Sappers and Miners, by George Manville Fenn.
This must be one of Manville Fenn's very best books. The suspense is totally gripping, right to the very end. Normally Fenn places his moments of terror at the very end of a chapter, so that this book with 52 chapters must have quite a few of them.
When preparing this book for publication on the web, the editor was truly sorry when the work ended, so greatly had he enjoyed every moment of it.
The action takes place in Cornwall, in and around an old tin-mine, possibly dating back to Roman and Phoenician days, for these people obtained much of the tin they needed to make bronze, from Cornwall, and many of the mines are still there, with many miles of workings, often going out far beneath the sea.
You should enjoy reading or listening to this book very much—as much, I hope, as the editor of it has done.
SAPPERS AND MINERS, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
BASS FOR BREAKFAST.
"Have some more bass, Gwyn?"
"You should not speak with your mouth full, my dear," said Mrs Pendarve, quietly.
"No, mother; but I didn't like to keep father waiting."
"And between the two stools you came to the ground, eh?" said Colonel Pendarve, smiling. "Never mind; hold your plate. Lucky for us, my dear, that we have only one boy. This fellow eats enough for three."
"Well, but, father, we were down by the boat at daybreak, and the sea air makes one so hungry."
"Say ravenous or wolfish, my boy. But go on. It certainly is a delicious fish, and Dolly has cooked it to a turn. They were rising fairly, then?"
"Yes, father; we rowed right out to the race, off the point, and for ever so long we didn't see a fish and sat there with our rods ready."
Gwyn talked away, but with his mouth rather full of fried bass and freshly-baked bread all the same.
"And of course it was of no use to try till a shoal began to feed."
"Not a bit, father,—and Joe said we might as well come back; but when the sun rose they were breaking all round us, and for half-an-hour we kept hooking them at nearly every throw. Come and see the rest of my catch; they're such beauties, as bright as salmon."
"That's right, but don't let any of them be wasted. Keep what you want, mamma, dear, and give the others away. What did you use—a big fly?"
"No, father, those tiny spoon-baits. They come at them with a rush. Then they left off biting all at once, and—some more coffee, please, mother—and we rowed back home, and met Captain Hardock on the pier."
"Ah, did you?"
"Yes, father; and we gave him two pairs of fine ones, and he said they looked as bright as newly-run tin."
"Humph! Yes, that man thinks of nothing else but tin."
"And he began about it again this morning, father," said Gwyn, eagerly.
"Indeed!" said Colonel Pendarve; and Gwyn's mother looked up inquiringly from behind the silver coffee-urn.
"Yes, father," said Gwyn, helping himself to more fresh, yellow Cornish butter and honey. "He said what a pity it was that you did not adventure over the old Ydoll mine and make yourself a rich man, instead of letting it lie wasting on your estate."
"My estate!" said the Colonel, smiling at his wife—"a few score acres of moorland and rock on the Cornish coast!"
"But he says, father, he is sure that the old mine is very rich."
"And that I am very poor, Gwyn, and that it would be nice for me to make a place for a mining captain out of work."
"But you will not attempt anything of the kind, my dear," said Mrs Pendarve, anxiously.
"I don't think, so, my dear. We have no money to spare for speculating, and I don't think an old Indian cavalry officer on half-pay is quite the man to attempt such a thing."
"But old Hardock said you were, father, and that you and Major Jollivet ought to form a little company of your own, and that he knows he could make the mine pay wonderfully."
"Yes," said the Colonel, drily, "that's exactly what he would say, but I don't think much of his judgment. I should be bad enough, but Jollivet, with his wound breaking out when he is not down with touches of his old jungle fever, would be ten times worse. All the same, though, I have no doubt that the old mine is rich."
"But Arthur, my dear," protested Mrs Pendarve, "think of how much money has been—"
"Thrown down mines, my dear?" said the Colonel, smiling. "Yes I do, and I don't think our peaceful retired life is going to be disturbed by anything a mining adventurer may say."
"But it would be interesting, father," said Gwyn.
"Very, my boy," said his father, smiling. "It would give you and Joe Jollivet—"
"Old Joe Jolly-wet," said Gwyn to himself.
"A fine opportunity for trying to break your necks—"
"Oh, my dear!" cried Mrs Pendarve.
"Getting drowned in some unfathomable hole full of water."
"Arthur!" protested Mrs Pendarve.
"Losing yourself in some of the mazy recesses of the ancient workings."
"Really, my dear!" began Mrs Pendarve; but the Colonel went on—
"Or getting crushed to death by some fall of the mine roofing that has been tottering ready to fall perhaps for hundreds of years."
"Pray don't talk like that, my dear," said Mrs Pendarve, piteously.
"He doesn't mean it, mother," said Gwyn, laughing. "Father's only saying it to frighten me. But really, father, do you think the mine is so very old?"
"I have no doubt of it, my boy. It is certainly as old as the Roman occupation, and I should not be surprised if it proved to be as early as the time when the Phoenicians traded here for tin."
"But I thought it was only stream tin that they got. I read it somewhere."
"No doubt, my boy, they searched the surface for tin; but suppose you had been a sturdy fellow from Tyre or Sidon, instead of a tiresome, idle, mischievous young nuisance of an English boy—"
"Not quite so bad as that, am I, mother?" said Gwyn, laughing.
"That you are not, my dear," said Mrs Pendarve, "though I must own that you do worry me a great deal sometimes by being so daring with your boating, climbing and swimming."
"Oh, but I do take care—I do, really," said Gwyn, reaching out to lay his hand upon his mother's arm.
"Yes, just as much as any other thoughtless, reckless young dog would," grumbled the Colonel. "I'm always expecting to have one of the fishermen or miners come here with a head or an arm or a leg, and say he picked it up somewhere, and does it belong to my son?"
"Really, Arthur, you are too bad," began Mrs Pendarve.
"He's only teasing you, ma, dear," cried Gwyn, laughing. "But I say, father, what were you going to say about my being a Tyre and Sidonian?"
"Eh? Oh! That if you found tin in some gully on the surface, wouldn't you dig down to find it where it was richer?"
"Can't dig through granite," said Gwyn.
"Well, chip out the stone, and by degrees form a deep mine."
"Yes, I suppose I should, father."
"Of course it's impossible to prove how old the mine is, but it is in all probability very ancient."
"But it's only a deep hole, is it, father?"
"I cannot say. I never heard of its being explored; but there it is."
"I've explored it sometimes by sending a big stone down, so as to hear it rumble and echo."
"Yes, and I daresay hundreds of mischievous boys before you have done the same."
"Why was it called the Ydoll mine, father?"
"I cannot say, Gwyn. Some old Celtic name, or a corruption. It has always been called so, as far as I could trace when I bought the land; and there it is, and there let it remain in peace."
"If you please, my dear," said Mrs Pendarve. "Will you have some more coffee and bread and butter, Gwyn?"
The boy shook his head, for there are limits even to a seaside appetite.
"Wonderful!" said the Colonel.
"What is, my dear?" said Mrs Pendarve.
"Gwyn has had enough for once. Oh, and, by the way, I have had quite enough of that dog. If ever I find him scratching and tearing my garden about again, I'll pepper him with shot."
The boy smiled and looked at his mother.
"Oh, you may laugh, sir, at your foolish, indulgent father. I don't know what I could have been about to let you keep him. What do you want with a great collie?"
"He's such a companion, father; and see how clever he is after rabbits!"
"Matter of opinion," said the Colonel. "I don't suppose the rabbits think so. Well, mind this: I will not have him tearing about among my young fruit trees."
A DEEP INVESTIGATION.
Breakfast ended, Gwyn went straight off to the yard with half a fish and some bread; but before he came in sight, there was the rattle of a chain, a burst of barking, and a handsome collie dog, with long silky ears and a magnificent frill of thick hair about his neck, stood upon hind-legs at the full extent of the chain, and tried hard to strangle himself with his collar.
Then there was a burst of frantic yelps and whines, a kind of dance was performed as the boy approached with the dog's breakfast, and then there was peace over the devouring of the bread, which was eaten in bits thrown at him from a couple of yards away, and caught without fail.
After this performance the fish was placed in a pan; and as the dog bent down to eat, Gwyn pulled his ears, thumped his back, sat astride it and talked to the animal.
"You're going to be shot at if you go into the garden again, Grip; so look out, old chap. Do you hear?"
The dog was too busy over the fish, but wagged his tail.
"I'm to keep you chained up more, but we'll have some games over the moor yet—rabbits!"
The fish was forgotten, and the dog threw up his head and barked.
"There, go on with your breakfast, stupid! I'm off."
"How-ow!" whined the dog, dismally, and he kept it up, straining at his chain till the boy was out of sight, when the animal stood with an ear cocked up and his head on one side, listening intently till the steps died out, before resuming his breakfast of fish.
Gwyn was off back to the house, where he fetched his basket from the larder and carried it into the hall.
"Here, father—mother—come and have a look!" he cried; and upon their joining him, he began to spread out his catch, so as to have an exhibition of the silvery bass—the brilliant, salmon-shaped fish whose sharp back fins proved to a certainty that they were a kind of sea perch.
They were duly examined and praised: and when they had been divided into presents for their neighbours in the little Cornish fishing port, the Colonel, who had, after long and arduous service in the East, hung up his sword to take to spade and trowel, went off to see to his nectarines, peaches, pears, grapes and figs in his well-walled garden facing the south, and running down to the rocky shores of the safe inlet of Ydoll Brea, his son Gwyn following to help—so it was called.
