"Wouldn't have done to tumble," he said with a hall laugh. "Fall's one thing, a dive another. I suppose the water's pretty deep down there."
The ledge he was now on was fully a foot wide, and the refuse and fish bones with which it was strewn told plainly enough that in the spring time it was the resting—perhaps nesting—place of the sea-birds which swarmed along the coast.
As he stood facing the rock he found directly that he could not get any farther to his right, and a little search proved that from this ledge he could get no higher, not even had he been provided with a ladder. Even if a rope had been lowered down to him from the top of the cliff, it would have been of no avail, for he realised now that which he could not see from the hole by which he had escaped, to wit, that the cliff projected above the opening, and a lowered down rope would have hung several feet right away clear.
"Get farther along," he said coolly; and he edged himself slowly along, taking hold of every prominence he found to steady himself, and passing cautiously along the rough ledge over the hole, and then onward for forty or fifty feet, where a rift ran upward, and, by cautious climbing, he mounted slowly till he was on a fresh ledge, a few feet above which was another rift, and he climbed again, to come to a depression or niche, where he stopped to rest.
"No occasion to hurry," he said to himself, and as there was plenty of room he sat down and gazed out to sea, noting a sail far away to the right, but the vessel was a schooner—it was not that which he sought.
He was apparently cool enough, but his pulses beat more rapidly than was consistent with the exertion through which he had gone, and being after a few minutes eager now to get his task at an end, he tried to the left, to find no way up there, to the right, but everywhere the rock was perpendicular, and offered no foothold; or else sloped outward, and concealed what was above.
He tried again and again, hoping against hope, but without result.
"Must be a way up," he said, evidently considering that there must be because he wanted it, and he took tightly hold of a rough corner and leaned out a little to gaze upward, to find, in whichever direction he looked, right or left, there was nothing but rugged limestone, which had been splintered and moulded by time till there was not a spot where the most venturesome climber could obtain foothold; in fact, above him he could not see a spot where even the sea-birds had been in the habit of finding a resting-place.
It was for liberty, and naturally enough the midshipman made no superficial search. His next plan was to lie flat down in the niche he had made his temporary resting-place, lean over, and try and map out a course by which he could descend a little way and then pass along for a distance, and resume his climb upward with better chances of success.
But no; he could see no sign to help him, and, as a keen sense of disappointment assailed him that he should have got so near liberty and have to give up, he decided that the way to freedom was downward.
And now, as he looked over the edge of the shelf on which he lay, it struck him for the first time that it was a very terrible descent, and, turning his eyes away, he looked up again for a way there.
All in vain. He was fully a hundred and twenty feet from the top of the huge cliff, and, half afraid now that he should be quite afraid, he determined to lose no time, and, going to the spot where he had crept on to the niche floor, he began to lower himself slowly down.
"Be a good thing," he said to himself, as he searched with his feet and made sure of his footing, "if one could leave all one's thoughts behind at a time like this, or only keep enough to think where to put one's feet."
"Glad I haven't got on my uniform," he said a few moments later, as his breast scraped over the rough rock.
"Oh, how sore my hands are! That's better."
He was back in safety on the ledge over the hole, and, passing along, he had soon descended to the one beneath the exit.
"Now then," he said, as he paused for a few minutes before commencing his descent; "this will be easier."
Somehow he did not feel in any hurry to begin, and he sat down with his legs hanging over the ledge, to give his nerves time to calm down, for there was a strong tendency to throb about his pulses, and he was not sufficiently conversant with the house he lived in, to know that confinement, worry, want of fresh air, and excessive work during the past few days had not given him what the doctors call "tone."
So he sat there with his back to the rock, gazing out to sea again, and then watching the graceful curves made by a gull, which had risen higher and higher, and came nearer and nearer, till it was on a level with him, and watching him curiously.
"Wonder whether you think I am going to fall and let you have a pick at me," said Archy, with a forced laugh; "because I am not going to tumble, so you can be off."
All the same, though, he shuddered, and he had to exercise a little force to make his new start downward.
"Best way after all," he said, as he began to descend. "If you go up, it gets more dangerous every minute, because you have farther to fall. If you go down, it gets safer, because you have less."
He found the way now comparatively easy, for the rock sloped a little out, and he had even got down some sixty feet when he had a check.
"I don't know, though," he said, as he put a bleeding knuckle to his lips. "Don't make much difference, I should think, whether you fall one hundred feet or five. Bother! I wish I did not keep on thinking about tumbling."
He forced himself to study the next part of his descent, which was nearly perpendicular, but well broken up with ledges and cracks which offered good holding, and terminated a hundred feet below, upon a shelf, which naturally offered itself as his next resting-place, but beyond which it was impossible to see.
"Don't matter," he said more cheerfully. "Let's take difficulties a bit at a time. I'm free, and I can laugh at them now. I could jump into deep water and swim, if there were no way down from below there."
His spirits rose now, for, though a false step or slip of the foot would have sent him headlong down to the broad ledge, from which he would in all probability have bounded into the sea, the climbing was good, and, panting with the exertion, he got from projection to ledge, now straight down, now diagonally, and often along first one tiny ledge or cornice and then another, zig-zagging, till, at about twenty feet from the place he was making for, a slaty piece of the limestone rock by which he was holding parted, frost-loosened, from the parent rock, and he went down with a rush.
But it was only a slide. He alighted on his feet, and, scratched and startled a bit, stood panting and trying to recover his composure.
"No harm done," he said, as he looked up to where the hole from which he had escaped was beginning to look quite small. "Might have been worse. Quite bad enough, though. Shakes one so. Now for a rest, and then down again."
He stepped to the edge and looked over in the middle, next to the left, then to the right, and always with the same result. He was now on a regular sea-birds' sanctuary, for the rock below him was not perpendicular; but sloped right under, and, try as he would, he could devise no plan for getting down lower, save by taking a header into the sea, where the water looked black and deep to his right, while to his left there was the chasm upon which, twenty feet or so out of the perpendicular line, was the hole from which he had come.
Heights of sea-cliffs are very deceptive, and slopes which look to the inexperienced eye only a hundred feet or so to the top, are often more than double. It was so here, for, in spite of the distance he had come down, the midshipman found that he must be fully two hundred feet above the sea.
"Oh, how vexatious!" he cried, as he ground his teeth. "After all that work, after being so sure, to be out here on this wretched shelf like an old cormorant, but without any wings."
"I don't care," he said aloud, after again and again convincing himself that there was no possible means of farther descent. "I won't go back to prison; I'll sit here and starve first. Not I," he added, after a few moments' thought; "the cutter will be sure to sail by, and they could see me if I made signals from just here."
Rather doubtful, as he knew, for he was only at the corner of the chasm or tiny gulf into which the sea rushed, and the chances were that unless he had something big and white to wave, he was not likely to get his signal seen.
For one moment only the recollection of the food he had left behind tempted him to return.
"I might get it, and bring the basket down," he said. "No, I won't try it again; it's too dangerous. I don't want another slip. Besides, there must be a way down farther, if I could find it. Of course! I knew it!" he cried, as he gazed over once more, farther in toward the head of the little chasm, which looked as though the rock had been split from top to bottom.
He rubbed his hands, for some thirty feet below there was certainly a narrow possible place, and from there perhaps another might be found.
"If one could get down," he said to himself; but it did not look possible; the rock was out even of the perpendicular, and no sane person would attempt to drop from the edge so great a distance as that.
At that moment a piece of slaty rock came sliding down from on high, to fall with a crash and splinter on the rock at his feet.
"Must have loosened that," he said; "good job I didn't get it on my head. Oh!"
It was a cry of rage as much as of alarm, for there, following his track exactly, was Ram, who had returned repentant, alone, with his basket, to miss his prisoner, search, find the opening, and without hesitation to come down the cliff in pursuit.
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.
For the moment Archy Raystoke was puzzled—completely taken aback. This was something upon which he had not counted; and he stood there looking up, as he saw the boy descending with a far greater show of activity than he could have displayed.
Naturally, the first thought was of further flight, but he had already convinced himself that he was again a prisoner, and as, after another glance down at the ledge below to his left, he looked up at Ram, he set his teeth, and laughed in a way that did not promise well for his pursuer.
"What is he coming down for?" he said to himself, as his teeth began to set fast and his hands involuntarily to clench. "Does he think he is going to drag me up there again? He had better not try."
Meanwhile Ram was descending rapidly, and sending little ambassadors down before him in the shape of pieces of rock and shale, all of which arrived at the ledge in a very inimical way, bounding off, scattering in fragments, or falling with a heavy thud.
From time to time Ram looked down at his escaped prisoner, and then devoted himself to the places where he should never plant his feet, achieving the whole in the most fearless manner, and finishing with a leap which landed him near where Archy stood gazing at him, regularly at bay.
Ram did not hesitate an instant, but dashed at the midshipman to seize him by the jacket, but Archy was on his mettle, and he struck out sharply, a blow in the chest and another in the right shoulder, sending the young smuggler staggering back.
"Oh, that's it, is it?" cried Ram furiously. "I give you one more chance, though—will you give in, and come back quietly?"
"If you attempt to come near me, you dog," said Archy slowly through his clenched teeth, "I'll knock you off here into the sea."
"Will you?" cried Ram, dashing at his late prisoner again, dodging the blow struck at him, closing with his adversary; and then began a struggle which would have made the blood of an onlooker curdle, so terribly narrow and dangerous was the place where the encounter took place.
Of the pair, Archy Raystoke was a little the bigger, but the smuggler's son fully made up for any deficiency by his activity, and the hardening his muscles had undergone for years.
No blows were struck, the efforts of Ram being apparently directed to throwing the midshipman down, when he meant to sit upon him till he had reduced him to obedience.
Archy's tactics were, of course, to prevent this, and rid himself of his adversary, as he felt all the time how horribly risky it was to struggle and wrestle there, for the ledge was six feet wide at the outside, and not much more than twice the length.
