Percy F. (Percy Francis) Westerman.

The Scouts of Seal Island online

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By some unexplained means the news of their impending arrival
forestalled them, and at the station two Cornish troops, with drum
and fife bands, awaited them. With typical kind-heartedness their
west country brother-Scouts regaled their London visitors with tea,
Cornish cream, pasties and other delicacies for which the Duchy is
noted, while to still further perform their good turns they insisted
upon dragging the camping party's trek-cart for nearly five miles.

It was a delicious march. Everything seemed strange to the visiting
Scouts, and novelty was one of the chief delights of the holiday. The
wild, moorland country, the quaint stone cottages, stone walls in
place of hedges, the broad yet attractive dialect of the villagers,
and last but not least their wholehearted hospitality, filled the
lads with unbounded delight, while Mr Trematon, being in his native
county, was as enthusiastic and light-hearted as his youthful

The shadows were lengthening as the "Otters" and the "Wolves"
breasted the last hill. The lads had relapsed into comparative
silence. The strangeness of their surroundings so filled them with
keen joy that they could only march in subdued quietness and feast
their eyes on the natural beauties of the country.

Suddenly Fred Simpson, who headed the march, stopped, and, raising
his stetson on the end of his staff, gave a mighty shout. His example
was followed by the others as they gained the summit of the hilly
road. Almost beneath his feet, and extending as far as the eye could
see, was the sea, bathed in all the reflected glory of the setting
sun. Not one of the Scouts had previously seen the sun set in the
sea: their knowledge of the seaside was confined to the Kentish and
Essex coast towns where the orb of day appears to sink to rest behind
the inland hills.

On either hand dark red cliffs cut the skyline, forming the
extremities of Polkerwyck Bay. The headlands, fantastic in shape,
reared themselves boldly to a height of nearly three hundred feet. On
the easternmost point, appropriately named Beware Head, stood a tall
granite lighthouse, the stonework painted in red and black bands. On
the western headland - Refuge Point - stood the white-washed houses of
the coastguard station. Between the headlands was Polkerwyck Bay, the
village giving it its name nestling on either side of a small tidal
estuary, and enclosed by a gorge so narrow and so deep that the
Scouts imagined that they could throw a pebble from the road upon the
stone roofs of the picturesque cottages.

Of the estuary, and separated from the land by a stretch of deep blue
water, lay what appeared to be a small rock.

"Where's Seal Island, sir?" asked Atherton, who was the first to find
his tongue.

"There," replied the Scoutmaster, pointing to the rock.

"Why, it's ever so small," cried several of the Scouts in a chorus.

"Large enough for us, lads," replied Mr Trematon with a hearty laugh.
"Objects look deceptive when viewed from a height. Now, then, fall
in! Sayers, Scott, Pat Coventry and Armstrong, follow the trek-cart
with the drag ropes. You will want to keep it well in check going
down the hill. Patrols - quick march!"

Down the zig-zag hill the Scouts made their way; at every step Seal
Island seemed to get larger and larger, till at length the lads
halted in the main and only street of Polkerwyck, where they were
surrounded by all the available population: men, women and children
to the number of about eighty.

"Welcome back to Polkerwyck, Mr Trematon, zur," exclaimed a hale,
grey-headed fisherman, picturesquely attired in sou'wester (although
the day was hot), blue jersey, tanned canvas trousers, and heavy

"Thanks, Peter Varco," replied the Scoutmaster, heartily shaking the
old man's hand. "I am glad to see you again. You look just the same."

"Sure us old 'uns keep powerful hearty in these parts, Mr Trematon.
Thanks be, I be middlin'. These be the Scouts, eh? Likely lads they
be, although I reckon as they bain't up to our Cornish lads, eh, Mr
Trematon? Squire's man, Roger Penwith, he comed down to see I
yesterday. Says 'e, 'Squire has written to say Mr Trematon's Scouts
are a' comin' to Seal Island, and Squire wants 'em looked after
prop'ly-like.' 'Trust I to do my part,' says I, and sure enow I have
a-done. The _Pride of Polkerwyck_ - you'll remember 'er, Mr
Trematon - is at your sarvice, an' the three small craft as well; so
when you'm ready to go over along, them boats is ready."

"Thank you, Varco," said the Scoutmaster. "The sooner we get to the
Island the better, for it is past sunset."

"And Roger Penwith 'e 'as placed a load or two o' firewood close
alongside the landin' place, Mr Trematon. Thought as 'ow you'd be
wantin' it."

