Percy F. (Percy Francis) Westerman.

The Scouts of Seal Island online

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of the actual waves. From it other lower ledges ran seaward, and
between two of these the ill-fated steamer had piled herself up on
the rocks.

"Simpson," said Atherton, hurriedly, "we must get half a dozen of our
fellows down there. There we may be of use. Signal to the ship and
tell them to try and send a rope ashore. It is impossible for us to
heave a line to them in the face of this gale. Send down half a dozen
staves after us: they may come in useful."

While Simpson was flag-wagging the message, Atherton, Phillips,
Green, Mayne, Everest and Baker were lowered down to the ledge, the
two Tenderfoots of the "Otters" remaining with the "Wolves." Before
the last Scout was down a man was observed standing in the bows of
the wrecked craft. Wave after wave broke over him, but secured by a
lashing he worked desperately in order to form a means of
communication with the shore with a coil of rope and a life-buoy.

"Look out!" cautioned Atherton, as the life-buoy was hove into the
raging waters. "We must get hold of that, somehow."

Jack Phillips, ever resourceful, had already uncoiled about thirty
feet of thin but strong line, and had bent one end to the centre of
his staff. Steadied by his companions the Second of the "Otters"
stood on the brink of the ledge, his staff held harpoon-wise, ready
to make a thrust at the life-buoy, that was momentarily drifting
nearer and nearer the shore.

Up went his arm; the ash pole darted obliquely towards the crest of a
wave on which the buoy was being swept. He missed the mark by less
that a foot, and the life-buoy, left by the receding wave, was jammed
in an almost vertical position between two jagged rocks.

"I must wait till the next wave shifts it," he bawled to his
comrades, for the roar of the wind and waves made ordinary
conversation inaudible.

With a smother of foam the next breaker hurled itself against the
cliff. It was lower than the preceding one and failed to dislodge the
life-buoy from its resting-place.

"Has it gone?" shouted Atherton.

"No," replied Phillips, "I wish it would." Then seized by an
inspiration, he cast off the line from his staff, tied it round his
body and called to his chums to lower away. The next moment he was on
his way down to the stranded life-buoy.

It was a distance of only ten feet, but every inch of that space was
fraught with danger. Not only was there a possibility of a huge wave
dashing the young Scout against the rocks with resistless force, but
there were risks of losing his hold on the slippery wall and of the
cord that steadied him being unable to withstand the sudden strain.

Without mishap Phillips came within reach of the object of his
dangerous task. He grasped the life-buoy, and shouted to the Scouts
on the ledge to haul away. To his consternation there was no attempt
to raise him to safety, while on the other hand a tremendous wave was
bearing down upon him.

Phillips' first impulse was to let go the buoy and swarm up the rope
hand over hand. On second thoughts he realised that it was his life
against the lives of all the crew of the doomed ship, and to
relinquish the means of communication at this juncture would be
cowardly and selfish.

Planting his heels firmly into a niche in the rocks and setting his
shoulders against the natural wall, Phillips unhesitatingly cast off
the cord round his waist and bent it on to the life-buoy. The wave
was now barely thirty yards off, and to the inexperienced lad it
looked mountainous.

"Never say die," he muttered between his tightly clenched teeth; but
all the same he realised that it was the tightest corner he had yet
been into in the course of the sixteen years of his life.

Then a strange thing happened. The huge breaker was preceded by
another of considerable less height. Pounding against the rocks the
first wave rebounded and met the dangerous one just as it was on the
point of curling ere it broke. The collision was insufficient to stop
the oncoming wave, but it considerably checked its impetus. It broke;
the solid water swirled over the lad's legs till it reached above his
knees, while for the next few seconds he was gasping for breath as he
swallowed the salt-laden air.

The work he had undertaken being accomplished, Phillips hesitated no
longer. Hand over hand he dragged himself, encumbered though he was
by his sodden clothing, towards the ledge, till to his unbounded
relief he felt his wrists grasped by his companions.

"Where's the buoy?" asked Atherton.

"Haul away," gasped Phillips, "you'll find it," and too exhausted to
say more he staggered to the base of the main cliff and sat down to
recover his breath.

Foot by foot the saturated rope came home till the "Otters" hauled
ashore a large block, through which was rove a heavier rope.

"It's a kind of life-saving line, lads," exclaimed Atherton. "Make
fast the pulley as quickly as you can. Wedge these staves between
these two rocks. See they don't slip: they'll stand the strain."

