'Our Exploits at West Poley' by Thomas Hardy

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A Story For Boys
On a certain fine evening of early autumn-I will not say how manyyears ago-I alighted from a green gig, before the door of a farm house atWest Poley, a village in Somersetshire. I had reached the age of thirteen,and though rather small for my age, I was robust and active.My father wasa schoolmaster, living about twenty miles off. I had arrived on a visit to myAunt Draycot, a farmer's widow, who, with her son Stephen, or Steve, as hewas invariably called by his friends, still managed the farm, which had beenleft on her hands by her deceased husband.Steve promptly came out to welcome me. He was two or three yearsmy senior, tall, lithe, ruddy, and somewhat masterful withal. There was thatforce about him which was less suggestive of intellectual power than (asCarlyle said of Cromwell) "Doughtiness-the courage and faculty to do."When the first greetings were over, he informed me that his motherwas not indoors just then, but that she would soon be home. "And, do youknow, Leonard," he continued, rather mournfully, "she wants me to be afarmer all my life, like my father." "And why not be a farmer all your life, like your father?" said a voicebehind us. We turned our heads, and a thoughtful man in a threadbare, yetwell-fitting suit of clothes, stood near, as he paused for a moment on hisway down to the village. "The straight course is generally the best for boys," the speakercontinued, with a smile. "Be sure that professions you know little of have asmany drudgeries attaching to them as those you know well-it is only theirremoteness that lends them their charm."Saying this he nodded and wenton. "Who is he?" I asked."Oh-he's nobody," said Steve. "He's a man who has been all over theworld, and tried all sorts of lives, but he has never got rich, and now he hasretired to this place for quietness.He calls himself the Man who has Failed." After this explanation I thought no more of the Man who had Failedthan Steve himself did; neither of us was at that time old enough to knowthat the losers in the world's battle are often the very men who, too late forthemselves, have the clearest perception of what constitutes success; whilethe successful men are frequently blinded to the same by the tumult of theirown progress. To change the subject, I said something about the village and Steve'sfarm-house-that I was glad to see the latter was close under the hills, whichI hoped we might climb before I returned home.I had expected to findthese hills much higher, and I told Steve so without disguise. "They may not be very high, but there's a good deal inside ‘em," saidmy cousin, as we entered the house, as if he thought me hypercritical, "agood deal more than you think." "Inside 'em?" said I, "stone and earth, I suppose." "More than that," said he."You have heard of the Mendip Caves,haven't you?" "But they are nearer Cheddar," I said. "There are one or two in this place, likewise," Steve answered me."Ican show them to you to-morrow.People say there are many more, onlythere is no way of getting into them." Being disappointed in the height of the hills, I was rather incredulousabout the number of the caves; but on my saying so, Steve rejoined,"Whatever you may think, I went the other day into one of 'em-Nick'sPocket-that's the cavern nearest here, and found that what was called theend was not really the end at all.Ever since then I've wanted to be anexplorer, and not a farmer; and in spite of that old man, I think I am right." At this moment my aunt came in, and soon after we were summonedto supper; and during the remainder of the evening nothing more was saidabout the Mendip Caves.It would have been just as well for us two boys ifnothing more had been said about them at all; but it was fated to beotherwise, as I have reason to remember. Steve did not forget my remarks, which, to him, no doubt, seemed toshow a want of appreciation for the features of his native district.The nextmorning he returned to the subject, saying, as he came indoors to mesuddenly, "I mean to show ye a little of what the Mendips contain, Leonard,if you'll come with me. But we must go quietly, for my mother does not likeme to prowl about such places, because I get muddy. Come here, and seethe preparations I have made." He took me into the stable, and showed me a goodly supply of loosecandle ends; also a bit of board perforated with holes, into which the candleswould fit, and shaped to a handle at one extremity. He had provided, too,some slices of bread and cheese, and several apples. I was at onceconvinced that caverns which demanded such preparations must besomething larger than the mere gravel-pits I had imagined; but I saidnothing beyond assenting to the excursion. It being the time after harvest, while there was not much to beattended to on the farm, Steve's mother could easily spare him, "to show methe neighbourhood," as he expressed it, and off we went, with our provisionsand candles. A quarter of a mile, or possibly a little more-for my recollections onmatters of distance are not precise-brought us to the mouth of the cavecalled Nick's Pocket, the way thither being past the village houses, and themill, and across the mill-stream, which came from a copious spring in thehillside some distance further up. I seem to hear the pattering of thatmill-wheel when we walked by it, as well as if it were going now; and yethow many years have passed since the sound beat last upon my ears.The mouth of the cave was screened by bushes, the face of the hillbehind being, to the best of my remembrance, almost vertical. The spot wasobviously well known to the inhabitants, and was the haunt of many boys, asI could see by footprints; though the cave, at this time, with othersthereabout, had been but little examined by tourists and men of science. We entered unobserved, and no sooner were we inside, than Steve lita couple of candles and stuck them into the board. With these he showed theway. We walked on over a somewhat uneven floor, the novelty of theproceeding impressing me, at first, very agreeably; the light of the candleswas sufficient, at first, to reveal only the nearer stalactites, remote nooks ofthe cavern being left in well-nigh their original mystic shadows. Steve wouldoccasionally turn, and accuse me, in arch tones, of being afraid, whichaccusation I (as a boy would naturally do) steadfastly denied; though evennow I can recollect that I experienced more than once some sort ofmisgiving. "As for me-I have been there hundreds of times," Steve said proudly. "We West Poley boys come here continually to play " spy" and think nothingof running in with no light of any sort.Come along, it is home to me.I saidI would show you the inside of the Mendips, and so I will." Thus we went onward.We were now in the bowels of the Mendiphills-a range of limestone rocks stretching from the shores of the BristolChannel into the middle of Somersetshire.Skeletons of great extinct beasts,and the remains of prehistoric men have been found thereabouts since thattime; but at the date of which I write science was not so ardent as she isnow, in the pursuit of the unknown; and we boys could only conjecture onsubjects in which the boys of the present generation are well-informed. The dim sparkle of stalactite, which had continually appeared aboveus, now ranged lower and lower over our heads, till at last the walls of thecave seemed to bar further progress. "There, this spot is what everybody calls the end of Nick's Pocket,"observed Steve, halting upon a mount of stalagmite, and throwing thebeams of the candles around."But let me tell you," he added, "that here isa little arch, which I and some more boys found the other day.We did notgo under it, but if you are agreed we will go in now and see how far we canget, for the fun of the thing.I brought these pieces of candle on purpose."Steve looked what he felt-that there was a certain grandeur in a person likehimself, to whom such mysteries as caves were mere playthings, because hehad been born close alongside them.To do him justice, he was notaltogether wrong, for he was a truly courageous fellow, and could lookdangers in the face without flinching. "I think we may as well leave fun out of the question," I said,laughing; "but we will go in." Accordingly he went forward, stooped, and entered the low archway,which, at first sight, appeared to be no more than a slight recess.I keptclose at his heels.The arch gave access to a narrow tunnel or gallery,sloping downwards, and presently terminating in another cave, the floor ofwhich spread out into a beautiful level of sand and shingle, interspersed withpieces of rock.Across the middle of this subterranean shore, as it mighthave been called, flowed a pellucid stream. Had my thoughts been in mybooks, I might have supposed we had descended to the nether regions, andhad reached the Stygian shore; but it was out of sight, out of mind, with myclassical studies then.Beyond the stream, at some elevation, we could see a delightful recessin the crystallized stone work, like the apse of a Gothic church. "How tantalizing!" exclaimed Steve, as he held the candles above hishead, and peered across. "If it were not for this trickling riband of water, wecould get over and climb up into that arched nook, and sit there like kings ona crystal throne!" "Perhaps it would not look so wonderful if we got close to it," Isuggested. "But, for that matter, if you had a spade, you could soon turn thewater out of the way, and into that hole." The fact was, that just at thatmoment I had discovered a low opening on the left hand, like a humanmouth, into which the stream would naturally flow, if a slight barrier of sandand pebbles were removed. On looking there also, Steve complimented me on the sharpness of myeyes. "Yes," he said, "we could scrape away that bank, and the water wouldgo straight into the hole surely enough. And we will. Let us go for a spade!" I had not expected him to put the idea into practice; but it was nosooner said than done. We retraced our steps, and in a few minutes foundourselves again in the open air, where the sudden light overpowered oureyes for awhile."Stay here, while I run home," he said. "I'll not be long." I agreed, and he disappeared. In a very short space he came backwith a spade in his hand, and we again plunged in. This time the candles hadbeen committed to my charge. When we had passed down the gallery intothe second cave, Steve directed me to light a couple more of the candles,and stick them against a piece of rock, that he might have plenty of light towork by. This I did, and my stalwart cousin began to use the spade with awill, upon the breakwater of sand and stones. The obstacle, which had been sufficient to turn the stream at a rightangle, possibly for centuries, was of the most fragile description. Suchinstances of a slight obstruction diverting a sustained onset often occur innature on a much larger scale. The Chesil Bank, for example, connecting thepeninsula of Portland, in Dorsetshire, with the mainland, is a mere string ofloose pebbles; yet it resists, by its shelving surface and easy curve, themighty roll of the Channel seas, when urged upon the bank by the mostfurious southwest gales. In a minute or two a portion of the purling stream discovered theopening Steve's spade was making in the sand, and began to flow through. The water assisted him in his remaining labours, supplementing everyspadeful that he threw back, by washing aside ten.I remember that I waschild enough, at that time, to clap my hands at the sight of larger and largerquantities of the brook tumbling in the form of a cascade down the darkchasm, where it had possibly never flowed before, or at any rate, neverwithin the human period of the earth's history.In less than twenty minutesthe whole stream trended off in this new direction, as calmly as if it hadcoursed there always.What had before been its bed now gradually draineddry, and we saw that we could walk across dryshod, with ease. We speedily put the possibility into practice, and so reached thebeautiful, glistening niche, that had tempted us to our engineering, Webrought up into it the candles we had stuck against the rockwork furtherdown, placed them with the others around the niche, and prepared to restawhile, the spot being quite dry. "That's the way to overcome obstructions!" said Steve, triumphantly. "I warrant nobody ever got so far as this before-at least, without wading upto his knees, in crossing that watercourse." My attention was so much attracted by the beautiful naturalornaments of the niche, that I hardly heeded his remark.These covered thegreater part of the sides and roof; they were fleshcoloured, and assumed theform of frills, lace, coats of mail; in many places they quaintly resembled theskin of geese after plucking, and in others the wattles of turkeys.All weredecorated with water crystals. "Well," exclaimed I, "I could stay here always!" "So could I," said Steve, "if I had victuals enough.And some we'llhave at once." Our bread and cheese and apples were unfolded, and we speedilydevoured the whole.We then tried to chip pieces from the rock, and butindifferently succeeded, though while doing this we discovered some curiousstones, like axe and arrow heads, at the bottom of the niche; but they hadbecome partially attached to the floor by the limestone deposit, and couldnot be extracted. "This is a long enough visit for to-day," said my cousin, jumping up asone of the candles went out."We shall be left in the dark if we don't mind,and it would be no easy matter to find our way out without a light." Accordingly we gathered up the candles that remained, descendedfrom the niche, recrossed the deserted bed of the stream, and found ourway to the open air, well pleased enough with the adventure, and promisingeach other to repeat it at an early day.On which account, instead ofbringing away the unburnt candles, and the wood candlestick, and thespade, we laid these articles on a hidden shelf near the entrance, to beready at hand at any time. Having cleaned the tell-tale mud from our boots, we were on the pointof entering the village, when our ears were attracted by a great commotionin the road below. "What is it?" said I, standing still."Voices, I think," replied Steve. "Listen!" It seemed to be a man in a violent frenzy. "I think it is somebody outof his mind," continued my cousin. "I never heard a man rave so in my life." "Let us draw nearer," said I.We moved on, and soon came