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Title: A Hero of Romance
Author: Marsh, Richard, 1857-1915
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                          A HERO OF ROMANCE



[Illustration: "Perhaps you don't know who I am?" (_Page_ 155.)]

_A Hero of Romance_.]                            [_Frontispiece_.



                          A HERO OF ROMANCE



                                  BY

                            RICHARD MARSH

   _Author of "The Datchel Diamonds," "The Crime and the Criminal_"
                             _etc., etc_.



                    ILLUSTRATED BY HAROLD COPPING



                                LONDON

                       WARD, LOCK & CO. LIMITED

                        NEW YORK AND MELBOURNE



                               Contents


   CHAP.

       I Punishment at Mecklemburg House.

      II Tutor Baiting.

     III At Mother Huffham's.

      IV A Little Drive.

       V An Evening at Washington Villa.

      VI Afterwards.

     VII The Return of the Wanderer.

    VIII Preparing for Flight.

      IX The Start.

       X Another Little Drive.

      XI The Original Badger.

     XII A "Doss" House.

    XIII In Petersham Park.

     XIV In Trouble.

      XV Out of the Frying-pan into the Fire.

     XVI The Captain's Room.

    XVII Two Men and a Boy.

   XVIII The Boat-train.

     XIX To Jersey with a Thief.

      XX Exit Captain Tom.

     XXI The Disadvantages of not Being Able to Speak French.

    XXII The End of the Journey.

   XXIII The Land of Golden Dreams.



                              Chapter I

                   PUNISHMENT AT MECKLEMBURG HOUSE


It was about as miserable an afternoon as one could wish to see. May
is the poet's month, but there was nothing of poetry about it then.
True, it was early in the month, but February never boasted weather of
more unmitigated misery. At half-past two it was so dark in the
schoolroom of Mecklemburg House that one could with difficulty see to
read. Outside a cold drizzling rain was falling, a shrieking east wind
was rattling the windows in their frames, and a sullen haze was hiding
the leaden sky. As unsatisfactory a specimen of the English spring as
one could very well desire.

To make things better, it was half-holiday. Not that it much mattered
to the young gentleman who was seated in the schoolroom; it was no
half-holiday to him. A rather tall lad, some fourteen years of age,
broad and strongly built. This was Bertie Bailey.

Master Bertie Bailey was kept in; and the outrage this was to his
feelings was altogether too deep for words. To keep him in!--no wonder
the heavens frowned at such a crime!

Master Bertie Bailey was seated at a desk very much the worse for
wear; a long desk, divided into separate compartments, which were
intended to accommodate about a dozen boys. He had his arms upon the
desk, his face rested on his hands, and he was staring into vacancy
with an air of tragic gloom.

At the raised desk which stood in front of him before the window was
seated Mr. Till. Mr. Till's general bearing and demeanour was not much
more jovial than Master Bertie Bailey's; he was the tyrant usher who
had kept the youthful victim in. It was with a certain grim pleasure
that Bertie realized that Mr. Till's enjoyment of the keeping-in was
perhaps not much more than his own.

Mr. Till had a newspaper in his hand, and had apparently read it
through, advertisements and all. He looked over the top of it at
Bertie.

"Don't you think you'd better get on with those lines?" he asked.

Bertie had a hundred lines of _Paradise Lost_ to copy out. He paid no
attention to the inquiry; he did not even give a sign that he was
aware he had been spoken to, but continued to sit with his eyes fixed
on nothing, with the same air of mysterious gloom.

"How many have you done?" Mr. Till came down to see. There was a torn
copy of Milton's poems lying unopened beside Bertie on the desk; in
front of him a slate which was quite clean, and no visible signs of a
slate pencil. Mr. Till took up the slate and carefully examined it for
anything in the shape of lines.

"So you haven't begun?--why haven't you begun?" No answer. "Do you
hear me? why haven't you begun?"

Without troubling himself to alter in any way his picturesque posture,
Bertie made reply,--

"I haven't got a slate pencil."

"You haven't got a slate pencil? Do you mean to tell me you've sat
there for a whole hour without asking for a slate pencil? I'll soon
get you one."

Mr. Till went to his desk and produced a piece about as long as his
little finger, placing it in front of Bertie. Bertie eyed it from a
corner of his eye.

"It isn't long enough."

"Don't tell me; take your arms off the desk and begin those lines at
once."

Bertie very leisurely took his arms off the desk, and delicately
lifted the piece of slate pencil.

"It wants sharpening," he said. He began to look for his knife,
standing up to facilitate the search. He hunted in all his pockets,
turning out the contents of each upon the desk; finally, from the
labyrinthine depths of some mysterious depository in the lining of his
waistcoat, he produced the ghost of an ancient pocket-knife. As though
they were fragile treasures of the most priceless kind, he carefully
replaced the contents of his pockets. Then, at his ease, he commenced
to give an artistic point to his two-inch piece of slate pencil. Mr.
Till, who had taken up a position in front of the window with his
hands under his coat tails, watched the proceedings with anything but
a gratified countenance.

"That will do," he grimly remarked, when Bertie had considerably
reduced the original size of his piece of pencil by attempting to
produce a point of needlelike fineness. Bertie wiped his knife upon
his coat-sleeve, removed the pencil dust with his pocket-handkerchief,
and commenced to write. Before he had got half-way through the first
line a catastrophe occurred.

"I've broken the point," he observed, looking up at Mr. Till with
innocence in his eyes.

"I tell you what it is," said Mr. Till, "if you don't let me have
those lines in less than no time I'll double them. Do you think I'm
going to stop here all the afternoon?"

"You needn't stop," suggested Bertie, looking at his broken pencil.

"I daresay!" snorted Mr. Till. The last time Bertie had been left
alone in the schoolroom on the occasion of his being kept in, he had
perpetrated atrocities which had made Mr. Fletcher's hair stand up on
end. Mr. Fletcher was the head-master. Orders had been given that
whenever Bertie was punished, somebody was to stay in with him. "Now,
none of your nonsense; you go on with those lines."

Bertie bent his head with a studious air. A hideous scratching noise
arose from the slate. Mr. Till clapped his hands to his ears.

"Stop that noise!"

"If you please, sir, I think this pencil scratches," Bertie said.
Considering that he was holding the pencil perpendicularly, the
circumstance was not surprising.

"Take my advice, Bailey, and do those lines." Advancing with an
inflamed countenance, Mr. Till stood over the offending pupil.
Resuming his studious posture Bertie recommenced to write. He wrote
two lines, not too quickly, nor by any means too well, but still he
wrote them. In the middle of the third line another catastrophe
happened.

"Please, sir, I've broken the pencil right in two." It was quite
unnecessary for him to say so, the fact was self-evident, though with
so small a piece it had required no slight exertion of strength and
some dexterous manipulation to accomplish the feat. The answer was a
box on the ears.

"What did you do that for?" asked Bertie, rising from his seat, and
rubbing the injured portion with his hand.

Now it was distinctly understood that Mecklemburg House Collegiate
School was conducted on the principle of no corporal punishment. It
was a prominent line in the prospectus. "_Under no circumstances is
corporal punishment administered_." As a rule the principle was
consistently carried out to its legitimate conclusion, not with the
completest satisfaction to every one concerned. Yet Mr. Fletcher, one
of the most longsuffering of men, and by no means the strictest
disciplinarian conceivable, had been more than once roused into
administering short and sharp justice upon refractory youth. But what
was excusable in Mr. Fletcher was not to be dreamed of in the
philosophy of anybody else. For an assistant-master to strike a pupil
was a crime; and Mr. Till knew it, and Master Bertie Bailey knew it
too.

"What did you do that for?" repeated Bertie.

Mr. Till was crimson. He was not a hasty tempered man, but to-day
Master Bertie Bailey had been a burden greater than he could bear. Yet
he had very literally made a false stroke, and Bertie was just the
young gentleman to make the most of it.

"If I were to tell Mr. Fletcher, he'd turn you off," said Bertie. "He
turned Mr. Knox off for hitting Harry Goddard."

Harry Goddard's only relation was a maiden aunt, and this maiden aunt
had peculiar opinions. In her opinion for anybody to lay a punitory
hand upon her nephew was to commit an act tantamount to sacrilege.
Harry had had a little difference with Emmett minor, and had borne
away the blushing honours of a bloody nose and a black eye with
considerable _sang-froid_; but when Mr. Knox resented his filling his
best hat with half-melted snow by presenting him with two or three
smart taps upon a particular portion of his frame, Harry wrote home to
his aunt to complain of the indignity he had endured. The result was
that the ancient spinster at once removed the outraged youth from the
sanguinary precincts of Mecklemburg House, and that Mr. Fletcher
dismissed the offending usher.

As Mr. Till stood eyeing his refractory pupil, all this came forcibly
to his mind. He knew something more than Bertie did; he knew that when
Mr. Fletcher, smarting at the loss of a remunerative pupil, had made
short work of his unfortunate assistant, he had also taken advantage
of the occasion to call Mr. Till into his magisterial presence, and to
then and there inform him, that should he at any time lay his hand
upon a pupil, under any provocation of any kind whatever, the result
would be that Mr. Knox's case would be taken as a precedent, and he
would be instantaneously dismissed.

And now he had struck Bertie, and here was Bertie threatening to
inform his employer of what he had done.

"If you don't let me off these lines," said Bertie, pursuing his
advantage, "I'll tell Mr. Fletcher as soon as he comes home, you see
if I don't."

Mecklemburg House Collegiate School was not a scholastic establishment
of any particular eminence; indeed, whatever eminence it possessed was
of an unsavoury kind. Nor was the position of its assistant-master at
all an enviable one. There was the senior assistant, Mr. Till, and
there was the junior, Mr. Shane. Mr. Till received £30 a year, and Mr.
Shane, a meek, melancholy youth of about seventeen, received sixteen.
Nor could the duties of either of these gentlemen be considered light.
But if the pay was small and the work large, the intellectual
qualifications required were by no means of an unreasonable kind.
Establishments of the Mecklemburg House type are fading fast away.
English private schools are improving every day. Mr. Till, conscious
of his deficiencies, was only too well aware that if he lost his
present situation, another would be hard to find. So, in the face of
Bertie's threat, he temporized.

"I didn't mean to hit you! You shouldn't exasperate me!"

Bertie looked him up and down. If ever there was a young gentleman who
needed the guidance of a strong hand, Bertie was he. He was not a
naturally bad boy,--few boys are,--but he hated work, and he scorned
authority. All means were justifiable which enabled him to shirk the
one and defy the other. He was just one of those boys who might become
bad if he was not brought to realize the difference between good and
evil, right and wrong. And it would need sharp discipline to bring him
to such knowledge.

He had a supreme contempt for Mr. Till. All the boys had. The only
person they despised more was Mr. Shane. It was the natural result of
the system pursued at Mecklemburg House that the masters were looked
upon by their pupils as quite unworthy their serious attention.

Bertie had had about a dozen impositions inflicted on him even within
the last days. He had not done one of them. He never did do them. None
of the boys ever did do impositions set them by anybody but Mr.
Fletcher. They did not by any means make a point of doing his.

"You will do me fifty lines," Mr. Till would say to half a dozen boys
half a dozen times over in the course of a single morning. He spoke to
the wind; no one ever did them, no one would have been so much
surprised as Mr. Till if they had been done.

On the present occasion Mr. Fletcher had gone to town on business, and
Mr. Till had been left in supreme authority. Bailey had signalised the
occasion by behaving in a manner so outrageous that, if any semblance
of authority was to be kept at all, it was altogether impossible to
let him go scot free. As it was a half-holiday, Mr. Till had announced
his unalterable resolve that Bertie should copy out a hundred lines of
_Paradise Lost_, and that he should not leave the schoolroom till he
had written them.

The result so far had not been satisfactory. He had been in the
schoolroom considerably over an hour; he had written not quite three
lines, and here he was telling Mr. Till that if he did not let him off
entirely he would turn the tables on his master, and make matters
unpleasant for him. It looked as though Bertie would win the game.

Having taken the tutor's mental measure, he thrust his hands into his
trousers pockets, and coolly seated himself upon the desk. Then he
made the following observation,--

"I tell you what it is, old Till, I don't care a snap for you."

Mr. Till simply glared. He realized, not for the first time, that the
pupil was too much for the master. Bertie continued,--

"My father always pays regularly in advance. If I wrote home and told
him that you'd hit me, for nothing"--Bertie paused and fixed his stony
gaze on Mr. Till--"he'd take me home at once, and then what would
Fletcher say?" Bertie paused again, and pointed his thumb over his
left shoulder. "He'd say, 'Walk it'!"

This was one way of putting it. Though Mr. Bailey was by no means such
a foolish person as his son suggested. He was very much unlike Harry
Goddard's maiden aunt. Had Bertie written home any such letter of
complaint--which, by the way, he was far too wise to have dreamed of
doing--the consequences would in all probability have been the worse
for him. The father knew his son too well to be caught with chaff.
Unfortunately, Mr. Till did not know this; he had Mr. Knox's fate
before his eyes.

"You'd better let me off these lines," pursued the inexorable Bertie;
"you'd better, you know."

"You're an impudent young----" But Bertie interrupted him.

"Now don't call me names, or I'll tell Fletcher. He only said the
other day that all his pupils were to be treated like young
gentlemen."

"Young gentlemen!" snorted Mr. Till with scorn.

"Yes, young gentlemen. And don't you say we're not young gentlemen,
because Mecklemburg House Collegiate School is an establishment for
young gentlemen." And Bertie grinned. "You'd better let me off these
lines, you know."

"You know I never hurt you; you shouldn't exasperate me; you're the
most exasperating boy I ever knew; there's absolutely no bearing with
your insolence! You'd try the patience of a saint."

"I shouldn't be surprised if I was deaf for a week." He rubbed the
injured part reflectively. "I've heard Fletcher say it's dangerous to
hit a fellow on the ear. You'd better let me off those lines, you
know."

Mr. Till, fidgeting about the room, suddenly burst into eloquence. "I
wonder if it's any use appealing to your better nature? They say boys
have a better nature, though I never remember to have seen much of it.
What pleasure do you find in making my life unbearable? What have I
ever done to you that you should try to drive me mad? Are you
naturally cruel? My sole aim is for your future welfare! Your sole aim
is for my ruin!"

Bertie continued to rub his ear.

"Bailey, if I let you off these lines will you promise to try to give
me less cause to punish you?"

"You can't help letting me off them anyhow," said Bertie.

"Can't I? I suppose, young gentleman, you think you're getting the
best of me?"

"I know I am," said Bertie.

"Oh, you know you are! Then let me do my best to relieve you of that
delusion. Shall I tell you what you are doing? You're doing your best
to sow the seeds of a shameful manhood and a wasted life; if you don't
take care you'll reap the harvest by-and-by! It isn't only that you're
refusing to avail yourself of opportunities of education, you're doing
yourself much greater harm than that. You think you're getting the
best of me; but shall I tell you what's getting the best of you?--a
mean, cruel, cowardly spirit, which will be to you a sterner master
than ever I have been. You think yourself brave because you jeer and
mock at me, and flout all my commands! Why, my boy, were I better
circumstanced, and free to act upon my own discretion, you would
tremble in your shoes! The very fact of your permitting yourself to
threaten me, on account of punishment which you know was perfectly
well deserved, shows what sort of boy you are!"

Bertie's only comment was, "You had better let me off those lines."

"I will let you off the lines!"

Bertie sprang to his feet, and began to put slate and book away with
abundance of clatter.

"Stay one moment--leave those things alone! It is not the punishment
which degrades a man, Bailey; it is the thing of which he has been
guilty. I cannot degrade you; it is yourself you are degrading. Take
my advice, turn over a new leaf, learn not to take advantage of a man
whose only offence is that he does his best to do you good; don't
think yourself brave because you venture to attack where defence is
impossible; and, above all, don't pride yourself on taking your pigs
to a bad market. You are so foolish as to think yourself clever
because you throw away all your best chances, and get absolutely worse
than nothing in return. Bailey, get your Bible, and look for a verse
which runs something like this, 'Cast your bread upon the waters, and
you shall find it after many days.' Now you can go."

And Bertie went; and, being in the safe neighbourhood of the door, he
put his fingers to his nose; by which Mr. Till knew, not for the first
time, that he had spoken in vain.



                              Chapter II

                            TUTOR BAITING


There were twenty-seven boys at Mecklemburg House; and even this small
number bade fair to decrease. Last term there had been thirty-three;
the term before there had been forty. Within quite recent years
considerably over a hundred boys had occupied the draughty dormitories
of the great old red-brick house.

But the glory was departing. It is odd how little our fathers and our
grandfathers in general knew or cared about the science of education.
Boys were pitchforked into schools which had absolutely nothing to
recommend them except a flourishing prospectus; schools in which
nothing was taught, in which the physique of the lads was neglected,
and in which their moral nature was treated as a thing which had no
existence. A large number of "schoolmasters" had no more idea of true
education than they had of flying. They were speculators pure and
simple, and they treated their boys as goods out of which they were to
screw as much money as they possibly could, and in the shortest
possible space of time.

Mecklemburg House Collegiate School was a case in point. It had been a
school ever since the first of the Georges; and it is, perhaps, not
too much to say, that out of the large number of boys who had been
educated beneath its roof, not one of them had received a wholesome
education. Yet it had always been a paying property. More than one of
its principals had retired with a comfortable competency. Certainly
the number of its pupils had never stood at such a low ebb as at the
time of which we tell. Why the number should be so uncomfortably low
was a mystery to its present principal, Beauclerk Fletcher. The place
had belonged to his father, and his father had always found it bring
something more than daily bread. But even daily bread was beginning to
fail with Beauclerk Fletcher. Twenty-seven pupils at such a place as
Mecklemburg House! and the majority of them upon "reduced terms"! Mr.
Fletcher, never the most enterprising of men, was beginning to be
overwhelmed beneath an avalanche of debt, and to feel that the fight
was beyond his strength.

A great, old, rambling red-brick house, about equi-distant from
Cobham, Byfleet, Weybridge--all towns in Surrey--lying in about the
middle of the irregular square which those four towns form, the house
carried the story of its decaying glories upon its countenance. Those
Georgian houses were solid structures, and the mere fabric was in
about as good a condition as it had ever been! but in the exterior of
the building the change was sadly for the worse. Many of the rooms
were unoccupied, panes were broken in the windows, curtains were
wanting, the windows looked as though they were seldom or never
cleaned. The whole place looked as though it were neglected, which
indeed it was. Slates were off the roof, waste water pipes hung loose
and rattled in every passing breeze. As to the paved courtyard in
front, grass and weeds and moss almost hid the original stones. Mr.
Fletcher was only too conscious of the story all this told; but to put
things shipshape and neat, and to keep them so, required far more
money than he had to spend; so he only groaned at each new evidence of
ruin and decay.

The internal arrangements, the domestic economy, the whole system of
education, everything in connection with Mecklemburg House was in the
same state of decrepitude and age--worn-out traditions rather than
living things. And Mr. Fletcher was very far from being the man to
breathe life into the dead bones and bid them live. The struggle was
beyond his strength.

There is no creature in God's world sharper than the average boy, no
one quicker to understand the strength of the hand which holds him.
The youngest pupil at Mecklemburg House was perfectly aware that the
school was a "duffing" school, that Mr. Fletcher was a "duffing"
principal, and that everything about the place was "duffing"
altogether. Only let a boy have this opinion about his school, and, so
far as any benefit is concerned which he is likely to derive from his
sojourn there, he might almost as profitably be transported to the
Cannibal Islands.

On the half-holiday on which our story opens, the pupils of
Mecklemburg House were disporting themselves in what was called the
playroom. Formerly, in its prosperous days, the room had been used as
a second schoolroom, the one at present used for that purpose being
not nearly large enough to contain the pupils. But those days were
gone; at present, so far from being overcrowded, the room looked
empty, and could have with ease accommodated twice the whole number of
pupils which the school contained. So what was once the schoolroom was
called the playroom instead.

"Stupid nonsense! keeping a fellow in because it rains!" said Charles
Griffin, looking through the dirty window at the grimy world without.

"It doesn't rain," declared Dick Ellis. "Call this rain! I say, Mr.
Shane, can't we go down to the village? I want to get something for
this cough of mine; it's frightful." And with some difficulty Dick
managed to produce a sepulchral cough from somewhere about the region
of his boots.

"Mrs. Fletcher says you are not to go out while it rains," answered
Mr. Shane in his mildest possible manner.

"Mrs. Fletcher!" grunted Dick. At Mecklemburg House the grey mare was
the better horse. If Mr. Fletcher was not an ideal head-master, Mrs.
Fletcher was emphatically head-mistress.

That half-holiday was a pleasant one for Mr. Shane. It was a rule that
the boys were never to be left alone. If they were out a master was to
go with them, if they were in a master was to supervise. So, as Mr.
Till was engaged with the refractory Bertie, Mr. Shane was in charge
of the play-room.

In charge, literally, and in terror, too. For it may be maintained
without the slightest exaggeration, that he was much more afraid of
the boys than the boys of him. On what principle of selection Mr.
Fletcher chose his assistant-masters it is difficult to say; but
whatever else Mr. Shane was, a disciplinarian he certainly was not. He
was the mildest-mannered young man conceivable, awkward, shy, slight,
thin, not bad-looking, with a faint, watery smile, which at times gave
quite a ghastly appearance to his countenance, and a deprecatory
manner which seemed to say that you had only to let him alone to earn
his eternal gratitude. But the boys never did let him alone, never. By
day and night, awake and sleeping, they did their best to make his
life a continual misery.

"If we can't go out," suggests Griffin, "I vote we have a lark with
Shane."

Mr. Shane smiled, by no means jovially.

"You mustn't make a noise," he murmured, in that soft, almost
effeminate voice of his. "Mrs. Fletcher particularly said you were not
to make a noise."

"Right you are. I say, Shane, you stand against the wall, and let's
shy things at you." This from Griffin.

"You're not to throw things about," said Mr. Shane.

"Then what are we to do, that's what I want to know? It seems to me
we're not to do anything. I never saw such a beastly hole! I say,
Shane, let half of us get hold of one of your arms, and the other half
of the other, and have a pull at you--tug-of-war, you know. We won't
make a noise."

Mr. Shane did not seem to consider the proposal tempting. He was
seated in the window, and had a book on his knees which he wanted to
read. Not a work of light literature, but a German grammar. It was the
dream of his life to prepare himself for matriculation at the London
University. This undersized youth was a student born; he had company
which never failed him, a company of dreams. He dreamed of a future in
which he was a scholar of renown; and in every moment he could steal
he strove to bring himself a step nearer to the realization of his
dreams.

"Get up, Shane!--what's that old book you've got?" Griffin made a
snatch at the grammar. Mr. Shane jealously put it behind his back.
Books were in his eyes things too precious to be roughly handled.
"Come and have a lark; what an old mope you are!" Griffin caught him
by the arm and swung him round into the room; the boy was as tall, and
probably as strong as the usher.

The boys were chiefly engaged in doing nothing; nobody ever did do
much in that establishment. If a boy had a hobby it was laughed out of
him. Literature was at a discount: _Spring-Heeled Jack_ and _The
Knights of the Road_ were the sort of works chiefly in request. There
was no school library, none of the boys seemed to have any books of
their own. There was neither cricket nor football, no healthy games of
any sort. Even in the playground the principal occupation was loafing,
with a little occasional bullying thrown in. Mr. Fletcher was too
immersed in the troubles of pounds, shillings, and pence to have any
time to spare for the amusements of the boys. Mr. Till was not
athletic. Mr. Shane still less so. On fine afternoons the boys were
packed off with the ushers for a walk, but no more spiritless
expeditions could be imagined than the walks at Mecklemburg House. The
result was that the youngsters' life was a wearisome monotony, and
they were in perpetual mischief for sheer want of anything else to do.
And mischief so often took the shape of cruelty.

Charlie Griffin swung Mr. Shane out into the middle of the room, and
immediately one boy after another came stealing up to him.

"I say, Shane, let's play roley-poley with you," said Brown major.
Some one in the rear threw a hard pellet of brown paper, which struck
Mr. Shane smartly on the head. He winced.

"Who threw that?" asked Griffin. "I say, Shane, why don't you whack
him? If I were a man I wouldn't let little boys throw things at me;
you are a man, aren't you, Shane?" He gave another jerk to the arm
which he still held.

"You're not to pull my arm, Griffin; you hurt me. I wonder why you
boys can't leave me alone."

"Go along! not really! We're only having a game, Shane; we're not in
school, you know. What shall we do with him, you fellows? I vote we
tie him in a chair, and stick needles and pins into him; he's sure to
like that--he's such a jolly old fellow, Shane is."

"Why don't you let us go out?" asked Ellis.

"You know Mrs. Fletcher said you were not to go."

"Oh, bother Mrs. Fletcher! what's that got to do with it? We won't
tell her if you let us go."

Mr. Shane sighed. Had it rested with him he would have been only too
glad to let them go. Two or three hours of his own company would have
been like a glimpse of paradise. But there was Mrs. Fletcher; she was
a lady whose indignation was not to be lightly faced.

"If you won't let us go," said Ellis, "we'll make it hot for you. Do
you think we're a lot of babies, to be melted by a drop of rain?"

"You know it's no use asking me. Mrs. Fletcher said you were not to go
out if it rained, and it is raining."

"It's not raining," boldly declared Griffin. "Call this rain! why,
it's not enough to wet a cat! I never saw such a molly-coddle set-out.
I go out when I'm at home if it pours cats and dogs; nobody minds; why
should they? Come on, Shane, let's go, there's a trump; we won't
sneak, and we'll be back in half a jiff.

"I wish you would let me alone," said Mr. Shane. Somebody snatched his
book out of his hand. He turned swiftly to recover it, but the captor
was out of reach. "Give me my book!" he cried. "How dare you take my
book!"

"Here's a lark! catch hold, Griffin." Mr. Shane, hurrying to recover
his treasure, saw it dexterously thrown above his reach into the hands
of Charlie Griffin.

"Give me my book, Griffin!" And he made a rush at Griffin.

"Catch, boys!" Griffin threw the book to some one else before Mr.
Shane could reach him. It was thrown from one to the other, from end
to end of the room, probably not being improved by the way in which it
was handled.

The usher stood in the midst of the laughing boys, a picture of
helplessness. The grammar had cost him half a crown at a second-hand
bookstall. Half a crown represented to him a handsome sum. There were
many claims upon his sixteen pounds a year; he had to think once, and
twice, and thrice before he spent half a crown upon a book. His books
were to him his children. In those dreams of future glory his books
were his constant companions, his open sesame, his royal road to fame;
with their aid he could do so much, without their aid so little. So
now and then he ventured to spend half a crown upon a volume which he
wanted.

The grammar, being badly aimed, fell just in front of him. He made a
dash at it. Some one gave him a push and he fell sprawling on the
floor; but he seized the book with his left hand. Griffin, falling on
it tooth and nail, caught hold of it before he could secure it from
danger. There was a rush of half a dozen. Every one wanted a finger in
the pie. The grammar was clutched by half a dozen hands at once. The
back was rent off, leaves pulled out, the book was torn to shreds. Mr.
Shane lay on the floor, with the ruins of his grammar in his hands.

Just then Bertie Bailey entered the room, victorious from his contest
with Mr. Till. A shout of welcome greeted him.

"Hullo, Bailey! have you done the lines?"

Bertie, a deliberate youth as a rule, took his time to answer. He
surveyed the scene, then he put his fingers to his nose, repeating the
gesture with which he had retreated from Mr. Till.

"Catch me at it!--think I'm a silly?" Then he put his hands into his
pockets, and slouched into the centre of the room. The boys crowded
round him.

"Did he let you off?" asked Griffin.

"Of course he let me off; I made him: he knew better than to try to
make me do his lines."

Then he told the story; the boys laughed. The way in which the ushers
were compelled to stultify themselves was a standing joke at
Mecklemburg House. That Mr. Till should have been forced to eat his
own words, and to let insubordination go unpunished, was a humorous
idea to them.

Mr. Shane still remained upon the floor. He was engaged in gathering
together the remnants of his grammar. Perhaps a pot of paste, with
patient manipulation, might restore it yet. He would give himself a
great deal of labour to avoid the expenditure of another half-crown;
perhaps he had not another half-crown to spend.

"What's the row?" asked Bertie, seeing Mr. Shane engaged in gathering
up the fragmentary leaves. They told him.

"I'm going out," said Bailey, "and I should like to see anybody stop
me. I say, Mr. Shane, I want to go down to the village."

Mr. Shane repeated his stock phrase.

"Mrs. Fletcher said no one was to go out while it rained." He had
collected all the remnants of his grammar, and was rising with them in
his hand.

"Give me hold!" exclaimed Bertie; and he snatched what was left of the
book out of the usher's hands.

"Bailey!" cried Mr. Shane.

"Look here, I want to go down to the village. I suppose I may, mayn't
I?"

"Mrs. Fletcher said no one was to go out if it rained," stammered Mr.
Shane.

"If you don't let me go, I'll burn this rubbish!" Bertie flourished
the ruined grammar in the tutor's face. Mr. Shane made a dart to
recover his property; but Bertie was too quick for him, and sprang
aside beyond his reach. It is not improbable that if it had come to a
tussle Mr. Shane would have got the worst of it.

"Who's got a match?" asked Bertie. Some one produced half a dozen.
"Will you let me go?"

"Don't burn it," said Mr. Shane. "It cost me half a crown; I only
bought it last week."

"Then let me go."

"What'll Mrs. Fletcher say?"

"How's she to know unless you tell her? I'll be back before tea. I
don't care if it cost you a hundred half-crowns, I'll burn it. Make up
your mind. Is it going to cost you half a crown to keep me in?"

Bertie struck a match. Mr. Shane attempted to rush forward to put it
out, but some of the boys held him back. His heart went out to his
book as though it were a child.

"If I let you go, you promise me to be back within half an hour? I
don't know what Mrs. Fletcher will say if she should hear of it;--and
don't get wet."

"I'll promise you fast enough. Mrs. Fletcher won't hear of it; and
what if she does? She can't eat you. You needn't be afraid of my
getting wet."

"I shan't let anybody else go."

"Oh yes, you will! You'll let Griffin and Ellis go; you don't think
I'm going all that way alone?"

"And me!" cried Edgar Wheeler. Pretty nearly all the other boys joined
him in the cry.

"I am not going to have all you fellows coming with me," announced
Bertie. "Wheeler can come; but as for the rest of you, you can stay at
home and go to bed--that's the best place for little chaps like you.
Now then, Shane, look alive; is it going to cost you half a crown, or
isn't it?"

Mr. Shane sighed. If ever there was a case of a round peg in a square
hole, Mr. Shane's position at Mecklemburg House was a case in point.
The youth, for he was but a youth, was a good youth; he had an
earnest, honest, practical belief in God; but surely God never
intended him for an assistant-master. Perhaps in the years to come he
might drift into the place which had been prepared for him in the
world, but it was difficult to believe that he was in it now. A
studious dreamer, who did nothing but dream and study, he would have
been no more out of his element in a bear garden than in the extremely
difficult and eminently unsatisfactory position which he was
supposed--it was veritable supposition--to fill at Mecklemburg House.

"How many of you want to go?"

"There's me,"--Bertie was not the boy to take the bottom seat--"and
Griffin, and Ellis, and Wheeler, that's all. Now what is the good of
keeping messing about like this?"

"You're sure you won't be more than half an hour?"

"Oh, sure as sticks."

"And what shall I say to Mrs. Fletcher if she finds out? You're sure
to lay all the blame on me." Mr. Shane had a prophetic eye.

"Say you thought it didn't rain."

"I don't think it does rain much." Mr. Shane looked out of the window,
and salved his conscience with the thought. "Well, if you're quite
sure you won't get wet, and you won't be more than half an
hour--you--can--go." The latter three words came out, as it were,
edgeways and with difficulty from the speaker's mouth, as if even he
found the humiliation of his attitude difficult to swallow.

"Come along, boys!--here's your old book!" Bertie flung the grammar
into the air, the leaves went flying in all directions, the four boys
went clattering out of the room with noise enough for twenty, and Mr.
Shane was left to recover his dignity and collect the scattered volume
at his leisure.

But Nemesis awaited him. No sooner had the conquering heroes
disappeared than an urchin, not more than eight or nine years of age,
catching up one of the precious leaves, exclaimed,--

"Let's tear the thing to pieces!" The speaker was little Willie
Seymour, Bertie Bailey's cousin. It was his first term at school, but
he already bade fair to do credit to the system of education pursued
at Mecklemburg House.

"Right you are, youngster," said Fred Philpotts, an elder boy. "It's a
burning shame to let them go and keep us in. Let's tear it all to
pieces."

And they did. There was a sudden raid upon the scattered leaves; at
the mercy of twenty pairs of mischievous hands, they were soon reduced
to atoms so minute as to be altogether beyond the hope of any possible
recovery. Nothing short of a miracle could make those tiny scraps of
printed paper into a book again. And seeing it was so Mr. Shane leaned
his head against the window-pane and cried.



                             Chapter III

                         AT MOTHER HUFFHAM'S


It was only when Bailey and his friends were away from the house that
it occurred to them to consider what it was they had come out for.
They slunk across the grass-grown courtyard, keeping as close to the
wall as possible, to avoid the lynx-eyes of Mrs. Fletcher. That lady
was the only person in Mecklemburg House whose authority was not
entirely contemned. Let who would be master, she would be mistress;
and she had a way of impressing that fact upon those around her which
made it quite impossible for those who came within reach of her
influence to avoid respecting.

It was truly miserable weather. Any one but a schoolboy would have
been only too happy to have had a roof of any kind to shelter him, but
schoolboys are peculiar. It was one of those damp mists which not only
penetrate through the thickest clothing, and soak one to the skin, but
which render it difficult to see twenty yards in front of one, even in
the middle of the day. The day was drawing in; ere long the lamps
would be lighted; the world was already enshrouded in funeral gloom.
Not a pleasant afternoon to choose for an expedition to nowhere in
particular, in quest of nothing at all.

The boys slunk through the sodden mist, hands in their pockets, coat
collars turned up about their ears, hats rammed down over their eyes,
looking anything but a cheerful company. Griffin asked a question.

"I say, Bailey, where are you going?"

"To the village."

"What are you going to the village for?" This from Ellis.

"For what I am."

After this short specimen of convivial conversation the four trudged
on. Alas for their promise to Mr. Shane! The wet was already dripping
off their hats, and splashings of mud were ascending up the legs of
their trousers to about the middle of their back. In a minute or two
Wheeler began again.

"Have you got any money?"

Bertie pulled up short. "Have you?" he asked.

"I've got sevenpence."

"Then lend me half?"

"Lend me a penny? I'll pay you next week; honour bright, I will," said
Ellis.

Griffin was more concise. "Lend me twopence?" he asked.

Wheeler looked unhappy. It appeared that he was the only capitalist
among the four, and under the circumstances he did not feel exactly
proud of the position. Although sevenpence might do very well for one,
it would not be improved by quartering.

"Yes, I know, I daresay," he grumbled. "You're very fond of borrowing,
but you're not so fond of paying back again." He trudged on stolidly.

Bailey caught him by the arm. "You don't mean that you're not going to
lend me anything, after my asking for you to come out with me, and
all?"

"I'll lend you twopence."

"Twopence! What's twopence?"

"It's all you'll get; you can have it or lump it, I don't care;
I'm not dead nuts on lending you anything." Wheeler was a little
wiry-built boy, and when he meant a thing very much indeed he had an
almost terrier-like habit of snapping his jaws--he snapped them now.
Bailey trudged by his side with an air of dudgeon; he probably
reflected that, after all, twopence was better than nothing. But Ellis
and Griffin had their claims to urge. They apparently did not
contemplate with pleasure the prospect of tramping to and from the
village for the sake of the exercise alone. Ellis began,--

"I say, old fellow, you'll lend me a penny, won't you? I'm always game
for lending you."

"Look here, I tell you what it is, I won't lend you a blessed
farthing! It's like your cheek to ask me; you owe me ninepence from
last term."

"But I expect a letter from home in the morning with some money in it.
I'll pay you the ninepence with threepence interest--I'll pay you
eighteenpence--you see if I don't. And if you'll lend me a penny now
I'll give you twopence for it in the morning. Do now, there's a good
fellow, Wheeler; honour bright, I will."

For answer Wheeler put his finger to his eye and raised the eyelid.
"See any green in my eye?" he said.

"You're a selfish beast!" replied his friend. And so the four trudged
on. Then Griffin made his attempt.

"I'll let you have that knife, Wheeler, if you like."

"I don't want the knife."

"You can have it for threepence."

"I don't want it for threepence."

"You offered me fourpence for it yesterday."

"I've changed my mind."

Charlie pondered the matter in his mind. They were about half-way to
their destination, and already bore a closer resemblance to drowned
rats than living schoolboys. By the time they had gone there and back
again, it would be possible to wring the water out of their clothes;
what Mrs. Fletcher would have to say remained to be seen. After they
had gone a few yards further, and paddled through about half a dozen
more puddles, Charlie began again.

"I'll let you have it for twopence."

"I don't want it for twopence."

"It's a good knife." No answer. "It cost a shilling." Still no answer.
"There's only one blade broken." Still no reply. "And that's only got
a bit off near the point." Still silence. "It's a jolly good knife."
Then, with a groan, "I'll let you have it for a penny."

"I wouldn't give you a smack in the eye for it."

After receiving this truly elegant and generous reply, Griffin
subsided into speechless misery. It is not improbable that, so far as
he was himself concerned, he began to think that the expedition was a
failure.

In silence they reached the village. It was not a village of
portentous magnitude, since it only contained thirteen cottages and
one shop, the shop being the smallest cottage in the place. The
only point in its favour was that it was the nearest commercial
establishment to Mecklemburg House. The proprietor was a Mrs. Huffham,
an ancient lady, with a very bad temper, and a still worse
reputation--among the boys--for honesty in the direction of weights
and measures. It must be conceded that they could have had no worse
opinion of her than she had of them.

"Them young warmints, if they wants to buy a thing they wants ninety
ounces to the pound, and if they wants to pay for it, they wants you
to take eightpence for a shilling--oh, I knows 'em!" So Mrs. Huffham
declared.

At the door of this emporium parley was held. Ellis suddenly
remembered something.

"I say, I owe old Mother Huffham two-and-three." So far as the
gathering mist and the soaking rain enabled one to see, Dick's
countenance wore a lugubrious expression.

"Well, what of that?"

"Well"--Dick Ellis hesitated--"so long as that brute Stephen isn't
about the place I don't mind. He called out after me the other day,
that if I didn't pay he'd take the change out of me some other way."

The Stephen referred to was Mrs. Huffham's grandson, a stalwart young
fellow of twenty-one or two, who drove the carrier's cart to Kingston
and back. His ideas on pecuniary obligations were primitive. Having
learned from experience that it was vain to expect Mr. Fletcher to pay
his pupils' debts at the village shop, he had an uncomfortable way of
taking it out of refractory debtors in the shape of personal
chastisement. Endless disputes had arisen in consequence. Mr. Fletcher
had on more than one occasion threatened the summary Stephen with the
terrors of the law; but Stephen had snapped his fingers at Mr.
Fletcher, advising him to pay his own debts, lest worse things
happened to him. Then Mr. Fletcher had forbidden Mrs. Huffham to give
credit to the boys; but Mrs. Huffham was an obstinate old lady, and
treated the headmaster with no more deference than her grandson.
Finally, Mr. Fletcher had forbidden the boys to deal with Mrs.
Huffham; but in spite of his prohibition an active commerce was
carried on, and on more than one occasion the irate Stephen had been
moved to violence.

"You should have stopped at home," was Wheeler's not unreasonable
reply to Dick's confession. "I don't owe her anything. I don't see
what you wanted to come for, anyhow, if you haven't got any money and
you owe her two-and-three."

And turning the handle of the rickety door he entered Mrs. Huffham's
famed establishment. Bailey, rich in the possession of a prospective
loan of twopence, and Charlie Griffin followed close upon his heels.
After hesitating for a moment Ellis went in too. To remain shivering
outside would have been such a lame conclusion to a not otherwise too
satisfactory expedition, that it seemed to him like the last straw on
the camel's back. Besides, it was quite on the cards that the
impetuous Stephen would be engaged in his carrier's work, and be
pleasantly conspicuous by his absence from home.

The interior of the shop was pitchy dark. The little light
which remained without declined to penetrate through the small
lozenge-shaped windowpanes. Mrs. Huffham's lamp was not yet lit, and
the obscurity was increased by the quantity of goods, of almost every
description, which crowded to overflowing the tiny shop. No one came.

"Let's nick something," suggested the virtuously minded Griffin. Ellis
acted on the hint.

"I'm not going there and back for nothing, I can tell you."

On a little shelf at the side of the shop stood certain bottles of
sweets. Dick reached up to get one down. At that moment Wheeler gave
him a jerk with his arm. Ellis, catching at the shelf to steady
himself, brought down shelf, bottles and all, with a crash upon a
counter.

"Thieves!" cried a voice within. "Thieves!" and Mrs. Huffham came
clattering into the shop, out of some inner sanctum, with considerable
haste for one of her mature years. "Thieves!"

For some moments the old lady's eyes could see nothing in the darkness
of the shop. She stood, half in, half out, peering forward, where the
boys could just see her dimly in the shadow. They, deeming discretion
to be the better part of valour, and not knowing what damage they
might not have done, stood still as mice. Their first impulse was to
turn and flee, and Griffin was just feeling for the handle of the
door, preparatory to making a bolt for it, when heavy footsteps were
heard approaching outside, and the door was flung open with a force
which all but threw Griffin back upon his friends.

"Hullo!" said a voice; "is anybody in there?"

It was Stephen Huffham. With all their hearts the boys wished they had
respected authority and listened to Mr. Shane! There was a coolness
and promptness about Stephen Huffham's method of taking the law into
his own hands upon emergency which formed the basis of many a tale of
terror to which they had listened when tucked between the sheets at
night in bed.

Mr. Huffham waited for no reply to his question, but he laid an iron
hand upon Griffin's shoulder and dragged him out into the light.

"Come out of that! Oh, it's you, is it?" Charlie was gifted with
considerable powers of denial, but he found it quite beyond his power
to deny Mr. Huffham's assertion then. "Oh, there's some more of you,
are there? How many of you boys are there inside here?"

"They've been a-thieving the things!" came in Mrs. Huffham's shrill
treble from the back of the shop.

"Oh, they have, have they? We'll soon see about that. Unless I'm
blinder than I used to be, there's young Ellis over there, with whom
I've promised to have a word of a sort before to-day. You bring a
light, granny, and look alive; don't keep these young gentlemen
waiting, not by no manner of means."

Mrs. Huffham retreated to her parlour, and presently re-appeared with
a lighted lamp in her hand. This, with great deliberation, for her old
bones were stiff, and rheumatism forbade anything like undue haste,
she hung upon a nail, in such a position that its not too powerful
light shed as great an illumination as possible upon the contents of
her shop. Far too powerful an illumination to suit the boys, for it
brought into undue prominence the damage wrought by Ellis and his
friend. They eyed the ruins, and Mrs. Huffham eyed them, and Mr.
Stephen Huffham eyed them too. The old lady's feelings at the sight
were for a moment too deep for words, but Mr. Stephen Huffham soon
found speech.

"Who did this?" he asked; and there was something in the tone of the
inquiry which grated on his hearers' ears.

Had Dick Ellis and his friend deliberately planned to do as much
mischief as possible in the shortest possible space of time, they
could scarcely have succeeded better. Three or four of the bottles
were broken to pieces, and in their fall they had fallen on a little
glass case, the chief pride and ornament of Mrs. Huffham's shop, which
was divided into compartments, in one of which were cigars, in another
reels of cotton and hanks of thread, and in a third such trifles as
packets of hair-pins, pots of pomade, note-paper and envelopes, and a
variety of articles which might be classified under the generic name
of "fancy goods." The glass in this case was damaged beyond repair;
the sweets from the broken bottles had got inside, and had become
mixed with the cigars, and the paper, and the hair-pins, and the
pomade, and the rest of the varied contents.

Mr. Stephen Huffman not finding himself favoured with an immediate
reply to his inquiry, repeated it.

"Who did this? Did you do this?" And he gave Charlie Griffin a shake
which made him feel as though he were being shaken not only upside
down, but inside out.

"No-o-o!" said Charlie, as loudly as he was able with Mr. Stephen
Huffman shaking him as a terrier shakes a rat. "I-I-I didn't!
Le-e-eave me alone!"

"I'll leave you alone fast enough! I'll leave the lot of you alone
when I've taken all the skin off your bodies! Did you do this?" And
Mr. Stephen Huffham transferred his attention to Bailey.

"No!" roared Bertie, before Huffman had time to get him fairly in his
grasp. Mr. Huffman held him at arm's length, and looked him full in
the face with an intensity of scrutiny which Bertie by no means
relished.

"I suppose none of you did do it; nobody ever does do these sort of
things, so far as I can make out. It was accidental; it always is."

His voice had been so far, if not conciliatory, at least not unduly
elevated. But suddenly he turned upon Ellis with a roar which was not
unlike the bellow of a bull. "Did you do it?"

Ellis started as though he had received an electric shock.

"No-o!" he gasped. "It was Wheeler!"

