Read CHAPTER V of The Adventurous Seven Their Hazardous Undertaking , free online book, by Bessie Marchant, on

The End of the Voyage

Rumple found himself immediately popular, because of his prompt and spirited action in doing what he could to save the old lady. But, like a good many other people upon whom greatness descends, he had to pay a rather heavy price for his popularity, and when it came to being kissed by the old lady and her daughter every time they appeared on deck, he began to ask himself savagely if it were quite worth while to be regarded as a hero of the first class.

Two or three days of kissing and hugging were enough for him, and then he took to subterfuge, and whenever the old lady or her very angular but kindly daughter hove in sight, Rumple bolted like a frightened rabbit, taking to any sort of cover which came handy.

The stewards, entering into the joke of the thing, co-operated with great heartiness, and for the remainder of the voyage there was no more elusive person on board than Rumple Plumstead; so the old lady and her daughter were forced to lavish on the rest of the family the tenderness they felt solely for the boy, who loathed their indiscreet petting.

“Rupert, where is Rumple?” asked Nealie, coming on deck one afternoon a day or two before they expected to reach Fremantle.

“I haven’t an idea. Come to think of it, I have not seen him since breakfast. Where can the young rascal have got to?” exclaimed Rupert, starting up in dismay. He had been so engrossed in a book all the morning that he had taken very little notice of what was going on around him. He had certainly had to intervene once in a spirited encounter between Don and Billykins, who had taken to what they called wrestling, but which in reality amounted to a lively round of punching each other black and blue. Both small boys were considerably upset at being stopped in this entirely novel diversion, and declared that Rupert was neither public-spirited nor sporting to put a veto upon it; but he was firm, and threatened to send one of them to bed if they did not desist, and so they had been forced to find some other occupation.

But where was Rumple?

Enquiry elicited the alarming fact that he had not been seen at lunch, and for a healthy boy, especially one with a Plumstead appetite, to be absent from a meal meant that something must be very wrong indeed.

An active search through the vessel was at once organized; but when, after half an hour of brisk hunting, no trace of Rumple could be found, Nealie grew seriously alarmed, a horrible dread coming into her heart that he had in some way tumbled overboard.

She was running along the lower deck in search of one of the officers, to whom she might tell her fear, when she almost tumbled into the arms of the jolly fat purser, who had been so kind to all the children during the weeks of voyaging.

“Oh, Mr. Bent, we have lost my brother Rumple; he has not been seen since breakfast, and I am most dreadfully afraid that he must have fallen overboard!” she cried, the sharp distress in her tone showing how keen was her anxiety.

“Tut, tut, Missy, he could not have done that in broad daylight without someone seeing him,” replied the purser, who always treated Nealie as if she were no older than Rumple or Sylvia.

“Are you quite sure?” she asked anxiously.

“Quite! A big ship like this is all eyes in the daytime, you know, and to-day there have been men at work on the railings ever since breakfast, so there is no danger at all that anything of that sort can have happened. But I wonder where the young rascal can be? I seem to remember having seen him nipping round somewhere this morning. Let me see; what could I have been doing?” and the purser screwed up his face until there was nothing of his eyes visible.

“Oh, please try to think where it was that you saw him, and then we may be able to find him!” cried Nealie, clasping her hands in entreaty.

“Let me see.” The purser opened his eyes and glared about him, as if he expected to find the record of the morning’s doings chalked in big letters somewhere on the clean deck. “First thing after breakfast there was that affair of the linen having been miscounted. It is funny how some folks are born without any sense of number. Then there were the cook’s lists to be gone through. I remember seeing the boy then, for he lent me a pencil when mine broke. Now, what was I doing after that?”

“Oh, make haste, Mr. Bent! Please make haste to remember!” pleaded Nealie, feeling as if she would really have to take hold of this slow-witted man, and shake the information out of him if he did not hurry up a little.

“I’ve got it!” ejaculated Mr. Bent, slapping his sides with resounding whacks. “The next thing I did was to go down to the cold storage with the second officer. We must have been there for nearly an hour, for I know I was chilled through and through by the time we came up again, and I have not seen your brother since.”