As soon as this was done a message was signalled to the ship
announcing that all was in readiness.

Without delay those on board began to haul on the endless rope, and
the Scouts saw a man, seated in a life-buoy, leave the stranded

The next instant he was buried in a white-crested wave. The strain
upon the ropes was terrific, but they stood the test right well, and
as the breaker swept ahead the man was found to be still clinging to
the buoy. Thrice ere he was hauled to a place of safety he was
overtaken by the waves, till quite exhausted the first survivor was
assisted to the most sheltered position on the ledge.

Again and again the buoy made its double journey, and each time it
returned with one of the crew. Ropes were lowered from the summit of
the cliff, and as the rescued men were hauled up by the "Wolves" they
were escorted to the camp, whither the three Tenderfoots had
previously been sent to prepare hot coffee.

Four men only remained on board. The hull was already showing signs
of parting amidships. The tide had fallen considerably, and the task
of hauling the buoy with its living burdens up to the ledge
continually became harder.

One of the four, slipping into the buoy, began the hazardous journey.
Half the distance was accomplished in safety, when a huge wave swept
over and passed the doomed vessel.

"Quite exhausted, the first survivor was assisted to the most
sheltered position on the ledge." - _Page_ 114.

The Scouts felt the strain suddenly relax. When the breaker had
passed, their worst fears were realised. The life-line had parted,
the man in the buoy was at the mercy of the waves, and the retreat of
the remaining three was cut off:



STEADYING himself on the rope, Atherton stood on the brink of the
ledge and watched for the reappearance of the submerged man. The buoy
was floating, but for quite a quarter of a minute its late occupant
was nowhere to be seen. When at length he rose to the surface, the
buoy had drifted ten yards to leeward of him.

Fortunately the seaman was a swimmer, and without hesitation he
struck out for the buoy.

"Haul in!" ordered Atherton, as the man grasped the life-saving
object, and passed it over his head and shoulders.

Promptly the "Otters" obeyed, till the Leader ordered them to stop.
Another wave was breaking, and should the man be caught close to the
cliffs he would assuredly be dashed to death against the rocks.

Down came the mountain of water, but instead of carrying the seaman
with it, it passed harmlessly by, expending its energy in a blow that
raised a column of spray forty feet in the air.

"Now, haul!" bawled Atherton, and to his relief he saw the man drawn
clear of the turmoil of foam and unceremoniously dragged upon the

"Signal to them to send another line ashore," ordered the Leader; but
in reply the despairing message came from the wreck, "We have no more

"Could I swim off to the ship?" asked Green. "I'll risk it."

"Impossible," replied Atherton. "It is hopeless to attempt to swim
against such a sea."

"What is to be done?" asked Phillips. "We cannot stand here and let
those fellows drown before our eyes."

Atherton shook his head. All that was humanly possible for them to do
had been done. He knew that it was not the first time by any means
that men had been drowned in full view of their would-be rescuers.

"Forepeak's full o' water," announced the last of the saved crew.
"That's where there's many a coil o' rope."

"Couldn't they dive for it or fish it up with a boathook?" asked

"Maybe they haven't thought o' that, sir," was the reply.

"Tell them to make another attempt to find a rope," ordered Atherton.
"Failing that, their only chance is to jump overboard and trust that
they lay hold of the ropes we lower to them."

But before Phillips could send the signal, Tom Mayne gave vent to a
loud shout.

"Look! Look!" he exclaimed, pointing seaward. "The lifeboat!"

The Scout was right. Riding lightly over the mountainous seas was the
red-white-and-blue painted lifeboat from Gwyll Cove. Under sail she
stood down till within a cable's length of the wreck. To approach
closer under sail or oars would be fatal, for the heavy seas would
carry the craft upon the jagged rocks.

Breathlessly the Scouts watched the completion of their work of
rescue. Anchoring well to windward of the wreck the lifeboat men
veered out fathom after fathom of stout cable, till the craft drifted
to within twenty yards of the fast-disappearing wreck.

From this distance it was a fairly easy matter to heave a loaded
cane, to which was attached a line, across the steamer's deck, and in
a very short time means of communication were established between the
lifeboat and the doomed vessel.

One by one the three remaining seamen were dragged into safety; the
lifeboat hauled out, buoyed and slipped her cable, and hoisted sail.
Washed again and again as she pounded against the heavy seas, she
beat up for Gwyll Cove, her errand of mercy completed.

