Just then, he knew that some one else thought as he did, for a hand touched his arm, and a voice whispered,—
"It wasn't my fault. It must have been Jemmy Dadd. I say—case they can't make a way out in time—shake hands once, mate. I do like you."
Something like a hysterical sob burst from the young midshipman's breast at this; and, facing death as he was just then,—a horrible death which might follow at any moment,—the lad's hand grasped that of his young gaoler—officer and smuggler, but both boys of one blood, who had fought each according to his lights.
"Hah!" sighed Ram, as he gripped hard, and then let go. "Now, then, tell 'em to shove the stones, sharp, and let 'em fall out. Quick! Before the powder ketches."
"Powder?" said Archy in an awe-stricken whisper. "Yes; there's a lot not far from the kegs." The men cheered, as the fresh order was given, and a new set took the places of those who were growing weary, sending the stones out rapidly, till there was room for a man to creep through.
"Here, Ram, you through first, and show them how to climb on the shelf."
"No, no, you lead, Mr Raystoke," cried the master. "Silence, sir! I know what I'm doing," yelled Archy. "Out with you, Ram."
The boy went through like a rabbit, passing something dark before him, and then rapidly one by one the men followed, with the flames roaring horribly now below, and explosion after explosion following quickly, the cave rapidly becoming a reservoir of fire.
"Hurrah! That's all," cried Mr Gurr. "Now, Mr Raystoke."
"No, sir, you."
"I say you."
Archy yielded to his superior in the expedition, crept out, and the master was following, and got stuck, but a fierce tug from a couple of the men set him free, and he had only just joined the two boats' crews standing side by side on the shelf of rock, when the whole cliff seemed to shake; and, as if the passage they had left were some vast cannon, the artificial wall left was blown right out by an awful burst of flame, the stones hurtling down as if the end of the cliffs had come, and falling with a mighty splash into the chasm.
The men stood white and awe-stricken, expecting the cliff to crumble away beneath them, but save that a stream of fire roared out of the opening, all was now still.
Then, in the midst of the awe-inspiring silence, Ram spoke,—
"I thought it wouldn't be long before the powder caught;" and then, before any one could reply, the lad said quietly, "I didn't want to be burnt to death. Better go to prison for smuggling. I say, I got this rope. Hadn't we better make it fast somewhere, and then you can all get down to the big shelf? I'll come last, and unfasten it."
"And then how will you get down?" said the master suspiciously.
"Oh," said Ram, laughing, "I can climb down; can't I, orficer?"
"Yes," said Archy quietly. "He can get down. You will not try to escape, will you, Ram?"
"No; not I. What's the good?" said Ram sadly. "It's all over now."
The rope was made fast, and by its help the men easily reached the great ledge, Ram coming down soon after with the coiled-up rope about his shoulder and under one arm.
"Couldn't have got away if I wanted to," he said, laughing frankly in Archy's face. "I say, I am hungry! Aren't you? Don't I wish I'd got one of mother's baskets full of good stuff!"
"Where's your mother?" asked Archy.
"Up at the farm."
"And your father?"
"Oh, he went off in the lugger this morning, after they'd tried to run a cargo. Your cutter was too quick for them though. We tried to get out to her, but the skipper sent a shot at us, and we came back here, only you saw us, and run us down."
"Where do you suppose your men are now?" asked Archy.
"Don't know, and if I did, I wouldn't tell," said the boy bluntly. "I say," he added, after a pause, "I give you a pretty good run last night, didn't I?"
"You young dog!" growled the master.
"Well, if I hadn't, you'd have found the way in yonder, and I wasn't going to let you if I could help it."
"Ah, you'll be hung, sir."
"Get out!" cried Ram. "Your skipper wouldn't hang a boy like me. Think the cutter will be long?" said the boy after a pause, during which all had been watching the flame which seemed to flow out of the opening far overhead.
"I don't know; why?" replied Archy.
"Because she'll have to come and take us off. This rope's long enough, and we shall have to slide down into a boat."
But the cutter was long. For the lugger had escaped to Holland consequent upon the White Hawk being so short-handed, and it was toward evening that she came close in to search for the crews, and all the party descended in safety to the boat, which rowed under in answer to the signals made by firing pistols.
