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The Gentleman by Alfred Ollivant

Part 5 out of 9

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The ship awoke suddenly from her swoon.

An appalling clamour boiled up from the still waters.

Bugle-calls split the air; drums rolled furiously; a carronade went
off with a shattering roar; there was a rush of feet and tumult of
voices. Above the confusion could be heard Piggy thumping at the door
and squealing,

"_Les depeches! Les depeches!_"

Kit, sliding through the water, was thankful for the flash of insight
that had made him lock the door, and throw away the key. That action
meant minutes gained; these minutes might mean life.

The tide was with him now. But for that, and this merciful mist, his
chances would be _nil_.

His ears behind him, he swam like a hunted otter.

Aboard the privateer things were moving fast. The confusion abated;
order began to reign; with it the danger grew. Somebody was at work
with an axe on the door. It came down with a crash. There was a shrill
command and the scamper of feet.

Piggy was on deck.

"_Feu, imbecile! par la! dans le brouillard!_"

A bullet plopped into the water wide on the boy's right.

"_Au bateau!_"

Again that scamper of feet: then the rattle of blocks and creak of
pulleys. Besides all was swiftness, and fierce silence; and that
silence terrified the lad far more than the preceding tumult.

"_Depechez vous donc, gredins!_"

They were lowering a boat; and he was getting done.

The despatch-bag was heavy between his shoulders. His hold upon
himself was relaxing: dissolution was setting in. The firm mind, which
at all times and in all places means salvation, was dissipating. He
tried not to think. All there was of him he needed for his swimming.
Thought was waste; so was fear. And swim he did, and swim, through
endless water, with sickening brain and failing arms.

Behind him he heard a splash, as the privateer's boat took the sea.

They'd be coming soon now. He didn't mind much: he was too tired. And
they couldn't hurt him: he was too far away.

He heard the splash of oars, and thumping rowlocks.

Here they came--straight towards him!

Then with a start he recollected: the privateer's boat would be
pursuing; this was coming to meet him.

Had he been swimming round and round like a drowning dog?

No. Behind him he could hear shouts and orders on the privateer as the
crew jumped into the boat.

This must be some other craft.

It was coming from the land, and a landsman was rowing it. He could
tell by the uneven splash of the oars, the slish along the surface as
a crab was caught, and the muffled curse as the man recovered himself.

Could it be the Parson come to his assistance?

The question answered itself.

The bows of a boat thrust on him through the mist. He saw a man's
back, giving to his stroke.

"Hi!" he gasped, the boat's nose hard on top of him.

The rower glanced round.

There was no mistaking that falcon-face.

It was the Gentleman.


"Who's there?" peering suspiciously.

"Boy Hoad, powder-monkey o the _Dreadnought_."

"Is that the _Dreadnought_?" sharply.

"_Dreadnought_, forty-four. Oi'm drownin, sir. Take us in."

His hand was on the boat's gunwale.

"What the deuce you doing here?"

"Desartin, sir. They was for floggin me at sun-up."

"What for?"

"For--for fun."

"_For what_?"

"For funk, sir," panted the boy, recovering. "Oi don't care for being
shotted. So when the guns begins to bang, Oi goos to bed."

The Gentleman threw back his head and ran off into laughter.

"You're the right sort, Mr. Toad. Come on board by all means. But for
you and your likes the world'd be a dull place."

Kit clambered in.

"What's that bag?" asked the Gentleman, swift as a sword.

"Duds," replied the boy as swift.

The Gentleman, sitting still as death, stared. It was an appalling
moment. The boy could not face those eyes. He looked behind him. As he
did so, the mist above drifted away, and the Union Jack at the foretop
of the privateer floated out.

"There's her colours!" he panted.

"By Jove, you're right," cried the Gentleman, and began to row the
boat clumsily about. "Stop that hole in the bottom with your foot,
will you?"

The boat was water-logged and filling fast. The water was already over
the Gentleman's spurs.

Down on his knees the boy baled for his life.

Behind him he heard a word of command: then the splash of oars, and
the regular thump of rowlocks. The privateer's boat was away--a ten-
oared galley from the sound of her, and they were driving her.

"Row, sir, row!" urged the boy. "They're after us!"

The Gentleman flung back into his oars.

Kit could not but admire him. He was rowing, as he believed, against
death. The boat was sodden; he could not row; and the pursuers were
coming up hand over hand. Yet his eyes danced, as he gasped,

"This is life."

The boy was looking behind him. He could not see the pursuing boat,
but he could hear the sizzle of foam under her keel as she slipped
through the water, and the rhythmical sweep of oars.

There was a terrible beauty about it--this swooping of Death on them
out of the fog. He could hear the wings he could not see. She was
close now, the Angel of the Swarthy Pinions.

On the thwart lay a pistol. He snatched it.

"Good boy!" panted the Gentleman.

Kit glanced forward.

He could see the loom of the land.

"There's the shore, sir!" he cried.

"And here are they!" gasped the other. "Pretty thing, by Jove!"

A boat's bows shot up behind them. A figure was standing in the stern.

"_Les voila_!" screamed a voice.

The Gentleman threw up his oars.


Kit clapped the pistol to his head.

"Row!" he screamed. "Row!"

The other tumbled back into his oars. Up sprang his foot. The pistol
was kicked out of the boy's hand, and the Gentleman was on him.

"O, you are a villain, Little Chap!" chuckled a voice in the lad's

For a moment they hugged, the boat rocking beneath them.

"Can you swim?" came the voice at his ear.

"Yes," gurgled the lad, and as he felt the boat going sucked in a

"Then shift for yourself. I can't."

As the waters closed about them the arms of the Gentleman loosed their




A boy was wading shoreward dizzily. As he surged through the water,
his body made long rippling waves. He watched them with dull
fascination, pointing.

Then he began to whimper peevishly. He was tired, he was cold. The
shore waved up and down before his eyes. He knew he couldn't do it.

From behind him a yell penetrated his dying mind.

It stopped him dead.

He was a little child, nightmare-bound.

Waving to and fro, the water to his knees, he stretched both arms

"Mother!" he wailed.

A shout answered him.

Some one was crashing down the shingle, racing across the sand, and
plunging through the water towards him.

The boy began to titter.

"Come on, Kit! come on!" came a rousing voice. "Don't look behind you!
That's the style! Come on!"

What was this black splashing figure, sword in hand? Was it the Angel
of Death in full regimentals? Surely he recognised the face beneath
the shako?

"You aren't mother," the boy giggled, swaying.

A strong arm was round him; a body, firm and full of life, was pressed
against his dying one; a voice, quickening as the Spring, was in his

"Splendid, Kit! Well done indeed! Lean on me. Lots o time."

"Have the soldiers come?" sobbed the boy, struggling forward.

"One has," came the sturdy voice--"a Black Borderer."

They waded through the shallows, the ripples breaking prettily about

Behind them a fierce voice sang out an order.

The galley, which had brought up with a bump against the submerged
longboat, had hoisted the Gentleman on board, and was swooping in

The boy heard the beat of the oars, and sank on his knees at the edge
of the sea.

"I can't, sir. Take the bag. O go on!"