"Good man, Mr Penwith!" ejaculated Mr Trematon. "We can find a place
to store this cart, I suppose?"

"Sure there'll be a sight of room in yon hut," replied the fisherman.

"Unload the trek-cart, lads," ordered the Scoutmaster. "Keep each
patrol's belongings apart. Atherton, will you take charge of one
boat; Simpson, another; load the heavy gear into the third boat, and
Phillips and Green will assist me in taking her across."

Hither and thither the Scouts ran, each with a set purpose, while the
on-lookers watched with admiration as the baggage was unloaded and
the trek-cart bundled at the double into the hut.

"Have you a key to the door, Mr Varco?" asked Everest, with
characteristic caution, after the cart had been housed.

"Key, young man? What do 'e want wi' a key for, might I make so bold
as to ax? Sure, us be all honest men in these parts," said Varco, in
a tone of mingled reproof and pride.

At length the three boats were manned, and the Scoutmaster gave the
word to push off and give way. Thanks to his early training Mr
Trematon was thoroughly at home both on and in the water, and he had
developed particular pains to instruct his lads in the art of
managing a boat, till the style of the Collingwood College Scouts on
the Highgate Pond became a subject of envy to most of the other
troops in the district.

It was a ripping row. The only fault that the Scouts had to find was
that it was far too short. The water was as calm as a mill-pond,
although a faint roar betokened the presence of the customary
ground-swell on the shore beyond the bay.

The Scouts landed in a sandy cove in the south-eastern side of the
Island, where a winding footpath, that showed little signs of
frequent image, wound its way up in a zig-zag fashion to the higher
ground. The baggage was carried ashore, and the lads, having secured
the boats' painters, prepared to convey their goods to the

"You are not going to leave the boats like that, are you?" asked Mr

"Aren't they all right, sir?" said Leader Simpson, inquiringly. "I
made sure each painter was properly made fast with a clove-hitch,

"Yes, that's all very well, but it is not good enough. You forget the
rise of tide, which here exceeds fifteen feet at springs. Besides, it
might come on to blow in the night, and even though the Island is
sheltered from on-shore winds there would be sufficient swell to
smash the boats to splinters. We must haul them well above high-water

Back trooped the Scouts, and, taking up positions all round the first
boat, tried to drag her up the steep incline; but as soon as the
craft was clear of the water it was evident that the task was beyond
them. The boat was heavily built, and all hands could not lift her
forward another inch.

"Now what is to be done?" demanded Mr Trematon, with a view of
testing the Scouts' practical knowledge.

"Put her on rollers, sir," suggested Jock Fraser.

"A good idea, but where are the rollers?"

"We can use our staves, sir."

"And spoil them by the rubbing of the boat's iron-bound keel. That
would only be advisable in a case of necessity. To make use of the
oars is open to a similar objection. Open that stern locker, Fraser.
You'll find a powerful tackle there, if I'm not mistaken. Ah! There
it is, and I can see a post driven in on purpose for hauling boats

The upper block was soon placed in position, and Fraser was about to
bend the painter to the lower block when the Scoutmaster again called
him to order.

"Won't do," he exclaimed. "You'll more than likely pull the stem out
of her. Look at her forefoot, Fraser: do you see a hole bored through

"Yes, sir," replied the Scout.

"Very well, then. There's a short iron bar in the locker. Thrust that
through the hole and bend the block to it by this rope. That's it:
now we can haul away, and the keel will take the strain. Four of you
keep the boat upright and the rest tail on to the tackle."

By this means the heavy craft moved slowly arid surely, and was at
length hauled above the line of dead seaweed that denoted the level
of high-water spring tides. The remaining boats were treated in the
same way, and the Scouts were free to proceed to the camping-ground.

Before ten o'clock the tents were pitched, a roaring camp fire threw
its comforting glow upon the scene, and the two patrols were
discussing their hard-earned and frugal supper with commendable
avidity that betokened a healthy mind in a healthy body.

"Now, lads," exclaimed the Scoutmaster, as soon as the meal was
concluded, "we must turn in. It has been a long day for us, and I
don't suppose the majority of you will sleep very soundly the first
night under canvas. But no talking, mind. There is a time for
everything, and if talking is kept up those who might otherwise be
able to sleep will be disturbed. Good-night!"



