The Art-Music, Literature and Linguistics Forum
February 23, 2024, 02:38:12 pm
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
News: Here you may discover hundreds of little-known composers, hear thousands of long-forgotten compositions, contribute your own rare recordings, and discuss the Arts, Literature and Linguistics in an erudite and decorous atmosphere full of freedom and delight.
 
  Home Help Search Gallery Staff List Login Register  

9b: Out of the Eater (b)

Pages: [1]   Go Down
  Print  
Author Topic: 9b: Out of the Eater (b)  (Read 191 times)
Admin
Administrator
Level 8
*****

Times thanked: 53
Offline Offline

Posts: 3914


View Profile
« on: March 03, 2023, 01:58:23 am »

So we all surmounted the third insuperable step, and, thanks to Mansel and Rowley, found ourselves risen from the dead. For Mansel brought us into the well, and Rowley taught us how to climb up, and, though they both made much of what Hanbury and I had done, I am afraid the depth of the well lent our performance a glamour which it did not deserve.

The redoubt was deserted.

For this we were thankful: yet it quickened our concern for Tester and Bell: and, when I remembered ‘Rose’ Noble’s way with a hostage, I felt uneasy indeed.

We were, all of us, streaming with sweat; so Mansel took a shirt and a jersey, which he found hanging up, and each of us took some clothing against the cool of the night.

Then we passed into the meadow and took to the woods.

We dared not go by the castle, but bore towards the shrine, presently turning left-handed across the road of approach. So we came down to the river, which we made at a point not very far from where Mansel had hidden the boat. To find this took us some minutes, for, although we could see the dawn coming, it was still very dark. But at length I fell into a gully; and there it was.

Then Mansel gave Hanbury Ellis’ pistol, which he had taken from the body before he descended the shaft.

“You and Rowley,” he said, “stay here and hang on to the bags, while Chandos and I take the boat and scull to the shoot. What we shall find I know no more than you: but what ever happens, I think you must both sit tight, for I know I’m too tired to swim, and we’ve been close enough to drowning for the last three hours. And, as soon as it’s light, I think I should dry that pistol as best you can.”

With that, we launched the boat, and at once I bent to the sculls.

When we came to the shoot, we listened: but, except for the lap of the water, we could hear no manner of sound.

Then Mansel took his pistol and, withdrawing the magazine, took out the ammunition and wiped it dry. There was a round in the chamber, and he dried that as well. Then he reloaded the weapon, and, when it was quite to his liking, he put up his hand and rang the bell.

For a moment or two we sat waiting.

Then the flap was withdrawn.

Now whether it was Bell who had withdrawn it or one of the thieves we could not possibly tell: if it was one of the thieves, now was the moment to enter, as ‘Rose’ Noble had done: but whoever it was did not let down the ladder, and Mansel dared not demand it, because at once his speech would give him away.

Suddenly, to our great joy, we heard Tester let out the grunt which he kept for matters suspicious, whose claim to be passed in silence had yet to be proved.

“Bell,” said Mansel at once.

“Sir,” said Bell.

“Where’s ‘Rose’ Noble?”

“In the oubliette, sir. There’s four of them there, an’ the innkeeper’s pulled up the rope, so they can’t get out.”

“But the postern?”

“Carson’s holding that, sir. When you didn’t come, I thought I’d best bring him here.”

“Well done, indeed,” said Mansel. “And now let down the ladder, and I’ll come up.”

Then he gave me his pistol and told me to pick up the others and row them across the river, treasure and all.

“And then come back here,” said he, “as soon as you can: for this is the last lap, and, between you and me, I’ve a fancy to win the race.”

With that, he went up the ladder, and I sculled back to the others as fast as I could.

Hanbury and Rowley could hardly believe my news: and, indeed, to me it seemed almost too good to be true, for that Bell and Tester should be safe smacked of the supernatural, but that ‘Rose’ Noble should have permitted himself to be snared was almost inconceivable.

I was back at the shoot in ten minutes, and at once Bell lowered the bucket full of our clothes. Then he let down food and wine, and, lastly, a medley of things---arms and papers and money and Lockhart’s Life of Scott. Finally, he descended and proposed to row me across and then himself to return for Mansel and Carson. But I had him across the river, before he had got on his clothes, and, when he had unloaded the boat, I sculled back for the last time.

