Percy F. (Percy Francis) Westerman.

The Scouts of Seal Island online

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Yard after yard he walked at a slow pace, but, although he saw
hundreds of the swiftly moving little animals far beyond range, not
one accommodatingly showed itself to be shot at.

"That's jolly strange," muttered the Scout. "When a crowd of us came
over here there were rabbits running about everywhere; now they keep
a very respectful distance. I wonder if they know a gun when they see

Phillips halted to straighten his back and to wipe the moisture from
his forehead.

"What's that?" he exclaimed to himself, as the sound of a sharp thud
came from almost under his feet.

He listened intently. The noise was repeated.

"I wonder if there's a cave underneath here?" he thought. "Seems
almost as if there's a man using a pick, only the noise is rather

He knelt down and placed his ear against the ground. A wasp, busy
amongst the gorse, promptly buzzed so close that he jumped hastily to
his feet.

"Bothered if I can understand it," he said to himself. "I'll mention
it to Atherton when he comes back. The Island seems chock full of
mysterious noises. But, there, I shan't get any rabbits if I fool
about here, so here goes."

On and on he went till he neared the cliff on the eastern side of the
Island, but without the chance of a shot.

"The rabbits are not out to-day, that's evident," he muttered.
"Perhaps they will be more in evidence this afternoon. I'll get back
to the camp, for the longer I stay the more the other fellows will
expect me to bring back."

With his gun under his arm, Phillips set off at a steady pace,
following almost the same route that he had taken on his outward

Half way across the warren, a rabbit suddenly darted out of the furze
bush and tore off as hard as it could away from the lad, at the same
time making a wide curve to the right.

Before Phillips could fully cock his gun and raise it to his shoulder
the rabbit was beyond ordinary range. The Scout took a rapid aim and
pressed the trigger. With a report that, compared with the crack of a
miniature rifle, was like a cannon going off, the gun kicked and sent
the lad spinning. In his excitement he forgot the pain of the blow,
for the rabbit was sprawling on the ground.

"Got one, at any rate," exclaimed Phillips, gleefully.

Placing his gun on the ground with more haste than care the Scout ran
towards his prize; but before he had covered half the distance the
rabbit contrived to regain its feet and crawl down a hole.

"What a nuisance," said the Scout dolefully, and, lying at full
length, he thrust his arm down the hole in the hopes of being able to
secure the wounded animal. He could hear it scuffling only a few feet
away, but it was a case of so near and yet so far: as far as he was
concerned he had lost his trophy.

Rather crestfallen, Phillips returned to the camp, where he found
Farmer Trebarwith surrounded by an attentive audience of the

"Got anything?" asked Neale. "We heard you firing."

"Of course he's got some," said Hayes. "He's shot so many that he's
had to leave them for us to go out and fetch."

"You jolly well shut up," retorted Phillips. "I knocked one over, and
that's more than you could do, Hayes."

"Where is it, then?" asked his tormentor.

"It slipped down a hole."

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Hayes and the two Coventrys.

"That's enough," said Simpson, reprovingly. "I'll bet Phillips did
his best."

"Have you unloaded, young gentleman?" asked the farmer. "Always make
sure you have no cartridges in your gun when you leave the warren.
Bless me I'll tell ye how to knock over the rabbits, if you like."

"You usually take a dog with you, don't you?" asked Phillips.

"Yes, a dog will turn out any rabbit that is lying close. All the
same it isn't necessary. Now, I saw you going through the warren, and
I said to myself, 'Sure he'll be main lucky if he gets a shot.' You
have to stalk 'em. Keep dead against the wind, and have your gun
ready to let fly directly you see a movement in the bushes. You were
going with the wind, and they know your scent. Coming back you walked
too quickly. It was only haphazard-like that you had a shot at one at

"I believe I walked over a cave or something," said Phillips. "I
heard a funny sort of tapping noise."

"Whereabouts?" asked several of the Scouts.

"Right in the middle of the warren."

"Don't you know?" asked the farmer. "That's the rabbits in their
holes giving warning to those in other burrows. They hit the ground
with their hind foot. When you hear that 'tain't much use to stay
there: they won't come out again in a hurry."

"I'll try again," said Phillips, giving a glance at the large iron
pot that stood in a suggestive position close to the fire.

