.  "Stella is awfully plucky, for a girl," he added at the conclusion
of his tale.  "She was afraid for me to try to cross, but she didn't seem
frightened when she was being sucked down by the mud, she never screamed
at all."

"Stella has far more courage than you think," said his mother gravely,
"and I hope you will never again jibe at the cowardice of girls; it only
shows that you do not know what real courage is.  Good muscles do not
always mean true courage.  You must learn that it is often far more brave
to stand by and not do a thing, knowing all the time you will be called a
coward for it, than it is to be daring and defiant, as you were to-day.
Obedience in all things, pleasant or unpleasant, is true courage, and that
is what you lacked to-day, and so brought misery and pain to many, none of
whom you consider as wise or brave as yourself."

Paul certainly felt the greatest shame as he realised how foolish he must
seem in the eyes of everybody, and he certainly suffered the keenest
remorse when he saw how ill Stella was; it was Stella who suffered most
from his wrong-doing.  For many days she was very, very ill, and it was
some time before she was quite her old merry self again.



CHAPTER VI.


A SLOW LEARNER.

A few days later Mr. Anketell arrived for a fortnight's holiday, and all
the sad story had to be told to him.  He was terribly grieved and upset--
grieved to see his bright, happy Stella so wan and quiet, and troubled
sorely to think Paul had so far forgotten himself and his duty to the
younger ones as to place their lives in danger.

"You cannot expect Michael to look up to you," said his father sternly.
"And you are setting him a very bad example.  I shall have to send for one
of the maids to come and look after you all, for we cannot have such
things happening!  I will not have your mother so worried and frightened,
and the children's lives jeopardised by your disobedience and
foolhardiness."

And the maid would have been sent for had not Paul given his word to be
more careful and better behaved in future.

Another person with whom Mr. Anketell was very irate was Farmer Minards;
he blamed him greatly for leaving so dangerous a spot unguarded in any
way, and he spoke so plainly about it that that very same day a man went
out with a cartload of white hurdles to place around the margin of the
morass.  To every one else they were a comfort and a safeguard, but to
Paul they were a shame and a constant reminder of his foolishness.

"Us'd have the moor speckled all over with white hurdles if we had you
living here for long, sur."  They were driving slowly along the road,
Paul sitting beside Muggridge in the cart, when Muggridge pointed with his
whip at the hurdles and laughed.  A hot blush rushed over Paul's face, and
a sudden furious anger against his companion surged up in his heart.
How dare he laugh at him, a gentleman, and a visitor?

"_You_ told me anybody light could get across," he said sulkily, and he
looked away across the moor that Muggridge might not see the tears of
anger and mortification which would well up in his eyes.

"So he could."

"Well you couldn't find anyone much lighter than I am, and I went in," and
he shuddered at the recollection.

"Of course you did, and so would any one who hadn't the sense not to go
right slap in the middle as you did.  I meant right 'long out the edge,
where Jim has put the hurdles."

Paul laughed contemptuously.  "Why, any stupid could do that!" he said
loftily.  "Farmer Minards himself could walk there!"

"That just shows how much you know," said Muggridge, with an air of great
knowingness.  "It wouldn't bear me, and I ain't what you would call
heavy."

"You are afraid, that's all," said Paul rudely.

For a moment Muggridge looked angry too.  "I ain't feared," he said after
a pause, "but I've got too much sense.  I can't afford to spoil a pair of
boots, and I doubt if any one would take the trouble to haul me out; but
if they did--why, maister'd give me the sack before the mud had stopped
running off me."

Paul laughed derisively.  "It's easy enough to make excuses," he said,
beginning to scramble down from the cart.  "You are afraid, that's what it
is, but I'll just show you I am not," and, paying no heed to Muggridge's
call, he ran lightly round outside the hurdles.  To his surprise the
ground was almost hard.  The man had placed the hurdles further out than
Muggridge had thought, but Paul did not let him know that.  The very
spirit of bravado and mischief seemed to fill him as he mocked at his
companion, and then, with a sudden mad impulse, he climbed over and
attempted to run around inside.  But here matters were different; the
ground was soft and slimy, his feet stuck and began to sink; he tried to
run lightly, but 'twas no good, and he clung to the hurdles in real fear.
Muggridge, too, was alarmed.  He realised suddenly that he was responsible
for the young master's safety, that he had taunted him into his foolhardy
action, and that the episode would not make a pleasant story for either of
them to tell.

Springing out of the cart he ran to Paul's help, and had him out of the
morass and in safety in less time than it takes to tell it.  Both were so
alarmed now that all thought of their quarrel had vanished from their
minds.  They were grateful that they were safe and the episode had ended
as easily as it had; but their joy was short lived, for at the sight of
Paul's boots they looked at each other with grave faces and frightened
eyes.  What was to be done?  The state of them was bound to be noticed,
for the weather was fine and dry, Muggridge scraped off what he could with
bits of stick, and tufts of grass, but his efforts were not very
successful, for the mud was thick and clinging, and Paul clambered back
into the cart with a very, very heavy heart.  He did not gloss over to
himself the wrongfulness of his behaviour, or the seriousness of the
situation.  He was bound to be found out, and then he would perhaps be
sent back to school, or one of the maids would be sent for to take charge
of him, and a flush of shame mounted his forehead at the thought.

Then to avoid all the trouble he knew he would get into, Paul made the
grave mistake people often make when once they have done wrong.  To cover
the first fault they commit another, and so start on what is often a long
road of sin and misery, rather than courageously face at once the blame
and punishment they deserve.  The rest of the drive he did not enjoy at
all, though it was one of the pleasures he loved most, as a rule; but his
mind was fully occupied in trying to plan how he should escape detection
and punishment.

Muggridge at first promised to clean the boots for him before anybody
could see them, but the delay Paul had caused made them so late in getting
home that he had to go at once to put the horse in his stable, and then
hurry off to his own dinner.  Besides, the mud was too wet as yet to be
cleaned off.  Paul was terribly upset at that.  What _would_ become of
him, he wondered, and how could he manage?  By that time all thought of
confessing at once had gone from his mind; it seemed to him impossible to
do it; he could think of nothing but concealment.  But, luckily he
thought, when they got back to the house there was no one about.
It was close to the hour for the mid-day dinner.  Mrs. Minards and the
maids were busy in the kitchen, Mrs. Anketell and Stella were upstairs in
their rooms.  Paul could hardly believe his good fortune when he got past
the windows, into the house, without meeting any one, and as he stood at
the foot of the stairs listening, to try to discover where everyone was,
and could hear no voices or footsteps near, his spirits rose.  He crept
upstairs swiftly and stealthily, almost without a sound, except for the
creaking of a board in the passage outside his mother's door.  She heard
it, and called out, "Who is that?  Is that Paul?"  But he went on without
answering, though he felt very mean for doing so, and soon gained his own
room.  He was scarcely a moment taking off his muddy boots and hiding them
in the bottom of his play-box; then he put on his slippers, dabbed over
the front of his head with a wet hair brush, smeared a little water over
his face and hands, wiped the dirt off on the towel, and crept downstairs
again in a few moments, as softly as he had crept up.

