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the thread without making allowance for its shrinking through the
moisture of the night air. But apart from that, Atherton, I have made
a discovery. Two of the thole-pins have been taken out of one of the
boats."

"Perhaps Mayne and Baker brought them ashore when they returned from
the mainland last night, sir?"

"Oh, no: I went down to the landing-place last night to see that the
boats were properly secured. The thole-pins were in their proper
places then."

"One of the fishermen, perhaps - - "

"They are honest men, and it is against their primitive yet effective
code of honour to trifle with the gear of anybody's boat. Still,
although there is a faint possibility that such might have taken
place, and we have an explanation for the broken thread, the double
occurrences seem to suggest very forcibly that some one has landed on
Seal Island during the night and has paid a visit to the Tea Caves."

"Are we going to explore the caves again to-day, sir?"

"If time permits. Our morning and afternoon are pretty full up: we
may make an opportunity after tea. But turn those fellows out,
Atherton; it's time, and there's a lot to be done before we pay a
visit to Farmer Trebarwith."

As soon as the meal was over and the camp tidied up, the two patrols
prepared for their trip to Polkerwyck Farm. The weather still
remained calm and bright, and there was little or no wind. All the
same the ground-swell was troublesome, as the "Wolves" learnt to
their cost, for upon landing, a heavy roller threw their boat
broadside on to the beach, and drenched the lads to the skin.

"It's salt water; it won't hurt," shouted Leader Simpson to his
patrol. "Our clothes will be dry by the time we get to the farm."

Meanwhile Atherton had landed and was quietly and unostentatiously
examining the other boats hauled up on shore or else lying within the
shelter of the land-locked harbour. Presently he went up to Mr
Trematon.

"There are our thole-pins, sir: I found them in that double-ended
boat," he announced, pointing to a whaler lying just inside the old
stone pier.

"One of Peter Varco's boats," observed the Scoutmaster. "Perhaps,
after all, he had occasion to land on Seal Island last night. He
might have gone to look at his boat in Dollar Cove. We'll ask him."

The old Cornish fisherman was discovered sitting in the sun and
mending his nets by the side of his cottage.

"No, sir. Sure I hadn't no call tu go over tu t'Island last night.
Now you comes tu mention it, sir, I did notice as 'ow some one 'ad
a-meddled wi' my boat, the _Pride o' Polkerwyck_. Says I tu myself,
'Tis they young gen'lmen over up-along, wot come ashore last night."

"How did you know that one of your mates hadn't used her, Peter?"
asked Mr Trematon.

"Sure, none o' they wud a-made fast the painter wi' a granny, sir."

"And none of my Scouts would have done so: that I feel sure," added
the Scoutmaster with conviction. "No, Peter, it's not any of our
lads. Some one, I believe, is in the habit of paying night visits to
Seal Island."

"Better not let Roger Penwith, Sir Silas' bailiff, catch 'em," said
the old fisherman with conviction. "All as goes tu Seal Island after
sunset without permission be liable tu be taken up for poachin',
sir."

Returning to the harbour Atherton and the Scoutmaster made a careful
examination of the boat in question. The thwarts and bottom-boards
were scratched and almost destitute of paint or varnish, but in
addition to the innumerable traces of old Peter's iron-heeled boots,
Atherton made the discovery that some one wearing indiarubber shoes
had recently been in the boat.

"Size ten," he added, after measuring one of the footprints with his
finger joint. "And seven bars across the soles."

"Pity we did not know of this before we left the Island, Atherton,"
said Mr Trematon. "However, we must keep a sharp look-out for a spoor
up the road."

The two patrols formed up and began their two-mile march to the farm.
The traces of the person wearing indiarubber shoes were at first
fairly well defined. In spite of the large size the wearer had taken
comparatively short steps, a circumstance that coincided with the
discovery made in the Tea Caves. But half way up the hill the spoor
broke away to the left. Here the short, sun-dried grass effectually
baffled all farther traces.

The Scouts were, for the time being, baulked. There was nothing left
but to continue their way to the farm.



CHAPTER IX

AT THE LIGHTHOUSE


"GOOD-MARNIN', Mr Trematon, and good-marnin' tu you young gen'lmen,"
exclaimed the genial farmer as the patrols halted outside the
farmhouse. "Du'ee come right in and have a drink o' milk. Mary, du'ee
ask missus tu bring a score o' glasses out; cups'll du, if there
bain't enow."

