"Sarch away, squire," said Shackle bluffly, as he placed the mugs on the floor and turned the wooden spigots.
"That's elder wine in the little barrel. Say, you haven't seen anything of a boy of mine in your travels? My lad and one of the men have gone after a stray cow. I'm fear'd she's gone over the cliff."
"They're all on board the cutter."
"What? Well, that is good news. Full up here. Done sarching, sir?"
"Yes," replied Archy, who began to feel more and more ashamed of being suspicious of so frank and bluffly hospitable a man.
"Come along then. Your lads will be as pleased as can be with a mug of my home-brewed."
As he led the way to the door the midshipman gave another glance round, seeing nothing in the slightest degree suspicious, and, a few minutes after, the whole party was being refreshed, both officers quite convinced that there was nothing contraband on the premises.
"What other houses are there near here?" asked Gurr at last.
"Only one. The Hoze."
"Yes; Sir Risdon Graeme's. Yonder among the trees. Going up there?"
"Yes, of course," said Archy shortly.
"Yes, of course," said the farmer, in assent. "But I'd be a bit easy with him, sir. Don't hurt his feelings. Gentleman, you see."
"Don't be alarmed," said the midshipman quietly. "I hope we shall not be rude to any one."
He moved towards the door, after saluting Mrs Shackle, the farmer leading the way, and pointing out the nearest path up the steep slope.
"'Bout my cow," he said.
"I have no doubt that as soon as the lieutenant in command is satisfied that you had nothing to do with the smuggling, your people will be set at liberty."
"And the cow?"
"And the cow of course."
"Thank ye, sir; that's good news. I'll go and tell the missus. Straight on, sir; you can't miss it."
"Ah, my fine fellow," he continued, as he walked back, "if it hadn't been for your gang with you, how easily I could have turned the key and kept you down in that cellar, where I wish I had your skipper too."
"Oh, Blenheim!" said his wife, in an excited whisper, "how could you help them to go up to the Hoze? They'll find out everything now."
"P'r'aps not, missus. I sent 'em, because if I hadn't they'd have found the way. We may get off yet, and if we do—well, it won't be the first time; so, here's to luck."
As he spoke he opened a corner cupboard, took out a bottle of spirits which had never paid duty, poured out and drank a glass.
"Thank you," said a gruff voice. "I think, if you don't mind, farmer, I'll have a little taste of that. I came back to tell you that your cider is rather harsh and hard, not to say sour, and I'm a man accustomed to rum."
As he spoke, Gurr the master stepped into the room, took the bottle from the farmer's hand, helped himself to a glass, and poured out and smelt the spirit.
"I say, farmer," he said, as he tasted, "this is the right sort or the wrong sort, according to which side you are."
"Only a little drop given me by a friend."
"French friend, for any money," said the master, drinking the glass. "Yes, that's right Nantes. I thought so from the first, farmer, and I know now I was right."
He went off again, and Shackle stood shaking his fist after him.
"And we'd got off so well," he muttered. "I knew that rascal suspected us."
"Say me, Blenheim," retorted Mrs Shackle. "I've begged you hundreds of times not to meddle with the business, but you would, and I'm your wife and obliged to obey. Isn't Ram a long time bringing home that cow?"
"Yes," said Shackle drily. "Very."
Archy was some little distance ahead of his men, and he had just stepped into the patch of woodland which surrounded the Hoze, when he heard a pleasant little voice singing a snatch of a Jacobite song.
He stopped short to listen, it sounded so bird-like and sweet, and half-laughingly he sang the last line over aloud, thinking the while how disloyal he was.
Hardly had he finished, when there was a burst of barking, a rush, and a dog came hurrying toward him, followed by a voice crying—
"Grip, Grip, come here!"
The dog seemed to pay no heed to the call, and at a turn of the track, Archy saw him coming open-mouthed.
It was not a pleasant sight, and the youth felt disposed to take to his heels, and run for protection to his men.
But there were drawbacks to such a proceeding.
If he ran it would look cowardly, and he knew for certain that the dog would come after him, and take him at a disadvantage; so, making a virtue of necessity, he whipped out his dirk and ran hard at the dog, who checked his pace, hesitated, stopped, barked more furiously than ever, and then turned round, and was chased by the midshipman, who drew up on finding himself face to face with Sir Risdon's daughter, out for her daily walk.
The girl turned white, and was in the act of turning to run away, when Archy's words arrested her.
"No, no," he cried, "don't run away."
She stopped, and looked from his face to his dirk, and back.
"Oh, I see," he said, "that alarmed you. There," he continued, sheathing the little weapon, "I only drew it because your dog looked so fierce. Does he bite?"
"Sometimes, I'm afraid. But were you coming to see my father? Who are you?" she added uneasily, as she glanced at the lad's uniform.
"I am Archibald Raystoke, of His Majesty's cutter White Hawk."
"And you want to see my father?" cried the girl, beginning to tremble.
"Well, yes, I ought to see him. The fact is, we have landed to search for a quantity of smuggled things, and to make a capture of the smugglers if we can."
Celia looked at him wildly, and her face grew more and more white.
"Will you show me the way to the house? The Hoze you call it, do you not?"
Celia gave a quick, almost imperceptible nod, as she recalled how she had lain in her clothes, and listened to the busy coming and going of footsteps, for the greater part of the night.
As all this came to her mind, she felt at first as if she must run to warn her father. Then a giddy feeling of dread came over her, and she stood staring blankly at the frank-looking boy before her.
"I know the great vault is full of smuggled things," she said to herself, "and that they will think my father put them there. What shall I do?"
"Poor little lassie!" said Archy to himself, as he smiled complacently; "she has never seen an officer in uniform before, and I frightened her with my drawn sword."
At that moment, Gurr came up with the men, and Celia seemed as if turned to stone.
"This young lady lives at the house, Mr Gurr," said Archy aloud, "and she will show us the way."
Poor Celia felt as if she could neither move nor speak. It seemed horrible to her that she should have the task of guiding the king's men, perhaps to arrest her father. But just then she was brought to herself by the behaviour of the dog, who, on seeing his mistress talking in a friendly way to the stranger who had chased him, had condescended to be quiet, but now that a fresh party of the enemy was approaching, set up his bristles, and began to bark and growl furiously.
"Down, Grip! Quiet!" she cried, and feeling bound to act, she went on, with the midshipman keeping close up, and putting in an apologetic word about giving her so much trouble.
Celia could hardly keep down a hysterical cry, as she caught sight of her father and mother, the latter with her hand upon the former's arm. They had been taking their customary walk in the neglected garden, and Sir Risdon was about to lead his pale, careworn lady up the steps, when the snarling and subdued barking of Grip made him turn his head, and he stopped short with his lips almost white.
"What is it?" whispered Lady Graeme, as she saw the uniforms and weapons of the men.
"The end!" said the unhappy man, as he looked wildly at his wife. "The result of my weakness. They are on the scent of the smuggled goods, and I am to be called to account for their possession. Better that we had starved!"
Lady Graeme caught his hand, and pressed it hard.
"Be firm," she whispered; "you will betray yourself."
"Well," he replied bitterly, "why not? Better so than being the slave of that wretched man. I feel that I am worse than he. I do know better, he does not."
Recalling that he was in the presence of a gentleman, Archy raised his hat, advanced and said, apologetically, who and what they were. That his was a very unpleasant duty, but that as a gentleman, Sir Risdon would see that the king's officers had no alternative but to carry out their duty.
"Of course not, sir," said Sir Risdon. "I understand, sir, you wish to search. Very well, I shall raise no objection. Proceed."
"Shall we close the men all round the house?" said the master, coming up after halting the men.
"Wait a minute," replied Archy. "Really, I hardly think it is necessary for us to commit so serious an act of rudeness towards a gentleman. Perhaps Sir Risdon Graeme will be good enough to assure me."
"No, sir," said the baronet sternly; "I shall make no obstacle. You have your duty to do; pray proceed."
The midshipman hesitated, and looked from one to the other, seeing Lady Graeme standing pale, handsome, and statuesque by her husband's side, while on the other side was Celia, holding her father's hand, and resting her forehead against his arm.
"I won't do it, I can't," thought Archy. "Why didn't he say out at once he had no knowledge of the affair, and send us about our business?"
At that moment, he felt his sleeve plucked, and turning angrily round, he saw the elderly master, who had been standing hat in hand, greatly impressed by Lady Graeme's dignity.
"We're on the wrong tack, Mr Raystoke, sir," he whispered.
"Think so, Gurr?" said Archy joyfully.
"Oh, yes! These are not the sort o' folk to do that kind o' thing. Apologise, and I'll give the order to march. It goes through me like a knife."
Archy drew a long breath, and was about to retire his men, when he heard something which made him bound forward, for Celia, unable to bear the horror and alarm any longer had suddenly swooned away.
The midshipman was too late, for Sir Risdon had bent down, raised his child, and was about to carry her into the house.
He turned fiercely on the young officer.
"Well, sir," he said sternly, "you have your duty to do; pray go on, and then relieve my wife and child of the presence of your men."
"I beg your pardon, Sir Risdon," said Archy quickly. "No one could regret this more than I do. You see I am only a young officer, quite a boy, and was sent on this unpleasant duty."
"Go on, sir, go on!"
