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´╗┐Title: Our Den
Author: Waterworth, E. M.
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 "Our Den" ***

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



[Illustration: Cover art]



[Frontispiece: "THERE APPEARED THREE FIGURES, DRIPPING FROM HEAD TO
FOOT." (p. 18.)]



  OUR DEN


  BY

  E. M. WATERWORTH,

  Author of "Master Lionel, That Tiresome Child," etc.



  LONDON:
  S. W. PARTRIDGE & CO.
  9, Paternoster Row.



[Illustration: Contents headpiece]


CHAPTER I.

The Savages are Expected


CHAPTER II.

They Arrive--Unexpectedly


CHAPTER III.

Our Den is Fortified


CHAPTER IV.

Fish or Fowl for Supper


CHAPTER V.

Tied to the Bell Buoy


CHAPTER VI.

Punishment and Escape


CHAPTER VII.

The Mysterious Visitor


CHAPTER VIII.

The Oak Chest


CHAPTER IX.

The Mystery Deepens


CHAPTER X.

How the Stranger Helped


CHAPTER XI.

A Day of Surprises


CHAPTER XII.

The Lost Will



[Illustration: Contents tailpiece]



[Illustration: Chapter I headpiece]



OUR DEN.



CHAPTER I.

The Savages are Expected.


"I think it is our duty, John."

"Stuff and nonsense.  How can it be our duty to turn our house into a
bear-garden for the sake of a lot of young savages?  Let them spend
their holidays at school."

I was reading, as I generally was in those days, but the word
"savages" made me look up.  It was fun reading about such people, but
I was not at all sure that I should care to see even one alive, and
here was father talking about a lot of them.

Mother laughed merrily.  Somehow, she generally did laugh when other
people would have cried; and I know now that it was mother's merry
laugh that made the sunshine of our home.

"Why, John, how can you make savages into bears?  They would not even
hug you if you looked as fierce as you do now."

Then glancing towards my little sofa, mother's face became sweetly
grave as she added in a low voice, "Besides, dear, we should like
people to be good to Edric if we were not here; and, after all, they
may do him good.  You know the London doctor said he would have more
chance of getting strong if he had plenty of play with brothers and
sisters, instead of always having a book in his hand."

The colour came to my face, and I turned hot and cold all over, while
I listened for father's answer.  It was about six months since they
had taken me to London to see a famous physician, and I had never
heard them mention what he had said about me.  I was the only child,
and, owing to a fall downstairs when I was quite a tiny trot, there
was a slight curvature in my spine.  I did not know what was the
matter then, but I knew that I was not like other children.

I dreaded the noise which my few friends made in the room when they
came to see me.  I had lived in an iron frame for about two years;
and when I was taken out of it, and was supposed to be allowed to
walk a little, the desire to move had gone.  My parents did not like
to urge me, and so six months passed away and I was still carried
from room to room, still lay reading most of the day, and was quietly
content.  It was only now and then that mother's anxious look at me
told that she was not satisfied; father and I seemed to have made up
our minds that I was to be an invalid for the rest of my life, so I
listened anxiously for his answer to mother's remark about the doctor.

"Do you really think it would do the boy good to be tormented by a
lot of rough, strong children?  Then let them come, but keep them out
of my sight.  I hate noise almost as much as Edric does."

"I had settled all that, dear, before I ever spoke to you about it.
There's the tower room--it is big and airy, and right at the top of
the house--I thought they should have that for their playroom."

"You'd better call it their den at once," said father, leaning over
my shoulder to read the title of my book.  "There are about twenty
panes of glass in it now.  I wonder how many whole ones there will be
when the holidays are over.  How do you like the idea of the invasion
of the savages, my boy?" he added, in the tender tone in which he
always addressed me.

"Who are they, father?" I asked, laying my thin white hand in his
brown, strong one.

"Your Uncle George's children, dear.  He sent them to school at Bath,
and intended to be in England for their summer holidays, but he was
prevented from leaving Sydney just at the last minute; and your Aunt
Mary has written to ask if we will let them all spend the time here.
There are four of them, three boys and a girl who is as big a boy as
any of them, I believe.  What do you think of it, Edric?"

"I think I shall like seeing Cousin Kathleen," I said, rather shyly;
even with my parents it was rather difficult for me to speak my
thoughts.  "She has often sent nice messages to me, and this is the
book-marker she made for me.  Perhaps she will read to me, and show
me how to play chess."

"We will burn all those books, lad," said father, sweeping a little
heap off my sofa to the floor.  "Let me carry you out to see the high
tide."

"Not just now, father, please," I said, cuddling the last remaining
book in my arms.  "I want to see what becomes of Rupert in the
Redskins' camp."

"That's good," said father, laughing heartily.  "Your eldest cousin's
name is Rupert, and we shall soon be wanting to know what becomes of
Edric in Rupert's den."

"When are they coming?" I asked, with a faint trembling at my heart.
Mother had taught me to be kind in my thoughts of every one, but I
began to be a little afraid of these stranger cousins.

"They may be here next week; but I am not sure what day the school
breaks up."

"Well, I will go and see about getting the tower room ready," said
mother, when father had gone out to look at a new horse which he had
bought for the farm.  "Do you want anything before I go, darling?"

"No, thank you, mother."

As she bent down to kiss me before she left me, mother looked
longingly into my face.

"I believe you look better already, dear.  Don't you think that----
Why, darling, what's the matter; there are tears in your eyes."

Of course it was silly for a boy of twelve to begin to cry because
his cousins were coming to stay with him, but I feel bound to let you
know the whole truth about myself.  I couldn't possibly say what I
was crying for, but I suppose that I was in a weak and morbid state.

"You'll love me still, mother, won't you," I whispered, clinging to
her neck; "and you won't let them make me do anything I don't want
to?"

Poor mother!  If I had only known, that was just the very reason she
wanted my cousins to come; but she comforted me, and promised
faithfully I should be left to myself as much as I liked.

"They will have their den, as your father calls it, and you needn't
go in it unless you like.  Now I will go and see about getting it
ready.  It will want brightening up a bit.  Nobody has ever used it
since I have lived here, and that is nearly fourteen years.
Good-bye, dear; don't read too much."

She had her hand on the door before I could summon courage to speak
what was in my mind.

"I've never been in the tower room, mother.  Do you think I might go
with you, just to see it before they come?"



[Illustration: Chapter II headpiece]


CHAPTER II.

They Arrive--Unexpectedly.


There was a joyous ring in my dear mother's voice as she called out
of the window for father to carry me upstairs; and I noticed that
they both looked at each other with a satisfied nod as I was
deposited on a long Rattan chair, which, with the exception of a
great oak chest, was the only piece of furniture in the den.

It was a glorious day in July.  The tower room was almost walled with
glass on three sides, and looking out I saw such a view as I had
never imagined could be seen from our own house.  In front of me I
could gaze across the field to the back-water of the river which made
our farm into an island at high tide; beyond that, again, lay a
narrow neck of land, then the main stream, which, running to the
left, widened and widened till it entered into the sea.  Across the
river were some few houses of a small seaside town, and beyond those
houses I knew was the sea; the open sea on which I had never been but
once.  I knew that summer after summer yachts sailed from the pier at
Craigstown round the Eagle Point, and up the river to the old
watermill, or from the mill to the pier.  Sometimes I would watch the
tops of the sails from my bedroom window; but I could see little
more, and never wished to be in the vessels.  Here in the tower room
I could see the whole course of the river when mother dragged my
chair to the different windows, and I exclaimed, "Oh!  I am glad I
came, mother: doesn't the water look lovely?"

"Yes, darling, it is a very high tide to-day.  If you look down there
to the right of that large tree you will see that our road to
Craigstown is quite covered up.  They may well call this Island Farm;
you would have to swim across the little stream whichever way you
wanted to go now.  Now, Edric, you can help me; tell me what I shall
put in this room to make it nice for your cousins.  Remember, their
parents are thousands of miles away, and we must try to make them
happy.  Fancy how you would feel if you were in Australia without me."

I didn't fancy it at all; but I know what mother meant, and suggested
that first one thing and then another should be brought upstairs.
There was my tool chest--of course I should never use it; it was such
a funny thing for father to give me.  I did not realize that he had
bought it hoping to rouse me to try to use some of the tools.  There
was a box of lovely stone bricks.  I could play with them, and used
to enjoy making designs out of my own head, which pleased my parents
and made them prophesy that I should be an architect some day.  There
were paint boxes and puzzles.  There was even a fishing rod and a
landing net; I almost laughed when mother brought them up from a
cupboard in my room.

"It seems a pity that father should buy me such things, doesn't it,
mother?" I said, and then I felt sorry.  Mother came across the room
to me, and said softly, "You see, dear, the London doctor said he
quite hoped that you would be able to get about like other children
some day, though you would always have a little twist in your back,
which would prevent you being as straight and strong as they are.
Your father loves you so, that he cannot bear to think you ore
different from others; and so he keeps giving you things just as if
you were well and strong, hoping that some day you will be able to
use them.  Now where shall I put this flag?"

