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1: The Well-Digger's Statement

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« on: March 01, 2023, 02:25:34 am »

When the first of these things happened, that is to say upon the twentieth day of April, 192-, I was twenty-two years old, a little stronger than most men of my age, and very ready for anything that bade fair to prove more exciting than entering the office of my uncle, who was a merchant of consequence in the City of London.

I had lately been sent down from Oxford for using some avowed communists as many thought they deserved, and, though George Hanbury---for he had been with me in the affair---and I received much sympathy and more complimentary letters from complete strangers than we could conveniently answer, I think we were both more distressed than we would have cared to admit to take our leave of Christchurch before our time. For my part, I had been glad to get out of England and to put the matter as far away from my mind as ever I knew.

I had, then, spent five weeks at Biarritz, the guest of some people called Pomeroy, with whom, such was their benevolence, I believe I might have stayed indefinitely; but a letter from Hanbury, with whom I was to share a flat, threatening to forego the agreement if I did not return to Town, at length precipitated my departure.

I returned as I had come, alone in my car, making for Dieppe and spending the first night at Angoulême and the second at Tours.

From Tours to Dieppe is a comfortable day’s run, and I rose that April morning, intending to pass my third night on the packet which should take me to England.

I left Tours about ten in the morning and came to Chartres at one. There I purchased my luncheon and, after taking in petrol, re-entered the car, for the weather was very fair, and I meant to eat by the way. Accordingly, a few miles farther, I stopped by the side of the road, and, leaving the car, sat down on a grassy bank to eat my meal.

It was a fine, smooth day, and the sunshine seemed almost as hot as it had been at Biarritz. The world, so far as I could see, I had to myself. The road stretched white and empty and straight for miles upon either hand.

I was never much of a trencherman when I had to eat alone, and my meal---a pâté de Chartres and some fruit, and a bottle of beer---was soon done; but, since I had plenty of time and the beer had made me heavy, I lay down in the warm grass and went to sleep.

I now know that I must have slept for near fifty minutes before I was awakened by the voices of two men, who were somewhere quite close to me. They were speaking English, and from the speech and the tone of one of them, it was clear that his temper was out of hand.

You, by hell,” he was crying, and I think it was the bitterness and the enmity with which he kept investing the pronoun that brought me so wide awake. “You. And who are you? You choose, do you? And what about us? Seven years I’ve done---seven years out of my life. And the others----”

“Your confinement,” said the other coolly, “seems to have affected your brain. The secret’s mine, and you know it. Why, because you’ve been in prison, should I make it over to you?”

“Because we’re partners,” blurted the first. I could hear him swallow. “That’s why.”

“Partners?” said the other. He laughed lightly. “Let me refresh your memory. For five years I led you, Ellis---you and the other four. I gave you two-thirds of every cent we took. Then, one day, you struck. You demanded five-sixths. When I refused, you swore you’d work on your own---with what result we know.” He laughed again. “So much for partnership. Add, then, two points,” he continued: “first---that I had the secret before ever I saw your face, and, second---that at your trial you tried to save yourself by letting me in.”

I cannot describe the contempt with which these last words were uttered, and Ellis was plainly stung, for he let out a volley of protest, declaring that it was not he that had done it, and that the papers had reported the matter wrong.

“I was in Court,” said the other, and laughed again. Then I heard him yawn. “And so, you see,” he continued, “you can’t be surprised that I don’t jump at the chance of making you free of a fortune at my expense.”

I had at first been astonished that I could hear so perfectly, for I was sure that the speakers were upon the opposite side of the bank. Then I perceived that I had my ear to a drain which must give directly into the wood beyond, and that, if I was minded to listen, I was ideally placed. But I could, of course, see nothing, and to hear, yet not see, these two fellows was more than I could endure. I therefore rose from my gully and made my way by inches to the grass which was growing long upon the top of the bank. Into this I passed, like a snake, with the utmost caution, for I could now hear the voices almost as loud as before, and in a moment I was looking down upon two men, who were standing in a miniature glade, with the wood thick about them, and the bank upon which I was lying blocking the hither end.

