Menhardoc, a Story of Cornish Nets and Mines, by George Manville Fenn.
In passing, the title of the book, Menhardoc, never once appears in the body-text of the book. But it has a sort of mysterious Cornish sound to it, and that does the trick.
Mr Temple and his two 15 or 16 year old twin sons have come to stay for the summer holidays in a Cornish fishing village. The two boys are very different. Arthur, or Taff, is very foppish and afraid of getting wet, hurt, or in any way inconvenienced. The other boy, Richard, or Dick, is the exact opposite, always running hither and thither, always wanting to get involved in anything that is going, ready to make friends with all and sundry, while Arthur believes himself to be very grand and much above the fisher men and boys that they meet on this holiday.
Will Marion is one such boy. But he is a very clever studious boy, as well as one who gets on with the day-to-day fishing business. He has had a good grammar-school education, and Arthur is quite put out to discover that Will is better than he at his Latin and Greek, in those days forming a large part of a good education.
Josh, Uncle Abram, and several others complete the principal cast. The boys get out on various boating expeditions, in which they, and we, learn a great deal about the life of a fishing village of perhaps 1850. We learn about the various fishes, and how they are caught, and they have various narrow shaves down mines, in caves, and after various unfortunate accidents.
This book is beautifully written, very informative and interesting, and as full of thrills as any book by G Manville Fenn, the master of suspense.
Of course there is a surprise waiting for us at the finish.
MENHARDOC, A STORY OF CORNISH NETS AND MINES, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
INTRODUCES WILL AND HIS HENCHMAN, JOSH.
"You don't know it, Master Will, lad, but Natur' couldn't ha' done no better for you if she'd tried."
"Why, lad? There's a queshton to ask! Why? Warn't you born in Co'rn'all, the finest country in all England, and ain't you going to grow into a Cornishman, as all old books says is giants, when you've left off being a poor smooth, soft-roed, gallish-looking creatur', same as you are now?"
The utterer of these words certainly spoke them, but in a musical, sing-song intonation peculiar to the fishermen of the district. He was a fair, short man, somewhat deformed, one arm being excessively short, seeming little more than a hand projecting from one side of his breast; but this in no wise interfered with his activity as he stood there glittering in the bright morning sunshine on the deck of a Cornish lugger, shaking pilchards out of the dark-brown net into the well or hold.
Josh Helston glittered in the morning sunshine like a harlequin in a limelight, for he was spangled from head to foot with the loose silvery scales of the pilchards caught during the night, and on many another night during the past few weeks. There were scales on his yellow south-wester, in his fair closely-curling hair, a couple on his ruddy-brown nose, hundreds upon his indigo-blue home-knit jersey, and his high boots, that were almost trousers and boots in one, were literally burnished with the adherent disks of silvery iridescent horn.
The "poor smooth, gallish-looking creatur'" he addressed was a well-built young fellow of seventeen, with no more effeminacy in his appearance than is visible in a lad balanced by nature just on that edge of life where we rest for a short space uneasily, bidding good-bye to boyhood so eagerly, before stepping boldly forward, and with flushed face and flashing eyes feeling our muscles and the rough hair upon our cheeks and chins, and saying, in all the excitement of the discovery of that El Dorado time of life, "At last I am a man!"
Josh Helston's words did not seem fair, but his way was explained once to Michael Polree as they stood together on the pier; and the latter had expostulated after his fashion, for he never spoke much, by saying:
"Easy, mate, easy."
"Easy it is, Mike," sang rather than said Josh. "I know what I'm about. The old un said I wasn't to spoil him, and I won't. He's one o' them soft sort o' boys as is good stuff, like a new-bred net; but what do you do wi' it, eh?"
"Bile it," growled old Mike, "Cutch or Gambier."
"Toe be sure," said Josh; "and I'm biling young Will in the hot water o' adversitee along with the cutch o' worldly knowledge, and the gambier o' fisherman's gumption, till he be tanned of a good moral, manly, sensible brown. I know."
Then old Mike winked at Josh Helston, and Josh Helston winked solemnly at old Mike Polree, who threw a couple of hake slung on a bit of spun yarn over one shoulder, his strapped-together boots stuffed with coarse worsted stockings, one on each side, over the other shoulder, squirted a little tobacco juice into the harbour, and went off barefoot over the steep stones to the cottage high up the cliff, muttering to himself something about Pilchar' Will being a fine young chap all the same.
"That's all nonsense about the Cornishmen being giants, Josh," said Will, as he rapidly passed the long lengths of net through his hands, so that they should lie smooth in the hold, ready for shooting again that night without twist or tangle. "Old writers were very fond of stretching men."
"Dessay they was," said Josh; "but they never stretched me. I often wish I was ten inches longer."
"It wouldn't have made a better fellow of you, Josh," said Will, with a merry twinkle in his eye.
"I dunno 'bout that," said Josh disparagingly; "I ain't much account," and he rubbed his nose viciously with the back of his hand, the result being that he spread a few more scales upon his face.
"Why, you're the strongest man I know, Josh. You can throw anyone in Peter Churchtown, and I feel like a baby when you grip hold of me."
Josh felt flattered, but he would not show it in the face of such a chance for giving a lesson.
"Babby! And that's just what you are—a big soft, overgrown babby, with no more muscle in you than a squid. I'd be ashamed o' myself, that I would, if I was you."
"Can't help it, Josh," said the young fellow, wrinkling his sun-browned forehead, and still turning the soft nets into filmy ropes by passing them through his hands.
"Can't help it! Why, you ain't got no more spirit in you than a pilchar'—no more'n one o' these as run its head through the net last night, hung on by its gills and let itself die, whar it might ha' wriggled itself out if it had had plenty o' pluck. If you don't take care, my lad, you'll get a name for being a regular soft. I believe if one of the lads o' your own size hit you, you'd cry."
"Perhaps I should, Josh, so I hope no one will hit me."
The lad thrust back his scarlet woollen cap, and bent down over the brown nets so that his companion should not see his face; and as he shook down the soft meshes, with the heap growing bigger and bigger, so did the pile of silvery pilchards grow taller, as Josh growled to himself and shook out the fish easily enough, for though the gills of the herring-like fish acted as barbs to complete their arrowy form as they darted through the sea, and kept them from swimming back, the hold on the net was very frail, and they kept falling pat, pat, upon the deck or in the well.
"After all I've done for you I don't want you to turn out a cur," growled Josh at last.
"Well, was I a cur last night?" cried Will eagerly. "Mike said there was a storm coming on, and that we'd better run in. Didn't I say, 'let's stop and shake out the fish,' as we hauled the nets?"
"Ay, but that's not very plucky," cried Josh, giving his face another rub and placing some spangles under his right eye; "that's being foolhardy and running risks with your craft, as no man ought to do as has charge of a lugger and all her gear. Ah, you're a poor gallish sort o' lad, and it's only a silly job to try and make a man of you."
It was quite early in the morning, and the sun was just showing over the bold headland to play through the soft silvery mist that hung in patches over the sea, which heaved and fell, ruddy orange where the sun glanced upon the swell, and dark misty purple in the hollows. The surface was perfectly smooth, not a breath of air coming from the land to dimple the long gentle heaving of the ebbing tide. Here and there the dark luggers, with their duck-shaped hulls and cinnamon-brown sails, stood out clear in the morning sunshine; while others that had not reached the harbour were fast to the small tub buoys; and again others that had not heeded the warnings of the threatened storm were only now creeping in, looking strange and mysterious, half-hidden as they were by the veil of mist that now opened, now closed and completely blotted them from the sight of those in the harbour.
It was a wild-looking place, the little fishing town nestling on the cliff, with the grey granite rocks piled-up behind and spreading to east and west like cyclopean walls, built in regular layers by the giants of whom Josh Helston had told. The wonder was that in some north-east gale the little fleet of fishing vessels was not dashed to pieces by the huge breakers that came tearing in, to leap against the rocks and fall back with a sullen roar amidst the great boulders. And one storm would have been enough, but for the harbour, into which, like so many sea-birds, the luggers huddled together; while the great granite wall curved round them like a stout protective arm thrust out by the land, and against which the waves beat themselves to spray.
It was a wild but singularly attractive view from Peter Churchtown, for the simple Cornish folk did not trouble themselves to say "Saint," but invariably added to every village that boasted a church the name of churchtown. High above it, perched upon the steepest spots, were the tall engine-houses of the tin and copper mines, one of which could be seen, too, half-way down the cliff, a few hundred yards from the harbour; and here the galleries from whence the ore was blasted and picked ran far below the sea. In fact it was said that in the pursuit of the lode of valuable ore the company would mine their way till they met the work-people of the Great Ruddock Mine over on the other side of the bay, beyond the lighthouse through the curve of the shore.
As the mist lifted from where it had half-hidden the tall lighthouse, with its base of black rocks, against which the sea never ceased breaking in creamy foam, a boat could be seen on its way to a large black, mastless vessel, moored head and stern with heavy chains, and looking quite deserted in the morning light.
"There they go off to work, Josh," exclaimed Will suddenly.
"Well, and you're off to work too," said Josh gruffly, as he picked from the net the half, of a pilchard, the tail portion having been bitten off by some predatory fish, as it hung helplessly by its gills. "Them hake have been having a nice game wi' the fish to-night."
As he spoke he picked out another and another half pilchard, and threw them as far as he could, when, almost as each piece touched the water, a soft-looking grey gull swept down and caught it from the surface with its strong beak, uttering a low peevish-sounding wail as it swept up again, hardly seeming to move its long white-lined wings.
"I should dearly like to go aboard the lighter and see what they are doing," said Will eagerly.
"Paying attention to their work," said Josh sharply, "and that's what you're not doing."
"I'm only a few fathoms behind you, Josh, and I shall be waiting directly. I say, when we're done let's row aboard."
"I don't want to row aboard," said Josh sourly, but watching the progress of the boat the while.
"They've got regular diving things there, Josh, and an air-engine; and the men go down. I should like to have a look."
