A Little Wizard - Part 6

Part 6

"I forgot that," the boy said despondently. "Yet it would be a great thing to warn Duke Hamilton, Frank, would it not? Do you think he will be beaten if you cannot reach him?"

The elder brother nodded gloomily, standing still and gazing at the ground. The sides of the rift rose high above them, for the place where Jack had seated himself to wait lay close to the yew wood, where the fissure at its first starting from the ravine was deepest. They had little to fear from observation; and familiarity with danger so early breeds contempt that Frank fancied he had been in hiding here a week instead of a day, and felt a proportionate confidence in his lurking place. The sun lay hot on the moor: the shadow where the two stood was cool and pleasant.

"I suppose I could not do it," Jack said at last, humbly, and as one expecting a rebuff. "I am afraid I could not count well enough, Frank; but I will try, if you like."

His brother looked at him with a sudden light in his face. "You?" he said. "I never thought of that!"

But he began to think of it; and as he thought, his face bore witness to the struggle which was pa.s.sing in his mind. The lad beside him was a mere child; the risk to which he would expose him was such that a grown man might shun it without shame. And the boy was not a child only, but his own brother--one who had a claim upon him and a right to expect at his hands peculiar care and protection.

[Ill.u.s.tration: But he began to think of it.--Page 108.]

He knew, in a word, that he was not justified in exposing the child to the risk he meditated. But on the other side lay inclination and more than one cunning argument. The prospect of turning defeat into victory, and building on misfortune a claim to grat.i.tude shone brightly before him. He saw himself the saviour of the army, thanked, honored, and exalted by men who had lately looked coldly on him. And then again was it not the duty of every subject, young and old, to dare all for the King; to think nothing which aided him dishonorable, nor any danger by which he might profit excessive? In some such creed he had been brought up, and it came to his help at this moment.

"I do not see why you should not do it," he said slowly and thoughtfully. "You would run less risk after all than a grown man, and be subject to less suspicion."

"Only I don't think I could count--not thousands," said Jack despondently.

"That is easily managed," Frank answered with a slight frown. "But you had better not do it if you are afraid."

"I am not afraid," Jack said, with a flushed face. "It is only the counting, Frank."

Frank nodded and stood awhile in doubt, twisting a bit of fern to and fro between his fingers. "If they caught you doing it they might--I do not know what they would do to you, Jack, lad," he said at last.

"I do not mind," the boy cried bravely. "It is for the King, is it not, Frank?"

"Of course it is."

"It might put him on the throne again, might it not, Frank?"

"It might," said Frank. "But----"

"What?" the boy asked, his face falling at the word.

Frank did not answer. The child's loyalty and courage touched him almost to the point of giving way. For a moment it was on his tongue and in his mind to refuse the offer. But then his own past error stepped in his way. The temptation to turn the tables by a dazzling success on those who had blamed him for his breach of parole--the still greater temptation to justify the breach by showing, at least, that he had not sinned in vain, overcame him.

"You think you could do it, lad?" he said at last--instead of that which he had meant to say.

"I am sure I could--if I could count," Jack answered eagerly.

"Well, then, look here," Frank said. "Or wait a moment."

He began to search up and down the rift until he came upon two pieces of wood, one a foot long or something less, the other half as long. He trimmed them with his knife, and then cutting off one of the points which fastened his breeches at the knee, tied the two sticks together with it in such a way that they became a rude cross. He put it into Jack's hands, and gave him his knife also. "Now," he said, "look here!

The thing I want you to notice first and foremost, lad, is the number of guns. For every cannon, Jack, cut a nick on this long piece. Do you see, Jack? For a regiment of foot cut a notch on the right arm. They will pa.s.s by in regiments, probably with a s.p.a.ce between, for they have discipline enough to suit old Leslie, and so you will have no trouble with them. The horse you will not count easily, and may not be exact with them. Still, notch them on the other arm as well as you can, troop by troop. If you get the cannon and foot regiments right, I shall be able to guess the horse pretty nearly."

"And then shall I bring it to you?" Jack said, gazing with childish pleasure at his new plaything.