I arrived to find Carson throwing down our last coil of rope, and, after a little, he descended, with Tester under his arm. Almost at once the rope-ladder fell into the water, and, an instant later, Mansel slid down the shoot.

He would not enter the boat, but laid hold of the painter and bade me bend to the oars.

So soon as we were ashore, we sank the boat; and, two minutes later, we all set out for the culvert, bearing our treasure with us, like men in a fairytale.

The dawn was up, but we held to the road, for to make our way across country was beyond our power. As it was, we lurched and staggered, and once I fell asleep walking and, taking no note of a bend, fell into the ditch. Yet Mansel drove us on, “for,” said he, “I’m not going to be caught at the post. There’s the postern and the shoot and the river between them and us: but four of us are no better than dead men, and I couldn’t hit ‘Rose’ Noble at seven feet. And there you are. I’m sorry to spoil your outlook, but we’ve got to be in France before sunset, and there’s quite a long way to go.”

At last we came to the culvert.

There we left the rifles, bestowing them under the arch. And then, without more ado, we all climbed into the Rolls, and Carson drove us to Villach as fast as he could.

There we only waited to take up the second car: and Bell was set to drive this, because, after Carson, he was the least fatigued.

Ten miles short of Salzburg we stopped; and, when we had done what we could to order our appearance, we emptied the Rolls’ tool-box and packed within it so much of the treasure as we could make it hold. It was a capacious coffer, but, when it was full, there still remained a good deal: most of this we hid in the tire of one of the two spare wheels, and what was still left we concealed about ourselves.

All this because of the Customs: for we knew very well that, if it was found at a frontier that we were laden with jewels, we should be certainly stopped and those in authority informed.

And here, for the first time, I perceived that, though we had lifted the treasure, we stood in imminent danger of losing every ounce; for, if once its existence came to the knowledge of the State, all the resources of the Law would be employed to prevent six foreigners from abducting so considerable a fortune.

This peril shocked me so much that I besought Mansel to wait and to let us dispose the treasure in some less conspicuous place. But he would not listen.

“I dare not wait,” said he, “because of ‘Rose’ Noble. I’m not afraid of him, because now we’ve had some sleep: but I don’t want a brush with him in a public place. Whatever the outcome was, explanations would have to be made. And we’re not in a position to explain. Nobody is, when he’s carrying stuff like this. As for the Customs, we’ve as good a chance there to-day as we should have next week. I shan’t enjoy the passage, but it’s got to be made. As far as the tool-box is concerned, I’ll give you an excellent rule: if you’ve something to hide, always hide it in the most obvious place. And now don’t worry. If you can’t go to sleep, look inexpressibly bored. And please try not to perspire. Perspiration is the emblem of an uneasy mind.”

If that was a true saying, the officials who dealt with us were an inobservant lot, for, while they examined the Rolls, the sweat ran down my face. But Mansel paid the dues with an injured air, and, after a little delay, they let us pass.

So we entered Germany: and at half past five that evening we came to France.

And here I thought all was over, for they turned us out of the car and took up the cushions and carpet and opened the petrol-tank. They did not open the tool-box, because they saw Mansel do that. I saw him do it, too, and thought he was out of his mind. He took out one of the rubbers with which we had covered the treasure and then put a foot on the tool-box and started to dust his shoes, talking politics all the time with the Frenchman in charge and becoming so engrossed in his discourse that the search had been done and we were back in the car, before he had finished his dusting and put his rubber away.

And, when later we spoke of the matter with bated breath, he merely observed that prevention was better than cure.

“But you must have been worried,” cried Hanbury.

“Worried?” said Mansel. “I think it took a year off my life.”

And there you have Jonathan Mansel.

Master of many things, he was especially master of himself. His self-control was so perfect that those who knew him best could no more read his heart than they could look through a plate of armour of proof. Add to this that he could think twice as swiftly as other men, and you will see the disadvantage at which his enemies stood. When we were in any trouble, because he was wiser, he saw more clearly than we the depth of the risk we ran: yet he was always the coolest, the most confident, the most matter-of-course. With it all, he was never secretive. All his movements were gentle: yet he had the strength of two men. He was most unassuming and generous: yet was most plainly revered wherever he went.

I never knew, till long after, that, when he became lame, as the result of a wound, he lost his balance and so his head for heights, and that, from that time on, it troubled him to so much as look down from a balcony on to a garden below. Yet on that awful night he came up the great well and gave no indication then or at any time of the agony he must have suffered from this terrible thorn in the flesh.

