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Bob Strong's Holidays

John C. Hutcheson

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Bob Strong's Holiday; or, Adrift in the Channel

  by John Conroy Hutcheson________________________________________________________________Bob Strong and his sister Nellie are the children of a busybarrister, too busy to take them on holiday, and they are sentby train down to Portsmouth to spend the summer holidays withtheir aunt. The dog Rover travels in the guard's van, and inthe same compartment of the train there is an elderly gentlemanwho turns out to be a retired sea-captain.

  The train is moving out of Guildford when a grubby boy's faceappears at the window. They let the boy in, and the Captaindecides to pay the fare for the boy, who is a runaway from adreadfully cruel stepfather. They all spend the holidaytogether, doing various things with boats, fish, seaweed, andvisiting various interesting places, some of which they find tobe a con! They travel to the Isle of Wight, just a few milesacross the Solent, and even visit Seaview where I, the reviewer,was brought up. Many of the interesting things they did werewhat we as boys fifty years later also did.

  They get involved in a couple of disasters, including the wreckof a brand-new excursion steamer. As in my day, the engines ofthese ships were most interesting, being triple expansionhorizontal steam engines driving paddle-wheels, and, like Bob, Iused to spend the journeys to and from the Isle of Wighthovering at the engine-room door, admiring these amazinglybeautiful artefacts.

  But the other disaster I will not tell you about save only tosay that Alderney and the Casquets Rock, over fifty miles fromthe Isle of Wight, are mentioned, and these too are places withwhich I am very familiar.

  You may wonder what happened to the runaway boy, Dick, and hereagain a very suitable arrangement was made for him, for he wasaccepted for training as a boy seaman. N.H._______________________________________________________________






  The noise of the train, however, drowned Nellie's voice; besides whichMaster Bob was further prevented from hearing this appeal to him byreason of his head and shoulders being at that precise instant projectedout of the window of the railway-carriage, in utter defiance of theCompany's bye-laws to the contrary and of his sister's solicitousentreaties to the same effect--poor Nellie, fearing, in her feminineanxiety, that the door would fly open unexpectedly, from the pressure ofBob's person, and precipitate her brother as suddenly out on the line.

  "Bob!" she therefore repeated on finding her first summons disregarded,speaking in a louder key and giving a tug to his jacket the better toattract his attention--"I say, Bob!"

  "Hullo! What's the row?" shouted back the delinquent, hearing her atlast, and wriggling himself in from the window like a snail withdrawingitself into its shell, turning round the while his face, slightlyflushed with the exertion, to hers--"Anything wrong, eh?"

  Little Miss Nellie had not expected her timid and tentativeconversational advances to be taken up in this downright fashion.Really she was only anxious for some one to sympathise with her and talkabout the various objects of interest which came across her notice asthey went along; so, Bob's abrupt address, coupled with his gruff toneof voice, fell on her enthusiasm like a wet blanket!

  "Nothing's the matter," she replied timidly. "I only wanted to say hownice it is travelling like this."

  "You don't mean to say you only called me in to tell me that?" said Bob,almost angrily. "I do think girls are the greatest geese in the world!"

  With this dogmatic assertion, Master Bob shoved himself head andshoulders out of the window again, utterly ignoring poor Nellie'sexistence, much to her chagrin and dismay.

  He was very rude, it must be confessed; but, some allowance should bemade for him, all things considered.

  In the first place, he was a boy just fresh from the rougherassociations of school life; and, secondly, his inquiring mind wasintently occupied in endeavouring to solve a series of mathematicalproblems that set all Euclid's laws at defiance, as the train whizzed onits way with a `piff-paff! pant-pant!' of the great Juggernaut engine,the carriages rattling and jolting as they were dragged along at thetail of the mighty steam demon, swaying to and fro with a rhythmicalmovement of the wheels, in measured cadence of spondees and dactyls, asif singing to themselves the song of "the Iron Road."

  Strange to say, this was a song of which, Bob noticed, the involuntarymusicians never completed the second bar.