"ANYONE awake?" enquired Mr Trematon softly, thrusting his head
through the partially unlaced opening of the tent, where the eight
"Otters" were lying like the spokes of a wheel, each lad's feet
towards the tent-pole.

"I am, sir," replied Atherton and Green.

"Slip on your things and come out. I've a little job for you."

Without hesitation the two lads obeyed, and were soon blinking in the
early morning sun. It was just after five o'clock - réveillé was to
be at half-past six.

The air was keen and the dew still thick upon the short grass. The
village of Polkerwyck was yet in shadow, for the sun had not risen
sufficiently high to throw its slanting beams upon the deep-set
hamlet. But already there were signs of activity, for several of the
fishing boats that had been out all night had just returned and were
landing their cargoes for conveyance to the nearest railway station.
So still was the air that the reflections of the frowning cliffs and
the deep browns of the tanned sails were faithfully reproduced in the
placid water. The morning mist still lingered on the hill-tops, and
drifted in ill-defined patches across the headlands that defined the
limits of the bay.

"Best part of the day, sir," said Atherton cheerfully, as he surveyed
the scene of tranquillity.

"It is," assented Mr Trematon. "It makes one pity the sluggards who
never see the sun rise. But I want you two to come with me across the
Polkerwyck. Old Varco promised he'd have an old boat's mast ready for
use as a flagstaff, and I want to commence our first day on Seal
Island by saluting the flag."

It was now nearly high tide, and thanks to the steepness of the shore
there was little difficulty in launching the smallest boat. The
Scoutmaster steered, while Atherton and Green rowed.

"Isn't the water clear," said Green, looking over the side. "I wish
we could have a bathe."

"All in good time," replied Mr Trematon. "There's a splendid bathing
cove just past that point of the island, where there is hardly any

"How do we get there, sir?" asked Atherton. "The cliffs rise straight
from the sea."

"There's a path leading to a cave, that in turn communicates with the
sea. It used to be a favourite smugglers' haunt a century or more
ago. Easy now, Green, we're nearly there."

The boat's forefoot grounded on the sand; Green jumped out and
secured the painter, while the Scoutmaster and the Leader stowed the
oars and sprang ashore.

"Here's the mast," said Mr Trematon, indicating a thirty-foot pole
lying on the little stone quay. "I see Varco has rove some signal
halliards - thoughtful man."

"It's a lump, sir," remarked Green. "How are we to get it into the
boat? It will project ten feet at each end, and we will have no end
of a job to row."

"I don't mean to place it in the boat. We'll tow it. Atherton, make
this rope fast to that ring-bolt: we'll parbuckle the spar."

The Leader knew what his Scoutmaster meant. To push the mast over the
edge of the quay would scratch the paint and roughen the wood. Making
the end of his rope fast to a ring about a foot from the edge of the
wharf, Atherton waited till Mr Trematon had performed a similar
operation, the two ropes being twenty feet apart. Carefully the spar
was rolled till it rested on the ropes, the "free ends" of which the
Scoutmaster and Atherton held.

"Push the mast over the quay, Green," said Mr Trematon.

The pole, prevented from falling by the bights of the ropes, was now
easily and slowly lowered into the water, and attached by its tapered
end to the stern of the boat.

"That went smoothly enough, sir," said Green.

"Yes, two men can parbuckle a suitably-shaped object of thrice their
combined weight. All the same it won't be such an easy task to haul
the mast up the slope of Seal Island."

Upon landing on the Island, Atherton took the tapering end on his
shoulder, Mr Trematon and Green supporting the heavier end.

"Don't keep step," urged the Scoutmaster, "or the mast will sway and
possibly capsize us. Now, proceed."

It was no light work carrying the thirty-foot spar up the steep path,
but dogged energy prevailed, and before it was half-past six the
flagstaff was in position, ready for the hoisting of the Union Jack.

The first call on Hayes' bugle brought the Scouts from their tents.
Baker and Pat Coventry, who overnight had been detailed for cooks,
raced off' to construct earth ovens and light fires. Sayers, Scott,
and Armstrong, the three Tenderfoots, marched off with buckets to
bring a supply of water from the spring that the Scoutmaster had
pointed out; Everest and Fraser took a boat and crossed to the
mainland to procure milk, eggs and bacon from the farm; while the
rest of the two patrols opened up tents and aired the bedding.

At seven, coffee and bread and butter were served out: not a standing
meal, but merely a "stay" before breakfast. This was followed by
prayers, then all hands fell in for bathing parade.

