The Heroes of New Swishford
by Talbot Baines Reed
A School Episode In Four Chapters.
Chapter One. Consultation.
The autumn term at Swishford School was more than half over, and boys were waking up to the hope that after all the Christmas holidays, which seemed such a way off six weeks ago, might yet arrive during their lifetime. It was already rumoured that Blunt, the captain, had been invited to spend Christmas at Walkenshaw’s, the mathematical Dux’s, and every one knew how well Miss Walkenshaw and Blunt had “hit it” the last prize day, and prophecies were rife accordingly. More than that, Shanks, of the Fifth, had whispered in the ear of one or two bosom friends, and thus into the ear of all Swishford, that he was going into “swallows” this winter, and he had got down a book from town with instructions for self-measurement, and was mysteriously closeted in his own study every other evening with a tape. Other boys were beginning to “sit up” a little in the prospect of the coming examination, and generally there was an air of expectation about the place which was prophetic of the coming event.
On the afternoon, however, on which my story opens, two boys as they walked arm-in-arm along the cliffs towards Raveling, appeared to be engrossed in consultation, which, to judge by their serious faces, had nothing to do with Christmas. Let me introduce them to the reader. The taller of the two is a fine, sturdy, square-shouldered youth of fifteen or thereabouts, whose name in a certain section of Swishford is a household word. He is Bowler, the cock of the Fourth, who in the football match against Raveling a fortnight ago picked up the ball at half-back and ran clean through the enemy’s ranks and got a touch-down, which Blunt himself acknowledged was as pretty a piece of running as he had seen in his time. Ever since then Bowler has been the idol of the lower school.
His companion is a more delicate-looking boy, of about the same age, with a cheery face, and by no means unpleasant to look at. He is Gayford, as great a favourite in his way as Bowler, a boy whom nobody dislikes, and whom not a few, especially Bowler, like very much.
These are the two who walked that afternoon towards Raveling.
“Are you sure the fellow in the book doesn’t make it all up?” said Bowler dubiously.
“Not a bit of it,” replied his companion. “My uncle’s a captain, you know, and he says there are hundreds of islands like it, the jolliest places you ever saw, any amount of food, no wild animals, splendid weather all the year round, magnificent mountains and valleys and woods and bays, gorgeous fishing and hunting, oceans of fruit trees, everything a fellow could wish for, and not a soul on one of them.”
“Rum,” said Bowler reflectively; “seems rather a waste of jolly islands that.”
“Yes; but the thing is they’re hundreds of miles away from inhabited islands, so no one ever sees them.”
“Except your uncle. I wonder he wasn’t tempted to get out and take possession of one.”
“That’s just exactly what he said he was tempted to do,” replied Gayford, stopping short excitedly. “He said very little would have tempted him to do it, Bowler.”
“Oh!” was Bowler’s only reply.
“And I tell you another thing,” continued Gayford, “he gave me an old chart with the identical island he saw marked on it, and I’ve got it in my box, my boy.”
“Have you, though?” said Bowler. “I’d like to have a look at it.”
That evening the two boys held a solemn consultation in their study over Captain Gayford’s chart, and Gayford triumphantly pointed out the little island to his friend.
“There he is,” said he; “he doesn’t look a big one there, but he’s eight or ten miles across, my uncle says.”
“That seems a fair size—but, I say,” said Bowler, “how about getting there? How could any one find it out?”
“You’re coming round, then,” said he; “why, you old noodle, you couldn’t possibly miss it. Do you see that town called Sinnamary (what a name, eh?) on the coast of South Africa? Well, don’t you see the island’s dead north from there as straight as ever you can go? All you want is a compass and a southerly breeze—and there you are, my boy.”
“But what about currents and all that?” queried Bowler, who knew a little physical geography. “Doesn’t the Gulf Stream hang about somewhere there?”
“Very likely,” said Gayford; “all the better for us too; for I fancy the island is on it, so if we once get into it we’re bound to turn up right.”
“Anyhow,” said Bowler, who was not quite convinced, “I suppose one could easily get all that sort of thing up.”
“Oh, of course. But, I say, old man, what do you say?”
“Well,” said Bowler, digging his hands into his pockets and taking another survey of the chart, “I’m rather game, do you know!”
“Hurrah!” said Gayford. “I know we shall be all right if we get you.”
“Who do you mean by we?” asked Bowler.
“Ah, that’s another point. I haven’t mentioned it to any one yet; but we should want about half a dozen fellows, you know.”
“Don’t have Burton,” said Bowler.
“Rather not; nor Wragg—but what do you say to Wallas?”
“He’s muffed quarter-back rather this term, but I daresay he might do for one.”
“Well then, what about Braintree?”
“Too big a swell,” said Bowler.
“But he’s got a rifle at home.”
“Oh, ah! all serene. Stick him down.”
“What do you say to having them in, and talking it over before we ask any one else?”
This prudent proposition was agreed to, an extra spoonful of tea was put in the pot, and Gayford went out and conducted his guests in personally.
“The fact is,” said Gayford, after having delicately disclosed the scheme on hand, and roused his hearers to a pitch of uncomfortable curiosity, “the fact is, Bowler and I thought you two fellows might like to join us.”
“You’ll have to wait till the spring,” said Wallas, a somewhat dismal-looking specimen of humanity. “I’ve got my Oxford local in January.”
“Oh, of course, we shouldn’t start till after that,” said Gayford, ready to smooth away all obstacles.
“Warthah hot, won’t it be?” said Braintree, looking at the map.
