Syd Belton; or, The Boy who would not go to Sea, by George Manville Fenn.
The book opens with a domestic scene with the boy Sydney having just finished dinner with his father, a Captain in the navy, and his uncle, an Admiral. They are discussing Syd's career, which the two old gentlemen hope will be as a naval officer. Syd, however has other ideas: he has been on his rounds with the local doctor, and thinks that he might like to be a doctor, too. The time of the story is in the middle of the eighteenth century, but the only real evidence of this is the fact of people wearing cocked hats. Other than that the story might fit a hundred years later, though there is a point late in the story where the French are the enemy.
There is an episode in which Syd runs away from home, in company with the son of his father's gardener, the latter having been his boatswain in his naval days. On his return he realises that he does really want to be a naval officer, too. His father tries to get him an appointment as a midshipman with a captain he formerly served with, but was rebuffed. He realises that the present First Sea Lord, the title of the Admiral in command of the whole navy, is someone he used to serve with in former days, so they go to see this eminent officer. The outcome is that Syd's father is appointed to command the Sirius, and is invited to take Syd with him as a midshipman.
From here on we have an excellent and well-told narrative, describing Syd's early days in the Navy, and then an episode when he finds himself in command of a naval party holding a rock in the Caribbean.
You'll enjoy this story, especially if you make an audiobook of it.
SYD BELTON; OR, THE BOY WHO WOULD NOT GO TO SEA, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
THE BOY WHO WOULD NOT GO TO SEA.
"Here you, Syd, pass the port."
Sydney Belton took hold of the silver decanter-stand and slid it carefully along the polished mahogany table towards where Admiral Belton sat back in his chair.
The ruddy-faced old gentleman roared out that adjuration in so thunderous a way that the good-looking boy who was passing the decanter started and nearly turned it over.
"What's the matter, Tom?" came from the other end of the table, where Captain Belton, a sturdy-looking, grey-haired gentleman nearly as ruddy as his brother, was the admiral's vis-a-vis.
"He's passing the decanter without filling his own glass!" cried the admiral. "Fill up, you young dog, and drink the King's health."
"No, thank you, uncle," said the boy, quietly, "I've had one glass."
"Well, sir, so have I. Don't I tell you I'm going to propose the King's health?"
"I'll drink it in water, uncle."
"What, sir? Drink the health of his most gracious Majesty in raw water! Not if I know it."
"But port wine makes my face burn, uncle, and Doctor Liss says—"
"Confound Doctor Liss, sir! Hang Doctor Liss, sir! By George, sir, if I were in active service again, and your Doctor Liss were in my squadron, I'd have him triced up and give him twelve dozen, sir."
"No, you wouldn't, uncle," said the boy, cracking a walnut, and glancing at his father, who was watching him furtively.
"What, sir? I wouldn't? Look here, brother Harry, Liss is corrupting this boy's mind."
"I don't know about corrupting, Tom," said the captain, smiling, "but he certainly does seem to be putting some queer things into his head."
"So it seems. Teaches him to drink the King's health in water."
"No, he didn't, uncle," said the boy, cracking another walnut.
"Yes, he did, sir. How dare you contradict me! Confound you, sir, if I had you aboard ship I'd mast-head you."
"No, you wouldn't, uncle," said the boy, dipping a piece of freshly-peeled walnut in the salt and crunching it between his teeth.
"I say you would not," replied the boy.
"And pray why, you young dog?"
"Because you'd know father wouldn't like it."
Captain Belton laughed and sipped his port, and the admiral blew out his cheeks.
"Look here, brother Harry," he cried; "is this my nephew Sydney, or some confounded young son of a sea-lawyer?"
"Oh, it's Syd, sure enough," said the captain.
"Then he's grown into an insolent, pragmatical young cock-a-hoop upstart; and hang it, I should like to spread-eagle him till he came to his senses."
The boy, who was peeling a scrap of walnut, gave his uncle a sidelong look and laughed.
"Ah, I would, sir, and no mistake," cried the admiral, fiercely. "Harry, you don't half preserve discipline in the ship. Here, Syd, it's time you were off to sea."
The boy took another walnut and crushed it, conscious of the fact that his father was watching him intently.
"I don't want to go to sea, uncle," said the boy at last, as he picked off the scraps of broken shell from his walnut.
"What?" roared the admiral. "Here you, sir, say that again."
"I don't want to go to sea, uncle."
"You—don't—want—to go—to sea, sir?"
"Well, I am stunned," said the old gentleman, rapidly pouring out and tossing off a glass of port. "Brother Harry, what have you to say to this?"
"That it is all nonsense. The boy does not know his own mind."
"Of course not," cried the admiral, turning sharply upon Sydney, who went on picking the skin from his walnut. "Do you know, sir, that your family have been sailors as far back as the days of Elizabeth."
"Yes, uncle," said the boy, coolly. "I've often heard you say so."
"And that it is your duty, as the last representative of the family, to maintain its honour, sir?"
"What, sir?" cried the old man, fiercely.
"I'm not fit to be a sailor," continued the boy, quietly enough.
"And pray, why not, Sydney?" said Captain Belton, frowning.
"Because I'm such a coward, father."
"A Belton!" groaned the admiral, "and says he is a coward."
"A boy to be a sailor ought to be fond of the sea."
"Of course, sir," said the captain.
"And I hate it."
"And pray why?" said the admiral, fiercely.
"Because it's so salt," said Syd, busy helping himself to some more of the condiment he had named.
"Salt?" cried the admiral. "Of course it is, and so it ought to be. Nonsense! He's laughing at us, Harry—a dog."
"No, I'm not, uncle; I'm not fit to be a sailor."
"Then, pray, what are you fit for, sir?" cried Captain Belton, angrily.
"I mean to be a doctor!"
"What!" roared the two officers together.
"Put that walnut and those crackers down, sir!" said the captain, sternly. "I am glad your uncle started this subject, for it was time we had an explanation. Do you know that with his interest at the Admiralty and mine you could be entered on board a first-rate man-of-war?"
"Yes, and well looked after, sir," cried the admiral; "so that when you had properly gone through your term, and been master's mate long enough, your promotion would have been certain."
"Yes, uncle, father has often said so," replied Sydney, reaching for another walnut, and taking up the crackers.
"Put that walnut down, sir," cried his father.
Sydney obeyed, and to keep his hands under control thrust them in his pockets and leaned back in his chair.
"Well, sir," said his uncle, "does not that make you feel proud?"
"What! Don't you know that you would have a uniform and wear a sword—I mean a dirk?"
"Well, sir? Why, at your time of life I was mad to have my uniform."
"What for?" said the boy.
"What for, sir? What for? Why, to wear, of course."
"I don't want to wear a uniform. You couldn't climb trees, nor go fishing, nor shrimping, nor riding in a uniform."
"No, sir," continued the admiral, after winking and frowning at his brother to leave the boy to him, "of course not. You would be an officer and a gentleman then, and wear a cocked hat."
"Ha! ha! ha!"
The boy burst into a hearty fit of laughter, and his father frowned.
"Sydney—" he began.
"No, no, Harry, leave him to me," said the admiral; "I'll talk to him. Now, sir," he continued, turning to the boy sternly, "pray what did I say to make you start grinning like a confounded young monkey? I—I—I am not accustomed to be laughed at by impertinent boys."
"I was not laughing at you, uncle," said the boy, dragging one hand from his pocket and making a lunge at an apple.
"Leave that fruit alone, sir," said the admiral, "and don't tell me a confounded lie, sir. You did laugh at me."
"I did not," said the boy; "and that's not a lie."
"What!" roared the admiral, turning purple. "How dare you, sir! To the mast-head at once, and stop there till—"
A hearty burst of laughter from his brother and nephew quelled the old man's anger.
"Ah, you may laugh at that," he said. "Force of habit. But you've got to apologise, you young monkey, for what you said."
"I can't apologise for what I did not do," said the boy, stubbornly.
"Steady, steady, sir," said the captain. "He's a confoundedly impudent young scamp, but he could not tell a lie."
"But he laughed in my face, Harry?"
"I was laughing at myself, uncle."
"At yourself, sir?"
"Yes, I was thinking what a popinjay I should look in a cocked hat."
"Well, really," said the admiral, "I am beginning to be glad, Harry, that I never married and had a son. I used to be envious about this boy, and wanted a share in him. But a boy who can laugh at a part of his Majesty's uniform—well! Why, you young whipper-snapper, did I ever look a—a—a popinjay in my cocked hat?"
"Well, you used to look very rum, uncle."
"Harry, my dear boy," said the admiral, fiercely; "we are old men, and this young dog represents us. May I take him into the library, and give him a good caning?"
"No, Tom, certainly not."
"No, of course not, Harry; I beg your pardon. Now, sir—pass that port—and—a—don't fill your own glass. Port like that, sir, is only fit for gentlemen. And you—you want to be a doctor, eh?"
"Yes, uncle," said the boy, pushing the decanter along the table.
"And pray what for, sir?"
"To do good to people."
"What? A doctor do good! Rubbish! Never did me a bit of good."
"Oh, but they do, uncle."
"Never, sir. That Liss has pretty well poisoned me over and over again."
"Oh, uncle, what a—"
"You say that if you dare, sir," cried the old admiral, bringing his hand down bang upon the table, and making the glasses dance. "It's the truth. Always made my gout worse. Colchicum—colchicum—colchicum—and the pain awful. Doctors are an absurd new invention, and of no use whatever."
