Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Coil of Carne
Author: Oxenham, John
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Coil of Carne" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Web Archive (University of Alberta)



Transcriber's Notes:
   1. Page scan source the Web Archive:
      https://archive.org/details/cihm_75374
      (University of Alberta)



THE
COIL OF CARNE


BY
JOHN OXENHAM
AUTHOR OF "THE LONG ROAD"



TORONTO
THE COPP, CLARK CO. LIMITED
1911



TO

RODERIC DUNKERLEY, B.A., B.D.



"_And what are you eager for, Mr. Eager?_"

"_Men, women, and children--bodies and souls_."
     _Intra, page_ 53.

"_By God's help we will make men of them, the rest we must trust to
Providence_."
     _Intra, page_ 66.

"_Catch them young!_"
     _Intra, page_ 67.

"_No man is past mending till he's dead, perhaps not then_."
     _Intra, page_ 82.



CONTENTS


               BOOK I

CHAP.

          I. THE HOUSE OF CARNE

         II. THE STAR IN THE DUST

        III. THE FIRST OF THE COIL

         IV. THE COIL COMPLETE

          V. IN THE COIL


               BOOK II

         VI. FREEMEN OF THE FLATS

        VII. EAGER HEART

       VIII. SIR DENZIL'S VIEWS

         IX. MORE OF SIR DENZIL'S VIEWS

          X. GROWING FREEMEN

         XI. THE LITTLE LADY

        XII. MANY MEANS

       XIII. MOUNTING

        XIV. WIDENING WAYS

         XV. DIVERGING LINES

        XVI. A CUT AT THE COIL

       XVII. ALMOST SOLVED

      XVIII. ALMOST SOLVED AGAIN

        XIX. WHERE'S JIM?

         XX. A NARROW SQUEAK

        XXI. A WARM WELCOME

       XXII. WHERE'S JACK?


               BOOK III

      XXIII. BREAKING IN

       XXIV. AN UNEXPECTED GUEST

        XXV. REVELATION AND SPECULATION

       XXVI. JIM'S TIGHT PLACE

      XXVII. TWO TO ONE

     XXVIII. THE LINE OF CLEAVAGE

       XXIX. GRACIE'S DILEMMA

        XXX. NEVER THE SAME AGAIN

       XXXI. DESERET

      XXXII. THE LADY WITH THE FAN

     XXXIII. A STIRRING OF MUD

      XXXIV. THE BOYS IN THE MUD

       XXXV. EXPLANATIONS

      XXXVI. JIM'S WAY

     XXXVII. A HOPELESS QUEST

    XXXVIII. LORD DESERET HELPS

      XXXIX. OLD SETH GOES HOME

         XL. OUT OF THE NIGHT

        XLI. HORSE AND FOOT

       XLII. DUE EAST

      XLIII. JIM TO THE FORE

       XLIV. JIM'S LUCK

        XLV. MORE REVELATIONS

       XLVI. THE BLACK LANDING

      XLVII. ALMA

     XLVIII. JIM'S RIDE

       XLIX. AMONG THE BULL-PUPS

          L. RED-TAPE

         LI. THE VALLEY OF DEATH

        LII. PATCHING UP

       LIII. THE FIGHT IN THE FOG

        LIV. AN ALLY OF PROVIDENCE

         LV. RETRIBUTION

        LVI. DULL DAYS

       LVII. HOT OVENS

      LVIII. CHILL NEWS

        LIX. TOUCH AND GO FOR THE COIL

         LX. INSIDE THE FIERY RING

        LXI. WEARY WAITING

       LXII. FROM ONE TO MANY

      LXIII. EAGER ON THE SCENT

       LXIV. THE LONG SLOW SIEGE

        LXV. THE CUTTING OF THE COIL

       LXVI. PURGATORY

      LXVII. THE BEGINNING OF THE END

     LXVIII. HOME AGAIN

       LXIX. "THE RIGHT ONE"

        LXX. ALL'S WELL



THE COIL OF CARNE



BOOK I



CHAPTER I
THE HOUSE OF CARNE


If by any chance you should ever sail on a low ebb-tide along a
certain western coast, you will, if you are of a receptive humour and
new to the district, receive a somewhat startling impression of the
dignity of the absolutely flat.

Your ideas of militant and resistant grandeur may have been associated
hitherto with the iron frontlets and crashing thunders of Finisterre
or Sark, of Cornwall or the Western Isle. Here you are faced with a
repressive curbing of the waters, equal in every respect to theirs,
but so quietly displayed as to be somewhat awesome, as mighty power in
restraint must always be.

As far as eye can reach--sand, nothing but sand, overpowering by
reason of its immensity, a very Sahara of the coast. Mighty levels
stretching landward and seaward--for you are only threading a
capricious channel among the banks which the equinoctials will twist
at their pleasure, and away to the west the great grim sea lies
growling in his sandy chains until his time comes. Then, indeed, he
will swell and boil and seethe in his channels till he is full ready,
and come creeping silently over his barriers, and then--up and away
over the flats with the speed of a racehorse, and death to the unwary.
You may see the humping back of him among the outer banks if you climb
a few feet up your mast. Then, if you turn towards the land, you will
see, far away across the brown ribbed flats, a long rim of yellow sand
backed by bewildering ranges of low white hummocks, and farther away
still a filmy blue line of distant hills.

Here and there a fisherman's cottage accentuates the loneliness of it
all. At one point, as the sun dips in the west, a blaze of light
flashes out as though a hidden battery had suddenly unmasked itself;
and if you ask your skipper what it is, he will tell you that is
Carne. Then, if he is a wise man, he will upsail and away, to make
Wytham or Wynsloe before it is dark, for the shifting banks off Carne
are as hungry as Death, and as tricky as the devil.

For over three hundred years the grim gray house of Carne has stood
there and watched the surface of all things round about it change with
the seasons and the years and yet remain in all essential things the
same. When the wild equinoctials swept the flats till they hummed like
a harp, the sand-hills stirred and changed their aspects as though the
sleeping giants below turned uneasily in their beds. For, under the
whip of the wind, grain by grain the sand-hills creep hither and
thither and accommodate themselves to circumstances in strange and
ghostly fashions. So that, after the fury of the night, the peace of
the morning looked in vain for the landmarks of the previous day.

And the cold seabanks out beyond were twisted and tortured this way
and that by the winds and waves, and within them lay many an honest
seaman, and some maybe who might have found it difficult to prove
their right to so honourable a title. But the banks were always there,
silent and deadly even when they shimmered in the sunshine.

And generations of Carrons had held Carne, and had even occupied it at
times, and had passed away and given place to others. But Carne was
always there, grim and gray, and mostly silent.

The outward aspects of things might change, indeed, but at bottom they
remained very much the same, and human nature changed as little as the
rest, though its outward aspects varied with the times. What strange
twist of brain or heart set its owner to the building of Carne has
puzzled many a wayfarer coming upon it in its wide sandy solitudes for
the first time. And the answer to that question answers several
others, and accounts for much.

It was Denzil Carron who built the house in the year Queen Mary died.
He was of the old faith, a Romanist of the Romanists, narrow in his
creed, fanatical in his exercise of it, at once hot- and cold-blooded
in pursuit of his aims. When Elizabeth came to the throne he looked to
be done by as he had done, and had very reasonable doubts as to the
quality of the mercy which might be strained towards him. So he
quietly withdrew from London, sold his houses and lands in other
counties, and sought out the remotest and quietest spot he could find
in the most Romanist county in England. And there he built the great
house of Carne, as a quiet harbourage for himself and such victims of
the coming persecutions as might need his assistance.

But no retributive hand was stretched after him. He was Englishman
first and Romanist afterwards. Calais, and the other national
crumblings and disasters of Mary's short reign, had been bitter pills
to him, and he hated a Spaniard like the devil. He saw a brighter
outlook for his country, though possibly a darker one for his Church,
in Elizabeth's firm grip than any her opponents could offer. So he
shut his face stonily against the intriguers, who came from time to
time and endeavoured to wile him into schemes for the subversion of
the Crown and the advancement of the true Church, and would have none
of them. And so he was left in peace and quietness by the powers that
were, and found himself free to indulge to the full in those religious
exercises on the strict observance of which his future state depended.

His wife died before the migration, leaving him one son, Denzil, to
bring up according to his own ideas. And a dismal time the lad had of
it. Surrounded by black jowls and gloomy-faced priests, tied hand and
foot by ordinances which his growing spirit loathed, all the
brightness and joy of life crushed out by the weight of a religion
which had neither time nor place for such things, he lived a narrow
monastic life till his father died. Then, being of age, and able at
last to speak for himself, he quietly informed his quondam governors
that he had had enough of religion to satisfy all reasonable
requirements of this life and the next, and that now he intended to
enjoy himself. Carne he would maintain as his father had maintained
it, for the benefit of those whom his father had loved, or at all
events had materially cared for. And so, good-bye, Black-Jowls! and Ho
for Life and the joy of it!

He went up to London, bought an estate in Kent, ruffled it with the
best of them, married and had sons and daughters, kept his head out of
all political nooses, fought the Spaniards under Admiral John Hawkins
and Francis Drake, and died wholesomely in his bed in his house in
Kent, a very different man from what Carne would have made him.

And that is how the grim gray house of Carne came to be planted in the
wilderness.

Now and again, in the years that followed, the Carron of the day, if
he fell on dolorous times through extravagance of living--as
happened--or suffered sudden access of religious fervour--as also
happened, though less frequently--would take himself to Carne and
there mortify flesh and spirit till things, financial and spiritual,
came round again, either for himself or the next on the rota. And so
some kind of connection was always maintained between Carne and its
owners, though years might pass without their coming face to face.

The Master of Carne in the year 1833 was that Denzil Carron who came
to notoriety in more ways than one during the Regency. His father had
been of the quieter strain, with a miserly twist in him which
commended the wide, sweet solitude and simple, inexpensive life of
Carne as exactly suited to his close humour. He could feel rich there
on very little; and after the death of his wife, who brought him a
very ample fortune, he devoted himself to the education of his boy and
the enjoyment, by accumulation, of his wealth. But a short annual
visit to London on business affairs afforded the boy a glimpse of what
he was missing, and his father's body was not twelve hours underground
before he had shaken off the sands of Carne and was posting to London
in a yellow chariot with four horses and two very elevated post-boys,
like a silly moth to its candle.

There, in due course, by processes of rapid assimilation and lavish
dispersion, he climbed to high altitudes, and breathed the atmosphere
of royal rascality refined by the gracious presence of George, Prince
of Wales. For the replenishment of his depleted exchequer he married
Miss Betty Carmichael, only daughter and sole heiress of the great
Calcutta nabob. She died in child-birth, leaving him a boy whose
education his own diversions left him little time or disposition to
attend to. He won the esteem, such as it was, of the Prince Regent by
running through the heart the Duke of Astrolabe, who had, in his cups,
made certain remarks of a quite unnecessarily truthful character
concerning Mrs. Fitzherbert, whom he persisted in calling Madame
Bellois; and lost it for ever by the injudicious insertion of a slice
of skinned orange inside the royal neckcloth in a moment of undue
elevation, producing thereby so great a shock to the royal system and
dignity as to bring it within an ace of an apoplexy and the end of its
great and glorious career.

Under the shadow of this exploit Carron found it judicious to retire
for a time to the wilderness, and carried his boy with him. He had had
a racketing time, and a period of rest and recuperation would be good
both for himself and his fortunes.

He had hoped and believed that his trifling indiscretion would in time
be forgotten and forgiven by his royal comrade. But it never was. The
royal cuticle crinkled at the very mention of the name of Carron, and
Sir Denzil remained in retirement, embittered somewhat at the price he
had had to pay for so trivial a jest, and solacing himself as best he
could.

Once only he emerged, and then solely on business bent.

In the panic year, when thousands were rushing to ruin, he gathered
together his accumulated savings, girded his loins, and stepped
quietly and with wide-open eyes into the wild mêlée. He played a
cautious, far-sighted game, and emerged triumphant over the dry-sucked
bodies of the less wary, with overflowing coffers and many gray hairs.
He was prepared to greet the royal beck with showers of gold once
more. But the royal neck, though it now wore the ermine in its own
right, could not forget the clammy kiss of the orange, and Carron went
sulkily back to Carne.

When the Sailor Prince stepped up from quarter-deck to throne, he
returned to London and took his place in society once more. But ten
years in the desert had placed him out of touch with things; and with
reluctance he had to admit to himself that if the star of Carron was
to blaze once more, it must be in the person of the next on the roll.

And so, characteristically enough, he set himself to the dispersal of
the flimsy cloudlet of disgrace which attached to his name by seeking
to win for his boy what the royal disfavour had denied to himself.

Now, indeed, that the royal sufferer was dead, the rising generation,
when they recalled it, rather enjoyed the crinkling of the royal skin.
They would even have welcomed the crinkler among them as a reminder of
the hilarities of former days. But the fashion of things had changed.
He did not feel at home with them as he had done with their fathers,
and he who had shone as a star, though he had indeed disappeared like
a rocket, had no mind to figure at their feasts as a lively old stick.

Young Denzil's education had been of the most haphazard during the
years his father was starring it in London. On the retirement to
Carne, however, Sir Denzil took the boy in hand himself and inculcated
in him philosophies and views of life, based upon his own experiences,
which, while they might tend to the production of a gentleman, as then
considered, left much to be desired from some other points of view.

He bought him a cornetcy in the Hussars, supplied him freely with
money, and required only that his acquaintance should be confined to
those circles of which he himself had once been so bright an ornament.

The young man was a success. He was well-built and well-featured, and
his manners had been his father's care. He had all the family faults,
and succeeded admirably in veiling such virtues as he possessed, with
the exception of one or two which happened to be fashionable. He was
hot-headed, free-handed, jovial, heedless of consequences in pursuit
of his own satisfactions, incapable of petty meanness, but quite
capable of those graver lapses which the fashion of the times
condoned. With a different upbringing, and flung on his own resources,
Denzil Carron might have gone far and on a very much higher plane than
he chose.

As it was, his career also ended somewhat abruptly.

At eight-and-twenty he had his captaincy in the 8th Hussars, and was
in the exuberant enjoyment of health, wealth, and everything that
makes for happiness--except only those things through which alone
happiness may ever hope to be attained. He had been in and out of love
a score of times, with results depressing enough in several cases to
the objects of his ardent but short-lived affections. It was the
fashion of the times, and earned him no word of censure. He loved and
hated, gambled and fought, danced and drank, with the rest, and was no
whit better or worse than they.

At Shole House, down in Hampshire, he met Lady Susan Sandys, sister of
the Earl of Quixande--fell in love with her through pity, maybe, at
the forlornness of her state, which might indeed have moved the heart
of a harder man. For Quixande was a warm man, even in a warm age, and
Shole was ante-room to Hades. Carron pitied her, liked her--she was
not lacking in good looks--persuaded himself, indeed, that he loved
her. For her sake he summarily cut himself free from his other current
feminine entanglements, carried her hotfoot to Gretna--a labour of
love surely, but quite unnecessary, since her brother was delighted to
be rid of her, and Sir Denzil had no fault to find either with the
lady or her portion--and returned to London a married, but very
doubtfully a wiser, man.

Lady Susan did her best, no doubt. She was full of gratitude and
affection for the gallant warrior who had picked her out of the
shades, and set her life in the sunshine. But Denzil was no Bayard,
and it needed a stronger nature than Lady Susan's to lift him to the
higher level.

For quite a month--for thirty whole days and nights, counting those
spent on the road to and from Gretna--Lady Susan kept her hold on her
husband. Then his regimental duties could no longer be neglected. They
grew more and more exigent as time passed, and the young wife was left
more and more to the society of her father-in-law. Sir Denzil accepted
the position with the grace of an old courtier, and did his duty by
her, palliated Captain Denzil's defections with cynical kindness, and
softened her lot as best he might. And the gallant captain, exhausted
somewhat with the strain of his thirty days' conservatism, resumed his
liberal progression through the more exhilarating circles of
fashionable folly, and went the pace the faster for his temporary
withdrawal.

The end came abruptly, and eight months after that quite unnecessary
ride to Gretna Lady Susan was again speeding up the North Road, but
this time with her father-in-law, their destination Carne. Captain
Denzil was hiding for his life, with a man's blood on his hands; and
his father's hopes for the blazing star of Carron were in the dust.



CHAPTER II
THE STAR IN THE DUST


And the cause of it all?--Madame Damaris, of Covent Garden Theatre,
the most bewitching woman and the most exquisite dancer of her time.
Perhaps Captain Denzil's handsome face and gallant bearing carried him
farther into her good graces than the others. Perhaps their jealous
tongues wagged more freely than circumstances actually justified.
Anyway, the rumours which, as usual, came last of all to Lady Susan's
ears caused her very great distress. She was in that state of health
in which depression of spirits may have lasting and ulterior
consequences. There were rumours too of a return of the cholera, and
she was nervous about it; and Sir Denzil was already considering the
advisability of a quiet journey to that quietest of retreats: the
great house of Carne, when that happened which left him no time for
consideration, but sent him speeding thither with the forlorn young
wife as fast as horses could carry them.

There was in London at this time a certain Count d'Aumont attached to
the French Embassy. He was a man of some note, and was understood to
be related in some roundabout way to that branch of the Orleans family
which force of circumstance had just succeeded in seating on the
precarious throne of France. He cut a considerable figure in society,
and had most remarkable luck at play. He possessed also a quick tongue
and a flexibility of wrist which so far had served to guard his
reputation from open assault.

He had known Madame Damaris prior to her triumphant descent on London,
and was much piqued when he found himself ousted from her good graces
by men whom he could have run through with his left hand, but who
could squander on her caprices thousands to his hundreds. Head and
front of the offenders, by reason of the lady's partiality, was Denzil
Carron, and the two men hated one another like poison.

Denzil was playing at Black's one night, when a vacancy was occasioned
in the party by the unexpected call to some official duty of one of
the players. D'Aumont was standing by, and to Denzil's disgust was
invited by one of the others to take the vacant chair.

He had watched the Frenchman's play more than once, and had found it
extremely interesting. In fact, on one occasion he had been restrained
with difficulty from creating a disturbance which must inevitably have
led to an inquiry and endless unpleasantness. Then, too, but a short
time before, hearing of some remarks D'Aumont had made concerning
Madame Damaris and himself, Denzil, in his hot-headed way, had sworn
that he would break the Frenchman's neck the very first time they met.

It is possible that these matters were within the recollection of
Captain O'Halloran when he boisterously invited D'Aumont to his
partnership at the whist-table that night. For O'Halloran delighted in
rows, and was ready for a "jule," either as principal or second, at
any hour of the day or night. He was also very friendly with D'Aumont,
and it is possible that the latter desired a collision with Carron as
a pretext for his summary dismissal at the point of the sword. However
it came about, the meeting ended in disaster.

The play ran smoothly for a time, and the onlookers had begun to
believe the sitting would end without any explosion, when Carron rose
suddenly to his feet, saying:

"At your old tricks, M. le Comte. You cheated!"

"Liar!" said the Count.

Then Carron laid hold of the card-table, swung it up in his powerful
arms, and brought it down with a crash on the Frenchman's head. The
remnants of it were hanging round his neck like a new kind of clown's
ruffle before the guineas had ceased spinning in the corners of the
room.

"He knows where to find me," said Denzil, and marched out and went
thoughtfully home to his quarters to await the Frenchman's challenge,
which for most men had proved equivalent to a death-warrant.

Instead, there came to him in the gray of the dawn one of his friends,
in haste, and with a face like the morning's.

"Ha, Pole! I hardly expected you to carry for a damned Frenchman.
Where do we meet, and when?" said Carron brusquely, for he had been
waiting all night, and he hated waiting.

"God knows," said young Pole, with a grim humour which none would have
looked to find in him. "He's gone to find out. He's dead!"

"Dead!--Of a crack on the head!"

"A splinter ran through his throat, and he bled out before they could
stop it. You had better get away, Carron. There'll be a deuce of a
row, because of his connections, you see."

"I'll stay and see it through. I'd no intent to kill the man--not that
way, at any rate."

"You'll see it through from the outside a sight easier than from the
inside," said young Pole. "You get away. We'll see to the rest. It's
easier to keep out of the jug than to get out of it."

Carron pondered the question.

"I'll see my father," he said, with an accession of wisdom.

"That's right," said young Pole. "He'll know. Go at once. I'm off."

It was a week since Denzil had been to the house in Grosvenor Square,
and when he got there he was surprised to find, early as it was, a
travelling-chariot at the door, with trunks strapped on, all ready for
the road.

He met his father's man coming down the stairs with an armful of
shawls.

"Sir Denzil, Kennet. At once, please."

"Just in time, sir. Another ten minutes and we'd been gone. He's all
dressed, Mr. Denzil. Will you come up, sir?"

"Ah, Denzil, you got my note," said Sir Denzil at sight of him. "We
settled it somewhat hurriedly. But Lady Susan is nervous over this
cholera business. What's wrong?" he asked quickly, as Kennet quitted
the room.

Denzil quietly told him the whole matter, and his father took snuff
very gravely. He saw all his hopes ruined at a blow; but he gave no
sign, except the tightening of the bones under the clear white skin of
his face, and a deepening of the furrows in his brow and at the sides
of his mouth.

"The man's death is a misfortune--as was his birth, I believe," he
said, as he snuffed gravely again. "Had you any quarrel with him
previously?"

"I had threatened, in a general way, to break his head for wagging his
tongue about me."

"They may twist that to your hurt," said his father, nodding gravely.
"In any case it means much unpleasantness. I am inclined to think you
would be better out of the way for a time."

"I will do as you think best, sir. I am quite ready to wait and see it
through."

"You never can tell how things may go," said his father thoughtfully.
"It all depends on the judge's humour at the time, and that is beyond
any man's calculation. . . . Yes, you will be more comfortable away,
and I will hasten back and see how things go here. . . . And if you
are to go, the sooner the better. . . . You can start with us. We will
drop you at St. Albans, and you will make your way across to Antwerp.
You had better take Kennet," he continued, with the first visible
twinge of regret, as his plans evolved bit by bit. "He is safe, and I
don't trust that man of yours--he has a foxy face. If they follow us
to Carne, you will be at Antwerp by that time. Send us your address,
and I will send you funds there. Here is enough for the time being.
Oblige me by ringing the bell. And, by the way, Denzil, say a kind
word or two to Susan. You have been neglecting her somewhat of late,
and she has felt it. . . . Kennet, tell Lady Susan I am ready, and
inform her ladyship that Mr. Denzil is here, and will accompany us."

And ten minutes later the travelling-chariot was bowling away along
the Edgware Road; and the hope which had shone in Lady Susan's eyes at
sight of her husband was dying out with every beat of the horses'
hoofs and every word that passed between the two men. For the matter
had to be told, and the time was short. Sir Denzil had intended to
stop for a time at Carne. Now he must get back at the earliest
possible moment. And, though they made light of the matter, and
described Denzil's hurried journey as a simple measure of precaution,
and a means of escaping unnecessary annoyance, Lady Susan's jangled
nerves adopted gloomier views, and naturally went farther even than
the truth.

Denzil did his best to follow his father's suggestion. His conscience
smote him at sight of his wife's pinched face and the shadows under
her eyes--shadows which told of days of sorrow and nights of lonely
weeping, shadows for which he knew he was as responsible as if his
fists had placed them there.

"I am sorry, dear, to bring this trouble on you," he said, pressing
her hand.

"Let me go with you, Denzil," she cried, with a catch of hope in her
voice. "Let me go with you, and the trouble will be as nothing."

How she would have welcomed any trouble that drove him to her arms
again! But she knew, even as she said it, that it was not possible.
That lay before her, looming large in the vagueness of its mystery,
which sickened her, body and soul, with apprehension. But it was a
path which she must travel alone, and already, almost before they were
fairly started, she was longing for the end of the journey and for
rest. The jolting of the carriage was dreadful to her. The trees and
hedges tumbled over one another in a hazy rout which set her  brain
whirling and made her eyes close wearily. She longed for the end of
the journey and for rest--peace and quiet and rest, and the end of
the journey.

"We will hope the trouble will soon blow over," said Sir Denzil. "But
we lose nothing by taking precautions. I shall return to town at once
and keep an eye on matters, and as soon as things smooth down Denzil
will join you at Carne." At which Denzil's jaw tightened lugubriously.
He had his own reasons for not desiring to visit Carne.

"Old Mrs. Lee," continued Sir Denzil--for the sake of making talk,
since it seemed to him that silence would surely lead to hysterics on
the part of Lady Susan--"will make you very comfortable. She is a
motherly old soul, though you may find her a trifle uncouth at first;
and Carne is very restful at this time of year. That woman of yours
always struck me as a fool, my dear. I think it is just as well she
decided not to come, but she might have had the grace to give you a
little longer warning. That class of person is compounded of
selfishness and duplicity. They are worse, I think, than the men, and
God knows the men are bad enough. Your man is another of the same
pattern, Denzil. They ought to marry. The result might be interesting,
but I should prefer not having any of it in my service."

At St. Albans they parted company. Denzil pressed his wife's hand for
the last time in this world, hired a post-chaise, and started across
country in company with the discomfited Kennet, who regarded the
matter with extreme disfavour both on his own account and his
master's, and Sir Denzil and Lady Susan went bumping along on the way
to Carne.



CHAPTER III
THE FIRST OF THE COIL


A woman trudged heavily along the firm damp sand just below the
bristling tangle of high-water mark, in the direction of Carne. She
wore a long cloak, and bent her head and humped her shoulders over a
small bundle which she hugged tight to her breast.

She had hoped to reach the big house before it was dark. But a
north-east gale was blowing, and it caught up the loose tops of the
sand-hills and carried them in streaming clouds along the flats and
made walking difficult. The drift rose no higher than her waist; but
if she stood for a moment to rest, the flying particles immediately
set to work to transform her into a pillar of sand. If she had
stumbled and been unable to rise, the sweeping sand would have covered
her out of sight in five minutes.

The flats stretched out before her like an empty desert that had no
end. The black sky above seemed very close by reason of the wrack of
clouds boiling down into the west. Where the sun had set there was
still a wan gleam of yellow light. It seemed to the woman, when she
glanced round now and again through her narrowed lids to make sure of
her whereabouts, as if the sky was slowly closing down on her like the
lid of a great black box. On her right hand the sand-hills loomed
white and ghostly, and were filled with the whistle of the gale in the
wire-grass and the hiss of the flying sand.

Far away on her left, the sea chafed and growled behind its banks.

Her progress was very slow, but she bent doggedly to the gale, stopped
now and again and leaned bodily against it, then drew her feet out of
the clogs the sand had piled round them and pushed slowly on again. At
last she became aware, by instinct or by the instant's break in the
roar of the wind on her right, that she had reached her journey's end.
She turned up over the crackling tangle, crossed the ankle-deep dry
sand of the upper beach, and stopped for breath under the lee of the
great house of Carne.

It was all as dark as the grave, but she knew her way, and after a
moment's rest she passed round the house to the back. Here in a room
on the ground floor a light shone through a window. The window had
neither curtain nor shutter, but was protected by stout iron bars. The
sill was piled high with drifted sand.

The sight of the light dissipated a fear which had been in the woman's
heart, but which she had crushed resolutely out of sight. At the same
time it set her heart beating tumultuously, partly in the rebound from
its fear and partly in anticipation of the ungracious welcome she
looked for. She stood for a moment in the storm outside and looked at
the tranquil gleam. Then she slipped under a stone porch, which opened
towards the south-west, and knocked on the door. The door opened
cautiously on the chain at last, six inches or so, and a section of an
old woman's head appeared in the slit and asked gruffly:

"Who's it?"

"It's me, mother--Nance!"

The door slammed suddenly to, as though to deny her admittance. But
she heard the trembling fingers inside fumbling with the chain. They
got it unsnecked at last, and the door swung open again. The woman
with the burden stepped inside and shut out the drifting sand.

The room was a stone-flagged kitchen; but the light of the candle,
and the cheery glow of a coal fire, and the homeliness of the
white-scrubbed table and dresser, and the great oak linen-press,
mellowed its asperities. After the cold north-easter, and the sweeping
sand and the darkness, it was like heaven to the traveller, and she
sank down on a rush-bottomed chair with a sigh of relief.

"So tha's come whoam at last," was the welcome that greeted her, in a
voice that was over-harsh lest it should tremble and break. The old
woman's eyes shone like black beads under her white mutch. She sniffed
angrily, and dashed her hand across her face as though to assist her
sight. She spoke the patois of the district. Beyond the understanding
of any but natives even now, it was still more difficult then. It
would be a sorry task to attempt to reproduce it.

"Aye, I've come home."

"And brought thy shame with thee!"

"Shame?" said the other quickly. "What shame? He married me, and this
is his boy." And as she straightened up, the cloak fell apart and
disclosed the child. She spoke boldly, but her eyes and her face were
not so brave as her speech.

"Married ye?" said the old woman, with a grim laugh that was half sob
and half anger. "I know better. The likes o' him doesna marry the
likes o' you."

Holding the sleeping child in her one arm, the girl fumbled in her
bodice and plucked out a paper.

"There's my lines," she said angrily.

The old woman made no attempt to read it, but shook her head again,
and said bitterly:

"The likes o' him doesna marry the likes o' you, my lass."

"He married me as soon as we got to London."

But the old woman only shook her head, and asked, in the tone of one
using an irrefutable argument:

"Where is he?"

At that the girl shook her head also; but she was saved further reply
by the baby yawning and stretching and opening his eyes, which
fastened vacantly on the old woman's as she bent over to look at him
in spite of herself.

"You might ha' killed him and yoreself coming on so soon," she said
gruffly.

"I wanted to get here before he came," said the girl, with a choke,
"but I couldna manage it. I were took at Runcorn, seven days ago."

"An' yo' walked from there! It's a wonner yo're alive. Well, well,
it's a bad job, but I suppose we mun mak' best o' it. Yo're clemmed!"

"Ay, I am, and so is he. I've not had much to give him, and he makes a
rare noise when he doesn't get what he wants."

The baby screwed up his face and proved his powers. His mother rocked
him to and fro, and the old woman set herself to getting them food.
She set on the fire a pannikin of goats' milk diluted with water to
her own ideas, and placed bread and cheese and butter on the table.
The girl reached for the food and began to eat ravenously. The old
woman dipped her finger into the pannikin and put it into the child's
mouth. It sucked vigorously and stopped crying. She drew it out of the
girl's arms and began to feed it slowly with a spoon.

"If he married yo', why did he leave yo' like this?" she asked
presently, as she dropped tiny drops of food into the baby's mouth and
watched it swallow and strain up after the spoon for more.

"He was ordered away with his regiment. He left me money and said he'd
send more. But he never did. I made it last as long's I could, but it
runs away in London. I couldna bear the idea of--of it up there, an' I
got wild at him not coming. I tried to find him, and then I set off to
walk here. I got a lift on a wagon now and again. But when I got to
Runcorn I could go no further. There a a woman there was good to me.
Maybe I'd ha' died but for her. Maybe it'd ha' been best if I had.
But,"--she said doggedly--"he married me all the same."

The old woman shook her head hopelessly, but said nothing. The baby
was falling asleep on her knee. Presently she carried him carefully
into the next room and left him on the bed there.

"I nursed him on my knee," she said when she came back, "before you
came. If I'd known he'd take you from me I'd ha' choked him where he
lay."

The girl felt and looked the better for her meal. She nodded her head
slowly, and said again, "All the same he married me." Her persistent
harping on that one string--which to her mother was a broken
string--angered the old woman.

"Tchah!" she said, like the snapping of a dog, and was about to say a
great deal more when a peremptory knocking on the door choked the
words in her throat. Her startled eyes turned accusingly on the girl;
what faint touch of colour her face had held fled from it, and her
lips parted twice in questioning which found no voice. Her whole
attitude implied the fear that there was something more behind the
girl's story than had been told and that now it was upon them.

The knocking continued, louder and still more peremptory.

The girl strode to the door, loosed the chain and drew back the bolts,
and flung it open. A tall man, muffled in a travelling-cloak, strode
in with an imprecation, and dusted the sand out of his eyes with a
silk handkerchief.

"Nice doings when a man cannot get into his own house," he began.
Then, as his blinking eyes fell on the girl's face, he stopped short
and said, "The deuce!" and pinched his chin between his thumb and
forefinger. He stood regarding her in momentary perplexity, and then
went on dusting himself, with his eyes still on her.

He was a man past middle age, but straight and vigorous still. His
clean-shaven face, in spite of the stubble of three days' rapid
travel on it, and the deep lines of hard living, was undeniably
handsome--keen dark eyes, straight nose, level brows, firm hard mouth.
An upright furrow in the forehead, and a sloping groove at each corner
of the mouth, gave a look of rigid intensity to the face and the
impression that its owner was engaged in a business distasteful to
him.

"Ah, Mrs. Lee," he said, as his eyes passed from the girl at last and
rested on the old woman.

"Yes, Sir Denzil." And Mrs. Lee attempted a curtsey.

"A word in your ear, mistress." And he spoke rapidly to her in low
tones, his eyes roving over to the girl now and again, and the old
woman's face stiffening as he spoke.

"And now bustle, both of you," he concluded. "Fires first, then
something to eat, the other things afterwards. I will bring her
ladyship in."

He went to the door, and the old woman turned to her daughter and said
grimly:

"There's a lady with him. Yo' mun help wi' the fires."

She closed the door leading to the bedroom where the baby lay sleeping
soundly, and then set doggedly about her duties. The two women had
left the room carrying armfuls of firing when Sir Denzil came back
leading Lady Susan by the hand, muffled like himself in a big
travelling-cloak. He drew a chair to the fire, and she sank into it.
He left her there and went out again, and as the door opened the
rattle of harness on chilling horses came through.

Lady Susan bent shivering over the fire and spread her hands towards
it, groping for its cheer like a blind woman. Her face was white and
drawn. Her eyes were sunk in dark wells of hopelessness, her lips were
pinched in tight repression. Any beauty that might have been hers had
left her; only her misery and weariness remained. Her whole attitude
expressed extremest suffering both of mind and body.

A piping cry came from the next room, and she straightened up suddenly
and looked about her like a startled deer. Then she rose quickly and
picked up the candle and answered the call.

The child had cried out in his sleep, and as she stood over him, with
the candle uplifted, a strange softening came over her face. Her left
hand stole up to her side and pressed it as though to still a pain. A
spasmodic smile crumpled the little face as she watched. Then it
smoothed out and the child settled to sleep again. Lady Susan went
slowly back to her seat before the fire, and almost immediately Sir
Denzil came in again, dusting himself from the sand more vigorously
than ever.

"How do you feel now, my dear?" he asked.

"Sick to death," she said quietly.

"You will feel better after a night's rest. The journey has been a
trying one. Old Mrs. Lee will make you comfortable here, and I will
return the moment I am sure of Denzil's safety. You agree with the
necessity for my going?"

"Quite."

"Every moment may be of importance. But the moment he is safe I will
hurry back to see to your welfare here. I shall lie at Warrington
to-night, and I will tell the doctor at Wynsloe to come over first
thing in the morning to see how you are going on. Ah, Mrs. Lee, you
are ready for us?"

"Ay. The oak parlour is ready, sir. I'll get you what I con to eat,
but you'll have to put up wi' short farin' to-night, sin' you didna let
me know you were coming. To-morrow----"

"What you can to-night as quickly as possible. Lady Susan is tired
out, and I return as soon as I have eaten. See that the post-boy gets
something too."

"Yo're non stopping?" asked the old woman in surprise.

"No, no, I told you so," he said, with the irritation of a tired man.
"Come, my dear!" and he offered his arm to Lady Susan, and led her
slowly away down the stone passage to a small room in the west front,
where the rush of the storm was barely heard.

An hour later Sir Denzil was whirling back before the gale on his way
to London, as fast as two tired horses and a none too amiable post-boy
could carry him. His usual serene self-complacency was disturbed by
many anxieties, and he carried not a little bitterness, on his own
account, at the untowardness of the circumstances which had dragged
him from the ordered courses of his life and sent him posting down
into the wilderness, without even the assistance of his man, upon whom
he depended for the minutest details of his bodily comfort.

"A most damnable misfortune!" he allowed himself, now that he was
alone, and he added some further unprofitable moments to an already
tolerably heavy account in cursing every separate person connected
with the matter, including a dead man and the man who killed him, and
an unborn babe and the mother who lay shivering at thought of its
coming.



CHAPTER IV
THE COIL COMPLETE


In the great house of Carne there was a stillness in strange contrast
with the roaring of the gale outside. But the stillness was big with
life's vitalities--love and hate and fear; and, compared with them,
the powers without were nothing more than whistling winds that played
with shifting sands, and senseless waves that sported with men's
lives.

It was not till the new-comer was lying in her warm bed in the room
above the oak parlour, shivering spasmodically at times in spite of
blankets and warming-pans and a roaring fire, that she spoke to the
old woman who had assisted her in grim silence.

The silence and the grimness had not troubled her. They suited her
state of mind and body better than speech would have done. Life had
lost its savour for her. Of what might lie beyond she knew little and
feared much at times, and at times cared naught, craving only rest
from all the ills of life and the poignant pains that racked her.

It was only when Mrs. Lee had carefully straightened out her discarded
robes, and looked round to see what else was to be done, and came to
the bedside to ask tersely if there was anything more my lady wanted,
that my lady spoke.

"You'll come back and sit with me?" she asked.

"Ay--I'll come."

"Whose baby is that downstairs?"

"It's my girl's," said the old woman, startled somewhat at my lady's
knowledge.

"Did she live through it?"

"Ay, she lived." And there was that in her tone which implied that it
might have been better if she had not. But my lady's perceptions were
blunted by her own sufferings.

"Is she here?"

"Ay, she's here."

"Would she come to me too?"

But the old woman shook her head.

"She's not over strong yet," she said grimly. "I'll come back and sit
wi' yo'."

"How old is it?"

"Seven days."

"Seven days! Seven days!" She was wondering vaguely where she would be
in seven days.

"It looked very happy," she said presently. "Its father was surely a
good man."

"They're none too many," said the old woman, as she turned to go.
"I'll get my supper and come back t' yo'."

"Who is she?" asked her daughter, with the vehemence of an aching
question, as she entered the kitchen.

Mrs. Lee closed the passage door and looked at her steadily and said,
"She's Denzil Carron's wife." And the younger woman sprang to her feet
with blazing face and the clatter of a falling chair.

"Denzil's wife! I am Denzil Carron's wife."

"So's she. And I reckon she's the one they'll call his wife," said her
mother dourly.

"I'll go to her. I'll tell her----" And she sprang to the door.

"Nay, you wun't," said her mother, leaning back against it. "T'
blame's not hers, an' hoo's low enough already."

"And where is he? Where is Denzil?"

"He's in trouble of some kind, but what it is I dunnot know. Sir
Denzil's gone back to get him out of it, and he brought her here to be
out of it too."

"And he'll come here?"

"Mebbe. Sir Denzil didna say. He said he'd hold me responsible for
her. She's near her time, poor thing! An' I doubt if she comes through
it."

"Near----!" And the girl blazed out again.

"Ay. I shouldna be surprised if it killed her. There's the look o' it
in her face."

"Kill her? Why should it kill her? It didn't kill me," said the girl
fiercely.

"Mebbe it would but for yon woman you told me of. Think of your own
time, girl, and bate your anger. Fault's not hers if Denzil served you
badly."

"He connot have two wives."

"Worse for him if he has. One's enough for most men. But--well-a-day,
it's no good talking! I'll take a bite, and back to her. She begged me
come. Yo' can sleep i' my bed. There's more milk on th' hob there if
th' child's hungry." And carrying her bread-and-cheese she went off
down the passage, and the young mother sat bending over the fire with
her elbows on her knees.

She had no thought of sleep. Her limbs were still weary from her long
tramp, but the food and rest had given her strength, and the coming of
this other woman, who called herself Denzil Carron's wife, had fired
her with a sense of revolt.

The blood was boiling through her veins at thought of it all--at
thought of Denzil, at thought of the boy in the next room, and this
other woman upstairs. Her heart felt like molten lead kicking in a
cauldron.

She got up and began to pace the floor with the savage grace born of a
life of unrestricted freedom. Once she stopped and flung up her hands
as though demanding--what?--a blessing--a curse--the righting of a
wrong? The quivering hands looked capable at the moment of righting
their own wrongs, or of wreaking vengeance on the wrongdoer if they
closed upon him.

Then, as the movement of her body quieted in some measure the turmoil
of her brain, her pace grew slower, and she began to think
connectedly. And at last she dropped into the chair again, leaned her
elbows on her kneel and sat gazing into the fire. When it burned low
she piled on wood mechanically, and sat there thinking, thinking.
Outside, the storm raged furiously, and the flying sand hit the window
like hailstones. And inside, the woman sat gazing into the fire and
thinking.

She sat long into the night, thinking, thinking--unconscious of the
passage of time;--thinking, thinking. Twice her child woke crying to
be fed, and each time she fed him from the pannikin as mechanically
almost as she had fed the fire with wood. For her thoughts were
strange long thoughts, and she could not see the end of them.

They were all sent flying by the sudden entrance of her mother in a
state of extreme agitation, her face all crumpled, her hands shaking.

"She's took," she said, with a break in her voice. "Yo' mun go for th'
doctor quick. I connot leave her. Nay!"--as the other sat bolt upright
and stared back at her--"yo' _mun_ go. We connot have her die on our
hands. Think o' yore own time, lass, and go quick for sake o' Heaven."

"I'll go." And she snatched up her cloak. "See to the child." And she
was out in the night, drifting before the gale like an autumn leaf.

The old woman went in to look at the child, filled the kettle and put
it on the fire, and hurried back to the chamber of sorrows.


The gale broke at sunrise, and the flats lay shimmering like sheets of
burnished gold, when Dr. Yool turned at last from the bedside and
looked out of the window upon the freshness of the morning.

He was in a bitter humour. When Nance Lee thumped on his door at
midnight he was engaged in the congenial occupation of mixing a final
and unusually stiff glass of rum and water. It was in the nature of a
soporific--a nightcap. It was to be the very last glass for that
night, and he had compounded it with the tenderest care and the most
businesslike intention.

"If that won't give me a night's rest," he said to himself, "nothing
will."

But there was no rest for him that night. He had been on the go since
daybreak, and was fairly fagged out. He greeted Nance's imperative
knock with bad language. But when he heard her errand he swallowed his
nightcap without a wink, though it nearly made his hair curl, ran
round with her to the stable, harnessed his second cob to the little
black gig with the yellow wheels, threw Nance into it, and in less
than five minutes was wrestling with the north-easter once more, and
spitting out the sand as he had been doing off and on all day long.

"There's one advantage in being an old bachelor, Miss Nancy," he had
growled, as he flung the harness on the disgusted little mare; "your
worries are your own. Take my advice and never you get married----"
And then he felt like biting his tongue off when he remembered the
rumours he had heard concerning the girl. She was too busy with her
own long thoughts to be troubled by his words, however, and once they
were on the road speech was impossible by reason of the gale.

When they arrived at Carne she scrambled down and led the mare into
the great empty coach-house, where the post-horses had previously
found shelter that night. She flung the knee-rug over the shaking
beast, still snorting with disgust and eyeing her askance as the cause
of all the trouble. Then she followed the doctor into the house. He
was already upstairs, however, and, after a look at her sleeping boy,
she sat down in her chair before the fire again to await the event,
and fell again to her long, long thoughts.

And once more her thoughts were sent flying by the entrance of her
mother. She carried a tiny bundle carefully wrapped in flannel and a
shawl, and on her sour old face there was an expression of relief and
exultation--the exultation of one who has won in a close fight with
death.

"He were but just in time," she said, as she sat down before the fire.
"I'm all of a shake yet. But th' child's safe anyway." And she began
to unfold the bundle tenderly. "Git me t' basin and some warm water.
Now, my mannie, we'll soon have you comfortable. . . . So . . . Poor
little chap! . . . I doubt if she'll pull through. . . . T' doctor's
cursing high and low below his breath at state she's in . . .
travelling in that condition . . . 'nough to have killed a stronger
one than ever she was. . . . I knew as soon as ivver I set eyes on her
. . . A fine little lad!"--as she turned the new-comer carefully over
on her knee--"and nothing a-wanting 's far as I can see, though he's
come a month before he should."

She rambled on in the rebound from her fears, but the girl uttered no
word in reply. She stood watching abstractedly, and handing whatever
the old woman called for. Her thoughts were in that other room, where
the grim fight was still waging. Her heart was sick to know how it was
going. Her thoughts were very shadowy still, but the sight of the boy
on the old woman's knee showed her her possible way, like a signpost
on a dark night. She would see things clearer when she knew how things
had gone upstairs.

She must know. She could not wait. She turned towards the passage.

"I will go and see," she said.

"Ay, go," said the old woman. "But go soft."

The doctor was sitting at the bedside. He raised his hand when she
entered the room, but did not turn. She stood and watched, and
suddenly all her weariness came on her and she felt like falling. She
leaned against the wall and waited.

Once and again the doctor spoke to the woman on the bed. But there was
no answer. He sat with furrowed face watching her, and the girl leaned
against the wall and watched them both.

And at last the one on the bed answered--not the doctor, but a greater
healer still. One long sigh, just as the sun began to touch the
rippled flats with gold, and it was over. The stormy night was over
and peace had come with the morning.

The doctor gat up with something very like a scowl on his face and
went to the window. Even in the Presence he had to close his mouth
firmly lest the lava should break out.

He hated to be beaten in the fight--the endless fight to which his
whole life was given, year in, year out. But this had been no fair
fight. The battle was lost before he came on the field, and his
resentment was hot against whoever was to blame.

He opened the casement and leaned out to cool his head. The sweet
morning air was like a kiss. He drank in a big breath or two, and,
after another pained look at the white face on the pillow, he turned
and left the room. The girl had already gone, and as she went down the
passage there was a gleam in her eyes.

Her mother saw it as soon as she entered the kitchen. "Well?" asked
the old woman.

"She's gone."

"And yo're glad of it. Shame on yo', girl! And yo' but just safe
through it yoreself!"

The girl made no reply, and a moment later the doctor came in.

"Now, Mrs. Lee, explain things to me. Whose infernal folly brought
that poor thing rattling over the country in that condition? And get
me a cup of coffee, will you? Child all right?"

"He's all right, doctor. He's sleeping quiet there"--pointing to a
heap of shawls on the hearth. "It were Sir Denzil himself brought her
last night."

"And why didn't he stop to see the result of his damned stupidity?
It's sheer murder, nothing less. Make it as strong as you
can,"--referring to the coffee--"my head's buzzing. I haven't had a
minute's rest for twenty-four hours. Where is Sir Denzil? He left word
at my house to come over here first thing this morning. I expected to
find him here."

"He went back wi the carriage that brought 'em. There's trouble afoot
about Mr. Denzil as I understond. He said it were life and death, and
he were off again inside an hour."

"Ah!" said the doctor, nodding his head knowingly. "That's it, is it?
And you don't know what the trouble was?"

"'Life and death,' he said. That's all I know."

"Well, if he bungles the other business as he has done this it'll not
need much telling which it'll be." And he blew on his coffee to cool
it.

"I must send him word at once," he said presently, "and I'll tell him
what I think about it. I've got his town address. You can see to the
child all right, I suppose? Another piece of that bread, if you
please. Any more coffee there? This kind of thing makes me feel
empty."

"I'll see to t' child aw reet."

"Send me word if you need me, not otherwise. There's typhus down
Wyvveloe way, and I'm run off my legs. A dog's life, dame--little
thanks and less pay!" And he buttoned up his coat fiercely and strode
out to his gig. "I'll send John Braddle out," he called back over his
shoulder. "But I doubt if we can wait to hear from Sir Denzil.
However----" And he drove away, through the slanting morning sunshine.

The white sand-hills smiled happily, the wide flats blazed like a
rippled mirror, the sky was brightest blue, and very far away the sea
slept quietly behind its banks of yellow sand.



CHAPTER V
IN THE COIL


The days passed and brought no word from Sir Denzil in reply to Dr.
Yool's post letter. And, having waited as long as they could, they
buried Lady Susan in the little green churchyard at Wyvveloe, where
half a dozen Carrons, who happened to have died at Carne, already
rested. Dr. Yool and Braddle had had to arrange everything between
them, and, as might have been expected under the circumstances, the
funeral was as simple as funeral well could be, and as regards
attendance--well, the doctor was the only mourner, and he still boiled
over when he thought of the useless way in which this poor life had
been sacrificed.

Braddle was there with his men, of course, but the doctor only just
managed it between two visits, and his manner showed that he grudged
the time given to the dead which was all too short for the
requirements of the living. Yet it went against the grain to think of
that poor lady going to her last resting-place unattended, and he made
a point of being there. But his gig stood waiting outside the
churchyard gate, and he was whirling down the lane while the first
spadefuls were drumming on the coffin.

He thought momentarily of the child as he drove along. But, since no
call for his services had come from Mrs. Lee, he supposed it was going
on all right, and he had enough sick people on his hands to leave him
little time for any who could get along without him.

The days ran into weeks, and still no word from Sir Denzil. It looked
as though the little stranger at Carne might remain a stranger for the
rest of his days. And yet it was past thinking that those specially
interested should make no inquiry concerning the welfare of so
important a member of the family.

"Summat's happened," was old Mrs. Lee's terse summing-up, with a
gloomy shake of the head whenever she and Nance discussed the matter,
which was many times a day.

Other matters too they discussed, and to more purpose, since the
forwarding of them was entirely in their own hands. And when they
spoke of these other matters, sitting over the fire in the long
evenings, each with a child on her knee, hushing it or feeding it,
their talk was broken, interjectional even at times, and so low that
the very walls could have made little of it.

It was fierce-eyed Nance who started that strain of talk, and at first
her mother received it open-mouthed. But by degrees, and as time
played for them, she came round to it, and ended by  being the more
determined of the two. So they were of one mind on the matter, and the
matter was of moment, and all that happened afterwards grew out of it.

Both the children throve exceedingly. No care was lacking them, and no
distinction was made between them. What one had the other had, and
Nance, with recovered strength, played foster-mother to them both.

Just two months after Lady Susan's death the two women were sitting
talking over the fire one night, the children being asleep side by
side in the cot in the adjacent bedroom, when the sound of hoofs and
wheels outside brought them to their feet together.

"It's him," said Mrs. Lee; and they looked for a moment into one
another's faces as though each sought sign of flinching in the other.
Then both their faces tightened, and they seemed to brace themselves
for the event.

An impatient knock on the kitchen door, the old woman hastened to
answer it, and Sir Denzil limped in. He was thinner and whiter than
the last time he came. He leaned heavily on a stick and looked frail
and worn.

"Well, Mrs. Lee," he said, as he came over to the fire and bent over
it and chafed his hands, "you'd given up all fears of ever seeing me
again, I suppose?"

"Ay, a'most we had," said the old woman, as she lifted the kettle off
the bob and set it in the blaze.

"Well, it wasn't far off it. I had a bad smash returning to London
that last time. That fool of a post-boy drove into a tree that had
fallen across the road, and killed himself and did his best to kill
me. Now light the biggest fire you can make in the oak room, and
another in my bedroom, and get me something to eat. Kennet"--as his
man came in dragging a travelling-trunk--"get out a bottle of brandy,
and, as soon as you've got the things in, brew me the stiffest glass
of grog you ever made. My bones are frozen."

He dragged up a chair and sat down before the fire, thumping the coals
with his stick to quicken the blaze. The rest sped to his bidding.

Kennet, when he had got in the trunks, brewed the grog in a big jug,
with the air of one who knew what he was about.

"Shall I give the boy some, sir?" he asked, when Sir Denzil had
swallowed a glass and was wiping his eyes from the effects of it.

"Yes, yes. Give him a glass, but tone it down, or he'll be breaking
his neck like the last one."

So Kennet watered a glass to what he considered reasonable
encouragement for a frozen post-boy, and presently the jingling of
harness died away in the distance, and Kennet came in and fastened the
door.

Sir Denzil had filled and emptied his glass twice more before Mrs. Lee
came to tell him the room was ready. Then he went slowly off down the
passage, steadying himself with his stick, for a superfluity of hot
grog on an empty stomach on a cold night is not unapt to mount to the
head of even a seasoned toper.

Kennet, when he came back to the room, after seeing his master
comfortably installed before the fire, brewed a fresh supply of grog,
placed on one side what he considered would satisfy his own
requirements, and carried the rest to the oak room.

It was when the girl Nance carried in the hastily prepared meal that
Sir Denzil, after peering heavily at her from under his bushy brows,
asked suddenly, "And the child? It's alive?"

"Alive and well, sir."

"Bring it to me in the morning."

The girl looked at him once or twice as if she wanted to ask him a
question.

He caught her at it, and asked abruptly, "What the devil are you
staring at, and what the deuce keeps you hanging round here?" Upon
which she quitted the room.

There was much talk, intense and murmurous, between the two women that
night, when they had made up a bed for Kennet and induced him at last
to go to it. From Kennet and the grog, after Sir Denzil had retired
for the night, Nance learned all Kennet could tell her about Mr.
Denzil.

According to that veracious historian it was only through Mr. Kennet's
supreme discretion and steadfastness of purpose that the young man got
safely across to Brussels, and, when he tired of Brussels, which he
very soon did, to Paris.

"Ah!" said Mr. Kennet. "Now, that _is_ a place. Gay?--I believe you!
Lively?--I believe you! Heels in the air kind of place?--I believe
you! And Mr. Denzil he took to it like a duck to the water. London
ain't in it with Paris, I tell you." And so on and so on, until,
through close attention to the grog, his words began to tumble over
one another. Then he bade them good night, with solemn and insistent
emphasis, as though it was doubtful if they would ever meet again, and
cautiously followed Nance and his candle to his room.

The flats were gleaming like silver under a frosty sun next morning,
and there was a crackling sharpness in the air, when Sir Denzil,
having breakfasted, stood at the window of the oak room awaiting his
grandson.

"Tell Mrs. Lee to bring in the child," he had said to Kennet, and now
a tap on the door told him that the child was there.

"Come in," he said sharply, and turned and stood amazed at sight of
the two women each with a child on her arm. "The deuce!" he said, and
fumbled for his snuff-box.

He found it at last, a very elegant little gold box, bearing a
miniature set with diamonds--a present from his friend George, in the
days before the slice of orange, and most probably never paid for. He
slowly extracted a pinch without removing his eyes from the women and
children. He snuffed, still staring at them, and then said quietly,
"What the deuce is the meaning of this?"

"Yo' asked to see t' child, sir," said Mrs. Lee.

"Well?"

"Here 'tis, sir."

"Which?"

"Both!"

"Ah!"--with a pregnant nod. Then, with a wave of the hand. "Take them
away." And the women withdrew.

Sir Denzil remained standing exactly as he was for many minutes. Then
he began to pace the room slowly with his stick, to and fro, to and
fro, with his eyes on the polished floor, and his thoughts hard at
work.

He saw the game, and recognized at a glance that no cards had been
dealt him. The two women held the whole pack, and he was out of it.

He thought keenly and savagely, but saw no way out. The more he
thought, the tighter seemed the cleft of the stick in which the women
held him.

The law? The law was powerless in the matter. Not all the law in the
land could make a woman speak when all her interests bade her keep
silence, any more than it could make her keep silence if she wanted to
speak.

Besides, even if these women swore till they were blue in the face as
to the identity of either child, he would never believe one word of
their swearing. Their own interests would guide them, and no other
earthly consideration.

He could turn them out. To what purpose? One of those two children was
Denzil Carron of Carne. Which?

The other--ah yes! The other was equally of his blood. He did not
doubt that for one moment. He had known of Denzil's entanglement with
Nance Lee, and it had not troubled him for a moment. But who, in the
name of Heaven, could have foreseen so perplexing a result?

When he glanced out of the window, the crystalline morning, the white
sunshine, the clear blue sky, the hard yellow flats, the distant blue
sea with its crisp white fringe, all seemed to mock him with the
brightness of their beauty.

How to solve the puzzle? Already, in his own mind, he doubted if it
ever would be solved. And he cursed the brightness of the morning, and
the women--which was more to the point, but equally futile,--and
Denzil, and poor Lady Susan, who lay past curses in Wyvveloe
churchyard. And his face, while that fit was on him, was not pleasant
to look upon.

Presently, with a twitching of the corners of the mouth, like a dog
about to bare his fangs, he rang the bell very gently, and Kennet came
in.

"Kennet," he said, as quietly as if he were ordering his boots, "put
on your hat and go for Dr. Yool. Bring him with you without fail. If
he is out, go after him. If he says he'll see me further first, say I
apologise, and I want him here at once. Tell him I've burst a
blood-vessel."

He had had words with the doctor the night before. He had stopped his
post-chaise at his house and gone in for a minute to explain his long
absence, and the doctor, who feared no man, had rated him soundly for
the thoughtlessness which had caused Lady Susan's death.

He did not for a moment believe that the doctor or any one else could
help him in this blind alley. But discuss the matter with some one he
must, or burst, and he did not care to discuss it with Kennet. Kennet
knew very much better than to disagree with his master on any subject
whatever, and discussion with him never advanced matters one iota.
Discussion of the matter with Dr. Yool would probably have the same
result, but it could do no harm, and it offered possibilities of a
disputation for which he felt a distinct craving.

Whether doctors could reasonably be expected to identify infants at
whose births they had officiated, after a lapse of two months, he did
not know. But he was quite prepared to uphold that view of the case
with all the venom that was in him, and he awaited the doctor's
arrival with impatience.

Dr. Yool drove up at last with Kennet beside him, and presently stood
in the room with Sir Denzil.

"Hello!" cried the doctor, with disappointment in his face. "Where's
that blood-vessel?"

"Listen to me, Yool. You were present at the birth of Lady Susan's
children----"

"Eh? What? Lady Susan's child? Yes!"

"Children!"

"What the deuce! Children? A boy, sir--one!"

"You'd know him again, I suppose?"

"Well, in a general kind of way possibly. What's amiss with him?"

"According to these women here, there are two of him now."

"Good Lord, Sir Denzil! What do you mean? Two? How can there be two?"

"Ah, now you have me. I thought that you, as a doctor--as the doctor,
in fact--could probably explain the matter." The doctor's red face
reddened still more.

"Send for the women here--and the children," he said angrily.

Sir Denzil rang the bell, gave his instructions to the impassive
Kennet, who had not yet fathomed the full intention of the matter, and
in a few minutes Mrs. Lee and Nance, each with a child on her arm,
stood before them.

"Now then, what's the meaning of all this?" asked Dr. Yool. "Which of
these babies is Lady Susan's child?"

"We don't know, sir," said Mrs. Lee, with a curtsey.

"Don't know! Don't know! What the deuce do you mean by that, Mrs. Lee?
Whose is the other child?"

"My daughter's, sir. It were born a day or two before the other, and
we got 'em mixed and don't know which is which."

"Nonsense! Bring them both to me."

He flung down some cushions in front of the fire, rapidly undressed
the children, and laid them wriggling and squirming in the blaze among
their wraps. He bent and examined them with minutest care. He turned
them over and over, noticed all their points with a keenly critical
eye, but could make nothing of it. They were as like as two peas.
Dark-haired, dark-eyed, plump, clear-skinned, healthy youngsters both.
The seven days between them, which in the very beginning might have
been apparent, was now, after the lapse of two months, absolutely
undiscoverable.

Sir Denzil came across and looked down on the jerking little arms and
legs and twisting faces, and snuffed again as though he thought they
might be infectious. For all the expression that showed in his face,
they might have been a litter of pups.

"Well, I am ----!" said Dr. Yool, at last, straightening up from the
inspection with his hands on his hips. "Now"--fixing the two women
with a blazing eye--"what's the meaning of it all? Who is the father
of this other child?"

"Denzil Carron," said Nance boldly, speaking for the first time. "He
married me before he married her, and here are my lines," and she
plucked them out of her bosom.

Dr. Yool's eyebrows went up half an inch. Sir Denzil took snuff very
deliberately.

The doctor held out his hand for the paper, and after a moment's
hesitation Nance handed it to him.

He read it carefully, and his good-humoured mouth twisted doubtfully.
The matter looked serious.

"Dress the children and take them away," he said at last. When they
were dressed, however, Nance stood waiting for her lines.

Dr. Yool understood. "I will be answerable for them," he said; and she
turned and went.

"A troublesome business, Sir Denzil," he said, when they were alone.
"A troublesome business, whichever way you look at it. This"--and he
flicked Nance's cherished lines--"may, of course, be make-believe,
though it looks genuine enough on the face of it. That must be
carefully looked into. But as to the children--you are in these
women's hands absolutely and completely, and they know it."

"It looks deucedly like it."

"They know which is which well enough; but nothing on earth will make
them speak--except their own interests, and that," he said
thoughtfully, "won't be for another twenty years."

"It's too late to make away with them both, I suppose," said Sir
Denzil cynically.

"Tchutt! It's bad enough as it is, but there's no noose in it at
present. Besides, they are both undoubtedly your grandsons----"

"And which succeeds?" asked the baronet grimly.

"There's the rub. Deucedly awkward, if they both live--most deucedly
awkward! There's always the chance, of course, that one may die."

"Not a chance," said Sir Denzil. "They'll both live to be a hundred.
They can toss for the title when the time comes. I'd sooner trust a
coin than those women's oaths."

The doctor nodded. He felt the same.

"What about this?" he asked, reading Nance's lines again. "Will you
look into it?" He pulled out a pencil and noted places and dates in
his pocket-book.

"What good? It alters nothing."

"As regards your son?"

Sir Denzil shrugged lightly.

"He has shown himself a fool, but he is hardly such a fool as that. If
he comes to the title, and she claims on him, he must fight his own
battle. As to the whelps----" Another shrug shelved them for future
consideration.

Nevertheless, when Dr. Yool had driven away in the gig with the yellow
wheels, Sir Denzil paced his room by the hour in deep thought, and
none of it pleasant, if his face was anything to go by.

He travelled along every possible avenue, and found each a blind
alley.

He could send the girl about her business, and the old woman too. But
to what purpose? If they took one of the children with them, which
would it be? Most likely Lady Susan's. But he would never be certain
of it. That would be so obviously the thing to do that they would
probably do the opposite. If they left both children, he would have to
get some one else to attend to them, and no one in the world had the
interest in their welfare that these two had.

If both children died, then Denzil might marry again, and have an heir
about whom there was no possible doubt. That is, if this other alleged
marriage of his was, as he suspected, only a sham one. He would have
to look into that matter, after all.

If, by any mischance, the marriage, however intended, proved legal,
then that hope was barred, and it would be better to have the
children, or at all events one of them, live. Otherwise the succession
would vest in the Solway Carrons, whom he detested. Better even Nance
Lee's boy than a Solway Carron.

The conclusion of the matter was, that he could not better matters at
the moment by lifting a finger. Not lightly nor readily did he bring
his mind to this. He spent bitter days and nights brooding over it
all, and at the end he found himself where he was at the beginning.
Time might possibly develop, in one or other of the boys,
characteristics which might tell their own tale. But that chance, he
recognised, was a small one. Both boys took after their father, and
were as like Denzil, when he was a baby, as they possibly could be.

In the spring he would look into that marriage matter. Till then,
things must go on as they were.

Not a word did he say to the women. Not the slightest interest did he
show in the children. He rarely saw them, and then only by chance. And
in the women's care the children throve and prospered, since it was
entirely to their interest that they should do so.



BOOK II



CHAPTER VI
FREEMEN OF THE FLATS


Now we take ten years at a leap.

So small a span of time has made no difference in the great house of
Carne, or in its surroundings. Many times have the sand-hills sifted
and shifted hither and thither. Many times have the great yellow banks
out beyond lazily uncoiled themselves like shining serpents, and
coiled themselves afresh into new entanglements for unwary mariners.
In the narrow channels the bones of the unwary roll to and fro, and
some have sunk down among the quicksands. Times without number have
the mighty flats gleamed and gloomed. And the great house has watched
it all stonily, and it all looks just the same.

But ten years work mighty changes in men and women, and still greater
ones in small boys.

A tall straight-limbed young man strode swiftly among the
sand-hummocks and came out on the flats, and stood gazing round him,
with a great light in his eyes, and a towel round his neck.

He had a lean, clean-shaven face, to which the hair brushed back
behind his ears lent a pleasant eagerness. But the face was leaner and
whiter than it should have been, and the eyes seemed unnaturally deep
in their hollows.

"Whew!" he whistled, as the wonder of the flats struck home. "A
change, changes, and half a change, and no mistake! And all very much
for the better--in most respects. The bishop said I'd find it rather
different from Whitechapel, and he was right! Very much so! Dear old
chap!"

It was ten o'clock of a sweet spring morning. The brown ribbed flats
gleamed and sparkled and laughed back at the sun with a thousand
rippling lips. The cloudless blue sky was ringing with the songs of
many larks.

The young man stood with his braces slipped off his shoulders, and
looked up at the larks. Then he characteristically, flung up a hand
towards them, and cried them a greeting in the famous words of that
rising young poet, Mr. Robert Browning, "God's in His heaven! All's
well with the world!--Well! Well! Ay--very, very well!" And then, with
a higher flight, in the words of the old sweet singer which had formed
part of the morning lesson--"Praise Him, all His host!" And then, as
his eye caught the gleam of the distant water, he resumed his peeling
in haste.

"Ten thousand souls--and bodies, which are very much worse--to the
square mile there, and here it looks like ten thousand square miles to
this single fortunate body. . . . That sea must be a good mile
away. . . . The run alone will be worth coming for. . . ."

He had girt himself with a towel by this time, and fastened it with a
scientific twist. . . . "Now for a dance on the Doctor's nose," and he
sped off on the long stretch to the water.

The kiss of the salt air cleansed him of the travail of the slums as
no inland bathing had ever done. The sun which shone down on him, and
the myriad broken suns which flashed up at him from every furrow of
the rippled sand, sent new life chasing through his veins. He shouted
aloud in his gladness, and splashed the waters of the larger pools
into rainbows, and was on and away before they reached the ground.

And so, to the sandy scum of the tide, and through it to deep water,
and a manful breasting of the slow calm heave of the great sea; with
restful pauses when he lay floating on his back gazing up into the
infinite blue; and deep sighs of content for this mighty gift of the
freedom of the shore and the waves. And a deeper sigh at thought of
the weary toilers among whom he had lived so long, to whom such things
were unknown, and must remain so.

But there!--he had done his duty among them to the point almost of
final sacrifice. There was duty no less exigent here, though under
more God-given conditions. So--one more ploughing through deep waters,
arm over arm, side stroke with a great forward reach and answering
lunge. Then up and away, all rosy-red and beaded with diamonds, to the
clothing and duty of the work-a-day world.

"Grim old place," he chittered as he ran, and his eye fell on Carne
for the first time. "Grand place to live . . . if she lived there
too. . . . Great saving in towels that run home. . . . Now where the
dickens . . . ?"

He looked about perplexedly, then began casting round, hither and
thither, like a dog on a lost scent.

"Hang it! I'm sure this was the place. . . . I remember that sand-hill
with its hair all a-bristle."

He poked and searched. He scraped up the sand with his hands in case
they should have got buried, but not a rag of his clothes could he
find.

Stay! Not a rag? What's that? Away down a gully between two hummocks,
as if it had attempted escape on its own account--a blue sock which he
recognised as his own.

He pounced on it with a whoop, dusted one foot free of the dry, soft
sand, and put the sock on.

"It's a beginning," he said, quaintly enough, "but----!" But obviously
more was necessary before he could return home. He searched carefully
all round, but could not find another thread. He climbed the sliding
side of the nearest sand-hill, and looked cautiously about him. But
the whole place was a honeycomb of gullies, and the clothing of a
thousand men might have hidden in them and never been seen again.

He sat down in the warm sand and cogitated. He looked at his single
towel, and at the wire-grass bristling sparsely through the sand, and
wondered if it might be possible to construct a primitive raiment out
of such slight materials. But his deep-set eyes never ceased their
vigilant outlook.

Something moved behind the rounded shoulder of a hill in front. It
might be only the loping brown body of a rabbit, but he was after it
like a shot.

When he topped the hill he saw a naked white foot slipping out of
sight into a dark hole like a big burrow. He leaped down the hill, and
stretched a groping arm into the hole. It lighted on squirming flesh.
His hand gripped tightly that which it had caught, and a furious
assault of blows, scratches, bites, and the frantic tearings of small
fingers strove to loosen it. But he held tight, and inch by inch drew
his prisoner out--a small boy with dark hair thick with sand, and dark
eyes blazing furiously.

He was stark naked, and held in his hand a small weapon consisting of
a round stone with a hole in the centre, into which a wooden handle
had been thrust and bound with string. With this, as he lay on his
back, now that he had space to use it, he proceeded to lash out
vigorously at his captor, who still held on to his ankle in spite of
the punishment his wrist and arm were receiving.

"Well, I'll be hanged!" said the young man in the towel, dodging the
blows as well as he could. "What in Heaven's name are you? Ancient
Briton? Bit of the Stone Age?"

"Le' me go or I'll kill you," howled the prisoner.

"No, don't! You're strong: be merciful. Hello!" as a fresh attack took
him in the rear, and his bare back resounded to the blows of a weapon
similar to the one that was pounding his arm. "You young savages! Two
to one, and an unarmed man!"

He loosed the ankle and made a quick dive at the brown thrashing arm,
and, having secured it, lifted the wriggling youngster and tucked him
under his arm like a parcel. Then, in spite of the struggles of his
prisoner, he turned on the new-comer and presently held him captive in
similar fashion.

They bit and tore and wriggled like a pair of little tiger-cats, but
the arms that held them were strong ones if the face above was thin
and worn and gentle.

"Stop it!" He knocked their heads together, and squeezed the slippery
little bodies under his arms till the breath was nearly out of them,
and took advantage of the moment of gasping quiescence to ask, "Will
you be quiet if I let you down?"

They intimated in jerks that they would be quiet.

"Drop those drumsticks, then."

First one, then the other weapon dropped into the sand. He put his
foot on them and stood the boys on their feet.

"Drumsticks!" snorted one, his sandy little nose all a-quiver.

"Well, neither am I a drum," said their captor good-humouredly. "Now
what's the meaning of all this? Who are you? Or what are you?"

They were fine sturdy little fellows, of ten or eleven, he judged,
their skins tanned brown and coated with dry sand, quick dark eyes and
dark flushed faces all aglow still with the light of battle. They
stood panting before him, no whit abashed either by their defeat or
their lack of clothing. He saw their eyes settle longingly on the
clubs under his feet. He stooped and picked them up, and the dark eyes
followed them anxiously.

"Promise not to use them on me and I'll give them back to you."

The brown hands reached out eagerly, and he handed the weapons over.

"Now sit down and tell me all about it." And he sat down himself in
the sand.

He saw them glance towards the mouth of their retreat, and shook his
head.

"You can't manage it. I'd have you out before you were half way in.
You're prisoners of war on parole. Now then, who are you?"

"Carr'ns."

"Carr'ns, are you? Well, you look it, whatever it means. Do you live
in that hole?"

"Sometimes."

"Never wear any clothes?"

"Sometimes."

"I see. Much jollier without, isn't it? But, you see, I can't go home
like this. So perhaps you won't mind telling me why you stole my
things and where they are?"

"Carr'ns don't steal," jerked one.

"Carr'ns only take things," jerked the other.

"I see. It's a fine point, but it comes to much the same thing unless
you return what you take. So perhaps you'll be so good as to turn up
my things. Where are they?"

One of the boys nodded towards the burrow.

"That's the stronghold, is it? Not much room to turn about in, I
should say."

They declined to express an opinion.

"May I go in and have a look?"

But that was not in the terms of their parole, and they sprang
instantly to the defence of their hold. The young man of the towel was
beginning to wonder if another pitched battle would be necessary
before he could recover his missing property, when a diversion was
suddenly created by an innocent outsider.

A foolish young rabbit hopped over the shoulder of a neighbouring
sand-hill to see what all the disturbance was about. In a moment the
round stone clubs flew and the sense was out of him before he had time
to twinkle an eye or form any opinion on the subject. With a whoop the
boys sprang at him and resolved themselves instantly into a
pyrotechnic whirl of arms and legs and red-hot faces and flying sand,
as they fought for their prey.

"Little savages!" said the young man, and did his best to separate
them.

But he might as well have attempted argument with a Catherine wheel in
the full tide of its short life. And so he took to indiscriminate
spanking wherever bare slabs of tumbling flesh gave him a chance, and
presently, under the influence of his gentle suasion the combatants
separated and stood panting and tingling. The _causus belli_ had
disappeared beneath the turmoil of the encounter, but suddenly it came
to light again under the workings of twenty restless little toes. They
both instantly dived for it, and the fight looked like beginning all
over again, when the long white arm shot in and secured it and held it
up above their reach.

"I say! Are you boys or tiger-cats?" he asked, as he examined them
again curiously.

"Carr'ns," panted one, while both gazed at the rabbit like hounds at
the kill.

"Yes, you said that before, but I'm none the wiser. Where do you live
when you're clothed and in your right minds?--if you ever are," he
added doubtfully.

One of them jerked his head sharply in the direction of the great gray
house away along the shore.

"There?"

Another curt nod. He had rarely met such unnatural reserve, even in
Whitechapel, where pointed questions from a stranger are received with
a very natural suspicion. Here, as there, it only made him the more
determined to get to the bottom of it. But Whitechapel had taught him,
among other things, that round-about is sometimes the only way home.

"Why do you want to fight over a dead rabbit?"

"I killed it."

"Didn't. 'Twas me."

"Well now, if you ask me, I should say you both killed it. How did you
become such capital shots?"

