The Rival Crusoes, by W.H.G. Kingston Our hero is the sixteen-year-old Dick Hargrave, son of a farmer near Keyhaven on the Hampshire coast. A good deal of smuggling went on in that area, but the Hargraves, although turning a blind eye if their barns were used by the smugglers for temporary storage, were not involved. The local landlord had been a politician who had been ennobled and who was now a marquis. One of his sons, Lord Reginald (for Lord is the courtesy-title of younger sons of a marquis) was in the Navy. Dick is press-ganged into the navy, and finds himself in the same ship as Lord Reginald, who does all he can to make Dick's life a misery. On one occasion Dick jumps ship and goes back home to visit his family, but is recognised by Lord Reginald.
Before he can be punished there is an engagement with the French in which Dick distinguishes himself, and the Captain agrees to dispense with the flogging he should have received.
The ship is posted to the Far East station but is shipwrecked. Both Dick and Lord Reginald survive the wreck and become "Crusoes", still with a deadly rivalry. But Lord Reginald is an incompetent, and would not have survived, had not Dick rescued him, and brought him back to health. Lord Reginald apologises for his past behaviour. Eventually they get back to England, and the story ends there.
In a preface Kingston explains that he has taken a much earlier novel written by a young lady, and has rewritten it with as much improvement as he can make.
THE RIVAL CRUSOES, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
The title of the following tale was given to a short story written by the well-known authoress, Agnes Strickland, more than half a century ago, when she was about eighteen years old. I well remember the intense delight with which I read it in my boyhood, and was lately surprised to find that it had been so long out of print. The publishers, however, consider that the work, esteemed as it was in former years, is, from the style and the very natural mistakes of a young lady discernible with regard to matters nautical, scarcely suited to the taste of the present day. They therefore requested me to re-write it, believing that the subject might be worked into a deeply interesting story of much larger proportions than the original. This I have endeavoured to accomplish, and I trust that the new version of "The Rival Crusoes" may become as popular among the present generation as its predecessor was with the last.
AT KEYHAVEN—IN DANGEROUS COMPANY—THE OLD SMUGGLER—A FRIGATE AFTER BATTLE—DISLIKE OF BEN FOR THE ROYAL NAVY—AN UNEXPECTED LANDING— OVERBEARING CONDUCT OF THE MIDSHIPMEN—ANGRY WORDS—LORD REGINALD OSWALD—TOADY VOULES—AT THE VILLAGE INN—OLD MESSMATES—TEMPTATION— SUSAN RUDALL'S ANXIOUS LIFE—AN ADVENTURE ON THE WAY TO ELVERSTON—HOME AT LAST—RECEPTION AT THE HALL.
"I tell you what, Dick, if I was Farmer Hargrave I would not turn out to please Lord Elverston or any other lord in the land," exclaimed Ben Rudall, as he stood hammering away at the side of his boat, which lay drawn up on the inner end of Hurst beach, near the little harbour of Keyhaven, on the Hampshire coast, at the western entrance of the Solent, opposite the Isle of Wight. His dress and weather-beaten countenance, as well as the work he was engaged on, showed that he was a seafaring man.
"But Mr Gooch the bailiff says there is a flaw, as he calls it, in the lease; but what that means I don't know, except that it's not all right, and that father must turn out, whether he likes it or not," answered Dick Hargrave, who was standing near, and occasionally giving Ben a helping hand. He was a lad about sixteen years of age, strongly built, with a good-looking face, exhibiting a firm and determined expression. His dress was more that of a landsman than of a sailor, though it partook of both.
"Flaw or no flaw, I say again, I would hold on fast to the farm, unless I was turned out by force. Your father, Dick, is worth ten of such lords, or a hundred, for that matter. He has held that farm since his father's time. His father and grandfather and great-grandfather, and I don't know how many before them, have held it. And right honest people they were. They never thought of interfering with us seafaring men, and would as soon turn spies to the French as give notice to the revenue when a cargo was to be run. If they guessed that any kegs of spirits, or packages of silks or ribbons, were stowed away in one of their barns, they took good care not to be prying about too closely until they knew that the goods had been started off for London."
"My father always wished to live at peace with his neighbours, and would not injure a smuggler more than any other man who did not interfere with him, though I believe he has never received a keg of brandy or a piece of silk for any service he may have done the smugglers," said Dick.
"You're right there, my lad," said Ben. "I mind once offering your good mother a few yards of stuff to make her a Sunday gown, and, would you believe it? she would not take them. When I just hinted that I should leave them behind me, she was quite offended, and declared that if I did she would speak to your father and have the outhouses kept closed, and that it would be our own fault if some day all our goods were seized. She shut me up, I can tell you. Yes, she is a good woman, and as kind and charitable to the poor as any lady in the land. To my fancy she is a lady just as much as Lord Elverston's wife. I mind when he was only Squire Oswald. Because he kept hounds and was in Parliament, and came into a heap of money, he got made a lord, and then a marquis, and now he is setting his face against all us seafaring men hereabouts, and vows that he must uphold the revenue laws, and put a stop to smuggling."
"I have no cause to care for the Marquis of Elverston or his sons either, for often when I have passed them and touched my hat, as in decent manners I was bound to do, they have looked at me as if I was a beggar-boy asking for a ha'penny. The young one especially—Lord Reginald—I had words with him one day, when he swore at me for not picking up his whip which he had let drop out riding; and at another time, when I was fishing in the lake at Elverston, he ordered me to be off, because I was catching more than he was—though father has always had the right of fishing there. He came up, with his fists doubled; but I threatened to knock him into the water if he laid hands on me, and he thought better of it. I was right glad when he went off to sea, where I hope he will have learned better manners."
"He will have learned to become a greater bully than ever," growled Ben. "I have heard enough about king's ships, and catch me setting foot on board one. I'd sooner be sent to Botany Bay, or spend a year in prison, which I did once, when I was taken running a cargo down Portland way with a dozen other fine fellows. Many of them accepted the offer to go on board a man-of-war; and where are they now? Three or four shot or drowned; the rest have never come back, though whether dead or alive I cannot tell. No, no, Dick; don't you ever go on board a man-of-war of your own free will, or you'll repent it; and, I say, keep clear of pressgangs when you get a little older, or you may be having to go, whether you like it or no."
"I'll take your advice," answered the young farmer, for such Dick might properly have been called, though he had besides, being an ingenious fellow, picked up a good knowledge of carpentering and boat-building; "but what I was going to say just now was that, although the marquis and his sons may not be liked, no one can utter a word against my lady and her daughters. They always smile and nod kindly like when one passes. When my sister Janet was ill last year, they came to the farm, and asked after her just as if she had been one of themselves, talking so sweet and gentle. If it wasn't for them, I don't think father would dream of giving in, as he does now."
"Give in? He mustn't do that!" exclaimed Ben. "Their talking and smiling may be all very fine, but I know what that's worth."
"You are wrong there, Ben; I couldn't speak a word against them. But, I say, do you think we can finish the boat in time to get off and catch some fish this evening? I want to take home a couple of bass or whiting pout for Janet. She likes them better than anything else. Poor girl! it's only fish and such light things she can eat. She's very ill, I fear, though she talks as if she was going to be about soon; but the doctor tells mother he has no hope of her ever being well again."
"That will be a sore pity, for, blind though she is, there's not a prettier maiden to be found throughout the forest," answered Ben. "I'll do my best to serve you, Dick; but there's two hours' more work to be done before we can get the craft afloat." Ben surveyed the boat from stem to stern as he spoke, and then continued boring holes and driving nails as diligently as before.
While he was thus employed, Dick, who was looking towards the Isle of Wight, exclaimed, "See, Ben, see, what a fine ship yonder is, just come in at the Needles!"
The fisherman, clenching the nail he had just driven in, turned his eyes in the direction to which Dick pointed. "She's only a frigate, though a good big one," he remarked. "She's not long since been in action, too, with the enemy. Look at her topsails and top-gallant sails; they are pretty well riddled. I can count wellnigh a score of shot-holes in them; and her side, too, shows the hard knocks she has been getting. Just run to the top of the beach, and see if any other ships are following. Maybe the fleet has had a brush with the enemy, and yonder frigate has been sent on ahead with news of the action."
Dick, doing as he was bid, soon reached a point of the shingly bank whence he could obtain a view of the sea to the westward. "Hurrah!" he shouted; "here comes another ship under a fore-jurymast and her bowsprit gone. She seems to me to have not a few shot-holes in her canvas, though it's hard to make out at the distance she is off."
Ben, in his eagerness, forgetting his work, ran up to where Dick was standing. "Yes, there's no doubt about it, yonder craft is a prize to the first. When she gets nearer we shall see that her sails are well riddled and her hull battered, too. Those Frenchmen don't give in till they've been thoroughly drubbed; but I doubt whether we shall know more about the matter to-night than we do now, for the wind is falling, and the tide making out strong against her. See, the frigate can only just stem it, and unless the breeze freshens, she must bring up or drift out through the Needles again."
Such, indeed, was likely to be the case, for though still going ahead, her progress was very slow. She had already got some little distance to the eastward of Hurst Point, when, the wind freshening again, her sails blew out, and, gliding majestically on, she edged over to the Isle of Wight shore.
"She'll not get to Spithead to-night, notwithstanding," remarked Ben, "for there's not a breath of air away to the eastward; see, the sails of that brig out there are hanging flat against the masts."
Ben was right. The wind again dropping, presently the hands were seen flying aloft, the studding-sails were quickly taken in, the courses brailed up; the topsail yards being rapidly lowered, the ready crew sprang on to them, and in another minute the frigate dropped her anchor in Yarmouth Roads.
"All very fine!" growled Ben, as he saw Dick's look of admiration at the smartness with which the manoeuvre had been effected; "but if you'd been on board you would have seen how it was all done. There's the first lieutenant, with his black list in his hand, and the other lieutenants with their reports, ready to note down anything they may think amiss; then there are the midshipmen, the boatswain and his mates, cursing and swearing, with their switches and rope's ends in their hands, and the cat-o'-nine-tails hung up ready for any who don't move fast enough. Again, I say, don't you ever enter on board a man-of-war if you wish to keep a whole skin in your body."