The boy, a sturdy, frank-looking lad, helped his father a great deal in the garden, but not after the ordinary working fashion. That fell to the lot of Ebenezer Gelch, a one-eyed Cornishman, who was strangely imbued with the belief that he was the finest gardener in the West of England, and held up his head very high in consequence. Gwyn helped his father, as he did that morning, by following him out into the sunny slope, and keeping close behind.
The Colonel stopped before a carefully-trained tree, where the great pears hung down from a trellis erected against the hot granite rock, and stood admiring them.
"Nearly ripe, father?" asked Gwyn.
"No, my boy, not nearly," said the Colonel, softly raising one in his hand. "They may hang more than a month yet. We shall beat the Jersey folk this year."
"Yes, father," said Gwyn, and he followed to where the Colonel stopped before a peach tree, and stooped to pick up a downy red-cheeked fellow which had fallen during the night.
"Not fully grown, Gwyn, but it's a very fine one," said the Colonel.
"Yes father—a beauty. Shall I take it in?"
"No, not good enough. Eat it, my boy."
Gwyn did not need any further telling, and the peach disappeared, the stone being sent flying into the sea.
A little farther on, a golden tawny Jefferson plum was taken from a tree, for the wasps had carved a little hole in the side, and this was handed to the boy and eaten. A nectarine which had begun to shrink came next; and from the hottest corner of the garden a good-tempered looking fig, which seemed to have opened a laughing mouth as if full, and rejoicing in its ripeness. After this a rosy apple or two and several Bon Chretien pears, richly yellow, were picked up and transferred to the boy's pocket, and the garden was made tidy once more, evidently to the owner's satisfaction. Certainly to that of his son, who was most diligent in disposing of the fruit in this way.
Then the Colonel sauntered into the little sloping vinery where the purple and amber grapes were hanging, and Gwyn thrust in his head; but as there were no berries to be eaten, and it was very hot, he drew back and went up the slope toward the wall at the top, carefully peeling one of the pears with a fishy pocket-knife.
He was in the act of throwing a long curl of peel over the wall when a sun-browned face appeared as if on purpose to receive it, and started back. Then there was a scrambling noise from the other side, as the face disappeared very suddenly, and Gwyn burst out laughing.
"Hurt yourself?" he cried.
There was the sound of scrambling, and the face re-appeared.
"What did you do that for?" cried the owner.
"To get rid of the peel, stupid."
"Well, you might have chucked a pear instead."
A pear was thrown, dexterously caught, and the newcomer immediately took a magnificent bite out of it.
"Oh! beauty!" he cried; and then, as he began to munch, he glanced down at the pit he had excavated with his keen teeth right to the core. "Er! Yah!" he cried, spitting out the piece. "Why, it's all maggoty!" and he threw the pear back with excellent aim; but it was deftly caught, and returned in a way that would have won praise at cricket. Joe's aim was excellent, too; but when a boy is supporting himself by resting his elbows on the coping of a high stone-wall, he is in no position for fielding either a pear or a ball. So the pear struck him full on the front of the straw hat he wore, and down he went with a rush, while Gwyn ran to the front of the wall, climbed up quickly, and looked over into the lane, laughing boisterously.
"Got it that time, Joey," he cried.
"All right, I'll serve you out for it. Give us another pear."
The request was attended to, the fruit being hurled down, but it was cleverly caught.
"Why this is maggoty, too."
"Well, I didn't put the maggots there; cut the bad out. The dropped ones are all like that."
"Go and pick me a fresh one, then."
"Not ripe, and father does not like me to pick them. That's a beauty."
"Humph—'tain't bad. But I say, come on."
"What are you going to do?"
"Do?—why, didn't you say we'd go and have a good look at the old mine?"
"Oh, ah; so I did. I forgot."
"Come on, then. Old Hardock made my mouth water talking about it as he did this morning."
"But we should want a rope, shouldn't we?"
"Yes. Let's get Jem Trevor to lend us one out of his boat."
"All right. I'll come round."
"Why not jump down?"
Gwyn gave a sharp look up and down the lane, but no one was in sight, and he lightly threw his legs over, and dropped down beside his companion.
"Don't want any of the boys to see that there's a way over here," he said, "or we shall be having thieves. I say, Joe, father's been talking about the old mine at breakfast."
"Then you told him what Captain Hardock said. I told my father, too."
"What did he say?"
Joe Jollivet laughed.
"Well, what are you grinning at? Why don't you speak?"
"Because you're such a peppery chap, and I don't want a row."
"Who's going to make a row? What did the Major say?"
"Sha'n't tell you."
"Who wants you to? It was something disrespectful of my father, and he has no business to. My father's his superior officer."
"That he isn't. Your father was cavalry, and my father foot."
"And that makes it worse," said Gwyn, hotly. "Cavalry's higher than infantry, and a major isn't so high as a colonel.—What did he say?"
"Oh, never mind. Come on."
"I know what he said; and it's just like the Major. Just because his wounds come out bad sometimes, he thinks he has a right to say what he likes. I believe he said my father was a fool."
"That he didn't," cried Joe, sharply; "he said he'd be a fool, if he put any money in a mine."
"There, I knew it, and it's regularly insulting," cried Gwyn, with his face flushing and eyes sparkling. "I shall just go and tell Major Jollivet that my father—"
"Oh, I say, what a chap you are!" cried Joe, wrinkling up his rather plump face. "You're never happy without you're making a row about something. Why don't you punch my head?"
"I would for two pins."
"There, that's more like you. What have I done? I didn't say it."
"No, but your father did, and it's all the same."
"Oh! is it? I don't see that. I couldn't help it."
"Yes, you could. It all came of your chattering. See if I go fishing with you again!"
"I mean to; and I shall walk straight up to Cam Maen, and tell the Major what I think of him. I won't have my father called a fool by a jolly old foot-soldier, and so I'll tell him."
"Yes, do," said Joe. "He's got a touch of fever this morning, and can't help himself; so now's your chance. But if you do go and worry him, you've got to have it out with me afterwards, and so I tell you."
"Oh, have I? You want me to give you another good licking?"
"I don't care if you do. I won't stand still and have my father bullied by old Ydoll, Gwyn."
Gwyn turned upon him fiercely, but the sight of his companion's face calmed his anger on the instant.
"It's all right, Joe," he said; "I like to hear anyone sticking up for his father or his mother."
"I haven't got a mother to stick up for; but my father's ill and weak, and if you—"
"Don't I keep on telling you I'm not going, you stupid old Jolly-wet-'un. Come on. Didn't we two say, after the last fight, when we shook hands, that we would never fight again?"
"Yes; then why do you begin it?"
"Who's beginning it? Get out, and let's go and have a look at the mine. Let's stick to what we said: fight any of the fisher-lads, and help one another. Now, then, let's go on to the old mine, and see if we can get down. Pst! here's Hardock."
For at the corner of the stone-walled lane, whose left side skirted the Colonel's property, which extended for half-a-mile along by the sea, the estate having been bought a bargain for the simple reason that its many acres grew scarcely anything but furze, heather and rag-wort, the rest being bare, storm-weathered granite, they came suddenly upon a dry-looking brown-faced man with a coil of rope worn across his chest like an Alpine guide.
He was seated on the low wall dotted with pink stone-crop and golden and grey lichens, chewing something, the brown stain at the corner of his lips suggesting that the something was tobacco; and he turned his head slowly toward them, and spoke in a harsh grating voice, as they came up.
"Going to the old mine?" he said. "I thought you would, after what I told you this morning. I'll go with you."
"Did you bring that rope on purpose?" said Gwyn, quickly.
"O' course, my son. You couldn't look at the gashly place without."
Gwyn glanced at Joe, and the latter laughed, while the mining captain displayed his brown teeth.
"Right, aren't it?" he said. "Didn't tell the Colonel what I said, I s'pose?"
"Yes, I did," cried Gwyn; "and he as good as said it was all nonsense."
"Maybe it be, and maybe it ban't," said the man, quietly. "You two come along with me and have a look. I've brought a hammer with me, too; and I say, let's chip off a bit or two of the stuff, and see what it's like. If it's good, your father may like to work it. If it's poor, we sha'n't be no worse off than we was before, shall we?"
"No, of course not," said Gwyn, "what do you say, Joe—shall we go?"
"Of course," was the reply; and they trudged on together for about a hundred yards, and then climbed over the loose stone-wall, and then up a rugged slope dotted with gigantic fragments of granite. A stone's throw or so on their left was the edge of the uneven cliff, which went down sheer to the sea; and all about them the great masses towered up, and their path lay anywhere in and out among tall rocks wreathed with bramble and made difficult with gorse.
But they were used to such scrambles, and, the mining captain leading, they struggled on with the gulls floating overhead, starting a cormorant from his perch, and sending a couple of red-legged choughs dashing over the rough edge to seek refuge among the rocks on the face of the cliff.
It was a glorious morning, the sea of a rich bright blue, and here and there silvery patches told where some shoal of fish was playing at the surface or demolishing fry.
There was not a house to be seen, and the place was wild and chaotic in the extreme, but no one alluded to its ruggedness, all being intent upon the object of their quest, which they soon after came upon in the upper part of a deep gully, on one side of which there was a rough quadrangular wall of piled-up stones, looking like the foundations of a hut which had fallen to ruin; and here they paused.
"Now, look here," said the man; "that place don't look anything; but your father, young Pendarve, has got a fortune in it, and I want to see what it's like. So what do you say to going down with my hammer and bringing up a few chips?"