"Come on, lads," said Atherton. "We must be getting back to camp."

Two by two the "Otters" were hoisted to the top of the cliffs,
whither the last of the men rescued by the Scouts had preceded them.
Breaking into a run, for their work and subsequent wait in the
salt-laden atmosphere had chilled them to the bone, the lads made
their way towards their temporary home.

Presently Phillips overtook his Leader.

"Don't stop," he panted. "Wait till I fall back a bit and then look
at the left side of the ruins. There's some one watching us."

Atherton followed this advice. Standing close to the ruined chapelry,
and clearly defined against the skyline, was a figure that the lad
recognised as Paul Tassh, the butler at Polkerwyck House.

"How on earth did the fellow get to the Island?" thought the Leader.
"It has been much too rough since yesterday evening for a boat to put

When he again glanced in the direction of the ruins, Tassh was no
longer to be seen.

On first thoughts Atherton felt inclined to get both patrols to
surround the man, for the Scout felt now perfectly convinced that he
was the mysterious visitor to the Tea Caves. But, after all, Sir
Silas Gwinnear's butler had as much, if not more, right to be on Seal
Island than they had. The man's presence was certainly suspicious,
but until he was actually detected in an act that would justify the
Scouts taking strong measures, Atherton felt it advisable to lie low
but at the same time keep his eyes and ears open.

The Tenderfoots had done their task right well, for upon arriving at
the camp the other Scouts found that not only had the rescued men
been provided with hot coffee and food but there was a liberal supply
for the lads who had toiled so hard in their act of rescue.

The shipwrecked mariners were almost too overjoyed to thank their
youthful rescuers. For a long time they could only pat the Scouts on
the back and utter short, disjointed sentences of mingled admiration
and thanks.

At last Atherton managed to learn the details of the disaster.

The wrecked vessel was the ss. _Polybus_, of Cardiff, homeward bound
from Bilboa with a cargo of copper ore. In the fog she lost her
bearings, and when the storm piped up and dispersed the mist she
mistook the lighthouse on Beware Head for one farther down the coast.
A blinding rain-squall shut out the loom of the shore, and ere it
passed away the _Polybus_ ran hard and fast aground on the ledges to
the south-west of Seal Island.

"Who is the owner of the ship!" asked Atherton, who was jotting down
the particulars in his note-book.

"Blest if I can tell you, sir," replied the seaman, who acted as
spokesman. "Can any of you, mates?"

"Not I. S'long as I gets my dibs paid every month 'taint no business
o' mine to know who the owners be."

The others replied in a similar strain, and for the time being
Atherton was compelled to leave the answer to this question a blank.

"There's no getting across to the mainland to-day," said Atherton.
"It has left off raining and we may have a chance of drying some of
our clothes. You men will have to stay with us till the sea moderates
sufficiently for us to put you ashore at Polkerwyck. We can let you
have the use of a tent, and there's food enough to last us all for
some days."

Although it was now fine, and there were occasional bursts of
sunshine between the masses of swiftly driving clouds, the wind
howled as loudly as ever. Nevertheless the Scouts were able to start
a large fire, in front of which they and their involuntary guests
dried their clothes.

Atherton's mind was fairly centred on the appearance of Tassh on the
Island, and while the others were occupied he crossed over to where
Phillips was standing with a pile of dried clothing under his arm.

"I say," he remarked. "Did you notice where the man went to? Did he
go into the ruins?"

"No, he walked towards the shaft leading to Dollar Cove," replied the
Second of the "Otters." "Baker spotted him and waved his staff and
that made the man disappear sharp enough."

"Baker was a bit of a donkey to attract attention like that," said
Atherton. "But I mean to find out - - "

"Atherton, there's a man coming this way," announced Tenderfoot

The Leader looked up. Approaching the camp was Paul Tassh.

The butler walked with short, jerky steps. His right shoulder was
slightly higher than the other. His face showed that he was badly in
need of a shave, for the lower part beneath his side whiskers was
covered with a thick stubble.

"Good-morning, young gentlemen," he exclaimed, with a forced air of

"Good-morning," replied Atherton politely, as was his wont, although
he distrusted the man.

"If I may be so bold as to ask, sir," continued the butler, "I should
like a snack of something to eat. I've had nothing since yesterday

"I think we can manage that all right," said Atherton. "What has
happened to you, then?"