in sight of an individual, who, standingin the midst of the street, was gesticulating distractedly, and utteringinvectives against something or other, to several villagers that had gatheredaround. "Why, 'tis the miller!" said Steve. "What can be the matter with him?" We were not kept long in suspense, for we could soon hear his wordsdistinctly. "The money I've sunk here!" he was saying; the time-the honestlabour-all for nothing! Only beggary afore me now! One month it was a newpair of mill-stones; then the back wall was cracked with the shaking, andhad to be repaired; then I made a bad speculation in corn and droppedmoney that way! But 'tis nothing to this! My own freehold-the only staff anddependence o' my family-all useless now-all of us ruined!" "Don't you take on so, Miller Griffin," soothingly said one who provedto be the Man who had Failed. "Take the ups with the downs, and maybe'twill come right again." "Right again!" raved the miller; "how can what's gone forever comeback again as 'twere afore-that's what I ask my wretched self-how can it?" "We'll get up a subscription for ye," said a local dairyman. "I don't drink hard; I don't stay away from church, and I only grindinto Sabbath hours when there's no getting through the work otherwise, andI pay my way like a man!" "Yes-you do that," corroborated the others. "And yet, I be brought to ruinous despair, on this sixth day ofSeptember, Hannah Dominy; as if I were a villain!Oh, my mill, my millwheel-you'll never go round any more-never more!" The miller flung hisarms upon the rail of the bridge, and buried his face in his hands. "This raving is but making a bad Job worse," said the Man who hadFailed."But who will listen to counsel on such matters." By this time we had drawn near, and Steve said, "What's the cause ofall this?" "The river has dried up-all on a sudden," said the dairyman, "and sohis mill won't go any more." I gazed instantly towards the stream, or rather what had been thestream.It was gone; and the mill wheel, which had pattered so persistentlywhen we entered the cavern, was silent.Steve and I instinctively steppedaside. "The river gone dry!" Steve whispered. "Yes," said I. "Why, Steve, don't you know why?" My thoughts had instantly flown to our performance of turning thestream out of its channel in the cave, and I knew in a moment that this wasthe cause.Steve's silence showed me that he divined the same thing, andwe stood gazing at each other in consternation.
CHAPTER IIHow We Shone in the Eyes of the Public.
As soon as we had recovered ourselves we walked away,unconsciously approaching the river-bed, in whose hollows lay the dead anddying bodies of loach, sticklebacks, dace, and other small fry, which beforeour entrance into Nick's Pocket had raced merrily up and down thewaterway. Further on we perceived numbers of people ascending to theupper part of the village, with pitchers on their heads, and buckets yoked totheir shoulders. "Where are you going?" said Steve to one of these. 'To your mother's well for water," was the answer. "The river we havealways been used to dip from is dried up. Oh, mercy me, what with thewashing and cooking and brewing I don't know what we shall do to live, for'tis killing work to bring water on your back so far!" As may be supposed, all this gave me still greater concern than before,and I hurriedly said to Steve that I was strongly of opinion that we ought togo back to the cave immediately, and turn the water into the old channel,seeing what harm we had unintentionally done by our manoeuvre. "Of course we'll go back-that's just what I was going to say," returnedSteve. "We can set it all right again in half an hour, and the river will run thesame as ever. Hullo-now you are frightened at what has happened! I can seeyou are." I told him that I was not exactly frightened, but that it seemed to mewe had caused a very serious catastrophe in the village, in driving the milleralmost crazy, and killing the fish, and worrying the poor people intosupposing they would never have enough water again for their daily usewithout fetching it from afar. "Let us tell them how it came to pass," Isuggested, "and then go and set it right." "Tell 'em-not I!" said Steve. "We'll go back and put it right, and saynothing about it to any one, and they will simply think it was caused by atemporary earthquake, or something of that sort." He then broke into avigorous whistle, and we retraced our steps together. It occupied us but a few minutes to rekindle a light inside the cave,take out the spade from its nook, and penetrate to the scene of our morningexploit. Steve then fell to, and first rolling down a few large pieces of stoneinto the current, dexterously banked them up with clay from the other sideof the cave, which caused the brook to swerve back into its original bedalmost immediately. "There," said he, "it is all just as it was when we firstsaw it-now let's be off." We did not dally long in the cavern; but when we gained the exteriorwe decided to wait there a little time till the villagers should have discoveredthe restoration of their stream, to watch the effect.Our waiting was buttemporary; for in quick succession there burst upon our ears a shout, andthen the starting of the mill-wheel patter. At once we walked into the village street with an air of unconcern.Themiller's face was creased with wrinkles of satisfaction; the countenances ofthe blacksmith, shoemaker, grocer and dairyman were perceptibly brighter. These, and many others of West Poley, were gathered on the bridge overthe mill-tail, and they were all holding a conversation with the parson of theparish, as to the strange occurrence. Matters remained in a quiet state during the next two days.Thenthere was a remarkably fine and warm morning, and we proposed to crossthe hills and descend into East Poley, the next village, which I had neverseen.My aunt made no objection to the excursion, and we departed,ascending the hill in a straight line, without much regard to paths.When wehad reached the summit, and were about half way between the two villages,we sat down to recover breath.While we sat a man overtook us, and Steverecognized him as a neighbour. "A bad Job again for West Poley folks!" cried the man, without halting. "What's the matter now?" said Steve, and I started with curiosity."Oh, the river is dry again.It happened at a quarter past ten thismorning, and it is thought it will never flow any more.The miller he's gonecrazy, or all but so.And the washerwoman, she will have to be kept by theparish, because she can't get water to wash with; aye, 'tis a terrible timethat's come.I'm off to try to hire a water-cart, but I fear I shan't hear ofone." The speaker passed by, and on turning to Steve I found he waslooking on the ground."I know how that's happened," he presently said. "We didn't make our embankment so strong as it was before, and so thewater has washed it away." "Let's go back and mend it," said I; and I proposed that we shouldreveal where the mischief lay, and get some of the labourers to build thebank up strong, that this might not happen again. "No," said Steve, "since we are half way we will have our day'spleasure.It won't hurt the West Poley people to be out of water for oneday.We'll return home a little earlier than we intended, and put it all inorder again, either ourselves, or by the help of some men." Having gone about a mile and a half further we reached the brow ofthe descent into East Poley, the place we had come to visit.Here we beheldadvancing towards us a stranger whose actions we could not at firstinterpret. But as the distance between us and him lessened we discerned, toour surprise , that he was in convulsions of laughter. He would laugh until hewas tired, then he would stand still gazing on the ground, as if quitepreoccupied, then he would burst out laughing again and walk on. No soonerdid he see us two boys than he placed his hat upon his walking-stick, twirledit and cried "Hurrah!" I was so amused that I could not help laughing with him; and when hecame abreast of us Steve said "Good morning; may I ask what it is thatmakes you laugh so?"But the man was either too self-absorbed or too supercilious tovouchsafe to us any lucid explanation. "What makes me laugh?" he said."Why, good luck, my boys! Perhaps when you are as lucky, you will laughtoo." Saying which he walked on and left us; and we could hear himexclaiming to himself, "Well done-hurrah!" as he sank behind the ridge. Without pausing longer we descended towards the village, and soonreached its outlying homesteads. Our path intersected a green field dottedwith trees, on the other side of which was an inn. As we drew near we heardthe strains of a fiddle, and presently perceived a fiddler standing on a chairoutside the inn door; whilst on the green in front were several people seatedat a table eating and drinking, and some younger members of the assemblydancing a reel in the background. We naturally felt much curiosity as to the cause of the merriment,which we mentally connected with that of the man we had met just before.Turning to one of the old men feasting at the table, I said to him as civilly asI could, "Why are you all so lively in this parish, sit?" "Because we are in luck's way just now, for we don't get a new riverevery day. Hurrah!" "A new river?" said Steve and I in one breath. "Yes," said one of our interlocutors, waving over the table a hambonehe had been polishing. "Yesterday afternoon a river of beautiful water burstout of the quarry at the higher end of this bottom; in an hour or so itstopped again. This morning, about a quarter past ten, it burst out again,and it is running now as if it would run always." "It will make all land and houses in this parish worth double as muchas afore," said another; "for want of water is the one thing that has alwaystroubled us, forcing us to sink deep wells, and even there, being hard put to,to get enough for our cattle.Now we have got a river, and the place willgrow to a town.""It is as good as two hundred pounds to me!" said one who looked likea grazier. "And two hundred and fifty to me!" cried another, who seemed to be abrewer. "And sixty pound a year to me, and to every man here in the buildingtrade!" said a third. As soon as we could withdraw from the company, our thoughts foundvent in words. "I ought to have seen it!" said Steve."Of course if you stop a streamfrom flowing in one direction, it must force its way out in another." "I wonder where their new stream is," said I. We looked round.After some examination we saw a depression in thecentre of a pasture, and, approaching it, beheld the stream meanderingalong over the grass, the current not having had as yet sufficient time toscour a bed.Walking down to the brink, we were lost in wonder at what wehad unwittingly done, and quite bewildered at the strange events we hadcaused.Feeling, now, that we had walked far enough from home for oneday, we turned, and, in a brief time, entered a road pointed out by Steve, asone that would take us to West Poley by a shorter cut than our outwardroute. As we ascended the hill, Steve looked round at me.I suppose my facerevealed my thoughts, for he said, "You are amazed, Leonard, at thewonders we have accomplished without knowing it.To tell the truth, so amI." I said that what staggered me was this-that we could not turn backthe water into its old bed now, without doing as much harm to the people ofEast Poley by taking it away, as we should do good to the people of WestPoley by restoring it. "True," said Steve, "that's what bothers me.Though I think we havedone more good to these people than we have done harm to the others; andI think these are rather nicer people than those in our village, don't you?" I objected that even if this were so, we could have no right to takewater away from one set of villagers and give it to another set withoutconsulting them. Steve seemed to feel the force of the argument; but as his mother hada well of her own he was less inclined to side with his native place than hemight have been if his own household had been deprived of water, for thebenefit of the East Poleyites. The matter was still in suspense, when, wearywith our day's pilgrimage, we reached the mill. The mill-pond was drained to its bed; the wheel stood motionless; yeta noise came from the interior. It was not the noise of machinery, but of thenature of blows, followed by bitter expostulations. On looking in, we weregrieved to see that the miller, in a great rage, was holding his apprentice bythe collar, and beating him with a strap. The miller was a heavy, powerful man, and more than a match for hisapprentice and us two boys besides; but Steve reddened with indignation,and asked the miller, with some spirit, why he served the poor fellow sobadly. "He says he'll leave," stormed the frantic miller. "What right hev he tosay he'll leave, I should like to know!" "There is no work for me to do, now the mill won't go," said theapprentice, meekly; "and the agreement was that I should be at liberty toleave if work failed in the mill. He keeps me here and don't pay me; and I beat my wits' end how to live." "Just shut up!" said the miller. "Go and work in the garden!Mill-workor no mill-work, you'll stay on."Job, as the miller's boy was called, had won the good-will of Steve, andSteve was now ardent to do him a good turn. Looking over the bridge, wesaw, passing by, the Man who had Failed. He was considered an authority onsuch matters as these, and we begged him to come in. In a few minutes themiller was set down, and it was proved to him that, by the terms of Job'sindentures, he was no longer bound to remain. "I have to thank you for this," said the miller, savagely, to Steve. "Ruined in every way! I may as well die!" But my cousin cared little for the miller's opinion, and we came away,thanking the Man who had Failed for his interference, and receiving thewarmest expressions of gratitude from poor Job; who, it appeared, hadsuffered much ill-treatment from his irascible master, and was overjoyed toescape to some other employment. We went to bed early that night, on account of our long walk; but wewere far too excited to sleep at once.It was scarcely dark as yet, and thenights being still warm the window was left open as it had been left duringthe summer.Thus we could hear everything that passed without.Peoplewere continually coming to dip water from my aunt's well; they gatheredround it in groups, and discussed the remarkable event which had latterlyoccurred for the first time in parish history. "My