"Why don't you go?" said Gwyn.
"'Cause you two couldn't pull me up again. It's a job for a boy."
"Then let's send down Joe Jollivet. He isn't worth much if we lose him."
"Oh, I say," began the boy in dismay; but he read the twinkle in his companion's eye, and laughed.
"I wouldn't mind going down. Is the rope strong?"
"Strong?" said the mining captain. "Think I should have brought it if it warn't? Hold a schooner."
"Shall I go down, Gwyn?"
The lad addressed did not answer for a few moments, but stood leaning over the rocky wall, gazing down into a square pit cut through the stone, the wall having been placed there for protection in case four or two-legged creatures passed that way.
"But look here," said Joe; "would it be safe?"
"Safe, lad? Do you think I'd let you go if it warn't? How could I face all your fathers and mothers after?"
"But are you sure you could hold me if I went," said Joe, who began to look anxious.
"Feel here," said the man, rolling up his sleeves. "There's muscle! There's bone! That's something like a man's arm, aren't it? Hold you? Half-a-dozen on you. Man either."
Joe drew a deep sigh.
"I'll go," he said.
"No, you won't," cried Gwyn, fiercely. "It's my father's place, and I ought to go."
"But I wouldn't mind, Ydoll," said Joe, excitedly.
"I know that, but I'll go first, and you help Sam Hardock."
"Ay, you help me, my lad. I know'd he'd have the pluck to go down."
"You're sure of the rope, Sam?"
"Sure? There, don't you go down if you're afraid."
"Who feels afraid?" cried Gwyn, hotly. "There, how's it to be? Throw the rope down and slide?"
"No, no," growled the man.
"Loop and sit in it?"
"Nay; I'm too fearful over you, my lad. But do you mean it?"
"Mean it? Yes, of course," said the boy, flushing.
"Then, here you have it. I just make a knot like this about your chesty, so as it don't grow tight and can't slip. That's your sort. How's that?"
As he spoke, he quickly fastened the end of the rope about the boy's breast, tested the knot and then lifted Gwyn by it.
"Now, if you stick the hammer in your waistband, and have hold of the rope above your head with one hand to ease the strain, you'll go down like a cork, only keep yourself clear of the side."
"Mind and don't turn and roast, Ydoll," cried Joe; "but you'd better let me go."
"Next time. Ready?" said Gwyn.
"Then over I go."
As if fearing to hesitate, the boy got over the low wall and stood on the narrow edge of the old, crumbling, fern-hung shaft, and the next moment he was being lowered down, Joe turning a little faint from excitement as the upturned face disappeared, and he watched the rope glide through the man's bony hands.
"How far are you going to let him down?" he said, anxiously.
"Far as he likes, my lad. Till he comes to paying ore. You see that the rings o' rope run clear, and keep it right for me to run out. He's tidy heavy for such a little 'un, though."
Joe seized the coil, and made the rope run free, keeping spasmodically a tight hold of it the while, in case the man should let it slip.
And so some sixty feet were allowed to run out, with Gwyn keeping on cheerily shouting, "All right!" from time to time.
It was instantaneous.
Suddenly the mining captain started back and blundered against Joe, completely knocking him over. A wild shriek arose from the old shaft, sounding hollow, awful and strange, and the rope, which had either parted or come undone from the boy's chest, was swinging slackly to and fro in the great black pit.
AT AGONY POINT.
There is no combination of letters that will more clearly express the horrible, echoing, hollow sound which, after what seemed to be a long interval, but which was almost momentary, rose out of the ancient shaft, followed by strange and sickening splashings and a faint, panting noise.
Then all was still; and Joe and the mining captain, who had been absolutely paralysed for the time being, stood gazing wildly in each other's face.
That, too, was almost momentary, and, with a despairing cry, Joe Jollivet dashed at the low wall and began to climb over it, dislodging one of the stones, which fell inward, and then plunged down into the pit just as Hardock seized the boy by the waist to drag him back.
"What are you going to do?" roared the man, and the splash and roar of the fallen stone also came rushing out of the mouth.
"Do?" cried Joe, hysterically; "try and save him."
"But you can't do it that way, boy," panted the man, whose voice sounded as if he had been running till he was breathless.
"I must—I must!" cried Joe, struggling to get free. "Oh, Gwyn, Gwyn, Gwyn!"
"Hold still, will you?" bawled Hardock. "Chucking yourself down won't save him."
"Then let me down by the rope."
"Nay; it's parted once, and you'd be drowned too."
"I don't care! I don't care!" cried Joe, wildly. "I must go down to him. Let go, will you?" and he struggled fiercely to get free.
But the man's strength was double his, and he tore the boy from the wall, threw him down on his back, and placed a foot on his breast to hold him as he rapidly ran out the rest of the rope, till only about a yard remained, and then he released him.
"Now, you keep quiet," he growled. "You're mad—that's what you are!"
Joe rose to his feet, awed by the man's manner, and grasping now the fact that he was about to take the only steps that seemed available to save his companion.
For Hardock hurried to the other side of the opening, where the wall had been built close to the edge, and there was no space between, so that he could, in leaning over the wall, gaze straight down the shaft.
And then he began jerking the rope; and as he did so they could faintly hear indications of its touching the water far below.
"D'yer hear, there?" he shouted. "Lay holt o' the rope. Can't you see it?"
As he spoke, he jerked the stout line and sent a wave along it, making it splash in the water far below; but the faint, whispering and smacking sounds were all the answer, and Joe burst out with a piteous cry,—
"He's drowned! he's drowned! Or he's holding on somewhere waiting for me to go down and save him. Pull up the rope, quick! No; fasten it, and I'll slide down."
"Nay, nay; you keep quiet," growled the man, whose face was now of a sickly pallor. "How'm I to hear what he says, if you keep on making that row?"
"What—he says?" faltered Joe. "Then you can hear him shout?"
"You be quiet. Ahoy! Below there! Ketch holt o' the rope. None o' your games to frighten us. I know. Now, then, ketch holt and make it fast round yer."
Joe stood there with his face ghastly, and his eyes starting, as, with his hands behind his ears, he strained to catch the faintest sound which came up as through a great whispering tube; but all he could hear was the splashing of the rope, and a deep low musical dripping sound of falling water.
"D'yer hear there!" roared Hardock, now savagely. "It arn't right of yer, youngster. Shout something to let's know where yer are."
"He's dead—he's dead!" wailed Joe. "Let me go down and try and get him out."
"Will you be quiet!" roared the man, fiercely. "D'yer want to stop me when I'm trying to save him?"
"No, no, I want to help."
"Then be quiet. You only muddles me, and stops me from thinking what's best to do. Below there! Pendarve, ahoy! Ketch holt o' the rope, I tell yer!"
But he called in vain—there was no reply; and though he agitated the rope again and again, there was no other sound.
"There, now, let me go down. I must—I will go down, Sam."
"There's a good two hundred feet on it, and it's gone right down into the water," growled the man thoughtfully. "It's him playing tricks with us, arn't it?"
"Playing tricks! Who's mad now?" cried Joe. "Will you pull up that rope?"
For answer the man jerked it again and again, then pulled up a few fathoms, and let them drop again with a splash.
"Now, then, do you hear that?" he cried. "If yer don't ketch holt we'll haul it all up, and leave yer."
"Oh, Sam, Sam, Sam," cried Joe, "let me go down. Do you hear me? If you don't, I'll jump."
"Will you be quiet?" roared the man, fiercely. "You just stay where you are, or I'll tie yer neck and heels with the rope. Think I want to go back and say there's two on yer drownded. Stop where yer are."
"But we can't stand without doing something. Oh, Gwyn, Gwyn! How can I go and tell Mrs Pendarve what's happened?"
"And how can I?" cried the man, angrily. "What d'yer both mean, coming tempting on me to let yer down. What's the Colonel going to say to me?"
"Then you do think he's drowned?" cried Joe, piteously.
"Who's to help thinking he is?" said the man, gruffly, and he wiped the thick perspiration from his brow. "They all did say it was a onlucky mine, but I wouldn't believe 'em."
"Gwyn! Gwyn! Gwyn!" shouted Joe, as he leaned over the wall and gazed down, but there were only hollow reverberations in reply.
"It's no good, my lad," said Hardock, bitterly. "Who'd ha' thought of that rope failing as it did? Good sound rope as it be."
"But you are not going to give up, and do nothing?" cried Joe, frantically.
"What is us to do then?" said the man, with a groan. "Let me down, I tell you."
"Nay; it would be too bad, I won't do that."
"Then go down yourself."
"How? Can you hold me, and haul me up? That's madder still. He's gone, my lad, he's gone; and we can't do nothing to help him."
"Run, run for help. I'll stay here and hold the rope. He may be insensible and catch hold of it yet."
"Ay, he may," said the man, meaningly; "but folk don't do that sort o' thing, my lad. Nay; it's o' no use to struggle over it. He's a dead and goner, and you and me's got to face it."
"Face it!" groaned Joe, letting his head go down on the top of the wall. "Face it! How can I ever face Mrs Pendarve again?"
"Ah! and how can I face the Colonel, his father. I can't do it, my lad, Ydoll Churchtown's been a happy enough home for me, and I've allus made a living in it, but it's all over now. I must be off at once."
"To get help?" cried Joe, raising his ghastly face from where it rested upon the weathered stone, and looking more ghastly now from the blood which had started from a slight cut on his brow.