"Oh, it was Wheeler, was it?"

"It wasn't me," said Wheeler.

"Oh, it wasn't you? Who was it, then? That's what I want to know; who
was it, then?" Mr. Huffham put this question in a tone of voice which
would have been eminently useful had he been addressing some person a
couple of miles away, but which in his present situation almost made
the panes of glass rattle in the windows. "Who was it, then?" And he
caught hold of Ellis and shook him with such velocity to and fro that
it was difficult for a moment to distinguish what it was that he was
shaking.

"It--was--Whe-e-eler!" gasped Ellis, struggling with his breath.

"Now, just you listen to me, you boys!" began Mr. Huffham. (They could
scarcely avoid listening to him, considering that he spoke in what was
many degrees above a whisper.) "I'll put it this way, so that we can
have things fair and square, and know what we're a-doing of. There's a
pound's damage been done here, so perhaps one of you gentlemen will
let me have a sovereign. I'm not going to ask who did it; I'm not
going to ask no questions at all: all I says is, perhaps one of you
young gentlemen will let me have a sovereign." He stretched out his
hand as though he expected to receive a sovereign then and there; as
it happened he stretched it out in the direction of Bertie Bailey.

Bertie looked at the horny, dirt-grimed palm, then up in Mr. Huffham's
face. A dog-fancier would have said that there was some scarcely
definable resemblance to the bull-dog in the expression of his eyes.
"You won't get a sovereign out of me," he said.

"Oh, won't I? we'll see!"

"We will see. I'd nothing to do with it; I don't know who did do it.
You shouldn't leave the place without a light; who's to see in the
dark?"

"You let me finish what I've got to say, then you say your say out
afterwards. What I say is this--there's a pound's worth of damage
done----"

"There isn't a pound's worth of damage done," said Bertie.

Mr. Huffham caught him by the shoulder. "You let me finish out my say!
I say there is a pound's worth of damage done; you can settle who it
was among you afterwards; and what I say is this, either you pays me
that pound before you leave this shop or I'll give the whole four of
you such a flogging as you never had in all your days--I'll skin you
alive!"

"It won't give me my money your flogging them," wailed Mrs. Huffham
from behind the counter. "It's my money I wants! Here is all them
bottles broken, and the case smashed--and it cost me two pound ten,
and everything inside of it's a-ruined. It's my money I wants!"

"It's what I wants too; so which of you young gents is going to hand
over that there sovereign?"

"Wheeler's got sevenpence," suggested Griffin.

"Sevenpence! what's sevenpence? It's a pound I want! Which of you is
going to fork up that there pound?"

"There isn't a pound's worth of damage done," said Bertie; "nothing
like. If you let us go, we'll get five shillings somehow, and bring it
you in a week."

"In a week--five shillings! you catch me at it! Why, if I was once to
let you outside that door, you'd put your fingers to your noses, and
you'd call out, 'There goes old Huffham! yah--h--h!'" And he gave a
very fair imitation of the greeting which the sight of him was apt to
call forth from the very youths in front of him.

"If they was the young gentlemen they calls themselves they'd pay up,
and not try to rob an old woman what's over seventy year."

"Now then, what's it going to be, your money or your life? That's the
way to put it, because I'll only just let you off with your life, I'll
tell you. Look sharp; I want my tea! What's it going to be, your
money, or rather, my old grandmother's money over there, an old
woman who finds it a pretty tight fit to keep herself out of the
workhouse----"

"Yes, that she do," interpolated the grandmother in question.

"Or your life?" He looked in turn from one boy to the other, and
finally his gaze rested on Bailey.

Bertie met his eyes with a sullen stare. "I tell you I'd nothing to do
with it," he said.

"And I tell you I don't care that who had to do with it," and Mr.
Huffham snapped his fingers. "You're that there pack of liars I
wouldn't believe you on your oath before a judge and jury, not that I
wouldn't!" and his fingers were snapped again. He and Bailey stood for
a moment looking into each other's face.

"If you hit me for what I didn't do, I'll do something worth hitting
for."

"Will you?" Mr. Huffham caught him by the shoulder, and held him as in
a vice.

"Don't you hit me!"

Apparently Mrs. Huffham was impressed by something in his manner.
"Don't you hit 'un hard! now don't you!"

"Won't I? I'll hit him so hard, I'll about do for him, that's about as
hard as I'll hit him." A look came into Mr. Huffham's face which was
not nice to see. Bailey never flinched; his hard-set jaw and sullen
eyes made the resemblance to the bulldog more vivid still. "You pay me
that pound!"

"I wouldn't if I had it!"

In an instant Mr. Huffham had swung him round, and was raining blows
with his clenched fist upon the boy's back and shoulders. But he had
reckoned without his host, if he had supposed the punishment would be
taken quietly. The boy fought like a cat, and struggled and kicked
with such unlooked-for vigour that Mr. Huffham, driven against the
counter and not seeing what he was doing, struck out wildly, knocked
the lamp off its nail with his fist, and in an instant the boy and the
man were struggling in the darkness on the floor.

Just then a stentorian voice shouted through the glass window of the
rickety door,--

"Bravo! that's the best plucked boy I've seen!"



                              Chapter IV

                            A LITTLE DRIVE


Those within the shop had been too much interested in their own
proceedings to be conscious of a dog-cart, which came tearing through
the darkening shadows at such a pace that startled pedestrians might
be excused for thinking that it was a case of a horse running away
with its driver. But such would have been convinced of their error
when, in passing Mrs. Huffham's, on hearing Mr. Stephen bellowing with
what seemed to be the full force of a pair of powerful lungs, the
vehicle was brought to a standstill as suddenly as a regiment of
soldiers halt at the word of command. The driver spoke to the horse,--

"Steady! stand still, old girl!" The speaker alighted. Approaching
Mrs. Huffham's, he stood at the glass-windowed door, observing the
proceedings within; and when Mr. Stephen, in his blind rage, struck
the lamp from its place and plunged the scene in darkness, the
unnoticed looker-on turned the handle of the door and entered the
shop, shouting, in tones which made themselves audible above the
din,--

"Bravo! that's the best plucked boy I've seen!" And standing on the
threshold, he repeated his assertion, "Bravo! that's the best plucked
boy I've seen." He drew a box of matches from his pocket, and striking
one, he held the flickering flame above his head, so that some little
light was shed upon what was going on within. "What's this little
argument?" he asked.

Seeing that Mr. Huffman was still holding Bailey firmly in his grasp,
"Hold hard, big one," he said; "let the little chap get up. You ought
to have your little arguments outside; this place isn't above half
large enough to swing a cat in. Granny, bring a light!"

As the match was just on the point of going out he struck another, and
entered the shop with it flaming in his hand. Mrs. Huffham's nerves
were too shaken to allow her to pay that instant attention to the
new-comer's orders which he seemed to demand.

"Look alive, old lady; bring a light! This old band-box is as dark as
pitch."

Thus urged, the old lady disappeared, presently reappearing with a
little table-lamp in her trembling hands.

"Put it somewhere out of reach--if anything is out of reach in this
dog-hole of a place. I shouldn't be surprised if you had a little
bonfire with the next lamp that's upset."

Mrs. Huffman placed it on a shelf in the extreme corner of the shop,
from which post of vantage it did not light the scene quite so
brilliantly as it might have done. Mr. Stephen and the boy, relaxing a
moment from the extreme vigour of discussion, availed themselves of
the opportunity to see what sort of person the stranger might chance
to be.

He was a man of gigantic stature, probably considerably over six feet
high, but so broad in proportion that he seemed shorter than he
actually was. A long waterproof, from which the rain was trickling in
little streams, reached to his feet; the hood was drawn over his head,
and under its shadow was seen a face which was excellently adapted to
the enormous frame. A huge black beard streamed over the stranger's
breast, and a pair of large black eyes looked out from overhanging
brows. He was the first to break the silence.

"Well, what is this little argument?" Then, without waiting for an
answer, he continued, addressing Mr. Huffham, "You're rather a large
size, don't you think, for that sized boy?"

"Who are you? and what do you want? If there's anything you want to
buy, perhaps you'll buy it, and take yourself outside."

The stranger put his hand up to his beard, and began pulling it.

"There's nothing I want to buy, not just now." He looked at Bailey.
"What's he laying it on for?"

"Nothing."

"That's not bad, considering. What were you laying it on for?" This to
Huffham.

"I've not finished yet, not by no manner of means; I mean to take
it out of all the lot of 'em. Call themselves gents! Why, if a
working-man's son was to behave as they does, he'd get five years
at a reformatory. I've known it done before today."

"I daresay you have; you look like a man who knew a thing or two. What
were you laying it on for?"

"What for? why, look here!" And Mr. Huffham pointed to the broken
bottles and the damaged case.

"And I'm a hard-working woman, I am, sir, and I'm seventy-three this
next July; and it's hard work I find it to pay my rent: and wherever
I'm to get the money for them there things, goodness knows, I don't.
It'll be the workhouse, after all!" Thus Mrs. Huffham lifted up her
voice and wept.

"And they calls themselves gents, and they comes in here, and takes
advantage of an old woman, and robs her right and left, and thinks
they're going to get off scot free; not if I know it this time they
won't." Mr. Stephen Huffham looked as though he meant it, every word.

"Did you do that?" asked the stranger of Bailey.

"No, I didn't."

"I don't care who did it; they're that there liars I wouldn't believe
a word of theirs on oath; they did it between them, and that's quite
enough for me."

"I suppose one of you did do it?" asked the stranger.

Bailey thrust his hands in his pockets, looking up at the stranger
with the dogged look in his eyes.

"The place was pitch dark; why didn't they have a light in the place?"

"Because there didn't happen to be a light in the place, is that any
reason why you should go smashing everything you could lay your hands
on? Why couldn't you wait for a light? Go on with you! I'll take the
skin off your back!"

"How much?" asked the stranger, paying no attention to Mr. Stephen's
eloquence.

"There's a heap of mischief done, heap of mischief!" wailed the old
lady in the rear.

"How am I to tell all the mischief that's been done? Just look at the
place; a sovereign wouldn't cover it, no, that it wouldn't."

"There isn't five shillings' worth of harm," said Bertie. "If you were
to get five shillings, you'd make a profit of half a crown."

The stranger laughed, and Mr. Huffham scowled; the look which he cast
at Bertie was not exactly a look of love, but the boy met it without
any sign of flinching.

"I'll be even with you yet, my lad!" Mr. Stephen said.

"If I give you a sovereign you will be even," suggested the stranger.

Mr. Stephen's eyes glistened; and his grandmother, clasping her old
withered palms together, cast a look of rapture towards the ceiling.

"Oh, deary me! deary me!" she said.

"It's a swindle," muttered Bertie.

"Oh, it's a swindle, is it?" snarled Mr. Stephen. "I'd like to swindle
you, my fighting cock."

"You couldn't do it," retorted Bertie.

The stranger laughed again. Unbuttoning his waterproof, and in doing
so distributing a shower of water in his immediate neighbourhood, out
of his trousers pocket he took a heavy purse, out of the purse he took
a sovereign, and the sovereign he handed to Mr. Stephen Huffham. Mr.
Stephen's palm closed on the glittering coin with a certain degree of
hesitation.

"Now you're quits," said the stranger, "you and the boy."

"Quits!" said Bertie, "it's seventeen-and-sixpence in his pocket!"

Mr. Stephen smiled, not quite pleasantly; he might have been moved to
speech had not the stranger interrupted him.

"You're pretty large, and that's all you are; if this boy were about
your size, he'd lay it on to you. I should say you were a considerable
fine sample of a--coward."

Mr. Stephen held his peace. There was something in the stranger's
manner and appearance which induced him to think that perhaps he had
better be content with what he had received. After having paused for a
second or two, seemingly for some sort of reply from Mr. Huffham, the
stranger addressed the boys.

"Get out!" They went out, rather with the air of beaten curs. The
stranger followed them. "Get up into the cart; I'm going to take you
home to my house to tea." They looked at each other, in doubt as to
whether he was jesting. "Do you hear? Get up into the cart! You, boy,"
touching Bailey on the shoulder, "you ride alongside me."

Still they hesitated. It occurred to them that they had already broken
their engagement with the credulous Mr. Shane, broken it in the most
satisfactory manner, in each separate particular. They were not only
wet and muddy, looking somewhat as though they had recently been
picked out of the gutter, but that half-hour within which they had
pledged themselves to return had long since gone. But if they
hesitated, there was no trace of hesitation about the stranger.

"Now then, do you think I want to wait here all night? Tumble up, you
boy." And fairly lifting Wheeler off his legs, he bore him bodily
through the air, and planted him at the back of the trap. And not
Wheeler only, but Griffin and Ellis too. Before those young gentlemen
had quite realized their position, or the proposal he had made to
them, they found themselves clinging to each other to prevent
themselves tumbling out of the back of what was not a very large
dog-cart. "You're none of you big ones! Catch hold of each other's
hair or something, and don't fall out; I can't stop to pick up boys.
Now then, bantam, up you go."

And Bertie, handled in the same undignified fashion, found himself on
the front seat beside the driver. The stranger, big though he was,
apparently allowed his size to interfere in no degree with his
agility. In a twinkling he was seated in his place by Bertie.

"Steady!" he cried. "Look out, you boys!" He caught the reins in his
hands; the mare knew her master's touch, and in an instant, even
before the boys had altogether yet quite realized their situation,
they were dashing through the darkening night.

It was about as cheerless an evening as one could very well select for
a drive in an open vehicle. The stranger, enveloped in his waterproof,
his hood in some degree sheltering his face, a waterproof rug drawn
high above his knees, was more comfortable than the boys. Bailey,
indeed, had a seat to sit upon and a share of the rug, but his friends
had neither seat nor shelter.

Perhaps, on the whole, they would have been better off had they been
walking. The imperfect light and the hasty start rendered it difficult
for them to have a clear view of their position. The mare--which, had
it been lighter and they versed in horseflesh, they would have been
able to recognise as a very tolerable specimen of an American
trotter--made the pace so hot that they had to cling, if not to each
other's hair, at least to whatever portion of each other's person they
could manage to get hold of. Even then it was only by means of a
series of gymnastic feats that they were able to keep their footing
and save themselves from being pitched out on to the road.

They had not gone far when Griffin had a disaster.

"I've lost my hat!" he cried. Wind and pace and nervousness combined
had loosened his headgear, and without staying to bid farewell to his
head, it disappeared into the night.

The stranger gave utterance to a loud yet musical laugh.

"Never mind your hat! Can't stop for hats! The fresh air will do you
good, cool your head, my boy!" But this was a point of view which did
not occur to Griffin; he was rather disposed to wonder what Mr. Shane
and Mrs. Fletcher would say.

"I wish you wouldn't catch hold of my throat; you'll strangle me,"
said Wheeler, as the vehicle dashed round a sharp turn in the road,
and the hatless Griffin made a frantic clutch at his friend to save
himself from following his hat.

"I--can't--help--it," gasped his friend in reply. "I wish he wouldn't
go so fast. Oh--h!"

The stranger laughed again.

"Don't tumble out! we can't stop to pick up boys! Hullo! what are you
up to there?"

The trio in the rear were apparently engaged in a fight for life. They
were uttering choking ejaculations, and struggling with each other in
their desperate efforts to preserve their perpendicular. In the course
of their struggle they lurched against the stranger with such
unexpected violence that had he not with marvellous rapidity twisted
round in his seat and caught them with his arm, they would in all
probability have continued their journey on the road. At the same
instant, with his disengaged hand he brought the horse, who seemed to
obey the directions of its master's hand with mechanical accuracy, to
a sudden halt.

"Now, then, are you all right?"

They were very far from being all right, but were not at that moment
possessed of breath to tell him so. Had they not lost the power of
speech they would have joined in a unanimous appeal to him to set them
down, and let them go anywhere, and do anything, rather than allow
them to continue any longer at the mercy of his too rapid steed. But
the stranger seemed to take their involuntary silence for
acquiescence. Once more they were dashing through the night, and again
they were hanging on for their bare lives.

"Like driving, youngster?" The question was addressed to Bailey. "Like
horses? Like a beast that can go? Mary Anne can give a lead to a flash
of lightning and catch it in two T's."

"Mary Anne" was apparently the steed. At that moment the trio in the
rear would have believed anything of Mary Anne's powers of speed, but
Bailey held his peace. The stranger went on.

"I like a drive on a night like this. I like dashing through the wind
and the darkness and the rain. I like a thing to fire my blood, and
that's the reason why I like you. That's the reason why I've asked you
home to tea. What's your name?"

"Bailey, sir."

"I knew a man named Bailey down in Kentucky who was hanged because he
was too fond of horses--other people's, not his own. Any relation of
yours?" Bertie disclaimed the soft impeachment.

"I don't think so, sir."

"There's no knowing. Lots of people are hanged without their
own mothers knowing anything about it, let alone their fathers,
especially out Kentucky way. A cousin of mine was hanged in Golden
City, and I shouldn't have known anything about it to this day if
I hadn't come along and seen his body swinging on a tree. As nice
a fellow as man need know, six-feet-one-and-three-quarters in his
stockings--three-quarters of an inch shorter than me. They explained
to me that they'd hanged him by mistake, which was some consolation
to me, anyway, though what he thought of it is more than I can say. I
cut him down, dug a hole seven foot deep, and laid him there to
sleep; and there he sleeps as sound as though he'd handed in his
checks upon a feather bed."

Bailey looked up at the speaker. He was not quite sure if he was in
earnest, and was anything but sure that the little narrative which he
rolled so glibly off his tongue might not be the instant coinage of
his brain. But something in the speaker's voice and manner attracted
him even more than his words; something he would have found it
difficult to describe.

"Is that true?" he asked.

The stranger looked down at him and laughed.

"Perhaps it is, and perhaps it isn't." He laughed again. "Wet,
youngster?"

"I should rather think I am," was Bertie's grim response. All the
stranger did was to laugh again. Bailey ventured on an inquiry. "Do
you live far from here?" He was conscious of a certain degree of
interest as to whether the stranger was driving them to Kentucky; he,
too, had Mr. Shane and Mrs. Fletcher in his mind's eye. "Shane'll get
sacked for this, as sure as fate," was his mental observation. He was
aware that at Mecklemburg House the sins of the pupils not seldom fell
upon the heads of the assistant-masters.

"Pain's Hill," was the answer to his question. "Ever heard of
Washington Villa?" Bertie could not say he had.

"I am George Washington Bankes, the proprietor thereof. Yes, and it
isn't so long ago that if any one had said to me that I should settle
down as a country gentleman, I should have said, 'There have been
liars since Ananias, but none quite as big as you.'"

Bailey eyed him from a corner of his eye. His father was a medical
man, with no inconsiderable country practice. He had seen something of
country gentlemen, but it occurred to him that a country gentleman in
any way resembling his new acquaintance he had not yet chanced to see.

"You at the school there?"

Taking it for granted that he referred to Mecklemburg House, Bertie
confessed that he was.

"Why don't you run away? I would."

Bertie started; he had read of boys running away from school in
stories of the penny dreadful type, but he had not yet heard of
country gentlemen suggesting that course of action as a reasonable one
for the rising generation to pursue.

"Every boy worth his salt ought to run away. I did, and I've never
done a more sensible thing to this day." In that case one could not
but wonder for how many sensible things Mr. George Washington Bankes
had been remarkable in the course of his career. "I've been from China
to Peru, from the North Pole to the South. I've been round the world
all sorts of ways; and the chances are that if I hadn't run away from
school I should never have travelled twenty miles from my old mother's
door. Why don't you run away?"

Bertie wriggled in his seat and gasped.

"I--I don't know," he said.

"Ah, I'll talk to you about that when I get you home. You're about the
best plucked lad I've seen, or you wouldn't have stood up in the way
you did to that great hulking lubber there; and rather than see a lad
of parts wasting his time at school--but you wait a bit. I'll open
your eyes, my lad. I'll give you some idea of what a man's life ought
to be! Books never did me any good, and never will. I say, throw
books, like physic, to the dogs--a life of adventure's the life for
me!"

Bertie listened open-eyed and open-mouthed; he began to think he was
in a waking dream. There was a wildness about his new acquaintance,
and about his mode of speech, which filled him with a sort of dull,
startled wonder. There was in the boy, deep-rooted somewhere, that
half-unconscious longing for things adventurous which the British
youngster always has. Mr. Bankes struck a chord which filled the boy
almost with a sense of pain.

"A life of adventure's the life for me!" Mr. Bankes repeated his
confession of faith, laughing as he did so; and the words, and the
voice, and the manner, and the laugh, all mixed together, made the
boy, wet as he was, glow with a sudden warmth. "A life of adventure's
the life for me!"

The drive was nearly ended, and during the rest of it Mr. Bankes kept
silence. Wheeler's hat had followed Griffin's, but he had not
mentioned it; partly because, as he thought, he would receive no
sympathy and not much attention, and partly because, in his anxiety to
keep his footing in the trap, and get out of it with his bones whole,
it would have been a matter of comparative indifference to him if the
rest of his clothing had followed his hat. But he, too, mistily
wondered what Mr. Shane and Mrs. Fletcher would say.

Fortunately for his peace of mind, and the peace of mind of his two
friends, the good steed, Mary Anne, brought them safely to the doors
of Washington Villa. Fond of driving as they were, as a rule, they
were conscious of a distinct sense of relief when that drive was at an
end.



                              Chapter V

                    AN EVENING AT WASHINGTON VILLA


Washington Villa appeared, from what one could see in the darkness, to
be a fairly sized house, standing in its own grounds. Considerable
stabling was built apart from, but close to the house, and as the trap
dashed along the little carriage-drive numerous loud-voiced dogs
announced the fact of an arrival to whomever it might concern. The
instant the vehicle stopped, the hall door was opened, and a little
wizened, shrunken man came down the steps. Mr. Bankes threw him the
reins.

"Jump out, you boys, and tumble into the house. Welcome to Washington
Villa." Suiting the action to the word, and before his young friends
had clearly realized the fact of their having arrived at their
destination, he had risen from his seat, sprung to the ground, and was
standing on the threshold of the door. The boys were not long in
following suit.

"Come this way!" Striding on in front of them, through a hall of no
inconsiderable dimensions, he led them into a room in which a bright
fire was blazing, and which was warm with light. A pretty servant girl
made a simultaneous entrance through a door on the other side of the
room. "Catch hold." Tearing rather than taking off his waterproof and
hood, he flung them to the maid. "Where are my slippers?" The maid
produced a pair from the fender, where they had been placed to warm;
and Mr. Bankes thrust his feet into them, flinging his boots off on to
the floor. "Tea for five, and a good tea, too, and in about less time
than it would take me to shoot a snake."

The maid disappeared with a laugh on her face; she was apparently used
to Mr. Bankes, and to Mr. Bankes' mode of speech. Then, after having
attended to his own comfort, the host turned his attention to his
guests.

"Well, you're a nice lot of half-drowned puppies. By right, I ought to
hang you up in front of the kitchen fire to dry."

His guests shuffled about upon their feet with not quite a graceful
air. It was true that they looked in about as miserable a condition as
they very well could do; but considering the circumstances under which
they had travelled, it was scarcely to be wondered at. Had Mr. Bankes
travelled in their place, he might have looked like a half-drowned
puppy too.

"But a wetting will do you good, and as for mud, why, I don't care for
mud. I've swallowed too much of it in my time to stick at a trifle.
When I was a boy, I was the dirtiest little blackguard ever seen. Now,
then, is that tea ready? Come along."

And off he strode into the hall, the boys following sheepishly in the
rear. Wheeler poked Bailey in the side with his elbow, and Bailey
poked Griffin, and they each of them poked the other, and they
grinned. Their feelings were altogether too much for speech. What Mr.
Shane and Mrs. Fletcher would think and say--but that was a matter on
which they would not improbably be able to speak more fully later on.
A more unguestlike-looking set of guests could hardly be conceived.
Not only were their boots concealed beneath thick layers of mud, but
they were spattered with mud from head to foot; their hands and faces
were filthy, and their hair was in a state of untidiness better
imagined than described. They had their everyday clothes on; their
trousers were in general too short in the leg, and their coats too
short in the sleeves; while Griffin was radiant with a mighty patch in
the seat of his breeches of a totally different material to the
original cloth. It was fortunate that Mr. Bankes did not stick at
trifles, or he would never have allowed his newly-discovered guests to
enter his well-kept residence.

They followed their host into a room on the other side of the hall,
and the sight they saw almost took their breath away. A table laden
with more delicacies than they remembered to have seen crowded
together for a considerable space of time was, especially after the
fare to which they were accustomed at Mecklemburg House, a spectacle
calculated at any time to fill them with a satisfaction almost
amounting to awe. But to come out of such a night to such a prospect!
To come to feast from worse than famine! The revulsion of feeling was
considerable, and the aspect of the guests became even more sheepish
than before.

"Sit down, and pitch in. If you're as hungry as I am, you'll eat the
table, legs and all."

The boys needed no second invitation. In a very short space of
time host and guests alike were doing prodigies of execution. The
nimble-handed servant-maid found it as much as she could do to supply
their wants. On the details of the feast we need not dwell. It partook
of the nature of a joke to call that elaborate meal tea. By the time
it was finished the four young gentlemen had not only ceased to think
of what Mrs. Fletcher and Mr. Shane might say, but they had altogether
forgotten the existence of Mecklemburg House Collegiate School; and
even Charlie Griffin was prepared to declare that he had thoroughly
enjoyed that nightmare journey from Mrs. Huffham's to the present
abode of bliss. The meal had been no less to the satisfaction of the
host than of his guests.

"Done?" They signified by their eloquent looks as much as by their
speech that they emphatically had. "Then let's go back to the other
room." And they went.

A peculiarity of this other room was that all the chairs in it
were arm-chairs; and in four of not the least comfortable of these
arm-chairs the boys found themselves seated at their ease. Over the
fire-place, arranged in the fashion of a trophy, were a large number
of venerable-looking pipes. Taking one of these down, Mr. Bankes
proceeded to fill it from a tobacco jar which stood in a corner of the
mantelshelf. Then he lit it, and, planting himself in the centre of
the hearthrug, right in front of the fire, he thrust his hands into
his pockets and looked down upon his guests, a huge, black-bearded
giant, puffing at his pipe.

"Had a good feed?"

They signified that they had.

"Do you know what I brought you here for?"

The food and the warmth combined had brought them into a state of
exceeding peace, and they were inclined to sleep. Why he had brought
them there they neither knew nor cared; they were beyond such
trifling. They had had a good meal, the first for many days, and it
behoved them to be thankful.

"I'll tell you. I brought you here because I want to get you, the
whole lot of you, to run away."

His listeners opened their eyes and ears. Bailey had made some
acquaintance with his host's character before, but his three friends
stared.

"Every boy worth his salt runs away from school. I did, and it was the
most sensible thing I ever did in my life."

When Mr. Bankes thus repeated the assertion which he had made to
Bailey in the trap, his hearers banished sleep and began to wonder.

"What's the use of school? What do you do there? What do you do at
that tumble-down old red-brick house on the Cobham road? Why, you
waste your time."

This assertion, if, to a certain extent, true, as it applied to the
establishment in question, was a random shot as applied to schools in
general.

"Shall I tell you what I learnt at school? I learnt to hate it, and I
haven't forgotten that lesson to this day; no, and I shan't till I'm
packed away with a lot of dirt on top of me. My father," Mr. Bankes
took his pipe out of his mouth, and pointed his remarks with it as he
went on, "died of a broken heart, and so should I have done if I
hadn't cut it short and run away."

No man ever looked less like dying of a broken heart than Mr. Bankes
did then.

"A life of adventure's the life for me!"

They were the words which had thrilled through Bertie when he had
heard them in the trap; they thrilled him again as he heard them now,
and they thrilled his companions too. They stared up at Mr. Bankes as
though he held them with a spell; nor would that gentleman have made a
bad study for a wizard.

"A life of adventure's the life for me! Under foreign skies in distant
lands, away from the twopenny-halfpenny twaddle of spelling-books and
sums, seeking fortune and finding it, a man in the midst of men, not a
finicking idiot among a pack of babies. Why don't you run away? You
see me? I was at school at Nottingham; I was just turned thirteen: I
ran away with ninepence-halfpenny in my pocket. I got to London
somehow; and from London I got abroad, somehow too; and abroad I've
picked up fortune after fortune, thrown them all away, and picked them
up again. Now I've had about enough of it, I've made another little
pile, and this little pile I think I'll keep, at least just yet
awhile. But what a life it's been! What larks I've had, what days and
nights, what months and years! Why, when I think of all I've done, and
of what I might have done, rotted away my life, if it hadn't been for
that little bolt from school,--why, when I think of that, I never see
a boy but I long to take him by the scruff of the neck, and sing out,
'Youngster, why don't you do as I have done, cut away from school, and
run?'"

Mr. Bankes flung back his head and laughed. But whether he was
laughing at them, or at his own words, or at his recollections of the
past, was more than they could say. They looked at each other,
conscious that their host was not the least part of the afternoon's
entertainment, and somewhat at a loss as to whether he was drawing the
long bow, taking them to be younger and more verdant than they were,
or whether he was seriously advancing an educational system of his
own.

He startled them by putting a question point-blank to Bailey, one
which he had put before.

"Why don't you run away?"

"I--I don't know!" stammered Bertie. Then, frankly, as the idea
occurred to him, "Because I never thought of it."

Mr. Bankes laughed. His constant tendency to laughter, with or without
apparent reason, seemed to be his not least remarkable characteristic.

"Now you have thought of it, why don't you run away?"

Bailey turned the matter over in his mind.

"Why should I?"

His friends looked at each other, thinking the conversation just a
trifle queer.

"Why ever should he run away?" asked Griffin.

"And wherever would he run to?" added Wheeler.

Dick Ellis said nothing, but possibly he thought the more. Mr. Bankes
directed his reply directly at Bailey.

"I'll tell you why you ought to run away; because that's the shortest
cut into a world into which you will never get by any other road. I'll
tell you where you ought to run to, out of this little fleabite of an
island, into the lands of golden dreams and golden possibilities, my
lad; where men at night lay themselves down poor, and in the morning
rise up rich."

Mr. Bankes, warming with his theme, began to gesticulate and stamp
about the room, the boys following him with all their eyes.

"I hate your huggermuggering existence; why should a lad of parts
huggermugger all his life away? When I saw you stand up to that great
lout, I said to myself, 'That lad has grit; he's just the very spit of
what I was when I was just his age; he's too good to be left to muddle
in this old worn-out country, to waste his time with books and sums
and trash.' I said to myself, 'I'll lend him a helping hand,' and so I
will. I'll show you the road, if I do nothing else; and if you don't
choose to take it, it's yourself's to blame, not me.

"When I was out in Colorado, at Denver City, there was a boy came
along, just about your age; he came along from away down East. He was
English; he'd got himself stowed away, and he'd made his way to the
promised land. He took a spade one day, and he marked out a claim, and
that boy he worked it, he did, and it turned up trumps; there wasn't
any dirt to dig, because pretty nearly all that his spade turned up
was virgin silver. He sold that claim for 10,000 dollars, money down,
and he went on and prospered. That boy is now a man; he owns, I
daresay, half a dozen silver mines, and he's so rich,--ah, he's so
rich he doesn't know how rich he is. Now why shouldn't you have been
that boy?"

Mr. Bankes paused for a reply, but his listeners furnished none.
Griffin was on the point of suggesting that Bailey was not that boy
because he wasn't; but he refrained, thinking that perhaps that was
not quite the sort of answer that was wanted.

"I knew another boy when I was going up from the coast to Kimberley,
Griqualand West. Do you boys know where that is?"

This sudden plunge into geographical examination took his guests
aback; they did not know where Griqualand West was; perhaps they had
been equally misty as to the whereabouts of Denver City, Colorado.

"It's in South Africa. Ah, that's the way to learn geography, to
travel about and see the places,--pitch your books into the fire!"

"And is the other place in South Africa?" queried Griffin.

Mr. Bankes gave him a look the like of which he had never received
from Mr. Fletcher; a look of thunder, as though he would have liked to
pick him up, then and there, and pitch him after the books into the
fire.

"Denver City, Colorado, in South Africa?" he roared. "Why, you
leather-headed noodle, where were you at school? If I were the man who
taught you, I'd flog you from here to Dublin with a cat-o'-nine-tails,
rather than I'd let you expose your ignorance like that!"

The sudden advent among them of an explosive bomb might have created a
little more astonishment than this speech, but not much. Griffin felt
that he had better abstain from questioning, and let his host run on.

"Denver City is in the United States of America, in the land of the
stars and bars, as every idiot knows! As I was saying, before that
young gentleman wrote himself down donkey--and he looks it, every inch
of him!--as I was saying, when I was going up from the coast to
Kimberley, there was a boy who used to do odd jobs for me; he hadn't
sixpenny-worth of clothes upon his back! I lost sight of him; five
years afterwards I met him again. It was like a tale out of the
_Arabian Nights_, I tell you! That ragged boy that was, when I saw him
again five years afterwards, he reckoned to cover what any half-dozen
men might have put down, and double it afterwards. And look at the
life he'd led! It's no good my talking about it here, you'd hardly
believe me if I told you half the things he'd done. Don't you believe
any of your adventure books. There aren't half the adventures crowded
into any book which that lad had seen. Yes, a life of adventure was
the life for him, and he'd had it, too!"

Mr. Bankes returned to his post of vantage in front of the fire. In
his excitement he had smoked his pipe to premature ashes; he refilled
and lighted it. Then he addressed himself to Bailey, marking time as
he went on by beating the palm of his right hand against his left.

"I say, don't let a day be wasted--days lost are not recovered; now's
your time, and now's your opportunity; don't let the week's end find
you huggermuggering in that old school. Go out into the world! learn
to be a man! Try your courage! Put your powers to the test! Search for
the golden land! Let a life of adventure be the life for you! As for
you," Mr. Bankes turned with ominous suddenness towards Charlie
Griffin, "I don't say that to you; what I say to you is this: write
home to your mother for a good supply of flannel petticoats, and wrap
yourself up warm, and let your hair grow long, and take care of your
complexion. You're a beauty boy, one of the sort who didn't ought to
be trusted out after dark alone, and who's sure to have a fit if he
sees the moon!"

It is a question if this sudden change of subject made Griffin or his
friends the more uncomfortable. Thinking that Mr. Bankes intended a
joke, and that it would be ungrateful not to laugh, Ellis attempted a
snigger; but a sudden gleam from his host's eyes in his direction
brought his mirth to an untimely ending.

"What are you laughing at?" asked Mr. Bankes. Ellis kept silence,
being most unwilling to confess that he did not know. Mr. Bankes
addressed himself again to Bailey.

"It is you I am advising to do as I did, to try a fall with the world
and to back yourself to win, not such things as those."

Under this heading he included Bertie's three friends, with an
eloquent wave of his hand in their direction.

"It wants a boy to make a man, not a farthing sugar stick! You'll have
cause to bless this evening all your life, and to bless me, too, if
you take the tip I've given you. Don't you listen to those who talk to
you about the hardships you will meet. What's life without hardships,
I should like to know; it's hardships make the man! I'm not advising
you to wrap yourself up in cotton-wool; leave cotton-wool to
mutton-headed dummies;" this with a significant glance in the
direction of Bailey's friends. "Rather I tell you this, you back
yourself to fight, and fight it out, and fight to win, and win you
will! Run away to-night, to-morrow, I don't care when, so long as
it's within the week. There's nothing like striking the iron while
it's hot, and set the clock a-going which will never stop until it
strikes the hour of victory won and fortune made! A life of
adventure's the life for me, and it's the life for you, and the sooner
you begin it the longer it will last and the sweeter it will be."

There was something in Mr. Bankes' tone and manner, when he chose to
put it there, which, in the eyes of his present audience, at any rate,
had all the effect of natural eloquence. His excitement excited them,
and almost he persuaded them to believe in the reality of his golden
dreams. Bailey, indeed, sat silent, spellbound. Mr. Bankes, by no
means a bad judge of character, had not mistaken the metal of which
the boy was made, and every stroke he struck, struck home. As was not
unnatural, Mr. Bankes' eloquence had a very much more mixed effect on
Bailey's friends. Their host gave a sudden turn to their thoughts by
taking out his watch.

"Eleven o'clock! whew-w-w!" This was a whistle. "They'll think you've
run away already! Ha! ha! ha! I'm not going to have you boys sleep
here, so the sooner you go the better. Now then, out you go!"

His guests sprang to their feet as he made a movement as though he
would turn them out with as much precipitation as he had lifted them
into the trap. And, indeed, the manner of their departure was not much
more ceremonious. Before they quite knew what was happening, he had
hustled them into the hall; the hall-door was open; they were the
other side of it, and Mr. Bankes, standing on the doorstep, was
ordering them off his premises.

"Now then, clear out of this! The dogs will be loose in half a second;
you'd better make tracks before they take it into their heads to try
their teeth upon your legs."

The door was shut, and they were left standing in the night,
endeavouring to realize whether their adventure of the night had been
actual fact, or whether they had only dreamed it.



                              Chapter VI

                              AFTERWARDS


But Wheeler's first observation brought them back to _terra firma_
with a plunge.

"It's my belief that fellow's a howling madman."

They cast a look over their shoulder to see if the fellow thus
referred to was within hearing of this courteous speech, and then,
with one accord, they made for the entrance to Washington Villa, not
pausing till they stood clear of its precincts on the road outside.

Then Wheeler made another observation.

"This is a jolly lark!"

Ellis and Griffin laughed, but Bailey held his peace. A thought struck
Griffin.

"I say, I wonder what old Mother Fletcher'll say? She'll send herself
into fits! Fancy its being eleven o'clock! Did you ever hear of such a
set-out in all your lives? And I've no more idea of where we are than
the man in the moon."

"I know," said Bailey. He began to trudge on a few feet in front of
them.

It still rained--a steady, soaking drizzle--and a haze which hung
about the air made the night darker than it need have done. Griffin
and Wheeler, minus caps, were wholly at the mercy of the weather.

"I shouldn't be surprised," muttered Griffin, "if I didn't catch a
death of cold after this."

And, indeed, such was a quite possible consummation of the evening's
pleasure. The boys trudged on, following Bailey's lead. But Wheeler's
feelings could only find relief by venting themselves in speech.

"Did you ever hear anything like that chap? I never did, never! Fancy
his going on with all that stuff about running away. I should like to
catch myself at it,--running away! He's about the biggest liar ever I
heard!"

"And didn't he snap me up!" said Griffin. "Did you ever see anything
like it? How was I to know where the beastly place was? I don't
believe there is such a place."

"He's cracked!" decided Ellis. Then, despite the rain, the young
gentleman began snapping his fingers and cutting capers in the middle
of the muddy road. "He's cracked! cracked! Oh lor', I never had such a
spree in all my life!"

Then the three young gentlemen put their hands to their sides and
roared with laughter, stamping about the road to save themselves from
choking. But Bailey trudged steadily on in front.

"And didn't he give us a blow-out!"

A shout of laughter. "Ho, ho, ho! ha, ha, ha!"

"And didn't he tell some busters!"

Another chorus, as before.

"I wonder if he ever did run away himself, as he said he did?" This
remark came from Ellis, and his friends checked their laughter to
consider it. They then for the first time discovered that Bailey was
leaving them in the rear.

"You're a nice sort of fellow," shouted Ellis after him. "Let's catch
him up! What's his little game, I wonder? Let's catch him up!"

They scampered after him along the road, soon catching him, for
Bertie, who was not hurrying himself, was only a few yards in advance.
Ellis slipped his arm through his.

"I say, Bailey, do you think he ever ran away from school himself?"

"What's it got to do with me?" was Bertie's reply.

"Whatever made him go on at you like that? He must have taken you for
a ninny to think you were going to swallow all he said! Fancy you
running away! I think I see you at it! Running away to Huffham's and
back is about your style. Why didn't you ask him for a tip? He seemed
to be so uncommon fond of you that if I'd been you I'd have asked for
one. You might have said if he made it large enough you'd run away;
and so you might have done--to old Mother Huffham's and back." And
Ellis nudged him in the side and laughed. But Bailey held his peace.

Wheeler gave the conversation a different turn.

"How are you fellows going to get in?" He referred to their effecting
an entrance into Mecklemburg House.

"Knock at the door, of course, and pull the bell, and dance a
break-down on the steps, and make a shindy generally, so as to let
'em know we've come." These suggestions came from Griffin. Wheeler
took up the parable.

"And tell old Mother Fletcher to let us have something hot for supper,
and to look alive and get it, and make it tripe and onions, with a
glass of stout to follow. I just fancy what she'd say."

"And tell her," continued Griffin, "that we've been paying a visit to
a nice, kind gentleman, who happens to be raving mad."

"And she'd be pleased to hear that he advised us all to run away, and
waste no time about it. Where did he advise us to go to? The land of
golden dreams? Oh, my crikey, don't I see her face!"

Bailey made a remark of a practical kind.

"We can get in fast enough, there are always plenty of windows open."
It is not impossible that the young gentleman had made an entrance
into Mecklemburg House by some such way before.

"It's easy enough to get in," said Ellis, "but what are we to say in
the morning? It'll take about a week to dry my things, and about a
month to get the mud off."

"I shouldn't be surprised if old Shane got sacked," chuckled Wheeler.

"It will be jolly hard lines if he does," said Ellis.

"Oh, what's the odds? he shouldn't have let us go!" Which remark of
Wheeler's was pretty good, considering the circumstances under which
Mr. Shane's permission had been obtained.

Just then Bailey stopped, and began to peer about him in the night.

"Have you lost your way?" asked Ellis. "That'll be the best joke of
all if you have. Fancy camping out a night like this! We shan't quite
be drowned by the morning, but just about almost."

"I'm going to cut across this field," said Bailey. "It's ever so far
round by the road, but we shall get there in less than no time if we
go this way."

The suggestion tickled Ellis.

"Fancy cutting across fields on a night like this! Oh, my gracious!
what will old Mother Fletcher say?"

Bailey climbed over a gate, and the others clambered after him. It
might be the shortest cut, but it was emphatically the dirtiest.

"Why, if they haven't been ploughing it!" cried Griffin, before they
had taken half a dozen steps.

Apparently they had, and very recently too. The furrows were wide and
deep, the soil seemed to be a stiffish clay; walking was exercise of
the most hazardous kind. There was an exclamation from some one; but
as it appeared that Griffin had only fallen forward on to his nose,
his friends were too much occupied with their own proceedings to pay
much heed.

"I have lost my shoe!" declared Wheeler, immediately after. "Oh, I'm
stuck in the mud; I believe I'm planted in this beastly field."

"Never mind your shoe, since you've lost your hat already," said
Ellis, with ready sympathy. "You might as well leave all the rest of
your things behind you, for all the use they'll be after this little
spree is over."

"I don't know what Bailey calls a short cut," grumbled Griffin. "At
the rate I'm going it'll take me about a couple of hours to do a
hundred yards."

"We shall be home with the milk," said Ellis.

"I've lost my other shoe!" cried Wheeler.

"No, have you really, though?"

"I believe I have, but I don't know whether I have or whether I
haven't; all I know is, I've got about a hundred pounds of mud
sticking to my feet. I wish Bailey was at Jericho with his short
cuts!"

"This is nicer than that old lunatic," sang out Dick Ellis. "Don't I
wish old Mother Fletcher could see us now."

"I don't know what you call nice," said Griffin. "You'd call it nice
if you had your eyes and nose and mouth bunged up. I'm down again!"

"You needn't pull me with you," remonstrated Ellis.

But Griffin did. Feeling that he was going, he made a frantic clutch
at Ellis, who was just in front of him, and the two friends embraced
each other on the treacherous ground. Ellis' tone underwent a sudden
change.

"I'll pay you out for this!"

"I couldn't help it," protested Griffin.

"Couldn't help it! What do you mean, you couldn't help it? Do you mean
to say you couldn't help catching hold of me, and dragging me down
into this beastly ditch?"

"It isn't a ditch; it's a furrow."

"I don't know what you call a furrow. I know I'm sopping wet, and
where my hat's gone to I don't know."

"What's it matter about your hat? I've lost mine ever so long ago! I
wish I'd stopped at home, and never bothered old Shane to let me out.
I know whoever else calls this a spree, I don't; spree indeed!"

When they had regained their feet, and were cool enough to look about
them, they found that the others were out of sight, and apparently out
of hearing too.

"Blessed if this isn't a go! If they haven't been and gone and left
us. Hollo!" Ellis put his hand to his mouth, that his voice might
carry further; but no answer came. "Ba-a-ailey! Ba-a-ailey!" But from
Bailey came no sign. "This is a pretty state of things! wherever have
they gone? If this is a game they think they're having, it's the
meanest thing of which I ever heard, and I'll be even with them, mark
my words. Which way did they go?"

"How should I know? I don't even know which way we came. How's a
fellow to know anything when he can't see his hand before his face in
a place like this? It's my belief it's one of Bailey's little games."

"Ba-a-ailey!" Ellis gave another view-halloo. In vain, only silence
answered. "Well, this is a go! If it hadn't been for you I shouldn't
have been in this hole."

"I wish I'd never bothered old Shane to let me out!"

"Bother old Shane, and bother you too! I don't know where I am any
more than Adam."

"I'm sure I don't."