Two strong arms clutched him, and he was hoisted up.

All things were swimming away from him.

The last thing he knew was that he was in somebody's arms, and the
somebody was running.


The boat swept shoreward.

A man with a musket, standing in the bows, was about to fire at the

A sharp voice stayed him.

"_Ne tirez point! Nous les prendrons vivants. Ce n'est qu'un seul
homme et le gosse._"

A bugle from the shingle-bank retorted defiantly.


The boat stopped short.

The crew looked over their shoulders.

_"Les soldats!"_

Upon the ridge a shako bobbed up.

A figure in uniform rose and ran at it

"Keep your eads down there all along the line!" it shouted. "Wait till
I give the word, Royal Stand-backs."

The Gentleman sprang up in the boat.

_"Ramez toujours, mes enfants!_" he cried. "_C'est une

The men hung on their oars.

"_Laches!_" cried the Gentleman, smote the man on the foremost
thwart a buffet, and leaping overboard floundered through the water.

The man in the bows fired.

There was no reply from the shingle-bank.

The men of the galley took courage. The boat swished through the
shallows, and bumped ashore.

Out tumbled her crew, and stormed across the sand at the heels of the

The Parson was staggering up the shingle-bank, the boy in his arms.

At the top he paused, heaving like an earthquake, and looked back on
his scampering pursuers.

"Yes, my beauties," he panted. "You just won't do it."

Knapp, keen as a terrier, bobbed up at his side.

"Shall I charge em, sir?" his little brown eyes bursting with desire--
"me and the boy. Down the ill and into em plippety-plumpety-plop! O
for God's sake, sir!" whimpering, dancing. "Ave mercy as you ope for
it. Let me ave me smack if it's only for the glory of the old

"Certainly not," said the Parson sternly. "This is war, not

The little man collapsed sullenly.

"_From the right--retire by companies--on your sup-ports!_"
shouted the Parson in measured regimental voice.

From his manner he might have been addressing a Brigade and not merely
Blob, disguised in an ancient shako, lying on his stomach, and armed
with a hay-rake.


He plunged down the bank.

As he reached the greensward a warning shout from the cottage reached

"Ha! what's this?" joggled the Parson sharply. "Flank attack! who the
pest? Oh, Gap Gang--I forgot."

A stream of fierce dark figures with running legs poured down the Wish
and across the greensward at him.

"Hold tight round my neck, Kit!" he panted, taut to meet the new
attack. "I want my sword-arm free. What! the boy's fainted!" He gave
the limp body a hoist on his shoulder. "Now, Knapp! Let's see these
guts o yours!"

Knapp shot by him, his arms working like piston-rods.

"Come on, Blob, me boy. Slaughder for somebody!" He pranced into
action, throwing his legs like a hackney trotter. "Pray, duckie
darlins, pray!" he called. "I'm a-comin! I'm a-comin! I'm a-comin!"

The life was bursting out of him. It made him laughing-mad. He was
lusty as a young lion.

"Here they come!" muttered the Parson, labouring behind.

And come they did at a hound-slink, bunched together, and babbling. It
was clear they were uncertain of each other and of success. Sin, the
mighty Disintegrator, was at work upon their spirits. A more half-
hearted crew of blackguards never attempted murder. They needed Black
Diamond. He, and he alone, might have held them and swung them, as a
fine horseman holds and swings a refuser at a fence.

And what dark faces! what dreadful eyes! what voices popping up like
foul bubbles from a sewage pond!

_"Them three all?"

"Enough too, ain't it?"

"I'm for gain back. Look at the face on that buster with the sword!"

"H'into em!"_ came a shrill treble from the rear. _"Cheerily,
chaps, cheerily!"_

A crack from the cottage, the crack of doom.

The leading ruffian, a lumbering great horse-faced fellow, clapped his
hand to his side.

_"What's that?"_ he snapped.

_"That's death!"_ came a solemn voice from across the green.

The man bowed his head as though in acknowledgement.

_"I got it,"_ he said, and fell like a falling tower.

His fellows wavered. This sudden arrow from the quiver of the Great
Bowman, so unexpected expected, pierced the hearts of all.

Into them, toppling, bowled Knapp like a cannon-ball.

"_Ow,_ dear! _Ow's_ that? _Ow,_ my pore face!"

The chirpy Cockney voice popped out from the thick of them like a cork
from a bottle, and a smack from a sledge-hammer fist punctuated each

Blob, at a lurching gallop, plunged into the opening his leader had
made, flashing his knife with a gurgling "Ho! ho!"

Last came the Parson with terrific sword.

It was all over before it had begun: a scuffle, a squeak, the flicker
and tinkle of steel; and the cloud burst and scattered into its
component drops.

The smugglers scampered away.

The Parson was wiping the point of his sword on a man.

"Dirty skunks!" he panted. "Had their bellyful before I'd begun."

Blob was laughing to himself.

"Oi loike killin," he gurgled. "It goos in so plop-loike."

A figure, tall and black as a winter tree, shot up against the light
on the shingle-bank, and hung a second there.

The Parson waved.

"Too late, Monsieur le Poseur," he called mockingly. "Better luck next

The little party trotted across to the cottage, and entered.

Piper, awaiting them, slammed the door, and made all fast.

"Near thing, sir," chuckled the old man.

"Would have been but for that shot of yours," said the Parson, laying
his burthen on the bed.

He leaned up against the wall, and panted, his good red face dripping.

"First round to England--eh?" he grinned.







All was dark within the kitchen of the cottage.

Spears of white light piercing the gloom told of day without.

The cottage was fast as a fortress. Stout planks were nailed across
either door. Heavy shutters darkened the windows. Through a loop-hole
a stream of light poured in on Nelson's old foretop-man.

Horn spectacles hung on his nose. His eyes were down, the silver head
erect and drawn back. At arm's length beneath him he held a great Book
in a splash of light.

He was reading aloud, spelling out the words, as does a child, and
following with huge finger.

Outside a musket cracked; a bullet wanged against the wall; there was
the crisp trickle of dislodged mortar.

Still muttering, the old man closed his Book, and removed his
spectacles. Then he slewed his chair round to the loop-hole, and felt
for his musket.

The light poured in upon the moon-washed head, the noble brow, and
calm eyes peering forth.

Deliberately the old man moved his head to and fro, searching the
offender. Then the musket went to his shoulder, cheek hugged stock,
the face grew set. The mystic had turned man of action.

There was a flash in the darkness, a smother of white in the room, and
outside a sudden sobbing cry.

A hand waved in the cloud, and out of it a still voice said,

"He wun't trouble no more."

The old man leant his reeking musket against the wall, and took up his
Book tranquilly.




A clap of thunder, followed by a monstrous hissing overhead, awoke Kit
from dreams of blackberrying with Gwen in the dew-white dawn.

He started up.

"What's that?" he cried, seeking his mind.

"The privateer barking good-bye, sir," came old Piper's voice from
across the room. "She's stood in with the tide, and had a slap with
her bow-chaser. Now she's going about."

The memories swooped back on Kit; Nelson, the despatches, the swim in
the dark.

