"All right, Susan!" he said, as he reached the cottage. "We've done the job neatly, and the goods are twenty miles inland by this time. We'd a famous night for it, couldn't have had a better, got the revenue men away on the wrong scent, and had the coast clear long enough to land a dozen cargoes. If we get such another night for the next run, we shall do well."
"I am thankful," said poor Susan, who thought more of her husband's safety than probably of his share of the profits. "Now, come in; here's a visitor you'll be glad to see."
Ben put out his hand and shook Dick's, but before asking questions he kissed his children, who came jumping up round him.
"Now, let's have breakfast, for I am main hungry, and I dare say our friend here is," he exclaimed. "Have you taken my advice, and made up your mind for a trip on board the Nancy?" he asked, turning to Dick.
Dick replied in the affirmative, and described the visit Mr Gooch had paid them the previous evening.
"The sooner you get on board and out of his way the better, for they'll not think of looking for you there, and before to-morrow morning the Nancy will be away again across the Channel," said Ben. Breakfast was just over, and Ben was smoking his pipe in front of his cottage door, when, looking to the southward, he exclaimed, "There she comes; she is a beauty!" and he pointed to a fine lugger, which, under all sail, having rounded Hurst Point, was standing towards Yarmouth.
Ben having put up a few articles, led the way down to his boat, accompanied by Dick, and followed by his elder children, one carrying a boat-hook, another the oars, while he himself bore the boat's mast and sails on his broad shoulders. The children stood on the beach, watching them as they pulled away. The breeze being favourable, Ben soon stepped the mast and hoisted the sail, when he came aft with the mainsheet, and told Dick to steer.
"You should never lose the chance of learning to be handy in a boat," he observed; "you don't know when it may come in useful. You are very well as it is, but you are not like one born to it. Howsumdever, you'll pick up something on board the Nancy, and we shall have you turning out a prime seaman one of these days."
Dick really steered very well, and Ben every now and then gave him an approving nod. Being perfectly familiar with the surrounding scenery, he scarcely noticed it, occupied as his thoughts were just then by the position in which he was placed. Away to the right were the white Needle rocks, their pointed heads standing high up out of the sea, with chalky cliffs rising high above them; wide, smooth downs extending eastward; below which were cliffs of varied colour, with a succession of bays and rocky reefs; while ahead were the picturesque heights of Freshwater, covered by green trees, amid which several villas and cottages peeped out. Further east still, appeared the little seaport town of Yarmouth, with its old grey castle and grey stone houses, their gardens extending down to the water; on the starboard quarter was Hurst beach, with its massive round castle and tall, red lighthouse; while to the northward, extended a wood-covered shore, on which could be distinguished numerous residences, some of considerable size, and the town of Lymington running up the side of a steep hill.
Ben was proud of his boat, though to the outward eye there was nothing to admire, as the paint with which she had once been bedecked had been worn off, her sails were patched, and her rigging knotted in several places.
"I look at what she can do!" he observed; "and a better sea-boat or a faster is not to be found between Hurst and Spithead. It must blow a precious hard gale before I should be afraid to be out in her night or day."
That she was fast was proved by the speed with which she ran across the Channel. In a short time she was alongside the lugger, which had brought up close in shore, her crew evidently fearless of the revenue men, two or three of whom stood watching her.
All on board knew Ben, and gave him a hearty welcome. "I have brought a fresh hand, Jack!" he said, addressing the skipper in a familiar tone. "I have long promised him a trip, and as it happens, it is as well that he should keep out of the way of the big-wigs over there." Ben then briefly explained the danger Dick was in for threatening to shoot the son of the Marquis of Elverston.
This announcement gained him a warm reception from the smugglers, who, engaged in lawless pursuits themselves, were naturally inclined to approve of such an act, and would possibly have looked upon him with still greater respect had he fired as he had threatened.
"Glad to see you, my lad," said John Dore, putting out his hand. "Make yourself at home on board the Nancy. We'll give you work when work has to be done, and now, if you're tired, you can turn into my berth and go to sleep till the evening, when, unless the wind shifts round to the southward, we shall be at sea again."
"The best thing you can do," observed Ben. "I must go to Keyhaven to get a hand to take my boat back and look after her while I am away."
Dick, wishing to escape the notice of any one who might visit the lugger from the shore, accepted the skipper's offer. As he had closed his eyes but a very short time during the previous night, he was soon fast asleep.
UNDER WAY—LIFE ON BOARD THE NANCY—OFF THE FRENCH COAST—SHIPPING THE CONTRABAND GOODS—RUN FOR ENGLAND—A STRANGE SAIL—THE CHASE—ESCAPE OF THE LUGGER—LANDING THE CARGO—REVENUE OFFICERS—COOLNESS OF DORE—"YIELD, IN THE KING'S NAME."—A LITTLE TOO LATE—DICK QUESTIONED.
When Dick awoke, he knew by the motion of the vessel and the sounds he heard that she was under way. The Nancy was a craft of nearly a hundred tons, decked all over, with three short, stout masts, the after one leaning over the taffrail, with a long out-rigger. On each of the masts a large lug was carried, and above them could be set flying topsails, and when before the wind studding-sails could be rigged out. She could also hoist an enormous squaresail. To set these sails, she carried a numerous crew of tried seamen; promptitude and decision being required in the dangerous work in which she was engaged. Her armament consisted of six short guns and a long nine-pounder, which could be trained either fore or aft, to bring to a merchantman endeavouring to escape, or to knock away the spars of an enemy chasing her. Besides these guns, she had an ample supply of cutlasses, pistols, and boarding-pikes, to enable her crew to repel an attack made by boats or from a hostile craft which might run alongside her. She was truly an Arab of the seas, with every man's hand against her, and her hand against every man. The captain, by means best known to himself, had obtained a privateer's licence, and in that character he appeared when in English waters, though her real employment was more than suspected by the revenue officers, who were on the look-out to catch her. In this they had invariably failed, owing to the vigilance of her crew, and to the exact information they received from their agents on shore. Dick, turning out of the skipper's bunk, went on deck.
He was greeted by Ben Rudall. "You are safe enough now, lad, from the constables who may be hunting for you through the country; and glad I am to have you on board the Nancy. When we get back you must remain stowed away until we are at sea again, and in a short time they'll get tired of looking for you."
"I hope they won't revenge themselves on my father," said Dick; "that's what's troubling me now!"
"No fear of that, for he is not answerable for what you do, any more than you are for his acts, and as he doesn't know where you are, he can't tell them."
"I wish, however, that I could let mother and Janet know that I am all safe; they may be fretting for me," said Dick.
"Never you fear, they'll guess that," said Ben, trying to set Dick's mind at ease on the subject. "It doesn't do to think about home or anything of that sort when we are out on a cruise. Cheer up, lad! cheer up!"
A fresh breeze was blowing from the north-west. The stars were shining brightly out of a clear sky, and the lugger, close hauled, was passing the Needle rocks, which could be dimly seen rising out of the dark water like huge giants on the lee beam, while astern were visible the lights on Hurst point now brought into one. The lugger having rounded the western end of the Isle of Wight, the helm was put up, the yards squared away, the flying topsails and big squaresail set, and she stood across Channel, bounding lightly over the dancing seas. A craft with a fast pair of heels alone could have caught her. Her hardy crew remained on deck, for all hands might at any moment have been required for an emergency, either to shorten sail, or to alter her course, should a suspicious vessel appear in sight. All night long the lugger kept on her course, steering westward of south.
"I say, Ben, how do the Frenchmen treat us if we go on shore, seeing that we and they are fighting each other?" asked Dick.
"Never you fear; we shan't go on shore, except it may be at night, in company with friends. You will soon see how we manage things," was the answer.
The lugger made such good way, that when morning dawned, the coast of France was seen close aboard. No vessels of any description were in sight. As she got closer in, the French flag was hoisted, and other flags were got ready for making signals. Dick heard the skipper talking to three men whom he had not before observed, and whom he now discovered to be Frenchmen. He asked Ben who they were.
"One of them is to act as captain, the other two as his mates. They will go on shore and arrange about getting our cargo shipped. They won't take long, as it will be all ready. If we have another favourable night, we may run it, and it will be up in London before a week is over."
A bright look-out was kept in every direction. As no suspicious sail appeared, the Nancy stood on. The signal which she made was answered from the shore.
"All right," said Ben; "no fear of interruption for the present."
The topsails were lowered, and under the foresail and mizzen she glided on into a small harbour between rocks of sufficient height to hide her short masts from the view of any craft passing outside. The crew of the Nancy appeared on deck, dressed as much as possible like French seamen, while they wisely kept their tongues quiet, so that their true character might not be suspected.
The two Frenchmen went on shore, while the third remained on board to answer any questions which might be put to them. Dick observed that the lugger lay in such a position that she could easily slip out again, should danger threaten. The crew seemed perfectly at their ease, laughing and talking when below, as if their situation was one to which they were well accustomed.
The day passed away; still no cargo was forthcoming, nor did the Frenchmen re-appear. This made Dick fear that the authorities might have discovered the true character of the Nancy, and in spite of their precautions the smugglers might be taken in a trap. He did not, however, express his apprehensions, and neither Ben nor any of the men appeared troubled on the subject. At night the crew lay down on the deck with their pistols in their belts, and their cutlasses and boarding-pikes by their sides, each man at his station so that the cable might be cut and the sails hoisted at a moment's notice. It showed Dick that his fears were not altogether without some foundation. Nothing, however, occurred during the night, and the following day passed away much as the first had done.
