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Title: Highway Pirates - or, The Secret Place at Coverthorne
Author: Avery, Harold, 1867-1943
Language: English
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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 "Highway Pirates - or, The Secret Place at Coverthorne" ***

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[Frontispiece: For half a minute or so it rocked and swayed against the
sky-line.]



HIGHWAY PIRATES

OR, THE SECRET PLACE AT COVERTHORNE


By

HAROLD AVERY



THOMAS NELSON AND SONS, LTD.

LONDON, EDINBURGH, AND NEW YORK

1920



CONTENTS.


     I.  A Day of Trouble
    II.  The Knocking on the Wall
   III.  Men in Hiding
    IV.  The Singing Ghost
     V.  Nicholas Coverthorne Shows his Hand
    VI.  A Mad Prank
   VII.  Tried and Sentenced
  VIII.  My Journey Begins
    IX.  The Rising
     X.  Highway Pirates
    XI.  The Last of the "True Blue"
   XII.  Within the Cavern
  XIII.  The Brandy Kegs
   XIV.  Abandoned
    XV.  In Desperate Straits
   XVI.  The Subterranean Tunnel
  XVII.  Daylight at Last
 XVIII.  A Further Find
   XIX.  Brought to Bay



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


For half a minute or so it rocked and swayed against
  the sky-line . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ._Frontispiece_

There was a funny twinkle in his eyes as he spoke

Deserted



HIGHWAY PIRATES.


CHAPTER I.

A DAY OF TROUBLE.

"They've seen us!  Run for it!"

My chosen friend, Miles Coverthorne, was the speaker.  He sprang to his
feet as he uttered the words, and darted like a rabbit into the bushes,
I myself following hard at his heels.  The seasons seem to have come
earlier in those days, and though May was not out, the woods and
countryside appeared clothed with all the richness of leafy June.

At headlong speed we dashed through the underwood, stung by hazel
switches which struck us across the face like whips, and staggering as
our feet caught in thick tufts of grass.

"Who is it--keepers?" I inquired.

"No; 'Eagles'!" was the quick reply.

If anything had been needed to quicken my pace, this last word would
have served the purpose.  We both rushed wildly onward, as though our
very lives were at stake.

It may be guessed that Miles did not mean to imply that a number of
real eagles were swooping down upon us with the intention of bearing us
away to some rocky crags, there to form an appetizing repast for their
young; the word had, in this case, a special meaning, to explain which
a slight digression will be necessary.

Many things have altered since the year 1830, and in no direction are
greater changes manifested than in the schools and school life of that
period compared with those of the present day.  What the modern boy at
Hobworth's School (so called after its worthy founder) would think of
the place if suddenly transferred back to the days when I went there as
a boarder, I cannot imagine.  Whole chapters might be devoted to a
comparison of the past with the present, but for the purposes of our
story only one point need be considered, and that is the great
difference in the style and character of recreation out of school hours.

Though organized games, such as cricket, no doubt existed in the big
public schools, they were unknown at Hobworth's.  Such sports as
prisoner's base, marbles, and an elaborate form of leap-frog called--if
I remember rightly--"fly-the-garter," we certainly indulged in; but, as
might be expected, such amusements did not always satisfy the bolder
spirits--the result being that these found vent for their adventurous
inclinations in various expeditions, which more than once landed them
in serious trouble with farmers and gamekeepers.

I cannot say that there was any vicious intention in these raids and
forays.  It was perhaps difficult for us boys to see the justice of
certain men claiming all the birds' eggs, squirrels, or hazel-nuts in
the neighbourhood, especially as these things were of no value to their
avowed owners.  Again, if pheasants were disturbed, or fences broken,
or perhaps a rabbit knocked over for the joy of subsequently cooking it
surreptitiously in a coffee-pot, it was, after all, a very small
matter, and not worth making a fuss about.  So, at least, the youngster
of that period would have argued.

Those were not happy times for the small and weak.  Brute force was far
too highly esteemed, and the champion fighter of a school was thought
as much or even more of than the leading cricket or football player is
to-day.  It was an unpardonable sin for a small boy to sneak, but the
cruelty and oppression of the more evil-minded of his elders was hardly
deemed worthy of censure.  Out of school hours very little notice was
taken by masters of how their pupils employed their time, and as long
as the latter refrained from bringing the place about their ears with
any acts of particularly flagrant mischief, they were left pretty much
to their own devices.

Partly for mutual protection against the violence of their fellows, and
partly in pursuit of the questionable forms of recreation already
referred to, the boys had formed themselves into a number of "tribes,"
each under the leadership of some heavy-fisted chieftain to whom they
swore allegiance, at the same time sharing all their worldly
possessions with the other members of the band.

In course of time these various small communities became gradually
absorbed into two large rival bands known as the "Foxes" and the
"Eagles," the peculiarity of name being due to an exciting story of
adventure among the Indians which had been going the round of the
school; for books of that kind were, in those days, a rare and
highly-prized possession.

Skirmishes between parties of the two tribes were of frequent
occurrence, and expeditions with various objects, and not unfrequently
exciting endings, were indulged in almost every half-holiday afternoon.
Miles and myself were numbered among the "Foxes," while at the head of
the "Eagles" was a notorious bully named Ben Liddle, who possessed all
the nature and none of the nobility of the actual savage.  This leader
had lately laid claim to all the woods and country on the north side of
the road which passed the school, as the hunting-ground of the
"Eagles," and had thrown out dark hints of a terrible vengeance which
should be meted out to any luckless "Fox" who should be captured
encroaching on this preserve.

As this meant nothing less than calmly appropriating all the places
where any good sport could be obtained, the claim was naturally
resented by the "Foxes;" and though Kerry, our chief, had not as yet
made any public pronouncement on the subject, it was understood that
before long the matter would be discussed, probably in a grand pitched
battle between the tribes, when this and other causes of disagreement
would be settled once for all.

But even Ben Liddle's threats were not sufficient to keep enterprising
"Foxes" on the south side of the road.  Miles and I had already made
several expeditions into the forbidden territory, perhaps rather
enjoying the extra risk of capture by "Eagles," added to the chance of
being chased by keepers.  On this particular Saturday afternoon we had
penetrated into the depths of a favourite haunt named Patchley Wood.
The arms of an "Indian" at such times, I might explain, were a big
catapult, a pocketful of pebbles, and a short stick with a lump of lead
at the end, in shape somewhat resembling a life-preserver.  This
weapon--known to us as a "squaler"--was capable of being flung with
great force and precision.  With the whole of this outfit we were duly
provided.

We had been in the woods perhaps half an hour, and had lain down to
rest at the foot of a tree, when my companion's quick eye detected the
approach of the enemy, with the result that we immediately took flight
in the manner which has already been described.

At headlong speed we dashed off through the bushes, regardless of the
noise we made; for any hope we might hitherto have entertained of
escaping unobserved had been dispelled by the shout sent up by the
"Eagles" the moment we moved.  On we ran, the enemy following hard in
pursuit, crashing through the underwood, while Liddle's voice rang out
yelling directions to his followers, heedless of the risk he ran of
attracting the notice of the keepers.  If captured by the rival chief,
we knew we might expect no mercy; and though the pair of us were pretty
swift-footed, we felt that nothing short of a stroke of luck would save
us, for among the "braves" now in pursuit were some of the best runners
in the school.

To lessen still more our hope of escape, before us rose a gentle slope,
on which the underwood grew so sparse and thin as to render it certain
that we should be seen by our pursuers as we breasted the rise.  We
laboured on up the hill, gasping for breath as we neared the top; then
a yell of triumph from behind, as our pursuers caught sight of us,
goaded us to pull ourselves together in one last effort to escape.

Plunging into the thickets, which now became again more dense, we had
not gone twenty yards when Miles caught his foot in a root, and came
down headlong.  He recovered himself immediately from the shock of the
fall, and attempted to scramble to his feet, but sank down again with a
smothered cry of pain.

"I'm done for," he said.  "I've twisted my ankle.  Go on; don't wait!"

Anxious as I was to outdistance the "Eagles," I had certainly no
thought of leaving Miles to their tender mercies, and glancing round I
saw, close at hand, the trunk of a large tree which had recently been
felled, together with a large heap of branches which had been lopped
off by the woodcutters.  Though a very poor one, it was our only
chance; so, half carrying Miles, I got him to the spot.  We flung
ourselves down in a little vacant space between the trunk and the pile
of wood, and at the same moment heard Liddle and the foremost of his
band gain the summit of the slope, and come bursting through the bushes.

Possibly if we had had a better start, the "Eagles" might have searched
for and found us; as it was, they never thought we should pull up with
them so close at our heels, and the wood pile was such a poor place of
concealment that it did not seem to attract their attention or arouse
their suspicion.  They rushed on, whooping as they went; and those
following behind, no doubt thinking that their comrades in front had us
in view, paid no heed to anything but the headlong chase.  Thus it came
about that, much to our surprise, as we lay panting on the ground we
had the satisfaction of hearing the last of our pursuers go racing
past, leaving us unmolested to recover our wind and make off in another
direction.

"I thought my ankle was broken," muttered Miles, "but it's only a sharp
twist.  I think I can hobble along; and we'd better get out of this as
soon as we can, for they may find they've overrun us, and turn back."

We paused for a moment to get our bearings.

"The road must be close here," I remarked.  "Once across it we shall be
in our own territory, and can easily escape."

Taking the lead, and with my companion hobbling along in the rear, I
headed for the edge of the wood.  Fortune seemed to be favouring us,
for we found a gap in the hedge through which Miles was able to
scramble in spite of his disabled foot.  I followed with a jump, and we
were just congratulating ourselves on having outwitted the hostile
"tribe," when a long-drawn yell, which we at once recognized as their
war-cry, caused us to turn our heads.  Away down the road stood a
solitary "brave," who had evidently been sent there by Liddle to give
warning if we should break out of the wood.  The yell was immediately
answered by others, and a moment later several of our foes came
bursting through the hedge, though at a spot some distance beyond the
post occupied by their scout.

Escape seemed out of the question.  It was impossible for Miles, with
his wrenched ankle, to scramble over ditches and hedges, and we had no
choice but to keep on the road.  In despair we turned and ran towards
the school, Coverthorne hobbling and hopping along as best he could,
with clenched teeth and subdued groans.  Then suddenly, as we turned a
corner, we came face to face with a gentleman on horseback, who on
seeing us abruptly reined in his steed.

My first fearful thought was that this must be Squire Eastman, the
owner of the woods in which we had been trespassing; but a second
glance showed me that I was mistaken, and at the same time I heard
Miles exclaim,--

"Hullo, young man!" remarked the horseman; "you seem in a hurry.
What's the matter?  Late for school?"

"No, thank you, uncle," gasped the boy; "it's only--only a game."

Mr. Nicholas Coverthorne was a hard-featured man, with cold gray eyes
and a rather harsh voice.  He rode a big black horse, and seemed to
control the animal with a wrist of iron.  Something in his manner and
appearance caused me to take an instinctive dislike to him, though at
the time of this our first meeting I certainly had reason to feel
grateful for his opportune appearance, which was undoubtedly the means
of delivering us out of the hands of our enemies.  As the leading
"braves" turned the corner, they promptly wheeled about and fled back
the way they had come, shouting out to their comrades that we had been
caught by the squire, at which intelligence the band quickly dispersed
over the fields, and made their way back to the school by different
routes.

A few more sentences passed between uncle and nephew, and though not
any more observant of such things than most boys, it struck me at once
that the relationship between them did not appear to be very cordial.
Mr. Coverthorne explained that he had been over to see a neighbouring
farmer about the sale of a horse.

"I'm going to stay with a friend at Round Green to-night," he said.
"It's rather too far to get here from home and back in the same day,
though I daresay Nimrod would take me all the way if I let him."

The speaker laughed in a mirthless manner, and after a few more
questions as to how his nephew was getting on at school, and when the
holidays began, wished us good-bye, and, with a parting nod, went on
his way.

Miles seemed glad to get the interview ended, and turned to me with
what seemed almost a sigh of relief as the horseman disappeared round
the bend in the road.

"Come on," he said.  "The 'Eagles' may be hiding somewhere, and rush
out as soon as the horse has passed them.  That was my uncle Nicholas,"
he continued, as he hobbled along.  "I don't think I ever told you
about him.  He's my father's only brother, but they quarrelled some
years ago, and now they never meet or speak."

"Why was that?" I asked.

"Oh, it was about the property.  My grandfather left Coverthorne and
almost all the land to my father, and Uncle Nicholas had only a small
farm called Stonebank; but before that he'd had a lot of money to
enable him to start in business, and he lost it all in speculation.  He
said at my grandfather's death that the property and land ought to have
been divided, but my father told him he had already had his share in
money."

"Your people have lived at Coverthorne an awful time, haven't they?" I
asked.

"Oh yes.  It's a dear old house, with low rooms and big latticed
windows with stone mullions, and a broad oak staircase.  There's an old
sundial in the garden which was put there in Queen Elizabeth's reign;
and what's more, the house has a secret place which nobody can find."

"A secret place! what's that?" I inquired, pricking up my ears.

"Why, it's a little secret chamber or hiding-place which has been made
somewhere in the building years and years ago, when there might be
chances of people having to be concealed to save their lives.  There is
a rule in our family, handed down from one generation to another, that
the whereabouts of the secret place must only be known to the owner of
the house, and be told by him to the heir when he is twenty-one."

"Then you yourself don't know where it is?"

"No; my father will tell me when I come of age.  Of course if he were
dying, or were going on a long journey from which he might never
return, or anything of that kind were to happen, he would tell me at
once, else the secret might be lost for ever."

"Is it big enough for a man to get into?"

"Oh yes--big enough for two people to stand in, so father says."

"Then surely it must be easy to find.  I can't see how it's possible
for there to be a little room in a house without people knowing it is
there.  I believe I could find it for you if you gave me the chance."

Miles laughed.

"You'd better come over and try," he answered.  "Now, that's a good
idea.  You must come and stay with me for part of the summer holidays,
and we'll have heaps of fun.  It would be jolly to have you, for I
often find it dull with no cousins or friends of my own age."

The proposal struck me as most delightful.  During the last few moments
I had been picturing up the ancient house, with its old-world
associations and romantic hidden chamber, and comparing it, in my mind,
with the prosaic red-brick building in which my own parents lived.
Moreover, Coverthorne, I knew, was situated on the sea-coast, and only
about a quarter of a mile from the summit of the rugged cliffs.  I had
often listened with envy to my friend's tales of wrecks and smugglers,
and longed to have an opportunity of wandering over the wide headlands,
climbing the rocks and exploring the caves.  Now the prospect of such
treats being actually in store made me feel quite a thrill of
delightful anticipation.

I had not finished thanking Miles and telling him how much I should
like to come, when we reached the school.  Passing through a side door
we entered the playground, and were almost immediately surrounded by a
crowd of "Foxes," who had somehow got wind of our escape from the
"Eagles," and were eager to have a detailed account of the adventure.

Telling our story, and receiving the congratulations of the other
members of our "tribe," so much occupied our attention that we hardly
noticed the sound of a horse galloping down the road and stopping in
front of the schoolhouse; but a few moments later Sparrow, the porter,
crossed the playground and, addressing Miles, told him he was wanted at
once by Dr. Bagley.

A message of that kind from the headmaster usually meant that there was
trouble in the wind.

"Hullo!" exclaimed a boy named Seaton, "what's the row, I wonder?
He'll want you next, Eden.  You must have been seen in the woods, and
the squire has sent some one over to complain."

Reluctantly Miles followed the porter.  In no very enviable frame of
mind I waited, expecting every minute to be ordered to appear before
the doctor in his study.  Still no such message came, nor did Miles
return to inform us of his fate.  We heard the horseman ride away
again, but the height of the playground wall prevented our seeing
whether he really were one of the men-servants from the Hall.  A little
later Liddle returned with a band of his "braves;" but the "Foxes"
being also present in force, he could only shake his fist at me, and
repeat his former threats of what he would do if he caught us on the
hunting-ground of the "Eagles."  At length the bell rang, and we moved
towards the house.

Hardly had I entered the door when I met Sparrow.

"Have you heard the news, Master Eden?" he exclaimed.
"Dreadful--dreadful!  Poor Master Coverthorne!  His father's been
shot--mortally wounded--and is most probably dead by this time.  It's a
great question if the young gentleman will ever see him alive."

"What!" I cried--"Mr. Coverthorne shot!  How did it happen?"

"It's true enough," answered Sparrow.  "I had it all from the messenger
himself.  Mr. Coverthorne was out shooting with a party, and a
gen'leman's gun went off by accident as he was climbing a hedge.  Mr.
Coverthorne was shot in the breast.  They got a trap, and took him to
the Crown at Welmington, and sent for a surgeon.  He wanted particular
to see his son, so one of the postboys rode over; but it's hardly
likely the young gentleman will get there in time."

"What a dreadful thing!" I muttered.  "Poor Miles!  I wish I could have
seen him before he went."

The news of this terrible blow which had so suddenly fallen on my
companion shocked me almost as much as if the trouble had been my own.
When adventuring together into the woods that afternoon, how little he
imagined what the immediate future had in store!

I sat down with the rest in the long, bare dining-room, but had little
heart to eat; the thought of Miles being hurried along the country
road, not knowing whether he would find his father alive or dead,
weighed down my spirits.  If his father died, the only relative he
would have in the world, besides his widowed mother, would be his uncle
Nicholas; and remembering the latter's hard face and harsh voice, and
the story of the brothers' quarrel, my mind was filled with dark
forebodings for the future of my friend.



CHAPTER II.

THE KNOCKING ON THE WALL.

It was ten days before I saw Miles again; then he returned to school
for the last three weeks of the half.  Seeing him dressed in black, and
noticing the unaccustomed look of sadness on his usually cheerful face,
boylike I felt for a moment shy of meeting him; but with the first
hearty hand-grip all feeling of restraint vanished, and I was able to
give him the assurance of my sympathy and friendship.  Then it was that
I heard for the first time how he had arrived at Welmington too late to
see his father alive--a fact which must have added greatly to the
heaviness of the blow and the keenness of his grief.

Naturally, for the time, he had no heart to join in our usual
amusements; and his rough, though for the most part good natured,
schoolboy comrades showed their sympathy in allowing him to go his own
ways.  Just then "Foxes" and "Eagles" had buried the hatchet, owing to
the fact that a spell of hot weather had set in, and the members of
both "tribes" went amicably, nearly every day, to bathe in a
neighbouring stream.

The majority of the boarders were thus engaged one afternoon, and Miles
and I had the playground to ourselves.  We were sitting on a seat under
a shady tree, and something perhaps in the restful quiet of the place
encouraged my companion to unburden himself and take me into his
confidence.  I had noticed a troubled look on his face, and inquired
whether anything was weighing on his mind.

"Yes," he replied.  "Look here, Sylvester, old fellow, I'm sure there's
something wrong at home that I don't quite understand.  Mr. Denny, our
lawyer, has been there with my mother, and they haven't told me what is
the matter, but they seem to be afraid of something or somebody, and I
believe it's Uncle Nicholas."

"Why?  has he shown any signs of ill-will?"

"No; if anything, he's appeared more friendly than he has been since I
can remember.  He came over to Coverthorne the day after the funeral,
and said he was sorry that he and my father had quarrelled; that there
had probably been mistakes on both sides, but he was glad now to think
that all the misunderstanding had been cleared away before James's
death, and that they had mutually agreed the past should be forgiven
and forgotten.  My uncle must have noticed the surprised look on my
mother's face, as she knew of no such reconciliation; and he went on to
explain that he and my father had agreed not to make it public till
next Christmas Day, when they intended to dine together.  'There's
another matter which was to have been mentioned then,' he went on.  'I
won't broach the subject now.  After the terrible shock, you aren't in
a fit state to be bothered with business.  We'll leave it for a few
weeks.'"

"I must say I didn't like the look of that man when I saw him," I
muttered; "his face seemed hard and cruel."

"My mother mistrusts him too, and so does Mr. Denny.  I can tell that
by the way in which they speak about him."

For some moments Miles remained silent, scraping patterns in the gravel
with the heel of his boot.

"Look here.  You're an old friend whom I know I can trust, Sylvester,"
he exclaimed suddenly.  "I'm sure if I tell you what I think you won't
let it go any farther?"

I at once gave him the promise he desired.

"Soon after Uncle Nicholas's visit," he began, "Mr. Denny came to stay
with us for three days, spending most of his time going through my
father's papers.  My mother would be closeted with him for an hour at a
time.  I could hear their voices talking together in low tones as I
passed the door; and when they came out there was always a worried,
anxious look on their faces.  I had heard it mentioned that my father's
will and some other documents were missing; but hitherto Mr. Denny had
not treated the loss as a very serious thing, at all events as far as I
could gather.  I don't think I should have troubled my head any more
about the matter, but for what I am going to describe.  It was on the
last day of Mr. Denny's visit.  I had gone to bed rather early, as I
was tired, and had been asleep some hours, when I was awakened by a
sound like a muffled knocking.  I lay for a few minutes, thinking it
must have been my fancy; then the sound was repeated.  The thought
occurred to me at once that it must be some one who had come to the
house for some reason or other, and was knocking at the back door to
try and waken one of the servants.  I got up, leaned out of my window,
and called out, 'Who's there?'  No reply was given, nor could I see any
one in the yard.  Once more I thought my fancy had deceived me; then
_thump--thump--thump_!  it came again.  'It must be some one at the
front door,' I thought; so I threw a coat over my shoulders and went
out of my room, down a passage, and across the landing to a window that
looks out on the front of the house.  I opened it, and once more asked
who was there, but got no answer.

"The horses in the stables often make curious noises at night, but this
rapping was too regular to have been caused by them.  I walked slowly
back, and just as I reached the middle of the landing it came again,
_knock--knock--knock_!  I expect you'll think me a coward, but I must
own that a chill went all down my back.  People say that Coverthorne is
haunted, and this strange rapping in the middle of the night, long
after every one else had gone to bed, reminded me of all the stories I
had often heard the servants telling each other round the kitchen fire.
If you'll believe me, I was more than half inclined to bolt for my room
and stick my head under the bedclothes.  The sound came from somewhere
downstairs, and, as far as I could judge, from the direction of the
very room which is supposed to be particularly favoured by the ghost.
It was like some one rapping slowly and deliberately with his knuckles
on the panel of a door.  I stood irresolute and holding my breath; then
I heard something tinkle like metal falling on stone.  That seemed to
break the spell, and my heart beat fast.  I no longer feared a ghost,
but thought it must be robbers.  What I intended doing I hardly know,
but I think I must have had some vague idea of trying to slip across
the kitchen to the servants' quarters, and there rouse the men.  I went
slowly and carefully down the stairs, my bare feet making no sound.
The knocking was repeated.  I could tell now exactly from what part of
the house it came, and a strong desire seized me to get a sight of the
thieves and see what they were about.  Old houses like ours have all
kinds of funny twists and turns.  I crept along to one of these, and
peeped round the corner.  What I saw astonished me more than if I had
been confronted by a whole band of robbers.  I was looking down a long,
narrow passage, the walls of which are panelled with oak: at the
farther end stood my mother and Mr. Denny.  She was carrying a candle,
while he held in his hands a hammer and small chisel; the latter it was
which he must have dropped a few moments before, when I heard the chink
of its fall on the flagstones.  What they were doing I could not
imagine.  I saw Mr. Denny rap on the wall with the handle of the
hammer, at the same time turning his ear to listen, as though he almost
expected some one on the other side of the panelling to say 'Come in!'
Then it dawned on me in a moment that they were searching for the
secret place."

Miles paused as he said this, and I listened breathlessly for what was
coming next.

"Of course," continued my companion, "I guessed at once that my mother
and Mr. Denny were searching then, instead of in the daytime, because
they thought it best for the servants not to see and go gossiping in
the village.  As they evidently did not want me with them, I turned and
crept quietly back to bed again; but I couldn't help lying awake
listening for the tap of the hammer, and from that I knew they
continued searching most of the night.  Try as I would, I could not
rest till my curiosity was in some measure satisfied; so on the
following day, after Mr. Denny had gone back home, I told my mother
what I knew, and begged her to give me an explanation.  Even then she
wouldn't tell me plainly what was the matter.  She said Mr. Denny had
heard a rumour which made him uneasy about our future, and that he
wanted to find some letters and papers which he thought it possible my
father might have stowed away in the secret place.  She warned me to be
sure and not mention this to the servants, and, above all, to Uncle
Nicholas."

My companion's story reawakened all the former interest which I had
felt in the old house.  It seemed to me a place which must be abounding
in mystery, and almost as romantic as the enchanted castle of a fairy
tale.

"I _should_ like to help to search, and see if I couldn't find the
secret place," I blurted out.

"So you shall," answered Miles.  "It was understood that you were to
stay with me at Coverthorne." Then seeing that I hesitated, regretful
at having reminded him of a promise which had been made before the sad
circumstance of his father's death--"Oh yes," he added, "I'm quite
expecting you to come back with me.  Mother wishes it too, for she
thinks it will do me good to have some companion of my own age, to
cheer me up.  It will be fine," he went on, his face growing brighter
than I had seen it since his return to the school.  "We'll shoot
rabbits, and bathe, and go down to Rockymouth, and go fishing in one of
the boats.  There'll be heaps to do, if only we get fine weather."

All these projects were delightful to contemplate, but the thought of
searching for that mysterious hidden chamber was what still appealed
most strongly to my imagination.

"What a pity your father wasn't able to tell you the secret before you
came of age!" I remarked.

"I daresay he would have," answered Miles sadly, "if only I had arrived
in time to see him alive."

"Haven't you been able to find any clue that would help you in the
search?"

"No; the secret has been so well kept, and handed on from father to
son, that, outside our family, many people who have heard the story
think there is no such place."

"Has it ever been used for anything?"

"Not that I know of, except, I believe, years ago.  When there was the
scare of a French invasion, my grandfather, who was alive then, hid all
his silver and valuables there.  About a year ago my father went to
London, and Mr. Denny thinks it possible that before he started he
might have wanted to find a safe place for his papers, put them in the
secret chamber, and not troubled to take them out again when he came
back."


It seems to me that in my young days the prospect of breaking up and
going home for the holidays was a period which occasioned a greater
amount of rejoicing and excitement than it does among the younger
generation of the present time.  For one thing, the contrast between
school and home was greater then; and again, the half-year was longer
than the term, and the end of it the more eagerly awaited.  Now, my
grandchildren appear to be no sooner packed off to school than they are
back again.  In addition to all this, when that particular vacation
drew near, the prospect of returning home with Miles for a fortnight at
Coverthorne made me long all the more for the few remaining days to
pass; and when at length we flung our dog-eared school books into our
desks for the last time, and rushed out into the playground to give
vent to our feelings with three rousing cheers, I know I shouted till I
was hoarse.

Owing to the limited accommodation on the coaches, we had two actual
breaking-up days--half of the boys going home on the one and half on
the other, those whose progress in school work had been most
satisfactory being allowed to start first.

Miles and I had the good fortune to be numbered among the latter, and I
don't think I shall ever forget that bright summer morning when,
together with several more companions, we started to walk to the little
village of Round Green, through which the coach passed about nine
o'clock.  Our luggage had already preceded us in a cart, to be
transferred to the boot of the _Regulator_, the guard of which, George
Woodley by name, was a prime favourite with us boys.

Shutting my eyes for a moment, I can imagine myself standing again
outside the Sportsman Inn at Round Green, waiting with boyish eagerness
for the first distant note of the horn which--this being the end of a
stage--was sounded to give the hostlers warning to bring out the fresh
horses.  What music ever was so sweet on a bright summer morning as
that gay call, coupled with the brisk clattering of the hoofs, when it
sounded in the ears of a boy returning home from school?  How we held
our breath and strained our ears to listen for the approaching vehicle!
I could almost imagine I heard that far-off fanfare now, forgetful of
the fact that the gulf of a long life divides me from that time, that
the railway has long displaced the _Regulator_, and that coachman,
guard, and most of their young passengers know now a greater secret
than the one which, during the coming holidays, I hoped to fathom.



CHAPTER III.

MEN IN HIDING.

When in actual sight of the two things I had most longed to see, I can
hardly say which of them more strongly attracted my attention--the sea
glistening like a sheet of silver in the distance, or the old house
nestling down among the trees, with its mullioned windows, gray,
lichen-covered walls, and the funny little cupola surmounting the roof,
and containing the bell which was rung to summon the farm hands to
their meals.  The coach had put us down at a spot on the highroad known
as Tod's Corner, where an old servant had met us, and driven us the
rest of the way in a light trap which was just large enough to hold us
and our luggage.

Even at the first glance Coverthorne quite realized my expectations.
The house and farm buildings formed a quadrangle, while the windows of
the sitting-rooms looked out into a quiet, old walled garden, with
fruit-trees, box-edged paths, beds of old-fashioned flowers, and a big
mulberry tree, in the shade of which was a rustic seat.  Inside the
building was a large stone-flagged hall, in which, except on special
occasions, we had our meals.  The rooms were low and cool, the steps of
the staircase were shallow and broad, flanked with a ponderous
balustrade of dark oak, while panelling of the same material covered
the walls of the best rooms and some of the passages.  The whole place
seemed characteristic of a peaceful old age, and it was almost
impossible to think that within its walls anything could ever occur to
disturb its restful quiet with any jarring note of violence or fear.

Mrs. Coverthorne gave me a kindly welcome, though it was evident that
she had not yet recovered from the shock of her husband's death.  Her
quiet voice and motherly smile at once won my affections; but often,
when her face was in repose, it bore a sad and harassed expression
which did not escape my notice, and which brought back to my mind a
remembrance of the hints which Miles had given me at school, of some
trouble, in addition to his father's death, which overshadowed the
family.

We arrived early in the afternoon, and after a hearty meal, for which
the long ride in the fresh air had given us an appetite, we hurried out
of doors, to go the round of the place, and visit all Miles's favourite
haunts.  To the neighbouring pond and water-wheel, the orchard, the
stables and dog-kennels--to these and a score of other places my friend
rushed, eager to discover whether any changes had taken place; and
after he had satisfied his curiosity on these points, we went farther
afield, roaming over the estate, which on that side included all the
land between Coverthorne and the sea.  In those days, when people did
comparatively little travelling, the sight of the ocean was more of a
novelty to an inland-bred boy than it would be now; and standing on the
summit of a headland, listening to the surging of the waves against the
foot of the precipice over which we gazed, I caught my breath, thrilled
with a feeling which was almost one of awe.  Away to our left was the
little coast village of Rockymouth, and as we looked we could see a
tiny fishing-boat beating up against the wind to make the harbour,
while on either hand the formidable line of frowning cliffs stretched
away, headland beyond headland, till lost in the blue and hazy
distance.  To me the view was like a scene from some stirring romance,
and I drank it in, little thinking under what different circumstances I
should one day renew my acquaintance with that sea and shore.

So many things there were to occupy our attention during that first
afternoon and evening that, for the time being, our resolve to search
for the secret place was banished from our minds; but after we had
finished breakfast on the following morning, I reminded Miles of our
project.

"D'you want to begin at once?" he asked, smiling.

"Why not!" I returned; "it won't take us long."

"Won't it?" answered my companion.  "Don't you be so cocksure till
you've tried.--By the way," he continued, his face changing from gay to
grave, "we'd better not let my mother know what we're doing; it would
only revive unpleasant thoughts in her mind."

"Would she be vexed if she found out we were searching for the
hiding-place?" I asked.

"Oh no! it's the loss of the papers she troubles so much about."

It was easy to make an excuse for wandering about the house, and
together we examined every nook and corner, from the cold, gloomy
cellars to dark and stuffy holes in the roof.  More than once I thought
I had made some wonderful discovery when I came across mysterious
little doors in some of the bedrooms opening into dark cupboards or
closets in the wall; but Miles in every case damped my enthusiasm by
saying that these were already well known to the whole household.  I
must confess that in my own mind I had fondly imagined I should
discover the secret chamber without much difficulty, but soon I began
to realize that it was not such an easy task as I had expected, and at
the end of a couple of hours I came near to owning myself beaten.

"This is where I saw old Denny sounding the walls with the hammer,"
said Miles.  As my companion spoke, we were passing down the narrow
wainscoted passage which he had described to me at school.  I struck
the boarding myself once or twice with my knuckles as we moved along,
but produced no sound which might betoken the presence of a hollow
cavity behind the oak.  Arriving at length at an old square-panelled
doorway, we entered a room which I at once realized I had not been
inside before.  Save for a plain wooden chair and table, it was empty
and destitute of furniture.  There was nothing specially remarkable
about the place, yet the appearance of its interior seems so vividly
impressed on my mind, that I can see it now as though at this moment I
were once more crossing the threshold.

The apartment was evidently intended for a sort of morning room or
second parlour.  The walls were panelled with oak, and a carved
mantelpiece, of massive though not elaborate design, framed the wide,
open hearth.  There was a curious earthy smell about the place,
probably owing to the fact that it was never used; which seemed
strange, for it had a pleasant outlook into the garden.

"What a jolly room!" I exclaimed.  "Why isn't it used?"

Miles gave a short laugh.

"There's no need," he answered; "we've got enough without it."

We crossed the bare floor and sat down in the deep window-seat.  I
still went on talking, but, though I hardly noticed it at the time, my
companion grew quieter than before.  He returned absent-minded replies
to my questions, and seemed, from the position of his head, as though
he half expected to hear something in the passage or the garden.  We
may have sat like this for ten minutes or longer, when suddenly an
intent expression on Miles's face caused me to break off abruptly in
what I was saying.  Then, for the first time, I became aware of a
curious sound, faint and subdued, as though some one were humming with
the mouth closed.  At first it seemed far away; then it might have been
in the room, though in what part it was impossible to say.  I was
listening idly and with no particular wonder to the noise, when Miles
rose to his feet.

