Bob Strong's Holiday; or, Adrift in the Channel
by John Conroy Hutcheson ___________ Bob Strong and his sister Nellie are the children of a busy barrister, too busy to take them on holiday, and they are sent by train down to Portsmouth to spend the summer holidays with their aunt. The dog Rover travels in the guard's van, and in the same compartment of the train there is an elderly gentleman who turns out to be a retired sea-captain.
The train is moving out of Guildford when a grubby boy's face appears at the window. They let the boy in, and the Captain decides to pay the fare for the boy, who is a runaway from a dreadfully cruel stepfather. They all spend the holiday together, doing various things with boats, fish, seaweed, and visiting various interesting places, some of which they find to be a con! They travel to the Isle of Wight, just a few miles across the Solent, and even visit Seaview where I, the reviewer, was brought up. Many of the interesting things they did were what we as boys fifty years later also did.
They get involved in a couple of disasters, including the wreck of a brand-new excursion steamer. As in my day, the engines of these ships were most interesting, being triple expansion horizontal steam engines driving paddle-wheels, and, like Bob, I used to spend the journeys to and from the Isle of Wight hovering at the engine-room door, admiring these amazingly beautiful artefacts.
But the other disaster I will not tell you about save only to say that Alderney and the Casquets Rock, over fifty miles from the Isle of Wight, are mentioned, and these too are places with which I am very familiar.
You may wonder what happened to the runaway boy, Dick, and here again a very suitable arrangement was made for him, for he was accepted for training as a boy seaman. N.H. ___________
BOB STRONG'S HOLIDAYS; OR, ADRIFT IN THE CHANNEL
BY JOHN CONROY HUTCHESON
DOWN THE LINE.
The noise of the train, however, drowned Nellie's voice; besides which Master Bob was further prevented from hearing this appeal to him by reason of his head and shoulders being at that precise instant projected out of the window of the railway-carriage, in utter defiance of the Company's bye-laws to the contrary and of his sister's solicitous entreaties to the same effect—poor Nellie, fearing, in her feminine anxiety, that the door would fly open unexpectedly, from the pressure of Bob's person, and precipitate her brother as suddenly out on the line.
"Bob!" she therefore repeated on finding her first summons disregarded, speaking in a louder key and giving a tug to his jacket the better to attract his attention—"I say, Bob!"
"Hullo! What's the row?" shouted back the delinquent, hearing her at last, and wriggling himself in from the window like a snail withdrawing itself into its shell, turning round the while his face, slightly flushed with the exertion, to hers—"Anything wrong, eh?"
Little Miss Nellie had not expected her timid and tentative conversational advances to be taken up in this downright fashion. Really she was only anxious for some one to sympathise with her and talk about the various objects of interest which came across her notice as they went along; so, Bob's abrupt address, coupled with his gruff tone of voice, fell on her enthusiasm like a wet blanket!
"Nothing's the matter," she replied timidly. "I only wanted to say how nice it is travelling like this."
"You don't mean to say you only called me in to tell me that?" said Bob, almost angrily. "I do think girls are the greatest geese in the world!"
With this dogmatic assertion, Master Bob shoved himself head and shoulders out of the window again, utterly ignoring poor Nellie's existence, much to her chagrin and dismay.
He was very rude, it must be confessed; but, some allowance should be made for him, all things considered.
In the first place, he was a boy just fresh from the rougher associations of school life; and, secondly, his inquiring mind was intently occupied in endeavouring to solve a series of mathematical problems that set all Euclid's laws at defiance, as the train whizzed on its way with a 'piff-paff! pant-pant!' of the great Juggernaut engine, the carriages rattling and jolting as they were dragged along at the tail of the mighty steam demon, swaying to and fro with a rhythmical movement of the wheels, in measured cadence of spondees and dactyls, as if singing to themselves the song of "the Iron Road."
Strange to say, this was a song of which, Bob noticed, the involuntary musicians never completed the second bar.
They re-commenced all over again from the beginning, when they reached some particularly crucial point, where the 'click' or the 'clack' of the ever-echoing 'click-clacking' chorus proved too much for their overworked axles!
Bob, though, was not thinking of this music of the rail, or paying any attention to it, albeit it was distinct and plain to him; as, indeed, it is to all with ears attuned in harmony with this mystery of motion, and who choose to listen to it, just as there are 'sermons in stones,' for those who care to read them!
No, all his energies were bent on finding out how it was that the straight hedgerows and square fields became round, while curving outlines grow straight in a moment, as if ruled with a measure, at the instant of their speeding by them; and, it occurred to him, or probably would have done so if he had given himself time for reflection, that the question of squaring the circle, which has perplexed the philosophers of all ages, was not so very difficult of solution after all—looking at the matter out of the window of a railway-carriage, that is!
Yes, so it really appeared; for, everything seemed 'at sixes and sevens,' the landscape having its middle distances and foreground irretrievably mixed up and its perspective gone mad, the country through which they passed resembling in this respect the land of topsy-turvey- dom!
Bob's surprise, and wonder and delight, at all he saw became presently too great for him to remain silent any longer or to keep his thoughts to himself; so, affably forgetting his previous 'snub' to his sister when she had wished to express her feelings, he jerked in his head as suddenly as he had popped it out the moment before.
"I say, Nell, isn't it jolly?" he exclaimed in eager accents. "Just look out with me and see how funny everything seems!"
"Why, that was what I wanted to speak of a little while ago, only you wouldn't listen to me," replied Nellie, more good-humouredly than Bob would have answered under the circumstances. "It is nice, though, I must say!"
"'Nice' indeed!" replied he indignantly. "It is just like a girl to say that. I call it 'jolly,' nothing more nor less. There's no other word to express what a fellow feels; and I do wonder, Nell, at your putting it so tamely!"
The girl laughed out merrily at this; and her smiling face, wreathed in dimples, expressed as much animation as her brother could have wished.
"Do forgive me, Bob," she cried. "You are quite right. It is 'jolly,' the fields flying by, the trees all jumping up when you least expect them, the hills coming close, and—everything! I have noticed them all; for, I've been looking out, too, Master Observer, and have eyes like you, old chappie!"
"Ah, but you haven't seen all that I have," said Bob, mollified by Nellie's sympathetic accord. "Look at those little woolly lambs, there, frisking about, with their sedate old mothers standing by, watching the train with wondering eyes—"
"Yes, I see, I see," said she, interrupting him. "What great big eyes they have, to be sure! I declare, too, I can hear them 'baa' above all the noise of the railway!"
Just at that moment, the engine gave a shriek of its steam-whistle, which startled the sheep and lambkins, sending them scuttling over to the other end of the field, in company with a number of skittish heifers and young colts, which kicked up their heels in such a funny way that Bob and Nellie both burst out laughing together in concert, in one burst as it were.
"Hullo, Nellie, look!" presently exclaimed Bob, who was the first to recover himself. "All the horses have not run away. There is one old fellow there, close to the line, who hasn't budged an inch."
"Perhaps he's the veteran of the field?" said Miss Nellie, rather poetically. "He's an old war-horse, maybe, who has heard too many clanging trumpet-calls and guns fired to be upset by the mere noise of an engine, which is only a bugbear to the ignorant."
"Bosh!" cried Bob, who did not believe much in sentiment, 'flummery' he termed it. "Much more likely he's an old cart-horse, and is as well accustomed to the row of the railroad as he is to the plough, and that's the reason he took no notice of us as we dashed by. See, he's only a little dot in the distance now."
They were running along at such a rate that every object which in turn presented itself, first ahead of the train, then alongside and then behind, became speedily but 'a dot in the distance,' to use Bob's words over again; the snugly secluded seats of the county gentry, the scattered villages and sparse red-roofed farmhouses, with their outposts of hayricks and herds of cattle and other stock, that one moment appeared and the next disappeared from view behind masses of foliage, all dancing a wild Sir Roger de Coverley sort of country dance, 'down the valleys and over the hills,' until poor Nellie's eyes became quite dazed in watching them.
"Come over to the other window, Bob," she cried at length, turning round and getting up from her seat, suiting the action to the words, or at least trying to do so. "Let us cross over, Bob."
But, here a difficulty arose.
An old gentleman, who was the only other occupant of the carriage besides themselves, had dropped asleep over the newspaper which he had been reading, letting this slide down on his knees while he stretched out his legs right across the compartment, thus preventing Nellie from carrying out her intention.
"I can't get by," she whispered to Bob, who had also turned round from his window, and now giggled, grasping the situation. "I can't get by!"
"What, what?" ejaculated the old gentleman, suddenly waking up and clutching hold of his paper, as if afraid that some one was going to take it from him. "What, what did you say?"