Dore, however, grew impatient, and a boat was sent to watch outside the harbour in case any enemy might be stealing along the coast to prevent the Nancy's escape. At length, some time after it grew dark, a boat came off from the shore, bringing the two Frenchmen, who reported that the cargo was ready and would shortly be on board. All hands stood prepared for hoisting it in. Several boats were quickly alongside, and with wonderful rapidity bales of silks, laces, and ribbons, and kegs of spirits and tobacco were transferred to the Nancy's hold. As soon as they were stowed away, the anchor was got up, and the boats going ahead towed her out of the harbour, the Frenchmen wishing her "Bon voyage," and a speedy return.
Dick breathed more freely when the sails were set, and the Nancy gliding swiftly over the smooth water, the dark outline of the French coast grew more and more indistinct. "How soon shall we get back to England?" he asked of Ben, by whose side he naturally kept when on deck.
"That depends on what may happen," answered Ben. "We shall have to wait for a dark night, and to take care that the coast is clear before we run in. It may be to-morrow, or it may be a week hence. We have done very well as yet, but there's many a slip between tin cup and the lip, as I have found to my cost more than once."
Dick had to rest satisfied with this answer. There were plenty of people on board ready to talk to him, but their conversation was not of an improving character. Their chief delight seemed to be to abuse the royal navy as well as the revenue laws, and those engaged in preventing their infringement. Dick was not accustomed to look too deep into matters, and thought that what they said was very right. It did not occur to him that the same men would greatly have objected to free trade, which would completely have deprived them of their present illegal way of gaining a livelihood; and though there might have been some truth in what they said about the navy, they were wrong in the sweeping condemnation they pronounced against the service. There were some abuses still existing, but many had been removed; and there were not a few commanders of king's ships who did their best to advance the welfare of their crews, and were at all times kind and considerate to those placed under them, as had been shown by numerous instances of devotion on the part of the men to their officers. The remarks of his associates, however, gave Dick an unmitigated horror of the navy, while he learned to look upon smugglers as a much-injured body of men, who were unjustly interfered with while engaged in endeavouring to gain their daily bread. At length, growing sleepy, he was glad to go below and lie down on one of the lockers in the little after cabin.
Next morning the lugger lay becalmed. While the breeze lasted, the smugglers had been in good humour, but as the watch below turned out, they swore and grumbled at finding their craft lying idle on the smooth surface of the ocean. No sail was in sight, and as long as the calm continued they could not come to harm; but an enemy might bring down a breeze which would enable her to get close up to them before their sails were filled. This was what they dreaded. All their seamanship and courage would not avail if she was a vessel too powerful for them to cope with.
Hour after hour passed away, and still the Nancy lay floating idly, and carried down Channel by the ebb tide, and swept up again by the flood. An anxious look-out was kept for signs of a coming breeze. Evening was approaching. From whatever quarter the wind might come, it might bring up an enemy. English or French were equally to be dreaded. The skipper paced the deck, making short turns, telescope in hand, every now and then sweeping the horizon with it, and casting an eye on the dog-vanes which hung unmoved by a breath of air. At last he kept his glass longer than usual turned to the eastward.
"There's no doubt about it!" he exclaimed. "Those are the royals of a big ship of some sort; she's got a fresh breeze, too, or we shouldn't have risen them so fast above the horizon."
Dick could only see a white spot on which the sun was shining, but it appeared to be increasing in size and growing higher and higher. The gaze of most of those on board were turned towards her. That she was either an English or a French cruiser was the general opinion. Some thought that she was a frigate, others a corvette; for no merchantman, at that period, would have come down Channel alone. One thing was certain, that she was steering directly for the lugger.
"What chance have we of escaping her?" asked Dick of Ben.
"Many a chance, lad," answered his friend. "If she's English she may not send a boat on board to examine us, and we shall pass for a privateer, or we may get the breeze in time to slip out of her way to the northward, or to keep ahead of her and give her the go-by during the night. If she's French, we must put the Frenchman in command, show our French papers, and bamboozle the mounseers, or if the worst comes to the worst, tumble the crew of their boat overboard and try to get away."
"But suppose they fire into us?" said Dick, who though often thoughtless was alive to the true state of the case.
"We must run the chance of that, my lad," answered Ben, "though my idea is that yonder craft is an English corvette, and although she may be a pretty fast sailer, when once the Nancy gets the breeze, we shall show her a clean pair of heels."
Dick sincerely hoped that such would be the case. He had not reckoned on the chance of being captured as a smuggler, or made prisoner by the enemy, or shot by either the one or the other. The crew were at their stations, ready to trim sails the moment the slightest breath of air should reach them. The topsails had before been set. The squaresail and studding-sails were got up ready to hoist at an instant's notice. Still the lugger lay motionless, and the corvette, for such she was pronounced to be, came rapidly on, under every stitch of canvas she could carry. She was soon within a mile of the lugger, when some cat's paws were seen playing over the water; the dog-vanes blew out and then dropped, the canvas flapped lightly against the masts. The skipper swore, and the crew swore, until once more they saw the sails bulging out slightly.
"Hurrah! here it comes at last! We'll keep out of that fellow's way," cried Captain Dore, eyeing the stranger. The lugger began gathering way. "Port the helm, Tom. We'll stand to the northward, and shall soon see whether he wishes to speak us. If he does, we'll take leave to disappoint him."
The yards were braced up on the starboard tack, and the lugger stood on the course proposed, so that the corvette, should she continue on as she was now steering, would pass astern. Dore kept his eye fixed on her.
"She's a fancy to know more about us," he remarked, as he observed the stranger also keeping up to the northward. "Her shot can't reach us yet, and we shall soon see, now we have got the breeze, which is the faster craft of the two."
As Dick looked over the starboard quarter, he saw the sails and dark hull of the corvette, lighted up by the rays of the setting sun, making her appear so much nearer than she really was, that he wondered she did not fire a shot to make the lugger heave to. He had no cowardly fears on the subject, but he again thought that he should have acted more wisely had he stowed himself away safely on shore, instead of coming on board the lugger. The corvette looked so powerful, that it seemed to him that a single broadside from her guns, would send the Nancy with all on board to the bottom. He observed, however, that Dore walked the deck with as calm an air as usual, all the time, however, narrowly eyeing the king's ship, ready to take advantage of any change which might occur.
"We shall have darkness down upon us soon, and then we will show yonder fellow a trick or two. He wants to jam us up against the English coast; but we are not to be so caught," he observed to his mate, Ned Langdon.
The breeze had freshened considerably, and was now blowing so strong, that the lugger could, on a wind, with difficulty carry her topsails, which were still set. The corvette had handed her royals, presently she took in her topgallant sails. She had lately been gaining on the lugger. Dick, with the rest of his companions, seldom had his eyes off her; the darkness was increasing, and her outline was becoming less and less distinct. Presently he saw a bright flash dart from her bows, and the roar of a gun reached his ears. The shot, however, had fallen short. The smugglers laughed.
"You may blaze away, but you won't do us much harm!" observed Dore.
Another and another shot followed. The commander of the cruiser evidently wished to make the lugger heave to. If he had before had doubts of her character, he must now have been thoroughly satisfied as to what she was, and would become more eager to capture her.
"Stand by, my lads, to make sail!" cried Dore. "Keep up the helm, Tom, and hoist away on the squaresail!"
The lugger was put before the wind, running considerably faster than she had hitherto been doing through the water. The corvette must have observed her change of course, as she also kept away, and once more her topgallant sails were loosed. It was too dark to observe how the masts stood the pressure.
"I only wish that they would set the royals; with this breeze there would be a good chance of the spars being carried away," said Dore.
It was very doubtful whether the corvette was gaining on the lugger. Though the advancing night gradually shrouded her more and more in gloom, she could still be discerned, her canvas rising up like a dark phantom stalking over the ocean. The crew of the lugger stood at their stations, ready at a moment to obey their captain's orders. He kept his eye on the topsails, though if blown away the accident would not be of much consequence. The masts were tough, and bent like willow wands.
"They'll hold on as long as we want them now," observed Dore. Again and again he looked astern. Presently he shouted, "Lower the topsails! Starboard the helm, Tom! Haul away at the starboard braces!" and the lugger, on the port tack, stood close hauled to the southward.
The sharpest eyes on board were turned in the direction their pursuer was supposed to be. Some time passed away.
"There she is!" cried Ben. "Although we see her, she doesn't see us, as we are stern on, and much lower in the water than she is."
Dick looked with all his might. He could just discern some object moving along over the water, but so indistinctly that he could not be certain it was a ship. Still, the commander of the corvette might suspect that the lugger had changed her course, and changed his also.
"All right!" cried Dore, after watching the phantom-like stranger in the distance, until she totally disappeared. "She'll not catch us this cruise."
The lugger was put about, on the starboard tack, and once more stood towards the English coast.
"Shall we be in to-morrow morning?" asked Dick.
"No, no," answered Ben. "Whatever happens, we shall make the coast at night, when the revenue men can't see us. We have friends on the look-out, who will make signals to show us when and where to run in. The weather is too fine at present, so that we shall have to dodge about and wait for a dark night, with thick rain or fog; but we don't much trust fogs, they may lift suddenly and show our whereabouts to those we do not want to see us. However, we must run some risks. We want to land our goods in quiet, but if any one interferes with us, we of course must fight to defend our property. All right and square, you will understand, but if there's bloodshed, it is the fault of those who wish to take it from us."