When Mrs. Anketell came down ten minutes later, saying, "I wish Paul had
come, he will be late for dinner," she found him coiled up in the big
arm-chair with a book on his knee, and apparently absorbed in the story.
He was so deeply absorbed in fact that he did not look up when she spoke,
not, indeed, until she exclaimed, "Oh, Paul, dear, then you are back.
Have you been here long?  I did not know you were in the house, and I was
quite anxious about you."

Then he looked up at her with an abstracted air, as though his mind was
still so deep in the story that it was closed to everything, and he could
hardly hear or take in what she was saying.  "No-o not very long," he
answered vaguely, and to hide his eyes, which could not meet his mother's,
he dropped them on to the pages again.

"Did you hurry back to go on with your book?" asked his mother, standing
by him, and looking over his shoulder.  "I am glad you find it so
interesting.  Father was afraid you did not care for it, as you never
looked at it.  But why do you hold it upside down, dear?"

Paul coloured hotly, and held his head lower to hide it.  "To--to--the
picture looks so funny this way," he said lamely, and then, to his great
relief, the maid said dinner was ready, and he escaped any further
embarrassment for the moment.  But only for the moment.



CHAPTER VII.


A TROUBLESOME PAIR OF BOOTS.

Muggridge had told him to bring his boots out to the boot-house, when he
could manage to get them there without any one seeing him, that he might
clean them for him, and nobody be the wiser.  So Paul waited anxiously for
the opportunity.  He knew it must be done soon, as his mother would miss
the boots and make inquiries about them, for he had only the one pair of
strong everyday boots now besides his best ones, as the others had been
almost spoilt by his first adventure in the morass, and had been sent away
to the shoemaker's.

As soon as dinner was finished his troubles began again.

"I am going to walk to Four Bridges this afternoon," said Mr. Anketell;
"who will go with me?  We will have tea there, and walk home in the
evening."

Stella and Michael jumped with delight.  They enjoyed this sort of
excursion more than anything that could be offered them; and, as a rule,
Paul enjoyed it even more than they.  But to-day he did not express his
usual pleasure, and sat looking red and embarrassed when his father looked
questioningly at him.

"Well, Paul, what do you say?" he asked, wondering at the boy's silence.

"I--I should like to go very much," stammered Paul awkwardly, "but I've
hurt my foot.  I hurt it jumping out of the cart."

This, to a certain extent, was true, but under ordinary circumstances Paul
would have been the last to allow such a trifle to keep him from anything
he desired.  A series of questions followed, which he found very difficult
to answer, and finally Paul had to submit to having his ankle bound with a
wet cloth, while Mrs. Anketell decided to give up the afternoon's
excursion and stay at home with him.  "And we will have tea in the
orchard," she said consolingly, "to make up for the loss of our tea at
Four Bridges; that will be pleasanter than having it indoors."
The kinder they were to him the more unhappy and uncomfortable Paul felt,
and the less chance he saw of carrying out his plan; but his lowness of
spirits stood him in good stead here, for his mother and father put it
down to the pain he was suffering, and no one questioned the truth of his
story about the injured foot.

But his impatience and his anxiety were such as he never forgot.
It seemed to him ages before the little party started off on their
expedition; first there was one hindrance and then another, until he could
have screamed with impatience and anxiety, and even when they were gone he
could not get away, for his mother sat with him and read to him, and he
watched with dread the hands of the clock go round, as the afternoon wore
quickly away.  The boots must be cleaned before to-morrow morning, or the
traces of his escapade would betray him.

At last, however, Mrs. Anketell stopped reading, and said she must write a
letter.  And Paul, without a moment's delay, seized the opportunity to
limp from the room.  He really had to limp now, for the bandage was so
tight about his ankle that he could not bend it.  Mrs. Anketell,
hearing his uneven steps, called to him not to use his foot too much.
"All right," he called back willingly, for he was only too thankful that
she did not prohibit him from using it altogether.  Then he stumbled out
to the stairs, and clambering up them a good deal faster than he usually
moved, reached his room without further interruption.  His heart was
beating furiously with excitement and fear, but he could not pause a
moment to steady himself, for he felt he had not a second to lose.
Dragging his play-box softly out from under the bed, he plunged his hand
to the bottom and soon drew out his troublesome boots; then tucking them
under his coat, which barely served to cover them, he slid down the
banisters to save all noise, and tore out into the yard, and around the
corner to the boot-house, as though a pack of wolves was after him.
But, in turning the corner, he came face to face with something he had not
expected, and that was the burly form of Farmer Minards himself.
Paul's heart sunk like lead, and he went cold all over with apprehension.

"Hullo, young gentleman," said the old man, "I thought you was laid by
the heels?"

Paul tried to smile.  "I hurt my foot, and couldn't walk to Four Bridges,
but it isn't much."

"Where be 'ee off now?" asked the farmer, looking anxiously at the
funny-shaped protuberances under Paul's arms.  "Be 'ee going for a stroll
by yerself?  Can't keep in, I s'pose, but must be out in the fresh air."

"Oh, I--I ain't going far," stammered Paul.  "I am only just having a look
round."

"Would 'ee care to come and see 'em cutting the hay in the Little Meadow?
It wouldn't be far for 'ee to walk; we've got the new machine, and 'tis a
real beauty.  All the men are out there looking at un."

It did seem to Paul altogether too cruel that so many things he would have
given anything to see and do should happen that afternoon, and that he
should have to refuse them.  "Oh, I--I--" and then he stopped.  He could
not go all out there with his boots under his arms, nor could he get rid
of them while Farmer Minards stood looking at him; he had to keep up the
pretence, too, about his foot.  "I've strained my ankle, rather," he said
lamely.  "I'm afraid I could not walk so far.  Mother has bandaged it, and
I've only got my slippers on.  I'm awfully sorry," he added with genuine
regret.

"Never mind, sir, you can come another time.  I'm sorry you're so bad, but
when I saw you cutting along so spry I thought perhaps you was all right
again; but we shall be using un again next week, and you can come then,
perhaps," and Farmer Minards at last moved away, to Paul's intense relief,
for he had been terrified all the time lest someone else should come along
and catch him.

He ran on to the boot-house, but with little hope of finding Muggridge
there now, for he would probably be out in the hay-field with the rest of
the men.  A thought had come to him, however, that he himself might manage
to clean the mud off the boots, if he was quick.  When he reached the
boot-house it was as he feared, no Muggridge was there; but to his horror
someone else was--no other than Mrs. Minards herself, and at sight of her
Paul turned and fled in dismay.  Too much scared to know what he was doing
he ran swiftly through the yard, and into the kitchen-garden.  At that
moment a clock struck five and he knew that his mother would be expecting
him down to tea now.  What could he do?  He could not get back to the
house again; he peeped out and saw people moving about in the yard and at
the doorway; it was impossible to get past unobserved.  But those boots
must be got rid of somehow.  He looked about the garden eagerly for a spot
in which to hide them, but a high stone wall surrounded the place, and the
garden itself was so neat and tidy there was no chance of hiding anything
there without the risk of being found out.  And Mrs. Minards, he
remembered, was always pottering about in her garden.