Strangely enough, although Bob and his sister had been talking quite loudly before, nothing that they had said had roused their fellow- passenger until now, when, probably, Nellie's hushed voice led to this very undesirable result—just in the same way as a miller is said to sleep soundly amid all the clatter of the grinding wheels of his mill, his repose being only disturbed when the motion of the machinery stops. Poor Nellie hardly knew what to say now on the old gentleman, all at once, sitting bolt upright and addressing her so unexpectedly.
"I was only speaking to my brother," she managed to stammer out, after a little hesitating pause; "I am sorry to have awakened you, sir."
"Awakened me, eh?" snorted the old gentleman in a snappish tone. "Pooh, pooh, nonsense, girl! I wasn't a bit asleep. Heard every word you said. What was it you said, eh—what, what?"
Bob and Nellie exchanged a smile at this; for, the old gentleman had not merely nodded previously to their having determined to change windows, but his gold-rimmed spectacles had almost tumbled from his nose, the latter organ also having given audible vent to certain stentorian sounds uncommonly like snoring!
The old gentleman, however, did not appear conscious of all this evidence against his fancied wakefulness; and he blinked out so queerly from a pair of little black beady eyes, half-hidden under a fringe of bushy white eyebrows, which made them look all the blacker from contrast, as he glared over his spectacles at the brother and sister, that Bob's giggle expanded into a fit of irrepressible merriment, although he endeavoured vainly to conceal his want of manners by burying his face in his pocket-handkerchief.
Bob some time afterwards told Nellie in confidence that, just then, the old gentleman so comically resembled 'Blinkie,' a dissipated old tame jackdaw they had at home, in the way he cocked his head on one side, with his ruffled hair and all, that he couldn't have helped laughing, if he had died for it!
"Well?" said the old gentleman inquiringly, after a bit, tired apparently of waiting for an answer to his original question as to what Nellie had said as he woke up, gazing still fixedly at her, his beady black eyes twinkling and his bushy eyebrows bristling up like the whiskers of a cat when it is angry. "What did he say, eh?"
"He—he was only speaking to me, sir," stammered poor Nellie, now trembling with fright. "He was only speaking to me, that's all."
"What, what?" jerked out her unappeased questioner. "Who is 'he'?"
"My brother—Bob, sir," said she, still trembling and nervous; "my brother here, sir."
"Strong, sir," replied Nellie, a little less timidly, now that she saw the old gentleman was not going to eat her up quite—"Robert Dugald Strong, sir."
"Humph!" he grunted out in reply to this. "He may be Strong by name and he looks strong by nature; but, really, he seems unusually weak in mind—he's a lunatic, I should think!"
But, there was a quaint, good-humoured expression on his face that somewhat belied his abrupt manner and harsh, peremptory voice, which sounded like that of a bullying old barrister, cross-examining a hesitating witness in court; so Nellie, therefore, gathered increased confidence as she caught his glance, to proceed with her explanation anent Master Bob.
"You're mistaken, sir,—he isn't silly," she said. "He only wanted me to cross over to the other side of the carriage; and I told him I couldn't pass by you, sir. That was all, sir."
"Oh, indeed! Then I'm sure I beg your pardon," said the old gentleman very politely, drawing in his legs, so as to leave the road clear. "I don't see, though, what the young rascal has got to laugh at in that way, like a regular young yahoo."
"Please, sir, pray excuse him," pleaded Nellie on behalf of Bob. "It is only a way he has got. He cannot help laughing for the life of him when the fit is on. He really does not mean to be rude, sir, I assure you."
"Doesn't he?" repeated the old gentleman, smiling in a knowing fashion as if he knew all about it. "Then, he's very unlike all the boys I have come across in my time; and they've been a goodish few, missy! But, there, get along with you both, and look out of the window to your heart's content. Take care, though, that neither you nor that young jackanapes don't manage to tumble out on the line, for I can't pick you up from here!"
Bob and Nellie took advantage at once of the permission granted them; but, soon, becoming tired of the monotonous sameness of the ever- whirling landscape, turned back within the railway-carriage, and, sitting down like ordinary and regular travellers accustomed by this time to all the sights and scenes of the road, the pair were presently engaged in earnest and confidential conversation with the now extremely affable, old gentleman.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, breaking the ice on seeing the pair at last quiet. "So, your name is Strong, eh?"
"Yes, sir," answered Bob, acting as spokesman. "Father is a barrister, and he cannot get away from London yet for his holiday like us; and, of course, sir, my mother couldn't leave him alone, you know—"
"No, of course not," agreed the old gentleman, "of course not."
"So, then," continued Bob, "they sent us on first; and we're going to the seaside, where we've never been before! Isn't it jolly?"
"Very jolly," responded the old gentleman smiling. "I wish I were as young as you are to enjoy it all over again, in spite of my having seen enough of the sea in my time."
"Are you a sailor, sir?" asked Nellie, chiming in. "I mean a sailor officer, sir, you know?"
"Yes, an old one, put on the shelf after fighting the battles of my country for many a long year!" said the old gentleman, with a deep sigh that almost made the carriage shake. He then extracted a silver snuff- box from his waistcoat-pocket; and taking a pinch, which seemed to relieve his feelings, added, as if to change the subject, "But, my young friends, you haven't told me where you are going."
"Why, to Portsmouth, to be sure, sir," said Bob promptly. "I thought you knew it; and—"
"And we are to stop at aunt Polly's till papa and mamma come down," again interposed Miss Nellie, who had lost all her timidity and wanted to have her share in the talk. "Dear aunt Polly, how glad I shall be to see her again!"
"Oh, indeed! But, who is aunt Polly?"
Really, he was a most inquisitive old gentleman!
The children, however, did not seem to notice this; and went on to tell how their aunt Polly was the dearest aunt they believed any one ever had, and the nicest.
They informed the old gentleman, likewise, that this loved aunt of theirs came up to town every year regularly at Christmas-time to pay them a visit; although they, on their part, had never been able to go down to see her until now, something or other having always happened to prevent their proceeding to the sea.
"Well, better late than never," said their fellow-traveller, whom Bob and Nellie began to look upon now quite as an old acquaintance—"I've no doubt you'll enjoy yourselves. But, my dears, you haven't mentioned your aunt's name—her surname, I mean. Perhaps I might know her, for I'm an old resident of Portsmouth, or rather Southsea, which is just outside the lines and where all the best people live now."
"Mrs Gilmour, sir," replied Nellie. "That's aunt Polly's name."
"What, Polly Gilmour, the widow of my old shipmate Ted Gilmour, who commanded the Bucephalus on the West Coast for two commissions and died of fever in the Bight of Benin? Bless my soul, who'd have thought it!"
"Yes, sir, Uncle Gilmour was in the Navy," put in Bob as if to corroborate the surmise of the old gentleman. "He was Captain Gilmour, sir."
His questioner, though, appeared for the moment lost in thought, his mind evidently occupied with a flood of old memories connected with his lost friend and their life afloat together.
"Dear, dear, who'd have thought it!" he repeated, as if speaking to himself. Then, presently, recovering his composure with an effort, aided by another pinch of snuff, he said aloud—"And so, you two children are poor Ted Gilmour's niece and nephew, eh?"
"Yes, sir," replied Bob and Nellie in one breath, answering the question. "You just ask auntie and see what she says, sir."
"I'm very glad to hear it," said the old gentleman, hastily pulling Nellie towards him and giving her a kiss, much to her astonishment, the action was so sudden; while he next proceeded to shake Bob by the hand until his arm ached. "I am very glad, very glad indeed to meet you; and, if it be any satisfaction to know, I may tell you that I go round to your aunt Polly's every evening to have a game of cribbage, summer and winter alike, except those three weeks when she goes to London to stop with your father, whose name, of course, I recollect now, although I did not think of that when you told it me awhile ago—"
"Then, you're Captain Dresser?" interrupted Bob at this point, anxious to show that he had heard the old gentleman's name before and recognised it. "I'm sure you're Captain Dresser, sir."
"Yes, I'm Captain Dresser," replied that individual, smiling all over his face, his queer little beady black eyes twinkling more than ever with excitement, and his bushy eyebrows moving up and down. "Yes, I'm Captain Dresser—Jack Dresser, as your uncle and all my old shipmates in the service used to call me, much at your service, ha, ha, ha!"
Bob and Nellie could not help joining in with the old gentleman's laugh at his little joke, the Captain's "Ha, ha, ha!" was so cheery and catching.
It was a regular jolly "Ha, ha, ha!"
The trio, thereupon, got very confidential together, Bob telling how they had got their dog Rover with them, only he was travelling in the guard's van, being too big to be put in the box under the carriage, as he would have been if he'd been a little dog instead of a fine big black retriever, which he, Bob, was very glad to say he was, and "not a mere lady's pet like a pug or a toy terrier," while Nellie, in her turn, intimated her intention of making a collection of shells and seaweed when she got to the shore, which, she said, she longed to reach so as to 'see the sea,' that being the dearest wish of her heart.