The old smuggler's picture, though exaggerated, approached too nearly the truth as to the way in which discipline was enforced on board many men-of-war in those days. Happily, some were as free from the reproach as are those of the present time, when the seamen of the navy have good reason to be contented with their lot, as everything is done which can conduce to their comfort and improvement.
Ben's remarks did not fail to have their effect on Dick's mind.
"Don't think I'm a fool!" he answered. "I'll keep out of their clutches, depend upon that, for, as I am not a seaman, a pressgang can't catch hold of me."
"Well, do you be wise, my boy, and don't forget what I say," remarked Ben. "But if we stand talking here we shan't get the boat finished, so come along, and don't let us trouble ourselves about the frigate. We shall hear by-and-by what she has been doing, and how the captain and officers are praised for the victory the seamen have won for them."
Saying this, Ben led the way back to his boat, and went on with his work, though Dick Hargrave could not help every now and then casting a look at the beautiful ship as she lay at anchor a little distance off. Ben was labouring away as assiduously as before, when Dick exclaimed—
"Here comes a boat from the frigate. I thought I saw one lowered; she is steering for this point, and it will not be long before she is here."
"Then they intend to put some one on shore at Keyhaven," observed Ben; "but as the boat can't get up the creek with this low tide, whoever he may be he'll have to trudge along the beach."
"There seem to be several officers in her," remarked Dick, who stood watching the boat as she came rapidly on the blades of the oars, as with measured strokes they were dipped in the water, flashing in the sunlight. "They fancy that they can get up to Keyhaven, but they'll not do that until the tide rises," observed Ben, looking up from his work with a frown on his brow. "Let them try it, and they'll stick fast."
The boat passed the spot where Ben and his companion were at work, and very soon what he had predicted happened. Two of the officers, whom Dick recognised by their uniforms to be midshipmen, were heard abusing the men and ordering them to urge the boat on. But all the efforts of the crew to get her afloat were vain.
They then endeavoured to back her off, and at length four of them, tucking up their trowsers, leaped overboard. The boat thus lightened, the men, by shoving her astern, soon got her again into deep water. When, however, they sprang on board their blackened legs showed the nature of the mud into which they had stepped, and produced a malicious chuckle from Ben, who watched them with half-averted head. By moving their legs about in the water they soon got rid of the black stains, when, having resumed their places, they pulled the boat in close to where Ben and Dick were standing. As she reached the beach the two midshipmen leaped on shore.
"I say, you fellows," shouted one of them, "come along here and carry our portmanteaus to the inn, if there is one in that village there, and tell us if we can find a post-chaise or conveyance of some sort to take us to Elverston Hall."
"Don't you answer," said Ben to Dick, hammering on and pretending not to notice what was said.
"Ahoy, there! don't you hear us? Knock off that work!" cried the younger of the two midshipmen, and he repeated what he had just said.
"Yes, we hear," growled Ben looking up; "but we are not slaves to come and go at your beck, youngster."
"We don't want you to carry our traps for nothing, my man," said the elder midshipman. "We'll give a shilling to each of you for the job, and that's handsome pay."
"To those who want it, it may be," said Ben; "but that youngster there must learn to keep a civil tongue in his head if he expects any one to help him. Hurst beach ain't the deck of a man-of-war, and one chap here is as good as another, so you may just let your own people carry up your traps."
The crew of the boat sat grinning as they heard the smuggler bandying words with their officers, siding probably with the former.
"Do you know to whom you are speaking, my man?" exclaimed the elder midshipman. "This is Lord Reginald Oswald, and his father is the Marquis of Elverston. His lordship will be exceedingly angry when he hears the way you have treated his son."
Ben, turning away his head, muttered loud enough for his companion to hear him, "He might be the marquis himself for what I care; but I'm not his lordship's slave to come and go at his beck any more than I am yours."
Dick looked hard at the young lord, and the recollection of their former intercourse would have made him unwilling to do as he was asked, even had the request been couched in less dictatorial language.
"Come, come, we will pay you a couple of shillings each, if you are extortionate enough to refuse our first offer; but carry up our traps you must, for the boat has to return immediately to the frigate, and we cannot delay her."
"Extortionate or not extortionate, we are not slaves, as some poor fellows are," said Ben, glancing at the boat's crew; "if we don't do what you want for love, we are not going to do it for money, so you may just carry your portmanteaus yourselves."
"Impertinent scoundrels!" exclaimed Lord Reginald to his companion. "Just see, Voules, if that young fellow is more amenable to reason than that sulky old boatman."
"I'll try him," answered Voules. "Come here, you young chap. If you will carry Lord Reginald's portmanteau I will shoulder mine; we must not delay the boat any longer."
"Don't seem as if you heard him," said Ben to Dick in a low voice, then looking round he shouted, "Maybe the 'young chap' is deaf, and if he wasn't, he's not a mule or donkey to carry a load on his back. Let Lord Reginald carry his own portmanteau, and just do you understand that I'm not the man to stand any nonsense from him or from any other lord in the land."
"There is no use in bandying words with these scoundrels!" exclaimed Voules. "I'll carry your portmanteau, Oswald, and let my own take its chance. I don't suppose these fellows will dare to steal it, until we can send somebody to bring it on."
"No, no," answered Lord Reginald; "we must get Jennings to allow two of the men to come with us, and he can explain to the captain the cause of the delay."
Jennings, the master's assistant in charge of the boat, naturally indignant at the way his messmates were treated, consented to this, although he was infringing orders by so doing. He accordingly directed two of the crew to take up the portmanteaus and accompany the midshipmen, who set off at once along the shingly beach. As they moved on, a peal of laughter, in which Ben indulged himself, saluted their ears, which contributed not a little to increase Lord Reginald's anger and indignation.
"I have a notion that I remember the countenance of the youngest of those two rascals!" he exclaimed. "He is the son of one of our tenants, and used often, when a mere boy, to be impudent to me. I felt inclined more than once to thrash him, but he happened to be the stronger of the two, so I didn't try, but I'll pay him off one of these days. I'll tell my father how we were treated, and he'll show him that I am not to be insulted with impunity."
"Certainly not, Oswald. I'll bear witness to the impertinent way in which he behaved. I only wish that a pressgang may be sent on shore here some night; I'll take good care that they do not overlook either the young fellow or that surly old one. They are not very particular in the service just now as to age, and both may be taken."
"Pray don't let me hear anything more about the matter, or when I reach home I shall not be in a condition to receive the congratulations of my family," said Lord Reginald. "I wish that the tide had been in and we had been able to get up to the village instead of having to trudge over these abominable shingles."
"Certainly," said Voules; "but the fellows are beneath your notice, though the incident was sufficient to put one out of temper. If I had thought Jennings would have consented, I would have proposed landing the boat's crew and ducking the fellows; it would have brought them to reason pretty quickly."
"You don't know the character of the men hereabout, or you would not say so," observed Lord Reginald. "That fellow Hargrave is a desperate young villain, and they are all smugglers and poachers, who would not scruple to burn down the hall if they had an opportunity. My father is determined to put a stop to their poaching and smuggling, but he has not as yet had much success, I believe. The smugglers, somehow or other, manage to land their cargoes when the revenue officers are out of the way, and the poachers dodge our gamekeepers, who vow that although they hear their shots, they can never catch them."
"It will be good fun some night to try what we can do," observed Voules. "We should soon get hold of them, and if they are sent to prison or shipped off to Botany Bay, it will keep the others in awe."
The two seamen who carried the portmanteaus were listening to the remarks of the young officers spoken in loud tones. Every now and then they turned to each other, exchanging winks, and smiling contemptuously, though they looked as grave as judges when Voules happened to turn round for a moment to ascertain how far they had got from the boat. On and on they trudged, until at last harder ground was gained, and they soon reached the village inn, or rather beer-shop, for it aspired to no higher dignity. Great was their disgust to find that no conveyance of any sort was to be obtained nearer than Lymington, some three or four miles off, and it was doubtful whether the single post-chaise or yellow fly, which belonged to the place, would be disengaged.
"But Lord Reginald Oswald cannot walk all the way to Elverston Hall, and we must have a carriage of some sort or other, my good woman," exclaimed Voules to the landlady.
"Then I must send out and find my man, who has been carting coals for old Captain Knockills on the top of the hill there. Our cart ain't exactly fit for young gentlemen like you, but it's better than nothing, as it will carry your 'portmantles,' and you can get in and ride when you are tired; so, if you will walk in and sit down in the bar, I'll send the boy off at once. It won't be long before my man is here, as he must have finished his work by this time."
"Impossible!" exclaimed Voules. "Lord Reginald Oswald to be driven home in a coal-cart!"
The idea, however, seemed to tickle the fancy of the young lord, for he burst into a fit of laughter. "It will be better to reach the hall even in that way, than to wait in this wretched hole until we can obtain a carriage. Only, I say Voules, get them to put some clean hay or straw into the cart, or we and our portmanteaus will be covered with coal-dust."
In the mean time the two seamen looked with wistful eyes at the cask of beer in the corner of the tap-room, but Voules, without offering them any, ordered them to hasten back to the boat. They grumbled as they went, looking back to ascertain if the midshipmen had left the inn, resolving to return, should they have the chance, to drink as many glasses of ale as they had money in their pockets to pay for.
Voules, however, must have suspected their intentions, for he kept an eye on them as long as they were in sight. Just before reaching the frigate's boat, they met Ben and Dick, who had been on the watch for their return. Ben put out his hand and shook that of one of them.
"Well, Bill Webster, I knew you as soon as you stepped on shore. Glad to see you with a whole skin on your back," he exclaimed. "How do you like serving his Majesty afloat? A pleasant sort of a life, isn't it?"