But in a few minutes, as the encounter grew more hot, and they held on to each other, and swayed here and there, all thought of the position they occupied was forgotten. One minute Ram, by entwining his leg within those of his adversary, nearly threw him; then, by a dexterous effort, Archy shook himself fairly free. Then they clasped again, swayed here and there, Archy getting far the worse of the encounter from weakness, but, with a final call upon himself, he strove desperately to recover lost ground, and made so fierce an effort to throw Ram in turn, that he succeeded.
His effort was not sufficiently well sustained, though, for success to have attended it, but for one fact. They had struggled to the extreme edge of the inward part of the shelf, and as the midshipman was at the end of his strength, and Ram realised it, the boy smiled, thrust back his right leg to give impetus to his next thrust, and his foot went down over the rock.
There was a cry, a jerk, and the midshipman was down on his chest, as he had fallen, clinging to the edge, for the young smuggler seemed to have been snatched from his arms, and was now lying thirty feet below on the edge of a sloping rock, part of his body without support, and apparently about to glide off into the waves below.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.
Archy shuddered, his eyes grew fixed, and his whole body seemed to be frozen. The minute before he had been burning with rage, and struggling to gain the mastery over his enemy; now he would have given anything to have undone the past.
"Ram!" he cried excitedly,—"Ram, my lad, turn over quickly, and lay hold, or you will be off."
There was no reply. Ram's face looked ghastly, and his eyes were closed.
"I've killed him! I know I have!" cried Archy excitedly; and he strained himself more over the edge of the rock, to gaze wildly about for a means of descent, but there was only one: if he wished to get down to where the boy lay, apparently about to slip off into the sea, there was only one way, and that was to jump. Thirty feet! And if he did jump, he could not do so without coming down in contact with the boy, perhaps right on him, when it seemed as if a touch of a finger would send him headlong into the sea.
"What shall I do?" thought the midshipman. "It is horrible. Ram!" he shouted. "Rouse up! For goodness' sake, speak! Try to creep farther on to the rock. Oh, help I help!"
He shouted this frantically, but a wild and mournful cry from a gull was the only response, and his voice seemed to be utterly lost in the vast space around.
"I shall have murdered the poor fellow," groaned Archy; and he stared about wildly again, in search of some means of getting to his adversary.
None—none whatever. It would have been madness to jump, and he knew it—death—certain death to both. No one could have leaped down that distance on to a shelf of rock without serious injury, and then it would have been impossible to save himself from the rebound which must have sent him headlong into the sea below. This even if the shelf had not already been occupied; and Ram lay there, evidently stunned, if not killed.
What did Mr Brough and old Gurr always say? "Be cool in danger—never lose your nerve!"
"Yes, that was it!" he said, as he recalled lessons that he had received again and again. But what could he do? Even as he gazed down, he momentarily expected to see Ram glide slowly off, and, with brow covered with great drops of perspiration and his hands wet and cold, the midshipman rose panting to his feet, looked round, and sent up shout after shout for help.
Again his voice seemed utterly lost in the air, and a peculiar, querulous cry from the gull, which came slowly sailing round, was all the response he got.
"Ram!" he cried at last. "Ram! Don't play tricks, lad. Speak to me. I want to help you. Tell me what to do—to get help. Can't you speak?"
There was no mistaking the state of affairs; the boy was either dead or completely stunned by his fall.
Archy put his hands to his temples, and stood looking down wildly for a few moments, to assure himself that he could not reach his late adversary; and then, perfectly satisfied of the impossibility of the task, he began resolutely to climb up the face of the cliff where he had come down, and, setting his teeth hard, went from crack to crevice and ledge, on and on, seeing nothing but the white face below him on the shelf, and praying the while that the poor lad might not fall before he came back with help.
The work was more dangerous than he had anticipated, and twice he slipped, once so badly that he was holding on merely by the sharp edge of a projecting piece of stone, but he found foothold again, drew himself up, and went on climbing again, till, with face streaming with perspiration and his fingers wet with blood, of which he left traces on the stone as he went on, he at last reached the opening he had fought so hard to make, climbed in, turned and leaned out as far as he could, to try and get a glimpse of Ram, and be sure that he had not glided into the sea.
He could see nothing; Ram was far below under the projecting rock; and, drawing back once more, the midshipman began to hurry down the steps and then the slope, into the black quarry that he had fancied he had quitted for ever.
To his great delight, there, right away before him, was Ram's lanthorn, burning brightly with the door open, and shining upon the old sails and shipping gear, stores, and remains of wrecks saved from the sea.
But he did not stay. He caught up the lanthorn, closed the door lest a puff again should extinguish the candle, and then hesitated a moment or two as a thought struck him.
"No," he said aloud, "I must get help;" and, hurrying toward the opening, he kicked against the basket of provisions the lad had brought back. He made his way to the top of the other slope and shouted,—
"Hi, Jemmy!—smuggler! Quick! Come down!"
There was no response, for, good-heartedly enough, Ram had, as before-said, repented, and come back alone.
What should he do? Climb out, and run for help?
No, he did not know where to find it; and by the time he had discovered some of Ram's people, it would be too late; so, with the way of escape open to him, and freedom ready to welcome him once again, he hurried back, lanthorn in hand, selected a coil of rope from the pile of stores, threw it over his shoulder, passing his left arm through, and, leaving the lanthorn where he had found it, he hurried back to the narrow passage, climbed the slope and the steps up to the opening; and, with the rope hanging like a sword-belt from his shoulder, impeding his movements, and getting caught in the projections over and over again, he once more began to descend.
How he got down he hardly knew, but long before he reached the great shelf, he was so incommoded by the rope that he contrived, spread-eagled as he was against the rock face, to get it over his head, and then carefully let it drop, uttering a cry of anguish as he saw it fall, catching against a piece of rock which diverted its course, so that it rested nearly half over the edge, and he clung there, gazing down wildly, expecting to see it disappear, in which case he would have had to climb again for another coil.
Fortunately it lodged, and in a few minutes he was down beside it, and close at the end of the great ledge, gazing over wonderingly, and with his eyes half blinded by a mist, expecting to see the narrow shelf below bare.
But no; Ram had not moved, and there was yet time.
Seizing the coil of rope, he shook it open, and selecting one of the biggest blocks of stone, which had at some time fallen from above, he made one end of the rope fast, tried it to make sure, lowered the other over the edge, and carefully slid down, swinging to and fro, and turning slowly round, to hang for a few moments, trying to plant his foot on the ledge without touching Ram, for he felt more than ever convinced he would glide off at the slightest shock.
It was impossible. The only way was to draw up his legs, give himself an impetus by kicking against the rock, swinging to and fro, and then letting himself, at a certain moment when he was well beyond the boy, drop on to the shelf.
He tried the experiment, and swung past Ram again and again, but dared not leave go for fear of missing the rock with his feet.
At last he ventured: swung well past the prostrate figure, loosened his grasp, alighted on the narrow ledge quite clear, but could not preserve his balance, and fell back, uttering a low cry, as he tightened his grasp upon the rope again, but not till he had slipped rapidly down a good twenty feet, where he began swinging to and fro again.
For a few moments it seemed all over; there was the sea at a terrible depth below him, and all that distance to climb up with his hands bleeding and giving him intense pain, while his arms felt half jerked out of their sockets.
But he had had plenty of experience in climbing ropes, and, muttering, "Don't lose your nerve," he got the line well twisted round his legs, and climbed up again sufficiently high to repeat his former experiment, this time with success, and he stood upon the ledge and loosely knotted the rope about his waist, to guard against letting the end go, before kneeling down tremulously, and getting one hand well in under the collar of the boy's rough coat.
For some minutes he felt giddy; there was a mist before his eyes, and he involuntarily pressed himself close to the rock, expecting to fall, and in a curious, dreamy way he saw himself hanging far below, swinging at the end of the rope.
But all this passed off, and, exerting his strength as far as he could in the terribly dangerous, crippled position in which he was, he gave three or four sharp jerks, and succeeded in drawing Ram well on to the shelf, when, in the revulsion of feeling, the dizziness came back, and he felt that he must faint.
"Leave off, will yer?" came roughly to his ears, and roused him, telling him that the boy was not dead. "D'yer hear, Jemmy Dadd? Great coward! Father know'd you'd hit me like that, he'd half kill you."
There was a pause, and a sob of relief struggled from Archy's breast.
Then Ram began to mutter again.
"Oh, my head!" he groaned. "Oh, my head! Oh, my—"
He opened his eyes, and began to stare wildly; then he seemed to recollect himself, and started up to gaze up, then over the side at the sea far below, and lastly at his companion in misfortune.
"I reck'lect now," he said. "We was fighting, and I put my foot over the side, and come down here, hitting my head on the stones, and then I turned sick, and I knew I was falling over, and then I went to sleep. I was half off, wasn't I, with my legs down?"
"Yes. In a horrible position."
"Yes, it wasn't nice. Oh, my head! But who—Why, you didn't go and get the rope and come down and pull me on?"
"Is Jemmy here?"
"But did you climb up and get a rope, and come down again and haul me on here?"
"Yes," said the midshipman.
Ram stared at him, holding his hand to the back of his head the while, and a couple of minutes must have elapsed before he said,—
"Well, you are a rum chap!"
Archy grew red. Curious gratitude this seemed for saving the lad's life.
"Didn't you know the door was open?"
"Why didn't yer run away?"
"How could I, and leave you to fall off that place?"
"Dunno. Wouldn't ha' been nice. Where did you get the rope?"
"From close to where I slept."
"Yes, there was a lot there. 'Tain't cut," he said, looking at the hand he drew from the back of his head. "What a whop it did come down on the rock!"
"Don't talk about it," said Archy, with a shiver.
"Why not? Father allus said I'd got the thickest head he ever see. I say, though, you—did you—course you did. You climbed up again, and went into the cave, got the rope come down again, and then got down here to help me?"
"When you might have run away?"
"Thank ye. Shake hands!"
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.
Ram sat there holding out his hand to the midshipman, but it was not taken, and for a space they gazed into each other's eyes. The silence was broken by Ram.
"Well," he said at last, "won't you shake hands?"
"An officer and a gentleman cannot shake hands with one like you," replied Archy coldly.