"Oh, no!" cried the lad; "I am unwilling to search the place. I'm sure if our lieutenant knew he would not wish it for a moment."
The baronet gazed at the boy wildly, as he clasped his child to his breast.
"You—you are not going to search?" he said hesitatingly.
"No, of course not. Pray forgive me. I'll lead my men back to the boat at once."
He raised his hat to Lady Graeme, an example followed by the master clumsily, as he backed away to the men, whom he faced round, the order was given, and they began to march back.
As they disappeared among the trees, Sir Risdon stooped down and kissed his child's forehead passionately.
"Wife," he said, in a deep, husky voice, "I never felt the misery and degradation of my position so cruelly before. Take her up to her room."
"What are you going to do, Risdon?" exclaimed the lady.
"Follow that poor lad, and let him know the truth. I will not let him fail in his duty, to rescue that old scoundrel down below."
"No, no! You must not. It would be too cruel," whispered Lady Graeme wildly. "Think of the consequences."
"I do," said Sir Risdon sternly. "I should have behaved like what I have a right to be called—a gentleman."
"And make our fortunes ten times worse. You would be torn from us. What are poverty and disgrace to that?"
"You are cruel," said Sir Risdon bitterly. "I must, woman; I tell you I must. If this poor child should ever know into what a pit I have allowed myself to be led, how can I ever look her in the face again?"
"It would kill her for you to be taken away, to be punished, perhaps, for that which you could hardly help."
"No, she would soon forget."
"And I should soon forget?" said Lady Graeme reproachfully.
Sir Risdon turned to her wildly, as she laid her head upon his breast.
"If you were taken from us, it would kill me too," she said tenderly; and then in silence, they bore their insensible child into the forbidding-looking house.
"Think we've done right, my lad?" said Gurr, after they had half way descended the slope.
"Yes, of course. How could we search the house of a gentleman like that?"
"Oh, easy enough."
"It was impossible."
"But suppose, after all, he has got all the stuff hid away. Some men's very artful, as you'll find out some day. Oughtn't we to go back?"
He paused as he said these words, and then laid his hand firmly on Archy's shoulder.
"I didn't tell you," he said, "what I saw when I went back to the farm."
"No! What?" cried the midshipman eagerly.
"That old chap having a glass of real smuggled spirits."
"How do you know it was?"
"Because I tasted it. No mistake about that, I can tell you. Then he was very eager to get me to go up yonder, and that looks bad. He knows all about it."
"Nonsense! If he knew that the smuggled goods were up there he wouldn't send us to find them."
"How do you know? That may have been his artfulness, to keep us from searching. If he'd as good as said don't go up there, and tried to stop us, we should have gone at once."
"But we can't go back and search, Gurr. Suppose we did go and ransacked the place, and hurt everybody's feelings, and then found nothing, what should we look like then?"
"Silly," said the master laconically, and for a time he was silent, marching on behind the men. "All comes of being sent on such dooty," he burst out with. "It isn't right to send gentlemen and officers to do such dirty work. I've been ashamed of myself ever since I've been on the cutter. Hallo! Here's the farmer again."
For they had suddenly come upon Shackle driving an old grey horse before him as if going on some farming business, and he started apparently from a fit of musing as he came abreast.
"Ah, gentlemen," he said; "going back?"
"Yes," said Gurr smartly.
"Found the stuff?"
"Are you sure there was anything landed there last night?"
"Of course we are."
"Oh, I didn't know. Good day, gentlemen, good day."
He went on after his horse chuckling to himself, while the search party made for the track to get back to the cove and row back.
But before they were half way there, Archy who had been thinking deeply, suddenly said to Gurr—
"I say, though, isn't he right?"
"What about, my lad?"
"Are we sure that a cargo was landed last night?"
"Didn't you and the skipper find three kegs?"
"Yes, but they might have been there a month ago."
"Why, of course, my lad. Here, let's go and tell the skipper so. How I do hate being sent upon a wild-goose chase like this!"
The rest of the journey to the cove was performed almost in silence; they then embarked, heartily tired with their walk, and ready enough to take the rest of the burden of their journey on their hands and arms by rowing steadily and well, the tide being in their favour.
"Yes, I do hate these jobs," said the master after a long silence. "See that the people was nodding and winking to one another as we went by their cottages?"
"Yes, I did see something of the kind once or twice," replied Archy.
"Laughing at us, and knowing we should find out nothing, while they knew all the time."
The first thing plainly visible as the boat approached the cutter was the head of Tally gazing contemplatively at them over the side, as if anxious to know what news there was from home, and directly after Ram and Jemmy looked over in a quiet stolid way, as if not troubled in the least by the fact that they were prisoners.
"Well, Mr Raystoke," cried the lieutenant, as the young midshipman sprang over the side; "found the cargo and left two men in charge, eh?"
"Tut—tut—tut! What is the use of having you for my first officer. You ought to have searched everywhere, and found it."
"We did search everywhere, sir, nearly, but didn't find it."
"Oh! What's that? Nearly? Then where didn't you search?"
Archy told him and his reasons.
"Humph! Ha! Well, I don't know: Government has no bowels of compassion, Mr Raystoke. I'm afraid you ought to have searched the Gloves."
"Hoze, sir, Hoze."
"Oh well, gloves, hose, gloves, all the same; only one's for downstairs, the other up. Stupid name for a place."
"You think, then, I haven't done my duty, sir."
"Yes, Mr Raystoke, as an officer I do; but as a gentleman I'm afraid I think I should have done just the same."
"I'm very sorry, sir. I wanted to do what is right."
"And you let your amiability step in the way, sir. That cargo must be run to earth."
"But is it quite certain, sir, that there was a cargo run?"
"My good fellow," cried the little lieutenant impatiently, "if you found a skin lying on the beach, wouldn't you feel sure that it had once had a sheep in it?"
"Yes, sir, if it was a sheepskin."
"Bah! Don't try to chop logic here; go below and get something to eat, while I make up my mind what I shall do."
Archy went into the cabin, not at all satisfied with the result of his run ashore, and he did not feel much better after his meal, when he went on deck just in time to find the lieutenant laying down the law to Ram and Jemmy Dadd.
"There," he was saying, "take your cow and go ashore. I'm not going to keep you prisoners, but the eye of the law is upon you, and this smuggling will be brought home to you both. Be off!"
"Shan't Jemmy milk the cow again before we go?" said Ram, with a grin, that might have been friendly or mocking.
"No!" thundered the lieutenant. "Here, Mr Gurr, see these smuggling scoundrels off the deck."
This was soon done, the cow being easily got into the boat, and just as it was growing dark Ram stood up to push from the side.
"I say," he cried again, addressing Archy, "is that thing sharp?"
The midshipman did not condescend to answer, but stood gazing thoughtfully over the side, till the boat gradually seemed to die away in the faint mist of the coming night.
"Well, Raystoke, what are you thinking?" said a voice behind him, and he started round.
"I was just thinking of coming to you, sir."
"Eh, what for?"
"It seems to me, sir, that if that cargo was run, and is hidden anywhere near, they'll be moving it to-night."
"Of course. Raystoke, you'll be a great man some day. I shouldn't have thought of that. Well, what do you propose?"
"To go ashore, and watch."
"Of course. My dear boy, if you can help me to capture a few of these wretched people, I shall get promoted to a better ship, and you shall come with me. I won't rest till I am post-captain, and as soon as you can pass, you shall be my lieutenant. There, select your crew and be off at once."
"No, sir; that will not do. They'll be on the watch, and if they see a boat's crew land, they'll do nothing to-night."
"Then what do you propose?"
"Don't laugh at me, sir, and call me stupid; but I've been thinking that if I could be set ashore, dressed as one of the boys, I might go about unnoticed. And if they were moving the cargo, I could see where they took it, and then you could land the men."
"Oh, you'll be an admiral before I shall, boy. That's it; but will you do it?"
"If you'll let me, sir."
"Let you? Here, Mr Gurr, help Mr Raystoke, and—stop though; I don't think I can let you go alone, my lad."
"If I don't go alone, sir, it's of no use."
"You are right. Then we'll risk it; but if the smugglers kill you, don't come and blame me. Have the boat ready, Mr Gurr. Here, Raystoke, come down into the cabin at once."
Half an hour after, a dirty-looking sailor lad slipped down into the boat, with his worsted cap pulled well down over his eyes, and an uncomfortable feeling about his chest, as he sat back in the stern-sheets by Gurr the master.
"Lay your backs well into it, my lads," said the lieutenant, "and try and land him without being seen."
"Ay, ay, sir!" came from the men, the boat began to surge through the still water, and the boy tried to shift the lion's head which formed the top of his dirk handle.
This he had placed inside the breast of his woollen shirt, ready for use if wanted, but it promised to hurt him more than any enemy, and he wished he had left it on board.
"No talking, lads," said the master, "and don't splash."
The oars had been muffled, and they glided along through the faint mist, in a ghostly way, well in the shadow of the cliffs, Gurr keeping up a whispered conversation with the lad by his side.
"It's no use to ask you 'bout where you are going first, sir," whispered the master, "because I suppose it will all be chance. But you'll go up to the farm, eh?"
"Yes, I shall go there."
"And up to that big house?"
Archy was silent.