“No, I believe not,” said Gayford; “there’s something about the Gulf Stream, you know, keeps it fresh.”
“Wum idea calling an island fwesh,” said Braintree, giggling. “It’ll be a fresh start for it when we take possession of it, anyhow,” said Bowler. “Of course you’ll bring your rifle, Braintree?”
“Warthah,” replied Braintree, “in case of niggers or wobbers.”
“Hope we shan’t quarrel when we get out,” said Wallas. “That’s the way these things generally end.”
“Bosh!” said Bowler; “there’s no chance of that—just like you, throwing cold water on everything. Wallas.”
“If you call what I say bosh,” said Wallas warmly, “it’s a pity you asked me to join you.”
It took some time to get over this little breeze and restore the party to good humour. This was, however, accomplished in time, and the consultation continued.
“We ought to have three more fellows, at least,” said Bowler. “I tell you what, each of you pick one. Who do you say, Gav?”
“Well, I fancy young Wester might do,” said Gayford.
“Warthah a pwig, isn’t he?” suggested Braintree.
“He is a little,” replied Gayford; “but he’s very obliging, and fags rather well.”
“All serene. Now then, Wallas, who’s your man?” asked Bowler.
“Tubbs,” said Wallas. Tubbs was one of the most hopeless louts at Swishford.
Gayford gave a low whistle; but he was too anxious to preserve the harmony of the party to offer any objection.
“Now you, Braintree?”
“I say, Cwashford. Jolly fellow, and knows French, too.”
“Ah, but he is such a cad,” said Bowler imploringly.
“Couldn’t you think of somebody else, Braintree?” asked Gayford.
“Oh, have Cwashford. He’s a wewy decent fellah. I like Cwashford, you know.”
“Well, there’s this to be said,” remarked Bowler, finding there was no getting out of it, “it may be rather a good thing to have some one to keep in order; it will give us something to do.”
“Yes, I expect you’ll want it,” said Wallas. “My opinion is it will be jolly slow out there.”
“Not a bit of it. We shall have to go out every day and shoot our game—”
“With my wifle,” put in Braintree.
“And then there’ll be a log hut to build and the whole place to explore, and lots of bathing and boating.”
“And no lessons to do at night.”
“And we can get up concerts and penny readings, you know, for the winter evenings.”
“And needn’t get up till half-past nine in the morning.”
And so they went on, till gradually the prospect became so delightful that even Wallas warmed up to it and expressed a wish that they could start at once.
It was, however, decided that they could not manage it this term, as they would have to spend Christmas at home and provide themselves with necessaries for their journey. As to the means of getting out as far as Sinnamary, at any rate, they had no anxiety on that score, for Captain Gayford, when he once heard the object of their expedition, would be sure to take them on one of his ships, and possibly afford them much valuable information as to their further route into the bargain.
Before the council broke up one solemn and momentous step was taken.
“What shall we call our island?” asked Bowler dramatically, placing his finger on the map and looking round on his fellow-adventurers.
There was a pause, and for a moment the founders of the new empire were wrapped in silent thought. At last Gayford said—
“I know—just the thing.”
“What? What? What?” inquired three voices.
It is hardly needful to add that the name was there and then duly appended to the island on the chart in red ink, which done, the company separated to sleep, and heard all night long in their dreams the crack of Braintree’s “wifle” echoing among the waving woods and fertile valleys of New Swishford.
Chapter Two. Preparation.
The week following the important consultation described in the last chapter was one of serious excitement to at least seven boys at Swishford.
Other fellows could not make out what was the matter, and as long as Bowler did not shirk the football match, and Gayford stuck up as usual for his house, they did not particularly care. It was certainly a novelty to see Braintree diligently reading a book in his odd moments, but when it transpired that the book was Wobinson Cwusoe, that wonder ceased. And even the surprise of seeing Crashford the lion lying down, so to speak, with Tubbs the lamb, wore away in time, and the conspirators were, on the whole, left undisturbed by Swishford to develop their plans for the eventful emigration of the coming spring.
The three last elected members of the band had fallen in promptly with the scheme, and were not a little elated at the honour conferred upon them. Crashford became quite mellow towards his old enemy Gayford, and actually paid back Bowler a half-crown which he had borrowed three terms ago. Tubbs, though less demonstrative, was equally delighted, and upset the inkpot over the chart, in his eagerness to exhibit to Wester their new home. (It was hardly worth noticing that Tubbs put his finger not on New Swishford at all, but into the centre of Peru, which he said he believed was one of the healthiest countries in all Asia.) Wester, who always made a point of agreeing with the majority, found no difficulty in rejoicing, wherever the place might be, and only wished they had not to wait so long as next spring.
“Why should we wait till then?” asked Crashford.
“Oh, it’s better weather,” said Gayford; “besides, Wallas is in for his Oxford local.”
“Oh, that doesn’t matter tremendously,” said Wallas, who was beginning to think the world might after all go on if he did not pass.
“We can give him an exam, on the ship going out,” said Bowler, “a Swishford local exam., you know, and offer a slice of the island if he passes.”
“It strikes me,” said Braintree, “a square mile of tewwitowy is warthah a wum pwize for a chap.”
“But, I say,” said Wester, “isn’t our winter the same as their summer? so if we start now, we shall just get out in the warm weather.”
“Never thought about that,” said Bowler; “what do you say, Gay?”
“I know my uncle generally likes those parts not in the warm weather,” said Gayford. “But then, he’s been at sea all his life.”
“By the way, when does his ship start?” inquired Wallas; “something depends on that, doesn’t it?”
