Copyright
Percy F. (Percy Francis) Westerman.

The Scouts of Seal Island online

. (page 7 of 12)
Online LibraryPercy F. (Percy Francis) WestermanThe Scouts of Seal Island → online text (page 7 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


you know how it works, and here are a couple dozen cartridges. See if
you can't knock over enough rabbits to make a jolly good stew for
supper to-night."

Accordingly Atherton, Mayne, Sayers and Scott manned one of the boats
and rowed over to Polkerwyck. It was a fairly lively experience
crossing Seal Bay, for there was still a heavy swell running in from
the open sea; but at the expense of another drenching with spray - a
circumstance that the Scouts were quite used to by this time - they
landed safely on the lee side of the stone pier.

"Good morning, Mr Varco," said Atherton, as he formed up his
diminished patrol on the quay.

"Good marnin', young gents. That be a fine piece o' work o' yours
yestermorn."

"I'm glad we did what we were able to," replied the Leader. "By the
by, did you see Mr Tassh come ashore yesterday?"

"Sure I did. He left t'Island in old Tregaskis' boat. What wur 'e
a-doin' on t'Island I should like to know?"

"Wasn't it too rough last night for a boat to put off?" asked the
Leader, since he could not satisfactorily reply to the old
fisherman's question. "Two of our Scouts went to Wadebridge to meet
the 8.15 train. I thought perhaps they couldn't get back, and had
slept in the village."

"No, 'tweren't rough, in a manner o' speakin'. An no Scouts came this
way up till eleven o'clock, that I du declare."

"Then they must have found a place to put up at in Wadebridge. Well,
good-bye for the present, Mr Varco. We must be on the move."

As the patrol was passing the post-office the old lady came hobbling
out with a small bundle of telegrams.

"These came in from Wadebridge this marnin'," she explained. "They
were too late to be sent on from there last night. I was just a-going
to ask Peter Varco if he'd mind a-taking them across to 'e."

"What's up now, I wonder?" asked Atherton, looking at the six
envelopes.

The first one was from Mr Trematon: "Just heard of rescue. I am proud
of my Scouts."

The second was from Mr Buckley: "Missed connection at Exeter.
Arriving to-morrow morning 11.45."

The third completely mystified the Scout.

"Again I am indebted to Scouts for a good turn to me and mine. Am
coming to Polkerwyck to personally thank you - Silas Gwinnear."

"What ever does Sir Silas mean?" asked Atherton. "How have we done
him a good turn? I vote we reply to say that we do not know that we
have done anything for him, unless he means that by helping Farmer
Trebarwith complete his haymaking we have rendered Sir Silas a
service in a roundabout way."

"Better wait a bit," suggested Sayers. "I am as much in the dark as
you; but evidently Sir Silas knows more than we do. What's in the
other telegrams, Atherton?"

Number four was from headquarters: "Well done, Scouts. Glad you know
how to 'Be prepared.'"

Numbers five and six, couched in similar terms, came from two North
London troops who had often co-operated with the 201st, and were well
acquainted with the "Otters" and the "Wolves."

"My eye, they are making a song about it," remarked little Reggie
Scott. "I wish you had let me bear a hand instead of sending me away
to make coffee, Atherton."

"Yours was not the least part of the business, Scott," replied the
Leader. "We were all jolly glad you did your part so well, I can
assure you. But I agree with you, they are making a song about it. It
reminds me of Shakespeare's words: 'Seeking a bubble reputation at
the cannon's mouth.' That's what the bard said, eh, Phillips?"

"I don't know," replied that worthy. "I only hope we won't be
bothered too much, or our holiday will be somewhat spoiled."

Maintaining a steady pace, the Scouts made light work of their march
to Wadebridge. Arriving there they were greeted by Everest and Baker,
who, looking as "chirpy as crickets," were patrolling the station
platform.

"No luck yet," said the former, nonchalantly. "The Scoutmaster hasn't
turned up yet."

"Why didn't you return last night, then?" asked Atherton.

"Return? You said we were to wait for Mr Buckley. We've had a ripping
time. One of the porters made us a jolly bed in the waiting-room, and
the stationmaster gave us supper and breakfast. And we know an awful
lot how railways are run now, Atherton. You've missed something."

After being told this on two occasions that morning, Atherton began
to think he really had missed a novel experience.

"We've had a wire," he remarked. "Mr Buckley is arriving by the
11.15. Only another ten minutes to wait."

"Here she comes," announced Atherton, when at length the train was
observed in the distance. "Form up, lads, and let's give our new
Scoutmaster a proper Scouts' welcome."