"Ah, well; it's your plan, and you must do what you think's best, only take care of yourself, and if they're after you, don't make for the sea, that's where they'll think you would go. Make inland for the woods, and hide there."
Archy nodded, and no more was said during the dark journey. They were so close to the huge wall of rocks that it seemed as if they were alive with strange marine creatures, which kept on writhing and whispering together, and making gasping and sucking noises, as the tide heaved and sank among the loose rocks and seaweed, while Archy could not divest himself of the idea that they were watched by people keeping pace with them higher up on the top of the cliff.
"Wonder whether those two have landed the cow by this time?" whispered Gurr, breaking in upon one of Archy's reveries, in which he saw himself following a band of smugglers laden with contraband goods.
"I don't know," he replied. "We must take care they do not see us."
"Not likely on a dark night like this. Won't be so foggy, though, as 'twas last."
Nothing was seen or heard of the late prisoners' boat, and for very good reasons; and at last they found themselves abreast of the opening into the cove, where they lay upon their oars for a time listening.
All was still. Not a sound to be heard on either of the luggers lying at their buoys, and no light was visible at the cottages at the head of the little bay.
"I might venture now," whispered Archy. "Have me rowed close in to the shingle beach on the right, not close ashore, but so that I can wade in. I shall drop over the side where it's about two feet deep. Let them back in and we can try the depth with the boat-hook."
The order was whispered, the boat glided in through the broad opening, was turned quickly, and then the men backed water till told to stop, Archy, who had the boat-hook over the side, suddenly finding it touch the shingly bottom at the depth of about a foot.
"Good-bye," he whispered, and, gliding over the side, he softly waded ashore and stood on the beach.
It looked light in front, where the limestone rocks had given place to chalk, but to right, left, and seaward, all was black as night, and stepping cautiously along, the lad approached the cottages, listening attentively, but not hearing a sound save the gurgling of water as it trickled under the stones on its way to the sea.
As he reached the track leading past the cottages he had a narrow escape from falling over a boat that was drawn up on the stones, but he saved himself with a jerk; and, feeling hot with the sudden start, he turned and crouched down, but there was not a sound to indicate that he had been heard, and drawing a long breath he stepped on to reach the hard earth where his feet were not among the water-worn pebbles, and in a few minutes he was on the road he had traversed twice that day, and walking fast toward the farm.
Once or twice he hesitated, for the way lay so low down in the valley, with the hills towering up to such a height on either side, that the night seemed as dark as during the fog of the previous night; but he got along over the ground pretty well in spite of its seeming more hilly and rough, till at the end of about an hour and a half he felt that he must be approaching the farm, and he advanced more cautiously, listening for footsteps and voices from time to time.
There was a good broad green marge to the lane about here, and he stepped on to it, the turf deadening his footsteps.
"But I don't recollect seeing this grass in the morning," he thought; and then he stopped short, for it suddenly occurred to him that he had not come upon the cluster of houses where the people smiled and nodded at one another as they passed.
"I can't have trailed off into another road, can I?" he said to himself, as he felt quite startled and turned hot.
He looked round, but it was too dark to make out anything, and he was about to start on again, comforting himself with the idea that he must be right, when he heard at a distance the pat-pat of feet on hard ground, and drew back close up to the side to stoop down among some brambles, which told him at once after their fashion what they were.
"If I only dared ask whoever this is," thought Archy, "I should do."
His thoughts took another direction directly, for, apparently about twenty yards away, he heard some one sneeze, and then mutter impatiently, followed by another sneeze.
And all the while the regular pat-pat of footsteps came from his right, but not as he had come, for the sound was as if some one was approaching by a road which came at right angles to the one he was in.
Archy crouched there, breathless and listening, wondering who the man could be who was perfectly silent now, but he had not moved away unless the turf had silenced his footprints.
"How lucky it was I stopped!" thought the midshipman. "I should have walked right on to him and been caught."
The steps came nearer, and at last it seemed as if they were going to pass on, when a gruff voice from close by said,—
There was a sudden stoppage, and an exclamation, and—
"Made me jump, master."
"Don't talk foolery," said the first voice in impatient tones, and to Archy it was unmistakable. He had heard both voices before. "What have you made out?"
"No boat landed?"
"Nor no sign o' one, master. Both lads swear as no one has passed along the lane."
"Wouldn't take the upper lane, would they?"
"Upper lane!" thought Archy. Had he taken the upper lane in the darkness, and so missed the men on the watch?
"Didn't hear the sailors say nothing on the cutter, did you?"
"Not a word."
The middy's heart seemed to give a throb. He did know that voice then. It was that of the man who had been detained with the boy, and this other, he was sure, was the voice of the farmer.
"Going to keep on watching?"
"Of course. They'll be up to some game to trap us safe. Ought to get that stuff away."
"No, I wouldn't, master; it's safe enough now."
"You're a fool," came back in a savage growl. "Anybody but you and that mole-eyed boy would have seen the kegs before them sailors."
"Did see 'em—when it was too late," grumbled the other.
"Well, go back; and take off them boots, and hang 'em round your neck. I could hear you a mile away."
"Go and tell 'em to keep a sharp look-out in the cove, and then to run the moment a boat comes in sight."
"No boat won't come in sight to-night. Dark."
"Then the moment you hear one."
"They won't come to-night, master."
"Go and do as I tell you," said the other savagely.
"It's the farmer and his man," thought the listener; "and there is something wrong."
He wondered what he had better do. Should he give notice to them on the cutter?
The answer came at once. How could he? He had made no plans for that.
"Off you go," was said roughly, and the rustling sound seemed to indicate that the man had gone back toward the cove.
Archy listened patiently for the next movement of the farmer, but he could detect nothing, and he was feeling sure that the man was still watching and listening, when he heard a sneeze at a distance followed by a muttering sound, and knew that he must have moved off.
Without a moment's hesitation the lad followed, keeping along the grassy marge of the road, and listening intently to make out at last the dull sound of steps, which told that the man who made them was walking barefoot.
As far as he could judge now, Archy was in the proper road, and as he walked along he tried to understand what was going on, coming at last to the conclusion at which he had at first jumped, that something would be done that night if the farmer and his people were certain that they would not be disturbed.
As he thought he walked cautiously on, wondering what he had better do, and seeing at last a bright light in front high up a slope, and another away to his right much higher.
A little consideration told him that the first was at the farm; the other high up, facing toward the sea, must be up at the Hoze.
Trusting more to chance than plan, the midshipman went on and on, following Farmer Shackle; the task becoming easy now, for as he neared the lights the man grew more careless, so that it was easy to trace his movements, which were evidently homeward, till a few minutes later Archy saw him pass the glowing window, swing open a door from which came a burst of light, pass in, and the door was closed.
Archy stood outside with a vague belief that before long the man would come out, and perhaps go to the spot where the cargo was hidden.
As he waited he could not help turning his eyes in the direction of the long, solitary house in the patch of woodland, and found himself wondering whether he should ever go up there again.
After waiting about a quarter of an hour outside the farm, with his back against one of the roughly piled-up stone walls of the district, Archy began to think it was very dull, and his expectations of a discovery or an adventure grew less and less. All was very quiet at the farm, so quiet that he determined at last to go and peer in at the window to see if the farmer was likely to come out again, because if this were not so he was wasting his time.
"But they are not likely to do anything without him," he thought.
Advancing cautiously, he entered the garden, and was just going up to the window, when the door was thrown open, and he dropped down behind a bush as the farmer strode out.
"He must see me," thought Archy. "What a position for an officer to be in!"
"Eh?" exclaimed Shackle, turning sharply round, as if to answer his wife. "Oh yes. Ought to have been here by now."
This gave the midshipman a moment's breathing time; and he had drawn himself up behind the bush by the time the farmer had closed the door, the sudden change from darkness to light preventing Shackle from seeing the spy upon his proceedings.
Just as he was passing he stopped short, uttering an ejaculation; and feeling that he was seen, the midshipman was about to leap up, jump over the low wall, and run, when he heard steps.
He lay still, hoping that this might have drawn forth the exclamation, but for the next few moments he was in agony.
Then came relief.
"That you, Ramillies?"
"I think it's all right. Carts are coming, and all the lads are down the roads."
"No. Two of 'em's down by the cove, but they won't send anybody from the cutter to-night."
"Not so sure of it, my boy,—not so sure. Can't be too careful. 'Tain't as if we were obliged to move 'em to-night. Landing a cargo's one thing; getting it away another. Well, we'll try. You're sure they're keeping good watch at the cove?"
"What sort of an officer did he seem on the cutter?"
"Little, fat, sleepy chap."
"And the others?"
"Don't seem to be no others, only that cocky-hoopy middy, who came ashore with the men. I should like to ketch him ashore some day."
One of Archy's legs gave a twitch at the first remark about him, and the twitch occurred in his right arm at the second.
"Don't chatter. Not very sharp sort of officer, eh?"
"No, father. Sort of chap who'd go to sleep all night."
Archy began wondering. He had thought the boy a dull, stupid-looking bumpkin, and he was finding out how observing he had been.
"Well, we'll risk it, boy. Come along."
Archy's heart gave a bound.
Here was news! He had been growing dull and disheartened, thinking that his expedition was foolish and impossible, and here at once he had learned what he wanted. He knew that now all he had to do was to take advantage of every wall and tree, even to creep along the ground if necessary, and he would be able to follow the smugglers to the place where they had hidden the run cargo, watch them bring it out, and then track them to the fresh hiding-place.