Refreshed, the Scouts began their tour of inspection, their host
accompanying them and answering to the best of his ability the
innumerable questions with which his visitors plied him. Not once but
a dozen times Farmer Trebarwith was forced to own himself beaten, so
intricate were some of the problems put to him.

"There be Polkerwyck House," announced the farmer, pointing to a
long, two-storeyed stone mansion lying in a broad valley snugly
sheltered from the north and east by a steep, tree-clad hill. "Sir
Silas Gwinnear lives there when he's at home, which ain't often.
Heard the latest news about his affair in Lunnon, sir?"

Mr Trematon shook his head. Newspapers were to be almost strangers to
him during the fortnight at Seal Island. Atherton felt a strange
sensation in his throat; he realised that if the miscreants had been
caught it meant an end to his holiday at Seal Island, since he would
have to be one of the principal witnesses for the prosecution.

"The police says as that they knows who the villains are as half
murdered Sir Silas," continued Farmer Trebarwith. "Only the rascals
have padded the hoof - gone somewhares to foreign parts. They says as
'ow Sir Silas, bein' 'ead of the Associated Shippers'
Federation - whatever that might mean - has upset some o' the dockers
over the new scale o' payments, and the dockers have got their back
up."

"Look, they're haymaking over there," exclaimed little Reggie Scott.
"What fun it would be if we could toss the hay about."

"Du it, an right welcome, young gen'lmen," said the farmer. "Us be
tur'ble short-handed, what with three o' my chaps 'aving gone to
'Merica, and two more down wi' mumps. Sure, I'd be main glad to see
the hay safe under cover afore the rain comes on." And Trebarwith
glanced anxiously towards the western sky.

"A chance to do a good turn, lads," exclaimed Atherton. "Tell us what
to do, sir, and we'll tackle the job."

For the rest of the morning the Scouts toiled in the sultry air like
young Trojans, tossing and carting the hay to one corner of the
meadow where the farmer's men were at liberty to commence the
construction of the rick. By noon, when the labourers ceased work to
enjoy their mid-day meal of bread and cheese washed down with cyder,
Farmer Trebarwith expressed his opinion that Scouts were main handy
lads, and that, by their aid, he did not expect any difficulty in
getting the crop safely under cover before the evening.

After a bounteous dinner provided by the grateful farmer, the Scouts
formed up and started on their march to the lighthouse on Beware
Head. Their route lay on the same road as far as Polkerwyck, and
thence by a narrow cliff-path, skirting Seal Island bay to the
promontory where the lighthouse is situated.

As the patrols were passing the Polkerwyck post-office - a small
cottage converted into a general shop, draper's, grocer's, chandler's
combined, - a smart dogcart was drawn up outside. From the shop came a
tall, ungainly and not prepossessing man dressed in black. His face
was pale; his eyes deep-set, shifty and heavily lined underneath; his
closely trimmed side-whiskers gave the appearance of a superior
manservant.

Furtively looking up and down the narrow street and giving a
supercilious glance at the passing Scouts, the man jumped into the
dogcart and urged the horse at a rapid and unnecessary pace up the
steep road leading towards Wadebridge.

Atherton asked and obtained permission to fall out, and giving the
tip to his chum Simpson, induced that worthy to accompany him into
the post-office.

"Two picture postcards and two halfpenny stamps, please," he asked of
the old lady who was the local representative of His Majesty's
Postmaster-General.

"It be middlin' warm, sir," remarked the postmistress, as she
laboriously counted out the change.

"It is," agreed the Leader of the "Otters." "By the by, I didn't know
that Mr Jones lived anywhere about here."

"Mr Jones, sir?" asked the old lady in a puzzled tone.

"Yes, the gentleman who was in here a minute ago: the one who drove
up in a dogcart."

"You must be making a mistake, sir," replied the old dame. "That
bain't Mr Jones. No one of that name bides hereabouts - leastways I
can't call the name to mind, an I've lived here maid and wife these
sixty-seven years come Michaelmas. Sure, now, that wur Mr Tassh - Paul
Tassh commonly socalled - as is butler up at the big house."

"Polkerwyck House?"

"Yes, Sir Silas' place."

"Thank you: I've made a mistake in supposing his name was Jones,"
said the Scout, and saluting he left the shop.

"I say, old fellow," exclaimed Simpson. "What's the move? You don't
know anyone called Jones living about here, I feel certain."

"Neither do I," agreed Atherton calmly. "I only wanted to find out
who that fellow was. He may be the man who paid a night visit to Seal
Island."