The Captain, on his part, reciprocated these friendly advances in the heartiest way, expressing the strongest desire to make the acquaintance of Rover, as well as to take his fellow-travellers out in his yacht for a sail whenever the weather was fine enough; that is, if they promised to behave themselves properly, and always 'did what they were told and obeyed orders,' Captain Dresser saying, with an expressive wink that made him look more jackdaw-like than ever, that he invariably insisted, even in the presence of their "dear aunt Polly," on being "captain of his own ship."
They were in the midst of all these mutual confidences, the Captain chattering away like an old hen clucking round a pair of new-found chicks, and Bob and Nellie full of glee and exuberant anticipations of all the coming fun they were going to have afloat and ashore; when, suddenly, the light of the further window of the railway-carriage, opposite that near to which the trio were grouped in close confab, was obscured by a dark body pressing against it from without, as if some one was trying to gain admittance.
"Hallo!" cried the Captain. "What's that—who's there?"
But, before the old gentleman could rise from his seat, or
Bob and Nellie do anything save gape with astonishment, the window-sash was violently forced down; and, without a 'by your leave' or any word of warning, a strange uncouth figure, so it seemed to their startled gaze, came squeezing through the opening and fell on the floor of the carriage at their feet in a clumsy sprawl.
Nellie half sprang from her seat at this unexpected addition to their little party, uttering a scream of terror the while, as genuine as it was shrill and ear-piercing.
She was a slight, delicate-looking girl of twelve, with a shower of curls of the colour of light gold that rippled over her forehead and shoulders and down her back, reaching well-nigh to her waist; and it seemed almost impossible that such a fairy-like little creature could have uttered such a volume of sound.
However, she did it; and then, satisfied apparently with having exerted herself so far for the protection of all, Miss Nellie crouched down in the corner of the carriage behind Bob, who, two years her elder and a stoutly-built boy for his age, with short-cropped hair of a tawnier tinge, stood up sturdily in front of his trembling little sister to defend her, if need be, as manfully as he could.
But, the gallant old Captain was first in the field, jumping forward with an agility of which neither Bob nor Nellie thought him capable; and, in an instant, he had clutched hold of the intruder.
"Who the dickens are you?" he cried, shaking him as a terrier would a rat. "What the dickens do you want here, confound you!"
"Please don't, ma-aster," gasped out a half-suffocated voice. "I be a'most shook to pieces!"
"Humph! 'when taken to be well shaken,' that's what doctors advise, eh?" said the Captain, somewhat sternly, although with a sly chuckle at his witty illustration of the phrase, as, with a strong muscular effort, he raised up the struggling figure he had clutched hold of and proceeded to inspect his capture—a lanky woebegone lad, whose rugged garments and general appearance was by no means improved by the rough handling he had received in the grip of the old sailor, who, as he now put him on his feet and released him, repeated his original imperative inquiry, "Who the dickens are you and what do you want here?"
"Please, sir, I ain't a-doing nothink," snivelled the lad, screwing his knuckles into his eyes, as if preparing to cry, each word being sandwiched between a sob and a sniff. "I—ain't—a-doing—nothink!"
"Doing nothing?" echoed the Captain indignantly, overcome apparently by the enormity of the culprit's offence. "Why, you young scoundrel, here you have been and gone and committed a burglary, breaking into a railway-carriage like this, besides nearly frightening the occupants to death; and, you call that nothing! Do you know, if I were on the Bench, I could sentence you to penal servitude?"
"Oh, pray don't, Captain Dresser, please!" cried out Bob and Nellie together, impressed with the terrible powers of the law as thus presented to their view and the extent of the Captain's authority. "He really did not mean any harm, poor fellow, I am sure he didn't!"
"Then what did he do it for?" asked the old gentleman snappishly, though both could see, from the merry twinkle in his eyes, that he was not in such a bad temper as he pretended to be. "What did he do it for? That's what I'd like to know!"
But, even the stranger lad, who had so unceremoniously intruded into the carriage, seemed to become aware as he confronted him that the Captain's 'bark was worse than his bite'; for, dropping his snivel and looking his questioner manfully in the face, he at once went on to tell who he was and explain the reasons for his unexpected appearance on the scene—his earnest accents and honest outspokenness testifying to the truth of his statement in the opinion, not only of Bob and Nellie, but of the whilom grumpy old Captain as well.
The lad said that his name was Dick Allsop and that he belonged to Guildford, the last station the train had passed, and the only one at which it had stopped since leaving Waterloo. His father had died some years before, but his mother had lately got married again to a regular brute of a man, who behaved very badly to her and treated Dick, he averred, so cruelly, that he could not stand it any longer. That very morning, Dick stated; he had beaten him so unmercifully that he had suddenly determined to run away to sea; and this was the reason why he wanted to get to Portsmouth.
"But, you might have entered the carriage like a Christian!" interposed the Captain at this point of the lad's story. "The train stopped long enough at Guildford for you to get in through the doorway, like any ordinary passenger, surely?"
"No, sir, I couldn't," answered the other. "I couldn't a-done it."
"But why not?"
"Because, sir," snivelled the lad, "I didn't have no money, sir."
"Humph! you had no money, eh?"
"No, sir; nothing but thrippence-a'penny, which mother gave me afore I started, when she wished me good-bye. She was sorry as how she could give me nothing more; and so I couldn't pay the fare, and had no ticket."
"So, my joker, you got on the train without one at all!" said the Captain, interrupting him. "Do you know that was really cheating the railway company?"
"I knows it, sir," replied Dick Allsop, who had better now be called by his own proper name, looking down as if ashamed of what he had done. "I knows it's wrong; but, sir, I couldn't help it, as there was no other way I seed of getting to Porchmouth."
"But, why didn't you jump into the carriage like a Christian, as I said just now?" observed the Captain. "Eh?"
Dick seemed amused by this question.
"Does yer think, sir, the porters would ha' let me if they'd seed me a- trying it on?" said he, with a radiant grin that lit up his face, quite changing its expression. "Not if they, knowed it!"
"Perhaps not," agreed the Captain, nonplussed by the lad's logic and knowledge of human nature. "No, I don't think they would."
"No, sir; that they wouldn't," exclaimed the runaway triumphantly, as if he knew all about that matter at any rate. "So, sir, I waits down by the side o' the line, where I lays hid, sir, without nobody a-seeing me; and then, jist as the train was started and quite clear o' the station, a-going into the tunnel as ain't fur off, as yer know, sir—?"
"Yes, I know the line, my lad," said Captain Dresser. "I ought to!"
"Well, sir, there I climbs on by the buffers and coupling-chain of the guard's van to the step of the end carriage, and works myself along till I reaches this; when, drawing myself up and looking in through the windy, I thought I would get in here, not seeing nobody but young ma- aster and little missis in the corner—"
"You didn't see me, eh?" questioned the Captain, with one of his quizzical chuckles. "You didn't see me, I'll wager."
"No, sir, or I wouldn't have tried it on," confessed Dick, with the most open candour. "I would a-been afeard like."
"Lucky for you that you did, though," said Captain Dresser, his little black beady eyes blinking away furiously. "If you had got in anywhere and not come across such a good-natured old donkey as myself, you would have had the signal-bell rung to summon the guard, who would have stopped the train and given you in custody at the next station for travelling without a ticket! But what are you going to do now, eh?"
"Please, sir, I dunno," replied Dick, looking puzzled.
"Humph, that's a pretty state of things for an independent young gentleman running away to sea!" said the Captain in a quizzing tone. "Do you know you're not half out of the scrape yet? You have got into the train all right; but, how are you going to get out of it, eh—tell me that, my lad?"
"I dunno, sir," again answered Dick laconically, still seeming unmoved by the critical nature of his position—"I dunno, sir."
"Drat the boy!" exclaimed the Captain impatiently, stamping his foot. "There you are again with your 'dunno!' Why, when we arrive at Portsmouth, the collector will be asking for your ticket; what will you say then, eh?"
"I thought, sir, of jumping out afore the train got there, sir," said Dick, scratching his head reflectively. "Aye, I did."
"Broke your neck, probably!" growled the old Captain. "The best thing that could have happened to you, my lad."
Bob and Nellie meanwhile had been whispering together and comparing notes apparently as to the state of their respective funds; for, Nellie had extracted a little leather purse from some hidden receptacle in her dress, while Bob was feeling in his pockets. Before either could speak, however, Captain Dresser anticipated their evident intention.
"Suppose now I paid your fare for you?" he went on, addressing Dick. "What would you say to that, eh?"
"Lor', sir, I'd be orful grateful, that I'd be, sir—I would indeed, sir," eagerly replied the lad in an outburst of thankfulness; "and if, sir, I could work it out in any way so as to repay the money, I'd be that glad yer wouldn't know me."
"Humph!" grunted the Captain again. "We'll see about that."