He would thus learn everything, and be able at daybreak to make his way to the cliff, signal for a boat, and a grand capture would be made.
His heart beat high as he thought of the lieutenant's delight, and of the joy there would be amongst the men, for this would mean prize-money, and perhaps the means of deluding the vessel that had brought the cargo into a trap, so that it could be captured, and more prize-money as well as honour be the result.
It did not take him long to think all this; and then he rose cautiously and dropped down again, for the door was re-opened, and the light beamed out so that the watcher felt that he must be seen.
"That my Rammy?" cried Mrs Shackle.
"Yes," growled the farmer; "keep that door shut and your mouth too."
"But do be careful, master. I don't want him took prisoner again."
"It's all right, mother."
"Come along, boy."
Archy heard the departing steps, and began to suffer a fresh agony of suspense. He could not stir, for the farmer's wife stood at the open door, and the slightest movement would have caused a discovery; and all the time he could hear the footsteps growing more and more faint.
"Oh!" he said to himself; "and it's so dark I shan't be able to tell which way they have gone."
What should he do? Start up and run?
If he did the woman was certain to raise an alarm; and, knowing that, he could do nothing but wait till she went in, when he might chance to pick up the clue again.
His heart beat so loudly that he felt as if it must be heard, but Mrs Shackle was too intent upon listening to the departing footsteps, which grew more faint till they died out entirely, and as they passed away the midshipman's heart sank.
"Had all my trouble for nothing," he thought. "So near success, and yet to fail!"
"Ah, deary deary me!" said a voice from close at hand, "I'm very sick and tired of it all. I wish he'd be content with his cows and sheep."
Mrs Shackle drew back as she said this, the door closed, and Archy sprang up, darted out of the gateway, and hurried along the path as fast as the darkness would allow, stopping from time to time to listen.
For a long time he could hear nothing. He was descending the slope toward the road leading to the cove, as far as he could tell, for it seemed to him likely that the farmer and his son had gone in that direction; but as he went on and on, and was unable to detect a sound, he felt that he must be wrong, and stopped short, listening intently.
"Bother the woman!" he thought; "it's all through her. They'll go and get all the cargo from the hiding-place, and take it somewhere, and I shall know nothing."
He bit his lip with disappointment, and gave an angry stamp on the grass.
"I'll go back, and try some other way."
Easy to determine, but hard to carry out in the darkness, and in a place which seemed quite changed at night. There should be a lane or track leading down to the cliff he knew, but where it was he could not say; in fact, at that moment, in his confusion, he could hardly tell for certain that he was on the road leading right away to the cove.
"I may just as well be moving," he said at last despondently. "Oh, if I could only have followed them up!"
His heart gave a bound just then, for plainly on the night air came a dull sound, as of footsteps on grass. Then there was a whisper, and directly after he knew that a number of people were coming quickly toward him.
A moment or two later he heard a rattling noise, which he recognised as that made by a horse shaking his harness, and once more Archy's heart beat high.
There had not been time for them—if those people coming were the smugglers—to fetch the cargo, and they must be coming in his direction.
"What shall I do?" thought the watcher; "lie down and let them pass, or go on?"
He decided on the latter course, and finding that he was in a lane bounded by stone walls, he went on, pausing from time to time to make sure that he was being followed.
This proved to be the case, the people getting nearer and nearer, and it was a curious experience to hear the whispering of voices and trampling of feet coming out of the darkness.
"Walking on the side turf," said Archy to himself, as he kept on, to find after a few minutes that the stone wall on his left had ceased, but he could feel that the road went on, and heard the people coming.
A minute or two later he realised that he was going up hill; then the slope grew steeper, and he paused again to listen.
He was quite right. They were coming on steadily, and he knew that there must be twenty or thirty people; but he could hear no horses now.
"They've stopped at the foot of this steep place," he thought, as he went on and on, the people still advancing fast, and all at once, as he went on, a sudden thought ran through him like a stab. For he had guessed at least the direction in which he was going in the black darkness; he was once more ascending the slope toward the patch of woodland high up the hill, and the place of deposit of the smuggled goods must be the Hoze.
A feeling of misery that he could not have explained came over Archy Raystoke as he grasped the position, and he wished that he had never undertaken the task he had in hand.
For it seemed so shocking that the noble-looking lady and gentleman he had seen that day should be in league with a gang of smugglers, and have lent their out-of-the-way house to be a depository for the contraband goods.
"Oh, it's impossible," he said to himself. "They could not. The scoundrels have hidden the things somewhere up in the wood by the house, thinking that nobody would come in there to search."
"The artful rascal!" said Archy to himself, feeling better now that he had put this interpretation upon the proceedings; and, knowing his way better now, and thinking of the dog the while, he hurried on, and had nearly reached the house, meaning to hide somewhere among the abundant shrubs which surrounded it till the smugglers had passed, when all doubt as to the party being those he was tracking was chased away by his hearing a voice just before him say,—
"All right, father. Here they come."
Archy stopped short, as he felt his position. The farmer and his son had come up here, and were waiting for the men to act as carriers.
"What shall I do?" he asked himself, for he was between two parties, and a step might mean discovery. In fact, if the last speaker had taken a step forward, he must have detected the spy's presence.
There was no time for thought Archy stood for a moment or two as if paralysed; then, as he heard the farmer's gruff voice, he dropped down, and began to crawl among the bushes.
"Been a long time coming; here, go in and get the lanthorns now."
At that moment Archy was brought up by a wall, over which he passed his hands, to find that he was directly after touching iron bars close to the ground.
It was some building, and then, as he crouched there, he was conscious of a peculiar odour, which told him not only that this was a cellar, but one in which brandy was stored.
Again he felt a strange sensation of misery. He had accidentally hit upon the place where the cargo had been hidden, and it must be in the cellar of the Hoze, and not in the wood.
He wished he had not made the discovery now, and felt ready to retreat, for it would be horrible to have to tell the lieutenant, giving him such information as would lead to the arrest of the tall, careworn man who had impressed him so strangely that day.
All at once he was conscious of a gleam of light, following a faint noise, and right before him he saw the fluttering blue flame of a brimstone match, which blue began to turn yellow and illumine the face of the boy who had been a prisoner, and two great stacks of kegs and bales, reaching nearly from floor to ceiling of a low vault.
The light shone out through the grated window, by which he was on hands and knees, and feeling that he would be at once recognised if his face was seen, he crept on under the wall a few yards, and lay flat listening, as he wished that there was time for him to get down to the cliff, and signal for help, to capture the smugglers and their store.
An impossibility, he knew, for the cargo might be all gone long before he could reach the cutter, even if a boat were waiting; beside which, he felt that he did not want to tell all he had seen, for if he did, what would follow with respect to those he had spoken with that day?
"Now, my lads, in with you," cried a familiar voice. "Load up carefully when you get down to the carts, and we shall get all snug before daylight."
A murmur of acquiescence followed, and they began to tramp very close to where the midshipman lay, expecting every moment to be seen.
He crouched down as low as he could, not daring to raise even his head, and wondering whether the bright hilt of his dirk would show, and he thrust it farther into his breast. Then he wondered whether he could back softly away; but that was impossible, for the light came from behind him, through the grated window, while escape forward was impossible, as he was close to a door through which shadowy forms were passing in.
There was nothing for it but to lie still, and trust to his not being seen, when the next minutes were made agreeable by a host of recollections regarding the treatment received by those who betrayed smugglers, of the desperate fights there had been, how many had been killed, and a shudder ran through the lad as he recalled the story of a man who had played the spy, somewhere about the south coast, being thrown from a cliff, and literally smashed.
"They'll see me, I know they'll see me," thought Archy; "but I'm a king's officer, young as I am, and I'll show them that I can fight for my life like a man."
As this thought struck him, his hand went involuntarily to his side to get a good grip of and draw his dirk.
The movement betrayed him, for, before he could quite realise that his dirk was hidden in his breast, he was seized by two great muscular hands, dragged into a standing position, and he could dimly see a face peering into his, as a voice, which he recognised as the farmer's, growled savagely—
Before he could struggle or answer, the man went on fiercely—
"Why, you lazy, shuffling, young villain! Sit there and skulk, while the others do the work, would you? Come on!"
Before the midshipman could recover from his surprise, he felt himself run forward by the two hands which had been dropped on his shoulders, thrust through the door, the farmer whispering savagely, "Work, or I'll break your neck;" and giving him a fierce push and a kick, which drove him along a passage, where on his left was the open doorway into the dimly lit cellar.
So great was the impetus given, that but for a desperate effort to keep his feet, and a bound or two, the lad would have gone down upon his face.
As it was, the actual first leap took him level with the door of the cellar, the second right on to a flight of steps beyond in the darkness, and as he stood panting there, he realised the meaning of the old smuggler's mistake; for he had forgotten that he was roughly dressed as a sailor boy, and had a red worsted tasselled cap, well drawn-down over his besmirched face.
As Archy stood there in the darkness, at the foot of the stair which he knew must lead up into the house, he looked back to see a man come out of the cellar, his figure just dimly seen by the light from within and below, and over the man's shoulders were swung a couple of kegs.