The one was dressed in old tweeds, that had been well cut: he was a slight, handsome man, and wore a fair, close-cut beard: his eyes were grey and steady: he looked a gentleman. His arms were folded, and he was leaning against a tree, lazily regarding the other as though he were unclean.

The latter was a big, coarse man, soon to be fat. He was flashily dressed, with a slip to his waistcoat, and cloth-topped, patent-leather boots; and all his clothes argued an elegant taste like that of a blackamoor. His mouth was brutal, and his small, black eyes were set close in his head, and I remember wondering how two so different men could ever have agreed together for so long as five years.

Ellis was trembling with rage.

“You see,” said the other, “there’s really no more to be said. For the moment, so far as I am concerned, the treasure of Wagensburg will stay where it is. Whether later on I shall lift it, I really don’t know; but, if I do, that I shall seek your assistance, Ellis, is most improbable. Of course, you’re at liberty to go and look for yourself. You know where it is---to within some four or five miles,” and, with that, he took out tobacco and started to fill a pipe.

I had never thought of such blasphemy as that which his words provoked. Ellis spouted imprecations, at once so dreadful and couched in such filthy terms that, had he then and there fallen dead, it would have seemed to me the natural consequence of such iniquity.

The other heard him out, busy with his pipe.

Then---

“Eloquent as ever,” he said. “Can you find your own way back? Oh, and by the way,” he went on, not waiting for any reply, “don’t come here again, or anywhere that I am. I have no use for you, and I dislike your company.”

He whistled as though for some dog and started to stroll down the glade, pausing for a moment to bring a match to his pipe, and commanding my great admiration by his insolent scorn of the other’s violent and menacing demeanour.

I was, indeed, in the act of admiration when the murder was done.

As the other hunched his shoulders above his pipe, Ellis struck him high up to the right of the spine, and, either from the force of the blow or from the wound, the other fell down on his face with a knife in his back.

The murderer staggered across him and nearly fell over the body, bringing himself up against a tree on the far side, panting with stress. So he stayed for a second, with his knees loose and his back flat against the trunk, staring at what he had done. Then he raised his head, and his eyes met mine.

I suppose it was natural that I did not seem able to move. I seemed to be in a trance.

I watched him draw out a pistol and take deliberate aim. I know his hand was unsteady, and I think the bullet went high; but the shot broke the spell that held me, and I heaved myself back down the bank before he could aim again.

I was on my feet in an instant, but, though I did not feel faint, I was shaking like a leaf. After a moment, however, I flung myself again at the bank, rather dazedly, but taking care to make the top at a different place.

Ellis was gone.

The body lay as it had fallen, and a big Alsatian was nosing and licking the face. Already there was a great stain upon the back of the light, tweed coat.

I leaped down lightly and, setting the dog aside, turned over the body as gently as I could. I remembered having read somewhere that you should not withdraw a knife. The man was breathing, so I carried him over and propped him against the bank. Then I ran for my flask, which was in the car. His eyes were half-open when I returned, and his hand was on the dog’s collar, and the dog’s head on his chest. I gave him what brandy I could, but most of it ran over his chin.

“I saw the whole thing,” I said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t warn you, but Ellis was too quick.”

The other smiled faintly.

“But I’ll get him,” I added fiercely. “Tell me as much as you can.”

The other shook his head.

“Let him go,” he murmured. “Let him work out his own damnation. How much did you hear?”

“He wanted your secret,” I said. “The Wagensburg treasure, you called it. And you didn’t see the point.”

He smiled again.

“Are you fond of dogs?” he breathed.

“Yes.”

“Will you take care of mine?”

“I will.”

He nodded.

“Good man,” he whispered. Then, “Look in her collar,” he murmured, “and you’ll find she can pay for her keep.”

His eyes closed then, and he lay so still for a while that I thought he was dead.