"Come on," he said abruptly.

For a moment I hesitated, not understanding this sudden move; then
seeing my friend already half-way across the room, I rose and followed.

"Where are you going?" I asked.

"Oh, anywhere," he answered, almost snappishly, and I wondered what
could have upset his temper.

A boy's thoughts turn quickly from one point to another, like a
weather-vane in a changing wind, and that afternoon our search for the
secret chamber was abandoned in favour of another form of amusement.
Miles had already learned to shoot, and promised to take me out with
him that evening in the hope that we might get a few rabbits.  I was,
of course, eager for the expedition, though my own part in it would be
the comparatively humble one of carrying the flasks for powder and
shot.  What a clumsy thing that old flintlock fowling-piece would
appear now beside the modern breechloader!  Yet how I envied my friend
its possession while I watched him cleaning it, as we sat in the
garden, sheltered from the hot sun by the thick foliage of the old
mulberry tree!

"There!" said Miles at length, as he threw aside the oiled rag and
brought the weapon to his shoulder; "with a charge well rammed home,
I'll warrant her to kill as far as any gun in the county!"

The heat of the day was past when we set out, and the landscape
appeared bathed in warm evening sunshine.  I wished that the "Foxes"
and "Eagles" could see us sallying forth armed with a real gun; and
when about two fields away from the house we halted to load and prime
the piece, I felt almost as though I were actually embarked on one of
the wild adventures of the hunter heroes of our Indian tales.

As far as actual sport went, we tramped a long way with very little
result.  We should see rabbits feeding out in the fields as we crept up
under the hedges, but before we got within range they would suddenly
prick up their ears and scamper back to their holes.

"The ground is so hard in this hot weather that they hear us coming,"
muttered Miles; but he managed to get a few shots, and, much to my
delight, killed two, which he handed to me to carry.

So we went on, walking across the open, or creeping cautiously along
under the shadow of hedges and bushes, until we reached the summit of
the cliffs, where we sat down to rest.

"How many ships can you see?" asked Miles.

"Two," I replied.

"I can make out a third!" he answered, pointing with his finger.  "My
eyes, I expect, are sharper than yours.  It's a great deal a matter of
practice.  You'd be surprised what keen sight some of the men have here
who've been sailors.  Old Lewis, for instance--he can tell a ship's
nationality when she appears only a speck on the horizon, and I believe
he can see almost as well in the dark as he can in the daylight.  He's
a curious old fellow.  Some afternoon we'll go out fishing with him in
his boat."

We sat looking out over the vast expanse of ocean till the sun sank
like a huge ball of fire below the horizon; then my companion rose once
more to his feet.

"It's time we went back to supper," he said, "or mother will be getting
anxious, and think we've met with an accident.  She's been very nervous
since father's death."

Crossing a stretch of common land, we found ourselves looking down on a
little sheltered valley, through which ran a tiny stream, winding its
way towards a little cove where I knew my friend often went to bathe.
Worn out, no doubt, in the course of ages by the water, this gully
narrowed down as it neared the sea, but where we stood it was some
little distance across, and the farther side was covered with quite a
thick copse of trees and bushes.

"I wish I'd brought the dog with me," said Miles.  "There is any
quantity of rabbits here.  Still, we may be able to get a shot.  If we
creep along till we reach that corner," he continued, as we entered the
fringe of the wood, "we may find some of them sitting out in the open."

Bending down, we moved forward in single file, avoiding any dry twigs
which might crack beneath our feet.  In this manner we had proceeded
some distance, when I was startled by a rustling in the bushes, and a
big brown dog went bounding across our path.

"You poaching rascal!" exclaimed Miles, and raised his gun to his
shoulder.  He was, I am sure, too kind-hearted to have actually shot
the dog; it was more of an angry gesture, or he might have intended to
send the charge a few yards behind the animal's tail to give it a
fright.  Anyway, before he could have had time to pull the trigger, to
my astonishment a man suddenly rose up close to us, as though out of
the ground.

"Don't shoot, Master Miles!" he cried.  "It be only old Joey, and he's
doing no harm."

The speaker was clad in a dilapidated hat, a blue jersey, and a pair of
old trousers stuffed into a fisherman's boots.  I set him down at once
as a poacher, and was astonished at the friendly tone in which he
addressed the owner of the property on which he was found trespassing.
I was still further surprised when Miles, instead of showing any signs
of resentment, merely turned and said in an almost jocular tone,--

"Hullo! what are you up to?  It's a mercy I didn't mistake you for a
fox or a rabbit, and put a charge of shot into your whiskers."

"Just out for an evening stroll, sir, and lay down to rest," replied
the man, whistling the dog to his side.  There was a funny twinkle in
his piercing gray eyes as he spoke, the meaning of which Miles seemed
to fathom, for his own face relaxed into a grin.

[Illustration: There was a funny twinkle in his eyes as he spoke.]

"Begging your pardon, sir," the fellow continued, "I don't think you're
likely to find any rabbits in this copse to-night.  They're all gone to
bed early, or perhaps old Joey may have frightened them."

For another moment Miles and the man stood looking into each other's
faces, and once more the meaning smile passed between them; then the
former uncocked his gun, and slung it over his shoulder.

"All right!" he answered.--"Come on, Sylvester; it's time we went back
to supper."

There was no hedge to the copse.  We stepped out from among the trees
and underwood, and had not gone far when the man came running after us.

"Master Miles," he said, "if ever you want to go a-fishing, you can
come down to Rockymouth and have the boat, sir; and if you'll give me a
call, I'll go with you."

I hardly heard what he said, for glancing into the wood, something
caught my eye which immediately riveted my attention.  Projecting from
behind a clump of bushes were a pair of heavy boots, and as I looked
one of them moved, which showed conclusively that they were not empty.
I waited till we had got some little distance beyond the copse, and
then seized my companion's arm.

"Miles," I whispered, "there's another man hiding in the wood."

"Is there?" he answered carelessly.  "Some friend of old Lewis, I
suppose."

"Is that the old sailor you were talking about?" I asked.  "What's he
doing in your wood at this time in the evening?  Lying down, too,
concealed among the bushes.  He must be poaching."

Miles only smiled, and shook his head.

"He's all right.  The chap wouldn't harm a stick of our property; in
fact, he'd just about murder any one who did."

Though more mystified than ever with this explanation, it was the only
one I could get, and we walked on talking of other matters until we
came within a field of the house.  The darkness had almost fallen by
this time, though back across the undulating country I could just see
the dark ridge where the tree tops rose above the side of the valley.

"I'm going to fire," said Miles; "it saves the bother of drawing the
charge."

The report of the piece rang out, and echoed over the quiet country,
and as though in answer to the sound there came out of the distance the
sharp bark of a dog.  It was evident that the man Lewis was still
enjoying his evening stroll in the wood.

"Master Joe's getting out of training, I fancy," muttered Miles, as
though speaking to himself.  "I say," he added aloud, "you needn't
mention anything to mother about our meeting those men in the wood.
They aren't up to any harm, but it might make her more nervous; she
gets frightened at anything now."

"But what are they doing?" I asked.  "Surely they can't be loitering
out there for fun?"

Miles laughed.

"It's fun of a sort," he answered.  "I'll tell you some day.  Now come
on in to supper."

It was one of those hot, still nights when it seems impossible to
sleep, and tired though I was with my long ramble in the open air, I
lay tossing from side to side, now and again dozing off into an uneasy
slumber, only to once more suddenly find myself broad awake.  At
length, feeling very thirsty, I got up and groped my way across to the
washstand for a drink of water.  A delicious cool breeze had just begun
to come in at the window.  I went over and leaned out.  The sky was
gray and wan with the first pale light of dawn, and the country over
which I gazed looked ghostly and strange in the twilight.  With my arms
folded on the sill, I remained for some time drawing in the fresh
morning air in deep breaths, and fascinated by the solemn silence which
still reigned over the sleeping world, when to my ear came suddenly an
unexpected sound--the clatter of a closing gate.

Wondering who could be about at that early hour, I gazed across the
neighbouring field, and so doing saw the figures of two men emerge from
the deep shadow of the farthest hedge.  At a peculiar jog-trot they
crossed the open till a slope in the ground once more hid them from my
view.  The light was not strong enough to allow of my making out
anything beyond the outline of their figures, but it seemed to me that
each carried on his back something which I thought resembled a
soldier's knapsack.  It was impossible, I say, for me to recognize
their faces, but following close at the heels of the first I distinctly
saw a dog, and immediately decided in my own mind that the man must be
Lewis, whom I had seen a few hours before hiding in the wood.  What the
men could be doing, or whither they were going, I had not the faintest
idea, but it struck me that they were up to no good, and that their
errand was one which they would not have performed in broad daylight.
No other person crossed the field, and at length, greatly perplexed, I
returned to bed.

I began to think there were other mysteries to be solved at Coverthorne
besides the whereabouts of the secret chamber.



CHAPTER IV.

THE SINGING GHOST.

Though I longed to tell Miles of what I had seen in the early morning,
yet on second thoughts I decided to let the matter drop.  The vague
replies which he had given to my questions of the previous evening
showed clearly that he was not disposed to give me a true explanation
of the fisherman's presence in the wood.  I must own that this puzzled
me not a little, for, certain as I felt of my comrade's uprightness and
honour, it was firmly impressed on my mind that there was something
very questionable in old Lewis's conduct; and if this were so, it was
difficult to understand why Miles should tolerate underhand doings on
what was now practically his own estate.  It was, however, after all,
no business of mine; and I determined to restrain my curiosity till my
friend chose to explain, or a good opportunity occurred for me to
broach the subject again, and ask him further questions.

At odd times we continued our search for the secret place, but without
any further success than before.  Miles became inclined to treat the
matter as a joke, but I had some reason to believe that, though our
search and the various incidents connected with it were often highly
amusing, the loss of the papers, which it was possible had been placed
in the hidden chamber, might prove more serious than my school friend
fully understood.

What suggested this thought to my mind was part of a conversation which
I chanced to overhear under circumstances which were briefly as
follows.  On about the fourth day of my visit Mr. Denny put in an
appearance at the house.  I did not know of his arrival, but on going
into the parlour for something I found him there with Mrs. Coverthorne,
turning out the contents of an old bureau which stood against the wall.
I merely entered the room and went out again, but that was long enough
for me to see that not only were the table and the window-seat littered
with the contents of pigeonholes and drawers, but that all the books
had been removed from the shelves above, and were undergoing a careful
examination, as though it were thought possible that some paper of
importance might be found between their leaves.

At dinner I sat opposite the lawyer.  He was a thin, dry little man,
with very bright eyes and quick, jerky movements which reminded me of a
bird.  He spoke kindly to us boys, cracked jokes, and spoke about our
school life and our holiday amusements; but in spite of this I could
not help thinking that his gaiety was rather forced.  Mrs. Coverthorne,
too, looked more anxious than usual; and though she also made attempts
to be cheerful, I felt sure that the lawyer's business with her had not
been of a pleasant or reassuring nature.

Almost directly after the meal was finished Miles started off on an
errand to Rockymouth--Mr. Denny, who lived there, having arranged to
return later in the afternoon.  Left to myself, I climbed into the old
mulberry tree, and discovering a most comfortable perch among the
branches, read a book until I fell asleep.

As a combined result of the strong sea air and an unusual amount of
outdoor exercise, I must have slept pretty soundly; but I was at length
aroused by the sound of voices, and looking down through the leafy
branches saw Mrs. Coverthorne and the lawyer walking down the garden
path towards the gate.  They did not see me, and I could not help
overhearing what they said, though the only words which reached my ears
were those which they spoke as they were passing close to the tree.

"Don't be too downhearted, ma'am," Mr. Denny was saying in his brisk
manner; "there's still that one chance I spoke of.  We haven't had an
opportunity to compare the dates yet, and that's an important matter."

"I cannot bring myself to think it possible that my dear husband could
have done such a thing--at least without telling me of his intentions.
There must be some great mistake.  We mustn't tell Miles, not just yet,
for I had so wished to make these holidays specially happy."

A few moments later, as the speaker was returning alone to the house, I
saw that she was weeping.  A great longing filled my heart to
understand her trouble, and to render her and Miles some assistance.
It seemed a vain and hopeless wish, for of what use could I, a mere
schoolboy and comparative stranger, possibly be to them?  Yet the
unexpected often happens, and the queer cross-currents on the sea of
life bring about unlooked-for meetings with equally strange results.

Two days later a respectable working-man made his appearance at
Coverthorne.  We heard that he was a master-builder, and that he had
come to give some advice about repairs.  He went all over the house,
even going so far as to climb more than half-way up two of the big
chimneys.  It was, I say, given out that he was to ascertain whether
certain of the walls and parts of the roof needed repair, but I
hazarded a shrewd guess that he had been employed by Mr. Denny in a
confidential manner to apply his practical knowledge of building and
architecture in a further attempt to find the secret chamber.  If this
were so, the man was not any more successful than we boys had been.
Granted that such a hiding-place really existed, it was constructed in
some most unlikely place, or concealed in an unusually skilful manner.

Miles and I sought it again more than once; but gradually, when the
novelty of the idea had worn off and the quest appeared hopeless, I
must confess that I began to lose interest in the matter, and to devote
my attention to more attractive amusements.

There was certainly no lack of these at Coverthorne.  We shot rabbits,
bathed from the beach of the little sheltered cove, and went out to sea
and fished for whiting and pollack.  In pursuit of this last-named form
of sport we usually made use of a boat which belonged to the man Lewis.
He seemed very willing for us to have it, often came out with us
himself, teaching us how to row and to use the sail, and refusing to
accept any money in return.

In addition to the fact of having seen him under circumstances which
naturally excited my curiosity, there was something about the man which
roused my interest in a special degree.  As a boy he had served in the
navy, having been present at the battle of the Nile; and how eagerly we
listened to accounts of those great fights with the French on sea and
land, the memory of which was still fresh in men's minds when I was a
lad!  The brown dog almost always accompanied its master.  It was a
very intelligent animal, and however far from home, if given anything
and told to carry it back to its master's cottage, it would do so with
the greatest certainty and promptitude.

Though past middle age, and round-shouldered like many old sailors,
Lewis was wonderfully active, and sprang from one boat to another in
the harbour or climbed the rocks with the agility of a cat.  It was
really this which, by accident, led to my making some further
discoveries with regard to the old salt.  We had been out for a sail,
and Lewis, after taking leave of us, was running along the village
street to overtake some friend whom he saw in the distance.

"The old beggar can cover the ground at a good pace still," remarked
Miles.

"I saw him from my bedroom window the other night," I remarked
unthinkingly, "cutting across your field with something which looked
like a soldier's knapsack on his back.  He must have a good wind."

"Soldier's knapsack!" blurted out Miles with a laugh.  "More like a keg
of French brandy, with another on his chest to keep the balance."

"What?" I exclaimed.

Taken off his guard, Miles had gone a bit too far to refuse a further
explanation.

"I don't suppose it matters if I tell you," he remarked, with a glance
over his shoulder to make sure that no one else was listening.  "Old
Lewis goes in a bit for what used to be known as the 'free trade,' but
what you now hear of as smuggling."

"I thought smugglers were men who owned ships and sailed across from
France with tobacco, and lace, and spirits--" I began.

"So they do," interrupted Miles; "but there are smugglers on land as
well as on sea.  The men who bring the stuff across from France only do
part of the work; when it is put ashore it has to be taken inland and
sold, and often it has to be hidden away somewhere till the preventive
men are off their guard.  Bless you, I know all about it, and you would
too if you'd lived as long as I have on the coast."

"And was that what he was up to the night we found him in the little
wood by the cliffs?" I asked, a light suddenly breaking in on my mind.

"Yes," answered Miles.  "I saw at a glance what was afoot.  You noticed
another man hiding behind a bush.  I daresay there were a dozen more of
them in the copse."

"But what were they doing there?"

"Well, it would take a long time to explain it all in detail: but to
put it in a few words, what happens is something like this.
Somebody--probably old Lewis or another man--arranges with the owner of
a lugger to bring some brandy from France, the spirit being sent over
in little tubs or ankers.  It is, of course, all arranged beforehand
just when and where the stuff is to be landed, and preparations are
made accordingly.  Lewis gets a number of men, farm labourers and
others, to act as what are termed 'carriers,' and these meet and lie
hidden somewhere close to the place on the coast where the run is to
take place.  The tubs are all fastened to a long rope, so that, as soon
as ever the lugger brings to, the end of this rafting line can be
conveyed to the beach, and the whole 'crop' dragged on shore.  With the
same cords by which the tubs are fastened to the ropes they are then
tied together in such a way that the carriers can sling them over their
shoulders.  Each man takes two ankers, and then they scatter, and dash
off inland to some meeting-place already agreed upon.  In this way,
when the men are up to their work, it takes only a few minutes for the
lugger to discharge her cargo, while the carriers get clear of the
beach and disappear."

I must own to being rather shocked at the careless and even jocular
tone in which my companion described a traffic which I had always heard
spoken of as a crime.

"But, Miles," I began, "it's against the law!"

"Oh, of course it is!" he answered, laughing; "but who's going to
interfere with a few poor men turning a penny now and then?  The only
result is that people round about get better brandy than they otherwise
would have done, and a good bit cheaper.  Of course people like us
don't have any share in the business, but when we know anything is
happening we just look the other way."

The weak points in my comrade's arguments may be patent enough to the
present-day reader of this story; but it is due to him to say that in
those times, especially along the coast, defrauding the revenue was
hardly looked upon as a crime, and in the still earlier times of "free
trade" this idea had an even greater hold on the minds of the common
people, who were always ready to regard the smuggler as a hero, and the
exciseman as a villain.  Old ideas die hard in country places, and
Miles had listened to the talk of the fisher folk since childhood, and
had been accustomed to regard the matter from their point of view.

I had always imagined the smuggler as a picturesque sort of villain,
sailing the seas in a saucy craft, with a belt stuck full of knives and
pistols, and I must own to something like a feeling of disappointment
when brought face to face with the original.

"Don't they ever have fights with the coast-guards?" I asked.

"Not if they can help it," was the reply.  "You see if they resisted
and wounded the officers it would be a serious thing, and might mean
transportation for some of them.  There's been a lively chase once or
twice.  I'm very much afraid, though, that there'll be an ugly row some
day if they are caught; for old Lewis and some of his men are
determined fellows, and as likely as not would show fight before
allowing their kegs to be taken."

The remainder of the way home was beguiled with further tales of the
doings of the smugglers.

"Look here," Miles concluded, as we came in sight of the house.  "Of
course mother doesn't know all this, or I expect she'd object to our
going out so much with Lewis.  All I do is what I did the other night:
if I know the men are on our ground, I look the other way.  It's no
business of mine to meddle with their doings, and there isn't one of
them who would take a single rabbit or forget to shut a gate behind
him.  If he did, he'd soon hear of it from the others."

The remainder of my stay at Coverthorne passed pleasantly if
uneventfully, nothing of any note happening until the last day of my
visit, when an incident occurred which I have good reason always to
remember.

The day was wet and stormy.  Miles was engaged doing something for his
mother, and having nothing particular with which to occupy my
attention, I strolled from one part of the house to another, and at
length found my way to the empty room which I have already described,
and which I discovered by this time was spoken of as the west parlour.
This morning the curious earthy smell which I had remarked there before
seemed stronger than usual; but in spite of this and its bare and
neglected appearance, the room struck me as one which would have been
pleasant and cosy if properly furnished.

I strolled over to the window-seat, and sat gazing round at the dark
oak panelling, wondering vaguely why the place was never used.  If
occupied in no other way, it surprised me that Miles did not
appropriate it for a sort of private den or workshop.  I was lolling
back, idly poking a straw into a crevice of the woodwork, when suddenly
the same strange sound broke on my ear which I had heard before.  I sat
up to listen.  It was like some one humming without any regard to tune.
At one time it seemed to come from a distant part of the house, and
then it appeared to be actually in the room.

One glance was sufficient to show that the chamber itself was empty.  I
listened with awakened curiosity, but with no sensation of uneasiness
or fear.  What could it be?

Rising to my feet I walked across the room, stepped into the open
fireplace, and stared up the wide chimney.  Some spots of rain fell on
my upturned face, but nothing was to be seen except the gray sky
overhead.  I stepped back into the room, and still the muffled drone
continued, rising and falling, and then ceasing altogether.

"It must be the wind in the chimney," I thought, and moved once more
into the open hearth; but now the sound seemed in the room, and was
certainly not in the stone shaft above my head.  I next opened the
window and looked out into the walled garden.  No noise, however, was
to be heard there but the patter of the raindrops on the leaves of the
trees.  Perplexed and rather astonished, I now crossed the floor,
opened the door, and went out into the passage, only to find it empty.
Once more, as I stood undecided what to do next, the crooning notes
fell on my ear, and I began to think that some one was playing me a
trick.  It was just as I had arrived at this conclusion that I heard
Miles calling me; and a moment later, in obedience to my answering
hail, he joined me in the empty room.

"I keep hearing that funny noise," I said, "and I can't make out where
it comes from."

He made no reply, but stood at my side listening till the sound came
again, this time a long, mournful wail like that of some one in pain.
I turned, and was surprised to find that Miles's face was almost
bloodless.  He slipped his arm within mine, and drew me towards the
door.

"What can it be?" I asked.

"No one will ever know for certain," he answered, speaking almost in a
whisper.  "The room is haunted!"

"Haunted!" I cried, stopping short as I gained the passage.  "You don't
believe in ghosts?"

"I believe in that one," he answered.  "I've heard it too often to have
any doubt.  That's the reason we never use the room; only mother
doesn't like it talked about, because it only frightens the servants.
People have tried to make out it was the wind; but though we've blocked
up the chimney, and have stopped every crack and hole we could find, it
makes no difference to the sound, and no one can tell from what part of
the room it comes.  Besides, the story is that my great-grandfather
died there.  When he was an old man he always went about humming to
himself, and making just the same sort of noise that has been heard in
the room ever since his death.  All the people round know about it, and
they call it the Singing Ghost of Coverthorne."

"O Miles," I began, "you don't believe such stuff as that?"

"I know you'll think me a coward," he interrupted.  "I'm not afraid of
most things, but I own frankly I hate to go near that horrid room.
Mother had it furnished, and tried to use it one winter; but at the end
of a month she got so frightened of the noise that she declared she'd
never sit there again."

"I don't mind your ghost," I exclaimed, laughing.  "You wait here, and
I'll go back and listen to it again."

I entered the room, closed the door behind me, and stood waiting in a
corner of the floor.  I tried to persuade myself that I was not in the
least frightened, but my heart beat faster than usual, and I strained
my ears with almost painful intentness to catch the slightest sound.
Within the last few moments the place seemed to have grown more cold,
damp, and earthy than before; it felt like standing in a vault.  Then,
whether from the floor, ceiling, or solid oak panelling on the walls, I
could not tell, came once more that mysterious sound, as though a
person were humming with closed lips.  I cast one hasty glance round
the room, and made hurriedly for the door.  Miles was still waiting in
the passage.

"You didn't stay very long," he remarked with a quiet smile.



CHAPTER V.

NICHOLAS COVERTHORNE SHOWS HIS HAND.

In due course the summer holidays came to an end, and Miles and I met
again at school.  I had not been in his company five minutes before I
noticed that his face wore a different look from when I had seen him
last at Coverthorne; indeed, he seemed once more as sad and dejected as
he had appeared immediately after his father's funeral.

"What's the matter with you?  Have you been ill?" I asked; but he only
shook his head and gave evasive replies.

The first day of the half was always one of excitement.  The reunion of
old friends, the appearance of new boys and masters, the changes of
classes and dormitories, all aroused our lively interest; but Miles
seemed in no mood to join in our fun.  He slipped out of the playground
as soon as work was finished, and went off for a walk alone.

Thinking that his return to school had in some way recalled the
consciousness of his bereavement, I allowed him for a time to go his
own way; but when tea was over I determined to find him, and at least
offer him some expression of sympathy.  After a little search I
discovered him standing with his back against a tree moodily chewing a
piece of straw.

"There is something the matter with you," I said.  "Why won't you tell
me?  Is it private?"  My arm seemed naturally to slip through his as I
asked the question, and perhaps the action, simple as it was, gave him
a fresh assurance of my friendship, and influenced him to unburden
himself of what was on his mind.

"There's no harm in my telling you, Sylvester," he replied.  "I know
you won't let it go any further.  I'm upset by what's happened at home."

"Something that has happened since I stayed with you?" I asked.

"Well, yes," he answered--"that is, it's come to a head since your
visit.  I daresay while you were with us you noticed that there was
something wrong, and that my mother often seemed worried and depressed.
It was not till after you'd gone that I found out what was really the
matter."

He paused as though expecting me to speak, but I made no interruption.

"As I've already told you, my father made a will about two years ago,"
continued Miles.  "He signed it at Mr. Denny's office, and took it away
with him; but now it can't be found.  My mother always thought that it
was in the secret drawer of the bureau; but it proved to be empty when
she went to look.  Then, as I've mentioned before, the idea occurred to
her and Mr. Denny that it had been put away for safety in the secret
place.  If that's the case, then goodness knows if either the papers or
the hidden chamber will ever be discovered.  At least so far all
attempts have proved a failure.  Mr. Denny even goes so far as to
suggest that the so-called hiding-place may be nothing but a small
cavity in the wall behind some sliding panel; though he admits that,
from a remark he once heard my father make, he had always believed it
was a place large enough to conceal a man.  If it's only a little hole
somewhere in the stonework, we might pull the house down before we
found it."

"But see here," I interrupted.  "I don't understand anything about
lawyers' business; but even if your father's will were lost, I suppose
the property will come to you all the same, seeing that you are his
only son."

"Wait a moment till I have finished the story," continued my companion.
"When I talked to you about this once before, I described how my uncle
came to Coverthorne soon after my father's funeral, and spoke to my
mother about a secret reconciliation between the brothers, and hinted
at a matter of business which he would discuss at some future time,
when she should have recovered somewhat from the shock of her loss.  My
mother was surprised, and thought it very strange, as she had heard no
word from her husband to lead her to suppose that he had made up the
quarrel with his brother.  The matter, I say, puzzled her a good bit,
but did not cause her any actual uneasiness till Mr. Denny came one day
and told her privately of an extraordinary rumour he had heard in
Rockymouth, to the effect that Uncle Nicholas had told some one that my
father had made a will leaving him half the property, that being the
fair share which he ought to have had after my grandfather's death.
This rumour, coupled with what my uncle had already said to her, caused
my mother to begin to fear that something was wrong.  She wanted to
write to Uncle Nicholas right away; but Mr. Denny advised her to say
nothing till she heard from him.  In the meantime they made further
attempts to find the will which my father had signed in the lawyer's
office, Mr. Denny knowing the terms of this one, and hoping it would
bear a more recent date than any other which my father might have made.
You see, if a man makes more than one will it's the last that counts,
and the others are worth nothing."

I nodded to show that I understood this explanation.

"About a week or ten days after you left," went on Miles, "one
afternoon Uncle Nicholas called, and out came the whole affair.  He
produced the will of which we had already heard the rumour, and said
that my father had executed it at the time that they had made up their
quarrel.  The terms were exactly what Mr. Denny had already
hinted--that if my father died first, half the estate was to go to
Nicholas; in case, however, Nicholas did not survive his brother, the
whole property would come to my mother and myself.  Having read the
paper, he once more described how my father had been prompted to take
this step out of a sense of justice; and then he added that, after all,
it would make very little difference to any of us, since he himself had
no children, and I should be his heir.  He would only enjoy his share
during the rest of his life, which at most would not be many years.
From the first my mother was amazed and incensed at this disclosure.
Though she saw the signature at the foot of the document, and
recognized it as my father's handwriting, yet she could not but regard
the whole thing as an unfair and wicked attempt on my uncle's part to
rob us of our possessions.  My father had been so open in his dealings,
and she had always shared his confidence; it seemed, therefore, almost
impossible that he should have taken such a step without at least
telling her of his intentions.  The interview soon became a stormy one.
Uncle Nicholas, in a cold, half-ironical manner, said he felt sure that
my mother would not oppose her dead husband's wishes; and gave as the
reason for our not finding another will that my father had no doubt
destroyed the first before making the second.  He pooh-poohed the idea
of any document being deposited in the hidden chamber, saying that the
so-called secret place was merely a hole in one of the chimneys, which
had been built up in my grandfather's time to prevent the birds
building there and making a mess.  My mother, however, would not be
convinced, though this fresh will was clearly of a later date than the
one for which she had been searching.  She would not admit the justice
of my uncle's claims, reminding him that he had received his portion
from his father in money.  She accused him of attempting to deprive his
brother's widow and only son of their heritage, and at length refused
to discuss the subject any further, directing him to communicate in
future with our lawyer, Mr. Denny.

"'Very well,' answered my uncle shortly.  'If you are determined not to
listen to reason, I can say no more; but I had much rather have settled
the matter amicably between ourselves without creating a public
scandal.'  His face was black as thunder as he left the house, and I
could see at once that all his former pleasant manners had been simply
put on for the time being to suit his own purpose.  Two days later Mr.
Denny called to see us, and he and my mother had a long talk in the
dining-room.  I wasn't present myself, but I learned afterwards that my
uncle had gone straight from us to the lawyer.  The latter had seen the
will, and was obliged to confess that it seemed genuine and in order,
and was dated at least eighteen months after the one executed at his
office.  I think old Denny was as much surprised at my father's conduct
as my mother had been, and he questioned her closely to find out
whether anything had ever happened which could in any way have brought
my father into Nicholas's power, so that he might have been induced by
threats of any kind to make such a disposition of his property.  Of
course my mother knew nothing of the kind; but in calling to mind
everything she could remember, she recollected that a few months back
she had seen my father address and send a large sealed envelope to his
brother, and as this would have been just about the time when Nicholas
asserted that the reconciliation had taken place, it seemed possible
that this very letter might have contained the will.  The document, I
should say, was witnessed by a housekeeper of my uncle's who had since
died, and by a sea captain who had often stayed at Stonebank, but whose
vessel had foundered in a storm, with all hands.  The fact that both of
the witnesses were dead seemed suspicious, but there was no flaw in the
signatures, and Nicholas had a witness who could prove that my father
and Rhodes, the master-mariner, had met at Stonebank on the day the
will was signed."

"Then what is going to be done?" I asked.

"What can be done?" returned Miles, with a shrug of his shoulders.  "My
uncle poses as a model of forbearance, and says he will allow us to
remain in possession of the whole estate till the beginning of the New
Year, at which date the property will be duly divided."

"At least you'll have the old house," I remarked, not knowing what else
to say.

"Yes; but look here, Sylvester," my friend exclaimed.  "We shall never
be able to live on at Coverthorne as we're doing now if half the
property is taken away from us.  I believe Uncle Nicholas knows that,"
continued the speaker excitedly.  "He wants to force us to leave, and
then he'll raise or borrow money from somewhere, and so come to be
owner of the whole place.  He's a bad man--you can see it in his
face--and how ever he induced my father to make the will I can't
imagine."

"I can't either," I replied.  "I disliked your uncle the first time I
saw him.  I believe he's a villain."

A sudden rush of boys towards the spot where we stood talking put an
end to our conversation, but the substance of it was constantly
recurring to my mind.  I had quite made up my mind that Nicholas
Coverthorne was an unscrupulous rascal, and a few days later an
incident happened which not only tended to increase my dislike of the
man, but to invest him and his doings with a certain sinister air of
mystery.

Dr. Bagley had been expecting a parcel to be left by the coach at Round
Green, and knowing that Miles was accustomed to horses, he asked him to
drive over with the pony and trap and bring home the package--Sparrow,
who usually performed these errands, having injured his hand.  At my
friend's request I was allowed to accompany him, and we set off in high
spirits, a number of envious "Foxes" and "Eagles" shouting after us as
we passed the playground wall.

Nothing of any importance happened till we reached the Sportsman,
where, having fastened up the pony, we went inside to inquire about the
parcel.  It being the middle of the afternoon the little inn seemed
deserted.  The only occupant of the taproom was a young country lad,
who sat on a big settle, just inside the door, munching a crust of
bread and cheese.  He turned his head as we entered, and Miles
immediately accosted him with,--

"Hullo, Tom Lance! what brings you here?"

The lad was evidently confused at the meeting.  His sunburnt face
flushed a deeper red, and he mumbled something which we did not hear.

"What brings you in this part of the world?" asked Miles.  "Are you
tramping it all the way back to Stonebank?"

It had dawned on me by this time who the boy was and where I had seen
him before.  I remembered now that he was an orphan, and in the employ
of Mr. Nicholas Coverthorne.  He lived in the house, and made himself
generally useful about the farm.  Miles had to repeat his question a
second time before he got any answer; then the boy, seeming to realize
that he could not avoid an explanation sooner or later, blurted out,--

"I'm on the way to Welmington, sir, to go for a soldier."

"To go for a soldier!" cried Miles.  "You aren't old enough to enlist."

"I'm big enough, though," replied the boy with a grin; and this seemed
likely to prove true, for he was well grown, and might easily have
persuaded a recruiting sergeant that he was two years beyond his real
age.

"But what are you doing that for?" asked my friend.  "Why are you
leaving Stonebank?"

Lance hesitated, toying with his huge clasp-knife, and moving uneasily
on his seat.

"Well, sir," he said at length, "I've run away.  And it's no use your
telling Mr. Nicholas or the rest where I'm gone, for I ain't going
back, not if they send a wagon and horses to fetch me."

"I'm not going to tell my uncle," was the reply.  "All I asked was what
made you leave."

"Well, sir," continued the lad, "the master's been so queer of late, I
believe he bears ill-will towards me for something, and that some day
he'll do me an injury."