So intent was Atherton upon looking out for the familiar
Scoutmaster's uniform that he was startled to hear a hearty voice
exclaim:

"Bless my soul, Atherton! You here to meet me! And these are your
chums, eh?"

Turning, Atherton saw that the speaker was Sir Silas Gwinnear.

"No, sir, we are not here to meet you. We did not know you were
coming by this train," explained Atherton. "All the same we are
awfully pleased to see you. It is our new Scoutmaster we are waiting
for. Mr Trematon had to go home on important business."

"Oh," exclaimed the Baronet with a slight tinge of disappointment.
"No matter; we'll all run down to Polkerwyck House in my motor.
Squeeze you all in at a pinch. Ha there is your Scoutmaster, I see."

Mr Buckley, having seized the opportunity of doing a good turn by
assisting out of the carriage a very timid and fussy old lady with a
heap of small parcels, had not been able to make a prompt appearance.

He was a heavily built man of about thirty-five, slightly above
middle height, clean shaven; his full face and fairly heavy jaw
denoting firmness and good temper. He had been a lieutenant in the
Royal Navy, but owing to a gunnery accident that greatly impaired the
use of his right arm, he was invalided on a modest pension. It was
galling to him to be compelled to give up his prospects in the
service, but he made the best of a bad job. In spite of his
disability he took up a Scoutmastership, and soon worked his troop
into a state of efficiency. Always ready to oblige his friends, Mr
Buckley had willingly agreed to take over temporary charge of the
Scouts of Seal Island, and now he was in touch with one of his future
patrols.

Returning the Scouts' salute, Mr Buckley looked enquiringly at the
gentleman who was waxing so enthusiastic over the lads.

"This is Sir Silas Gwinnear who is letting us have the use of Seal
Island, sir," explained Atherton.

"And who is indebted to young Atherton for saving my life, and to him
and his fellow Scouts for saving the lives of several of the crew of
one of my ships," added the baronet.

"One of your ships, sir?" asked Atherton, in astonishment.

"Yes, the _Polybus_: you saw the account in this morning's papers,
Mr - - ?"

"Buckley," said the Scoutmaster. "Yes, I saw the account in the
papers, but I did not notice to whom the vessel belonged."

"Haven't you seen the papers, lads?" asked Sir Silas.

"No, sir," was the reply.

"H'm; when you do I hope you won't suffer with swollen heads, lads.
All the same it was a gallant deed. Do you know, Mr Buckley, up to
only a few days ago I held strong unfavourable views on the Scout
movement. It will be unnecessary for me to state what they were as I
am now convinced of my error. If all Scouts are like these - and I
have been assured that they are no better and no worse than their
fellows in all parts of the world - mankind owes a debt of gratitude
to the founder of the movement. To show my practical appreciation of
what these lads have done, I have come down to Polkerwyck House for
the rest of the time they remain at Seal Island. Mr Buckley, I trust
you will avail yourself of my offer and ride down to Polkerwyck in my
car?"

"But these lads?" asked the Scoutmaster.

"They, of course, are included: the more the merrier. My car is a
fairly large one, and I have no doubt that the Scouts can exercise
their ingenuity in stowing themselves somewhere."

So saying, Sir Silas led the way out of the station to where a
powerful six-seater was drawn up.

Sir Silas and the Scoutmaster occupied a seat each, one of the Scouts
perched himself beside the chauffeur, and the remaining five
contrived to squeeze in without regard to their cramped quarters. All
the lads agreed that it was infinitely better than tramping up and
down dale upon the hard granite roads, for the car, under the
guidance of the skilled chauffeur, simply flew. Eleven minutes from
the time of leaving the station the car drew up at the gates of
Polkerwyck House.

The lodge keeper hastened to throw open the massive iron gates
embellished with Sir Silas Gwinnear's arms, but before the chauffeur
could restart, a sergeant of the Cornish constabulary, accompanied by
a policeman and a plain-clothes officer, stepped up and saluted the
baronet.

"Sorry to have to inform you, Sir Silas, that up to the present we
haven't any clue," said the sergeant.

"Clue? What on earth do you mean, Coombes?" asked the baronet in
astonishment.

"About the burglary, sir; haven't - - "

"Burglary - where?"

"Didn't Mr Tassh wire to you, sir?"

"Certainly not. What's wrong now?"

"Mr Tassh reported to us early this morning that Polkerwyck House had
been broken into during the night and a large quantity of silver had
been taken away."

"My silver? Surely none of the presentation plate I had given me by
Lloyds'?"

"Unfortunately, sir, that is missing."

