E-text prepared by Martin Robb
HELD FAST FOR ENGLAND:
A Tale of the Siege of Gibraltar (1779-83)
G. A. HENTY.
Preface. Chapter 1: "Something Like An Adventure." Chapter 2: A Great Change. Chapter 3: An Unexpected Journey. Chapter 4: Preparations For A Voyage. Chapter 5: A French Privateer. Chapter 6: The Rock Fortress. Chapter 7: Troubles Ahead. Chapter 8: The Siege Begins. Chapter 9: The Antelope. Chapter 10: A Cruise In A Privateer. Chapter 11: Cutting Out A Prize. Chapter 12: A Rich Prize. Chapter 13: Oranges And Lemons. Chapter 14: A Welcome Cargo. Chapter 15: Bob's Mission. Chapter 16: A Cruise In The Brilliant. Chapter 17: The Floating Batteries.
Bob and his Companions surprise the Burglars. View of Gibraltar from the Mediterranean. View of Gibraltar from the Bay. The Professor gets excited. The Rock and Bay of Gibraltar. 'The old gentleman is a brick,' exclaimed Gerald. Bob swims off to the Spanish Warship. They found the two Spanish mates playing at cards. They find Boxes of Silver in the Lazaretto. Bob receives a Commission from the Governor.
The Siege of Gibraltar stands almost alone in the annals of warfare, alike in its duration and in the immense preparations made, by the united powers of France and Spain, for the capture of the fortress. A greater number of guns were employed than in any operation up to that time; although in number, and still more in calibre, the artillery then used have in, modern times, been thrown into the shade by the sieges of Sebastopol and Paris. Gibraltar differs, however, from these sieges, inasmuch as the defence was a successful one and, indeed, at no period of the investment was the fortress in any danger of capture, save by hunger.
At that period England was not, as she afterwards became, invincible by sea; and as we were engaged at the same time in war with France, Spain, Holland, and the United States, it was only occasionally that a fleet could be spared to bring succour and provisions to the beleaguered garrison. Scurvy was the direst enemy of the defenders. The art of preserving meat in tins had not been discovered, and they were forced to subsist almost entirely upon salt meat. During the first year of the siege the supply of fresh vegetables was scanty, in the extreme, and the garrison consequently suffered so severely, from scurvy, that at one time scarcely half of the men of the garrison were strong enough to carry a firelock, and perform their duty. The providential capture of a vessel laden with oranges and lemons checked the ravages of the scourge; and the successful efforts of the garrison to raise vegetables prevented it from ever, afterwards, getting a firm hold upon them.
In such a siege there was but little scope for deeds of individual gallantry. It was a long monotony of hardship and suffering, nobly endured, and terminating in one of the greatest triumphs ever recorded in the long roll of British victories.
G. A. Henty.
Chapter 1: "Something Like An Adventure."
Had Mr. Tulloch, the headmaster and proprietor of a large school at Putney, been asked which was the most troublesome boy in his school, he would probably have replied, without hesitation, "Bob Repton."
But, being a just and fair-minded man, he would have hastened to qualify this remark, by adding:
"Most troublesome, but by no means the worst boy. You must understand that. He is always in scrapes, always in mischief. In all my experience I have never before come across a boy who had such an aptitude for getting into trouble; but I have nothing else to say against him. He is straightforward and manly. I have never known him to tell a lie, to screen himself. He is an example to many others in that way. I like the boy, in spite of the endless trouble he gives, and yet there is scarcely a day passes that I am not obliged to cane him; and even that does him no good, as far as I can see, for he seems to forget it, five minutes after it is over. I wonder, sometimes, if he has really got hardened, and doesn't feel it.
"He is sharp, and does his lessons well. I have no difficulty with him, on that score; but he is a perfect imp of mischief."
With such characteristics, it need hardly be said that Bob Repton was one of the most popular boys at Tulloch's school.
School life was, in those days—for it was in August, 1778, that Bob was at Tulloch's—a very different thing to what it is, at present. Learning was thrashed into boys. It was supposed that it could only be instilled in this manner; and although some masters were, of course, more tyrannical and brutal than others, the cane was everywhere in use, and that frequently. Lads, then, had far less liberty and fewer sports than at present; but as boys' spirits cannot be altogether suppressed, even by the use of the cane, they found vent in other ways, and there was much more mischief, and more breaking out of bounds, than now take place. Boys were less trusted, and more harshly treated; in consequence of which there was a kind of warfare between the masters and the boys, in which the masters, in spite of their canes, did not always get the best of it.
Bob Repton was nearly fifteen. He was short, rather than tall for his age, but squarely built and strong. His hair could never be got to lie down, but bristled aggressively over his head. His nose was inclined to turn up, his gray eyes had a merry, mischievous expression, and his lips were generally parted in a smile. A casual observer would have said that he was a happy-go-lucky, merry, impudent-looking lad; but he was more than this. He was shrewd, intelligent, and exceptionally plucky; always ready to do a good turn to others, and to take more than his fair share of blame, for every scrape he got into. He had fought many battles, and that with boys older than himself, but he had never been beaten. The opinion, generally, among the boys was that he did not feel pain and, being caned so frequently, such punishment as he got in a fight was a mere trifle to him.
He was a thorn in the side of Mr. Purfleet, the usher who was generally in charge of the playground; who had learned by long experience that, whenever Bob Repton was quiet, he was certain to be planning some special piece of mischief. The usher was sitting now on a bench, with a book in his hand; but his attention was, at present, directed to a group of four boys who had drawn together in a corner of the playground.
"There is Repton, again," he said to himself. "I wonder what he is plotting, now. That boy will be the death of me. I am quite sure it was he who put that eel in my bed, last week; though of course, I could not prove it."
Mr. Purfleet prided himself on his nerve. He had been telling the boys some stories he had read of snakes, in India; among them, one of an officer who, when seated at table, had felt a snake winding itself round his leg, and who sat for several minutes without moving, until some friends brought a saucer of milk and placed it near, when the snake uncurled itself and went to drink.
"It must have required a lot of nerve, Mr. Purfleet," Bob Repton had said, "to sit as quiet as that."
"Not at all, not at all," the usher replied, confidently. "It was the natural thing to do. A man should always be calm, in case of sudden danger, Bob. The first thought in his mind should be, 'What is this?' the second, 'What had best be done, under the circumstances?' and, these two things being decided, a man of courage will deal coolly with the danger. I should despise myself, if I were to act otherwise."
It was two nights later that the usher, having walked down between the two rows of beds in the dormitory, and seeing that all the boys were quiet, and apparently asleep, proceeded to his own bed, which was at the end of the room, and partly screened off from the rest by a curtain. No sooner did he disappear behind this than half a dozen heads were raised. An oil lamp burned at the end of the room, affording light for the usher to undress; and enabling him, as he lay in bed, to command a general, if somewhat faint view of the dormitory. Five minutes after Mr. Purfleet had disappeared behind the curtain, the watching eyes saw the clothes at the end of the bed pulled down, and caught a partial view of Mr. Purfleet as he climbed in. A second later there was a yell of terror, and the usher leapt from the bed. Instantly, the dormitory was in an uproar.
"What is it, Mr. Purfleet—what is the matter, sir?" and several of the boys sprang from their beds, and ran towards him; the only exceptions to the general excitement being the four or five who were in the secret. These lay shaking with suppressed laughter, with the bedclothes or the corner of a pillow thrust into their mouths, to prevent them from breaking out into screams of delight.
"What is it, sir?"
It was some time before the usher could recover himself sufficiently to explain.
"There is a snake in my bed," he said.
"A snake!" the boys repeated, in astonishment, several of the more timid at once making off to their beds.
"Certainly, a snake," Mr. Purfleet panted. "I put my legs down, and they came against something cold, and it began to twist about. In a moment, if I had not leapt out, I should no doubt have received a fatal wound."
"Where did it come from?"
"What is to be done?"
And a variety of other questions burst from the boys.
"I will run down and get three or four hockey sticks, Mr. Purfleet," one of the elder boys said.
"That will be the best plan, Mason. Quick, quick! There, do you see it moving, under the clothes?"
There was certainly something wriggling, so there was a general movement back from the bed.
"We had better hold the clothes down, Mr. Purfleet," Bob Repton said, pushing himself forward. "If it were to crawl out at the top, and get on to the floor, it might bite a dozen of us. I will hold the clothes down tight, on one side, if someone will hold them on the other."
One of the other boys came forward, and the clothes were stretched tightly across the bed, by the pillow. In a minute or two, Mason ran up with four hockey sticks.
"Now, you must be careful," Mr. Purfleet said, "because if it should get out, the consequences might be terrible. Now, then, four of you take the sticks, and all hit together, as hard as you can—now."
The sticks descended together. There was a violent writhing and contortion beneath the clothes, but the blows rained down fast and, in a very short time, all movement ceased.