"Oh, can't he?" said Ram quietly. "You're a gentleman. Was it being a gentleman made you come down and pull me on here."
"I don't know whether being a gentleman made me do it," said Archy coldly. "I saw you would lose your life if I did not get a rope and come to you, and so I did it."
"Yes; that's being a gentleman made you do that," said Ram thoughtfully. "None of our fellows would have done that."
"I suppose not."
"I know I wouldn't."
"Yes, you would."
Ram looked the midshipman hard in the face again.
"You mean, if I'd seen you lying down here like I was, I should have gone and fetched the rope and pulled you up?"
"Yes; I am sure you would."
Ram sat in his old position, with his hand to the back of his aching head.
"But it's being a gentleman made you do it."
"No; anybody who saw a person in danger would try and save his life; and you would have tried to save mine."
"But I might have slipped and gone over the cliff."
"You wouldn't have thought about that," said Archy quietly. "You did not think about the danger when you saw me trying to escape."
"No, I didn't, did I?" said Ram thoughtfully. "I knew how savage father would be if you got away and fetched the sailors; and he told me I was to see you didn't get out, so I come down after you."
"And you would have done as I said."
"Well, praps I should," said Ram, laughing; "but, as we didn't neither of us go over, it's no use to talk about it. My! How it does ache!"
He turned himself a little, so as to plant his back against the rock, and let his legs hang down over the edge.
"That's more comf'table. Bit of a rest. Hard work getting down here and wrastling."
Archy was in so cramped and awkward a position, half kneeling, that he followed his companion's example, shuddering slightly, though, as he let his legs go down, and put his hands beside him to press his back firmly against the rock.
"Frightened?" said Ram, who was watching him.
"I don't know about being frightened. It would be a terrible fall."
"Oh, I don't know," said Ram, leaning forward and gazing down into the void. "Water's precious deep here. Such lots of great conger eels, six foot long, 'bout the holes in the bottom. Jemmy Dadd and me's caught 'em before now. Most strong enough to pull you out of the boat. Dessay, if you went down, you'd come up again, but you couldn't get ashore."
"Why? A good swimmer could get round the point there, and make for the ledge where I saw you and that man land."
"No, you couldn't," said Ram; "it's hard work to get round there with a boat. You do have to pull. That's where the race is, and it would carry you out to—oh?"
The boy was looking down between his legs as he spoke; and the midshipman just had time to dart forward his hand, catch him by the shoulder, and drag him back, or he would have gone off the rock.
Ram lurched over sidewise, his sun-browned face mottled and strange-looking, as his head dropped slowly over on to the midshipman's shoulder, where it lay for a good ten minutes, Archy passing his arm round the boy, and supporting him as he lay there, breathing heavily, with his eyes half-closed.
It was a terrible position; and a cold, damp perspiration bedewed the midshipman's face, as he felt how near they both were to a terrible end. The deep water after that awful fall, the fierce current which would carry him out to sea—and then came shuddering thoughts of the great, long, serpent-like congers, of whose doings horrible stories were current among the sailors.
At last, to his great relief, Ram uttered a deep sigh, and sat up, smiling at his companion.
"I've felt like that before," he said. "Come over all at once sick and giddy, like you do if you lean down too much in the sun. I should have gone over, shouldn't I, if you hadn't ketched me?"
"Don't talk about it."
"Oh, very well; it was hitting my head such a crack, I suppose. I say, though, you never thought you could get away down here, did you?"
"Meant to try," said Archy laconically.
"Yah! What was the good, I knowed you wouldn't; but I meant to fetch you back. Me and Jemmy Dadd come down here once after birds' eggs, before father had the place up there quite blocked up. It used to be a hole just big enough to creep through. Jemmy stopped up on that patch where you and me wrastled, and let me down with a rope. There's no getting no farther than this."
"Not with a rope?"
"Well, with a very long one you might slide down to the water, but what's the good, without there was a boat waiting? You hadn't got the boat, and you didn't bring no rope. No use to try to get away."
The words seemed more and more the words of truth as the midshipman listened, and he was compelled to own in his own mind that he had failed in his attempt; but a question seemed to leap from his lips next moment, and he said sharply,—
"Perhaps there's no getting down, but any one might climb up right to the top of the cliff."
"Fly might, or a beedle," said the boy, laughing. "Why, a rabbit couldn't, and I've seen them do some rum things, cutting up the rocks where they've been straight up like a wall. Why, it comes right over up nigh the top. No, father's right; place is safe enough from the seaside, and so it is from the land. Now, then, let's go back."
"You can go," said Archy coldly. "I'm going to stop here."
"That you won't," said Ram sharply. "You're a-coming up with me. Yah! What's the good o' being obstinate? We don't want to have another fight. Don't you see you can't get away?"
"I will get away," said Archy sternly.
"Well, you won't get off this way, till your wings grow," said Ram, laughing. "Come on, mate, let's get back."
Archy hesitated, but was obliged to come to the conclusion that he was beaten this time, and he turned slowly to his companion and said,—
"Can you climb that rope?"
"Can I climb that rope? I should think I can!"
"But dare you venture now?"
Ram put his hand to his head, and gazed up thoughtfully.
"Well, it would be stoopid if I was to turn dizzy again. S'pose you untie the rope from round you, and let me tie it round my waist. Then you go up first, and when I come, you'll be ready to lend me a hand."
"Yes, that will be best," said Archy.
"Without you want to leave me?" said the boy, laughing.
The midshipman made no reply. There was an arduous task before him, and his nerves were unstrung. After he had unfastened the end of the rope and passed it to Ram, who did not secure the end about him, but the middle, after he had nearly drawn it tight, so that, if he did slip, the fall would not be so long. Then reluctantly, but feeling that it must be done, Archy climbed the thirty feet of rope between him and the great ledge, slowly and surely, glad to lie down and close his eyes as soon as he was in safety so far.
He tried to, but he dared not look over when the rope began to quiver again. He contented himself with taking hold near the edge, and crouched there, picturing the boy turning dizzy once more from his injury, letting go, and dropping with a terrible jerk to the extent of the rope where it was tied. Then, as he felt the strong hemp quiver in his hands, he found himself wondering if the strands would snap one by one with the terrible strain of the jerk, and whether the boy would drop down into the sea.
What should he do then?
What should he do if the rope did not part? He did not think he would have strength to draw the boy up, and, if he did, he was so unnerved now, that he did not believe he would be able to drag him over the edge on to the rock platform.
There! Ram must be turning giddy, he was so long; and, unable to bear the pressure longer, Archy opened his eyes and crept nearer to the edge, to face the horror of seeing the boy's wild upturned eyes.
But he saw nothing of the kind, save in the workings of his own disordered imagination. What he did see was Ram's frank-looking rustic face close up, and a hand was reached over the edge.
"You may get hold of me anywhere if you like," said the boy, "and give a hand. That's your style, orficer! Pull away, and up she comes. That's it!" he said, as he crept over the edge. "Thank'ee. I aren't smuggled."
They both sat down for a few minutes, while Ram untied the rope from his waist and from round the big block of stone, before beginning to coil it up.
"I say," he said, as he formed ring after ring of rope, "that rock isn't very safe. If I'd slipped, and the rope hadn't snapped, that big stone would have come down atop of me, and what a mess you'd have been in, if father had said you pitched me off!"
"Let's get back," said the midshipman, who felt sick at heart; and he moved toward the place where he had been down and up three times.
"Wait a moment," said Ram, securing the end of the rope, and throwing the coil over his shoulder. "That's right. I'll go first. Know the way?"
"Because you don't trust me," said Archy angrily.
"That's it," said Ram. "Door's open, and you might get out."
Archy's teeth grated together, but he said nothing, only began to climb, following the boy patiently till they were nearing the opening, when he started so violently that he nearly lost his hold.
For a voice came from above his head,—
"Got him, Ram?"
"Yes, father; here he is."
For the moment the midshipman felt disposed to descend again, but he kept on, and a minute later he looked up, to see Ram's frank face looking out of the hole, and the boy stretched out his hand.
"Want any help? Oh, all right then!"
"Did you think you'd get out that way, youngster?" said Shackle, as the midshipman stood erect at the top of the rough stairs.
"I thought I'd try," said the lad stiffly.
"Took a lot o' trouble for nothing, boy," said the smuggler. "I come to see what was amiss, Ram, boy, you was so long. Don't come again without Jemmy Dadd or some one."
"So you thought you'd get away, did you?" said the smuggler, with an ugly smile. "Ought to have known better, boy. You wouldn't be kept here, if there was a way for you to escape."
Archy felt too much depressed to make any sharp reply, and the smuggler turned to his son.
"What's the matter with you?"
"Bit of a tumble, father, that's all," said the boy cheerfully, as he placed his hand to the back of his head.
"You should take care, then; rocks are harder than heads. Hi! You Jemmy Dadd!"
"Hullo!" came out of the darkness.
"Get Tom to help you to-morrow. Bring a bushel or two o' lime stuff, and stop up this hole, all but a bit big enough for a pigeon to go in and out. It'll give him a taste o' light and air. Now, youngster, on with you. Show the lanthorn, Jemmy."
The man came forward, and Archy was made to follow him, the smuggler and his son coming on behind; and ten minutes later the prisoner was seated in his old place in the darkness, with Ram's basket of provisions for consolation. As he sat there, listening to the departing footsteps, and feeling more and more that it was quite true,—escape must be impossible down the cliff, or else they would not have left him with the opening unguarded,—there was the dull, heavy report of the closing trap-door, and the rattle and snap of bolts, and that followed by the rumbling down of the pieces of stone.
He had pretty well thought out the correct theory of this noise, that it was on purpose to hide the trap-door from any prying eyes which might pass, and prying eyes must be few, he felt, or else the smugglers would not have had recourse to so clumsy a contrivance.
He thought all this over again, as he sat there wearied out and despondent, for in the morning his task had seemed as good as achieved, and now he was face to face with the fact, after all that labour, that it had been in vain, and he was more a prisoner than ever.