"It's no good standing here like a couple of moon-struck donkeys. I
sink in the mud every time I put my foot to the ground; we shall be
over head and heels by the time the morning comes. I'm going straight
ahead; it must bring us somewhere, and it seems to me it don't much
matter where."

Minus his hat, not improved in person by his contact with the ground,
nor in temper by the desertion of his friends, Dick Ellis renewed his
journeying. Griffin found some difficulty in keeping up with him. How
many times they lost their footing during the next few minutes it
would be bootless to recount. Over mud, through mire, uphill,
downhill, they staggered wildly.

"I wonder how large this field is," observed Ellis, after about ten
minutes of this sort of work. "It seems to me we've gone about six
miles."

"It seems to me we've gone sixty," groaned his friend.

"Talk about short cuts! Fancy bringing a fellow into the middle of a
ploughed field on a pitch-dark, rainy night, and leaving him to find
his way alone! I say, Ellis, supposing we lose our way?"

"Supposing we lose our way!" shouted Dick. "I guess we've lost it!
What an ass you are! What do you think we're doing here, if we haven't
lost our way? Do you think I'd stop in a place like this if I knew a
way of getting out of it?" Just then he emphasized his remarks by
sitting down in the mud, and remaining seated where he was. "I can't
get up; I believe I'm stuck, and here I'll stick; and in the morning
they'll find me dead: you mark my words, and see if they don't."

The terror of the situation moved Griffin almost to tears.

"Let's shout," he said.

"What's the good of shouting?"

"I don't know," said Griffin.

"Then what an ass you are!" With difficulty Ellis staggered to his
feet. "It's my belief I've got about an acre of land fastened to the
seat of my breeches. I should like to know how I'm to walk and carry
that about."

They staggered on. A few yards further on they heard the sound of
wheels upon a road.

"There's the road!" cried Griffin, rapture in his voice. The sound
gave him courage. He quickened his pace, and hastened on. Suddenly
there was a splash, a cry of terror, then all was silence.

"What's the matter?" cried Ellis, startled he scarcely knew at what.
There was no reply. "Griffin, where are you? What's the matter?"

There was a sound as of a splashing of water, and a stifled voice
exclaimed,--

"Help! I am drowning! He-elp!"

Ellis pulled up short, and only just in time, for the ground seemed
all at once to come to an end. He stood on the edge of a declivity,
and in front of him was he knew not what. It was so dark, he could not
see his hand in front of him. There was only the sound as of some one
struggling in water, and faint cries for help. For an instant his legs
seemed to refuse their office, his knees gave way from under him, and
his tongue clave to the roof of his mouth. Then he became conscious of
wheels moving along a road which was close at hand. The sound gave him
courage, and he shouted with the full force of his lungs,--

"Help! help!"

To his intense satisfaction, an immediate answer was returned.

"Hollo!" a gruff voice replied; "who's that a-calling?"

"I!--here!--in the field! There's some one drowning."

"Hold hard! I'll bring you a light."

A moment's pause; then in front of him a light was seen dimly
approaching through the night. Never before had a light been so
heartily welcome to Master Richard Ellis.

"Where are you?"

"Here! Take care where you're coming; there's a pond, or something,
just in front of you."

The new-comer approached, keeping a wary eye upon the ground as he
advanced. Ellis saw it was a carter, and that he carried an
old-fashioned round lantern in his hand, with a lighted candle stuck
in the socket. The carter held the lantern above his head, standing
still, and peering through the night. The man was visible to the boy,
but the boy, shrouded in the blackness of the night, was invisible to
the man.

"Where are you?" he asked, seeing nothing in the gloom.

"Never mind me; Griffin's drowning in a pond, or something."

The splashing continued.

"I'm drowning! He-elp!"

The carter stooped forward, so that the light fell on the ground. Then
Ellis perceived that between the man and himself was a little pond,
into which the over-anxious Griffin had managed to fall.

"There ain't no water there," said the carter. "Where are you? Come
out of it. There ain't enough water to drown a cat."

Griffin, perceiving that the fact was as the carter stated, proceeded
to betake himself to what was, in comparison, dry land. But though not
drowned, a more pitiable sight could scarcely be presented. He had
fallen head-foremost into the filthy pool; the water was trickling
down his head and face, and his countenance was plastered with an
unsavoury coating of green slime.

"What are you? a boy?" inquired the carter. "Well, you're a pretty
sight, anyhow!"

For answer Griffin burst into tears. Ellis, who had by this time found
his way round the pond, joined in the criticism of his friend.

"Well, I am blessed!" In spite of his own plight, he was almost moved
to mirth. "Won't old Mother Fletcher take it out of you! I wouldn't be
in your shoes for a pound."

"Who's she? and who are you?" asked the carter.

"Have you ever heard of Mecklemburg House?"

"What, the school? Be you from the school? Well, you're a pretty
couple, the pair of you. What little game are you up to now--running
away? Won't they lay it into you!" The carter grinned; he was not
aware that corporal punishment was interdicted at Mecklemburg House,
and already seemed to see the "laying in" in his mind's eye.

"We--weren't running--away!" wept Griffin. "We've lost our way."

"Lost your way! Well, I never! That's a good one!" The carter seemed
to doubt the statement.

"We have lost our way," said Ellis.

"Look here! for a couple of pins I'll take you by the scruff of your
necks and walk you back myself, if you come any of your games on me."

From his tone and manner the carter seemed to be indignant. Griffin
stared--as well as he could through his tears and the slime--and Ellis
stared, being both at a loss to understand his indignation.

"Coming with your tales to me, telling me you've lost your way, with
the school just across the road."

His hearers stared still more.

"You don't mean it?" Ellis said. "Why, if--I don't believe--why, if
this isn't old Palmer's field, which he was only ploughing yesterday,
and if you haven't tumbled into old Palmer's pond! Well, if we aren't
a couple of beauties!"

Griffin stared at Ellis, and the carter stared at both of them. The
fact was beginning to dawn upon these young gentlemen, the startling
fact, that they had been all the time in a country with every inch of
which they were acquainted, and that it was only the darkness which
had confused them. As the carter had said, Palmer's field--which was
the name by which it was known to the boys--was right in front of
Mecklemburg House, and, in consequence, the school, instead of being,
as they supposed, a mile or so away, was just across the road. When
they had fully realized this fact, the young gentlemen gave a
simultaneous yell of satisfaction, and without wasting any time in
compliments and thanks, dashed through the open gate, and out of
sight, leaving the carter to the enjoyment of his own society.

"Well," was the comment of that worthy, when he perceived the full
measure of ingratitude which was entailed by this unlooked-for flight,
"if I ever helps another being out of a ditch I'll let him know. Not
even the price of half a pint!" Then he shouted after them, "I hope
the schoolmeaster'll tan the hide from off you. I would if I were
him."

Possibly the expression of this pious wish in some degree relieved his
feelings, for he followed the boys, though at a much more decorous
pace, through the gate. When he reached the road, he stopped for a
moment and looked around him, but there were no signs of any one in
sight--the birds had flown. So, muttering beneath his breath what were
probably not blessings, he returned to his charge, a huge vehicle,
drawn by four perspiring horses, and which was loaded with market
produce. Climbing up to his seat, he started his horses and continued
his journey through the night. But though he was not aware of it, the
young gentlemen who had treated him with such ingratitude had not come
to the end of their adventure.

The front gate of Mecklemburg House stood wide open, and they
unhesitatingly dashed inside. But no sooner were they in the
grass-grown courtyard than a thought struck Griffin.

"I wonder if Bailey and Wheeler have come back?"

"I don't know, and I don't care," said Ellis.

But the interchange of speech brought them back to the sense of their
situation.

"How are you going to get in?" asked Griffin.

"Through the schoolroom window; it's always open," replied his friend.

But this always was a rule liable to exceptions, for on this occasion
the particular window referred to happened to be shut. However, to
understand all that was to follow, it is necessary to bring this
chapter to an end.



                             Chapter VII

                     THE RETURN OF THE WANDERERS


While Bailey and his friends were spending the evening in the company
of Mr. George Washington Bankes, the principal of Mecklemburg House
was in a condition in which principals are very seldom supposed to be,
a condition very closely allied to tears.

Mr. Fletcher was a tall, thin man, whose height was altogether out of
proportion to his width. He was afflicted with a chronic stoop, and
had a way, in walking, of shuffling, rather than stepping from foot to
foot, which was scarcely dignified. His face was not unpleasing; there
was a mildness in his eye and a sweetness about his infrequent smile
which spoke of a gentler nature than the typical pedagogue is supposed
to have.

The Philistines were upon him now; the battle, which he had long been
feebly eluding, rather than boldly facing, had closed its ranks, and
in the mere preamble to the fray he had immediately succumbed. It
would have been better, perhaps, if he had been made of sterner stuff,
but, unless he could have been entirely changed into another man,
sooner or later the end was bound to come. Mr. Fletcher was ruined,
and with him Mecklemburg House Collegiate School was ruined too.

He had been on a forlorn hope to town. A certain creditor, in return
for money advanced, held a bill of sale on all the contents of the
academy. Necessary payments had not been made, and he had threatened
to swoop down upon the ancient red-brick house, and make a clearance
of every desk and stool, every pot and kettle, every bed and bolster
the premises contained. To appease this personage, Mr. Fletcher had
journeyed up to town, and had journeyed up in vain. The fiat had gone
forth that to-morrow, the day after, any day or any hour--in the
middle of the night, for all he knew--hard-hearted strangers might and
would arrive, and, without asking with your leave or by your leave,
would strip Mecklemburg House of every movable it contained.

This was what it had come to after five-and-twenty years! When his
father died he had been left a comfortable sum of ready money,
untarnished credit, and a flourishing school; of all which nothing was
left him now.

The principal and his wife were seated in their own sitting-room,
trying to look the matter boldly in the face. Mr. Fletcher, sitting
with his elbows on the table, covered his face with his hands. Mrs.
Fletcher, a hard-featured woman, had her arm about his neck, and
strove to comfort him. Her ideas of comfort were of a material sort.

"Come, eat your supper, now do. You've had nothing to eat all day, and
when you've eaten a bit things will look brighter, perhaps."

Mr. Fletcher turned his care-worn face up to his wife.

"Jane, things will never look bright to me again."

The man's voice trembled, and the woman turned her face away, perhaps
unwilling to let him see that in her eyes were tears. The principal
got up and began to walk about the room. His stoop was more pronounced
than usual, and his shuffling style of movement more ungainly.

"I'm just a failure, that's what I am, a failure. The world's moved
on, and I've stood still. I'm exactly where my father was, and in
schools and schoolmasters there's a difference of a hundred years
between his time and this. I'm not fit for keeping school in these new
times. I don't know what I am fit for. I'm fit for nothing but to
die!"

"And if you die, what's to become of me?"

"And if I live, what'll happen to you then?"

"It'll happen to me that I'll have you, and do you think that's
nothing?"

"Jane, it's worse than nothing! You ought to have been the man instead
of me. I shall be a clog to you and a burden; you're fit for fifty
things, and I'm not fit for one! I could not make a decent clerk. I'm
very certain I could not pass the examination required of a teacher in
a board-school; I doubt if I ever could have reached that standard.
I'm very certain I could not now. Times are changed in matters of
education. People used to be satisfied with a twentieth part of what
they now require. When I am turned out of the house in which I was
born, and in which I have lived my whole life long, as I shall be in
the course of a day or two, and you are turned out with me, wife,
there will be fifty openings you will be fitted to fill, while
I shall only be fit to carry circulars from house to house, or a
sandwich-board through the streets."

"It's no use talking in that way, Beauclerk; it only breaks my heart
to hear you, and it does no good. We must make up our minds to do
something at once, and the great thing is, what? Now come and eat your
supper, or you'll be ill; you know how you suffer if you go hungry to
bed."

"I may as well become accustomed to it, because I shall have to go
hungry very soon."

"Beauclerk!--what is the use of going on like that?--do you want to
break my heart?"

"Wife, I believe mine's broken."

Mr. Fletcher leaned his face against the wall just where he was
standing, his long, lean frame shaken with his sobbing.

"Beauclerk! Beauclerk! don't! don't!"

Hard-faced Mrs. Fletcher went to her husband, and took him in her
arms, and soothed him as though he were a child of five. Mr. Fletcher
looked up. His face was ghastly with the effort he made at
self-control.

"I think I will have some supper; perhaps it will do me good,"

Husband and wife sat down to supper. There were the remains of a leg
of mutton, a little glass jar half-filled with pickled cabbage, a
small piece of cheese, and bread. Mrs. Fletcher put some mutton on her
husband's plate, and a smaller portion on her own. Mr. Fletcher
swallowed one or two mouthfuls, but apparently it went against the
grain.

"I can't eat it," he said, pushing away his plate; "I'm not hungry."

"Won't you have some cheese? it's very nice cheese."

"I'm not hungry," repeated her husband.

His wife held her peace; she continued eating, not, perhaps, because
she was hungry, but possibly because she wished, in doing something,
to find a momentary relief from the necessity of thinking. Mr.
Fletcher sat drawing patterns with his fork upon the tablecloth.

"I shall write to the parents in the morning. In fact, I ought to
write to them to-night, but I don't feel up to it. I shall tell them
that I am ruined, root and branch, stock and stone; that Mecklemburg
House Collegiate School is a thing of the past, and that they had
better remove their sons immediately, and let them have the means to
travel with, because I have none."

"When did Booker say he would distrain?"

Booker was the creditor who held the bill of sale.

"He didn't specify the exact hour and minute, but it'll only be a
question of an hour or two in any case. We can't pay and the things
must go."

"But you have received money from some of the boys in advance."

Mr. Fletcher got up, and began to pace the room again.

"I have received money from most of them. Jane, what am I to do? As
you know very well, I have received from more than half the boys the
term's fees in advance. I am not clear that they could not prosecute
me for obtaining money by means of false pretences; but, in any case,
I shall feel that I have played the part of a dishonest man. Why
didn't I say frankly at the beginning of the term, I am ruined, ruined
hopelessly! and gone down at once without a pretence of struggling
through another term?"

"We have struggled through so many, we could not tell we should not be
able to struggle again."

"At any rate, we haven't. Before we're halfway through the term we're
beaten, and I have received money on what was very much like false
pretences. Then there are Mr. Till and Mr. Shane; they're entitled to
a term's salary, if they could not lay claim to a term's notice too."

Mrs. Fletcher's face grew cold and hard, and there was an unpleasant
glitter in her eyes.

"I shouldn't trouble myself about them; a more helpless lout than Mr.
Shane, as you call him, I never saw, and to my mind Mr. Till never has
been worth his salt. This morning, when he was left in charge, the
school was like a bear-garden; I had to go in half a dozen times to
ask what the noise was about. It's my belief that if you had had
proper assistance you wouldn't be in the state you are in now."

Mr. Fletcher sighed.

"That is not the question, my dear; I owe them the money, and they
ought to be paid. I know that they are both almost, if not quite
penniless, and if I do not pay them something I doubt whether they
will have the means to take them up to town. Remember, too, that this
is the middle of term, and that how long they will be without even the
chance of getting another situation goodness only knows."

"And are you better off? Have you better prospect of a situation?
Beauclerk, before you pay either of those men a penny you will have to
speak to me; I will not be robbed by them."

"If I would I have nothing to pay them with, so there is an end of it,
my dear."

"Do you know what Mr. Shane's latest performance has been?" Struck
by something in his wife's tone, Mr. Fletcher glanced at her with
inquiry in his eyes. "I have not told you yet, because I have been
too much upset by the news which you have brought to tell you
anything,--goodness knows we have enough of our own to bear without
having to bear the brunt of that clown's blunders too."

Seeing that his wife's eloquence bade fair to carry her away, Mr.
Fletcher interposed a question.

"What has Mr. Shane been doing?"

"Doing! I'll tell you what he has been doing,--and you talk of robbing
yourself to give him money! He let four of those boys go out in the
rain this afternoon, when I expressly told him not to; and it would
seem as if he has let them go for good, for they are still out now."

Her husband looked at her, not quite catching the meaning of her
words.

"Still out now?"

"Yes, still out now. Bailey, Griffin, Wheeler and Ellis went out this
afternoon, in all the rain and fog, with Mr. Shane's permission; and
out they've stopped, for they're not back yet."

"Not back yet! Jane, you cannot mean it. Why, it's nearly midnight."
Mr. Fletcher looked at his venerable silver watch, which had come to
him, with the rest of his possessions, from his father. "What's that?"

Husband and wife listened. The silence which reigned without had been
broken by a crash from the schoolroom, a crash which bore a strong
family resemblance to the sound made by the upsetting of a form.

"It's those boys!" said Mrs. Fletcher. "They're getting through the
window."

She hurried off to see, her husband following closely after. All the
lights were out; save the sitting-room which they had left, all the
house was dark. She called to him to bring the lamp. Returning, he
snatched it from the table and went after her again.

They entered the schoolroom, Mr. Fletcher acting as lamp-bearer.
Directly the door was opened they were conscious of a strong current
of air within the room. Mrs. Fletcher went swiftly forward, picking
her way among the desks and forms, and the cause of the noise they had
heard and the draught they felt was soon apparent. The furthest window
was wide open. In front of it a form was overturned upon the floor, a
form which some one effecting a burglarious entrance through the
window in the dark had unwittingly turned over. The lady's quick eye
caught sight of a figure crouching behind a neighbouring desk. It did
not take her long to drag a young gentleman out by the collar of his
coat.

"Well--upon--my--word!"

Her astonishment was genuine, and excusable; few more disreputable
figures ever greeted a lady's eye.

"Is this Bailey?"

It was Bailey. Perhaps at that moment Bailey rather wished it wasn't;
but the surprise of his sudden capture had bereft him of the power of
speech, and he was unable to deny his identity. The lady did nothing
else but stare. Suddenly somebody else made his appearance at the
window, a head rose above the window-sill, and a meek, modest voice
inquired,--

"Please, ma'am, may I come in?"

The new-comer was Edward Wheeler. The lady's astonishment redoubled.

"Well--I--never!"

Taking this exclamation to convey permission, Wheeler gradually raised
himself the necessary height, and finally, after a few convulsive
plunges to prevent himself from slipping back again, scrambled through
the window and stood upon the floor. Wheeler presented a companion
picture to his friend. As he had lost his hat at an early hour of the
evening, he, perhaps, in some slight details, bore away the palm from
Bailey. Mrs. Fletcher stared at them both in blank amazement; in all
her experience of boys she never had seen anything quite equal to
these two. Mr. Fletcher, lamp in hand, came up to join in the
inspection.

"Where have you boys been?" he asked.

"Out to tea," said Bailey.

Mrs. Fletcher sniffed disdainfully.

"Out to tea! Don't tell me that! I should think you've been out to tea
in a ditch!"

Mr. Fletcher carried on the examination.

"How dare you tell me you've been to tea! Where have you boys been?"

"We have been out to tea," said Bailey.

"And where, sir, have you been having tea, that you come back at this
hour, and in such a plight as that?"

"Washington Villa," answered Bailey.

"Washington Villa! And where's Washington Villa? But never mind that,
I shall have something to say to you in the morning. Where are those
other boys? Where are Griffin and Ellis?"

"They're coming," muttered Bailey.

Just then they came. While Mr. Fletcher hesitated, in doubt what to do
or say, a voice, unmistakably Ellis', was heard without.

"Is that you, Bailey? Won't I pay you out for this, you cad! We might
have got drowned for all you cared. Here's Griffin got half-drowned as
it is."

Thrusting her head out of the window, Mrs. Fletcher replied to the
wanderer; a reply, doubtless, as unexpected as undesired.

"If Mr. Fletcher did as I wished him, he'd give each of you boys a
good round flogging before you went to bed, a lot of disobedient,
ungrateful, untruthful, and untrustworthy scamps!"

Possibly this was enough for Ellis, for he subsided and was heard no
more, but a sound of weeping arose. It was the grief of Charlie
Griffin. Placing the lamp upon a desk, Mr. Fletcher put his head out
of the window beside his wife's.

"I'm not going to open the hall door for you at this time of night.
Your friends came through the window, and you can follow your
friends."

They followed their friends, Ellis coming first; Griffin, with not
unnatural bashfulness, preferring to keep in the background. Mrs.
Fletcher's uplifted hands and cry of astonishment greeted Ellis, who
was indeed a notable example of the possibilities of dirt as applied
to the person, but Griffin's entry was followed by the silence of
petrified amazement.

His friends' attempts at disfigurement were altogether unsuccessful as
compared to the success which had attended his. They were dandies
compared to him. It was difficult at a first glance to realize that he
was a boy, or indeed a human being of any kind. He was covered with a
combination of weeds, green slime, particoloured filth, and yellow
clay; the water dripped from the more prominent portions of his frame;
his clothes were glued to his limbs; he was hatless; his face and hair
were plastered with the aforesaid slime; and, to crown it all, he was
convulsed with a sorrow which lay too deep for words.

"Griffin!" was all that the headmaster's wife could gasp. "Charlie
Griffin!"

"Where have you been?" asked Mr. Fletcher.

"I've been in the pond," gasped Griffin, half choked with mud and
tears.

"In the pond? What pond?"

"Pa-almer's po-ond!"

"Palmer's pond! What were you doing in there? What I'm to do with you
boys is more than I can say!" Mr. Fletcher sighed. "There's one thing,
I shan't have to do with you much longer." This was muttered half
beneath his breath. "What are we to do with them, my dear?" This was a
question to his wife.

"Don't ask me; I don't know what we're to do with them. I should think
that boy"--here she pointed an accusatory finger at Griffin--"had
better go back to Palmer's pond. He appears to be fond of it, and it's
the only place he's fit for." Griffin was moved to wilder tears. "He
had better take his things off where he stands, and throw them out
into the yard; they'll never be good for anything again, and he shan't
go upstairs with them on. And all four of them"--this with sudden
vivacity which turned attention away from Griffin--"must have a bath
before they think of going to bed between my sheets. A pretty state of
things to have to get baths ready at this time of night!"

"Griffin, you had better take off your things," said Mr. Fletcher
mildly, when his wife had finished. "I don't know what your father
will say when he hears of the way in which you treat your clothing."

Mrs. Fletcher returned to her sitting-room, and Griffin unrobed
himself, flinging each separate article of clothing into the yard as
he took it off. Then a procession, headed by Mr. Fletcher, started for
the bath-room. After a few moments' contact with clean, cold water,
the young gentlemen, presenting a more respectable appearance, were
escorted to their bedroom, Mr. Fletcher remaining while they put
themselves to bed. Having assured himself that they actually were
between the sheets, "I will speak to you in the morning," he said, and
disappeared.

When the boys had satisfied themselves that he was out of hearing,
their tongues began to wag. Griffin was still whimpering.

"It's all through you, Bailey, I got into this row."

Something suspiciously like a chuckle was the only answer which came
from Bailey's bed.

"I say, did you really tumble into Palmer's pond?" inquired Wheeler.

"Of course I did! How could I help it when you couldn't see your hand
before your face?"

Wheeler buried himself in the bedclothes and roared with laughter.

"You wouldn't have laughed if it had been you," continued the outraged
Griffin. "I was as nearly drowned as anything. I should have been if
it hadn't been for a fellow with a lantern."

"Go away! drowned!" scoffed Bailey, unconsciously repeating the
carter's words; "why, there isn't enough water to drown a cat!"

"What did you go and leave us for like that?" asked Ellis.

"Do you think I was going to mess about in the rain all night while
you two were squabbling on top of each other in the mud?"

"I call it a mean thing to do!"

"Who cares what you call it?"

"And if it weren't so jolly late, I'd give you something for
yourself."

"Oh, would you? You'd give me something for myself! I like that! You
wait till the morning, and then perhaps I'll give you something for
yourself instead!"

Unconscious of the compliments which his affectionate pupils were
bandying from one to the other, Mr. Fletcher returned to his wife,
seated in the parlour. His whole air was one of depression, as of one
who had no longer spirit enough to fight with fortune.

"Well, it will be over to-morrow!" he said. "I don't think I'm much
good at school-keeping; I'm not strong enough; I'm not sufficiently
able to impress my influence on others." Going to the mantelshelf he
leaned his head upon his hand. "I suspect I've failed as a
schoolmaster because I deserved to fail."

Then, forgetting the heroes of the night, his wife began to comfort
him.



                             Chapter VIII

                         PREPARING FOR FLIGHT


That night Bertie Bailey dreamed a dream. In fact, he dreamed several
dreams; his slumber-time was passed in dreamland, journeying from
dream to dream.

He dreamed of the Land of Golden Dreams; of Mr. Bankes and Washington
Villa; of a boy traversing a road which ran right around the world; of
tumbling into ponds and scrambling out of them; of some mysterious
country, peopled by a race of giants, to which there came a boy, who,
single-handed, brought them low, and claimed the country for his own,
and the soil of that land consisted of gold and silver, with judicious
variations of precious stones. In his dreams he saw weapons flashing
in the air, and he heard the sound of strange instruments of music.

Just before he woke he dreamed the most vivid dream of all. A moment
before all had been a chaos of bewilderment, but all at once he found
himself alone, in the centre of some wild place, not quite sure what
sort of place it was, nor where, nor of anything about it, but he knew
that it was wild. A voice was heard in the air, and he knew that it
was the voice of Mr. George Washington Bankes. The voice kept
repeating, "A life of adventure's the life for me!" and every time the
words were uttered the boy's heart leapt up within him, and he went
bounding on. The one voice became several, the world was full of
voices, yet he knew that they all belonged to the original Mr. George
Washington Bankes; and over and over again they repeated the same
refrain, "A life of adventure's the life for me!" till the whole world
was alive with it, and birds and beasts and sticks and stones caught
up the same refrain, "A life of adventure's the life for me!" and the
boy's heart was filled with a great and wondrous exultation. But all
at once the voices ceased; all was still; and the boy found that he
was standing in front of a mighty mountain, which filled the world
with darkness, and barred the way in front of him. And he was
beginning to be afraid, when out of the silence and the darkness came,
in a still small whisper--which he knew to be the whisper of Mr.
George Washington Bankes--the words, "A life of adventure's the life
for me!" and they put courage into his heart, and he stretched out his
arm and touched the mountain, and, behold! at his touch it was cleft
asunder, and in its bosom were all the treasures of the earth.

But it was unfortunately at this point that he awoke. It was not
unnatural that for some moments he should have refused to have
acknowledged the fact--to confess that he really was awake, and that
it had been nothing but a dream.

It was broad daylight. The sun was peeping through the windows, along
the edges of the ill-fitting blinds. It was nothing but a dream. As he
began to realize the fact of the gleaming sunshine, even he was
obliged to admit that it had been nothing but a dream. He turned in
his bed with a dissatisfied grunt.

"I never dreamed anything like that before, nothing half so real! It
seemed as if I had only to put out my hand to touch that mountain
now."

But it only seemed, for there was no mountain there, only a coverlet,
and a sheet, and a blanket or two, and a bolster, and a mattress, and
a bed. Bertie lay on his back, with his eyes closed, attempting, by an
effort of his will, to bring back the vanished dream. And to some
extent he succeeded, for as he lay quiescent he seemed to hear,
ringing in his ears, the words he had heard in his dream--

"A life of adventure's the life for me!"

He seemed so certainly to hear them that, just as they had done in his
dream, they filled him with a sudden fire. Thoroughly aroused, he sat
up in bed, grasping the bedclothes with eager hands. And to himself he
said, half beneath his breath, "A life of adventure's the life for
me!"

The other boys were still asleep in the little iron bedsteads on
either side of him, but he made no attempt to recompose himself to
slumber. He remained sitting up in bed, his knees huddled up to his
chin, engaged in a very unwonted act for him, the act of thinking.

The events of the night before were vividly before him, but
principally among them, a giant in the foreground, was the figure of
Mr. George Washington Bankes.

"Why don't you run away?" Mr. Bankes' question rang in his ears.

"A life of adventure's the life for me!" Those other words of Mr.
Bankes, which had been with him through the dream-haunted night, still
danced before his eyes.

Than Bertie Bailey a less romantic-looking youth one could scarce
conceive. But history tells us that some of the greatest heroes of
romance, real, live, flesh-and-blood heroes, who actually at some time
or other did exist, were anything but romantic in their persons.
Perhaps Bailey was one of these. Anyhow, stowed away in some
out-of-the-way corner of his unromantic-looking person was a vein of
romance of the most pronounced and unequivocal kind.

His range of reading was not wide, yet he had his heroes of fiction
none the less. They were rather a motley crew, and if he had been
asked the question, say in an examination paper, "Who is your
favourite hero? give a short sketch of his life," he would have
hesitated once or twice before he would have written Dick Turpin,
Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, or Jack the Giant-Killer. Perhaps he
would have hesitated still longer before he had attempted to sketch
the life of any one of them. Yet, had he told the truth, the gentleman
selected would have been one of these.

Possibly in the act of selection his greatest difficulty would have
lain. He never could quite make up his mind which of the four
gentlemen named above he liked the best. There were points about Dick
Turpin which struck his fancy. He would rather have ridden that ride
to York than have had ten thousand pounds. It would have been worth
his while to have been Dick Turpin if only to possess that horse of
horses, Black Bess, the coal-black steed of his heart's desire, though
it may be mentioned in passing that up to the present moment Bertie
Bailey had never figured upon a horse's back. He had once ridden a
donkey from Ramsgate to Pegwell Bay, but a donkey was not Black Bess.

On the other hand, there was no part of England with which he was
better acquainted--theoretically--than the glades of Sherwood Forest.
To have lived in those glades with Robin Hood, Bailey would heave a
great sigh at the prospect; ah, that he only could! Yet certainly one
had only to speak of the desert island, and of Robinson Crusoe on its
lonely shore, for Bertie to feel a wild longing to plough the distant
main, a longing which was scarcely consistent with his desire for the
glades of Sherwood Forest. It is the fashion to sneer at fairy tales,
and to speak of them as though they were beneath the supposititious
dignity of the common noun boy, and certainly the marvellous history
and adventures of Jack the Giant-Killer belong to the domain of the
fairies. Possibly Bertie would have been himself ashamed to own his
partiality for that hero of the nursery; and yet, to have had Jack's
courage and strength and skill, to have slaughtered giants and taken
castles and rescued maidens--Bertie sometimes dreamt of himself as
another Jack, and then always with a rapture too deep for words.

Perhaps his real, ideal, and favourite hero would have consisted of a
judicious combination of the four--something of Dick Turpin, and
something of Robin Hood, and something of Robinson Crusoe, and
something of Jack the Giant-Killer. Take all these somethings and mix
them well together, and you would have had the man for Bailey.
Emphatically, although almost unconsciously, in all his waking dreams,
a life of adventure had been the life for him.

Mr. George Washington Bankes had applied the match to the powder. As
he thought of all that gentleman had said, even in the cool of the
morning, all his soul was on fire. Seeing him in his nightshirt of
doubtful cleanliness, and with his touzled hair, you might not have
supposed that there was fire in his soul, but there was. Run away! He
had heard of boys running away from school before to-day.

Boys had run away from Mecklemburg House, and there were stories of
one who, within quite recent times, had made a dash for liberty. Some
said he had got as far as Windsor, some said Dorking, before he had
changed his mind and decided to come back again. But he had come back
again. Bailey made up his mind that when he ran away he would never
come back again; never! or, at any rate, not till he had traversed the
world in several different directions, as Mr. George Washington Bankes
had done.

It had already become a question of _when_ he ran away. With that
quickness in arriving at a decision which, so some tell us, is the
sure sign of a commanding intellect, he had already decided that he
would; there only remained the question of time and opportunity.

"Why don't you run away?" Mr. Bankes had asked. Yes, why, indeed?
especially if one had only to run away to step at once into the Land
of Golden Dreams!

When the boys took their places in the schoolroom after breakfast,
prepared for morning school, a startling announcement was made to them
by Mr. Fletcher. Bailey and his friends had expected that something
would be said to them on the subject of their escapade of the night
before; but so far, so far as those in authority were concerned, their
expectations had been disappointed. They had been sufficiently
cross-examined by their fellow-pupils, and in spite of a slight
suggestive foreboding of something unpleasant to come, when they
perceived how their proceedings appeared in the eyes of their
colleagues, they were almost inclined to look upon themselves somewhat
in the light of heroes. Griffin, indeed, had not heard the last of the
pond, and it was not of the tragic side of his misadventure that he
heard the most. There were some disagreeable remarks made by personal
friends who would not see that he had run imminent risk of being
drowned. He almost began to wish that he had been.

"You wouldn't have laughed at it then," he said. But they laughed at
it now.

But neither from Mr. Till, nor from Mr. Shane, nor from Mr. Fletcher,
nor from the far more terrible Mrs. Fletcher, had either of the young
gentlemen heard a word.

And just when they were preparing for morning school Mr. Fletcher made
his startling announcement.

At first the quartett thought, not unreasonably, that his remarks were
going to have particular reference to them and to their misdoings, but
they were wrong. The headmaster was seated at his desk, in a seemingly
more than usually preoccupied mood; but he too often was preoccupied
in school, so they paid no heed, and got out their books and slates,
and other implements of study, with the ordinary din and clatter.
Suddenly he spoke.

"Boys, I want to speak to you."

The boys looked at him, and the quartett looked at each other. Mr.
Fletcher did not raise his head, but with his eyes fixed on the desk
in front of him continued to speak as though he found considerable
difficulty in saying what he had to say.

"I have had heavy losses lately in carrying on the school. Some of you
know that the number of boys has grown smaller by degrees and
beautifully less."

There was a faint smile about Mr. Fletcher's mouth which did not quite
betoken mirth.

"But I do not complain. I should not have mentioned it, only"--he
paused, raised his head, and looked round the room, his eyes resting
for a moment on each of the boys as they passed--"only when one has no
boys one can keep no school. I have found, very certainly, that
without boys school cannot keep me--my wife and I. Our wants are not
large--they have grown even smaller of recent years--but to satisfy
the most modest wants something is required, and we have nothing."

Again he paused, and again something like the ghost of a smile flitted
across his face. By this time the boys were listening with their eyes
and ears, and Mr. Shane and Mr. Till listened with the rest.

"I am a ruined schoolmaster. I should not have told you this--it is
not a pleasant thing to have to tell--only my ruin is so complete, and
so near. It will necessitate your returning home at once. Mecklemburg
House will no longer be able to offer shelter to either you or I, and
I--I was born here; you will perhaps be able to go with lighter
hearts. I have communicated with your parents. You must pack your
things at once; some of you will, perhaps, be fetched in an hour or
two. I have advised your parents that you had better be all of you
removed by to-morrow morning at the latest. Under these circumstances
there will, of course, be no morning school; nor, indeed, in
Mecklemburg House any more school at any time."

Perhaps, in that schoolroom, the silence had never been so marked as
it was when Mr. Fletcher ceased. The boys looked at each other, and at
their master, scarcely understanding what it was that he had said, and
by no means certain that they were entitled to believe their ears. No
morning school! Mecklemburg House ceased to exist! Pack up! Going home
at once! These things were marvellous in their eyes. There were those
among them who had not failed to see the way in which things were
tending, who knew that Mecklemburg House was very far from being what
it was, that the glory was departed; but for such a thunderclap as
this they were wholly unprepared. Pack up! Going home at once! The
boys could do nothing else but stare.

"You will disperse now, and go into the playground. Put your books
away quietly You will be called in as you are wanted to assist in
packing."

They put their books away. It was unnecessary to bid them do it
quietly; their demeanour had never been so decorous. Then they filed
out silently, one after the other, and the headmaster and his ushers
were left alone.

One boy there was who walked out of that schoolroom as though he were
walking in a dream. This was Bailey. It was all wonderful to him. He
was watching for an opportunity to fly--he knew not why, he knew not
where; but that is by the way. He had only begun to watch an hour or
two ago, and here was the opportunity thrust into his hand. He never
doubted for an instant that here was the opportunity thrust into his
hand.

It was now or never. He had reasons of his own for knowing that when
he had left Mecklemburg House he had left boarding-school for ever. He
might have a term or two at a day-school, but what was the use of
running away from a school of that description? It was heroic to run
away from boarding-school, but from day-school--where was the heroic
quantity in that? No, it was now or never, and Bertie Bailey resolved
it should be now. So in a secluded corner of the playground he matured
his adventurous scheme; for even he was not prepared to rush through
the playground gate and dash into the world upon the spot.

"I must get some money."

So much he decided. It may be mentioned that he arrived at this
decision first of all. It may be added that his consciousness of the
desirability of getting money was not lessened by the fact that he
possessed none now; no, not so much as a specimen of the smallest
copper coinage of the realm.

"I must try to borrow some from some of the chaps." He was aware that
this was not a hopeful field. "But a fellow can't go without any money
at all; even Mr. Bankes said he had ninepence-halfpenny." He
remembered every word which Mr. Bankes had said. "Wheeler had
sevenpence, and he promised to lend me twopence, but he's such a
selfish beast I shouldn't be surprised if he's changed his mind.
Besides, I ought to have more than twopence, or sevenpence, either.
Perhaps he might lend me the lot; he's not a bad sort sometimes.
Anyhow, I'll try."

He tried. Slipping his arm through Wheeler's he drew him on one side.
He approached the matter diplomatically.

"I say, Wheeler, I know you're a trump."

This sort of diplomacy was a mistake; Wheeler was at once on the
alert.

"What are you buttering me up for? Don't you think you're going to get
anything out of me, because you just aren't; so now you know it."

This was abrupt, not to say a little brutal, perhaps. Bailey perceived
the error he had made; he changed his tone with singular presence of
mind.

"Look here, Wheeler, I want you to lend me that sevenpence of yours."

"Then you'll have to want; I like your cheek!"

"Lend me sixpence."

"I won't lend you a sight of a farthing."

"You promised to lend me twopence."

"Oh, did I? Then I won't. I'm going to buy sevenpenn'orth of cocoanut
candy, and perhaps I'll give you a bit of that, though I don't
promise, mind; and it'll only be a little bit, anyhow."

"But look here, I want it for something--I do, I really do, or else I
wouldn't ask you for it."

"What do you want it for?" asked Wheeler, struck by something in the
other's tone.

"Oh! for something particular."

"What do you want it for? If you tell me, perhaps I'll lend it."

This was a bait; but Bailey did not trust his friend so completely as
he might have done. He suspected that if he told him what it really
was wanted for, the story might be all over the playground in a
minute; and it was possible that his friends might not view his
intended flight from the heroic point of view from which it appeared
to him. So he temporized.

"If you'll lend me the sevenpence first, I'll tell you afterwards."

"You catch me at it! What do I want to know what you want it for? I
know I want it myself, and that's quite enough for me."

Wheeler turned away; Bailey caught him by the arm.

"Lend me the twopence which you promised."

"I won't lend you a brass farthing."

Bertie felt the moment was not propitious. It occurred to him that he
might pick a quarrel with his friend and fight him, and that when he
had fought him long enough his friend might see things in a different
light, and a loan might be arranged. But of this he was by no means
certain. He was not clear in his own mind as to the amount of
hammering which would be required to bring about a conversion. He had
never measured his strength with Wheeler; and it even occurred to him
that he might be the hammered one, and not his friend. On the whole,
he thought that he had better leave that scheme untried; sevenpence
might be bought too dearly.

Baffled in one quarter he tried another. In quest of money he
buttonholed all the school. But this, again, was a mistaken step. It
soon got about that Bailey was in search of some one to devour, and,
in consequence, those who were worth devouring took the hint--they by
no means showed themselves anxious to be devoured. In spite of his
repeated efforts, he only met with one success, and that was one of
which he was scarcely entitled to be proud.

Willie Seymour, Bailey's cousin, has been already mentioned. He was
the youngster who led Mr. Shane's German grammar on its final road to
ruin. A little pale-faced boy, certainly not more than nine years old,
and without even the strength of his years.

Bertie caught him by the jacket.

"Now then, where's that money of yours?"

His temper was not improved by the want of confidence his friends had
shown, and this was not a case in which he thought delicacy was
required.

"What money? Bertie, don't! you're hurting my arm!"

"Yes, and I'll hurt it, too! Where's that money of yours? I know
you've got some."

"I've only got one and fivepence. Mamma sent it me last week to buy a
birthday present. It was my birthday, you know."

"Oh, was it! Then I'll buy you a birthday present--something spiffing.
Fork it up!"

"But, Bertie----"

"Fork it up!"

"It's in my desk."

"Then just you let me see your desk. It's never safe to leave money in
your desk; it might get stolen."

And Bailey dragged his relative indoors. It may be mentioned that
Willie's mother (Bertie's aunt) had particularly commended her lad to
Bertie's care. This was the first symptom of a careful disposition he
had shown.



                             Chapter IX

                              THE START


With tears and sighs Willie Seymour produced his desk for his
relative's inspection. It was a little rosewood desk which his mother
had given him to keep his papers in, and envelopes, and his own
particular pens, and his stamps, and his money, and his treasures.
Bailey proceeded to inspect it.

"Where's the key?"

"Don't take the money, Bertie. Mamma sent it me to buy a birthday
present with, and I've spent sevenpence already. It was two shillings
she sent."

"Oh, you've spent sevenpence, have you! Then I've half a mind to give
you a licking for spending such a lot. Do you think your mother sent
you money to chuck about all over the place? She told me to look after
you, and so I will. Give me the key."

From a miscellaneous collection of odds and ends, which bulged out the
pockets of his knickerbockers, the key was produced.

"Don't take the money, Bertie!"

Bailey unlocked the desk with a magisterial air.

"If your mother knew that you'd spent sevenpence, what d'ye think
she'd say to me? She'd say, 'I told you to look after him, and here
you let him go chucking the money I sent him to buy a birthday present
into his stomach, and making himself as ill as I don't know what! Is
that the way to buy a birthday present? Nice affectionate lad you
are!'"

At this point Bailey, having discovered the one and fivepence, held it
in his hand.

"I shall put this money into my pockets, and I shall take care of it
for you, and when you want it, you come to me and ask for it. D'ye
hear?"

At this point he slipped the money into his trousers pocket.

Willie wept.

"What are you snivelling for? If you don't stop I'll take care of your
desk as well. Now I think of it, Wheeler wants just such a desk as
this. I shouldn't be surprised if he gave me sevenpence for it; it
would just come in handy."

Bailey subjected the desk to a critical examination.

"I'll tell Mr. Fletcher if you take my desk away."

"What, sneak, would you? As it happens, I don't care for you or Mr.
Fletcher either."

Bertie tucked the desk under his arm and moved to the door. Willie
flung his head upon his arms and burst into a passion of tears. At the
door Bertie turned and surveyed the child.

"Here, take your desk. Think I want the thing!"

He flung the desk towards his cousin. Falling on the edge of a form,
it burst open, and the contents were thrown out of it. Leaving Willie
to make the best of a bad case, and pick up his ill-used property,
Bertie marched away with the one and fivepence in his pocket.

That one and fivepence was all the cash he could secure. He made one
or two efforts in the course of the day to increase his capital by the
addition of a penny or two, but the efforts were in vain. None of the
smaller boys had any money; some of the seniors he suspected were in
possession of funds, but in face of their refusal to oblige him with a
temporary loan he did not feel justified in taking them by the throats
and putting into practice any theory of their money or their life. He
suspected he might get neither; sundry knocks and bruises he might be
the richer for, but they were riches for which he had no longing. One
particularly gallant attack he made upon a suspected seat of capital
does not deserve to go unchronicled.

The suspected seat of capital was Mr. Shane. Chancing to pass the
schoolroom on his way downstairs, a glimpse he caught of some one
within brought him to a standstill. He entered; he shut the door
behind him for precaution's sake, being unwilling that his friends
should intrude upon what he perceived might be a delicate interview.

In a corner of the schoolroom was Mr. Shane. He sat with his elbows
resting on the desk and his head resting on his hands. So absorbed was
he in his own meditations that he paid no heed to Bailey's entrance.
Bertie watched him in silence for a moment or two, then he made his
presence known.

"I say, Mr. Shane."

Mr. Shane started and looked up. His face was very pale, there were
traces of what were suspiciously like tears about his eyes, and his
whole appearance was as of one who had received a sudden blow. Without
speaking he stared at Bailey, whose presence evidently took him by
surprise. Seeing that the other held his peace, Bertie came to the
point.

"Can you lend me a shilling or two?"

"Lend you a shilling or two!"

"I daresay you'll think it like my cheek to ask you, and so it is;
but--I'm in an awful hole, I really am. I know I've not been such a
civil beggar as I might have been, but--I never meant any harm;
and--I'm sorry about that grammar, I really am; I'd buy you another if
I'd got the money, upon my word I would--I don't know what I wouldn't
do for you if you'd lend me a shilling or two--especially if you'd make
it three."

In spite of himself Bertie grinned, and his eyes glistened at the idea
of spoiling the usher. Mr. Shane stared at him, as well he might. He
spoke with a sort of little pause between each word, as though he were
doubtful if he had heard aright.

"You want me to lend you a shilling or two?--me?"

"Yes. I'll let you have it back as soon as, I can, and I'm in an awful
hole, or I wouldn't ask you. Do lend it me!"

Mr. Shane stood up, with a curious agitation in his air.

"I haven't got it."

"Not got it I Not got a shilling or two! Oh, I say, come!"

"I haven't got a penny in the world."

"Not got a penny in the world! Oh, I say, aren't you piling it on!"