“So it does,” said Gayford. “I forgot that. He got home a fortnight ago, and he gets six weeks at home. That’ll bring it to the end of November.”
“Just the very ticket; we must start then, I say.”
“But how about my wifle if we don’t go home at Cwistmas?” asked Braintree.
“Oh, bother! Couldn’t you get it sent up somehow, or couldn’t you fetch it next Monday?—that’s the term holiday, you know.”
“Hold hard,” said Bowler, “I’ve got another plan for Monday. You know we ought to get our hands in a bit before we start, and try and find out what we really want and all that sort of thing. Now, my idea is for us to get the coastguard’s boat for the day at Sound Bay (you know there’s never any one there to look after it), and sail across to Long Stork Island, and knock about there for the day, just to see how we get on. Of course, we shall have to come back before six; but we must make believe we’ve landed there for good, and see how we manage. And, of course, if we get on there, we’re bound to get on at New Swishford, for it’s a far jollier place than the Long Stork.”
Bowler’s proposition was hailed with acclamation. His hearers were just in the humour to put their enthusiasm to the test, and the notion of a picnic on the Long Stork as a sort of full-dress rehearsal of the capture of New Swishford suited them exactly.
They proceeded immediately to discuss ways and means, and found that by putting their pocket-moneys together they could raise the very respectable sum of forty-one shillings. Reserving the odd shilling for the possible contingency of having to “square” a coastguard for the use of the boat, they had two pounds to devote to the purchase of stores, weapons, and other necessaries; and, as Gayford pointed out, of course anything they got that wasn’t eatable would come in for New Swishford.
A sub-committee, consisting of Bowler, Braintree and Wester, was appointed to expend the funds of the adventurers to the best advantage, and meanwhile each member was asked to report what else he could contribute in the way of stores to the general need. Before the end of the week the list was handed in, and as the documents might some day be of immense value to the future historian of New Swishford, I quote them here.
Bowler.—A waterproof, a hat-box, a pair of cricket bails, and a fold-up chair.
Gayford.—The chart, a compass, jam-pots for baling out boats, an eight-blade knife, a hammer and tacks, and a chessboard.
Braintree.—The wifle (pwaps), Wobinson Cwusoe, gloves, and umbwellah.
Tubbs.—A crib to Sallust (sorry that’s all I’ve got).
Crashford.—Clay pipe, pack of cards, a corkscrew, a strap, and Hal Hiccup the Boy Demon.
Wester.—Three tumblers, bottle of ginger-beer, and a bat.
Wallas.—A saucepan and two eggs, a rope, and Young’s Night Thoughts.
At the same time the sub-committee reported the purchase of the following stores:—
Fourteen tins of potted shrimps, 14 shillings;
Ditto ditto peaches, 14 shillings;
Ditto bottles of lemonade, 3 shillings 6 pence;
(1 penny each allowed on returned bottles.)
Four of Stodge’s spice-cakes, 4 shillings;
A fishing-rod, 2 shillings 6 pence;
Flies for ditto, 1 shilling;
One kettle, 6 pence;
One crumb-brush, 6 pence;
Total, 2 pounds.
This admirable selection of stores met with universal approval. Indeed, as regards the first four items, every one so highly approved that they wanted to take every man his share for safe custody to his own study. It was, however, thought undesirable to put them to this trouble, and the sub-committee were directed to continue in charge of these and the other voluntary contributions until the eventful day.
That was not long in coming round, though to the anxious voyagers it seemed long enough. The interval was spent in deep deliberation and solemn preparation. Braintree had his boots most carefully blacked, and Crashford practised boxing all Saturday afternoon with Rubble of the Fifth; Bowler and Gayford strolled casually round to Sound Bay, to see that the boat was safe in its usual place, and prospected the distant dim outline of the Long Stork from the cliffs. Tubbs, feeling he must do something to contribute to the success of the undertaking, wrote a long letter home, which he forgot to post, asking the forgiveness of his second sister, and adding, “Address for Monday, Long Stork Island.” Wallas amused himself by reading over the directions for restoring life to the apparently drowned, and Wester tidied up Bowler’s study and helped him make up the stores into seven equal brown-paper packages, writing the name of the owner of each on the outside.
This done, the preparations were pronounced as complete as they could be till Monday dawned.
The town holiday was an absolutely free day for the Swishford boys. There was no call-over in the morning, and, indeed, until the evening at eight o’clock they were their own masters.
Most of the boys availed themselves of their liberty by lying in bed an hour later than usual on the November morning, a practice which greatly favoured our heroes in their design of escaping a little before dawn.
Bowler was the first up, and went round to wake the rest.
“Howwid gwind,” said Braintree, sitting up for a moment in bed and rubbing his eyes, and then subsiding again under the clothes. “Needn’t get up yet, Bowler, it’s long before cockcrow.”
“It’s just on six o’clock, I tell you, and it’ll spoil it all if we don’t get away by a quarter past. Do get up, there’s a good fellow.”
“Howwid waw morning,” groaned Braintree. “I’d warthah—oh, vewy well, I’ll get up.”
And with a great effort he struggled out of bed and began to array himself. Bowler had a similar task with each of the other adventurers, and any leader less sanguine or eager might have felt his ardour damped by the evident want of alacrity on the part of his confederates to respond to the call to action.
However, once up, the spirits of the party rose, and they assembled in good-humour in Bowler’s study, where by the dim light of a candle the seven brown-paper parcels were solemnly doled out, and a final review of the preparations made.