  They re-commenced all over again from the beginning, when they reachedsome particularly crucial point, where the `click' or the `clack' of theever-echoing `click-clacking' chorus proved too much for theiroverworked axles!

  Bob, though, was not thinking of this music of the rail, or paying anyattention to it, albeit it was distinct and plain to him; as, indeed, itis to all with ears attuned in harmony with this mystery of motion, andwho choose to listen to it, just as there are `sermons in stones,' forthose who care to read them!

  No, all his energies were bent on finding out how it was that thestraight hedgerows and square fields became round, while curvingoutlines grow straight in a moment, as if ruled with a measure, at theinstant of their speeding by them; and, it occurred to him, or probablywould have done so if he had given himself time for reflection, that thequestion of squaring the circle, which has perplexed the philosophers ofall ages, was not so very difficult of solution after all--looking atthe matter out of the window of a railway-carriage, that is!

  Yes, so it really appeared; for, everything seemed `at sixes andsevens,' the landscape having its middle distances and foregroundirretrievably mixed up and its perspective gone mad, the country throughwhich they passed resembling in this respect the land of topsy-turvey-dom!

  Bob's surprise, and wonder and delight, at all he saw became presentlytoo great for him to remain silent any longer or to keep his thoughts tohimself; so, affably forgetting his previous `snub' to his sister when_she_ had wished to express her feelings, he jerked in his head assuddenly as he had popped it out the moment before.

  "I say, Nell, isn't it jolly?" he exclaimed in eager accents. "Justlook out with me and see how funny everything seems!"

  "Why, that was what I wanted to speak of a little while ago, only youwouldn't listen to me," replied Nellie, more good-humouredly than Bobwould have answered under the circumstances. "It is nice, though, Imust say!"

  "`Nice' indeed!" replied he indignantly. "It is just like a girl to saythat. I call it `jolly,' nothing more nor less. There's no other wordto express what a fellow feels; and I do wonder, Nell, at your puttingit so tamely!"

  The girl laughed out merrily at this; and her smiling face, wreathed indimples, expressed as much animation as her brother could have wished.

  "Do forgive me, Bob," she cried. "You are quite right. It is `jolly,'the fields flying by, the trees all jumping up when you least expectthem, the hills coming close, and--everything! I have noticed them all;for, I've been looking out, too, Master Observer, and have eyes likeyou, old chappie!"

  "Ah, but you haven't seen all that I have," said Bob, mollified byNellie's sympathetic accord. "Look at those little woolly lambs, there,frisking about, with their sedate old mothers standing by, watching thetrain with wondering eyes--"

  "Yes, I see, I see," said she, interrupting him. "What great big eyesthey have, to be sure! I declare, too, I can hear them `baa' above allthe noise of the railway!"

  Just at that moment, the engine gave a shriek of its steam-whistle,which startled the sheep and lambkins, sending them scuttling over tothe other end of the field, in company with a number of skittish heifersand young colts, which kicked up their heels in such a funny way thatBob and N
ellie both burst out laughing together in concert, in one burstas it were.

  "Hullo, Nellie, look!" presently exclaimed Bob, who was the first torecover himself. "All the horses have not run away. There is one oldfellow there, close to the line, who hasn't budged an inch."

  "Perhaps he's the veteran of the field?" said Miss Nellie, ratherpoetically. "He's an old war-horse, maybe, who has heard too manyclanging trumpet-calls and guns fired to be upset by the mere noise ofan engine, which is only a bugbear to the ignorant."

  "Bosh!" cried Bob, who did not believe much in sentiment, `flummery' hetermed it. "Much more likely he's an old cart-horse, and is as wellaccustomed to the row of the railroad as he is to the plough, and that'sthe reason he took no notice of us as we dashed by. See, he's only alittle dot in the distance now."