"Yes, as soon as you think that they have all pa.s.sed. But do not be in a hurry. When you come, if you do not find me, leave the cross on the bank here under the moss. Do you understand now?"

"Yes, I understand," said Jack.

"It will not be the only thing hidden here," his brother continued.

"Look, lad, what do you think of that?"

He displaced some overhanging moss with his hand, and Jack, looking into the crevice thus revealed, fairly gasped with surprise. "Why, they are----"

"They are the gold vessels from Pattenhall Church!" Frank exclaimed, in a tone of triumph. "I have despoiled the spoilers! The woman who came out with the light last night had them buried under yonder tree--the one you can see at the end here. Come this way, and I will show you! When I slipped out, fearing she might surprise me, I found her at work covering something up with a spade. I watched her go, and then as soon as it was light I tried my luck there. I found these little matters tied up in a napkin."

"And you took them?" Jack said.

"Took them? Of course I took them. I put three stones in the napkin in place of them, and filled up the ground neatly. And one of these days some one will be disappointed."

"Hush!" said Jack, raising his hand quickly. "What is that?"



The two had advanced without thought to the foot of the tree which Frank had indicated, and in doing so had quitted the shelter of the rift, from which an open s.p.a.ce a dozen yards in width now separated them. The deep shade of the yew-tree which stretched its arms above them still afforded some protection, the glare of the sun on the moorland intensifying its gloom and blackness. But such protection was partial only; it could not avail against persons approaching the tree closely.

The horror of the two may be imagined, therefore, when they awoke suddenly to this fact, and to the conviction that some one was approaching--nay, was already near. Before Jack's muttered warning had well been uttered, the sharp crack of a stick, broken under foot, and the tones of voices drawing each moment nearer placed the danger beyond dispute.

For a moment the brothers stood as still as stones, the man's face growing hard and stern as he listened and comprehended too late the reckless folly he had committed in leaving a secure hiding-place at that time of the day. His eyes traveled from the boy's, in which he read a pitiful alarm more overmastering if less intense than his own, to the s.p.a.ce which separated him from the rift and from safety. Alas!

he measured it with a despairing eye. A moment before he could have pa.s.sed that interval at a bound, and at will; now he recognized with an inward groan that the attempt was hopeless. A single step in that direction must place him at once in full view of those who were approaching.

Would they stop short of the tree which hid him? That seemed his only chance. He set his teeth together, and gripped Jack's shoulder hard as he listened, and heard them still come on--come on and come nearer.

His brain sought desperately for some way, some plan of escape. At the last moment, when all seemed lost, and less than a score of paces now lay between him and the newcomers, he hit upon one which might possibly help him.

"It is that woman!" he hissed in Jack's ear. "Lie down and pretend to be asleep! Take their attention for a moment only, and I may slip round this tree and reach another."

Jack, poor lad, was almost paralyzed with terror, but he understood; and he found one part of his instructions easy enough to execute. His knees were already so weak under him with fear and excitement that he sank to the ground under the pressure of his brother's hand, with scarce any volition of his own; and crouching in the shadow with his knees drawn up to his chin, remained motionless with dismay.

For a moment after reaching the spot, Mistress Gridley and the butler did not see him. The boy sat deep in the shadow, and the sun shone in their eyes as they crossed from one tree to another, and from that one to the farthest of all. The butler had even begun the argument afresh--they had been disputing about the removal of the treasure--and had stuck his spade into the ground that he might lean upon it while he talked, when he espied the pale face shining in the gloom beside the trunk, and started with affright. "Ha!" he exclaimed in a high tone, "what is that?"

The woman started too. Her mind was ill at ease; and it was strange that the child should have chosen that particular square yard of ground to sit upon. But she recovered herself more quickly. "You little brat!" she cried, peering at him with her eyes shaded, "what are you doing here? Be off! Go to the house, and stay there till I come, do you hear?"

[Ill.u.s.tration: "What is that!"--Page 118.]

The child did not move.

"Do you hear, you little b.o.o.by?" she repeated angrily. "Get up and be off before I give you something to remember me by!" As she spoke, she advanced a step nearer to him and raised her hand to strike him.