Percy F. (Percy Francis) Westerman.

The Scouts of Seal Island online

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deep in slime. Overhead a deep muffled roar betokened the fact that
the sea was only separated from the Scouts by a few feet of rock,
through which the sound of the ground-swell was audible.

Suddenly Atherton came to a halt, and held his lantern above his

"Anything wrong?" asked Phillips.

"It's all right here," he announced. "The air is quite fresh. I've
found something: looks like a seat with some carving above it."

On the right-hand side of the tunnel, in a cavity three feet in depth
and extending the whole height of the passage, was a stone bench.
Above the latter were several carvings in relief, all more or less
damaged by the ravages of time and the moisture of the rock.

"Here's a crucifix," said Atherton, pointing to a Cornish cross. "And
there's some inscription underneath. I can't quite make out the
letters, though."

"I can read one word," said Green. "The first letter is supposed to
be a P. The word is 'Pax.'"

"And here's a date: MCCLI - that's 1251," announced Atherton. "This
must be a sort of half-way resting place for the monks who visited
the oratory. If it's not half way it's at the lowest level of the
tunnel, for the gradient is now on the ascent. But let's go on. I
wonder where we shall find ourselves when we come to the end."

"Why, at the end, of course," replied Everest. "Where else did you

The forward movement was resumed, Atherton placing the previous
distance between him and the next Scout. At length the rocky walls
began to show less signs of moisture, and the Scouts knew that they
had passed under Seal Bay and were now not far from, if not actually
underneath, the village of Polkerwyck.

"Hulloa, here's some steps," said Atherton in a low voice. "Come
along, you fellows; before we go any farther we must search this
place. It won't do to leave any unexplored places behind us. Green
and Mayne, you come with me, the others can stand by. If I call for
assistance, Everest and Baker can come to our aid. Five of us ought
to be a match for Tassh, if he's hiding here."

"Do you think he is hiding here, Atherton?" asked Tenderfoot Sayers
in a whisper.

"He may be. Since he hasn't been found on the Island he may be lying
low in this place till the coast is clear. We'll soon find out. After
me, Green."

Holding the lantern in his left hand and well away from his body,
Atherton commenced the ascent of a spiral flight of steps. Unlike
those in many old ruins scattered about the country, these steps were
in a good state of preservation, showing that during the flight of
centuries they had been but comparatively little used.

The Leader ascended cautiously. At any moment he might be assailed by
the fugitive from justice. The Scouts were strangers to the place and
therefore at a disadvantage; a trap might be laid for them, while in
addition they were handicapped by having to carry a lantern which
would render them conspicuous to anyone lurking in the darkness. Yet,
in spite of these drawbacks, Atherton and his two companions had
embarked upon an enterprise from which there was no turning back until
the task of exploring the place was completed.

At the twentieth step the Leader discovered that he was level with
the topmost part of the staircase. On all sides was a cavernous space
that was almost all in darkness, save for that portion within the
field of the rays of the lantern.

"What's that?" whispered Green, laying a detaining hand on Atherton's
wrist. "There's some one moving."

"Yes, I can hear footsteps," assented Atherton, as the muffled sounds
of a firm, steady tread came from the dark recesses of the vault-like
room. "They are coming this way. Stand by with your staff, Green.
I'll challenge him."

In spite of his customary coolness, Atherton felt his heart beating

"Who's there?" he called.

There was no reply. The noise of the footsteps continued as if the
person walking was quite unconcerned at being called upon to explain
who he was.

"Who's there?" repeated the Scout, in a louder voice.

There was silence for a few moments, then the sound of a person
walking was resumed, only, instead of approaching, footsteps were
obviously those of some one retiring.

Atherton waited no longer. Gaining the floor, he raised the lantern
above his head. The comparatively feeble rays gleamed upon a
glittering object standing on the ground close to the wall of the
underground room.

Resisting the temptation to pounce upon and examine the article, the
Scout waited till his companions rejoined him, and then began an
examination of the place. It was circular and barely five yards in
diameter. The roof was domed, the highest part being about ten feet
from the floor. The walls, hewn from the solid rock, were smooth and
uninterrupted by any visible openings communicating with elsewhere.
To all appearances the Scouts had struck a blind alley.