  They were running along at such a rate that every object which in turnpresented itself, first ahead of the train, then alongside and thenbehind, became speedily but `a dot in the distance,' to use Bob's wordsover again; the snugly secluded seats of the county gentry, thescattered villages and sparse red-roofed farmhouses, with their outpostsof hayricks and herds of cattle and other stock, that one momentappeared and the next disappeared from view behind masses of foliage,all dancing a wild Sir Roger de Coverley sort of country dance, `downthe valleys and over the hills,' until poor Nellie's eyes became quitedazed in watching them.

  "Come over to the other window, Bob," she cried at length, turning roundand getting up from her seat, suiting the action to the words, or atleast trying to do so. "Let us cross over, Bob."

  But, here a difficulty arose.

  An old gentleman, who was the only other occupant of the carriagebesides themselves, had dropped asleep over the newspaper which he hadbeen reading, letting this slide down on his knees while he stretchedout his legs right across the compartment, thus preventing Nellie fromcarrying out her intention.

  "I can't get by," she whispered to Bob, who had also turned round fromhis window, and now giggled, grasping the situation. "I can't get by!"

  "What, what?" ejaculated the old gentleman, suddenly waking up andclutching hold of his paper, as if afraid that some one was going totake it from him. "What, what did you say?"

  Strangely enough, although Bob and his sister had been talking quiteloudly before, nothing that they had said had roused their fellow-passenger until now, when, probably, Nellie's hushed voice led to thisvery undesirable result--just in the same way as a miller is said tosleep soundly amid all the clatter of the grinding wheels of his mill,his repose being only disturbed when the motion of the machinery stops.Poor Nellie hardly knew what to say now on the old gentleman, all atonce, sitting bolt upright and addressing her so unexpectedly.

  "I was only speaking to my brother," she managed to stammer out, after alittle hesitating pause; "I am sorry to have awakened you, sir."

  "Awakened me, eh?" snorted the old gentleman in a snappish tone. "Pooh,pooh, nonsense, girl! I wasn't a bit asleep. Heard every word yousaid. What was it you said, eh--what, what?"

  Bob and Nellie exchanged a smile at this; for, the old gentleman had notmerely nodded previously to their having determined to change windows,but his gold-rimmed spectacles had almost tumbled from his nose, thelatter organ also having given audible vent to certain stentorian soundsuncommonly like snoring!

  The old gentleman, however, did not appear conscious of all thisevidence against his fancied wakefulness; and he blinked out so queerlyfrom a pair of little black beady eyes, half-hidden under a fringe ofbushy white eyebrows, which made them look all the blacker fromcontrast, as he glared over his spectacles at the brother and sister,that Bob's giggle expanded into a fit of irrepressible merriment,although he endeavoured vainly to conceal his want of manners by buryinghis face in his pocket-handkerchief.

  Bob some time afterwards told Nellie in confidence that, just then, theold gentleman so comically resembled `Blinkie,' a dissipated old tamejackdaw they had at home, in the way he cocked his head on one side,with his ruffled hair and all, that he couldn't have helped laughing, ifhe had died for it!

  "Well?" said the old gentleman inquiringly, after a bit, tiredapparently of waiting for an answer to his original question as to whatNellie had said as he woke up, gazing still fixedly at her, his beadyblack eyes twinkling and his bushy eyebrows bristling up like thewhiskers of a cat when it is angry. "What did he say, eh?"

  "He--he was only speaking to me, sir," stammered poor Nellie, nowtrembling with fright. "He was only speaking to me, that's all."

  "What, what?" jerked out her unappeased questioner. "Who is `he'?"

  "My brother--Bob, sir," said she, still trembling and nervous; "mybrother here, sir."

  "Bob what?"

  "Strong, sir," replied Nellie, a little less timidly, now that she sawthe old gentleman was not going to eat her up quite--"Robert DugaldStrong, sir."

  "Humph!" he grunted out in reply to this. "He may be Strong by name andhe looks strong by nature; but, really, he seems unusually weak inmind--he's a lunatic, I should think!"

