Washed Ashore; or, The Tower of Stormont Bay, by W.H.G. Kingston.
This is a fairly short book, and probably an easier read for the younger teenager.
Jack is a young member of a respectable family living in Stormount Tower, on the south coast of England. Unfortunately the silly boy got himself involved with the smugglers, who got caught. This of course would have been a hanging offence, but Jack manages to go to sea aboard the "Truelove", which, it is later heard, is lost at sea.
Folk at home long to see him again, but meanwhile there are some strange goings-on, involving ghosts, kidnaps, strange noises, secret tunnels, and smugglers' caves.
Eventually some of the local young men sail to the Pacific, hoping to find where the "Truelove" had gone down, and hoping above all to find young Jack. After some misses they eventually manage to get some useful information, and from this they are able to find Jack, and bring him home to his family.
WASHED ASHORE; OR, THE TOWER OF STORMOUNT BAY, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
THE OLD TOWER—CAPTAIN ASKEW'S FAMILY—THE SMUGGLERS—WHY JACK ASKEW WENT TO SEA.
There was an old grey weather-beaten stone tower standing on the top of a high rocky promontory, which formed the western side of a deep bay, on the south coast of England. The promontory was known as the Stormy Mount, which had gradually been abbreviated into Stormount, a very appropriate name, for projecting, as it did, boldly out into the ocean, many a fierce storm had, age after age, raged round its summit and hurled the roaring, curling waves into masses of foam against its base, while the white spray flew in showers far above its topmost height. To the west of Stormount, the coast was rocky and fringed by numerous reefs, while on the further side of the bay, also formed by a promontory, less in height than that of Stormount, it consisted of cliffs, broken considerably however by chines and other indentations, and pierced here and there by caverns, some close down to the water, and others high up and almost inaccessible from below. Inland, the country was sparsely cultivated—open downs and fern and gorse-covered heaths prevailing. The more sheltered nooks in the bay contained a few fishermen's cottages, pitched here and there wherever the ground favoured their erection, with very little regard to symmetry or order. Nearer to the water were boat-sheds, and stakes, and spars, on which nets were spread to dry or to be repaired.
But the old stone tower of Stormount claims our attention. It was of considerable circumference, three stories in height, the walls massive and substantial, the strongest gales could not shake it, nor any blasts find entrance. The tower had been the donjon-keep of the ancient castle, part of the wall of which attached to the tower, had of late years been roofed over, and formed a portion of a dwelling-house and offices, the main portion being in the keep itself. The appearance of the tower from the outside, though highly picturesque, was bleak and comfortless, and gave a stranger the idea that it was more fitted for the habitation of sea-gulls and other wild fowl, than for the abode of man. But those who had once entered within its portal came out with a very different notion. And on a stormy, long winter night, when the wind whistled and the waves roared, and all was darkness around, and the entrance to the bay, easily enough seen in daylight, was difficult to be found, a bright light streamed forth from an upper window of the old tower, sending its rays far off over the troubled ocean, cheering the passers by, a warning to some of neighbouring dangers, a guide and welcome to those who might be seeking shelter from the gale.
People are occasionally met with in this world very like that old tower—rough and weather-beaten on the outside, yet with warm hearts and genial dispositions, cheering and encouraging the wanderer, blessings to all with whom they come into contact. The old tower was inhabited, and about its inmates we have still more to say than about the tower itself. Five miles to the eastward of the tower was a Revenue Station, and fifteen years or so before the time of our history commences, the command was held by an old Lieutenant Cumming, who had obtained it, he used with a touch of satire to tell his friends, as a recompense for forty years' services and numerous wounds in fighting his country's battles.
He was one day standing on the beach, when a cutter brought up in the bay, and her boat soon afterwards came on shore with a passenger. No sooner did the old lieutenant see him than he hurried to the boat, and grasping his hand as he stepped on shore, exclaimed, "Welcome, welcome, old shipmate; I knew, Askew, that you would find me out some day; and so you have; come along!"
Towards his cottage near the beach the old lieutenant and his friend bent their steps, the former assisting the new comer, who having lost a leg, walked with difficulty—a seaman following with a small well-battered valise. Didn't the old shipmates talk as they sat together during their supper! Many a battle they fought over again, and Commander Askew had besides to talk of his own doings since last they parted. He told his friend how in lashing the enemy's bowsprit to the mizen-mast of his own ship, his leg had been shattered, and how he held on to the task till he had done it, and then sank fainting on the deck. He did not utter an expression like a boast, though he thoroughly possessed the characteristics of the true-hearted naval officers of the old school, who feared God, did their duty like lions, and said very little about it. He spoke, too, of a promise he had made to a brother officer, who lay dying in the cot next to him, and how he had fulfilled it (the request was common in those days), "Jack, you'll keep an eye on my wife and little girl, I know you will."
"Cheer up, Tom, don't be cast down about that matter, God knows that I'll try and do the best I can for them."
That was all that passed. John Askew did do his best. He found his late friend's widow dying, and the orphan girl, not a child, but a young woman, without a friend in the world besides him. He looked about to find a husband for her. To those eyes who could only see the pure bright loving spirit beaming through her countenance, she appeared plain. In vain Jack looked for what he sought. "Why don't you marry her yourself?" said a friend.
Jack said that he was much too old for Margaret Treherne. However, he put the matter before her. Her heart leaped with joy as she thought how she should now be able to devote her life to the comfort of her generous benefactor. A truly happy couple were Captain and Mrs Askew. He had lately got his promotion to the rank of Commander, and was now in search of a house in sight of the ocean he loved so well, where he might live a retired life and bring up the two children God had given him.
"Fit up Stormount Tower," said his friend, half in a joke, "the rent will be nominal, and you'll have as much of the sea as you can desire."
The next day the two brother officers walked over to inspect the tower. The captain decided that he could soon make it comfortable, and accordingly went on to see the proprietor, Mr Ludlow. Mr Ludlow, who resided on his somewhat extensive but barren estate, was glad to find a tenant willing to help to keep the old walls from tumbling down, and who might also prove a pleasant neighbour. In a short time the old tower, under the captain's directions, was put into a habitable condition, and well caulked, as he observed, when he surveyed the work. The furniture was of a modest description, for the captain's means were small. When all was ready, he went away and returned with his wife and two children—one a boy, four years old, and the other a little girl. The boy was named after his father, John, though he was generally known as Jack Askew; the daughter was called Margaret, but more frequently spoken of as Margery Askew. An old follower of the captain's came with him— Tom Bowlby was a sailor of the old school, and knew as little of the shore as a whale does of the inside of Saint Paul's. He loved the captain as a father, and would have been ready to die to save his life. He had saved it once, by interposing his own arm, which he lost in consequence, and Captain Askew resolved that, should he ever have a home, Tom should share it with him.
Jack Askew grew up a fine bold, generous-hearted boy, and what was better still, fearing and loving God as did his father and mother. In his childhood's days, when not with his parents, he was under Tom's entire charge; but as he grew older the old sailor found it impossible to follow him in his distant rambles, and Jack, who was of a sociable disposition, soon made the acquaintance of every individual of the surrounding population.
While Lieutenant Cumming remained at the revenue station, Jack was constantly out with him and his men in their boats; he was equally intimate with a class of men living on the coast, who, though they professed to be fishermen, either made smuggling their chief business, or were ready on all occasions to help the smugglers. Tom knew very little about their proceedings; indeed, brought up as he had been, had he done so, it is not likely that he would have looked on them with much horror. Captain Askew, of course, knew that there was a good deal of smuggling on the coast, but, except in the case of a few notorious characters, he did not know who were the individuals engaged in it. Jack was a favourite with both revenue men and smugglers, and the latter knew that, should he by chance learn anything of their proceedings, he would not betray them. He used to go off with them when they went out fishing, sometimes with Tom, and sometimes alone, and soon became a very expert boat sailor. One thing is very certain, that his associates did Jack no good. We know from Scripture that "Evil communications corrupt good manners," and, though undeservedly, he got the character of being a wild lad, likely some day to get into trouble.
Such was the opinion formed of him by Mr Ludlow, his father's landlord, who consequently seldom invited him to his house, nor did he encourage any intimacy between him and his son, which he would probably otherwise have done. Mr Ludlow, who was a country magistrate, was a stern, self-opinionated, and narrow-minded man, with very little of the milk of human kindness in his composition. He believed, among other things, that he could put down smuggling by force, and he was engaged in an effort to accomplish the task. Stephen, his son, was rather younger than Jack, a good-looking boy, but he was conceited, headstrong, and not good tempered.