Having thus taken stock of their surroundings, the Scouts discovered
that the glittering object was a massive silver bowl, filled with
forks and spoons of the same precious metal.

"Hidden treasure," gasped Mayne.

"Not much," retorted Green. "Stolen from Sir Silas, that's what it
is. You can see the stuff isn't tarnished, and there's no dust on

"Georgian silver," added Atherton, examining the markings on the
spoons and forks. "It must be some of that rascal Tassh's plunder. We
may find some more here. Ha! What's that?"

A rumble, momentarily growing louder, could be heard, the sound
apparently coming from overhead. Then, waning, it ceased to be

"A cart - that's what it is, and the sound we heard just before that
was a man walking overhead. It's my belief that the place is
immediately under the only street in Polkerwyck," declared Atherton.

With their staves, the Scouts sounded the walls, floor and ceiling.
There was no trace of any secret openings. The walls were solid
enough; only the distance between the dome and the open air was thin
enough to enable the noise of the traffic to be heard with
comparative distinctness.

"All right up there?" called out Phillips from the foot of the spiral

"Yes," replied Atherton. "We'll be with you in a minute."

"What shall we do with this lot?" asked Green, indicating the silver.
"It's jolly heavy."

"We'll take it with us. We can put a few of the forks and spoons in
our pockets and the bowl can be slung from a staff and carried by two
of us. Mind how you carry it, Green."

As soon as the three Scouts returned to their waiting companions, the
silver was distributed for the sake of easier carriage, and the march
of exploration resumed. Presently, instead of continuing the upward
slope, the tunnel dived with considerable abruptness. At the bottom
of the dip there was water on the floor to the depth of six inches,
while from the signs of excessive moisture on the walls and ceiling
it was fairly conclusive that the whole of this portion of the tunnel
had recently been flooded. A slight stream of water was still running
from a fissure in the wall.

"This must be a proper trap in wet weather," said Phillips. "The
water lodges in the dip until it soaks out again. That accounts for
the fact that Tassh was unable to return to Polkerwyck House on the
night of the storm."

"It certainly seems like it," said Green, as he splashed boldly
through the water. "Doesn't it feel cold?"

From this point the tunnel again sloped upwards, in places so steeply
that the incline had to be broken by short flights of steps.

"I reckon we've come quite two miles," said Baker, "and in a fairly
straight direction according to my compass. If I had known - - "

The remark was suddenly cut short by a low warning whistle from
Atherton. The rest of the patrol closed upon their Leader, who had
come to a standstill before a blank wall. Right and left were short
passages terminating in spiral flights of steps.

Once more Atherton and his two chosen comrades began their subsidiary
investigations, while the remaining members of the "Otters" remained
at the junction of the two cross-ways.

It was not long before the Leader returned.

"No go," he announced. "There are only eleven stairs and then a
bricked-up wall. By the undisturbed state of the dust on the steps we
know that no one has been there for months at the very least. Come
on, all of you, we'll try our luck with this branch."

Round and round, up and up, went the Scouts. They realised that they
were on the eve of an important discovery, for here there were
undoubted traces of human footsteps. At the fifty-fourth step,
Atherton found farther progress barred by a stone wall, each block
being roughly fifteen inches wide and twelve high, and set in hard,
black cement.

The Scouts looked at each other with feelings akin to dismay. It
seemed hard lines, after traversing the whole length of the
subterranean passage, to find a blank wall.

"I'll tell you what, Atherton," said Green. "It's my opinion that
Tassh, or whoever it is, discovered the tunnel at the Seal Island
end, and, like us, explored it as far as it went. He then had to
retrace his footsteps, and that accounts for the complicated nature
of the trail."

"Yes, that's all very well," replied Atherton. "But how do you
account for the finding of the silver stuff in the underground

"Perhaps Tassh meant to hide it there, or it was too heavy for him to
carry any farther," suggested Mayne, as he rested on the edge of a
step his end of the staff from which the bowl was slung. As he did so
the end of the pole touched the stonework at the side of the
staircase. The slab of granite trembled visibly.

"This part of the wall is quite loose," exclaimed Mayne.

"Steady," whispered Atherton, warningly. "Keep quiet, you fellows."

The Leader felt the face of the granite slab. It was certainly loose,
but the joints of the masonry were not wide enough for his fingers
to obtain a grip.