"Why, you always have a doctor on board ship."
"Surgeon, you young dog, surgeon. Doctor! Bah! Hang all doctors! A surgeon is of some use in action, cutting, and splicing, and fishing a poor fellow's limbs; but a doctor—"
At that moment a rubicund butler opened the dining-room door, and stood back for some one to enter.
"Doctor Liss, sir," he said quietly; and a quick, eager-looking little man in snuff-coloured coat and long, salt-box-pocketed waistcoat entered the room, handing his cocked hat and stick to the butler, and nodding pleasantly from one to the other.
"Who was that shouting for the doctor?" he said cheerily, as he rubbed his hands; then took out a gold snuff-box, tapped it, opened it, and handed it to the captain.
"You, wasn't it, Sir Thomas? Touch of your old enemy?"
"No," grunted the admiral, "I'm sound as a roach. Bah!"
"Thankye, Liss," said the captain, taking his pinch, and handing back the box; "sit down. Syd, pass those clean glasses."
The admiral took a pinch, and then the new-comer took his, loudly snapped-to the box, and drew out a delicate cambric handkerchief to flap off some snuff from his shirt-frill.
As soon as the doctor was comfortably seated the port was passed, and then there was silence, Sydney looking from one to the other, and wondering what was coming next.
The doctor, too, looked from one to the other and formed his own opinion.
"Hullo!" he said. "In disgrace, Sydney? What have you been doing, sir?"
"Eating walnuts," said the boy, mischievously.
"And defying his father and uncle—a dog!" cried the admiral. "Here, Liss; what do you think he says?"
"Bless me! I don't know."
"Why, confound him! says he wants to be a doctor."
"Does he?" cried the new-comer, turning to look at Sydney. "Well, I'm not surprised."
"But I am," cried Captain Belton, angrily.
"And I'm astounded," said the admiral. "A Belton descend to being an apothecary."
"Ah!" said the doctor, dryly, as he held his glass up to the light, "terrible descent, certainly. Wants to save life instead of destroying it."
"Now, look here, Liss," began the admiral, fiercely.
"No, no, Tom, let me speak," said Captain Belton. "No quarrelling."
"No, you had better not quarrel," said the doctor, good-humouredly. "Make you both ill, and then I shall have you at my mercy."
"Indeed you will not," said the admiral, "for I'll call in old Marchant from Lowerport."
"Not you," cried the doctor, laughing; "you dare not. I'm the only man who understands your constitution."
"There, there, there!" cried the captain, "that's enough. But really, sir, it's too bad. As an old friend I did not think you would lead my boy astray."
"I? Astray? Nonsense!"
"But you have, sir. You've taken him out with you on your rounds, and the young dog thinks of nothing else but doctoring."
"And pill-boxes and gallipots," said the admiral, fiercely.
"Now, my dear old friends, you are not talking sense," said the doctor, quietly. "Sydney has been my rounds with me a good deal, and he has certainly displayed so much interest in all my surgical cases, that if he were my boy I should certainly make him a doctor."
"Impossible!" cried the captain.
"Not to be heard of," said Sir Thomas. "He's going to sea."
Sydney, who had been fidgeting about in his chair, gave a sudden kick out with his right leg, and felt something soft as his uncle uttered a savage yell, and thrust his chair back from the table.
"I—I beg your pardon, uncle, I did not know that—"
"You did, sir," cried the old man furiously, as he shook his fist at the boy. "You did it maliciously; out of spite, because I want to make a man of you. Bless me, Harry," he continued, "if you don't take that young scoundrel out into the hall and thrash him, I'll never darken your doors again. Dear—dear—dear—dear! Bless my soul! Ah!"
The poor old admiral had risen, and was limping about when Sydney went after him.
"Uncle," he began.
"Bah!" ejaculated the old man, grasping him by the collar. "Here he is, brother Harry; I've got him. Now then, take him out."
"I'm very sorry, uncle," said Sydney. "I didn't know it was your gouty leg there."
"Then, you did do it on purpose, sir?"
"No, I didn't, uncle. I wouldn't have been such a coward."
"Of course he wouldn't," said the doctor. "But there, sir, sit down; the pain is gone off now."
"How do you know?" cried the admiral. "It's as if ten thousand red-hot irons were searing it. Harry, you've spoiled that boy."
"No, I join issue there," said Captain Belton. "You've indulged him ten times more than ever I have, Tom."
"It is not true, brother Harry," said the admiral, limping to his chair.
"Oh yes, it is. Hasn't your uncle spoiled you, Sydney, far more than I have?"
"No, father," replied the boy, quietly, as he helped the old admiral to sit down, and placed an ottoman under his injured leg.
"Thankye, boy, thankye. And you're not so bad as I said; 'tis quite true, it's your father's doing."
"I think you've both spoiled me," said Sydney, quietly; and the doctor helped himself to another glass of port to hide his mirth.
"Won't do, Liss, you're laughing. I can see you," said the admiral. "That's just what you doctors enjoy, seeing other people suffer, so that you may laugh and grow fat."
"Oh, I was not laughing at your pain," said the doctor, quietly, "but at Sydney's judgment. He is quite right, you do both spoil him."
"He has three times as much money to spend as is right, and I wonder he does not waste it more. Well, Syd, my boy, so they will not let you be a doctor?"
Sydney frowned, and cracked a walnut till the shell and nut were all crushed together.
"And so you are to make up your mind to go to sea?"
"Yes," said the admiral, emphatically.
"Certainly," said Captain Belton; and, as soon after the conversation turned into political matters, Sydney quietly left his chair, strolled to the window, and stood gazing out at the estuary upon which the captain's house looked down.
It was a glorious view. The long stretch of water was dappled with orange and gold; and here and there the great men-of-war were lying at anchor, some waiting their commanders; others, whose sea days were past, waiting patiently for their end, sent along dark shadows behind them. Here and there fishing-boats with tawny sails were putting out to sea for the night's fishing; and as Sydney's eyes wandered, a frown settled upon his forehead, and he stepped out through the open window into the garden.
"Bother the old sea!" he said, petulantly. "It's always sea, sea, sea, from morning till night. I don't want to go, and I won't."
As he spoke he passed under an apple tree, one of whose fruit, missed in the gathering a month before, had dropped, and picking it up, the boy relieved his feelings by throwing it with all his might across the garden.
The effect was as sudden as that produced by his kick; for there was a shout and sound of feet rapidly approaching, and a red-faced boy of about his own age came into sight, hatless and breathless, panting, wild-eyed, and with fists clenched ready for assault.
"Who threw—Oh, it was you, was it, Master Sydney? You coward!"
"Who's a coward?" cried Sydney, hotly.
"You are. You throwed that apple and hit me, 'cause you knowed I dursen't hit you again."
"No, I didn't."
"Yes, you did, and you are a coward."
"No, I'm not a coward."
"Yes, you are. If I hit you, I know what you'd do—go and tell your father, and get me sent away."
"There, then! Does that feel like a coward's blow?—or that?—or that?"
Three sharp cuffs in the chest illustrated Sydney's words, two of which the boy bore, flinching at each; but rising beyond endurance by the third, he retaliated with one so well planted that Sydney went down in a sitting position, but in so elastic a fashion that he was up again on the instant, and flew at the giver of the blow.
Then for five minutes there was a sharp encounter, with its accompaniments of hard breathing, muttering, dull sounds of blows and scuffling feet, till a broad-shouldered, red-faced man in a serge apron came down upon them at a trot, and securing each by the shoulder held them apart.
"Now then," he growled, "what's this here?"
"Pan hit me, and I'm dressing him down," panted Sydney. "Here, let go, Barney."
"Master Syd hit me first, father," panted the red-faced boy.
"Howld your tongue, warmint, will you," said the man in a deep growl. "Want to have me chucked overboard, and lose my bit o' pension. You're allus a-going at your pastors and masters."
"Hit me first," remonstrated the boy, as the new-comer gave him a shake.
"Well, what o' that, you ungrateful young porpuss! Hasn't the cap'n hit me lots o' times and chucked things at me? You never see me flyin' in his face."
"Chucked a big apple at me first," cried the boy in an ill-used tone.
"Sarve you right too. Has he hurt you much, Master Sydney?"
"No, Barney; not a bit. There, I was wrong. I didn't know he was there when I threw the apple. I only did it because I felt vicious."
"Hear that, you young sarpint?" cried the square-shouldered man.
"Then just you recollect. If the young skipper feels wicious, he's a right to chuck apples. Why, it's rank mutiny hitting him again."
"Hit me first," grumbled the boy.
"Ay, and I'll hit you first. Why, if I'd been board ship again, instead of being a pensioner and keeping this here garden in order for the skipper, I should have put my pipe to my mouth, and—What say, Master Syd?"
"Don't say any more about it. I'd no business to hit Pan, and I'm sorry I did now."
"Well, sir, I don't know 'bout not having no business, 'cause you see you're the skipper's son, and nothing does a boy so much good as a leathering; but if you're sorry for it, there's an end on it. Pan-a-mar, my lad, beg Master Sydney's pardon."
"He hit me first," grumbled the boy.
"Do you want me to give you a good rope's-ending, my sonny?" growled the man; "'cause if you do, just you say that 'ere agen."
The red-faced boy uttered a smothered growl, and was silent.
"Too young to understand discipline yet, Master Sydney," said the man. "And so you felt wicious, did you? What about?"
"They've been at me again about going to sea, Barney."