But to tell that would have needed much talk, so they only stared up
at him. He saw he must go slowly.

"Those are first-rate clubs. Did you make them?"

Nods from both.

"Do you know?"--he picked one up and examined it carefully--"these are
exactly what the wild men used to make when they lived here a couple
of thousand years ago and used to go about naked just as you do." They
listened eagerly, with wide unwinking eyes, which asked for more.
"They used to stain themselves all blue"--the idea so evidently
commended itself to them that he hastened to add--"but you'd better
not try that or you'll be killing yourselves. They used the juice of a
plant which you can't get and it did them no harm. Can you swim?"

Both heads shook a reluctant negative.

"Can't? Oh, you ought to swim. You can fight, I know, and you are
splendid shots--and good runners, I'll be bound. Why haven't you
learnt to swim?"

"Won't let us."

"Who won't let you?"

"HIM."

"Who's 'him'?"

"Sir Denzil."

"Is that your father?"

"Gran'ther

"I see. I wonder if he'd let me teach you. Every boy ought to learn to
swim. You'd like to?"

The black heads left no possible doubt on that point.

"Well, I'll call on him and ask his permission. Now, what are your
names?"

"Denzil Carr'n."

"And you?"

"Denzil Carr'n."

"But you can't both be Denzil Carr'n."

"I'm Jack."

"I'm Jim."

"And how am I to tell who from which? You're as like as two peas."

They looked at one another as if it had never struck them.

"Stand up and let me see who's the biggest. No"--with a shake of the
head, as they stood side by side--"that doesn't help. You're both of a
tires Now, let me see. Jack's got a big bump on the forehead,"--at
which Jim grinned with reminiscent enjoyment. "That will identify him
for a few days, anyhow, and by that time I shall have got to know you.
Why hasn't your grandfather let you learn to swim?"

"Devil of a coast," said Jack, loosing his tongue at last.

"Damned quicksands," said Jim in emulation. "Suck and suck and never
let go."

"We must be careful, then. You must tell me all about them. My name's
Eager--Charles Eager. I've come to take Mr. Smythe's place at
Wyvveloe. Do you two go to school?"

Emphatically No from both shaggy heads, and undisguised aversion to
the very thought of such a thing.

"But you can't go on like this, you know. What will you do when you
grow up?"

"Go fighting," said Jack of the bumped forehead.

"Quite so. But you don't want to go as privates, I suppose. And to be
officers you must learn many things."

This was a new view of the matter. It seemed to make a somewhat
unfavourable impression. It provided food for thought to Eager himself
also, and he sat looking at them musingly with new and congenial
vistas opening before him.

He had in him a great passion for humanity--for the uplifting and
upbuilding of his fellows. Here apparently was virgin soil ready to
his hand, and he wanted to set to work on it at once.

"You know how to read and write, I suppose?"

"We can read _Robinson Crusoe_--round the pictures."

"Of course. Good old Robinson Crusoe! He's taught many a boy to read."

"He's in there," said Jim, nodding vaguely in the direction of their
burrow.

"That's a good ides. Let us have a look at him." And Jim started off
to fetch Robinson out. "And you might bring my things out too, Jim. My
back's getting raw with the sun."

Jim grinned and crept into the hole, and reappeared presently with an
armful of clothing and a richly bound volume.

Eager put on his other sock and his shirt and trousers, and then sat
down again and picked up the book. It was an unusually fine edition of
the old story, with large coloured plates, and had not been improved
by its sojourn in the land.

"Does your grandfather know you have this out here?"

Most decidedly not.

"I should take it back if I were you, or keep it wrapped in paper.
It's spoiling with the sand and damp. It always hurts me to see a good
book spoiled. Are there many more like this at the house?"

"Heaps,"--which opened out further pleasant prospects if the mine
proved workable.

"Have you gone right through it?"

"Only 'bout the pictures."

"Well, if you're here to-morrow I'll begin reading it to you from the
beginning. There must be quite three-quarters of it that you know
nothing about. And as soon as I can, I'll call on your grandfather and
have a talk with him about, the swimming and the rest. Can you write?"

"Not much," said Jack.

"Sums?"

Nothing of the kind and no slightest inclination that way.

"Now I must get back to my work," said Eager, as he finished dressing.
"This is my first morning, and it's been holiday. I've been living for
the last five years in the East End of London, where the people are
all crowded into dirty rooms in dirty streets, and I came to have a
took at the sea and the sands. It's like a new life. Now, good-bye,"
and he shook hands politely with each in turn. "I shall be on the
look-out for you to-morrow."

He strode away through the sand-hills towards Wyvveloe, and the boys
stood watching till he disappeared.

"My rabbit!" cried Jim, as his eye lighted on the old gage of battle
lying on the sand, and he dashed at it.

"Mine!" and in a moment they were at it hammer and tongs. And the Rev.
Charles went on his way, not a little elated at thoughts of this new
field that lay open before him.



CHAPTER VII
EAGER HEART


"Mrs. Jex," said Eager, to the old woman in whose cottage he had taken
his predecessor's rooms, "who lives in yon big house on the shore?"

Mrs. Jex straightened her big white cap nervously. She had hardly got
used yet to this new "passon," who was so very different from the
last, and who had already in half a day asked her more questions than
the last one did in a year.

"Will it be Carne yo' mean, sir?"

"That's it,--Carne. Who lives there, and what kind of folks are they?"

"There's Sir Denzil an' there's Mr. Kennet----"

"Who's Mr. Kennet?"

"Sir Denzil's man, sir. An' there's the boys----'

"Ah, then, it's the boys I met on the shore, running wild and free,
without a shirt between them."

"Like enough, sir. They do say 'at----"

"Yes?"---as she came to a sudden stop.

"'Tain't for the likes o' me, sir, to talk about my betters," said Mrs.
Jex, with a doubtful shake of the head.

"Oh, the parson hears everything, you know, and he never repeats what
he hears. What do they say about the boys? Are they twins? They're as
like as can be, and just of an age, as far as I could see."

"Well, sir," said Mrs. Jex, with another shake, "there's more to that
than I can say, an' I'm not that sure but what it's more'n anybody can
say."

"Why, what do you mean? That sounds odd."

"Ay, 'tis odd. Carne's seen some queer things, and this is one of 'em,
so they do say."

"I'd like to hear. I rather took to those boys. They seem to be
growing up perfect little savages, learning nothing and----"

"Like enough, sir."

"And I thought of calling on their grandfather and seeing if he'd let
me take them in hand."

"Yo'd have yore hands full, from all accounts."

"That's how I like them. They've been a bit overfull for a good many
years, but this offers the prospect of a change anyway."

"Well, yo'd best see Dr. Yool. If yo' con get him talking he con tell
yo' more'n onybody else. He were there when they were born--one of 'em
onyway."

"Worse and worse? You're a most mysterious old lady. What's it all
about?"

"Yo'd better ask t' doctor. He knows. I only knows what folks say, and
that's mostly lies as often as not. Yore dinner's all ready. Yo' go
and see t' doctor after supper and ax him all about it."

After dinner he took a ramble round his new parish. He had arrived a
couple of days sooner than expected and the head shepherd was away
from home, so he had had to find his way about alone and make the
acquaintance of his sheep as best he could.

Mrs. Jex, who had also acted as landlady for the departed Smythe, had
already thanked God for the change. For Smythe, a lank, boneless
creature, who cloaked a woeful lack of zeal for humanity under cover
of an unwrinkling robe of high observance, had found the atmosphere of
Wyvveloe uncongenial. It lacked the feminine palliatives to which he
had been accustomed. He had grown fretful and irritable--"a perfec'
whimsy!" as Mrs. Jex put it. The sturdy fisher-farmer folk laughed him
and his ways to scorn, and the whole parish was beginning to run to
seed when, to the relief of all concerned, he succeeded in obtaining
his transfer to a sphere better suited to his peculiar requirements.

Mrs. Jex had had experience of Mr. Eager for one night and half a day,
and she already breathed peacefully, and had thanked God for the
change. And it was the same in every cottage into which the Rev.
Charles put his lean, smiling face that day.

Those simple folk, who looked death in the face as a necessary part of
their daily life, knew a man when they saw one, and there was that in
Charles Eager's face which would never be in Mr. Smythe's if he lived
to be a hundred--that keen hunger for the hearts and souls and lives
of men which makes one man a pastor, and the lack of which leaves
another but a priest.

And if the cottagers instinctively recognised the difference, how much
more that bluff guardian--beyond their inclinations at times--of their
outer husks, Dr. Yool!

When Jane Tod, his housekeeper, ushered the stranger into his room Dr.
Yool was mixing himself a stiff glass of grog and compounding new
fulminations, objurgative and expletive, tending towards the cleansing
of Wynsloe streets and backyards.

Miss Tod was a woman in ten thousand, and had been specially created
for the post of housekeeper to Dr. Yool. She was blessed with an
imperturbable placidity which the irascible doctor had striven in vain
to ruffle for over twenty years. When he came in of a night, tired and
hungry and bursting with anger at the bovine stupidity of his
patients, she let him rave to his heart's relief without changing a
hair, and set food and drink before him, and agreed with all he said,
even when he grew personal, and she never talked back. When she showed
in Mr. Eager she simply opened the sitting-room door, said "New
passon," and closed it behind him.

"Will you let me introduce myself, Dr. Yool, seeing that the vicar is
not here to do it? I am Charles Eager, vice Smythe, translated. You
aid I are partners, you see, so I thought the sooner we became
acquainted the better."

"H'mph!" grunted Dr. Yool, eyeing his visitor keenly over the top of
the glass as he sipped his red-hot grog.

"Charles Eager, eh? And what are you eager for, Mr. Eager?"

"Men, women, children--bodies and souls."

"You leave their bodies to me," growled Dr. Yool in his brusquest
manner. "Their souls '11 be quite as much as you can tackle."

But Eager saw through his brusquerie. A very beautiful smile played
over the keen, earnest face as he said:

"When you separate them it's too late for either of us to do them any
good."

"Separate them! Takes me all my time to keep 'em together."

"Exactly! So we'll make better headway if we work together and
overlap."

"Right! We'll work together, Mr. Eager." And the doctor's big brown
hand met the other's in a friendly grip. "You've got more bone in you
than the late invertebrate. He was a sickener. Hand like a fish. Have
some grog?

"I don't permit myself grog. It wouldn't do, you know. But I'll have a
pipe. I see you don't object to smoke."

"Smoke and grog are the only things a man can look forward to with
certainty after a stiff day's work. The sooner you can get your flock
to cleanse out the sheepfolds the better, Mr. Shepherd. We had typhus
here ten years ago, and it gave them such a scare that for one year
the place was fairly sweet. Now it stinks as bad as ever, and I'll be
hanged if I can stir them."

"I'll stir them, or I'll know the reason why!"

Dr. Yool studied the deep-set eyes and firm mouth before him for a
good minute, and then said:

"Gad! I believe you will if any man can."

"Do you know East London?"

"Not intimately. I've seen enough of it to strengthen my preference
for clean sand."

"This is heaven compared with it. I'm going to open these people's
eyes to their advantages."

"You'll be a godsend if you can."

"I want you to tell me all you think fit about two naked boys I came
across on the shore this morning. Carr'ns, they called themselves.
Fine little lads, and next door to savages, as far as I could judge. I
tried to pump Mrs. Jex, and she referred me to you."

Dr. Yool puffed contemplatively, and looked at him through the smoke.

"That's the problem of Carne," he said slowly at last--"the insoluble
problem."

"What's the problem? And why insoluble?"

"One of them is heir to Caine; the other is baseborn. No man on earth
knows which is which."

"Any woman?"

"Ah--there you have it! Can you make a woman speak against her
will--and her interest?" he added, as a hopeful look shot through
Eager's eyes.

"It's a strong combination against one. All the same, there is no
reason why those boys should grow up naked of mind as well as of body.
They are surely close in age? They're as like as two peas--splendid
little savages, both."

"There may be a week between them, not more." He puffed thoughtfully
for several minutes again, and then said slowly: "If you can clothe
them, body and mind, it will be a good work and a tough one. It's
virgin soil and a big handful, and one of them's got a place in the
world. I'll tell you the story for your guidance. I can trust it in
your keeping. The old man would curse me, no doubt, but his time is
past and the boys' is only coming. They are of more consequence."

And bit by bit he told him what he knew of the strange happenings
which had led to the problem of Carne.

Eager followed him with keen interest.

"And was that first marriage genuine?" he asked.

"Very doubtful. I worried the old man till he went off to look into
it, but when he came back he would say nothing. It makes no
difference, however, for we don't know one boy from the other."

"And the mother--the one who lived?" asked Eager, following out his
own line of thought.

"She stayed on at Carne with her mother for about a year. Then she
disappeared, and, as far as I know, nothing has been heard of her
since. She could solve the problem doubtless, but if she swore to it
no one would believe her."

"She believed in her own marriage, of course?"

"Doubtless. And the time may come when she will put in her claim, if
she is alive."

"That's what I was thinking. And the father of the boys?"

"The man he killed--unintentionally, no doubt, still after
threats--had powerful friends. They would have exacted every penalty
the law permitted. Denzil no doubt considered he could enjoy life
better in other ways. If he is alive he is abroad. He has never shown
face here since."

"A complicated matter," said Eager thoughtfully, "and likely to become
more so. Where would the old man's death land things?"

"God knows. I've puzzled over it many a day and night."

"And meanwhile Sir Denzil allows the youngsters to run to seed?"

"Exactly. He takes absolutely no interest in them. If one of them died
it would be all right for the other. He would be Carron of Carne in
due course and no questions asked. But the complication of the two has
made him look askance at both."

"And the old woman--Mrs. Lee?"

"She lives on at Carne, biding her time. I have no doubt she knows
which is her grandson, but she won't speak till the time comes."

"And how does Sir Denzil treat her?"

"They say he has never spoken to her for the last ten years--never a
word since that day she and her daughter brought the two children in
to him and started the game. She tends the house and does the cooking,
and so on. Sir Denzil lives in his own rooms, and his man Kennet looks
after him. It's a very long time since I saw him. We never got on well
together. He killed that poor girl, dragging her here as he did, and I
told him so. And he chose to say that I ought to have been able to
recognise t'other baby from which. Much he knows about it," snorted
the doctor.

"And what does he do with himself? Is he a student?"

"Drinks, I imagine. I meet his man about now and again, and if it's
like master like man there's not much doubt about it."

"Poor little fellows! I must get hold of them, doctor. I must have
them. Now, how shall I set about it?"

"Better call on the old man and see what he says. His soul's in your
charge, you know. I have my own opinion as to its probable ultimate
destination, in spite of you. It'll be an experience, anyway."

"For me or for him?"

"Well, I was thinking of you at the moment."

"And not an over-pleasant one, you suggest?

"Oh, he's a gentleman, is the old man, if he is an old heathen. Gad!
I'd like to go along with you, only it would upset your apple-cart and
set you in the ditch."

"I'll see him in the morning," said Eager.



CHAPTER VIII
SIR DENZIL'S VIEWS


The struggle between the boys, which began before Mr. Eager was well
out of sight, resulted in a bump on Jim's forehead similar to the one
which already decorated Jack's, in a few additional scratches and
bruises to both brown little bodies, and in Jim's temporary possession
of the rabbit.

That point decided for the time being, they sat down in the hot sand
to recover their wind, Jim holding his prey tightly by the ears on his
off side, since a moment's lack of caution would result in its instant
transfer to another owner.

"I'm going to learn to swim," said Jack.

"HE won't let us," said Jim.

Then, intent silence as a sand-piper came hopping along a ridge. It
stopped at sight of them, and fixed them first with one inquiring eye
and then with the other. Their hands felt for their little clubs. The
sand-piper decided against them, and flew away with a cheep of
derision.

Jim had dropped the rabbit for his club. Jack leaned over behind him
and had it in a second. Jim hurled himself on him, and they were at it
again hammer and tongs, and presently they were sitting panting again,
and this time the rabbit was on Jack's off side, and, for additional
security, wedged half under his sandy leg.

"We could tell him we'd asked HIM and HE said Yes," said Jim, resuming
the conversation as if there had been no break.

"He'll go and ask HIM himself, and HE'LL say No," said Jack, with
perfect understanding, in spite of the mixture of third persons.

"H'mph!" grunted Jim sulkily. "Wish HE was dead."

"There'd be somebody else."

From which remark you may gather that, where abstruse thinking met
with little encouragement, Master Jack was the more thoughtful of the
two.

"We'll go in and watch him when he goes in to-morrow," suggested Jim
presently.

"They'd see us."

"Drat 'em! Let 'em. Who cares?"

"Means lickings. . . . And that Kennet he lays on a sight harder than
he used to."

"Ever since we caught him in the rat-trap. He remembers it whenever
he's licking us. . . . Soon as I'm a man I'm going to kill Kennet.
It's the very first thing I shall do."

"I don't know," said Jack doubtfully. "He only licks us when HE tells
him to."

"I should think so," snorted Jim, with scorn at the idea of anything
else.

"HE always looks at us as if we were toads. Why does he?"

"Damned if I know," said Jack quietly. It sounded odd from his
childish lips, but it had absolutely no meaning for him. It was simply
one of the accomplishments they had picked up from Mr. Kennet.

An upward glance at the sun at the same moment suddenly accentuated a
growing want inside him. He sprang up with a whoop, swinging his
rabbit by the ears, and made for the hole in the sand-hill. Jim
followed close on his heels, and presently, clad only in short blue
knee-breeches of homely cut, and blue sailor jerseys, they were
trotting purposefully through the shallows towards Carne and dinner,
chattering brokenly as they went.

A grim old man watched them from an upper window till they padded
silently round the corner out of sight. They ran in through the back
porch, and so into the comfortable kitchen with its red-tiled floor
and shining pans, and dark wood linen-presses round the walls.

Old Mrs. Lee, grandmother to one of them, turned from the fire to
greet them.

"Ready for yore dinner, lads? And which on yo' killed to-day?"--as she
caught sight of the rabbit.

"I did," from Jack.

"No--me," from Jim.

"Well, both of us, then," said Jack.

"Clivver lads! Now fall to." And they needed no bidding to the food
she set before them. They were always hungry, and never criticised her
provisioning.

Ten years had made very little change in Mrs. Lee. Indeed, if there
was any change at all it was for the better. For, whereas in the
previous times she had had grievous troubles and anxieties, during
these last ten years she had had an object in life, not to say two,
and lively subjects both of them.

The grim old man upstairs would have viewed the death of either of the
boys with more than equanimity. At the first sudden upspringing of the
trouble he had, indeed, fervently wished both out of the way. But
consideration of the subject and much snuff brought him to just that
much better a frame of mind that he ended by desiring short shrift for
only one of them, and which one he did not care a snap. Either would
be preferable to a Solway Carron, but the two together produced a
complication which time would only intensify, unless Death stepped in
and cut the knot.

In the beginning he watched Nance's and Mrs. Lee's treatment of them
as closely as he could, without betraying his keen interest in the
matter. His man, Kennet, had instructions to surprise, entrap, or
coerce the secret out of the women in any way he could devise.

But the women laughed to scorn their clumsy attempts at espionage, and
meted out equal justice and mercy to both boys alike. Never by one
single word or look of special favour bestowed on either did master or
man come one step nearer to the knowledge they sought.

Mr. Kennet, indeed, undertook, for a consideration, to make Nance his
lawful, wedded wife, with a view to getting at the truth. But when he
deviously approached Nance herself he received so hot a repulse, which
was not by any means confined to mere verbal broadsides, that he beat
a hasty retreat, with marks of the encounter on his face which took
longer to heal than did his ardour to cool.

She was a handsome, strapping girl, with a temper like hot lava, and
she honestly believed herself Denzil Carron's lawful wife, though her
mother still cast doubts upon it.

"You!" Nance labelled Mr. Kennet after this episode, and concentrated
in that single word all the scorn of her outraged feelings; and
thereafter, till she took herself off to parts unknown, made Mr.
Kennet's life a burden to him, yet caused him to thank his stars that
the matter had gone no farther.

And the grim old man upstairs? From the women's treatment of the
boys--and he spied upon them in ways, and at times, and by means, of
which they had no slightest idea--he had learned nothing. And so he
waited and waited, with infinite patience, and hoped that time might
bring some solution of the problem, even though it came by the hand of
Death. And then, as Death stood aloof, and the boys grew and waxed
strong, and developed budding personalities, he watched them still
more keenly, in the hope of finding in their dispositions and tempers
some indications which might help him in his quest.

Plain living was the order of those days at Caine; and he who had
hobnobbed with princes, and had been notorious for his prodigality in
time when excess rioted through the land, lived now as simply as the
simplest yeoman of the shire. And that not of necessity, for his
income was large, and, since he spent nothing, the accumulations were
rollicking up into high figures. The candle had simply burnt itself
out. He had not a desire left in life, unless it was to get the better
of these women who had dusted his latter days with ashes.

Of his son, the origin of this culminating and enduring trouble, he
had heard nothing for many years. He did not even know whether he was
alive or dead, and, save for the confusion which lack of definite
knowledge on that head might cause in the table of descent, he did not
much care.

He had looked to the gallant captain to raise the house of Carne to
its old standing in the world--a poor enough ambition indeed, but
still all that was left him. By his hot-headed folly Captain Denzil
had struck himself out of the running, and by degrees, as this became
more and more certain, his father's interest in life transferred
itself from the impossible to the remotely possible, even though the
possibility was all of a tangle.

For a time he supplied the prodigal freely with money, and the
prodigal dispensed it in riotous living. The fact that by rights he
ought to have been cooling his heels in prison gave a zest to his
enjoyments, and he denied himself none.

His father buoyed his hopes, as long as hope was possible, on his
son's return in course of time to his native land, and to those
aristocratic circles of which he had previously been so bright an
ornament. But time passed and brought no amelioration of his
prospects. Louis Philippe still occupied the French throne. The death
of d'Aumont was not forgotten. Sir Denzil's quiet soundings of the
authorities were always met with the invariable, and perfectly
obvious, reply, that Captain Carron was at liberty to return at any
time--at his own risk; a reply which only strengthened Captain
Carron's determination to remain strictly where he was.

He lived for a time, as Kennet told us, in Paris, under an assumed
name of course, but under the very noses of the men whose implacable
memories debarred him from returning home. It was added spice to his
already highly spiced life. But high living demands high paying, and
Captain Denzil's demands grew and grew till at last his father--who
would have withheld nothing for a definite object, but saw no sense in
aimless prodigality--flatly refused anything beyond a moderate
allowance. From that time communications ceased, and whether and how
his son lived Sir Denzil knew, not, and, from all appearance; cared
little. He had ceased to be a piece of value in the old man's game.

Pending direction, from above or below or from the inside, Sir Denzil
left the boys to develop as they might. A magnanimous, even a
reasonably balanced nature would have assumed the burden and done its
best for both alike, and trusted to Time and Providence for a solution
of the problem. But no one ever miscalled Sir Denzil Carron to the
extent of imputing to him any faintest trace of magnanimity. Time he
had some hopes of. Providence he had no belief in. He was simply the
product of his age: an unmitigated old heathen, with but one aim in
life--the resuscitation of the house of Carne, and to that end ready
to sacrifice himself, or any other, body, soul, and spirit.

That both boys were of his blood he was satisfied, but the unsolvable
doubt as to which was the rightful heir cancelled all his feelings for
them and set them both outside the pale of his doubtful favours.

At times, in pursuance of his search for leading signs, he had sent
for the boys, talked to them, tried to get below the surface. But in
his presence they crept into their innermost shells and became dull
and dumb, and impervious even to his biting sarcasms on their
appearances, tastes, and habits.

They feared and hated the grim old tyrant, with his peaked white face
and thin scornful lips and gold snuff-box. There was no kindliness for
them in the keen dark eyes, and they felt it without understanding
why. They would slink out of his presence like whipped puppies, but
once out of it he would hear their natural spirits rising as they
raced for the kitchen, and their merry shouts as they sped across the
flats to their own devices.

When that was possible he watched them unawares, on the look-out
always for what he sought. But such chances were few, for natural
instinct caused the boys to remove themselves as far away from him as
possible, and the sand-hills offered an inviting field and unlimited
scope for their abilities.



CHAPTER IX
MORE OF SIR DENZIL'S VIEWS


All the next morning the boys lay in the wire-grass on top of their
special sand-hill, on the look-out for their new friend. But he did
not come.

Instead, he walked over to Carne, and coming first on the back door,
rapped on it, and was confronted by Mrs. Lee. It seemed to him that
she eyed him with something more than native caution, and after what
he had heard from Dr. Yool he was not surprised at it.

"Can I see Sir Denzil?" he asked cheerily. "I'm the new curate."

The old woman's mouth wrinkled in a dry smile, as though the thought
of Sir Denzil and the curate compassed incongruity.

"Yo' can try," she said. "Knock on front door and maybe Kennet'll hear
yo'." And Eager went round to the front.

Continuous knocking at last produced some result. The great front door
looked as if it had not been opened for years. It opened at last,
however, and Mr. Kennet stood regarding him with disfavour and
surprise and a touch of relief on his hairless red face. Carne had few
callers, and Kennet's first idea, when summoned to that door, was that
Captain Denzil had come home, a return which could hardly make for
peace and happiness.

"Can I see Sir Denzil?" asked Eager once more. "Tell him, please, that
Mr. Eager, the new curate, begs the favour of an interview with him."

Kennet looked doubtful, but finally, remembering that he was a
gentleman's gentleman, asked him to step inside while he inquired if
Sir Denzil could see him.

The hall was a large and desolate apartment, flagged with stone and
destitute of decoration or clothing of any kind, and was evidently
little used. There was a huge fireplace at one side, but the bare
hearth gave a chill even to the summer day. A wide oak staircase led
up to a gallery off which the upper rooms opened, and from which Sir
Denzil at times in the winter quietly overlooked the boys at their
play down below, and sought in them unconscious indications of
character.

And presently, Kennet came silently down the staircase and intimated
that the visitor was to follow him. He ushered him into a room looking
out over the sea, and Sir Denzil turned from the window, snuff-box in
hand, to meet him.

There was an intimation of surprised inquiry in the very way he held
his snuff-box. He bowed politely, however, and his eyebrows emphasised
his desire to learn the reasons for so unexpected a visit.

"I trust you will pardon my introducing myself, Sir Denzil," said
Eager. "I am taking Mr. Smythe's place, and the vicar is away."

"Ah!" said Sir Denzil, taking a pinch very elegantly, "I had not the
pleasure of Mr. Smythe's acquaintance,"--and his manner politely
intimated that he equally had not sought that of Mr. Smythe's
successor.

"I have come with a very definite object," said Eager, cheerfully
oblivious to the old man's frostiness, and going straight to his mark,
as was his way. "I want you to let me take those two boys in hand. I
met them on the sands yesterday. In fact, they amused themselves by
hiding my clothes while I was in bathing, and I looked like having to
go home clad only in a towel." And he laughed again at the
recollection.

"They shall be punished----"

"My dear sir! You don't suppose I came for any such purpose as that!
It broke the ice between us. I got my things and made two friends. I
want to improve the acquaintance--with your sanction."

"To what end?"

"To the end of making men of them, Sir Denzil. There are great
possibilities there. You must not neglect them, or the responsibility
will be yours."

"That, I presume, is my affair."

"No--excuse me! In the natural course of things those boys will be
here when you and I are gone. As their feet are set now, so will they
walk then. If you leave them untrained the responsibility for their
deeds will be yours. It is no light matter."

Sir Denzil extracted a pinch very deliberately and closed the box with
a tap on the First Gentleman's snub nose.

"And suppose I prefer to let them run wild for the present?"

"Then you are not doing your duty by them, and sooner or later it will
recoil upon your own head--or house."

"Yes; but, as you say, I shall probably not be here, and so I shall
not suffer."

"Your name--the name of your house will suffer----" Sir Denzil shedded
the prospect with a shrug.

"Who set you on this business, Mr. Eager?" he asked, with a touch of
acidity.

"God."

"Ah!"--snuffing with extreme deliberation. "Now we approach debatable
ground."

"No, sir. We stand on the only ground that offers sound footing."

"Well, well! I suppose some people still believe such things."

"Fortunately, yes. Now about the boys. May I take them in hand?"

Sir Denzil regarded him thoughtfully while he shook his snuff box
gently and prepared another pinch.

"On conditions, possibly yes," he said at last.

"And the conditions?"

"What have you heard about those boys, Mr. Eager?"

"I think I may say everything."

"Egad! Then you know more than I do. You have wasted no time. Who told
you the story?"

"Perhaps you will not press that question, Sir Denzil. Having got
interested in the boys I naturally desired to learn what I could about
them. It was from no idle curiosity, I assure you."

"So you went to Dr. Yool, I suppose. I felt sure he would be at the
root of the matter."

"I assure you he is not. The root of the matter is simply my desire
for those boys. I would like to try my hand at making men of them."

"Very welt. You shall try--on this condition. As you are aware, one of
them comes of high stock on both sides, the other of low stock on one
side. The signs may crop out, must crop out in time. You will have
opportunities, such as I have not, of observing them. What I ask of
you is to bring all your intelligence and acumen to bear on the
solution of my problem--which is which?"

"I understand, and I will willingly do my best. But you must remember,
Sir Denzil, that there is no infallibility in such indications. The
crossing of blue blood with red sometimes produces a richer strain
than the blending of two thin blues."

"That is so. Still I hope there may be indications we cannot mistake,
and then I shall know what to do. It is, as you can understand, a
matter that has caused me no little concern."

"Naturally. By God's help we will make men of both of them. The rest
we must trust to Providence."

Sir Denzil's pinch of snuff cast libellous doubts on Providence.

"You design them for the army, I presume?" asked Eager.

"Unless one should show an inclination for the Church," said the old
cynic suavely. "Which I should be inclined to look upon as a clear
indication of his origin."

"I'm not so sure of that," said Eager, with a smile. "The Church has
its heroes no less than the army."

"You will find them difficult to handle."

"We shall soon be good friends. I'm going to begin by teaching them to
swim."

Sir Denzil looked at him thoughtfully and said:

"That might undoubtedly relieve the situation. It is a dangerous
coast. If you could drown one of them for me----"

"I am going to make men of them. I can't make a man out of a drowned
boy. I will take every care of them, and some time you will be proud
of them."

"Of one of them possibly. The question is, which?"



CHAPTER X
GROWING FREEMEN


The Rev. Charles was greatly uplifted as he tramped through the sand
to keep his appointment with the boys. He had succeeded beyond his
hopes, and a most congenial field of work and study lay open to his
hand.

"Catch them young," had been hammered into his heart and brain by his
five years' work in East London. With heart and brain he had fought
against the stolid indifference and active evil-mindedness of the
grown-ups, till heart and brain grew sick at times. His greatest hopes
had settled on the children, and here were two, of a different caste
indeed, but as ignorant of the essentials as any he had met with--and
they were given into his hand for the moulding. By God's help he would
make men of them, high-born or baseborn. The side-issue was nothing
to him, but it would add zest to the work.

When he got, as he believed, into the neighbourhood of his previous
day's adventure, he examined the ridge of sand-hills with care. But
they were all so much alike that he could not be sure. He had hoped to
find the boys on the look-out for him, but he saw no signs of them.

He struggled up the yielding side of the nearest hill and looked
round. If he could find their hole he would probably find them inside
it or not far away.

It was close on midday, baking hot, and the sand-hills seemed as
deserted as Sahara. The sea lay fast asleep behind its banks, which
reached to the horizon. When he looked back across the flats to Carne,
he rubbed his eyes at sight of its stout walls bending and bowing and
jigging spasmodically in an uncouth dance. The very wire-grass drooped
listlessly. The only sound was the cheerful creak of a cricket.

The width, length, and height of it, the gracious spaciousness of it
all filled him with fresh delight. It was all so very different from
the heart-crushing straitness of the slums and alleys in which his
last years had been spent. He stood drinking it all in, and then,
seeing no signs of the boys, he turned his back to the shore and
strode inland.

But within a few steps he caught sight of recent traces of them in
fresh-turned yellow sand which the sun had not had time to whiten. He
whistled shrilly, if perchance the sound might penetrate to their
hold.

And then, to his astonishment, the ground in front of him cracked and
heaved, and first one and then another dark sanded head and laughing
face came out, and the boys sprang up from the shallow holes in which
they had buried themselves and stood before him.

"You young rabbits," he laughed. "I had just about given you up.
Thought I wasn't coming, I suppose."

Decisive nods from both black heads.

"Well, we'll make a start on that. Remember that I never break a
promise, and I want you to do the same. The boy who makes up his mind
that he'll never break his word is half a brave man."

They stared up at him with wide eyes, and whether they understood it
he did not know. But he knew better than to say more just then.

"Now--why----?" And he looked from one to the other and then began to
laugh. "Which of you is Jack and which is Jim? I was to remember Jack
by a bump on the forehead, and now you've both got bumps. Been
fighting again?"

Gleaming nods from both boys.

"We must find you something better to do. I've been seeing your
grandfather, and he says I may teach you to swim."

Squirms of anticipation in the active brown bodies, and glances past
him at the distant sea.

"No, not to-day. It's too late now, but it was worth spending the
morning on. We'll make a start to-morrow. Can you be here at eight
o'clock?"

Their energetic heads intimated that they could be there very much
before eight if desired.

"Right! I'll be here. In the meantime you can be practising a bit on
dry land. Here's the stroke"--and he laid himself flat on a convenient
hummock and kicked out energetically, while the black eyes watched
intently.

"Now try it. You first, Jack. That's right. Keep your hands a bit more
sloped, and your toes more down. Thrust back with the flat of your
feet as though you were trying to kick some one. First rate! Now,
Jim!" But Jim was already hard at work on his own account. "That's
right. Hands sloped, toes down. Draw your knees well up under your
body. You'll find it easier in the water. Oh, you'll do. You'll be
swimmers in no time. That'll do for just now. Now--Jack," he looked at
them both, but his eyes finally settled on Jim--"if you'll fetch
Robinson out well make a start on him."

Jim turned to dive down the hill-side, and was instantly tripped by
Jack, who flung himself on top of him. They rolled down together,
fighting like cats, amid a cloud of flying sand. Eager sprang after
them, found it useless, as before, to attempt to separate them by any
ordinary means, so spanked them indiscriminately till they fell apart
and stood up panting. And the odd thing about it all was that no
slightest ill-will seemed born of their strife. The moment it was over
they were friends again.

"He told me," panted Jack in self-justification.

"He looked at me," panted Jim.

"My fault, boys. I must tie a string round one of your arms till I get
to know you. Now trot along one of you--no, you "--grabbing one by the
shoulder as both started off again. "We haven't much time to-day. If
I'm not home by one Mrs. Jex will be eating all my dinner."

So they sat in the soft sand, and he read, and explained what he read,
till Robinson Crusoe came alive and began to be as real to them as one
of themselves, and they knew him as they had never known him before.

When Eager was dodging about his sheepfold that afternoon he came upon
Dr. Yool in the yellow-wheeled gig. "Well, I've got 'em," said the
curate.

"Got what? Measles, jumps----?"

"Those boys. I bearded the old man in his den this morning, and he has
given me a free hand with them."

"You'll do," said Dr. Yool. "They'll keep you busy. Don't forget I
want your help with these stinks"--pointing with his whip to the heaps
of refuse lying about.

"I'm tackling stinks now. Tiger-pups in the morning, stinks in the
afternoon, Dr. Yool in the evening. That's the order of service at
present." And they parted the better for the meeting.

Eager had a chat with some of the wise men of Wynsloe, and got points
from them as to shifting sands, and the tucking sands, and the other
dangers of that treacherous coast, and in return incidentally dropped
into their minds some seeds of wisdom respecting stinks and their
consequences.

Five minutes to eight next morning found him a-perch of the highest
sand-hill in the neighbourhood, on the look-out for his pupils.

Five minutes past eight found him somewhat disappointed at their
non-appearance. They had seemed eager enough too, the day before.
Perhaps the old man had thought better of it. Then he remembered his
cynical hope that the swimming might prove of service in the solution
of his great problem. And then a couple of war-whoops at each of his
ears jerked him off his perch with so sudden a leap that the whoopers
squirmed in the sand with delight.

"Thought we weren't coming?" grinned Jack.

"Well, I began to fear you'd been stopped----"

"We promised," grinned Jim; and Eager rejoiced to think that that seed
at all events had taken root.

In two minutes they were trotting across the flats, and presently they
were in the tide-way, and the little savages were revelling in a fresh
acquirement and a new sense of motion.

There was little teaching needed. Eager took them out, one after the
other, neck-deep, and turned their faces to the shore, and they swam
home like rats, and yelled hilariously from pure enjoyment as soon as
they found their breath.

Then he carried them out of their depths, and loosed them, and they
paddled away back without a sign of fear. Fear, in fact, seemed
absolutely lacking in them. The only thing on earth of which they
stood in any fear, as far as he could make out, was the grim old man
in the upper room at Carne, and even in his case it seemed to be as
much distrust and dislike as actual fear.

But even fearlessness has its dangers, and, mindful of his trust,
Eager exacted from each of them a solemn promise not to go into the
sea except when he was with them, for he had no mind to solve the old
man's riddle for him in the way he had so hopefully suggested.

Those mornings on the sands and in the water proved the foundation on
which he slowly and surely built the boys' characters.

A very few days of so close an intimacy stamped their individualities
on his mind. After the third day he never again mistook one for the
other. Time and again they tried to mislead him, but he saw deeper
than they knew and never failed to detect them.

They were, at this time, remarkably alike in every way, and though,
later on, each developed marked characteristics of his own, there all
along remained between them resemblance enough to put strangers to
confusion, a matter in which they at all times found extreme
enjoyment.

But even now, like as they were, in face and body and the wild
naturalness of their primeval ways, their respective personalities
began to disclose themselves, as Eager broke them, bit by bit, to the
harness of civilisation. And if their harnessing was no easy matter,
either for themselves or their teacher, they came to realise very
quickly that, though it might mean less of freedom in some ways, it
meant also an immensely wider reach and outlook. Whereas their life
had hitherto revolved in narrow grooves--with which indeed no man had
taken the trouble to meddle, now it ran in courses that were ordered,
but which also were spacious and lofty and filled with novelty and
enterprise.

And as their natural characteristics began to develop in these more
reasonable ways, Eager watched and studied them with intensest
interest.

But little savages they remained in certain respects for a
considerable time, and it was only by slow degrees that he managed to
lead them out of darkness into something approaching twilight.

Jim, for instance, had a rooted detestation of every living thing he
came across on the shore, and promptly proceeded to squash it with his
bare foot or to pound it into jelly with his prehistoric club. From
tiny delicate crab to senseless jelly-fish or screaming gull, if Jim
came across it it must die if he could manage it.

To counteract, if he might, this innate lust for slaughter Eager took
to explaining to them some of the more simple wonders and beauties of
seashore life. He brought down a small pocket microscope and showed
them things they had never dreamed of.

This appealed to Jack immensely. He became a devoted slave of the
wonderful glasses, and never tired of poring over and peering into
things. Jim, however, drew a double satisfaction from them. He smashed
things first and then delighted in the examination of the pieces, and
many a pitched battle they fought over the destruction and defence of
flotsam and jetsam which formerly they would both have destroyed with
equal zest.

It was all education, however, and Eager rejoiced in them greatly. He
found them, in varying degrees and with notable exceptions, fairly
easy to lead, but almost impossible to drive. He led them step by step
from darkness towards the light, and meanwhile studied them with as
microscopic a care as that with which he endeavoured to get them to
study the tiny things of the shore.

Their wild free life about the sand-hills had trained their powers of
observation to an unusual degree. True, the observation had generally
tended to destruction, but the faculty was good, and the end and aim
of it was a matter to be slowly brought within control.

They could tell him many strange things about the manners and customs
of rabbits, and gulls, and peewits, and sandpipers, and bull-frogs,
and tadpoles, and so on. They could forecast the weather from the look
of the sky and the smell of the wind, with the accuracy of a
barometer. They could run as fast and farther than he could, for they
had been breathing God's sweetest air all their lives, while he had
been travelling alley-ways, with tightened lips and compressed
nostrils. And they could fling their little stone clubs with an aim
that was deadly. Jim indeed vaunted himself on having once brought
down a seagull on the wing, but the actual fact rested on his sole
testimony and Jack cast doubts on it, and thereupon they fought each
time it was mentioned, but proved nothing thereby.

Eager told them of the wonders of the black man's boomerang; and they
laboured long and practised much, but could not compass it. It was
their ideal weapon, a thing to dream of and strive after, but it
always lay beyond them.

One day he brought home under his arm, from the shop in Wyvveloe, a
small parcel which he took up into his own room. He borrowed Mrs.
Jex's scissors, and spent a very much longer time planning and cutting
than the result seemed to warrant. Then he got Mrs. Jex, who would
have shaved her scanty locks to please him, to do some hemming and
stitching and to sew on some bits of tape, and next day he astonished
his little savages by attiring himself and them in bright-red
loin-cloths, before they started for their mile sprint to the water.

The boys were inclined to resist this innovation as an unnecessary
cramping of their freedom. Jim averred that he couldn't stretch his
legs, and that his garment burnt him, though when it was on it looked
no bigger than his hand. Jack demanded reasons, and was told to wait
and he would see. However, the brilliancy of the little garments
somewhat condoned their offence, and once in the water they were soon
forgotten, and as they flashed back and forth across the sands the
startling effects they produced in the sunny pools by degrees
reconciled their wearers to their use.

About a week after this, the boys were sitting one morning in the
hollow Mr. Eager used as a dressing-room, wondering why he was later
than usual,

"Gone to see HIM, maybe, 'bout yon books we brought out," growled Jack
gloomily.

"Hmph!" grunted Jim. "I don't care--'sides, he wouldn't."

And then Eager strode in with a brighter face even than usual.

"Afraid I wasn't coming, were you?" he laughed.

"Thought maybe you'd gone to see HIM again," said Jack.

"Your grandfather? No; I've been seeing some one very much nicer. Jim,
did you say your verse this morning?"

This was a gigantic innovation, and still much of a mere ritual. But
it was a beginning, and the rest would follow. It was the first upward
step towards those higher things which Charles Eager kept ever
steadily in view.

"Forgot," grunted Jim.

This again was mighty gain. A month ago--if such a contingency had
been possible--he would never have owned up. To his grandfather it is
doubtful if he would have owned up even now.

"Well, oblige me by going behind that sand-hill and saying it now,
and think what you're saying as well as you can. And you, Jack?"

"Said um," said Jack dutifully.

"Never saw you," said Jim, on his knees. Whereupon Jack dashed
at him and rolled him over prayer and all, and they had a regular
former-state set-to.

The Rev. Charles, grave of face, but internally convulsed, got them
separated at last, and as soon as Jim had performed his devotions they
turned their faces towards the sea. Before the two boys could start
out, as they usually did, like bolts from a cross-bow, however, he
laid a detaining hand on each brown shoulder, and to their surprise
whistled shrilly across the hills. In reply, a tiny figure in
brilliant scarlet sped out from an adjacent nook, and shot, with
flowing hair, and little white feet going like drumsticks, across the
flats towards the sea.

The boys caught their breath and gaped in amazement.

"What is it?" gasped Jim.

"Whow! Who?" from Jack.

"My little sister. She only arrived last night. Now let's see if we
can catch her! Off you go!" And they tore away across the long ribbed
sands after the flying streak of scarlet in front.

They caught her long before she reached the tide-lip, and her eyes
flashed merriment as they raced alongside.

She had rare beauty even as a child--and no beauty of after-life ever
quite equals that of a lovely child--and the two boys had never in
their lives seen anything like her. They stumbled alongside, careless
of holes and lumps, with sidelong glances for nothing but that radiant
vision--scarlet-wrapped, streaming nut-brown hair, dancing blue eyes,
white skin flushed with the run like a hedge-rose, little teeth
gleaming pearls between panting, laughing lips, a little rainbow of
beauty.

"Well run, Gracie! Keep it up, old girl!" panted Eager, almost pumped
himself. And then they were in the water.

Grace, it appeared, could not swim yet. The boys fell to at once and
fought for the honour of helping her, though neither would have dared
to touch her. She screamed at sight of their brown bodies thrashing to
and fro in the foam, but was comforted at sight of her brother's
laughing face.

"Come along, Gracie. Never mind the boys. They enjoy a fight more than
anything. Now kick away, and strike out as I showed you how on the
footstool. I'll hold your chin up. That's it! Bravo, little one!
You'll be a swimmer in a week."



CHAPTER XI
THE LITTLE LADY


And so another element entered into the tiger-cubs' education, and one
that, for so small a creature, exercised a mighty influence on them,
both then and thereafter.

She was the Joy of Charles Eager's heart and the light of his eyes.
Other sisters and brothers there had been, but all were gone save this
little fairy, and they two were alone in the world. While he wrought
in the dark corners of the great city he had boarded her with some
maiden aunts in the suburbs, and the weekly sight of her, growing like
a flower, had helped to keep his heart fresh and sweet. Not the least
of the joys of his translation to this wide new sphere was the fact
that he could have her always with him.

Mrs. Jex wept with joy at sight of her, vowed she was the very image
of her own little Sally, who died when she was eight, and proceeded to
squander on her the pent-up affections of thirty childless years.

And the Little Lady, as Mrs. Jex styled her, lorded it over them all,
then and thereafter, and was a factor of no small consequence in all
their lives.

Over the slowly regenerating tiger-cubs she exercised a peculiarly
softening and elevating influence. It was exactly what they needed,
and all unconsciously it wrought upon the simple savageries of their
boy-natures as powerfully as did the Rev. Charles's more direct and
strenuous endeavours.

Both boys, in moments of excitement, which were many in the course of
each day, had a habit of expression, picked up from Sir Denzil and Mr.
Kennet, which was not a little startling on their juvenile lips. Eager
promptly suppressed these whenever they slipped out. He knew well
enough that they conveyed no special meaning to the boys beyond an
idea of extra forcefulness, but, besides being unseemly, they grated
horribly on his sensitive ear.

As for the Little Lady, Master Jim Carron did not soon forget the
effect produced on her by one of his unconscious expletives.

When Dan Fell of Wynsloe got to the end of his bottle of Hollands gin
sooner than he expected one dark night at the fishing, and hurled it
overboard with a curse, his only feeling was one of disgust at the
shortcomings of a friend in time of need. If any one had told him that
he was thereby assisting in the education of little Jim Carron of
Carne he would have cursed more volubly still, under the impression
that he was being made game of, which was a thing he could not stand.
The bottle floated ashore, tried conclusions with a log of Norway pine
thrown up by the last equinoctials, distributed itself in razor-like
spicules about the soft sand, and lay in wait for unwary feet.

Jim, racing home one day from the bathing alongside the Little Lady,
and dazzled somewhat, perhaps, by the gleam of the little crimson robe
and the damp little mane of flowing hair, set incautious foot on one
of the razor spicules, jerked out an energetic and utterly unconscious
"Damn!" and bit the sand.

The Little Lady heard the word, but missed the cause.

"Oh!" cried she, in a shocked voice, and sped away to her own
apartment, and began to dress with trembling sodden pink fingers in
extreme haste, as though clothing might possibly afford a certain
amount of protection against the ill effects of flying curses.

By the time she had got on her tiny pink petticoat, a peep round the
corner showed her her brother and Jack kneeling by the fallen utterer
of oaths and curses, and she began to fear something had happened.

She had little doubt that punishment had promptly overtaken the
sinner. But she liked the sinner in spite of his sin, and she stole
back to see what was the matter. That it was something serious was
evident by Charles's knitted brows as he bent over the foot which Jim
held tightly between his hands. His lips were pinched very close, and
his brown face was mottled with putty colour, and the sand below was
red. The indurated little pad, hard as leather almost with much
running on the sands--for the boys scoffed at shoes--was badly sliced
and bleeding freely, but the worst of it was that the treacherous
spicule had broken off short and stopped inside and they had no means
of getting it out.

"Rags, Gracie," said Eager, at sight of the tearful face and clasped
hands and pink petticoat, and she turned and sped, over sands that
rocked like waves beneath her feet, to her dressing-room, and back
with an armful of garments and a handkerchief the size of his hand.

He folded the handkerchief into a square pad, and ripped something
white into strips and bound the foot tightly, issuing his orders as he
did so.

"Jack, get into your things and run for Dr. Yool, and tell him to go
to the house. Tell him there's glass inside that must come out.
Gracie, put on your frock and sit here with Jim. I'll get some things
on, and then I'll carry him home!"

And the Little Lady struggled mistily into her things behind Jim's
back, and then sat down alongside him without speaking.

"Doesn't hurt a bit," said Jim, through clenched teeth and whitened
lips.

The Little Lady sniffed and looked at the distant sea.

"Tell you it doesn't hurt," said Jim again.

The Little Lady made no response.

And presently--"Whew!" said Jim, with a frightful twist of the face,
trying by instinct the other tack, "ah!--o-o-oh!"--but all to no
purpose. The Little Lady's soft heart might be wrung, but at present
she could not bring herself to speak to this dreadful sinner.

"Now," said Eager, running up. "Stand up, Jim. Put your arms round my
neck. Now your feet up, so, and off we go. I must get old Bent to make
sandals for you youngsters. We can't have this kind of thing, you
know. It'll be ten days before you can use that foot, old man."

"Damn!"

"Jim!"

And the Little Lady fell solemnly into the rear.

She would not speak to him for two whole days, though she did not mind
sitting within sight of him in the side of a sand-hill, and she
silently allowed him to instruct her in the art of making sand
waterfalls. But the current of her usual merry chatter was frozen at
the fount, and the unconscious Jim could make nothing of it.

On the third day, tiring of an abstinence that was quite as irksome to
herself as to her victim, she broke the ice by informing him of the
painful fact that he was doomed to everlasting punishment. She put it
very shortly and concisely.

"Jim," she said, "you'll go to hell."

"Um?" chirped Jim cheerfully, glad to hear her voice once more, even
at such a price. "An' why?"

"'Cause you swear."

"Ho! Very well! So will HE"--the emphatic use of the third person
singular in the boys' vernacular was always understood to stand for
Sir Denzil Carron of Carne--"and so will Kennet, and so will Dr.
Yool."

"I don't care about any of them," said Grace impartially, "unless,
perhaps, Dr. Yool. I do rather like him. But it will be such a pity
for you."

The prospect did not seem to trouble him greatly, perhaps because his
views on the subject were not nearly so clearly defined as hers.

"Oh, well, I won't if you don't like," he answered cheerfully.

"Thank you," said the Little Lady; and from that time, simply to
oblige her, and from no great fear of direr consequences, he really
did seem to do his best to avoid the use of any words which might
offend her. He even went so far as to assume an oversight of his
brother's rhetorical flights, and many a pitched battle they had in
consequence.

These encounters were so much a part of their nature that Eager found
it impossible to stop them entirely. They had fought continually since
ever they could crawl within arm's length of one another. Where other
boys might have argued to ill-temper, these two simply closed without
wasting a word, and having settled the momentary dispute, _vi et
armis_, were as friendly as ever. They both possessed fiery tempers,
and had never seen or dreamt of the necessity of controlling them. But
on the other hand, they never bore malice, and the cause of dispute,
and the blows that settled it, were forgotten the moment the god of
battle had awarded the palm. They were very closely matched, and no
great bodily harm came of it, though to the spectators it looked
fearsome enough.

Bit by bit, utilising and turning to best account their natural powers
and proclivities, Eager got hold of them, to the point at all events
of inducing their feet into more reasonable upward paths. But as to
coming one step nearer to the reading of Sir Denzil's puzzle, he had
to acknowledge completest failure.

He studied the boys, from his own intense interest in them, as no
other had ever had the opportunity of studying them. And he discussed
his observation of them with Sir Denzil time and again. But, so far,
there were no ultra indications of disposition in either of them so
marked as to offer any reasonable basis for deduction.

For men without a single common view of life, he and Sir Denzil had
become quite friendly. A verbal tussle with the old heathen, in which
each spoke his mind without reserve, always braced him up, just as the
boys' more primitive method of argument seemed to do them good.

The old gentleman always greeted him, over a pinch of snuff, with an
expression of regret that he had not yet succeeded in settling the
matter out of hand by drowning one of his pupils.

"Well, Mr. Eager," he would say, "no progress yet?"

"Oh, plenty. We're improving every day."

"H'mph If you'd only drown one of them for me----"

"I've a better use for them than that."

"I doubt it. Ill stock on either side, though I say it."

"As the twig is bent----"

"Break one off and I'd thank you. Here is possibly a further
complication,"--tapping with his snuff-box a small news-sheet he had
been reading when Eager came in.

"What is that, sir?"

"That fool Quixande has got into a mess in Paris--got a sword through
his ribs."

"Quixande?" queried Eager, not perceiving the relevancy of the matter.

"He has no issue--none that can inherit, that is. One of those whelps
is his only sister's son and so comes in for the title. Which?"

"H'm, yes. It's mighty awkward. I suppose you couldn't make one of
them Earl of Quixande and the other Carron of Carne?"

"It would be a solution. But which? Which? Such matters are not
settled by guesswork."

"We can only wait and see."

"If Quixande dies we cannot wait--the succession cannot."

"For his own sake we'll hope he'll pull through. He may repent of his
sins."

"Quixande?"--with raised brows, and a shake of the head. "You don't
know him."

"If I did, I'd try to bring him to his senses."

"Waste of time. With these cubs you may be able to do something,
though I doubt it. Quixande's past mending."

"No man is past mending till he's dead. Perhaps not then----"

"Ah!"--with a pinch of snuff and a wave of the hand, "A hopeful creed,
but with no more foundation than most others. It would, however,
undoubtedly commend itself to Quixande on his death-bed."

"A hopeful creed is better than a hopeless one," said Eager, with
emphasis.

"Undoubtedly, if you admit the necessity of such things."

"Thank God, I do."

"Well, well! However--what you are doing for those boys should benefit
one of them, though it's thrown away upon the other."

"And if you never solve the puzzle?"

"If one of them dies I accept the other in full. That's the solution."

There were times when all Eager's knocking on the great front door was
productive of no result whatever. Then he would go round to the back
and interview Mrs. Lee, but never with any satisfaction.

"Ay?" she would say to his statement, straightening up from her work,
arms akimbo, and gazing steadily at him with her dark eyes. "Maybe
they're out."

But he had never met Sir Denzil out, nor had any of the villagers ever
encountered him, and Dr. Yool said brusquely that both the old
gentleman and his gentleman were probably lying dead drunk in the
upper rooms.

Eager never mentioned these abortive visits to Sir Denzil, and there
was never anything in his appearance to justify Dr. Yool's assertions.



CHAPTER XII
MANY MEANS


Eager spread his nets very wide for the capture for higher things of
these two callow souls cast so carelessly into his hands. Carelessly,
that is, on the part of Sir Denzil. For his own part he believed
devoutly in the Higher Hand in the great game of life, and never for a
moment doubted that here was a work specially designed for him by
Providence.

He put his whole heart into the matter, as he did into all matters. He
felt himself very much in the position of a missionary breaking up new
ground, except, indeed, that here were no old beliefs to get rid of.
It was absolutely virgin soil, and he felt and rejoiced in the
responsibility.

Perfect little savages they were in many respects, and their training
had to begin at the very beginning. Manners they lacked entirely, and
their customs were simply such as they had evolved for themselves in
their free-and-easy life on the flats, Their beliefs were summed up in
a wholesome fear of Sir Denzil and his representative Mr. Kennet.
These two were to them as the gods of the heathen; powers of evil, to
be avoided if possible, and if not, then to be propitiated by the
assumption of graces--such as unobtrusiveness, and if observed, then
of meekness and conformability--which were no more than instantly
assumed little masks concealing the true natures within, which true
natures found their full vent and expression in the wilds of the
sand-hills and the untrammelled freedom of the shore.

Old Mrs. Lee was a power of another kind, on the whole benevolent;
provident, at all events, and not given to such incomprehensible
outbreaks of anger and punishment as were the others at times.

They had known no coddling, had run wild with as little on as
possible--and in their own haunts with nothing on at all--since the
day they could crawl out of the courtyard down to the ribbed sand
below. They were hard as nails, and feared nothing, except Sir Denzil
and Mr. Kennet.

Eager's first and most difficult work was to break them off their evil
habits--their natural lust for slaughter and destruction, the
perpetual resort to fisticuffs for the settlement of the most trifling
dispute, the use of language which conveyed no meaning beyond that of
emphasis to their own minds, but which to other ears was terribly
revolting.

Just as, if he had had a couple of wild colts to take to stable, he
would have found it better to lead them than to drive, so he strove to
win these two from the miry ways and pitfalls among which a shameful
lack of oversight had left them to stray. He forced no bits into their
mouths, laid no halters on their touchy heads. He just won their
confidence and liking, till they looked up to him, trusted him,
finally worshipped him, and followed, unquestioning, where he chose to
lead them.

And--Providence or no Providence--they could not have fallen into
better hands.

Charles Eager was one of the newer school, a muscular Christian if
ever there was one, rejoicing greatly in his muscularity, and as wise
as he was thorough in his Master's work. He had pulled stroke in his
boat at Cambridge, and when he went there had looked forward to the
sword as his oyster-opener. And so he had given much time to fitting
himself adequately for an army career. He would have backed himself to
ride, or box, or fence with any man of his time; and he had so
unmistakable a bent for mechanics, and was so skilful a hand with
lathe and tools, that there could not be a moment's doubt as to which
branch nature designed him for.

And then, when he had perfected himself for the way he had chosen, a
better way opened suddenly before him. Without a sign of the cost, he
renounced all he had been looking forward to all his life, and
dedicated himself wholeheartedly to the greater work.

All that he had acquired, however, with so different an end in view,
remained with him, and helped to make him the man he was; and it was
into such hands that, by the grace of God, these two wild Carron colts
had fallen.

A missionary, when he sets out to turn his unruly flock from their old
savageries, must, if he understands human nature and his work, provide
other and less harmful outlets for the energies resulting from
generations of tumult and slaughter. Eager taught his young savages
boxing on the most scientific principles, and made the gloves himself.
He taught them fencing with basket-hilted sticks, constructed under
his own eyes by the old basket-weaver in the village. Prompt appeal to
arms was still permitted in settlement of their endless disputes; but
the business was regularised, and tended, all unconsciously on the
part of the combatants, to education.

For their inexhaustible energies he found new and much-appreciated
vent in games on the sands. And if these were crude enough
performances, compared with their later developments familiar to
ourselves, they still had in them those elements of saving grace which
all such games teach in the playing--self-control, fair-play, honour
And these be mighty things to learn.

In the summer they played cricket. The bat and ball Eager provided;
the stumps he made himself.

He also instructed them in the mysteries of hare-and-hounds, which
chimed mightily with their humour, especially when he supplemented it
with a course of Fenimore Cooper. They became mighty hunters and
notable trackers, their natural instincts and previous training
standing them in excellent stead.

In the winter the flats rang to their shouts at football and hockey,
crudely played, but mightily relished.

And always, in and alongside their play and in between, but so deftly
administered that it seemed to them but a natural part of the whole,
their education proceeded by leaps and bounds. They drank in knowledge
unawares, and learned intuitively things that mere teaching is
powerless to teach.

When he found them they were simply self-centred and selfish little
savages--each for himself, and heedless of anything outside his own
skin; and their manners and customs were such as naturally fitted
their state.

As their minds opened to the larger things outside, and they began to
be drawn away from themselves, their natural proclivities came into
play. Like hardy wild-flowers, their rough outer sheaths began to open
to the sun, revealing glimpses of the better things within.

And, all unconsciously to herself or to them, little Grace Eager was
the sun to whom, in the beginning, their expansion was due.

Eager, watching them all with keenest interest, used to say to himself
that she was doing as much for them as he, if not more.

She was so novel to them, so altogether sweet and charming. She
supplied something that had hitherto been a-wanting in their lives,
and of whose lack they had not even been aware, until she came into
them, and made them conscious of the want by filling it.

Now and again at first, and presently almost as a matter of course,
the tiger-cubs were invited up to Mrs. Jex's cottage for a homely
meal, after some hotly contested game on the sands or some long chase
after the tricky two legged hare or astute and elusive Redskin.

And, in the beginning, Indian brave who knew no fear, but knew almost
everything else that was to be known in his own special line, and
cunning hare and vociferous hound, and tireless champion of the bat
and hockey-stick, and valiant fighters on all possible occasions,
would sit mumchance and awkward, watching the Little Lady, with wide,
observant eyes, as she dispensed her simple hospitalities with a grace
and sweetness that set her above and apart from anything they had ever
known.

And then she was so extraordinarily different indoors from what she
was on the sands. There, at cricket or hockey, or football, she danced
and shrieked with excitement, and was never still for a moment. Here,
at the table, she suddenly became many years older, knew just what to
do, and did it charmingly,--ordering even the Rev. Charles about, and
beaming condescendingly on them all, from the lofty heights of her
experience and knowledge of the world as learned from her aunts in
London.

Painfully aware of deficiency, they began to strive to fit themselves
for such occasions, repressed themselves into still greater
awkwardness and silence, fought one another afterwards on account of
too obvious lapses from what they considered proper behaviour and
unkind brotherly comment thereupon, but all the time unconsciously
absorbed the new atmosphere and by degrees became able to enjoy it
without discomfort.

"Jim, my dear boy," she would say, on occasion, "are you comfortable
on that chair?"

A quick nod from the conscious and obviously uncomfortable Jim.

"You shouldn't just nod your head, my dear. You should say, 'Yes,
thank you,' or 'Not entirely,'--as the case may be. It's rude just to
nod."

"Not entirely, then," blurted Jim, with a very red face, and many
times less comfortable than before.

"I'm sorry, but they're all the same, and if you sit on the sofa you
can't reach the table. And if you sit on the floor I can't see you."

"I can do, thank you."

"Who lives in that cottage we passed to-day, down along the shore by
the Mere?" asked Eager, by way of diversion.

"Old Seth," from both boys at once, much relieved at being put into a
position to answer a question that had nothing to do with themselves.

"Old Seth? I've not come across him yet. Old Seth what?"

"Old Seth Rimmer. He's a Methody," said Jack.

"It's a lonely place to live, away out there. Has he a wife,--any
children?"

"Mrs. Rimmer's always in bed."

"An invalid. I must call and see her, Methody or no Methody."

"And there's young Seth and Kattie."

"I saw the girl peeping out after you'd passed. She's a nice-looking
girl. I shall call and get to know her," said the Little Lady
decisively.

"We'll go and make their acquaintance to-morrow," said her brother.
"What does Mr. Rimmer do? Fishing?"

A nod from Jim. "Keeps his boat up in the river, two miles further
on."

"And the Mere? Any fish there?"

"Ducks in winter. We got one once."

"Had to lie in the rushes all day," said Jack, with a reminiscent
shiver.

"It was a good duck," said Jim.

And the next afternoon the Rev. Charles set out for the cottage, with
Grace skipping about him in search of treasure-trove of beach and
sand-hill.

It was a stoutly-built little wooden house, standing back in a hollow
of the sand-hummocks, and its solitariness was enhanced by reason of
the vast and lonely expanse of Wyn Mere, which lay just behind it. The
shore of the Mere was thick with reeds and rushes. The long unbroken
stretch of water silently mirroring the blue sky, with its margin of
rustling reeds, possessed a beauty all its own, but something of
sadness and solemnity too.

Grace, standing on top of a sand-hill, with a high tide dancing
merrily up the flats on the one side and the long silent Mere on the
other, put it into words.

"How unhappy it looks, Charlie! I like the sea best. It laughs."

"It laughs just now, my dear, but sometimes it roars and thunders."

"All the same, I like it best. This other looks as if it drowned
people."

"I don't suppose it ever drowned as many people as the sea, Gracie."

"Then it seems as if it thought more of those it has drowned. I
wouldn't live here for anything. I'd cut a hole through the sand-hills
and let the sea wash it all away."

"Better see what Mr. Rimmer thinks of it before you do that." And he
laid a restraining hand on her arm as the door of the wooden house
opened quietly, and a man came out backwards and stood for a moment
with his head bent towards the door as if he were listening. His hair
was long and of scanty grizzled gray. He wore a blue jersey and high
sea-boots, and carried his sou'wester in his hand. Then he
straightened up, clapped on his hat, and strode away round the house
towards the Mere. Eager jumped down the sand-hill and ran after him,
and caught him before he reached a flat-bottomed skiff drawn up on to
the sedgy shore.

"Is this Mr. Rimmer?" he asked.

"Seth Rimmer, at yore service, sir." And there turned on them a fine
old gray face, laced and seamed with weather-lines that told of bitter
black nights on the sea, when the spume flew and the salt bit deep.
The blue eyes, very deep under the bushy gray brows, were shrewd and
kindly; the mouth, half hidden in gray moustache and beard, was set
very firmly.

"He looked good but hard. But I liked him," was Gracie's comment
afterwards.

"Yo' be the new curate," he said at once, taking in Eager in a large
comprehensive gaze.

"Charles Eager, the new curate, Mr. Rimmer. How is your wife to-day? I
understand----"

"Ay, hoo's bed-rid. We're Wesleyans, but hoo'll be glad to see yo' and
th' little lady." And he turned back to the house.

"An' what's yore name?"--to Gracie.

"Grace Eager."

"Yore sister?"

"All I have left. There have been many between, but we are the last,
and so we're very good friends."

"An' so ye should. A fine name yon, Grace Eager. An' what are yore
graces, an' what are yo' eager for, missie?"

"She's full of all graces and eager for all good, like her big
brother. Isn't that it, Gracie?" laughed Charles, to cover her
confusion at so pointed a questioning.

She nodded and squeezed his hand and skipped by his side, and so they
came back to the house.

"Someun to see yo', Kattrin," he said, as he opened the door and
ushered them in.

It was but a small room and the furnishings were of the simplest, but
everything was spick-and-span in its ordered brightness. There was a
small fire with a kettle on the hob, and in one corner was a bed with
a sweet-faced woman in it, propped up with pillows so that she could
look out of the window.

"Yo're welcome, whoever yo' are," she said.

"It's new curate, Mr. Eager, an' 's li'll sister."

"Ech, a'm glad to see yo', sir, though we don't trouble church much
here. Nivver set eyes on last curate, nivver once."

"I apologise for him, Mrs. Rimmer; perhaps he found the long walk
through the sand too much for him."

"Ay; he wasn't much of a man," said Rimmer quietly. "Yo're a different
breed, I'm thinking. Yo're tackling them Carron lads, an' that's a
good job. I seen yo' about the sands with 'em."

"Yes; they're worth tackling, aren't they?"

"Surely; and yo're the man for the job! Now I mun get along or I'll
miss tide. Yo'll excuse me, an' if yo'll talk a while with the missus
she'll be glad. She dunnot get too many visitors. Good-bye, wife!" And
he went out quietly and tramped sturdily away to his work.

"He's a right good mon," said his wife fervently. "And he aye bids me
good-bye in case he nivver comes back, and he aye says a prayer for me
outside the door. It's a bad, bad coast this," she said, with a sigh.
"It took his feyther, an' his grandfeyther, and it's aye on his mind
that sometime it'll take him too. An' it may be onytime."

"He's in better hands than his own, Mrs. Rimmer," said Eager.

"Aye, I. know, and so was they, an' it's no good thinking o' death and
drownin's till you see 'em. But I seen so many it's not easy to get
away from 'em, lying here all alone."

"Where's your little girl?" asked Gracie suddenly.

"Kattie? She should be in by this. She stops chattin' wi' th' neebors
now an' then. It's lonesome here for childer, yo' see. I sometimes
wish we was nearer folk, but we've lived here all our lives an' I
wouldna like to move now."

"And who are your nearest neighbours, Mrs. Rimmer?" asked Eager.

"Oh, there's plenty across Mere--Bill o' Jack's, an' Tom o' Bob's o'
Jim's, an'----" She stopped and lay listening. "That's her now." And
presently a girl's voice lilting a song drew near from the direction
of the Mere.

The door opened and she came in carrying a pail of milk.

"'Ello!" she jerked in her astonishment, and then lapsed into silence.

"Where's your manners, Kattie?" from her mother, as she stood staring
at the strangers, especially at Gracie.

"How are you, Kattie?" said Eager. "I'm the new curate. This is my
sister, Gracie. She saw you the other day and wanted to see you
again."

Kattie put out the tip of a red tongue and smiled in rich confusion.

She was a remarkably pretty child, with large, dark-blue eyes, a mane
of brown hair tumbling over her shoulders, and the healthy red-brown
skin of the dwellers on the flats.

Like the boys of Carne, she obviously wore only what she had to wear
of necessity. In her shy grace she was like a startled fawn, looking
her first on man, and ready to bound away at smallest sign of advance.

"Where's yore manners, lass?" said her mother again; and Kattie drew
in the tip of her tongue and twisted her little red mouth and stared
at Gracie harder than ever.

"Suppose you two run away out and make one another's acquaintance,"
said Eager to Gracie, "and I'll have a chat with Mrs. Rimmer." And the
girls slipped out contentedly.

"Ech, but you do wear a lot o' clothes!" jerked Kattie, the moment
they got outside.

"It must be jolly to wear so few," said Gracie enviously. "When I've
lived here a bit perhaps I can too. You see I've always been used to
wearing a lot."

"They're gey pratty, but I'd liever not carry 'em."

"Is that your boat? Do you row it all by yourself?"

"O' course! I'll show you." And she sped down to the long-prowed
shallop from which she had just landed, shoved it off, tumbled in,
regardless of wet feet and display of bare leg, and sent the little
craft bounding over the smooth dark mirror, her vivid little face
sparkling with delight at this opportunity for the display of superior
accomplishment.

Grade meanwhile danced with desire on the sedgy shore.

"Me too, Kattie! Come back and take me too! What a love of a little
boat! And you row like a man."

"I can scull too," cried Kattie vauntingly, and drew in one oar and
slipped the other over the stern and came wobbling back with a manly
swing that seemed to Gracie to court disaster.

"I like the rowing best," she gasped, as she crawled cautiously in
over the projecting prow. "Let me try one."

And thereafter they were friends.

"I like Kattie," said Grade exuberantly, as she danced along home
holding Charlie's hand.

"She's a pretty little thing, but she seems very shy."

"She's not a bit shy when you know her. And she can row and swim, and
once she shot a duck on the Mere. And she knows where they lay their
eggs, and . . ."

And so, for better or worse, Kattie Rimmer came into the story.



CHAPTER XIII
MOUNTING


For the polishing of gems the dust of gems is necessary. And for the
training of boys other boys are essential. Eager cast about for other
boys against whom his colts might wear off some of their angles.

Some men have a wonderful power of attracting and drawing out all that
is best in their fellows. Personal magnetism, we call it, and it is a
mighty gift of the gods.

Charles Eager had that gift in a very remarkable degree, and with it
many others that appealed to the most difficult of all sections of the
community. Boys hate being made good. The man who can lift them to
higher planes without any unpleasant consciousness thereof on their
part is a genius, and more than a genius. We have, some of us, met
such in our lives, and we think of them with most affectionate
reverence and crown them with glory and honour, though, all too often,
the world passes them by with but scant acknowledgment.

But diamond-dust alone will polish diamonds. Softer stuff is useless,
and the supply of boy-diamond-dust in that neighbourhood was small. So
he laid masterful hands on what there was.

Just outside Wyvveloe, between that and Wynsloe, lay Knoyle, the
residence of Sir George Herapath, the great army contractor. He was a
man of sixty-five, tall, gray-bearded, genial, enjoying a well-earned
rest from a life of many activities. He had married late, and had one
son, George, aged fifteen, and one daughter, Margaret, a year younger.
His wife was dead.

The firm of Herapath & Handyside, and its trade-mark of interlocked
H.'s, was as well known in army circles as the War Department's own
private mark. During the Napoleonic wars its business dealings were on
a gigantic scale. It fed and clothed and sheltered armies in many
lands, and carried out its every undertaking to the letter, cost what
it might. The first consideration with the firm of H. and H. was
perfect fulfilment of its obligations. None knew better how much
depended on its exertions--how helpless the most skilful commander was
unless he could count absolutely on his supplies. H. and H. never
failed in their duty, and the firm reaped its reward, both in honours
and in cash. But to both Herapath and his partner Handyside the honour
they cherished most of all was the fact that their name and mark stood
everywhere as a guarantee of reliability and fair dealing.

Handyside died five years after his partner's baronetcy, and left the
bulk of his money to Herapath, having no near relatives of his own.
And Sir George, desirous of rest before he grew past the enjoyment of
it, took into partnership his right-hand man, Ralph Harben, who had
grown up with the firm, strung another H on to the bar of the first
big one, which represented himself--so that the mark of the firm came
to look something like a badly made hurdle--and left the direction of
affairs chiefly in his hands.

Eager, in the course of his duties, had called at Knoyle and had met
with a congenial welcome. George and Margaret Herapath would be useful
to his cubs now that they were licking into shape. His thoughts turned
to them at once.

There had been another boy with them at church the previous Sunday, he
noticed. The more the merrier. He would rope them all in, for games
good enough with four are many times as good with eight or more.

"Yes, I heard you'd tackled the Carron colts," smiled Sir George. "Bit
of a handful, I should say, from all accounts."

"I like bits of handfuls," said Eager. "I've got good material to work
on. I shall make men of those two."

"You'll have done a good work. And how can Knoyle be of service to
you, Mr. Eager?"

"In heaps of ways. I want your two in our games. Four are really not
enough for proper work. Who's the new youngster I saw with you on
Sunday?"

"That's young Harben, my partner's son. His father is in Spain just
now, and his mother's dead, so I've taken him in for a time."

"The more the merrier! I wish you had another half-dozen."

"H'm! I don't. My two keep me quite lively enough."