By dint of many questions we at length got out of Tom something like a
connected account of his troubles.  The story as he told it was so
disjointed, and at times so incoherent, that I shall make no attempt to
repeat it in his own words, but rather give the sum and substance of
the narrative which was laid before us when we at length came to the
end of our inquiry.

Soon after his brother's death the servants had noticed some change in
Mr. Nicholas's manner and behaviour, which they regarded as the effect
of his sudden bereavement.  He became preoccupied and silent, and of an
evening would lock the door of his sitting-room and stay there far into
the night, though hitherto he had been very regular in his habits, and
had almost invariably retired to bed soon after ten.  One afternoon Tom
had gone on an errand to Tod's Corner, and being delayed did not return
till late.  It was nearly eleven when he reached the farm.  He saw a
light in the parlour as he approached the house, and on entering went
at once to inform his master of the result of his mission.

Proceeding to the sitting-room, he found the door standing ajar, and
the room unoccupied.  The lamp was burning on the table, beside it was
a large brass-bound box, and a spirit decanter and glass stood hard by.
Tom lingered, note in hand, then determined to leave the message where
his master would be sure to see it on his return.  To do this he
approached the table, but had hardly done so when Mr. Coverthorne burst
into the room in a towering rage.

"Who told you to come here?" he shouted, seizing Tom by the throat, as
though with the intention of strangling him.  "I'll teach you to come
prying and meddling about my house when you ought to be in bed, you
rascal!"

Nicholas Coverthorne, as any one could have told at a glance, was a
powerful man, and the wonder was that in his blind rage he did not do
the lad some injury before the latter had time to explain that he had
merely stepped inside the room a moment before to deliver his message.

"You've been prying into the drawers and cupboards after tobacco, or
anything you could find, that's my opinion," cried his master.  "If so,
you'd better speak the truth before I find it out for myself."

Tom, equally astonished at this unreasonable outburst, and at the fact
of his honesty being called in question--a thing which had never
occurred before--was for the time at a loss to find words in which to
excuse himself, a fact which seemed to increase all the more his
master's suspicions.  At length, after a long wrangle and many threats,
he was dismissed to bed, whither he gladly betook himself, having by
this time arrived at the conclusion that his master had either drunk
too much brandy or was losing his reason.

A few days later Mr. Coverthorne sent for the lad, and told him to go
to the cottage of the hind and bring back an answer to some inquiry
about the sheep.

"If I'm not in the parlour when you return," Mr. Coverthorne had said,
"step inside, and wait there till I come back."

In obedience to his orders Tom went to the hind, and returning entered
the parlour, only to find that his master was not there.  The room
presented an exactly similar appearance to what it had done on the
occasion of his previous visit: the lamp was lit, and beside it was the
brass-bound box, while a little further along was the tray with glass
and decanter.  Cap in hand, the boy remained standing just inside the
door, wondering how long he would have to wait.  It was while thus
employed that his attention became attracted towards a curtain which
covered the bay window at the end of the room.  Almost in the centre of
the drapery, which was old and faded, was a hole, and behind this
something sparkled in the ray of the lamp.  It did not take Tom long to
discover that this something was an eye peering at him from behind the
screen.  Startled at the knowledge that he was being watched, the lad
was about to run from the room and raise an alarm of robbers, when the
curtain was flung aside, and with a laugh Mr. Coverthorne stepped out
into the room, and asked the boy in a jocular manner what he was
staring at.  Nicholas was not given to joking with any man, least of
all with his servants, and this erratic behaviour served to strengthen
in Tom's mind the impression that his master was certainly going mad.

"Ever since that time I've seen him a-watching, watching me wherever I
goes and whatever I does," concluded the boy.  "Once he told me what
he'd do to any one as couldn't mind their own business, though I'm sure
I've not been prying into other folk's affairs.  He follows me about;
he's got a grudge against me for something--I can see it in his evil
eye--and some day he'll pay it off.  I won't stay there any longer; I'm
going for a soldier."

It was in vain that we tried to dissuade Tom Lance from his purpose,
and induce him to return to Stonebank.  He stubbornly refused to listen
to our arguments.  It was evident that he had been some time making up
his mind, and was now doggedly determined to carry out his purpose.
Finding it impossible to do anything else, we wished him good luck, at
the same time giving him a shilling and some loose coppers, which was
all the money we had in our pockets.

Having found the doctor's parcel, we returned to the pony carriage, and
drove some little distance on our homeward way without speaking.  It is
probable, however, that the thoughts of both of us were busy with the
same subject.

"I wonder if your uncle is going out of his mind," I said at length.

"More likely some deep dodge of his, I fancy," returned Miles.  "Don't
you see that he arranged that second visit of Tom's to the parlour just
to judge what he'd done the time before?  If the lad was inquisitive
and had pried about once, he'd probably do so again.  Still, what's the
meaning of it all I've no idea."



CHAPTER VI.

A MAD PRANK.

Time has been called "the great healer;" and as the term ran on Miles
gradually regained a measure of his former high spirits, and became
more his old bright self again.  The thought, however, that at the end
of the half he would leave school and we should part, perhaps for ever,
hung over us like a cloud, rendered all the heavier and darker by the
consciousness on my friend's part that his prospects in life had
undergone a great change, and that his future was uncertain.

"It's all very well," he burst out one day, "for Uncle Nicholas to say
that he would rather have the matter settled amicably.  As I said
before, he means to get the whole estate before he's finished."

"Old villain!" I answered; "I hate his very look!  I hope, if he does
go to Coverthorne, that the ghost will haunt him, and drive him away
again.  Did it sing any more after I left?"

"I don't know," answered Miles abruptly, as though the subject was one
to which he did not care to refer.  "I don't think I've been inside the
room since we were there together.  I suppose I'm a coward, but I don't
mind owning that that unearthly row gives me the creeps, and I daresay
it would you too if you were to hear it as I have, sometimes, when
passing down the passage at night."

We did not pursue the subject any further.  Indeed, the thought may
have occurred to me that my own courage had ebbed away rather fast the
last time I had listened to those strange sounds; and such being the
case, I could hardly afford to rally my friend on his superstitious
fears.

The days came and went; the trees put on their glorious autumn tints,
and then gradually grew bare and lifeless, while we boys went on with
our accustomed round of school life, labouring at our desks, and
larking with unbounded stock of animal spirits in the playground.  I
can recollect no event of any particular consequence having happened
during this time, except that one day Miles received a letter from home
which contained news of interest to us both.  In those times, before
the introduction of the penny post, letters were less frequent and more
highly prized than they are to-day; and I think I can see my friend now
as he came down the schoolroom waving above his head the oblong packet
sealed with a yellow wafer.

"For me!" he cried.  "Hurray! now I shall hear what's been happening in
our part of the world."

He flung himself down on the end of a bench, tore open the packet, and
for some moments was absorbed in reading its contents.  Suddenly I saw
the expression of his face change, his mouth opened, and his eye ran
more rapidly from line to line.

"Phew!  Well, I never!" he exclaimed.

"What is it?" I asked; "anything to do with your uncle Nicholas?"

"No; it's about old Lewis," he answered.  Then, after scanning the
letter rapidly to the end of the page, he let it fall and raised his
head.  "I say," he began, "what d'you think's happened?  Why, there's
been a fight down at Rockymouth between the smugglers and the
preventive men; quite a serious affair--two fellows badly injured."

"Was old Lewis one of them--that man whom we saw hiding in your copse,
and in whose boat we went fishing?"

"Yes, rather: he seems to have been the leading spirit, and has got
into worse trouble than the rest, poor beggar!  As far as I can
understand from my mother's account, it must have happened in this way.
One of the land gang was bribed, and turned informer, so by that means
the coastguard knew the exact time and place of the run.  It happened
in that same little cove where we used to go and bathe.  The spirit was
landed, and the carriers were just shouldering their tubs to make off
inland, when an armed party appeared on the beach and ordered them to
surrender.  Then there was a pretty how-de-do!  Some of the gang threw
down their loads and tried to bolt.  Most of these got away in the
darkness.  But the old hands, enraged at the thought of losing the
stuff just as it had come into their possession, showed fight.  One of
the preventive men was knocked down with a bludgeon, the rest drew
their cutlasses, and blood was shed on both sides.  Lewis, raging like
a madman, whipped out a pistol and fired it, though fortunately without
doing any harm, and the next moment he was stretched senseless on the
shingle with a blow on the head given with the flat of a steel blade.
In the end, of course, the coastguard got the best of it.  Some of the
smugglers made off when they saw the day was going against them, but
the rest were overpowered, handcuffed, and dragged off to the
watchhouse.  Some of them have already been sent to jail, but Lewis has
been sent to Welmington to await trial at the assizes.  He was
recognized as the leader of the party, and as the man who fired the
pistol; and to use weapons like that against the king's men is a
serious offence.  Mother says she thinks he will be transported.  It's
a crying shame," concluded the speaker, after a moment's pause.  "What
difference can it make to the king, or to anybody else, if those men
buy and sell a few ankers of brandy?  They don't injure or rob anybody,
and the men who come meddling and interfering with them deserve to be
roughly handled.  I believe I should have shot at them myself if I'd
been in Lewis's place."

Knowing the peculiar views of the coast-bred boy on the subject of
defrauding the revenue, and the little likelihood of inducing him to
change them, I made no attempt to argue the matter, but stood for a
moment recalling to my mind the sight I had witnessed of the two
stooping figures crossing the field in the gray twilight of the summer
dawn.

"It's dreadful to think of his being transported to the other side of
the world," I said.  "It must be sad for him to think that he may never
see Rockymouth again, where he has lived so long--ever since he was a
boy, except the time he spent away as a sailor in the navy."

"Well, it's fortunate that he didn't shoot straighter, or he would have
swung for it," remarked Miles bluntly; "though I believe some of those
fellows would as soon be hung as transported.  I'm glad none of our
Coverthorne men appear to have been in it," he added.  "It's a wonder
they weren't; but perhaps if any of them did lend a hand, they were
among those who escaped."

He laughed as though it were more of a prank than a crime; then picking
up the sheets of paper which had fallen from his hand, he went on
reading his letter.

Boys may remain always much the same in their tastes and dispositions,
but, as I have said before, school life and customs have undergone
great changes since my day.  In consequence of having no properly
organized outdoor sports, we found methods of our own for letting off
steam, some of which were about as sensible as the antics of a kitten
or the mad gallop of a young colt.  Boys who wished to establish and
keep up a reputation for hardihood and daring were prone to perform
some reckless feat, and then dare others to follow their example.  Ben
Liddle, the acknowledged chief of the "Eagles," was much given to this
sort of thing, and a dozen or more of his escapades occur to my mind as
I write.

It so happened that this term Miles and I slept in a dormitory of which
Liddle was "cock;" an arrangement which might have been unpleasant for
us had it not been for the fact that the majority of the boys were
"Foxes," and formed a mutual defensive alliance, so that Liddle stopped
short of actual violence, knowing that anything of the kind would raise
a hornet's nest about his ears.  Nevertheless, he was always passing
slighting remarks about us, and hinting that we were lacking in pluck
and daring; which taunts on one or two occasions nearly brought about a
free fight between the rival parties.

The weeks went by; we were close to the end of the half, and boys had
commenced to talk of holidays and home, when one night Liddle came up
to bed with something under his coat.

"Look here," he said; "I found this in a field this afternoon."

The article which he held up was an ordinary rope halter.  He waved it
triumphantly in the air, and then flung it into a box by the side of
his bed.

"What on earth d'you want with that old thing?" cried one of his
followers, laughing; "it's no use to you.  What made you bring it home?"

"You know that horse of old Smiley's that he's turned out to graze in
that big field--the second beyond the brook?  Well, I'm going to make
him give me a ride.  I've bet Maggers two to one in half-crowns that
I'll ride him bareback twice round the field without being thrown."

Seated on the next bed, winding an old turnip-shaped silver watch, was
a fellow named Rigby.  Though professedly a stanch "Eagle," he seemed
lately to have grown rather jealous of Liddle, and to covet for himself
the post of leader.  Whenever Liddle attempted to impress us with some
fresh act of bravado, Rigby either made light of it or tried to outdo
it by the recital of some still more brilliant piece of mischief which
he had either been guilty of in the past or was prepared to attempt
some time in the future.  As might be expected, nothing could have been
more calculated to vex and provoke Liddle, who, we could see, often
found it difficult to restrain himself from vindicating his outraged
vanity by pounding with clenched fists the person of his presumptuous
follower.

"Pooh!" said Rigby.  "When d'you expect you're going to ride a horse
round that field?  They can see it from the house, and you'd have some
one after you within five minutes.  I'll bet you'll never try it."

"What'll you bet?" demanded Liddle, bristling up in a moment.

"I won't bet anything on such a stupid thing.  I know you won't do it."

"I'll do it any time you like to mention."

"Well, do it now," answered Rigby, suggesting what he considered to be
impossible.

"All right; I will," returned Liddle recklessly.  "Wait till the lights
have been put out and the coast is clear, and I'll go and ride the nag
to-night.  But look here, my boy," continued the speaker, with a
malicious twinkle in his eyes: "if I go you'll have to come too, as a
witness, or Maggers won't believe I've won my wager."

"I never said I'd do anything of the kind," answered the other, rather
drawing in his horns.

"Ho, ho!" sneered Liddle, perceiving his advantage, and proceeding to
make the most of it; "you're funky.  You try to make out that other
people haven't the spirit to do a thing when really you're afraid to
try it yourself."

"I'm not afraid," was the reply; "I only say it can't be done, so
what's the good of gabbing about it any further?"

"It _can_ be done," asserted Liddle.  "All you have to do is to wait
till there's no one about, then get out of this window on to the roof
of the shed, creep along that, and down by the water-butt, then hop
over the wall, and there you are.  Come; you've as good as dared me to
do it, and I say I'll go and ride the horse if you'll come and see me
do it.  Now, will you go, or will you not?"

"There's no sense in it," grumbled Rigby.

"Pooh! you mean you haven't got the pluck."

There was a general laugh.  Rigby found himself in a trap of his own
making.  If he drew back he stood a good chance of being exposed to
ridicule as an empty boaster, besides practically confessing himself
Liddle's inferior in daring.  His face twitched with excitement and
vexation.

"Oh, very well, I'll go!" he answered desperately.  "But I don't see
any object in it, all the same."

An hour later, when all was quiet, the two boys, who had only partially
undressed, rose, put on the rest of their clothes, and prepared to
start.

"Shut the window after us, you fellows," said Liddle, "and be ready to
haul us in when we return.  We'll chuck a bit of mud or gravel against
the glass.  Don't get talking or making a row to attract attention; and
mind, if any one does come into the room you're all dead asleep."

Arranging a bundle of spare clothes and pillows under their
counterpanes as a last precaution, lest the notice of a master entering
the room should be attracted by the empty beds, the two boys started on
their expedition.  The roof of the outbuilding was not far below our
window, and with the assistance of a rope made of knotted towels it was
reached without much difficulty.  There was a whispered "All right!"
and we heard the adventurers crawl away in the direction of the
water-butt.

Broad awake, and in a state of suppressed excitement, we waited for
what seemed hours, now and again speculating in whispers as to what had
become of our two comrades, wondering if Liddle would really carry out
his intention of riding the horse, and whether they would get back
safely without being caught.  Once the footsteps of a master passing
along the corridor caused us a few moments' suspense; but we lay
perfectly still, and the door of the room remained unopened.  At length
there came an unmistakable rap on the window-pane, the rope was
lowered, and Rigby, followed by Liddle, was hauled back into the room.

"I've done it," whispered the latter, undoing the halter, which he had
wound round his waist, "I caught the old nag, and had a fine scamper
round the field.--Didn't I, Rigby?"

The other affirmed that such was the fact.  Both boys were out of
breath with running, and flushed with the excitement and success of
their enterprise.

The result of the ordeal being to enhance the reputation of both, they
now seemed on the best of terms, and appeared to have forgotten
entirely the outburst of jealousy which had really occasioned the
expedition.  For some time we lay awake, listening to a detailed
account of the adventure, and it must have been early morning before we
stopped talking and fell asleep.

Almost before breakfast next morning a report of what had happened was
whispered through the school, in consequence of which Liddle and Rigby
became the heroes of the hour.  Though nothing more than a piece of
senseless bravado, their prank was considered a very fine and spirited
exploit; indeed, when compared with the many raids and hunting
expeditions of "Eagles" and "Foxes," it was declared that nothing quite
so daring had been attempted for a long while.

Such an amount of notice, combined with open admiration, could not be
without its effect on the two persons chiefly concerned, and by the
time we retired to rest that evening both Liddle and Rigby were puffed
up with conceit, and inclined to indulge in any amount of swagger.

"Now then," cried the former, "who's going to ride the old nag
to-night?  Come; we've given you a lead, and it's simple enough."

"I'm not going," muttered one boy, while the rest sought to evade the
challenge with a laugh.

"See here," continued Liddle, in the same boastful manner, "one of you
'Foxes' have a shot.  There doesn't seem to be a ha'porth of go among
the lot of you!--Now then, Coverthorne, you can ride, so you're the
very man.  You used to be ready for a lark, but now, for all this half,
you seem to have turned into a regular old woman."

Miles's cheek reddened with an angry flush.

"I'm no more a coward than you are yourself," he answered; "but if you
choose to do a senseless thing, that's no reason why every one else in
the room should follow suit."

"Oh, that's a fine excuse!  Why don't you say at once that you're
afraid?"

The dialogue was continued in much the same strain, Liddle flinging
taunts with ever-increasing bitterness, till I could see that Miles was
rapidly losing his temper.  At length, perhaps rather weakly, the
latter gave way, and declared himself ready to repeat the previous
night's performance.

"I'll do it," he said, "if any one will go with me."

Just at the moment, from a boy's point of view, it seemed to me that
friendship demanded that I should volunteer to share the risk.

"All right, Miles," I exclaimed.  "I'll go with you; it's simple
enough."

The other "Foxes" rewarded me with a subdued "Hear, hear!"  For their
own sakes they were eager enough for us to make the attempt, but I
confess that I would gladly have recalled the promise almost as soon as
it was made.  From the very start, when I found myself crawling along
the top of the wall against which the outhouses were built, I heartily
wished myself safely back in the dormitory.  Still, there was nothing
to be gained by anticipating disaster until the worst actually
happened, and we both pretended to make light of the whole matter.
What such fellows as Liddle and Rigby had done we could certainly
accomplish; and, after all, if we had an ordinary amount of luck, the
risk was not great.

Miles especially was country bred, and had no difficulty in finding his
way in the dark.  Not a sound broke the stillness, and no one seemed to
be abroad but ourselves.  We pressed forward, conversing only in
whispers, until in front of us a row of leafless willow trees loomed up
out of the darkness.

"This is the brook," murmured Miles.  "There's a plank laid across a
little further down.  Here we are.  Now mind how you step."

Gingerly we crossed the frail bridge, not wishing to add a wetting to
the other delights of this midnight raid.  Two more hedges had to be
scrambled through, and we found ourselves in the field in which the old
horse had been turned out to graze.  Away on some rising ground a
little to the right was the farmhouse, and we noticed a light dimly
burning in one of the windows.

"I should have thought they'd have all been in bed by this time," said
Miles.  "Now then," he continued, unwinding the halter, "let's find the
nag.  Coop, coo-op, coop!"

Whether Blackbird--as we afterwards found the animal's name was--had
grown wiser by experience, and was prepared to show objection to having
his night's rest disturbed to gratify the idiotic whim of a couple of
schoolboys, I can't say, but the fact remains that as soon as we came
within twenty yards of him he gave an indignant snort, and went
plunging off in the darkness.  The thunder of his hoofs on the turf
seemed loud enough to be heard up at the farm.  I held my breath till
all was quiet again; then off we started towards the opposite end of
the meadow, Miles attempting to cajole the animal with soothing words
and an imaginary capful of corn.  Once more Blackbird allowed us, very
nearly, to drive him up in a corner; then, with a loud protestation in
the shape of a neigh and a snort, he kicked up his heels and went off
at a gallop.  How long this sort of thing might have lasted, and
whether we or the animal would have got the best of it in the end, can
never be said; for before the thudding of the hoofs had ceased, a man's
form came crashing through the hedge, and an angry voice yelled out,--

"Hey, you rascals! what are you doing with that horse?"

The newcomer was none other than the farmer himself, returning home
from a festive gathering at the house of a friend.  Passing along the
footpath in the neighbouring field, he had heard our voices and
Blackbird's stampede, and had come to the conclusion that he was
receiving a visit from a couple of horse-thieves.

All this we learned later, but at the moment no other thought entered
our minds than to save ourselves by immediate flight.  We turned and
ran.  How we got over the hedges I don't know; I can only remember
plunging through them, regardless of scratches and tumbles, as a bather
might through a breaking wave.  Old Smiley, who had the advantage of
knowing the ground better than we did, followed hard at our heels,
breathing out threats and curses.  If the man had had a gun in his
hand, I believe he would certainly have fired.

Suddenly we found ourselves on the bank of the stream.  As luck would
have it, we happened to have struck it just at the right spot, and
Miles's ready wit came to the rescue.

"Quick!" he panted; "over, and draw away the plank, or the beggar will
follow us to the school!"

Recklessly we sprang across the narrow bridge; then seizing the plank,
with our united strength dragged it over, flung it down on the bank,
and rushed off into the darkness.

The ruse proved entirely successful.  Though a good runner, old Smiley
was not going to attempt a jump with the risk of a ducking.  We heard
his shouts growing fainter and fainter in the distance, and a few
minutes later we had scrambled along the roof of the outhouses, given
the signal, and were being hauled up to the window by our comrades, who
were on the _qui vive_ awaiting our return.

In a few breathless sentences Miles explained what had happened.

"It's all right!" said Liddle reassuringly.  "You gave the old beggar
the slip finely, and he can never tell that it was two fellows from
here.  In the darkness he didn't get close enough to recognize your
faces."

During the time these few words were being spoken I had been sitting on
the end of my bed, endeavouring to regain my breath sufficiently to
take part in the conversation.  Now raising my hand to take off my cap,
I found that it was missing.  At once the thought flashed through my
mind that I must have dropped it during my flight across the fields,
and, what was more, I remembered that my name was clearly marked on the
lining.  If any of my room-mates had been watching me closely, they
must have seen my face lengthen; for should old Smiley or one of his
men happen to pick up the cap, it was as good as if they had caught the
owner, and my share in the horse-chasing adventure would certainly be
discovered.



CHAPTER VII.

TRIED AND SENTENCED.

Every thoughtful person will have remarked how the important events in
life are often led up to by some incident or mischance of the most
trivial kind; and so this story of mine would, in all probability,
never have been written if it had not been for the accidental dropping
of my cap in the course of that senseless night adventure.

"Had you got it on when you crossed the brook?" asked Miles, when I
explained what had happened.  "D'you think you dropped it climbing up
to the window?"

In answer to these inquiries I could only shake my head.  From the time
the farmer surprised us in the field I could only recall a vague
impression of our wild scamper through the darkness.

"Oh, it's all right," said Rigby.  "I expect it fell off when we were
hauling you from the roof of the shed.  If so, you can easily get it in
the morning."

With that the talk ended, and we scrambled into bed.  We had certainly
silenced our enemies, and covered ourselves with a questionable kind of
glory, by our escapade, for even Liddle admitted that our pluck could
no longer be doubted.  Yet, as I continued to lie broad awake, staring
into the darkness long after my companions had fallen asleep, I was far
from easy in mind or satisfied with the result of the adventure.

If I had dropped my cap in the fields and old Smiley found it, he was
sure to take it at once to Dr. Bagley and state what had happened.
Unfortunately, not more than a month before there had been a
passage-at-arms between this same man and us boys, about a broken gate
which he declared to have been our doing, though in that instance I
think he was mistaken.  Still, a formal complaint was made to the
headmaster, who addressed us on the subject in the big schoolroom,
warning us that in the event of any fresh instances of trespass and
damage done by us to neighbouring property being brought under his
notice, the culprit would be punished with the utmost severity.  All
this did not tend to ease my mind as I lay picturing up the possibility
of a terrible interview in the doctor's study.  There was only one
thing I could decide to do, and that was to make search as early as
possible on the following day, and try to recover this damaging piece
of evidence before it fell into the hands of the enemy.  Jumping out of
bed next morning at the first sound of the bell, and dressing as
hastily as possible, I rushed down into the yard, where, in spite of
the cold and darkness, I carefully examined the roof of the outhouses,
and the spot by the water-butt where we had climbed up and down.  Hunt
as I would, however, I was doomed to disappointment--the missing cap
was nowhere to be seen; and at length the unwelcome truth was forced
upon my mind that it must have fallen off during our flight across the
fields, most likely have been dragged from my head as I plunged madly
through a hedge.

Standing there shivering in the raw winter morning, I quickly came to
the conclusion that I had now no choice but to pursue one course of
action.  The free time after breakfast was too short to allow of my
doing anything till after morning school ended at twelve o'clock; then,
even if it meant accepting the risk of being seen, I must run over the
ground we had covered the night before, and attempt to find the cap.
It was quite possible that neither the farmer nor his men might cross
these particular fields before midday, and so, with good luck, this
unfortunate proof of my guilt might be kept from falling into their
hands.

How vividly the events of that unfortunate morning are impressed upon
my mind!  We had no separate classroom in those days; the one big
school held all the forms in work hours, each division being marshalled
round the desk of its particular master.  The class which contained
Miles Coverthorne, myself, and about a dozen other boys, was taken by a
master named Jennings.  We were seated at our desks preparing some work
before standing round to be questioned.  Exactly what the subject was I
don't remember--probably the Latin grammar, to the study of which the
greater portion of our time seems to have been devoted.  Directly in
front of me sat a youth who, from the possession of a peculiarly
squeaky voice, was known as the "Jackdaw," a nickname which suited him
in more ways than one, for he was as mischievous as the famous bird
whom the legend declares to have stolen the cardinal's ring.

My eyes happening to wander from my book, I became aware of the fact
that the "Jackdaw" was endeavouring to attract my attention.  In the
hand which he held out towards me was a queer-shaped object, which he
evidently wished me to examine.  I took it, and found that it was a toy
which he had already informed me he intended to make.  The article in
question was one which it is probable my present-day readers will never
have seen, and I find some difficulty in describing it without being
able to demonstrate its working by showing the thing itself.  In my
young days, when children were more often obliged to make their own
playthings, they were common enough.  We called them "jumpers," and
constructed them out of the breastbone of a goose, a bit of wood, and
some twisted string.  At the point of the bone was a small piece of
cobbler's wax.  This was warmed; then the bit of wood was wound round
and round in the twisted string, which ran through two holes bored in
the extremities of the fork; the end of the chip was then stuck to the
wax, and the "jumper" placed ready for its leap.  As the wax cooled,
its hold gradually relaxed, till suddenly the bit of wood was let go,
and, with the action of a compressed spring, sent the whole contrivance
flying into the air.

Unable to resist the temptation of seeing how the "Jackdaw's"
newly-made treasure would act, I wound up the string, warmed the wax by
breathing on it, and foolishly set the toy down on the form by my side.
I don't know whether the "jumper" was a specially strong one, but after
a few moments' pause it suddenly sprang high in the air, and,
describing a circle, fell with a clatter right on the master's desk.

Mr. Jennings looked up with a start from the book he was reading.

"Who did that?" he demanded sharply.

There was a general titter.

"Please, sir, I did," I faltered.

"Then stand out," ordered the master.  "If I have to speak to you again
for inattention, you will stay in and do your work after school."

As the words were uttered a sudden thought flashed through my mind that
if I were kept in after school I should not be able to carry out my
intention of slipping off and going in search of my cap.  I glanced
uneasily towards the end of the room where Dr. Bagley was seated at his
desk, giving instruction to the head form.  If he happened to catch
sight of me thus banished from the class, it might mean further
trouble.  Fortunately, for the present the great man's attention was
fully occupied.  I waited anxiously for about ten minutes, and then
ventured to ask Mr. Jennings if I might sit down.

"Certainly not," was the reply.  "Remain where you are till the end of
the lesson."

Hoping that the worst would not happen, I resumed my former position.
There was a movement at the end of the room; the doctor had dismissed
his boys to their seats to write an exercise.  Slowly he rose from his
chair, adjusted his spectacles, and, descending from his platform, came
down the room.  I saw that my fate was sealed, and stood like a
condemned criminal on the drop, awaiting the withdrawal of the fatal
bolt.

"Well, sir, and what brings you here?"

Not knowing what reply to make, I remained speechless, and Mr. Jennings
answered the question.

"He has been wasting his time and disturbing the rest of the class
playing with this silly toy, sir."

In those days the cane was the most usual form of punishment for all
kinds of offences.  Though sharp at the moment, it had the advantage of
being soon over; and remembering my project, I almost hoped that the
headmaster would order me to follow him to his desk, the usual place of
execution.  If this, however, was my wish, it was destined to be
thwarted.

"Oh, indeed!" returned the doctor, in his most magisterial tones.
"Then let me tell you, sir, that a boy who plays in work hours must
make up his mind to work in play hours.--Mr. Jennings, kindly set him a
task, and see that he remains at his desk during the free hour before
dinner."

In my vexation I could have fallen on the "Jackdaw" and given him a
good pommelling for having induced me to meddle with such an
exceptionally lively "jumper" in school time.  The mischief, however,
was done now; and when the other boys were dismissed, and rushed out
into the playground, I was forced to remain at my place with a Latin
book open in front of me, a certain number of lines of which I was
ordered to commit to memory.

I was still far from easy in mind, and could only hope that my cap was
reposing in some ditch or thicket, where it was not likely to be
noticed by any chance passers-by.  Attempting to reassure myself with
the thought of this possibility, I settled down to my task, and
commenced repeating the Latin lines over and over again, in a
monotonous undertone, until they should become fixed in my memory.

The hands of the clock must have reached half-past twelve, when the
door of the schoolroom suddenly opened, and Sparrow the porter made his
appearance.

"Mr. Eden, the doctor wants you--now, at once--in his study;" and with
this abrupt announcement the man promptly turned on his heel and
disappeared.

To us boys there was always a dreadful significance in that apparently
harmless message, and my heart sank within me as I rose to my feet and
prepared to obey.  I walked down a short, dark passage, across a bare,
draughty hall, and knocking on a forbidding-looking door, received a
peremptory command to "come in."

Once across the threshold any doubt as to the reason of the summons was
set at rest by the sight of Farmer Smiley sitting very bolt upright on
a chair by the bookcase, with his hat on the floor by his side.

"D'you see this cap, sir?" began the headmaster, holding up the article
in question.  "It has your name on the lining, therefore I presume it
is yours."

From the burning sensation in my cheeks I felt that my face must have
given a plainer answer to the question than my mumbled reply.

"Then will you explain how it came to be lying this morning in the
middle of one of Mr. Smiley's fields?"

However unwilling I might be to tell the story, the admissions were
dragged from me--first, that I had visited the farmer's field with the
object of enjoying a stolen ride on his horse; and, secondly, that I
had actually done so late the previous night, when I was supposed to be
asleep in bed.

"You actually mean to tell me that you climbed out of your dormitory
window and went roaming over the country when it must have been close
on midnight?  I never heard of such outrageous conduct--never!"

"He warn't the only one," put in the old farmer; "there was two on 'em."

"Was any other boy with you?" demanded Dr. Bagley.

I shut my mouth tightly with the determination that nothing should
induce me to betray my friend.  Whether the doctor would have insisted
on a reply to his question I cannot say, but fortunately a diversion
was caused by the farmer, who probably felt satisfied in bringing home
the charge against at least one of the culprits.

"Well, whether I seed one or two I ain't perticular about--leastways
there's no doubt about this un.  And," continued the speaker, going off
at a tangent, "it seems to me a pity that a man can't live on a farm
without his gates being broken and his beasts chased by a band of
mischievous young rascals like this 'ere."

"Mr. Smiley," began the headmaster, "I can only say how much I regret
that anything of this sort should have happened.  I can assure you that
I shall make an example of this boy, and take steps to prevent your
meeting with any such annoyances in the future.--Now, sir," he
continued, turning to me, "go straight to your bedroom, and stay there
till I send for you to come down."

There is no necessity for me to enter into a full description of the
painful incidents which followed this command.  Dr. Bagley was not in a
mood to be lenient.  The various raids of "Foxes" and "Eagles" over the
countryside had occasioned more than one complaint being lodged against
us; and now that he had a clearly-proved case to deal with, the
headmaster was determined to make such an example of the culprit as
should discourage indulgence in such lawless practices in the future.

That afternoon I received a public caning before the whole school, and
was informed that, as an additional punishment, I should be kept back
to go home one day later than the rest.

Though the flogging was a severe one, I think I would have endured it a
second time if the doctor would have substituted this for the remaining
part of my sentence.  At the end of a long half every extra day seemed
an unbearably long period of time, and the thought of seeing all my
comrades start for home while I lingered behind, and missed all the fun
of travelling with them--such a prospect, I say, appeared almost
unendurable.  As has been already stated, owing to the limited
accommodation on the coaches, our breaking-up really extended over two
days: half the boys were starting on the Wednesday, and the other half
on the Thursday; so I should have to remain till the Friday morning.
Sitting on the end of my bed in the cold dormitory, where I had been
ordered to spend the rest of the day in solitary confinement, I felt
the soreness of this disappointment more than the smart of the weals
inflicted by the headmaster's cane.  There was, however, one
consolation through it all--namely, the fact that I had not betrayed my
comrade in the night's adventure.  However crude our code of honour may
have been, we were loyal to it; and I had the satisfaction of feeling
that my school-fellows would remember this as a proof that I was no
sneak.  Furthermore, this was to be the end of Miles's school life, and
it would have been a pity for him to finish up by being sent home in
disgrace for what was, after all, merely a piece of thoughtless folly,
and largely the fault of Liddle.