"Not quite so badly off as some, though," he thought, as, moved thereto by the terrible hunger he felt, he stretched out his hand for the basket. Not bread and water, but good tasty provisions, and—"What's this in the bottle?" he asked himself, as he removed the cork.
It was good wholesome cider, and being seventeen, and growing fast, Archy forgot everything for the next half-hour in the enjoyment of a hearty meal.
An hour later, just as he was thinking of going to the opening to sit there and look out at the evening sky, he dropped off fast asleep, and was wakened by the coming of two of the smugglers, who busied themselves in the repairs of the broken wall.
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.
That day Jemmy Dadd brought him his food, and the next day, and the next.
"What did it mean?" he asked himself. He could understand this man being the bearer while he was employed at the mason work; but when that was over, he felt puzzled at Ram not coming.
Then he began to wonder whether the boy was ill in consequence of his fall, and he longed to ask, but, as everything he said to Dadd was received in gloomy silence, he felt indisposed to question the man, and waited, patiently or impatiently, till there should be a change.
The change did come, Ram appearing the next day with the basket; but his father and several other men entered the quarry, and something was brought in—what he did not see.
Ram came up to him with his basket, but, just as he began speaking, Shackle called him away, and once more the prisoner was left alone.
He partook of his meal, feeling more dull and dispirited than ever, and a walk afterwards to the little opening, just big enough to allow of his arm being thrust in, afforded no relief. For he wanted, to talk to Ram about their adventures, and to try whether he could not win over the boy to help him to escape.
The next day arrived, and, as of old, Ram came, with Jemmy Dadd left at the door.
"He's grumbling," said the boy, "about having to help watch over you."
"Then why not put an end to it?" cried Archy, eagerly dashing into the question next his heart, for his confinement now grew unbearable.
"Help me to escape."
The boy laughed.
"Aren't you going to ask me how I am?"
"No; why should I?"
"'Cause you made me have that fall, and my head's been trebble. I've been in bed three days."
"I am sorry for you," said Archy; "but I can only think of one thing— how to get away."
"No good to think about that. Father won't let you go; I asked him."
"You did, Ram?"
"Yes, I asked him—though you wouldn't be friends and shake hands."
"What did he say?" cried Archy, ignoring the latter part of his gaoler's remarks.
"Said I was a young fool, and he'd rope's-end me if I talked any more such stuff."
The midshipman did not notice it, but there was a quiet and softened air in Ram's behaviour toward him, and the boy seemed reluctant to go, but, in the midshipman's natural desire to get away, he could think of nothing else but self.
"It would not be the act of a fool to set one of the officers of the Royal Navy at liberty."
"He says it would, for it would be the end of us all here. The sailors would come and pretty well turn us out of house and home. No; he won't let you go."
"How long is he going to keep me here?"
"Don't know. Long as he likes."
That last sentence seemed to drive the prisoner into a fit of anger, which lasted till the boy's next coming.
The prisoner had been listening anxiously for the sound which betokened the visit of his young gaoler, and he was longing to have speech with him; but, telling himself that the boy was an enemy, he punished himself, as soon as the lanthorn came swaying through the darkness, by throwing himself down and turning away his head.
Ram came up and held the lanthorn over him.
"Morning. How are you?"
Archy made no reply.
Still no answer.
"You aren't asleep. Come, look up. I've brought you four plum puffs, and a cream-cheese mother made."
"Hang your plum duffs and cream-cheeses!" cried Archy, starting up in a rage.
"Didn't say plum duff; said plum puffs."
"Take 'em away then. Bread and water's the proper thing for prisoners."
"Oh, I say, you wouldn't get fat on that."
"Will you let me out?"
"Then I warn you fairly. One of these days, or nights, or whatever they are, I'll lie wait for you, and break your head with a stone, and then get away."
"What?" cried the prisoner fiercely.
"I was only larfin'."
"You. Think I don't know better than that? You wouldn't be such a coward."
"Oh, wouldn't I?"
"Not you," said Ram, sitting down quietly, and making the lid of his basket squeak. "You know I can't help it."
"Yes, you can. You could let me out."
"Father would kill me if I did. Why, if I let you out, you'd come with a lot o' men, and there'd be a big fight, and some of our chaps wounded and some killed, and if we didn't whop you, our place would be all smashed up, and father and all of 'em in prison."
"And serve 'em right!"
"Ah, but we don't think so. That's what you'd do, isn't it?"
"Of course it is."
"Well, then, I can't let you go. 'Sides, if I said I would, there's always Jemmy Dadd, or big Tom Dunley, or father waiting outside, and they'd be sure to nab you."
"But you might come by night and get me out."
"No," said the boy sturdily, "I couldn't."
"Then you're a beast. Get out of my sight before I half kill you!"
"Have a puff."
"Take them away, you thieving scoundrel!" cried Archy, who was half mad with disappointment. "You come here professing to be civil, and yet you won't help me."
"You can, sir."
"And you wouldn't like me if I did."
"Yes, I should, and I never could be grateful enough."
"No, you wouldn't. You'd know I was a sneak and a traitor, as you call it, to father and all our chaps, and you'd never like me."
"Like you! I tell you I should consider you my best friend."
"Not you. I know better than that. Have a puff."
"Will you take your miserable stuff away?"
"Have some cream-cheese and new bread."
Archy made a blow at him, but Ram only drew back slightly.
"Don't be a coward," he said. "You're an officer and a gentleman, you told me one day, and you keep on trying to coax me into doing what you know would be making me a regular sneak. What should I say when you were gone?"
"Nothing," cried the prisoner. "Escape with me. Come on board, and the lieutenant will listen to what I say, and take you, and we'll make you a regular man-o'-war's-man."
"And set me to fight agen my father, and all my old mates?"
"No; you should not do that."
"And you'd call me a miserable sneak."
"Then you'd think I was, and I should know it, so it would be all the same."
"Then you will not help me?"
"You will not, you mean," said Archy bitterly. "You'd sooner keep me here to rot in the darkness."
"No, I wouldn't, and I'd let you out if I could," cried Ram, with animation. "I like you, that I do, because you're such a brave chap, and not afraid of any of us. S'pose I was a prisoner in your boat, would you let me out?"
"That's a different thing," said Archy proudly. "I am a king's officer, and you are only a smuggler's boy."
"I can't help that," said Ram warmly. "You wouldn't let me go because you couldn't, and I won't let you go because I can't."
"Then get out of this place, and let me be."
"Shan't. It's horrid dull and dark here, and lonesome. I shouldn't like it, and that's why I get mother to give me all sorts o' good things to bring for you, and save 'em up. Father would make a row if he knew. I do like you."
"Ah, you may say that, but I'd do anything for you now."
"Then let me go."
"Knock me on the head, then, and put me out of my misery."
"And 'cept that too. I say, don't be snarky with me. You must stop here as long as father likes, but why shouldn't you and me be friends? I've brought you a Jew's harp to learn to play when you're alone."
Archy uttered an ejaculation full of contempt, and snatched the proffered toy and hurled it as far as he could.
"It was a sixpenny one, and I walked all the way to Dunmouth and back to get it for you—twenty miles. It aren't much of a thing for an orficer and a gentleman, though, I know. But, I say, look here, would you like to learn to play the fiddle?"
"Will you take your chattering tongue somewhere else?"
"'Cause," continued Ram, without heeding the midshipman's petulant words, "I could borrow big Tom Dunley's old fiddle. He'd lend it to me, and I'd smuggle it here."
"Smuggle, of course," sneered Archy.
"In its green baize bag. I could teach you how to play one toon."
Archy remained silent, as he sat on a stone, listening contemptuously to the lad's words.
"I thought I could often come here, and sit and talk to you, and bring a light, and I brought these."
He opened the door of the horn lanthorn, and produced from his pocket a very dirty old pack of cards, at which Archy stared with profound disgust.
"You and me could play a game sometimes, and then you wouldn't feel half so dull. I say, have a puff now!"
There was no reply.
"Shall I bring you some apples?"
Archy threw himself down, and lay on his side, with his head resting upon his hand, gazing into the darkness.
"We've got lots o' fox-whelps as we make cider of, and some red-cheeks which are ever so much better. I'll bring you some."
"Don't," replied Archy coldly. "Bring me my liberty. I don't want anything else."
"Won't you have the Jew's harp, if I go and find it?"
"Nor yet the fiddle, if I borrow it?"
"I say, don't be so snarky with me. I can't help it. I was obliged to do what I did, same as you'd have been if it had been t'other way on. Look here; let you and me be friends, and I could come often and sit with you. I'll stay now if you like. Let's have a game at cards."
Archy made no reply, and Ram sighed.
"I'm very sorry," he said sadly; "and I'd leave you the lanthorn if you like to ask me."
"I'm not going to ask favours of such a set of thieves and scoundrels," cried the midshipman passionately; "and once more I warn you that, if you come pestering me with your proposals, I shall knock you down with a stone, and then escape."
"Not you," replied Ram, with a quiet laugh.
"I meant couldn't knock me down with a stone."
"And pray why?"
"'Cause I tell you agen you couldn't be such a coward. I'm going now."
No notice was taken of the remark.
"Like another blanket?"
"I'm going to leave the basket and the puffs and cheese. Anything else I can get you?"
Archy was moved by the lad's friendly advances, but he felt as if he would rather die than show it, and he turned impatiently away from the light shed by the lanthorn.
"I'll bring you some apples next time I come, and p'r'aps then you'll have a game at cards."
There was no reply, so Ram slowly shut the door of the lanthorn, turning the bright light to a soft yellowish glow, and rising to his knees.
"Do let me stop and have a game."
"Let me stop and talk to you, then."
There was no reply to either proposal, and just then there came a hoarse—
"A-hoy!" cried the lad. "I must go now. That's Jemmy Dadd shouting for me."
Archy made no reply, and the boy rose, set down the basket beside where he had been kneeling, and stood gazing down at the prisoner.
"Like some 'bacco to chew?" he said. Then, as there was no answer, he went slowly away, with the prisoner watching the dull glow of the lanthorn till it disappeared behind the great pillars, there was a faint suggestion of light farther on, then darkness again, the dull echoing bang of the heavy trap-door and rattle of the thin slabs of stone which seemed to be thrown over it to act as a cover or screen, and then once again the silence and utter darkness which sat upon the prisoner like lead.
