"If you'd let me finish, you'd know," said Gurr gruffly. "One of our boys is missing. Seen him up here? Boy 'bout seventeen with a red cap."
"No, sir; indeed I've not."
"Don't know as he has been seen about here, do you?" said Gurr, looking at her searchingly.
"Haven't heard any one talking about him, eh? Come ashore yesterday."
Mrs Shackle shook her head.
"Thank ye!—No, Dick," continued the master, turning back to where the men were waiting, and unconsciously brushing against the bush behind which the middy had hidden himself, "that woman knows nothing. If she knew evil had come to the poor lad, her face would tell tales like print. Hi! You, sir," he said, going towards where Jemmy stood grinning.
"Mornin'," said Jemmy; "come arter some more milk?"
"No," growled Gurr.
"Don't want to take the cow away agen, do 'ee?"
"Look here, my lad, one of our boys is missing. Came ashore yesterday, lad of seventeen in a red cap."
"Oh!" said Jemmy with a vacant look. "Don't mean him as come with you, do you?"
"I said a lad 'bout seventeen, in a red cap like yours," said Gurr very shortly.
"Aren't seen no lads with no red caps up here," said the man with a vacant look. "Have he runned away?"
"Are you sure you haven't seen him, my lad?" growled Gurr; "because, look here, it may be a serious thing for some of you, if he is not found."
The man shook his head, and stared as if he didn't half understand the drift of what was said.
Gurr turned angrily away, and to find himself facing Dick.
"Well, seen anything suspicious?"
"No, sir," said Dick, "on'y my fingers is a itchin'."
"Scratch them then."
"Nay, you don't understand," grumbled Dick. "I mean to have a turn at that chap, Master Gurr, sir. I feel as if I had him for 'bout quarter hour I could knock something out of him."
"Nonsense! Come along. Now, my lads, forward!"
Jemmy Dadd's countenance changed from its vacant aspect to one full of cunning, as the party from the cutter moved off, but it became dull and semi-idiotic again, for Gurr turned sharply round.
"Here, my lad, where's your master?"
"I say, where's your master?"
"Aren't in; mebbe he's out in the fields."
Gurr turned away impatiently again, and signing to his men to follow, they all began to tramp up the steep track leading toward the Hoze, with the rabbits scuttling away among the furze, and showing their white cottony tails for a moment as they darted down into their holes.
Dick followed last, shaking his head, and looking very much dissatisfied, or kept on looking back at Jemmy, who stood like a statue, resting his chin upon the shaft of his pitchfork, watching him go away.
"I dunno," muttered Dick, "and a man can't be sure. There was nowt to see and nowt to hear, and of course one couldn't smell it, but seems to me as that ugly-looking fisherman chap knows where our Mr Raystoke is. Yah, I hates half-bred uns! If a man's a labourer, let him be a labourer; and if he's a fisherman, let him be a fisherman. Man can't be two things, and it looks queer."
An argument which did not have much force when self-applied, for Dick suddenly recollected that he was very skilful with the scissors, and knew that he was the regular barber of the crew, and as this came to his mind he took off his cap and gave his head a vicious scratch.
"Never mind the rabbits, lads," cried Gurr angrily; "we want to find Mr Raystoke."
The men closed up together, and mastered their desire to go hunting, to make a change from the salt beef and pork fare, and soon after they came suddenly upon Sir Risdon and his lady, the latter, who looked weak and ill, leaning on her husband's arm.
Gurr saluted, and stated his business, while the baronet, who had turned sallower and more careworn than his lot drew a breath full of relief.
"One of your ship boys?" he said.
"A lad, looking like a common sailor, and wearing a red cap."
"No," said Sir Risdon. "I have seen no one answering to the description here."
"Beg pardon, sir, but can you, as a gentleman, assure me that he is not here?"
"Certainly," said Sir Risdon. "You have seen no one?" he continued, turning to Lady Graeme.
The lady shook her head.
"That's enough, sir; but may I ask you, if you do see or hear anything of such a lad, you will send a messenger off to the cutter?"
"It is hardly right to enlist me in the search for one of your deserters," said Sir Risdon coldly.
"Yes, sir, but he is not a deserter; and the fact is, we are afraid the lad has run alongside o' the smugglers, and come to grief."
"Surely!" cried Sir Risdon excitedly. "No, no,—you must be mistaken. A boyish prank. No one about here would injure a boy."
"Humph!" ejaculated Gurr, looking at the baronet searchingly. "Glad you think so well of 'em, sir. But I suppose you'll grant that the people about here would not be above a bit of smuggling?"
Sir Risdon was silent.
"And would run a cargo of brandy or silk?"
"I suppose there is a good deal of smuggling on the coast," said Sir Risdon coldly, as he thought of his vault.
"Yes sir, there is, and it will go hard with the people who are caught having any dealings with the smugglers."
Lady Graeme looked ghastly.
"What would you say, sir, if I were to order my men, in the king's name, to search your place?"
Sir Risdon dared not trust himself to speak, but darted an agonised glance at his wife.
"However, sir, I'm not on that sort of business now," continued Gurr sternly. "Want to find that boy. Good day. Now, my lads."
The men marched off, and Sir Risdon stood watching them.
"Ah, Risdon," and Lady Graeme, "how could you let yourself be dragged into these dreadful deeds!"
"Don't blame me," he said sadly. "I loathe the whole business, but when I saw my wife and child suffering almost from want of the very necessaries of life, and the temptation came in the shape of presents from that man, I could not resist—I was too weak. I listened to his insidious persuasion, and tried to make myself believe that I was guiltless, as I owned no fealty to King George. But I am justly punished, and never again will I allow myself to be made an accessory to these lawless deeds."
"But tell me," she whispered, "have they any of their goods secreted there now?"
"I do not know."
"You do not know?"
"No. The only way in which I could allow myself to act was to keep myself in complete ignorance of the going and coming of these people. I might suspect, but I would never satisfy myself by watching; and I can say now honestly, I do not know whether they have still goods lying there or have taken them away."
"But Celia—keep it from her."
"And about the missing boy. Surely, Risdon, they would not—"
Lady Graeme did not finish, but gave her husband a piercing look.
"Don't ask me," he said sadly. "Many of the men engaged in the smuggling are desperate wretches, and if they feared betrayal they would not scruple, I'm afraid, to strike down any one in the way of their escape."
Lady Graeme shuddered, and they went together into the house, just as Celia came across the wood at the back, in company with the dog.
Gurr continued his search till it was quite dark, and then tramped his men back to the cove, where the boat-keeper was summoned, and the boat with her crew, saving Dick, were sent back to the cutter, one of the men bearing a message from Gurr to say that he was going to stay ashore till he had found Mr Raystoke, and asking the lieutenant to send the boat back for him if he did not approve.
It was a very dark row back to the cutter, but her lights shone out clearly over the smooth sea, forming good beacons for the men to follow till the boat was run alongside.
"Got them, Mr Gurr?" came from the deck.
"No sir, and Mr Gurr's stopping at one of the fishermen's cottages ashore to keep on the search."
"Tut, tut!" ejaculated the lieutenant as he turned away and began to pace the deck.
"Beg'n' pardon, sir, Mr Gurr said—"
"Well, well, well, what did Mr Gurr say? Pity he did not do more and not say so much."
"Said as his dooty, sir, and would you send the boat for him if you did not think he'd done right."
"No, sir! His Majesty's boats are wanted for other purposes than running to and fro to fetch him aboard. Let him stay where he is till he finds Mr Raystoke and brings him back aboard."
"Dear, dear," muttered the lieutenant as he walked to and fro. "To think of the boy being missing like this.—Now you, sirs, in with that boat.—Where can he be? Not the lad to go off on any prank.—There, go below and get something to eat, my lads.—All comes of being sent into a miserable little boat like this to hunt smugglers."
"Ahoy!" came from forward.
"What's that?" cried the lieutenant, and an answer came from out of the blackness ahead.
"What boat's that?" shouted the man on the watch. "Mine," came in a low growl. "What is it?"
"Want to see the skipper."
There was a little bustle forward, in the midst of which a boat came up alongside, and the man in it was allowed to come on board.
He was a big, broad-shouldered, heavy fellow, with rough black beard and dark eyes, which glowered at those around as a lanthorn was held up by one of the men. "Where's the skipper?" he growled. "Bring the man aft," cried the lieutenant. "This way."
"All right, mate; I can find my way; I aren't a baby," said the man as he took three or four strides, lifting up his big fisherman's boots, and setting them heavily down upon the deck as if they were something separate from him which he had brought on board.
"Now, my man, brought news of him?" cried the lieutenant eagerly. "Eh?"
And the great fellow seemed to tower over the little commander.
"I say, have you brought news of the boy?"
"Haven't you come to tell me where he is?"
"Here, what yer talking about?" growled the man. "I aren't come 'bout no boys."
"Then, pray, why have you come?"
"Send them away," said the man in a hoarse whisper.
He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, and the lieutenant was about to give an order but altered his mind, for he suspected the man's mission, not an unusual one in those days.
"Come into my cabin, sir," he said imperiously, and as he turned and strutted off, making the most of his inches, the giant—for such he was by comparison—stumbled after him, making the deck echo to the sound of his great boots.
"Now, sir," said the lieutenant haughtily, "what is your business?"
The man leaned forward, and there was a leer on his bearded face seen by the dull swinging oil-lamp, as, half covering his mouth, he whispered hoarsely behind his hands—
"Like Hollands gin, master?"
"What do you mean, sir?" cried the lieutenant. "Speak out, for I have no time to lose."
"Oh, I'll speak plainly enough," growled the man; "on'y do you like it?"
"Do you mean that a foreign vessel is going to land a quantity of Hollands to-night?"
"Never said nothing o' the sort, Master Orficer. Why, if I was to come and say a thing like that, and folks ashore knowed on it, there'd be a haxiden."
"What do you mean, sir?"
