One hot August afternoon, a motor-boat, with a little dinghy in tow, was thrashing its way up a narrow, winding river in Southern Wessex. The strea
m, swollen by the drainage of overnight rain from the high moors that loomed in the hazy blue distance, was running riotously, casting buffets of spray across the bows of the little craft, and tossing like a cork the dinghy astern. On either side a dense entanglement of shrubs, bushes, and saplings overhung the water’s edge, forming a sort of rampart or outwork for the taller trees behind. The occupants of the boat were three. Amidships, its owner, Phil Warrender, was dividing his attention between the engine and the tiller. Warrender was tall, lithe, swarthy, with crisp black hair which seemed to lift his cap as an irksome incubus. A little abaft of him sat Jack Armstrong, bent forward over an Ordnance map: he had the lean, tight-skinned features, spare frame, and hard muscles of the athlete, and his hay-coloured hair was cropped as close as a prize-fighter’s. In the bows, on the scrap of deck, Percy Pratt, facing the others, squatted cross-legged like an Oriental cobbler, and dreamily twanged a banjo. He was shorter and of stouter build than his companions, with a round, chubby face and brown curly hair clustering close to his poll, and caressing the edge of his cap like the tendrils of a creeper. All three boys were in their eighteenth year, and wore the flannels, caps, and blazers of their school Eleven.