"I want you to let me break my two in on some of your horses, too.
You've got more than you can keep in proper condition, and the old
curmudgeon at Carrie flatly refuses to buy them ponies. I've done my
best with him, and riding's about due with my two. They can fence and
swim and box. They beat me at running. Boating's no good here, and
wouldn't be much use to them later, anyway. They're for the army, of
course. Your boy, too, I suppose?"

"Yes, George is for the army, and young Harben too, I judge, from his
talk. Suppose you bring your two up, say, to-morrow, and they can have
a fling at the ponies, and----"

"And you can form your own judgment of them," said Eager, with a quiet
chuckle. "That's all right. They're presentable, or I should not have
proposed it, and yours will help to polish them, and that's what I
want."

"I see. To-morrow morning, then, and they can tumble off the ponies in
the paddock to their hearts' content."

So--three very excited faces, and three pairs of very eager eyes, as
they pressed up the avenue to Knoyle next morning, and keen little
noses sniffing anxiously for ponies, for Gracie was not going to miss
such a chance, and as for the boys, wild mustangs of the prairies
would not have daunted them.

Life--what with swimming and fencing and boxing and cricket and hockey
and football--had suddenly widened its bounds beyond belief almost,
and now, the crowning glory of horses loomed large in front.

Picture them in their scanty blue knee-breeches and blue jerseys, no
hats, but fine crops of black hair, their eager, handsome faces the
colour of the sand, with the hot blood close under the tan, bare legs
and homely leather sandals, black eyes with sparks in them; Gracie in
a little blue jersey also and a short blue frock, bare-legged and in
sandals too, for life on the sands had proved altogether too
destructive of stockings; on her streaming hair, and generally hanging
by its strings, a sunbonnet originally blue, but now washing out
towards white.

"There they are!" gasped Gracie, dancing with excitement as usual. "In
that field over there----"

"And here are Sir George and the others. Remember to salute him, boys;
and look him straight in the eye when he speaks to you. He's a jolly
old boy."

"And, for goodness' sake, don't fight if you can possibly help it!"
said Gracie impressively.

"I congratulate you on your colts, Mr. Eager," said Sir George, as
they followed the youngsters to the paddock. "They're miles ahead of
what I expected. I had my misgivings, I confess, but now they are
gone. You've done wonders with them already."

"Good material, Sir George. But there's plenty still to do. You can't
cure the neglect of years in a few months."

"If any man could, you could. They're a well-set-up pair, and look as
fit as fiddles."

"Their free life on the sands has done that for them at all events. If
they've missed much, they have also gained much, and, by God's help,
I'm going to supply the rest. There are the makings of two fine men
there."

"You'll do it. Why! What are they up to now?"

"Only fighting," laughed Eager. "They rarely dispute in words, always
_vi et armis_. Jack! Jim! Stop that! What's the matter now?" as the
boys got up off the ground with flushed faces and dancing eyes. "A
mighty good-looking pair!" thought Sir George to himself. "And which
is which and which is t'other, I couldn't tell to save my life."

"I was going to help Gracie over, and he cut in," said Jack.

"I wanted to help her over too," grinned Jim.

"Sillies!" said Gracie. "I didn't need you. I got through. Oh, what
beauties!" as a bay pony and a grey came trotting up to their master
and mistress for customary gifts and caresses.

"This is mine," said Margaret, kissing the soft dark muzzle. "Dear old
Graylock! Want a bit of sugar? There then, old wheedler!" And Graylock
tossed his head and savoured his morsel appreciatively, with a mouth
that watered visibly for more.

"Lend me a bit, Meg," begged her brother. "I forgot the greedy little
beggars. You spoil 'em. Here you are, Whitefoot."

"Bridles only, at present, Bob," said Sir George, to a stable-boy who
had come down laden with gear. "Let the youngsters begin at the
beginning. Now you, Jack and Jim--I don't know which of you's
which--have a go at them barebacked, and let's see what you're made
of." And the boys flung themselves over the ponies with such vehemence
that Jim came down headlong on the other side while Graylock danced
with dismay; and Jack hung over Whitefoot like a sack, but got his leg
over at last, with such a yell of triumph that his startled steed shot
from under him and left him in a heap on the grass.

But they were both up in a moment and at it again.

"Twist yer hand in his mane," instructed Bob, "an' hang on like the
divvle. There y'are! Now clip him tight wi' yer knees an' shins.
You're aw reet!" And Jim and Graylock went off down the paddock in a
series of wild leaps and bounds, while Bob ran after them
administering counsel.

"Loose yer reins a bit! Don't tickle him wi' yer toes! . . . Stiddy
then! Go easy, my lad! Don't fret 'im!"--as Jack and Whitefoot bore
down upon him in like fashion.

"They'll ride aw reet," he said, as he came back crab-fashion to the
lookers-on, with his eyes fixed on the riders. "Stick like cats, they
do. And them ponies is enjoying theirselves."

"Promising, are they, Bob?" asked Sir George.

"They're aw reet. They'll ride," said Bob emphatically. When the
horsemen wore round towards the group they were in boastful humour.

"I was up first," from Jack.

"I was off first," from Jim.

"Ay--on ground!"

"Nay, on pony! You were sitting on grass."

"You fell over t'other side."

"I'll fight you!" And in a moment they were off their steeds and
locked in fight, to the great scandal of Gracie.

"Oh you dreadful boys!" And she danced wildly about them. "Didn't I
tell you----"

"Stop it, boys!" And Eager laughingly shook them apart.

"The old Adam will out," he said to Sir George, who was enjoying them
mightily.

"They've no lack of pluck. Keep 'em on right lines, Mr. Eager, and
you'll make men of them. Now then, who's for next mount? Rafe, my lad,
what do you say to a bareback?"

"Sooner have a saddle, sir," said young Harben, and sat tight on the
paling.

"You, missie?" as Gracie danced imploringly before him. "Saddle up,
Bob. . . . Well, I'm----!" as the ponies went off down the field again
with the boys struggling up into position. "Oh, they'll do all right.
I like their spirit."

When the ponies were captured, Gracie had her ride under Margaret's
care, and expressed herself very plainly on the subject of
side-saddles and the advantages of being a boy. And the boys took to
saddle and stirrups as they had to the swimming.

"They'll ride," was Bob's final and emphatic verdict again.

Sir George insisted on their waiting for midday dinner, an experience
which some of them enjoyed not at all and would gladly have escaped.

Gracie sat between Jack and Jim, and got very little dinner because of
her maternal anxieties on their account. By incessant watchfulness on
both sides at once she managed to keep them from any very dreadful
exhibition of inexperience, but she got very red in the face over it,
and rather short in the temper, which perhaps was not to be wondered
at considering the state of her appetite and the many tempting dishes
she had no time to do justice to.

The boys scuffled through somehow, with very wide eyes--to say nothing
of mouths--for hitherto untasted delicacies. Mrs. Lee's commissariat
tended to the solidly essential, and disdained luxuries for growing
lads.

Muter Harben made the Little Lady's ears tingle more than once with an
Appreciative guffaw at her protégés' solecisms, and if quick indignant
glances could have pierced him he would have suffered sorely. As it
was, Margaret frowned him back to decency, and George intimated in
unmistakable gesture that punishment awaited him in the privacy of the
immediate future.

But Jack and Jim, the prime causes of all this disturbance, ate on
imperturbably, and followed the directions, conveyed by their
monitress in brief fierce whispers and energetic side-kicks, to the
best of their powers, so long as these imposed no undue restraint on
the reduction of two healthy appetites.

And more than once Eager caught Sir George's eye resting thoughtfully
on the pair, and knew what he was thinking.

"I suppose you know them apart?" he asked quietly, one time when Eager
caught him watching them.

"Oh yes, I know them, but it took me a few days."

"A deuced troublesome business! No wonder the old man's gone sour over
it. I don't see what he can do."

"He can do nothing but wait."

"And it's bitter waiting when the sands are running out."

On the way home the Little Lady blew away some of the froth of their
exultation at their own prowess, by her biting comments on their
shortcomings at table. But this new and grand addition to their
lengthening list of acquirements overtopped everything else, and they
exulted in spite of her.

"We stuck on barebacked, anyway," said Jim; "and what does it matter
how you eat?"

"It matters a great deal if you want to be gentlemen," said Gracie
vehemently.

"We're going to be soldiers," said Jack.



CHAPTER XIV
WIDENING WAYS


Next day, when the Rev. Charles was putting all his skill into
underhand twisters for the overthrow of Jack, who, to Jim's great
exasperation, had got the hang of them and was driving them all over
the shore, and Gracie was dancing with wild exhortation to her brother
to get him out, as it was her innings next--she stopped suddenly with
a shout and started off towards the sand-hills. And the others,
turning to see what had taken her, found the Knoyle party threading
its way among the devious gullies, and presently they all came
cantering through the loose sand to the flats.

"Morning, Mr. Eager; we've come for a game. Will you have us?" cried
Sir George exuberantly.

"Rather! It's just what we wanted. You'll play, sir?"

"That's what I came for. Renew my youth, and all that kind of thing!
See to the horses, Bob. Eh, what?"--at sight of the lad's eager
face--"Like to take a hand too? Well, see If you can tether 'em--away
from those bents. Bents won't do them any good. Now then, how shall we
play?"

"Oh, Carne versus Knoyle," said Eager. "All to field, and Margaret
goes in for both sides."

Knoyle beat Carne that time, thanks to George and Bob. Sir George
"renewed his youth, and all that kind of thing." And young Ralph
Harben entered vigorous protest every time he was put out, and argued
the points till George punched his head for him.

After the game the boys were allowed to take the stiffness out of the
ponies' legs. And altogether--as the first of many similar ones--that
was a memorable day.

Eager rejoiced greatly in the success of his planning, for the close
contact with these other bright and restless spirits had a wonderful
effect on his boys. They toned down and they toned up, and it seemed
to him that he could trace improvement in them each day.

He had his doubts now and again of the effects of young Harben on his
own two. The lad was difficult and had evidently been much spoiled at
home. Eager quietly did his best to remedy his more visible defects,
and George Herapath seconded him with bodily chastisement whenever
occasion offered.

Eager and Sir George were sitting resting in the side of a sand-hill
one day, and watching the younger folk at a game in which Ralph was
perpetually disputatious odd-man-out. It seemed impossible for him to
get through any game without some wrangle.

Eager made some quiet comment on the matter and Sir George said:

"Yes, he's difficult. He's the only child, and his mother spoiled him
sadly. When she died his father sent him to a second-rate school, and
this is the result. But I hope he'll pull round. We must do what we
can for him. Harben is in treaty for the Scarsdale place just beyond
Wynsloe, so you'll be able to keep an eye on the boy. Your two are
marvels. I never see them squabbling."

"Oh, they never squabble. They just fight it out, and no temper in it.
They're really capital boxers, and they're coming on in their
fencing."

"You'll make men of those two yet."

"I'll do my best."

"And if the old man dies? What will happen then?"

"God knows. It's as hard a nut as I ever came across."

"That infernal old woman up at Carrie could crack it if she would, I
suppose?"

"I have no doubt; but she won't speak. And I'm afraid no one would
believe her if she did."

"Deuced rough on the old man!" And Sir George lapsed into musing, and
watched the riddles of Carne as they sped to and fro, as active as
panthers and as careless as monkeys of the trouble they represented.

One day when they were all hard at it, Gracie suddenly sped from her
post, as her manner was, heedless of the shouts of the rest, darted in
among the hummocks, and came back dragging the not very reluctant
Kettle Rimmer and insisted on her joining the game. And Kattie,
nothing loth, succeeded in cloaking her lack of knowledge with such
untiring energy that she proved a welcome recruit and was forthwith
pressed into the company. For where numbers are few and more are
needed, trifling distinctions of class lose their value. She was very
quick and bright, too, and soon picked up the rules of the games; and
when she was not flying after balls she was watching Margaret and
Gracie with worshipful observant eyes, and assimilating from them a
new code of manners for her own private use.

Gracie's usual behaviour in games, indeed, was that of a pea on a hot
shovel. But Margaret, no whit behind her in her zeal for the business
on hand, bore herself with something more of the dignity and decorum
of a young lady in her fifteenth year--except just on occasion, when,
at a tight pinch, everything went overboard and she flung herself into
things with the abandon of Gracie and Kattie combined.

Eager watched her with great appreciation. He could divine the coming
woman in the occasional sweet seriousness of the charming face, and
rejoiced in her as he did in all beautiful things.

And George Herapath, with much of his father in him, was always a
tower of good-humoured common sense and abounding energy. He backed up
Eager's efforts in every direction, licked Harben or the tiger-cubs
conscientiously, as often as occasion arose, and brought to their play
the experience and tone of the public schoolboy up to date. He was at
Harrow, and his house was closed on account of an outbreak of scarlet
fever, which all except the higher powers counted mighty luck and all
to the good.

They soon dropped into the way of all bathing together of a morning,
before starting their game--all except Sir George, whose sea-bathing
days were over, and who preferred cantering over the sands with them,
all racing alongside like a pack of many-coloured hounds, shouting
aloud in the wild glee of the moment, splashing through the shimmering
pools in rainbow showers, tumbling headlong into the tideway, and then
in dogged silence breasting fearlessly out to sea, while Sir George
rode his big bay into the water after them as far as his discretion
would permit.

And at times they sped far afield over the countryside, when, if Jack
and Jim were hares, they were never caught, and if they were hounds
they picked up an almost invisible scent in a way that did credit to
their powers and to Mr. Fenimore Cooper. They might be beaten at
cricket or hockey, whose finer rules they were always transgressing,
but in this wider play none could come near them.

It took the new-comers a very long time to distinguish between them;
and even when they thought they had got them fixed at last, they were
as often wrong as right, for the boys delighted to puzzle them, and
even went the length of refusing to answer to their right names and
assuming one another's with that sole end in view.

"They beat me," laughed Sir George, more than once. "I never know
t'other from which, and when I'm quite sure of 'em I'm always wrong."

"They do it on purpose," said Gracie. "They're little rascals, but
they're as different as different to me. I can't see any likeness in
them, except that they're both rather bad at times--but nothing to
what they used to be, I assure you, Sir George."

"Well, well I Perhaps I'll get to know them in time, my dear; and
meanwhile you just wink at me when they're making game of the old
man."

"I will," said Gracie solemnly. "But they don't really mean any harm,
you know. It's just their fun."

From his upper windows in the house of Carne that other old man
watched them also, with scowling face and twisted heart. The sands
were running--running--running, and he was no nearer the solution of
his life's puzzle than he had been ten years ago. Farther away if
anything, for babies die more easily than lusty, tight-knit,
sun-tanned boys who never knew an ailment, and grew stronger every
day.

But there were keener eyes still, sharpened by a vast craving love for
the wakening souls committed to his care, watching them all the time,
and eager for every sign of growth and development. Love blinds, they
say, and so it may to that which it does not wish to see. But Love is
a mighty revealer, too, and Doubt and Dislike attain no revelations
but the shadows of themselves.

Charles Eager studied those boys with many times the eagerness and
acumen that he had ever brought to his books. Here was a living
enigma, and he found it fascinating. But the weeks grew into months,
and he found himself not one step nearer its solution.

In all their moods and humours, in their outstanding virtues and their
no less prominent defects, they were one. They had grown up in the
equal practice of qualities drawn, on the one side at all events, from
the same source.

Bodily fear seemed quite outside their ken. They lacked the
imagination which pictures possible consequences behind the deed. If
they wanted to do a thing, they did not stop to consider what might
come of it, but just did it. The consequences when they came were
accepted as matters of course.

They were generous to a fault. They would, indeed, fight between
themselves for the most trifling possessions, but it was from sheer
love of fighting. They never kept for the mere sake of having, and
most of their belongings they held in common--jointly against the
world as they had known it. And this feeling of being two against
outsiders had undoubtedly fostered the communal feeling. As their
circle widened and others were admitted into it, the feeling extended
to them. They possessed little, but what they had all were welcome to.

And they were by nature eminently truthful. To their grandfather or
Mr. Kennet they might on occasion assume masks which belied their
feelings, but that was in the nature of a ruse to mislead an enemy who
by gross injustice had forced them into unnatural ways. To them it was
no more acting a lie than is the broken fluttering of a bird which
thereby draws the trespasser from its nest. They were in a state of
perpetual war with the higher powers, and to them all things were
fair.

Their faults were the natural complements of these better things. They
were headstrong, reckless, careless, hot-tempered--defects, after all,
which as a rule entail more trouble on their owners than on others,
and are therefore regarded by the world with a lenient eye.

For many months Eager found no shade of difference in their
development. They had started level, and they progressed in equal
degree, and progressed marvellously. The virgin soil brought forth an
abundant harvest. But then, in spite of all, it was good soil, and
ready for the seed.

The grim old man at Carne sent now and again for Eager, and received
him always, snuff-box in hand, with a cynical, "Well, Mr. Eager, no
progress?"

"Progress, Sir Denzil? Heaps! We are advancing by leaps and bounds. We
are doing splendidly."

"You've still got the two of them, I see,"--as though they were
puppies Eager was trying to dispose of.

"Still got the two, sir, and I couldn't tell you which is the better
of them. There are the makings of fine men in both."

"Then you're just where you were as to which is which?"

"Just where you have been these ten years, sir."

"You have seen more of them in ten weeks than I've seen in ten years."

"They are developing every day, but so far they run neck to neck. But,
candidly, Sir Denzil, I scarcely know what signs one could take as any
decisive indication of their descent. Heredity is a ticklish thing to
draw any certain inference from. It plays odd tricks, as you know."

"I had hoped somewhat from those swimming lessons----" and he snuffed
regretfully.

Eager laughed joyously at his disappointment.

"Why, they swam like ducks the very first day. You really have no idea
what fine lads they are, sir. They are lads to be proud of."

"Ay--if there was but one."

"It's a thousand pities we can't find the right way out of the muddle
without thinking of such things."

"We cannot," said the old man grimly.



CHAPTER XV
DIVERGING LINES


As time went on, however, Eager's careful oversight of the boys began
to note slight points of divergence in the lines of their
characteristics, which had so far run absolutely side by side.

Jack, for instance, began to develop a somewhat tentative kind of
self-control. His brain seemed to become more active. At times he even
attempted to subject Jim to discipline for lapses from his own view of
the right way of things. And Jim took him on right joyously; and the
pitched battles, which Eager had been striving to relegate to the
background, were renewed with vehemence, within the strict limits of
the new rules thereto ordained.

Gracie was distressed at this falling away. But Eager bade her be of
good cheer, and watched developments with interest. Meanwhile, the
boys muscles and skill in self-defence grew mightily.

There was no doubt about it, Jack was harvesting his grain the quicker
of the two--so far as could be seen, at all events. The difference
between them when instruction was to the fore was somewhat marked.
Jack gave his mind to it and took it in, evinced a desire to get to
the bottom of things, even asked questions at times on points that
were not clear to him. Jim, on the other hand, would sit gazing at the
fount of wisdom with wide black eyes which presently wandered off
after a seagull or a shadow, with a very visible inclination towards
such things--or towards anything actively alive--rather than towards
the passivity entailed by the pursuit of abstract knowledge.

Then again, Jack succeeded at times in forcing himself to sit quite
still for whole minutes on end, while Jim, after a certain limited
number of seconds, was on the wriggle to be up and doing. And the
moment he was loosed, the quiescence of seconds had to be atoned for
by many minutes of joyous activity.

They were, in fact, beginning to take the lines of the good scholar
and the bad. And yet Eager confessed to himself a very warm heart for
careless, happy-go-lucky Jim.

"The other looks like making the deeper mark," he said to himself.
"But I can't help loving old Jim. He's all one could wish except in
the brain. Maybe it will come!"

As to any deductions to be based upon these growing differences
between the boys, he could find no sound footing.

"Jack seems undoubtedly the more able," he would reason it out, "but
what does that point to? Is it the high result of two blue-blooded
strains, or the enriching of a blue blood with a dash of stronger red?
Which would the stronger blend run to--activity of mind or activity of
body?"

The latter, he was inclined to think, but found it impossible to
pronounce upon with anything like certainty, and realised that every
other indication would inevitably lead to the same result. The riddle
of Carne would never be read thus. Time and Providence might cut the
knot and give to Carne its rightful heir. Pure reason, or the
questionable affirmation of interested parties, never would.

From that point of view he saw his commission from Sir Denzil doomed
to failure. But that, after all, he said to himself, with a bracing
shake, was, from his own point of view, of minor consequence. The
great thing was to make men of his boys and fit them for the battle of
life to the best of his powers and theirs.



CHAPTER XVI
A CUT AT THE COIL


Twice, during the autumn, it seemed as though the riddle would be
solved, or at all events the knot cut.

George Hempath and young Harben had gone off to school, but the
reduced company still took its fill of the freedom of the sands. Sir
George and Margaret rarely failed, and play and work progressed apace.

Boating on that coast was all toil and little pleasure. With a tide
that ran out a full mile, the care of a boat, unless for strictly
business purposes, would have been a burden. Old Seth Rimmer and his
fellows kept their craft in the estuaries up Wytham way and at
Wynsloe, where, with knowledge of the ever-shifting banks and much
labour, it was possible to get out to sea in most states of the tide.

But Eager, desirous of an all-round education for his cubs, managed to
teach them rowing in Kattie Rimmer's shallop on the Mere, to Kattie's
great delight, since there she shone at first alone.

And it was there they made the acquaintance of Kattie's brother, young
Seth, a great loose-limbed giant of nineteen or so, who helped his
father at the fishing at times, and at times went ventures of his own
on less respectable lines. A good-humoured giant, however, who would
lie asprawl on a sand-hummock by the Mere-side, and laugh loud and
long at new-beginners' first clumsy attempts at rowing, and more than
once waded waist-deep into the water to set right-side-up some
unfortunate whose ill-applied vigour had capsized the crank little
craft.

Some of young Seth's doings were a sore discomfort and mortification
to the older folk in the little wooden house. But he took his own way
outside with dogged nonchalance, bore himself well towards them except
on these sore points of his own private concerns, and worshipped
Kattie.

Old Seth, you see, had always ordered his little household on the
strictest--not to say straitest--lines of right and wrong. Young Seth,
when he grew too big for bodily coercion, kicked over the lines and
took his own way, in spite of all his father and mother could do to
prevent him. And his way led at times through strange waters and in
strange company.

He was away sometimes for days on end, and then, whether the little
house lay basking in the sunshine or shaking in the gale, his mother
would lie full of fears and prayers, and his father was quieter than
ever in the boat, and Kattie, but half-comprehending the matter, would
feel the gloom his absences cast and would question him volubly when
he returned, but never got anything for her pains.

He would do anything for her or for any of them--except give up the
ways he had chosen.

When the south-wester screamed over the flats for days at a time it
set the ribbed sands humming with its steady persistence. Games were
impossible then, and Eager's ready wit devised a means of turning the
screamer to account.

He turned into Bob Ratchett's shed one day and said:

"Bob, I want some wheels--two big ones four feet across, and two about
a foot smaller, and the tires of all must be a foot wide."

"My gosh, them's wheels! What'n yo' want 'em for?" grinned Bob
admiringly.

"I'm going to make a boat--"

"Aw then, passon!--a boat now!"

"To run on the sands."

"Aw!" gasped Bob, and eyed "passon" doubtfully.

"You can make them?"

"Aw! I can mek 'em aw reet, but----"

"All right, Bob. You set to work, and I'll see to the rest."

"Passon's" boat became a great joke in the village. But bit by bit he
worked it out, got his materials into shape, and with his own hands
and the assistance, in their various degrees, of the boys and the
excited oversight of Gracie, fitted it together into a somewhat
nightmare resemblance to the skeleton of a boat.

Jack stuck pretty steadily to the novel work. Jim and Gracie fluttered
about it, questioning, suggesting, doubting, went off for a game, came
back, danced about, hindering more than helping, but always convinced
in their own minds that but for them that boat would never have been
built.

The two large wheels, rather wide apart, supported it abeam forward,
and between them he stepped a stout little mast carrying jib and
mainsail. The smaller wheels astern moved on a stout pin and acted as
rudder, actuated by a. long wooden tiller. A rough wooden frame abaft
the mast offered precarious accommodation for passengers. And when at
last, after many days, it was finished, the villagers crowded round
it, and joked and laughed themselves purple in the face over the
oddest and most unlikely craft that coast had ever seen.

Then willing hands took the ropes, and dragged it out of the village
and through the gullies of the sand-hills with mighty labours, and so,
at last, to the edge of the flats not far from Carne.

And there Eager climbed in by himself, with not a few fears that the
doubts and laughter of the village might find their justification in
him.

There was a strong wind blowing with a steady hum right on to the
flats from the south-west. Eager hauled up his sails, lay down in the
meagre cockpit, tiller in hand, and the scoffers started him off with
a run.

They looked for him to come to a stop when they did; but instead, to
their never-dying amazement, the wind gripped the sails, the
clumsy-looking boat sped on, faster and faster, bumping over the
hard-ribbed sands, rushing through the wind-rippled pools, and they
stood gaping. In less than five minutes it was at the bend of the
coast where it turns to the north-east, a good three miles away, and
then, marvel of marvels for such a craft, just as they expected it to
disappear round the corner, it ran up into the wind, came round on the
other tack with a fine sweep and without a pause, and was rushing back
towards them before their gaping mouths had closed. "Passon's" boat
was a huge success, it raised him mightily in their opinions and
inclined them to give ear even to his suggestions for the abolition of
stinks, and to the boys and the rest it gave a new zest to life. Day
after day, whenever the wind served, they were at it, and looked
forward to the gray windy days as they had never done before.

Sir George had been away when the boat was launched, but he rode over
the first morning after he got home, and after watching it for a time
ventured on board himself, with Eager at the helm.

"Man!" he said, as he tumbled out after the run--blown and breathless
and considerably shaken up--"that's wonderful! You ought to have been
an engineer."

"So I am," laughed Eager, "and on a larger scale than most."

From the windows of Carne, Sir Denzil watched the novel craft
careering wildly over the flats, and snuffed more hopefully.

"A sufficiently dangerous-looking toy, Kennet. It seems to ate that it
might quite well kill one or more of them if it upset at that speed.
Let us hope for the best!" And he and Kennet watched the new goings-on
with interest.

Incidentally, the sand-boat one day came very near to solving the
riddle of Carne on the lines of Sir Denzil's highest hopes.

There was something in the wild headlong motion that appealed with
irresistible power to Jim's half-tamed nature. The mad bumping rush,
with now one huge wheel barely skimming the ground, now the other; the
hoarse dash through the pools, when, if the sun shone, you sat for a
moment in a whirling rainbow of flying drops the keen zest and
delicious risks of the turn; the novel sense of power in the lordship
of the helm; these things thrilled him through and through, and he
could not get too much of them.

He made himself the devoted slave of the sand-boat--spent his spare
time in anointing its axles with all the fat he could coax, or
otherwise procure, from Mrs. Lee, till the great wheels almost ran of
their own accord, scraped the long tiller till it was as smooth as a
sceptre--handled the ropes till they were as flexible almost as silk.

It was he who insisted on naming the boat _Gracie_--"because it jumped
about so," but in reality, of course, because the word Gracie
represented to him the brightest and best that life had yet brought
him.

They had all tried their hands at names. Sir George--_The Flying
Dutchman_, because it certainly flew and was undoubtedly broad in the
beam; Margaret--_The Sylph_, because it was so tubby; Gracie--_The
Sand-fly_, because it flew over the sand; Jack, for abstruse reasons
of his own--_Chingachgook_; Eager was quite content to leave it to
them. But no matter what the others decided on, Jim always called it
_Gracie_--to the real Gracie's immense satisfaction; and as he talked
Gracie ten times as much as all the rest put together, _Gracie_ it
finally became.

When wind and weather put the Gracie out of action she lay under the
walls of Carne, with folded wings and docked tail--for Jim always
carried away the tiller into the house, for love of the very feel of
it, and partly perhaps in token of proprietorship. It stood in a
corner where he could always see it, and slept by his bedside.

No one, however, ever thought of meddling with the sand-boat. In the
first place, she belonged to Mr. Eager, and they held "passon" in
highest esteem. And, in the second place, Carne was a dangerous place
to wander round at night. Mr. Kennet had a gun, with which he was no
great shot, indeed, but even the wildest bullet may find unexpected
billet in the dark.

It happened, one afternoon in the late autumn, that Eager was away on
the confines of his wide sheepfold, about his Master's business. It
had been wet and blusterous all day, and the boys were desultorily
employed on their books in a corner of the kitchen; Jim with the
_Gracie's_ polished tiller twisting fondly in his hand, as a devoted
lover toys with a ribbon from his mistress's dress; Jack somewhat
absorbed in the doings of Themistocles and Xerxes at Salamis, in a
great volume which he had abstracted from the library the day before.

The polished tiller wriggled more and more restlessly in Jim's hand,
as though it longed to be up and doing.

He got up at last and strolled out just to have a look at the rest of
the _Gracie_. Jack was too busy sinking Persian galleys in Salamis Bay
to pay any heed to anything nearer home.

Jim found the wind blowing half a gale. It swept round the house with
a scream, and seemed to meet again full on the _Gracie_, who quivered
and throbbed as though longing to be off.

The jib had been wrapped round the forestay, and the wind, working at
it as though of one mind with him, had loosened the clew, and it was
thrashing to and fro in desperate excitement.

He climbed aboard, fitted the tiller, and sat in vast enjoyment. Why,
it would only need a pull at a rope here and there, and he believed
she would be off. The rain had hardened the soft sand, and there was a
good slope down to the ribbed flats below. He had always longed for a
run all by himself, and he knew the ropes and how to steer her as well
as Mr. Eager did.

In sheer self-defence he captured the thrashing sheet and twisted it
round a cleat. The jib untoggled itself from the stay, bellied out
full, and the boat began to move slowly down the slope.

The joy of it sent the blood up into Jim's head and set it spinning.
He would have a run--just a little run--all by himself, just to prove
to himself that he could do it.

The boat went rocking down the slope. He hauled at the halyard in a
frenzy, and the mainsail went jumping up. He made it fast, grabbed his
beloved tiller, and the _Gracie_, with a roll and a shake, bounded
away up the flats.

Faster and faster she went, the ribbed sands and the wind-whipped
pools seemed to sweep along to meet her and fly beneath her
all-devouring wheels, till Jim's head was spinning faster even than
they. He yelled and waved his arms above his head, till the tiller
banging him in the ribs nearly knocked him overboard and recalled him
to his duties.

He was at the bend in the coast before he knew It. He threw his weight
on to the tiller to bring her round on the curve which would allow her
head to fall off on the other tack, but fooled it somehow, and instead
she flew off at a tangent straight for the sea.

"Ecod!" said a watcher--for other purposes--in the sand-hills. "'Oo's
gooin' reet to stick-sands!"--and started at a run after the _Gracie_.

Jim always stoutly maintained that if he had only had room enough he
would have got her round all right. But space and time were wanting.

All in a moment the solid ground seemed to vanish from below the
whirling wheels. One wheel sank down into comparative space, the other
spun on horizontally; the _Gracie's_ nose went down out of sight into a
squirming mass of slimy sand, and Jim was flung head over heels into
the midst of it.

He got his head up with his mouth full of watery sand which half
choked him. Before he had coughed it out, fear and the clammy sand
gripped him together. It clung to him like thick treacle. His feet and
legs were bound and weighted--he could not move them. And when his
arms got into it the deadly sand clasped them tightly. It was up to
his chest, like cold dead giant arms folding him tighter and tighter
in a last embrace, or the merciless coils of a boa-constrictor.

Presently it would have him by the throat, and the stuff would run
into his mouth and choke him, and he would die and they would never
find him.

He tried to shout, with little hope of any one hearing; but it was all
he could do. The clammy death was at his throat, and the pressure on
his chest was so great that his shout was of the feeblest.

Another minute and the riddle of Carne would have been solved. But
feeble as was his shout, it was answered. The runner on the sands came
panting up, and the sight of his anxious face was to Jim as the face
of an angel out of heaven--and a great deal more, for Jim had never
troubled much about angels.

"Help--Seth!"--he bubbled, through the sandy scum.

"Ay, ay, sir!" panted young Seth, and jumped on to the half-submerged
_Gracie_, whipped out his knife from its sheath at his back, and
sliced the stays of the mast and had it out in a twinkling.

"Lay holt!"--and he shoved it towards the disappearing Jim. "And hang
on tight, if it teks yore skin off! That's it. Twist rope round yo'!"
And he dug his heels deep into the firm sand beyond, and laid himself
almost flat as he hauled at his end of the mast.

The sweat broke in beads on his forehead, and rolled down his red face
like tears, before the sands would let go their prey. But, inch by
inch, he gained on them, while Jim gave up his legs for lost, so
tightly did the sands hold on to them.

Inch by inch he was drawn back to life, joints cracking, sinews
straining. It seemed impossible to him that he should come out whole.
But there--his neck was clear, his chest, his body, his knees, and
then, with a "swook" from the "stick-sands" that sounded like a
disappointed curse, the rest of him came out and he lay spent on the
solid earth beyond.

He remembered no more of the matter, but learned afterwards how young
Seth, after thriftily staking the mast in the sand and lashing the
_Gracie_ to it with a length of rope to prevent her sinking out of
sight--had taken him over his shoulder, not quite sure whether he was
dead or alive, but face downwards, so that if he were alive some of
the sand and water might run out of him, and had set off with him so,
for Carne.



CHAPTER XVII
ALMOST SOLVED


Jack, when presently he had seen the little affair at Salamis to a
satisfactory conclusion, missed Jim and went out in search of him. He
poked about the courtyard without finding him, and only when he got
outside, and saw that the _Gracie_ was gone, did it occur to him that
Jim had gone with her. Then in the distance he saw young Seth Rimmer
coming heavily over the sands with something over his shoulder, and he
ran to meet him.

From his windows Sir Denzil had watched the sand-boat go racing wildly
up the flats, and had wondered at its solitary occupant. He could see
by the size of him that it was one of the boys, but could not tell
which.

No matter which: if the thing would only come to grief and make an end
of either of them, what an ending of trouble! What a mighty relief!
Then his way would be clear.

And as he mused upon it, he saw the distant boat go over, and his
bitter old heart quickened a beat or two with grim hope. Then he saw
the runner on the sands, and knew that something serious was amiss,
and his hopes grew. And when, after what seemed a long, long time, one
came running heavily towards Carne, with a load upon his shoulder, he
believed his wish was realised.

He went down the stairs and into the kitchen, and spoke to old Mrs.
Lee for the first time in ten years.

"One of the boys is drowned. Young Rimmer is bringing home his body."
And he eyed the old woman like a hawk, with an evil light of hope in
his eye.

"Naay!" said she, not to be trapped.

"Old fool!" he said to himself, but kept an unmoved face and opened
his snuff-box.

Young Seth came labouring into the courtyard, with Jim on his shoulder
and Jack at his heels.

Sir Denzil never looked at them. He had eyes for nothing but old Mrs.
Lee's face, which was hard-set and the colour of gray stone.

"What's happen't, Seth Rimmer?" she croaked as he came, peering
through half-closed eyes at him and his burden.

"Sand-boat ran i' stick-sand. Nigh got 'im."

"Is hoo gone?"--as Seth laid the limp body on the table.

"Nay, I dunno' think hoo con be dead; but it wur sore wark getting'
'im out--nigh pooed 'im i' two--an' hoo swallowed a lot o' stuff."

"Hoo'll do," she said, after a quick examination. "Yo' leave 'im to
me." And she "shooed" them all out of the kitchen and proceeded to
maltreat Jim tenderly back to life.

"H'm!" said Sir Denzil disappointedly, as he climbed the stairs
again--"a good chance missed! D--d fools all! . . . I wonder if Lady
Susan's mother would have kept as quiet a face! . . . Well . . . The
deuce take one of them! . . . Which doesn't matter."

Young Seth waited till the tide washed up over the quicksand, and then
with assistance from the village dragged the _Gracie_ back to life and
trundled her forlornly home. And Sir Denzil sent him out a guinea by
Mr. Kennet--not for saving Jim's life, but for bringing back the means
whereby one or other of his grandsons might still possibly come to a
sudden end.

Jim, for the first time since he began to remember things, lay in bed
for three whole days, but, thanks to Mrs. Lee's anointings and
rubbings, suffered no further ill-effects from his adventure--except,
indeed, many a horrible nightmare, in which he was perpetually sinking
down into the clinging sands, with his hands and feet fast bound and
the scum running into his mouth; from which he would awake with a howl
which always woke Jack with a start, and the ensuing scrimmage had in
it all the joy of new life.

Eager, when he hurried up to see Jim and hear all about it, exacted a
promise from them both never to sail the _Gracie_ single-handed again,
and was satisfied the promise would be kept.

Sir Denzil, hearing he was there, sent for him, and received him as
usual.

"Well, Mr. Eager, you came near to solving the puzzle for us."

"I can't tell you how sorry I am, sir----"

"Yes, 'twas a good chance missed. If that fool Rimmer had only let
Providence work out its own ends----"

"Thank God, he was on the spot, or I'd never have forgiven myself.
Providence will see to the matter in its own time and in its own way,
Sir Denzil, and neither you nor I can help or thwart it."

"I'm not so sure of that. If I had my way now----"

"Providence always wins," said Eager, with a shake of the head and a
cheerful smile. "If we blind bats had our own way, what a muddle we
would make of things. You would surely regret it in the end, sir."



CHAPTER XVIII
ALMOST SOLVED AGAIN


During that winter two events happened, much alike in their general
features, apparently quite disconnected, and yet not at all improbably
resulting the one from the other. Either happening might well have
solved the problem of Carne.

Jack, as we have seen, had developed a certain taste for information.
He could lose himself completely in the doings of Hannibal or
Alexander, and found the mighty realities of history--or what were
accounted as such--more to his taste than the most thrilling
imaginings of the story-tellers. Jim found them good also--as retailed
to him by Jack--and would sit by the hour, with open mouth and eyes
and ears, taking them all in at second-hand. But sit down to one of
the big books, and worry them all out for himself, he would not.

And so it came that more than once when Jack was over head and ears in
some delightfully bloody action of long ago, Jim would ramble off by
himself in search of amusement more to his taste, until such time as
the sponge, having filled itself full, should be ready to be squeezed.

That was how he came to be strolling along the beach one lowering
windy afternoon, seeking desultorily in the lip of the tide for
anything the waves might have thrown up.

It was always an interesting pursuit, for you never knew what
you might light on. In former times Jack had been as keen a
treasure-hunter as himself, but now he was digging it out elsewhere
and otherwise.

They had never found anything of value, though many a thing of mighty
interest was brought ashore by the waves. A girl's wooden doll, and a
boy's wooden horse, for instance, had nothing very remarkable about
them; but found within a dozen yards of each other on the beach after
a storm, they set even boys not used to very deep thinking, thinking
deeply. Coco-nuts and oranges, and a dead sheep, and an oar, and a
ship's grating--that was about as much as they ever came across,
except once, when it was the awful body of a dead black man, and then
they ran home, with their heads twisting fearfully over their
shoulders, as fast as their legs could carry them; and saw the hideous
thick white lips of him for many a night afterwards.

But though you sought in vain for years, there was always the chance
of coming upon a casket of jewels sooner or later; and if you never
actually found it, the possibility of it was delightfully attractive.

Jim ambled on, kicking asunder lumps of seaweed which might conceal
treasure, stooping now and again to pick up and examine some find more
closely, and so came to the bend in the coast out of sight of Carne.

And there he stopped suddenly, like a pointing dog.

Away along the shore, and as close in as the long shoal of the sands
would permit, was a large fishing-smack. Between her and the beach a
boat was plying, and when it grounded a string of men was rapidly
passing its contents up into the sand-hills.

Jim guessed what that might mean. His ephemeral reading in books of
adventure told him these must be smugglers, and he had unconsciously
gathered from unknown sources the fact that out beyond there lay the
isle of Man, a place given up to freebooters and such-like gentry,
though he had never happened to come across any so near home before. A
matter therefore to be cautiously inquired into on the most approved
Fenimore Cooper lines.

So he slipped in among the sand-hills and threaded a devious path
parallel with the sea, now and again crawling like a snake up a
hummock, and peering through the wire-grass to ascertain his position
and make sure that the boat had not gone off.. That was his only
anxiety, that she would get away before he had the chance of a nearer
view.

He was delighted with his adventure. Here was treasure-trove better
than all the tantalising possibilities of the beach. Here was
something real and new to set against Jack's musty, but still
exciting, stories of old Greeks and Romans. He felt rich.

The short day was drawing in. The gray of the dusk was in his favour.
He wriggled up a soft bank on his stomach, and found himself with a
fair view of what was going on. He sank flat among the wire-grass and
watched, and was Robinson Crusoe, and Deerslayer; and Chingachgook,
and many others, all in one.

A growl of rough voices down below, the "slaithe" of spades in the
soft sand, and he saw little barrels and neat little corded packages
being rapidly buried, each in a little hole by itself, and evidently
according to some recognised plan.

The boat had probably made another trip to the smack, for barrels and
packages came pouring in and were deftly put out of sight. The light
was so dim that he could not recognise any of the busy workers, and
their occasional growls gave him no clue.

He was wondering vaguely who they might be, when a heavy hand
descended on the back of his neck and lifted him up like a kicking
rabbit.

"Dom yo' I What d' yo' want a-spyin' here for?"

His captor dragged him down into the centre of operations, and Jim
found himself inside a wall of scowling, hairy faces. "Now then, who
are yo', and what'n yo' want here?"

The long rough fingers reached well round his throat, and he was
almost black in the face, and sparks and things were beginning to
dance before his eyes. He clutched at the big hand and tried to pull
it away.

"I'm Jim Carron," he gasped.

"Yo' wunnot be Jim Carron long, then. Dig a hole there big enow to
take him," he ordered--and Jim saw himself lying in it, alongside the
little barrels and packages.

"I meant no harm. I only wanted to see," he urged sturdily.

"Yo' seen too much. I' th' sand yo'll see nowt an' yo'll talk none."

"I won't in any case. I promise you."

"We'se see to that, my lad. Yo'll be safest i' th' sand, and so 'ill
we." And Jim, glancing scare-eyed up at the wall of rough face; would
have been mightily glad to be back in the warm kitchen at Carne with
Jack and his old Greeks and Romans.

He looked very small and helpless among them. Some of them had little
lads at home, no doubt; but there was much at stake, and it would
never do to leave him free to talk. On the other hand, running goods
free of duty was one thing, and killing a boy was another, and there
arose a growling controversy among them as to what they should do with
him.

It was ended suddenly by one wresting him masterfully from his
original captor, and dragging him by the scruff of the neck towards
the boat. It was emptied of its last load and ready to return for
another. His new keeper tossed him in, tumbled in after him with three
others, and pulled out to the smack.



CHAPTER XIX
WHERE'S JIM?


Jack, having lived through an unusually exciting time in the
neighbourhood of Carthage, came back to himself in the kitchen at
Carne and the first thought of Jim he had had for over an hour.

"Hello! Where's old Jim?" he asked.

"I d'n know. Yo'd better seek him or he'll be into some mischief. I
nivver did see sich lads." And Jack strolled out to look for Jim.

He was in none of his usual places, and Jack stood gazing vaguely
along the shore, wondering where he could have got to. He might have
gone to Mr. Eager's. It was not usual with them of an afternoon, for
then Mr. Eager was busy with his parish affairs. But Gracie was always
an attraction--the warmest bit of colour in their lives--and she made
them welcome no matter when they came.

As he turned to trot away inland, with a last look along the shore, a
fishing-smack beat out from behind the distant bend and went thrashing
out to sea with the waves flying white over her bows.

"Glad I'm not there, anyway," said Jack, and galloped away among the
hummocks towards Wyvveloe.

"Oh, Jack, I _am_ so glad to see you. I've got so tired of myself.
Mrs. Jex has been showing me how to make crumpets, and you shall have
one as soon as Charles comes in. If they're not very good you mustn't
say so, because they're the first I've made, you see. What? Jim? No,
he's not been here. What a troublesome boy he is!--always getting
himself drowned or lost. Dear, dear, dear! What with you two, and
Charles, and the vicar falling ill again--my hair will go quite white,
I expect! And there's that Margaret never been near me all day, and if
it hadn't been for Mrs. Jex and the crumpets I don't know what I would
have done. . . . Thank you, Mrs. Jex, I'll come at once; but we must
keep them hot for Charles, they do lie so heavy on your stomach when
they're cold. He can't be long, Jack. You sit down there and look at
that book." And the Little Lady went off to butter her crumpets, while
Jack, at the end of his tether as regards Jim and his possible
whereabouts, lay down contentedly on the hearthrug and lost himself in
the book.

When Eager came in at last, tired with a long round among outlying
parishioners, he was surprised to find the boy there and still more
surprised to learn why he had come.

"Jim's a jimsa! He's always getting himself lost," was Gracie's
contribution to the discussion, but it did not help much.

"Where can he have got to, Jack?" asked Eager, with a touch of
anxiety. "When did you see him last?"

"I was reading in the kitchen, and when I looked up he'd gone. I
looked in all the places I could think of, and then I came here." And
that did not help much, either.

"Well, I must have a bite. I'm famished. And then we'll have another
look. Maybe he's at home by this time. He wouldn't be likely to go to
Knoyle, would he?"

Jack shook his head very decidedly.

"He wouldn't go alone."

"Seth Rimmer's?"

"I d'n know. He might."

"We'll call at Carne and then go along to Rimmer's. Oh-ho! hot
buttered crumpets and coffee! And the crumpets made by a master-hand,
unless I'm very much mistaken!" For Gracie had dumped them down before
him herself with an air of triumphant achievement, and now stood
waiting his first bite with visible anxiety.

"Excellent!" said the Rev. Charles, smacking his lips. "If there's one
thing Mrs. Jex does better than another, where all is well done, it's
hot buttered crumpets."

"They're not at all a bit heavy?"

"Heavy? Light as snowflakes--hot buttered snowflakes! That's what they
are. How do you find them, Jack?"

"Fine!"

"I _am_ glad. I was afraid they'd turn out a bit----"

"You don't mean to tell me you made them!"

"Yes, I did. All myself--with Mrs. Jex just looking on, you know!"

"Well! Two more, please, just like the last! Best crumpets I ever
tasted in my life!"

And so they were--because Gracie made them; and the Rev. Charles would
have pledged himself to that though they had choked him and given him
indigestion for life. He had a pretty bad night of it--but that might
have been the coffee,--but most likely it was Jim.

For presently they all set off in the riotous wind, Gracie skipping
joyfully in the pride of accomplishment, and went first to Carne,
hopeful of finding Jim there. But Mrs. Lee greeted their inquiry with
a tart:

"'Oo's none here. Havena set eyes on him sin'----  Didn' yo' go out
tegither?"--to Jack.

"No, I d'n know when he went."

"Where can th' lad ha' gotten to now? 'Oo's aye gett'n' i' mischief o'
some kind."

"We'll go along to Seth Rimmer's, Mrs. Lee. He may have gone down
there," said Eager.

"'Oo mowt," she admitted unhopefully. And they set off in the windy
darkness, with the roar of the sea and the long white gleam of the
surf on one side, and on the other the fantastic hummocks of the
sand-hills, which looked strangely desolate by night and capable of
holding any mystery or worse.

Eager had wanted the children to wait at Carne till he returned, but
they would not hear of it. Gracie was enjoying the spice of adventure.
Jack wanted to find Jim. Eager himself was beginning to feel anxious,
though he would not let the others see it.

"If he is not here--where?" he asked himself, as they ploughed through
the sand and the crackling seaweed. And he had to confess that he did
not know where to look next. The grim desolation of the sand-hills
made him shiver to think of. Suppose the boy had damaged himself in
some way and was lying there waiting for help. A thousand boys might
lie there unfound till help was useless.

A glimmer in the distant darkness, and presently they were at Rimmer's
cottage.

Kattie opened to them--both the door and her big blue eyes--and stood
staring.

"Hello, Kattie! Is Jim here?" asked Eager cheerfully.

"Jim? No, Mr. Eager."

"Who's it, 'Kattie?" asked her mother anxiously, from her bed; for
over the lonely cottage hung the perpetual fear of ill-tidings.

"It's only us, Mrs. Rimmer." And they stepped inside.

"Ech! Mr. Eager, and the little lady, and----"

"We're looking for Jim, and were hoping he might have come along
here."

"Jim?" said Mrs. Rimmer, looking steadfastly at Jack. "I nivver con
tell one from t'other; but none o' them's been here to-day."

"No? I wonder where the boy can have got to. Is Seth about? Maybe he
could help us."

"Seth's away," said Mrs. Rimmer briefly; and Eager did not ask her
where. For "Seth's away" was an understood formula, and meant that
young Seth was off on one of his expeditions, and the less said about
it the better.

"I don't quite know where to look next," said Eager anxiously. "Can
you suggest anything, Kattie?"

But Kattie shook her mane of hair and stared back at them nonplussed,
and presently said:

"Jim knows his way; he couldn' get lost."

"I'm just afraid he may have got hurt somewhere--twisted his ankle, or
something of that kind, and be lying out in the sand-hills; and it's
as black as pitch outside, and going to be a bad night."

"Puir lad, I hope not," said Mrs. Rimmer, with added concern in her
face. "'Twill be a bad night for them that's on th' sea." Her face, in
its setting of puckered white nightcap, looked very frail and anxious.
"But they're aw in His hands, passon."

"And they couldn't be in better, Mrs. Rimmer," he said, more
cheerfully than he felt.

"Ay, I know; but I wish my man were home. Whene'er th' wind howls like
that, I aye think of them that's gone and them that has yet to go."

"Not one of them goes without His knowing. Your thoughts are prayers,
and the prayers of a good woman avail much." And he pressed the thin
white hand, and Gracie kissed her and Kattie, and they went out into
the night.

The wind hummed across the flats till their heads hummed in unison.
More than once the drive of it carried them off their course, and
brought them up against the ghostly hummocks, where the long, thin
wire-grass swirled and swished with the sound of scythes. The grim
desolation beyond struck a chill to Eager's heart, as he imagined Jim
lying out there, calling in vain for help against the strident howl of
the gale.

There was just the possibility that he had got home during their
absence, however; so, in anxious silence, they made for Carne.

"No, I hanna seen nowt of him," said Mrs. Lee, and stood glowering at
them with set, pinched face.

"I had better see Sir Denzil. Shall I go up? You wait here with Jack,
Gracie." And he went off along the stone-flagged passage, and climbed
the big staircase, and knocked on the door leading to Sir Denzil's
rooms.

Mr. Kennet opened to him at last, with so much surprise that he was,
for the moment, unable to recognise the unexpected visitor, and stood
staring blankly at him.

"I want to see Sir Denzil, Kennet--Mr. Eager. One of the boys is
missing----"

"Eh?--Ah!--Missing?--Tell him. Will you wait a moment, sir?" And Eager
concluded from his manner that Mr. Kennet had been enjoying himself,
and hoped that it might not be, in this case, like man like master.

Sir Denzil, however, received him with most formal politeness.

"You bring me good news, Mr. Eager?" he asked, snuffing very
elegantly. "Who is it is a-missing?"

"We can't find Jim, Sir Denzil."

"Ah--Jim! Let me see--Jim! Now, which is Jim?"

"Jim is the hero of the sand-boat----"

"Ah--and is the boat gone again?"

"No, sir. They both pledged themselves not to go out in her alone
again."

"Ah--pity! Great pity! I rather counted upon that monstrosity to solve
our difficulty. However, Jim is missing!" And he tapped his snuff-box
thoughtfully. "And what do you infer from that, Mr. Eager?"

"I'm afraid he may have gone off into the sand-hills and possibly got
hurt. We've been down to Seth Rimmer's----"

"Ah--Rimmer! That was, if I remember rightly, the young dolt who
bungled the matter so sadly last time. Well?"

"He has not been there. Jack was reading in the kitchen----"

"Jack? Ah--yes. That's the other one."

"And Jim was with him. Jim wandered out, and we cannot find any trace
of him."

"Hm! . . . Ah! . . ." And the grim old head nodded thoughtfully over
another pinch of snuff. "Well, I don't really see what we can do
to-night, Mr. Eager. If, as you suggest, he is lying hurt somewhere in
the sand-hills, it would take an army to find him, even in the
daytime. We must wait and see. If we don't find him"--hopefully--"if
he is gone for good, I shall feel myself under deepest obligation to
him or to whoever is concerned in the matter. It leaves us only one
boy to deal with--the wrong one, of course--but still, only one."

"Why the wrong one, sir?"

"If the other has been purposely removed, as is possible, it is, of
course, in order to foist upon us the one who has no right to the
position. There could be no other reason. You follow me?"

"I follow your reasoning, of course; but at present we have not the
slightest reason to suppose he has been purposely removed. He may be
lying in the sand-hills unable to get home."

"In which case he will have a very bad night," said Sir Denzil, as a
fury of wind and rain broke against the windowpanes--"a very bad
night."

"Is there nothing we can do?"

"There's only one thing I can think of."

"Yes?"

"Keep an eye on that old witch's face downstairs. You may learn
something from it if you catch her unawares."

Eager slept little that night for thinking of the missing boy. His
anxious mind travelled many roads, but never touched the right one.

Soon after daybreak he was on his way to Knoyle, but returned
disappointed, and went on to Carne with a faint hope in him still that
Jim might have returned during the night.

"Any news of him, Mrs. Lee?" he asked anxiously, through the kitchen
door.

"Noa," said the old lady stolidly. "We none seen nowt on him." And her
face was as unmoved as a gargoyle, and the gleam of her little dark
eyes struck on his like the first touch of an opponent's foil.

"What on earth can have taken the boy? I've been up to Knoyle, but
they know nothing of him there."

"Ay!"

"I'll turn out all the men I can get, and we'll rake over the
sand-hills."

"Ay!"

As he turned to go, Jack came trotting in.

"I d'n know what's come of him," he said; "I've been everywhere I can
think of."

"I'm going to get all the help I can, and we'll search through the
sand-hills, Jack."

"I'll come too," said Jack. And they went away together.



CHAPTER XX
A NARROW SQUEAK


Once aboard the smack, Jim was shoved into a small black dog-hole of a
cabin forward and the door slid to and bolted. And there, all alone in
the dark, he presently passed a very evil time.

In due course he heard the rest of the crew come aboard. Then the
anchor was pulled up, and then his head began to swim in sympathy with
the heaving boat.

Like most boys he had at times had visions of a seafaring life,
swinging impartially between that and a military as the only two lives
worth living. But the night he spent on that smack cured him for ever
of the sea.

It was a black night, with a stiff west wind working round into a
south-west gale. They had hoped to get under the lee of the Island
before the full of it caught them, but it meant strenuous beating
close-hauled, and progress was slow. Before they were half-way across,
about midnight, the gale was on them, and they turned tail and ran for
their lives, with the great seas roaring past them and like to come in
over the stern every moment.

Jim knew nothing of it all. He was sick to death, and bruised almost
to a jelly with bumping to and fro in that dirty black hole. While
they beat up against the wind, the crashing of the seas against the
bows, with less than an inch of wood between him and them, deafened
and terrified him. It seemed impossible that any mere timber could
long withstand so terrific a pounding. Each moment he feared to see
the strakes rive open and let the ocean in.

But very soon he was past caring what happened. He had never been so
utterly miserable in all his life.

When they turned and ran, the crash of the waves against the outside
of his dog-hole lessened somewhat, but the up-and-down motion
increased so that the roof and the floor alternately seemed bent on
banging him to pieces. And at times they plunged down, down, down,
with the water bubbling and hissing all about them till he believed
they were going down for good, and felt no regret about it.

How long he spent in that awful hole he did not know. Ages of
uttermost misery it seemed to him. But, of a sudden, there came an
end.

The boat, racing over the great rollers with a scrap of foresail to
give her steerage way, brought up abruptly on a bank. The mast snapped
like a carrot, the roaring white waves leaped over her, dragged her
back, flung her up again, worried her as vicious dogs a wounded rat.

The men in her clung for their lives against the thrashing of the
mighty waves, and then, not knowing at all where the storm had carried
them, but sure of land of some kind from the bumping of the boat, they
scrambled one by one over the bows and fought their way through the
tear of the surf to the shore.

All but one. He hung tight to the stump of the mast till the others
had gone, each for himself and intent only on saving each his own
life.

Then the last man, swinging by one arm from the stump of the mast,
caught at the bolt of the dog-hole and worked it back, and reached in
a groping arm and dragged out Jim, limp and senseless from his final
bruising when the boat struck.

"My sakes! Be yo' dead, Mester Jim?" he asked hoarsely, holding the
lad firmly with one arm and the mast with the other.

But the sharp flavour of the gale acted like a tonic. The limp body
stretched and wriggled and gripped the arm that held it.

"Aw reet?" shouted the hoarse voice in his ear, and when Jim tried to
reply the gale drove the words back into his throat.

The boat was still tumbling heavily in the surf. All about them was
howling darkness, faintly lightened by the rushing sheets of foam. Jim
felt himself dragged to the side, and then they were wrestling, waist
deep, with the terrible backward rush of the surf. His feet were swept
from under him, but an iron hand gripped his arm and anchored him till
he felt the sand again. Then a thundering wave swirled them on, and
they were able to crawl up a steep, hard bank of sand on their hands
and knees.

They lay there panting, while the gale howled and the white waves
gnashed at them like wild beasts ravening for their prey. And Jim felt
cleaner and better than he had done since he boarded the smack.

He turned to his rescuer and laid hold of his arm.

"Who is it?" he shouted.

"Me--Seth," came the hoarse reply into his ear, and he had never in
his life felt so glad of a friendly voice, though he would not have
known it was young Seth's voice if he had not said so.

For their position was terrifying enough. It was still too dark to see
where they were, except that they were on a bank, with the roar and
shriek of the gale all about them.

Young Seth stood up to see, if he could, what had become of the
others. But he was down flat again in a moment.

"I connot see nowt," he shouted.

"Are we safe here, Seth?"--as a vicious white arm came reaching up the
slope at them.

"Tide's goin' down."

So they lay and waited, and it was good for Jim that night that his
life on the flats had hardened him somewhat to the weather.

He was soaked to the bones, and the spindrift stung like a whip. But
he was so utterly spent with his previous sickness that his heavy eyes
closed, and he dozed into horrible nightmares and woke each time with
a start and a sob.

And then he found himself warmer, and thought the gale had slackened;
but it was young Seth's burly body lying between him and the wind, and
he was drawn up close into young Seth's arms, and there he went fast
asleep.

He woke at last into a sober gray light and a great stillness. The
wind had dropped and the sea had fallen back behind its distant
barriers. When he stretched and sat up he could see nothing but
sand--endless stretches of brown sea-sand, with the dull gleam of
water here and there.

He got on to his feet and felt his bones creak as if they wanted
oiling, and young Seth stood up too and kicked his legs and arms about
to take the kinks out.

"Where are we, Seth?" asked Jim, with a gasp.

"I dunnot know. We ran like the divvle last neet. Mebbe when th' sun
comes out we'll see."

"Land's over yonder, anyway," he said presently. "But it's a divvle of
a way and mos'ly stick-sands, I reck'n."

The clouded eastern sky thinned and lightened somewhat, the sands
began to glimmer, and the streaks of water gleamed like bands of
steel.

"We mun go," said Seth. "Sun's sick yet wi' last neet's storm. Yo'
keep close to me." And they set off on the perilous journey.

For a moment, as they crossed the ridge of their own sand-bank, which
stood higher than its neighbours, they caught distant glimpse of
yellow sand-hills very far away. Then they were threading cautiously
across a wide lower level, seamed with pools and runlets, and could
see nothing but the brown sea-sand. And Seth's eyes were everywhere on
the look-out for "stick-sands," of which he went in mortal terror.

Where the banks humped up with long rounded limbs as though giants
were buried below, he would run at speed; but in the hollows between
their progress was slow, because "You nivver knows," said Seth, and
tried each foot before he trusted it.

In one wide hollow they came on a mast sticking straight up out of the
sand--like a gravestone, Jim thought--and gave it wide berth. And
twice they came on swiftly flowing channels which rose to Jim's waist,
and it was in the neighbourhood of these that Seth exercised the
greatest caution.

"They works under t' sand, here and there, you nivver knows where, an'
it's that makes the stick-sands," he said, and breathed freely only
when they got on to solid brown ridges again.

So, step by step, they drew nearer to the yellow sand-hills, which
looked so like those he was accustomed to that Jim's spirits rose.

"Is that home, Seth?" he asked.

"Ech, lad, no. We're many a mile from home, but we'll git there
sometime."

It was when that toilsome journey was over, and the sun had come out,
and they were lying spent in a hollow of the yellow sand-hills, that
Seth turned to Jim and said weightily:

"Yo' mun promise me, Mester Jim, to forget aw that happened last neet.
I dun my best for yo'; an' yo' mun promise that."

"I'm afraid I can't ever forget it, Seth," said Jim solemnly, "and
some of it I don't ever want to forget. But I'll promise you I'll
never tell about the little barrels and things, or about you, never,
as long as I live."

"Well," said Seth, after ruminating on this. "That'll do if yo'll
stick to it."

"I'll bite my tongue out before I'll say a word."

"Aw reet. Yo' see, I wur on the boat when they brought yo' aboard, but
I couldn' ha' done owt with aw that lot about. 'Twere foolish to fall
into their honds."

About midday they came on a fisherman's hut, back among the
sand-hills, and got some bread and fish, freely given when Seth
explained matters--so far as he deemed necessary; and they lay on a
pile of strong-smelling nets and slept longer than Seth had intended.
Then, with vague directions towards a distant high-road, they set out
again.

"'Twere Morecambe Bay we ran aground in," said Seth, "an' they wouldn'
hardly believe as we'd come across th' flats. Reg'lar suckers, they
say, an' swallowed a moight o' men in their time."

"And when shall we get home, Seth?"

"It's a long road, but we'll git there's soon as we can," said Seth,
with the weight of the journey upon him.



CHAPTER XXI
A WARM WELCOME


For two days Eager raked over the sand-hills, from morning till night,
with all the men he could press into the service, and all the ardour
he could rouse in them.

In long, undulating lines, rising and falling over the hummocks like
the long sea-rollers, they scoured the wastes till they were satisfied
that no Jim was there.

Each night Sir Denzil met him, when he came upstairs to report, with a
repressed eagerness which gave way to cynical satisfaction the moment
he saw his face.

"So!" he would say, with a gratified nod, as he helped himself to
snuff with studied elegance. "No result, Mr. Eager. I really begin to
think we must give him up. You are simply wasting your time and that
of all your--er--friends."

"Supposing, after all, the poor lad should be lying, unable to move,
in some hollow----"

"Let us hope that his sufferings would be over long before this!"

"It is too horrible to think of. I cannot sleep at night for the
thought of it."

"Ah, I am sorry. You should cultivate a spirit of equanimity--as I do.
If he is found--well! If he is not found, I am bound to say--better!
The problem that has puzzled us these ten years is then solved--in a
way, of course, though, as I think I have explained myself to you
before, not in the right way. Still we have got only one boy to deal
with, and we must make the best of him. I have been considering the
idea of a public school. You would endorse that, I presume?"

"Undoubtedly--for both of them, if we can only find Jim."

"We are considering the one we have. Now, which school would you
advise--Rugby, Harrow, Eton? There's a new place just opened at
Marlborough. I see----"

"Harrow," said Eager decisively. "They are both meant for the army, of
course?"

"You will speak in the plural still," said Sir Denzil, with a smile.

"I cannot bring myself to think of Jim as dead and gone."

"Well, well! Let us hope you have more foundation for your higher
beliefs, Mr. Eager. Meanwhile, and to lose no time, I will write to my
lawyer in London to have this boy entered at Harrow. What delay will
it entail?"

"None, I should say. The numbers are low there just now, but Vaughan
will soon pull things round, and meanwhile they will stand the better
chance."

"They--they--they!" said Sir Denzil, eyeing him quizzically. "You
really still hope, then?"

"I shall hope until it is impossible to hope any longer. Have you
considered the idea of his having been kidnapped, Sir Denzil?"

"It has occurred to me, of course. But why should any one kidnap him?"

"If it should be so--to leave the other in full possession, of course.
But we have no grounds to go upon. I have made inquiries as to all the
gipsies who have been within ten miles of us lately. They are all here
yet, and know nothing of the boy."

"H'm!" said Sir Denzil thoughtfully. "If it should be that--as you
say, it would prove beyond doubt that the boy we have is the wrong
one. Gad!" he said presently, "I'm beginning to have a hankering after
the other. However----"

Sir George Herapath had seconded all Eager's efforts to discover the
missing boy. He and Margaret had ridden with the other searchers each
day, and in addition had sought out every gipsy camp in the
neighbourhood and made rigorous inquisition as to its doings and
membership. Sir George was favourably known to the nomads as a strict
but clement justice of the peace so long as they kept within the law,
and they satisfied him that they had had no hand in this matter.

He and Margaret were to and fro constantly between Knoyle and
Wyvveloe, eager for news, or downcastly bringing none, and when Eager
himself was not there it was a very crushed and sober little lady who
received them with a sadness greater even than their own.

"It is quite beyond me, Sir George," you would have heard her say,
with a gloomy shake of the head. "What can have become of him I can't
think. And we do miss him so dreadfully. I always liked old Jim, but I
never liked him so much as I do now. It's just breaking Charles's
heart."

"It's beyond me too, Gracie," said Sir George, with a worried pinch of
the brows. "Where _can_ the boy be? I'm really beginning to be afraid
we've seen the last of him."

"Charles says we must go on hoping for the best," said the Little Lady
forlornly. "But it is not easy when you've nothing to go on."

And to them, talking so, on the afternoon of the fourth day of the
search, came in Eager, very weary both of mind and body, and anything
but an embodiment of the hope he enjoined on others.

"Nothing," he said dejectedly. "And I do not know what to do next. I'm
beginning----"

And then the Little Lady's eyes, which had wandered past him from
sheer dread of looking on his hopelessness, opened wider than ever
they had done before.

"Charles! Charles!" she shrieked, pointing past him down the path.
"Jim!" And she began to dance and scream in a very allowable fit of
hysterics.

Eager thought it was that--that her overwrought feelings had broken
down, and it was to her that he sprang.

But the others had turned at her words, and had run out of the
cottage, and now they came in dragging--as though having got him they
would never let him go again--a very lean and dirty and draggled, but
decidedly happy, Jim.

Gracie broke from her brother and rushed at him with a whole-hearted
"Oh, Jim! Jim!" and flung her arms round his neck and kissed him many
times. And Jim, grinning joyously through his dirt, seemed to find it
good, but presently wiped off the kisses with the back of his grimy
hand.

"Dear lad, where have you been?" cried Eager, all his weariness gone
in the joy of recovery. "We have been near breaking all our hearts
over you. Thank God, you are back again! . . . Now, tell us!"

And Jim summed up his adventures in very few words.

"I was on the shore. Some men carried me off in a ship. We were
wrecked at a place called Morecambe, and I've come home as quick as I
could."

"Who were the men? Did you know them?" asked Sir George sternly.

"I can't tell you, sir." And then, looking at Eager, as though he
would understand. "It was a promise, a very solemn promise"--and Eager
nodded. "You see I was locked up in a little cabin when the ship was
wrecked, and I should have been drowned in there----"

"And they let you out on your promising not to tell on them," said
Eager.

Jim nodded.

"A promise extorted under such conditions is not binding," said Sir
George brusquely. "I want those men. Come, my boy, you must tell us
all you know." And Eager watched him anxiously.

"I cannot tell, sir. I promised."

And nothing would move him from this. Sir George, with much warmth,
explained to him that no one was safe if such things were permitted to
pass unpunished, said that it was his bounden duty to tell all he
knew. But to all he simply shook his head and said, "I promised, sir."

And Eager, much as he would have liked to lay hands on the rascals,
could not but rejoice in the boy's staunchness. And Sir George gave it
up at last, and rode away with Margaret, baffled and outwardly very
angry. But as they rode up the avenue at Knoyle, he said:

"Eager has done well with those boys. They'll turn out men."

Jim was very hungry. They fed him, and then Eager went off with him to
break the news to Sir Denzil, and the villagers flocked out and
cheered them as they went.

"Well, yo're back!" was Mrs. Lee's greeting when they came into the
kitchen at Carne. And Jim, in the joy of his return, ran up and kissed
her, but her face was like that of a graven image.

Jack jumped up with a glad shout, and "Hello, Jim! Where you been?"
and circled round and round the wanderer with endless questions.

Sir Denzil's reception of him was characteristic.

"Well, I'm ----! So you've turned up again." And he eyed his grandson,
over a pinch of snuff, as though he were some new and offensive
reptile. "What is the meaning of this, sir?" And his hankering after
the boy whom, in his innermost mind, he had come to think of as his
legitimate heir, and his thwarted satisfaction at what he had hoped
was in any case the cutting of his Gordian knot, and a certain anxiety
in the matter, which he had very successfully concealed from every one
else--all these in combination resulted in an explosion.

He listened blackly to such explanation as Jim vouchsafed,
peremptorily demanded more, and the boy refused.

"You will tell me all you know," said the old man sternly--hoping
through fuller knowledge to arrive, perchance, at some clue to the
great problem behind.

"I promised, sir!" said Jim.

"Hang your promise, sir! I absolve you from any such promise. You will
tell me all you know."

But Jim set his lips stolidly and would not say another word.

"You won't? Then, by----, I'll teach you to do what you're told." And
laying hold of the boy by the neck of his blue guernsey, he caught up
his ebony stick and rained savage blows on the quivering little back
before Eager could attempt rescue.

"Stop, sir! Stop!" cried Eager, in great distress at this outbreak,
and caught at the flailing arm.

"---- you, sir! Keep off, or I'll thrash you too!" shouted the furious
old man, and turned and threatened the interrupter with the heavy
silver knob.

"You are forgetting yourself, Sir Denzil," said Eager hotly. "The boy
has given his solemn promise in return for his life. Would you have
him break it?" And he caught the descending stick with a hand that
ached for days afterwards, twisted it deftly out of the trembling old
hand, and held it in safe keeping.

"Kennet!" shouted Sir Denzil, "throw this ---- parson out!" And Kennet
came from an adjoining room and looked doubtfully at Eager.

"Kennet will think several times before he tries it," said Eager
quietly, swinging the stick in his hand.

And then Eager, eyeing the old man keenly, saw that the fit had passed
and reason had resumed her sway.

"Your stick, sir!" and he handed it to him with a bow.

"Your servant, sir!" and the stick was flung into a corner, and a
shaking hand dived down into a deep-flapped pocket after its necessary
snuff-box. "Kennet, leave us! You've been drinking. And you,
boy--damme, but you're a good plucked one! Of the right stock, surely.
Go down and get something to eat--and here's a guinea for you." And
Jim, who had never seen a guinea in his life, gripped it tight in his
dirty paw as a remarkable curiosity, and went out agape, with
squirming shoulders.

The old white hand shook so much that the snuff went all awry, and
brown-powdered the waxen face in quite a humorous fashion.

"Mr. Eager, I apologise--and that is not my habit. But you must
acknowledge that the provocation was great."

"Not if you had considered the matter. Would you have a Carron break
his pledged word?"

"Ay!" said the old man, following his own train of thought, "a true
Carron! Surely that is our man! . . . Well, what do you advise next?"

"Send them both to Harrow, and trust the rest to Providence."

And after a brooding silence, punctuated with more than one thoughtful
pinch, "We will try Harrow, anyway," said the oracle, and Eager shook
hands with him and went downstairs well satisfied.



CHAPTER XXII
WHERE'S JACK?


With all diffidence I mention a fact. Whether it had any bearing on a
later happening I do not know. Mr. Kennet, as we know, indulged
occasionally in strong waters. The result, as a rule, was only an
increased surliness of demeanour of which no one took much notice.

On one such occasion, however, shortly after Jim's return, Kennet,
trespassing on Mrs. Lee's domain on some message of his master's, got
to words with the old lady, and, rankling perhaps under some sharper
reproof than usual from above, snarled at her like a toothless old
dog:

"Old witch! foisting your ill-gotten brat on us by kidnapping
t'other!" At which Mrs. Lee snatched at her broom, and Mr. Kennet beat
a retreat more hasty than dignified.

Mr. Eager did his utmost during these last months of the year to
prepare the boys for their approaching translation.

"It's my old school, boys. See you do me credit there," he would urge
on them. "In the games you'll do all right. Just pick up their ways,
and never lose your tempers. You'll find the lessons tough at first,
but I shall trust to you to do your best. You'll miss the flats and
the sand-hills, of course, but you'll soon find compensations in the
playing-fields."

They came to look forward with something like eagerness to the new
prospect. It would be a tremendous change in their lives, and the call
of the unknown works in the blood of the young like the spring.

But they could only stand a certain amount of book-grinding; and the
flats and sand-hills, once the autumn gales were past, were full of
enticement, and they ranged them, in the company of Eager and Gracie,
with all the relish of approaching separation.

When George Herapath and Ralph Harben came home for the holidays,
hare-and-hounds became the order of the day, and many a tough chase
they had, and went far afield.

And so it came to pass that one fatal day, Jack, being the hare, led
them away through the sedgy lands round Wyn Mere, and played the game
so well that he disappeared completely.

The course of events that followed was so similar to those in Jim's
case that repetition would be wearisome.

Sir Denzil and Sir George Herapath were equally furious and disturbed,
but showed it in different ways. Eager, as before, was sadly upset and
strained himself to breaking-point in his efforts to discover the
missing one.

Once more the sand-hills were scoured, and this time, since the boy
had gone in that direction, the Mere was dragged as far as it was
possible to do so, but its vast extent precluded any certainty as to
results.