The short winter day was drawing to a close, and I was sitting in the
deepening twilight, when the door suddenly opened, and in came Miles.
He had been watching his opportunity to creep upstairs, and was
carrying his boots in his hand, it being against the rules for boys to
visit the dormitories between the times of getting up and going to bed.

"I say," he began, "I hope I haven't acted like a sneak.  I've been
thinking that perhaps I ought to have come forward and owned up to
having been with you last night, but I'll tell you why I didn't.  I
thought perhaps the doctor had asked if any one else had gone, and you
might have said 'No;' and in that case you'd only have got it worse for
not telling the truth.  I tried to get to see you before dinner, but I
nearly got caught; and though I've been on the lookout ever since, this
is really the first opportunity.  I say, didn't old Smiley notice there
were two of us? or how did it happen that I escaped?"

I told him exactly what had transpired in the course of my examination
by the headmaster.

"You're an awful old brick, Sylvester!" he exclaimed.  "It was jolly
good of you to try to keep me out of the scrape when it was really my
doing.  All the same, now I know exactly what you said, I shall go to
Bagley and tell him of my share in the business.  I can't save you the
thrashing, but he might let you off from staying behind that extra day."

"Don't be a fool!" I cried, catching him by the arm.  "It can't make
any difference now.  He won't let me off, and you'll only get in a row
yourself.  Look here, Miles: you've had trouble enough lately, and I'm
only too glad to have kept you out of this row.  If you think you're
indebted to me for a good turn, then do as I ask, and don't go spoiling
it all by getting flogged for nothing."

He laughed, and sat down on the bed by my side.

"You're a regular old brick," he repeated; "and if you really mean it,
why, I'll let sleeping dogs lie.  But I wish there was more likelihood
of my being able to do something for you in return.  Who knows if we
shall ever meet again?  If we are forced to give up Coverthorne, I
think I shall go to sea.  I must have an open-air life, and I couldn't
stand being penned up in an office."

We sat silent for a few moments in the gathering darkness, and I must
own to an uncomfortable lump rising in my throat as I strove to find
words in which to reply.  We had come as new boys to the school on the
same day, and had been close friends ever since, sharing our joys and
sorrows, and never expecting that a day would come when our
companionship would have a sudden and unlooked-for ending.  I should
have little to look forward to in returning to school after the
Christmas holidays.

"Hullo! there goes the tea-bell," exclaimed.  Miles.  "Cheer up," he
added, apparently reading my thoughts; "we shall meet again--who knows?"

"Who knows?" I echoed, as cheerfully as I could, and forcing a laugh.

My friend turned and stole softly from the room.  If some one could
have told us that we should see each other again before the year was
out, we might have spent the night in guessing, and yet have remained
without the remotest idea as to how, when, and where that extraordinary
meeting was to take place.



CHAPTER VIII.

MY JOURNEY BEGINS.

It was certainly a bitter pill for me to swallow watching the boys
start for home on the Wednesday and Thursday mornings, and what made
the punishment seem all the harder was saying good-bye to Miles.  Had
it not been for that hare-brained antic, I might at least have
travelled with him on the coach as far as Tod's Corner, and so enjoyed
his companionship a few hours longer.  A school, after the boys have
gone home for the holidays, is a very desolate place.  I had my meals
at the headmaster's table, but, being in disgrace, ate them in solemn
silence, and was glad enough when the ordeal was over, and I was free
once more to go where I liked.

At length, on the Thursday afternoon, I found myself sitting at one of
the long rows of desks in the empty schoolroom.  The unusual quiet
seemed to weigh on my spirits; and though I tried to cheer myself with
the thought that only a few hours now remained before I should be on
the way home, yet a certain gloomy foreboding as of impending trouble
seemed to weigh on my mind.  What could it be?  After all, the loss of
one day did not much matter, and I felt sure that when I explained the
full circumstances of the case to my parents, they would take a lenient
view of my foolish midnight escapade.  Sitting idly mending an old
quill pen which I had found on the floor, my thoughts turned once more
to Miles and his uncertain future, and from this I came to recalling
the incidents of my visit to Coverthorne.

What could be the explanation of that strange noise in the so-called
haunted room?  Of course, there were no such things as ghosts, and
yet--and yet I myself had beaten a hasty retreat when left alone with
those unearthly sounds, the origin of which it was impossible to trace.
The very recollection of the experience made me turn and glance
uneasily up and down the long room, as though I half expected to find
myself sharing its solitude with some black bogey of a nursemaid's
tale.  The next instant I laughed at my own foolishness, and rising to
my feet began to move about, for the room was cold.

The place had not been swept since the boys' departure.  The floor was
littered with torn paper, fragments of broken slates, and other rubbish
which had been thrown about in the process of packing up.  Some
light-hearted youth, who had come into possession of a piece of chalk,
had covered the blackboard with his scrawlings.  Wandering aimlessly up
the room, I came to a halt; then, hardly conscious of what I was doing,
I opened one of the desks, and glanced down carelessly at its interior.

What good reason I afterwards had to remember that apparently
purposeless' action!  The books and other boyish possessions had been
removed, and nothing remained but a mass of waste paper and other odds
and ends, such as lay strewn about on the floor.  I stirred this up
with my hand.  As I did so, my fingers came in contact with something
hard, and I drew forth a small, oblong metal box, made, if I remember
rightly, of pewter.

The desk had been occupied by a boy named Talbot, who was leaving these
holidays, and so had taken his books with him.  The object which I held
in my hand, and which he had evidently overlooked, was a tinder-box, or
rather a box containing tinder, flint, and steel, and little chips of
wood tipped with sulphur.  The so-called "lucifer" matches, I may
remark, did not come into use until some years later.  I stood for a
moment undecided what to do with my find.  Left in the desk it was
certain to be discovered and carried off, either by one of the servants
or the charwoman who cleaned the room.  Talbot had a younger brother
who would be returning after Christmas.  I might restore the box to
him; and with this intention I slipped it into my pocket.

I was up early enough on the following morning, devoured my breakfast
in the kitchen by the light of a solitary candle, and then said a hasty
good-bye to Dr. Bagley, who had just come down, and who, after sternly
expressing a hope that I should amend my ways next term, thawed
sufficiently to wish me a merry Christmas and send his compliments to
my friends at home.  Sparrow was to drive me in the pony-chaise as far
as Round Green.  We started off, with the single trunk which composed
my luggage on the seat in front; and so began the most eventful journey
of my life--one which it seems little short of a miracle did not end in
my embarking on that still longer journey from which there is no return.

The coach was due to arrive at Round Green at about 9.30, and we were
to wait for it, as usual, at the Sportsman Inn, which, being the end of
a stage, was always stopped at for the purpose of changing horses.

It was a bitterly cold morning; the roads seemed as hard as iron, and
our breath smoked as we talked.  We had covered nearly half the
distance, and were going along in fine fashion, when suddenly there was
a clatter and a crash.  I felt myself flung forward, heard a shout from
Sparrow, and the next moment found myself rolling down a steep bank by
the roadside, half blinded by the cold rime from the frosty grass.  It
took me a few seconds to recover myself, and when at length I scrambled
to my feet, I saw at once what had happened.  The pony had slipped on a
sheet of ice, and come down badly, cutting its knees and smashing one
of the shafts.  Fortunately Sparrow had sustained no injury, and with
the help of a countryman who happened to be crossing a neighbouring
field we unharnessed our steed, and got it once more on its legs.

For a time the accident occupied the whole of our attention.  Sparrow
was in a fine state of mind, fearing that he would be blamed for the
mishap.  It was evident that we could not go on, and if we returned we
should have to walk.  Then it flashed across my mind that this delay
would cause me to lose the coach.  There was no catching a later train
in those days, and I could not bring myself to face the prospect of
spending another day in that deserted school.

"I shall go on," I declared to Sparrow, "and you can return with the
pony."

"I doubt if you'll reach the Sportsman in time, Mr. Eden," was the
answer.  "And there's your box.  We must back the chaise into the
roadside till it can be sent for, but we ought not to leave your box."

"Oh, bother my luggage!" I began, when the countryman interrupted and
came to the rescue.

"I doan't mind carrying the young gen'leman's box as fur as the
Sportsman for a mug o' beer," he remarked; "then you can get back home
with the pony."

The arrangement was no sooner suggested than I agreed to it, and
Sparrow was obliged to acquiesce.  The damaged carriage was pushed back
into a gateway, my trunk was lifted out, and hoisted on to the broad
shoulders of the labourer; and taking leave of the school porter, I
turned to resume my journey to Round Green.

In the heat of the moment I had not paid much attention to the doubt
expressed by Sparrow as to my reaching the inn in time to catch the
coach, but now I began to wonder myself whether the thing could be
done.  Nowadays every boy has a watch; then they were a rarer
possession.  I had no means of telling the time, but guessed we had
none to spare.

On I went, the man with the box trudging behind me.  It soon became
evident that, burdened as he was, he could not keep up with me unless I
moderated my pace; and at length, when we reached the top of a rather
stiff hill, he was obliged to stop and put down the trunk, in order to
rest and regain his breath.

The sunshine sparkled on the frosted trees and hedges.  It was one of
those clear, still winter mornings when sounds carry a long distance,
and as we waited there came to our ears the far-off "toot-toot" of a
horn.  It was the coach signalling its approach to Round Green.  I
sprang to my feet, and abandoning my box to its fate, rushed off along
the road, with some wild notion of stopping the coach and leaving word
for my luggage to be sent on.  But I might as well have attempted to
overtake the vehicle which had carried off my companions on the
previous day.  The inn was still more than a mile distant, and when at
length, flushed and panting, I arrived in front of the building, the
only trace to be seen of the _Regulator_ was a glimpse of the steaming
horses, which had worked the last stage, being led away by an hostler
in the direction of the stables.  Accustomed though I was to take hard
knocks at school, I must say that I could have sat down and cried with
vexation.  Pulling myself together, I walked into the house, and there
encountering Peter Judson, the landlord, and his wife, a stout,
good-natured body, who always took a kindly interest in us boys, in a
few words I related exactly what had happened.

"What stuff and nonsense not allowing him to go home with the rest!"
exclaimed Mrs. Judson.  "It just serves that old Dr. Bagley right, his
chaise being broken!--Well, my dear," she continued, "I don't see
there's anything to be done but for you to go back, and make a fresh
start again to-morrow.  The butcher will pass in about an hour's time;
he is going Ashbridge way, and would take you along with him in his
cart."

"Oh, I'm not going back," I answered doggedly.  "Look here," I added,
struck with a sudden idea: "I'll wait here, and go on by the night
coach.  I don't mind the cold, and I should get home to Castlefield in
time for breakfast to-morrow morning."

"It's not certain you'd find room," muttered Peter, "unless you booked
a place beforehand.  There's a good many travelling now, just before
Christmas."

"Oh, they'd stow him away somewhere, a little chap like him," remarked
Mrs. Judson.

Just then a man's head appeared at the door of the bar-parlour in which
we were talking, and I recognized Bob, the head stableman, who had been
passing down the passage and had overheard our conversation.

"There's the _True Blue_ put on extra to-day for the jail delivery," he
remarked.  "The young gen'leman might get through to Castlefield all
right on that.  I don't suppose he'd have any particular objection to
going along of the 'birds,' seeing they're well looked after!"

The exact meaning of this speech I did not comprehend, but I gathered
from it that there was a chance of my going on by an extra coach, which
would pass before the mail, and I at once jumped at the opportunity.

"Oh yes; I'll go on by that," I exclaimed.  "What time is it due?"

"About half-past four," answered the man.

Judson and his wife looked at each other and then at me.

"I don't see why he shouldn't go," remarked the latter.  "George'll
look after him all right.  Besides, his friends will be expecting him
to-day, and'll be sure to be sitting up.  He ought to be home just
afore or after midnight."

It was, accordingly, settled that I was to go on by the _True Blue_,
which was due to pass at half-past four.  The man appeared shortly
after with my box.  I gave him his mug of beer, and then settled down
to while away the time as best I could till the coach should arrive.  I
looked over some back numbers of the _Welmington Advertiser_, went
outside and chatted with the stablemen, and joined the landlord and his
wife at their midday dinner.  Slowly the afternoon wore away.  Mrs.
Judson had forced me to eat a hearty tea--"to keep out the cold," as
the good soul put it--and I was standing warming myself by the taproom
fire talking to Judson, when, happening to turn my head, I saw a man's
face pressed close against the outside of the window.  By this time it
was quite dark.  I could see nothing more of the stranger than his
face, but from the way in which he moved his head it seemed to me that
he was endeavouring to get a glimpse of the old eight-day clock which
stood in a corner of the room behind the bar.  Perceiving that I was
looking at something, the landlord turned also, but had hardly done so
when the face disappeared.

We waited for a moment, expecting that the stranger would enter the
inn; then, as he did not appear, Judson strolled outside to see what
the man wanted.  I waited some time, and at length the landlord
returned.

"You saw that fellow outside, didn't you, sir?" he asked.  "Well, it's
curious I can't see no trace of him anywhere.  He looked rather a rough
customer.  I wonder what he wanted."

We had little time for speculation, for hardly had my companion
finished speaking when the cheerful note of the horn gave warning that
the coach was approaching; and the quiet little inn woke up at once
with an unwonted show of life and bustle.

Great was my delight, as the guard of the coach entered the room, to
recognize our old friend George Woodley, who, I afterwards discovered,
had been changed from the _Regulator_ to the _True Blue_; and in a few
words I explained to him the situation in which I was placed.

"Oh, very well, sir," he answered, "come along; there's a seat outside,
and we'll look after you all right."

I followed him down the passage and outside, where the fresh horses
were just being put to--the glaring lamps of the coach sending forth
rays of light into the darkness ahead, which seemed to make it all the
more intense, though stars twinkled overhead.  As we stepped into the
road we were greeted with a roar of men's voices singing, without much
regard to tune or time.  The sound came from the outside passengers,
who seemed to be diverting themselves with a sort of rough taproom
chorus.  I remember noticing that the usual pile of luggage on the roof
was missing, and to my surprise the box-seat by the side of the
coachman was vacant.  Into this lofty perch it was that I now climbed;
and as the driver gathered up his reins, on the point of starting, an
incident happened which caught my attention.  A man emerged from the
deep shadow of the hedge at the roadside, and springing lightly on to
the near front wheel, said in a hoarse whisper,--

"Is that you, Ned?  Good-bye, old man!  Here, shake hands.
Good-bye--God bless you!"

There followed a sharp metallic jingle, which caused me to turn my
head; and then it was that, for the first time, I became aware of the
fact that the men behind me were all fettered.



CHAPTER IX.

THE RISING.

Tom Barker, the coachman, had just given the word to the hostler to
"let 'em go!" when Judson came running out of the lighted doorway of
the inn with something in his hand.

"Here's a hare and a brace of pheasants the squire wants delivered to
Dr. Plumer of Castlefield, Tom," he said.  "They may as well go on by
you.  I'll hang 'em on the lamp iron."

"All right," muttered Barker, and off we went.  To sit beside the
driver was in those days considered a very privileged position, and I
felt not a little proud of the honour, in spite of the fact that I was
filled with a feeling of uneasiness and astonishment at what I had just
discovered with regard to my fellow-travellers.  The good-natured
driver must have guessed my thoughts, for he turned to me, remarking,--

"I suppose you know what sort of a load we've got to-night, sir?"

"Well, no--not exactly," I replied.

"Why, it's the jail delivery off to Botany Bay," was the answer.

"And what's the 'jail delivery'?" I asked, remembering that I had heard
the words before, but still in doubt as to their exact meaning.

"Why, these is all jail-birds off to a warmer climate like the
swallers," answered Tom, chuckling at his own grim joke, and skilfully
winding up the long lash of his whip.  "They've all been condemned to
transportation at Welmington Assizes, and now they're on their way from
jail to the hulks at Portsmouth."

Any doubt as to the correctness of this statement was dispelled by the
convicts themselves, who launched out once more into their uproarious
song, "We're off to Botany Bay," accompanying their chant with a weird
jingling of their chains.  This last sound sent a momentary thrill of
horror through me, for I had never before seen human beings chained
like brute beasts.

"They're all right!" continued Tom.  "They've got the ruffles on, and
they're all fast to the rail," he added, referring to an iron rail
which ran across the coach behind the seat on the roof, to keep the
luggage from slipping forward.  "They can't do no harm.  All the same,
I've carried loads I liked better."

"How many are there?" I inquired.

"Ten, and two warders--one inside, and t'other out.  There's one
they've got inside, a regular highflier--Rodwood his name is.  He's
sentenced for life, I believe.  The only wonder is he's escaped being
hung."

"What was his crime?"

"Forgery--at least that's what they've got him for; but they say he's a
desperate villain--one as'll stop at nothing when his blood is up, and
would think no more of killing a man as came in his way than you or I
might of knocking down a rat in a stable.  Well, he's off safe enough
now for t'other side of the world, and I hope they'll keep him there."

The convicts continued to sing and shout, then grew quieter, apparently
tired by their exertions, though every now and again one or more of
them burst out afresh in a forced manner, as though bent on making a
display of bravado and unconcern.  Once or twice, in the pauses of
their singing, and amid the clatter of the horses' hoofs and the rumble
of the wheels, I remember catching a slight sound, the origin of which
it was impossible for even my sharp ears to clearly distinguish, but
which I attributed to the swaying and grating of the lamp-iron on which
the game had been hung.

On and on we rattled through the darkness.  Tom and I exhausted our
topics of conversation, and for the time being relapsed into silence.
Guilty as I knew my fellow-passengers were of serious crimes, I could
not help in a way feeling sorry for them, and contrasting their journey
with mine--I myself on the way to the enjoyment of a jolly Christmas
holiday with friends at home, and they to banishment from their native
land, and to hard servitude beyond the sea.

The cold, too, was intense.  I felt it, though warmly clad, and made
sure that the poor wretches on the seats behind must be chilled to the
bone.  Even burly Tom Barker, protected with a driving coat and a big
shawl, growled out that "it was a sharp un to-night, and no mistake,"
by which I understood him to imply that it was freezing hard.

At length, at the end of a stage, as we drew up outside an inn very
similar to the Sportsman, Tom prepared to dismount from his perch, and
invited me to do the same.  I preferred, however, to remain where I
was, and was watching the stablemen removing the horses, when, to my
surprise, I heard a man's voice behind me pronounce my name.

"Mr. Eden."

Turning sharply, I found the convict directly behind me leaning forward
in his seat.  The bright light which shone out through the open door of
the inn fell directly on his face, and I was shocked to recognize the
rugged features of the man Lewis, in whose boat at Rockymouth, on more
than one occasion, Miles and I had gone fishing.

"Excuse me, sir," continued the man.  "I knew you as soon as you got up
at Round Green.  Maybe you've heard from Mr. Miles how I come to this.
A tussle with the preventive men was what done it.  I'm no thief."

Had it not been for the sadness of the situation, I could almost have
smiled at this fresh proof of the dogged conviction, entertained by
this man and his class, that defrauding the revenue was no crime.

"I should like to have said good-bye to Mr. Miles," continued Lewis.
"Give him my respects when you see him.  I suppose, sir, you haven't
got such a thing as a bit of baccy about you?"

Remembering our holiday excursions, and somehow contrasting his present
hapless condition with the freedom of the great sea, I could not but
pity the unhappy fellow.  I shook my head, signifying that I had not.

The next moment Tom Barker emerged from the inn, rubbing his mouth with
the back of his hand.  He clambered into his place; there was a "Give
'em their heads, Dick," and we were off again.

The next stage was not accomplished quite so successfully as the
previous part of the journey.  After a time one of the wheelers went
lame.  On examination, it proved to have been badly shod, and at the
end of another mile Tom pulled up at a wayside blacksmith's to have the
offending nail extracted.  Here we had to wait some little time while
the smith, who had stopped work for the day, was fetched from his
cottage, which was down a dark lane, and not easy to find.  It was
during this pause in the journey, after the coach had remained
stationary for about twenty minutes, that a man thrust his head out of
the window and demanded, in loud and peremptory tones, the reason of
the delay.

"See here, guard," he cried, "this sort of thing won't do!  I'm due
aboard one of the king's ships to-morrow!"

The convicts sent up a shout of laughter at this reference to the hulk
for which they were bound, and I was soon aware that the speaker was
not the warder, as I had at first imagined, but the man Rodwood of whom
Tom had spoken.  He kept up the joke with a few more sentences of a
similar kind, until the gruff command, "Stow that!" from the warder
caused him to subside once more into his seat.  He spoke like an
educated gentleman, and with the air of one accustomed to command.
Indeed, I afterwards learned that he had once held a commission in the
army, but owing to gambling debts had been obliged to sell out,
whereupon he had entered upon a career of crime, which had terminated
in a sentence of transportation for life.  At length George Woodley and
the smith put in their appearance; the injured horse was attended to,
and we were enabled to resume our journey.  Bowling along mile after
mile in the darkness, it was difficult to judge how time was passing;
but Tom, glancing at his old, turnip-shaped watch as we left the
smithy, muttered,--

"Blessed if it ain't quarter-past eight, and we ain't got to Tod's
Corner."

The mention of the crossroads, where at the beginning of the summer
holidays we had been met by the gig from Coverthorne, caused my
thoughts to fly off to the old house and the fun I had had with Miles,
both at the commencement of the previous holidays and during that long
friendship which had been brought to such an untimely end.  Musing over
the events of the holiday naturally led me back to a remembrance of the
man with whom I had just been speaking.  There he sat, bound for the
opposite side of the globe; yet within half an hour we should pass
within three miles of Rockymouth, that native village which he might
never behold again.  If it had been daylight, we should by this time
have caught a glimpse of the sea from the highway along which we were
travelling, and the night air seemed flavoured with the salt odour of
the ocean.

Though cold and weary, the convicts had once more commenced their song,
as though, being debarred the free use of their limbs, they were
determined to keep themselves warm with the exercise of their lungs.  I
had grown by this time so much accustomed to their presence as to
hardly notice their shouting; tired out with the day's adventures, only
the fear of falling from my lofty perch prevented my dropping off to
sleep.  Even the sharp tingling of my ears would not have kept me
awake.  My chin kept falling with a jerk upon my breast, and the
clatter of hoofs and the song of the prisoners mingled strangely with
momentary fancies that I was back at school, or was talking with the
loved ones at home.

At length I was roused up broad awake by the coach stopping.  The road
was very dark, owing to its being overshadowed by a number of tall
trees.  I peered about me, and catching sight of a ruined cottage with
half of its thatched roof fallen in, I recognized the spot at once, and
knew that we were come to within about a mile of Tod's Corner.  Just
beyond the glare of our lamps was the brow of a steep and dangerous
hill, and we had pulled up while George jumped down and put on the drag.

In fancy I can see now the dark figure of Tom Barker beside me, reins
in one hand and whip in the other, waiting for the signal to proceed.
The convicts had ceased their singing, and all was quiet except for the
impatient scrape of one of the leader's hoofs.  I heard the tinkle of
the drag as Woodley loosed the chain; then on the roof behind some one
gave a short, sharp whistle.

Exactly what happened next I did not fully realize till later.  Two men
suddenly seized Tom Barker from behind, and a desperate struggle
ensued.  The silence was broken by an outburst of horrible threats and
cursing, while, to make matters worse, the horses, startled by the
noise and the fall of the coachman's whip on the backs of the wheelers,
sprang forward, and, as though knowing instinctively that something was
wrong, gave every sign of commencing to bolt.

I fear I cannot claim for myself any particular presence of mind: it
was more the natural impulse of self-preservation which prompted me to
act; for once let the horses start to gallop down that hill, and all
our necks were as good as broken.  Fortunately, although I had never
enjoyed the privilege of handling the ribbons on a stage-coach before,
I was accustomed to horses.  I seized the reins in the nick of time,
just as they were slipping over the splashboard, and bracing myself for
the effort, succeeded in bringing the team to a standstill.

Even as I did so Tom Barker was flung from his seat, and fell heavily
into the road, where he lay like a log, stunned if not dead.  Terrified
by this violence, I was about to spring down and make good my escape in
the darkness, when I felt my arm seized in an iron grip, and a voice,
which I recognized as belonging to the man Lewis, spoke in my ear.

"Stay still, sir; you may get hurt if you try to run.  I'll see you
come to no harm."



CHAPTER X.

HIGHWAY PIRATES.

It did not take me long to arrive at an understanding of the true state
of affairs.  The convicts had risen, overpowered their guards, and
seized the coach.  From scraps of conversation which passed between
them, I subsequently learned that the man whom I had seen appear and
disappear so mysteriously outside the Sportsman Inn was a friend of one
of the prisoners, and, under the pretence of wishing him good-bye, had
handed up a couple of small files, with which several of the men had
freed themselves from their fetters.  Once or twice I had heard a
slight grating noise, but, as I have already said, I had attributed the
sound to the swaying of the lamp.

By some method of communication such as criminals seem always able to
establish, the three convicts inside had been informed of what was
about to take place, so that at the same moment the outbreak took place
on the roof they flung themselves on the warder who rode with them, and
succeeded in holding him down and wresting from him the pistol with
which he was armed.

To a certain extent stupefied by the shock of this sudden surprise, I
had but a confused notion of what took place during the next ten
minutes.  Together with George Woodley, who had also been seized, I was
thrust to the side of the road, while a man told off to keep watch over
us ordered us gruffly to sit down facing the hedge with our feet in the
ditch, as a greater precaution against our making any sudden attempt to
bolt.

In this position we could only judge by the sounds and conversation
going on behind us what was actually taking place.

"Better keep still, Master Eden," whispered George.  "We'd be safer in
a cage of wild beasts than among these men at this moment."

Obtaining the keys of the handcuffs from the pockets of their guards,
those men who had not already freed themselves from their fetters were
speedily liberated; the warders were now gagged, chained, and, as a
further precaution, bound with the broad straps used for securing
luggage on the coach roof.  Not till this had been done was any heed
paid to poor Tom Barker, who lay in the road exactly where he had
fallen.

"Is he dead?" I heard a voice inquire callously.

"Can't say," was the gruff reply.  "There's blood from his head on the
stones.  Hand down that lamp, and let's have a look.  He's breathing,"
continued the speaker after a pause.  "I should say he'll come round
again before long."

At that moment a man, whom I recognized at once as Rodwood, bade every
one be silent and listen to what he had to say.  The hum of voices
ceased, and the men gathered round the speaker, who raised himself by
standing on one of the steps of the vehicle.

"Whatever happens now, there's no turning back," he began; "and what's
to be done must be done quickly.  The mail to Welmington will pass
before long; and what's more, they'll be expecting us at the end of
this stage, so after a while they'll send a man back to find out what's
happened.  For the present we're all in the same boat, and we'd better
all pull together.  The thing will be to choose a leader.  Now, who'll
you have?"

"Yourself," cried a voice, and to this there was a unanimous murmur of
approbation.

"Very well," exclaimed the newly-appointed captain, jumping down into
the centre of his gang.  "Then the first thing is to get these two
'screws' out of the road.  They'd have shot us if they could have got
at their barkers, and I propose to serve 'em the same way.  It's the
safest plan.  Hand me the pistols!"

The awful coolness with which the man made this terrible proposal
thrilled me with horror.  Left to himself, the fellow would, I feel
sure, have carried out his abominable intention; but his comrades,
hardened and reckless offenders as some of them were, could not be
persuaded to follow him to such extremes of crime.

"No, no, Rodwood," cried one and another; "there's no need to risk
being scragged.  Hoist them inside this empty cottage; that'll give us
a fair start before they're likely to be found.  Put the coachman in
there too, and tie his legs; he won't find voice enough to shout for
help for some time yet, even if any one chanced to hear him."

The warders and poor Tom were accordingly half lifted, half dragged
inside the ruined cottage, and the men came back to decide what was to
be done next.

"Where are we going?" asked several voices.

"Well, we must clear out from here," answered Rodwood.  "The whole
countryside will be raised up against us before morning.  We've got a
coach and horses at our disposal, so why not go off in that?  I'll
drive, if no other man wants to handle the ribbons."

"That's all very well," muttered a man named Ned Arch, the convict to
whom the file had been given.  "That's all very well, but we can't go
farther than the end of this stage.  They'll be on the lookout there to
change the horses, and they'll see at once that something's wrong if we
try to drive through without stopping."

"True," answered Rodwood.  "We must get off the main road."

It was at this point that I heard Lewis suddenly break in on the
conversation.

"If there's no better plan going," he said, "why not make for the
coast?  We ain't above four miles from Rockymouth, I reckon, and once
there I'll undertake to hide you all in a place where you can lie for a
time with no danger of being found.  I've got friends there to whom,
with a bit of care, we can apply for help; and with anything like luck
we ought to be safe across the water, every one of us, by this day
week."

"Bravo!" cried Rodwood.  "Trust a bold 'free trader' for finding a way
out of a tight corner.  There's our plan of campaign all ready made."

"Look here," broke in the man who had been standing guard over myself
and George Woodley.  "What's to be done with this pair, I'd like to
know?  You don't mean to leave 'em sitting here, I suppose?"

"I'd forgotten about the guard and that boy," exclaimed Rodwood.  "Take
them across the field, and tie them each to a tree in the copse yonder;
but gag them first."

Fortunately for us, this suggestion on the part of their leader did not
meet with the approval of the other convicts.

"Don't be hard on the lad," said one.  "If he hadn't pulled up the
horses, we should most of us have had our necks broken."

"Woodley's a good fellow too," remarked another: "he gave us all the
baccy he had on him.  Tied to a tree, that youngster will be dead of
cold before morning; as for the 'screws,' why, they must take their
chance."

"Well, these must take their chance too," returned Rodwood angrily.
"If they come to be mixed up in this business, that's their own
lookout, and not our fault."

"The boy will be frozen on a night like this," said a voice.  "He did
us a good turn, so why not take him with us?  We shall find a chance of
dropping him, and the guard too, later on."

"Take him with us!" retorted the leader.  "We shall have enough trouble
to get off as it is, without dragging a couple of informers round the
country with us."

A heated discussion followed.  Strange and out of place as it seemed in
the breasts of such rascals, a sense of gratitude for what I had done,
and for sundry little tokens of commiseration on the part of the
kind-hearted George, mingled with their delight at finding themselves
so far on the road to freedom, prompted them to show some return in
preserving us from injury.  It was freezing hard, and the cold was
likely to increase still more before morning; therefore it was more
than likely that a boy like myself, already tired out with the journey
and the long day's adventures, if tied to a tree without the chance of
moving about to keep up the circulation, would ultimately perish from
the effects of the exposure, if he did not actually die before he was
discovered.  For the warders there was certainly more hope: the walls
of the cottage afforded them a certain amount of shelter from the
cutting wind, and, as I afterwards discovered, they had been flung down
on some straw, which added to the warmth of their clothing.  Rodwood
might have ordered us to be put in the same place, but he feared that,
if too many prisoners were huddled together in such a confined space,
they might roll together on the floor, and in some way contrive to
loosen each other's bonds.

It need hardly be said that I listened with straining ears and beating
heart as the discussion proceeded.  From Woodley's attitude I could
tell that he, too, was on the alert; and but for the fact that our
captors were now in possession of firearms, I think he might have
attempted to spring to his feet and break away from the group with a
sudden rush.  At length Lewis turned the balance in our favour by
declaring that unless we were allowed to accompany the party he would
not act as guide, at the same time promising to hold himself
responsible for our safe custody until the gang should have effected
their escape.

Rodwood perhaps knew that his authority over the party was, after all,
of a very nominal kind; and fearing to risk a mutiny before he should
have made his position as captain still more assured, he at length gave
in, merely insisting that we should be secured in some way to prevent
the possibility of our escape.

"Once they get free we're as good as lagged again.--But," he added
menacingly, turning in our direction, "you'd better try no tricks on
with me, d'ye hear?  There's no turning back as far as I'm concerned.
It's life or death for me, and I'll make it a life-or-death matter for
any one who tries to come between me and liberty."

Without further discussion Woodley and I were, accordingly, ordered to
take our places inside the coach, where, to make doubly certain of our
safekeeping, we were handcuffed together.  It was no good
expostulating; we could only submit, and feel thankful at receiving no
worse treatment at the hands of these desperate men.  But the grip of
that cold steel on my wrist made me realize, more than anything else
had done hitherto, the perilous nature of our situation.  There was no
knowing how long the friendly attitude on the part of the convicts
would last, or what would be our fate if they were pursued, or were
hard pressed in their attempt to escape.

Precious as every moment was to them, they still delayed making a
start.  One fellow, in whom the plundering instinct seemed to rise even
stronger than that of personal safety, had opened the hind boot, and
discovered, stowed away there, a large Christmas hamper which, among
other things, contained two bottles of wine.  Breaking the neck of one
of these, and using a metal cup belonging to a flask found in the
pocket of the coachman, the men drank all round, pledging each other
with rough jests and hoarse laughter.  Rodwood alone chafed at this
waste of time, but once more found his authority of too brief duration
to enforce obedience to his wishes.  The men would probably have
insisted on discussing the contents of the second bottle, had not
something happened which drove even the thoughts of liquor from their
minds.  Clear and distinct on the frosty air came the clatter of
horses' hoofs, and at the same moment the man who had been standing at
the heads of our leaders called back the unwelcome news that a coach
was coming from the direction of Tod's Corner.

It was then that, for the first time, Rodwood really asserted himself,
and proved his natural capacity as a leader.  Among his followers the
sudden alarm created something like a panic; left to themselves they
would certainly have abandoned the _True Blue_ where it stood, and made
off over the neighbouring hedges and fields--a proceeding the fatal
consequences of which, as far as their own interests were concerned, it
was not difficult to realize.  With curses, and even with blows,
Rodwood dashed here and there, seizing the men who were already turning
to fly, and forcing them to take their places on the coach.

