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Percy F. (Percy Francis) Westerman.

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acquainted with our temporary domain," said Mr Trematon, after dinner
was over. "It is now half past one. We will rest for half an hour and
then set out for an exploration of Seal Island."



CHAPTER VII

THE MYSTERIOUS FOOTPRINTS


AT the expiration of the stipulated time, preparations were made for
the circuit of the Island. The "Otters" were ordered to take their
staves, while to the "Wolves" was allotted the task of carrying
several lengths of two-inch rope, iron crowbars, a pair of double
"blocks" and a pair of single ones. Mr Trematon did not give the
reason why these articles need be taken, and speculation as to their
use ran high.

"Two lads must remain as camp orderlies," he remarked. "Who will
volunteer? Remember a volunteer is worth two pressed."

There were several moments' hesitation. All were exceptionally keen
on the trip, and the suggestion that two of them should remain did
not appeal to them in a favourable light.

"I will, sir," said Atherton.

"No," rejoined the Scoutmaster. "The Leaders are exempt, since they
are responsible to me for their patrols."

"I'll remain, sir," exclaimed Tom Mayne.

"That's good. Now, then, a volunteer from the 'Wolves.' That will be
fair, won't it?"

Coventry major signified his willingness to stay, for although in
different patrols the two lads were close chums.

"That's settled," continued Mr Trematon. "Now, orderlies, you must
not go beyond the limits of the camp, except down to the
landing-place. You are to receive any visitors that may come to the
Island, and show them round, giving them any information as
courteously as you can."

In high spirits the two patrols set out, their first halt being at
the ruined oratory. Here Mr Trematon explained the use and nature of
these buildings in mediaeval days, how that recluses devoted their
lives to prayer and watching. No doubt many vessels in
pre-Reformation days owed their safety to the friendly light that
burned every night from hundreds of oratories scattered round the
coast.

The ruins being situated on the highest part of the Island, the
Scouts had an extensive view of the Cornish shore and of the
expansive Bristol Channel. The day was clear, and the water was
dotted with ships of all sizes, all looking like miniature boats in
the distance. There were colliers, distinguishable by having their
funnels well aft; tramps, rusty-sided, and with stumpy masts serving
mainly to support the derricks for handling cargo; topsail schooners,
in which most of the coast-wise trade between the smaller ports is
now carried on; Bristol Channel pilot boats engaged in keen
competition to pick up a job; and a host of small fishing boats from
the neighbouring ports of St Ives and Padstow.

"How far can we see out to sea, sir?" asked Tenderfoot Scott.

"That depends mainly upon the clearness of the atmosphere. From the
height on which we are now standing - 250 feet - we might be able to
see nearly twenty-one miles."

"It's very clear to-day, sir," observed Fraser.

"Yes, too clear for my liking," asserted the scoutmaster. "Tregantle
Head - over twenty-five miles away - stands up quite plainly. That's a
sure sign of wet weather and probably a storm in addition."

"A storm! Will there be any wrecks?" asked little Reggie Scott,
eagerly. "Will we be able to see them if there are?"

"I trust not," replied the Scoutmaster, solemnly. "I have seen
several wrecks, and it is not an experience to be desired. Now, lads,
forward. Bear away to the right. I want you to see that part of the
Island nearest to Beware Head."

Through a dense belt of gorse and bracken, out of which the startled
rabbits scooted with amazing rapidity, the Scouts trooped till Mr
Trematon called to them to halt. They were then within ten feet of
the edge of the cliffs that here descend abruptly for a distance of
one hundred and eighty feet.

"Don't ever go closer to the brink of the cliffs than this, unless
you have a line round you," cautioned Mr Trematon. "The ground might
crumble under you, although there is far less probability of doing so
here - where the rocks are composed of granite - than on the
south-eastern coast of England, where the cliffs are of chalk and
soft sandstone."

From where they stood the Scouts could see almost the whole extent of
water between the Island and Beware Head, a sheet of deep blue sea
interspersed with patches of pale green denoting sandy bottom between
the weed-covered rocks. Long oily rollers came tumbling inshore with
unfailing regularity, breaking with a smother of foam against the
base of the headland.

"What makes those rollers, sir?" asked Baker. "There's very little
wind, and farther out the sea is quite calm."

"It's called a ground-swell, and is said to be caused by a storm many
miles out to sea. Their presence is also an indication of the
approach of bad weather. I don't want to dishearten you, lads, but we
must 'Be prepared' for all emergencies, and if we are I don't think
our holiday will be any less enjoyable."