"Some un would run up agin me atop o' the cliff, and I should go over, and there'd be an end o' me."
"You mean to say that if it was known that you informed, you would be in peril of your life?"
"No, I don't mean to say nothing o' the kind, master. I only says to you that there's going to be a drop to be got in a place I knows, and if you care to say to a chap like me—never you mind who he is—show me where this drop of Hollands gin is to be got, and I'll give you—for him, you know—fifty pounds, it would be done."
"Look here, my lad, if you have got any valuable information to give, wouldn't it be better for you to speak out plainly?"
"Didn't come twenty mile in my boat and get here in the dark, for you to teach me how to ketch fish, Master Orficer."
"Twenty miles!" said the lieutenant sharply; "where are you from?"
"Out o' my boat as is made fast 'longside. Is it fifty pound or aren't it?"
"Fifty pound is a great deal of money, my man. Your information may not be worth fifty pence. Suppose the boat does not come?"
"Why, o' course, you wouldn't pay."
"Oh, now I understand you. If we take the boat with the spirits I am to give you fifty pounds?"
"Me? Think I'm goin' to be fool enough to risk gettin' my neck broke for fifty pound? Nay, not me. You'll give it to me to give to him."
"And where is he?"
"Never you mind, master."
"Oh, well, there then; I'll give you the fifty pounds if I take the boat. Dutch?"
"P'raps. Shake hands on it."
"Is that necessary?" said the lieutenant, glancing with distaste at the great outstretched palm.
"Ay, shake hands on it, and you being a gentleman, you'll say, 'pon your honour."
"Oh, very well. There, upon my honour, we'll pay you if we take the boat."
"Oh you'll take her, fast enough," said the man with a hoarse chuckle. "Yah! There's no fight in them. They'll chatter and jabber a bit, and their skipper'll swear he'll do all sorts o' things, but you stick to the boat as soon as your lads are on board."
"Trust me for that," said the lieutenant. "Now, then, when is the cargo to be run?"
"Never you mind wheer. Get up your anchor, and make sail; I'll take the helm."
"What, do you think I am going to let a strange man pilot my vessel?"
"Yah!" growled the man; "shan't you be there, and if I come any games, you've got pistols, aren't you? But just as you like."
"Come on deck," said the lieutenant. "But one minute. I have lost a boy—gone ashore. Have you seen one?"
"Not I; lots o' boys about, soon get another!"
The man went clumping on deck, and stepped over the side into his boat.
"What are you going to do?" said the lieutenant sharply.
"Make her fast astarn."
"Well, you need not have got into her, you could have led her round."
"This here's my way," said the man; and as the order was given to slip the anchor, with a small buoy left to mark its place, the informer secured his boat to one of the ringbolts astern, and then drew close in; and mounted over the bulwark to stand beside the man at the helm.
"What do you propose doing?" said the lieutenant.
"Tellin' o' you what I wants done, and then you tells your lads."
The lieutenant nodded, and in obedience to the suggestion of the man the stay-sail was hoisted; then up went the mainsail and jib, and the little cutter careened over to the soft land breeze as soon as she got a little way out from under the cliffs, which soon became invisible.
"Why, you aren't dowsed your lanthorns," whispered the man. "I'd have them down, and next time you have time just have down all your canvas, and get it tanned brown. Going about with lanthorns and white canvas is showing everybody where you are."
After a time, as they glided on, catching a glimpse of a twinkling light or two on the shore, the man grew a little more communicative, and began to whisper bits of information and advice to the lieutenant.
"Tells me," he said, "that she's choke full o' Hollands gin and lace."
"Indeed!" said the lieutenant eagerly.
"Ay, so that chap says. And there's plenty o' time, but after a bit I'd sarve out pistols and cutlasses to the lads; you won't have to use 'em, but it'll keep those Dutchies from showing fight."
"That will all be done, my man."
"Going to get out four or five mile, master, and then we can head round, and get clear o' the long race and the skerries. After that I shall run in, and we'll creep along under the land. Good deep water for five-and-twenty miles there close under the cliff."
"Then you are making for Clayblack Bay?"
"Ah, you'll see," said the man surlily. "As long as you get to where you can overhaul the boat when she comes in, you won't mind where it is, Mister Orficer. There's no rocks to get on, unless you run ashore, and 'tarn't so dark as you need do that, eh?"
"I can take care of that," said the lieutenant sharply; and the cutter, now well out in the north-east wind then blowing, leaned over, and skimmed rapidly towards the dark sea.
The reef that stretched out from a point, and formed the race where the tide struck against the submerged rocks, and then rushed out at right angles to the shore, had been passed, and the cutter was steered on again through the clear dark night, slowly drawing nearer the dark shore line, till she was well in under the cliffs; with the result that the speed was considerably checked, but she was able to glide along at a short distance from the land, and without doubt invisible to any vessel at sea.
"There," said the great rough fellow, after three hours' sailing; "we're getting pretty close now. Bay opens just beyond that rock."
"Where I'll lie close in, and wait for her," said the lieutenant.
The man laughed softly.
"Thought I—I mean him—was to get fifty pounds, if you took the boat?"
"Well, you must take her. Know what would happen if you went round that point into the bay?"
"Know what would happen?"
"I'll tell yer. Soon as you got round into the bay, some o' them ashore would see yer. Then up would go lights somewhere yonder on the hills, and the boat would go back."
"Of course. I ought to have known better. Wait here then?"
"Well, I should, if I wanted to take her," said the man coldly. "And I should have both my boats ready for my men to jump in, and cut her off as soon as she gets close in to the beach. She'll come on just as the tide's turning, so as to have no fear of being left aground."
"You seem to know a good deal about it, my lad?" said the little lieutenant.
"Good job for you," was the reply, as the sails were lowered, and the cutter lay close in under the cliff waiting. The boats were down, the men armed, and the guns loaded, ready in case the smuggler vessel should attempt to escape.
Then followed a long and patient watch, in the most utter silence; for, in the stillness of such a calm night a voice travels far, and the lieutenant knew that a strange sound would be sufficient to alarm those for whom he was waiting, and send the boat away again to sea. He might overtake her, but would more probably lose her in the darkness, and see her at daybreak perhaps well within reach of a port where he dare not follow.
It was darker now, for clouds had come like a veil over the bright stars, but the night was singularly clear and transparent, as soon after eight bells the informer crept silently up to where the lieutenant was trying to make out the approach of the expected vessel.
The little officer started as the man touched his elbow, so silently had he approached, and on looking down, he dimly made out that the man had divested himself of his heavy boots.
"Do be quiet, master," whispered the great fellow. "Can't 'ford to lose fifty pounds for fear o' getting one's feet cold. See anything?"
"No," whispered the lieutenant, after sweeping his glass round.
"Tide serves, and she can't be long now. But two o' your chaps keep whispering for'ard, and it comes back off the cliff. No, no—don't shout at 'em. We daren't have a sound."
"No," replied the lieutenant; and he went softly forward toward where a group of men were leaning over the bulwarks, peering into the darkness and listening to the tide as it gurgled in and out of the rocks, little more than a hundred yards away.
"Strict silence, my lads, and the moment you get the word, over into your boats and lay ready. Are those rowlocks muffled?"
"Ay, ay, sir!" said the boatswain, who was to be in command of one of the boats.
"No bloodshed, my lads. Knock any man down who resists. Five minutes after you leave the side here ought to make the smuggler ours. Hush! Keep your cheering till you've taken the boat."
A low murmur ran round the side of the cutter, and every eye was strained as the little officer whispered,—
"A crown for the first man who sights her."
After a while, the lieutenant mentally said,—
"I wish Mr Raystoke was here, he and Gurr could go in the other boat. I wonder where the lad can be!"
He went cautiously aft along the starboard side of his vessel, looking hard at the frowning mass of darkness under which they lay, and thinking how dangerous their position would have been had the wind blown from the opposite quarter. But now they were in complete shelter, with the little cutter rising and falling softly on the gentle swell and drifting slowly with the tide, so that the White Hawk's head was pointing seaward.
He glanced over the side to see that the boats were in readiness, and then went aft without a sound, till all at once he kicked against something in the darkness beneath the larboard bulwark, to which he had crossed, and nearly fell headlong.
"What's—here? Who was—Oh, it's those confounded boots. Hush, there; silence!"
He said the last words hastily, for the crew made noise enough to startle any one within range, and the sound: were being followed by the hurried whisper of those who came running aft.
"Back to your places, every one," he said; and then the men drew off, becoming invisible almost directly, for the darkness was now intense, the lanthorns carefully hidden below, and once more all was still, and the little office rested his glass on the bulwark and carefully swept the sea.
"Stupid idiot!" he said to himself. "Lucky for him he isn't one of the crew. No, not a sign of anything."
But knowing that seeing was limited enough, he put his hand to his ear and stood leaning over the side, listening for a full ten minutes, before, with an impatient ejaculation, he turned to speak to the informer, who was not aft but probably forward among the men.
He walked forward.
"Where's that man?" he whispered to the first sailor he encountered, who, like the rest, was eagerly watching seaward.
"Went aft, sir."
The little officer went aft, but the fisherman was not there, and he passed back along the starboard side, going right forward among the crew.
"Where is the fisherman?" he said.
"Went aft, sir," came from every one he encountered; and, feeling annoyed at the trouble it gave him, Mr Brough went aft again, to notice now that there was no man at the helm.
He walked forward again.
"Here!" he cried in an angry whisper, "who was at the helm?"
"I, your honour," said a voice.
"Then why are you here, sir?"
"That fisherman chap told me you said I was to go forward, sir, as he'd take a spell now, ready for running her round the head into the bay."
"Where is that man?"
There was no reply, and more quickly than he had moved for months, the lieutenant trotted aft, and looked over the stern for the fisherman's boat.
It was gone.