Archy held his breath, and felt that in all probability the farmer had contented himself with driving him in to work, for he made no further movement, and the coming out of this man, and another who followed directly, completely reassured him. It was evident, too, that they did not know of his presence, and with his heart beating with hopes of escape, as he more and more understood that he had been taken for one of the boys of the gang, he backed softly up the steps, more and more into the darkness, till further progress was stayed by a door.
Here he stopped, panting, and holding his hand upon his throbbing heart. Then feeling that he would be seen directly if a lanthorn were brought into the passage, he pressed the lock, it yielded, and he stepped softly up on to a stone floor.
Here all was blacker than before, but it was a haven of refuge, and he passed in and softly closed the door behind him, to stand listening.
All was still as death, and he began to ask himself what he should do next. He dared not stay where he was, for if the smugglers were so much at home at the Hoze that they could come like this by night, the farmer or some one else might at any moment come up those steps with a light, and then discovery was certain.
But what to do? A closet—a room—a staircase—an open window leading in another direction to that where the men were busy! If he could find any of these he might be safe, and he was about to try and search for some means of concealment or escape when a cold shudder of superstitious dread ran through him, and he began to recall all he had read of haunted houses, for from somewhere in the darkness in front of him, he heard a low, piteous cry.
Archy was as courageous as most boys of his age, as he was proving by his adventurous acts; but this sound, heard by a lad living in a generation wanting in our modern enlightenment, paralysed him. His blood seemed to run cold, his lips parted, his throat felt dry, and a peculiar shiver ran over his skin, accompanied by a sensation as if tiny fingers, cold as ice, were parting and turning his hair.
Again the sigh came, to be followed by a cold current of air, which swept across the boy's face, and then there was a low rustling sound, which hovered in front of him, and went up and up and up, and then slowly died away.
Archy's first impulse, as he recovered himself a little in the silence which followed, was to turn, open the door, and flee. But he hesitated. It would be right into the hands of the enemy. Besides, the terribly chilling sounds he had heard had ceased, and he felt less cowardly.
"Perhaps," he said to himself, "it was fancy, or nothing to be afraid of."
A heavy step on the other side of the door alarmed him more, and stretching out his hands, he stepped forward, went cautiously on and on, and at the end of a few yards touched what felt like panelling. The next moment he realised that he had reached a door, which was yielding, and he passed into a room, to scent the cool night air, and hear subdued sounds without and below.
He was in a room over the cellar, he was sure, and the window was wide open. He crept to it, guided by the cold air which came in, and had just reached it when he heard rapid footsteps, and some one panted,—
"Where's the skipper?"
"Here. What is it?" whispered Shackle, who seemed close to where the midshipman stood.
"Jemmy Dadd—came from the cove. Boat's crew landed."
"Run down and tell them all to come back," said Shackle hoarsely.
"I did, and they're coming. I met first man."
"Right! Get all back in quick!"
As he finished speaking, Archy could hear the dull, soft steps of laden men returning, and more and more kept coming, and it was soon evident that they were quickly and silently replacing the kegs they had been carrying down hill to where tumbrils were waiting for a load.
The midshipman stood a little way back from the window, seeing nothing, but drinking all this in, and in imagination grasping the whole scene which went on for the next quarter of an hour or so, by which time the last load seemed to have been brought back.
As he listened, he wondered what boat's crew it could be that had landed, as no arrangement had been made for any help to be sent till he either signalled from the cliff or went down to the cove at twelve the next day, where a boat would be about half a mile out, with two men in her fishing.
He could not understand it; all he could tell for certain was that the smugglers had been alarmed, and that they would not remove the cargo that night, for all at once he heard the sharp snap of a great lock beneath his feet; this was followed by the closing of a door, and directly after there was the shuffling of feet, and Shackle's voice was heard in a hoarse whisper,—
"Got the lanthorn, boy?"
"Off you go then—all. Scatter!"
"You won't try again to-night?"
"Try? No," said the farmer savagely. "Wish I had some of them here!"
There were retiring steps then, and Archy leaned forward towards the window, to utter a faint cry of pain, for his head had come in contact with something, and as he put up his hand he found that the window was protected by thick iron bars.
He stood listening till not a sound could be heard, and then he drew back from the window, thinking about his next course, gazing out into the darkness the while, and wishing he could have stepped out, leaped down, and fled at once.
"Made our plans badly," he thought to himself. "I can't signal even if I could find my way to the cliff, and I ought to be able to get back here at once to seize all this store, and—"
More unpleasant thoughts came back now about how hard it seemed to have to betray these people.
"Can't help it," he said to himself. "I am a king's officer, and I've got to do my duty."
Then to keep these thoughts from troubling him, he began to think again about the cutter.
They never expected that he would get valuable information so soon. He had been wonderfully fortunate, but what was to be his next course? Certainly to get back to the ship as soon as possible, but that was not possible till morning, and he was miles away from the cove.
What should he do? Two hours would be plenty for the work, and as he guessed it was not much past twelve now. How was he to pass all those weary hours? If he could find some barn or even a haystack he would not have cared, but it seemed to him that he would have to pass the remainder of the night in walking, and watching so that he did not encounter any of the smuggler gang on his way back and so raise their suspicions.
Better be off at once. Perhaps, after all, he thought as by an inspiration, the lieutenant had altered his plans, and was sending men to look after and protect him.
"Let's see," said Archy to himself. "I must go out of this door, and keep turning a little to the right till I feel the door at the top of the stairs."
Suppose any one should hear him, take him for a thief, and fire at him?
Suppose that door at the end of the passage had been locked by the smugglers?
It seemed so probable, that a nervous feeling attacked the lad. He would be a prisoner, and discovered by the inmates in the morning.
He would soon put that to the proof, he told himself; and he was about to step cautiously back toward the door when another thought sent a shudder through him.
Suppose as soon as he got into the hall, or whatever place it was, he should hear that sigh again and the rustling sound?
He shrank back as he recalled how it had affected him.
"Oh, what a coward I am!" he said softly; and he took a step forward, where very faintly, as if far distant, he heard the rustling sound again. It came nearer and nearer, then there was a low sigh, the door was pushed open, for the rustling came quite plainly now, accompanied by a faint breathing.
The door closed with a soft dull sound as Archy stood as if turned into stone, his hair again feeling as if moved by hands, and he would have spoken, but no words would come.
At last, as he stood there in front of the window, terrified too much to stir, he suddenly heard a faint sound as of catching breath, and a voice said in a hurried, frightened whisper,—
"Who's there? Is that you, Ram?"
Archy tried to speak but could not. Before he could draw a breath of relief, feeling as he did that this was nothing of which he need feel such fear, the voice said again,—
"You are trying to frighten me. I can see you plainly there by the window. How dare you come in here like this, sir? Go back home with your horrid men."
"You are making a mistake," said Archy softly.
There was a cry and a quick rustling toward the door.
"Don't—don't cry out; I did not come to frighten you."
"Who are you?"
"I am from the cutter lying off the coast. You saw me and spoke to me to-day when the dog came at me."
There was a low wailing sound which troubled the midshipman, and he said quickly,—
"Can you not believe me? I did not come to frighten you; you frightened me."
"Then, why are you here? How dare you break into our house. Oh, I know! I know!"
"Don't cry," he said. "I was obliged to come. It was by accident I came into this room. I was trying to find out about the smugglers."
"And—and—you have not found out anything?" came in quick, frightened tones.
Archy was silent.
"Why don't you speak, sir?"
"What am I to say? I am on duty. Yes, I have found out all I wanted to know."
"Ah!" came again out of the darkness, in a low wailing tone.
"I wish you would believe me, that I am in as great trouble about it as you are."
"But your men. They are close here, then, and they frightened these people away."
"I suppose so. I don't know," said Archy.
"Don't they know that you are here?"
"But you will go and tell all you have found out?"
"Yes," said Archy, slowly as he strained his eyes to try and make out the speaker.
"That my father, Sir Risdon Graeme, has smuggled goods here?"
"What else can I do?" replied Archy sadly.
There was a sound of breath being drawn sharply through the teeth, and then the voice seemed changed as the next words came,—
"Do you know what this means?"
Archy was silent.
"They will put him in prison, and—and—"
There was a low burst of sobbing, and the young midshipman felt his own breast swell.
Suddenly the sobbing ceased, and the girl said slowly,—
"You shall not tell. It is not my father's doing. He could not help it. He hates the smugglers. You shall not tell. Pray, pray, say you will not!"
Archy was silent.
"Do you not hear me?" came in imperious tones.
"Yes, I hear you," he replied; "but it is my duty, and—"
The interjection came as if it were the outcome of sudden passion. There was a quick, rustling sound, and before the boy could realise what was to come, the door was closed, the lock shot into its socket, and he heard the grinding sound of bolts, top and bottom.
Then, as Archy stood in the dark, literally aghast with astonishment, he heard the faint rustling once more, and again all was silent.
"Well!" he exclaimed; "and I felt sorry for her as one might for one's sister at home, and hung back from getting her people into trouble. Of all the fierce little tartars! Oh, it's beyond anything! Why, she has locked me up!"
He laughed, but it was a curious kind of laugh, full of vexation, injured amour propre, as the French call our love of our own dignity, of which Archibald Raystoke, in the full flush of his young belief in his importance as a British officer, had a pretty good stock.