"What are they going down for?" said Josh; "looking for oyster-beds?"
"No, no. Trelynn Mine is like to be flooded by the water that comes in from one of the galleries under the sea, and the divers go down to try and find the place where it gets in, and stop it with clay and cement."
"Humph! are they going to find it, d'yer think?"
"Yes, I believe so. They measure so exactly that they can put a boat right over the place. I say, Josh, shouldn't you like to go down?"
"What! dive down?"
"I should just think not, indeed. A man's place is in a boat floating atop of the water, and not going underneath. If man was meant to go underneath he'd have gills and fins and scales, same as these here pilchar's."
"Oh, yes, I know all that; but only think of trying on a diver's suit, and being supplied with air from above, through a tube into your helmet."
"This here dress is good enough for me, and my sou'-wester's a sight better than any helmet I know, and the only air as I care about having through a tube's 'bacco smoke."
"But shouldn't you like to go and see the diving?"
"Not I," said Josh, staring hard at the great lighter. "'Sides, when we've done here, and the fish is all salted down, I want to row across to the lighthouse."
"That will be going close by, Josh. I'll take an oar with you, and let's stop on the way."
"Just couldn't think o' such a thing. Come, work away, lad," cried Josh; and both he and Will did work away, the latter saying nothing more, for he knew his man, and that there was eager curiosity and also intense longing in the looks directed by the fisherman across the water from time to time.
The result was, that, armed with a couple of good-sized pollack as a present to the skipper in charge of the lighter, Josh Helston and his young companion rowed alongside the well-moored vessel before the morning was much older, and were soon on deck watching the proceedings with the greatest interest.
One of the divers was just preparing to go down as they set foot aboard; and they were in time to see the heavy leaden weights attached to his back and breast, and the great helmet, with its tail-like tube, lifted over his head and screwed on to the gorget. Then with the life-line attached he moved towards the gangway, the air-pump clanking as the crew turned the wheel; and step by step the man went down the ladder lashed to the lighter's side. Josh involuntarily gripped Will's hand as the diver descended lower and lower, to chest, neck, and then the great goggle-eyed helmet was covered, while from the clear depths the air that kept rapidly bubbling up rendered the water confused, so that the descending figure looked distorted and strange.
"Three fathom o' water here, my lad," whispered Josh, as with his companion he leaned over the side and gazed down at the rocks below.
"Three and a half, isn't it, Josh?" said Will in a low tone. "Mike always says there's three and a half here at this time of the tide."
"And I says it's three fathom," growled Josh dogmatically. "My, but it's a gashly sight for a man to go down like that!"
"Why, I wouldn't mind diving down, Josh," said Will excitedly.
"Diving down! Ay, I wouldn't mind diving down. It's being put in prison, and boxed up in them gashly things as makes it so horrid. Here, let's be off. I can't stand it. That there poor chap'll never come up again alive."
"Nonsense, Josh! He's all right. There, you can see him moving about. That pump sends him down plenty of air."
"Lor', what a great soft sort of a chap you are, William Marion!" said Josh. "You'll never larn nothing. The idee of a pump pumping air! They're a-pumping the water from all round him, so as to give the poor chap room to breathe. Can't you see the long soft pipe? Here, I don't like it. I want to go."
"No, no: not yet," cried Will excitedly. "I want to watch the diver."
"An' I don't," said Josh, turning his face away. "I never could abear to see things killed, and I never would go and see it. I can stand fish, but that's enough for me. Here's a human bein' goin' to be as good as murdered, and I won't be one o' them as stands by and sees it done."
"What nonsense, Josh!" cried Will. "This is regular diving apparatus. That's an air-pump; and the man has air pumped down into his helmet through that india-rubber pipe."
"Garlong; don't tell me, boy," cried Josh indignantly. "Into his helmet indeed! Why, you can see all the water bubbling up round him. That's what it is—pumped away. I tell 'ee I'm off. I won't stop and see the gashly work going on."
Just then there was a cry from one of the men by the gangway, for the life-line was jerked.
"More air!" he shouted; and the men spun the wheel round faster; but the line jerked again.
"There's something wrong!" shouted one of the others. "Here, lay hold there—quick! Keep on there with that handle, stupids! Do you want the man to choke? Pump, I tell you. Now, then, haul!"
"There, I told you so, Will," cried Josh, whose ruddy-brown face was looking mottled with white. "I know'd the gashly old job was wrong. Come away, boy, come away."
For answer, in his excitement Will thrust his arm aside and ran to the line to help haul.
"No, no, my lad; stand aside," cried the man who seemed to be captain of the diving-crew, and who was dressed for the work all but his helmet. "Haul away, do you hear?"
The men were hauling hard, but the rope had come taut; and instead of their bringing up the diver it was plain to all that the poor fellow had got the line hitched round a piece of rock, or else one of his legs wedged in some crevice of the rocks he was exploring.
"Shake the rope loose for a moment and haul again," cried the leader.
The men obeyed and then hauled again, but the line came taut once more; and if they had hauled much harder it would have parted.
"Lend a hand here quick with that other helmet. Make fast there! I'll go down and cast him loose. Here, quick, some of you!"
"He'll be a dead un afore you get to him," growled the skipper of the lighter, "if you arn't sharp."
"I knowed it, I knowed it," whispered Josh hoarsely. "I see it all along."
"Screw that on," panted the leader; "and you, Winter, stand by the engine. Be cool. Now, the helmet. Hah!"
There was a loud crash just then as the trembling and excited man who was handing the second helmet let it fall upon an iron bar lying upon the deck, so injuring the delicate piece of mechanism that the men stared at each other aghast, and Will's hands grew wet with horror.
"Is there a man here who can dive?" shouted the skipper coming forward with a thin coil of line. And, amidst a breathless silence Will stepped forward.
"No, no, he can't," shouted Josh excitedly; and then he stood open-mouthed and with one hand clasping the other as he saw Will make a rapid hitch in the line, throw it round his waist, tighten it, and then, after a quick glance round, seize one of the diver's leaden weights lying on an upturned cask. Then stepping to the side he said quickly, "Josh, look to the line!" and with the heavy weight held out at arm's-length he leaped from the gangway, right where the air-bubbles were still rising, and plunged headforemost into the sea.
Note: Net-making in Cornwall is called net-breeding.
JOSH DOES NOT APPROVE OF HIS PUPIL'S DIVE.
As Will made his daring plunge Josh Heist on rushed to the side, and stood with starting eyes gazing at the disturbed water. Then turning fiercely upon the skipper, he caught him by the shoulder, gave him a twist, and dragged him within reach of his deformed arm, the hand of which fastened upon his waist-belt, and held him perfectly helpless, although he seemed to be a much stronger man.
"This was your doing!" cried Josh angrily, but with quite a wail in his intoned words. "You drove him to do that gashly thing!"
"Don't be a fool, Josh! Here, let go! Do you hear, let go!"
"If he don't come I'll send you after him!" cried Josh, with his face flushed with anger.
"Do you want the lad to drown for want of help?" cried the skipper; and his words acted like magic. Josh loosed his hold, and once more ran to the side.
Meanwhile the pumping had been kept up, and a constant stream of air-bubbles could be seen ascending; but the men who had hauled upon the life-line had kept it taut, and were still hauling as those who were gazing down into the clear water, vainly trying to make out the movements of the two divers, suddenly uttered a shout.
"Here he comes!" cried the skipper; and Josh, who had been holding his breath in the agony of suspense, gave a loud expiration as the lad suddenly appeared above the surface, panting for breath, and swam to the ladder, shaking the water from his eyes and hair.
"Slack the line!" he cried; "it's round a rock. Give me one of those leads."
Josh, who had been the first to oppose the descent, was now the first to help, by seizing the back lead left upon the barrel head, and, with cat-like agility, leaping to the ladder and going down to the swimmer.
A dozen voices were shouting words of advice to Will, but the lad paid no heed; he merely drew himself up on the ladder, saw that the life-line was slack, and, clasping the leaden back-piece with both hands, with the life-line running loosely between his arms to act as a guide, he once more plunged into the sea, the weight seeming to take him down with tremendous force.
One instant the ponderous lead struck the water, the next there was a confused foam on the surface, and Will was gone.
The moments that followed seemed prolonged to hours. There was an indistinct movement visible in the disturbed water; the bubbles of air seemed to be lashing up more fiercely as the life-line was drawn rapidly through the hands that held it, and then, once more, Will's head appeared, and he swam towards the ladder.
He could not speak, but made a sign with one hand.
"Haul!" cried Josh; "haul away!" as he reached out, caught Will's arm, and drew him to the ladder; holding him up, for he was utterly exhausted, and could hardly get his breath.
And there they stayed while the line was hauled up, and the diver once more appeared above the surface; the poor fellow being hoisted on deck and his helmet rapidly unfastened and removed.
The men looked helplessly from one to the other as they lifted their eyes from the blackened countenance that one of the lighter's men was supporting on his arm. No one seemed to know what would be best to do, and a couple were ordered into the boat to row ashore for the doctor.
"Why don't you take off them gashly things?" cried Josh, who had now helped Will to the deck, where he stood holding on by a stay, trembling in every limb.
Two men immediately began to take off the heavy india-rubber diving suit, with its copper collar and heavy leaden-soled boots, with the result that when the poor fellow was freed from these encumbrances and once more laid upon the dock, the lifting and moving he had received proved so far beneficial that he uttered a low sigh, and the purple tinge began to die out from his face.
"He's a coming to!" said the skipper eagerly; and his words proved to be right, for at the end of half an hour the poor fellow had recovered consciousness, and was able to say that his life-line had become hitched round a mass of rock, to which was attached some very long grown strands of sea-weed, and these had been swept by the water right over the line. Then when he had tried to free it his hands only came in contact with the loose slimy wrack, and after a trial or two he had become confused and excited.
"And you know I've allus told you as a diver should be as cool as a cucumber," said his chief.