In a moment he was at the loop-hole, peering over the old man's

On these in the sunshine he saw the brown-patched sails of the
privateer lifted ladder-like from behind the shingle-bank, and
strangely close. Then her bows slid into view, and he realised that
she was standing out to sea:

The boy's heart soared.

They were free!

A great hand pulled him gently back from the loop-hole.

"By your leave, sir. They've a marksman on the knoll keeps on a-peckin
at us."

The boy's heart sank.

"Then we _aren't_ free?"

"Oh, no, sir. All round us, sir--a cord on em, Muster Joy calls it,

From above the Parson's cheery voice rang out.

"So she's left you in the lurch, my lord. That comes o trusting to a

Piper chuckled.

"Muster Joy and the Gentleman! Must keep on a-chaffin. At it all day
yesterday they was, atween scrimmages."

A gay voice came sailing back from the open.

"Ah, Reverend Father, good morning! Yes, you must excuse her for the
moment. She has an engagement to keep round the corner to-morrow."

"To-morrow!" echoed Kit, aghast. "Piper! how long have I been asleep?"

"Why, sir, you've slept round the clock and a bit more. It's nigh noon
of what was to-morrow when you turned in."

No wonder he was hungry; no wonder he was fresh; no wonder that sound
of hammering, which had disturbed him as he passed from a half-swoon
into sleep, seemed so far off.

"Wednesday! Then to-morrow's Thursday!" he cried, rushing into his
clothes. "O Nelson!" and he raced up the ladder.

The loft was full of light, dazzling after the twilight of the


A mattress, stuffed clumsily in the seaward window, half blocked it.
In the dormer looking towards the Downs, two biscuit-boxes crammed
with earth sat on the sill, forming a rough head-cover.

Behind these Knapp sprawled on his stomach. Beside him was a wooden
porringer full of bullets, and a basin of black powder; in his hand a

In a cobweb corner by a barrel, Blob crouched covetously; while beside
the mattress-curtain sat the Parson in his shirt-sleeves, furbishing
Polly, and pausing every now and then to spy out through the bulges.

As Kit clambered on to the floor, the Parson turned, his blue eyes
merry, and curls a-ripple.

"Ah, Kit, my boy, how are you?"

"Alive and well, sir, thanks to you. And you, sir?"

"I!" laughed the Parson. "I'm another man." A bullet whizzed by. The
Parson listened sentimentally. "That's the music!" raising his face
with a rapt smile. "Always makes me think of angels' wings."

He seemed to have grown, body and soul. His eyes shone, his cheeks
glowed; he was crisp as a rimy apple.

Kit felt the change.

Responsibility, the searcher out of souls, had exhilarated and sobered
the man. He was graver yet gayer, inspiring and inspired.

"Duck up aloft!" came a sudden roar from beneath.

The Parson smote Kit a blow on the chest that sent him staggering back
against the wall.

A bullet whistled in at one window and out at the other.

The Parson crawled across to Knapp, lying on his face, and dealt him a
tremendous buffet.

"Dog!" he thundered. "Why don't you shout?"

The little man's body leapt to the blow, but he made no answer.

"Go below!" ordered the Parson savagely. "What's the good of you? I
set you there to warn us and all you can do is to grovel on your
stomach and snivel."

The little Cockney rose without a word and crept away, his tail
between his legs. Kit saw his face. One eye was black; and his face
was so woebegone that but for the misery in it Kit would have smiled.

"Their shooting is exquisite," said the Parson with professional
delight. "You can't show a finger.... They've nearly had Blob already
--ain't they, Blob?"

Blob, cuddling in the corner, shook his head cunningly.

"Oi've had them," he said. "Three pennorth of em," pointing to the
little pile of coppers at his side.

"I'm giving him a penny apiece for each Gang-er he gets, and twice the
money for a Frenchman," the Parson explained. "It stimulates effort,"
he added, prim as a pedagogue, but with twinkling eye. "And now, Kit,
your story."



Swiftly the boy told his tale.

"But for you and the soldiers," he ended....

"There were no soldiers," answered the Parson curtly.

"What, sir!--I thought!--some men in shakos behind the bank--the men
Knapp brought."

The Parson ground his teeth.

"Knapp brought no men. He got as far as the Lamb in Eastbourne on the
hill yonder, and there he got playing the fool, and sneaked back here
about twenty minutes after you were gone with a pair of black eyes and
a pack of lies and nothing else."

All the ruddiness had left his face. It was grey as steel and dark.

"I tried him by drum-head court-martial then and there, for misconduct
in the presence of the enemy. I was the President, Piper the Court.
The Court found him guilty and sentenced him to be shot. I confirmed
the sentence, and proceeded to carry it out."

He rapped the words out clean and clear. Kit felt himself seeing this
man with new eyes, the eyes of a great respect. The fellow schoolboy
of yesterday had turned into the man of war, stern and terrible. Kit
was afraid of him.

"There was nothing to wait for," continued the Parson. "So I had him
out and made him dig his own grave against the wall.

"'It's blanky ard,' said he.

"'You're a soldier; and this is war,' I answered. 'I'm going to count
two--then fire. Make your peace with your Maker.'

"I hadn't got to two, when I heard a hubbub on the privateer, and knew
you were either caught or in difficulties.

"'This can wait,' I said. 'I'll use you first, and shoot you

The blood stole back to the Parson's face. His eyes lifted, twinkling

"It's resource that makes the soldier, you know, Kit. I slipped into
my old regimentals, gave Knapp his bugle, clapped a shako on Blob's
head, and put the two of them behind the shingle-bank to act as a
skeleton-force.... And you know the rest."

Kit gazed at the square-set figure before him with respectful

"It must have been a close thing, sir."

The Parson shrugged.

"It would have been a mere bagatelle but for the Gap Gang cutting in
on our line of retreat. That added interest, and made a bright little
affair of what would otherwise have been a dull retirement."

"And how did the Gap Gang come to cut in?"

"Oh, that's easily explained....

"At midnight I went out to beat em up--crept along under the cliff
past Holy Well. When I got to Cow Gap, there were my friends lying on
their backs in a bunch, snoring like so many sows, and the boat
beached beneath em. I believe I could have killed the lot then and
there, and nobody the wiser; but I wasn't going to soil my hands with
the cold blood of those swine. So I just jumped into the boat, and got
to work at once--put my heel through her bottom, and was just tearing
up a plank, when the noise wakes old Red Beard.

"'Who the blank's that?' he growled, sitting up in the moonlight.

"'Why,' says I, tearing away, 'the gentleman you're good enough to
call the blankety Parson.'

"'Then guess we've got you, sir,' says he, and comes down the beach at
me at the double.

"'Think so?' says I, jumping out to meet him.

"'Twenty to one, sir!' says he. 'Chuck it up.'

"'Pardon,' says I, 'nineteen to one, I think,' and downs him with my
left. O, such a beauty! flop in the mug.

"They were all awake by this of course; and there was a little bit of
trouble. I wasn't going to ask my sweet lady to soil her lips on those
mucky blackguards, so I kept dodging away before them, just doing
enough with my dukes to keep them amused. They were no more good than
a mob of cattle, you see--drunk with sleep and liquor, the lot of em.