As to the boats that passed under the archway, they were prisoned till the next low water.
"Satisfied?" said the lieutenant, after all were on board, and he had heard the report. "More than satisfied. I was horribly disappointed at losing the lugger, and I made a hard fight for it, but your news—my dear boy—my dear Mr Gurr, this is splendid! What a despatch I can write!"
"It will be the breaking up of the gang, will it not, sir?" asked Archy.
"Yes, my dear boy; and an end to this wretched work. They must promote me now, and draft you, too, into a good ship. If we can be together, Mr Raystoke, I shall be delighted."
That same night, as he was thinking about Ram Shackle, Archy went up to the lieutenant, who was walking up and down rubbing his hands.
"Beg pardon, sir, but may I ask a favour?"
"A dozen if you like, Raystoke, and I'll grant them if I can. Want a run ashore?"
"No, sir. I want you to be easy with that boy. He was very kind to me when I was a prisoner."
"Hum! Hah! Well, I don't know what to say to that. Here, my man, fetch that boy on deck."
Ram came up, whistling softly, and looking sharply from one to the other.
"Now, sir, take off your cap," said the lieutenant sternly.
Ram did not look a bit afraid, but he doffed his red cap.
"I suppose you know, sir, that you'll be sent to gaol?"
"Yes.—I knew you wouldn't hang me."
"And pray what have you to say for yourself?"
"Nothing that I knows on," said Ram. "Yes, I have. I say father's gone, and I dessay he won't come back for ever so long, and I don't want to go among the Dutchmen. May I stop here 'long of him? There won't be no more smuggling to do."
"You mean you want to volunteer for His Majesty's service?"
"Yes, that's it," said Ram cheerfully. "May I?"
"Yes," said Lieutenant Brough shortly. "There; you can go below."
Ram waved his red cap, tossed it in the air, and turned to Archy.
"I say, orficer," he said, "I know where your little sword is. You send one of your chaps to-morrow to mother, and tell her I'm aboard and going to be a sailor, and she's to give him your little sword as father put in the top drawer."
Archy's eyes sparkled, for the loss of his dirk was a bitter memory.
"Humph!" said the lieutenant, as Ram went below; "not a bad sort of boy. Well, Mr Raystoke, will that do?"
Archy shook the hand held out, and went aft to gaze at the cliff, feeling that somehow he liked Ram Shackle.
Then he turned, rather despondent, for he knew that the next day there would be an expedition ashore, when visits would be paid to the farm and to the Hoze, and he felt uncomfortable about the Graemes.
"Hullo, young fellow!"
"You must not speak like that," said Archy, as he encountered Ram on deck next morning, whistling softly as he neatly coiled down a rope. "And you must touch your cap."
"That way?" said Ram.
"Yes; that will do, but you must say 'Sir,' or 'Ay, ay sir.'"
"Ay, ay, sir."
"Well, you seem to be settling down very soon."
"Oh, yes, I'm all right. What's the good of making a fuss. Going ashore?"
"Yes. Do you want to go?"
Ram shook his head.
"No; I should only see some of our chaps, and it would look as if I'd been splitting on them; and I didn't, did I?"
"No; you behaved very bravely and well, Ram."
"Yes, I do, indeed."
"Thank ye—sir," said Ram. "No, don't let the skipper send me ashore; and—I say—"
"Tell mother I'm all right, and that I shan't have to go to prison, and that I'll get some one to tell her how I'm getting on now and then. She's a good one is mother, that she is."
"I'll tell her you have given up all smuggling, and that you are going to be a good sailor now."
"Yes, do, please—sir. She hates the smuggling, and used to beg father not, but he would do it. And I say, are you going up to the Hoze?"
"Yes; we shall search the farm and the Hoze too."
"Won't find nothing at the farm. Father never had nothing there, not even a keg. And you won't find nothing at the Hoze."
"Not in the cellar?"
"No," said Ram frankly.
"How long has that Sir Risdon Graeme been a smuggler?"
"Him? Never was one, poor old chap, only father good as made him lend us his cellar, because it was nice and handy, and nobody would think of going and searching there. Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Ram, showing his white teeth; "you people went up there one day and touched your hats to Sir Risdon, and were afraid to go close up to the house, when all the time the cellar was choke full."