"Yes, I know all about that," said the diver huskily, "and so I meant to be; but when you're shut-up in one o' them soots and are down in three or four fathom o' water, and thinking your life-line's fast, you don't seem as if you could be cool, mate."
"But you ought to be," said the chief severely; "and now, all along o' your getting in a flurry, here's the newest helmet with a great dent in the neck, so as it won't screw down on the collar, and I shall have to pay damages out o' my wage."
"Better than having to pay to keep my wife and weans," said the diver huskily; "and now I want to have a look at that young chap as dived and set free the line."
"Here he be!" cried Josh eagerly, hauling at Will's arm; "here he be, lad. Ain't much of a chap to have done it, be he?"
Josh laughed, and gave Will a thrust forward, much to the lad's discomfort, for there was a low murmur of admiration from the little group around.
"Oh, it's nothing to make such a fuss about!" said Will, whose cheeks were burning now, as he stood there with the sea-water slowly soaking from his clothes, and making a little puddle on the deck.
"No!" said the diver huskily; "it's nothing to make a fuss about; only one man saving another man's life, when nobody else knew what to do!"
"Oh, it was an accident!" said Will kindly; "and they hadn't time to think."
"Yes," said the diver, looking softly up at Will; "an accident, my lad, and nothing to make a fuss about; but there's some one at home as would have made a fuss about it, and you've done more than save me, my lad; you've saved a poor woman from a broken heart, and six bairns from wanting charity; that's all. Let's shake hands!"
He held out his hand to Will in the midst of a strange silence, and held that of the young man with a very strong grip, before sinking back with his head upon a ship's fender, and closing his eyes.
"He arn't a bad sort of chap," said Josh softly, as Will drew back; "but I don't hold with a fellow, even if he have just been drowned, coming to life again and calling a boy like you a man. You're wain enough as it is, and you've no call to be. So come along ashore, and get home and change them wet clothes."
Will said a word to the chief of the divers about where the lead weights lay, and then stepped over the side to Josh, who was already in the lugger's boat, without letting any one know that he was going.
Josh thrust off the boat, let his oar fall with a splash, and Will followed his example; but they were not a dozen yards from the lighter before they were missed, and divers and crew rushed to the side and gave a tremendous cheer.
"Here, come back!" cried the skipper; "come back!"
"Arn't got time," roared Josh, frowning; and then, as the men cheered again: "Well, of all the gashly fuss as was ever made this is about the worst! Pull hard, my lad, and let's get out of it. I want to go home."
"And I want to get warm, Josh," said Will laughing. "I'm glad that poor fellow came round before we left."
"Well, I dunno," said Josh, sourly. "Of course you liked it because he called you a man. He ought to have knowed better, at his time o' life. Lor', Will, what a gashly peacock of a chap you would grow if it warn't for me."
PILCHAR' WILL AND THE OLD FOLKS AT HOME.
"Been overboard again? Well, I never did see such a boy in my life; never!"
"What's the matter, Ruth?"
"Matter enough!" came in the same strident voice, in answer to the hoarse gruff inquiry. "There, who spoke to you? Just you get back to your work; and if that pie's burnt again to-day you'll have to leave!"
This last was to a heavy-faced simple-looking girl, who, on hearing her mistress's angry voice, had hurried into the passage of Nor'-nor'-west Cottage, Cliftside, and stood in front of the kitchen door, with one end of her apron in her mouth.
Amanda Trevor, commonly called Betsey, stepped back into the kitchen, just catching the word "dripping" as she closed the door—a word that excited her curiosity again, but she dared not try to gratify it; and if she had tried she would only have been disappointed on finding that it related to a few drops of water from Will Marion's clothes.
"I said—heave ho, there! what's the matter?" was heard again; and this time a very red-faced grey-haired man, with the lower part of his features framed in white bristles, and clad in a blue pea-jacket and buff waistcoat, ornamented with gilt anchor buttons, stood suddenly in the doorway on the right, smoking solemnly a long churchwarden clay pipe, rilling his mouth very full of smoke, and then aggravating the looker-on by puzzling him as to where the smoke would come from next— for sometimes he sent a puff out of one corner of his mouth, sometimes out of the other. Then it would come from a little hole right in the middle, out of which he had taken the waxed pipe stem, but only for him perhaps to press one side of his nose with the pipe, and send the rest out of the left nostril, saving perhaps a little to drive from the right. The result of practice, for the old man had smoked a great deal.
"Collision?" said Abram Marion, ex-purser and pensioner of the British navy.
"No," said Mrs Ruth Marion, his little thin acid wife. "Overboard again, and he's dripping all over the place. It isn't long since he had those clothes."
"Six months," said the old purser, sending a couple of jets of tobacco smoke from his nostrils at once.
"Yes; and what with his growing so horribly, and the common stuff they sell for cloth now, shrinking so shamefully, he's always wanting clothes."
"Oh, these will last a long time yet, aunt!" said Will.
"No, they will not last a long time yet, Will!" cried the little lady, with her face all trouble wrinkles.
"Will," said the old man, stopping to say pup, pup, pup, pup, pup, pup, as he emitted half a dozen tiny puffs of smoke, waving his pipe stem the while; "mind what your aunt says and you'll never repent."
"But he don't mind a word I say," cried the little woman, wringing her hands. "Wringing wet! just look at him!"
"Been fishing, my lass; and they brought home a fair haul," said the purser, throwing back his head, and shooting smoke at a fly on the ceiling.
"What's the use of his bringing home fair hauls if he destroys his clothes as he does; and the holes he makes in his stockings are shameful."
"Can't help getting wet at sea," said the ex-purser, solemnly spreading a good mouthful of smoke in a semicircle. "Water's wet, specially salt-water. Here, you, sir! how dare you make holes in your stockings for your aunt to mend? I don't believe your father ever dared to do such a thing in his life."
"It don't matter, Abram," said the old lady in a lachrymose whine; "it's my fate to toil, and I'm not long for this world, so it don't matter. It was my fate to be a toiler; and those clothes of his will be too small for him to wear when they're dry. I don't know what I'm to do."
"Stretch 'em," said the old gentleman, sending a cloud into his waistcoat.
"But they won't stretch," cried the old lady peevishly.
"Put 'em away and save 'em," said the old man. "I may adopt another nevvy—smaller size,"—and here there was a veil spread over his face by his projecting his lower lip and sending the smoke up into his eyes.
"If you ever did such a thing again, I'd have a divorce," cried the old lady sharply. "You go and change your things, sir, and then get a book till dinner's ready."
The old lady stepped into the parlour, and the old purser was in the act of winking solemnly at his nephew when Mrs Marion reappeared.
"Ah, I saw!" she cried. "You are encouraging this boy, Abram. Here; Betsey, bring your flannel and wipe up this mess. And you, go in directly and change your things."
The old lady disappeared again, and the wrinkles stood all over the old purser's face as he growled softly between fancy puffs of smoke.
"Woman's words in house, Will, is like cap'en's orders 'board ship, with the articles over at the back. Must be minded, or it's rank mutiny, and a disrate. Puff. Go and get a dry rig."
"Yes, uncle," said Will quietly.
"And—puff—you—puff—must be more careful of your clothes—puff, boy. Puff, puff, puff. We all sail through life—puff—under orders. Puff.—Few of us is cap'ens—puff. Very few of us is admirals—puff; and what with admiralty and the gov'ment—puff, puff, and the people's opinion—puff, and the queen—puff; they can't do so much as they like, as a regular tar. Puff, puff."
The way in which the ex-purser distributed his tobacco smoke during this oracular lecture to his brother's orphan son was something astounding; and he had smoked so heavily that it seemed at last as if he were trying to veil himself from the lad's gaze lest he should see the weakness exhibited with regard to Mrs Marion's rule; while he kept glancing uneasily at the lad, as if feeling that he was read by heart.
"All right, uncle, I understand," said Will, turning to go.
"That's right—puff, Will. Good lad. Your aunt means well, and if she pitches into us both—rams us, as you may say, Will, why, we know, eh?"
"Oh yes, uncle, we know."
"It don't hurt us, lad. She says lots about what you cost for food, and what an expense you've been to her, and she calls you lazy."
"Yes, uncle," said Will, sadly.
"But what do it amount to, eh? Only tongue, and tongue's only tongue after all."
The last puff of smoke had been sucked out of the pipe, and the old gentleman kept on gesticulating with it as he spoke.
"Only tongue, lad. Your aunt's one o' the finest and best and truest women under the sun. See how clean she's always kept you ever since you first come to us."
"No, uncle, since you came and fetched me from that miserable school, and said, 'don't cry, my man; you're my own brother's boy, and as long as I live I'll be a father to you.'"
"Did I say them words, Will? Was they the very words?"
"Yes, uncle," cried the lad, flushing; "the very words;" and he laid his hand affectionately on the old man's shoulder.
"Ah! well, and very proper words too, I suppose," said the old man; "and I did mean to be, lad; but you see I never had no experience of being a father, and I'm afraid I've made a mess of it."
"You've always been like the kindest of fathers to me, uncle," said Will warmly.
"And she's always been the kindest of mothers, like, my lad. Lor' bless you, Will, my boy, it's only tongue. Splendid craft your aunt is, only she's overweighted with engine, and her bilers is a bit too big. Tongue's safety-valve, Will, and I never sit on it, my lad. Make things worse. Burst."
"Yes, uncle, I see," said Will, with a sad smile.
"You're all right, my lad. I didn't care to send you in the Ryle Navee, so I did the next best thing, made a sailor of you in a lugger. She's mine now with all her craft of nets—leastwise she's aunt's, for she keeps the accounts; but some day when I'm sewn up and dropped overboard out of the world, the lugger'll all be yours; only if I go first, Will," he whispered, drawing the lad closer to him, "never mind the bit of a safety-valve as fizzles and whistles and snorts; be kind, lad, to your aunt."