"Oh, I might just as well explain," said the man between the
mouthfuls of bread and cold meat that the Scouts gave him. "My name
is Todd - John Brazenose Todd. I am a stranger in these parts, having
been staying in a cottage just outside Polkerwyck. Yesterday morning
I thought I would like to visit the Island, so I hired a boat and
landed. Before I could return the fog came on, and afterwards the
terrible storm. Being of a retiring disposition I did not like to
intrude, so I kept away from your camp and took refuge in yon ruins.
But a man cannot fail to be hungry on two or three biscuits in
twenty-four hours."

Atherton nodded. He knew, as did his fellow Scouts, that the fellow's
story was a tissue of lies from beginning to end, and he wondered at
his audacity when he could not have failed to notice the Scouts
passing the post-office at noon on the preceding day. Atherton's only
fear was that some of the Scouts might feel inclined to "chip in and
give the show away"; but to his relief the lads left all the talking
on their side to their Leader.

"There's not much to see on the Island," he remarked. "I suppose you
know there was a wreck, and those men over there are some of the

"A wreck? 'Pon my word I didn't," replied Tassh. "Truth to tell I
must have been sound asleep in the ruin. Never heard a sound. When
was it?"

"At daybreak this morning," announced Atherton. "You must have been
sound asleep if you failed to hear guns."

Paul Tassh finished his meal in silence, furtively eyeing the Scouts
with a supercilious smile on his thin, bloodless lips.

"They're too jolly well taken up with fooling about to trouble me,"
he soliloquised. "All the same they are a confounded nuisance on the
Island. Still, since my retreat is cut off, the only thing to be done
is to put up with them. A fine yarn I'll have to pitch up when I get
back to the House."

Meanwhile Phillips and Simpson had been busily engaged in signalling
the names of the rescued men to the coastguard station at Refuge
Point, and a request that a boat should be sent, if possible, to take
the men off the Island.

To this the chief officer of coastguards replied:

"Well done, Scouts. We will put off as soon as the weather moderates.
There is still too much sea running in Seal Bay."

It was not until five o'clock that afternoon that a temporary lull
occurred, and with the utmost promptitude boats were launched from
Polkerwyck besides one from the coastguard station.

"There be a telegraf for you, sir," announced Peter Varco, who was
the first to land on the Island.

Atherton took the envelope. The message was brief and to the point:
"Scoutmaster Buckley arrives Wadebridge Station 8.15 P.M. Send Scouts
to meet him. Hope all well, Trematon."

"Everest and Baker," explained their Leader, "our temporary
Scoutmaster, Mr Buckley, is coming by the 8.15 train. Mr Trematon has
wired the information, and has asked me to send some Scouts to meet
Mr Buckley. So get some one to put you across, proceed to Wadebridge
as quickly as you can, and wait there till the Scoutmaster arrives.
Hulloa! Where's that fellow, Tassh?"

Mr Tassh, _alias_ Todd, was nowhere to be seen. Unnoticed in the
excitement of the arrival of the boats, he had slipped off to the
landing-place. There he told a portion of his plausible tale to old
Roger Tregaskis. He knew that it would be hopeless to stick to the
name of Todd, since he was well known to the inhabitants of
Polkerwyck, but the yarn of how he had been cut of by the fog went
down well enough, and old Tregaskis was profuse in his sympathetic
expressions, and promptly offered to row Mr Tassh across to the
mainland in order that he might keep an important engagement at
Polkerwyck House.

"Good on you, lads!" exclaimed the chief officer of coastguards. "And
without a rocket apparatus, too. Well, you did the lifeboat men
nearly in the eye, this time."

"I don't know about that, sir," replied Atherton. "You see, we
couldn't get the last three men off the wreck, and if the lifeboat
hadn't turned up in the nick of time they would have been lost."

"All the same you were jolly plucky. I am proud to meet you, lads.
Don't forget, if you've time to give us a look up at the station,
we'll do our best to let you have a right good time."

"Thank you, sir," replied Atherton. "We will be very pleased to visit
your station. We went to the lighthouse yesterday, and fully intended
to ask whether we might visit the coastguard at Refuge Point some
time next week."

"And by the by," said the coastguard officer at parting, "I suppose
you know that any cargo or gear that comes ashore is to be handed
over to the custody of the Receiver of Wrecks? I was going to leave a
couple of hands to keep a look-out, but I guess you're quite capable
and willing to do that part of the business. If you should see anyone
tampering with the wreck after the gale moderates, just signal to us,
and we'll stop their little game."

