English Literature

By Conduct and Courage by G. A. Henty

By Conduct and Courage by G. A. Henty.jpg



A wandering musician was a rarity in the village of Scarcombe. In fact, such a thing had not been known in the memory of the oldest inhabitant. What could have brought him here? men and women asked themselves. There was surely nobody who could dance in the village, and the few coppers he would gain by performing on his violin would not repay him for his trouble. Moreover, Scarcombe was a bleak place, and the man looked sorely shaken with the storm of life. He seemed, indeed, almost unable to hold out much longer; his breath was short, and he had a hacking cough.

To the surprise of the people, he did not attempt to play for their amusement or to ask, in any way, for alms. He had taken a lodging in the cottage of one of the fishermen, and on fine days he would wander out with his boy, a child some five years old, and, lying down on the moorland, would play soft tunes to himself. So he lived for three weeks; and then the end came suddenly. The child ran out one morning from his room crying and saying that daddy was asleep and he could [pg 12]not wake him, and on the fisherman going in he saw that life had been extinct for some hours. Probably it had come suddenly to the musician himself, for there was found among his scanty effects no note or memorandum giving a clue to the residence of the child’s friends, or leaving any direction concerning him. The clergyman was, of course, called in to advise as to what should be done. He was a kind-hearted man, and volunteered to bury the dead musician without charging any fees.

After the funeral another question arose. What was to be done with the child?

He was a fine-looking, frank boy, who had grown and hardened beyond his years by the life he had led with his father. Fifteen pounds had been found in the dead man’s kit. This, however, would fall to the share of the workhouse authorities if they took charge of him. A sort of informal council was held by the elder fishermen.

“It is hard on the child,” one of them said. “I have no doubt his father intended to tell him where to find his friends, but his death came too suddenly. Here is fifteen pounds. Not much good, you will say; and it isn’t. It might last a year, or maybe eighteen months, but at the end of that time he would be as badly off as he is now.”

“Maybe John Hammond would take him,” another suggested. “He lost his boat and nets three weeks ago, and though he has a little money saved up, it is not enough to replace them. Perhaps he would take the child in return for the fifteen pounds. His old woman could do with him, too, and would soon make him a bit useful. John himself is a kind-hearted chap, and would treat him well, and in a few years the boy would make a useful nipper on board his boat.”

[pg 13]

John Hammond was sent for, and the case was put to him. “Well,” he said, “I think I could do with him, and the brass would be mighty useful to me just now; but how does the law stand? If it got to be talked about, the parish might come down upon me for the money.”

“That is so, John,” one of the others said. “The best plan would be for you, and two of us, to go up to parson, and ask him how the matter stands. If he says that it is all right, you may be sure that you would be quite safe.”

The clergyman, upon being consulted, said that he thought the arrangement was a very good one. The parish authorities had not been asked to find any money for the father’s funeral, and had therefore no say in the matter, unless they were called upon to take the child. Should any question be asked, he would state that he himself had gone into the matter and had strongly approved of the arrangement, which he considered was to their advantage as well as the child’s; for if they took charge of the boy they would have to keep him at least ten years, and then pay for apprenticing him out.

Accordingly the boy was handed over to John Hammond. With the buoyancy of childhood, William Gilmore, which was the best that could be made of what he gave as his name, soon felt at home in the fisherman’s cottage. It was a pleasant change to him after having been a wanderer with his father for as far back as he could remember. The old woman was kind in her rough way, and soon took to sending him on small errands. She set him on washing-days to watch the pot and tell her when it boiled. When not so employed she allowed him to play with other children of his own age.

Sometimes when the weather was fine, John, who had come [pg 14]to be very fond of the boy, never having had any children of his own, would take him out with him fishing, to the child’s supreme enjoyment. After a year of this life he was put to the village school, which was much less to his liking. Here, fortunately for himself, he attracted the notice of the clergyman’s daughter, a girl of sixteen. She, of course, knew his story, and was filled with a great pity for him. She was a little inclined to romance, and in her own mind invented many theories to account for his appearance in the village. Her father would laugh sometimes when she related some of these to him.

