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paces he took.

At the five hundred and twentieth step his foot splashed into the
water. The Scout halted, struck a match and examined the rock close
to the surface of the pool. It was fairly dry.

"That means the water is still rising," thought the Leader. "I'll
draw a line in the dust, and look again in five minutes' time, just
to make sure."

Taking a piece of twine from his pocket, Atherton measured off as
near as he could guess a length slightly exceeding a yard. To one end
he attached his knife. Holding the other end in his hand, the Scout
allowed the weighted string to swing.

"A pendulum thirty-nine inches in length swings one every second," he
said to himself. "This ought to be near enough for my purpose."

He waited till the knife had swung three hundred times - it seemed
more like an hour than five minutes, - then, striking another match,
he examined the mark he had made on the ground. It was already on the
point of being covered. The water was still rising.

"Cheerful," he remarked. "After all, there is no danger, it's only
the discomfort, and all true Scouts make light of trivial matters
like this. It's another all-night business: that's my opinion."

"Atherton!" shouted Green, his voice rumbling down the tube-like
passage.

"Hulloa?"

"Our light's gone out. Is the water falling?"

Atherton struck a match.

"I'm sorry to say it isn't," he shouted in reply.

"Then it's no use waiting there. Come back to us. It's mighty cold
and we're precious hungry."

"I can't feed you, Green, and if you're cold jump about a bit and
flap your arms. I'll be with you soon."

After giving this advice, Atherton began to walk along the now
familiar tunnel. Ere he had covered a hundred paces he was surprised
by the sound of a sharp detonation, followed by shouts of alarm on
the part of his two comrades.

"What's up?" hailed Atherton.

The shouting still continued, but the anxious Scout could make
neither head nor tail of what was being said. Presently a strong
current of air, followed by the pungent fumes of powder, drifted down
the tunnel.

Gasping, Atherton tied his scarf over his mouth, and dashed as hard
as he could through the inky darkness, keeping his left hand on the
wall to guide him. Stumbling over the silver bowl at the foot of the
stairs was the first intimation he received of the fact that he had
reached the end of the passage.

Then, as he mounted the spiral stairs, to his utter relief he heard
Mr Buckley's voice calling him by name.

Removing his scarf, Atherton gave a reassuring answer.

"Thank heaven, you're safe!" replied the Scoutmaster, as Atherton
emerged through an irregularly shaped hole that took the place of the
narrow opening into the butler's room.

"And Mayne and Green?"

"They're all right, only a bit shaken up."

In the room, in addition to Mr Buckley, were Sir Silas Gwinnear,
Polglaze the detective, and a gentleman whom Atherton had not seen
before, and who was a mining engineer for one of the neighbouring
"wheals" or mines, and three workmen.

"We knew something was amiss," explained the Scoutmaster. "Soon after
you descended the tunnel for the second time it came on to pour with
rain. Phillips suggested to me the danger of one portion of the
passage being filled with water, and he and I going down found this
to be the case, and that your retreat was cut off, unless you
succeeded in turning the revolving stone.

"Thinking that there was a chance of your not being able to do so,
Phillips and I made our way across the mainland, and on to Polkerwyck
House.

"We found the secret opening still remained fast closed. We hammered
at it, tried crowbars, and did everything to attract your attention.
Green tells me you never heard a sound."

"We made as much row as we could, sir," said Atherton. "The walls
must be practically soundproof."

"I should say they are not soundproof now," continued Mr Buckley. "On
Sir Silas's advice we sent to Polkarnis Mine for some men accustomed
to the use of explosives, and this gentleman - Mr Copperas, the
electrical works' manager - kindly came over to give his technical
assistance."

"Yes, it's a wonder we didn't do more harm," added Mr Copperas.
"Since we heard no sounds from within we naturally concluded that the
three of you were farther along the tunnel. However, all's well that
ends well, and your two chums have been through an experience I never
wish to meet with: standing within a few feet of five pounds of
gun-cotton when it exploded."

"Now, Atherton, we must be making a move," declared the Scoutmaster.
"It will soon be dark, and you've had a couple of very trying days."

"How about the silver bowl, sir?" said the Scout, who had already
noticed the signs of preparations of bricking up the gap. "I'll get
it if you like."

"Don't worry about that, Atherton," interposed Sir Silas. "Get a good
night's rest. You can have a bed here if you wish."

"No, thank you, sir," replied Atherton. "I think I shall sleep pretty
soundly in camp."