"It must be dead, now," Bob Repton said. "I think we can look at it now, sir."
"Well, draw the clothes down very gently; boys, and be ready to strike again, if you see the least movement."
The clothes were drawn down, till the creature was visible.
"It must be a cobra," the usher said, looking at it from a distance. "It is thick and short. It must have escaped from somewhere. Be very careful, all of you."
Mason approached cautiously, to get a nearer view; and then exclaimed:
"Why, sir, it is an eel!"
There was a moment's silence, and then a perfect yell of laughter from the boys. For a moment the usher was dumbfounded, then he rallied.
"You will all go to your beds, at once," he said. "I shall report the matter to Mr. Tulloch, in the morning."
The boys retired, laughing, to their beds; but above the din the usher heard the words, in a muffled voice:
"A man should always be calm, in sudden danger."
Another voice, equally disguised, said:
"Yes, he should first ask himself 'What is this?' then 'What had best be done, under the circumstances?'"
A third voice then took it up:
"It follows that a man of courage will deal coolly with the danger."
Then there was a chorus of half a dozen voices:
"I should despise myself, if I were to act otherwise."
"Silence!" the usher shouted, rushing down the line between the beds. "I will thrash the first boy who speaks."
As Mr. Purfleet had one of the hockey sticks in his hand, the threat was sufficient to ensure silence.
To the relief of the two or three boys engaged in the affair, Mr. Purfleet made no report in the morning. Mr. Tulloch by no means spared the cane, but he always inquired before he flogged and, as the usher felt sure that the snake story would be brought forward, by way of excuse for the trick played upon him, he thought it better to drop it; making a mental note, however, that he would get even with Bob Repton, another time—for he made sure that he was at the bottom of the matter, especially as he had been one of those who had listened to the snake story.
Mr. Purfleet was held in but light respect by the boys. He was a pale young man, and looked as if he had been poorly fed, as a boy. He took the junior classes, and the belief was that he knew nothing of Latin.
Moffat, who took the upper classes, was much more severe, and sent up many more boys to be caned than did the junior usher; but the boys did not dislike him. Caning they considered their natural portion, and felt no ill will on that account; while they knew that Mr. Moffat was a capital scholar and, though strict, was always scrupulously just. Above all, he was not a sneak. If he reported them, he reported them openly, but brought no accusation against them behind their back; while Mr. Purfleet was always carrying tittle tattle to the headmaster. There was, therefore, little gratitude towards him for holding his tongue as to the eel; for the boys guessed the real reason of his silence, and put it down to dread of ridicule, and not to any kindliness of feeling.
"Purfleet would give sixpence to know what we are talking about, Bob," one of the group talking in the corner of the playground said.
"It is worth more than that, Jim; still, we shall have to be extra careful. He suspects it was our lot who played him the trick about the eel, and he will do his best to catch us out, in something.
"Well, as I was saying, Johnny Gibson has got a first-rate dog for rabbits, and he says there are lots of them up on the Common. I told him that I would come, and I expected two or three more; and we would meet him at the top of the hill, at four o'clock tomorrow morning. It will be getting light by that time. Of course, we shall get out in the usual way, and we can be back by half past six, and no one will be any the wiser. Old Thomas never comes down till a quarter to seven. I have heard him a dozen times. He just comes down in time to ring the bell for us to get up."
"Oh, I ain't afraid of Thomas," one of the others said, "but I am afraid of Purfleet."
"There need be no fear about him. He never wakes till the bell rings, and sleeps like a top. Why, he didn't wake, the other morning, when we had a scrimmage and you tumbled out of bed. Besides, we all sleep at the other end of the room and, even if he did wake up in the night, he wouldn't notice that we had gone; especially if we shoved something in the bed, to make a lump.
"My only fear is that we shan't wake. We ought to keep watch till it's time to get up, but I am sure we shouldn't keep awake. We must all make up our minds to wake at three, then one of us will be sure to do it. And mind, if one wakes, he must promise not to go to sleep again before he hears the hall clock strike, and knows what time it is. If it is before three, he can go off to sleep again. That way, one of us is sure to be awake, when it strikes three."
"I say, shan't we just be licked, if we are found out, Bob?"
"Of course we shall; but as we get licked pretty well every day, that won't make much difference, and we shall have had awful fun. Still, if any of you fellows don't like it, don't you go. I am going, but I don't want to persuade any of you."
"Of course we are going, if you are going, Bob. What are we going to do with the rabbits?"
"Oh, I settled Johnny Gibson should keep them. He is going to bring his dog, you know; besides, what could we do with them? We can't cook them, can we?"
As it was clear to all the party that this could not be managed, no objection was raised to this disposal of their game.
Bob Repton slept but little that night. They went to bed at eight, and he heard every hour strike after nine; dozing off occasionally, and waking up, each time, convinced that the clock would strike three next time. At last he heard the three welcome strokes, and at once got up and went to the beds of the other three boys.
They were all sound asleep, and required some shaking before they could be convinced that it was time to get up. Then each boy put his bolster in his bed, rolled up his night shirt into a ball and laid it on the pillow, and then partly covered it up with the clothes. Then they slipped on their shirts, breeches, and stockings and, taking their jackets and shoes in their hand, stole out of the door at their end of the room, and closed it behind them. They then crept downstairs to the room where their caps were kept, put on these and their jackets, and each boy got a hockey stick out of the cupboard in the corner in which they were kept. Then they very cautiously unfastened the shutter, raised the window, and slipped out. They pulled the shutter to behind them, closed the window, and then put on their shoes.
"That is managed first rate," Bob said. "There wasn't the least noise. I made sure Wharton would have dropped his shoes."
"Why should I drop them, more than anyone else?" Wharton asked in an aggrieved voice.
"I don't know, Billy. The idea occurred to me. I didn't think anyone else would do it, but I quite made up my mind that you would."
"Well, I wish you wouldn't be so fast about making up your mind, then," Wharton grumbled. "I ain't more clumsy than other people."
"You are all right," Jim Sankey put in. "Bob's only joking."
"Well, he might as well joke with somebody else, Jim. I don't see any joke in it."
"No, that is where the joke is, Billy," Bob said. "If you did see the joke, there wouldn't be any joke in it.
"Well, never mind, here is the walnut tree. Now, who will get over first?"
The walnut tree stood in the playground near the wall, and had often proved useful as a ladder to boys at Tulloch's. One of its branches extended over the wall and, from this, it was easy to drop down beyond it. The return was more difficult, and was only to be accomplished by means of an old ivy, which grew against the wall at some distance off. By its aid the wall could be scaled without much difficulty, and there was then the choice of dropping twelve feet into the playground, or of walking on the top of the wall until the walnut tree was reached.
Tulloch's stood some little distance along the Lower Richmond Road. There were but one or two houses, standing back from the road between it and the main road up the hill, and there was little fear of anyone being abroad at that time in the morning. There was, as yet, but a faint gleam of daylight in the sky; and it was dark in the road up the hill, as the trees growing in the grounds of the houses, on either side, stretched far over it.
"I say," Jim Sankey said, "won't it be a go, if Johnny Gibson isn't there, after all?"
"He will be up there by four," Bob said, confidently. "He said his father would be going out in his boat to fish, as soon as it began to be daylight—because the tide served at that hour—and that he would start, as soon as his father shoved off the boat.
"My eye, Jim, what is that ahead of us? It looks to me like a coach."
"It is a coach, or a carriage, or something of that sort."
"No, it isn't, it is a light cart. What can it be doing here, at this hour? Let us walk the other side of the road."
They crossed to the left, as they got abreast of the cart. A man, whom they had not noticed before, said sharply:
"You are about early."
"Yes, we are off to work," Bob replied, and they walked steadily on.
"He couldn't see what we were like," Jim Sankey said, when they had got a hundred yards further.
"Not he," Bob said. "I could not make out his figure at all, and it is darker on this side of the road than it is on the other.
"I say, you fellows, I think he is up to no good."
"What do you mean, Bob?"
"Well, what should a cart be standing on the hill for, at this time in the morning? That's Admiral Langton's, I know; the door is just where the cart was stopping."
"Well, what has that got to do with it, Bob? The cart won't do him any harm."
"No, but there may be some fellows with it, who may be breaking into his house."
"Do you think so, Bob?"
"Well, it seems likely to me it may be his house, or one of the others."
"Well, what are we to do, Bob?"
"I vote we see about it, Jim. We have pretty nearly half an hour to spare, now, before Johnny Gibson will come along. We have got our hockey sticks, you know."
"But suppose there shouldn't be any men there, Bob, and we should be caught in the grounds; They would think we were going to steal something."
"That would be a go," Bob said, "but there isn't likely to be anyone about, at half past three; and if there were, I don't suppose he would be able to catch us. But we must risk something, anyhow. It will be a bit of fun, and it will be better than waiting at the top of the hill, with nothing to do till, Johnny Gibson comes."