"And you don't want to go, my lad?"
"No; and I won't go."
"Hear that, Pan, my lad?"
The boy nodded and drew down the corner of his lips, with the effect that Sydney made a threatening gesture.
"No, I'm not afraid, Pan," he cried fiercely; "but I don't want to go, and I won't."
The broad-shouldered man shook his head mournfully, and taking out a steel tobacco-box he opened it and cut off a piece of black, pressed weed, to transfer to his cheek, as he again shook his head sadly.
"I'm sorry to hear that, Master Sydney," he said.
"'Cause it's agen nature. I'm sixty-two now, and from the time I was a little shaver right up to now I never heerd a well-grown, strong, good-looking young chap say he didn't want to go to sea."
"Ah, well, Barney, you've heard one now."
"Ay, ay! and mighty sorry too, sir. Why, there have been times when I've said to myself, 'Maybe when the young master gets his promotion and a ship of his own, he'll come and say to me, Now then, Barney, now's your time to get rid o' the rust; I'll get you painted and scraped, and you shall come to sea with me.'"
"You, Barney? You are too old now. What would you be then?"
"Old! Old! Get out! I don't call myself old by a long way, Master Syd; and if it hadn't been for the captain laying up I should ha' been at sea now. But you'll think better on it, sir; you'll go."
"What, to sea, Barney?"
"No; I mean to be a doctor."
"Then I says it again as I said it afore, Master Syd, there's something the matter with you."
"Matter? Nonsense! What do you mean?"
"Why, what you say sounds so gal-ish and soft, it makes me think as you must have ketched something going out with the doctor."
"What rubbish, Barney!"
"But you going to be a doctor!" cried the old sailor, rubbing his nose with a great gnarled finger. "You, who might be an admiral and command a squadron: no, sir, it won't do."
"It will have to do, Barney."
"Well, sir, it mought and it moughtn't; but it strikes me as you've got something coming on, sir, as is a weakening your head—measles, or fever, or such-like—or you wouldn't talk as you do about the Ryle Navee."
"I talk about it as I do because I don't want to go to sea."
"But it's a flying in the face of the skipper and the admiral. Bobstays and chocks! I wish I was your age and got the chance o' going instead o' being always ashore here plarntin' the cabbages and pulling up the weeds."
"Then you don't like being a gardener, Barney?"
"I 'ates it, sir."
"And so do I hate being a sailor. There!"
"But it's so onnat'ral, sir. Here's your father been a sailor, same as I've been a sailor, and I've drilled up Pan-a-mar o' purpose to be useful to you in the same ship. Why, it's like wasting a season in the garden. I meant him to be your Jack factotum, as the skipper used to call it, and you never heard him say he didn't want to go to sea."
"You said you'd rope's-end me if I did," grumbled the red-faced boy.
"And so I will, you young swab," roared the gardener. "Why, you onnat'ral young galley-dabber, are you going to turn up your ugly pig's nose at your father's purfession?"
"Pan doesn't like the sea any more than I do," cried Sydney; "and I say it's a shame to force boys to be what they don't like."
"Well, this beats all," cried the gardener, helping himself to a fresh piece of tobacco. "What the world's coming to next, I dunnow. Why, if the King, bless him! know'd o' this, it would break his heart."
"Syd! Ahoy there!" came from the dining-room window.
Sydney was about to reply with a hearty sea-going Ahoy! but he altered his mind and cried—
"Yes, father; I'm coming."
This was followed by a savage slap on the leg given by the ex-boatswain, who had settled down with his master the captain at The Heronry, Southbayton.
"Just like a loblolly boy," he growled. "You, Pan, if you was to answer a hail like that I'd—Stop; come here."
"Yes, father, I'm coming," said the red-faced boy, with a grin; and then he dodged while the old boatswain made a blow at his head with open hand.
"Here, I'll speak to the skipper at once about you, youngster. Doing the knives and boots and helping over the weeds is spyling your morals."
"Speak—what about, father?"
"Speak? What about? Why, you swab, do you think I had you chrissen Pan-a-mar, arter a glorious naval victory, o' purpose to have you grow up into a 'long-shore lubber? There, get indoors. 'Fore you're many hours older I'll have you afloat."
Pan went slowly up to the house, followed by his father, who walked along the gravel path with his legs wide apart, as if he expected the ground to heave up; while Sydney went round to the front of the house, and entered by the dining-room window, where his father, uncle, and the doctor were still seated at the table.
"Why, Syd, lad, we did not see you go," said his father; "come and sit down."
The boy obeyed, looking furtively from one to the other, as if he knew instinctively that something particular was coming.
"Ahem!" The admiral gave vent to a tremendous forced cough.
"No, Tom, I'll tell him," said Captain Belton. "Look here, Syd, my boy, at your time of life lads do not know what is best for them, so it is the duty of their fathers to decide."
"Is it, father?"
"Of course it is, sir," growled the admiral, and Doctor Liss wrinkled up his forehead and looked attentively on.
"Now look here, sir. Your uncle has just heard an old friend of his, Captain Dashleigh—"
"Known him from a boy," said the admiral.
"Has been appointed to the Juno, one of our finest three-deckers, and he is going to ask him to take you as one of his midshipmen."
"Uncle Tom always said that a boy should commence life either in a sloop of war or a smart frigate," said Syd, sharply.
"If there's one handy," growled the admiral. "Juno's a ship to be proud of."
"So, thank your uncle for his promise to exert his interest, and let's have no more nonsense."
"But I want to be a doctor, father," said Syd, looking hard at the visitor.
The glasses danced as the admiral brought his hand down heavily.
"No, no, Tom," cried the captain, testily; "I can manage the helm."
"But, Doctor Liss!" said the boy, appealingly.
"Don't appeal to me, my boy," said the doctor, gravely. "You know your father's and your uncle's wish. It is your duty to obey."
"Oh!" ejaculated Sydney, in a tone of voice which seemed to say, "I did think you would side with me."
The doctor took a pinch of snuff.
"You see, Syd," continued the captain, "your uncle has no son, and I have only one to keep up the honour of our family. You will join your ship with the best of prospects, and I hope you will be a credit to us both."
Sydney said nothing, but took another walnut, and cracked it viciously, as if it was the head of a savage enemy.
That night he lay tumbling and unable to sleep, his brow knit and his teeth set, feeling as obstinate as a boy can feel who has not been allowed to have his own way.
The next morning Sydney Belton rose in excellent time, but not from a desire to keep good hours. He could not sleep well, so he dressed and went out, to find it was only on the stroke of six.
As he reached the garden, there was his self-constituted enemy stretching out before him, far as eye could reach, and sparkling gloriously in the morning sunshine.
"Bother the sea!" muttered the boy, scowling. "Wish it was all dry land."
"What cheer, lad! Mornin', mornin'. Don't she look lovely, eh?"
"Morning, Barney," said the boy, turning to see that the old boatswain had come to work with a scythe over his shoulder. "What looks lovely this morning?"
"Eh? Why, the sea, of course. Wish I was afloat, 'stead of having to shave this lawn, like a wholesale barber. Got any noos?"
"Yes, Barney," said the boy, bitterly; "I'm to go to sea."
"Hurray!" cried the old boatswain, rubbing his scythe-blade with the stone rubber, and bringing forth a musical sound.
"You're glad of it, then?"
"Course I am, my lad. Be the making on you. Wish I was coming too."
"Bah!" ejaculated Sydney, and he left the old boatswain to commence the toilet of the dewy lawn, while in a desultory way, for the sake of doing something to fill up the time till breakfast, he strolled round to the back, where a loud whistling attracted his attention.
The sound came from an outhouse, toward which the boy directed his steps.
"Cleaning the knives, I suppose," said Sydney to himself, and going to the door he looked in.
The tray of knives was there waiting to be cleaned, and the board and bath-brick were on a bench, but the red-faced boy was otherwise engaged.
He was kneeling down with a rough, curly-haired retriever dog sitting up before him, with paws drooped and nose rigid, while Pan was carefully balancing a knife across the pointed nose aforesaid.
Pan was so busily employed that he did not hear the step, and the first notification he had of another's presence was given by the dog, who raised his muzzle suddenly and uttered a loud and piteous whine directed at Sydney—the dog's cry seeming to say, "Do make him leave off."
The glance the boatswain's son gave made him spring at the board, snatch up a couple of the implements, and begin to rub them to and fro furiously, while the dog, in high glee at being freed from an arduous task, began to leap about, barking loudly, and making dashes at his young master's legs.
"Poor old Don—there!" cried Sydney, patting the dog's ears. "He don't like discipline, then. Well, Pan, when are you going to sea?"
"Not never," said the boy, shortly.
"Yes, you are. Your father said he should send you."
"If he does I shall run away, so there," cried the boy.
Sydney turned away, and walked through the garden, his head bent, his brow wrinkled, and his mind so busily occupied, that he hardly heeded which way he went.
"If his father sends him he shall run away."
Those words kept on repeating themselves in Sydney's brain like some jingle, and he found himself thinking of them more and more as he passed through the gate, and went along the road that late autumn morning, kicking up the dead leaves which lay clustering beneath the trees.
"If his father sends him to sea he shall run away," said Sydney to himself; and then he thought of how Pan Strake would be free, and have no more boots and shoes or knives to clean, and not have to go into the garden to weed the paths.
Then by a natural course he found himself thinking that if he, Sydney Belton, were to leave home, he would escape being sent to sea—at all events back to school—and he too would be free.