"Hold my lantern a minute, Phillips," he said. "I'll see what I can
do with my knife. You have matches handy? Good! Now blow out all the

These orders were promptly carried out. The darkness was darkness
indeed. To the excited lads it seemed to have weight. Even Phillips,
strong-minded as he was, grasped his box of matches tightly, as if he
derived some consolation from the fact that he held a weapon that
could be used to effectually banish the stifling sensation imparted
by the intense darkness.

Scratching lightly with the blade of his knife, Atherton at length
found the joint of the stonework once more. Deftly inserting the
blade, he cautiously prised the block of granite. It gave, then slid
back in its position.

"The stone is pivoted," he whispered. "Where's your hand, Mayne? Put
it here, and when I swing the stone out half an inch try and get a

The blade bent almost to breaking point. The stone swung outwards.
Mayne, gripping the rough edge, sought to retain a tenacious hold.

"It's slipping," he gasped in low, tense tones. Atherton instantly
drove the blade home till the handle was tightly wedged in the
enlarged orifice. Then, relaxing his hold upon the knife, he aided
Mayne with his wiry fingers.

The block swung stiffly outwards another inch, then with hardly any
resistance it turned, disclosing an aperture sufficiently large for a
man to crawl through.

The sudden rush of daylight blinded the lads, but at length their
eyes grew accustomed to the scene. They found themselves looking into
the room in Polkerwyck House that had been the rascally butler's
quarters. It was not untenanted.

Seated in a canvas deck-chair, with his back turned to the secret
opening, was a man. Only the back portion of his head was visible
above the top rail of the chair.

"It's Tassh," said Atherton to himself.

The question was how the Scouts were to act. To crawl through the
narrow opening one by one and throw themselves upon the culprit was a
business that was not only fraught with danger but well-nigh
impossible to perform without giving the man due warning. Yet to
Atherton it seemed the only way.

Beckoning to Phillips to follow him, the Leader began to edge
carefully through the gap in the stonework. Could he but gain a
footing in the room and await his Second's entrance without alarming
the occupant of the chair, there was a possibility that the rascal,
taken by surprise, might be seized and secured.

The Scout was almost through. One foot was actually on the floor,
when Green accidentally knocked the staff to which the silver bowl
was slung. With a crash and a clatter the heavy metal ornament went
rolling down the spiral stairs, cannoning against the ankles of Scott
and Sayers as it did so.

In a trice the fellow in the chair was on his feet.

"The game's up," he exclaimed. "Come out of that or it will be the
worse for you."



ATHERTON stood stock still, his eyes fixed upon the small suggestive
muzzle of a revolver levelled at his head. It was horribly
disconcerting. He was unable to go forward; his movements were
hampered. Nor could he retreat with the possibilities of being shot
at staring him in the face.

The tension was acute whilst it lasted, but the Scout was greatly
relieved to hear the voice of Polglaze, the detective, exclaim:

"In the name of thunder what have you Scouts been up to?"

Atherton hastened to complete the awkward crawl through the opening,
the rest of his companions following.

The detective, with wonderment written on every line of his face,
examined the revolving stonework, patting it with his hands and
testing the cunningly concealed mechanism.

"Well, this beats everything," he exclaimed. "I've been investigating
this room for hours, tried the floor, walls and ceiling, and not a
suspicion of a secret passage did I discover, Yet, from a logical
point of view, there must have been some means of escape other than
by the door, which was locked. How on earth did you fellows find this

"We walked along a tunnel from Seal Island," explained Atherton. "It
leads to the ruins in the centre of the Island. And we've found some
of the booty, Mr Polglaze."

"You have?" The detective's jaw dropped slightly. Visions of a
substantial reward slipping through his fingers accounted for his
tone of disappointment. "Where?"

"In a side passage out of the main tunnel. There's a large silver
bowl at the bottom of these steps, and each of us have smaller

One by one the Scouts placed on the table the spoons and forks they
had discovered. Polglaze snatched one up and examined.

"Yes, that's part of Sir Silas' stuff," he announced. "Is that all
you've found?"

"Yes, sir," answered Atherton. "With the bowl, of course."

"Then there's a heap more to be recovered," said the detective. "Tell
me about the tunnel."