Suddenly---

“Raise me,” he said. I did so. “What’s England like?” he said. “I haven’t been able to go there for seven years.”

I tried to tell him.

“But the country’s the same,” he said thickly. “The woods, and the meadows at sundown and----”

That was his last word, for a terrible rush of blood came from his mouth, and he died as did Falstaff, speaking of green fields.

His blood was all over my hands and the dog’s coat, but I presently found a stream and cleansed the two of us.

I had rather a business to keep the dog with me, for, though she was timid, she would have stayed with the corpse: but I turned a strap, which I had, into a leash and, speaking her kindly, tried to show that I was her friend. And what with the excitement and horror of the whole business, my efforts to keep out of sight of passing vehicles, my constant outlook for Ellis and my anxiety to avoid association with the murder that had been done, I forgot to examine her collar for several hours. And this was as well, for my mind was full enough. Indeed, to this day, try as I will, I cannot tell how I came to Rouen nor yet to Dieppe. But I know that the car had been shipped and that I was aboard, arguing about quarantine, when I remembered the words of the dead Englishman.

In the same instant it came to me that, for such as had eyes to see, the collar was directly connecting me with the crime. As soon as convenient, therefore, I went up on deck, cut the leash down to a collar and, making the change in fear and trembling, stuffed the stout original into my coat pocket, out of which, do what I would, it bulged terribly.

Indeed more than once I came within an ace of dropping it overboard.

It was in my mind to say that I had found the dog collarless on the highway, and that was the tale I told at Newhaven as carelessly as I could. But, while I told it, I sweated, and the collar in my pocket felt like a packing-case.

---

It was late when I reached London, for there was no one at Newhaven who was licensed to receive the dog, and, though I might have left her in her hutch to await the coming of the carrier for whom I had sent, I had not the heart to do so. I have never seen a dumb animal, that was not bodily sick, in such evident distress. She would neither eat nor lie down, but sat for the most part with her head drooped, staring upon the ground. If ever I made to leave her, she would look at me so miserably that I spent the whole of the morning seated on a box by her side, and, when at length the carrier took her in charge, I could not meet her gaze, but, muttering some words of comfort, patted her hanging head and hurried away.

I drove straight to ------’s Hotel, there to find a letter from Hanbury asking me to dine that night at his father’s house. I accepted immediately. Indeed, the invitation was just what I wanted, for I had already determined to tell Hanbury all that had happened to me the day before and to share with him whatever a scrutiny of the dog-collar might disclose.

And here I may say that I looked at the collar in my bedroom at ------’s Hotel, but could see nothing at all unusual within or without. The plate was engraved with a date, 17-10-16, which, I supposed, meant something to the dead man, but, except that it was un-English, there was nothing about it which called for any remark. I was sure, however, that when the leather was opened, we should find something within, and I hoped very much that this would prove of more interest than a hundred-pound note.

By the time I had bestowed the car and had bathed, it was six o’clock; so I put on evening clothes and, slipping the collar, which I had tied up with string so that it lay pretty flat, into my pocket, walked to the Club of which I had quite recently been elected a member.

It was unlikely that news of the murder would yet have reached England: for all that, I scanned every evening paper carefully; but there was nothing in any of them about the crime.

I was to dine at eight, but so soon as I had done with the papers, such was my impatience to see Hanbury that I felt I could wait no longer, and, very soon after seven, I went to the members’ lobby where I had left my coat.

My coat was gone.

For a moment I stared blankly at the peg on which it had hung: then I began to go feverishly about the cloakroom, plucking at coat after coat which at all resembled mine and hoping desperately to come upon it.

I could only think that some member had made a mistake, for the Club was above suspicion and I could not believe that a stranger would have been so bold or so successful. Yet I was worried to death, because whoever had taken the coat was bound to find the collar and certain to remark the inscription upon the plate. Indeed, I saw myself going down to a very sea of troubles, for, you will remember, I had sworn I found the dog collarless, and thereby put myself on the wrong side of a matter the truth of which Ellis and I alone knew.