He uttered a low groan.
"Am I never to see the bright sun and the sparkling sea again?" he said sadly. "I never used to think they were half so beautiful as they are, till I was shut up in this horrible hole. Oh, if I could only get away!"
He started up now, and began to walk up and down over a space clear of loose stones, which he seemed to know now by instinct, but he stopped short directly.
"If that young ruffian saw me, he'd say I was like a wild beast in a cage. He'd call me a monkey again, as he did before. Oh, I wish I had him here!"
The intention was for the administration of punishment, but just then Archy kicked against the basket, and that completely changed the current of his thoughts.
"The beggar wants to be civil," he said. "He is civil. It was kind of him to bring the things to amuse me, and better food. Wants to be friends! But who's going to be friends with a scoundrel like that? I don't want his rubbish—only to be able to keep strong and well, so as to escape first chance."
"Likes me, does he?" muttered the midshipman, after a pause. "I should think he does. Such impudence! Friends indeed! Oh, it's insufferable!"
Archy's words were very bitter, but, somehow, all the time he kept thinking about their adventure, and the lad's bravery, and then about his having saved him.
"I suppose he liked that," said Archy, after a time, talking aloud, for it was pleasant to hear a voice in the solemn darkness, even if it was only his own.
He grew a little more softened in his feelings, and, after resisting the temptation for three hours, and vowing that he would keep to bread and water and starve himself before he would let them think he received their gifts, he found himself thinking more and more of the friendly feeling of the boy and his show of gratitude. Then he recalled all that had passed about the proposal to escape—to set him at liberty—to be his companion; and he was obliged to own that Ram had behaved very well.
"For him," he said contemptuously, and then such a peculiarly strong suggestion of its being dinner-time reminded him that he ought to partake of food, that he opened the basket, and the temptation was resisted no longer.
Pride is all very well in places, but there is a strength in cold roast chicken, plum puffs, and cream-cheese, that will, or did in this case, sweep everything before it; and, after making a very hearty meal, the midshipman almost wished that he had Ram there to talk to as a humble companion in that weary solitude.
"He's a miserable, contemptible beggar," said Archy at last, "but I need not have been quite so rough with him as I was."
Matters grew no better. There was a leaning toward the rough lad, who seemed never weary of trying to perform little acts of kindness for his father's prisoner; but there was only one thing which the midshipman desired, and, as that could not be accorded, the friendly feeling between the two lads stayed where it was. In fact, it seemed to be turning into positive dislike on one side, Archy fiercely rating his gaoler over and over again, and Ram bearing it all in the meekest way.
The gloom was so familiar to Archy now that he could go almost anywhere about the great place, without stumbling over the loose fragments of stone, or being in danger of running up against the great pillars. And, as he roved about the quarry, his busy fingers touched packages and bales; he knew which parcels contained tobacco; he handled bales which he felt sure were silk, and avoided the piled-up kegs of brandy, whose sickly odour would always remind him of being ill at sea.
All these things occupied his mind a little, and when he was extra dull, he would go and lie down by the hole which admitted the salt sea air, or else make his way right under the trap-door, and climb up to it, and sit and listen for the coming of Ram.
One morning he was there, wondering whether it was near the boy's hour, and he was listening most intently, so as to get full warning and insure time enough to go back to his place and wait, when he fancied he heard the bark of a dog.
It was not repeated, and he was beginning to think that it was fancy, when the sound came again nearer, then nearer still, till there was a prolonged volley of canine-words, let us call them, for they evidently meant something from their being so persistent.
"Why—hurrah! He has found me!" cried the prisoner excitedly; and he heard quite plainly, as he clung to the rough steps and pressed his ear against the trap-door, the eager scratching made by a dog, and the snuffling noise as it tried to thrust its nose down amongst the stones.
"Hi! Good dog then!" he shouted, and there was a furious burst of barking.
Then there was a sharp sound as if a heavy stone had fallen upon a heap, and he heard it rattle down to the side.
Then there was a fierce growl, a bark, and directly after silence.
The midshipman's heart, which had been throbbing with excitement a few minutes before, sank down now like lead, as he waited to hear the sounds again, but waited in vain.
If ever the loud baying of a dog sounded like music in his ear, it was during those brief moments, and as he sat there, longing to know what it meant, and whether his conjecture was right that the dog had scented him out, he faintly heard the gruff tones of a voice, and, hastily descending, he went down the slope and made for his usual place.
"That's what it was," said Archy to himself. "The dog scented me out, and was scratching there till that great brute of a smuggler saw him, and threw a stone and drove him away. There they are."
He was right, the rough pieces of stone were being removed, and a few minutes later he saw the swinging lamp coming through the gloom.
The prisoner was, as he said, quite right, for that day Celia Graeme had wandered down towards the edge of the huge line of cliffs in a different direction to that which it was her wont to take.
It was not often that she stirred far from the gloomy fir-wood at the back of the house, for her life had not been that of most young people of her age. Her father's disappointed and impoverished life, consequent upon his political opinions, and her mother's illness and depression, had made the Hoze always a mournful home, and naturally this had affected her, making her a serious, contemplative girl, older than her years, and one who found her pleasure in sitting on a fallen trunk in the sheltering woods, listening to the roar of the wind in the pine boughs, watching the birds and squirrels, and having for companion her dog Grip, who, when she took him for her walks, generally ran mad for the first hour, scampering round and round her, making charges at her feet, and pretending to worry her shoes or dress; running off to hide and dash out upon her in a mock savage way; bounding into furze bushes, chasing the rabbits into their holes; and then, as if apologising for this wild getting rid of a superabundance of animal spirits kept low in the mournful old house, he would come as soon as she sat quietly down, crouch close up to her, and lay his head on her knee, to gaze up in her face, blinking his eyes, and not moving again perhaps for an hour.
Celia seldom went seaward. The distance was short, but she was content to watch the beautiful changes on the far-spreading waste from high up on the hills. There had been wrecks on the Freestone Shore, which made her shudder as she recalled how the wild cries of the hapless mariners in their appeals for help had reached the shore; she had seen the huge waves come tumbling in, to send columns of spray high in the air, to be borne over the land in a salt rain, and, as a rule, the sea repelled her, and she shrank, too, from the great folds of the cliff, with their mysterious-looking grass-grown ledges and cracks, up which came the whispering and gurgling of water, and at times fierce hissings as if sea monsters lived below, and were threatening those who looked down and did not pause to think that these sounds must be caused by air compressed by the inrushing tide.
Then, too, there was something oppressing in the poorly protected shafts with their sloping descents, once, perhaps hundreds of years back, the busy spots where old hewers of stone worked their way down below the thinner and poorer strata to where the freestone was clean and solid.
These spots attracted and yet repelled her, as she peered cautiously down, to see that they were half hidden by long strands of bramble, with tufts of pink-headed hemp agrimony, and lower down the sides and archway infringed with the loveliest of ferns.
There was something very mysterious-looking in these ancient quarries where foot of man never trod now, and she shivered as she passed funnel-shaped holes which she knew were produced by the falling in of the surface to fill up passages and chambers in the stone whose roofs had given way far below.
She often thought, when tempted by Grip in the direction of these weird old places, how horrible it would be if some day the earth suddenly sank beneath her, and she should be buried alive.
At such times her hands grew wet, and she retraced her steps, fancying the while that the earth sounded hollow beneath her tread.
Upon this particular morning Grip had vanquished her. He was always tempting her in this direction by making rushes and looking back as if asking her to come, for the dark holes tempted him. The rabbit burrows were all very well, but he could never get in them beyond his shoulders, while in these holes he could penetrate as far as he liked in search of imaginary wild creatures which were never found. Then, too, there were the edges of the cliffs where he could stand and bark at the waves far below, and sometimes, where they were not perpendicular, descend from shelf to shelf.
The morning was glorious, and the sea of a lovely amethyst blue, as Celia wandered on and on toward the highest of the hills away west of the Hoze. Grip was frantic with delight, his tail stood straight out, and his ears literally rattled as he charged over the short turf after some rabbit, which dodged through the bushes, reached its hole, displayed a scrap of white cotton, and disappeared.
And still, smiling at the dog's antics, the girl wandered on, nearer and nearer to where the land suddenly ended and the cliff went sharply down to the sea.
As she went on, stopping to admire the beautiful purple thistles, which sent up one each a massive head on its small stalk, or admired the patches of dyer's rocket and the golden tufts of ragwort, the old fancies about the ancient quarries were forgotten for the time, and she seated herself at last upon a projecting piece of stone, away there in the solitude, to watch the grey gulls and listen to the faint beat of the waves hundreds of feet below.
There were a few sheep here and there, but the Hoze was hidden beyond a fold of the mighty hills, and Shackle's farm and the labourer's cottage were all down in one of the valleys.
It was very beautiful, but extremely lonely, and to right and left there were the great masses of cliff, which seemed like huge hills suddenly chopped off by the sea, and before her the wide-stretching amethystine plain, with a sail or two far away.
Celia sat watching a little snake which was wriggling rapidly along past her, a little creature whose scales looked like oxidised silver in the afternoon sunshine, and she was about to rise and try to capture the burnished reptile, knowing from old experience that it was harmless, when at one and the same moment she became aware that Grip was missing, and that Ram Shackle and the big labourer from the farm, Jemmy Dadd, were coming up a hollow away to the right, one by which they could reach the down-like fields that spread along the edge of the cliffs from the farm.
She saw them, and hardly realising that they did not see her, she went on watching the reptile as it glided with easy serpentine motion through the grass.
"Ram is going to gather blackberries," she said to herself, as she glanced at his basket; "and Dadd is going to count the sheep. I ought to have brought a basket for some blackberries."
She felt full of self-reproach, as she recalled how plentifully they grew there, and how useful they would be at home. "And I might get some mushrooms, too," she thought, "instead of coming out for nothing."
Just then she heard Grip again barking very faintly.