"Come back to the house, Coombes. Drive on, Rogers."

"We had better get down, Sir Silas," suggested Mr Buckley. "I am sure
that in this unfortunate trouble we do not want to thrust our company
upon you."

"There's no thrust about it. Stay where you are, Mr Buckley, and you,
too, lads. Now, Atherton, you're a sharp lad. You've been jolly
useful to me twice, and there's nothing like three for luck. Use your
wits, and put your scouting abilities to the test."

There was a constrained silence amongst the numerous servants as Sir
Silas entered the hall of Polkerwyck House and led his youthful
guests into the study.

"The police will be here directly," he observed. "Meanwhile I'll have
the butler in and see what he has to say."

In a few minutes Tassh, dressed in his black suit, obsequiously
entered the room.

"What's all this I hear, Tassh?" asked the baronet. "Some of my
silver gone, eh? Tell me about it."

"I locked up last night, sir, as I always do. This morning when I
came down at 7.30 the safe was open, and the silver, which you gave
orders was to be placed there for safety, was missing. There were
marks of a jemmy on the window-sash, and footprints on the
flower-beds outside. I immediately told the housekeeper, and sent
Williams on horseback to fetch the police."

"H'm; have you made a list of what is missing?"

"Not yet, sir; truth to tell I was so upset that I haven't recovered
my normal self."

"It would have been better if you had recovered my silver," remarked
the baronet, grimly. "Or better still if you had taken steps to
prevent the burglars from making their haul. How about the electric
alarm?"

Tassh hesitated before replying.

"It must have been out of order, sir."

"Then it was your place to see that it was in order, Tassh. You are
quite sure you slept in the house last night? I remember I had to
speak to you on one occasion for stopping at Padstow one night last
winter."

"I've never slept out of the house since you left, sir," said the
butler, with conviction.

Atherton and his companions exchanged glances. The cool, bold-faced
audacity of the man to make a declaration like that when he had been
the involuntary guest of the Scouts only the day before seemed too
stupendous for words.

"Very good, Tassh, you may go," said Sir Silas. "Ah, here is Coombes!
Now, Coombes, let us hear what you know of the matter."

"Precious little, sir, unfortunately. The front of the safe has been
cut through with an electric drill. Here is the lock, sir. The window
was forced, showing that the burglars entered that way, but the
strange thing about it, sir, is that they must have left by some
other way, since none of the footsteps lead away from the house."

"There were two or more burglars?"

"Undoubtedly, sir. The weight of the stolen stuff is too great for
one man to carry."

"Well, do your best, Coombes. Tell your inspector that I am offering
two hundred pounds reward for the capture and conviction of the
burglar or burglars. Let me know at once if there is any
information."

"Very good, sir," said the sergeant, and, saluting, he withdrew.

"Now, Atherton, have you any suggestions to make?" asked Sir Silas.
"You are the - er - Leader, don't you call it? - of the patrol. But
perhaps you haven't had time to consider the case properly?"

"Can I examine the window by which the burglars are supposed to have
entered, sir?"

"Certainly, you have a free hand."

"I wonder if Sir Silas is trying to pull Atherton's leg?" whispered
Baker to his chum Everest.

"Shut up!" replied Everest. "If he is, he doesn't know Atherton as I
do. Atherton's on to something, I'll stake my word."

The Leader of the "Otters" carefully examined the marks of the jemmy,
tried the window fastenings and the sash frames.

"Now, sir, may I see the lock of the safe?"

Sir Silas pointed to the cut-out portion of metal containing the
complicated lock.

"The story of the burglars is a make-up, sir," announced Atherton.



CHAPTER XIII

FLIGHT


"WHAT!" exclaimed Sir Silas and Mr Buckley, simultaneously. "A
make-up? Explain yourself, Atherton."

"That I think is fairly simple, sir," said the Scout. "The marks on
the window-frame show that a jemmy has been used, but unless the
sash-frame on that side were prised out the window could not be
opened by those means. No professional burglar would attempt to use a
jemmy on a window; he would stick a piece of putty to the glass close
to the fastening, and cut round it with a diamond. That would be a
noiseless operation, while the force that caused those dents would
make quite a racket. Then, sir, there is the lock. The front of the
safe has been electrically drilled. Upon examining it I find that the
drill was applied from the inside."

"From the inside?" repeated the baronet.

"Yes, Sir Silas. The door was first opened with the proper key, swung
back, and cut whilst in that position."

"By Jove, Atherton, I believe you are right," exclaimed the
Scoutmaster, holding a pocket microscope to the portion of the metal
door. "Do you suspect anyone in your house, sir?" he added,
addressing Sir Silas.

