The Weathercock, Being the Adventures of a Boy with a Bias, by George Manville Fenn.
There is actually another title to this book, "The Boy Inventer", and that is just the character of our sixteen-year-old hero. He is living with his uncle, who is a doctor in a small Lincolnshire village. He is friendly, after a fashion, with three boys who are living in the Rector's house, where they are being educated.
Our hero, Vane Lee, is also a bit of a naturalist, as is the author of this book. But some of his inventions have a way of going wrong, as for example when he decides to make the defective church clock work. He takes it all to pieces, cleans all the parts up, and puts it all together again—with the exception of two vital wheels. In the middle of the night the clock's bell begins to strike without cease—the signal in the village for a fire. Everybody turns out and rushes about with fire hoses looking for the fire, and it takes a while before they find out that there never was a fire at all.
But one day Vane is set upon by two gipsy boys, and beaten nearly to death. Nobody knows who did the deed, as Vane is for a long while unconscious. Eventually he comes round, and things become a little bit clearer, but exactly how I will not reveal here.
The typography of the book we used was not very good, and there were a number of spelling inconsistencies. For instance "gipsy" is sometimes spelt "gipsey" and sometimes "gypsy". And the unfortunate Mr Deering is sometimes spelt "Dearing" and sometimes "Dereing". I hope we have ironed these things out, as well as making the hyphenation more consistent throughout the book.
Read it, or listen to it—you'll enjoy it.
THE WEATHERCOCK, BEING THE ADVENTURES OF A BOY WITH A BIAS, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
"Oh, I say, here's a game! What's he up to now?"
"Hi! Vane! Old weathercock! Hold hard!"
"Do you hear? Which way does the wind blow?"
Three salutations shouted at a lad of about sixteen, who had just shown himself at the edge of a wood on the sunny slope of the Southwolds, one glorious September morning, when the spider-webs were still glittering with iridescent colours, as if every tiny strand were strung with diamonds, emeralds and amethysts, and the thick green moss that clothed the nut stubbs was one glorious sheen of topaz, sapphire and gold. Down in the valley the mist still hung in thick patches, but the sun's rays were piercing it in many directions, and there was every promise of a hot day, such as would make the shade of the great forest with its acorn-laden oaks welcome, and the whole place tempting to one who cared to fill pocket or basket with the bearded hazelnuts, already beginning to show colour in the pale green husks, while the acorns, too, were changing tint slightly, and growing too big for their cups.
The boy, who stood with his feet deep in moss, was framed by the long lithe hazel stems, and his sun-browned face looked darker in the shade as, bareheaded, his cap being tucked in the band of his Norfolk jacket, he passed one hand through his short curly hair, to remove a dead leaf or two, while the other held a little basket full of something of a bright orange gold; and as he glanced at the three youths in the road, he hurriedly bent down to rub a little loam from the knees of his knickerbockers—loam freshly gathered from some bank in the wood.
"Morning," he said, as the momentary annoyance caused by the encounter passed off. "How is it you chaps are out so early?"
"Searching after you, of course," said the first speaker. "What have you got there?"
"These," said the lad, holding up his basket, as he stepped down amongst the dewy grass at the side of the road. "Have some?"
"Have some? Toadstools?"
"Toad's grandmothers!" cried the lad. "They're all chanterelles—for breakfast. Delicious."
The first of the three well-dressed youths, all pupils reading with the Reverend Morton Syme, at the Rectory, Mavis Greythorpe, Lincolnshire, gave a sidelong glance at his companions and advanced a step.
"Let's look," he said.
The bearer of the basket raised his left hand with his fungoid booty, frankly trusting, and his fellow-pupil delivered a sharp kick at the bottom of the wicker receptacle—a kick intended to send the golden chalice-like fungi flying scattered in the air. But George Vane Lee was as quick in defence as the other was in attack, and his parry was made in the easiest and most effortless way.
It was just this:—
He let the basket swing down and just passed his right hand forward, seeming only to brush the assailant's ankle—in fact it was the merest touch, but sufficient to upset the equilibrium of a kicker on one leg, and the next moment Lance Distin was lying on his back in a perfect tangle of brambles, out of which he scrambled, scratched and furious, amidst a roar of laughter from his companions.
"You beggar!" he cried, with his dark eyes flashing, and a red spot in each of his sallow cheeks.
"Keep off!" cried the mushroom bearer, backing away. "Lay hold of him, Gilmore—Aleck!"
The lads addressed had already caught at the irate boy's arms.
"Let go, will you!" he yelled. "I'll let him know."
"Be quiet, or we'll all sit on you and make you."
"I'll half kill him—I'll nearly break his neck."
"No, don't," said the boy with the basket, laughing. "Do you want your leave stopped? Nice you'd look with a pair of black eyes."
"You can't give them to me," roared the lad, passionately, as he still struggled with those who held him, but giving them little trouble in keeping him back.
"Don't want to. Served you right. Shouldn't have tried to kick over my basket. There, don't be in such a temper about that."
"I'll pay you for it, you miserable cad!"
"Don't call names, Distie," said the lad coolly. "Those who play at bowls must expect rubbers. Let him go, boys; he won't hurt me."
It was a mere form that holding; but as the detaining pair loosened their hold, Lance Distin gave himself a violent wrench, as if he were wresting himself free, and then coloured to the roots of his hair, as he saw the laugh in his adversary's eyes.
"Distie's got no end of Trinidad sun in him yet.—What a passionate fellow you are, Cocoa. I say, these are good, really. Come home with me and have breakfast."
Lance Distin, son of a wealthy planter in the West Indies, turned away scornfully, and the others laughed.
"Likely," said Fred Gilmore, showing his white teeth. "Why, I wouldn't poison a cat with them."
"No," said Aleck Macey; "I know."
"It's a dodge to make a job for his uncle, because the doctor can't get any practice."
"Don't want any," said the lad, good-humouredly. "If he did, he'd go back to Savile Row."
"Not he," snarled Distin, pausing in his occupation of removing thorns from his jacket. "Killed all his patients, and was obliged to run away into the country."
"That's it!" said Vane Lee, with a laugh. "What a clever chap you are, Distie; at least you would be if your tongue wasn't quite so sharp. There, shake hands, I didn't mean to hurt you."
He stretched out rather a dirty hand, at which the young Creole gave a contemptuous glance, looked at his own white fingers, and thrust them into his pockets.
"Ah, well, they are dirty," said Vane, laughing. "No, they're not. It's only good old English soil. Come on. Uncle will be glad to see you, and then we'll all walk up to the Rectory together."
Distin struck a match, and, with a very haughty look on his thin face, began to puff at a cigarette which he had taken from a little silver case, Vane watching him scornfully the while, but only to explode with mirth the next moment, for the young West Indian, though he came from where his father's plantations produced acres of the pungent weed, was not to the manner born, and at the third draw inhaled so much acrid smoke that he choked, and stood coughing violently till Vane gave him a hearty slap on his back.
Down went the cigarette, as Distin made a bound forward.
"You boor!" he coughed out; and, giving the lad a malevolent look, he turned haughtily to the others.
"Are you fellows coming home to breakfast?"
He did not pause for an answer, but walked off sharply in the direction of the Rectory, a quarter of a mile from the little sleepy town.
"Oh, I say," cried Vane, in a tone full of remorse, "what an old pepper-pot he is! I didn't mean to upset him. He began it,—now, didn't he?"
"Yes, of course," said Gilmore. "Never mind. He'll soon come round."
"Oh, yes," said Macey. "I shouldn't take any notice. He'll forget it all before night."
"But it seems so queer," said the lad, taking out and examining one of his mushrooms. "I just came out for a walk, and to pick some of these to have cooked for breakfast; and just as I've got a nice basketful, I come upon you fellows, and you begin to chaff and play larks, and the next moment I might have been knocking all the skin off my knuckles against Distin's face, if I hadn't backed out—like a coward," he added, after a pause.
"Oh, never mind," said the others.
"But I do mind," cried the lad. "I want to be friends with everyone. I hate fighting and quarrelling, and yet I'm always getting into hot-water."
"Better go and get your hands in now—with soap," said Macey, staring at the soil-marks.
"Pooh! a rinse in the water-cress stream would take that off. Never mind Distin: come home, you two."
"No, not this morning," said Gilmore.
"I won't ask you to taste the mushrooms: honour bright."
"Wouldn't come if you did," said Macey, with a merry laugh on his handsome face. "Old Distie would never forgive us if we came home with you now."
"No," said Gilmore; "he'd keep us awake half the night preaching at you. Oh! here's old Syme."
"Ah, gentlemen, good-morning," said a plump, florid clergyman with glittering glasses. "That's right, walk before breakfast. Good for stamina. Must be breakfast time though. What have you got there, Lee?"
"Hum! ha!" said the rector bending over the basket. "Which? Fungi, soft as you pronounce it, or Fungi—Funghi, hard, eh?"
"Uncle says soft, sir," said Vane.
"Hum—ha—yes," said the rector, poking at one of the vegetable growths with the forefinger of his gloved hand. "He ought to know. But, vulgo, toadstools. You're not going to eat those, are you?"
"Yes, sir. Will you try a few?"
"Eh? Try a few, Lee? Thanks, no. Too much respect for my gastric region. And look here; hadn't you better try experiments on Jamby's donkey? It's very old."
"Wouldn't be any good, sir. Nothing would hurt him," said Vane, laughing.
"Hum! ha! Suppose not. Well, don't poison one of my pupils—yourself. Breakfast, gentlemen, breakfast. The matutinal coffee and one of Brader's rolls, not like the London French, but passably good; and there is some cold stuffed chine."