"Very good, sir," replied Atherton then, as the weird noises that had
so puzzled the Scouts during their all-night vigil commenced again,
he asked, "What is that sound, sir?"

"A bit of a startler when you're not used to it, eh? That is the
noise made by the blowing-holes on the south-west side of the Island.
In rough weather, and at certain states of the tide, the waves force
confined air through several small fissures in the hollows of the
rocks. It's well worth seeing."

The various boats returned to the mainland with the rescued men,
Everest and Baker having been given a passage in Peter Varco's craft,
and once more Seal Island was untenanted save by the Scouts, the
rabbits, and the countless seabirds.

"Thank goodness we've a chance to have a good sleep," ejaculated
Simpson, with a sigh of utter weariness. "All the same I should like
to know how came Paul Tassh on Seal Island."



"GREEN," said Atherton, "I hope you are not so dead tired as I am:
will you do me a good turn?"

"Rather, old chap," replied Green, without hesitation.

"Well, the four of us who stuck up on watch all last night are going
to turn in at once. The other fellows won't be long after us, I
fancy. What I want you to do is this - to take charge, maintain order,
and keep watch for the arrival of Mr Buckley. Directly you hear the
boat approaching the landing wake us up. We must give him a rousing
welcome, you know."

"Right-o! I'll see to all that," assented Green. "My word, you do
look tired."

"And I jolly well feel it," agreed Atherton, with an irrepressible
yawn. "Now, you fellows, who's going to have a snooze?"

When Atherton awoke he could hardly believe his senses. It was broad
daylight. The other occupants of the tent, thoroughly tired out with
their exertions, were sleeping soundly.

The Leader sat up and rubbed his eyes.

"Surely young Green never let me sleep like this on purpose," he
muttered. "And the new Scoutmaster has arrived and I wasn't there to
receive him and hand over the care of the two patrols. A pretty fine
Scout I am; and a nice mess I've made of things."

In anticipation of being called at ten o'clock Atherton had "turned
in all standing." He pulled out his watch. It was seven o'clock.

Unlacing the door of the tent, the Leader stepped out. The sun was
shining brightly. The storm had passed, but the wind still remained
fairly high.

Atherton gazed at the ashes of the camp fire. They were still red
hot. An iron pot, suspended by a chain from a tripod, was hanging
over the embers. The fire had evidently been kept up for long past

"I'll wake Green and ask him all about this," said Atherton to
himself; but a comprehensive examination of the blanket-enshrouded
fellows in the "Otters'" tent revealed the fact that Green was not
one of them.

The Leader made his way to the ridge tent that had been appropriated
to the Scoutmaster's use. It was closed: the knot securing the flap
was on the outside, and since it was quite evident that it was a
matter of impossibility for the occupant of a tent to lace the flap
on the outside, Atherton rightly concluded that Mr Buckley had not

He gave a sigh of relief; then, seized by an inspiration, he set off
at a run towards the landing-place.

There, muffled in his greatcoat, and leaning heavily on his staff,
was Phil Green. Hearing the approaching footfalls the Scout turned.

"What's the meaning of this, Green?" demanded Atherton.

"You told me to wait till Mr Buckley arrived," replied the Scout,
without the faintest sign of reproach. "I am a bit tired, but really
I've enjoyed myself. It was a beautiful sunrise. You missed something
by not seeing it, Atherton."

Leader Atherton looked at the Scout to see if he could detect any
signs of "pulling his leg" on Green's part.

"I'm sorry," he said at length. "It was my fault. I ought to have
given more definite orders. Cut off now, and get something to eat and
then turn in."

"Nothing to be sorry for, Atherton. It was like a bit of the real
thing. But how about Everest and Baker?"

"Goodness only knows why they haven't turned up. I'll rout out the
rest of the 'Otters,' and we'll tramp into Wadebridge directly after

"Now, 'Otters!'" exclaimed Atherton, after the meal was over, "we are
off to Wadebridge to bring in Everest and Baker, and find out why our
temporary Scoutmaster hasn't arrived. The 'Wolves' can do camp duty
till we return. By the by, Phillips, since Mr Trematon got you a gun
licence you might just as well make yourself useful. There's his gun:

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Online LibraryPercy F. (Percy Francis) WestermanThe Scouts of Seal Island → online text (page 6 of 12)