With a boy's wilful obstinacy, he carefully drew a veil over all the good, and dragged out into the mental light all that he looked upon as bad in his every-day life, satisfied himself that he was ill-used, and wished that he had had a mother living to, as he called it, take his part.
"I wonder what running away would be like?" he thought. "There would be no Uncle Tom to come and bully and bother me, and father wouldn't be there to take his side against me. I wonder what one could do if one ran away?"
Sydney started, for he had been so intent upon his thoughts that he had not heard the regular trot, trot of a plump cob, nor the grinding of wheels, and he looked up to see that it was Doctor Liss who had suddenly drawn rein in the road.
"Going for a walk, Syd?"
"Yes; but—I—Where are you going, doctor?"
"Into the town. Just been called up. Poor fellow injured in the docks last night."
"Take me with you."
"What?" cried the doctor, smiling down in the eager face before him. "Didn't I get scolded enough last night, you young dog, for leading you astray?"
"Oh, but father didn't mean it. Do take me. Is he much hurt?"
"Broken leg, I hear. No, no. Go home to breakfast. Ck! Sally. Good morning."
The doctor touched the cob as he nodded to Sydney, and the wheels of the chaise began to turn, but with a bound the boy was out in the road, and hanging on to the back.
"No, no, Doctor Liss, don't leave me behind. I do so want to go, and there's plenty of time for me to get back to breakfast."
"But Sir Thomas will declare I am leading you into the evil paths of medicine and surgery."
"Uncle won't know. Do pull up; let me come."
"Well," said the doctor, smiling grimly, "I don't see that it can do you any harm, Syd. Here, jump in."
There was no need for a second consent. Almost before the horse could be stopped the boy had leaped lightly in, and with his face bright and eager once more, and the dark misty notions upon which he had been brooding gone clean away, he began chatting merrily to his old friend, whose rounds he had often gone.
"Yes, yes, Syd, that's all very well," said the doctor, making his whip-lash whistle through the air, "but you don't know what a doctor's life is. All very well driving here on a bright autumn morning to get an appetite for breakfast, but look at the long dark dismal rides I have at all times in the winter."
"Well, they can't be half so bad as keeping a watch in a storm right out at sea. Why, I've heard both father and Uncle Tom say that it's awful sometimes."
"Only sometimes, Syd."
"Well, I can't help it. I hate it, and I won't go."
"Must, my boy, must. Take it like a dose of my very particular. You know, Syd," said the doctor, nudging the boy with his elbow; "that rich thick morning draught I gave you after a fever."
"Oh, I say, don't," cried Sydney, with a wry face and a shudder; "it's horrid. I declare, when I'm a doctor, I'll never give any one such stuff."
"No, Syd, you'll be a captain, and the physic for your patients will be cat-o'-nine-tails."
Sydney frowned, and as they neared the busy town, with its little forest of masts rising beyond the houses, Doctor Liss glanced sideways at the boy's gloomy and thoughtful countenance.
"Why, Syd," he said at last merrily, "you look as gloomy as if you had been pressed. Come, my lad, take your medicine, and then you can have that sweet afterwards that we call duty."
Sydney made no reply, but his face did not brighten, for duty seemed to him then a nauseous bitter.
"Doctor Liss," he said, just as they reached the docks, down one of whose side lanes the patient lay, "if I make up my mind to be a doctor—"
"You can't, Syd. You are too young to have one yet. A man's mind is as strong as if it had bone and muscle. Yours is only like jelly."
Syd was silent again for a minute. Then he began once more—
"If I determined to be a doctor, and wouldn't be anything else, would you teach me?"
"No, certainly not."
"Then I'd teach myself," cried Syd, fiercely.
"Oh, indeed! Humph! I retract my words about your young mind being jelly. I see there is some substance in it growing already. But no, Syd, you are not going to be a doctor; and here we are."
He drew up at a cottage door, where a couple of rough-looking men were waiting about, one of whom held the horse while the doctor descended, and Syd followed into the room, where a poor fellow lay in great agony with a badly fractured leg.
This was reduced, Syd looking on, and handing the doctor splints and bandages as they were required. After this the pair re-entered the gig, and drove back toward the Heronry.
"Just a quarter to nine, Syd. You'll be back in time for breakfast."
"I think I could set a broken leg now," said Syd, whose thoughts were still at the cottage.
"Bless the boy!" exclaimed the doctor. "Take one off, I suppose, if it were wanted?"
"No," said Syd, gravely, "I shouldn't feel enough confidence to do that."
"I should think not, indeed," muttered the doctor, as he gave a sidelong look at his companion. "Why, you morbid young rascal, you ought to be thinking of games and outdoor sports instead of such things as this. Here we are. Ready for your breakfast?"
"Yes, I am getting hungry," said Syd. "How long will those bones be growing together again?"
"Confound you—young dog! Go and pick grilled chicken bones. I'll never take you out with me again. Jump out. Good-bye, sailor."
The doctor nodded and drove off, while Syd walked slowly up to the house, and entered the dining-room just as his father and uncle came down, punctual to the moment.
"Ah, Syd," said his father; "you are first."
"Morning, boy, morning," cried his uncle. "Been for a walk on deck?"
"No, uncle; I've been for a drive."
"Drive! Drive!" said his father. "Who with?"
"Doctor Liss, father."
Sir Thomas's hand made the coffee-cups rattle this time, as he said sharply—
"Harry, my lad, if I were you I should take this spark up to town and see Dashleigh at once. I'll go with you."
"Very well. And he can be measured for his kit at the same time, eh?"
"Of course. Mind the tailor makes his clothes big enough, for as soon as he gets to sea he'll grow like a twig."
Syd sat stirring his coffee, and taking great bites out of his bread and butter, as the words of Pan came back to him—"If he does I shall run away, so there!"
There was something tempting about that idea of being measured for a uniform, though Syd declared to himself he hated it. All the same, though, he went down the garden to where Barney was digging that morning, and after a little beating about the bush, asked him a question he could have answered himself, from familiarity with his father's and uncle's garb.
"I say, Barney, what's a captain's uniform like?"
"Uniform, my lad?" said the old boatswain, seizing the opportunity to rest his foot on his spade, and began rubbing the small of his back, or rather what is so called, for Barney had no small to his back, being square-shaped like a short log. "Well, it's bloo coat, and white weskutt and breeches, and gold lace and cocked hat, and two gold swabs on the shoulders."
"And what's a lieutenant's like?"
"Oh, pooty much the same, lad, only he's on'y got one swab on 'stead o' two. But what's the good o' your asking?—you've seen 'em often enough in Southbayton."
"Oh, but I never took any notice. What's a midshipman's like?"
"Bloo, my lad, and a bit o' white on the collar."
"And a cocked hat?"
"Oh yes, a cocked hat—a small one, you know."
"And a sword, Barney?"
"Well, as to a sword, lad," said the old sailor, wiping a brown corner of his mouth; "it arn't right to call such a tooth-pick of a thing a sword. Sort of a young sword as you may say, on'y it never grows no bigger, and him as wears it does. Dirks, they calls 'em, middies' dirks."
"A uniform and a sword," said Sydney to himself. "A blue uniform with white on the collar, and a cocked hat and a sword!"
It was very tempting, and the boy went on down by the side of the lake, beyond which were the great trees, with the ragged nests of the tall birds which gave the name to the captain's residence, where he had settled to end his days well in view of the sea.
Here where the water was smooth as glass Sydney stood leaning over, holding on by a bough, and gazing at his foreshortened image, as in imagination he dressed himself in the blue uniform, buckled on his dirk, and put on his cocked hat.
It was very tempting, but disinclination mastered vanity, and he turned away to go back toward the house.
"I wonder whether Pan means it," he said to himself. "Suppose we went together to seek our fortunes; he could be my servant, and father and Uncle Tom would forgive me if I came back rich."
But somehow in a misty way as he walked up to the back of the house, half thinking that he would sound the boy, it hardly seemed to be the way to seek a fortune to start off with a servant.
He had nearly reached the yard when a door was thrown open, and the object of his search rushed out, followed by a shower of words and shoes, which latter came pattering out into the yard as a shrill voice cried—
"A nasty, lazy, good-for-nothing young scamp—always playing with that dog instead of doing your work. Not half clean—not fit to be seen."
Syd drew back, thinking to himself that Pan could not be much happier than he was himself with the red-faced cook, who ruled over all the servants, to play tyrant to the boy as well.
"Now what could two lads do if they went right away?" mused Syd. "We couldn't go abroad without going to sea. I don't think I want to be a soldier, and we're not big enough if I did. I know—we'd go to London. People seek their fortunes there."
He seated himself beneath the walnut tree to think it out, but somehow the idea of running away did not seem bright. It was less than a hundred miles to London by the coach-road, and if they walked all the way it did not seem likely that they would have any adventures.
Syd felt in despair, for life seemed as if it must be a terribly dull place without adventures.
He thought he would not run away for two reasons. One that it would look cowardly; the other that it did not look tempting.
"There does not seem any chance of meeting with adventures unless you go to sea," he said to himself. "I wish there was no sea in the world."
A loud voice from the other end of the garden, followed by another, took his attention.
"Poor old Pan catching it again," mused Syd. "Everybody seems to scold him."
The dull sound of a blow, a howl, and then a rushing noise explained by the appearance of Panama Strake, who was dashing helter-skelter across the garden, as regardless of flower-bed and tree as a young colt that had broken through a hedge.