"There's a signal from the lighthouse, sir," announced Atherton.

"Now, then, signallers: what do you make of that?" asked the
Scoutmaster, as a burst of flags fluttered from a staff rising from
the gallery of the lighthouse.

"We can't make out, sir," replied Phillips and Neale. "They are not
spelling anything."

"No, it is in code. The combination of those three flags means a
message which we could only interpret if we had a signal-code book.
One of those vessels 'made her number ' - that is, has reported
herself on first sighting a British signal-station - and the
information will be telegraphed to Lloyd's. See, there's a keeper on
the gallery. Watch him through your pocket telescope, Phillips, and
when he looks this way tell Neale to call him up."

"What shall I semaphore, sir?" asked the Second of the "Wolves."

"Ask him for permission to visit the lighthouse," replied Mr
Trematon. "Then, if he says yes, ask what day and what time will be
convenient."

"He's looking this way, sir," reported Phillips.

Standing well apart from his comrades, Neale "called up" the
lighthouse. In a few moments Phillips announced that the man was
looking towards them through a glass.

"He's acknowledged, sir," continued the Second of the "Otters."
"Another man has taken the glass from him."

"Carry on," ordered the Scoutmaster, and Neale began semaphoring with
considerable rapidity and accuracy.

Back came the reply: "The keepers of Beware Head lighthouse will be
pleased to show the Scouts over the building any day between 9 A.M.
and one hour before sunset."

"Acknowledge and thank them, Neale. Say we hope to inspect the
lighthouse tomorrow at 2 P.M."

"Has this point any name, sir," asked Phillips, indicating the
northernmost limit of Seal Island.

"No, I think not," replied the Scoutmaster. "Suppose for our own
convenience we give it a name. What shall it be?"

"Why not North Cape?" suggested Green.

"I am afraid it doesn't jut out sufficiently into the sea. It is bold
and lofty; suppose we say North Head?"

"And the other extremities, East, South and West Heads, sir?" asked
Sayers, the lad who shared with Reggie Scott the distinction of being
the Tenderfoot of the "Otters."

"Very good," assented Mr Trematon. "The names are simple enough,
which is a consideration, since there is little chance of getting
confused over the various designations. Now, forward once more."

The route now lay in a south-westerly direction along an ill-defined
track that followed the edge of the cliffs, which hereabouts attained
a height of about eighty feet.

"We are now over what is known as the Tea Caves," announced the
Scoutmaster. "These caves are well worth exploring, but at present I
intend to show them to the 'Otters' only. The 'Wolves' must remain
here and attend to the ropes, for we can only reach the caves by
being lowered over the cliffs. The descent is, with proper
precautions, perfectly safe, but a certain amount of nerve is
required. Should any lad not feel equal to the task he is at liberty
to fall out."

"So long as I don't fall in, I don't mind," remarked Tenderfoot
Sayers, in an undertone to his chum Scott.

"If Mr Trematon says it is perfectly safe, 'nuff said," replied
Reggie Scott. "I'm game." Lashing a pair of staves together to form
sheerlegs, the Scouts planted the ends into the ground so that the
crossed portion overhung the cliffs. To the projecting end one of the
blocks or pulleys was secured, while "guys" prevented the sheerlegs
from toppling over. A rope with a bowline at one end was rove through
the pulley for the purpose of lowering the explorers. The Scouts
employed on this work were all provided with life-lines to guard
against serious accidents should the cliffs crumble.

"That seems perfectly secure," said Mr Trematon, after he had put the
gear to a severe test. "Now we are ready for the descent. At
twenty-five feet from the summit of the cliff is a fairly broad path.
Each Scout in turn will be lowered on to this ledge, and there he
will stand easy till I rejoin you. Atherton, since you are the
Leader, it is your place to go first."

Passing the bowline under his arms. Atherton walked to the edge of
the cliff, sat down, and waited till the "Wolves" took the strain on
the rope. Then, unhesitatingly, he slipped over the cliff, and was
slowly lowered through the intervening twenty-five feet. It seemed a
long distance, especially as the lad had to ward himself off the face
of the granite cliff with his hands. He knew, as did his companions,
that it was foolish to look down, even if secured by a bowline, and
although the temptation to glance downwards to see how much farther
he had to go was great he had sufficient strength of mind to carry
out instructions.

