The Plunder Pit - T.C. Bridges - E-Book

The Plunder Pit E-Book

T.C. Bridges

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„"Short and stout as he was, Pip could handle a boat with any man, and the speed with which he got the sail up and tied down the reef points was worth watching. As he finished, the great arch of cloud swept over the sun, wiping, out its bright light. Then with a roar the wind was on them"”.

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Contents

CHAPTER I. ON THE CRAG FACE

CHAPTER II. THE MAN ON THE MOTOR BIKE

CHAPTER III. THE PICTURE

CHAPTER IV. A STEP IN THE NIGHT

CHAPTER V. BROKEN GLASS

CHAPTER VI. BUTCH

CHAPTER VII. MIDIAN BRINGS A MESSAGE

CHAPTER VIII. A BID FOR FREEDOM

CHAPTER IX. TRAPPED

CHAPTER X. ALL FOR NOTHING!

CHAPTER XI. JIM GOES HOME

CHAPTER XII. A HAPPY ISSUE

CHAPTER XIII. THE CELLAR

CHAPTER XIV. TWO'S COMPANY

CHAPTER XV. THE MAN WHO WATCHED

CHAPTER XVI. STEPS IN THE NIGHT

CHAPTER XVII. MORE MYSTERIES

CHAPTER XVIII. WHY WORRY?

CHAPTER XIX. THE NEW P.G

CHAPTER XX. JIM IS JEALOUS

CHAPTER XXI. THE SECOND BLOW

CHAPTER XXII. AYLMER PROVES HELPFUL

CHAPTER XXIII. JIM'S BAD DAY

CHAPTER XXIV. A WASTED WARNING

CHAPTER XXV. CHING TELLS HIS STORY

CHAPTER XXVI. A MIDNIGHT MYSTERY

CHAPTER XXVII. THE BOLT HOLE

CHAPTER XXVIII. JIM'S PLAN

CHAPTER XXIX. THE PIT

CHAPTER XXX. JIM IS NO LONGER JEALOUS

CHAPTER I. ON THE CRAG FACE

A FAINT rumble of sound boomed through the hot, sunny air. Out to the north-west, in the direction of the Welsh coast, a dark cloud shadowed the sea, end from time to time a pale flash blinked in its heart. Jim Coryton hastily knocked out his pipe on the gunwale of the boat, and began to haul in his line.

‘Wake up, Pip,’ he said. ‘There’s a storm coming.’

No reply. Peter Paget, his plump legs stretched straight out, his bead propped comfortably against a couple of cushions, slumbered peacefully. Jim picked up the boat hook and prodded him gently, and Pip opened round blue eyes and gazed at his friend.

‘What’s up?’ he inquired sleepily.

Jim laughed. ‘“But it often appeared when the gale had cleared, that he’d been in the bunk below,”‘ he quoted.

Pip gave him a sorrowful look, mumbled something about letting ‘a chap sleep, damn you!’ and once more closed his eyes. But just then the thunder spoke again, and this time with no uncertain voice. Pip sat up with a start, and one glance at the ominous black cloud cleared every trace of sleep from his eyes.

‘Gosh,’ he said, ‘it’s going to be a buster. Get up the anchor, Jim. We’ve got to shift, and sharp about it.’

The little kedge was rather badly caught among the rocks at the bottom, and by the time Jim had freed it and got it up, the whole sky to the north-west was covered with a purple pall, and the thunder boomed incessantly.

‘Not a breath of wind,’ said Pip sharply. ‘Jim, we’ll have to pull for it.’

‘Back home?’ questioned Jim, doubtfully.

‘Great Scott, no! We must get to land as quickly as ever we can. There’s wind there, when it does come.’

‘But, my good Pip, we cant land on those infernal cliffs,’ remonstrated Jim, glancing at the grim granite rocks of the Cornish coast.

‘There’s a small cove just north of that point,’ Pip told him. ‘I’ve never been into it, but I know a stream runs out there. We can find some sort of shelter, and wait till this blows over. Pull, man! We haven’t got much time.’

Jim merely nodded. He had complete faith in Pip, who, as he was aware, knew the whole of this coast, from Bude to Newquay, as well as any, professional fisherman. He set to pulling vigorously and the stout little dinghy went surging across the calm water towards the land. But it was not going to be calm very long, for already Jim could see a line of white foam along the surface. Pip saw it, too.

‘I’ll set the sail on her,’ he said. ‘Keep her moving.’