I had made my vain tour of the lobby and was standing there hot and helpless, wondering what I should do, when a tall, nice-looking man limped into the room.

I suppose my face told my story, for he looked straight at me and smiled.

“I’m awfully sorry,” he said. Then he slid out of his coat and held it for me to put on.

I stared like a fool.

“It’s yours, isn’t it?” he said. “Dog-collar in the right-hand pocket?

“That’s right,” I blurted somehow.

Then I turned round and he helped me into the coat.

“And a good thing too,” he said. “But for that collar, I very much doubt if you’d ever have seen it again. It’s exactly like mine. I didn’t know there were two such good garments about. And this doesn’t mean I’m not sorry, because I am. It was most careless of me.”

I assured him that it did not matter and would have gone, but he detained me by talking, whilst he was finding his coat, and, when we went into the hall, he laid a hand on my shoulder and called a page.

“My name is Mansel,” he said gravely. “I beg that you’ll drink with me.”

I found it difficult to refuse, so I said I would take a cocktail, and we went and stood by the fire and I told him my name.

When we had drunk, he turned. “I must make a confession,” he said. “I’m very interested in the date upon your dog-collar. Why did you put it there?”

There were a thousand answers: but I had not one upon my tongue. Yet, if I had been ready, I do not think I should have lied again. Honestly, I was rather grateful that the blow had fallen so soon, for, at least, in this way I had the chance of telling my tale before the papers told theirs, and Mansel had the look of a capable friend.

“I didn’t put it there,” said I.

“Ah,” said he, and waited.

“I can’t tell you now,” I went on, “because it’s too long a story, but if you’ll make an appointment . . .”

“Any time after ten to-night,” he said, and, with that, he gave me his card.

This bore the address of a flat in Cleveland Row.

“Can I bring a friend?” I said suddenly.

“Why certainly,” said he.

We parted then, and I went to my dinner with George.

To him I said nothing, except that I had an engagement that night for both of us. He looked at me rather hard, but asked no questions, and at a quarter to ten we set out for Cleveland Row.

Looking back, it seems more than strange to me that upon such a little matter as a couple of similar overcoats, hung up upon neighbouring pegs, should have depended life and death and fortune. But so it fell out. For Jonathan Mansel was, I think, the only man in the world who could have captained our enterprise and brought it through such vicissitudes to a triumphant end.

---

Mansel and George Hanbury listened to my tale without a word.

When I had finished, Mansel sat back in his chair.

“I can’t tell you much,” he said. “But the inscription on that collar is not a date. It’s a number. The man you saw murdered was in the secret service during the War. I knew him---as ‘Number 171016.’ He was known to be a crook but he was a very good man. He’d a big future. Then Ellis cooked his goose---saddled him with four big robberies in open Court. They let him get out of the country, but of course he couldn’t come back. He was broken up, I heard, for his heart was right in the game. I suppose that’s why . . .”

He broke off and nodded at the collar.

For a while none of us spoke.

Then I took out a knife and passed it to Mansel.

“Will you open the collar?” I said.

We were sitting about a table, with the collar before us and a light hung above.

Mansel cut some stitches and, little by little, ripped the lining away. Almost at once some yellow material appeared, very stained and wrinkled and lying as flat against the collar as the lining itself. I made sure this was padding, but, when he had made the opening a little larger, Mansel got hold of the stuff and pulled it out.

It was a piece of oiled silk and seemed to have been part of a tobacco pouch, for, when it was unfolded, it had the form of an envelope without its flap. Within this again was a piece of thin notepaper, of which when it was opened, we could see three sides had been covered with a clear, close-written hand.

Mansel read it aloud, while Hanbury and I peered, one over either arm.

Statement of Carl Ramek, well-digger, aged 92.