belief is that witchcraft have done it," said the shoemaker, and theonly remedy that I can think o', is for one of us to cut across to BartholomewGann, the white wizard, and get him to tell us how to counteract it.'Tis along pull to his house for a little man, such as I be, but I'll walk it if nobodyelse will." "Well, there's no harm in your going," said another."We can manageby drawing from Mrs Draycot's well for a few days; but something must bedone, or the miller'll be ruined, and the washerwoman can't hold out long."When these personages had drawn water and retired, Steve spokeacross from his bed to me in mine."We've done more good than harm, thatI'll maintain.The miller is the only man seriously upset, and he's not a manto deserve consideration.It has been the means of freeing poor Job, whichis another good thing.Then, the people in East Poley that we've madehappy are two hundred and fifty, and there are only a hundred in this parish,even if all of 'em are made miserable." I returned some reply, though the state of affairs was, in truth, onerather suited to the genius of Jeremy Bentham than to me.But the problemin utilitarian philosophy was shelved by Steve exclaiming, "I have it!I seehow to get some real glory out of this!" I demanded how, with much curiosity. "You'll swear not to tell anybody, or let it be known anyhow that weare at the bottom of it all?" I am sorry to say that my weak compunctions gave way under stressof this temptation; and I solemnly declared that I would reveal nothing,unless he agreed with me that it would be best to do so.Steve made meswear, in the tone of Hamlet to the Ghost, and when I had done this, he satup in his bed to announce his scheme. "First, we'll go to Job," said Steve. "Take him into the secret; show himthe cave; give him a spade and pickaxe; and tell him to turn off the waterfrom East Poley at, say, twelve o'clock, for a little while. Then we'll go to theEast Poley boys and declare ourselves to be magicians.""Magicians?" I said. "Magicians, able to dry up rivers, or to make 'em run at will," herepeated. "I see it!" I almost screamed, in my delight. "To show our power, we'll name an hour for drying up theirs, andmaking it run again after a short time. Of course we'll say the hour we'vetold Job to turn the water in the cave. Won't they think something of usthen?" I was enchanted. The question of mischief or not mischief was asindifferent to me now as it was to Steve-for which indifference we got richdeserts, as will be seen in the sequel. "And to look grand and magical," continued he, "we'll get some goldlace that I know of in the garret, on an old coat my grandfather wore in theYeomanry Cavalry, and put it round our caps, and make ourselves greatbeards with horse-hair. They will look just like real ones at a little distanceoff." "And we must each have a wand!" said I, explaining that I knew howto make excellent wands, white as snow, by peeling a couple of straightwillows; and that I could do all that in the morning while he was preparingthe beards.Thus we discussed and settled the matter, and at length fell asleep todream of to-morrow's triumphs among the boys of East Poley, till the sun ofthat morrow shone in upon our faces and woke us. We arose promptly andmade our preparations, having carte blanche from my Aunt Draycot to spendthe days of my visit as we chose. Our first object on leaving the farmhouse was to find Job Tray, apprisehim of what it was necessary that he should know, and induce him to act asconfederate. We found him outside the garden of his lodging; he told us hehad nothing to do till the following Monday, when a farmer had agreed tohire him. On learning the secret of the river-head, and what we proposed todo, he expressed his glee by a low laugh of amazed delight, and readilypromised to assist as bidden. It took us some little time to show him theinner cave, the tools, and to arrange candles for him, so that he might enterwithout difficulty just after eleven and do the trick.When this was all settledwe put Steve's watch on a ledge in the cave, that Job might know the exacttime, and came out to ascend the hills that divided the eastern from thewestern village. For obvious reasons we did not appear in magician's guise till we hadleft the western vale some way behind us. Seated on the limestone ridge,removed from all observation, we set to work at preparing ourselves. Ipeeled the two willows we had brought with us to be used as magic wands,and Steve pinned the pieces of old lace round our caps, congratulatinghimself on the fact of the lace not being new, which would thus convey theimpression that we had exercised the wizard's calling for some years. Ourlast adornments were the beards; and, finally equipped, we descended onthe other side. Our plan was now to avoid the upper part of East Poley, which we hadtraversed on the preceding day, and to strike into the parish at a pointfurther down, where the humble cottages stood, and where we were bothabsolutely unknown. An hour's additional walking brought us to this spot,which, as the crow flies, was not more than half so far from West Poley asthe road made it. The first boys we saw were some playing in an orchard near the newstream, which novelty had evidently been the attraction that had broughtthem there. It was an opportunity for opening the campaign especially asthe hour was long after eleven, and the cessation of water consequent onJob's performance at a quarter past might be expected to take place as nearas possible to twelve, allowing the five and forty minutes from eleven-fifteenas the probable time that would be occupied by the stream in travelling tothe point we had reached. I forget at this long distance of years the exact words used by Steve inaddressing the strangers; but to the best of my recollection they were, "Howd'ye do, gentlemen, and how does the world use ye?" I distinctly rememberthe sublimity he threw into his hat, and how slavishly I imitated him in thesame.The boys made some indifferent answer, and Steve continued,"Youwill kindly present us with some of those apples, I presume, consideringwhat we are?" They regarded us dubiously, and at last one of them said, "What areyou, that you should expect apples from us?" "We are travelling magicians," replied Steve."You may have heard ofus, for by our power this new river has begun to flow.Rhombustas is myname, and this is my familiar Balcazar." "I don't believe it," said an incredulous one from behind. "Very well, gentlemen; we can't help that. But if you give us someapples we'll prove our right to the title.""Be hanged if we will give you any apples," said the boy who held thebasket; "since it is already proved that magicians are impossible." "In that case," said Steve, "we-we-" "Will perform just the same," interrupted I, for I feared Steve hadforgotten that the time was at hand when the stream would be interruptedby Job, whether we willed it or not. "We will stop the water of your new river at twelve o'clock this day,when the sun crosses the meridian," said Rhombustas, "as a punishment foryour want of generosity." "Do it!" said the boys incredulously."Come here, Balcazar," said Steve. We walked together to the edge ofthe stream; then we muttered, Hi, hae, haec, horum, harum, horum, andstood waving our wands. "The river do run just the same, said the strangers derisively. "The spell takes time to work," said Rhombustas, adding in an aside tome, "I hope that fellow Job has not forgotten, or we shall be hooted out ofthe place." There we stood, waving and waving our white sticks, hoping andhoping we should succeed; while still the river flowed. Seven or ten minutespassed thus; and then, when we were nearly broken down by ridicule, thestream diminished its volume. All eyes were instantly bent on the water,which sank so low as to be in a short time but a narrow rivulet. The faithfulJob had performed his task. By the time that the clock of the church towerstruck twelve the river was almost dry. The boys looked at each other in amazement, and at us with awe. They were too greatly concerned to speak except in murmurs to each other. "You see the result of your conduct, unbelieving strangers," saidSteve, drawing boldly up to them. "And I seriously ask that you hand overthose apples before we bring further troubles upon you and your village. Wegive you five minutes to consider." "We decide at once!" cried the boys. "The apples be yours andwelcome." "Thank you, gentlemen," said Steve, while I added, "For yourreadiness the river shall run again in two or three minutes' time." "Oh-ah, yes," said Steve, adding heartily in undertones, "I hadforgotten that!" Almost as soon as the words were spoken we perceived a littleincrease in the mere dribble of water which now flowed, whereupon hewaved his wand and murmured more words.The liquid thread swelled androse; and in a few minutes was the same as before.Our triumph wascomplete; and the suspension had been so temporary that probably nobodyin the village had noticed it but ourselves and the boys.
CHAPTER IIIHow We Were Caught in Our Own Trap.
At this acme of our glory who should come past but a hedger whomSteve recognized as an inhabitant of West Poley; unluckily for our greatnessthe hedger also recognized Steve. "Well, Maister Stevey, what be you doing over in these parts then? And yer little cousin, too, upon my word!And beards-why ye've madeyerselves ornamental! haw, haw!" In great trepidation Steve moved on with the man, endeavouring thusto get him out of hearing of the boys. "Look here," said Steve to me on leaving that outspoken rustic; "Ithink this is enough for one day.We'd better go further before they guessall." "With all my heart," said I. And we walked on. "But what's going on here?" said Steve, when, turning a corner of thehedge, we perceived an altercation in progress hard by.The parties provedto be a poor widow and a corn-factor, who had been planning a water-wheellower down the stream.The latter had dammed the water for his purpose tosuch an extent as to submerge the poor woman's garden, turning it into alake. "Indeed, sir, you need not ruin my premises so!" she said with tears inher eyes."The mill-pond can be kept from overflowing my garden, by alittle banking and digging; it will be just as well for your purpose to keep itlower down, as to let it spread out into a great pool here. The house andgarden are yours by law, sir; that's true. But my father built the house, and,oh, sir, I was born here, and I should like to end my days under its roof!" "Can't help it, mis'ess," said the corn-factor. "Your garden is amill-pond already made, and to get a hollow further down I should have todig at great expense. There is a very nice cottage up the hill, where you canlive as well as here. When your father died the house came into my hands;and I can do what I like with my own." The woman went sadly away indoors. As for Steve and myself, wewere deeply moved as we looked at the pitiable sight of the poor woman'sgarden, the tops of the gooseberry bushes forming small islands in thewater, and her few apple trees standing immersed half-way up their stems. "The man is a rascal," said Steve. "I perceive that it is next toimpossible, in this world, to do good to one set of folks without doing harmto another." "Since we have not done all good to these people of East Poley," saidI, "there is a reason for restoring the river to its old course through WestPoley.""But then," said Steve, "if we turn back the stream, we shall bestarting Miller Griffin's mill; and then, by the terms of his 'prenticeship, poorJob will have to go back to him and be beaten again! It takes good brains noless than a good heart to do what's right towards all."Quite unable to solve the problem into which we had drifted, weretraced our steps, till, at a stile, within half a mile of West Poley, we beheldJob awaiting us. "Well, how did it act?" he asked with great eagerness. "Just as thehands of your watch got to a quarter past eleven, I began to shovel away,and turned the water in no time. But I didn't turn it where you expected-notI-'twould have started the mill for a few minutes, and I wasn't going to dothat." "Then where did you turn it?" cried Steve. "I found another hole," said Job. "A third one?" "Ay, hee, hee! a third one! So I pulled the stones aside from this newhole, and shovelled the clay, and down the water went with a gush.When ithad run down there a few minutes, I turned it back to the East Poley hole,as you ordered me to do.But as to getting it back to the old West Poleyhole, that I'd never do." Steve then explained that we no more wished the East village to havethe river than the West village, on account of our discovery that equalpersecution was going on in the one place as in the other.Job's news of athird channel solved our difficulty."So we'll go at once and send it down thisthird channel," concluded he. We walked back to the village, and, as it was getting late, and we weretired, we decided to do nothing that night, but told Job to meet us in thecave on the following evening, to complete our work there. All next day my cousin was away from home, at market for hismother, and he had arranged with me that if he did not return soon enoughto join me before going to Nick's Pocket, I should proceed thither, where hewould meet me on his way back from the market-town.The day passedanxiously enough with me, for I had some doubts of a very grave kind as toour right to deprive two parishes of water on our own judgment, eventhough that should be, as it was, honestly based on our aversion to tyranny. However, dusk came on at last, and Steve not appearing from market, Iconcluded that I was to meet him at the cave's mouth. To this end I strolled out in that direction, and there being as yet nohurry, I allowed myself to be tempted out of my path by a young rabbit,which, however, I failed to capture.This divergence had brought me insidea field, behind a hedge, and before I could resume my walk along the mainroad, I heard some persons passing along the other side.The words of theirconversation arrested me in a moment. " 'Tis a strange story if it's true," came through the hedge in the tonesof Miller Griffin."We know that East Poley folk will say queer things; but theboys wouldn't say that it was the work of magicians if they hadn't someground for it." "And how do they explain it?" asked the shoemaker. "They say that these two young fellows passed down their lane abouttwelve o'clock, dressed like magicians, and offered to show their power bystopping the