"Stupid dog!" she said to herself, with a little laugh. "He has followed a rabbit to its hole. If he would only catch a few more, how useful they would be!"
Then she moved a little to follow the slow-worm, which was making for a patch of heath, and she was still watching it when, some time after, Grip came running up quickly, snarling and growling, and pausing from time to time to look back.
"Oh, you coward!" she said, sitting down and pulling his ears, as he thrust his head into her lap. "Afraid of a fox! Was it a fox's hole, then, and not a rabbit's, Grip?"
The dog growled and barked.
"Poor old fellow, then. Where is it, then?"
The dog leaped up, barked, and ran a few yards, to stop, look back at her, and bark again.
"No, no, Grip; I don't want to see," she said; and she began idly to pick up scraps of wild thyme and toss at the dog, who vainly kept on making rushes toward the slope of the great cliff.
"No, sir," she said, shaking her finger at him. "I am not going to be led to one of your discoveries, to see nothing for my pains."
The dog barked again, angrily, and not until she spoke sharply did he obey, and followed her unwillingly up the slope and then down into a hollow that looked as if at one time it might have been the bed of some great glacier.
The dog tried again to lead her away toward the sea, but she was inexorable; and so he followed her along unwillingly, till, low down in the hollow, as she turned suddenly by a pile of great blocks of weather-worn and lichened stone, she came suddenly upon Dadd and Ram, the former flat on his back, with his hat drawn-down over his eyes, the latter busy with his knife cutting a rough stick smooth.
"How do, Miss Celia?" said Ram, showing his white teeth.
"Quite well, Ram. How is your head now?"
"Oh, it's all right agen now, miss. On'y a bit sore."
"You tumbled off the cliff, didn't you?"
"Off a bit of it," said Ram, grinning. "Not far."
"But how foolish of you! Mrs Shackle said you might have been killed."
"Yes, miss, but I wasn't."
"What were you doing in such a dangerous place?"
"Eh?" said Ram, changing colour; "what was I doing?"
"Yes, to run such a risk."
"I was—I was—"
Ram was completely taken aback, and sat staring, with his mouth open.
"Lookin' after a lost sheep," came in a deep growl from under Jemmy Dadd's hat.
"Oh! And did you find it?"
"Yes; he fun' it," said the man, "but it were in a very dangerous place. It's all dangerous 'long here; and Master Shackle wouldn't let young Ram here go along these here clift slopes without me to take care on him."
"And you take my advice, miss, don't you come 'bout here. We lost four sheep last year, and come nigh losing the missuses best cow not long ago. Didn't you hear?"
"Yes; old Mary told me, and Mrs Shackle mentioned it too."
"Ay," continued Jemmy, without removing his hat, "she fell slip-slap into the sea."
"Ay, little missus; and, if I were you, I wouldn't come along top o' they clifts at all. Grass is so short and slithery that, 'fore you knows where you are, your feet goes from under you, and you can't stop yourself, and over you goes. And that aren't the worst on it; most like you're never found."
"Yes, 'tis very slippy, Miss Celia," said Ram, beginning to hack again at his stick.
"I do not come here very often, Ram," she said, quietly. "It is a long time since I came."
"Ay, and I wouldn't come no more, little missus," continued Jemmy, from under his hat, "for if you did not go off, that there dog—"
Grip had been looking on uneasily, and turning his head from one to the other, as each spoke in turn; but the minute he heard himself mentioned, he showed his teeth, and began to growl fiercely at the man.
"Look ye here," cried Jemmy, sitting up quickly and snatching away his hat, "if you comes at me—see the heel o' that there boot?"
He held up the great heavy object named, ready to kick out, and Grip bared his teeth for an attack.
"Down, Grip! Come here, sir. How dare you?"
But Grip did dare, and he would have dashed at the labourer if Celia had not caught him by the loose skin of his neck, when he began to shake his head and whine in a way that sounded like protesting.
"And me giving a bit of advice too," said Jemmy in an ill-used tone.
Grip barked fiercely.
"Be quiet, sir!"
"And going to say, little missus, that if that there dog comes hanging about here, he'll go over them there cliffs as sure as buttons, and never be seen no more."
"Come away, Grip. Thank you, Mr Dadd," said Celia, hurrying the dog away, and giving him a run down along the hollow; while Jemmy Dadd threw himself back, rolled over on to his face, and laughed hoarsely.
"I say, young Ram," he cried, "what a game!"
"What's a game?" said the boy sharply.
"That there dog; he won't forget that whack I give him on the ribs for long enough."
"Needn't have thrown so hard."
"Don't like to see dogs hurt," said Ram, who was dealing with an awkward knot.
"Oh, don't you! Why, if your father had been along here with that rusty old gun of hisn, that he shoots rabbits with, and seen that dog scratching among them stones, know what he'd have done?"
"Well, then, I do. He'd have shot him. And if I ketches him ferretin' about there again, I'll drop a big flat stone down on him, and then chuck him off the cliff."
"If you do, I'll chuck you down after him," said Ram.
"What?" cried the man, bursting into a fresh roar of laughter. "Oh, come, I likes that. Why, you pup! That's what you are—a pup."
This was uttered with what was meant to be a most contemptuous intonation of the voice.
"Pups can bite hard sometimes, Jemmy," said Ram slowly; "and I shan't have Miss Celia's dog touched."
"Ho! Then he's to come here when he likes, and show everybody the way into our store, is he? Well, we shall see."
"Yes; and you'd better go and see if they've gone."
"Ah, yes, lad, I'll go and see if they've gone; and we needn't quarrel 'bout it, for it strikes me as little missus won't come down here no more, I scared her too much."
Jemmy burst into another hoarse fit of laughing, and went lumping off in his big sea-boots to see if Celia and her dog were well out of sight, before rejoining Ram to take the prisoner his repast.
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.
Three days passed, and the idea of losing her companion was so startling to Celia, that she made no further journey toward the cliffs, in spite of several efforts made by Grip to coax her in that direction. But on the fourth day there was so mean and unsatisfactory a dinner at the Hoze, of the paltry little rock fish caught by the labouring men, that, as Celia watched her mother partaking of the unsatisfactory fare, and thought how easily it might have been supplemented by a dish of mushrooms and a blackberry pudding, she made up her mind that the next day she would go.
"I could be very careful, and not go near any of the slopes running down to the cliff, and I could make Grip keep with me. Yes, I will go," she said.
The next morning she partook of her breakfast quite early—a simple enough meal, consisting of barley bread and a cup of fresh milk from the Shackles' farm, and, taking a basket, she called Grip, who came bounding about her in a state of the most exuberant delight.
The dog's satisfaction was a little damped as his mistress took her way toward the fir-wood, and he kept making rushes by another path. But it was of no use; Celia had made her own plans, and, as the dog could not coax her his way, and would not go alone, he had to follow her.
There was a reason for this route being chosen, for Celia did not care to be seen by Ram, or any of the men who might be pretending to work hard on Shackle's farm, which was ill tended, and consisted for the most part of cliff grazing land; but somehow seemed to need quite a large staff of labourers to keep it in such bad order.
By passing through the fir-wood, Celia meant to get out of sight of the cottages, and she went on, with the dog following sulkily behind, but reviving a little upon being given the basket to carry.
She trudged on for about a mile over the thin stony pastures, found a fair number of small, sweet, pink-gilled mushrooms where the turf was finest and richest, and gradually adding to her store of glistening bramble-berries till her finger-tips were purple with the stains.
The course she chose was down in the hollows between the hills, till at last she struck the one along which she had passed after leaving Ram and his companion, and turned down here, believing that, if the boy selected it, there would be good reason for his so doing. She walked steadily on, finding a button mushroom here and a bunch of blackberries there. For one minute she paused, struck by the peculiar sweet and sickly odour of a large-leaved herb which she had crushed, and admired its beautifully veined blossoms, in happy ignorance of the fact that it was the deadly poisonous henbane, and then all at once she missed Grip.
"Oh, how tiresome!" she cried excitedly; and she called him loudly, but there was no reply. A gull or two floated about and uttered their querulous calls, otherwise the silence was profound, and, though she swept the great curved sides of the hollow, whose end seemed filled up by the towering hill, all soft green slope toward her, but sheer scarped and projecting cliff toward the sea, there was not so much as a sheep in sight.
With a great horror coming upon her, she hurried along towards the cliff, thinking of what Dadd had said, and picturing in her mind's eye poor Grip racing along some seaward slope in chase of a rabbit, and going right over the cliff, she went on almost at a run, pausing, though, to call from time to time.
It was intensely hot in that hollow, for the sea breeze was completely shut off, but she did not pause, and rapidly neared the cliff now, her dread increasing, as she wondered whether Ram would be good enough to get a boat, and row along under the cliff to find the poor dog's body, so that she might bury it up in the fir-wood behind the house, in a particular spot close to where she had so often sat.
No sign of Grip: no sound. She called again, but there was no cheery bark in response, and with her despondent feeling on the increase, she began to climb the side of the hollow, passing unnoticed great clusters of blackberries, whose roots were fast in the stones, and the fruit looking like bunches of black grapes; past glistening white mushrooms, better than any she had yet seen, but they did not attract her; and at last she had climbed so high that she could see the blue waves spreading up and up to the horizon, and about a couple of miles out the white-sailed cutter, which was creeping slowly along the shore.
"I wonder where that midshipman is," she thought, forgetting the dog for the moment. "How strange that all was! Could it really have been a dream?"
"Yes, it must have been, or else he would have gone and told his captain, and they would have come and searched the cellar, and there would have been sad trouble."
She turned her eyes from the sea, and began to search the green slopes around, and then all at once she uttered a cry of joy as she could sight, on the highest slope right at the end of the valley, a white speck which suddenly appeared out of the earth, and then stood out clear on the green turf, and seemed to be looking about before turning and plunging down again.
It was quite half a mile away, and her call was in vain, and she began to descend diagonally into the hollow, the tears in her eyes, but a smile of content on her lips.
"Oh, you bad dog," she cried merrily, "how I will punish you!" and she stooped and picked a couple of mushrooms, quite happy again, and even sang a scrap of a country ditty in a pretty bird-like voice as she came to a bramble clump, and went on staining her fingers.