Short and stout as he was, Pip could handle a boat with any man, and the speed with which he got the sail up and tied down the reef points was worth watching. As he finished, the great arch of cloud swept over the sun, wiping, out its bright light. Then with a roar the wind was on them.

‘Sit tight,’ Pip cried, as he took the tiller, and the little boat heeled and went racing through the short steep waves. Jim was not at all worried, for he had complete confidence in Pip. He obeyed orders, and sat tight while Pip headed for tho point of rock.

A brilliant flash lit the gloom, followed by an ear-splitting crack, then down came the vain with tropical fury, drenching them both to the skin.

‘Shan’t be long at this rate,’ bawled Pip, as the wind heeled them far over, and the water hissed whitely along the lee gunwale. ‘I only hope the channel’s clear.’

‘I’ll watch for rocks,’ Jim answered, and after that neither spoke until they were almost level with the great crag which marked the south entrance to the cove. Then Pip sang out: ‘All clear?’

‘Seems all right,’ Tim shouted back as the channel opened in front of them. He broke off short and stared suddenly. ‘Great Scott!’ he cried. ‘Look at that fool of a woman.’ He pointed to a figure which they could see dimly through the rush of rain, standing at the base of the cliff, about fifty yards to the right of the entrance to the cove.

‘How the devil did she get there?’ demanded Pip in dismay.

‘Don’t know, but she won’t stay there long,’ said Jim. ‘The waves are breaking over that ledge already. She’ll be drowned for a certainty if we don’t get her off.’

His words were whipped away by a sudden gust of wind which roared down on them, and he had to yell to make himself heard. Pip did not waste breath. He saw at once that Jim was right, and that there was no time to lose.

‘All right,’ he answered. ‘Get the oars out, Jim.’

Taking advantage of a momentary lull, he put the boat round with her head to wind, then while Jim steadied her with the oars, he swiftly got the sail down. The little craft bobbed wildly in the rapidly-rising sea, but Jim managed to keep her steady until Pip had finished stowing the sail.

‘Let her drift in stern foremost,’ he directed, as he picked up a coil of rope, ‘but don’t let her get too close, or she’ll be smashed to bits. The only chance will be to chuck a rope to the woman and tow her off.’

As the boat drew closer to the cliff foot, Jim saw that the woman was a mere girl, and that she was standing on a fairly wide ledge, which was constantly hidden by spouts of foam from the breaking waves. He had not, however, much time to watch her, for it took all his strength to hold the boat against the furious drive of wind and sea, and prevent her from falling off into the trough.

Tho girl had seen them now. She had turned, and was facing them with her back against the cliff, which rose sheer behind her. Pip had scrambled past Jim, and stood in the stern with the rope in his hand. ‘That’ll do, Jim,’ he cried. ‘We daren’t go in any further. Try and hold her now.’

The boat checked, and Jim wrought till his muscles cracked In the effort to keep her clear of the raging turmoil at the foot of the cliff. Pip steadied himself in the stern and waved the coil of rope.

‘You must catch it,’ he shouted to the girl above the roar of the surf. ‘We can’t land. We must tow you off.’

‘I understand,’ the girl answered in a high, clear voice. ‘I shall be all right. I can swim.’

‘She’s a cool customer,’ was Jim’s thought, and just then came disaster. With a sharp crack one of the oars snapped off short, and in an instant the wind caught the boat and swung her round broadside into the surf.

‘Jump!’ roared Pip. A wave picked up the boat, tossed it high on the crest, and both men jumped for dear life. They sprawled on the ledge, just as a loud crash behind them announced the end of the boat. A small, but capable hand helped Jim to his feet, and he looked round to find Pip already scrambling up, apparently little the worse.

‘Boat’s done for,’ he said. Jim turned round painfully, for his knees had suffered, and was just in time to see a mass of broken planks disappearing in a welter of foam.

‘Oh, I am sorry!’ cried the girl.

‘So am I,’ said Jim ruefully; then as he looked at the girl his face cleared a trifle, for even in that unpleasant moment he was quite sure he had never seen a prettier or more charming person. And the girl for her part was looking at him with an interest that’ surprised him.

Pip cut in. ‘Jim, the tide’s rising. We shall be washed off this ledge inside ten minutes.’

‘I can’t help that,’ said Jim. ‘What are we going to do about it?’

Pip had no suggestion to make, and indeed their plight seemed, perfectly hopeless, for the cliff rose like a wall behind them, and the ledge was under water in the direction of the cove.