"Not a penny; not a penny in the world; not one. I'm a beggar!"

Mr. Shane's agitation was so curious, and the air with which he
proclaimed himself a beggar was so wild, that Bertie's surprise grew
apace. He wondered whether, as he might himself have phrased it, the
usher had a tile loose in his head.

"See!" Mr. Shane turned his coat-tail pockets inside out. There was
nothing in them. "See!" He followed suit with the pockets in his
trousers. They also were void and empty. "Nothing! nothing! not a sou!
Mr. Fletcher engaged to pay me sixteen pounds a year. There's fifteen
shillings owing from last term. I couldn't afford to buy myself a pair
of boots when I came back. Look at my boots." Mr. Shane held up his
boots, one after the other. Bertie stared at them; they were very much
the worse for wear. "And now he tells me that I'm to leave this very
day, leave in the very middle of the term, without a penny-piece. He
says he cannot let me have a penny-piece. I've worked hard for my
money; he knows I've worked hard for my money; he knows I've been
cruelly used; and yet he sends me away in the middle of the term a
beggar, and with fifteen shillings owing from last term. What am I to
do! My mother lives at Braintree. I can't walk all the way to
Braintree in Essex, especially in such boots as these; and she hasn't
any money to give me when I get there, and I can't get another
situation in the middle of the term. It's cruel, cruel, cruel! I'm a
beggar, and I shall have to go to the workhouse and sleep in the
casual ward, and break stones before they let me leave in the morning.
It's wicked cruelty! I don't care who hears me say it, so it is!"

Mr. Shane's agitation, though real enough, was also sufficiently
grotesque. With his pockets turned inside out, and his collar and
necktie all awry, he paced about the schoolroom, swinging his arms,
speaking in his thin, cracked tones, the tears running down his
cheeks, half choked with passion. It was the grotesque side of the
usher's woe which appealed to Bailey.

"You don't mean to say Mr. Fletcher won't pay you your wages?"

"I do, I do! He says he hasn't got it; he says he doubts if he has
five shillings to call his own. What right has he to engage an usher
if he has not got five shillings of his own? How does he expect to pay
me, and fifteen shillings owing from last term? How am I to walk to
Braintree in Essex in these boots without a penny in my pocket? and
what will my mother say when I get home--if I ever do get home--with
no money in my pocket, and turned out of a situation in the middle of
a term? It's a cruel, wicked shame, and I'll shout it out in the
middle of the road! I don't care what they say, I will! I won't go
without my money, if it's only the fifteen shillings left owing from
last term!"

"Then I suppose you can't lend me a shilling or two?"

"Lend you a shilling or two! How can I? It's for you to advance a loan
to me. Bailey, you've been a wicked boy to me ever since I came, and
now to come and ask me to lend you money! You're all wicked about the
place."

"I've got one and fivepence." Bailey held the money in his hand.

"One and fivepence! Bailey, it's your duty to lend me that one and
fivepence. You can't want money, your parents will send you the means
to take you home. And here am I without a penny. How am I to walk all
the way to Braintree in Essex in these boots without a penny in my
pocket? It is a wicked thing that I should ever have been induced to
accept such a situation. It's your duty to make amends for your
uniform bad conduct, and to sympathise with me in my distress. You
ought to lend me that one and fivepence. Won't you lend it to me,
Bailey?"

Bertie went through the familiar pantomime of putting his fingers to
his nose.

"Me lend you one and fivepence--ax your grandmother! You must think me
jolly green."

He thrust the hand which still held the one and fivepence into his
trousers pocket, and turning on his heel marched with an air of great
deliberation to the door. At the door he turned, and again addressed
the usher.

"If I were you, old Shane, I'd go to Fletcher, and I'd say, 'Fork up,
Fletcher, or I'll give you one in the eye;' and then if he didn't fork
up I'd give him a couple of good fine black ones. He'd look nice with
a couple of black eyes, would Fletcher; and, if you like, I'll come
with you now and see you do it."

He paused; but seeing that Mr. Shane gave no immediate signs of acting
on this useful hint he went on,--

"You haven't got the spirit of an old dead donkey. You'd let anybody
have a kick at you. You're a regular all-round Molly, Shane."

With this frank expression of heart-felt sympathy for Mr. Shane's
distress he left the room, and banged the door behind him. His
enterprise, though displaying boldness, had been a failure; he had not
succeeded in adding to his capital. As he walked away from the
schoolroom he meditated upon the matter.

"One and fivepence isn't much--not to run away with--but Mr. Bankes
said he'd only ninepence-halfpenny; I'm better than that. Still, I'd
like another shilling or two; one and fivepence doesn't go far,
stretch it how you will. But if I can't get more I'll make it do,
somehow. If Mr. Bankes managed with ninepence-halfpenny I don't see
why I shouldn't do with one and fivepence. Something is sure to turn
up directly I am off."

It occurred to him that perhaps Mr. Bankes might have had something
else besides his ninepence-halfpenny--something in the shape of food,
valuables, or extra clothing, or some other unconsidered trifle of
that kind. Bertie perceived that if he put into execution his plan of
immediate flight he would have to go as he was, with his one and
fivepence and nothing else. He had a misty recollection of having read
somewhere of a young gentleman, just such another hero as himself, who
started on his exploration of the world with baggage in the shape of a
red cotton handkerchief, which contained a clean shirt, some bread and
cheese, and, if his memory served him, a pair of socks which his
little sister had neatly darned for him on the night before his
setting out.

Bertie would have to start without even this amount of luggage. Nor
could he understand that he would be much worse off on that account;
the bread and cheese might be useful--if he remembered rightly, the
young gentleman referred to had eaten his bread and cheese about ten
minutes after starting--but for the shirt and socks he could perceive
no use whatever. He had a sort of idea that either those sort of
things would not be required, or else that they could be had for
asking when he was once out in the world.

But his chief fear was, and it kept him on tenter hooks throughout the
day, that his grand exploit would be nipped in the bud, altogether
frustrated, by his being prematurely fetched home. He lived at Upton,
a little town in Berkshire, not twenty miles away. It would not take
long for Mr. Fletcher's communication to reach his home, and it was
quite within the range of possibility that a messenger would be
immediately despatched to fetch him. In that case he would sleep that
night in a paternal bed, and farewell to the Land of Golden Dreams.

The flitting had already commenced. By the afternoon some of the boys,
who lived close by, had already gone. The packing progressed briskly.
He had seen with his own eyes his boxes locked and corded. It was with
very mixed sensations that he had himself assisted at the process.
Within those well-worn receptacles was he locking and cording the Land
of Golden Dreams! At the mere thought of such a thing he could have
shed unheroic tears. At any moment he might be called, he might be
greeted by a familiar face, he might be whirled away in a cab at the
rate of four or five miles an hour, with his luggage on the roof of
the vehicle, and then--farewell to the Land of Golden Dreams.

He might have put an end to his uncertainty by starting at once on his
progress through the world. But he had made up his mind that that was
not the thing. To run away in broad daylight, like an urchin who had
stolen a twopenny loaf, with half a dozen yelping curs at his heels
and not impossibly the country folks all grinning--who could connect
romance with such an undignified departure? No, night was the thing
for him--silent, mysterious night; and, above all, the witching hour.
That was the time for romance! Under the cold white moon, and across
the moonlit meadows, when all the world was sleeping--then he could
conceive a flight into the world of mystery and of magic, and of Lands
of Golden Dreams. So he had decided that as nearly as possible
midnight should be the moment for his adventures to begin.

The choice of such an hour put difficulties in his way. First of all,
there was the difficulty of being sure of the time. He did not himself
possess a watch, and he could not rely upon some distant church clock
informing him of the passage of the night. Fortunately he remembered
that Tom Graham, who slept in a bed next door but one to his,
possessed a watch. He would time his departure by Tom Graham's watch.
Then there was the difficulty of egress--how was he to get away? In
his strong desire to play the more heroic part, he would have liked to
have dropped from the window of his bedroom some thirty-five feet on
to the paving-stones of the courtyard below. But then he reflected
that he would not improbably break his neck, and it would be just as
well not to begin his adventures by doing that; that sort of thing
would come in its proper place a little later on. He might knot his
sheets together, and form an impromptu rope, and descend by means of
that: there were charms about the idea which commended themselves to
him. He had seen a picture somewhere of a gallant youth descending by
means of such a rope a tower apparently a mile or two in height; it
was an unpleasant night and the youth was whirled hither and thither
by the tempestuous winds. Had his bedroom been a couple of miles
from the ground, why then--Bailey smacked his lips, and his eyes
glistened--but as it wasn't he discarded the idea. He sighed to think
that they build none of those lofty towers now--at least, so far as
he was aware.

No; for the present it was sufficient to get away. Let him first get
clear away, and then he would have adventures fast enough. He decided
that the old familiar schoolroom window would suffice for the
occasion. He would get out of that.

But the chief difficulty he had to face was the terrible risk which
existed of his being fetched away. One boy after another went; hour
after hour passed; a bare handful of young gentlemen remained. They
had dinner, such as it was; but Bertie had lost his appetite, and was
for the nonce contented with meagre fare. They had tea, which was
postponed to the latest possible hour, and which when it came
consisted of a liquid which such boys as partook of it declared was
concocted of the tea leaves which had remained at breakfast, and which
was accompanied by thick slices of unbuttered bread. But Bertie never
grumbled; he ate his bread and he drank his tea without suggesting
anything against its quality.

The evening passed. The number of boys was still more diminished, yet
for Bailey no one came. The clock pointed to an hour at which it was
declared that no one could come now--it was half-past nine. The usual
hour for bed was half-past eight, but the boys had been kept up in the
expectation and possible hope that at Mecklemburg House it would not
be necessary for them to go to bed at all. Now they were ordered to
their rooms.

Bertie could have danced, and sung, and stood on his head, and
comported himself generally like a juvenile madman; but he refrained,
His time was coming; he would be able to comport himself as he liked
in two hours and a half, but at present the word was caution.

It was arranged that all the boys who remained should sleep in the
same room. There were only five: Edgar Wheeler, Tom Graham, little
Willie Seymour, a boy whose parents were in India named Hagen, and
commonly called Blackamoor, and Bertie Bailey. The first into bed was
Bailey. Not a word was to be got out of him edgeways. He was a model
of good behaviour. He even pressed the others to hurry into bed,
to go to sleep, to let him sleep. They slept long before he did.
He lay awake tingling all over. He listened to their regular
respirations--Hagen was a loud snorer and always set up a signal of
distress--and when he was sure they were asleep he hugged himself in
bed. Then he sat up, being careful to make as little noise as
possible, and in the darkness peered at his sleeping comrades. Their
gentle breathing and Hagen's stentorian snores were music in his ears.
Then he lay back in bed again, biding his time.

He heard a clock strike the half-hour--half-past ten. It was a church
clock. He wondered which. The night was calm, and the sound travelled
clearly through the air; it might have been a long way off. And
then--then he went to sleep.

It was not at all what he intended--very much the other way. He had
supposed that he had only to make up his mind to lie awake till twelve
o'clock to do it. But he was wrong; the strain at which he had kept
his faculties through the day had told upon him more than he had
supposed.

He awoke with a start--with a consciousness that something was wrong.
He listened for a moment, wondering what strange thing had roused him.
Then he remembered with a flash. The time had gone and he had slept.

With a half-stifled cry he sprang up in bed. What time was it? Had he
really slept? Only for a minute or two, he felt sure. He groped his
way to Graham's bed. That young gentleman slept with his watch beneath
his pillow; Bailey was awkward in his attempts to get at it without
waking the sleepy owner.

He got it, and took it to the window that he might see the time.
Half-past two! soon it would be light--Bertie was almost inclined to
think it was getting lighter now. He gave a cry of rage, and the watch
dropped from his hand to the floor. Startled, he turned to see if the
sleepers were awakened by the noise. He held his breath to listen.
They slumbered as before. He picked up the watch and placed it on the
mantelshelf, not caring to run the risk of rousing Graham by replacing
it beneath his pillow. As he did so, he noticed that the glass was
broken, shattered in the fall.

With great rapidity he dressed himself, only pausing for a moment to
see that the one and fivepence was safe. His slippers were packed; he
had come to bed in his boots. Holding them in his hand, in his
stockinged feet he stole across the room, carefully turned the handle
of the door, went out, and shut the door behind him.

He met with no accident on his way to the schoolroom. Within five
minutes of his leaving his bed he was standing among the desks and
forms. The blinds had not been drawn: the moonlight flooded the
room--at any rate, the moon had not gone down. He was going to carry
out so much of his plans--he was to fly through a moonlit world.
Perhaps after all the little accident which had caused him to shut his
eyes was not of much importance. Certainly, the sleep had refreshed
him; he felt capable of making for the Land of Golden Dreams without
requiring to pause upon the way.

Among the moonlit desks and forms he put his boots on; laced them up;
then, with a careful hand, slipped the hasp of the familiar window,
raised the sash, got out, and lowered himself to the ground. It was
only when he was on the ground that he remembered that he was without
a cap. He put his hand into the inner pocket of his jacket and
produced an old cricket cap which he had privately secured when he was
supposed to be assisting at the packing.

Then he started for the Land of Golden Dreams.



                              Chapter X

                         ANOTHER LITTLE DRIVE


He ran across the courtyard, glancing up at the silent house behind
him. In the moonlight Mecklemburg House looked like a house of the
dead. Through the gate, and out into the road; then, for a moment,
Bertie paused.

"Which way shall I go?"

He stood, hesitating, looking up and down the road. In his anxiety to
reach the Land of Golden Dreams he had not paused to consider which
was the road he had to take to get there. Such a detail had not
occurred to him. He had taken it for granted that the road would
choose itself; now he perceived that he had to choose the road.

"I'll go to London--something's sure to turn up when I get there. It
always does. In London all sorts of things happen to a fellow."

His right hand in his pocket, clasping his one and fivepence, he
turned his face towards Cobham. He had a vague idea that to reach town
one had to get to Kingston, and he knew that through Cobham and Esher
was the road to Kingston. If he kept to the road the way was easy, he
had simply to keep straight on. He had pictured himself flying across
the moonlit fields; but he concluded that, for the present, at any
rate, he had better confine himself to the plain broad road.

The weather was glorious. It was just about that time when the night
is about to give way to the morning, and there is that peculiar chill
abroad in the world which, even in the height of summer, ushers in the
dawn. It was as light as day--indeed, very soon it would be day;
already in the eastern heavens were premonitory gleams of the
approaching sun. But at present a moon which was almost at the full
held undisputed reign in the cloudless sky. So bright were her rays
that the stars were dimmed. All the world was flooded with her light.
All was still, except the footsteps of the boy beating time upon the
road. Not a sound was heard, nor was there any living thing in sight
with the exception of the lad. Bertie Bailey had it all to himself.

Bertie strode along the Cobham road at a speed which he believed to be
first rate, but which was probably under four miles an hour. Every now
and then he broke into a trot, but as a rule he confined himself to
walking. Conscious that he would not be missed till several hours had
passed, he told himself that he would have plenty of time to place
himself beyond reach of re-capture before pursuit could follow. Secure
in this belief, every now and then he stopped and looked about him on
the road.

He was filled with a sense of strange excitement. He did not show this
in his outward bearing, for nature had formed his person in an
impassive mould, and he was never able to dispossess himself of an air
of phlegm. An ordinary observer would have said that this young
gentleman was constitutionally heavy and dull, and impervious to
strong feeling of any sort. Mr. Fletcher, for instance, had been wont
to declare that Bailey was his dullest pupil, and in continual
possession of the demons of obstinacy and sulkiness. Yet, on this
occasion, at least, Bailey was on fire with a variety of feelings to
every one of which Mr. Fletcher would have deemed him of necessity a
stranger.

It seemed to him, as he walked on and on, that he walked in fairyland.
He was conscious of a thousand things which were imperceptible to his
outward sense. His heart seemed too light for his bosom; to soar out
of it; to bear him to a land of visions. That Land of Golden Dreams
towards which he travelled he had already reached with his mind's eye,
and that before he had gone a mile upon the road to Cobham.

Mecklemburg House was already a thing of the past That petty poring
over books, which some call study, and which Mr. George Washington
Bankes had declared was such a culpable waste of time, was gone for
ever. No more books for him; no more school; no more rubbish of any
kind. The world was at his feet for him to pick and choose.

By the time he had got to Cobham he was making up his mind as to the
particular line of heroism to which he would apply himself. The old
town, for Cobham calls itself a town, was still and silent, apparently
unconscious of the glorious morning which was dawning on the world,
and certainly unconscious of the young gentleman who was passing
through its pleasant street, scheming schemes which, when brought to
full fruition, would proclaim him a hero in the sight of a universe of
men.

"I'll be a highwayman; I'd like to be; I will be. If a coach and four
were to come along the road this minute I'd stop the horses. Yes! and
I'd set one of them loose, and I'd mount it, and I'd go to the window
of the coach, and I'd say, 'Stand and deliver.' And I'd make them hand
over all they'd got, watches, purses, jewellery, everything--I
shouldn't care if it was £10,000."

He fingered the one and fivepence in his pocket; the sound of the
rattling coppers fired his blood.

"And then I'd dash away on the horse's back, and I'd buy a ship, and
I'd man it with a first-rate crew, and I'd sink it in the middle of
the sea. And, first of all, I'd fill the long-boat with everything
that I could want--guns, and pistols, and revolvers, and swords, and
bullets, and powder, and cartridges and things--and I'd get into it
alone, and I'd say farewell to the sinking ship and crew, and I'd row
off to a desert island, and I'd stop there five-and-twenty years. Yes;
and I'd tame all the birds and animals and things, and I'd be happy as
a king. And then I'd come away."

He did not pause to consider how he was to come away; but that was a
detail too trivial to deserve consideration. By this time Cobham was
being left behind; but he saw nothing save the life which was to be
after he had left that desert isle.

"I'd go to Sherwood Forest, and I'd live under the greenwood tree, and
I'd form a band of robbers, and I'd have them dressed in green, and
I'd seize the Archbishop of Canterbury, and I'd make him fight me with
single-sticks, and I'd let the beggars go, and I'd give the poor all
the booty that I got."

What the rest of the band would say to this generous distribution of
their hard-earned gains was another detail which escaped
consideration.

"And I'd be the oppressor of the rich and the champion of the poor,
and I'd make everybody happy." How the rich were to be made happy by
oppression it is difficult to see; but so few systems of philosophy
bear a rigorous examination. "And I'd have peace and plenty through
the land, and I'd have lots of fighting, and if there was anybody in
prison I'd break the prisons open and I'd let the prisoners out, and
I'd be Ruler of the Greenwood Tree."

His thoughts turned to Jack the Giant-Killer. By now the day was
really breaking, and with the rising sun his spirits rose still
higher. The moonlight merging into the sunshine filled the country
with a rosy haze, which was just the kind of thing for magic.

"I wish there still were fairies."

If he only had had the eyes no fairyland would have been more
beautiful than the world just then.

"No, I don't exactly wish that there were fairies--fairies are such
stuff; but I wish that there were giants and all that kind of thing.
And I wish that I had a magic sword, and a purse that was always more
full the more you emptied it, and that I could walk ten thousand miles
a day. I wish that you had only got to wish for a thing to get
it--wouldn't I just start wishing! I don't know what I wouldn't
wish for."

He did not. The catalogue would have filled a volume.

"But the chief thing for which I'd wish would be to be exactly where I
am, and to be going exactly where I'm going to."

He laughed, and thrust his hands deeper in his pockets when he thought
of this, and was so possessed by his emotions that he kicked up his
heels and began to dance a sort of fandango in the middle of the road.
He perceived that it was a pleasant thing to wish to be exactly where
he was, and to be so well satisfied with the journey's end he had in
view. It is not every boy who is bound for the Land of Golden Dreams;
and especially by the short cut which reaches it by way of the Cobham
road.

So far he had not met a single human being, nor seen a sign, nor heard
a sound of one. But when he had fairly left Cobham in the rear, and
was yet engaged in the performance of that dance which resembled the
fandango, he heard behind him the sound of wheels rapidly approaching.
They were yet a considerable distance off, but they were approaching
so swiftly that one's first thought was that a luckless driver was
being run away with. When Bertie heard them first he started. His
thought was of pursuit; his impulse was to scramble into an adjoining
field, and to hide behind a hedge. It would be terrible to be
re-captured in the initiatory stage of his journey to the Land of
Golden Dreams.

But his alarm vanished when he turned and looked behind him. The
vehicle approaching contained a friend. Even at that distance he
recognised it as the dog-cart of Mr. George Washington Bankes. The
ungainly-looking beast flying at such a terrific pace along the lonely
road was none other than the redoubtable Mary Anne.

In a remarkably short space of time the vehicle was level with Bertie.
For a moment the boy wondered if he had been recognised; but the doubt
did not linger long, for with startling suddenness Mary Anne was
brought to a halt.

"Hallo! Who's that? Haven't I seen you before? Turn round, you
youngster, and let me see your face. I know the cut of your jib, or
I'm mistaken."

Bertie turned. He looked at Mr. Bankes and Mr. Bankes looked at him.
Mr. George Washington Bankes whistled.

"Whew--w--w, if it isn't the boy who stood up to the lout. What's your
name?"

"Bailey, sir; Bertie Bailey."

"Oh, yes; Bailey! Early hours, Bailey--taking a stroll, eh? What in
thunder brings you here this time of day? I thought good boys like you
were fast asleep in bed."

Bailey looked sheepish, and felt it. There was something in the tone
of Mr. Bankes' voice which was a little trying. Bertie hung his head,
and held his peace.

"Lost your tongue? Poor little dear! Speak up. What are you doing here
this time of day?"

"If you please, sir, I'm running away."

"Running away!"

For a moment Mr. Bankes started. Then he burst into a loud and
continued roar of laughter, which had an effect upon Bertie very
closely resembling that of an extinguisher upon a candle.

"I say, Bailey, what are you running away for?"

Under the circumstances Bertie felt this question cruel. When he had
last seen Mr. Bankes the question had been put the other way. He had
been treated as a poor-spirited young gentleman because he had not run
away already. Plucking up courage, he looked up at his questioner.

"You told me to run away."

The only immediate answer was another roar of laughter. Something very
like tears came into the boy's eyes, and his face assumed that
characteristically sullen expression for which he was famous. This was
not the sort of treatment he had expected.

"You don't mean to say--now look me in the face, youngster--you don't
mean to say that you're running away because I told you to?"

The last words of the question were spoken very deliberately, with a
slight pause between each. Bertie's answer was to the point. He looked
up at Mr. Bankes with that sullen, bull-dog look of his, and said,--

"I do."

"And where do you think you're running to?"

"To the Land of Golden Dreams."

There was a sullen obstinacy about the lad's tone, as though the
confession was extracted from him against his will.

"To the Land of Golden Dreams! Well! Here, you'd better get up. I'll
give you a lift upon the road? and there's a word or two I'd like to
say as we are going."

Bertie climbed up to the speaker's side, and Mary Anne was again in
motion. The swift travelling through the sweet, fresh morning was
pleasant; and as the current of air dashed against his cheeks Bertie's
heart began to re-ascend a little. For some moments not a word was
spoken; but Bertie felt that Mr. Bankes' big black eyes wandered from
Mary Anne to him, and from him to Mary Anne, with a half-mocking,
half-curious expression.

"I say, boy, are any of your family lunatics?"

The question was scarcely courteous. Bertie's lips shut close.

"No."

"Quite sure? Now just you think? Anybody on your mother's side just a
little touched? They say insanity don't spring to a head at once, but
gathers strength through successive generations."

Bailey did not quite understand what was meant; but knowing it was
something not exactly complimentary he held his peace.

"Now--straight out--you don't mean to say you're running away because
I told you to?"

"Yes, I do."

"And for nothing else?"

Bertie paused for a moment to consider.

"I don't know about nothing else, but I shouldn't have thought of it
if you hadn't told me to."

"Then it strikes me the best thing I can do is to turn round and drive
you back again."

"I won't go."

Mr. Bankes laughed. There was such a sullen meaning in the boy's slow
utterance.

"Oh! won't you? What'll you do?"

In an instant Bertie had risen from his seat, and if Mr. Bankes had
not been very quick in putting his arm about him he would have sprung
out upon the road. As it was, Mr. Bankes, taken by surprise, gave an
unintentional tug at the left rein, and had he not corrected his error
with wonderful dexterity Mary Anne would have landed the trap and its
occupants in a convenient ditch.

"Don't you try that on again," said Mr. Bankes, retaining his hold on
the lad.

"Don't you say you'll drive me back again."

"Here's a fighting cock. There have been lunatics in the family--I
know there have. Don't be a little idiot. Sit still."

"Promise you won't drive me back."

"And supposing I won't promise you, what then?"

Bertie's only answer was to give a sudden twist, and before Mr. Bankes
had realized what he intended he had slipped out of his grasp, and was
sprawling on the road. Fortunately the trap had been brought to a
standstill, for had Bertie carried out his original design of
springing out with Mary Anne going at full speed, the probabilities
are that he would have brought his adventures to a final termination
on the spot. Mr. Bankes stared for a moment, and then laughed.

"Well, of all the young ones ever I heard tell of!"

Then, seeing that Bertie had picked himself up, and was preparing to
escape by scrambling through a quickset hedge into a field of uncut
hay--

"Stop!" he cried. "I won't take you back. I promise you upon my honour
I won't. A lad of your kidney's born to be hanged; and if it's hanging
you've made up your mind to, I'm not the man to stop you."

The lad eyed him doubtfully.

"You promise you'll let me do as I please?"

"I swear it, my bantam cock. You shall do as you please, and go where
you please. I can't stop mooning here all day; jump in, and let's be
friends again. I'm square, upon my honour."

The lad resumed his former seat; Mary Anne was once more started.

"Next time you feel it coming on, why, tip me the wink, and I'll pull
up. It's a pity that a neck like yours should be broken before the
proper time; and if you were to jump out while Mary Anne was
travelling like this, why, there'd be nothing left to do but to pick
up the pieces."

As Bertie vouchsafed no answer, after a pause Mr. Bankes went on.

"Now, Bailey, joking aside, what is the place you're making for?"

"I'm going to London."

"London. Got any friends there?"

"No."

"Ever been there before?"

"I've been there with father."

"Know anything about it?"

"I don't know much."

"So I should say, by the build of you. I shouldn't be surprised if you
know more when you come back again--if you ever do come back again, my
bantam. Shall I tell you what generally happens to boys like you who
go up to London without knowing much about it, and without any friends
there? They generally"--Mr. Bankes, as it were, punctuated these
words, laying an emphasis on each--"go under, and they stop under, and
there's an end of them."

He paused; if for a reply, in vain, for there was none from Bailey.

"Do you think London's the Land of Golden Dreams? Well, it is; that's
exactly what it is--it's the Land of Golden Dreams, and the dreams are
short ones, and when you wake from them you're up to your neck in
filth, and you wish that you were dead. For they're nothing else but
dreams, and the reality is dirt, and shame, and want, and misery, and
death."

Again he paused; and again there was no reply from Bertie. "How much
money have you got?"

"One and fivepence."

"Is that all?"

"Yes."

"Well! well! I say nothing, but I think a lot. And do you mean to tell
me that you're off to London with the sum of one shilling and
fivepence in your pocket?"

"You said you ran away with ninepence-halfpenny."

"Well, that's a score! And so I did, but circumstances alter cases,
and that was the foolishest thing that ever I did."

"You said it was the most sensible thing you'd ever done."

"You've a remarkable memory--a remarkable memory; and if you keep it
up you'll improve as you go on. If I said that, I was a liar--I was
the biggest liar that ever lived. I wonder if you could go through the
sort of thing that I have done?"

Mr. Bankes' eyes were again fixed on Bertie, as though he would take
his measure.

"Most men would have been dead a dozen times. I don't know that I
haven't been; I know I've often wished that I could have died just
once--that I could have been wiped clean out. God save you, young one,
from such a life as mine. Pray God to pull you up in time."

Another pause and then--

"What's your plans?"

"I don't know."

"I shouldn't think you did by the look of you. And how long do you
suppose you're going to live, on the sum of one and fivepence?"

"I don't know."

"Well, I should say that with economy you could manage to live two
hours--perhaps a little more, perhaps a little less; that's to say, an
hour before you have your dinner and an hour after. Some could manage
to stretch it out to tea, but you're not one. And when the money's
gone how do you suppose you're going to get some more?"

"I don't know."

"Now don't you think that I'd better turn Mary Anne right round, and
take you back again? You've had a pleasant little drive, you know, and
the morning air's refreshing."

"I won't go, and you promised that you wouldn't."

"You'll wish you had about this time to-morrow; and perhaps a little
before. However, a promise is a promise, so on we go. Know where you
are?"

Bailey did not; Mr. Bankes had turned some sharp corners, and having
left the highroad behind was guiding Mary Anne along a narrow lane in
which there was scarcely room for two vehicles to pass abreast.

"These are the Ember lanes. There's East Molesey right ahead, then the
Thames, then Hampton Court, and then I'll have to leave you. I've come
round this way to stretch the old girl's legs." This was a graceful
allusion to Mary Anne. "My shortest cut would have been across Walton
Bridge, as I'm off to Kempton to see a trial of a horse in which I'm
interested; so when I get to Hampton Court I'll have to go some of my
way back again. Now make up your mind. There isn't much time left to
do it in. Say the word, and I'll take you all the way along with me,
and land you back just where you started. Take a hint, and think a bit
before you speak."

Apparently Bertie took the hint, for it was a moment or two before he
answered.

"I'm not going back."

"Very well. That's the last time of asking, so I wish you joy on your
journey to the Land of the Golden Dreams."



                              Chapter XI

                         THE ORIGINAL BADGER


As Mr. Bankes spoke, Mary Anne dashed over the little bridge which
spans the Mole, and in another second they were passing through East
Molesey. Nothing was said as they raced through the devious village
street. The world in East Molesey was just beginning to think of
waking up. A few labourers were visible, on their road to work. When
they reached the river, some of the watermen were preparing their
boats, putting them ship-shape for the day, and on Tagg's Island there
were signs of life.

Over Hampton Court Bridge flew Mary Anne; past the barracks, where
there were more signs of life, and where Hussars were recommencing the
slightly monotonous routine of a warrior's life, and then the mare was
brought to a sudden standstill at the corner of the green.

"The parting of the ways--you go yours, and I go mine, and I rather
reckon, young one, it won't be long before you wish there'd been no
parting, and we'd both rolled on together. Which way are you going to
London?"

"I thought about going through Kingston."

"All right, you can either go through Bushy Park here, or you can go
Kingston way. But don't let me say a word about the road you go,
especially as it don't seem to me to matter which it is--round by the
North Pole and Timbuctoo for all I care, for you're in no sort of
hurry, and all you want is to get there in the end."

"Can't I get to Kingston by the river?"

"Certainly. You go through the barrack yard there, and through the
little gate which you'll see over at the end on your right, and you'll
be on the towing-path. And then you've only got to follow your nose
and you'll get to Kingston Bridge, and there you are. The nearest is
by Frog's Walk here, along by the walls, but please yourself."

"I'd sooner go by the river."

"All right."

Mr. Bankes put his hand into his trousers pocket, and when he pulled
it out it was full of money.

"Look here, it seems that I've had a hand in this little scrape,
though I'd no more idea you'd swallow every word of what I said than I
had of flying. You're about as fine a bunch of greens as ever I
encountered, and that's the truth. But, anyhow, I had a hand, and as
I'm a partner in the spree I'm not going to sort you all the kicks and
collar all the halfpence. And I tell you"--Mr. Bankes raised his voice
to a very loud key, as though Bailey was arguing the point instead of
sitting perfectly still--"I tell you that for a boy like you to cut
and run with the sum of one and fivepence in his pocket is a thing I'm
not going to stand. No, not on any account, so hold out your hand, you
leather-headed noodle, and pocket this."

Bertie held out his hand, Mr. Bankes counted into it five separate
sovereigns.

"Now sling your hook!"

Before Bertie had a chance to thank him, or even to realize the sudden
windfall he had encountered, Mr. Bankes had caught hold of him, lifted
him bodily from his seat, and placed him on the road. Mary Anne had
started, and the trap was flying past the Cardinal Wolsey, on the
Hampton Road. Left standing there, with the five sovereigns tightly
grasped in his palm, Bailey decided that Mr. Bankes had rather a
sudden way of doing things.

He remained motionless a minute watching the receding trap. Perhaps he
expected, perhaps he hoped, that Mr. Bankes would look round and wave
him a parting greeting; but there was nothing of the kind. In a very
short space of time the trap was out of sight and he was left alone.
Just for that instant, just for that first moment, in which he
realized his solitude, he regretted that he had not acted on his late
companion's advice, and pursued the journey with Mary Anne. Then he
looked at the five pounds he held in his hand.

"Well, here's a go!"

He could scarcely believe his eyes. He took up each of the coins
separately and examined it. Then he placed them in a low on his
extended palm, and stared. Their radiance dazzled him.

"Catch me going back while I've got all this, I should rather like
somebody to see me at it. Five pounds!" Here was a long-drawn
respiration. "Fancy him tipping me five pounds! I call that something
like a tip. Won't I spend it! Just fancy having five pounds to spend
on what you like! Well, I never did!"

"Hallo, you boy, got anything nice to look at?"

Bertie turned. A soldier, in a considerable state of undress, was
standing a few yards behind him, watching his proceedings.

"What's that to you?" asked Bertie.

He put both his hands into his trousers pockets, keeping tight hold on
the precious sovereigns, and turning, walked up the barrack yard. As
he passed, the soldier grinned; but Bertie condescended to pay no
heed.

"If I'd had a fortune left to me, I'd stand a man a drink, if it was
only the price of half a pint."

This was what the soldier shouted after Bertie. One or two of the
troopers who were engaged in various ways, and who were all more or
less undressed, looking very different from the dashing pictures of
military splendour which they would shortly present upon parade,
stared at the boy as he went by, but no one spoke to him.

Once on the towing-path, he turned his face Kingston-wards and
hastened on. These five sovereigns burnt a hole in his pocket. When
his capital had been represented by the sum of one and fivepence he
had been dimly conscious that it would be necessary to be careful in
his outlay. He had even outlined a system of expenditure. But five
pounds!

They represented boundless wealth. He had been once presented by a
grateful patient of his father's with a tip of half a sovereign. That
was the largest sum of which he had ever been in possession at one and
the same time, and no sooner had the donor's back been turned than his
mother had confiscated five shillings of that. She declared that it
was intended the half-sovereign should be divided among his brothers
and sisters, and the five shillings went in the division. But five
pounds! What were five shillings, or even half a sovereign, to five
pounds.

If Mr. George Washington Bankes had desired to dissipate whatever
effect his words of warning might have had he could not have chosen a
surer method. As the possessor of five pounds, Bertie's belief in the
land of golden dreams was stronger than ever. The pieces of golden
money had as good as transported him thither upon the spot.

His spirits rose to boiling-pitch as he walked beside the river. The
sunshine flooded all the world, and danced upon the glancing waters,
and filled his heart with joy. As he looked up, the words, "five
pounds," seemed streaming in radiant golden letters across the sunlit
sky.

Nearly opposite Ditton church he sat down on the grass to revel in his
fancies. The castles which he built, the schemes he schemed, the
future he foretold! No one passing by, and seeing a boy with an
apparently sullen face, sprawling on the grass, would have had the
least conception of the world of imagination in which, at that moment,
he lived and moved, and had his being.

He lay there perhaps more than an hour. He might have lain there even
longer had not two things recalled him to the world of fact. The first
was a growing consciousness that he was hungry; and the other, the
crossing of the ferry. The Ditton ferry-boat made its first
appearance, with two or three young fellows who had seemingly made the
passage with a view of enjoying an early morning bathe on the more
secluded Middlesex side. When they got out, Bertie got in. Not that he
wanted to go to Ditton, nor that he even knew the name of the place
which he saw upon the other side of the water, but that he fancied the
row across the stream. When he was in the boat a thought struck him.

"How much will you row me to Kingston for?"

"I can't take you in this boat, this here's the ferry-boat; but I can
let you have a boat the other side, and a chap to row you, and I'll
take you for--do you want to go there and back?"

"No; I want to stop at Kingston."

"Are you going to the fair there? I hear there's to be a fine fair
this time, and a circus, and all."

Bertie had neither heard of the fair nor of the circus; but the idea
was tempting.

"I shouldn't be surprised if I did go. How much will you row me for?"

The ferryman hesitated. He was probably debating within himself as to
the capacity of the young gentleman's pockets, and also not improbably
as to his capacity for being bled.

"I'll row you there for five shillings."

But Bertie was not quite so verdant as he looked.

"I'll give you eighteenpence."

"Well, you're a cool hand, you are, to offer a man eighteenpence for
what he wants five shillings for. But I don't want to be hard upon a
young gentleman what is a young gentleman. I'll row you there for
four; a man's got to live, you know, and it isn't as though you wanted
a boat to row yourself."

But Bertie was unable to see his way to paying four. Finally a bargain
was struck for half a crown. Then a difficulty occurred as to change,
and Bertie entrusted one of his precious sovereigns to the ferryman to
get changed at the Swan. Then a boat was launched, a lad not very much
older than Bertie was placed in charge, the fare was paid in advance,
and a start was made for Kingston.

By the time they reached that ancient town, Bertie was hungry in
earnest. The walk, the drive, and now the row in the freshness of the
early morning had combined to give him an appetite which, at
Mecklemburg House, would have been regarded with considerable
disapproval. Now, too, the short commons of the day before were
remembered; and as Bertie fingered the money in his pockets he thought
with no slight satisfaction of the good things in the eating and
drinking line which it would buy.

He was landed at his own request on the Middlesex side of Kingston
Bridge, and having generously made the lad who had rowed him richer by
the sum of sixpence, he started, with renewed vigour, to cross the
bridge into the town. No sooner had he crossed than a coffee-shop met
his eye. It was the very thing he wanted. With the air of a capitalist
he entered and ordered a sumptuous repast--coffee, bread and butter,
ham and eggs. Having made a hearty meal,--and a hearty meal was a
subject on which he had ideas of his own, for he followed up the ham
and eggs with half a dozen open tarts and a jam puff or two, buying
half a pound of sweets to eat when he got outside,--he paid the bill
and sallied forth.

It was cattle-market day, and unusual business seemed to be doing. Not
only was the market-place crowded with live stock, but they overflowed
into the neighbouring streets. For the present, Bertie was content to
watch the proceedings. In the position of a capitalist he could travel
to London in state and at his leisure. Just now his mind was running
on what the ferryman had said about the circus and the fair. He could
go to London at any time. It was not a place which was likely to run
away. But circuses and fairs were things which were quick to go, and
once gone were gone for ever. Bertie resolved that he would commence
his journey by seeing both the circus and the fair.

Nor was his resolution weakened by a joyous procession which passed
through the Kingston street.

"BADGER'S ROYAL POPULAR COSMOPOLITAN AND WORLD-FAMED HIPPODROME" was
an imposing title for a circus, but not more imposing than the glories
revealed by that procession.

"_Supported by all the greatest artists in the world chosen from all
the nations of the universe_" was the continuation of the title, and,
judging from the astonishing variety of ladies and gentlemen who rode
the horses, who bestrode the camels, who crowded the triumphal cars,
and who ran along on foot distributing handbills among the crowd, it
really seemed that the statement was justified by fact. There were
Chinamen whose pigtails seemed quite real; there were gentlemen of
colour who seemed warranted to wash; there were individuals with
beards and moustaches of an altogether foreign character; and there
were ladies of the most wondrous and enchanting beauty, dressed in the
most picturesque and amazing styles. Bertie Bailey, at any rate, was
persuaded that it would be absurd for him to think of going on to town
till he had attended at least one performance of Badger's Royal
Popular Cosmopolitan and World-famed Hippodrome.

He followed the procession to the fair field. And there, although it
was not yet noon, the fair was already in full swing. All those
immortal entertainments without which a fair would not be a fair were
liberally provided. There were shows, and shooting galleries, and
bottle-throwing establishments, and seas upon land, and resplendent
roundabouts, and stalls at which were vended goods of the very best
quality; and all those joys and raptures which go to make a fair in
every part of the world in which fairs are known.

But Bertie cared for none of these things. All his soul was fixed upon
the circus. He attended the performance. As befitted a young gentleman
of fortune he occupied a front seat, price two shillings. A
hypercritical spectator might have suggested that the procession had
been the best part of the show. But this was not the case in Bertie's
eyes. He was enraptured with the feats of skill and daring which he
witnessed in the ring. Only one consideration marred his complete
enjoyment. Unfortunately he could not make up his mind whether he
would rather be the gentleman who, disdaining all ordinary modes of
horsemanship, standing upon the backs of two cream-coloured steeds,
with streaming tails, dashed round the ring; or the clown whose
business it was--a business which he seemed to think a pleasure--to
keep the audience in a roar. He was not so much struck by a gentleman
who performed marvels on a flying trapeze; nor by the surefootedness
of a lady who walked upon an "invisible wire,"--which was, in this
case, a rope about the thickness of Bertie's wrist.

But he quite made up his mind that he would be either the clown or the
rider; and that, when he had determined which of these honourable
positions he would prefer to fill, he would lose no time in laying
siege to one of the ladies of the establishment, and to beg her to be
his. But here the same difficulty occurred;--he was not quite certain
which. However, by the time the performance was over, and the audience
was dismissed, on one point he was assured, he would enlist under the
banners of the world-famed Badger. Dick Turpin, Robin Hood, Robinson
Crusoe, Jack the Giant Killer, might do for some folks, but a circus
was the place for him.

When he regained the open air, and had bidden an unwilling adieu to
the sawdust glories, the afternoon was pretty well advanced and the
fair was more crowded than ever. But Bertie could not tear himself
away from Badger's. He hung about the exterior of the tent as though
the neighbourhood was holy ground.

Several other loiterers lingered too; and among them were four or five
men who did not look, to put it gently, as though they belonged to
what are called the upper classes.

"I've half a mind," said Bertie to himself, "to go inside the tent,
and ask Mr. Badger if he wants a boy. But perhaps he wouldn't like to
be troubled when there's no performance on."

Bertie's ideas on circus management were rudimentary. Mr. Badger would
perhaps have looked a little blue to find himself met with such a
request if there had been a performance on.

"What do you think of the circus?"

The question was put by one of the individuals before referred to. He
had apparently given his companions the slip, for they stood a little
distance off, ostentatiously paying no attention to his proceedings.
He was a short man, inclined to stoutness, and Bertie thought he had
the reddest face he had ever seen.

"It's not a bad show, is it? And more it didn't ought to be, for the
amount of money it cost me to put that show together no one wouldn't
believe."

Bertie stared. It dimly occurred to him that it must have cost him all
the money he possessed and so left him nothing to throw away upon his
clothing, for his costume was distinctly shabby. But the stout man
went on affably:--

"I saw you looking round, so I thought as perhaps you took a interest
in these here kind of things. Perhaps you don't know who I am?"

Bertie didn't and said so.

"I'm Badger, the Original Badger. I may say the only Badger as was
ever known,--for all them other Badgers belongs to another branch of
the family."

The Original Badger put his hand to his neck, apparently with the
intention of pulling up his shirt collar, which, however, wasn't
there. Bertie stared still more. The stout man did not by any means
come up to the ideas he had formed of the world-famed Badger.

"You're not the Mr. Badger to whom the circus belongs."

"Ain't I! But I ham, I just ham." The Original Badger's enunciation of
the letter was more emphatic than correct.

"And I should like to see the man who says I hain't! I'd fight that
man either for beer or money either now or any other time, and I
shouldn't care if he was twenty stone. Now look 'ere"--the Original
Badger gave Bertie so hearty a slap upon the back that that young
gentleman tottered--"What I say is this. I wants a well-built young
fellow about your age to learn the riding, and to train for clown, and
I wants that young feller to make his first appearance this day three
weeks. Now what do you say to being that young feller?"

"I don't think I could learn it in three weeks," was all Bertie could
manage to stammer.

"Oh couldn't you? I know better. Now, look 'ere, I'm going to pay that
young feller five and twenty pound a week, and find him in his
clothing. What do you say to that?"

Bertie would have liked to say a good deal, if he could have only
found the words to say it with. Among other things he would probably
have liked to have said that he hoped the clothing which was to
accompany the five and twenty pounds a week would be of a different
sort to that worn by the Original Badger. It would have been a
hazardous experiment to have offered five and twenty pence for the
stout man's costume.

"Now, look 'ere, there's a house I know close by where you and me can
be alone, and we can talk it over. You're just the sort of young
feller I've been looking for. Now come along with me and I'll make
your fortune for you,--you see if I don't."

Before Bertie quite knew what was happening, the stout man had slipped
his arm through his, and was hurrying him through the fair, away from
it, and down some narrow streets which were not of the most
aristocratic appearance. All the time he kept pouring out such a
stream of words that the lad was given no chance to remonstrate, even
if he had had presence of mind enough to do it with. But,
metaphorically, the Original Badger--to use an expression in vulgar
phrase--had knocked him silly.

What exactly happened Bertie never could remember. The Original Badger
led him to a very doubtful looking public-house, and, before he knew
it, the lad was through the door. They did not go into the public bar,
but into a little room beyond. They had scarcely entered when they
were joined by three or four more shabby individuals, whom the
Original Badger greeted as his friends. If Bertie had looked behind he
would have perceived these gentry following close upon his heels all
the time.