Bill shrugged his shoulders as he answered, "Well, it's better than rotting in prison, though I'd rather be at the old work again."
"Then why not give them leg-bail at once; you've a chance you'll not find again in a hurry, and we can stow you safe away, where they'll have a hard job to find you."
"No, no, mate," said Bill's companion, Jack Coyne. "I know what running away means. It's being caught, with a sharp taste of the cat on one's back at the end of it."
"Then, mates, you'd rather be slaves than free men?" said the old smuggler.
Jack Coyne, however, was firm; and notwithstanding the arguments Ben used, he finally persuaded his shipmate to return to the boat which, immediately they stepped into her, shoved off and pulled for the frigate.
"Each man to his taste, and some day they'll be sorry they didn't take my advice," muttered Ben. "Now, Dick, let's you and I get the boat into the water, and try to catch some fish for your sister Janet."
As the boat was placed on a steep beach, she was easily launched, and Ben and Dick, each taking an oar, pulled away some distance from the shore, when they let down a big stone which served as an anchor. They had not to wait long before Ben hauled up a fish, and Dick soon afterwards got a bite. In a short time they had caught several bass, a whiting pout, and two grey mullet, with which, well satisfied, as the shades of evening were already creeping over the water, they pulled for the shore. As the tide had now turned, they were able to get up the creek to the spot where Ben generally left his boat moored.
"I'm well pleased that I am to send these to your young sister," said Ben, handing over the mullet and two of the other fish to Dick. "Your mother won't mind receiving them, though they haven't paid duty, seeing as how they are not taxed, though when they will be is more than I can say. Always glad to see you down here, my lad; some day you'll take a trip across the water, aboard the Nancy. You'll like the life, I know, especially if we are chased by one of those revenue craft. It is a pleasure, I can tell you, to give them the go-by, though, to be sure, we do sometimes have to heave our kegs and bales overboard, but we generally keep too bright a look-out to have to do that."
"I should like it well enough, Ben; but there are others at home who would object to my going away on board the lugger. However, I won't say no, so good night, Ben, and thank you for the fish;" and Dick Hargrave set off at a brisk pace towards his home, while his evil adviser—for such Ben Rudall undoubtedly was—entered his cottage, where his wife was busy preparing supper for him and their children.
An anxious woman was Susan Rudall. Sometimes there was an over-abundance on the board, and she had more money than she well knew how to spend. At others it was a hard matter to find a few shillings to pay the week's bills for bread and other necessaries, though, to be sure, she could generally obtain credit, as it was hoped that, on the return of the Nancy, Ben would again be flush of money. Sometimes, however, she, as well as the tradespeople, were disappointed. Then often and often, while south-westerly gales were blowing, she had the anxious thought that the Nancy was at sea and might perchance founder, as other similar craft had done, or be cast on the rocky coast, or be taken by a revenue vessel, when Ben and his companions, if caught with a cargo on board, would be thrown into prison, or sent to serve his Majesty on board a man-of-war for three or four years or more.
Poor Susan's lot was that of many other smugglers' wives, who, notwithstanding the silks and laces with which they could bedeck themselves, and the abundance of spirits and tobacco in which their husbands might indulge, had often a troubled time of it. Not that she, or any other of the wives and daughters of those engaged in the lawless trade, thought that there was any harm in it. Probably their fathers and grandfathers before them, and most of their male relatives, except those sent off to sea, followed the same calling, and when any were caught or killed, they looked on their fate as a misfortune which had to be borne, without considering that it was justly brought upon themselves.
Meantime, the two midshipmen, after waiting till their patience was almost exhausted, having seen their portmanteaus put into Silas Fryer's cart, set off on foot for Elverston Hall.
"I really regret, my dear Oswald, that you should be exposed to this inconvenience. For myself, I confess I do not care; the pleasure of accompanying you and the honour of being received by your family, will make ample amends to me for a far greater annoyance. As a miserable younger son, with little more than my pay to depend upon, I have often had to tramp it. But you, I fear, will be greatly fatigued."
"Not a bit of it," answered Reginald. "I can walk as well as any man, and could get over the distance if it were twice as great. I was only vexed at the impertinence of those fellows."
"Of course, of course," said Voules, soothingly; "but leave them to me, and if I have an opportunity while remaining here, I'll endeavour to pay them off."
Mr Alfred Voules, though an especial friend of Lord Reginald Oswald, was not a favourite on board his ship, where he was known by the name of "Toady Voules," an appellation he richly merited by the mode in which he paid court to any shipmates possessed of titles or amply stored purses. He had lately won his way into the good graces of Lord Reginald, who had obtained leave to take him on a visit to Elverston Hall, while the frigate was refitting at Portsmouth. When she brought up in Yarmouth Roads, Lord Reginald explained that his home was a short distance off on the opposite coast, and that it would save him and his friend a long journey if they were to land at Keyhaven, as they could easily reach it from thence. Much to their satisfaction, their captain allowed them— certainly an unusual favour—to be put on shore as they desired. Voules himself stood well in the opinion of the captain and lieutenants, as, although he might not have exhibited any especial gallantry, he always appeared attentive to his duty.
As the two midshipmen stepped out briskly, they soon distanced the cart, though darkness overtook them when they were still three or four miles from the hall. Lord Reginald, however, knew the road, and there was light enough from the stars to enable them to see it without difficulty. Elverston was situated some distance from the coast, within the borders of the New Forest. They were laughing and talking merrily together as they made their way along an uncultivated tract, covered with heather and occasional clumps of trees, here and there paths crossing the main road, when Voules exclaimed—
"What are those objects moving beyond the trees there? They seem to me to be like men on horseback; and, surely, that is the sound of cart wheels."
As they stopped talking, a low murmur, as of human voices in subdued tones, reached their ears, and continuing on, they made out distinctly a train of carts, accompanied by horsemen riding in front and rear.
"What they are is pretty clear," said Lord Reginald. "Those are smugglers. I have heard they muster at times in great force to convey their contraband goods up to London."
"I wish that we had some of the frigate's crew with us," said Voules; "we'd soon put a stop to their journey."
"Will you, young masters?" said a voice. "You'll just come along with us, and spend the night in different company to what you expect!"
Before the midshipmen could turn round, they found their arms seized by half a dozen stout fellows, who had apparently been detached from the main body, and had come up thus suddenly upon them.
"Unhand us!" exclaimed Lord Reginald, indignantly. "What right have you to stop us in this way?"
"The right of might, young master," answered the man who had before spoken. "Tell us what brings you here at this time of night!"
Voules, seeing that it would be to their advantage to speak the truth, answered, "My good friends, we have only just landed from our ship, and being unable to obtain a carriage, are walking on to Elverston Hall. We have not the slightest wish to interfere with you or any one else we may meet on the road; and it would be a serious inconvenience to us to be detained."
"You speak fairly, my young master," said the man; "and if you and this youngster here will give us your word of honour that you will not mention having met us, we will let you go on in a few minutes; but do not interfere in a matter which does not concern you."
"Oh! certainly, my friend, certainly," answered Voules. "We will hold our tongues, depend upon that, and we shall be much obliged to you if you will let us go at once, for we are desperately hungry, and want our suppers."
"That may be," said the smuggler, laughing; "but you have not given us your word yet that you will hold your tongue, and we want to know what this other lad has to say for himself."
"Oh, I'll give you my word to say nothing about you, if on that condition you will let us proceed on our way," said Lord Reginald; "although I cannot make out what reason you have for asking us."
"Our reasons do not concern you, so give us your answer without further delay."
"I promise, then, on the word of an officer and a gentleman, not to mention having met you," said Voules.
Lord Reginald repeated the same words.
"Well, then, you may go about your business," said the smuggler; "only don't in future talk of putting a stop to smuggling; it's what neither you nor your elders can do. Now, good night, lads. Remember, if you break your words it will be the worse for you."
Saying this, the smuggler and his men rejoined their companions, who had already crossed the road, and the two midshipmen, glad to escape so easily, proceeded on their way.
"I thought we were in for it!" observed Voules; "it would have been very unpleasant if they had carried us off, or knocked us on the head!"
"Yes, indeed," answered Lord Reginald; "they are bold fellows to travel through the country so openly, even at night; but, as my father says, 'Bold as they may be, they must be put down.'"
"Well, we must try to forget the circumstance at present, or we shall be letting something slip out," remarked Voules. "Are we approaching the hall yet?"
"We cannot be far off, though I should be better able to answer the question in daylight. I am only certain that we are on the right road, and have not reached the lodge gates; we shall see a light shining in the window when we get near."
Nearly another half-hour passed before the light Lord Reginald spoke of appeared. The park-keeper and his wife, who had their minds filled with the dread of an invasion from the French, or an attack from the smugglers, were at first very unwilling to open the gates. Not until Lord Reginald had explained who he was, and had mentioned several circumstances to prove that he spoke the truth, would they admit him and his companion.
"Beg pardon, my lord; but we hope you won't take it amiss," exclaimed the gate-keeper.
"We meant no offence, that we didn't, my lord," chimed in his wife. "But you see, your lordship, that there are all sorts of bad characters about—smugglers and highwaymen and gipsies, and we couldn't tell if it was some of them come to murder us and burn the hall down, as they swear they will; or if it was the French, for it's said that they will land one of these nights, and turn out the king and Parliament."
"Hold your tongue, wife, and don't be keeping Lord Reginald and the other gentleman waiting," exclaimed the husband. "You see, my lord, how my good woman is afeered, and so I hope your lordship will pardon me, as I mustn't leave her alone, if I don't go up with you to the hall, for if any strangers were to come there would be no one to open the gate."
"Stop and look after your wife; I can dispense with your attendance, for I know my way perfectly," answered Lord Reginald, laughing. "Come along, Voules, I shall be glad to be at home at last."