Dick did not ask himself whether Ben was right or wrong. He forgot that one party were breaking the laws, the other performing their duty in protecting them.
Next morning, when Dick came on deck, he found the lugger hove to, with the blue line of the English coast to the northward. Though the shore could be seen, the vessel herself was too far off to be discerned from thence. Most of the crew were below, but the watch on deck, vigilant as ever, were turning their eyes in every direction, so that, should a suspicious sail appear, they might at once shape a course which would enable them to avoid her. Dick, who had been accustomed to an active life, began to grow weary at having nothing to do. He walked the deck with his hands in his pockets, talking to the men, or he sat below listening to their yarns, which were generally not of a very edifying character.
The greater number of the crew passed their time, either sleeping or playing at cards or dice. Sometimes, for a change they turned to and cleaned their muskets and pistols, or burnished up their cutlasses. It was a relief when a stranger appeared whom it was thought better to avoid. The lugger making sail stood to the southward. She returned to her former position, however, as soon as the suspicious craft had passed. This occurred twice during the day. At night she stood close in to the coast, to look out for signals, but none were seen, and before the morning she again took up her former position at a sufficient distance to be invisible from the shore.
For several days the same sort of proceeding took place. Two or three times she made all sail, it being supposed that she was chased, and once she had a narrow escape from a French cruiser, who probably took her for an English privateer. The wind continued moderate, and the sky clear, and Dore began to swear and to wish for some real honest Channel weather. At last the wind shifted, first to the southward and afterwards to the south-west, from which direction a thick bank of mist was seen coming up, and the lugger, directly she was shrouded by it, made sail for the English coast. Although there was no fear of her being seen from any distance, she still ran the risk of falling into the lion's jaws, to avoid which a sharp lookout was kept, and all hands stood ready to trim sails in case it should be necessary.
The night was coming on, and it was soon dark enough to suit their requirements. She now frequently hove to, to sound as well as to watch for any signal from the shore. At length a light was seen, faint and dim through the mist, another was shown a short distance from it, and then a third appeared, when all three in an instant disappeared. The lugger stood on, sail was shortened, and the anchor dropped. Scarcely had she brought up when half a dozen boats dashed alongside.
"Be smart, my lads!" cried Dore. "If we are quick about it, we may run the whole of the cargo before the revenue men are down upon us."
Not another word was spoken; every one knew exactly what he had to do. The lugger's crew hoisted out the bales and kegs, and the men who had come off stowed them away in the boats. The lugger's own boat was not idle. Having loaded her, Ben and Dick, with three other men, jumped in and pushed for the shore. The surf was pretty heavy, but without accident they reached the beach, where a large party of people were collected, with a number of pack horses and carts. The boats were at once surrounded, and their cargoes quickly taken out of them and placed either in the carts or on the backs of the horses. The work was carried on with the greatest rapidity, and by the time Dick and his companions had launched their boat, the whole had begun to move off, and before the lugger was reached, not a single person was to be seen on the beach.
On their return to the Nancy, the boat was hoisted in and preparations began for making sail. The operation required care, for should she cast the wrong way, she might drive on shore. The skipper himself took the helm. The hands went to their stations. The instant the anchor was away the sails were sheeted home, and the lugger, casting, as desired, to port, stood off from the dangerous coast, close-hauled. She had not got many cable lengths from the beach when two boats dashed alongside. A number of armed men sprang on board.
"We've caught you, my fine fellows," exclaimed an officer. "Yield, in the king's name!"
"Happy to see you, gentlemen," answered Dore, with the greatest coolness. "You are welcome to look over our craft, and if you find anything contraband on board—for that I suppose is what you are after— we'll yield fast enough."
The officer was evidently nonplussed, but he was still not inclined to take the smuggler's word. He allowed the lugger, however, to stand further out, until she could heave to with safety, when he ordered the foresail to be backed. He, with several of his men, then went below, Dore ordering Dick and another lad to carry a couple of lanterns, that the officer might see his way. The search, as Dore well knew would be the case, revealed nothing on which the revenue could lay hands—not a bale nor keg of spirits, nor even a few pounds of tobacco.
"Circumstances certainly were suspicious. You have cleaned her out completely," said the officer, turning to Dick, and as he did so eyeing him narrowly. "Where was the cargo run?"
Dick was very nearly replying, "Not long ago," and thus confessing that the cargo had been run, but recollecting in time that the smugglers might object to such an answer, he said—
"I am merely a passenger on board, sir, and it is not my business to answer questions."
"What's your name, my lad?" asked the officer.
Dick was on the point of replying, when Ben, who had heard the question, stepped up. "It is your business, Mr Lieutenant, to overhaul this craft and see that there are no smuggled goods on board, and when that business is over you have nothing more to do. That youngster's name may be Jack Robinson, or it may be Tom Jones, but whatever it may be is no business of yours."
The officer put several questions to others of the crew, but neither from them nor from the captain could he elicit any of the information he required. They were perfectly civil to him, and offered not the slightest opposition to his going through every part of the vessel, and joked with the boats' crews, several recognising old shipmates. They shook hands, patted each other on the back, and appeared on the most friendly terms. Yet the case would have been very different had the Nancy's cargo been on board. There would then have been a death struggle, the one to defend, the other to take possession of the craft, and they would have fought until one or the other had been defeated.
"Well, Captain Dore," said the lieutenant, "you have been too smart for us this time, but we intend to catch you some day or other."
"Maybe the Nancy will be sunk by an enemy's cruiser before then. You seem to have an idea, lieutenant, that we are smugglers. I didn't think fit to gainsay you before, but if you'll step back into my cabin I'll show you my privateer's licence, which will prove to you that we are engaged lawfully, making war against the French trade," answered Dore.
"Well, well, whichever you are, I won't longer detain you; but before I go I wish to have a word with the youngster I saw on board, the son of a respectable farmer living out Milford way."
"We detain no one on board against his will, except he has signed articles. If the lad is the person you suppose, and is willing to go, go he may, provided you can promise that no harm can come to him."
"I wish to prevent him getting into harm," said the lieutenant, and he sent one of his men to find Dick, who was soon afterwards brought aft.
Dick was in two minds about going. When the lieutenant told him of the anxiety of his father and mother, he was on the point of accepting the offer. Just at that moment Ben stepped up.
"You'd better not," he whispered, "for the officer may mean you well, but remember there are others who want to get you into their power, and you will repent it."
"Thank you, sir," said Dick. "I have come on board this vessel of my own free will, and would rather stay where I am. If you will see father and mother, and tell them I am all right, I will be obliged to you."
"You see, sir, that the lad doesn't want to go, and as you have found nothing on board to enable you to detain this vessel, I must beg you to let us make sail, for we are drifting in shore closer than is safe."
Again the lieutenant appealed to Dick. Dore, however, suspected that if the lieutenant got him into his power he might induce him to come forward to prove that the Nancy was engaged in smuggling, and that he should then be deprived of his privateer's licence, so, giving a hint to his men, they surrounded Dick and carried him forward.
As the lieutenant had performed his duty, he ordered his men into the boats and they pulled away for the shore, while the Nancy stood out to sea.
AT THE HALL—REFUSAL OF LORD REGINALD'S GIFT—LADY ELVERSTON AND HER DAUGHTERS—TROUBLES OF THE FARMER'S WIFE—PREPARATIONS FOR REJOINING THE WOLF—LIEUTENANT HILTON—INFORMATION RECEIVED OF AN INTENDED LANDING— LORD REGINALD AND VOULES JOIN THE REVENUE PARTY—FIGHT WITH THE SMUGGLERS—SUCCESS OF THE KING'S PARTY—AN ENCOUNTER BETWEEN THE YOUNG LORD AND RICHARD HARGRAVE—DICK'S DEFENCE—LORD REGINALD HURT—ESCAPE OF THE FARMER'S SON—UNFAVOURABLE OPINION OF DICK AT THE HALL—THE MARQUIS AND VOULES—THE MIDSHIPMEN REJOIN THE WOLF.
Lord Reginald and his messmate greatly enjoyed their stay at Elverston Hall. Parties of all sorts were got up for their amusement, and guests were invited to meet them—Voules taking good care to sing the praises of his friend.
He employed his time, much to his own satisfaction, in paying court to Lady Elverston, and endeavouring guardedly to win his way into the good graces of the younger ladies. They were always ready to listen to him while he was talking of their brother, whose faults they either had not discovered, or were willing to overlook. To them, at all events, he was always affectionate and courteous, whatever he might be to others.
The rest of the household were not altogether so well satisfied with his dictatorial, overbearing manners, though they acknowledged that he might be a very brave officer, who would some day prove an ornament to his profession; but the wish was general, if not expressed, that he would soon go off again to sea.
Though still feeling angry with Dick for the impertinent and bold way in which he had spoken to him, he did not forget his promise to replace the dog he had shot; and as soon as he could find a suitable animal he despatched it by a groom to Farmer Hargrave's daughter, sending, at the same time, a note expressing his regret at the accident. It arrived just as Mr Gooch had left the cottage, and the interview the farmer had had with the bailiff had not been calculated to soothe his feelings. Mr Gooch had again threatened him with legal proceedings, and had accused him of sending his son out of the way to avoid the consequences of his misdeeds. Farmer Hargrave, of course, denied this, asserting that he did not know where his son was.
He was standing at the door when the groom, leading the dog, arrived, and delivered his message from Lord Reginald.