"Cold stuffed chine!" said Vane, as he walked in the other direction. "Why, these will be twice as good—if Martha will cook 'em. Nasty prejudiced old thing!"
Ten minutes later he reached a gate where the remains of a fine old avenue leading up to a low mossy-looking stone house, built many generations back; and as he neared it, a pleasant odour, suggestive of breakfast, saluted his nostrils, and he went round and entered the kitchen, to be encountered directly by quite an eager look from its occupant, as he made his petition.
The Weathercock—by George Manville Fenn
AUNT AND UNCLE.
"No, Master Vane, I'll not," cried cook, bridling up, and looking as if an insult had been offered to her stately person; "and if master and missus won't speak, it's time someone else did."
"But I only want them just plainly stewed with a little butter, pepper, and salt," said Vane, with the basket in his hand.
"A little butter and pepper and salt, sir!" cried cook reproachfully; "a little rhubar' and magneshire, you mean, to keep the nasty pysonous thinks from hurting of you. Really I do wonder at you, sir, a-going about picking up such rubbish."
"But they're good food—good to eat."
"Yes, sir; for toads and frogs. Don't tell me, sir. Do you think I don't know what's good Christian food when I see it, and what isn't?"
"I know you think they're no good, but I want to try them as an experiment."
"Life isn't long enough, sir, to try sperrymens, and I'd sooner go and give warning at once than be the means of laying you on a bed of agony and pain."
"Oh, well, never mind, cook, let me do them myself."
"What?" cried the stout lady in such a tone of indignant surprise that the lad felt as if he had been guilty of a horrible breach of etiquette, and made his retreat, basket and all, toward the door.
But he had roused Martha, who, on the strength of many years' service with the doctor and his lady in London, had swollen much in mind as well as grown stout in body, and she followed him to the kitchen-door where he paused without opening it, for fear of the dispute reaching the ears of aunt and uncle in the breakfast-room.
"Look here, Martha," he said, "don't be cross. Never mind. I'm sorry I asked you."
"Cross? Cross, Master Vane? Is it likely I should make myself cross about a basketful of rubbishing toadstools that you've wasted your time in fetching out of the woods?"
"No, no, you are not cross, and I beg your pardon."
"And I wouldn't have thought it of you, sir. The idee, indeed, of you wanting to come and meddle here in my kitchen!"
"But I don't want to, I tell you, so don't say any more about it."
But before Vane could grasp the woman's intention, she had snatched the basket from his hand and borne it back to the table, upon which she thumped it with so much vigour that several of the golden chalice-like fungi leaped out.
"Here, what are you going to do?" cried Vane.
"What you told me, sir," said cook austerely, and with a great hardening of her face. "I don't forget my dooties, sir, if other people do."
"Oh, but never mind, cook," cried Vane. "I'm sorry I asked you."
"Pray don't say any more about it, sir. The things shall be cooked and sent to table, and it's very thankful you ought to be, I'm sure, that master's a doctor and on the spot ready, for so sure as you eat that mess in the parlour, you'll all be on a bed of sickness before night."
"Now, Martha," cried Vane; "that's just what you said when I asked you to cook the parasol mushrooms."
"Paragrandmother mushrooms, sir; you might just as well call them by their proper name, umberrella toadstools, and I don't believe any one ate them."
"Yes; uncle and I ate them, and they were delicious. Cook these the same way."
"I know how to cook them, sir, only it's an insult to proper mushrooms to dress them in the same way as good wholesome food."
"That's good wholesome food," said Vane, "only people don't know it. I wanted to bring you some big puff balls to fry for me, but you turn so cross about it."
"And enough to make anyone turn cross, sir. There, that will do now. I've said that I'd cook them, and that's enough."
Vane Lee felt that there was nothing to be done now but make a retreat, and he went into the hall where Eliza Jane, the doctor's housemaid, was whisking a feather-brush about, over picture-frames, and ornaments, curiosities from different parts of the world, and polishing the hall table. From this she flew to the stand and caught up the hat brush with which she attacked the different hats on the pegs, speaking over her shoulder at Vane in a rapid way as she went on.
"Now, don't you ask me to do anything, Master Vane, because I'm all behind, and your aunt's made the tea and waiting for you, and your uncle will be back directly, for he has only gone down the garden for a walk, and to pick up the fallen peaches."
"Wasn't going to ask you to do anything," was the reply.
"But you've been asking cook to do something, and a nice fantigue she'll be in. She was bad enough before. I wouldn't have such a temper for all the money in the Bank of England. What have you been asking her to do?—Bother the hat!"
Eliza was brushing so vigorously that she sent Vane's hard felt hat, which she had just snatched up from where he had placed it, flying to the other end of the hall just as Doctor Lee, a tall, pleasant-looking grey-haired man, came in from the garden with a basket of his gleanings from beneath the south wall.
"That meant for me?" he said, staring down at the hat and then at Vane.
"Which I beg your pardon, sir," said the maid, hurriedly. "I was brushing it, and it flew out of my hand."
"Ah! You should hold it tight," said the doctor, picking up the hat, and looking at a dint in the crown. "It will require an operation to remove that depression of the brain-pan on the dura mater. I mean on the lining, eh, Vane?"
"Oh, I can soon put that right," said the boy merrily, as he gave it a punch with his fist and restored the crown to its smooth dome-like shape.
"Yes," said the doctor, "but you see we cannot do that with a man who has a fractured skull. Been out I see?" he continued, looking down at the lad's discoloured, dust-stained boots.
"Oh, yes, uncle, I was out at six. Glorious morning. Found quite a basketful of young chanterelles."
"Indeed? What have you done with them?"
"Been fighting Martha to get her to cook them."
"And failed?" said the doctor quietly, as he peered into the basket, and turned over the soft, downy, red-cheeked peaches he had brought in.
"Now, you good people, it's nearly half-past eight. Breakfast— breakfast. Bring in the ham, Eliza."
"Good-morning, my dear," said the doctor, bending down to kiss the pleasantly plump elderly lady who had just opened the dining-room door, and keeping up the fiction of its being their first meeting that morning.
"Come, Vane, my boy," cried the doctor, "breakfast, breakfast. Here's aunt in one of her furious tempers because you are so late."
"Don't you believe him, my dear," said the lady. "It's too bad. And really, Thomas, you should not get in the habit of telling such dreadful fibs even in fun. Had a nice walk, Vane?"
"Yes, aunt, and collected a capital lot of edible fungi."
"The word fungi's enough to make any one feel that they are not edible, my dear," said Aunt Hannah. "What sort did you get? Not those nasty, tall, long-legged things you brought before?"
"No, aunt; beautiful golden chanterelles. I wanted to have them cooked for breakfast."
"And I have told him it would be high treason," said the doctor. "Martha would give warning."
"No, no, my dear, not quite so bad as that, but leave them to me, and I'll cook them for lunch myself."
"No need, aunt; Martha came down from her indignant perch."
"I'm glad of that," said the lady smiling; "but, one minute, before we go in the dining-room: there's a beautiful souvenir rosebud over the window where I cannot reach it. Cut it and bring it in."
"At your peril, sir," said the doctor fiercely. "The last rose of summer! I will not have it touched."
"Now, my dear Tom, don't be so absurd," cried the lady. "What is the use of your growing roses to waste—waste—waste themselves all over the place."
"You hear that, Vane? There's quoting poetry. Waste their sweetness on the desert air, I suppose you mean, madam?"
"Yes: it's all the same," said the lady. "Thank you, my dear," she continued, as Vane handed the rose in through the window.
"My poor cut-down bloom," sighed the doctor; but Vane did not hear him, for he was setting his hat down again in the museum-like hall, close by the fishing-tackle and curiosities of many lands just as a door was opened and a fresh, maddening odour of fried ham saluted his nostrils.
"Oh, murder!" cried the lad; and he rushed upstairs, three steps at a time, to begin washing his hands, thinking the while over his encounter with his Creole fellow-pupil.
"Glad I didn't fight him," he muttered, as he dried his knuckles, and looked at them curiously. "Better than having to ask uncle for his sticking-plaster."
He stopped short, turning and gazing out of the bedroom window, which looked over the back garden toward the field with their Jersey cows; and just then a handsome game-cock flapped his bronzed wings and sent forth his defiant call.
"Cock-a-doodle-doo! indeed," muttered Vane; "and he thinks me a regular coward. I suppose it will have to come to a set-to some day. I feel sure I can lick him, and perhaps, after all, he'll lick me."
"Oh, Vane, my dear boy, don't!" cried Mrs Lee, as the lad rushed down again, his feet finding the steps so rapidly that the wonder was that he did not go headlong, and a few seconds later, he was in his place at the dining-room table, tastily arranged with its plate, china, and flowers.
A walk before breakfast is a wonderful thing for the appetite, and Vane soon began with a sixteen-year-old growing appetite upon the white bread, home-made golden butter, and the other pleasant products of the doctor's tiny homestead, including brahma eggs, whose brown shells suggested that they must have been boiled in coffee.
The doctor kept the basket he had brought in beside him on the cloth, and had to get up four times over to throw great fat wood-lice out of the window, after scooping them up with a silver tablespoon, the dark grey creatures having escaped from between the interstices of the basket, and being busily making their way in search of some dry, dark corner.
"It is astonishing what a predilection for peaches the wood-louse has," said the doctor, resuming his seat.
"All your fault, uncle," said Vane, with his mouth full.