“My dear child,” he said, “it is not necessary to go so far to account for the history of this poor wandering musician. You say that he looked to you like a broken-down gentleman; there are thousands of such men in the country, ne’er-do-wells, who have tired out all their friends, and have taken at last to a life that permits a certain amount of freedom and furnishes them with a living sufficient for necessary wants. It is from such men as these that the great body of tramps is largely recruited. Many such men drive hackney-coaches in our large towns; some of them enlist in the army; but wherever they are, and whatever they take up, they are sure to stay near the foot of the tree. They have no inclination for better things. They work as hard as men who have steady employment, but they prefer their own liberty with a crust to a solid meal regularly earned. I agree with you myself that there was an appearance of having seen better times about this man; I can go so far with you as to admit that I think that at some time or other he moved in decent circles; but if we could get at the truth I have no doubt whatever that we should find that he [pg 15]had thrown away every opportunity, alienated every friend, and, having cut himself adrift from all ties, took to the life of a wanderer. For such a man nothing could be done; but I hope that the boy, beginning in vastly poorer circumstances than his father, will some day come to earn his living honestly in the position of life in which he is placed.”

The interest, however, which Miss Warden took in the boy remained unabated, and had a very useful effect upon him. She persuaded him to come up every day for half an hour to the rectory, and then instructed him in his lessons, educating him in a manner very different from the perfunctory teaching of the old dame at the school. She would urge him on by telling him that if he would attend to his lessons he would some day be able to rise to a better position than that of a village fisherman. His father, no doubt, had had a good education, but from circumstances over which he had had no control he had been obliged to take to the life of a strolling musician, and she was sure that he would have wished of all things that his son should be able to obtain a good position in life when he grew up.

Under Miss Warden’s teaching the boy made very rapid progress, and was, before two more years had passed, vastly in advance of the rest of the children of the village. As to this, however, by Miss Warden’s advice, he remained silent. When he was ten his regular schooling was a great deal interrupted, as it was considered that when a boy reached that age it was high time that he began to assist his father in the boat. He was glad of his freedom and the sense that he was able to make himself useful, but of an evening when he was at home, or weather prevented the boat from going out, he went up for [pg 16]his lesson to Miss Warden, and, stealing away from the others, would lie down on the moor and work at his books.

He was now admitted to the society of watchers. He had often heard whispers among other boys of the look-out that had to be kept upon the custom-house officers, and heard thrilling tales of adventure and escape on the part of the fishermen. Smuggling was indeed carried on on a large scale on the whole Yorkshire coast, and cargoes were sometimes run under the very noses of the revenue officers, who were put off the scent by many ingenious contrivances. Before a vessel was expected in, rumours would be circulated of an intention to land the cargo on some distant spot, and a mysterious light would be shown in that direction by fishing-boats. Sometimes, however, the smugglers were caught in the act, and then there would be a fierce fight, ending in some, at least, of those engaged being taken off to prison and afterwards sent on a voyage in a ship of war.

Will Gilmore was now admitted as a helper in these proceedings, and often at night would watch one or other of the revenue men, and if he saw him stir beyond his usual beat would quickly carry the news to the village. A score of boys were thus employed, so that any movement which seemed to evidence a concentration of the coast-guard men was almost certain to be thwarted. Either the expected vessel was warned off with lights, or, if the concentration left unguarded the place fixed upon for landing, the cargo would be immediately run.

Thus another five years passed. Will was now a strong lad. His friend, Miss Warden, could teach him but little more, but she often had him up of an evening to have a chat with him.

[pg 17]

“I am afraid, William,” she said one evening, “that a good deal of smuggling is carried on here. Last week there was a fight, and three of the men of the village were killed and several were taken away to prison. It is a terrible state of affairs.”