"This young gentleman's going to stand something to drink. Now, 'Enery
William, gin cold."

The order was given by the Original Badger to a shrivelled-up
individual without a coat who seemed to act as pot-boy. When this
person disappeared, and Bertie was left alone with the Original Badger
and his friends, he by no means liked the situation. A more unpleasant
looking set of vagabonds could with difficulty be found; and he felt
that if these were the sort of gentry who had to do with circuses a
circus was not the place for him.

The pot-boy re-appeared with a bottle of water, and a tray of glasses
containing gin.

"Two shillings," said the pot-boy.

"All right; the gentleman pays."

"Pay in advance," said the pot-boy.

"Two shillings, captain!"

The Original Badger gave Bertie another of his hearty slaps upon the
back. Bertie felt they were too hearty by half. However, he produced a
florin, with which the pot-boy disappeared, leaving the glasses on the
table.

"I'm going," he said, directly that functionary was gone.

"What, before you've drunk your liquor? You'll never do for a circus,
you won't." Bertie felt he wouldn't. "Why, I've got all that business
to talk over with you. I'm going to engage this young feller in my
circus to do the clowning and the riding for five and twenty pound a
week."

The Original Badger cast what was suspiciously like a wink in the
direction of his friends. One of these friends handed the glasses
round. He lingered a moment with the glass he gave to Bertie before he
filled it half-way up with water, then he held it towards the boy. He
was a tall, sallow-looking ruffian, with ragged whiskers; the sort of
man one would very unwillingly encounter on a lonely road at night.

"Drink that up," he said; "that's the sort of thing for circus
riders."

"I don't want to drink the stuff," said Bertie. "Drink it up, you
fool!"

The lad hesitated a moment, then emptied the glass at a draught. What
happened afterwards he never could describe; for it seemed to him that
no sooner had he drunk the contents than he fell asleep; and as he
sank into slumber he seemed to hear the sound of laughter ringing in
his ears.



                             Chapter XII

                            A "DOSS" HOUSE


When he woke it was dark. He did not know where he was. He opened his
eyes, which were curiously heavy, and thought he was in a dream. He
shut them again, and vainly wondered if he were back at Mecklemburg
House or in his home at Upton. He half expected to hear familiar
voices. Suddenly there was a crash of instruments; he started up,
supporting himself upon his arm, and listened listlessly, still not
quite sure he was not dreaming. It was the crash of the circus band;
they were playing "God Save the Queen."

Something like consciousness returned. He began to understand his
whereabouts. A cool breeze was blowing across his face; he was in the
open air; behind him there was a canvas flapping. It was a tent.
Around him were discords of every kind. It was night; the fair was in
all its glory. He was lying in the fair field.

"Hallo, chappie! coming round again?"

Some one spoke. Looking up, peering through his heavy eyes, he
perceived that a lean, ragged figure was leaning over him.
Sufficiently roused to dislike further companionship with the Original
Badger and his friends, he dragged himself to a sitting posture. The
stranger was a lad, not much, if any, older than himself, some
ragamuffin of the streets.

"Who are you?" asked Bertie.

"Never mind who I am. I've had my eyes on you this ever so long. Ain't
you been a-going it neither. I thought that you was dead. Was it----?"

He gave a suggestive gesture with his hand, as though he emptied a
glass into his mouth. Bertie struggled to his feet.

"I--I don't feel quite well."

"You don't look it neither. Whatever have you been doing of?"

Bertie tried to think. He would like to have left his new
acquaintance. The Original Badger and his friends had been quite
enough for him, but his legs refused their office, and he was perforce
compelled to content himself with standing still. He did not feel
quite such a hero as he had done before.

"Have you lost anything?"

The chance question brought Bertie back to recollection. He put his
hand into his trousers pockets--they were empty. Bewildered, he felt
in the pockets of his waistcoat and of his jacket--they were empty,
too! Some one had relieved him of everything he possessed, down to his
clasp knife and pocket handkerchief. Willie Seymour's one and
fivepence, and Mr. Bankes' five pounds, both alike were gone!

"I've been robbed," he said.

"I shouldn't be surprised but what you had. What do you think is going
to happen to you if you lies for ever so many hours in the middle of
the fair field as if you was dead? How much have you lost?"

"Five pounds."

"Five pounds!--crikey, if you ain't a pretty cove! Are you a-gammoning
me?"

Bertie looked at the lad. A thought struck him. He put out his hand
and took him by the shoulder.

"You've robbed me," he said.

"You leave me alone! who are you touching of? If you don't leave me
alone, I'll make you smart."

"You try it on," said Bertie.

The other tried it on, and with such remarkable celerity, that before
he had realized what had happened, Bertie Bailey lay down flat. The
stranger showed such science that, in his present half comatose
condition, Bailey went down like a log.

"You wouldn't have done that if I'd been all right; and I do believe
you've robbed me."

"Believe away! I ain't, so there! I ain't so much as seen the colour
of your money, and I don't know nothing at all about it. The first I
see of you was about five o'clock. You was a-lying just where you are
now, and I've come and had a look at you a dozen times since. Why, it
must be ten o'clock, for the circus is out, and you ain't woke up only
just this minute. How came you to be lying there?"

"I don't know. I've been robbed, and that's quite enough for me,--my
head is aching fit to split."

"Haven't you got any money left?"

"No, I haven't."

"Where's your home?"

"What's that to you?"

"Well, it ain't much to me, but I should think it's a good deal to
you. If I was you I'd go home."

"Well, you're not me, so I won't."

"All right, matey, it ain't no odds to me. If you likes lying there
till the perlice come and walks you off, it's all the same to me so
far as I'm concerned."

"I've got no money; I've been robbed."

"I tell you what I'll do, I ain't a rich chap, not by no manner of
means, and I never had five pounds to lose, but I've had a stroke of
luck in my small way, and if you really haven't got no home, nor yet
no coin, I don't mind standing in for a bed so far as four pence
goes."

"I don't know what you mean; leave me alone. I've got no money; I've
been robbed."

"So you have, chummy, and that's a fact; so you pick yourself up and
toddle along with me; there ain't no fear of your being robbed again
if you've nothing to lose."

Bertie half resisted the stranger's endeavour to assist him in finding
his feet, but the other managed so dexterously that Bertie found
himself accompanying his new friend with a fair amount of willingness.
The fair was still at its height; the swings were fuller; the
roundabout was driving a roaring trade; the sportsmen in the shooting
gallery were popping away; but all these glories had lost their charm
for Bertie. It seemed to him that it was all a hideous nightmare, from
which he vainly struggled to shake himself free.

Had it not been for occasional assistance, he would more than once
have lost his footing. Something ailed him, but what, he was at a loss
to understand. All the hopes, and vigour, and high spirits of the
morning had disappeared, and with them all his dreams had vanished
too. He was the most miserable young gentleman in Kingston Fair.

He kept up an under current of grumbling all the way, now and then
making feeble efforts to rid himself of his companion; but the
stranger was too wide awake for Bertie to shake him off. Had he been
better acquainted with the town, and in a fit state to realize his
knowledge, he would have been aware that his companion was leading
him, by a series of short cuts, in the direction of the apple-market.
He paused before a tumbledown old house, over the door of which a lamp
was burning. Bertie shrunk away, with some dim recollection of the
establishment into which he had been enticed by the Original Badger
and his friends. At sight of his unwillingness the other only laughed.

"What are you afraid of? This ain't a place in which they'd rob you,
even if you'd got anything worth robbing, which it seems to me you
ain't. This is a doss-house, this is."

So saying he entered the house, the door of which seemed to stand
permanently open. The somewhat reluctant Bertie entered with him. No
one appearing to receive them, the stranger lost no time in informing
the inmates of their arrival.

"Here, Mr. Jenkins, or Mrs. Jenkins, or some one, can I come up?"

In answer to this appeal, a stout lady appeared at the head of a
flight of stairs, which rose almost from the threshold of the door.
Hall there was none. She was not a very cleanly-looking lady, nor had
she the softest of voices.

"Is that you, Sam Slater? Who's that you've got with you?"

"A friend of mine, and that's enough for you."

With this brief response, the stranger, whose name appeared to be Sam
Slater, led the way up the flight of stairs.

"Anybody here?" he asked, when he reached the landing.

"Not at present there ain't; I expect they're all at the fair."

"All the better," said Sam.

He followed the lady through a door which faced the landing, pausing
for a moment to see that Bertie followed too. Something in Bertie's
appearance struck the lady's eye.

"What's the matter with your friend,--ain't he well?" she asked.

"Well, he's not exactly well," responded Sam, favouring Bertie with a
curious glance from the corner of his eye.

A man who was seated by a roaring fire, although the night was warm
and bright, got up and joined the party. He was in his shirt-sleeves,
and he also was stout, and he puffed industriously at a short black
clay pipe. He stood in front of Bertie, and inspected him from head to
foot.

"He don't look exactly well, not by any means he don't."

The stout man grinned. Bertie staggered. The sudden change from the
sweet, fresh air to the hot, close room gave him a sudden qualm. If
the stout man had not caught him he would have fallen to the floor.

"Steady! Where do you think you're coming to? You're a nice young
chap, you are! If I was you I'd turn teetotal."

Sam Slater interfered.

"You don't know anything at all about it; he's not been drinking; he's
been got at, and some one's cleared him of his cash."

"You leave him to me, Jenkins," said the stout lady.

For Bertie had swooned. As easily as though he had been a baby,
instead of being the great lad that he was, she lifted him and carried
him to another room. When he opened his eyes again he found that he
was lying on a brilliantly counterpaned bed. Sam was seated on the
edge, the lady was standing by the side, and Mr. Jenkins, a steaming
tumbler in his hand, was leaning over the rail at his head.

"Better?" inquired the lady, perceiving that his eyes were open.

For answer Bertie sat up and looked about him. It was a little room,
smaller than the other, and cooler, owing to the absence of a fire.

"Take a swig of this; that'll do you good."

Mr. Jenkins held the steaming tumbler towards him. Bertie shrank away.

"It's only peppermint, made with my own hands, so I can guarantee it's
good. A barrel of it wouldn't do you harm. Drink up, sonny!"

Thus urged by the lady, he took the glass and drank. It certainly
revived him, making him feel less dull and heavy; but a curious sense
of excitement came instead. In the state in which he was even
peppermint had a tendency to fly to his head. Perceiving his altered
looks the lady went on,--

"Didn't I tell you it would do you good? Now you feel another man."

Then she continued, in a tone which Bertie, if he had the senses about
him, would have called wheedling--

"Anybody can see that you're a gentleman, and not used to such a place
as this. You are a little gentleman, ain't you now?"

Bertie took another drink before he replied. The steaming hot
peppermint was restoring him to his former heroic state of mind.

"I should think I am a gentleman; I should like to see anybody say I
wasn't."

Either this remark, or the manner of its delivery, made Mr. Jenkins
laugh.

"Oh lor!" he said, "here's a three-foot-sixer!"

"Never mind him, my dear," observed the lady, "he knows no better. I
knows a gentleman when I sees one, and directly I set eyes on you I
says, 'he's a gentleman he is.' And did they rob you of your money?"

"Some one's robbed me of five pounds."

This was not said in quite such a heroic tone as the former remark.
The memory of that five pounds haunted him.

"Poor, dear, young gentleman, think of that now. And was the money
your own, my dear?"

"Whose do you think it was? Do you think I stole it?"

Under the influence of the peppermint, or harassed by the memory of
his loss, Bertie positively scowled at the lady.

"Dear no, young gentlemen never steals. Five pounds! and all his own;
and lost it too! What thieves this world has got! Dear, dear, now."

The lady paused, possibly overcome by her sympathy with the lad's
misfortune. Behind his back she interchanged a glance with Mr.
Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins, apparently wishing to say something, but not
being able to find the words to say it with, put his hand to his mouth
and coughed. Sam Slater stared at Bertie with a look of undisguised
contempt.

"You must be a green hand to let 'em turn you inside out like that. If
I had five pounds--which I ain't never likely to have! more's the
pity--I'd look 'em up and down just once or twice before I'd let 'em
walk off with it like that. I wonder if your mother knows you're out."

"My mother doesn't know anything at all about it; I've run away from
school."

Under ordinary circumstances Bertie would have confined that fact
within his own bosom; now, with some vague idea of impressing his
dignity upon the contemptuous Sam, he blurted it out. Directly the
words were spoken a significant look passed from each of his hearers
to the other.

"Dear, now," said the lady. "Run away from school, have you now?
There's a brave young gentleman; and that there Sam knows nothing at
all about it. It's more than he dare do."

"Never had a school to run away from," murmured Sam.

"Did they use you very bad, my dear?"

"It wasn't because of that; I wouldn't have minded how they used me. I
ran away because I wanted to find the Land of Golden Dreams."

Mr. Jenkins put his hand to his mouth as if to choke what sounded very
like a laugh; Sam stared with a look of the most profound amazement on
his face; a faint smile even flitted across the lady's face.

"The Land of Golden Dreams," said Sam. "Never heard tell of such a
place."

"You never heard tell of nothing," declared the lady. "You ain't a
scholar like this young gentleman. And what's the name of the school,
my dear?"

"Mecklemburg House Collegiate School."

Bertie informed them of the name and title of Mr. Fletcher's
educational establishment with what he intended to be his grandest
air, with a possible intention of impressing them with its splendour.

"There's a mouthful," commented Sam. "Oh my eye!"

The lady's reception of Bertie's information was more courteous.

"There's a beautiful name for a school. And where might it be?"

"It's not very far from Cobham. But I don't live there."

"No, my dear. And where do you live, my lovey?"

The lady became more affectionate in her titles of endearment as she
went on. Mr. Jenkins, leaning over the head of the bed, listened with
all his ears; but on his countenance was a delighted grin.

"I live at Upton."

"Upton," said the lady, and glanced at Mr. Jenkins behind the bed. Mr.
Jenkins winked at her.

"My father's a doctor; he keeps two horses and a carriage; everybody
knows him there; he's the best doctor in the place."

"And is your mother alive, my dear?"

"I should rather think she was, and won't she go it when she knows
I've run away!"

"Dear now, think of that! I shouldn't be surprised if she was very
fond of you, my dear. And I daresay, now, she'd give a deal of money
to any one who told her where you were."

"I should think she would. I daresay she'd give--I daresay she'd
give----" he searched his imagination for the largest sum of which he
could think; he desired to impress his audience with an idea of the
family importance and wealth. "I daresay she'd give a thousand
pounds." His hearers stared. "But she's not likely to know, for
there's no one to tell her."

This statement seemed to tickle Mr. Jenkins and Sam so much, that with
one accord they burst into a roar of laughter. Bertie glowered.

"Never mind them, my lovey; it's their bad manners, they don't know no
better. I'll soon send them away. Now, out you go, going on with your
ridiculous nonsense, and he such a brave young gentleman; I'm ashamed
of you;--get away, the two of you."

Mr. Jenkins and Sam obediently went, stifling their laughter on the
way. But apparently when they were outside they gave free vent to
their sense of humour, for their peals of mirth came through the door.

"Never mind them, my dear; you undress yourself and get into bed, and
have a nice long sleep, and be sure you have a friend in me. My name's
Jenkins, lovey, Eliza Jenkins, and that there silly man's my husband.
By the way, you haven't told me what your name is, my dear."

"My name's Bailey, Bertie Bailey."

"Dear now, and you're the son of the famous Dr. Bailey of Upton. Think
of that now."

She left him to think of it, for immediately after Mrs. Jenkins
followed her husband and Sam. Bertie, left alone, hesitated for a
moment or two as to what he should do. He tried to think, but thought
was just then an exercise beyond his powers. The events of the last
few hours were presented in a sort of kaleidoscopic picture to his
mind's eye. There was nothing clear. He found a difficulty in
realizing where he was. As he looked round the unfamiliar room, with
its scanty furniture, and that of the poorest and most tawdry class,
he found it difficult not to persuade himself that he saw it in a
dream.

All the events of the day seemed to have been the incidents of a
dream. Mecklemburg House seemed to be a house he had seen in a dream.
He seemed to have left it in a dream. That walk along the moonlit road
had been a walk in a dream. He had driven with Mr. George Washington
Bankes in a dream. He had possessed five pounds in a dream; had lost
it in a dream; had been to the circus in a dream; the Original Badger
and his friends were the characters seen in a dream--a dream which had
been the long nightmare of a day.

One thing was certain, he was sleepy; on that point he was clear. He
could hardly keep his eyes open, and his head from sinking on his
breast. As in a dream he lazily undressed; as in a dream he got into
the bed; and once into the bed he was almost instantly wrapped in a
sound and dreamless slumber.

He was awoke by the sound of voices. It seemed to him that he had only
slept five minutes, but it was broad daylight; the sun was shining
into the room, and, almost immediately after he opened his eyes, the
clock of Kingston church struck twelve. It was high noon.

But he was not yet fully roused. He lay in that delicious state of
languor which is neither sleep nor waking. The owners of the voices
were evidently not aware that he was even partially awakened. They
went on talking with perfect absence of restraint, entirely
unsuspicious of there being any listener near. The speakers were Mr.
and Mrs. Jenkins.

"It's all nonsense about the thousand pounds; a thousand pence will be
nearer the thing; but even a thousand pence is not very far off a
five-pound note, and a five-pound note's worth having."

Mr. Jenkins ceased, and Mrs. Jenkins took up the strain. Bertie, lying
in his delightful torpor, heard it all; though he was not at first
conscious that he was himself the theme of his host and hostess's
conversation.

"He says his father keeps two horses and a carriage; he must be tidy
off. If his mother's fond of him, she wouldn't mind paying liberal to
hear his whereabouts. If you goes down and tells her how you took him
in without a penny in his pockets, not so much as fourpence to pay for
his bed--which it's against our rule to take in anybody who doesn't
pay his money in advance--and how he was ill and all, there's no
knowing but what she wouldn't pay you handsome for putting her on his
track and all."

"It's worth trying anyhow. Dr. Bailey, you say, is the name?"

"He says his own name is Bertie Bailey, and his father's name is Dr.
Bailey."

Bertie pricked up his ears at the sound of his name, and began to
wonder.

"And his home is Upton? There don't seem no railway at this here
Upton. Slough seems the nearest station, because I asked them at the
booking office, and there's a tidy bit to walk."

"Don't you walk it. You take a cab and drive. Make out as how there
wasn't no time to lose, and as how you thought the mother's heart was
a longing for her son. Do the thing in style. If there don't nothing
else come of it they'll have to pay your expenses handsome."

"I'm not going all that way for my expenses, so I'll let them know!
They'll have to make it worth my while before I tell them where to lay
their finger on the kid."

Bertie wondered more and more. He still lay motionless, but by now he
was wide awake. It dawned upon him what was the meaning of the
conversation. Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins were apparently about to take
advantage of his incautious frankness to betray him for the sake of a
reward. He had a dim recollection of having blurted out more than he
intended; and, on the strength of the information he had thus
obtained, Mr. Jenkins was going to pay a little visit to his home.

"Don't you be afraid," went on the lady, "I tell you they'll pay up
handsome. You and me, perhaps, wouldn't make much fuss if one of our
young 'uns was to cut and run, but gentlefolks is different. It isn't
likely that a lady can like the thought of a boy of hers knocking
about in the gutter, and trying his luck in the ditch. Just you put
your hat on, and you go straight to this here Upton, and you see if it
isn't the best day's work you've ever done. I'll go fast enough, if
you've not started soon."

Mr. Jenkins did not seem to like this idea at all; his tone was a
little sulky.

"You needn't put yourself out, Eliza; I'm a-going."

"Then why don't you go, instead of standing wool gathering there?"

"You don't know his address. What am I to ask for when I get to this
here Upton?"

"Why, ask for Dr. Bailey; it's only a little place. You'll find he's
as well known as the church clock, and perhaps better."

"And about the boy; what are you going to do when he wakes up?"

"I'll look after him. Don't you trouble your head about the boy;
you'll find him here when you come back as safe as houses."

"All right, Eliza, I'm off; and by to-night, I shouldn't be surprised
if Master Bertie Bailey, Esquire, was returned to his fond parent's
arms."

His tone was jocular; but the expression of his countenance was not
exactly genial when Master Bertie Bailey sat up in bed, as he did at
this identical moment, and looked his host and hostess in the face.



                             Chapter XIII

                          IN PETERSHAM PARK


Bertie looked at Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, and Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins looked
at him, and husband and wife looked at one another.

"And have you had a nice sleep, my dear?"

Bertie vouchsafed no reply to the lady's question, continuing to look
at her with his characteristically dogged look in his eyes.

"And how long have you been awake, my dear? Have you only just now
woke?"

Bertie threw the clothes from off him, and turned to Mr. Jenkins.

"I won't go home, even if you do go and tell my mother, you old
sneak!"

This uncomplimentary epithet was applied to Mr. Jenkins with such
sullen ferocity, that that gentleman started and looked even more
discomfited than he had done before. Bertie got out of bed and stood
upon the floor.

"Give me my clothes, and let me go; you've no right to keep me here."

Mr. Jenkins was apparently speechless, but his quicker-witted wife was
voluble enough.

"Certainly, my dear. No one wants to keep you, lovey. You pay us what
you owe and you're as free as the air!"

"I don't owe you anything."

"Not anything for a young gentleman like you; it's only six shillings,
my dear."

"Six shillings!"

"Yes, six shillings. Would you like your bill, my dear? Jenkins, go
and get the young gentleman his bill."

"You're a lot of thieves!"

"Oh, thieves are we? Very well, if you like to think us so, my dear.
But I shouldn't have thought that a young gentleman like you would
have liked to rob poor people of the money he owes for his board and
lodging. And if you talk about thieves, my dear, Jenkins will go for a
policeman, and a policeman will soon show you who's the thief, if you
don't pay us what you owe, my lovey. And I shouldn't be surprised if,
when he heard as how you'd runned away, the policeman wasn't to take
and lock you up at once, my pet. Now, Jenkins, you come along with me,
and while I makes up the young gentleman's bill you go and fetch a
policeman, because as he thinks we're thieves, he do."

While the lady delivered herself of this voluble string of
observations she had gradually approached the door. Before Bertie had
perceived her design, she had pushed her husband through the door, and
was through herself; the door was shut, the key turned in the lock,
and Bertie was a prisoner.

"Now we'll see who's thieves!" the lady was heard to observe outside.
"Now, Jenkins, you go and get a policeman this instant minute, and
mind you bring a good big one, too!"

Very few boys would be so foolish as to, what is rather erroneously
termed run away; sneak away would perhaps be the correct phrase. If in
any given million we were to put it that there is one such being, we
should perhaps be stating a larger average than actually exists. But
we may be pretty sure, that for even that young gentleman the
adventures which had befallen Bertie Bailey at the very outset would
have been quite sufficient; he would have devoted the small remainder
of his energies to running, _i.e_., sneaking, back again.

But Bertie Bailey was made of sterner stuff; he was of those young
gentlemen who have to learn their lessons a good many times over
before they can get the meaning of what they have learnt into their
heads. Those who reach the end of this story will find that he did
learn his lesson to the end, and that it was a terrible lesson too,
but the ending was not yet.

So soon as he understood that he was a prisoner, Bertie cast about for
some method of escape. In his heart he could not but allow that the
commencement of his journey had not been so successful as he had
intended that it should be. But he was naturally slow to admit a
failure. And to think that the ingenious Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins should
make capital out of his misfortunes; that was an idea he by no means
relished.

Fortunately, the lady had left his clothes behind. It occurred to
Bertie that she might perceive her error and return to fetch them. To
prevent any likelihood of that he put them on. Then he looked about to
find a path to freedom.

The window immediately caught his eye. It was a very little one, in
the fashion of a double lattice, which opened outwards. But Bertie
resolved that it was large enough for him. He opened it carefully and
peeped out. It was apparently a window at the side of the house,
looking out upon a narrow passage-way.

Had Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins known the character of their guest, they
would never have been so foolish as to think the bird was safe while
he had the command of that convenient window. It was only some ten or
twelve feet above the ground, and to Bertie the drop was nothing.

He lost no time in putting it to the test. First peering up and down
the narrow passage, to see that no one was in sight and that no other
window commanded a view of his operations, he brought the only chair
the room contained up to the window and commenced to climb through it,
feet foremost. The operation was a delicate one, but the size of the
window precluded any other mode of egress. Even as it was, when he was
about half way through he discovered that he was stuck fast. For a few
disagreeable moments he feared that he would have to remain in that
uncomfortable position till Mrs. Jenkins returned to secure her prey.

He wriggled and twisted, but for a time in vain. Suddenly, however, he
did more than he intended; for the result of a desperate effort was to
precipitate him so rapidly backwards that he was only just able to
grasp the old-fashioned, narrow, wooden window sill with his right
hand in time to prevent himself from falling in a heap upon the
ground. He hung for a second, to give himself chance to recover from
the shock, then he loosened his hold, and, dropping, alighted on his
feet upon the ground; and no sooner was he on the ground than, without
waiting to see if there was any one about, he dashed helter skelter
down the passage at the top of his speed.

He was not pursued. On that point his mind was soon at rest. Mr. and
Mrs. Jenkins were probably too much engaged with other matters to
think of the possibility of their guest effecting his escape. The
passage led, by a succession of devious turnings, into the Richmond
Road. When he reached the main thoroughfare Bertie ceased to run.

Under the railway arch, past the shops, past the cricket field, into
the lanes beyond, went Bertie. He had had nothing to eat that morning,
he had not a farthing in his pocket; he had no conception where money
was to come from unless it tumbled from the skies; yet he went
unhesitatingly forward, as though all the world was at his feet, and
all its wealth was in his pocket.

Past Ham Common into Petersham, and now he began to think that perhaps
he was a little hungry. Delicious recollections of the morning meal of
yesterday floated through his mind. A dish of ham and eggs he would
have welcomed as a dish worthy of the gods; but there were no ham and
eggs for him just then.

The road was dusty; the previous rains had disappeared, and the mud
was turned to dust. By the time he reached Bute House he had made up
his mind that the dust and heat combined were a little more than he
quite relished. By then, too, he had no doubt but that he was hungry
and thirsty too.

Suddenly the sound of voices fell upon his ear; of children's voices,
of their laughter, of their cries of pleasure as they called to one
another. He looked through the rails into Petersham Park. The park was
full of children. There was some huge school treat, and in hundreds
they were passing here and there. Up the hill, and along the valley,
among the trees, and in the nooks and dells, as far as the eye could
penetrate, there were children moving. He entered, and advancing some
distance from the outer wall, he lay down upon the grass.

When he had lain there some time there were races started. Little boys
and big raced for prizes. Those in charge of the multitude of children
arranged the sports.

"Here's a race for a shilling!" shouted one such person in authority.
He held a leather bag above his head. There was a shout from the boys
who crowded round him. The prize was of unusual magnitude. All the
prizes seemed to be in money,--twopence, threepence, fourpence had
been their value until now--and no sooner were they won than the
winners rushed to spend their prizes at the stalls of fruit and
sweets, the proprietors of which plied a roaring trade. When the race
for a shilling was announced there was a shout from a multitude of
throats.

"Now then, why don't you have a try to win? you're big enough. Lying
there as if you're half asleep; jump up, and show them how fast your
feet can travel!"

A young man was standing by Bertie, looking down at him, evidently
unaware that he was not an original member of the noisy crowd.

"Jump up! Why don't you go in for the race? Are you ill?"

"I'm not ill."

Without another word Bertie got up and joined the host of boys who
were preparing to run. There were probably a hundred, and the
directors of the sports had considerable difficulty in arranging a
fair start. The race was confined to the bigger ones; there were no
starts allowed, and they were all supposed to start from the same
line. But the competitors had not the nicest sense of honour, and each
endeavoured to steal a yard from his friend. Finally they were got
into something like a proper line.

The distance to be run was about two hundred yards. The course was not
a very regular one, as some were up the hill, and some were down; the
breadth of the level ground was not sufficient to contain them all.
Two persons stood in a line to mark the winning-post, and between them
they stretched a cord. The one on the right held the shilling in a
bag.

Several false starts were made. In their anxiety to be first the
competitors could not manage to stand still. Half a dozen times they
broke away, and had to be called back again. At last they were off.
The course was from the park and towards the road, the winning-post
being about a dozen yards from the school house at the gate.

The race was short, and, so far as the majority of the competitors
were concerned, by no means sharp. Quite a third were out of it in the
first six yards; half the remainder were beaten in a dozen, and before
half the distance was covered there were only four or five who had a
chance of winning. Among these was Bailey. He was not over fast on his
feet as a rule, but never had the inducement to make the best possible
speed been so strong before. He was running for his dinner, and, for
all he knew, his tea and supper too.

In the last fifty yards the race resolved itself into a struggle of
three. In front was a tall, lanky boy, who, so far as length of limb
was concerned, ought to have left the others at the post. But his
condition was not equal to his build; he went puffing and panting
along. Obviously it would take him all he knew to last it out. About a
couple of yards behind him, and almost side by side with Bertie, was a
slightly-built lad, who was straining every nerve to keep his place.
The freshest of the three was Bailey.

Yet the lanky youth looked like winning. He lumbered and blundered
along, but his long legs enabled him to cover at a single stride the
ground which they had to take two steps to cover. The boy by Bertie's
side had just given up the struggle with a gasp, when the lanky lad
caught his foot in a hole and went headlong to the ground. Like a
flash Bertie put on a spurt and dashed victorious in. The prize-holder
held out the leather bag, and Bertie caught it as he passed.

But the lanky youth, disappointed in his expectations, having puffed
himself for nothing, beheld the reward of his endeavours snatched from
his grasp with a burning sense of injury. Struggling to his feet he
gave his emotions words.

"It ain't fair! Who's he? He ain't one of us! He's a stranger!"

Instantly the words were caught up by a host of disappointed
competitors.

"He's a stranger! What's he want running races along with us? and
winning of the prizes?"

The individual who had so hastily yielded up the reward of victory,
turned to Bertie.

"Aren't you one of our boys?"

But Bertie did not wait to give an answer. The shilling of which he
had gained possession meant so much to him, that he instinctively felt
that to wait to explain exactly who he was would be a waste of time.
He had been told to run, he had run, he had fairly won, he had been
handed the shilling as his by right; it meant dinner, supper,
everything to him; he was not going to stop to argue the point as to
who he was. So when the over hasty-individual put the question to him,
his only answer was to take to his heels and run.

Instantly a crowd was after him.

"Stop him! stop him! He's a stranger! He's not one of us!"

But if he had run fast before, he ran faster now. He was through the
gate before any one was near him, dashing across the road, and under
the shadow of the "Star and Garter."

But the chase was relinquished almost as soon as it was begun. The
person who had held the shilling stopped it.

"Never mind, boys; he won the race, so let him take the prize. Perhaps
he wants it more than we do. I daresay we can find another shilling,
and next time we'll be a little more particular."

The crowd returned into the park again.

Bertie pursued his way. When he saw that the chase had stopped he
slowed a little, soon contenting himself with rapid walking. He was
very hot; the perspiration stood in great beads upon his face; his
clothing had an inclination to stick to his limbs. And he was very
thirsty; his throat was parched and dry. He was hungry too; his long
abstinence began to tell; he felt he could not go much farther without
something to eat and drink.

Along the Lower Road, past Petersham fields, past Buccleuch House,
into Richmond town. The town was crowded. The afternoon was well
advanced. The fine weather had brought people out into the streets.
Hill Street and George Street were crowded with both pedestrians and
carriages. Richmond can be both gay and lovely on a sunny afternoon.
It was then. The untidy, dusty, perspiring boy looked out of place
in that big bright crowd, made up as it was for the most part of
well-dressed people.

Once or twice he stopped and looked into the confectioners' shops, but
from their appearance they were evidently beyond his means. If he had
only been still the possessor of five pounds he might have ruffled
it with the best of them, but a shilling would not go far in those
well-filled emporiums of confectionery and nice-looking but
unsubstantial odds and ends, and he so hungry too. He was beginning to
fear that Richmond was not the place for him, and that he would have
to go hungry and thirsty, when he reached the coffee palace in the Kew
Road.

Here he thought he might venture in; and he did. He had a bloater and
some bread-and-butter, and a cup of coffee, and there was not much
change left in his pocket after that. But it was a sufficiently hearty
meal, and the choice of materials did credit to his judgment. He left
the shop with his hunger satisfied, feeling brighter and fresher
altogether, and with fivepence in his pocket clutched tightly with his
right hand. Those coppers were exceeding precious in his eyes.

He set out to walk to London. He knew that Richmond was not very far
from London, and had a general idea that he had to keep straight on.
He had lingered over his meal, taking his time and resting, and
watching the other customers enjoying theirs, so that it was about six
o'clock when he rose and went. A curious spirit of adventure possessed
him still. The bull-dog nature of the boy was roused, and it was with
an implicit faith in the future that he went straight on.

Until he reached Kew Bridge all was easy sailing; there was a straight
road, and he went straight on. But at Kew Bridge he pulled up,
puzzled. He had crossed the river at Hampton Court, and again at
Kingston, and apparently here was another bridge to cross. It seemed
to him that things were getting mixed. Ignorant of the convolutions of
the Thames, of its manifold twists and turns, he began to wonder
whether he had not after all gone wrong, when he found the river in
front of him again.

By the bridge lingered two or three of the flower-sellers who haunt
the neighbourhood of Kew Gardens. He addressed himself to one of them.

"Am I right for London?"

"Of course you is, over the bridge, turn to the right, and go straight
on. Won't you buy a bookay? Only this one left; ain't sold none all
day,--flowers only just fresh,--only sixpence, sir."

The man kept up by Bertie's side, supported by one or two of his
colleagues, proffering their wares.

"I haven't any money."

"Don't say that, sir,--I'm a poor chap, sir,--I am indeed, sir,--very
'ard to stand all day and not sell nothing--just this one, sir--you
shall have it for fivepence."

"I tell you I haven't any money."

"Leave the gentleman alone, Bill. Don't you see he's a-going home to
his ma?"

His colleagues dropped off, firing a parting shot; but the man whom
Bertie had originally addressed kept steadily on, sticking close to
his side. They crossed the bridge together. The sun was beginning to
go home in the west, majestically enthroned in a bank of crimson
clouds. The waters were tinted by his departing rays.

"Just this one, sir--take pity on a poor chap, now do, sir--you've got
a nice home to go to, and a ma and all, and here's me, what hasn't
earned a copper all the day, with nothing to eat and drink, and not a
bed to lay me 'ead upon--buy this one, sir--you shall have it for
fourpence."

"I haven't any money."

They went down the bridge together, the man still sticking to Bertie's
side.

"If I was a gentleman, and a poor chap came to me, and asked me to buy
a bookay, I wouldn't tell him I'd got no money, and me a hard-working
chap what hasn't tasted food for a couple of days, and hasn't seen a
bed for a week--just this one, sir--you shall have it for threepence,
and that's less than it cost me, it is indeed, sir--won't you have it
for threepence?"

"I tell you I haven't any money."

The man stopped, allowing Bertie to wend his way alone, but his voice
still followed after.

"Oh, you haven't any money, haven't you? would you like me to lend you
half-a-crown or a suvering? I'm sure I'm game. 'Ow much does your ma
allow you a week? a hapenny and a smack on the 'ead? If I was you I'd
ask your nurse to take you out in the pram, and buy you lollipops,--go
on, you mealy-faced young 'umbug!"

Bertie almost wished he had not asked the way, but had been content to
blunder on unaided. The flower-seller's voice was peculiarly audible;
the passers by were more amused than Bertie was. It was his first
experience of the characteristic eloquence of a certain class of
Londoner; he would have been content if it had been his last. He went
on, feeling somewhat smaller in his own esteem.

Past the "Star and Garter," along the Kew road, never a very cheerful
thoroughfare. Bertie thought it particularly cheerless then. Through
Gunnersbury, and Chiswick, and Turnham Green, past the green itself,
past Duke's Avenue, which is already a caricature of its former self,
and threatens to be an avenue no more. Past where, not so very long
ago, the toll bar used to stand, though there is no memorial of its
presence now. Past the carriage manufactory; past the terminus of that
singular railway which boasts of a single carriage and a single
engine,--said railway being two if not three miles long. Into King
Street, Hammersmith, and when he had got so far upon his journey the
lad began to tire.

The evening was closing in. The lamps were lighted; the shops were
ablaze with gas; the streets were crowded. But Bertie did not know
where he was; he was standing on strange ground. He wondered, rather
wearily, if this were London; but after his recent experience with the
vendor of bouquets he was afraid to ask. He was hungry again, and
began to look into the shop windows with anxious eyes. Fivepence would
not go far.

He tramped wearily on, right through King Street. At a costermonger's
stall he bought a pennyworth of apples, and munched them as he went.
His capital was now reduced to fourpence, and night was come, and he
was on the threshold of the great city--that Land of Golden Dreams.



                             Chapter XIV

                              IN TROUBLE


Through the Broadway, along the Hammersmith Road, on, and on, and on.
Every step he took made the next seem harder. He was conscious that he
could hardly walk much more. The crowd, the lights, the strangeness of
the place, confused him. He wondered where he was. Was this London?
and was it nothing else but streets? and was this the Land of Golden
Dreams?

When he reached the Cedars, where the great pile of school buildings
is now standing, he saw, peering through the railings, a little arab
of the streets. To him he applied for information.

"Is this London?"

The urchin withdrew his head from between the two iron rails through
which he had managed to squeeze it, and eyed his questioner. He was a
little lad, smaller than Bertie, hatless, shoeless, in a ragged pair
of trousers which were several sizes too large for him, and which were
rolled up in a bunch about his ankles to enable him to put his feet
far enough through to touch the ground.

"What, this? this 'ere? no, this ain't London."

"How far is it then?"

"How far is it? what, London? It just depends what part of London
might you be wanting?"

"Any part; I don't care."

The urchin whistled. His small, keen eyes had been reading his
questioner all the time, and Bertie was conscious of a sense of
discomfort as he observed the curious gaze. In some odd way he felt
that this little lad was bigger and stronger, and older than himself;
that he looked down at him, as it were, from a height.

"Say, matey, where might you be going to? You don't look as though you
knowed your way about, not much, you don't."

The cool tone of superiority irritated Bertie. Tired and weary as he
was, and a little sick at heart, he was not going to allow a little
shrimp like this to look down on him.

"If you won't tell me the way, why, that's enough. I don't want any of
your cheek."

Bertie moved on, but the other called after him.

"You needn't turn rusty, you needn't; I didn't mean no harm. I'm going
to London, I am, and if you like you can come along o' me."

The urchin was by his side again. Bertie looked at him with disgusted
eyes. He had not set out upon his journey with the intention of
travelling with such tag-rag and bobtail as this lad. So far the
society into which he had fallen had been of an unfortunate kind; he
had had enough of Sam Slater, and of Sam Slater's sort.

"I'm not going with you; I'm going by myself."

"Alright, matey, every bloke's free to choose his pals."

The urchin turned a series of catherine-wheels right under Bertie's
nose. Then, with a whistle of unearthly shrillness, he set off
running, and disappeared into the night. Bertie was left no wiser than
before.

He dragged along till he reached Addison Road A gentleman in evening
dress came across the road, smoking a cigar. He was of middle age,
irreproachably attired, with nothing of Sam Slater about him.

"If you please, sir, can you tell me how far it is to London?"

The gentleman stopped short, puffing at his cigar.

"What's that?"

Bertie repeated his inquiry. For answer, the gentleman took him by the
shoulder, led him to a neighbouring lamp-post, and looked him in the
face.

"What are you doing here? You look respectable; you're from the
country, aren't you?"

Bertie hesitated; he remembered the effect produced by his incautious
frankness on Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins.

"Speak up; you have got a tongue, haven't you? What are you doing
here? run away from home?"

The lad, giving a sudden twist, freed himself from the gentleman's
grasp, and ran off as fast as his legs could carry him. The stranger,
puffing at his cigar as he stood under the lamp-post, laughed as he
peered after the retreating boy. But Bertie, despite his weariness,
still ran on. He dimly wondered, whether he bore about with him some
outward sign by which any one could tell he was a runaway. He made up
his mind that he would ask no more questions if he ran the risk of
meeting such home thrusts in reply.

He wandered onwards till he reached Kensington Gardens, and then the
Albert Hall. There was a concert going on, and the place was all lit
up. He stared with amazement at the enormous building, imperfectly
revealed in the darkness of the night. Carriages and cabs were going
to and fro. Some one touched him on the shoulder. It was a gorgeous
footman, with powdered hair, in splendid livery. His magnificence
dazzled him.

"I say, you boy, do you know Thurloe Square?"

"No, sir."

"What do you mean? are you gettin' at me? You take a message for me to
Thurloe Square, and there'll be a bob when you get there."

"But I don't know Thurloe Square; I'm a stranger, sir."

"A stranger, are you? Then what do you mean by standing there, as
though you was born just over the way? Get on out of it! I shouldn't
be surprised if you was after pockethandkerchiefs;--what's your little
lay? I'll tell the policeman to keep an eye on you, telling me you
don't know Thurloe Square;--oh yes, I jest dersay!"

The footman appeared to be angry; Bertie slunk away. He crossed the
road to the park; a gate was open; people were going in and out. He
entered too. It looked quiet inside; perhaps there was grass to sit
upon. He went up towards the Serpentine, and had not gone far when he
came to a seat. On this he sat. Never was seat more welcome; it was
ecstasy to rest. He was dimly conscious of what was going on; before
he knew it he was fast asleep.

Time passed; still he slept. A perfect sleep untroubled by dreams.
Some one else approached the seat, some one in the last stage of
raggedness, so exhausted that he seemed hardly able to drag one foot
behind the other. He, too, sat down; he, too, fell fast asleep.

Some one else approached,--a woman with a baby and a watercress
basket. The baby was crying faintly; the woman tried to comfort it,
speaking to in a droning monotone:

"I've nothing to give you, bairn," she said; "I've nothing to give
you, bairn! God help us all!"

A policeman came along. When he reached the seat he stopped, and
flashed the bull's-eye lantern in the faces of the sleepers. The woman
woke up instantly, perhaps used to such a visitation.

"I'm going, sir; I only sat down for a moment to rest awhile."

The baby began to cry again.

"I've nothing to give you, bairn," she said; "I've nothing to give
you, bairn! God help us all!"

It seemed to be a stereotyped form of speech. She got up, with the
baby and her basket, and walked away, the baby crying as she went. The
policeman remained behind, flashing his bull's-eye.

"Now then, this won't do, you know; wake up, you two."

He took the ragged sleeper by the shoulder, and shook him; he seemed
to wake in a kind of stupor, and staggered off without a word. The
policeman turned to Bertie.

"Now then!"

The lad woke with a start; he thought some one was playing tricks with
him.

"What do you want?"

"I want you to clear out of this, that's what I want."

Opening his eyes Bertie was for a moment dazzled by the glaring light;
then he saw at the back the policeman's form, looming grim and awful.
Possessed by a sudden fear, he sprang to his feet, and ran as for his
life.

"Now I wonder what you've been up to?" murmured the policeman. "I
don't remember seeing your face before; I should say you was a new
hand, you was."

Bertie ran, without knowing where he was running to; across the road,
under a rail. He found himself upon the grass. It was quite dark,
mysterious, strange. He could hardly be followed there, so he thought
at least, and strolled more slowly on. But he was very tired still,
and, yielding to his weariness, when he had gone a little farther, he
sat down upon the grass to rest.

And this was the Land of Golden Dreams! this was his entrance into the
promised land! A gentle breeze murmured through the night; there was a
sound as of rippling grass and of rustling leaves; he could see no
stars; a heavy dew was falling; the grass was damp; it was chilly; the
breeze blew cold; he shivered with hunger and with cold. His head was
nodding on his breast; almost unconsciously he lay full length upon
the sodden grass, and again fell fast asleep.

But this time it was not a dreamless slumber; it was a continued
nightmare. He was oppressed with horrid visions, with continuous
strugglings against hideous forms of terror. Unrefreshed he woke. It
was broad day; but there had come a sudden change of weather, the
skies were overcast and dull. His limbs were aching; he was stiff, and
wet, and cold; he was soaked to the skin; his clothes stuck to his
body. Shivering, he struggled to his feet, rising with pain. The place
was deserted. Three was a solitary horseman in the distance; the
horseman and the lad were the only living things in sight.

It began to drizzle; the wind had risen; it whistled in the air. The
fine weather had departed as though never to return. Bertie's teeth
were chattering; he felt dull and stupid, ignorant of what he ought to
do.

He began walking through the rain across the grass. How cold he was,
and oh! how hungry. He must have something to eat, and something warm
to drink. He thought of his money; he felt for his fourpence; it was
gone!

The discovery stunned him. He could not realize the fact at once, but
searched in each of his pockets laboriously, one after the other. He
turned them inside out; felt for holes through which it might have
fallen. He remembered that he had put it in the right hand pocket of
his trousers; he examined it again and again, in a sort of stupor. In
vain; it was gone!

He retraced his steps. It might have fallen out of his pockets in the
night; he fell upon his knees and searched. There was no sign of it
about. He was without a sou, and he was so hungry and so cold, and it
was raining, and he was wet to the skin.