Lieutenant brough went into a fit of passion. Not a noisy, sea-going fit of passion, full of loud words, such as are not found in dictionaries, but a rising and falling, swelling and collapsing, silent fit of passion, as moment by moment he realised more and more that he had been victimised, and that he had been sent forward to quiet the men so as to give the big rough fellow an opportunity to creep over into his boat and cut the painter by which it was made fast, and let it glide away on the tide till it was safe to thrust an oar over astern, and, using it like a fish does its tail, paddle softly away close under the rocks to some hole, or perhaps round into the bay.
For a moment the lieutenant thought of manning the boats and sending in pursuit, but he knew that such an act would be madness; and, accepting his position, he suddenly gave the order for four men to go into each boat, and begin to tow the cutter, while a few of the crew put out the sweeps to get her a little farther from the cliff to catch the breeze.
Half an hour later the boats were ordered in, sail was being set, and the cutter was again moving swiftly through the water.
But the wind was dead ahead now, and though the White Hawk could use her wings well even in such a breeze, and sail very close, it was far different work getting back to coming away.
The men were not forbidden to talk, and they were not long in grasping the situation, while their commanding officer went up and down the deck, fuming and taking himself to task more seriously than any captain had done since he first went to sea.
"Only to think of me, after what I have learned of their shifts and tricks, letting myself be taken in by such a transparent dodge. Oh, it's maddening!"
He looked up at the sails, and longed to clap on more, but it was useless. The little craft was doing her best, and the water surged under her bow as she took a long stretch seaward, before tacking for the land.
"There's not a doubt of it," muttered the lieutenant. "I know it—I'm sure of it. I deserve to lose my rank. How could I have been such a blind, idiotic baby!"
He was obliged to confess, though, that the trick, if such it proved to be, had been well planned and executed, and the stipulation of the man that he should be paid fifty pounds if the boat was captured had completely thrown dust into his eyes.
More than once, as the cutter rushed on through the darkness, he found himself wondering whether, after all, he was wrong, and that the man had slipped away, so as to avoid being recognised when the smuggling vessel was captured, for, if seen, he would be a marked man.
"And, perhaps, in a few minutes, the smuggler would have been coming into the little bay, I should have taken her, redeemed my reputation, been looked upon as a smart officer, my crew would have got a nice bit of prize money, and the fellow would have come stealthily some night for his reward.—I've done wrong. Would there be time to go back?"
He was on the point of bidding the men "'bout ship," when a firm belief in his having been cheated came over him, and he kept on.
Then there was another season of doubt—and then of assurance—another of doubt, till the poor little fellow grew half bewildered, and gazed around, longing for the daylight and his old moorings, so that he might send a boat ashore, and carefully examine the ground, to see if he could trace any signs of landing having gone on.
At last, just at daybreak, the cutter was about to make a dash, and run right down for her old berth, when one of the men shouted "Sail ho!"
He raised his glass, and there, hull down, were the three masts of a lugger, a Frenchman without a doubt, and his suspicions had their just confirmation.
His immediate thought was to give chase, but the swift sailing vessel was well away with a favourable wind, and she would most probably get across the Channel before he could overtake her, and even if he were so lucky as to catch up to her, what then? She would not have a keg or bale on board which would give him an excuse for detaining her; and wrinkling up his brow, he went on more satisfied that he had been deluded away, so as to give the chasse maree an opportunity to come in and rapidly run her cargo.
He saw it all now. No sooner had he passed round the race, than lights had been shown, and the lugger was run in. He felt as certain as if he had seen everything, and he ground his teeth with vexation.
"Wait till I get my chance!" he muttered. "I'll sink the first smuggler I meet; and as to that blackavised scoundrel who came and cheated me as he did—oh, if I could only see him hung!"
A couple of hours later, after seeing the lugger's masts and sails slowly disappear, the cutter was once more at her old moorings, and leaving the boatswain in charge, the lieutenant had himself rowed ashore, to land upon the ledge, and carefully search the rocks for some sight of a cargo having been landed.
But the smugglers and their shore friends had been more careful this time, and search where they would, the cutter's men could find no traces of anything of the kind, and the lieutenant had himself rowed back to the cutter, keeping the boat alongside, ready to send along shore to the cove to seek for tidings of Gurr and Dick but altering his mind, he had the little vessel unmoored once more to run back the six miles along the coast till the cutter was abreast of the cove,—the first place where it seemed possible for a boat to land,—and here he sent a crew ashore to bring his two men off.
"How many horses has your father got?"
"What colour are they?"
"Black, white, and grey."
"Turn round three times, and catch whom you may."
That, as everyone knows, is the classical way of beginning the game of Blind Man's Buff; and supposing that the blinded man pro tem, is properly bandaged, and cannot get a squint of light up by the side of his nose, and also supposing that he confuses himself by turning round the proper number of times honestly, he will be in profound darkness, and in utter ignorance of the direction of door, window, or the salient objects in the room.
Take another case. Suppose a lad to have eaten a hearty supper of some particularly hard pastry. The probabilities are that he will either have the peculiar form of dream known as nightmare, or some time in the night he will get out of bed, and go wandering about his room in the darkness, to awake at last, cold, confused, and asking himself where he is, without the slightest ability to give a reasonable answer to his question.
It has fallen to the lot of some people to be lost in a fog—words, these, which can only be appreciated by those who have passed through a similar experience.
The writer has gone through these experiences more than once, and fully realised the peculiar sensation of helplessness, confusion, and brain numbing which follows. Dark as pitch is mostly a figure of speech, for the obscurity is generally relieved by something in the form of dull light which does enable a person to see his hand before him; but the blackness around, when Archibald Raystoke began to come back to his senses, would have left pitch far behind as to depth of tint.
His head ached, and there was a feeling in it suggestive of the contents having been turned into brain-fritters in a pan—fritters which had bubbled and turned brown, and then been burned till they were quite black.
He opened his eyes, and then put his hands up to feel if they were open.
They were undoubtedly, and he hurt them in making the test, for he half fancied, and he had a confused notion, that a great handkerchief had been tied over them. But though they were undoubtedly open he could not see. In fact, when he closed them, strange as it may sound, he felt as if he could see better, for there were a number of little spots of light sailing up and down and round and round, like the tiny sparks seen in tinder before the fire which has consumed is quite extinct.
He lay still, not thinking but trying to think, for his mind was in the condition described by the little girl who, suffering from a cold, said, "Please, ma, one side of my nose won't go."
Archy Raystoke's mind would not go, and for a long time he lay motionless.
His memory began to work again in his back, for he gradually became conscious of feeling something there, and after suffering the inconvenience for a long time, he thrust his hand under his spine and drew out a piece of iron, sharp-edged and round like a hoop.
He felt better after that, and fell to wondering why he had brought his little hoop to bed with him, and also how it was that his little hoop, which he used to trundle, had become iron instead of wood.
The exertion of moving the hoop made him wince, for his back was sore and his arms felt strained as if he had been beaten.
His mind began "to go" a little more, and he had to turn back mentally; but he could not do that, so he made an effort to go forward, and wondered how soon it would be morning, and the window curtains at the foot of the bed would show streaks of sunshine between.
Time passed on and he still lay perfectly quiet, for he did not feel the slightest inclination to move after his late efforts, which had produced a sensation of the interior of his skull beginning to bubble up with fire or hot lead rolling about. But as that pain declined he felt cold, and after a great deal of hesitation he suddenly stretched out his hands to pull up the clothes.
There were none.
His natural inference had been, as he was lying there upon his back, that he must be in bed; but now he found that, though there were no bed-clothes, he was wearing his own, only upon feeling about with no little pain they did not seem like his clothes.
That was as far as he could get then, but some time after there came a gleam of light in his understanding, and he recalled the mists that hung about the Channel.
Of course he was in one of those thick mists, and he had gone to sleep on—on—what had he gone to sleep on?
The light died out, and it was a long time before, like a flash, came the answer.
The deck of the cutter!
He made a movement to start up in horror, for he knew that he must have gone to steep during his watch, and his pain and stiffness were like a punishment for doing so disgraceful a thing.
"What will Mr Brough say if he knows?" he thought, and then he groaned, for the pain caused by the movement was unbearable.
At last his mind began to clear, and he set himself to wonder with more force. This was not the deck, for he could feel that he was lying on what was like an old sail, and where his hand lay was not wood, but cold hard stone, with a big crack full of small scraps.
The lad shook his head and then uttered a low moan, for the pain was terrible.
It died off though as he lay, still trying hard to think, failing— trying in a half dreamy way, and finally thrilling all over, for he remembered everything now—the smugglers—the scene in the darkness of the room where he was imprisoned—the coming of that boy who jeered at him till they engaged in a fierce struggle, with the result all plainly pictured, till he was stunned or had swooned away.
These thoughts were almost enough to stun him again, and he lay there with a hot sensation of rage against the treacherous young scoundrel who had lured him on to that struggle, and held him so thoroughly fixed against the bars till he was secured and bound. Yes, and his eyes were bandaged. He could recall it now.
"Oh, only wait till I get my chance!" he muttered, and he involuntarily clenched his fists.
He lay perfectly quiet again though, for he found that any exertion brought on mental confusion as well as pain, and he wanted to think about his position.
It came by degrees more and more, and as he was able to think with greater clearness, he found an explanation of the fancy he had felt, that he must be ill and sea-sick again, and that somebody had been giving him brandy.
Part was fevered imagination, part was reality, for there could be no doubt about that faint odour of spirits. It was brandy, but brandy in smuggled kegs, and the scoundrels of smugglers had shut him up in the vault with their kegs.
"Well, they have not killed me," he said to himself with a little laugh. "They dared not try that, and all I have to do now is to escape, if Mr Brough does not send the lads to fetch me out."
He went through the whole time now since his landing; thought of what a disgraceful thing it was for a titled gentleman to mix himself up with smuggling, and what a revelation he would have for the lieutenant and the master who had been so easily deluded by Sir Risdon's bearing.