A few more articles, such as a whistle, a bottle of hair-oil (contributed by Braintree), a shut-up inkpot and pen from Wester, and a guide to the environs of Tunbridge Wells from Tubbs, were thrown into the common lot at the last moment, and stuffed into the pockets of the ulsters in which the boys had armed themselves against a rainy day.
All this being done, Bowler gave the order to march, which the party obeyed by taking off their boots and crawling downstairs on tiptoe to the front door. As silently as possible the great lock was turned and the bolts drawn, and next moment the adventurers, with their boots in one hand and their brown-paper parcels in the other, stood under the stars.
“Now stick your boots on sharp and step out,” said Bowler. The order was promptly obeyed, and the dim gables of Swishford soon vanished behind them as they sped along the cliffs towards Sound Bay.
It was a good three miles, and in their ulsters, and weighted with their brown-paper parcels, the boys made slow progress. It was already dawn when, rather fagged and not quite sure how they were enjoying it, they reached the top of the path which led down to Sound Bay. The near approach to their journey’s end revived them, and they stumbled down the stony path cheerily but cautiously, until at last they had the satisfaction of seeing the boat bobbing up and down in the little natural harbour close among the rocks.
The wily Bowler and Gayford had marked where the oars and sail were kept, and fetched them in triumph from their hiding-place. The seven brown-paper parcels were solemnly embarked and stowed away under the seats, and then one by one the heroes of New Swishford stepped on board, the painter was thrown loose, silent adieux were waved to the land of their birth, and their gallant boat, nimbly propelled by Gayford and the boat-hook, threaded its way through the rocks and made for the boundless ocean.
Chapter Three. Consternation.
The “Eliza”—that was the name of the coastguard’s boat on which our heroes had embarked—was a middling-sized sea-going rowing boat, which, if it was just big enough by a little judicious packing to hold the seven voyagers, could certainly not have accommodated more.
While Gayford, with the dexterity of an experienced bargee, shoved the boat along out of the creek, Bowler took upon himself the care of trimming the “ship,” and stowing away all the baggage.
“As soon as we get out,” said he, “we’d better lie down on the floor, in case the coastguards see us.”
“Not much chance of that,” replied Gayford. “They never get up till eight, and by that time we shall be halfway across.”
“Suppose they spot us and give chase?” said Wallas. “What a row we shall get into!”
“They’ve not got a boat, I tell you, and I don’t believe there’s one they can get either,” said Bowler.
“But they’re sure to be on the look-out for us when we get back to-night.”
“Let them. It’ll be dark at six, and we can land in Rocket Bay, you know, and dodge them that way.”
Bowler was evidently so well up in the arrangements, and had made such a careful study of all the pros and cons of the venture, that every one felt satisfied, and even the somewhat doubtful Wallas desisted from throwing more cold water on the expedition.
It was a raw morning with a little bit of a fog, and a cool breeze right off the land. This last point, however, gave great satisfaction to the leaders of the party. Once out in the open they would be able to hoist sail, and without the exertion of rowing make a straight track for the Long Stork—much indeed as would be the case when, with a southerly wind at their backs, they would before long plough the ocean from Sinnamary to New Swishford.
The fog also was decidedly in their favour, for it would help to screen them from the observation of any wakeful and inquisitive coastguard. In fact, the unusual combination of wind and fog seemed like a special sign of good omen to their adventure.
“Hope it’s not wough outside,” said Braintree, as the boat, now nearly out of the creek, began to dance a little at the prospect of meeting the open sea.
“Can’t be rough with the wind off the land, you duffer,” said Crashford.
“Can’t it, though?” said Wester, as a wave lifted the prow of the boat and nearly sent it back on the rocks.
“I call that vewy wough,” said Braintree, looking and feeling a little uncomfortable.
“Oh, it’s only the ground swell,” said Gayford; “we shall soon get out of that. Here, Bowler, old man, take an oar with Tubbs, and keep way on while I stick up the sail. Look alive!”
With some difficulty the oars were got out, and Tubbs made to comprehend what was expected of him. But comprehending was one thing with Tubbs, and doing was another thing. Just as he settled down to his oar, another wave lifted the boat and Tubbs with it, who clung wildly to the seat with both hands, leaving his oar to its fate. Luckily, Crashford was near enough to make a grab at it before it went, or the beginning of the expedition might have been marked by a serious catastrophe.
The unhappy Tubbs having been shunted, Crashford took his place, and with Bowler kept the boat’s head steady till Gayford hauled up the sail, and the “Eliza” began of her own accord to fly through the water.
At the sight of the majestic sail swelling with the wind, and still more on perceiving a decided improvement in the pitching of the boat, the spirits of the party rose again, and Braintree actually began to hum “Wule Bwitannia.”
The cliffs of Raveling loomed dimly out behind them, and ahead they could just discern the faintest outline of the land of their adoption.
“Upon my word,” said Bowler, “this is jolly. It’s just like the real New Swishford, isn’t it, you fellows?”
“Warthah,” said Braintree, “except my wifle to let fly at the seagulls with.”
“But,” said Wallas, “if the wind’s off the land this side, it will be off the sea when we get over there, so I suppose it’ll get rougher and rougher the farther out we get?”
This ominous suggestion had the effect of immediately damping the spirits of half the party, and Bowler and Gayford found it difficult to restore confidence in the much-abused ocean. The ocean, however, went some way to restore confidence in itself. For though it still continued restless enough to keep Braintree and Tubbs in a state of suspended enjoyment in the bows, it showed no signs of getting worse as it went on.