"You see you catch them stealing, and then you forgive them and let them go to find their way back to the south wall, so that they can begin again."
"Humph! yes," said the doctor; "they have plenty of enemies to shorten their lives without my help. Well, so you found some mushrooms, did you?"
"Yes, uncle, just in perfection."
"Some more tea, dear?" said Vane's aunt. "I hope you didn't bring many to worry cook with."
"Only a basket full, aunty," said Vane merrily.
"What!" cried the lady, holding the teapot in air.
"But she is going to cook them for dinner."
"Really, my dear, I must protest," said the lady. "Vane cannot know enough about such things to be trusted to bring them home and eat them. I declare I was in fear and trembling over that last dish."
"You married a doctor, my dear," said Vane's uncle quietly; "and you saw me partake of the dish without fear. Someone must experimentalise, somebody had to eat the first potato, and the first bunch of grapes. Nature never labelled them wholesome food."
"Then let somebody else try them first," said the lady. "I do not feel disposed to be made ill to try whether this or that is good for food. I am not ambitious."
"Then you must forgive us: we are," said the doctor dipping into his basket. "Come, you will not refuse to experimentalise on a peach, my dear. There is one just fully ripe, and—dear me! There are two wood-lice in this one. Eaten their way right in and living there."
He laid one lovely looking peach on a plate, and made another dip.
"That must have fallen quite early in the night," said Vane, sharply, "slugs have been all over it."
"So they have," said the doctor, readjusting his spectacles. "Here is a splendid one. No: a blackbird has been digging his beak into that. And into this one too. Really, my dear, I'm afraid that my garden friends and foes have been tasting them all. No, here is one with nothing the matter, save the contusion consequent from its fall from the mother tree."
"On to mother earth," said Vane laughing. "I say, uncle, wouldn't it be a good plan to get a lot of that narrow old fishing net, and spread it out hanging from the wall, so as to catch all the peaches that fall?"
"Excellent," said the doctor.
"I'll do it," said Vane, wrinkling up his brow, as he began to puzzle his brains about the best way to suspend the net for the purpose.
Soon after, the lad was in the doctor's study, going over some papers he had written, ready for his morning visit to the rectory; and this put him in mind of the encounter with his fellow-pupil, Distin, and made him thoughtful.
"He doesn't like me," the boy said to himself; "and somehow I feel as if I do not like him. I don't want to quarrel, and it always seems as if one was getting into hot-water with him. He's hot-blooded, I suppose, from being born in the West Indies. Well, if that's it," mused Vane, "he can't help it any more than I can help being cool because I was born in England. I won't quarrel with him. There."
And taking up his books and papers, he strapped them together, and set off for the rectory, passing out of the swing-gate, going along the road toward the little town above which the tall grey-stone tower stood up in the clear autumn air with its flagstaff at the corner of the battlements, its secondary tower at the other corner, holding within it the narrow spiral staircase which led from the floor to the leads; and about it a little flock of jackdaws sailing round and round before settling on the corner stones, and the top.
"Wish I could invent something to fly with," thought Vane, as he reached the turning some distance short of the first houses of the town. "It does seem so easy. Those birds just spread out their wings, and float about wherever they please with hardly a beat. There must be a way, if one could only find it out."
He went off into the pleasant lane to the left, and caught sight of a bunch of blackberries apparently within reach, and he was about to cross the dewy band of grass which bordered the road, when he recollected that he had just put on clean boots, and the result of a scramble through and among brambles would be unsatisfactory for their appearance in the rector's prim study. So the berries hung in their place, left to ripen, and he went on till a great dragon-fly came sailing along the moist lane to pause in the sunny openings, and poise itself in the clear air where its wings vibrated so rapidly that they looked like a patch of clear gauze.
Vane's thoughts were back in an instant to the problem that has puzzled so many minds; and as he watched the dragon-fly, a couple of swallows skimmed by him, darted over the wall, and were gone. Then, flopping idly along in its clumsy flight, came a white butterfly, and directly after a bee—one of the great, dark, golden-banded fellows, with a soft, velvety coat.
"And all fly in a different way," said Vane to himself, thoughtfully. "They all use wings, but all differently; and they have so much command over them, darting here and there, just as they please. I wonder whether I could make a pair of wings and a machine to work them. It doesn't seem impossible. People float up in balloons, but that isn't enough. I think I could do it, and—oh, hang it, there goes ten, and the rector will be waiting. I wonder whether I can recollect all he said about those Greek verbs."
IN THE STUDY.
Vane reached the rectory gate and turned in with his brains in the air, dashing here and there like a dragon-fly, skimming after the fashion of a swallow, flying steadily, bumble-bee-fashion, and flopping faintly as the butterfly did whose wings were so much out of proportion to the size of its body. Either way would do, he thought, or better still, if he could fly by a wide-spread membrane stretched upon steel or whalebone ribs or fingers like a bat. Why not? he mused. There could be no reason; and he was beginning to wonder why he had never thought of making some flying machine before, when he was brought back to earth from his imaginary soarings by a voice saying,—
"Hullo! here's old Weathercock!" and this was followed by a laugh which brought the colour into his cheeks.
"I don't care," he thought. "Let him laugh. Better be a weathercock and change about, than be always sticking fast. Uncle says we can't help learning something for one's trouble."
By this time he was at the porch, which he entered just as the footman was carrying out the breakfast things.
"Rector isn't in the study then, Joseph?" said Vane.
"No, sir; just coming in out of the garden. Young gents is in there together."
Vane felt disposed to wait and go in with the rector, but, feeling that it would be cowardly, he walked straight in at the study door to find Distin, Gilmore, and Macey seated at the table, all hard at work, but apparently not over their studies.
"Why, gracious!" cried Macey.
"Alive?" said Gilmore.
"Used to it," sneered Distin. "That sort of creature takes a deal of killing."
"What's the matter?" said Vane, good-humouredly, taking a seat.
"Why," said Gilmore, "we were all thinking of writing to our tailors to send us suits of mourning out of respect for you—believe it or not as you please."
"Thankye," said Vane quietly. "Then I will not believe it, because Distin wouldn't order black if I were drowned."
"Who said a word about drowned? I said poisoned," cried Gilmore.
"Not a word about it. But why?"
"Because you went home and ate those toadstools."
"Wrong," said Vane quietly, "I haven't eaten them yet."
"Then three cheers for the tailors; there's a chance for them yet," cried Macey.
"Why didn't you eat them?" asked Gilmore. "Afraid?"
"I don't think so. They'll be ready by dinner time, will you come?"
Grimaces followed, as Vane quietly opened his books, and glanced round the rector's room with its handsome book-cases all well filled, chimney-piece ornamented with classic looking bronzes; and the whole place with its subdued lights and heavily curtained windows suggestive of repose for the mind and uninterrupted thought and study.
Books and newly-written papers lay on the table, ready for application, but the rector's pupils did not seem to care about work in their tutor's absence, for Macey, who was in the act of handing round a tin box when Vane entered, now passed it on to the latter.
"Lay hold, old chap," he said. Vane opened it, and took out a piece of crisp dark brown stickiness generally known as "jumble," and transferred it to his mouth, while four lower jaws were now seen at work, giving the pupils the aspect of being members of that portion of the quadrupedal animal kingdom known as ruminants.
"Worst of this stuff is," said Macey, "that you get your teeth stuck together. Oh, I say, Gil, what hooks! A whole dozen?"
Gilmore nodded as he opened a ring of fine silkworm gut, and began to examine the points and backs of the twelve bright blue steel hooks at the ends of the gut lengths, and the carefully-tied loops at the other.
"Where did you buy them?" continued Macey, as he gloated over the bright hookah.
"Where did you buy them, Gil?" said Macey again.
"What!" cried Macey; and Distin and Vane both looked wonderingly at their fellow-pupil, who had made a peculiar incoherent guttural noise, faintly represented by the above words.
Then Vane began to laugh.
"What's the matter, Gil?" he said.
Gilmore gave his neck a peculiar writhe, and his jaws a wrench.
"I wish you fellows wouldn't bother," he cried. "You, Macey, ought to know better: you give a chap that stickjaw stuff of yours, and then worry him to speak. Come by post, I said. From London."
Distin gave vent to a contemptuous sniff, and it was seen that he was busily spreading tobacco on thin pieces of paper, and rolling them up into cigarettes with the nonchalant air of one used to such feats of dexterity, though, truth to tell, he fumbled over the task; and as he noticed that Vane was observing him with a quiet look of good-humoured contempt, his fingers grew hot and moist, and he nervously blundered over his task.
"Well," he said with a vicious twang in his tones, "what are you staring at?"
"You," replied Vane, with his hand holding open a Greek Lexicon.
"Then mind your lessons, schoolboy," retorted Distin sharply. "Did you never see a gentleman roll a cigarette before?"
"No," said Vane quietly, and then, feeling a little nettled by the other's tone, he continued, "and I can't see one now."
Distin half rose from the table, crushing a partly formed cigarette in his hand.
"Did you mean that for another insult, sir?" he cried in a loud, angry voice.
"Oh, I say, Distie," said Gilmore, rising too, and catching his arm, "don't be such a pepper-pot. Old Weathercock didn't mean any harm."
"Mind your own business," said Distin, fiercely wrenching his arm free.
"That is my business—to sit on you when you go off like a firework," said Gilmore merrily. "I say, does your father grow much ginger on his plantation?"
"I was speaking to the doctor's boy, and I'll thank you to be silent," cried Distin.