"Nay; I've done all I could do here for young Gwyn—all as a man can do. I've got to take care o' myself now, and be off somewheres, for the Colonel'll put it all on to me."
"Go! Run away!" cried Joe. "Oh, you wouldn't be such a coward! Here, quick! try again.—Gwyn, old chap! The rope—the rope. Oh, do try and catch hold," he shouted down the pit.
But there was no reply; and wild now with frantic horror, the boy seized the rope and began to climb over the wall. "Ah! none o' that!" roared Hardock, grasping his arms; and now there was a desperate struggle which could only have the one result—the mastery of the boy. For at last Hardock lifted him from the ground and threw him on his back amongst the heath, and held him down.
"It's no good to fight, young 'un," he said breathlessly. "You're strong, but my muscles is hardest. I don't say nought again' you, though yer did hit me right in the mouth with your fist. I like it, for it shows your pluck, and that you'd do anything to try and save your mate. Lie still. It's of no use, yer know. I could hold down a couple of yer. There, steady. Can't yer see I should be letting yer go to your death, too, my lad, and have to hear what the Major said as well as the Colonel. Not as I should, for I should be off; and then it would mean prison, and they'd say I murdered you both, for there wouldn't be no witness on my trial, but the rope, and mebbe they'd give me that for my share, and hang me. There, will yer be quiet if I let yer sit up?"
"Yes, yes," said the boy, with a groan of despair.
"And yer see as I can't do nothing more, and you can't neither."
"I—I don't know, Sam," groaned the boy, as he lay weak and panting on his back in the purple-blossomed heath. "No, no, I can't see it. I must do something to try and save him."
"But yer can't, lad," said the man, bitterly. "There arn't nothing to be done. It's a gashly business; but it wouldn't make no better of it if I let you chuck yourself away, too. There, now you're getting sensible."
Joe lay with his eyes closed in the hot sunshine, glad of the darkness to shut out the horror of the scene around him; for the bright blue sky, with the soft-winged grey gulls floating round and round above their heads, and the far-spreading silver and sapphire sea, were dominated by the mouth of the horrible pit, from which with strained senses he kept on expecting to hear the faint cries of his companion for help.
But all was very still, save the soft, low hum of the bees busily probing the heath bells for honey in the beautiful, wild stretch of granite moorland, and the black darkness was for the unhappy boy alone.
For the knowledge was forced upon him that he could do no more. He felt that after the first minute Gwyn's position must have been hopeless, and he lay there perfectly still now in his despair, when Hardock rose slowly, and began to haul in the line, hand over hand, coiling it in rings the while, which rings lay there in the hot sunshine, dry enough till quite a hundred-and-fifty feet had been drawn on, and then it came up dripping wet fully fifty feet more, the mining captain drawing it tightly through his hands to get rid of the moisture.
"Bad job—bad job!" he groaned, "parted close to the end—close to the end—close to the end—well, I'll be hanged!"
He began in a low, muttering way, quite to himself, and ended with a loud ejaculation which made Joe sit up suddenly and stare.
"What is it?" he cried wildly. "Hear him?"
"Hear him? No, my lad, nor we aren't likely to. But look at that."
He held out the wet end of the rope, showing how it was neatly bound with copper-wire to keep it from fraying out and unlaying.
"Well," said Joe, "what is it?"
"Can't yer see, boy?"
"The rope's end? Yes."
"Can't yer see it aren't broke?"
"Yes, of course. Why, it did not part, Sam!" cried Joe, excitedly.
"Nay; it did not part."
"Then it came untied," cried Joe, frantically. "Oh, Sam!"
JOE HEARS A CRY.
"Here, what's the good o' your shouting at me like that, my lad? Think things aren't bad enough for me without that?" cried the man, in an ill-used tone.
"You did not tie it properly."
"Yes, I did, lad, so don't go saying such a word as that. I made that rope fast round him quite proper."
"No, or it wouldn't have come untied. And you boasted as you did! Why, you've murdered him. Oh, Sam, Sam, Sam!"
"Will you be quiet?" cried the man, who was trembling visibly. "Don't you turn again' me. You were in the business, too. You helped, my lad; and if I murdered him, you were as bad as me."
"It's too cruel—too cruel!" groaned Joe.
"And you turning again' me like that!" cried Hardock. "You shouldn't run back from your mate in a job, my lad," said the man, excitedly. "I tied him up in the reg'lar, proper knot, and you calls me a murderer. Just what his father would say to me if I give him a chance. It's a shame!"
"We trusted you, both of us, because you were a man, and we thought you knew what was right!"
"And so I did know what was right, and did what was right; that there rope wouldn't have never come undone if he hadn't touched it. He must have got fiddling it about and undone it hissen. It warn't no doing o' mine!"
"Shame! Oh, you miserable coward!" cried Joe, starting to his feet now in his indignant anger.
"Mizzable coward! Oh, come, I like that!" cried Hardock. "Who's a coward?"
"Why, you are; and you feel your guilt. Look at you shivering, and white as you are."
"Well, aren't it enough to make any man shiver and look white, knowing as that poor lad's lying dead at the bottom of that big hole?"
Joe groaned, and took hold of the rope's end.
"How could he have undone the knot, swinging as he was in the air? You know well enough it was not properly tied."
"But it was!" cried Hardock, indignantly. "I tied it carefully mysen, just as I should have done if I'd been going down."
"Don't use that knot again, then," said Joe, bitterly. "I wish—oh! how I wish you had let me go down instead."
"What?" cried the man. "Why, you'd ha' been drowned i'stead o' he."
"I wish I had been. It would have been better than having to go to the Colonel to tell him—I can't do it!" cried the boy, passionately. "I can't do it!"
"Then come along o' me, my lad."
"I d'know. Somewheres where they don't know about it. We can't stay here and face it. It's too horrid. You can't face the Colonel and his lady. Ah! they're quite right; the mine is an unlucky one, and I wish I'd never spoke about it; but it seemed a pity for such a good working to go to waste. But they all say it's unlucky, and full o' all kinds o' wicked, strange critters, ghosts and goblins, and gashly things that live underground to keep people from getting the treasure. I used to laugh to myself and say it was all tomfoolery, and old women's tales; but it's true enough, as I know now, to my sorrow."
"How do you know?" cried Joe, angrily.
"By him going. It warn't he as undid the rope—it was one o' they critters, as a lesson to us not to 'tempt to go down. I see it all clear enough now."
"Bah!" cried Joe, fiercely, "such idiotic nonsense! Let me tie the rope round myself, and I'll go down and try and find him. I don't believe in all that talk about the mine being haunted. I've heard it before."
"Course you have, my lad. But let you go down? Nay, that I won't. Poor young Gwyn Pendarve's drownded, same as lots of poor fellows as went out healthy and strong in their fishing-boats have been drownded, and never come back no more. It's very horrid, but it's very true. He aren't the first by a long chalk, and he won't be the last by a many. It's done, and it can't be undone. But it's a sad job."
"Let me go down, Sam," pleaded Joe, humbly now.
"Nay, I'm too much of a mizzable coward, my lad. I don't want to leave you and lose you."
"But you wouldn't," cried the boy. "I should tie the knot too tight."
"I don't know as yer could tie a better knot than I could, Master Joe Jollivet. And even if yer could, yer wouldn't be able to make my hands feel strong enough to hold yer."
"I'm not afraid of that; and he must be brought out."
"I don't know, my lad, I don't know. If he is to be, it'll want a lot o' men with long ropes, and lanterns to courage 'em up; but it strikes me that when they know what's happened, yer won't find a man in Ydoll Cove as will risk going down. They all know about the horrors in the mine, and they won't venter. I didn't believe it, but I do now. There, the rope's coiled up, and I may as well go."
"To get help? Yes, go at once," cried Joe, excitedly; "I'll stay."
"Nay, yer won't, my lad. I'm not going to leave yer. I don't want to know afterward as yer chucked yerself down that hole, despairing like. You're going away with me."
"I'm going to stay till help comes to get poor Gwyn out."
Hardock shook his head.
"Go and tell them what's happened."
"I dursent," said the man, with a shiver.
"You go at once."
"What! and tell the Colonel his boy's dead? That I won't, my lad. He'd be ready to kill me."
"Go to my father, and tell him. He'll break the news to Colonel Pendarve; and you go on then to the village, to collect men and ropes."
"They wouldn't come."
"Oh, have you no feeling in you, at such a time?" cried Joe. "You are only thinking about yourself. You must—you shall go on. What's that?"
The boy started and stood staring wildly at his companion, for a faintly-heard cry reached their ears, and Hardock's face grew mottled, sallow, white, red and brown.
"Sea-bird," he said at last hoarsely, after they had waited for a few moments, listening for a repetition of the cry.
"I never heard a sea-bird call like that," said Joe, in a husky whisper. "It wasn't a gull, nor a shag, nor a curlew."
"Nay, it warn't none o' they," said Hardock, in a whisper. "I know all the sea-fowl cries. I thought it was one o' they big black-backed gulls, but it warn't that."
"Can you make out what it was, then?"
"Yes; it was something we don't understand, making joy because some one as it don't like has been drownded."
The boy felt too much startled and excited to pause and ridicule his companion's superstitious notions, and he took a few steps quickly to the rough, square wall, from a faint hope that the sound might have come from there; but as he touched the wall, a strong grip was on his shoulder.
"No, yer don't," growled Hardock. "You keep back."
"But that cry!" panted Joe.
"It didn't come from there. It was sea way."