He occasionally went over to Stormount, where he was always welcomed, but he and Jack were not especially good friends; indeed, their pursuits were so different, that even then they did not see much of each other. It happened one day that Jack, having betaken himself to the beach, found some of his friends going off a in boat, and begged to go with them. One or two objected, others said—"Let him come, he's true as gold, he'll not peach."
"Yes, yes, for do ye not see if we get into trouble, they'll not be hard on us for his sake."
This decided the matter. Jack did not hear these remarks, and went. The boat sailed off till she was out of sight of land, when she met with a long white lugger, and out of her received a quantity of goods, bales of silk, and ribbons, and lace, and then returned towards the shore. Night had come on—certain lights were seen, a signal that all was right, and without hesitation the smugglers pulled in towards the beach. Suddenly from behind a point two revenue boats darted out and gave chase. The smugglers' galley was put about and pulled away along the coast. Jack's hitherto peaceable friends were suddenly transformed into fierce savages. Their venture was a valuable one, and they swore that sooner than yield it they would lose their own lives, or take those of their opponents. Jack heartily wished that he had learned the object of their expedition, and had avoided coming. He, by this time, knew enough about the ways of smugglers to make him feel that he ought to have suspected that his friends were about some unlawful work.
Scarcely had Jack left the tower than a post-chaise came rumbling up the steep ascent which led to it. Had it come five minutes sooner Jack would not have gone down to the beach. It contained an old friend of his father's, Captain Summers, who had come to spend a few days at the tower while his ship was refitting. She was a South Sea trader, generally sailing to the western coasts of America and the islands of the Pacific. Everybody in the household was so busy—Captain Askew in talking to his friend, Mrs Askew and Margery in getting his room ready, and Tom in preparing supper, that no one thought of Jack. It was not till they were seated at their evening meal that Jack was missed. Tom went out to make inquiries. He was not very well pleased when he at length learned that Jack had been seen with Bob Herring and some other men going off in Bill Starling's galley, Bill being, as Tom well knew, one of the most determined smugglers belonging to Stormount Bay. "Well, Bob Herring would give his life before any harm should come to the lad, and Bill's a clever chap, and it's not likely that he'll be getting into mischief," said Tom to himself as he returned homewards.
As long as daylight lasted Captain Askew or Tom had their eye at the large telescope in the captain's own room, ranging over the ocean in search of Bill Starling's galley, but no where was she to be seen, and at length the captain became more anxious than he had ever before been about Jack. He had done his best to prevent Mrs Askew from being alarmed, but was on the point of going out himself to make inquiries about the galley, when a ring was heard at the gate, and Becky Bott, the maid, came to say that blind Peter, the pedlar, wanted to see the captain. Blind Peter with his dog Trusty traversed the country round, selling needles, thread, tape, and such like small wares. Peter seldom failed, when he required it, to obtain a crust of bread, and a piece of cheese, and a glass of cider for himself, and a few bones for his dog. He had always met with a kind reception at the tower, and seemed to have taken a very great fancy to little Margery. "It's her sweet gentle voice I love to hear," he said one day talking to Becky. "That's what goes to my heart."
"What brings you here, Peter, at this time of night?" asked Captain Askew, with some anxiety in his voice.
"I wish, captain, I could say it was pleasant news I've brought you, and yet when there's evil it is better to know it, that we may find a remedy," answered the blind man. "I wouldn't like to frighten the missus though—but it's just this—Master Jack has been taken with Bill Starling, Bob Herring, and a lot of other chaps, by the coastguards' men, with a cargo of contraband, and they are all now on their way to Mr Ludlow's. He's long been wishing for such a haul, and he'll commit one and all of them to prison, and Master Jack too, if you don't go and bail him out."
Peter's news caused a considerable amount of anxiety, for Mr Ludlow's stern character was well known. However, the only thing to be done was to set off immediately to see him. Fortunately the post-chaise which brought Captain Summers was still at the public-house in the village, and the postboy sufficiently sober to undertake to drive to the hall. The two captains found Mr Ludlow seated in magisterial state, with the prisoners before him, making out their committal for trial.
"I am very sorry for this, Captain Askew, very sorry," he remarked, as they were introduced. "The case is clear against all the party, and your son was with them. He is young, and may have been led astray by others, but a severe example is necessary, and he must suffer with the rest. He will be sent to prison for a year, or to sea in a ship of war." In vain Captain Askew and his friend pleaded for Jack. Mr Ludlow would not listen to their explanations. Captain Summers, as a last resource, offered to take Jack away with him to sea, and, to his surprise, Mr Ludlow at once agreed to the proposal. Jack was accordingly allowed to accompany his father and his friend home.
Jack, though he liked the thoughts of going to sea, was very sorry to leave his father and mother and dear little Margery, but he bravely kept up his spirits, that he might not grieve them more than he could help.
Not a word of complaint either did he utter against Mr Ludlow, or those who had brought him into trouble. "It will be a lesson to me through life to avoid associating with those who are doing wrong," he remarked, and he said but little more on the subject.
There was a void not likely soon to be filled in the old tower, and a greater still in the hearts of its inmates, when Jack Askew went to sea. They occasionally received letters from him, not very often though, and they found that many he had written had not reached them. The last letter they received was dated from a port on the coast of Peru. The ship was about to sail among some of the wide-scattered islands of the Pacific, whose then still savage inhabitants were said to be addicted to the worst vices which disgrace humanity. In vain they waited for another letter—none came. Hope deferred maketh the heart sick. Still they hoped, and hoped on, that tidings would come some day or other.
At length rumours arrived that Captain Summers' ship, the Truelove, with all hands, had been lost on a coral reef. Captain Askew would not allow himself to believe the report, and he took a journey to London to ascertain its truth. "God's will be done, dear wife," he said when he came back. "He that gave has taken our child away." Many a pious parent has repeated the same words, yet with anguish of heart. Still they went on hoping against hope. However, at length it became too certain that the Truelove had been lost, and that not a trace of her crew had been discovered, although a brother captain of Captain Summers had made every inquiry in his power, and a ship of war had been sent to search for them.
Margery was now the sole earthly object round which the affections of Captain and Mrs Askew ere entwined. Tom Bowlby, too, had transferred his love for her brother to her. She was a bright sunny little creature, with light auburn hair, deep blue eyes, and a pure rich glowing complexion, which might have vied with that of the lily, had it not been burnt by the sun and sea breezes. No one who saw her, or heard her joyous ringing laugh, or her voice so soft or gentle when moved by pity or sorrow, could fail to love her. She had learned to think of Jack as of a brother gone on a long, long voyage, whom she should meet again, not for years perhaps, but some day certainly, and so she ceased to mourn for him. The captain had seen so many of his companions launched into watery graves, and knew so well that it is the fate for which all who go to sea must be prepared, that he accepted his lot as common to many another parent, though his gallant boy was not often out of his thoughts. He and Tom seldom, as was once their wont, talked over their adventures and battles, for Jack and his doings was the theme on which, when together, they loved to speak, in subdued tones though, and often with faltering voices and tears springing unexpectedly to their eyes.
Margaret seldom spoke about her boy, but she did not think of him the less, and there lingered yet in her mother's heart the hope—she knew it was baseless, yet she dared not contradict it—that she should yet again fold him to her heart on earth; she knew that she should meet him in heaven. One thing Margaret bethought herself that she would do. She might assist to save others from the fate which had befallen her own dear boy. The day on which the sad tidings reached her she had retired to an upper chamber of the tower which overlooked the sea, to pray that strength might be given her to bear her deep affliction. To those who pray aright, never are their petitions refused. By labouring for the good of others, the sorrow-stricken heart is greatly relieved. "Surely, if this tower could be seen by night as well as by day, it would show the entrance to our sheltered bay," she said to herself. She possessed a large bright lamp; filling it with oil and trimming it carefully, she placed it in the window as the shades of evening closed over the then tranquil ocean. Night after night, without fail, she did the same, allowing no one, not even Margery, to share her task. By and by a reflector and more powerful burners were obtained, and the rays of the lamp were thrown still further over the sea. The fishermen out on the waters soon learned whence the light came, and blessed the hand that placed it there.
MARGARET—STEPHEN—THE ROCKS—THE FACE—BLIND PETER—THE STORM.
