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4: The Attack on the Well

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« on: March 01, 2023, 09:51:38 am »

During the night the water rose twenty feet.

It went against the grain to post two sentries, when with twelve, or even ten arms we might have had the well empty by four o’clock. But to be surprised at such gruelling labour would have meant for us the end of everything; for, shaken and stripped and breathless, we could have put up no fight, and, except for the parapet of the well, there was no cover to hand.

Still, it seemed very likely that four of us, working hard, would be able to draw so much water before the sun went down that, with the help of the stage, we should find the mouth of the shaft. And, once we knew on which side of the well that lay, though the springs should deny us passage, at least we should have a second string to our bow.

With this object, we laboured till lunch-time, like men possessed---at least, Mansel and the servants laboured, whilst I sat above on the peak with a rifle across my knees. Hanbury was at the shrine.

At one Rowley took my place, and Carson Hanbury’s.

This relief had not long been done, and we were at lunch in the meadow, when---as Hanbury had told us would happen, for he had seen him en route---the landlord of the inn arrived.

As he emerged from the wood, he looked around him, and, when he saw us at meat, he threw up his hands.

I made sure, as did Mansel, that ‘Rose’ Noble was dead, but it soon appeared that the fellow was only distressed to find that our zeal to attempt to empty the well was unabated.

“Sirs,” he cried, bubbling, “it is dreadful to see you so bent upon so hopeless a task. You are killing yourselves in vain. I have sought everywhere for helpers, but, when I tell them for what their help is required, they laugh me to scorn. You will not get a man in all Carinthia. And the trout lie in the streams about you, thick as autumn leaves.”

Mansel laughed.

“The springs are the devil,” he said; “but we haven’t given up hope.”

“Ah, sir,” said the innkeeper, “but listen. You have not begun. You are still dealing with the first spring. When you are twenty feet down----”

“Make it forty,” said Mansel. “To be exact, forty-three.”

Lest he should think we were boasting, we took him to the well and showed him the measuring-line: his amazement was ludicrous, for he seemed unable to speak and gaped upon us as though we were demi-gods; and such in his sight, I suppose, we were, for in three days we had gone far to shatter a tradition which had endured for a century and a half.

Then Mansel asked him of his guests. Of these he spoke abstractedly, for his mind was full of what we had done with the well; but we learned that ‘Rose’ Noble was recovered, and that Ellis had come back this morning and taken the three away---he knew not whither, but imagined to Salzburg. They had paid him nothing for their lodging, of which they had constantly complained, but had made him understand that they would come back. What more he said I cannot remember, save that the stores we had ordered were piled by the kitchen door, and after a little he left, still plainly bewildered by the progress which we had made.

I was for instantly withdrawing the two sentinels and making a mighty effort to get the treasure that night, but to this Mansel would not consent, for fear that ‘Rose’ Noble and Ellis were not gone at all, but had pretended departure in the hope that the news would reach us and throw us off our guard. He suggested, instead, that Hanbury and I should only work for two hours, and should then relieve Carson and Rowley, “for in that way,” he said, “at sundown Carson and Rowley will be done and can go to bed, but you and Hanbury will be as fresh as paint: and, if Bell and I go gently this afternoon, we shall still have something to spare at nine o’clock.”

To Hanbury and me this arrangement seemed more than good, except that we both begged Mansel to give himself a rest. But of this he would not hear. For the next two hours, therefore, we worked as hard as we could, but the honours of that day went to Carson and Rowley, for, while I sat on my hill-top, I could hear them at work, and, knowing how severe was the labour, I would not have believed that two men could maintain the pace they did for nearly five hours.

When I came in at sundown, the two were ready to drop, but they looked very pleased, and Mansel told me with a smile that they had uncovered the shaft.

Half an hour back, he said, the suck and gurgle of air disputing with water had told its tale, and, though to ascend at once might be impossible, enough of the mouth was open for us to survey the shaft.

Then Hanbury and I made haste to fetch the stage, and Carson and Rowley were ordered back to the house. They were reluctant to go, but Mansel was determined that they should have food and rest, “and, if you stay here,” said he, “you will have neither, but will drift into helping us when you’re too tired to help yourselves. It’s possible that we may need you in two hours’ time; so go and eat and sleep, while you have the chance.”

Bell and Tester went with them, for Bell was to keep watch and prepare some food, and Tester was to be tied up, because he was sure to be distressed if Mansel went down the well and might even fall down in some effort to comfort his lord.

Then I went down, with the light and the beams which Carson and I had cut the night before.

A foot or more of the mouth of the shaft was visible, and, by directing the light, I could see the steps within; but I never beheld a place which looked so black and uninviting, and there was now in the depths of the well an odour which I cannot exactly describe. It seemed to be a bad smell, grown faint with age.

I had my beams in place in a minute of time, and then gave the signal for Hanbury to lower the planks.

As might have been expected, the shaft was between the two beams, but so much had I twisted and turned during my descent that, though I knew from the niches that it must run North or South, I could tell no more. But, when the planks were in place, Mansel lowered the measuring-line, and under my direction, moved it until it hung plumb over the middle of the mouth. This showed, as I afterwards found, that the shaft ran North, towards the castle: and Hanbury marked the place by driving a peg out of sight into the ground.

The stage, when I had built it, lay some six inches below the lintel of the mouth of the shaft. The water was rising fast, and I set the planks as close to the mouth as I could, so that by using the windlass, without disturbing the stage, we could do something to keep the water down.

Then I was pulled up, and Mansel made ready to descend.

Over his clothes he put on a waterproof suit, tight-fitting at the wrists and ankles as at the waist and throat. In his pocket he had a torch, and that was all.