At Strasbourg we turned South, and, when we were deep in the country, we took a little by-road which led to a wood. There we spent the night. And at eight o’clock the next evening we reached Dieppe.

So I came back to England the way I had come some seventy days before, with the dog-collar in pocket and my heart in my mouth.

---

And here, before I go any further, I will set down Bell’s tale.

He had heard the trap open, for he had not been asleep, and he and Tester had at once withdrawn to the ramp. No bomb had been thrown, but four men had at once descended into the oubliette. One of these was ‘Rose’ Noble, and another the tanner, for he had passed close to the postern, and Bell had observed the odour which hung about him. Almost at once they had all gone into the shaft. They were a long time gone, and, before they came back, some one else had descended and followed them in.

Suddenly Bell had heard the unmistakable cry of a man in terror of death. This came from the shaft.

At once a spout of German had burst from the trap, and, since he could hear two voices, Bell knew that they must be those of the tanner’s allies. Their tones were plainly apprehensive, and again and again they repeated the name “Johann”: and at last Bell gathered that the cry must have come from the tanner and that the two at the trap were suspecting foul play.

Sure enough, when the thieves returned, as they presently did, and ‘Rose’ Noble commanded the landlord to draw him up, the latter demanded “Johann”: and, when the thieves sought to bluff him, made it plain in pitiful English that he and the tanner’s brother would take no one of them up until they heard “Johann’s” voice.

Now what in the world we were doing Bell could not tell, but supposed we were holding the chamber, instead of the shaft: and, since, if they could not get up, the thieves were certain to try to force the postern, he decided to summon Carson to help him to hold the ramp.

He, therefore, whipped down to the gallery and, opening two of the windows, turned on our electric light, and then sped back to the postern to witness a turbulent scene, the thieves roaring orders and threats, and the innkeeper and his companion hurling down taunts and abuse. Then somebody fired at the trap, and at once, as though in answer, the rope came tumbling down on to the stile.

Then ‘Rose’ Noble had turned upon Punter and rent him for leaving the trap, and Punter had cursed ‘Rose’ Noble for taking the tanner’s life. But ‘Rose’ Noble declared with an oath that the tanner had hoaxed them.

“He’s done in Ellis,” he said, “and the bags are down in the shaft. He was meaning to box us here and then go back with his fellows and pouch the lot. And, if we don’t get out of this hole, those other two black-blooded rats will have it yet.”

“But where’s the Willies?” cried Job.

The question confounded Bell, but appeared to sober the thieves: for at once they lowered their voices, clearly believing that we were all in the ramp and presumably fearing that we should leave by the shoot and make for the well.

Presently Job had approached and endeavoured to force the postern, and, while he was so engaged, Bell shot him dead.

At once the other three had retired to the shaft, from which Bell fully expected that we should soon drive them out. But when presently Carson arrived, yet there was no sign of our coming, he could not think what had happened and began to fear very much that some accident had occurred.

When Carson heard his story, he had at once decided that Bell must take some rest and that, if in three hours’ time, we had not appeared, they must force their way into the shaft, to see what the trouble might be. But, before, that time had expired, we had come to the shoot.

Four several times the thieves had approached the postern; but, I suppose, no one of them was minded to give his life for the other two; for a frontal attack alone could have been successful, and that they did not make.

In the hope of reducing their number, Carson had held his fire as long as he dared, but, though he had wounded Punter, they gave him no other chance.

So, in the end, ‘Rose’ Noble’s astonishing instinct overleaped itself: for, had he not slain the tanner, finding the fellow guilty of something he had not done, he must, I think, have had the treasure and four of us into the bargain.

---

There is little more to be told.

On the way from Newhaven to London we stopped in a lonely place and put the treasure back into the canvas bags. And, when we reached Cleveland Row, we carried it up and laid it in Mansel’s flat. And there, for the first time, we saw what it was we had won.

The spoil was that of a robber of high estate.

There was nothing common, and, except for a small bag of gold, no coinage at all.