And the days passed, and Jack was gone as completely as if he had been
carried up into heaven.

"Well, Mr. Eager, what do you make of it this time!" asked Sir Denzil,
one night when Eager called at Carne with the usual report.

"I don't know what to make of it," said Eager dejectedly. "I have
thought about it till my head spins."

"Your ideas would interest me."

"When Jim was kidnapped you felt sure that that pointed to him as what
you call the 'right one.' Is it possible that has become known to
those interested, and this has been done to point you back to Jack?"

"You mean that old witch downstairs. . . . She is capable of anything,
of course, and you don't need to look at her twice to see the gipsy
blood in her. . . . On the other hand, she may have been cunning
enough to anticipate the view you have just expressed. She may have
had this boy Jack carried off for the sole purpose of prejudicing the
other in our eyes. Do you follow me?"

"You mean as I put it just now--that one would expect them to kidnap
our man to leave theirs in possession."

"Go a step farther, Mr. Eager. Suppose they have in some way learned
that, in consequence of Jim's carrying-off, I am inclined to think him
the rightful heir. They may, as you say, have carried off the other
simply to point me away from Jim and so confuse the issue. But it is
just possible they are not so simple as all that, and have reasoned
thus--'When Jim disappeared Sir Denzil considered that as proof that
he was the rightful heir. If we now carry off Jack, that is just what
Sir Denzil would expect us to do, and he will probably stick the
tighter to Jim in consequence.' If that is their reasoning, then Jack
is our man and not Jim. You follow me?"

"It's a terrible tangle," said Eager wearily, with his head in his
hands. "It seems to me you can argue any way from anything that
happens, and only make matters worse."

"Exactly!" said Sir Denzil, over a pinch of snuff.

"And so we come back to my point. You must treat both exactly alike
and leave the issue to Providence."

"It looks like it," said Sir Denzil, and forbore to argue the matter
theologically. "If the other comes back we shall have two strings to
our bow, which is one too many for practical purposes. If he doesn't,
we'll stick to the one we have, right man or wrong, and be hanged to
them!"

Seth Rimmer, and young Seth, who had only lately returned home after
an unusually long absence, were tireless in their search for the
missing boy in their own neighbourhood, in or about the Mere.

After a day's hard work dragging the great hooks to and fro across the
bottom of the Mere, old Seth would shake his head gravely as he looked
back over the silent black water.

"Naught less than draining it dry will ever tell us all it holds," he
would say. "From the look of it there's a moight of wickedness hid
down there."

Katie too was indefatigable, and she and Jim and George Herapath and
Harben hunted high and low round the Mere, but found no smallest trace
of Jack.

They had all been planning an unusually festive Christmas, but it
passed in anxiety and gloom, and the time came round for Jim to go
away to school. But going along with Jack was one thing, and going all
alone a very different thing indeed, and he jibbed at it strongly.

Sir Denzil, however, having made up his mind, was not the man to stand
any nonsense. He prevailed on Eager, as being more conversant with
such matters, to see to the boy's outfit, and finally to take him up
to Harrow himself.

And so, in due course, Jim, still very downcast at his parting with
Gracie and Mrs. Lee and Carne and the flats and sand-hills, found
himself sitting with wide, startled eyes and firmly shut mouth,
opposite Mr. Eager, in one of the new railway carriages, whirling
across incredible ranges of country at a Providence-tempting speed
which seemed to him like to end in catastrophe at any moment.

They went from Liverpool to Birmingham, both of which towns paralysed
the little ranger of flats and sand-hills; from Birmingham to London,
the enormity of which crushed him completely: spent two days showing
him the greater sights, which his overburdened brain could in no wise
appreciate; and finally landed him, fairly stodged with wonders, in
his master's house at Harrow, which seemed to him, after his recent
experiences, a haven of peace and restfulness.

Eager was an old school and college chum of the housemaster, and spent
a day of reminiscent enjoyment with him. He imparted to his friend
enough of the boy's curious history to secure his lasting interest in
him, and next day said good-bye to Jim and carried the memory of his
melancholy dazed black eyes all the way back to Wyvveloe with him.

And Gracie's first words as she rushed at him and flung her arms round
his neck were, "Jack's back!" And the Rev. Charles sat down with a
gasp.

"Really and truly, Gracie?"

"Really and truly! Yesterday--all rags and bruises and as dirty as a
pig."

"And wherever has he been all this time?"

"Dear knows! He doesn't, except that it was with some
men--gipsies--who carried him away and beat him most of the time. He's
all black and blue, except his face, and that was dirty brown, and one
of his eyes was blackened; one of the men nearly knocked it out."

"Well, well, well! It's an uncommonly strange world, child!

"Yes. How's old Jim?"

"He was all right when I left him, but anything may happen to those
boys, apparently, without the slightest warning. Now, if you'll give
me something to eat I'll go along and hear what Jack has got to say
for himself."

Jack, however, had very little information to give that could be
turned to any account. It was at the far side of the Mere that he had
come upon a couple of men crouching under a sand-hill, as though they
were on the look out for somebody. They had collared him, tied a stick
in his mouth, and carried him away--where, he had no idea--a very long
way, till they came up with a party on the road. There he was placed
in one of the travelling caravans, fed from time to time, and not
allowed out for many days. He had tried to escape more than once and
been soundly thrashed for it. His back--well, there it was, and it
made Eager almost ill to think of what those terrible weals must have
meant to the boy. Then, after a long lime, another chance came, when
all the men were lying drunk one night and some of the women too. He
had crept out, and ran and ran straight on till his legs wouldn't
carry him another step. A farmer's wife had taken pity on him at sight
of his back and helped him on his road. And through her, others. He
knew where he wanted to get to, and so, bit by bit, mostly on his own
feet, but with an occasional lift in a friendly cart, he had reached
home.

"And what do you say to all that, Mr. Eager?" asked Sir Denzil.

"I say, first, that I am most devoutly thankful that he has come back
to us. What may be behind it all is altogether beyond me. If he is
their boy would they treat him so cruelly?"

"To gain their ends they would stick at nothing. I see no daylight in
the matter."

"You had no chance of seeing how the old woman received him, I
suppose, sir?"

"All we know is that when Kennet went downstairs he found the boy
sitting in the kitchen, eating as though he had not seen food for a
week. Not a word beyond that and what he tells us. The problem is
precisely where it was when those damned women came in that first
morning each with a child on her arm."



BOOK III



CHAPTER XXIII
BREAKING IN


Smaller matters must give way to greater. You have seen how that great
problem of Carne came about, and how it perpetuated itself in the
persons of Jack and Jim Carron, without any apparent likelihood of
satisfactory solution, unless by the final intervention of the Great
Solver of all doubts and difficulties.

To arrive at the end of our story within anything like reasonable
limits, we must again take flying leaps across the years, and touch
with no more than the tip of a toe such outstanding points as call for
special notice.

Harrow was the most tremendous change their lives had so far
experienced. Mr. Eager had indeed prepared them for it to the best of
his power. But the change, when they plunged into it--first Jim and
then Jack--went far beyond their widest imaginings.

With their fellows they shook down, in time, into satisfactory
fellowship. But the rules of the school, written and unwritten, from
above and from below, were for a long time terribly irksome and almost
past bearing. They were something like tiger-cubs transferred suddenly
from their native freedom to the strict rounds of the circus-ring.
They were expected to understand and conform to matters which were so
taken for granted that explanations were deemed superfluous. And they
suffered many things that first term in stubborn silence, mask and
cloak for the shy pride which would sooner bite its tongue through
than ask the question which would make its ignorance manifest.

The milling-ground between the school and the racquet-courts knew them
well, and drank of their blood, and proved the rough nursery of many a
lasting friendship.

Jim used laughingly to say at home that he had seen the colour of the
blood of every fellow he cared a twopenny snap for, on that trampled
plot of grass by the old courts. If the colour was good, and the
manner of its display in accordance with his ideas, good feeling
invariably followed, and he soon had heaps of friends. That was
doubtless because he had nothing whatever of the swot in him. He
delivered himself over, heart and soul, to the active enjoyments of
life, and found no lack of like temper and much to his mind.

Jack developed along somewhat wider and deeper lines. He had no great
craving for knowledge simply as knowledge. But concerning things that
interested him he was insatiable, and slogged away at them with as
great a gusto as Jim did at his games.

Jack's ideas of a correct school curriculum, being based entirely on
his own leanings, necessarily clashed at times with those of the
higher powers, and both he and Jim passed under the birch of the
genial Vaughan with the utmost regularity and decorum.

Neither, of course, ever uttered a word under these inflictions. Jack
went tingling back to his own private preoccupation of the moment; and
Jim went raging off to the playing-fields.

"It's not what he does," he would fume to his chums, "but the way he
does it. If he'd get mad I wouldn't mind, but he's always as nice and
smooth as a hairdresser, and talks as if it was a favour he was doing
you."

"Oily old beast!" would be the return comment, and then to the game
with extra vim to make up for time lost in the swishing.

Jim's greatest fight was an epic in the school for many a year after
he had left. "Ah!" said the privileged ones--whether they had actually
been present in the body on that historic occasion or not--"but you
should have seen the slog between Carron and Chissleton! That _was_ a
fight!"

It was the usual episode of the big bully, whom most public-schoolboys
run up against sooner or later, and Chissleton was three years older
and a good head taller than Jim. But Jim had the long years of the
flats, and all the benefit of Mr. Eager's scientific fisticuffs,
behind him. They fought ten rounds, each of which left Jim on the
grass, his face a jelly daubed with blood, and his eyes so nearly
closed up that it was only when the bulky Chissleton was clear against
the sky that he could see him at all. But bulk tells both ways, and
loses its wind chasing a small boy about even a circumscribed ring,
and knocking him flat ten times only to find him dancing about next
round, as gamely as ever, though somewhat dilapidated and unpleasant
to look upon. So Jim wore the big one down by degrees, and in the
eleventh round his time came. He hurled himself on the dim bulk
between him and the sky with such headlong fury that both went down
with a crash. But Jim was up in a moment daubing more blood over his
face with the backs of his fists, and the big one lay still till long
after the pæans of the small boys had died away into an interested
silence.

"But didn't it hurt dreadfully, Jim?" asked Gracie, long afterwards,
with pitifully twisted face.

"Sho! I d'n know. It was the very best fight I ever had."

The Little Lady found the days without the boys long and slow, in
spite of her close friendship with Margaret Herapath.

Meg was everything a girl could possibly be. She was sweet, she was
lovely, she was clever, she was a darling dear, she was splendid. She
was an angel, she was a duck. She was Lady Margaret, she was dear old
Meggums. And never a day passed but she was at the cottage or Gracie
was over at Knoyle.

They rode and walked and bathed and read together. They slept together
at times, and talked half through the night because the days were not
long enough for the innumerable confidences that had to pass between
them.

And Eager rejoiced in their close communion, for he had never met any
girl whose friendship he would have so desired for Gracie. And he went
about his duties, storming and persuading, fighting and tending, with
new fires in his heart which shone out of his eyes, and his people all
acknowledged that he was "a rare good un," even when he was scarifying
them about manure-heaps and stinks, which they suffered as tolerantly
as they did his vehemence, and as though such a thing as typhus had
never been known in the land.

And what times they all had when the holidays came round!

A little shyness, of course, at first, while the various parties took
stock of the changes in one another. For Gracie was growing so
tall--"quite the young lady," as Mrs. Jex said; and such a change from
the fellows at school, as Jack and Jim acknowledged to themselves.

Girls--as girls--were somewhat looked down upon at school, you know.
But this was Gracie, and quite a different thing altogether.

When the first shyness of these meetings wore off she was apt to be
somewhat overwhelmed by their effusive worship. They were her slaves,
hers most absolutely, and their only difficulty was to find adequate
means for the expression of their devotion.

For their first home-coming, each of them, unknown to the other, had
saved from the wiles of the tuck-shop such meagre portion of
pocket-money as strength of will insisted on, and brought her a
present; Jack, a small volume of Plutarch's Lives, the reading of
which gave himself great satisfaction; and Jim, a pocket-handkerchief
with red and blue spots, which seemed to him the very height of
fashion, and almost too good for ordinary use by any one but a
princess--or Gracie.

"You _dear_ boys!" said the Little Lady, and opened Plutarch and
sparkled--although for Plutarch, simply as Plutarch, she had no
overpowering admiration; and put the red and blue spots to her little
brown nose in the most delicate and ladylike manner imaginable. "But
you really shouldn't, you know!" And they both vowed internally that
they would do it again next time and every time, and each time still
better.

And, so far, the fact that they were two, and that there was only one
Gracie, occasioned them no trouble whatever.

Each time they came home Sir Denzil and Eager looked cautiously for
any new developments pointing to the solution of the puzzle, and found
none. Developments there were in plenty, but not one from which they
could deduce any inference of weight. Was Jim more dashing and
heedless and headstrong than ever?--all these came to him from his
father. Was Jack developing a taste for study, of a kind, and along
certain very definite lines of his own choosing?--could that be cast
up at him as an un-Carronlike weakness due to the Sandys strain, or
should it not rather be credited to the strengthening admixture of red
Lee blood?

Those were the broader lines of divergence between the two, and the
most striking to the outward observer, but it must not be supposed
therefrom that Jack had foresworn his birthright of the active life.
He revelled in the freedom of the flats as fully as ever, rode and
bathed and ran, and held his own in cricket and hockey; but, at the
same time, the habit of thought had visibly grown upon him, and it
made him seem the older of the two.

Time wrought its personal changes in them all, but brought no great
variation from these earlier characteristics. Gracie grew more
beautiful in every way each time the boys came home; Jack more
deliberative; Jim remained light-hearted and joyously careless as
ever, enjoying each day to its fullest, and troubling not at all about
the morrow. His devotion to the playing-fields gave him by degrees
somewhat of an advantage over Jack in the matter of physique and
general good looks. His healthy, browned face, sparkling black eyes,
and the fine supple grace of his strong and well-knit body were at all
times good to look upon.

Charles Eager, who had a searchingly appreciative eye for the beauties
of God's handiwork in all its expressions, when he sped across the
sands behind the corded muscles playing so exquisitely beneath the
firm white flesh, or lay in the warm sand and watched the rise and
fall of the wide, deep chest on which the salt drops from the tumbled
mop of black hair rolled like diamonds, while up above the clean-cut
nostrils went in and out like those of a hunted stag, said to himself
that here was the making of en unusually fine man.

He doubted if Jim's brain would carry him as far as Jack's, but all
the same he could not but rejoice in him exceedingly.

"Here," he mused, "is heart and body. And there is heart and
brain,"--for at heart these two were very much alike still,
open-handed, generous, and, by nature and Eager's own good training,
clean and wholesome,--"which will go farthest?"

And, following his train of thought to the point of speech, one day
when he and Jim were alone, he said:

"God has blessed you with a wonderfully fine body, lad. Where is it
going to take you?"

"Into the thick of the fighting, I hope, if ever there is any more
fighting," said Jim, with a hopeful laugh.

"One fights with brains as well as with brawn"--with an intentional
touch of the spur to see what would come of it.

"Oh, Jack's got the brains--and the brawn too," he added quickly, lest
he should seem to imply any pre-eminence on his own part in that
respect. "He'll die a general. I'll maybe kick out captain--if I'm not
a sergeant-major,"--with another merry laugh. "I'd sooner fight in the
front line any day than order them from the rear."

"God save us from the horrors of another war," said Eager fervently.
"I can just remember Waterloo. Every friend we had was in mourning,
and sorrow was over the land."

"And there is another Napoleon in the saddle," said Jim.

"Ay; a menace to the world at large! An ambitious man, and somewhat
unscrupulous, I fear. To keep himself in the saddle he may set the
war-horse prancing."

"I'm for the cavalry myself," said Jim, and Eager smiled at the
characteristic irrelevancy. "I shall try for Sandhurst. Jack's for
Woolwich."

"Even Sandhurst will need some grinding up."

"Oh, I'll grind when the time comes "--somewhat dolefully. "You can
get crammers who know the game and are up to all the twists and turns.
If I can only crawl through and get the chance of some fighting, I'll
show them!"



CHAPTER XXIV
AN UNEXPECTED GUEST


One afternoon, in one of their winter holidays, Gracie and the two
boys had been down along the shore to visit Mrs. Rimmer and Kattie,
especially Kattie.

They were tramping home along the crackling causeway of dried seaweed
and the jetsam in which of old they had sought for treasure, and
chattering merrily as they went.

"Kattie's getting as pretty as a--as a----" stumbled Jim after a
comparison equal to the subject.

"Wild-rose," suggested Gracie.

"Sweet-pea," said Jack.

"I was thinking of something with wings," said Jim, "but I don't quite
know----"

"Peacock," said Jack.

"No, nor a seagull. Their eyes are cold, and Kattie's aren't."

"You think she'll fly away?" laughed Gracie. "You think she looks
flighty? That was the red ribbons in her hair. She must have expected
you, Jim."

"They were very pretty, but I liked her best with it all flying loose
as it used to be."

"She's getting too big for that, but she certainly has a taste for
colours."

"Well, why shouldn't she, if they make her look pretty?"

"Oh, she can have all the ribbons she wants, as far as I am concerned.
I only hope----"

And then they were aware suddenly of the rapid beat of horses' feet on
the firm brown sand below, and turned, supposing it might be Sir
George or Margaret Herapath.

But it was a stranger, a tall and imposing figure of a man on a great
brown horse, and behind him rode another, evidently a servant, for he
carried a valise strapped on to the crupper of his saddle. Both wore
long military cloaks and foreign-looking caps. In the half-light of
the waning afternoon, and the rarity of strangers in that part of the
world, there was something of the sinister about the new-comer,
something which evoked a feeling of discomfort in the chatterers
and reduced them to silent staring, as the riders went by at a
hand-gallop.

"Who can they be?" said Gracie, as they stood gazing after them.

"Foreigners," said Jack decisively. "French, I should say, from the
cut of their jibs. A French officer and his servant."

"What are they wanting here, I'd like to know," said Jim, still
staring absorbedly. "He's a fine-looking man anyway, and he knows how
to ride."

"His eyes were like gimlets," said Gracie. "They went right through
me. I thought he was going to speak to us."

"Wish he had," said Jim. "That's just the kind of man I'd like to have
a talk with."

They were to drink tea with Gracie, and she had made a great provision
of special cakes for them with her own hands. So they turned off into
the sand-hills and made their way to Wyvveloe.

Eager came out of a cottage as they passed down the street, and they
all went on together.

"Oh, Charles," burst out the Little Lady, as she filled the cups, "we
saw two such curious men on the shore as we were coming home----"

"Ah!"--for he always enjoyed her exuberance in the telling of her
news. "Two heads each?--or was it smugglers now, or real bold
buccaneers?"

"Jack thinks, by the cut of their jibs, they were Frenchmen, one an
officer and the other his servant."

"Oh?"--with a sudden startled interest. "Frenchmen, eh? And what made
you think they were Frenchmen, Jack, my boy?"

"They looked like it to me. They had long soldiers' cloaks on, and
their caps were not English----"

"And they had rattling good horses, both of them," struck in the
future cavalryman.

"And where were they going?"

"We didn't ask. We only stared, and they stared back. They were
galloping along the shore towards Carne," said Jack.

"I We don't often see Frenchmen up this way nowadays." And thereafter
he was not quite so briskly merry as usual, as though the Frenchmen
were weighing on him.

And truly an odd and discomforting idea had flashed unreasonably
across his mind as they spoke, and it stuck there and worried him.

They were gathered round the fire, and Jim was gleefully picturing to
the shuddering Gracie, in fullest red detail, the great fight with
Chissleton. And Gracie had just gasped, "But didn't it hurt
dreadfully, Jim?" And Jim had just replied, with the carelessness of
the hardened warrior, "Sho! I din know. It was the very best fight I
ever had";--when a knock came on the cottage door, and Eager jumped
up, almost as though he had been expecting it, and went out. It was
Mr. Kennet stood there, and when the light of the lamp in the passage
fell on his face it seemed longer and more portentous even than usual.
It was Kennet whom Eager's foreboding thought had feared to see. And
his words occasioned him no surprise.

"Sir Denzil wants the boys, Mr. Eager, and he says will you please to
come too."

"Very well, Kennet." And if Mr. Kennet had expected to be questioned
on the matter he was disappointed. "Will you wait for us?"

"I've a message into the village, sir. I'll come on as soon as I've
done it." And in the darkness beyond, a horse jerked its head and
rattled its gear.

"Come along, boys. Your grandfather has sent for you. I'll go along
with you." And they were threading their way--with eyes a little less
capable than of old of seeing in the dark, by reason of disuse and
study--through the sand-hills towards Carne.

The boys speculated briskly as to the reason for this unusual summons.
A couple of years earlier they would have been racking their brains as
to which of their numerous peccadilloes had come to light, and bracing
their hearts and backs to the punishment. But they were getting too
big now for anything of that kind--except of course at school, where
flogging was a part of the curriculum.

Eager guessed what was toward, but offered them no light on the
subject.

"Yo're to go up," said Mrs. Lee to the boys, as they entered the
kitchen. "Will yo' please stop here, sir till he wants yo'." And It
seemed to Eager that the grim old face was pinched tighter than ever
in repression of some overpowering emotion.

The boys stumbled wonderingly upstairs, knocked on Sir Denzil's door,
and were bidden to enter.

Their grandfather was sitting half turned away from the table, on
which were the remains of a meal and several bottles of wine. Before
the fire, with his back against the mantelpiece, stood a tall, dark
man in a very becoming undress uniform, his hands in his trousers'
pockets, a large cigar in his mouth. Sparks shot into his keen black
eyes as they leaped eagerly at the boys, devouring them wholesale in
one hungry gaze, then travelling rapidly back and forth in
assimilation of details.

A foreigner without doubt, said the boys to themselves, as they stared
back with interest at the dark, handsome face with its sweeping black
moustache and pointed beard.

Sir Denzil tapped his snuff-box and snuffed aloofly.

"Gad, sir, but I think they do me credit!" said the stranger at last,
In a voice that sounded somewhat harsh and nasal to ears accustomed to
the soft, round tones of the north.

"That's as it may be," said Sir Denzil drily. "Credit where credit is
due."

"_Sang-d'-Dieu!_ you will allow me a finger in the pie, at all events,
sir!"

"That much, perhaps!"--with a shrug. "That proverbial finger as a rule
points more to marring than to making."

"And you've no idea which is which?" And he eyed the boys so keenly
that they grew uncomfortable.

"Not the slightest! Have you?"

"I like them both. I'm proud of them both. But it certainly
complicates matters having two of them. Suppose you keep one and I
take one? How would that do? I'll wager mine goes higher than yours."

"Suppose you put it to them!"

The boys had been following this curious discussion with certainly
more intelligence than might have been displayed by two puppies whose
future was in question, but with only a very dim idea of what some of
it might mean.

They had at times, of late, come to discuss themselves and their
immediate concerns--as to which was the elder, and as to what their
father and mother had been like, when they had died, and so on. In the
earlier days they had never troubled their heads about such matters.
But the exigencies of school life had awakened a desire for more
definite information towards the settlement of vexed questions.

And so their holidays had been punctuated with attempts at the
solution of these weighty problems, and the piercing of the cloud of
ignorance in which they had been perfectly happy. And the
unsatisfactory results of their inquiries had only served to quicken
their thirst for knowledge.

Old Mrs. Lee gave them nothing for their pains, and her manner was
eminently discouraging. "Which was the elder? She'd have thought any
fool could tell they were twins! Their mother?--dead, years ago. Their
father?--dead too, she hoped, and best thing for him!"

Their only other possible source of information was Mr. Eager. Sir
Denzil and Kennet were of course out of the question. And Mr. Eager
had so far only told them that of his own actual knowledge he knew as
little as they did, and advised them to wait and trouble themselves as
little as possible about the matter. He could not even say definitely
if their father was dead. He had lived abroad for many years, and had
not been heard of for a very long time.

Eager, of course, foresaw that, sooner or later, the whole puzzling
matter would have to be explained to them, unless the solution came
otherwise, in which case it might never need to be explained at all.
But in the meantime no good could come of unprofitable discussion, and
there were parts of it best left alone.

And so, when this handsome stranger dawned suddenly upon them, in such
familiar discussion of themselves with their grandfather, their first
"Who is it?" speedily gave place to "Can it be?" and then to "Is
it?"--on Jack's part, at all events, and he stared at the dark man in
the foreign uniform with keenest interest and a glimmering of
understanding. Jim stared quite as hard, but with smaller perception.

"Well?" said the stranger, his white teeth gleaming through the heavy
black moustache. "What do you make of it? Who am I?"

"Can you be our father?" jerked Jack; and Jim jumped at the
unaccustomed word.

"Clever boy that knows his own father--or thinks he does--especially
when he's never set eyes on him! How would you like to come back to
France with me, youngster?"

"To France?" gasped Jack.

"Into the army. I have influence. I can push you on."

"The French army?" And Jack shook his head doubtfully. "I don't
think--I--quite understand. Are you an Englishman, sir?

"A Carron of Carne."

"And in the French army?"

"As it happens. You don't approve of that?"

Jack shook his head. Jim, with his wide, excited eyes and parted lips,
was a study in emotions--amazement, excitement, puzzlement, admiration
mixed with disapproval--all these and more worked ingenuously in his
open boyish face and made it look younger than Jack's, which was
knitted thoughtfully.

"If it came to that I should probably claim exemption from serving
against England, though, _mon Dieu!_ it's little enough I have to
thank her for, and it would be to my hurt. Sometime you will
understand it all. And you?" he asked Jim, so unexpectedly that he
jumped again. "You feel the same? A couple of years at St. Cyr, and
then say, a sub-lieutenancy in my own cuirassiers, and all my
influence behind you. As a personal friend of the Emperor, Colonel
Caron de Carne is not by any means powerless, I can assure you."

But Jim wagged his head decisively. He did not understand how this
mysterious, but undoubtedly fine-looking father came to be apparently
both a Frenchman and an Englishman, but he himself was an Englishman,
and an Englishman he would remain.

"So! Then I go back the richer than I came only in the knowledge of
you, but I would gladly have had one of you back with me."

"Go now, boys," said Sir Denzil, "and tell Mr. Eager I would be glad
of a word with him." And wrenching their eyes from this phenomenal
father, whose advances evoked no slightest response within them, they
got out of the door somehow and ran down to the kitchen.

"Sir Denzil wants you to go up, Mr. Eager," began Jack.

"Our father's up there," broke in Jim.

But Mr. Eager had already heard the strange news from Mrs. Lee, and
went up at once, full anxious on his own account to see what manner of
man this unexpectedly-returned father might be, and rigorously
endeavouring to preserve an open mind concerning him until he had
something more to go upon than Mrs. Lee's curt but emphatic, "He's a
divvle if ever there was one."

"Ah, Mr. Eager, this is my son Denzil, father of your boys," said the
old man briefly, and helped himself to snuff and leaned back in his
chair and watched them.

"I am glad to make your acquaintance, Mr. Eager,"--and a strong brown
hand shot out to meet him. "Sir Denzil tells me that whatever good is
in those boys is of your implanting. I thank you. You have done a good
work there."

"They are fine lads," said Eager quietly. "It would have been an
eternal pity if they had run to seed. We are making men of them."

"I have been trying to induce one of them to go back to France with
me----"

"Which one?"

"Either. I don't know one from t'other yet. I could make much of
either, and it would solve the difficulty you are in here."

"And they?"

"They won't hear of it."

"I should have been surprised if they had."

"I suppose so. And yet I could promise one or both a very much greater
career than they are ever likely to realise here."

Eager shook his head. "They have been brought up as English lads; you
could hardly expect them to change sides like that, even for
possibilities which I don't suppose they understand or appreciate."

"It's a pity, all the same. There will be many opportunities over
there----"

"The Empire is peace----" interjected Eager, with a smile.

"The Empire"--with a shrug--"is my very good friend Louis Napoleon,
and peace just so long as it is to his interest to keep it. But"--with
a knowing nod--"he has studied his people and he knows how to handle
them. I'll wager you I'm a general inside five years--unless he or I
come to an end before that."

"I would sooner they died English subalterns than lived to be French
generals."

"It's throwing away a mighty chance for one of them."

"Their own country will offer them all the chances they need."

"How?" asked the Colonel quickly. "You think England will join us in
case of necessity?"

"I know nothing about that. I mean simply that our boys will do their
duty whatever call is made upon them; and no man can do more than
that."

"Peace offers few opportunities of advancement,"--with a regretful
shake of the head. "But your minds all seem made up. It is a great
chance thrown away, but I judge it is no use urging the matter----"

"Not the very slightest. To put the matter plainly, Captain
Carron----"

"Colonel, with your permission!"

"You have forfeited all right to dictate as to those boys' future.
Legally, perhaps----"

"_Merci!_ I shall not invoke the aid of the law, Mr. Eager."

"It would clear the way here if you took one of them off our hands,"
said Sir Denzil; "but I agree with Mr. Eager, one Frenchman in the
family is quite enough. You will have to go back empty-handed,
Denzil."

"I am glad to have seen those boys, anyway. We may meet again, some
time, Mr. Eager. In the meantime, my grateful thanks for all you have
done for them!"

And next morning he took leave of his sons, and galloped off along the
sands the way he had come, and the boys stood looking after him with
very mixed feelings, and when he was out of sight looked down at the
guineas he had left in their hands and thought kindly of him.



CHAPTER XXV
REVELATION AND SPECULATION


Charles Eager pondered the matter deeply, and was ready for the boys
when they tackled him the next morning.

He knew, as soon as he saw them, that they had been discussing matters
during the night and were intent on information.

"Mr. Eager," said Jack, "Will you tell us about our father? Why is he
in the French army?"

Eager told them briefly that part of the story.

"And do you consider he did right to go away like that?" was the next
question.

"Under the circumstances I should say he did. At all events it was Sir
Denzil's wish that he should go, and he could judge better then than
we can now."

"And we two were born after he'd left?"

"So I am told."

"Well now, even in twins isn't one generally the older of the two.
Which of us is the elder?"

"That I don't know. I believe there is some doubt about it, and so we
look upon you both as on exactly the same level."

"Suppose Sir Denzil should die, and our father should die--we don't
want them to, you understand, but one can't help wondering--which of
us would be Sir Denzil?"

"That is a matter that has exercised your grandfather's mind since
ever you were born, my boy, and I'm afraid we can arrive no nearer to
the answer. We can only wait."

"It'll be jolly awkward," protested Jim.

"Very awkward. Some arrangement will have to be come to, of course;
but exactly what, is not for me to say. Your grandfather can divide
his estate between you, and as to the title----"

"We could take it turn about," suggested Jim.

"Or you may both win such new honours for yourselves that it will be
of small account."

"Yes, that's an idea," said Jack thoughtfully. And after a pause, "And
you can tell us nothing about our mother, Mr. Eager?"

"No. You were ten years old, you know, when we met for the first time
and you stole all my clothes. What a couple of absolute little savages
you were!"

"We had jolly good times----"

"We've had better since," said Jack. "If you hadn't come to live here
we might have been savages all our lives."

"You must do me all the credit you can. At one time I had hoped to
become a soldier myself."

"Jolly good thing for us you didn't," said Jim. "But haven't you been
sorry for it ever since, Mr. Eager?"

"There are higher things even than soldiering," smiled Eager. "If I
can help to make two good soldiers instead of one, then England is the
gainer."

"We'll jolly well do our best," said Jim.

And so they had arrived at a portion of the problem of their house,
and bore it lightly.

And as to the grim remainder--"It would only uselessly darken both
their lives," said Eager to himself. "We must leave it to time, and
that is only another name for God's providence."



CHAPTER XXVI
JIM'S TIGHT PLACE


Jack had set his heart on Woolwich. In due course he took the entrance
examinations without difficulty, and passed into the Royal Military
School with flying colours. Woolwich, however, was quite beyond Jim,
and, besides, his heart was set on horses. He would be a cavalryman or
nothing. But even for Sandhurst there was an examination to pass--an
examination of a kind, but quite enough to give him the tremors, and
sink his heart into his boots whenever he thought of it. Examinations
always had been abomination to Jim and always got the better of him.

He argued eloquently that pluck, and a firm seat, and a long reach
would make a better cavalryman than all the decimal fractions and
French and Latin that could be rammed into him. But the authorities
had their own ideas on the subject. So to an army-tutor he went in due
course, a notable crammer in the Midlands, who knew every likely twist
and turn of the ordinary run of examiners, and had got more incapables
into the service than any man of his time, and charged accordingly.

And there, for six solid months, Jim was fed up like a prize turkey,
on the absolutely necessary minimum of knowledge required for a pass,
and grew mentally dyspeptic with the indigestible chunks of learning
which he got off by heart, till his brain reeled and went on rolling
them ponderously over and over even in his sleep.

Fortunately he started with a good constitution, and there was hunting
three days a week, or such a surfeit of knowledge might have proved
too much for him.

There were half a dozen more in the same condition; and the sight of
those seven gallant hard-riders, poring with woebegone faces and
tangled brains over tasks which in these days any fifth-form
secondary-schoolboy would laugh at, tickled the soul of their tutor,
Mr. Dodsley, almost out of its usual expression of benign and earnest
sympathy at times. They represented, however, a very handsome living
with comparatively easy work, and he did his whole duty by them
according to his lights.

The shadow of the coming death-struggle cast a gloom over the little
community for weeks before the fatal day, and all seven decided, in
case of the failure they anticipated, to enlist in the ranks, where
their brains could have well-merited rest.

Jim never said very much about that exam., but he did disclose the
facts to Mr. Eager, and chuckled himself almost into convulsions;
whenever he thought over it and the awful months of preparation that
had preceded it.

"There was a jolly decent-looking old cock of a colonel at the table
when I went in," he said. "And my throat was dry, and my knees were
knocking together so that I was afraid he'd see 'em. He looked at my
name on the paper and then at me.

"'James Denzil Carron?' he said. 'Any relation of my old friend Denzil
Carron of--what-the-deuce-and-all was it now?'

"'Carne," I chittered.

"'That's it! Carron of Carne, of course. What are you to him, boy?'

"'Son, sir.'

"Denzil Carron's son! God bless my soul, you don't say so! And is your
father alive still?'

"'Yes, sir.'

"'You don't say so! God bless my soul! Denzil Carrell alive! Why, it
must be twenty years since I set eyes on him! Will you tell him, when
you see him, that his old friend, Jack Pole, was asking after him?'
And then," said Jim, "I suppose he saw me going white at prospect of
the exam., for he just said, 'Oh, hang the exam.! You can ride?'

"'Anything, sir.'

"'And fence?'

"'Yes, sir. And box and swim, and I can run the mile in four minutes
and fifteen seconds.'

"'God God bless my soul, I wish I could! You'll do, my boy! Pass on,
and prove yourself as brave a man as your father!' And I just wished
I'd known it was going to be like that. It would have saved me a good
few headaches and a mighty lot of trouble. However, perhaps it'll all
come in useful, some day--that is, if I remember any of it."

Jack did well at Woolwich. He passed out third of his batch, and in
due course received his commission as second lieutenant in the Royal
Engineers.

Jim made but a poor show in head-work, but showed himself such an
excellent comrade, and such a master of all the brawnier parts of the
profession, that it would have needed harder hearts than the ruling
powers possessed to set any undue stumbling-blocks in his way. To his
mighty satisfaction, he was gazetted cornet to the 8th Regiment of
Hussars, just a year after Jack got through.



CHAPTER XXVII
TWO TO ONE


None of them ever forgot the last holiday they all spent together
before the great dispersal. Some of them looked back upon it in the
after-days with most poignant feelings--of longing and regret. For
nothing was ever to be again as it had been--and not with them only,
but throughout the land.

It was as though all the circumstances and forces of life had been
quietly working up to a point through all these years--as though all
that had gone before had been but preparation for what was to come--as
though the time had come for the Higher Powers to say, as sensible
parents sooner or later say to their children, "We have done our best
for you--we have fitted you for the fight; now you are become men and
women, work out your own destinies!"

It was amazing to Charles Eager--feeling himself as young as ever--to
find all his youngsters suddenly grown up, suddenly become, if not
capable of managing their own affairs, at all events filled with that
conviction, and fully intent on doing so.

And, so far, the strange story of their actual relationship had not
been made known to the boys. Eager had discussed the matter with Sir
Denzil many times, but the old man, not unreasonably, maintained the
position that, unless and until events forced the disclosure, there
was no need to trouble their minds with it. And Eager, knowing them so
well, could not but agree that it would be a mighty upsetting for
them.

While they were working hard, in their various degrees, for their
examinations, It was, of course, out of the question. And when the
matter was mooted again, Sir Denzil said quietly:

"Let it lie, Eager. If it has to come out, it will come out; but if
anything should deprive us of one of them before it does come out,
there is no need for the other to carry a millstone round his neck all
his life."

The old man had mellowed somewhat with the years. The problem as to
which was his legitimate heir, and the possibility of unconsciously
perpetuating the line through the bar sinister, still troubled him at
times; but the boys themselves, in their ripening and development, had
done more than anything else to alter his feelings towards them.

Well-born or ill-born, they were fine bits of humanity. He had come to
tolerate them with a degree of appreciation, to regard them with
something almost akin to a form of affection, atrophied, indeed, by
long disuse, and disguised still behind a certain cynicism of speech
and manner and the very elegant handling of his jewelled snuff-box,
whenever they met.

When they were at Carne for holidays, they had their own apartments,
and, for a sitting-room, the long, oak-panelled parlour, looking north
and west over the flats and the sea; and here they were at last
enabled to entertain their friends, and repay some of the
hospitalities of the earlier years.

At times Sir Denzil would send for them to his own rooms, and they
came almost to enjoy his acid questionings and pungent comments on
life as they saw it. Behind his cynical aloofness they were not slow
to perceive a keen interest in the newer order of things, and they
talked freely of all and sundry--their friends, and their friends'
friends, and all the doings of the day. It was very many years since
the old man had been in London. He felt himself completely out of
things, and had no desire to return; but still he liked to hear about
them.

And at times, by way of return, when the boys had their friends in, he
would, with the punctilious courtesy of his day, send Mr. Kennet to
request their permission to join them, and then march in, almost on
Kennet's heels, looking, in his wig and long-skirted coat and ruffles
and snuff-box, a veritable relic of past days.

Jack, in the plenitude of his present-day knowledge, and the power it
gave him of affording interesting information to the recluse,
discoursed with him almost on terms of equality.

Jim, on the other hand, though he could rattle along in the jolliest
and most amusing way imaginable with his chosen ones, still found the
old gentleman's rapier-like little speeches and veiled allusions
somewhat beyond him, and so, as a rule, left most of the talking to
him and Jack.

But the first time the boys both came down in their uniforms, modestly
veiling their pride under a large assumption of nonchalance, but in
reality swelling internally like a pair of young peacocks, they
carried all before them. They looked so big, so grand, so masterful,
that it took some time even for the Little Lady to fit them into their
proper places in their own estimation and in hers.

And as for their grandfather, it took an immense amount both of time
and snuff and sapient head-nodding before he could get accustomed to
them, and then he was quite as proud of them as they were of
themselves.

"By gad, sir!" he said to Eager, in an unusual outburst of suppressed
vehemence, "you were right and I was wrong. We can't afford to lose
either of them, though what you're going to do about it all, when the
time comes, is beyond me. Jack, there, talks like a book, like all the
books that ever were, and knows everything there is to know in the
world"--Jack had been delivering himself of some of his newest ideas
on fortification--"but what can you make of that? It may only be the
higher product of a coarser strain. I'm not sure that the other isn't
more in the line. I'm inclined to think he'll make his mark if he gets
the chance that suits him."

"They both will, sir. Take my word for it. We shall all, I hope, live
to be proud of them both. And as to the other matter, maybe they'll
cut so deep, and go so far, that after all it will become of secondary
importance."

"That," said Sir Denzil, with a steady look at him over an elegantly
delayed pinch of snuff, "is quite impossible. They can attain to no
position comparable with the succession to Carne."

And Gracie? With what feelings did she regard these
brilliantly-arrayed young warriors?

She had for them a most wholesome, whole-hearted, and comprehensive
affection, and she bestowed it in absolutely equal measure upon them
both.

She had grown up in closest companionship with them. She could not
imagine life without them or either of them: it would have been life
without its core and colour. And, so far, they stood together in her
heart, and no occasion had arisen for discrimination between them.

When, indeed, Jim had disappeared for a time, and seemed lost to them,
life had seemed black and blank for lack of him, and Jack could not by
any means make up for him. But when Jack in turn disappeared life was
equally shadowed for her, and Jim was no comfort whatever.

She, rejoicing in them equally, had no thought or wish but that things
should go on just as they were. But in the boys other feelings began
unconsciously to push up through the crumbling crust of youth.

They were nearing manhood. The Little Lady was no longer a child. She
had grown--tall and wonderfully beautiful in face and figure. They had
met other girls, but never had either of them met any one to compare
with Grace Eager. And they met her afresh, each time they came home,
with new wonder and vague new hopes and wishes.

It was the party which Sir George Herapath gave in the autumn that
brought matters to a head.

Neither of the boys had seen Grace in evening dress before. Indeed, it
was her first, and the result of much deep consideration and planning
on the part of herself and Margaret Herapath.

When it was finished and tried on in full for the first time, old Mrs.
Jex, admitted to a private view, clasped her hands and the tears ran
down her face as she murmured, "An angel from heaven! Never in all my
born days have I set eyes on anything half so pretty!"--though really
it was only white muslin with pale-blue ribbons here and there. But it
showed a good deal of her soft white arms and neck, and they dazzled
even Mrs. Jex. As for the boys--it was as though the most marvellous
bud the world had ever seen had suddenly burst its sheath and
blossomed into a splendid white flower.

When she came into the big drawing-room at Knoyle that night, with
Eager close behind, his intent face all alight with pride in her, and
perhaps with anticipation for himself, she created quite a sensation,
and found it delightful.

She came in like a lily and a rose and Eve's fairest daughter all in
one; and our boys gazed at her spell-bound, startled, electrified as
though by a galvanic shock. And deep down in the consciousness of each
was a strange, wonderful, peaceful joy, a sudden endowment, and an
almost overpowering yearning. In the self-same moment each knew that
in all the world there was no other woman for him than Grace Eager.
And, vaguely, behind that, was the fear that the other was feeling the
same.

And she? She enjoyed to the full the novel sensation of the effect she
produced upon them, and was just the same Gracie as of old--almost.

She sailed up to them and dropped a most becoming curtsey, and rose
from it all agleam and aglow with merry laughter at their visible
undoing.

"Well, boys, what's the matter with you?" she rippled merrily.

"You!" gasped Jim.

"Me? What's the matter with me? I'm all right. Don't you like me like
this? Meg and I made it between us."

Didn't they like her like that? Why----!

"You see," said Jack, "we've never seen you like this before, and
you've taken us by surprise."

"Oh, well, get over it as quickly as you can, and then you may ask me
to dance with you."

"I don't think I'll ever get over it, but I'll ask you now," said Jim.
Which was not bad for him.

And Jack felt the first little stab of jealousy he had ever
experienced towards Jim, at his having got in first.

"I'd like every dance," laughed Jim happily, "but----"

"Quite right, old Jim Crow! Mustn't be greedy! You first, because you
spoke first, then Jack----"

"Then me again," persisted Jim.

"We'll see. Is that Ralph Harben? How he's grown! His whiskers and
moustache make him look quite a man." And Jim decided instantly on the
speedy cultivation of facial adornments. "Oh, he's coming! And there's
Meg." And she flitted away to Margaret, who was talking to Charles
Eager, and so for the moment upset Master Harben's plans for her
capture.

With no little distaste the boys had suffered instruction in the art
of dancing, as a necessary part of the education of a gentleman. Now
they fervently thanked God for it. To have to stand with their backs
to the wall while every Tom, Dick, or Ralph whirled past in the dance
with Gracie, would have been quite past the bearing. They felt new
sensations under their waistcoats even when George Herapath had her in
charge, though there was not a fellow on earth they liked better, or
had more confidence in, than old George, now a dashing lieutenant in
the Royal Dragoons, and quite a man of the world. As for Ralph
Harben--well, if either of them could have picked a reasonable quarrel
with him, and had it out in the garden, unbeknown to any but
themselves, Master Ralph would have undergone much tribulation.

They danced with Gracie many times that night, and grew more and more
intoxicated with happiness such as neither had ever tasted before or
even dreamed of. And yet, below and behind it all, pushed down and
hustled into dark corners of the heart and mind, was that other new
feeling which, though it was foreign to them, they instinctively
strove to keep out of sight.

Over the incidents of that party we need not linger. There were many
fair girls and fine boys there, but they do not come into our story.
They all enjoyed themselves immensely, and Sir George, beaming
genially, enjoyed them all as much as they enjoyed, themselves.

Margaret moved among them like a queen lily, and the boys were
somewhat overpowered by her stately beauty. But Charles Eager seemed
to find his satisfaction in it, and his eyes followed her with vast
enjoyment whenever he was not dancing with her, for he danced as well
as he jumped or boxed.

When Mr. Harben--Sir George's active partner in the business, and
Ralph's father--chaffed him jovially on the matter, he replied
cheerfully that David danced before the ark, and he didn't see why he
shouldn't do likewise. And when Harben would have tackled him further
as to the ark, he averred that arks were as various as the men who
danced before them, and had no limitations whatever in the matter of
size, shape, or material--that some men were arks of God and more
women--that when he came across such he bowed before them, or, as the
case might be, danced with them, and he sped off to claim Margaret for
the next round, leaving his adversary submerged under the avalanche of
his eloquence.

That night was, for the younger folk, all enjoyment, tinged indeed
with those other vague feelings I have named, but quickened and
intensified, before they separated, by news from the outer world which
strung all their nerves as tight as fiddlestrings and swept them with
many emotions.

For, coming upon Sir George and his partner conversing earnestly in a
quiet corner one time, Eager, with his eyes on Margaret and Ralph
Harben circling round the room, asked--casually, and by way of
exhibiting detachment from any special interest in that other
particular matter--"Well, Mr. Harben, what's the news from the East?"

And the two older men stopped talking and looked at him. It was Sir
George who answered him, soberly:

"Grave news, Mr. Eager. Harben was just telling me that the fleet is
to enter the Black Sea, and that at headquarters they entertain no
doubt as to the result."

"You mean war?" asked Eager, with a start.

"War without a doubt, Mr. Eager," said Harben, involuntarily rubbing
his hands together. For he was a contractor, you must remember; and
whatever of misery and loss war entails upon others, for contractors
it means business and profit.

"We are to fight Russia on behalf of Turkey?"

"Russian aggression must be checked," said Harben. "Her ambition knows
no bounds. We go hand-in-hand with France, of course."

"H'm! My own feeling would be that it is more for the aggrandisement
of Louis Napoleon than for the checking of Russia that we are going to
fight."

"Who's going to fight?" asked Lieutenant George, catching the word.

And then of course it was out. For, once more, whatever of misery and
loss war entails upon others, to the fighting man in embryo it means
only glory and the chances of promotion.

It was the following day that the disturbances nearer home began.

Jack lay awake most of the morning after he got to bed, thinking
soberly, with rapturous intervals when Gracie's laughing face floated
in the smaller darkness of his tired eyes, and envying Jim, who slept
at intervals like a sheep-dog after a day on the hills. But at times
even Jim's heavy breathing stopped and he lay quite still, and then he
too was thinking--which was an unusual thing for him to do in the
night--though not perhaps so deeply as Jack.

They both felt like boiled owls in the morning, and lay late. It was
close on midday when Jack, after several pipes and a splitting yawn,
said, "Let's go up along,"--which always meant north along the
flats--"my blood's thickening." And they went off together along the
hard-ribbed sand, with the sea and the sky like bars of lead on one
side and the stark corpses of the sand-hills, with the wire-grass
sticking up out of them like the quills of porcupines, on the other.

They walked a good two miles without a word, both thinking the same
things and both fearing to start the ball rolling.

"We've got to talk it out, Jim," said Jack at last.

Jim grunted gloomily.

"What are you thinking of it?"

"Same as you, I s'pose."

"It mustn't part us, old Jim."

Jim snorted. Under extreme urgency he was at times slow of expression
in words.

"Gracie has become a woman, the most beautiful woman in all the
world"--with rapture, as though the mere proclamation of the fact
afforded him mighty joy, which it did.

"And we are men . . . and--and we've got to face it like men."

And Jim grunted again. He was surging with emotions, but he couldn't
put them into words like Jack.

"I would give my life for her," said Jack.

"I'd give ten lives if I had 'em."

"She can only have one of us, and only one of us can have her." Which
was obvious enough.

"And it all lies with her. We only want what she wants."

"I only want her," groaned Jim.

"Of course. So do I. But we neither of us want her unless she wants
us," reasoned Jack.

"I do. She's made me feel sillier than ever I felt in all my life
before. All I know is that I want her."

Jack nodded. "I know. I've been thinking of it all night."

"So've I," growled Jim. And Jack refrained from telling him how he had
envied him his powers of sleep.

"It seems to me the best thing we can do is to write and tell her what
we're feeling."

Jim snorted dissentingly. Letter-writing was not his strong point, and
Jack understood.

"Well, you see, we can't very well go together and tell her. But if we
write she can have both our letters at the same time, and then she can
decide. I'm sure it's the only way to settle it. Can you think of
anything better?"

But Jim had no suggestions to offer. All he knew was that his whole
nature craved Gracie, and he could not imagine life without her.

In the earlier times, when, as generally happened, they both wanted a
thing which only one of them could have, they always fought for it,
and to the victor remained the spoils.

But in those days the spoils were of no great account, and the
pleasure of the fight was all in all.

This was a very different matter. The prize was life's highest crown
and happiness for one of them, and no personal strife could win it. It
was a matter beyond the power of either to influence now. It was
outside them. They could ask, but they could not take. Forcefulness
could do much in the bending and shaping of life, but here force was
powerless.

And it was then, as he brooded over the whole matter, that one of
life's great lessons was borne in upon Jim Carron--that the dead hand
of the past still works in the moulding of the present and the future,
that what has gone is still a mighty factor in what is and what is to
come.

He groaned in the spirit over his own deficiencies, the lost
opportunities, the times wasted, which, turned to fuller account,
might now have served him so well. If only he could have known that
all the past was making towards this mighty issue, how differently he
would have utilised it.

For, submitting himself to most unusual self-examination, and
searching into things with eyes sharpened by unusual stress, he could
not but acknowledge that, compared with Jack, he made but a poor show.

Jack was clever. He had a head and knew how to use it. He would go far
and make a great name for himself. Whereas he himself had nothing to
offer but a true heart and a lusty arm, and Jack had these also in
addition to his greater qualifications.

How could any girl hesitate for a moment between them? His chances, he
feared, were small, and he felt very downcast and broken as he sat,
that same afternoon, chewing the end of his pen and thoughtfully
spitting out the bits, in an agonising effort after unusual expression
such as should be worthy of the occasion.

His window gave on to the northern flats, and, as he savoured the
penholder, in his mind's eye he saw again the wonderful little figure
of Gracie in her scarlet bathing-gown, with her hair astream, and her
face agleam, and her little white feet going like drumsticks, as they
had seen her that very first morning long ago. And, since then, how
she had become a part of their very lives!

And then his thoughts leaped on to the previous night, and his pulses
quickened at the marvel of her beauty: her face--little Gracie's face,
and yet so different; her lovely white neck and arms. He had seen them
so often before in little Gracie. But this was different, all quite
different. She was no longer a child, and he was no longer a boy. She
was a woman, a beautiful woman, _the_ woman, and he was a man, and
every good thing in him craved her as its very highest good. God! How
could he let any other man take her from him? Even Jack----

He spat out his penholder, and kicked over his chair, as he got up and
began to pace the room, with clenched hands and pinched face.



CHAPTER XXVIII
THE LINE OF CLEAVAGE


"Dearest Grace,

"We two are in trouble, and you are the unconscious cause of it. We
have suddenly discovered that we have all grown up, and things can
never be quite the same between us all as they have been. Jim is
writing to you also, and you will get both our letters at the same
time. We both love you, Gracie, with our whole hearts. If you can care
enough for either of us it is for you to say which. For myself I
cannot begin to tell you all you are to me. You are everything to
me--everything. I cannot, dare not imagine life without you in it,
Gracie. Can you care enough for me to make me the happiest man in all
the world?

   "Ever yours devotedly,

      "John Denzil Carron."


"Gracie Dear,

"It is horrid to have to ask if you care for me more than you do for
old Jack. But it has come to that, and we cannot help ourselves. I
want you more than I ever wanted anything in all my life. You are more
to me than life itself or anything it can ever give me. I know I am
not half good enough for you, and I wish I had made more of myself
now. But I do not think any one could ever care for you as I do.

"God bless you, dear, whatever you decide.

"Please excuse the writing, etc., and believe me,

   "Yours ever,

      "Jim,"


When Mrs. Jex brought in these two letters, as they lingered lazily
over the tea-table, Grace laughed merrily.

"What are those boys up to now? It must be some unusually good joke to
set old Jim writing letters."

But her brother's face lacked its usual quick response. He had been
very thoughtful all day, sombre almost; and when Grace had chaffed him
lightly as to his exertions of the previous night, instead of tackling
her in kind, he had said quietly:

"Yes, you see, we old people don't take things so lightly as you
youngsters."

"You are thinking of this war?"

"Yes--partly."

"And----?"

"Oh--lots of things."

"Margaret?"--with a twinkle.

"Oh, Margaret of course. I thought I had never seen her look more
charming."

"She is always charming. Charlie, I wish----" and she hung fire lest
in the mere touching she might damage.

"And what do you wish, child?"

"I wish you'd marry her. She's the sweetest thing that ever was."

"You have a most excellent taste, my child."

"It's in the family. Meg's taste is equally good"--with a meaning
glance at him, but he was looking thoughtfully into his teacup.

"And you really think we shall be dragged into war, Charlie?"

"Mr. Harben seemed to think it certain."

"I don't think I like Mr. Harben very much. I caught sight of his face
while you were all talking in the corner, and I thought he must have
heard some good news."

"He was probably thinking at the moment only of his own particular
aspect of the matter. War means business for contractors, you know."

"Sir George didn't look that way."

"He hasn't very much to do with the firm now, I believe. Besides, one
would expect him to take wider views than Harben. He is a bigger man
in every way."

Then Mrs. Jex came in with the letters, and Gracie wondered merrily
what joke the boys were up to. But Eager, who had not failed to notice
their unconcealed enthralment the night before, pursed his lips for a
moment as though he doubted if the contents of those letters would
prove altogether humorous.

"I thought they'd have been round, but I expect they've been in bed
all day." And she ripped open Jim's letter, which happened to be
uppermost, with an anticipatory smile.

Eager saw the smile fade, as the sunshine fails off the side of a hill
on an April day, and give place to a look of perplexity and a slight
knitting of the placid brow.

She picked up Jack's letter, and tore it open, and read it quickly.
Then, with a catch in her breath and a startled look in her eyes, she
jerked:

"Charlie--what do they mean? Are they in fun----"

"Shall I read them, dear?"

She threw the letters over to him, and sat, with parted lips and
wondering--and rather scared--face, looking into the fire, with her
hands clasped tightly in her lap.

"This is not fun, Grace dear," her brother said gravely at last. It
had taken him a terrible long time to read those very short letters,
but he read so much more in them than was actually written. "It is
sober earnest, and a very grave matter."

"But I don't want---- Oh!--I wish they hadn't"--with passionate
fervour. "Why can't they let things go on as they are? We have been
so happy----"

"Yes. . . . But time works its changes. They are no longer boys----"

A wriggle of dissent from Grace.

"----Although they may seem so to us. And you are no longer a little
girl----"

"Oh! I feel like a speck of dust, Charlie; and I don't, don't, don't
want----"

"I know, dear; but it is too late. You may feel a little girl to-day.
Last night you were an exquisitely beautiful woman--and this is the
result."

Grace put her hands up to her face and began to cry softly. For there,
in the dancing flames, she had seen in a flash what it all must
mean--severances, heart-aches, trouble generally. And they had all
been so happy.

Eager wisely let her have her cry out. When, at last, she mopped up
her eyes, and sat looking pensively into the fire again, he said
quietly:

"Let us face the matter, dear! They are dear, good lads, and they are
doing you the greatest honour in their power. There being two of them,
of course"--and it came home to him that here were he and Gracie up
against the problem of Carne also--"makes things very trying, both for
them and for you. You like them both, I know----"

"I've always liked them both, and I don't like either of them one bit
better than the other."

"Is there any one else you like as well as either of them?"

"No, of course not. I've never cared for any one as I have for Jack
and Jim--except you, of course. Oh! what am I to do, Charlie?"

"As far as I can see, there is only one thing to be done at present,
and that is--wait."

"Can you make them wait? Oh, do! Some time, perhaps----"

"If this war comes, they will have to go into it. They may neither of
them come back."

"Oh, Charlie! . . . That is too terrible to think of----"

"War is terrible without a doubt, dear. It cuts the knot of many a
life."

"My poor boys! But how can I possibly tell them?"

"I think, perhaps, you had better leave it all to me, dear. I will
just explain to each of them quietly how this has taken you by
surprise, and that you feel towards the one just as you do towards the
other, and that, for the time being, they must let matters rest
there."

"Things will never be the same among us again."

"Not quite the same, perhaps; but there is no reason why your
friendship should suffer."

"If they will see it that way----"

"They will have to see it that way. They ought, by rights, to have
spoken to me first. And if they had I could have saved you all this. I
must scold them well for that."

"The dear boys!"

And presently, since he could imagine from their letters the state of
the boys' feelings, and such were better got on to reasonable lines as
soon as possible, he set off in the chill twilight for Carne. And
Gracie sat looking into the fire, her mind ranging freely in these
new pastures--troubled not a little at this sudden break in the
brotherly-sisterly ties which had hitherto bound them, with quick
mental side-glances now and then at the strange new possibilities, and
not entirely without a touch of that exaltation with which every girl
learns that to one man she is the whole end and aim of life.

The trouble was that here were two men holding her in that supreme
estimation, and that, so far, in her very heart of hearts, she found
it impossible to say that she loved one better than the other. And at
times the white brow knitted perplexedly at the absurdity of it, while
the sweet, mobile mouth below twisted to keep from actual smiles as
she thought of it all.

But, naturally, the first result of the whole matter was that her mind
dwelt incessantly and penetratingly on her boyfriends who had suddenly
become her lovers, and she regarded them from quite new points of
view. And she knew that she was right, and that they never could be
all quite the same to one another as they had been hitherto.

Long before Charles got back she was feeling quite aged and worn with
overmuch thinking.



CHAPTER XXIX
GRACIE'S DILEMMA


"One on 'em's up in his room, but I dunnot know which," grunted old
Mrs. Lee, in answer to Eager's request for the boys, either or both,
and he went up at once. A tap on Jim's door received no answer. Jack's
opened to him at once.

"Mr. Eager!" And there was a hungry look in the boy's eyes.

"Hard at work, old chap?"--at sight of a number of books spread out on
the table. "I thought this was holidays with you."

"I tried, but I couldn't get down to it."

"Where's Jim?"

"He's off down along--couldn't it still. Have you brought us any word
from Gracie?"--very anxiously.

"Well, I've come to have a talk with you about that." And the Rev.
Charles pulled out his pipe and began to fill it. "You ought to have
spoken to me first, you know----"

"Oh?--didn't know--not used to that kind of thing, you know."

"I suppose not. Still, that is the proper way to go about it."

"What does Gracie say?" asked Jack impatiently.

"I've come to ask you both, Jack, to let the matter lie for a time."
And Jack's foot beat an impatient tattoo. "You see, Gracie had no idea
whatever of this, and it has knocked the wind out of her. You can't
imagine how upset she is. First, she thought you were joking. Then she
had a good cry, and now I've left her staring into the fire, fearing
you can never all be friends again as you always have been."

"Why, of course we can!"

"I told her so, but she says things can never be the same."

"We don't want them the same."

"No, I know. But you see, Jack, Gracie has not been thinking of you
two in that way; and in the way she has always thought of you, as her
dearest friends, she likes the one of you just as much as the other."

Jack grunted.

"After this it will be impossible for her to regard you simply as
friends. But you must give her time----"

"Is there any one else?" growled Jack.

"There is no one else. I asked her."

"And--how--long----"

"To name a time, I should say a year."

"A great deal may happen in a year. We may all be dead."

"The chances are that this will be a year of great happenings," said
Eager gravely. "The issues are in God's hands. May He grant us all a
safe deliverance!"

"You really think it will be war?" asked the boy quickly. "I fear so!"

Jack sat gazing steadily into the fire and limned coming glories in
the dancing flames.

"A year's a terrible long time to wait when you feel like a starving
dog. But if there's a war . . . yes--that would make it pass quicker."

"Have you said anything to your grandfather about this matter?"

"How could we till we knew which----"

Eager nodded. "Best leave it so at present. How soon will Jim be back?
I'd like to have a word with him too."

"I don't know. He's a good deal worked up."

"I'll go along and meet him."

"I'll come too?"

"No. Better let me see him by himself. You can talk it over together
afterwards. I hope this won't make any difference between you two,
Jack."

"One of us has got to put up with disappointment some time," said Jack
steadily. "But we'll just have to stand it."

Eager tramped away along the rim of the tidal sand, well pleased with
Jack's reasonable acceptance of the situation. Jim, he felt sure,
would be no less sensible, and matters would run on smoothly; and so
Time, the great Solver of Problems, would be given the opportunity of
working out this one also.

Deeply pondering the whole matter, and letting his thoughts wander
back along the years, he tramped on almost forgetful of the actual
reason for his coming. It was not till a gleam of light amid the
sand-hills on his left told him he had got to Seth Rimmer's cottage,
that he knew how far he had come. Jim might have called there, so he
rapped on the door and went in.

"Ech, Mr. Eager! It's good o' you to come and see an owd woman like
this," said Mrs. Rimmer from the bed.

"It's always a pleasure to see you, Mrs. Rimmer. You're one of the
ones that it does one good to see."

"It's very good o' yo'."

"But I came really to look for Jim Carron. They told me he had come
down this way, and I thought he might have called in to see you."

"No. I havena seen owt of him."

"And you're all alone? Where's everybody?"

"Th' mester's at his work--God keep him; it's a bad, black night!--and
Seth--he's away."

"And where's my friend Kattie? She ought not to leave you all alone
like this."

"Ech, I'm used to it. 'Oo's always slipping out. I dunnot know
who----" she began, with a quite unusual fretfulness, which showed him
she had been worrying over it.

And then the door opened and Kattie came in, ruffled somewhat with the
south-west wind, which had whipped the colour into her face. With a
bit of cherry ribbon at her throat, and another bit in her hair, and
her eyes sparkling in the lamplight, she looked uncommonly pretty.

"How they all grow up!" thought Eager to himself. "Here's another who
will set the village boys by the ears; and it seems no time since she
was a child running about with scarce a rag to her back!"

"Mr. Eager?" said Kattie in surprise.

"I came to find Jim Carron, Kattie. I suppose you haven't seen him
about anywhere?"

"I saw some one walking up along," said Kattie, "but it was too dark
to see who it was."

"Jim, I'll be bound. Good night, Mrs. Rimmer! Good night, Kattie! I'll
be in again in a day or two." And he set off in haste the way he had
come.

A few minutes' quick walking showed him a dim figure strolling along
the higher causeway of dried seaweed and drift, and kicking it up
disconsolately at times, just as he used to do as a boy when seeking
treasure.

"That you, Jim?" And the figure stopped.

"Hello!--what--you, Mr. Eager?"

"Just me. I came to look for you. Kattie told me you'd come on----"

"Kattie?"

"Well, she said she'd seen some one pass, and I guessed it was you.
I've been in having a talk with Jack, my boy, and I wanted to see you
too." And he linked arms and went on.

"Yes?"

"About your letter to Gracie." And Eager felt the boy's arm jump
inside his own. "It was a tremendous surprise to her, you know. She
had never thought of either of you in that way, and it knocked her all
of a heap. Now I want you all to let matters rest as they are for a
year, Jim----"

"A year! Good Lord!"

"I know how you feel, lad, but it is absolutely the only thing to be
done. You've been like brothers to her, you know. You are both very
dear to her; but when you ask her suddenly to choose between you, she
cannot. I couldn't myself. You are both dearer to me than any one in
the world . . . almost . . . after Gracie, . . . but if you put me in
a comer and bade me, at risk of my life, say which of you I liked
best--well, I couldn't do it. And that's just her position."

"I'm afraid . . . I don't suppose I stand much chance . . . against
old Jack. . . . He's a much finer fellow. . . . But, oh, Mr.
Eager . . . I can't tell you how I feel about her. . . . If it could
make her happy I'd be ready to lie right down here and die this
minute." And Eager pressed the jerking arm inside his own
understandingly.

"I believe you would, my boy. But it wouldn't make for Gracie's
happiness at all to have you lie down and die. You must both live to
do good work in the world and make us all proud of you. And the work
looks like coming, Jim, and quickly."

"You mean this war they're talking about?"

"Yes. I'm afraid there's no doubt it's coming, and war is a terrible
thing."

"It'll give one the chance of showing what's in one, anyway."

"Some one has to pay for such chances."

"I suppose so . . . . unless one pays oneself. . . . I don't know that
I particularly want to kill any one, but I suppose one forgets all
that in the thick of it. . . . Anyway, if it comes to fighting I think
I can do that . . . if I haven't got much of a head for books and
things."

"I believe you will do your duty, whatever it is, my boy, and no man
can do more."

"Well?" asked Gracie eagerly, when Eager got home again. "Did you see
them? Quick, Charlie! Tell me!"

"Yes, I saw them. Jack at home--trying to work. Jim down
along--couldn't sit still."

"The poor boys!"

"They are very much in earnest, but I have got them to see the
reasonableness of waiting--for a year at least."

"I'm glad. I don't know how I can ever choose between them, Charlie."

"Don't trouble about it, dear. Things have a way of working themselves
out if you leave them to themselves."

"I wonder!" she said wearily.



CHAPTER XXX
NEVER THE SAME AGAIN


"Things can never be the same again," was the doleful refrain of all
Gracie's thoughts as she tossed and tumbled that night, very weary but
far too troubled to sleep.

And at Carne there were two more in like case.

"Seen Mr. Eager?" asked Jack when Jim came in.

"Yes," nodded Jim, and nothing more passed between them on the
subject.

But here too things could never be quite the same again, for, good
friends as ever though they might remain in all outward seeming,
neither could rid his mind of the fact that the other desired beyond
every other thing in life the prize on which his own heart was set.
And that ever-recurring thought tended, no matter how they might try
to withstand it, to division. Similarity of aim, when there is but one
prize, inevitably produces rivalry, and rivalry scission.

They strove against it.

"Jim, old boy, this mustn't divide us," said Jack next day, when both
were feeling somewhat mouldy.

"Course not," growled Jim, but all the same the cloud was over them.

Eager had asked them to come in to tea that afternoon, so that he
might be with them all at this first meeting and help to round awkward
corners.

But they all three felt somewhat gauche and ill at ease at first, as
was only natural. For Gracie's face, swept by conscious blushes, was
lovelier than ever, and set both their hearts jumping the moment she
came into the room. And it is no easy matter for a girl to appear at
her ease in the company of two love-sick young men who know all about
each other's feelings and hers.

They were both inclined to gaze furtively at her with melancholy in
their eyes, and for the time being the old gay camaraderie was gone;
and at times, when she caught them at it, it was all she could do to
keep from hysterical laughter, while all the time she felt like crying
to think that they would never all be the same again.

But Eager exerted himself to the utmost to charm away the shadows,
gave them some of the humours of his sharp-witted parishioners, and
finally got them on to the outlook in the East, which set them talking
and left Grace in comparative comfort as a listener.

Jack gave them eye-openers in the matter of new guns and projectiles.
Jim asserted with knowledge that if the cavalry got their chance they
would give a mighty good account of themselves. Eager expressed the
hope that the Government would awake to the fact that the whole matter
was obviously promoted by the French Emperor for his own personal
aggrandisement, and would not allow England to be made his willing
instrument. The boys knew little of the political aspect of the case,
but hoped, if it came to fighting, that they would be in it.

And Grace sat quietly and listened, and wondered what the coming year
would hold for them all.

So by degrees the stiffness of their new estate wore off, and before
the boys left they were all talking together almost as of old, but not
quite. Still she went to bed that night somewhat comforted, and slept
so soundly as almost to make up for the night before.

"What's the matter with those boys?" asked Sir Denzil of Eager next
day, when they met for the discussion of certain arrangements
respecting the boys' allowances. "Are they sick? Any typhus about?"
And there was actually a touch of anxiety in his voice.

"No, sir, they are not sick bodily. They're in love."

"The deuce! With whom?"

"Gracie."

"What--both of them?"--suspending his pinch of snuff in mid-air to
gaze in astonishment at Eager.

"Yes, both of them."

"So!"--snuffing very deliberately, and then nodding thoughtfully. "So
the puzzle of Carne hits you too. And what does Miss Gracie say about
it?"

"She is very much upset. They had all been such good friends, you see,
that she had never regarded them in that light."

"And you?"

"I have persuaded them to let matters remain on the old footing, as
far as that is possible, for at least a year. By that time----"

"Yes, this next year may bring many changes," said the old gentleman
musingly; and presently, "Well, I'm glad they have shown so much
sense, Mr. Eager--and you too. I have the highest possible opinion of
Miss Gracie. Now as to the money. They cannot live on their pay, of
course. What do you suggest?"

"Not too much. Jim will be at somewhat more expense than Jack, but it
would not do to discriminate. I should say a couple of hundred each in
addition to their pay. It won't leave them much of a margin for
frivolities, and that is just as well."

"Very well. I will instruct my lawyers to that effect. Three hundred
and fifty or four hundred a year would not have gone far with us in my
day, but no doubt things have changed. Do your best to keep them from
high play. It generally ends one way, as you know."

"I have no reason to believe they are, either of them, given to it. Of
course----"

"They've not tasted their freedom yet. It's bound to be in their
blood. Put them on their guard, Mr. Eager. We don't want them
milksops, but put them on their guard. It will come with more weight
from you than from me."

"There is no fear of them turning out milksops, Sir Denzil. They are
as fine a pair of lads as Carne has ever seen, I'll be bound, and
they'll do us all credit yet. I'll talk to them about the gaming. Jack
is too keen on his work, I think. Jim----"

"Ay, Jim's a Carron, right side or wrong. You'll find he'll run to the
green cloth like a mole to the water."

"I'll see that he goes with his eyes open, anyway. I don't think he'll
put us to shame. Jim's no great hand at his books, but he's got heaps
of common sense, and he's true as steel."

"All that no doubt," said the old gentleman, with a dry smile. "But
you'll find that boys will be boys to the length of their tether. When
they've exhausted the possibilities of foolishness they become
men--sometimes," with a touch of the old bitterness.



CHAPTER XXXI
DESERET


New men--and women--new manners and customs, to say nothing of
costumes.

The accession of the young Queen cut a deep cleft between the old
times and the new. But human nature at the root is very much the same
in all ages, no matter what its outward appearance and behaviour.

The wild excesses of the Regency days had given place to the ordered
decorum of a Maiden Court. The young Queen's happy choice of a consort
confirmed it in its new and healthy courses. But, placid to the point
of dullness though the surface of the stream appeared, down below
there were still the old rocks and shoals, and now and again resultant
eddies and bubbles reminded the older folk of the doings of other
days.

Now--as at all times, but undoubtedly more so than during the two
preceding reigns--to those who believed in study and hard work as a
means of personal advancement, the way was open. And now still, as at
all times, but especially in those latter times, to those who craved
the pleasures of the table, whether covered with a white cloth or a
green, or simply bare mahogany, the way was no less open to those who
knew.

Jack, down at Chatham, was much too busy with his books, and such
practical application of them as could be had there, to give a thought
to the more frivolous side of things.

Jim, cast into what was to him the whirl of London--though his
grandfather would have viewed it scornfully over a depreciatory pinch
of snuff, with something of the feelings of an old lion turned out to
amuse himself in a kitchen garden--Jim found this new free life of the
metropolis very delightful and somewhat intoxicating.

Harrow had been a vast enlargement on Carne. London was a mightier
enfranchisement than Harrow.

But first of all he was a soldier, very proud of his particular branch
of the service, and bent on fitting himself for it to the best of his
limited powers.

In the first flush of his boyish enthusiasm he worked hard. His
horsemanship was above the average; his swordsmanship, by dint of
application and constant practice, excellent; and he slogged away at
his drill and a knowledge of the handling of men as he had never
slogged at anything before.

He bade fair to become a very efficient cavalryman, and meanwhile
found life good and enjoyed himself exceedingly.

His wide-eyed appreciation of this expansive new life appealed to his
fellows as does the unbounded delight of a pretty country cousin to a
dweller in the metropolis. They found fresh flavour in things through
his enjoyment of them, and laid themselves out to open his eyes still
wider.

His enthusiasm for their common profession was in itself a novelty.
They decided that all work and no play would, in his case, result in
but a dull boy, as it would have done in their own if they had given
it the chance; and so, whenever opportunity offered--and they made it
their business to see that it was not lacking--they carried him off
among the eddies and whirlpools of society and insisted on his
enjoying himself.

But, indeed, no great insistence was necessary. Jim found life
supremely delightful, and savoured it with all the headlong vehemence
of his nature.

He had never dreamed there were so many good fellows in the world,
such multitudes of pretty girls, such endless excitements of so many
different kinds. Life was good; and Jack, deep in his studies at
Chatham, And Charles Eager, busy among his simple folk up north, alike
wagged their heads doubtfully over the hasty scrawls which reached
them from time to time with exuberant but sketchy accounts of his
doings, always winding up with promises of fuller details which never
arrived.

