Read STORY TWO - CHAPTER 10 of Freaks on the Fells Three Months' Rustication , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on

Punctually, to a minute, our jailors returned, and once again drew up in a row before us.

“Now, lads, wot have ye got to say?”

“My friends,” began Jack, standing up and balancing himself on his one leg as well as he could, at the same time speaking with the utmost gravity and candour of expression, “my companion here in temporary distress ­for I feel that it will be but temporary ­has devolved upon me the interesting duty of making known to you the secret which has burthened his own mind for some time, and which has had so impressive and appropriate an effect upon yours.  But first I must request you to lock the door, and hang the key on this nail at my elbow.  You hesitate.  Why?  I am in chains; so is my comrade.  We are two; you are four.  It is merely a precaution to prevent the possibility of any one entering by stealth, and overhearing what I say.”

The man with the battered face locked the door, and hung up the key as directed, merely remarking, with a laugh, that we were safe enough anyhow, and that if we were humbugging him it would be worse for us in the long-run.

“Come, now, out with yer secret,” he added, impatiently.

“Certainly,” answered Jack, with increased urbanity, at the same time taking down the key, (which caused the four men to start), and gazing at it in a pensive manner.  “The secret!  Ah! yes.  Well, it’s a wonderful one.  D’you know, my lads, there would not be the most distant chance of your guessing it, if you were to try ever so much?”

“Well, but what is it?” cried one of the men, whose curiosity was now excited beyond endurance.

“It is this,” rejoined Jack, with slow deliberation, “that you four men are ­”

“Well,” they whispered, leaning forward eagerly.

“The most outrageous and unmitigated asses we ever saw!  Ha!  I thought it would surprise you.  Bob and I are quite agreed upon it.  Pray don’t open your eyes too wide, in case you should find it difficult to shut them again.  Now, in proof of this great, and to you important truth, let me show you a thing.  Do you see this torch,” (taking it down), “and that straw?” (lifting up a handful), “Well, you have no idea what an astonishing result will follow the application of the former to the latter ­see!”

To my horror, and evidently to the dismay of the men, who did not seem to believe that he was in earnest, Jack Brown thrust the blazing torch into the centre of the heap of straw.

The men uttered a yell, and rushing forward, threw themselves on the smoking heap in the hope of smothering it at once.  But Jack applied the torch quickly to various parts.  The flames leaped up!  The men rolled off in agony.  Jack, who somehow had managed to break his chain, hopped after them, showering the blazing straw on their heads, and yelling as never mortal yelled before.  In two seconds the whole place was in a blaze, and I beheld Jack actually throwing somersets with his one leg over the fire and through the smoke; punching the heads of the four men most unmercifully; catching up blazing handfuls of straw, and thrusting them into their eyes and mouths in a way that quite overpowered me.  I could restrain myself no longer.  I began to roar in abject terror!  In the midst of this dreadful scene the roof fell in with a hideous crash, and Jack, bounding through the smoking debris, cleared the walls and vanished!

At the same moment I received a dreadful blow on the side, and awoke ­ to find myself lying on the floor of my bedroom, and our man-servant Edwards furiously beating the bed-curtains, which I had set on fire by upsetting the candle in my fall.

“Why, Master Robert,” gasped Edwards, sitting down and panting vehemently, after having extinguished the flames, “wot have you been a-doin’ of?” I was standing speechless in the midst of my upset chair, table, and books, glaring wildly, when the man said this.

“Edwards,” I replied, with deep solemnity, “the mystery’s cleared up at last. It has been all a dream!”

“Wot’s been all a dream?  You hain’t bin a bed all night, for the clo’se is never touched, an’ its broad daylight.  Wot has bin up?”

I might have replied, that, according to his own statement, I had been “up,” but I did not.  I began gradually to believe that the dreadful scenes I had witnessed were not reality; and an overpowering sense of joy kept filling my heart as I continued to glare at the man until I thought my chest would rend asunder.  Suddenly, and without moving hand, foot, or eye, I gave vent to a loud, sharp, “Hurrah!”

Edwards started ­“Eh?”

“Hurrah! hurrah! it’s a DREAM!”

“Hallo!  I say, you know, come, this won’t ­”


“Bless my ’art, Master Ro ­”

Again I interrupted him by seizing my cap, swinging it round my head in an ecstasy of delight, and uttering cheer upon cheer with such outrageous vehemence, that Edwards, who thought me raving mad, crept towards the door, intending to bolt.

He was prevented from carrying out his intention, and violently overturned by the entrance of my father in dishabille.  I sprang forward, plucked the spectacles off his nose, threw my arms round his neck, and kissed him on both eyes.

“I won’t run away now, father, no, no, no! it’s all a dream ­a horrid dream! ha! ha! ha!”

“Bob, my dear boy!”

At this moment Jack, also in dishabille, rushed in.  “Hallo!  Bob, what’s all the row?”

I experienced a different, but equally powerful gush of feeling on seeing my friend.  Leaving my father, I rushed towards him, and, falling on his neck, burst into tears.  Yes, I confess it without shame.  Reader, if you had felt as I did, you would have done the same.

Jack led me gently to my bed, and, seating me on the edge of it, sat down beside me.  I at once perceived from their looks that they all thought me mad, and felt the necessity of calming me before taking more forcible measures.  This tickled me so much that I laughed again heartily, insomuch that Jack could not help joining me.  Suddenly a thought flashed into my mind.  My heart leaped to my throat, and I glanced downwards. It was there!  I seized Jack’s right leg, tumbled him back into the bed, and laying the limb across my knee, grasped it violently.

“All right!” I shouted, “straight, firm, muscular, supple as ever.”  I squeezed harder.

Jack roared.  “I say, Bob, gently ­”

“Hold your tongue,” said I, pinching the thigh.  “Do you feel that?”

“Ho! ah! don’t!”

“And that?”

“Stop him!  I say, my dear boy, have mercy?” Jack tried to raise himself, but I tilted him back, and, grasping the limb in both arms, hugged it.

After breakfast Jack and I retired to my room, where, the weather being unfavourable for our fishing excursion, I went all over it again in detail.  After that I sent Jack off to amuse himself as he chose, and, seizing a quire of foolscap, mended a pen, squared my elbows, and began to write this remarkable account of the reason why I did not become a sailor.

I now present it to the juvenile public, in the hope that it may prove a warning to all boys who venture to entertain the notion of running away from home and going to sea.