The girl came to the rescue. ‘There is only one thing to do. Climb the cliff. No, I am not crazy.’ she added with a quick smile. ‘There is a way up and I had just found it when I was caught by the storm. Follow me and hold on tight.’

It was no joke working along the ledge, for every wave broke over them. Luckily the rocks were covered with tough sea-weed which gave them something to cling to. Presently the girl stopped and pointed to a narrow ledge some eight feet up.

‘That is the way,’ she explained, ‘but it is out of my reach. If one of you would lift me?’

A wave breaking waist-high cut her short, and for a moment they all had to cling like limpets. When it passed Pip spoke. ‘Give me a back, Jim. I’ll go up first, then you can help Miss–?’

‘Tremayne,’ she put in. ‘Nance Tremayne.’ Pip was more active than he looked, and he scrambled rapidly on to Jim’s shoulders, grabbed the ledge and hauled himself up.

‘All right,’ he sang out. ‘Now you, Miss Tremayne.’

Miss Tremayne made no bones about it, she was on Jim’s shoulders quicker than Pip, and Pip helped her to the ledge.

‘Big wave coming,’ he sang out. ‘Here, catch this, Jim.’ Ha dropped one end of the rope which, luckily, he had managed to bring ashore with him, and it was only this that saved Jim, for the wave washed him clean off his feet, and but for the rope would have carried hint back into the sea. He was thankful, indeed, when, very breathless and battered, he found himself alongside the other two.

‘That’s splendid,’ said Nance Tremayne brightly. ‘Now we can go straight ahead.’

Jim looked up at the towering rock wall. ‘Are you not a bit optimistic, Miss Tremayne?’

‘I do not think so,’ she answered with a smile. ‘I have studied all this cliff face with glasses from the sea and planned a way up. It may be a stiff climb, but I believe it is possible.’

‘Is cliff climbing your hobby?’ Jim asked, but she shook her head.

‘Not cliff–caves,’ she answered cryptically, and without further explanation started.

‘Gosh, she’s like a cat!’ said Pip, staring open-eyed as he watched her scramble from ledge to ledge. Her soaked clung to her slim figure, the wind and rain beat upon her, yet she went on and up, with a steadiness end confidence which delighted Jim as well as Pip, yet gave them all they knew in follow. It was no joke breasting that cliff face, with the knowledge that one slip or miss-step would mean a particularly messy and unpleasant death, and more than once Jim’s heart was in his mouth when a gust flattened Nance Tremayne against a crag and forced her to cling until it passed.

Rather more than half way up a narrow ledge gave a chance to take breath, but instead of resting Nance moved along it to the mouth of a cave and stood peering into the dark tunnel. Jim followed.

‘Is this your cave?’ he asked with a laugh.

There was no answering smile on her face as she turned. ‘I don’t know,’ she said gravely. ‘I wish I did.’

The rest of the way was easier, but, as they climbed, Jim puzzled over this odd remark, yet could find no solution.

CHAPTER II. THE MAN ON THE MOTOR BIKE

‘I SAY, how lovely!’ exclaimed Jim as he stopped on the cliff top and gazed down at the valley which lay to the right, and the quaint, old, stone built house, standing on the slope immediately below them.

The quick summer storm had passed and the sun’s rays gleamed on the wet grass, the tall beech trees which backed the ancient house, and the gay little river that tumbled through the bottom of the glen.

‘You like it?’ asked Nance with a smile.

‘I do,’ said Jim. ‘I never saw anything I liked so well. That old house exactly fits its surroundings. Whose is it?’

‘Mine,’ replied Nance, with a touch of pride. ‘And since you have lost your boat in helping me I hope you I will let me offer you luncheon.’

‘Impossible in this kit,’ growled Pip in a voice meant only for Jim’s ear, but Nance heard and laughed.

‘You need not trouble yourself on that score,’ she assured him. ‘There is only my uncle and one other person besides our two servants and we live very quietly. We cannot afford to do anything else,’ she added frankly.

‘Then thank you very much,’ said Jim. ‘And may I introduce myself. I am Jim Coryton, lord of a few barren acres of Cornish soil, and this is Peter Paget, better known as Pip. He is an artist and lives at Corse, where I have been staying with him, and I’m willing to bet that he is aching to paint your wonderful old house.’

‘Jim’s right,’ said Pip, with unusual earnestness. ‘It’s the most wonderful old bit of masonry I’ve ever seen.’