"Tell my lord that my daughter doesn't require a dog. None can replace the poor brute that was killed, of which she was very fond. So I beg you'll take it back, and say I am much obliged to him for his intentions," he said.
"I don't think my lord will be well pleased to hear this, Farmer Hargrave," answered the man. "He thought he was doing your daughter a great honour in sending her a dog, but he didn't do it on account of your son, I've a fancy."
"The very reason why I refused to receive the animal," answered the farmer. "I have nothing more to say; and the least said the soonest mended."
"Am I to take this message, then?" asked the groom.
"Yes; I have no other to send. Good day to you," said the farmer, turning round as if about to enter his house.
The man led off the dog, observing to himself, "The young lord will be in a pretty way when he hears this; it won't be the better for the farmer or Master Dick. That young fellow will get into more trouble if he doesn't mend his manners."
Lord Reginald, who had just returned with Voules from a ride, was standing in front of the house when the groom appeared, leading the dog.
"I thought I ordered you to take that dog to Farmer Hargrave?" exclaimed the midshipman.
"So I did, my lord, but Farmer Hargrave won't have him, and says he doesn't want any gifts from your lordship."
"Impudent fellow!" observed Voules. "The father must be as great a barbarian as that precious son of his."
"Did you give him my message properly?" asked Lord Reginald.
"Yes, my lord, word for word, and I advised Farmer Hargrave to take the dog, but he would not on any account."
"Then his daughter must go without the animal. I sent it to her, not to him," said Lord Reginald, turning to Voules. "This sort of thing is really provoking; the people about here are next door to savages. I was rather inclined to pity the old Hargraves on account of their blind daughter, but I shall persuade my father to do as Gooch advises. His house and barns are a great eyesore from the dining-room windows, and we shall be able to add several acres to the park if he could be removed."
"Whether he is right or no, he ought, for the sake of pleasing the marquis, to be ready to give up his farm," said Voules, "and if he won't do so of his own accord, he should be compelled. I have no idea of the commonalty venturing to set themselves up against the aristocracy in the way they have done since the French Revolution."
Lord Reginald had been induced by a right motive to send the dog, and the refusal of the farmer to receive it again raised his angry feelings against Dick. "If I come across the young fellow, I'll punish him for his own and his father's impertinence!" he exclaimed.
The incident, slight as it may appear, prevented him for some days enjoying, as he might otherwise have done, the pleasures of home. Lady Elverston had fulfilled her promise of speaking to the marquis.
"I would not, of course, act unjustly towards Hargrave," he answered; "but Gooch, who has consulted the lawyer, tells me that I have a perfect right to turn him out; besides which I have offered him an ample sum to go, but he has refused to receive the compensation, and insists on standing up for what he calls his rights. I, of course, cannot be thwarted by a man at my own gates, and have given authority to Gooch to proceed as he thinks necessary for my interests."
"But we consider the farm-house, the stacks, and the buildings, picturesque objects in the distance, and we could not desire to have near us more respectable, worthy people than the Hargraves," urged Lady Elverston.
"He is an obstinate fellow, and a Republican at heart, and will to a certainty vote against our son, should John stand for the next Parliament," answered the marquis. "However, I promise you I will act with perfect justice; but you could not wish me to submit to the insolence of a fellow of his description."
Poor Lady Elverston, though not convinced that her husband was right, was unable to say anything more. She saw that he had been strongly biased against the farmer, and she was naturally displeased with the way his son had behaved to Lord Reginald. Her compassionate feelings for Janet, however, were not altered. In the afternoon, accompanied by Lady Julia, she took a drive in her pony carriage. In passing Farmer Hargrave's house she stopped to see Janet, wishing also to ascertain the reason for the objection Mr Hargrave had to giving up his farm, and hoping to induce him to yield with a good grace to the wishes of the marquis.
The ladies found Janet and her mother seated in the parlour. A smile played over the countenance of the blind girl when she heard the voice of the marchioness.
"Very kind, my lady, very kind in you to come and see us, and mother wants so much to talk to your ladyship about the matter of the farm," she said, after the ordinary inquiries had been made and answered.
Lady Elverston was glad of this opportunity of entering on the subject, and she begged to hear what Mrs Hargrave had to say.
"My husband, my lady, doesn't desire to oppose the wishes of the marquis, but as every Englishman should—as your ladyship will agree—he stands on his rights, and as he has a long lease of this property, which his fathers for many generations held before him, he refuses to be compelled to give it up. You see, my lady, Mr Gooch has been here and threatened that the law will force him if he refuses, and when my good man told him that the law could not compel him, the bailiff said that he would bring up our son Richard before the justices for threatening to shoot Lord Reginald, which I cannot believe he ever did, even though he was vexed at his lordship killing his dog. My husband, my lady, is a determined man, and neither I nor any one else can induce him to change his mind if he thinks he is doing what is right."
"I certainly would not ask him to do what he thinks is wrong," said Lady Elverston, "and I am quite sure that the marquis did not give authority to Mr Gooch to use any threats. Lord Elverston told me this morning that he was willing to offer any reasonable compensation to your husband for quitting the farm, and he would probably give him ample time to find another equally suitable."
"I was sure, my lady, that the marquis would not have allowed the bailiff to make use of the threats he did; and if you will speak again to his lordship and induce him to make a fair offer to my husband, though it would well-nigh break our hearts to move, I will try and get him to accept it."
Lady Elverston, who suspected that the marquis had been deceived by Mr Gooch, promised again to speak to him; though well aware that he was as obstinate as the farmer, she did not say that she was certain of success. Lady Julia in the mean time was talking in her gentle way to Janet, and promised to call for her the first sunny day to take her out for a drive in the pony-carriage. Her ladyship then inquired for Dick, and expressed a hope that he would harbour no ill feelings towards her son.
"I pray that he won't, my lady; he has ever been a good and faithful son to us, though somewhat headstrong at times, but he has not a revengeful spirit, and I am sure he would not wish to harm Lord Reginald. We are in sad trouble about him, for Mr Gooch frightened him so by his threats, that he has gone away, we don't know where."
"Have you no clue to his hiding-place?" asked Lady Elverston. "I should much like to have some conversation with him, and I trust that I might soften any lingering ill feeling—should such exist in his breast— towards my son."
"I shall never forget your kindness, whatever happens, my lady," said Mrs Hargrave.
After some further conversation, the marchioness took her departure, accompanied by Lady Julia, still, however, in considerable doubt whether she had done much to settle the vexed question.
The time of the two midshipmen's stay at Elverston Hall was drawing to a close. Voules had received a letter from a messmate, saying that the Wolf was nearly ready for sea. He flattered himself that he had not let the grass grow under his feet; that he had established himself in the good graces of Lord and Lady Elverston; and he had even the vanity to suppose that he had made some progress in those of Lady Julia. He was gentlemanly in his manners, and Lord Reginald always spoke of him as "a capital fellow," and seemed to regard him with affection.
Lord Reginald himself, accustomed to an active life, was, however, beginning to grow somewhat tired of his stay on shore; though attached to his family, he was perfectly ready to go back to his ship. He had experienced, indeed, lately some difficulty in finding amusement for himself and companion. He and Voules had made the acquaintance of the lieutenant of the neighbouring coastguard station, who, having seen a great deal of service, and being a merry fellow, with a fund of anecdote, was an amusing companion. Lieutenant Hilton had several times been invited to dine at the hall, an honour he highly appreciated, although it cost him a long trudge there and back, over a somewhat wild region, with the risk of encountering some of the lawless characters of the neighbourhood, who looked upon him as their worst foe. He had one day been dining at the hall; the gentlemen having indulged freely in the bottle, as was too common in those times, were about to join the ladies in the drawing-room, when a servant entered to inform Lieutenant Hilton that a person wished to see him immediately on important business.
"He has probably brought information that a run is to be made to-night, and if so, Hilton, we'll accompany you to see the fun," said Lord Reginald. "Don't go off without us, remember. We'll mount you, and we will ride together, with any one else who likes to come."
Lieutenant Hilton hurried out to see the messenger. He returned to say that Lord Reginald was right in his conjectures, and that there was no time to be lost, as a suspicious lugger had been seen off the coast, and that as the night promised to be dark, there was no doubt she would try to run her cargo before the morning.
The other gentlemen declined the proposed expedition, and Voules would gladly have remained behind, but he could not venture to allow Lord Reginald to go without him, especially as he himself had proposed assisting the revenue, should an opportunity occur. Very unwillingly, therefore, he went to his room to prepare for the ride, instead of passing the evening, as he had hoped, in the society of Lady Julia.
The marquis, although he would rather his son had not undertaken what might prove a hazardous expedition, could not object, as he had expressed his resolution by every means in his power to put down the smugglers. The horses were soon ready, and the lieutenant and the two midshipmen, led by the mounted exciseman who had brought the information, set off by a road which would lead them to the westward of Milford. The excise officer informed the lieutenant that a messenger had been despatched to obtain the assistance of a party of dragoons stationed at Lymington, and that a small body of sea-fencibles, belonging to the district, were hurrying on towards the expected scene of action. With the aid of the lieutenant's own men, a sufficient force would thus, it was hoped, be collected to seize the goods should they be landed, while the boats on the station were despatched to try and capture the lugger herself before she had completely discharged her cargo. The exact spot where it was intended the lugger should run her cargo was unknown, but it was supposed that it would be somewhere between Hurst and Christchurch. The cliffs here are of considerable height, rising above a narrow beach, and, continually crumbling away, exhibit numerous fossil remains. In some places they are broken by narrow gullies, which, sloping up gradually from the shore to the downs above, afford easy pathways up which both men and loaded animals can climb without much difficulty.