He could not realize his loss. He wandered stupidly on, stopping at
times, feeling in his pockets again and again. It could not be gone.
But there was no money there. This was his Land of Golden Dreams; this
was the object of his journey; this was the result of his dash into
the world; he was cold, and he was hungry, and he saw no signs of
anything to eat.

At last he left the park behind. He went out by the Piccadilly gate,
as miserable a figure as any to be seen, stained with mud, soaked with
wet, hungry and forlorn. It was early. The early omnibuses were
bringing crowds of business men to town. The drivers were muffled in
their mackintoshes, the outside passengers crouched beneath their
umbrellas. Everything and every one looked cold, and miserable, and
wet; Bertie looked worst of all, for he looked hungry too.

How hungry! There had been moments at Mecklemburg House when hunger
had made itself felt, but never hunger such as this. The very worst
meal Mr. Fletcher had ever set before his pupils--and his system of
dietary was not his strongest point--Bertie would have welcomed as a
feast. Even a dry crust of stale bread would have been welcome; a cup
of the wishy-washiest tea would have been nectar of the gods.

He was footsore too. As he wandered by the Piccadilly mansions and
approached the shops, he became conscious that his feet were
blistered. It was a discomfort to be obliged to put them to the
ground. His right foot, in particular, had a blister on the heel, and
another on the ball of the foot. It seemed to him that every moment
these were getting larger. He would have liked to have taken his boot
and sock off and examine his injuries. He was aware, too, that he was
dirty; more than two days had passed since he had come in contact with
soap and water. Once upon a time he had had a vague idea that it was a
glorious sport of the heroic character to be dirty; now he would have
liked to have had a wash. But he could neither wash nor examine his
feet in the middle of Piccadilly.

The presence of the shops caused him an additional pang. The display
of costly goods in their windows seemed to add to his misery. Even the
possession of his fourpence, as compared to the value of such
treasures, would have placed him at a disadvantage.

But without it he was poor indeed. He was fascinated by the fruit
shops; all the fruits of the earth, those in season and those out,
seemed gathered there. He glued his nose to the window and looked and
longed.

"Now then, what are you doing there? move on out of that!"

A policeman, in a shiny cape, from which the wet was dripping, roughly
shouldered him on. He was not even allowed to look. This was not at
all the sort of thing he had expected. His idea of his entry into the
great city had been altogether different. He was to come as the king
of boys, if not of men; as something remarkable, as a heaven-born
conqueror; something to be talked of; the centre of all eyes directly
he was seen. To sleep upon the sodden grass, to be penniless, cold,
wet, and hungry, to be shouldered by policemen, to be bidden to move
on, these things had not entered into his calculations when that night
at Mecklemburg House he had dreamed those golden dreams.

He struggled on; his feet became more painful; he was limping; rest he
must. He turned down a bye-street, and then down a friendly entry, and
leaned against the wall. Was this what he had come for, to lean in the
rain against a wall, and to be thankful for the chance of leaning? He
had not read in lives of Robin Hood, and Turpin, and Crusoe, and Jack
the Giant-Killer, of episodes like this. But then, perhaps, his
acquaintance with the histories of those gentlemen was not so perfect
as it might have been.

Suddenly he heard the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps. Some one
was coming along the side-street as though racing for his life. A lad
about his own age came darting round the corner in such terrific haste
that he almost ran into Bertie's arms.

"Catch hold! here's a present for you."

The runner gasped out the words, without pausing in his flight. Like
an arrow from a bow he darted on, leaving Bertie standing there. To
his amazement Bailey found that he had thrust something in his hand;
his surprise was intensified when he discovered what it was,--it was a
purse. The runner had turned another corner and was already out of
sight.

Bertie, in his bewilderment, could do nothing else but gaze. Such
unexpected generosity, coming at such a moment, was so astonishing
that it was almost as though the gift had fallen from the skies. A
good fat purse! It was like the stories after all. He could feel that
it was heavy; he almost thought that he could feel that it was full.
Suppose it were full of gold! Had it fallen from the skies?

All this occupied an instant. The next he was conscious that some one
else was coming up the street; apparently some one else in equal
haste; apparently more than one. Cries rang in his ears; he could not
quite distinguish the words which were shouted, but at their sound,
for some reason, a cold chill went down his back.

Some one came round the corner; some one who seized him as though he
were some wild thing.

"Got you, have I! thought you'd double, did you, and slip out when I'd
run past? Artful, but it didn't quite do,--not this time, at any
rate."

His captor shook him as a terrier shakes a rat. It was a policeman, a
huge, bearded fellow, six feet high. Bertie was like a plaything in
his hands. On hearing some one coming, the boy, without any thought of
what he was doing, had slipped the hand which held the purse behind
his back. The policeman was down on it at once.

"What's that you've got there?"

He twisted the boy round, revealing the hand which held the purse. He
took it away.

"Oh, that's it, is it? You hadn't got time to throw it away, I
suppose, or perhaps you thought it was too good to lose--worth running
a little risk for, eh? Well, you've run the risk just once too often."

By this time others had come into the entry, and now Bertie recognised
the words which he had heard. What they had been shouting was, "Stop
thief!"

The new comers showed a lively interest in the captive. A man, who
looked like a respectable mechanic, reckoned him up.

"That's not the boy," he said.

"Oh, isn't it? It doesn't look like it, not when he was hiding here,
and holding the purse in his hand!"

The policeman held up the purse with an air of smiling scorn.

"Had he got the purse? Well, whether he had or whether he hadn't, all
I can say is he isn't the boy who took it; I'm willing to take my oath
to that. He was a different-looking sort of boy altogether, and I was
standing as close to him as I am to you."

"I never took the purse," said Bertie, with dogged lips and dogged
eyes. He realized that great trouble had come upon him, as he writhed
and twisted in the policeman's hand. "It was given to me."

"Yes, I daresay, and by a particular friend, no doubt. You come along
with me, my lad, and tell that tale elsewhere."

The policeman began to drag the lad along the entry.

"The boy will go quietly, I daresay, if you give him a chance,"
observed the man who had previously spoken. "However it may be about
the purse being found upon him, I'm prepared to prove that that's not
the boy who took it."

"Well, you can come and give your evidence, can't you? It's no good
standing arguing here; the lad had got the purse, and I've got the
lad, and that's quite enough for me."

"Where are you going to take him to?"

"Marlborough Street Police Court."

"All right, I'll come round and say what I've got to say. My name's
William Standing,--I'm a picture framer; I'll go and tell my governor
where I'm off to, and I'll be there as soon as you are."

The man walked away. The policeman proceeded to haul Bertie off with
him again. The boy was speechless. He was tired, his feet were sore;
the policeman's pace was almost more than he could manage. In
consequence, every now and then he received a jerk, which all but
pitched him forward on his nose.

"Why don't you leave the boy alone?" inquired a man in the little
crowd, which walked alongside in a sort of procession, whose ideas of
a policeman's duty were apparently vague. "He ain't done no 'arm to
you."

"Why, bless yer, if it wasn't for them little 'uns them policemen
would have no one to collar; they daren't lay a finger on a man of
your build, old pal."

This remark, from another member of the crowd, produced a laugh. The
original speaker was a diminutive specimen of his kind, whom the
policeman could have carried in his arms with the greatest of ease.

When they regained Piccadilly they came upon the victim of the
robbery. This was a portly, middle-aged female, who was a pleasant
combination of mackintoshes and agitation. She was the centre of an
interested circle, into whose sympathetic ears she was pouring her
tale of woe. The arrival of the policeman with his captive created a
diversion.

"Is this the boy?" inquired the constable.

"Have you got my purse?" replied the lady. "It contained thirty-seven
pounds, fifteen shillings, and threepence, in two ten pound notes, two
fives,--I've got the numbers in my purse,--seven pounds in gold, four
of them half-sovereigns, fifteen shillings in silver, and a threepenny
bit; and whatever I shall do without it I don't know. I'm the landlady
of the 'Rising Sun,' and I was going to pay my wine-merchant's bill,
and I said to my daughter only this morning, 'Take all that money
loose I didn't ought to do. No, Mary Ann, a cheque it ought to be.'
But Mary Ann's that flighty, though she's in her thirties, though
twenty-two she tries to pass herself to be----"

The policeman endeavoured to stop the lady's flood of eloquence.

"You can tell us all that when we get to the station. You'll have to
come with me to identify the purse and charge the boy."

"I don't want to charge the boy, all I want is to identify the purse.
As for the young limb of a boy, I'd like to give him a good banging
with my unbrella, that I would!"

The lady shook her umbrella at the boy in a way which caused the crowd
to laugh. But there was no laughter left in Bertie.

"We can't have any banging here," said the policeman, who was anxious
to get on. "If you take my advice, you'll call a cab and let us all go
comfortably together."

"Me go in a cab with a policeman and that there limb of a boy; not if
I know it! I've kept the 'Rising Sun' respectable these six-and-twenty
years,--sixteen years in my husband's time,--as respectable a man as
ever breathed, though cherry brandy was his failing,--and ten long
years a widow, and go to prison with a policeman and that there limb
of a boy in a cab----"

"Nobody's asked you to go to prison," said the policeman, whose
patience was beginning to fade. "I can't stand talking here all day.
Now then, boy, best foot forward, march!"

Bertie's poor best foot was blistered, so that the policeman had to
assist him, with occasional awkward jerks, to march to jail.



                              Chapter XV

                 OUT OF THE FRYING-PAN INTO THE FIRE


There was a meeting in Trafalgar Square that day. Some people thought
they had a grievance, and resolved to air it. No matter what the
grievance was; the world is very full of them, and too many of them
are hard and stern, and old and deep, difficult to be removed. But the
authorities had decided that this particular grievance should not be
aired in this particular way; they would permit no meeting to be held
in Trafalgar Square. The result was, contests with the police. The
people with the grievance tried hard to air it; there were ugly
rushes, the excitement spread, and in the neighbourhood adjoining
there was something very like a riot.

One procession of the people with a grievance making for the Square,
had been met by the police and turned aside. Part of the processioners
had been turned into Piccadilly, and were being driven along that
thoroughfare, helter skelter, just as the procession which escorted
Bertie and his captor approached. The policeman saw his danger, and
tried to turn aside. It was too late. The fugitives coming
tumultuously along, and seeing only a single constable, made a rush in
his direction.

In a moment Bertie found himself the centre of a pushing, yelling,
struggling crowd, with the policeman holding on to him like grim
death. Above the tumult could be distinguished the accents of the
landlady of the "Rising Sun."

"I'm the landlady of the 'Rising Sun,' and I've kept the house
respectable these six-and-twenty years--ten long years a widow, and
sixteen years a respectable married woman--and it's a sin and a shame
that a respectable female----"

But the crowd was no respecter of persons; the lady was hustled on one
side, where her voice was heard no more. Bertie became conscious that
a contest was going on for the possession of himself. The policeman
stuck to him with extraordinary tenacity; with equal tenacity the
crowd endeavoured to drag him away. Bertie suffered. Without wasting
any time in inquiring as to the rights of the case, his new friends
did their best to deprive the law of its prey. But they directed their
efforts with misguided zeal. If they had left him to his fate, Bertie
could only have suffered imprisonment at the worst; now he ran a risk
of being drawn and quartered. They apparently did their best to drag
his arms and legs out of their sockets; he felt his clothes giving way
in all directions. Through all the heat and turmoil he felt that if
this was town he preferred the country.

In the unequal strife the constable, unsupported, was vanquished in
the end. It was well for Bailey the end came when it did; if he had
stuck to his prize much longer the pieces of a boy would have strewed
the street. Some one in the crowd struck the constable in the face
with a stick. Putting up his hand to ward off a second blow, Bertie
was instantly snatched from his grasp. His capture was so unsuspected,
that the two zealous friends who were doing their best to tear him
limb from limb, recoiling backwards, loosed their hold, and let him
fall upon the ground.

"Get up, youngster, and hook it! The peelers will have you again if
you don't look sharp; there's a lot of them coming down the street."

A workman stooped over the lad as he lay in the mud and assisted him
to rise. He regained his feet, feeling stunned and bewildered. His
friendly ally gave him a push, which sent him staggering into the
thick of the crowd. It was only just in time to prevent the constable
from catching hold of him again. The confusion suddenly became worse
confounded.

"The peelers! the peelers!" was the cry.

There was a trampling of hoofs; the crowd parted in all directions,
each seeking safety for himself. Half a dozen mounted constables went
galloping through.

"Now you cut and run! If you aren't quick about it they'll nail you
again as sure as eggs!"

It was the friendly workman urging Bertie to flight. He did not need
much urging, but made the best of his way through the crowd, the
memory of the policeman's grip still upon him. No one tried to stop
him. Every one, including apparently his original captor, was too much
engaged in his own affairs. He did not wait to see what became of the
landlady of the "Rising Sun," though he seemed to hear her indignant
accents above the tumult and the din. As fast as his wearied legs
would carry him he tore away.

All that day he had nothing to eat. He saw nothing again of the
policeman, nor of the crowd, nor of the lady who had lost her purse
with its thirty-seven pounds, fifteen shillings, and a threepenny bit.
But he had been in custody; he had signalized his entry into the Land
of Golden Dreams by being within an ace of jail; the thought was with
him all the day. Every policeman he saw he shrunk away from, and every
policeman seemed to follow his shrinking with suspicious eyes. He was
in continual expectation of feeling a hand upon his shoulder, and
another experience of how it felt to be dragged through the streets.

It never ceased to rain; yet the rain did not come down fast, but
always in the same slow, persistent drizzle. It was a cold rain, and
the wind, which every now and then became almost tempestuous, was
cold. Every one seemed to be in a bad temper; there were sour faces
everywhere. The drivers of the various vehicles quarrelled with one
another, and cursed and swore. Pedestrians hustled each other into the
gutter; each seemed to be persuaded that the other did his best to get
into his way.

Bertie had paid three previous visits to London,--this made the
fourth. On each of the previous occasions he had been accompanied by
his father; this was the first time he had come alone. Many a time
that day he wished that he had postponed his personal exploration till
a little later on; about the middle of the century after next, he was
persuaded, would have been time enough for him.

His first visit had been as one of a family party to see the
pantomime. There had been a morning performance; they had left home
early in the morning, returning late at night. That day was a
red-letter day in Bertie's calendar.

"When I went to see the pantomime," was the words which formed a
prelude to many a tale of the wondrous sights which he had seen.

The second time he came up with father alone. The doctor had had some
meeting to attend at the hospital at which he had spent his student
days, and Bertie bore him company. Afterwards a visit had been paid to
Madame Tussaud's and the Zoological Gardens. But the climax of the day
had been the dinner at the restaurant in the evening before returning
home. Bertie always thought that he had seen life when he looked
backwards at that dinner in the after days. Champagne had accompanied
that repast, and a band had played.

But the crowning visit had been the third. A certain
cousin--feminine--had been a member of the party, and she alone would
have canonized the day. They had gone to the exhibition and dined
there, and seen the illuminations, and he had told himself that London
was a city of delights, a paradise below, fairyland to-day.

This point of view did not occur to him with so much force on this,
the occasion of his fourth visit. As he struggled up and down the wet
and greasy streets, with his blistered feet and his empty stomach,
anything more unlike a city of delights it seemed to him that he had
never seen. He was continually getting into everybody's way, always
being hustled into the gutter, and once, when an irate elderly
gentleman sent him flying backwards to assume a sitting posture in the
centre of a heap of mud, everybody laughed. But it was no joke to him.
The elderly gentleman was a little sorry when he saw what he had done.

"You oughtn't to get in my way! The police didn't ought to allow boys
like you to hang about the streets!"

That was the way he expressed his penitence, and then passed on.
Bertie picked himself up at leisure. He was a sorry sight, and when
the people saw the spectacle he presented they laughed again.

"If I was you I'd sow seeds in that there mud you've got on you; it'd
be as good as 'arf a hacre of ground."

This was the comment of a paper-seller. He resumed his calling,
shouting, "Hecho! Fourth hedition! Hecho!" But some one else had a
word to say. This was a girl who was selling flowers for button-holes.

"You let me stick these 'ere flowers in that there sile you've just
picked up. They'll grow like winkin'!"

All this was hard enough to bear, but the worst was the hunger and
thirst. Although it rained all day, his thirst remained unquenched.

Toward evening he found himself in Covent Garden. As he looked shyly
round his hopes rose just a little. To begin with, there seemed
shelter. If he might only be allowed to stay in this place all night!

On the ground was vegetable refuse, ancient cabbage leaves, odds and
ends of garbage which littered the place. If he could only pick up one
or two of those cabbage leaves and see how far they would go towards
staying his appetite! Surely no one could object to that, since they
were placed there only to be thrown away. So he began picking up the
cabbage leaves.

"Now then, what are you doing there? None of that now! Clear out of
this, or I'll clear you out, and precious quick!"

At the sound of a strident voice Bertie trembled as though he had been
guilty of a heinous crime. He dropped the cabbage leaves out of his
hands again. A little man, who was apparently some one in authority,
had suddenly appeared from behind one of the pillars, and was shouting
at Bertie with the full force of his lungs. Like a frightened ewe the
hero of yesterday gave a look round and slunk away. He was
disappointed of his meal. The ground was evidently holy ground, and
the cabbage leaves were evidently sacred cabbage leaves. The
disappointment seemed to make his hunger worse. He had scarcely
strength enough to slink away. He put his arms around one of the
pillars, and, leaning his head against it, cried.

This was what had become of all his golden dreams! Of what stuff are
heroes made?

"I say, young one, what's in the wind? Any one trodden on your
precious toes? You don't seem so chirpy as some."

Bertie looked up through his tears to see who the speaker was. A
little time ago to have been caught crying would have covered him with
shame, now all shame of that sort seemed to have gone for ever. He
vaguely feared that this was some new Jack-in-office again bidding him
move on; but he was wrong.

The speaker was a boy about his own age; but there was something about
him which at a very first glance showed that he was different from
other boys. He was respectably dressed; the chief peculiarity about
his clothing being that it seemed to fit him like his skin. A tighter
pair of trousers surely never imprisoned human legs. His waistcoat
fitted him without a crease, and it seemed that he had been made for
his coat, and not his coat for him. He wore a billycock hat of a
particularly knowing pattern, set rakishly upon the side of his head;
a stand-up collar made it difficult for him to look anywhere except
straight in front of him; and an enormous pin, set in the centre of a
gorgeous blue necktie, made his costume quite complete.

Even more remarkable than his costume was his face. It has been said
of the famous Lord Chancellor, Lord Thurlow, that no one could be so
wise as Lord Thurlow looked; it was almost equally impossible that any
one could be so knowing as the expression of his countenance declared
this young gentleman to be. It was an unhealthy face, an unpleasant
face, with something in it which reminded you of how Methuselah might
have appeared in his green old age. It was never still; the eyes
seemed to be all over the place at once; it seemed to be continually
listening to catch the first sound of something or some one drawing
near.

"Down on your luck? What are you piping your eye for? Does that sort
of thing suit your constitution? Turn round to the light, and let's
have a look what you're like; don't keep hugging that pillar as though
it was your ma."

Through all his misery Bertie saw that this young gentleman was
centuries older than himself, though they had probably entered the
world within the same twelve months. Besides, he was too prostrated to
resist, even had he wished, and he allowed the other to drag him into
a position in which he might study his features at his leisure.

"I thought so,--directly I caught sight of your back I thought I knew
your size. Wasn't you in Sackville Street this morning?"

"In Sackville Street?" repeated Bertie vaguely.

"Yes, in Sackville Street, my bonny boy. Never heard tell of Sackville
Street before, I suppose? So I should think by the look of you. Wasn't
it you I pitched the old girl's purse to?"

A light was dawning upon Bertie's mind.

"Was it you who stole the purse?"

The other gave a quick look round, as though the question took him by
surprise--if anything so self-possessed could be said to be taken by
surprise.

"Stow your cackle! Do you want to have me put away? Where do you live
when you're at home? You must be a sharp one, though you do look so
jolly green! I thought you'd be buckled to a certainty! I never
expected to see you walking about as large as life. It gave me quite a
start when I saw you hugging that pillar as though you loved it. How
did you make tracks?"

Bertie was trying to collect his thoughts. This boy before him was a
thief, a miserable hound who tried to escape the consequences of his
own misdeeds by putting the odium of his crimes upon the innocent. But
Bertie was alone; alone in the great city, hungry, thirsty, tired,
wet, and cold. Human companionship was human companionship after all.
And this boy looked so much more prosperous than he himself was.
Yesterday he would have done great things; to-day he would have
welcomed a crust of bread coming even from this thief.

"The policeman wanted to lock me up."

"No! did he though? Funny ones those policemen are! they're always
wanting to go locking people up. And did he cop the purse?"

"He took the purse away from me."

"And how come you to be making love to that there pillar, instead of
enjoying yourself in a nice warm cell? I suppose you didn't give the
policeman one in the nose and knock him down?"

"We met some people in the street, and they made him let me go."

"Did they though? that was kind of them! When policemen was making
free with me I wish I was always meeting people in the streets who
would make them interfering bobbies let me go. And now, who are you
when you're at home? We're having quite a nice little conversation,
ain't we, you and I? Glad I met you, quite a treat!" He raised his hat
to express his sense of the satisfaction which he felt. "You don't
look as though you were raised in these 'ere parts."

Bertie hung his head; he was ashamed: ashamed of many things, but most
of all just then of the company he was in. And yet, if he turned this
thief adrift, where else should he find a friend? And he was so tired,
so hungry, so conscious of his own helplessness.

"You very nearly got me locked up this morning," was his answer.

"Well, my noble marquis, wasn't it better for you to be locked up than
me? It'll have to come, you know--if not to-morrow the day after."

To Bertie this view of the matter had not occurred before. It had not
entered into his calculations that a journey to the Land of Golden
Dreams would necessitate the process of locking-up.

"Are you on the cross, or only mouching around?"

This inquiry was Greek to Bertie, and his questioner perceived that he
failed to understand.

"You're a fly bloke, that you are! What's your little game? You
haven't got a fortune in your pocket, or a marquis for a pa? What do
you do to live? I suppose you ain't reckoning to die just yet awhile."

"I wish I could do something, but I can't."

"Oh, you wish you could do something, do you, but unfortunately you
can't! Well, you are a trial for the nerves! Have you got any money?"

Bertie hung his head still lower. To be despised by a thief! Was this
the result of all his dreams?

"No!"

"Got any friends?"

"I've run away from them."

And here the boy broke down. Turning, and leaning against a pillar, he
burst into a passion of tears. The other eyed him for a few moments,
whistling beneath his breath.

"That's the time of day, is it? I thought you were something of that
kind from the first, I did. What did you run away for?"

Bertie could not have told him to save his life. To have told this
thief that he had started on a journey to the Land of Golden Dreams;
that he had resolved to emulate the doings of his heroes, Dick Turpin,
Crusoe, Jack the Giant-Killer, and Robin Hood! Oh, ye gods! and now to
be crying against a post!

"Father living?"

No answer.

"Mother?"

No answer.

How well he knew that he loved his parents now! The mere mention of
the word "mother" made him hysterical with woe. To have come within
reach of his mother's loving arms, to have been folded to her breast!
If he could only come within reach of her again!

The other stood observing him with critical eyes, whistling all the
time.

"You seem to have had a considerable lot of water locked up tight. I
should think you would have bust if you hadn't had a chance to let it
go. What are you a-howling at? Crying for your mammy?"

For answer Bertie turned with a sudden ferocity and struck at him
savagely. But the blow was struck at random, and the other had no
difficulty in avoiding it by stepping aside.

"Hollo! don't you come that game again, or I'll show you how to use a
bunch of fives."

But Bertie showed no further signs of fight. It had only been an
almost childish display of passionate spite at the other's coarse
allusion to his "mammy"--the mother whom he was now so sure he loved
so well. Even the passion of his tears died away into a whimper. He
had not strength enough to continue in a passion long.

"Are you hungry?" asked the other.

"I'm starving!"

"Ah, I've been hungry, and more than once, and it isn't nice. I
shouldn't be surprised if you found it rather nasty, especially if you
aren't used to it. Now, look here; let's have a look at you."

He went close up to Bertie and looked him straight in the face with
his keen, restless eyes. Bertie returned the look as well as he could
with his tear-stained orbs.

"You look a game 'un, somehow; and you look grit. I suppose it's
feeling peckish you don't like. There's a lot of talk about courage
what's always the same, but I don't believe there ever was a chap who
kept up his pluck upon an empty belly. I've been hungry more than
once. Now, look here; if I take you to a crib I know of, and set you
up in vittles and a shake-down, will you keep your mouth shut fast?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"Oh, yes, you do; you're not so soft as that. If I act square with
you, will you act square with me?"

"I always do act square," said Bertie.

"Very well, then, come along; if you do, then you're the sort for me.
I did you a bad turn this morning, now I'll do you a good one to make
up."



                             Chapter XVI

                          THE CAPTAIN'S ROOM


Trusting himself to his companion's guidance, Bertie went where the
other chose to take him. Under ordinary circumstances he would have
thought a good many times before he would have allowed himself to be
led blindfold he knew not where; but tired, wet, cold, and so hungry,
he resigned himself to circumstances. He could not possibly find
himself in a worse position than his present one; at least, so it
seemed to him. Certainly it had not been part of his plans to be a
companion of thieves; but then nothing which had befallen him had been
part of his plans.

His companion led him to a court within a stone's throw of Drury Lane,
and was just about to turn the corner when something caught his eyes.
He walked straight on, taking Bertie with him.

"There's a peeler. I don't want him to see me go down there; it isn't
quite what I care for to let them gentry have their eyes upon my
family mansion."

What he meant Bertie failed to understand. He saw no one in sight to
cause alarm, and indeed it almost seemed that his companion had eyes
behind his head, for, as quickly appeared, the policeman was at their
back some considerable distance off. They reached the entry to another
court, and down this his companion strutted, as though he was anxious
all the world should have their eyes upon him. But no sooner was he in
than he slunk into a doorway.

"Come in here, my bonny boy, and let the gentleman go past. He's
taking a little walk for the benefit of his health, poor chap. They're
always taking walks, them peelers are. I wish they'd stop at home; I
really do."

A measured tramp, tramp, tramp approached. The thief put his hand over
Bertie's mouth as though he were fearful he would make a sound. The
policeman reached the entry, paused a moment as if to peer into its
depths, and then passed on. When he had gone the thief spoke again.

"Good-bye, dear boy; sorry to lose you, but the best of friends must
part. Come along, my rib-stone pippin; you and me'll go home to tea."

Satisfied that the coast was clear, the two ventured out of the
doorway, reached the open street again, and this time turned without
hesitation into the court which they had passed before. It was unlit
by any lamp, and was so narrow that it was not difficult to believe
that a man standing on a roof on one side of the way might, if he were
an active fellow, spring with a single bound on to the roof on the
opposite side. Fortunately it was not long, the whole consisting of
apparently not more than twelve or fifteen houses. At the extreme end
Bertie's companion stopped.

The place was a _cul-de-sac_. It ended in a dead wall. But on the
other side of the wall towered a house of what, in such a
neighbourhood, seemed unusual dimensions. The entrance proper was in
another street, and the original architect had probably had no
intention that an entry should be effected from where they were. In a
recess in the wall, so hidden as to be invisible to Bertie in that
light, and so placed as to appear to be a door opening into the last
house in the court in which they actually stood, was an ancient wooden
door, from which the paint had all disappeared owing to the action of
time and weather. The two boys stood still for a moment, Bertie dimly
wondering what was going to happen next. It seemed to him that he
really was an actor in a dream at last--the strangest dream he had
ever dreamed. Then the thief whistled a few lines of some uncouth
melody in a low but singularly piercing tone. A pause again; then he
gave four taps against the ancient wooden door, with a momentary pause
between each one. Bertie had heard of mysterious methods of effecting
entrances into mysterious houses, and had been charmed with them; but
he concluded that they were perhaps better in theory than practice. He
would not have liked to have been kept hanging about in the wet such
an unconscionable length of time every time he wanted to go home.

At last the door was opened--just as Bertie was beginning to think
that the mysterious proceedings would have to be all gone through
again.

"Who's there?" inquired a husky voice.

It seemed that after all the whistling and the tapping caution were
required.

"All right, mother; it's only me and a friend. Come on, Ikey; cut
along inside."

Bertie, thus addressed as "Ikey," was about to "cut along inside,"
when he found the way barred by the old woman who acted as janitrix.
She was a very unpleasant-looking old woman, old and grisly, and very
much in want of soap and water: quite unpleasant-looking enough to be
called a "hag"--and she smelt of gin. In her hand she carried a
guttering tallow candle in a battered old tin candlestick. Hitherto
she had held it behind her back, as if to conceal the presence of a
light from passers-by. Now she raised it above her head so that its
light might fall on Bertie's face. He thought he had never seen a more
disagreeable-looking lady.

"Who's the friend?"

"What's that to you? He's a friend of mine, and square; that's quite
enough for you. Come along, my pippin."

The answer reminded Bertie of Sam Slater. Even then he wondered if he
had not better, after all, trust himself to the tender mercies of the
streets; but the other did not allow much time for hesitation. He
caught Bailey by the arm, and half led, half dragged him up a flight
of steep stone steps. The old woman with the candlestick sent after
them what sounded very like a volley of imprecations, while she closed
and locked and barred the door.

The thief led the way into a fairly sized room, which was lighted by
another tallow candle. The one which the old woman brought with her
when she entered made the pair. There was no carpet on the floor,
which was extremely dirty; a rickety deal table and four or five
rickety chairs formed all the furniture. There was a bright fire
burning in an antiquated fireplace, from which the ashes had
apparently never been removed for months, and the atmosphere of the
room was distinctly close.

"What have you got to eat?" asked the thief, when the old woman
reappeared.

"You're always ready enough to eat, but you re not so ready to pay for
what you've eaten. You boys is all the same; you'd rob an old woman of
her teeth."

The crone tottered to a cupboard in a corner of the room. The allusion
to her teeth was not a happy one, for a solitary fang which protruded
from her hideous jaws seemed to be all the teeth she still possessed.
From the cupboard she produced a couple of chipped plates, a loaf of
bread, and a piece of uncooked steak, which probably weighed several
pounds. The thief's eyes glistened at sight of it.

"That's the tuck! Cut me off a chunk, and I'll frizzle it in two
threes."

The old woman cut off a piece which weighed at least a pound and a
half. A frying-pan was produced from some unexpected corner. The young
rogue, disencumbering himself of his coat and waistcoat, immediately
elected himself to the office of cook. A short dialogue took place
between the old woman and himself while the cooking was going on.

"What luck have you had?"

"What's that to you?"

"That means you ain't had none. Ah, Freddy, you ain't what you was.
I've known you when you allays came home with your pockets full of
pretty things."

"You ain't what you was, neither."

A pause. A savoury smell began to come from the frying-pan. The old
woman turned her watery, bloodshot eyes to Bertie.

"Who's your friend?"

"Them who don't ask no questions don't get told no lies."

"What's his lay?"

"His lay's hitting old women in the eye; so now you know."

The old woman shook her head, and mourned the decadence of the times.

"Oh, them boys! them boys! When I was a young gal there weren't none
of them boys in them there days! Times is changed."

"And this steak's done! Now then, Ikey, make yourself alive and hand
the plates."

Without the interposition of a dish the steak was divided in the
frying-pan, placed in two equal portions on the plates, and Bertie and
the cook fell to.

Epicures have it that a steak fried is a steak spoiled. Neither of
those who ate that one would have agreed to the truth of the statement
then. From the way in which they disposed of it, a finer, juicier, or
more tender steak was never known. The old woman produced a jug of
porter to wash it down. Freddy, as the old woman called the thief,
did far more justice to this than Bertie did. With the aid of the
dark-coloured liquid the whole pound and a half of meat rapidly
disappeared, and with it the better part of a loaf as well.

The old woman sat spectator of the feast.

"There was a time when I could eat like that. It's over now a hundred
years ago, but I mind it as though it were yesterday."

"Go on! you're not a hundred years old!"

"I'm a hundred and twenty-two next Tuesday week."

Bertie stared, holding a mouthful of steak suspended on his fork in
the air. A hundred and twenty-two! What was his tale of years compared
to that? Freddy winked at him.

"Yes, I daresay. You were a hundred and ninety-five yesterday, and
sixty-two this morning. It's my belief you're about five and twenty."

"Five and twenty! I daresay I look it, but I ain't. I'm more than
that. I always did look a wild young thing."

Freddy roared; anything looking less like five and twenty, or a "wild
young thing," could scarcely be conceived. The old woman went placidly
on.

"I remember Jacky Sheppard, and Dicky Turpin, and Tommy King; they
were all highwaymen in my young days."

"I suppose you were a highwayman's wife?"

"So I was; and they hung him the week after we were married. I went
and saw him hung, and I've never seen a better hanging since. No, that
I haven't. Times is changed since then."

"But you ain't changed. I wonder you don't marry again, a wild young
thing like you."

"I ain't a marrying sort--not now I ain't. I've had ten of them, and
that's quite enough for me."

"Lor', no! What is ten?"

"Ten's quite enough for one young woman, and when you've been two
hundred and ninety times in prison a woman don't feel much like
marrying again. It takes it out of her, it do."

Bertie had ended his meal. The warmth and the food had given the
finishing touch to his previous fatigue; his head was already nodding
on his breast. He heard the old woman talking as in a dream. Ten
husbands! two hundred and ninety times in jail! Were they part of his
nightmare, the things which he heard her say?

"Hollo, Ikey, you're blinking! Now then, mother, where are you going
to put my pal? Can't you find a place where he can be alone?"

Had Bertie been sufficiently wide awake he would have seen the speaker
wink at the old woman.

"There's only the captain's room."

The woman's suggestion seemed to startle Freddy, and to set him
thinking.

"The captain's room? Where is the captain?"

"How am I to know where he is or where he ain't? He don't tell me none
of his goings on, none of you don't. He says to me he'd be four or
five days away. That's all I know about it. Times is changed!"

"Got the key?"

"Of course I've got the key."

"Then hand it over."

The old woman produced a key from a voluminous pocket in her dress.

"Now, Freddy, none of your tricks? He's on the square?"

She pointed the key at Bertie, to show the allusion was to him. The
young thief took the key away from her.

"He's as square as you! Come along, Ikey! Mother, you stop there till
I come back. I want to have a little talk to you."

Taking up one of the candlesticks, the lad led the way out of the
room. Bertie staggered, rather than walked, after him.

The house seemed to be very old-fashioned and very large. There were a
curious number of staircases, and passages, and turns and twists, and
ins and outs, and ups and downs. As Bertie followed his companion's
lead it all seemed to him as though it were part of his dream; as
though the house was built in the fashion of a maze, and he were
bidden to find his way about it blindfold.

At last he found himself in a room, the door of which he was vaguely
conscious his companion had unlocked. Although very far from being
luxurious, it was better furnished than the one they had left. There
was a piece of carpet on the floor; there were two or three
substantial-looking chairs, a horsehair couch, an arm-chair, a table,
a chest of drawers with a looking-glass on top, and in the corner an
old-fashioned four-poster bed with the curtains drawn all round. The
closely-drawn dirty dimity curtains made one wonder if it was occupied
already, but Freddy showed that it was not by going to it and drawing
the curtains aside.

"There's a bed for you, my bonny boy! The Queen ain't got a better bed
than that in Buckingham Palace; and if you have got a marquis for a
pa, you ain't seen a better one, I know you ain't. That's the
captain's bed, that is, and if he was to know I'd made you free of it
he'd have a word to say. But as he's gone to see his grandma, and
perhaps won't be back for ever so long, we needn't take no count of
what he says."

Tired as he was, Bertie was not by any means so prepossessed by the
appearance of the bed as his companion seemed to be. It seemed to him
just a trifle dirty, and more than a trifle the worse for wear. The
beds at Mecklemburg House were even better, while the beds at home
were things of beauty and joys for ever compared to this. But still it
was a bed, and a bed is a bed; and especially was a bed a bed to him
just then.

Freddy waited while he undressed. He even watched him get between the
sheets, and drew the curtains when he was there. Then he went and left
Bertie to sleep in peace in the captain's room.

And he slept in peace. Just such a dreamless slumber as he had enjoyed
in the Kingston "doss-house," and it lasted at least as long. This
young gentleman had over-calculated his strength, and had not supposed
he would have been so quickly wearied on his journey to the Land of
Golden Dreams.

When he awoke it was some minutes before he collected his thoughts
sufficiently to understand his whereabouts. The rapidly-occurring
incidents of the last day or two had bewildered a brain which was
never very bright at best. Putting out his hand, he parted the
curtains which hung about him like so many shrouds, and looked out.

The room was filled with daylight; that is to say, as much filled as
it probably ever was. The only window was a small one, and at such a
height from the ground that Bertie would have needed to stand upon a
chair to reach it even.

Had he desired to imitate his escape from his Kingston hosts he would
have found very much more difficulty in climbing from the window of
the captain's room. But what interested him more than the peculiar
position of the window was something which he saw on the chair beside
his bed.

This something was some bread and cheese, a couple of saveloys, and
some stout in a jug. On the bread was a little scrap of paper. He took
it up, and found that on it was written,--

"Sleep it out, old pal!"

This was short, and to the point. It was written on bad paper in worse
writing; but what it meant was, probably, that Freddy, entering with
refreshments, had found Bertie wrapt in slumber, and being unwilling
to disturb him had left him there to sleep it out. Bertie ate and
drank, and lying back again upon the captain's bed prepared to act
upon the hint. And he did. He woke once or twice in the course of the
day, but each time it was only for a minute or two, and each time he
turned round and went to sleep again.

But at last he woke for good--or ill, as it turned out, for he woke to
be the victim of a series of adventures which were to nearly cost him
his life, and which were to show him, better than anything else
possibly could have done, that he had been like the silly little child
who plays with fire and burns itself with the element it does not
understand. He was a young gentleman who required a considerable
amount of teaching before he would consent to write himself down an
ass; but he was to get much more than the requisite amount of teaching
now.

Exactly the same thing happened as at Kingston. He awoke to hear the
sound of voices in the room; and now, as then, the speakers were
carrying on a conversation without having the slightest idea that they
were being overheard.

At first he could not distinguish the words which were being spoken.
He only knew that there was some one speaking. At first he took it for
granted that the speakers were the lad who had brought him to the
house and the old woman he had nicknamed "Mother." But the delusion
only lasted for a moment; he quickly perceived that the voices were
voices he had never heard before, and that the speakers were two men.
He perceived, too, that the day had apparently gone--he had slept it
all away--and that the room was lighted by a lamp.

So unconscious were the speakers of there being a listener that they
made no attempt to lower their voices; and one in particular spoke
with a strain of intense passion in his tones. His were the words
which were the first which Bertie heard.

"Fifty thousand pounds! Fifty thousand pounds! Ha, ha, ha!"

The speaker repeated the words over and over again, bursting into a
peal of laughter at the end. Another voice replied--a colder and more
measured one. The new speaker spoke with a strong nasal accent. Bertie
was not wise enough to know that by his speech he betrayed himself to
be that new thing in nationalities, a German American.

"Steady, my friend; fifty thousand pounds in jewels are not fifty
thousand pounds in cash, especially when the jewels are such as
these."

The other went on unheeding.

"Talk about punting on the Stock Exchange! There are precious few
punters on the Stock Exchange who pick up fifty thousand pounds and
walk off with it at a single coup."

"And, also, there are very few punters on the Stock Exchange who would
run the risk of getting penal servitude for life for doing it."

"Yes, there's that to be considered."

"As you say, there's that to be considered."

"Do you think they'd make it penal servitude for life?"

"I think it extremely probable, with your past history and mine."

"Suppose it came to penal servitude for life, what then?"

"Exactly! That is the question to be asked--'What then?'"

"The Countess of Ferndale's jewels! lying on the table in front of me!
and in my time I've run the risk of being sent to prison for a
pocket-handkerchief."

"But in that case you did not run the risk, my friend, of penal
servitude for life, eh?'

"Rosenheim, what are you driving at? Why do you keep harping upon that
string? Do you think they'll nab us?"

"They will have a very good try."

"They have tried before and failed."

"They have also tried before and--not failed."

"Fifty thousand pounds! The finest set of jewels in England! insured
for fifty thousand pounds--and that's a lot less than they cost--and
we've got the insurance policy and the jewels too! Ha! ha! ha! Should
we present the policy?"

"We will be generous and return them that. Or, better still, we will
keep the policy in case that anything should happen. Holding it, we
might make terms with some one. There have such things been done, eh?"

"Fifty thousand pounds! and they cost perhaps a hundred thousand in
their time! Did you ever see such a necklace? Those diamonds remind me
of fairy tales which I have read--if I were to put the lamp out they'd
light the room."

"Yes; but we will not put the lamp out, for fear some of the jewels
should be lost--which would be a pity, eh?"

"Did you ever see anything like those diamonds? See how they are
flashing in the lamp-light--now look at them!"

Bertie thought that he might as well look too. He peeped through the
curtains of the bed to see what was going on. He felt a not unnatural
curiosity, for what he had heard had made him open both his eyes and
ears. Fifty thousand pounds! The repetition of this sum had a
startling effect.



                             Chapter XVII

                          TWO MEN AND A BOY


There was a lamp on the table. The fire was lighted in the grate; the
table was drawn close up in front of it. The couch was beside the
table, and on it a man reclined full length. The head was turned
towards Bertie, so that he only had a back view of the person lying
down. He could see that he had brown hair, worn rather long, and that
he was smoking a cigar, and that was all he could see.

By the table, standing so that his face was turned towards Bertie, was
another man--evidently the impetuous speaker. He was about the middle
height, slight, yet sinewy, with coal-black hair cut very short, and a
dark olive skin, his face being concealed by neither moustache nor
beard. He was holding something in his hands, something which he eyed
with ravenous eyes. From his position Bertie was not able to perceive
what this something was, but he could see that the table was littered
with other articles, and that a roll of paper and two boxes of a
peculiar shape lay open on the floor.

The dark man was holding the something in his hands in a variety of
positions, so that he might get the full effect from different points
of view.

"Did you ever see such stones?"

"They are not bad, considering. Their value consists in their number,
my dear friend. Separate stones of better quality can be found."

"How much do you say we shall get for it?"

"That remains to be seen. If you ask me how much it cost I should say,
probably, altogether, twenty thousand pounds."

Twenty thousand pounds! The dark man was holding in his hand something
which cost twenty thousand pounds. Curiosity was too much for Bertie's
discretion. The magnitude of the sum had so startling an effect on his
bump of inquisitiveness that before he knew it he was trying his best
to see what surprising thing it was which had cost twenty thousand
pounds. Half-unconsciously he quitted the security of the bed, and
standing in his shirt bare-legged on the floor he strained his eyes to
see.

Just then the dark man moved into such a position that the unexpected
spectator was yet unable to see what it was he held. It was
aggravating, but what followed was rather more aggravating still.

"Fancy wearing a thing like that! I wonder how I should look with
twenty thousand pounds worth of diamonds round my neck."

He put his hand up to his neck, clasping round it what seemed to
Bertie a line of glittering light. Then he turned, probably with the
intention of studying the effect in the looking-glass, and, turning,
he saw Bertie.

For a moment there was silence--silence so complete that you could
have heard much fainter sounds than the fall of the proverbial pin.
The man was apparently thunderstruck, as well he might be. He stared
at the figure in the shirt as though it were that of one risen from
the dead. As for Bertie, his feet seemed glued to the floor, and his
tongue to the roof of his mouth. It suddenly dawned upon him that it
would have perhaps been better if he had stayed in bed.

The man was the first to regain his self-possession. It was to be a
very long time indeed before Bertie was to be again master of his.

"What the something are you?"

At the sound of his companion's voice, the man on the sofa sprang to
his feet as though he had been shot. He gave one quick glance; then,
snatching up a revolver which lay upon the table, he fired at the
frightened boy.

"Rosenheim!"

At the very moment of pulling the trigger the dark man struck up his
arm, so that the bullet was buried in the ceiling. But the effect upon
Bertie was just as though it had penetrated his heart--he fell like a
log.

"He's only a boy. You've shot him."

"I have not shot him. That I will do in a minute or two."

When Bertie recovered from his swoon the dark man was bending over
him. His companion was sitting in a chair regarding him with cold,
staring eyes--a long, thin man, with a slight moustache and beard, and
a peculiarly cruel cast of countenance.

The dark man was the first to address him.

"So you've come too, have you? Perhaps it's a pity, after all. It'll
only prolong your misery. Now stand up, put your hands behind your
back, and look me in the face."

Bertie did as he was bid, feeling very weak and tottering on his feet.
The dark man was perched on the edge of the table, holding a revolver
in his hand. His companion, the long, thin man who sat in the chair,
held a revolver too. Bertie felt that his position was not an
agreeable one. Of one thing he was conscious, that the table was
cleared of its contents, and that the roll of paper and boxes which he
had noticed on the floor had disappeared.

The dark man commenced the cross-examination, handling his revolver in
a way which was peculiarly unpleasant, as though it were a toy which
he was anxious to have a little practice with.

"Look me in the face."

Bertie did as he was bid as best he could, though he found it
difficult to meet the keen black eyes.

"He needn't look me in the face, or I'll put five shots inside of
him."

This was from the long, thin man. Bertie was careful not to show the
slightest symptom of a desire to turn that way. The dark man went on.