"I remember," said the midshipman; "and I found it out. But look here, Ram, how could your father make Sir Risdon, who is a gentleman, lend him the cellar?"
"'Cause father and mother used to pretty well keep 'em. I had to be always going without father knowing, and taking 'em bread and butter and bacon and eggs. They just are poor. Mother used to send me, and she often used to tell me that they was 'most starved to death."
"Then Sir Risdon didn't get anything by the smuggling?"
"Him!" cried Ram. "Why, father sent me up one day with a keg of brandy for him, and a piece of silk for her ladyship; I did get hot that day carrying of 'em up the hill. It was last summer."
"Yes; and what did Sir Risdon say?"
"Say? He 'most shied 'em at me, and I had to carry 'em back. My! That was a hot day and no mistake."
Somehow Archy felt relieved about the Graemes, and, after a little consideration, he went and reported all he had heard to the lieutenant, who nodded his head, looked severe, and ordered the two boats to be manned.
The midshipman took the order on deck, and Ram stared.
"I say," he said, "what's the good of going now? You'll have to row all the way to the cove and walk all the way along by the cliffs. If you wait till the tide's right out, you can get in through Grabley's hole."
Archy reported this, and in due time Gurr was left in charge of the cutter, the lieutenant went off in one boat, and the other was in Archy's charge.
It all seemed very matter of fact now, as they rowed in through the opening, left the boats in the little pool, climbed the zigzag; and a halt was called, during which the little lieutenant wiped his streaming face, and recovered his breath.
Then the party marched for the farm, where, red-eyed, and her florid face mottled and troubled-looking, Mrs Shackle met them.
"Well, woman," said the lieutenant severely; "I have to search this place."
"If you please, sir," said the woman humbly.
"One moment. Answer me honestly. Is there any contraband article stored about the farm?"
"No, sir, and never was."
"Humph! That's what your son said."
"My son? Oh, pray, pray tell me, gentlemen, is he safe? I heard that he was burned to death."
"Your son is quite well, aboard my ship."
"Thank God! Oh, thank God!" cried the poor woman, sinking upon her knees to cover her face with her hands, sobbing violently, and rocking herself to and fro.
"There!" she cried, jumping up quickly, and wiping her eyes; "I've no cause to fret now."
"He has volunteered for the navy," continued the lieutenant; "and if he is a good lad, we shall make a man of him."
"Then you will, sir; for a better boy never stepped."
"For a smuggler, eh?" said the lieutenant drily.
"Well, sir, he was my husband's boy, and he did what his father told him."
"And your husband?"
"The men came and told me, sir, that he escaped in the lugger."
"And the men—where are they?"
"They got away yesterday, sir, those who were left. They felt that they must leave these parts for good."
"Yes, for good!" said the lieutenant emphatically. "Now, Mr Raystoke, have you anything to say?"
"Only to deliver my message. Mrs Shackle, Ram told me to tell you he was all right."
"Thank Heaven!" said the woman, wiping away a tear; "and you won't punish him, sir, and you'll keep him away from the smuggling?"
"Never fear," cried the lieutenant, laughing.
"You were to give me my dirk, Mrs Shackle."
"Oh, yes, sir!" cried the woman, crossing to an old bureau, and taking out the little weapon. "And I suppose, sir, all the old home will be taken and destroyed?"
"Oh, I don't know. We shall see. But, look here, my good woman; do you want to sail right or wrong now?"
"Oh, right, sir, please."
"Then tell me honestly where there are any more goods stored?"
"Everything left, sir, was put in the old quarry."
"Nothing up at that house on the hill?"
"No, sir, I think not. It's all over now, and my husband has gone, so I may as well speak out."
"Of course. It will be best for you—and for your son."
"They only stored cargoes up at Sir Risdon's because it was handy, sir, and then took them on afterwards to the big store in the old quarry that was burned last night. But pray tell me, sir, was any one hurt?"
"No, but we have no thanks to give your people. Now, Mr Raystoke."
He marched out, and Archy was following, but Mrs Shackle arrested him.
"God bless you, my dear!" she whispered. "I knew about you being there, but we couldn't help it, and Ram used to tell me all about it, and how he liked you; and we sent you everything we could to make you comfortable. Be kind now to my son."