"It looks a serious matter for my butler to explain. I'll send for
him."

"One minute, sir," said Atherton. "Mr Tassh spent the night before
last on Seal Island."

"But he declared just now that he never slept out of the house during
the whole time I was away. Are you sure of this?"

"Well, sir, he pitched a yarn into us that his name was Todd, and
that he was a stranger to the place. He couldn't get back to
Polkerwyck because it was too rough, and in the morning we gave him
some food."

"I won't say anything about your discovery to him at present,
Atherton. I'll ask him to bring in some refreshment. In my concern
about this robbery I quite overlooked my duties as a host, Mr
Buckley."

"Tassh, bring in some sandwiches, cake, lemonade and anything else
you think these young gentlemen may fancy," ordered the baronet.

"Yes, sir," replied the butler; and in a few minutes he returned with
a loaded tray.

"By the by, Tassh," said Sir Silas in a well-assumed casual tone, "I
suppose you have seen these young gentlemen before to-day?"

"Yes, sir. Saw them when they arrived, and again the other day when I
called in at the post-office."

"But the night before last?"

"The night before last, sir?" repeated the butler, in a mechanical
voice. "I don't understand, sir."

"But I hear that you were on Seal Island."

"Quite a mistake, sir. I haven't set foot on Seal Island for more
than a twelvemonth, and that was when I went with Farmer Trebarwith."

"It is sometimes awkward for a man to have a double, Tassh," said Sir
Silas grimly, "especially in a small place like Polkerwyck. All the
same, Tassh, I have a few questions to put to you later on. Go to
your room and remain there till I send for you."

"Very good, sir."

Without the faintest trace of emotion the butler withdrew. The
baronet waited till the latch of the door clicked and turned to
Atherton.

"You are quite sure of what you said about Tassh?"

"Yes, sir; and the rest of us saw him too."

"But there is such a thing as mistaken identity?"

"Well, then, sir, in that case both Peter Varco and Tregaskis saw
him. Tregaskis took him off the Island in his boat."

"Strange," commented Sir Silas.

"And, sir," continued Atherton, "since Tassh is so keen on concealing
his movements, I must say that his downright bluff in denying his
identity confirms our suspicions. More than once some one has visited
the Tea Caves by night. One man only, and one wearing large boots and
taking very small footsteps. On one occasion he came by boat and took
some of our thole-pins. How he managed on other occasions we cannot
yet make out."

"I think there is enough circumstantial evidence to warrant his
arrest," declared the baronet. "You know the local police station, I
suppose, lads? Ah, that's good. Will one of you slip out quietly and
see if Sergeant Coombes is still there. If not, bring Gregory, the
policeman."

"I say, Atherton, you are making a most grave statement against the
man," cautioned Mr Buckley. "If there is a mistake the result will be
serious, you know."

"There is quite enough cause, since Tassh has deliberately told me
falsehoods concerning his visit to Seal Island," said the baronet.
"I'll take all responsibility should there be any question of illegal
arrest, Mr Buckley."

A quarter of an hour later Polglaze, the plain-clothes officer,
cycled up to the house.

"Sergeant Coombes is following, sir," he announced. "Have you
discovered any clue, Sir Silas?"

"Yes," replied the baronet, grimly. "Thanks to these Scouts. I want
you to arrest Paul Tassh on a charge of theft."

In a few words Sir Silas explained the situation, and in spite of
professional jealousy the detective was bound to admit that
Atherton's deductions were quite sufficient to justify the step the
baronet was about to take.

Sir Silas touched the bell communicating with the butler's private
room. He waited a full minute and rang again. There was no reply.

"Strikes me very forcibly that I've given the fellow a chance and
he's taken it, by Jove!" remarked Sir Silas, as he touched an
electric push that rang a bell in the servants' hall.

"Jones, go to Tassh's room and tell him to come instantly," ordered
the baronet, as a young under-footman entered. "Stay: perhaps, Mr
Polglaze, you would like to accompany Jones?"

Two minutes later the detective returned.

"He's in his room, sir, but he's locked himself in," announced
Polglaze. "I demanded admittance three times, but before I burst open
the door I thought I would tell you, Sir Silas."

"Do you think Tassh has done himself an injury?" asked the baronet,
anxiously.

"Judging by the man's appearance I should say not. He may have
slipped off. Station two of your Scouts outside his window, Mr
Buckley, if you don't mind."

The under-footman pointed out the window to Baker and Mayne, and
returned with the intelligence that it was closed. Since the window
was fifteen feet from the ground, and had a very narrow sill, it was
most unlikely that Tassh could have made good his escape and at the
same time closed the window after him.