"As for you two," he said hurriedly, poking his head through the coach
window, "if you value your lives, keep your mouths shut.--You
understand, Nat?" turning to the man who rode inside to act as our
guard.

"Yes, I understand," muttered this ruffian grimly.  "They won't have
the chance to say much, I'll warrant!"

The speaker was one of the least friendly disposed towards us of the
whole gang.  He had armed himself with a big stone, and sitting
directly opposite Woodley and myself, would certainly have brained one
or the other of us if we had made the faintest attempt to give an alarm.

In another moment there was a jerk as the vehicle started and went
slowly grinding down the steep hill.  About half-way we met the other
coach coming up, and for one moment, as the glare of the lamps shone
full upon us, I held my breath, wondering whether the escape would be
discovered.  The man Nat raised his stone in a threatening manner, but
neither George nor I had any intention of risking a smashed skull by an
outcry which would probably be lost amid the clatter of hoofs and the
noise of the wheels.

The tension lasted only a few seconds.  Rodwood, who had picked up and
put on poor Tom's characteristic beaver hat, played his part well,
returning the gruff salutation of the driver of the mail with the
greatest coolness.  We slipped by into the darkness, and the crisis was
past.

So, handcuffed to Woodley, the captive of a gang of highway pirates, I
entered on the third stage of that eventful holiday journey.



CHAPTER XI.

THE LAST OF THE "TRUE BLUE."

Under the guidance of Lewis, who acted as pilot, we must have turned
down a lane before reaching Tod's Corner, and on leaving the main road
our two large lamps were promptly extinguished.  The wonder was that
the cumbrous vehicle was not overturned twenty times in the first mile.
Any ordinary driver might have refused to make the attempt in broad
daylight, and on a dark night it needed skill as well as courage, both
of which, however, Rodwood seemed to possess in a marked degree.  I
heard afterwards that in his palmy days he had owned and driven a coach
of his own, which no doubt accounted for the masterly way in which he
handled the ribbons.

The hour would now have been considered late by country people.  There
was little chance of any one being about; the chief risk, and that a
remote one, lay in the possibility of encountering and being challenged
by a "riding officer," a branch of the preventive service whose duty it
was during the night to patrol and examine lanes and byroads near the
coast, and thus hamper the movements of the smugglers on shore.  Though
I did not know it till later, this chance of being stopped had been
discussed by Lewis and the leader of the gang, who, in the event of
such a thing taking place, was fully prepared to resort to desperate
measures, and drove with a pistol ready cocked lying on the seat by his
side.

On and on we went, jolting and lurching like a fishing-smack in a
choppy sea.  There was no singing now; the men, as might have been
expected, were watchful, and intent on making good their escape.  The
coach's disappearance from the highroad might not be discovered for
some hours yet; on the other hand, any belated farm-labourer, hearing
or seeing us as we lumbered past in the darkness, would surely guess
that something unusual was happening, and might raise an alarm.

It is difficult for me to recall my own personal feelings at this stage
of the adventure.  I think I had too much confidence in the good will
shown by Lewis and the other men whom we had in a small way befriended
to feel really afraid.  I was chiefly curious to know where the
hiding-place existed in which we should be so securely stowed.  Perhaps
it was some secret loft or cellar, many of which Miles had declared
existed at Rockymouth.  Here we should no doubt lie till the following
evening, when the convicts would continue their escape by land or
water, and George Woodley and I would be set free.

How long we continued jogging onward at a walking pace I cannot say; we
should certainly have been overturned had we attempted to go faster,
and even at that slow rate it seemed to me that we must have gone miles
beyond our destination, and possibly have travelled far along some
byroad running parallel with the coast.  Then suddenly the coach
stopped; there was a murmur of conversation, and we heard the men
clambering down from the roof.

A moment later the door was opened, and a voice ordered us to
dismount--a feat which it was not altogether easy for Woodley and me to
accomplish, still fettered as we were, wrist to wrist.  The moment I
was outside the vehicle the fresh salt breath of the sea saluted my
cheeks and nostrils.  We stood on the high ground above Rockymouth, and
the narrow lane along which we had come now emerged from between high
hedges and cultivated ground, and crossed a stretch of open common or
moorland.  A mile distant, and far beneath us, the little haven
snuggled down in the sheltering valley, the only sign of its existence
being one tiny point of light from some cottage window where perhaps
watchers sat beside a sickbed.

The last of the outside passengers was helped down from the roof as
though he had suffered some injury and was partially disabled.  I could
not see clearly enough to distinguish what was really the matter with
him, but I noticed that in all his subsequent movements he seemed to be
led or supported by one of his companions.

By mutual consent the men gathered round us in a group, while the tired
horses shook their heads and champed their bits.  There we stood, a
strange company, and in the silence, broken only by their heavy
breathing, a feeling of apprehension began to take hold of me, and I
wondered what would happen next.

"What's the time?" demanded Rodwood abruptly.  "The guard's got a
watch; just have a look, some of you."

The "flink" of a flint and steel was sufficient to show the position of
the hands on the broad face of the old-fashioned timepiece, and a voice
murmured, "Close on ten."

"Well, boys," began Rodwood, "the first question is, What's to be done
with the coach?  We can't go to sea in her; and if we leave her here,
it's as good as giving the whole countryside information as to our
whereabouts."

For a moment there was a silence.  A coach and four is not a thing that
can be hidden away in the nearest hedgerow, and hitherto the convicts
had regarded it merely as a means of escape.  At length the man named
Nat, who had ridden inside as our guard, spoke up.  He had struck me
all along as a reckless rascal, and his suggestion certainly confirmed
the opinion I had formed.

"Why not send her over the cliffs?" he asked.  "No chance of her being
found then.  I know this coast--a sheer drop into the water in most
places.  The horses can be turned loose on the common, and I don't
suppose they'll be noticed for a day or so.  Even when they are found,
no one can say very well where they come from."

This outrageous proposal seemed to appeal to the leader of the gang.

"Bravo!" he exclaimed.  "Come on, my lads!  Where's the 'free trader'?
He'll show the way."

The idea of the old _True Blue_ being wantonly hurled over the cliffs
into the sea was too much for poor George Woodley.  He burst out into a
torrent of angry expostulations, but was promptly silenced by Rodwood,
who flourished a pistol in his face, at the same time bidding him hold
his tongue unless he wished to follow the coach on its last journey.

With Lewis and Rodwood in front, two men leading the horses, and the
rest of the party, George and myself included, following behind in a
sort of funeral procession, we went stumbling across the common.  Once
I thought I heard Lewis expressing some dislike to the business in
hand, but his objections, if such they were, were speedily overridden.
Rodwood was beginning to feel his feet more as leader of the party, and
enforced obedience to his commands with a swagger and bluster which was
well calculated to win respect from his jail-bird following.  The
murmur of the sea grew more and more distinct as we neared the dark
line of headlands; then, at length, the swaying coach came to a
standstill.

"Now, then, get their clothes off them!" ordered Rodwood.

The command had reference to the horses, from which the harness was
speedily stripped and flung inside the coach.  With a cut of the whip
they were then driven off into the darkness.  As the common extended
some distance down the coast, it was probable that before daylight the
animals would have strayed far from the spot where they had been
liberated.

"Save the lamps," was the next command, "and see if there's anything in
the fore or hind boot."

Owing to the peculiar character of its passengers, the coach was found
to be carrying practically nothing in the way of luggage, except my own
trunk and the one large hamper already mentioned, which had been pushed
into the boot for conveyance to Castlefield, probably to relieve the
mail, which was sure to be heavily laden at this time of the year.
From the gruff remarks of the would-be plunderers, it was evident that
they were disappointed.  It was probably within the knowledge of most
of them that a stage coach sometimes carried a valuable cargo; in fact,
not more than two years after the date of my story a bank parcel
containing notes and gold to the value of £5,700 was stolen from a
coach running between Glasgow and Edinburgh--the thieves in this
instance travelling as inside passengers, and cutting a hole with
brace-bit and saw through the body of the coach into the boot, from
which the plunder was then extracted.

However, a basket of provisions was, in a way, a valuable find; for the
question of food was likely to become a serious problem before the
members of the gang regained their full freedom.  Rodwood therefore
told off two of his followers to carry the basket, refused to allow the
men to drink the other bottle of wine, and bade one of the party unhang
the game from the lamp-iron and carry it slung over his shoulder.

My box was forced open and speedily overhauled; but as it contained
little besides spare clothing, it was flung back into the coach.  It
would have been useless for me to expostulate and claim my
property--the rascals were not likely to leave such a piece of evidence
lying about on the grass--and I held my tongue.

"It's half-tide," I heard Lewis mutter.  "There's a ledge of rock
she'll land on, but the flood will carry off the wreckage."

The last moments of the _True Blue_ had come.

"Turn her round and back her over," ordered Rodwood.

Awed by the thought of such wanton destruction, I stood with my eyes
fixed upon the dark body of the coach, as for half a minute or so it
rocked and swayed against the sky-line; then, with a subdued shout from
the men, it suddenly disappeared.  A moment later, from far beneath
came a mighty crash of woodwork and the sharp tinkle of shivered glass.

George Woodley groaned, and ground his teeth with rage.  But for the
fact that we were still chained together and I held him back, I believe
he would have rushed upon the gang and fought them with his bare hands.

"The murderous villains!" he muttered.  "Fancy throwing a stage-coach
into the sea, as if it were nothing more than an old fish-basket!"

"Steady, George," I whispered.  "Keep your mouth shut.  We're in the
hands of these men, and they'll stop at nothing now to get their
liberty.  Be thankful they didn't knock us on the head at the first, or
leave us tied to a tree to perish with the cold."

Once more the men instinctively formed a group round their leader, to
learn what should be done next.

"I expect they're all abed in the village by this time," said Lewis;
"still, there's nothing like making sure.  There's a little place
hereabouts where the rest of you can lie snug while I go down and put
the oars in the boat, and see that all's quiet."

At the mention of the boat I pricked up my ears.  Was it possible that
some smuggling lugger was then off the coast, and that the gang were
going straight on board?  If so, what was to become of Woodley and
myself?  Surely they would not want to carry us with them across to
France!  In another hour, perhaps, we should regain our liberty.

A short distance away was a cavity in the ground--a sort of dried pit
surrounded and overhung by gorse bushes.  Into this, by Lewis's
direction, we all crept, and lay or squatted in a huddled mass upon the
ground.  It was bitterly cold; my teeth chattered, and I was glad
enough to creep close to George Woodley for the extra warmth.  If
Rodwood had been allowed to carry out his intention of binding us to a
couple of trees in the lonely copse, the pair of us must certainly have
been frozen stiff by morning.  I could only hope that the shelter of
the cottage and the warmth of the straw would preserve the warders and
Tom from a similar fate.

It still wanted more than an hour to midnight, yet it seemed as if the
darkness must have lasted a week, and I could hardly bring myself to
believe that it was but a few hours since I had left the shelter of the
Sportsman.

The convicts began to talk to each other in low tones, the chief topic
of conversation being the likelihood of pursuit.  Would the
disappearance of the coach from the highroad have been discovered by
now?  This might or might not be the case.  Breakdowns sometimes
occurred which caused delay, and in case of anything serious the guard
sometimes rode forward on one of the horses to obtain assistance.

"They must have been expecting of us at the stage beyond Tod's Corner,"
said one fellow; "and most likely after a time they'll send a man back
as far as the last stopping-place.  He'll hear we passed there all
right, and then the question'll be what's become of us."  The speaker
chuckled, as though picturing to himself the astonishment of the
stableman when it dawned on him that a coach and four, with guard,
driver, and passengers, had apparently vanished into thin air, at some
spot on the ten or twelve miles of dark, lonely road over which he had
just ridden.

"It's bound to come out some time," answered a voice which I recognized
as Rodwood's; "but it'll take time.  Granted that the man has ridden
back by now and found out that we're gone--well, what's he going to do?
He and the rest will waste another hour talking; or perhaps they'll
wait for the mail to come along, and tell the folks on that what's
happened.  Then it's ten to one they'll take it for granted that we've
made off further inland.  No; we're safe enough at present.  With
anything like luck we ought to have a fair start till morning."

Hardly had the words been uttered when there came a warning "Hist!"
from some member of the gang whose sense of hearing must have been
particularly acute.  Men who go in constant peril of losing their
liberty need no second hint of the presence of danger, and at once a
deathlike silence prevailed.  So infectious was the suppressed
excitement that I felt the strain as much as if I myself had been an
escaping prisoner.  My heart thumped, and I held my breath, eager to
ascertain the cause of the alarm.

For some moments I heard nothing; then, distinct and not far distant,
there was a metallic tinkle as of a light chain.  A pause followed, and
then the sound was repeated, this time nearer to the pit, while at the
same instant an exactly similar noise came from some little distance
away in the opposite direction.  On that wild spot, at such an hour,
any sound not attributable to the wild animals or the forces of nature
might have awakened the listener's curiosity; but in the present
instance it was calculated to arouse something more than idle
speculation.  Not a man moved--they sat or crouched like figures of
stone; and once again came that ominous jingle, exactly like the sound
that might be caused by the movements of a man whose limbs were
fettered.

"_It's the 'screws'!_" exclaimed one fellow in a horrified whisper,
with that morbid superstition which is sometimes found in criminals.
"This frost has done for them, and now they're following us with their
ghosts!"

"Shut your mouth, you fool!" replied his companion fiercely.  "If
that's living men after us with the 'ruffles,' they won't put 'em on
me!  I'll make a few more ghosts before that happens!"

It was evident that the whole party had arrived at the same
conclusion--that, by some means or other, they had already been tracked
down by pursuers and their whereabouts discovered.  How this could have
happened it was impossible to imagine; but there was no mistaking that
sound--more than one person was moving towards us on the common,
incautiously allowing their approach to be heralded by the jingling of
chains.  For the moment I think even Rodwood forgot the presence of
George Woodley and myself; but even if the thought had occurred to
either of us to do such a thing, it would have been madness for us to
shout or give any signal betraying our whereabouts, as we should
certainly have paid the penalty of our lives for such an act.

The sharp tinkle sounded first on one side of the pit, and then on the
other.  Noiselessly Rodwood thrust his head forward into the centre of
his followers.

"They're coming up on both sides," he whispered.  "It's that man Lewis
has done it," added the speaker, with an imprecation.  "He's informed,
to get his own liberty.  This is a trap; but they won't take me out of
it alive!  Now, lads, no backing out.  There are ten of us, and if we
all strike together we'll prove a match for them yet!"

The words were followed by a click indicating the cocking of a pistol,
and I noticed that the man nearest to me was working at a fragment of
rock, endeavouring to dislodge it for use as a weapon.

At any other time I think I should have openly contradicted this charge
of treachery against the absent man.  Comparatively little as I knew of
Lewis, I felt sure that whatever his faults might have been, he was
never untrue to his own code of honour.  I was, however, wise enough to
hold my tongue, for a word uttered just then had like to have been the
last I had ever spoken.

The clinking noise came nearer.  There were long pauses between each
repetition of the noise, as though the bearers were advancing
cautiously, intending, when they got within easy distance of the pit,
to carry the position with a final rush.  Now on either side of us they
appeared to be close at hand; the fateful moment had surely arrived,
and my heart seemed to stop beating.  The rascal at my side had
loosened his jagged stone, and was clutching it with murderous intent;
while the rest of the gang crouched, ready to spring to action at a
signal from their leader.

Then suddenly the man named Nat broke out into a roar of hoarse
laughter.  The noise was, I think, more of a shock to the overstrained
nerves of his comrades than a dozen pistol-shots.  They sprang to their
feet with a perfect howl of pent-up excitement.  The next instant I
fully expected their pursuers would leap down upon us, and the pit
become the scene of a fierce conflict.  Instinctively I shrank back
under the overhanging bushes; but, to my surprise, nothing happened.

"Ho, ho!" burst out the voice of Nat above the confusion; "it's not the
'screws,' it's only some of those sheep!  They chain them together out
here on the coast, to prevent them straying."

"Keep quiet, you fool!" cried Rodwood.  "D'you want to wake up every
man in Rockymouth with your bull's roaring?  Silence, you noisy hound,
or I'll crack your skull with the butt of this pistol!"

However much inclined other members of the gang might have been to
relieve their overstrung nerves with a laugh, Rodwood's threat was
enough to force them into silence.  One man sprung out of the hollow,
and returned a moment later confirming Nat's statement regarding the
sheep; and then, for the first time, I remembered having seen the
animals on the cliffs, during my summer rambles with Miles, grazing in
couples fastened together with collars and a chain, to hamper their
movements and prevent their wandering.

It was certainly a ludicrous ending to what had seemed a tragic
situation, but for my own part I was little inclined to laugh; and as
the man beside me flung down his piece of rock, I could but feel
thankful that the disturbance had proved a false alarm.

Once more the gang settled down to await the return of Lewis, who at
length appeared with the intelligence that all was quiet in the
village.  With Rodwood and the old smuggler leading, and the rest of
the party following in a straggling line, we made our way across the
common and down a steep slope on the seaward side of the village.  As
George Woodley and I stumbled along over the uneven ground the
handcuffs jerked, and chafed our fettered wrists; but the chance of our
giving them the slip in the darkness and rousing up a pursuit was too
serious a risk for the convicts to make it likely that they would
liberate us at that important moment of their escape.  On we went in
perfect silence, skirting the village; and now almost immediately
beneath us lay the harbour, sheltered from the beat of the open sea by
the curved stone jetty, which always reminded me of a defending arm,
crooked at the elbow, shielding the small craft which sought its
protection.  They had no need of it on this particular night, for the
sea could not have been calmer if the month had been June instead of
December.

Close behind me came the man whom I had seen helped down from the roof
of the coach; and now, from a muttered word uttered now and again, I
gathered that he was blind.  Assisted, however, as before, by a
comrade, he kept pace with the rest, and gave less trouble than might
have been expected.  We were half-way down the precipitous hillside
when the leaders came to an abrupt halt--an example followed
immediately by the rest of the party--and as we steadied ourselves,
digging our heels into the ground, a voice cried,--

"Listen!"

It was the blind man who spoke.  He had already uttered the word once
before in a lower key, and I knew now that it was he who had given the
first warning of the tinkling chains as we crouched in the pit.

As I have already said, the sea was very calm; there was no surf
beating on the rocks, and in addition to this it was one of those
still, frosty nights when the slightest sound can be heard with great
distinctness.  Sharp and clear, as though not more than a hundred yards
distant, came the rhythmic clatter of a galloping horse.  It was
probably still the better part of a mile distant, descending the long,
steep hill to the village; but the sides of the valley threw back and
intensified the sound, so that an impression was given of the rider
being close at hand.  It was not likely that any one would gallop at
headlong speed into Rockymouth at close on midnight on a winter's night
unless his business was urgent; and it did not take the escaped
prisoners long to find a reason for the messenger's hot haste.

"The murder's out!" cried Rodwood.  "They've guessed the direction
we've gone in from the wheel-tracks.  Now we shall have every dog in
the county set at our heels!"

"It's one of the riding officers has got the news, I'll warrant!"
answered Lewis.--"Come on, lads! only a nimble pair of feet will save
you."

"Forward!" cried the man who now acted as our guard, at the same time
giving George and myself a shove which nearly sent us headlong down the
slope, while the whole party went plunging recklessly from ridge to
ridge after the fleet-footed smuggler.  Once, as Woodley made a false
step, I thought my right wrist was broken, but we were too well aware
of the mood of our companions to show any signs of hesitation.  Gaining
the level ground, we rushed on past the few cottages which straggled
out towards the sea; the men, careless now of the noise their heavy
boots made on the rocky ground, tore along, thinking only of speed, and
for the most part believing that the horseman was close at their heels.
Another moment, and we were stumbling breathlessly into the boat which
Lewis had already drawn alongside the jetty.  Down she sank under the
unaccustomed load, until it seemed to me the gunnels were almost level
with the water; then the damp stone wall began to recede--Lewis had
pushed off--and the next instant the oars were grinding in the rowlocks.

Slowly we gathered way, and cleared the end of the pier; a gentle heave
betokened the open sea, and as we felt it a shouting was heard in the
village.

"We've got a start, anyway," muttered Lewis, who was bending his back
to a long, steady stroke.

"Hullo!" exclaimed one of the men, "there's a dog crouching under this
seat.  How did he get in the boat, I wonder?"

"Let him be," answered the smuggler.  "He won't do no harm.  He's mine,
and met me in the village.  He'd only sit and howl if we left him
ashore."

Hardly had the words been uttered when the boat gave a sudden violent
lurch, which brought the water rushing in over the side.  Had not
George and I flung ourselves promptly to starboard, and thus brought
all our weight to bear in the opposite direction, the overloaded craft
would certainly have capsized, and flung all its occupants into the
sea.  In his excitement the convict who had taken the second oar had
"caught a crab," and thus narrowly escaped bringing the adventures of
the whole party to an untimely termination.

"You lubber!" growled Lewis.--"Isn't there a man among you who can pull
an oar?"

"I can row if you'll free my hand," I exclaimed, not relishing the
prospect of a watery grave, which was inevitable if this boatload of
landsmen were once overturned.

"Yes, Master Eden, you'll do; I've seen you in a boat before," was the
reply.--"For any sake cast off the boy's irons, some of you, and let
him come forward."

Feeling rather proud, I fancy, as a boy might in proving himself
superior to a number of grown men, I changed seats, and bent with a
will to the oar, keeping time with the swing of Lewis's figure, which
was dimly visible in the gloom.  Thus the boat crept out to sea, and
turning moved in a westerly direction down the coast.

There was no sign or sound of pursuit; our departure from the harbour
had evidently not been discovered.  I was too much occupied with my oar
to notice where we were going; but at last, when my arms were beginning
to ache, and I feared I should have to ask to be relieved, Lewis ceased
rowing, bidding me do the same; then turning, to my surprise I found we
were close to shore, while above us towered the face of a mighty cliff.

Flinging his oar over the stern, with a skilful twisting of his wrist
the old sailor sculled the boat carefully towards the towering mass of
rock.  In another moment I thought we should strike, and prepared
involuntarily for the expected shock; then a half-circle of blackness
resolved itself into the narrow, tunnel-like mouth of a cave.

Gently we drifted through the opening, a man in the bows guiding us
with his hand, until the darkness became absolutely impenetrable, and
the intense stillness was broken only by the lapping of water against
the sides of the cavern.

This, then, was Lewis's promised hiding-place, and his assertion that
there would be no danger of the men being found seemed no idle boast.



CHAPTER XII.

WITHIN THE CAVERN.

"Hi there! one of you men forrard, light the lamp!" said Lewis, ceasing
in the motion of sculling.  "Let's see where we're going."

His voice sounded strange and hollow, like that of a person speaking
under an archway; and a rumbling echo of his words came back from the
distance, showing that the cave was of considerable extent.

Rodwood had plundered a tinder-box from one of the warders, and the
next moment the oarsman's request was responded to with the _click,
click_ of flint and steel.  Even the strong glare of the big coach lamp
did little more than reveal the surrounding darkness; the black water
flashed and sparkled, and as the beam of light was directed from side
to side the walls of the cavern loomed up out of the gloom.  As yet
there was no sign of the end of the cave, which was of a size
altogether out of proportion to its narrow opening.  It was lofty as
well as long, and from the manner in which the walls went down
perpendicularly into the sea, I imagined that there was a good depth of
water beneath our keel.

"Turn the light ahead!" ordered Lewis, and once more the sculling oar
was set in motion.

Slowly we penetrated farther and farther into the mighty foundation of
the great cliff; then suddenly there was a bump, which shook us on our
seats.  I thought at first that the boat had grounded on a rock; but
she gathered way again, though with something grating against her side.

"Hullo!" came from the man who was acting the part of lookout in the
bow; "there's something floating in the water."

The lamp was brought to bear, and a number of dark objects were
discovered alongside.

"It's wreck-wood," said Nat, leaning over the gunwale and grasping the
end of a broken spar.  "There's quite a lot of it, and cargo too.  That
over there looks like the top of a barrel."

Lewis bent down and examined the floating _debris_ with a critical eye.

"The set of the current brings a good bit of driftwood in here," he
mumbled, "specially after a south-easterly gale.  Hum! that's bad," he
continued, as something seemed to catch his eye.  "Looks uncommon as if
one of the boats had gone ashore, or maybe been driven on Sawback Reef.
It was blowing hard a week back; I could tell that even in the jail at
Welmington."

Once more the boat moved on, a slight jar every now and then bespeaking
the presence of more wreckage; then a shout from the lookout warned us
that we had reached the end of our journey.

The cavern terminated in a platform of rock raised some six or eight
feet above high-water level, and having a surface which might in all
have afforded as much space as the floor of a fairly large sized room;
some niches and ledges in the side of the cavern formed a sort of rude
natural staircase from the water's edge, while a rusty iron ring seemed
to show that boats had been moored there before.

"Now then, up with you!" said Lewis.  "But mind what you're about.
There's water running down from the roof which makes the rock uncommon
slippery."

There being no longer any chance of our giving them the slip, and
perhaps mindful of the service I had rendered in manning the second
oar, the convicts seemed once more fairly well disposed towards George
and myself.  One of them lent me a hand as I clambered up the rock;
another performed a similar service for Woodley.  The hamper, the dead
game, and the two lamps were transferred to the platform from the boat,
and Lewis made fast the painter.  The dog had scrambled up the rocks
almost as soon as the boat touched.  He had evidently been there before.

"Well, I'm hungry," cried one man; "I could chaw a leather strap!  Just
open that basket."

"Can't we start a fire?" inquired another fellow, whose teeth were
chattering loudly.  "I'm perished with the cold.  There's wood enough
in the water to burn for a week; and though it is wet, if we use the
dry straw and the hamper for kindling, we shall be able to make a
start, and once having done that, it'll be easy enough with a little
care to keep going."

Numbed and chilled to the bone, the prospect of warmth seemed to appeal
to the majority of the gang even more strongly than the necessity for
food, and under Rodwood's direction they set to work to prepare fuel
for a fire.  In order that the hamper itself might be broken up for
kindlings, it had first to be emptied of its contents, which were found
to consist of a good-sized turkey, some mince-pies, a small cheese,
some sausages, and a quantity of apples; also the bottle of wine which
had not yet been opened.  So utterly incongruous and out of place did
this Christmas fare appear when exposed to view in that sea cavern,
under circumstances so extraordinary, that the group of onlookers gave
vent to their feelings with a burst of laughter.

"I take it wery kind of the folks as packed the 'amper for this 'ere
picnic," said one of the convicts.  "They evidently remembered my
weakness for sarsengers!"

A long fissure in the rock, which was henceforth known as the
"cupboard," afforded a suitable place for stowing away the provisions;
and a tarred plank having in the meantime been fished out of the water,
one burly fellow proceeded to split it into small pieces with the aid
of a large clasp-knife belonging to George.  A fire was soon kindled in
the centre of the platform, more wreckage was collected by Lewis in the
boat, and either heaped on the blaze or piled around it to dry.  The
sight of the crackling flames seemed to have an immediate cheering
effect on the men, who gathered round, warming their numbed hands and
exchanging jokes on the subject of their escape.

"Now then," exclaimed their leader, as the fire began to burn clear on
one side, "make a spit, some of you, and bring along that turkey.  You
don't expect a party of gentlemen to eat it raw like a pack of starving
dogs, I suppose?"

Some of these jail-birds seemed to have a wonderful knack of making the
most of any material which might come to hand.  Utilizing some pieces
of wreck-wood, shaped roughly with the clasp-knife, they rigged up a
kind of spit, which promised at least to prevent the necessity of our
devouring the turkey raw.  At the same time Lewis took the dipper from
the boat, and placed it in such a position that it caught the thin
trickle of fresh water which, as has already been mentioned, ran down
one side of the rock.

I thought then, and have done so many a time since, how little the
unknown person who packed that hamper imagined how and by whom the
provisions which it contained would be consumed!  Possibly it was the
gift of the wife of some gentleman farmer, intended as Christmas cheer
for some relative in the town.  Now, instead of reaching its
destination in the ordinary manner, it was supplying the needs of a
band of outlaws in the fastness of a sea cavern.

There was nothing particularly appetizing about the half-cooked meat
divided up with the big blade of a pocket-knife, and subsequently
conveyed to the mouth with the fingers; but I myself felt ravenous,
after the riding, tramping, and rowing in the cold night air.  I was
glad enough to receive my portion of the bird, and to eat it without
the accompaniment of bread or even salt.  The water in the dipper was
heated over the fire, and wine added from the remaining bottle.  The
negus had, to be sure, a brackish flavour, but it sent a glow of warmth
through our chilled bodies, and when the bowl was emptied a second brew
was demanded.

At length the strange meal ended, and Rodwood ordered the lamp to be
extinguished.

"It won't burn for ever," he said, "and we may want the light before
we've finished."

With their faces illumined only with the flicker of the fire, the
convicts gathered round to get as much warmth as possible, Woodley and
I being forced to join the circle for the same reason; while old Joey
retired to a corner, and there crunched up the bones and fragments
which had been flung to him by the men.

Being but a boy, I think I was to a certain extent fascinated by the
strangeness of the adventure.  It seemed as if I personally were
sharing the excitements as well as the hazards of the escape, though in
my case there was no sense of guilt to lie heavy on my conscience.  I
might have been a prisoner wrongfully convicted making a dash for
liberty.  The delusion was perhaps strengthened by the fact that up to
the present the personal risk and danger I had run had not been very
great.  Of Rodwood I certainly felt afraid, regarding him as an
unscrupulous ruffian; but the remainder of the gang, perhaps with the
exception of Nat, I believed certainly bore us more good will than ill,
and would set us at liberty again as soon as they could do so without
endangering the success of their own plans.

So, in a comparatively tranquil frame of mind, I stretched my tired
limbs on the rock beside Woodley, and listened to the conversation.

"Well, and how long do you reckon we're going to stay here?" demanded
Nat.

"We can't stir to-morrow--that is, not in daylight," answered Rodwood;
"and I'm not sure if it'll be safe to do so at night either.  There'll
be too sharp a lookout kept for some days to make it over safe for us
to take our walks abroad."

"Why can't we stay here for a week," said one fellow, "until the chase
has been abandoned?  If the food runs short, we could get more some
night from the village; at least," he added with a laugh, "I reckon I
could find some if any one will put me ashore!"

"It's risky to stay too long," muttered Lewis.

"What d'you mean?" asked Rodwood sharply.  "I thought you offered to
find us a safe hiding-place where there'd be no danger."

"I said where there'd be no danger of being found."

"Then what other risk is there?"

"The chance of getting in without being able to get out," was the
reply.  There was a certain ominous sound in the speaker's voice which
attracted every man's attention, and I noticed that George Woodley
turned his head to listen.

"What's the good of beating about the bush?" growled one man.  "Speak
out plain, you fool!"

"Why," returned the smuggler, "what I mean is, you can't get in or out
of this place with anything of a rough sea running.  It's calm now, but
there's no knowing how long the weather's going to hold this time of
year.  You can't expect to walk out of jail and get off without running
risks; if you steer clear of one, you must take your chance of running
into another.  Here's a place where there's precious little chance of
your being found, except by them who, at a word from me, would take
care not to see you; but there's equal chance, if you stay here till a
gale should happen to spring up, that you'll be missing till the day of
judgment."

The truth of this assertion seemed to shock the group of listeners into
a momentary silence.  To myself the danger of our present position
became at once evident, and a sense of fear chilled my heart as I
listened to the lapping of the water and thought of what must be our
fate if the slumbering sea awoke in fury, and the huge billows
thundered through the mouth of the cave.  There was little doubt but
that in a storm the ledge on which we rested would be swept clean with
the surges, and any living being seeking refuge there would soon be
drawn into the surf and dashed to pieces against the sides of the
cavern.

"What d'you propose to do, then?" inquired Rodwood.

"It's no use to stir abroad in daylight," answered Lewis; "we must wait
here till to-morrow night.  Then I thought I'd go alone into
Rockymouth, and try and get a word with them as will help us.  They'll
say how soon there's a chance of our getting across the water.  I'll
bring back some more food; and if I see any sign of bad weather, why,
we must get out of this, and find some snug hole among the bushes on
the cliffs.  Maybe during to-morrow all that ground will be searched,
and folks won't trouble to look there again."

For a few seconds the leader of the gang remained thinking, with his
chin resting on his hand; then I saw him raise his head and dart a
quick glance at Lewis.

"See here!" he exclaimed; "how are we to know that when you once get
among your friends you'll ever come back again?  I don't suppose
there's a man among us who can swim; and if the fact of our being left
behind should happen to slip your memory, here we should remain, like
rats in a drain-pipe, to either starve or drown."

"When my word's given I don't go back on it," replied Lewis.  "If you
doubt me, you can send a man along with me in the boat."

"There, there, my friend! don't get angry," replied Rodwood with a
laugh.  "You've served us well in the past, and there's no reason to
doubt you in the future; but when a man has knocked about the world as
much as I have; he gets to look at a thing from more than one point of
view."

Overcome at length by the fatigues and excitements of the day, and
rendered still more drowsy by the grateful warmth of the fire, I
gradually sank back on the rock; the murmur of voices became fainter
and more confused, my eyelids closed, and I sank gradually into a deep
and dreamless sleep.

CHAPTER XIII.

THE BRANDY KEGS.