By degrees she passed the end of the hollow, leaving all the blackberries behind, and now, only pausing to pick a mushroom here and there, she began to ascend the slope toward where she had seen the dog.
"It is getting nearer the edge of the cliff," she said; "but it slopes up, and not down. Ah, I see you, sir. Come here directly! Grip! Grip!"
The dog had suddenly made his appearance about fifty yards in front, right as it were out of the grassy slope, to stand barking loudly for a few moments before turning tail and plunging down again.
"Oh, how tiresome!" she cried. "Grip! Grip!"
But, as the dog would not come to her, she went on, knowing perfectly well that he had gone down one of the old stone pits, and quite prepared to stand at last gazing into a hole which inclined rapidly into the hillside, but was as usual provided with rough stones placed step-wise, and leading the way into darkness beneath a fern-fringed arch, while the whole place was almost entirely choked-up with the luxuriantly growing brambles.
"He has found a rabbit," she thought to herself, as her eyes wandered about the sides of the pit, and brightened at the sight of the abundant clusters of blackberries, finer and riper than any she had yet secured.
"I wish I was not so frightened of these places," she said to herself. "Why, I could fill a basket here, and there can't be anything to mind, I know; it is only where they used to dig out the stone."
A sudden burst of barking took her attention to the dog, who came bounding up the rugged steps right to her feet, looked at her with his great intelligent eyes, and, before she could stop him, rushed down again, where she could hear him scratching, and there was a sound which she knew was caused by his moving a piece of stone such as she could see lying at the side in broken fragments, and of the kind dug in thin layers, and used in the neighbourhood instead of tiles.
"Oh, Grip, Grip! And you know you can't get at him. Come here."
Celia was leaning over the rugged steps, gazing down into the darkness beneath the ferns, when, in a faint, smothered, distant way, there came this hail, making her nearly drop her basket as she started away from the pit.
The hail was followed by a sharp burst of barking, and the dog came bounding up again, to stand looking after her, barking again before once more descending.
Slowly, and with her eyes dilated and strained, the girl crept back step by step, as she withstood her desire to run away, for all at once the thought had come that perhaps some shepherd or labourer had fallen down to the bottom, and was perhaps lying here with a broken leg.
She had heard of such things, and it would be very terrible, but she must know now, and then go for help.
In this spirit she once more reached the entrance to the old quarry, and peered down, listening to the worrying sound made by the dog, who kept rattling one piece of stone over another, every now and then giving a short, snapping bark.
"Ahoy!" came again, as if from a distance, and a thrill ran through the girl, bringing with it a glow of courage.
"It is some poor fellow fallen down;" and, placing her basket by the side, she began to descend cautiously, with Grip rushing to meet her, barking now joyously, and uttering whine after whine.
The descent was not difficult, and after the first few steps the feeling of timidity began to wear off, and Celia descended more quickly till, about fifty feet from the top, some distance under where the fringe of ferns hung, and where it had seemed quite dark from above, but was really a pleasant greenish twilight, she found beneath her feet a few loose flat stones, part of a quantity lying before her in the archway that seemed to lead straight on into the quarry.
But here, right at her feet, the dog began to scratch, tossing one thin piece of stone over the others upon which it lay.
Celia looked before her wonderingly, for she had expected to see a fallen man at once, probably some one of the men whom she knew by sight; but, in spite of the dog's scratching, she could not imagine anything was there, and she was bending forward, gazing into the half choked-up level passage before her, when there came from under her feet the same smothered,—
She started away, clinging to the side for support, and ready in her fear to rush back to the surface.
But the dog's action brought her to herself, as he began again to bark furiously, and tore at the stones.
"Hush! Quiet, Grip!" she said in an awe-stricken whisper, as she went down on her knees and listened, her heart beating wildly, and a horrible idea, all confused, of some one having been buried alive, making her face turn ashy pale.
"Ahoy! Any one there?" came in the same faint tones.
"Yes—yes," panted the girl. "What is it?"
And then, more loudly,—
"Let me out, pray."
"Oh," moaned the girl, "what does it mean?"
"Ahoy there!" came more plainly now. "Whoever you are, get a boat, and go off to the cutter White Hawk. Can you hear?"
"Yes, yes," said the girl huskily, as a horrible suspicion ran through her mind.
"Tell Lieutenant Brough that Mr Raystoke is a prisoner, kept by the smugglers, and then show his men the way here."
There was a pause, for Celia could make no reply; she knew who Mr Raystoke was, and it seemed horrible to her that the frank, good-looking young midshipman should be kept a prisoner in such a tomb-like place as that.
"Don't, don't say you will not go!" came up in the smothered tones. "You shall have a reward."
"As if I wanted a reward!" panted Celia. "What shall I do? What shall I do?"
"Help—pray help!" came from below; and Grip joined in.
"Yes, I will help you," cried Celia, placing her face close down to the stones.
"What!" came up. "I know you—the young—yes, Miss Graeme."
"Yes," she cried hastily.
"Pray help me."
"I want to," she said; "but—but you will go and—and tell—about what you have seen."
There was a pause, and then came faintly the words,—
"I—don't—want to; but—I must."
"But I cannot—I cannot help you if you are going to fetch the sailors here, perhaps to seize—Oh, what shall I do?"
There was a pause before the prisoner spoke again.
"Look here," he said; "I don't want to tell about your father being mixed up with the smugglers."
"You must not—you dare not!" cried Celia.
There was another pause, and then the prisoner's voice came again reproachfully.
"You ought to know it's my duty, and that I was sent ashore to find this out.—I say."
"Did you know I was shut up like this by those beasts?"
"Oh, no, no, no!"
"Your father did. He had me sent here, so that he should not get into trouble."
"Indeed no! He would not do so wicked a thing."
"But he is a smuggler."
"It is not true!" cried Celia passionately; "and if you dare to say such things of my dear, good, suffering father, I'll go away and never help you."
"I can't help saying it," said Archy sturdily. "I'd give anything to get out of this dreadful dark place; but I must speak."
"Not of him."
"I don't want to speak of him," said Archy, "but what can I do? I must tell about all those smuggled things there in the cellar that night when you found me in that room—out of uniform."
"Ah!" ejaculated Celia.
"I know it's hard on you, but I've been here a prisoner ever since, and it's enough to break one's heart."
The poor fellow's voice changed a little as he spoke, and he would have given way if he had seen Celia's head bowed down, and that she was crying bitterly.
"You will send for help?"
"I cannot," sobbed the girl, "unless you will promise not to tell."
There was a pause again.
"I can't promise," came up huskily, in faint smothered tones. "I say, is the door locked as well as bolted?"
"I cannot tell; it is covered with stones. Pray, pray promise me that you will not tell. I do want to help you to get away."
"I can't promise," said Archy at last, after a bitter struggle with self. "I must go straight to my officer and tell him as soon as I get out."
At that moment there was a sharp barking from the dog, who rushed up the steps to stand at the top for a few moments before coming down again.
"Won't you help me?"
"To send my poor innocent father to prison," said Celia in a low voice.
"I can't hear you," came from below.
"And I can't tell you," said Celia to herself. "What shall I do—what shall I do?"
She stole softly up the rugged steps, with her fingers in her ears, in dread lest she should be called upon to listen to the prisoner's piteous appeals for help; and, as soon as she reached the top, she set off running as hard as she could go, to find her father, tell him all, and appeal to him to try and save the poor fellow from the cruel trials he was called upon to bear.
Celia could hardly see the direction in which she was going, for her eyes were blinded with tears, and so it was that, when down in the lowest part of the hollow, as she hurried blindly along, she tripped over one of the many loose stones, fell heavily, striking her temple against a block projecting from the steep side of the little valley; and fell, to lie insensible for a time; and when she did come to her senses, it was to find Grip lying by her, with his head upon her chest, and his eyes looking inquiringly into hers, as if to ask what it all meant.
Her head ached, and she felt half stunned still, but she strove to rise to her feet, and sank back with a moan of pain.
For a worse trouble had discovered itself: her ankle was badly wrenched, so that she could not stand, and in the solitary place in which she had fallen, it was possible that she might lie for days and not be found, unless special search was made.
A sudden thought came—to tie her handkerchief about Grip's neck, and send him home.
The first was easily done, the latter impossible. Grip was an intelligent dog in his way, but nothing would make him leave his mistress there; and the poor girl lay all day in the hot sun, and at last saw that night was coming on, and that there was no help.
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.
Celia Graeme took sundry precautions to avoid being seen, but she was not so successful as she imagined.
Jemmy Dadd was an old servant of Farmer Shackle, one who always made a point of doing as little as was possible about the farm. He did not mind loading a cart, if he were allowed as much time as he liked, or feeding the pigs, because it afforded him an opportunity to lean over the sty and watch the pretty creatures eat, while their grunting and squeaking was sweet music in his ear. He generally fed the horses, too, and watched them graze. Calling up the cows from the cliff pastures he did not mind, because cows walked slowly; and he did the milking because he could sit down and rest his head; but to thump a churn and make butter was out of his line.
Mrs Shackle complained bitterly to her lord and master about different lots of cream being spoiled, but Farmer Shackle snubbed her.
"Can't expect a man to work night and day too," he grunted. "Set one of the women to churn."
In fact, the farmer never found any fault with Jemmy, for the simple reason that he was his best worker on dark nights, and as handy a sailor as could be found.
Jemmy knew it, felt that he was licensed, and laughed to himself as he followed his own bent, and spent a good deal of time every day in what he called seeing the crops grow.
When there were no crops growing, he went to see how the grass was getting on, and to do this properly, he put a piece of hard black tobacco in his cheek, and went and lay down on one of the hill-slopes.
He was seeing how the grass got on that particular morning with his eyes shut, when, happening to open them, he caught sight of Celia going along, a mile away, with her basket and dog.
He knew her by the dog, though even at that distance, as she moved almost imperceptibly over the short turf of the treeless expanse along by the sea, he would have been sure that it was Sir Risdon's child.