"Of course he may be, but there are ever so many chances that he may
not be," said the Leader of the "Wolves." "One thing I noticed: he
was not wearing indiarubber shoes."

"It is not at all unusual for a man to change his shoes more than
once in a day," remarked Atherton. "It was his walk that I noticed.
He has big feet, yet he took very short steps. The suspicious way in
which he looked over his shoulder did not impress me very
favourably."

Before any more could be said the two Leaders separated to rejoin
their respective patrols, and the ascent of the cliff path commenced.
It was a tedious tramp up and down, as the route descended almost to
the sea-level in order to traverse the numerous small streams that
found their way into the bay. Five times the lighthouse was hidden by
intervening ground ere the Scouts drew up at the whitewashed stone
wall enclosing the lighthouse and the keepers' houses adjoining.

The lighthouse men were most painstaking in their task of explaining
everything to their young guests. The clockwork and manual-worked
machinery for actuating the occulting light, the ingenious
construction of the lenses of the lantern, the usual and the
emergency means of supplying its illumination - all were in turn shown
to the Scouts, none of whom had ever been in a lighthouse before.

"Bill!" exclaimed one of the keepers in the midst of a technical
discourse. "It's coming on thick. You can't see the Island already.
Throw me the key of the rocket store."

The keeper addressed as Bill handed over the required article, and
then drew back the curtains of the lantern room, which, during the
day, were always kept closed in order to prevent the rays of the sun
from damaging the dioptric lenses of the lantern. A sea-fog - another
sign of an approaching storm - had banked up with considerable
rapidity. Wreaths of vapour were curling over the waters of Seal Bay,
while, as the keeper had announced, the Island itself was quite lost
to view.

"This'll give you a chance to see how we work the explosive
fog-signals," remarked the man, as he hauled down a fishing-rod-like
apparatus from outside the lighthouse. "Here are the
charges - gun-cotton, fired electrically; two every five minutes."

Securing the two cartridges to the forked ends of the rod, the keeper
hoisted the latter to its former position and touched a key. A sharp
crack, that in the outer air resembled the discharge of a
seven-pounder, announced that the first of the warning signals had
been fired. Ten seconds later the second was discharged, and the
keeper lowered the holder to recharge it.

"What makes the light blink?" asked Scott.

"This revolving screen, sir," answered the keeper. "It is worked by
the action of a slowly falling weight, after the principle of a
grandfather's clock. We have to wind it every two hours. If that goes
wrong we have to grind the lantern round by hand, and a precious
stiff job it is."

"That's where we would come in handy," observed Baker. "Scouts to the
rescue, eh?"

"All right, young gentlemen. I'll bear that in mind, and if the
apparatus goes wrong while you are on Seal Island we'll signal for a
party of you to bear a hand. There'll be stiff arms and aching backs
in the morning, I'll warrant."

The inspection came to an end at last, and Mr Trematon led his Scouts
out into the now dense fog.

Upon reaching Polkerwyck, the Scoutmaster went into the post-office,
for since he had promised Phillips that he should be the hunter of
the party, he had to get the lad a gun licence.

"Now you'll be all right, Phillips," exclaimed Mr Trematon.
"To-morrow morning you can take my gun and see if you can knock over
enough rabbits to provide us with dinner."

"There'll be a telegram for you, sir," said the post-mistress,
handing the Scoutmaster a buff-coloured envelope. "Came in this
afternoon, and Peter Varco telled me as there was no one on t' Island
to take it, so I kept it back."

Mr Trematon hastily opened the envelope and scanned its contents,
then filling in a telegraph form he handed it in and left the shop.

"Lads," he explained, "I've had bad news. Circumstances demand that
I return to my home at Guildford as soon as possible. Atherton, until
I send some one to take charge, you must be Acting Assistant
Scoutmaster. I know I can trust you. Here is enough money to carry
you on for a few days, and here is the key of the portable locker. If
I hurry I may be able to catch the evening train from Wadebridge. Let
me know every day how you get on."

"We are sorry, sir," said several of the Scouts in chorus.

"Thank you, lads," replied the Scoutmaster. "I trust it is not so bad
as the telegram leads me to believe. Can you get across to the Island
all right in the fog, or shall I ask Varco to pilot you over?"

"We'll manage all right, sir," said Atherton confidently. "I have my
pocket-compass, and I know the bearings."

"Very good; now good-bye, lads; I hope you'll have a decent time in
spite of the impending weather."

