BY SHEER PLUCK
BY SHEER PLUCK
G. A. HENTY
CHAPTER I: A FISHING EXCURSION
"Now Hargate what a fellow you are! I've been looking for you
everywhere. Don't you know it's the House against the Town boys.
It's lucky that the Town have got the first innings; they began a
quarter of an hour ago."
"How tiresome!" Frank Hargate said. "I was watching a most interesting
thing here. Don't you see this little chaffinch nest in the bush
with a newly hatched brood. There was a small black snake threatening
the nest and the mother was defending it with quivering wings
and open beak. I never saw a prettier thing. I sat quite still
and neither of them seemed to notice me. Of course I should have
interfered if I had seen the snake getting the best of it. When
you came running up like a cart horse the snake glided away in the
grass and the bird flew off. Oh dear! I am sorry. I had forgotten
all about the match."
"I never saw such a fellow as you are Hargate. Here's the opening
match of the season and you who are one of our best bats poking
about after birds and snakes. Come along; Thompson sent me and two
or three other fellows off in all directions to find you. We shall
be half out before you're back. Wilson took James's wicket the
Frank Hargate leaped to his feet and laying aside for the present
all thoughts of his favorite pursuit started off at a run to the
playing field. His arrival there was greeted with a mingled chorus
of welcome and indignation. Frank Hargate was next to Thompson the
captain of the Town eleven the best bat among the home boarders.
He played a steady rather than a brilliant game and was noted as
a good sturdy sticker. Had he been there Thompson would have put
him in at first in order to break the bowling of the House team.
As it was misfortunes had come rapidly. Ruthven and Handcock were
bowling splendidly and none of the Town boys were making any stand
against them. Thompson himself had gone in when the fourth wicket
fell and was still in although two wickets had since fallen for
only four runs and the seventh wicket fell just as Frank arrived
panting on the ground.
"Confound you Hargate!" Thompson shouted "where have you been?
And not even in flannels yet."
"I'm very sorry" Frank shouted back cheerfully "and never mind
the flannels for once. Shall I come in now?"
"No" Thompson said. "You'd better get your wind first. Let Fenner
come in next."
Fenner stayed in four overs adding two singles as his share
while Thompson put on a three and a two. Then Fenner was caught.
Thirty-one runs for eight wickets! Then Frank took the bat and
walked to the ground. Thompson came across to him.
"Look here Hargate you have made a nice mess of it and the game
looks as bad as can be. Whatever you do play carefully. Don't let
out at anything that comes straight. The great thing is to bother
their bowling a bit. They're so cocky now that pretty near every
ball is straight on the wickets. Be content with blocking for a
bit and Handcock will soon go off. He always gets savage if his
bowling is collared."
Frank obeyed orders. In the next twenty minutes he only scored six
runs all in singles while Thompson who was also playing very
carefully put on thirteen. The game looked more hopeful for the
Town boys. Then there was a shout from the House as Thompson's
middle wicket was sent flying. Childers who was the last of the
team walked out.
"Now Childers" Thompson said "don't you hit at a ball. You're
safe to be bowled or caught if you do. Just lift your bat and block
them each time. Now Frank it's your turn to score. Put them on
as fast as you can. It's no use playing carefully any longer."
Frank set to to hit in earnest. He had now got his eye well in
and the stand which he and Thompson had made together had taken
the sting out of the bowling. The ball which had taken Thompson's
wicket was the last of the over. Consequently the next came to him.
It was a little wide and Frank stepping out drove it for four.
A loud shout rose from the Town boys. There had only been one four
scored before during the innings. Off the next ball Frank scored
a couple blocked the next and drove the last of the over past
long leg for four. The next over Childers strictly obeyed orders
blocking each ball. Then it was Frank's turn again and seven
more went up on the board. They remained together for just fifteen
minutes but during that time thirty-one had been added to the
score. Frank was caught at cover point having added twenty-eight
since Thompson left him the other three being credited to Childers.
The total was eighty-one--not a bad score in a school match.
"Well you've redeemed yourself" Thompson said as Frank walked
to the tent. "You played splendidly old fellow when you did come.
If we do as well next innings we are safe. They're not likely to
average eighty. Now get on your wicket-keeping gloves. Green and
I will bowl."
The House scored rapidly at first and fifty runs were put on with
the loss of four wickets. Then misfortune fell upon them and the
remaining six fell for nineteen. The next innings Frank went in
first but was caught when the score stood at fifteen. Thompson
made fourteen but the rest scored but badly and the whole were
out for forty-eight.