There was no time to spare either, and at the thought that in a moment his
mother or some one would be searching for him, he fled out of the garden
into the open country beyond.  Outside the walls lay the moor, the big
brown old moor.  Surely here he could find a hiding-place for his
unfortunate boots, and could tell Muggridge where to look for them.
It was a splendid idea, he thought; there could not be a better
hiding-place, and running as fast as his feet could carry him to a clump
of furze, he pushed his boots far in under the bush, took one glance to
see that all was safe, and fled back again to the garden-door.

"Paul, Pau--aul."  He heard his own name being called, and ran on with a
new fear in his heart.  What would they think of him and his tale of his
sprained foot if he reached them breathless and hot?  So he slackened his
pace, and when he came to the door leading from the garden into the yard
he sauntered through in the most easy, casual manner he knew how to
assume.  When he came in sight of the house he saw his mother standing at
the door.  As soon as she saw him she beckoned him to hurry.

"Why, Paul dear, where have you been?  Tea has been ready a long time, and
I have searched for you all over the house.  How hot and flushed and tired
you look.  Is your foot paining you?  You should not have gone out, you
know."

He was afraid to speak lest his breathlessness should betray him.
"It is not so very bad now, thank you.  I think it is getting better."
He spoke so oddly and looked so unlike himself that his mother wondered
what was the matter with him.

"Have you been out in the sun long?" she asked anxiously.

"No--o," he answered.  "I've only been strolling about a little."

"It is hard to keep at home on such a lovely afternoon, but I think you
would have done wisely to have rested," said Mrs. Anketell,
sympathetically; and putting her arm about his shoulders they went to the
orchard, where a glorious tea was spread for them.  At any other time
Paul's delight would have been boundless, but to-night he was so listless
and distracted that Mrs. Anketell grew quite anxious about him, and his
depression depressed her.

"Is there anything troubling you, dear?" she asked.  "Can't you tell me
what it is and trust me?"

There were tears in her eyes at the thought that her boy could keep aloof
from her in his troubles.  Her tender glance, her loving voice, touched
Paul's heart.  The whole confession trembled on his lips, and would have
been poured forth, but at that moment the maid came up to say the
clergyman had called, and Mrs. Anketell had to go away to see him, leaving
Paul with his confession unmade.



CHAPTER VIII.


A MIDNIGHT SEARCH.

All the evening Paul watched in a fever of anxiety for Muggridge.
He could not rest.  He knew that the boots must be cleaned from all traces
of his folly of the morning, and must be in their place by breakfast time
the next day, or searching inquiries would begin.  And matters were a
hundred times worse now that the poor things were hidden away so
suspiciously than if they had been found in his room.

But night came on without bringing any sign of Muggridge, and Paul could
not shake off his depression, which deepened until every one wondered what
was the matter with him.  When the others came home, full of all they had
done and seen, the children's pleasure was greatly spoiled by his gloomy
indifference.

After they had all gone to bed Mr. and Mrs. Anketell sat for a long time
discussing the change in their boy, and wondering with pain what it was
that was troubling him, and why he would not confide in them.

Paul, lying awake in his own little room, heard his father and mother come
up to bed.  He could not sleep, his mind was in such a turmoil, and he
felt himself in such a terrible situation.  It seemed to him now that it
would have been but a little thing to have taken the chance of his muddy
boots being found, and of having to own up, compared with what he had to
face now, unless--

He sprang up in his bed as a sudden inspiration came to him.
Here was a way out of his troubles, if he could but carry it through.
Everything could be set right, and nothing need ever be known.
And if, he told himself, he got off this time, he would be a good boy for
ever after.  If he could only get his boots now from their hiding-place
and put them where Muggridge would be sure to find them in the morning,
all would be right.  No sooner had the idea entered his head than he felt
he _must_ carry it out.  It was his one and only chance--but there were
difficulties.  He got out of bed and crept to the window.  The moon was
giving a fair light, and would be brighter later.  He thought if he could
only get free of the house he could make his way to the clump of furze
though, of course, it would be difficult, for he would not be able to get
out of the garden as he had before, the door being always locked at night,
and the walls too high to climb.  And to try to find one particular furze
bush unless one approached it from the same point would be no easy task.
He determined, however, to make the attempt, and began at once to drag on
some garments.  Then he bethought him that he must not make the attempt
just yet, for the household might not have fallen asleep, and he lay down
again to wait with what patience he could.  But at last he thought he
might venture, and raising the latch of his door softly, he popped out his
head, first an inch or two, then further and further, and listened for any
sound of voices from his father's and mother's room.  They were talking,
and they went on doing so for what seemed to Paul an endless time--he
little guessed that it was his behaviour which was keeping them awake and
sleepless--but at last, to his great relief, other sounds reached him; he
heard his father snoring gently, and determined to put his fortunes at
once to the test.

His depression had gone now, and for the moment he felt only the
excitement of the adventure.  Stuffing a piece of candle and a box of
matches into his pocket, he crept downstairs more quietly than he had ever
moved in his life before, and through the stone passage to the kitchen,
for the front door, when opened, grated on the stone floor, and made a
noise which could not fail to rouse the whole household.  Everything,
looked strange and uncanny in the dim light, but Paul was too anxious and
eager to feel fear, and of ordinary pluck and spirit he had plenty; it was
moral courage, which is, after all, the true courage, that he lacked.
His spirit was dashed, though, when he reached the back door and saw the
huge bolts by which it was secured.  It was locked too, and the key taken
away.  "I must try a window," he thought, rallying from his
disappointment.  Shutters were fastened over the kitchen window, and he
had had to light his candle to see anything.  But the shutters were easily
unfastened, and the window opened, and with very little trouble Paul
clambered through and reached the ground.  His stockinged feet made no
sound on the paved yard, and all was easy now for him if he could but find
the right bush.  But when he got away from the house, and found himself,
to all appearances, alone on the great empty moor with its hushed,
mysterious noises, its strange shadows, its rises and dips, here and there
a gleaming pool, and here and there a strangely shaped form, all looking
to him odd and uncanny in the dim, weird light, a great awe fell on him.
He thought of the wild animals wandering about there, the treacherous
ground, the people who had been lost there, and never heard of again, and
it seemed to him that a white mysterious light moved about over some of
the hollows.   His heart beat fast and heavily, his throat felt dry and
stiff, but he did not dare hesitate.  He felt only one great longing to
have his errand done, and be safely back in the house again.  How snug,
and safe, and comfortable his little bedroom seemed now!  How he envied
those who were able to lie in their beds with clean consciences, and no
unconfessed sins to haunt them!  How silly, and worse than silly--how bad
had been the act which had brought all this trouble on him!  And he felt
no pride in himself now.

It seemed to him he would never reach the spot he wanted; the distance
around the house to it seemed far, far greater than he had thought, and
all looked so different and strange, approached from this point.  He began
to fear he would never find the particular bush he sought; it seemed such
a hopeless task to embark on in the dark, and alone.  In order to make it
more easy, he made his way to the door in the wall, and tried to retrace
his steps of yesterday, as nearly as possible, but even that was more
difficult than he had imagined.  He thought the bush was straight ahead,
and not very far off, but when he acted on this idea he found himself on
the edge of a pool, into which he nearly fell.  He did not know that when
one walks in the dark, one instinctively bears away to the left all the
time, and that, consequently, he was going straight away from the poor
boots.