When the old tower of Stormount was being fitted for a modern habitation, the original arrangements of the interior had been in a great measure restored. Entering at the gateway, a narrow passage led to the foot of a spiral stair which ran up to the top of the building. On each story there was a landing-place, into which the rooms opened. Most of them were in shape like a slice of cake, the largest, used as a sitting-room, almost semi-circular. At each window there was a deep recess—the windows themselves in the lower stories being very narrow, having been made rather as loopholes for musketry than to let in light— while in the upper story they were square and low, formed as ports for such cannon as were used in the days of the Commonwealth. Under the ground-floor some of the inmates suspected that there were vaults, as at two or three spots a hollow sound on stamping hard was elicited, but as there was no apparent way down, the captain had not thought it worth while to break up the pavement to examine them. The dining-room, kitchen, some offices and bedrooms were in the newer part of the structure.
Captain Askew's own room was one of those on the upper story, looking towards the sea. It could not be called his study—for he was not a reading man, and there were but few books in it,—but it contained something of everything, arrayed in the most perfect order on shelves arranged one above another, in cupboards, on tables, and in drawers. It was a workshop, a museum, a laboratory, a model room, a library, a dressing-room in one. Here he sat at work for a large portion of each day, but not often alone, as his wife, or daughter, or Tom Bowlby was constantly with him. In two or three points the captain had changed somewhat of late years. He lived less for himself and more for others than formerly. He took delight in going out among the fishermen and cottagers in the neighbourhood, with his Bible in hand, or with some book on religion, and in reading and explaining the Scriptures. He was also engaged in making the model of a lifeboat, and inventing other apparatus for saving life.
He had likewise been appointed a magistrate, for the especial object of assisting the revenue officers in putting down smuggling, which it was found difficult to do without a strong force of coastguards on shore and numerous cutters afloat. He most unwillingly undertook the office, but having taken it, set about doing his duty, as he was accustomed to do everything, thoroughly. This of course made him enemies among those he had hitherto looked upon as his friends; still, all but the worst characters acknowledged that the captain was an upright man, and that whatever he did, he would take no undue advantage of them.
Captain Askew sat in his room—the captain's room. It was known by no other name. He was a strongly-built man, with a fine open countenance, florid, or rather sunburnt, with blue eyes—Margery's were like them— and hair sprinkled thickly with frost. The loss of his leg had prevented him from taking much rapid exercise, and he had grown slightly stout in consequence, but he was still hale and active. Margery stood by his side watching his proceedings, and occasionally, when required, helping him in his work.
They were interrupted by Becky Bott, who put her head in at the door, saying, "Please, there's young master Stephen Ludlow a come to see you, Miss Margery, with a book he says." Having delivered her message, Becky popped her head out of the room.
"I don't like that Stephen Ludlow, father, and I wish that he wouldn't come here as he does," exclaimed Margery, pouting. "He never cared for dear Jack, and he has no right to come here, with his proud manners, sneering at everything, and thinking himself the most important person in all the country round."
"He is our landlord's son, little daughter, and it is our duty to treat him with attention," answered the captain. "I have not found his manner un-courteous, though, being an only son, he possibly is spoilt a little at home."
"He is spoilt a great deal, I suspect," cried Margery tossing her head in scorn.
"Well, well, ask him if he has a mind to stop to dinner, then tell him that you are engaged with me, and come back here," said the captain; "he will find means of amusing himself in the meantime."
Margery found Stephen in the sitting-room. He was a pale-faced boy, with irresolution marked on every lineament of his countenance; the curl of his lip, and a frown marked on his brow, were not pleasant traits. "I have brought this book for you, Margery, as I thought you would like it if you have never read it," he said, presenting a good thick volume, with a somewhat awkward manner.
Margery took it coldly, saying, "Thank you, I'll try and read it, but I have not much time to read by myself, as papa likes to be read to, and so does mamma of an evening when she is at work. Oh! by the by, I am to ask you to stop and dine, dinner will soon be ready, and you can amuse yourself in the meantime on the beach. As I think of it, it is really a pity that you should leave the book, I may never look into it."
"Oh! but this book is not like any other, it is full of adventure. All about a man living on a desert island, with a black called Friday, for I don't know how many years. If it isn't true, it ought to be, and so you'd better read it," said the boy, pressing the book on her.
Margery had become interested with the description of the work, and no longer refused to take it. She thanked Stephen more graciously than before, and, taking the book with her, hurried back to her father. Stephen was satisfied; he liked Margery and the captain, and Mrs Askew, better than most people, next to himself, and he thought that he could pass the hour till dinner-time to his satisfaction on the beach, in picking up shells and other sea curiosities. So, leaving his pony in a shed near the tower, which served as a stable, he strolled down to the shore.
The tide was unusually low, and on turning to the right as he faced the sea, he found that he could get along under the cliff on which the tower stood, by means of a narrow ledge of rock and sand. He had never been there before, and he thought that he should like to see how the cliff looked towering above him. He forgot the danger he was running, should the tide rise and cut off his retreat. He went on and on till he got completely under the cliff, and when he looked up it seemed to bend over above his head, and to reach up to the sky. The rocks were so wet that it was evident the tide had only just gone down, so he thought that he should have abundance of time to get further, and perhaps to get round, so as to climb up the cliff on the west side. Going on, as he happened suddenly to look up, he fancied that he saw, high above his head, a human face looking down on him out of the side of the cliff. He was startled—as well he might—for it seemed impossible that any one could get to the spot. When he looked again the face—if fact it was—had disappeared, and he saw nothing which he could have mistaken for a face. Still he went on; there was novelty in the expedition, and no apparent danger, of which he was not fond, and he thought that it could only be a very little way longer round. Again he was startled, but this time it was by a cry, and hastening on to the spot whence the sound came, he saw a young girl, in the dress worn by the children of the fishermen, holding on to a wet, seaweed-covered rock, on which she had fallen to save herself from slipping off into the water. He was not so devoid of good feeling as not to wish to help her, so he ran on, and taking one of her hands, he dragged her up and enabled her to reach a spot where the footing was more secure.
She thanked him simply but warmly, and then looking at him earnestly, she said, "You are young Master Ludlow, and I think this no place for you: so get back the way you came, or ill may come of it: there is time for you before the tide rises, but none to spare."
"Who are you?" said Stephen; "I don't know what you mean; I've done nothing to offend anybody."
"Who I am does not matter," answered the girl, "It's enough that you are the son of one who is trying to take the bread out of the mouths of poor folks who never harmed him."
This remark was sufficient to give Stephen a notion of what she meant, and being naturally timid, thanking her for her warning, he hurried back as fast as he could scramble over the rocks. He saw, indeed, that on account of the tide there was no time to lose, for the tops of several rocks which were before exposed were completely covered, and the ledge along which his path lay was becoming narrower and narrower. He began to get alarmed. It seemed a long way to the broad part of the beach. He could not swim. He wished he could, even a little, because he might then swim from rock to rock. He thought that he was very near the end, when the tide came gliding treacherously up, till the water touched the very base of the cliff before him. There was no retreat either backwards or up the cliff. The rocks on which he stood were evidently covered completely at half-flood, while by the marks on the cliff the water must reach far above his head at high tide. He ran on almost shrieking out with terror till the water completely barred his further progress. He stood trembling on a rock, not daring to plunge in and attempt to scramble across. It would have been better for him had he done so boldly at once, for every instant the water was deepening.
He was about to sink down in despair, when he heard a voice shouting to him. This roused him up, and he saw Tom Bowlby waving the stump of his arm, and standing on a rock not twenty yards off. "Jump in, young master, and come over to me, the water is not up to your middle yet, and it's all smooth sailing between you and me."
Still Stephen, paralysed with fear, would not obey, and at length Tom, losing patience, dashed into the water himself, and hooking him through the jacket by the iron hook which he had fixed to the end of his stump, dragged him across, not, however, without having to swim a short distance, and consequently giving poor Stephen a thorough wetting. They had two places of the same character to pass through, but by the exertions of Tom, Stephen, more frightened than hurt, was at length landed safely on the dry beach, and was able to accompany him on foot up to the tower. On their way Tom told him that he had seen him go down, and hearing from a fishwife the direction he had taken, he had come after him to bring him back. On his reaching the tower, Stephen was carried into a room which had never been used since its last occupant, poor Jack, had slept in it; and while his own clothes were drying, others were given him that he might appear at dinner. He guessed at once to whom they had belonged. Tears came into Mrs Askew's eyes when she saw him, and Margery treated him with more gentleness than she was accustomed to do, forsooth to say, she had generally very little patience with him, he was so far behind her idea of what a boy ought to be. She thanked him again for the book; she had read a few pages and found them very interesting, but would tell him more about her opinion when they next met, and she had read it through. Stephen described the appearance of the face in the cliff, and what the girl he had met had said to him. The captain seemed to think that the face might have been in his fancy, but he was puzzled to account for the girl being where he found her, and not wishing to accompany him, as it was evident that she must have known of some way up from the beach. The captain got a hint which he resolved to make use of as opportunity should occur.