You would not believe what a change mother made in the room.  By
dinner time it looked quite pretty; and I was actually so hungry that
I was glad when the dinner bell sounded, and father came up the
creaky stairs two at a time to carry me down.

"I think the change of rooms has done you good, laddie," he said, as
he took me in his arms.  "You had better have that Rattan chair
moved, Mary," he added to my mother; "there won't be much of it left
by September if you don't."

"Oh, don't move it, please, father," I said.  "It will do so nicely
for me to lie in when I go there."

"So it's going to be your den as well as theirs, is it, young man?
And, pray, what do you think we shall feel like when we come into
this room and see your empty sofa?"

Glancing at father, to see how much he meant, I fancied that there
was a merry twinkle in his eye.  At all events, I am certain that we
had a brighter dinner than we generally had, and I remember
particularly that I asked for a second helping of meat.

"What shall I bring you from Colchester?" said father, after dinner.
"I am going to try the new mare, and I'll bring you back anything you
like to name up to five shillings."

"There's a new book of Kingston's, father--I forget the title--if you
wouldn't mind getting that.  I have nearly finished _Rupert and the
Redskins_."

"Oh, no more books," said father, impatiently.  "I'd like to burn the
lot of them.  I'd rather buy you a cricket bat.  There, don't look
miserable, laddie.  You shall have the book, but I'd give a
five-pound note to hear you say, 'Take me with you in the dog-cart.'
Now, good-bye.  I shan't be starting for another hour, till the tide
is down, but I don't suppose you will see me again before I go.
Shall I send a telegram to Bath to say the youngsters can come?
Perhaps they will like to look forward to it.  And is there anything
else you want, to rig up their den?"

We both laughed, and mother said something about believing father
would be delighted to see the savages after all.

"Oh!  I don't care, as long as you keep them out of my way.  I'll
bring them a couple of boxes of soldiers; that's sure to keep them
quiet for a time."

"Girls don't like soldiers," I remarked.

"Don't they, though, if they have half a dozen brothers and no
sister.  I suppose you'd like me to buy Miss Kathleen a workbox, and
she wouldn't know which finger to put the thimble on, I'll be bound.
What on earth is that?"

Well might he ask.  A succession of shouts and yells, interspersed
with loud "C-o-o-e-e, c-o-o-e-e," disturbed the usual placid silence
which reigned on a summer afternoon in our island farm, especially
when the tide was up, and we were cut off from the mainland.

Angry expostulations from some of the labourers followed; and then,
to our utter amazement, there appeared on the lawn at our open window
three figures, dripping from head to foot.


[Illustration: Chapter II tailpiece]



[Illustration: Chapter III headpiece]



CHAPTER III.

Our Den is Fortified


"Stand back!  Stand back!" shouted father, as the boys made straight
for our new carpet.  "Who in the world are you?"

"Don't you know us, uncle?" said the eldest, shaking the water from
him like a Newfoundland dog.  "The old fellow drove us from
Colchester station, and actually wanted us to wait the other side of
that stream till the tide went down.  It wasn't likely we should do
that, was it?  So we just walked through.  Kathleen got her shoe
stuck in the mud, but she's coming along presently.  Now, aren't you
glad to see us, uncle?"

There was something irresistible in the impudent, freckled face
turned up to father's; and although my first thought was that Rupert
was decidedly ugly, I soon came to see that there was the beauty of
goodness in eyes and mouth and general expression.

Mother was the first to regain her self-possession.

"You naughty children," she said, stepping out on the lawn, "you will
catch your death of cold, and I suppose you haven't even got any
other clothes to put on.  Edric's won't fit any of you but Harold."

"Don't you fret, auntie," said Jack, who had been capering about, and
leaving little rivulets of water wherever he went.  "We don't think
anything of wet clothes, we just run about till they are dry."

"But where's your box?" said father.

"It's the other side of the water," said Rupert, laughing; "I know
now what King John felt like when he lost all his luggage in the
Wash.  We lost half our things in the wash at school, and now we've
lost the other half in your Wash.  My word, hasn't the tide gone down
quick!  The old fellow was right after all.  Why, it's only up to
Kathleen's ankles now.  Here she comes, shoes and all.  Ugh! go away,
you horrid, wet girl."

A well-aimed shoeful of water went over Jack's head, and then with a
queer, uneven step, due to having one shoe off and one on, my Cousin
Kathleen advanced to greet my father and mother.

"What do you think of that, Uncle John?" she said, putting her dry
arm round his neck.  "Those naughty boys left me to get on as well as
I could with one foot stuck in the mud; but I'll pay them out.  Ah,
there's Cousin Edric," and there was such a change in the merry face,
that a glow of pleasure spread over mine.

"We know each other already, don't we, dear?  Isn't it lovely to
think that we are going to be here six whole weeks?  Can't you really
walk, Edric?"

There was something so very funny in the whole scene, the dripping
boys outside, the girl with hat thrown back and tumbled, curly hair,
with skirts wet to the waist, and one shoe in her hand, that I burst
out laughing.  Of course, everyone joined, and it was thus that we
received the savages into our home circle.  But mother now
interposed, and marched them all off to their bedrooms, while father
sent a man in one of the carts to fetch the boxes, which the
Colchester fly-driver had so unceremoniously deposited on the other
side of the stream.

We found out in the course of time, that the boys' school had been
suddenly closed, owing to the death of the master's wife.  My cousins
had heard from their father that they would probably spend the summer
holidays with us, and the master had thought it best to send them
straight to us, taking their sister with them.  The telegram which
should have prepared us for their arrival, came about half an hour
after we were all sitting down to tea.

What a tea that was!  Father was, of course, away, having merely
looked in to say good-bye to me and whisper, "Don't let the young
rogues tire you, laddie; they can go upstairs to their own room.  I
shall be back in time to carry you to bed if you stop up a little
later than usual."

Kathleen took me under her wing at once.  Her chair must be next to
my sofa, and she must hand me everything I wanted.  We were all
ready; I had taken one or two bites of bread and butter, and saw to
my surprise that none of my cousins had begun eating.

"Why are you waiting?" asked mother.

"For grace," said Jack, the second boy.

We had always been accustomed to say grace before and after dinner,
but it never seemed to have entered our heads to say it at any other
meals.  I glanced at mother.

"Say it then, dear," she said, kindly, and Rupert said it; then they
fell to and made a hearty tea.  From that day forward we never forgot
to give thanks for every meal which was put before us.

I don't think I ate much, for I was laughing so heartily.  It was
quite a new phase of life to me, and my cousins seemed so possessed
with the spirit of fun that it was quite infectious.

"Now, auntie, where's our den?" said Rupert, when tea was over.
"Father had a den in Sydney.  He called it his den, but it was the
jolliest place in the house, except----"

"Except when Rupert went into a rage and hit Harold, then father told
him to meet him in his study, and you should have seen Rupert's
face," interposed Jack.

"Rupert ran away and hid under the tank," continued Kathleen, with a
broad smile on her face.  "The clergyman was staying with us, and he
went to fish him out.  Rupert saw him coming, and cried out, 'I say,
Mr. Wilson, is father after you, too?'  You should have heard them
laugh.  Of course Rupert didn't get his caning, so father's den is
still the jolliest place in the house."

"And so will ours be," was the general shout as they filed upstairs
behind mother.

The sunshine seemed gone out of the room when they left it.  I tried
to go on with my reading, but I found myself listening for any sound
from the tower room.  It was too far away, however, for me to hear
anything but the loud bang of the door at the bottom of the little
staircase, so I was obliged to go back to my book with a sigh.  It
was not likely strong, healthy, rackety children would want poor
sickly little me.

"Bo!  Twopence for your thoughts, Edric.  Oh, did I hurt you?  I
didn't know you would be really frightened.  What's the matter?"

"It's nothing," I said, hastily, trying to breathe quietly again, and
smiling at Rupert.  "You see I am so used to being alone that a
sudden noise makes me jump."

"I'm sorry," said Rupert, sitting on the edge of my sofa, and
swinging his legs so violently that he almost made my teeth chatter.

"What pretty hair you've got, Edric.  It is all wavy like mother's,
and just the same colour.  You'd have made a splendid girl.  There,
now, I've hurt you again, and I didn't mean to either.  You'll be a
big man and a clever one some day, I expect; anyway, no one can call
you carrots as they do me.  Halloa, Kathleen, what do you want?"

"Let's carry Edric upstairs," said Kathleen; "he can tell us where to
find things;" and, before I could say yes or no, they had taken me in
their arms, so carefully, so tenderly, that after the first moment I
was quite happy.

"There, captain," said Jack, as they pulled the long chair into the
middle of the room.  "Now we want your orders.  This is our castle,
but what is a castle without fortifications?  You might as well have
a plum pudding without any plums!  We've got to barricade this place,
so that the enemy can't get in unless we wish it."

"But if they can't get in, we can't get out," I said, hastily.