"Hi! Pan, where are you going?" cried Syd.
The boy glanced once in his direction, but did not stop running on as hard as he could go for the front entrance, and directly after the gate was heard to bang.
"Some one must have hit him," thought Syd. "Poor old Pan, he's always in trouble. Why, I kicked him last week," he added remorsefully.
"Seen my boy Pan, Master Syd?" said a hoarse voice.
"Yes; he came running by here like a wild bull. Have you been hitting him?"
"Hitting of him?" growled the ex-boatswain; "on'y just wish I'd had a rope's-end 'stead o' this here," and he held up the handle of the rake he had been using. "On'y time to give him one tap and he was gone."
"Enough to make him go. What was the matter, Barney?"
"Heverythink, Master Syd. That there boy's gettin' worse than you."
"Oh! is he?"
"Growlin' and grumblin' at any mortal thing. Won't do his work, and says he won't go to sea, just the same as you do; and now he's been sarcing the cook."
"For saying the boots and shoes were not clean."
"How do you know, Master Syd?"
"I saw her throwing them at him. You'd no business to hit him with that rake shaft."
"What! No business to hit him? Why, he's my own boy, arn't he? All right then, Master Syd; there's an old wagon rope in the shed, I'll lay up a bit o' that—hard; and on'y just wait till he comes back, that's all. Won't be a sailor, won't he! I'll let him see. If he won't be able to write AB at the end of his name 'fore he's one-and-twenty my name arn't Barnaby Strake."
The old boatswain went off growling; and in the lowest of low spirits, Syd went indoors, to make his way to the library, shut himself in, and begin taking down the books from the dusty shelves, seeking for one which dealt with adventures.
There was no lack of them, but somehow or another all seemed to have the smack of the salt sea. Now and then he came upon some land adventures, but it was always preceded by a voyage to the place; and at last he threw a book down peevishly.
"Any one would think the world was all sea," he grumbled; "that's the worst of being born on an island."
He started from his seat, for the handle of the door rattled, and his father and uncle entered the library.
"Oh, you're here, sir!" cried Captain Belton. "That's right. Your uncle and I have been talking about you."
"Laying down your lines, Syd, so as to turn you out a smart craft."
"Yes," said Captain Belton, merrily. "We've settled about your hull, Syd; and to-morrow morning we're going to take you up to town, and if all turns out right—"
"Oh, that's all right," said Sir Thomas. "Dashleigh would do anything for me."
"If his complement is not made up."
"And if it is. Hang it, Harry; you can always squeeze another boy into a seventy-gun ship."
"Well, I suppose it will be all right," said the captain; "and if it is we'll get you rigged."
"Yes, and if you'll be a good lad, and try and learn your profession, I'll make you a present of your outfit, Syd. The best that can be had," said Sir Thomas.
"And I'd give you a gold watch," said the captain, "only you'd lose it, or get it stolen or broken before you had been to sea a month. There, my boy, no objections. It's all settled for you, and we want to see you a post-captain before we go into the locker."
"Yes, and bring in a few good Spanish prizes, sir. It'll be all right, brother Harry. He thinks he don't like the sea, but he does. Now then, you dog, why don't you come and shake hands?"
"Because I don't want to go, uncle."
"What, you dog! Yah! Get out. I don't believe it."
"Go and shake hands with your uncle, Syd," said the captain, sternly.
The boy walked across to where the admiral was seated on the arm of one of the great easy-chairs, and held out his hand.
"Here, what's this?" cried the bluff, choleric old sailor. "Not a boy's hand, is it. Feels like the tail of a codfish. Shake hands like a man, you dog. Ah, that's better. There, cheer up; you'll soon get used to the sea and love it. You won't be happy ashore after your first voyage."
"Want any money, Syd?" said the captain.
"No, thankye, father," said the boy, gloomily.
"What!" roared the admiral, laboriously thrusting his hand into his breeches pocket and dragging it out again. "Don't believe it. A boy who don't want money is a monster, not fit to be trusted with it. Here you are, boy. Five guineas. Don't fool it away, but buy anything with it you like."—A strange contradiction, by the way, though the old admiral did not notice it.—"Put it in your pocket, and—Pst! Syd," he whispered, "whenever you want any more, write to me. Don't bother the dad. Our secret, eh, you dog?"
"What's that?" cried the captain.
"Mind your own business, sir," cried the admiral, with mock rage. "Private instructions to our young officer. There, be off, Syd, before he begins to pump."
The boy gladly escaped from the library, to dash up into his own room, and fling the money into a corner with a demonstration of rage, before sitting down, resting his chin upon his doubled fists, and staring straight before him.
"It's all over," he said at last. "I wanted to be a gentleman, and do what was right; but—Yes, it's all over now."
Just at the same time Captain Belton was speaking to his brother in the library.
"I'm sorry the boy took it like that, Tom," he said. "I don't like his sulky manner."
"Bah! only a boy," cried the admiral. "Chuffy because he can't have his own way. Wait till he gets his cocked hat and his dirk."
The old man chuckled and wiped his eyes.
"I haven't forgotten the sensation yet, Harry. You remember too?"
"Oh yes, I remember," said the captain, thoughtfully.
"Of course you do. I say, what a pair of young gamecocks we were. Why, I can remember now flourishing the tooth-pick about, with its blade half blue steel and a lion's head on the hilt. Never you mind about Syd; the uniform will set him right."
"I hope so."
"Hope so. Don't I tell you it will! I like the boy; plenty of downright British courage in him. Isn't afraid of either of us. Egad, I like him, Harry; and he'll turn out a big man."
The rest of that day passed gloomily for Sydney, who was in the garden just before dinner, when Barney came up to him.
"Seen him, Master Sydney?" he said gloomily.
"Seen who? My father?"
"No, my boy, Panama. Strikes me he's cut and run, and when the skipper hears on it there'll be no end of a row."
"Oh, nonsense! He's hiding in the lofts, or one of the outhouses, Barney."
"No, my lad, I've hunted 'em all over with a hay-fork."
"And of course you didn't find him. If he saw you coming with a two-pronged fork what would he think?"
"But I wasn't going to job on him with it, Master Syd."
"How was he to know that, Barney?"
"'Cause I'm allus such a good father to him."
"And hit him with the rake-handle only this morning."
"Well, that would only loosen his skin a bit, and give him room to grow. Do him good."
"Don't see it, Barney. Wouldn't do me any good, only make me wild."
"But you don't think he's cut and run, do you, lad?"
"I dare say he has, but he'll soon come back."
"Only let me get hold of him then."
"If you touch him when he does, I'll tell my father and Sir Thomas you ill-use him."
"What a shame! Master Syd, you shouldn't. But you do think he'll come back, sir?"
"Why, of course."
"That's right. I want him to go along o' you."
"Along with me?"
"Of course. I heared the skipper was going to take you up to town to-morrow to see your new captain."
"Oh!" ejaculated Syd; and he turned sharp round and ran into the house, where he was soon after seated at table with his uncle and father, feeling that the servants were watching him, and expecting every moment to hear some allusion to the next day's journey.
But though no word of the kind was said, Syd cracked no walnuts that night, but sat gloomily over the dessert till his uncle filled his glass, called upon him to pass the port to his father, and then in a loud voice said—
"Here's health and success to Sydney Belton—middy, master's mate, lieutenant, commander, post—captain, admiral."
"Hear! hear!" cried Captain Belton; and Sydney sat feeling more guilty than ever he had felt in his life.
For his brain was full of thoughts that he dared not have laid bare, and his inclination was trying to drag down the balance in which he felt that he hung.
As he sat there holding on tightly by the nut-crackers that he had not used, he felt as if he should have to answer all manner of questions directly, and be put through a terrible ordeal; but to his intense relief, the conversation turned upon an expedition to Portobello, and the way in which certain ships had been handled, the unfortunate officers in command not having done their duty to the satisfaction of the admiral. And as this argument seemed to grow more exciting the boy softly slipped from his chair and went out again to his place of meditation—the garden.
"Shall I—shan't I?" he said to himself. Should he make a bold dash, and go off like heroes he had read of before, seeking his fortune anywhere?
He was quite ready to do this, but in a misty way it seemed to him that there would be no fortune to be found; and in addition, it would be going in direct opposition to his father's and uncle's wishes, and they would never forgive him.
"No," he said, as he walked up and down the broad walk nearest the road, "I must give up and go to sea."
But even as he said this softly, he felt so much on the balance, that he knew that a very little would send him away.
That very little came unexpectedly, for as he walked on down the garden in the darkness, where the short sturdy oak-trees sent their branches over the path on one side, and overhung the road on the other, a voice whispered his name—
"Yes. What is it?"
"Hush! Don't make such a row, or they'll hear you."
"Who is it—Pan?"
"Yes, Master Syd."
"Where are you?"
"Sittin' straddlin' on this here big bough."
"You've come back then, sir. Your father thought you had run away," said Syd sternly.
"So I have; and I arn't come back, on'y to see you, Master Syd."
"Come down, then. What are you doing up that tree?"
"On'y waiting to talk to you."
"But your father says he is going to rope's-end you for running away."
"No, he isn't going to, because I shan't come back."
"But you are back."
"Oh no, I arn't, Master Syd. I'm not going to be knocked about with rake-handles, and then sent off to sea. How would you like it?"
"I'm not knocked about, Pan; but I'm going to be sent off to sea."
"Then don't go, Master Syd."