Bowler was jubilant. With his hand on the rudder and his eye on the compass, he kept the boat’s course like a line, and fancied himself heading due north from Sinnamary. Gayford, with the sheet in his hand, and a careful watch on the sail, could easily delude himself into fancying the coast-line of the Long Stork was the veritable shore of New Swishford.
“Isn’t it prime, old man,” said he, “and won’t it be primer still when the real time comes? I never guessed it would be so easy. Not a thing’s gone wrong.”
“No; and think of the lark of landing and collaring the island, too. I say, who does the Long Stork belong to?”
“Don’t know—the Long Storks, I guess. They’re the only inhabitants I ever heard of.”
“Well, I’m sorry for them. But, I say, Gayford, it’s just as well we have got some grub on board, for there’s not much sign of forests and game, and all that sort of thing here.”
Not much indeed! Long Stork Island was a barren rock about a mile long and half a mile wide, with a few scraggy patches of grass on its uninviting slope. No living creatures but the wild sea-birds patronised it in the winter, when the waves lashed over the island and sent their salt spray from one end to the other. Even they seemed to avoid it. But beggars cannot be choosers, and as the Long Stork was the only island of our heroes’ acquaintance within reach, they had to take it as it was and make the best of it.
A decided sea was running on the landward side of the island as they approached it, and even such inexperienced navigators as Bowler and Gayford could see that there would be some difficulty about effecting a quiet landing.
“Better go round the other side,” said Gayford; “it’ll be quiet enough there out of the wind.”
So the boat’s nose was put out to make a circuit of the Long Stork.
“Look out, I say!” said, or rather groaned Braintree from the bows. “Don’t make the boat woll. Why can’t you wun her stwait in the way you—?”
His further observations were cut short, and during the rest of the time that the “Eliza” was rounding the stormy cape he and Tubbs and Crashford were in a decidedly pensive mood. At last the circumnavigation was accomplished, and in tranquil water the boat cruised along under the sheltered shore of the island. The sail was lowered, oars were put out, the invalids sat up, and Bowler, standing up in the bows, scanned the coast for a likely landing-place.
He had not to search long. A little natural pier of rock ran out invitingly, alongside which the boat was slowly and triumphantly brought.
“Now, you fellows,” said Crashford, “here goes for first on shore. Out of the way, Tubby. Hurrah for New Swishford!” And he leapt on shore, half capsizing the boat as he did so.
Bowler found his authority unequal to the task of controlling the enthusiasm of his fellow-emigrants, and he had to let them land as they pleased, while he and Gayford grimly held the boat alongside.
When all but Tubbs were ashore, their patience could hold out no longer. They followed the general rush, Bowler crying out to Tubbs as he sprang ashore—
“See and make her fast, Tubbs, and land the grub, will you? We’ll be back directly.” And off he scampered with the rest, to join in the ceremony of capturing the island.
Now Tubbs was not the best man who could have been chosen to execute so important a trust as that laid upon him; and Bowler, had he been rather less excited at the moment, would have thought twice before he left him to perform it. In the first place, Tubbs could find no place to tie the boat up to, and as long as he sat in the boat and held on to the rock it was evident he could not land the grub. So he was in a dilemma. He did his best; he relaxed his hold for a moment and made a frantic grab at one of the brown-paper parcels. But it almost cost him his moorings, for the boat, taking advantage of its liberty, began to slide away out to sea, and it was all Tubbs could do to catch hold of the rock again in time to stop it. This would not do, it was clear. He pulled the boat along to its old position, and throwing the parcel ashore, meditated. He must wait till one of the others came to help him. Poor Tubbs! It was hard lines to see the rest of the party scrambling triumphantly up the hill, and find himself left here like a sort of animated anchor. Happy thought! How came he never to have thought of the anchor before? There it was in the bottom of the boat. It would be the simplest thing to jump ashore with it and fix it somewhere in the rocks where it would hold. No sooner was the brilliant project conceived than it was executed. Seizing the anchor in his hands, Tubbs stepped gaily ashore and triumphantly wedged one tooth of it into a crevice of the rock, where it would hold firm enough to keep a man-of-war in its place. He watched with a pleasant smile the “Eliza” as she drifted slowly out on the rope, enjoying the prospect of seeing her presently tug at the anchor, and then give up the attempt to get free and resign herself to her fate.
It was a longer coil of rope than he had imagined. The boat was twenty yards away at least, and still paying out. By the way, where was the rope? With a cry of horror Tubbs sprang to the anchor and began hauling in. The rope came in gaily, but not the “Eliza.” She danced merrily cut to sea in a straight line for the North Pole, with the six brown-paper parcels on board, leaving her poor custodian to console himself as best he could with a loose end of rope, which had never been fastened to its ring.
What was he to do? After taking a few minutes to collect his ideas, by which time the boat was a hundred yards on its solitary voyage, it occurred to him he had better inform the others of what had happened. So he started in rather a low state of mind in pursuit of them. It was a long time before he came upon them, perched in a group on the highest point of the island, and singing “Rule Britannia” in a lusty chorus which sent the scared seagulls flying to right and left.
“Hullo, Tubby, old man, here we are! Got the grub safe ashore? Not been bagging any of the peaches, eh? You’ve been long enough.”
Tubbs replied by pointing mysteriously to a little speck out at sea.
“What’s the row? What is it?” asked Gayford.
“You wouldn’t guess what that little thing is,” said Tubbs.
“What is it? Can’t you speak?”
“Well, if you must know, it’s our boat. The anchor wasn’t tied, you know!”
“The boat! You great booby!” cried one and all, springing to their feet and rushing in the direction of the pier, upsetting and trampling over the unhappy Tubbs as they did so.