Polglaze listened attentively and in silence to the Scout's

"You are quite sure you examined every part of the tunnel?" he asked,
when Atherton had finished. "There is no place where Tassh might hide
that you neglected to make sure of?"

"I think not, sir."

"Good. I'll inform Sir Silas."

The detective was certainly jealous of the Scouts' success, but the
news could not be withheld from the baronet. It also opened a fresh
channel for the detective's energies. Since the robber's retreat was
discovered, the ends could be bricked up and no further attention
paid to it. Polglaze would be free to devote his skill to the
tracking of the butler on Seal Island.

Great was the astonishment of Sir Silas to find that the dust-grimed
members of the "Otter" patrol had entered his house by a means
hitherto unknown to him.

"A remarkable thing, Polglaze," he observed. "Now I come to think of
it there is a legend to the effect that Polkerwyck monastery was
connected with the oratory on Seal Island by a subterranean passage.
I regarded it as a myth. You get the same story wherever there are
any old ruins. But what an elaborate piece of work, by Jove!"

Sir Silas had closed the revolving stone. When in position it seemed
exactly like a portion of the solid wall, and opening in the
old-fashioned chimney corner it was rendered still more unnoticeable
by the soot that clung tenaciously to the grate. "You've closed it,
sir," exclaimed Atherton, unable to prevent the baronet's action. "We
don't know how to open it from this side."

"Bless my soul, I am thoughtless!" ejaculated Sir Silas. "See what
you can make of it, Polglaze."

The detective prised the stonework with his penknife, thrust his
shoulder against the unresisting granite, and fumbled for possible
springs, all to no purpose. The sliding door was to all appearances
part and parcel of the wall.

"Now, Atherton, you have a shot at it," suggested Sir Silas.

The Scout did his best, but without result. He was completely

"And there's a large silver bowl down there, sir," he remarked, "and
all our lanterns too. I'll tell you what, sir: we must get back to
the Island as quickly as possible, or our Scoutmaster will be
anxious. We'll let him know we're all right, and then some of us will
go through the tunnel again and open the slide from the inside. I
think I know how to do that."

"'In the name of thunder, what have you Scouts been up to?'" - _Page_

"Very good," assented Sir Silas. "Only I hope you won't overtire
yourselves. Polglaze, I wish you to remain here till Atherton
returns. As a temporary measure I mean to have the tunnel sealed up
at both ends before to-night. Later on, when we have laid my rascally
butler by the heels, the place can be thoroughly explored by
competent antiquarians. I have no doubt but that it will prove of
considerable interest to persons making a study of mediaeval

Atherton gave the half-salute and retired with his fellow Scouts.
Once clear of the House, they broke into a Scout's pace, and soon
covered the distance between them and Polkerwyck village.

Outside the post-office they were stopped by Farmer Trebarwith, who
was bubbling over with excitement.

"Heard the news, young gentlemen? They du say that Tassh has been
seen in Bodmin, and that he has taken the train to Lunnon with a girt
box - full o' stolen silver I du say. We'm expecting news that he's
been apprehended as soon as he gets to his journey's end."

Atherton thanked the farmer for his information, and, excusing
himself, hastened his patrol into one of Peter Varco's boats, that
the old fisherman obligingly lent them.

"I was beginning to wonder what had happened to you," said Mr
Buckley. "In fact, I was on the point of taking two of the 'Wolves'
with me and following up your trail. They say that Tassh has been
traced to London, eh? Well, I hope it's true, for we shall be able to
carry out our camp routine, which from all accounts has been
subjected to interruptions of various sorts from the first day you
arrived. All right, Atherton, you can go through the tunnel again.
Three of you will be enough, I think. Get back as soon as you can."

The second trip through the subterranean passage was performed with
alacrity, and without incident Atherton and his companions succeeded
in reaching the far end.

"Give a push with the end of your staff, Green," he said, pointing to
a well-defined mark on the stonework where the mechanism had
previously been actuated.

Green pushed his pole, at first gently, then harder. It was all to no
purpose. The sliding stone seemed as immovable as it had done on the
other side.

"That's strange," commented the Leader. "Bring the other lantern here
and let's see if we can find anything."

For a quarter of an hour or more Atherton prodded the stone and
groped for a concealed spring.

"We're done again, I'm afraid," he remarked. "We must retrace our
steps. Blow one of the candles out, Mayne. We've none too much left.
I didn't reckon on this."