"Of course we can, you owl!  What's the good of lovely windows like
those, with old ivy climbing outside?  I've been down to the garden
already that way," said Harold.

"But Edric can't go in and out of the window," said Kathleen; "and I
don't think I should care to very often; it is rather awkward with
petticoats.  Let us fortify the castle, but we must do it so that we
can go in and out if we wish.  Now, captain, tell us where to find
wood."

There was plenty to be had in the outhouses, and they worked so hard
that they had made several rough defences for door and window before
it was dark, and mother came up anxiously to look for me.

"How ever did you get up here, darling?" she asked.

"By the same way that he's going back, auntie," and as Rupert spoke
my two cousins raised me in their arms and carried me as carefully as
if I were made of egg-shell china.


[Illustration: Chapter III tailpiece]



[Illustration: Chapter IV headpiece]



CHAPTER IV.

Fish or Fowl for Supper.


It would take too long to tell you of all the things which happened
in our den.  Little bits of fun which would sound nothing to you,
were great events in my life.  I had lived so long on my invalid
couch that both griefs and joys were intensified to me.

I was too young to think such things; but if I had been older I
should have asked myself very often, "Is this the same _me_ that used
to lie reading for hours, and never left his sofa if he could help
it?"  Why, I actually had forgotten to see what became of Rupert
among the Redskins.  My four cousins were all so busy making the most
of their holidays that I didn't seem to have time to breathe.
Whatever they did, Edric must at least look on--if he would help, so
much the better; so it ended in my seeing very little of my parents.
Father still persisted in refusing to let the young savages have
meals with him, though I felt sure, from the look he gave them when
he happened to peep in our room, that he was getting to like them;
and I overheard him once say to mother: "Our laddie looks fatter and
brighter; I suppose it's those young scamps' doings.  I wish they had
come before."

"I'm sure they have done him good," said mother, heartily; "and they
have done no harm to anyone, in spite of all the mischief you
prophesied."

"Wait and see," said father, grimly.  "That young Jack reminds me of
a volcano; it looks quiet enough one minute, but it may swallow you
up the next.  If they get through the holidays without an eruption,
I'll give them a sovereign between them when I drive them to
Colchester."

Sudden news from London took father away that very evening, and
hastened the explosion which he had prophesied.

"Now, what shall we do this afternoon?" said Rupert the next day,
when dinner was over and I had been carried by my two faithful
bearers into the den.

"I vote we go fishing," said Jack, proceeding to inspect my fishing
rod and line.  "We have been here a fortnight and haven't been
fishing once.  What do you say, captain?  Shall we be like the monks
who hid in the old water mill, and fish for our dinner?  What's the
matter? you look quite glum."

"Of course he does," said Kathleen; "he doesn't wish to be left
alone.  I'll stay with you, Edric."

"Why shouldn't he go, too?" suggested Harold.  "It's a regular tub of
a boat, rather different from the one we had at Sydney."

"Perhaps your river was rather different from ours," I said,
colouring at the slight cast upon my father's boat.  "You forget that
this is a tidal river; there's only a small part of it fit for a boat
at all at low water, and if there's much wind it runs like a
racehorse just past our back-water to the bay."

"All right, captain, we beg your boat's pardon, and as it is so big
we will make good use of it.  You shall come out fishing with us,"
said Rupert, marching out of the room as if he considered that his
word was law, instead of mine.

I know I was very naughty, but I had perfect confidence in my two
bearers; and when Kathleen had tried to find mother all over the
house and failed, I let my wishes silence my conscience and said,
"All right, I'll come if you will put me in carefully; but mind, I
don't know anything about boating."

"Oh, Rupert knows enough for all of us.  Father says he can manage a
boat as well as he can.  Let's get some food out of our cupboard and
start at once."

Our den was always well provided with eatables, so there was no
difficulty on that score, and the dread of being stopped at the last
moment made me hurry them all as much as possible.  I was quite
relieved when Rupert appeared with my hat and a plaid.

"We'll take this in case it gets cool.  Now, then, Kathleen.  Heave
ahoy!"

I was carried down those stairs more rapidly than I had ever been
before.  I shut my eyes and bit my lips to avoid showing how
frightened I was.  When I looked up I was in the bottom of the boat.
Harold, with loving thoughtfulness, had put in some cushions, and I
felt as comfortable as on my sofa.

"Push her off, Jack."  Jack did it skilfully, and sprang in just as
my heart came into my mouth for fear he should fall into the water.

"Hurrah!" they all cried, at the top of their voices, but my cheer
was a feeble one; I had caught sight of something in the bows, and if
there is one thing I have hated all my life it is a gun.

"What have you got that for?" I said to Rupert.

"Always best to have two strings to your bow, captain.  If Jack can't
catch any fish, then I'll shoot something; we must have either fish
or fowl for supper to-night."

"Did mother say you might have it?"

Jack made a grimace, and said something about Rupert not being half
as stupid as he looked; but I soon forgot all about the gun in my
enjoyment of the water.  Rupert and Harold rowed well together, and
Kathleen steered till we came to the main stream, when Jack put out
his line.

If fish can hear and understand, they certainly must have thought
that there never was a noisier crew come out to look for them.  We
laughed till we couldn't laugh any more, and our rowers had to rest
on their oars to recover strength to pull them.

"Just look!" said Jack, suddenly.  "There's a tiny footmark.  I
should think that fellow wears nineteens."

"Hold hard a minute, and let us trace them," said Rupert, leaning
over the side.  "Talk of footprints in the snow, they are not half as
beautiful as footprints in the mud under the river."

He guided the boat skilfully, so that we followed the steps, till
they went up the bank on the side nearest Craigstown.

"The old fellow comes from there, then; I wonder where he goes, and
where he comes from.  It's a queer sort of place to choose for an
afternoon walk.  Halloa, what's that?  Push off quick, Jack, or we
shall stick, and on the wrong side, too."

[Illustration: "HE WAS THROWN TO THE BOTTOM OF THE BOAT."]

Jack sprang up, and put the oar down with a force which sent the boat
out into the current again, but the next instant he fell.  He had
overreached himself, the oar stuck, and he was thrown to the bottom
of the boat.  There was consternation in every face for a moment.
Rupert was the first to recover himself.  "Take that stretcher, Jack,
and see what you can do to help me.  You will pull stronger than
Harold.  I'll just turn her round and go home."

It was very easy to say, but impossible to do; pull as they would
they could only get the boat half round, so that she was more than
ever in the power of the stream.

I looked at Kathleen anxiously.  She was as white as her frock.

"The tide has turned," she cried, "and we are going out to sea."


[Illustration: Chapter IV tailpiece]



[Illustration: Chapter V headpiece]



CHAPTER V.

Tied to the Bell Buoy.


I expect I fainted, for when I looked at Kathleen again she was
bathing my face and hands with sea water, and the shores were ever so
much farther off than they had been.

"Oh, Edric, what shall we do?  What will uncle and aunt say?  Are you
better now?  What is the time, Rupert?"

"Half-past four," said Rupert.  "The tide runs out six hours, so we
can't be back any way before midnight."

"Then I vote we have something to eat," said Jack, as usual the first
to recover himself.  "I say, Rupert, is it any good fagging away with
that oar to keep her in the middle of the stream?  Don't you think we
might as well let her run aground?"

Rupert was standing in the bows, guiding the boat as they do the
gondolas in Venice, and looked tired and anxious.

"I think we ought to go on," he said, quietly.  "Edric has never been
on the water but once, and I want to get him home.  If we get
stranded we are bound to stay till the tide comes up and floats us,
and then there's a doubt whether we can get this heavy tub home with
one oar.  I think our best chance is to go down with the stream, till
we get into the bay.  Perhaps a boat will pass, and take us round to
Craigstown."

"We could easily drive home from there at low water," said I, trying
to speak cheerily, though I felt fearful.  What a different party we
were then, as the boat went swiftly down the river, widening and
widening every moment.

"Now, captain, your eyes are good, whatever your legs and arms may
be.  Just keep a sharp look out, and shout 'Ship, ahoy!' the instant
you see anything."

"What's that?" cried Harold, suddenly.  "I heard a bell.  I say,
isn't it getting rough; don't pitch me overboard, please.  You'd
better sit down, Rupert, or you'll take a header.  There's no one
here to fish you out, and there isn't a towel on board.  Stewardess,
you'll please to take a month's notice for forgetting them."

With such little jokes we tried to hide the fear which sat heavily on
every heart.

"There it is again," said Kathleen, looking eagerly around.  "It
sounds like a bell."

I raised myself on my elbow.  "It must be the bell buoy," I
exclaimed.  "I have heard father talk about it.  It is a great big
buoy, painted red and white.  There's a bell on the top, and four
hammers which swing up against it with the waves."

"Is there danger there?" said Rupert, standing up again, and grasping
his oar.

"Not for us, I think.  I almost forget; but I think father said it
was put to show the steamers their course when they are up the
Chiswell to Barford."