All except Atherton and Green were somewhat surprised when Mr
Trematon led the way, not to the landing-place, but up hill in the
direction of the ruined hermitage.

"What's that?" exclaimed young Armstrong, as a small brown animal
with a tuft of white on its tail darted into a hole on the site of
the path. "Why, I believe it's a rabbit."

"Look, there are dozens of them," added Everest, pointing to a hollow
about two hundred yards off. "There they go as hard as they can."

"Yes, the Island is overrun with them, and so is most of Sir
Gwinnear's estate. The farmers look upon them as a pest, and destroy
as many as they can."

"Why pests, sir?" asked Phillips.

"Because they eat the grass that feed the sheep, nibble the young
corn shoots, undermine hedges, and so on. Of course, they are not so
numerous as in Australia, where agriculture is threatened with
disaster by their depreciations. One day, Phillips, you can have a
chance of shooting a few for our dinner. It will be necessary for you
to get a gun licence before you can carry a gun. I'll see to that,
however. But steady now: here's the entrance to our bathing cove."

"What, here, sir?" asked several of the lads in chorus, and in a tone
of incredulity, for the place indicated by the Scoutmaster was a
circular hole surrounded by a ruinous stone wall. "Yes: follow me.
Mind where you tread. It's quite safe if you take reasonable

The shaft, a natural tunnel, was descended by means of a spiral path,
in places less than three feet in width, a rusty iron handrail - a
relic of the good old smuggling days - serving as a none too reliable

At eighty feet from the summit a steeply shelving floor was reached,
whence a long, irregular tunnel led seawards. For part of this
distance the place was in almost total darkness, while the air was
moist and chilly.

Presently the tunnel began to get lighter, and the rocky floor gave
place to a carpet of smooth white sand, terminating at the water's

"What a ripping bathing-place, sir," exclaimed Neale.

"Come on, lads, let's see who will be the first in," shouted Coventry
major, hastily slipping off his scanty garments: an example that the
others followed.

"Steady, boys," said the Scoutmaster. "Not so fast. I know that you
can all swim more or less: but what precautions are you taking
against accidents?"

"We're all together, sir," replied Coventry senior. "If needs be
there is plenty of assistance ready."

"Quite so," assented Mr Trematon. "But that is hardly sufficient. I
remember the case of a party of fifty soldiers bathing together. One
of them suddenly sank without a shout, and he was not missed until
the men paraded to march back to barracks. So I think we will have a
boat out. The two Leaders and I will man the craft, and we can have
our swim afterwards."

"A boat, sir? We will have to go back to the landing-place to fetch

"No need to do that. Come this way."

A few feet above high-water mark a side passage branched from the
main tunnel, and within it was a small rowing boat about twelve feet
in length, with oars and thole pins ready for use. A life-buoy and a
length of rope lay under the sternsheets.

"This is one of Peter Varco's boats," said Mr Trematon. "He always
keeps it here for the use of visitors who come to the place - Dollar
Cove it is called - for bathing. He told me we could make use of it."

"Why is this called Dollar Cove, sir?" asked Basil Armstrong.

"They say a Spanish treasure ship was wrecked on the west side of
Seal Island, and that her precious cargo was strewn over the bottom
of the sea. Curiously enough the only coins ever washed ashore have
been found at the mouth of this cove."

"Should we find any if we looked, sir?" asked Fraser.

"That I cannot say; but suppose instead of standing here in the cold
we launch this boat?"

Soon the placid waters of the bathing-cove were disturbed by the
splashing of the lads of the two patrols, and all were somewhat
reluctant to hear Mr Trematon's voice calling for them to come and

When the Scoutmaster and the Headers had had their swim the Scouts
made their way to the top of the natural staircase, and, doubling,
returned to the camp glowing with health and excitement.

Directly the bedding was replaced and the tents tidied, breakfast was
served. The camp oven fires had been banked up, and a plentiful
supply of hot water was instantly available. Eggs, boiled in salt
water, - which, according to Mr Trematon's idea, were far more
appetising than if done in fresh water - small flat loaves baked on
hot ashes, and cocoa formed the repast.

"Whatever is the matter with you, Hayes?" asked Mr Trematon as the
Scout gave a partly suppressed gurgle, rolled his eyes, and clutched
his throat with both hands.

Without replying Hayes suddenly bolted, while the Scoutmaster and
several of the Scouts followed to see what was amiss.

"The bread, sir," gasped Hayes, after several attempts to make him

"The bread? What's wrong with it."