A vague sense of pain and discomfort at length began to enter into my
dreams, and soon I awoke to find that, from having lain so long in one
position on the hard rock, I was aching in every limb as though I had
been beaten.  For a moment or so my head swam with bewilderment as I
stared about me and wondered where I was.  It was like the recovering
of consciousness after a fall.  But presently the full recollection of
the previous day's adventure flooded my memory.  I struggled into a
sitting posture, and gazed around.  The sun had risen, but the mouth of
the cavern being so small and far distant, the surrounding objects were
visible in a sort of gray twilight, such as might have illumined some
underground dungeon with but a single small barred window high up in
the wall.  The other members of the party were already astir--one man
mending the fire, another plucking one of the pheasants we had brought
with us, and a group of two or three hauling up more of the wreck-wood
out of the water on to the platform.

Looking towards the mouth of the cave from where I sat was much like
surveying the interior of a modern railway tunnel which by some means
had become flooded, except that the cavern was more lofty.  The roof
itself was lost in darkness; but as far as I could make out, exactly
over our ledge was a wide hole in the rock, like the perpendicular
shaft of an old-fashioned chimney.  This, however, was only discernible
by the space of denser black amid the general gloom.

Shivering with the cold, I was glad enough to get some warmth by
assisting in building up the fire.  The broken spars which had been
recovered the previous night were dry by this time, and made good fuel,
of which there seemed a sufficient supply to more than last out our
needs.  There being no beach for nearly a mile on either side of us, a
quantity of flotsam, as Lewis explained, was often to be found in the
cavern, carried there by the current.

Our breakfast was a frugal one--a sausage and a small hunk of cheese
served out to each man--Rodwood having determined to husband the food
supply.  Then the gang settled down to endure as best they could the
long hours of waiting till it would be safe for Lewis to venture forth
and bring back such information as would enable them to decide on their
further movements.

From the time I awoke, the unpleasant conviction began gradually to
force itself on my mind that the attitude and disposition of the
escaped prisoners towards George and myself was undergoing a change.
In the first glow of their gratitude for the small kindnesses and
services which we had shown them, they had gone to an extreme in their
expression of good will, but now a reaction became evident.  Any
obligation to us which they might have felt on the previous evening was
now forgotten.  They began to resent our presence among them, and
appeared to regret that they had not taken their leader's advice, and
not hampered their escape by bringing us with them to the coast.  As
far as was possible in such a limited space, they excluded us from
their society, allowing us to have no share in their conversation,
which, for the most part, seemed to turn on the various misdeeds for
which they had suffered.

"What's to be done with 'em when we get out of here?" I heard one man
remark.

"That'll be seen when the time comes," answered another.  "I don't
suppose they'd thank us to take 'em with us over to France."

On comparing notes with George, I found he had already remarked the
same thing, but had refrained from mentioning it for fear of causing me
unnecessary alarm.

"Laugh every now and again as if we were talking about something
comic," he whispered as we sat together, a little apart from the rest.
"It won't do to let 'em think we suspect them or notice any change."

So with many feigned grins and chuckles we continued our talk, though
Heaven knows I never in my life felt less in a laughing mood.

"What d'you think they'll do with us?" I asked.

"How can I tell?" he answered.  "But any one could see that there's
rocks ahead for you and me.  Put yourself in their place, and leave
everything out of the question but your own safety, and think what's to
be done.  Once give us our freedom, and how are they to know that we
shan't loose the dogs on their heels the very next minute?  Another
thing: if they take us with them, we shall be able to identify the men
who help them in their escape--the crew of some smuggling craft, I
expect--and it's not likely, with that knowledge in our heads, we shall
be left to walk straight off to the nearest justice of the peace."

"Then what will they do with us?  They can't leave us here; that would
be worse than downright murder."

"There's no knowing what they'll do," answered George evasively.

"Old Lewis will remain our friend," I replied.  "I'm sure he'll not
stand by and allow us to come to harm."

"But what's he to do by himself, one to nine?" was the reply.  "These
are desperate men, and prepared for desperate measures.  We're about as
safe here, Master Eden, as if we were in a den of tigers."

"But Lewis can say, as he did before, that he won't help them if harm
comes to us," I persisted, unwilling to abandon this sheet anchor of
hope.

"He may say that once too often," muttered George.  "You must remember,
too, that the man's walking the greasy pole himself, so to speak, and
one slip sends him down into transportation for life; for I don't doubt
but what they'd all get that after this attempted escape and making
away with the coach."

As one or two of the convicts seemed to be eyeing us, we ceased our
conversation with a forced laugh; and rising, I strolled over towards
Lewis, who stood at the edge of the platform with arms folded, gazing
towards the mouth of the cave.  If not then low water, the tide could
not long have turned, and the ledge seemed considerably higher above
the sea than it had done when we had first landed from the boat.

"What's the matter?" I asked, seeing how the old sailor's heavy brows
were contracted in thought.

"There's a good bit may be the matter, Master Eden, before this gang of
lubbers steps ashore in France," he answered.  "I've been as far as the
mouth of the cave this morning in the boat, and I don't altogether like
the look of the sea: there's a swell getting up which may mean wind
behind it.  If so, these blokes may find this cave as difficult a place
to get out of as Welmington Jail."

Now that he called my attention to it, I noticed that there was
certainly a constant ripple whispering down the length of the cave.
The boat rocked gently at her mooring, and at the sight of her a sudden
foreboding of evil entered my mind.

"You don't think it's going to be rough enough to wash us off this
rock?" I asked anxiously.

"I doubt if that would happen unless it came on to blow a regular
gale," he answered.  "You see, the mouth of the cave is only a narrow
opening, and, especially at high water, the seas would spend most of
their force outside; still, as I've warned these men here, if once a
big storm did get up, not a mother's son of them is ever likely to be
heard of again.  No," continued the speaker, "it's not being drowned
I'm so much afraid of now as there being just enough sea running to
prevent us getting out.  These fools don't realize what a ticklish job
it is except in still water.  Let them try it in a stiff sou'-easterly
breeze, and see how far they get!  I'll wager my neck not one of them
would ever set foot on shore again."

I stood gazing anxiously at that distant semicircle of light beyond
which the sea was sparkling in the wintry sunshine.  As I did so a
fresh salt breeze swept through the cavern, and a miniature wave rolled
up and spent itself against the mass of rock on which we stood.  I was
on the point of making some further remark to Lewis, when, in a sharp,
peremptory manner, a voice behind us exclaimed,--

"Hark!"

The hum of conversation going on round the fire instantly ceased, while
Lewis and I involuntarily turned sharp round to see who had spoken.

"Hist!  D'ye hear anything?"

It was the blind man who spoke.  His name was Mogger, and he sat a
little apart from his companions, with his back against the rock wall
of the cavern.  From chance remarks let drop by the others, I gathered
that he had been accustomed to beg for his bread with a dog,
leading-string, and tin can.  Associating with a set of rogues and
vagabonds, he had at length become concerned in a robbery, and had been
found guilty of receiving and concealing stolen goods.  His loss of
sight appeared to have been in a measure made up to him by an
abnormally keen sense of hearing; in fact, the fellow's ears were as
sensitive to sound as a dog's.  Walking down the middle of a road, he
declared that he could tell whenever he passed a house, or when he
emerged from between two rows of buildings into the open country, and
this simply by the change in the sound of his own footsteps.  I mention
this as giving additional interest to the incident which I am about to
describe.

There was a moment of dead silence.  The picture of that scene rises in
my mind now as I write--the blind man sitting bolt upright against the
rock with closed eyes, and his pale, expressionless face raised at an
unusual angle, as though an unseen hand had gripped him beneath the
chin; the group round the fire, for the instant rigid and alert, with
heads half turned and mouths opened in the attitude of listening; while
Rodwood's hand closed instinctively on a pistol which he had been
cleaning, and had laid beside him on the rock.  Thus, in the gloomy
twilight of the cave we all remained motionless as the rock itself,
until one of the men broke the spell with speech.

"What's the matter now?--more sheep?" he demanded gruffly, referring to
the false alarm of the previous evening, at which several of his
companions laughed.

The blind man made no reply, but remained in exactly the same attitude,
like a person in a trance.  On any occasion his conduct would have been
disquieting and uncanny, but for hunted men there was something in it
especially disturbing.

"Can't you answer, you dumb post?" cried Rodwood angrily.  "If you hear
anything, tell us what it is."

"It was a voice," answered Mogger.  "I heard it, I'll swear; my ears
never play me false."

"You heard a good many voices, I suppose, seeing that we was most of us
talking," retorted one of his companions, with an uneasy catch in the
blustering tone which he tried to assume.

"I know all your voices," was the reply.  "This was strange, and seemed
to come from a distance.  Hark!"

The man held up a warning hand.  In the death-like stillness which
followed I strained my ears to catch the faintest whisper; but no sound
reached them save the plash of the water and the heavy breathing of
Lewis, who stood close at my side.

"Be hanged to you!" burst out Rodwood.  "You'll cry 'wolf' so often
that we shall pay no heed to real danger when it comes.  What you heard
was the seagulls crying.--Confound the man, he's enough to send a
nervous old woman into a fit with his prick ears and bladder face!"

The blind man seemed too intent in listening for a repetition of the
sounds which he believed he had heard to take much notice of this
speech.  The convicts joined in a rough jeer, but it was evident that
they had not recovered from the shock of the alarm.

"The dog's given no sign," said Lewis presently, looking hard at his
four-footed companion.  "He'd be uneasy if there was strangers
about.--Eh, Joey?  Is the coast clear?"

The animal merely wagged its tail, and before the subject could be
discussed any further the attention of the party was diverted to
another matter.

"Here's something in the water!" exclaimed one of the convicts, who had
wandered to the edge of the platform.  "Looks like a cask of some sort.
Come on, and help to fish it out."

"If I were you I'd leave it where it is," interposed Lewis; "it'll
bring you no luck."

"Why?" demanded the fellow, who was already clambering down the ledges
of rock to get to the boat.

"Because it's dead men's property," answered Lewis.  "It belongs to the
crew of this boat that's been wrecked.  They'll be coming to claim it
if you don't leave it alone."

"Rubbish!" retorted the man.  "Keep your sailor yarns for a ship's
fo'castle!--Hurray, boys!  See here!  Call me a Dutchman if it isn't a
keg of smugglers' brandy; and there's another bobbing about just over
yonder!"

The group by the fire scrambled hastily to their feet, and I heard
Lewis mutter a curse.  He must have known all along what the kegs which
we had seen floating in the water as we entered the cave really
contained, and have foreseen the consequences of their coming into the
possession of his companions.  As it was, he stepped quickly from my
side, and I saw him talking in quick, eager tones to Rodwood.

It would have been as easy to wrest a carcass from a pack of starving
wolves as to rob this band of criminals of their newly-found store of
liquor.

"Steady, lads, steady!" was all their leader could say.  "One sup all
round, and then let it rest; we shall need clear heads until we're safe
out of the wood."

The words might as well have been spoken to the winds.  The two ankers
were quickly dragged up on to the platform, and one of them was
broached with the aid of George's knife.  The metal cup from the
coachman's flask and a small mug found in the locker of the boat
afforded the means of conveying the fiery spirit to eager lips.  From
hand to hand it passed.  Rodwood himself, after some protestation, took
his share with the rest, and even Lewis could not for long withstand
the temptation of the liquor which was almost forced upon him.
Woodley, however, was naturally a sober fellow, and kept his senses.
He took one sip at the mug when it was handed to him, to avoid rousing
the convicts to a still further feeling of hostility, after which he
and I edged away from the rest, and sat down at the farther end of the
platform.

What followed during the course of the next few hours it would be
difficult to describe.  The rousing of the appetite which they had for
so long been unable to gratify was like applying a light to a heap of
straw.  Forgetful of food or of their perilous position, the men tossed
the ardent spirit down their throats, and passed the cup for more.  In
a very short time the effect of the drink began to make itself evident,
the more so that for some time past the members of the band had been
forced abstainers.  Their faces flushed, their eyes brightened with a
feverish light, while with loosened tongues they began to jabber like
monkeys, laughing long and uproariously at their own coarse jokes, and
raising their voices to a shout when the din made it no longer possible
for them to be heard.

There was no talk now of limiting the allowance; even Rodwood himself
was far too intoxicated to care, while Lewis seemed robbed of that
instinct of caution which had been bred in him by the risks of his
calling.

How long this orgy lasted I don't know, but it must have continued far
into the afternoon.  The tide rose, and with it the sea; the broken
waves seemed to come jostling and elbowing each other through the
entrance to the cave, and splashed heavily against the foot of our
platform, sprinkling the unheeding revellers every now and again with a
dash of salt water.  If the revenue cutter or any small craft had
passed close in to shore, the noise made by the fugitives must have
betrayed their whereabouts, as in their drunken frenzy they danced and
yelled like raving lunatics.

At length, quite suddenly it seemed to us, they were all fighting.  How
the quarrel first started it was impossible to discern; but it had not
been in progress more than a few seconds when all the band were engaged
in the conflict.  In terror I crouched in the corner of the rock
farthest removed from this scene of strife, expecting momentarily to
receive some injury from this outburst of unreasoning fury.  With
clenched fists, and with logs of wood snatched from the ground, the
maniacs struck at each other, or grappling fell, and were trodden on
and stumbled over by the other combatants.  Rodwood, fighting like an
enraged lion, and striking out indiscriminately right and left, felled
several antagonists, and was ultimately the means of putting an end to
the mêlée, but not before one man had received some severe injury from
a kick in the stomach, and another had been horribly burned about the
face from falling, half stunned, into the fire.  The groans of these
wretches now mingled with the maudlin peacemaking of the other members
of the band, as they rubbed their bruises and gathered once more round
the brandy keg.

The fading light of the short winter day was deepening into darkness as
the horrid scene continued.

"Hark'ee!" cried Rodwood, suddenly dashing the pewter cup to the
ground: "I've no mind to spend another night in this foxes' burrow.
Let us go back to the little port yonder and say we're what's left of a
shipwrecked crew.  I'll be bound good beds enough would be offered to
such jolly mariners!"

A babel of voices followed this proposal.  Some men were in favour,
while others, perhaps a trifle more sober, were against the move.

"I'd like to see you pass yourselves off as sailor men," shouted Lewis
with a wild laugh.  "Besides, who's going to get the boat out with this
swell on?  She'll be bottom up before she's ten yards beyond the
opening."

A fresh outburst of drunken argument drowned his further remarks, and
it soon became evident that the more reckless spirits had carried the
day.  The remaining keg of brandy was handed down into the boat, and
the men prepared to follow, the first to move falling under the
thwarts, where he lay yelling that his arm was broken, while his
comrades staggered over his prostrate form.

George Woodley and I rushed forward.  Whatever the risk of the voyage
might be, it was preferable to being left behind.  But as we approached
the group of men who were gathered at the head of the flight of rough
steps, Rodwood waved us back.

"No room for you!" he cried with an oath.  "No strangers or informers
come with us now; we've got enough to do to save our own necks."

"Quite right, captain!" added another drunken scoundrel.  "Why did they
come with us at all?  Let them bide there till they're fetched."

"For mercy's sake don't leave us here!" cried George.  But a blow in
the face, which sent him staggering backwards, was the only response.
The blind man and the fellows who had been injured in the fight were
handed down into the boat.  One groaned heavily as he was moved, his
complaints rising at last to a shriek which made my blood curdle.

"Lewis!  Lewis!" I shouted in despair, "tell them to make room!  We
won't betray you!"

The smuggler heard my cry, and paused with his foot already on the
first step of the descent.

"It's no good, Master Eden," he said, in a low, thick utterance.  "If I
put you in the boat they'll throw you out.  You're all right--I'll tell
Master Miles; or if not, you'll find it yourself if you look about.
I'm the only one as knows--"

The words, which I regarded merely as the rambling nonsense spoken by a
drunkard, were cut short by the speaker being forcibly dragged down
into the boat, which an instant later shoved off from the platform.

[Illustration: Deserted.]

In an agony of despair we heard it receding farther and farther in the
gloom, the hoarse shouts and laughter of the men and the continuous
barking of the dog, which had sprung aboard at the last moment, echoing
strangely from the arched roof.  A few moments later we saw the dark
outline of the overladen craft obscuring the semicircle of light as it
reached the mouth of the cavern, and at the same time the drunken
clamour seemed to end in one final yell.

The men were gone, and George and I were left to our fate, at the mercy
of wind and sea.



CHAPTER XIV.

ABANDONED.

There was a pause as we stood in the deepening darkness at the end of
that horrible tunnel.  Cold, hungry, and despairing, I think if I had
been alone I should have broken down completely; but George Woodley,
though no doubt sharing to a great extent my own feelings, did his best
for my sake to put as cheerful a face on the matter as was possible
under the circumstances.

"Cheer up, Master Eden," he exclaimed.  "While there's life there's
hope, and we're a good way off being dead yet, sir.  I shouldn't
wonder," he continued, "if this doesn't turn out all for the best as
far as we're concerned.  These men, drunk as they are, will be certain
to be captured as soon as they step ashore.  Lewis will think of us and
say where we are, and my belief is we shall be rescued to-morrow
morning."

There certainly did seem some probability that things would turn out as
the guard suggested; anyway, it was a ray of hope to lighten the gloom
of our present situation.  Still, the prospect of spending another
night in that dark cavern, with the danger of the sea rising ever
present in our minds, seemed almost unbearable.

"We mustn't let the fire out," said my companion.  "There's that bird
to cook, and I'm fairly famished."

I myself was faint with hunger, for, owing to the drunken outbreak
among the convicts, we had spent the whole day since our scanty
breakfast without food.  The pheasant which one of the men had drawn
and plucked had lain unheeded and forgotten since the appearance of the
brandy kegs, and this we decided should form our evening meal.

Building up the fire and improvising a spit on which to roast the bird
occupied our attention, and relieved our minds by diverting our
thoughts from our forlorn and perilous position.  We found the metal
cup which Rodwood had flung down, and also the wine bottle, the neck of
which had been broken off, and this we placed under a trickle of fresh
water--the dipper having been carried off in the boat.

"The rascals have taken the coach lamp with them," said George.  "We
shall have to feel our way about as best we can."

Almost as he spoke my foot struck against something which slid along
the rock with a metallic clatter, and stooping down, to my joy I picked
up the guard's clasp-knife, which had also been overlooked by the
drunken gang at the time of their departure.  The find gave us
considerable satisfaction, as the knife had proved of great service in
many ways, and we were already contemplating the necessity of tearing
the pheasant apart with our fingers.

The meal was no more appetizing than the one which had preceded it on
the previous evening.  How I longed for a morsel of bread and salt!
The last defect I tried to rectify by dipping my meat in salt water;
but the result was not all that could be desired, and Woodley laughed
at the wry faces which I pulled.

However, the flesh of the bird, followed by a mince-pie, and an apple
by way of dessert, certainly appeased our hunger, and in doing so
enabled us to face our position with more fortitude.  Reclining on the
hard rock as near as we could get to the smouldering fire, we went over
the whole of our strange adventure from the moment the convicts had
seized the coach to the time they had left us in the boat.

"We might be worse off," said George.  "I believe that if they'd tied
us up in that copse, as that rascal Rodwood suggested, we should have
been frozen stiff by morning.  I wonder how poor Tom got on!  That was
a nasty fall of his; I heard his head strike on the hard ground, and I
made sure he'd be picked up dead.  Them warders, too--I hope the warmth
of the straw and the shelter of the cottage kept them alive."

"I believe those villains would have killed any one who had tried to
stop them," I remarked.  "Do you remember that fellow close to me
digging out that stone with his fingers in the pit on the cliff, when
the sheep made that false alarm?  The way he did it made me tremble.  I
believe he'd have brained some one with it if we really had been
surrounded."

"Well, the whole lot of them are taken by this time, dead or alive; at
least that's my belief," answered George.  "They were crazy with drink,
and would walk straight into the net.  That man we heard gallop into
the village last night may have given the alarm, and I'll wager there's
been a hue and cry and a sharp lookout all to-day.  As long as the sea
don't prevent it, we shall have a boat sent here for us to-morrow, and
then a fine story you'll have to tell the folks at home, and the boys
at school next term, Master Sylvester!"

His last remark, though intended to cheer me up, had rather the
opposite effect.  I must confess that, up to the present, I had been so
much concerned with my own personal safety as to give hardly a thought
to the friends at home, and to the anxiety which my father and mother
must be now feeling at my non-arrival; for by this time the news would
no doubt have reached them of the disappearance of the coach.  In those
days there were no telegraph wires by means of which messages could be
sent and replies received in the course of at most a few hours.  A
messenger had probably been dispatched on horseback to Round Green, to
learn whether I had travelled by the ill-fated True Blue; but he would
probably not return to Castlefield till late that night.  And even now,
as I sat blinking at the glowing logs, my parents would be in a state
of anxious uncertainty as to whether I was really missing, or had been
detained for some reason at the school.

George did not notice my silence, but went on, following up his own
line of thought.

"I believe there's been a boat out to-day spying down the coast, and
'twas that the blind fellow heard when he talked about distant voices.
My stars! it gave me quite a turn for the minute.  I almost thought it
was ghosts, and so did some of the rest, I suppose, by the scared look
on their faces.  You didn't hear nothing, I suppose, did you, Master
Eden?"

"No," I replied.  "But I hardly expected to; for I've got a bit of a
cold in my head, and it's made me rather deaf."

"It was a queer thing," murmured George.  "That man had such sharp ears
I don't think 'twas fancy; and if not, then what could it have been, I
wonder?"

"The dog didn't seem to notice it," I answered, "and a dog can hear
better than a man.  I dare say it was the water gurgling in some hole
or hollow, and it may have sounded like a voice."

How endless seemed that long December night!  The cold did not appear
to be so intense, but I was less weary than on the previous evening,
and less inclined for sleep.  Every now and again Woodley would raise
himself on his elbow to readjust the smouldering logs; and we would
speculate as to what could be the time, for the man had forgotten to
wind his watch the night before, and it had run down.  We cheered each
other with the assertion that the people in Rockymouth must know now of
our whereabouts, and that when day dawned we should be rescued.  At
length we must both have fallen into an uneasy slumber, and when I
recovered consciousness the mouth of the cavern was showing like a
distant window in the pale gray light of morning.  Rising, and
stretching our stiffened limbs, we stirred up the fire, and slapped our
arms across our breasts to restore the circulation.  To my joy I
noticed that the sea was calmer; the wind had dropped, and what waves
there were outside reached our platform in little more than gentle
ripples.

"They won't be long fetching us now," said George.  "I wonder how far
those rascals got before they were collared?  Not much farther than the
pierhead, I fancy.  The villains, sending the old _True Blue_ over the
cliffs like a worthless piece of rock!  I hope they'll get a sound
flogging for it, every man Jack of 'em, when they get aboard the hulk.
I'd like to give it 'em myself!"

We stood watching the light strengthen in the entrance to the cave,
momentarily expecting to see the aperture darkened by the prow of a
boat, and prepared to give a simultaneous hail with all the force of
our voices.

"Well, some of those lazy dogs of villagers might have been up and
about by this time," grumbled George.  "I know I would if it were a
case of rescuing fellow-creatures in distress.  They needn't have
waited for dawn; I'll warrant there's some of them could have guided a
boat in here with a lamp if there'd been a cargo of brandy kegs to be
fetched, instead of two human beings!"

"Perhaps they don't know we're here," I suggested, rather reluctantly.

"Of course they do," answered George, who had fully made up his mind on
the subject.  "That gang of rascals must have been caught yesterday.
How could it have been otherwise when most of them were too drunk to
walk, let alone run?  That being the case, for their own sakes they'd
be ready enough to say what had become of us.  They'll be held
responsible for our safety, and it would go hard with them if--if we
weren't found."

"But they might have got into hiding, and be waiting to get on board
some vessel."

"Not they!  The harbour was empty when we got into the boat--I noticed
that; so there was no craft lying alongside the wharf which would take
them on board, we'll say, and stow them down in the hold.  No; they'd
have to go ashore.  It's risky enough for men who know their way about
to beach a boat along this coast among the rocks and breakers, and
especially after dark; and the only chance for these fellows would be
to make the harbour and land on the quay.  Bless you, they were too
reckless and fuddled to think of the chances of being caught.  They've
all been nabbed safe enough, and had time by now to cool their heads
and remember whom they left behind.  We shall be taken off directly,
and in the meanwhile I don't see why we shouldn't have breakfast."

I sat down readily enough, and ate my share of what was left of the
pheasant, and a small wedge of cheese, washing down the repast with a
draught of the fresh water in the broken bottle.  Still there was no
sign of the relief party, for the arrival of which we kept a constant
lookout, and I thought I noticed an uneasy look on Woodley's face,
which did not tend to allay my own misgivings.

Growing restless at this delay, we longed to be doing something, and at
length decided to try to secure some more pieces of the floating
wreckage.  George was the first to rise to his feet, and as he did so
he exclaimed,--

"Hullo!  here's a find!"

Lying on the ledge of rock where Rodwood had left it on the previous
evening was the warder's pistol.  My companion examined it, and finding
that it was loaded and primed, clambered up and put it in a niche of
the rock high above his head, remarking as he did so,--

"There, that's safer than letting it lie about on the ground.  A chance
kick might send it off, and one of us get the ball in his foot."

The set of the current seemed to have drifted more wreckage into the
cavern, and the flowing tide had brought a quantity of it close to the
extreme end of the cave, where it floated in a jumbled mass at the foot
of our platform.  By clambering down to the water's edge and "fishing"
with another broken spar, we had no difficulty in drawing it towards us
and then throwing it up to the rock above.  One piece of timber which
seemed a portion of a mast had a quantity of rope attached to it, and a
couple of blocks with more cordage were also secured.  At length my eye
rested on another of those mischievous kegs, but this one apparently
half or wholly empty, judging from the manner in which the greater
portion of it appeared above the surface of the water.

"There's another of those little barrels," I said to George, half
jestingly.  "Haul it out, and we'll use it as our water-butt."

The keg was accordingly fished out of the sea, and added to our little
pile of salvage.  One or two more small fragments of wood were next
recovered; then George pointed to a long, slender spar which I had
already noticed, but which was floating close to the opposite wall of
the cavern, and beyond our reach.

"That looks like an oar, Master Eden," he said.  "We'll get that
somehow.  I think I can manage it with a line and slip-knot made out of
some of that rope."

It did not take long for this simple tackle to be prepared, and with
its aid George soon secured the oar, and handed it up to me as I stood
above him on the rock.  He passed it up, I say, blade first, and I
remember, as I caught hold of it, having given a sudden cry, almost as
though the wood had been red-hot iron.

"What's the matter?" shouted the astonished guard.

"O George, look here!--look at this!"

With a bound Woodley was at my side; but even then he could not guess
the reason for my outcry.  There was, after all, little for him to
see--merely a letter "L" branded into the water-worn surface of the
wood.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"Matter!" I cried.  "Don't you see that mark?  This is one of the oars
from Lewis's boat.  O Woodley! can't you guess what's happened?  She's
capsized, and all those drunken rascals are drowned.  I remember now
there was a yell as they passed out of the cave, and then silence.  I
thought they'd gone beyond our hearing, but when they got into the
swirl of the backwash at the foot of the cliffs they must have
overturned.  Lewis himself told me how dangerous it was.  It would have
been a difficult thing for a sober and experienced crew to get safely
out to sea, but with the first bad lurch those madmen would have flung
themselves about, and lost their balance in no time."

"It can't have been that," said George, who stood aghast at my
suggestion.  "Ten men drowned within fifty yards of us, and we none the
wiser!  No, no, Master Eden; I won't believe it."

"You forget they were all of them drunk," I answered.  "Even if any of
them had floated for a moment, we weren't likely to hear their stifled
cries right back here, and above the noise the wash of the sea was
making."

"How d'you know that oar came out of the boat?  Its being marked with
an 'L' is no proof that it belonged to Lewis."

"You forget I went out in his boat several times last summer, and
learned to row.  I remember the oar as well as if it was my own; it's
got a smaller 'L' carved with a knife just below the button.  There,
see for yourself."

Still George stood staring at me as though unwilling to be convinced
that the worst had happened.

"Look at that keg," I continued, "and see if it isn't the one they took
with them in the boat.  If so, you'll find the small hole they made
with your knife."

On examination, the spot where the convicts had broached the anker was
clearly visible.  There could no longer be any doubt as to how it came
to be floating on the water.

"Some of them must have got to land," muttered George doggedly.

"Not they!" I replied; "there wasn't a man of them could swim.  Don't
you remember what Rodwood said?  I know Lewis couldn't, because he told
us so last summer; and we remarked at the time how strange it was he
had never learned, when he had spent most of his life on the water.
Besides, what difference does it make to a man whether he can swim or
not, if he's flung into the water stupefied with drink?"

The oar dropped from my hands as I spoke, and for some minutes each
stood staring blankly in the other's face.  That short space of silence
did as much as an hour's feverish discussion of the subject to impress
upon our minds how hazardous and almost hopeless our position had now
become.  No gloomy underground dungeon in some ancient prison, made
secure by locks and bolts and watchful jailers, could have afforded
less chance of escape than in our case did this cavern; for even if a
boat had been waiting close outside, as neither of us could swim, there
was enough deep water between us and the sunshine to drown us twenty
times over.  It was probable that even the smugglers only entered the
cave on rare occasions, for too frequent visits would draw attention to
the spot; and especially at this time of the year, close on Christmas,
the chances were a thousand to one against any boat coming near the
place till we had either died of starvation or been washed away in one
of the fierce storms which raged constantly during the winter months.
With the loss of the boat and its occupants all chance of communication
with the outer world was ended; and if we had been marooned on an
island or coral reef in the Pacific, far out of the usual track of
ships, there could hardly have been less prospect of a timely rescue.

Though all these thoughts flashed through our minds, we neither of us
seemed willing to put them into words; both shrank from being the first
to pronounce the sentence of our doom.  George Woodley at length broke
the silence, and he did so in a voice the tone of which betrayed strong
emotion.

"This is a bad lookout for us, Master Eden," he said.  "What are we to
do?"

"We must portion out the food," I answered, "and make it last as long
as possible.  There's the other pheasant, and the hare, two or three
mince-pies, and a few apples, and part of the cheese.  With that we
ought to keep from starving a few days longer."

George shook his head, as if to imply that it would be only lengthening
the agony of our suspense; and for a time we remained doing nothing but
listlessly watching the sparkling patch of sea beyond the mouth of the
cavern, in the vague hope that some boat would pass within hail.  Owing
to the fact that the entrance arch was low, and our platform was raised
some distance above the water level, our view of the outside world was
very limited, and unless a boat had come close in to the foot of the
cliff we could not have seen her.

How long we remained thus in a state of hopeless inactivity I cannot
tell.  The hours of daylight seemed hardly less long and dragging than
those of darkness.  Woodley sat by the fire nursing his knees and
sullenly chewing a splinter of wood.  At last he roused himself and
stood up.

"It's no good sitting here like this and not making a single bid for
freedom!" he exclaimed.  "A thought's just come into my head, and if
you can't suggest anything better, why, I vote we try my plan."

"What is it?" I cried eagerly.

"Why, it's this," he answered.  "We must at least try to get outside
where folks can see us, and we can cry for help.  Neither of us can
swim, but here's wood, and rope to fasten it together.  Why shouldn't
we make a raft?"

The proposal was one exactly calculated to appeal to a boy's
imagination; but when I cast my eyes over our stock of timber, the
possibility of putting the project into actual execution seemed almost
out of the question.

"There's never enough wood here for that!" I answered.

"There may not be sufficient to make a raft that would carry us both,
but there ought to be enough to keep one of us afloat.  Look here,
sir," continued the man earnestly: "we've got to get out of this place
somehow, and the sooner the better.  If it means running risks, why, we
shall have to run them.  We're in peril of our lives as it is, standing
here upon this rock.  If it should come to blow really hard to-night,
it would be good-bye to us before morning.  My idea is this:--We must
fasten enough of these logs together to make a raft big enough to carry
me.  That oar will serve as a paddle, or to shove off from the rocks,
and so doing I ought, at all events, to be able to get outside into
open water; and once out there I should be bound either to be seen or
to drift ashore somewhere where I could climb the rocks.  Then, you may
be sure, it won't be long before I bring a boat round to rescue you."

"O George," I exclaimed, "I don't think I can stand being left quite
alone in this awful place!  Besides, what if you are washed off into
the sea?  You can't swim."

"I must take my chance of that, sir, as you must of being left," was
the answer.  "I'd suggest your going, only I think I'm the stronger,
and could hold on longer if, as is sure to be the case, the waves wash
over the logs.  Think, sir, what'll happen in the first gale, even if
our food lasts, and then take your choice."

I glanced round at the dark walls of our prison, which, though now high
and dry, had been worn smooth by the storms of ages; and the very
thought of the mountainous seas forcing their way in irresistible fury
through the entrance of the cavern made me shudder.  Take a bottle
three parts full of water, I thought, and shake it violently from side
to side, and that, on an infinitely larger scale, might be taken to
represent what the interior of this cave would be like in a winter
storm.

"Very well," I answered desperately.  "If that's your plan, let's carry
it out; I know of none better."

He turned at once, and worked with feverish eagerness, as though we
knew that the dreaded storm was then brewing.  Every piece of wreckage
of any size which still remained within reach we fished out of the
water and added to our store.  The next business was to collect and
untangle the rope and cord, and this took us far longer than we
expected.  The sodden knots wore the skin off the ends of our fingers,
and made the job all the more laborious and painful.  It was late in
the afternoon before this portion of our task was accomplished.  Then
came selecting the most suitable pieces of timber, and planning how
they should be arranged and joined together.  All this while we kept
glancing anxiously towards the entrance of the cave, still hoping
against hope that some of the convicts might have escaped a watery
grave, and either by capture or giving themselves up have made known
our whereabouts to the good folks of Rockymouth.  No help arrived,
however, and it became more and more evident that none was to be
expected.  The patch of sea grew gray and misty as the second day of
our captivity drew towards its close.