There were jewels of all descriptions and many loose precious stones. There were brooches and clasps and circlets: there were cups and the hilts of poniards, studded with gems: there were two crucifixes and a monstrance and the crook of a pastoral staff, the presence of which, had he been charged with sacrilege, Axel the Red might have found it hard to explain: there was a golden chessboard, with ruby and emerald chessmen, as fine as you please: there was a scourge, the seven cords of which were loaded with seven diamonds, the size of full-grown grapes. There were jewelled dice and bracelets and eighteen or twenty rings: there were images and girdles and a golden hunting-horn: but most lovely of all was a triptych, whose three little, sacred pictures were done like stained-glass windows, only with precious stones.

When we had examined it thoroughly, we packed it all into a plate-chest and lodged it at Mansel’s bank.

And there, I suppose, our adventure came to an end.

Most of the treasure we sold, but Mansel, Hanbury and I each kept some one of the gems. They made me take the triptych, because the secret of Wagensburg had been bequeathed to me. And I have lent it to a Museum, because, to be honest, I dare not house it myself.

For what we sold we received nine hundred thousand pounds, “which is very much less,” said Mansel, “than what it is worth: but that cannot be helped, for I never was any good in the counting-house, and, from what I’ve seen of you two, you’re worse than I.” And, indeed, for my part, if I had been told it was worth but half a million, I should have been none the wiser and perfectly content.

Of this huge sum Mansel, Hanbury and I took each two ninths for himself and Carson, Rowley and Bell received one ninth apiece.

To my great surprise, when Bell had been given his cheque, he said that, if I was content to keep him, he had no wish to leave my service; when I pointed out that he was now a man of means, he said that, for his part, that did not alter the case; and since Hanbury and I were proposing to share an estate in the country, I told him to take a holiday and report to me in three weeks’ time.

Both George and I found it hard to part with Mansel: and, when the latter suggested that we should come down to Hampshire and spend a week with him there, we were only too glad to accept.

And there, in the midst of the New Forest, he brought us back to the world; for our doings of the last two months had thrown our focus out, and, when we looked upon the future, this seemed intolerably grey. But Mansel pointed the virtue of quiet enjoyment, maintaining that only those who knew the quality of peace could, when the moment came, taste the full flavour of battle: “for,” said he, “for the last two months we have been against the peace, and that is a condition which is all very well for a time but, if it is too much prolonged, will surely lose its sweetness and, what is infinitely worse, will sour the years that are left in the cellar of Life.”

So he did us an enduring service, for, but for that week in Hampshire, I do not think that either George Hanbury or I would ever have settled down, but, having the means to do so, would have gone out to rove the world in search of more excitement and so have dropped substance for a shadow and thrown our birthrights away.

As it is, I can now look back upon those seventy days as a man regards some picture, the contemplation of which never fails to bring him infinite delight: for they stand clean out of a quiet, orderly existence and, by the contrast, gain immeasurably.

Their burden is as vivid to-day as it was that sunshiny morning when we unloaded the tool-box, not far from the London road---the murder of the Englishman, and the quiet contempt of his prophecy that Ellis would come to grief: the level-crossing, and the fierce pounding of my heart as we sat awaiting the train: the courtyard of Wagensburg, and Mansel against the lime-tree with ‘Rose’ Noble stretched at his feet: the ear-splitting crash of the bomb, and Mansel’s steady voice calling the roll: the heat of the closed car’s engine scorching my back: the smell of tanning, and Tester’s menacing bark: ‘Rose’ Noble’s weight upon me, and his heavy breathing as he set out to take my life: our last, stupendous effort to reach the chamber, and Ellis dead and staring against the bars: and then, our terrible battle with that most jealous of wardens, the great well.

The memory of these things I find as valuable as my share of the treasure itself, and I doubt if ever a man was so well paid for undertaking the care of a masterless dog.

The latter is with me always, and I think her life is happy. I have called her ‘Rafter;’ for, as the name of a dog, the word does well enough, while it will always mean a great deal to me.

And here I may say that Tester was more fortunate than she, for he never went into quarantine, but, instead, into the tool-box of the second car, to emerge upon Ashdown Forest with, to judge from his spirits, a new lease of life. But, then, he was a hardened smuggler, and had cheated the Customs this way a dozen times.

THE END

Report Spam   Logged

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter


Pages: [1]   Go Up
  Print  
 
Jump to:  

Powered by EzPortal
Bookmark this site! | Upgrade This Forum
SMF For Free - Create your own Forum


Powered by SMF | SMF © 2016, Simple Machines
Privacy Policy