"As you like," said the baronet. "I'll see that the bowl is brought
out. Mr Copperas and I have a wish to have a look at this remarkable
tunnel before it is actually sealed."

"Any further news of Tassh, sir?" asked Atherton, as, accompanied by
the five "Otters," the Scoutmaster started at a brisk walk towards
Polkerwyck.

"Nothing, save that the police hope to effect his arrest in London.
As far as we are concerned I think the Scouts have finished with the
business. It will give us a chance to settle down to a less strenuous
holiday."



CHAPTER XVII

THE MYSTERIOUS YACHT


UNTIL over the following Sunday the Scouts of Seal Island "stood
easy." The usual routine was maintained, but operations necessitating
arduous work were temporarily dispensed with. The lads were all more
or less done up. Want of sleep, exposure to the rain, and a surfeit
of excitement tried them to a very great extent; but, thanks to their
physical training, they were soon little the worse for the
experiences they had undergone.

Even Coventry minor's case showed good signs of improvement. He was
still unable to leave the doctor's house, but there was every chance
of his being fit to take part in the camp before the end of a
fortnight.

Early on Tuesday morning, the two patrols started on a boating
excursion. The "Otters," with the Scoutmaster, took Varco's largest
boat, while the "Wolves" embarked in a craft only slightly smaller.
Both boats were provided with masts and sails, the area of the latter
being comparatively small, so that there was little chance of a
catastrophe occurring. Mr Buckley was a skilled and keen boat-sailer,
while Simpson and Fraser of the "Wolves" knew enough about the
management of a small craft under sail to be entrusted with the care
of the one in which their patrol embarked.

After the gale, which had finished with the torrential rain that had
caused the flooding of the subterranean passage, the weather set in
fair, with a very high temperature. The Scouts unanimously voted that
it was simply ripping weather for camping, and the discomforts of the
gale were now almost forgotten.

It was the intention of the Scouts to circumnavigate Seal Island. A
better day could not have been chosen. There was hardly any wind:
what there was was off shore, while - a somewhat unusual
circumstance - the ground-swell was absent.

Past the now familiar Dollar Cove the lads rowed, pausing every now
and then to admire the fantastic outlines of the rugged cliffs.

"Mackerel in the bay," announced Mr Buckley, pointing to a shimmering
light on the surface of the water, about half way across to Beware
Head.

"I wish we had some rag worm for bait," said Jim Sayers. "There are
two lines in the boat, but without bait they might just as well not
be there."

"Don't say that," rejoined the Scoutmaster, laughing. "Let me have a
look at the lines. Ah! they're properly hooked. Sayers, I see an old
tin can under the bow thwart. Give it a rub on the leather of your
oar and pass it to me."

The Tenderfoot did as Mr Buckley suggested. With a pair of pocket
scissors the Scoutmaster cut three spoon-shaped pieces from the now
glittering tin, curved them with his fingers and attached the metal
to the line just in front of the three-barbed hooks.

"Well I never!" ejaculated Sayers. "To think that fish make a meal
out of a chunk of tin."

The lines were paid out, the metal discs jumping erratically under
the resistance of the water.

Three minutes later, Sayers felt a sharp tug on his line.

"A fish!" he exclaimed excitedly.

"Haul it slowly and carefully or you'll lose it," cautioned Mr
Buckley. "Yes, Sayers, you've hooked a beauty."

Wildly struggling, a fair-sized mackerel was landed into the boat,
its gills impaled by two barbed hooks. After that the sport was fast
and furious, and before the boats were abreast of Beware Head eleven
fish were lying on the bottom boards of the "Otters'" boat, and nine
fell to the lot of the "Wolves."

"There's a cutter close inshore," observed Phillips, as the boats
rounded North Head.

"She's too close in for safety," added Mayne. "She can't be very far
from the reef where the tramp steamer struck."

"She's anchored," declared Atherton. "I can see the cable. She's a
good distance this side of the reef, nearly opposite the Tea Caves, I
should imagine."

"We'll pull close to her and see if anything's wrong. Perhaps they've
missed the tide, and have anchored close inshore till slack water,"
said Mr Buckley. "Give way 'Wolves'; we'll race you."

The "Wolves" did give way with a will, and being in a lighter and
fairly narrow-beamed boat they outstripped their friendly rivals.

"That will do," ordered the Scoutmaster. "Take it easy now."