"'Out knives, boys, and finish the blank!' says old Toadie.

"And pon my soul they came on so hot I don't know what mightn't have
happened, when all of a sudden,

"'The boat!' screams Fat George from behind. 'Some blankety blank's at
the boat.'

"And sure enough there was a long-legged chap launching the boat. In
he jumped, shoved her off, and lay on his oars, lookin at em, as they
came running along the edge of the sea."

The Parson threw back his jolly head.

"Laugh, Kit!--I never saw a fellow laugh as he did. I roared to see
him. And all the while those chaps were skipping about on the shore,
howling like lunatics. You never heard such a row. Then Fat George,
when he saw it was all up, tried the leary lay.

"'I know it's just a joke o the Genelman's,' says he in that greasy-
wheazy voice of his.

"'That's just it, George,' the other calls across the water, 'and the
best joke I've enjoyed since I saw Black Diamond brand you with the
hot iron you'd just branded the lugger's kitten with.'

"'What I mean,' whines Fat George, 'you wouldn't go for to leave a lot
o pore blokes on a dead foul lee-shore--what got there through trying
to sarve you.'

"'Sarve me!' says the Gentleman. 'Yes, Garge, my faithful friend--
sarve me in the back with two fut o carvin-knife, while I was chattin
with Garge's pals.'

"At that Fat George snatches the musket and pulls.

"I heard the click of the hammer, but there was never so much as a
flash in a pan.

"'Thank you, thank you, Fatty, my friend,' says the French feller.
'But you know you'd make better shooting, if I hadn't wetted your

"Then he struck his oars in the water. 'And now good-night all,' says
he. 'Black Diamond was a man, if he was a devil. As to the rest of
you, the best I can wish you is a long drop, and a rope that runs
free. And as for you, Fat George, I won't forget you in this world,
and God won't forget you in the next.'

"Then he came rowing along inside the barrier of rocks to me.

"'I don't know who you are, sir,' says he, taking off his hat in his
dandified French way, 'but I'm sure I owe you my best thanks. If it
hadn't been for you, I hardly know how I should have managed.'

"Well, of course I knew very well who he was, and what he was after.
But I knew the boat was sinking, and I saw he couldn't row. So I never
thought he'd reach the ship. Still the longer I kept him talking, the
better your chance. So--

"'You're very welcome, sir,' says I. 'Won't you step ashore and thank
me in person?'

"'I'm grieved to the heart,' says he, 'but I must postpone that
pleasure till another day. Perhaps we shall meet again. I hope to
return in a few weeks--not alone next time.'

"'Quite so,' thinks I, 'at the head of the Army of England. No you
don't, my fine fellow, not if I can keep you messing about there a few
minutes longer.'

"'And perhaps we have met before,' says I, taking off my hat.

"He peered at me in the moonlight.

"'What!' he cries--'not my old friend, Black Cock, again?'

"'The same at your service,' says I, 'still waiting to have his comb

"'This is a great happiness,' says he, very earnest, and paddles in a

"'It's mutual,' says I. 'And if you've quite done posing won't you
step ashore and let us consummate our joy? A sweet stretch of sand,
and a lovely light.'

"Pon my soul for a moment I thought he would. Then,

"'I can't to-day, bad cess to it,' says he. 'Tell you the truth I'm in
the devil's own hurry. Got an interview with his Sacred Majesty, our
noble Emperor, whom may Heaven preserve, at twelve noon to-morrow. And
if I don't keep it, I stand to lose a lot o little things--my head
among em. I'm in disgrace, you see--always have been from a child!'

"He lifts his sword to his lips, quite the play-actor.

"'But here's to our next merry meeting, sir.'

"'And may it be soon, Monsieur le Poseur,' says I, answering his

"And it's proved sooner than either of us expected. There's he: here'm
I. One side this wall the first light cavalryman in Europe, 'tother--
Harry Joy, ex-Captain of British infantry. Now we've got to see which
is the better man."

He squared his shoulders.

Whoever else might find the situation unsatisfactory it was not Parson




"That is the first part of the story, and the least," said the Parson.
"And while I'm telling you the rest you'd better have some grub."

He reached up to a rafter.

"I keep the tackle up here out of Blob's way. The boy's all belly--
ain't you, you young shark?"

Blob stroked his waist feelingly.

"She kips on a-talkin," he purred. "She dawn't get much answer

"Well, don't eat that candle anyway, you little glutton!"

"Oi warn't eatin it," said Blob, aggrieved. "Oi were suckin it."

The Parson arranged what food there was on the floor.

'"Honour and salt-beef--campaigners' fare!' as Nelson used to say in

"And while you're at that, I'll get on with my story."


He went to the gable-end and took down a tarpaulin bag hanging on a

"Kit, that was a great haul you made."

He took a packet from the bag.

"What d'you think this contains?" stripping the india-rubber from it.

There crept into his eyes again that steely look.

"It contains," he continued in the still voice of the man so moved
that he dare hardly trust himself, "a list of all those gentlemen of
Kent and Sussex who are _a nous_, as the paper says."

The boy dropped his knife.

"Traitors in fact!"

"That's the ugly word," said the Parson between set teeth. "And may
God have mercy on them as they deserve!... When I read that list," he
continued, breathing hard, "for the first time in my life I was sick,
_sick_ to call myself an Englishman.... There are men down there
I've dined with, gamed with, chaffed with, may heaven forgive me for
it! true men as I honestly believed, men I've seen drink the King's
health and damnation to the French with three times three, as a
Christian and a gentleman should. There are magistrates, squires, a
peer or two, one sheriff, a deputy-lieutenant, and small fry--
publicans, carriers, smugglers, and the like--by the score."

He spread squares of paper on the floor, piecing them.

"And here's a map in sections of the whole country from Pevensey to
Westminster--farms, inns, cottages, all put down, see!--where guides
can be got; the wells marked, bakers' shops, mills; roads, metalled
and unmetalled; and in the margin here and there a Church or what-not
drawn out pretty as you please for a sign-post."

The boy looked. Yes, it was the hand that had written the scent-bottle

"There's enough in that bag to hang some of the best names in
England," continued the Parson with gloating delight. "And I hope to
have that bag in Pitt's hands before many hours are out."

The colour stole back to his cheeks, and he began to rub his hands

"Kit, my boy, we'll have such a hanging as was never before seen in
England--God helping us.... That's what we're here for."

The boy's eyes were raised to his.

"No, sir, please. What we're here for is to save Nelson."


The Parson staggered.

"Nelson!" he cried, ghastly.

His mind clutched in the dark at something it had lost.

"The plot, sir.... Beachy Head."

"My _God_!" cried the Parson, and died against the wall.

The despatch-bag and its contents had so possessed him that Nelson's
need had for the moment slipped his mind.

"And I call myself a soldier!"

He leapt to life again.

"What's to-day?" savagely.

"Wednesday, sir."

"Is it to-morrow?"

"Yes, sir."

The life faded out of his blue eyes.