“What on earth shall we do?” gasped Gayford, as he ran by Bowler’s side.
“We must swim for it,” said Bowler. “It’s our only chance.”
“Can’t do it. She’s half a mile out.”
“It’s all up with us if we can’t get her!” groaned Bowler.
They reached the landing-stage, and there, sure enough, danced the “Eliza” half a mile out at sea.
“I’ll try it,” said Bowler, flinging off his coat.
“What, to swim? You’ll do nothing of the sort,” said Gayford, seizing his friend by main force.
“I tell you it’s our only chance,” cried Bowler. “Let go, do you hear?”
“No, I won’t, old man. We must make the best of it. It’ll be more like New Swishford than ever now.”
This last argument had more effect with Bowler than any other, and he slowly put on his coat.
“I vote we souse that idiot, Tubbs, till he’s black in the face,” said Crashford viciously.
“What’s the use of that?” asked Bowler. “The fact is, you fellows,” said he, “we’re regularly in for it now, and the sooner we make up our minds what we shall do the better.”
“Let’s make a waft,” said Braintree, mindful of his Wobinson Cwusoe.
“Where’s your wood?” asked Wallas.
“Let’s hoist a signal, anyhow,” said Wester.
“No one to see it if you do,” said Wallas.
“Let’s have some grub,” said Crashford.
This last suggestion met with general approval. They had had no breakfast to speak of, and after their voyage and excitement hunger was beginning to assert itself. The one brown-paper parcel rescued from the “Eliza” was forthwith handed in and pronounced common property. It happened to be the parcel bearing Tubbs’s name, and contained, besides a seventh part of the provisions, Tubbs’s voluntary contributions to the general store—namely, the crib to Sallust, and the guide to the environs of Tunbridge Wells. These, it was proposed and seconded, should be handed over to the owner as his share of the good things contained in the parcel, but Bowler and Gayford interfered on his behalf; and after having been reprimanded with a severity that took away his appetite, he was allowed to partake of a portion of potted shrimp and a potted peach, together with a small slice of cake. Bowler groaned to see what a hole even this frugal repast made in the provisions, and consulted Gayford in an undertone on the possibility of slaying a seagull and the merits of raw poultry generally.
Rather dolefully the provisions were packed up and deposited in a ledge in the rocks, while the party proceeded to wander about the island in search of board and lodging. The charms of Long Stork Island had fallen off greatly in the short interval, and the sea-fog, which was beginning to wrap it round and hide the mainland from view, seemed like a wet blanket both on the spirits and persons of the adventurers.
After much dreary search a hollow was found on the hill-side, which by fastening together three or four ulsters might be roofed over sufficiently well to keep out the rain or cold if required. As to food, the island provided absolutely nothing except the chance of raw poultry already mentioned and a few shell-fish on the rocks.
The day wore on, and the fog turned to drizzle and the drizzle to rain. They held out against it as long as they could, but had to take shelter at last, and herd together in their extemporised cabin.
Here a painful discussion ensued, “I hope you’re satisfied now!” growled Wallas. “This is mess enough to please even you, Bowler.”
“What do you mean?” retorted Gayford; “a lot you’ve done for the public good. There are plenty of seagulls about without you to croak, too.”
“I wish my umbwellah hadn’t gone out to sea,” observed Braintree, shivering.
“By the way,” said Crashford, “didn’t I see it lying on the rocks. I’ll just run and see,” and off he started.
“When shall we ever get away?” asked Wester. “We may get starved here.”
“They’re sure to see us or find us out in a day or two,” said Bowler.
“A day or two!” exclaimed Wallas; “do you really mean we’ve got to stay here without food or shelter a day or two? I wish your New Swishford was in the middle of the sea.”
“So it is,” dryly observed Bowler.
“Fine fools you’ve made of us with your humbug and child’s play,” growled the other.
“You don’t want much making,” retorted Bowler; “and if you want to talk any more, you can talk to some one else.”
Wallas accepted the invitation, and growled all round till everybody was sick of him.
After a long absence Crashford returned without the umbrella.
“I couldn’t find it,” said he, sitting down. “It’s gone.”
“But you found the peaches, you blackguard!” said Bowler, springing up and pointing to some juicy remains still clinging to the delinquent’s coat. And in his righteous indignation he dealt the traitor a blow which sent him out of the tent.
A fight ensued there and then between Bowler and Crashford, unhappily, to the disadvantage of the former, who was no match for the practised hand opposed to him. The company interposed after a few rounds, and none too soon for the damaged though still lion-hearted Bowler.
Crashford profited nothing by his victory, for it was decided unanimously to exclude him from the tent till he chose to apologise for his treachery; and meanwhile the remains of the slender provisions were taken into safe custody out of his reach.
The day wore on, and the rain fell heavier and heavier upon the ulster-roof over their heads. The wind whistled drearily above them, and the mainland was entirely lost to sight. As far as they were concerned they might be in the real New Swishford, a thousand miles from the nearest land.
They huddled together silently, no one caring much to speak. Only Braintree broke the monotony by shivering audibly, and the footsteps of Crashford, as he paced up and down outside to keep warm, added a dreary variety to the silence.
The afternoon drew on, and at last Bowler said—
“Better let the beggar in.”
“Hadn’t we better all turn out and see what’s to be done?” said Gayford. “We shall only come to grief here. The grub won’t hold out for another meal, and then it’ll be something more than a joke.”
“Come on, then, you fellows,” said Bowler. And the roof was hauled down, and the party turned dismally out once more to seek their fortune.