"Oh, I say, don't, don't, don't!" cried Macey, apostrophising all three. "What's the good of kicking up rows about nothing! Here, Distie," he continued, holding out his box; "have some more jumble."
Distin waved the tin box away majestically, and turned to Vane.
"I said, sir, goo—gloo—goog—"
He stepped from his place to the window in a rage, for his voice had suddenly become most peculiar; and as the others saw him thrust a white finger into his mouth and tear out something which he tried to throw away but which refused to be cast off, they burst into a simultaneous roar of laughter, which increased as they saw the angry lad suck his finger, and wipe it impatiently on his handkerchief.
"Don't you give me any of your filthy stuff again, you. Macey," he cried.
"All right," said the culprit, wiping the tears out of his eyes, and taking the tin box from his pocket. "Have a bit more?"
Distin struck the tin box up furiously, sending it flying open, as it performed an arc in the air, and distributing fragments of the hard-baked saccharine sweet.
"Oh, I say!" cried Macey, hastily stooping to gather up the pieces. "Here, help, Gil, or we shall have Syme in to find out one of them by sitting on it."
"Look here, sir," cried Distin, across the table to Vane, who sat, as last comer, between him and the door, "I said did you mean that as an insult?"
"Oh, rubbish!" replied Vane, a little warmly now; "don't talk in that manner, as if you were somebody very big, and going to fight a duel."
"I asked you, sir, if you meant that remark as an insult," cried Distin, "and you evade answering, in the meanest and most shuffling way. I was under the impression when I came down to Greythorpe it was to read with English gentlemen, and I find—"
"Never mind what you find," said Vane; "I'll tell you what you do."
"Oh, you will condescend to tell me that," sneered Distin. "Pray what do I do?"
"Don't tell him, Lee," said Gilmore; "and stop it, both of you. Mr Syme will be here directly, and we don't want him to hear us squabbling over such a piece of idiotic nonsense."
"And you call my resenting an insult of the most grave nature a piece of idiocy, do you, Mr Gilmore?"
"No, Mr Distin; but I call the beginning of this silly row a piece of idiocy."
"Of course you fellows will hang together," said Distin, with a contemptuous look. "I might have known that you were not fit to trust as a friend."
"Look here, Dis," said Gilmore, in a low, angry voice, "don't you talk to me like that."
"And pray why, sir?" said Distin, in a tone full of contempt.
"Because I'm not Vane, sir, and—"
"I say, old chaps, don't, please don't," cried Macey, earnestly. "Look here; I've got a tip from home by this morning's post, and I'll be a good feed to set all square. Come: that's enough." Then, imitating the rector's thick, unctuous voice, "Hum—ha!—silence, gentlemen, if you please."
"Silence yourself, buffoon!" retorted Distin, sharply, and poor Macey sank down in his chair, startled, or assuming to be.
"No, Mr Gilmore," said Distin, haughtily, "you are not Vane Lee, you said, and—and what?"
"I'll tell you," cried the lad, with his brow lowering. "I will not sit still and let you bully me. He may not think it worth his while to hit out at a foreign-bred fellow who snaps and snarls like an angry dog, but I do; and if you speak to me again as you did just now, I'll show you how English-bred fellows behave. I'll punch your head."
"No, you will not, Gil," said Vane, half rising in his seat. "I don't want to quarrel, but if there must be one, it's mine. So look here, Distin: you've done everything you could for months past to put me out of temper."
"He—aw!—he—aw!" cried Macey, in parliamentary style.
"Be quiet, jackass," cried Distin; and Macey began to lower himself, in much dread, under the table.
"I say," continued Vane, "you have done everything you could to put me out of temper, and I've put up with it patiently, and behaved like a coward."
"He—aw, he—aw!" said Macey again; and Vane shook his fist at him good-humouredly.
"Amen. That's all, then," cried Macey; and then, imitating the rector again, "Now, gentlemen, let us resume our studies."
"Be quiet, Aleck," said Gilmore, angrily; "I—"
He did not go on, for he saw Distin's hand stealing toward a heavy dictionary, and, at that moment, Vane said firmly:—
"I felt it was time to show you that I am not quite a coward. I did mean it as an insult, as you call it. What then?"
"That!" cried Distin, hurling the dictionary he had picked up with all his might at his fellow-pupil, across the table, but without effect. Vane, like most manly British lads, knew how to take care of himself, and a quick movement to one side was sufficient to allow the big book to pass close to his ear, and strike with a heavy bang against the door panel just as the handle rattled, and a loud "Hum—ha!" told that the rector was coming into the room for the morning's reading.
As quickly as if he were fielding a ball, Vane caught up the volume from where it fell, and was half-way back to his seat as the rector came in, looking very much astonished, partly at the noise of the thump on the door, partly from an idea that the dictionary had been thrown as an insult to him.
Macey was generally rather a heavy, slow fellow, but on this occasion he was quick as lightning, and, turning sharply to Distin, who looked pale and nervous at the result of his passionate act.
"You might have given the dictionary to him, Distin," he said, in a reproachful tone. "Don't do books any good to throw 'em."
"Quite right, Mr Macey, quite right," said the rector, blandly, as he moved slowly to the arm-chair at the end of the table. "Really, gentlemen, you startled me. I was afraid that the book was intended for me, hum—ha! in disgust because I was so late."
"Oh, no, sir," cried Distin, with nervous eagerness.
"Of course not, my dear Distin, of course not. An accident—an error— of judgment. Good for the binders, no doubt, but not for the books. And I have an affection for books—our best friends."
He subsided into his chair as he spoke.
"Pray forgive me for being so late. A little deputation from the town, Mr Rounds, my churchwarden; Mr Dodge, the people's. A little question of dispute calling for a gentle policy on my part, and—but, no matter; it will not interest you, neither does it interest me now, in the face of our studies. Mr Macey, shall I run over your paper now?"
Macey made a grimace at Vane, as he passed his paper to the rector; and, as it was taken, Vane glanced at Distin, and saw that his lips were moving as he bent over his Greek. Vane saw a red spot in each of his sallow cheeks, and a peculiar twitching about the corners of his eyes, giving the lad a nervous, excitable look, and making Vane remark,—
"What a pity it all is. Wish he couldn't be so easily put out. He can't help it, I suppose, and I suppose I can. There, he shan't quarrel with me again. I suppose I ought to pitch into him for throwing the book at my head, but I could fight him easily, and beat him, and, if I did, what would be the good? I should only make him hate me instead of disliking me as he does. Bother! I want to go on with my Greek."
He rested his head upon his hands determinedly, and, after a great deal of effort, managed to condense his thoughts upon the study he had in hand; and when, after a long morning's work, the rector smilingly complimented him upon his work, he looked up at him as if he thought it was meant in irony.
"Most creditable, sir, most creditable; and I wish I could say the same to you, my dear Macey. A little more patient assiduity—a little more solid work for your own sake, and for mine. Don't let me feel uncomfortable when the Alderman, your respected father, sends me his customary cheque, and make me say to myself, 'We have not earned this honourably and well.'"
The rector nodded to all in turn, and went out first, while, as books were being put together, Macey said sharply:—
"Here, Vane; I'm going to walk home with you. Come on!"
Vane glanced at Distin, who stood by the table with his eyes half-closed, and his hand resting upon the dictionary he had turned into a missile.
"He's waiting to hear what I say," thought Vane, quickly. Then aloud:—"All right, then, you shall. I see through you, though. You want to be asked to lunch on the toadstools."
In spite of himself, Vane could not help stealing another glance at Distin, and read in the contempt which curled his upper lip that he was accusing him mentally of being a coward, and eager to sneak away.
"Well, let him," he thought. "As I am not afraid of him, I can afford it."
Then he glanced at Gilmore who was standing sidewise to the window with his hands in his pockets; and he frowned as he encountered Vane's eyes, but his face softened directly.
"I won't ask you to come with us, Gil," said Vane frankly.
"All right, old Weathercock," cried Gilmore; and his face lit up now with satisfaction.
"He doesn't think I'm afraid," said Vane to himself.
"Am I to wait all day for you?" cried Macey.
"No; all right, I'm coming," said Vane, finishing the strapping together of his books.—"Ready now."
But he was not, for he hesitated for a moment, coloured, and then his face, too, lit up, and he turned to Distin, and held out his hand.
"I'm afraid I lost my temper a bit, Distie," he said; "but that's all over now. Shake hands."
Distin raised the lids of his half-closed eyes, and gazed full at the speaker, but his hand did not stir from where it rested upon the book.
And the two lads stood for some moments gazing into each other's eyes, till the blue-veined lids dropped slowly over Distin's, and without word or further look, he took his cigarette case out of his pocket, walked deliberately out of the study, and through the porch on to the gravel drive, where, directly after, they heard the sharp crick-crack of a match.
"It's all going to end in smoke," said Macey, wrinkling up his forehead. "I say, it isn't nice to wish it, because I may be in the same condition some day; but I do hope that cigarette will make him feel queer."
"I wouldn't have his temper for anything," cried Gilmore, angrily. "It isn't English to go on like that."
"Oh, never mind," said Vane; "he'll soon cool down."
"Yes; but when he does, you feel as if it's only a crust," cried Gilmore.
"And that the jam underneath isn't nice," added Macey. "Never mind. It's nothing fresh. We always knew that our West India possessions were rather hot. Come on, Vane. I don't know though. I don't want to go now."
"Not want to come? Why?"
"Because I only wanted to keep you two from dogs delighting again."
"You behaved very well, Vane, old fellow," said Gilmore, ignoring Macey's attempts to be facetious. "He thinks you're afraid of him, and if he don't mind he'll someday find out that he has made a mistake."