The cutter was a yacht of about ten tons. Since she had no name on
her counter, Mr Buckley came to the conclusion that she belonged to a
recognised yacht club in spite of the fact that she flew no burgee.

She was moored with two anchors and cables - an unnecessary business
unless she was to stay over one tide. A dinghy was made fast astern,
and this was the only intimation the Scouts had that there was some
one on board the yacht, for her deck was deserted.

"Yacht ahoy!" hailed the Scoutmaster.

Two disreputable-looking men clad in blue jerseys and dirty canvas
trousers emerged hurriedly from the cabin.

"Wot d'ye want, Capting?" asked the taller of the two, with an
insolent ring in his voice.

"We thought you were brought up too close inshore," said the
Scoutmaster. "Perhaps you're strangers to this part of the coast?"

"I'll chaunce me arm over that, old mate," was the reply. "We're
bloomin' well all right, cocky. When the tide serves we'll sweep the
blinkin' boat rahnd to Padstow if there's no bloomin' wind."

"Give way, lads," ordered the Scoutmaster.

Not a word more was spoken till both boats had put an intervening
headland between them and the cutter and her surly crew.

"They're a churlish set," remarked Mr Buckley. "I wonder what their
little game is, bringing up so close to the Tea Caves?"

"Do you know, sir, I believe - although I am not quite sure - that the
shorter man is one of the fellows who threw Sir Silas over Hungerford
Bridge."

"Eh?" exclaimed Mr Buckley, incredulously. "I think so, sir. And
another thing I noticed: those fellows said they would sweep the
yacht to Padstow if there were no wind."

"That's so," agreed the Scoutmaster.

"Then why would they want to row her when there's a motor on board,
sir?"

"A motor - how do you know, Atherton?"

"I noticed the propeller under the water, sir."

"You did? I missed that, then. I was directing my attention to the
stern to see if a name had been painted out. It is quite possible,
since the yacht is a fairly decent one, that those two fellows have
stolen it. Such acts are not uncommon. That also might be an
explanation for their statement that they intended to use their
sweeps. They might be ignorant of how to run a motor."

"Looks fishy, sir," remarked Phillips. "Do you think, since they are
close to the mouth of the Tea Caves, that they have anything to do
with Paul Tassh?"

"The possibility is somewhat remote. Tassh is, according to all
accounts, hiding in London."

"With the bulk of the booty, sir?"

"Well, since you suggest it, there might be something in the wind
between those two surly fellows and Paul Tassh," admitted Mr Buckley.
"I thought we had finished with the business. However, I'll call for
volunteers to patrol the cliffs above the Tea Caves tonight if the
yacht hasn't cleared off in the meantime."

With that the voyage was resumed. At the blowing holes the Scouts
landed, in order to investigate this natural curiosity; but, owing to
an absence of wind and no sea running, the "performance was off," as
Neale expressed it.

The lads thoroughly enjoyed a scamper over the remarkably shaped
rocks, which were only accessible from the sea; and here a
substantial lunch was partaken.

"I wonder what would happen if we stopped up the blowing hole?" asked
Reggie Scott of his churn Sayers, pointing to an orifice in the rock
about three inches in diameter, which was worn perfectly smooth by
the violent up-burst of water.

"I reckon it would go off like a pop-gun the first time the waves
broke under it," replied Sayers. "But what's the use? We shan't be
here to see what happens."

"I'll fill it up, just for fun," said Scott. "Let's see how deep it
is first."

Lying at full length on the flat-topped rock, the Tenderfoot bared
his arm and thrust it down.

"I can't reach anything like far enough, Sayers," he began. "It will
take a lot of filling up - - "

His remarks were rudely interrupted by a sudden rush of compressed
air. Before Scott could throw himself clear of the blow-hole he was
drenched to the skin by a torrent of water forced through the
circular hole in the rock.

Sayers yelled with delight, but his mirth was brought to an abrupt
termination by a regular waterspout from another blow-hole close to
where he was standing. Slipping on the weed-covered rock, he subsided
on his back, and while in this ignominious position he was completely
enveloped in the falling spray.

At the first sign of the spout Atherton, Simpson, Phillips, and
Coventry made a hurried dash for the boats. They were only just in
time to prevent them from being dashed broadside on to the beach as
three rollers in quick succession hurled themselves up the rocks.

"It must have been the swell of a steamer," declared Simpson, after
the sea had resumed its placid condition.

"Steamer? I saw none within a mile or so of shore," remarked
Phillips, "and the last one quite a quarter of an hour ago."

