The Lost Middy: Being the Secret of the Smugglers' GapGeorge Manville Fenn
Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England
The Lost Middy, being the Secret of the Smugglers' Gap, by GeorgeManville Fenn.
This is yet another tension-packed teenagers' novel from the pen of G.Manville Fenn. The hero is a sixteen-year-old called Aleck, who is anorphan being brought up by his uncle, whose main interest in life iswriting a book of history. They live by the sea, and Aleck's greatpleasure is to take his little sailing boat along the coast, often inthe company of a pensioned-off man-o'-war's man, called Tom Bodger.They get involved with a press-gang raid by one of HM sloops, which isaccompanied by a revenue cutter. Some of the men of the neighbouringhamlets are taken by the press-gang, but a middy from the sloop is alsotaken by the local smugglers, and hidden in the very cave where theynormally hide their spoils.
Unfortunately Aleck also stumbles on the track of the smugglers, andgets shut up in the same cave. Both entrances of the cave are blockedup. There is no possible escape. NH
THE LOST MIDDY, OR THE SECRET OF THE SMUGGLERS' GAP, BY GEORGE MANVILLEFENN.
There was a loud rattling noise, as if money was being shaken up in abox. A loud crashing bang, as if someone had banged the box down on atable. A rap, as if a knife had been dropped. Then somebody, in apetulant voice full of vexation and irritability, roared out:
And that's exactly how it was, leaving Aleck Donne, who looked aboutsixteen or seventeen, scratching vigorously at his crisp hair as he satback, with his elbows resting upon those of the big wooden arm-chair,staring at the money-box before him.
"I call it foolishness," he said, aloud, talking, of course, to himself,for there was no one else in the comfortable room, the window of whichopened out upon the most quaint garden ever seen. "It's all right tosave up your money in a box and keep on dropping it through a slit; buthow about getting it out? Here, I'll go and smash the stupid old thingup directly on the block in the wood-shed."
But instead of carrying out his threat, he leaned forward, picked up thecurved round-ended table-knife he had dashed down, seized the money-boxagain, shook it with jingling effect, held it upside down above hiseyes, and began to operate with the knife-blade through the narrow slitin the centre of the lid.
For a good quarter of an hour by the big old eight-day clock in thecorner did the boy work away, shaking the box till some coin or anotherwas over the slit, and then operating with the knife-blade, trying andtrying to get the piece of money up on edge so that it would dropthrough; and again and again, as the reward of his indefatigableperseverance, nearly succeeding, but never quite. For so sure as hepushed it up or tilted it down, the coin made a dash and glided away,making the drops of perspiration start out on the boy's forehead, andforcing him into a struggle with his temper which resulted in hisgaining the victory again, till that thin old half-crown was coaxed wellinto sight and forced flat against the knife-blade. The boy then beganto manipulate the knife with extreme caution as he kept on making a softpurring noise, _ah-h-h-h-ha_! full of triumphant satisfaction, while abig curled-up tabby tom-cat, which had taken possession of the fellowchair to that occupied by Aleck, twitched one ear, opened one eye, andthen seeing that the purring sound was only a feeble imitation, went offto sleep again.
"Got you at last!" muttered the lad. "Half a crown; just buy all Iwant, and--bother!" he yelled, and, raising the box on high with bothhands, he dashed it down upon the slate hearth with all his might.
Temper had won this time. Aleck had suffered a disastrous defeat, andhe sat there with his forehead puckered up, staring at the cat, which atthe crash and its accompanying yell made one bound that carried it on tothe sideboard, where with glowing eyes, flattened ears, arched back, andbottle-brush tail, it stood staring at the disturber of its rest.
"Well, I am a pretty fool," muttered Aleck, starting out of his chairand listening for a few moments before stealing across the room to openthe door cautiously and thrust out his head.
There was no sound to be heard, and the boy re-closed the door and wentback to the hearth.
"I wonder uncle didn't hear," he muttered, stooping down. "I've done itnow, and no mistake."
As he spoke he picked the remains of the broken box from inside thefender.
"Smashed!" he continued. "Good job too. Shan't have any more of thatbother. How much is there? Let's see!"
There was a small fire burning in the old-fashioned grate, and with agrim look the boy finished the destruction of the money-box by tearingit apart at the dovetailings and placing the pieces on the fire, wherethey caught at once, blazing up, while the lad hunted out and picked upthe coins which lay scattered here and there.