"If Ram turns out a good lad, Mrs Shackle, he shall never want a—"
Archy was going to say friend, but he could not, for Mrs Shackle had thrown her arms about his neck in a big, motherly hug, from which the young officer escaped red-faced and vexed.
"I wish she hadn't kissed me," he said to himself, after making sure that no one had seen. "And she has made my face all wet with her crying."
They were on the march now to the Hoze, with the lieutenant in the highest of glee, and chatting merrily to Archy as a brother officer and a friend.
"If I could only have got the lugger too, Raystoke," he cried, "it would have been glorious! But I couldn't do impossibilities, could I?"
"I am sure you did wonders, Mr Brough," said Archy.
"Well, never mind what I did, sir. You and Gurr acted so that I'm proud of you both, and of the lads. Completely burned out the wasps' nest, eh? It—will be a glorious despatch, Raystoke. By the way, we must go straight down there and see if the place is cool enough to search. There may be a little of the wasps' comb left, eh?"
"I'm afraid the whole of the stores would be destroyed."
"Ah, well, we shall see, and—Who are these?"
"Sir Risdon and Lady Graeme and their daughter," whispered Archy, who coloured as he saw Celia looking at him defiantly.
They were outside the house, and Lieutenant Brough halted his men, marched forward with the midshipman, and raised his hat, his salute being formally returned.
"I regret to have to come in this unceremonious way, sir," said the lieutenant.
"Excuse me," interrupted the baronet. "I expected you, sir, and, while congratulating you and your men upon their success, I wish to humbly own that my place has unwillingly on my part, been made one of the stores for their nefarious transactions."
The lieutenant moved away with Sir Risdon, leaving Archy alone with Celia and her mother.
"Oh," cried the girl, taking a step nearer to the midshipman, "how I hate you!"
"I thought you a nice frank boy, and that you would be our friend."
"Celia, my child," whispered Lady Graeme reproachfully.
"I can't help it, mamma. I wanted to help him, but he would keep saying that he must tell of papa because it was his duty."
"Yes," said Archy bluntly; "and so it was."
"Yes," said Lady Graeme, "it was."
"Oh, mamma dear, pray don't say that. And now he has come with his hateful men to take papa to prison, and—"
"Oh, yes, yes, yes, Sir Risdon, of course, I must write my despatch. But you have given me your word of honour as a gentleman that you never engaged in these contraband practices."
These words reached the little group, and also Sir Risdon's reply:
"I swear it, sir; and it was only—"
"Yes, yes. Never mind that. Word of honour's enough between gentlemen. Oh, no, I shall not search, sir. I am satisfied."
"Oh!" ejaculated Celia.
"Hah!" ejaculated Archy in a sigh of relief.
"Now, Mr Raystoke, midshipman," said the lieutenant merrily. "My chief officer, ladies! Come, we have a great deal to do. Good morning. If you will pay us a visit on the cutter, we shall be only too proud to see you."
A friendly salute was interchanged, and Archy emphasised his by holding out his hand to Celia.
"Good-bye," he said. "Don't hate me, please. I only did my duty."
"I don't hate you," she replied, giving him her hand. Only a boy and girl; but Archy looked back several times, as they marched downward to the cliff, and then up its steep, grassy slope, to see at a turn a white handkerchief being waved to him.
"Why—hullo, Mr Raystoke!" cried the lieutenant merrily. "Oh, I see. Well, wait till you become a post-captain, and I hope I shall be an admiral by then, and that you will ask me to honour the wedding."
"Hush, pray, sir!" said Archy. "Some of the men will hear."
But the men did not hear, for they were quietly trudging along over the short grass, chewing their quids, and discussing the fire in the cave; those who had escaped relating again to those who were on the cutter their terrible experiences before the powder caught.
In due time they reached the entrance to the quarry, and found that everything was as they had anticipated, the smugglers having piled quite a ton of stones over the trap-door. These were removed at length, and the door was thrown open, when a peculiar dim bluish mist slowly rose, and disappeared in the broad sunshine.
"Keep back, my lads," said the lieutenant. "The powder smells badly, and it would be very risky to go down now."