"What! is there another river up there?  No wonder we have such a
tossing.  There's the bell again--we must be getting nearer to it.
There it is.  Ship, ahoy!  Why didn't you shout, captain?"

We were making straight for the bell buoy, but I saw that we were
also making straight for the open sea.  In an instant a prayer came
to my lips, and I said aloud: "Oh, God, show us what we ought to do."

Like a direct answer from Heaven, which we all believed it was,
Kathleen said, "Tie the boat to the buoy, Rupert."

In the excitement, eager to help, eager to see, I raised myself to my
knees, and then dropped back; I had never done so much in my life
before.

It was a terrible moment of suspense, and then Rupert almost fell
into Kathleen's arms.

"Bravo!" she cried; "you've done it, darling."

He had tied the painter skilfully round the iron frame which
supported the bell.

"Yes, it's done, dear; the question is, how long will the rope last.
It isn't like being moored to a tree at the side of a river.  Oh!
I'm tired, I must rest a moment; you two look out, and signal if you
see any vessel."

As he spoke he kicked something.

"What a set of idiots we are," said Jack, crawling carefully along
the bottom of the boat, which was pitching in a manner fearful to
describe.

"Here's the gun; let's fire it till someone sees us."

A bang, a flash, a sharp pain in my hand, and a cry of misery.  Shall
I ever forget those few minutes?  I didn't know where I was hurt at
first; but the marvel was we were not all turned into the sea as my
cousins rushed to me.  If our boat had not been, as Jack said, a
regular old tub, you would never have read this tale, for I should
never have written it.

The bullet had just grazed my left hand and carried away my little
finger.  Of course, I have missed it very often since, and groaned
over the pain then; but if I had to go through that afternoon's
experience again, I would certainly still let that bullet work its
mischief.  Care for me, staunching the blood, and tearing
handkerchiefs into strips to stop the circulation at the wrist, which
idea I had gathered from various books of war and bloodshed, all took
time and distracted our thoughts for a while from the danger which
threatened us all.

"I see a boat!" said Harold, with a gasp of joy.

"Give me the gun, quick," cried Rupert.  "Don't be frightened, Edric;
I won't hurt you.  It is our only hope."  Bang, bang, bang--three
shots in the air as quickly as possible.

[Illustration: "DON'T BE FRIGHTENED, EDRIC.  IT IS OUR ONLY HOPE."]

"She sees us, she's turning this way," we cried, with voices in which
tears and joy struggled for the mastery.

But we were not yet out of danger.  Even as we uttered that cry, we
gave another.

"Look! the rope is broken.  We are adrift!"


[Illustration: Chapter V tailpiece]



[Illustration: Chapter VI headpiece]



CHAPTER VI.

Punishment and Escape.


It was ten o'clock when we were driven through the gates of our home.
Father had only just returned from London, so he had been spared the
long hours of agony which mother had passed after missing us at the
usual tea hour.

What a miserable party we must have looked as one by one we got out
of the cart.  Of course, I was last; and as father lifted me in his
arms, he caught sight of my hand, which had been bandaged by the
doctor at Craigstown, and was now in a sling.

"It's only my little finger, father," I said; "I shan't miss it."
Then I remembered that, of course, he knew nothing that had happened,
and said no more.  No prisoners in the dock ever felt more wretched
than we did, as we stood in the dining-room wondering what would be
our fate.  My gentle mother came to the rescue.

"I'm sure you must all be starved; eat your supper first, and then
tell us what you have been doing."

I tried to eat; but every mouthful seemed to choke me, and mother's
sorrowful look at my maimed hand, and tenderly whispered words of
love were almost too much for me to bear.  I felt how wicked I had
been to give her such pain as she must have borne since she went
upstairs and found our den empty, then heard from one of the farm
labourers that he had seen us in the boat.

My cousins were stronger in mind and body than I was; and although
they looked conscience-stricken enough, they managed to eat a hearty
supper.  When the things were cleared away, father put down his
newspaper, and called us to account.

"Now, what have you to say for yourselves?" he asked, in a stern
voice.

I looked up and began to speak, but Rupert stepped forward and
silenced me.

"I'm the eldest," he said, "and all the blame is mine.  I'll tell you
about it, sir."

Something in the honest face, now pale with fatigue and excitement,
yet made noble by its fearless expression, seemed to touch us all.

"You'd better sit down," said father, less sternly; but Rupert took
no notice.  With eager words, which seemed to come rushing out, he
described our adventures as far as you know them.

"When the rope broke," he continued, "I thought it was all up with
us.  Edric fainted for the second time, and I thought he was dead.  I
knelt down then and prayed God to forgive me for what I had done, and
let me die, too, and to take the others safe home; but the fishing
smack came along almost directly, and one of the sailors caught hold
of our boat.  They lifted us all into their boat; and we lay down
amongst the fishes and nets and lines, and went to sleep, I believe,
till they landed us at Craigstown pier.  One man, Philip they called
him, took Edric to the doctor to have his hand done.  It had begun
bleeding again almost directly we got in the boat; but Philip bound
it up splendidly.  Then we got into that cart, and here we are.  I
don't know what you mean to do to us, uncle; but I'd like to tell you
we are all bitterly sorry, and will go back to school tomorrow if you
wish it."

"That won't put Edric's finger on again, or cure his back if you have
hurt it by those hours of exposure.  Do you know he hardly ever goes
out except in the long perambulator, which is pushed as gently as
possible?"

"Please, uncle," said Jack, who had been fretting at the long silence
to which Rupert had condemned him, "I don't think we did him any
harm, except about his finger.  He knelt up in the boat once."

"Perhaps you'll try to make me believe that he can do better with
nine fingers than ten.  Well, you can go to bed now.  I cannot send
you back to school because Mr. Barton has gone abroad and there is no
one there, so you will have to remain here for the rest of the
holidays.  You have prepared means of barricading your tower-room; I
shall use them on the outside instead of your using them on the
inside.  You will be locked in there for two days.  Your meals will
be brought to you, and you will be let out to go to bed; but until
Thursday night you are my prisoners; and I expect you to be
honourable ones."  Father glanced at Rupert as he spoke; but Rupert
made no sign.

"Will Edric come, too?" asked Kathleen.

"Not exactly.  I think he has been punished enough.  You will not see
Edric till you are released from prison.  You can all go now;
good-night."

With bent heads and dejected steps my cousins left the room, but
mother went after them; and I heard afterwards that she did not say
good-night to them till she had joined them in asking God's
forgiveness, and in thanking Him for the great mercy shown to us all.

What a wretched day the next one was for me.  I could not read, and I
hardly felt inclined to talk even to mother.  I thought of the
prisoners in the tower-room, and wondered what they were doing.  The
day was so long, and my hand was rather painful, so that at last when
tea-time came I felt quite cross and miserable.

"Don't you think I might go upstairs for a few minutes," I said to
mother when she came in with her bonnet on; "it's so dull."

"I am sorry, darling, I must go out, but I shall not be gone more
than half-an-hour.  Here's a book you have not read.  The time will
soon pass, and you will be able to go upstairs again; but you must
not disobey father."

I did try to read, but I could not.  I was not quite happy, because I
felt that there was something unfair in my cousins being punished and
my being let off with only a finger less.  At last I turned round on
my sofa and had what Jack called "a little weep."

A light touch on my shoulder startled me--Jack stood by my side.

"Oh Jack! how could you?" I whispered; "you have broken your word of
honour."

"That's what Rupert says, so he is sticking up in that room, fretting
himself to fiddle strings.  I never promised anything, and so I'm not
bound to stay there.  I nearly broke my neck corning down, my foot
caught in the ivy.  But what do you think I found out?  There's a
regular ladder up to one of the windows on the side that looks
towards the water-mill."

"A ladder!  Nonsense; how could a ladder be there without our seeing
it?"

"Oh! you matter-of-fact creature.  I don't mean a ladder of wood or a
ladder of rope thirty yards long.  I found that there were little
places cut in the bricks just to put your toes in.  I counted six of
them; but there was a noise, and I didn't dare to count any more.
How are you, old man?  They all want to know badly; they seem to
think we had almost killed you, but I know better--I believe we did
you good.  I must go now; if uncle found me here he'd eat me."

"Wait a minute.  What did you say about those steps?  I wonder
whether----  Do you know both our servants left last year because
they said the place was haunted?  Of course it was all rubbish,
because there are no such things as ghosts, but nothing that mother
could say would make them happy; they said if it wasn't ghosts it was
burglars or smugglers, and off they went."

"What a joke!" said Jack, standing close to the window; "that's the
way the ghost went up and down, then.  Hush! who in the world is
that?  There's somebody in white creeping among the rhododendron
bushes.  I'm off.  Cooee, cooee!"

The Australian cry sounded weird enough, and I gasped for breath as I
saw Jack's figure disappear at full speed among the rhododendrons.
An instant afterwards there was a scream, and then dead silence.


[Illustration: Chapter VI tailpiece]



[Illustration: Chapter VII headpiece]



CHAPTER VII.