My great-grandfather dug the great well of Wagensburg. He and his brother dug it with their father, the three working together in the great drought of 17--. The well is ninety feet deep. The first spring rises thirty feet down, so that normally there is sixty feet of water. There is no well like it hereabouts. They could not have got so deep but for the great drought. All the work in the well was done by my great-grandfather and his brother and their father alone. The masons cut the stones as they were told and brought them and the wood and the mortar to the top, but no one went down except the father and his two sons. That was by order of the Count. They used to sleep at the Castle, whilst they were doing this work. Out of the well there runs a shaft. The shaft leaves the well about eighty feet down. It runs up at an angle into a chamber. The chamber is just above the level of the first spring. No one knew of the shaft except my great-grandfather and his father and his brother and the Count. The shaft was very difficult to dig. The Count had an evil name and was very much feared. He would go down into the well to see the work. The rain came before the work was done, and the Count was beside himself for fear that they would not be able to finish it before the water came in. At the end they were working day and night. This was because the Count would let no one else go down the well. When the shaft and the chamber were done, the four of them went down one night when everyone else was asleep. The Count had two leather bags. These were very heavy. They got them down and up the shaft and into the chamber. It was raining hard, and the water was up to the shaft, and the next day it was above it. The three finished the masonry of the well, but the Count now allowed them helpers to keep the water down. On their last night at the Castle the Count killed two of the three with his own hands. My great-grandfather escaped, and though a long search was made for him he was never found. He escaped into Italy and returned two years later, when the Count was dead. He always meant to go down and get the bags, but there was never another drought severe enough to empty the well. When he was dying he told my grandfather this, and my grandfather told my father and he told me. I don’t know which way the shaft runs. There are steps in the shaft. The Count cannot have recovered the bags because the great drought was followed by three very rainy years, and, as the springs are normally abundant, he could not have emptied the well without employing a lot of labour. I am unmarried and I have never told this to anyone else.

NOTE. The Count was clearly the notorious Axel the Red, who was nothing more or less than a common robber, and was reputed to have amassed a vast fortune. In 1760 Wagensburg was burnt and he perished in the flames. The castle passed to the Crown, and was sold twenty years later. It was then restored.

Wagensburg lies in Carinthia twenty-nine miles from Villach and four from Lerai.

September, 1904.

NOTE. W. came into the market in 1910.

Failed. Ellis knows.

June, 1910.


I stood up and looked at George.

“Well,” I said, “when do we start?”

George Hanbury shrugged his shoulders.

“Your time’s my time,” he said.

“And my time’s Mansel’s,” said I.

I have often wondered how I came to say such a thing to a man upon whom, three hours before, I had never set eyes. Yet I meant what I said: and I think the truth is that the royalty of Mansel’s nature had already subjected me, for I know that, if he had said at once that he could not join us, I should have been unreasonably dismayed.

Mansel rose from his chair and knocked out his pipe at the grate. Then he stood up quite straight and folded his hands.

“This may be a school-treat,” he said, “and it may not. Treasure and trouble frequently go together. I haven’t been Villach way since the year before the War, but unless things are very different to what they were---well, if you fought a duel with a couple of Lewis guns, nobody’d take the trouble to come and see what it was. As likely as not they wouldn’t hear you. It’s not at all crowded. Well, that’s all right for a school-treat.” He stopped there for a moment. Then he proceeded thoughtfully. “Life’s full of twists and turns, but to take on a job like this is to tackle Blind Corner itself: and that’s a turning where danger signs and warnings are little worth, for all the care in the world won’t help you to see ahead, and it’s never policed. Whether you two are free to go is your affair. I will go---upon one condition, which I see slight reason why you should accept. The condition is that from first to last in this venture you two will do what I say. You see, I’m older.”

I thought the condition a very mild one and said as much: so did Hanbury. But it has occurred to me since that I should have found it presumptuous in anyone else.

Be that as it may, we gave our word to obey him in every particular, and then we sat down at his feet while he rough-hewed our campaign.