"Yes; there it is again!"
Sounding more faint and distant, the strange cry floated from away to their left, and a strange thrill ran through Joe Jollivet, as he yielded to the man's hand, and suffered himself to be drawn right away from the mouth of the hole.
"Yes, I heard it," said Hardock, in a low tremulous voice, and with a look of awe, which accorded ill with the man's muscular figure. "Don't you know what it was?"
"No; do you? Could it be Gwyn calling for help?" The man nodded his head and spoke in a low mysterious whisper, as if afraid of being overheard.
"I dunno about calling for help, my lad; but it was him."
"But where—where?" cried Joe, wildly.
"Out yonder. We couldn't see 'em, but they must ha' come sweeping out of the pit there, and gone right off with him, like a flock of birds, right away out to sea."
"Oh, you fool!" cried Joe. "It's horrible to listen to you great big fishermen and miners with your old women's tales. If it's Gwyn calling, he must be somewhere near, I know. There's another shaft somewhere, and he's calling up that. Come and see."
"There aren't no other shaft, my lad," said the man, mysteriously. "It's what I say. You'll know better some day, and begin to believe when you've seen and heard as much as me. There's things and critters about these cliffs sometimes of a night, and in a storm, as makes your hair stand on end to hear 'em calling to one another. Why, I've knowed the times when—"
"There it is again," cried Joe, excitedly. "Ahoy!" he yelled. "Where are you?"
There was no answer, and the boy stood staring about him with every sense strained, listening intently; but no further sound was heard, and the man laid his hand upon the boy's arm.
"Come away, lad," he whispered, "afore ill comes to us. Didn't you hear?"
"I heard the cry."
"Nay, I meant that there whispering noise as seemed to come up out o' the pit. Let's go while we're safe."
"Nonsense! What is there to be afraid of?" cried Joe, impatiently. "Listen!"
"I don't know what there is to be afraid of, my lad; but there's something unked about, and the gashly thing's given me the creeps. Come away."
"Ah, there! Why, it's towards the cliffs. A cry!" Joe shouted, for, very softly, but perfectly distinct, there was a peculiar distant wailing cry. "It's all right, Sam. He's alive somewhere, and he's calling to us for help."
FISHING FOR A BOY.
Sam Hardock looked at the boy with a mingling of horror and pity on his countenance.
"What yer talking about?" he cried. "Can't yer understand as it means trouble? Someone's deloodering of yer away so as you may be drownded, too."
But Joe Jollivet hardly heard him in his excitement. He was convinced that he had heard Gwyn calling for aid, and he dashed off in search of his comrade.
He felt that it was useless, but he stepped back to the mouth of the ancient mine, and shouted down it once, but without response, and then started to climb out of the gully in which he stood, mounting laboriously over the rugged granite masses which lay about, tangling and scratching himself among the brambles, and at last standing high up on the slope to gaze round and shout.
"What's the good o' that?" cried Hardock, who was following him. "Come back."
For answer Joe gazed round about him, wondering whether by any possibility there was another opening into the mine hidden by bramble and heath. He had been all over the place with Gwyn scores of times, and the walled-in mouth was familiar enough; and from the cliff edge to the mighty blocks piled up here and there he and Gwyn had climbed and crawled, hunting adders and lizards among the heath, chased rabbits to their holes in the few sandy patches, and foraged for sea-birds' eggs on the granite ledges and, by the help of a rope, over on the face of the cliffs. But never once had they come upon any opening save the one down into the old mine.
"But there must be—there must be," muttered Joe, with a feeling of relief, "and I've got to find it. It's blocked up with stones, and the blackberries have grown all over it. There!—All right. Ahoy! Coming."
For the faint halloa came now very distinctly.
"Are you comin' back?" shouted Hardock. "Don't stand hollering there in that mad way."
"He's here—he's here—somewhere," shouted back Joe, excitedly, and he waved to his companion to come on.
"Yah! stuff!" growled Hardock; but he followed up the side of the gully, while Joe went on away from the sea to where a wall of rock rose up some twenty feet and ran onward for seventy or eighty.
Joe came back hurriedly after a few moments and met Hardock.
"Well, where is he?" said the latter.
"I don't know," panted the boy; "somewhere underneath. I keep hearing him."
"You keep hearing o' them," said the man, with a look full of the superstition to which he was a victim.
"Ahoy!" came faintly from behind them.
"Now, then," cried Joe, excitedly; "he's up there."
He turned and ran up toward the wall of rock once more, followed more deliberately by Hardock, who hung the coil of rope on his shoulder.
"Well, where is he?" said the man, as he reached the spot where Joe was hunting about among the great pieces of stone.
"I don't know, but there must be another opening here." Hardock shook his head mysteriously.
"But you heard him shout."
"I heerd a voice," said the man; and as he spoke there came a querulous chorus from the gulls that were floating in the air close to the edge of the cliff.
"No, no, it was not a gull," cried Joe.
"I did not say it weer," replied Hardock. "You can think what you like, but I only says, 'Wheer is he?'"
"He must be somewhere here," cried Joe; and he climbed about in all directions for some time, and only gave up when he felt how impossible it was that his comrade could be anywhere near.
"Theer, come on down, my lad," said Hardock at last.
"It's impossible for anyone to be here. There aren't a hole big enough to hide a rabbit, let alone a boy."
They descended slowly toward the lower part of the slope, near the cliff edge. Here Joe stopped short, for faintly, but perfectly distinct, came the words, "Joe, ahoy!" and certainly from behind him.
"There, I knew he was up there!" cried the lad, excitedly; "come back. I was sure of it."
He scrambled back as fast as he could, and Hardock followed him, frowning, and stood looking on, while his companion searched once more in every possible direction without avail.
"Ahoy, Gwyn. Y-doll!" he shouted through his hands. "Where are you?"
There was no reply, and after more searching and shouting, and with the man's superstitious notions beginning to affect him, Joe stopped and gazed blankly in his face.
"Well, d'yer begin to believe me now, my lad?" whispered Hardock.
"I can't help—" began the lad; and then he burst out with an emphatic. "No, it's all nonsense! Gwyn must be here. Ahoy, Ydoll! Where are you?"
His voice died away, and in obedience to an order from the man, Joe began to descend the rugged slope again towards the green strip, which ran along near the cliff edge.
"It's of no use fighting again' it, my lad," said Hardock, solemnly; "they're a-mocking of you, and you might go on hunting all day long and couldn't find nought. Let's go; we aren't safe here."
"I won't go," cried the boy, "and I won't believe what you think is possible. Gwyn's somewhere about here. Now, think. Where is there that we haven't searched?"
"Nowheres," whispered Hardock, and in spite of the bright sunshine around them he kept on nervously glancing here and there.
"Why, if you go on like that in the middle of the day, Sam," cried the boy, angrily, "what would you do if it was dark?"
"Dark! You don't know a man in Ydoll Cove as would come up here after dark, my lad. It would be more than his life was worth, he'd tell you. Why, there's not only them in the old mine, but the cliffs swarm with them things as goes raging about whenever there's a storm. I never used to believe in them, but I do now."
"And I don't," said Joe, "and you won't frighten me. It's poor old Gwyn we heard shouting, and there must be an opening somewhere down into the mine."
"Wheer is it, then?" whispered the man. "You've been all over here times enough, and so have I, but I never found no hole 'cept the one big one down."
"No, I never saw one, but there must be. There!" For a faint hail came again from the wall of rock behind them.
"Gwyn, ahoy!" cried Joe as loudly as he could.
"Ahoy!" came back steadily.
"Why, it's an echo," cried Joe, excitedly. "Ahoy! Ahoy!"
"Oy—oy!" came back from the wall, and directly after, much more faintly—"Oy—help!"
"Oh, what fools—what idiots!" cried Joe, excitedly; and certain now of where his comrade was, he went quickly down the slope to the cliff edge and looked over down towards where the sea eddied among the fallen rocks three hundred feet below, and shouted,—"Gwyn!—Gwyn!"
His voice seemed lost there; but as he listened there came faintly a reply in the one appealing cry—"help!"
But it was away to his right, where the rocks rose up rugged and broken. Where he stood the grass ran right to the edge, but there the granite looked as if it had been built up with large blocks into a mighty overhanging bastion, which rose up fully fifty feet higher; and it was evident that Gwyn had worked his way somewhere out to the cliff face far below this mass.
"Why there must be an adit," cried Hardock, in a tone full of wonder. "I never knowed of that."
[Note; an adit is a horizontal shaft driven in from the cliff.]
"Yes, and he's safe—he's safe?" cried Joe; and his manliness all departed in his wild excitement, for he burst into a fit of hysterical sobbing. He mastered his emotion though, directly, and shouted,—
"Hold on! Coming," in the hope of being heard.
He was heard, for, faintly heard from below to their right, came the former appealing word—
"All right," he yelled. "Now, Sam, can I get down there?"
"You'll get to the bottom afore you know it," replied the man. "No."
"Then you must lower me with the rope."
"What, and one o' my knots!" said the man, maliciously.
"Oh, don't talk," cried Joe, "but come on. We must get along to where it's right over him, and then I'll go down. But did you ever see a hole along here?"
Joe led the way inland, and then had to clamber over block after block of tumbled together granite for some fifty yards, when he turned to begin mounting to the hog-back-like ridge which ran out to the great bastion which overhung the sea.
It was an awkward climb—not dangerous, but difficult. Joe's heart was in his work though; and, free now from superstitious dread, Hardock toiled after him, keeping up so that he was at his shoulder when the boy lay down on his chest and looked over the edge.