The Mysterious Visitor.


If any one had told me I was a coward, I should have been very
indignant, and I think rightly so; but I must confess that I lay and
trembled, as I looked through the open window, and wondered who had
screamed and what was the matter.  The steps in the wall, the white
figure skulking among the bushes, and finally the scream; was that
not enough material wherewith to make a very nice little chapter of
horrors?  Never had I so much regretted my helplessness.  If I had
only been able to walk, nothing would have prevented my going
upstairs and telling Rupert that I thought Jack had got into trouble;
as it was, I could only exercise my brains for some other way to let
him know.

Mother came in just then, and exclaimed at my white face.  That was
the best thing that could have happened.  I made her promise not to
get Jack into further trouble, and then I told her all about it.  She
went into the garden at once, and found him lying on the ground
writhing with pain, with his foot caught in a man-trap, which he had
himself found in the loft the day before, and put in the path out of
mischief, and then forgotten to remove it.

Cautioning him not to struggle, for he would only make the pain
greater and get more firmly fixed, she ran to find father, who came
with some men to release the prisoner.

[Illustration: "FATHER CAME WITH SOME MEN TO RELEASE THE PRISONER."]

Father then carried him into the room where I was lying, and put him
on a sofa near me.  "It has broken your ankle, I'm afraid," he said,
examining Jack's foot carefully.  "Send George for the doctor at
once, Mary."  Then poor father walked up and down the room as if he
were worried almost out of his mind.

"I was after the ghost," said Jack, presently, in a timid voice; "I
was creeping behind him, and was just close up when my foot was
gripped by that thing.  I believe I screamed once; if so, he heard
me, and won't come again."

"Don't talk such nonsense," said mother, who had returned by this
time.  "There are no such things as ghosts."

"Of course, I know that," said Jack, recovering a little of his usual
spirit.  "The ghost I was after wore a white mackintosh coat and a
pair of big sailor's boots.  I wonder--oh, Edric, do you remember the
footmarks in the mud?"

"What of them?" said father, sternly.  "Do you remember, young
gentleman, that you are a prisoner, and have no business at all out
of that room; and here you are with a broken ankle talking nonsense
about ghosts and footmarks in the mud.  Why did you leave the tower
when I told you not to do so?"

"For two reasons, uncle.  First, I wanted to see Edric.  You see we
all like Edric, and we felt----" a little pause, and Jack seemed to
choke; "we felt sorry about yesterday.  I dreamt of fingers all
night, uncle, indeed I did--covered with blood, too."

"Go on," said father, gravely.

"Well, we wanted to know how Edric was.  The servant who brought our
meals was as dumb as any old monk who had promised never to speak, so
we couldn't get anything out of her.  I was standing by the window at
about eight o'clock, wondering whether I dared climb down the ivy and
run round to the dining-room to see Edric, when all of a sudden I saw
something moving in the bushes.  I put my head out without saying a
word to the others, who were all busy writing to tell father and
mother how naughty we have been; and what do you think I saw?  A man,
in a white coat and sailor's slouch hat, beginning to climb up the
ivy.  I waited till he had got half-way up, and then I sneezed; like
this."  Jack sneezed so naturally that we all laughed.  "That's the
way I get the windows shut at school if it's cold.  Mother told Mr.
Barton to be particularly careful that we didn't catch cold; so when
we want the windows shut I just keep on sneezing till he does it."

"What happened next?" asked father, speaking in his natural manner
for the first time since our escapade.

Jack's sensitive nature felt the change at once.  "You should have
seen him," he said, brightly.  "He dropped down like a cat, and
bolted."

"Did he look up?"

"I don't know.  I took my head in quick, for fear he might owe me one
if he should ever see me again.  I waited a minute, and then climbed
down after him.  I couldn't see him anywhere, so I went to look at
Edric."

Now, although I have told you all that my cousin said without any
breaks, you must remember he had a broken ankle, and many times he
stopped in great pain in the middle of a sentence.  Father noticed
this; and as soon as he had heard all that he required, he put his
hand on Jack's head and told him to lie quietly till the doctor came.

"You can't think of all the dreadful things I was going to do to
you," he said.  "You will learn some day that everything we do wrong
brings its own punishment.  It does not come perhaps directly, as
Edric's lost finger and your broken ankle did; but it does come, my
boy."

"But he wanted to help you, father," I said, hastily, sorry that my
hero should be looked upon as a culprit.

"That was right enough, laddie; but he set to work the wrong way.  It
is no use doing evil that good may come; good never does come in the
end from such work.  He should have obeyed me first, and helped me
afterwards."

It was a bit of a puzzle to me then; but now that I am older, I know
that father was right.  As it was, I am afraid that I was not as
grieved about Jack's broken ankle as I should have been.  For the
next few days, at all events, I knew he would be my constant
companion, for he would lie on the sofa near me.

Nothing more was said by my parents about our mysterious visitor,
though, of course, Jack and I were never tired of talking about him.
We made him out to be everything in turns, from a Russian nobleman to
a London burglar in disguise.

Thursday evening came, and brought welcome release to the other
prisoners in the tower-room; and on Friday morning my two bearers
came and carried me off to the den, where we talked till it was a
wonder our tongues did not ache.

They had heard nothing about the cause of Jack's accident, and great
was their amazement when they were told of the stranger who knew so
well the way to the tower-room.

"How long is it since this room was used?" asked Rupert.

"It has never been used that I can remember," I replied.  "Mother
thought it would make a good playroom for you because it is so far
away.  When I first came into it with her, it was thick with dust,
and had nothing in it but that oak chest and this chair."

"Then I'll be bound that man knows more about it than you do," said
Rupert.  "You'll find out some day; I only hope it will be whilst we
are here."


[Illustration: Chapter VII tailpiece]



[Illustration: Chapter VIII headpiece]



CHAPTER VIII.

The Oak Chest.


The mysterious visitor was forgotten, my hand had healed, and Jack's
ankle was in a fair way to recovery, when a letter arrived from Mr.
Barton to say that, owing to his wife's death, he felt he could not
return to Bath.  He had taken a house at Brighton, but the necessary
business of moving would make it impossible for him to receive his
pupils at the time fixed.  He hoped, therefore, that my father would
not object to keeping the boys a fortnight longer.

With what a shout the letter was welcomed!  I glanced anxiously at
father; he did not look half as displeased as I thought he would.
"Can you make yourselves happy till the beginning of September?" he
asked.

"Just give us the chance, uncle.  We will let you see what we can do.
But what about Kathleen?  We can't let her go before us?"  Rupert
looked at me with a mysterious sign.

"No, please father, don't send her away yet.  I want her
particularly."

"Mischief again?" said father, just catching my knowing look across
at Kathleen.  "I should have thought you had enough of getting into
trouble by this time."

"It isn't mischief, father," I cried.  "It's good, it's a beautiful
secret, it's----" then I broke down and burst into tears.

It was only then, I think, that my parents realized that I had not
done such a thing lately.

"Why, laddie," said father, soothing me gently, "I haven't seen any
tears since the invasion of the Goths and Vandals.  Here, young
Alaric, carry him off, and bring back the smiles.  Of course,
Kathleen shall stay as long as you do, but I warn you"--and here
father's face became very grave--"you have risked my son's life once,
you had better not do it twice."

Harold was going to make some reply; but Rupert put his hand hastily
over his mouth, and swung him out of the room before he and Kathleen
came to lift me.

Whether it was that his foot was much better, or that Jack was
delighted at the thought of spending a fortnight more than he
expected at the Island Farm, I do not know; but he seemed that day to
be possessed of twice his usual spirits.  Of course, he was not
allowed to put his foot to the ground; but it was cased in plaster of
Paris, and he managed to hop with the help of a stick if he really
wished to move.

"Now, commodore," said I, at last--for we had pretended he had been
wounded in battle--"I wish you would keep still, you give me the
fidgets; I know you'll damage that foot again; and you do look so
queer hopping about like a wounded stork.  I might as well try to get
about--I believe I should do it as well."

"So you will, old fellow, only not just yet.  Rub, rub, rub, scrub,
scrub, scrub, Kathleen, and then he will go like a bird."

"Do keep still," said Rupert, presently.  "I've tried three times to
make a straight line on this piece of wood, and each time you've
shaken the table.  What do you want?  Tell me, and I'll get it; but
don't keep bobbing about like a lame duck."

"That oak chest is bothering me," said Jack, coming to an anchor at
last, with his bad foot on the chest itself.  "What's inside of it."

"How should I know?  You heard Edric say it was here when he first
came up.  I expect it has old clothes in it.  Curiosity killed a cat;
and when you know that a cat has nine lives, you can see what a
deadly poison curiosity must be.  It's a glorious bench to carpenter
on; and it makes a good place to lie on, if you are fearfully tired
and don't mind pretending you are on a stone bench."

"And it would be a splendid place to----"

"To what?" we all asked, looking up at Jack.

"Never you mind; I know what I know, and I'm not going to tell
anybody."