Of this, he showed that there would be three phases. First, the acquisition of Wagensburg: then, the lifting of the treasure: and, lastly, the disposal of it. And, since all he said was very much to the point, I will use, so far as I can recall them, his very words.

“The first thing to do is to buy the property. Until we’re the landlords, the treasure is not ours to lift. To rent the place may be simpler and, so, tempting: but I don’t see the force of finding a King’s ransom for somebody else. If Wagensburg’s in the market, well and good. I’ll find the money: I don’t think the price will be high. If it’s not in the market, we shall have to pay more than it’s worth: but in these days you can usually buy a place even if it isn’t for sale.

“To get to the treasure shouldn’t be difficult, but, unless the well’s dry, I’m sure we can’t do it alone. To keep pace with springs that give freely is very hard work: it’s a very deep well: all wells are dangerous. We may even find that we can’t use the well at all, but must drive a new shaft from above. Above all, it’s most important that we should not be disturbed. We should only have to be seen at work to be suspected. To my way of thinking, it’s at least a six-man job. If we each take a servant who’s honest and fit and game, we shall get there quicker and better and much more comfortably.

“How we shall dispose of the treasure is a matter we can only decide when we see what shape it takes.

“So much for the plan of action.

“What turns the whole thing from an exercise into a venture is the fact that Ellis knows. Whether we shall clash with him or not, we can’t possibly tell. I hardly think it’s likely myself. Sooner or later, of course, Wagensburg will draw Ellis as a magnet draws steel. ‘Where your treasure is,’ you know. But, when a man’s just done a murder, he usually lies pretty low: and, when he knows that somebody saw him do it, he lies lower still. For all that, what Ellis will not understand is why you haven’t gone to the police. That will make him think very hard. And, knowing that you overheard what the dead man said, he may attribute your silence to a wish to hide something which reference to the police would disclose. In which case we should clash . . . Because of this possibility we’ve got to move on our toes, always go the long way round and watch with both eyes. Remember this. Whether he knows it or not, we’re going to get in Ellis’s way. He may never know it. But if he does know it, well, you’ve seen what he does with people who get in his way---provided they give him the chance.”

That was as much as he said at that time: while I saw the force of most of it, I did not agree that there was anything to fear from Ellis, for, though, as I had reason to know, he was a desperate man, I could not believe that he would challenge six men at once and I was quite certain that if and when he did he would lose his match.

Then we found pencil and paper and, taking the well-digger’s statement, made a plan of the well and did what we could to ‘place’ the chamber.

We were all agreed that it would be pleasanter to reach the chamber by digging than by way of the well. The shaft had been mostly full of water for some hundred and sixty years: the chamber had been sealed for the same period: and, if you must visit places so long abandoned to Nature, it is very much more agreeable to have the daylight at your back. But, though the prospect of inspecting them by lantern was not inviting, it was, I think, the unmistakable likeness which the plan bore to a trap that made us strive so hard to find out another way.

But we could not.

Without knowing the angle at which the shaft had been driven and the direction in which it left the well, we could make out no more than that the roof of the chamber must lie about twenty-five feet below ground and would most likely be encountered not more than twenty and not less than ten paces from the side of the well. This did not sound so formidable to Mansel and me, but, after a great deal of labour, George, who alone of us laid any claim to mathematical powers, demonstrated to our amazement that even that would leave some eight hundred square yards to be searched, and we gave up the attempt.

We studied the statement and the plan we had made until we knew them by heart, and we raked the former for inferences, until we had almost deduced the proportions of the Count: but it was not an unprofitable enterprise, for, by the time we had done, it was plain that, when we went abroad, statement and plan could both be left with some Bank, because, short of loss of reason, nothing could ever erase their particulars from our minds.

Then we discussed preparations and how soon we could start, and the getting of the servants, and what my uncle would say when told I was going to travel during the summer months. But we always came back to the treasure and the chamber and the great well.