They were now past the wall in front of Admiral Langton's, and far out of sight of the man in the cart.
"There is some ivy on this wall," Bob said. "We can climb over it, by that. Then we will make our way along, until we can find some place where we can climb over into the admiral's garden."
"Perhaps there are some dogs about," Wharton objected.
"Well, if there are, they are most likely chained up. We must risk something.
"Well, here goes. If you don't like it, Wharton, you can stay behind."
So saying, he put his hockey stick between his teeth, and then proceeded to climb up the wall, by means of the ivy.
The wall was but nine feet high and, as soon as he gained the top, Bob said:
"Come on, you fellows. I am going to drop down."
In two minutes he was joined by the other three.
"There is a path, just beyond," Bob said; "let us go by that. Don't you fellows say a word. As Wharton says, there may be some dogs about."
Quietly they stole along the path, which ran parallel to the road, until it turned off at right angles.
"Now, the first tree that grows against the wall we will get over by," Bob whispered.
After going twenty yards, he stopped.
"This tree will do."
"But what are you going to do, if there should be some men?" Wharton asked, in a tone that showed he objected, altogether, to the proceeding.
"It depends upon how many of them there are," Bob replied. "Of course, the admiral has got some men in the house; and they will wake up, and help us, if we give the alarm. Anyhow, we ought to be able to be a match for two men, with these sticks, especially if we take them by surprise.
"What do you say, Jim?"
"I should think so," Jim replied. "Anyhow, if you are game to go on, I am.
"What do you say, Fullarton?"
"Oh, I am ready," Fullarton, who was a boy of few words, replied.
"Only, if there is anyone, Bob, and we get into a row with them, of course it will all come out about us; and then shan't we get it, just!"
"I suppose we shall," Bob admitted, "but I don't see we can help that.
"Well, we are in for it, now," and he began to climb the tree and, working along a limb which extended over the wall, he dropped down into the garden.
The others soon joined, Wharton being more afraid of staying behind, by himself, than of going with the rest.
"Now, what are we to do next?"
"I should say we ought to find out whether anyone has got into the house. That is the first thing. Then, if they have, we have got to try to wake up the people, and to frighten the men inside.
"Have you got some string in your pockets?"
"I have got some."
They all had string.
"What do you want string for, Bob?"
"String is always useful, Jim. We may want to tie their hands. But what I was thinking was, we might fasten it across the stairs, or some of the passages; and then set up a sudden shout, and they would think the watchmen had come, and would make a bolt; and when they got to the string over they would go, and then we would drop on them with these hockey sticks, before they could get up.
"Well, come on. There mayn't be anyone here, after all. Now we will go up to the house, and creep round."
The house stood thirty or forty yards away and, stepping as noiselessly as they could, the boys crossed the lawn and moved along the front. Suddenly, Tom Fullarton caught hold of Bob's arm.
"Look, Bob, there is a light in that room! Do you see—through the slit in the shutters?"
"So there is. Well, there is no mistake, now. There must be some fellows belonging to that cart inside. That must be the drawing room, or dining room, and they would never have lights there at this time of night.
"Now, let us find out where they got in. This is something like fun. It beats rabbit hunting all to nothing.
"Now mind, you fellows, if we do come upon them, and there is a fight, you remember the best place to hit, to begin with, is the ankle. You have only just got to fancy that it is a bung, and swipe at it with all your might. Anyone you hit there is sure to go down and, if he wants it, you can hit him over the head, afterwards.
"Now, come along. I expect they got in at the back of the house."
They soon came upon a door at the side of the house. It was open.
"That looks as if they had been let in," Bob whispered. "See, there is a light in there, somewhere! Come on.
"Now, let us take our shoes off."
The others were thoroughly excited now, and followed Bob without hesitation.
"Bob, is the key in the door?" Jim whispered.
"Yes, on the inside. They have been let in. I wish I dare lock it, and take the key away. Let me see if it turns easy."
Very gently he turned the key, and found the bolt shot noiselessly. It had doubtless been carefully oiled. He turned it again, shut the door, locked it, and put the key in his pocket.
Then they crept on tiptoe along the passage. At the end were two large chests, strengthened with iron bands. A lighted lantern stood upon them. Bob peered round the corner into the hall. No one was to be seen, but he heard a noise through an open door, from which came a stream of light.
Motioning the others to stand still, he crept forward noiselessly till he could look into the room. A man was occupied in packing some articles of massive plate, clocks, and other valuables into a sack. He was alone.
Bob made his way back to the others.
"There's only one fellow there," he said. "If there are any more, they are upstairs. Let us have this one first—his back is to the door.
"Now, Wharton, you hold our handkerchiefs and the string. If he don't look round, I will jump on his back and have him down.
"The moment he is down, you two throw yourselves on him, and you shove the handkerchiefs into his mouth, Wharton. In the surprise, he won't know that we are only boys; and we will tie his hands before he has time to resist.
"Now, come on."
They were all plucky boys—for Wharton, although less morally courageous than the others, was no coward, physically. Their stockinged feet made no sound, and the man heard nothing until Bob sprang on to his back, the force sending him down on to his face. Bob's arm was tightly round his throat; and the other two threw themselves upon him, each seizing an arm, while Wharton crammed two handkerchiefs into his mouth. The man's hands were dragged behind his back, as he lay on his face, and his wrists tied firmly together. He was rendered utterly helpless before he had recovered from the first shock of surprise.
"Tie his ankles together with the other two handkerchiefs," Bob said, still lying across him.
"That is right. You are sure they are tight? There, he will do, now. I must lock him in."
This was done.
"Now, then, let's go upstairs.
"Now, fasten this last piece of string across between the banisters, six or eight steps up.
"Make haste," he added, as a faint cry was heard, above.
It did not take a second to fasten the string at each end; and then, grasping their sticks, the boys sprang upstairs. On gaining the landing, they heard voices proceeding from a room along a corridor and, as they crept up to it, they heard a man's voice say, angrily:
"Now we ain't going to waste any more time. If you don't tell us where your money is, we will knock you and the girl on the head.
"No, you can't talk, but you can point out where it is. We know that you have got it.
"Very well, Bill, hit that young woman over the head with the butt of your pistol. Don't be afraid of hurting her.
"Ah! I thought you would change your mind. So it is under the bed.
"Look under, Dick. What is there?"
"A square box," another voice said.
"Well, haul it out."
"Come on," Bob Repton whispered to the others; "the moment we are in, shout."
Illustration: Bob and his Companions surprise the Burglars.
He stood for a moment in the doorway. A man was standing, with his back to him, holding a pistol in his hand. Another, similarly armed, stood by the side of a young woman who, in a loose dressing gown, sat shrinking in an armchair, into which she had evidently been thrust. A third was in the act of crawling under the bed. An elderly man, in his nightshirt, was standing up. A gag had been thrust into his mouth; and he was tightly bound, by a cord round his waist, to one of the bedposts.
Bob sprang forward, whirling his hockey stick round his head, and giving a loud shout of "Down with the villains!" the others joining, at the top of their voices.
Before the man had time to turn round, Bob's stick fell, with all the boy's strength, upon his ankle; and he went down as if he had been shot, his pistol exploding as he fell. Bob raised his stick again and brought it down, with a swinging blow, on the robber's head.
The others had made a rush, together, towards the man standing by the lady. Taken utterly by surprise, he discharged his pistol at random, and then sprang towards the door. Two blows fell on him, and Sankey and Fullarton tried to grapple with him; but he burst through them, and rushed out.
Bob and Wharton sprang on the kneeling man, before he could gain his feet; and rolled him over, throwing themselves upon him. He was struggling furiously, and would soon have shaken them off, when the other boys sprang to their assistance.
"You help them, Jim. I will get this cord off!" Fullarton said and, running to the bed, began to unknot the cord that bound the admiral.
The ruffian on the ground was a very powerful man, and the three boys had the greatest difficulty in holding him down; till Fullarton slipped a noose round one of his ankles and then, jumping on the bed, hauled upon it with all his strength—the admiral giving his assistance.
"Get off him, he is safe!" he shouted; but the others had the greatest difficulty in shaking themselves free from the man—who had, fortunately, laid his pistol on the bed, before he crawled under it to get at the box.
Jim Sankey was the first to shake himself free from him and, seeing what Fullarton was doing, he jumped on to the bed and gave him his assistance and, in half a minute, the ruffian's leg was lashed to the bedpost, at a height of five feet from the ground.
Just as this was done there was a rush of feet outside; and three men, one holding a cutlass and the other two armed with pokers, ran into the room. It was fortunate they did so, for the man whom Bob had first felled was just rising to his feet; but he was at once struck down again, by a heavy blow over the head with the cutlass. By this time the admiral had torn off the bandage across his mouth.