Outside, in the corridor, Sir Silas, the detective, the Scoutmaster
and the remaining Scouts halted. Polglaze knelt down and attempted to
peep through the keyhole. The key was in the lock and effectually
thwarted the detective's action.

"Does Tassh carry firearms, sir?" he asked.

"Not to my knowledge."

"Then it is possible that he is armed. If he is desperate we may have
a lively reception. Suppose, Sir Silas, we tell these lads to go
downstairs out of danger? We will then wait till Coombes and Gregory
arrive, force the door and rush our man."

Somewhat reluctantly in spirit, yet with alacrity, the Scouts obeyed
their Scoutmaster's order to get out of harm's way. As they were
descending the stairs the sergeant and the village policeman, both
very red in the face with exertion, came hurrying up.

"Open the door instantly, Tassh," ordered Sir Silas in a loud voice.

There was no reply. Only the ticking of a grandfather's clock at the
head of the stairs and the laboured breathing of the two policemen
broke the silence.

"Force it," said the baronet, laconically.

Polglaze put his shoulder to the door. The good, old-fashioned oak
resisted his efforts.

"Bear a hand here, Coombes," he said. "Now, together."

The sixteen-stone Cornish sergeant's weight added to the detective's
modest eleven did the trick. The door, forced from its hinges, flew
inwards, Coombes following it and sprawling heavily upon the floor.

The room was empty.

"He must be somewhere about," said the detective. "We know the door
is locked on the inside. A man cannot go out of a room, shut a door,
and lock it on the inside, can he?"

The room was in a fairly tidy state. A white table-cloth covered the
table. On it were the remains of a meal, and a box of cigars that Sir
Silas recognised as containing his special brand. A sporting paper
and a copy of one of the county journals with an account of the
supposed burglary lay on one of the chairs, the former apparently
having been dropped there when the butler received his orders to
attend upon Sir Silas. His watch was hanging from a hook by the side
of the large mantelpiece. All pointed to the fact that Tassh's
departure had been hurriedly performed; at the same time the question
arose, how did he manage it?

"Well, Polglaze?"

"This knocks me, Sir Silas," replied the detective, rubbing his
shoulder that was beginning to forcibly remind him that oaken doors
cannot be charged with impunity.

"Shall I see what those Scouts make of it?" asked the baronet, with a
grim sense of humour.

"Let 'em have a shot at it, by all means, Sir Silas," said Polglaze.
"This beats cockfighting."

But the Scouts had to own themselves beaten for the time being at
least. They tried the walls, floor, chimney, and everything they
could think of, but without success.

"I believe he got out by the chimney," suggested Sergeant Coombes,
who, since his tumble, had judiciously kept silent in order to regain
his breath.

"The soot hasn't been disturbed," said Atherton. "That's what I
particularly noticed."

"All the same I say it's the chimney, young man," said the sergeant,
with a brave show of dignity. "And until you prove to my satisfaction
that 'tain't, well then, 'tis the chimney, I say."

"Don't stand there laying down the law, Coombes," said the detective.
"Every minute Tassh is no doubt getting farther and farther away.
Gregory, hurry back to the village and telephone through to all the
stations nearabouts. Give the full details, although I'll stake my
life there's hardly a policeman within twenty miles who doesn't know
Paul Tassh."

At Mr Buckley's suggestion the Scouts made a complete circuit of the
house, examining the ground for possible trails; but all to no
purpose.

At three o'clock the lads bade farewell to their host, at the same
time expressing their sympathy at the loss, and their regret at their
inability to do anything of service in the matter.

As the patrol descended the hill leading to the village, Baker
pointed to Seal Island.

"Look," he exclaimed. "There's something wrong with the 'Wolves,' I
do declare."



CHAPTER XIV

PHILLIPS' DISCOVERY


As soon as his comrades of the "Otters" had embarked on the first
stage of their journey to Wadebridge Station to meet their temporary
Scoutmaster, Jack Phillips sallied forth on his shooting expedition.

He was a crack miniature-rifle shot, but although he understood the
principle of a twelve-bore gun, he was an absolute novice at the task
that had been deputed to him.

A few hundred yards brought him to the fringe of the rabbit
warren - an extensive undulating tract of gorse-covered heath
liberally honeycombed with holes. Pulling a couple of cartridges from
his pocket, Phillips loaded; then, every sense on the alert, he moved
cautiously forward.


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryPercy F. (Percy Francis) WestermanThe Scouts of Seal Island → online text (page 7 of 12)