Since information had first been received of the intended run from a treacherous confederate of the smugglers, preparations for their capture had been carried on with the greatest possible secrecy and rapidity. It was important to prevent the smugglers' associates on shore from discovering that the revenue men were approaching.
Lieutenant Hilton having reached his station, summoned eight of his own men to accompany him. Here the midshipmen were provided with pistols and cutlasses. Their services were likely to be of use, as it was certain the smugglers would muster in large numbers. The horses were left at the station, while the lieutenant and his party proceeded to the spot where the sea-fencibles were posted, waiting for any information they might receive to guide their future proceedings.
It was in a hollow, surrounded by trees and brushwood, and about half a mile or so from the sea-shore. The night, as had been expected, was very dark, the wind a moderate breeze, blowing from the north-west. Not a word was spoken above a whisper, for fear lest their position should be discovered by any passing associates of the smugglers. The latter had given it out that the run was to be made on the other side of Christchurch head, and to induce them to suppose that this was believed, a party of revenue men had started off in that direction, taking care that their movements should be observed. It was hoped by this that the smugglers would be deceived, and would attempt the run at the spot named in the private information which had been received.
"This is dull work!" whispered Voules to Lord Reginald. "I thought we should be up and doing long ago."
"Dull enough! I vote we set off by ourselves, to try and find out what the smugglers are about," answered Lord Reginald.
"I should recommend riding back to the hall, and letting our friends here follow their own devices," said Voules; "but it would not do, now that we have once put ourselves under Hilton's command, to desert him."
Their patience was to be further tried. At last, one of the scouts who had been set to watch the direction taken by those who were sure to assist in the landing, came in with the intelligence that he had traced them midway between the hamlets of Barton and Ash, and that he had seen suspicious lights both on shore and at sea. The latter were, it was guessed, shown on board the lugger, which was exchanging signals with the spotsmen on shore, leaving little doubt as to where the goods would be run. As the distance to the spot was considerable, there was no time to be lost, for not only might the lugger's cargo be landed, but carried far away into the interior before the revenue men could get there. There was a danger, however, should they arrive too soon, of their being discovered by the smugglers, who would in that case put off to sea again and wait for a more favourable opportunity.
The road followed by Lieutenant Hilton and his party led some distance from the shore. They proceeded as fast as they could move, forming a compact body, that they might run the less risk of being seen. The commander of the sea-fencibles arranged the plan of proceeding. He, with his men, would go to the westward, while the lieutenant was to attack the smugglers on the opposite side, and the excisemen were to guard the upper part of the hollow or gully which led down to the water, so as to catch any of the smugglers who might be making their way up it to escape. This plan was arranged as they went along.
On reaching the neighbourhood of the spot, they halted, and scouts were sent out to ascertain if the smugglers had collected where they had been expected. In a short time the scouts returned, stating that a large body of men were on the beach, and one of them added that he had nearly been discovered by a party with pack animals proceeding down the gully which led to the same part of the shore. Lord Reginald was on the point of exhibiting his satisfaction by giving a loud shout, when Voules stopped him.
"On my lads!" said the lieutenant in a low voice; and he led his men by a narrow path which wound down the cliff to the west of the village of Barton, while the rest of the party, by a wide circuit, made their way to the opposite side.
It was agreed that Lieutenant Hilton should fire off a couple of pistols in rapid succession, as the signal for attacking the smugglers, and that both parties were to rush on them simultaneously, while the men at the top of the gully should stop them from making their escape in that direction.
Lord Reginald was eager for the attack, but Voules, as he made out the numbers in which the smugglers mustered, heartily wished that he had remained to enjoy the society of the ladies at the hall.
"We are likely to get more kicks than ha'pence, and little honour, at all events," he muttered to himself.
From where they lay concealed, they could observe the boats coming on shore with the lugger's cargo. The lieutenant watched until he considered that the larger portion had been landed. He directed Lord Reginald and Voules, with three men, to guard the foot of a pathway leading up the cliff, by which possibly some of the smugglers might attempt to make their escape. The outlaws had been carrying on their undertaking in perfect silence. Not a sound had been heard, when the report of the two pistols echoed among the cliffs. It was the signal for a general uproar. The revenue men dashed forward from both sides towards the party on the beach, who began shouting and swearing vehemently. Then came the flash of firearms, and the clash of cutlasses. The smugglers fought desperately. Some were hurriedly loading the horses, hoping to escape with a portion of the goods by land, others were engaged in throwing the packages back into the boats, and endeavouring to shove off, and regain the lugger. The revenue officers, knowing that this would be attempted, rushed forward to prevent them. Here some of the hottest fighting took place. As they could not escape through the gully, no attempt was made to stop them from entering it. Before long, however, the smugglers discovered how they had been entrapped, when those who had gone off came running back with the disastrous intelligence. All attempts to save the goods were abandoned. Each man thought only how he could best make his escape. Some endeavoured to climb the cliffs, others rushed beneath them, to the westward. One party made a dash for the pathway guarded by Lord Reginald and Voules. So furious was their onslaught, that Voules was knocked over, and while their men had each an opponent, two other smugglers rushed past Lord Reginald. He fired, but whether his bullet took effect or not, he could not tell; by the flash, however, he thought that he recognised the features of Dick Hargrave, whose companion, wresting the young lord's sword from his grasp, dashed on up the path, and both were soon lost to sight in the darkness. Lord Reginald made a vain attempt to follow the fugitives, but, unable to see his way, was glad to rejoin his companions.
"I know the young rascal, and have now proof positive that he is a smuggler!" he exclaimed. "Voules, did you see him?"
But Voules, who had been lying on the sand where he had been thrown, some feet below, only just then began to recover. Several seconds elapsed before he was again able to take part in what was going forward. The other smugglers, who had tried to escape up the path, were secured.
The fighting continued, however, for some time longer, till, one after the other, the smugglers were knocked down and captured, four being killed, and a large number wounded, while two of the revenue men lost their lives, and several others were severely hurt. Dore, with the few people still remaining on board the lugger, waited in the hopes of the boats getting off, but when they knew by their not returning that their friends must have been taken, the cable was cut, and the Nancy stood out to sea. She had, however, proceeded but a short distance when two revenue boats dashed alongside, and her diminished crew, being unable to make any effectual resistance, she was captured, with the remainder of the contraband goods on board, more than sufficient to condemn her.
Lieutenant Hilton was very well pleased with the result of the enterprise. Seldom had so large a capture been effected. He had, however, still a difficult task to perform, as he had scarcely men sufficient to guard the prisoners, whose desperate character he knew full well, while he had the additional duty of conducting the packhorses.
The smugglers at first appeared to submit quietly enough, but that was no proof that they would continue to do so, should they find an opportunity of escaping.
As there were not more than three lanterns among the whole party, it was difficult to ascertain whether the prisoners were properly secured. At any moment, they might break loose and effect their escape. They had, indeed, every motive for doing so. They had not only been captured smuggling, but had weapons in their hands, opposing the king's authority, and one and all of them might be tried for the death of the two revenue men who had fallen. All who had been taken were now brought together and placed under the cliffs, watched by a strong guard, while the bales and kegs, which lay scattered about in all directions, were collected and packed on the horses.
The order to march was given. The pack animals went first, followed by the captured smugglers, who uttered curses, deep if not loud, on their hard fate. Then came the men told off to carry the wounded who were too much hurt to walk. Lord Reginald and Voules brought up the rear. The killed were left above high water mark on the beach, until a party could be sent to carry them to Barton churchyard, where the revenue man and smuggler were destined to lie side by side.
The party at length reached the top of the cliff, and directed their course towards the high road running between Christchurch and Lymington. They had proceeded about a mile, when a number of armed men, springing out from behind the hedges on either side, suddenly attacked the conductors of the pack-horses, which they endeavoured to carry off. The prisoners, taking advantage of the confusion, attempted to escape, and there appeared every probability that some would succeed.
"Cut down the fellows, if they try to get off!" cried Voules, and the other officers repeated the order.
At that moment the clattering sound of horses' hoofs coming along the road was heard. A cry arose, "The dragoons are upon us!" The men who had made the last daring attempt to recover the goods took to flight. Two were captured by the soldiers, who went in pursuit, but the rest effected their escape.
Mr Hilton gladly handed over the prisoners to the charge of the military, while he accompanied Lord Reginald and Voules back to the station where they had left their horses.
"I wish that you would remain here until the morning," said the lieutenant, when they reached it. "There are a number of rough characters allied with the smugglers, who, should they fall in with you, may take it into their heads to revenge themselves by shooting you."
"I am not afraid of them," answered the young lord. "Voules and I together are able to tackle a dozen such fellows. Thank you for your invitation, but our friends at the hall will be anxious to know what has happened, and I want to tell my father how admirably you have managed affairs."
The lieutenant, finding that the midshipmen could not be induced to remain, ordered the horses to be brought out, and Lord Reginald, saying that he would the next morning send a groom for the animal the lieutenant had ridden, being well acquainted with the way, set off with Voules for the hall.
"As there is no fear of our losing the road, even in the dark, we may as well take a short cut," he observed, after they had gone some distance. "We shall save a mile or more, and have the advantage of turf. The moon, too, will soon be up, and we shall be able to gallop a good part of the distance."