Presently his feet touched fairly level ground; the bowline
slackened. He found himself upon a rocky "bench" or path nearly eight
feet in breadth, which sloped with irregular gradations towards the
base of the cliffs.

Casting off the rope, Atherton called to his comrades to haul away,
and he found himself cut off on the face of a wall of granite, that,
save for a ledge on which he stood, looked as smooth as a board.

One by one the "Otters" were lowered. Finally the Scoutmaster
descended, and the little party, eight all told, proceeded along the
path leading to the caves.

"Funny name, sir," said Phillips. "Why do they call them Tea
Caves - because the place is shaped like the letter T?"

"No, merely another reminder of smuggling days."

"Did they used to smuggle tea?" asked Everest.

"Yes; in the eighteenth century there used to be a very heavy tax on
tea in this country; hence smuggling tea was almost as paying a game
as smuggling spirits and lace if the run came off successfully. Here
is the main entrance; do you notice anything peculiar about the
roof?"

"Yes, sir," replied several of the lads. "There looks as if there's a
deep notch cut across it."

"That is where the smugglers used to hang a painted canvas curtain
from to deceive the revenue people. Viewed from seaward it was almost
impossible to detect the mouth of the cave."

"But how was the tea carried there? There is no place for a boat to
land at the foot of the cliffs."

"That was another smugglers' ruse. The contraband goods were brought
ashore at the same place as where we first landed on Seal Island.
Wines and spirits were usually taken to Dollar Cove, and hidden in
the cave we explored this morning. The chests of tea were carried
across the Island, lowered over the cliff, taken along the path we
have just traversed, and stored in these caves.


[Illustration: "He slipped over the cliff and was slowly lowered."
_Page_ 73.]


By choosing a hiding-place not directly accessible from the sea, the
law-breakers put the excise authorities off the scent."

"Isn't it dry here," remarked Phillips. "The dust on the floor is as
dry as powder."

"Yes, and you will find that in a few moments our footprints will be
wiped out by the wind smoothing over the sand and dust. Did anybody
think to bring a candle?"

"I have two, sir," replied Baker.

"Good, lad!" exclaimed Mr Trematon, approvingly. "Quite a display of
foresight, eh?"

"No, sir," admitted the Scout, candidly. "They fell out of a parcel
as we were carrying the baggage up to the camp last night. I picked
them up and put them in my pocket, forgetting all about them till you
spoke."

"All the same they will be useful. Give one to Everest, and the two
will be sufficient light for us to see our way."

"Are we going to use twine as a guide, sir?" asked Atherton. "I have
a ball of it."

"Not necessarily in this case, Atherton," replied the Scoutmaster. "I
know the ins and outs of this place very well, and after all they are
not so very extensive."

At twenty yards from its mouth the cave apparently terminated, but Mr
Trematon called attention to a small hole barely eighteen inches
across, and almost on the floor level.

"Slip through, Atherton, feet first and let yourself drop."

Unhesitatingly the Leader obeyed. It was an uncanny sensation
allowing oneself to drop into an invisible pit, but five feet from
the edge of the hole Atherton's feet encountered soft sand.

"I'm all right," he said, his voice sounding hollow and unreal in the
pitch dark cave.

"Follow on, you fellows," ordered the Scoutmaster. "Pass the light to
Atherton, Baker."

Soon the "Otters" found themselves in a much larger cavern, the walls
of which were most fantastic shapes, while the dust on the floor, no
longer disturbed by air currents, showed that the place had been
visited at no distant date. There were the footprints of a man, both
going and returning.

"What do you make of these, Atherton?" asked the Scoutmaster,
pointing to the tracks on the sand.

Candle in hand, the Leader knelt down and examined the footmarks.

"They are the footprints of a man wearing a ten boot," he announced.
"They are not those of a working man, I think, because there are no
hobnails. The person, whoever he is, seems to be a timid individual,
as he evidently walks on his toes; the impression of the heels are
much fainter."

"A good deduction, Atherton; it looks as if we are on the verge of a
mysterious discovery."

"What if the man is still in the cave, sir?" asked Green, cautiously.
"He might be listening to what we are saying."

"No fear of that," replied Mr Trematon. "There has been only one man
here recently, and his tracks show that he came and went again.
Follow the footprints, Atherton, and see if you can make any more
deductions."

Keeping by the side of the trail in order that the marks should not
be obliterated the Leader proceeded slowly and cautiously, the rest
of his companions following.