The authoritative pull which the young nobleman gave to the hall bell soon brought the domestics to the door. The marquis and Lady Elverston, with their two fair daughters, and Lord John their eldest son, hurried out to meet Lord Reginald. His mother and sisters embraced him affectionately, gazing into his well-bronzed countenance, while his father and brother warmly wrung his hand, as they expressed their joy at his safe return. He then introduced his messmate Mr Voules, who received a polite welcome to Elverston Hall.
"And now, pray tell us, Reginald, to what circumstances we are indebted for seeing you so unexpectedly," said the marquis.
"The kindness of Captain Moubray; who, hearing, when our frigate came to an anchor in Yarmouth Roads, that we were within a short distance of this, allowed me and my messmate Voules, at my request, to come on shore and pay you a visit, while the Wolf is refitting at Portsmouth."
"What brings her back?" asked his father. "I understood that she was not expected home for some time."
"We have had a glorious fight with a French frigate, which we compelled to strike, and have brought home as our prize; though, as we did not get off scot-free, it will take the Wolf some time to repair damages."
"Did you lose many men?" asked the marquis.
"Twenty or more killed or wounded," answered Lord Reginald, in a careless tone.
"My dear boy, how thankful I am that you escaped!" exclaimed the marchioness, gazing at him with a mother's love in her eyes.
"Oh, do tell us all about it," cried Lady Lucy, his eldest sister.
"All in good time," answered Reginald; "but to say the truth, we are very sharp set after our long walk, and should prefer refreshing the inner man before we exhaust our energies by talking, and I will refer you on the subject to Voules, whose descriptive powers are far superior to mine. All that I can tell is that we saw a ship, which we soon discovered to be French, and, coming up with her, fired away until, in the course of a couple of hours, having had enough of it, she hauled down her colours, and that when we were sent on board to take possession, we found that we had knocked over some forty or fifty stout fellows."
The marquis rang the bell, while the midshipmen retired to their rooms to prepare for supper.
Voules gazed round the handsome chamber in which he found himself, with a well-satisfied look. "I have fallen on my feet for once in my life, at all events," he said to himself. "If I play my cards well, who knows what may happen? It is evident that his family think a good deal of this young lordling, and I must take care to keep in his good graces. He is fond of flattery, though it doesn't do to lay it on too thick, but his sisters and mother will be well pleased to hear his praises sung, and as I have a fair groundwork to go upon, I may praise him to the skies behind his back; he is sure to hear what I say of him, and will be more pleased than if I flattered him to his face. I shall thus get into the good graces of the ladies, who may induce the marquis to use his influence at the Admiralty to obtain my promotion."
His meditations were interrupted by the entrance of a valet, who came to offer his services. Voules, supposing from his appearance that he was one of the other guests who had mistaken his room, made him a polite bow, and said something to that effect. The valet, uncertain whether the young gentleman was a lord or a commoner, thought it wise to be on the safe side, and addressing him as "My lord," said that he had been sent by Lord John to brush his clothes and shoes, and as the portmanteaus had not arrived, to put any of his lordship's wardrobe at his disposal.
"Oh, ah! my good fellow," said the midshipman, discovering his error; "much obliged to Lord John; but as there is not time to shift my rigging, I'll just trouble you to give me a brush down and to bring me a pair of slippers, and I shall be all to rights."
The valet quickly performed the duties required of him, and Voules, perfectly satisfied with himself, followed him downstairs to the drawing-room.
VOULES MAKES HIMSELF AT HOME—EAGER LISTENERS—FIGHT BETWEEN THE WOLF AND A FRENCH FRIGATE—LORD REGINALD'S ACCOUNT—MERIT AND MODESTY—A BUMPER ROUND—VOULES MAKES HEADWAY—DICK HARGRAVE—AN ENCOUNTER IN THE FOREST—SMUGGLERS—GOOD FAITHFUL—THE FARMER'S HOME—DICK'S MOTHER— SOUND ADVICE—CONTENDING INFLUENCES—BITTER FEELINGS—A PRUDENT RESOLUTION.
Several guests were staying in the house, and a large party were soon assembled round the supper-table. The two midshipmen were objects of general interest, and they had more questions asked than they could well answer. Voules had the honour of sitting near Lady Elverston. Lord Reginald was at the other end of the table, where his father had placed him, anxious to hear from his own lips an account of what had occurred. Just then, however, being very hungry, the young lord was more interested in discussing the viands placed before him than in narrating the particulars of the engagement. Voules had therefore the field to himself, and although quite as hungry as his brother midshipman, he restrained his appetite, for the sake of giving full play to his tongue.
"I can assure your ladyship that we have had as fine an action as any which has been fought during the war, and though his modesty might induce him to disclaim any peculiar merit, Lord Reginald played no unimportant part in it," began Toady Voules, bowing to the marchioness, and then giving a quick glance towards the other end of the table to ascertain whether his messmate was listening. Finding that he was fully engaged with the viands before him, he went on. "We were about thirty leagues from the coast of Spain, in the latitude of Cadiz, when early one morning, we discovered a sail to the south-west, we having the wind at the time from the north-east. As you may suppose, we immediately bore up in chase, for we had every hope that the stranger would prove an enemy. It was some time, however, before we could settle the point, as the wind was light and we made but little way. At length, to our great joy, we were almost sure that she was a French frigate by the cut of her canvas and the appearance of her hull; at last, when she hoisted her colours and fired a gun to windward, we had no doubt about the matter. She was hove to, with her mizzen-topsail aback and the main-topsail shivering, waiting for us. This showed that her captain was a brave fellow, and would give us some trouble before we were likely to make him strike.
"We were all in high spirits, and I never saw Lord Reginald look cooler or more at his ease than he then did. Our captain, to prevent the French frigate from escaping, made up his mind to engage her to leeward. Our men were at their quarters, with matches in their hands, ready to fire. The word, however, was passed along the decks that not a gun should be discharged until the captain should give the signal, though the enemy had begun to blaze away, and his shot was passing through our sails and cutting up our rigging. The enemy, seeing our intention, wore and foiled the manoeuvre. As she sailed much better than the Wolf, our captain at length saw that he must adopt a different plan to that which he had at first intended. The Frenchman several times filled and wore so as on each occasion to bring a fresh broadside to bear on the Wolf, which annoyed us greatly. It was trying work to have her shot crashing on board without being able to return the compliment. Fortunately, the Frenchman firing high, few of our men were hurt. We now steered directly down upon the enemy, and having got within pistol-shot of her, the satisfactory words reached us, 'Give it her, my lads, and enough of it.' We did give it her, the men tossing their guns about like playthings, running them in, loading and firing two shots to the Frenchman's one. We were now what we wanted to be, engaging the enemy broadside to broadside, within pistol-shot distance, pouring into each other a fire of round, grape, and musketry. I am afraid you would not understand the various manoeuvres we performed. As we carried a press of sail, we shot past the enemy, who, bearing up, managed to cross our stern and pour in a raking fire. As our captain saw what she was about to do, he ordered all hands to fall flat on the deck, and many who might have had their heads knocked off thus escaped. As the shot flew over us like a shower of hail, the only person I saw on his feet besides the captain and first lieutenant was Lord Reginald. He told me afterwards that he could not bring himself to bend before a Frenchman. 'Better, my dear Oswald, to do that than to be knocked down by a Frenchman's shot,' I observed. 'No, no!' he answered. 'I should have died an honourable death.' I beg to observe that I did not agree with my noble messmate; but I mention the circumstance only to show what stuff he is made of.
"We were quickly on our feet again, and engaged in firing every gun we could bring to bear. After some time, having crossed each other's courses, we being ahead of the French ship, she stood right at us, bringing her larboard bow against our starboard quarter, over which her bowsprit ran, pressing against the mizzen rigging. The captain immediately ordered it to be lashed there, to prevent her escaping. Lord Reginald was, I can assure you, among the first to obey the captain's order. Several men were shot in the attempt, but at last it was successful. Scarcely, however, was it done, and we had the Frenchman fast, than we saw the greater portion of her crew rushing forward, ready to spring down on our decks. It was as much as we could do, I can tell you, to keep them at bay. Our marines, stationed on the quarter-deck, fired away at them as fast as they could load and discharge their muskets, but not until our captain himself, at the head of our own boarders, armed with cutlasses, pikes, and pistols, rushed to our quarter, over which the enemy had begun to pour, was their progress stopped. It was desperate work; those who had gained our deck were cut down, others were hove into the sea, while the remainder beat a rapid retreat. Their foremost guns then began to thunder away at us, and we could not bring one to bear in return, until a couple of pieces were dragged aft on the main-deck and run through the cabin windows, which had been cut down to serve as ports. We had now an advantage of which we made good use. Every shot we fired told with tremendous effect, but the enemy was still unconquered. The lashings which held the bowsprit of the French ship to the mizzen rigging giving way, she began to forge ahead. As she did so, a fortunate shot cut away the gammoning of her bowsprit. We were now exchanging broadsides yardarm to yardarm, but the drubbing they had already received seemed to dishearten the Frenchmen. Still they held out, showing a wonderful amount of pluck. They had sent men into the tops, armed with muskets, who were firing down on our deck, and had already wounded several of our officers. I was standing a short distance from our captain, when I saw Lord Reginald seize the musket of a marine who had just been killed, and at the same time shove the captain aside and fire at the maintop, when down came a man on deck. The captain was saved. The fellow had been taking aim at him, and there is no doubt that he owes his life to the coolness and resolution of Lord Reginald, although he looked rather astonished at being treated in so unceremonious a manner by a midshipman—"
"Why, you make Lord Reginald a perfect hero," observed a dowager duchess sitting opposite to Voules, who might possibly have suspected that the young gentleman was drawing on his imagination as to the details of the action.
"Pray go on, Mr Voules," said Lady Julia. "I could not listen to you without trembling; and, did I not see my brother sitting safe there, should be thinking all sorts of dreadful things. I wonder any one remained alive on the decks of the ships engaged in so fearful a battle."
"A good many did lose the number of their mess, but fewer were killed than might have been supposed, for round shot and bullets fortunately have a happy knack of making their way between the heads of people without hitting them.