Bob and Nellie, both of whom had been listening with intense interest to Dick's cross-examination, were quite carried away with enthusiasm at this happy termination of the animated discussion that had gone on.
"Oh, you dear Captain," cried Nellie, hugging the old sailor rapturously. "You've just done what Bob and I wished."
"Have I?" said he smiling. "I don't see it, I'm sure."
"Yes, you have, you have," she replied impulsively. "Bob and I were just going to offer the same thing when you took the words out of our mouth."
"And the money out of my pocket, eh?" slyly added the Captain with a chuckle—"eh, missy?"
"But we'd like to pay too," said Bob. "Let us go shares, sir."
"Not a bit of it," retorted the other, blinking away as he always appeared to do when excited. "That was only my joke. I will pay his fare for him when we get to Portsmouth; for, I like the pluck of the lad in climbing on to the train like that, and not being daunted by obstacles in carrying out a planned purpose. Can't say much for his looks though. He seems to me half-starved."
The latter observation was uttered in an undertone, the Captain having too much delicacy to comment on Dick's appearance in his hearing. Miss Nellie, however, acted instantly on the suggestion, which gave it a practical turn.
"Are you hungry, poor boy," she asked Dick—"very hungry?"
"No, miss," he answered humbly; "not pertick'ler, I be."
"But you could eat a sandwich, perhaps?" said she, opening a parcel which their mother had put up for the refreshment of Bob and herself during their journey. "Don't you think you could?"
Dick's eyes glistened.
"I'll try, miss," said he, trying to speak calmly; although they could see that he was really almost ravenous at the sight of the food. "I thinks as how I could eat a mou'ful."
"Give him the lot, poor chap," cried the old Captain; but Nellie did not need this admonition, being in the very act of handing over the parcel of sandwiches to Dick even while the old sailor spoke. "There's no good in his making two bites of a cherry, as the saying goes."
"Eat these, my poor boy," cried Nellie. "Bob and I had buns at Waterloo before the train started, and we shan't want anything till we get to auntie's house."
"Fire away, old chap!" chimed in Bob, noticing that the lad hesitated a moment in accepting the proffered gift. "You needn't be afraid. Nellie and I are not hungry like you."
Bob's friendly tone, coupled with the sight of the tempting viands, at once removed any of Dick's lingering scruples; and, in another minute, he was gobbling up the sandwiches like a famished wolf—his fellow- travellers looking on with the utmost complacency and satisfaction at the rapidity with which he got rid of them, bolting the little squares of bread and meat one by one.
All this time, the engine was puffing and snorting away as if it had a bad attack of asthma, giving a fierce pull every now and then to the dragging carriages behind it; while, when the stalwart iron horse occasionally loitered in his paces or slackened speed in going round a sharp curve on the line, the coupling-chains would rattle as they lost their tension and the buffers of the carriages behind, going faster for the moment than the engine, would come together with a bang that vibrated through the marrow-bones of all!
The scenery altered, too, every instant along the route; the wooded heights around Guildford and Godalming and Haslemere, which the poet Tennyson loved and where he lived and died, being succeeded by a stretch of level landscape, and this again by the steep bare hills encircling sleepy Petersfield.
Presently, a range of downs came in sight, curving away in horse-shoe fashion from right to left, on which were a series of red-brick, detached structures, placed along the topmost ridge at equal intervals apparently, until they were lost in the distance.
As they approached these nearer, Miss Nellie's sharp eyes noticed that on the landward side these brick piles were covered with a slant of smoothly-shaven green turf that contrasted conspicuously with the chalky surface of the sloping ridge.
"What funny things those are!" said she, pointing these out to Bob. "Are they houses, or tombs, or what?"
"Where, what do you mean?" asked the Captain, turning round from his contemplation of Dick, who, having finished the packet of sandwiches, was now carefully searching the piece of newspaper in which they had been wrapped up on the chance of there being a few stray crumbs left. "Why, hullo, here we are close to our destination! Those 'funny things,' as you style them, missy, are the Portsdown forts—you are not far out though, in your estimate of their appearance, for they're called 'Palmerston's Follies' by the political wags here."
"Are we near Portsmouth then?" said Nellie, peering out anxiously. "I don't see anything!"
"Oh yes, missy, quite near," replied the Captain, also looking out of the window. "There's Havant just in front. Don't you smell the sea?"
"Yes, Captain, yes, I do! Yes, I do!" cried Bob and Nellie together, clapping their hands. "Isn't it nice! Isn't it jolly!"—Bob, it may be taken for granted, using the latter term of approbation; Nellie adding on her own private account another, "Ah, how nice!"
"Well, that's a matter of opinion," said Captain Dresser dryly, his experiences of the fickle element not having, perhaps, always been pleasant ones; but, before he could explain this, the train, with a piercing shriek of warning from the steam-whistle of the engine, glided into the station.
"Hav-'nt! Hav-'nt!" shouted the porters with lungs of brass and voices of leather or gutta-percha. "Hav-'nt! Hav-'nt!"
"That's just what this boy will say when the guard asks him presently for his ticket, or the money for his fare," said the Captain, with his comical chuckle and merry twinkle of his bird-like eyes, pointing to Dick as the ticket-collector banged open the door of the carriage as if trying to wrench it off its hinges and held out his hand. "He haven't got his ticket. Hav-n't, you see, my dears! Ha—ha—ha!"
ROVER DISTINGUISHES HIMSELF.
The ticket-collector appeared puzzled for the moment, especially on noticing a poor, ragged fellow like Dick travelling in a first-class compartment "in company with gentlefolks," as he thought to himself; but, at the instant this reflection passed through his mind, he recognised the Captain as an old and regular passenger on the line, besides being one from whom he had received many a 'tip,' so he at once touched his cap, responding with a grin of sympathy to the Captain's cheery laugh, as if he thoroughly entered into the joke.
"Oh, haven't he, sir?" said he, the ungrammatical phrase dropping more naturally from his rustic tongue; "then he'll have to get 'un sharp, or pay the fare, sir."
"Never mind about that, my man, I'll pay for his ticket, for he's travelling with me," replied the old sailor as he fumbled in his pockets, shoving his hand first in one and then in the other; producing, at last, a number of gold and silver coins, mixed up with coppers, a bunch of keys, a clasp-knife, and his snuff-box, which somehow or other he had put back in the wrong place. "How much is it?"
"Where from, sir?" inquired the man, reaching out his hand for Bob and Nellie's tickets. "Far up the line, sir?"
"No, only from Guildford," replied the Captain. "That's only half-way from London; but there's half-a-sovereign, and you may keep the change for yourself."
"Thank you, sir," said the collector, touching his cap again and taking the coin. He still lingered, however, as if wanting something more but hesitated to ask for it.
"Well?" ejaculated the Captain impatiently. "What is it, my man?"
"Your ticket, sir," said the man deferentially. "You forgot to give it me, sir."
"Zounds!" cried the other, blinking away furiously and moving his eyebrows up and down as he searched vainly in all his pockets, finally discovering that he held the missing ticket in his fist all the while! "I declare I forgot all about it. You see I was ready for you, though, eh?"
"All right, sir, good-day," said the man, receiving the ticket and shutting the carriage-door gently, with a bow and a smile and another touch of his cap; and, the next moment, with another sharp unearthly shriek of the steam-whistle similar to that which had heralded its entrance into Havant station, the train, giving a joggle and a jerk as it got under way, was speeding along again, across the rattling bridges that spanned the moats of the fortifications and through the Portsea lines, to the terminus beyond at Landport.
"Here we are, children," exclaimed the Captain, on its pulling up at the journey's end. "Here we are at last!"
"And is this Portsmouth?" inquired Nellie. But, she need not have asked the question; for, as she looked down the platform she cried out excitedly in the same breath—"Why, there's aunt Polly! There's aunt Polly!"
"Let me look, let me look," said Bob, trying to squeeze in between Nellie and the Captain, who was fumbling at the handle of the door, endeavouring to open it. "I can't see her, Nell! Where is she?"
"Hold on, can't you!" grumbled the old sailor, angry with the door for not yielding at once to his efforts. "If you wait a moment you'll be able to see your 'aunt Polly' and everybody else to your heart's content; that is, as soon as we can get out on to the platform. Bother take the door, how it sticks!" With this exclamation, muttered in a hoarse, stifled voice, by reason of his half-stooping position, the Captain put his knee against the obnoxious door; and this, giving way to his shove, unexpectedly, nearly precipitated him into the arms of Mrs Gilmour, the aunt of our hero and heroine, who had recognised little Nellie's face at the window and advanced to the side of the carriage, without his perceiving her approach.
"Dear me, Captain Dresser!" she cried with a laugh, just catching him from falling on his face. "I've no doubt you are very glad to say me again, but you needn't be quite so demonstrative in public."