It was two o’clock in the morning before Mansel sent us away, bidding us do nothing but get some serviceable clothes and hold our tongues.

Unless he summoned us, we were not to see him for a week, but then we were to dine with him in Cleveland Row. If all had gone well, he said, he saw no reason why we should not start a week from that day.

“One thing more,” he added, as we stood in his hall. “The dog or the collar may link you up with the crime. I think it unlikely. But at the first breath of trouble come straight to me.”

I needed no such instruction. Mansel had become the pillar of my state. Indeed I had made up my mind to seek him the moment I found anywhere a report of the murder. But, though each day I searched the papers faithfully, there was no mention made of it.

Nor was there at any time, so far as I saw. I never read the French papers, but I often doubt that the murder was reported at all. The venue was lonely; the victim was foreign and had probably few friends; and, if no great search was made, the body may well have escaped notice, until there was little for an unpractised eye to find irregular.

---

The next day I visited the dog and found her in good hands. The home to which she had been taken was a famous establishment, with special quarters for dogs in quarantine, and from the condition and spirits of the many dogs I saw it was plain that everything possible was done to lighten their confinement. The poor animal was delighted to see me, and, observing her pleasure, the kennel-man was quick to bring her some fresh food in the hope that she would now break the fast she had stubbornly maintained. To our relief she did so and soon left her plate clean, and though, when I went away, she made frantic endeavours to follow, the man insisted that she would pine no longer and that, when next I came, I should find her a different dog. I am glad to say this came true: and, by the time I left England, she was eating regularly and seemed contented with her lot.

To my surprise, the interview I had with my uncle passed off smoothly enough. He certainly gave me no blessing, but, beyond remarking that six months in the City of London were of more value than twice that time spent in “knocking about” Europe, he made little protest against the postponement of my apprenticeship. He then sat down and wrote me out a cheque for three hundred pounds, and, when I stammered my thanks, he said very gravely that that was a present for “singeing the King of Spain’s beard.” At first I could not think what he meant, but afterwards I realised that I owed both money and favour to my discomfiture of the communists, whose doctrines and practices he held in great abhorrence.

The week of inaction to which Mansel had committed Hanbury and myself passed very slowly, and there were moments when we felt almost mutinous. But, when we began to discuss the preparations which we should have been making, if Mansel had not told us to hold our hands, the wisdom of his order became immediately plain, for we were soon out of our depth and invariably quarrelled over the very vulnerable plans we laid, till the only matter upon which we were entirely agreed was the vanity of each other’s proposals.

On the last day but one, however, a note from Mansel came to salve my impatience. In this he said that he had found a man whom he thought I might like to be my servant, that the latter would call upon me at ten on the following day and that I was to examine him thoroughly from every point of view, for, the letter concluded, although I will answer for his past, he is particularly to serve you and you will be responsible for his engagement.

I soon found that Hanbury had received a similar note, and this real evidence of progress excited us out of all reason. At the same time we were both a little uneasy at the thought of taking a decision which, if it proved mistaken, might be the undoing of us all. Of any man who was admitted to our secret would be required a discretion and loyalty which were to-day uncommon and might easily be called upon to bear an extraordinary strain. To recognize these qualities in repose demanded an insight which we knew very well indeed we did not possess. To add to our concern, we did not know what Mansel had told the candidates and whether we ought to disclose that the service they were ready to enter was no ordinary one. In the end we sent him a note, asking for directions, but, though he received it, he sent no answer at all, but only, as he afterwards told us, pitched it into the fire.

We had, therefore, to use our own judgment as best we could, but that we engaged Bell and Rowley and that they turned out so well cannot be counted to our credit, for I think an idiot could have seen the stuff of which they were made.

Bell was my servant. He was a quiet little man, very sturdily built. He was serious and well-spoken, but, though he was respectful, he had none of the manner of a servant and looked like a countryman turned clerk, which I afterwards found he was. He seemed to notice nothing, yet was exceptionally observant, and he always wore the same agreeable, but something resigned expression, as though his face were a mask. I never knew him volunteer a statement unless he thought it might be of service: he never once complained: he was most faithful, and I think he thought Mansel was a god. In this tenet he was not peculiar. Rowley and Carson, Mansel’s servant, held the same view.