river.The East Poley boys challenged 'em; when, by George,they did stop the river!They said a few words, and it dried up like magic. Now mark my words, my suspicion is this: these two gamesters havesomehow got at the river head, and been tampering with it in some way. The water that runs down East Poley bottom is the water that ought, byrights, to be running through my mill." "A very pretty piece of mischief, if that's the case!" said theshoemaker."I've never liked them lads, particularly that Steve-for not aboot or shoe hev he had o' me since he's been old enough to choose forhimself-not a pair, or even a mending.But I don't see how they could do allthis, even if they had got at the river head.'Tis a spring out of the hill, isn'tit?And how could they stop the spring?"It seemed that the miller could offer no explanation, for no answer wasreturned.My course was clear: to join Job and Steve at Nick's Pocketimmediately; tell them that we were suspected, and to get them to give overfurther proceedings, till we had stated our difficulties to some person ofexperience-say the Man who had Failed. I accordingly ran like a hare over the clover inside the hedge, and soonwas far away from the interlocutors. Drawing near the cave, was relieved tosee Steve's head against the sky. I joined him at once, and recounted tohim, in haste, what had passed. He meditated. "They don't even now suspect that the secret lies in thecavern," said he. "But they will soon," said I. "Well, perhaps they may," he answered. "But there will be time for usto finish our undertaking, and turn the stream down the third hole. Whenwe've done that we can consider which of the villages is most worthy to havethe river, and act accordingly." "Do let us take a good wise man into our confidence," I said. After a little demurring, he agreed that as soon as we had completedthe scheme we would state the case to a competent adviser, and let it besettled fairly. "And now," he said, "where's Job; inside the cave, no doubt, asit is past the time I promised to be here." Stepping inside the cave's mouth, we found that the candles and otherthings which had been deposited there were removed. The probability beingthat Job had arrived and taken them in with him, we groped our way alongin the dark, helped by an occasional match which Steve struck from a box hecarried. Descending the gallery at the further end of the outer cavern, wediscerned a glimmer at the remote extremity, and soon beheld Job workingwith all his might by the light of one of the candles. "I've almost got it into the hole that leads to neither of the Poleys, butI wouldn't actually turn it till you came," he said, wiping his face. We told him that the neighbours were on our track, and might soonguess that we performed our tricks in Nick's Pocket, and come there, andfind that the stream flowed through the cave before rising in the spring atthe top of the village; and asked him to turn the water at once, and be offwith us. "Ah!" said Job, mournfully, "then ‘tis over with me! They will be hereto-morrow, and will turn back the stream, and the mill will go again, and Ishall have to finish my time as 'prentice to the man who did this!" He pulledup his shirt sleeve, and showed us on his arm several stripes andbruises-black and blue and green-the tell-tale relics of old blows from themiller. Steve reddened with indignation. "I would give anything to stop up thechannels to the two Poleys so close that they couldn't be found again!" hesaid. "Couldn't we do it with stones and clay? Then if they came here 'twouldmake no difference, and the water would flow down the third hole forever,and we should save Job and the widow after all." "We can but try it," said Job, willing to fall in with anything that wouldhinder his recall to the mill. "Let's set to work." Steve took the spade, and Job the pickaxes. First they finished whatJob had begun-the turning of the stream into the third tunnel or crevice,which led to neither of the Poleys.This done, they set to work jammingstones into the other two openings, treading earth and clay around them,and smoothing over the whole in such a manner that nobody should noticethey had ever existed.So intent were we on completing it that-to our utterdisaster-we did not notice what was going on behind us. I was the first to look round, and I well remember why: my ears hadbeen attracted by a slight change of tone in the purl of the water down thenew crevice discovered by Job, and I was curious to learn the reason of it. The sight that met my gaze might well have appalled a stouter and olderheart than mine.Instead of pouring down out of sight, as it had been doingwhen we last looked, the stream was choked by a rising pool into which itboiled, showing at a glance that what we had innocently believed to beanother outlet for the stream was only a blind passage or cul de sac, whichthe water, when first turned that way by Job, had not been left long enoughto fill before it was turned back again. "Oh, Steve-Job!" I cried, and could say no more. They gazed round at once, and saw the situation. Nick's Pocket hadbecome a cauldron. The surface of the rising pool stood, already, far abovethe mouth of the gallery by which we had entered, and which was our onlyway out-stood far above the old exit of the stream to West Poley, now scaledup; far above the second outlet to East Poley, discovered by Steve, and alsosealed up by our fatal ingenuity. We had been spending the evening inmaking a closed bottle of the cave, in which the water was now rising todrown us. "There is one chance for us-only one," said Steve in a dry voice. "What one?" we asked in a breath."To open the old channel leading to the mill," said Steve. "I would almost as soon be drowned as do that," murmured Jobgloomily. "But there's more lives than my own, so I'll work with a will. Yethow be we to open any channel at all?" The question was, indeed, of awful aptness. It was extremelyimprobable that we should have power to reopen either conduit now.Boththose exits had been funnel-shaped cavities, narrowing down to merefissures at the bottom; and the stones and earth we had hurled into thesecavities had wedged themselves together by their own weight. Moreover-andhere was the rub-had it been possible to pull the stones out while theyremained unsubmerged, the whole mass was now under water, whichenlarged the task of reopening the channel to Herculean dimensions. But we did not know my cousin Steve as yet. "You will help me here,"he said authoritatively to Job, pointing to the West Poley conduit. "Lenny,my poor cousin," he went on, turning to me, "we're in a bad way. All you cando is to stand in the niche, and make the most of the candles by keepingthem from the draught with your hat, and burning only one at a time. Howmany have we, Job?" "Ten ends, some long, some short," said Job."They will burn many hours," said Steve. "And now we must dive, andbegin to get out the stones." They had soon stripped off all but their drawers, and, laying theirclothes on the dry floor of the niche behind me, stepped down into themiddle of the cave. The water here was already above their waists, and atthe original gulley-hole leading to West Poley spring was proportionatelydeeper. Into this part, nevertheless, Steve dived. I have recalled hisappearance a hundred-aye, a thousand-times since that day, as he came uphis crown bobbing into the dim candle-light like a floating apple.He stoodupright, bearing in his arms a stone as big as his head. "That's one of 'em!" he said as soon as he could speak."But there aremany, many more!" He threw the stone behind; while Job, wasting no time, had alreadydived in at the same point. Job was not such a good diver as Steve, in thesense of getting easily at the bottom; but he could hold his breath longer,and it was an extraordinary length of time before his head emerged abovethe surface, though his feet were kicking in the air more than once. Clutched to his chest, when he rose, was a second large stone, and a coupleof small ones with it.He threw the whole to a distance; and Steve, havingnow recovered breath, plunged again into the hole. But I can hardly bear to recall this terrible hour even now, at adistance of many years.My suspense was, perhaps, more trying than thatof the others, for, unlike them, I could not escape reflection by superhumanphysical efforts.My task of economizing the candles, by shading them withmy hat, was not to be compared, in difficulty, to theirs; but I would gladlyhave changed places, if it had been possible to such a small boy, with Steveand Job, so intolerable was it to remain motionless in the desperatecircumstances. Thus I watched the rising of the waters, inch by inch, and on thataccount was in a better position than they to draw an inference as to theprobable end of the adventure. There were a dozen, or perhaps twenty, stones to extract before wecould hope for an escape of the pent mass of water; and the difficulty ofextracting them increased with each successive attempt in two ways: by thegreater actual remoteness of stone after stone, and by its greater relativeremoteness through the rising of the pool.However, the sustained, gallantstruggles of my two comrades succeeded, at last, in raising the number ofstones extracted to seven.Then we fancied that some slight passage hadbeen obtained for the stream; for, though the terrible pool still rose higher, itseemed to rise less rapidly. After several attempts, in which Steve and Job brought up nothing,there came a declaration from them that they could do no more.The lowerstones were so tightly jammed between the sides of the fissure that nohuman strength seemed able to pull them out.Job and Steve both came up from the water. They were exhausted andshivering, and well they might be. "We must try some other way," saidSteve. "What way?" asked I. Steve looked at me. "You are a very good little fellow to stand this sowell" he said, with something like tears in his eyes. They soon got on their clothes; and, having given up all hope ofescape downward, we turned our eyes to the roof of the cave, on the chanceof discovering some outlet there. There was not enough light from our solitary candle to show us all thefeatures of the vault in detail; but we could see enough to gather that itformed anything but a perfect dome. The roof was rather a series of rifts andprojections, and high on one side, almost lost in the shades, there was alarger and deeper rift than elsewhere, forming a sort of loft, the back partsof which were invisible, extending we knew not how far. It was through thisoverhanging rift that the draught seemed to come which had caused ourcandle to gutter and flare. To think of reaching an opening so far above our heads, so advancedinto the ceiling of the cave as to require a fly's power of walking upside downto approach it, was mere waste of time. We bent our gaze elsewhere. On thesame side with the niche in which we stood there was a small narrow ledgequite near at hand, and to gain it my two stalwart companions now exertedall their strength. By cutting a sort of step with the pickaxes Job was enabled to obtain afooting about three feet above the level of our present floor, and then hecalled to me. "Now, Leonard, you be the lightest. Do you hop up here, and climbupon my shoulder, and then I think you will be tall enough to scramble tothe ledge, so as to help us up after you." I leapt up beside him, clambered upon his stout back as he bade me,and, springing from his shoulder, reached the ledge. He then handed up thepickaxes directed me how to make its point firm into one of the crevices onthe top of the ledge; next, to lie down, hold on to the handle of the pickaxeand give him my other hand. I obediently acted, when he sprang up, andturning, assisted Steve to do likewise.We had now reached the highest possible coign of vantage left to us,and there remained nothing more to do but wait and hope that theencroaching water would find some unseen outlet before reaching our level. Job and Steve were so weary from their exertions that they seemedalmost indifferent as to what happened, provided they might only be allowedto rest.However, they tried to devise new schemes, and looked wistfullyover the surface of the pool. "I wonder if it rises still?" I said."Perhaps not, after all.""Then we shall only exchange drowning for starving," said Steve. Job, instead of speaking, had endeavoured to answer my query bystooping down and stretching over the ledge with his arm.His face was verycalm as he rose again."It will be drowning," he said almost inaudibly, andheld up his hand, which was wet.
CHAPTER IVHow Older Heads than Ours Became Concerned.