There was no answer for the moment; then the latter looked up in among the dark branches, where the dying leaves still clung.
"You said you had come back to see me, Pan."
"Yes, Master Syd."
"What for? Because you repented?"
"No; it was to ask you—"
"What for? Some money, Pan?"
"No, Master Syd," replied the boy in a hesitating way. "Hist! Listen! Some one coming?"
"No; I can't hear any one. Why did you come back?"
"You don't want to go to sea, Master Syd, do you?"
"More don't I, and I won't go."
"I'm going right away, Master Syd, to make a fortune. Come along o' me."
"What!" said Syd, who felt startled at the suddenness of the proposition, one which accorded so well with his own wishes. "Go with you?"
"Oh, I don't mean as mates, only go together," whispered Pan. "You'd always be master, and I'd always clean your knives and boots for you."
"And what should we do, Pan? Where could we go so as to make a living?"
"Make a living?" said Pan, in a wondering tone. "Don't want to make a living—we want to make a fortune."
"But we must have some money."
"I've got two shillings saved up."
Syd's brow puckered. He knew a little more about the necessities of life, and did not feel disposed to set sail on the river of life with no more than two shillings.
"But you've got some money, Master Syd?"
"Yes; eight or nine shillings, and a crown uncle gave me day before yesterday."
"Come along then, that's enough."
Syd hesitated, and thought of the five guineas thrown down in his room.
"If you don't come they'll send you to sea."
That settled it. So evenly was the lad balanced, that a feather-weight was enough to work a change. His dread of the sea sent the scale down heavily.
"Wait here," he said.
"Till I've been and tied up some clean clothes to take with me."
"Never mind your clothes," whispered Pan. "If your father catches you there'll be no chance."
"Look here," said Syd sharply, "if I'm going with you, Pan Strake, I shall do as I like. I'm not going to be ordered about by you."
"No, Master Syd, I won't say nothing no more."
Sydney stood thinking for a moment or two, not hesitating, for his mind seemed quite made up. Then without another word he stepped on to the grass, and ran up the garden, keeping out of sight of the occupants of the dining-room, by interposing the bushes between him and them.
His heart began to beat heavily now, as the full force of that which he was about to do impressed him on hearing his father's voice speaking loudly; and as he crept nearer the window, so as to pass it, behind the bushes, and reach the entrance, he heard the captain say plainly, his words sounding loudly from the open dining-room window—
"Yes, Tom, I've quite made up my mind. It will be the best thing for him. It will be a better school than the one he is at. Time he began to learn the profession, eh?"
"Yes, quite; and good luck to him," said his uncle, gruffly.
Syd stopped to hear no more, but hurried to the front, waited till all was silent in the pantry, and then slipped up to his bedroom, where a few minutes sufficed for him to make up a change of clothes in a handkerchief.
That was all he wanted, he told himself. No: a brush and comb.
"Comb will do," he muttered; "people going to seek their fortunes don't want brushes."
He ran his hand in the darkness along the dressing-table, and touched not a comb, but a tiny pile of money.
Five shillings! And on his dressing-table! How did they come there?
He knew the next moment they were not shillings but guineas, the five he passionately threw down in a corner of the room, and when the maid came up to straighten the place she must have found them and placed them on the table. It was tempting.
Syd was going away out into the wide world with only a few shillings in his pocket, and these guineas, which were honestly his, would be invaluable, and help him perhaps out of many a scrape. Should he take them or no?
Syd pushed them away from him. They were given to him because his uncle believed that he was going patiently with him to see his friend in London. If he took them it would seem despicable, and he could not bear that; so hurrying out of the room, he ran down-stairs lightly and as quickly as possible, so as to get away and beyond the power of the house, which seemed to be all at once growing dear to him, and acting like a magnet to draw him back.
As he cleared the door and made for the shrubs, he heard his uncle's voice as he laughed at something the captain said. Then Captain Belton spoke again, and Syd clapped his hand and his bundle to his ears to stop the sound.
"If I listen I shan't be able to go," he said with a sigh; and he was just about to break into a trot to run down and join Pan, when there was a footstep on the gravel, and the boy stopped short in the shadow cast by a tree.
"Father!" he said to himself. "Can he have found out so soon?"
The step on the gravel came nearer, and Syd knew that it must have passed right under the tree where Pan was hiding.
"Could father have gone down there so quickly?" thought the boy.
Then all doubt was at an end, for he whose steps were heard stopped close at hand, muttering aloud—
"Swears he ketched sight on him in the road to-night, so he must have come home. If I on'y do get howd on him by the scruff of his precious neck, I'll teach him to run away."
A cold chill ran through Sydney, and he shivered. Suppose his father knew that he was going to do this mean, contemptible thing—run away and degrade himself—what would he say? and how would he act? Like Barnaby spoke, his old boatswain and gardener?
Syd shivered again. He was not afraid of the pain, but he shrank from the idea of the degradation. He fancied himself held by the collar and a stick raised to punish him. It was horrible.
"If I don't loosen his hide my name arn't what it is," growled the old boatswain; and he moved on, going close by Sydney, who stood listening with heavily beating heart till Barney had gone right up to the back of the house.
Then only did Sydney run on till he was beneath the tree, and called Pan.
"Yes, Master Syd."
"Did you hear who that was down the garden?"
"Did you hear what he said?"
There was a low laugh up in the tree.
"Yes, I heared; but he has got to ketch me first. Ready?"
"Yes, I'm ready, Pan."
"Get up here then."
"You can get out along one of these big branches, and drop out into the road."
"No, no, come down, and let's go by the gate."
"And come upon my father waiting with a rope's-end? Why, when he's wild he lets out anyhow, and in the dark you'd get it as much as me. This way."
Syd listened, and heard the boy creep actively along the bough and drop down on the other side of the fence.
"Catch," he whispered. "Ready?"
He threw over his bundle, and then swung himself up into the tree, got astride the big bough, and was working himself along, when a sound close at hand made him stop short to listen.
It was intensely dark where he sat beneath the thickly-leaved tree, and all was quite still. But he felt sure that he had heard some one approaching, and just as he had made up his mind to get further along, Pan's voice reached him from the other side of the paling—
Hoping that he might have been mistaken, Syd changed his position, so that he hung over the bough, and had just begun to edge along, when there was a quick rustling behind him, and the breaking down of shrubs, as if a man was forcing himself through, and the next minute he felt one of his legs seized.
"My father!" thought Syd, and a cold chill of dread, shame, and misery ran through him as he lay across the bough, silent and motionless, but clinging to it with all his might.
"Got ye, have I, Pan-y-mar?" growled a husky voice. "Now then, let go, and come and take it in your room, or I'll lay on here."
The first sound of that voice sent a warm glow through Syd, and thawed his frozen faculties.
Exulting in the idea that it was only the old boatswain, he drew himself all together as he held on with his arms to the bough, and then he kicked out with all his might; the attack being so unexpected, that as Barney received both feet in his chest, he loosened his hold, grasped wildly at the air to save himself, and then came down in a sitting position with sufficient force to evoke a groan; while by the time he had recovered himself sufficiently to rise and get to the fence, he could hear the rapid beat of steps in the distance.
"Why, there must be some one with him," growled Barney. "All right, my boy, on'y wait a bit. You'll come crawling round the cottage 'fore you're many hours older, and I'll lay that there rope's-end in the tub. It'll make it lie closer and heavier round your back. Oh!"
He had taken a step to go back out of the shrubbery to the path, when an acute pain ran up his spine, and made him limp along to the gardener's cottage at the bottom of the grounds, grumbling to himself, and realising that men of sixty can't fall so lightly as those who are forty years younger.
"But never mind, I'll make him pay for the lot. He shan't play tricks with me. Lor', I wish I was going to sea again, and had that boy under me; I'd make him—Oh, murder! he's a'most broke my back."
As Syd kicked himself free of Barney's grasp he heard the heavy fall, but he stopped for no more. A couple of vigorous sidewise movements took him clear of the fence, a couple more beyond the ditch, and before Barney had begun to think of getting up Syd had whispered to his companion the magic words—
The next minute, hand in hand, and keeping step, the two boys were running hard along the road leading away into the country, thinking of only one thing, and that—how great a distance they could put between them and the Heronry.
Fear lent them wings, for in imagination they saw the old boatswain running off to the house, spreading the alarm, and Captain Belton ordering the servants out in pursuit, determined to hunt them down and bring them back to punishment.
Their swift run, in spite of their will, soon settled down into a steady trot, and at the end of a couple of miles this had become a sharp walk. Every hair was wet with perspiration, and as they stopped from time to time to listen, their hearts beat heavily, and their breath came in a laboured way.
"Hear anything?" said Sydney at last.
"No; they've given it up," replied Pan. "Father can't run far now."
"Think they'll get out the horses, Pan?"
"Dunno. If they do we shall hear 'em plain enough, and we can take to the woods. They'll never ketch us now. Arn't you glad you've come?"
Sydney did not answer, for if he had replied he would have told the truth, and he did not wish to tell the truth then, because it would have been humiliating.
For there they were tramping along the dark road going west, with the stars shining down brightly, and, save the distant barking of a dog, all most mournfully still.
Pan made another attempt at conversation.
"Won't my father be wild because he arn't got me to hit?"
Syd was too deep in his own thoughts to reply, for he was picturing the library at the Heronry, and his father and uncle talking together after returning from a vain pursuit. He could picture their florid faces and shining silvery hair by the light of the wax candles. He even seemed to see how many broad wrinkles there were in his father's forehead as he stood frowning; and then something seemed to be asking the boy what he was doing there.