"I never did!" he exclaimed, after standing listening for a few minutes to see if the girl would repent and return. "It all comes of dressing up in this stupid way, like a rough fisher-lad. If I had been in uniform, she would not have dared."
Cold water came on this idea directly, as he recalled the fact that the darkness was intense, and Celia could not have seen him.
"And I meant to save them from trouble if I could, out of respect for them all, and did not believe that such people could stoop to be mixed up with rogues and smugglers. But, all right! I've got my duty to do, and I'll do it. I'll soon show them that I am not going to be played with. Looked such a nice, lady-like girl, and all the time she's a female smuggler, and must have been sitting up to let them in, and lock up after the rascals had done."
Rather hard measure, by the way, to deal out to the anxious girl, who could not rest while Shackle's gang were busy about the place, and had come stealthily down to open the little corner room window, and watch from time to time until they had gone.
"Well," said Archy, as there was no further sound heard, "I'm not going to put up with this. I'll soon rattle some one up;" and he went sharply to the door, felt for the handle, tried it, and was about to shake it and bang at the panels, when discretion got the better of valour.
For it suddenly occurred to him that he was not only a prisoner, but a prisoner in the power of a very reckless set of people, who would stop at nothing. They had a valuable cargo hidden in the cellar beneath where he stood, and themselves to save, and naturally they would not hesitate to deal hardly with him, when quite a young, apparently gentle girl treated him as she had done.
"No," he thought to himself, "I don't believe they would kill me, but they would knock me about."
On the whole, he decided that it would not be pleasant to be knocked about. The kick he had received was a foretaste of what he might expect, and after a little consideration he came to the conclusion that his duty was to escape, and get back to the cutter as quickly as he could.
To do this he must scheme, lie hid till morning, then make for the nearest point, and signal for help, unless a boat's crew were already searching for him.
How to escape?
The door was, he well knew, fast. The window was barred, but he went to it, and tried the bars one by one, to find them all solidly fitted into the stone sill.
Perhaps there was another way out, and to prove that he went softly round to feel the oak panelling which covered the walls, to come upon a door directly. His hopes began to rise, but they fell directly, for he found it was a closet.
Next moment, as he felt his way about, his hand touched an old-fashioned marble mantelpiece.
Fireplace—chimney! Yes, if other ways failed, he could escape up the chimney.
No, that was too bad. He could not do that. And if he did, it would only be to reach the roof of the house, and perhaps find no way down.
He went on, and found a closet to match the first on the other side of the fireplace. Then all round the room. Panels everywhere, but no means of escape, and he went again to stand at the window, to bemoan his stupidity for allowing a weak girl to make a prisoner of him in so absurd a way.
Sympathy and pity for the dwellers in the Hoze were completely gone now, and he set his teeth fast, and mentally called himself a weak idiot for ever thinking about such people. For the first few minutes he had felt something uncommonly like alarm, and had dwelt upon the consequences to himself if the smugglers found the spy upon their proceedings; but that dread had passed away in the idea that he had to do his duty, and before he could do that he must escape.
A chair or two. Then an easy-chair. A narrow table against the wall in two places. An awkwardly-shaped high-backed chair with elbows and cushions. A thick carpet in the centre. Nothing else in the room, as far as he could make out in the darkness, and if those wretched bars had only been away, how soon he could have escaped!
He went and tried to force his head through, recalling as he did that where a person's head would go the rest of the body would pass. But there was no chance for his body there, the head would not go first.
He returned, after listening intently, unable to hear a sound, and put his ear to the key-hole of the door to listen there; but all was still, and the faint hope that the girl might be near and open to an appeal for his liberty died away.
Again he felt all about the room, to satisfy himself afresh that there was no way out, and he paused by the chimney, half disposed to essay that means of escape, but he shook his head.
"A fellow who was shut up in prison for life might do it," he said, "but not in a case like this."
Then, utterly wearied out, with his long and arduous twenty-four hours' task, beginning with his watch on the cutter's deck, he felt his way to the big chair opposite to the window to rest his legs, and try and think out some plan.
"Nobody can think well when he's tired," he said; and he began to run over in his mind the whole of the incidents since he landed a few hours earlier.
"Sure you've looked round everywhere, boy?"
"Yes, father, quite."
"Nothing left nowhere? Sure none of the lads chucked anything aside the path when they ran up?"
"Yes, father. I looked well both sides."
"Humph! Worse lads than you if you knew where to find 'em."
"Thank ye, father."
"I'm going home to breakfast."
"Shall I come too, father?"
"No. Stop here till Sir Risdon comes down, and tell him I'm very sorry; that we should have cleared out last night, only a born fool saw Jerry Nandy's lobster-boat coming into the cove, and came running to say it was a party from the cutter."
"Tell him not to be uneasy; 'tis all right, and I'll have everything clear away to-night."
The dull sound of departing steps, and a low whistling sound coming down through the skylight window into the cabin where Archy Raystoke lay with his heavy eyelids pressed down by sleep.
"What a queer dream!" he thought to himself. "No; it couldn't be a dream. He must be awake. But how queer for Mr Gurr to be talking like that to Andrew Teal, the boy who helped the cook! And why did Andy call Mr Gurr father?"
There was an interval of thinking over this knotty question, during which the low whistling went on.
"If Mr Brough goes on deck and catches that boy whistling, there'll be someone to pay and no pitch hot," thought Archy nautically. "But what did Mr Gurr mean about going home to breakfast? And I'm hungry too. Time I was up, I suppose."
He gave himself a twist, and was about to turn out of his sleeping place, and then opened his eyes widely, and stared about him, too much overcome still by his heavy sleep to quite comprehend why it was that he was in a gloomy, oak-panelled, poorly furnished room, staring at an iron-barred open window.
No: he was not dreaming, for he was looking out on the sea, over which a faint mist hung like wreaths of smoke. It was just before sunrise too, for there were flecks of orange high up in the sky.
What did it mean?
The answer came like a flash. He recollected it all now, even to his sitting down in the chair, wearied out.
He had been fast asleep, and those words had awakened him.
What did they say?—false alarm—tell Sir Risdon they would clear all away to-night—see if anything had been left about—lobster-boat!
Then no boat had come from the cutter last night, and the lieutenant would wait for him to signal, and here he was a prisoner, with the information—locked up—the very news the lieutenant would give anything to know.
He jumped up from the chair feeling horribly stiff, and looked steadily round for a way to escape before it was too late. Once out of that room he could ran, and by daylight the smugglers dare not hunt him down.
"Oh, those bars!" he mentally exclaimed, and he was advancing toward them, when just as he drew near, there was a rustling noise under the window, a couple of hands seized the bars, there was a scratching of boot-toes against stone work, and Ram's face appeared to gaze into the room by intention, but into the astonished countenance of the young midshipman instead.
Ram was the first to recover from his surprise.
"Hullo!" he said, "who are you? I was wondering why that window was open."
"Here, quick! Go round and open the door. I was shut in last night by mistake."
"Oh!" said Ram looking puzzled. "I saw you last night, and wondered whose boy you was. It was you father kicked for shirking, and—My!— well: I hardly knowed you."
"Nonsense! Come round and open the door. I've been shut in all night."
"Won't do," said Ram grinning. "Think I don't know you, Mr Orficer? Where's your fine clothes and your sword? Here, what made you dress up like that?"
"You're mistaken," said Archy gruffly, as he made a feeble struggle to keep up the character he had assumed.
"Won't do," said Ram quickly. "I know you. Been playing the spy, that's what you've been doing. Who locked you in?"
"Will you come round and open the door?" said Archy in an angry whisper.
"Oh, of course," replied the boy grinning; and he dropped down, rushed through the bushes, and disappeared from view.
Archy stepped back to the door listening, but there was not a sound.
"He has gone to give the alarm," thought the prisoner, and he looked excitedly round for a way of escape.
Nothing but the chimney presented itself. The door was too strong to attack, and he remembered the three fastenings.
Should he try the chimney?
And be stuck there, and dragged out like a rabbit by the hind legs from his hole!
"No; I've degraded myself enough," he said angrily, "and there are sure to be bars across. Hah!"
A happy inspiration had come, and placing one hand upon his breast, he thrust in the other, gave a tug, and drew out his little curved dirk, glanced at the edge, ran to the window and began to cut at one of the bars.
Labour in vain. He divided the paint, and produced a few squeaks and grating sounds, as he realised that the attempt was madness.
Turning sharply, he looked about the room; then, after glancing ruefully at the bright little weapon, halfway up the blade of a rich deep blue, in which was figured a pattern in gold, he yielded to necessity, and began to chop at the top bar of the grate, so as to nick the edges of his weapon and make it saw-like.
The result was not very satisfactory, but sufficiently so to make him essay the bar of the window once more, producing a grating, ear-assailing sound, as he found that now he did make a little impression,—so little though, that the probability was, if he kept on working well for twenty-four hours, he would not get through.
But at the end of five minutes he stopped, and thrust back the dirk into its sheath.
He fancied he had heard steps outside the room door, and he ran to it and listened, in the faint hope that the boy might have come to open it and set him free.