The water had risen so high that Job could touch its surface from ourretreat.We now, in spite of Job's remark, indulged in the dream that, providedthe water would stop rising, we might, in the course of time, find a way outsomehow, and Job by-and-by said, "Perhaps round there in the dark may beplaces where we could crawl out, if we could only see them well enough toswim across to them.Couldn't we send a candle round that way?" "How?" said I and Steve. "By a plan I have thought of," said he.Taking off his hat, which wasof straw, he cut with his pocket-knife a little hole in the middle of the crown. Into this he stuck a piece of candle, lighted it, and lying down to reach thesurface of the water as before, lowered the hat till it rested afloat.There was, as Job had suspected, a slight circular current in theapparently still water, and the hat moved on slowly.Our six eyes becameriveted on the voyaging candle as if it were a thing of fascination.Ittravelled away from us, lighting up in its progress unsuspectedprotuberances and hollows, but revealing to our eager stare no spot ofsafety or of egress.It went further and yet further into darkness, till itbecame like a star alone in a sky.Then it crossed from left to right.Then itgradually turned and enlarged, was lost behind jutting crags, reappeared,and journeyed back towards us, till it again floated under the ledge on whichwe stood, and we gathered it in.It had made a complete circuit of thecavern, the circular motion of the water being caused by the inpour of thespring, and it had showed us no means of escape at all. Steve spoke, saying solemnly, "This is all my fault!" "No" said Job. "For you would not have tried to stop the millstream if ithad not been to save me." "But I began it all," said Steve, bitterly. "I see now the foolishness ofpresumption. What right had I to take upon myself the ordering of a streamof water that scores of men three times my age get their living by?" "I thought overmuch of myself, too," said Job. "It was hardly right tostop the grinding of flour that made bread for a whole parish, for my poorsake. We ought to ha' got the advice of some one wi' more experience thanourselves." We then stood silent. The impossibility of doing more pressed in uponour senses like a chill, and I suggested that we should say our prayers. "I think we ought," said Steve, and Job assenting, we all three kneltdown. After this a sad sense of resignation fell on us all, and there being nowno hopeful attempt which they could make for deliverance, the sleep thatexcitement had hitherto withstood overcame both Steve and Job. They leantback and were soon unconscious. Not having exerted myself to the extent they had done I felt nosleepiness whatever. So I sat beside them with my eyes wide open, holdingand protecting the candle mechanically, and wondering if it could really bepossible that we were doomed to die. I do not know how or why, but there came into my mind during thissuspense the words I had read somewhere at school, as being those ofFlaminius, the consul, when he was penned up at Thrasymene:"Friends, wemust not hope to get out of this by vows and prayers alone. 'Tis by fortitudeand strength we must escape." The futility of any such resolve in my casewas apparent enough, and yet the words were sufficient to lead me to scanthe roof of the cave once more. When the opening up there met my eye I said to myself, "I wonderwhere that hole leads to?"Picking up a stone about the size of my fist Ithrew it with indifference, though with a good aim, towards the spot.Thestone passed through the gaping orifice, and I heard it alight within like atennis ball. But its noise did not cease with its impact.The fall was succeeded bya helter-skelter kind of rattle which, though it receded in the distance, Icould hear for a long time with distinctness, owing, I suppose, to thereflection or echo from the top and sides of the cave. It denoted that on theother side of that dark mouth yawning above me there was a slopedownward-possibly into another cave, and that the stone had ricocheteddown the incline."I wonder where it leads?" I murmured again aloud. Something greeted my ears at that moment of my pronouncing thewords "where it leads" that caused me well nigh to leap out of my shoes. Even now I cannot think of it without experiencing a thrill. It came from thegaping hole. If my readers can imagine for themselves the sensations of a timidbird, who, while watching the approach of his captors to strangle him, feelshis wings loosening from the tenacious snare, and flight again possible, theymay conceive my emotions when I realized that what greeted my ears fromabove were the words of a human tongue, direct from the cavity. "Where, in the name of fortune, did that stone come from?" The voice was the voice of the miller. "Be dazed if I know-but 'a nearly broke my head!" The reply was thatof the shoemaker. "Steve-Job!" said I. They awoke with a start and exclamation.I triedto shout, but could not."They have found us-up there-themiller-shoemaker!" I whispered, pointing to the hole aloft. Steve and Job understood.Perhaps the sole ingredient, in this suddenrevival of our hopes, which could save us from fainting with joy, was the oneactually present-that our discoverer was the adversary whom we had beenworking to circumvent.But such antagonism as his weighed little in thescale with our present despairing circumstances. We all three combined our voices in one shout-a shout which rousedechoes in the cavern that probably had never been awakened since theupheaval of the Mendips, in whose heart we stood.When the shout diedaway we listened with parted lips. Then we heard the miller speak again."Faith, and believe me-'tis therascals themselves!A-throwing stones-a-trying to terrify us off thepremises!Did man ever know the like impudence?We have found the clueto the water mystery at last-may be at their pranks at this very moment!Clamber up here; and if I don't put about their backs the greenest stick thatever growed, I'm no grinder o' corn!" Then we heard a creeping movement from the orifice over our heads,as of persons on their hands and knees; a puffing, as of fat men out ofbreath; sudden interjections such as can be found in a list in any boys'grammar-book, and, therefore, need not be repeated here.All this wasfollowed by a faint glimmer, about equal to that from our own candle,bursting from the gap on high, and the cautious appearance of a head overthe ledge.It was the visage of the shoemaker. Beside it rose another in haste,exclaiming, "Urrr-r! The rascals!" and waving a stick. Almost before we hadrecognized this as the miller, he, climbing forward with too greatimpetuosity, and not perceiving that the edge of the orifice was so near, wasunable to check himself. He fell over headlong, and was precipitated adistance of some thirty feet into the whirling pool beneath. Job's face, which, until this catastrophe, had been quite white and rigidat sight of his old enemy, instantly put on a more humane expression. "Wemustn't let him drown," he said."No," said Steve, "but how can we save him in such an awkwardplace?" There was, for the moment, however, no great cause for anxiety.Themiller was a stout man, and could swim, though but badly-his power to keepafloat being due rather to the adipose tissues which composed his person,than to skill. But his immersion had been deep, and when he rose to thesurface he was bubbling and sputtering wildly. "Hu, hu, hu, hu! O, ho-I am drownded! " he gasped. "I am a dead manand miller-all on account of those villainous-I mean good boys!-If Job wouldonly help me out I would give him such a dressing-blessing I would say-ashe never felt the force of before.Oh, hub, hub, hu, hu, hu!" Job had listened to this with attention. "Now, will you let me rule inthis matter?" he said to Steve."With all my heart," said Steve. "Look here, Miller Griffin," then said Job, speaking over the pool, "youcan't expect me or my comrades to help ye until you treat us civilly.Nomixed words o' that sort will we stand.Fair and square, or not at all.Youmust give us straightforward assurance that you will do us no harm; andthat if the water runs in your stream again, and the mill goes, and I finishout my 'prenticeship, you treat me well. If you won't promise this, you are adead man in that water to-night.""A master has a right over his 'prentice, body and soul!" cried themiller, desperately, as he swam round, "and I have a right over you-and Iwon't be drownded!" "I fancy you will," said Job, quietly."Your friends be too high above toget at ye." "What must I promise ye, then, Job-hu-hu-hu-bub, hub, hub!" "Say, If I ever strike Job Tray again, he shall be at liberty to leave myservice forthwith, and go to some other employ, and this is the solemn oathof me, Miller Griffin.Say that in the presence of these witnesses." "Very well-I say it-bub, bub-I say it." And the miller repeated thewords. "Now I'll help ye out," said Job.Lying down on his stomach he heldout the handle of the shovel to the floating miller, and hauled him towardsthe ledge on which we stood.Then Steve took one of the miller's hands, andJob the other, and he mounted up beside us. "Saved,-saved!" cried Miller Griffin. "You must stand close in," said Steve, "for there isn't much room onthis narrow shelf." "Ay, yes I will," replied the saved man gladly."And now, let's get outof this dark place as soon as we can-Ho!-Cobbler Jones!-here we be comingup to ye-but I don't see him!" "Nor I," said Steve."Where is he?" The whole four of us stared with all our vision at the opening the millerhad fallen from.But his companion had vanished. "Well-never mind," said Miller Griffin, genially; "we'll follow.Which isthe way?" "There's no way-we can't follow," answered Steve. "Can't follow!" echoed the miller, staring round, and perceiving for thefirst time that the ledge was a prison."What-not saved!" he shrieked."Notable to get out from here?" "We be not saved unless your friend comes back to save us," said Job. "We've been calculating upon his help-otherwise things be as bad as theywere before.We three have clung here waiting for death these two hours,and now there's one more to wait for death-unless the shoemaker comesback." Job spoke stoically in the face of the cobbler's disappearance, andSteve tried to look cool also; but I think they felt as much discouraged as I,and almost as much as the miller, at the unaccountable vanishing of CobblerJones. On reflection, however, there was no reason to suppose that he hadbasely deserted us. Probably he had only gone to bring further assistance.But the bare possibility of disappointment at such times is enough to takethe nerve from any man or boy."He must mean to come back!" the miller murmured lugubriously, aswe all stood in a row on the ledge, like sparrows on the moulding of achimney. "I should think so," said Steve, "if he's a man." "Yes-he must!" the miller anxiously repeated. "I once said he was atwo-penny sort of workman to his face-I wish I hadn't said it, oh-how I wishI hadn't; but 'twas years and years ago, and pray heaven he's forgot it! Ionce called him a stingy varmint-that I did!But we've made that up, andbeen friends ever since. And yet there's men who'll carry a snub in theirbuzzoms; and perhaps he's going to punish me now!" " 'Twould be very wrong of him," said I, "to leave us three to diebecause you've been a wicked man in your time, miller." "Quite true," said Job. "Zounds take your saucy tongues!" said Griffin. "If I had elbow roomon this miserable perch I'd-I'd-" "Just do nothing," said Job at his elbow. "Have you no more sense ofdecency, Mr Griffin, than to go on like that, and the waters rising to drownus minute by minute?" "Rising to drown us-hey?" said the miller."Yes, indeed," broke in Steve. "It has reached my feet."
CHAPTER VHow We Became Close Allies with the Villagers.
Sure enough, the water-to which we had given less attention since themiller's arrival-had kept on rising with silent and pitiless regularity.To feel itactually lapping over the ledge was enough to paralyze us all.We listenedand looked, but no shoemaker appeared.In no very long time it ran intoour boots, and coldly encircled our ankles. Miller Griffin trembled so much that he could scarcely keep hisstanding."If I do get out of this," he said, "I'll do good-lots of good-toeverybody!Oh, oh-the water!" "Surely you can hold your tongue if this little boy can bear it withoutcrying out!" said Job, alluding to me. Thus rebuked, the miller was silent; and nothing more happened till weheard a slight sound from the opening which was our only hope, and saw aslight light. We watched, and the light grew stronger, flickering about theorifice like a smile on parted lips. Then hats and heads broke above the edgeof the same-one, two, three, four-then candles, arms and shoulders; and itcould be seen then that our deliverers were provided with ropes. "Ahoy-all right!" they shouted, and you may be sure we shouted backa reply. "Quick, in the name o' goodness!" cried the miller. A consultation took place among those above, and one of themshouted, "We'll throw you a rope's end and you must catch it.If you canmake it fast, and so climb up one at a time, do it. "If not, tie it round the first one, let him jump into the water; we'll towhim across by the rope till he's underneath us, and then haul him up . "Yes, yes, that's the way!" said the miller."But do be quick-I'm deaddrowned up to my thighs.Let me have the rope." "Now, miller, that's not fair!" said one of the group above the Man whohad Failed, for he was with them."Of course you'll send up the boysfirst-the little boy first of all." "I will-I will-'twas a mistake," Griffin replied with contrition. The rope was then thrown; Job caught it, and tied it round me.It waswith some misgiving that I flung myself on the water; but I did it, and,upheld by the rope, I floated across to the spot in the pool that wasperpendicularly under the opening, when the men all heaved, and I feltmyself swinging in the air, till I was received into the arms of half the parish. For the alarm having been given, the attempt at rescue was known all overthe lower part of West Poley. My cousin Steve was now hauled up.When he had gone the millerburst into a sudden terror at the thought of being left till the last, fearing hemight not be able to catch the rope. He implored Job to let him go up first."Well," said Job; 'so you shall-on one condition." "Tell it, and I agree." Job searched his pockets, and drew out a little floury pocket-book, inwhich he had been accustomed to enter sales of meal and bran.Withoutreplying to the miller, he stooped to the candle and wrote.This done hesaid, "Sign this, and I'll let ye go.The miller read: I hereby certify that I release from, this time forth JobTray, my apprentice, by his wish, and demand no further service from himwhatever. "Very well-have your way," he said; and taking the pencilsubscribed his name. By this time they had untied Steve and were flingingthe rope a third time; Job caught it as before, attached it to the miller'sportly person, shoved him off, and saw him hoisted. The dragging up on thisoccasion was a test to the muscles of those above; but it was accomplished.Then the rope was flung back for the last time, and fortunate it was that thedelay was no longer.Job could only manage to secure himself with greatdifficulty, owing to the numbness which was creeping over him from hisheavy labours and immersions. More dead than alive he was pulled to thetop with the rest. The people assembled above began questioning us, as well they might,upon how we had managed to get into our perilous position.Before we hadexplained, a gurgling sound was heard from the pool.Several looked over.The water whose rising had nearly caused our death was sinking suddenly;and the light of the candle, which had been left to burn itself out on theledge, revealed a whirlpool on the surface. Steve, the only one of our triowho was in a condition to observe anything, knew in a moment what thephenomenon meant. The weight of accumulated water had completed the task of reopeningthe closed tunnel or fissure which Job's and Steve's diving had begun; andthe stream was rushing rapidly down the old West Poley outlet, throughwhich it had run from geological times. In a few minutes-as I was told, for Iwas not an eye-witness of further events this night-the water had draineditself out, and