"That, no doubt, was the one that caused the three rollers," remarked
Mr Buckley, who had overheard the Scouts. "The swell of a large
steamer, travelling at a fair speed, will be felt five miles off, and
at a considerable time after the ship has passed abreast of that part
of the shore on which the waves break. But come along, lads, we've
seen the blowing holes at work, and some of you have wet shirts in
consequence."

Into their boats the Scouts jumped, and once more the coasting trip
was resumed. Without further incident the lads landed at the cove,
hauled the boats up the slope, and returned to camp for dinner.



CHAPTER XVIII HOT ON THE TRAIL


THE more Atherton thought about one of the crew of the mysterious
yacht the more he became convinced that the fellow was Sir Silas
Gwinnear's assailant.

After dinner, seizing a favourable opportunity, the lad approached
his Scoutmaster on the subject.

"You're falling a victim to the powers of suggestion, I'm afraid,
Atherton," remarked Mr Buckley. "When you first mentioned the matter
to me you said you _thought_ he was the man. Now, after ruminating,
you come to the conclusion that he _must_ be the culprit. Such
definite conclusions based upon flimsy suppositions are dangerous.
Over and over again one reads of cases of persons being wrongly
arrested owing to definite yet mistaken zeal on the part of an
impressionable constable. Now, for example, what do you suggest would
be the best course to adopt? Inform the police?"

"Yes, sir; my idea is that he should not be allowed to slip through
our fingers, so to speak."

"And if the fellow gives a perfectly corroborated statement, and
claims damages for illegal arrest, where would the funds of the troop
go, eh? No, no, Atherton, we must get to work more cautiously. I am
quite in agreement with you that the action of these two men on the
yacht is suspicious, and that they ought to be kept under
observation. All the same, I do not like the idea of so much night
work. Before I took over for Mr Trematon, you had more than one
restless night."

"If it has to be done, sir, it must be," replied Atherton earnestly.
"The other fellows are of the same mind."

"Very well, so long as the yacht remains of the Island we will keep
her under observation. I'll send Simpson and the 'Wolves' out till
sunset, and then the 'Otters' can carry on till morning. Only, mind
you, it is to be distinctly understood that your patrol must rest
this afternoon and also to-morrow morning. Seven hours' sleep in
every twenty-four is essential."

"Very good, sir," said Atherton.

"And," continued Mr Buckley, "I mean to take the night watch with
you. We must find a likely spot whence we can command the approach to
the Tea Caves as well as the yacht. Now tell the 'Otters' to turn in.
No talking, mind. I'll see that Simpson has his instructions, and
then I'll have a nap myself."

Two hundred yards to the south-west of the Tea Caves a rocky headland
afforded all the shelter the Scouts required. The place seemed as if
it had been a Titan's playground, for huge flat boulders, some
weighing more than twenty tons, had been piled up in picturesque and
even grotesque formations. On one group of rocks the Scouts had
bestowed the name of "The Mushrooms," and the designation was not
inapplicable. Three separate columns, composed of discshaped rocks
twelve feet in diameter, rose to the height of twelve feet above the
general ground level. On the summit of these were still broader rocks
with slightly rounded upper surfaces, their edges overlapping the
bases by three to five feet, and two of the top rocks touched each
other; the third was separated from the other by a space of less than
a foot.

On the lee - side of "The Mushrooms" there was sufficient shelter for
the four Scouts of the "Wolves," for Hayes and Tenderfoot Basil
Armstrong were left behind in camp while the "Otters" were resting in
their tent.

The yacht still remained close inshore, in the same position as when
the Scouts had first sighted her. The tide had long since changed,
but the crew had made no attempt to shift her, either by means of the
motor or sweeps.

Throughout the rest of the afternoon the "Wolves" kept on the watch.
The shadows lengthened as the sun sank down in the west; but the two
men on board gave no signs of their presence.

"Anything wrong?" asked Atherton, as the "Otters" came to the relief
of their comrades, Sayers and Scott being left in camp to perform a
like duty to the one Hayes and Armstrong had been detailed to do.

"Not a sign," replied Simpson. "Just our luck. I suppose they'll do
something as soon as it gets dark, and we'll be out of it."

"May not," rejoined Atherton. "Anyway, if anything exciting does
occur we'll rouse you up right enough."