Margery ran off as soon as dinner was over to read more of the book Stephen had lent her, and when she returned to the sitting-room to wish him good-bye, as he was about to leave on his return home, she told him that it was a delightful book, and that she was sure she should like it better than any she had ever read. Stephen did not appear at all the worse for his ducking and fright. Tom brought his pony round to the door, and as he helped him to mount, he advised him to hurry home.—"A storm's brewing, young gentleman, d'ye see, and a wetting with fresh water will do ye more harm than the one with salt ye got this forenoon," he remarked.
"I don't just want to be reminded of that," answered Stephen, in a tone which showed his annoyance. "But if there is rain coming, I think I had better."
"Put spurs to your pony, Master Ludlow, and get home as fast as you can," said the captain, who at that moment appeared at the door.
Stephen took the observation as a hint to him to be off, and he was too proud, fancying this, to return into the house as he was about to do.
"Ah!—he'll never be what our Jack was," sighed Tom, as Stephen rode off. Dark clouds were coming up thickly from the south-west, the advanced guard of a dense mass rising rapidly out of the horizon. Stephen, looking round occasionally to see if the clouds were likely to overtake him, galloped on down the steep path which led from the tower to the more level country over which his road lay. He had not gone far when the voice of some one from behind a hedge cried out, "Who goes there? Stop, I charge you!"
Stephen was at first not a little alarmed, but directly afterwards he saw Blind Peter, the pedlar, emerge from his concealment, led by his little dog. Stephen had known Blind Peter all his life, and as soon as he saw him he answered, "I am Stephen Ludlow. What do you want?"
"I warn you that you are in danger, young gentleman," said Blind Peter. "I have been waiting for you all the morning. I thought that I should know the tread of your pony's hoof, with your light weight on his back. Don't go back the way you came, or evil may come of it. Take the round by Fairleigh farm. Be advised, young sir, be advised."
Stephen was timid, but he was obstinate, and as the rain was likely soon to fall he was in a hurry to get home. He therefore was disinclined to believe Blind Peter. "For what can any one want to hurt me?" he asked.
"Ask your father, young sir. He may guess better than you can," replied Peter, "But, I say again, go by Fairleigh. Be advised. The round will not increase your ride by more than twenty minutes, and a wet jacket is of less consequence than a broken head."
At the mention of a broken head, Stephen turned pale. He remembered the warning he had from the girl in the morning, and he now no longer hesitated to take Blind Peter's advice. Scarcely, however, thanking the pedlar, he turned his pony's head down a road to the left, and galloped on at full speed.
"He's a poor-spirited creature, or he would have had a word of thanks, or may be a piece of silver for the poor blind man," said Peter to himself, shaking his head as he spoke, and then hastened on towards the tower. He had not gone far when down came the rain, driven by a heavy gale which dashed it furiously in his face. Still he struggled on, his faithful dog pulling at his leading-string to induce him to walk faster, the animal's instinct telling him that the storm had but commenced, and that it was increasing in strength.
Captain Askew had been watching the storm after Stephen left from the window of his room in the tower, occasionally sweeping the horizon with his glass, to see what vessels were passing up and down the Channel, and exposed to its rage. Then he returned to his work, in which he was much interested, and then he went back to the window again. At length he remained longer than he had before done at the window, earnestly looking through his glass. "She'll be lost to a certainty if they don't succeed in getting up jury-masts," he exclaimed. "No chance of that either, she's driving right ashore. She'll anchor, but the ground will not hold her. I must get some of our fellows to go off to her with me. They've courage enough, if they can be stirred up."
He was watching all this time a large ship, which, totally dismasted, was being driven towards the coast. He quickly put on his foul-weather-dress, as he called it, with water-proof boots, and a sou'-wester, and went to his wife's room. He put his head into the room and said, "Margaret, I am wanted out there. God protect you and Margery. I pray that I may be soon back—so will you, I know, dear wife—good-bye." He did not stay to say more, and before she could ask any questions he had hurried from the room.
Tom saw his master leaving the house. "I know what you're after," he said to himself, and with a rapidity which few but sailors can exercise, he had stepped into his rough-weather clothing, and was hurrying after him. Though the captain was superior to Tom in most things, Tom having two real legs, and the captain only one, Tom went over the ground the fastest, and soon caught him up. "You are not going without me, sir, I hope," said Tom, in a tone which showed that his feelings were deeply hurt. "Did you ever go without me, sir, where there was anything to be done, and the chance of a knock on the head?"
"No! Tom—but you see in this sort of work two hands are wanted, and you haven't got two, and that's the long and the short of it," answered the captain.
"One of them was lost in saving my life. I don't forget that either."
"That's nothing, sir," answered Tom. "If I haven't two hands, I've got a strong set of teeth, which are pretty well as useful as a hand; and who can say that my on arm isn't as good as the two arms of many a man."
"Not I, Tom, not I!" answered the captain; "but it's just this—if anything was to happen to me, what would my wife and child do without you, Tom, to look after them?"
Tom still, however, argued the point. They were walking as fast as the captain could move down to the beach. Suddenly the latter stopped, looked Tom full in the face, and said—"It's just this. Are you captain, or am I?"
"You, sir," answered Tom, touching his hat mechanically, as he was wont in the days of yore.
"Then stay, and do as I order you," said the captain, walking on. "But I'll tell you what, Tom; you may go and look out for volunteers, and then come and help to launch the boat."
The appearance of the captain at the boat was the signal for the inmates of the neighbouring huts to come out to know what he wanted. He showed them the ship driving towards the coast—urged them to come and help him save the lives of those on board; and when he saw that his appeal made but little impression, talked of the salvage money they would receive, and other recompense from those they might save, and from their friends. First one man volunteered—then another, and another, from various motives. Tom had collected more from other quarters, till a fine crew was formed. Once having said they would go, they were not the men to draw back; but they might have been excused had they done so, for it was very evident that the undertaking was one full of dangers of the most formidable character.
The boat, one of the finest of her class on the coast, and fitted with a double row of empty kegs on either side to give her buoyancy (one of the earliest attempts at a life boat), was now hauled up in a cove on the west side of the bay. The captain had ordered as many ropes as could be collected to be brought down. These were now coiled up carefully at the bow and stern, ready for immediate use. The oars were secured by ropes to the sides of the boat, so that they could not be washed away, but would swing fore and aft. "All ready, lads?" cried the captain, "Now altogether, shove, and off she goes!" The united strength of her crew, and some twenty other men, quickly launched her on the water of the comparatively sheltered bay. "Remember!" cried the captain, standing up in the stern-sheets, and looking back at Tom. "Shove off, lads! Give way! We shall be wanted out there before long."
Bravely the men bent to their oars. Not many minutes had passed when the boat got from under the shelter of the headland, and exposed to the full force of the storm. It seemed scarcely possible that a boat could live amidst the foaming, roaring seas which came rolling in towards the beach. Her head was put at them, and on she went—now hid from view by the seething mass of water—now reappearing on the summit of a wave. On she went, in the teeth of the gale—on—on—rising and falling, every instant in danger of being swallowed up by the fiercely-leaping seas. Many of those who stood on the beach, cried—"The Lord have mercy on them!"
THE WRECK—SAILORS' HUMANITY—THE NEGRO—THE YOUNG STRANGER.
Two persons were watching the storm and the progress of the solitary boat over the foaming water, from one of the windows of the old tower. Both, as they watched, were praying that He who rules the wind would protect the husband and the father, and those with him, from the dangers to which they were exposed. Mrs Askew looked through the telescope at the boat, a mere speck in the troubled ocean, till her eyes grew dim and her heart sank with anxiety, and she was compelled to relinquish her post to Margery.
The dismasted ship was some way to the south-west.
"The boat goes on bravely!" cried Margery.
"Now she is on the top of a wave—now she sinks into the trough—she is rising again though—yes, yes, there she is! But the ship—they will grieve to be too late; yet she is driving fearfully near those dark rocks! and I heard papa say that not a human being would escape from the ship that once strikes them."