Voules had nothing to say against this proposal, though he would have preferred the high road.
"This lane will lead us on to the heath, and as the sky is clear, there will be light enough, even before the moon rises, besides which our horses know the way as well as I do," said Lord Reginald.
They rode down the lane at a more steady pace than they had hitherto been going, for it was full of ruts, and somewhat narrow and winding. It conducted them on to a wild heath, beyond which could be discerned the outskirts of the New Forest, the trees in some places projecting over the heath like the advance guard of an army, while in others wild glades opened out extending far into the interior. Towards one of these glades Lord Reginald directed his course.
"By keeping a little to the right it will lead us to the high road again," he observed. "There's the moon just rising above the trees. We shall be able to push along now, without fear of rushing into a hedge."
Crossing the heath by a tolerably well-defined footpath, they entered the forest, and were galloping along a grassy glade, on which their horses' hoofs produced scarcely a sound, when Lord Reginald uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"Halloa! I see a fellow ahead. Where can he be going?"
"Probably one of the smugglers, who managed to make his escape," answered Voules.
"Whoever he is, we will stop him and ascertain why he is out at this time of night. Stop, you fellow!" cried Lord Reginald; "we want to speak to you."
The person, who apparently had not before heard them coming, only increased his pace; on seeing which the young lord spurred on his horse.
The stranger, who might possibly have escaped by darting in among the trees, instead of making the attempt, finding that his pursuers were gaining on him, stopped and faced them, holding a thick stick, which might properly have been called a club, in his hand.
"Throw down that bludgeon and come here," said Lord Reginald.
"Not while I am spoken to in that tone," answered the stranger. "I have as much right to be out in this forest as you have."
"You must tell us who you are, and where you are going!" cried Lord Reginald, riding up to him.
The stranger lifted up his club, exclaiming, "Hands off! If you attempt to touch me, you must take the consequences."
Just then a gleam of light from the rising moon shone on the stranger's face.
"I know the rascal!" cried Lord Reginald; "it's that young Hargrave. Not the first time we have met tonight. You are one of the fellows who made their escape from the excisemen; but you are not going to do so from us; so yield at once! Come, help me, Voules!" and the young lord, spurring forward his horse, attempted to seize Dick by the shoulder.
The latter sprang back, and, whirling round his club, struck Lord Reginald a blow on the arm which effectually prevented him from using it, and before Voules could lay hold of him, Dick had rushed off among the trees, which quickly concealed him from view.
In vain Lord Reginald, in spite of the pain he was suffering, urged his horse after him. The stems of the trees, growing thickly together, prevented him from following, and Dick was soon safe beyond the pursuit of the horsemen.
"This is provoking; but we will have him yet!" cried Lord Reginald.
"I am afraid the villain has broken your arm!" exclaimed Voules.
"It seems something like it from the pain I am suffering," answered Lord Reginald; "however, the sooner we can get home to have it looked to the better."
"Yes, indeed," said Voules; "I am deeply grieved. I would have shot the young savage had I thought he would have had the audacity to strike you."
"No, no; I should have been sorry if the fellow had been killed," said Lord Reginald. "All I wanted was to take him prisoner, and send him off with the rest to sea, for I suppose that will be the lot of all who are fit to serve. However, as we are not likely to see more of him for the present, I shall be glad to get home. This arm of mine hurts me fearfully."
They again put their horses into a gallop, and continued on until they reached the end of the glade, which led out on the high road. Lord Reginald bore the pain manfully; indeed, it was surprising that he did not faint and fall from his horse. The trotting along the road was even worse than the gallop, and at last he had to tell Voules to stop and walk. It was nearly two o'clock in the morning when they reached the hall. They found Lord and Lady Elverston, with Lord John, sitting up for them.
"Most thankful to see you back," said Lord Elverston, who came out to meet them; "we were too anxious to go to bed. One of the grooms had brought word that there had been a desperate fight between the revenue men and the smugglers, and that there had been a number of killed and wounded. Good Heavens! what is the matter? You look very pale. Are you hurt?"
"Yes, but not in the fight," answered Reginald, as he entered the drawing-room and sank into a chair. He then described the encounter with Richard Hargrave.
"The young ruffian must be punished," exclaimed the marquis. "It is evident that he is leagued with the smugglers, and this last outrage shows his desperate character. Do you feel much pain?"
"Very much; indeed, I fear that my arm is broken," answered Lord Reginald.
On hearing this Lady Elverston came to his side. "My dear boy, I trust not," she said; "you must go to bed, and let Mrs Cross and me examine your arm."
"If it is broken we must send off for a surgeon immediately," said the marquis.
"I would rather have some supper first. I dare say so would Voules, for we both of us felt very hungry as we came along, and I hope after all, no bone is broken."
The tray was at once brought up, and though Voules did ample justice to the viands it contained, Lord Reginald, after making several ineffectual attempts to eat, had to confess that the pain overpowered him, and he allowed himself to be led off to his room by his mother and brother.
Mrs Cross, the housekeeper, was soon in attendance, having evidently, by the way her dress was put on, with her night-cap on her head, just risen from her slumbers. The young lord was quickly undressed, when, on his arm being examined, Mrs Cross declared it as her opinion that no bone was broken; and all that was required were fomentations and rest.
"I am sorry to hear so bad a character of young Hargrave. His mother and blind sister are at all events good people, and it will grieve them sorely," observed Lady Elverston to her husband, who answered only with the significant exclamation of—
"Humph! Perhaps so."
The pain was somewhat relieved by the fomentations applied by the housekeeper, who offered to sit up with the young lord; and though he declared that he should do very well without assistance, he was glad at length to accept her offer.
Voules came in just before going to bed, to express his deep concern.
"I shall do very well in a day or two," said Lord Reginald, "and it won't prevent me from joining my ship."
Notwithstanding his assertion, he was very feverish during the night, when he was constantly uttering expressions which showed the animosity he felt against Dick Hargrave, complaining that he was the cause of the pain he was enduring. This was reported the next morning by Mrs Cross to the marchioness.
"It is a shame, my lady, that so bad a lad should be allowed to be at large. I hope my lord will have him taken up and sent off to Botany Bay, or anywhere out of the way, for if he meets Lord Reginald again, I don't know what will come of it."
Next morning the doctor, who had been sent for, arrived, and greatly relieved the minds of Lord and Lady Elverston by assuring them that their son's arm was not broken.
"No thanks to the young ruffian who inflicted the blow," observed the marquis; "we must have him apprehended, for such an outrage must not be allowed to go unpunished."
The doctor directed Lord Reginald's arm to be fomented, and observed that he must carry it for a few days in a sling, assuring him that he need not fear any serious consequences.
"Then it will not prevent him from joining his ship?" observed the marquis, who had his reasons for wishing that the midshipmen should not remain longer at Elverston.
"Not if he can perform his duty without going aloft, or using his arm for the present," replied the doctor.
Lord Elverston said he would write to the captain on the subject.
"In that case his lordship may join his ship immediately," observed the doctor, who seemed to understand the marquis's wishes.
Voules, who had been present during the discussion, was far from satisfied with the doctor's decision. He had hoped that the injury Lord Reginald had received would serve him as an excuse for remaining until the frigate was on the point of sailing, as he himself was in no hurry to leave Elverston Hall.
The marquis, however, had observed his attentions to Lady Julia, and although he gave his daughter credit for discretion, he thought it was as well to send the young gentleman away. Having a pretty good knowledge of the world, he had taken the measure of Toady Voules more accurately than his son had done, and had seen through him. When Lord Reginald, faithful to his promise, had begged his father to use his influence at the Admiralty to get Voules promoted, the marquis replied that he should be happy to serve any friend of his, but for certain reasons he could make no promise, and that he must know more about the young gentleman before he could recommend him to their lordships.
"But he is really a capital fellow," said Lord Reginald. "He sticks like a leech to me, and I can always depend upon him."
"Leeches suck blood," answered the marquis, laughing. "I don't think you have well considered the simile."
"I mean that he is always ready at hand when I want him to do anything I require," answered Lord Reginald. "He is the most convenient fellow I ever met."
"Well, well, I will remember your wishes," said the marquis.
Lord Reginald saw that he must not press the point further. Voules looked very melancholy at the thought of leaving Elverston. He was in an especially bad humour too, for though Lady Julia treated him as she had always done, he began to suspect that he had made no great way in her good graces. The utter indifference she showed when he talked of going away, convinced him of this, and although to the last the family treated him, as Lord Reginald's friend, with the utmost kindness, no one expressed the hope that they might soon again have the pleasure of seeing him.
A couple of days having passed, the midshipmen were ready to obey the order to rejoin their ship. A Yarmouth pilot vessel having been engaged to convey them to Portsmouth, they set sail in her from Keyhaven. Taking a favourable tide, with a fair wind, they might easily get there in six hours, whereas the journey by land would have occupied nearly a couple of days. The crew of the pilot vessel, as they stepped on board, looked at the midshipmen askance, evidently having heard of the part they had taken in the capture of the smugglers, many of whom were their relatives and friends. The captain, however, treated them with the greatest civility, but took good care not to answer any questions they put to him concerning the smugglers, leaving them to suppose that he was ignorant of the existence of such persons, and was not even aware that there was any smuggling on that coast.