"Fire seems to be out," said Archy, as he held his hand in the bluish smoke, which was dank and cold.
"Not much to burn," said the lieutenant; and, giving the word, the men bivouacked on the short turf to eat the provender they had brought, quite alone, for not a soul from the cottages between the farm and the cave appeared.
So strong a current of air set through the old quarry, that by the time they had ended the air was good; but now another difficulty arose. There were no lights, and a couple of men had to be despatched to the farm, from whence they returned with four lanthorns which had often been used for signals.
Armed with these, the party descended, and explored the place, to find that, where the powder had exploded, the walls were blackened and grisly, and that scores of little barrel staves were lying about shattered in all directions and pretty well burned away. On the other hand, the staves of the brandy kegs were for the most part hardly scorched, and the stone floor showed no traces of fire having passed.
The spirits had burned vividly till the explosion took place, when the force of the powder seemed to have scattered everything, but it had been saving as well as destructive, separating the brandy kegs, some of which burst and added fuel to the flames, but many remained untouched.
In fact, to the great delight of all, it was found that, though a great deal of destruction had been done, there was an ample supply of the smugglers' stores left to well load the cutter twice; and, jubilant with the discovery, the men returned on board, dreaming of prize-money, but not until a strong guard had been left over the place, in case any of the wasps should return.
But they did not come back. The nest had been burned out, and the smuggling in that part of the Freestone Shore had received so heavy a blow, that only one or two of the men cared to return, and then only for a temporary stay.
Lieutenant Brough's despatch had of course been sent in, and he obtained praise and prize-money.
"But no promotion, Mr Raystoke," he cried; "and of course you can have none until you have passed. They have not even appointed you to another ship."
"Well, if you are going to stay in the White Hawk, sir, I don't know that I want to change. I'm very comfortable here."
"That's very good of you, Raystoke, very good," said the lieutenant. "And then it's of no use to complain. I shall never get my promotion. I'm too little and too fat."
"No, that's not it," said Archy boldly; "they think you do the work so well that they will not remove you from the station."
"No," said the lieutenant sadly; "it's because I am so stout. I shall never be lifted now."
Mr Brough was wrong, for two years later he was appointed to a frigate, and his first efforts were directed to getting Archy Raystoke and Ram berths in the same ship, where a long and successful career awaited them.
But with that we have at present nought to do. This is the chronicle of the expedition of the White Hawk to crush the smuggling on the Freestone Shore, the most famous place for the doings of those who set the King's laws at defiance.
It was some ten years later, when one of His Majesty King George's smartest frigates was homeward bound from the East Indies, where her captain had distinguished himself by many a gallant act, that, as she was making for Portsmouth, with the tall white cliffs of the Isle just in sight, a tall handsome young officer went to the side, where a sun-browned seaman was standing gazing shoreward, shading his eyes with his hand.
"Why, Ram," said the officer; "looking out for the scene of some of your old villainies?"
"No, sir," said the man, touching his cap. "I was wondering whether my old mother was down on the cliff yonder, looking after the cows."
"The cows!" cried the young lieutenant. "Ah, to be sure. Remember the cow falling off the cliff, Ram?"
"Ay, sir, that I do. But look yonder, sir. You could make out the shelf on the big cliff if you had your glass. Remember our tussle there?"
"To be sure I do," said Lieutenant Raystoke, sheltering his eyes in a very deceptive fashion, for he was trying to make out the old grove of trees amidst which stood the Hoze.
"Captain calling you, sir," said a rugged-looking sailor, with a very swarthy face, that looked as if it would be all the better for a wash, but only seemed.
"All right, Dick, my man," said the young officer; and he hurried to where a plump, rosy little man stood in full post-captain's uniform.
"Ah, there you are, Mr Raystoke," said the captain, handing the lieutenant his glass. "I've been sweeping the shore, and it brought back old days. Look there; you can easily make out the range of cliffs. That highest one is where you and Mr Gurr were at the burning out of the smugglers ten years ago. How time slips by!"
"Yes, sir," said Lieutenant Archy Raystoke, returning the glass; "that's where the wasps' nest was destroyed."
Then to himself,—
"I wonder whether Celia will be glad to see me."
She was: very glad indeed.