"Good-bye, sir," shouted nearly a score of voices with genuine
regret.

The next moment Mr Trematon, hurrying up the hill as fast as he
could, was lost to sight in the fog, while the "Otters" and the
"Wolves" remained on the stone quay of Polkerwyck till the sound of
his footsteps faded into a silence broken only by the ground-swell
upon the wild and rugged coast.



CHAPTER X

THE WRECK


"KEEP close in our wake, Simpson," cautioned Atherton, as the two
boats cleared the end of the stone quay. "Give way, lads; long easy
strokes."

It was an eerie experience to the two boats' crews, rowing in a dense
mist that seemed to have a most bewildering effect upon all save
Atherton, who, implicitly trusting to the small magnetic needle, knew
that it was a matter of impossibility to miss hitting Seal Island
somewhere. By having to frequently pull the starboard yoke-line
Atherton realised that without the aid of the compass his boat would
inevitably have described a wide circle, since the rowers on that
side were pulling a stronger stroke than those on the port side.

"Rocks ahead!" shouted Everest, who was perched in the bows of the
"Otters" boat.

"Stop pulling: backwater," ordered Atherton, and soon both boats were
lying five yards apart and within twice that distance of the lee side
of Seal Island.

"We've missed the landing, Atherton," announced Simpson.

"We have," agreed the Leader. "And what is more, I don't know on
which side of it we are. One part of the cliff is very much like
another. Look here, Simpson, you take your boat to the right, and
I'll steer mine to the left: we cannot be very much out. The first
one that finds the landing must give a hail."

The boats separated, both skirting the shore in opposite directions.

"There's some one rowing," exclaimed Everest. "Right ahead."

"I think it's Simpson's boat," replied Atherton. "It is difficult to
locate sound in a fog."

Nearer and nearer came the sound, till Atherton knew that he was
mistaken.

"Boat ahoy!" he bawled.

There was no reply. Whoever it was scorned to take notice of the
hail, and the splash of the oars grew fainter and fainter.

"Here's the landing," announced Everest. "Why, that boat must have
put off from there."

"Hope the fellow's honest," muttered Atherton, "or our camp might be
ransacked. I didn't like his churlish manner in not replying. Shout
to Simpson, Phillips, and let him know we've found the place."

As soon as the boats were hauled up and properly secured and their
gear removed, the Scouts wended their way up the zig-zag path to the
camp.

Atherton gave a sigh of relief to find that nothing had been
interfered with. Speedily the tents were opened, the cooks tackled
the kitchen fire, while foragers were sent to collect fuel and cover
it up so that it might be dry for the morning.

As soon as the belated meal was over and the "camp fire" fairly in
swing, Atherton called Simpson aside.

"What do you say to keeping watch all night?" he asked. "It may be a
useless job, but there is something not quite right. I want to find
out who the mysterious visitor to the Island is, and what he comes
here for."

"I'm game," answered the Leader of the "Wolves." "We'll pick one
fellow from each patrol and take two hours each; that will carry us
through till sunrise, and I don't fancy any night prowler will be
knocking about after that."

"Beastly rotten night to keep watch, though," commented the "Otters"
Leader. "The mist is turning to rain. Tell those fellows to pile on
more wood, make sure the tent pegs are firm and the guy-ropes eased
off. They had better get into the tents before they get drenched."

With the rain the wind rose. At first it was content with moaning
fitfully, but before nine o'clock it was literally howling, the
explosive fog-signals still maintaining their accompaniment every
five minutes.

"What's that noise?" asked Armstrong, in the interval between two
stirring choruses.

The Scouts listened. Above the roar of the wind and the loud tattoo
of the rain upon the drum-like canvas of the tents came a weird
screech, like the shriek of a human being in agony.

"There it is again!" exclaimed Baker. "Perhaps some one has fallen
over the cliff."

"It's too loud for a man's voice," said Simpson.

"All the same I don't like it," remarked Reggie Scott, in a subdued
voice.

"Come on, kid, you're not afraid?" asked his Leader encouragingly, as
he patted the Tenderfoot on the back.

"No, I'm not afraid," replied Scott. "But I wish that horrid noise
would stop. There it goes again."

"Pick your man, Simpson," said Atherton, in a low voice. "I've spoken
to Mayne and he's game. Phillips will remain in charge of our tent,
and I suppose you will let Neale know that he will be responsible for
order in the 'Wolves'' tent."

"Think it's any use?" asked the "Wolves'" Leader. "It's raining and
blowing great guns, and a boat could hardly get across. We may be
isolated here for days."