Of Dick Hargrave nothing had been heard, but a warrant had been taken out for his apprehension, and people were on the watch to capture him should he make his appearance, or should his place of concealment be discovered. A fresh breeze quickly carrying the cutter up to Portsmouth, Lord Reginald and Voules once more found themselves on board the Wolf, which had hauled away from the dockyard, ready to go out to Spithead.
THE SECOND TRIP OF THE NANCY—PARTICULARS OF THE LANDING—HOW IT FARED WITH DICK AND BEN—WANDERING IN THE FOREST—IN HIDING—NEARLY CAUGHT— SEIZED BY A PRESSGANG—KINDNESS OF THE LANDLADY AT THE ADMIRAL BENBOW— BEN RUDALL A PRISONER—ON BOARD THE TENDER—OFF COWES—THE WOLF—MR BITTS, THE BOATSWAIN—DICK RECOGNISES LORD REGINALD AND VOULES—AN ATTEMPT TO MAKE AN EXCHANGE.
When Dick Hargrave sailed the second time on board the Nancy, he forgot the saying that "the pitcher which goes often to the well gets broken at last," or that few who follow a lawless occupation escape from suffering in the end. Of course, he should have been influenced by a far higher motive, but he had not been taught to look upon smuggling in the same light which an honest man does nowadays. Even his father regarded it with a lenient eye, though he had ever refused to take a share in the proceedings of the smugglers by permitting his horses to be used in transporting the goods when landed on the coast. Dick had a tolerably pleasant life on board the Nancy, as Dore and the crew always treated him kindly.
The lugger, as before, ran into the quiet little harbour in which she was wont to take her goods on board, and had a narrow escape from a French cruiser; but had got free by the very common device of lowering all her canvas during the night and allowing her pursuer to pass her. Without further cause for alarm, she made the English coast. Dick, though he liked the life well enough, had no wish to continue in it; he wanted to see his parents and Janet, and to relieve their anxiety about him. He had resolved, therefore, to quit the Nancy, and to go on shore with Ben, who did not intend to make the next trip in her. It was settled, therefore, that he and Ben were to pull in one of the boats engaged in landing the cargo, and that afterwards they were to assist in escorting the goods safe into the interior. After they had once got away from the coast, there was but little danger of their being captured.
"All right," said Ben to Dick, as the lugger stood in to the westward of the Shingles; "the revenue men have been told that there is to be a run made this very night, Portland way, and they will all have gone off there and left the coast clear for us, so that there is no fear as to our getting the goods safe on shore."
There seemed every probability that Ben's prognostications would prove true. The night was dark, and the wind sufficiently off shore to enable the Nancy to stand close in. The expected signals were seen. The anchor was dropped, the boats lowered, and immediately afterwards, others came off from the shore, bringing the satisfactory intelligence that everything was clear for the run. The vessel was rapidly unloaded. The greater part of her cargo had been discharged, and was already on the beach, when the reports of Lieutenant Hilton's pistols were heard, and the smugglers found themselves beset on both sides by their enemies. Dick and Ben were already on shore, and were engaged in loading the packhorses.
"You get out of it, Dick," said Ben, "either climb the cliff or run along the beach; you've nothing to fight for."
Dick hesitated; he felt that it would be cowardly to desert his companions.
Ben, though not thus influenced, suspected his motive. "Come, lad," he said; "there's a path not far from this, and the chances are there is no one to stop us going up it; I'll show thee the way." Saying this, he dashed forward quickly, followed by Dick.
He was disappointed in one respect—the path was guarded, but knocking over the first person who opposed him, who happened to be Mr Voules, and wrenching the cutlass out of Lord Reginald's hand, he dashed on. Dick, who kept close behind him, had a narrow escape of being shot, and felt pretty sure that Lord Reginald, whom he recognised, had seen him.
Continuing on a short time, they were satisfied that they were not pursued, and might proceed homewards with little risk of further interruption. Still, Ben could not resist the temptation of trying to ascertain the fate of his companions. It appeared to him that they had been attacked by a comparatively small party, and that could a number of determined men be collected, they might effect a rescue. He and Dick made their way, therefore, to a farm-house, in which it had been arranged that the heavier part of the goods should be stowed, until they could be conveyed away to a distance. Here he found several persons, to whom he gave the first intelligence of the disaster. They instantly hurried off to collect other men from all directions. As it was well known what road the party with the captured goods would take, they intended to form an ambush to surprise them, but the smugglers, not having time to do this, made their attack in a less favourable position, with the result which has been seen.
Dick again escaped, but what became of Ben he could not tell, though he hoped that he also had got off. Much as he had wished to see his father and mother, he now almost dreaded to meet them. His intention was to reach home by daybreak, and having seen them again to go off and hide himself in a woodman's hut in the forest, or in some other place, where he could remain until the search after him had ceased. It was not likely indeed, that much trouble would be taken, unless Mr Gooch, for the sake of influencing his father, tried to get him into his power.
With this intention he was making his way towards home, his thoughts so occupied that he did not hear the approach of Lord Reginald and Voules until they were close upon him. He would gladly have avoided an encounter, but at the same time he determined not to be taken prisoner when he saw that such was the young lord's intention. What happened has been described. On escaping from Lord Reginald, he soon reached a thick bush, behind which he could conceal himself with little chance of being discovered. He there lay perfectly quiet until he heard the two horsemen ride off.
"I am thankful I had not my gun with me, or I might have been tempted to use it," he said to himself. "Why should that young lord persecute me? He had no business to come and help the revenue men, and it could do him and that other fellow no good to make me a prisoner, except to boast of what they had done. If I go home now they will accuse poor father and mother of harbouring me, and I shall bring them into trouble. I wonder, after all, if Ben got off. If I thought that he did, I'd go to his cottage. He would hide me there until these two fellows have gone back to their ship, and the rest have got tired of looking for me. If poor Janet could see, I'd go home and let her alone know that I had come, and she would hide me away. As she can't help me, poor girl! I don't know what to do."
Such were some of Dick's meditations. Overcome with fatigue, he lay down to rest a little, and, as was very natural, fell fast asleep. When he awoke it was broad daylight. It would not now do to venture down to Keyhaven. He would too probably meet some of the revenue men, who would to a certainty capture him. Home he dared not go; his only alternative was to remain in the forest until the return of night, when he could traverse the country with less risk of encountering any one. He was very hungry, but he was equally afraid of going to any cottage to beg for a crust, lest he should be recognised. Not far off was a pool, of which there were many in the forest, where he quenched his thirst. Hips and haws were now ripe, there were plenty around could, he eat enough to satisfy the cravings of hunger. There were tench, too, in some of the pools—fine, fat fish, which he might catch, as they lay under the bank, with his hands, but he had no means of lighting a fire to cook them. He walked about listening, lest he might be surprised by any one coming; then, growing weary, he again sat down under his bush. He was very hungry and very unhappy. Sometimes he thought he would go home in spite of the risk he would run, and try to see his mother alone. He might easily hide in one of the out-buildings, and steal in when his father had left the house, but then, knowing that he had been recognised by Lord Reginald, who would, he supposed, inform against him, he feared that he might be discovered by those who would be sent to search for him, though his mother, he felt sure, would do her best to conceal him.
"I had better not," he said to himself; "it shall only get father and mother into trouble; if they don't know where I am, they cannot say. I'll go down to Susan Rudall's; she'll stow me away, if I can reach her cottage without being seen. No one will think of looking for me there."
Dick, when on board the lugger, had been rigged out thoroughly as a young sailor. The dress, as he thought, was a sufficient disguise, should he meet any one in the gloom of the evening. His hunger made him very eager to reach Susan's as soon as possible. Soon after the sun had set, therefore, he started for Keyhaven, going along by the by-paths, and keeping himself concealed as much as possible among the trees and brushwood. He calculated that it would be perfectly dark by the time he got to the village, and that he might enter Susan's cottage without being perceived. For some time, meeting no one, he became bolder, and made his way along the lanes with less caution than he had before used. He had just turned an angle of the road, when he saw in the distance several persons coming towards him. He darted back, hoping that he had not been seen, and, getting through a hedge, he lay down in a dry ditch.
Though perfectly concealed, he was almost afraid to breathe, lest he might be heard by the people passing. They had been too far off when first seen to enable him to ascertain who they were, and he dared not look through the hedge, lest they should perceive him. His heart beat quickly as he heard their footsteps approaching; he felt like a criminal escaping from justice. Though constitutionally brave, the consciousness that he had acted wrongly in many respects made him a coward. The men were only, as far as he could judge, labourers returning home after their day's work. He heard them talking of the attempted run of contraband goods, the capture of the Nancy and her crew, as well as of the number of people assisting in the landing who had been taken.
"It will go hard with some of them," observed one of the speakers; "they'll bring it in 'murder,' maybe, as two of the king's officers were killed, if they can prove who fired the shots. Whether of not, Botany Bay is the best they can expect, and many a year before they can see their wives and families again."
"A reward is offered for catching the chaps who escaped," said another.
What more was said Dick could not hear; he was thankful that he had not been seen by the men, or they would probably have detained him for the sake of the reward. He waited until they had got some distance, and then, creeping along the hedge, he again got into the lane, and ran on as before, looking out ahead so that he might not come suddenly on any other persons. Hungry and tired, he at length got close to Keyhaven. To pass through the village without being seen would be difficult. He heard voices, as if people were still about, and lights shone in the windows of the cottages in sight. Had he not been so hungry, he would have again hidden under a hedge until later in the evening; but eager to obtain something to eat, he hurried on, hoping by good chance to reach Susan's cottage without being observed. He was passing the Rodney's Head, when several persons issued from the door.