"I don't want the lugger," cried Will, laying his hands on the old man's shoulders. "I want my dear old uncle to stop, and see him enjoy his pipe, and I won't take a hit of notice—"
"Of the safety-valve, Will?"
"No, uncle; but I want to get on," cried the lad excitedly. "I'm tired of being a burden to you, uncle, and—"
"Hasn't that boy changed his things yet?"
"Right, Ruth, my dear," cried the old purser loudly, assuming his old sea lingo. "Here, you, sir, how much longer are you going to stand jawing there. Heave ahead and get into a fresh rig with you."
Here he winked and frowned tremendously at Will, giving one of his hands a tremendous squeeze, and the lad ran upstairs.
The lugger was not to put out again till evening, when the soft breeze would be blowing, and the last rays of the sun be ready to glorify sea, sky, and the sails and cordage of the fishing-boats as they stole softly out to the fishing-ground for the night, so that as Mrs Marion had gone up to lie down after dinner, according to custom, and the old purser was in the little summer-house having his after-dinner pipe, as he called it, one which he invariably enjoyed without lighting the tobacco and with a handkerchief over his head, Will was at liberty to go out unquestioned. Accordingly he hurried down to the harbour, where the tide was out, the gulls were squealing and wailing, and apparently playing a miniature game of King of the Castle upon a little bit of black rock which appeared above the sea a couple of hundred yards out.
In the harbour the water was so low that the Pretty Ruth, Abram Marion's lugger—named, for some reason that no one could see, after the old man's wife—was lying over nearly on her beam-ends, so that, as Josh Helston, who was on board, went to and fro along the deck with a swab in his hands it was impossible to help thinking that if nature had made his legs like his arms, one very much shorter than the other, he would have found locomotion far easier.
As it was, he had to walk with one knee very much, bent, so greatly was the deck inclined; but it did not trouble him, his feet being bare and his toes spreading out widely and sticking to the clean narrow planks as if they were, like the cuttle-fish, provided with suckers.
Josh was swabbing away at the clinging fish-scales and singing in a sweet musical voice an old west-country ditty in which a lady was upbraiding someone for trying "to persuade a maiden to forsake the jacket blue," of course the blue jacket containing some smart young sailor.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" said Josh, rubbing his nose with the mop handle. "No, I'm busy. I sha'n't come."
"Yes, do come, Josh," said Will, crossing three or four luggers and sitting on the rail of the Pretty Ruth.
"What's the good, lad?"
"Good, Josh? Why, I've told you before. I can't bear this life."
"Fisherman's a good honest life," said Josh sententiously.
"Not when a lad feels that he's a dependant and a burden on his friends," cried Will excitedly. "I want to get on, Josh. I want to succeed, and—there, I knew you'd come."
For Josh had thrown away the mop with an angry movement, and then dragging on a pair of great blue stockings he put on shoes and followed Will without a word.
Out along the beach and away from the village, and in and out among the rocks for quite two miles, till they were where the cliff went sheer up like a vast wall of rugged granite, at a part of which, where a mass of broken stone had either fallen or been thrown down, Will stopped and looked round to see if they were observed. As they were alone with no other watchers than a swarthy-looking cormorant sitting on a sunny lodge drying his wings, and a shag or two perched with outstretched neck, narrowly observing them, Will climbed up, followed by Josh, till they were upon a broad shelf a hundred and fifty feet above the sea—a wild solitary place, where the heap of debris, lichened and wave-beaten, was explained, for mining operations had once gone on hero, and a great square hole yawned black and awful at their feet.
They had evidently been there before, for Will stepped close to a spot where the rock overhung, and reaching in, drew out some pieces of granite, and then from where it was hidden a large coil of stout rope, and threw it on the broken fragments around.
"It's your doing, mind, you know," said Josh. "I don't like the gashly job at all."
"Yes, it's my doing," said Will.
"And you mean to go down?"
"I do, Josh, for certain."
"It be a gashly unked hole, and you'd best give it up. Look here."
As he spoke he stooped and picked up a piece of rock weighing quite a hundredweight, poised it in his hands for a moment or two, and then, with a wonderful display of strength, tossed it from him right over the middle of the disused mine-shaft. The mica flashed in the sun for a moment, and then the great piece plunged down into the darkness, Josh and Will involuntarily darting to the side and craning over the awesome place to try and follow it with their eyes and catch the reverberations when it struck the sides and finally plunged into the black collected waters far enough below.
A FOOLHARDY VENTURE FOR A GOODLY END.
It seemed as if that stone would never reach the bottom, and a curious expression was upon the eager faces that peered down, a strained look almost of pain, till all at once there was a start as of relief, as a hollow heavy plash was heard that came hissing, and echoing, and reverberating up the rocky sides of the shaft past them and into the sunny air.
"Ugh!" growled Josh, "who knows what gashly creatures lives down there. P'r'aps its harnted with them as tumbled down and was killed."
"Don't talk nonsense, Josh," said Will, in a voice full of contempt; "I never heard of anybody falling down here."
"Looks as if lots had. Ugh! I wouldn't go down for the price of a new boat and all her gear."
"If everybody felt like you do, Josh, what should we have done for tin and copper?"
"I d'now," growled Josh. "Why can't you leave it alone and 'tend to the fishing. Arn't catching pilchar' and mack'rel good 'nough for you? Yah! I shall never make nothing of you."
"No, Josh; catching pilchard and mackerel is not good enough for me."
"Then why not get aboard the smack and larn to trawl for sole and turbot? There arn't no better paying fishing than that, so long as you don't get among the rocks."
"No, Josh; nor trawling won't do," said Will, who ashore seemed to take the lead that he yielded to his companion and old Michael Polree on board the lugger. "I want to make my way in the world, and do you hear, I will."
He said the last word so emphatically that the fisherman stared, and then said in an ill-used tone:
"Then why don't you try in a reasonable way, and get to be master of a lugger? and if that arn't enough for you, have your share o' nets in another; not come poking about these gashly holes. What's the good?"
"Good!" cried Will, with his eyes flashing. "Hasn't a fortune been got out of Gwavas mine year after year till the water began to pour in?"
"Oh, yes! out o' that."
"And I'm sure one might be got out of this," cried Will, pointing down into the black void.
"What, out o' this gashly pit? Yah! Why didn't the captain and 'venturers get it, then, when they dug it fifty year 'fore I was born?"
"Because they missed the vein."
"And how are you going to find it, lad?"
"By looking," said Will. "There's Retack Mine over yonder, and Carn Rean over there, and they're both rich; and I think the old people who dug down here went too far, and missed what they ought to have found."
"And so you're going to find it, are you, my lad?"
"I don't know," said Will quietly; "but I'm going to try."
As he said those last words he set his teeth and knit his brow, looking so calmly determined that Josh picked up a little bit of granite, turned it over in his fingers a few times as if finding a suitable part, and then began to rub his nose with it softly.
"Well, you do cap me, lad, you do," he said at last. "Look ye here, now," he cried, as if about to deliver a poser, and he seated himself on the rock and crossed his legs, "you don't expect to find coal, do you?"
"No," said Will, "there is no coal in Cornwall."
"Nor yet gold and silver?"
"No: not much."
"Then it's tin you're after, and it won't pay for getting."
"You are wrong, Josh," said the lad smiling.
"Yah! Now is it likely?"
"Yes," said Will. "Come here."
Josh rose reluctantly, and the lad began to descend again, climbing quickly down the old mine debris till they reached the shore, and then walking a dozen yards or so he climbed in and out among the great masses of rock to where there was a deep crevice or chink just large enough for a full-grown man to force himself through to where the light came down from above.
"What's the good o' coming into a gashly place like this?" growled Josh, whose breast-bone and elbows had been a little rubbed.
"I wanted to show you that," said Will, pointing to a little crack through which a thread of water made its way running over a few inches of rock, and then disappearing amongst the shingly stones.
"Well, I can see it, can't I?"
"Yes; but don't you see that the rock where that, water runs is all covered with a fine green powder?"
"Yes, it's sea-weed," said Josh contemptuously.
"No; it's copper," cried Will excitedly; "that's a salt of copper dissolved in the water that comes out there, and some of it is deposited on the stones."
"Yah! nonsense, lad! That arn't copper. Think I don't know copper when I see it? That arn't copper."
"I tell you it is," said Will; "and it proves that there's copper in the rock about that old mine if anybody could find it; and the man who discovers it will make his way in the world."
"You do cap me, you do indeed, lad. I shall never make anything of you. Well, and do you mean to go down that gashly hole."
"I do; and you are going to manage the rope!"
"And s'pose you falls in and gets drowned, what am I to say to your uncle?"
"I'm not going to fall in, and I'm not going to be drowned," said Will quietly. "I'm going to try and find that copper; so now come along."
There was not a nice suitable piece of stone for Josh to use in polishing his nose, so he contented himself with a rub of the back of his hand before squeezing himself through the narrow passage between the masses of rock, and following his companion to the ledge where the old adventurers had spent their capital in sinking the shaft, and had given up at last, perhaps on the very eve of success.
"It's all gashly nonsense," cried Josh as they reached the mouth of the shaft once more; "if there'd been copper worth finding, don't you think those did chaps would have found it?"
"They might or they might not," said Will quietly; "we're going to see."
He went to another crevice in the face of the cliff and drew out a good-sized iron bar shaped like a marlinspike but about double the size, and throwing it down with a clang upon the rock he startled a cormorant from the ledge above their heads, and the great swarthy bird flew out to sea.
"Lay out that line, Josh," said Will, who, after a little selection of a spot, took up the bar and began to make a hole between two huge blocks of granite, working it to and fro so as to bury it firmly half its length.
The crevice between the stones helped him in this; and he soon had it in and wedged tightly with a few sharp fragments that had been dug from the shaft.
"Going to fasten one end o' the line to that?" sang Josh.
"What's the good? I could hold it right enough with a couple such as you on the end."
"But I want the rope to be round that, Josh, and for you to lower me down or haul me up as I give signals."