Gracie enjoyed his enjoyment of life to the full, and wept with
amusement over his attempts at description of the people he met, and
never suffered any slightest feeling of loss in him, for he wound up
every letter to her with the statement that, on his honour, he had not
yet met a girl who could hold a candle to her, and that he did not
believe there was one in the whole world, and that if there was he had
no wish to meet her, and so he remained--hers most devotedly, hers
most gratefully, hers only, hers till death, and so on, and so
on--Jim.

As to Sir Denzil, who received a dutiful letter now and again and got
all Eager's news in addition, he only smiled over all these
carryings-on, and said the lad must have his fling, and it sounded all
very tame and flat compared with the doings of his young days. And If
the boy came a cropper in money matters he would be inclined to look
upon it as the clearest indication they had yet had as to his birth,
for there never had been a genuine Carron who had not made the money
fly when he got the chance. None of which subversive doctrine did
Eager transmit to the exuberant one in London, lest it should but
serve to grease the wheels and quicken the pace towards catastrophe;
and he earnestly begged, and solemnly warned, Sir Denzil to keep his
deplorable sentiments to himself, lest worse should come of it.

And to Charles Eager, deeply as he detested the thought of war, it
seemed that, from the purely personal point of view, as regarded Jim
and his fellows in like case, a taste of the strenuous life of camp
and field would be more wholesome than this frivolous whirl of London.

Jim, in his joyous flights, met many a strange adventure.

He had gone one night with some of his fellows--Charlie Denham, second
lieutenant in his own regiment, and some others--to a house in St.
James's Street, where Chance still flourished vigorously in spite of
Act 8 & 9 Vict. c. 109, and stood watching the play, with his eyes
nearly falling out of his head at the magnitude and apparent
recklessness of it all.

It was a curious room--the walls hung with heavy draperies, no sign of
a window anywhere about it; and it had a feeling and atmosphere of its
own, one to which fresh air and sweetness and the light of day were
entirely foreign. It was furnished with many easy chairs and couches,
and softly illuminated by shaded gas pendants which threw a brilliant
light on to the tables, but left all beyond in tempered twilight.

The entrance too had struck Jim as still more remarkable. A small,
mean door in a narrow side-street yielded silently to the Open Sesame
of certain signal-taps and revealed a very narrow circular staircase,
apparently in the wall of the house. At every fifteen or twenty steps
upwards was another stout door, which opened only to the prearranged
signal, and there were three such doors before they arrived at
first a cloak-room, then a richly appointed buffet, and finally the
gaming-room.

If the descent to hell is proverbially easy, the ascent to this
particular antechamber was rendered as difficult as possible, to any
except the initiated, and he was presently to learn the reason why.

There was a solid group round each of the tables, and some of the
players occasionally gave vent to their feelings in an exultant
exclamation--more frequently in a muttered objurgation; but for the
most part gain or loss was accepted with equal equanimity, and Jim
wondered vaguely as to the depths of the purses that could lose
hundreds of guineas on the chance of the moment, and could go on
losing, and still show no sign.

His wonder and attention settled presently on the most prominent
player at the table, an outstanding figure by reason of his striking
personal appearance and the size and steady persistence of his stakes.

He might have been any age from sixty to eighty; looking at him again,
Jim was not sure but what he might be a hundred. His hair was quite
white, but being trimmed rather short carried with it no impression of
venerableness. The face below was equally colourless, without seam or
wrinkle, perfectly shaped, like a beautiful white cameo and almost as
immobile. His eyes were dark and still keen. At the moment they were
intent upon the game and Jim watched him fascinated.

He was playing evidently on some system of his own and following it
out with deepest interest, though nothing but his eyes betrayed it.

His slim white hand quietly placed note after note on certain numbers,
and replaced them with ever-increasing amounts as time after time the
croupier raked them away. Now and again a few came fluttering back,
but for the most part they tumbled into the bank with the rest. But,
whether they came or went, not a muscle moved in the beautiful white
face, and the stakes went on increasing with mathematical precision.

Many of the others had stopped their spasmodic punting in order to
give their whole attention to his play. Their occasional guineas had
come to savour of impudence alongside this formidable campaign.

Jim watched breathlessly, with a tightening of the chest, though the
outcome was nothing to him, and wondered how long it could go on. The
man must be made of money. He knew too little of the game to follow it
with understanding, but he watched the calm white face with intensest
interest, and out of the corners of his eyes saw the slim white hand
quietly dropping small fortunes up and down the table and replacing
them with larger ones as they disappeared.

Then a murmur from the onlookers told him of some change in the tun of
luck, but the white face showed no sign. And suddenly the group round
the table began to disintegrate.

"What is it?" jerked Jim to his neighbour.

"He's broken the bank. Wish I had half his nerve and luck and about a
quarter of his money."

"Who is he?"

"Don't you know? Lord Deseret. Gad, he must have taken ten thousand
pounds to-night!"

"Come along, Carron," said one of his friends. "All the fun's over,
but it was jolly well worth seeing."

And as Jim turned he found himself face to face with Lord Deseret, who
stood quietly tapping one hand with a bundle of bank-notes, folded
lengthwise as though they were so many pipe-spills.

"Carron?" he said gently. "Which of you is Carron?"

"I am Jim Carron, sir--at your service." And the keen kindly eyes
dwelt pleasantly on him and seemed to go right through him.

"_Jim_ Carron?" said the old man, and tapped him on the arm with the
wedge of bank-notes, and indicated an adjacent sofa and his desire for
his company there. "And why not Denzil? It always has been Denzil,
hasn't it?"

"Well, you see, there are two of us, sir, and we are both Denzil, so
we are also Jack and Jim to prevent mistakes."

"Two of you, are there?"--with a slight knitting of the smooth white
brow, on which all the wildest fluctuations of the tables had not
produced the faintest ripple of emotion. "Two of you, eh? And which of
you is Lady Susan Sandys's boy? Which is to be Carron of Carne when
the time comes?"

"Ah, now! that is more that I can tell you, sir. We are a pair of
unfortunate twins, and no one knows which is the elder."

"Twins, eh?" And even to Jim's unpractised eye there was a look of
surprise on the calm white face. "That is somewhat awkward for the
succession, isn't it? Which is the better man?"

"Oh--Jack, miles away. He's got a head on him. He's at Chatham in the
Engineers. I'm in the Hussars."

"There may be work even for the Hussars before long. There certainly
will be for the Engineers. You're all looking forward to it, I
suppose?"

"Very much so, sir. You think there's no doubt about it?"

"None, I fear, my boy. It will bring loss to many, gain to a few, but
the gain rarely equals the loss. Do you play?" he asked abruptly.

"Very little. It's all quite new to me. I've hardly found my feet
yet."

"This kind of thing," he said, flipping the bank-notes, "is all very
well if you can afford it. Take my advice and keep clear of it."

Jim laughed, as much as to say, "Your example and your good fortune
belie your words, sir."

"I can afford it, you see," said Lord Deseret, in reply to the boy's
unspoken thought. "When you are as old as I am, and if you have wasted
your life as I have," he said impressively, "you may come to play as
the only excitement left to you. But I hope you will have more sense
and make better use of your time. Will you come and see me?"

"I would very much like to, sir, if I may."

"You are occupied in the mornings, of course." And he pulled out a
gold pencil-case and scribbled an address on the back of the outermost
bank-note, and handed it to Jim. "Any afternoon about five, you will
find me at home."

"But----" stammered Jim, much embarrassed by the bank-note.

"Put it in your pocket, my boy. You will find some use for it, unless
things are very much changed since my young days. Your father's
son--and your grandfather's grandson for the matter of that--need feel
no compunction about accepting a trifling present from so old a friend
of theirs. You cannot in any case put it to a worse use than I would.
I shall look for you, then, within a day or two." And with a final
admonitory tap of the sheaf of notes and a kindly nod, he left Jim
standing in a vast amazement.

Lord Deseret had gone out by the door leading to the buffet and
staircase. He was back on the instant with his hat and cloak on, just
as a sharp whistle from some concealed tube behind the hangings cleft
the air, and, in the sudden silence that befell, Jim heard the sound
of thunderous blows from the lower regions.

Lord Deseret looked quickly round and beckoned to him.

"The police," he said quietly. "Get your things and keep close to me.
It would never do for you to be caught here. There is plenty of time.
Those doors will keep them busy for a good quarter of an hour or more.
Now, Stepan!" And a burly man, who had suddenly appeared, pulled back
the heavy curtains from a corner and opened a narrow slit of a door,
and they passed through to another staircase, which led up and up
until, through a trap-door, they came out on to the roof. They passed
on over many roofs, with little ladders leading up and down over the
party-walls, and finally down through another trap, and so through a
public-house into a distant street.

"A thing we are always subject to," said Lord Deseret gently, "and so
we provide for it. Don't forget to come and see me. Good night!"

"You're in luck's way, old man," said his friend Denham. "Deseret is a
man worth knowing. Let's go and have something to eat." And they all
went over to Merlin's and had a tremendous supper, for which they
allowed Jim to pay because he was in luck's way and had made the
acquaintance of Lord Deseret.

And many such supper-bills would have made but a very trifling hole in
Lord Deseret's bank-note.



CHAPTER XXXII
THE LADY WITH THE FAN


Perhaps it was that heavy supper, and its concomitants, that tended to
fog Jim's recollection of something in his talk with Lord Deseret
which had struck a jarring note in his brain at the time, and had
suggested itself to him as odd and a thing to be most decidedly looked
into when opportunity offered.

The feeling of it was with him next day, but he could not get back to
the fact or the words which had given rise to it. Something the old
man had said had caused him a momentary surprise and discomfort, and
then had come the abiding surprise, from which the momentary
discomfort had worn off, of that enormous bank-note, and after that
the hasty exit over the roofs and the tumultuous supper at Merlin's,
with much merriment and wine and smoke. It was not easy to get back
through all that fog to the actual words of a casual conversation.

But there certainly was something. What, in Heaven's name, was it,
that it should haunt him in this fashion?

And then, as he did his best for the tenth time, in his thick-headed,
blundering way, to cover the ground again step by step, it suddenly
flashed upon him.

"And which of you is Lady Susan Sandys's boy?"

That was it! "Which of you is Lady Susan Sandys's boy?" the old man
had asked quite casually, as though expecting a perfectly commonplace
answer.

Were they not, then, both Lady Susan Sandys's boys?

To be suddenly confronted with a question such as that--to come upon
even the suggestion of a flaw in the fundamental facts of one's life,
is a facer indeed.

What _could_ the old boy mean? There was no sign of decrepitude about
him. That he was in fullest possession of very unusual powers of brain
and nerve, his prowess at the tables had shown. What could he mean?

Twin brothers must surely have the same mother. And yet from Lord
Deseret's question, and the way he put it, and the searching look of
the kindly keen eyes, one might have supposed that he knew, and every
one else knew, something to the contrary.

To one of Jim's simple nature, there was only one thing to be done,
and that was to go to Lord Deseret and ask him plainly what he meant.

He had already written to Jack, conveying to him his half of the
unexpected windfall, before he had succeeded in getting back to the
root of the trouble. And he had simply told him how he had met Lord
Deseret, an old friend of their father's, and how he had broken the
bank at roulette and had insisted on making him a present, which was
obviously given to them both, and so he had the pleasure of enclosing
his half herewith; and Lord Deseret was an exceedingly jolly old cock,
and the finest-looking old boy he had ever seen, and the way he
followed up that bank till it broke was a sight, and he, Jim, was half
inclined to buy himself another horse, as the mare he had was a bit
shy and skittish in the traffic, though no doubt she would get used to
it in time.

It was after five before he found out what he wanted to ask Lord
Deseret, and so the matter had to stand over till next day, rankling
meanwhile in his mind in most unaccustomed fashion, and exercising
that somewhat lethargic member much beyond its wont.

That night Denham and the rest were bound for Covent Garden to see
Madame Beteta in her Spanish dances.

Vittoria Beteta had burst upon the town a month or two before and
taken it by storm. She claimed to be Spanish, but her dances were
undoubtedly more so than her speech.

She had a smattering of her alleged native language, and of French and
Italian, and, for a foreigner, a quite unusual command of the
difficult English tongue.

Whatever her actual nationality, however, she danced superbly and was
extraordinarily good-looking, and knew how to make the most of herself
in every way.

Her age was uncertain, like all the rest. She looked eighteen, but, as
she had been dancing for years in most of the capitals of Europe, she
was probably more. What was certain was that she had witching black
eyes, and raven black hair, and a superb figure, and danced divinely,
and drew all the world to watch her.

Jim was charmed, like all the others. He had never seen anything so
exquisitely, so seductively graceful.

He gazed, with wide eyes and parted lips, till the others smiled at
his absorption.

"There's your new catch beckoning to you, Carron," said Denham
suddenly, but he had to dig him lustily in the ribs before he could
distract his attention from the dancer.

"Here, I say! Stop it!" jerked Jim, unconsciously fending the assault
with his elbow, while he still hung on to the Beteta's twinkling feet
with all the zest that was in him.

"There's Lord Deseret waving to you--in the stage-box, man." And Jim,
following his indication, saw Lord Deseret, in a box abutting right on
to the stage, waving his hand and beckoning to him.

"You have the luck," sighed Denham. "He wants you in his box. Wonder
if he has room for two little ones."

"Come on and try." And Jim jumped up.

"Wait till the dance is over or you'll get howled at, man." And Denham
dragged him down again, until the outburst of applause announced the
end of the figure and they were able to get round to Lord Deseret's
box.

He received them cordially, and as he had the box all to himself
Charlie had no reason to feel himself superfluous.

"Yes, she is very 'harming and dances remarkably well," said Lord
Deseret. "It was I induced her to come over here. I saw her in Vienna
two years ago, and advised her then to add London to her laurels.
Would you like to meet her? We could go round after the next dance.
She will have a short rest then."

"Oh, I would," jerked Jim.

And so presently he found himself, with Lord Deseret and Charlie
Denham, who could hardly stand for inflation, in Mme Beteta's
dressing-room.

She was lying on a couch, swathed in a crimson silk wrap and fanning
herself gently with a huge feather fan, over which the great black
eyes shone like lamps.

"Señora," said Lord Deseret in Spanish, with the suspicion of a smile
in the corners of his eyes, "may I be allowed the pleasure of
introducing to you some young friends of mine?" And she struck at him
playfully with the plume of feathers, disclosing for a moment a
laughing mouth and a set of fine white teeth. And Jim thought she
looked hardly as young as her eyes and her feet would have led one to
suppose.

"Do you understand Spanish?" she asked of Jim, in English.

"No, I'm sorry to say----"

"Then you see, milord, it is not _comme il faut_ to speak it where it
is not understood." And she laughed again.

"I stand corrected, madame. We will not speak our native tongue. This
is my young friend, James Carron."

And Jim, gazing with all his heart at the wonderful dancer, got a
vivid impression of a rich dark Southern face, and a pair of great
liquid black eyes glowing upon him through the tantalising undulations
of the great dusky fan, which wafted to and fro with the methodic
regularity of a metronome.

"And this is Lord Charles Denham. Both gallant Hussars, and both
aching to show the colour of their blood against your friends of St.
Petersburg."

"Ah, the horror!" she said gently. "But you do not look bloodthirsty,
Mr. Carron." And the great black eyes seemed to look Jim through and
through.

"I don't think I am really, you know. But if there is to be fighting
one looks for chances, of course."

"And the chance always of death," she said gravely.

"One takes that, of course."

"But it is always the next man who is going to be killed, madame,"
struck in Charlie. "Oneself is always immune. Lord Deseret was at
Waterloo, yet here he is, very much alive and as sound as a bell."

"He had the good fortune. May you both have as good!"

"They were anxious to express to you their admiration of your dancing,
madame," said Lord Deseret. "But we seem to have fallen upon more
solemn subjects."

"I have never seen anything like it," said Jim.

"It is exquisite beyond words, a veritable dream," said the more
gifted Charlie.

"Ah, well, it seems to please people, and so it is a pleasure to me
also. You are from--where, Mr. Carron?"

"From the north--from Carne,--the Carrons of Carrie, you know."

The dusky plume wafted noiselessly to and fro in front of her face,
and its pace did not vary by the fraction of a hair's breadth. Over
it, and through it, the great black eyes rested on his face in
curiously thoughtful inquisition.

Suddenly, with an almost invisible jerk of the head, she beckoned him
to closer converse, and holding the fan as a screen invited him inside
it, so to speak.

"Do you play?" she asked gently.

"Very little," he said in surprise. "I have only my pay and an
allowance, you see."

"That is right. He"--nodding towards Lord Deseret--"is not a good
example for young men in that respect."

"He has been very kind to me. And he warns me strongly against it."

"All the same he does not set a good example. Will you come and see
me?"

"I would be delighted if I may."

"Come and breakfast with me to-morrow at twelve. I shall be alone."

She gave him an address in South Audley Street, and then dismissed
them all with, "Now you must go. Here is my dresser, and I have but
ten minutes more." And they made their adieux and bowed themselves
out.

"Is Madame English?" asked Denham, as they seated themselves in the
box again.

"Originally, I think so. But she has lived much abroad and has become
to some extent cosmopolitan. She certainly is not Spanish, or if she
is she has most unaccountably forgotten her native tongue," said Lord
Deseret, with his hovering smile.

"She dances in Spanish, anyway," said Charlie exuberantly.

"And that is all that concerns us at the moment."



CHAPTER XXXIII
A STIRRING OF MUD


It is an old saying, founded on very correct observation, that
long-continued calm breaks up in storm. And the same holds good of
life, individual and national. Too long a calm leads at times to
somewhat of deterioration--at all events to a laxing of the fibres and
an indolent reliance on the continuance of things as they are; and
that, in a world whose essence is growth and change, is not without
its dangers. And--proverbially again--a storm always clears the air.

It seemed to Jim Carron that, of a sudden, the accumulated storms of
all the long quiet years burst upon him.

He had intended seeing Lord Deseret at the first possible moment and
questioning him as to that very curious remark of his. But he could
not broach such a matter at the theatre and in company, and his
lordship had driven off to some other appointment the moment the
curtain fell.

So, at twelve next day, having scrambled through his morning's duties
with a quite unusually preoccupied mind, he presented himself at Mme
Beteta's lodgings and was taken upstairs to her apartments.

She welcomed him graciously, and they sat down at once to the table.

He thought she looked decidedly older in the daylight, but it was only
in the texture of her face, devoid now of any artificial assistance,
and slightly lined in places.

The two great plaits of black hair showed no silver threads. The
luminous black eyes were still bright. The sinewy form the dancer was
full of exquisite grace.

"Now tell me about yourself," demanded madame, as they sipped their
final coffee, and the maid retired.

"I don't think there's anything to tell," said Jim, with his open
boyish smile.

"We have lived all our lives at Carne--Jack and I--until we went to
Harrow, and then he went to Woolwich and I came to London."

"Jack is your brother?"

"Yes; we're twins. He's the clever one. That's why he's at Chatham
now--in the Engineers. It was all I could do to scramble into the
Hussars." And he laughed reminiscently at the scramble, and then told
her about it.

"And which of you is the elder? Even in twins one of you must come
first."

"That's funny now. Lord Deseret was asking me that the first time we
met, and I couldn't tell him. We've really never troubled about it,
you see, or thought about it at all until a very short time ago. I
suppose it was the fellows at school wanting to know which was the
elder that set us thinking about it. We asked old Mrs. Lee--she keeps
house for us at Carne, you know--and Mr. Eager----"

"Who is Mr. Eager?"

"Oh, he's a splendid fellow. He's curate at Wyvveloe, and he's done
everything for us, he and Gracie "--and madame noted the softened
inflection as he said the word.

"And who is Gracie?"

"Mr. Eager's sister. They call her 'the Little Lady' in Wyvveloe."

"Is she pretty?"

"Oh, she's lovely, and as good and sweet as can be."

"You're in love with her, I suppose."

"Yes, I am," said Jim, colouring up, "and I'm not ashamed of it."

"And what about Jack?"

"He's in love with her, too."

"That's rather awkward, isn't it? What does Miss Gracie say to it
all?"

"Oh, she was terribly upset. You see she had never thought of us like
that. It was after the dance at Sir George Herapath's that we found it
out----"

"She had a low dress on, I suppose--bare arms and shoulders, and you
had never seen her so before."

"Yes," he said, surprised at such acumen, "I suppose that was it. We
all used to bathe together and run about the sands. But that night she
seemed to grow up all of a sudden--and so did we."

"And what does her brother say to it--and your grandfather?"

"We're to say nothing more about it for a year. You see, this war is
coming on and you never can tell----"

"War is horror," she said, with a shudder. "I have seen fighting in
Spain and in the streets of Paris. It is terrible. You may neither of
you come back alive. If only one comes, then, I suppose----"

"Yes, that would settle it all."

"And you do not remember your mother?" she asked, after a pause.

"We never knew her," he said thoughtfully, bethinking him suddenly of
Lord Deseret and that curious saying of his. "She died when we were
born, and nobody has told us about her. Old Mrs. Lee must remember
her, but she would never tell us, and Sir Denzil--well, you can't ask
him about anything--at least, not to get any good from it."

"He has been good to you both?"

"Oh yes, in his way. But if it hadn't been for Mr. Eager----. We were
growing up just little savages, running wild In the sand-hills, you
know. And then he came, and it has made all the difference in the
world to us."

"You owe him much, then?"

"Everything! Him and Gracie."

In his boyish Impulsiveness, having been led on to talk about himself,
he was half tempted to consult her about the matter that was troubling
his mind in connection with Lord Deseret. But how should this
half-foreign woman know anything about such matters. It was not likely
that she had ever heard tell of Lady Susan Sandys. How should she? And
so he lapsed into a brown study, thinking over it all.

He was aroused from it by another leading question from madame.

"And your father? Is he alive? Can he not help to solve your
difficulty?"

"Well--you must think us a queer lot--we never saw our father till a
short time ago. He has been living in France. We thought he was dead.
He killed a man in a gaming quarrel long ago and had to live abroad,
and he's been there ever since."?

"Truly, as you say, you are an odd family. Will you bring your brother
to see me sometime?"

"I'm sure he would like it, but he's not often in town. You see, he
has the brains and he's putting them to use. I'll bring him, though,
the first time he's up."

It was not till afterwards that her interest in him and his struck him
as somewhat unusual, and then he had other things to think about.

That same afternoon he went to Park Lane, and found Deseret House and
asked for Lord Deseret.

"Now, this is good of you," was his lordship's greeting--"to look up
an old man when all the world is young and calling to you."

"I wanted to ask you something, sir, if I may."

"Say on, my boy. Anything I can tell you is very much at your
service."

"When you were speaking about Jack and me the other night, you said
something which has been puzzling me ever since. You asked, 'Which of
you is Lady Susan Sandys's boy?'"

"Yes--well?" asked the old man, with a glint of surprise in the keen
dark eyes, which rested on the boy's ingenuous face.

"Was Lady Susan Sandys our mother, sir?"

"Good heavens, boy, do you mean to say you don't know who your own
mother was?"

"We don't know anything sir. That was the first time I had ever heard
her name."

"Good God!" And there was no doubt about the vast surprise in the calm
white face now, as its owner stood for a moment staring at Jim and
then began to pace the room in very deep thought.

"Your grandfather? Has he never discussed these things with you?"

"Never, sir. We have never had very much to do with him, you see.
Until quite lately we supposed our father was dead too. Then, one day,
he came to Carne--from France, where he lives, and it was a great
surprise to us."

"And you know nothing about your mother?"

"Nothing whatever, sir. But since you said that, I have been thinking
of very little else. You said, 'Which of you is Lady Susan Sandys's
boy?' Does that mean that we are not both Lady Susan Sandys's boys?
That would mean that we had different mothers. But how could that be
when we are both the same age? I wish you would tell me what it all
means, for I've thought and thought till my brain is getting all
twisted up with thinking."

Lord Deseret paced the long room with bent head and his thin white
hands clasped behind him.

It seemed to him shameful that these boys should have been kept in
such ignorance of matters so vital. He was not aware, of course, of
their strange upbringing in the wilds of Carne.

On the other hand, if their father and grandfather had not thought fit
to enlighten them it would hardly become him to do so. Moreover, as he
turned it all over in his mind, he perceived that there might be
something to be said on the other side.

The boys had obviously been brought up in perfect equality. Any
revelation of the mystery of their births could only make for
upsetting--must introduce elements of doubt into their minds, might
work disastrously upon their fellowship.

Quite unconsciously, supposing they knew all about it, he had stirred
up the muddy waters that had lain quiescent for twenty years.

"This is a great surprise to me, my boy," he said quietly at
length--"a very great surprise. I should never have said what I did
had I not supposed you knew all about it. As matters lie . . . I'm
afraid you must absolve me from my promise. If your grandfather and
your father have deemed it wise to keep silence in regard to certain
family matters, it would hardly be seemly in me to discuss them
without their permission. You see that, don't you?"

"I see it from your point of view, sir, but not at all from my own,"
said Jim stubbornly. "There is something we do not know and we
certainly ought to know it. If you won't tell me I must go elsewhere.
I wish I had Jack's head. I think I'll go down to Chatham and talk it
over with him."

The mischief was done. Lord Deseret saw that the only thing left to
him was to direct the boy's quite legitimate curiosity into right
channels.

"If I were you I would go straight to Sir Denzil. Tell him just what
has happened, and that you will know no peace of mind till you
understand the whole matter."

"Thank you, sir. I will do that, but I think I will see Jack first and
perhaps we could go down together. It's right he should know, and he's
got a better head than I have."

"It concerns you both, of course. Perhaps it would be as well you
should go together," said Lord Deseret, and long after Jim had gone he
pondered the matter and wondered what would come of it, and yet took
no blame to himself. For who could have imagined that any boys could
have grown to such an age in such complete ignorance of their father
and mother and all their family concerns?



CHAPTER XXXIV
THE BOYS IN THE MUD


Jim spent a troubled night, tossing to and fro and trying in vain to
make head or tail of the tangle.

He was in Chatham soon after midday and made his way at once to Jack's
quarters.

He found him hard at work at a table strewn with books and drawings.

"Hello, Jim boy? Why, what's up? You look---- What is it, old boy? Not
money, when you sent me that gold-mine, day before yesterday. It was
mighty good of you, old chap. Now--what's wrong?"

"I don't know. Everything, it seems to me. I told you about Lord
Deseret----"

"Rather! Good old cock! His money comes easily, I should say."

"When he was talking to me, asking about you and Carne and all the
rest, he said, quite as though I knew all about it---- 'And which of
you is Lady Susan Sandys's boy?'"

"Who the deuce is Lady Susan Sandys?"

"Your mother--or mine."

Jack's knitted brows and concentrated gaze settled on Jim in vastest
amazement.

"Your mother--or mine, Jim? What on earth do you mean?"

"That's just it. I don't know what it means. There is something behind
that we don't understand, Jack."

"And this Lord Deseret?"

"I went to him and begged him to explain. He was very much surprised
that I didn't know all about it, whatever it is. But he said that
since our grandfather or our father had seen fit not to tell us, it
would hardly be right for him to do so."

Jack nodded.

"He advised me to go to Sir Denzil and tell him how the matter had
come up, and give him the chance to explain. And I suppose that's the
only thing to do, but I wanted your advice. We've always been together
in everything."

Jack nodded again, and then shook his head over his own bewilderment.

"I don't understand at all, Jim. Do you mean that we are not brothers,
you and I? That's nonsense, and d----d nonsense too, I should say."

"I've thought and thought till I'm all in a muddle. But, if words mean
anything at all, it means that you and I are not children of the same
mother, and Lord Deseret knows all about it."

"You're sure he won't speak?"

"Certain. He's a splendid old fellow. He'll only do what he thinks
proper, and the fact that he was so much put out at having started the
matter, without understanding that we knew nothing about it, shows the
kind of man he is and what there is in it."

"I can't imagine what it all means. Everybody knows we're twins, and
to come now and tell us--oh, it's all d----d nonsense!"

"I know. I felt that way too. But all the same we've got to know all
about it now. How are you for leave? When can you come down to Carne?"

"Leave's all right. Come now if you like," growled Jack, very much
upset in his mind and temper, as was natural enough.

"Meet me at ten o'clock, at Euston, to-morrow morning and we'll go
down and get to the bottom of it all; unless you think it would be
better still to go across to Paris and see our father and ask him. I
have thought of that."

"If the old man won't speak, we may have to do that," said Jack, in
gloomy consideration. "But if there's something queer behind it all,
he's the last man to tell us, for he must be mixed up in it, and it
can't be to his credit."

"I wish we'd never heard anything about it," said Jim.

"I don't know. If there's anything wrong it's sure to come out sooner
or later, and we ought to know. I'd like a proper foundation for my
life."

"Seems to me to cut all the foundations away."

"Feels like that. Any one who says we're not brothers is simply a
fool. Besides, why on earth should our grandfather bring us up as
brothers if we aren't? He's no fool, and he's not the man to play at
things all these years. I wonder if Mr. Eager knows."

"I shouldn't think so. We were ten when he came."

"Well, we'll see him first, at all events, and get his advice." And on
that understanding they parted, to meet at Euston the following
morning.

Jack would have had Jim stop for a while to see round Chatham and make
the acquaintance of some of his friends, but he begged off.

"I can think of nothing but this thing at present. It's turned me
upside down. I hope nothing will turn up to separate us, Jack."

"We won't let it, Jim boy. That's in our hands at all events, and
we'll see to it."



CHAPTER XXXV
EXPLANATIONS


It was after ten o'clock the next night when they drove into Wyvveloe
and knocked on Mrs. Jex's door. Mrs. Jex had gone to bed and so had
Gracie. Eager himself answered their knock, and jumped with surprise
at sight of them.

"Why--Jack--Jim! What on earth----"

"We'll tell you if you'll let us in," said Jack.

"Now what mischief have you been getting into?" said Eager, as they
sat down before the fire, and he knocked the wood into life.

"It's not us this time. We've come to ask you something, Mr. Eager;
and if you can't tell us we are going on to see Sir Denzil." And
Charles Eager knew, without more telling, that the boys had somehow
fallen on the mystery of their birth.

"Go on," he nodded.

"You know what we want to know?"

"I think so; but if you'll tell me I shall be sure."

And Jack, as the better speaker, laid the matter before him, and both
eyed him anxiously the while.

"I am glad you came to me first," he said. "I can probably tell you
all you wish to know; and you must take it from me, boys, that if it
was never told to you before, it was for good reason. Better still if
it had never needed to be told at all. Best of all if there had been
nothing to tell. The trouble is none of our making. All we can do is
to face it like men, and that, I know, you will do."

And he told them, as clearly and briefly as possible, all that he had
learned concerning their births.

"To sum it all up," he said in conclusion, "you are sons of the same
father, and so are half-brothers. But which of you is the son of Lady
Susan and which the son of Mrs. Lee's daughter, no man on earth knows.
And again--whether your father was really married to Mrs. Lee's
daughter I doubt if any one but himself knows. And so you see the
tangle the whole matter is in, and you can understand why it was kept
from you. We could only present you with a puzzle of which we did not
know the solution. It could only have upset your lives as it has done
now. We have gained twenty years by keeping silence."

"Old Mrs. Lee knows which of us is which, I suppose," said Jack. And
Jim jumped at the thought.

"I have very little doubt that she does, Jack; but she has never shown
any indication of it whatever."

"And is her daughter still alive?"

"I doubt if even she knows that. She has not heard of her for a great
many years."

"Does Gracie know anything about it all?" asked Jim.

"Not a word; and I see no reason why she should. You two have given
her quite enough to think about without troubling her with this
matter."

They quite agreed with that, and Jack, who had been pondering
gloomily, summed up with:

"It's all an awful tangle, and I see no way out. It seems to me that
it doesn't matter in the least who is who; for even if we learned who
our mothers were, we don't know if they were legally married. I'm
afraid there is only one thing to be said--and that is, that the one
parent we are both certain about was a dishonourable rascal, and we
have got to suffer for his sins."

"Morals were very much looser then than they are now," said Eager
gently. "He was the product of his age. We may at all events be
thankful that things have improved, and you two are the proofs
thereof."

"We'd probably have been no better if you'd never come here," said
Jim, with very genuine feeling. "We owe everything to you--and
Gracie."

"That is so," said Jack heartily; and wished he had said it first, but
he had been too fully occupied with the other aspect of the case.

"One cannot help wondering," he said presently, "what is going to
happen if our father and our grandfather should die. What are we going
to do then, Mr. Eager?"

"That is a question Sir Denzil and I have often debated, but we never
arrived at any conclusion. One of you must be Carron of Carne. There
is also another possibility. Lady Susan Sandys was the only sister of
the Earl of Quixande. He is unmarried, so far as the world knows, but
he also comes of the bad old times and--well, you know his reputation.
But if he leaves no legitimate heir the title comes to his sister's
son----"

"If he should happen to be legitimate," growled Jack.

"As you say, my boy--if he can be proved legitimate?"

"In which case he is both Carron of Carne and Earl of Quixande."

"And, having no need for the two titles, it might be possible to hand
one over to his half-brother."

"Could he?" asked Jack doubtfully.

"Under the circumstances it might possibly be sanctioned."

"Failing that, who comes in?"

"Some Solway Canons. I know nothing of them except that your
grandfather detests them. But there is still further possibility for
you both."

"What?" And they eyed him anxiously.

"That in your military careers you may both rise to such heights as to
cast even the title of Carron of Carne into the shade."

Jack nodded. Jim did not seem to regard it as a very hopeful prospect.

"Well," said Jack, as he got up, "we've got quite enough to think over
for one night. We're going to the inn. We told them to make up beds
for us there. They'll all have turned in at Carne. We'll go along and
see Sir Denzil in the morning."

"Come in to breakfast, and I'll go with you. I shall have to explain
to him how it comes that I have had to disclose the whole matter to
you."


"The boys came down last night, Gracie," was the surprising news that
met the Little Lady when she came down next morning.

"The boys? Whatever for, Charlie? There isn't anything wrong with
them, is there?" And the startled colour flooded her face and then
left it white.

"Nothing of the kind, dear. They wanted to see Sir Denzil on some
family matters, and they arrived too late to go there last night, so
they went to the inn."

"You're sure they haven't been getting into trouble?"

"Quite sure. They're coming in to breakfast. You'd better go and talk
to Mrs. Jex about supplies. Hungry soldiers, you know." And Gracie
flew to the commissariat department.

"You dear boys!" was her greeting, when they came striding in, very
tall and large in their undress uniforms. "What _have_ you been doing?
Over-studying?--softening of the brain?"--to Jack. "Gambling?--and
frivolling generally?"--to Jim.

"Quite out," laughed Jack. "My brain was never better in its life, and
Jim's pocket never so full. Mayn't a pair of hungry men come all the
way from London to see you without being accused of such iniquities?"

"It is nice to get such good reports from yourselves," laughed Gracie.
"I wonder how long you can keep it up."

"It depends upon circumstances," said Jack.

"And what are the circumstances?" asked Gracie incautiously.

"You're one," said Jack boldly.

"Here's breakfast. Charlie gave me to understand you had had nothing
to eat for a week."

"Nothing half so good as this," said Jack, with an appreciative look
at the cottage loaves and golden butter, and the great dish of ham and
eggs Mrs. Jex had just brought in.

"My! but yo' do look rare and big and bonny," said that estimable
woman. "I do think I'll cook ye some more eggs."

"Yes, do, Mrs. Jex," said Eager. "They don't get eggs like these in
London."

And so they got through breakfast; but Jim was the quietest of the
party, and Gracie got it into her head that he was in some dreadful
mess, in spite of what Charlie had said. And just before they started
for Carne she got hold of him for a minute, and asked:

"Jim, what's the trouble? Is it anything very bad?"

"It's nothing we've done, Grace," he said, with so frank a look in his
own anxious eyes that she could not doubt him. "Just some old family
matters that have cropped up." And though she could not doubt his
word, he was so unlike himself that she watched them go in a state of
extreme puzzlement as to what could have sapped Jim's spirits to such
an unusual extent.

As a matter of fact, the strange disclosures of the previous night
were weighing heavily upon him. With a vague, dull discomfort he was
saying to himself that, as between himself and Jack, there could be no
possible doubt as to which was the better man; and therefore--as he
argued with himself--of the true stock. And, if that was so, he was
simply superfluous and in everybody's way. He was not much good in the
world, anyway. He felt as if he would be better out of it. If he were
gone, Jack would take his proper place--and marry Gracie---- All the
same, it was deucedly hard that one's life should be broken up like
this through absolutely no fault of one's own. And to surrender all
thought of Gracie---- Yes, that was the hardest thing of all. But she
would go to Jack by rights, along with all the rest.

"Thank God for this war that is coming!" he said to himself. "There
will be my chance of getting out of the tangle and leaving the field
clear to them."

So no wonder our poor old Jim was feeling in the dumps, and was quite
unable to keep them out of his face.

"Hillo? What's brought yo' home?" asked old Mrs. Lee, as they came
into her kitchen.

"Business," said Jack curtly, and she was surprised at the dourness of
them all.

But Jack was saying to himself--"That old witch may be my
grandmother."

And Jim--"She is most likely my grandmother."

And Eager--"If the old wretch would only speak she could tell us all
we want to know."

Under which conditions a certain lack of cordiality was really not
very surprising.


"Well, well! How much is it?" asked Sir Denzil, eyeing them
quizzically over his arrested pinch of snuff as they came into his
room. "And how did you manage to get here at this time of day?"

"We slept at the Pig and Whistle, sir," said Jack. "We got to Wyvveloe
too late last night to come on here."

"Most considerate, I'm sure. What have you been up to, to make you so
thoughtful of the old man?

"They have run up against the Great Puzzle, sir, as we knew they must
sooner or later," said Eager. "They came in to me at ten o'clock last
night to ask if I could enlighten them, and I have told them all we
know."

"So!" And he absorbed his snuff and stared intently at the
boys. . . . "And how do you feel about it?"

"We feel bad, sir," said Jack. "But apparently there is no way out of
the tangle."

"We've been trying to find one for the last twenty years," said the
old man grimly. "How did it come to you?"

"Ah! I'm surprised at Deseret," he said, when he had heard the story.
"He's old enough to know how to hold his tongue."

"How are things shaping? Have they made up their minds to fight?" he
asked. And Eager, at all events, knew how that great question bore
upon the smaller.

"I think there is no doubt about it, sir," said Jack. "There is talk
of some of our men going out almost at once."

"And you are both set on going?"

"Yes, sir"--very heartily from both of them.

"Well," said the old man weightily, "war is a great clearer of the
air. Don't trouble your heads any more about this matter till you come
home again. If you both come, we must consider what is best to be
done. If only one of you comes, it will need no discussion. If
neither,"--he snuffed very deliberately, looking at them as if he saw
them for the first, or was looking at them for the last, time--"then,
as far as you are concerned, the matter is ended. When do you return?"

"To-morrow morning, sir. We could only get short leave."

"Then perhaps you will favour me with your company at dinner to-night.
And Mr. Eager will perhaps bring Miss Gracie."

They would very much have preferred the simpler hospitality of Mrs.
Jex's cottage, but could not well refuse. With Sir Denzil's words in
their minds they could not but recognise that, for some of them, it
might well be the last time they would all meet there.

They picked up Gracie by arrangement, and all went off down along for
a quick walk round some of their old haunts.

"How well I remember my first sight of these flats!" said Eager,
looking with great enjoyment at the tall, clean-made, upstanding
figures striding by his side. Jim, he noticed, was rather the taller
and certainly the more boyish-looking. Jack had a maturer air, which
doubtless came of study. But both looked eminently soldierly and
likely to give a good account of themselves. "You two were just little
naked savages, and you stole all my clothes but one sock, and I
thought I would have to go home clad only in a towel."

"They were good old times," said Jack. "But I'm mightily glad you
came. What would we have grown up into if you hadn't?"

"Wild sand-boys," suggested Gracie.

"And what a sight you were, the first time we saw you!" laughed Jack:
"in your little red bathing things, with your hair all flying, and
your little arms and legs going like drumsticks--a perfect vision of
delight."

"What a pity we can't always remain children!"

"You can--in all good ways," said her brother.

"One grows and one grows," she said, shaking her head knowingly, "and
things are never the same again."

"They may be better," said Jack, valiantly doing his best to allow no
sinking of spirits. "It would be a pretty bad look out if one could
only look backwards."

Jim was unusually sober. As a rule, on such an occasion, nonsense was
his vogue, and he and Gracie carried on like the children of those
earlier days.

"If you ask _me_," said Gracie, venturing a flight towards olden
times, "I believe old Jim here has got himself into the most awful
scrape of his life, in spite of all your assertions to the contrary.
_I_ believe he's been and gone and lost one hundred thousand pounds at
cards, and grandpa has quietly cut him off with a shilling over the
usual pinch of snuff."

"No, I haven't. I've lost hardly anything, and I've got heaps of
money,  more than I ever had in my life before. I'll buy you a pony,
if you like."

"All right! I don't mind. Sir George has a jolly one for sale; you
know--Meg's Paddy. She's got too big for him, and he's just up to my
feather-weight."

"We'll go along and see about him when we've been to the Mere and seen
Mrs. Rimmer and Kattie. How's Kattie getting on?"

"She's a wild thing and as pretty as a rose. I'm afraid her mother
worries about her. But it must be dreadfully lonely living here all
the year round. Just look how grim and gray it all is. How would you
like it yourself?"

"I'd Like it better than London," said Jim stoutly. "If I hadn't
plenty to do I'd get sick of it all--streets and houses and houses and
streets, and no end to them."

"But the people! You meet lots of nice people."

"Some are nice, but there are too many of them for me. I can't
remember them all, and I get muddled and feel like a fool. I'd swap
them all for----"

"For what?"

"Oh--nothing!"

"You flatter them. But you'll get used to it, Jim. It takes time, of
course."

"Don't know that I particularly want to get used to it. However, this
war will make a change."

"You are certain to go?"

"If we don't, I'll exchange. I want to see some fighting, and to get
some."

"Bloodthirsty wretch!"

"No, I don't think I really am. But if there has to be fighting I
wouldn't miss it for the world. It's the only thing I'm good for. I'm
no good at books, like Jack. But I believe I can fight."

Mrs. Rimmer gave them very hearty welcome, in her surprised spasmodic
fashion.

"Ech, but it's good on yo' all to come an' see an old woman," she
said, gazing round at them from her bed, with bright restless eyes and
a curious anxious scrutiny. "Yo' grow so I connot hardly keep pace wi'
yo'. It seems nobbut a year or two sin' yo' lads were running naked on
the flats."

"We were just recalling it all as we came along, Mrs. Rimmer, and
regretting that we couldn't remain children all our lives," said
Gracie.

"Ah--yo' connot do that"--with a wistful shake of the head.

"And how's Mr. Rimmer?" asked Eager.

"Hoo's a' reet. Hoo's at his work."

"And Seth?"

"Seth's away."

"And where's Kattie?" asked Jim.

"Hoo went across to village, but hoo'd ought to be home by now. But
once the lasses git togither they mun clack, and they nivver know when
to stop."

"Girls will be girls, Mrs. Rimmer," said Eager soothingly, "and
Kattie's a girl to be proud of. She's blossomed out like a rose."

"A'm feart she's a bit flighty, an' who she gets it from I dunnot
know. Not fro' me, I'm sure, nor from her feyther neither."

"Here she is," said Jim. "I hear the oars." And he jumped up and went
to the door, and in another minute Kattie came in, all rosy with her
exertions in the nipping air, and prettier than ever.

They chatted together for a while, Kattie's sparkling eyes roving
appreciatively over the wonderful changes in her former playmates, and
a great wish in her heart that the girls up at Wyvveloe could see her
on such friendly terms with two such stalwart warriors.

When they got up to go she went out with them, and offered to put them
across the Mere in the boat.

"Yo're going back to London?" asked Kattie of Jim, as they threaded
their way through the sand-hills.

"We go back to-morrow. They don't give us long holidays, you see."

"London's a grand place, they say."

"In some ways, Kattie, but in most ways I'd sooner live at Carne."

"Ech, I'd give a moight to see London," she sighed.

"You'd soon have enough of it and want to get home again."

"It's main dull here, year in, year out. I'm sick o' sand and sea,"
And then they were scrambling into the boat and trimming it to the
requirements of so large a party.

They said good-bye to Kattie at the other side of the Mere; and when
they waved their hands to her for the last time, she was still
standing watching them and wishing for the wider life beyond the
sand-hills and the sea.

Sir George and Margaret Herapath gave them the warmest of welcomes,
and Jim tackled the master at once on the subject of Paddy.

"But, Grace, where on earth can you keep him?" remonstrated the Rev.
Charles. "I supposed it was all a joke when I heard you discussing it
before."

"Paddy is no joke, as you will know when you've seen him in one of his
tantrums. I shall keep him in my bedroom. He will occupy the sofa,"
said Miss Grace didactically.

"Was ever inoffensive parson burdened with such a baggage before?"

"You silly old dear, I'll find a dozen places to keep him in the
village, and a score of willing hands to rub him down whenever he
needs it."

"Of course you will," echoed Jim. "And if you can't I'll come and do
it myself. Let's go and look at the dear old boy." And they sauntered
off to the stables.

"See here, my boy," said Sir George, slipping his arm through Jim's,
"if I'd had the slightest idea Gracie would have taken him I'd have
offered him to her long since."

"You'll spoil one of the greatest enjoyments of my life if you do
that, sir. Please don't!"

"But----"

"I've got heaps of money. If you've anything that would make a good
charger knocking about too, I'm your man."

"Ah--you're sure of going, then?"

"If any one goes, I'm going, sir--if I have to exchange for it."

"You're all alike. George writes just in the same strain. God grant
some of you may come back!"

"Some of us wouldn't be much missed if we didn't." And Sir George
wondered what was wrong now.

They had no difficulty in coming to terms about Paddy, and Jim's
pocket did not suffer greatly, but Sir George would not part with any
of his horses to be food for powder.

Jack, feeling just a trifle left out in the matter of Paddy, obtained
Gracie's permission to send her from London a new saddle and
accompanying gear, and vowed they should all be the very best he could
procure.



CHAPTER XXXVI
JIM'S WAY


THE boys were back in London the following night, and Jack expressed a
wish to go to Covent Garden to see Mme Beteta, whose fame as a dancer
had penetrated even to his den at Chatham, and of whose expressed
desire to see him Jim had told him, among the many other novel
experiences of his life in the metropolis.

"Why on earth should she want to see _me?_" asked Jack.

"No idea. She might not mean it, but she certainly said it. There's a
lot of humbug about."

"I'd like to be able to say I've seen her dancing, anyway, though I
don't care overmuch for that kind of thing. But every one's talking
about her, and most of the fellows have been up to see her."

So they went, and madame's keen eyes spied them out, for, during the
first interval, an attendant came round, and asking Jim, "Are you Mr.
Carron?" brought him a request from madame that he would pay her a
visit in her room and would bring his friend with him.

"I knew it must be your brother," she said, as she greeted them. "Yes,
you are much alike."

"We used to be," said Jack, "but we're growing out of it now."

"To your friends perhaps, but a stranger could not mistake you for
anything but twin-brothers," she smiled through the dusky plumes of
her big fan.

"You, also, are hoping to go to the war?" she asked Jack.

"Oh, we're all hoping to go. It will be the greatest disappointment of
their lives to those who have to stop behind."

"You are all terribly bloodthirsty. And yet there are very nice boys
among the Russians, too."

"You have been in Russia, madame?"

"Oh yes. I have even met the Tsar Nicholas and spoken with him;
though, truly, it was he did most of the talking."

"What is he like?" asked Jack eagerly.

"He is good-looking, very tall, very grand; but--well, that is about
all--though, indeed, he was good enough to approve of my dancing.
Stay--Manuela!"--to her old attendant--"give me the Russian bracelet
out of that little box. I am going out to supper to-night or it would
not be here. Yes, that is it. The Tsar gave me that himself, and he
tried to smile as he did it. But smiles do not become him. He is an
iceberg, and I think he is also a little bit mad. He is very strange
at times. Indeed, I was glad when he went away."

"That is very interesting," said Jack; "and this is surely a very
valuable present."

"An Imperial present. But I have many such, and some that I value
more, though they may not be so valuable."

"You have travelled much, then, madame?"

"I have been a wanderer most of my life----"

Then there came a tap at the door, and an attendant brought in a card.
Madame glanced at it and said, "Certainly. Please ask Lord Deseret to
come round." And my lord followed his card so quickly that he could
not have been very far away.

"Madame is kindness itself," he smiled, as he greeted her. "I saw my
young friend here answering a summons, and guessed where I should find
him. This"--to Jim--"must be your brother."

"Yes, sir; this is Jack." And the keen dark eyes looked Jack all
through and over.

"I am very glad to make your acquaintance, my boy," he said. "I knew
your father very well some twenty years ago. You have both of you a
good deal of him in you."

"I have to thank you, sir," said Jack, "for my share in your kindness
to Jim."

"Oh----?" And my lord looked mystified and awaited enlightenment.

"He sent on to me the half of your very generous gift----"

"Ah! he never told me that. Are you up on leave? You are at Chatham, I
think."

"We got three days' leave, sir. We wanted to go down to Carne."

"Ah! I hope you had a good journey. How is Sir Denzil?"

"He is just exactly the same as ever. He has not changed a hair since
ever we can remember him."

"I suppose he sticks to the old customs--shaves clean and wears a
wig."

"I suppose that is it, sir. He certainly never seems to get any
older."

Then madame's warning came, and Lord Deseret carried them off to his
box and afterwards to supper.

And he and Jack had much interesting conversation concerning the
coming war, and armaments, and so on, to all of which Jim played the
part of interested listener, though in truth his mind was busy, in its
slow, heavy way, on quite other matters.

"Clever boy, that," said Lord Deseret to himself, as he thought over
Jack while his man was putting him to bed that night. "He will
probably find his chances in this war and go far. But I'm not sure but
what--yes, Jim is a right good fellow. And to think of him sending
half that money to the other! I should say that was very like him,
though. Now I wonder which, after all, _is_ Lady Susan's boy, and how
it's all going to work out. If Jack's the man, I wouldn't at all mind
providing for Jim. In fact, I rather think I'd like to provide for
him. Not a patch on the other in the matter of brains, of course, but
something very taking about him. A look in his eyes, I think----"



CHAPTER XXXVII
A HOPELESS QUEST


It was about a fortnight after their visit to Carne, and Jim, after
several hours' hard work outside, was bolting a hasty breakfast in his
quarters one morning, when his orderly came up to say that a man was
wanting to see him.

"What kind of a man, Joyce?"

"An elderly man, sir; looks to me like a sailor."

"A sailor? And he wants me?"

"Yes, sir; very important, he says, and private."

"Oh well, bring him up, and, Joyce--see to my things, will you? We
have an inspection at twelve. The Duke's coming down to see if we're
all in order."

"Right, sir!" And Joyce disappeared with a salute, and reappeared in a
moment with the fag end of it, as he ushered in--old Seth Rimmer.

"Why--Mr. Rimmer!" And Jim jumped up with outstretched hand. "Whatever
brings you so far away from home? Nothing wrong, is there?"--for the
old man's face was very grim and gray and hard-set, and he did not
take Jim's hand, but stood holding his hat in both his own.

"Yes, Mester Jim, there's wrong, great wrong, an' I cum to see if
yo'--if yo'--if---- Where's Kattie?"

"Kattie?" echoed Jim in vast astonishment.

"Ay--our Kattie! Where is she, I ask yo'. If yo'----" And he raised
one knotted, trembling hand in commination.

"But--Seth--I don't understand. Sit down and tell me quietly. I know
nothing of Kattie. You don't mean that she's gone away? You can't mean
that. Kattie!"

"Ay--gone away--day after you wur with her."

"Good God! Kattie! And you have thought---- Oh, Seth! you couldn't
think that of me?" And he sprang up and stood fronting him.

And the woeful soul, looking despairingly out of the weather-worn gray
eyes into the frank boyish face, saw the black eyes blur suddenly and
then blaze, and knew that its wild suspicions were unfounded.

"Ah dunnot know what to think," said the old man wearily. "Hoo's gone
an' nivver a track of her. An' yo' wur there last, and yo' wur aye
fond of her. An' so----"

"I would no more harm a hair of Kattie's head than I would Grace
Eager's, Seth. And you ought to have known that--you who have known us
all our lives."

"Ay--ah know! But hoo's gone, an' ah connot get a word of her,
an'----" And the tired old arms dropped on to the table, and the weary
old head dropped into them, and he sobbed with great heaves that
seemed like to burst the sturdy old chest.

Jim was terribly distressed. With the wisdom that comes of deepest
sympathy he rose quietly and left the old man to his grief. He found
Joyce down below, busily polishing and brushing, and sent him off to
procure some more breakfast, and, returning presently to his room,
found old Seth as he had left him, with his head in his arms, but
fallen fast asleep, and he knew that the outbreak and the rest would
do him good.

He sat over against him for close on an hour, cudgelling his brains
for some ray of light in this new cloud of darkness. And then, as his
time was getting short, he went quietly out again, and Joyce togged
him up in all his war-paint, and made him fully fit to meet the
critical eyes of all the royal dukes under the sun.

Old Seth was still sound asleep when he went into the room, but he
went quietly up to him and laid a hand on his shoulder, and the old
man lifted his head and looked vaguely at the splendid apparition, and
then began to struggle to his feet.

"It's only me, Seth. Listen now! I've got to go out for an inspection,
and it may take a couple of hours or more, You are to stop here till I
come back, and then we'll see what is best to be done. Here is food.
Eat all you can, and then lie down on that sofa. You're done up. And
don't go out of this room till I come back. You understand?"

"Ay--yo're verra good. Ah con do wi' a rest, for ah walked aw the way
fro' Wynsloe."

"You must be nearly dead. Help yourself now, and I'll be back as soon
as I can." And he went clanking down the stairs and swung on to his
horse and away, with a dull sick feeling at the heart at thought of
Kattie.

Who could have done this thing? He remembered her expressed wish to
get to London, when they were walking down to the Mere that other day.
It was, perhaps, not quite so bad--as yet--as old Seth feared.

The girl's longing for what seemed to her the wider, brighter life
might have led her to risk her poor little fortune in the metropolis.
Or it might be that she had not come to London at all, but had gone
away with some village lover. But--on the whole--he was inclined to
think London her more likely aim. And as to whether she had come alone
he had nothing whatever to go upon.

It was long after midday before he got back to his quarters, but old
Seth had not found the time any too long, having been fast asleep ever
since he had eaten.

Jim got out of his trappings and lit a pipe, which he had taken to of
late as at once a promoter of thought and a soother of undue exertion
in that direction.

And after a time old Seth stretched himself and opened his eyes, and
then sat up.

"Ah've slep'," he said quietly. "But yo' towd me to."

"You'll feel all the better for it. Now, tell me all you can about
this matter, Seth, and we'll see if we can see through it. Where is
young Seth?"

"Hoo's away."

"And who have you left with Mrs. Rimmer?"

"Hoo's dead and buried." And the strong old voice came near to
breaking again.

"Dead!"

"Ay! It killed her. She wur not strong, as yo' know, and thought of it
wur too much for her. Hoo just fretted and died."

"Oh, Seth, I am sorry--sorrier than I can tell you. That's dreadful
for you."

"Ah dun' know. Mebbe it's best she's gone. Hoo'll fret no more, and
hoo suffered much."

"I am very, very sorry. What could have made you think I could do such
a thing, Seth? You know how we've always liked Kattie, all of us, and
how good Mrs. Rimmer always was to us. How could you think any of us
could do such a thing?"

"One gets moithered wi' grief, yo' know. An' that night after yo'd
gone she were talking o' nowt but Lunnon, Lunnon, Lunnon, till I got
sick on't. An' I towd her to shut up, and what was it had started her
o' that tack? An' she said it was seet o' yo', an' yo'd bin talking o'
it to her."

"As we went down to the boat she was saying how she would like to see
London, and I told her she was far better off where she was. I think
that was all I said, Seth."

"Ah believe yo'. She wur flighty at times, an' she got stowed o' th'
sand-hills an' th' sea. It wur a dull life for a young thing, I know,
but ah couldna mend it, wi' th' missus bad like that."

"It's a sad business, Seth," said Jim despondently. "And I don't know
what we can do about it. If she really did come to London you might
look for her here for the rest of your life and never find her."

"Ay, it's a mortal big place. The clatter an' the bustle mazes me till
my head spins round. But I conna go whoam till I've looked for her."

"I'll find you a room. My man Joyce is sure to know where to get one.
Have you enough money with you?"

"Ah havena much, but it mun do. When it's done ah'll go whoam."

"You must let me see to your board and lodging, at the very least,
Seth----"

"Ah con pay my way--for a time. It doan't cost me much to live."

"Whatever you say, I shall see to your board and lodging, Seth, so
don't make any trouble about it. I wonder now"--as a sudden idea
struck him.

"Han yo' thowt o' something?"--with a gleam of hope.

"There's an old friend of my father who has been very kind to me. I
was just wondering if he could help us at all."

The hope died out of Seth's eyes. From all he had ever heard of
Captain Denzil he did not place much faith in any friend of his
rendering any very reliable help in such a matter.

Nevertheless, it was a good thought on Jim's part.



CHAPTER XXXVIII
LORD DESERET HELPS


Joyce solved the lodging difficulty off-hand, and old Seth, assured of
bed and board, gave himself up to the impossible task of finding a
lost girl who had no desire to be found.

Jim made him promise to report himself each day, so that he could keep
some track of his doings. He wrote down his address on a card and put
it in his pocket, and watched him go forth the first day with many
misgivings.

He saw him go out into the crowded street, bent as he had never been
before, peering intently into the bewildering maze of hurrying faces,
with a look of dogged perplexity as to where to go first on his own
sad gray face. The throng bumped into him, and jostled him to and fro,
and passed on, unheeding or vituperative, and at last he turned and
went slowly out of sight, and Jim wondered if he would ever see him
again.

He was dining that night with Lord Deseret, and determined to ask his
advice on the matter. The very look of that calm white face gave one
the impression of incomprehensibly vast experience and unusual insight
into the depths of human nature. He might be able to suggest
something.

My lord's immediate object, apart from his liking for the boy, was to
learn the result of their visit to Carne. He had blamed himself, but
not unduly, for the incautious words that had set the ball rolling.
But who on earth would ever have imagined boys of that age in such
ignorance of matters so vital?

He chatted pleasantly throughout the dinner, drawing from the
ingenuous Jim many a little self-revelation, which all tended
to the confirmation of the good opinion he had formed of him. And he
found the modesty which acknowledged many lacks, and was not ashamed
to ask for explanations of things it did not understand, distinctly
refreshing in an age when self-assertion was much to the fore. He
noticed too a lessening of the previous boyish gaiety and
carelessness, and traces of the clouds which had suddenly obscured his
sun.

"And how did you fare at Carne?" he asked, as soon as they were alone.
"I feel somewhat guilty in that matter, you see. From what I know of
it I can imagine you heard upsetting and discomforting things. Perhaps
now I can be of some assistance to you."

"You are very kind to me, sir, and I wanted to ask your advice. But in
that matter"--he shook his head despondently--"I don't see how any one
can help. It's all a tangle, but in my own mind I'm sure Jack must be
Lady Susan Sandys's boy, and that means that I--that I am----"

"You are yourself, my dear lad, and, unless I am very much mistaken,
you will render a very good account of yourself when your chance
comes."

"I will do my best, sir, but that does not alter the fact that I am
out of it as far as Carne is concerned. And that means a great deal to
me. Not that I want it for itself, but--well, there are other
things----" And he stuck, with a choking in the throat.

"Don't tell me anything you don't want to, but if I can help I would
very much like to."

"It's this way, sir. Jack and I are both in love with Gracie----"

"And who is Gracie, now?"

"Grace Eager--she is the sister of Mr. Eager, our curate at Wynsloe.
It is he who has done everything for us----"

"He's a very fine fellow, then, and has done good work."

"Oh, he's the finest man in the world. We were growing up little
savages, running wild on the flats, when he came, and he has made us
into men--he and Gracie between them. And Gracie is wonderful and
lovely and all that is good. And now----"

"Has she chosen Jack?"

"We are to say nothing more about it for a year--just to wait and see.
You see we all grew up together, and she had never thought of us in
that way, and it upset everything----"

"I think I understand. Now, my dear boy, will you take it from an old
man, who has seen more of the world than perhaps has been good for
him, that there is not the slightest ground for your feeling as you
do. I knew your father very intimately. We had many failings in
common. He behaved as we most of us behaved in those days--according
to our lights, or shadows, and in accord with the times in which we
lived. I cannot exonerate him any more than the rest of you. Still, do
not think too harshly of him! He was the product of his age. Now, what
valid grounds have you for believing your brother to be in any way
better circumstanced than yourself?"

"He's so much the better man, sir. Jack's got a head on him and
will----"

"If you applied that to the peerage generally, I'm afraid you would
bar many escutcheons," said the old man, with a smile. "Brains by no
means always follow the direct lines of descent. In fact, as you ought
to know, a cross strain frequently produces a finer result. From that
point of view you may set your mind at ease. As to how the matter is
to be settled eventually, that is beyond me. Time works out his own
strange solutions of difficulties. I'm afraid you'll have to leave it
to him. Then, again, you are both going into this war. If only one of
you should come back----"

"Yes, that would settle it. I have been looking to that as the only
settlement," said Jim solemnly.

"Meaning that Jack would most likely come back, and that you would
most likely not."

"I think that would be the best settlement, sir. The better man should
get the prizes, and there can be no question which is the better of us
two."

"Jim, my boy,"--and the long thin white hand came down gently on the
boy's strong brown one, and rested on it impressively--"there are
better things in this world even than brains. Clean hearts, clean
consciences, clean lives----"

"Jack has all those, sir."

"And so have you, and they are worth more than all the brains in the
world in some people's eyes. Did brains ever win a girl's heart?--or
any one else's?"

"I'm afraid I don't know much about them; sir," said a touch of the
old Jim.

"And as to the tangle," continued the old man, very well satisfied
with his work, "it may be considerably more involved than you imagine.
Supposing, for instance, that your father was actually married to the
other girl before he married Lady Susan! Where do you find yourselves
then? It is by no means impossible--such very strange things were done
in those times. I could tell you of infinitely stranger things than
that."

"I have hardly thought of it in that light," said Jim.

"Take my advice and think no more of your tangle. Just go ahead with
the work you have in hand, and when your chance comes, as it will,
make the most of it."

"You have done me good, sir. May I ask you about another matter?"

"Surely, my boy. Another tangle?"

And Jim told him briefly about Kattie, and old Seth's visit and
impossible quest.

"He's a fine old fellow, and young Seth saved my life twice. I'd like
to help him if I could, but I don't know what I can do. Besides,
Kattie was a nice girl. She used to play with us all on the sands, you
know."

"You don't know, for certain, that she has come to London?"

"Old Seth seems sure of it."

"Who else was there when you all used to play together on the sands?"

"Oh, Gracie, and Margaret and George Hempath, and Ralph Harben----"

"Who is Ralph Harben?"

"Son of Mr. Harben, Sir George's partner. They're the big army
contractors, you know."

"And where is he now?"

"Up here in London. He's in the Dragoons--lieutenant. So is George."

"Any one else?"

"Mr. Eager and Sir George, and Bob Lethem, their groom. They all used
to ride over, you see, and we needed all hands, so we used to press
Bob into the service."

"And you don't think there is any entanglement there?"

"What--Kattie and Bob? No, I'm sure there isn't. You see, Kattie got
rather large ideas, and she was certainly very pretty. She would never
have looked at Bob, I'm certain."

"I will see if I can learn anything. There are ways if you know how to
use them."

"Thank you, sir. I thought if any one could help us it would be you."

"How are you mounted? You ought to have a second horse if you're going
out. They will allow you two, I suppose."

"I believe so. I was thinking of buying one out of that money you gave
me."

"Keep it, my boy. You may need it all. You never know what may happen
when you get abroad. If you'll take my advice you'll always carry a
good supply in a belt next your skin when you're campaigning. I'll
find you a horse up to all your requirements. You want height and bone
and muscle for a charger on campaign. Beauty Is a fifth consideration.
Your life may depend upon your horse."

"There is no doubt about our going, then, sir?" asked the boy, with a
sparkle in his eyes.

"No doubt, I'm afraid, my boy; but their plans are very undecided. I
was speaking with Clarendon only last night, and, as far as I can make
out, what our Government would like would be to coerce Russia by
making a demonstration in force, and the Tsar is much too pig-headed
for that--as they would know if they knew him as well as I do."

"You know him, sir?

"I was ambassador there for nearly ten years, and in ten years one
learns a man fairly well. He is an unusually strong-willed and
determined man, bigoted too, and believes absolutely in his
mission----"

"What is that, sir?"

"Oh--briefly--to conquer the world on the lines laid down by his
ancestor, Peter the Great. But the man who sets out to conquer the
world always finds his Waterloo sooner or later."

And Jim went home that night feeling very much less under a cloud on
his own account, and not unhopeful on Seth's. For this new old friend
of his impressed him deeply as one who knew a great deal more than
most people, and as the kind of man who, if he took a matter up, would
not rest till he attained his end.

But as for Kattie, if she had indeed come to London, he had nothing
but fears.



CHAPTER XXXIX
OLD SETH GOES HOME


Old Seth had a heart-breaking time of it.

To all intents and purposes he found himself in a foreign country. He
wandered bewilderedly here and there, thinking that where the crowds
were thickest there would be most chance of finding her he sought.
But, to his amazement, the crowds seemed equally thick wherever he
went, and every single person seemed to him to be hurrying for his or
her life on business that did not admit of a moment's delay.

He lost himself regularly every day. From the moment he loosed from
his quiet little harbour of refuge in the morning, till, by means of
the address on his card, he found himself eventually and miraculously
piloted back there by a 'series of top-hatted policemen, he was simply
tossing to and fro on the swirling waves of the mighty whirlpool,
without the slightest knowledge of where he was, except that he was in
London, and Kattie was somewhere in London too.

He tried to talk to people, policemen and cabmen on the stands, who
were the only ones who seemed not to be spending themselves in aimless
rushings to and fro. But his uncouth speech was Hebrew to them. At
first they grinned and shook their heads. Then, catching what sounded
like a rough attempt at English, they tried to understand, but soon
gave it up in spite of his woeful face and evident distress, and it
was only when at last he wanted to get home, and produced his card,
that they were able to assist him.

Fortunately the weather was cold and damp--conditions to which he was
accustomed. Hot summer days and the airless, evil-smelling streets
would have knocked him over in a week.

It seemed to Jim that the sad old face grew grayer and gaunter each
day when he came in to give his monotonous report, which was
comprehended in a dismal shake of the head and the simple word,
"Nowt!"

And Jim, hopeless himself of anything coming of the disheartening
quest, still did his best each day to cheer him. And Seth was glad of
the chance of speaking a word or two with some one who understood his
talk and sympathised with his woes.

"A most 'mazing place," he said, one time, "an' thicker wi' folk than
ah could ha' believed. An' ah connot understand them an' they connot
understand me. Ah wish----"

But the poor old fellow's wishes were never to be realised--not the
obvious ones at all events. He was neither to find Kattie, nor to find
himself safe home again in the spoiled cottage by the Mere.

Perhaps it was best so.

The inevitable happened--that which Jim had feared for him from the
time he saw him drift helplessly away into the crowd that first day.

He had written all about the matter to Jack, and Jack's reply, while
it lacked nothing in sympathy for old Seth in his bereavement; yet
expressed in unmistakable language the writer's astonishment and
indignation that he could for one moment have thought any of them
guilty of such a deed.

Jim had also waited hopefully on Lord Deseret, to see if his efforts
had met with any success. But, so far, they had not.

"I confess I had certain ideas on the subject," said his lordship,
"and I have had them followed up, but quite without result. My people
are entirely at fault. Is it possible we are all on a false scent and
she is nearer home all the time? The indications pointing to her
having come to London are, after all, exceedingly slight and vague."

"I've no idea," said Jim despondently. "I wish the old chap would go
home. He can do no good here and he's on my mind day and night. I'm
certain he'll get run over one of these days."

And, sure enough, there came a day when no Seth put in an appearance,
and Jim's fears felt themselves justified.

He sent Joyce round to his lodgings. The old man had never turned up
the night before.

It came at a bad time too, for they were working might and main at
their preparations for the coming campaign. The Guards had left for
Southampton the day before. They themselves were down for service and
the call might come any day. War, indeed, had not yet been formally
declared, but that was a minor matter. There was no doubt about what
was going to happen.

So Jim packed off Joyce in a hansom, with orders to make the round of
the hospitals and report at once if he got any news.

He was back at midday. The old man was lying at Guy's, broken to
pieces and not expected to last the day out.

Jim jumped into the cab with a very heavy heart. It was just what he
had feared, and it was terribly sad. And yet, as his cab wormed its
slow course through the traffic about London Bridge, there came to him
a dim apprehension that what seemed to them so sorrowful a happening
might, after all, in some inscrutable way, be the better way for old
Seth. For his life, if he had lived, must have been a sad and broken
affair, and now----

He found the old man lying quietly in his bed, with the screens
already drawn round it. He was only just in time.

The gaunt gray face brightened at sight of him, as Jim took his hand
gently and sat down beside him.

"Ah'm fain to see yo'," he said, with difficulty. "'Twur a
waggin . . . aw my fault. . . . Tell her. . . . Tell her . . ."--the
crushed chest laboured in agony,--"tell her to come whoam. . . ."

And presently, without having spoken again, the dim light failed
suddenly in the weather-worn gray eyes, and the life faded out of the
gnarled brown hand, and Jim, boy still, put down his head and sobbed
at the grim sadness of it all.

A nurse peeped round the screen and was surprised at the sight, for
the eagerness of the splendid young officer to get to the uncouth old
wreck, of whom, beyond his mortal injuries, they had been able to make
so little, had impressed them all.

It was not till Jim had mopped himself up at last, and stood taking a
last sad look at the tired old face, that she came in again.

"You knew the old man, sir?" she said sympathetically, behind which
lay considerable curiosity.

"I've known him all my life. He's one of our people from Carne. It's
terribly sad, you know. His daughter left home, and he came up to look
for her. Think of it--to look for her in London! And I was afraid, all
the time, how it would end. And it has. Poor old Seth!"

He told them all they wanted to know, and arranged with them to have
the old man decently buried, and gave them money for the purpose and
something for the hospital, and his own name and address.

"Then you're going to the war," said the nurse, with an animated face.

"Oh yes; we may go any day now."

"You ought to take some of us with you. You'll need us, you'll see."

He had promised to call on Mme Beteta that afternoon, and would have
put off the visit but that he knew she would be disappointed, and she
had shown herself so very kindly disposed towards him.

So he went, but madame's shrewd eyes fathomed his state of mind at
once.

"Now you have some trouble, and perhaps it is my chance to be of use,"
she said, and bit by bit drew from him all the story of Kattie's
disappearance and old Seth's death.

"If any one can find her, Lord Deseret will. He is a very, very clever
old man, and in some things very young. She is pretty, you say?"

"We always thought her very pretty, even as a wild girl about the
sands, and she has grown prettier still."

"London is a bad place for a pretty girl such as she. Even if you find
her----" And she broke off and looked at him musingly. "What could you
do if you did find her?"

"Get her to go home."

"And if she would not?"

"Then--I don't know. It is horrible to think of Kattie running loose
in London."

"When Lord Deseret finds her, bring her to me and I will see what I
can do," said madame thoughtfully; and there the matter rested.



CHAPTER XL
OUT OF THE NIGHT


Jim reaped--and duly passed along to Jack--the benefit of Lord
Deseret's long and wide experience of life under many conditions. As a
young man he had served with Wellington in the Peninsula, and he had
also been with him at Waterloo, where he had, as fellow aide-de-camp,
Fitzroy Somerset, now Lord Raglan, who was to command the present
expedition to the East.

So Jim and my lord between them evolved, by process of continuous
elimination, a campaigning kit, which, if to Jim's inexperienced eyes
it lacked much, comprehended, according to his lordship, everything
that was absolutely necessary, and probably even yet some things which
he would hasten to throw away under pressure of circumstance.

"How long it will last it is hard to say," said Lord Deseret. "If you
should by any chance be kept there till the winter I will send you out
all you will need."

"Oh, surely we and the Frenchmen between us can clean it all up before
then," said innocent Jim.

"We shall know better when we learn where you're bound for, and what
you've got to do. At present no one seems to know. They are all very
mysterious about it, which is all right if it's policy, but if it's
ignorance----"

Jack was first to go, and Jim was mightily put out that engineers
should get ahead of cavalry. They had hoped to be able to run down to
Carne to say good-bye, but that was quite out of the question. The
army had been rusting, more or less, for forty years, and, now that
the call had come, every man on the roll was hard at work scraping the
accumulated deposit off his bit of the machine, and oiling the parts.
The days were all too short for what had to be done, and leave was out
of the question.

Jim was here, there, and everywhere, helping to buy horses for the
coming wastage, for if he had no head for business he certainly knew
horses from tail to muzzle, from hoof to shoulder, and all in between.
He was kept hard at work till the call came for the cavalry, and then
every minute of every day was over-full, and his head spun with the
calls upon his forethought and ingenuity.

He made long lists of the things he had to see to, on scraps of paper
with a pencil that was always blunt and often missing, and as each
item was attended to he duly scored it off, and so kept fairly
straight.

His men had taken to him, and consulted him now as an oracle, and
within his capacity he enjoyed it all immensely.