"Another of them ran downstairs, Jackson. Give chase. We can deal with these fellows."
The three men rushed off.
"Well, I don't know who you are," the admiral went on, turning to the boys, "but you turned up at the nick of time; and I am deeply indebted to you, not only for saving my money—although I should not have liked to lose that—but for having captured these pirates.
"That villain has not hurt you much, I hope?" for both Bob and Jim Sankey were bleeding freely, from the face, from the heavy blows the robber had dealt them.
"No, sir, we are not hurt to speak of," Bob said. "We belong to Tulloch's school."
"To the school!" the admiral exclaimed. "What on earth are you doing here, at four o'clock in the morning?
"But never mind that now. What is it, Jackson, has he got away?"
"No, sir; he was lying in a heap, at the bottom of the stairs. There was a lanyard fastened across."
"We tied a string across, sir, as we came up," Bob explained.
"Well done, lads!
"Are there any more of them, Jackson?"
"Don't see any signs of any more, admiral. There are the two plate chests in the passage, as if they had been brought out from the butler's strong room, in readiness to take away."
"Where is the butler? He must have heard the pistol shots!" the admiral exclaimed angrily.
"He is not in his room, admiral. We looked in to bring him with us. The door was open, but he isn't there."
"There is another man in the drawing room, tied." Bob said. "He was putting a lot of things into a sack."
"The scoundrel! Perhaps that is the butler," the admiral said.
"Well, Emma, you had better go back to bed again.
"Jackson, you stand guard over these two villains here, and split their heads open, if they venture to move.
"Now, let us go and see to this other fellow."
The admiral proceeded downstairs, followed by the boys. The other two servants were standing beside the third robber, who was still insensible.
"You keep watch over him, John," the admiral said.
"William, you come with us. There is another man in the drawing room, but he is tied."
"There is the key, sir," Bob said, producing it. "We thought it safest to lock him up."
"Upon my word, young gentlemen, you seem to have thought of everything. If I were in command of a ship, I should like to have you all as midshipmen."
The door was opened. The man was still lying on the ground, but had rolled some distance from where they had left him. He had succeeded in getting his feet loosened from the handkerchief, but the whipcord round his wrists had resisted all his efforts to break or slacken it. He was panting heavily from the exertions he had made.
"It is Harper," the admiral said, in a tone of indignation and disgust.
"So, you treacherous scoundrel, it was you who let these men in, was it? Well, it is a hanging matter, my lad; and if any fellow deserves the rope, you do.
"You had better go and get some more cord, Williams, and tie all these four fellows up, securely. Let Jackson see to the knots.
"Where did the scoundrels get in?" he asked, turning to the boys.
"At the door at the end of the passage, sir, where the plate chests are standing. We found it open—here is the key of it. We locked it, after we came in, so as to prevent anyone from getting away.
"There is another man, with a cart, in the road."
"We will see to him, directly we have got the others all tied up safely," the admiral said. "That is the first thing to see to."
In five minutes, the four men were laid side by side in the hall, securely bound hand and foot.
"Now, Williams, you keep guard over them.
"Jackson, do you and John sally out. There is a cart standing outside the gate, and a fellow in it. Bring him in, and lay him alongside the others."
The boys followed the two men, to see the capture. The light had broadened out over the sky, and it was almost sunrise as they sallied out. They went quietly along, until they reached the gate—which stood ajar—then they flung it open and rushed out. To their disappointment, the cart was standing about fifty yards lower down the hill. The man was in it, with his whip in one hand and the reins in another, and was looking back; and the moment he saw them, he struck the horse and drove off at the top of his speed. The pace was such that it was hopeless for them to think of following him.
"I expect he heard the pistol shots," Jackson said, "and sheered off a bit, so as to be able to cut and run if he found his consorts were in trouble. Well, we cannot help it; we have taken four prizes out of the five, and I call that pretty fair."
"I think we had better go, now," Bob said. "We have got a friend waiting for us."
"Then he must wait a bit longer," Jackson said. "The admiral will want to ask you some more questions. But if your friend is anywhere near, one of you might run and tell him to back and fill a bit, till you come to him."
"Tell him to do what?" Jim Sankey asked.
"Tell him to wait a bit, lad."
"I will run up," Wharton said.
"Shall I tell him we shan't want him at all, today, Bob?"
"I think so, Wharton. You see it is four o'clock, now; and we mayn't be able to get away for half an hour, and it will be too late, then. Besides, Jim and I have been knocked about too much to care for rabbit hunting, now. You tell him we will go some other day."
"You needn't tell him that, Wharton," Fullarton put in. "It will be some time before we get a chance, you may be sure."
"All right! Tell him to go home then, Wharton. Tell him I will make it all right with him, for losing his morning's work. Of course, you will come in here, when you come down the hill again."
Wharton nodded, and started at a run up the hill; while his companions accompanied the two men into the house. The admiral was down in the hall again. He had now had time to add to his former, scanty costume.
"Get the shutters of the drawing room open, Jackson," he said, after hearing the report of the man's escape, "and tell the maids—I suppose they are all up—to light a fire and get some coffee ready, at once, and something to eat.
"Now, young gentlemen, sit down and tell me all about this business. Now, which of you will be spokesman?"
Jim nodded to Bob.
"It's his doing, sir. I mean about our coming in here. We should never have thought anything about the cart, if it hadn't been for Bob; and we didn't much like coming, only he pretty well made us, and he arranged it all."
"That's all rot," Bob said. "We were just all in it together, sir, and this is how it was."
And he told the whole story of what had taken place.
"Well, you couldn't have done better, if you had been officers in His Majesty's service," the admiral said. "You have saved me the loss of my two plate chests, of all the plate in this room—and that couldn't be counted in money, for they were most of the things given me, at different times, on service—and of 500 pounds I had in that box upstairs—altogether, at least 2000 pounds in money value. More than that, you prevented my being captured; and it would have been a sorer blow, to me, than the loss of the money, if those scoundrels had had their way, and had got off scot free.
"But you haven't told me, yet, how you happened to be going up the hill, at half past three o'clock in the morning. What on earth were you doing there? Surely your master does not allow you to ramble about, in the middle of the night."
"Well, no, sir, that is the worst of it," Bob said. "You see, I had arranged with one of the fishermen's boys, who has got a first-rate dog, that we could meet him upon the Common, and do some rabbit hunting. We slipped out from Tulloch's, and meant to have been back before anyone was up. And now I expect we shall get it nicely, because I suppose it must all come out."
The admiral laughed.
"You are four nice young scamps!" he said—for Wharton had rejoined them, before Bob had finished the story—"but it is not for me to blame you. It will certainly have to be told, lads, because you will have to appear as witnesses at the trial of these fellows; but I will go down myself, the first thing in the morning, and speak to your master."
"Thank you, sir," Bob said. "It won't make any difference about the thrashing; we are bound to get that. But we shan't mind that, we are pretty well accustomed to it. Still, if you speak for us, I expect we shall get off with that; otherwise I don't know what Tulloch would have done, when he found out that we had been slipping out at night."
"I expect it is not the first time you have done it?"
"Well, no, it is not, sir. We have been out two or three times, with one of the fishermen, in his boat."
"I expect you are nice young pickles," the admiral said. "Well, what time does school begin?"
"Half past seven, sir."
"Very well, then. I will be there at that hour, lads, and do my best for you. You see, with those faces of yours, you would be sure to be noticed, anyhow; and I hope you wouldn't, in any case, have been mean enough to screen yourselves by lying."
"That we shouldn't," Bob said. "I don't think there is a boy in the school who would tell a lie to Tulloch."
"That is right, lads. A gentleman will never tell a lie to screen himself, when he has got into a scrape. I wouldn't keep the smartest young officer in the service on board a ship of mine, if I caught him telling a lie; for I should know that he would not only be a blackguard, but a coward. Cowardice is at the bottom of half the lying of the world. I would overlook anything, except lying. Upon my word, I would rather that a boy were a thief than a liar.
"Well, here is breakfast. Now sit down and make yourselves at home, while I go up and see how my daughter is, after the fright she has had."
Half an hour later, after eating a hearty breakfast, the four boys started for school.
Chapter 2: A Great Change.
It was just striking six when they again climbed over the wall, and descended by the tree. They had had a discussion whether they should wait until the doors were opened, and walk quietly in, or return as they left. They adopted the latter plan, because they thought that, if the matter was reported to Mr. Tulloch, he might proceed to administer punishment before the admiral arrived to give his version of the affair.
The door was still ajar. As they opened it, they gave an exclamation of surprise—for there, sitting on a chair in the passage, was Mr. Purfleet. He smiled unpleasantly.
"So here you are. You have had a pleasant ramble, no doubt; but I don't quite know what view Mr. Tulloch may take of it."