"I hope not," said Vane quietly. "I hate fighting."
"You didn't seem to when you licked that gipsy chap last year."
Vane turned red.
"No: that's the worst of it. I always feel shrinky till I start; and then, as soon as I get hurt, I begin to want to knock the other fellow's head off—oh, I say, don't let us talk about that sort of thing; one has got so much to do."
"You have, you mean," said Gilmore, clapping him on the shoulder. "What's in the wind now, Weathercock?"
"He's making a balloon," said Macey, laughing.
Vane gave quite a start, as he recalled his thoughts about flight that morning.
"Told you so," cried Macey merrily; "and he's going to coax pepper-pot Distin to go up with him, and pitch him out when they reach the first lake."
"No, he isn't," said Gilmore; "he's going to be on the look-out, for Distie's sure to want to serve him out on the sly if he can."
"Coming with us?" said Vane.
"No, not this time, old chap," said Gilmore, smiling. "I'm going to be merciful to your aunt and spare her."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll come when Aleck Macey stops away. He does eat at such a frightful rate, that if two of us came your people would never have us in at the Little Manor again."
Macey made an offer as if to throw something, but Gilmore did not see it, for he had stepped close up to Vane and laid his hand upon his shoulder.
"I'm going to stop with Distie. Don't take any notice of his temper. I'm afraid he cannot help it. I'll stay and go about with him, as if nothing had happened."
Vane nodded and went off with Macey, feeling as if he had never liked Gilmore so much before; and then the little unpleasantry was forgotten as they walked along from the rectory gates, passing, as they reached the main road, a party of gipsies on their way to the next town with their van and cart, both drawn by the most miserable specimens of the four-legged creature known as horse imaginable, and followed by about seven or eight more horses and ponies, all of which found time to crop a little grass by the roadside as cart and van were dragged slowly along.
It was not an attractive-looking procession, but the gipsies themselves seemed active and well, and the children riding or playing about the vehicles appeared to be happy enough, and the swarthy, dark-eyed women, both old and young, good-looking.
Just in front of the van, a big dark man of forty slouched along, with a whip under his arm, and a black pipe in his mouth; and every now and then he seemed to remember that he had the said whip, and took it in hand, to give it a crack which sounded like a pistol shot, with the result that the horse in the van threw up its head, which had hung down toward the road, and the other skeleton-like creature in the cart threw up its tail with a sharp whisk that disturbed the flies which appeared to have already begun to make a meal upon its body, while the scattered drove of ragged ponies and horses ceased cropping the roadside herbage, and trotted on a few yards before beginning to eat again.
"They're going on to some fair," said Macey, as he looked curiously at the horses. "I say, you wouldn't think anyone would buy such animals as those."
"Want to buy a pony, young gentlemen?" said the man with the pipe, sidling up to them.
"What for?" said Macey sharply. "Scarecrow? We're not farmers."
The man grinned.
"And we don't keep dogs," continued Macey. "Oh, I say, George, you have got a pretty lot to-day."
The gipsy frowned and gave his whip a crack.
"Only want cleaning up, master," he said.
"Going to the fair?"
The man nodded and went on, for all this was said without the two lads stopping; and directly after, driving a miserable halting pony which could hardly get over the ground, a couple of big hulking lads of sixteen or seventeen appeared some fifty yards away.
"Oh, I say, Vane," cried Macey; "there's that chap you licked last year. You'll see how he'll smile at you."
"I should like to do it again," said Vane. "Look at them banging that poor pony about. What a shame it seems!"
"Yes. You ought to invent a machine for doing away with such chaps as these. They're no good," said Macey.
"Oh, you brute!—I say, don't the poor beggar's sides sound hollow!"
"Hollow! Yes," cried Vane indignantly; "they never feed them, and that poor thing can't find time to graze."
"No. It will be a blessing for it when it's turned into leather and glue."
"Go that side, and do as I do," whispered Vane; and they separated, and took opposite sides of the road, as the two gipsy lads stared hard at them, and as if to rouse their ire shouted at the wretched pony, and banged its ribs.
What followed was quickly done. Vane snatched at one stick and twisted it out of the lad's hand nearest to him Macey followed suit, and the boys stared.
"It would serve you precious well right if I laid the stick about your shoulders," cried Vane, breaking the ash sapling across his knee.
"Ditto, ditto," cried Macey doing the same, and expecting an attack.
The lads looked astonished for the moment, but instead of resenting the act, trotted on after the pony, which had continued to advance; and, as soon as they were at a safe distance, one of them turned, put his hand to his mouth and shouted "yah!" while the other took out his knife and flourished it.
"Soon cut two more," he cried.
"There!" said Macey, "deal of good you've done. The pony will only get it worse, and that's another notch they've got against you."
"Pish!" said Vane, contemptuously.
"Yes, it's all very well to say pish; but suppose you come upon them some day when I'm not with you. Gipsies never forget, and you see if they don't serve you out."
Vane gave him a merry look, and Macey grinned.
"I hope you will always be with me to take care of me," said Vane.
"Do my best, old fellow—do my best, little man. I say, though, do you mean me to come and have lunch?"
"It'll be dinner to-day," said Vane.
"But won't your people mind?"
"Mind! no. Uncle and aunt both said I was to ask you to come as often as I liked. Uncle likes you."
"No; does he?"
"Yes; says you're such a rum fellow."
Macey was silent after that "oh," and the silence lasted till they reached the manor, for Vane was thinking deeply about the quarrel that morning; but, as the former approached the house, he felt no misgivings about his being welcome, the doctor, who was in the garden, coming forward to welcome him warmly, and Mrs Lee, who heard the voices, hastening out to join them.
Ten minutes later they were at table, where Macey proved himself a pretty good trencherman till the plates were changed and Eliza brought in a dish and placed it before her mistress.
"Hum!" said the doctor, "only one pudding and no sweets. Why, Macey, they're behaving shabbily to you to-day."
Aunt Hannah looked puzzled, and Vane stared.
"Is there no tart or custard, Eliza?" asked the doctor.
"Yes, sir; both coming, sir," said the maid, who was very red in the face.
"Then what have you there?"
Eliza made an unspellable noise in her throat, snatched off the cover from the dish, and hurried out of the room.
"Dear me!" said the doctor putting on his glasses, and looking at the dish in which, in the midst of a quantity of brownish sauce, there was a little island of blackish scraps, at which Aunt Hannah gazed blankly, spoon in hand.
"What is it, my dear?" continued the doctor.
"I'm afraid, dear, it is a dish of those fungi that Vane brought in this morning."
"Oh, I see. You will try them, Macey?"
"Well, sir, I—"
"Of course he will, uncle. Have a taste, Aleck. Give him some, aunt."
Aunt Hannah placed a portion upon their visitor's plate, and Macey was wonderfully polite—waiting for other people to be served before he began.
"Oh, I say, aunt, take some too," cried Vane.
"Do you wish it, my dear? Well, I will;" and Aunt Hannah helped herself, as the doctor began to turn his portion over; and Macey thought of poisoning, doctors, and narrow escapes, as he trifled with the contents of his plate.
"Humph!" said the doctor breaking a painful silence. "I'm afraid, Vane, that cook has made a mistake."
"Mistake, sir?" cried Macey, eagerly; "then you think they are not wholesome?"
"Decidedly not," said the doctor. "I suppose these are your chanterelles, Vane."
"Don't look like 'em, uncle."
"No, my boy, they do not. I can't find any though," said the doctor, as he turned over his portion with his fork. "No: I was wrong."
"They are not the chanterelles then, uncle?"
"Oh, yes, my boy, they are. I was afraid that Martha had had an accident with the fungi, and had prepared a substitute from my old shooting boots, but I can't see either eyelet or nail. Can you?"
"Oh, my dear!" cried Aunt Hannah to her nephew; "do, pray, ring, and have them taken away. You really should not bring in such things to be cooked."
"No, no: stop a moment," said the doctor, as Macey grinned with delight; "let's see first whether there is anything eatable."
"It's all like bits of shrivelled crackling," said Vane, "only harder."
"Yes," said the doctor, "much. I'm afraid Martha did not like her job, and she has cooked these too much. No," he added, after tasting, "this is certainly not a success. Now for the tart—that is, if our young friend Macey has quite finished his portion."
"I haven't begun, sir," said the visitor.
"Then we will wait."
"No, no, please sir, don't. I feel as if I couldn't eat a bit."
"And I as if they were not meant to eat," said the doctor, smiling. "Never mind, Vane; we'll get aunt to cook the rest, or else you and I will experimentalise over a spirit lamp in the workshop, eh?"
"Yes, uncle, and we'll have Macey there, and make him do all the tasting for being so malicious."
"Tell me when it's to be," said Macey, grinning with delight at getting rid of his plate; "and I'll arrange to be fetched home for a holiday."
THE MILLER'S BOAT.
Vane so frequently got into hot-water with his experiments that he more than once made vows. But his promises were as unstable as water, and he soon forgot them. He had vowed that he would be contented with things as they were, but his active mind was soon at work contriving.
He and Macey had borrowed Rounds the miller's boat one day for a row. They were out having a desultory wander down by the river, when they came upon the bluff churchwarden himself, and he gave them a friendly nod as he stood by the roadside talking to Chakes about something connected with the church; and, as the boys went on, Macey said, laughing, "I say, Weathercock, you're such a fellow for making improvements, why don't you take Chakes in hand, and make him look like the miller?"