Making a wide detour, he got to leeward of the warren, then
stealthily made his way against the wind. Before he had gone fifty
yards two young rabbits of fair size fell the victims of his gun.
Three minutes later another excellent shot at sixty yards added a
third to the Scout's bag.

"It seems to me that I shall have to send Hayes to fetch them after
all," he mused, as he lifted the three dead rabbits. "They are

Phillips waited a little longer to give the denizens of the warren
time to recover from their fright at the discharge of the gun, then
he resumed his stealthy advance. Right ahead were the ruins of the
old oratory. The Scout remembered that there was a fairly open
expanse on the other side where he had often seen the rabbits
frisking in the sunshine.

"I'll take cover in the ruins and see if I cannot get in a
double-barrelled shot," he said to himself, and with that object in
view he crept up the slope on which the ruins stood.

The remains of the chapelry consisted of three roofless walls with
open lancet windows. On the west side the masonry had been removed,
several masses of stone lying in disorder all down the slope. The
walls were destitute of foliage, not even so much as a tendril of ivy
softening the hard effects of the dark grey stone.

Since by entering the building on the west side the Scout would have
to run the risk of being observed, Phillips decided to crawl through
one of the lancet windows, cross the dust-covered floor, and take up
a favourable position at the window looking northward.

The opening was narrow. Phillips just unloaded his gun, passed the
weapon through, and then began to squeeze between the stonework. As
he did so he was surprised to see a portion of the floor almost
underneath that window give an upward motion. The dust rose, and as
the slab fell there was a well-defined trace of the joint in the

Again the slab trembled: it was being forced up from beneath.

The Scout took in the situation at a glance. Quickly grasping his
gun, he dragged it through the window and propped it against the
outside wall, so that it could not be seen from within. Then removing
his hat, he peered between two displaced stones, and waited.

He had not long to wait. With a lusty heave the stone rose and
toppled backwards, disclosing a circular cavity of about two feet in
diameter. Out of the hole appeared the head and shoulders of a man.

Placing his hands on the edge of the aperture, the fellow raised
himself clear of the hole and stood blinking in the strong sunlight.

"Golly! It's that chap Tassh. Whatever is his little game," thought

As soon as his eyes grew accustomed to the daylight, Tassh replaced
the stone, scattered dust over it, and stole to one of the windows in
the opposite wall to the one behind which the Scout was crouching.

Looking in the direction of the camp, Tassh muttered an inaudible
exclamation, then bending low he crept across the fairly open space
and gained the shelter of the gorge. Here he broke into a run, and
was soon lost to sight as he made off in the direction of the Tea

"Atherton was right: that chap's up to mischief, I'll be bound,"
thought Phillips. "Well, it's not much use my following him alone.
He's making for the caves we explored the other day. I'll rout out
Simpson and the 'Wolves,' and we can decide what's to be done."

"I say, Simpson," he exclaimed breathlessly, as he reached the camp,
"I've seen - - "

"Yes, seen - but how many did you shoot?" asked the Leader of the
"Wolves." "We're waiting to dress the rabbits in time for our new

"They'll have to wait. I've knocked over three. But, I say, I've made
a discovery. I've just seen Tassh crawl out of a secret tunnel
opening into the old ruins."

At this startling information the "Wolves" were in a state of
excitement. Neale and Fraser proposed following the butler,
surrounding him and peremptorily demanding an explanation of his
suspicious actions - a suggestion that the two Coventrys and Armstrong
backed up for all they were worth.

"No, we must wait till we've spoken to Mr Buckley," said Simpson. "We
have no authority to waylay the man. I'll tell you what we can do:
we'll take possession of the ruins so that he cannot return to the
cave or tunnel, whatever it is, without being seen. Hurry up, you
fellows; get your staves. No shouting, mind. Double."

It did not take the "Wolves" long to reach the ruins.

"Where's the hole, Phillips?" asked several of the lads.

Without replying, Phillips walked across to the concealed stone and
swept away a layer of dirt and dust that Tassh had thrown over it.

"Here you are; help me to heave it up," he said, as soon as the
position of the slab was disclosed. "Why, here's a ring let into the
stone! Now, all together."

Thrusting a staff through the rusty ring, the Scouts gave a combined
heave. The stone came up quite easily.

"I might have known that," remarked Phillips to the Leader of the
"Wolves." "Tassh pushed it up, and he does not look a particularly
strong man. But why is the lid so light in comparison with its size?"