"What's the good of telling on her?" he growled to himself, as he lay back with his hands under his head; and in that attitude he rested for nearly three hours. Then, moved by the cogitations in which he had been indulging, he slowly and deliberately rose, something after the fashion of a cow, and began to go slowly in the direction taken by Celia hours before.
Jemmy Dadd seemed to be going nowhere, and as he slouched along, lifting up one heavy sea boot and putting it down before the other, he never turned his head in either direction. So stiff was he in his movements, that any one who watched him would have concluded that he was looking straight forward, and that was all.
A great mistake; for Jemmy, by long practice, had made his eyes work like a lobster's, and, as he went on, they were rolling slowly round and round, taking in everything, keeping a look-out to sea, and watching the revenue cutter, sweeping the offing, running over the fields and downs and hollows, missing nothing, in short, as he steadily trudged along, not even the few mushrooms that the pleasant showers had brought up, and placing them in his hat.
Slow as his pace was, the distance between the prints of the big boots was great, and the mushroom hunting took him, before very long, up the cliff beyond the entrance to the old quarry, then down below it, and then close up alongside, where he stooped over, and then went down a few steps out of sight.
He did not turn his head, for his lobster eyes had convinced him that no one was in sight, and, as he disappeared in the deep hole, he pounced upon the basket, and then went softly and quickly down to where the loose tile stones lay.
A rapid examination satisfied him that they had not been moved, and he went softly up again, basket in hand, stood still and rolled his eyes, but saw no sign of the basket's owner, and then, thrusting his arm through the handle, he went steadily back to the farm, where he thrust his head in at the door, stared at Farmer Shackle, who was innocently mending a net, and backed out and went into the rough stable.
Shackle followed him, net in one hand, wooden netting-needle in the other.
"Hullo!" he said.
Jemmy held out the basket.
"Well, I see brambrys and masheroons. What of 'em?"
"Little missus's basket. Fun' it."
"Take it home. No—I'll send Ramillies. Ladyship don't like to see you."
"Fun' it in number one!"
"See her going along there with that dog. She must ha' smelled him out."
"Place been opened?"
Farmer Shackle scratched his nose on both sides with the netting-needle; then he poked his red worsted cap a little on one side with the same implement, and scratched the top of his head, and carefully arranged the red cap again.
"Mayn't have seen or heard anything, lad."
"Must, or wouldn't have left the basket."
"Right. Have big Tom Dunley, Badstock and two more, and be yonder at dark. Ramillies know?"
"Don't tell him. He's waiting yonder for you. Here he comes. Go on just as usual, and don't tell him nothing. I'll meet you soon as it's dark."
"Jemmy there, father? Ah, there you are! Come on. I've been waiting such a time."
Ram looked sharply from one to the other, and knew there was something particular on the way, but he said nothing.
"Get it out of Jemmy," he said to himself.
"I'm ready, lad; I'm ready."
"Look sharp, boy," said the farmer.
"Yes, father," said Ram. "I'll go and get the basket."
"Ay, do, boy. And look here—never mind more to-day; but take double 'lowance to-morrow, so as not to go every day."
"Very well, father. Look sharp, Jemmy!"
The boy ran back to the house, followed by his father, who went on netting, and a minute later Jemmy and Ram were off over the bare pastures in the direction from which the man had come.
"Find that basket you give to father, Jemmy?"
"Ay, lad, half full o' brambrys and masheroons. Wondered whose it was. Gaffer says it's little missus's, and you're to take it up."
"Oh," thought Ram, "that's what they were talking about;" and he began whistling, quite content, as they went wandering about mushrooming, till, apparently tired, they sat down close to the mouth of the quarry, where Jemmy's eyes rolled round for a good ten minutes before he said, "Now."
Then the pair rolled over to left and right, down into the hole, and descended quickly to the bottom, where the man crept right on along the half choked passage, took a lanthorn from a great crevice; there was the nicking of flint and steel, a faint blue light, and the snap of the closing lanthorn as the dark passage showed a yellow glow.
Meanwhile Ram had been busy removing the pieces of stone, laying bare a trap-door upon which were a big wooden lock and a couple of bolts. These he unfastened, threw open the door, and descended with his basket; while, after handing down the lanthorn into the black well-like hole, Jemmy climbed up again to the surface and stood with his eyes just above the level, sheltered by blackberry strands and other growth, and slowly made his eyes revolve; till, at the end of half an hour, Ram reappeared, when the business of closing and bolting the door went on, while Jemmy blew out the light, closed the lanthorn, through whose crevices came forth an unpleasant odour, bore it back to its hiding-place; and then the pair departed as cautiously as they came.
"What did he say?" growled Jemmy.
"Oh, not much. Seemed all grumpy, and wouldn't answer a civil question."
"Should ha' kicked him," said Jemmy.
Very little more was said till they reached home, and Ram busied himself about the farm till after supper, wishing that he could help the midshipman to escape without getting his father into trouble.
He was thinking how horribly dark and miserable the old quarry must be, for the first time. The thought had not occurred to him before, through every hole and corner being so familiar, from the fact that scores of times he had held the lanthorn while his father's men carried in smuggled goods landed at the ledge, if there was plenty of time; for, if the landing had been hurried, and the danger near, the things were often carried up to the Hoze for temporary deposit till carts came to bear the things into the interior.
"I do wish he'd be friends," thought Ram, when his musings were interrupted by his father saying,—
"Ah, there's that basket Jemmy found's mornin'. Go and take it up to the Hoze."
"He needn't go to-night, need he?" said Mrs Shackle.
"You mind your own business," said the farmer fiercely. "Be off, boy."
Ram put on his red cap, took the basket, and trotted off toward the Hoze, while Mrs Shackle sighed, for she knew that something particular must be on the way, or Ram would not have been sent off, and her husband have prepared to go out directly after.
"Oh dear me, dear me, dear me!" said the plump, comfortable-looking woman, as the door closed on her husband's back. "If he would only keep to his cows and sheep!"
"Here," said the farmer, reopening the door, "be off to bed. Ramillies need not know that I'm gone out."
"No, dear. But do take care of yourself."
Bang went the door, and Mrs Shackle, after putting a few things straight, went off obediently to bed, troubling in no wise about the door being left on the latch.
CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.
Archy Raystoke was fast asleep, dreaming about being once more on board the cutter, with the sun shining full in his eyes, because he was lying on the deck, right in everybody's road, and Gurr the master was scolding him for it in a way which was very disrespectful to an officer and a gentleman, while the men grouped around grinned.
He was not surprised, for somehow Mr Brough was not there, and Gurr had assumed the command of the cutter, and was playing the part of smuggler and pirate, and insulting him, whom he addressed again: "Get up!"
Archy leaped to his feet, and saw at a glance that it was not the sun, but the light of a lanthorn shining in his eyes, while, before he could do more than realise that several men were standing close to him, half of a sack was drawn-down over his head and shoulders, and a thin rope was twisted round and round his arms, fastening him securely, and only leaving his hands free.
"What are you going to do?" he shouted, after a vain struggle to free himself, and his voice sounded muffled and thick through the heavy sack.
"Pitch you off the cliff if you make so much as a sound," said a gruff voice by his car. "Keep quiet, and you won't be hurt."
The lad's heart beat heavily, and he felt hot and half suffocated.
"Do you want to smother me?" he said. "Can't breathe."
"Slit the back of the sack, lad," said the same gruff voice, and there was a sharp cutting noise heard, as a breathing-hole was cut right up behind his head.
"Now, then, bring him along."
His hand was grasped, and, as he felt himself led over ground that was quite familiar now, he knew that he was on the way to the entrance.
Were they going to take him out, and set him free?
No; if they had been going to do that, they would not have blindfolded his eyes.
Yes, they would, for, if they were going to set him free, they would do so in a way that would place it beyond his power to betray their secret store.
Quick immatured thoughts which shot through him as he was led along, and he knew directly after that it was only fancy. Of course. He could show the lieutenant where the opening was in the cliff, and by knowing that it would be easy to track out the land entrance.
"No," said the midshipman to himself sadly; "they are going to take me and imprison me somewhere else, for they must now know that I was holding communications with that girl."
"Now then, steady!" said a voice, as he felt that the cool air was coming down on to his head, and he breathed it through the thick sacking. "Make a rope fast round him."
"I must be at the foot of the way in," thought Archy, as he felt a rope passed round him, and the next minute it tightened, he was raised from his feet, and the rope cut into him painfully as he felt himself hauled up. Then hands seized him, and he was thrown down on the grass, while the last rope was cast off.
As he lay there being untied, though his eyes were blinded, his ears were busy, and he listened to the smothered sounds of the trap being fastened and the stones being drawn over it again.
"Trap-door—door into a trap," he thought. "Where am I going now? Surely they would not kill me."
A cold chill shot through him, but he mastered the feeling of terror as he felt himself dragged to his feet.
"Now, then, keep step," the same gruff voice said; and, with apparently half a dozen men close by him, as far as he could judge by their mutterings and the dull sound of their feet over the grass, he was marched on for over an hour—hearing nothing, seeing nothing, but all the while with his ears strained, waiting for an opportunity to appeal for help, in spite of the threats he had heard, as soon as he could tell by the voices that he was near people who were not of the smugglers' gang.
But no help seemed to be at hand, and, as far as he could judge, he was being taken along the fields and rough ground near the edge of the wild cliffs, now near the sea, now far away. At one time he could hear the dull thud and dash of waves, for a good brisk breeze was blowing, and he fancied that he had a glint of a star through the thick covering, but he was not sure. Then the sound of the waves on the shore was completely hushed, and he felt that they must either be down in a hollow, or going farther and farther away inland.
Twice this happened, and the third time, as all was still, and he could feel a hard road beneath his feet, he became sure. There was an echoing sound from their footsteps, dull to him, but still plain, and it seemed as if they were down in some narrow cutting or rift, when all at once! Just in front, after the men about him had been talking more loudly, as if clear of danger, there rang out a stern—
There was a hasty exclamation. Then came in the loud, gruff voice,—
"Back, lads, quick!"
He was seized, and retreat had begun, when again rang out:—