The Ocean Cat's Paw: The Story of a Strange CruiseGeorge Manville Fenn
Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England
The Ocean Cat's Paw, the Story of a Strange Cruise, By George ManvilleFenn.
Here we have a full-length book by an excellent author at the very topof his powers. The time is set at the end of the Napoleonic War, andcontinues into the ensuing peace.
The young hero is first found fishing in a Dartmoor stream, when he isinterrupted by the arrival of a young Frenchman, who, it turns out, hasjust escaped from Dartmoor, where the prisoners-of-war were being kept.Rodd helps him to hide from pursuit.
Rodd is living with his uncle, who is a doctor, but who also is aresearcher in Natural History. He receives a Government grant to buy aship and travel about in it collecting specimens. On the first trip theweather turns nasty and they have to take shelter in a French port.
Later in the voyage they meet up with a strange brig, which they realisethey had seen while in France. But she is in difficulty, having beenholed below the waterline in an engagement. At this point they discoverthat her officers include the boy we met in Chapter One, and his father,the Count. The hole is repaired by the skill of the British seamen.
There's lots more to the story, and we won't spoil it for you, but we dofull-heartedly recommend it to you. The problem in transcribing thebook was tearing oneself away from it, for meals, rest, and otherduties.
THE OCEAN CAT'S PAW, THE STORY OF A STRANGE CRUISE, BY GEORGE MANVILLEFENN.
RODD THE PICKLE.
"Here's another, uncle."
This was shouted cheerily, and the reply thereto was a low muttering,ending with a grunt.
It was a glorious day on Dartmoor, high up in the wildest part amongstthe rugged tors, where a bright little river came flashing and sparklingalong, and sending the bright beams of the sun in every direction fromthe disturbed water, as an eager-looking boy busily played the trout hehad hooked, one which darted here and there in its wild rush forfreedom, but all in vain, for after its little mad career it was safelybrought to bank, and landed. There was no need to use the light netwhich hung diagonally and unnecessarily across its owner's back, for theglittering little speckled trout was only about the size of a smalldace, though it fought and kicked as hardily as if it had weighed apound, and indulged in a series of active leaps as it was slippedthrough the hole in the lid of a creel, to drop into companionship withhalf-a-score of its fellows, which welcomed the new prisoner with anumber of leaps almost as wild as its own.
The utterer of the grunt, a stoutly-built man who might have been of anyage, though he could not have been very young, judging from his bristlygreyish whiskers, was also busily occupied, but in a calmer, moredeliberate way.
He had no creel slung from his shoulder, but a coarse clean wallet thatwas rather bulgy, its appearance suggesting that it was carried becauseit contained something to eat, while its owner held in one hand, slungby a stoutish lanyard, a big, wide-mouthed glass bottle half full ofwater, and in the other hand a little yellow canvas net attached to abrass ring at the end of a stick, the sort of implement that little boysuse when bound upon the chase and capture of the mighty "tittlebat."And as his younger companion shouted and landed his little mountaintrout, the net was being carefully passed under water, drawn out andemptied upon the fine lawn-like grass, and what looked like a littlescrap of opalescent jelly was popped into the wide-mouthed bottle.
"You got one too, uncle?" shouted the boy, who was higher up the stream.
"Yes; some very nice specimens down here. Are you getting plenty ofsport, Rodd?"
"Yes, uncle," replied the boy, who was carefully examining his tinyartificial gnat before beginning to whip the stream again. "They arerising famously; but they are awfully small. I shall get a dish,though, for supper."
"Uncle," as he was called, grunted again, and went on searching amongstthe water-weeds with his net, his tendency being with the stream, whilethe boy, who did not scruple about stepping into the shallows from timeto time, went on whipping away upward towards where one of the tors rosein a chaotic mass of broken, lichen-covered, fragmentary granite,apparently hiding in the distance the source of the little bubbling andsparkling stream.
Sometimes, as the boy struck in unison with the rise, he missed hisfish, at others he hooked and held it till it broke away, and then againhe transferred another to his creel, as intent upon his sport as hisuncle was upon his pursuit, but still adding and adding to the contentsof the creel for quite an hour. Then, in an interval when the fish hadceased to rise, the boy began to look downward, finding to his surprisethat he was quite alone and close up to the towering mass of time-worngranite, many of whose blocks sparkled in the summer sun with crystalsof quartz, and specks of hornblende, and were rendered creamy by theabundant felspar which held the grains together in a mass.
"I wonder what's become of Uncle Paul," muttered the boy. "Have I losthim, or has he lost me? What stuff! One's only got to go down thestream, and he's sure to be there somewhere, dipping for hiswhat-do-you-call-'ems--hydras and germs and buds, and the rest of them.But oh, what a jolly morning it is, and what a jolly place Dartmoor isnow the sun shines! Not very jolly yesterday, though, when the wind wassweeping the rain across in clouds and you couldn't see the tops of thetors for the mist. Oh, but it is beautiful to-day. I do feel jolly!"
The boy let his light tapering rod fall into the hollow of his arm,swung round his creel to the front, and, raising the lid, peered down athis speckled prizes lying upon a bed of newly-picked bracken fronds.