"By this time our gallant frigate, which had lately been under a cloud of canvas, swelling proudly to the breeze, made a deplorable appearance with rope's ends and torn sails hanging down from every mast and yard. The French ship, however, was in a still worse condition. The sails, however, were of sufficient service to force the two ships through the water, and the Frenchman took advantage of this, and hauled up, in a short time getting out of gun-shot, we being unable, in consequence of the loss of our gaff and topsails, to follow. Our captain, however, had no intention, as you may suppose, of letting her escape. All hands set to work to knot and splice our rigging, to refit braces and repair other damages. While thus employed, we saw the Frenchman's foremast fall over the side. Our crew, as you may suppose, raised a loud cheer at the sight, and redoubled their efforts to be ready, should a breeze spring up, for again getting within range of our opponent. Scarcely had the hands reached the deck, when we saw a ripple playing over the ocean; the sails were trimmed, and once more, with eager hearts, we steered towards the French ship. We did not suppose that she would hold out long, but after the pluck her captain had exhibited, we fully expected to be at it again. In a few minutes the crew were at their quarters, ready to fire a broadside, when down came the Frenchman's colours.
"'She has struck! she has struck!' resounded through the ship. We at once hove to. The first lieutenant was sent on board to take possession; I had the honour to accompany him. The sight I had witnessed on board our own ship was bad enough, for we had upwards of twenty men killed and wounded, the former still lying in their blood where they fell; but on stepping on the Frenchman's deck, it seemed literally covered with dead men, for the rest of the crew had been too busy to throw any of them overboard, while the cockpit below was filled with wounded, many of whom were too much hurt to recover.
"The French captain, who came to the gangway to present his sword to the first lieutenant, informed us that the ship was the Reynard, when we found that she was not only of larger size and carried four more guns than we had, but had commenced the action with upwards of two hundred men more than we mustered. The French captain, Monsieur Brunet, who had really fought his ship very gallantly, shrugged his shoulders, exclaiming, 'It is the fortune of war!' as he delivered up his sword, and was requested, having packed up his personal effects, to go on board the Wolf, in a boat sent for the purpose. The boats of the French frigate were too much knocked about to float, and it took us some time to remove the prisoners and send a prize crew on board. It was night, therefore, before we were ready to make sail, when we steered a course for the north-west, to avoid the French fleet, which was supposed to be off the coast of Spain or Portugal.
"The scene on board the prize made me very glad to get back to my own ship. Though we had gained the battle, we were not allowed to sleep on beds of roses. Our prisoners considerably outnumbered our own crew, and our boatswain, who spoke French, having been taken during the earlier part of the war, overheard some of them discussing a plan for overpowering us and regaining the prize. As we could not put them all in irons, we had to keep a strict watch over their movements.
"The weather remained fine, but there was a thick mist which prevented us from seeing far ahead. It had just gone two bells in the morning watch, when, as I was forward, I heard a tinkling sound. I listened attentively. Again the sound distinctly struck my ear. It came borne along the surface of the water from some distance. I reported the circumstance to the officer of the watch, and he immediately sent to inform the captain. He soon reached the deck, and after listening for a while, announced it to be his belief that the sounds proceeded from the French fleet. He immediately ordered the ship's course to be changed to the westward. In another hour we again hauled up to the northward. When morning broke, the look-out from the mast announced a fleet in sight to the south-east. All the sail we and our prize could make was set. We soon discovered, however, that several large ships were in chase of us, but our captain was not the man to give in while a stick remained standing. We continued our course, hoping that a change of wind or some other chance might enable us to escape our pursuers. It would have been tantalising to have lost our prize and have been taken prisoners ourselves, and some of the least hopeful declared that such would be our fate. 'Well,' exclaimed Lord Reginald, 'we must submit, but nothing can take away the honour we have gained by capturing a French frigate of superior force.' Your ladyship will perceive the courage and spirit of your gallant son; indeed, he has exhibited them on many occasions, and I hope that some day we may see him leading England's fleets to victory."
"What's that you are saying about me?" exclaimed Lord Reginald, from the other end of the table, for during the sudden silence of those around him he had caught the last words uttered by his messmate.
"Mr Voules is only speaking of you as you deserve, my dear Reginald," said the marchioness. "He has been giving us an account of the battle and the gallant way in which you behaved."
"We all behaved gallantly, or we should not have thrashed the enemy," said Reginald, laughing.
"I hope Mr Voules has given you a clearer account than Reginald has himself, for, except that the two ships spent the morning in pounding away at each other, and that at length the Frenchman, being tired of the amusement, and having lost his foremast, hauled down his colours, I have heard no details of the action," said the marquis.
"Then his modesty prevented him relating how he lashed the bowsprit to the rigging and saved the captain's life," observed the marchioness.
"I lash the bowsprit to the rigging? Why, the men did that, and very imperfectly they performed the work, or our antagonist would not have got clear again; and as to saving the captain's life, I know only that I took up a musket and brought down a Frenchman, or he would have knocked over the captain or me, or somebody else."
"Whose account is to be relied on?" asked the marquis, looking somewhat puzzled.
"I do not wish to gainsay my noble messmate, but your lordship must make allowance for his modesty, and give me credit for stating facts as they occurred," answered Voules.
"I see how it is," observed the marquis, glancing approvingly at his son.
"Merit is always modest, which may account, Mr Voules, for your not having described your own gallant deeds," said the marchioness, looking hard at him. Being a clear-sighted woman, she may have suspected why the smooth-tongued young gentleman had praised his noble messmate.
"But how did the Wolf and her prize manage to escape from the enemy?" asked Lady Julia. "Pray go on and tell us, Mr Voules."
"For some time I must own that we fully expected to be captured, for wounded as our masts and spars were, we could not venture to make more sail; indeed, it is a wonder those of the prize which remained standing did not fall over the side. Fortunately, we had a good start, and the wind being light, the French ships did not gain on us as fast as they would otherwise have done. To our infinite satisfaction, just about noon, we saw them haul their wind, having been probably recalled by their admiral, who thought it possible that they might run into the jaws of an English squadron, which he must have known was cruising in the neighbourhood. We had still no small anxiety about our prisoners, and, I believe, it was not a little owing to the vigilance of Lord Reginald that they were prevented from rising. His perfect knowledge of French, for which he tells me he is indebted to his sisters, enabled him to speak to the men, warning them of the danger they would run should they make the attempt, and in a short time he brought them into good humour, notwithstanding which, as before, a strict watch was kept on their movements. Having stood well to the westward, we got a fair breeze, which carried us up Channel and safe inside the Isle of Wight, where I hope the prize is by this time, for she was close in with the Needles, and was only prevented following us for want of wind and the ebb still making out against her. It would be a serious matter if she were to run on shore during the night, or be retaken by a French cruiser."
"No chance of that," observed Reginald. "No French cruiser would ever venture so close in with our shore, and within two or three hours at most the prize would be able to follow the frigate."
"I must get you, Mr Voules, to repeat the account you have given of the action for my benefit, as Reginald is wonderfully reticent on the subject," said the marquis.
"I shall have great pleasure, my lord," answered Voules, bowing.
"In the mean time, do me the honour of taking wine, and we will afterwards drink a bumper round to the future success of the Wolf," said the marquis.
"The very toast I was going to propose," said an old general, who had long since been placed on the shelf. "Though my fighting days are over, an account such as we have just heard warms up my stagnant blood, and I beg to second your lordship's proposal."
"Charge your glasses, gentlemen, and I hope, ladies, that on this occasion you will join us," exclaimed the master of the house.
No one declining, the fair sex put out their more moderately sized glasses to be filled as the bottle went round. The toast was drunk, the whole party standing, with the exception of the two midshipmen, who, with assumed modest looks, retained their places.
"And now we will give three cheers for our naval heroes," cried the old general, making an effort to stand up on his chair, but giving it up, as he reflected on the danger he might run of toppling over among the dishes which still covered the board.
"Hip, hip, hip, hurrah!" and the supper-room rang with the sounds, which were taken up by the servants outside and repeated in the hall below, where the domestics not in waiting were making merry.
When all the guests sat down they looked at the two midshipmen, while Reginald made signs to Voules to speak.
"You are the eldest, old fellow, and having been longest in the service, it is your business to reply."
Voules, nothing loth, rose to his feet. His only difficulty in commencing being the doubt whether he should address his friends as "My lords and ladies." His tact, however, prevented him doing so, and he contented himself by neatly expressing his thanks for the honour done to the glorious service of which he was so humble a representative. "Had Lord Reginald been induced to speak," he added, "he would have said more to the purpose. My belief is, that should the war continue a few years longer, my noble friend will be found in command of as fine a frigate as the Wolf, and will outshine the deeds of his predecessors. Should I be so fortunate as to have reached the rank of lieutenant by that time, I hope that it will be my privilege to serve under him."
Voules's modest remark in reference to himself drew forth, as he intended it should, a reply from his host, who assured him that any interest he possessed should be exerted to obtain for him the promotion he deserved, and that he hoped to see him a post-captain as soon as his son had obtained that rank.
"Thank you, my lord, thank you!" exclaimed Voules, highly delighted. "Your lordship will allow me to remind you of your promise, whenever Lord Reginald obtains a step in rank. I do not aspire to be promoted before him, and shall be glad to serve in any ship to which he is appointed, until we are both eligible for independent commands."
The ladies now withdrew, and when the gentlemen left the supper-table it was found that they had retired to their rooms. Voules was too prudent a man generally to take more wine than his head could stand. So delighted, however, did he feel with his bright prospects, that he found considerable difficulty in restraining his tongue, and excusing himself on the plea of fatigue, was glad to make his way to his room, where he was followed by Lord John.
"I came to thank you, Mr Voules, for the very handsome way in which you spoke of my brother," said the latter. "He is a very fine fellow, somewhat thoughtless and impetuous, and requires guiding, and I rejoice to think that he has found so steady a friend as you are to guide and restrain him."