Kneeling in the quickly-gathering darkness of the cavern, George
completed the first lashing of the logs; then gathering up all the
remainder of the rope, that we might not entangle our feet, he stowed
it away high up on the rocky ledge which had served as a shelf for our
provisions.

All day we had hardly thought of food--a bite of cheese while we worked
having proved sufficient; but now, though wearied with our labour, we
set to work to pluck and cook the second pheasant--an operation which,
as we sat in the darkness with no means of telling how time was
passing, seemed to last far into the night.  With most of our wood gone
to form the raft, we had to be chary of our fuel.  The bird was only
half cooked, and I had little inclination for eating; but we forced
ourselves to swallow something, for on George's strength keeping up, if
not on mine, our last chance of rescue depended.

My cold was worse, and I felt utterly miserable as I sat crouching by
the glowing embers, the warmth from which was not sufficient to temper
the bitter breeze from the sea, which swept through the cavern as
through a draughty tunnel.

"George," I said, "it would be awful to die here alone in the dark, and
no one ever to know what had become of us.  Are you sure that raft will
carry you safely?"

"Oh, bless you, Master Eden, don't talk about dying," answered the man;
"that's not the way the true Briton looks at things.  'Never say die'
is his motto.  There's many poor fellows been in worse plights than we
are, and not thrown up the sponge.  Bless you, sir, I shall help to
carry you to and from school many a time yet, I hope.  'Woodley,'
you'll say, 'this is better than the two nights we spent in that cave!'
'You're right, sir,' I shall answer; and then all the other outsides'll
want to hear the story.  Ho, ho! my eye! but I doubt if they'll believe
it's all true!"

He went on cheering me with his lively talk, though his teeth chattered
with the cold.  He had never seemed more gay when perched on the back
seat of the old _Regulator_.  Yet if I could have read his thoughts, I
might have discovered that he more than half believed that this was to
be his last night on earth; for though determined for my sake, as well
as for the wife and child dependent on him, to attempt an escape from
the cave by means of the raft, he did not doubt that the chances were
very much against his ever reaching the shore.  So, for the sake of the
youngster at his side, he hid his fears and made light of the uncertain
future.  Such was George Woodley, and as such I like to remember him:
on the highroad a mail-coach guard, in the presence of death a very
gallant gentleman.

The day had been tiring as well as anxious, and in spite of cold and
discomforts my heavy eyelids began at length to droop and my head to
nod, until before long my troubles were swallowed up in blissful
forgetfulness.

I must have slept some hours, totally unconscious of what was going on
around me.  I have a distinct recollection that I was dreaming of
making a journey by coach as an inside passenger.  Mile by mile we went
rumbling on; it was windy, for the blast came in gusts through the open
windows, and roared in the tops of the wayside trees.  We stopped to
change horses, and as I looked out an hostler lifted a pail of water
and, with a shout, flung it in my face!

I awoke gasping and choking.  The water and the shout had been no
dream, nor, for that matter, the unceasing sound which had seemed to me
the noise of the wind and the lumbering vehicle.  The next instant my
arm was seized and shaken by Woodley.

"Rouse up, Master Eden!" he cried; "rouse up, sir!  There's a storm
coming on, and the sea is splashing over the rock!"



CHAPTER XV.

IN DESPERATE STRAITS.

Dazed by the sudden alarm, I lay for a moment hardly knowing where I
was; then another lash of icy cold water across my face brought me to
my senses, and I sprang to my feet.

Never shall I forget those terrible moments as we stood in pitchy
darkness, relieved only by the faint, uncanny, phosphorescent light of
the sea-water.  The thudding boom of a big wave striking against the
cliff and bursting in through the narrow archway, then the peculiar
hollow sound the water made as it rushed along the cavern, and the
fierce splash with which it expended its force against our
platform--all are sounds which seem to echo in my ears even now as I
write.

"The wind's come at last!" shouted George, and added something further
which I could not catch.

"We're safe here," I answered at the top of my voice.

"I've no idea what the time is," he replied; "but I don't believe it's
high water yet--the tide's still rising."

For just a few moments I think even brave George Woodley was
panic-stricken at our hazardous situation, and his words added a fresh
terror to the darkness.  If the tide was still flowing, then it was
only a matter of waiting till we should be washed away and drowned.
There was apparently nothing to be done but to take up our position as
far back as the width of our platform would allow, and so remain till
our fate was decided.

The air was full of a fine drenching mist, but as yet only the broken
spray from the waves had reached us.  Trembling with cold and terror I
stood, hoping against hope that the tide had reached its height or
begun to ebb; then suddenly a larger sea than had hitherto entered the
cavern swept clean over our place of refuge, the rushing surf whirling
and hissing round our feet like a thousand serpents.  The water had not
taken us much above the ankles, but in that awful darkness I imagined
for a moment that the end had already come, and clung to George with a
cry of alarm.

"We must climb higher, Master Eden," yelled Woodley, his words, though
shouted in my ear, almost drowned in the rush of the back-wash.  "We
must climb the rock; there's a ledge above us, if we can only get to
it."

The words had hardly been uttered when, as though to enforce the
necessity of his suggestion, another deluge of foaming surf swept over
the rock, and I heard a clattering, bumping noise, the woeful
significance of which I did not realize at the moment.  Groping with
our hands over the surface of the cold, slippery stone, and yelling
directions to each other, though our heads were not two feet apart, we
climbed precariously from one foothold to another till we reached a
ledge some five or six feet above the level on which we had hitherto
been standing.  This was as far as we could get, for above us the end
wall of the cave rose precipitously, as though the rock had been hewn
to stand the test of line and plummet.

Weary, wet, and chilled to the bone, in such a miserable condition I
think I would hardly have troubled to avoid a speedy ending to all my
misfortunes if death had presented itself in a less terrible form.  But
the fearful churning of that wild water was sufficiently appalling to
cause one to cling with frenzied earnestness to any position of safety;
for to be drawn down into that raging tumult was as dreadful to
contemplate as being flung bodily into some enormous piece of whirling
machinery, to be ground and dashed out of all human shape by a force as
pitiless as it was overwhelming.

Higher and higher rose the tide.  Now our platform was completely
awash, and the seas, dashing against the end of the cavern, leaped up
like hungry wolves, and soaked afresh our already sodden clothes with
icy water.  Thrown back in echoes from the arched roof of the cave, the
noise of the sea was probably magnified tenfold, and in the darkness
was terrifying to hear, while the compressed air rushed through the
opening above us with a long, whistling sigh.  The wonder seems to me
that the pair of us did not lose our reason.  Happily for us, in those
days folks were evidently made of tougher material, both as regards
muscle and nerve, else I could hardly have survived the exposure of
that night, let alone its long agony of suspense.  As it was, I had
come about to the end of my tether; and had it not been for Woodley, I
should never have survived to write the present story.  There came a
boom louder than we had heard before.  I seemed to feel that mighty
mass of broken water sweeping towards us through the gloom.  Then with
a crash it burst over the lower ledge, and rose level with our armpits.
I felt my numbed fingers relaxing their hold, and with a wild,
despairing cry was slipping from my place, when Woodley seized me with
one arm round the waist as the water subsided with a deafening roar.

That sea, I believe, was the largest which swept through the cave, and
shortly after this the tide must have commenced to ebb; but of what
happened next I had positively no remembrance, nor, strange to say, had
George.  Whether he held on to me after I lost consciousness, or
whether we both continued to cling with a blind instinct of
self-preservation to our ledge when our overtaxed brains had become
oblivious to our surroundings, I cannot tell.  How we maintained our
foothold through the succeeding hours of darkness is a mystery.  The
next recollection I have is of finding myself lying on my side on the
platform, staring blankly at the tossing surf as it rushed through the
distant arch of rock in the gray light of morning.

The sea was rough, and a strong wind was blowing; but terrible as it
had seemed at high water and in the darkness of night, it could not
have been more than what seamen term half a gale, or we must certainly
have been swept away and drowned.

I was so numbed that it was with great difficulty I could move my
stiffened limbs and stagger to my feet; and when George spoke to me I
discovered that I was nearly deaf--a result probably due to aggravation
of the cold from which I had previously been suffering.  What sort of
an object I myself presented I have no means of telling, but when I
looked at George I was shocked at his woebegone appearance.  His face
was haggard and pinched with cold, and something of that long night of
terror seemed to remain in the wild glitter of his eyes.  His cap was
lost, and his sodden and dishevelled clothing hung about him like rags.
Becoming aware of the fact that I was looking at him, he pointed,
mutely with his finger.  I saw in a moment what he meant; and if it had
been possible for hope and courage to sink lower in my breast, they
would surely have done so then.  The sea had made a clean sweep of the
rocky platform, and the raft was gone!

Save one piece of splintered board, which the waves had wedged into a
fissure of the rock, not a fragment of wood remained in our possession;
and not only had the wreckage been washed away from the spot where we
had stored it, but the retreating tide, and some change in the
currents, seemed to have carried it once more out to sea.  I had
reached a condition of despair and misery far beyond that which can
find relief in tears; I could only stare in a dull, stupefied fashion
at the empty space of cold, wet rock.

Woodley said something, but I could not catch his words.

"Speak louder," I answered, in a voice as hoarse as a crow's.  "I can't
hear; I believe I'm going deaf."

"All the timber's gone--every inch," cried George, coming nearer.
"I've been having a look round, and there's nothing left but a lump of
cheese and a bundle of rope what's up there in the 'cupboard.'  I'm
afraid we've played our last card, Master Eden."

I knew what he meant.  If the sea continued rough, as there was every
probability of its doing, we should never be able to hold out a second
time when the tide rose and once more flooded our refuge.  The misery
and mental anguish through which we had passed had, I think, gone far
to rob us both of the fear of death; but the form in which it appeared
was terrible to contemplate, and the longing for life still throbbed
fiercely in our breasts.

I said nothing; but feeling the water squelching in my boots, I emptied
them, and then began stamping my icy feet in order to restore the
circulation.  Was there no hope?  Must we remain like condemned
criminals watching the angry water slowly rising till it claimed its
prey?  Of escape there seemed no possible chance, but in the anguish of
our desolate condition I prayed fervently to God for fortitude and
consolation to support us in our last hours.

Making cups of our hands, we drank from the trickling water as we ate
our cheese.  We had little to say to each other; even George seemed to
have abandoned hope, and to be nerving himself up, that when the time
came he might make a brave ending and encourage me to do the same.

"It seems months since I took you up at the Sportsman, Master Eden," he
said, after a long silence.  "Ah me! you little expected you was
starting on such a queer journey."

He spoke in so kind and gentle a manner that I knew instinctively his
thoughts and regrets were more for me than for himself.  Somehow his
tone, and the memories which his words awakened of the many times I had
clambered up beside him on those happy days when I had returned to the
home and dear ones I should never see again, broke me down; and rising
hastily, I went forward to the edge of the platform and stood there,
vainly endeavouring to stifle my sobs.  I was but a boy, and am not
ashamed now to remember those emotions.

I must have stood like this for some time, when I heard George call me;
and looking round, I saw him standing gazing up at the roof of the
cavern above his head.

"Master Eden, come here a minute, sir," he said.

I turned on my heel and obeyed, wondering what he wanted.

"Look here, sir," he continued, as I reached his side.  "D'you see that
hole up above there?  I wonder how far it goes."

The roof of the cave was almost lost to view in sombre shadows; but as
I have already mentioned, our eyes had become sufficiently accustomed
to the gloom to make out the existence of a curious hole or fissure in
the rock, which resembled nothing so much as a wide old-fashioned
chimney, and this resemblance was strengthened by the fact that one
side of it was level with the end wall of the cavern.  More than this
we could not tell, an oblong patch of blackness being all that could be
seen from where we stood.

"I believe it goes up some way," continued George.  "I noticed that the
smoke from the fire all went up it, and didn't hang about in the roof
yonder; and last night I heard the wind rushing through the opening
when the big waves burst into the cavern."

"There are plenty of funny holes worn in the rook along this coast," I
replied.  "It may go up for a few feet, but there's no chance of its
leading out to the top of the cliff."

"No, I don't suppose it would," answered my companion; "but what I've
been thinking is, that perhaps it may turn a bit, and so form a ledge
where we might take refuge out of reach of the waves."

"But it's out of our reach," I answered, almost petulantly.  "We can't
climb up the side of a flat rock like flies up a window-pane."

George did not reply for a moment, but remained staring upwards with
his head thrown back as far as it would go.

"I believe," he continued, "that if we climbed up to the ledge we were
on last night, and I hoisted you on to my shoulders, you might get a
foothold still higher up on that shelf.  Then there's a crack just
below the opening, and if you stuck that piece of plank that's left in
the rift, it would make another step, and bring you practically right
into the hole.  I suppose you've never climbed a chimney, Master Eden;
but if you could do as the climbing boys do, work yourself up with your
back against one side and your knees against the other, you might see
how far it goes.  I'll stand below and catch you if you fall."

By the "Foxes" I was accounted one of the best climbers of the tribe,
and had a steady head; but I own I was not taken with the guard's
proposal.  The jagged rock on which we stood was hard and cruel, and it
seemed impossible to ascend and descend the shaft without a tumble.

"How about yourself?" I objected.  "If I do find a ledge up there,
you'll have to stay down below; we can't both stand on each other's
shoulders at the same time, and that's necessary for making the start."

"There's that rope, sir," was the reply.  "You might find a way of
making one end fast; and if so, I'd soon be up after you."

There was a pause.

"It's our only chance, sir," said George.  "There's no knowing but what
it might save the two of us."

That last remark fired my resolution: it was for him as well as for
myself that the attempt was to be made.  He had certainly saved my
life, and by all the laws of justice and honour I owed him a like
return, if such a thing were possible.

"All right," I cried; "I'll try it--now, at once!"

With some difficulty we wrenched the piece of splintered plank from the
cranny into which one end had been forced by the sea, after which we
scrambled up the ledge on which we had passed those awful hours of
darkness.  Everywhere the rock was wet and slippery from the drenching
it had received during the storm.  I felt George's foot slide as I
clambered up on to his shoulders, and a horrid feeling of faintness
seized me, for I was then high enough to have broken my neck if we had
fallen.  With dogged determination to get as far as I could, I planted
my foot on the narrow shelf which my companion had indicated; and
receiving the piece of plank which he handed up, I thrust it into the
crack some two feet higher up, and almost in what might be called the
mouth of the chimney.  Fortunately this crevice was just wide enough to
admit the wood a sufficient distance to make it secure; another step
upwards, and as I made it my head struck sharply against something
projecting from the side of the hole.  It was evidently an iron bar
bent round in a semicircle, with both ends embedded firmly in the rock.
The surface was eaten with rust, but pull and tug at it as I would, it
showed no signs of giving.  Rising carefully to my full height, I found
another piece of iron exactly similar to the first some little way
above; then suddenly it occurred to my mind that they had been put
there to serve as steps, as I had once seen similar irons placed in a
new chimney-stack at Castlefield.  Hesitating no longer, I mounted from
one to another, until I must have climbed a dozen; then feeling with my
hand in the darkness, I discovered an open space, evidently the mouth
of some subterranean tunnel.

Far beneath me I could just make out the pale shadow of my companion's
upturned face as he gazed anxiously into the gloom, wondering, no
doubt, what had become of me.

"George!  George!" I yelled excitedly, "I've found the entrance of a
passage.  Come up quick, and see for yourself.  I believe we're saved!"



CHAPTER XVI.

THE SUBTERRANEAN TUNNEL.

Whether George understood me I could not tell; he made some reply, but
my increasing deafness rendered his words inaudible, I shouted again,
and told him of the iron steps I had discovered; and this time he must
have heard, for he waved his hand.  He disappeared, but after a few
moments I saw him again.

"Catch the end of this rope, and make it fast if you can," he roared.

Twice he threw, and I heard the coil of rope whistle in the rocky
shaft, but it did not reach my hand; then the third time I grabbed it,
and to make doubly sure, I fastened it to two of the iron steps, in
case one should not prove equal to the strain of George's weight.

Woodley was an active fellow.  He swung on the rope first, to make
certain that it would bear him, and then commenced to climb.  In less
than two minutes he was by my side.

"Well, this is a queer place," he remarked, as he crouched by me in the
subterranean tunnel.  "Those iron steps weren't put there for nothing;
somebody must have used them for going up and down."

"I wonder where this passage goes?" I said.  "Perhaps it's part of a
disused mine."

"There never was no mine along here that I know of," answered my
companion.  "The air seems fresh.  The only thing is to go along and
see where it leads.  Be careful, Master Eden; there may be a nasty drop
somewhere."

Slowly and cautiously, in the inky darkness, we crept along, at each
step making sure of the ground in front of us before we advanced
further.  The path appeared to make a very gradual slope upwards.  We
must have gone quite twenty yards, which, owing to our slow progress,
seemed treble that distance, and we were beginning to exult in the
thought of speedily obtaining our freedom, when there was an
exclamation from George, and the next moment we found ourselves brought
up short by a bank of earth which completely blocked the passage.  Even
in the darkness it was not difficult to realize what had happened.

"The roof has fallen in," said Woodley shortly, but the catch in his
voice betrayed his bitter disappointment.

There was no help for it--the tunnel was blocked; and in utter
weariness we sat down on the rocky floor to rest.

"Well, we're better off here than where we were last night," said
George.  "We shouldn't live many more hours down below, for I believe
the storm's getting worse."

"I wonder what this passage was for?" I remarked, after a few moments'
silence.  "D'you suppose the smugglers used it for anything?"

"No," answered George.  "If the smugglers made it, then old Lewis would
have known of its existence, and he'd have tried to escape this way
instead of risking his life in that boat."

"He did say something," I exclaimed, suddenly remembering the last
words I had heard from the old salt.  "I didn't suppose they had any
meaning at the time, for I thought he was drunk.  Wait a moment, and
I'll tell you exactly what they were.  He said, 'You'll find it
yourself if you look about.  I'm the only one as knows.'"

"Then he must have known," said George, "but he didn't want those
convict chaps to find out.  Perhaps it's a secret among the 'free
traders,' or perhaps it's a fact that the old chap was really the only
person who knew.  I've heard him say that he was a rare climber when he
was younger, and had got to places on the cliffs where no one else had
ever been.  Well, sir, there's a bit of cheese and two apples wedged in
that crack of the rock.  I'd better go down and fetch them before the
tide rises; they'll at least keep life in us for a couple of days."

Slowly we retraced our steps, taking great care lest we should arrive
at the opening of the shaft before we knew where we were, and fall
through it on to the platform beneath.  With the sea rising, there
seemed as small a chance as ever that we should get out of the cave
alive; but we were, at all events, spared the terrible fate which that
morning had seemed inevitable.  Woodley descended to the cavern, and
having rolled up the two apples and the cheese in his coat, he made
fast the bundle to the end of the rope, and I hauled it up.  He was in
the act of following, and had nearly reached the mouth of the shaft,
when I saw him pause and, hanging on the rope with one hand, take
something off a ledge with the other.

"What d'you think I've found?" he said, as he joined me again in the
tunnel.  "Why, that pistol Rodwood left behind.  I put it right up
there out of harm's way.  The little crevice is dry and sheltered, and
a good bit above the reach of the waves, so I don't doubt but what the
charge will explode all right if it's fired.  It don't seem much good
to us at present, but it might come in useful to make a signal and
attract attention if we could manage to get to the mouth of the cave
and sight a passing ship or boat.  There!" he continued, as we once
more sat down at the end of the passage, and he unrolled our meagre
stores from his coat; "that's all we've got in the world, barring the
water that trickles down the rock below, and a bottle of sweet oil I've
got in my pocket, which my missis asked me to bring her from the
chemist's at Welmington.  Poor girl! she's wondering what's become of
it, and of me, too, by now, I expect.  And the stuff isn't much good to
us, I fancy.  I wish the bottle had been filled with some of that
brandy those rascals wasted; we shall be likely to need something of
the sort before long, if we haven't wanted it already."

Although the tunnel was blocked, a cold draught from the cave below
seemed to be always blowing through it, every now and again coming in
stronger gusts as the storm increased.  The darkness was so intense
that I already felt it oppressive, and thought that after a time it
would become positively unbearable.

"I wonder if the smugglers ever come here now," I said.  "They might
perhaps know of the place, and use it as a hiding-place for their
goods."

With this notion in my mind I went down on my hands and knees, and felt
about in order to find anything which might prove that the tunnel had
been visited at one time or another by the "free traders."  But though
I spent some time in groping about in this manner, I picked up nothing
but a few fragments of rock.  Then I remembered Lewis's words, and how
he had distinctly stated that he was "the only one that knows."  He had
no doubt been led by some accident to discover the shaft and the
passage, and had thought fit to keep the knowledge to himself, perhaps
intending to make good use of it when any special need should arise for
a place of concealment, either for men or "goods."

I sat down again by Woodley, and passing my hand over my clothes to
find if they were drying at all, I felt something hard in my inside
coat pocket.  Wondering vaguely what it could be, I unbuttoned my
jacket, and while doing so remembered suddenly the metal tinder-box I
had found in the empty desk the day before I left school.  I took it
out, fumbled with my fingers till I found the flint and steel, and--I
suppose for the sake of seeing a ray of light, however tiny and
momentary--I struck a spark.  I hardly think if I had fired a gun it
could have produced a more unexpected effect on Woodley.  He sprang to
his feet with something like a shout of surprise.

"What's that?" he cried.  "A tinder-box!  Where did you find it?  I
made sure Rodwood had taken it with him in his pocket."

"This is another," I answered; "it's one I found at school.  The lid
fits well, and has kept out the damp, I fancy."

"Bless the boy!" cried George, "why didn't you tell me you had it
before?  I've been wishing and wishing for one this last hour or more."

"It's precious little good now that you have got it," I replied,
handing him the box in the darkness.  "We've got nothing to light
except the tinder and matches, and that's no practical use."

"Wait a bit," interrupted the guard.  "We'll make a lamp.  This bottle
of oil I've got in my pocket will provide stuff to burn, and a strand
of worsted out of one of my socks will make a wick.  Hurrah, Master
Eden! we'll get a light burning presently, and find out what sort of a
place we're in."

"I don't see how you're going to make a lamp," I answered, "unless you
hold the oil in the palm of your hand.  We've got nothing left--not
even that metal cup the men took from poor Tom's flask."

The question was a difficult one to answer.  Reduced to the possession
of practically nothing but the clothes we wore, it seemed at first
impossible to manufacture any implement or vessel, however simple.  But
necessity is the mother of invention, and certainly the necessity in
our case was sufficiently pressing to quicken any inventive faculties
we might possess.

After some minutes' thought, and the making of one or two suggestions
which had to be abandoned as impracticable, my companion slapped his
thigh, exclaiming,--

"I've got it--my old watch!"

With the aid of his knife George managed to remove the works from the
old-fashioned turnip-shaped silver case, which was so commonly seen in
those days.  This formed a sort of cup to hold the oil, which was
supplied with a sort of floating wick made of a thread of worsted and a
tiny bit of wood, to obtain which we were obliged to descend the iron
steps, and bring up the fragment of broken plank from the bottom of the
shaft.  It was hardly possible that the tiny flame could be kept long
alight if exposed to the strong draught which swept through the tunnel;
but with a piece of leather cut from the top of his boot, and the big
bull's-eye glass of the watch, Woodley managed to fashion a rough but
effective shade, and at length the lamp was pronounced ready for use.
If we had been a couple of boys about to let off a big sky-rocket, we
could hardly have felt more excited as we struck the flint, blew up the
spark in the tinder, and ignited first the sulphur match and then the
tiny wick.  The result was poor enough, but the lamp certainly did
burn, giving out perhaps as much light as a modern night-light.  To us,
however, after having been so long in total darkness, it seemed quite
brilliant; and with its aid there was at all events a possibility of
our being able to examine our surroundings.

A part of the passage had evidently been cut through the solid rock,
but farther along the roof was of earth, and had been propped up with
wooden supports.  It was owing to the fact that some of these, no doubt
rotten with age, had given way, that the fall had occurred which formed
the block against which we had been brought up short.  We at once
proceeded to examine this obstruction, and had hardly turned our light
upon it before we made an important discovery.  The fall had not been
of sufficient volume to quite block the tunnel; there was a narrow
opening still at the top of the heap of _débris_, but not wide enough,
as we could see at a glance, to admit of the passage of a human being.

"Hurrah!" cried the guard.  "D'you see that, sir?  We'll soon scratch a
hole there big enough to crawl through, or my name ain't George
Woodley."

"I'm afraid if you do it won't be much good," I answered.  "If the roof
has fallen here, it's almost sure to have fallen again further on in
several places, before the tunnel comes to the surface.  This shows
that no one has been along it for some time."

We turned away, and examined the rest of the passage as far as the top
of the shaft; but only one thing did we find, and that was an empty
bottle stowed away in a hole in the rock.  It was a queer, misshapen
old thing, which had, perhaps, held good liquor in its time, but
evidently belonged to a by-gone age.  Worthless as it might have
appeared under ordinary circumstances, to us it proved a valuable find;
and George offered at once to go down and fill it with water from the
cave below.  The discovery and the suggestion were both made none too
soon.  Another half-hour and it would have been impossible, for both
wind and tide were rising; the big waves were already breaking into the
entrance of the cavern with a booming roar, and the boiling surf swept
clean over the platform just as George was re-ascending the rope.

I was a strong, healthy boy, but the long hours of cold, terror, and
semi-starvation were beginning to tell.  I felt weak and feverish, my
skin was dry and parched, yet the chill from my sodden clothes seemed
still to strike right through into my very bones.  With the aid of his
knife George fashioned the fragment of plank into something resembling
a short spade; then scrambling up the bank of earth, he began to dig
with the intention of enlarging the existing hole till it should be big
enough for us to crawl through.  With burning eyes and chattering teeth
I stood below, and assisted as best I could by dragging away the loose
earth with my hands.  What with my deafness, and with the roar of the
sea in the cavern below, I could not hear a word he said, though he did
not waste much time in talking.

Our fate must have been decided long before this if we had not found
means of ascending the shaft to our present position.  The storm had
increased in fury, and we could tell each time a big wave swept into
the cavern, by the rush of air which came whistling up the shaft and
swept in a briny blast along the passage.  Suddenly George stopped
working, and I saw the dark outline of his figure motionless in the
feeble ray of the little lamp.

"What's the matter?" I cried.

He made no reply, but raised his hand as a person would in the act of
listening.  For half a minute he remained in that position, then
resumed his digging.  In a very short time, however, he stopped again,
and after an instant's pause startled me by leaning forward and
shouting at the top of his voice through the hole,--

"Hollo, there!"

Receiving apparently no reply to his hail, he turned and beckoned me to
climb up by his side.

"Can you hear anything, Master Eden?" he asked.

I listened intently, but no sound caught my ear but the muffled surge
and splash of the water in the cavern.

"There!" exclaimed my companion--"there again!  Don't you hear it?"

Still to my dulled hearing no fresh sound was audible.

"What was it?" I asked.

Without answering my question, he once more roared, "Hollo, there!"
through the widened hole, and remained with warning hand uplifted, as
though expecting an answering shout.  "Fancy, I suppose," he muttered
at length.  "Yet that blind fellow heard something of the sort too.
Tut!  I think I'm going queer in my head."

He went on digging, but once or twice I noticed that he paused in the
same curious manner.  I was too weary to pay much attention, but
continued laboriously scooping and dragging the earth he loosened till
my fingers seemed raw.  At length Woodley stopped digging, and sat down
for a rest.  As he moved the lamp the dim oil flame gave me a momentary
glimpse of his face, and on it I thought I detected a queer expression
which I had never noticed there before.

For ten minutes, perhaps, he sat regaining his breath, and saying
nothing; then turning to me he asked abruptly,--

"Master Eden, do you believe there's such things as ghosts?"

"No," I answered blankly, astonished at the question.  A terrible
thought flashed through my mind that, as a last crowning horror,
Woodley was actually going out of his mind.  "No," I repeated in a
faltering tone, "I don't believe in ghosts."

"Neither do I, then," said George; and picking up his wooden spade, he
went on digging.



CHAPTER XVII.

DAYLIGHT AT LAST.

How that night passed, or whether it was night or day, I cannot say.
Worn out, I must have fallen asleep over my work; and when I awoke,
George was shaking my arm and informing me that he had crawled through
the hole and found the passage free on the other side.  I seemed to be
burning hot now; there was a singing in my head, and as I rose to my
feet I staggered and almost fell.  How many hours George had been at
work I had no idea.  My notions of time were getting hazy and
uncertain; I felt that we had lived in that dark, windy passage for
ages.

The hole had been enlarged just sufficiently to admit of our crawling
through.  The fall of earth did not extend many yards, and beyond it we
found ourselves in the continuation of the tunnel.  On, on, on we went,
moving slowly, with only the uncertain light of the tiny lamp to warn
us of any dangerous pitfall which might lie in our path.  Contrary to
my expectation, we encountered no further obstacle of a similar kind to
that through which we had just cut our way.  Now we were passing once
more through solid rock, and now the tunnel was continued through
earth, supported by rough-hewn beams, black with damp and age.  Owing
to our slow progress, the distance seemed much longer than it no doubt
really was; the path sloped upward with a gentle gradient all the way,
and so long did the ascent appear that at almost every step I wondered
that we did not arrive at the surface of the ground on a level with the
top of the cliffs.  The passage made no turns, and we were evidently
striking straight inland.  The air still kept fresh, and even at this
distance from the cave we could feel the upward blast of air as the big
seas entered the cavern.

I staggered along like one in a dream, sometimes steadying myself with
my hands as I lurched up against rock or beam; then all at once George,
who was going on a pace or two in front, started back so quickly that
he trod on my toes, and nearly knocked me down.  At the same moment the
lamp fell from his hand, and we were once more in a darkness that could
be felt.

I heard it myself that time!  Out of the inky blackness, from the
direction in which we were going, there came a most unearthly sound,
half human, half the note of some strange instrument made and played
upon by underground goblins of old country folk's tales.  It rose to
almost a shriek at its loudest pitch, and then died away into a sort of
crooning growl.  So weird and terrifying was it in that subterranean
region, that, though past caring for most things, whether good or ill,
I felt the hair bristle on my head.

Woodley was a brave man, as I had reason to know, but I felt his arm
shaking as I clutched it with my hand.

"Hullo!--hullo, there!" he cried, in a hoarse, quavering voice which no
friend of his could have recognized.  "Who are you, and what are you
doing?"

Once more there was no reply.  Another few moments of that suspense,
and I verily believe I should have turned and rushed back along the way
we had come, regardless whether I ended up by pitching head first down
the shaft into the cavern beneath.  Fortunately, George possessed a
large stock of that dogged resolution peculiar to a Briton, which
desperate circumstances tend only to harden; and now, recovering from
the shock which the sound had given him, I believe he was ready to deal
with a whole churchyardful of ghosts.

"Strike a light, Master Eden," he said shortly, "and I'll find the
lamp."

Owing partly to the fright, and partly to my dazed condition, I struck
a good many blows with the steel before I had a spark glowing in the
tinder.  In the meantime Woodley had recovered the lamp, and
replenished the oil which had been spilt by pouring out a fresh supply
from the bottle in his pocket.  Just as we got the wick to burn,
another weird, high-pitched howl rang through the darkness, continued
for perhaps half a minute, and then ceased; but this time George
remained undaunted.

"You carry the lamp, sir," he said.  "Hold it well up, and I'll go in
front."

He took something from his pocket, and I knew from the sharp click that
he had cocked the pistol.

What we expected to see it would be hard to say.  Certainly not the
obstacle which, a few paces further on, we found blocking our path.
This was nothing more or less than a heavy wooden door, dark with age
like the beams of the tunnel, and studded with rusty iron nails.  We
stopped, and stood staring at it in the faint glimmer of our feeble
lamp.  What, then, could have become of the creature--goblin or
human--that had terrified us with its unearthly music?  Could it have
retreated before our advance, and be now lying in wait for us behind
that mass of ancient timber?

Woodley was the first to move.  He walked up to the door, tried it with
his shoulder, and finding it fast, rapped on it with his knuckles, as
though he expected some ghostly porter to answer his summons.

Again we stood, waiting and listening; then, just as I was about to
speak, a gust of air came sweeping down the passage, causing our lamp
to flicker, and the ghostly music burst out again close to where we
stood, as though the goblin minstrel were piping defiance at us from
the farther side of the door.  I grabbed Woodley by the arm; but to my
surprise the man burst into a roar of laughter, which mingled strangely
with the weird howl that rose and fell in total disregard of this
audacious interruption.

"Ho, ho!" laughed George.  "To think that we should have been scared by
that!  Bless me, nothing but the wind blowing through a keyhole!"

A moment's examination proved his statement to be correct.  The gusts
of air driven along the tunnel transformed the wide, old-fashioned
keyhole into a sort of musical instrument; something in the formation
of the lock must, I think, have lent itself to producing an unusually
strange effect as the wind hummed and whistled through the hole.  Here,
at all events, was an explanation to the mystery; but in my case the
sudden relaxing of overstrung nerves made me little inclined to join in
my companion's laugh.  I leaned up against the side of the passage,
gasping for breath, while the throbbing of my heart seemed to hammer
through my whole frame.

By the time I had somewhat recovered from the reaction caused by our
discovery, George had carefully examined the door.  It was fast and
firm as a rock, though on one side, where the ponderous framework
seemed to have shrunk or sunk, there were chinks into which I could
have inserted the end of my finger; through these, too, the stronger
gusts of air sighed and hummed as though in accompaniment to the whoop
and wail of the keyhole.

"It's the lock that holds it," said George, returning to my hands the
lamp which he had borrowed to aid him in his investigations.  "If we
could find one of these beams or uprights loose, and use it as a
battering-ram, we might soon burst it open."