For a few moments he could see nothing but ledge and jutting block, whitened by the sea-birds which here brought up their young in peace, for even the reckless boys had looked upon it as too hazardous to descend. The sea far below was just creaming among the rocks which peered above the water, and ran out in a reef causing a dangerous race; but though Joe searched the whole cliff face below him for nearly a minute he could see nothing, and at last he shouted with all his might and had a lesson in the feebleness of the human voice in that vast expanse.
"Ahoy!" came up from below as faintly as the cry which evoked it.
"I can't see him," said Hardock, shading his eyes as he peered down.
"No; he must be under one of the blocks that jut out."
"Ay and all hings over, or he'd ha' climbed up. Now, my lad, what's to be done? Will you go down?"
"Yes, of course; but knot me fast this time, Sam."
"Ay, my lad, I will. You trust me."
"I will, Sam," said the boy, calmly. Then he strained outwards, put both hands, trumpet fashion, to his lips, and shouted,—
"Ahoy! Coming down.—Hardock, look! I can see him."
"Eh? Where? I can't see nought."
"There, nearly straight under us, about half-way down—look!"
"No; I can't see him. Can you?"
"Yes; only his hand. It's like a speck. He's waving it to us. There, I can just see a bit of his arm, too."
"I got it now. Yes, I can see it. He must be at the mouth of an adit where they threw out their waste stuff to be washed away by the sea."
Those two words came up plainly now, and Joe answered through his closed hands.
"All—right—coming down!—Now, Sam, quick. Make me fast, and lower away."
"No! Rope!" came up from below.
"Says you aren't to go down," cried Hardock, excitedly. "And why should yer? I'll drop the rope, and you can help me haul him up. He'll make it fast enough, I know."
As he spoke the man rose up, threw the ring of rope on the rock by his side, set the end free, made a knot in it, and gave it to Joe to hold while, after a little examination to make sure that it would uncoil easily, he raised the ring, stood back a couple of yards, swung the coil to and fro horizontally on a level with his left shoulder and then launched it seaward with a vigorous throw, making a snatch directly after at the end close to where Joe held on with both hands.
Away went the rope with the rings gracefully uncoiling and straightening out as the stout hemp writhed like some long thin serpent, opening out more and more, till, far away below them, they saw it hang down, swaying to and fro like a pendulum.
"Not long enough," cried Joe, sadly.
"Good two hundred foot, my lad; nigh upon five-and-thirty fathom; p'raps he'll climb to it. Can you see the end?"
"No—no," said Joe; "it hangs over beyond that block that sticks out?"
"And it's below that he's a-lying, aren't it?"
"I don't know—I think so. It's of no use. I must slide down to him. Ah, stop a minute, let's give it a swing to and fro. Perhaps he can't see it. Hurrah! I've got a bite."
"Nay!" cried Hardock, excitedly.
"Yes, it's all right. Feel."
But there was no need, for at that moment there was a most unmistakable tug.
AT AN AWKWARD CORNER.
"Hurrah!" yelled Joe, half mad with excitement. "It is long enough, and he has got it. He was trying if it was safe."
"Hooroar!" shouted Hardock, hoarsely, for he was as excited as the boy. "Hold tight, my lad; don't let him pull it out of your hands. But he won't, for I've got it, too. Why, it's all right, young Jollivet, and the old mine goblins had nothing to do with it, after all. We'll soon have him up."
"Yes, we'll soon have him up," cried Joe, hysterically, and he burst into a strange laugh. "I say, how he frightened us, though!"
And in those moments of relief from the tension they had felt, it seemed like nothing that the lad was two hundred feet down the terrible precipice, about to swing at the end of the rope which had played him so false but a short time before.
"He's making the line fast round him, Sam. I can feel it quiver and jerk. Shout down to him to be sure and tie the knots tight."
"Nay, nay, you let him be. He don't want no flurrying. Trust him for that. He knows how to make himself fast."
"Think so?" said Joe, hoarsely; and he felt the hands which held the rope grow wet.
"Nay, don't want no thinking, my lad. He'll manage all right."
"He has," cried Joe, excitedly. "Do you feel? He's signalling for us to haul him up."
For three sharp tugs were given at the rope.
"Ay, that means all right," said Hardock. "Now you hold on tight."
"I can't haul him all alone."
"Nay, not you. Nobody wants you to try; I only want you to hold while I get ready. It wouldn't do to let one end go loose, would it?"
As he spoke Hardock relinquished his hold of the rope, and began to strip off his jacket.
"What are you going to do? You're not going down, Sam?"
"You wait a bit: you'll see," said the man; and he folded his coat into a large pad, which he laid over the edge of the rock. "Now you lay the rope on that, my lad, and give me the end. That's the way; now it won't be cut."
"When we haul it over the rock? No; I see."
"But we aren't going to haul it over the rock," said Hardock, nodding his head. "I'll show you a way worth two of that."
He took the end and pulled it over, and made a loop, leaving just enough free line for the purpose; and slipping it over one shoulder and across his breast diagonally, he stood ready.
Meanwhile jerk after jerk was given to the rope, each signal which reached Joe's hands making him thrill with eagerness.
"There, he must be ready now," growled Hardock.
"Ready? Yes," cried the boy, impatiently. "Then you are going to walk away with the rope?"
"Ay, that's it; draw steadily as I go right along the Hog's Back. All right. Look out," he shouted as the word "Haul!" reached their ears. "There, you stand fast, my lad, ready to help him when he comes up to the edge. Now then—off!"
Hardock, who stood with his back now to the cliff edge, started off at a slow steady walk inland, and Joe dropped upon his breast and craned his neck over the edge of the precipice to watch the block below which hid his comrade from his sight.
But not for many moments now. All at once Gwyn's head appeared, then his chest, and his arms were busy as he seemed to be helping himself over the rock; and the next minute, as Hardock steadily walked away, the boy was hanging clear of the rock face, swinging to and fro and slowly turning round, suggesting that the layers of the rope were beginning to untwist.
To use a familiar expression, Joe's heart felt as if it were in his mouth, and he trembled with apprehension, dreading lest the rope should come untwisted or the hemp give way, the result of either of these accidents being that Gwyn must fall headlong on to the sea-washed rocks below. Consequently, Joe's eyes were constantly turning from the ascending figure to the rough pad over which the rope glided, and back again, while his heart kept on beating with a slow, heavy throb which was almost suffocating.
The distance to ascend was very short under the circumstances, but to both boys, as they found when they afterwards compared notes, it seemed to be interminable, and it is doubtful which of the two suffered the more—Joe, as he gazed down with strained eyes and his vacant hands longing to seize the rope, or Gwyn, as he hung with elbows squared, fists clenched on the knot of the rope to ensure its remaining fast, and his head thrown back and face gazing up at his comrade when he slowly turned breast inward, at the sky when he turned back to the rocky wall.
So short a distance for Hardock to continue—his tramp less than two hundred feet—and yet it seemed so great, for every nerve was on the strain, and no one spoke a word.
It was in Joe's heart to keep on saying encouraging words to Gwyn, and to utter warnings to Hardock, and advice as to going slow or fast, but not a word would come. He could only stare down at the upturned face or at the bare head to which the wet hair clung close.
But all the time Gwyn was steadily rising, and in a few seconds more Joe felt that he would have to act—catching hold of his comrade by the rope about his chest and helping him over the edge into safety.
"Will he never come?" groaned Joe, softly. "Oh, make haste, Hardock, make haste."
He turned to look round once to see the strained rope and Hardock bending forward like some animal drawing a load, and the rope looked so thin that he shivered. Then, as it did not part, he felt a pang of dread, for he felt that the risk for his comrade was doubled by the feet that he was dependent upon two knots now instead of one, the slipping of either meaning certain death.
The moisture in Joe's hands grew more dense, and the great drops gathered upon his forehead, ran together and glided down his nose with a horrible tickling sensation; and as he now gazed down once more at Gwyn's hard, fixed, upturned face and straining eyes, his own grew dim so that he could only see through a mist, while a strange, paralysing feeling began to creep through him, so that he knew that he would not be able to help.
And all the time Gwyn rose higher and higher, till he was not ten feet below the edge, and now the horrible, numbing chill which pervaded Joe's being was chased away, for he found that he was suddenly called upon to act—to do something to help.
For the action of the rope had told upon the jacket laid there to soften the friction, and it began to travel slowly from the edge, keeping time with the rope, which now ground over the edge, and, to Joe's horror, looked as if it were fraying.
Bending down, he seized the pad and tried to thrust it back in its place, but soon found that this was impossible, and, before he could devise some plan, the knot in front of Gwyn's breast reached the edge, and a greater call was made upon him for help.
The inaction had passed away, and he shouted to Hardock to stop.
"Keep it tight!" he roared; and he went down on his knees, leaned over, caught hold of the loop on either side close beneath Gwyn's arms, and essayed to lift him over the edge on to the rocky platform.
It was a bitter lesson in his want of power, for, partly from his position there on the extreme edge of the terrible precipice, partly from its being a task for a muscular man, he found out he could not stir Gwyn in the least, only hold him tighter against the rock, pressing the great knot of the rope into the boy's chest.
"Up with him, lad!" shouted Hardock from where he stood straining the rope tight. "Up with him—right over on to the rock!"
Joe's eyes dilated and he gazed horror-stricken into the eyes of his comrade, who hung there perfectly inert, while just overhead three great grey gulls wheeled round and round, uttering their screams, and looking as if they expected that the next minute the boy would have fallen headlong on to the stones beneath.