Then he thought of Celia, and how bright and innocent she had seemed; putting away all thoughts of her, however, directly as his angry feeling increased against Ram and this treacherous girl.
He must have been for hours thinking, often in a drowsy, half-confused way, but rousing up from time to time to feel his resentment growing against Ram, who seemed to him now to be the personification of the whole smuggling gang.
By degrees he grew conscious of a fresh pain, one that was certainly not produced by his late struggles, or by stiffness from lying upon an old sail stretched upon the damp floor of a vault.
As he thought this last, he asked himself why he called it the damp floor of a vault. For it was not damp, but perfectly dry, and below the scraps of stone in the seam there was fine dust.
But the said pain was increasing, and there was no mistaking it. He was hungry, decidedly hungry; and paradoxically, as he grew better he grew worse, the pain in the head being condensed in a more central region, where nature carries on a kind of factory of bone, muscle, flesh, blood, and generally health and strength.
Suddenly Archy recalled that his legs had been bound, and he sat up to find that they were free now, and if he liked he could rise and go to the grated window and call for help.
"If I do, they'll come down and stuff a handkerchief in my mouth again," he thought, "and it is no use to do that. I may as well wait till I hear our men's voices, and then I'll soon let them know where I am."
He got on his feet, feeling stiff and uncomfortable, and then tried to make out where the grated window was, but the darkness was absolute, and he stretched out one foot and his hands, as he began to move cautiously along, feeling his way till he kicked against a loose stone.
This arrested him, and he tried in another direction for his foot to come in contact with what seemed to be round, and proved to be a spar lying in company with some carefully folded and rope-bound sails.
"The old rascal!" thought Archy, as he mentally pictured the stern, sad countenance of Sir Risdon.
"Why, he must have a lugger of his own, and keep his stores in here."
A little feeling about convinced him that the window of the vault could not be behind the pile of boat-gear against which he had stumbled, and he moved slowly of! Again, to stop at the end of a yard or two, feeling about with one foot.
"Why, I'm not shut up!" he cried joyously. "I'm out on the ledge. They must have laid me here to be fetched off by the boat. Suppose the tide had risen while I was asleep!"
But the joyous feeling went off as he stared about him. It had been dark enough in a dense fog, but it did not feel dark and cold now, as if there was a dense fog. Everything seemed dry, and though he listened attentively, he could not hear the washing of the waves among the rocks, nor smell the cool, moist, sea-weedy odour of the coast. Instead of that a most unmistakable smell of brandy came into his nostrils.
And yet he seemed to be standing on that ledge close down to the water, for as he stooped down now he could trace with his hand one of the huge, curled-up shell-fish turned to the stone in which it was embedded, while, as he felt about, there was another and another larger still.
He listened again.
No; he was not on the seashore. He must be in the vault beneath Sir Risdon's house, and though he had not noticed it, the floor must be paved with a layer of stones similar to those found where the little kegs had been left.
He went cautiously on with outstretched hands through the intense darkness, and his feet traced the flat curls of stone again and again, but he did not find any wall, and now, as he made up his mind to go back to where he had been when he first awoke, he found that he had not the faintest idea as to which direction he ought to take.
As he grew more able to move and act, the sense of confusion which suddenly arrested him was terrible—almost maddening.
Where was he? What was here on all sides? It could not be the cellar, as he went in one direction or the other toward the walls, and he stood at last resting, in the most utter bewilderment of mind and helplessness of body possible to conceive, while a curious feeling of awe began to steal over him.
The smugglers had not dared to kill him or throw him into the sea, as he had heard of them doing on more than one occasion, but as far as he could make out they had cast him down into some terrible place to die.
The idea was terrible, and unable to contain himself he took a step or two in one direction, then in another, and stopped short, not daring to stir for fear some awful chasm such as he had seen among the rocks should be yawning at his feet, and he should fall headlong down.
He stopped to wipe the cold perspiration away that was gathering on his brow, and then, trying to keep himself cool, he stood thinking, and finally, in utter weariness, sat down.
"I wish I wasn't such a coward," said the young midshipman, half aloud. "It's like being a child to be frightened because it's dark. What's that!"
He started up.
"That" was a gleam of light some distance off, shining on the rugged walls of a vast chamber or set of chambers. He could only dimly see this, for the light was but feeble, and the bearer hidden behind the rugged pillars which supported the roof; but it was evidently coming nearer, and as it approached he could see that he was in a vast cavernous, flat-ceiled place, which appeared to have been a quarry, from which masses of stone had been hewn, the floor here and there being littered with refuse of all sorts and sizes.
As the light came on, the midshipman made out that quite a store of spars, ropes, and blocks lay at a short distance, and that more dimly seen was a large stack of tubs, from which doubtless emanated the odour of brandy.
Archy's first idea was to go and meet the bearers of the light, but on second thoughts he decided to stand upon his dignity and let them come to him, and as the thought occurred to him that the visit might be of an inimical nature, his hand stole into his breast in search of his dirk. Vainly though: the weapon was gone.
All this time, as if the bearers were coming very leisurely, the light slowly approached, and as the midshipman more fully grasped the fact that he must be either in a stone quarry or a mine, he saw that the light was an ordinary horn lanthorn, and from the shadows it cast he could see that there were two people, one of whom was carrying something weighty on his shoulders.
This soon resolved itself into four kegs, slung two and two, the bearer panting under their weight, while his companion held the light low down, so that he could see where to plant his feet and avoid the corners of the huge square pillars which supported the roof.
Neither of the pair seemed to pay any attention to him; in fact, the midshipman was doubtful whether he was seen as he stood back waiting till they had passed him, and then hesitated as to whether he should make for the entrance and escape.
Through the black darkness, not knowing which way he should go, perhaps to fall down some shaft such as was sure to be in a place like this? No; he could not risk the journey without a light, and he stood waiting and trying to make out the shadowy figures, one of whom looked strangely uncouth beneath his load, while the other was quite short.
Archy had not long to wait before the pair halted by the stack of kegs, to which the four carried by the man were added, and this done they turned and came toward him.
At this moment, after excitedly watching them, the midshipman became convinced.
The bearer of the lanthorn was his young enemy—the boy.
Raystoke looked round him for a weapon, but the only thing visible was a stone, and not feeling disposed to descend to such a barbarous means of offence or defence, he drew himself up, burning with indignation, but waiting for the others to commence speaking.
He had not long to wait.
"Hullo, sailor!" cried Ram; "like some milk?"
"You rascal!" burst out Archy, taking a step toward the lad, but feeling directly a strong hand upon his arm to hold him back.
"What's the matter?" growled the owner of the hand.
"The matter will be that you two will be hung at the yardarm some fine morning. How dare you shut me up in this hole?"
"Hung for shutting you up here?" cried the boy. "We shall have to hang him then, Jemmy, after all."
"Ay, lad," said the man. "When'll we do it; now?"
"Now!" cried the midshipman. "Do you think you are going to frighten me with such talk? Show me the way out of this place directly."
"Ram, lad," said Jemmy Dadd, with a cackling laugh; "when yer ketches a wild thing, and puts him in a cage, he begins to bang hisself agen the sides, and knocks his head agen the bars, and if he could talk he'd go on just like that 'ere. Then you keeps quiet, and don't give him nothing to eat, and after a day or two you can do what you like with him."
"Then we'd better take back the basket, Jemmy, eh?"
"Ay, lad, that's it. Leave him in the dark a bit to cool him down."
"You scoundrels!" cried the lad in frenzy. "If you do not show me the way out, I'll shout for help, and when it does come, I'll take care your punishment shall be ten times worse."
"Ah, do," said Ram, laughing. "Won't bring the roof down, will it, Jemmy?"
"Nay, not it, lad. Come on."
"Wait a bit," said Ram.—"I say, didn't tell me whether you'd like a bottle o' milk?"
Archy felt as if he would like to fly at the boy, the very mention of the milk exasperating him to such an extent. But at every movement he felt himself more tightly held, and knowing from sad experience that it was waste of energy to contend with the iron-muscled fellow who gripped his arm, he smothered his anger.
He did not speak, but as Ram held up the light, Archy's countenance told tales of the passion struggling in his breast for exit, and the boy grinned.
"I say, do have a bottle o' milk," he said; "it's fresh and warm. Mother said it would do you good."
"Nay, lad, don't give him none till he's grow'd civil, and don't talk about hanging on us."
"I brought you a bottle o' new milk and some hot bread, on'y it's getting cold now, and some butter and cold ham. Do have some."
Archy ground his teeth: he felt as if he would give anything for some food, and the very mention of the tasty viands made his mouth water, but he only stamped his foot and tried to shake himself free.
"I am a king's officer," he shouted, "and order you to let me go!"
"Hear that, Jemmy? Hold him tight."
"Ay! He's tight enough!" cried the man, throwing a sturdy arm about the middy's waist, and holding him back as he tried to get at Ram.
"No good to give orders here," said the latter, grinning. "You're only a king's officer when you're aboard your little bit of a cutter."
"Will you let me out of this place?"
"If I let you go will you tell your skipper about what you've seen?"
"Yes," cried Archy fiercely.
"Then what a dumble head you must be to think we'll let you go. Won't do, little officer; will it, Jemmy?"
"Do! Better chuck him off the cliff."
"What!" cried the midshipman fiercely.
"Chuck you off the cliff. What do you mean by coming interfering here with honest men getting their living? We never did nothing to you."
"You scoundrel!" cried Archy, "how dare you say that? You know you are breaking the laws by smuggling, and you are doing worse by kidnapping me."
"Should have kep' away then," growled the man.
"Don't speak cross to him, Jemmy. He's very sorry he came now, and if I let him go he'll promise not to say a word about what he has seen; won't you now, mate?"
"No!" roared Archy.
"Oh, well then, Jemmy's right. We shall have to tame you down."
"Show me the way out of this."
"Come along then," said Ram with a sneering laugh. "But you'd better promise."