‘It is called Rabb’s Roost.’ Nance told them as they walked on. ‘It was built by a privateer called Reuben Rabb in the 17th century. I fancy he must have done pretty well out of his pirating for he certainly spared no expense in building. The walls are four feet thick. His only daughter married a Tremayne, and so it has come down to me. My father died when I was quite small, and my mother five years ago. So, as I was left all alone, my uncle Robert Tremayne, came to look after me.’

‘And what do you do with yourself?’ Jim asked bluntly. Nance interested him immensely and he wondered how such a bright, vivid creature could live in this remote valley with no company but an uncle.

‘I always find plenty to do,’ Nance assured him. ‘I have the house and my garden. I fish and sail. Of course, there is no society, but really I am never dull.’

While they talked they passed through the trees and came to the house by a gate leading into the garden It was a great square place that would have been grim only for the mellowed colouring of its weather-beaten walls, the masses of creepers, and the beauty of its wide windows.

As they went up the steps the great iron-studded oak door opened; and a stout, genial-looking man of about fifty, dressed in rather shabby grey tweeds, appeared.

‘Why, Nance–’ he began, and stopped, gazing in evident surprise, at the two young men.

‘My uncle, Mr. Paget,’ said Nance. ‘And this is Mr. Coryton, Uncle Robert. They saved my life and lost their boat in doing it, so the least I could do was to ask them to luncheon.’

‘Saved your life! exclaimed the other. ‘Nance, what mad prank have you been up to?’ Then, as his eyes fell on Jim Coryton’s face, he started quite sharply, and stood gazing at him with a look of such amazement as badly puzzled Jim.

But Mr. Tremayne recovered himself quickly. ‘Come in, gentlemen,’ he begged. ‘Come in and we will find you some dry things. Then at lunch I must hear all about it.’

He led them through a lofty, stone-paved hail up a broad oak staircase into a bedroom, hurried off and came back with a great bundle of clothes and clean towels.

‘I hope you will be able to make out,’ he said courteously. ‘Please ring if there is anything you want.’

‘Jolly old bird,’ observed Pip, as the door closed behind their host. ‘And the girl’s not bad looking.’

Jim, pulling on a pair of grey flannel trousers, looked at him pityingly. ‘You poor fish, she’s lovely.’

Pip’s grin was hidden by the shirt he was pulling over his head, and he wisely held his peace until they both had finished changing.

‘You look a howling swell, Jim,’ he observed, as they went down. ‘Those clothes might have been made for you.’

‘They really might,’ admitted Jim. ‘Nice stuff, too. I wonder whose they are.’

But his curiosity on this point remained unsatisfied, for their host appeared at the foot of the stairs and led them into the dining-room, where Nance, changed and dainty, was already waiting. As they entered the room Jim noticed that Nance gave him another quick, surprised look, but he had not time to wonder about it, for a plate of most excellent cold beef occupied all his attention.

Robert Tremayne courteously refrained from questioning his guests until they had finished their first course, but when the beef was succeeded by apple’ pasty and Cornish cream he begged Jim to tell his story.

‘We were fishing, sir, and got caught in the storm and ran for the cove. Then we saw your niece on the rock, and went to fetch her, and an oar broke, and the boat got smashed. So we landed, and Miss Tremayne showed us a way up the cliff; and–and that’s all.’

‘All,’ repeated Nance with scorn. ‘It’s quite evident you are not an author, Mr. Coryton. I never heard such a lame story in my life. The fact is, Uncle Bob, that they both risked their lives to reach me and lost their boat.’

‘But my dear Nance,’ remonstrated her uncle, ‘will you tell me what you were doing at all in such a place.’

‘Looking for the cave,’ replied Nance. ‘I found it, too.’

‘The cave?’ repeated Robert Tremayne. ‘You don’t mean–?’

‘I do,’ cut in Nance. ‘Of course I don’t know if it really is the other entrance, but there is a hole running deep into the cliff face.’

She turned to her puzzled guests.

‘I must explain,’ she said. ‘The story is that Reuben Rabb hid his treasure in some deep hole in the rock under the house and that there is a way into it from the cliff face. Of course, it’s all nonsense.’ she added, with a laugh, ‘but Uncle Bob won’t let me say so, for he thinks it a good bait to attract P.G.’s.’

‘What’s a P.G.?’ Pip blurted out.

‘A paying guest, Mr. Paget,’ said Nance. ‘Since the house is so big and our means so small, Uncle and I have gone into the hotel business. We have one guest already, and another coming in soon.’

‘What a topping notion!’ exclaimed Pip, ‘and, I say, do you really allow your P.G.’s to go hunting?’