"Getting tired, Master Syd?" said Pan, after a long pause, filled by the beat beat of their footsteps.
But still there was no answer. The latter question took too much study, and suggested other questions in its unanswerable-ness.
Where was he going? and why was he going? and why had he chosen this road, which led toward the great forest with its endless trees and bogs?
Sydney could not answer these questions, and by way of relieving the buzzing worry in his own brain, he turned to Pan and became a questioner.
"Where are we going to sleep to-night?"
"Where are we going to sleep to-night?"
Pan took off his hat and scratched his head.
"I never thought of that," he said.
"We can't go on walking all night."
"Of course we can't. We shall have to knock at some cottage, and ask them to give us a bed."
"But they won't," said Pan, sagely enough. "'Tarn't likely at this time o' night; I wish we could find a haystack."
Pan's wish did not obtain fulfilment, and the two lads tramped on along the lonely road for quite a couple of hours longer, when hunger began to combine with weariness; and these two at last made themselves so plainly heard, that Sydney came to a full stop.
"Yes?" said Pan.
"I did not speak, I was only thinking," said Sydney, drearily.
"What were you thinking, Master Syd?"
"That all this is very stupid, and that we should be ever so much more comfortable in bed."
"Oh, I dunno," he said. "I shouldn't, on'y my legs ache ever so."
"We ought to have brought a lot of cold meat and bread with us, Pan."
"Ah! wouldn't it be good now!"
"How long do you think it will be before morning, so that we can get to a town, and buy some bread and milk?"
"I dunno, Master Syd. It can't be late yet, and it's ever so far to a town this way, 'cause it's all forest for miles and miles."
They were tramping on again now, but in a more irregular way. There was none of the vigorous pace for pace that had marked the beginning of their flight, and as the road grew more rough their steps began to err, and sometimes one, sometimes the other was a little in advance.
"Don't you wish you were back in your bed, Pan?" said Sydney at last.
"Because father would be standing there with the rope's-end."
This was so much to the point that Sydney did not try to pursue that vein of conversation, and they again travelled on in silence till Pan spoke—
"Wish you were back in your bed, Master Syd?"
"No," said the latter sharply.
"Course you don't; 'cause your uncle would be one side o' the bed and the captain the other, and that would be worse than being here, wouldn't it?"
"You'd ketch it, wouldn't you, Master Syd?"
Still no answer; and Pan plodded on in silence, wondering whether his young master would always be so quiet and strange.
"What's that?" said Sydney suddenly.
The two lads stood listening to the rapid run of feet through the rustling fern, and then tramped on again through the darkness.
Sydney was having a hard fight the greater part of the time with his thoughts, and try how he would, they seemed to be too much for him. In fact, so great a hold did they get at last, that somewhere about three o'clock he stopped short; but Pan went on with his head down till his name was sharply pronounced, when he stopped short with a start.
"Why, I believe you were asleep."
"Was I, Master Syd?" said the boy, blankly looking about him. "I s'pose 'twas because I thought father was making me walk round and round the garden all night for not cleaning the boots."
"Turn round—this way."
"Yes, Master Syd. Where are we going now?"
"Yes, to the Heronry."
"What for, sir?"
"Because I've been an idiot."
"But if we go back we shall be punished, Master Syd."
"Of course we shall. But if we go on we shall be punishing ourselves. Oh," cried Sydney, in a voice full of rage against himself, "how could I have been such a donkey!"
"It warn't my fault," said Pan, dolefully. "Father was after me with the rope's-end. I was obliged to go. Let's try another way, Master Syd."
"There is no other way," cried the boy passionately. "There's only one way for us to go, and that's straight back home."
"Oh, there's lots of other ways, Master Syd."
"No, there are not. There's only one that we can tread."
"Which way's that, sir?"
"I told you—home."
"But I dursen't go back, Master Syd; I dursen't, indeed."
"Yes, you dare; and you shall too."
"Well, not till it's light, Master Syd. It do hurt so in the dark, and you have no chance."
But Syd did not answer, only gave an involuntary shiver, and walked slowly back over the ground they had covered during the night.
A long tramp in silence; but they did not get over the ground very rapidly, for Pan's pace grew slower and slower, and when urged by Sydney to keep up he made no reply.
"Come along," said Syd at last; "do try and make haste."
"I arn't in a hurry," came in a surly growl.
"But I am. I want to get back before it's light; we don't want to be seen."
"Don't matter whether we're seen or whether we arn't; they'll be awaitin' for us."
"Can't help it, Pan," said Syd with a sigh; "we've got to go through it."
"I hope, Master Syd, you won't get no rope's-end."
"I'd take yours for you if I could, Pan."
"Ah, you say so," sneered the lad, as he dragged one foot after the other, "but you know you can't."
"I know I would," cried Syd, hotly. "But it's of no use to talk. We've got to go through it like men would."
"Men don't have no rope's-ending," grumbled Pan.
They went on back for another half-mile, with the stars shining brightly, and seeming to wink derisively at them; and just as Sydney had fancied this, as he gazed up at the broad band of glittering light seen through the dense growth of trees which shut them in on either side, a loud, ringing, mocking laugh smote their ears, that sounded so strange and jeering, that the boys stopped short.
"What's that?" whispered Syd.
"Only a howl. Why, you've heard 'em lots of times."
"But it never sounded like that before."
"You never heard it out in the woods before. There she goes again."
The shout rang out again, but more distant. "Hoi, hoi, hoi, hoi!" sounding now more like a hail.
"Oh, yes, it is an owl," said Sydney, breathing more freely. "Come along."
Pan did not move, but stood with his hands in his pockets, and his shoulders up to his ears.
"Do you hear? Come along, and let's get it over."
No answer—no movement.
"Don't be stupid, Pan. I know you're tired, but you are no more tired than I am."
"Yes, I am—ever so much."
"You're not. You're pretending, because you don't want to come back. Now then, no nonsense."
Pan stood like a stork, with his chin down upon his chest.
It was very dark, but Sydney could just make out that the boy shook his head.
"Then it isn't because you are so tired. It's obstinacy."
"I declare you're as obstinate as an old donkey; and if you don't come on I'll serve you the same."
Pan did not stir.
"Do you want me to cut a stick, and make you come, Pan?"
Still no reply; and weary, hungry, and disgusted with himself as well as his companion, Sydney felt in that state of irritable rawness which can best be described as having the skin off his temper. He was just in the humour to quarrel; and now, stirred beyond bearing by his companion's obstinacy, Syd flew at him, grasped his arm, gave it a tug which snatched it from the pocket, and roared out—
Then he retreated a step, for, to his intense surprise, there came from the lad, who had always been obedient and respectful, a short, snappish "Shan't!" which was more like the bark of a dog than the utterance of a boy.
"What!" cried Sydney, as he recovered from his surprise, and felt the blood flush in his face.
"Says I shan't. I arn't coming home to be larruped."
"You are not coming home?"
"No, I arn't. He's waitin' for me with a big rope's-end all soaked hard, and I know what that means, so I shan't come."
Sydney drew a long breath as he reviewed their position, and told himself that it was more his fault than that of the gardener's boy that they were there.
"I know better than he does, and ought to have stopped him instead of going with him, and he shall come back, because it's right."
"Now then, Pan," he said aloud, "I am going back home."
"All right, Master Syd, go home then; but I didn't think you was such a coward."
"It isn't being a coward to go back, Pan; it's being a coward to run away."
"No, it arn't."
"Yes, it is, so come along."
"Yes, you will, sir; I order you to come home with me at once."
"Shan't come to be rope's-ended, I tell you. I'm going away by myself if you won't come."
"You are coming home with me, and we're going to ask them to forgive us for being so stupid. Now then; will you come?"
"Do you want me to make you?"
"I don't want no more to do with you; you're a coward."
Sydney made a dart to seize his arm, but Pan dodged, and there was no sign of weariness now, for he bounded aside, and then set off running fast in the opposite direction to that in which his companion wished him to go.
Pan placed half a dozen good yards between them before Sydney recovered from his surprise. Then without hesitation the pursuit began, both lads striving their utmost to escape and capture, and at the end of a couple of hundred yards Syd had done so well that with a final bound he flung himself upon his quarry, and grasped at his collar.
The result was not anticipated. Sydney missed the collar, but the impetus he gave to the boy he pursued was sufficient to send him sprawling in the dirty road; and unable to check himself, Sydney came down heavily on Pan's back.
"Now then, will you come home?" panted Sydney.
Two loud yells as Pan wrested himself over, strove to get up, was resisted, and then for five minutes there was a fierce wrestling bout, now down, now up, in which Sydney found himself getting the worst of it; and feeling that in another minute Pan would get free and escape, he changed his mode of attack, striking his adversary a heavy blow in the face, with the natural result that the wrestling bout became a fight.
Here Sydney soon showed his superiority, easily avoiding Pan's ugly rushes, and dealing such a shower of blows upon the lad's head that before many minutes had elapsed Pan was seated in one of the wettest parts of the road, whimpering and howling, while Sydney stood over him with fists clenched.
"You're a coward, that's what you are," howled Pan.
"Get up then, and I'll show you I'm not. Do you hear?"
"Don't howl like a dog. Get up, sir, and take your beating like a man," said Syd.
"I didn't think it of you, Master Syd," whimpered Pan.