"Oh yes!" growled Josh; "only we might as well have had a block and fall."
"If we had brought a block and fall up, Josh, it would have been like telling all Peter Churchtown what we were going to do; and you're the only man I want to know anything about it till I've found the copper lode."
"Ho!" ejaculated Josh, rubbing his nose meditatively with the line. "How much is there here—five-and-thirty fathom?"
"Thirty," said Will, smiling, as his companion passed the cord through his hands with the skilful ease of a seaman. "Will it bear me?"
"Two of you," said Josh gruffly.
"Well, I'm going to trust you to take care of me, Josh," said Will, taking a box of matches from his pocket, and lighting a piece of candle, which he stuck upon one of those little points known as a save-all, and then, bending down, he thrust it into a square niche about a foot below the surface of the mine-shaft—one of several carefully chiselled-out holes evidently intended for the woodwork of a platform.
"Oh! I'll take care of you."
"Lower me down quite slowly, and stop whenever I shout. You're sure you can haul me up?"
"Ha, ha! haw, haw!" laughed Josh. "Can I haul you? What do you take me for—a babby?"
As he spoke he caught the lad by the waistband with one hand, lifted him from the ground, and stiffening his muscles held him out at arm's-length for a few seconds before setting him down.
"That will do, Josh," said Will quietly; and taking the end of the line he made a good-sized loop, round part of which he twisted a piece of sailcloth to make it thicker; then stepping through the loop as though it had been one prepared for an ordinary swing, he turned to Josh:
"Ay, ay!" was the laconic answer as the fisherman passed the line over the round iron bar, which seemed perfectly safe, took a good grip of the rope, and then stood looking at his young companion.
"I tried to stop you when you wanted to dive down," he said, "and I s'pose I ought to try and stop you now. It looks a gashly sort of a hole. S'pose I was to let go?"
"But you would not, Josh," said Will confidently, as he lowered himself slowly over the edge as calmly as if only about to descend a few feet, with perfect safety in the shape of solid earth beneath him, though, as he moved, he set free a little avalanche of fragments of granite, that seemed to go down into the shaft with a hiss, which was succeeded by the strange echoing splashes—weird whispers of splashes—as they reached, the water below.
It would have daunted many a strong man; but so intent was the lad upon his task that he paid no heed to the sounds, and directly after, taking the candle from its niche, he began to scan the walls of the shaft.
"Lower away, Josh, steadily and slowly," he said, as his head disappeared from the fisherman's sight. "I'll shout to you when I want to stop."
The face of the fisherman seemed to undergo a change as his companion passed out of his sight—from looking stolid and soured it suddenly became animated and full of excitement; the perspiration stood out upon it in a heavy dew, and muttering to himself, "I sha'n't let him go down far," he slowly lowered away.
For the first few yards of his descent Will could easily scrutinise the walls of the carefully-cut square hole by the light of clay, the flame of his candle looking pale and feeble; but as he sank lower, swinging to and fro with a pendulum-like motion, which now took him to one side of the shaft, now to the other, so that it needed little effort on his part to be able to carefully examine fully half of the cutting, the light from the candle grew more clear and bright, and he thrust it here and there wherever there was a glitter in the time-darkened stone.
Lower and lower, with now his elbow chafing against the rough wall, now his boots, but nothing to reward his search. There was a bright glitter here, but it was only the large flakes of mica in the stone. Lower down there was a sign of ore—of little black granules bedded in deep-red stone, and before this he paused for a minute, for he knew that there was here a vein of tin; but as far as he could tell it looked poor, and not so good as some that miners had told him hardly paid for crushing.
"All right, Josh; lower away!" he cried; and his words went echoing up to where the fisherman slowly allowed the strong line to glide through his hands.
Some twenty feet lower Will shouted to his companion to halt, for there was a broad band of glittering-yellow metallic stone crossing the shaft-wall diagonally.
The lad's heart beat wildly for a few moments, but he calmed down as he felt that had this been of any value the old adventurers would not have passed it by.
"Only mundic," he said, as he inspected it more closely. "Lower away, Josh!" and the band of sulphuret of iron was left behind.
Lower and lower, with the top of the shaft looking a comparatively small square hole, and as the lad glanced up at it for a moment the first symptom of fear that he had felt attacked him. For as he saw how frail was the cord by which he hung, and realised that he was depending entirely upon his companion's strength of arm, his brain swam, his eyes closed, and he clung tightly with both hands to the rope.
The attack passed off directly.
"Josh thinks I'm a coward," he muttered, "and I suppose I am; but I won't show it;" and shouting a cheery order to the fisherman to lower away, the lad descended farther and farther, with the right of his candle flashing now from the walls, which were wet and shining with the oozings of the surrounding rock. This moisture had gone on coating the walls in patches for many a long year, so that in these places it was impossible without scraping for the keenest of eyes to detect even the composition of the stones, and with a sigh of dissatisfaction the searcher shouted to Josh to lower away.
"Here, you've gone down far enough," cried Josh. "I'm going to haul you up now."
"No, no!" shouted Will, the excitement of being in antagonism with his helpmate driving away the last particle of nervousness. "Lower away!"
Josh hesitated for a moment, and made a movement as if to rub his nose, but his hands were engaged, and he got over the difficulty by bending down his head and applying the itching organ to the rope, after which he shook his head fiercely, but went on lowering.
"He's getting too much for me a gashly sight, this boy," he growled.
There was ample line to lower Will right down to the surface of the water, though he was unaware of the fact, as he swung gently to and fro, eagerly scanning every clear space of the rock through which the shaft had been cut; and where the wall was dry, in spite of the time that had elapsed since the work was done the marks of the miners' picks and hammers were as clear as if the blows had fallen only a few months before. As the lad looked, too, he could, in his own disappointment, realise how great must have been that of the adventurers whose capital was being expended day after day cutting on and finding nothing but grey, hard granite, with here and there bands of ruddy stone suggestive of the presence of tin, but in such minute quantities that it would not pay for the labour of lifting out and crushing the stone.
Granite, granite, nothing but granite; and now the rope seemed to cut harshly into his legs, and a curious aching sensation set in, half numbing the arm that clung to the rope, for the lad had been so deeply interested in his search that he had not once altered his position.
"Look out, Josh!" he said, "I'm going to change hands."
"Here, I'm a-going to haul you up now," replied Josh, the great shaft acting like a speaking-tube, so that conversation was easy enough.
"Not yet," shouted back Will; and as the rope seemed to glide down he changed his position a little, taking the candle in the numbed hand, a fresh grip with his right, and altering his seat so that the line did not cut so harshly.
As he did so another slight touch of nervousness came over him; and in spite of himself he began to glance at the knot he had made in the rope, and then at the candle to see how much longer it would last, to find that it was half burned down and that the length of time it would keep burning must guide his descent. He was a little disheartened too, for it had not entered much into his calculations that clever men must have well examined that shaft when it was being cut, and that they would have made the discovery if it was to be made.
In fact, the idea had come to him when climbing up the cliff in search of sea-birds' eggs. He had reached this shelf and found the forgotten mine, and to him it had seemed like the entrance to a matter-of-fact, everyday-life Aladdin's cave, where, after a little search, he was going to hit upon a vein of copper and become an independent man. And now that he was making his first bold venture into the region where the precious metal was to be found, all was darkness, nothing but stone walls, now wet and slimy, now cold, and hard, and grey.
"Here, now you are coming up," shouted Josh; and the descent was once more checked.
"No, no. Just a few more fathoms, Josh," shouted back Will. "The candle's nearly done."
There was a grumbling response, and the descent continued once more, till, as he swung to and fro, the lad gave his feet a thrust against the wall, turned right round, and then uttered an eager ejaculation:
"Stop, Josh!" he said, and then, "Hold fast!"
"Right!" came from above; and as Will found himself opposite to an opening in the wall he swung himself backwards and forwards two or three times, till, gaining sufficient impetus, he could have landed right in a low arch, evidently the mouth of a gallery following a lode.
"Half a fathom lower, Josh," shouted Will; and the rope ran down a trifle here, and then, swinging himself to and fro again, he finally gave himself a good urge through the air and his feet rested on the rough floor.
He turned cold, and the wet dew of horror stood upon his face as he grasped at the rough wall, sending the candle flying forwards to lie burning sidewise upon the stones, for the rebound of the rope as it struck the crown of the arch nearly dragged him back just as he had released his hold.
It was a narrow escape, but forgotten directly in the excitement of his discovery; and freeing himself from the rope he picked up the candle carefully, to find that he had only about an inch left, and perhaps a mile of galleries to explore.
"There must be abundance of metal here," he said aloud, as he held the candle above his head and gazed before him. "I shall be the discoverer and—"
"Here, hoy! Will Marion! ahoy!" shouted Josh, who was kneeling down at the edge of the shaft, his face drawn with horror and strangely mottled, as he stared down into the pit. For, without warning, Will had freed himself from the rope, the tension upon which was gone; and as Josh drew a few feet up, and let the line run down again, his eyes seemed starting from his head, and he listened for the awful splash he expected to hear.
He listened for quite a minute, and then rousing himself from his half cataleptic state, he uttered a stentorian hail.
"Right, Josh, right!" shouted Will. "I've found it at last."
"He's found it at last!" growled Josh, wiping his wet brow. "Why, he must have got to the bottom then. Are you all right?"
"All right!" came back faintly; and Josh gave his hands a rub, his arms a stretch, and then leaving the rope, he seated himself on the stones, thrust his hands into his pockets, and out of one he drew forth a heavy clasp-knife, from the other a steel tobacco-box, which he opened, took out some roll tobacco, and proceeded to cut himself off a piece to chew.
As he was thus occupied a strange, sharp, rustling noise fell upon his ear, and then stopped.
He listened, and looked round, but saw nothing.
"Can't be snakes up here!" he muttered, and then he became all alert once more, for there was a noise from below, as of a small stone having fallen.
"What's he doing of now?" growled Josh. "Here, I wish I hadn't come. Eh! What!"