"Three--four--five--and sixpence," muttered the boy. "I thought therewas more than that. Hullo! Where's that thin old half-crown? Haven'tthrown it on the fire, have I? Oh, there you are!" he cried, ferretingit out of the fleeces of the thick dark-dyed sheepskin hearth-rug at hisfeet. "Eight shillings," he continued, transferring his store to hispocket. "Well, I'm not obliged to spend it all. Money-box! Bother!I'm not a child now. Just as if I couldn't take care of my money in mypocket."
He gave the place a slap, turned to the window, looked out at the softfleecy clouds gliding overhead, and once more made for the door, crossedthe little hall paved with large black slates, and then bounded up theoak stairs two at a time, to pause on the landing and give a sharpknuckle rap on the door before him; then, without waiting for a "Comein," he entered, to stand, door in hand, gazing at the top of a bigshaggy grey head, whose owner held it close to the sheets of foolscappaper which he was covering with writing in a bold, clear hand.
"Want me, uncle?"
The head was raised, and a pair of fierce-looking eyes glared at theinterrupter of the studies from beneath enormously-produced, thick,white eyebrows, and through a great pair of round tortoise-shellspectacles.
"Want you, boy?" was the reply, as the speaker held up a large whiteswan-quill pen on a level with his sun-browned and reddened nose. "No,Lick. Be off!"
"I'm going to run over to Rockabie, uncle. Back to dinner. Wantanything brought back?"
"No, boy; I've plenty of ink. No.--Yes. Bring me some more of thispaper."
The voice sounded very gruff and ill-humoured, and the speaker glaredangrily, more than looked, at the boy.
"Here," he continued, "don't drown yourself."
"Oh, no, uncle," said the boy, confidently, "I'll take care of that."
"By running into the first danger you come across."
"Nonsense, uncle. I can sail about now as well as any of the fisherlads."
"Fisher? Bah!" growled the old man, fiercely. "Scoundrels--rascals,who wear a fisher's frock to hide the fact that they are smugglers--werewreckers. Nice sink of iniquity this. Look here, Lick. Take care anddon't play that idler's trick of making fast the sheet."
"I'll take care, uncle."
"How's the wind, boy?"
"Just a nice soft breeze, uncle. I can run round the point in about anhour--wind right abaft."
"And dead ahead coming back, eh?"
"Yes; but I can tack, uncle--make good long reaches."
"To take you out into the race and among the skerries. Do you think Iwant to have you carried out to sea and brought back days hence to beburied, sir?"
"Of course you don't, uncle; but I shan't hurt. Old Dumpus says I canmanage a boat as well as he can."
"He's a wooden-legged, wood
en-headed old fool for saying so. Look here,Aleck; you'd better stop at home to-day."
"Uncle!" cried the boy, in a voice full of protest.
"The weather's going to change. I can feel it in my old wound; and itwill not be safe for a boy like you alone to try and run that boat homeround the point."
"Oh, uncle, you treat me as if I were a little boy!"
"So you are; and too light-headed."
"It's such a beautiful morning for a sail, uncle."
"Do just as well to watch the sea from the cliffs, and the carrier canbring what you want from Rockabie next time he goes."
"Uncle! I shall be so disappointed," pleaded the boy.
"Well! What of that? Do you good, boy. Life's all disappointments.Prepare you for what you'll have to endure in the future."
"Very well, uncle, I won't go if you don't wish it."
"Of course you won't, sir. There, run round and get one of the Eilygugglads to help you with the boat."
"Please, uncle, I'd rather not. I don't like them, and they don't likeme."
"Of course you don't like the young scoundrels, sir; but they can managea boat."
"I'd rather not go now, uncle," said the boy, sadly.
"And I'd rather you did. There, go at once, while the weather's fine,and make that old man-o'-war's man help you to come back?"
"Tom Bodger, uncle? But how's he to get back?"
"I'll give him some shillings, and he can pay one of the smugglers togive him a lift home."
"Thank you, uncle," cried the boy, in an eager way, which showed plainlyenough how well satisfied he was with the arrangement.
"Don't worry me. Be off!" said the old man, bending over his writingagain.
Aleck needed no further orders, and hurried out into the well-keptgarden, where everything looked healthy and flourishing, sheltered as itwas from the fierce winds of all quarters by the fact that it lay in adepression formed by the sinking of some two or three acres of land,possibly from the undermining of the sea in far distant ages, at the endof a narrow rift or chasm in the cliffs which guarded the shores, theresult being that, save in one spot nearest the sea, the groundspossessed a natural cliff-like wall some fifty or sixty feet high, fullof rift and shelf, the nesting-place of innumerable birds. Here all waswild and beautiful; great curtains of ivy draped the natural walls, oakand sycamore flourished gloriously in the shelter as far as the top ofthe cliff, and there the trees ceased to grow upward and branchedhorizontally instead, so that from the level land outside it seemed asif Nature had cut all the tops off level, as indeed she had, by means ofthe sharp cutting winds.