An examination revealed that the lid was deeply hollowed on the under
side, so that its weight was hardly a quarter of what it would have
been had the cavity not existed.

"We must have walked over the stone dozens of times and not noticed
it sounded hollow," said Hayes. "Now what are we going to do,

"We'll just have a look at this hole or tunnel, whatever it is.
Golly! Atherton's missed something by going off to meet the

"I wonder how deep it is," said Coventry minor, peering into the pit
that yawned at his feet. "There are no steps as far as I can make

"I can see a niche on your side, Coventry," announced Fraser. "It
looks deep enough to get a good foothold."

"Be careful, young Coventry," cautioned Simpson, as the lad sat down
at the edge of the hole, turned face downwards and groped for the

"I'm used to it," replied Coventry minor, confidently. "Here's
another one. It's quite easy."

Phillips and the remaining "Wolves" watched the Scout make his way
farther and farther down the shaft, till he had descended quite a
dozen of the rough footholds cut into the rock.

"Haven't you got to the bottom yet, Coventry?" Simpson called out,
with a tinge of anxiety in his voice. "You had better come back, and
we'll go to the camp and get some rope and candles."

The Scout instantly began to retrace his footsteps. Possibly owing to
the fact that he had already performed the harder task of descending,
he momentarily allowed his sense of caution to desert him. The
fingers of both hands simultaneously slipped from a lichen-covered
niche. He struggled desperately to recover his hold, and fell.

The lads, gathered round the mouth of the pit, heard a stifled cry
followed by a dull thud, then all was silent.

"Off belts, lads," ordered Leader Simpson.

In a few seconds a leathern rope, twenty feet in length, was made up.
Simpson fastened one end round a staff which was held by four of the
Scouts, and threw the free end down the pit; then, without
hesitation, he grasped the improvised life-line and swung himself
lightly over the edge.

Simpson knew he could trust to these belts. They were not the cheap
shoddy article, but well-made ones of well-seasoned leather. The
buckles, too, were strong and reliable, so that the Leader of the
"Wolves" had good cause to have perfect faith in the rope of belts.

Hand over hand he descended, until he knew that he was literally
almost at the end of his tether. Then, proceeding slowly and
cautiously, and keeping his feet rigid, he continued his downward
course till his hand encountered the buckle joining the two lowermost

"I must risk it and drop," he thought, finding himself unable to
touch the side of the pit. "It cannot be so much farther to the

Relaxing the muscles of his legs in order to bear the shock with the
least risk of broken limbs, Simpson released his hold and dropped - a
distance of less than two feet. With a sigh of relief he drew a box
of matches from his pocket and struck a light.

Lying almost at his feet was the unfortunate Coventry minor. The lad
was senseless and bleeding from a cut just above the left ear.

There was no time to be lost. It was imperative that the luckless
Scout should be brought up to the open air as quickly as possible.

By the aid of another match, Simpson discovered the position of the
line of niches. Then, unfastening the unconscious lad's belt, he
refastened it round his chest just beneath his arm-pits. This done,
the Leader clasped the buckle at the end of his emergency rope to the
ring in Coventry minor's belt.

"Haul up, slowly and steadily!" he shouted.

Ascending by means of the niches, Simpson accompanied his senseless
charge, steadying the lad's body to prevent it swaying against the
rock, till at length to his great relief Neale and Fraser grasped the
rescued Scout and grew him clear of the shaft.

"Is he dead?" asked the unfortunate lad's brother, anxiously.

"No, he's stunned. The sooner we get back to camp and fetch a doctor
the better, Hayes and Armstrong, cut off as fast as you can, take the
small boat and row across to Polkerwyck and fetch Dr. Carraway. Leave
your staves here. Now, 'Wolves,' form a stretcher."

In remarkably quick time the stretcher, formed by means of staves,
belts, and long stalks of bracken, was made, and in broken-step form
the Scouts carried their comrade towards the camp, Phillips walking
by the side to guard against the possibility of the patient falling

Before they had covered half the distance, Phillips perceived his
patrol descending the road to Polkerwyck harbour.



BRINGING his binoculars to bear upon the stretcher party of the
"Wolves," Mr Buckley saw that an accident had occurred.

"You look through my glasses, Atherton," said the Scoutmaster.
"You'll know who it is."