Lord Deseret's munificence knew no bounds. In addition to a great
brown charger, whose peculiar delights were military music and the
roar of artillery--the first of which enjoyments the campaign was
unfortunately to offer him few opportunities of indulging in, though
he had his fill of the other--his lordship presented Jim with a pair
of unusually fine silver mounted revolvers, of a calibre calculated to
make short work of the biggest Russian born, and one of these he was
to hand over to Jack as soon as they met out East. And for Jim
himself, as a very special mark of his goodwill, he bought a sword,
selected out of many and suiting his grip and reach as if it had been
made for him.

"A most gentlemanly weapon," said the old man, as he poised it with
knowledge in his thin white hands. "May it help you to carve your way
to much honour! But war is not a gentlemanly business nowadays. That
other brutal little thing will probably serve you better."


And so we come to the very last night. The 8th were to leave at six
the next morning for Southampton, and Jim was making his way back to
his quarters, dead tired, but vaguely hopeful that he had failed in
none of the multifarious calls on these last short hours.

His list had been an unusually long one that day. But he had ploughed
doggedly through it, and reduced it item by item, till it was cleared
off. After his actual military duties had come final letters to Gracie
and Mr. Eager and his grandfather--he might never see any of them
again. All the same he wrote in the best of spirits, though in
grievous regret at not being able to run down and say good-bye.

Then he had made a round of farewell calls among the friends he had
made in London, and had even made time to drop in on Mme Beteta for a
cup of tea. He had finished up with a quiet dinner with Lord Deseret
in Park Lane, and now, in the spirit, England lay behind him, and his
compass pointed due east.

Out of the depths of his very large experience, Lord Deseret had given
him many a useful hint and much wise advice over their cigars and
coffee, and had finally shaken his hand and bidden him "God-speed!"
with more emotion than Jim had believed it possible for that calm
white face to show.

And Mme Beteta, too, had held his band as he said "Good-bye," and said,
with much feeling, "I would have been glad if you had got into some
mischief so that I might have had the pleasure of helping you. I will
hope all the time to see you come back alive and whole."

"You are all too good to me," laughed Jim, overcome by the kindness he
was everywhere meeting with. "I feel as if I was getting more than my
proper share. If Jack had been here now, you'd have thought ever so
much more of him."

"Perhaps!" smiled madame. "We will see when you both come back,"

He was hurrying back to his quarters, bent on getting a good night's
sleep if possible, since the coming nights on board ship might be less
conducive thereto, when, as he swung round a corner where a gas lamp
hung, deep in his own thoughts and with his head bent down, a timid
hand fell on his arm, and as he hastily shook it off, a soft voice
jerked:

"Jim!"

He whirled round in vast amazement, and got a shock.

"Kattie! . . . oh, _Kattie!_"

"I did so want to see you before you went. I only heard to-day----"

She looked so pretty in the fluttering light of the lamp, so
touchingly soft and sweet, like some beautiful wild bird drawn to a
possibly hostile hand by stress of need and prepared for instant
flight.

She was very nicely dressed too, better than he had ever seen her
before, in well-fitting dark clothes and a little fur pork-pie hat,
like the one Gracie used to wear in the winter. And under it her eyes
shone brightly and her face glowed and quivered with many emotions.

The passers-by were beginning to notice and look back at them. He led
her into a quieter side-street where there was almost no traffic.

"But what are you doing here, Kattie? We have been searching for you
for a month past, and now----"

"I couldn't help it, Jim. I had to come----"

"But why, Kattie? Why? Do you know what you've done by running away
like that?" And he could not keep the feeling out of his voice, as he
thought of poor old Seth, and her mother, and the broken home. "Your
mother is dead. It killed her." Kattie's hands were over her face and
she was sobbing. "And your father came to London to look for you, and
got run over. His hand was in mine as he died, and his last words were
for you, 'Tell her to come home!' he said, and then he died."

The slender figure shook with sobs. Perhaps he had been too brutal to
blurt it out like that. He ought to have broken it to her by degrees.

"Oh, why did you do it, Kattie?" he said, more gently.

And Kattie, shaken out of herself by his news and his manner, sobbed
out her secret.

"Jim, Jim, don't be so hard to me! It was for you, you, you----"

"_Kattie_," he cried, aghast.

"Yes," she choked on in a passion of surrender and self-revelation.
"It was you I wanted--you--always. And I thought if I could only get
to London where you were----"

"Oh, Kattie!" And he could say no more for the feeling that was in
him, and Kattie hung on to his arm and he did not shake her off.

"Kattie," he said at last, in a deep hoarse voice, "has it been my
fault? I did not know----"

"No no, no! It was not your fault. But I could not help it."

"I am very sorry, dear. If I had known--but I never dreamt of it. How
did you get here?"

She hesitated, and then said, briefly:

"I got some one to bring me."

"Who?"

"I cannot tell you."

"It was an evil thing to do, whoever it was, and I hope some of the
sorrow will fall upon him," he said hotly. "But you must not stop
here, Kattie. You must go home."

"Home!" she said wildly. "I have no home. I will wait here till you
come back from the war, Jim----"

"Kattie! . . . For God's sake, don't talk like that! You don't know
what you are saying, child. I may never come back at all . . . And if
I do----"

"Oh, Jim! _Jim!_"

She hardly knew what she was saying. She only knew that for months she
had been longing for Jim, and now he was here, and he was going, and
she might never see him again.

The pretty, quivering, wild-rose face was turned up to his. Her eager
arms stole round his neck.

"_Jim!_"

Now, thanks be to thee, Charles Eager, muscular Christian and
strenuous apostle of clean living and the higher things!--sitting by
your dying fire in Mrs. Jex's cottage at Wyvveloe, thinking much of
your boys and praying for them, perchance,--nay, of a certainty, for
thoughts such as yours are prayers and resolve themselves into
familiar phrases--"that they fall into no sin, neither run into any
kind of danger"--"from battle and murder and from sudden death,"--at
which the thinker by the fire fell into deeper musing. And thanks be
to all your teaching of the Christian virtues and truest manhood, both
by precept and example!

For Jim Carron was only a man like other men, and young blood is hot.
And Kattie, in her fervour, was more than pretty.

Jim's big chest rose and fell as if he had been running a race--say
with the devil, or as if he had been engaged in mortal combat. Perhaps
he had--both.

He broke her hands apart with a firm, gentle grip.

"Kattie dear! You don't know what you are saying. You know it can't
be. God help us! What am I to do with you?"

And then he bethought him of Mme Beteta and saw his way.

"Come with me!" he said, and drew her arm tightly through his and led
her down the street, and on and on till they came to a thoroughfare
where there were cabs. He hailed one, handed her in, gave the driver
the address, and sat down beside her.

Kattie asked no questions. She was with Jim. That was enough. Her arm
stole inside his again and nestled and throbbed there. She would have
asked no more--not very much more--than to ride by his side like that
in the joggling cab for ever.

The cab stopped at last before the house in South Audley Street. Jim
jumped out and rang the bell, paid the man, and led her up the steps.

"Is madame in?" he asked of the maid who opened the door.

"Just come in, sir."

"Will you beg her to see me for a moment?" And she showed them into a
small sitting-room and went noiselessly away.

"Will you please to come to madame's room, sir?" And they were ushered
into the cosy room where Mme Beteta had just sat down to supper before
a blazing fire. Her wraps lay on the sofa where she had flung them on
entering.

She looked lazed and tired, all except her face, and her great dark
eyes opened wide at sight of Kattie. Jim had indeed told her that the
girl they were searching for was pretty, but this girl, with all that
was working in her still in her face and her eyes, was very much more
than pretty.

"Mme Beteta, will you do something for me?" began Jim impulsively.

"I have only been waiting the opportunity, my boy, as I told you this
afternoon. What is it now--and who is your friend? Won't you sit down,
my dear?" to Kattie. "You look very tired."

Kattie sank into the proffered chair, and Jim stood behind it.

"This is Kattie Rimmer, a friend of ours from Carne. She finds herself
suddenly alone in London. If you will take care of her I would be so
grateful to you."

"Indeed I will, if she will stop with me for a time. You are much too
good-looking, my dear, to be alone in this big place. I shall be glad
to have something young and pretty about me. My dear old Manuela is
worth her weight in gold, but, truly, she is no beauty. And when I go
abroad, presently, you shall come with me there also, if you feel so
inclined."

Madame understood--partly, at all events, and possibly guessed wrongly
at the rest. But there was no mistaking her kindliness. She saw that
the girl was under the influence of some overpowering emotion, and she
talked on for the sake of talking and to give her time.

"Kattie dear, will you promise me to stop with madame?" asked Jim
anxiously. For it was one thing to have got her there--and a great
thing; but it might be quite another thing to get her to stop.

"Must I, Jim?" And the great eyes, swimming with tears, snatched a
hasty glance at him.

"Yea, Kattie, you must. And, madame, I cannot thank you enough.
Sometime, perhaps--if I come back alive----"

And at that Kattie sprang up and flung her arms round his neck again,
crying, "Oh, Jim! Jim!"

And he kissed her gently and put her away, and she sank down into the
chair, a convulsive heap of sobs.

He mutely begged madame to follow him, and left the room.

"It is terribly sad," he said to her, In the other room. "I met her
near my quarters to-night. She had been waiting for me, and she
says--she says"--he stumbled--"well, she says she came to London after
me. And, you know, I never had a thought of her--poor little Kattie!
And I didn't know what to do with her, and so I brought her to you."

"You did quite right, my boy. For your sake--and, yes--for her own--I
will do my best for her. She is a pretty little thing--much too pretty
to go to waste in London."

"You are very good, madame, and I am very grateful. Perhaps you would
consult Lord Deseret about her too, if you think well. He has been
very kind in the matter."

"And you have no feeling for her at all?"

"There is only one girl in all the world for me, and that is Gracie
Eager. You'll understand when you see her."

Then he wrung her hand very warmly, and said a final good-bye, and
went away,--very tired, but with something of a load off his heart as
regarded Kattie at all events.



CHAPTER XLI
HORSE AND FOOT


The dullest pages in history are those which record the long, slow
years of peace and progress, when everything goes well and nothing
lively happens.

Jack's term of service at Chatham had been such. His record was one of
simple hard work, considerable acquirement, and a methodic, level
life.

His work appealed to him, and he gave himself up heart and soul, and
might have given his health as well if the authorities had not seen to
it. Brains in an officer were very acceptable, and the concentrated
application of them still more so--to say nothing of the comparative
rarity of the combination. But brains without body would obviously be
of small service to the country, and so Jack was kept fairly fit in
spite of himself. He won the golden opinions of his instructors and
examiners, and was looked upon as a reliable officer and a coming man.

"Give us a good tough bit of siege work," he had said, with hot
enthusiasm, as they tramped the frozen sands at Carne that last time,
"and we'll show them what we are made of."

"A good open country and plenty of room for cavalry to man[oe]uvre,
that's what _we_ want," said Jim, with relish, "and we'll show the
world what British squadrons can do."

"Tough sieges somehow seem a bit out of date," said Mr. Eager. "I
should say Jim's horses are more likely to be in it."

"I'd sooner have the siege," said Gracie; and they all clamoured to
know why, and Jim felt humpy.

"Oh, just because you're all farther away from one another and not so
likely to get hurt," said she. "When you fight on horses you're bound
to get close to one another."

"That's what we want," growled Jim. "The closer the better."

"And then the poor horses!" said. Gracie, with a shiver. "To say
nothing of the poor men!" growled Jim once more.

"It's all horrid and hateful and wicked. I don't mean you two," she
added hastily, "but the people who bring it about. If they all had to
fight themselves, instead of sending other people to do it for them,
they wouldn't be so ready to begin."

"They'd make a pretty poor show, some of them," laughed Jack. "Think
of little Johnny Russell facing up to the Tsar."

"David and Goliath," suggested the Rev. Charles.

"Goliath got the stone in his eye--well, in his head, it's all the
same--and so he will this time," said Jim.

"Artillery!" said Jack triumphantly.

"David cut off his head," said Gracie.

"Infantry assault after we--I mean the artillery--had made the
breach."

Involved military operations, and especially the complicated strategy
of the siege, had fascinated Jack from the time he could read. He
absorbed the elements of his profession with keenest delight; and
driest details, which to some of his fellows were but dull drudgery,
were to him like the necessary part of a puzzle of which he held the
clue, and their essentiality was clear to him.

What would be the course of the coming war none could tell, for the
simple reason that no one seemed to know exactly where they were going
or what they were going to do. All arms were to be represented,
however, and each separate branch hoped ardently that the tide would
run its way.

Jack and Jim, at parting, had undertaken to correspond regularly. They
had also mutually pledged themselves to write not more than one letter
a week to Gracie.

If Jim's scrawl had hitherto been the more interesting to their
recipients, it was certainly not by reason of their penmanship, or
their spelling, or their literary qualities, but simply that, living
in London and somewhat in the whirl of things, and with more time and
mind for outside matters than Jack had, he had always something to
tell about, and that, after all, is what people want.

Very sympathetic--and certainly very charming--little smiles used to
lurk in the corners of Gracie's flexible little mouth as she read
Jim's epistles. And she would murmur, "The dear boy!" as she thought
of the time and labour he had given to their production. For to Jim
the sword was very much mightier than the pen and infinitely more to
his liking.

He told Gracie, in his letters, most of what befell him in London,
much about Lord Deseret, and much about Mme Beteta, but concerning
Kattie and old Seth Rimmer, after much ponderous consideration, he had
thought it best to keep silence.

Jack had waxed mightily indignant over old Seth's half-blown
suspicions, and on the whole it was perhaps just as well that the old
man fell into Jim's hands.

Of the final episode Jim told none of them. In the first place, he
felt bound to keep Kattie's secret. In the second, he went straight
home to his bed that night as tired as a dog, and was _en route_ for
the East soon after six o'clock next morning. And in the third place,
as to telling Jack, Jack was on the high seas nearing Gallipoli, and
they did not see one another again for months to come.



CHAPTER XLII
DUE EAST


Jack, to his immense delight, found himself detailed for duty with a
large number of his men to assist General Canrobert in the
fortification of the long narrow peninsula on which, Gallipoli is
situated.

No matter that the fortifications were little likely to be of any
actual benefit, it was active service and turning to practical account
the theoretical knowledge of which he was full.

The men, who had left England ablaze with warlike fervour amid the
cheers of the populace, had found their long detention at Malta very
trying and relaxing. Warlike fervour cannot keep at boiling-point
unless it has something to expend itself upon. And so they welcomed
this diversion, and planned, and built earthen ramparts, and bastions,
and barbettes, and ravelins, and redoubts, to their hearts' content,
and felt very much better both in mind and body than when they were
kicking their heels and frizzling in the tawny dust of Malta.

There were many discomforts, however, chiefly in regard to the
provisioning. Even at this very first stage in the proceedings the men
had little to eat and less to drink; and if curses could have assisted
the commissariat, or blighted it off the face of the earth, its
movements would have been mightily quickened. But forty years of peace
do not make for efficiency in the fighting machine. It had grown rusty
through disuse, as all machines will, and the ominous creakings which
began at Gallipoli never ceased till--too late for the hosts of
gallant souls who died of want before Sebastopol--England awoke at
last to the shame of her relapse, and set her house in order with a
roar of righteous, but belated, indignation.

Jack and his men fared better than most, through their intimacy with
the Frenchmen, who had the knack of living in plenty where others
starved. Jack brushed up his French, and found welcome, and still more
welcome hospitality, among the officers, and his men learned how tasty
dinners could be made out of the scantiest of rations if only you knew
how to do it.

But the slow weeks dragged on; there was no sign of an enemy, and the
fighting for which they had come out seemed as far off as ever. And
the little advance army growled and grizzled and cursed things in
general, and began to get a trifle mouldy. And meanwhile the Turks,
under Omar, were valiantly holding the Danube against the Russians,
and the allied generals were in communication with the allied
ambassadors at Constantinople, and the ambassadors were in
communication with the un-allied diplomatists at Vienna, and the
diplomatists were seeking instructions from London, Paris, Berlin, and
St. Petersburg, and futile talk blocked the way of warlike deeds.

It was the middle of May before the welcome order came to move on, and
their spirits rose at the prospect. They had come out to fight, and
anything was better than moulting at Gallipoli.

But the diplomats were still chopping words at Vienna, so they were
all dumped down again at Scutari, till the wise men should see which
way the cat was really going to jump.

More weary weeks followed, though, since they gave Jack the chance of
seeing a great deal of Constantinople, he at all events had no cause
for complaint. The neat little steamer, which the Sultan had placed at
the disposal of the British officers, ran across in a quarter of an
hour and plied to and fro constantly; and having no duties to perform,
Jack missed none of his opportunities and saw all he could, and that
included many strange sights.

He made many new acquaintances, and began to lose somewhat of the
studious concentration which had hitherto stood in the way of his
making any very close friendships even at Woolwich and Chatham. He had
given heart and brain to his work, and now only craved the opportunity
of applying his knowledge and climbing the ladder. While frivolous
Jim, with a modicum of the brains and still less of the application,
somehow possessed the knack of making friends wherever he went. And
having mastered his drill and won the hearts of his men, he also
considered his military education completed, and longed only to get
the chance of showing what was in him and them.

Jim would have had a delightful time in Constantinople, and, with all
his desire for glory, would still have enjoyed himself thoroughly; but
Jack, with most of his fellows, felt keenly that all this was not what
they had come out for; and when, in June, orders came to embark for
Varna, up along the coast of the Black Sea towards the Danube, he was
heartily glad. For there had been heavy fighting on the Danube, and if
they could only get there in time there might still be a chance of
showing what they were made of.

It was four months since they left England, and so far they had
practically done nothing more than mark time, and there is a certain
monotony about that necessary but fruitless operation which has a
depressing effect on spirits and bodies alike.

However, they were getting on by degrees at last, though what their
ultimate objective really was no one seemed to know, unless, perhaps,
Lord Raglan and Marshal St. Arnaud, and they kept their own counsel.

Jack had been a fortnight at Varna, and was beginning to get sick of
it as he had of Malta and Gallipoli, when one day the stately
_Himalaya_ steamed quietly in among the mob of smaller craft which
crowded Varna Bay, and began to discharge the first of the cavalry
that had put in an appearance. This looked like business, and Jack
joined the crowd watching the disembarkation.

"Hello, Jim, old boy!"

"Hello, Jack! That you?" And the boys of Carne had met again.

"Hardly knew you in those togs. Took you for a tramp," grinned Jim.

"You loaf here for half a dozen weeks, my boy, and you'll come to it.
Have you any news? Are we going on? We're all sick to death of the
whole business."

"_I_ dunno. We've come straight through. We began to be afraid we'd be
too late and miss all the fun."

"You've not missed much so far. We've been frizzling and grizzling all
this time. Never seen the ghost of a Russian so far."

"Waiting for us, I expect. Can't get on without cavalry."

"If that's what we've been waiting for we're all mighty glad to see
you. All this hanging about is the hardest work I've ever done yet."

"Where are you living?"

"Up on the hill there. You'll be going on to Devna, I expect. That's
twenty miles further up."

"I've got to look after the horses. They've done splendidly so far.
Not lost a leg. We'll have a talk when we knock off." And Jim turned
to the congenial work of seeing his equine friends safely ashore.

When he had seen them all picketed on the stretch of turf near the
beach, and enjoyed for a time their rollings and stretchings and
kickings of cramped heels, he walked away up the shore, had his first
delicious swim in the Black Sea, and then made his way into the dirty
little town and struggled slowly through its narrow streets, packed
with such a heterogeneous assortment of nationalities as his wondering
eyes had never looked upon before.

Guardsmen, Fusiliers, Riflemen, Highlanders, Dragoons, and Hussars,
Lancers, Chasseurs, Zouaves, Artillerymen, and Cantinières; Greeks,
Turks, Italians, Smyrniotes, Bashi-Bazouks, and nondescripts of all
shapes and sizes; dark, windowless little shops with streaming calico
signs in many languages, offering for sale every possible requirement
from pickles to saddlery, but especially drinks; a slow-moving,
chattering, chaffering, and occasionally quarrelling, mob of shakos,
turbans, fezes, Highland bonnets, _képis_, and wide-awakes, with
bearded faces under them in every possible shade of brown and
mud-colour,--no wonder it took Jim a long time to get through.

But he got out into the open country at last, and breathed clean air
again, and climbed the hill and found his way to Jack's tent, and
demanded something to drink.

"What a place!" he gasped. "Never saw such a sight in my life!"

"Beastly hole!" growled Jack. "I wish to Heaven they'd get us on and
give us some work to do."

"Why don't they?"

"Ah--why don't they? Some one may know, but I'm beginning to doubt it.
When we came up here we had hopes again, but now they say the Russians
have had enough on the Danube and are bolting, so that's off. What's
the news from home? I've hardly had a letter since we left."

Jim gave him of his latest, and handed him Lord Deseret's present,
which Jack found greatly to his taste.

"No more news of Kattie?" he asked presently, when other subjects
seemed exhausted, and in a tone that anticipated a negative reply.

"Yes. I found her--the very last night," said Jim quietly.

"You did? How was it?"

"I had been dining with Lord Deseret, and saying good-bye all round,
and was dead tired. We were to start at six next morning and I was
hurrying home to get some sleep, when suddenly Kattie stepped up and
spoke to me."

"Good God! Did she know it was you?"

"Oh yes. She hadn't got so low as all that. But it gave me a shock, I
can tell you, Jack, to meet her like that, though we had been doing
all we could to find her."

"And how did she seem? And what had she to say for herself?"

"She looked prettier than I'd ever seen her--better dressed, you know,
and all that."

"And what did she say?"

"She flatly refused to tell me who had brought her to London.
She had heard we were leaving in the morning and she wanted to say
good-bye--so she said."

"Deuced odd! What did you do?"

"Well--I was knocked all of a heap and didn't know what to do. Then I
suddenly bethought me of Mine Beteta. She had been very kind to me,
and only that afternoon, when I was saying good-bye, she had laughed
and said her only regret was that I hadn't got into any scrape that
she could help me out of. It was jolly nice of her, you know. So I
bundled Kattie into a cab, and took her straight to madame, and left
her with her."

"Poor little Kattie! She was too good for that kind of thing. And you
got no hint as to who----

"Not a word. I asked her straight, and she said she would not tell."

"I'd like to wring his neck for him, whoever he was."

"She probably knew we would feel that way, and that's why she wouldn't
speak. And how have you been keeping, Jack? Seems to me you look
thinner. Perhaps it's the way you dress--or don't dress. I never saw
such a seedy, weedy-looking set. You'd certainly be taken for tramps
in England."

"Just you wait, my boy. If you get four months of this infernal
loafing in dust and dirt and blazing sun, you'll come to it. And I may
well be thin. I'd hang every commissary in the service. They starve us
half the time and give us rubbish the rest."

"That sounds bad. What's got them?"

"Everything's at sixes and sevens. All the food and drink in one place
and all the hungry and thirsty souls in another, some hundreds of
miles away. If I was the Chief I'd hang a commissary every time the
men go short. And the amount of red-tape! Oh, Lord! But you'll know
all about it before you're through, my boy. Some of the fellows have
chucked it and gone home."

"Rotters!"

"I don't know. It's been almost beyond endurance at times, and all so
senseless, and nothing comes of it. Starving for a good cause is one
thing, but starving simply because the men who ought to feed you are
fools is quite another."

"Overworked, I expect."

"Underbrained, I should say. I'll ask you three months hence what you
think about it all."

Jim was very busy the next few days getting his men and horses on to
Devna. His chiefs had found out that he could get more out of men and
horses than most, and that when he took a thing in hand he did it. So
work was heaped upon him and he was as happy as could be.

He messed with Charlie Denham in a little tent on the shore, bathed
morning and night, and Joyce and Denham's man saw that their
masters--and incidentally themselves--were properly fed.



CHAPTER XLIII
JIM TO THE FORE


Cavalry transports were coming in every day now; the Varna beach
looked like a country horse-fair, and to Jim was given the task of
superintending the debarkation of the horses and their dispatch to
their appointed places.

One day, when the great raft on which the horses were floated to the
shore bumped up against the little pier, a nervous brown mare broke
loose and jumped overboard. There happened to be no small boats close
at hand, and the poor beast, white-eyed with terror at the shouts of
the onlookers, struck out valiantly for the open sea.

To Jim, in the thinnest and oldest garments he possessed, and sweating
heartily from his labours, an extra bath was but an additional
enjoyment. He leaped aboard, ran nimbly along outside the horses, and
launched himself after the snorting evader. His long swift side-stroke
soon carried him alongside.

He soothed her with comforting words, turned her head shorewards, and
presently rode her up the beach amid the bravos of the onlookers. It
was little things like that that won the hearts of his men. They knew
he would do as much and more for any one of them.

As he slipped off, with a final pat to the trembling beast, a hearty
hand clapped his wet shoulder.

"Well done, old Jim! It was Carne taught you that, old man." And the
voice of the gigantic dragoon, whose clap was still tingling in his
shoulder, was the voice of George Herapath, though Jim had to look
twice at his face to make sure of him.

"Why, you hairy man, I'd never have known you. Just got here?"

"This minute, my boy, and glad to see you old stagers still alive and
kicking. Here's Harben. I say, Ralph, this dirty wet boy is our old
Jim."

"Hanged if I'd have jumped into the sea after an old troop-horse,"
said Harben, looking somewhat distastefully at the dishevelled Jim.

"A horse is always a horse," said Jim, "and an extra bath's neither
here nor there. Can't have too many this weather, if you work as I've
been doing lately."

"Deucedly dirty work, it seems to me. Why don't you let your men do
it? That's what they're here for."

"They are doing it," said Jim, waving a benedictory wet hand towards
the horse-fair along the beach. "I'm only keeping an eye on them."

And before they could say more, a very splendidly accoutred horseman
rode down to them, with a still more gorgeous one behind him.

"Very smartly done, my boy," said the first in English, though he wore
the uniform of a colonel of Cuirassiers. "An officer that looks after
his horses will certainly look after his men."

"Hello, sir!" jerked Jim. "Glad to see you again! Sorry I'm so dirty."

"It's the men who get dirty who do the work." And then he turned to
the magnificent personage behind, who sat looking on with a suave
smile on his clean-shaven face, and said in French, "This is one of my
cubs, Your Highness, though I'll be crucified if I know which." And
turning to Jim--"me see, now you're----"

"I'm Jim, sir. Jack's in the Engineers."

"Ah, yes--Jim. It was the Prince who bade me come down and thank you
for saving that mare, and it was only when I heard your friend mention
Carne that I recognised you. Monsieur----?" to the Prince, who
addressed some remark to him in French, to which he laughingly
replied, and then turned again to Jim.

"His Highness says he would like to see you cleaned up, and invites
you to his table to-night--both of you, if you can come. I suppose you
can fig out all right?"

Jim saluted Prince Napoleon and bowed.

"It is a great honour," he said. "I'll find Jack, sir, and we'll fig
out all right."

"Eight o'clock, then. We're camped over there for the night. Any one
will show you the Prince's quarters." And the two horsemen saluted
generally and galloped away.

"You're in luck, old boy," said George. "Dining with princes and
big-pots. Who's the other? He talks uncommonly good English for a
Frenchman."

"My father," said Jim quietly.

"Your---- Good Lord! Well, I---- Yes, of course, now I remember."

"All the same," said Jim, "princes are not much in my line, and I'd
just as soon he hadn't asked me."

"Man alive!" said Ralph, with exuberance. "Why, I'd give my little
finger for the chance."

"And where's old Jack?" asked George.

"Up on the hill there behind the town."

"And where do we go?"

"You stop the night here and get on to Devna to-morrow. It's about
twenty miles up-country."

Jack was mightily astonished when Jim gave him his news, and showed no
modest reluctance in accepting the invitation.

"It's always interesting to meet people like that," he said. "Is he
like the Emperor?"

"He's not like his pictures. More like the first Emperor, I should
say. But he seemed pleasant enough."

"And our paternal?"

"He was all right. They seemed on very good terms with one another."

"And he really is as big a man as he led us to believe that night?"

"Why, yes, he seemed so. Did you doubt it?"

And so, all in their best, they duly presented themselves at the
Prince's quarters a few minutes before eight, Jack, in his modest
Engineer uniform, feeling somewhat overshadowed by Jim's gorgeous
Hussar trappings.

"By Jove! but don't they know how to make themselves at home!" said
Jack, as they came in sight of the handsome tent, with a great green
bower made of leafy branches in front and an enclosure of the same all
round it.

The sentries passed them in at once, and their father came out from
the tent and met them with cordial, outstretched hands. He held both
their hands for a moment, and looked from one to the other.

"Jack is the Engineer, and Jim is the Hussar, and both of you very
creditable Carrons. We must get to know one another better, my boys.
The coming campaign should afford us plenty of opportunities."

"Is there to be a campaign, then, sir?" asked Jack. "We'd about given
up all hopes of it."

"Oh, we're not through yet by any means," smiled the Colonel.

"I don't know how it is with your men, sir, but all this dawdling
about is doing ours no good."

"It is good for nobody, my boy, but we've got to obey orders, and
those who pull the strings are far away. However, you need have no
fear. The Tsar is far too stiff-necked to give way till he's had a
good thrashing, and we have not only to fight him, but distance and
climate to boot. Here is His Highness."

And when he introduced them, the Prince, with a smile at Jim, and a
pat on the shoulder, told him he would certainly have had difficulty
in recognising him again, and he was a "brave boy," which set the
brave boy blushing furiously under his tan.

"They are grumbling at getting no fighting, Your Highness," said the
Colonel.

"Young blood! Young blood!" said the Prince, with a smile. "Let us
hope they will have plenty left when the fighting is over."

A number of other bravely dressed officers came in, and in the long
green bower they sat down to a dinner such as they had not tasted for
months, and of which they many times thought enviously in the lean
months that followed.



CHAPTER XLIV
JIM'S LUCK


Jim, by force of circumstance, acquired a very wholesome reputation as
the best-mounted man in the Light Brigade, as a tireless rider, and as
an officer who doggedly carried out his instructions. The result was
much hard work, which he enjoyed, and much commendation, which he
thoroughly deserved.

When the Russians retired from the Danube and disappeared into the
wilds of Wallachia, Lord Cardigan was ordered to follow them with a
party of gallopers and learn what route they had taken.

The first man picked for his troop was Jim Carron, and Jim was wild
with delight. Here, at last, was something out of the common to be
done, something with more than a spice of danger in it, and altogether
to his liking.

They were away for seventeen days, camping as best they could without
tents, and they rode through three hundred miles of the wildest and
most desolate country Jim had ever set eyes on. For one hundred miles
at a stretch they never saw a human being, but finally got on the
track of the Russians and found they had gone by way of Babadagh. Then
they rode up the Danube to Silistria and returned to camp by way of
Shumla, somewhat way-worn as to the horses, but the men fit and hard
as nails.

But they were the fortunate ones, and their satisfaction with their
lot could not leaven the seething mass of growling discontent
represented by the remaining fifty thousand would-be warriors, who had
come out all aflame with martial ardour, but had so far never set eyes
on an enemy, who were ready to die cheerfully for a cause which not
one in a hundred properly understood, but found themselves like to
moulder with ennui and lack of proper provisioning.

Their hopes had been constantly raised only to be dashed. They were to
go up to the Danube to help the Turks against the Russians. They were
aching to go. But fifty thousand men need feeding, and the
commissariat was in a state of confusion, and transport non-existent
and unprocurable. So they stayed where they were, and mouldered and
cursed, and began to look askance at the whole business and to doubt
the good faith of every one concerned.

Many officers fell sick, some threw up their commissions in disgust
and went home. The men would have liked to follow.

In July came the inevitable consequences of ill-feeding, ill-temper,
enforced idleness, and mismanagement--the men became as sick in body
as they had long been at heart. The heats and rains of August turned
the camps into steaming stew-pans, and the men, who would have faced
death by shot and steel with cheers, died miserably of cholera and
typhus, and dying, struck a chill to the hearts of those who were
left.

The officers did their best--got up games for them and races. But the
more intimate companionship between officers and men which obtained in
the French army was lacking in the British, and could not be called
into spasmodic existence on the spur of the moment.

The races alone excited a certain amount of enthusiasm, and whenever
Jim happened to be in camp he carried all before him.

With quite mistaken grandmotherly solicitude, too, the bands were all
silenced, lest their lively music should jar on the ears of the SICK
and dying. The men tried sing-songs of their own, but sorely missed
their music, and those near any of the French camps would walk any
distance to share with them the cheery strains they could not get at
home.

The camps were moved from place to place in vain attempt at dodging
death. But death went with them and the men died in hundreds. And
those who were sent to the hospitals at Varna wished they had died
before they got there.

Through all that dreadful time, when the doctors were next to
powerless and burying-parties the order of the day, our two boys kept
wonderfully well. And for that they were not a little indebted to Lord
Deseret, to a certain amount of fatherly oversight on the part of
Colonel Carron, and perhaps most of all to the fact that they were
kept busy.

Jack and his fellows beat the country-sides for game until they had
swept them bare.

Jim, still in luck, was sent out to buy horses, and travelled far and
wide, and still farther and wider as the nearer provinces became
depleted. And when Jack's game was finished he got permission to go
with him, and in those long, venturesome rides they two renewed their
youth together, and rejoiced in one another, and found life good.

Many a lively adventure they had as they scoured the long Bulgarian
plains in search of their four-legged prizes, for which they paid a
trifle over a pound a leg in cash, whereby they beat their French
opponents, who only paid in paper which had to be cashed at French
Head-quarters, one hundred or more miles away.

To the boys it was all a delightful game; and getting the horses home,
when they had found and bought them, was by no means the least
exciting part of it. But the chief thing was that it took them out of
the deadly camps, kept them fully occupied, and in soundest health
when so many sickened and died.

The risks of the road were comparatively small, and they always went
well armed and with an escort.

Danger, indeed, lurked nearer home. For the twenty miles of road
between Varna and the camps at Aladyn and Devna began to be infested
with the baser spirits from among the great gathering of the
off-scourings of the Levant which had flocked after the army.

Outrages were of daily occurrence, and every man who went that way
alone rode warily, with his hand on his revolver and his eyes on the
look out.

One day Jack had ridden up to the plateau by the sea, where the
Dragoons were, to visit George Herapath and Harben, who were both down
with dysentery, and Jim had been delayed at the commissary's office by
the only part of the business in which he took no delight--the
settlement of his accounts, which never by any chance came out right.

They were cantering home in the cool of the evening, when cries of
distress at a short distance from the road turned their horses'
heads that way, and galloping up in haste they came on a band of
Bashi-Bazouks--cut-throat ruffians whom General Yusuf was trying to
lick into shape--dragging away a young country girl, whose terrified
eyes had caught sight of the British uniforms. Already that uniform
carried with it greater guarantee of right and justice than any of the
many others with which the country was overrun. So as soon as she saw
them she shrieked for help, and they answered.

"Let her go, you beasts!" shouted Jack, as he dragged out his sword.

And then, as dirty hands fumbled in waist-shawls full of pistols,
Jim's revolver cracked out, and two of the rascals went down. Curses
and bullets flew promiscuously for a second or two, and then the
remaining Bashis bolted, leaving four on the ground and the girl on
their hands.

"What the deuce are we to do with her?" said Jack, as the spoils of
war clung tearfully to his leg.

"Where?" asked Jim, in one of the few native words he had picked up in
the course of business.

"Pravadi," panted the girl.

"That's over yonder, past Aladyn," said Jim. "We'd better take her
home, or those brutes will get her again. I'll take her up--my horse
is fresher than yours. Come along, my beauty!" And he stuck out his
boot for a foot-rest, and held out his hand to the girl.

The uniform was her sufficient guarantee, and she climbed up and
straddled the horse, and locked her arms tightly round Jim's waist.

"All right?" he asked. And they turned to the road.

Two minutes later they fell in with a Turkish patrol galloping up at
sound of the firing, and had some difficulty in making them understand
that they were not carrying off the girl on their own account. They
were only convinced by being led back to the place where the wounded
Bashis lay. Then they offered to take care of the girl and see her
safely home. But she knew them too well and would have none of them.
She clung like a leech to Jim, and at last they were permitted to go
on their way.

They had many little adventures of the kind, and they tended to keep
their blood in circulation, and the blues, which afflicted their
fellows, at a distance.

Lord Deseret had laid down the law for Jim as regards eating and
drinking.

"I have lived in Turkey," he said. "Drink no water unless it has been
boiled, and then dash it with rum. Tea or coffee are better still. And
eat as little fruit as possible; it's tempting, but dangerous."

And Jim used to get wildly angry with his men, when he saw them
devouring cucumbers by the half-dozen, and apricots and plums by the
basketful, under the impression that these things were good for their
health. They laughed at his remonstrances at first, but remembered
them later; and those who did not die foreswore cucumbers for the rest
of their lives.



CHAPTER XLV
MORE REVELATIONS


Colonel Carron was constantly looking the boys up, and carrying them
off to the best meals they ever got in that country. His Chief, Prince
Napoleon, had gone down to Therapia with a touch of fever, and the
Colonel was in charge of his quarters and saw to it that His
Highness's cooks did not get rusty in his absence.

Over these delightful dinners in the leafy arbours which always marked
the Prince's quarters, they all came to know one another very much
better than they might have done under any ordinary circumstances.

And the burden of the Colonel's talk was chiefly regret that one or
both of them had not taken his offer and joined him in the French
service.

"Sorry I am to say it," he said one night, as they sat sipping coffee
such as they got nowhere else, and smoking cigars such as their own
pockets did not run to, "but your army is only a fancy toy--in the way
it's run, I mean. Your men are the finest in the world, what there are
of them; but England is not a soldierly nation, say what you like
about it."

"What about the Peninsula, sir?--to say nothing of Waterloo!" murmured
Jack, after a discreet took round.

"Oh, you can fight and win battles, just as you can do pretty nearly
anything else you make up your minds to do--regardless of cost. But
with us the army is a science--an exact science almost--and every
single detail is worked out on the most scientific lines. You only
need to look round you to see the difference. England is never ready
because she is not by nature a fighting nation. Her army rusts along,
and then when the sudden call comes you have got to brace up and win
through--or muddle through--at any cost, and the cost is generally
frightful. The men and money you have wasted--absolutely wasted--in
your wars do not bear thinking of."

"I'm afraid it's true, sir. And we don't seem to learn much by
experience. I suppose it comes from having sea-frontiers instead of
land. You have to _be_ ready. We always have to _get_ ready."

"And how about the horses, Jim?" he asked. "I'm told you manage to get
more than we do. That's one for you, my boy."

"We pay cash, sir. You pay in paper promises, and a man a hundred
miles away will sooner part for gold than for paper."

"Truly; I would myself. Do you lose many _en route?_"

"Not two per cent, sir. Some of them are pretty wild, and they make a
bolt at times, but it adds to the fun, and we nearly always get them
back. Did you see Nolan's Arabs?"

"I saw them--beauties. The Prince wanted to buy two or three, but I
dissuaded him. They're too delicate for a winter campaign. That big
brown of yours, that Deseret gave you, is worth four of them--as far
as work is concerned."

"You think we're in for a winter campaign, sir?" asked Jack eagerly.

"No doubt about it, I think. We've got to do something before we go
home--some of us. Our coming up here has cleared the Russians off the
Danube, but our dawdling here has given them every chance of
strengthening themselves in the Crimea. The biggest thing they have
there is Sebastopol, on which they have squandered money. Therefore I
think it will be Sebastopol, and anything but an easy job."

"We shall get our chance, then," sparkled Jack. "We did a bit at
Gallipoli, but a real big siege would be grand."

"I hope your commissariat will play up better then, or we shall have
to feed you," said the Colonel, with a smile.

He liked to draw them out and get their views on men and things, and
watched them keenly the while, but all his watching brought him not
one whit nearer a solution of the problem of Carne than had Charles
Eager's and Sir Denzil's.

In the course of one such talk, however, they made a discovery and
received a shock which knocked the wind out of them.

Their father was delightfully open and frank with them as regards the
past, and it drew their liking.

"I have behaved shamefully to you both," he said one time, "and still
worse to one of you. And I have nothing to plead in extenuation except
that I did as my fellows in those days did--which is a very poor
excuse, I confess. I must make such compensation as I can. One of you
will have to become Carron of Carrie, and the other M. le Compte de
Carne--maybe M. le Duc by that time. There's no knowing."

"There's the Quixande matter too," said Jack thoughtfully.

"An empty title, I fear, by this time. And the Carrons were of note
ages before the Quixandes were heard of. You seem to have got on very
good terms with Deseret"--to Jim.

"He was very good to me, sir. I don't know why, unless it was because
of his old friendship with you. He always spoke very handsomely of
you."

"He was always a good fellow, but a terrible gambler. And yet I don't
think he suffered on the whole. He was so confoundedly rich that it
made no difference to him in any way. I have seen him win and lose
£10,000 in a night at Crockford's, without turning a hair."

"I saw him win somewhere about that at a house in St. James's Street
and----"

"And how much did you lose?"

"Nothing, sir; I was only looking on. Charlie Denham took me
there--just to see it, you know. When Lord Deseret heard my name he
came up and spoke to me. He asked me to call on him, and scribbled his
address on the back of a bank-note, and gave it to me, and insisted on
my keeping it."

"Just like him!"

"Then the police came and we had to get out over the roofs----"

"I would dearly have liked to see Deseret getting out over the roofs,"
laughed the Colonel.

"He seemed quite used to it, sir."

"I haven't a doubt of it. And he never suggested you should play?"

"On the contrary, he never ceased to warn me against it. So did Mme
Beteta----"

"Mme Beteta!" And the Colonel's cigar hung fire in midair, and he sat
staring at Jim as if he had called up a ghost.

"The dancer, you know. She has been awfully kind to me. Did you know
her too, sir?" asked innocent Jim.

"How did you come to make _her_ acquaintance?" asked his father, with
quite a change of tone, and an intentness that struck even Jim.

"We had gone to see her dance----"

"Both of you?"

"Charlie Denham and I. And Lord Deseret saw us and sent for us to his
box, and at the interval he offered to take us round."

"Deseret?" And he said something under his breath in French which they
did not catch. "Well--and how did she receive you?"

"She was very pleasant. She asked me to call and see her, and I've
been several times."

The Colonel resumed his cigar and smoked in silence for some time,
with his eyes fixed meditatively on a distant corner. Then, he seemed
to make up his mind. He blew out a great cloud of smoke and said very
deliberately:

"In view of what is coming it is perhaps as well you should know,
though it will not help you to a solution of your puzzle--at least--I
don't know. . . . It might--yes--probably it might, if one could be
sure of her telling the truth for its own sake and apart from all
other considerations. Mme Beteta is your mother"--and he nodded at
Jim, who jumped in his chair; "or yours"--and he nodded at Jack, who
sat staring fixedly at him. "She may know which of you is her own boy.
I cannot tell. But she will only tell what she chooses--if I know
anything of women."

"Yes," he said presently, while the boys still sat speechless, "Beteta
is old Mrs. Lee's daughter. The old woman knows also, I expect, but
she certainly will only tell what suits her, and you could put very
little reliance on anything she said. Has madame met you both?"

"Yes, sir. She asked me to bring Jack to see her the first chance I
got, and I did so."

"Well?"

"She was just the same to him, as nice as could be, anxious we should
get into some scrape so that she could be of some use to us, and that
kind of thing--very nice."

"Ay--well! It is just possible--it is very probable," he said
weightily, "that some of us three may never get home again. We don't
know for certain what we're going to attempt, so it is impossible to
forecast the chances. But, in view of what may be, it is only right
that you should know. Is there anything else you wish to ask? I have
had great cause to regret many things in my life, but nothing,
perhaps, more than this. Though, _mon Dieu!_" he said very heartily,
"even this has its compensations in you two boys. However, I have no
desire to refer to it again. So, if there is anything more----" And he
waited for their questioning.

"There is one thing, sir," said Jack, unwillingly enough, and yet it
seemed to him necessary. "You will pardon me, I hope, but it might be
of importance. Did you--were you--was your marriage with madame all in
order?"

The Colonel nodded as though he had been expecting the question.

"In justice to her, I must say that she believed so at the time, but
there were irregularities in it which would probably invalidate it if
brought to the test, and I think she is now aware of it."

"You have met her since?"

"Oh yes. We have been on friendly terms for some years past."

"And you believe she could solve the question that is troubling us
all, if she would?"

"I think it likely, but--you must see," and he addressed himself more
particularly to Jack--"that most women, in such a case, would lie
through thick and thin to establish their own cause."

"I don't know," said Jack doubtfully. "I suppose it is possible."

"It is certain. However, the solution to the puzzle may come
otherwise,"--they knew what he meant--"so now we will drop the matter,
and you must think of me as little unkindly as you can. Jean-Marie,"
to an orderly outside, "bring us fresh coffee and more cognac."

"Do you know that Canrobert lost three thousand of his men up in the
Dobrudscha?"

"Three thousand!" gasped Jim.

"They got into some swamp full of rotting horses and dead Russians and
consequent pestilence, and the men died like flies."

"It is hard to go like that," said Jim. "I'd sooner die ten times over
in fair fight than of the cholera. That's what's knocking the heart
out of the men, that and having nothing to do but watch the other
fellows die."

"Ay--well, we'll give them something to do at last. Every Tom, Dick,
and François is to set to work making fascines and gabions."

"That means a siege, then," said Jack, with delight. "And our time's
coming after all."



CHAPTER XLVI
THE BLACK LANDING


From that time on there was no lack of work. The spirits of the me,
went up fifty per cent, and the general health improved in like ratio.
Hard work proved the best of tonics.

And, of a truth, a tonic was needed. It took the Guards--the flower of
the British army--two days march from Aladyn to the sea at Varna, a
distance of ten miles. So reduced were they by sickness, that five
miles a day was all they could manage, and even then their packs were
carried for them.

For those in charge there was no rest, by day or Light, until the
embarkation was complete. When Jim Carron followed his last horse on
board the _Himalaya_, he tumbled into a bath and then into a bunk, and
slept for twenty-four hours without moving a finger.

But he had ample time, when he woke up, fresh and hungry, to admire
that most wonderful sight of close on seven hundred ships, of all
shapes and sizes--from the stately _Agamemnon_, flying the Admiral's
flag, to the steam-tug _Pigmy_, wrestling valiantly with a transport
twenty times her size--as they crept slowly across the Black Sea, with
80,000 men on board for the chastisement of the Russian Bear. A sight
for a lifetime, indeed, but one which no man who remembers or thinks
of would ever wish to set eyes on again.

Jim and his fellows, however, rejoiced in it, for without doubt it
meant business at last, and they had almost begun to despair.

So, in due time, they came in sight of the tented mountains and the
coast; and after what seemed to the ardent ones still more vacillation
and delays, the launches and flat-boats got to work, and the long
strip of shingle which lay between the sea and a great lake behind
became black with men.

All was eagerness and anticipation. The voyage had had a good effect
on bodies sorely weakened by disease, and the prospect of active
employment at last a still better effect on hearts that had grown
heavy with disappointment.

But ten days of life-giving sea cannot entirely undo the mischief of
the sickly months ashore. Numbers died on the voyage. Of those who
landed, few indeed were the men they had been when they left England
six months before, but hearts ran high if bodies were worn and weak.

That was the busiest day those regions had seen since time began. To
the few bewildered inhabitants it seemed as though the whole unknown
world was emptying itself on their shores.

Before sunset over 60,000 men were landed, and still there were more
to come. All that coast, from Eupatoria to Old Fort, was like an
ant-hill dropped suddenly on to a strange place, over which its tiny
occupants swarmed tumultuously in the endeavour to accommodate
themselves to the new conditions.

The weather, which had held up during the day, broke towards evening.
The surf reared viciously up the shingle beach, and the rain came down
in torrents. The tents were still aboard ship; men and officers alike
sat and soaked throughout the dreary night in extremest misery. Jack
among them. He had been sent on in advance of his corps to make
observations and dispositions for the accommodation of the ordnance,
and carried--according to instructions--nothing but his great-coat
rolled up lengthwise and slung over his shoulder, a canteen of water,
and three days' provision of cooked salt meat and biscuit in a
haversack. The men had their blankets in addition, and their rifles
and bayonets and ammunition.

When the deluge broke on them, and the spray came flying up the beach
in sheets, drenching them alike above and below, the men huddled
together and tried to improvise shelters with their great-coats and
blankets. But Nature was pitiless and seemed to bend her direst
energies to the task of damping their spirits. With their bodies she
had her will, but their spirits were beyond her, for they were on
Russian territory at last, and that meant business.

Jack sat on the wet shingle, back to back with one of his fellows, and
the rain soaked through him, till his very marrow felt cold.

Some of the men near him, crouching under their sopping blankets,
started singing, and "God save the Queen" and "Rule Britannia" rolled
brokenly along the lines for a time. But by degrees the singing died
away, the wet blankets exerted their proverbial influence, and silent
misery prevailed.

The weather had broken before the cavalry got ashore, so Jim spent
that night very gratefully in the comfort of his bunk on the
_Himalaya_, and wondered how they were faring on land.

He was up before sunrise, however, and hard at work, though the waves
were still high, and landing horses would be no easy matter.

And worse [end of line is blank]

He came on Jack prowling anxiously among the black masses just
wakening into life again.

"Hello, Jim!" he said hoarsely. "Where were you? Did you get damp?"

"We're not landed yet. Too rough for the horses."

"Lucky beggars! I never had such a night in my life. It was ghastly.
Why the deuce couldn't they let us have some tents? Those French
beggars had theirs, and the beastly Turks too. We're the worst-managed
lot I ever heard of."

"What's this?" asked Jim, staring open-mouthed at a muffled figure at
his feet--stiff and stark, though all around were stirring. "Why
doesn't he get up?"

"He's got up," said Jack through his teeth. "He's dead, and there's a
score or more like him. Dead of the cold and want of everything. Hang
it! why aren't we Frenchmen or Turks!" A sore speech, born of great
bitterness.

And Jim felt it almost an insult be so warm and hearty and well-fed,
with that dumb witness of the dreadful misery of the night lying
silent at his feet.

And the thought of it all bore sorely on him and brought the lump into
his throat. To pull through the bad times at Varna; to come all that
way across the sea, indomitable spirit overcoming all the weaknesses
of the flesh; to land at last in the high flush of hope,--and then to
die like dogs of cold and misery, on the wet shingle, before their
hope had smallest chance of realisation! Oh, it was hard! It was
bitter hard!

When he reported on board it was decided to make for Eupatoria, where
there was a pier, but before they got under way the weather showed
signs of improvement, and presently the landing began, and for the
next two days both the boys had so much on their hands that they had
no time to think of anything but the contrarinesses of horses and
guns, and the disconcerting effects of high seas on things unused to
them.

In spite of all they lacked, however, the men's spirits rose as soon
as the sun shone out and warmed them. They were on Russian soil at
last, and that made up for everything. All they wanted now was
Russians to come to grips with--Russians in quantity and of a fighting
stomach.

Sebastopol was thirty miles to the south, and between them and it lay
rivers, and almost certainly armies; and on the third day they set off
resolutely to find them. And that day Jim had his first trying
experience of playing target to a distant enemy in deadly sober
earnest.

He had wondered much what it would feel like, and how his inner man
would take it. As for the outer, he had promised himself that that
should show no sign, no matter what happened.

The Hussars were feeling the way in advance, when a bunch of Cossacks
appeared on the hills in front, and representatives of Britain and
Russia took eager stock of one another. They were rough-looking
fellows on sturdy horses, and carried long lances. They rode down the
hill as though to offer battle, and the Englishmen were keen to try
conclusions with them. But behind them, in the hollows, were
discovered dense masses of cavalry waiting for the game to walk into
the net. And when the wary game declined, the cavalry opened out and
disclosed hidden guns, and the game of long bowls began.

The first shots went wide, and Jim watched them go hopping along the
plain with much curiosity. Then came the vicious spurt of white smoke
again, and the man and horse alongside him collapsed in a heap; the
horse with a most dolorous groan, the man--Saxelby, a fine young
fellow of his own troop--with a gasping cry, his leg shorn clean off
at the knee.

Jim's heart went right down into his stomach for a moment as the blood
spirted over him, and he felt deadly sick.

His first impulse was to jump down and help poor Saxelby, but he
feared for himself if he did so--feared he would fall in a heap
alongside him and perhaps not be able to get up, for he felt as weak
as water.

He clenched his teeth till they ached. He dropped his bridle hand on
to his holster to keep it from shaking, and clasped his horse so
tightly with his knees that he resented it and began to fret and
curvet. Jim bent over and patted him on the neck, and two troopers got
down and carried Saxelby away. The horse stopped jerking its legs and
lay still, with its eyes wide and white, and its nostrils all bloody,
and its teeth clenched and its lips drawn back in a horrid grin.

The guns had found their range and were spitting venomously now. Half
a dozen more of his men were down. He was quite sure he would be next.
He thought in a whirl for a moment,--of Gracie; she would marry Jack,
and all that matter would be smoothed out;--and of Mr. Eager, the dear
fellow!--and his father, and he wished they had seen more of one
another;--and Sir Denzil, he was not such a bad old chap after
all. He thought they would be sorry for him. And Mme Beteta, he
wondered---- Well, maybe he would know all about it in a minute or
two.

Then his heart rose suddenly right up into his head, and he was filled
with a vast blazing anger at this being shot at with never a chance of
a stroke in reply. If they would only let them go for those d----d
Russians he would not feel so bad about it! But to be shot down like
pheasants! It was not business! It was all d----d nonsense! He began
to get very angry indeed.

His quickened ear had caught the rattle of artillery coming up behind.
But it had stopped. Why the deuce had it stopped? Why couldn't someone
do something before they were all bowled over?

Then at last there came a roar on their flank, and some of the newer
horses kicked and danced, and Jim, staring hard at the Russians, saw a
lane cleft through them where the shot had gone.

He clenched his teeth now to keep in a wild hurrah. It was an odd
feeling. He knew nothing about those fellows under the hill, but he
hated them like sin and rejoiced in their destruction. He would have
liked to slaughter every man of them with his own hand. If he had been
able to get at them he would have hacked and slashed till there wasn't
one left.

No more balls came their way now. The guns turned on one another, and
presently the Russians limbered up and retired--and it was over, and
he was still alive. And then he was thankful.

Jim went off in search of Saxelby and the other half-dozen wounded
men, as soon as he came in, and found them trimmed up and bandaged,
just starting in litters for the ships, and all very angry at being
knocked out before they had had a chance.

Then they crossed the Bulganak and bivouacked for the night, in
grievous discomfort still from lack of tents and shortage of
provisions, but strung to cheerfulness by the fact that they were
really in touch with the enemy at last--triumph surely of mind over
matter. Notwithstanding which, the morning disclosed another pitiful
tale of deaths from cold and exposure--brave fellows who would not
knock under in spite of pains and weakness, and had dragged themselves
along lest they should be "out of the fun," and died silently where
they lay for lack of the simple necessities of life.

Rightly or wrongly the blame fell on the commissaries, and the dead
men's comrades flung them curses hot enough to fire a ship. For
meeting the Russians in fair fight was one thing, and altogether to
their liking; but this lack of foresight and provision took them below
the belt in every sense of the word, and was like an unexpected blow
from the fist of one's backer.



CHAPTER XLVII
ALMA


At noon next day they came to a shallow river winding between red clay
banks, a somewhat undignified stream whose name they were to blazon in
letters of blood on the rolls of fame--the Alma.

The Russians were strongly entrenched on the hills on the other side
and in great force, and every man knew that here was a giant struggle
and glory galore for the winners.

It was a great fight, but it was mostly rifle and bayonet and the grim
reaction from those deadly slow months at Varna. And the Engineers had
little to do but watch the others, as they dashed through the muddy
stream, and climbed the roaring heights in the face of death, and
captured the great redoubt at dreadful cost. And the cavalry were
miles away on the left, covering the attack on that side from five
times their own weight of Russian cavalry, who never came on, and so
they had nothing to do and were disgusted at being out of it.

So neither Jack nor Jim were in that fight, but afterwards they
climbed the hill with separate searching parties and met by chance in
the redoubt on top, and looked on sights unforgettable, which made a
deep and grim impression on them both.

It was the first battlefield they had ever set eyes on, and they spoke
very little.

"God! Isn't it awful?" said Jack through his teeth, as they stood
looking down the hill towards the river flowing unconcernedly to the
sea, just as it had done when they came to it at noon, just as it had
done all through the dreadful uproar when men were falling in their
thousands. The ground between was strewn and heaped and piled with
dead bodies.

But Jim had no words for it. He could only shake his head.

While they were still gazing awe-stricken at the ghastly piles of
broken men, among which the litter-men were prowling in anxious search
for wounded, a group of brilliantly clad officers came up from the
French camp, where the rows of comfortable white tents set English
teeth grinding with envy and chagrin. And among them they saw Prince
Napoleon and Colonel Carron.

Their father saw them in the redoubt and came up at once. "Glad to see
you still alive, boys," he said cheerfully. "Hot work, wasn't it?"

"Awful, sir. Were you in it?" asked Jack.

"Oh yes. We came across there"--pointing to a burnt-out village on the
river-bank--"and then up here. Here's where we got the guns up to
relieve Bosquet. We've paid pretty heavily, but it's shown them what
we're made of. You weren't in it, I suppose, Jim?"

"No sir; we were waiting over yonder for some cavalry to come on, but
they wouldn't. Worse luck!"

"Your chances will come, my boy. And you, Jack?"

"We had very little to do, sir. We were away in the rear there."

"Your men did splendidly. Canrobert was just saying that he doubted if
our men would have managed that frontal business as yours did."

"They paid," said Jim.

"And are still paying," said the Colonel, as they stood watching the
French ambulances, with their trim little mules, trotting off towards
the coast, carrying a dozen wounded men in quick comfort, while the
English litter-men crept slowly along on their jogging four-mile
tramp, which proved the death of many a sorely wounded man and
purgatory to the rest.

"Truly, your arrangements are not up to the mark." said Colonel
Carron. "How have you stood the nights? Somebody was saying you had no
tents."

"Last night was the first time we've had any, and they've all been
sent on board again," said Jack gloomily.

"That's too bad. It's hard on the men."

"We lose a number every night with the cold."

"Bad management---- The Prince is off. I must go. Good luck to you,
boys! I shall come over and look you up from time to time. Keep out of
mischief!" And he waved a cheery hand and was gone, and the boys went
down among the ghastly piles to do what they could.

But it was heart-breaking work; the total of misery was so immense,
and the means of alleviation so feeble in comparison.

The French wounded were safe on board ship within an hour after they
were picked up. It was two days before all the English were disposed
of, though every man who could be spared set his hand to the work.

In the afternoon of the second day after the fight, Jim was going
wearily down the hill, after such a time among the dead and wounded as
had made him almost physically sick.

All the French, and he thought almost all the English, wounded had
been seen to. The Russians had necessarily been left to the last.

As he passed a grisly pile he thought he caught a faint groan from
inside it, and set to work at once hauling the dead men apart, with
tightened face and repressed breath. The job was neither pleasant nor
wholesome, but there was no one else near at hand and he must see to
it.

Right at the bottom of the pile, soaked with the blood of those who
had fallen on top of him, he came upon a young fellow, an officer,
just about his own age. And as he dragged the last body off him, he
opened his eyes wearily and groaned.

Jim put his pocket-flask to the white lips, and the other sucked
eagerly and a touch of colour came into his face. He lay looking up
into the face bending over him, and then his chest filled and he
sighed.

"Where are you hurt?" asked Jim, expecting no answer, but full of
sympathy.

"Leg and side," said the wounded one, in English with an accent.

"I'll fetch a litter."

"Stay moment. Only dead men--two days. Good to see a live
one. . . . Did you win?"

"Yes, we won, but at very heavy cost."

"Glad you won."

"That doesn't sound good," said honest Jim, with disfavour.

"You would feel same. Hate Russians. . . . Pole."

"I see," said Jim, whose history was nebulous, but equal to the
occasion.

"Forced to fight," said the wounded man. "Done with it now."

"Take some more rum--it'll warm you up; and I'll find a litter for
you."

"Have you bread? I starve. . . ."

"I'll see if I can get you something."

"Open his roll." And the wounded man turned his eyes hungrily on the
nearest dead body. And Jim, opening the linen roll which each Russian
carried, found a lump of hard black bread and placed it in his hand.

"I thank. You will come again?" asked the young Pole anxiously.

"I'll come back all right, as soon as I've found a litter." And he
left the wounded man feebly gnawing his chunk of black bread like a
starving dog.

He found a litter in time, and the weary eyes brightened a trifle at
sight of him.

"You are good," he murmured. "You save me."

And Jim, thinking what he would like himself in similar case, went
along by his side till they found a doctor resting for a moment, and
begged him to examine the new-comer.

"His leg must go. The body wound will heal," said the medico. "Seems
to have had a bad time. Where did you find him?"

"I found him under fifteen dead men."

"Then he owes you his life."

"Yes, yes," said the wounded one "I am grateful. Take the leg off."

"He's a Pole, forced to fight against his will," said Jim, at the
doctor's astonishment.

"I see"--as he screwed a tourniquet on the shattered limb. "We're
sending all their wounded to Odessa."

At which the young man groaned.

"Hold his hand," said the doctor. "He's pretty low." And Jim held the
twitching hand while the knife and the saw did their work, and was not
sure whether it was his hand that jumped so or the other's.

The other hand suddenly lay limp in his, and he thought the man was
dead.

"Fainted," said the doctor. "He's been bleeding away for two days."

He came round, however, and tried to smile when he saw Jim still
there. And presently he murmured:

"I thank." And then he looked down at his hand all caked with blood,
and tried feebly to get a ring off his finger.

"Take!" he said. But Jim shook his head.

"Yes, yes." And he wrestled feebly again with the ring.

"Better humour him," said the doctor. "It'll do him more good than to
refuse."

So Jim worked the ring off for him, and slipped it on his own finger,
and the wounded man said "I thank!" and lay back satisfied.

Jim saw him carried down to the boat and wished him luck, and then
strode away to his own quarters, which consisted of a seat on the side
of a dry ditch--dry at present, but which would be soaking with dew
before morning--with his brown horse picketed alongside, as hungry and
low-spirited as his master.

Jim looked at his ring and thought of its late owner, and hoped he
would get over it, and wondered how soon his own turn would come. For
the thing that amazed him was that any single man could come alive out
of a fight like that at the Alma.

His horse nuzzled hungrily at him, and he suddenly bethought him of
the black bread in the Russians' linen rolls. He jumped up, tired as
he was, and trode away to the battlefield again, and came back with
chunks of hard tack and black bread enough to make his brown and some
of his neighbours happy for the night.

Marshal St. Arnaud, sore sick as he was, was eager to press on at once
after the discomfited Russians. But "an army marches on its stomach,"
and it was two full days before Lord Raglan could make a move. Those
two lost days might have changed the whole course of the campaign, and
saved many thousands of lives. The defective organisation of the
British transport and commissariat slew more than all the Russian
bullets.

On the third morning, as the sun rose all the trumpets, bugles, and
drums in the French army pealed out from the summit of the captured
hill, and presently the allied armies were _en route_ again for
Sebastopol.

The next day, however, saw a sudden change of plans and a most
remarkable happening. The allied chiefs gave up the idea of attacking
the town from the north, on which side all preparations had been made
for their reception, and decided, instead, to march right round and
take it on its undefended south side. And so began that famous flank
march to Balaclava which was to turn all the defences of the fortress.

And on that selfsame day the Russian chief, Menchikoff, decided to
march out of Sebastopol into the open, and so turn the flank of the
allies. And the two lines of march crossed at Mackenzie's farm.

The Russians had got out first, however, and it was only their
rear-guard upon whom the English chanced, and immediately fell, and
put to rout. They chased them for several miles and took their
military chest and great booty of baggage which, being left to the men
as lawful prize, cheered them greatly.

When Jim got back from the chase the new owners were offering for sale
dazzling uniforms, and decorations, and handsome fur coats, at
remarkable prices. He had no yearning for Russian uniforms or
decorations, but as he suffered much from the cold of a night he
bought two of the wonderful coats for five pounds each, and, when they
halted, he sought out Jack and made him happy with one of them.



CHAPTER XLVIII
JIM'S RIDE


Next day the allied forces crossed the Tchernaya by the Traktir Bridge
and marched on Balaclava.

And here Jim's threefold reputation as a hard rider, the best-mounted
man in his regiment, and a man who did, brought him a chance of fresh
distinction.

In abandoning the coast and marching inland, the army had cut itself
off from its base of supply--the fleet. It was urgently necessary that
word should be sent to the admirals to move on round the coast past
Sebastopol and meet the army in its new quarters.

Just as they were crowding over Traktir Bridge a rider came galloping
up with dispatches for Lord Raglan--Lieutenant Maxse of the
_Agamemnon_. He had left Katcha Bay that morning, and offered at once
to ride back with orders for the fleet to move on. A brave offer, for
the country was all wild forest and lonely plain and valley, infested
with prowling bands of Cossacks, and the night was falling.

An hour later Maxse, on a fresh horse, was galloping back to the
coast.

"If anything should happen to him," said the Chief, "we shall be in a
hole." And he sent for Lord Lucan.

"I want your best horseman and your best horse, Lucan, and a man who
will put a thing through."

"That's young Carron of the Hussars, sir."

And Jim, paraded for inspection on his big brown horse--quite filled
out and frolicsome with its load of black bread the day but one
before--seemed likely in the Chief's eyes.

"Mr. Carron," he said. "I have a dangerous task for you. I am told you
are the man for it. Lieutenant Maxse left here an hour ago for the
ships. They must get round at once and meet us at Balaclava. Here is a
copy of the order. If Maxse has not got through you will deliver it to
Admiral Dundas in Katcha Bay. Don't lose a moment. The welfare of the
army depends on you."

Jim saluted.

"How will you go?"

"Mackenzie's farm and the post-road, sir."

"You are armed? You may meet Cossacks."

"Sword and revolver. I shall manage all right."

"Come round with the ships and report to me at Balaclava."

Jim saluted once more, and spurred away.

The distance was only some twenty miles, an easy two hours' ride. The
dangers lay in the hostile country and the prowling Cossacks, for in
the long defile from the farm to the Belbec, and then again in the
broken country between the Belbec and the Katcha, there were a
thousand places where a rider might be picked off from the hill-sides
and never catch a glimpse of his adversary.

However, it was no good thinking of all that, and Jim was not one to
cross bridges before he came to them, or to meet trouble half-way. His
big brown had a long, easy stride which was almost restful to his
rider, and Jim had a seat that gave his horse the least possible
inconvenience, and between them was completest sympathy and
friendship.

And as to the dark, unless he absolutely ran into Cossacks he reckoned
it all in his favour. It kept down his pace indeed, but at the same
time it hid him from the watchful eyes on the hill-sides and the
leaden messages they might have sent him.

He received warm commendation for that night's ride, but, as simple
matter of fact, he enjoyed it greatly, and had no difficulties beyond
keeping the road in the dark and making sure it was the right one.
Plain common-sense, however, bade him always trend to the left when
cross-roads offered alternatives, and after leaving Mackenzie's he
never set eyes on a soul till he found the Belbec an hour before
midnight, and rode up through the wreathing mists of the river-bed to
the highlands beyond.

The dew was drenching wet and the night cold, but he got into his big
fur coat, which had been rolled up behind his saddle, and suffered not
at all.

His thoughts ran leisurely back to them all at home,--Gracie, and Mr.
Eager, and his grandfather, and Lord Deseret, and Mme Beteta, and his
father's amazing revelation concerning her. He wondered whether they
would ever learn the truth, and if not, how the tangle would be
straightened out. He thought dimly, but with no great fear now, that
they would probably both be killed if there was much fighting such as
that at the Alma, so there was no need to trouble about the future.

Charlie Denham, indeed, never ceased to philosophise that it was
always the other fellow who was going to be killed; but if every one
thought that, it was evident, even to Jim's unphilosophic mind, that
there must be a flaw somewhere.

Anyway, when a man's time came he died, and there was no good worrying
oneself into the blues beforehand.

A hoarse challenge broke suddenly on his musings, and a darker blur on
the road just in front resolved itself into half a dozen horsemen.
They had heard his horse's hoofs, and waited in silence to see who
came.

He had pulled the hood of his fur coat right up over his busby, and
the heavy folds covered him almost down to the feet. He decided in a
moment that safety lay in silence, so he rode straight on, waved a
hand to the doubtful Cossacks, and was past Telegraph Hill before they
had done discussing him.

He wondered if Maxse had met them and how he had fared.

An hour later he forded the Katcha and turned down the valley towards
the sea. Boats were still plying between the sandy beach and the
ships. The Jacks eyed him for a moment with suspicion, but gave him
jovial welcome when they found that only his outer covering was
Russian.

Lieutenant Maxse had just been put aboard the _Agamemnon_, he found,
and a minute or two later he was following him. So Jim had the
pleasure of steaming past the sea-front of Sebastopol to Balaclava
Bay, where they found the ancient little fort on the heights
bombarding the British army with for tiny guns.

They brought it to reason with half a dozen round shot, and presently
steamed cautiously in round the awkward corners, and dropped anchor
opposite the house where Lord Raglan had taken up his quarters.



CHAPTER XLIX
AMONG THE BULL-PUPS


And now force of circumstances left the cavalry stranded high and dry,
with nothing to do but range the valley now and again in quest of
enemies who never showed face, and growl continually at the
untowardness of their lot.

They had indeed had little enough to do so far, but always in front of
them had been the hope of active employment and its concomitant
rewards. But what use could cavalry be in a siege? And had they lived
through all those hideous months at Varna, and come across the sea
only to repeat them outside Sebastopol? They grizzled and growled, and
expressed their opinions on things in general with cavalier vehemence.

And the worst of it was that the other more actively employed arms
were inclined to twit them with their--so far--showy uselessness.

What had they done since they landed, except prance about and look
pretty? Why hadn't they been out all over the country bringing in
supplies? Where were they at the Alma, when hard knocks were the order
of the day?--asked these others.

And, indeed, among themselves they asked bitterly why they had been
chained up like that and allowed to do nothing. They had held all the
Russian cavalry in check, it is true; but that was but a negative kind
of thing, and what they thirsted for was an active campaign and glory.

But now it was Jack's turn, and the Engineers were in their element.
Not a man among them but devoutly hoped the place would hold out to
the utmost and give them their chance.

It was almost too good to be true--an actual siege on the latest and
most approved principles! And they tackled it with gusto, and were
planning lines and trenches in their minds' eyes before their tents
were up.

As a matter of fact, tents were still things to be looked forward to
with such small faith in commissaries and transport as still lingered
in their sorely tried bodies, for it had long since left their hearts;
food was so scarce that for a couple of days one whole division of the
army had tasted no meat; and every morning the first sorrowful duty of
the living was to gather up those who had died in the night of cold
and cholera, with bitter commination of those whom they considered to
blame.

However, all things come in time to those who live long enough, and
the tents came up from the ships at last, and rations began to be
served out with something like regularity. The busy Engineers traced
their lines, and, as soon as it was dark each night, the digging
parties went out and set to work on the trenches, and the siege was
fairly begun, and Jack and his fellows were as busy and happy as bees.

But Jim, if officially relegated a comparative inaction, found no lack
of employment.

He was intensely interested in all that was going on. He rode here and
there with messages to this chief and that. For when he reported
himself to Lord Raglan at Balaclava, according to instructions, his
lordship was pleased to compliment him in his quiet way.

"You did well, Mr. Carron," he said. "I am glad you both got through
safely. Much depended on you. By the way, you know my old friend
Deseret, I think."

"Lord Deseret was very kind to me in London, sir."

"I remembered, after you left last night, that he had spoken to me of
you. And surely," said his lordship musingly, "I must have known your
father. Is he still alive?"

Jim hesitated for half a second, and then said simply: "Yes, sir; he
is on the staff of Prince Napoleon."

"With Prince Napoleon?" said his lordship, and stared at him in
surprise. And then the old story came back to his mind. "Ah, yes! I
remember. Well, well! . . . And I suppose you're growling like the
rest at having nothing to do?"

"We would be glad to have more, sir."

"I'm afraid it won't be a very lively time for the cavalry. But you
seem to like knocking about. I must see what I can do to keep you from
getting rusty."

"I shall be very grateful, sir."

And thereafter many an odd job came his way, for the allied lines,
from the extreme French left at Kamiesch Bay in the west, to the
British right above the Inkerman Aqueduct on the north-east, covered
close upon twenty miles, and within that space there was enough going
on to keep a man busy in simply acting as travelling eye to the
Commander-in-Chief--in carrying his orders and bringing him reports.

And this was business that suited Jim to the full. He saw everything
and was constantly meeting everybody he knew, and many besides.

He was galloping home from the French lines one evening, through the
sailors' camp by Kadikoi, just above the gorge that runs down to
Balaclava. The jolly jacks were revelling in their lark ashore, and
showed it in the labelling of their tents with fanciful names. Jim had
already seen "Albion's Pets," "Rule Britannia," and "Windsor Castle,"
and every time he passed he looked for the latest ebullitions of
sailorly humour. This time, to his great joy, he found "Britain's
Bull-Pups," and "The Bear-Baiters," and "The Bully Cockytoos."

The Bull-Pups and the Bear-Baiters and the Bully Cockytoos, and all
the rest, fifty in a line, were hauling along a Lancaster gun, with a
fiddler on top fiddling away for dear life, and they all bellowing a
chantie that made him draw rein to listen to it. The bands in the
French camp were playing merrily as he left it, but in the British
lines there was not so much as a bugle or a drum, and the men were
feeling it keenly.