William did not for a moment answer. It was something entirely new to him that there was anything wrong in smuggling. He regarded it as a mere contest of wits between the coast-guard and the fishermen, and had taken a keen pleasure in outwitting the former.

“But there is no harm in smuggling, Miss Warden. Almost everyone takes part in it, and the farmers round all send their carts in when a run is expected.”

“But it is very wrong, William, and the fact that so many people are ready to aid in it is no evidence in its favour. People band together to cheat the King’s Revenue, and thereby bring additional taxation upon those who deal fairly. It is as much robbery to avoid the excise duties as it is to carry off property from a house, and it has been a great grief to my father that his parishioners, otherwise honest and God-fearing people, should take part in such doings, as is evidenced by the fact that so many of them were involved in the fray last week. He only abstains from denouncing it in the pulpit because he fears that he might thereby lose the affection of the people and impair his power of doing good in other respects.”

“I never thought of it in that way, miss,” the lad said seriously.

“Just think in your own case, William: suppose you were caught and sent off to sea; there would be an end of the [pg 18]work you have been doing. You would be mixed up with rough sailors, and, after being away on a long voyage, you would forget all that you have learnt, and would be as rough as themselves. This would be a poor ending indeed to all the pains I have taken with you, and all the labour you have yourself expended in trying to improve yourself. It would be a great grief to me, I can assure you, and a cruel disappointment, to know that my hopes for you had all come to naught.”

“They sha’n’t, Miss Warden,” the boy said firmly. “I know it will be hard for me to draw back, but, if necessary, I will leave the village now that you are going to be married. If you had been going to stay I would have stopped too, but the village will not be like itself to me after you have left.”

“I am glad to think you mean that. I have remained here as long as I could be of use to you, for though I have taught you as much as I could in all branches of education that would be likely to be useful to you, have lent you my father’s books, and pushed you forward till I could no longer lead the way, there are still, of course, many things for you to learn. You have got a fair start, but you must not be content with that. If you have to leave, and I don’t think a longer stay here would be of use to you, I will endeavour to obtain some situation for you at Scarborough or Whitby, where you could, after your work is done, continue your education. But I beg you to do nothing rashly. It would be better if you could stay here for another year or so. We may hope that the men will not be so annoyed as you think at your refusal to take further part in the smuggling operations. At any rate, stay if you can for a time. It will be two months before I leave, and [pg 19]three more before I am settled in my new home at Scarborough. When I am so I have no doubt that my husband will aid me in obtaining a situation for you. He has been there for years, and will, of course, have very many friends and acquaintances who would interest themselves in you. If, however, you find that your position would be intolerable, you might remain quiet as to your determination. After the fight of last week it is not likely that there will be any attempt at a landing for some little time to come, and I shall not blame you, therefore, if you at least keep up the semblance of still taking part in their proceedings.”

“No, Miss Warden,” the boy said sturdily, “I didn’t know that it was wrong, and therefore joined in it willingly enough, but now you tell me that it is so I will take no further share in it, whatever comes of it.”

“I am glad to hear you say so, William, for it shows that the aid I have given you has not been thrown away. What sort of work would you like yourself, if we can get it for you?”

“I would rather go to sea, Miss Warden, than do anything else. I have, for the last year, taken a lot of pains to understand those books of navigation you bought for me. I don’t say that I have mastered them all, but I understand a good deal, and feel sure that after a few years at sea I shall be able to pass as a mate.”

“Well, William, you know that, when I got the books for you, I told you that I could not help you with them, but I can quite understand that with your knowledge of mathematics you would be able at any rate to grasp a great deal of the subject. I was afraid then that you would take to the [pg 20]sea. It is a hard life, but one in which a young man capable of navigating a ship should be able to make his way. Brought up, as you have been, on the sea, it is not wonderful that you should choose it as a profession, and, though I may regret it, I should not think of trying to turn you from it. Very well, then, I will endeavour to get you apprenticed. It is a hard life, but not harder than that of a fisherman, to which you are accustomed.”

When William returned to his foster-father he informed him that he did not mean to have anything more to do with the smuggling.