Then a cloud came over the moon, and Paul almost despaired.  He was
shaking with excitement and cold, for the wind blew fresh across that spot
all the year round, and Paul was very slightly dressed.  At last he lit
his candle, after a great deal of trouble, and holding it carefully in the
hollow of his hands, managed to keep it alight; and finally, more by good
luck than anything else, found himself close to the very bush he was
looking for.  In another moment he was on his knees, and diving his arm
cautiously under it.  Joy! there were his boots, his poor old boots, the
source of all his trouble.  He grabbed them delightedly, and rose.
At the same instant his candle went out, and his heart almost stood still
with terror, for, close by him he heard the sound of stealthy footsteps,
and the clank of a chain.



CHAPTER IX.


THE OPEN WINDOW.

"A convict escaped!" was the thought which flashed into his brain,
paralysing his limbs with fear.  For the moment he was too frightened to
move, and as for looking around,--he could not have made himself do it at
that moment for all the wealth the world could offer.  Then, fearing he
knew not what, he turned with a sudden swift impulse, and rushed madly, as
though the furies were after him and any moment might lay a hand on him,
back to where he could just see the white road gleaming in the distance.
His heart thumped so he thought it would choke him, his head swam, a
numbness seemed to be gripping his limbs, blackness creeping over his
sight.  Before he reached the road he staggered, stumbled, fell--and for a
few moments lay, a small unconscious heap, on the damp grass.

When his senses returned to him he sat up, wondering vaguely at first what
had happened, and where he was.  He only knew he was trembling, aching,
and feeling miserably ill.  Then memory returned, and a sickening fear
mingled with his shame of his own terror.  In his shame he made himself
look all about him, he made himself stay quietly where he was and try to
fathom the mystery.  And as soon as his eyes grew accustomed to the
strange light, he could distinguish a mysterious form moving stealthily
from bush to bush.

In another second Paul was on his feet and flying as though for his life
along the road towards home.  His first idea and aim was to get back
through the window again, and bar himself in from all danger, but the
banging of his boots as he ran, reminded him that he had not yet fulfilled
his object, and another terror was added to his burthen.  When at last he
got back out of sight of the lonely moor, and within the shelter of the
farm, some of his courage returned, and greatly though he dreaded it, he
made his way to the boot-house instead of scuttling into the house, and
into safety at once.  Strangely enough the window of the boot-house was
open and he had soon dropped his boots inside, in the hope that they would
appear in the morning with the others, all black, shiny, and innocent
looking; and crept away back to the open window whence he had escaped.
It was not as easy to get back as it had been to get out; the window was
higher from the ground on the outside, and Paul barked both his knees
badly before he succeeded.  Then, gently dropping to the floor, he crept
softly upstairs and into his bed.  The sight of the cosy room, the safety,
warmth, and comfort of it all, helped him to forget all his woes, his
smarting knees, the thorns in his feet, and his shivering, aching body.

"I wouldn't mind a bit," he thought, "if I'd only got something to eat;
but what a tale it'll be to tell the other fellows when I get back to
school."  And so comforting himself he fell asleep.

When he awoke it was with a feeling that he had overslept himself, and
that the morning was well advanced.  This feeling grew stronger, too,
when, on turning and stretching, he heard his mother's voice:
"Paul, Paul, awake at last?  Why, what a sleepy boy you are!  Have you had
a disturbed night, dear?"

He opened his eyes with a puzzled stare.  "Is it late, mother?  Have you
had breakfast?  What's the time?"

"Eleven o'clock.  Yes, we had breakfast hours ago, but when we found we
could not rouse you, we let you sleep on.  Were you disturbed in the
night, dear?"

He opened his still drowsy eyes again.  "Disturbed!" he said stupidly.
He really did not remember at once all that had happened.  "No, I don't
think so.  Why?"

"We think someone broke into the house last night.  At least, one of the
kitchen windows and the shutter were found open, and there were footmarks
on the window-sill, and about the floor.  The strange thing is that
nothing has been moved or taken away, but Mrs. Minards is greatly
frightened, so are the maids; the foolish girls seem to have lost their
heads entirely."

Long before she had finished speaking, Paul had remembered that he had
left the window and the shutters open, and that he must have left
footmarks where he trod.  He felt thoroughly despicable as he lay there,
listening to his mother's story, knowing that he could explain all, and so
save every one much alarm and trouble.  "I should not have told Stella and
Michael," she went on, "lest they should be nervous another time, but they
had heard it all from the maids before I could prevent it."

But Paul did not hear what she was saying; he had suddenly thought of his
clothes, those he wore last night, and his tell-tale stockings.  If his
mother noticed them now, the whole affair would be shown up.  And at that
moment Mrs. Anketell did catch sight of the stockings, lying inside out
and rolled up anyhow, on the floor, and instinctively she picked one up
and began to straighten it, while Paul watched her actions with feelings
such as an animal must suffer when caught in a trap.

"Why, Paul," she exclaimed, as she thrust her hand into the foot of it,
"your stockings are quite wet, and--oh, look, my dear child, what have you
done to them?"  She held up the foot on her hand for him to see.
The bottom of it was riddled with holes!

He had never thought of their wearing out like that, and he leaned up,
gazing at the stocking in sheer astonishment.  His mother mistook the look
on his face for another kind of surprise.  "How can they have got into
such a state?  They were quite sound when I bandaged your ankle.
Were they sound when you took them off last night?"

"They were all right when I came to bed," stammered Paul.

"But they have thorns and bits of grass stuck in them," she cried,
examining them closely.  "Some one must have walked about in them on
grass, and wet grass too."  She put down the stocking, and picked up the
knickerbockers which were lying on a chair.  "My dear child, these are all
muddy too!"  And as she held them up Paul saw on them the clear marks of
his fall, and his attempts to scale the window.

"Can't you tell me anything about it, dear?" she asked, puzzled and
amazed; "can't you give me any explanation?"

"No," said Paul faintly.  And his mother, never for a moment suspecting
that he could wilfully deceive her, or that such a thing as had really
happened could be possible, began to look elsewhere for the explanation.

"Do you know if any of you walk in your sleep?" she asked, with a sudden
thought.

"I never saw the others do it," said Paul quickly, delighted at the
possibility of a new way out of his dilemma, "and of course I shouldn't
know if I did myself, should I?"

"Perhaps not, unless something happened to wake you.  But don't worry, or
frighten yourself.  Of course no one is to blame if it is a case of
sleep-walking,--only it will be a great anxiety for the future.
You had better get up now and dress.  I will take these things down; they
may help to explain what is such a puzzle to us all, and to relieve their
minds."

As soon as his mother had gone, Paul quickly began to bestir himself; he
was not particularly anxious to face people and all the questions which
would probably be levelled at him, but never could he lie still and think
of the deception he had practised on his mother.  When he came to move,
the stiffness and pain in his scraped knees almost made him cry out, and
when he put his feet on the floor, he quickly sat back on the bed again,
for the bottoms of his feet were full of tiny prickles, and the pain, when
he pressed on them, was almost unbearable.



CHAPTER X.


RUMOUR AND APPREHENSION.