"It was very good of you to sit up for us, Mr. Purfleet," Bob said, quietly; "but you see, we had left the door open, and could have got in by ourselves. I hope you will not have caught cold, sitting there only in a dressing gown."
"You are an impudent young scamp!" Mr. Purfleet said, in a rage. "You will laugh with the other side of your mouth, presently. You and Sankey are nice-looking figures, ain't you, with your faces all cut and swollen?"
"We have been a little in the wars," Bob replied.
"I don't want to hear anything about it," the usher replied. "You will have to explain matters to Mr. Tulloch."
"So I suppose, Mr. Purfleet.
"Well, Jim, we'll go and have a good wash. The bell will be ringing, in half an hour."
So saying, Bob went into the lavatory, followed by his companions; while the usher returned upstairs. He was certainly disappointed. Quietly as the boys had dressed, the slight noise they had made in closing the door had woke him. He thought little of it but, just as he was going off to sleep again, he heard the bolts of the door below withdrawn. He at once got up and walked to the other end of the dormitory, and discovered that the four boys were missing.
Chuckling to himself that he should now be able to repay the grudge he owed to Bob, he put on his dressing gown and went downstairs; and had sat there for three hours, momentarily expecting their return. He had certainly felt chilly, but had borne it patiently; comforted by the joyful expectation of the utter dismay that would be felt, by the culprits, when they saw him. The meeting had not passed off at all as he had anticipated, and he could only console himself by thinking that his turn would come when he made his report to Mr. Tulloch.
The four boys did not return to the dormitory but, after they had washed, strolled about in the playground. There was quite a ferment, in the dormitory, when their absence was perceived, and the others noticed the four made-up figures in their place. The operation of dressing was got through with much greater alacrity than usual and, when they went downstairs and saw the four missing boys in the playground, these were at once surrounded by an excited throng. They refused, however, to answer any questions.
"You will hear it all, in good time," Bob said. "We have been out, and we have been caught. That is all I am going to tell you."
At the usual hour the bell rang, and the boys assembled in the schoolroom. The two ushers were in their places. They waited three or four minutes for Mr. Tulloch to appear; then the door opened, and the manservant entered and, walking up to Mr. Moffat, said a word or two. The latter nodded.
"Lessons will begin at once," he said, in a loud voice. "The first class will come up to me."
The boys of this class, who occupied the senior dormitory, at once began their lessons; while Mr. Purfleet took the lower class. The second class, including Bob and his friends, remained in their places. In a quarter of an hour the door opened, and Mr. Tulloch entered, accompanied by Admiral Langton. Mr. Tulloch was looking very serious, while the admiral looked hot and angry.
"We are going to catch it," Bob whispered, to Jim Sankey. "I knew the admiral wouldn't be able to get us off."
"I wish all the boys to return to their places, Mr. Moffat. I have something to say," Mr. Tulloch said, in a loud voice.
When the boys were all seated, he went on:
"Admiral Langton has been telling me that four of my boys were out and about, soon after three o'clock this morning. The four boys in question will stand up.
"I do not say that this is the first time that such a serious infraction of the rules of the school has taken place. It has happened before. It may, for aught I know, have happened many times, without my knowledge; but upon the occasions when it has come to my knowledge, the offenders have been most severely punished. They must be punished, now.
"Admiral Langton has been telling me that the boys in question have behaved with very great courage, and have been the means of saving him from the loss of a large sum of money and plate, and of capturing four burglars."
A buzz of surprise passed round the school.
"That this conduct does them great credit I am fully prepared to admit. Had they been aware that this burglary was about to be committed, and had they broken out of the house in the middle of the night for the purpose of preventing it, I allow that it might have been pleaded as an excuse for their offence; but this was not so. It was an accident, that occurred to them when they were engaged in breaking the rules, and cannot be pleaded as a set-off against punishment.
"Admiral Langton has pleaded with me, very strongly, for a pardon for them; but I regret that I am unable to comply with his request. The admiral, as a sailor, is well aware that discipline must be maintained; and I am quite sure that, when he was in command of a ship, he would not have permitted his judgment to be biased, by anyone. I have put it to him in that way, and he acknowledges that to be so. The two matters stand distinct. The boys must be punished for this gross breach of the rules. They may be thanked, and applauded, for the courage they have shown, and the valuable service they have rendered to Admiral Langton.
"I have, however, so far yielded to his entreaties that, while I must administer a severe caning for the gross breach of the rules, I shall abstain from taking any further steps in the matter; and from writing to the boys' parents and guardians, requesting them to remove their sons from the school, at once, as I certainly otherwise would have done. At the same time, I am willing to hear anything that these boys may have to urge, in explanation or defence of their conduct. I have already been informed, by Admiral Langton, that their object, in so breaking out, was to hunt rabbits up on the Common."
"I wish to say, sir," Bob said, in a steady voice, "that it was entirely my doing. I made the arrangements, and persuaded the others to go; and I think it is only right that they should not be punished as severely as I am."
"We were all in it together, sir," Jim Sankey broke in. "I was just as keen on it as Bob was."
"So was I," Fullarton and Wharton said, together.
"Well, lads," Admiral Langton said, taking a step forward, and addressing the boys, in general, "as your master says, discipline is discipline; this is his ship, and he is on his own quarterdeck—but I wish to tell you all that, in my opinion, you have every reason to be proud of your schoolfellows. They behaved with the greatest pluck and gallantry and, were I again in command of a ship, I should be glad to have them serving me. I am only sorry that I cannot persuade Mr. Tulloch to see the matter in the same light as I do.
"Goodbye, lads!" and he walked across, and shook hands with the four boys. "I shall see you again, soon," and the admiral turned abruptly, and walked out of the schoolroom.
Mr. Tulloch at once proceeded to carry his sentence into effect, and the four boys received as severe a caning as ever they had had in their lives; and even Bob, case hardened as he was, had as much as he could do to prevent himself from uttering a sound, while it was being inflicted. Lessons were then continued, as usual, until eight o'clock, when the boys went in to breakfast. After that was over, they went into the playground, until nine; and the four culprits gave the rest a full account of the events of the night.
"I don't mind the thrashing," Bob said, "although Tulloch did lay it on hot. It was well worth it, if it had only been to see that sneak Purfleet's face, when the admiral told the story. I was watching him, when Tulloch came in; and saw how delighted he was, at the tale he was going to tell; and how satisfied he was that he should get no end of credit, for sitting three hours in his dressing gown, in order to catch us when we came in. It was an awful sell for him, when he saw that the admiral had come out with the whole story, and there was nothing, whatever, for him to tell."
When they went into school again, Mr. Tulloch said:
"Boys, I hear that four of your number have behaved with great gallantry. They have prevented a serious robbery, and arrested the men engaged in it. I shall therefore give you a holiday, for the remainder of the day. The four boys in question will proceed, at once, to Admiral Langton's, as they will be required to accompany him to Kingston, where the prisoners will be brought up before the magistrates."
There was a general cheer from the boys, and then Bob and his companions hurried upstairs to put on their best clothes, and ran off to the admiral's.
"Well, boys, is it all over?" he asked, as they entered.
"All over, sir," they replied together.
"Well, boys, I think it was a shame; but I suppose discipline must be maintained in school, as well as on board a ship; but it vexes me, amazingly, to think that I have been the means of bringing you into it."
"It is just the other way, sir," Bob said, "and it is very lucky for us that we came in here, sir, instead of going up to the Common, as we intended. One of the ushers found out that we had gone, and sat up until we came back and, if it had not been for you, we should not only have got a thrashing, but should all have been expelled; so it is the luckiest thing possible that we came in here."
"Well, I am very glad to hear that, boys. It has taken a load off my mind, for I have been thinking that, if you had not come in to help me, you would have got back without being noticed.
"Emma, these are the four lads who did us such good service, last night. They caught sight of you, before, but you were hardly in a state to receive them formally."
The young lady laughed, as she came forward and shook hands with them.
"You need not have mentioned that, papa.
"Well, I am very much obliged to you all; for I have no doubt they meant to have my watch and jewels, as well as papa's money."
"Now, it is time for us to be off," the admiral said. "My carriage is at the door, and a fly. You two, who have been knocked about, had better come with my daughter and myself. The others can either ride inside the fly, or one can go on the box of each vehicle, as you like."
Wharton and Fullarton both said that they should prefer going outside; and in a few minutes they were on their way, the three menservants riding inside the fly. The prisoners had been sent off, two hours before, in a cart; under the charge of the two local constables.
The case lasted but an hour, the four men being all committed for trial. The party then returned to Putney, the admiral insisting upon the boys stopping to lunch with him. After the meal was over, he inquired what they were going to do, on leaving school, and what profession they intended to adopt.
Bob was the first questioned.