The House had sixty-one to get to win. Six wickets had fallen for
fifty-one runs when Thompson put Childers on to bowl. The change
was a fortunate one. Ruthven's stumps were lowered at the first
ball. Handcock was caught off the second. The spirits of the Town
boys rose. There were but two wickets more and still ten runs to
get to win. The House played cautiously now and overs were sent
down without a run. Then off a ball from Childers a four was scored
but the next ball leveled the outside stump. Then by singles the
score mounted up until a tremendous shout from the House announced
that the game was saved sixty runs being marked by the scorers.
The next ball the Town boys replied even more lustily for Childers
ball removed the bails and the game ended in a tie. Both parties
were equally well satisfied and declared that a better game had
never been played at Dr. Parker's. As soon as the game was over
Frank without waiting to join in the general talk over the game
put on his coat and waistcoat and started at a run for home.
Frank Hargate was an only son. His mother lived in a tiny cottage
on the outskirts of Deal. She was a widow her husband Captain
Hargate having died a year before. She had only her pension as
an officer's widow a pittance that scarce sufficed even for the
modest wants of herself Frank and her little daughter Lucy now
six years old.
"I hope I have not kept tea waiting mother" Frank said as he ran
in. "It is not my beetles and butterflies this time. We have been
playing a cricket match and a first rate one it was. Town boys
against the House. It ended in a tie."
"You are only a quarter of an hour late" his mother said smiling
"which is a great deal nearer being punctual than is usually the
case when you are out with your net. We were just going to begin
for I know your habits too well to give you more than a quarter of
an hour's law."
"I'm afraid I am horridly unpunctual" Frank said "and yet mother
I never go out without making up my mind that I will be in sharp
to time. But somehow there is always something which draws me away."
"It makes no matter Frank. If you are happy and amused I am content
and if the tea is cold it is your loss not ours. Now my boy as
soon as you have washed your hands we will have tea."
It was a simple meal thick slices of bread and butter and tea
for Mrs. Hargate could only afford to put meat upon the table once
a day and even for that several times in the week fish was substituted
when the weather was fine and the fishing boats returned when well
laden. Frank fortunately cared very little what he ate and what
was good enough for his mother was good enough for him. In his
father's lifetime things had been different but Captain Hargate
had fallen in battle in New Zealand. He had nothing besides his
pay and his wife and children had lived with him in barracks until
his regiment was ordered out to New Zealand when he had placed
his wife in the little cottage she now occupied. He had fallen in
an attack on a Maori pah a fortnight after landing in New Zealand.
He had always intended Frank to enter the military profession and
had himself directed his education so long as he was at home.
The loss of his father had been a terrible blow for the boy who
had been his constant companion when off duty. Captain Hargate had
been devoted to field sports and was an excellent naturalist. The
latter taste Frank had inherited from him. His father had brought
home from India--where the regiment had been stationed until it
returned for its turn of home service four years before he left
New Zealand--a very large quantity of skins of birds which he
had shot there. These he had stuffed and mounted and so dexterous
was he at the work so natural and artistic were the groups of
birds that he was enabled to add considerably to his income by
sending these up to the shop of a London naturalist. He had instructed
Frank in his methods and had given him one of the long blowguns
used by some of the hill tribes in India. The boy had attained
such dexterity in its use that he was able with his clay pellets
to bring down sitting birds however small with almost unerring
These he stuffed and mounted arranging them with a taste and skill
which delighted the few visitors at his mother's cottage.
Frank was ready to join in a game of football or cricket when
wanted and could hold his own in either. But he vastly preferred
to go out for long walks with his blowgun his net and his collecting
boxes. At home every moment not required for the preparation of
his lessons was spent in mounting and arranging his captures. He
was quite ready to follow the course his father proposed for him
and to enter the army. Captain Hargate had been a very gallant
officer and the despatches had spoken most highly of the bravery
with which he led his company into action in the fight in which he
lost his life. Therefore Mrs. Hargate hoped that Frank would have
little difficulty in obtaining a commission without purchase when
the time for his entering the army arrived.
Frank's desire for a military life was based chiefly upon the fact
that it would enable him to travel to many parts of the world and
to indulge his taste for natural history to the fullest. He was
but ten years old when he left India with the regiment but he had
still a vivid recollection of the lovely butterflies and bright
birds of that country.
His father had been at pains to teach him that a student of natural
history must be more than a mere collector and that like other
sciences it must be methodically studied. He possessed an excellent
library of books upon the subject and although Frank might be
ignorant of the name of any bird or insect shown to him he could
at once name the family and species.