"Won't matter so long as the grub holds out," replied Atherton,
cheerfully. "We'll stick to our plan. With greatcoats on we shall be
all right."

As soon as the other occupants of the two tents were asleep, the two
Leaders, with Mayne and Coventry major, donned their heavy coats and
made their way down to the landing-place. It was hard work to prevent
themselves being forced down the steep path at a break-neck pace, for
the force of the wind behind them was terrific, but lower down the
overhanging rocks afforded excellent protection.

"Got your flash lamp?" asked Simpson.

"I should jolly well think I have," answered Atherton. "Have you?"

"Yes; but, I say, will the tents stand it? It is blowing up there."

"They would have been down before this, I fancy," remarked Atherton.
"There's that rummy noise again. What on earth can it be?"

"We'll find out to-morrow, if it keeps on," said Simpson. "Now,
Coventry, you keep first watch: two hours, my fine fellow. We'll
snooze in the hollow of the rocks. If anything suspicious occur,
rouse us."

Sheltering as best he could, Coventry major took up his stand and
commenced his lonesome vigil. He might well have been spared the
task, for, although the Island acted as a kind of natural breakwater,
the waves were beating so furiously on the landward side of the bay
that it would be a matter of sheer impossibility for one or even
three men to launch a boat.

At the end of his "trick" Coventry was relieved by Mayne, and he,
too, cooled his heels in watchful inactivity. Atherton followed, and
at length came Simpson's turn.

"Rain's knocking off," he remarked, as he took his chum's post.
"That's one blessing."

"It will be daylight in less than an hour and a half. As soon as it
is fairly light we will get back to our tents and have a decent sleep
till half-past six," said Atherton. "I've neither seen nor heard a
sign of anyone. There's only the howling of the wind, the noise of
the fog-signals, and that peculiar shrieking sound to cheer you up,
old man."

Once or twice to the lad's slightly overstrained nerves, Simpson
imagined he saw something move, but unwilling to rouse his comrades
he kept still long enough to make certain that his sense of sight had
played him false. He was tired. Several times he caught himself
dozing: his head would fall forward, only to recover itself with a
jarring jerk as he became aware that he was on the point of sleeping
at his post.

Suddenly, at no great distance off, came the heavy report of a gun.

The noise brought Atherton and his two companions out of their
rough-and-ready shelter, and hardly able to realise what was amiss
they rejoined Simpson.

"It was a gun; a vessel in distress off the back of the Island, I
fancy," said the latter.

"Back to the camp for all you're worth," exclaimed Atherton. "We must
turn the others out, and see if we can be of use."

But there was no need to arouse the rest of the two patrols. The
detonation, sounding much louder on the higher ground than it had in
the hollow where Atherton and his fellow-watchers had been
sheltering, had effectually alarmed the Scouts, who, under Phillips'
orders, had turned out in greatcoats, ready for action.

"Bring those ropes," shouted Atherton, striving to make himself
understood above the howling of the wind, "and the large pulleys.
There it goes again."

A vivid flash, outlining the crest of Seal Island, was immediately
followed by the report, while simultaneously an answering rocket
soared skywards from the coastguard station at Refuge Point. This was
acknowledged by the lighthouse on Beware Point, and a message
transmitted to Padstow summoning the lifeboat.

Bending to the storm the Scouts, bearing their gear, doubled towards
the seaward side of the Island, in the direction indicated by the
discharge of the gun.

Dawn was just breaking as they gained the edge of the cliffs. Below
them, with her bows driven hard against an outlying rock, was a
steamer of about eight hundred tons. Her funnel and masts had gone by
the board, her foremast showing a stump of about ten feet above the
deck. Cataracts of white water were pouring over her, while cowering
on the fo'c'sle were about twenty men.

"What can we do?" asked Simpson anxiously. "We can't get a rope on
board, and the cliffs are too steep to climb."

"Make fast the rope round me, old chap," said Atherton calmly. "I'm
going to look over the edge to see what it is like down there."

Thus secured, the Leader of the "Otters" crawled over till he was
able to command a view of the base of the cliffs.

The outlook was not promising. In the grey dawn the kelp-covered
rocks were barely distinguishable from the water that lashed itself
against the bulwarks of Seal Island. Close to the foot of the cliffs,
and immediately below the place on which he was lying, Atherton
descried a ledge about twenty feet in breadth. Although slippery with
spray this flat-topped rock was sufficiently high to be out of reach


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