The Captain rose up, looking very red and confused. "I'm sure I beg your pardon, ma'am," said he, bowing and laughing, too, as he recovered himself; "but those porters slam and jam the doors so, that they never will open properly when you want to get out quickly!"
His further excuses, however, were cut short by Nellie springing out of the carriage before he could utter another word.
"Oh, aunt Polly!" she exclaimed, hugging the smiling lady, who was a plump merry-looking little body, with dark wavy hair and large, lustrous, almond-shaped eyes, which, strange to say, were of an intense violet blue, presenting a curious contrast. "You dear auntie Polly! How glad I am to see you again!"
"So am I, me dearie, to say you," replied the other, with the slightest wee bit of a brogue, aunt Polly having been born in the North of Ireland, where blue eyes with black hair and brogues are common; "an' Bob, too, the darlint! How are you, me boy!"
"All right, auntie, right as a jiffy," said he brightly, greeting her with like effusion to his sister. "Really, I don't know when I was so glad as I am to come down here to the sea and see you. Hullo, though, I'm forgetting about Rover!"
With these words, Master Bob darted down the platform to the guard's van at the end of the train, with Miss Nellie cantering after him; both leaving their newly-met aunt as unceremoniously as the Captain had tumbled against her on emerging from the carriage the moment before!
However, Mrs Gilmour did not appear to mind this, only exchanging a smile with the old sailor, who of course remained beside her; while Dick, as if anxious to make some return for the kindness shown him, had started taking the children's traps out of the train without waiting for any one's orders.
As for the Captain, he had no luggage beyond the queer-looking malacca walking-stick called a 'Penang lawyer' which he held in his hand, never troubling himself with 'stray dunnage,' as he said, when travelling by railway.
Bob and Nellie were presently seen in the distance, in close colloquy with the guard, who, after a bit, lugged out from his van, with much deliberation of movement and 'gingerliness' of manner, a huge black retriever, who apparently did not wish just then to issue forth from his retreat.
No sooner, however, had the imprisoned animal once more touched the firm ground of the platform with his four paws, than, carried away with delight at being able to stand again on something that wasn't moving, he suddenly wrenched himself free from the guard and began plunging about in a mad gambol around.
"Come here, Rover!" cried Bob. "Come here, Rover!" echoed Nellie, alike in vain; for, although Rover approached and jumped up on each in turn in expression of his pleasure at seeing them, he would dart away the next instant out of reach, evidently afraid lest the chain should be taken hold of, and he be boxed up again in purgatory. He would not attend to any, "Come here, sir!"
"He's too artful to be caught, sir," said the guard, laughing at the dog's antics. "He's too knowing by half."
"Oh, he'll come along fast enough after me," answered Bob with some reserve of manner, thinking it rather beneath his dignity, as well as unjust to Rover, to bandy words about the latter's disobedience of orders; and so, he walked on up the platform, whistling as he went and followed by Nellie, towards where aunt Polly and the Captain were chatting, the old sailor explaining to Mrs Gilmour how Dick's acquaintance had been made, she having been much impressed by his civil and attentive demeanour, if not by his appearance.
"Come on!" shouted Bob between his whistles, as he got nearer; Nellie, close behind him, likewise whistling and repeating his cry, "Come on, Rover!"
Rover came on; but, not altogether in the way his young master and mistress wished.
Galloping now in front, now in rear of the two, and then prancing towards them sideways, but always out of reach, he whirled his heavy chain about like a lasso, to the danger of everybody around; many of the passengers being still on the platform looking after their belongings or waiting for cabs, most of the vehicles that had been drawn up on the cab-rank having already driven off loaded.
"Do catch hold of him, Bob!" cried poor Nellie in accents of alarm. "He'll trip up somebody."
Rover seemed to hear and understand what she said; and, as if anxious to oblige her, at once twirled his clattering chain round the legs of a fat old lady, who, with her arms full of a number of parcels, was waiting for one of the porters to extract yet more from the carriage in which she had come down.
"Look out, ma'am!" said the Captain, seeing what was coming. "Keep clear of the dog, ma'am, or he'll foul your hawse!"
But, he was too late for the warning to be of any use; for, at the same instant, the old lady was whirled violently round and round like a teetotum and fell to the ground, uttering the while a series of wild shrieks, coupled with the smothered exclamation—"My good gracious!"
"I thought so!" ejaculated the old sailor as he hastened up to her rescue, and, with the aid of the porter, succeeded in placing her on her feet again; while Nellie and Bob set to work collecting her parcels which were scattered in every direction. "I hope you are not hurt, madam," Captain Dresser added when the lady was, as he expressed it, 'all a-taunto' once more. "I hope you are not hurt!"
However, she did not pay any attention to the polite inquiry, displaying more solicitude for her portable property than her person.
"Who's to pay for my eggs, I'd like to know?" was all she said. "I s'pose they be all bruck to pieces!"
She evidently alluded to the largest of her parcels, which still lay close to her on the platform, neither Bob nor Nellie having yet reached this to pick it up; for, a thick yellow fluid was oozing out from the wrappings, plainly betokening the nature of its fragile contents and their fate.
"Oh, never mind your eggs, ma'am," cried the Captain impatiently. "We'll reimburse you for their loss, as the dog has caused the mischief. I was thinking of your bones!"
"Drat my bones and the dog, too!" said the old lady with equal heat. "One doesn't get noo laid eggs every day, I'd 'ave yer to know, sir, and I was a-taking these a puppose for my darter, which I brought all the way now from Gi'ford only to 'ave 'em bruck at last!"
"Never mind, never mind," replied the Captain soothingly; and on Mrs Gilmour at the same time telling her that she kept fowls and would send her some more fresh eggs the very next morning, to replace those broken, if she would give her address, the old lady was finally pacified.
She went off presently, with all her remaining parcels, in a cab, which the Captain insisted on paying for; the good dame beaming with satisfaction and looking as if she thought she had made rather a good thing than not by the mishap!
Meanwhile, Bob and Nellie had to interrupt their task of parcel- collecting to go after the truant Rover, who, not satisfied with the damage he had already done, was in active pursuit of the traffic manager's favourite cat, right through the station.
The roving delinquent ultimately 'treed' his prey in one of the waiting- rooms, where poor pussy sought refuge on the mantelpiece, knocking down a glass water-bottle and tumbler in jumping thither out of the reach of the frantic Rover, who scared half to death the occupants of the room as he dashed in, all in full cry!
Then a most delightful concerted duet ensued.
"Mia-ow, phoo, phit, phiz!" screamed pussy with all the varied expression of which the cat language is capable, running up the gamut into the treble and dying off in a wailing demi-semi-quaver. "Mia-o-w!"
"Bow, wow, wuff!" chanted Rover, singing his portion of the refrain in deep bass notes that produced a hollow echo through the waiting-room, making the noise seem to proceed from twenty dogs instead of one. "Wough!"
Nor was Rover long content merely to take part in a musical performance only.
Bent on more active hostilities, he jumped up at the angry cat in her retreat on the mantelpiece—standing up on his hind legs for the purpose; and then, being only able to sniff near enough for puss to slap his face energetically with her paws right and left with a sharp 'smick smack,' Rover uttering an agonised howl that came in at the end of the chorus and must have been heard all over the station.
A catastrophe was avoided, just in time, by Bob and Nellie appearing on the scene of action; when, catching hold of the end of Rover's chain, they bore him away captive again to where their aunt and the Captain were waiting and wondering at their long delay.
Nemesis followed behind the trio in the shape of one of the railway police.
He came in the ostensible interests of the hunted cat and damaged property belonging to the waiting-room; but the elders of the party regarded him to be more intent on obtaining 'hush-money,' wherewith to blot out Rover's misdeeds and line his own pockets at the same time.
"Here's a pretty to-do, children," cried the Captain, taking this view of the matter and slipping a shilling into the man's hand to avoid any unnecessary explanations. "That dog of yours is like a wild elephant in an Indian jungle!"
"He's a fine dorg," observed the railway policeman parenthetically, pacified by the coin he had received and willing on the strength of it to forget alike the onslaught on pussy and the broken glass. "Finest dorg I ever seed for a retriever, sir."
"Ah, handsome is as handsome does!" replied the Captain sententiously. "Dogs, like children, ought to be taught to behave themselves."
Nellie, however, did not like this sort of slur on Rover's character.
"Oh! Captain Dresser," she exclaimed. "It was only his playfulness on getting out of confinement."
"Humph!" ejaculated the old sailor—"playfulness, eh? A playful dog like that once bit me playfully in the calf of the leg, stopping all my play for a fortnight!"
"Oh, Rover wouldn't do that," said Bob—"No, not he!"
"Wouldn't he? I'd be sorry to give him the chance," answered the other with a laugh, as he assisted Mrs Gilmour into an open fly, into which the children's luggage had been already put by the attentive Dick. "There'd be precious little of me left, I'm afraid, if he once tackled me!"