In the year which Frank had been at school at Dr. Parker's he had
made few intimate friends. His habits of solitary wandering and
studious indoor work had hindered his becoming the chum of any of
his schoolfellows and this absence of intimacy had been increased
by the fact that the straitness of his mother's means prevented
his inviting any of his schoolfellows to his home. He had indeed
brought one or two of the boys whose tastes lay in the direction
of his own to the house to show them his collections of birds
and insects. But he declined their invitations to visit them as
he was unable to return their hospitality and was too proud to
eat and drink at other fellows' houses when he could not ask them
to do the same at his own. It was understood at Dr. Parker's that
Frank Hargate's people were poor but it was known that his father
had been killed in battle. There are writers who depict boys
as worshipers of wealth and many pictures have been drawn of the
slights and indignities to which boys whose means are inferior to
those of their schoolfellows are subject. I am happy to believe
that this is a libel. There are it is true toadies and tuft hunters
among boys as among men. That odious creature the parasite of the
Greek and Latin plays exists still but I do not believe that a
boy is one whit the less liked or is ever taunted with his poverty
provided he is a good fellow. Most of the miseries endured by boys
whose pocket money is less abundant than that of their fellows are
purely self inflicted. Boys and men who are always on the lookout
for slights will of course find what they seek. But the lad who
is not ashamed of what is no fault of his own who frankly and
manfully says "I can't afford it" will not find that he is in
any way looked down upon by those of his schoolfellows whose good
opinion is in the smallest degree worth having.
Certainly this was so in the case of Frank Hargate. He was never
in the slightest degree ashamed of saying "I can't afford it;" and
the fact that he was the son of an officer killed in battle gave
him a standing among the best in the school in spite of his want
of pocket money.
Frank was friends with many of the fishermen and these would often
bring him strange fish and sea creatures brought up in their nets
instead of throwing them back into the sea.
During the holidays he would sometimes go out with them for twenty-four
hours in their fishing-boats. His mother made no objection to
this as she thought that the exercise and sea air were good for
his health and that the change did him good. Frank himself was so
fond of the sea that he was half disposed to adopt it instead of
the army as a profession. But his mother was strongly opposed to
the idea and won him to her way of thinking by pointing out that
although a sailor visits many ports he stays long at none of them
and that in the few hours' leave he might occasionally obtain he
would be unable to carry out his favorite pursuits.
"Hargate" Ruthven who was one of the oldest of the House boys
and was about Frank's age that is about fifteen years old said a
few days after the match "the Doctor has given Handcock and Jones
and myself leave to take a boat and go out this afternoon. We mean
to start soon after dinner and shall take some lines and bait
with us. We have got leave till lockup so we shall have a long
afternoon of it. Will you come with us?"
"Thank you Ruthven" Frank said; "I should like it very much but
you know I'm short of pocket money and I can't pay my share of
the boat so I would rather leave it alone."
"Oh nonsense Hargate!" Ruthven answered; "we know money is not
your strong point but we really want you to go with us. You can
manage a boat better than any of us and you will really oblige us
if you will go with us."
"Oh if you put it in that way" Frank said "I shall be glad to
go with you; but I do not think" he went on looking at the sky
"that the weather looks very settled. However if you do not mind
the chance of a ducking I don't."
"That's agreed then" Ruthven said; "will you meet us near the pier
at three o'clock?"
"All right. I'll be punctual."
At the appointed hour the four lads met on the beach. Ruthven and
his companions wanted to choose a light rowing boat but Frank
strongly urged them to take a much larger and heavier one. "In the
first place" he said "the wind is blowing off shore and although
it's calm here it will be rougher farther out; and unless I'm
mistaken the wind is getting up fast. Besides this it will be much
more comfortable to fish from a good sized boat."
His comrades grumbled at the extra labor which the large boat would
entail in rowing. However they finally gave in and the boat was
"Look out Master Hargate" the boatman said as they started; "you'd
best not go out too far for the wind is freshening fast and we
shall have I think a nasty night."
The boys thought little of the warning for the sky was bright and
blue broken only by a few gauzy white clouds which streaked it
here and there. They rowed out about a mile and then laying in
their oars lowered their grapnel and began to fish. The sport was
good. The fish bit freely and were rapidly hauled on board. Even
Frank was so absorbed in the pursuit that he paid no attention to
the changing aspect of the sky the increasing roughness of the
sea or the rapidly rising wind.
Suddenly a heavy drop or two of rain fell in the boat. All looked
"We are in for a squall" Frank exclaimed "and no mistake. I told
you you would get a ducking Ruthven."
He had scarcely spoken when the squall was upon them. A deluge of
rain swept down driven by a strong squall of wind.
"Sit in the bottom of the boat" Frank said; "this is a snorter."