“Then I am quite sure that Rumple must be down in the cold-storage place, and he will be frozen stiff by this time. Oh, fly, Mr. Bent, and let him out, for think how awful his sufferings must be!” cried Nealie, seizing the purser by the arm to drag him along. She had been down in the cold storage herself, and shivered at the recollection of the Arctic chill of the place, although she had been hugely interested at seeing the stacks of frozen provisions which were there to be preserved for daily use on the voyage.

There was no need to tell Mr. Bent to hurry, as he strode away to his own particular den to get the keys, and then, with Nealie running close behind him, made his way down, down, down, until the storeroom corridor was reached.

The cold-storage rooms were at the far end, and when he thrust the key into the lock, Nealie could have screamed with the anguish of her keen apprehension.

Mr. Bent thrust open the door, and then both of them cried out in amazement, for the place was brilliant with electric light, and Rumple, covered from head to foot in hoar frost, as if he had just stepped out of the Arctic regions, was lifting boxes of butter from the shelves, and then lifting them back again, as hard as he could work.

“I’m about tired of this,” he managed to drawl out in a would-be casual tone, and then he suddenly collapsed in a limp heap in Nealie’s arms.

Quickly they lifted him out into the warmth of the corridor, and then Nealie started chafing his cold hands and face, while Mr. Bent replaced the butter boxes on the shelves, then, turning off the electric light, came out and locked the door behind him.

“Now I should like to know what monkey trick you were up to when you went and got yourself locked in a place like that?” he said in an angry tone as he bent over poor Rumple, unwinding a lot of sacking from the boy’s shoulders, and slapping him vigorously to quicken circulation.

“Oh, you will hurt him dreadfully if you beat him like that, and I am quite sure that he did not mean to do wrong!” burst out Nealie in red-hot indignation, as she pushed away those vigorously slapping hands, and gathered Rumple’s cold, limp figure into a warm embrace.

“Bless you, Missy, I was not doing it to hurt him, only to make his blood flow quicker, and save him a bit of misery later on. If he has been in mischief, he has had to pay quite dearly enough for it, without any more punishment. It is lucky for him that the freezing plant is out of order to-day, and we have only been able to keep the place just down to freezing-point. If it had been as cold as it is sometimes, it might have been too late to save him, poor fellow,” said Mr. Bent, pushing Nealie gently aside, and starting on his slapping with more vigour than before.

“I wasn’t in mischief; I only bolted in there because the door was open, and I wanted to get clear of Miss Clarke, who was being shown round the storerooms by one of the officers,” said Rumple feebly. “She always will kiss me, don’t you know, and I just can’t stand it. I was crouching behind a case of things at the farther end, when to my horror the light went out, and a minute later, before I could yell, the door slammed. I did yell then for all that I was worth, but I could not make anyone hear, and it was so long before I could grope my way to the door, for I was at the farther end, you see, and I turned silly with funk at the first.”

“I don’t wonder at that, poor darling!” murmured Nealie, lavishing endearments on him, which he accepted all in good part, although he had been so hotly resentful of Miss Clarke’s openly expressed affection. She was the daughter of the fat old lady, and he disliked the pair of them so heartily that his one desire was to put as much distance as possible between them and himself at all times and in all places.

“Well, laddie, it is a good thing for you that you were born with your share of common sense, for you seem to have gone the right way to work to keep from being frozen,” said Mr. Bent, as he rolled the sacking into a bundle and tossed it into a corner; then, slipping his arm round Rumple, lifted the boy to a standing posture.

But he would have promptly fallen again if they had not supported him on either side, for his feet were thoroughly chilled, and he was so tired that he seemed to have no strength at all.

“I was a long time finding the electric light, but when I did come upon it, and pressed the button, I felt ever so much better,” said Rumple, as his rescuers helped him to climb the stairs. “And I knew that I must not stand still; but there was so little room to walk about that I had to lift cases from the shelves and put them back again. I found that great piece of sacking, and when I had wrapped it round my shoulders I felt a little warmer; but it was more than a little nippy, I can tell you, and it made me think of the January mornings at Beechleigh, when the old pump used to freeze up and we undertook to thaw it out for Mrs. Puffin before breakfast,” said Rumple wearily.