I shall ever remember our dinner with Mansel, if for no other reason, because it is the solitary occasion upon which expectations which I knew it was foolish to harbour have been so startlingly exceeded.

He gave us a short dinner, which was very well cooked and served, and we drank a pink champagne, which I believe was a very rare wine though I fear that neither Hanbury nor I was old enough to appreciate its quality, but only the fact that Mansel was doing us honour. Throughout the meal our venture was not mentioned, except that he said he was glad that we liked the men he had sent, and we talked for the most part of Oxford, “which,” he said, “is the only place in the world where a man may eat his cake and have it too, for the years he wastes there are beyond measure profitable.”

It was after the cloth had been drawn and the servants had left the room that he told us quietly that all had “panned out” very well, and that, if we had no objection, we would start in two days’ time. Before we had recovered from our astonishment, he began to relate exactly what he had done, wasting no words and in no way pretending to authority, but, when they were not apparent, giving his reasons for his actions and speaking as though he were a staff-officer reporting to his equal or senior the measures which he had taken in accordance with orders received. The manifest excellence of his forethought apart, how he had accomplished so much was a sheer mystery to me and ever will be, for I never in my life saw him hurry or use the telephone, and he had spent the week-end in Hampshire, as he always did when living at Cleveland Row.

Be that as it may, our preparations were complete, and we were to start on Thursday, that is, in two days’ time.

I will not set down his tale of the arrangements he had made, because they will presently appear, but will only say that the servants were to take our baggage to an hotel at Salzburg, that we were to travel to the same town by car, and that such as might desire to know our business were to be told that Mansel was a great trout-fisherman and that we were all three bound for the streams of Carinthia to see what could be done in that quarter.

And here I may say that anyone who was told this was shown one side of the truth, for Mansel was more fond of fishing than of almost anything else, and Hanbury and I learned our first lessons in the art of angling not very far from Wagensburg itself.

That his preparations had involved a certain outlay was clear, but, when we spoke of money and stammeringly asked to be allowed to contribute towards the expense, Mansel said that such matters could wait till the treasure was found: however, on our persisting, he promised to keep an account and to consider two-thirds of all that he was expending as our affair.

Then we gave him our passports, for he was to look them over and have them ordered to his liking.

After that he brought out the well-digger’s statement and the map we had made, and, when we had studied them both for as long as we pleased, he sealed them up in an envelope and asked me the name of my Bank. I told him. Then he wrote upon the envelope:

171016. This is the property of Richard William Chandos, and is lodged for safe custody with the Manager of the Pall Mall Branch of ------’s Bank,

and gave it to me.

“You must lodge that to-morrow,” he said, “and see that you get a receipt.”

This I promised to do.

Then, of course, we fell to talking of our venture, but, after telling us something of the country in the heart of which Wagensburg lay---for, though he did not know the castle, he had stayed in those parts for one summer before the War---Mansel began to speak of trout and trout-fishing and very soon had us engrossed in what he said, which, I think, was just what he wanted, for, if we were to set up for fishermen, it was as well that we should know something of the art. And from trout he led us to streams, and from streams to rivers, and thence, naturally, again to Oxford, and there we stayed very contentedly until it was time for us to go.

At ten on Thursday morning we were to meet again---an engagement which Hanbury and I would not have missed or exchanged for one of the very bags which the Count had borne down the well, for there we were to get into Mansel’s Rolls-Royce and drive with him to Dover and so, by France and Germany, clean into Carinthia.

Yet, as it happened, we did not keep that engagement, and the plans which Mansel had laid were unfulfilled: and the whole face of our adventure was changed in the twinkling of an eye, before it was ever begun. And all this, because I stopped in the street to look into a window.
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