Page images




"Now," said Miss Baxter as soon as every one had reached the place, we will divide into three gangs--one shall gather the sticks, the other collect stones, and the third build them into proper form."

With so many willing helpers, it was not long before we had built up a fire-place that would have done credit to a band of gipsies; in fact it was on a very much more elaborate plan than the ones which those wandering people are in the habit of erecting, merely for one or two nights' use.

First of all came a flooring of those large, smooth, flat stones in which the hill-side abounded, scattered loose here and there among the springing, mossy turf: many of them with a whole colony of wood-lice and other insects underneath, who, resenting this sudden intrusion of daylight and fresh air into their dark, dank homes, rushed hastily off into the grass tufts growing thickly round, and hid themselves there, safe from all further danger or pursuit.

Then, almost all round this base, we set up a low wall of loose stones, piled one upon the other, and fitted together with all the skill of which Willie Knowles, Bob North, and Johnnie Harris were possessed, with Mat, Harry, and myself working under them as their assistants.

What a pile of dry sticks the fuel collectors got together, to be sure ! So high, that when it was all stacked up, there was no

suitable place for the kettle; so down it came again, whilst a search was instituted for two or three poles, strong enough and long enough to suspend the homely, though essential, utensil in its proper position. But none were to be found, without cutting some out of the copse hard by, and Miss Baxter would not hear of such a proposal as that.

So there was no help for it but to build up two high piles of stones as hobs, with just enough space between them for the kettle to rest firmly, with no fear of its upsetting.

Then the fire was carefully relaid, Miss Baxter struck the match, and the next second-out it went!

"Why, you must hold your hands round it-so-Miss Baxter, or of course the wind will blow it out!" cried the Scamp, a trifle contemptuously, as he pushed his way through the group to his teacher's side. "Why, I've helped my brother light his cigars scores of times on far windier days than this :and helped him smoke them too, I can tell you!" he added in a loud aside, looking round to wink at us knowingly, and smacking his lips together suggestively, as he grinned back at us over his shoulder.

Very soon, under his experienced directions, the fire was successfully lighted, and then how the dry twigs crackled and sputtered as the flames leapt high into the air, quite encircling the great black kettle in a halo of bright, tongue-shaped fire.

"I say!" cried the Scamp, in a tone of sudden animation, as soon as the success of the fire was firmly established, “I vote for a general adjournment to the targets; young Robson and Mat got ever such a lot of bullets there just now. I should have gone long ago, if you hadn't bullied me into playing cricket, you old wretch!" he continued, shaking his fist with an amusing air of affected defiance in Willie Knowles' face.

Most of the boys had thrown themselves down upon the grass, to watch the flames shooting up their forked tongues, and the smoke blowing away in great curling clouds of white.

I was seated cross-legged upon the turf, supporting Willie Knowles' head upon my lap, and remaining contentedly in the one cramped position, regardless of my aching knees, so long as he were comfortable and satisfied.

His hat was thrown off, and his eyes were partially closed in quiet enjoyment; for, queer as it may sound, I was engaged in my favourite amusement of soothing him into a state of blissful rest, by gently stroking his long, straight nose up and down with the tip of my forefinger, occasionally varying the process by softly drawing his dark curls between my fingers; for he always declared that nothing tickled him so delightfully, or calmed him into so serene a frame of mind, as these two tricks of mine.

All the other boys jumped up eagerly at Sam's proposal, and set off at once to race him to the targets, audibly wondering at their own stupidity in not having thought of such a thing before. So Willie, too, rolled lazily over, and scrambled to his feet, pulling me up after him, and away we started in the wake of the rest. The targets consisted of large, oblong sheets of iron, the painted rings on which were worn off in places, under the combined action of shot and shower, and their surface thickly studded with many a deep dent, where the bullets had struck fiercely when their impetuous career was so suddenly cut short in mid air; whilst a clean-cut hole right through the bull's eye of one, bore a lasting testimony to the more than ordinary success of some lucky rifleman.

Behind these, the steep slopes of the bank were drilled in hundreds of places by the shots that had fallen wide of the mark; and many were the shouts of delight that rose from the boys that afternoon, as one after another unearthed a bullet almost as bright and uninjured as when it left the rifle.

"This is the little hut where the marker has to stand," explained Sam, pompously, pointing, as he spoke, to a tiny little bullet-proof erection in front of the targets, but considerably to one side of them; "and woe betide him if there were

to be any mistake in the signalling, and he were to come out before they had finished firing!"

"I wish they would come and shoot, to-night," said Smedley, seating himself on the top of the grassy ridge. "They would have been here by now, I suppose, though; for it would soon get too dusk for them to see, now that the evenings are drawing in so."

"Oh, there is plenty of time yet!" exclaimed Hugh Marshall. "Do you think they'll be likely to come, Sam? You are pretty sure to know, if any one does!"


"No, they won't!" replied the Scamp, decisively. asked a man this morning, and he said it is so far from the town that they only use these ranges certain nights of the week, and this is not one of them, worse luck!"

"What a bore! It must be so jolly to watch them.”

"And jollier still to be one of them !" said Sam, with a burst of enthusiasm.

"It would be nice enough as far as the shooting is concerned, I daresay," said Willie Knowles, gravely, "but I don't guess the volunteers-or the militia either, for that matterwould really care to go to war, when it came to."

"Not they!" laughed Johnnie Harris, scornfully.

"Why, half of them would never join at all if they really thought that there was the faintest scent of war in the air, and the other half would run away rather than stand to be fired at."

“Oh, oh, would they?" jeered the Scamp, warmly. "That's your opinion, is it? Perhaps you are judging others by yourself, eh? I've got rather a better opinion of an Englishman than that, I'm happy to say!"

"Oh, of course the typical Englishman, in a book, would never dream of turning his back upon the foe, but the real, matter-of-fact, every-day sort of chap, in the volunteers especially, would be more likely to act on the belief that,—

'He who fights and runs away,

Will live to fight another day.'

I don't mind betting :—that is, if he did not absolutely refuse to fight at all! ”

"Well," rejoined the Scamp, "I don't care whether they only join because of the shooting, or not; I only know that I should like to be a soldier, and go to war, most tremendously. Only fancy, putting your gun to your shoulder and just taking a good squinny, and then-'click!' and you'd have pecked some one off on the opposite hill in grand style."

"Yes, and just fancy some one returning the compliment!" said Willie, grimly.

"They couldn't, stupid, if I killed them first!" and the Scamp laughed with aggravating glee to think how nicely he had caught Willie in his words. "Besides," he added presently, "I would depend upon my usual good luck, and risk all that."

"Well, you are a cold-blooded, heartless, old thing, Scamp, and I don't think much of your friendship, if you wouldn't mind rolling me over with a bullet," said Mat, half in earnest, half jocularly.

"Oh, but I shouldn't shoot you, don't you see? One would never have to fight his friends."

"Well, but then they are some one's friends, and fathers, and brothers, and all that; and, besides, you might have to shoot some of us, if you were a soldier ;-look at those French-"

"No fear!" interrupted Sam, indignantly, "we shall never have any of that sort of thing to do in England. And, for all you may say, I should like to be a soldier, most tre-menjeously," and the emphasis on the first syllable of this last word spoke volumes in itself.

"I must say I think war is horrid, and cruel, and barbarous," spoke up Willie again. "I don't see how any one with a spark of pity or human kindness can go and shoot down another Even though he belongs to a different nation, and is not your brother, or father, or friend, he is some one else's; and just think of all the misery and suffering and sorrow that—”


« PreviousContinue »