"Show me the way out."
"Won't you have some milk first?"
"Do you hear me?"
"And bread and butter, home-made?"
"Will you show me the way out."
"Nor no ham? You must be hungry!"
"You scoundrel!" cried Archy, who was exasperated almost beyond bearing. "Show me the way out."
"Oh, very well, this way, then. Hold him tight, Jemmy."
"Ay, ay, lad!"
"This way, my grand officer without your fine clothes," said Ram tauntingly, as he held down the lanthorn to show the rough stone floor. "Mind how you put your feet, and take care. Why don't you come?"
Archy made a start forward, but he was tightly held.
"Why don't you come, youngster?" cried Ram mockingly, as he held the lanthorn more closely. "There, now then, mind how you come."
The dull sound was followed by a faint clatter, and all was black darkness again, for raging with hunger and annoyance as the boy was, tightly held, the light down just in front of him, without any warning Archy drew back slightly, delivered one quick, sharp kick full at the lanthorn, and it flew right away into the darkness.
"Well!" ejaculated Ram in his first moment of surprise. Then he burst into a roar of laughter which echoed from the roof.
"You're a nice un," growled Jemmy.
"Let him go, and come on," cried Ram.
A sudden thought struck the middy.
"No, you don't," he muttered, as he wrenched himself round and clung to the man. "If you are going from here, I go too."
"Got the lanthorn, Ram, lad?" cried Jemmy.
"No; and it's smashed now. Come away."
"Let go, will you?" growled Jemmy.
For answer the midshipman held on more tightly.
"Do you hear? Come on!" cried Ram.
"He won't let go. He's holding on legs, wings and teeth. Come and help."
"Get out: you can manage him. Put him on his back."
No sooner were the words uttered than, as he struggled there in the black darkness, Archy felt himself twisted up off his feet. There was a shake, a wrench, and as he clung tightly to the man, his arms were dragged, as it felt to him, half out of their sockets, and he was thrown, to come down fortunately on his hands and knees.
For a few moments he felt half stunned by the shake, but recovering himself he leaped up and began to follow the retiring footsteps which were faintly heard.
He knew the direction, and went on with outstretched hands to find the way, checked directly by their coming in contact with one of the great pillars of stone.
But he felt his way round this, got to the other side, listened, made out which way the footsteps were going, followed on, and caught his feet against something which threw him forward on to a pile of broken stone.
He got up again, and felt his way cautiously to the right, for the stones rose like a bank or barrier in his way, and he went many yards without finding a way through.
Then feeling that he had taken the wrong turning, he retraced his steps as quickly as he could, going on and on without avail and never stopping. He was just in time to save himself from another fall as he heard a dull bang as if a heavy door were closed, followed by a curious rattling sound, as of large pieces of slate falling down and banging against wood. Then came a dull echoing, which died off in whispers, and all was perfectly still.
"The cowards!" cried Archy, as he fully realised that his gaolers had escaped from him. "How brutal to leave a fellow shut up in a hole like this. 'Tis horrible; and enough to drive one mad. Ugh!" he now cried, "if I only could get out!"
He sat down upon the rough stones, feeling weak, and perspiring profusely. It was many hours now since he had tasted food, and in his misery and despair he felt that he should be starved to death before his gaolers came again.
"How dare they!" he cried passionately. "A king's officer too! Oh, if I could only be once more along with the lads, and with a chance to go at them! I think I should be able to fight."
Then as he sat on the stones he began to cool down and grow less fierce in his ideas. In other words, he came down from pistols and sharp-edged cutlasses to fists, and felt such an intense longing to get at Ram, that his fists involuntarily clenched and his fingers tingled.
"Wait a bit," he said fiercely,—"wait a bit."
"Yes, I shall have to wait a bit," he said sadly, as he rose from the stones. "Oh, how weak and hungry I am! It's as if I was going to be ill. I wonder whether I could track where they went out."
"Not now," he said,—"not now;" and with some faint hope of finding the place where he had been lying on the old sail, he began to move slowly and laboriously along, his mind dragged over, as it were, to the words of the boy as he taunted him about milk and bread and butter with ham. It was agonising in his literally starving condition to think of such things, and he tried to keep his mind upon finding the way out, meaning to work desperately after he had lain down for a bit to rest.
But it was impossible to control his thoughts, strive how he would. Hunger is an overmastering desire, and he crept on step by step with outstretched hands, picturing in the darkness slices of ham, yellow butter, brown crusted loaves, and pure sweet milk, till, as he dragged his feet slowly along, half-fainting now with pain, weariness, and despair, his foot suddenly kicked against something which rolled over and over away from him.
"The lanthorn!" he exclaimed eagerly, and planning at once how he could strike a light with a stone and his knife, and perhaps contrive some tinder, he went down on his hands and knees, feeling about in all directions till he touched the object which he had kicked, and uttered a cry of joy and excitement.
It was not the lanthorn, but a round cross-handled basket with lid, and he trembled as he recalled Ram's words about what his mother had sent.
Was there truth in them, or were they the utterances of a malicious mind which wished to torture one who was in its power?
Archy Raystoke hardly dared to think, and knelt there for a few minutes, with his trembling hands resting upon the basket, which he was afraid to open lest it should not contain that which he looked for.
"Out of my misery at all events," he cried; and he tore off the lid.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
"They only want to keep me a prisoner," said the midshipman half an hour after, as he sat with his mouth full, steadily eating away as a boy of seventeen can eat—"a prisoner till they've got all their stuff safe away. They dare not hurt me. I'm not afraid of that, and it's a very strange thing if I can't prove myself as clever as that cunning young scoundrel who trapped me here. At all events, I'll try. They dare not starve me: not they. Wait a bit, and I'll show them that I'm not so stupid as they think. Shut me up here, would they? Well, we'll see!"
He went on munching a little longer, then felt for the bottle, took out the tight cork, had a good long draught of the milk it contained, recorked and put it away in the basket with the bread, butter, and ham he had not consumed, shut down the lid, and laughed.
There was nothing very cheerful about his prison to make him laugh, but the reaction was so great—he felt so different after his hearty meal— that he was ready to look any difficulty in the face, and full of wonder at his despondency of a short time before.
There's a good deal of magic in food to one who is fasting, and is blessed with health and a good appetite.
"Now then," he said, rising with the basket in his hand, "the first thing is to find a place to stow you;" and he had no difficulty in finding ledge after ledge that would have held the basket, but he wanted one that would be easily found in the darkness.
At last he felt his way to a great mass of rock, upon which, about level with his head, was a projection upon which the basket stood well enough, and trusting to being able to find it again by means of the great block, he turned his attention to the lanthorn.
"If I only had that," he said to himself.
He stood thinking in the darkness, wondering which way he had better try.
"Any way," he said at last, "for I will have it; and then if I don't find my way out of this hole, I'm as stupid as that fellow thinks."
Stretching out his hands to save himself from a blow against any obstacle, he stalked off in as straight a direction as he could go, feeling his way with his feet, and always making sure of firm foothold before he moved the one that was safe, for his one great dread in the vast cavern was lest he should suddenly find himself on the brink of some yawning shaft.
He knew little about the district, his ideas of the place being principally confined to what he had seen of the coast-line from the sea, but rugged piles of stone had been pointed out to him here and there as being the refuse of the stone that had been ages before dug and regularly mined by shafts and galleries out of the bowels of the earth; and a little thinking convinced him that he must be shut up in one of those old quarries which had been seized upon by the smugglers as a place to hide their stores.
It was a shrewd guess, and he could not help thinking afterwards that it was no wonder that so little success attended the efforts of the revenue cutter's crew to trace cargoes which had been landed when the smugglers had such lurking places as this.
As he crept slowly on, step by step, these and similar thoughts came rapidly through the prisoner's brain, and as he slowly mounted what seemed to be a pile of fragments, he began to wonder where his prison could be—whether it was close to the shore or some distance inland.
He stopped to listen, hoping to hear the breaking of the waves among the rocks, which would have proved what he wished to know at once; but though he listened again and again, he could not distinguish a sound. The only noises he heard were those he made in stepping on one side of some piece of stone, which gave forth a musical clink as it struck another.
He was climbing up now what appeared to be a steep slope, over great fragments of stone heavier than he would have been able to lift, and he seemed to creep up and up till he felt assured that the ceiling was just above him, and raising his hand he touched the roof, his fingers tracing out again the great cast of one of the old-world shell-fish—one of the great nautiluses of the geologist.
But fossils were unknown things in Archy Raystoke's day. He was hunting for a lanthorn, not for specimens.
As he stood on the highest part of this pile of stone, he hesitated about going farther, and bore off to his left, feeling that in all probability the object of his search had not come so far.
From time to time he paused to listen, and at last thought of trying to find the extent of the place by shouting; but he was satisfied with his first essay, his voice going echoing away apparently for a great distance, and the peculiar, dying, whispering sound was not pleasant to one alone in the darkness.
After a while, however, as he felt that he was walking over small fragments of stone, he picked up a piece and threw it, to try if he were near the end of the cavern in this direction, for he was growing tired and longed now to find his way to the sailcloth to lie down and rest.
The piece he held was about a pound weight, and, drawing back his hand as far as he could reach, he threw it with all his might, to start back in alarm, for it struck wood with a heavy thud, and dropped down almost at his feet.
Unknown to himself he had gradually found his way to the pile of kegs, and these he touched the next moment, thinking that, as he stood facing them, the place where he had first come to himself must lie off to his left; and so it proved after a long search, and he sank down so wearied out, that as he chose by preference to lie down, he was before many minutes had elapsed in a deep and dreamless sleep, forgetful of the darkness and any peril that might be ready to assail him next.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
Whether it was night or day when Archy awoke he could not tell, but he felt rested and refreshed, and ready to try and do something to make his escape.
There was a way into his prison, and that way, he vowed, should by some means or other be his way out.