Voules put on as sedate an air as possible, although just then he did not feel very capable of guiding himself, for he had had considerable difficulty in steering a straight course along the passage which led to his room. "You may depend upon me, my dear Lord John, that I will do my best to keep your lordship's brother out of mischief. I do not profess to be his monitor, but I may exert an unperceived influence over him to his advantage."
"And did he really perform all the gallant acts you describe?" asked Lord John.
"Every one of them, and others besides," answered the midshipman. "There's not a more gallant young officer in the service, and he'll make the world know it some day, if no harm befall him."
In spite of all the efforts he made, Voules could not help yawning, and Lord John, perceiving this, allowed him to go to bed in quiet, while he went to have a further talk with his brother, who, however, by that time, had turned in and had already fast closed his eyes.
In the mean time Dick Hargrave hurried towards his home with the fish he and Ben had caught, anxious to present them to his young sister, whom he dearly loved. He stopped at the village inn, the Admiral Benbow, and found that the two midshipmen had only just left it for Elverston Hall. "I have no fancy to meet the young lord and his friend," observed Dick, "or we may chance to fall out, so I'll take the other road, and shall soon get ahead of them."
Following this wise resolution, he set off at a pace which soon brought him to the borders of the forest. He knew the road too well to be impeded by the darkness. He was running on, his own footsteps not allowing him to hear other sounds, when on passing beneath some overhanging trees, the shadow of which prevented him from seeing objects ahead, he suddenly found himself close upon a body of men, some on horseback and others on foot, escorting a line of carts. Dick at once knew what they were about, and not wishing to be stopped, he sprang on, hoping to remain concealed behind the trunk of a tree until they had passed by; but he had been observed, and two of the men came up to him.
"What business have you here, youngster?" asked one of them, seizing his arm and dragging him forward.
"I am Farmer Hargrave's son, and am on my way home with some fish Ben Rudall and I have been catching for my sister Janet," he answered.
"All right, Master Dick," said the man; "we know you well enough; but don't say that you have seen us, and if Ben has taken care to show himself, the revenue people won't suspect what's in the wind, as they will think that he would be sure to be along with us. Have you any news?"
"Nothing that much concerns you, Master Fryer," answered Dick, who recognised the speaker. "A frigate anchored in Yarmouth Roads this evening, and two of the officers, one of them Lord Elverston's son, have landed and gone on to the hall."
"I should like to pay them off for the trouble the marquis gives us," said Fryer; "though we have put him on a wrong scent, and he is not likely to find out this time what we are about, until the goods are safe in the hands of the London merchants."
"It would not do us much good to interfere with the youngsters," observed the other man. "If the marquis would but let us alone we should have no ill will towards him. All we want is free trade and fair play."
"You are right there, mate," observed Fryer; "and now, Master Dick, you may go your way, and remember to keep a quiet tongue in your head."
Dick, escorted by his captors, who explained who he was, passed unquestioned through the main body of the smugglers, who had halted for some reason for a few minutes, just as he got up to them. Dick again hurried on, while the smugglers proceeded along by-paths across the country, shortly after to fall in, as has been seen, with the midshipmen. Dick was met by his faithful dog, who was always on the watch for him when he was away from home, and having an especial duty to perform, seldom accompanied him. That duty, which he performed with exemplary patience, was to lead about blind Janet, who, under his guidance, when she was well, would venture in all directions without the slightest fear of a mishap. Every one in the neighbourhood knew her and her dog, and even the roughest characters treated her with courtesy. Of late her walks had been greatly curtailed, for the last few days Faithful's office had become a sinecure, though he still remained at his post, ready to perform his duty if required. He was a handsome spaniel, and had been brought up from a puppy by Dick, who had thoroughly broken him in. Though fond of scampering across the fields and poking his nose into every hole he could find in the hedges and ditches, he became as sedate as a judge the moment Janet called him and fastened the ribbon by which she was led to his collar. Dick was naturally very fond of his dog, but had become still more so since the animal had shown how useful it could make itself to poor Janet.
Faithful, who had long been on the watch, when he heard his master's footsteps, with a bark of welcome leaped over the palings, and came frolicking and leaping round him, licking his hands to show his joy, and together they entered the house.
Mrs Hargrave, a comely, pleasant-looking dame, was seated busily stitching by the side of the table. "What has kept you so late, Dick?" she asked in an anxious tone. "Your father has gone to bed, as he must be up betimes. We thought that you had got into some mischief; but I am thankful to see you back, my son."
Dick explained what he had been about, and exhibited the fish he had brought. "And how is Janet this evening?" he asked. "I thought that I should have been back in time for her to have one for supper, but they'll do for her breakfast or her dinner to-morrow."
"She's asleep, sweet dear! though I'm afraid she's no better. The Lord's will be done, if He thinks fit to take her; and then, Dick, I want you to remember that you will be your father's chief hope and stay in his trouble. Whether or not we shall have to turn out of our home, and seek for another farm, is more than I can say. Your father doesn't wish to displease the marquis, but he thinks that it is his right to remain where he is, and that he would not be acting like an Englishman to give up that right."
"Of course he would not," exclaimed Dick. "Ben Rudall says he would not knock under to the marquis or any other lord, and he would hold on fast with tooth and nail."
"I don't want to say anything against Ben Rudall, my son; but I wish that you were not such friends with him. He is a smuggler, and may draw you into mischief, though maybe you'll think it ungrateful in me to say so, when he has helped you to catch those fish. Remember that you cannot associate with bad characters without getting some harm and being looked upon as one of them."
"Ben is a right honest fellow, and true as steel," answered Dick. "I don't like to hear anything said against him, mother; if he were ever so bad, he would not lead me astray."
"He is a smuggler, Dick, and though he may be true to his companions, he is false to his country, or he would not be trying to cheat the revenue, as the smugglers do."
"I had not thought of that; but don't you trouble yourself about Ben," answered Dick. "Now, mother, I am pretty hungry, and should like some bread and cheese;" and Dick turned round to go to the larder.
"Sit down, my son, and I'll get them for you," said Mrs Hargrave, taking the fish at the same time. "While you are eating, I'll clean these, and they'll be ready in the morning if Janet has a fancy for one of them."
She soon returned, not only with some bread and cheese but some cold meat, and a mug of home-brewed beer, showing that the good housewife did not stint her family.
Dick described the arrival of the young lord and his shipmate. "I'd as leave he had stopped at sea, for, somehow or other, he and I are always getting foul of each other. But there will be rare doings up at the hall to welcome him home, especially if there's been a battle, as Ben thinks, and his ship gained the day."
"Then, Dick, do you keep out of his way, and no harm can come of it," said Mrs Hargrave. "I am glad, however, for her ladyship's sake, and the young ladies, for they will be main pleased to see him. Only this morning they came here to visit Janet, and when I told my lady what Mr Gooch says, she promised to speak to the marquis, and that makes me hope that the matter will be settled better than your father expects."
"Not if that young lord finds out about it. He'll try and set his father against us. You should have heard him and his shipmate this afternoon blackguarding Ben and me, because we wouldn't carry their portmanteaus."
"There would have been no disgrace in so doing. It shows that they thought you stronger men than themselves," observed Mrs Hargrave.
"I should not have minded doing it, if it hadn't been for Ben; but the way they spoke put his back up, and he gave them a piece of his mind."
"Just now, Dick, you said that you would not be influenced by Ben; but surely you were on that occasion," remarked Mrs Hargrave. "However, Dick, I do not want to blame you, but just try to keep clear of those men, and show what a help you can be to your father on the farm. Now, as you have had your supper, you had better go to bed, and I'll close the door. I want to sit by Janet's side, in case she should awake before I lie down. Do not forget to say your prayers, my son, and sing one of the hymns I taught you, though you look so sleepy that I am afraid you will not think much about what you are saying."
Dick had in truth given way to several wide yawns, while his eyelids had begun to droop. He followed his mother's advice, as far as he was able, and especially in the last particular; but he was fast asleep as soon almost as his head touched the pillow.
GOOD INTENTIONS—BLIND JANET—POOR FAITHFUL SHOT—A TRYING MOMENT— DICK'S ANGER—DESIRE OF REVENGE—A DANGEROUS SPEECH—THREATENING TO SHOOT—THE CONSEQUENCES—TEMPTED—INDIGNATION OF THE FARMER'S SON—A SORROWFUL DUTY—GRIEF OF THE BLIND GIRL—A SCHEME OF MR GOOCH—DICK'S FEARS OF ARREST—RUNNING AWAY FROM HOME—AT THE SMUGGLER'S COTTAGE—ON BOARD THE NANCY—SAFE FOR THE PRESENT.
Dick Hargrave kept to his resolution of trying to avoid meeting with Lord Reginald. Should he do so it would not be his fault, and should he fall in with him, he would endeavour to retain his temper, should his lordship speak to him in his former style. He likewise refrained from going to Keyhaven, or any other place where he was likely to meet any of his associates engaged in smuggling, although it was difficult to say who was not, more or less, implicated in the lawless proceedings so general at that time along the south coast. He assisted his father on the farm, and occasionally took Janet out for a short walk, as, notwithstanding the doctor's expectations, she was able to get up again the very day after she had appeared to be so ill.
She declared that it was owing to the nice fish Dick had brought her. Again, however, she was confined to her room. As she could not take out Faithful, she begged that Dick would give him a run. "The poor dog sits so quietly at my feet all day, and if he sees me moving, I hear his tail thumping on the floor, and he begins to scamper about, fancying I am going to take him out. It is very dull for him, poor dog, and he deserves some amusement," she said.