"Come, look sharp!" shouted Hardock; "this rope cuts. Up with him quick!"
"Can—can you get hold of anything and—and help?" panted Joe at last, hoarsely.
Gwyn stared at him as if he had heard him speak, but did not quite comprehend what he said.
"Quick, Ydoll! Do you hear! Do something to help. Get hold."
This seemed to rouse the boy, who slowly loosened his hold of the rope, and then, with a quick spasmodic action, caught hold of the collar of Joe's jacket on either side.
"Now—your feet," said Joe, in a harsh whisper. "Try and find foothold."
"Can you—hold?" said Gwyn, faintly.
"Yes, I'll try," was the reply, and Gwyn's toes were heard scraping over the rock again and again, but without result, and Joe uttered a piteous groan.
"Can't you do it?" cried Hardock from the other end. "Why, it's as easy as easy. Up with him."
"No—no! Can't move!" cried Joe, frantically.
"Hold tight of him then till I come," cried the man, and Joe uttered a piercing shriek, for the rope went down with a jerk which drew him forward upon his chest as his hands were torn from their hold, and he clutched wildly at the rock on either side to save himself from going down.
Just then one of the gulls swooped close to his head and uttered its strange querulous cry.
SAM HARDOCK LAUGHS.
Joe Jollivet must have gone over the cliff in another instant headlong down to destruction, for only one thing could have saved him, and in all probability the sudden jerk of his snatching at his comrade would have taken him, too.
But as it happened Samuel Hardock—"the Captain," as he was generally called in Ydoll Cove—saw the mistake he had made, and did that one special thing.
Turning suddenly, he stepped quickly back, tightening the line again, drawing Gwyn close up to the sharp edge of the cliff once more; and as in his agony Joe clutched at the moving cord, and clung to it with all his might, he too was drawn back from the edge.
"That was near," muttered Hardock. "What's best to be done?"
Fortunately the man could be cool and matter-of-fact in the face of real danger, though, as he had shown, he was a superstitious coward when it was something purely imaginary; and he did at once the very best thing under the circumstances.
"Put heart into 'em by making 'em wild," he muttered, and he burst into a hearty fit of laughter.
"Yah!" he cried. "Nice pair o' soft-roed 'uns you two are! Why, you aren't got no more muscle than a pair o' jelly-fishes. There, get, your breath, Master Joe, and have another try; and you see if you can't make another out of it, Colonel. You're all right if you've made that knot good. I could hold you for a week standing up, and when I get tired I can lie down. Now—hard, hard! I thought you meant to dive off the cliff, you, Master Joe."
The latter had risen to his knees with his wet hair clinging to his brow; and for a moment he felt disposed to rage out something furiously at the grinning speaker.
But he refrained, and turned to get a fresh grip of Gwyn, who seemed to have recovered somewhat, too.
"He's a beast!" cried Joe, angrily, for the anger was working in the right direction.
Hardock began again,—
"Rope cut, Master Gwyn?" he cried. "S'pose it does, though. Well, when you two are ready, just say. I've got him tight enough. But, hark ye, here; can you tell what I say?"
"Yes," cried Joe, in a choking voice.
"That's right. Well, first thing you do, my lad, you try and ease the rope over the edge. It checks you like, don't you see? Stretch your arms well over, Colonel, and get your fingers in a crack and find a place for your toes, while young Joe Jollivet eases the knot over. Take it coolly. There's nothing to mind. I've got yer, yer know. Ready?"
"Yes. Now, Ydoll, old chap," whispered Joe, "can you do what he says and find foothold?"
There was a peculiar staring look in the boy's eyes, but he began to search about with his toes; and almost at once found a crack that he had passed over before, forced in the end of one boot, and, reaching over, he gripped the rope with both hands.
"Get tight hold of my collar," he whispered rather faintly. "Can you do it kneeling?"
"No power," said Joe, huskily, "I must stand."
He rose to his feet, gripping the collar as he was told, gazing there into Gwyn's eyes, for he dared not look down beyond him into the dizzy depth.
"Now," said Gwyn, "when you're ready, I'll try and raise myself a bit, and you throw yourself back."
"Wait a moment," panted Joe. Then he shouted, "Now I am—all together!"
"Right! Hauley hoi!" came back, and with one effort Gwyn curved his body, forcing his breast clear of the edge, joined his strength to that of his comrade in the effort to rise, and the next moment Joe was on his back with Gwyn being dragged over him.
Then came an interval of inaction, for the three actors in the perilous scene lay prone upon the rough surface of the cliff, Hardock having thrown himself upon his face.
"Oh, Gwyn, old chap!—oh, Gwyn," groaned Joe.
"Hah! Yes; it was near," sighed the rescued boy, as he slowly rose to a sitting posture, and began to unfasten the rope. "I thought I was gone."
"It was horrid—horrid—horrid!" groaned Joe. "And I couldn't do anything."
He rose slowly, wiping his brow, which was dripping with perspiration, and the two boys sat there in the sunshine gazing at one another for a few minutes as if quite unconscious of the presence of Hardock at the end of the rope, where he lay spread-eagled among the heath.
Then Gwyn slowly held out his hand, which was gripped excitedly by Joe, who seized it with a loud sob.
"Thank ye, Jolly-wet," said Gwyn, quietly. "I felt so queer seeing you try so hard."
"You felt—about me? Ah, you don't know what I felt about you. Ugh! I could kick you! Frightening me twice over like that! I don't know which was worst—when you went down or when you came up."
"Going down was worst," said Gwyn, quietly. "But have a kick if you like; I don't feel as if I could hit back."
"Then I'll wait till you can," said Joe, with a faint smile. "Oh, dear, how my heart does keep on beating!"
He turned with hand pressing his side and looked toward Hardock, for the man had moved, and he, too, sat up and began searching in his pockets. And then, to the great disgust of the two boys, they saw him slowly bring out a short pipe and a brass tobacco-box, and then deliberately fill the former, take out his matches, strike a light, and begin to smoke.
"Look at that," cried Joe, viciously.
"Yes; I'm looking," said Gwyn, slowly, and speaking as if he were utterly exhausted. "I feel as if I wish I were strong enough to go and knock him over."
"For laughing at us when we were in such a horrible fix? Yes; so do I. He's an old beast; and when you feel better we'll go and tell him so."
"Let's go now," said Gwyn, rising stiffly. "I say, I feel wet and cold, and sore all over."
Joe rose with more alacrity and clenched his fists, his teeth showing a little between his tightened lips.
"Why, Jolly," said Gwyn, gravely, "you look as if you'd knocked the skin off your temper."
"That's just how I do feel," cried the boy—"regularly raw. I want to have a row with old Sammy Hardock. It's all his fault, our getting into such trouble; and first he stands there laughing at us when we were nearly gone, and now he sits there as if it hadn't mattered a bit, and begins to smoke. I never hated anyone that I know of, but I do hate him now. He's a beast."
"Well, you said that before," said Gwyn, slowly; and he shivered. "I say, Jolly, isn't it rum that when you're wet, if you stand in the sun, you feel cold?"
"Then let's go and give it to old Hardock; that'll warm you up. I feel red hot now."
Gwyn began to rub his chest softly, where the rope had cut into him, and the boys walked together to where Hardock sat with his back to them, smoking.
The man did not hear them coming till they were close to him, when he started round suddenly, and faced them, letting the pipe drop from between his lips.
The resentment bubbling up in both of the boys died out on the instant, as they saw the drawn, ghastly face before them.
"Ah, my lads! Ah, my dear lads!" groaned the man; "that's about the nighest thing I ever see; but, thank goodness, you're all safe and sound. Would you two mind shaking hands?"
The boys stared at him, then at each other and back.
"Why, Sam!" said Gwyn, huskily.
"Yes; it's me, my lad," he replied, with a groan, "what there is left on me. I've been trying a pipe, but it aren't done me no good, not a bit. I seem to see young Jollivet there going head first over the cliff; and the mortal shiver it did send through me was something as I never felt afore."
"Why, you laughed at us!" said Joe, with his resentment flashing up again.
"Laughed at yer? Course I did. What was I to do? If I'd ha' told yer both you was in danger, wouldn't it ha' frightened you so as you'd ha' been too froze up to help yourselves?"
"No; I don't think so," cried Joe.
"Don't yer? Well, I'm sure on it. I couldn't do anything but hold on to the rope, and no one could ha' saved you but yourselves."
"But you shouldn't have laughed," said Gwyn, gravely.
"What was I to do then, Colonel? It was the only thing likely to spur you up. I thought it would make you both wild like, and think you warn't in such a queer strait, and it did."
The boys exchanged glances.
"Yes," continued Hardock, as he shook hands solemnly with both, "there was nobody to help you, my lads, but yourselves, and I made you do that; but talk about giving a man a turn—Oh, dear! oh, dear! And now my pipe's gone right out."
"Light it again, then, Sam," said Gwyn, quietly, as he stooped stiffly to pick up the fallen pipe, and hand it to its owner.
"Thank ye, my lad, thank ye; but I don't feel in the humour for no pipes to-day, I'm just as if I've had a very gashly turn."
"But you might have tied the rope round me better, Sam," said Gwyn.
"Ay, I might, my lad, but somehow I didn't. Are you hurt much?"
"Only sore, with the rope cutting me."
"Nay, but I mean when you fell down the shaft. Did you hit yourself again' the sides?"