"I am going to be a wine merchant, sir," he said. "I have got no choice about it. I lost my father and mother, years ago; and my guardian, who is an uncle of mine, is in the wine trade, and he says I have got to go in, too. I think it is horrid, but there is no good talking to him. He is an awfully crusty old chap. I should like to be a soldier, or a sailor; but of course it is of no use thinking of it. My guardian has been very kind to me, even though he is so crusty, and it wouldn't be right not to do as he tells me; and I don't suppose the wine business is so very bad, when one is accustomed to it."
"Has your uncle any sons, lad?"
"No, sir, he is an old bachelor; and he says that, some day, I am to have his business."
"Then you can't do better than stick to it, lad," the admiral said. "A boy who has before him the prospect of a solid, substantial living, on shore, is simply a fool if he goes to sea. It is a rough life, and a hard one; and if you don't get shot, or drowned, you may get laid on the shelf with the loss of a limb, and a pension that won't find you in grog and tobacco.
"It is a pity, for you would have made a good officer, but you will be vastly better off, in all respects, at home; and I can tell you there is not one sailor out of five who would not jump at a berth on shore, if he could get the chance."
Sankey's father was a country clergyman and, at present, Jim had no particular prospect.
"Would you like to go to sea, boy?"
"Yes, sir, I should like it of all things."
"Very well; give me your father's name and address, and I will write to him about it."
Fullarton's father was a landed proprietor in Somersetshire, and he was the eldest son. Wharton was to be a lawyer, and was to begin in his father's office, in a year or two. Admiral Langton took notes of the addresses of the boys' relatives.
When he had done that, he said to them:
"Now, lads, I know you would rather be off. I remember, when I was a midshipman, I was always glad enough to escape, when I had to dine with the captain."
A week later, a young man came down from a city watchmaker's, with four handsome gold watches and chains for the boys; with an inscription stating that they had been presented to them by Admiral Langton, in remembrance of their gallant conduct on the night of August 6th, 1778. They were immensely delighted with the gift; for watches were, in those days, far more expensive luxuries than at present, and their use was comparatively rare. With the watches were four short notes from the admiral, inviting them to come up on the following Saturday afternoon.
They had, by this time, received letters from their families, who had each received a communication from the admiral, expressing his warm commendation of their conduct, and his thanks for the services that the boys had rendered.
Jim Sankey's father wrote saying that the admiral had offered to procure him a berth as a midshipman, at once; and that he had written, thankfully accepting the offer, as he knew that it was what Jim had been most earnestly wishing—though, as he had no interest, whatever, among naval men, he had hitherto seen no chance of his being able to obtain such an appointment. This communication put Jim into a state of the wildest delight, and rendered him an object of envy to his schoolfellows.
Fullarton's father wrote his son a hearty letter, congratulating him on what he had done, and saying that he felt proud of the letter he had received from the admiral.
Wharton's father wrote to him sharply, saying that thief-taking was a business that had better be left to constables, and that he did not approve of freaks of that kind.
Mr. Bale wrote an irascible letter to Bob.
"My dear nephew," he began, "I am astonished, and most seriously displeased, at contents of communication I have received from a person signing himself J. Langton, admiral. I gather from it that, instead of pursuing your studies, you are wandering about at night, engaged in pursuits akin to poaching. I say akin, because I am not aware whether the wild animals upon the common are the property of the lord of the manor, or whether they are at the mercy of vagabonds. It appears to me that there can be no proper supervision exercised by your masters.
"I spoke to you when you were here, six weeks ago, as to your school reports which, although fairly satisfactory as to your abilities, said there was a great want of steadiness in your general conduct. I am convinced that you are doing no good for yourself, and that the sooner you settle down to a desk, in my office, the better. I have therefore written this morning, informing Mr. Tulloch that I shall remove you, at Michaelmas.
"Your sister has been here, with her husband, today. I am sorry to say that they do not view your wild and lawless conduct in the same light that I do, and that they are unable to see there is anything positively disreputable in your being mixed up in midnight adventures with burglars. I am glad to gather, from Admiral Langton's letter, that Mr. Tulloch has seen your conduct in the proper light, and has inflicted a well-merited punishment upon you.
"All this is a very bad preparation for your future career as a respectable trader, and I am most annoyed to hear that you will be called on to appear as a witness against the men who have been captured. I have written to Admiral Langton, acknowledging his letter, and expressing my surprise that a gentleman in his position should give any countenance, whatever, to a lad who has been engaged in breaking the rules of his school; and in wandering at night, like a vagabond, through the country."
Bob looked rather serious as he read through the letter for the first time but, after going through it again, he burst into a shout of laughter.
"What is it, Bob?" Tom Fullarton asked.
"Read this letter, Tom. I should like to have seen the admiral's face, as he read my uncle's letter. But it is too bad. You see, I have regularly done for myself. I was to have stopped here till a year come Christmas, and now I have to leave at Michaelmas. I call it a beastly shame."
It was some consolation to Bob to receive, next morning, a letter from his sister, saying she was delighted to hear how he had distinguished himself in the capture of the burglars.
"Of course, it was very wrong of you to get out at night; but Gerald says that boys are always up to tricks of that sort, and so I suppose that it wasn't so bad as it seems to me. Uncle John pretends to be in a terrible rage about it, but I don't think he is really as angry as he makes himself out to be. He blew me up, and said that I had always encouraged you—which of course I haven't—and when Gerald tried to say a good word for you, he turned upon him, and said something about fellow-feeling making men wondrous kind. Gerald only laughed, and said he was glad my uncle had such a good opinion of him, and that he should have liked to have been there, to lend a hand in the fight; and then uncle said something disagreeable, and we came away.
"But I feel almost sure that Uncle John is not really so angry as he seems; and I believe that, if Gerald and I had taken the other side, and had said that your conduct had been very wicked, he would have defended you. It was stupid of us not to think of it, for you know uncle always likes to disagree with other people—there is nothing he hates more than their agreeing with him. His bark is much worse than his bite, and you must not forget how good and kind he has been to us all.
"You know how angry he was with my marriage, and he said I had better have drowned myself, than have married a soldier; and I had better have hung myself, than have married an Irishman—specially when he had intended, all along, that I should marry the son of an old friend of his, a most excellent and well-conducted young man, with admirable prospects. But he came round in a month or two, and the first notice of it was a letter from his lawyer, saying that, in accordance with the instruction of his client, Mr. John Bale, he had drawn up and now enclosed a post-nuptial settlement, settling on me the sum of 5000 pounds consols; and that his client wished him to say that, had I married the person he had intended for me, that sum would have been doubled.
"The idea, when I never even saw the man! And when I wrote, thanking him, he made no allusion to what he had said before; but wrote that he should be glad, at all times, to see my husband and myself, whenever we came to town; but that, as I knew, his hours were regular, and the door always locked at ten o'clock—just as if Gerald was in the habit of coming in, drunk, in the middle of the night! Fortunately nothing puts Gerald out, and he screamed over it; and we went and stopped a week with uncle, a month afterwards, and he and Gerald got on capitally together, considering. Gerald said it was like a bear and a monkey in one cage, but it was really very funny.
"So I have no doubt he will come round, with you. Do try and not vex him more than you can help, Bob. You know how much we all owe him."
This was true. Bob's father had died when he was only three years old—he being a lawyer, with a good business, at Plymouth—but he had made no provision for his early death, and had left his wife and two children almost penniless. Mr. Bale had at once taken charge of them, and had made his sister an allowance that enabled her to live very comfortably. She had remained in Plymouth, as she had many friends there.
Her daughter Carrie—who was six years older than Bob—had, four years before, married Gerald O'Halloran, who was then a lieutenant in the 58th Regiment, which was in garrison there. He had a small income, derived from an estate in Ireland, besides his pay; but the young couple would have been obliged to live very economically, had it not been for the addition of the money settled on her by her uncle.
Her mother had died, a few months after the marriage; and Mr. Bale had at once placed Bob at the school, at Putney; and had announced his intention of taking him, in due time, into his business. The boy always spent one half of his holidays with his uncle, the other with his sister. The former had been a trial, both to him and to Mr. Bale. They saw but little of each other; for Mr. Bale, who, like most business men of the time, lived over his offices, went downstairs directly he had finished his breakfast, and did not come up again until his work was over when, at five o'clock, he dined. The meal over, he sometimes went out to the houses of friends, or to the halls of one or other of the city companies to which he belonged.
While Bob was with him, he told off one of the foremen in his business to go about with the boy. The days, therefore, passed pleasantly, as they generally went on excursions by water up or down the river or, sometimes, when it was not otherwise required, in a light cart used in the business, to Epping or Hainault Forest. Bob was expected to be back to dinner and, thanks to the foreman—who knew that his employer would not tolerate the smallest unpunctuality—he always succeeded in getting back in time to wash and change his clothes for dinner.