Nellie and Bob then got into the fly, the Captain following them on their aunt's pressing invitation to escort them all down to her house on the south parade; while Dick, after having, with the help of the cabman, lifted Rover, who behaved like a lamb during the operation, on to the box-seat, where he was wedged in securely between the trunks and the driver's legs, climbed up himself and away they all started—'packed as tightly as herrings in a barrel,' to use the Captain's expression.
In the evening, after dinner, the whole party went down to the shore, where Bob and Nellie made their first acquaintance with the sea; a distant view of which they had a glimpse of previously from the balcony of their aunt's house on the parade.
Both were in ecstasies of delight as they gazed out on the undulating expanse of blue water, with the tiny little wavelets rippling up to their feet caressingly, as if inviting them to wade in over the glittering pebbles of the beach that glistened like jewels where wetted by the tide.
"Jolly, isn't it?" cried Bob enthusiastically. "Don't it make a noise though!"
"Not a noise," said Nellie, shocked at his unromantic description. "The waves seem to say 'Hush!' and speak to me, as softly as if they wanted to send me to sleep!"
"Bravo, young lady!" put in the Captain, overhearing her remark. "'Rocked in the cradle of the deep,' as the old song runs, eh? Though I've almost forgotten all my Greek knocking about the world, or rather had it knocked out of me in a midshipmen's mess, if I recollect aright, old Homer describes the noise of the waves nearly in your own words, my dear. His term for it is polyploisboio thalasses—the 'murmuring of the many-voiced sea!' Grand, isn't it; grand, eh? But, let us walk round the castle, and then you will see and hear it better."
They accompanied him, accordingly, around the sloping rampart; Mrs Gilmour walking by the side of the old sailor, while Bob and Nellie lingered behind with Dick.
On their way round the castle, Master Bob occasionally pitched in a piece of stick for Rover to fetch out of the sea, which the energetic dog did with the utmost gusto; barking with glee as he dashed into the water and coming out sedately with his coat all dripping, to deposit the stick at his master's feet, with a shake that sent a shower of drops like rain all over them, making them laugh in glee as great as his.
The stragglers presently came up with the seniors of the party who had seated themselves on a little ledge of the wall on the highest point of the glacis at the back of the old fortification, from whence away to the west the sun could be seen setting in a glory of crimson and gold behind the dockyard, with the masts of the ships standing out in red relief, as if on fire.
In front were the purple hills of the Isle of Wight, with the white- terraced Ryde lying in between, its houses lit up likewise by the rays of the sunset, and their windows all aflame; and, under their feet, stretching away to where it met the hills opposite and to the harbour's mouth and Haslar breakwater on the right, with the now twinkling Nab light on the extreme left, was the dancing, murmuring, restless sea, its hue varying every instant, from the rich crimson and gold it reflected from the western horizon to the darker shades of evening that came creeping up steadily from the eastward, blotting out by degrees its previous bright tones.
Two or three merchant ships were anchored at Spithead; but there was not a single sail moving in sight.
All was still; and, as if in harmony with the scene, the Captain and Mrs Gilmour sat in silent contemplation of the sight before them, neither uttering a word.
The children, however, were not quiet long.
"Hi, Rover, fetch it, good dog!" cried out Bob presently, pitching the stick into the water that laved the base of the sloping rampart. "Fetch it out, sir; fetch it."
Rover raced, slipping and sliding, down the slope, plunging in with an impetus that sent him souse in head and ears under the surface; but, he soon re-appeared to view and, swimming out to where the stick floated, gripped it valiantly and made his way back to the shore, holding it in his mouth crosswise.
Now, however, poor Rover experienced more trouble in climbing out than he had probably anticipated; for, it being deep water at the foot of the ramparts and the stones being slippery, as the animal got his fore-paws on the stonework and tried to raise his hind legs, back he would slip again into the sea.
"Poor fellow!" said Bob. "Why, he can't get up. I will go and help him."
So saying, he began to clamber down the slope.
"Stop, boy, stop!" cried the Captain excitedly. "You will fall in!"
"Come back, Bob, come back!" screamed Nellie and her aunt together. "Come back!"
But, hardly able to keep his footing, it was out of Bob's power either to arrest his rapid descent of the downward slope or to retrace his steps.
The very cries of warning, indeed, of those above brought about the result they sought to prevent; for, looking up and waving his hand to reassure them, Bob all at once lost his footing, rolling over and plunging into the water right on top of Rover, his yell of dismay being echoed by a howl of pain from the dog.
DICK TO THE RESCUE.
"Gracious heavens! The boy will be drowned!" exclaimed Mrs Gilmour, wringing her hands frantically and rushing forward at once; while Nellie, equally excited, burst into tears, clinging to her aunt's side. "Oh, what shall I say to his mother? He's lost; he's lost!"
"No, he isn't—not a bit of it; no more drowned than I am," cried the Captain, laying his hand on Mrs Gilmour's arm, and putting both her and Nellie back, to prevent any rash impulse on their part. "You just keep as cool as the young rascal must be now! I'll fish him out in another minute, if you'll leave me alone; and, he'll be none the worse, barring a wetting."
With these words, the spry old gentleman, who was more active than many a younger man, began making his way cautiously down the treacherous slope of the rampart, aided by his trusty malacca cane, poking his stick between the niches of the stonework to act as a stay, and so prevent his slipping on too fast.
But, quick as he was in his movements, hardly had he made a dozen sliding steps down the decline, the action of the whole scene being almost instantaneous, when he felt, rather than saw, some one else glide swiftly past him still more expeditiously; and then, there was another heavy plunge in the water below, where Bob and Rover were struggling for dear life.
"Bless my soul!" ejaculated the Captain, halting abruptly with the assistance of his sheet anchor, the malacca cane, as he half turned round. "The woman's never such a fool!"
He thought it was Mrs Gilmour.
But, he was mistaken.
Dick had anticipated them both.
Bob's unlucky slip and cry of alarm as he fell into the sea, his aunt's exclamation of terror, the Captain's movement to the rescue, and the grateful Dick's perilous jump, for it was almost a leap from the top of the castle wall, were all, as has been already pointed out, the work of a moment; the chain of incidents taking much longer to describe than to happen.
So, there, before you could cry 'Jack Robinson,' as the Captain afterwards said, two boys, instead of one, were struggling with the dog in the water; and of all these three, to heighten the excitement of the scene, Rover alone was able to swim!
Bob, of course, had plunged in unwittingly, while Dick's only thought was to help one from whom he had received such unexpected kindness; the lad not having reflected for an instant on the danger of the task he was undertaking.
Now, therefore, although on reaching the water the grateful boy succeeded in carrying out his object of catching hold of Bob, both immediately sank under the surface.
They came up the next moment locked together, spluttering and splattering for breath and holding up their hands for aid, an action which naturally sent them down again; the tide meanwhile sweeping them away from the shore.
Rover was master of the situation—that is, he and the Captain, who by this time had scrambled down to the last ledge of the rampart, and took in the position of affairs at a glance.
"Hi, Rover, good dog, fetch them out!" cried the old sailor, at the same moment throwing off his coat and preparing to go into the sea, too, if need be. "Fetch 'em out!"
But, there was no necessity for this appeal to Rover, who did not require any orders or directions as to his duty.
The dog, like the Captain, was quite aware of the perilous position of his young master, and had already determined in his own mind what was best to be done under such circumstances.
Master Bob having come down flop on top of him as he was trying to clamber out, had in the first instance somewhat obscured his faculties; and the subsequent appearance of Dick on the scene, as he was just recovering from this douche, did not tend to make matters clearer to the retriever, whose eyes and ears were full of water, besides being moreover tired out by his previous exertions.
Any hesitation poor Rover might have felt, though, barely lasted an instant; for, the sight of two figures battling for life in the sea there under his very nose, and the knowledge that one of these was his young master, brought in an instant all his sagacious instincts into play.
He did not need the Captain or anybody else to tell him what to do. Not he!
Giving his head a quick shake to clear his eyes and uttering a short, sharp bark, as if to say, 'Hold on, my boys, I'm coming to help you!' the dog appeared to scramble through the water by a series of leaps, rather than to swim, towards the spot where the two unfortunates were struggling.
Reaching the pair, he at once gripped Bob's collar in his powerful teeth and proceeded to tow him to land, Dick hanging on behind; and Rover's muzzle was already turned shorewards, dragging his double burthen astern ere the Captain's cry of encouragement came to his ears, although on hearing it the noble animal redoubled his efforts.
It was, however, a terrible ordeal; nay, almost a hopeless one!
Had the boys been conscious, Rover would have had comparatively easy work of it, as then one of them might have held on to his collar and the other to his tail, and he could have pulled them both out without much trouble; as it was, now, they clung so frantically to each other and to him that they retarded in lieu of assisting his gallant attempt to save them.