Atherton did so. He was half afraid that there had been a shooting
accident, but a glance removed that anxiety. The injured Scout he
recognised as Coventry minor, and since Phillips understood that on
no account was he to be accompanied by anyone else while carrying the
gun, the logical conclusion was that the injured Scout had not
received his hurt by this means.

"There's Hayes at the landing-place," announced Atherton. "He's
calling us up by semaphore. Reply to him, Baker, and I'll read the

Baker stood upon the end of the stone pier so that his dark green
shirt showed up plainly against the white-washed wall behind him.

"Coventry has fallen down a hole. Concussion. Still unconscious.
Fetch doctor," read Atherton.

"Hurry up and bring the doctor along with you, Everest," said Mr
Buckley. "Green and Baker will remain here with one of the boats. How
many have you?"

"Two, sir," replied the Leader. "One is on the Island side."

"Signal to those fellows to bring that boat over, then," continued
the Scoutmaster. "We can then get across and see what's wrong."

While Everest was on his way to Dr Carraway - for the Scouts had made
it a point of finding out where the doctor lived almost as soon as
they arrived at Polkerwyck - the Scoutmaster and the four "Otters"
crossed to the Island. During the passage Hayes and Armstrong told
their comrades what had occurred, and how Phillips had discovered the
butler's hiding-place.

"Hiding-place," repeated Atherton. "Most likely a tunnel
communicating with Polkerwyck House. Didn't Sir Silas say that the
House used to be an old monastic building, and that it was partially
rebuilt on the existing foundations? What puzzles me, though, is why
Tassh did not return by the tunnel on the night of the wreck, since
he evidently came to the Island by that way."

"You've a fine site for a camp here, lads," remarked Mr Buckley, as
the two patrols met. "It is unfortunate, though, that your holiday
should be marred by this accident."

The Scoutmaster knelt by the unconscious Scout.

"Yes, he's had a nasty blow," he said, observing Coventry's skin was
pale and cold, his pulse feeble, and his breathing slow and
punctuated by distressing sighs. "Raise his head a little more; we
ought to place him in a darkened room as soon as possible. In any
case, one of you stand so that the shadow falls across his face."

"There's a small cave down by the landingplace, sir," said Phillips.
"It will not be so far for the doctor to come."

"Very good," assented the Scoutmaster. "Lead on. Steady now,
stretcher-bearers. Mind you don't slip on this steep path."

Carefully little Coventry was carried into the cave, where in the
semi-gloom he was carefully tended by two of his comrades. Mr Buckley
also remained in the cave, awaiting the arrival of the doctor.

The rest of the Scouts returned to the camp, when, under Atherton's
directions, steps were taken to keep Tassh under observation. Three
of the "Wolves" were sent to take cover close to that part of the
cliff overhanging the Tea Caves. A strong party, carefully concealed,
occupied the ruined oratory, in order to cut off the rogue's retreat
by force, if necessary; while between the ruins and the Tea Caves
relays were posted in order to hasten to the assistance of the
outlying Scouts should occasion arise.

It was not long before the doctor arrived on the scene, and was
escorted to the cave where the patient lay.

"You've done excellently, lads," he remarked to the Scouts in
attendance. "He has had a severe blow, but youth and clean living are
in his favour. He'll soon be all right. Meanwhile, keep him here in
the dark until nearly sunset. See that his feet and arms are kept
warm. When the twilight gathers in, you must bring him across to
Polkerwyck. I will make arrangements for him to be nursed at my

"It's awfully good of you, doctor," said Mr Buckley, warmly.

"Nonsense: we're used to it. Every summer I have on an average a
dozen similar cases. Visitors seem to have an insane desire to climb
the cliffs. They are not used to it, they look down, and then the
mischief is done. Well, I cannot do more at present. Give him a
draught of this every hour, and keep him warm, especially when
bringing him across the bay in the boat."

In duty bound Mr Buckley gave information to the police that Tassh
was seen on the Island. At the Scouts' earnest request he did not say
by what means the butler got there, since the lads wished to have the
honour of exploring the tunnel.

Within a very short time Seal Island was invaded. A dozen county
police, drawn from the neighbourhood, nearly the whole of the
detachment from Refuge Point coastguard station, and almost all the
male population of Polkerwyck flocked to the place. Every nook and
cranny was investigated, the caves systematically explored, but
without result. Although nearly thirty people searched the ruined
oratory not one noticed the granite lid covering the pit, in spite of
the fact that the Scouts, with an idea of fair play, took no steps to
conceal the joints in the stone floor with dust.