Just at the same time, after carefully groping his way for a very short distance along the gallery, Will was warned by his expiring candle to return to the mouth, which he reached just in time to hear a curious whistling sound and then a long-drawn splash.
"What's that?" he exclaimed, and then his blood ran cold as, in a hoarse voice that he hardly knew as his own, he shouted up the shaft:
"Josh, Josh! The rope!"
It was in a frantic hope that his idea was wrong, and that it was not the rope which he had heard whish through the air, and then fall below.
Just then the candle wick toppled over on one side in a little pool of molten composition, sputtered for an instant, sent up a blue flash or two, and went out.
WILL FINDS HIMSELF IN A PAINFUL POSITION.
It was a position perilous enough to alarm the stoutest-hearted man, and awkward enough without the danger to puzzle any schemer, and for a few minutes the lad stood with one hand resting on the rock, and the cold perspiration gathering on his forehead, trying to think what he had better do.
As he stood, there was a low whispering noise that came up the shaft—a noise that puzzled him as to what it could be, for he did not realise that the water down below had, when set in motion by the fall of the rope, kept on lapping at the side, and that this lapping sound echoed and repeated itself strangely from the shaft-walls.
"Say, my lad—below there!" came now from above.
"Ahoy!" answered Will, the call acting like an electric shock and bringing him to himself.
"Where are you?" shouted Josh.
"Here, in a gallery of the old mine," replied Will.
"That's right!" came back. "I thought perhaps you had fallen."
"No, I'm all right," cried Will through the great granite speaking-tube; and then he listened for some words of comfort from his companion.
"Below!" shouted Josh again.
"Say, my lad, the rope's gone down."
"Yes, I know."
"Well, what's to be done?" cried Josh.
Will turned cold. He had expected to get a few words of comfort from his companion, and to hear that he was about to propose some plan for his rescue, and all he seemed ready to do was to ask for advice.
"How came you to let the rope go?" cried Will, forcing himself into an angry fit so as to keep from feeling alarmed at his position.
"Dunno! It kind o' went all of itself like," Josh shouted back. "What's to be done? Can't jump down into the water and swim out by the adit, can you?"
"No," cried Will angrily. "Here, go back and get a rope."
"Where?" shouted back Josh. "I say, I knowed you'd be getting into some mess or another going down there."
Will was equable enough in temper, but a remark like this from the man he had trusted with his life made him grind his teeth in a fit of anger, and wish he were beside Josh for a moment, to give him a bit of his mind.
"Go up to any of the fishermen, never mind where, and borrow a line."
"Don't make any fuss; don't alarm anybody. I don't want them to know at home."
"But suppose we never get you out again?" shouted Josh, in a tone of voice that startled a shag which was about to settle on a shelf of rock hard by, and sent it hurrying away to sea.
Will stamped his foot at this, and mentally vowed that he would never trust Josh again.
"Go and borrow a line," he cried, "and look sharp. I don't want any one to know."
"All right!" cried Josh; and directly after Will knew that he was alone.
The place was not absolutely dark, for he could plainly make out the edge of the gallery, seen as it were against a faint twilight that came from above; and this was sufficient to guide him as to how far he dare go towards the shaft if he wished to move.
For the first few minutes, though, he felt no disposition that way, and seating himself on the stony floor, with hundreds of loose fragments of granite beneath him, he tried to be calm and cool, and to come to a conclusion as to how he should escape.
If Josh came back soon with a rope it would be easy enough; and possibly they might be able to rig up a grappling-iron or "creeper," as the fishermen called it, for the line that was lost; but a little consideration told him that in all probability the line had sunk before now and was right at the bottom of the shaft.
Then he wondered how long Josh would be, and whether he would have much difficulty in borrowing a rope.
If Josh said at once what was the matter, there would be a crowd up at the head of the shaft directly with a score of lines; but he did not wish for that. Even in his awkward, if not perilous, position he did not want the village to be aware of his investigations. He had been carrying them on in secret for some time, and he hoped when they were made known to have something worth talking about.
How long Josh seemed, and how dark it was! Perhaps he was being asked for at home, and he would be in disgrace.
That was not likely, though. He had chosen his time too well.
"I wonder how far it is down to the water?" he said at last; and feeling about, his hand came in contact with a large thin piece of stone, as big as an ordinary tile.
He hesitated for a moment or two, and then threw it from him with such force that it struck the far side of the shaft and sent up a series of echoes before, from far below, there came a dull sullen plash, with a succession of whishing, lapping sounds, such as might have been given out if some monster had come to the top and were swimming round, disappointed by what had fallen not being food.
"It's all nonsense!" said Will. "I don't believe any fish or eel would be living in an old shaft."
Some of the mining people were in the habit of saying that each water-filled pit, deep, mysterious, and dark, held strange creatures, of what kind no one knew, for individually they had never seen anything; but "some one" had told them that there were such creatures, and "some one else" had been "some one's" authority: for the lower orders of Cornish folk, with all their honest simplicity and religious feeling, are exceedingly superstitious, and much given to a belief in old women's tales.
A CASE OF LOST NERVE, AND THE HELP THAT CAME.
It must have been quite an hour of painful waiting before Josh's voice was heard from above.
Will had been sitting there in the dark passage listening to every noise, though scarcely anything met his ear but the incessant drip and trickle of the water that oozed from the shaft sides, when all at once there was a faint sound from above, and his heart leapt with excitement.
Was it Josh at last?
"Bellow—er!" came down the shaft.
"Ahoy!" shouted back Will. "Got a rope?"
"Ay, lad; I've got un, a strong noo un as'll hold us both, a good thirty fathom!"
"Make it fast to the iron bar, Josh!" cried Will, whose hands now felt hot with excitement.
"Ay, I won't lose this gashly thing!" cried Josh, whose words came down the shaft-hole wonderfully distinctly, as if a giant were whispering near the lad's ear.
Will listened, and fancied he could hear his companion knotting the end of the rope and fastening it round the iron bar; but he could not be sure, and he waited as patiently as he could, but with a curious sensation of dread coming over him. He had felt courageous enough when he came down, indifferent, or thoughtless perhaps, as to the danger; but this accident with the rope had, though he did not realise it, shaken his confidence in Josh; and in addition, the long waiting in that horrible hole had unnerved him more than he knew, full proof of which he had ere long.
"There, she's fast enough now," came down the great granite speaking-tube. "I'm going to send the line down, lad. She's a gashly stiff un, but she was the best I could get. Make a good knot and hitch in her, and sit in it; I'll soon have you up."
"All right!" shouted Will; but his voice sounded a little hoarse, and his hands grew moister than before.
"Below there! down she comes!" said Josh; and, taking the ring of new hempen rope, freshly stained with cutch to tan it and make it water-resisting, he planted one foot upon the loop he had secured over the iron bar, and threw the coil down into the pit, so that the weight might tighten out the stiff hemp, uncoil the rings, and make it hang straight.
The rope fell with a curious whistling crackling noise, tightening against the fisherman's foot; and the knot would have jumped off but for his precaution. Then it stopped with a jerk, and Josh shouted again:
"There you are, lad! See her?"
"Ye-es," came up faintly.
"Well; lay hold and make her fast round you. Hold hard a minute till I've hauled up a fathom or two."
He stooped down, keeping his foot on the bar the while, took hold of the rope, and hauled it up a little way.
"There you are, my lad; and now look sharp. I want you out of this unked place."
There was no answer, and Josh waited listening.
"Haven't you got her?" he shouted.
"No; I can't reach. I'm on the other side," came up.
"Oh, I see!" said Josh; and stooping down so as to keep the rope tight to the iron bar, he crept round to the opposite side of the shaft-hole, and held the rope close to the edge.
"There you are, lad," he said. "Got her?"
"Have you got her?"
"N-no! I can't reach."
Josh Helston uttered a low whistle, and the skin of his forehead was full of wrinkles and puckers.
"Look out, then!" he shouted; "I'll make her sway. Look out and catch her as she comes to you."
He altered his position and began swinging the rope to and fro, so that as he looked down the void he could see that it struck first one side and then the other of the rocky hole; but there was no sudden tug from below, and he snouted down again:
"Haven't you got her, lad?"
"N-no," came up hoarsely; "I can't reach."
Josh Helston wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and uttered the low whistle once again.
Then an idea struck him.
"Wait a bit, lad," he cried; "I'll make her come."
He began to haul the rope up again rapidly, fathom after fathom, till it began to come up wet; and soon after there was the end, which he took, and after looking round for a suitable piece he pounced upon a squarish piece of granite, which he secured to the rope by an ingenious hitch or two, such as are used by fishermen to make fast a killick—the name they give to the stone they use for anchoring a lobster-pot, or the end of a fishing-line in the sea.
This done he began to lower it rapidly down.
"Here's a stone!" he shouted; "say when she's level with where you are."
There was no answer, but there was the harsh grating noise made by the descending stone as it kept chipping up against the granite wall; and Will sat about two yards from the mouth of the gallery, dripping with cold perspiration, clinging almost convulsively to the rough wall against which he leaned, and waiting for the stone to be swung so low that Josh could give it a regular pendulum motion, and pretty well land it in the gallery.
It seemed darker than ever, and to Will it was as if some horrible sensation of dread was creeping up his limbs to his brain, unnerving him more and more. For he had been already somewhat unnerved, and, in a manner quite different to his usual habit, he had stepped quite close to the mouth of his prison, felt about with his left hand till he found a niche, into which he could partly insert his fingers. Then, leaning forward, he was able to get his head clear, turn it, and glance upwards towards the light.
It was so risky a thing to do that he shrank back directly with a shudder, and closed his eyes for a moment or two, seeming to realise for the first time the terrible danger of his venture.
He collected himself a little, though, and waited, seeing the rope at last very faintly, after hearing its descent and splash in the water at the bottom.
But though he could see it, as he said it was beyond his reach.