Mr. Tremayne spoke. ‘We do,’ he said quite seriously. ‘Nance laughed but there is good evidence that one piratical ancestor die really hide his loot in some cave or cellar. He must have been a rich man or he could never have, built such a big house, and we know that he died only two years after it was built. There were no banks in those days, and a man like Rabb would never have trusted his gold in the hands of the Jews. Besides there is his will, leaving ‘my treasure of Spanish plate to my beloved daughter, Miriam.’

Pip’s eyes widened.

‘I say, this is topping. I’ve always longed to go treasure hunting. May I come as a paying guest, Mr. Tremayne, and help in the search.’

‘I hope you will stay as long a you like, Mr. Paget.’ said Mr. Tremayne gravely. ‘There can be no question of payment after what you and Mr Coryton have done for my niece.’

Pip looked rather confused. ‘I didn’t mean–’ he began, but just then the door opened and a big, solemn-looking man came in. He was about 40 and good-looking in a heavy way, with china- blue eyes, pink skin, and a fair moustache.

‘Just in time for lunch. Mr. Aylmer,’ said Nance. ‘Let me introduce you to Mr. Coryton and Mr. Paget.’

Aylmer bowed to the two men, and took his seat silently.

‘Did you get any fish?’ Mr. Tremayne asked him.

‘Four, then the storm came and spoilt the rise,’ said Aylmer briefly as he began on his beef. After that there was not much more talk, and presently Nance got up.

‘You will excuse us, Mr. Aylmer.’ she said. ‘I want to show our friends the house.’

‘Terribly silent person, is he not?’ she said to Jim and Pip as they reached the hall. ‘I call him Stately Edward,’ she added with a twinkle of fun.

‘Is he treasure hunting?’ asked Pip.

‘I don’t think so. He spends most of his time fishing. Now would you like to see the house?’

‘Rather!’ said Pip keenly, and Nance took them all over the strange old place beginning with tho upper floors and ending with the huge stone paved kitchen. Here a bright-eyed little man, and a tidy-looking woman were busy.

‘These are Mr. and Mrs. Ching,’ said Nance.

‘Ching,’ replied Pip, and the little man turned quickly. ‘You, Mr. Peter. Why, fancy you being here!’

‘You know Ching, Mr. Paget?’ exclaimed Nance in surprise. ‘I used to anyhow,’ said Pip as he shook hands with the little man. ‘Ching was our footman at Corse when I was a kid.’

Ching fairly beamed with pleasure. ‘Fifteen years ago, Mr. Peter, and I have been with Mr. Tremayne and Miss Nance going on six years. You staying here, Mr. Peter?’

‘He is staying the night at least.’ put in Nance, ‘and I hope, longer. These two gentlemen saved my life this morning, Ching. The storm caught me on the Shag Rock, and if it had not been for them I shouldn’t be here now.’

‘You don’t say, miss!’ exclaimed Mr Ching, but the look in his eyes told Jim a good deal more than the mere words. He realised that Ching was devoted to Nance.

‘Well, this is nice,’ said Nance, as they left the kitchen. ‘Fancy your knowing Ching, Mr. Paget!’

‘I know him for a real good man,’ said Pip.

‘He is all of that,’ said Nance! mm warmly. ‘He and his wife run the whole house for us. They are perfectly wonderful. And now what would you two like to do?’

‘We ought to think of going home,’ said Jim.

‘That is the one thing you are not to think of,’ said Nance earnestly. ‘Please stay, at any rate, for the night. It will be such a pleasure to my uncle–and to me. Mr. Aylmer is so very silent, and it is a long time since we have had any real visitors.’

‘It’s awfully kind of you,’ said Jim. ‘If you are sure it is not putting you out?’

‘Quite–quite sure,’ vowed Nance. ‘There, that’s settled, and now tell me what you will do.’

‘I want to sketch the house,’ said Pip promptly.

‘You shall have drawing paper and pencils, even some colours.’

‘And I would like to look at the brook.’ said Jim. ‘I haven’t even seen a trout for ages.’

‘Then you shall catch some,’ declared Nance. ‘Uncle Bob’s rod is in the gun room.’

The rod, if old, was a beauty, Uncle Robert’s fly-book was well stocked, and presently Jim found himself wandering along the bank of a most entrancing little river. The storm had coloured the water slightly, and the warm sun brought up a big hatch of fly. The pools were starred with rising fish, and, as his casting skill came back, one lusty little trout after another came to the net.