"They are a contrast, certainly," said Vane, glancing back at the gloomy, bent form of the sexton, as he stood looking up sidewise at the big, squarely-built, wholesome-looking miller. "But I couldn't improve him. I say, what shall we do this afternoon?"
"I don't know," said Macey. "Two can't play cricket comfortably. It's stupid to bowl and field."
"Well, and it's dull work to bat, and be kept waiting while the ball is fetched. Let's go to my place. I want to try an experiment."
"No, thank you," cried Macey. "Don't catch me holding wires, or being set to pound something in a mortar. I know your little games, Vane Lee. You've caught me once or twice before."
"Well, let's do something. I hate wasting time."
"Come and tease old Gil; or, let's go and sit down somewhere near Distie. He's in the meadows, and it will make him mad as mad if you go near him."
"Try something better," said Vane.
"Oh, I don't know. We might go blackberrying, only one seems to be getting too old for that sort of thing. Let's hire two nags, and have a ride."
"Well, young gents, going my way?" cried the miller, from behind them, as he strode along in their rear.
"Where are you going?" said Vane.
"Down to the mill. The wind won't blow, so I'm obliged to make up for it at the river mill, only the water is getting short. That's the best of having two strings to your bow, my lads. By the time the water gets low, perhaps the wind may rise, and turn one's sails again. When I can't get wind or water there's no flour, and if there's no flour there'll be no bread."
"That's cheerful," cried Macey.
"Yes; keeps one back, my lad. Two strings to one's bow arn't enough. Say, Master Lee, you're a clever sort of chap, and make all kinds of 'ventions; can't you set me going with a steam engine thing as 'll make my stones run, when there's no water?"
"I think I could," said Vane, eagerly.
"I thowt you'd say that, lad," cried the miller, laughing; "but I've heard say as there's blowings-up—explosions—over your works sometimes, eh?"
"Oh, that was an accident," cried Vane.
"And accidents happen in the best regulated families, they say," cried the miller. "Well, I must think about it. Cost a mint o' money to do that."
By this time they had reached the long, low, weather-boarded, wooden building, which spanned the river like a bridge, and looked curiously picturesque among the ancient willows growing on the banks, and with their roots laving in the water.
It was a singular-looking place, built principally on a narrow island in the centre of the stream, and its floodgates and dam on either side of the island; while heavy wheels, all green with slimy growth, and looking grim and dangerous as they turned beneath the mill on either side, kept up a curious rumbling and splashing sound that was full of suggestions of what the consequences would be should anyone be swept over them by the sluggish current in the dam, and down into the dark pool below.
"Haven't seen you, gents, lately, for a day's fishing," said the miller, as he entered the swing-gate, and held it open for the lads to follow, which, having nothing else to do, they did, as a matter of course.
"No," said Macey; "been too busy over our books."
The churchwarden laughed.
"Oh, yes, I suppose so, sir. You look just the sort of boy who would work himself to death over his learning. Tired of fishing?"
"I'm not," said Vane. "Have there been many up here lately?"
"Swarms," said the miller. "Pool's alive with roach and chub sometimes, and up in the dam for hundreds of yards you may hear the big tench sucking and smacking their lips among the weeds, as if they was waiting for a bit of paste or a fat worm."
"You'll give us a day's fishing any time we like to come then, Mr Rounds?" said Vane.
"Two, if you like, my lads. Sorry I can't fit you up with tackle, or you might have a turn now."
"Oh, I shan't come and fish that way," cried Macey. "I've tried too often. You make all kinds of preparations, and then you come, and the fish won't bite. They never will when I try."
"Don't try enough, do he, Master Lee?"
"Yes, I do," cried Macey. "I like fishing with a net, or I should like to have a try if you ran all the water out of the dam, so that we could see what fish were in."
"Yes, I suppose you'd like that."
"Hi! Look there, Vane," cried Macey, pointing to a newly-painted boat fastened by its chain to one of the willows. "I'm ready for a row if Mr Rounds would lend us the boat."
"Nay, you'd go and drown yourself and Master Vane too."
"Pooh! as if we couldn't row. I say, Mr Rounds, do lend us the boat."
"Oh, well, I don't mind, my lads, if you'll promise to be steady, and not get playing any games."
"Oh, I'll promise, and there's no need to ask Lee. He's as steady as you are."
"All right, lads; you can have her. Oars is inside the mill. I'll show you. Want to go up or down?"
"I don't care," said Macey.
"If you want to go down stream, I shall have to slide the boat down the overshoot. Better go up, and then you'll have the stream with you coming back. Hello, here's some more of you."
This was on his seeing Distin and Gilmore coming in the other direction, and Macey shouted directly:
"Hi! We've got the boat. Come and have a row."
Gilmore was willing at once, but Distin held off for a few moments, but the sight of the newly-painted boat, the clear water of the sunlit river, and the glowing tints of the trees up where the stream wound along near the edge of the wood, were too much for him, and he took the lead at once, and began to unfasten the chain.
"You can fasten her up again when you bring her back," said the miller, as he led the way into the mill.
"I do like the smell of the freshly-ground flour," cried Macey, as they passed the door. "But, I say, Vane Lee, hadn't we better have gone alone? You see if those two don't monopolise the oars till they're tired, and then we shall have to row them just where they please."
"Never mind," said Vane; "we shall be on the water."
"I'll help you pitch them in, if they turn nasty, as people call it, down here."
"There you are, young gents, and the boat-hook, too," said the miller, opening his office door, and pointing to the oars. "Brand noo uns I've just had made, so don't break 'em."
"All right, we'll take care," said Macey; and, after a few words of thanks, the two lads bore out the oars, and crossed a narrow plank gangway in front of the mill to the island, where Distin and Gilmore were seated in the boat.
"Who's going to row?" said Macey.
"We are," replied Distin, quietly taking off his jacket, Gilmore following suit, and Macey gave Vane a look, which plainly said, "Told you so," as he settled himself down in the stern.
The start was not brilliant, for, on pushing off, Distin did not take his time from Gilmore, who was before him, and consequently gave him a tremendous thump on the back with both fists.
"I say," roared Gilmore, "we haven't come out crab-catching."
Whereupon Macey burst into a roar of laughter, and Vane smiled.
Distin, who was exceedingly nervous and excited, looked up sharply, ignored Macey, and addressed Vane.
"Idiot!" he cried. "I suppose you never had an accident in rowing."
"Lots," said Vane, with his face flushing, but he kept his temper.
"Perhaps you had better take the oar yourself."
"Try the other way, Mr Distin, sir," cried the miller, in his big, bluff voice; and, looking up, they could see his big, jolly face at a little trap-like window high up in the mill.
"Eh! Oh, thank you," said Distin, in a hurried, nervous way, and, rising in his seat, he was in the act of turning round to sit down with his back to Gilmore, when a fresh roar of laughter from Macey showed him that the miller was having a grin at his expense.
Just then the little window shut with a sharp clap, and Distin hesitated, and glanced at the shore as if, had it been closer, he would have leaped out of the boat, and walked off. But they were a good boat's length distant, and he sat down again with an angry scowl on his face, and began to pull.
"In for a row again," said Gilmore to himself. "Why cannot a fellow bear a bit of banter like that!"
To make things go more easily, Gilmore reversed the regular order of rowing, and took his time, as well as he could, from Distin, and the boat went on, the latter tugging viciously at the scull he held. The consequence was, that, as there was no rudder and the river was not straight, there was a tendency on the part of the boat to run its nose into the bank, in spite of all that Gilmore could do to prevent it; and at last Macey seized the boat-hook, and put it over the stern.
"Look here," he cried, "I daresay I can steer you a bit with this."
But his act only increased the annoyance of Distin, who had been nursing his rage, and trying to fit the cause in some way upon Vane.
"Put that thing down, idiot!" he cried, fiercely, "and sit still in the boat. Do you think I am going to be made the laughing-stock of everybody by your insane antics?"
"Oh, all right, Colonist," said Macey, good-humouredly; "only some people would put the pole down on your head for calling 'em idiots."
"What!" roared Distin; "do you dare to threaten me?"
"Oh, dear, no, sir. I beg your pardon, sir. I'm very sorry, sir. I didn't come for to go for to—"
"Clown!" cried Distin, contemptuously.
"Oh, I say, Vane, we are having a jolly ride," whispered Macey, but loud enough for Distin to hear, and the Creole's dark eyes flashed at them.
"I say, Distin," said Gilmore in a remonstrant growl, "don't be so precious peppery about nothing. Aleck didn't mean any harm."
"That's right! Take his part," cried Distin, making the water foam, as he pulled hard. "You fellows form a regular cabal, and make a dead set at me. But I'm not afraid. You've got the wrong man to deal with, and—confound the wretched boat!"
He jumped up, and raising the scull, made a sharp dig with it at the shore, and would have broken it, had not Gilmore checked him.
"Don't!" he cried, "you will snap the blade."
For, having nearly stopped rowing as he turned to protest, the natural result was that the boat's nose was dragged round, and the sharp prow ran right into the soft overhanging bank and stuck fast.
Vane tried to check himself, but a hearty fit of laughter would come, one which proved contagious, for Macey and Gilmore both joined in, the former rolling about and giving vent to such a peculiar set of grunts and squeaks of delight, as increased the others' mirth, and made Distin throw down his scull, and jump ashore, stamping with rage.
"No, no, Distie, don't do that," cried Gilmore, wiping his eyes. "Come back."
"I won't ride with such a set of fools," panted Distin, hoarsely. "You did it on purpose to annoy me."