In the excitement and talk which the events of the night called forth,
Paul's boots escaped notice, and Paul himself many times wished he could
have done the same.  But he was the most interesting person in the house
just then, and was questioned, cross-questioned, pitied, talked at, until
he was heartily sick of everything, and longed to run away, back to
school, or anywhere, to escape it all; for he could not answer a question
without involving himself in deeper deceit, and he did honestly long to be
able to throw it off, and stand with a clear conscience again.

Another part of his punishment was the attention he came in for.  He was
cossetted for a cold they felt sure he must have caught, his knees were
bandaged with ointment, his feet were prodded and poulticed to get out the
prickles; and, worst of all, there was talk of putting him to sleep in his
father's dressing-room, which opened out of his parents' bedroom, that he
might be heard and checked if he attempted again to take any more midnight
strolls.  For the matter assumed a very serious aspect as the day wore on,
and they began to think less lightly of Master Paul's habit of undoing
bolts and windows, and leaving the house open to any one all the night
through.

Farmer Minards came home to tea looking grave and troubled.  "Here's a
pretty business!" he exclaimed as he came in.  "Two convicts got away from
the prison yesterday morning early, and haven't been caught yet.  One of
'em broke into Perry's farm last night, and stole a whole 'eap of Farmer
Perry's clothes; 'tother one they've lost sight of altogether, but 'tis
thought he made for this direction.  And they say they are two of the most
desperate villains they've ever had within the walls."

Paul's heart almost ceased beating with the sudden fear that filled it.

"It be'oves us to keep the place well barred up," went on the old man,
"and not be leaving windows open all night," nodding knowingly at Paul.
"They're not nice chaps to meet, they there convicts, and they don't stop
at much when they're trying to get off."

Every vestige of colour had left Paul's face as he realised what his
danger had been the night before.  That must have been the convict he had
heard.  He longed to tell the farmer how close the danger was, that he
might take extra precautions to guard the house.

"Do they--haven't they got on handcuffs, and--and chains on their ankles?"
he asked.

"Yes, but they pretty soon gets rid of they, you may be sure," answered
the old man.  "Why, what do you know about 'em, young sur?"

It seemed to Paul that he was looking at him almost suspiciously.
"Oh, nothing--only--I've--I've been told--I know a fellow who stayed near
Princetown once, and he told me a heap about them," he stammered, and
Farmer Minards seemed satisfied and rose to go back to his work.

"Don't you young folk wander far for a few days," he said, turning round
as he was going out at the door; "they're nasty chaps to meet on a lonely
spot.  There's one thing, _you_ won't be able to go out and get into any
mischief for a day or two, I reckon.  'Tisn't a bad thing to have 'ee tied
by the leg for a bit, it'll give your mother a bit of peace of mind," he
said to Paul, and he laughed in a way which made Paul flush with
mortification.

But he was mistaken as to the length of time Master Paul would be tied by
the leg.   No schoolboy of fourteen would consent to spend a second
perfect summer day in the house, for the sake of a pair of scarred knees,
if he could possibly manage to use them.

Paul found it almost unbearable to be in as long as he was, and especially
to be the object of as much notice as he was, so the second day he
declared himself quite fit to go out and stroll around, and Mrs. Anketell
was glad for him to be out in the sunshine and air again, he was so pale,
and his spirits seemed so low.

On one point Mrs.  Anketell had been most imperative--not a word as
to the escaped convicts was to be mentioned before Stella and Michael.
They had had so much to excite and alarm them lately, she was most anxious
to keep this last terror from them.  Mike, she knew, had a childish dread
of the prison and its occupants, and Stella, who was not strong yet after
her illness, had also been nervous of being in the near neighbourhood of
the prison.  So the two younger ones ran out and played about with light
hearts, full of pleasure that Paul was with them again, and anxious only
to make him laugh and romp about, and tease them as he used to do.
But Paul, though he was out in the sunshine once more, and though he had
escaped the detection of his wickedness, could not laugh, or joke, or take
any interest in the others' amusement, for a great weight lay on his heart
and his conscience, and he wondered if he should ever be a happy,
light-hearted boy again.

It was such a lovely day, that first day he was out, so warm, and bright,
and perfect, that Mrs. Anketell promised them they should have all their
meals in the orchard, for there she felt they would be safe from harm,
and Farmer Minards sent out for one of the shepherd's dogs to be with them
too.  So they had their mid-day dinner under the apple-trees, and played
there contentedly enough, the children unconscious of any danger, their
mother feeling for the time safe, and trying to put all fear from her,
Paul in constant dread of he scarcely knew what.

In the afternoon Mr. Anketell had to leave them, as a telegram had come
calling him to London at once.  He was very vexed about it, for he felt
peculiarly loath to leave them just then, he too being filled with a
foreboding of fear, for which he could not account except by telling
himself that Paul's extraordinary night adventure, and the narrow escape
from the morass, had upset his nerves, and made him unusually fearful.
When the car came round to take him to the station, he called Paul aside,
and spoke to him very gravely.

"Paul, my son," he said kindly, "I have to leave you all, though I am more
than unwilling to do so, but I am going to leave your mother and the
children in your charge.  Keep the little ones in your sight, guard them
all carefully.  Cease to be a thoughtless child for the time, and try to
be a man, with a man's grave sense of responsibility.  Take care of them
and of yourself, and remember a great trust rests on you."

"I will, father," said Paul earnestly, and his lips quivered as his father
leaned affectionately on his shoulder.  Confession trembled on his lips,
but there was no time for it, though he felt that here was a chance to
expiate his wickedness and deceit of the past.  But if he could not
confess, he could at any rate live down that past and wipe it out by his
future conduct, and he would, he vowed he would.  "I will take care of
them, father, I promise you," he repeated earnestly.

The spirits of all flagged a good deal after Mr. Anketell's departure, and
it was quite a sober little party that gathered round the tea-table in the
orchard, and after tea they were quite content to sit and read instead of
indulging in their old lively games.

At seven o'clock Mrs. Anketell rose and went in with Mike to give him his
glass of milk before putting him to bed.  "I think you had all better come
in now," she said.  "Can you bring in the rugs and things between you?"

The elder ones followed her in a few moments with their first load, and
laid the things down in the passage.  Mrs. Anketell was outside calling to
the maids, "I can't think where they are," she said anxiously, as the
children passed her on their way out.  "Mrs. Minards, I know, has gone out
in the car which took father; she had some shopping to do, but she left
Laura and Ann in charge.  It is very wrong of them to leave the house like
this."

Paul went outside and shouted the girls' names at the top of his voice,
but he and Stella were bringing their last load before he saw them coming
in at the yard gate.  They had been down to the hind's cottage, gossiping
with his wife.

About nine o'clock Mrs. Minards came back in the car, driven by her
husband, and soon after all the household retired to bed.



CHAPTER XI.


A TEST OF BRAVERY.

It must have been three or four hours later that Paul heard what he
thought were mysterious noises and stealthy footsteps downstairs.
He had been lying restless and wakeful, haunted by a dread of he knew not
what, his mind continually dwelling on the runaway convicts out on the
moor, the clank of the iron as he had heard it that night sounding plainly
in his ears.  He remembered, too, how deserted the house had been when his
mother and Mike had come into it, and how easily any one could have
walked in, had he or she been so inclined.