"Heaven have mercy on them!" ejaculated Mrs Askew. "How many have mothers and sisters, or wives and daughters expecting them at home—poor people, poor people!"
"But perhaps the wind will change, and the ship may be driven along the coast and into the bay, and they may yet be saved!" exclaimed Margery, who was naturally more sanguine than her mother.
"I fear that there is no likelihood of that," said Mrs Askew. "See! the boat is still a long way off, and she makes but slow progress—while the ship is driven on to destruction with even greater speed than at first."
That the above remarks may be clearly understood, it should be mentioned that the ship was a considerable way to the west of Stormount Bay, and that she was driving almost directly on the coast, so that the boat, after pulling out some way to sea to get clear of the cape, had to steer almost parallel with the coast to cut off the ship, their courses being almost at right angles to each other. All the time, though they looked occasionally towards the ship, the eyes of either the mother or daughter were scarcely for a moment off the boat—difficult as it was to keep her in view. Often they gasped for breath, and their hearts sank within them, when she was concealed by the foaming waves; and more than once they could with difficulty refrain from crying out with agony of spirit as she remained longer than before hidden from view. Still, there she was; but as yet she had encountered only a portion of the dangers she had to go through; the greatest was in getting alongside the ship, and next to that was the return through the breakers which were dashing on the shore.
The brave men on board might venture on yet greater danger, should the ship strike, in attempting to go close to the wreck. Both Mrs Askew and Margery knew enough of the state of the case to be aware of this, for there was no lee side on which the boat could approach; and yet they knew that if the captain saw the faintest possibility of saving the lives of any of his fellow-creatures, he would make the attempt.
"I can still see the boat, mother—I can still see the boat!" cried Margery, when Mrs Askew, pale and trembling, had resigned the telescope to her daughter, unable longer to discern the boat, and tinder the belief that it had been overwhelmed by the seas. "She floats—she floats; but she is still a long way from the ship!"
"The ship! where is she?" exclaimed Mrs Askew. "I do not see her."
Both, without the glass, looked out in the direction where the big ship had just before been seen floating.
"Oh! mother, the ship is not there!" cried Margery.
"Gone! gone! is it so?" exclaimed Mrs Askew; "The Lord have mercy on those now struggling out there for their lives amid the raging waves!"
The ship had indeed gone down; and it seemed impossible that any but the strongest swimmers could keep afloat till the boat should reach the spot. Still they watched for an occasional glimpse of her, for they were certain that the captain would not return till he had been compelled to abandon all hope of saving life. Since he had gone out the rain had cleared off, but at the moment the ship disappeared a thick driving rain came sweeping on over the ocean, soon shutting out the boat from view. In vain the lady and her daughter waited till the veil of mist should clear off; and at length their anxiety became too great for endurance. They thought that Tom would come in to relieve this impatience, but he did not appear.
"Come, dearest, come! we must go down to the beach," said Mrs Askew, taking Margery's hand.
Their cloaks and hats were soon put on, and together they hastened down to the shore, where they saw a group of men, with Tom in the midst. In spite of the rain driving in their faces, they pressed on. The men were eagerly looking out over the sea. Some held coils of rope in their hands, others long poles, while Tom had fastened a number of cork net-floats together to form a life-buoy. They drew aside as they saw the lady and her daughter.
"No fear, marm!" exclaimed Tom, when he observed their alarmed looks. "We doesn't think anything has happened to the captain, do you see, but it's just as well to be ready for whatever does happen, and there's no saying what that may be."
So poor Mrs Askew and Margery thought; and they were thankful that their friends were making such preparations, as seemed to them, for the worst. Indeed, they might well do so. The huge billows came rolling in towards the shore, breaking with a loud roar on the beach into masses of foam, and then rolling back again, looking as if it must sweep off everything it might encounter. Mrs Askew found that some parties of men had gone along the coast to the eastward with ropes, on the possibility of some of the wreck driving on shore in that direction, for they were not aware that the ship had gone down, the mist having come on almost at the moment of the catastrophe. Some of them shook their heads behind the lady's back when they heard of it. The captain would be tempted to go looking about round the spot till darkness should come on, and then the return on shore would be doubly hazardous. One thing was certain, that he would select the spot where they were for running in the boat, as it was the only one for miles along the coast affording the slightest chance of safety. This was owing to its being sheltered by the cape from the south-west, a small bay being formed within the bay. Still the sea rolled in even there with great force, and the landing was an undertaking of great difficulty and risk. Mrs Askew heard the men say that in one respect the boat would gain by the delay, as the tide was on the point of turning, and would set up Channel with the wind, thus enabling her to return more speedily, while the sea might not possibly break so much as it had hitherto been doing. Tom wanted Mrs Askew and Margery to return to the tower; but, though the rain pelted down, and the wind blew against them so that they could scarcely stand, they persisted in awaiting the expected return of the boat.
Now the mist cleared off a little; they peered anxiously out, but no boat was to be seen. Now it settled down thicker than ever, and all they could see was billow after billow crested with foam come rolling in, and breaking with loud roars on the beach, making the very ground beneath their feet tremble. They stood with their hands clasped together, Margery partly sheltered by her mother's cloak. As they could see but a short distance, they listened the more attentively, in the hope of hearing some sound which might give them notice of the approach of the boat. At length Margery started, and bent forward; either her quick ears had distinguished a shout amid the roar of the waters, or she fancied that she heard one. She waited for some time. "Oh! yes, mother, it is—it is! I hear a voice—it is papa's! He is shouting! He is telling the men to do something! I know it is him!" exclaimed Margery, darting forward. Was it the little girl's fancy, or not? Surely not her fancy, though no one else heard the voice.
Suddenly the mist again for an instant cleared away, and revealed the boat on the summit of a billow, close in with the shore. Now is the time for the men on the beach to exert themselves if they will save the lives of their friends, though the risk of losing their own is very great. The strongest secure the ropes round their waists, and prepare to rush into the sea that they may seize the boat as she touches the beach, before the sea can draw her back again or those in her.
On comes the boat—the captain steers her with consummate skill; the brave crew exert themselves to the utmost, yet with difficulty can they prevent her from being turned broadside to sea, and rolled over on the beach. Those who are watching hold their breath with anxiety. Margery and her mother stand trembling. Tom can do but little except hold on to the end of one of the ropes. The boat draws nearer—then down she comes. The sea follows, ready to sweep all out of the boat, as if disappointed of its prey; but those on shore each grasp a man. Tom seizes his master with his hook, and drags him up the beach. Others attend to the boat. She is quickly hauled up, and all are safe. Margery and her mother were soon in the captain's arms: they were recompensed for all they had suffered by seeing him safe. But where were those they had gone out to rescue? Were none preserved? Yes! one person had been discovered alone, of the numbers who had been on board the ship—a black boy, but he could speak but a few words of English, and could give no account of the ship.
The captain, with his wife and daughter, and Tom leading the young stranger, now hurried up towards the tower. The captain stopped, however, for a moment before he went. "Thank ye, lads, for what you've done!" he said; "it was your best, and you could do no more; and one life saved is better than none. As soon as you've shaken yourselves dry, come up to the tower, and such fare as I can offer you I'll give it gladly."
"Thank ye, sir, thank ye!" answered the crew of the boat, "we'll come by and by, if it's only to drink yours and the missus's health."
Before entering the tower, the captain gave a glance over the ocean. The mist had again cleared off completely, and his keen eye discovered far out a small object—what it was he could not determine. He pointed it out to his daughter. Throwing off her wet cloak, she hurried to the telescope, that she might ascertain what the object was. She looked eagerly, as it was, probably, she thought, a part of the wreck. After watching it a short time, it became evident to her that it was being drifted by the tide and wind towards the shore. She called her father, who by this time had put on his dry clothes. He asked her to point out the spot where she had first seen it. "Yes—yes, it may possibly drift into the bay!" he exclaimed; "but it will be midnight before it can reach the shore. I must go out, however, and set men to watch, for it is large enough to support a dozen or more people, though it is scarcely possible that they should have clung on in that heavy sea out there."
Once more the Captain and Tom, habited in their foul-weather clothes, repaired to the beach. Darkness was coming on, and the object they were in search of was only for an instant at a time visible as it rose to the foaming summit of a wave. It however remained long enough in sight to enable them to point it out to the men at the huts, several of whom agreed to remain with the captain and Tom on the shore, with ropes, to assist any one by chance clinging to the piece of wreck.