He took a few sharp steps away, biting his upper lip with rage, and the laughter ceased in the boat.
"I say, Distin," cried Vane; and the lad faced round instantly with a vindictive look at the speaker as he walked sharply back to the boat, and sprang in.
"No, I will not go," he cried. "That's what you want—to get rid of me, but you've found your match."
He sprang in so sharply that the boat gave a lurch and freed itself from the bank, gliding off into deep water again; and as Distin resumed his scull, Gilmore waited for it to dip, and then pulled, so that solely by his skill—for Distin was very inexperienced as an oarsman—the boat was kept pretty straight, and they went on up stream in silence.
Macey gazed at Gilmore, who was of course facing him, but he could not look at his friend without seeing Distin too, and to look at the latter meant drawing upon himself a savage glare. So he turned his eyes to Vane, with the result that Distin watched him as if he were certain that he was going to detect some fresh conspiracy.
Macey sighed, and gazed dolefully at the bank, as if he wished that he were ashore.
Vane gazed at the bank too, and thought of his ill luck in being at odds with Distin, and of the many walks he had had along there with his uncle. These memories brought up plenty of pleasant thoughts, and he began to search for different water-plants and chat about them to Macey, who listened eagerly this time for the sake of having something to do.
"Look!" said Vane pointing; "there's the Stratiotes."
"Stratiotes. The water-soldier."
"Then he's a deserter," said Macey. "Hold hard you two, and let's arrest him."
"No, no; go on rowing," said Vane.
"Don't take any notice of the buffoon, Gilmore," cried Distin sharply. "Pull!"
"I say, old cock of the weather," whispered Macey, leaning over the side, "I'd give something to be as strong as you are."
"Why?" asked Vane in the same low tone.
"Because my left fist wants to punch Distie's nose, and I haven't got muscle enough—what do you call it, biceps—to do it."
"Let dogs delight to bark and bite," said Vane, laughing.
"Don't," whispered Macey; "you're making Distie mad again. He feels we're talking about him. Go on about the vegetables."
"All right. There you are then. That's all branched bur-reed."
"What, that thing with the little spikey horse-chestnuts on it?"
"Good to eat?"
"I never tried it. There's something that isn't," continued Vane, pointing at some vivid green, deeply-cut and ornamental leaves.
"What is it? Looks as if it would make a good salad."
"Water hemlock. Very poisonous."
"Do not chew the hemlock rank—growing on the weedy bank," quoted Macey. "I wish you wouldn't begin nursery rhymes. You've started me off now. I should like some of those bulrushes," and he pointed to a cluster of the brown poker-like growth rising from the water, well out of reach from the bank.
"Those are not bulrushes."
"What are they, then?"
"It is the reed-mace."
"They'll do just as well by that name. I say, Distie, I want to cut some of them."
"Go on rowing," said Distin, haughtily, to Gilmore, without glancing at Macey.
"All right, my lord," muttered Macey. "Halloo! What was that? a big fish?"
"No; it was a water-rat jumped in."
"All right again," said Macey good-humouredly. "I don't know anything at all. There never was such an ignorant chap as I am."
"Give me the other scull, Gilmore," said Distin, just then.
"All right, but hadn't we better go a little higher first? The stream runs very hard just here."
Distin uttered a sound similar to that made by a turkey-cock before he begins to gobble—a sound that may be represented by the word Phut, and they preserved their relative places.
"What are those leaves shaped like spears?" said Macey, giving Vane a peculiar look.
"There, I do know what those are!" cried Macey, quickly as a shoal of good-sized fish darted of from a gravelly shallow into deep water.
"Well, what are they?"
"Roach and dace."
"Neither," said Vane, laughing heartily.
"Well, I—oh, but they are."
"How do you know?"
"By the black edge round their tails."
"I say!" cried Macey; "how do you know all these precious things so readily?"
"Walks with uncle," replied Vane. "I don't know much but he seems to know everything."
"Why I thought he couldn't know anything but about salts and senna, and bleeding, and people's tongues when they put 'em out."
"Here, Macey and he had better row now," cried Distin, suddenly. "Let's have a rest, Gilmore."
The exchange of position was soon made, and Macey said, as he rolled up his sleeves over his thin arms, which were in peculiar contrast to his round plump face:—
"Now then: let's show old pepper-pot what rowing is."
"No: pull steadily, and don't show off," said Vane quietly. "We want to look at the things on the banks."
"Oh, all right," cried Macey resignedly; and the sculls dipped together in a quiet, steady, splashless pull, the two lads feathering well, and, with scarcely any exertion, sending the boat along at a fair pace, while Vane, with a naturalist's eye, noted the different plants on the banks, the birds building in the water-growth—reed sparrows, and bearded tits, and pointing out the moor-hens, coots, and an occasional duck.
All at once, as they cut into a patch of the great dark flat leaves of the yellow water-lily, there was a tremendous swirl in the river just beyond the bows of the boat—one which sent the leaves heaving and falling for some distance ahead.
"Come now, that was a pike," cried Macey, as he looked at Distin lolling back nonchalantly, with his eyes half-closed.
"Yes; that was a pike, and a big one too," said Vane. "Let's see, opposite those three pollard willows in the big horseshoe bend. We'll come and have a try for him, Aleck, one of these days."
It was a pleasant row, Macey and Vane keeping the oars for a couple of hours, right on, past another mill, and among the stumps which showed where the old bridge and the side-road once spanned the deeps—a bridge which had gradually decayed away and had never been replaced, as the traffic was so small and there was a good shallow ford a quarter of a mile farther on.
The country was beautifully picturesque up here, and the latter part of their row was by a lovely grove of beeches which grew on a chalk ridge— almost a cliff—at whose foot the clear river ran babbling along.
Here, all of a sudden, Macey threw up the blade of his oar, and at a pull or two from Vane, the boat's keel grated on the pebbly sand.
"What's that for?" cried Gilmore, who had been half asleep as he sat right back in the stern, with his hands holding the sides.
"Time to go back," said Macey. "Want my corn."
"He means his thistle," said Distin, rousing himself to utter a sarcastic remark.
"Thistle, if you like," said Macey, good-humouredly. "Donkey enjoys his thistle as much as a horse does his corn, or you did chewing sugar-cane among your father's niggers."
It was an unlucky speech, and like a spark to gunpowder.
Distin sprang up and made for Macey, with his fists doubled, but Vane interposed.
"No," he said; "no fighting in a boat, please. Gilmore and I don't want a ducking, if you do."
There was another change in the Creole on the instant. The fierce angry look gave place to a sneering smile, and he spoke in a husky whisper.
"Oh, I see," he said, gazing at Vane the while, with half-shut eyes. "You prompted him to say that."
Vane did not condescend to answer, but Macey cried promptly,—
"That he didn't. Made it all up out of my own head."
"A miserable insult," muttered Distin.
"But he had nothing to do with it, Distie," said Macey; "all my own; and if you wish for satisfaction—swords or pistols at six sharp, with coffee, I'm your man."
Distin took no heed of him, but stood watching Vane, his dark half-shut eyes flashing as they gazed into the lad's calm wide-open grey orbs.
"I say," continued Macey, "if you wish for the satisfaction of a gentleman—"
"Satisfaction—gentleman!" raged out Distin, as he turned suddenly upon Macey. "Silence, buffoon!"
"The buffoon is silent," said Macey, sinking calmly down into his place; "but don't you two fight, please, till after we've got back and had some food. I say, Gil, is there no place up here where we can buy some tuck?"
"No," replied Gilmore; and then, "Sit down, Vane. Come, Distie, what is the good of kicking up such a row about nothing. You really are too bad, you know. Let's, you and I, row back."
"Keep your advice till it is asked for," said Distin contemptuously. "You, Macey, go back yonder into the stern. Perhaps Mr Vane Lee will condescend to take another seat."
"Oh, certainly," said Vane quietly, though there was a peculiar sensation of tingling in his veins, and a hot feeling about the throat. The peculiar human or animal nature was effervescing within him, and though he hardly realised it himself, he wanted to fight horribly, and there was that mastering him in those moments which would have made it a keen joy to have stood ashore there on the grass beneath the chalk cliff and pummelled Distin till he could not see to get back to the boat.
But he did not so much as double his fist, though he knew that Macey and Gilmore were both watching him narrowly and thinking, he felt sure, that, if Distin struck him, he would not return the blow.
As the three lads took their seats, Distin, with a lordly contempt and arrogance of manner, removed his jacket, and deliberately doubled it up to place it forward. Then slowly rolling up his sleeves he took the sculls, seated himself and began to back-water but without effect, for the boat was too firmly aground forward.
"You'll never get her off that way," cried Macey the irrepressible. "Now lads, all together, make her roll."
"Sit still, sir!" thundered Distin—at least he meant to thunder, but it was only a hoarse squeak.
"Yes, sir; certainly, sir," cried Macey; and then, in an undertone to his companions, "Shall we not sterrike for ferreedom? Are we all—er— serlaves!"
Then he laughed, and slapped his leg, for Distin drew in one scull, rose, and began to use the other to thrust the boat off.
"I say, you know," cried Macey, as Gilmore held up the boat-hook to Distin, but it was ignored, "I don't mean to pay my whack if you break that scull."
"Do you wish me to break yours?" retorted Distin, so fiercely that his words came with a regular snarl.