The first thing to do was to find that lanthorn, of whose position he seemed to have some vague idea; but, after a little search, he found that all idea of locality had gone, and he had not the slightest idea of the direction to go next.
"I must leave it to chance," he said. "I shall find it when I'm not trying;" and, wearying of the search, he set himself now to try and make his way to the place where his visitors had come into the old quarry.
Here, again, he was utterly at fault, for the cavern was so big and irregular, and he was still so haunted by the thought that he might be at any moment on the brink of some deep hole, half full of water, that he dared not search so energetically as he would have liked.
He had many narrow escapes from falls and blows against projecting masses of stone, and he found himself, after hours of wandering, so tired and faint, that he would gladly have found the basket and the resting-place; but the more he searched the more convinced he grew of the ease with which he could lose himself entirely in the darkness, and when he did come upon any spot again which he recognised by touch as one that he had felt before, it seemed to him that he stumbled upon it quite by accident, and the moment he left it he was as helpless as before.
Wearied out at length, he determined to go in a straight line from where he was to the extremity of the vault; then to curve back, and from this point strike out to the left in search of his resting-place and the basket.
It took him just about an hour, and when he had done all this he could find no traces of his food, but he heard a noise close behind him which nailed him to the spot, and he stood motionless, listening.
According to his idea, he was at the end of the cave farthest from where his gaolers approached, but unless there were two entrances he was quite wrong, for he had wandered close up to the place whence Ram and Jemmy had come, and, the noise continuing, he stooped down to let whoever it was pass him, while he made for the entrance and slipped out.
Directly after there was the soft glow of a lanthorn, which suddenly came into view round a corner, high up by the ceiling, and the bearer began to descend a rough slope.
Archy saw no more, for he dropped down and hid behind a stone, watching the glare of light, and then, as it passed him going on toward the other end of the cave, he crept from behind the stone and made for the rough slope, which was thoroughly printed on his mind, so that he could almost picture every rock and inequality that might be in his way.
The door would be open, he thought; and, if he could, he would have a clever revenge, for he determined to turn the tables on his enemies, shut them in, and he hoped to make them prisoners till he could signal for help from the cutter, and get a boat's crew ashore.
As he crept on quietly he glanced over his shoulder once, saw the light disappearing behind the great square, squat pillars, and then with a feeling of triumph that thrilled through him, he went cautiously up the rest of the slope, his arms outstretched, his breath held, and in momentary expectation of hearing an exclamation from the other end of the cave.
"They'll think I'm somewhere about," he said to himself, as he crept on, expecting to pass through an opening into daylight the next moment; but it did not turn out as he anticipated, for he stopped short with his nose against some one's throat, his arms on each side of a sturdy body, and the arms belonging to that body gripped him tight.
"Steady, Ram, lad!" came in a gruff whisper. "Light out?"
Archy's heart beat heavily, and he felt that, to escape, he ought to try and imitate the boy's voice, and say "Yes."
But he could not only stand panting, and the next instant his opportunity, if opportunity it was, had gone. For Ram's real voice came from right at the other end, echoing along the roof.
"Look out, Jemmy. He aren't here."
"No, he aren't there, lad," said the smuggler with a laugh. "Bring your lanthorn, I've ketched a rat or some'at. Come and see."
Archy made a violent struggle to escape, but the man's arms were tight round his waist, he was lifted off the slope, and as he fully realised that, in a wrestling match, no matter how active and strong seventeen may be, it is no match for big, well-set seven-and-thirty.
"No good, youngster," growled the smuggler, as he carried the midshipman down the slope, and held him at the bottom. "Very good idea, but you see we didn't mean you to get out like that."
Feeling that he was exhausting himself for nothing, Archy ceased his struggling, and was held there motionless, as Ram came up with the lanthorn to begin grinning.
"Bring him along, Jemmy," he said. "His dinner's ready."
"Shall I carry him, lad?"
"Look here," cried Archy haughtily. "You two are, I suppose, quite ignorant of the consequences of keeping me here?"
"What's he talking about, Jemmy?" said Ram.
"Dunno, lad: something 'bout consequences."
"As soon as it is known that you have seized and kept me here, you will both be arrested, and have to suffer a long term of imprisonment, even if you get no worse off."
"But suppose no one knows you are here?" said Ram.
"But it will be known, so I give you both fair warning."
"Thank ye," said Ram mockingly.
"And thank ye for me too, my lad."
"So now, take my advice, open that door, and set me free. If you do this, I'll promise to intercede for you two, and I daresay I can save you from punishment."
"Well, that's handsome; isn't it, Jemmy?" said Ram mockingly.
"Do you hear me?" cried Archy.
"Oh, I can, quite plain," said Jemmy.
"So can I," said Ram; "but your dinner's ready, Mr Orficer; so come and have it."
"Enough of this," cried Archy, wrenching himself free. "Open that door, and let me go."
"Better carry him, Jemmy."
"If you dare!" cried the angry prisoner, beginning the struggle, but Jemmy Dadd's muscles were like steel, and he whipped the young midshipman off his feet, and carried him, kicking and struggling with all his might, right along the cave, Ram going first with the lanthorn; and in spite of its feeble, poor, dulled light, the prisoner was able to get a better idea of the shape and size of the place than he had had before.
The captive ceased struggling, and keenly watched the various pillars and heaps they passed, noting too how the cavern seemed to extend in a wide passage right on before them, and seemingly endless gloom.
"There you are," said Jemmy, as he set his burden down; "quite at home. Is he going to ask us to dinner, Ram, lad, and send for his skipper to jyne us?"
Archy paid no heed to the man's jeering words, for he was thinking of the place, and trying to fix it all in his memory, for use when these two had gone.
He knew that he must have been over the parts he had seen again and again in the darkness, but beyond the memory of the great pillars he had marked, the place had made no impression; but now he had seen the way out, and the way further in, and throwing himself down, he without apparent reason took up a long narrow piece of stone, handled it for a moment or two, and set it down carelessly, but not with so much indifference that he did not contrive that it should act as a rough pointer, ready to indicate the direction of the door.
Feeling that it was useless to say more to his gaolers, especially after his attempt to escape, he half lay on the old sail; while, as if the darkness were the same to him as the light, the smuggler said laconically, "Going back!" turned on his heel, and disappeared in the black gloom.
"Brought you some bacon and some fried eggs, this time," said Ram, looking at him attentively, but Archy made no reply.
"No use to rile," continued the boy, "and you can't get out, so take it easy. Father'll let you go some day."
"Where is the cutter?" said Archy sharply.
"I d'know. Gone."
"Yes, she went off somewhere. To look for you, pr'aps," said the boy grinning, "or else they think you're drownded."
"Look here," said the midshipman suddenly, "you behaved very treacherously to me, but I'll forgive you if you'll let me go."
"Look here," replied the boy, "you behaved very treacherously to us, dressing up, and spying on us; but I've got you, and won't let you go."
"I was doing my duty, sir."
"And I'm doing my dooty—what father telled me."
"How much will you take to let me go?"
"How much will you give?" said Ram, grinning, and the midshipman's heart made a bound.
"You shall have five pounds, if you'll let me go now, at once."
"There's as much as you'll eat till I come agen," said Ram abruptly; "and if I don't forget you as I did my rabbits once, and they were starved to death, I'll bring you some more.—I say!"
Archy looked at him fiercely.
"Don't try to drink what's in them tubs. It's awful strong, and might kill you."
"Stop a moment; leave me a light."
"What do you want with a light? You kicked the last over, and thought you'd get out in the dark. You may have the one you kicked."
"But it is so dark here," said Archy, as the boy picked up the empty basket.
"Course it is when there's no light," said the boy coolly; and swinging the lanthorn as he rose, he continued, "You'll find the road to your mouth, I daresay. I did not bring you a knife, because you're such a savage one."
"Where is my dirk?"
"What d'yer mean? Your little sword?"
"Father's got it all right; said it was a dangerous thing for a boy!"
Ram gave his prisoner a nod, and went off whistling, the prisoner following at a distance, and getting pretty close up to the beginning of the slope as the lanthorn disappeared round a corner. Then, as he listened, it seemed to him that the boy climbed up somewhere, talking the while to his companion, their voices sounding hollow and rumbling, then there was a pause, the dull thud of a closing door, the drawing of bolts, and soon the rattling of heavy stones, and once more all was silent.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.
A strange depressing sensation came over the young prisoner as he stood there once more alone, but he turned sharply round with his teeth set, thought for a few moments about his course back, and then, feeling more determined and firm, walked slowly on, and to his great delight found that it was possible to become educated to do without sight, for, each time that he thought he was near a pillar, he stretched out his hand to find that he touched it, and with very little difficulty he walked straight up to the old sail, felt about, and there was the basket of food, which he attacked at once, and soon after fell asleep.
Four more visits were paid him by Ram, but whether they were at intervals of days or half days, the prisoner could not tell, for any questions he asked were laughingly evaded, and all attempts at persuasion and bribery proved useless.
He did learn that the cutter had just returned and gone away again. And it seemed to him that he was forgotten, but he never thoroughly lost heart, and during this time he had accustomed himself to the darkness, and educated his feet wonderfully in the topography of the place.
Of one thing he had fully satisfied himself, and that was the hopelessness of getting out by the way his visitors came in. They were too cautious ever to leave the door unguarded; hence the prisoner felt that if he knocked down and stunned the frank, good-tempered boy who seemed disposed to be the best of friends in every way but that of helping him to escape, he would be no nearer freedom than before.
He had gone up the slope twice, and the last time crept near enough to see that Ram was climbing up a well-like shaft by means of rugged projections in the wall, that as he got about twenty feet up he handed the lanthorn to the man, climbed out through a square opening, and then a trap-door was shut down, locked, and bolted, and what sounded to be a number of heavy pieces of stone were drawn over.