Till that moment he had been hugging the comfortable belief that Time,
the soldier's best ally and worst enemy, was on his side. Sooner or
later relief must come. Cosy in their tiny fortress, they could afford
to wait for it. The Gentleman could not. Now for the first time the
Parson learned that his anticipated ally was his foeman's.

"Talk of Knapp!--I'm the one ought to be shot."

"How soon shall we be relieved, sir?" asked the boy feverishly at his
side. "When may we expect the soldiers?"

The words revived the Parson like a whip-lash. Knapp, a soldier, had
betrayed his trust. He, a soldier, had let slip thirty golden hours.
He was bitterly jealous for his dear Service.

"We shan't be relieved," he snarled. "How can the soldiers relieve us
when they don't know we want relief? Knapp didn't get through--told
you so already once."

"But the country-folk, sir! Surely they'll report."

"No, they won't," stonily. "This is Sussex. We aren't alive in Sussex:
we're dead-alive.... If they did see anything was up they'd only think
it was one of the ordinary rows between the blockade-men and the
gentlemen, as they call the smugglers."

He looked out of the Downward window. There was little comfort. Tall
men in French uniforms swaggered about England's greensward as though
already it was theirs. He could catch their beastly foreign lingo. The
sight and sound made him mad. Grim old watchdog that he was, he felt
the bristles at the back of his neck rising. What right had these
strange folk in his back-yard?--O to make his teeth meet in their
gaitered legs!

Besides the Frenchmen, not a soul stirring.

English rooks cawing over English green, and an English sheepdog
answering them.

A lonely land at the best of times, it was a desert now.

Westward in a cloud of beeches, a grey house glimmered--George
Cavendish's--empty. The Seahouses over by Splash Point--empty too. So
was every house of any size for ten miles inland from Fair-light to
Selsea Bill. Everybody bolted who could afford it. The old lady of
Hailsham quite a proverb for pluck in these parts; and they said she
looked under her bed every night to see if the French had come.

And the luck! where was the luck?

Ten days since this uttermost corner of England had stirred to the
strange music of men making ready for battle: bugle-calling Cavalry in
the new barracks in Eastbourne on the hill; thundering Artillery in
the Circular Redoubt at Langney Point; Sea-Fencibles in the martello-
towers along Pevensey Levels. Now all was still and dead again. A
concentration in force had taken place at Lewes. The Cavalry had been
withdrawn to the camp there. A case of cholera had emptied Langney
Fort. The Sea-Fencibles had run away. Black Diamond had swept up the

Darkness, darkness, everywhere.

Kit stole to his side.

"We _must_ get a message through to Nelson," he chattered. "We

The boy felt himself at war with destiny, and crushed by it. He
recalled the Man of Despair in the Iron Cage in Pilgrim's Progress.
The fate of the country was in his hands. He alone had the knowledge
that could save her, and he could not use it. He was a dumb thing,
possessed of a vast world-secret, which he could not impart for lack
of voice.

"If there's no other way, we must cut our way through."

The Parson met him with a rough,


"Why?" hotly.

"Impossible--that's why."

It was the first time he had thrown that dead-wall word across the
lad's path, and it maddened the boy.

After all, _he_ was responsible, not this beefy soldier.

"That's a word we don't know in _our_ Service, sir," he cried
with scornful nostrils.

The taunt touched the Parson on the raw.

He swung round savagely.

"_Your_ Service!" he stormed. "At a time such as this, there is
only one Service for loyal hearts, and that's the Service of his

The lad quailed before the thunder-and-lightning of the man's wrath.

"Why can't we sally?" sullenly.

The Parson shot a hand toward the window.

The boy followed his pointing finger.

In the open, behind the wall, was a camp-fire, a group of soldiers
squatting round it, arms piled. To right and left, embracing the
cottage, a chain of sentries ran, tall men all in tall-plumed bear-

Old Piper was right. A cordon indeed!

"Grenadiers of the Guard!" rumbled the Parson in the boy's ear,
rolling his r's like a _feu de joie_. "Marksmen to a man;
veterans all; and half of them decorated."

Grenadiers of the Guard! the men of the Bridge of Lodi, of the Battle
of the Pyramids and Mount Tabor, of Hochstadt and Hohenlinden.

Kit recalled the tops of the _Cocotie_ swarming with riflemen,
and old Ding-dong's surprised disgust.

Now he understood.

On the success of this venture hung Napoleon's world-projects.
_Coute que coute_, he had told Mouche, he must bring off this
coup. So he was employing on it the pick of the first Army the world
had ever seen.

As he thought of the issues at stake, the boy's soul fainted within

How could he, Kit Caryll, aged fifteen, and hovering on the brink of
tears, stand up against the Victor of Marengo?




The boy's long face, anxious before, grew haggard now.

It wore the look of one with the enthusiasms of a saint across whose
path Sin, the Insurmountable, has fallen suddenly.

"We're done," he said, husky and white.

His words revived the other. True man that he was, despair in the
boy's heart quickened the courage in his own.

"Never say die till you're dead," he cried, squaring his shoulders--
"that's the Englishman's motto."

His spirit rose to meet the occasion.

"Our theatrical friend outside there's no fool. But--but--but! there's
just one element he's not reckoned with."

"What?" cried Kit, hanging on his words.

The Parson dropped head and voice.

"Who saved you from the _Tremendous_?" he whispered. "Who handed
you up a cliff a goat couldn't climb?--who brought you to this house?
--who put the flag-idea into your head, and brought it off?"

The Parson's words made sudden confusion in the lad's mind. It came to
him with a shock of surprise to find such triumphant faith in this
ruddy fighting-man.

"And why d'you think of all the houses in the world He sent you to
this one?" the other continued.

"Because of you, sir."

The Parson frowned, and approached his lips to the lad's ear.

"_Because it's got a secret passage!_"

This most matter-of-fact explanation flashed the laughter to the boy's

"I mean it," said the other earnestly. "Ain't you noticed anything
about the floor of the kitchen?"

"It sounds hollow."

"It is hollow. It's built over an old decoy-pond."

In a few words the Parson outlined the history of the secret passage.

A water-way had led from decoy-pond to sea. The sea had gone back and
left the water-way and pond high and dry. Sixty years back a sly old
sea-dog had built this lonely cottage over the pond. He had covered
the water-way and made a drain of it. Thus he had secured a secret
passage to the sea, and the cottage had become the receiving depot of
Ruxley's crew.

"Where does it lead to?" asked the boy, all eyes.

"Out into the creek we crossed on the way to the Wish."

"And how many people know about it?"

"Three. One's you; one's me; one's the son of the man who built the
cottage--and that's old Piper down below there.... It's not been used
for forty years. The sea went back and back, and the creek's been dry
these years past."

Kit's knees invited him to prayer. This was not chance; it was not

"You're right, sir," said the boy chokily. "He's in it."

"And what's more He's going to get us out," replied the Parson,
cheerfully matter-of-fact.

The boy was slipping off his coat.

"I'd better start at once. There's not a second to lose. Nelson may
sail this evening."

The Parson laid a kind hand on the lad's shoulder.