But, unfortunately, he did tell somebody, and that was Harold, who
was the very last person who should have been told.

A few days afterwards Jack was not well--it was merely a passing
indisposition, headache and cold; but as there was so much difficulty
in keeping him quiet when he was up, mother thought it best to make
him stay in bed.  My parents were both going to spend the afternoon
and evening at a friend's house, and so my cousins were told that
they need not keep only to their den; they might have the run of the
house, if they would promise to do nothing which they knew was wrong,
and not to go outside at all, in case they might be tempted to
mischief.

"We promise," said Rupert, gravely, and father knew he could trust
him.

They carried me into Jack's room directly we were left alone, and
there a certain mysterious operation went on, which had occupied us
for half an hour twice a day during the last few weeks.  A little
reading, a good deal of talking, and then Jack said his head was
worse; so we all retreated into the dining-room, and wondered what we
should play at.

"I know," said Kathleen.  "We have permission to go anywhere; let's
have a game of hide-and-seek.  I believe you'd take half an hour to
find me, there are so many ins and outs, and ups and downs."

Of course, I could not join in that game, so I begged them to carry
me back into Jack's room, where I lay reading, sometimes aloud,
sometimes to myself, till, to my great delight, I saw him fall asleep.

From time to time I could hear a merry peal of laughter in the
distance, or the quiet footsteps of someone running past the door in
search of a hiding-place.  The sounds pleased me, and then I began to
wonder whether I should ever be able to join in such a game.  Four
weeks ago I should have laughed at the bare idea of such a thing; but
now, things had changed.  My cousins had brought fresh vigour to my
mind; and if all were true that they told me, there seemed a hope
that they might be the means of bringing new strength to my body.

I lay building castles in the air after a fashion quite new to me.  I
had got as far as walking to church with mother on my arm when I was
a young man, when suddenly the door was pushed gently open, and
Rupert whispered, "Have you seen Harold?"

"No; he has not been here."

"I told you he must have gone outside," said Kathleen, peeping over
his shoulder.

"Not he," replied Rupert.  "Don't you remember we all three promised
we would not go out of the house?  He must be somewhere inside? let's
hunt again."

Half an hour passed, and then my cousins came back.  I signalled to
them that Jack was still asleep, and they could take me out of the
room.

"We can't find him anywhere," said Rupert, as they carried me
downstairs.

"Don't be anxious," I replied.  "He must have gone outside; he will
come back when he finds you do not go after him.  Or shall you go
into the garden to look for him?"

Rupert looked at me in amazement.

"Didn't I tell you we all promised not to go out?" he said.  "I don't
believe Harold is outside; if he is, I'll never speak to him again."

Of course, we laughed at the hasty speech which had ended in a
promise that the speaker would certainly never keep.  But by-and-by,
as the light began to fade, and Harold made no appearance, we grew
anxious about him.

"Supper will bring him; he will be tired and hungry by that time," we
said; but we had finished our supper when the door was pushed open,
and Jack entered in dressing-gown and slippers.

"Jane says you have been playing hide-and-seek, and have lost Harold.
Have you looked in the oak chest for him?"

"The oak chest?" we all repeated, with a terrified gasp.  "If he has
been shut in there for a couple of hours he will be dead!"



[Illustration: Chapter IX headpiece]



CHAPTER IX.

The Mystery Deepens.


Never had I longed so eagerly to walk, as I did that evening when all
three cousins ran out of the room in pursuit of their missing
brother.  I had not really been anxious before, for Harold, although
only nine years old, was well able to take care of himself, and I had
only regretted that he would probably get into trouble again with
father for disobedience.  It never entered my head that he could
possibly be hidden in the house, far less that he should be in the
oak chest, which for all I knew was locked up.

The housemaid coming in just then, I begged her to carry me up to the
tower-room, putting aside for the moment the fear I had always had,
before my cousins came, of trusting myself to any one but father.

When we reached our den the children were standing by the chest,
which was open, and was empty.

"He has been here," said Rupert; "see how the things are pressed
down."

"I don't believe he could get in," said I; "it isn't long enough."

But my doubts were silenced by Kathleen stooping and lifting from one
corner a handkerchief stained with blood, which was still wet.

"This is Harold's!" she cried.  "Whatever has happened to him!"

"His nose has been bleeding," said Jack, promptly; "you know it often
does.  It would be enough to make a mummy's nose bleed to be shut up
in that old chest.  I wish I had never told him what a splendid place
it would be to hide in.  It seems I'm always to be at the bottom of
the mischief.  We shouldn't have gone in that boat if I had not
suggested fishing, and Edric would still have had five fingers on
each hand if I hadn't fired the gun.  Now poor old Harold will get
into a scrape for hiding so long, just because I went and showed him
how the spring of the chest worked, after I had ferreted it out
myself.  Halloa, what are you about, Rupert?  Don't kill me; I didn't
mean any harm."

Rupert had suddenly sprung at Jack, and seizing him by the arm almost
screamed out--

"Spring, did you say?  Then it can't be opened from the inside."

In another moment Rupert had flung out the few odds and ends of old
clothing which were in the bottom of the chest, and sprang into it;
as he did so, his heels made a strange, hollow sound, which caught my
attention.  He was rather tall for his age, and had to double himself
up in a way that would have delighted the heart of his gymnasium
master before he could say--

"Now shut it down, quick, and I'll see if I can open it; but mind you
undo the spring directly I give three knocks."

Of course, he could do nothing; the box could only be opened from the
outside by pressing the springs.  We were glad enough to reply, to
his signal, and release the prisoner.  Then we all stood with puzzled
faces looking at the open chest.

"What have you been up to?" said a cheery voice, and never were we
more relieved to see my mother.  She listened gravely and quietly to
our account.

"If he has really been in that box, and the handkerchief certainly
seems to prove it, then some one must have got him out.  Perhaps one
of the servants did.  Let us go and inquire.  You had better all come
downstairs; you look as white as the miller.  There's nothing much to
be frightened at, after all.  If Harold were able to get out of the
chest, he certainly was not smothered.  As to his nose bleeding, you
know that won't hurt him.  Perhaps he is asleep in bed; have you
looked?"

"We've ransacked every room in the house, and the servants have not
seen him since six o'clock."

Ten o'clock came, and with his usual punctuality father sounded the
gong for prayers.  He insisted on doing it with the outer doors wide
open, so that if Harold were within earshot, he would be reminded
that it was bedtime.  I had never been up to evening prayers before;
and as I lay with my hands clasped, I looked out for a moment to the
calm summer sky.  There was a glorious moon, which made a path of
silver among the rhododendron bushes.  It all looked very beautiful,
and my heart joined with delight in the words of thanksgiving which
father was speaking.  Then he went on to pray that we might all be
guarded through the night; I thought of Harold, and said, Amen.  I
had said my prayers night and morning ever since I was old enough to
know Who it was to whom I owed everything, but I am sure I had never
really prayed before.  A change came over me that evening; God seemed
nearer to me, I seemed nearer to Him, and I realised fully for the
first time that He was my loving Father and King.

My eyes were closed for a moment in earnest, silent prayer; when I
opened them again--could it possibly be fancy?--I thought I saw a
figure going swiftly down the rhododendron path.

"The ghost!" I cried, not waiting till the family were off their
knees; "there's Jack's ghost again!"

Father ran out of the window; but, of course, as he had not seen the
mysterious visitor when he came before, he did not know which way he
went, and turned to the left.  That gave the man a start; and
although I called out to father which way to go, he did not succeed
in finding any one.

We all waited in intense excitement till father came back; and then
the finishing touch to our evening was given by our young coachman
coming in with a broad grin on his face, without even waiting to
knock at the door.

"If you please, mum, Master Harold's sitting on my bed.  I think he's
summat light-headed, for he keeps on asking how he got there, and
declares that he was in the oak chest and couldn't get out.  Do you
mind coming to see him, mum?"

Robert had been out all the evening with my parents, and had only had
time to attend to the horse and put the carriage away when the gong
sounded for prayers, so he had not been in his room, which was above
the coach-house, since he dressed at four o'clock.  Rupert and
Kathleen did a dance of delight round the table; while Jack, who was
still attired in his dressing-gown, had to content himself with
playing the castanets with his fingers and whistling.

"What a funny go," he cried, when his brother and sister had dropped
breathless into the one big armchair.  "Listen!  What do you say to
my ghost being the one who rescued him?  If so, he must have left
Robert's room when you saw him, Edric.  Oh dear, what a thing it is
to feel like a bottle of ginger beer, and yet have to behave as if
you were as flat as ditch water, owing to your stupid foot."  Then,
with his usual sensitiveness, Jack felt that he had said something
which might hurt me, and hastened to mend it.

"That's my own fault, isn't it, Edric?  And that's just why it's
harder to bear.  Virtue is its own reward, they say, and so is
wickedness.  Here he comes!  'I've waited long for you, my man; Oh,
welcome safe to land,'" he sang, gently, as Harold came in, holding
mother's hand and looking rather bewildered.