Not a word was said for ten minutes long before which all were
drenched to the skin. With the rain a sudden darkness had fallen
and the land was entirely invisible. Frank looked anxiously towards
the shore. The sea was getting up fast and the boat tugging and
straining at the cord of the grapnel. He shook his head. "It looks
very bad" he said to himself. "If this squall does not abate we
are going to have a bad time of it."
A quarter of an hour after it commenced the heavy downpour of
rain ceased or rather changed into a driving sleet. It was still
extremely dark a thick lead colored cloud overspread the sky.
Already the white horses showed how fast the sea was rising and
the wind showed no signs of falling with the cessation of the rain
storm. The boat was laboring at her head rope and dipping her nose
heavily into the waves.
"Look here you fellows" Frank shouted "we must take to the oars.
If the rope were a long one we might ride here but you know it
little more than reached the ground when we threw it out. I believe
she's dragging already and even if she isn't she would pull her
head under water with so short a rope when the sea gets up. We'd
better get out the oars and row to shore if we can before the
sea gets worse."
The lads got up and looked round and their faces grew pale and
somewhat anxious as they saw how threatening was the aspect of the
sea. They had four oars on board and these were soon in the water
and the grapnel hauled up. A few strokes sufficed to show them that
with all four rowing the boat's head could not be kept towards the
shore the wind taking it and turning the boat broadside on.
"This will never do" Frank said. "I will steer and you row two
oars on one side and one on the other. I will take a spell presently.
"Row steadily Ruthven" he shouted; "don't spurt. We have a long
row before us and must not knock ourselves up at the beginning."
For half an hour not a word was spoken beyond an occasional cheery
exhortation from Frank. The shore could be dimly seen at times
through the driving mist and Frank's heart sank as he recognized
the fact that it was further off than it had been when they first
began to row. The wind was blowing a gale now and although but
two miles from shore the sea was already rough for an open boat.
"Here Ruthven you take a spell now" he said.
Although the rowers had from time to time glanced over their
shoulders they could not through the mist form any idea of their
position. When Ruthven took the helm he exclaimed "Good gracious
Frank! the shore is hardly visible. We are being blown out to sea."
"I am afraid we are" Frank said; "but there is nothing to do but
to keep on rowing. The wind may lull or it may shift and give us
a chance of making for Ramsgate. The boat is a good sea boat and
may keep afloat even if we are driven out to sea. Or if we are
missed from shore they may send the lifeboat out after us. That is
our best chance."
In another quarter of an hour Ruthven was ready to take another
spell at the oar. "I fear" Frank shouted to him as he climbed over
the seat "there is no chance whatever of making shore. All we've
got to do is to row steadily and keep her head dead to wind. Two
of us will do for that. You and I will row now and let Handcock
and Jones steer and rest by turns. Then when we are done up they
can take our places."
In another hour it was quite dark save for the gray light from
the foaming water around. The wind was blowing stronger than ever
and it required the greatest care on the part of the steersman to
keep her dead in the eye of the wind. Handcock was steering now
and Jones lying at the bottom of the boat where he was sheltered
at least from the wind. All the lads were plucky fellows and kept
up a semblance of good spirits but all in their hearts knew that
their position was a desperate one.
CHAPTER II: A MAD DOG
"Don't you think Hargate" Ruthven shouted in his ear "we had
better run before it? It's as much as Handcock can do to keep her
"Yes" Frank shouted back "if it were not for the Goodwins. They
lie right across ahead of us."
Ruthven said no more and for another hour he and Frank rowed
their hardest. Then Handcock and Jones took the oars. Ruthven lay
down in the bottom of the boat and Frank steered. After rowing for
another hour Frank found that he could no longer keep the boat head
to wind. Indeed he could not have done so for so long had he not
shipped the rudder and steered the boat with an oar through a
notch cut in the stern for the purpose. Already the boat shipped
several heavy seas and Ruthven was kept hard at work baling with
a tin can in which they had brought out bait.
"Ruthven we must let her run. Put out the other oar we must watch
our time. Row hard when I give the word."
The maneuver was safely accomplished and in a minute the boat was
flying before the gale.
"Keep on rowing" Frank said "but take it easily. We must try and
make for the tail of the sands. I can see the lightship."
Frank soon found that the wind was blowing too directly upon the
long line of sands to enable him to make the lightship. Already
far ahead a gray light seemed to gleam up marking where the sea
was breaking over the dreaded shoal.
"I am afraid it is no use" he said. "Now boys we had best each
of us say our prayers to God and prepare to die bravely for I
fear that there is no hope for us."
There was silence in the boat for the next five minutes as the
boys sat with their heads bent down. More than one choking sob might
have been heard had the wind lulled as they thought of the dear
ones at home. Suddenly there was a flash of light ahead and the
boom of a gun directly afterwards came upon their ears. Then a