It was a very faint hope, and one he felt not likely to be realised, and he returned once more to the window, with the intention of resuming his task, when he heard the bushes pressed aside by some one coming, and directly after the bars were seized as before. Ram sprang up, found a resting-place for his toes, and looked in, grinning at him.
"Hullo!" he cried, in a whisper, as if he did not wish to be heard; "here you are still."
"Yes. Come round and open the door."
"What'll yer give me?"
"Anything I can," cried Archy eagerly.
"Well, you give me that little sword o' your'n."
"No; I can't part with that."
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" laughed the boy jeeringly.
"But I'll—yes, I'll give you a guinea, if you will let me out."
"Guinea?" said the boy. "Think I'd do it for a guinea?"
"Well, then, two. Be quick, there's a good fellow. I want to get away at once."
"Not you," said the boy jeeringly. "It would be a pity. I say, do you know what you look like?"
"Not you. Only a sham. Why, your clothes don't fit you, and your cap's put on all skew-rew. Don't look a bit like a fisher-lad, and never will."
"Never mind about that; let me out of this place."
"What for?" cried Ram.
"Because I want my liberty."
"Not you. Looks comf'table enough as you are. I say, do you know what you are like now?"
"I told you, a fisher-boy!" cried Archy impatiently, but trying not to offend his visitor, who possessed the power of conferring freedom, by speaking sharply.
"Not you. Look like a wild beast in a cage. Like a monkey."
Archy checked himself, and the boy laughed.
"It was your turn yesterday, it's mine to-day. What a game! You laughed and fleered at me when I was on the cutter's deck. I can laugh and fleer at you now. I say, you do look a rum 'un. Just like a big monkey in a show."
"Look here, sir!" said Archy, losing his temper. "Gentlemen don't fight with low, common fellows like you, but if you do not come round and let me out, next time we meet I'll have a bit of rope's-end ready for you."
Ram showed his white teeth, as he burst out with a long, low fit of laughter.
"You rope's-end me!" he said. "Why, I could tie you up in a knot, and heave you off the cliff any day. What a game! Bit of a middy, fed on salt tack and weevilly biscuit, talk of giving me rope's-end! Dressed up with a dirty face and a bit o' canvas! Go back aboard, and put on your uniform. Ha! Ha! Ha!"
"Once more; will you come and let me out?"
"No. I'm going to keep you here till the gentlefolks get up, and then I'll bring 'em round to see the monkey in his cage, just like they do in the shows, when you pay a penny. See you for nothing, middy. I say, where's your sword? Why don't you draw it, and come out and fight? I'll fight you with a stick."
"You insolent young scoundrel!" cried Archy, darting his hand through between the bars, overcome now by his rage, and catching Ram by the collar.
To his astonishment the boy did not flinch, but thrust his own arms through, placing them about the middy's waist, clenching his hands behind, and uttering a sharp whistle.
It was a trap, and the midshipman understood it now. The boy had been baiting him to rouse him to attack, and he was doubly a prisoner now, held fast against the bars, so that he could not even wrench round his head as he heard the door behind him opened, while as he opened his mouth to cry for help, a great rough hand was placed over his eyes, pressing his head back, a handkerchief was jammed between his teeth, and as he heard a deep growling voice say, "Hold him tight!" a rope was drawn about his chest, pinioning his arms to his sides, and another secured his ankles.
"Now a handkerchief," said the gruff voice. "Fold it wide. Be ready!"
The midshipman gave his head a jerk, but the effort was vain, for the hand over his eyes gave place to a broad handkerchief, which was tightly tied behind, and then a fierce voice whispered in his ear,—
"Keep still, or you'll get your weasand slit. D'ye hear?"
But in spite of the threat the lad, frenzied now by rage and excitement, struggled so hard that a fresh rope was wound round him, and he was lifted up by two men, and carried away.
By this time there was a strange singing in his ears, a feeling as if the blood was flooding his eyes, a peculiar, hot, suffocating feeling in his breast, and then he seemed to go off into a painful, feverish sleep, for he knew no more.
Angry, but trembling with dread, Celia had hurried up to her own room, to try and think what was best to be done. She had secured the door of the room below to gain time, feeling as she did that, as the young midshipman knew of the storing of the smuggled goods, he would, the moment he was free, go back to the cutter, bring help, there would perhaps be a desperate fight, with men killed, and her father would be dragged away to prison.
Her first thought was to go to her father, but she shrank from doing this as her mother would probably be asleep, and in her delicate state the alarm might seriously affect her.
Having grown learned in the ways of the smugglers, from their having on several occasions made use of the great vault without asking permission—at times when Sir Risdon was away from home—Celia had sat up to watch that night to see if the men would fetch away the kegs and bales; hence her presence during the scene, and when she had awakened to the fact that the midshipman had played spy and was ready to denounce her father, she felt that all was over.
Three times over, after listening at the head of the stairs for sounds from below where her prisoner was confined, Celia had crept on tiptoe to her father's door, only to shrink away again not daring to speak.
For what would he say to her? She thought. She had no right to be downstairs watching the acts of the smugglers, and she dreaded to make a confession of her knowledge of these nocturnal proceedings.
At last, bewildered, anxious, and worn-out, she knelt down by her bed, to consider with her head in her hands, ready for kindly nature to bring her comfort, for when she started up again the sun was streaming brightly in at her window.
She pressed her hands to her temples, and tried to think about the business of the past night, and by degrees she collected her thoughts, and recalled that the smugglers had come to take up their kegs and bales from the temporary store to carry them further inland, that she had discovered the young midshipman watching, and to save her father she had shut their enemy in the lower corner room.
Celia stood with her cheeks burning, trembling and anxious, and after bathing her face and arranging her hair, she went out into the broad passage and listened at her father's door.
It was too soon for him to be stirring yet, and determining at last to go and declare his innocency, and make an appeal to the frank-looking lad, she crept timidly down the grand old flight of stairs, trying to think out what she would say.
There were two flights to descend, and the first took a long time; but she worked out a nice little speech, in which she would tell the cutter's officer that her father had once been rich, but he had espoused the young Pretender's cause, and the result had been that he had become so impoverished that there had been a time when they had had hardly enough to keep them and the old maid-servant who still clung to their fallen fortunes.
By the time she was at the bottom of the second flight she was ready and quite hopeful, and, with the tears standing in her eyes, she felt sure that the frank, gentlemanly lad would be merciful, forgive her, and save her father from a terrible disgrace.
She had, then, her speech all ready, but when she spoke everything was condensed in the one exclamation—
For as she reached the hall where her coming and going had so startled the midshipman in the darkness, she found that the door was wide open and the window shut.
She looked about bewildered, but there was no sign of the room having been occupied.
"Did I dream it all?" she said in an awe-stricken whisper. "No: the men came to take away the brandy and silk, and I saw them here."
She pressed her hands to her temples, for the surprise had confused her, and in addition her head ached and throbbed.
"Could I have dreamed it?" she asked herself again. "No, I remember the men coming to fetch away the things and then I found him watching."
She stood gazing before her, with her puzzled feeling increasing, till a thought struck her.
She saw the men come to fetch the kegs. If she really did see that, the kegs would be gone.
The proof was easy. If the brandy and silk were gone, the door of the vault would be open. If the things were not fetched away, it would be locked up; and if she tapped on the door with her knuckles, there would be a dull sound instead of a hollow, echoing noise.
She ran quickly down, and the door was locked.
She tapped with her knuckles, and the sound indicated that the place was full, for all was dull and heavy and no reverberation in the place.
"I must have dreamed it all," she cried joyously. "I have thought so much about it that I have fancied all this, and made myself ill. Why, of course he could not have got in there to watch or the men would have seen him come."
It is very easy to place faith in that which you wish to believe.
Lieutenant brough was out for a long walk. That is to say, he had his glass tucked under his arm, and was trotting up and down his cleanly holystoned deck, pausing from time to time to raise his glass to his eye, and watch the top of the cliff, ending by gazing in the direction of the cove.
The men said he had been putting them through their facings that morning, and he had been finding more fault in two hours than in the previous week, for he was getting fidgety. He had not enjoyed his breakfast, and it was getting on toward the time for his mid-day meal.
Suddenly he stopped short by the master, who had also been using a glass, and was evidently waiting to be spoken to.
"Seemed in good spirits last night, Mr Gurr, eh?"
"Mr Raystoke, sir? Oh yes."
"I mean liked his job?"
"Yes, sir; determined on it."
"Humph! Time we had some news of him, eh?"
"Yes, sir; but he may turn up on the cliff at any moment."
"Yes. Men quite ready?"
"That's right. Of course, well-armed?"
"Yes, sir; you did tell me. Soon as the signal comes, we shall push off. Awkward bit o' country, sir; six miles' row before you can find a place to land."
"Very awkward, but they have to find a place to land their spirits, Mr Gurr, and if we don't soon have something to show we shall be called to account."
"Very unlucky, sir. Seems to me like going eel-fishing with your bare hand."
"Worse. You might catch one by accident."
"So shall we yet, sir. These fellows are very cunning, but we shall be too many for them one of these days."
"Dear me! Dear me!" said the little lieutenant after a few more turns up and down. "I don't like this at all I don't think I ought to have let a boy like that go alone. You don't think, Mr Gurr, that they would dare to injure him if he was so unlucky as to be caught?"
"Well, sir," said the master, hesitating, "smugglers are smugglers."