"No. It was very horrible, though. One moment I was turning slowly round and round and the next I was losing all the light; the rope slipped from round me and I was going down, down into the darkness. It was as if it lasted ever so long. Then there was a splash, the water was roaring in my ears, and I felt as if I were being dragged down lower and lower, till all at once my head shot up again. I never once felt as if I was coming up."
"How queer!" exclaimed Joe, who stood listening with his face all wrinkled over. "Didn't you feel, when you'd got as low as you went, that you were going up again?"
"No, not in the least. It was all confused like and strange, and I hardly knew anything till I was at the surface, and then I began to strike out, and swam along the sides of the slimy stones, trying to get a grip of them, but my hands kept slipping off."
"But you didn't halloa!" said Joe.
"No," continued Gwyn, still speaking in the same grave, subdued way, as if still suffering from the shock of all he had gone through. "I didn't shout; I felt stunned like, as if I'd been hit on the head."
"You must have been," cried Joe. "You hit yourself against the side."
"No, if I had it would have killed me. I can't explain it. Perhaps it was striking on the water."
"Nonsense; water's too soft to hurt you. But go on; what did you do then?"
"I hardly know, only that I kept on striking out, thinking how horribly dark it must be and wondering whether there were any live things to come at me; and then I hit my knee against the stones at the bottom."
"But you said it was deep."
"So it was in the shaft, but I must have swum into a passage where it was quite shallow; and almost directly after I'd hit my knee my hands touched the stones and I crawled out into the dark, and went on and on, feeling afraid to go back because of the water."
"But why didn't you shout to us?" cried Joe, excitedly.
"I don't know. I suppose I couldn't. It was like being in a dream, and I felt obliged to go crawling on. Then all of a sudden I began to feel better, for I could see a faint light, and this made me try to stand up, but I couldn't without hitting my head. But I could walk stooping like, and I went on toward the pale light, which was almost like a star. Directly after, I was there looking out of a square place like a window, trying to find a way up or a way down, but the rocks stood out overhead, and they were quite straight down below me, so I could do nothing but shout, and I began to think no one would come. Every now and then I could hear voices, but when I called my voice seemed to float out to sea. There, you know the rest. But that's an adit, isn't it, Sam Hardock?"
"Ay, my lad, and lucky for you it was there. You see, the water must run off by it out to sea when the top rises so high. But I never knew there was an opening from seaward into the mine. Being right up there, nobody could see it. Why it must be 'underd and fifty feet above the shore."
"It looked more," said Gwyn, with a shudder.
"There, I say, hadn't you better get home and change your things, my lad? You're pretty wet still. If you take my advice, you'll go off as fast as you can."
"Yes," said Joe, "you'd better. But we haven't done much to examine the mine."
"Eh?" cried Hardock, "I think we have. Found out that there's an adit for getting rid of the water and the spoil. Not bad for one day's work."
THE MINE FEVER.
"You'll have to tell them at home, Ydoll," said Joe as they reached the rough stone-wall which enclosed the Colonel's estate. "What shall you say?"
"Oh, just what happened," replied Gwyn; "but the job is how to begin. It's making the start."
"Pst! Look out!" whispered Joe. "Here is your father."
"Good-morning, Hardock," said the Colonel, coming upon the group suddenly.
"I hope you haven't been filling my boy's head with more stuff about mining. Why, halloa, Gwyn; how did you get in that state? Where's your cap?"
"Down the mine-shaft, father," replied the lad; and he found no difficulty about beginning. In a few minutes the Colonel knew all.
"Most reckless—most imprudent," he cried. "You ought to have known better, sir, than to lead these boys into such a terrible position; and how dare you, sir—how dare you begin examining my property without my permission!"
"Well you see, Colonel," began Hardock, "I thought—be doing you good, like, and as a neighbour—"
"A neighbour, indeed! Confounded insolence! Be off, sir! How dare you! Never you show yourself upon my land again. There, you, Gwyn, come home at once and change your clothes; and as for you, Jollivet, you give my compliments to your father and tell him I say he ought to give you a good thrashing, and if he feels too ill to do it, let him send you down to me, and I will. Now, Gwyn; right face. March!"
The Colonel led off his son, and Hardock and Joe stood looking at each other.
"Made him a bit waxy," said the miner; "but he'll come round to my way of thinking yet; and it strikes me that he'll be ordering me on to his land again, when he knows all. I say, young Jollivet, mean to go down to him to be thrashed with the young Colonel?"
"Oh, he wouldn't thrash me," said Joe, quietly. "I know the Colonel better than that. I feel all stretched and aching like. I wish he hadn't taken Gwyn home, though."
"I don't feel quite square myself, lad," said the mining captain; "but you see if the Colonel don't go looking at the mine."
Hardock's prophecy was soon fulfilled, for that evening the Colonel was rowing in his boat with his son, who had a mackerel line trailing astern, and when they came opposite to the great buttress the Colonel lay on his oars, and let his boat rise and fall on the clear swell.
"Now, then; whereabouts is the mouth of the adit?"
"I can't quite make it out from down here, father," replied Gwyn. "Yes I can; there it is, only it doesn't look like an opening, only a dark shadowy part of the cliff. No one could tell it was a passage in, without being up there."
"Quite right; they could not," said the Colonel, thoughtfully. "And you were drawn up from there, and right over the top of the cliff?"
"Horribly dangerous, boy—hideous. There, your mother knows something about it, but she must never be shown how frightful a risk you ran. Come, let's get back."
Gwyn only caught one fish that evening, and his father was very thoughtful and quiet when they returned.
"Here, Gwyn," he said next morning; "come along with me, I want to have a look at the old pit-shaft, and the bit of cliff over which you were drawn."
"Yes, father," said Gwyn, and he led the way over their own ground; but before they reached the dwarf mine wall, he was conscious of the fact that they were observed; for, at the turn of the lane, Hardock's oilskin cap could be seen as if the man were watching there, and the next moment Joe Jollivet's straw hat was visible by his side.
Gwyn felt disposed to point out that they were not alone; but the next moment his father began talking about the slow progress made by the belt of pines he had planted between there and the house, so as to take off something of the barrenness of the place.
"Want of shelter, Gwyn," he said; "the great winds from the west catch them too much. I'm afraid they will always be stunted. Still, they would hide the mine buildings."
"The mine buildings, father?" said the boy, looking at his father inquiringly.
"Yes; I mean if I were to be tempted into doing anything of the kind— opening the mine again. Seems a pity, if it does contain wealth, to let it lie there useless. Money's money, my boy."
"But you don't want money, father, do you?" said Gwyn. The Colonel stopped short, and faced round to gaze in his son's face before bursting into a merry fit of laughter. "Have I said something very stupid, father?"
"No, not stupid—only shown me how inexperienced you are in the matters of everyday life, Gwyn. My dear boy, I never knew an officer on half-pay who did not want money."
"But I thought you had enough."
"Enough, boy? Someone among our clever writers once said that enough was always a little more than a man possessed."
"But you will not begin mining, father?"
"I don't know, my boy. Let's have a look at the place. Here have we been these ten years, and I know no more about this hole than I did when I came. I know it is an old mine-shaft half full of water, just like a dozen more about the district, and I should have gone on knowing no more about it if that man had not begun talking, and shown me, by the great interest he takes in the place, that he thinks it must be rich. Be rather a nice thing to grow rich, my boy, and have plenty to start you well in the world."
"But I don't want starting well in the world, father; it's nice enough as it is."
"What, you idle, young dog! Do you expect to pass all your life fishing, bathing, and bird's-nesting here?"
"No, father; but—"
"'No, father; but—' Humph! here's the place, then. Dear me, how very unsafe that stone-wall is. A strong man could push it down the shaft in half-an-hour."
As he spoke the Colonel strode up to the piled-up stones, and looked over into the fern-fringed pit.
"Ugh! horrible! Pitch one of those stones down, boy."
Gwyn took a piece of the loose granite, raised it over his head with both hands, and threw it from him with force enough to make it strike the opposite side of the shaft, from which it rebounded, and then went on down, down, into the darkness for some moments before there was a dull splash, which came echoing out of the mouth, followed by a strange swishing as the water rose and fell against the sides.
"Horrible, indeed!" muttered the Colonel. Then aloud: "And you let them lower you down by a rope, it came undone, and you fell headlong into that water down below, rose, swam to the side and then crept along a horizontal passage to where it opened out on the sea yonder?"
"Yes, father," said the boy, recalling his sensations as his father spoke.
"Bless my heart!" exclaimed the Colonel. "Well, Gwyn, you're a queer sort of boy. Not very clever, and you give me a good deal of anxiety as to how you are going to turn out. But one thing is very evident—with all your faults, you are not a coward."
"Oh, yes, I am, father," said Gwyn, shaking his head. "You don't know what a fright I was in."
"Fright! Enough to frighten anybody. I've faced fire times enough, my boy, and had to gallop helter-skelter with a handful of brave fellows against a thousand or more enemies who were thirsting for our blood! But I dared not have gone down that pit hanging at the end of a rope. No, Gwyn, my boy, you are no coward. There, show me now where you were drawn up."
Gwyn led the way to the foot of the granite ridge, fully expecting to hear his father say that he could not climb up there; but, to his surprise, the Colonel mounted actively enough, and walked along the rugged top to where it ended in the great buttress, and there he stood at the very edge gazing down.
"Where were you, Gwyn?" he said at last; and the boy pointed out the projection beneath which the adit opened out.