"Now, young man," said father, "give an account of yourself.  What do
you mean by disobeying me and going out of the house when you
promised not, and harrowing the hearts of your brothers and sister
and all your relations?"

"Please, uncle, I didn't go out of the house," said Harold, earnestly.


[Illustration: Chapter IX tailpiece]



[Illustration: Chapter X headpiece]



CHAPTER X.

How the Stranger Helped.


"Curiouser and curiouser," quoted Jack, from Alice in Wonderland; but
we were all too astonished to laugh at his droll face.  "I specs he
walked in his sleep."

Harold looked angrily at his elder brother.  "I promised I would not
go out of the house, and I didn't."

"Coach-house doesn't count, I suppose," remarked Rupert, who was, I
fancy, a little annoyed by the uneasiness we had all felt.

"Don't tease him, my boy," said father, kindly; "let him tell his
story in his own fashion."

Thus encouraged, Harold sat down, and told us that he had got into
the oak chest to hide.

"I thought, of course, that you would hear me when I called, but you
didn't seem to come into that room at all."

"We did go there," said Kathleen; "but you know there is no place to
hide there but the cupboard, and that had been left wide open by
Rupert when he hid there at the beginning of the game.  So we just
ran up the stairs, put our heads in and saw that the room and
cupboard were empty, and then ran off to what we thought were more
likely places."

"Then that's why I did not hear your footsteps.  The wood must be
fearfully thick.  I lay still till I began to feel suffocated, and
then I tried to get out.  I tried and tried, I pushed with my hands,
then I lay on my back and pressed with my knees and kicked with my
feet.  It wasn't a bit of good, I only hurt myself and got more
choky.  Then my nose began to bleed, and I gave up trying, and lay
with my face to the side of the chest.  Oh, it was horrible, auntie!
I thought that I should die; and I wondered how long you would be
before you found me, and what poor father and mother would say when
they heard about it."

"There, there, don't pile it on," said Jack, rubbing his hand across
his eyes; "tell us how you got out, that's what we want to know.
Anyone could get in and be choked; but it's a regular Maskelyne and
Cooke's dodge to get out again instead."

"I can't tell you, I don't remember anything till I woke up in bed in
a strange room.  I know now it was Robert's.  Your new man gave me a
sandwich and something out of a little bottle, and I----"

"My new man?" repeated father, with his eyes wide open.  "Why, I
haven't one in the place that has been here less than five years."

"Oh! perhaps I made a mistake," said Harold, rather wearily; "I
didn't know his face, so I thought he must be a stranger.  He had a
white coat on like a coachman, and----"

"Hurrah!" cried Jack, "my mysterious stranger went to the rescue.
Could he talk English, Harold?  Was he very furious?"

"He was very kind; but he didn't speak once, I remember.  He bathed
my face with water out of Robert's basin, and I noticed that he kept
looking out of the window.  Then I heard a noise like a bell; and he
went to the window, stood there a minute, then he waved his hand to
me, and unlocked the door and went."

"Why had he locked the door?"

"How can I tell?"

"How did you see all this in the dark?"

"The moon shone right in at the window.  I don't know who the man
was, if uncle says he was not one of the servants; but I'm very
tired, and don't want to talk any more."

So we all were; but I am afraid if there had been any one sleeping in
my little room I should have talked all night about our mysterious
stranger.

The next morning things went on much as usual, till Kathleen and
Rupert came to carry me upstairs.  Then you would have laughed if you
could have heard all the wild guesses we made as to the identity of
our strange visitor.

"Let's have a good look at that chest," said Rupert, when Kathleen
had declared she had done with it for the present.

"Your heels made a very queer sound in it last night, Rupert," I
said.  "Only for pity's sake let somebody sit on the edge of it
whilst it is open.  I don't want you to be guillotined or smothered."

Harold perched himself in such a manner that the lid could not
possibly fall, and dangled his legs against the side.  It was a
wonderful old chest, and we have it still in our house.  It is made
of black oak, is just five feet long, and about two feet wide.

"I know," said Rupert, presently, springing out of the box.  "Where's
the foot rule?"

"What's the joke now?" said Harold.  "Are you going to measure it to
see if there's room for the mysterious stranger to hide in?"

"That's it," exclaimed Rupert, disdaining to answer his brother's
remark.  "That's it.  There's a false bottom to it.  Look! it
measures twenty inches inside and twenty-five outside.  Let's break
it open; we shall find a treasure, perhaps.  No wonder my heels
rattled when I got in last night."

"If it rattles," said Jack, sagaciously, "there isn't much inside.
But let's see if we can open it."

They pushed and knocked in turns, but it was useless; they only grew
tired and cross.

For once my studious life gave me an advantage over them.  I
remembered that in all the wonderful tales I had read of hidden
chambers and secret drawers, there was no force required to open
them.  I reminded my cousins of this.  "There's some little trick
about it; some panel or hidden spring.  You will be more likely to
find it just when you least expect."

"Get along, you stupid old thing," said Harold, losing patience; "I'm
sick of you."  As he spoke he sprang from his perch and administered
a kick to the obstinate box.  Kathleen was holding the lid on the
opposite side, and saw the bottom of the box move.

"Look, look," she cried, "it is opening!"

It did not spring up, it merely stood just enough away from the box
for Rupert to put his fingers under it and lift it out bodily.  A low
groan of disappointment escaped us all.  They had pulled my chair
close to the chest, and I was able to look into it as well, and
certainly shared in the groan.  I can't say what we had expected.  It
may have been gold, it may have been treasures of another kind.  Most
certainly we none of us had expected to see a few packets of papers,
yellow with age, and covered with dust.

So engrossed had we been that we had not noticed a step in the room;
and when Rupert raised himself from the chest with a bundle of papers
in his hand, declaring he would take them to uncle, my blood seemed
to stand still and my heart almost to jump into my mouth when a
voice, with a strong French accent, said--

"Not too fast, young gentleman; those papers belong to me."

[Illustration: "NOT TOO FAST, YOUNG GENTLEMAN; THOSE PAPERS BELONG TO
ME."]

By the side of my couch, almost touching me, stood the man whom we
had named Jack's Ghost!



[Illustration: Chapter XI headpiece]



CHAPTER XI.

A Day of Surprises.


"Are you better, now?" said the stranger, laying his hand on Harold's
shoulder.

"Yes, thank you," replied Harold, jerking himself away, while Rupert
gave expression to what we all felt and thought.

"I wish you'd go about like other people, instead of sneaking up the
sides of walls."  As he spoke he went to the window.  "Uncle George!"
he shouted at the top of his voice.  An answer came from a distance.
"Make haste up here, there's a man who wants to see you."

"I pity him if he is in your den," father called out merrily, after
about two minutes during which time we had all been perfectly silent,
Kathleen and Harold keeping a strict guard over the chest by sitting
on it.

It seemed to me a fearful time before father's footstep sounded on
the stairs.  I almost expected to see the stranger bolt out of the
window, but he did not.  He stood as still as if he had been cut in
marble, until the door opened, and father entered with some joke on
his lips which was never uttered.

The mysterious stranger took his hat from his head, and father gazed
at him for one brief second, then held out both his hands.

[Illustration: "FATHER GAZED AT HIM FOR ONE SECOND, THEN HELD OUT
BOTH HIS HANDS."]

"What! you, Joe?"

"Yes, I, George."

The words meant little enough, but the tone spoke volumes, and, to
our terrible distress, the stranger dropped on the oak chest and was
convulsed with sobs.

"Right about face, quick march," whispered Jack, hopping off as well
as he could.  "Look after the baggage."

The baggage meaning me, Rupert and Kathleen seized me with a rapidity
which would have terrified me a month back; and in less time than it
takes to write, we had made our retreat in disorder, and the enemy
were left in possession.

"Never no more," said Jack, whom we found resting on one of the
landings, "will I pass my days in that den.  I shan't have nerve
enough to face a cricket-ball when I get back to school.  To think
that the ghost, the mysterious stranger, the rescuer of my beloved
brother, should be called Joe, and be on speaking terms with my
uncle!  After that, no more mysteries for me.  I mean to live in the
dining-room, and devote myself to bread and butter."

"That's all providing that father will let you," I said.

"No, it isn't.  He will have to let me.  I feel like the poultry in
the farmer's yard, who declared 'twas hard that their nerves should
be shaken, and their rest be marred by the visit of Mr. Ghost.  Oh,
I'll go to Brighton, if uncle likes; but pass the rest of my days in
the tower-room, I won't."

A burst of laughter restored Jack's good temper, and then we all went
into the dining-room and told mother about everything.  I'm a good
deal older now than I was then, but I have not yet got out of the way
of wanting to rush off to tell mother everything.  Happy are the
youngsters who have such a mother as I have, and who try all their
lives never to do or say anything that they would be afraid or
ashamed to tell her.  Let me see, I said "rush off," did I not?  and
I meant it; though at the time I am speaking about, I was dependent
on other people's rushing instead of my own.