At this moment the others, headed by Sylvia, came rushing down upon them, and Rumple was at once overwhelmed with enquiries and congratulations. But Nealie was so concerned at his desperate weariness that she insisted on his going to bed at once.

“You must have some hot soup, too, and then you will get warm quickly and go to sleep,” she said in the careful, elder-sisterly manner which always came uppermost when any of them were in any sort of difficulty.

“I don’t want any soup or mucks of that kind, but I should be glad if I could have a piece of dry bread or some hard biscuits, for I do not mind admitting that I ate half a pound of butter to keep out the cold, and I feel rather greasy inside,” said Rumple, puckering his face into a grimace as Rupert hustled him off to their cabin to put him to bed.

“What made you do that?” demanded Rupert sternly, for this partook of the nature of thieving, and the juniors had to be reproved for any lapse from strict morality.

“The Esquimaux eat blubber to keep out the cold, and as I had no blubber, and did not like to break open one of the lard pails, I just took the butter. Do you expect that Mr. Bent will mind?” asked Rumple anxiously. “I have got enough money to pay for it if he gets waxy, but of course I have had no lunch, and, seeing that the shipping company have got to keep me, I do not see that it matters much whether I eat half a pound of butter for my meal or whether I have two goes of meat and three of pudding. Hullo, who is that?”

The exclamation was caused by someone pounding on the door for admittance, and when Rumple found that the someone was the ship’s doctor, great was his wrath at the coddling which Nealie had supposed to be necessary for him. But the doctor roared with laughter when he heard about the butter, and Rumple was so far mollified by his mirth as to be beguiled into laughing also, after which he was rolled in blankets and promptly went to sleep, not rousing again until the following morning, when he appeared to be none the worse for his adventure among the ice.

But someone must have dropped a hint to the indiscreet Miss Clarke and her mother, because from that time onward they left Rumple in peace, so far as kissing was concerned, although they seemed to be just as fond of him as ever.

The seven were all getting just a little bit weary of voyaging when at length the boat entered the fine harbour of Sydney, and berthed among the other vessels at the Circular Quay.

Then, indeed, things became exciting, and although they knew that their father had not had the first letter which had been sent to him, there was still the probability that he had received a later letter from Mr. Runciman, and that he might be among the crowd who were waiting to board the liner when she came to her berth, beside the big vessel from Hong-Kong.

They were gathered in a group forward, and were eagerly scanning all that could be seen of the shore, when one of the stewards came hurrying up to say that a gentleman had come on board for Miss Plumstead, and was at that moment waiting to see her in the dining saloon.

“Oh, it must be dear Father; I am quite sure of it!” cried Nealie, and, seizing Ducky by the hand, she hurried away down to the big dining saloon, followed by the other five.

Very different the big room looked to-day from the time when they had seen it first. Then the tables were spread for a meal, and decorated with flowers and fruit; now everything was in confusion, the tables were bare, or heaped with the hand baggage of departing passengers, and there was an air of desolation over all, such as is seen in a house from which a family are flitting.

But Nealie had no eyes for details of this sort at such a moment, as she clattered down the steps, holding Ducky fast by the hand. When she reached the bend, from whence she had a full view of the room, she saw a tall, grey-haired man, very sprucely dressed, standing at the end of the third table.

“Oh, it is Father!” she cried, half-turning her head to let the others know; and then, taking the last three steps at a bound, and dropping her hold of Ducky’s hand, she rushed with tumultuous haste along the end of the room, and flinging herself upon the man, who had turned at her approach, she cried joyfully: “Oh, my dear, dear father, how glad we are to see you!”

But even as her arms closed around his neck a chill doubt seized her, and the next moment the astonished gentleman had drawn himself away from her grasp, saying hurriedly:

“My dear young lady, I am not your father.”