The old man looked at him in astonishment. “Are you mad?” he said. “Don’t I get five shillings for every night you are out, generally four or five nights a month, which pays for all your food.”

“I am sorry,” the lad said, “but I never knew that it was wrong before, and now I know it I mean to have nothing more to do with it. What good comes of it? Here we have three empty cottages, and five or six others from which the heads will be absent for years. It is dear at any price. I work hard with you, father, and am never slack; surely the money I earn in the boat more than pays for my grub.”

“I can guess who told you this,” the old man said angrily. “It was that parson’s daughter you are always with.”

“Don’t say anything against her,” the boy said earnestly; “she has been the best friend to me that ever a fellow had, and as long as I live I shall feel grateful to her. You know that I am not like the other boys of the village; I can read and write well, and I have gathered a lot of knowledge from books. Abuse me as much as you like, but say nothing [pg 21]against her. You know that the terms on which you took me expired a year ago, but I have gone on just as before and am ready to do the same for a time.”

“You have been a good lad,” the old man said, mollified, “and I don’t know what I should have done without you. I am nigh past work now, but in the ten years you have been with me things have always gone well with me, and I have money enough to make a shift with for the rest of my life, even if I work no longer. But I don’t like this freak that you have taken into your head. It will mean trouble, lad, as sure as you are standing there. The men here won’t understand you, and will like enough think that the revenue people have got hold of you. You will be shown the cold shoulder, and even worse than that may befall you. We fisher-folk are rough and ready in our ways, and if there is one thing we hate more than another it is a spy.”

“I have no intention of being a spy,” the boy said. “I have spoken to none of the revenue men, and don’t mean to do so, and I would not peach even if I were certain that a cargo was going to be landed. Surely it is possible to stand aside from it all without being suspected of having gone over to the enemy. No gold that they could give me would tempt me to say a word that would lead to the failure of a landing, and surely there can be no great offence in declining to act longer as a watcher.”

The old man shook his head.

“A wilful man must have his way,” he said; “but I know our fellows better than you do, and I foresee that serious trouble is likely to come of this.”

“Well, if it must be, it must,” the boy said doggedly. “I [pg 22]mean, if I live, to be a good man, and now that I know that it is wrong to cheat the revenue I will have no more to do with it. It would be a nice reward for all the pains Miss Warden has spent upon me to turn round and do what she tells me is wrong.”

John Hammond was getting to the age when few things excite more than a feeble surprise. He felt that the loss of the boy’s assistance would be a heavy one, for he had done no small share of the work for the past two years. But he had more than once lately talked to his wife of the necessity for selling his boat and nets and remaining at home. With this decision she quite agreed, feeling that he was indeed becoming incapable of doing the work, and every time he had gone out in anything but the calmest weather she had been filled with apprehension as to what would happen if a storm were to blow up. He was really sorry for the boy, being convinced that harm would befall him as the result of this, to him, astonishing decision. To John Hammond smuggling appeared to be quite justifiable. The village had always been noted as a nest of smugglers, and to him it came as natural as fishing. It was a pity, a grievous pity, that the boy should have taken so strange a fancy.

He was a good boy, a hard-working boy, and the only fault he had to find with him was his unaccountable liking for study. John could neither read nor write, and for the life of him could not see what good came of it. He had always got on well without it, and when the school was first started he and many others shook their heads gravely over it, and regarded it as a fad of the parson’s. Still, as it only affected children too young to be useful in the boats, they offered no [pg 23]active opposition, and in time the school had come to be regarded as chiefly a place where the youngsters were kept out of their mothers’ way when washing and cooking were going on.

He went slowly back into the cottage and acquainted his wife with this new and astonishing development on the part of the boy. His wife was full of indignation, which was, however, modified at the thought that she would now have her husband always at home with her.

“I shall speak my mind to Miss Warden,” she said, “and tell her how much harm her advice has done.”