  But, there was a quaint, good-humoured expression on his face thatsomewhat belied his abrupt manner and harsh, peremptory voice, whichsounded like that of a bullying old barrister, cross-examining ahesitating witness in court; so Nellie, therefore, gathered increasedconfidence as she caught his glance, to proceed with her explanationanent Master Bob.

  "You're mistaken, sir,--he isn't silly," she said. "He only wanted meto cross over to the other side of the carriage; and I told him Icouldn't pass by you, sir. That was all, sir."

  "Oh, indeed! Then I'm sure I beg your pardon," said the old gentlemanvery politely, drawing in his legs, so as to leave the road clear. "Idon't see, though, what the young rascal has got to laugh at in thatway, like a regular young yahoo."

  "Please, sir, pray excuse him," pleaded Nellie on behalf of Bob. "It isonly a way he has got. He cannot help laughing for the life of him whenthe fit is on. He really does not mean to be rude, sir, I assure you."

  "Doesn't he?" repeated the old gentleman, smiling in a knowing fashionas if he knew all about it. "Then, he's very unlike all the boys I havecome across in my time; and they've been a goodish few, missy! But,there, get along with you both, and look out of the window to yourheart's content. Take care, though, that neither you nor that youngjackanapes don't manage to tumble out on the line, for I can't pick youup from here!"

  Bob and Nellie took advantage at once of the permission granted them;but, soon, becoming tired of the monotonous sameness of the ever-whirling landscape, turned back within the railway-carriage, and,sitting down like ordinary and regular travellers accustomed by thistime to all the sights and scenes of the road, the pair were presentlyengaged in earnest and confidential conversation with the now extremelyaffable, old gentleman.

  "Ah!" he exclaimed, breaking the ice on seeing the pair at last quiet."So, your name is Strong, eh?"

  "Yes, sir," answered Bob, acting as spokesman. "Father is a barrister,and he cannot get away from London yet for his holiday like us; and, ofcourse, sir, my mother couldn't leave him alone, you know--"

  "No, of course not," agreed the old gentleman, "of course not."

  "So, then," continued Bob, "they sent us on first; and we're going tothe seaside, where we've never been before! Isn't it jolly?"

  "Very jolly," responded the old gentleman smiling. "I wish I were asyoung as you are to enjoy it all over again, in spite of my having seenenough of the sea in my time."

  "Are you a sailor, sir?" asked Nellie, chiming in. "I mean a sailorofficer, sir, you know?"

  "Yes, an old one, put on the shelf after fighting the battles of mycountry for many a long year!" said the old gentleman, with a deep sighthat almost made the carriage shake. He then extracted a silver snuff-box from his waistcoat-pocket; and taking a pinch, which seemed torelieve his feelings, added, as if to change the subject, "But, my youngfriends, you haven't told me where you are going."

  "Why, to Portsmouth, to be sure, sir," sa
id Bob promptly. "I thoughtyou knew it; and--"

  "And we are to stop at aunt Polly's till papa and mamma come down,"again interposed Miss Nellie, who had lost all her timidity and wantedto have her share in the talk. "Dear aunt Polly, how glad I shall be tosee her again!"

  "Oh, indeed! But, who is aunt Polly?"

  Really, he was a most inquisitive old gentleman!

  The children, however, did not seem to notice this; and went on to tellhow their aunt Polly was the dearest aunt they believed any one everhad, and the nicest.

  They informed the old gentleman, likewise, that this loved aunt oftheirs came up to town every year regularly at Christmas-time to paythem a visit; although they, on their part, had never been able to godown to see her until now, something or other having always happened toprevent their proceeding to the sea.

  "Well, better late than never," said their fellow-traveller, whom Boband Nellie began to look upon now quite as an old acquaintance--"I've nodoubt you'll enjoy yourselves. But, my dears, you haven't mentionedyour aunt's name--her surname, I mean. Perhaps I might know her, forI'm an old resident of Portsmouth, or rather Southsea, which is justoutside the lines and where all the best people live now."

  "Mrs Gilmour, sir," replied Nellie. "That's aunt Polly's name."