Ten yards from the "needle's-eye," that served as a means of access
to the inner cave, Atherton discovered one used and two unused wax
vestas.

"What do they suggest, Atherton?" asked Mr Trematon.

"I think, sir, that they confirm my previous theory. A poor man is
not in the habit of carrying wax vestas. He is usually content with
Swedish safeties. Besides, this person is evidently careless and
wasteful, since he drops two unlighted vestas."

"So well, so good, Atherton," replied the Scoutmaster. "Now let's
proceed."

Once or twice the tracks became confusing, since the footmarks
crossed each other; but with little difficulty Atherton followed the
in-going track till they stopped at a deep niche in the rocky walls
on the right-hand side of the cave.

In the candle-light Atherton thoroughly examined the sand and dust. A
piece of charred newspaper attracted his attention. He picked it up,
unfolded it, and studied the printing.

"Quite recent," he commented. "Here is an account of the King's visit
to the new Naval and Military Orphanage at Bexhill. That took place
on Saturday, so that if this is not a portion of a Sunday paper, it
appeared yesterday. That proves, I think, that the person, whoever he
is, visited the cave as recently as yesterday."

"No doubt it was a tourist, keen on visiting the Tea Caves,"
suggested Everest. "His supply of matches ran short, so he made a
torch of a piece of newspaper. After all there's nothing in that,
except that it has given us a chance to practise spooring."

"I am not so sure of that, Everest," said Mr Trematon, quietly. "In
the first place the Tea Caves are difficult of access, and a stranger
would enlist the services of one of the local fishermen as a guide.
This man comes alone. Secondly, he visits the cave with an avowed
object: he walks straight to this place, stands almost in the same
spot for some time, and then kneels. The impressions of his toes and
one knee prove that. Then he returned to the open air as directly as
he came."

"Perhaps he's buried something, sir," suggested Sayers.

"For the time being we will let our investigations rest," said Mr
Trematon. "We have no spades with us, and should the mysterious
visitor return he would notice that the soil had been disturbed, and
become alarmed and suspicious. So we must endeavour to detect the man
should he come again. If he were here for no good purpose it is more
than likely that he will not revisit the Tea Caves till after our
camp is struck."

"You mean us to dig, sir?" asked Reggie Scott.

"Yes. Unless anything unforeseen occurs we will bring spades and
thoroughly examine this portion of the ground on the day before we
return home. But we must be off or the 'Wolves' will wonder what has
happened to us. Cover your footprints, lads."

The Scouts' footprints were carefully obliterated as they retraced
their steps, an empty haversack drawn over the trail completing the
finishing touches. Only a minute inspection would reveal the fact
that a party of lads had traversed the inner cave.

"What have you been up to, Atherton?" asked his chum Simpson, as the
Leader of the "Otters" was hauled up to the top of the cliff.

"Wait and see," retorted Atherton, laughing. "That's all right,
Simpson. Mr Trematon will tell you everything round the camp fire
to-night."



CHAPTER VIII

THE MISSING THOLE-PINS


"I HAD no idea it was so late," exclaimed the Scoutmaster, consulting
his watch. "There is not enough time for us to explore the
south-western portion of the Island. There is something very
interesting to be seen there, but as I want to give you fellows a
little surprise I won't say what it is. Perhaps tomorrow we will find
time to complete the circuit of the Island."

Hungry as hunters the Scouts returned to camp, where Mayne and
Coventry senior had a sumptuous tea awaiting them.

"Anything to report?" asked the Scoutmaster.

"Yes, sir," replied Mayne. "Mr Trebarwith, of Polkerwyck Farm, has
been here. He brought three dozen eggs and several pounds of Cornish
cream as a present. He wouldn't hear of payment when I suggested that
you would square up with him. He also invites us to visit his farm
to-morrow at half-past nine."

"What did you say to that?"

"I thanked him, sir, and said you would let him know this evening."

"Very good. After tea you might take a message for me. Now, lads, set
to, for if you are all as hungry as I am we will make short work of
this provender."

"No one else landed on the Island, I suppose?" asked Atherton.

"No, Peter Varco rowed Mr Trebarwith over, and he remained in the
boat. Why do you ask?" questioned Coventry major.

"Because we came across the spoor of a recent visitor in the Tea
Caves," replied Atherton, and at Mr Trematon's suggestion the lad
gave his companions of the "Wolves" and the two former guardians of
the camp a detailed report of what had occurred.