"The boy's as greedy for glory as Nelson himself," he laughed. "But
the Navy can't do it _all_, you know. Give _us_ a chance....
When we've got the best pair of legs South of Thames trained to a
tick, and fighting mad for their chance, we may as well use em."

Kit gasped.

"Nipper Knapp!" and added in a flash, "May I go with him, sir?"

"To the mouth of the drain," said the Parson. "No further."


He turned about.

"Blob, come here. Keep a sharp look-out at this window, and give a
holloa if anything stirs. You can sing em a little song, if you know
one to keep em quiet."

He slid down into the twilight of the kitchen. There only the old
foretop-man was to be seen, patient at his post of watch.

"Where's Knapp, Piper?"

"Why, sir, in the cellar. Wanted to be alone with his trouble, I
reck'n. Tarrabul down-earted, the poor lad be."

"I'll cheer him up," cried the Parson, and disappeared through an open
trap-door into the night beneath. "Nipper Knapp! Nipper Knapp, my boy!"

In two minutes he was back.

Knapp was at his heel, sparring playfully at the back of the other's

True, for the broken heart there is no such cure as action or the hope
of it.

As they emerged into the twilight of the kitchen a voice, pure as a
rivulet's, poured down in song upon them from above.

From outside came a gust of laughter, and then a roaring chorus.

"By the Lord!" thundered the Parson. "It's The Doxie's Daughter."

"And the Gap Gang singing choir!" said Piper grimly. "Likely it'll
be the only hymn they knaw."

"One moment, Master Blob!" muttered the Parson between clenched
teeth. "I'll swab that boy's soul clean if I have to do it with a
scrubbing-brush.... Now, Knapp, ready yourself, while I write a note
to the Commandant."

Knapp tore off his coat, and began to fight an exhibition battle with
a ghost in the corner.

"Will ye fight the lot then, Jack?" chuckled old Piper.

"Ay, and wop em, too!" cried the little man, dodging, ducking. "Ave
a slap at em first, and then go through--that's my idee."

"It's not mine, though!" roared the Parson, catching him a rousing kick.
"Get on with your undressing, d your eyes!"

He finished his note and folded it.

"And now for the sweet little cherub that sits up aloft."


He ran nimbly up the ladder, Kit at his heels.

The chorister had ceased his song.

Through the half-stuffed dormer, light streamed in on the white-washed
wall, the cobwebs, rafters, and Polly in the corner, shining demure.

"Now where the dooce has that boy got?" muttered the Parson, looking

Kit pointed.

In the darkest corner, under the slope of the roof, stood an
apple-barrel. Out of it two frog-like legs thrust and kicked with
the action of one swimming. A protuberance crowned the rim of the
barrel. Body, head, and arms were lost.

The Parson whipped up Polly.

"One for yourself!" he roared, prodding the boy's bad eminence,
"and one for The Doxie's Daughter!"

"Hoi! that's Blo-ub!" yelled a muffled voice. Two hands shot out and
plastered themselves over the stimulated part. There was a wriggle.
Then Blob stood before them, touzled, pink, his ears wide, an apple
tight between his teeth.

"D'you call that keeping a look-out?" thundered the Parson.

"Oi wur lookin out," said Blob, dogged and sullen.

"Then you keep your eyes where few of us do."

"Oi thart oi yerd a Frenchie in the bar'l," said Blob in the slow and
undulating voice of Sussex. "Oi went fur to fetch un out, when a
tarrabul great oarse-fly settled on ma butt-end and stung her."

"It was no horse-fly," replied the Parson. "It was my dear lady.
Now, don't bother to think of any more lies, my lad, but just take
that lantern from the wall, and go below. We'll join you in a minute."


The Parson pulled aside the hanging mattress, and peeped seaward.

"Come here, boy. I want to show you the lie of the land. D'you see
that chap in blue knickers in the shade of the sycamores?--he's the
Gap Gang sentry. They're camped somewhere behind the knoll, the main
of them. That's their smoke you see among the trees."

That roaring chorus still rang in the boy's ear.

"The drain runs to the right of the knoll, and out into the creek bang
opposite the Wish. Half-way down it there's a man-hole."

An icy pang pierced Kit's heart.

"It's quite small, and a bush grows over it. It's a million to one
they know nothing of it. Still you should--er--watch it."

The Parson was gnawing his under-lip.

"I'll watch it," said the boy, the waves breaking white about his

It must be somewhere just about the man-hole that Fat George and Co.
were camped. Still he wasn't going to let this soldier know he was

But the soldier knew.

Outwardly calm, his own heart was a whirlpool of doubts. How could he
stop behind a wall and send this lad out into the open to face heaven
knew what? Yet here surely his obvious duty lay. Should the enemy
storm, what could a legless old sailor and a brace of boys do against
them? And unless he was mistaken mischief was brewing. Where was the
Gentleman all this time? Yesterday he had been everywhere all the
time. To-day the Parson had caught but one fleeting glimpse of him.
The old soldier preferred his enemy's activity to his quiet. Was this
the lull before the storm?

"I only want you to go to the mouth of the drain, and see him off," he
said with calm cheerfulness. "Once away, you'd only hamper him."

That was truth at all events. Once away, Knapp's chance lay in his
feet. With luck the little man'd be in Lewes in an hour and a half.
With luck a good man on a good horse'd be in Chatham before night,
another at the Admiralty, a third at Merton,--that was, if Beau
Beauchamp would leave his actress for the moment to play the man. With
luck Nelson wouldn't have sailed.

Lots of luck, true! still, who was it was on their side?

The fog of his doubts cleared away.

He turned to the boy with glowing eyes.

"Kit," he whispered, hugging the lad's arm, "we'll have a Gazette to
ourselves yet."




The kitchen was dim as a sick-room, and strangely hushed. No one spoke
but the Parson and he in whispers, lecturing Knapp, undressing in the

The gravity of the enterprise, its certain perils, the issues at
stake, oppressed the room. Death was there already; as yet indeed only
a ghost at each man's elbow, in a few moments maybe to become

Kit felt it and sickened.

Perched upon the table, his back to the boarded window, he whetted his
dirk upon his shoe, and wondered if those others, those men, Knapp
most of all, felt as he did.

Privately he thanked heaven that the dusk hid his face.

Through chinks and splintered bullet-holes, the light stole in, making
daggers across the darkness.

It splashed the walls, the great stone-flags, the black mouth of the
cellar, and the dresser in the corner.

There sat Knapp, a grey ghost spotted here and there with light. The
little rifleman was naked now, save for a pair of fighting drawers. A
heap of clothes sprawled at his feet.

The little rifleman was like a child. Broken-hearted a minute back,
now he was as a lion in leash.

There was an adventure forward, and the off chance of a fight: he
brimmed at the thought of it. Without imagination, he knew no fear;
with little experience of pain, he didn't much believe in it. They
wouldn't catch _him_; they wouldn't hit _him_!

Before him knelt the Parson with low head, swathing his feet with
strips of torn towel, absorbed as a surgeon, careful as a mother.