"Do you know what truth is? If you don't it'll be a pity, because if
you tell me so much as the millionth part of a lie I'll empty my
revolver into you where you stand."

As if to emphasize this genial threat the dark man pointed his
revolver point-blank at his head.

"I'm on that line. I'll empty mine inside him too."

Bertie was conscious that the long, thin man was following his
companion's lead. A couple of revolvers were being pointed at him
within three feet of his head. He felt more anxious to tell the truth,
even though under difficulties, than he had ever been in all his life.

"What's your name?"

"Bertie Bailey."

"What are you doing here?"

"I--I don't know!"

Bertie very certainly didn't. If he could only have undreamt his
dreams about the Land of Golden Dreams how happy had he been.

"Oh, you don't know. Who brought you here?"

"Freddy."

"Freddy? Do you mean Faking Fred?"

"If you please, sir, I--I don't know. The old woman called him
Freddy."

"Oh, the old woman had a finger in the pie, had she? I'll have a
finger in her pie before I've done, and Freddy's too. So you've been
sleeping in my bed?"

"Please, sir, I--I didn't know it was your bed."

"Turn round to me."

As this command came from the long, thin man--he had apparently
changed his mind about being looked in the face--Bertie turned with
the celerity with which a teetotum turns.

"Where do you live?"

"At Upton, sir."

 [Illustration: "A couple of revolvers were being pointed at him."]

_A Hero of Romance_.]                           [_Page_ 238.

 "Where's that?"

"In Berkshire."

"You're not a thief?"

"No--o, sir."

In his present society Bertie positively felt ashamed to own it. He
perhaps felt that these gentlemen might resent it as a slight upon
their profession.

"Have you run away from home?"

"Ye--es, sir."

"What for?"

"Fu--fun, sir."

"A good thing to run away for."

Bertie felt that it was a bad thing just then, especially if this sort
of thing might be looked upon in the light of fun.

"What's your father?"

"A doctor, sir."

"So you're the son of Dr. Bailey, of Upton, in Berkshire?"

"Ye--es, sir."

"Turn round again!--sharp!"

No one could have turned round sharper than Bertie did then. The dark
man took up the questioning.

"How long have you been awake?"

"I--I don't know, sir."

"Did you hear what we were talking about?"

"Ye--es, sir."

"What did you hear?"

"I--I don't know."

"That won't do. Out with it! What did you hear?"

The revolver was brought on a level with Bertie's face. With his eyes
apparently doing their best to investigate the contents of the barrel
he endeavoured to describe what he had heard.

"I--I heard about the Countess of Ferndale's jewels, and--and about
fifty thousand pounds."

"Oh! you did, did you? And what did you hear about the Countess of
Ferndale's jewels?"

"I heard that you had--stolen them."

"Is that so? You seem to be gifted with uncommonly good hearing,
Master Bailey. What else did you hear? Go on."

"I--I heard that they were insured for fifty thousand pounds, and--and
that--that you'd stolen the policy."

"Dear me! What a remarkably fine ear this boy must have! Go on, young
man!"

Bertie was painfully conscious that these compliments upon his hearing
were not to be taken as they were spoken. He earnestly wished that his
hearing had not been quite so good, but with that revolver staring him
in the face he felt that perhaps it was better on the whole he should
go on. Yet the next confession was made with an effort. He felt that
his audience would not receive it well.

"I--I--I heard that if--if you were ta--taken you--you would get
pe--penal servitude for life."

There was an ominous silence. The words had had exactly the effect he
had intuitively expected. It was the long, thin man who spoke.

"Oh! you heard that if we were caught we should get penal servitude
for life? And it didn't occur to you that you might help to catch us,
eh?"

"No-o, sir."

"It wouldn't. Now wouldn't it occur to you that such a thing as a
reward might perhaps be offered, which it might perhaps be worth your
while to handle, eh? That such a trifle as five or ten thousand
pounds, in the shape of a reward, might come in useful, eh?"

Bertie did not answer. He could not have answered for his life. The
fellow's tone seemed to freeze his blood. The dark man put a question.

"Did you hear any names mentioned?"

"Yes, sir."

"What name did you hear mentioned?"

"I heard you call this gentleman Rosenheim, sir."

In an instant a hand was round his neck, which grasped him as though
it were made of steel. There was a sudden twist, and Mr. Rosenheim had
flung the lad upon his back. The grasp tightened; he began to choke.
If Mr. Rosenheim had been allowed to work his own sweet will it would
have been over with him there and then. But the dark man interfered.

"What's the use of killing him?"

The answer was hissed rather than spoken.

"I'll tell you what's the use; it is I who will put him away, not he
who will put me away, eh?"

"Leave him alone for a minute; I want to speak to you. It's a
nuisance, but I don't think it's so bad as you think. Anyhow, I don't
see how we're going to gain anything by killing the boy--at least, not
in here."

There was a meaning conveyed in the speaker's last few words which Mr.
Rosenheim seemed to understand. They looked at each other for a
moment, eye to eye. Then Mr. Rosenheim, standing up, loosed his grasp
on Bertie's throat, and the lad was free to breathe again.

"Get up; walk to the end of the room, put your hands behind your back,
shut your eyes, and stand with your face to the wall. I'm going to
cover you with my revolver, and if you move it'll be for the very last
time of asking, for I'll shoot you as dead as mutton. Sharp's the
word!"

Sharp was the word. Bewildered, half-stunned, panic-stricken as he
was, Bertie had still sense enough to know that he had no alternative
but to do as he was bid. The dark man meant what he said, and the
youthful admirer of Dick Turpin knew it. The ever-ready revolver
covered him as he walked quickly down the room, and took up the
ignominious position he was ordered to. Hands behind his back, eyes
shut, and his face against the wall! It was worse than standing in the
corner at Mecklemburg House Collegiate School, and only little boys
had been sent into the corner there.

How long he remained standing there he never knew. It seemed to him
hours. But time goes slowly when we stand with our hands behind, eyes
shut, face to the wall, and know that a revolver is taking deliberate
aim at us behind our backs. A minute becomes an hour, and we feel that
old age will overtake us prematurely if we stand there long. They say
that when a man is drowning his whole life passes in a moment before
his eyes. As Bailey stood with his face against the wall he felt
something of that feeling too, and if ever there was a veritable Land
of Golden Dreams his home at Upton was that land then. If he could
only stand again within the shadow of his mother's door, ah, what a
different young gentleman he would be!

Certainly, Mr. Rosenheim and his friend took their time. What they
said Bertie could not hear, strain his ears how he might. The sound of
their subdued whispering added to the terror of the situation. What
might they not be resolving? For all he knew, they might be both
examining their revolvers with a view of taking alternate pops at him.
The idea was torture. As the moments passed and still no sign was made
his imagination entered into details. There was a movement behind him.
He fancied they were taking their positions. Silence again. He waited
for the shooting to begin. He wondered where the first shot would hit
him. Somewhere, he fancied, about the region of the left knee. That
would probably bring him to the ground, and the second and third shots
would hit him where he fell--probably in the side. The fourth and
fifth shots would miss, but the sixth would carry away his nose, while
the seventh would finish his career. Promiscuous shooting would ensue,
the details of which would have no interest for him, but for some
occult reason he decided that they would not cease firing until they
had put inside him about a couple of pounds of lead.

In the midst of these agreeable speculations it was a relief to hear
the dark man's voice.

"Turn round!"

Bertie turned round, with surprising velocity.

"Where are your clothes?"

"I think they're on the bed, sir."

"Put them on! Sharp's the word!"

Sharp always was the word. Bertie had done some quick things in
dressing before to-day, but never anything quite so quick as that. Mr.
Rosenheim was sitting in the arm-chair, still fondling his revolver,
eyeing Bertie with a most uncomfortable pair of eyes. When Bertie
found that in his haste he was putting on his trousers hind side
foremost Mr. Rosenheim gave a start. Bertie gave one too, a cold
shiver went down his back, and the time in which he reversed the
garment and got inside his breeches was perhaps the best on record.

The dark man meanwhile was brushing his hat, putting on his overcoat,
and apparently preparing himself for a journey. There was a Gladstone
bag on the table. Into this he put several articles which he took from
the chest of drawers. Bertie had completed his own costume for some
little time before either spoke.

It was Mr. Rosenheim who addressed him first.

"Come here!"

Bertie went with remarkable celerity. "For a doctor's son, my friend,
you are not too well dressed, eh?"

Bertie hung his head; he was conscious of the defects in his attire.
The dark man flung him a clothes-brush.

"Brush yourself, and make yourself presentable. There's a jug and
basin behind that curtain; wash yourself and brush your hair."

Bertie did as he was bid; never had he been so docile.

It was the most uncomfortable toilet he had ever made. When he had
carefully soaped his face all over, and was about to wash it off
again, there was a report. A shot whistled through the air and buried
itself in the wall about a foot above his head. He dropped as though
it had struck him, and all but repeated his former swoon.

"You can get up, my friend. It is only a little practice I am having."

Bertie got up, but the pleasure of that wash was destroyed for him.
Mr. Rosenheim's ideas of revolver practice were so peculiar that he
was in momentary terror of his aiming at an imaginary bull's-eye in
the centre of his back.

"How long are you going to be? Come here and let me have a look at
you."

Though only half-dried, the soap-suds still remaining in the corners
of his eyes, Bertie obeyed the dark man's order and stood in front of
him. That gentleman still held the too-familiar revolver in his hand.
It had long been the secret longing of Bertie's soul to possess one of
his own; henceforward he would hate the sight of the too-agile arm for
evermore.

"You don't look like a doctor's son. Own up you lied."

"I--I didn't, sir."

"A pretty sort of doctor's son you look! Has your father any money?"

A wild idea entered Bertie's brain. He remembered how Mr. and Mrs.
Jenkins had risen to the bait.

"Ye--yes, sir; he's very rich. He'd give a thousand pounds to get me
back again."

But this time the bait failed, and signally.

"Oh, he would, would he? Then he must be about the most remarkable
fool of a father I ever came across. Don't you try to stuff your lies
down my throat, my joker, because I'm a liar myself, and know the
smell. You listen to me. You'd better; because if you don't listen to
every word, and stick it inside your head, it'll be a case of
shooting, though I'm hung for you five minutes after. Do you hear?"

"Ye--yes, sir."

"My name's Captain Loftus. Do you hear that?"

"Ye--yes, sir."

"And I'm your uncle--your Uncle Tom. Do you hear that? I'm your Uncle
Tom."

"Ye--yes, sir."

"Don't say 'sir,' say 'Uncle Tom.'"

"Ye--yes, Un--Uncle Tom."

"And don't you stutter and stammer; there's no stuttering and
stammering about this."

"This" was the revolver which "Uncle Tom" pointed in his playful way
at his nephew.

"And you've been a bad boy, and you've run away from your poor mother,
and I'm going to take you back again. You understand?"

"Ye--yes, sir--I mean, Uncle Tom."

"Mind you do mean 'Uncle Tom,' and don't let us have any fooling about
it. Do you hear? Don't let's have any fooling about it."

"No--o, Uncle Tom."

How devoutly he hoped that what his "uncle" said was true, and that he
was going to be taken back to his mother. But the hope was shattered
by the words which followed.

"Now just you listen to me. I've got half a dozen more words to say,
and they're the pick of the lot. I'm going to take you with me. You'll
be all right so long as you keep your mouth shut; but if you speak a
word without permission from me, or if you hint anyhow at the pleasant
little conversation we've had here, I'll shoot you on the spot. You
see, I'm going to put my revolver into the inside pocket of my coat;
it will be always there, and always ready for you, and mind you don't
forget it."

Bertie was not likely to forget it. He watched the captain placing the
weapon in a convenient inner pocket of his overcoat with an interest
too deep for words. Mr. Rosenheim added an agreeable little remark of
his own.

"You understand, my friend? You are to dismiss from your mind any
little ideas you may have had about the Countess of Ferndale's jewels,
or your uncle, Captain Tom Loftus, will practise a little revolver
shooting upon you, eh, my friend?"

And Mr. Rosenheim covered the lad with his own revolver. There was
such an absolutely diabolical grin upon the gentleman's face that
Bertie felt as though his blood had congealed in his veins. The
revolver might go off at any moment, and this time it would be a case
of hitting. Bertie was persuaded that one more of Mr. Rosenheim's
little practice shots would be quite enough for him.

The change from Mr. Rosenheim to Captain Loftus was actually a relief.

"Are you ready?"

"Ye--yes, sir!"

"_Sir?_"

The "sir" was shouted in a voice of thunder, and the captain's hand
moved towards the inner pocket of his coat.

"Un--Uncle Tom, I mean."

"And you better mean it too, and say it, or you'll never say another
word. Put your hat on. Catch hold of that Gladstone."

Bertie put his hat on, and took the bag. The captain turned to Mr.
Rosenheim.

"Good-bye."

"Good-bye, my friend; I wish you a pleasant journey, and your nephew
too."

The captain put his own hat on, took Bertie's hand, led him out of the
room, and almost before the lad knew it they were standing in the
street. Bertie thanked his stars that at least Mr. Rosenheim was left
behind.



                            Chapter XVIII

                            THE BOAT-TRAIN


They did not leave the house by the same mysterious door by which
Freddy had entered, but by one which brought them at once into a busy
street. Vehicles were passing to and fro, and they had not gone many
steps before the captain--to give him the title which he had not
improbably himself affixed to his name--called a hansom. Bertie got
in. The captain directed the driver where to drive in an undertone,
seated himself beside his "nephew," and they were off.

During the drive not a word was spoken. Where they were going Bertie
had not the faintest notion; he felt pretty certain that he was not
really being taken home. His head was in a whirl; he was in such awe
of his companion that he scarcely dared to move, far less to use his
eyes in an endeavour to see where they were going. The cab almost
immediately turned into a busy thoroughfare. The hubbub of the traffic
and the confusion of the crowded streets completed the lad's
bewilderment, making it seem to him as though they were journeying
through pandemonium. The busy thoroughfare into which the cabman
turned was, in fact, the Strand--the Strand at what is not the least
busy hour of the day, when the people are crowding into the theatres.
The cabman took another turn into comparative quiet, and in another
minute they were whirling over Waterloo Bridge, along Waterloo Bridge
Road, into the huge terminus of the South-Western Railway. A porter
came forward to help them to alight, but the captain, dismissing him,
took his bag with one hand, and taking Bertie's own hand in the other,
stepped on to the platform of the station.

He had only taken a few steps when, pulling up, he spoke to Bailey in
low, quick, significant tones.

"Look here, my lad; I don't want to haul you about as though I'd got
you in custody, and I don't mean to let you get out of my sight. I'm
going to loose your hand, and let you walk alone. Carry this bag, and
stick as close to me as wax, or----"

A significant tap against the pocket which contained the revolver
served to complete the sentence. Bertie needed no explanation in
words; the action was as full of meaning as any eloquence of speech
could possibly have been.

The hansom had put them down at the departure platform of the
main-line trains. The captain looked at the station clock as they came
in, and Bertie, following the direction of the other's eye, saw that
it was a quarter-past nine. The station was full of people; porters
and passengers were hurrying hither and thither, mountains of baggage
were passing to and fro.

The captain turned into the booking-office, Bertie sticking close to
his side. Some wild idea of making a dash for freedom did enter his
mind, but to be dismissed as soon as it entered. What could he do? He
was fully persuaded that if he were to make the slightest sign of
attempting to escape, his companion would shoot him on the spot. But
even if he did not proceed to quite such extreme lengths, what then?
To have attempted to take to actual flight, and to have run for it,
would have been absurd. He would have been caught in an instant. His
only hope lay in an appeal to those around him. But what sort of
appeal could he have made? If he had suddenly shouted, "This man has
stolen the Countess of Ferndale's jewels, worth fifty thousand
pounds!" no doubt he would have created a sensation. But the revolver!
Bertie was quite persuaded that before he would have had time to have
made his assertion good the captain would have put his threat into
execution, and killed him like a cat, even though, to use that
gentleman's own words, he had had to hang for it five minutes
afterwards.

No; it seemed to him that the only course open to him was to obey the
captain's instructions.

There was a crowd round the ticket-office, at sight of which the
captain put the lad in front of him, and his hand upon his shoulder,
holding him tight by means of the free use of an uncomfortable amount
of pressure. Under these circumstances he could scarcely ask for
tickets without the lad hearing what it was he asked for--as in fact
he did.

"Two first for Jersey."

Two first-class tickets for Jersey! The tickets were stamped and paid
for, and they were out of the crowd again. It was some satisfaction to
know where it was they were going, but not much. He was too evidently
not being taken home again. Jersey and Upton were a good many miles
apart.

The captain went up and down the train with the apparent intention of
discovering a compartment which they might have for themselves. But if
that was his intention he sought in vain. The tourist season had
apparently set in early, and on this particular night the train was
crowded. They finally found seats in a compartment in which there were
already two passengers, and into which there quickly came two more. It
was a smoking carriage; and as the other passengers were already
smoking, and the captain lit a cigar as soon as he entered, the
atmosphere soon became nice and fresh for Bertie. Five smoking
passengers in a first-class compartment do not make things exactly
pleasant for a non-smoking sixth. The captain took a corner seat;
Bertie sat on the middle seat next to him, right in the centre of the
smoke.

They started. All the passengers, with the exception of the captain
and Bertie, had books or papers. For a time silence reigned. The
passengers read, the captain thought, the lad lamented. If the train
had only been speeding towards Slough instead of Jersey! It may be
mentioned that at this point of the expedition Bertie was not even
aware where Jersey was, and was not even conscious that to reach it
from London one had to cross the sea.

As they passed Woking the silence was broken for a moment. A tall,
thin, severe-looking gentleman, with side whiskers, and a sealskin cap
tied over his ears, having finished with the _Globe_, handed it to the
captain.

"Have you seen the _Globe_?"

"Thank you, I haven't."

The captain took it, and began to read. Almost without intending it
Bertie watched him. For some reason, though he could scarcely have
told what it was, for the reader gave no outward signs of anything of
the kind, he was persuaded that the paper contained something which
the captain found of startling interest. He saw the captain stare with
peculiar fixedness at one paragraph, never taking his eyes off it for
at least five minutes. He even thought that the captain's lips were
twitching, that the captain's face grew pale. As if perceiving the
inspection and resenting it, he drew the paper closer to him, so that
it concealed his countenance.

As they were nearing Aldershot and Farnham a little conversation was
commenced which had a peculiar interest for Bertie, if for no one else
in the compartment.

In the opposite corner, at the other end of the carriage, was seated a
stout old gentleman, with a very red face and very white hair. He wore
a gorgeous smoking-cap, which was stuck at the back of his head, and
there was something about his appearance and demeanour which impressed
the beholder with the fact that this was a gentleman of strong
opinions.

In front of him was a thin young gentleman with a pale face, who
puffed at a big meerschaum pipe as though he did not exactly like it.
He was reading a novel with a yellow back, which all the world could
perceive was _The Adventures of Harry Lorrequer_. The old gentleman
had been reading the _Evening Standard_ through a pair of gold glasses
of the most imposing size and pattern.

He had apparently finished with his paper, for he lowered it and
stared through his glasses at the thin young man in front of him. The
thin young man did not seem to be made the more comfortable by his
gaze.

"Have you seen about the Countess of Ferndale's jewels?"

This was said in loud, magisterial tones, which commanded the
attention of the whole compartment. The young man seemed startled.
Bertie was startled; he almost thought he saw the _Globe_ tremble in
the captain's hands.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Have you seen about the Countess of Ferndale's jewels?"

This was said in tones rather louder and more magisterial than at
first.

"No! No! I haven't!"

"Then, sir, I say it's a disgrace to the country."

Whether it was a disgrace to the country that the thin young man had
not heard about the Countess of Ferndale's jewels was not quite clear.
The thin young man seemed to think it was, for he turned pink.
However, the old gentleman went on,--

"Here's a noble lady, the wife of one of the greatest English peers,
returning from personal attendance upon her sovereign, bearing with
her jewels of almost priceless value, and they disappear from
underneath her nose. I say it's a disgrace to the country, sir!"

The thin young man seemed relieved. It was evidently not his want of
knowledge which was a disgrace to the country, but the disappearance
of the lady's jewels. Bertie pricked up his ears; the captain gave no
sign of having heard.

The young man ventured on a question.

"How's that? Have they been stolen?"

"How's that, sir! Stolen, sir! I should think they have been stolen!"

The words were spoken with almost volcanic force. All the carriage
began to take an interest in what was being said--excepting always
"Uncle Tom."

The old gentleman grasped his paper with his right hand, and
emphasized his words with the first finger of his left.

"At half-past two this afternoon the Countess of Ferndale, who
has been in attendance at Windsor Castle, started from Windsor
to London. Windsor, sir, is at a distance of twenty-two miles from
town--twenty-two miles; no more. The traffic between that place and
London, sir, is extremely large; and yet, travelling on that short
strip of railway, in one of Her Majesty's own state coaches----"

"I don't think it was in one of the Queen's own coaches she was
travelling."

"No; it wasn't."

The first interruption came from the severe-looking gentleman who had
lent the Captain the _Globe_; the second from a placid-looking
gentleman with black whiskers, who sat beside him in front of Bertie.

"Well, sir, and what difference does that make?"

"None at all, perhaps, to the main issue," the severe gentleman
allowed. "It's only a statement of fact."

"Well, sir, supposing it is a statement of fact, which, as at present
advised, I am not prepared to allow, I suppose I may take it for
granted that she was travelling in a compartment which was exclusively
reserved for her own use?"

"That, I believe, was the case."

"Well, sir, travelling on that short strip of railway, in a
compartment exclusively reserved for her own use, what happens in this
England of the nineteenth century? It is incredible! monstrous! She
had with her certain family jewels of almost priceless value. She had
been wearing them in Her Majesty's own presence. They were in the
charge of certain officers of her household; and yet, when she comes
to the end of that journey of two and twenty miles, they were gone,
sir!--gone! vanished into air!"

"No! If they were stolen, he must have been a jolly clever thief,"
observed the thin young man.

"A jolly clever thief!" said, or rather roared the stout old
gentleman. "You speak of the author of such an outrage as a jolly
clever thief. If I had the miscreant within reach of my hand"--the
stout old gentleman stretched out his hand, and the thin young man
shrank out of the way--"I should consider myself justified in striking
him down, and trampling the life out of his wretched carcass. I should
consider the doer of such an act deserved well of his country, sir!"

Bertie felt a cold shiver go down his back. He pictured the stout old
gentleman striking him down, and trampling the life out of his
wretched carcass. At that moment he almost felt as though he had been
guilty of the crime; he almost expected the stout old gentleman to
read his guilt upon his countenance, and conclude the business there
and then. As for the captain--the least that Bertie expected him to do
was to open the door and, without waiting for such a small detail
as the stopping of the train, disappear into the night. What he
actually did was to return the _Globe_, with a courteous bow, to the
severe-looking gentleman, carefully cross his knees, and light a
fresh cigar. Then he listened to what was being said with an air of
placid interest.

"What was the value of the jewels?" inquired the gentleman with the
black whiskers.

"Priceless! priceless! How can you value jewels which have been in the
possession of a noble family for generations? which are family
heirlooms?"

"I suppose they must be pretty well known, in which case the thieves
will find considerable difficulty in getting rid of their spoil."

"Getting rid of their spoil! Is it conceivable that such villains are
to be allowed to get rid of their spoil, to sell it, and fatten on the
proceeds?"

"Very conceivable, indeed, unless something is done to stop them."

The stout old gentleman was so affected by the idea of the countess's
jewels being brought into the market in such an ignoble way that words
failed him, and he gasped for breath.

During all this time Bertie's sensations were indescribable. He felt
as though he were under the power of some hideous spell. He would have
given anything to have been able to spring up and denounce the
miscreant who had wrought this crime. There would have been something
worthy of a hero in that; but he could not do it, he was spellbound.
Perhaps the consciousness of the revolver which was in the captain's
pocket had something to do with his state of mind; but it was not only
that, he was paralysed by the position itself--by the knowledge that
his own act had made him the companion of such a rogue.

Just at the moment the captain raised his hand, as if by chance, and
tapped the inner pocket of his coat. Slight though the action was,
Bertie saw it, and he shuddered. But there was worse to follow.

The remark was made by the severe-looking gentleman.

"What strikes me is, how was the theft performed? Those in charge of
the box swear that it was never out of their sight. When they started
the jewels were in it; when they reached their journey's end they were
gone. They couldn't have been spirited away."

"The boxes were changed."

Bertie felt that his heart had ceased to beat. The words were spoken
by "Uncle Tom."

It was the first time he had opened his lips. The eyes of all in the
carriage were fixed upon him. He was seated, apparently quite at his
ease, a cigar in his mouth, one hand upon his knee, and, as he spoke,
with the other he undid the top button of his overcoat.

"How could they be changed? Those in charge state that they never lost
sight of the particular box in which the jewels were."

The captain took his cigar out of his mouth, and puffed out a wreath
of smoke.

"I have a theory of my own upon the subject."

"And I say it is monstrous! preposterous! incredible! Do you mean to
tell me such a trick as that could have been played in the light of
day?"

This was from the stout old gentleman.

"Apparently it was done in the light of day, however it was done. I
have only suggested a theory. Of course you are at liberty to accept
it or reject it, as you please."

"I do reject it entirely! absolutely! I am sixty-seven next June, and
I know perfectly well that no such trick would be played on me."

"You are, probably, a person of peculiar acumen."

But the stout old gentleman was not to be flattered.

"As you have a theory of how the robbery was performed, perhaps you
have a theory of how the robbers might be caught."

"I have one or two theories. I could go further and say that, if it
were made worth my while, I would engage to find the thieves."

"Made worth your while, sir! Isn't it worth every honest man's while
to find a thief?"

"Not necessarily. Take your own case. Would you be prepared to find
the thieves?"

"If I knew where they were."

"Precisely; that is just the point. What you mean is, that if they
were found you would give them into custody, but you have to find them
first. People don't go thief-hunting from motives of pure
philanthropy; even a policeman requires you to make it worth his
while."

"May I ask if you are an amateur detective?" inquired the
severe-looking gentleman.

"I shouldn't call myself quite that," said "Uncle Tom."

"But you have evidently had considerable experience in dealing with
crime?"

"It has been the study of my life," said "Uncle Tom."

"I suppose that it is a very interesting study?"

"Very interesting indeed."

"If it is not an impertinent question, may I ask whether it has been
your own experience that such a study improves the moral nature of a
man?"

"Quite the reverse," said "Uncle Tom."

"You are frank."

"What is life unless you are?" asked "Uncle Tom."

The captain laughed; but Bertie was in agony The train began to slow.

"I think this is Southampton," said the thin young man.

And it was.



                             Chapter XIX

                        TO JERSEY WITH A THIEF


The night's boat was the _Ella_. When the train drew to a standstill
and the passengers got out Bertie supposed that their journey was at
an end. His ideas as to the whereabouts of Jersey were very vague
indeed. He was surprised, therefore, when the captain, taking his
hand, led him along the gangway to the boat. The stars were shining
brightly overhead, but midnight never is quite as light as noon, and
in the uncertain light he could neither see nor understand where it
was that they were going.

The captain led him to the hurricane deck, and then he paused. Then he
led Bertie to a seat.

"This will be your bed to-night. I don't choose to go into the cabin,
and I don't choose that you shall go without me."

Bertie sat down and wondered. Dark figures were passing to and fro;
there were the lights on the shore; he could feel the throbbing of the
engines; there was the unclouded sky above; he still was in a dream.
Unfortunately the figure of the captain standing near turned the dream
into a nightmare.

Most of the passengers went at once into their cabins. No one came
near them.

"Look up at me."

Bertie looked up. The captain, standing, looked down at him.

"Do you think I didn't see you in the train? Do you think I didn't see
you wanting to open your mouth and blab before all those fools? It
would have been capital fun for you, now, wouldn't it?"

Bertie shivered. The captain's ideas of fun were singular. Bertie
would have almost given his life to have done what the rascal hinted
at, but he would have done it in his extremity of agony and with no
idea of fun. It would have taken a burden off his mind which seemed
almost greater than he could bear; it threatened to drive him mad. But
to have played the part suggested would have needed a touch of the
heroic--a courage, a strength which Bertie had not got.

The captain went on.

"I had half a mind to have shot you then. If you had winked your eye I
think I should have done the trick. I have not quite made up my mind
what I shall do with you yet. We shall soon be out at sea. Boys easily
fall overboard at night. I shouldn't be surprised if you fall
overboard--by accident, you understand."

The captain smiled; but Bertie's heart stood still.

"Now lie down upon that seat, put your head upon that bag, and don't
you move. I shan't go out of revolver range, you may rest assured."

Bertie lay down upon the seat. The captain began pacing to and fro.
Every second or two he passed the recumbent boy. Once Bertie could see
that he was examining the lock of the revolver which he was holding in
his hand. He shut his eyes, trying to keep the sight away.

What an unsatisfactory difference often exists between theory and
practice! If there was one point in which he had been quite sure it
was his courage. To use his own words, he had pluck enough for
anything. To "funk" a thing, no matter what; to show the white feather
under any set of conditions which could be possibly conceived--these
things were to him impossible.

In such literature as he was acquainted with, the boy heroes were
always heroes with a vengeance. They were gifted beings whose nerve
was never known to fail. They fought, with a complete unconsciousness
of there being anything unusual in such a line of conduct, against the
most amazing odds. They generally conquered; but if they failed their
nerves were still unshaken, and they would disengage themselves with
perfect coolness from the most astounding complication of disasters.
They never hesitated to take life or to risk it; blood was freely
shed; they thought nothing of receiving several shots in the body and
a sword-cut at the back of the head.

As for Dick Turpin, and Robin Hood, and Robinson Crusoe, and Jack the
Giant-Killer--all the world knows that they went through adventures
which makes the hair stand up on end only to read of, and through them
all they never winced. Bertie was modestly conscious that these
gentlemen were perhaps a little above his reach--just a little,
perhaps; but what the aforementioned boys had done he had thought that
he himself could do.

Yet here he was, lying upon a seat and shutting his eyes to prevent
him from seeing a revolver. Why, one of those heroic boys would have
faced the whole six shots and never trembled!

The steamer started, and so did Bertie. Taken by surprise by the
sudden movement, he raised himself a little on the seat.

"Keep still!"

The captain's voice came cool and clear. Bertie returned to his former
position, not pausing to consider what his heroes would have done.

"If you want to move you must first ask my permission; but don't you
move without it, my young friend."

Bertie offered no remonstrance. The seat was not a comfortable one to
lie upon. It was one of those which are found in steamers, formed of
rails, with a space between each rail. Possibly when they reached the
open sea it would be less comfortable still. But Bertie lay quite
quiet, and never said a word. It was not exactly what his heroes would
have done. They would have faced the villain, and dared him to do his
worst; and when he had done his worst, and sent six shots inside them,
with a single bound they would have grasped him by the throat, and
with a laugh of triumph have flung him head foremost into the gurgling
sea.

But Bertie did not do that.

So long as they remained in the river one or two of the passengers
still continued to move about the decks. The night was so glorious
that they probably thought it a pity to confine themselves in the
stifling cabins. But by degrees, one after the other, they
disappeared, until finally the decks were left in possession of the
captain and Bertie, and those whose duty it was to keep watch at
night.

Although they had passed Hurst Castle and reached the open sea, the
weather was so calm that hardly any difference was perceptible in the
motion of the vessel. Bertie still lay on the seat, looking at the
stars.

He had no inclination to sleep, and even had he had such inclination,
not improbably the neighbourhood of "Uncle Tom" and his revolver would
have banished slumber from his eyes.

He was not a sentimental boy. Sentimental boys are oftener found in
books than life. But even unsentimental boys are accessible to
sentiment at times. He was not a religious boy. Simple candour compels
the statement that the average boy is not religious. But that night,
lying on the deck, looking up at that wondrous canopy of stars,
conscious of what had brought him there, aware of his danger, ignorant
of the fate which was in store for him, knowing that for all he could
tell just ahead of him lay instant death, he would have been more or
less than boy if his thoughts had not strayed to unwonted themes.

Through God's beautiful world, across His wondrous sea--the companion
of a thief. Bertie's thoughts travelled homewards. A sudden flood of
memories swept over him.

All at once the captain paused in front of him.

"Shall I throw you overboard?"

There was a glitter in his eyes. A faint smile played about his lips.
Bertie was not inclined to smile. His tongue clave to the roof of his
mouth.

"I have been asking myself the question, Why should I not? I shall
have to dispose of you in one way or other in the end; why not by
drowning now? One plunge and all is over."

This sort of conversation made Bertie believe in the possibility of
one's hair standing straight up on end. He felt persuaded that none of
his heroes had ever been spoken to like this; nothing made of flesh
and blood could listen to such observations and remain unmoved,
especially with the moonlit waters disappearing into the night on
every side. What crimes would they not conceal?

"It is this way. It is you, or--I. In the railway train you would have
proclaimed me had you dared. You did not dare; sooner or later,
perhaps, you will dare more. Why should I wait for your courage to
return? We are alone; the sea tells no tales. Boys will lean
overboard: what more natural than that you should fall in? It is
distressing to lose one's nephew, especially so dear a one; but what
is life but a great battle-field which is covered with the slain? Sit
up, my boy, and let us talk together."

Bertie sat up, not because he wished it, but because he could not help
it. He had lost all control over his own movements. This man seemed to
him to be some supernatural being against whom it was vain to attempt
to struggle.

There was no one by to listen to the somewhat curious conversation
which occurred between these two.

"So you have run away? I think you said you ran away for fun. You have
evidently a turn for humour. Does this sort of thing enter into your
ideas of fun--this little trip of ours?"

It emphatically did not. Bertie stammered out a negative.

"No--o!"

"You say your father is rich, you have a good home. Were you not happy
there?"

"Ye--es!"

"Seriously, then, what did you propose to yourself to do when you ran
away?"

"I--I don't know."

"Did you propose to yourself a life like mine?"

Bertie shuddered. He shrank away from the man in front of him with an
air of invincible repugnance.

"Answer me! Look me in the face and answer me. I have a taste for
learning the opinions of my fellow-men, and you are something original
in boys. Tell me, what is your candid opinion of myself? What do you
think of me?"

Bertie looked up as he was bidden. There was in his face something of
his old bull-dog look. Something of his old courage had come back
again, and on his countenance was the answer ready written. But the
captain meant to have the answer in plain words.

"Speak! you're not moonstruck, are you? Tell me what you think of me?"

"You'll kill me if I do."

The words came out heavily, as though he had to rid himself of an
overpowering weight before he could get them out. There was a
momentary pause; then the captain laughed.

"I shall kill you anyhow. What difference will it make? Tell me what
you think of me."

"You are a coward and a thief!"

The words were spoken; and in speaking them perhaps Bertie came nearer
to what is called a hero than ever in all his life before. But their
effect upon the captain was not agreeable. Those who play at bowls
must expect rubbers, and those who insist upon receiving an answer
which they know can scarcely be agreeable should make the best of it
when it comes. But the captain did not seem to see it.

Directly he had spoken Bertie saw that he had put his foot in it.
Instinctively he slipped his hands between the rails of the seat and
held on tight. Only just in time, for the captain, stooping forward,
tried to lift him in his arms.

"Leave go, you young brute!"

Bertie did leave go, but only to throw his arms about the captain's
neck. Instantly the captain stood up straight, holding Bertie in his
arms, staggering beneath his weight, for the convulsive clutch of the
lad's arms about his neck encumbered him.

"If you don't take your arms away I'll kill you!"

But Bertie only clutched the tighter.

"Let me go! let me go!" he screamed with the full strength of his
lungs.

The effect was startling. In the prevailing silence the boy's voice
was heard far out across the sea. Taken aback by such a show of
resistance where none had before been offered, the captain promptly
replaced the lad upon the seat.

"What's the matter with you? It was only a joke."

Bertie unclasped his arms. The expression of his face showed that it
had been no joke to him. He looked like one who was not even yet quite
sure that he had escaped from death.

The man at the helm was unable to see the seat on which they sat. The
forward watch had been on the other side the ship. This man now
advanced.

"What's the matter there?"

The captain met him with his most placid air.

"Did you hear my nephew's voice? He had no idea he spoke so loud; he
was forgetting where we were."

The man advanced still closer.

"What's the matter with you, boy?"

Quite unconsciously the captain unbuttoned his overcoat, and his hand
strayed to the pocket at the top.

"No--nothing," stammered Bertie.

"Nothing! I don't know what you call nothing! I should think you was
being murdered, hollering out like that. Why don't you go down to the
cabin and go to sleep?"

The captain drew the man aside.

"My nephew is a little excitable at times," he said, and tapped his
forehead. "He is best away from the cabin. He is better alone up here
in the fresh air with me."

The man, a weather-beaten sailor, with an unkempt grey beard, looked
him straight in the face.

"Do you mean he's cracked?"

"Well, we don't call it by that name. He's excitable--not quite
himself at times. You had better pay no heed to him; he has one of his
fits on him to-night--the journey has excited him."

"Poor young feller!"

And the sailor turned to look at the boy. The captain slipped
something into his hand. The man touched his hat and went away,
looking at the piece of money as he went. And the man and the boy were
left alone again.

Bertie, on the seat, clutched the rails as he had done before. The
captain, standing in front, looked down at him.

"There's more in you than meets the eye; though, considering you
pretend to have a turn for humour, one would have thought you would
have been quicker to understand a joke. I say nothing of the noise you
made, but you were wise not to answer that fellow's impertinent
question. Your presence of mind saved you from accidental contact with
the waters, but nothing could have saved you from my six-shooter. You
can lie down again. You need have no fear of another accident; your
screeching has made that fellow, and probably his comrades, too
inquisitive to make it worth one's while to venture that. But when it
comes to the question of letting your tongue wag too freely, nothing
can save you from my revolver--mark that. It will be then a case of
you or I. If you have made up your mind to spoil me, I will spoil you,
my little friend. I say you can lie down."

Bertie lay down; and again the captain resumed his pacing to and fro,
keeping watch, as it were, over his young prisoner.

The boy fell asleep. The reaction which followed the short sharp
struggle beguiled him, and he slept. And oddly enough he slept the
sleep of peace. And more than once the captain, pausing in his
solitary vigil, bent over the sleeping boy, and looked down at him.

"The young beggar's actually smiling."

And in fact a smile did flit across the sleeper's face. Perhaps he was
dreaming of his mother.

"Ran away for fun, did he? Yet the youngster isn't quite a fool. Pity
it should be a case of he or I, but self-preservation is Nature's
first law! That was a headline in my copy-books unless I greatly err."

The captain lit a fresh cigar, and continued his patrol. What did he
think of? A hopeless past and a hopeless future? God forgive him!
for such as he there is no forgiveness to be had from men. That
self-preservation, which is Nature's first law, is a law which cuts
both ways. Honest men must destroy the Captain Loftuses, or they will
be themselves destroyed.

The morning dawned; the day returned to the world. Still the boy slept
on. At last the captain woke him. He got up, as if bewildered, and
rubbed his eyes.

"Well, nephew mine, are you going to sleep for ever? If so, I'm sorry
that I woke you. Jump up and come with me."

His "uncle" led the way into the cabin. They were preparing breakfast;
the passengers were falling to. The night had been so tranquil that
not one had suffered from sea-sickness, and appetite had come with the
morning. A trained eye, looking at the fleecy clouds which were
peeping over the horizon, would have prophesied a change, and that
rough weather was at hand. But the day had dawned in splendour, and so
far the morning was as tranquil as the night had been. So those
passengers who were going through to Jersey sat down with light hearts
to breakfast.

The captain and Bertie joined them. That his "uncle" had no present
intention of starving him was plain, for he was allowed a hearty meal
of whatever took his fancy.

And while they were at breakfast the _Ella_ was brought up alongside
the jetty, St. Peter's Port, Guernsey.



                              Chapter XX

                           EXIT CAPTAIN TOM


When they returned to the deck the boat was  preparing to continue her
journey. The fruit vendors--and with what delicious fruit the Guernsey
men board the Jersey boats!--were preparing to take their leave, and
those passengers who had gone to stretch their legs with a saunter on
the jetty were returning to the steamer.

The rest of the voyage was uneventful. Jersey is not very far away
from Guernsey, and for a considerable part of the distance the
passengers were in sight of land. The breeze began to freshen, and as
they steamed round Jersey towards St. Heliers it began to dawn upon
not a few that enough of this sort of thing was as good as a feast.
There is such a very striking difference between steaming over a
tranquil sea and being tossed and tumbled among boisterous waves. It
was fortunate they were so near their journey's end. Several of the
travellers were congratulating themselves that, when they reached dry
land, they would be able to boast that they had voyaged from
Southampton to Jersey without experiencing a single qualm. Had the
journey been prolonged much further, that boast would have been
cruelly knocked on the head. When they drew up beside the pier at St.
Heliers, coming events, as it were, had already cast their shadows
before. They were saved just in the nick of time.

Bertie and the captain were among the first on shore; and, not
unnaturally, the young gentleman supposed that their journeying was at
an end. But he was wrong.

"Step out! We have no time to lose! We have to catch another boat,
which is due to start."

Bertie stepped out. He wondered if the other boat was to take them
back to England. Did the captain mean to pass the rest of his life in
voyaging to and fro?

The disappointed flymen, to whom the arrival of the mail-boat is the
great event of the St. Heliers day, let them pass. The hotel and
boarding-house touters touted, so far as they were concerned, in vain.
The captain gave no heed to their solicitations. He evidently knew his
way about, for he walked quickly down the jetty, turned unhesitatingly
to the left when he reached the bottom, crossed the harbour, and down
the jetty again upon the other side. About half-way down was a fussy
little steamer which was making ready to start.

"Here you are! Jump on board!"

If Bertie did not exactly jump, he at any rate got on board.

What the boat was Bertie knew not, nor whither it was going. Compared
to the _Ella_, which they had just quitted, it was so small a craft
that he scarcely thought it could be going back the way the mail had
come.

As a matter of fact it was not.

Two or three times a week a fussy little steamer passes to and fro
between Jersey and France. The two French ports at which it touches
are St. Malo and St. Brieuc. One journey it takes to St. Malo, the
next to St. Brieuc. On this occasion it was about to voyage to St.
Brieuc.

St. Brieuc, as some people may not know, is the chief town of the
department of Cotes-du-Nord, in Brittany--about as unpretending a
chief town as one could find. That Captain Loftus had some
preconceived end in view, and had not started on a wild-goose chase,
not, as might have at first appeared, going hither and thither as his
fancy swayed him, seemed plain.

A more roundabout route to France he could scarcely have chosen. Had
he simply desired to reach the Continent, fast steamers which passed
from Southampton to Havre in little less than half the time which the
journey had already occupied, were at his disposal. Very many people,
some of them constant travellers, are ignorant of the fact that a
little steamer is constantly plying between Jersey and Brittany. It is
dependent on the tides for its time of departure. Only in the local
papers are the hours advertised. Captain Loftus must have been pretty
well posted on the matter to have been aware that on this particular
day the little steamer, _La Commerce_, would be starting for St.
Brieuc about the time the mail-boat entered Jersey.

He must have had some particular object in making for that remote
corner of Breton France. No sooner did the boat enter the little
harbour than he made a dash for the railway station.

Bertie seemed to have passed into another world. He had not the
faintest notion where he was. He was not even sure that they had
reached Jersey. He heard strange tongues sounding in his ears; saw
strange costumes before his eyes. In his then state of bewilderment he
would have been quite ready to believe anybody who might have chosen
to tell him that he had arrived in Timbuctoo.

Some light was thrown upon the subject when they reached the station.
The captain took some money out of his pocket and held it out to
Bertie.

"Go and ask for the tickets," he said.

Bertie stared. If he had been told to go and ask the man in the moon
for a lock of his hair he could not have been more puzzled.

"Do you hear what I say? Go and ask for the tickets."

"Tickets? Where for?"

The captain hesitated a moment, then said:

"Two first-class tickets for Constantinople."

He handed Bertie some silver coins.

"Two first-class tickets for Constantinople."

Bertie stammeringly repeated the words. Could the captain be in
earnest?

"I want to catch the train; look alive, or----"

The captain touched the pocket where the revolver was.

Bertie doubtfully advanced to the booking office, gazing behind him as
he went to make quite sure that the captain had meant what he said.
There was an old lady taking tickets, so he waited his turn.

"Two first-class tickets for Constantinople."

"_Comment?_"

He stared at the booking-clerk, and the booking-clerk stared at him,
each in complete ignorance of what the other meant.

"Do you mean to say you can't speak French?"

The captain came to the rescue, speaking so gently that his words were
only audible to Bertie's ears.

"No--o."

"Do you mean to say you don't know enough to be able to ask for two
first-class tickets for Constantinople?"

"No--o."

"How much French do you know?"

"No--one."

The captain evidently knew a great deal, for he immediately addressed
the booking-clerk in fluent French--French which that official
understood, for two tickets were at once forthcoming. But whether they
were for Constantinople, or for Jericho, or for Kamtchatka, was more
than the boy could tell. He was in the pleasant position of not being
able to understand a word that was said; of being without the faintest
notion where he was, and of not having the least idea where he was
going to.