Then it seemed to disappear, and come into sight again like a dark thread or the shadow of a cord. Now it seemed near, now afar off, and after waiting a few moments he made a snatch at it. As he did so he felt the fingers of his left hand gliding from the wet slippery niche into which he had driven them, and but for a violent spasmodic jerk of his body he would have been plunged headlong down to the bottom of the shaft.
Shivering like one in an ague he half threw himself upon the rock, and crept back from the entrance to the gallery, hardly able to answer the demands of his companion at the mouth above.
He forced himself, though, to answer, fighting all the time with the nervous dread that was growing upon him; and at last he knew, though he could hardly see it, that the great stone was being swung to and fro.
"Now, lad, can't you get it?" cried Josh; and once more the hoarse reply "No," came up to him.
"Try now!" cried Josh; and the stone was agitated more and more, striking the sides of the shaft, sometimes swinging into the gallery a foot as it seemed, but Will was as if in a nightmare—he could not stir.
"Are you trying?" came down the shaft now in quite a sharp tone, to echo strangely from the sides.
"No," said Will faintly; and just then the stone struck against the opposite wall, the rope hung loose, and at the end of a moment or two there was once more the hollow sullen splash in the water at the bottom.
"Here! hullo there!" cried Josh; "what's up with you, lad?"
"I—I don't know!" cried Will hoarsely. "I shall be better soon."
"Better!" shouted Josh. "What! aren't you all right?"
Will did not answer, but sat there chained, as it were, to his place.
Josh let fall the rope and stood upright, giving vent to a loud expiration of the breath, and then wiping the perspiration from his face.
He was thinking, and when Josh thought he closed his eyes tightly, as if he could think better in the dark. He was not quick of imagination, but when he had caught at an idea he was ready to act upon it.
The idea came pretty quickly now, and opening his eyes he looked sharply round, picked up a great stone, and drove the iron bar a little more tightly into the crevice of the rock.
Then he threw down the stone, stooped and tried the bar to find it perfectly fast, and once more stopped to think.
An idea came again, and he pulled off his black silk neckerchief, a very old weather-beaten affair, but tolerably strong, and kneeling down he bound it firmly round the bar above the rope, passing it through the loop at last, and knotting it securely below, so that the rope should not be likely to slip off the smooth iron.
This done, Josh stood upright once more, gazing down into the black shaft.
"Phew!" he said, with a fresh expiration of the breath; "it's a gashly unked place, and the more you look the unkeder it gets, so here goes."
He went down on his hands and knees, took hold of the iron bar with one hand, then with the other, and shuffled his legs over the shaft, an act of daring ten times greater than that of Will, for he had no friend to leave who had strength of arm to drag him up.
He held on by both hands for a few moments, then by one, as he took fast hold of the rope with, his short deformed hand, and twisted one leg in the rope, pressing his foot against it to have an additional hold; and then, without the slightest hesitation he loosed his grasp of the iron bar, placed the free hand above the other, and began to slide slowly down.
If Josh Helston felt nervous he did not show it, but slid gently down, his hands being too horny from constant handling of ropes to be injured by the friction; neither did the task on hand seem difficult, as he went down and down, swaying more and more as the length of rope between him and the iron bar increased, and gradually beginning to turn as the hard rope showed a disposition to unwind.
"He said she were strong enough to bear anything," he muttered; "and I hope she be, for p'r'aps she'll have to carry two."
How this was to happen did not seem very clear; but the idea was in Josh Helston's not over clear head that it might be so, and the fact was that it took all his powers of brain to originate the idea of going down to help his companion—he had not got so far as the question of how they were to get out. Even if he had thought of it, there was the rope, and he would have said, "If you can climb down you can climb up."
Down lower and lower, with the water dripping upon him here, spurting out from between two blocks of granite there; but Josh's mind was fixed upon one thing only, and that was to reach the spot where Will was waiting to be helped.
For some distance he descended in silence. Then he began to shout:
"Coming down," he said. "Look out!"
Will started and stared towards the mouth of the gallery, but he did not answer. He could not utter a word.
"Coming down!" shouted Josh again at the end of a few seconds. "Where are you, lad?"
There was no response for a few moments, and then, hoarse and strange from many feet below, came up the word:
"Right!" shouted back Josh quietly enough; "and that's where I'll be soon. I wish I had one o' the boat's lanterns here all the same."
The rope slipped slowly through his hands, checked as it was by the twist round his right leg, and he dropped lower and lower, turning gently round the while.
"Now, then! Where?" he shouted again.
"Here!" was the answer from close below now; and Josh took one look upwards, to see that the square mouth of the shaft seemed very small.
"I'm 'bout with you now, my lad," he said as he still glided down. "Now, where are you?"
"Here!" came from below him: and he tightened his grasp, while the rope slowly turned till his face was opposite to the mouth of the shaft.
"Right, lad!" he cried, striking his feet against the side of the shaft. "I can't see very well," he added as he swung to and fro more and more, "but I'm 'bout doing it, ain't I?"
"Yes—I think so," faltered Will. "Take care."
"Sha'n't let go o' the rope, lad," said Josh, striking his feet again on the shaft-wall, and giving himself such impetus that they rested, as he swung across, on the floor of the gallery, into which he was projected a foot; but the rope, of course, caught on the roof of the place, and he was jerked back and swept over to the opposite wall.
The next time he approached the gallery backwards, and his feet barely touched; but he swung round again, gave himself a fresh impetus, shot himself forward, and as he entered the opening he let the rope slide through his hands for a few feet, the result being that when he tightened his grasp he was landed safely, and he drew a long breath.
"Where are you?" he said sharply as he drew up more of the rope; and, making a running loop, passed it over his head and round his waist, so as there should be no danger of its getting free.
"Here!" cried Will, whose nerve seemed to return now that he had a companion in his perilous position; and, starting up, he caught the rough fisherman tightly by the arm.
"I SAY, MY LAD, WHAT'S GOING TO BE DONE?"
"Why, what's the matter with you?" cried Josh angrily.
"I don't know. Nothing," replied Will. "I could not reach the rope."
"Ah! well, you've got it now," said Josh gruffly; "and the sooner we get out of this the better."
"Get out of it?" said Will hoarsely.
"Get out of it! To be sure. You didn't mean to come here to live, did you?"
"No," said Will, "but—"
He paused, for his nervous feeling was returning, and shame kept him from saying that he was afraid.
He might have spoken out frankly, though, for Josh Helston, blunt of perception as he was over many things, saw through him now, and in a gruff voice he said:
"Well, if anybody had told me that you could have got yourself skeered like this, Master Will, I should have told him he was a fool. But there, you couldn't help it, I s'pose. It was that diving as upset you, lad."
"Yes, yes; perhaps it was," cried Will, eagerly grasping at the excuse. "I'm not myself, Josh, just now."
Josh began to whistle a dreary old minor tune as they stood there in the dark, to the accompaniment of the dripping water, and for some few minutes no word was spoken.
"Hadn't we better get back?" said Josh at last.
"But how?" said Will despairingly.
"Rope," replied Josh laconically. "Swarm up!"
Will laid his hand upon the slight cord his companion had knotted round his waist.
"I could not climb up that," he said, "at any time. It's impossible now."
Josh whistled again and remained silent.
"Well, it is gashly thin to swarm up," he said. "I never thought of that till now."
"You did not think of getting back?" cried Will.
Josh rubbed the side of his nose with a bit of the rope.
"Well, no," he said slowly; "can't say as I did, lad. Seemed to me as you was in trouble, and I'd better come to you, and so I come."
"Josh!" cried the lad.
"Yes, my son. Well, what's going to be done? We can't stop down here. We shall be wanted aboard, and there ain't a bit o' anything to eat."
"Do you think when we are missed that they will come and look for us?"
"Well," said Josh slowly, "they might or they mightn't; but if they did they wouldn't find us."
"I don't know," said Will thoughtfully.
"Well, I think I do, lad," said Josh, after another scrub at his nose. "I don't s'pose anybody in Peter Churchtown knows that this gashly old hole is here, and it ain't likely they'd come up here to look for us."
"But they would hunt for us surely, Josh."
"Dunno. When they missed us they'd say we'd took a boat and gone out somewheres to fish, and happened on something—upset or took out to sea by the current."
"Yes," said Will thoughtfully.
"Seems to me, lad, as it's something like a lobster-pot—easy enough to get in, and no way out."
"Shall we shout for help?"
"You can if you like," said Josh quietly. "I sha'n't. It makes your throat sore, and don't do no good."
"Don't be cross with me, Josh," cried Will excitedly.
"Oh! I arn't cross with you, lad; I'm cross with myself. It's allus my way: I never did have no head. Think o' me walking straight into a corner like this, and no way hardly out. Well, anyhow, it's being mate-like to you, my lad, and it won't be so dull."
"But, Josh, you could climb out and go for help."
"Why, of course I could," he replied. "I never thought of that."
"Then go at once. Bring a couple of men; and then if you left me the rope you could haul me up."
"Why I could haul you up myself, couldn't I? and then nobody need know anything about it. Here goes."
Will could not help a shudder as his companion proceeded to haul up the portion of the rope that hung down in the shaft, coiling it in rings in the gallery till it was all there.
"Now, then, you mind as that don't fall while I go up again," said Josh. "I wish it warn't so gashly dark."
As he spoke he untied the loop from about his waist and drew the rope tight from above.
"Just like me," he grumbled. "If I'd had any head I should have made knots all down the rope, and then it would have been easy to climb; but here goes; and mind when I'm up you make a good hitch and sit in it, I'll soon have you up."
"Yes, I see," said Will, who was fighting hard against the nervous dread that began once more to assail him; "pray take care."
"Take care! why, of course I shall. Don't catch me letting go of the rope in a place like this. Here goes!"