Chapter Four. Consolation.
Our heroes, who in all their anticipations had never calculated on anything but fine weather and unlimited rations and congenial occupation, began to entertain serious doubts as to the joys of founding an empire, as they trailed dreadily along in the rain after Bowler and Gayford. The weaker of the party had no spirit to suggest anything themselves, or to question what their leaders suggested; so they followed doggedly where they were led, neither knowing nor caring whither.
With Bowler and Gayford it was otherwise. They felt rather ashamed of themselves for having lost their heads earlier in the day and resolved now to atone for it in the only way they could. They put a brave face on the situation, and tried to impart their courage to their followers.
“I tell you what,” said Bowler cheerily, as the seven stood again on the rocks at the water’s edge; “it wants a good hour of dark, and the least thing we can do is to spend the daylight in looking for some proper place of shelter and something to eat, if we can find it. Suppose I and Tubbs and Braintree start to walk round this way, and you, Gayford, take the rest round the other way. If any of us find anything, we’ll stop till the other party come up. I’ve got my whistle, so we’ll be sure to hear one another.”
It could do no harm, and it might do good, so the party tacitly fell in with the suggestion, and divided itself accordingly. Even Crashford was wise enough to feel he could gain nothing by sulking, and returned to his allegiance without demur.
“Can’t we have something to eat before we start?” said Wallas.
“My dear fellow,” replied Gayford, “I wish we could, but then we shall have nothing left for to-morrow.”
Strange to say, Wallas disputed the matter no further, and turned with his companions to start on their tour of discovery.
Bowler kept whistling cheerily, and Gayford shouted in reply till the two parties were out of earshot. Then each walked on in silence, eagerly scanning sea and shore in search of hope. For Bowler’s party there seemed very little prospect of anything turning up, for their way lay across bare ledges of rock, with perhaps a pool to wade, or a little cape to scramble across, but never a sign of food or shelter. Braintree did indeed announce that in one place he saw a “cwab” disappear into a hole, but the chances of satisfaction from that source were too remote to be pursued.
How they longed to be back under the roof of old Swishford, and to hear the cheery bell summoning the boys to tea, and how gratefully now would they have welcomed the wholesome plenty of that often abused meal! Alas! there were no cups of tea, or eggs, or bread-and-butter going on the Long Stork.
“Of course,” said Bowler, “we could never be quite stuck up for grub as long as there’s seaweed about, and if the rain goes on like this there’ll be plenty of water too.”
“You’re wight there,” said Braintree; “but seaweed and wain-water is warthah a spare diet.”
“Anyhow,” said Bowler, “we have got enough of the shrimps and peaches left for a good breakfast to-morrow; that’s one comfort.”
And they trudged on in that glorious prospect.
For an hour they toiled along the rocky shore until the daylight almost suddenly vanished, and the gloom of a damp November night fell upon them. What was the use of exploring further? Even Bowler lost heart as he stumbled about in the dusk, and heard Braintree shivering and chattering with cold beside him, and Tubbs’s scarcely suppressed whimper of misery.
“Better get back to the rest as soon as we can,” said he, taking out his whistle and blowing it again.
They listened, but no answer came, only the shriek of the gulls and the steady splash of the rain on the rocks.
“Never mind, we can’t be long before we get round to them,” said Bowler; “perhaps they’ve found a place, you know.”
For another half-hour they toiled on, Bowler blowing his whistle every few minutes, but always without response.
“Where can they be? We’re almost round at the place we started from, surely,” said Bowler, “and—hullo, look out there!”
They had reached a sudden break in the coast about twenty yards across, with rocks on each side which dropped almost precipitously into the water, forming a serious bar to further progress.
They must either scramble down and wade or swim across, or else turn inland and make a long détour round the head of the chasm.
Bowler made a careful inspection of the rocks, and then said—
“I think we could do it; what do you say? If we went round we might miss the others.”
“All wight,” said Braintree, blowing his hands; “I’m game, so’s Tubbs.”
Tubbs said nothing, but stood by miserably, ready to follow Bowler’s lead.
“I’ll go down first,” said the latter. “Mind how you come, the rocks are slippery.”
He lowered himself cautiously down the steep rock, finding just enough to cling on to with his hands, while he felt his way down with his feet. He got to the bottom safely, and found firm footing in a ledge of rock close to the water’s edge.
“Now, then,” shouted he, “down you come, Braintree.”
Braintree obeyed, and managed with difficulty to reach the ledge. Then Tubbs attempted. But he, poor fellow, clumsy at all times, and now utterly unnerved by the miseries of the day, was not man enough for the venture, and, after one feeble effort, begged to be allowed to stay where he was.
“Nonsense!” cried Bowler; “come on, old man, we’ll help you down all right.”
So Tubbs tried again. Had not the situation been so perilous, the appearance he presented as he clung wildly on to the rock with his hands, and kicked still more wildly with his feet, would have been ludicrous. But it was no time for joking. The two at the bottom piloted his feet as well as they could, and encouraged him in his downward career. But before they could reach him he slipped, and with a howl fell backward into the sea.
In a moment Bowler, dressed as he was, was in beside him, holding him up and striking out to where Braintree, with outstretched hand, waited to help them in. But it was long before they could haul his half-senseless form from the water; and by the time this was accomplished, Bowler himself was so exhausted that he in turn needed all Braintree’s aid to land himself. At last, however, all three were on the ledge.