With that the "Wolves" reluctantly betook themselves off, and the
"Otters" carried on the task of watching the mysterious yacht. The
Scouts knew their work well. Even in the gathering twilight they
refrained from showing themselves against the skyline. Each lad, with
a cluster of gorse in his hat to still lessen the risk of detection,
kept well behind cover.

Night fell. There was no moon, but the stars gave sufficient light to
distinguish the outlines of the coast and the grimly silent yacht,
that, two hundred feet below, rocked gently on the bosom of the
ocean.

"It's eleven o'clock and slack tide," said Phillips to his Leader.
"What do you say to this: suppose we get the others to lower us down
the cliffs by the Tea Caves? It's hardly any distance."

"What then?" asked Atherton.

"Well, there being no tide, we could easily swim off to that yacht.
It would be worth doing to find out what those fellows are doing on
board."

"I'm game," agreed Atherton. "But we'll have to mention it to Mr
Buckley."

"Do you think he'll let us go?" asked Phillips, anxiously.

"If he won't there's an end to it," rejoined Atherton, sturdily. "So
here goes, I'll ask."

"A hundred yards from the shore at least," observed the Scoutmaster,
when Atherton made the proposal. "Are you quite sure you can do the
distance there and back?"

"Both Phillips and I hold half-mile certificates, sir," said the
Leader. "If the other fellows will lower us on to the ledge leading
to the Caves, it will be a fairly simple matter to swarm down the
rope to the base of the cliff."

"Very well, then," assented the Scoutmaster. "But, whatever you do,
exercise the greatest caution. Everest and Baker can remain here, the
rest of the available 'Otters' can support you."

"Thank you, sir," replied Atherton, saluting, and without further
delay the work of preparation began.

Green and Mayne were to remain on the top of the cliff above the
ledge leading to the Tea Caves, the Scoutmaster was to descend to the
ledge, make sure that there was no one lurking at the entrance to the
caverns, and to assist the two swimmers during their descent and
ascent to and from the sea.

Noiselessly the little party gained the spot, almost opposite the
anchored yacht. No signs of life were visible from the unlighted
craft. Her outlines could only just be discerned against the dark
surface of the water.

It did not take the Scouts long to discover the holes into which the
staves and crowbars had been driven on the first occasion of their
first exploration of the Tea Caves. The tufts of earth that had been
placed in them to hide the traces of the Scouts' operations were
removed and two stout iron bars deftly inserted.

Giving a final glance round, Mr Buckley made one end of the rope fast
round his body. "Lower away, lads," he exclaimed. "I'm not a heavy
weight, and when one has a groggy arm it puts a stopper on
hand-over-hand work."

As soon as Mr Buckley reached the ledge, Atherton and Phillips
swarmed down. They were now only twenty feet above the sea, and at
that particular spot the irregular shape of the cliffs permitted a
fairly easy descent.

"We'll go with you, sir, as far as the Caves," whispered the Leader,
but the Scoutmaster demurred.

"One can go where three cannot sometimes," he replied. "If there's
any bother I'll whistle for you. I think I can well hold my own till
then."

In five minutes Mr Buckley returned.

"It's all clear, I think," he remarked in an undertone. "The dust
seems undisturbed and there's been no wind to level it. I've covered
my tracks very carefully in case of accidents."

Quickly undressing, Atherton, with a rope tied round his waist, in
case he slipped, made his way down to the water's edge. Casting off
the rope, he waited till Phillips joined him, and as noiselessly as
the little creatures from which the patrol took its name, the two
Scouts slipped into the water.

Not a word was spoken as the lads swam with steady strokes towards
the yacht The sea was quite warm, warmer in fact than the air. Both
Scouts knew how to swim with the least exertion and without making a
splash. They did not hurry, realising that haste in swimming means
loss of strength; so, keeping side by side, they made light work of
their outward journey.

The mysterious yacht was now riding lightly to her anchor. There was
little or no tide; and her cable was, in nautical parlance, "straight
up and down." By a fortunate chance, owing no doubt to the
slovenliness of her crew rather than to their lack of seamanship, the
yacht's bobstay was still hove taut, and this afforded a fine
foothold for the two lads.

Atherton could just manage to grasp the bowsprit. Raising his legs,
he threw his heels over the low bulwark and contrived to draw himself
on deck. He waited, every sense keenly on the alert. All was quiet,
save for a muffled conversation in the cabin.

Assisting Phillips on board, the elder lad led the way aft. Their
bare feet made no sound upon the dew-sodden decks; and, cautiously
picking their way over coils of ropes and avoiding formidable-looking


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