Then in on his thoughts broke those sounds.  A dreadful certainty of harm
to come came to him, but he had plenty of pluck, and the memory of his
promise to his father was strong in his mind.  He got out of bed softly
and opened his door; then he crept to his mother's door and listened; no
sound came from there, and he hoped she was fast asleep, and Michael, too,
whose cot had been moved in there for the time.  Paul felt sincerely
thankful.  But though it was plain that the sounds had not come from
there, he was certain they came from somewhere within the house.
He crept softly along the passage and stood at the head of the stairs
listening.  At first all was quiet, but just as he was thinking of
creeping back to his bed again, telling himself he had made a mistake,
there came from below a faint sound of scraping, and of stealthy
movements.  At the sounds, so unmistakably those of a person bent on
concealment, his heart thumped madly, a cold sweat broke out on his brow;
his heart indeed thumped so loudly he was afraid it would be heard by the
person below, but he went bravely down a few steps further and listened
again.  Yes, there was no doubt there was someone down there.

What could he, a small boy, do against a desperate man?  Farmer Minards
slept on the other side of the house, and his room could only be reached
by a flight of stairs running up from the kitchen.  To get at him Paul
must go right down, and through the house, close to, if not actually
passing by the burglar, or whoever it might be who was acting so
stealthily.  But Farmer Minards must be roused somehow.  This was the one
thing Paul was certain of.  Without making a sound he crept down another
stair or two.  Whoever it was down below, he had a light, for Paul could
see a faint glimmer, and it came, he imagined, from the little room the
farmer called his 'office.'

Scarcely knowing to what his thoughts led, Paul thought he might possibly
creep down and pass the office unnoticed, then fly softly through the
kitchen and up to the farmer's room.  All chance of success would depend,
though, on the man not being near the office door, or facing that way.
But before his thoughts were really formed Paul had put them into action.
He was too much alarmed and too full of the responsibility of his position
to dawdle.  Suppose any harm should come to his mother or the children!
He grew sick with terror at the thought, and flew on faster.

There was only a faint swish in the air to indicate that anyone had moved,
a sound so faint that the thief in the office did not hear it.  He was
busily engaged on the lock of the farmer's safe.

The kitchen reached, Paul flew up the back stairs, and burst like a
hurricane into the first room he came to.  Luckily it was the right one.
It took him some time to rouse the old farmer and to make him understand
what was happening, and when that was accomplished nothing would satisfy
him but that he must dress as fully as on every other morning, and then
rouse the household in that part of the house.

Paul quivered with impatience.  "Quick! quick!" he groaned.  "He may go up
and murder mother or Stella while we are here."  But the farmer had never
been quick in his life, and did not know the meaning of the word.

"Plenty of time," he said, and Paul groaned with anguish.  "Plenty of
time, sir.  That there lock'll keep un quiet for a brave bit, and I ain't
going to trust myself in that place without plenty to back me up."

"I must go back alone, then," said Paul at last, in an agony of
impatience; "I promised father I'd take care of them."  And he began to
descend the stairs, hoping by his departure to accelerate the movements of
the others.  But his hope was a forlorn one, and he went back by himself,
in spite of the farmer's repeated injunctions to "wait a bit."

He hoped by being equally swift and silent to escape the notice of the
thief again, but the man was no longer in the office.  Whether he had
succeeded in robbing the safe or not Paul did not know, but he soon
gathered that he had gone upstairs; in fact, as Paul himself reached the
landing, he heard him raise the latch of Stella's door and creep into the
room.

"Who are you--what do you want?" gasped Paul.  He was rendered well-nigh
speechless at coming suddenly face to face with the burglar.

The man turned on him like a hunted animal at bay.  "If you make a sound
I'll shoot you!" he snarled, and with the same he whipped a revolver from
his pocket.  "If you'll hold your tongue and say nothing no harm'll come
to anybody, but if you give the alarm I'll--"

But he did not complete his sentence, for their voices had wakened Stella,
and at the sight of the stranger she started up in bed with a scream.

Frantic and desperate, the man turned from Paul to her.  "Stop that noise,
will you?" he hissed, "or I'll--"  But at that moment Paul rushed past
him, sprang on the bed, and placed his own body in front of his sister's.
"No, you don't," he half sobbed, half screamed, "you--you coward, you'll
hit me first!"

It is doubtful if the man would have fired at little Stella; probably he
meant only to frighten the children, but at that instant he heard the
sound of footsteps on the stairs, and with a frenzied look around him for
a means of escape, he saw the doorway filled by the burly form of Farmer
Minards.

Now Farmer Minards was not accustomed to the capturing of desperate men.
A better man with a kicking horse, or a savage bull, could not perhaps, be
found on Dartmoor, and if the convict had stood and allowed himself to be
pinioned with only a moderate amount of struggling and kicking, the
farmer's presence of mind would have been sufficient, but, as it was, when
the man made one bold rush, with pistol cocked, for the very spot where he
stood, he gave way before the rush; but for an instant there was a
struggle and a fight, for Muggridge and the man who slept at the farm were
close behind the farmer, little expecting their master to give way so
soon, and leave them to grapple with their visitor, and it may have been
that he intended to shoot down one of them, or that in the struggle the
pistol accidentally went off, but in another second a bullet whistled
through the air, and, passing clean through the fleshy part of Paul's arm,
became embedded in the wall behind.

Certain it is that if Paul had not dragged his sister flat down behind him
on the bed poor Stella's life would have been ended then and there.
But Paul had expiated his sin nobly, and he had nearly laid down his life
for hers.  Stella really thought he had laid it down in very truth when he
fell forward on his face with blood pouring from him, and, overcome with
grief and horror, she fainted dead away beside him.

Farmer Minards saw the children fall, and he, too, thought Paul was
killed.  In fact, for the moment he thought they both were, and with the
horror of it, forgetting the convict and everything else, he rushed to the
bedside, leaving Muggridge and Davey to manage as best they could.
But the convict had the best of it, and the two had never a chance to
close with him.  By the force and unexpectedness with which he came he
burst through them, and dealing Davey a blow on the head with his pistol,
and Muggridge one in the face with his fist, which left them both stunned
and bleeding, he flew down the stairs and out of the house by the very
window through which he had entered.

When Stella and Paul at last awoke again to life, and to a recollection of
what had taken place, it seemed to be everybody's aim to banish from their
minds the painful past, and the memory of that terrible night, and to fill
their lives with everything that could brighten and cheer them and help
them to forget.  Paul was quite a hero in all their eyes; to Stella he
seemed the very ideal of all that was splendid and brave, and to Paul's
credit it must be said that the opinion he had of himself was far lower
and more contemptuous than he deserved, and he would not listen to one
word of praise.



CHAPTER XII.


STELLA'S ADVENTURE.

Naturally, one of the first inquiries of the children on recovering was as
to whether their assailant had been captured, and Mrs. Anketell was
greatly troubled, fearing it would make them nervous of the place if they
knew he was still at large, and she longed to be able to assure them that
the man was safely under lock and key again.  Another thing she feared was
that the children would be too terrified to stay in the neighbourhood,
and would wish to be taken home.  But when by-and-by an immediate return
home was suggested to them they pleaded so hard--to her great relief--to
be allowed to stay, that she gladly fell in with their wishes, being
anxious to leave with a happier impression of the place than that given by
the fright, almost tragedy, they had just sustained.