Mother was nearly as excited as we were about the stranger, only she
seemed to know a little more about him.

"Your father had a half-brother named Joseph," she said; "his mother
was a Frenchwoman, and when she died her little boy was sent by your
grandfather to stay with her relations in France."

"But why has father never mentioned him?" I asked.

"There was some unhappiness about him, dear, and you know your father
never speaks about anything like that.  He bears it all, and says
nothing.  Take care, Edric! what are you going to do?"

"Take hold of me, mother."

Slowly and carefully I drew my legs round, and then, leaning on her
arm, with Rupert on the other side of me I put them to the ground.
Of course, it was but a poor attempt at walking, but still, it was an
attempt, and mother seemed utterly amazed.  Nothing ever happens just
as one has expected and planned it; I had so often gone through that
little scene in my mind, and yet I had not the least intention of
acting it that day.

"Well done, my darling, well done!  How came you to think of trying
that?  Why, you will walk as well as I do some day."

"It is all Kathleen's doing," I said, still standing propped up by
their arms, and wondering at the peculiar feeling in my feet.  "She
had seen a child cured in Australia by doing a few exercises daily.
She had watched very carefully, and was sure she could do me good if
I would only persevere.  So she has made me do them twice every day,
for half an hour, for five weeks."

"But that was what the doctor ordered for you, darling; and you cried
and said the woman hurt you, so we had to leave it off."

"I know, mother," I said, colouring, for I was ashamed of myself now;
"but in those days I did not really feel as if I cared to move about.
I would rather not walk at all than be hurt as that woman hurt me.
Now, Kathleen is different; she has not hurt me once, and yet she
would not let me off a minute before the half-hour."

"Mary!  Mary!" said father's voice, "I want you for a moment."  He
pushed the door open and stood transfixed.

"What!  Edric trying to walk?  This is a day of surprises.  Whose
doing is that?"

"Kathleen's," I said, making a sign to mother that I wanted to go
back to my couch again.  Father came into the room and looked gravely
at me.

"Do you know, laddie," he said, seriously.  "I have found out that
there is one thing in this world which always brings a reward, and
that is unselfishness.  It's your mother that's unselfish, not I.  If
it had not been for her, I should never have consented to have your
cousins here.  I hated the thought of it, and only consented to
please her.  Wow see the reward we have got, far beyond what I, at
least, deserve; my little helpless laddie is going to try to be like
other children, and my half-brother is restored to his inheritance.
Come and see him, Mary; I'll tell you all about it presently,
children."



[Illustration: Chapter XII headpiece]



CHAPTER XII.

The Lost Will


We spent the rest of that day in a state of effervescence.  No one
seemed to be able to settle down to anything; and we were so excited
that even dinner had little attraction, especially as we were told
that father and mother and the strange gentleman had driven off to
Colchester.

"So we shall dine here, then," said Rupert, with a look at Jack, who
had fixed himself in an armchair in a most determined attitude;
"unless you prefer going up to the tower-room."

"Never again," said Jack, gravely; "uncle says we've done him good,
and when he comes back I mean to ask for our reward.  'Tis a very
good den that we live in, to laugh, or to talk, or to play in; but to
hide or to think, or to be quite alone, 'tis the very worst den that
ever was known."

"Bravo, Jack! poor old Hudibras wouldn't know his own lines if he
were here.  Give us some more of that sort of thing to make the time
pass till uncle comes home.  I'm just burning with curiosity."

A glass of cold water down his back, under pretence of extinguishing
him, ended in the aggressor being put out himself.

It seemed a long day in spite of all the fun we managed to get in one
way or another; but "be the day weary, be the day long, at length it
ringeth to evensong," and about seven o'clock we heard the horse's
feet in the yard, and my parents came in alone.  Even then we had, of
course, to wait a short time before they were ready to tell us what
we were longing to hear.

"Now I'll tell you all about the mysterious stranger," said father,
at last.  "But I am tired, and you must not interrupt me.  You will
have plenty of time to ask questions another day.  It is just fifteen
years since my half-brother Joe was in this room.  His mother died
when he was about three years old, and at her request your
grandfather sent the little fellow over to Normandy to be brought up
by his mother's brother.  This brother was a very rich man, and when
my father married again he offered to adopt Joe, bring him up as his
own son, and leave him all he possessed, if my father would consent.
He would not, however, do this, and insisted on Joe returning home at
once, so one of my first recollections is being carried about by my
big brother Joe.  As I got older I used to spend most of my days in
the tower-room, where Joe was always busy with some carpentering, or
work of one kind or another.  Your grandfather was a severe man, very
harsh in his management of children, and Joe often resented what he
considered his unkindness.  That oak chest, which was nearly the
cause of your death the other night, Harold, was the cause of our
separation.  One day the French count came to stay with our father,
and Joe, who was really very fond of him, owing to having spent his
early years with him, wanted to go back with him; but our father
would not consent.  Joe tells me now that he distinctly heard the
Frenchman say, 'Well, I've made my will in his favour, and I shall
leave it with you.  I've made you executor, and when I am dead you
will let the boy come over to Normandy.  It's a pity you won't let
him go back with me, for there are people who would like to oust him
out of his property if they could.'

"Years passed away, and one day, when Joe had been imprisoned in the
tower-room for some naughtiness, he ran away, climbing down by those
very steps that he climbed up yesterday, and which he had made when
quite a youngster, to be able to get in or out of his play-room as he
liked.  I said your grandfather was a harsh man; and when he heard of
Joe's flight, he knew of course he had gone to Normandy, and he made
a solemn vow that Joe should never enter the house again.  I was
about twelve then, and old enough to see that, however harsh my
father might be, he really loved his elder son.  He was never the
same again, and one morning we found him struck by paralysis.  He
recovered consciousness before he died, and seemed anxious to tell us
something, but he could neither write nor speak distinctly, though I
fancy he wanted to say something about Joe.  My mother and I lived
alone here, writing occasionally to Normandy, but never expecting to
see Joe again.  One day, fifteen years ago, I was sitting writing,
when a servant came to say that a stranger had called, and had pushed
past her, saying he wanted to go to the tower-room.  Running upstairs
quickly, I found your Uncle Joe kneeling at the oak chest, which
stood open.  I was angry at his impertinence, and seizing him by the
collar as he knelt, I shook him violently and reproached him with
killing our father, and then coming into the house in that fashion.
He was pale with anger; but he is a noble character, in spite of all
his faults.  He remembered that we were brothers, and would not
strike me.  'I came to see if I could find the Count D'Arcy's will,'
he said; 'a cousin of his claims the estate, and I have nothing to
prove that he made me his heir.  I know the Count gave it to our
father.'  'And I know that our father forbade you to enter the house
while he was alive.  I shall not allow it now he is dead.  Go!' I
replied, pointing to the door.  He went, and I have never seen him
till to-day."

"What has he been doing all these years?" I asked, unable to restrain
my curiosity any longer.

"He has been working hard and making a name for himself at Rouen,
while the Count's cousin has been squandering the estate.  From time
to time, he tells me, he has come over to England, stayed at the
Watermill, with the old woman who nursed him as a baby, and made
occasional visits to the tower-room in search of the will which was
to restore him to his rights, going and coming always by means of
those steps."

"Whatever made him think of that place?" said Jack, finding that my
interruption was unreproved.

"He says that he remembered your grandfather telling some one that
there was a false bottom in the oak chest which made a splendid
hiding-place.  He had tried several times to get it open, but he had
never succeeded.  The last time he tried was on that evening when he
heard from old Jane that we had gone to Colchester.  When he opened
the lid of the chest he found Harold inside quite unconscious and
almost suffocated.  Of course, he knew the ways of the house; so he
carried him to the coachman's room, where he stayed with him till the
gong sounded for prayers."

"Then they were his footmarks we saw in the mud," cried Rupert.
"What a joke.  Don't you tell him I said they were nineteens.  What
is he like?  Is he very cross?"

"Here he comes, so you can judge for yourselves," said mother,
opening the door to admit our new-found uncle, who turned out to be
just as jolly as any boys could wish.

* * * * *

Years passed by.  Uncle Joe, by means of the will, which was hidden
in the oak chest, came into possession of a beautiful little estate
in Normandy, where we all spent many happy days with our French
cousins, for he had married a Frenchwoman.  I say _we_, because,
thanks to my cousins' good influence on mind and body, I became as
strong as any one could expect, and was able to enjoy school life in
a quiet way, though never fit for rough games, and always rather
sensitive about the slight hump on my back.

Never shall I forget my grief when those first holidays were over,
and father and mother and I stood at the door to wave our farewells.

"God bless you, children," said father; "you've done us all good."

"Then you don't wish the savages had never come, uncle," shouted
Jack, with a merry smile.

"No, no, no!" replied father; and then the carriage went out of
sight, though the sounds of the Australian "cooee" reached us for
some minutes afterwards.



THE END.



LONDON: KNIGHT, PRINTER, MIDDLE STREET, ALDERSGATE, E.C.





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