As far as he could judge, after venturing up and nearly having a severe fall in the darkness, escape was impossible that way, so he returned after each trial to think, and come to the conclusion that if the place had been used for the purpose of digging out stone, of which there could be no doubt, there must be some other way by which the great pieces had been dragged up to daylight.
With a lanthorn or torch he might easily have satisfied himself upon this point. To achieve it without was a terribly risky task.
Still he determined to try, and after a hasty meal, directly his gaolers had paid their last visit, he started off in the opposite direction to that which led to the trap-door, and proceeding cautiously, taking the precaution to keep on throwing pieces of stone before him, to satisfy himself that there was no well or pit in his way, he went on and on.
Now he threw a piece of stone to his left hand, to his right, and after going many yards at what was but a snail's pace, he discovered that the place had suddenly contracted, and after creeping a little farther, the place was more contracted still, and ascended. So narrowed was it now that a couple of steps in either direction enabled him to touch a wall, while about twenty short paces farther on the ascent grew much more straight, and there was no fear of a pit or shaft in the way, for he found that roughly square blocks of stone were laid like a flight of steps, up which he clambered, and then sunk down, overcome by the feeling of joy which had flooded his brain.
He must have come up quite fifty feet after ascending the slope along which he had walked, and here he was at the top of the flight of clumsy stairs on a kind of platform of rugged stones, and straight before him there was a chink so narrow that he could not have thrust a hand through it, but wide enough to allow the passage of a gleam of light; there was a familiar odour, too, of salt air and seaweed, and as he placed his ear to the chink he could hear, as if far below, the wash of water.
"Why, this must be at the side of the cliff," he said joyously; and if he could enlarge that crack there would be a way out to the face of the rocks, where it would go hard with him indeed if he could not climb up to the grassy fields above, or down to the shore below.
"Why didn't I try this before?" he cried. "Oh, how foolish! Not get out, eh? I'll soon show them that;" and he began to feel about carefully all over the face of the stones before him, to satisfy himself before long that there had been a large roughly square opening here, which had been filled in with some pieces of stone, between which he could feel that there was mortar.
"Now, then, what I want is a good marlinspike or an iron bar. Oh, if I had my dirk here I could move them with that."
But he had neither bar, marlinspike, nor dirk, nothing but his hands and a small pocket-knife, so a depressing feeling of vexation humbled him for a time.
He soon cast that off though, for it was impossible to feel low spirited in the face of such a discovery, and before commencing the task he had in hand he knelt down with his face close to the chink to drink in the delicious sea air.
"I wonder how long I shall be a prisoner," he said aloud; and he laughed, for he could see no difficulties now. Still they began to appear soon after, and the first one he mentally saw was the coming of Ram with his food. He must know the place thoroughly, as he had shown by the care with which he threaded his way among the loose stones and pillars, and if he came with his lanthorn and missed him, he might walk up there and find him at work.
"I'll be careful," he said to himself; and taking out his knife forcing himself to believe that it was about twelve o'clock each day that the lad came, and if so, as it was about six hours, as near as he could guess, since the basket was brought, he had about a couple of hours more daylight, then the long night and all the morning, before his gaoler would come again.
He bitterly regretted now not having tried to time Ram's visits, forgetting that it would have been impossible to do so without light, and, unable to restrain his impatience to the extent of waiting till he came again, and watching for night from then, he went to work to try and loosen a stone by the side of the crevice, and toiled away till at the end of what seemed to be two hours, the light through the crevice paled, grew dull, then dark, and for the first time for many days he knew that it was night.
Cheered by his calculation being so far right, he worked and scraped out the mortar, satisfied even with getting away the tiniest scraps, feeling as he did that if he could only dislodge one stone he could bring up from below plenty of great and splinter-shaped pieces with which he could hammer, and take out the rest, or enough for his body to pass through.
So light-hearted did he feel, as guiding the point of his knife by his fingers, he picked and scraped away, that he began to hum a tune over softly. It was as black now as it was in the deepest part of the ancient quarry, but that did not seem to matter, for it was only the darkness of evening, and if he waited there and kept on working, he would see, first of all, a long pallid ray that would grow brighter, and bring as it were some light and hope, while as soon as he could get out a stone he would be able to see the sea, perhaps even make out the cutter, and signal.
No: the boy had said that it was gone. But it would come back, and they would see his signals; a boat would come ashore, he would be fetched out of this miserable black hole; the smugglers would be captured, and he would have such a revenge on that boy Ram. It would be glorious.
But all depended upon little ifs—if he could get out the stone, if the hole happened to be opposite the spot where the cutter was moored, if they could see his signals.
It was discouraging to have such thoughts as these, but Archy Raystoke had been for days condemned to inactivity, and the opportunity of working at something definite which proffered a way of escape made him toil on with all his his might.
In fact, he was obliged to check himself, for his task needed care. Too much exercise of the strength which had been growing latent might mean breaking his knife, and the destruction of his hopes.
So he toiled on well into the night, picking and loosening tiny scraps of mortar, which, hard though it was, had fortunately for him been made of an exceedingly coarse sand, or rather very fine shingle, whose tiny pebbles formed each a point to work upon till it was loosened and fell.
Archy's first thought was to work right on through the night, but the monotonous task in the darkness, and the fatigue and excitement, combined to produce their customary effect, and he found himself nodding and starting into wakefulness so many times over, that he resolved at last to go back to his starting-place, have a good meal, and then come back.
He left his task with reluctance, but nature would not be refused, and without much difficulty he found his way to the basket, ate heartily, sat still to think a few minutes, and thought too much, starting up suddenly and rubbing his eyes.
"How stupid of me!" he exclaimed. "I must have just nodded off to sleep. Nearly wasted a lot of time."
Afraid to remain where he was, lest he should yield to the temptation again and fall dead asleep, he eagerly made his way back to the slope and the rough steps, to stand there wondering as he got to the top.
For there, straight before him, was a pale ray of light, and the place smelt cool and fresh.
Surely a star or the moon must be up, he thought, as he knelt down and resumed his task, feeling somehow a good deal rested.
The explanation was not long in coming, for to his astonishment the ray of light grew brighter and brighter, and broadened out full of dancing motes when he had been an hour at work, teaching him that he had not dropped off to sleep for a minute or two, but long enough to give him a good night's rest sufficient to prepare him for the toil to come.
He felt vexed and called it laziness, working the harder to recover lost time, and as the hours glided by listening intently for the slightest sound from the quarry below that should indicate the coming of Ram with his daily portion of food.
On previous days he had looked forward to the lad's approach as something that would break the monotony of his captivity, but now he would have given anything to have known that by some accident the lad would be kept away.
Still Archy toiled on, the stone he had attacked as tight as ever, but quite a little heap of rough mortar increasing beneath where he knelt.
"It's only getting out the first one," he argued; "the others will come easily enough."
And so, full of hope, he kept on, till feeling that it must be near the time for the visit, he reluctantly closed his pocket-knife and went down, gazing back first at the tiny ray of light which pointed the way to liberty.
His arms ached and his fingers were sore. There was a blister too in the palm of his hand where the knife had pressed; but these were trifles now, and he seated himself in his old spot ready to receive his visitors, and so full of hope that he could hardly refrain from shouting for joy.
He could see it all, now. This was quite an ancient mine, one perhaps from which all the best stone had been worked. Where Ram came down was the land entrance, and the ray of light marked the opening in the face of the cliff, from which the pieces of stone had been lowered down into boats or ships below. After the smugglers had taken possession it seemed probable that they had filled up the hole in the cliff face, though it struck Archy that this would leave them a handy place to get their cargoes ashore if they had tackle to haul it up, and get it into their store at once.
The time seemed very long before the rattle and rumble of the stones on the trap-door struck upon Archy's listening ear, but at last, after he had convinced himself that he might have worked two or three hours longer, there it was, and then came the rattle of the bolts and the sharp sound of the lock. Directly afterwards there was a soft glare, the lanthorn appeared like some creature of light swaying and floating towards him in the darkness till it stopped close by, and Ram's now familiar voice exclaimed,—
"Hullo there! Getting hungry?"
"Yes," said Archy, in a voice he wished to sound surly and obstinate, but which in spite of his wishes had a cheerful ring, which affected Ram, who began to laugh and chatter.
"Nice to be you," he said. "Get all the good things, you do. Fried fish to-day, and pork pie. I say, midshipman, you have got into good quarters, you have."
Archy tried to seem sulky.
"Oh, you needn't talk without you like, but they didn't feed you up aboard ship like you're getting it now, I know; salt beef, then salt pork, and hard biscuits. Why, it's like fattening up one of our pigs for Christmas. I say, you are quiet. Haven't been at one of them little kegs, have you? Oh, very well; if you don't like to talk, I can't make you."
"Are you going to let me out of this place?" said the midshipman, so as to keep up the idea of his longing to be set free, and chase any suspicions of his having discovered a way out.
"When I get orders, Mr Orsifer, and not before. I aren't skipper, no more nor you are."
"Another piece of insolence," thought the prisoner. "Oh, how I will pay him out for this by and by!"
"Aren't you going to peck?"
Archy took no notice, and at last there came, in a deep, echoing growl through the place,—
"Say, lad, going to be all day?"
"Coming, Jemmy," Ram shouted. "Want anything else, midshipman?"
"Yes, you to go and not worry me," replied Archy, heartily repenting his words the next moment for fear that they should excite suspicion.
But they did not, for Ram only laughed and walked away.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.
As the prisoner sat listening to the bang of the trap-door and the rattling of the bolts, he could hardly contain himself. But knowing the danger of the boy coming back and finding him gone, he forced himself to stay where he was; and to pass away the time he opened the basket Ram had now left in place of the other, and forced himself to eat.
But he could hardly swallow the food, which seemed tasteless in the extreme, and he was about to give up and hasten back to his work when his heart leaped, for there was the distant sound of the bolts being drawn, and a minute or two later the soft yellow light came slowly towards him and stopped.