But, help was at hand.
Just as the Captain called out, a couple of coastguardsmen were coming round the corner of the castle on their beat towards the east pier; and, hearing his shout to Rover, they stopped.
"Hullo!" cried one of the men, observing that Mrs Gilmour was in a state of great agitation, with Nellie sobbing beside her and the Captain at the bottom of the sloping rampart in the act of taking off his coat—"Anything wrong, mum?"
Mrs Gilmour's heart was so full that she could not speak at once, and the man who addressed her jumped to a wrong conclusion from the absence of any explanation at the moment.
"Oh, I see, mum, he's a-going to commit sooacide? We'll soon spoil his little game, mum. Bear a hand, Bill, will ye?"
So saying, the speaker and his comrade, with a catlike ease that came naturally to them from their practice at sea, where they had a rolling deck beneath their feet much more difficult to traverse than the slippery slope they were now on, had reached the spot where the coatless old sailor stood almost as these words were uttered, leaping down the steep descent in a sort of 'hop-skip-and-jump' fashion.
"None o' that!" exclaimed the elder of the two men who had previously spoken, grasping hold of one of the Captain's arms while his mate, or 'Bill,' caught hold of the other. "A-going to make away with yourself, eh? Not if we knows it, sir!"
At the same instant, however, Captain Dresser turned round with a face on which the animated expression produced by his determination to try and rescue the boys was mingled with a puzzled look of astonishment at being tackled in this unceremonious manner when on the very point of action.
His black eyes twinkled and his bushy eyebrows moved up and down at a fine rate as he looked up indignantly to see who had dared to lay hand on him.
"My stars!" ejaculated the coastguardsman Bill, dropping hold of the Captain's arm as if it had been a hot poker, "I'm blest if it ain't the old cap'en!"
The other man also recognised him at the same time, releasing the old man equally hurriedly.
"Beg pardon, sir," he said. "Didn't know it wer' you, sir!"
But the Captain made no reply to this apology.
He only pointed to the water just below where they were standing, and where the head of Rover could be dimly seen in the gathering dusk of the evening, now rapidly closing in, splashing his way to the shore.
"Boys—save—quick—drown!" he stammered out brokenly. "Quick, quick!"
The men did not require any further explanation or incentive.
Without stopping to doff a garment, in they both plunged, boots and all; and, before the Captain knew that they were gone from his side, they had reached poor Rover, now quite exhausted, gallant dog though he was!
Then, one of the men grasping hold of Bob and the other catching hold of Dick, they swam with the two boys between them, still locked together, to the end of the rampart wall that jutted out over the water.
Here the Captain was ready and waiting to lean over and lend them a hand, keeping the while a steady purchase to his feet by the aid of his malacca stick, which possibly had never been of such service before; and, presently, the coastguardsmen, the boys, and Rover, who would not let go his young master's collar and was lifted out along with him, were all once more again on firm ground.
By this time, a small crowd of spectators had collected on the spot, composed principally of persons who had come out for a walk round the castle and had their attention arrested by the scene passing in the water below.
The majority of these now, in company with Mrs Gilmour and Nellie, hurried to the lower part of the rampart, which, on the side nearer the harbour, did not shelve down there so abruptly, broadening out by degrees to a wide flat surface where it joined the esplanade bordering the beach.
At this spot, the coastguardsmen laid down the rescued boys, who were quite insensible from their long immersion; when Rover, at length satisfied that his young master was ashore and in safe hands, was persuaded to loose his grip of Bob's collar, contenting himself by venting his joy in a series of bounds and barks around his inanimate form and licking his apparently lifeless face.
Both Mrs Gilmour and the weeping Nellie thought they were dead.
"Poor boys!" sobbed the former, her tears falling in sympathy with those of the little girl, who was too stunned to speak. "But, what shall I say to Bob's mother? How can I tell her he is drowned?"
"Drowned? Not a bit of it—no more drowned than you are!" repeated the Captain, somewhat snappishly, his anxiety and excitement preventing him from speaking calmly, as he turned and bent over the inanimate bodies. "Help me, men, to rouse them back to life."
The coastguardsmen bent down, too, and lifting the boys up were proceeding to lay them down again on their faces, when the Captain stopped them.
"You idiots!" he exclaimed. "What are you going to do, eh?"
"Why, to let the water run out of 'em, sir," replied the elder of the two, looking up in his face and touching his forelock with his finger in proper nautical salute. "Ain't that right, sir?"
"Hullo! that you, Hellyer?" cried the old gentleman, recollecting him as a former coxswain. "Glad to see you again. By Jove, you came just now in the very nick of time to save these youngsters! Excuse me though; but, you've got hold of the same foolish idea a lot of other people have, that turning a poor half-drowned body upside down to empty him, as if he were a rum-cask, is the best way to recover him!"
"What should we do, sir?" asked the man with a grin. "I allers thought it were the right thing, sir?"
"Why, turn the poor fellows slightly a one side and then rub them smartly to restore the circulation," said the Captain promptly, suiting the action to the word; and, the next instant, he and the men were busily shampooing the boys till their arms ached. "Rub away, Hellyer; rub away!"
Rover growled at first on their touching Bob, apparently thinking the operation to mean an attack on his young master—he didn't mind what they did to Dick. But, presently he altered his opinion on the subject, helping so far as he could by means of barking and licking Bob's face and feet alternately to bring him back to consciousness.
In a short space, although to the anxious onlookers it seemed hours, the efforts of the Captain and coastguardsmen were rewarded by Bob drawing a deep breath, which, it must be confessed, was sadly impregnated with the odour of tobacco from the air which Hellyer had puffed into his lungs to induce respiration!
This tobacco made poor Bob cough, but it likewise caused him to get rid of the greater portion of the sea-water he had swallowed; and after that, he opened first one eye and then the other and, finally, his mouth, exclaiming, much to the delight of Rover, who was just then in the act of licking his face, "Good dog!"
"Bravo!" cried the Captain, stopping his shampooing process on Bob's body and rubbing his own hands instead, in great glee. "Now we'll do!"
As for Mrs Gilmour and Nellie, they expressed their delight by almost hugging the little newly-recovered life out of Bob and giving way to fresh tears, only this time they cried for joy and not from grief; while Rover could not contain himself, whining in a sort of hysterical fashion between his loud yelps, and jumping up on every one around as if to say, "Oh, I am so glad, my young master's all right again!"
Aye, Bob was soon all right, getting on his feet and being able to stand without assistance, the only effect of his ducking being that he looked pale, as far as could be seen in the twilight.
He was, besides, most unmistakably, as wet as a drowned rat!
Dick took a little longer time to recover; but, shortly afterwards, he, too, was himself once more.
When things had arrived at this happy stage, the Captain, who had been put in a fidget by the crowd clustering round—'a pack of star-gazing fools' as he whispered pretty audibly to Mrs Gilmour—thought it was time to make a move.
"Hellyer, you and your shipmate had better call round at my house in the morning," he said to his old coxswain, the elder of the two coastguardsmen. "You know my house, eh, the same old place?"
"Aye, aye, sir," replied the man, saluting as before. "We knows it well enough!"
"Then, good-night to you, and thank you both for your timely assistance," said the Captain, turning away with a touch to the brim of his hat in acknowledgment of their salute. "Come on, boys, you'll have to hurry home fast to prevent catching cold after your swim."
So saying and offering his arm to Mrs Gilmour, who was feeling faint after all the anxiety she had gone through, the brisk old gentleman led the way round the castle.
He insisted that Bob and Dick should run races across the common on their way towards the south parade, in which gymnastic display Miss Nellie and Rover both joined, for company sake as well as to set a good example; the big black retriever going over more ground than either of the competitors ere they reached 'The Moorings,' as Mrs Gilmour's house was christened.
"Won't you come in?" said Mrs Gilmour on their getting to the door, when the Captain raised his hat in token of adieu. "Do come in and have a rest, me dear Captain?"
"No, thanks, not up to cribbage to-night," he replied, shaking his head and chuckling. "Feel my old bones too sore from sliding down that confounded rampart. I mustn't keep you chattering here, however, for you've got to see about those youngsters. You are sure you don't mind the trouble of putting up my foundling Dick for the night, eh?"
"I should think not, especially after his jumping into the sea so nobly after Bob; and the poor boy, sure, not able to swim either!" said she warmly. "Dick shall not only stop in my house to-night, but as long as you please to let him, I tell you; and sure it's always grateful I'll be to him."
"Well, then," cried the Captain, "there's no use my stopping yarning here like an old woman now that point is settled. You'd better go and see after the boys at once."
"Oh, I'll say after them," she answered, laughing at his impatience, as he almost pushed her within the doorway and rushed down the steps towards the gate—"I'll say after them, never fear!"