"Why, there must be fifty," he cried. "There, I won't stop to count.I'll catch a few more, and guess at fifty. That'll be enough for a nicelot for tea and some more for to-morrow morning's breakfast. Uncle Pauldoes enjoy a dish of trout. Humph! So do I. I suppose it's thisbeautiful fresh air up among the tors, and the tramping. It was a goodlong way up here from the cottage. I suppose it's that makes me feel sojolly hungry. Oh, look at that now! Uncle would carry the wallet, andhe's got all the sandwiches. Never mind; I'll catch a few more of thelittle beauties, and then toddle back to meet him."
But the boy did not begin to fish directly, but stood gazing round atthe glorious prospect of hill and dale and miniature mountain, here greyand sparkling, there flushed as if with the golden sheen of blossomingfurze, while the lower slopes were of the magnificent purple of theabundant heath.
"Beautiful!" cried the boy ecstatically. "I am glad that we came uphere to stay. So is dear old uncle. He's revelling in the specimens hegets, and we shall have another jolly night with the microscope. He'llgive me a lecture upon all the little Latin beggars he pops into hisbottle, and another for being so stupid in not recollecting all theircranky names. Never mind; it is jolly. Pity it isn't later, for thenthere'd be plenty of blackberries and whorts. I dare say there'd belots of the little tiny button mushrooms, too, in the lower parts amongthe soft grass. But what's the use of grumbling? Uncle says that I amnever satisfied, and that I am always restless, and I suppose it'sbecause I am a boy. Well, I can't help being a boy," he musedthoughtfully. "I might have been a girl. Well, girls are restless too.I say, what's that?"
He shaded his eyes again and gazed at a speck of something that lookedbright scarlet in the distance, and then not very far away he made outanother, and again another speck or blotch of bright red. "Now, Iwonder what's growing there," muttered the boy. "I don't rememberanything scarlet growing and blowing. Poppies? No, I don't think theyare poppies. They are at the edge
s of the cornfields, and there are nocornfields up here."
He fixed his eyes more intently upon the scarlet specks, and then burstout laughing.
"Well, they are not poppies," he said aloud. "Poppies don't move, andthose are moving, sure enough. There, one of them has gone behind thatblock of stone. Pooh, how stupid! Why, of course!"
He jerked himself round to look in another direction, so sharply thathis creel swung out for a moment from the strap, and came back againsthis hip with a bang, as he stood with his back to the sun, gazing at adistant grey, gloomy-looking pile of stone building, and then nodded hishead with satisfaction.
"Poppies, indeed! My grandmother! That's what they are. Soldiers fromover yonder. Part of the guard from the great prison, I suppose. Oh,poor beggars! How miserable, when you come to think of it--shut upyonder in that great gloomy place, for I don't suppose they let themcome out much without soldiers to watch them--and all for doing nothing.Doing nothing! Mustn't say that, though, before Uncle Paul, or he'llgo into a rage and begin preaching about Bony and the war, and going onabout the French. Hullo!"
The boy started, for there was a dull thud, apparently from the prison,miles away, followed by a loud echo which seemed to come from close athand, making him turn again as if to look for the spot from which itcame, and seeing it too, for the report of the gun had as it were struckagainst the face of the tor above him, and then glanced off to strikeelsewhere.
"How queer echoes are!" he muttered. "Yes, and how queer I feel--allhollow. That's made me think about it. I suppose that means twelve orone o'clock dinner-time. Oh, how stupid to go right away from unclelike this! I wish he'd come. But I won't go till I have made my fiftytrout."
Turning his attention now to the stream, he began whipping away again,and finding that the little trout were rising as well as ever, with theresult that Rodney Harding once more forgot everything else in hispursuit and went on up-stream nearer and nearer to the great tor, tillat last he found himself in a little hollow amongst the rocks where theriver had widened into a pool, hollowed out as it were at the base of agreat cliff.
"Why, this is the end of it," he said, pausing to look round and upwardat the towering pile of rocks. "No, it isn't. It must be thebeginning--the source, I suppose they call it. Yes, the stream beginshere, comes right from under that cliff. Why, it's like a little caveout of which the water streams."
He stopped short and threw his fly once or twice without effect, andthen, moved by curiosity, waded into the shallow rippling water, whichrose a little way above his boots, but as it began to invade histrousers he rolled them up to his knees, before wading onward till hewas stopped by the piled-up cliff face where the water came gliding outand rippled about his legs.
"Why, it ought to be quite cold," he muttered, "instead of which it iswarm."
Then, standing up his rod so that the top rested among the stones, hestooped down, bending nearly double before he could pass in beneath arough stony natural arch and slowly force his way along a narrow passagefor a few feet, before stopping short where the water nearly reached hisknees.
"Oh, I say! I am not going to break my back short off at the hips bysqueezing in here," he grumbled. "Besides, it's all dark; and what'sthe good? Here, I know! This isn't the source. This tor is only apiled-up heap of stones, and I dare say if I go round I shall find thelittle river coming in on the other side, and this is where it comesout. Well, let it. Here, I want my lunch."
He made his way back into the sunshine where all was bright and clearagain, and, taking his rod, stepped out to the edge of the pool, wherethe dry sand felt pleasant and comfortable to his feet, and there hewent on fishing again with more or less success, till he passed out ofthe little amphitheatre to where the rocks fell away on either side,half hidden by the heath and furze.
"Must have got fifty by this time," muttered the boy. "Now just onemore to make sure, and then I'll be off, and--Ugh! Who are you? Howyou made me jump!"
The Ocean Cat's Paw--by George Manville Fenn