"Is that easy?--now how's that?--try your foot down! Another turn
round the ankle?--Remember, it'll be rough going till you strike the

At the loop-hole Nelson's old foretop-man watched and waited. A gleam
smote his silver hair and prophetic forehead. Kit watched him

The old man, so tranquil amid the stir and whisper of death, affected
the boy as One years ago had affected other seamen tempest-tossed.

His chattering heart hushed as a sparrow hushes in the quiet of a
great cathedral.

Then the world rushed in on him with a shout.

Again that gust of laughter outside, that roaring chorus.

The Gap Gang were making merry.

The contrast revolted the lad.

The table on which he sat began to rattle.

Quietly he slipped off it. But the old foretop-man had heard.

Leaving his post, he came rumbling across the uneven flags.

"The waitin time's generally always the worst time, sir," he
whispered. "Sooner farty actions than wait for one--I've hard Lard
Nelson say it himsalf."

"I am a bit--quaky," replied the boy, and would have admitted as much
to no other man, and to few women.

"And none the worse for that, sir. It's a poor heart that can't feel
fear. If a man's not a bit timersome about facin his Maker, then he
ought to be. Pluck's doin your duty although you are afear'd. You'll
be right enough once you're in it, surely.... And if you're not above
a hint from a man before the mast, sir, you'll take them shoes off.
Boardin-parties bare-fut--that was ollus the word aboard the
_Agamemnon_.... Ah, Knapp, feelin slap?"

"Ay, fit to run for me life or fight for it," bubbled the little
rifleman, prancing out of his corner.

The Parson beckoned Kit.

"You see his sort," he whispered. "The chap's as full of meat and
mischief as a lion-cub." He turned again. "Knapp," he said solemnly,
"this is your officer. He's coming with you to see you off. He carries
the King's commission as truly as I do. You'll obey him as you would
me, and no nonsense, d'you see?"

"Very good, sir," said the little man, jigging and bobbing. "I'm all
of a pop like. Seems I might go off any moment."

"Any tomfoolery and you will go off," replied the Parson sternly--"out
of this world into the next--pop! as you say yourself. You've only one
chance against the finest marksmen in the world, and that's to show em
a clean pair of heels. If you don't, you've fought your last fight, my
lad! Ginger Jake's cock of the South."

The last words went home. The little rifleman became very grave. He
swung round to Piper in his swift bird-like way.

"Mr. Piper, pop off a prayer for us."

The common-sense saint lifted his head.

"God elp and strengthen your legs, Nipper Knapp," he prayed.

"That's the point, O Lord!--his legs!" punctuated the Parson.

"Sometimes," continued the old foretop-man solemnly, "I have wondered
why the Lard saw good to take my legs to Himsalf. Rack'n I knaw now."
He reached out a huge hand, gripped the little rifleman and pulled him
closer. "There's nawthin cut to waste in this world," he whispered
huskily. "And it's my belieft He's been savin of em up this ten year
past agin this day--to put the strength of em into your'n, Jack Knapp.
May you make good use o both pairs--your own o the flesh, and mine o
the sperrit!--that's my best prayer for you."

The little rifleman, as simple as the old sailor, was profoundly

"I'll do me best, Mr. Piper, struth I will!" he sniffed. "Never do to
mess it a'ter all His trouble."

"Give us your hand on it!" said the old man. "And you too, sir, if so
be a common sailor might make so bold."

The old sailor and the young shook hands feelingly: the two soldiers
followed suit.

"Don't forget you're a Black Borderer, my boy," said the Parson, one
hand on the rifleman's shoulder.

"That I'll never, sir!" replied the little man, almost in tears.

Parson and Kit gripped hands: neither spoke.

Then the Parson ran up the ladder.



The little party of adventurers filed down into the dark.

Blob's lantern shone on the rusty iron door, streaked with damp, which
barred the mouth of the drain.

It was very chill down there. Knapp was shivering as he played with
the bolts. Blob, impassive as a jellyfish, was still sucking at his

Quick and clear Kit gave his orders.

"Knapp, stop tinkering those bolts about, and stand back till I give
the word! Now, Blob, listen here!--Knapp and I are going through this
door down the drain. You'll stand here with the lantern, and light us,
d'you see?"

"Ah!" said Blob.

"You're not to stir, d'you see, boy?"

"Aw!" said Blob.

Kit gripped his arm, and looked into his round and dewy eyes.

"Half-way down the drain there's a hole, where the light comes in." He
was articulating his words with the slow precision of one addressing a
deaf man. _Now if, after we've passed that hole, anybody should get
down through it into the drain, then you're to slam the door--and

"Now repeat my instructions."

Blob mooned and mowed, his eyes roaming the cellar.

"Repate moi ructions," he mumbled at last.

"Ass!" snapped Kit. "Here!--stand so!--the lantern between your feet.
That's right. Now don't stir. Ready, Knapp?"

"On the boil, sir," bobbing and blowing on his fists.

"Then come on."

Kit drew the wheezing bolts, and flung back the door. A chill breeze

Before the boy could stop him, the little rifleman was through the
door and away down the drain.

"Come back!" ordered Kit in a fierce whisper.

The man, stooping in the drain, turned and grinned.

"In _my_ Service, sir, Borderers lead."

"In _my_ Service, officers do.... Come back!"

The boy had nothing but his dirk; but that he pointed resolutely; and
the lantern-light glimmered in the darkness as on a steel-barrel.

Knapp crawled back, delighted.

"You're the sort," he chuckled, patting the lad on the back. "Quite
the little man o war."

"Get to heel," snarled Kit. "Hold your tongue. Keep your paws to
yourself. And address me respectfully and properly."

The drain ran away before them, a long black tunnel, focussing in a
remote jewel of light. It was like the Alley of Life, cramped and
dark, and at the far end of it a little door opening on heaven. And
across the door the boy seemed to see written the one word


He advanced into the breathing darkness, his eye on that guiding
light. Half-way down the drain a dim patch brightened the black floor.
There was the man-hole; there was the danger-point.

He crept forward with groping hands. The bricks were cold and
sweating, the atmosphere that of the grave. It seemed to smell of dead
men. The boy felt as though a mountain was smothering him. He found
himself breathing deep as though in difficulties.

Even Knapp, crawling at his heels, appeared affected.

The man was humming something in a dirge-like monotone. At first Kit
thought it was some sort of a Litany; then he caught the words:

"Two little corpseses goes for a walk
In a church-yard under the sea,
Says the one to the other--
'I'll squeak if you'll squawk
To keep me company.'"

The humming ceased, and Kit missed it.

"Are you there, Knapp?"

"Yes, sir. Smotherified feelin, ain't it?"

"Do you hear anything?"

"Only me own teeth chatter."

"Hush, then."

They were drawing near the man-hole.

The boy was sweating, shivering. He was living in death.

A very little, and he would have had one of his old screaming panics
of the night-nursery. Then that tiny diamond of light, hanging in the
blackness before him, the one word written across it, steadied him. It
was a star, his star. It sang to him the Song of Faith.

Besides, how could he run away?--he, an officer, a gentleman, a
sailor, run away before a private soldier? No. It is easier to lead
somebody who believes you to be brave than to let him know you are a
coward--especially if he's a soldier. The thought tickled him, and his
heart surged upward.

They were very near the man-hole now.