"Mr Gurr," said the little lieutenant, raising himself up on his toes, so as to be as high as possible, "will you have the goodness to talk sense?"
"Smugglers are smugglers, indeed. What did you suppose I thought they were? Oysters?"
"Beg pardon, sir; didn't mean any harm."
"Getting very late!" said the little officer after another sweep of the top of the cliff, especially above where the French lugger landed the goods. "I shall be obliged to send you on shore, Mr Gurr. You must go and find him. I'm getting very anxious about Mr Raystoke."
"Start at once, sir?"
"No, wait another half-hour. Very ill-advised thing to do. I cannot think what you were doing, Mr Gurr, to advise me to do such a thing."
"Me, sir?" said the master, looking astonished.
"Yes. A great pity. I ought not to have listened to you; but in my anxiety to leave no stone unturned to capture some of these scoundrels, I was ready to do anything."
"Very true, sir."
"Now, my good fellow, what do you mean by that?"
"It was only an observation, sir."
"Then I must request that you will not make it again. 'Very true?' Of course, what I say is very true. Do you think I should say a thing that was false?"
"Beg pardon, sir. 'Fraid I picked up some awk'ard expressions aboard the old frigate."
"Awk-ward, Mr Gurr, awkward."
"Yes, sir; of course."
"You do not understand the drift of my remarks."
"'Fraid not, sir," said the master, smiling; "understand drift of the tide much better."
"I was trying to teach you to pronounce the king's English correctly, and you turn it off with a ribald remark."
"Beg pardon, sir. 'Nother o' my frigate bad habits."
"It is a great privilege, Mr Gurr, to be one of those who speak the English tongue, so do not abuse it. Say awk-ward in future, not awk'ard."
"Certainly, sir, I'll try," said the master; and then to himself, "Starboard, larboard, for'ard, back'ard, awk'ard. Why, what does he mean?"
By this time the little lieutenant was scanning the cliffs again, and the master took off his hat and wiped his forehead.
"Talk about thistles and stinging nettles," he muttered, "why there's no bearing him to-day, and all on account of a scamp of a middy such as there's a hundred times too many on in the R'yal Navy. Dunno though; bit cocky and nose in air when he's in full uniform, and don't know which is head and which is his heels, but he aren't such a very bad sort o' boy. Well, what's the matter with you?"
Dirty Dick screwed up his mouth as if to speak, but only stared.
"Don't turn yourself into a figurehead of an old wreck sir. What do you want?"
"Leave to go ashore, sir."
"Well, you're going soon as the skipper orders."
"I mean all alone by myself, sir."
"What for? There aren't a public-house for ten miles."
"Didn't mean that."
"Then what did you mean? Speak out, and don't do the double shuffle all over my clean deck."
"Hopping about like a cat on hot bricks. Now, then, why do you want to go ashore?"
"Try and find Mr Raystoke, sir. Beginning to feel scarred about him."
"What's that?" said the lieutenant, who had come back from abaft unheard. "Scared about whom?"
"Beg pardon, didn't mean nowt, sir," said the sailor touching his forelock.
"Yes, you did, sir. Now look here," cried the lieutenant, shaking his glass at the man, "don't you try to deceive me. You meant that you were getting uneasy about Mr Raystoke's prolonged absence."
"Yes sir, that's it," said Dick eagerly.
"Then how dare you have the effrontery to tell me that you did not mean 'nowt' as you have the confounded north country insolence to call it? For two pins, sir,—women's pins, sir, not belaying pins,—I'd have you put ashore, with orders not to show your dirty face again till you had found Mr Raystoke."
Dirty Dick passed his hand over his face carefully, and then looked at the palm to see if any of the swarthy tan had come off.
"Do you hear me, sir?" cried the lieutenant.
"Yes, sir," said the man humbly. "Shall I go at once sir?"
"No. Wait. Keep a sharp look-out on the cliff to see if Mr Raystoke is making signals for a boat. I daresay he has been there all the time, only you took up my attention with your chatter."
He swung round, walked aft and began sweeping the shore again with his glass, while the master and Dick exchanged glances which meant a great deal.
"He is in a wax," said Dick to himself, as he walked to the side, and stood shading his eyes with his hands, looking carefully for the signals which did not come.
Two hours more passed away, during which it was a dead calm, and the sun beat down so hotly that the seams began to send out little black beads of pitch, and drops formed under some of the ropes ready to come off on the first hand which touched them.
At last the little lieutenant could bear the anxiety no longer.
"Pipe away the men to that boat there," he said; and as the crew sprang in. "Now, Mr Gurr," he said, "I'm only going to say one thing to you in the way of instructions."
"Will you have the goodness to wait till I have done speaking, Mr Gurr, and not compel me to say all I wish over again?"
"Beg pardon, sir," said the master deprecatingly.
"I say, sir, I have only one order to give you. Get ashore as soon as you can, and find and bring back Mr Raystoke."
"Yes, sir," cried the master, and he walked over the side, glad to get into the boat and push off, muttering the while, "and I always thought him such a quiet, amiable little chap. He's a Tartar; that's what he is. Making all this fuss about a boy who, as like as not, is having a game with us. Don't see me getting out o' temper with everybody, and spitting and swearing like a mad Tom-cat. Hang the boy! He's on'y a middy.—Now, my lads,—now, my lads, put your backs into it, will you?"
The boat was already surging through the water faster than it had ever gone before, but the men bent lower and the longer, and the blades of the oars made the water flash and foam as they dipped and rose with the greatest of regularity.
For the lieutenant's anxiety about the young officer of the White Hawk was growing more and more contagious, and the men gave a cheer as they span the boat along, every smart sailor on board thinking about the frank, straightforward lad who had so bravely gone on the risky expedition.
"Look ye here, Jemmy," said one of the men to his nearest mate, "talk about 'tacking the enemy, if wrong's happened to our young gentleman, all I can say is, as I hopes it's orders to land every night to burn willages and sack everything we can."
"And so says all of us," came in a chorus from the rest of the crew.
"Steady! My lads, steady!" cried the master—"keep stroke;" and then he began to make plans as to his first proceedings on getting ashore.
He wasn't long in making these plans, and when the cove was reached, the two fishing luggers and another boat or two lying there were carefully overhauled, Gurr gazing at the men on board like a fierce dog, and literally worrying the different fishermen as cleverly as a cross-examining counsel would a witness ashore.
Always the same answer.
No, they hadn't seen no sailor lad in a red cap, only their own boys, and they were all at home. Had he lost one?
Yes; a boy had come ashore and not returned.
The different men questioned chuckled, and one oracular-looking old fellow spat, wiped his lips on the back of his hand, stared out to sea, and said gruffly,—
"Ay," said another, "that's it. You won't see him again."
"Won't I?" muttered Gurr between his teeth. "I'll let some of you see about that, my fine fellows."
He led his men on, stopping at each cluster of cottages and shabby little farm to ask suspiciously, as if he felt certain the person he questioned was hiding the truth.
But he always came out again to his men with an anxious look in his eyes, and generally ranged up alongside of Dick.
"No, my lad," he would say, "they haven't seen 'im there;" and then with his head bent down, but his eyes eagerly searching the road from side to side, he went on towards Shackle's farm.
"Say, Mester Gurr," said Dick, after one of these searches, "he wouldn't run away?"
"What! Mr Raystoke, sir? Don't be a fool."
"No, sir," replied Dick humbly, and the men tramped on with a couple of open-mouthed, barefooted boys following them to stare at their cutlasses and pistols.
"Say, Mester Gurr," ventured Dick, after a pause, "none of 'em wouldn't ha' done that, would they?"
Dick had followed the master's look, as he shaded his eyes and stared over the green slope which led up to the cliffs.
"Chucked him off yonder."
Gurr glanced round to see if the men were looking, and then said rather huskily but kindly,—
"In ord'nary, Dick, my lad, no; but when smugglers finds themselves up in corners where they can't get away, they turns and fights like rats, and when they fights they bites."
"Ah!" ejaculated Dick sadly.
"You're only a common sailor, Dick, and I'm your officer, but though I speak sharp unto you, I respect you, Dick, for you like that lad."
"Say, Mester Gurr, sir, which thankful I am to you for speaking so; but you don't really think as he has come to harm?"
"I hope not, Dick; I hope not; but smugglers don't stand at anything sometimes."
Dick sighed, and then all at once he spat in his fist, rubbed his hands together and clenched them, a hard, fierce aspect coming into his rough dark face, which seemed to promise severe retaliation if anything had happened to the young officer.
There was nowhere else to search as far as Gurr could see, save the little farm in the hollow, and the black-looking stone house up on the hill among the trees.
Gurr, who looked wonderfully bull-dog like in aspect, made straight for the farm, where the first person he encountered was Mrs Shackle, who, innocent enough, poor woman, came to the door to bob a curtsey to the king's men, while Jemmy Dadd, who was slowly loading a tumbril in whose shafts was the sleepy grey horse, stuck his fork down into the heap of manure from the cow-sheds, rested his hands on the top and his chin upon his hands, to stare and grin at the sailors he recognised.
"Morning, marm," said Gurr; "sorry to trouble you, but—"
"Oh, sir," interrupted Mrs Shackle, "surely you are not going to tumble over my house again! I do assure you there's nothing here but what you may see."