"Mind you put them between the blankets, and give them each something hot to drink when they turn in," he shouted back over the railings. "I'll come round in the morning and give them a lecture to wake 'em up!"
With these last words, off he went; his malacca cane coming down with a thump on the pavement at every third step he took, until the sound died away in the distance—"Stump, Stump, Thump!—Stump, stump, Thump!— Stump, stump, Thump!"
Dick was now "in clover!"
Running away from a poor home and the tyranny of a cruel step-father, he had, in the first instance, providentially succeeded in getting 'a free passage,' as the Captain expressed it, to Portsmouth, the goal of his fondest ambition.
Then, after thus successfully overcoming the obstacles that lay in the way of his going to sea, so far as this initial stage to that ultimate end was concerned, the lucky fellow, in addition to gaining the Captain's favour and making the acquaintance of Bob and Nellie, put the finishing-touch to his good fortune by winning over Mrs Gilmour to his side—a lady who, as a friend, was worth perhaps all the rest, she being true as steel and thoughtful and considerate in every way.
For the Captain's sake alone, she would willingly have given the poor homeless lad house-room; but, beyond that, she had taken a strong fancy to Dick from noticing his willing manner and anxiety to oblige those who had been kind to him at the station, an impression that was more than confirmed subsequently when she witnessed his gallant conduct in plunging into the water to try and save the impulsive Bob.
So, Dick was in clover!
Like Master Bob, he had his wet clothes stripped off as soon as he got within doors, and wrapped in warm blankets was put into an equally cosy little bed; a hot treacle posset being afterwards given to each boy when comfortably tucked in by Mrs Gilmour herself, which drink even Bob, accustomed as he was to good things, said was 'not so bad, you know,' while to poor Lazarus-like Dick it tasted as nectar!
Nor was this the end of our runaway's good fortune.
In the morning, after a sound sleep which effectually banished all the ill effects of their impromptu ducking from both Bob and himself, Dick awoke, or rather was awakened by his hostess in person, to be told that the Captain was waiting and wanted to see him particularly.
"I think too, my boy, it really is time for you to get up," added the lady kindly. "Do you know it's past ten o'clock?"
"Law, mum!" exclaimed Dick, ashamed of his laziness, having been accustomed at Guildford to turn out at sunrise, that is if he went to bed at all; for his unkind step-father often locked him out of a night when in an especially angry mood. "Law, mum, whatever be I a-doing of a-lying here in broad daylight! I humbly asks yer parding, mum."
"Oh, never mind that, you're not so very late, my poor boy, considering all you went through yesterday and last night," said Mrs Gilmour smiling. "But, come now, you mustn't keep the Captain waiting, or we'll have him trotting upstairs after you himself. Dress as quickly as you can; I have had your things dried at the kitchen fire, and here they are in this chair near the door."
So saying, Mrs Gilmour left the room, and Dick hopped out of bed immediately afterwards, proceeding to put on his clothes; thinking, poor fellow, as he did so, how shabby and ragged they were, and that they and he were altogether sadly out of place in an apartment which, to his rustic eyes, used only to the surroundings of his village home, appeared a palace.
As soon as he was dressed and opened the door of the room, he found, waiting on the landing, a maidservant, who, first taking him downstairs to the kitchen, where she gave him a good breakfast, afterwards showed him the way to the parlour.
Here Mrs Gilmour and the Captain, with Bob and Nellie, were all assembled, apparently ready to go out, the ladies having their walking things on.
"A pretty time of day for a youngster like you to be getting up," cried the old sailor jocularly as he entered. "I wonder the bright sun hasn't scorched your eyes out long before this, sir!"
Dick was commencing an abject apology, but Mrs Gilmour stopped him.
"Oh, never mind the Captain," she said laughing at the poor lad's look of contrition. "He's only 'taking a rise' out of you, as he would call it."
"Humph! is he?" growled the Captain, blinking away and pretending to be very serious. "But, come now, we must be off. I want you to go along with me into Portsmouth; so, get your cap and we'll start at once."
"Mayn't we come too?" shouted Bob and Nellie in one breath together. "Do say yes, Captain Dresser!"
"Well, I don't know about you, Miss Nellie, for I may have to go into places where little girls may be in the way; besides which, I don't think you would like to leave your aunt all alone, eh?"
"Of course not, dear Captain, I forgot that," said Nellie, accepting this quiet suggestion of the old sailor as a final settlement of the question, without betraying a particle of ill-temper or dissatisfaction. "I will stop with auntie."
"Ah, you shan't lose anything by doing it, me darlint," smilingly said Mrs Gilmour, giving her an approving little pat on the cheek by way of caress. "You and I, Nell, may have a little expedition of our own, perhaps."
"But I may go with you and Dick," interposed Bob, by no means content to be left behind. "Mayn't I, Captain?"
"Oh yes, you may go or come, just as you please to call it," replied the Captain, making a move towards the door, with an energetic thump of his malacca cane on the floor. "Look sharp, though, or it will be midday before we're out of the house!"
This contingency, however, did not happen, for within a minute or so he and the two boys were out on the parade; the party being further increased by the presence of Rover, who had been lurking in the passage and followed them out unobserved. Not a bark or a gambol betrayed that he was after them, until the Captain on turning round suddenly saw him in their rear, close up to Bob's heels.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed; "I can't have that dog with us. Rover is a very fine fellow and a brave animal too; but, he's somewhat skittish as yesterday's proceedings at the railway-station showed me. I don't want to get into any more scrapes with him, such as knocking down harmless old women—she was a tartar, though, by Jove! Besides, I may have to go into the dockyard, and they do not allow dogs in there."
"Don't they?" asked Bob, catching hold of Rover's collar and preparing to take him back to the house. "Not even if they're well-behaved?"
"No, my boy, they draw the line at puppies! I mean those jackanapes of midshipmen and sub-lieutenants, as they call mates now, with their dandified airs. In my time, the reefers weren't half so conceited and didn't try to turn themselves into land swabs as they do now-a-days," said the Captain grimly, he being, like most sailors of the old school, a thorough believer in the times gone by. "But, go back now, and take that rascal of a dog in. Dick and I will wait for you at the corner."
Rover did not like this arrangement at all, but he had to submit to the force of circumstances; so, Bob disposing of him within doors and closing the outside gate as well for additional precaution, all presently made a fresh start for their destination.
While crossing Southsea Common, the boys were delighted with the sight of the soldiers of the garrison mustered for brigade drill, the troops marching and wheeling and countermarching to the music of the bands, which played such inspiriting airs that even the old Captain could not help keeping step, his trusty malacca coming down with a thump on the springy turf, in time with the rub-a-dub-dub of the drums.
Bob had seen a regiment or two before in London, at parades in front of the Horse Guards, or when reviewed on a small scale in Hyde Park; but, never previously, had he witnessed so many battalions marshalled together in all the pomp of war as now—the men formed up in double columns of companies, with the sunlight glinting on the bayonets of their sloped rifles and their legs looking like those of gigantic centipedes as they stepped forward in changing ground to the left, first the red stripe showing on one trouser-leg and then only the dark cloth of the other.
"How funny they look!" exclaimed Bob, lost in admiration as he took note of these little details, not a thing escaping him, the hoarse commands of the officers, the galloping to and fro of mounted aides-de-camp and 'orderlies,' the tooting bugle-calls, each in turn attracting his attention. "All move as if they were one man!"
"Aye, they march well, my boy," replied the Captain, taking advantage of the opportunity to point a moral lesson. "But, recollect it's all owing to discipline and obedience to orders!"
Beyond the troops, the blue sea could be seen reflecting the hue of the cloudless sky overhead, its surface dotted here and there with the white sail of some yacht or other, passing between Cowes and Spithead, or beating out into the Channel in the distance; while, in the more immediate foreground, anchored abreast of one of the harbour forts, was a modern ironclad man-of-war.
"What is that?" inquired Bob, pointing in the direction where the vessel lay, looking like some marine monster asleep on the water.
"Humph! you may well ask the question," growled the Captain, jobbing his stick down with an extra thump. "That is what they call a 'ship' now-a- days! She's an 'armour-clad' of the latest type, with all the improvements, though very different to the craft I and your Uncle Ted were accustomed to see in the good old times when ships were ships!"
"Why, Captain Dresser," said Bob sympathetically, "she's just like the roof of a house!"
"You're not far out, my boy. They all resemble floating barns more than anything else," grumbled the old sailor, bewailing the gallant frigates and three-deckers of the past. "But, come on now, let us get to the dockyard, and I will show you one or two vessels of the right sort that we still have got left, thank God, to remind us of what England's navy once was!"
With these words, he dragged the boys, much against their will, away from the busy scene on the common and past the last remaining bastion of the old fortifications that once encircled Portsmouth; and, finally getting into the town he dived through all sorts of queer little streets and alleys, and then along the new road running by the side of the Gunwharf until they reached the Hard.