Dick promised to follow her wishes, and the next morning, saying that he would try to shoot a rabbit, and summoning Faithful, who bounded after him, he set off with his gun in his hand. With the assistance of the dog, he soon shot a couple of rabbits, with which he was about to return home. Faithful, however, highly delighted at finding himself abroad, went ranging wildly over the fields. Dick called to him, but the dog was too eager in the chase or too far off to hear his voice, and did not, as usual, return. Some minutes passed, when Dick heard a shot coming from the direction in which Faithful had disappeared. He hurried on, fearing that one of the keepers had caught sight of him; but then they all knew Janet's dog, and the most surly would not have had the heart to fire at the honest brute, even though he might have been infringing the game laws by scampering for amusement after a hare or rabbit. Dick looked out anxiously, hoping to see the dog return; but though he shouted, "Faithful! Faithful!" and whistled shrilly, the animal did not make its appearance. Wondering what could have become of it, he went on calling its name. At last he saw it crawling towards him, dragging its limbs along in evident pain. At length the poor dog, unable to get further, sank to the ground. Dick, darting forward to where it lay, stooped down to ascertain how it was hurt. Its lacerated side, which bled profusely, showed that it had been shot.
"What villain has dared to hurt you, my poor Faithful?" exclaimed Dick.
The dog's only reply, true to its name, was to lick his hand and endeavour to rise, but again it fell back, and after a few convulsive struggles, expired.
"Poor, poor Faithful! Janet will miss you, that she will! She will never find so trusty an animal to lead her about; but I'll be revenged on the fellow, whoever he is. He ought to have known that you never poached, though you did love to run after a hare, for the fun of the thing. If I can meet the savage brute I'll shoot him, as sure as my name is Richard Hargrave."
"What's that you say, you young ruffian?" exclaimed a voice near him.
Dick had not observed three persons who had approached. Looking up, he saw Lord Reginald and his brother midshipman, attended by a keeper.
"I do say that the heartless fellow who shot this dog deserves to be shot himself," exclaimed Dick, looking boldly up.
"I shot the dog; it deserved to be killed for chasing hares on my father's property," answered the young lord. "You yourself must have set him on to drive the hares towards you. You are a poacher; we must have you up before the magistrates and punish you accordingly."
"I did not set him on," answered Dick, rising to his feet, "and I had no intention of killing any hares on the Elverston property. These rabbits I shot on my father's farm, and I had a perfect right to kill them. The dog belongs to my blind sister. As she is ill, I took the poor brute out for a run."
"A very likely story!" exclaimed Lord Reginald. "You have a gun in your hand and rabbits over your shoulder, and you had sent your dog scampering over the fields in search of more. I know your name, and shall report you to my father, so you may expect to take up your quarters in prison before many days are over."
"The lad speaks the truth, my lord, about the dog," observed the keeper, who had stepped forward and examined poor Faithful. "I have seen it many a time leading Farmer Hargrave's blind daughter about, though whether he shot the rabbits on his father's farm or not is another matter. We have never found him poaching before, so that part of the story may be true also."
"I am sorry to have shot the dog, if it was useful to his blind sister," said Lord Reginald; "and, I say, Jackson, I wish you'd look out for another to give the poor girl, instead of this one; she'll not find out the difference."
"I wouldn't let her receive it if you should give her one!" exclaimed Dick, his anger in no way pacified by the young lord's expressions of regret. "No dog could be found to equal Faithful; but I myself will look after a dog to take its place."
"Really, my dear Oswald, I cannot stand by to see you thus insulted by this ungrateful young ruffian," said Voules. "He has threatened to shoot you, and he looks like a fellow capable of doing what he says. The sooner he is taken up and sent to prison the better."
"I have not been poaching! If you lay hands on me it will be the worse for you," said Dick, grasping his gun.
"Come, come, Master Dick, do you go to your home, and do not be so foolish as to threaten mischief. It is dangerous to use such words, and you'll be sorry for them by-and-by," said the keeper, wisely interposing between the exasperated young men. "I know where to find you if you are wanted; but I don't suppose the marquis will be hard upon you, when he hears how it was your sister's dog was shot. If, my lord, you'll please to let the lad go, I'll undertake that he shall not come into the park again. His father is not the man to allow him to do anything against the law."
Lord Reginald, who really much regretted having shot the dog, willingly listened to the keeper's advice, and Voules, who had no object to gain in irritating him further against Dick Hargrave, said no more on the subject.
"Well, Hargrave, I will try to forget your threats, and I again assure you that had I known the dog was your sister's, I would not have shot it," said Lord Reginald, turning aside; and without waiting for an answer he led the way, followed by Voules and the keeper, in the direction of the hall, leaving Dick still standing by the side of his dog.
"I do not trust his fair words," said Dick, looking after the party; "but I am obliged to Jackson for speaking a word in my favour, for if it had not been for him, matters would have become worse. Poor Faithful! I don't know how I shall ever have the heart to tell Janet what has happened," and stooping down he again examined the dog, to assure himself that it was really dead. Of this he was soon convinced. "I'll not let you lie here, my poor dog!" he exclaimed, and taking it up in his arms, he walked away with it towards his home. He was crossing the road from Keyhaven, when a voice hailed him, and looking round he saw Ben Rudall approaching.
"What hast thou got there, Dick?" asked Ben. "Your sister's dog—and killed, too! How did that happen?"
Dick told him, describing what had occurred.
"And thee wouldst trust the chaps, would thee?" said Ben, speaking in the Hampshire dialect. "No, no; don't be doin' that. Measter Jackson may have spoken fair enough, but he knows that he's got his thumb on thee, an' can come down on thee when he loiks. Now, just listen to what I have got to say. I was going to look for thee. The Nancy is expected in before many days are over, an' she'll be sailing again the next morning. If thee'll come down to Keyhaven, there'll be a good chance of taking a trip, an' 'twill be safer for thee to be out of the way in case the young lord should change his mind an' have thee up for poachin'. When the marquis hears of it, it's my belief that he won't let thee off, for he's wonderfully strict about the matter, and if he had his will he'd be sending half the people hereabouts to prison."
Dick had not forgotten his mother's advice to keep clear of Ben Rudall, and he knew well enough that even though he should only go as a passenger, he would be committed to whatever was done by her crew.
"You mean kindly, Ben, I know," he said; "but I cannot leave Janet, she's so ill; and if she gets better, there'll be no one except mother and me to walk out with her, now poor Faithful's gone; but if I hear there's a chance of my being had up for poaching, maybe it's the best thing I can do."
Ben laughed scornfully. "They'll not let thee know what they intend to do; but thee would find thyself carried off to Winchester jail some fine morning, so just don't be a fool, Dick, an' come along with me."
Dick, however, was firm in his resolution not to go off without seeing his mother and sister, and Ben was obliged to be content with his promise that he would come down to Keyhaven to talk the matter over. He would have been wiser had he not given that promise.
Ben returned the way he had come, and Dick, carrying the body of his dog, continued on towards his home.
On reaching the cottage, he carried the dog to a corner of the garden, while he went in for a spade to dig its grave. While he was searching for one in the outhouse, his mother saw him.
"What has happened, Dick?" she exclaimed, observing the blood on his clothes.
He at once narrated what had occurred, for although he had many faults, he was truthful to her.
"I am very sorry for what has happened. Poor dear Janet will almost break her heart. She said that she should like to take a stroll to-morrow with Faithful, if you were not able to accompany her. However, we must bear with it. From what you say, the young lord would not have shot the dog if he had known whose it was, and if he gives Janet another, she may become as fond of it as she was of Faithful."
"I should not like her to become fond of Lord Reginald's dog," answered Dick. "If he sends one, I shall have a mind to shoot it, or send it back to him with a kettle tied to its tail."
"That would not be a right thing to do," observed Mrs Hargrave. "We should not harbour ill feelings towards others, though they have done us wrong. Come in now, and let me wash the blood off your coat. It looks bad, and if your father were to return, it would frighten him, as it did me. We'll just break the news gently to Janet, and don't say you won't receive another dog if the young lord sends one. Remember how kind his mother and sisters are, and I dare say he is not so bad at heart, though he has more than once fallen out with you."
"He has an abusive tongue in his head, and that shows what sort of heart he has got," answered Dick, not inclined to agree with his mother about Lord Reginald. "You tell me the ladies speak so sweetly, but, as Ben Rudall says, that's all outside show, and I would not trust them."
"That's because you have never been at home when they have called, or you would have agreed with me, if you had," observed Mrs Hargrave. "Stay here while I get a sponge and some hot water; I can't let you go about as you are; I cannot tell what people would say. If you were seen, there would be all sorts of tales about you."
"I don't care what is said, and I should just like them to know that Lord Reginald is a brute. That's what I call him."
"Hush! hush, Dick!" said his mother. "Sit you down here, until I have taken off those blood stains, for although poor Janet cannot see them, some one else may come in, and ask what has happened."
Dick seated himself on a bench to which his mother pointed, and she quickly returned with soap and water. It was no easy operation, however, to get rid of the stains, and Dick declared that before he came in he must bury the dog. To this Mrs Hargrave consented, as she thought it would be a good opportunity to tell Janet of the loss of her favourite.
Dick, taking up the spade, and having selected a spot for Faithful's grave, began digging away. More than once he stopped and gazed at the animal, feeling unwilling to put it so soon out of sight; then he went on more energetically than before. Having just completed his task, he leaned on his spade, while the tears rolled down his cheeks, as he thought he should never see his dog again. The wind had begun to blow strong, and dark clouds were gathering in the sky. The gloomy aspect of Nature suited his feelings. On looking up, he saw his mother and Janet approaching.
"Mother has told me, Dick, what has happened," said his sister, as she came up. "I want to stroke Faithful's head once more before you put him into his grave." She stooped down by the side of the dog. "Oh! He doesn't feel my hand now," she said. "I am very sorry; but, Dick, I want you to promise me not to nourish anger against the young lord. He would not have fired had he known the dog was so useful to me. He told you as much. If I forgive him, you must."
"I may forgive, but I do not forget," said Dick. "If he keeps to his word, I'll believe that he did not intend to do the cruel act. However, we must put poor Faithful in his grave, and if I do not make a vow to be revenged on Lord Reginald, it is because you are here to prevent me, Janet."