"It tastes horrible," replied the victim. "I feel awfully queer."

Just then young Coventry came running up, making similar grimaces to
those of the first sufferer. He in turn was followed by little Reggie
Scott, who, though undoubtedly equally as upset as his bigger
comrades, kept himself more under control.

"It's the bread, sir," he announced, holding up half of one of the
flat cakes. "I believe there's oil in it."

The Scoutmaster took the proffered bread and smelt it.

"You're right," he replied. "It is paraffin. What on earth have Baker
and Pat Coventry been doing? Cheer up, you sufferers; you're not
poisoned. Smile and look pleasant, and we'll hold a court-martial on
the cooks."

Further examination revealed the fact that all the bread was tainted
with the unpleasant odour of paraffin. On being questioned Pat
Coventry replied that he took no part in making the dough, while
Baker admitted that he had noticed an oily substance on the water
when mixed with the flour.

"I skimmed it off, sir," he explained. "I didn't know that it was

"Haven't you a nose? Why didn't you use your sense of smell?"

"I didn't think of it, sir."

"Well it cannot be helped now; another time, if you have any doubts,
ask me. That's what I am here for," said Mr Trematon. "Serve out the
biscuits, Atherton. The bread is useless. After breakfast we must
find out how the paraffin got into the flour. But it's close on
eight. Fall in."

The two patrols, staves in hand, lined up under their respective
Leaders on either side of the flagstaff. The Union Jack was toggled
to the halliards, and at the hour the ensign was slowly hoisted,
while the Scouts stood alert and loyally saluted the Emblem of

"Sit easy!" ordered the Scoutmaster, and the Scouts sat down to
listen to Mr Trematon's instructions.

"This is our first complete day in camp," he said, "and we can hardly
hope to get into proper working order so soon. During the rest of the
morning we must make more arrangements for our welfare. Coming in
late last night we contented ourselves by merely pitching the tents.
Had it rained, there would have been considerable discomfort on Seal
Island, I fear. By this evening I hope to have the whole routine
outlined, so that we may carry out our daily programme without a
hitch. Simpson, I want you to take Armstrong and Hayes with you,
cross to the mainland and purchase a sack of flour. Four of the
'Otters' will take spades and dig trenches round the tents and other
holes where required. Four of the "Wolves" will attend on the cooks.
and build a watertight hut for the kitchen. The rest of you can
construct mattresses of bracken. You remember instruction was given
on that subject only a few weeks ago. Now set to work and see how
much you can do before one o'clock."

Calling the two cooks to accompany him, Mr Trematon walked over to
the spot where the temporary ovens had been erected. A brief
inspection showed the cause of the failure of the breakfast
arrangements. In loading the boats for the journey across to Seal
Island a can of paraffin had been dumped alongside the sack of flour,
and the screw top of the former having worked loose a portion of the
oil soaked into the flour.

During the rest of the morning the lads worked hard putting the camp
in order. Trenches to drain the surface water in a possible heavy
downpour of rain were dug round the tents; a mud and wattle hut,
large enough to afford complete shelter for the cooks and their
utensils, was erected; while a large tub was sunk in the little
stream fed by the spring, so that a supply of fresh water was easily
obtainable without having to make a lengthy journey to the fountain

The mattresses, too, were in a forward state. The frames of these
were constructed of straight branches, the side pieces being five
feet six inches in length, the head two feet, and the foot fifteen
inches. By tapering the shape of the cots it was possible to arrange
them systematically round the tent, so that each Scout slept with his
feet towards the tent-pole. A coarse netting of thick twine filled
the space between the cot frames, and through the meshes bracken was
woven, forming a springy and comfortable couch, the frames being
raised sufficiently to prevent the "sag," caused by the sleepers'
bodies, from touching the ground.

For dinner, boiled bacon, cabbage and potatoes and suet pudding were
provided, and the cooks of the day did themselves credit, as if to
atone for the spoiling of the breakfast. True, Tom Mayne found a
boiled caterpillar in his share of the cabbage, and Coventry minor
all but swallowed a piece of string that had been mixed up with the
suet, but as the Scoutmaster remarked such incidents are really
blessings in disguise, since the lads afterwards carefully examined
every portion of the dinner and thus prevented any undue haste in

"It is certainly advisable that we should make ourselves thoroughly

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Online LibraryPercy F. (Percy Francis) WestermanThe Scouts of Seal Island → online text (page 3 of 12)