“No, no, Jenny,” her husband said; “what is the use of that? It is the parson’s duty to be meddling in all sorts of matters, and it will do no good to fight against it. Parson is a good man, all allow, and he always finishes his sermons in time for us to get home to dinner. I agree with you that the young madam has done harm, and I greatly fear that trouble will come to the boy. There are places where smuggling is thought to be wrong, but this place ain’t among them. I don’t know what will happen when Will says that he doesn’t mean to go any more as a watcher, but there is sure to be trouble of some sort.”

It was not long indeed before Will felt a change in the village. Previous to this he had been generally popular, now men passed without seeing him. He was glad when John Hammond called upon him to go out in the boat, when the weather was fine, but at other times his only recourse was to steal away to the moors with his books. Presently the elder boys took to throwing sods at him as he passed, and calling spy and other opprobrious epithets after him. This brought [pg 24]on several severe fights, and as Will made up for want of weight by pluck and activity his opponents more than once found themselves badly beaten. One day he learned from a subdued excitement in the village that it was time for one of the smuggling vessels to arrive. One of his boyish friends had stuck to him, and was himself almost under a ban for associating with so unpopular a character.

“Don’t you come with me, Stevens,” Will had urged again and again; “you will only make it bad for yourself, and it will do me no good.”

“I don’t care,” the former said sturdily. “We have always been good friends, and you know I don’t in the least believe that you have anything to do with the revenue men. It is too bad of them to say so. I fought Tom Dickson only this morning for abusing you. He said if you were not working with them, why did you give up being on the watch. I told him it was no odds to me why you gave it up, I supposed that you had a right to do as you liked. Then from words we came to blows. I don’t say I beat him, for he is a good bit bigger than I am, but I gave him as good as I got, and he was as glad to stop as I was. You talk of going away soon. If you do, and you will take me, I will go with you.”

“I don’t know yet where I am going, Tommy, but if I go to a town I have no doubt I shall be able in a short time to hear of someone there who wants a strong lad, or perhaps I may be able to get you a berth as cabin-boy in the ship in which I go. I mean to go for a sailor myself if I can, and I shall be glad to have you as a chum on board. We have always been great friends, and I am sure we always shall be, Tommy. If I were you I would think it over a good many [pg 25]times before you decide upon it. You see I have learnt a great deal from books to prepare myself for a sea life. Miss Warden is going to try to get me taken as an apprentice, and in that case I may hope to get to be an officer when my time is out, but you would not have much chance of doing so. Of course if we were together I could help you on. So far you have never cared for books or to improve yourself, and without that you can never rise to be any more than a common sailor.”

“I hate books,” the boy said; “still, I will try what I can do. But at any rate I don’t care much so that I am with you.”

“Well, we will see about it when the time comes, Tommy. Miss Warden was married, as you know, last week. In another three months she will be at Scarborough, and she has promised that her husband will try to get me apprenticed either there or at Whitby, which is a large port. Directly I get on board a ship I will let you know if there is a vacancy in her for a cabin-boy. But you think it over well first; you will find it difficult, for I don’t expect your uncle will let you go.”

“I don’t care a snap about him. He is always knocking me about, and I don’t care what he likes and what he don’t. You may be sure that I sha’n’t ask him, but shall make off at night as soon as I hear from you. You won’t forget me, will you, Will?”

“Certainly I will not; you may be quite sure of that. Mind, I don’t promise that I shall be able to get you a berth as cabin-boy at once, or as an apprentice. I only promise that I will do so as soon as I have a chance. It may be a month, [pg 26]and it may be a year; it may even be three or four years, for though there is always a demand for men, at least so I have heard, there may not be any demand for boys. But you may be sure that I will not keep you waiting any longer than I can help.”

One day Will was walking along the cliffs, feeling very solitary, when he heard a faint cry, and, looking down, saw Tom Stevens in a deep pool. It had precipitous sides, and he was evidently unable to climb out. “Hold on, Tom,” he shouted, “I will come to you.”