So they stayed on.  Stella soon grew bright and rosy again when she saw
that Paul was not dangerously hurt, and with the happy knack which
healthy, plucky children, have, she soon threw off any dread she might
have of going out and about, and with 'Watch' (the dog Farmer Minards gave
the children to be their own special protector) at their heels, she and
Michael wandered about, within reach of home, as happily as if no such
person as a convict existed.

Paul, of course, did not recover so quickly; he had to be quiet until his
wound had healed, and Stella and Michael missed him very much in all their
games and walks, so much so indeed that Mr. Anketell, who had been sent
for at once, took to planning little excursions to various picturesque
spots in the neighbourhood, where they would have tea in a cottage, or in
a cottage garden, and drive home in the cool of the evening.

One day, soon after the accident, while Paul was still too weak to get
about, Mr. Anketell suggested that they should drive that afternoon to a
village called Windycross, walk on a mile to the little town which was
their nearest shopping-place, and come back to Windycross to tea.
Stella was delighted.  For days she had been longing to buy a little
present for Paul, but did not know how to manage it; here was her
opportunity, and with her purse in her pocket, and heart full of
delightful importance, she clambered up into the carriage and drove off.

It was a lovely day, and the children were in the highest spirits,
only saddened every now and again by the sight of the searchers still
scouring the country for the escaped man, and the fear that the poor
fellow might at any moment be caught, for, strange though it may seem,
all the children's sympathies were with him, and they longed to hear that
the search had been abandoned.

The drive to Windycross was a long one, but they reached there in good
time, and Michael and Stella stood looking about them full of interest at
the funny little low white cottages, while their father went into one and
ordered tea.  Then they strolled slowly on to the town, and Stella laid
out two of the five shillings she possessed on a book she knew Paul was
longing to possess.  Her pleasure and excitement over her purchase were
immense; she could not allow anyone else to carry it, and every now and
again she was filled with a longing to untie the string and look at her
treasure, to turn over the crisp new leaves, and glance at the pictures.
At last, when they reached the village, she could restrain herself no
longer.  They had got back earlier than they thought they would, and the
tea was not ready, so Mr. Anketell, who wanted to call on a friend near
by, thought he would go and do that while they were waiting, and take the
children with him.

But Stella wanted so much to undo her precious parcel and look at her book
that she pleaded to be left behind, and Mr. Anketell and Michael left her
at the cottage.  But she soon found that that did not suit her; there were
too many people about, and she was shy under the glances of so many eyes;
so she strolled into the garden, but that was close to the village street,
and a girl who was working there dropped her work to stare at the
stranger.

Stella began to feel quite cross, and she looked around to see if there
was no secluded spot in all that place.  Then her eye fell on the little
church hidden away amongst trees at the bottom of the village, and her
heart leaped.  She turned to the girl who was picking fruit and watching
her at the same time.  "I am going down to the churchyard to sit in the
shade," she said.  "I will be back again by the time tea is ready," and
before the girl could reply she had hurried away.

The top of the village seemed to be the favourite spot at Windycross for
the villagers to congregate; most of the houses were up there, too, while
the lower end where the church stood was as deserted as the other end was
sought after; to Stella's great joy she did not see a single person, and
as she clambered over the stone stile which led into it, and wandered
along the overgrown paths, she felt as though she was as safe from
intrusion as though she had been in the middle of the moor.  The fact was,
the yard had long ceased to be used as a burying-ground, and the church
itself was as nearly deserted by the present generation of villagers, for
a clergyman came only once a month to hold service there, and while the
old building gradually became a ruin, a flourishing chapel sprang up to
satisfy the needs of the neglected people.

But Stella knew and thought nothing of this; she was only bent on finding
a comfortable, secluded seat, where she sat and unwrapped her parcel.
She thought of Paul's surprise, and how pleased he would be, she dipped
into the pages here and there and read a few lines, admired the covers,
and enjoyed the delightful smell new books so often have, and at last,
half reluctantly, she wrapped her treasure up in its paper again, trying
to make it look as neat as when the shopman had handed it to her.
That done she got up to explore further.  It was a weird, neglected spot
she had got into.  Numbers of tombstones lay about as they had fallen,
others were leaning over looking as though another gale would lay them
flat too.  The shrubs which had been planted on the graves had grown to be
great, unkempt bushes, spreading over many other graves than the one they
had been planted on; tiny saplings had become big trees, forcing out
tombstones and curbs, and everywhere the rank grass grew high up into the
bushes.  But greatest of all dilapidations was that of the church itself;
many of the windows had been broken, and were left unrepaired; here and
there a great piece of stonework had fallen away; the outer gates of the
porch hung loose on one hinge.  Stella entered the porch and sat for a
moment on one of the stone benches.

Then, scarcely knowing why she did it, she raised the latch of the church
door.  To her great surprise the door opened, and without a thought she
entered.  She had never been in so tumbledown and neglected a place in her
life; the pew-doors were either hanging or gone altogether, some of the
pews were too rotten to use, the plaster and paint hung off in scales, and
a large hole in the roof showed that the risk of attending service there
was no slight one.

But Stella did not heed the danger; she was too much charmed to find
herself alone and exploring.  A sense of importance filled her, and a good
deal of curiosity.  She looked at the names in some of the mouldy hymn
books lying in the pews, and mounted the pulpit to see how the church
looked from there.  Then she went into the vestry, and coming out of it
she found herself at the entrance to a low dark place which she thought
must be a family vault.  It was so low and dark she could at first see
nothing within, and instinctively she drew herself up sharply on the
threshold, doubtful, but of what she did not know.  But, somehow, she did
not like to enter, a sudden nervousness came over her, a desire to get
away from the place and be out in the open again.

And then, with a terrified scream, she saw close to her, gleaming out of
the darkness, a wild looking, savage face; two eyes full of desperation,
and hunger, and despair, were fixed on hers; and in another moment she
recognised the hiding convict.  The fear in his face lightened when he
found that the footsteps he had listened to for what seemed so long were
only those of a little girl.

"Are you alone?" he asked, in a low, gruff voice.

With the shock, and the fright, and her fear of the man, a sudden panic
seized Stella; she could not answer, and with another terrified cry she
turned and ran.  But she did not know her way, and in her hurry she
tripped over a step, and before she could recover herself the man was at
her side.  But instead of killing her, as she really thought he would, he
lifted her up, not roughly, and put her on her feet, then picked up her
parcel and after carefully feeling it, handed it to her, though he kept a
tight grip of her hand.

"Missy," he said in a low voice, so hoarse she could hardly make out what
he said--"Missy, I ain't goin' to hurt you.  I give 'ee my word I won't
harm you if you'll only promise not to breathe a word about my being
here."

A sound outside, probably only a bird fluttering in the ivy, made him
start nervously, and Stella saw that he shook, and that the perspiration
stood out on his face.  He drew her quickly back to the entrance to the
vault.  "Swear you won't ever breathe a word to anybody that you have seen
me.  Swear it!  Do you hear?"

He looked so ferocious, that Stella began to cry.  "I won't tell, of
course not," she said, earnestly.  "I am not a sneak, and we wanted you to
escape; we all hoped you were far away by this time.  Paul and I thought
you must be."