After tea, the Scoutmaster wrote a letter to the genial farmer,
accepting his invitation, and stating that he hoped to bring the
Scouts to Polkerwyck Farm to-morrow at nine-thirty. Mayne and Baker
were despatched to take the missive to Mr Trebarwith, while the
others were free to amuse themselves at camp games till half-past
seven, when the camp fire was lighted for the customary evening
palaver.

Just before sunset Mr Trematon called the Leaders and Seconds of both
patrols aside.

"Atherton and Simpson, I want you to take charge of the camp till I
return," he said. "Phillips and Neale will no doubt feel up to an
evening stroll. I have reason to revisit the cliff immediately above
the ledge leading to the Tea Caves."

As the Scoutmaster and the two Seconds passed by the ruined oratory,
Neale called attention to the wild yet beautiful sunset tints. There
were streaks of deep purple, orange, pale yellow and indigo in the
western sky, while rugged, dark grey clouds, tipped with
copper-coloured points, gave every indication that the bad weather
was at hand.

"Yes," assented Mr Trematon, "the colours are remarkable. What do you
say to a little experiment?"

"An experiment, sir?" asked Neale. "How?"

"Stand here, both of you, side by side," said the Scoutmaster. "Backs
to the sunset: that's right. Now stretch your legs wide apart, place
the palms of your hands together and bend forward till your
fingertips touch the ground."

The two Scouts promptly obeyed, wondering what was the reason for
this exaggerated "leap-frog" posture.

"Now look at the sunset," continued Mr Trematon.

"The colours are ever so much brighter," exclaimed both lads, who,
heads downwards, were observing the western sky between their
outstretched legs. "They look too bright to be real."

"All the same they are natural colours. Stand up now, or the
circulation of the blood towards your head will be obstructed. Yes,
it has a peculiar effect. An artist friend of mine gave me the tip.
By so doing one can see the vividness of an Italian sky in the
corresponding misty atmosphere of our native land. But we must be
moving."

Arriving at the edge of the cliff, Mr Trematon produced from his
pocket a reel of black cotton. Cutting three or four twigs from a
neighbouring bush, he set these in the ground so that they projected
four inches from the surface. Their exposed ends he connected up by a
length of cotton.

"If anybody comes here, the broken thread will give us proof,"
exclaimed the Scoutmaster. "I do not suggest that anyone will come,
but if they do this is the best means of detecting their presence
without giving them cause of suspicion."

"But the cotton only stretches for a distance of about ten feet,
sir," remarked Phillips. "If anyone descended to the ledge from a
point farther along the cliffs, this arrangement would not give any
warning."

"I am afraid, Phillips, you didn't use your eyes sufficiently this
afternoon. If you had you would have noticed that at all other places
except this the cliffs overhang the ledge, and anyone being lowered
would drop clear of the path leading to the caves. Hence it is
reasonable to conclude that anybody knowing of the existence of the
caves would naturally know the easiest means of gaining the ledge. Do
you follow?"

"Yes, sir," answered the Second.

"Now let us be off, back to the camp. Those fellows are enjoying
themselves to be sure. You can hear them quite plainly at this
distance - it is another sign that stormy weather is near when sound
travels clearly over a long distance."

Ten minutes after "Lights out" the camp at Seal Island was wrapped in
slumber. Dead tired with their exertions and aided by the
health-giving fresh air, the Scouts were soon lost to the world, till
a blaze of red in the eastern sky betokened the dawn of another day.

Before réveillé, Atherton was up and about. His mind was full of
the tracks that had been discovered in the Tea Caves. It was not
presentiment that influenced his thoughts. His deductions were based
upon actual facts that were certainly suspicious. On the other hand
the mysterious visitor might have gone to the cave for a perfectly
legitimate purpose. In that case the following up of the clues would
result in nothing more or less than a little practice.

Something more than curiosity prompted him to run across the Island
to the edge of the cliffs by the caves. Phillips had told him of the
harmless and effective booby-trap that the Scoutmaster had prepared.

The cotton had been snapped.

Atherton knelt down and examined the ground, but the dew lay thick
upon the long grass, and no sign of human footprints was visible.

Upon his return to the camp, the Scout found Mr Trematon clad in a
long overcoat, for the morning air was chilly.

"The cotton has been broken, sir," announced Atherton.

"I am not surprised," replied the Scoutmaster. "As a matter of fact I
expected that it would be, for by a stupid blunder on my part I tied


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