It was half a mile before he could get to a place where he was able to climb down, and when he reached the shore he ran with breathless speed to the spot where Tom’s head was still above the water. He saw at once that his friend’s strength was well-nigh spent, and, leaping in, he swam to him. “Put your arms round my neck,” he said. “I will swim down with you to the point where the creek ends.” The boy was too far gone to speak, and it needed all Will’s strength to help him down the deep pool to the point where it joined the sea, and then to haul him ashore.

“I was nearly gone, Will,” the boy said when he recovered a little.

“Yes, I saw that. But how on earth did you manage to get into the water?”

“I was running along by the side of the cliff, when my foot slipped. I came down on my knee and hurt myself frightfully; I was in such pain that I could not stop myself from rolling over. I tried to swim, which, of course, would have been nothing for me, but I think my knee is smashed, and it hurt me so frightfully that I screamed out with pain, and had [pg 27]to give up. I could not have held on much longer, and should certainly have been drowned had you not seen me. I was never so pleased as when I heard your voice above.”

“Can you walk now, do you think?”

“No, I am sure I can’t walk by myself, but I might if I leant on you. I will try anyhow.”

He hobbled along for a short distance, but at last said: “It is of no use, Will, I can’t go any farther.”

“Well, get on my back and I will see what I can do for you.”

Slowly and with many stoppages Will got him to the point where he descended the cliff. “I must get help to carry you up here, Tom; it is very steep, and I am sure I could not take you myself. I must go into the village and bring assistance.”

“I will wait here till morning, Will. There will be no hardship in that, and I know that you don’t like speaking to anyone.”

“I will manage it,” Will said cheerfully. “I will tell John Hammond, and he will go to your uncle and get help.”

“Ah, that will do! Most of the men are out, but I dare say there will be two or three at home.”

Will ran all the way back to the village, which was more than a mile away. “Tom Stevens is lying at the foot of the cliff, father. I think he has broken his leg, and he has been nearly drowned. Will you go and see his uncle, and get three or four men to carry him home. You know very well it is no use my going to his uncle. He would not listen to what I have to say, and would simply shower abuse upon me.”

“I will go,” the old man said. “The boy can’t be left there.”

[pg 28]

In a quarter of an hour the men started. Will went ahead of them for some distance until he reached the top of the path. “He is down at the bottom,” he said, and turned away. Tom was brought home, and roundly abused by his uncle for injuring himself so that he would be unable to accompany him in his boat for some days. He lay for a week in bed, and was then only able to hobble about with the aid of a stick. When he related how Will had saved him there was a slight revulsion of feeling among the better-disposed boys, but this was of short duration. It became known that a French lugger would soon be on the coast. Will was not allowed to approach the edge of the cliff, being assailed by curses and threats if he ventured to do so. Every care was taken to throw the coast-guard off the scent, but things went badly. There was some sharp fighting, and a considerable portion of the cargo was seized as it was being carried up the cliff.

The next day Tom hurried up to Will, who was a short way out on the moor.

“You must run for your life, Will. There are four or five of the men who say that you betrayed them last night, and I do believe they will throw you over the cliff. Here they come! The best thing you can do is to make for the coast-guard station.”

Will saw that the four men who were coming along were among the roughest in the village, and started off immediately at full speed. With oaths and shouts the men pursued him. The coast-guard station was two miles away, and he reached it fifty yards in front of them. The men stopped, shouting: “You are safe there, but as soon as you leave it we will have you.”

[pg 29]

“What is the matter, lad?” the sub-officer in charge of the station said.

“Those men say that I betrayed them, but you know ’tis false, sir.”

“Certainly I do. I know you well by sight, and believe that you are a good young fellow. I have always heard you well spoken of. What makes them think that?”

“It is because I would not agree to go on acting as watcher. I did not know that there was any harm in it till Miss Warden told me, and then I would not do it any longer, and that set all the village against me.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I will stay here to-night if you will let me. I am sure they will keep up a watch for me.”