So the rough chorus struck him pleasantly, and he stopped to hear it
out.

When the gun was up to their camp, the men cast loose and began to
foot it merrily to the music, just to show what a trifle a Lancaster
gun was to British sailormen. And Jim, as he sat laughing at their
antics and enjoying them hugely, suddenly caught sight of a familiar
face. Not one of the dancers, but one who stood looking on soberly--it
might even he sombrely, Jim could not be sure.

He jumped off his horse and led him round.

"Why, Seth, old man!" he said, clapping the broad shoulder in friendly
delight. "What brings you here?"

And young Seth turned and faced him, and had to look twice before he
knew him.

"Ech--why, it's Mester Jim!" he said slowly.

"Of course it is. And but for you he wouldn't be here, and he never
forgets it. But how do you come to be here, Seth?"

"I come with the rest to fight the Roosians, Mester Jim."

"I wish they'd give us a chance, but it's going to be all long bowls,
I'm afraid."

But there was that to be said between them which was not for other
ears.

The tars had watched the meeting with much favour, for greetings so
friendly between officer and man were not often seen among them in
those days, though more possible between sailormen than in the army.
When they saw Jim slip his arm through Seth's and draw him along with
him, they started a lusty cheer. "Three cheers for young Fuzzy-cap!
Hip--hip!" And Jim grinned jovially and waved his hand in reply. And
Seth Rimmer, in spite of the taciturnity which they could not
understand, was a man of note among them from that day.

"Did you hear all about your poor old dad, Seth?" asked Jim quietly.

"Yes, Mester Jim. Th' passon told me all about it."

"It was a grievous thing. But I don't think I was to blame, Seth. He
would go out and ramble about. I did all I could for him."

"I know. I know."

"And Kattie, Seth! _You_ surely never thought I had anything to do
with that matter?"

"No, Mester Jim. I knowed it wasn't you."

"Do you know who it was, Seth? I would hold him to account if ever I
got the chance. But she would not tell me."

"You found her?" asked Seth, with a start that brought them both to a
stand.

"She came to me in the street the very last night before we left----"

Seth gave out something mixed up of groan and curse.

"She said she had heard we were going in the morning, and she wanted
to say good-bye."

"Th' poor little wench! . . . What did you say to her Mester Jim?"

"I was knocked all of a heap at meeting her like that, Seth. But when
I got my wits back I did the only thing I could. I took her to a lady
friend who had been very kind to me, and she promised to look after
her. And I am quite sure she will. If Kattie only stops with her I
think she may be very comfortable there."

"It were good o' yo'. . . ." And then, reverting to Jim's former
question, "I know him," he said hoarsely, "an' when th' chance
comes----" And the big brown hands clenched as though a man's throat
were between them. And Jim thought he would not like to be that man.

"I'm afraid I feel like that too, Seth, though I suppose--I don't
know. Poor little Kattie!"

And presently he wrung the big brown hands, that were meant for better
work than wringing evil throats, and swung up on to his horse.

"I must get along, Seth. But I'm often through here, and we'll be
meeting again. We're about two miles out over yonder, you know.
Good-bye!" And he galloped off to his quarters.

He frequently rode across of a night for a chat with Jack, but Jack
was a mighty busy man these days, and nights too. He had an inordinate
craving for trenches and gabions and facines and parallels and
approaches, and could talk of little else, and confessed that he
dreamed of them too. And if he could have accomplished as much by day
as he did by night, when he was fast asleep--though as a matter of
fact it ought to be the other way, for most of the actual work had to
be done under cover of darkness and he slept when he could--Sebastopol
would have been taken in a week.

As the trenches began to develop, he would take Jim through them for a
treat, and explain all that was going on with the greatest gusto. And
at times Jim found it no easy matter to conceal the fact that it was
all exceedingly raw and dirty, though he supposed it was the only way
of getting at them.

And at times shot and shell would come plunging in over the sand-bags
and gabions, and then every man would fling himself on his face in the
dirt till the flying splinters had gone, and Jim would go home and try
to brush himself clean--for Joyce had died of cholera two days out
from Varna--and would thank his stars that he belonged to a cleaner
branch of the service.

Still, it was fine to watch the shells come curving out from the town
with a flash like summer lightning, and hear them singing through the
darkness, and see the fainter glare of their explosion; and when he
had nothing else on hand he went along to the trenches almost every
night to watch the fireworks.



CHAPTER L
RED-TAPE


The siege of Sebastopol was quite out of the ordinary run, and about
as curious a business as ever was. For one usually thinks of a
besieged town as surrounded by the enemy and cut off from the rest of
the world. And, that was never the case with Sebastopol.

The allied forces drew a ring round the south and east sides of the
town, and the sea guarded it on the west, but by way of the north and
north-east the Russians had free passage at all times, and could
introduce fresh troops and provisions and all the material of war at
will, and so the defence was in a state of continuous renewal, and
fresh blood was always pouring in to replace the terrible waste
inside.

By those open ways also they sent out army after army to creep round
behind the besiegers, to harry and annoy them, and this it was that
led to some of the fiercest battles of the campaign. The knowledge
also that great bodies of Russians were at large in their rear, and
only waiting, opportunity to attack them, kept the Allies perpetually
on the strain, and hurried musters in the dark to repel, at times
imaginary, assaults were of almost nightly occurrence.

Failing complete investment--when starvation, added to perpetual
and irretrievable wastage, must in time have brought about a
surrender--the Allies could only pound away with their big guns, and
hope to wear down the heart and pride of Russia by the sheer dogged
determination to pound away till there was nothing left to pound at.

The later attempts to breach and storm, to which all these gigantic
efforts were directed, were but a part of the same policy. Russia was
to be crushed by the combined weight of England and France and Turkey,
and, later on, Sardinia. It was very British, very bull-doggy, but it
was also terribly wasteful and costly all round.

The Russians had expected the attack on the north side, and had made
it almost impregnable. When, by their flank march, the Allies came
round to the south, the town was absolutely open and unprotected, the
streets running up into the open country. Before the Allies could gird
up their loins for a spring, earthworks and forts had sprung up in
front of them as though by magic, and the only means of approach was
by the slow, hard way of parallels, trenches, and zigzags. And all
this it was that made up the Crimean War.

But our boys were busy, and so kept happy in spite of discomforts
without end.

Every single thing the army heeded, either for fighting or for sheer
and simplest living, had to be brought to it by sea, and the one door
of entrance was tiny Balaclava Bay--with the natural consequence that
Balaclava Bay became inextricably blocked with shipping discharging on
to its narrow shores, and its shores became inextricably piled with
masses of war material and stores, with no means of transport to the
camps six and eight and ten miles away. And so confusion became ten
times confounded, and brave men languished and died for want of the
stores that lay rotting down below. Add to this the fact that every
British official's hands were bound round and round, and knotted and
thrice knotted, with coils of stiffest red tape, and no man dared to
lift a finger unless a dozen superiors in a dozen different
departments had authorised him to do so, in writing, on official
forms, with every "t" crossed and every "i" carefully dotted, and you
have the simple explanation of the horrors of the Crimea.

Our own red-tape and sheer stupidity wrought far more evil on our men
than all the efforts of Menchikoff and Gortschakoff with all the might
of Russia at their backs.

The trenches wormed their zigzags slowly down the slope, towards the
Russian lines, and never was there more zealous zigzager than Jack.
The Russians poured shot and shell on him and his fellow moles; but
they dug on, mounted their heavy guns, and dosed him with pointed
Lancaster shells, which were new to him, and impressed him most
unpleasantly.

And Jim galloped to and fro and worried more over his horse's feeding
than his own, and kept very fit and well.

He went over now and again to the Heavies, to see how George Herapath
and Ralph Ruben were standing it, and found them generally on the
growl at having so little to do and none too much to eat, and they all
condoled with one another, and expressed themselves freely on such
congenial subjects as the Transport and Commissariat Departments, and
felt the better for getting it out.

Letters from home came with fair regularity now, and they swapped
their news and had time to write long letters back--except Jack, whose
whole soul was in his trenches, and who was too tired and dirty for
correspondence when he came out of them.

So upon Jim devolved the duty of keeping Carne and Wyvveloe posted as
to the course of the war, and his painfully produced scrawls were
valued beyond their apparent merits by the anxious ones at home, and
treasured as things of price.

For Gracie, at all events, said to herself, when each one came, "It
may be the last we shall ever get from him"; and, "They may both be
lying dead at this moment. This horrible, horrible war!"

But she wrote continually to both of them; and if the dreadful feeling
that she might only too possibly be writing to dead men was with her
as she wrote, she took good care that no sign of It appeared in her
letters. They were brave and cheery letters, telling of the little
happenings of the neighbourhood, and always full of the hope of seeing
them again soon. And if she cried a bit at times, as she wrote and
thought of it all, be sure no tear-spots were allowed to show. They
had quite enough to stand without being worried with her fears.

And she prayed for them every night and every morning with the utmost
devotion, though, indeed, at times she remained long on her knees,
pondering vaguely. For she knew that what must be, must be, and that
her most fervent prayers could not turn Russian bullets from their
destined billets--that if God saw it well to take her boys, they would
go, in spite of all her asking. And so she came to commending them
simply to God's good care, and to asking for herself the strength to
bear whatever might come to her.

When the Alma lists came out, she and the Rev. Charles scanned them
with feverish anxiety, and with eyes that got the names all blurred
and mixed, and hearts that beat muffled dead marches, and only let
them breathe freely again when they had got through without finding
what they had feared.

And both of them, grateful at their own escape, thought pitifully of
those whose trembling fingers, stopping suddenly on beloved names, had
been the signal for broken hearts and shattered hopes and desolated
lives.

And, any day, that might be their own lot too; and so, like many
others in those times, they went heavily, and feared what each new day
might bring.

Margaret Herapath spent much of her time with them, and Sir George was
able to bring them news in advance of the ordinary channels.

And the grim old man up at Carne read the news-sheets and the lists,
which smelt of snuff when he had done with them, and was vastly polite
and unconcerned about it all when Gracie and Eager went to visit him;
but Kennet led somewhat of a dog's life at this time, and had to find
consolation for a ruffled spirit where he could.



CHAPTER LI
THE VALLEY OF DEATH


The Cavalry, Light and Heavy, but more especially the Light, were, as
we have seen, rankling bitterly under quite uncalled-for imputation of
showy uselessness, and chafing sorely at their enforced inaction
during the siege operations. The campaign, so far, had offered them no
opening, nor did it seem likely to do so. Moreover, forage was scarce,
their horses were on short rations, and before long, unless those
infernal transport people woke up, they would be padding it afoot like
the toilers on the heights, who were having all the fun--such as it
was--and would reap all the glory.

But Fortune was kind, and sore, on them.

For some days past they had, from time to time, caught the sound of
distant bugles among the hills to the north and east of the valley in
which their camp lay, and their hopes had been briefly stirred.

It might mean nothing more, however, than the passage of
reinforcements into Sebastopol, for those northern ways by Inkerman
gorge were always open and impossible of closing.

In front of them on the plain was a line of small redoubts occupied by
Turks. Behind them on the way to Balaclava lay the 93rd Highlanders
under Sir Colin Campbell.

Jim Carron was awakened from a very sound sleep one morning by a lusty
kick from Charlie Denham, and the information that "Lucan wanted him."

Five minutes later he was pressing his horse to its utmost, with the
word to Head-quarters that the Russians were pouring down the valley
towards Balaclava, that they had already captured Redoubt No. 1, that
the Turks could not possibly hold the others against them, and that
unless our base at Balaclava was to go, the sooner the army turned out
to stop them the better.

Lord Raglan sped Jim on at once to French Head-quarters with the news;
and as he galloped back in headlong haste lest they should be starting
without him, all the camps were a-bristle and troops hurrying from all
quarters to the scene of action.

As he came over the hill leading down to the Balaclava road, he could
see the vast bodies of, Russians pouring out of the hills, the Turks
from the redoubts were running across the plain towards the long thin
line of Highlanders, and the Cossacks and Lancers were in among them
cutting them down as fast as they could chop.

All this he saw at a glance, as he sped on to join his own men, drawn
up on the left of the Heavies. And as he took his place, panting, both
he and his big brown, like steam-engines, he heard the roll of the
Highlanders' Miniés on the right as they broke the rush of the Russian
cavalry.

The next minute a great body of horsemen, brilliant in light blue and
silver, topped the slope in front of the Heavies, and looked down on
their Insignificant numbers as Goliath did on David.

He saw old Scarlett haranguing his men, and then with a roar--he knew
just how they felt!--like starving tigers loosed at last on
long-desired prey--the Greys and Enniskillens dashed at them and
through them, and wheeled, and through again, first line, second line,
and out at the rear. And then, as the broken first line gathered
itself again to swallow the tigers, the rest of the Heavies, the
Royals, and Dragoons shot out like a bolt and scattered them to the
winds.

And Jim and all about him yelled and cheered in a frenzy--but down
below it all was a bitter sense of regret at being out of it. Truly it
seemed as though malignant fate had the Light Brigade on her black
books and was bent on defrauding them of their rightful chances.

By this time the allied troops were coming up from their distant
camps, and the rout of the Russian horse enabled them to take up their
positions in the valley.

It looked like being a pitched battle. All hearts beat high, and none
higher than those of the Hussars and Light Dragoons. Their chance
might come after all. They twitched in their saddles. Give them only
half a chance and they would show the world what was in them.

And it came.

Messengers sped in haste to and from the Chief, on the heights above,
to the various commanders down below. And then came young Nolan of the
15th, Lord Raglan's own aide, his horse in a white sweat, himself
aflame.

He spoke hurriedly to Lord Lucan, and Jim saw his lordship's eyebrows
lift in astonishment. He seemed to question the order given.

Nolan waved a vehement arm towards the Russians. Lord Lucan spoke to
Lord Cardigan, and his brows too went up. Every tense soul among them,
whose eyes could see what was passing, watched as if his life depended
on the outcome.

Then in a moment the word rang out, and they were off.

Where? He had not the remotest idea nor the slightest care. Enough for
him that they were off and that they meant business.

And away in front of them, where he had no earthly right to be, since
he did not belong to them and had only brought a message, went young
Nolan, waving them on with insistent arm.

They swept along at a gallop in two long lines, and the rush and the
rattle got into Jim's blood, and the blood boiled up into his head,
and he thought of nothing--nothing, but the fact that their chance had
come at last--least of all of fear for himself.

Fear? There were Russians ahead there!----them all!--and every faculty
in him, every nerve and muscle, every drop of boiling blood, every
desire of his mind and heart and soul rushed on ahead to meet them. He
wanted at them, he wanted to hew and thrust and kill. He wanted blood.

Head down, forward a bit, sword-hilt fitting itself to his hand as it
had never done before, knees so lightly tight to the saddle that he
could feel the great brown shoulders working like machinery inside
them, a glance forward from under his busby and an impression of a
vast multitude of men--and the roar and crash of numberless guns in
front and on both flanks--a scream just ahead, and young Nolan's horse
came galloping round at the side, with young Nolan still in the
saddle--but dead--his chest ripped open by a shell.

Men were falling all round now, men and horses hurling forward and
down in rattling lumbering heaps.

Jim's face was cast-iron, his jaw a vice. Not the Jim we have
known--this! His dæmon--nay, his demon, for he had but one thought,
and that was to kill. No man who knew him would have known him.

Belching guns in front. Shot and bullets coming like hail. Men falling
fast. Lines all shattered and anyhow. But the thick white smoke and
the venomous yellow-red spits of flame were close now, and so far it
had not struck him as wonderful that he still rode while so many had
gone down.

He had felt hot whips across his face, something had tipped his busby
to the back of his head, several other somethings had plugged through
the flying jacket which covered his bridle arm. Then he had to swerve
suddenly from the smoking black muzzle of a gun, and he was among
flat-caps and gray-coats, and his sword was going in hot quick blows,
and every blow bit home.

A big gunner struck heavily at him with a smoking mop. He had an
honest brown hairy face and blue eyes. The sweep of Jim's sword took
him in the neck, and . . . .

An infantryman behind had his gun-stock at his chest to fire. Jim
drove the big brown at him, the man went down in a heap, arms up, and
the gun went off as he fell.

Then it was all wild fury and confusion. Deseret's sword was
wonderful, as light as a lath and as sure as death. He was through the
smoke, fighting the myriads behind--singlehanded it seemed to him.

--!--!--!--!--he could not tackle the whole Russian army! He whirled
the big brown round and plunged back through the smoke, saw the others
riding home, and bent and dashed away after them.

He was almost the last. A thunder of hoofs on his flank, and a vicious
lance-head came thrusting in between his right arm and his body. His
sword swept round backwards--and the Lancer's empty horse raced
neck-and-neck with his own, its ears flat to its head, its eyes white
with fear.

Then the guns behind opened on them again, and bullets came raining in
on each side as well--on Russian Lancers and British Hussars and
Dragoons alike.

Jim was swaying in his saddle, he did not know why, But dashing at
those guns was one thing, and retiring was another, and the hell-fire
had burnt out of him and left him spent.

He saw the long unbroken lines of the Heavies sweeping up to meet and
cover them, and wondered dizzily if he could hold on till they came.

There were Lancers ahead of him, thrusting at his men as they rode. A
whole bunch of them went down in a heap just in front of him, riddled
by the murderous fire of their comrades behind, and he lifted the
brown horse over them as if they had been a quick-set.

The Heavies parted to let them through, and the splendid fellow on the
thundering big horse at the side there, who stood high in his stirrups
cheering on his men, was good old George. There was no mistaking him,
he was such a size and weight.

A couple of Lancers, who had been making for Jim, swerved to face the
new attack and made for George instead, bold in the advantage of their
longer reach. And Jim would have been after them to equalise matters
but that it was all he could do to keep his seat.

He saw George rise in his saddle, with his great sabre swinging to the
blow. Then a whirling blast of canister shore them all down, and they
lay in a heap, men and horses riddled like colanders. And Jim, with a
sob, clung to the pommel of his saddle and let the brown horse carry
him home.

Jack had just got up to camp from night duty in the trenches when the
alarm sounded in the valley, and he made his way with the rest to the
edge of the plateau to see what was going on.

When he saw the cavalry drawn up for action he hurried down the hill
as fast as he could go, hung spell-bound halfway at the terrible and
amazing sight below, and then tumbled on with a lump in his throat to
learn the worst, as the broken riders came reeling back in twos and
threes.

It was he lifted Jim out of his saddle, and found it all sticky
with blood from the lance-thrust in his side. His face was streaming
from a graze along the scalp, and he had a bullet through the left
shoulder--small things indeed considering where he had been.

The miracle of that awful ride was, not that so many fell, but that
any single man came back alive.



CHAPTER LII
PATCHING UP


As soon as matters settled down, Colonel Carron rode over at once for
news of his boy, He knew he must have been in that brilliant madness,
about which every tongue in the camps was wagging, and he feared he
had seen the last of him.

He had some difficulty in finding what was left of the Light Brigade,
for the Russians still held the lowlands in force. They had, in fact,
drawn a cordon round the allied forces and were, to an extent,
besieging the besiegers, and the cavalry camps had to be moved up on
to the plateau.

But he came at last on the handful of laxed and weary men, lying about
their new quarter's, some fast asleep with their faces in their arms,
while willing hands did all their necessary work for them, and every
man of them still bore in him the very visible effects of that most
dreadful experience.

He almost feared to ask for Jim, lest it should kill his last spark of
hope.

"You had a terrible time," he said, to one on his knees by a big brown
horse, which stood there with an occasional shiver as he applied
healing ointment to its many wounds. "The whole world will ring with
it."

"Alt blamed foolishness, sir," growled the man--who had lost his own
horse and most of his chums in the foolishness, and so was in a mighty
bad humour--and lifted a casual sticky finger in recognition of the
Colonel's brilliant uniform.

"I'm afraid it was, but you did it nobly. Can you tell me anything of
Cornet Carron? Was he in it?"

"In it and out of it, sir, thanks be! He's too good a sort to lose.
He's inside there. This is his horse I'm patching up, 'cos he wouldn't
lie quiet till I done it." And the Colonel dived into the tent with a
grateful heart, and found Jim fast asleep on a hastily made couch. His
wounds had been bound up, and there were even mottled white streaks on
his face where a hasty sponge had made an attempt to clean it. But he
was sleeping soundly, and it was the very best medicine he could have.

The Colonel went quietly out again to wait. He gave the horse-mender a
very fine cigar, and lit it for him along with his own.

"Bully!" said the man. "Best thing I've tasted since I left Chelsea."

"Your losses must be very heavy."

"Under two hundred at roll-call, sir, and we went in over six."

"Awful!"

"Set of ---- fools we were, sir; but we showed 'em what was in us, an'
now mebbe they won't talk about us any more as they have bin doen."

"They'll talk about you to the end of time," said the Colonel
heartily.

"That's all right, sir. That's a different kind of talk."

"We knowed it was all a mistake," he went on, with his head on one
side, as he laid on artistic patches of ointment; "but we'd bin aching
for a slap at the beggars, just to put a stopper on the mouth-wagglers
nearer home. And we _did_ slap 'em too, by----!"--and he lost himself
for a moment in admiring contemplation of their prowess. "But they're
vermin, them Roosians! Shot down their own men when we got all mixed
up with 'em coming home, so they say."

"Yes, they did that. We saw it all from the heights."

"Well, that's not what I call right, sir."

"It was barbarous and damnable. No civilised nation would do such a
thing."

"That's it, sir--barbarous and damnable and no civilised nation would
do such a thing." And he said it over and over to himself, and gained
considerable éclat by the use of it in discussion with his fellows
later on.

"Jackson!" said a drowsy voice inside the tent. "How's Bob? And what
the deuce are you preaching about?" And the brown horse gave a whuffle
at sound of the voice.

"That's it. Thinks more of his hoss than he does of himself," said
Jackson, with a wink at the Colonel. "Bob's patching up fine, sir.
He's a good bit ripped up, but no balls gone in, s'far as I can see.
He'll be ready for you, sir, by time you're ready for him, I should
say. Gentleman called to see you, sir."

"My dear lad," said the Colonel, sitting down by his side on a
stained-red saddle. "I am grateful for the sight of you. We doubted if
one of you would come back alive."

"I don't know that we expected to, sir. But we hadn't time to think
about it."

"Whose mistake was it? Lucan's?"

"I don't think so, sir," he said thoughtfully, as he strove to recall
it all. "I remember the look that came on his face when Nolan brought
him the order. . . . I think both he and Cardigan knew there was
something wrong. But Nolan was hot to have us go----"

"Is it true that he and Lucan were not on good terms?"

"I don't know anything about that, sir. There's so much talk. He's
dead, anyway. His horse came galloping back with him still in the
saddle and all his chest ripped open. It was horrid."

"He had no earthly right to go with you. There was some strong
talk about it up there. A brave fellow, from all accounts, but
hot-headed. . . . I'm going to take you to my quarters, my boy. We
want you on your legs again as soon as possible."

"All right, sir. I don't think it's much. A rip or two here and there
and some bullet-grazes. And the doctor's patched me up nicely."

"It's a wonder there's anything left to patch."

"You'll bring old Bob along too?"

"Oh yes, we'll take you both together. I'm glad it's in life you're
not to be divided, not in death."

"He went like a bird," said Jim. And then, as the recollection of it
all came back on him--the belching guns, the hairy brown gunner, the
venomous Lancers, George Herapath,--"My God!" he said softly; "I
wonder we ever got back at all."

CHAPTER LIII
THE FIGHT IN THE FOG


In the comparative luxury of Colonel Carron's quarters, which were far
beyond anything he could have got in the English camps, Jim pulled
round rapidly. He was in the best of health, his wounds showed every
intention of healing readily, and the Colonel saw to it that he lacked
nothing.

He found himself, somewhat to his confusion, something of a lion
there, and never lacked company anxious to discuss with him the
details of that mad ride up the Valley of Death and back again.

His French visitors were unanimous in their grave disapproval and
admiration; and Jack, whenever he could get away from his trenches for
a chat with the invalid, reported the same feeling everywhere.

Jack himself had had a hand in the tussle with the enemy, the day
after Jim's affair. But he came out of it untouched, and made light of
it.

He reported Harben severely wounded, in the second charge when George
Herapath was killed, and the body of the latter had been recovered and
buried.

It was sad to think of old George gone right out like that. He had
died bravely, hastening to the rescue of his fellows, and the boys
hardly dared to think of the bitter sorrow at Knoyle and Wyvveloe when
the news should get there. It would, they knew, bring right home to
them all the dreadful possibilities of the war, as nothing else could
have done. George gone, Ralph sorely wounded. Who would be the next to
go?

Here, in the camps, with sudden death hurtling through the air night
and day, and sickness still claiming more victims than all the
whistling shells, they were getting somewhat case-hardened, and
accustomed to sudden disappearances and vacant places. But, to the
anxious scanners of the lists at home, each death in each small circle
made all the other deaths seem more imminent, and weighted every heart
with fresh fears.

The zigzags and trenches in which Jack held a proprietary interest
were creeping nearer and nearer to the town, and he was well satisfied
with the progress made. But on one other point he and his fellow
Engineers were anything but content.

The right flank of their position, opposite the Inkerman cliffs and
caves and very close to the road by which the Russian forces got in
and out of the town, seemed to their experienced eyes but ill-defended
and not incapable of assault from the lower ground. And such assault,
if successful, must of necessity entail the most serious consequences
on the Allies.

They spoke of the matter, harped on it, but nothing was done, save the
erection of a small sand-bag battery on the slope of the hill, and no
guns were mounted on it lest the sight of them should tempt the
Russians to come up and take them; and so--that grim and deadly
hand-to-hand struggle in the early morning fog, known as the Battle of
Inkerman--which, for all who were in it, for ever stripped the fifth
of November of its traditional glamour, and left in its place a blind,
black horror--a nightmare struggle against overwhelming odds, which
seemed as if it would never come to an end.

Oh, we won; we won of course--but, as we do win, at most dreadful cost
which foresight might have saved.

Jack was in the midst of it. He had just come up from the front,
soaked with rain and caked with mud, and was making a forlorn attempt
at cold breakfast before lying down, when heavy firing, in the very
place where they had all feared sooner or later to hear it, took him
that way in haste to see what was up.

He could see nothing for the fog and rain, but a hail of shot and
shell was coming from the heights across the valley and he bent and
ran for the shelter of the sand-bag battery. And for many hours--and
every hour an age--the sandbag battery was "absolute hell," as he told
Jim that night, with a very sober face and no enthusiasm.

Endless hosts of gray-coats came surging up out of the fog, yelling
like demons, and fighting with their bayonets as they had never fought
before. They were slaughtered in heaps, but there always seemed just
as many coming on, yelling and stabbing, and our men yelled and
stabbed, and the piles of dead grew high.

But Jack saw very little. It was all a wild pandemonium of clashing
steel and yells and groans and curses, with streaming rain above,
swirling fog all round, and what felt like a ploughed field heaped
with dead bodies below. He picked up a rifle and bayonet, and jabbed
and smashed at the gray-coats with the rest.

Through the fog he could hear the same deadly sounds all round, but
whether they were winning or losing, or indeed what was going on, he
had not the slightest idea. All he knew was that hosts of Russians
kept on coming up in front out of the fog, that they had to be stopped
at any cost, and that, from the time it was lasting, the cost must be
awful.

He stumbled inside the battery one time, after a bang on the head from
a clubbed musket which made him sick and dizzy; and as he sat panting
in a corner for a moment till his wits came back, he told Jim
afterwards that he remembered wondering if he had died and this was
hell; He had a flask in his pocket somewhere, and he tried to get it
out, and found his left arm would not act, though he had felt nothing
wrong with it till he sat down.

He was drenched with rain and sweat--and blood, though he did not know
it at the time. He got out his flask with his right hand at last, and
took a long pull at it and felt better. Blood out, and brandy in, made
his bruised head feel light and airy. He picked up his heavy rifle and
bayonet and staggered out to join the wild mêlée again--one hand was
better than none where every hand was needed.

But he tumbled blindly down the slope and fell, and men trampled to
and fro over his body till he felt all one big bruise. Then the grim
dim struggle swayed off to one side for a moment, and he tried to
crawl away.

A tall Russian--an officer by his sword--lunged down at him as he
leaped past in the fog, but the point struck on his flask and the blow
only rolled him over again, and the other had not time to repeat it.

And presently he crawled away up the hill, and got out of it all, and
down the other side towards his own camp.

It was there his father found him, late in the afternoon, spent and
bruised, and weak from loss of blood, and he went off at once and got
a litter, and took him away to his own tent and set him down beside
Jim. For the English doctors had their hands very much more than full,
and Colonel Carron, rightly or wrongly, had much greater faith in the
nursing arrangements of his adopted service than in those of the
British camps and field hospitals.

When he came in at night, Jack was all bandaged up and as comfortable
as could be expected, with bayonet wounds in his arm and shoulder, a
badly bruised head, and a bodyful of contusions.

"I was just thanking my stars and you, sir, that I was here, and not
shivering to pieces over yonder," he said gratefully.

And with reason. For the Colonel's tent was as cosy a little
habitation as even the French camps could show. He had taken advantage
of a slight hollow, and had had it deepened and the earth piled high
like a rampart all round it, so that only its top showed above
ground-level, and the keen night winds whistled over it with small
effect. And inside was a cheerful little stove, and Tartar rugs, of
small value perhaps, and of crude and glaring colour and design
without doubt, but very homely to look at to boys who had grown
accustomed to bare trodden earth. And for couches, instead of
waterproof cloth and a couple of blankets spread on the ground, they
had clever little bedsteads, consisting of a springy network of
string inside an oblong wooden frame which rested on folding legs like
a campstool.

"We certainly know how to do for ourselves better than you do. Have
you had anything to eat?" asked the Colonel.

"Just had the best dinner we've had since--well, since we dined with
you last, sir," said Jim, with great satisfaction. "I don't know what
it was, but it was uncommonly good."

And Jack asked anxiously: "Have you any news for us, sir? We heard
they were driven back. Are any of our people left?"

"A few; but your loss is very heavy. Ours also; but you bore the brunt
of it over there where the work was hottest. They came up out of the
town at us, just below here, while you were busy there, and they made
a feint also just above Balaclava. It has been a hot day all round. I
hope they'll give us time to breathe now."

"I wonder what lies that fellow Menchikoff will stuff into the Tsar
this time," said Jim.

"He can hardly claim a victory, anyway," said his father, with a
smile.

"I bet he will, sir."

"Did you hear anything as to casualties, sir?" asked Jack, whose mind
could not get far away from that grim struggle in the fog.

"Only outstanding ones. Your loss in big men is terrible. Cathcart is
dead, and Strangways----"

"Poor old Strangways!"

"A dear old chap!" echoed Jim.

----"and Goldie,--all killed. George Brown and Codrington and Bentinck
wounded, and I believe Torrens and Buller and Adams also. Some of your
regiments are almost without officers. Our most serious loss is de
Lourmel, down in front here, repulsing the sortie. They estimate
15,000 Russians killed and wounded----"

"There seemed millions of them lying round that battery," said Jack.

"They reckon there were 8,000 English and 6,000 of our men in the
fight, and between 50,000 and 60,000 Russians. So that every one of
our men put at least one of theirs _hors de combat_--a remarkable
performance indeed."

"I've been thinking, Jim," he said presently, "that a few days on the
sea would set you up again quicker than anything else. What do you
say?"

"I'd like it immensely, sir, if it could be managed. It's awfully good
of you."

"You're creditable boys, you see, and I'm anxious not to lose either
of you. I wonder how soon the medico would let you go, too, Jack?" And
he looked at him with a practised eye. "Not for a week anyway, I
expect."

"I feel as if I could sleep for a week, sir. It's so mighty
comfortable here," he said drowsily.

"They've had such a stomachful to-day that I think they'll keep quiet
for a time now. It was a great scheme and they did their best. It'll
take them a little time to work up a new one. Well, we'll see about it
to-morrow. You think you'll be able to sleep, Jack?"

"Sure, sir, when I get the chance. Jim's been talking ever since the
doctor went."



CHAPTER LIV
AN ALLY OF PROVIDENCE


The Colonel was away on business soon after sunrise, long before the
boys were awake. The Russians had had enough for the moment and gave
them a quiet night.

He came in while they were breakfasting, with a satisfied look on his
face.

"Well, Jack, how goes it? You were both sleeping like tops when I left
you."

"I feel like a jelly-fish on Carne beach, sir," said Jack. "I have a
very great disinclination to move."

"Cuts twingy?"

"When I think of them, sir. At present I can think of nothing but this
coffee. They give us ours green, you know, and nothing to roast or
grind it with."

"So I heard. I would like to see what would happen if they sent ours
like that; but, _mon Dieu!_ I wouldn't like to be in their shoes! The
good old fashion of hanging a commissary whenever anything went wrong
was certainly effective. Jim, my boy, I've got your matter arranged
all right. You are to get away to-morrow with a fortnight's leave.
That should pull you round."

"It's awfully good of you, sir. It's just what I'm needing."

"Talking of hanging commissaries," said the Colonel, with a whimsical
smile on his dark face, "it was all I could do to keep my hands off
one of your pig-heads down at Balaclava yonder." And he switched his
long mud-caked riding-boot with his whip as if it were the gentleman
in question.

"I called on Lord Raglan to ask his permission to my plan, and at
first he was a bit stiff and stand-offish. But he came round and spoke
very nicely of you, my boy. He wouldn't discuss that foolish charge of
yours, and I did not press It. He granted you leave at once, and gave
me a written order for your passage to and from Constantinople by
first ship that was leaving."

"But that's only the beginning of the story," he said, as Jim's mouth
opened with thanks again. "I thought I'd make sure of the whole
business, so I waded down to Balaclava. _Mon Dieu!_ what a travesty of
a road! My poor beast was up to his knees in the filth at times. And
the place itself when I got there! The harbour is a cesspool, an
inferno of evil smells and pestilence, And I think the evil vapours
have got into the heads of your people there, I never saw such
disorder and confusion in all my life. I found the harbour master at
last, and asked him for information as to sailings. But he was only
the Inner Harbour Master, it seems, and he referred me to the Head of
the Transport. The transport people referred me to the Naval
Authorities, and a naval officer, whom I caught on the wing, told me I
would have to apply to the Outer Harbour Master, who was somewhere
outside among the fleet. I was consigning them all to warmer quarters
than Balaclava, when I spied a man I knew--Captain Jolly of the
_Carnbrea_, who had brought some of our troops over to Kamiesch Bay.
He was bursting with complaints and nearly mad, said he'd like to tie
the heads of all the departments in one big bag and sink them in the
cesspool. He said he was sailing to-morrow with a load of sick and
wounded, and he'd been up trying to get a few stoves from the official
who had charge of them, as the sick men were dying of the cold. 'He'd
got hundreds of them lying there,' said old Jolly, almost black in the
face, 'and he wouldn't let me have one. Said I must get a requisition
and fill it up and get it signed at Head-quarters. I told him the men
were dying meanwhile. He could do nothing without a requisition
signed at Head-quarters. I asked him to lend me some stoves. He
couldn't. I asked him to sell me some. He wouldn't. I told him those
men's deaths would lie at his door. He said if I would get a
requisition, etc., etc. So then I--well, I told him what I thought of
him and all the rest, in good hot sailor-talk, and came away.'"

"I asked him if he could find room for one more on his ship, and told
him about you, and, like a good fellow, he said, 'Send 'em both along
and I'll make room for 'em.' So you're all right, Jim, and Jolly will
make you comfortable, I know."

"It's awfully good of you, sir," said Jim once more. "I'm sorry we're
such a bother to you."

"It's not every man can boast of two such young warriors, you see. On
the whole I'm inclined to think Providence served us well in making me
an ally, eh?"

"Your people are very much better off than ours, sir," said Jack. "Our
camp is like London on a foggy day."

"And ours is like Paris," laughed the Colonel. "You see we understand
the art of war better than you do, and, candidly, I think your
officers are much to blame for the little interest they take in their
men. Here we are all _bons camarades_, whereas your men are left
entirely to themselves."

"We mix in the trenches," said Jack in defence.

"Of necessity, I suppose, since the space is limited. But even there
you don't mix as we do."

"Your music alone is worth coming for," said Jim. "It did me as much
good as the doctor almost."

"Yes; I notice a lot of your men come across to hear it whenever they
get the chance. Great mistake shutting up your bands. The men always
like music, and expect it."

"You don't think I'll miss anything by going, sir?" asked Jim
anxiously.

"You'll gain a great deal more than you'll miss, my boy. I shouldn't
wonder if we have a fairly quiet time here now."

"And you'll see to my horse?"

"He shall have every attention, I promise you."



CHAPTER LV
RETRIBUTION


The following day saw Jim joggling down the miry way to Balaclava
Harbour on a French mule-cacolet. He had said good-bye to the others
in camp, and begged his father not to venture down into the inferno
again. So the Colonel sent his own servant in charge of him, with full
instructions where to find the boat Captain Jolly had promised to have
waiting.

The hopeless confusion in the little harbour appalled Jim, and the
dank misery of the rows of wounded men awaiting shipment, with
ill-bound wounds, cold blue faces, and heavy hopeless eyes, chilled
him to the heart.

And suddenly a familiar face caught his eye, and he stopped the mule
and sat up.

"Why, Seth, old chap! I'm sorry to see you like this"--for Seth's
left leg was gone, and the roughly bandaged stump stuck out forlornly
along the ground.

"My fightin's done, Mester Jim. 'Twere a shell took it off in the
battery."

"When are you going over?"

"God knows, We bin waiting over a week."

"An' dyin' as quick as we could, just to save 'em trouble," said his
neighbour.

"I wish I could take you all," said Jim, and the bleached leather
faces turned wistfully on him. "But I can take one, and I must take
you, Seth. You understand, boys: he's from my own part, and twice he's
saved my life."

"That's right, sir. You take 'im home, and God bless you! Wish there
was more like you! We'll die off as quick as we can, just to save 'em
trouble," said the jocular one, who had lost both an arm and a leg.
"If they ask where 'e is we'll tell 'em 'e's gone on in front to
engage us quarters."

"Lift him in," said Jim, and with the assistance of the bystanders
Seth was lifted into the other side of the cacolet.

An official came hurrying up with a brusque, "Now then, what's all
this?"

"Oh, go and hang yourself!" said Jim, sinking back wearily. "Can't you
see I'm saving you trouble by taking him off your hands?"

"Yes--but----"

"Go ahead!" said Jim, and left the other staring after them.

Captain jolly's boat was waiting for them, and presently they were
swung up on to the deck of the _Carnbrea_.

"So you've both come, after all?" said the hearty old fellow to Jim,
who came up first.

Jim explained, and the captain said he had done quite right, and they
would find a corner for Seth between decks, though they were pretty
full already; and then he helped him across to a seat by the wheel,
and the _Carnbrea_ crept away out of the noisome harbour at once, and
Jim counted no less than six dead horses, washing about in the water
or cast up on the rocks, before the sweet salt air outside gave him
something better to think about.

They passed the warships, and a multitude of vessels hanging about
outside, and the monastery perched up on the cliff, and the white
lighthouse at the point, and presently, through a rift in the dull
November sky, the sun shone red on Sebastopol, and set it all aglow.
Here and there, on its outer edge, there were little cotton-woolly
puffs of white smoke, and the plateau behind was dotted with similar
ones.

Captain Jolly was as good as his name and Colonel Carron's opinion of
him. He made Jim very much at home, got him to tell him all he could
about the great charge, and in return gave his own free and
unrestrained opinions on men and things in general, with a special
excursus on harbour masters and transport officials.

"Too many head cooks--that's what's the matter, and not a man below
'em dare lift his little finger unless he's got permission in writing.
Why, sirs, there's things rotting there in that harbour that'd be
worth their weight in gold up above, but it's nobody's business to
send 'em up, and there they stop. It's a crying shame and--and an
infernal sin! What do you say to it all, doctor?"

This was a grave, thin-faced young fellow who had joined them in the
cabin for a cup of tea, and Captain Jolly had simply introduced him
with a wink as Dr. Subrosa.

"It's heartbreaking," he said, with deepest feeling. "We have lost
thousands of good men from sheer want of the simplest necessaries, and
almost every one of them might have been saved. For weeks I had not a
single drug except alum! Think of it! And to see those poor fellows in
torture, and dying like flies, when you knew you could save them if
you could only lay your hands on the proper remedies!"

"I'll be bound there's piles of all you wanted stowed away in
Balaclava somewhere," said the captain.

"I fear so. I came down, day after day--and it was no easy matter, I
can assure you--and begged them to give me any mortal thing they had
for my fevers and rheumatisms and diarrh[oe]as; and the reply was
always just a parrot-like 'Haven't any--Haven't any--Haven't
any,'--till I would willingly have poisoned every man who said it.
They're getting calloused to it all, and, as Captain Jolly says, not a
man among them dare lift his finger without a written order."

"Take my own case," he said, turning to Jim. "The continuous wear and
tear, and the constant sight of nothing but sickness and death and
broken men, were beginning to tell on me----"'

"My God, I don't wonder!" jerked Jim.

"My chief on the medical staff told me I must get away for
fourteen days or so or I'd break down, and he signed me the proper
form for the purpose. I found it had to be countersigned by the
quartermaster-general, then by the colonel of the regiment to which I
was attached, then by the general of the division, and finally by the
adjutant-general. It is probably still going round among them, if it
hasn't got lost. I waited six days and could get no word of it, and my
chief advised me to take French leave and bring back some drugs if
they're to be had. I'm told there is a _Times_ man come out with
money, to help make good some of the shortcomings in the official
providence, and I'm hoping he'll help me. I'm actually a deserter, you
see. That's why this dear old chap calls me Subrosa. My name is
McLean, and I'm attached to the 63rd."

"And a rare good sort he is," said Captain Jolly. "Did I tell you
about my load of boots?"

"No; what was it about the boots?"

"Last voyage I came out with nothing but boots--more boots than you
ever dreamt of, thousands and thousands of pairs. The whole ship stank
of 'em--smelt like a tannery. Well, when they let us into Balaclava
Harbour at last, and we were hoping to get rid of the boots----"

"They're going barefoot yet, many of them," said McLean.

"I know. Well, before we could begin to break cargo there came a
couple of dandy fine gentlemen, with a peremptory order to take them
to Constantinople as fast as we could go, and we were hustled away
before you could say 'boots.' We were less than a day's sail from
Constantinople, when one of the dandy men mentioned in confidence to
me that the men up there were barefoot and they were going to buy
boots for them."

"What did you say?" asked Jim expectantly.

"Well, I said more'n I should perhaps. Dandy men or no dandy men, I
said, 'Why, you ---- fool, I'm loaded to the hatches with boots and
nothing but boots! Why in thunder couldn't you open your mouth
sooner?' 'Our instructions,' says he, 'were to buy boots, captain, not
to go talking about it, and I'll thank you not to use language
unbecoming a gentleman when talking to me.' And he walked away to talk
to the other, who was sick in his bunk."

"And what did you do?" asked Jim.

"I shut off steam," said the captain, with a meaning wink, "and
presently he came up again and said they'd decided we'd better turn
back again and take the boots to the feet that were waiting for them.
And I've no doubt they're rotting on Balaclava Quay now with all the
other things. Why, if my owners did their business as the Government
does its they'd be bankrupt in a year."

After his cup of tea Jim went below to see that Seth was comfortably
stowed.

He found him, with a couple of hundred others, lying in long rows in
the 'tween decks, which had been adapted to their use as far as it was
possible to do so. They lay pretty close, and each man had a couple of
blankets to soften the wood and keep out the cold.

At one end were half a dozen wounded officers. Between them and the
men had been left a space of a few feet, and that was the only
distinction between them. To make room for Seth this space had been
encroached upon, and he lay next the officers.

As Jim rose from his knees after a short chat with him, in which he
had done his best to put a little heart into the poor fellow, by
assuring him that he should be properly provided for when he got home
to Carne, he heard his name called weakly from the officers' quarters,
and, bidding Seth good night, and promising to see him first thing in
the morning, he turned that way.

"Why, Harben!" he said. "I'm sorry to see you here. What is it?"

"Nothing. I'm sick--very sick. Who is that they've put there?" asked
Ralph, in a low eager whisper.

"That? Why, it's Seth Rimmer--young Seth, you know, from down along."

"He's a dangerous man that, Jim. Put him somewhere else! Take him
away!"

"Nonsense, old man. Seth's as true as they make 'em. Besides, he's
lost a leg. And anyway I couldn't ask them to move him now. There's no
room anywhere else."

"He's dangerous, I tell you," said Harben, with a shiver. "He
thinks . . . he thinks . . . but I haven't, Jim. I swear I haven't.
I'd nothing to do with it. I swear I hadn't."

"Don't you worry, old man," said Jim soothingly, for it all sounded to
him like the ravings of a disturbed brain. "Can I get you anything, or
make you more comfortable?"

"Only take him away," whispered the other insistently.

But that Jim could not do. He and Seth were only there on sufferance,
as it were, and he wanted to give as little trouble as possible.

Captain Jolly had insisted on giving up his own bunk to him, but had
only prevailed on him to take it by asserting that he would be on deck
most of the night. And the clean cold sheets were so delightful, after
the threadbare amenities of the camp, that he felt as if he could
sleep on for a week.

Very early next morning Jim was wakened by a hand on his shoulder. He
jumped up so vehemently--forgetful of the narrowness of his quarters,
and with a mazy impression that the Russians were upon them--that his
head was sore for days after it.

"Mr. Carron," said a grave quiet voice, "there is trouble on board."
And he saw that it was Dr. McLean.

"Trouble? What trouble, doctor?"

"We want you to explain it if you can. Slip on some things and come
along." And Jim tumbled wonderingly into his jacket and trousers and
followed the doctor--to the 'tween decks--to the officers' quarters.

And there lay the end of a tragedy.

Seth's pallet was empty. Seth himself--what had been Seth--lay partly
on the body of Ralph Harben. His rough brown fingers still gripped
Harben's throat, with a grip that had started the dead man's eyes
almost out of his head and had prevented him uttering a sound.

And Seth lay in a pool of his own blood, for his vehemence had burst
his hastily bandaged amputation, and he had bled to death in the act
of wreaking his vengeance.

"Good God!" gasped Jim, and felt sick and ill at the sight.

"Are they dead?" he whispered, as though he feared to wake them.

"Both quite dead. Been dead several hours," said McLean, and led him
back to the captain's cabin, where the steward brought them hot
coffee.

"DO you know what it all means, Mr. Carron?" asked the captain.

"I'm afraid I do, captain, but I'd no idea of it, and it's a terrible
shock to me." And he briefly explained as far as was necessary.

"Ay, ay," said the old man soberly; "I can see it all. He came out on
purpose to find the other, to pay him out for the wrong he'd done him,
and when his chance came he took it . . . I don't hold with murder
myself, but . . . well, I'm bound to say I can feel for this poor
lad."

There were eight others who had died in the night, and they buried
them all at the same time, and Captain Jolly read the service over
them, and entered in his log the simple fact that ten died and were
buried.

And Jim said no word of it in his letters home, and only told Jack
about it when he got back to camp.



CHAPTER LVI
DULL DAYS


The ten days' voyage there and back, in Captain Jolly's bunk and
cheerful company, did Jim a world of good. They lay off Scutari six
days, and were back in the Cesspool, as Jolly persisted in calling
Balaclava Bay, on the twenty-second of November, having just missed
the great gale, which tore the camps to pieces and piled the wild
Crimean coast with the wreckage of over forty ships and millions of
pounds' worth of the goods that were so badly needed on shore.

Nearly every ship they passed, as they drew in, was dismasted and
looked half a wreck, and Jim, when he had said good-Lye to the genial
Jolly, and had waded through the muddy gorge and climbed the heights,
found everything and everybody in the camps in very similar condition.

In spite of his own fitness, and the healthy frame of mind induced by
sixteen days of clean salt air and the companionship of Captain Jolly,
his spirits sank with every step he took. It was like climbing through
a charnel-house--dead horses and mules stuck up out of the mud on
every side, just as they had fallen under their loads and been left to
die; and Jim's love for every dumb thing that went on four legs was
sorely bruised before he got to the plateau.

And when he did get there the sights were more painful still--mud
everywhere, and dirty pools and trickling streams, sodden tents, and
gaunt, hungry-looking men in rags, trudging to and fro, with bare feet
or with boots that only added to the dilapidated looks of their
wearers. Truly, he thought, though not perhaps in so many words, this
was the seamy side of war, and the glory and glamour were remarkable
only by their absence.

He reported himself at Head-quarters, but saw only an aide-de-camp,
who was the only clean and wholesome and fairly-fed person he had met
since he landed. He learned that his chief, Lord Cardigan, was sick,
and that his brigade was to go down to Balaclava as soon as possible,
as the horses could not stand the miseries of the heights.

Then he went across to the French camps, and found things in very much
better condition there, and Jack getting on famously and eager for all
his experiences.

Jim told him of Seth and Ralph Harben, and he was profoundly surprised
and saddened by it all.

"And you really think it was Ralph took Kattie away, Jim?" he asked,
after a long stare of amazement.

"Seth wouldn't have done a thing like that unless he had good reason,"
said Jim simply.

"I can't imagine Kattie caring for a fellow like Ralph, you know,"
said Jack thoughtfully. "He was always such a--well, he's dead, so
it's no good saying it, but you know yourself what he was. . . . But
it's horrible to think of--four lives gone by reason of it."

And Jim said no more, except that he had thought it best to say
nothing about it in his letters home.

There were two letters from Gracie to read, one to himself and one to
Jack, both so bright and cheerful and full of hope that they could not
by any possibility have imagined what it cost her to write like that,
when her heart was so full of fears for them. She told Jim of Paddy's
admirable behaviour, and of long delightful rides with Meg and Sir
George on the flats. And she told Jack of visits to Sir Denzil, and
how the Rimmer cottage was still shut up and empty. But from neither
letter could the most discriminating judge have drawn any clue as to
the writer's heart tending more to the one of them than to the other.

There were also letters from Charles Eager, with comments on the
course of the war and the feeling at home, and fervent hopes for their
safety and that of George Herapath--who lay out there in the cemetery
on the cold hill-side. And there was also one from Lord Deseret to
Jim, which contained, among other things, the somewhat surprising news
that Mme Beteta had gone to St. Petersburg to fill an engagement
there.

Then Colonel Carron came in and gave him hearty welcome, and wanted
all his experiences over again.

"And how's my horse?" asked Jim, as soon as he got the chance. "I was
thinking of him all the way up from the harbour. The road is thick
with the poor beasts who have died there."

"He's first-rate. I've been riding him myself to keep him in
condition, I shall be quite sorry to part with him. Deseret knew what
he was about, my boy, when he chose him for you."

He was very pleased with Jim's eulogiums on Captain Jolly, and
forthwith decided that Jack must make the next trip with him.

So they had a very pleasant time in the banked-up tent, in spite of
the dreariness of things outside. But all too soon it came to an end,
and Jim had to go off to his own Spartan quarters, where the
heartiness of his greeting almost made up for the lack of everything
else.

He settled down into the rut of camp life again, but found it all very
slow and dull and dirty.

There was little doing. It was as much as they could do simply to
live.

The dull routine of the trenches went on. The batteries spat shot and
shell at the town at intervals, and Russian shot and shell came
singing back in reply, and sometimes did a little damage.

And at times the camps would be wakened by furious fusillades in the
advanced French lines, when the Russians enlivened matters with a
sortie. But these alarms were spared the English, on account of the
bad ground in their front, which did not lend itself to such matters.

More than once, too, they all turned out _en masse_ in the middle of
the night--and always on the bitterest nights--to repel attacks in the
rear which never came off.

And every day there went down to Balaclava the long slow procession of
sick men, and to the cemetery another procession of those who had died
in the night.

Jack duly got his leave and went away with Captain Jolly, and Jim
busied himself, as well as the authorities would let him, in providing
for the reception of the men and horses of the Light Brigade on the
hill-side above Balaclava Bay.

A slow, dull time, wearing on body, mind, and spirit--and yet, not the
worst time possible.



CHAPTER LVII
HOT OVENS


Jack was back, in the best of health and spirits.

"I'm almost sorry I didn't join the navy," he said, as he trudged with
Jim through the mud to the Picket House, to see how things had gone on
in his absence. "They do keep things clean, anyway."

"That's the only place where they have any fun nowadays," he said, as
they stood looking down on the lines and zigzags, creeping nearer and
nearer to the town, and pointed to a deep gully which ran up from the
head of the Admiralty Harbour and separated the British position from
the French.

"The Ovens," said Jim. "Couldn't we go down some night and see some of
it?"

"Any night you like when I'm not on duty."

"Why not to-night? You won't start work till to-morrow, I suppose."

"All right! To-night! The 50th are down there, and there are some
capital fellows among them."

And that was how it happened that, for the sake of a little fun, or,
in other, words, the chance of a brush with the enemy, the boys found
themselves that night stumbling along the deep trench which zigzaged
down from Chapman's Battery towards the Green Hills and so into the
deep gully which ran up into the plateau from the head of Admiralty
Harbour in Sebastopol. The sides of the gully contained numerous caves
formed by the decay of the softer strata in the rocks, and these caves
had for some time past been the stakes for which small parties on each
side played sharp little war-games, and paid at times with their
lives.

First they were Russian, then they were British, then again Russian,
till the 50th had ousted them and remained in possession.

It was a bitterly cold night, but the boys, In the great fur coats Jim
had bought out of the loot at Mackenzie's Farm, had nothing to
complain of.

They found a strong picket of the 50th making themselves very much at
home in the Ovens, and received a warm welcome from the officers in
charge.

"Any chance of any fun to-night?" asked Jack.

"We can never tell what's going to happen. Keeps us on the jig the
whole time, but it's better than doing nothing upstairs."

"And it comes off sometimes," said another.

"And when it does, the Ovens get hot," laughed a third, and they
squatted on the floor and discussed zigzags and such matters.

"Almost took you for Russians in those big coats," said one enviously.
"Did you steal 'em?"

"Somebody else 'stole 'em," laughed Jack. "We're only receivers. Jim
bought them that day at Mackenzie's, when Menchikoff bolted and left
us his baggage."

"Talking of spies," said another, sliding off on an inference, "did
you hear of the one who walked about our lines for half a day as cool
as a cucumber? He was dressed in full French uniform, asked heaps of
questions in very bad English, and said we were doing wonders, and
made himself quite pleasant all round. And then he caught sight of
some more Frenchmen, coming down with the Colonel towards the battery
to have a look at the Lancasters. As soon as he saw them he began to
edge off down the hill, and when he saw his chance he just made a
clean bolt of it, with our men blazing away at him as hard as they
could, but he got clear away under the Redan there. And now we're a
bit suspicious' of men in big fur coats. If you'll take my advice
you'll leave 'em behind you here. Save you a heap of trouble maybe."

"Any sentry would be justified in shooting any man he saw in a coat
like that," said another.

"All right, my boys! We'll keep our coats and take our chances. What's
that?" And they all pricked up their ears to listen.

An order in French came to them from the opposite side of the gully.

"Their sentries and pickets are just over there. This is Tommy
Tiddler's Ground, between England, France, and----"

A hoarse shout outside, and shots and yells, and they were all out in
a moment and found the gully packed with Russians, and their own men,
taken by surprise, falling back in some confusion.

"Brace up there, men!" shouted the officer in charge. "They're only a
handful and only Russians."

It was very dark, except where the fires inside the caves sent out a
dull glow here and there on the bare space between the combatants.
Then the whole place blazed with a Russian volley, and again with the
reply to it.

"Bayonets, men! And down with them!" And with a yell the Englishmen
plunged down past the dull-glowing Ovens, and Jack and Jim raced with
them, revolver in hand, blazing away into the darkness in front as
they ran.

But the Russian plans for that night had been well laid. It was a
miniature Balaclava charge over again.

A ripping volley met them, not from the front, but from both sides,
and then masses of men closed in behind them and swallowed them up,
and every man was fighting for his life against unnumbered odds.

Jim, elbow to elbow with Jack, and yelling with excitement, felt him
suddenly trip and fall. He stooped to help him up again. But Jack lay
still.

He straddled across him to keep him from being trampled on, and men
lunged into him and tumbled over Jack, and he hurled them aside.
Hand-to-hand fights were going on all round, and the place was full of
the clash of steel on steel and pantings and groanings and hearty
British curses.

But they were outnumbered twenty to one, and the last dozen were borne
to the ground by sheer weight of Russians on their backs. The Ovens
changed tenants and were occupied in force, and their late occupants
were dragged away down the sloping valley towards the Harbour.

Jim found himself the centre of a raging mob. He had snatched up a
rifle, and, swinging it by the muzzle, kept a rough circle clear of
Jack's body. But vicious bayonets were jabbing at him all round, and
a bullet went singing past his head.

"Cowards Murderers! Do you call this fighting fair?" he shouted
savagely.

And of a sudden the mob parted, and an officer was belabouring his men
with the flat of his sword and strong words.

"Vous vous rendez?" he cried to Jim.

"Suppose I must," he growled.

"All right!" said the Russian. "Go there! Allez!" and pushed him
towards the gorge.

Jim stooped and endeavoured to lift Jack.

"Quoi donc? What?"

"My brother. I must take him."

"Dead?"

"My God!" gasped Jim at the word, as all that would mean to them all
flashed upon him. "No, no! I hope not--only wounded."

"We cannot take him,"

"We must."

The Russian used language, then called to one of his men, who sulkily
took Jack's limp legs while Jim took him under the arms, and they
stumbled away downhill, leaving a strong force in possession of the
Ovens.

Skirting a dark sheet of water, they came on a road where some rough
carts were waiting. The wounded were bundled into them, and a place
found for Jack, and Jim trudged behind with his hand on the tail of
the cart, and his heart full of bitterness. Their fun had become, of a
sudden, grimmest earnest.

They turned to the right over a bridge, where many lights gleamed on
the water in front, and so came at last to a great building which
proved to be the hospital.



CHAPTER LVIII
CHILL NEWS


The first news of trouble reached Carne in a brief letter from Colonel
Carron to Sir Denzil.

Gracie and the Rev. Charles were sitting over their tea one afternoon
in the quiet, hopeful despondency--if the expression may be
permitted--which had become the natural state of all who had dear ones
at the war. They were full of fears; they cherished hope; they waited
with quiet resignation what each day might bring forth.

When Kennet rapped on the door of the cottage, Gracie's heart jumped
and sank, and Eager incongruously thought of the old Latin Grammar
tag: _Mors æquo pede_ . . . ("Death with equal foot knocks at the door
of rich and poor").

"Sir Denzil begs you will come and see him at once, sir."

"Bad news, Kennet?" asked Eager, as he reached down his hat.

"He didn't say, sir; but he's in a bad-enough humour. Not that that's
much to go by, though, these days "--from which one gathers that even
Sir Denzil's equanimity was not entirely unaffected by the
disturbances of the times.

Gracie had slipped on her cloak and little fur turban. He looked at
her doubtfully. But she shook her head with decision.

"I could not possibly wait here, fearing everything," she said; and
they went along together.

Sir Denzil expressed no surprise at sight of her.

"I have just received a letter from my son, Colonel Carron," he said,
in a voice perhaps a trifle too unnaturally even and unmoved. "The
boys, I am sorry to say, have met with a misfortune." Gracie's heart
sank, and braced itself as best it could for the worst. "It is not,
however, as bad as it might be." Her heart gave a hopeful kick. "They
are both prisoners in the hands of the Russians, and one of them is
wounded again; but, so far, he has not been able to ascertain which.
That is all; but I thought it better to let you know the full extent
of the matter. The newspaper accounts are so garbled at times that one
is apt to get wrong impressions. When you come across their names
among the missing, you will understand. It does not necessarily mean
anything more than I have told you. In fact"--with an appreciative
pinch of snuff--"it may well be that they are safer inside Sebastopol
than outside."

"Prisoners!" jerked Gracie. "Will they be well treated?"

"Oh yes; I should say so. The rank and file of the Russian
army are doubtless somewhat boorish, but their officers are
civilised--gentlemanly, indeed, I believe, if you don't go too far
down. I do not think you need fear any ill-treatment for them, Miss
Gracie. It is annoying, of course, not to know which of them is
wounded, and to what extent. But the authorities will, no doubt, do
their best to ascertain, and we may hear shortly."

"I am inclined to think with you, sir, that they will probably be
safer inside than outside," said Eager thoughtfully. "From all
accounts, the state of things in the camps is awful."

"Extremely British," said Sir Denzil. "Matters will improve in time.
When the Many-headed One awakes to the fact that all this waste and
misery are quite unnecessary, it will roar loud enough, I warrant you.
Then our men will be properly looked after--that is, if there are any
of them left to look after, which seems somewhat doubtful."

"It is shameful!" broke out Gracie, with vehemence. "I wish I could
have gone with Miss Nightingale to help them."

"You would have died of atrophy and paralysis, my dear, if you had
come in contact with the red-tape of the services. If Miss Nightingale
succeeds in her mission she will be the one woman in ten million, and
will deserve well of her country."

And so they were left in doubt and much distress of mind as to the
welfare of the boys.

Margaret Herapath, in her deep mourning and her own bitter sorrow,
came over to share their anxiety and distress. Her father had suddenly
become an old and broken man. Charles Eager was much with him, and he
was the only person, outside his own household, whom Sir George cared
to see. And Eager, with the wisdom of deepest love and sympathy, let
the old man's grief run its course, and then strove to build him up
anew by diverting his grief from the one to the many.

Bitter sad times were those in the happy homes of England. Sorrow lay
on the land like a chill black frost; but below it were simmering all
those forces of passionate indignation which presently rose into that
inextinguishable roar which swept men from their high positions, and
in time carried somewhat of relief to the remnant of the army before
Sebastopol.



CHAPTER LIX
TOUCH AND GO FOR THE COIL


Jim followed Jack's body with the single-minded persistency of a
faithful dog whose master has come to grief.

His original captor would have taken him elsewhere, but he flatly
declined to go anywhere but where Jack went. He thrust aside all
interfering hands, and to all attempts at coercion in any other
direction simply pointed to Jack and himself and said, "My
brother!"--but with so grim and determined and dejected a face that at
last the other gave way and followed them into the hospital.

It was very full--crammed with broken and dying men--but Jim had no
thought save for Jack. Whether he was alive or dead he did not know,
but he must stick to him and do what he could.

There was difficulty in finding room for him. A harassed surgeon, to
whom the officer spoke, shook red hands at them and poured out a spate
of hot words, but, arrested by something the other said, looked
worriedly round and at last pointed to a corner; and Jim's captor
explained to him, in his peculiar English, that the man who lay there
would be dead in a minute or two, and then they could put Jack in his
place.

And presently the attendants came along and carried the dead man away,
and Jim and the officer lifted Jack on to the pallet, and the worried
surgeon came round and knelt down and opened up his things, and
examined him with quick, practised hands and a keen eye for causes and
effects.

Jim's heart ran slow at sight of a bullet-hole in the white breast,
and he watched the surgeon hypnotically as he carefully turned the
body over and pointed to the place where it had come out at the back,
just under the shoulder, and then spoke hurriedly to the officer.

"He says," said the other, in his broken English, helped out with very
good French--which it would be but a hindrance to attempt to reproduce
in detail--"he cannot tell. It has gone right through. He may live, he
may die. It will take time to tell. Now you come."

"May I come again to see him?"

"I will try. You will give your parole?"

"Yes," said Jim; for Jack was more to him than all the chances of
escape.

"Then we will see. Now come!"

"Beg him to do everything he can for him. Couldn't we take him
somewhere else?"

"He is better here, for the present. Later we will see. Now come!" And
since he could do no more at the moment, Jim went with him.

"For to-night you will come to the guard-room. To-morrow you will go
to Head-quarters and be properly paroled, Then we will see."

And Jim spent the rest of the night on three chairs in the guard-room,
brooding gloomily most of the time on the disastrous results of
"seeing the fun" of the Ovens, and full of fears as to the end of it
all.

In the morning his keeper came for him, and Jim, for the first time,
took the opportunity of looking at him. He had been too busy with
other matters the night before.

He was a young fellow of about his own age, dark-haired, and of a thin
sallow face, bright-eyed, pleasant-looking. Under other circumstances
Jim thought they might have become friendly. He had certainly, treated
him well.

"How is my brother?" asked Jim anxiously.

"We will see as we go. Have you eaten? No?" And he took him away to a
mess-room just alongside, where a number of officers were drinking
coffee from bowls, and smoking and talking.

They saluted Jim politely, and stared at him without restraint while
he ate a chunk of very good white bread and drank his coffee, which
was excellent, and meanwhile they plied his friend with questions.

And one, after much observation of Jim's uniform, suddenly made some
remark which carried all eyes to him and made him extremely
uncomfortable at so much observation.

"He is saying that your regiment was in that mad charge outside
Balaclava," said his particular officer.

"Yes; I was in it," said Jim quietly.

And at that, to his immense surprise, every man in the room sprang to
his feet and gravely saluted him again.

"And you got through whole?" was the next question.

"No. I had a lance wound and three bullets into me, but I've been a
voyage to Constantinople since then, to brace up, you know."

And they crowded round him, and pressed cigars on him, and showed
themselves right good fellows.

Then his new friend took him along to the hospital, and they learned
that Jack had come to himself and was sleeping, and so they went on
across the bridge of boats, and through the public gardens, and past
the cathedral, to Head-quarters.

After waiting some time, they were conducted down many long passages
to a room where a tall fair man, of high face and autocratic bearing,
sat at a table piled with papers and plans. Another stood looking out
of the window, with his back turned to them, and a white English
terrier, standing by his side on its hind legs, was trying hard to
make out what he was looking at.

Jim's keeper saluted deferentially and made his statement to the tall
man at the table.

"I understand you are prepared to give your parole not to attempt to
escape, or to hold any communication with the outside?" said he,
somewhat brusquely, first in French and then in understandable
English.

"I am," bowed Jim. And at the sound of his voice the white dog came
dancing across to him as though he were an old friend, and accepted
his caresses with delight.

"And your brother is also a prisoner, in hospital, and you wish to
attend on him."

"I do."

"What is your name and standing?"

"James Denzil Carron--cornet, 8th Hussars!" And at that the man at the
window turned suddenly and looked at him, and came and stood by the
table.

"You were, then, in the mad charge at Balaclava, perhaps?"

"I was."

"It was a foolish business."

"It was."

"Ah--you agree? How was it?"

"Some mistake. But no one quite knows."

"What are your total forces up there now?"

At which Jim's lip curled in a smile.

"You can hardly expect me to tell you that," he said quietly.

The tall young man who had been standing by the window said a word or
two to the other, who seemed surprised, and turning to Jim, said:
"Very well, Monsieur Carron. I accept your parole, and Lieutenant
Greski will be personally answerable for you."

The lieutenant bowed, and plucked Jim backward by the sleeve, and Jim
bowed, and gave the white dog's ear a final friendly pull, and they
went out.

"Who is he?" he asked, as soon as they were in the corridor.

"Menchikoff, the one at the table. The other is the Grand Duke
Michael. How does he know you?" And he looked at Jim with new
curiosity.

"Who--Menchikoff?

"No--the Grand Duke."

"Know me?" jerked Jim. "Some mistake. I never set eyes on him before."

"He told Menchikoff to do what you wanted, and said he knew you, or
something about you, or something of the kind. He dropped his voice so
that I couldn't catch it all."

"That's odd. I certainly know nothing of him."

"He thinks he knows you, anyway, and so much the better for you. You
shall come with me and stop at my house. It is not far."

"You are very good. I shall have a better opinion of Russians in
future."

"Russians! I am no Russian. I am a Pole. I hate the Russians, and
would love the English if I might."

"I see. But why do you fight for them, then?"

"Because I didn't my kin in Poland would have to pay for it."

"That's jolly hard, to have to risk your life, and maybe give it, for
people you hate."

"There are many more like me. But what can we do? If we go against
them they visit it on the innocent ones at home. If I could destroy
the whole of Russia, Tsar and Grand Dukes and all, at one blow, I
would strike it so"--and he dashed his fist into the palm of his other
hand--"and then I would die with a glad heart. . . . But one does not
talk of these things, you understand, except among one's friends."

He stopped at a house which stood about midway down the slope
overlooking the harbour, and led Jim into a room on the ground floor.
From the window he could see Fort Constantine, shining white in the
sun on the other side of the water, and the bristling line of the
masts of the sunken ships, and the harbour itself dotted all over with
plying boats.

"One moment," said Greski, and left him there, but came back in an
instant with a very beautiful white-haired old lady, whom he must have
met in the passage. Her dark eyes were shining like stars at the joy
of seeing her boy again.

"My mother," said Greski, and explained matters to her in a torrent of
Polish.

She assented without any demur to all her son's proposals, and shook
hands very heartily with Jim, giving him what was evidently warm
welcome, in a tongue he did not understand.

Then the door opened again, and a girl rushed in and flung her arms
round the lieutenant's neck, and kissed him, between broken
ejaculations of joy, as one come back from the dead, while two long
plaits of black hair gyrated wildly at her back.

When the tails had settled down, Greski laughingly swung her round
facing Jim, and introduced her as his sister Tatia, and Tatia blushed
charmingly, and said, in very passable English: "You must excuse us,
sir. You see, when he goes out we are never quite certain that we
shall ever see him again. And when he does return our hearts are
joyful. Those terrible pointed shells you send us--ah, _mon Dieu!_ one
came through the side of the cathedral this morning when I was there
praying for Louis, and we all ran and ran."

"They are not supposed to fire at the cathedral," said Jim.

"Ah, when one plays with monsters you never know what may happen."

Then they all three spoke together for a minute or two in Polish,
since madame knew no tongue but that and Russian, and a little French,
and then the ladies went off on household duties.

"I hope I shall not put you to any trouble," said Jim, "and--and"--he
stumbled--"you will please let me pay my way. I have heaps of
money----"

"We can discuss that later. We shall be glad to be of service to you.
Our hearts go out to Englishmen."

But it was a little later, when they sat down to breakfast, that a new
and very surprising development took place.

Madame Greski's eye suddenly lighted on Jim's ring--the one pressed
upon him by the young officer whose life he had saved on the heights
of Alma. She stared hard at it, and then said a quick word to the
others, and, to Jim's surprise, Greski caught hold of his hand, held
it for the others to see, and they all stood up in great excitement,
and all spoke at once as they stared down at the ring.

"Where did you get it?" asked Greski quickly.

"It was given me by a Russian officer at the Alma. He was wounded and
I gave him a hand, and he made me take this in return."

And madame came round and put her trembling white hands on his
shoulders and kissed him on both cheeks, and her eyes were full of
tears. Tatia looked as if she would have liked to do the same, and Jim
would not have minded very much if she had.

"It was my brother John," said Greski. "He wrote to us from Odessa
telling us all about it. You saved his life."

"I am very glad I was able to be of service to him."

"And now we will repay you as far as we can," said Tatia joyously.
"Oh, I am glad! But the marvel that you should fall into Louis's
hands!"

Madame spoke quickly to her son, and he translated.

"My mother says your brother must come here too and they will nurse
him."

"I am very grateful. Can we go and see him after breakfast? Are you on
duty?"

"Not again all this week, _Dieu merci!_ There are many more of us than
are needed for the batteries, you see. If there were any signs of a
general assault we should all be called, of course. But that is not
likely yet."

So Jim had fallen more than comfortably, and, for Jack's sake
especially, he was glad. For if the hospitals inside were anything
like those outside, it might make all the difference between life and
death to a sick man, to be in such good hands.

They set off at once for the hospital. It was a cold raw day, and up
on the hillsides, as they crossed the bridge of boats, the dull boom of
the guns sounded now and again at long intervals. In that quarter,
however, there were but few results of the bombardment visible, and
when Jim remarked on it, Greski said,

"So far you are kind to us: you keep your fire for the forts and
batteries and Government buildings. But in time you will lose
patience, and then we shall suffer. Why didn't you come straight in
when you landed? After Alma you might have done it, I think."

"I don't know why," said Jim. "But I wish we had. It would have saved
much loss on both sides. You must have suffered terribly in the last
fight--Inkerman."

"Horribly, horribly!" said Greski, with an expressive gesture.

At the hospital they found Jack looking very white and washed out, and
visibly in great pain.

His face brightened at sight of Jim, but a bad spasm twisted it as he
tried to smile, and the smile faded like a winter sunbeam and left his
face hard and set.

"Dear old boy," said Jim, kneeling down by his side and holding his
hand, "I've got good news for you. We've found friends, and you're to
come to their house and get the best of nursing and attention."

Jack brightened again at the prospect, and Jim told him how it all
came about, and introduced Greski, who nodded and smiled
encouragingly.

When the doctor came round he made no difficulty about Jack's removal.
He was only too glad to get another bed.

He talked with Greski for a few seconds, and then hurried away to his
work.

"I will get an ambulance," said Greski, "and we will take him at once.
He will be happier there." And Jim had no chance to ask him what the
doctor had said, until they were walking slowly behind the litter,
which, on second thoughts, Greski had brought as entailing less
discomfort.

"He says it is a very bad wound. The bullet went right through the
lungs, but we will do everything that is possible for him." And Jim
went heavily, and his heart was full fears.

"But you must not look like that," said Tetia reprovingly to him, when
they had got Jack stowed away in bed, in such outward comfort as soft
clean sheets and a warm pleasant room could afford. "That is not the
face of a good nurse, no indeed! I shall not let you in to see him
till you look more cheerful." But Jim found a cheerful face no easy
matter.

They had, however, still another surprise during the afternoon, which
raised his spirits somewhat if it did not at the moment kindle his
hopes.