"Hullo! make that fellow heave to, and see who he is," said a voice; and two men came rushing after him.
The words made Dick start off as fast as his legs would carry him. The men, however, followed. He might still, he hoped, escape, and reach Susan's cottage. It was before him, but should he be seen to enter, it would afford him no shelter. If he could get round it, however, he might double back, making his way along on the other side of the village. He was unusually weak from long fasting, and found his strength failing him. His foot struck against a piece of an anchor fast in the ground, and down he fell. Before he could rise his pursuers were upon him.
"You made a good run for it, my lad, but you are caught notwithstanding," said one of the men. "No use in kicking up a shindy, so come along with us and make the best of it, as many another lad has done."
"Who are you? What are you going to do with me?" asked Dick.
"We are men-of-war's men, and are going to make you serve his Majesty, as we are doing," was the answer, as Dick was led back to the village inn.
"Won't you let me go and see my friends first, or let me send them a message to say where I am gone?"
The men laughed. "You can send a message when you are safe on board the tender. You'll be sent off there presently, with a few other fine fellows we have laid hands on. Don't be cast down, lad, you'll like the service well enough when you get into our ways; and if you don't, like many others, you'll have to grin and bear it."
Dick made no answer; he was in for it, and it was useless to complain. The disappointment, however, did not take away his appetite. He quickly felt his hunger pressing him as at first. "I wish that you'd let me have a crust of bread and a piece of cheese, for I have not put anything into my mouth for many a long hour."
"Mrs Simmons will soon find that for you, and a glass of ale, too, my lad," answered the seaman. "Maybe, if you've no shiners in your pocket, you'll find some friend inside who will treat you."
On reaching the inn door, Dick saw a large party of seamen under an officer who had just mustered them outside, while several remained within, guarding persons with handcuffs on their wrists and seated on the benches. Two or three of them looked very disconsolate, but the rest were endeavouring to keep up their spirits by laughing and joking and talking to each other, or with their captors. Among the former, Dick, to his sorrow, saw his friend Ben Rudall, who, however, did not appear to recognise him. The landlady looked far from pleased at the guests she was compelled to entertain. Dick caught her eye.
"Do give me something to eat, Mrs Simmons!" he exclaimed. "I'm pretty nigh starved."
"Bless me, Richard Hargrave! is that you? You shall have what little I have in the house; but it will be a sad night to those at home when they hear that you are taken."
"I wish that you'd send up and tell them, and get it broken gently to my mother and Janet," said Dick, as Mrs Simmons placed bread and cheese, and a piece of cold bacon before him, with a mug of ale.
"Be smart, my lad, and stow that food away," said the seaman, who stood by with a pair of handcuffs. "You'll get some breakfast on board the tender to-morrow morning."
"Maybe; but I should be starved to death before to-morrow morning, if you don't let me eat this," answered Dick, munching away with all his might. He had never eaten so fast, for he expected every moment that the seaman would lose patience and clap the handcuffs on him. He was allowed, however, to swallow the contents of the plate as well as the ale.
"I'll pay you, Mrs Simmons, some day when I come back; and thank you in the mean time," said Dick, when he had finished his hasty meal.
"You are welcome to it, my boy," said the landlady, "and who knows but that you'll one day come back a captain."
The sailor laughed as he clapped the handcuffs on Dick's wrists. Directly afterwards the officer ordered the prisoners to be brought out, as the boat had arrived from the tender to carry them on board.
Ben Rudall, who had hitherto been silent, finding that he was at once to be carried off, rose to his feet and lifting up his manacled hands addressed the officer, "It is hard lines for me, sir, to be dragged away from my wife and family, without so much as saying good-bye to them. They live not many doors off, down the lane; won't you just let me go down and kiss the children? Maybe you are a father yourself, and you wouldn't like to be carried away from your young ones without saying a few last words to cheer them up."
"It can't be done, my man," answered the officer, turning away. "If I grant you the favour, all the rest will be wanting to go and wish their wives and children farewell, and a fine account I should have to give of them! Bring the prisoners along!" he shouted to the seamen.
"You'll tell poor Susan what has happened," said Ben, as he passed the landlady. "Tell her to keep up her spirits. I'll be back home as soon as I can."
"Trust me, Ben," said kind-hearted Mrs Simmons; "I'll see your wife to-morrow morning, and tell her what you say."
The officer, losing patience, ordered his party to move on. The men-of-war's men kept close around their captives, who would, they knew, attempt to escape if there was the slightest chance of their doing so, or they thought it possible that the smugglers' associates might endeavour to rescue them. The boat, however, was reached without any attempt of the sort being made, and the prisoners were compelled to step on board.
Some of the more daring resisted, hoping that perhaps even then assistance might come to them, but a seaman's pistol held at the heads of the refractory ones compelled them to obey, and in another minute they were all seated in the boat, which at once pulled away for the tender.
Dick found himself seated next to Ben.
"A bad job this, my boy; I never thought you and I should be hauled away like this," whispered Ben. "If they hadn't put our wrists in irons we'd be overboard and soon stowed away where they wouldn't find us in a hurry."
Dick did not say he thought that it was owing to Ben he was brought into his present condition. He merely answered, "I wouldn't try to escape if I could. If a man-of-war is as bad as you say, I shall be dead in a short time, and it won't much matter to any one."
"Silence there, men!" shouted the officer, who overheard Ben and Dick talking. "Give way, lads!"
The boat was soon alongside the tender, a large cutter, which lay off the mouth of the creek. The captured men were compelled to mount her side, two stout fellows standing by to lift them up by the collars of their jackets, as they were unable to use their hands, when they were at once sent down into the hold of the vessel, over which a sentry with a loaded musket kept guard.
It was a large, gloomy place, lighted by a single ship's lantern, which hung from one of the beams. Dick could see that it already contained about twenty people, most of them rough, seafaring men, seated with their backs against the side, or stretched on the deck. Some were talking in low, grave tones, others were endeavouring to forget themselves in sleep. A few looked up and nodded as they recognised acquaintances, but not many words were exchanged between them. Dick saw several persons whom he knew, but the greater number had been captured by the pressgang on other parts of the coast. Dick, though no longer hungry, was very tired, and seeing a vacant spot, threw himself down with his back against the after bulkhead.
"I have found out all about it," said Ben, who some time afterwards seated himself by his side. "It is all owing to that young lord and his father. The marquis, I hear, wrote over to Portsmouth some time ago to have this pressgang sent down here to make a clean sweep of all the seafaring men they could lay hands on. If they had come a few days sooner, they would have stopped the Nancy from attempting the run, and we should have got off again; but as ill luck would have it, they arrived just in time to catch us, and the other poor fellows who had come on shore. I wish that I could lay hands on that Lord Reginald; I'd pay him off."
"Little chance of that," observed Dick; "he'll soon be safe on board the Wolf, and we shall be sent off, maybe, in some ship to the other end of the world. I don't care where I go; but it seems to me what we have now to do is to make the best of it. I have been thinking over the matter since I have been staying here, and of course, as the king wants men to fight his battles, and as it is my luck, good or bad, to become one of them, I'll do my best and try to keep clear of the cat-o'-nine-tails which you used to tell me about."
"You'll be precious lucky if you are able to do that, my lad," growled Ben. "Howsumdever, as we're in for it, I don't want to make you think things are worse than they are. You'll soon find out what's what."
"I suppose I shall," answered Dick, who was becoming very sleepy, and in spite of the noises going on around him—the loud talking—the tramping of feet overhead—the movement of the vessel, which had got under way, and his uncomfortable position, he was soon in happy forgetfulness of all his troubles.
The cutter, after proceeding some distance, met with a strong head wind, and was soon pitching her bows into the fast rising seas. Dick was awakened by finding himself slipping away to leeward, and presently afterwards the vessel shipped a sea, the heavy spray from which came down through the main hatchway, and gave an unpleasant shower-bath to those below it, and Dick had to scramble as best he could out of the water which collected to leeward. The cutter, under close-reefed mainsail, stood on, heeling over to starboard for some time; then she went about, and directed her course towards the north shore. Once more she tacked in the direction she had before been going. The smugglers grumbled and swore, expressing very little confidence in the seamanship of the dockyard maties. At length, however, they heard the order to take in the jib. The vessel came on an even keel, the anchor was let go; she had brought up in Cowes Roads.
"If this wind holds, we shan't see Portsmouth harbour to-day," said Ben. "I suppose they can't intend to keep the irons on our wrists, now they have got us all safe. If we stop here for the night, I have a great mind to try and get away. I have many friends on shore, and some of them are sure to come off to learn what this craft is about. If I get the chance, I'll slip overboard and swim to one of their boats. What do you say, Dick; will you come?"
"We haven't got the chance yet," answered Dick; "if I get off where should I go? I cannot return home, and I should just have to starve or beg, or take to some worse course. No, no; you may try it if you wish, but I'll stay here and learn what a man-of-war is like."
Ben made further vain attempts to induce Dick to join him. Their conversation was interrupted by several men coming from forward with a supply of biscuits and cold salt beef and a grog tub, which, with a number of tin mugs, was placed in the centre of the deck. The latter seemed to afford infinite satisfaction, and the prisoners, in much better humour than before, laughed and talked and joked as if they had no cares in the world. A strict watch was still, however, kept over them, as, from their desperate character, it was suspected that they would not fail to try and take advantage of any opportunity which might offer of getting free.