It may be mentioned, however, that the captain had not asked for
tickets for Constantinople--which at St. Brieuc he would have
experienced some difficulty in getting--but for Brest.

They had not long to wait before the through train from Paris entered
the station. They got into a first-class carriage, which they had for
themselves, and in due time they were off.

The state of Bertie's mind was easier imagined than described. He had
been in a dream since he had started on his journey to the Land of
Golden Dreams; and dreams have a tendency to become more and more
incoherent.

His adventures up to the time of leaving London had been strange
enough, but he had at least known in what part of the world he was.
Now he was not possessed of even that rudimentary knowledge. The
continued travelling towards an unknown destination, the unresting
onward rush, as though the captain meant, like the brook, to "go on
for ever"--and this in the case of a boy who had never travelled more
than twenty miles from home in his life--had in itself been enough to
confuse him; but the sudden discovery that he was in an unknown
country, in which they spoke an unknown tongue, put the climax to his
mental muddle. Had the captain, revolver in hand, then and there
insisted on his informing him which part of his body as a rule was
uppermost, he would have been wholly at a loss to state whether it was
on his head or heels he was accustomed to stand.

Something strange, too, about the railway carriage, about the country
through which they passed, about the people and the very houses he saw
through the carriage window made his muddle more.

The names of the roadside stations at which they stopped, which were
shouted out with stentorian lungs, were such oddities. They came to
one where the word "Guingamp" was painted in huge letters on a large
white board. Guingamp! What was the pronunciation of such a word as
that? And fancy living at a town with such a name! He was not aware
that, like a conjurer's trick, it was only a question of knowing how
it was done, and Guingamp would come as glibly to his tongue as Slough
or Upton.

And then Belle-Isle-en-Terre and Plouigneau--what names! The
educational system which flourished at Mecklemburg House had tended to
make French an even stranger tongue than it need have done. He saw the
letters on the boards, but he could no more pronounce the words which
they were supposed to form than he could fly.

Throughout the long journey--and it is a long journey from St. Brieuc
to Brest--not a word had been exchanged. The captain had scarcely
moved. He had stretched his legs out on the seat, and had taken up the
easiest position which was attainable under the circumstances; but he
had not closed his eyes. Bertie wondered if he never slept; if those
fierce black eyes remained always on the watch.

The captain looked straight in front of him; and, although he seemed
to pay no heed to what the boy was doing, Bertie was conscious that he
never moved without the captain knowing it. What a life this man must
lead, to be ever on the watch; to be ever fearful that the time of the
avenger had come at last; that the prison gates were about to close on
him, and, perhaps, this time for ever.

"Uncle Tom" seemed to be as much at home in Brest as he had been
everywhere. The station was filled with the usual crowd. Porters
advanced to offer their services to carry the Gladstone bag and place
it on a cab, outside the cabmen hailed them in the hope of a fare; but
the captain, paying no heed to any of them, marched quickly on.

Were they at their journey's end? Bertie wondered. Was this
Constantinople, or had they another stage to go? If not
Constantinople, and he had a vague idea that Constantinople could not
be reached quite so quickly as they had come--what place was it?

What struck him chiefly as they passed into the town was the number of
men in uniform there seemed to be about. Every third person they met
seemed to wear a uniform. He supposed they were soldiers, though he
had never seen soldiers dressed like these before; and then what a
number of them there were! Geography is not a strong point of the
English education system, and he had never been taught at Mecklemburg
House that Brest was to France much more than Portsmouth is to
England, and that its population consists of four classes, soldiers,
sailors, dockyard labourers--looking at all those, of whatever grade,
who labour in the dockyard in the light of labourers--and, a long way
behind the other three, civilians: "civilians" being a generic name
for that--regarded from a Brest point of view--absolutely
insignificant class who have no direct connection with war or making
ready for war.

On their arrival the day was well advanced, and as they went down the
Rue de Siam they met the men returning from the yards. Bertie had
never seen such a sight before, not even in the course of his present
adventures. The Rue de Siam runs down the hill. The dockyards are at
the foot. From where they stood, as far as the eye could reach,
advanced a dense mass of dirt-grimed men. They were the Government
employés, employed by France to make engines and ships of war, and as
the seemingly never-ending stream went past he actually moved closer
to the captain with a vague idea that he might--think of it, ye
heroes!--need _his_ protection; for it seemed to the lad that, taken
in the mass, he had never seen a more repulsive-looking set of
gentlemen even in his dreams.

The captain went straight down to the bridge; then he paused, seeming
to hesitate a moment, then turned to the right, striking into what
seemed very much like a nest of rookeries. They came to an ancient,
disreputable-looking inn. This they entered; and as they did so
Bertie's memory suddenly travelled back to the Kingston inn, into
which he had been enticed by the Original Badger. The two houses were
about on a par.

Apparently the establishment was not accustomed to receive guests of
their distinguished appearance--though Bertie was shabby enough--for
the aged crone who received them was evidently bent double by her
sense of the honour which was paid to the house.

She and the captain carried on a voluble conversation, though, for all
that Bertie understood of what they said, they might as well have held
their peace. He remained standing in the centre of the brick floor,
shuffling from foot to foot, feeling and looking as much out of place
as though he had been suddenly dropped into the middle of China.
Gabble, gabble went the old crone's tongue, wiggle-waggle went her
picturesque white cap--the only picturesque thing there was about
her--up and down went her arms and hands. She was the personification
of volubility, but unfortunately she might have been dumb for any
meaning which her words conveyed to Bertie.

Yet, incomprehensible as her speech might be and was, he could not rid
himself of an impression, derived from her manner to the captain, and
the captain's manner to her, that they two had met before, and that,
in fact, they knew each other very well indeed. But neither then nor
at any other time did he get beyond impression.

Certainly her after-conduct was not of a kind to show that, even if
she knew the gentleman, she had much faith in his integrity, unless,
as was possible, the understanding between the two was of a very deep
and subtle kind indeed.

She showed the new arrivals up a flight of rickety stairs, into a room
in which there were two beds of a somewhat better sort than might have
been expected. Some attempt had also been made to fit the room up
after the French fashion, so that it might serve as sitting-room as
well as bedroom. There was a table in the centre, and the apartment
also contained two or three rush-bottomed chairs.

The old crone, having shown them in, said something to the captain and
disappeared. The man and the boy were left alone. They had not spoken
to each other since they had left St. Brieuc, and there was not much
spoken now.

"You can take your hat off and sit down. We shall sleep here to-night."

So at any rate they had reached a temporary resting-place at last;
their journey was not to be quite unceasing. It was only the night
before they had left London, but it seemed to Bertie that it was a
year ago.

He did as he was bid--took his hat off and sat on a chair. The captain
sat down also, seating himself on one chair and putting his feet upon
another. Not a word was spoken; they simply sat and waited, perhaps
twenty minutes.

Bertie wondered what they were waiting for, but the reappearance of
the crone with a coarse white tablecloth shed light upon the matter.
They had been waiting while a meal was being prepared.

The prospect revived his spirits. He had not tasted food since they
had left the _Ella_, and his appetite was always hale and hearty. But
he was thrown into the deepest agitation by a remark which the crone
addressed to him. He had not the faintest notion what it was she said;
but the mere fact of being addressed in a foreign and therefore
unknown tongue made him feel quite ill.

The captain did not improve the matter.

"Why don't you answer the woman?"

"I don't know what she says."

"Are you acting, or is it real?"

Bertie only wished that he had been acting, and that his ignorance had
not been real. At Mecklemburg House the idea of learning French had
seemed to him absurd, an altogether frivolous waste of time. What
would he not have given then--and still more, what would he not have
given a little later on--to have made better use of his opportunities
when he had them? Circumstances alter cases.

The captain looked at him for a moment or two with his fierce black
eyes; then he said something to the old woman which made her laugh.
Not a pleasant laugh by any means, and it did not add to Bertie's
sense of comfort that such a laugh was being laughed at him.

"Sit up to the table!"

The old woman had laid the table, and had then disappeared to fetch
the food to put before her guests. Bertie sat up. The meal appeared.
Not by any means a bad one--better, like the room itself, than might
have been expected.

When they had finished, and the old crone had cleared the things away,
the captain stood up and lighted a cigar.

"Now, my lad, you'd better tumble into bed. I've a strong belief in
the virtue of early hours. There's nothing like sleep for boys, even
for those with a turn for humour."

Bertie had not himself a taste for early hours as a rule--it may be
even questioned if the captain had--but he was ready enough for bed
just then, and he had scarcely got between the sheets before he was
asleep. But what surprised him was to see the captain prepare himself
for bed as well. Bertie had one bed, the captain the other. The lights
were put out; and at an unusually early hour silence reigned.

Perhaps the journey had fatigued the man as much as the boy. It is
beyond question that the captain was asleep almost as soon as Bertie
was.

But he did not sleep quite so long.

While it was yet dark he got up, and, having lit a candle, looked at
his watch. Then he dressed very quietly, making not the slightest
noise. He took his revolver from underneath his pillow, and replaced
it in the top pocket of his overcoat. He also took from underneath his
pillow a leathern case. He opened it. It contained a necklace of
wondrous beauty, formed of diamonds of uncommon brilliancy and size.
His great black eyes sparkled at the precious stones, and the precious
stones sparkled back at him.

It was that necklace which had once belonged to the Countess of
Ferndale, and which, according to Mr. Rosenheim, had cost more than
twenty thousand pounds. The captain reclosed the leathern case, and
put it in the same pocket which contained his revolver.

Then, being fully dressed, even to his hat and boots, he crossed the
room and looked at Bertie. The boy was fast asleep.

"The young beggar's smiling again."

The young beggar was; perhaps he was again dreaming of his mother.

The captain took his Gladstone bag and crept on tiptoe down the
stairs. Curiously enough the front door was unbarred, so that it was
not long before he was standing in the street. Then, having lighted,
not a cigar this time, but a pipe, he started at a pace considerably
over four miles an hour, straight off through the country lanes, to
Landerneau. He must have had a complete knowledge of the country to
have performed that feat, for Landerneau is at a distance of not less
than fifteen miles from Brest; and in spite of the darkness which
prevailed, at any rate when he started, he turned aside from the high
road, and selected those by-paths which only a native of the country
as a rule knows well.

Landerneau is a junction on the line which runs to Nantes. He caught
the first train to that great seaport, and that afternoon he boarded,
at St. Nazaire, a steamer which was bound for the United States of
America, and by night he was far away on the high seas.

Henceforward he disappears from the pages of this story. He had laid
his plans well. He had destroyed the trail, and the only witness of
his crime whom he had any cause to fear he had left penniless in the
most rabid town in France, where any Englishman who is penniless, and
unable to speak any language but his own, was not likely to receive
much consideration from the inhabitants.



                             Chapter XXI

         THE DISADVANTAGES OF NOT BEING ABLE TO SPEAK FRENCH


In the meantime Bertie slept, perhaps still continuing to dream of his
mother. When he woke he thought the captain was still taking his rest.
He remained for a time motionless in bed. But it began to dawn upon
him that the room was very quiet, that there was no sound even of
gentle breathing. If the captain slept, he slept with uncommon
soundness.

So he sat up to see if the captain really was asleep, and saw that the
opposite bed was empty. Still the truth did not at once occur to him.
It was quite possible that the captain had not chosen to wait till his
companion awoke before he himself got up.

For the better part of an hour Bertie lay and wondered. By degrees he
could not but perceive that the captain's absence was peculiar.
Considering the close watch and ward which he had kept upon the lad,
it was surprising that he should leave him so long to the enjoyment of
his own society.

An idea occurred to Bertie. Supposing the captain was guarding him
even in his absence? Then the door would be locked. He got up to see.
No; he had only to turn the handle, and the door was open. What could
it mean? Bertie returned to his bed to ponder.

Another half-hour passed, and still no signs of the captain. Bertie
would have liked to get up, but did not dare. Supposing when the
captain returned he chose to be indignant because the lad had taken
upon himself to move without his advice?

There came a tapping at the door. Was it the captain? He would
scarcely knock at the door to ask if he might be allowed to enter. The
tapping again.

"Come in," cried Bertie.

Still the tapping continued. Then some one spoke in French. It was the
old crone's voice.

"M'sieu veut se lever? C'est midi!"

Not in the least understanding what was said, Bertie cried again,
"Come in!"

The door was opened a few inches, and the old crone looked in. She
stared at Bertie sitting up in bed, and Bertie stared at her.

"M'sieu, vot' oncle! Il dort?"

"I don't know what you mean," said Bertie.

They were in the agreeable position of not having either of them the
faintest conception of what the other said. She came further into the
room and looked about her. Then she saw that the captain's bed was
empty.

"Vot' oncle! Où est-il donc?"

Bertie stared, as though by dint of staring he could get at what she
meant. The Mecklemburg House curriculum had included French, but not
the sort of French which the old lady talked. "Mon père" and "ma
mère," that was about the extent of Bertie's knowledge of foreign
tongues; and even those simple words he would not have recognised
coming from the peculiarly voluble lips of this ancient dame.

While he was still endeavouring to understand, from the expression of
her face, what it was she said, all at once she began to scold him. Of
course he had still not the slightest knowledge as to what were the
actual words she used; but her voice, her gestures, and the expression
of her countenance needed no interpreter. Never very much to look at,
she suddenly became as though possessed with an evil spirit, seeming
to rain down anathemas on his non-understanding head with all the
virulence of the legendary witch of old.

What was the matter Bertie had not the least conception, but that
something was the matter was plain enough. Her shrill voice rose to a
piercing screech. She seemed half choked with the velocity of her
speech. Her wrinkled face assumed a dozen different hideous shapes.
She shook her yellow claws as though she would have liked to have
attacked him then and there.

Suddenly she went to the door and called to some one down below. A man
in sabots came stamping up the stairs. He was a great hulking fellow
in a blouse and a great wide-brimmed felt hat. He listened to what the
woman said, or rather screamed, looking at Bertie all the time from
under his overhanging brows. Then he took up the lad's clothes which
lay upon the bed, and very coolly turned out all the pockets. Finding
nothing in the shape of money to reward his search, he put them down
again and glowered at Bertie.

Some perception of the truth began to dawn upon the lad. Could the
captain have gone--absconded, in fact--and forgotten to pay his bill?
From the proceedings of the man and woman in front of him it would
seem he had. The man had apparently searched the youngster's pockets
in quest of money to pay what the captain owed, and searched in vain.

All at once he caught Bertie by the shoulders and lifted him bodily on
to the floor. Then he pointed to his clothing, saying something at the
same time. Bertie did not understand what he said, but the meaning of
his gesture was plain enough.

Bertie was to put on his clothes and dress. So Bertie dressed. All the
time the woman kept up a series of exclamations. More than once it was
all that the man could do to prevent her laying hands upon the boy. He
himself stood looking grimly on, every now and then seeming to grunt
out a recommendation to the woman to restrain her indignation.

When the boy was dressed he unceremoniously took him by the collar of
the coat and marched him from the room. The old crone brought up the
rear, shrieking out reproaches as they went.

In this way they climbed down the rickety stairs, Bertie first--a most
uncomfortable first; the man next, holding his coat collar, giving him
little monitory jerks, in the way the policeman had done down
Piccadilly; the woman last, raining abuse upon the unfortunate
youngster's head. This was another stage on the journey to the Land of
Golden Dreams.

Across the room below to the front door. There was a temporary pause.
The old crone gave the boy two sounding smacks, one on each side of
the head, given with surprising vigour considering her apparent age.
Then the man raised his foot, sabot and all, and kicked the young
gentleman into the street!

Then Bertie felt sure that the captain had forgotten to pay his bill.

He stood for a moment in the narrow street, not unnaturally surprised
at this peremptory method of bidding a guest farewell. But it would
have been quite as well if he had stood a little less upon the order
of his going; for the crone, taking advantage of his momentary pause,
caught off her slipper and flung it at his head. This, too, was
delivered with vigour worthy of a younger arm, and as it struck Bertie
fairly on the cheek he received the full benefit of the lady's
strength. The other slipper followed, but that Bertie just dodged in
time. Still, he thought that under the circumstances, perhaps, he had
better go. So he went.

But not unaccompanied.

A couple of urchins had witnessed his unceremonious exit, and they had
also seen the slippers aimed. The whole proceeding seemed to strike
them in a much more humorous light than it did Bertie, and to mark
their enjoyment of the fun they danced about and shrieked with
laughter.

As Bertie began to slink away the man said to them something which
seemed to make them prick up their ears. They followed Bertie,
pointing with their fingers.

"V'là un Anglais! C'est un larron! au voleur! au voleur!"

What it was they shrieked in their shrill voices Bertie had not the
least idea, but he knew it was unpleasant to be pointed and shouted
at, for their words were caught up by other urchins of their class,
and soon he had a force of ragamuffins shrieking close at his heels.

"V'là un Anglais! un Anglais! C'est un lar--r--ron!"

The stress which they laid upon the _larron_ was ear-splitting.

As he went, his following gathered force. They were a ragged regiment.
Some hatless, some shoeless, all stockingless; for even those who wore
sabots showed an inch or two of naked flesh between the ends of their
breeches and the tops of their wooden shoes.

As Bertie found his way into the better portions of the town the
procession created a sensation. Shopkeepers came to their doors
to stare, the loungers in the cafés stood to look. Some of the
foot-passengers joined the rapidly-swelling crowd.

The boy with his sullen face passed on, his lips compressed, his eyes
with their dogged look. What the hubbub was about, why they followed
him, what it was they kept on shouting, he did not understand. He knew
that the captain had left him, and left him penniless. What he was
himself to do, or where he was going, he had not the least idea. He
only knew that the crowd was hunting him on.

There was not one friendly face among those around him--not one who
could understand. The boys seemed like demons, shrieking, dancing,
giving him occasional shoves. Separately he would have tackled any one
of them, for they could not despise him for being English more
heartily than he despised them for being French. But what could he do
against that lot?--a host, too, which was being reinforced by men. For
the cry "Un Anglais!" seemed to be infectious, and citizens of the
grimier and more popular type began to swell the throng and shriek "Un
Anglais!" with the boys.

One man, a very dirty and evil-looking gentleman, laying his two hands
on Bertie's shoulders, started running, and began pushing him on in
front of him. This added to the sport. The cavalcade broke into a
trot. The shrieks became more vigorous. Suddenly Bertie, being pushed
too vigorously from behind, and perhaps a little bewildered by the
din, lost his footing and fell forward on his face. The man, taken
unawares, fell down on top of him. The crowd shrieked with laughter.

A functionary interfered, in the shape of a _sergent de ville_. He
wanted to know what the disturbance was about. Two or three dozen
people, who knew absolutely nothing at all about it, began explaining
all at once. They did not render the matter clearer. Nor did the man
who had pushed Bertie over. He was indignant; not because he had
pushed Bertie over, but because he had fallen on him afterwards. He
evidently considered himself outraged because Bertie had not managed
to enjoy a monopoly of tumbling down.

The policeman, not much enlightened by the explanations which were
poured upon him, marched Bertie off to the _bureau de police_. They
manage things differently in France, and the difference is about as
much marked in a police station as anywhere else. Bertie found himself
confronted by an official who pelted him with questions he did not
understand, and who was equally at a loss to understand the
observations he made in reply. Then he found himself locked up. It is
probable that while he was held in durance vile an attempt was made to
discover an interpreter; it would appear from what followed that if
such an attempt were made, it was made in vain.

The afternoon passed away. Still the boy was left to enjoy his own
society. He had plenty of leisure to think; to wonder what was going
to happen to him--what was the next page which was to be unfolded in
the history of his adventures. He had leisure to learn that he was
getting hungry. But no one brought him anything to eat.

At last, just as he was beginning to think that he surely was
forgotten, an official appeared, who, without a word, took him by the
collar of his coat--he had been taken a good many times by the collar
of his coat of late--led him straight out of the station-house,
through some by-streets to the outskirts of the town.

Then, when he had taken him some little distance outside the walls,
and a long country road stretched away in front, he released the lad's
collar, and with a very expressive gesture, which even Bertie was not
at a loss to understand, he bade him take himself away.

And Bertie took himself away, walking smartly off in the direction in
which the sergeant pointed--away from the town. The policeman watched
him for some time, standing with his hands in his pockets; and then,
when a curve in the road took the lad out of sight, he returned within
the walls.

It was already evening. The uncertain weather which had prevailed
during the last few days still proved its uncertainty. The day had
been fine, the evening was clouded. The wind was high, and, blowing
from the north-west, blew the clouds tumultuously in scurrying masses
across the sky.

The country was bare, nearly treeless. It was very flat. The scant
fields of Finistère offered no protection from the weather, and but
little pleasure to the eye. It was a bleak, almost barren country,
with but little natural vegetation--harsh, stony, and inhospitable.

Along the wind-swept road he steadily trudged. He knew not whither he
was going, not even whence he came. He was a stranger in a strange
land. The captain had asked him whether he spoke French; he supposed,
therefore, that this land was France. But the captain had confused
him--bidden him ask for tickets for Constantinople. Even Bertie's
scanty geographical knowledge told him that Constantinople was not
France. On the other hand, the same scant store suggested that it
needed a longer flight than they had taken to bring him into Turkey.

A very slight knowledge of French would have enabled him to solve the
question. If he had only been able to ask, Where am I? The person
asked might have taken him to be an English lunatic in a juvenile
stage of his existence, but would probably have replied. Unfortunately
this knowledge was wanting. If sometimes a little knowledge is a
dangerous thing, it is also, and not seldom, very much the other way.

Nearly all that night Bertie went wandering on. The darkness gathered.
The wind seemed to whistle more loudly when the darkness came, but
there was no escape from it for him. Seen in the light of clustering
shadows the country seemed but scantily peopled. He scarcely met a
soul. A few peasants, a cart or two--these were the only moving things
he saw. And when the darkness deepened he seemed to be alone in all
the world.

A house or two he passed, even some villages, in which there were no
signs of life except an occasional light gleaming through a wayside
window. He made no attempt to ask for food, or drink, or shelter. How
could he have asked? As he went further and further from the town he
began to come among the Breton aborigines; and in Brittany, as in
Wales, you find whole hamlets in which scarcely one of the inhabitants
has a comprehensible knowledge of the language of the country which
claims them as her children. Even French would have been of
problematic service in the parts into which he had found, or rather
lost his way, and he was not even aware that there was a place called
Brittany, and a tongue called Breton. He was a stranger in a strange
land indeed!

It was a horrible night, that first one he spent wandering among the
wilds of Finistère. After he had gone on and on and on, and never
seemed to come to anything, and the winds shrieked louder, and he was
hungry and thirsty and weary and worn, and there was nothing but
blackness all around and the terror-stricken clouds whirling above his
head, somewhere about midnight he thought it was time he should find
some shelter and rest.

So he clambered over a stone wall which bound the road on either side,
and on the other side of this stone wall he ventured to lie down. It
was not comfortable lying; there was no grass, there were thistles,
nettles, weeds, and stones--plenty of stones. On this bed he tried to
take some rest, trusting to the wall to shelter him.

In vain. It requires education to become accustomed to a bed of
stones. All things come by custom, but those who are used to sheets
find stony soil disagreeable ground. Bertie gave it up. The wind
seemed to come through the chinks in the wall with even greater
bitterness than if there had been no wall at all. The stones were
torture. There was nothing on which he could lay his head. So he got
up and struck across the field, seeking for a sheltered place in which
to lie. For another hour or so he wandered on, now sitting down for a
moment or two, now kneeling, and feeling about with his hand for
comfortable ground. In an open country, on a dark and windy night, it
is weary searching for one's bed, especially in a country where stones
are more plentiful than grass.

In his fruitless wanderings, confused by the darkness and the
strangeness of the place, Bertie went over the same ground more than
once. Without knowing it, meaning to go forwards, he went back. When
he suspected that this was the case, his helplessness came home to him
more forcibly than it had done before. What was he to do if he could
not tell the way he had come from the way he was going?

At last he blundered on some trees. He welcomed them as though they
had been friends. He sat down at the foot of one, and found that the
ground was coated by what was either moss or grass. Compared to his
bed of stones it was like a bed of eider-down. It was quite a big
tree, and he found that he could so lean against it that it would
serve as a very tolerable barrier against the wind at his back.

At the foot of this tree he sat down, and pillowing his head against
the trunk he sought for sleep. But sleep was coy, and would not come
on being wooed. The utter solitude of his position kept him wakeful.
Robinson Crusoe's desolation was scarcely more complete; his
helplessness was not so great. It came upon Bertie, as it came upon
Crusoe in his lonely island, that he was wholly in the hands of God.
The teachings which he had been taught at his mother's knee, and which
seemed to go into one ear and out of the other, proved to be the bread
which is cast upon the waters, returning after many days. He
remembered with startling vividness how his mother had told him that
God holds us all in the hollow of His hand: he understood the meaning
of that saying now.

He was so sleepy, so tired out and out, that from very weariness
he forgot that he was hungry and athirst. Yet, in some strange
fantastic way, the thought, despite his weariness, prevented him from
sleeping--that the winds which whistled through the night were the
winds of God. The winds of God! And it seemed to him that all things
were of God, the darkness and the solitude, and the mysterious place.
Who shall judge him? Who shall say that it was only because he was in
trouble that he had such thoughts? It is something even if in times of
trouble we think of God. "God is a very present help in times of
trouble," has been written on some page of some old book.

Bertie was so curiously impressed by a sense of the presence of the
Almighty God that he did what he had not done for a very long time--he
got up, and kneeling at the foot of the friendly tree, he prayed. And
it is not altogether beyond the range of possibility that, when he
again sought rest, it was because of his prayer that God sent sleep
unto his eyes.



                             Chapter XXII

                        THE END OF THE JOURNEY


Throughout the day which followed, and throughout the night, and
throughout the succeeding days and nights, Bertie wandered among the
wilds of Finistère, and among its lanes and villages. How he lived he
himself could have scarcely told. The misfortunes which had befallen
him since he had set out on his journey to the Land of Golden Dreams
had told upon him. He became ill in body and in mind. He needed rest
and care, good food and careful nursing. What he got was no food, or
scarcely any, strange skies to shelter him, a strange land to serve
him as his bed.

It was fortunate that summer was at hand. Had it been winter he would
have lain down at night, and in the morning they would have found him
dead. But he was at least spared excessive cold. The winds were
not invariably genial. The occasional rain was not at all times
welcome--to him at least, whatever it might have been to the thirsty
earth--but there was no frost. If frost had come he would certainly
have died.

What he ate he scarcely knew. Throughout the whole of his wanderings
he never received food from any human being. He found his breakfast,
dinner, tea, and supper in the fields and on the hedges. A patch of
turnips was a godsend. There was one field in particular in which grew
both swedes and turnips. It was within a stone's-throw of a village;
to reach it from the road you had to scramble down a bank. To this he
returned again and again. He began to look upon it almost as his own.

Once, towards evening, the farmer saw him getting his supper. The
farmer saw the lad before the lad saw him. He stole upon him unawares,
bent upon capturing the thief. He had almost achieved his purpose, and
was within half a dozen yards of the miscreant, when, not looking
where he was going in his anxiety to keep his eyes upon the pilferer,
he caught his sabot in a hole, and came down upon his knees. As he
came he gave vent to a deep Breton execration.

Startled, Bertie looked behind and saw the foe. He was off like the
wind. When the farmer had regained, if not his temper, at least his
perpendicular, he saw, fifty yards ahead, a wild-looking, ragged
figure tearing for his life. The Breton was not built for speed. He
perceived that he might as well attempt to rival the swallow in its
flight as outrun the boy. So he contented himself with shaking his
fists and shouting curses after the robber of his turnip field.

Never washing, never taking his clothes from his back nor his shoes
from his feet, in appearance Bertie soon presented a figure which
would have discredited a scarecrow. Scrambling through hedges,
constant walking over stony ways, beds on dampish soil--these things
told upon his garments; they soon began to drop away from him in
shreds. His face went well with his clothing. Very white and drawn,
very thin and dirty, his ravenous eyes looked out from under a tangled
shock of hair. One night he had been startled in his sleep, as he
often was, and he had sprung up, as a wild creature springs, and run
for his life, not waiting to inquire what it was that had startled
him, whether it was the snapping of a twig or the movement of a rabbit
or a bird. In his haste he left his hat behind him, and as he never
returned to get it, afterwards he went with his head uncovered.

It began to be rumoured about those parts that some strange thing had
taken up its residence in the surrounding country. The Breton peasants
and small farmers are ignorant, credulous, superstitious. The
slightest incident of an unusual character they magnify into a
mystery.

It was told in the hamlets that some wild creature had made its
appearance in their neighbourhood. Some said it was a boy, some said
it was a man, some said it was a woman; some said it was neither one
thing nor the other, but a monster which had taken human shape.

Bertie lent an air of veracity to the different versions by his own
proceedings. He was not in his own right mind. Had care been taken,
and friends been near, all might have been well; as it was, fever
was taking more and more possession of his brain. He shunned his
fellow-creatures. At the sight of a little child he would take to his
heels and run. He saw an enemy in every bush, in every tree; in a man
or a woman he saw his worst enemy of all.

In consequence the tales gained ground and grew. A lout, returning
from his labour in the fields, saw on a distant slope in the gathering
twilight a wild-looking figure, who, at sight of him, turned and ran
like the wind. The lout ran too. The tale did not lose by being told.
Bertie was magnified into a giant, his speed into speed of the
swiftest bird. The lout declared that he uttered mysterious sounds as
he ran. He became a mysterious personage altogether--and a horrible
one.

Others saw this thing of evil, for that it was a thing of evil all
were agreed. The farmer who saw him in his turnip field had a wondrous
tale to tell.

He had not tripped through his own stupidity and clumsiness. On the
contrary, it was all owing to the influence of the evil eye. Bertie,
being a thing of evil, had seen him--as things of evil have doubtless
the power of doing--although his approach was made from the rear; and,
seeing him, had glanced at him with his evil eye through the back of
his head, as things possessing that fatal gift have, we may take it
for granted, the power of doing. Nay, who shall decide that the evil
eye is not itself located in the back of the head?

Anyhow, under its influence the farmer tripped. This became clearer to
his mind the more he thought of it, and, it may be also added, the
farther off the accident became. The next morning he remembered that
he had been conscious of a mysterious something in his joints as he
approached the turnip stealer--a something not to be described, but
altogether mysterious and horrible. In the afternoon he declared that
he had not followed the plunderer because he had been rooted to the
ground, he knew not how nor why--rooted in the manner of his own
turnips, which he had seen disappearing from underneath his eyes.

That night the tale grew still more horrible. He had a couple of
glasses of brandy, at two sous a glass, with a select circle of his
friends, and under the influence of conviviality the farmer made his
neighbours' hair stand on end. He went to bed with the belief
impressed firmly on his mind that he had encountered Old Nick in
person, engaged in the nefarious and characteristic action of stealing
turnips from his turnip field.

Thus it came about that while Bertie avoided aboriginals, the
aboriginals were equally careful in avoiding him. One day some one
heard him speak. That was the climax. The tongue he spoke was neither
Breton nor French. Delirium was overtaking the lad, and under its
influence he was beginning to spout all sorts of nonsense in his
feverish wanderings here and there.

The aboriginal in question had seen him running across the field and
shouting as he ran. He declared, probably with truth, that never had
he heard the like before. It was undoubtedly the language which was in
common use among things of evil. This conclusion was not flattering to
English-speaking people, but there are occasions on which ignorance is
not bliss, and it is not folly to be wise. Being a Breton peasant of
average education, this aboriginal decided that Bertie's English was
the language in common use among things of evil.

That settled the question. There are possibly Beings--Beings in this
case should be written with a capital letter--of indifferent, and
worse than indifferent character, who have at least some elementary
acquaintance with the Breton tongue. Let so much be granted. But it
cannot be doubted--at any rate no one did doubt it--that the fact of
this stranger speaking in a strange tongue made it as plain as a
pike-staff that he was the sort of character which is better left
alone.

So, as a rule, they left him alone in the severest manner.

Of course this could not endure for ever. Bertie was approaching the
Land of Golden Dreams in a sense of which he had not dreamed even in
his wildest dreams. One cannot subsist on roots alone. Nor can a young
gentleman, used to cosy beds and well-warmed rooms and regular meals,
exist for long on such a diet, under ever-changing skies, in an
inhospitable country, in the open air. Bertie was worn to a shadow. He
was wasted not only physically, but mentally and morally. He was a
ghost of what he once had been, enfeebled in mind and body.

If something did not happen soon to change his course of living, he
would soon bring his journeying to an untimely end, and reach the Land
of Dreams indeed.

Something did happen, but it was not by any means the sort of thing
which was required.

One day a great hunt took place in that district. It was first-rate
sport. They occasionally hunt wolves, and even wild boars in
Finistère, but this time what was hunted was a boy. And the boy was
Bertie.

The mayor of St. Thégonnec was a wise man. All mayors are of
necessity, and from the nature of their office, wise, especially the
mayors of rural France; and this mayor was the wisest of wise mayors.
He was a miller by trade, honest as millers go, and as pig-headed a
rustic as was ever found in Finistère. His name was Baudry--Jean
Baudry.

It was reported to M. Baudry by his colleague, the mayor of the
commune of Plouigneau, which lies on the other side of Morlaix, that
there was a Being--with a capital B--which had come no one knew from
whence, and which was plundering the fields in a way calculated to
make the blood of all honest men turn cold--or hot, as might accord
best with the natural disposition of the blood of the man in question.

The mayor of St. Thégonnec had told this story to the mayor of
Morlaix; and the mayor of Morlaix, being the mayor of the
_arrondissement_, had thought it an excellent opportunity to snub the
mayor of a mere commune, and had snubbed the mayor of St. Thégonnec
accordingly; who, coming fresh from the snubbing, had encountered his
colleague in the market-place, and then and there told his wrongs.

The two worthies agreed that, at the first opportunity, they would lay
violent hands upon this plunderer of the fields of honest men, and
make him wish that he had left such fields alone.

Such an opportunity, or what looked like such an one, was not long in
offering itself to M. Baudry.

One afternoon he was engaged in his occupation of grinding flour,
standing in an atmosphere which would have rendered life disagreeable,
if not altogether unsupportable, to any one but a miller, when Robert,
Madame Perchon's eldest born, put his head inside the open door of the
mill.

"This creature, M. le Maire; this creature!"

Robert Perchon was an undersized youth of some twenty years of age,
who had escaped military service not only as being the eldest son of a
widow, but as being in possession of an unrivalled squint, which would
have excluded him in any case, and which would have rendered it really
difficult for a drill sergeant to have ascertained to his own
satisfaction whether, at any given moment, the recruit had his "eyes
front" or behind.

"Ah, at last! Where is this vagabond? We will settle his business in a
trice!"

Having shouted instructions to his assistant to keep his eyes upon the
stones, M. le Maire came forth.

"He is in the buck-wheat field! I was going to the little field by the
river, when, behold! what should I see in the buck-wheat field, lying
close to the hedge, and yet among the wheat, what but this creature,
fast asleep! It is so, I give you my word. At this time of day, when
all honest people are at work, in the middle of my field there was
this creature, fast asleep. I knew him at once, although I have not
seen the wretch before; but I have heard him described, and there is
indeed something absolutely diabolical in his aspect even as he lies
among my buck-wheat fast asleep!"

"You did not wake him?"

"Ah, no! Why should I wake him? Who knows what injury the creature
might have done me when he found himself disturbed?"

"Then we will wake him, I give you my word. We will capture this
vagabond. We will discover what there is about him diabolical."

The mayor's courage was applauded. There was Robert Perchon, his
mother--in tears, at the thought of the peril which her son had only
just escaped--a select assembly of the villagers, and the two gorgeous
gendarmes from the St. Thégonnec gendarmerie. All these people
perceived that the mayor was brave.

The assembly started, with the intention of making an example of the
plunderer of the fields of honest men.

In front was the mayor, not looking particularly dignified, for he was
white with flour, though void of fear.

In his hand he carried a mighty stick. Behind him came the gendarmes,
as was befitting. They had forgotten to buckle on their swords, but
in their case dignity was everything, and it was just possible that
the stick of the mayor would render more deadly weapons needless.
Behind--a pretty good distance behind--came the villagers. Some of
them carried pitchforks, others spades. One gallant lady carried a
kettle full of boiling water. It did not occur to her, perhaps, that
the water would have time to cool before they reached their quarry.
Madame Perchon brought up the rear, and behind her sneaked the
gallant Robert.

It occurred to the mayor that this was not exactly as it ought to be.
He suggested to M. Robert that as he alone knew exactly where the
vagabond lay, it befitted him to lead the van. This, however, M.
Robert did not see; he preferred to shout out his directions from the
rear.

They entered the buck-wheat field. No persuasions would induce him to
enter with the rest. He insisted on remaining outside, guiding them
from a post of safety. His mother stayed to keep him company.

"By there! a little to the left! Keep straight on! If he has not gone,
M. le Maire, which is always possible, you can touch him with your
stick from where you are now standing!"

He had not gone.

The journey was almost done. The end was drawing near. Delirious,
beside himself, fever-racked, hunger-stricken, not knowing what he was
doing, the boy had sunk down in Madame Perchon's buck-wheat field to
sleep. And he had slept--a mockery of sleep! A thousand hideous
imaginations passed through his fevered mind. M. Robert Perchon, who
had been contented with a single glance at the sleeping lad, had some
warranty for his declaration that in his aspect there was something
diabolical, for his limbs writhed and his countenance was distorted by
the paroxysms of his fever.

Dreaming some horrible dream, the noise made by the advancing brave
fell upon his fevered ear. Starting upright at M. Baudry's feet, with
a shriek which horrified all who heard him, he rushed across the
field, and flew as if all the powers of evil were treading on his
heels. And, indeed, in a sense the powers of evil were, for he was
delirious with fever.

The first impulse of the champions of the fields of honest men was to
do, with one accord, what the boy had done, to turn and flee--the
other way. Some, believing Bertie's delirious shriek to be the
veritable voice of Satan, acted on this first impulse and fled.
Notable among them were M. Robert and his mother. That gallant pair
raced each other homewards, shrieking with so much vigour that it
almost seemed that in that direction they had made up their minds to
outdo the plunderer of the fields of honest men. But there were braver
spirits abroad that day. Among them was the mayor. Besides, the public
eye was upon him, and behind him were the two gendarmes. In France the
representative of authority never runs--at least, he never runs away.

It is true that when Bertie sprang with such startling suddenness from
right underneath his feet, and gave utterance to that ear-alarming
shriek, M. Baudry thought of running. But he only thought; it went no
further. He would certainly have denied that he had even allowed
himself to think of such an ignominious contingency a moment
afterwards.

The creature was running away. That was evident. It would be absurd
for the champions of those fields to run away from him, when the
rascal had been sensible enough to run away from them. M. Baudry
perceived this fact at once.

"After him!" he cried. "I give you my word we shall catch him yet!"

Off went the assembly, helter-skelter, after the delirious boy.

"Forward! forward! We will teach this rogue a lesson! We will teach
him to rob the fields of honest men! We will learn the stuff that he
is made of--this vagabond!"

Courage revived. They all shouted, and they all ran.

If the mayor was in the habit of giving his word as lightly as he gave
it then, it could not have been worth having. It was soon evident that
they had about as much chance of catching the fugitive as they had of
catching the clouds which wandered above their heads.

M. Baudry was not built for violent exercise. He had probably not run
thirty yards in the last thirty years. He was in his sabots, and
sabots are not good things for running. Fifty paces in Madame
Perchon's buck-wheat field was quite enough for him. He perceived that
it is not a proper thing for mayors to run; so he ran no more. Instead
of running he sat down to think, and to encourage, of course, his
friends.

The gendarmes kept on. It was evidently their duty to keep on. But
they were not much fonder of running than the mayor, and a gendarme's
boots, when it comes to running, are not much more satisfactory,
regarded as aids to progress, than sabots. Especially are gendarmes
not built to run across ploughed fields.

In fact the chase was prolonged for almost, if not quite, a hundred
yards. Then it ceased. Most of the champions of the fields of honest
men sat down upon the fields they championed; those who didn't gasped
for breath upon their feet.

The affair was, perhaps, something of a fiasco, but they consoled
themselves with the reflection that they would catch the vagabond next
time, when they could run a little better and a little further, and he
could run a little worse--or a good deal worse, in fact.

But for Bertie the chase was very far from done. He fled, not from
things of flesh and blood, but from things of air--the wild imaginings
of fever. On and on and on--over fields and hedges, dykes and
ditches--on and on and on, until the day waned and the night had come.

And in the night his journey ended. Even delirium would no longer give
strength unto his limbs. His style of going changed. Instead of
running, like a maddened animal, straight forward, he went reeling,
reeling, reeling, staggering from side to side.

Then he staggered down.

He rose no more. It was the end of the journey.



                            Chapter XXIII

                      THE LAND OF GOLDEN DREAMS


When he returned to life he was in his mother's arms. There were
familiar faces round him, and, as out of a mist, familiar voices
sounded in his ear.

He turned in his bed--for it was on a bed he was lying, and no longer
on the stony ground--and opened his eyes, waking as from a delicious
slumber.

Some one bent over him; some one laid a hand softly on his brow; some
one's burning tears fell on his cheek. There was his mother standing
by his side.

"My boy! my boy! Thank God for this, my darling boy!"

Then she kissed him; and she wept.

Out of the mist there came another familiar form. It was his father.

"Bertie! at last! Thank God for this, indeed, my son!"

And he, too, stooped and kissed the lad. And the mother rose to her
feet, and became encircled in her husband's arms; and they two
rejoiced together over the son who was lost and was found.

He had been ill six weeks. Six weeks delirious with fever; six weeks
hovering between life and death; six weeks' sorrow; six weeks' pain.
That was the end of his journey.

And it would have had another ending had it not been for the
providence of God. He would have journeyed into that strange, unknown
country, whose name is Death, but that he was found by the roadside,
where he had fallen, and by a friend. It would be unwise to say that
that friend was not sent to him direct from God.

Among his father's patients was a certain Mr. Yates. Mr. Yates was a
county magistrate, a man of position and of wealth. Under God he owed
his life to Dr. Bailey's skill. It was to him reference has been made
as having given Bertie half a sovereign once upon a time--half a
sovereign which, to Bertie's disgust, he had had to divide with his
brothers and sisters.

Mr. Yates had known the youngster well. He was a bachelor, and had
allowed the boy to run in and out almost as he pleased. On the eve of
starting on a tour to Brittany he had heard that the young gentleman
had disappeared from school, no one knew why, no one knew whither.
There was a pretty to-do when it was known. It was almost the last
straw for Mr. Fletcher, that last straw which, according to the
proverb, breaks the camel's back.

In his bewilderment--in the general bewilderment, indeed--Dr. Bailey
had not hesitated to lay his son's disappearance at Mr. Fletcher's
door. He declared that he was alone to blame, that some act of
remissness, some act of even positive cruelty must have goaded the lad
into taking such a step.

The boy had left no trace behind. The distracted father advertised for
him right and left, placed the matter in the hands of the police,
seeking for him on every side without finding the slightest clue to
tell him if his son were alive or dead.

Matters were in this state when Mr. Yates had left for Brittany. He
had been there some days, when, wandering somewhat out of the beaten
track, he had chartered a carriage at Morlaix to take him up among
those wind-swept slopes which are grandiloquently termed the Montagnes
d'Arree, and land him at the little town of Huelgoet. There are one or
two things which people go to see at Huelgoet, but the place became
memorable to Mr. Yates for what he saw upon the road.

He was about half-way to his destination when he observed, lying among
the furze at the roadside, a lad. He might not have noticed him had
not the boy been emitting cries of so peculiar a kind that they could
scarcely have failed to catch a traveller's ear. Going to see what was
the matter, he perceived at once that the lad was delirious with
fever.

With some difficulty he persuaded the driver of the vehicle to convey
so dubious a passenger. The same difficulty occurred at the Huelgoet
hotel before they would let him in. It was only when he had undertaken
to recoup them for any losses they might sustain, and had got the lad
comfortably in bed, that he discovered that the waif who had found in
him such a good Samaritan was none other than Bertie Bailey.

                         *   *   *   *   *

 So soon as they could move him they took him home. And, as he entered
the old familiar home, he knew in his heart that this place which he
was entering was in fact the Land of Golden Dreams. He had been in
search of it afar off, and he had been a native of the country all the
time. And there are many natives of that country who throw away the
substance to grasp the shadow, not realizing their folly till the
thing is done.

                           *   *   *   *   *

They never found the "captain" nor "Mr. Rosenheim." In due time Bertie
told his story, and the doctor thought it so strange an one that he
felt in duty bound to communicate with the police. A detective came
and heard all that Bertie had to say. He asked a hundred puzzling
questions; but, although not always able to answer them to the
detective's satisfaction, Bertie stuck to his tale. They took him to
point out the house which had contained the "captain's room," but he
had been a stranger in the great city, at night, hungry and worn. He
had gone blindly where he had been taken, not noticing a single
landmark by the way, and now when they asked him to retrace his steps,
and lead them where Freddy had led him, he found it impossible to
discover the house again.

So it came to pass that the police looked at his story with doubtful
eyes. And for that cause--or some other--nothing has been heard of the
Countess of Ferndale's jewels unto this day.



                          *   *   *   *   *
   Butler & Tanner, The Selwood Printing Works, Frome, and London.





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