the stream could be heard trickling across the floor of thelower cave as before the check. In the explanations which followed our adventure, the following factswere disclosed as to our discovery by the neighbours. The miller and the shoemaker, after a little further discussion in theroad where I overheard them, decided to investigate the caves one by one.With this object in view they got a lantern, and proceeded, not to Nick'sPocket, but to a well-known cave nearer at hand called Grim Billy, which tothem seemed a likely source for the river. This cave was very well known up to a certain point. The floor slopedupwards, and eventually led to the margin of the hole in the dome of Nick'sPocket; but nobody was aware that it was the inner part of Nick's Pocketwhich the treacherous opening revealed. Rather was the unplumbed depthbeneath supposed to be the mouth of an abyss into which no human beingcould venture. Thus when a stone ascended from this abyss (the stone Ithrew) the searchers were amazed, till the miller's intuition suggested to himthat we were there.And, what was most curious, when we were alldelivered, and had gone home, and had been put into warm beds, neitherthe miller nor the shoemaker knew for certain that they had lighted upon thesource of the mill stream. Much less did they suspect the contrivance we haddiscovered for turning the water to East or West Poley, at pleasure. By a piece of good fortune, Steve's mother heard nothing of what hadhappened to us till we appeared dripping at the door, and could testify to ourdeliverance before explaining our perils. The result which might have been expected to all of us, followed in thecase of Steve.He caught cold from his prolonged duckings, and the coldwas followed by a serious illness. The illness of Steve was attended with slight fever, which left him veryweak, though neither Job nor I suffered any evil effects from our immersion. The mill-stream having flowed back to its course, the mill was againstarted, and the miller troubled himself no further about the river-head; butJob, thanks to his ingenuity, was no longer the miller's apprentice.He hadbeen lucky enough to get a place in another mill many miles off, the verynext day after our escape. I frequently visited Steve in his bed-room, and, on one of theseoccasions, he said to me, "Suppose I were to die, and you were to go awayhome, and Job were always to stay away in another part of England, thesecret of that mill-stream head would be lost to our village; so that if bychance the vent this way were to choke, and the water run into the EastPoley channel, our people would not know how to recover it.They saved ourlives, and we ought to make them the handsome return of telling them thewhole manoeuvre-" This was quite my way of thinking, and it was decided that Steveshould tell all as soon as he was well enough. But I soon found that hisanxiety on the matter seriously affected his recovery. He had a scheme, hesaid, for preventing such a loss of the stream again. Discovering that Steve was uneasy in his mind, the doctor-to whom Iexplained that Steve desired to make personal reparation- insisted that hiswish be gratified at once-namely, that some of the leading inhabitants ofWest Poley should be brought up to his bedroom, and learn what he had tosay. His mother assented, and messages were sent to them at once.The villagers were ready enough to come, for they guessed the objectof the summons, and they were anxious, too, to know more particulars ofour adventures than we had as yet had opportunity to tell them.Accordingly, at a little past six that evening, when the sun was going down,we heard their footsteps ascending the stairs, and they entered. Amongthem there were the blacksmith, the shoemaker, the dairyman, the Man whohad Failed, a couple of farmers; and some men who worked on the farmswere also admitted. Some chairs were brought up from below, and, when our visitors hadsettled down, Steve's mother, who was very anxious about him, said, "Now,my boy, we are all here. What have you to tell?" Steve began at once, explaining first how we had originally discoveredthe inner cave, and how we walked on till we came to a stream. "What we want to know is this," said the shoemaker, "is that greatpool we fetched you out of, the head of the mill-stream?" Steve explained that it was not a natural pool, and other things whichthe reader already knows. He then came to the description of the grandmanoeuvre by which the stream could be turned into either the east or thewest valley."But how did you get down there?" asked one. "Did you walk inthrough Giant's Ear, or Goblin's Cellar, or Grim Billy?" "We did not enter by either of these," said Steve. "We entered byNick's Pocket." "Ha!" said the company, "that explains all the mystery.""'Tis amazing," said the miller, who had entered, "that folks shouldhave lived and died here for generations, and never ha' found out that Nick'sPocket led to the river spring!" "Well, that isn't all I want to say," resumed Steve."Suppose anypeople belonging to East Poley should find out the secret, they would gothere and turn the water into their own vale; and, perhaps, close up theother channel in such a way that we could scarcely open it again.But didn'tsomebody leave the room a minute ago?-who is it that's going away?" "I fancy a man went out," said the dairyman looking round.One ortwo others said the same, but dusk having closed in it was not apparentwhich of the company had gone away. Steve continued: "Therefore before the secret is known, let somebodyof our village go and close up the little gallery we entered by, and the uppermouth you look in from.Then there'll be no danger of our losing the wateragain." The proposal was received with unanimous commendation, and after alittle more consultation, and the best wishes of the neighbours for Steve'scomplete recovery, they took their leave, arranging to go and stop the caveentrances the next evening. As the doctor had thought, so it happened.No sooner was his sense ofresponsibility gone, than Steve began to mend with miraculous rapidity. Four and twenty hours made such a difference in him that he said to me,with animation, the next evening: "Do, Leonard, go and bring me word whatthey are doing at Nick's Pocket.They ought to be going up there about thistime to close up the gallery.But 'tis quite dark-you'll be afraid."
"No-not I," I replied, and off I went, having told my aunt my mission. It was, indeed, quite dark, and it was not till I got quite close to themill that I found several West Poley men had gathered in the road oppositethereto.The miller was not among them, being too much shaken by hisfright for any active enterprise.They had spades, pickaxes, and other tools,and were just preparing for the start to the caves. I followed behind, and as soon as we reached the outskirts of WestPoley, I found they all made straight for Nick's Pocket as planned.Arrivedthere they lit their candles and we went into the interior.Though they hadbeen most precisely informed by Steve how to find the connecting gallerywith the inner cavern, so cunningly was it hidden by Nature's hand that theyprobably would have occupied no small time in lighting on it, if I had notgone forward and pointed out the nook. They thanked me, and the dairyman, as one of the most active of thegroup taking a spade in one hand, and a light in the other, prepared to creepin first and foremost.He had not advanced many steps before hereappeared in the outer cave, looking as pale as death.
CHAPTER VI How all Our Difficulties Came to an End.
"What's the matter!" said the shoemaker. "Somebody's there!" he gasped. "It can't be," said a farmer. "Till those boys found the hole, not a beingin the world knew of such a way in.""Well, come and harken for yourselves," said the dairyman. We crept close to the gallery mouth and listened. Peck, peck, peck;scrape, scraper scrape, could be heard distinctly inside. "Whoever they call themselves, they are at work like the busy bee!"said the farmer.It was ultimately agreed that some of the party should go softly roundinto Grim Billy, creep up the ascent within the cave, and peer through theopening that looked down through the roof of the cave before us. By thismeans they might learn, unobserved, what was going on.It was no sooner proposed than carried out. The baker and shoemakerwere the ones that went round, and, as there was nothing to be seen wherethe others waited, I thought I would bear them company. To get to GrimBilly, a circuit of considerable extent was necessary; moreover, we had tocross the mill-stream. The mill had been stopped for the night, some timebefore, and, hence, it was by a pure chance we noticed that the river wasgradually draining itself out. The misfortune initiated by Steve was againupon the village. "I wonder if the miller knows it?" murmured the shoemaker. "If not,we won't tell him, or he may lose his senses outright.""Then the folks in the cave are enemies!" said the farmer. "True," said the baker, "for nobody else can have done this-let's pushon." Grim Billy being entered, we crawled on our hands and knees up theslope, which eventually terminated at the hole above Nick's Pocket-a holethat probably no human being had passed through before we were hoistedup through it on the evening of our marvellous escape.We were careful tomake no noise in ascending, and, at the edge, we gazed cautiously over. A striking sight met our view.A number of East Poley men wereassembled below on the floor, which had been for awhile submerged by ourexploit; and they were working with all their might to build and close up theold outlet of the stream towards West Poley, having already, as it appeared,opened the new opening towards their own village, discovered by Steve.Weunderstood it in a moment, and, descending with the same softness asbefore, we returned to where our comrades were waiting for us in the othercave, where we told them the strange sight we had seen. "How did they find out the secret?" the shoemaker inquired under hisbreath."We have guarded it as we would ha' guarded our lives." "I can guess!" replied the baker."Have you forgot how somebodywent away from Master Steve Draycot's bedroom in the dusk last night, andwe didn't know who it was?Half an hour after, such a man was seencrossing the hill to East Poley; I was told so to-day.We've been surprised,and must hold our own by main force, since we can no longer do it bystealth." "How, main force?" asked the blacksmith and a farmer simultaneously. "By closing the gallery they went in by," said the baker."Then weshall have them in prison, and can bring them to book rarely."The rest being all irritated at having been circumvented so slily andselfishly by the East Poley men, the baker's plan met with ready acceptance. Five of our body at once chose hard boulders from the outer cave, of such abulk that they would roll about half-way into the passage or gallery-wherethere was a slight enlargement-but which would pass no further.Thesebeing put in position, they were easily wedged there, and it was impossibleto remove them from within, owing to the diminishing size of the passage,except by more powerful tools than they had, which were only spades.Wenow felt sure of our antagonists, and in a far better position to argue withthem than if they had been free.No longer taking the trouble to preservesilence, we, of West Poley, walked in a body round to the other cave-GrimBilly-ascended the inclined floor like a flock of goats, and arranged ourselvesin a group at the opening that impended over Nick's Pocket. The East Poley men were still working on, absorbed in their labour, andwere unconscious that twenty eyes regarded them from above like stars. "Let's halloo!" said the baker. Halloo we did with such vigour that the East Poley men, takenabsolutely unawares, well nigh sprang into the air at the shock it producedon their nerves. Their spades flew from their hands, and they stared aroundin dire alarm, for the echoes confused them as to the direction whence theirhallooing came. They finally turned their eyes upwards, and saw usindividuals of the rival village far above them, illuminated with candles andwith countenances grave and stern as a bench of unmerciful judges. "Men of East Poley," said the baker, "we have caught ye in theexecution of a most unfair piece of work. Because of a temporary turning ofour water into your vale by a couple of meddlesome boys-a piece of mischiefthat was speedily repaired-you have thought fit to covet our stream. Youhave sent a spy to find out its secret, and have meanfully come here to stealthe stream for yourselves forever. This cavern is in our parish, and you haveno right here at all.""The waters of the earth be as much ours as yours," said one frombeneath. But the remainder were thunderstruck, for they knew that theirchance had lain entirely in strategy and not in argument. The shoemaker then spoke: "Ye have entered upon our property, anddiverted the water, and made our parish mill useless, and caused us otherlosses. Do ye agree to restore it to its old course, close up the new course yehave been at such labour to widen-in short, to leave things as they havebeen from time immemorial?" "No-o-o-o!" was shouted from below in a yell of defiance. "Very well, then," said the baker, "we must make you. Gentlemen, yeare prisoners. Until you restore that water to us, you will bide where you be. The East Poley men rushed to escape by the way they had entered. But halfway up the tunnel a barricade of adamantine blocks barred theirfootsteps. "Bring spades!" shouted the foremost. But the stones were so wellwedged, and the passage so small, that, as we had anticipated, noengineering force at their disposal could make the least impression upon theblocks. They returned to the inner cave disconsolately. "D'ye give in?" we asked them. "Never!" said they doggedly. "Let 'em sweat-let 'em sweat," said the shoemaker, placidly."They'lltell a different tale by to-morrow morning.Let 'em bide for the night, andsay no more." In pursuance of this idea we withdrew from our position, and, passingout of Grim Billy, went straight home.Steve was excited by the length ofmy stay, and still more when I told him the cause of it.'What-got themprisoners in the cave?" he said."I must go myself io to-morrow and see theend of this!" Whether it was partly due to the excitement of the occasion, or solelyto the recuperative powers of a strong constitution, cannot be said; butcertain it is that next morning, on hearing the villagers shouting