“I will sling a hammock for you,” the man said. “Now we are just going to have dinner, and I dare say you can eat something. You are the boy they call Miss Warden’s pet, are you not?”

“Yes, they call me so. She has been very kind to me, and has helped me on with my books.”

“Ah, well, a boy is sure to get disliked by his fellows when he is cleverer with his books than they are!”

After dinner the officer said: “It is quite clear that you won’t be able to return to the village. I think I have heard that you have no father. Is it not so?”

“Yes, he died when I was five years old. He left a little money, and John Hammond took me in and bought a boat with that and what he had saved. I was bound to stay with him until I was fourteen years old, but was soon going to leave him, for he is really too old to go out any longer.”

[pg 30]

“Have you ever thought of going into the royal navy?”

“I have thought of it, sir, but I have not settled anything. I thought of going into the merchant navy.”

“Bah! I am surprised at a lad of spirit like you thinking of such a thing. If you have learned a lot you will, if you are steady, be sure to get on in time, and may very well become a petty officer. No lad of spirit would take to the life of a merchantman who could enter the navy. I don’t say that some of the Indiamen are not fine ships, but you would find it very hard to get a berth on one of them. Our lieutenant will be over here in a day or two, and I have no doubt that if I speak to him for you he will ship you as a boy in a fine ship.”

“How long does one ship for, sir?”

“You engage for the time that the ship is in commission, at the outside for five years; and if you find that you do not like it, at the end of that time it is open to you to choose some other berth.”

“I can enter the merchant navy then if I like?”

“Of course you could, but I don’t think that you would. On a merchantman you would be kicked and cuffed all round, whereas on a man-of-war I don’t say it would be all easy sailing, but if you were sharp and obliging things would go smoothly enough for you.”

“Well, sir, I will think it over to-night.”

“Good, my boy! you are quite right not to decide in a hurry. It is a serious thing for a young chap to make a choice like that; but it seems to me that, being without friends as you are, and having made enemies of all the people of your village, it would be better for you to get out of it as soon as possible.”

[pg 31]

“I quite see that; and really I think I could not do better than pass a few years on a man-of-war, for after that I should be fit for any work I might find to do.”

“Well, sleep upon it, lad.”

Will sat down on the low wall in front of the station and thought it over. After all, it seemed to him that it would be better to be on a fine ship and have a chance of fighting with the French than to sail in a merchantman. At the end of five years he would be twenty, and could pass as a mate if he chose, or settle on land. He would have liked to consult Miss Warden, but this was out of the question. He knew the men who had pursued him well enough to be sure that his life would not be safe if they caught him. He might make his way out of the station at night, but even that was doubtful. Besides, if he were to do so he had no one to go to at Scarborough; he had not a penny in his pocket, and would find it impossible to maintain himself until Miss Warden returned. He did not wish to appear before her as a beggar. He was still thinking when a shadow fell across him, and, looking up, he saw his friend Tom.

“I have come round to see you, Will,” he said. “I don’t know what is to be done. Nothing will convince the village that you did not betray them.”

“The thing is too absurd,” Will said angrily. “I never spoke to a coast-guardsman in my life till to-day, except, perhaps, in passing, and then I would do no more than make a remark about the weather. Besides, no one in the village has spoken to me for a month, so how could I tell that the lugger was coming in that night?”

“Well, I really don’t think it would be safe for you to go back.”

[pg 32]

“I am not going back. I have not quite settled what I shall do, but certainly I don’t intend to return to the village.”

“Then what are you going to do, Will?”

“I don’t know exactly, but I have half decided to ship as a boy on one of the king’s ships.”

“I should like to go with you wherever you go, but I should like more than anything to do that.”

“It is a serious business, you know; you would have to make up your mind to be kicked and cuffed.”

“I get that at home,” Tom said; “it can’t be harder for me at sea than it is there.”

“Well, I have not got to decide until to-morrow; you go home and think it over, and if you come in the morning with your mind made up, I will speak to the officer here and ask him if they will take us both.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s