Again Mrs Askew and Margery were left in a state of anxiety, for they knew the danger that must be run in the attempt to draw a person out of such a raging sea. Margery insisted on running down to take her father some food—for he had had none since dinner—and, of course, Becky offered to go, but at that moment Blind Peter came to the door, and he undertook to convey some supper for the captain and Tom; and the black boy, seeming to comprehend the matter, begged by signs to be allowed to accompany him, and to carry the baskets. To Blind Peter day and night were the same, and with every inch of the ground he was well acquainted, so that he had no difficulty in finding the captain and his companions— guided to them by the sound of their voices. Blind Peter was recompensed for his want of sight by the most acute sense of hearing. Accustomed also to be out in all weathers, he cared nothing for the pelting of the storm, or for the clouds of spray which beat over those who stood on the beach, and expressed his intention of remaining till the piece of wreck should reach the shore.
"Then you must share with us the provender you have brought, friend Peter," said the captain, taking a seat on some rocks rather more out of the reach of the spray than where they had been standing. Some lighted their pipes, and others produced bottles of spirits from their pockets, and, being all of them well clothed to resist the weather, they made themselves as comfortable as circumstances would allow. Occasionally, one or two got up and ran along the beach, to try to ascertain if the wreck could be seen. Suddenly, Blind Peter started up, exclaiming, "I hear something floating on the water! There is a voice, too, faint, calling for help."
The captain, and Tom, and the other men, with their ropes, hurried after Peter along the beach. He stopped, pointing over the sea. The moon, which had hitherto been obscured, at that moment broke forth from behind a cloud, and revealed a small raft floating among the breakers. Again the moon was hidden by the cloud, and then once more it appeared, and this time the raft was seen more distinctly, and on it appeared a human form, grasping the planks firmly with one hand as he lay along then he waved the other to show that he was alive. No sooner was he seen than the agitation of the young black became very great; and taking the end of a rope from one of the men, he fastened it round his own body, and intimated that he would swim off with it to the raft. There was no time to be lost, for any moment the lad—for lad he evidently was—might be swept off by the breakers, or the raft might be thrown violently on the shore, and he crushed beneath it. The captain and Tom also fastened ropes round their waists, as sailors well know how to do, and rushed into the surf to help the brave black boy. The raft came on towards them; the black boy sprang on it, and seized the lad, who seemed at that moment to have lost all consciousness. An instant longer, and he would have been swept away. The receding waters rushed back with the raft. The black boy, though an excellent swimmer, could scarcely support his friend as those on shore hauled him in, when the captain and Tom rushed to his aid. The captain stuck his timber-toe in the sand, Tom caught the stranger's jacket with his iron hook, and all three brought him at length safely up the beach out of the reach of the surf, which came hissing after them as if angry at the loss of its prey.
"Now, lads, carry him up among you to the tower; a warm bed and some hot grog is what the lad now wants!" cried the captain, who possibly felt that it was high time for himself to get to a warm bed, for he was not so strong as he had been, and he had gone through great exertions.
It was too evident, that if the raft had had more occupants, the lad was the only survivor. The light of the moon, as it shone on him as the seamen bore him up to the tower, showed that he was dressed in a sea officer's uniform jacket, such as is worn by midshipmen—to which rank, from his youth, it seemed probable that he belonged. Tom had hurried on before, so that when the party arrived, Mrs Askew, Margery, and Becky, were busily preparing and warming Jack's bed for the young stranger. The warmth and rubbing soon brought him to consciousness; but Mrs Askew, observing his exhausted condition, would not let him speak to give any account of himself until he had had some sleep, without which it was evident that food would do him but little good. The captain pretended to be very indignant at being popped into bed as soon as he got home, "like a little boy who had tumbled into the water," he said; but he was not sorry to drink a glass of hot grog which Margery brought him, after which he fell fast asleep.
Mrs Askew watched by the side of the young sailor lad, who now also slept soundly. She thought of her own dear boy, who might have been as this lad was—washed ashore on some strange land; and as she would have wished him to have been treated, so she desired to treat the young stranger. He was older than Jack would now be—stouter and fairer—not like him, indeed, except in possessing an honest and innocent countenance. She did not for a moment suppose that he was her own boy come back to her, and yet, as she watched him, her heart strings began strangely to coil round him, and she felt that he could never be a stranger to her. She was sure that he would be worthy of her regard— judging by the expression of his countenance—this opinion being strengthened by hearing of the affection shown to him by the young negro. She sat up with some food ready to give him when he should awake, and it was not till daybreak, after he had taken it, that she would allow Becky to take her place. When she opened the door she found the black boy coiled up close to it, on a rug. He had left the snug bed provided for him that he might be near the lad, to whom he was evidently attached.
Margery was the first of the family on foot; she longed to hear more about the young stranger, but he was still asleep, and there was no one else to tell her—the black boy was about, but he could not exchange many words with her—so, to employ the time, they looked through the telescope to ascertain if any more pieces of the wreck were floating about near the shore, but nothing was to be seen. The wind had considerably abated, and the sun was shining brightly on the sparkling waves; though she could not forget that they danced over the graves of so many of her fellow-creatures who that time the day before were full of life and strength, and that probably the only survivors were the black boy and the young lad, now sleeping safely in the tower, who had been on the last night washed ashore.
CHARLEY BLOUNT—PETER A PRISONER—TRUSTY'S ASSISTANTS—IN HIDING.
"I want to know your name and all about you," said Margery, addressing the young stranger, who, having eaten a very good breakfast, and obtained permission to use his tongue, had had his clothes dried, and having dressed in them, looked every inch a midshipman, and spoke like one also.
"Why, you see, Miss Margery, for I understand that is what you are called, that matter is quickly settled. My name is Charles, or rather Charley Blount. My father and mother are dead, and I was sent away early to sea, and have been at sea ever since, and as I am very fond of it I know more about it than most lads of my age. I was on my fifth voyage home from India in the 'Durham Castle,' and expected before long to become a mate, when just in the chops of the Channel, our rigging being slack, we lost all our masts, and at the same time the ship sprung a leak. We little knew how bad it was, but instead of getting up jury-masts, with which we might have steered the ship up Channel, the crew were compelled to work at the pumps; but the leaks gained on us, and so the poor old ship went down, with upwards of a hundred people on board."
"Dreadful!" exclaimed Margery. "But how did you escape from the ship?"
"A few of us, when we found that nothing could save the ship, hurriedly put together a small raft, but very few of the rest seemed inclined to venture on it. Just as the ship was going down I sprang on to it with five others; they lost their hold, and were washed off; I retained mine, and was washed on shore, and now I think that I have told you all about myself that you will care to know."
"Oh no! not by half!" answered Margery. "I want to know why the black boy is so much attached to you, and how it was that papa when he picked him up did not see you?"
"That I can easily account for," answered Charley, "as the ship went down a thick fog came on, and I had drifted by up Channel; that is to say, nearly east, before the boat coming more from the north had reached the spot; and as to honest, faithful Crambo, I once upon a time picked him out of the water as he last night helped to pick me out, and he has ever since stuck by me, and I assure you that I value his friendship."
"Oh yes! I can easily understand that," said Margery. "I am reading about a very interesting person, a great traveller, who had a black servant called Friday, and they lived together on a desert island for a long time—it must have been very delightful—but at last they got away. I have not read the book through yet, but when I have I will tell you more about it, and perhaps Stephen Ludlow will lend it to you. I will ask him, for I am sure that you will like it."
"Perhaps I may have read it, Miss Margery, already," said Charley, smiling. "If it is the 'Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,' I have."
"Yes, yes! that is the very book!" exclaimed Margery, "how could you guess so quickly?"
"Because I know of no other book with a man Friday in it, or one so interesting," said Charley; "but I must tell you one thing. Friday is always spoken of as a black, but that is a mistake, as the inhabitants of all the islands in the part of the Pacific where Robinson Crusoe is supposed to have been wrecked are light brown people; some are very light. Many of them are civilised, and have become Christians, but in those days they were perfect savages, and some of them were cannibals."
"How dreadful!" exclaimed Margery. "But have you been out in those seas?"
"Yes!" answered the midshipman, "I once came home that way, and we touched at several islands. They are very beautiful, and I should much like to go out there again."
"So should I," said Margery, and she sighed. She would like to have told him all about Jack, but he was as yet too great a stranger to her to allow her to speak to him on a subject which was to her almost sacred, so she said nothing; she did not even tell him that she had had a brother Jack, who had gone to sea and been lost.