What the object of a door in such a place could be we had no notion,
nor, I believe, did we trouble to think.  What concerned us was that it
stood between us and our hopes of liberty; and having no tool with
which to pick the lock, we must employ our remaining strength in an
attempt to make it yield to force.

To this end we retraced our steps some distance along the passage; but
the heavy blocks of timber were too firmly fixed to admit of our
wrenching them from their places.  In vain did we search for a lump of
rock sufficiently large and heavy to answer the same purpose; the only
loose piece we could find was about the size of a man's boot, and we
might have continued to fling this at the door for a whole week without
achieving any further result than dinting the oak.

"Master Eden," said George, turning to me as though a sudden thought
had come into his mind, "I've got a key here I fancy will fit that
lock," and he made a sign indicating the pistol in his hand.  "I've
heard of its being done," he continued, "and I don't see why it
shouldn't act in this case.  I'll extract the ball, put the end of the
muzzle to the keyhole, and blow the lock clean off the inside of the
door.  The powder's dry, and I don't doubt but what it'll explode."

"You'll hurt your hand," I said.

"I'll chance that," he replied.  "I'll use my left.  Now, sir, you hold
the lamp, and stand clear when I fire."

With the corkscrew belonging to his knife Woodley was able to draw the
wad from the short-barrelled pistol, and so remove the ball; then
standing at arm's-length from the door, he took the weapon in his left
hand and signalled to me to go farther back.  The next instant there
was a blinding flash, and a report which, in that confined space,
sounded like the discharge of a small cannon.  Woodley staggered back,
and his arm dropped to his side.  It was not for some moments that I
was able to ascertain whether or not he was seriously injured; then it
turned out that the recoil of the firearm, discharged with its muzzle
so close to the door, had dislocated his wrist.

We pressed forward through the cloud of pungent smoke, and to our
delight found that the door was no longer able to resist our united
efforts to shove it open; indeed, when we had time to examine it more
closely, we found that the lock had been blown away on the inside.  We
crossed the threshold eagerly enough, but the next moment whatever
hopes had risen in our minds of finding ourselves on the point of
stepping out into the blessed fresh air and light of day were dashed to
the ground.  We had certainly arrived at the end of our journey, but
only to find that the long tunnel had apparently no outlet, and
terminated in a small underground cell, of which the walls and roof
even were of stone.  As the dim light of our lamp revealed this
unwelcome truth, I felt that at last our fate was finally sealed, that
I could make no further effort, and that here I must lie down and die.
Listlessly I stood by George's side and looked round.  The little
chamber in which we stood was the same height as the tunnel, and, I
should say, as regards length and breadth not more than five feet
square.  It contained nothing but a three-legged wooden stool, and an
ancient box or coffer, apparently of iron, secured with a heavy
padlock.  The walls, as I have said, were of roughly-hewn stone, and
the roof was formed of two slabs of granite.  Dimly I wondered to what
purpose such a place could ever have been put--whether some hermit had
dwelt there in a bygone age, and why such a long tunnel had been
excavated for no further purpose than to end in a tiny vault which
seemingly, to all intents and purposes, might have been constructed
immediately above the cave.  These thoughts drifted languidly through
my fevered brain; the reaction after a brief period of excitement was
beginning to tell, and I was fast coming to the end of my powers of
endurance.

"What's this, I wonder?" exclaimed George, giving the iron box a kick.
"Some old pirate's treasure, maybe.  Well, if 'twas full of gold it's
no good to us at present, nor likely to be unless we can find a way out
of this vault.  Set down the light a moment, Master Eden," he
continued.  "I'll hoist you up on my back, sir, and you can see if you
can stir either of them stone slabs overhead."

Feeble as I was, I doubt whether I could have moved the stone if it had
offered no other resistance than its own weight; as it was, for all the
effect my pushing had there might have been ten thousand tons of earth
resting on its upper surface.  As Woodley once more set me on my feet I
turned giddy, and sank down on the iron box to save myself from
falling.  The dimly-lit vault spun round and round; I leaned my head
against the cold stone and closed my eyes.  Whether I fainted or merely
dozed off from sheer exhaustion I can't say, but after what seemed an
age I was roused by Woodley shaking my shoulder and addressing me in
loud and excited tones.  His words had to be repeated several times
before I grasped their meaning; then at last they forced themselves
into my brain.

"Master Eden, I've heard a dog barking!  There 'tis again!  Liven up,
sir; we can't be far from help."

For a moment I seemed to recover full possession of my senses; my brain
was feverishly active as a sudden inspiration came to my mind--the
weird song of the wind through the keyhole, the long uphill slope of
the passage, the barking of the dog.

"George," I cried, "I know where we are!  We're in the secret place at
Coverthorne!  We must be close to the haunted room, perhaps directly
under it; and the wind was the ghost!"  I broke out into a fit of wild
hysterical laughter, and ended by bursting into tears.

"Steady, steady, sir," cried George.  "What d'you mean?  What are you
talking about?"

With an effort recovering my self-possession, I told him in a few words
what I meant, and how I believed we had unwittingly discovered the old
house's secret chamber.

"But what can we do?" I exclaimed.  "We may stay buried here for any
length of time, and no one know where we are or how to get us out."

Woodley was certainly a man of quick resource.  He stood thinking for a
moment; then picking up the lamp, he carried it out into the tunnel,
and returning closed the door.  Standing in the pitch darkness, we saw
for the first time a faint gray shadow as it were, but a few inches
long, which filtered through between one granite slab and the end wall
of the cell.  Faint and indistinct it might be, but at the sight of it
our hearts leaped within us: this was daylight at last!

"Hurrah!" shouted George.  "Yonder's the way out?  Now I'll soon have
some one to open the door for us, or may I never ride behind four
horses again!"

He brought back the lamp, and then commenced to yell at the top of his
voice, varying this proceeding by hurling the wooden stool up against
the slabs overhead, which, in spite of the injury to his left arm, he
continued doing till every leg was smashed and only the seat remained.

"Yo-ho!" he shouted.  "The dog's heard me; he's barking like mad.
Yo-ho! help here--help!"

I made some feeble attempt to contribute to the uproar, but my voice
seemed suddenly to have failed me, and my cheer was nothing but a
croak.  Strange noises were ringing in my ears, and a shower of sparks
danced before my eyes.

How long this continued I could not have told, but at length there was
a muffled, "Who are you down there?" and more shouting on the part of
George.  Then I became aware of the fact that Woodley was hugging me in
his arms, laughing and crying, and assuring me that we were saved.

Straightway I found myself mounted with him on the back seat of a
coach.  We were tearing along at breakneck speed in the twilight of a
winter afternoon; there was a great roaring in the air, which drowned
even the rattle of the wheels, and looking round I was horrified to see
following us a great onrushing wall of water, as though the sea had
overflowed the land.  Faster and faster became our wild gallop, but the
huge line of breakers was gaining on us every moment; now we were
overtaken, and a great wave was rearing its head above us to sweep us
to destruction.  I heard a muffled voice shout, "Stand from under!"
There was a crash, a blaze of light, and I became unconscious.

Long after, whole centuries later it might have been, I became aware of
the fact that I was staring upward at some oblong patch of light.
Slowly this resolved itself into an opening in the roof of the passage,
and I realized that two men and a boy were staring down at me in mute
astonishment.  Then, as my dizzy brain grew clear for a moment, I
recognized the last named as Miles Coverthorne.

Once more the roar of a troubled sea was in my ears; I had a horrible
idea that I had been thrust down into a vault and should be buried
alive.  I made one last frantic effort to retain my failing senses.

"Miles," I cried pitifully, "take me out!  Don't let them bury me!  I'm
Sylvester Eden!"

I could not hear his reply, but saw him move his head and hand, and the
next moment I had been whirled away once more into darkness beyond even
the land of dreams.



CHAPTER XVIII.

A FURTHER FIND.

I awoke quite naturally, as though from a deep sleep, to find myself in
bed, with Mrs. Coverthorne and a strange gentleman standing close by,
looking down at me as I lay.  I recognized the room, and had some hazy
idea that this was a continuation of my summer holiday.

"Well?" said the gentleman, smiling; "feeling better after your nap?"

I felt too drowsy to reply, but languidly allowed the stranger to feel
my pulse, which he did after lugging a huge watch out of his fob.

"Keep him snug in bed for a day or two," I heard him say, "and he'll be
all right.  Forty years ago I dare say I could have gone through it
myself without much hurt.  I'll make up something, and send it by the
boy."

I was asleep again before they left the room, and did not wake till
Mrs. Coverthorne roused me to take some beef tea.  Slowly, as I
swallowed the nourishment, I began to wonder why I was propped up in
bed, being fed with a spoon in my old room at Coverthorne.  Had I been
ill? or had I met with an accident?  What had Miles and I been doing?
Then suddenly, like a landscape coming into view through a
quickly-vanishing mist, the recollection of past events came flooding
into my mind.  I remembered it all now--the captured coach, the sea
cavern, and the dark subterranean tunnel.

"George!" I cried--"George Woodley!  Is he safe?  He was with me in the
passage."

"Yes, he's quite safe," answered Mrs. Coverthorne, with a smile.  "He's
down in the kitchen now, having his dinner.  You shall see him again
by-and-by, but just for the present you must keep very quiet and not
talk."

It seemed no hardship for the time being to lie warm and snug in bed,
and in the wakeful intervals between my dozes I recalled and pieced
together the whole story of our adventure.  Once when I woke I was
surprised to find Mr. Denny in the room, standing gazing out of the
window with his hands under his coat tails.  Some slight movement on my
part caused him to turn; he smiled and nodded, and moved towards the
bed.

"Feeling as if you could relish a good beef-steak and slice of
pudding?" he inquired.

"Not just yet," I answered feebly.  "O Mr. Denny," I continued,
remembering something which, since my return of memory, had been
puzzling my brain, "was that the secret place that George and I
discovered?"

"Yes," he answered; "but I fancy you discovered something more
important than the hidden chamber."  He said this with a dry chuckle,
and producing his little tortoise-shell box took a pinch of snuff.

"What was that?" I asked languidly.

"Well, I don't think you'd understand if I told you.  Better wait, and
you shall hear all in good time."

I must have slept most of that day.  Thanks to my youth and good
constitution, I was suffering from nothing worse than exhaustion and a
severe cold, and I was much stronger when Miles came to see me the
following morning.

He had already heard our story from George Woodley; indeed, I think
that by this time there was hardly a man, woman, or child on the whole
countryside but had listened to a more or less exaggerated narrative of
our adventures.  In some of these garbled accounts George and I were
reported to have done and endured the most extraordinary things.  One
old lady, to her dying day, could never be persuaded otherwise than
that the convicts had locked us inside the coach, and then sent us and
it together bodily over the cliff.

"I shall never forget when we first heard that strange muffled knocking
and shouting in the west parlour," said Miles.  "It was so strange and
unearthly that my blood ran cold with terror.  John, the shepherd, was
in the yard, and noticed that his dog seemed uneasy, and kept barking
and growling at something.  I was talking with him at the time.  We
paused to listen, but I could hear nothing; so John ordered the dog to
lie down.  Old 'Help' still kept grumbling to himself; then, just as
the man and I were turning to walk out of the yard, one of the maids
came out of the house screaming and bawling something about a ghost.
It was some seconds before we could get enough sense out of her to
understand what was wrong, and in the meantime Stokes, the wagoner,
came clattering out of the stable and joined the group.  There was a
ghost knocking and calling in the haunted room, so the girl informed
us, and off we went to discover what was wrong.  Old John shortened his
oak stick, and Stokes caught up a pitchfork: they evidently both meant
business.

"It seems funny enough now, but I can tell you I didn't feel much
inclined to laugh when we reached that fusty old parlour and heard that
mysterious bump, bump, and a faint, far-off voice, as it seemed, giving
unearthly whoops, and crying, 'Help!'  Old John was the first to
recover his senses.  'There's some one under here!' he cried, striking
his stick on the hearthstone.  Then he shouted, and sure enough there
was an answering hail.  It seemed impossible that any living being
could be down under that solid slab of granite; but we fetched a pick
and crowbar, and worked at it till it fell into the tunnel.  If we'd
only known the proper way to deal with it, we could have made it slide
along into a recess specially made for it at the back of the fireplace,
but we didn't discover that till later.

"Woodley says you fainted; but fortunately he heard our warning shout
to stand from under, and dragged you back into the tunnel, or you might
have been killed by the falling slab.  I was so excited and astonished
as I looked down into that queer little vault, and you both were so
haggard, and ragged, and generally bedraggled, that at first I didn't
recognize you, and it was only when you called my name that I saw who
it was.  Well, you may be very sure we soon had you out; and I think
you know the rest."

"The room will never be haunted any more," I said, laughing; "George
laid the ghost with his pistol.  But tell me, when did you first know
that the convicts had escaped?"

"We heard about the coach having been seized the very next morning.
The alarm of their escape was given very much sooner than the men
expected.  It so happened that a labourer had come into Rockymouth to
fetch the doctor for his child, who was very ill.  Dr. Thomas--who came
to see you yesterday--was out in the country, and the man hurried off
to catch him before he returned home.  Going along the road in the
darkness, he heard the trampling of horses' hoofs, and the sound of a
heavy vehicle coming towards him, and so stepped aside into a gateway.
None of your gang saw him; but, as you can imagine, he was mightily
surprised to see a mail-coach and team come jolting and floundering
down that byroad.  Fortunately for him he didn't hail it; but he
thought something must be wrong, and he spoke about it when he met the
doctor.  As luck would have it, Dr. Thomas, on his return journey, had
to go some distance along the highroad, and there he was accosted by a
man who was out of breath with running.  This fellow turned out to be
one of the warders; he had managed to get the gag out of his mouth and
shout for help till some one came and untied his bonds.  His story was
soon told, and Dr. Thomas rode as fast as he could back to Rockymouth,
and gave the alarm.  George says you heard him coming just before you
got into the boat.

"For a time the whole place was in a state of panic, and every person
who lived in outlying cottages was expecting to be robbed, and perhaps
murdered, by the convicts.  A large body of men, armed with all kinds
of weapons, from a gun to a reaping-hook, went out to hunt for them,
but with no result.  Then a boat was seen floating bottom upwards some
distance from shore, and the report got about that the gang had
attempted to cross to France, but being landsmen had overturned the
boat, and were all drowned.

"The question which puzzled most people was what had become of the
_True Blue_; and the general opinion was that one or more of the men
had not gone with the others, but had stuck to the coach, and driven it
somewhere right away on to the moors.  It was only yesterday that the
horses were found and identified."

"Were all the convicts drowned?" I asked.

"Very little doubt, I fear," was the reply.  "There's a reef of rocks
just outside the mouth of that cave which, when the sea is at all
rough, makes a strong current and dangerous eddy.  It's almost certain
that as soon as the boat got clear of the mouth of the cavern she was
caught in the swirl and swung round, and the men jumping up, or
throwing themselves about in a panic, turned her over."

Miles stood for a moment silently eyeing me with a curious look on his
face.

"I say, Sylvester," he began again, lowering his voice, "promise me you
won't say anything, but I believe one of them was saved."

"Who--old Lewis?" I asked excitedly.

My companion nodded.

"I've just heard the faintest rumour that his dog dragged him ashore on
a ledge below what's called the Old Quarry.  At all events, the dog's
on land, and I take care not to ask too many questions about Lewis.  A
man brought me a curious message, telling me to 'go down to the
seal-cave by the short cut, and see what I should find.'  I couldn't
make head or tail out of it, and the man didn't seem to know the sense
of it either, but said it had been given him to pass on by a friend.
Now, when I come to think it over, I believe Lewis must sometime have
discovered the tunnel and hiding-place.  He imagined I should know of
them too, and he thought he ought not to give the secret away to other
people.  I suppose he judged this hint would be sufficient, and that I
should go down to the tunnel and rescue you and George.--By the way,"
added the speaker, turning on his heel to leave the room, "we've sent
word to your father and mother to say you're safe, and that you'll be
sent home to them as soon as you're well enough to travel."

After each long sleep I seemed to wake up stronger, and my thoughts
turned to Miles and his mother, from whom I was receiving so much
kindness.  I remembered what the former had told me--of how his uncle
meant to claim half the estate at the commencement of the New Year,
which was now close at hand; and how, with straitened means, they
feared it would be impossible for them to live on at Coverthorne.
Several times I had been on the point of questioning Miles on the
matter, but it seemed such a painful subject that the words had died on
my lips.

Strangely enough, I could not but think that both he and his mother
looked more cheerful than when I had visited them last; and though
there still appeared an anxious expression in Mrs. Coverthorne's face,
there seemed also to be an air of hope and confidence about her at
which I greatly wondered.

Once there was a knock at the door, and George Woodley came to wish me
good-bye.  He seemed in high spirits, and to have quite recovered from
the effects of our adventure, except that his left arm hung in a sling.

"My eye, Master Eden!" he exclaimed, "for the same rate of pay I
believe I'd go through it all again!"

"What d'you mean?" I asked.

"Why, look here, sir," he continued, producing a crisp five-pound note
from his pocket.  "That there Mr. Denny gave me this!  I didn't want to
take it, but he said I deserved it for laying the ghost.  What's more,
I'm thinking before long of giving up the road and settling down in a
little dairy-farm business, which the missis and I could look after
between our two selves; and Master Miles has promised, when I do, that
he'll start my stock with one of the best beasts he's got on the farm.
Well, good-bye, sir.  I hope I shall see you again quite well when
you're on your way back to school in January."

Liberal I knew the Coverthornes always were, but it astonished me
rather that they should bestow such handsome gifts on Woodley, to whom
they were really under no obligation.  If it had been my own parents,
the case would have been different; for the man had certainly saved my
life, and I fully intended to ask my father to send him a suitable
reward.

On the third day after my strange and unceremonious arrival at the old
house, I was so far recovered as to be able to get up in the afternoon
and spend a few hours downstairs.  Being for a time alone with Miles in
the parlour, my thoughts returned to the subject of his future.

"Miles," I said, "do tell me what you are going to do next year.  Is
your uncle Nicholas still determined to take away half the land?"

"As far as I know, that's his intention--at present," was the reply.

There was something about the way in which the last two words were
uttered which made me prick up my ears.

"Look here! why did Mr. Denny give such a handsome present to George
Woodley?" I asked.  "And why did you promise him that cow?"

"I suppose we can give him what presents we like, as long as the things
are ours to give," retorted Miles, smiling.

Another recollection had just flashed across my mind.

"Miles, Mr. Denny said that we had discovered something more important
than the hidden chamber.  What did he mean?"

My companion turned away from me with a queer laugh.

"I'm under promise not to tell," he answered.  "You may hear to-morrow."



CHAPTER XIX.

BROUGHT TO BAY.

It was the last day of the old year, and though burning with curiosity
to know what discovery George and I had unwittingly made beyond the
whereabouts of the secret chamber, I forbore to ask any questions.
Remembering that after this date Miles and his mother could no longer
count on being left in undisputed possession of the whole estate, I did
not like to make any inquiries which might revive this painful subject;
so, with an effort, I resolved to possess my soul in patience, and wait
till either Miles or Mr. Denny should volunteer some explanation.

The latter had arrived at the house not long after breakfast, and
appeared to have come to spend the day.  From some remarks which he
made, I understood that he had been in Welmington the day before, and
had travelled home through the night.  Considering that he was an
elderly man, and that this was the middle of winter, it struck me that
whatever business he had had to transact must have been both important
and urgent.  In some indefinable manner the impression grew in my mind
that something was brewing--whether trouble or otherwise I could not
say; but there was a subdued air of excitement about the house, in
which Miles, his mother, and the lawyer all seemed to share.  Though I
cannot but own that it aroused my curiosity, I stuck to my former
determination to mind my own business, and not try to poke my nose into
matters in which I had no concern.

At dinner even Mr. Denny, usually so sharp and alert, seemed at times a
trifle preoccupied; while Mrs. Coverthorne was evidently in a state of
nervous tension.  She made a forced attempt to keep up the
conversation, but it was plain that she was merely talking for the sake
of talking, and that her thoughts were far from the subject of her
remarks.  Still, whatever might have been weighing on her mind, her
look seemed to denote a change from when I had seen her in the summer:
it was as though some burden of care had been recently lifted from her
shoulders.

When the table had been cleared, we still sat on in the oak-panelled
parlour--Mr. Denny thoughtfully sipping his wine, Miles notching a
small fragment of firewood with his pocket-knife, and his mother making
a pretence to sew, though at times I saw her hand shake so that she
could not possibly direct her needle.  As no one else made a move, I,
too, remained in the room, gazing at the burning logs in the big open
hearth.

At length there came a sound of horses' hoofs in the yard, and I saw
Mrs. Coverthorne and Mr. Denny exchange a quick glance; then, a few
minutes later, one of the maids knocked at the door and announced Mr.
Nicholas Coverthorne.

Miles's mother rose to her feet, letting her work drop unheeded to the
floor.

"Come, Sylvester," she said; "Mr. Denny has some private business to
transact, and we will go into another room."

In the passage we met Mr. Coverthorne.  He paused as though about to
speak, but his sister-in-law passed him with a slight inclination of
her head.  I saw the man's face in the half-light of the passage--grim,
cold, forbidding; and so the recollection of it has always remained in
my mind.  He passed on with a measured stride, entered the parlour, and
closed the door behind him.

It was not until some years later that I heard from the lips of my
friend an exact account of the interview which followed; but so vividly
was every detail of it impressed on Miles's mind that in after life he
could recall it as though it had been an event of yesterday.

Mr. Denny and the visitor exchanged a formal salutation, and the latter
took a chair by the side of the table.  A man of iron will and
unrelenting purpose, tall and heavily built, the little dried-up lawyer
seemed no match for such an adversary; but he was evidently prepared
for the fray, and began by politely pushing the decanter and a glass
towards his opponent.  Mr. Nicholas, however, declined the proffered
refreshment with a somewhat peremptory wave of his hand.

"Your time, Mr. Coverthorne, I know is valuable," began the lawyer,
"and therefore I know you will thank me to come at once to business.  I
requested you to meet me here to ask you once more whether you were
finally determined to assert your claim to half the Coverthorne
estate--a claim based, of course, on the will made early in the present
year, under very extraordinary circumstances, by your brother James?"

An angry glint came into the visitor's cold gray eyes, but he was too
strong a man to give way to any outburst of passion.

"I thought we had come to a clear and definite understanding on that
point long ago," he replied.  "If that is all you have to say, you have
brought me here for nothing.  Moreover, I strongly resent your
suggestion that the will was made under any 'extraordinary
circumstances.'  For reasons of his own, my late brother chose to keep
the matter for the time being from the knowledge of his family; but the
will was executed in a perfectly proper and legal manner, as you
yourself must know, having seen the document with your own eyes."

"This division of the property would necessitate your sister-in-law and
her son leaving Coverthorne," said Mr. Denny.

"I don't necessarily admit that," returned the other.  "But as I've
told you before, sir, other people have rights to be considered besides
my brother's family.  He himself saw that I had been done out of mine
for many years; and though neither he nor I then thought that I should
ever benefit by this act of restitution, yet he considered it just and
necessary, if for nothing more than as an acknowledgment that I had not
been fairly dealt with, and that I had his sympathy.  I have already
suggested to Mrs. Coverthorne that, as this house is much too large for
her and Miles, she should give it up and take a smaller one in town,
where they would see more people and make new friends."

"Still," said Mr. Denny, "it is very hard for the lad, as his father's
heir, to have to give up the old house, which has been in the family
for so many generations, containing, as it does, the rooms in which his
great-grandparents lived and died--ay, further back still.  I repeat,
it would be hard for him to give up a home so rich in old traditions
and associations."

"Merely a matter of sentiment," answered Mr. Nicholas shortly.  "If the
old place were mine, I'd sell it to-morrow if I were offered a good
enough price."

"There's that secret place about which so many legends have clustered,"
went on the solicitor musingly, "and which you once gave us to
understand was simply a hole in the chimney which had been built up in
your father's time.  I suppose you heard how it was discovered?"

The visitor nodded.

Mr. Denny took another sip at his port, set down the glass, and sat up
straighter in his chair.  There was something in his action suggestive
of a person who suddenly prepares to attack after having stood for some
time merely on the defensive.

"On the same day that the secret chamber was found," he began, "we made
another discovery, to which I should now like to call your attention.
In the underground chamber was an iron box, which on being opened was
found to contain a quantity of papers.  Among them was your brother's
will, which since his death we had not been able to discover.  He went
away from home some little time ago at rather short notice, and
probably deposited the documents in the hiding-place for safe-keeping."

"You mean the will which he made some three years ago?" said Mr.
Nicholas.

"Exactly," answered Mr. Denny.  In his quick, jerky movements he was
always very like a bird, but now he was watching the other man with the
keen eyes of a hawk.

"Well?" queried the visitor.

"On examination," continued the lawyer, "I found that, unknown to me,
he had added a codicil.  Pardon me if I make this quite clear for the
benefit of our young friend," he continued, turning to Miles.  "A
codicil is an addition--postscript, as it were--which a person adds to
his original will, and it has to be duly signed and witnessed in the
same way as the will itself.  In this case your father wished a small
sum of money to be given to an old servant, and to ensure this being
done he added the codicil of which I am speaking."

Mr. Nicholas was listening intently, but did not seem to understand at
what the lawyer was driving.

"Well, what of that?" he demanded.

"The point is," said Mr. Denny quite calmly, "that this codicil was
dated not more than a month before your brother's death."

A deep hush fell upon the room--so deep that the ticking of the old
clock in the corner seemed to have become almost as loud as the
knocking of a hammer.  Mr. Nicholas sat like a graven image, merely
drumming softly on the table with the tips of his fingers, while his
and Mr. Denny's gaze remained fixed as though each had determined to
stare the other out of countenance.

"Once more, for the benefit of our young friend, let me be more
explicit," went on Mr. Denny.  "His father makes a will, and then,
apparently, revokes it by making another some eighteen months later.
Now, a month before his death, instead of adding a codicil to the
second will, he adds it to the first, which has become so much waste
paper--a foolish thing, which no man in his senses would have thought
of doing.  We can only conclude," continued Mr. Denny, "that he had no
recollection at all of having executed a second will."

The square jaw was rigid, and a dark flush overspread the visitor's
temples.

"It was a mistake," he said thickly.  "A slip of memory might cause any
one to do a similar thing."

"Following up our first discovery," continued Mr. Denny, apparently
paying no attention to this reply, "I was led to go a little further,
and make a second.  Remembering an account which the boys gave me of a
chance meeting which they had with your old servant Tom Lance, I found
him out, and had an interview with him at the barracks at Welmington.
He seems a sharp fellow, and it appears had taught himself to read and
write, and to read handwriting."

"Well, what about him?" asked Mr. Nicholas, in a tone of repressed
anger.

"Although he would not confess it before, not even to our young
friends, it appears that on the evening when you first found him alone
in your parlour he was so far overcome by curiosity as to open your
brass-bound box and look inside.  There he found a sheet of foolscap
covered with signatures, chiefly those of Mr. James Coverthorne, but
also of the two other men whom we know now as the witnesses to this
second will."

Mr. Nicholas muttered an oath, and brought down his fist heavily on the
table.  His eyes flashed, and the veins in his forehead swelled with
pent-up emotion.

"Go on," he said at length; "come to the point, and let us know what
you mean."

"What I mean, Mr. Coverthorne, is this," replied the other, in firm,
icy tones: "for the sake of her dead husband and the son who may hand
on the family name, Mrs. Coverthorne has asked me to give you this
information, which I might otherwise have withheld until I had sent the
law to knock at your door.  To-morrow I shall commence to act on behalf
of my clients.  I am already in communication with your solicitor, who
has this second will in his possession, and I think you will gain
nothing by paying him a visit; in fact, you might be wasting valuable
time by such a journey.  You follow me, Mr. Coverthorne, I
hope?--valuable time, sir, was what I said.  Now, I think there is no
reason for us to prolong this interview any further."

Muttering something below his breath, Mr. Nicholas Coverthorne rose
from his chair and strode from the room.  A few moments later he
spurred out of the yard and galloped down the road.  We heard the sound
of his horse-hoofs die away in the distance; and so he passed for ever
out of the knowledge of those whom he had sought to wrong.

"What did it all really mean?" was the question I put to Miles when he
told me this story; for on that eventful afternoon I had only a very
vague notion of what had happened.

"What did it all mean?" was the reply; "why, simply this, that my uncle
was a forger.  Probably he had never been guilty of such a crime
before, but the fact remains that he forged that will from beginning to
end, and did it so well that even Mr. Denny could detect no flaw,
either in the text or in the signatures.  He must have possessed more
skill as a penman than any one imagined.  At first we thought some
expert criminal must have helped him, but the fact of Tom Lance
discovering that sheet of paper covered with signatures in his desk
seems to prove that he did it himself.  For the sake of the family my
mother did not wish him to be arrested, so gave him the opportunity to
escape--a chance of which he had the good sense to avail himself, for
he went off that night, and we never saw or heard anything of him
again.  It turned out that he was deep in debt.  The house and land at
Stonebank were heavily mortgaged, and as soon as it was known that he
was gone, everything was seized by the creditors.  He was a thoroughly
bad man, and if it hadn't been for your adventure, Sylvester, he'd have
turned my mother and myself out of doors before he'd done with us.
Yes," insisted my old friend, seeing me about to interrupt, "we shall
always consider we owe it to you and George Woodley that we are still
living on in the old house.  If you hadn't caused me to find the secret
place, Mr. Denny would never have seen that codicil to my father's will
which made him feel certain that the other was a forgery.  It was that
discovery, coupled with what I had already told him, that induced him
to go and hunt up Tom Lance; and the two things together were enough to
prove my uncle's guilt.  Well, 'it's an ill wind that blows nobody
good,' runs the old saying, and certainly we have cause to be thankful
for the outcome of your eventful journey with the coach-load of
convicts."

      *      *      *      *      *

Though the "secret place" has long ago been bricked up, the old house
at Coverthorne remains much the same as it appeared when I first saw
it; but a fresh generation of boys and girls have sprung up to enliven
it with their laughter and frolics, and to this merry audience, around
the self-same hearth from under which I was drawn up half dead that
winter morning, I have told repeatedly the story of that strange
adventure.

George Woodley lived to a hale and peaceful old age.  He did well at
his farming, and was content to hear from a distance the familiar toot
of the horn on which he himself had performed for so many years.  He
was the same bright, good-hearted fellow to the end of his days, but he
could never quite forgive the convicts for having thrown the old _True
Blue_ over the cliff.

"The cold-blooded villains!" he would exclaim.  "If they'd left her in
a field or shoved her into that dry pit, I wouldn't have minded; but to
smash her on the rocks--'twas as bad as murder!  Well, there! they met
their punishment; and for my part I know I came out of it with a very
handsome reward from Master Miles, and what's more, a good yarn to tell
the boys."



THE END.



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      *      *      *      *      *


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VICTORIES OF THE ENGINEER.  BY A. WILLIAMS.

THINGS TO MAKE.  BY A. WILLIAMS.

SCIENTIFIC AMUSEMENTS.  Adapted from the French by Professor C. G.
KNOTT.

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MODERN INVENTIONS.  BY V. E. JOHNSON.

ELECTRICITY.  BY W. H. M'CORMICK.

ENGINEERING.  BY GORDON KNOX.

GEOLOGY.  BY A. R. DWERRYHOUSE, D.Sc.

HOW ANIMALS WORK.  BY F. MARTIN DUNCAN, F.R.M.S.

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H. E. MARSHALL'S BOOKS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE.


OUR EMPIRE STORY.

A HISTORY OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE FOR BOYS AND GIRLS.

BY H. E. MARSHALL, Author of "Our Island Story."  With 20 illustrations
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Bold type, attractive binding.  Large square 8vo, 10s. 6d. net.


"It is impossible to speak too highly of this fine volume, which is a
vivid and picturesque account of some of the chief incidents in the
building of our great empire.  Miss MARSHALL has done her work
admirably, and the coloured illustrations by J. R. SKELTON are equally
good."--_Western Morning News_.

"Few modern historians are so popular as H. E. MARSHALL."--_British
Weekly_.



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OUR ISLAND STORY.

A NEW HISTORY OF ENGLAND FOR BOYS AND GIRLS.

BY H. E. MARSHALL.  30 illustrations in colour by A. S. FORREST.

Attractively bound, bold type.  Twelfth impression.  Large square 8vo,
10s. 6d. net.


"The intelligent child will read these historic tales with delight, and
master unconsciously the landmarks of English History."--_British
Weekly_.

"As a gift-book for the young 'Our Island Story' should be one of the
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season."--_Westminster Gazette_.

"The child is to put this volume, not at the lesson-book end of the
shelf, but with 'Robinson Crusoe' and the like.  So the preface
suggests, and rightly.  It is eminently readable, a success, we should
say, in what looks much easier than it is, telling a story in simple
words."--_Spectator_.



      *      *      *      *      *


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ENGLISH LITERATURE.

FOR BOYS AND GIRLS.

BY H. E. MARSHALL, Author of "Our Island Story," etc.  With 20
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Bold type, attractive binding.  Large square 8vo, 10s. 6d. net.


The author has endeavoured to write the book with the same clearness
and simplicity of diction which characterizes her histories, and
without descending to childishness, yet to be childlike--a distinction
only too often lost sight of by those writing for children.  A
prominent feature in the work is the delightful series of drawings in
colour by J. R. Skelton.


"A comprehensive, brightly-written introduction to the study of
literature."--_Times_.

"A capital first book of English Literature for children, produced in
handsome form, with excellent print, and having the advantage of twenty
first-rate coloured illustrations by J. R. Skelton."--_Guardian_.





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