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The Submarine Hunters A Story of the Naval Patrol Work in the Great War

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CHAPTER I The Mysterious Meeting on St. Mena's Island

"We've made a proper mess of things this time!" ejaculated Ross Trefusis—"or rather I have."

"It can't be helped," rejoined his chum, Vernon Haye. "We've done our level best to get her off. How long is it before the tide floats her?"

"A matter of seven or eight hours, worse luck. You see, it was only half ebb when we landed."

Ross bent down to remove a streak of bluish-grey mud from his ankle.

"I wish we'd taken the rowing-boat instead of this heavy old tub," he continued. "We'll be pretty peckish before we get back to the Hall, and dinner's at seven-thirty."

Vernon laughed.

"It wouldn't be the first time I've had to go without grub," he remarked. "If you don't mind, I don't."

"Then it's no use standing here," said Ross. "Let's get on our shoes and go for a stroll."

Vernon Haye was a broad-shouldered lad of fifteen, with clear-cut features and dark hair. His companion was of about the same age, but a good two inches taller. His complexion was florid, his hair of an auburn tint that narrowly escaped coming within the category of red or ginger. His features were full and rounded. In short, he was a typical Cornish youth.

Ross's father, Admiral Paul Trefusis, lived at Killigwent Hall, a large, rambling, sixteenth-century house, standing within a mile of the sea on the North Cornish coast.

Both lads went to the same public school, but owing to the fact that Vernon's father, Captain Haye, was on active service with the Grand Fleet, young Haye was spending the summer holidays with his chum at Killigwent Hall.

That afternoon the lads had taken a small sailing-boat and had made for St. Mena's Island, a small rocky piece of land lying about a mile off shore, and nearly five miles from Killigwent Cove. The island was roughly three-quarters of a mile in length, and four hundred yards wide in the broadest part. The north and west sides were precipitous, but on the side nearest to the mainland the ground sloped gradually, and was indented by several narrow tidal coves.

The glamour of romance lay thickly around that rocky pile. Centuries ago it was the abode of a hermit, who, amongst his various self-imposed tasks, had built a chapel on the summit, from the tower of which a wood fire was kindled nightly to warn mariners of the treacherous reefs in the vicinity of the island.

In course of time, St. Mena's Island became the haunt of wreckers and smugglers. The chapel, in spite of its massive construction, fell a victim to the ravages of wind and weather, but still served as a convenient shelter for the lawless Cornishmen who profited by the misfortunes of honest seamen. Immune from interference, by reason of the superstitious awe in which the island was held by the country-folk, the smugglers and wreckers thrived exceedingly until late in the eighteenth century, when stern measures were taken to suppress their misdeeds. From that time St. Mena's Island was deserted, except for the casual visits of tourists and summer visitors from the neighbouring towns of Padstow and Newquay, and countless numbers of sea-birds that take up their abode in crannies in the almost inaccessible cliffs....