"Oh, murder! he's gone mad," said Macey, in a loud whisper; and screwing up his face into a grimace which he intended to represent horrible dread, but more resembled the effects produced by a pin or thorn, he crouched down right away in the stern of the boat, but kept up a continuous rocking which helped Distin's efforts to get her off into deep water. When the latter seated himself, turned the head, and began to row back, that is to say, he dipped the sculls lightly from time to time, so as to keep the boat straight, the stream being strong enough to carry them steadily down without an effort on the rower's part.
Macey being right in the stern, Vane and Gilmore sat side by side, making a comment now and then about something they passed, while Distin was of course alone, watching them all from time to time through his half-closed eyes, as if suspicious that their words might be relating to him.
Then a gloomy silence fell, which lasted till Macey burst out in ecstatic tones:
"Oh, I am enjoying of myself!"
Then, after a pause:
"Never had such a glorious day before."
Another silence, broken by Macey once more, saying in a deferential way:—
"If your excellency feels exhausted by this unwonted exertion, your servant will gladly take an oar."
Distin ceased rowing, and, balancing the oars a-feather, he said coldly:—
"If you don't stop that chattering, my good fellow, I'll either pitch you overboard, or set you ashore to walk home."
"Thankye," cried Macey, cheerfully; "but I'll take the dry, please."
Distin's teeth grated together as he sat and scowled at his fellow-pupil, muttering, "Chattering ape;" but he made no effort to put his threats into execution, and kept rowing on, twisting his neck round from time to time, to see which way they were going; Vane and Gilmore went on talking in a low tone; and Macey talked to himself.
"He has made me feel vicious," he said. "I'm a chattering ape, am I? He'll pitch me overboard, will he? I'd call him a beast, only it would be so rude. He'd pitch me overboard, would he? Well, I could swim if he did, and that's more than he could do."
Macey looked before him at Vane and Gilmore, to see that the former had turned to the side and was thoughtfully dipping his hand in the water, as if paddling.
"Halloo, Weathercock!" he cried. "I know what you're thinking about."
"Not you," cried Vane merrily, as he looked back.
"I do. You were thinking you could invent a machine to send the boat along far better than old West Indies is doing it now."
Vane stared at him.
"Well," he said, hesitatingly, "I was not thinking about Distin's rowing, but I was trying to hit out some way of propelling a boat without steam."
"Knew it! I knew it! Here, I shan't read for the bar; I shall study up for a head boss conjurer, thought-reader, and clairvoyant."
"For goodness' sake, Gilmore, lean back, and stuff your handkerchief in that chattering pie's mouth. You had better; it will save me from pitching him into the river."
Then deep silence fell on the little party, and Macey's eyes sparkled.
"Yes, he has made me vicious now," he said to himself; and, as he sat back, he saw something which sent a thought through his brain which made him hug his knees. "Let me see," he mused: "Vane can swim and dive like an otter, and Gil is better in the water than I am. All right, my boy; you shall pitch me in."
"Keep her straight, Distie. Don't send her nose into the willows."
The rower looked sharply round, and pulled his right scull. Then, a little further on, Macey shouted:—
"Too much port—pull your right."
Distin resented this with an angry look; but Macey kept on in the most unruffled way, and, by degrees, as the rower found that it saved him from a great deal of unpleasant screwing round and neck-twisting, he began to obey the commands, and pulled a little harder, so that they travelled more swiftly down the winding stream.
"Port!" shouted Macey. "Port it is! Straight on!"
Then, after a minute,—
"Starboard! More starboard! Straight on!"
Again: "Pull your right—not too much. Both hands;" and Distin calmly and indifferently followed the orders, till it had just occurred to him that the others might as well row now, when Macey shouted again:—
"Right—a little more right; now, both together. That's the way;" and, as again Distin obeyed, Macey shut his eyes, and drew up his knees. To give a final impetus to the light craft, Distin leaned forward, threw back the blades of the sculls, dipped, and took hold of the water, and then was jerked backwards as the boat struck with a crash on one of the old piles of the ancient bridge, ran up over it a little way, swung round, and directly after capsized, and began to float down stream, leaving its human freight struggling in deep water.
DISTIN IS INCREDULOUS.
"Oh, murder!" shouted Macey, as he rose to the surface, and struck out after the boat, which he reached, and held on by the keel.
Gilmore swam after him, and was soon alongside, while Vane made for the bank, climbed out, stood up dripping, and roaring with laughter.
"Hi! Gil!—Aleck, bring her ashore," he cried.
"All right!" came back; but almost simultaneously Vane shouted again, in a tone full of horror:—
"Here, both of you—Distin—where's Distin?"
He ran along the bank as he spoke, gazing down into the river, but without seeing a sign of that which he sought.
Macey's heart sank within him, as, for the first time, the real significance of that which he had done in carefully guiding the rower on to the old rotten pile came home. A cold chill ran through him, and, for the moment, he clung, speechless and helpless, to the drifting boat.
But Vane soon changed all that.
"Here, you!" he yelled, "get that boat ashore, turn her over, and come to me—"
As he spoke, he ran to and fro upon the bank for a few moments, but, seeing nothing, he paused opposite a deep-looking place, and plunged in, to begin swimming about, raising his head at every stroke, and searching about him, but searching in vain, for their companion, who, as far as he knew, had not risen again to the surface.
Meanwhile, Gilmore and Macey tried their best to get the boat ashore, and, after struggling for a few minutes in the shallow close under the bank, they managed to right her, but not without leaving a good deal of water in the bottom. Still she floated as they climbed in and thrust her off, but only for Gilmore to utter a groan of dismay as he grasped the helplessness of their situation.
"No oars—no oars!" he cried; and, standing up in the stern, he plunged into the water again, to swim toward where he could see Vane's head.
"What have I done—what have I done!" muttered Macey, wildly. "Oh, poor chap, if he should be drowned!"
For a moment he hesitated about following Gilmore, but, as he swept the water with his eyes, he caught sight of something floating, and, sitting down, he used one hand as a paddle, trying to get the boat toward the middle of the river to intercept the floating object, which he had seen to be one of the oars.
Vane heard the loud splash, and saw that Gilmore was swimming to his help, then he kept on, looking to right and left in search of their companion; but everywhere there was the eddying water gliding along, and bearing him with it.
For a time he had breasted the current, trying to get toward the deeps where the bridge had stood, but he could make no way, and, concluding from this that Distin would have floated down too, he kept on his weary, useless search till Gilmore swam up abreast.
"Haven't seen him?" panted the latter, hoarsely. "Shall we go lower?"
"No," cried Vane; "there must be an eddy along there. Let's go up again."
They swam ashore, climbed out on to the bank, and, watching the surface as they ran, they made for the spot where the well-paved road had crossed the bridge.
Here they stood in silence for a few moments, and Gilmore was about to plunge in again, but Vane stopped him.
"No, no," he cried, breathing heavily the while; "that's of no use. Wait till we see him rise—if he is here," he added with a groan.
The sun shone brightly on the calm, clear water which here looked black and deep, and after scanning it for some time Vane said quickly—
"Look! There, just beyond that black stump."
"No; there is nothing there but a deep hole."
"Yes, but the water goes round and round there, Gil; that must be the place."
He was about to plunge in, but it was Gilmore's turn to arrest him.
"No, no; it would be no use."
"Yes; I'll dive down."
"But there are old posts and big stones, I daren't let you go."
"Ah!" shouted Vane wildly; "look—look!"
He shook himself free and plunged in as Gilmore caught sight of something close up to the old piece of blackened oak upon which Macey had so cleverly steered the boat. It was only a glimpse of something floating, and then it was gone; and he followed Vane, who was swimming out to the old post. This he reached before Gilmore was half-way, swam round for a few moments, and then paddled like a dog, rose as high as he could, turned over and dived down into the deep black hole.
In a few moments he was up again to take a long breath and dive once more.
This time he was down longer, and Gilmore held on by the slimy post, gazing about with staring eyes, and prepared himself to dive down after his friend, when all at once, Vane's white face appeared, and one arm was thrust forth to give a vigorous blow upon the surface.
"Got him," he cried in a half-choked voice, "Gil, help!"
Gilmore made for him directly, and as he reached his companion's side the back of Distin's head came to the surface, and Gilmore seized him by his long black hair.
Their efforts had taken them out of the eddy into the swift stream once more, and they began floating down; Vane so confused and weak from his efforts that he could do nothing but swim feebly, while his companion made some effort to keep Distin's face above water and direct him toward the side.
An easy enough task at another time, for it only meant a swim of some fifty yards, but with the inert body of Distin, and Vane so utterly helpless that he could barely keep himself afloat, Gilmore had hard work, and, swim his best, he could scarcely gain a yard toward the shore. Very soon he found that he was exhausting himself by his efforts and that it would be far better to go down the stream, and trust to getting ashore far lower down, though, at the same time, a chilly feeling of despair began to dull his energies, and it seemed hopeless to think of getting his comrade ashore alive.
All the same, though, forced as the words sounded, he told Vane hoarsely that it was all right, and that they would soon get to the side.
Vane only answered with a look—a heavy, weary, despairing look—which told how thoroughly he could weigh his friend's remark, as he held on firmly by Distin and struck out slowly and heavily with the arm at liberty.
There was no doubt about Vane's determination. If he had loosed his hold of Distin, with two arms free he could have saved himself with comparative ease, but that thought never entered his head, as they floated down the river, right in the middle now, and with the trees apparently gliding by them and the verdure and water-growth gradually growing confused and dim. To Vane all now seemed dreamlike and strange. He was in no trouble—there was no sense of dread, and the despair of a few minutes before was blunted, as with his body lower in the water, which kept rising now above his lips, he slowly struggled on.