Charley Blount soon became a great favourite of the inmates of the Tower, as also with most of the neighbours. His history seemed a sad one, and yet he was as merry and happy a fellow as ever lived. He had but few friends on whom he had any claim, and they were in India; the only one he had had in England, an aunt, was dead. She was the sister of his father—a maiden lady of true piety, who had indeed instructed him in the way he should go, and Charley Blount had not departed from it. This was the reason he was so merry and happy. His happiness was within himself. Captain Askew delighted in him. He seemed to him what his own boy would have been, and it was with inward satisfaction he heard that he had no friends in England to whom he could go.
"Then, Charley, you must make this old Tower your home, as long as you can keep off the salt water," he answered. "We are grave, old-fashioned people, but we'll do our best to make your stay with us pleasant."
Charley assured his friends that he knew when he was in good quarters, and that he should be in no hurry to go away. It naturally occurred to the captain that his young guest would like a companion occasionally, so he sent a note inviting Stephen Ludlow to come over and spend a day at the tower, hoping also that Mr Ludlow would invite Charley in return.
Margery was very anxious to see Stephen to thank him for his book, and to tell him how much she liked it. An idea had also occurred to her which she proposed broaching to him on the first opportunity.
Blind Peter was the general messenger as well as the purveyor of small wares in the neighbourhood, and as he happened to call that day, Becky took the captain's note down to him to carry.
"It's just to ask the young master at Ludlow to come over for a day," she observed, as she gave it to him.
"Then just, Becky, do you give him a hint not to wander away from the Tower while he is here, and tell him to go back by the way he went the last time, mind that," said Peter.
"I'll do as you tell me, Master Peter," answered Becky. "But what's in the wind that makes you say that? You know I am not a woman to go and prattle about other people's affairs, but I should just like to know, that I should, Master Peter."
Blind Peter turned his sightless orbs towards Becky, while a smile played round his lips.
"I'll tell you what, Becky," he answered, "there's an old saying, that a secret is no longer a secret if it's in the keeping of more than one person; so, do ye see, I think as I've got it I'd better keep it. Not but what I own that you are a right sensible woman, Mistress Becky, and it's for your good as much as for my own that I don't tell it to you."
Becky was not satisfied, but she knew Peter of old, and that, as she said of him, "he was as close as wax, and if he was determined not to do a thing no mortal power could make him do it." She made up her mind to abide her time, in the hope that after all she might discover the secret. Blind Peter having received the note, set off on his journey, promising to deliver it either that night or the following morning.
Peter's reception at the hall was always very different to that at the tower, yet he did not refuse the crust of bread and mug of water offered to him at the former, but meekly took it, and went on his way with a thankful heart. On this occasion, having delivered the note at the hall, and finding that both Mr Ludlow and his son were out, he continued his journey. It was towards evening, as he was within a mile or so of the little public-house, near the coast, at which he intended to sleep, that he was overtaken by a man in a cart.
"Ah, Peter! is that you?" said the driver. "Just get in, and I'll put you and your dog and your wares down wherever you may wish to stop."
"Thank you for your offer, Dick Herring—for I know you by your voice,— but my legs are well accustomed to carry me; and they'll do so as long as I need their services, I hope."
"Oh, nonsense, man; there's a storm brewing, and you'll be wet to the skin, if you keep to your legs; but just do you get in, and I'll whisk you along to your journey's end in no time," answered Dick Herring.
"That's kind of you, Dick, anyhow," said Peter; "but as to the storm, I don't feel as if one was coming, and I'm not often deceived."
"Just now you are, though, depend on't, mate. Come, step in, I want to do you a service, and it isn't the like of me that would do you a harm," said Herring, in a persuasive tone.
Peter, who was in reality very tired from his long walk, was glad to have a lift, and his doubts as to Herring's intentions, which from certain circumstances known to him he entertained, having been quieted, he stepped up to the cart to get in. In an instant he felt himself lifted up by strong arms, and placed on a seat next to another man who had not before spoken, and the cart drove on at a rapid rate.
In vain he begged that poor old Trusty might be lifted in with him. "The dog has four legs, and can run as fast as the horse; we can't stop for him," said the man, in a gruff and feigned voice, though Peter thought that he recognised it as that of a notorious smuggler living not far off.
"I told you, Peter, that I'd whisk you along pretty quickly over the road, and I am doing so, you'll allow," observed Herring, in a tone which the blind man did not like, but he said nothing. He was, however, after some time, convinced that they had gone much farther than the two miles which he calculated would take him to the inn where he had proposed sleeping. He became aware, too, that the cart had altered its direction, by the feeling of the wind on his face. On they went at a rapid rate for some time, when Peter inquired why they were conveying him from the place to which he wished to go.
"We've a good reason, Master Peter," answered Dick Herring, in a still more disagreeable tone than before; "you know a thing or two more than you ought to know, and we intend to keep you out of harm's way for a day or two; and that's the fact, if it pleases you to know it."
Peter was aware that expostulation was useless, so he resigned himself to his fate, believing that Herring, though a daring smuggler and utterly lawless, would do him no personal harm. He felt the cart go up and down several rough places, and he was certain that it doubled several times, and had made a full circuit more than once. The object of the smugglers, it was evident, was to mislead him and to make him suppose that he had gone a long distance. He kept his own counsel, however, and in a short time the cart stopped, and he was told to get out. He called Trusty to come and lead him, but no Trusty came.
"The dog couldn't quite keep up with us, and maybe he has lost his way," said Herring. "But never do you mind, Peter, I'll lead you; here, take my arm."
Poor Peter did as he was directed, and then he found himself going up some very rough stone steps, and then he knew by the change of air that he had been led through a doorway into a room, and that there were people in it, though they did not speak; and then Dick led him into another room, and told him to sit down on a chair, and that he must make up his mind to remain there for some days to come, and that if he promised to be quiet and to behave well, he should be well treated. Saying this, the smuggler walked out of the room, and bolted the door behind him.
Peter immediately got up and felt about the room. It contained, he ascertained, a low pallet bed, a table and a chair, and had a small lattice window, with a bar across it; but it was so small that even without the bar he could scarcely have got through it had he wished. He opened the window gently. He could hear the sough of the sea on the beach, far down below him. "I thought as much," he said to himself, "they have brought me to old Dame Herring's cottage, upon Eastdown Cliff. I was here as a boy more than once, and could find my way from it easy enough, if I had Trusty's help to keep me from any pits or holes dug of late. I know the reason why this has been done. They suspect that I know what I do know, and perhaps more, and they want to keep me out of the way till they have carried out their undertaking. However, they might have treated me worse; so I'll not complain, but try and take matters easily."
Saying this he took off his wallet and the knapsack which contained his wares, and threw himself at his length on the bed, intending to go to sleep. He had not lain there very long when the door opened and some person looked in, and placing something on the table retired again, bolting the door. In a short time several people came into the larger room, most of whom Peter knew by their heavy tread were men in large boots.
"Well! Mother Herring, do you promise us success in our venture, we've been waiting long enough for it?" said one of the new comers in a gruff voice.
"If you do as I bid you this time you will succeed," answered an old woman, whom by her cracked, harsh voice, Peter, even had she not been named, would at once have recognised. "But, as I before told you, if you want to make all secure, get hold of the son of old Ludlow. He dotes on the boy, and you would have the father in your power, if you could get hold of the son."
"So we should, long ago, if it hadn't been for blind Peter; howsomedever, we can keep him quiet for some time."
"I mind the time before the captain came to the Tower, the matter was much more easier than it now is," said an old man, whom Peter knew as a daring smuggler all his life. "That was a first-rate place, I believe you."
"Then why not get rid of the captain and his family?" croaked out old Mother Herring; "what business has he to come interfering with people's rights?"
"More easily said, Mother Herring, than done," exclaimed another of the party. "The captain is a tough old bird, not to be driven from his perch in a hurry."
"Ha! ha! ha! May be I'll put you up to a trick or two, my sons, that'll make the place too hot to hold him," croaked out the old woman. "Just you be guided by me, and all will go right, depend on that;" and she gave way to a fit of laughter which almost choked her.
Peter did not hear more of consequence just then, but he had heard enough to show him that the smugglers were prepared to run a cargo of contraband goods on the coast, and in case of failure they wished to get young Stephen Ludlow into their power, that they might make terms with his father. Had it not been for Peter, who had been long aware of their object, they might ere this have accomplished it, and he now guessed that they had discovered that it was owing to him that they had not hitherto succeeded. At length Peter, being very tired from his long walk, to sleep. He had a notion that the people in the next room were taking supper, and indulging in a carouse, of the materials for which their calling afforded them an ample supply.