The special doctor attached to the Grand Duke Michael came in, and
informed them that the Grand Duke himself had ordered him to take the
English officer in hand. He had been to the hospital and had been sent
on to Mme Greski's house. So, between them all, no possible chance for
Jack would be missed.

He examined his patient most carefully, and when Jim followed him
anxiously out of the room he told him plainly, and in excellent
English, that the hospital doctor was right--it was a very serious
case, and they could only do their best and trust in Providence. If he
did pull through it would probably leave him weakly all his days;
but ---- and the great man pursed his lips and shook his head
doubtfully.



CHAPTER LX
INSIDE THE FIERY RING


Nothing could exceed the kindness of their new friends to the
strangers cast so curiously on their care.

Brother John's ring had been an Open Sesame to their hearts, and they
vied with one another in the repayment in kind for all that the absent
one had received at Jim's hands.

Madame Greski and Tatia devoted themselves to Jack as if he had been
brother John himself. No single thing that could make for his comfort
and well-being was lacking on their part. Never was wounded man tended
with more loving and unremitting attention.

And when Jim thought of the bleak miseries of the camps up there on
the hill-sides, and the long-drawn horrors of the passages on the
hospital ships, he thanked God in his heart that Jack was where he
was.

For himself, although the rôle of prisoner of war was little to his
taste, it was still mighty interesting to be inside Sebastopol after
gazing at it so long from the outside. There was so little doing
outside that it seemed to him that he was not missing much; in due
course they would probably be exchanged; and meanwhile the difference
between the mud-and-canvas life of the camps and this warm and
cheerful home in the town was somewhat in the ratio of hell and
heaven.

In view of the abounding comforts with which they were surrounded, it
was indeed difficult at times to realise the actual and astounding
fact that they were undergoing a siege that would rank as one of the
great sieges of the world's history; that this comfortable town was an
almost impregnable fortress; and that England and France, outside
there, were bending all their energies to its reduction.

For they lacked nothing. Supplies were abundant. They were warm and
well-fed, and, beyond the dull boom of the distant guns, they heard
nothing of the siege. Through that unclosable northern door, by night
and by day, long strings of carts brought in to them everything that
was necessary, and much besides. Contrary to custom, it was the
besiegers who suffered, not the besieged.

And Jim, when Tatia drove him away from Jack's bedside, to seek
exercise and fresh air lest she should have another patient on their
hands, quietly observing everything--the rude strength of the
defences, the unlimited, even wastefully profuse stores of guns and
ammunition, the teeming barracks full of men, and that ever-open door
though which the limitless supplies could still be drawn upon--said to
himself that the siege might go on for ever.

Jack, however, was in most distressing condition. The slightest
exertion, any movement almost, brought on painful fits of coughing
which seemed to shake his wounded chest to pieces. Speaking was out of
the question, for even breathing was difficult to him; and all Jim
could do, to show him what he felt about it all, was to sit by his
bedside, holding his hand at times, and at times forcing himself to
unnaturally cheerful talk lest the dreadful silence should bring him
to foolishness in other ways. For he felt certain, from Jack's
appearance and the doctor's manner, that his case was hopeless and the
end not far off, and the thought of it was terrible to him.

Of the consequences--of the results to himself, at Carne and
Wyvveloe--not one thought. The fluttering of the shadowy wings put all
other considerations to rout. This that lay so still on the bed was
dear old Jack, and the fear that he was going filled all his heart and
mind.

But Tatia, pretty as she was, and of a most vivacious disposition,
possessed so much common-sense.

Again and again she insisted on Jim quitting the room and the house,
and threatened him with penalties if he came back under a couple of
hours. And when her brother was available she would send them off
together, begging them only to beware above all things of pointed
shells and to turn up again in due course whole and undamaged.

"I would nurse you with enjoyment," she said, her soft dark eyes
dwelling appreciatively on Jim's sorrowful long face, in which they
seemed to find something that appealed to her strongly. "But, for
yourself, you will be better to keep well. If you come back in less
than two hours you shall have only half a dinner. Louis, you will see
to it."

And Greski would march him away to the harbour front where walking was
safe, since the shells rarely topped the hill, and they would discuss
matters from both sides as they went.

On that side of the town there was little sign of the siege beyond the
activities of the quays, and an occasional roar from the man-of-war
moored under Fort Nicholas. But when they strolled along the front,
and came round the hill, and up by St. Michael's church and the tower
whose clock bore on its face the name of "Barraud, London," then all
the grim actualities met them full face.

Up there, across the Admiralty Harbour--whose head ran up into the
gorge wherein lay the fatal Ovens out of which they had come into
captivity--beyond the great barracks and the hospital, up there on the
hill-side lay the huge works which Jim knew as the Malakof and the
Redan, but which Greski spoke of as the Korniloff and No. 3--very
different in the rear from what they were in front, grim and
forbidding, but crude and rough and unfinished-looking. And those
little zigzag piles of earth just beyond them were the British
trenches, and up on the plateau beyond were the tents, which shone so
white in the morning sun, but were so horribly thin and cold of a
night, and so dirty when you got close to them.

He could see the Picket House, and knew just what the usual crowd
about it would look like; and he could see the gunners moving about
the platforms inside the Russian works, and now and again white clouds
of smoke rolled over them and the angry roar came bellowing across the
quiet waters of the harbour, and the mole-heaps on the hill-side
spurtled out in reply.

Now and again a shell came hurtling into the town from the Lancasters
or the French batteries, but did little damage on that side, since
there was little damage left to be done.

Up there to the right, as they went on past the Admiralty buildings
and the cathedral, the houses were mostly in ruins, the streets were
already barricaded in anticipation of assault, and the whole scene was
one of dismal desolation.

And at times they would meet stretchers carrying broken men, and
again, strings of carts carrying rough red coffins up to the cemetery.

But Jim deemed it wise, from every point of view, to keep, as a rule,
away from the actual scene of operations. It was slow work watching at
a distance the very leisurely operations, and it gave him little to
report. But he had an idea that if he showed too great an interest in
their concerns the authorities might perhaps tighten his tether, and
that might mean separation from Jack. Now and again, however, the
desire to see for himself how things were going on got the better of
him, and he would creep into some deserted corner of the hot side of
the town and endeavour to estimate the possibilities.

And from such observations he always came away downcast and
disheartened, for, as far as he could see, the besiegers made no
progress whatever, while the besieged toiled unremittingly at the
strengthening of their defences, and blocked every possibility of
entrance with their mighty earthworks. Up that side of the town went
an unceasing stream of men and carts carrying fascines and gabions and
shot and shell, and strings of straining horses dragging big guns from
the arsenal; and new works, fully equipped, sprang up like mushrooms
in a night.

But there were dark days also, when Greski was on duty in the
bastions, or nominated for a sortie. And then madame and Tatia went
about very quietly and nervously, and started at any unusual sound,
and showed their fears in their faces.

But he was very fortunate, and came home each time to their joyful
welcome with his tale of catastrophe to others whom they knew, but
himself escaped unhurt, and they all breathed freely till his turn
came round again.

Christmas slipped by almost unnoticed. When he did, by accident, awake
to the fact that it really was Christmas Day, the difference between
this and other Christmas Days gave Jim an unusual fit of the blues.

He thought of them all at Wyvveloe, and wondered if Gracie had decked
the church with holly. He knew they would all be thinking about them,
probably in great distress of mind. What news concerning them had
reached home he could not tell. After much discussion with Greski, who
assured him it would be useless, he had requested permission from the
authorities to write home, subject to their inspection. But his
request was returned to him with a brief inscription in Russian, which
Greski translated as "out of the question."

So he could only hope that Colonel Carron would have been able to make
inquiries under one of the occasional flags of truce, and had sent
word home. But operations were slow at the moment; there had been
neither assaults nor sorties of any consequence, and so flags of truce
and opportunities of communication were of rare occurrence.

Yes, he knew it must be a bitter, sad Christmas for them all at
home--for the many who had already got their fatal news, and for the
more who awaited theirs in fear and trembling. And he knew too well
what a shockingly thin and sore one it must be for the gaunt,
shoeless, half-starved and ill-clad men in the thin white tents on the
heights over there.

And when, through the weight of their colouring, his dismal thoughts
plumbed deeper depths than was his wont, the grim irony of this most
unchristian Christmas sat heavily on him. Christmas!--bristling with
raw yellow earthworks, shattered with bursting shells, ghastly with
crawling processions of broken men and more peaceful red coffins!
Christmas!--peace on earth and goodwill----! And yet, after eighteen
hundred years, here were so-called Christian nations at one another's
throats, tearing and rending the image of God into raw red fragments,
and with no thought but for destruction.

They were, many of them, very good fellows, these Russians. They would
stop him in the street--those whom he had met that first morning,
those who were left--and greet him cordially, and ask after his
brother, and express their regrets, and he had no more desire to kill
them than he had to kill Lord Raglan himself. And yet, set him on the
hill-side up there, and all his thought would be towards their
destruction.

Truly it was a queer world, and there must be something wrong
somewhere! But it was all beyond him, and he could only brood and
wonder.

Their New Year was ushered in on the night of the twelfth with great
illuminations, much ringing of church bells, and a solemn service in
the cathedral--by a terrific bombardment of their fellow Christians on
the hill-side, and two furious sorties, which effected nothing beyond
an increase in the tally of broken men and in the cart-loads of red
coffins creaking away to the cemetery.

"Absolutely useless," acknowledged Greski, when his mother and Tatia
released him from their warm embraces on his return. "But the Chief
thinks it does the men good to go out occasionally after all their
dirty work on the new bastions."



CHAPTER LXI
WEARY WAITING


"Nothing yet," said Sir Denzil to Eager, on his twentieth anxious call
after further news of the boys. "I am surprised Denzil has not
written. But so many things may happen out there. His letter may have
gone astray. There may be difficulty in communicating with Sebastopol.
He may be wounded himself. He may be dead. We can do nothing but wait.
I will send you word the moment I have any news. Miss Gracie well?"

"Quite well, sir, but sorely troubled about the boys."

"Ay, ay! That is the woman's part--to sit at home and nurse her
fears."

"No news, Charlie?" asked the Little Lady hopelessly, from her chair
by the fire.

"No news yet, dear. Sir Denzil promises to send round the moment he
gets anything."

"I'm beginning to fear they're all lying dead in that horrible Crimea.
This waiting, waiting, waiting, is terrible."

"Yes, it's hard work, the hardest work in the world. But we can only
wait and hope, dear. Whatever is is best, and we cannot alter it."

It was a weary time for all of them, and all over Britain and France
and Russia the same black cloud lay heavily. The only ones who were
happy were those whose warriors had come home maimed, so long as the
maiming was not absolute and irretrievable. For such were at all
events safe from further harm.

So the slow dark days dragged on until at length one night, when Eager
had just got in from his rounds and the usual fruitless call at Carne,
there came the long-expected knock on the door, and Gracie ran to
answer it.

"Is it you, Kennet?"

"Me, miss. Sir Denzil would like to see Mr. Eager."

"He has got some news at last?"

"Ay, some papers just come in. But I don't know what it is. Bad, I
should say, from the looks of him--he was so mortal quiet."

"We will come at once. Let me go alone, Charlie. You're tired out."

"Not a bit of it, my dear. I feel like a hound on the scent at the
word 'news.' Don't you think you'd better wait here till I bring you
word?"

"I can't wait," she said breathlessly. And they went along together.

Sir Denzil met them with ominous impassivity.

"I trust Kennet did not raise your hopes," he said, with the corners
of his mouth drawn down somewhat more even than usual, and a glance
that never wavered for a moment. "This arrived just after you left,
Mr. Eager. It explains, of course, to some extent----"

It was a letter from General Canrobert, informing Sir Denzil, with
many complimentary phrases as palliatives to the blow, that Colonel
Carron had met his death while gallantly repelling a sortie on the
night of the 12th January. He had left instructions, in case of need,
for word to be sent to Sir Denzil and it was in pursuance thereat etc.
etc.

"That, of course, explains why he has been unable to pursue his
inquiries after the boys," said Sir Denzil, in an absolutely unmoved
voice.

"I need not say our deepest sympathies are yours, sir----"

"It is the boys I am concerned for," said Sir Denzil, with an
impatient double wave of the hand, whose finger and thumb held his
pinch of snuff. "Denzil put himself out of the running twenty
years ago. This is only an incident. But"--and he snuffed very
deliberately--"it may not be without its consequences in the other
matter. There is no one out there now who has any special interest in
them, you see. And, under present circumstances, they may quite easily
be overlooked and lost track of. Personally, I should not be in the
least surprised to learn that they are both dead. This war seems to me
to be carried on in quite unusually wasteful fashion."

Gracie never said a word. The callousness of the old heathen chilled
her heart, though it was boiling with many emotions. If she opened her
mouth she feared it' would all come out in a torrent that would
astonish him for the rest of his life.

"We can only go on hoping for the best," said Eager quietly. "Sir
George is making inquiries for us----"

"He is quite outside things," said Sir Denzil brusquely, and gazed at
Eager with thoughtful intensity for a moment, as though on the point
of offering some other suggestion. "However," he said abruptly, at
last, "at the moment, as you say, we can only wait, and see what comes
of it all. If I hear anything I will send you word at once." And they
left him and went soberly home, feeling death still a little nearer
their dear ones in this new loss.

"What a terrible old man he is!" said Gracie. "I think he must have
been born without a heart."

"It is mostly assumed, I think. Inside, I have no doubt he is feeling
his loss bitterly, but he prides himself on not letting it be seen. It
is the old fashion. Thank God, we have come to recognise the fact that
a man may be a strong man and yet have a heart! It makes for a better
world."

And as the slow weeks dragged on, and still brought them no news of
the missing ones, their hearts were heavy with fears.



CHAPTER LXII
FROM ONE TO MANY


The great heart of the nation at home had been wrung with pity and
indignation at the altogether unnecessary sufferings of the men who
had gone out to fight her battles in the East, and who, through
miscalculation, muddle, and incapacity, had died like flies, of
sickness and want.

The roar of anger with which the news was greeted shook the mighty in
their seats and hurled Ministers and Cabinets into the dust. Still
more to the purpose, the sympathy aroused set itself promptly to the
cure of official abuses by the administration of private charity;
which word is used in its high apostolic sense, for private
munificence and public subscription provided the miserable, gallant
remnant of our army only with those things which were theirs by right,
and of which they had been defrauded by sheerest stupidity and the
inexorcisabie demon of Red-tape.

The _Times_ fund was a mighty help; Florence Nightingale a still
mightier, in that noblest attribute of personal service and sacrifice
which touches all hearts to higher things.

But there were also many private benefactors, who set to work at once
on their own account to do what they could, and among them was Sir
George Herapath.

When the dreadful disclosures of the camps and hospitals came home, he
was still bending, almost broken, under the weight of his own loss.
His son's death had beaten him to the ground and shortened his span by
years.

But the thought of the miseries of those other brave fellows, out on
the bleak hill-sides above Sebastopol, stirred him out of the depths
of his sorrow. He sent for Charles Eager.

"Eager," he said, "I can't get any sleep for thinking of it all."

"He died as a gallant man should die, Sir George."

"It's the others I'm thinking of--the poor fellows who are mouldering
away out there for want of everything that has been forgotten or sent
astray."

And a spark came into Eager's eye, for here was sign of grace and hope
after his own mind--a sorely stricken heart rising superior to its own
loss in helpful thought for others.

"Yes, they're having dreadful times. What were you thinking of?"

"Helping, if you'll take a hand."

"I'm your man, sir, and God be thanked for your good thought! I'll
thank you in my own way."

"Help me to make a list of the most necessary things, and I'll charter
a ship to take them straight out. Will you go with her and see to it
all?"

"Will I?" blazed Eager. "Will I not? It's almost too good to be true.
I want to find out what's become of those boys too."

"I wouldn't like it all to go astray like the rest, you see."

"I'll see to that. It may be the saving of hundreds. God bless you,
sir! George's death will be a blessing to many through you. It is just
what he would have done himself."

Sir George shook his head sadly. The wound was too raw yet. "Let's get
to work!" he said; for in work, and especially in such work, there was
something of healing.

So they formed themselves into a committee of four, and Sir George
insisted on Eager and Gracie coming to stay with them at Knoyle so
that the work might go on without interruption.

He went down to Liverpool, and with difficulty secured a
steamship--the _Bakclutha_, 1,000 tons burden, James Leale, master, at
a very high price, for Government charters had made a tight market.

He went over all their lists carefully, knew just where to lay his
hand on everything, and the work went forward rapidly.

Eager had secured a locum and was keen to be off, for every day's
delay meant so many wasted lives. Gracie was to stay on at Knoyle with
Margaret. And so the very last night came, and found them sitting
round the fire in Sir George's study after dinner.

"You must all give an eye to my people while I'm away," said Eager.
"Breton is a good sort, I think, but it'll take some time for him to
get to know them; and the vicar----"

"The vicar is resigning as soon as you come back," said Sir George
quietly. "The South of France is the only place where he can live,
Yool says. I want you to take it when you get home."

"That is very good of you, sir. I want you to give me something else
too"--and he slipped his hand inside Margaret's arm.

"I know," said Sir George. "Meg has told me, and I could not wish her
better."

Gracie flung her arms round Margaret and kissed her heartily.

"Oh, I am so glad!" she cried. "That is what I have been wanting all
the time."

"So have I," laughed Eager. And then more soberly, as he lifted
Margaret's hand to his lips--"And truly I am grateful. My cup is
full--almost to the brim----"

"I wish I could go with you," said Margaret.

"So do I," said Gracie eagerly.

"Yes, I know, but----"

And they knew too that the "but" must keep them at home.

"You'll find out all about the boys, Charlie," ordered Gracie.

"I'll do my best, dear, you may be sure. It all depends on what there
is to find out and what an outsider can do. The possibilities are so
tremendous. All we can do is to hope for the best and keep our hearts
up. I have letters from Lord Deseret to Lord Raglan and several
others, and I have no doubt they will give me all the help they can."

And next day he sailed, very happy in his mission, happier still in
what lay behind and before him; troubled only on account of the boys
who had disappeared into the smoke-cloud, and of whom for many weeks
they had been able to obtain no tidings whatever.

The master, the supercargo, and the crew of the _Balclutha_ were all
of one mind in the matter, and so she made a record passage, was
through the Straits fourteen days after she hauled out of the Mersey,
and two days later lay off Balaclava Bay awaiting official permit to
enter.

The Bay was crowded, but a corner was found at last, and Eager's
wondering eyes travelled over the amazing activities and manifold
nastinesses of that historic port, though these last were nothing now
to what they had been.

He landed at once, introduced himself and his business to Admiral
Boxer and Captain Powell, found favour in their sight, and made
arrangements for the unloading and forwarding of his cargo.

Sir George had furnished him with ample funds and the best of advice.
He organised his own transport, saw to it himself; with the hearty
assistance of Leale and his two mates and some picked men of the
crew, and drove things forward at such astonishing speed that the
harbour-master broke out one time.

"Man! Was it a parson you said you were, Mr. Eager? It's head of the
Transport you ought to have been. You get more out of those lazy
scamps than any man we've had here yet."

It was the same wherever he went. His strenuous cheerfulness, his
masterful energy, his unfailing good-humour--in a word, his Eagerness
infused itself into all with whom he came in contact and carried him
royally through all difficulties. He was an object-lesson in what
might be done when Officialism and Red-tape had no fingers in the pie.

To tell all he did, and saw, and thought, during those days, would
take a volume. He cheered and comforted, and lifted from misery and
death many a stricken soul, both in the hospitals and in the camps.

He came across old Harrow and Oxford friends, who welcomed him with
open arms and tendered him advice enough to sink a ship. And when he
had finished his distributions, and so eased the ways of all the needy
ones within the range of his powers, he turned with keen anxiety to
that other quest which lay so near his heart.

He paid a visit to British Head-quarters, in the low white houses on
the road leading from Balaclava to Sebastopol, delivered Lord
Deseret's letter to an aide-de-camp, and intimated his intention of
waiting there till he could see Lord Raglan in person.

When at last he was admitted, he found the Chief sitting at a huge
table heaped with papers, and two secretaries writing for dear life at
tables alongside.

Lord Raglan had already seen him about the camps and hospitals, and
had heard of his good works, and received him with courteous kindness.
Eager was struck with his thin, worn face--the face of a brave man
wrestling with unwonted problems and innumerable difficulties.

"I don't know what we can do to help you in your quest, Mr. Eager,"
said his lordship, with Lord Deseret's letter in his hand, "but
anything we can do we will. I am sure you will understand that it has
been through no intentional neglect that these young friends of yours
have slipped out of our sight. The demands upon one's time from the
people at home"--with an expressive glance at the mountainous heaps of
forms and papers before him--"have afforded one small chance of
attending to individual cases. The last we know was that they were
prisoners in Sebastopol."

"I thank your lordship, and I am very loth to trouble you," said
Eager; "but there is so much dependent on these two boys that I must
do all I possibly can to learn what has become of them. One could not
ask by letter, I suppose?"

"Did I not write to Menchikoff, Calverly, soon after they were taken?
I seem to remember----"

"You did, sir," replied one of the overwrought secretaries, without
stopping his work for a moment. "And we got no answer."

"Would it be possible for me to get in under a flag of truce?" asked
Eager.

"Quite possible," said his lordship, with a faint smile; "but
decidedly risky, and you certainly would not come out again."

"There are occasional truces for picking up the wounded, are there
not?"

"We have never asked for one, As a rule the Russians request it after
one of their big sorties. If you wait a while--one never knows what
night they will come out. What was your idea?"

"Simply to inquire among the Russian officers. There could be no
objection to that, I presume?"

"Not the slightest. You might learn something. It is just a chance."

"Then I will wait for that chance, with your lordship's permission."

"By all means, Mr. Eager, and I wish you all success; also please
convey to Sir George Herapath our thanks for all he has done for the
men here, and accept the same yourself. They have suffered grievously.
His son's death was a great loss to us. He was a fine young fellow."

And Eager bowed himself out.



CHAPTER LXIII
EAGER ON THE SCENT


Eager's lean and lively face became well known in the camps and
trenches. He was keen to see all he could, and was everywhere welcomed
with acclaim, but perhaps the greetings he most enjoyed were the rough
grateful words of men whom he had helped and heartened in the field
hospitals, and who had recovered sufficiently to get back to their
work. These would do anything for him, and from morning till night he
was all over the place, seeing everything, mightily interested in it
all, and leaving, wherever he went, a trail of uplifting cheerfulness
which was a moral tonic.

He watched the perpetual fierce little fights over the rifle-pits, and
went down into them and tended the wounded when chance offered. He
mingled with the frequenters of the Picket House, and watched the
effect of the somewhat desultory pounding of the batteries by the big
guns. He crept cautiously through untold miles of muddy trenches, both
French and British, and viewed with wonder the gigantic tasks which
prepared the way for the second bombardment. And in the hospitals he
soothed many a sufferer's passage to more peaceful quarters, and put
fresh heart into those whose lot it was to go back to the front.

In the officers' tents and huts he was hail-fellow-well-met
everywhere, and the only fault found with him was that he could not be
in many places at the same time.

He heard matters discussed there with an outspoken freedom which would
have set ears tingling at home; and when he asked how soon it was
going to end, was told, "Never, my boy. It's going on for ever and
ever." And an irreverent one added, "As it was in the beginning, is
now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen!"

"End, my dear fellow? Why should it end?" said still another, waving
an old briar at him, with the smoke curling like a flag of truce from
the stem. "They've got unlimited supplies to draw upon, and an open
road to get 'em in. As fast as we kill 'em they bring in fresh ones.
As fast as we knock down their earthworks they build 'em up again----"

"Faster!" growled another.

"Yes, faster. I don't see why it should not go on till the year
2000--going on as we are. It's not a siege; it's a discipline--a
chastisement for our sins: I only wish----"

"Hear, hear!" grunted another, who had heard that wish many times
before.

"What do you wish?" asked Eager.

"I wish all the Red-tape and Routine people at home could be driven
into the trenches here and kept there for a month. They'd learn a
thing or two."

"Die . . . never learn," growled the other.

"If we'd gone right in when first we got here, it would have been a
most enormous saving, even if the cost had been heavy. For some reason
we lost the chance, and it's never going to come back. We're like a
prize-fighter pummelling away at the other fellow's leg and hoping to
break him in time that way. We may tire him out, of course, but its a
deuced slow business."

"Do they never exchange prisoners?" asked Eager.

"We never take any worth exchanging. It's only the ruck we get, and
they're mostly dead."

"Their boots are the best part of 'em," said the other. "Our men are
always better shod after a sortie. Gad! sir, it would have made you
blaze to see our fellows--Guardsmen and all--tramping about in mud and
snow with no soles to their rotten boots! I hope the man who made 'em
will spend his eternity in a snowy hell with raw bare feet!"

But one night they were all out in haste, at the sound of heavy and
continuous musketry down in the trenches on the left attack; and
Eager, tumbling out and rushing on with the rest, found himself where
a noncombatant had no right to be.

He had gone plunging downwards with the others, in order to see all he
could, till he fell bodily into a trench. He picked himself up and
joined the stream of men hastening towards the firing, and found
himself suddenly in the thick of things--bullets humming venomously
past his head, men falling with groans and curses by his side, and a
big man, standing just above him on the rough parapet of the trench,
shouting to his men to "give it 'em hot with the steel," and meanwhile
picking up the biggest stones he could find and hurling them at the
oncoming Russians in front.

The men clambered up and swept away into the darkness with shouts and
cheers and clash of steel, and Eager was left alone in the trench with
the fallen ones. Up from below rose an awful turmoil, lit now and
again by receding flashes, then a final British cheer, and one more
sortie was repulsed.

It was only next morning that he learned the size of it.

"They say there were about fifteen thousand of them out last night,"
said one of his friends. "One lot went for the French over by the
Mamelon, and the rest came up here."

"Gordon's men say he was on top of the trench chucking stones at the
beggars as they came up----"

"I saw him," said Eager. "He was standing just above me, shouting to
his men and flinging stones as hard as he could. Then they fixed
bayonets and went downhill like an avalanche."

"You'd no right to be there, my boy."

"I suppose not. I went to see what was up, and fell into a trench, and
ran on with the rest. Was the Colonel hit?"

"Couple of bullets in him, but not deadly."

"It's amazing to me that any one comes through alive."

"Yes, it feels like that at first, but you get used to it."

"Did we lose many?"

"Pretty heavy; but there are four or five Russkis to each of ours.
Ground's thick with 'em. They'll want an armistice to clean up, I
expect--generally do."

And, sure enough, the Russians presently requested a truce to pick up
their men; and before long the white flags were flying on the
batteries, and the men of both sides streamed out into the open,
picked up their dead and wounded, and took stock of one another.

This was the chance Eager had been waiting for, and he went down to
the debatable ground between the lines with the rest.

It was a horrible enough sight--a couple of thousand dead and wounded
men strewn thick in that narrow space; but the stretchers were busily
at work, and he had his own inquiries to make.

A number of Russian officers were strolling about, dressed in their
best and smoking their best cigars, and quite ready for a talk.

He approached one, lifted his hat, and asked in French:

"I wonder if monsieur could afford me some information?"

At which the Russian smiled, and his blue eyes twinkled.

"With pleasure, monsieur. We have at this moment one hundred thousand
men in there and five thousand guns, and provisions for fifteen years,
and when they are used up we have five times as many more to come."

"If you could give me a satisfactory word about two young officers,
prisoners in your hands, you would ease some very sore hearts at home,
monsieur. That is all I ask. I have come all the way from England to
get news of them."

"If I can, monsieur. What are their names?"

"Carron; two brothers--one in the Engineers, the other in the
Hussars."

"_Tiens!_ Yes--Carron! I know them. Some of our guns have the same
name. They are well, monsieur. I saw them only yesterday."

"Thank God for that! And I thank you, monsieur, most gratefully."

"It is nothing. One of them was sorely wounded, but the Grand Duke
sent his own doctor, and he is recovered. They were walking together
yesterday, and we spoke. I shall tell them of your inquiry. What name,
monsieur?"

"Eager--Charles Eager. Will you tell them all are well at home and
very desirous of seeing them. If only this terrible war would come to
an end!"

"Yes, indeed; _le Malheur!_ But I assure you, monsieur, we will stop
fighting at once if only you will all go home."

"I wish I could make them," said Eager. "It is terrible work." And he
looked round at the broken men lying so thickly all about.

"It is rough play. Whether the omelets are worth all the broken eggs,
I cannot say. Have you any idea what we're fighting about, monsieur?"

"General principles, I suppose."

"Ah, he is a costly leader, this General Principles," said the other,
with a twinkle. "Permit me to offer you a cigar."

"We will exchange," said Eager, producing some of Sir George's extra
specials. "Let us smoke to a speedy peace."

"With all my heart." And they parted friends, and both went their ways
wondering why such things must be. And if the Russian never delivered
Eager's message it was not his fault, for he was killed by a shell
that same afternoon in Bastion No. 4.

The ground was cleared at last. There was a moment's pause. Then the
white flags came fluttering down, and a gun from the Redan sent a shot
hurling up the trenches, to show that playtime was over.

Eager was much comforted in mind by his interview with the Russian. He
had seemed a good fellow, and could have no object in deceiving him.
He wrote long letters home, and resolved to wait on and see if the
great bombardment, to which all efforts were now directed, would bring
the end any nearer.

And so it came about that he stood with the rest on Cathcart's Hill,
in the misty drizzle of that bleak Easter Monday morning, and watched
the opening of the second bombardment of Sebastopol.

They could hear enough up there. All round the vast semicircle more
guns were crashing than had ever roared in concert before. But they
could see very little. The gunners themselves could not see. They knew
Sebastopol lay over there and they were bound to hit something.

And Eager strained his eyes into the chill white mist to see all he
could, and felt sick at heart at thought of the destruction any one of
those wildly flying shot and shell might wreak.



CHAPTER LXIV
THE LONG SLOW SIEGE


It was the most trying time Jim had ever spent. He had had no
experience whatever of sick-beds, beyond his own short spell after
Balaclava, and even that was as different from this deadly monotony as
well could be. But he stuck to it valiantly, and was only saved from
physical and mental collapse himself by Tatia's arbitrary oversight.

If there had been anything going on outside he might have found the
change from the sick-room bracing, but both besieged and besiegers
were too busy girding their loins for another struggle to waste time
or powder on useless display.

The Allies had found the nut too hard to crack, and were working hard
on preparation for the next blow; and those inside, fully informed of
everything that went on in the camps, were straining every nerve to
resist it.

So big guns and mortars went toiling up to the heights from Balaclava
Bay, and mountains of gabions and fascines and more big guns went
toiling up the heights inside to face them, and for days hardly a shot
would be fired on either side.

It was towards the end of February that Greski said to Jim, one day
when Tatia had turned them out-of-doors--"Come, and I will show you
something new." And they went round to the eastern slope, looking out
towards the Karabelnaia suburb and the Malakoff and Redan--all of
which Jim knew by heart.

And at the first glance Jim saw a change in the look of things.

A new fort had sprung up in the night between the Malakoff, which till
now had been the foremost Russian work on that side, and the French
trenches--a fort of size too, all a-bristle with gabions and fascines
round the crown of the flat hill. The thousands of men still working
at it made it look like a great ant-heap.

"French!" said Jim, after his first quick glance, with a feeling of
exultation, for the new work must seriously menace, if not command,
the Malakoff.

"French?--no, my friend!--Russian! Truly your people are not very
wideawake. Todleben has been expecting them to seize that hill ever
since they crept so close, and it would have been bad for the
Korniloff Bastion, you see. So, as they did not, and it seemed a pity
no one should use it, he occupied it last night, and ten thousand men
have been busy on it ever since."

"Hang it! What fools we were to let it slip!"

"Undoubtedly! And without doubt you will now try to recover it, and it
will cost you many men, and us also, and so the game goes on."

And that very same night, when Jack had at last fallen asleep, Greski
said to Jim, as though he were inviting him to a theatre party:

"At midnight we will take a little walk, and you will see your friends
attempt to recover the new fort, the Mamelon.

"You seem to know all about it," said Jim incredulously.

"Of course. That again is where we beat you. We know all your plans.
We have plans of every trench you cut with every gun you place in it."

"Not from any of our men," said Jim, with heat, for underhand work
such as that struck him offensively.

"Oh no. But your men talk too much among themselves, and our spies are
through your camps night and day. They all speak French, you see, and
uniforms are easy to get, whereas none of your people speak Russian
well enough to pass muster for a moment. I can even tell you that the
attack will be all French--Zouaves, Marines, and Chasseurs, under
three thousand in all, and the General Monet will be in command. They
will walk right up into the trap and will all be killed or captured."

"It is sheer murder."

"What would you? It is war; and after all, though I hate Russia, one
cannot help remembering that she did not invite you to come here. We
will wait here. It is not yet time."

"Why aren't you up there yourself?"

"I was in the last sortie and it is not my turn, _Dieu merci!_ for it
will be hot up there to-night. There are plenty of us, you see, and we
take fair turns."

All was dark and still up along the distant hill-side, so void of
offence that Jim began to wonder if Greski had not made a mistake. But
after several impatient glances at his watch by the glow of his cigar,
he said at last:

"Now--it is time! Watch!--over there!"

But the minutes passed--long, long minutes, almost the longest Jim had
ever lived through.

"Doesn't seem coming off," he jerked.

"Wait!" jerked Greski, at tension also. "They were to start at
midnight. They have a quarter-mile to cover, and they will go
cautiously because the ground behind there is bad. We are to let them
come right up and--ah--_voilà!_" as the darkness behind the new fort
blazed and roared and became an inferno of deadly strife; terrific
volleys of musketry and the hoarse shouting of men--no big guns, and
presently even the firing became desultory, but the turmoil waxed
louder and louder.

Greski danced with excitement.

"_Mon Dieu!_ but they are fighting!--hand to hand! They are devils to
fight, those Zouaves. I wish--I wish--but it is not safe here to
wish."

The turmoil came rolling round this side of the hill; the Russians
were falling back. Then flaming volleys broke out on each side of the
turmoil.

"Ah--ah--ah! Supports from Korniloff," jerked Greski.

And then suddenly the Malakoff and Redan big guns blazed out, and
poured an avalanche of shot and shell and rockets on the gallant
attack, and it withered and melted away.

"Two--three thousand men in pieces, and as you were!" was Greski's
summing up.

"Infernal butchery," growled Jim, much worked up.

"What would you, my friend? It is war." And they went soberly home,
thinking of the horrors of the red hill-side and all the broken men
who lay there, while all the church bells in the town clashed pæans of
victory overhead as they went.

The one bright ray to Jim, in this time of gloom, was the fact that
Jack was without doubt slowly improving, to the great satisfaction and
greater surprise of his wearied but unwearying nurses and the Grand
Duke's doctor.

"He has no right to live," said the latter, "and yet he lives, and may
live. It is marvellous." But then he had not known how the open-air
life on the flats prepared a man for contingencies such as this.

It was long before Jack could speak above a whisper without suffering,
and then at last he was able to sit propped up with pillows and to
take an interest in things in general, But the gardens were full of
hyacinths and crocuses, and there were even patches of them on the
troubled hill-sides, among the white tents and muddy trenches, before
he tasted fresh air again.

Then Jim would lead him on his strong arm, very slowly and with many a
rest, to a sheltered place whence he could see what was going on, and
so keen was his interest that it was no easy matter to get him home
again. And the officers they met on the road would stop them, and
politely inquire after Jack's health, and express their pleasure at
his recovery, and discuss matters with them, and gallantly express
their conviction that the siege would go on for ever, but admit all
the same that if it could honourably end they would not be sorry.

They had another ray of hope when the news came of the death of the
Tsar. Would it mean an end of the terrible struggle, and release, and
home? Their hearts--and not theirs only--beat high with hope, and fell
the lower when the word came that the fight was to go on to the bitter
end.



CHAPTER LXV
THE CUTTING OF THE COIL


With the better weather things quickened somewhat--the things of
Nature, to life; the things of Man, to death. Man strove with all his
might to end his fellow man, and drenched the earth with blood: and
the spring flowers pushed valiantly through the blood-soaked sods and
seemed to wonder what it was all about.

The boys learned from Greski that the chief bones of contention now
were the rifle-pits.

The lines and burrows of attack and defence had by this time run so
close to one another that in places you could almost throw a stone
from one to the other. No smallest chance of harassing the enemy was
lost on either side. Both sides had learnt by experience what damage
and annoyance to the working parties could be effected by small bodies
of picked marksmen hidden in sunken pits in advance of the lines, and
the struggles over and round and in these tiny strongholds were
endless, and furious beyond description.

He told them how sixty Russians had held their pits near what he
called the Korniloff Bastion, but which Jack and Jim knew more
familiarly as the Malakoff, against five thousand Frenchmen, until
reserves came up and the Frenchmen had to retire. And how some crack
shot in one of the English pits was potting their men even in the
streets of the town, twelve hundred yards away, so that passage that
way was no longer permitted.

He told them that the Allies were mounting more and more big guns, and
prophesied hot work again before long, and feared that this time
"he"--by which simple comprehensive pronoun the Russian soldiers
always referred to the hundred thousand men out there on the
hill-side--the enemy--just as Jack and Jim had always used the term to
designate Sir Denzil in their early days--Greski feared that "he," out
of patience with the long delay and the sufferings it had entailed,
would no longer confine his efforts to battering the forts, but would
probably try to make an end of the town itself.

"In which case," he said, "we may have to move over to the other side
of the water. He can knock down the bastions to his heart's content;
we can build them again faster than he can knock them down. But the
town--that would be another matter."

All the streets leading in from the hill-sides were barricaded, and a
new line of huge entrenchments sprang up among the houses inside the
town, half-way up the slope on which it was built.

From their chosen look-out on that eastward slope the boy watched all
that went on, inside and outside, with hungry anxious eyes. They noted
the immense activities on both sides, and it seemed to them, as it had
done before to Jim that things might go on like this for ever.

"If we are really going to try another bombardment," said Jack
slowly--he always spoke slowly and quietly now, a way he had got into
through fear of straining his chest--"and if they keep it to the
earthworks, it is all wasted time. The only way to end it is to smash
the town and rush it over the pieces. It is doubtful kindness to spare
it. Far better end the matter for all concerned. Then we could all go
home and become human beings again. I've no fight left in me, Jim."

"A couple of months on the flats will make you as sound as a bell,"
said Jim cheerfully. "The air here is full of gunpowder and dead men.
What you want is Carne."

"I've thought a good deal about it all while I lay there and couldn't
talk," said Jack. "You'll have to take it all on, Jim. I shall be a
broken man all my life--I feel it inside me; and Carron of Carne must
be a whole man. You must take it on, Jim."

"Don't let's talk about it, old man. We're not home yet. Time enough
to go into all that when we get there. I wish to goodness Raglan would
come right in and make an end of it."

"It would be an awful business. But I don't see how we're going to end
it any other way. And truly I wish it were ended, for I long to get
home. All I want is to get home."

Their friend Greski had so far escaped the dangers of his unpalatable
duties in a manner little short of marvellous. He shirked nothing, and
took his fair turns with the rest. And, though he hated Russia with
all his heart, he laughingly confessed that when he was in the thick
of things he forgot it all in his eagerness to win the fight.

But such phenomenal luck was too good to last. He went out one night
to join in a sortie, and the morning came without him, and found his
mother and Tatia in woeful depths, certain he was dead.

Jim went off at once for news, and found him at last in the hospital,
with a bullet in the thigh and a bayonet wound in the shoulder.

"It is nothing, it is nothing," said the hurrying surgeon. At which
Greski made a grimace at Jim, and said:

"All the same, if it was only himself now! And the way he hacked that
bullet out! We are getting callous to other folk's sufferings."

"Why, you hardly felt it," said the surgeon. "You said so."

"When one's helpless under another man's knife one says what he wants.
It hurt like the deuce."

"When can I take him home?" asked Jim, in stumbling French.

"After two days, if he behaves and goes on well."

So Jim went home and comforted madame and Tatia; and two days later
they were happier in their minds than they had been since the siege
began, in that they had him there all the time and safe from further
harm.

He grizzled somewhat at being shelved "just when the fun was going to
begin," for he felt assured in his own mind that "he," outside, was
preparing for a general assault, and he would have liked to see it.
And so the boys did their best to keep him posted in all that went on.

They were wakened at daybreak one morning by an uproar altogether out
of the common--one vast, unbroken, terrific roll of thunder, so deep,
so ominous, so far beyond anything they had ever heard in their lives
before that it sounded as though the whole of heaven's artillery had
been mounted on the hill-sides, and brought to bear on the devoted
town, and was bent on battering it to pieces.

Greski called them from his room, and they went in.

"Hurry, hurry, or you'll miss it all! We knew it must be soon, but
could not learn the day. They will come in on top of this, I think.
Keep under cover, and come back and tell me all about it. Oh, ---- this
leg!"

It was a bad morning for any conscious possessor of a chest--heavy
with mist and thick with drizzling rain; a black funereal day, sobbing
gustily, and drenching the earth with showers of bitter tears. The
chill discomfort of it told even on Jim.

"Jack, old man, I wish you'd go back," he said, before they had gone a
hundred yards. "I'll bring you word as soon as I can. They're not
likely to come in at once, and you'll have plenty of time to see all
that's going on. They'll probably hang away at the forts for the whole
day. Do go back."

"Get on!--get on!" coughed Jack. "I want to see." And they pushed on
through the gloomy twilight.

The streets were alive with all the others who wanted to see, and long
compact lines of gray-coats were pressing stolidly towards the front,
to strengthen the lines against the expected onslaught.

Jim was doubtful how far they should venture, but Jack was intent on
seeing. This was history. This was the consummation of all the hopes,
and the weary days and nights, that had gone into those mighty zigzags
up on the hill there. This was his own arm striking as it had never
struck before since time began, and he must see it at its best.

But, though they could hear enough, they could not see much, because
of the mist and the rain and the dense clouds of smoke rolling down
the hill-sides.

The Russian batteries were only beginning to reply, by the time the
boys reached their usual look-out on the eastern slope near the
cathedral, and then the uproar doubled, and the very ground beneath
them seemed to shudder under it.

Jim helped his brother to his usual seat in a niche in the broken wall
of a garden, and tucked his cloak carefully about him, for between his
boiling excitement and the rawness of the morning, he was all ashake
and his teeth were chattering.

"Every gun we have," gasped Jack . . . "hard at it!"

"If they can't see more than we can, they're going it blind," growled
Jim, as he strode about to get warm.

And then, like a bolt from the sky, without an instant's warning, out
of the chill white mist in front came a great round black ball, which
dropped with a thud into the ground almost at Jack's feet. It lay
there, hissing and spitting like a venomous devil gloating over its
anticipated villainy, and Jim rushed at it with an unaccustomed oath
of dismay. It was sheer instinct. He had no time for thought. The
devilish thing was close to Jack, and Jack could not move.

He got his right hand under it to hurl it down the slope. His feet
slipped from under him as he heaved. Then with a splintering crash the
thing burst. . . .

And the Coil of Carne, cut by a stray British shell, lay shattered
about the eastern slope of Sebastopol.



CHAPTER LXVI
PURGATORY


Jim came to himself in purgatory. It seemed to him that he came slowly
out of a dead black sleep into a horrible wakening dream.

He was in a vast room, low-roofed, with massive arches which
obstructed his view and lay like weights on his brain. Small, heavy
windows let in a murky light. All about him were dismal groanings, and
mutterings, and curses, and a most evil atmosphere, which turned his
stomach.

He tried to move, and was seized with grinding pains up his right side
and arm and shoulder.

He tried to grope back into the meaning of it all, and suddenly he
remembered the shell.

It must have burst and wounded him. His right hand shot suddenly with
burning pangs.

He wondered how Jack had fared. He could not remember whether he had
succeeded in pitching it down the slope or not. He had done his best;
but he remembered that the fuse was very short. . . .

Was he really alive? . . . or was he dead, and this hell? . . . The
groans and curses . . . that awful smell of blood and dead men! . . .

He came to himself again, and it was all black about him--thick,
heavy, chill darkness, full of groans and curses and the smell of
blood and dead men.

The heavy little windows came slowly out of the black void first, then
the massive pillars, and after a long, long time he saw dim figures
moving slowly about in the twilight.

One passed close to him, and he wanted to call to him to ask him about
Jack, but when he tried to speak he found he could not.

Then two more men came and dragged away the bodies of the two who lay
in the straw on each side of him. Their clothes rubbed his as they
went. He had not thought about them because they had lain so quiet.

The men came back with another man, who groaned as they laid him down,
and then with another on the other side who groaned also, and Jim
wished they had left him the quieter ones.

It was a very long time before a surgeon came round to look at the
new-comers, and Jim had had plenty of time to think as well as he was
able to.

If he lay there much longer he would die. He must get them to take him
away. How?

His dulled wits, roaming for possibilities, came on thought of the
Grand Duke's doctor who had pulled Jack through. If he could get them
to send for him. . . . Though why he should come was quite beyond
him. . . . Still it was a chance.

The surgeon took off his right-hand neighbour's leg where he lay, by
the light of a lamp. The man gave a sudden gasp and a choke, the
surgeon said "Ach!" and they carried the body away.

He took off the left-hand man's arm and strapped it up.

Jim with a mighty effort said, "Monsieur!" And the rumpled surgeon
looked down at him and wiped his fingers on a piece of dirty rag.

"I beg you," said Jim, and the surgeon bent down to him.

"Well?" he said brusquely, for loads of broken men lay waiting for
him, and he had cut and carved till his hands and arms were tired and
his back stiff with bending.

"I want . . . the Grand Duke's doctor," murmured Jim.

"The deuce you do? Anything else?" And he was going.

"The Grand Duke's own orders. . . He will tell you." And then he went
out into the darkness again.

But the feeble words had caused the surgeon to look more closely, and
then to make inquiries, and when Jim came back to life he was in bed
at Mme Greski's, and Tatia was sitting by the bedside. And to Jim it
was like a sudden leap from hell to heaven.

Tatia nodded cheerfully to him.

"Where's Jack?" he asked in a whisper.

"They've not found him yet. They're searching for him," said Tatia,
after a moment's hesitation. "You're not to talk, or to think, or do
anything but what I tell you. Drink this." And he drank, and fell
asleep again.

It was not until many days afterwards, when he had grown accustomed to
the fact that he would have to go through life with one sleeve looped
up to a button--though he still complained at times of pains in that
hand--that Tatia gently broke the news to him that Jack was gone. The
shell had killed him on the spot, had literally blown him to pieces.

And she broke down at sight of his face; and when he turned it over to
the pillow and sobbed silently, she crept quietly out of the room and
left him to his sorrow.

Jack gone! _Jack!_ He felt stupid and newly broken. Dear old
Jack! . . . smashed by that cursed shell! A British shell, too, unless
he was very much mistaken. That was hard lines, after coming through
so much. Hard lines! Hard lines!

He was very weak yet, and the tears welled out again and again, as he
lay thinking dreamily of all the old times on the flats, and how close
they had been to one another all through their lives. And Jack was
gone . . . killed by a British shell! And he was so much the better
man of the two. And now, if he himself lived, he would have to go
home--some time--if this wretched war ever came to an end--and break
all their hearts with the news. In his weakness and sorrow he wished
that cursed shell had made an end of them both.

It was early summer before he was about again, for the bursting shell
had ripped open his side and shoulder, in addition to shattering his
arm beyond repair, and had given a shock to his system from which it
recovered but slowly.

And still the siege dragged on. Early in June came the third
bombardment. All the southern portion of the town had long been a heap
of grass-grown ruins. Now, even the northern slopes became almost
untenable.

The theatre was shattered out of all knowledge; in every barricaded
street the roadway was furrowed like a ploughed field by the shot and
shell which came raining in, and these were collected each day and
piled into pyramids ten feet high. Not a house but was damaged, many
were in ruins; the vertical shells from the mortars came down like
bolts from heaven and spread destruction where they fell.

It was death to walk the streets, and no safer to stop indoors. Many
crossed the harbour to the northern heights. The Greskis and Jim
fitted up their cellars and lived there as in a bomb-proof.

Greski himself had made but a slow recovery. The bullet-wound in his
thigh took long to heal, and left him limping still and quite unfit
for service--at which nis mother and Tatia rejoiced greatly, and he
did not greatly repine.

"As a soldier," he said, "I would shirk nothing; but all the same
Russia is not my country, but my oppressor, and it makes a difference.
For Poland I would die ten deaths. For Russia I grudge a finger."

When the bombardment slackened again, he limped out on Jim's sound arm
to gather news, and managed to keep a portentously long face as his
fellows in the café told them of the taking of the Mamelon and Sapoune
by the French, and the closing of the harbour road leading out to
Inkerman.

But alone with Jim and his own people, he let his feelings have play.

"Now we're getting on a bit. I mean you are. The Mamelon is one of the
keys to the door. I see the end in sight But your people are
strangely, dilatory or overcareful. From what they were saying down
there you could have got in more than once if you'd only come on."

"I wish they had come on," said Jim heartily. "Maybe there are too
many cooks at the pie."

Ten days later came the fourth bombardment, and in the comparative
safety of their cellars they heard the neighbours' houses crumbling
and falling, and the upper part of their own came down with a crash
which blanched the women's faces, till the ruins settled into position
and left them still alive.

Then one day, in an appalling cessation of the thunders to which their
ears were accustomed, Jim and Greski, stealing out to the south slope,
heard on the hill-side the solemn wail of the Dead March, and
presently a great salute of unshotted guns, and learned later that
Lord Raglan was dead, and, according to Greski, was succeeded by one
Sampson, whom Jim failed to recognise under so large a name.

Sebastopol was becoming one great hospital, one might almost say
charnel-house, for the wounded were beyond their capacity for tending,
and the dead lay for days in the streets unburied. And over it all the
summer sun shone brightly, and flowers bloomed gaily among the
shattered columns and fallen walls of houses which had once made this
one of the fairest cities of the East.

The siege lapsed again into dullness, in spite of Greski's prophecy.
The thinned ranks behind the bastions were replenished from the
northern camps. All day long the harbour was alive with the boats that
brought them across. And the bastions themselves grew stronger and
stronger, with the myriads of men working on them and the tons of shot
rained into them from the outside.

Working parties streamed up to the front all day long, carrying great
stakes and poles for the abattis, and fascines and gabions for the
ramparts, and in this work every English and French prisoner they had
taken was employed.

Jim found it refreshing to hear the hearty British oaths which rattled
about such fatigue parties, and he generally hailed the speakers and
got a hearty word in reply.

"God bless you, sir, but this ain't no work for British sailormen, an'
it does one a sight o' good to cuss 'em high an' low, even if they
doesn't understand it."

"Perhaps just as well," said Jim. "Can you use any money?"

"Try me, sor! God bless your honour! This night I'll be as drunk as a
lord, an' so will all me mates. 'Twill lighten the day an' the weight
of these ---- stakes. ----- ----- all Rooshians! They don't know how
to treat a sailorman."



CHAPTER LXVII
THE BEGINNING OF THE END


And so, at last, we come to the end of that titanic struggle in the
East--so far, that is, as we are directly concerned in it.

It was in the first days of September, just twelve months after the
Modern Armada sailed from Varna in hopes of settling matters out of
hand, that the great bombardment opened; the earth shook and the
heavens shuddered, and men grown used to the sound of big guns were
amazed at the hideous uproar. Fifteen hundred of the heaviest guns in
existence thundered back and forth in concert, and the hot hail of
more than half of them rained ceaselessly on the stricken town. The
sky was hidden by the smoke, and through the smoke, along with the
bursting shells, shot flights of fiery rockets to add to the inferno
inside.

Within that fiery pale no soul ventured forth. Jim and Greski paced
their gloomy quarters like restless animals--hopeful of the end,
doubtful what it might entail. The women sat in corners in momentary
expectation of death.

All who could go had crossed the harbour to the safety of the northern
heights. Greski, as the result of many discussions with Jim, had
resolved to stay where he was and trust to luck and the Allies.

For four days and nights the doomed city suffered that most awful
scourging, and then there came a lull, and the taut-strung men in the
cellar looked meaningly at one another. And presently they crept
cautiously out into the sulphurous upper air, just as day was
breaking.

"It is ended," said Greski, for the low thick clouds of smoke rolling
over the town were all aglow with the flames of burning buildings.
Wherever they turned, fresh fires were bursting out. And as they stood
looking, a mighty explosion shook the earth and half a dozen shattered
houses near at hand came crashing into the street.

Another tremendous explosion, and another and another.

"It is all over," said Greski quietly again. "They are blowing up the
bastions and burning the town. That, I know, was decided on long
since, if it came to the point. Moscow over again."

From where they were they could not see the explosions and they did
not dare to venture far. But presently all the harbour was red with
the blaze of burning ships, and they could see the new bridge of
boats, leading across to the north side, black with crowds of hurrying
fugitives. Then Fort Nicholas below them burst into flame, and the
smoke from Fort Paul, just across from it, rolled along the roadstead.
It was a most amazing scene, beyond description, almost beyond
imagination.

The firing had ceased with the blowing up of the bastions. Up on the
heights the besiegers clustered thick as bees, watching with awe the
results of their long and arduous labours. Below them a thin trickle
of creeping looters was already making its way through the ruined
suburbs into the burning city.

Jim and Greski returned to their cellar; Jim to fig himself out in the
remains of his uniform, Greski to collect such of the family valuables
as could be easily carried; and then, with madame and Tatia on their
arms, they set off, by devious ways which avoided burning and
tottering buildings, crossed the black desolation of the southern
suburbs, and came out on this side of the Quarantine Ravine, nearly
opposite the cemetery.

The looters, mostly red-trousered Zouaves, looked askant at Jim's
uniform and slipped past quietly. All they wanted was plunder, and
they feared to be stopped. How this young English Hussar officer had
managed to get in so quickly puzzled them, but he had evidently got
all he wanted. So--_allons, mes enfants!_ and let us lay hands on all
we can, before the rest of our brave allies arrive!

Jim knew his way as soon as they had been passed through the lower
trenches, and made straight for his father's tent. The camps were
almost empty. Everyone was down at the front staring at the burning
town. Outside the well-known tent in the hollow, however, an orderly
was hard at work scraping the mud off his master's overcoat.

"Where is Colonel Carron?" asked Jim expectantly.

But the man looked back at him stolidly and said, "I do not know,
monsieur."

"But this is his tent."

"Monsieur is mistaken. This is the tent of M. the Colonel Gerome--if
he is still alive, _man Dieu!_ He went into Malakoff yesterday and we
have not seen him since."

"And where is Colonel Carron, then?"

"I do not know, monsieur. It is only three months since I came out. Is
it all over, as they say?"

"We have Sebastopol," said Jim, "or part of it." And he quickly pushed
on along the road to French Head-quarters.

A squadron of lancers came down the road at a fast trot, gleaming in
the sun and jingling bravely. Their leader looked curiously at the odd
little company, for ladies were refreshingly rare in camp. Then he
suddenly drew rein and saluted, and Jim knew him. They had met many
times in the tent in the hollow.

"You, M. Carron? Why, we gave you up for dead long ago!"

"Where is my father, du Bourg? I've been to his tent----"

"_Mon Dieu!_--and you have not heard? I am sorry to have to tell it,
but you would have to hear. Colonel Carron was killed six months ago,
repulsing a sortie." And, as he saw Jim's face fall, he added: "If you
have had no news for six months, _mon ami_, be prepared for the worst.
You will find very few of your friends left. Where have you been?"

"Prisoner inside since December."

"_Mon Dieu!_ you've had hard luck! Weil, I must get on or our lively
red-legs won't leave a stick in Sebastopol. We've been doing all we
could to get in, and now my orders are to let no one in on any
account. Adieu!" And they went off at a clanking gallop to make up for
lost time.

Jim set off again in gloomy spirits for British Head-quarters on the
other side of the Balaclava road.

Jack gone! His father gone! George Herapath and Ralph Harben gone. His
little world seemed devastated. He wondered if any of the home folk
were left.

Gracie--Good God!--suppose Gracie were dead! And Charles Eager, and
Sir Denzil! In six months anything might have happened to any or all
of them.

Tatia was the only fairly cheerful member of the party. To her it was
like heaven to be out of that dreadful prison-house below. She had
grown so used to the smell of gunpowder that the keen sweet air
intoxicated her with delight. Her mother was very weary with the long
walk; and as for Greski, his thigh was giving him pain, and the only
thing he wanted now was to sit down and rest it.

Except for the sentries and a few underlings, British Head-quarters
was deserted like the rest of the camp. All the world was down at the
front, watching the end of Sebastopol. So they sat on a bench in the
sunshine, and waited for some one to turn up.

The first to come was McLean, the young doctor with whom Jim had
crossed to Constantinople on the _Carnbrea_. He was looking older, but
well and cheerful.

"Hello!" he cried, as soon as his eyes lighted on Jim. "It's good to
set eyes on some one alive that one knew six months ago. Where have
you been all this time? I see you've suffered too"--with a glance at
the empty sleeve.

"Been in Sebastopol for last nine months. Glad to get out."

"About as glad as we are to get in. Going home, I suppose?"

"Just as quick as I can. Come to report myself, but there's no one to
report to."

"All at the front, I suppose. It's a great day this. We're shipping
off loads of sick men as fast as we can fit them for the voyage. Our
old friend Jolly's in Balaclava Bay. He'd be delighted to take you, I
know, if you can fix matters up quickly here."

"Things any better than they used to be?"

"Oh, we're all learning by experience. Even the red-tape isn't as red
as it used to be; it's not much more than pink now. We've got
everything we need for the sick, anyway, and that's something. By the
way, there was a man here inquiring for you a short time ago--came out
on purpose, I believe, and brought a shipload of just the things we
were needing most."

"Oh? Who was that?"

"A lean-faced chap--a parson, and better than most. What was his name
now?--Earnest--Eager? that was it--Charles Eager."

"Eager? The dear old chap! Just like him! How long since?"

"Oh, months--four or five at least. Here's the Chief!"--as a thin,
quiet-looking man with a tired face rode up with a couple of aides,
saluted the little party, and went inside.

"Sick men first," said Jim; and McLean nodded, and went in.

He was back again in five minutes. "Come down to me at Balaclava as
soon as you're ready," he said, "and I'll help you on. I'll have a
word with Jolly too." And he sped away.

General Simpson greeted Jim, when at last he was admitted, with simple
kindliness but evident preoccupation. His hands and mind were very
full at the moment, and Jim's only desire was to get on towards home.
All his requests were granted without hesitation, the necessary papers
were promised him before night, and they set off again, first to the
cavalry camp, whose location he had learned from one of the aides, and
then to the railway which lay a little beyond.

At the camp he came across his own orderly, who greeted him with a
mixture of jovial delight at meeting again an openhanded friend and
master, and of deferential awe at encountering one returned from the
dead.

"Quite thought you was dead, sir," said he, with a big shy smile.

"I've been next door to it once or twice, Jones. Where's my horse?"

"Ah, then! Dear knows, sir! The French gentleman took him to's own
quarters an' I never set eyes on him since."

"Ah! Anybody left here that I know? Denham?"

"Lord Charles Denham, he died six, seven months ago the fever, sir."

"Mr. Kingsnorth?

"Invalided home in the winter, sir."

"Captain Warren?"

"Killed in the rifle-pits while he was potting the Russians. There's
hardly anybody left that was here when you was here sir, 'cept some of
us men. You going home, sir?"

"As quick as I can, Jones. Here's a guinea for old times' sake.
Good-bye!" And he went soberly on, feeling himself a stranger in a
strange place and as one risen from the dead.

They got a lift on the railway, and Jim hardly knew Balaclava, so
little of the old was left--just as in the camp up above. But he
tumbled up against Captain Jolly almost at once, and then his
difficulties were over.

"Take you?" cried the jovial master. "Take you all the way home if you
like. My charter's up and I'm to get back as quick as the weather'll
let me. Taking a cargo of broken pieces to Scutari, and then straight
for Liverpool. Right! We'll find room for you all if we have to sleep
in the bilge. Your servant, madam, and yours, miss! Glad to get away
from all the noise and nastiness, I'll be bound. Come on board any
time you like, Mr. Carron. Shipboard's a sight cleaner and more
comfortable than any place you'll find ashore." And Jim felt happier
than he had done for very many months back.



CHAPTER LXVIII
HOME AGAIN


D. McLean snatched half an hour to say good-bye as they were weighing
anchor. And among other things he happened to ask Jim:

"Have you sent word home that you're coming? I don't believe in
surprises."

"No, I haven't. I'm only learning to write, you see."

"Tell me what you want to say and I'll telegraph it from here."

"Can you?" said Jim, with a look of surprise, for this too was all new
since he went into captivity. "I wish you would. Just say 'Coming
home--Jim,' and send it to Sir Denzil Carron, Carne, Sandshire."

"Right! I'll see to it."

And he duly saw to it, but in the mighty pressure on the wires,
consequent on the great events of those latter days, the private
dispatch got mislaid, or was lost on the road--somewhere under the
Black Sea, maybe, or in the wilds of Turkey; anyway, it never reached
its destination.

And so it came about that Jim, satisfied that they knew of his coming,
walked up to the door of Mrs. Jex's cottage, three weeks later, and
found it occupied by young John Braddle, the carpenter's son, and his
newly married wife.

"My gosh!" said young John at sight of him. "But yo' did give me a
turn, Mester Jim! An' yo've lost an arm! Was that i' th' big charge?"

"No; I left it inside Sebastopol, John. But where's everybody? Mr.
Eager and----"

"They're all up at Vicarage, Mester Jim. He's vicar now, and Mrs. Jex
she keeps house for him. An' so Molly and me----"

But Jim was off, with a wave of the workable arm. He had not come home
to hear about John and Molly Braddle.

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Eager had just got back from their honeymoon.
Mrs. Jex had been in residence for a month past, getting things into
shape for them, with Gracie's very active assistance. And--"Bless her
'art! She couldn' do no more if 'twas her own house she was a-fittin'
up. And may I live to see that day!" said Mrs. Jex with fervour.

Gracie had been living at Knoyle, for the comfort and consolation of
Sir George, who found his great house very lonely, and talked of
selling it and coming to live with them at the cosy old ivy-covered
Vicarage.

They were all sitting round the dinner-table still; Meg--Mrs.
Charles--and Gracie cracking a surreptitious walnut now and again, Sir
George sipping his own excellent port, and smoking one of his own
extra-specials with a relish he had not experienced for months past;
while the Rev. Charles--the vicar, if you please--recalled some of the
delightful humours of their travel. For never since the world began
had there been a month so packed with wonder and delight.

The drift-logs on the hearth crackled and spurted, and the
many-coloured flames laughed merrily at their own reflections in the
Jex-polished mahogany and old walnut panelling. And Rosa, the little
maid, had tapped three times on the door and peeped in, and gone back
to Mrs. Jex with word that he was a-talking and a-talking as if he'd
go on all night, and they all looked so happy that she hadn't the
heart to disturb them. To which Mrs. Jex had replied, "All the same,
my gel, we've got to wash up, and so we'll begin on these."

"I'm so glad," said Gracie, during a brief pause, and she knitted her
fingers in front of her on the table and gazed happily on them all.
"You two make me happy just to look at you----"

"Then is the object of our wedding attained," said Charles, with a
smile and a bow.

"Almost quite happy," continued the Little Lady. "If only the boys
were here, now----"

"We ought to hear something soon," said Sir George. "I was hoping the
dispatches might bring some news of them. You don't suppose the
Russians would carry them across with them?"

"I wouldn't like to say what the Russians might or might not do," said
Eager thoughtfully. "They're a queer lot, from all accounts. I didn't
tell you we called on Lord Deseret as we came through London. He was
very friendly and as nice as could be. Among other things he told us
that, as the result of all his inquiries, he learned from St.
Petersburg that the boys were being kept in Sebastopol of set
purpose."

"That's odd! Why?" asked Sir George.

"For the still odder reason, as it was reported to him, that they were
safer inside than outside."

"And who was it was playing Providence to them like that?"

"He could only surmise, but I am not at all sure that he told us all
he knew. He is an old diplomat, you know."

"And to whom did his surmises point?"

"I gathered it was towards Mme Beteta, the Spanish dancer. You
remember she made something of a furore in London when she was over
here."

"But what on earth has she got to do with our boys?" asked Gracie,
kindling.

"She seemed to take a fancy to them. You remember how Jim used to
write about her."

"But how could a woman such as that exercise any influence in such a
matter?" asked Sir George.

"Ah!----"

Then there came a knock on the front door, and they heard Rosa trip
along to answer it.

And the next moment Rosa's white face appeared at the dining-room
door, and Rosa's pale lips gasped:

"Oh mum, miss, 't's 'is ghost--Master Jim!"

And Jim pushed past her into the room, and they all sprang up to meet
him.

Gracie was nearest, and she just flung her arms round his neck crying,
"Oh Jim! _Jim!_"; And he put his left arm round her and kissed her,
and put her back into her chair.

It was many minutes before they could settle to rational talk, for
Mrs. Jex must come hurrying in, and Jim kissed her too, and seemed
inclined to go round the whole company. But then they came to
soberness with the inevitable question:

"And Jack?"

And an expressive gesture of Jim's left hand prepared them for the
worst.

"The shell that took this," he said, glancing down at his empty
sleeve, "took Jack too. I did my best"--and he looked anxiously at
Gracie and Eager--"I tried to fling it away, but it burst, and--and--
that was the end. It was days before I knew."

By degrees he told them all the story; and saddened as they were by
the loss of one, they could not but soberly rejoice that one at all
events had been spared to them.

He told them of the Greskis and all their kindnesses, and how he had
brought them hone with him, since Greski was set on ending his
servitude with Russia, and now it would be supposed that they had
perished in the bombardment, and so no consequences could be visited
on their friends in Poland because of his desertion. He had settled
them for the time being in a quiet hotel in Liverpool, and later on
they would decide further as to their future.

Eager had been very thoughtful while Jim talked. Now he said:

"Do you feel able to come along with me to Caine, my boy? Mrs.
Jex was telling me that old Mrs. Lee is lying at the point of death.
It is just possible--But I don't know," he said musingly, with a
tumult of thoughts behind his fixed gaze at Jim "It does not matter
now. . . . Still, I imagine your grandfather. . . . Yes, I think we
must go."

"I'm ready," said Jim, and they two set off at once for Carne, and the
others gathered round the fire and talked by snatches of it all, and
Gracie mopped her eyes at thought of all those two boys had suffered,
and of Jack, and of Jim's poor arm--and everything.

"He has become a very fine man," said Sir George. "A man to be proud
of, my dear."

And Meg kissed her warmly and whispered, "Make him happy, dear!"



CHAPTER LXIX
"THE RIGHT ONE"


A woman from the village opened the door, and stared at Eager and Jim
in vast surprise. "How is Mrs. Lee to-night, Mrs. Kenyon?" asked
Eager.

"'Oo's varry low. 'Oo just lies an' nivver spakes a word."

"Well now"--very emphatically--"I want you not to go in, or speak to
her, till we come down again. You understand?"

"I understand, and I dunnot want to spake to her."

They went quietly along the stone passage, past the door of the room
where the sick woman lay, and tapped on the door of Sir Denzil's
apartments.

Kennet opened it with a wide stare, and they went in.

Sir Denzil was lingering over his dinner.

"So you've got home, Mr. Eager----" he lifted his glass of wine to his
health. Then catching sight of Jim behind--"Ah, Jim, my boy, so you've
come home at last!"

"All that's left of me, sir."

"Ah--I see. Well, well! Better half a loaf than no bread." And he
stood up and got out his snuff-box, tapped it into good order inside,
and extracted a pinch. "I've been expecting you ever since we got news
of the fall of Sebastopol. And Jack----?

"Jack is dead, sir."

"So!" And the grizzled brows went up in inquiry for more.

"He was killed by the same shell that took my arm. Why it did not take
us both I do not know."

"Dear, dear! The ways of Providence are past our finding out. Let us
accept her gifts without questioning. I am delighted to see you, my
dear boy--delighted. Now that we have got you safe home we must make
the most of you." And for the first time in his life Eager got glimpse
of a Sir Denzil he had never known before, and could hardly have
imagined, had it not been his custom to credit every man with more
possibilities of grace than outside appearances might seem to warrant.

"And now," continued Sir Denzil, with anxious warmth, "I hope you've
had enough of war, and are ready to settle down here and make the most
of what is left to you."

"It has been a trying time, sir. I shall be glad of a rest."

But Sir Denzil was gazing at him with something of the fixity of
Charles Eager's look before they left the Rectory. He took a
thoughtful pinch of snuff, with a sudden relapse into his old manner.
Then he nodded his head slowly several times, and said, "No . . . I
think not . . . No need--now. . . ." And he looked across at Eager and
said: "It occurred to me that if he went down and saw that old
woman . . . but it is not necessary now. Nothing she could say----"

"I would like to see her, by your leave, sir," said Jim. "After all,
she was good to us boys, in her own way, you know."

"Very well," said Sir Denzil, after a moment's hesitation, as though
he shrunk from subjecting his new-found satisfaction to any test
whatever. "Only--remember! Her whole life has been a lie, and we
cannot trust a word she says." And they went downstairs, and along the
stone passage, to the side-room in which Nance Lee's baby had slept
his first sleep at Carne, that black night one-and-twenty years
before.

"Yon other woman will have told her," said Sir Denzil, stopping short
of the door as the thought struck him.

"No; I told her not to," said Eager.

"Ah!"--with a quick look at him--"then you had the same idea." And
they went quietly in.

Mrs. Lee was lying motionless on her back, and her thin gray face in
its frilled white nightcap looked so set and rigid that at first they
thought her dead.

Sir Denzil nodded to Eager to speak to her, and stepped back out of
sight.

"Mrs. Lee," said Eager, bending over her, "here is one of our boys
come back from death. He wished to see you."

The dim old eyes opened and stared wildly at them all for a moment,
then settled on Jim in a long, thin, piercing gaze. "Don't you know
me, Mrs. Lee?" he asked.

"Ay--shore! . . . Yo're----" and she struggled up to her bony elbow to
look closer, and caught a glimpse of Sir Denzil behind--"yo're Jack!"
and fell back on to her pillow.

They thought she was gone; but she suddenly opened her eyes again and
laughed a thin, shrill little laugh, and said:

"So t'reet un's come back, after aw!"

And then her meagre body straightened itself in the bed, and she lay
still.

"I knew we'd get nothing out of her," said Sir Denzil, when they had
got back to his room. "But whatever she said would have made no
difference. You are Carron of Caine, my boy; and, thanks to our friend
here, Carne will have a better master than it has had for many a day."



CHAPTER LXX
ALL'S WELL!


"Gracie, dear!" said Jim, "will you make me the happiest man in all
the world? I've hungered and thirsted for you all these months, and I
believe old Jack would wish it so if he knew."

"Oh, Jim"--and she put up her arms and drew down his head, and kissed
him with a little sob--"if you had both come back, it would have
killed me to part you; but truly, truly, my love, I love you with all
my heart."

"God bless you, dear! I will do my best to make you happy."

"I'm as happy as I can be, Jim; but perhaps if you gave me another
kiss----"

So that great matter settled itself in the great settlement, an there
is little more to tell.

Sir George insisted on the Greskis coming out to Knoyle for a time,
until he should find some suitable opening for Louis. Nothing was too
good for such friends-in-need [t?] their recovered Jim, and they all
delighted in Mme Greski's fine foreign manners and the lively Tatia's
exuberant joy after their deliverance from Russia.

Lord Deseret came down from London to the wedding, and brought with
him two magnificent presents--diamonds from himself, which must have
represented an unusually good night's winnings at the green board, and
a wonderful rope of pearls from Mme Beteta, at which Gracie was
inclined at first to look askance, though her eyes could not help
shining at sight of them.

"You may take them without any qualms, my dear," said Lord Deseret.
"It is possible that you owe your husband to madame"--and he may have
added, to himself, "in more senses than one."

"Why? How is that?" asked Gracie quickly.

"Madame is now the morganatic wife of one of the Russian Grand Dukes,
and I have every reason to believe that it was due to urgent
representations on her part, some time before she consented to marry
him, that our two boys were not allowed out of Sebastopol. She thought
they would be safer inside, and I have no doubt she was right. The
chance inside were about ten to one in their favour, I should say."

"Then, indeed, I thank her," said Gracie heartily; "though old Jim
does look so glum at having been cotton-woolled like that. But I don't
quite understand why the lady put herself about so much on their
account."

And that was one of the things she never did understand.

Lord Deseret waived the question lightly with:

"Woman's whims are past all understanding, my dear. Perhaps she fell
in love with Jim, as the rest of us did."

"Why, she was old enough to be his mother," said Gracie, with little
idea how near she may have come to the truth.

"You understand, I suppose?" he said to Jim that night, as they sat
smoking together.

And Jim nodded soberly.

"When did she marry?" he asked presently.

"Last March. Your father was kilted in January."

"And Kattie is still with her?"

"Still with her, and going to make as fine a dancer as she is pretty a
girl. You did well for her when you placed her in the Beteta's hands,
my boy."

"Poor little Kattie!" said Jim. "I'm glad she came to me that night."

And here this chronicle may end. The more one ponders this strange and
complex coil of life, with its broken hopes and unexplained mysteries,
its short-cut strands and long-spun ropes, the more one draws to
simple hope and trust in the Higher Powers. The knots and tangles
twisted by man's ill doing defy at times all human efforts at their
straightening. In face of such, the utmost that a man may do is to
bear himself bravely, to do his duty to God and his neighbour, and
leave the issue in the hands of a higher understanding than his own.



PRINTED BY
HAZELL, WATSON AND VINEY, LD.,
LONDON AND AYLESBURY.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Coil of Carne" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home