"Just remembered," said its bearer. "Got half way home first, though. Mother said I was to be sure and take back that basket. Put the stuff out on the sail. Hullo, what you been doing to your hands?"
Archy started guiltily, and looked at them in the light to see that they were covered with blood, from injuries that he had made unconsciously in toiling with his knife against the stones.
"Tumbled down?" continued Ram without waiting for an answer. "Well, 'tis dark 'mong these stones. I used to trip over them, but I could go anywhere now in the dark. Seem to feel like when they are near. Never mind, tear up yer hankychy and wrap round. I'll bring you one o' mine next time I come. There we are. Haven't forgot the basket this time. I say?"
The lad was ten yards away now, holding the lanthorn above his head.
"You lost a chance."
"What do you mean?"
"Jemmy Dadd isn't up by the door. You might have given me a topper with a stone, and run away; too late now."
He ran off laughing, and holding the lanthorn down low to make sure of his way.
But Archy did not start up in pursuit. He saw a better way out now, and waiting till he felt convinced that the boy must be well on his way home, he jumped up, felt his way to the crevice, and was soon after hard at work picking the mortar from between the stones.
Now and then, as he grew faint and weary, it seemed to him that he had made no progress, but the little heap of mortar told different tales, and once more taking heart he toiled away.
It seemed a very easy thing to do, to loosen one stone in a rugged wall, draw it out, and then remove the other, but in practice it appeared almost impossible, and again going back into the quarry to partake of the food that was absolutely necessary, Archy returned to his task, and after working away again for about half an hour he fell fast asleep.
How long he slept he did not know, but he started awake again to find that it was quite dark, and he kept on like one in a dream.
The stone seemed as fast as ever, and his progress was getting very slow now, for he had cleared away the mortar as fast as he could reach in; but at last, seizing the stone and getting his fingers well in the joint, he gave it a vigorous shove, and then uttered a shout of triumph, for to his delight there came a sharp crack, and after giving a vigorous shove, the stone, which was about twenty inches long, was drawn out, and became the instrument for dislodging its fellows.
This was comparatively easy now, and in the course of the next two days the prisoner had loosened and drawn out stones till he had made a way through a rough piece of wall six feet thick, and had enlarged the hole so that there was room to creep into the opening he had made and look out.
Here came disappointment the first. The wall he had worked through did not face out to sea, but was one side of a chasm, and he gazed at the opposite side.
Soon after he learned that this had not been the place where the stones were carried out for landing in boats, but the hole through which all the refuse was discharged, to fall in a crumbling heap a tremendous distance below, to be washed away by the waves which curved over and over against the foot and rolled up into the chasm.
Still he worked on, enlarging the hole and sending the broken pieces and mortar, rattling down the face of the cliff into the sea, till there was nothing to hinder his crawling out at any time, and either getting to the top of the cliff or down below to the shore.
He decided for the former as the more easy and the less likely to suggest peril, and he spent the next few hours after cleansing himself as much as possible, so as not to excite the attention of his young gaoler, and in his efforts to do this he made use of a piece of sailcloth, and an end of a coil of rope which lay with some sea-going tackle hard by where he slept.
The day had come at last when the way was open, and he had but to creep out into the fresh bright sunshine and run for his liberty.
He could hardly refrain from doing so at once, but his long and arduous labour, which had taken the skin from his fingers and left his whole hands so tender that he hardly dared to touch anything, had taught him some wisdom, especially not to throw away the opportunity for which he had worked so hard.
And now he sat there in the darkness, wafting, so exultant that his seat might have been a throne, instead of a worn-out sail stretched over a mass of stone. He hugged the knees upon which his chin rested, and gazed straight before him into the blackness, watching for the first glow of Ram's lanthorn, and seeing as he watched the glorious sky, the blue sea all a-ripple; the shimmer and play of a passing shoal of fish; gulls floating without effort, now high up, now low down, their breasts of purest white, their backs of delicate grey, and their wondering eyes gazing at the rough-looking fisher-lad who crept out of a hole in the face of the cliff, made his way from shelf to shelf, ever up and up till he was on the grass at the top, where he lay down to wait till night for fear of being seen and dragged back.
The black darkness of the great cavern quarry was all alight now with the pictures his mind painted, and, in his delight and satisfaction, he laughed aloud as he thought of Ram's disappointment on coming one day and finding his prisoner flown.
It was hard work to keep from starting at once, but the midshipman felt that if he did, his escape would be discovered at any moment, and if it were, it was only a question of time before he would have the whole smuggling gang after him, and he would be hunted down to a lot ten times more bitter from the fact of his having failure to contemplate, and form his mental food.
The rattle at last. The door dragged up, and Ram was not alone, for his voice could be heard in conversation with Jemmy Dadd.
The boy was in capital spirits, and he was whistling merrily, his shrill notes echoing from the flat roof as he came on swinging his lanthorn in one hand, the basket in the other.
"Sleep?" he said, as he saw Archy's attitude. "There you are," he continued. "I know you weren't asleep, and if you don't like to talk it aren't my fault. Want anything else?"
No reply; Archy dare not speak.
"Oh, very well," he said, "you can do as you like. Where's t'other basket?"
A shiver ran through the prisoner as he recollected that which he had forgotten in his excitement: the basket which he had taken with some of the food therein, ready for his use as he worked, was standing by the opening at the top of the steps, and he cast an anxious glance sidewise in the direction of the passage, in dread lest the boy should detect the light shining down.
He need not have been alarmed, for there was not a ray visible, and even if there had been, the light cast by the opened lanthorn would have hidden it; but he sat there trembling all the same, and with a curious sensation of suffocation rising in his throat, as he softly altered his position and loosened his hands, ready to make a spring at his enemy if it should become necessary.
"Well, I do call that grumpy. Keeps on bringing you nuts, and you're so snarky that you won't so much as give one back the shells. Now, then, where's that basket?"
Archy felt that he must speak, or else the boy would go in search of it.
"I haven't done with it."
"But I want it to take back."
"It has some of the dinner in it."
"Well, then, let's empty it out."
"No," said Archy, sitting up angrily; "you can't have it now."
"Oh," said Ram, "that's it, is it? Suppose I say I will have it?"
"If you don't take yourself off," cried Archy, "I'll break your head with one of these pieces of stone."
"Two can play at that game."
"I shan't. I want our basket. Mother said I was to bring it back."
"Tell her you haven't got it."
"Now, look here," cried Ram, "if you don't give me that basket back, I won't bring you what I was going to bring to-morrow. Where is it?"
"Where I put it. You contemptible young smuggling thief! How dare you come worrying a gentleman about a dirty old basket!"
"Wasn't dirty, for mother scrubbed it out before she'd send it to you. Where is it?"
Desperate now in his fix, and feeling that his only resource to keep Ram from searching for the basket with his lanthorn was to keep up this show of anger, Archy made a snatch at a long splinter of stone, and started up menacingly.
"Oh, that's it, is it?" cried Ram, who stood upon his guard, but did not appear in the least bit alarmed. "Fed you too well, have I? Had too many oats, and you're beginning to kick up your heels and squeak and snort. Never mind, I'll soon make you civil again. Going to give me that basket?"
"Then you shan't have this. There!" cried Ram, and snatching up the one he had brought, he walked straight away, swinging his lanthorn after he had shut it with a snap.
"Going to give it to me?" he cried, as he stopped about half way to the trap-door.
"You'll want all this, and I've got some good tack inside."
"Be off, fellow, and don't bother me."
"Yah! Who want's to?" cried Ram; and he went off whistling merrily till he was at the opening, when he shouted back,—
"No oats to-day, pony. Good-bye."
Archy leaped up and stood listening with his heart beating fast, and his head bent in the direction taken by the boy.
"How unfortunate!" he said. "But I could not help it. Will he come back?"
He listened and listened and hesitated, but there was no sound, and still he hesitated, till quite a couple of hours must have passed, when he uttered a loud exultant cry, determined now to make one bold dash for liberty, and made straight through the darkness for the open way.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.
The midshipman drew in a long breath of the salt air, as he stood at the opening in the cliff face. He tightened his belt, drew his red cap down on his head, wished that his hands were not so sore, and muttered the words, "Now for liberty!" He began to creep through the hole till his head was well out, and he could look round for enemies.
There was not one. The only thing that he could see was a gull sailing round and round between him and the sea, down to his right.
And now, for the first time, it struck him that the gull looked very small, and from that by degrees he began to realise that the hole out of which he had thrust his head was fully four hundred feet above where the waves broke, and that it must be two hundred more to the top of the cliff.
It looked more perilous too than it had seemed before, but the lad was in nowise daunted. The way was open to him to climb up or lower himself down apparently, but he chose the former way of escape, knowing as he did how very little at the base of the cliffs was left bare even in the lowest tides, and that if he got down he would either have to swim or to sit perched upon a shelf of rock till some boat came and picked him off.
There was no cutter in view, but he did not trouble about that. He stopped only to gaze down at the dazzling blue sea, and thought that if it came to the worst he could leap right off into deep water, and then he drew himself right out on to a rugged ledge, a few inches in width, and stood holding on by the stones round the opening, looking upward for the best way to get up.
"Don't seem easy," he said cheerily, "but every foot climbed will be one less to get up. So, here goes."
As he ceased speaking he drew a deep breath, and then feeling that safety depended upon his being firm, cool, and deliberate, he made his way from the mouth of the hole along the ledge upon which he stood, till he found a spot where he could ascend higher.
It was necessary that he should find such a spot, for the ledge had grown narrower and in another yard died completely away. So, raising his hands to their full extent, he found a place for one foot, then for the other, repeated the experiment, and was just going to draw himself up to a ledge similar to that which he had just left, when one foot slipped from the stone upon which it rested, and had the lad lost his nerve he must have fallen headlong.
But he held on tightly, waited a minute to let the jarring sensation pass away, depending upon his hands and one foot. Then calmly searching about he found firm foothold, raised himself, and the next moment he was on the green ledge.