Kit turned and pointed.

Knapp put out his tongue in reply.

The patch of light on the floor was dim and chequered. The old bush
then was in its place. The boy thanked heaven for it, and stopped

Above the tumult of his heart he could hear a voice: so close too that
had he prodded upwards through the thin crust of earth he would have
stabbed the speaker.

And how well he knew that ghastly treble!



_"Where's Bandy?"

"Where we'll all be afore we're much older--in ell this alf our."

"What ye mean?"

"Ave a peep in the creek yonder. You'll see sharp enough what I

Another voice, dark and brooding, joined in:

_"Who stuck him?"

"The Genelman."

"What for?"

"Back-answerin him."_

A fourth voice, very black and bitter, flared up:

_"That's im!--bangs you up in the firin line, then sticks you if you
look at him. If it's storm, we got to do it. If it's sally, we got to
meet it. If it's neether, we got to set round and take Piper's pot-
luck, while he and his chaps lay safe out o range and, shoots us if we

"Where's the good in boltin?"_ came the brooding voice. _"Nowhere
to bolt to. Jack Ketch's our only friend this side the water."_

There was a stony silence.

"_How long's this ---- game goin to last?--that's what I want to
know,_" came the black and bitter voice at last.

The ghastly treble chimed in:

"_That's what I says to im last night when e come his rounds. 'We're
only poor chaps, my lord,' says I. 'We've lost alf the number of our
mess in your service. And now I'd make bold to ask how long you're
goin to keep us here?'_

"'_Why,' says he, suckin his hanky, 'that depends on your sweet
selves. You may go as soon as you've took the cottage_.'

"'_And what if the sogers come first?' I says. 'There's a camp at
Lewes, you know, my lord.'_

"'_Why then,' says he, and I lay he thought he was funny, 'I'll
leave you to the hands of your beloved compatriots. And what can a
good man want more'n that_?'

"'_We're the Gap Gang, my lord,' says I_.

"'_Well,' says he, 'if that don't suit you, hurry up and take the
cottage and have done with it. I'm gettin tired o this messin about

"'_Beg pardon, my lord,' says I, 'but what are we to ave for our
trouble, when we ave took it_?'

"'_Why,' says he, very pleasant, 'if you're good, Friend George,
when the job's done, per-raps,' says he, 'per-raps I'll give you a
lift back to France in my lugger layin on the beach there_.'

"'Our _lugger, sure-ly, my lord,' says I_.

"'_No, my friend,' says he, 'it was the late lamented Diamond's. Now
it's our noble Emperor's, Gorblessim!--a derelict picked up on the
igh seas by one of His Majesty's frigates_.'"

The treble ceased.

"_Pretty position for the genelmen o the Gap Gang, ain't it_?"
came the black and bitter voice. "_Shot takin the place, or hung if
you don't_."

"_Ah_," came the treble again, "_it wouldn't take me long to do
somethin to him. See. Sow_!"

"_Only you'd ave to get somebury to old is ands first_," grumbled
Red Beard.

"_Scream_!" said the fat man, unheeding. "_I'd make his soul

The brutal Toadie rumbled off into laughter.





But--they knew nothing of the man-hole they were clustered round.

The boy's heart soared.

He passed on, as quiet as a mole.

Burrowing beneath the lowest hell, he had heard the voices of those in
torment within hand's touch of him.

Now heaven opened its far door. He crawled towards the light. It was
no longer a star; it was an eye, the eye of a soul, the Soul of Souls.
And it was loving him.

The boy crawled on.

The great earth, warm and dark about him, gave him strength. She was a
friendly great beast, breathing and blowing all round him. He could
hear her, and feel her. On Beachy Head he had been a fly crawling on
her hide; now he was the same fly swallowed. He was creeping along her
gullet towards her mouth. Motherly old thing, she covered him well,
and he was grateful to her. That good thick flesh of hers stood
between him and that which he did not care to contemplate. As he
crawled he kicked her in the ribs to show he recognized that she meant

The light was growing on him now. The wind blew on his damp forehead.
He could see the round of sky, blue against the black arch of brick.

Warily he peeped through the screen of tamarisk that veiled the

The creek lay a few feet below. Across it, the smooth side of the Wish
flowed upward.

A sentinel crowned the little hill, but his face was seaward.

Otherwise the coast was clear.


On the slope of the Wish, facing him, a man was lying.


The man was lying on his back half-way up the slope, reading a little
brown book.

Kit could not see his face; but he had no need.

Well he knew those buck-skin breeches, those mud-spattered tops, those
tall knees.

"Who's that bloke?" whispered a voice at his ear.

"The officer commanding the French. Hush!"

"Crikey!" whispered Knapp, much impressed, and peering through the
tamarisk. "Ain't he got a pair o legs on him neether?"

Before Kit could stop him, he had brushed past and dropped into the
creek, light as a feather.

For a moment he squatted there, monkey-fashion, blinking after the

The sun shone on his naked back, ridged and rippling. A little man, he
was solid as a boulder: thighs tremendous, shin-bones great and bowed.
Such fists too! such feet!

Kit leaned out. For better or worse, the thing was done now. No good
calling him back, no good cursing him. Better make the best of it.

"You've got a clear run," whispered the boy. "Hug the far bank, so the
sentry on the Wish can't see you; stick to the creek as far as you
can; and when you leave the shore, take a wide sweep towards the
Downs, to avoid their sentries; and then _run_, man!--_run_
as you never ran before!"

"I'll run, man, run fast enough soon as you done talkin," replied the
Cockney cheekily, hopping across the creek to the shelter of the far
bank. "Be in Lewes afore you're back to the guv'nor, I'll lay. Ta-ta."

He was away down the creek, running like a monkey, finger-tips
touching the ground.

Kit, thankful to tears, watched the sun on the man's ridged back, as
he stole away.

Surely, he was through now.

A sound made him look up.


The Gentleman had not stirred. He was reading aloud, and loving what
he read.

"Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?"

Heaven send Knapp had not heard; but he had.

Up bobbed the black shaven pate out of the creek, much as Kit had
often seen the head of a coot bob up in one of the moorland tarns of
his own Northumberland.

The little man stood listening, the sun on his shoulders, careless of

The voice on the hill, loving and laughing, drew him like a syren's.

Was the man mad?

He was climbing up out of the creek on to the grass.

Kit swept the tamarisk aside, and waved at him furiously. The little
man soothed him with mocking hand, and crept on.

Kit dared not shout; he could not catch the other. What could he do?
Watch and pray, with sickening heart.

"Little lamb, I'll tell thee,
Little lamb, I'll tell thee:
He is called by thy name."

Beautiful as it was, the boy could not listen. His soul was in his
eyes, and his eyes on Knapp.

The little man was now behind the reader, and stalking him on hands
and knees.

What on earth was he up to?

A horrible thought wrenched the boy's heart.

Would Knapp stab the other as he lay?

If so, could he stand by and see that little baboon-thing with the
hairy bosom and leg-of-mutton fists murder in cold blood a noble
gentleman to whom he owed his life?

Then he remembered thankfully that Knapp had no weapons.

"Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!"

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