Aleck followed the garden path without looking back at the vine andcreeper-clad house in its shelter, and made for one corner of the gardenwhere the walls overlapped, and, passing round one angle, he wasdirectly after in a zigzag rift, shut in by more lofty, natural walls,but with the path sloping downward, with the consequence that the wallsgrew higher, till at the end of about three hundred yards from thegarden they were fully a couple of hundred feet from base to summit, thebase being nearly level with the sea. This latter was hidden till thelad had passed round another angle of cliff, when he obtained a glimpseof the deep blue water, flecked here and there with silvery foam, buthidden again directly as he followed the zigzag rift over a flooring ofrough stones which had fallen from the towering perpendicular sides, andwhich were here only some thirty or forty feet apart, and completelyshut out the sunshine and a good deal of the light.
Another angle of the zigzag rift was passed, and then the rugged stonyflooring gave place to dark, deep water, beautifully transparent--soclear that the many-tinted fronds of bladder-wrack and other weeds couldbe seen swaying to and fro under the influence of the tide which roseand fell.
Here, in a natural harbour, sheltered from all dangers, lay the boat theboy sought. It was moored in a nook by a rope attached to a great ring;the staple had been sunk in a crack and sealed fast with molten lead,and no matter what storms raged outside, the boat was safely sheltered,and swung in a natural basin at ordinary tides, while at the very lowestit grounded gently in a bed of white sand.
It was well afloat upon this occasion, and skirting round it along alaboriously chipped-out ledge about a foot wide, the boy entered a crackin the rock face, for it could hardly be called a cavern. But it wasbig enough for its purpose, which was to shelter from the rain and rockdrippings a quantity of boat gear, mast, sails, ropes, and tacklegenerally, which leaned or hung snugly enough about the rock, in companywith a small seine, a trammel-net, a spare grapnel or two, somelobster-pots, and buoys with corks and lines.
Aleck was not long about carrying mast, yard, and sail to the boat andshipping them. Then, in obedience to an idea, he placed a couple offishing-lines, a gaff-hook, a landing-net, and some spare hooks aboard;then, taking a little bucket, he half filled it with the crystal waterof the pool, and after placing it aboard took hold of a thin line, oneend of which was secured to a ring-bolt in a block of wreck lumber,while the other ran down into the pool.
A pull at the line brought a large closely-worked, spindle-shaped basketto the surface, when a commotion inside announced that the six-inch-widesquare of flat cork, which formed a lid, covered something alive.
So it proved; for upon unfastening the lid an opening was laid bare, andupon the "coorge"--as the fishing folk called the basket--being laidacross the bucket and turned sidewise, some ten or a dozen silveryeel-shaped fish glided out into the bucket, and began swimming round andround in search of an outlet.
"More bait than I shall want," said Aleck, covering and letting thebasket go back into the pool. Then, unfastening the mooring-rope, theboy picked up a boat-hook, and by hooking on to the side rocks here andthere he piloted the boat along the devious watery lane, with the mightywalls towering high on either side and whispering or echoing back everysound he produced on his way out to the open sea.
It was beautiful--solemn--grand--all in one, that narrow, gloomy, zigzagway between the perpendicular walls; and a naturalist would have spenthours examining the many-tinted sea anemones that opened their rays andawl-shaped tentacles below the water, or lay adhering and quiescent uponthe rocks where the tide had fallen, looking some green, some olive, andmany more like bosses of gelatinous coagulated blood.
But these were too common objects of the seashore for Aleck Donne toheed; his eyes were for the most part upon the blue and opalescentpicture some two hundred yards before him, where the chasm ended, itssharp edges looking black against the sea and sky as he hooked on here,gave a thrust there, and sent the boat along till the rift grew lighterand lighter, and then was left behind, for a final thrust had sent theboat right out into the sunshine, and in full view of three hugeskittle-shaped rocks standing up out of the sea, high as the wall-likecliff of which at some time or another they must have been a portion.They were now many yards away and formed the almost securenesting-places of hundreds upon hundreds of birds, whose necks stood uplike so many pegs against the sky, giving the rocks a peculiar bristlingappearance. But the sense of security for the young birds was upset bythe long flapping wings of a couple of great black-backed gulls whichkept on sailing round and round, waiting till the opportunity came tomake a hawk-like swoop and carry off some well-fatted, half-featheredyoung auk. One met its fate, in the midst of a rippling purring cry,just as Aleck laid in his boat-hook and proceeded to step the mast,swaying easily the while with the boat, which was now well afloat on therising and falling sea.