The meal was a very solemn one, Mr. Bale asking occasional questions, to which Bob returned brief answers. Once or twice the boy ventured upon some lively remark, but the surprise and displeasure expressed in his uncle's face, at this breach of the respectful silence then generally enforced upon the young, in the presence of their elders, deterred him from often trying the experiment.
Mr. Bale was as much bored as was Bob by these meals, and the evenings that sometimes followed them. He would have been glad to have chatted more freely with his nephew, but he was as ill at ease with him, as he would have been with a young monkey. There was nothing in common between them, and the few questions he asked were the result of severe cogitation. He used to glance at the boy from under his eyebrows, wonder what he was smiling to himself about, and wish that he understood him better. It did not occur to him that if he had drawn him out, and encouraged him to chatter as he liked, he should get underneath the surface, and might learn something of the nature hidden there. It was in sheer desperation, at finding nothing to say, that he would often seize his hat and go out, when he had quite made up his mind to stay indoors for the evening.
Bob put up, as well as he could, with his meals and the dull evenings, for the sake of the pleasant time he had during the day; but he eagerly counted the hours until the time when he was to take his place on the coach for Canterbury, where the 58th were now quartered. He looked forward with absolute dread to the time when he would have to enter his uncle's office.
"What is the use of being rich, Carrie," he would say to his sister, "if one lives as uncle does? I would rather work in the fields."
"Yes, Bob; but you see, when you get to be rich you needn't live in the same way, at all. You could live as some traders do, in the country at Hampstead, Dulwich, or Chelsea, and ride in to business; and you can, of course, marry and enjoy life. One needn't live like a hermit, all alone, because one is a trader in the city."
The one consolation Bob had was that his uncle had once said that he considered it was a great advantage, to any young man going into the wine trade, to go over to Spain or Portugal for two or three years; to learn the whole routine of business there, to study the different growths and know their values, and to form a connection among the growers and shippers. Bob had replied gravely that he thought this would certainly be a great advantage, and that he hoped his uncle would send him over there.
"I shall see, when the time comes, Robert. It will, of course, depend much upon the relations between this country and Spain and Portugal; and also upon yourself. I could not, of course, let you go out there until I was quite assured of your steadiness of conduct. So far, although I have nothing to complain of, myself, your schoolmaster's reports are by no means hopeful, on that head. Still, we must hope that you will improve."
It was terrible to Bob to learn that he was to go, fifteen months sooner than he had expected, to his uncle's; but he was somewhat relieved when, upon his arrival at the house at Philpot Lane, his uncle, after a very grave lecture on the enormity of his conduct at school, said:
"I have been thinking, Robert, that it will be more pleasant, both for you and for me, that you should not, at present, take up your abode here. I am not accustomed to young people. It would worry me having you here and, after your companionship with boys of your own age, you might find it somewhat dull.
"I have therefore arranged with Mr. Medlin, my principal clerk, for you to board with him. He has, I believe, some boys and girls of about your own age. You will, I hope, be able to make yourself comfortable there."
"Thank you, uncle," Bob said, suppressing his impulse to give a shout of satisfaction, and looking as grave as possible. "I think that would be a very nice arrangement."
"Mr. Medlin is a very trustworthy person," Mr. Bale went on. "He has been with me for upwards of twenty years, and I have the greatest confidence in him.
"You had better sit down here, and take a book. At five o'clock come down into the counting house. Mr. Medlin will leave at that hour."
Bob had hitherto avoided the counting house. He had occasionally, on previous visits, slipped down to his friend the foreman; and had wandered through the great cellars, and watched the men at work bottling, and gazed in surprise at the long tiers of casks stacked up to the roof of the cellar, and the countless bottles stowed away in the bins. Once or twice he had gone down into the counting house, with his uncle; and waited there a few minutes, until the foreman was disengaged. He had noticed Mr. Medlin at work at his high desk, in one corner—keeping, as it seemed to him, his eye upon two young clerks, who sat on high stools at opposite sides of the desk, on the other side of the office.
Mr. Medlin had a little rail round the top of his desk, and curtains on rods that could be drawn round it. He was a man of six or seven and thirty; with a long face, smooth shaven. He always seemed absorbed in his work and, when spoken to by Mr. Bale, answered in the fewest possible words, in an even, mechanical voice. It had seemed to Bob that he had been entirely oblivious to his presence; and it did not appear to him now, as he sat with a book before him, waiting for the clock on the mantel to strike five, that existence at Mr. Medlin's promised to be a lively one. Still, as there were boys and girls, it must be more amusing than it would be at his uncle's and, at any rate, the clerk would not be so formidable a personage to deal with as Mr. Bale.
At one minute to five he went down, so as to open the counting house door as the clock struck. As he went in through the outer door, his uncle came out from the inner office.
"Ah! There you are, Robert.
"Mr. Medlin, this is my nephew who, as we have arranged, will take up his residence with you. I am afraid you will find him somewhat headstrong and troublesome. I have already informed you why it has been necessary to remove him from school. However, I trust that there will be no repetition of such follies; and that he will see the necessity of abandoning schoolboy pranks, and settling down to business."
"Yes, sir," Mr. Medlin replied, seeing that his employer expected an answer.
Bob had noticed that, although the clerk's eyes were directed upon him, there appeared to be no expression of interest or curiosity in them; but that they might as well have been fixed upon a blank wall.
"Your boxes have already been sent round in the cart to Mr. Medlin's, Robert. I don't know that there is anything else to say. Mr. Medlin will, of course, put you in the way of your duties here; but if you have anything to say to me—any questions to ask, or any remarks, connected with the business, or otherwise, you wish to make—I shall always be ready to listen to you, if you will come into the counting house at half past four."
So saying, Mr. Bale retired into his private room again. Mr. Medlin placed his papers inside his desk, locked it, took off his coat and hung it on a peg, put on another coat and his hat, and then turned to Bob.
Mr. Medlin led the way out of the counting house, and Bob followed. Mr. Medlin walked fast, and Bob had to step out to keep up with him. The clerk appeared scarcely conscious of his presence, until they were beyond the more crowded thoroughfare, then he said:
"Two miles, out Hackney way. Not too far!"
"Not at all," Bob replied. "The farther the better."
"No burglars there. Wouldn't pay."
And Bob thought that the shadow of a smile passed across his face.
"We can do without them," Bob said.
"Hate coming here, I suppose?"
"That I do," Bob said, cordially.
Mr. Medlin nodded.
"Not so bad as it looks," he said, and then walked on again, in silence.
Presently there was a break in the houses. They were getting beyond the confines of business London.
"Do you see this little garden?" Mr. Medlin asked, suddenly, in a tone so unlike that in which he had before spoken that Bob quite started.
The lad looked at the little patch of ground, with some stunted shrubs, but could see nothing remarkable in it.
"Yes, I see it, sir," he said.
"That, Bob," Mr. Medlin went on, "—for I suppose you are called Bob—marks the end of all things."
Bob opened his eyes in astonishment, and again examined the little garden.
"It marks, Bob, the delimitation between London and country, between slavery and freedom. Here, every morning, I leave myself behind; here, every evening, I recover myself—or, at least, a considerable portion of myself—at a further mark, half a mile on, I am completely restored.
"I suppose you used to find just the same thing, at the door of the schoolroom?"
"A good deal, sir," Bob said, in a much brighter tone than he had used, since he said goodbye to the fellows at Tulloch's.
"I am glad you feel like that. I expect you will get like that, as to the city, in time; but mind, lad, you must always find yourself again. You stick to that. You make a mark somewhere, leave yourself behind in the morning, and pick yourself up again when you come back. It is a bad thing for those who forget to do that. They might as well hang themselves—better.
"In there," and he jerked his thumb back over his shoulder, "we are all machines, you know. It isn't us, not a bit of it. There is just the flesh, the muscle, the bones, and a frozen bit of our brains. The rest of us is left behind. If, as we come out, we forget to pick it up, we lose ourselves altogether, before long; and then there we are, machines to the end of our lives. You remember that, Bob. Keep it always in mind."
"It is a pity that my uncle didn't get the same advice, forty years ago, Mr. Medlin."
"It is a pity my employer did not marry. It is a pity my employer lives in that dull house, in that dull lane, all by himself," Mr. Medlin said, angrily.
"But he has not got rid of himself, altogether. He is a good deal frozen up; but he thaws out, sometimes. What a man he would be, if he would but live out somewhere, and pick himself up regularly, as I do, every day!
"This is my second mark, Bob, this tree growing out in the road. Now, you see, we are pretty well in the country.
"Can you run?"
"Yes, I can run pretty well, Mr. Medlin."
"Very well, Bob. You see that tree growing out beyond that garden wall, about four hundred yards on. It is four hundred and twenty, for I have measured it. Now then, you walk on fifty yards, and then run for your life. See if I don't catch you, before you are there."