  "What, Polly Gilmour, the widow of my old shipmate Ted Gilmour, whocommanded the _Bucephalus_ on the West Coast for two commissions anddied of fever in the Bight of Benin? Bless my soul, who'd have thoughtit!"

  "Yes, sir, Uncle Gilmour was in the Navy," put in Bob as if tocorroborate the surmise of the old gentleman. "He was Captain Gilmour,sir."

  His questioner, though, appeared for the moment lost in thought, hismind evidently occupied with a flood of old memories connected with hislost friend and their life afloat together.

  "Dear, dear, who'd have thought it!" he repeated, as if speaking tohimself. Then, presently, recovering his composure with an effort,aided by another pinch of snuff, he said aloud--"And so, you twochildren are poor Ted Gilmour's niece and nephew, eh?"

  "Yes, sir," replied Bob and Nellie in one breath, answering thequestion. "You just ask auntie and see what she says, sir."

  "I'm very glad to hear it," said the old gentleman, hastily pullingNellie towards him and giving her a kiss, much to her astonishment, theaction was so sudden; while he next proceeded to shake Bob by the handuntil his arm ached. "I am very glad, very glad indeed to meet you;and, if it be any satisfaction to know, I may tell you that I go roundto your aunt Polly's every evening to have a game of cribbage, summerand winter alike, except those three weeks when she goes to London tostop with your father, whose name, of course, I recollect now, althoughI did not think of that when you told it me awhile ago--"

  "Then, you're Captain Dresser?" interrupted Bob at this point, anxiousto show that he had heard the old gentleman's name before and recognisedit. "I'm sure you're Captain Dresser, sir."

  "Yes, I'm Captain Dresser," replied that individual, smiling all overhis face, his queer little beady black eyes twinkling more than everwith excitement, and his bushy eyebrows moving up and down. "Yes, I'mCaptain Dresser--Jack Dresser, as your uncle and all my old shipmates inthe service used to call me, much at _your_ service, ha, ha, ha!"

  Bob and Nellie could not help joining in with the old gentleman's laughat his little joke, the Captain's "Ha, ha, ha!" was so cheery andcatching.

  It was a regular jolly "Ha, ha, ha!"

  The trio, thereupon, got very confidential together, Bob telling howthey had got their dog Rover with them, only he was travelling in theguard's van, being too big to be put in the box under the carriage, ashe would have been if he'd been a little dog instead of a fine big blackretriever, which he, Bob, was very glad to say he was, and "not a merelady's pet like a pug or a toy terrier," while Nellie, in her turn,intimated her intention of making a collection of shells and seaweedwhen she got to the shore, which, she said, she longed to reach so as to`see the sea,' that being the dearest wish of her heart.

  The Captain, on his part, reciprocated these friendly advances in theheartiest way, expressing the strongest desire to make the acquaintanceof Rover, as well as to take his fellow-travellers out in his yacht fora sail whenever the weather was fine enough; that is, if they promisedto behave themselves properly, and always `did what they were told andobeyed orders,' Captain Dresser saying, with an expressive wink thatmade him look more jackdaw-like than ever, that he invariably insisted,even in the presence of their "dear aunt Polly," on being "captain ofhis own ship."

  They were in the midst of all these mutual confidences, the Captainchattering away like an old hen clucking round a pair of new-foundchicks, and Bob and Nellie full of glee and exuberant anticipations ofall the coming fun they were going to have afloat and ashore; when,suddenly, the light of the further window of the railway-carriage,opposite that near to which the trio were grouped in close confab, wasobscured by a dark body pressing against it from without, as if some onewas trying to gain admittance.

  "Hallo!" cried the Captain. "What's that--who's there?"

  But, before the old gentleman could rise from his seat, or

  Bob and Nellie do anything save gape with astonishment, the window-sashwas violently forced down; and, without a `by your leave' or any word ofwarning, a strange uncouth figure, so it seemed to their startled gaze,came squeezing through the opening and fell on the floor of the carriageat their feet in a clumsy sprawl.