"Now will you get up and walk home?"
For answer the boy got up slowly and laboriously, went on a few yards in front, and Sydney followed, feeling, as he thought, as if he was driving a donkey home.
For about a mile Pan walked steadily on, with Sydney feeling better than he had since he left home, although his knuckles were bruised, and there was a dull aching sensation in one angle of his jaw. He had gained two victories, and in spite of his weariness something very near akin to satisfaction began to warm his heart, till all at once the figure of Pan began to be visible; and as at the end of another hundred yards or so they came out upon a patch of open forest land, the figure was much plainer. So was his own, as he looked down and saw in dismay that it would soon be broad daylight, that they were some miles from the Heronry, and that Pan was covered with mud, his face smeared with ruddy stains, and that he, Sydney Belton, known as "the young gentleman up at the house," was in very little better trim.
The day grew brighter; tiny flecks of orange and gold began to appear high up, then there was a warm glow in the east, with the birds chirping merrily in the woodlands, and then day began.
But as the morning brightened Syd's spirits grew cloudy, and as they reached another patch of wood through which ran a little stream, he stopped short, looking anxiously along the road in both directions.
"We can't go home like this, Pan," he said. "It would be horrid."
"Well, I don't want to go home, do I?" grumbled the boy, in an ill-used tone.
"We shall have to hide here in the wood till night, and we can dry and clean our muddy clothes and have a good wash before then."
"And what are we to get to eat?"
"Blackberries, and sloes, and nuts."
"Oh yes, and pretty stuff they are. One apple off the big old tree's worth all the lot here."
"Can't help it, Pan. We must do the best we can."
"Don't let's go back, Master Syd. You can't tell how rope's-end hurts. Alter your mind, and let's go and seek our fortunes somewhere."
"This way," said Syd, by way of answer; and pointing off the road, the two lads plunged farther and farther into the wood, keeping close to the little stream, which had cut its way deep down below the level; so that it was some time before they came to an open sandy spot, where, with the bright morning sun shining full upon them, they had a good refreshing wash; and soon after, as they sat in a sunny nook where the sand was deep and dry, first one and then the other nodded off to sleep.
It was late in the afternoon before Syd awoke, to look up anxiously about before the full force of his position dawned upon him; and feeling faint and more low-spirited than had ever been his lot before, he sat there thinking about what he had to go through.
As near as he could judge they were about five miles from the Heronry, and two hours before it grew dark would be ample time for their journey.
"I may as well let him sleep," said Syd. "He'll only want to go away, and we can't do that."
Then, in spite of his efforts to the contrary, his mind began to dwell upon home and the various meals. Just about dusk the dinner would be ready, and his father and uncle sitting down, while he—
"Oh, I do feel so hungry!" he muttered. "I'd give anything for some bread and cheese."
He went to the side of the little stream, lay down, and placing his lips to the clear cool water, drank heartily a draught that was refreshing, but did not allay his hunger; and after sitting down and thinking for a time, he put his hands in his pockets and felt his money. But it was of no use out there in the woods.
He sat thinking again, wishing now that they had gone on in spite of their condition, for then the trouble would have been over, and he would have had food, if it had only been bread and water.
"Oh dear! I can't bear this any longer!" he said, suddenly jumping up. "We must get something to eat if it's only nuts. Here, Pan, Pan!"
He touched the boy with his foot, but it had no effect; and bending down, he took one arm and shook it.
The effect was magical. Pan sat up, fending his face with his arm, and apostrophising some imaginary personage, as he fenced and complained.
"Oh, don't! I'll never do so no more. Oh, please! Oh, I say! It hurts!—You, Master Syd?"
"Yes; who did you think it was?"
"My father with the rope's-end and—oh, I say, I am so stiff and sore, and—have you got anything to eat?"
Sydney shook his head despondingly.
"I was waking you up to come and try and find some."
"There's lots o' rabbits about here," grumbled Pan, "if we could catch some."
"Yes, and hares too, Pan, if we had a good gun. Come along."
They rambled along by the stream, finding before long a blackthorn laden with sloes, of which Pan ate two, and Sydney contented himself with half of one. Then they were voted a failure, and the blackberries growing in a sunny, open spot were tried with no better result.
At the end of another quarter of an hour a clump of hazel stubs came in view—fine old nut-bearers, with thickly mossed stumps, among which grew clusters of light golden buff fungi looking like cups; but though these were good for food, in the eyes of the boys they were simply toadstools, and passed over for the sake of the fringed nuts which hung in twos and threes, even here and there in fours and fives.
It did not take long to get a capful of these, and they soon sat down to make their al fresco meal.
Another disappointment! The nuts, as they cracked them, were, with a few exceptions, full of a blackish dust, and the exceptions contained in addition a poor watery embryo of a nut that was not worth the cracking to obtain.
They gave up the food hunt in despair, for there was no cultivated land near, where a few turnips might have been obtained; and wandering slowly back they at last reached the road.
The search had not been, though, without result—it had taken time; and when they reached the solitary road the sun was so near setting, that after a final protest from Pan, Syd started at once for home and the scenes they had to face.
The route they had chosen for their flight was the most solitary leading from Southbayton. It was but little used, leading as it did right out into the forest, and in consequence they had it almost to themselves while the light lasted, and after dark they did not pass a soul as they made their way to the Heronry, under whose palings they stood at last to debate in whispers on the next step.
Pan was for flight after they had been on into the town and bought some bread and cheese; but the position in which they were brought out Sydney's best qualities.
"No," he said, "we've done wrong, and I'll face it out."
"But I won't—I can't," whimpered Pan. "How do I know as father isn't waiting just inside the gate with that there bit of rope?"
"You must, and you shall come back, Pan," said Sydney, decisively. "It's of no use to kick against it. Am I to hit you again?"
"I d' know," whimpered Pan. "I'm the most miserable chap as ever was. Every one's agen me. Even you knocks me about, and I didn't think it of you, Master Syd—I didn't; I thought you would be my friend."
"So I am, Pan, only you don't know it. Come now, get up. Go in with me, and let's walk straight in to the dining-room, and ask father to forgive us."
"I would ha' done it at first," whimpered Pan, "but I can't now."
"'Cause I'm so 'orrid hungry."
"Well, so am I. Father will give us plenty to eat as soon as he knows. Come along; it's only a scolding."
"No, Master Syd, I dursen't. You go and ask him to forgive you, and to order father not to hit me. P'r'aps I might be able to come then."
"You are the most horrid coward I ever knew," cried Sydney, impatiently. "Do you think I don't feel how terrible it is to go and tell father I've done wrong? I'd give anything to be able to run right away."
"Come along, can't yer, Master Syd. Never mind being hungry; come on."
"No, Pan, I can't. Now then, don't try to sneak out of it. Come and face them, like a man."
"But I arn't a man, Master Syd, and I can't stir now. Oh dear! oh dear! what will father say?"
"That I've got you at last," roared a gruff voice. "Hi! I've got 'em— here they are!"
Barney, the old gardener, had been round the garden that evening, and had paused thoughtfully close to the tree where he had had his adventure the night before; and as he went over the various phases of his little struggle and his fall, thinking out how he would have proceeded had he got hold of that boy again, he fancied he heard whispering.
The fancy became certainty, and creeping inch by inch closer to the palings, without making a rustle among the shrubs, he soon made himself certain of who was on the other side.
Barney's face did not beam. It never had done so, but it brightened with a grin as he slowly and cautiously backed out of the shrubs on to the path, stepped across on to the grassy verge, and set off at a trot in true sailor fashion up the garden toward the house to give the alarm.
"Nay, I won't," he said, as he neared the door. "They two may have cut and run again before I get them two old orsifers round outside. Sure to have gone, for the skipper goes along like a horse, while the admiral's more like a helephant on his pins. Scare any two boys away, let alone them. Lor', if I had on'y brought that there bit o' rope!"
But Barney had left it in his cottage; and as he reached the gate he stood to consider.
"Now if I goes down here from the gate, they'll hear me, and be scared away. I know—t'otherwise."
Chuckling to himself, he circumnavigated, as he would have called it, the park-like grounds of the Heronry, a task which necessitated the climbing of two high fences and the forcing a way through a dense quickset hedge.
But these obstacles did not check the old sailor, who cleared the palings, reached the road at the other side, panting, stopped to get his breath, and then crept along through the darkness on the tips of his toes, treating the tall palings as if they were the bulwarks of a ship, and by degrees edged himself up nearer and nearer till he was able to pounce upon the fugitives in triumph.
Pan uttered a howl, dropped down, and lay quite still; but as the ex-boatswain grappled Sydney by the coat, the lad wrenched himself free and kept his captor at bay.
"No, no," cried Barney; "you don't get away. Hoi! help!"
"Hold your noise, you old stupid," cried Sydney. "Who wants to get away? Keep your hands off."
"Nay, I won't. I've got you, and I'll keep you."
"I tell you I was going home, only Pan wouldn't stir."
"Wouldn't stir, wouldn't he? We'll see 'bout that. Now it's of no use, Master Syd. You're my prisoner, so give in and cry quarter."
"I tell you I have given in; and once more, Barney, I warn you, I'm in such a temper I shall hit you."
"Yah! hit away, Midget, who's afeard! Do you s'render?"
"Then you're my prisoner."
"Nonsense! Make Pan come."
"Make him come? Yes, I just will, my lad. But, I say, to think o' you two cutting yourselves adrift, and going off like that!"