andgathering together, Steve sprang out of bed, declaring that he must go withme to see what was happening to the prisoners.The doctor was hastilycalled in, and gave it as his opinion that the outing would do Steve no harm,if he were warmly wrapped up; and soon away we went, just in time toovertake the men who had started on their way. With breathless curiosity we entered Grim Billy, lit our candles andclambered up the incline.Almost before we reached the top, exclamationsascended through the chasm to Nick's Pocket, there being such words as,"We give in!" "Let us out!" "We give up the water forever!" Looking in upon them, we found their aspect to be very different fromwhat it had been the night before.Some had extemporized a couch withsmock-frocks and gaiters, and jumped up from a sound sleep thereon; whileothers had their spades in their hands, as if undoing what they had been atsuch pains to build up, as was proved in a moment by their saying eagerly,"We have begun to put it right, and shall finish soon-we are restoring theriver to his old bed-give us your word, good gentlemen, that when it is donewe shall be free!" "Certainly," replied our side with great dignity."We have said soalready." Our arrival stimulated them in the work of repair, which had hithertobeen somewhat desultory.Then shovels entered the clay and rubble likegiants' tongues; they lit up more candles, and in half an hour had completelydemolished the structure raised the night before with such labour andamazing solidity that it might have been expected to last forever. The finalstone rolled away, the much tantalized river withdrew its last drop from thenew channel, and resumed its original course once more. While the East Poley men had been completing this task, some of ourparty had gone back to Nick's Pocket, and there, after much exertion,succeeded in unpacking the boulders from the horizontal passage admittingto the inner cave. By the time this was done, the prisoners within hadfinished their work of penance, and we West Poley men, who had remainedto watch them, rejoined our companions. Then we all stood back, whilethose of East Poley came out, walking between their vanquishers, like theRomans under the Caudine Forks, when they surrendered to the Samnites.They glared at us with suppressed rage, and passed without saying a word. "I see from their manner that we have not heard the last of this," saidthe Man who had Failed, thoughtfully. He had just joined us, and learnt thestate of the case. "I was thinking as much," said the shoemaker. "As long as that cave isknown in Poley, so long will they bother us about the stream." "I wish it had never been found out," said the baker bitterly. "If notnow upon us, they will be playing that trick upon our children when we aredead and gone." Steve glanced at me, and there was sadness in his look. We walked home considerably in the rear of the rest, by no means atease. It was impossible to disguise from ourselves that Steve had lost thegood feeling of his fellow parishioners by his explorations and their results. As the West Poley men had predicted, so it turned out. Some monthsafterwards, when I had gone back to my home and school, and Steve waslearning to superintend his mother's farm, I heard that another midnightentry had been made into the cave by the rougher characters of East Poley.They diverted the stream as before, and when the miller and otherinhabitants of the west village rose in the morning, behold, their stream wasdry! The West Poley folk were furious, and rushed to Nick's Pocket. Themischief-makers were gone, and there was no legal proof as to their identity,though it was indirectly clear enough where they had come from. With somedifficulty the water was again restored, but not till Steve had again beenspoken of as the original cause of the misfortunes. About this time I paid another visit to my cousin and aunt. Steveseemed to have grown a good deal older than when I had last seen him,and, almost as soon as we were alone, he began to speak on the subject ofthe mill-stream. "I am glad you have come, Leonard," he said, "for I want to talk toyou.I have never been happy, you know, since the adventure; I don't likethe idea that by a freak of mine our village should be placed at the mercy ofthe East Poleyites; I shall never be liked again unless I make that river assecure from interruption as it was before." "But that can't be," said I. "Well, I have a scheme," said Steve musingly."I am not so sure thatthe river may not be made as secure as it was before." "But how?What is the scheme based on?" I asked, incredulously. "I cannot reveal to you at present," said he."All I can say is, that Ihave injured my native village, that I owe it amends, and that I'll pay thedebt if it's a possibility." I soon perceived from my cousin's manner at meals and elsewherethat the scheme, whatever it might be, occupied him to the exclusion of allother thoughts.But he would not speak to me about it.I frequently missedhim for spaces of an hour or two, and soon conjectured that these hours ofabsence were spent in furtherance of his plan. The last day of my visit came round, and to tell the truth I was notsorry, for Steve was so preoccupied as to be anything but a pleasantcompanion.I walked up to the village alone, and soon became aware thatsomething had happened. During the night another raid had been made upon the river head-withbut partial success, it is true; but the stream was so much reduced that themill-wheel would not turn, and the dipping pools were nearly empty.It wasresolved to repair the mischief in the evening, but the disturbance in thevillage was very great, for the attempt proved that the more unscrupulouscharacters of East Poley were not inclined to desist. Before I had gone much further, I was surprised to discern in thedistance a figure which seemed to be Steve's, though I thought I had lefthim at the rear of his mother's premises. He was making for Nick's Pocket, and following thither I reached themouth of the cave just in time to see him enter. "Steve!" I called out.He heard me and came back.He was pale,andthere seemed to be something in his face which I had never seen therebefore."Ah-Leonard,” he said, you have traced me.Well, you are just intime- The folks think of coming to mend this mischief as soon as their day'swork is over, but perhaps it won't be necessary. My scheme may doinstead." "How-do instead?" asked I. "Well, save them the trouble," he said with assumed carelessness."Ihad almost decided not to carry it out, though I have got the materials inreadiness, but the doings of the night have stung me; I carry out my plan." "When?" "Now-this hour-this moment. The stream must flow into its rightchannel, and stay there, and no man's hands must be able to turn itelsewhere. Now good-bye, in case of accidents."To my surprise, Steve shook hands with me solemnly, and wringingfrom me a promise not to follow, disappeared into the blackness of the cave. For some moments I stood motionless where Steve had left me, notquite knowing what to do. Hearing footsteps behind my back, I lookedround. To my great pleasure I saw Job approaching, dressed up in his bestclothes, and with him the Man who had Failed. Job was glad to see me. He had come to West Poley for a holiday, fromthe situation with the farmer which, as I now learned for the first time, theMan who had Failed had been the means of his obtaining.Observing, Isuppose, the perplexity upon my face, they asked me what was the matter,and I, after some hesitation, told them of Steve.The Man who had Failedlooked grave. "Is it serious?" I asked him. "It may be," said he, in that poetico-philosophic strain which, undermore favouring circumstances, might have led him on to the intellectualeminence of a Coleridge or an Emerson. "Your cousin, like all such natures,is rushing into another extreme, that may be worse than the first. Theopposite of error is error still; from careless adventuring at other people'sexpense he may have flown to rash self-sacrifice. He contemplates someviolent remedy, I make no doubt. How long has he been in the cave? Wehad better follow him." Before I could reply, we were startled by a jet of smoke, like that fromthe muzzle of a gun, bursting from the mouth of Nick's Pocket; and this wasimmediately followed by a deadened rumble like thunder underground.Inanother moment a duplicate of the noise reached our ears from over the hill,in the precise direction of Grim Billy. "Oh-what can it be?" said I. "Gunpowder," said the Man who had Failed, slowly. "Ah-yes-I know what he's done-he has blasted the rocks inside!" criedJob."Depend upon it, that's his plan for closing up the way to the riverhead." "And for losing his life into the bargain," said our companion."Butno-he may be alive.We must go in at once-or as soon as we can breathethere." Job ran for lights, and before he had returned we heard a familiarsound from the direction of the village.It was the patter of the mill-wheel.Job came up almost at the moment, and with him a crowd of the villagepeople. "The river is right again," they shouted."Water runs better thanever-a full, steady stream, all on a sudden-just when we heard the rumbleunderground." "Steve has done it!" I said. "A brave fellow," said the Man who had Failed."Pray that he is nothurt." Job had lighted the candles, and, when we were entering, some morevillagers, who at the noise of the explosion had run to Grim Billy, joined us. "Grim Billy is partly closed up inside!" they told us. "Where you used to climb up the slope to look over into Nick's Pocket,'tis all altered.There's no longer any opening there; the whole rock hascrumbled down as if the mountain had sunk bodily." Without waiting to answer, we, who were about to enter Nick's Pocket,proceeded on our way.We soon had penetrated to the outer approaches,though nearly suffocated by the sulphurous atmosphere; but we could get nofurther than the first cavern.At a point somewhat in advance of the littlegallery to the inner cave, Nick's Pocket ceased to exist.Its roof had sunk. The whole superimposed mountain, as it seemed, had quietly settled downupon the hollow places beneath it closing like a pair of bellows, and barringall human entrance. But alas, where was Steve?"I would liever have had no water in WestPoley forevermore than have lost Steve!" said Job. "And so would I!" said many of us. To add to our terror, news was brought into the cave at that momentthat Steve's mother was approaching; and how to meet my poor aunt wasmore than we could think. But suddenly a shout was heard. A few of the party, who had notpenetrated so far into the cave as we had done, were exclaiming, "Here heis!" We hastened back, and found they were in a small side hollow, close tothe entrance, which we had passed by unheeded. The Man who had Failedwas there, and he and the baker were carrying something into the light. Itwas Steve-apparently dead, or unconscious. "Don't be frightened," said the baker to me. "He's not dead; perhapsnot much hurt." As he had declared, so it turned out. No sooner was Steve in the openair, than he unclosed his eyes, looked round with a stupefied expression, andsat up."Steve-Steve!" said Job and I, simultaneously. "All right," said Steve, recovering his senses by degrees. "I'll tell-howit happened-in a minute or two." Then his mother came up, and was at first terrified enough, but onseeing Steve gradually get upon his legs, she recovered her equanimity. Hesoon was able to explain all. He said that the damage to the village by histampering with the stream had weighed upon his mind, and led him torevolve many schemes for its cure. With this in view he had privately madeexamination of the cave; when he discovered that the whole superincumbentmass, forming the roof of the inner cave, was divided from the walls of thesame by a vein of sand, and, that it was only kept in its place by a slimsupport at one corner. It seemed to him if this support could be removed,the upper mass would descend by its own weight, like the brick of abrick-trap when the peg is withdrawn.He laid his plans accordingly; procuring gunpowder, and scooping outholes for the same, at central points in the rock. When all this was done, hewaited a while, in doubt as to the effect; and might possibly never havecompleted his labours, but for the renewed attempt upon the river. He thenmade up his mind, and attached the fuse. After lighting it, he would havereached the outside safely enough but for the accident of stumbling as heran, which threw him so heavily on the ground, that, before he could recoverhimself and go forward, the explosion had occurred. All of us congratulated him, and the whole village was joyful, for noless than three thousand, four hundred and fifty tons of rock and,earth-according to calculations made by an experienced engineer a shorttime afterwards-had descended between the river's head and all humaninterference, so that there was not much fear of any more East Poleymanoeuvres for turning the stream into their valley. The inhabitants of the parish, gentle and simple, said that Steve, hadmade ample amends for the harm he had done; and their goodwill wasfurther evidenced by his being invited to no less than nineteen Christmasand New Year's parties during the following holidays. As we left the cave, Steve, Job, Mrs Draycot and I walked behind theMan who had Failed. "Though this has worked well," he said to Steve, "it is by the merestchance in the world.Your courage is praiseworthy, but you see the risksthat are incurred when people go out of their way to meddle with what theydon't understand.Exceptionally smart actions, such as you delight in,should be carefully weighed with a view to their utility before they arebegun.Quiet perseverance in clearly defined courses is, as a rule, betterthan the erratic exploits that may do much harm." Steve listened respectfully enough to this, but he said to his motherafterwards: "He has failed in life, and how can his opinions be worthanything?" "For this reason," said she."He is one who has failed, not from wantof sense, but from want of energy, and people of that sort, when kindly, arebetter worth attending to than those successful ones, who have never seenthe seamy side of things.I would advise you to listen to him." Steve probably did; for he is now the largest gentleman-farmer ofthose parts, remarkable for his avoidance of anything like speculativeexploits.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Our Exploits at West Poley: A Masterpiece of Hardy's Literary Genius