"I would that you had a higher motive than that," said Mrs Hargrave. "Now, Janet, you must return to the house; I promised you'd stop but one minute; Dick will soon have finished his task, and then he'll come in to supper. Father will soon be home, Dick, so don't delay."
Dick, having at length brought himself to place the dog in its grave, hastily shovelled in the earth, muttering as he did so, "He'd better not cross me again; if he does he'll have to repent it. Lie there, poor dog!" he added, as he finished the work. "I've a mind to put up a tombstone, and write on it, 'Wantonly killed by Lord Reginald Oswald.'"
On entering the cottage, he found that his father, having come in, had heard what had happened. He was thankful at all events that he had not had to break the news to Janet. Farmer Hargrave said what he thought would pacify his son, and declared his belief that the young lord had not killed the dog with any malicious intent.
Dick pressed his lips together and made no reply. He could not trust himself. They were just finishing supper when a knock was heard at the door, and Dick, opening it, Mr Gooch the bailiff entered.
"Good evening, farmer; good evening, dame; somewhat stormy weather," he said, throwing back his wet coat, and placing his dripping hat on the floor, as he took the seat offered him. "I didn't think it was coming on to be so bad, until just before sunset. It blows hard enough now, and the rain is coming down in torrents, but I wanted to talk over that affair between us, so I came out in spite of the weather."
"What have you got to say, Mr Gooch?" asked the farmer. "You know as well as I do that I have no wish to leave this farm. It will be a heavy loss to me to give it up, and I am determined to abide by my rights."
"Very good, Mr Hargrave, very good," said the bailiff, in a bland tone. "His lordship doesn't want to be hard upon you, and if you have the right to remain, he would be the last man to ask you to turn out, but as I before told you, you have not the right, and if you go to law you'll be worsted. Now, a little piece of information has come to my knowledge which may make you see that it would not be wise to go to law, even supposing there was a chance of your winning. I have not communicated with my lord on the subject, so I act on my own responsibility. This lad here, your son, has put himself in an awkward position. He has been poaching—not for the first time, either. I have just heard all about it from Jackson, the keeper, and from a young gentleman who is staying at the hall. They can give evidence, not only that he was poaching, but that he threatened the life of Lord Reginald Oswald—a very serious business, let me tell you. Had he fired, as he threatened to do, he would have been hung to a certainty, and as it is, I see every probability that he will be sentenced to seven years' penal servitude. Now, of course, his lordship has it in his power to overlook the offence, and if I can tell him that you will yield to his wishes and consent to give up the farm, I am pretty sure that you will hear no more about the matter, only you must restrain your son from poaching in future, or from associating with smugglers, as I have evidence that he is in the habit of doing."
The farmer listened to all the bailiff said, while Dick sat clenching his hands, with his eyes to the ground, every now and then giving a look at his mother.
Ben was right, then, in warning him. Had he accompanied the old smuggler at once, and got out of the way, Mr Gooch would not have been able to obtain the upper hand of his father.
When the bailiff had finished, Mr Hargrave replied, "I have before given you my answer. I believe the marquis to be a just man. If he finds I have the right to continue in the farm, he would not wish to dispossess me. In regard to Dick, the provocation he received by having his dog killed would excuse any thoughtless words he might have uttered. So I cannot offer to give up my rights for fear of the consequences, and I will never believe that Lord Elverston would act as you suggest."
"Then you dare to say that you doubt my word, Farmer Hargrave?" exclaimed the bailiff, in a tone of indignation, rising from his seat. "I'll give you until to-morrow to think over the matter; but you'll take the consequences if you have the same answer ready for me. And dame, I would advise you to persuade your husband to act as I recommend, or, whether you go out of the farm or not, that lad of yours, before many days are over, will be lodged in Winchester jail, and be sent to Botany Bay, if he doesn't get the chance of entering on board a king's ship. Perhaps they won't give him his choice, for threatening to shoot a lord is a serious matter."
"Oh, Mr Gooch, you would not be so cruel as to wish to send our Dick to prison!" exclaimed Janet, who had been listening to what was said.
"All your father has to do is to agree to what I propose, and he is safe enough," answered the bailiff. "I can stay no longer. I called in to give some friendly advice. If not taken, it is not my fault; so good night to all. I hope that you'll settle the matter between you!"
Mr Gooch got up to go. Dick opened the door, having no wish to detain him. Looking out, he saw that the account given of the weather was not exaggerated.
"Is is plaguey dark, Mr Gooch!" he observed. "You'd better take a lantern, sir."
"No, no; I know my way as well in the dark as in the daylight," was the reply, and Mr Gooch stepping out, was soon lost to sight.
No sooner was the door closed than Dick exclaimed, "Don't give in, father. I'd sooner go to prison, or Botany Bay, or be sent to sea, or be hung, for that matter, rather than that you should yield up your rights and be turned out of this farm."
"I will not give up the farm if I have a right to keep it, but if the law is against me, go I must; still, I would not have you suffer, Dick, unless you deserve it, and if it is proved that you were poaching, and that you threatened to shoot the young lord, you must, as the bailiff says, take the consequences, though it would well-nigh break my heart to see you punished. But I have not much fear on the score either way. It is my belief that the marquis does not know much about the matter of the farm, and from beginning to end it is all the doing of Mr Gooch. What he cares for is to please his master, and as he knows that his lordship has a fancy for extending the park, he wants to get me to turn out, and now that he thinks he has got hold of you, he fancies that he can frighten me to do so. In regard to your affair, Dick, when the marquis hears of the provocation you received, I don't think he will be hard upon you."
The farmer made these remarks to tranquillise as far as he could the mind of his wife. Perhaps he did not feel so confident himself. So Dick at all events thought. The family soon afterwards separated for the night.
Dick went to his room, but could not sleep. The storm itself, though it whistled and howled around the cottage, would not have kept him awake. He thought over all that had happened, what he himself had said, and how Lord Reginald had looked and replied. "Whatever the gamekeeper may say, that other young fellow is against me, and if they take me before the magistrate, Mr Jackson will be upon his oath, and compelled to corroborate the midshipman's statement. It all depends on what they choose to do. There is no doubt I did threaten to shoot Lord Reginald, and I felt wonderfully inclined to do it, too. There's only one way I can see to get out of it and save father, and that is to take advantage of Ben Rudall's offer and to keep out of the way until the affair is blown over; I won't tell father or mother or they may be wishing to stop me; but I'll write a letter just to wish them and Janet good-bye for a short time, without saying where I am going, for that would spoil the whole thing. Ben says I shall like the life on board the lugger; so I shall, though I would not have gone if there had not been this good reason. I cannot fancy that either father or mother will be really sorry when they find that I am safe out of the way." So said Dick to himself, and having come to this resolution, he at length fell asleep.
It was not a wise one, for it was like falling out of the frying-pan into the fire. There was a very remote risk of his being summoned before the magistrates, and if summoned, of his being committed for trial, whereas, in addition to the dangers of the sea, if captured on board the lugger, he would to a certainty be condemned as a smuggler and be sent to jail, if even worse did not come of it. For a lad to be sent to jail in those days was a fearful punishment, for there was no separation of prisoners, and should Dick go there he would be herded with ruffians of every description, and could scarcely fail to come out again without being very much the worse for his incarceration. Just then, however, he only thought how he could best keep out of the way of Mr Gooch, and thus prevent him from inducing his father to yield up his rights, which he might do, notwithstanding his resolutions to the contrary, should he be thus able to save his son from punishment.
Dick awoke just as the light of the early dawn made its way into the room. The storm had ceased, and the clouds were fast disappearing, giving promises of a fine day. He had been a good penman at school, so that he had no difficulty in writing his letter. He had bade an affectionate good night to them all, and he would not run the risk of being hindered in his project by remaining for breakfast. His letter was brief.
"Dear father," it ran, "don't give up the farm. I shall be all safe, though I don't want you or any one else to find me until the matter is settled, but I have made up my mind that they shall not make a cat's paw of me. Love to mother and Janet. So no more from your affectionate son, Dick."
Leaving the letter on the table, with a bundle of clothes and a few other articles in his hand, he slipped silently downstairs, thankful to find that his father was not yet stirring. Filling his pocket with some bread and cheese from the larder, he hurried out by the back door, which was not likely to be opened for some time, and made his way by by-paths in the direction of Keyhaven. He felt, it must be confessed, somewhat like a culprit escaping from justice. Every now and then he looked back to ascertain if he was followed; then again he ran on. He wished, if possible, to avoid meeting any one who might question him as to where he was bound at that early hour. The labourers would be going to work, but a considerable portion of the country through which he passed was still uncultivated. Twice when he saw people coming, he turned aside and hid himself behind a hedge until the men had passed. He thus reached Ben Rudall's cottage, without, as he supposed, being seen by any one who knew him. Ben was not at home; but Susan asked him to come in and sit down.
"He has been out nearly all night, Master Richard, but I am hoping to see him back safe every minute," she said. "He got notice that the Nancy was standing in for the coast, and went out to lend a helping hand. I don't mind telling you, as I know that you are not one of those who side with the revenue people, or would go and give information—"
"Which would injure any of my friends," put in Dick. "No, indeed, I would not. To say the truth, your husband promised me a trip on board the Nancy, which I have come to accept."
"He'll be main glad, for he has agreed to go himself the next trip, and he told me that he thought the lugger would be away again to-night or to-morrow at furthest. She's not likely to be long away, though, and I don't mind his going as much as I used to do. Sometimes he has been from home for six weeks or two months at a time, either looking out for a cargo or waiting for a good chance to run across and land one on the English coast." Mrs Rudall did not hesitate to describe the doings of the smugglers to Dick, though she would have been wonderfully reticent to a stranger; yet she showed her anxiety by frequently going to the door and looking round the corner in the direction she expected her husband to appear. "Here he comes! here he comes!" she cried at length, and Ben, with a sou'wester on his head, a thick flushing coat on his back, and his legs encased in high boots, made his appearance.