"It won't do to be stranded in this hole without a light," agreed
Mayne. "What about the lanterns we left behind us?"

Atherton picked up the two candle-lamps. In one there was less than a
quarter of an inch. In the other there was hardly as much, and what
made matters worse, the Scouts who took spare candles had not handed
them over to their comrades when the latter set out on their second
journey through the tunnel.

"Back as fast as we can," ordered Atherton. "Don't wait to bring that
bowl with us. It will be quite safe here."

Lighted by the glimmer of the solitary candle, the Scouts hastened on
their homeward way.

Presently Green called out:

"I say, Atherton. What's that noise?"

A dull swishing sound came faintly to the ears of the listeners.

"It's like a tap running," remarked Mayne. "Water running into a
bath, for example."

"Foot it as fast as you can," exclaimed Atherton. "It may be all
right, but I fancy the water is pouring into the hollow we noticed
just this side of the place we found the silver bowl."

The three lads broke into a run, guided by the flickering light of
the lantern. Louder and louder grew the sound of the inrush of water.

"Steady," gasped Atherton, as his feet came in contact with the
water. "Wade through it."

He was hoping against hope. His practical eye had already noted that
the water extended far beyond the limits of the little puddle they
had encountered in the lowest level of the dip. This meant that there
might be five feet or more of water in the tunnel, or there might be
sufficient space between the surface and the top of the vaulting to
enable the lads to proceed.

"What's happened, I wonder?" asked Green, who, like the other, was
knee-deep in water.

"Don't worry: keep on," enjoined the Leader. "There's no current,
luckily, but let's hang on to one another in case there's a pitfall.
Keep the spare pieces of candle dry, Mayne, whatever you do. I've put
the matches in my hat."

Waist deep now. The rate of progress was visibly retarded by the
resistance of the water. Peering ahead, Atherton could see that at
less than twenty yards from where he stood the roof of the tunnel met
and dipped below the surface of the newly formed lake.

The Scouts were trapped.

"No go, lads," announced Atherton, in a cheerful tone. "We must get
back to the higher level. It must be raining pretty heavily, and the
water soaks through."

"A jolly good soak, I should say," added Green. "What do you propose
doing now, Atherton?"

"Exercise patience, and have another shot at that revolving stone.
It's merely a question of time and an element of luck. Besides, when
the water begins to subside it will do so pretty rapidly, I expect."

"Why?" asked Green.

"I don't know why, unless the floor of the tunnel is very porous.
Don't you remember that within twenty hours of the time that Tassh
was unable to leave Seal Island he was back again by means of this

"That's so," agreed Green, stooping to wring the moisture out of his
shorts. "How's the candle going, Atherton?"

"It will last us a bit," replied the Leader; but he knew that in less
than an hour at the outside their whole supply of candle ends would
be consumed.

"Let's shout altogether," suggested Mayne, after they had returned to
the top of the spiral staircase and had made another unsuccessful
attempt to discover the secret of the mechanism of the revolving

The Scouts gave a united yell. The echoes rang in their ears, but no
answering sound came from the other side of the baffling granite

"Look here, you fellows," said Atherton, "it's no use our waiting
here on the off chance of some one opening the door or whatever you
call it, from the inside. One of us ought to stand by and watch for
the water to subside. Who's game?"

"It will mean that one of us will have to be in the dark," observed
Mayne gloomily. "I'm not frightened of the dark, of course, but it's
pretty miserable sticking about by yourself in a pitch-black hole."

"That's so," agreed Green. "I vote we all keep together."

"That won't do for me, lads," said Atherton. "I'll go. You keep
what's left of the candle. When I find the level is sinking I'll
shout and let you know. This tunnel is like a giant voice-tube:
you'll hear me plainly enough."

"Oh, I'll go if you want," said Mayne, somewhat shamefacedly.

"Or I will," added Green.

"You'll jolly well stop here. Take half of these matches. Keep on
trying, and perhaps you'll find the secret of the opening after all."

So saying, Atherton felt his way down the steps, and began his
solitary progress along the tunnel. On and on he went, feeling the
rough wall with his hand and methodically counting the number of

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Online LibraryPercy F. (Percy Francis) WestermanThe Scouts of Seal Island → online text (page 9 of 12)