But what were they to do next? Tubbs lay still half-stupefied, utterly unable to help himself. The rock they had descended frowned above them, defying any attempt to return the way they had come, and between the ledge they stood on and the rock the other side twenty yards of uneasy water intervened.
“Could we swim across with him?” said Bowler, after a little.
“I’ll do my best,” said Braintree.
“The thing is,” said Bowler, “the tide was dead out an hour ago, so it must be coming in now. Oh, what a cad I was to lead you into this, Braintree!”
“Shut up, old man, I say,” said Braintree; and he began to take off his coat and boots.
Bowler did the same.
“We shall have to leave them behind,” said he. “It can’t be helped. Are you ready?”
“Yes. But I say, old man, if I get done up and have to let go, don’t wait for me. I’m not much of a swimmer.”
“If I could only be sure of getting him over,” said he, pointing to Tubbs, “I might come back and—”
“Hullo! I say, Bowler, look there!” exclaimed Braintree suddenly, pointing out to sea. “Wasn’t that a light? Blow your whistle, I say.”
Bowler obeyed, eagerly gazing in the direction indicated by Braintree. There was neither answer nor light.
“I’m certain I saw something!” exclaimed Braintree. “Blow again, old man.”
And once more the whistle sent forth a shrill cry seaward, accompanied by a loud shout from Braintree.
They waited in terrible suspense, but still no answer.
“You must be wrong,” said Bowler.
“No, I’m not; blow once more.”
And again Bowler obeyed.
This time, sure enough, he fancied he saw a glimmer on the water; but it might be only the lights on the mainland appearing through the lifting fog.
For ten minutes they kept up an incessant whistling and shouting, their hopes growing less and less as the time passed. At length, worn out and desperate, they had given it up, and were turning once more to prepare for their swim across. But as they did so the light suddenly reappeared, the time close to the shore.
Once more, with frantic energy, they raised their signal of distress, and after a moment’s terrible silence had the joy of hearing a faint shout across the water.
“It’s a boat!” cried Braintree. “Whistle again to show them where we are.”
Again and again they whistled, and again and again the responsive shout, growing ever nearer, came back. Presently they could even distinguish the sound of oars, and at length the dim outline of a boat loomed across the entrance of the gulf.
“Where are you?” shouted a voice in the familiar tones of the Raveling coastguard.
“Here. We can see you. We’re on the ledge here, Thomson!”
In a few seconds the boat was alongside, and the three boys were safely lifted into it.
“Where’s the rest of you?” asked Thomson, as coolly as if this sort of thing was an everyday occurrence with him. “We want seven of you.”
“I don’t know where they are,” said Bowler. “They were coming round this way to meet us. You’d better row round somewhere where we can land and look for them.”
“Give your orders,” said Thomson. “You’ve had your day’s fun, and seemingly you’re determined I should have my night’s. Row away, mate.” And he and his man turned the boat’s head and pulled out of the gulf.
“I say, Thomson, have you got any gwub or anything?” said Braintree faintly.
“Grub,” said the jocular coastguard. “What, harn’t you found grub enough on this here island? Anyhow, if you do want something you’d better open that there bag and see what you can find.”
Bowler was too anxious to discover the missing ones to feel much appetite for food, and kept blowing his whistle as the boat slowly coasted the island.
At length, to his unbounded joy, an answering shout was heard, and the shadowy forms of the four outcasts were seen standing on the pier from which they had started two hours before.
Jubilant were the welcomes exchanged as the heroes of New Swishford once more counted their full number, and ensconced themselves snugly in the stern of Thomson’s boat round his wonderful bag of food.
It did not take long to chronicle the doings of Gayford’s party. After about half an hour’s journey they had been pulled up by the same chasm which had nearly proved too much for poor Tubbs. Finding it impossible to cross it, they had turned inland, and for a cheerful hour lost their way completely in the fog. At length, by means of walking in a straight line, they had come again to the coast, and after much searching had found the pier. And having found it, they resolved to keep it until the other party completed the circuit and found them where it left them.
“And however did you find us out, Thomson?” inquired Gayford, after the repast had been done ample justice to. “Did your boat come ashore?”
“No, she didn’t, young gentleman; and I can tell you you’ll get to know how to spell her name tolerable well before you’ve heard the last of her.”
“Oh, of course we shall get into a frightful row,” said Bowler; “but how did you come to find us?”
“Why, one of you artful young scholards left a letter to his ma on his table, open for everybody to see, talking some gammon about a West Indian island, and saying you was going to lay hold of the Long Stork, to get your hands in. I can tell you you have got your hands in, my beauties. There’s a cart-load of birches been ordered for you at the school already.”
These awful warnings failed to counteract the satisfaction of our heroes at finding themselves nearly back again in the region of blankets and hot porridge. Bowler in the name of the party magnificently presented Thomson with the odd shilling reserved for his benefit, and expressed his sorrow it was not more. But, he added, if the “Eliza” ever turned up, he might keep everything he found on board, including twelve tins of shrimps and peaches, a bottle of hair-oil, a set of cricket bails, and a copy of Young’s Night Thoughts; whereat Thomson was moved with gratitude, and said they were as nice a lot of articles as ever he came across, and he did not mind saying so.
An hour later our heroes were all in bed, comfortable within and without. They were let down easy for their day’s escapade, and except for colds more or less bad, and a decidedly augmented bill at the end of the term to pay for a new “Eliza,” as well as a regulation forbidding all sea voyages of whatever kind, they suffered no further punishment than the lessons of the day itself. To those lessons they added one more of their own accord, by resolving unanimously, that from that day forward they renounced all further claim to that eligible island commonly known as New Swishford.