He reached up as high as he could, holding the rope firmly, and then swung himself out of the gallery over the black void, becoming visible to Will as the faint light from above fell upon his upturned face. Then with legs twined round the rope, Josh began to draw himself up a little bit at a time, the work being evidently very laborious, while Will held the rope and saw him disappear as he ascended beyond the gallery; but the rope the lad held was like an electric communication, the efforts of the climber being felt through the strong fibres as he went up and up.
Then there was a pause, and as Josh rested it was evident that he could not keep himself quite stationary, but slipped a few inches at a time.
Then he started once more, and as the cord jerked and swung, the loud expirations of the climber's breath kept coming down to where, with moist palms and dewy forehead, Will listened.
How high was he now? How much farther had he got by this? Josh's arms were like iron, and the strength in that deformed wrist and hand was tremendous.
Up he went; Will could feel it; and he longed to gaze up and see how he progressed; but somehow that horrible shrinking sensation came over him, and he could only wait.
How long it seemed, and how the rope jerked! Was it quite strong enough? Suppose Josh were to fall headlong into the black water below!
Will shuddered, and tried to keep all these coward fancies out of his mind; but they would come as he stood listening and holding the rope just tight enough to feel the action of his friend.
What a tremendous effort it seemed; and how long he was! Surely he must be at the top by now.
"Nearly up, Josh?" he shouted.
"Up! No: not half-ways," replied the fisherman. "She's too thin, and as wet as wet. I can't get a hold."
Will's heart sank, for he felt that there was failure in his companion's words; and with parched lips and dry throat he listened to the climber's pantings and gaspings as he toiled on, paused, climbed again, and then there was a strange hissing noise that made Will hold his breath. The rope, too, was curiously agitated, not in a series of jerks, but in a continuous vibrating manner, and before Will could realise what it all meant Josh was level with the gallery once more, swinging to and fro in the faint light.
"Haul away, young un, and let's come in," he panted; and somehow he managed to scramble in as Will held the rope taut.
"It ain't to be done," said Josh, sitting down and panting like a dog. "If it were a cable I could go up it like a fly, but that there rope runs through your legs and you can't get no stay."
"How far did you get, Josh?" whispered Will.
"Not above half-ways," grumbled Josh, "and I might have gone on trying; but it was no good, I couldn't have reached. I say, my lad, what's going to be done?"
HOW WILL WOULD NOT PROMISE NOT TO DO THE "GASHLY" THING AGAIN.
It seemed that all they could do was to sit and think of there being any likelihood of their being found, and Will asked at last whether anyone knew where Josh was about to take the new rope.
"Nobody," he said gruffly. "I knowed you didn't want it known, so I held my tongue."
"But who lent you the rope, Josh?"
"Nobody. Folk won't lend noo ropes to a fellow without knowing what they're going to do with 'em. I bought it."
"You bought it, Josh—with your own money?"
"Ain't got anybody else's money, have I?" growled Josh. "Here, I know. What stoopids we are!"
"You know what?" cried Will.
"Why, how to get out o' this here squabble."
"Can you—find a way along this gallery, Josh?" said Will eagerly.
"Not likely; but we can get down to the water and go along the adit."
"Adit!" said Will; "is there one?"
"Sure to be, else the water would be up here ever so high. They didn't bring all the earth and stones and water up past here, I know, when they could get rid of 'em by cutting an adit to the shore."
Will caught the fisherman's arm in his hands. "I—I never saw it," he cried.
"Well, what o' that? Pr'aps it's half hid among the stones. I dunno: but there allus is one where they make a shaft along on the cliff."
"But what will you do?"
"Do, lad? Why, go down and see—or I s'pose I must feel; it'll be so dark."
As Josh spoke he rose and got hold of the rope once more.
"No, no!" panted Will. "It is too dangerous, Josh, I can't let you go."
"I say, don't be stoopid, lad. We can't stop here; you know. Nobody won't bring us cake and loaves o' bread and pilchard and tea, will they?"
"Look here, lad, it's easy enough going down, ain't it?"
"Yes, yes," cried Will; "but suppose there is no adit; suppose there is no way out to the shore: how will you get back?"
"There I am again," growled Josh in an ill-used tone. "I never thought of that. I've got a good big head, but it never seems to hold enough to make me think like other men."
"You could not climb up to the mouth, so how could you climb up again here?"
Josh remained silent for a few minutes, and then he gave a stamp with his foot.
"Why," he cried, "you're never so much more clever than me. Why didn't you think o' this here?"
"What? What are you going to do, Josh?"
"Do, lad!" he cried, suiting the action to the word by running the rope through his hands sailor-fashion till he got hold of the end; "why, I'm going to make a knot every half fathom as nigh as I can guess it, and then it'll be easy enough to climb up or down."
Will breathed more freely, and stood listening to his companion's work, for it was a task for only one.
"There you are," cried Josh at the end of a few minutes' knotting. "Now, then, who'll go down first—you or me?"
"I will," said Will. "I'm better now."
"Glad to hear it, lad; but you ain't going first into that gashly hole while I'm here. Stand aside."
Catching hold of the rope again he gradually tightened it to feel whether it was all right and had not left its place over the iron bar; and then, swinging himself off, he descended quickly about fifty feet till Will could hear his feet splash into the water, and then he shouted:
"Is there an adit, Josh?"
"Dunno yet, but there's a big stick o' wood floating here as someone's pitched down, and our old rope's lying across it. I shall make it fast to the end here before I go any farther."
A good deal of splashing ensued, and then as Will listened it seemed to him that his companion must have lowered himself partly into the adit, for the rope swung to and fro. Then his heart leaped, for Josh sang out cheerily:
"All right, lad! here's the adit just at the bottom here, and the water dribbling out over it, I think. Come on down."
"Come on down!" echoed Will.
"To be sure, lad. Here I'm in the hole all right. Lay hold o' the rope. It's all slack now."
He set it swinging as he spoke, and at the end of a few moments Will caught it, drew in a long breath, and let himself hang over the black gulf, which seemed far less awful now that there was a friendly voice below.
"Steady it is, lad, steady. There, they knots make her easy, don't they?" Josh kept on saying as his young companion lowered himself rapidly down into the darkness, till he could see the water with the light from above reflected upon it; and the next moment he was seized and drawn aside, his feet resting on solid stone. "Stoop your head, lad, mind."
He bent down, and Josh drew him into a gallery similar to that which they had just left, only there was a little stream of water trickling about their feet.
"Come along, lad. I'll go first," said Josh. "Never mind the ropes: we'll go up and haul them to the top when we get out."
Then creeping cautiously forward in the total darkness, and with Will following, Josh went slowly, feeling his way step by step for about fifty yards, when a faint ray of light sent joy into their breasts; and on pushing forward they found their way stopped by what seemed to be a heap of fallen rock and earth, at whose feet the little stream that ran from the mine trickled gently forth.
The light came through several interstices, which seemed to be overgrown with ferns and rough seagrass and hanging brambles; but it needed no great effort to force some of them aside, sufficient for Josh to creep out, and the next minute they were standing in the broad sunshine, the reason of the mouth of the adit being closed evident before them, the earth and stones from the cliff above having gone on falling for perhaps a century, and plants of various kinds common to the cliff covering the debris, till all trace of the opening but that, where a spring seemed to be trickling forth was gone.
Will drew a long breath and gazed with delight at the sail-dotted sea. Then, without a word he led the way up the cliff, till, after an arduous climb, they stood once more by the open shaft.
"I—say!" cried Josh, staring; and Will looked down with horror to see that the iron bar had so given way that the rope had gradually been dragged to the top, passed over, and probably both Josh and Will had made their last descent depending upon the strength of the former's old silk neck-tie.
"What an escape, Josh!" cried Will.
"Well," said Josh smiling, "I didn't think the old bit had it in her. Well, she is a good un, any way."
Stooping down he undid the knots, handed the rope to Will to haul, while he smilingly replaced his kerchief about his neck with a loose sailor's knot, tucking the ends afterwards inside his blue jersey, and then helped with the rope, taking hold of the old one, as it came up at last dripping wet, and soon forming it also into a coil.
The next thing was to drag out the iron bar, which came out easily enough, making Will shake his head at it reproachfully, as if he thought what an untrustworthy servant it was.
This and the ropes were hidden at last; and they turned to descend, when Josh exclaimed:—
"Well, lad, I s'pose you won't try any o' them games again?"
"Not try?" said Will. "I mean to try till I succeed."
THE YOUNG "GENT" IN THE ETON JACKET AND HIM IN THE FLANNEL SUIT.
This was said in a loud, imperious tone by a well-dressed boy—at least if it is being well-dressed at the sea-side to be wearing a very tight Eton jacket and vest, an uncomfortably stiff lie-down collar, and a tall glossy black hat, of the kind called by some people chimney-pot, by the Americans stove-pipe.
He was a good-looking lad of fifteen or sixteen, with rather aquiline features and dark eyes, closely-cut hair, that sat well on a shapely head; but there was a sickly whiteness of complexion and thinness of cheek that gave him the look of a plant that had been forced in a place where there was not enough light.
He was standing on the pier at Peter Churchtown intently watching what was going on beneath him on the deck of the Pretty Ruth, where our friend Will was busy at work over a brown fishing-line contained in two baskets, in one of which, coiled round and round, was the line with a hook at every six feet distance, and each hook stuck in the edge of the basket; in the other the line was being carefully coiled; but as Will took a hook from the edge of one basket, he deftly baited it with a bit of curiously tough gelatinous-looking half transparent gristle, and laid it in the other basket, so that all the baits were in regular sequence, and there was no chance of the hooks being caught.
Close by Will sat Josh, busy at work upon an instrument or weapon which consisted of a large hook about as big as that used for meat; and this he had inserted in a strong staff of wood some four feet long, while, to secure it more tightly, he was binding the staff just below the hook most neatly with fine copper wire.
Sailors and fishermen generally do things neatly, from the fact that they pay great attention to their work, and do it in a very slow, deliberate fashion, the fashion in which Josh on that sunny afternoon was working, with one end of the copper wire made fast to a bolt, to keep it straight while he slowly turned the staff round and round.