The smugglers were drinking when Peter went to sleep, and when he again woke some were still at the table, and talking loudly and wildly, though others had, apparently overcome by the liquor, dropped off to sleep. They spoke as men do when the wine is in their heads, without fear or caution. The wildest proposals were made to carry out their objects. One man suggested that if they could get rid of their two principal opponents, Mr Ludlow and Captain Askew, they would have no one to interfere with them. The idea was taken up by others, who did not scruple to talk of murder; though, tipsy as they were, when they spoke of so awful a deed, they sank their voices so low that Peter did not clearly hear all they said. His ear, however, caught one or two ominous expressions, such as—"over the cliff," "sink him out at sea," "entice him from the house," "the sooner the better." These words convinced him that the speakers would not scruple to commit the most atrocious crime if they fancied it would advance their interests. They made him also very anxious to get away to warn those who were threatened of their danger.
But how to get away was the question. He might fancy that no one was observing him, and yet be watched the whole time. One thing he hoped was that Herring and his associates, trusting to his blindness, fancied that he did not know where he had been carried to, and that he could not possibly get away. By degrees the speakers dropped off, and the loud snores which came from the room showed that the occupants were mostly asleep. He hoped that all might be so. Considering what he should do kept him broad awake. He had not remained so long, when his attention was drawn to a scratching under the window. The night was warm, and the lattice had been left open. He went to the window and put out his hand, and directly he did so he felt it licked by the tongue of his faithful Trusty. He put down his hand still further, and calling the animal by name, it leaped up and he was able to drag it in. Poor Trusty showed his delight at meeting his master by jumping up and licking his face and hands all over. "But can you help me out of this, good Trusty?" said Peter, whispering in the dog's ear.
Trusty, as if he understood the meaning, immediately went to the window, and leaped up on the sill.
"He thinks that I can get out," said Peter to himself. "He is seldom wrong—I will try." Suiting the action to the word, he put his head out between the bars. "Where my head can go my body can follow, but my body must go first just now."
After twisting his body a variety of ways, he worked his way between the bars, to which he held on while he lowered himself to the ground. The leading-string was still attached to Trusty's collar, and taking it in his hand, he said, "Go on, Trusty." Trusty, pulling hard, led the way, as if he was conscious that there was danger in delay, and Peter set off as fast as he could venture to move.
No sound came from the cottage, and he had every reason to hope that he should completely effect his escape. Trusty, that good sagacious dog, worthy of his name, pulled on as if he well knew that it was important to leave old Dame Herring's cottage far behind before daybreak. Peter decided on going first to the tower, that he might consult with the captain, to whom he knew he could speak as to a friend. Should he go to Mr Ludlow, he was afraid that the magistrate would perhaps immediately send off to Dame Herring's Cottage, and attempt to apprehend the whole body of smugglers. "If he does, what will be the advantage? None at all. I know what I heard, but I cannot swear to the voices of any one of them and they will all escape, and revenge themselves on me; not that I care for that if I can do others a service, but it's hard to suffer and do no good to any one."
The captain was an early riser. He had scarcely been a minute on foot when he heard blind Peter knocking at the door. Peter was admitted, and his story soon told. "I will consider what is to be done, and will give due warning to Mr Ludlow," answered the captain. "But one thing is certain, Peter, that you must lie by for a while, and take up your abode in the tower. The ruffians would treat you with little ceremony if they were to catch you as you were wandering about the country, but they would scarcely venture to molest you while you are here—indeed, there is no reason that they should know that you are here."
There was a small vacant room on the ground-floor of the Tower—into this the captain conducted Peter, and told him that he must consider himself a prisoner there till the smugglers were captured or driven out of the country, and it was safe for him again to go out by himself. He promised him, however, that he should not be without visitors, and that Margery and Charley Blount should come and read to him.
Captain Askew, having made these arrangements for the safety of the poor blind man, considered how he could warn Mr Ludlow of the danger threatening Charley Blount was the best messenger he could select. The hall was nine miles off, but Charley said that the distance was nothing, and that he would be there and back by dinner-time; so having received his instructions he set off, with a stout stick in his hand, in high spirits, observing that should the smugglers wish to stop him, they would have to run very fast before he was caught.
HOPES—THE SAILOR'S STORY—THE SMUGGLERS—GUESTS AT THE TOWER—GHOSTS.
About an hour after Charley Blount had left the Tower, Stephen Ludlow trotted up on his pony, not having met the young sailor on the way. He said that he had come over early, to spend the day, and that if he was asked to sleep he might do so. Of this the captain was very glad as he did not wish him to run the risk of going back alone, and at the same time he had not sufficient confidence in his discretion to tell him what he had learned from Blind Peter; so he said, "I am very glad to receive you, my young friend; but I must exact a promise that you will not go beyond the open beach, or the downs in sight of the windows of the Tower, unless with Tom or me. I have my reasons, which I need not mention now."
Stephen thought this rather odd, but as he wished to stay, he readily gave the required promise. Margery had for some time been wishing to see him, to talk to him about the book he had lent her, and which she had now read completely through.
"Oh, Stephen!" she exclaimed, when she saw him, "it is such a delightful book. I have never read anything I have liked half so much. It has given me an idea—but I cannot talk to you about it here. You must come out on the beach, and we will sit on a rock and look out over the sea, and then I shall be able to say all I wish."
So they went out together, and easily found a spot to suit Margery's taste.
"Well, Margery, what is it that you have to tell me about my old book?" said Stephen, in a tone which would have told her, had she not been herself so engrossed in her subject, that she was not likely to have a very sympathising hearer.
"Pray do not speak of it in that way, Stephen," she answered. "It's a dear, delightful book, at all events; and since I read it I have been thinking more than ever of dear Jack. You know that he went away in a ship to the Pacific Ocean, and the ship was wrecked, just as Robinson Crusoe's was, and though he was not a supercargo, he was a midshipman, and I don't suppose there is much difference; and at all events, if Robinson Crusoe was saved, and lived on a desert island for many years, though everybody else in the ship was lost, why should not dear Jack have been cast on some island, and be still alive, though not able to get away, or I am sure that he would, and would come home and tell us all about it; for he knows how we all love him and think about him every day."
"What a strange idea!" said Stephen, somewhat coldly. "I thought that it was settled that Jack was dead long ago. Do you really believe that he is alive?"
"Of course I do," answered Margery, with some little impatience in her tone; "it was only those who don't care about him settled that he was dead. I have always, always, been sure that he is alive, over the sea there, a long, long way off; but he will come back when we can send for him."
"Very strange!" muttered Stephen. "But what, Mrs Margery, would you have me do?"
"Stephen, you knew dear Jack well," she answered, fixing her large blue eyes on him; "you used to call him your friend, and friends ought to help each other. If I was a boy, whether or not I was Jack's brother— if I was his friend,—I know what I would do: I would go out and look for him."
"But where would you look?" asked Stephen. "The Pacific is a very wide place, even on the map; and I have a fancy that in reality it is wider still. There are many, many islands no one knows anything of."
"Ah! that is the very thing I have been thinking of," exclaimed Margery. "I am certain that Jack is living on one of those very islands."
"How can you, Margery, be certain of any such thing?" said Stephen, in his usual cold tone, which contrasted curiously with the enthusiastic manner of little Margery.
"How can you ask that question, Stephen?" she exclaimed, half angry that he should venture to doubt the correctness of her most cherished belief. "Robinson Crusoe was wrecked on a desert island and so Jack may be, and I want you to go and look for him, and bring him home! There! I will not be refused! You are old enough and big enough to go,—bigger than Jack was—and you have plenty of money; and your papa always lets you do just what you like, so you say; and besides, you often speak to me of Jack as your old friend; and if he was your friend I ask you to prove it by bringing him home."
When Stephen heard this he first thought that Margery was joking, but the matter was too serious for that; then the idea occurred to him that she had gone out of her mind; but she looked so calm, and quiet, and earnest, that he banished it immediately, and promised to think over her proposal, and speak to his father. He, however, very well knew the answer his father would give, and he himself had no wish to go wandering about the world in search of one for whom he cared but little. Had Margery known what was passing in his mind how she would have despised him. But she did not; she fancied that he must be as enthusiastic as she herself was, and that it was only necessary to mention her idea for him to take it up warmly. She therefore was prepared to wait patiently, under the belief that Stephen would soon be able to give a favourable answer to her request.