Tired out with their exertions, the Scouts retired to rest as soon as
Coventry minor had been carried to the doctor's house. Undisturbed by
the noise of the untrained searchers the lads slept soundly, till the
morning revealed Seal Island untenanted save by themselves and a
couple of policemen, who, at the Scoutmaster's suggestion, had
installed themselves in the old oratory to keep a long and fruitless

"He's slipped through our fingers, sure enough, sir," remarked one of
the constables. "All night we've been on the alert. No doubt he's
managed to swim across to the mainland when he found we were hard on
his track. We'll be going now, sir, and leave you in peace and
quietness, so to speak. If you see or hear anything, sir, happen you
won't mind sending one of your young chaps to give us the tip?"

As soon as the policemen were well clear of the Island, and the
Scouts had had breakfast, steps were taken to continue the search for
Sir Silas Gwinnear's butler, and also to explore the tunnel which
they had good reason to believe communicated with the mainland.

The latter task was the more enviable. Both patrols wished to
undertake that particular business, and urged their respective claims
till the Scoutmaster had gently and firmly to remind them of their
sense of discipline.

"You cannot all explore the tunnel," he added. "One patrol will be
quite sufficient for that. The other will keep an eye on the camp,
guard the landing-place and the approach to the Tea Caves. I suppose
you have no objection to decide the matter by lots?"

Walking away for a few steps, Mr Buckley gathered a handful of long
grass. From this he selected two blades, one much longer than the
other. These he held in his hand, with an inch of each showing at
equal length.

"Now, Scouts, the one who draws the longest blade represents the
patrol to explore the tunnel. One of the Tenderfoots can draw: that's
right, Scott."

Reggie Scott pulled out one of the blades of grass from the
Scoutmaster's clenched fist. It was the long one.

"Good: the 'Otters' will explore the tunnel. The 'Wolves' will take
up positions I have indicated on this map. It is a very clear map,
Simpson, by the way. You did it excellently. Already by its means I
have quite a comprehensive knowledge of Seal Island."

Carrying ropes, two camp lanterns, and a supply of candles and
matches, the "Otters" made their way to the ruined oratory, where the
stone covering to the pit was soon raised.

"I do not mean to go with you, lads," said the Scoutmaster. "I feel
confident you will get on all right without me. Rope your men,
Atherton; keep one well ahead of the rest in case there is an
accumulation of poisonous gases, which I do not for one moment
suppose is the case. So long as the candles burn brightly there is no
danger on that score."

"Tassh came through all right, sir," remarked Everest. "That was only

"And once, at least, according to all accounts, he was prevented from
returning. So it is evident that at times there is some obstruction.
However, 'Be prepared' and you'll come out on top."

One by one the "Otters" were lowered into the gaping pit, Mr Buckley
letting Tenderfoot Sayers down last of all. This done, he took up his
position at the top of a spiral stone staircase that terminated
abruptly almost on a level with the roofless walls. Here, with only
the upper portion of his face showing above the masonry, he was able
to command a panoramic view of the Island and Seal Bay. Moreover, he
was ready to render assistance should the "Otters" find the tunnel
impracticable and have to return by the same way as they went.

The "Otters" found themselves in the mouth of a passage hewn out of
the solid rock.

[Illustration: "In broken-step form the Scouts carried their comrade
towards the camp." - _Page_ 168.]

It was roughly from five to six feet in height and thirty inches
wide. The floor was ankle deep in dry dust that showed unmistakable
signs of the same person having passed to and fro on several

With the candle-light glimmering on the walls the Scouts advanced,
Atherton leading by twenty paces, the rest following at shorter
intervals and linked together by a light yet strong rope. The
progress was slow, for Atherton, cautious lest he should stumble into
a hidden pitfall, systematically sounded the ground with his staff at
every other step.

For nearly three hundred paces the tunnel sloped steeply downwards,
the walls remaining perfectly dry - a circumstance that showed the
passage was still under the Island. Beyond that distance, although
the tunnel was still on the down grade, the roof and walls showed
signs of moisture, while in place of the dry dust the floor was ankle

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Online LibraryPercy F. (Percy Francis) WestermanThe Scouts of Seal Island → online text (page 8 of 12)