Thomas Hardy, a British novelist and poet, is revered for his contribution to English literature. Among his works, "Our Exploits at West Poley" stands out as a masterpiece of his literary genius. The novel tells the story of a group of young men who engage in various exploits in rural England, exploring themes such as love, friendship, and class divide. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the novel's style, structure, themes, and symbolism in detail.

Style and Structure of the Novel

"Our Exploits at West Poley" is written in the third person narrative, with the perspective switching between different characters. The novel has a simple yet elegant writing style, with vivid descriptions that bring the characters and setting to life. The language is rich in metaphor and symbolism, creating an atmosphere that is both nostalgic and haunting.

The structure of the novel is episodic, with each chapter focusing on a particular exploit of the young men. However, despite the episodic structure, there is a sense of continuity and a clear narrative arc that runs through the novel. The exploits of the young men are not just a series of disconnected events but are interconnected with the themes and motifs of the novel.

Themes of the Novel

Love is a central theme in "Our Exploits at West Poley." The young men are all in love with different women, and their exploits are often motivated by their desire to impress or win over their love interests. However, love is not just portrayed as a romantic ideal but is shown to be complex and fraught with difficulties.

Friendship is another important theme in the novel. The young men are bound together by their shared experiences and their desire to escape the confinements of their narrow rural lives. Their exploits are often acts of bonding, and their loyalty to each other is tested in various ways throughout the novel.

Class divide is also an underlying theme in the novel. The young men are from the lower classes, and their exploits are a way of asserting their agency and asserting their worth. However, their ambitions are often thwarted by the upper classes, who view them as mere playthings to be indulged and discarded at will.

Symbolism in the Novel

The novel is rich in symbolism, with various motifs and images recurring throughout the story. The most prominent of these is the symbol of the river, which represents the flow of time and the inevitability of change. The river is also a metaphor for the young men's lives, which are constantly in flux as they struggle to find their place in the world.

The motif of the horse also plays an important role in the novel. The horse symbolizes freedom, power, and masculinity, and is often associated with the young men's exploits. However, the horse is also a reminder of the class divide, as owning a horse was a sign of wealth and status in rural England.

The setting of the novel, West Poley, is also symbolic. West Poley is a small, rural village that is isolated from the rest of the world. It represents the narrow-mindedness and stagnation of rural life, which the young men are trying to escape from. However, despite their attempts to break free, they are ultimately bound by the constraints of their social and economic circumstances.

Interpretation of the Novel

"Our Exploits at West Poley" can be interpreted as a critique of the social and economic conditions of rural England in the late 19th century. The novel portrays the class divide and the limitations of social mobility, as well as the patriarchal values and gender roles that govern rural life. The young men's exploits can be seen as acts of rebellion against these constraints, as they try to assert their agency and carve out a place for themselves in the world.

However, the novel is also a reflection of Hardy's own nostalgia for the rural life that was disappearing in the face of industrialization and modernization. The novel celebrates the beauty and simplicity of rural life, while also acknowledging its limitations and challenges. The young men's exploits can be seen as a tribute to the resilience and ingenuity of rural communities, and a lament for their loss.

In conclusion, "Our Exploits at West Poley" is a masterful work of Thomas Hardy's literary genius. It explores complex themes of love, friendship, and class divide through vivid characters and haunting imagery. The novel is a critique of the social and economic conditions of rural England in the late 19th century, as well as a celebration of the beauty and resilience of rural life. It is a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Our Exploits at West Poley: A Classic Prose by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, one of the most celebrated writers of the Victorian era, is known for his poignant and realistic portrayals of rural life in England. His works often explore themes of love, loss, and the struggle for survival in a rapidly changing world. One of his most famous works is the classic prose, Our Exploits at West Poley, which tells the story of a group of young boys and their adventures in the countryside. In this article, we will delve into the world of West Poley and explore the themes and motifs that make this work a timeless classic.

The story is set in the fictional village of West Poley, which is located in the heart of the English countryside. The main characters are a group of young boys who spend their days exploring the woods and fields around the village. The boys are led by their charismatic leader, Dick Dewy, who is a natural leader and a born adventurer. The other boys look up to him and follow his lead, even when it leads them into danger.

The story begins with the boys discovering a hidden cave in the woods. The cave is dark and mysterious, and the boys are immediately drawn to it. They decide to explore the cave and discover that it leads to a hidden underground river. The boys are thrilled by this discovery and decide to explore the river further. They build a raft and set off down the river, not knowing what adventures await them.

As the boys journey down the river, they encounter a series of obstacles and challenges. They must navigate treacherous rapids, avoid dangerous wildlife, and outwit a group of rival boys who are also exploring the river. Through it all, Dick Dewy remains calm and confident, leading the boys through each challenge with skill and determination.

One of the key themes of the story is the power of friendship and teamwork. The boys rely on each other to overcome the challenges they face, and their bond grows stronger with each adventure. They learn to trust each other and work together to achieve their goals. This theme is exemplified in the scene where the boys must navigate a treacherous set of rapids. They work together to steer the raft through the rapids, each boy taking on a specific role to ensure their success. This scene is a powerful example of the importance of teamwork and the strength that comes from working together.

Another important theme of the story is the power of nature. The boys are constantly in awe of the natural world around them, and they are humbled by its power and beauty. They learn to respect the natural world and to work with it, rather than against it. This theme is exemplified in the scene where the boys encounter a group of wild animals. Rather than trying to fight the animals, the boys use their knowledge of the natural world to outsmart them and avoid danger. This scene is a powerful reminder of the importance of respecting nature and working with it, rather than trying to dominate it.

The story also explores the theme of coming of age. The boys are on the cusp of adolescence, and they are learning to navigate the complexities of the adult world. They are faced with difficult decisions and must learn to take responsibility for their actions. This theme is exemplified in the scene where the boys must decide whether to help a group of stranded travelers. They are torn between their desire for adventure and their sense of responsibility to help those in need. This scene is a powerful reminder of the challenges of growing up and the importance of making responsible decisions.

Overall, Our Exploits at West Poley is a timeless classic that explores themes of friendship, teamwork, nature, and coming of age. The story is a powerful reminder of the importance of working together, respecting nature, and taking responsibility for our actions. It is a testament to the power of adventure and the enduring spirit of youth. Thomas Hardy's masterful prose brings the world of West Poley to life, and his vivid descriptions of the natural world are a testament to his skill as a writer. If you haven't read this classic work, I highly recommend it. It is a true masterpiece of English literature and a testament to the enduring power of storytelling.

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