Bob, wondering as he went along at the astounding change that had come over his companion, took fifty long steps; then he heard a shout of "Now!" and went off at the top of his speed. He was still a hundred yards from the mark, when he heard steps coming rapidly up behind him; and then the clerk dashed past him, and came in fully twenty yards ahead.
"You don't run badly," he said, as Bob stopped, panting. "My Jack generally comes to meet me, and I always give him seventy yards, and only beat him by about as much as I do you. He couldn't come, this afternoon. He is busy helping his mother to get things straight. I expect we shall meet him, presently.
"Well, what are you laughing at?"
"I was just thinking how astonished my uncle would be, if he were to see us."
Mr. Medlin gave a hearty laugh.
"Not so much as you would think, Bob. Five years ago, my employer suddenly asked me, just as we were shutting up one afternoon, if I was fond of fishing. I said that I used to be.
"He said, 'I am going down, for a fortnight, into Hampshire. I have no one to go with—suppose you come with me.'
"I said, 'I will.'
"He said, 'Coach tomorrow morning, eight o'clock, Black Horse Yard.'
"I was there. As we went over London Bridge I found myself, as usual; and he found himself. I explained to him that I could not help it. He said he didn't want me to help it. We had a glorious fortnight together, and we have been out every year, since. He never alludes to it, between times. No more do I. He is stiffer than usual for a bit. So am I. But we both know each other.
"You do not suppose that he would have sent you to me, if he hadn't known that I have got another side to me?"
"Well, I should not have thought," Bob said, "from the way he talked, when he introduced me to you, that he ever had such an idea in his mind."
"He was obliged to talk so," Mr. Medlin said, laughing. "We were just machines at the time, both of us. But he talked in quite a different way when we were down fishing together, three weeks ago. He said then you were rather a pickle, and that he didn't think you would do yourself any good where you were, so that he was going to bring you up to business.
"'I don't want him to turn out a dull blockhead,' he said, 'and so I propose that you should take charge of him, and teach him to keep himself young. I wish I had done it, myself.'
"And so it was settled.
"There is no better employer in the city than your uncle. There is not a man or boy about the place who isn't well paid, and contented. I used to think myself a lucky man, before we went out fishing together for the first time but, six months after that, he gave me a rise that pretty well took my breath away.
"Ah! Here come the young uns."
A couple of minutes later, four young people ran up. There was a boy about Bob's age, a girl a year younger, a boy, and another girl, in regular steps. They greeted their father with a joyous shout of welcome.
"So you have got everything done," he said. "I thought you would meet me somewhere here.
"This is Bob Repton, my employer's nephew, and future member of the firm. Treat him with all respect, and handle him gently. He is a desperate fellow, though he doesn't look it. This is the young gentleman I told you of, who made a night expedition and captured four burglars."
After this introduction, Bob was heartily shaken by the hand, all round; and the party proceeded on their way, the two girls holding their father's hand, the boys walking behind, with Bob, who was so surprised at the unexpected turn affairs had taken that, for a time, he almost lost his usual readiness of speech.
Chapter 3: An Unexpected Journey.
Hawthorne Cottage, Mr. Medlin's abode, was a pretty little house, standing detached in a good-sized garden, surrounded by a high wall.
"Here we are, mother," the clerk said, as he led the way into a cozy room, where tea was laid upon the table, while a bright fire blazed in the grate.
A very pleasant-faced lady, who did not look to Bob more than thirty—although she must have been four or five years older—greeted her husband affectionately.
"My dear," he said, "in the exuberance of your feelings, you forget that I have brought you home a visitor. This is Mr. Robert Repton. While he is resident in the house, he may be greeted as Bob. We had a race, and he runs faster than Jack; fifty yards, in four hundred and twenty, is the utmost I can give him."
"What nonsense you do talk, Will!" his wife said, laughing. "I am sure Master Repton must think you out of your mind."
"It is a very jolly way of being out of his mind, Mrs. Medlin. You don't know how pleased I am."
"He thought I was an ogre, my dear, and that you were an ogress.
"Now let the banquet be served; for I am hungry, and I expect Bob is, too. As for the children, they are always hungry—at least, it seems so."
It was a merry meal, and Bob thought he had never enjoyed one as much, except at his sister's. After tea they had music; and he found that Mr. Medlin performed admirably on the violin, his wife played the spinet, Jack the clarionet, and Sophy—the eldest girl—the piccolo.
"She is going to learn the harp, presently," Mr. Medlin explained; "but for the present, when we have no visitors—and I don't count you one, after this evening—she plays the piccolo. She is a little shy about it, but shyness is the failing of my family."
"It is very jolly," Bob said. "I wish I could play an instrument."
"We will see about it, in time, Bob. We want a French horn; but I don't see, at present, where you are to practise."
"Has uncle ever been here?" Bob asked, late in the evening.
"Yes, he came here the evening we got back from our fishing expedition. He wanted to see the place, before he finally settled about you coming here. My wife was a little afraid of him; but there was no occasion, and everything went off capitally—except that Sophy would not produce her piccolo. I walked back with him, till he came upon a hackney coach.
"He said as he got in, 'I have spent a most pleasant evening, Medlin. You are a very lucky fellow.'
"I went back to work the next morning, and we both dropt into the old groove; and nothing more was said until yesterday, when he informed me that you would come, today."
"Oh, dear!" Bob said, as he started with the clerk, at eight o'clock on the following morning. "Now I am going to begin at that wretched counting house."
"No, you are not, Bob. You are not coming in there, at present. When your uncle and I were talking—when we were fishing, you know—he said that he saw no use in your going in there, at present; and thought it would be quite time for you to learn how the books are kept, in another three or four years; and that, till then, you could go into the cellar. You will learn bottling, and packing, and blending, and something about the quality and value of wines. You will find it much more pleasant than being shut up in a counting house, making out bills and keeping ledgers."
"A great deal," Bob said, joyfully. "I sha'n't mind that at all."
Bob observed a noticeable change in his companion's demeanour, when he arrived at the tree and, on passing the last garden, his face assumed a stolid expression; his brisk, springy walk settled down into a business pace; his words became few; and he was again a steady, and mechanical, clerk.
A fortnight later, Bob was summoned to the counting house.
"Mr. Bale wishes to see you," Mr. Medlin said.
Bob entered, wondering what he was wanted for.
"I received a subpoena, a week ago, Robert, for you to attend as a witness at Kingston tomorrow. These interruptions to business are very annoying. I did not mention it to you before for, if I had done so, you would be thinking of nothing else.
"This morning I have received a letter from Admiral Langton, requesting me to allow you to go down by the stage, this afternoon, and to sleep at his house. He will take you over, in the morning; and you will sleep there again, tomorrow night, and come back by the early stage.
"I trust that you will endeavour to curb your exuberance of spirits. This is a very grave matter, and anything like levity would be altogether out of place.
"The letter says that the stage leaves the Bell Tavern at four o'clock."
Bob replied, gravely, that he would be there in time; and went off to his work again, until twelve o'clock.
When he arrived at the admiral's, at a quarter to six, a lad in midshipman's uniform came rushing out into the hall.
"Why, Jim!—but no, I suppose I ought to say Mr. James Sankey, to an officer of your importance. How comes it, sir, that you are so soon attired in His Majesty's uniform?"
"I will punch your head, Bob, if you go on with that nonsense.
"But I say, isn't it jolly? The very afternoon after you left came down a big letter, with a tremendous seal; and therein I was informed that I was appointed to His Majesty's ship Brilliant, and was ordered to join immediately. Of course, I did not know what to do, so I came up here; and who do you think I found here? Captain Langton, the admiral's son, who is in command of the Brilliant.
"Of course, it was he who had got me the appointment. He was very kind, and told me that I could not join until after this trial; so that I could go down home, and stop there, till today; and the admiral sent me straight off, to be measured for my uniform. When I started, next day, he gave me a letter to my father—an awfully nice letter it was, saying that he intended to present me with my first outfit. I got here about an hour ago, and have been putting on my uniform, to see how it fitted."
"You mean to see how you looked in it, Jim? It looks first rate. I wish I was in one too, and was going with you, instead of sticking in Philpot Lane."
"I am awfully sorry for you, Bob. It must be beastly."
"Well, it is not so bad as I expected, Jim, and uncle is turning out much better; and I don't live there, but with the head clerk, out at Hackney. He is an awfully jolly sort of fellow—you never saw such a rum chap. I will tell you all about it, afterwards.
"I suppose I ought to go in, and see the admiral."
"He is out, at present, Bob. He will be back at eight o'clock to supper, so you can come up and tell me all about it. Captain Langton is here, too."
Captain Langton spoke very kindly to Bob, when the two boys came down to supper; and told him that if, at any time, he changed his mind, and there was a vacancy for a midshipman on board his ship, he would give him the berth.