He gave a sort of snarl.  "There's no getting away from this place, unless
anybody's got friends outside to help 'em.  They are too sharp, and there
are too many of 'em.  But I've gone free longer than any before me, and
that's something.  Who is Paul?" he asked suddenly.  "And where do you
live?"

"We live at Moor Farm.  Paul is my brother, the one you shot."

The man looked at her sharply,  "Did I--did I hurt him much?"

"The bullet went through his arm.  He didn't die."

"I'm glad of that," said the man, and he spoke as though he really meant
it.  "I'm starving," he said a second later.  "I haven't had a mouthful
since the day before yesterday, and I can't hold out much longer.
Have you got any food about you?"

Stella shook her head.  "No, I haven't.  I am so sorry," she said
wistfully, and the man's hard face grew soft as her blue eyes looked
pityingly up at him.  "I _wish_ I could help you," she said earnestly;
then with sudden recollection, "I have three shillings, if that would be
of any use to you."

"Thank you, Missy, it might be," he said gratefully; "but I wish you'd got
a bit of bread."

She took out her little purse, and counted out the money into his rough
hand.  "Thank you, Missy," he said again.  "I shall never forget you, if I
gets away, or if I'm took I shall always be humbly grateful to you, and
think of you as one of the pluckiest little ladies that ever lived."

"Thank you," she said politely, "but I think I must be going now, or
someone may come to look for me."

The man's face again was filled with a desperate fear, and he shrank back
further into the gloom of the vault, "Before you go you must swear you
won't give me away.  Swear!--do you hear, on your solemn oath!"

"I don't know how to swear," said Stella simply, "but I promise solemnly
not to tell anyone who would do you any harm."

"That won't do.  You must not tell anyone at all, unless you hear I'm--
took--or killed," with a bitter laugh.

"Very well," said Stella.  "I don't like keeping it from mother, but I
_will_ keep the secret, for your sake.  I hope you will soon get some
food.  Good-bye," and she held out her hand to shake hands with him.

The man took it, but did not speak, and Stella, drawing her hand away, ran
down the aisle and through the church as fast as she could.  Not until she
was outside did she realise how her limbs were trembling, and she wondered
how she should ever get back to the cottage and escape notice and
questioning.  But in her great desire to shield the man she made such
efforts to laugh and talk and be like her usual self, and Michael had so
much to say too, that nothing unusual was observed in her look or manner.
And if, during the next few days, any of them thought her unusually quiet
and thoughtful, it was all put down to the shock the burglar had given her
that night, no one dreaming that she had had a long and solitary interview
with that same desperate creature, and had come out of it unhurt.

But only for a week did her silence last, for at the end of that time the
poor, wretched convict was captured, miles from Windycross, just as he was
making his way to a train which would have borne him, probably, to safety.
As usual, all sympathy was with the captured man, but to Stella his arrest
was a real and lasting grief, and when amidst many bitter tears she told
the story of her adventure at Windycross, her one hope was that he did not
think she was in any way concerned in his capture.



CHAPTER XIII.


PAUL CONFESSES.

But though Stella recovered so well, and so much more quickly than they
had dared to hope, from the shock she had received that night, Paul
remained ill and low in spirits and in strength.  Of course at first he
was very weak from loss of blood and shock, and no one wondered; but, as
time went on, and in spite of all that was done for him, he did not pick
op health as they expected him to.  They fed him, and physicked him, and
tried to cheer him, but nothing seemed to do him any good, until at last
the doctor, the same who had pulled him out of the morass, and carried
Stella home, began to be puzzled about him.  "Has he anything on his mind
that can be troubling him?" he asked Mr. Anketell, one day.  "Something is
keeping him back; he is spiritless and depressed.  It must be his mind;
his body is sound enough, and the wound is healing nicely.  I wonder if he
has been up to any other escapade, and is uneasy about it?  It is probably
quite a trifling thing, but I feel sure something is preying on the boy's
mind."

After the doctor had gone, Mr. Anketell wandered about the moor, thinking
deeply.  The doctor's words had impressed him very much, and even while he
had been speaking the memory of the sleep-walking night, and Paul's odd
behaviour of the day previous to that, came back to him.  Could Paul have
deceived them all as to the events of that night?  Had something happened
then which he had not liked to confess?

He went slowly back to the farm, his heart heavy, his face stern.
But before he sought his son, he went to his own room, and prayed to God
to help him in his guidance of this boy of his.

Paul was alone, lying on a couch in his own room, to which he had been
carried after he had been shot.  The sun had set, and a soft twilight was
filling the room, but the light which still came in at the window fell
full on Paul.  Mr. Anketell, entering softly, saw the expression on the
boy's face, the look in his eyes, and his heart ached, and all his
sternness vanished.  "My boy," he said, oh, so tenderly, "tell me what it
is that is troubling you; tell me all about it, I know there is something.
Can't you bring yourself to trust me not to be hard on you?"

No one knew what transpired at that meeting.  No one but Mrs. Anketell in
fact ever knew it had taken place.  It was to remain for ever a confidence
between them, and it was a confidence which bound father and son more
closely together all their lives after.  They had a long, long talk; much
was confessed, much help given, much strength and courage.  Paul never
forgot that evening and that talk in the twilight, or his first
realisation of the greatness of his father's love for him.  No shyness, no
self-consciousness was left, no fear of meeting his father's eyes, no more
secrets lay between them.  To Paul, though he but dimly realised it then,
and could not have explained it, that hour was a turning-point in his
life, and in all his after-life he thanked God for that one evening's
talk.  But after the confession and the forgiveness was over, and all had
been told, they sat so long talking that presently the supper-bell rang,
and then came a light, slow step upon the stair.  It was Stella's, they
knew.  "Will you tell her?" whispered Paul, and though his heart was sore
with shame he did not falter.

"No," whispered back his father.  "I shall tell no one.  I want the
children to feel nothing but affection and respect for you, to look up to
you.  Nothing must smirch Stella's beautiful love for you, Paul.
It is something you cannot prize too highly, and will some day know the
true value of."

"I will try not to let anything," said Paul gravely, and there came a tap
at the door.  "Is daddy here?" asked Stella's voice, and then, opening the
door, "Oh, you are in the dark.  Poor Paul, weren't you frightened?"

"Oh, no," said Paul simply, "father is here."

And then a happy little procession went down the stairs to supper--Paul in
his father's arms, Stella running in front to open doors.  Exclamations of
joy greeted them as they appeared, for this was Paul's first appearance
below stairs.  And his mother, who at the first glance saw that it was her
old, happy Paul who had come back to them, and that all the shadow which
had come between them had been cleared away, felt happier than she had for
many a long day.  For one wilful mischievous boy can not only make himself
thoroughly unhappy, but everyone about him becomes unhappy too.

A week or two later they left Moor Farm for home, their holiday ended.

"Well," said Mr. Anketell, drawing a deep breath as he took his seat
beside them in the train, "it seems to me we lost nothing in the way of
excitement by not going to Norway.  Dartmoor was able to give us as much
as we could manage with."

"I have never regretted the change," said Mrs. Anketell heartily,
"have you children?"

"Oh, no," cried Michael, excitedly.  "We had adventures all the time, and
shooting, and everything."

"Yes," said Paul, laughing ruefully, "and I provided most of them."





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