Communication by shouting up and down the well had proved unsatisfactory, for the words arrived distorted and often unrecognizable: while I was below, therefore, Mansel and Hanbury had lashed a spring to the pulley-beam and fastened a cord to the spring. This rude apparatus worked very well, for, when the cord was pulled tight and then let go, the spring hit the beam with a smack which there was no mistaking. To the other end of the cord was fastened a biscuit-tin, which, in case of trouble, we were to dash against the wall. We also took the bell which rang from the kitchen hall and hung it inside the parapet so that, were it to ring while he was below, Mansel would receive so important a signal direct.

So soon as Mansel was down, we were to start baling, and the signal that he was clear and that we could pull up the seat was to be two strokes of the spring upon the pulley-beam.

We had hardly begun to lower him, when, to our dismay, the search-light, which I had left burning upon the stage, went suddenly out: but Mansel cried to us to go on, and a moment later I saw the flash of his torch. Compared with the search-light, this threw a miserable beam; and I was not at all happy to think he was going down thus embarrassed to a place which had seemed so dreadful when it was full of light. I think we all three had hopes that, when he was down, he would be able to put in order what had gone wrong: but, if we had, they were vain, for, after a little, the spring struck twice upon the beam, and, when we pulled up the seat by which we had let him down, the lamp was hanging upon the hook beneath.

Then we let down a bucket and started to bale, and we knew that Mansel was in the shaft, for the light which his torch had been giving had disappeared.

And, except that we laboured steadily for about five minutes, that is as much as I know of that day’s work, for then I was dealt such a blow on the back of my head that I fell down like an ox and lost consciousness.

---

Hanbury saw me fall, but, before he had time to cry out, he had been served as I had, and, since he was still senseless when I sat up, Mansel alone of us three can speak to what followed the assault.

This was the tale he told us so soon as he could.

“I made a bridge of a plank from the stage to a step in the shaft, and so spared myself immersion; and, though I got pretty wet, I was able to keep the torch out of the water. Then I drew the plank after me into the shaft, for, if I had left it in place, the bucket would have fouled it when you began to bale.

“The shaft is three feet wide by about five high. Its walls and steps are of stones from the riverbed, laid in cement. Its roof is curved and built of stones similar to those used for the well. I imagine it owes its style to the Count’s desire for secrecy, for all the stuff used to build it might well have gone into the well. The walls of the latter are certainly backed with pebbles as high as the first spring.

“The going was very unpleasant, not to say dangerous, for the steps are very rough and covered with slime. I had hoped, by counting them and measuring the rises and treads, to get figures from which Hanbury could tell pretty well where the chamber lies; but their flight is so irregular that without a rule I could do nothing valuable. So far as I could make out, the shaft runs dead straight. The air was abominable.

“I had taken some twenty-five steps before I slipped.

“Now a fall in that shaft would be an ugly business, and I don’t think you could complain if you broke no more than a leg: and, as, all things considered, it’s not the place you’d choose for a first-class smash, I saved myself at the cost of dropping the torch. This, of course, was broken by the fall, and, although I recovered it, it would give me no light.

“To proceed in the dark seemed futile, and I had just begun to retrace my steps, when I became aware of a light which came from the well.

“I at once assumed that you had adjusted the search-light and were letting it down, for I heard the windlass working: but a moment later I thought that I heard a whistle, and stopped in my tracks.

“Someone alighted heavily on the stage.

“But for the whistle I had heard, that it was not you, Chandos, would never have entered my head. As it was, I made sure you would hail me almost at once: but, remembering that all things are possible, I waited for you to speak.

“That I did so was just as well, for I was still waiting when somebody snuffed and spat.

“Well, that eliminated any of us.

“I can’t pretend I wasn’t shaken.

“I dared not think what had happened to you and Hanbury: the servants, presumably, were obediently keeping the house: the enemy had the windlass: and I was trapped, good and proper, in a blind tunnel five by three, and eighty-odd feet below ground.

“All of a sudden I wondered if the enemy knew I was there.

“I decided that the odds were that he did not. Unless he had seen me go down, there was no reason why he should know. The search-light had failed: my torch had gone out: although the stage was there, I had withdrawn my bridge. The fact that he made no attempt to conceal his presence assured me that I was right.

“Instinctively I began to reascend the shaft.

“I had not thought that even ‘Rose’ Noble would suspect our work at the well, and the reflection that I had been so heartily outwitted and outclassed was very bitter. The attack had been well done. One minute, you and Hanbury were baling: the next, one of the five was descending the well. I assumed that he had come to reconnoitre. When he had made his report, the others would bale for a while, and then the actual attempt to lift the treasure would be made. Unless I could reach the servants, I did not see how this could fail.

“I had taken five or six steps, when a splash told me that my man was making the shaft. Though there was still one spare plank, the idea of a bridge had not, I suppose, occurred to him: but, after a struggle---in which he went under water---I heard him make the steps. For a moment he stood grunting and blowing, and trying to get his breath. Then he began to ascend. This surprised me, for I had made certain that he would first produce a torch; but what astonished me still more was the progress he made, for he climbed as well as I had when I had seen my way.

“So we went up the shaft in single file, some thirty odd steps apart.

“My one idea, of course, was to get to the top of the well. The only way to do this was, unknown to the rest of the gang, to take his place and let them haul me up in his stead. What would happen when they saw their mistake no one could tell, but with luck I should have been landed before they saw what they had done.

“It was quite plain that, if I could escape the notice of the man in the shaft, I should stand a better chance of taking his place. Even if I had had room, I could not see to hit him under the jaw: unless I could knock him senseless, he would probably let out a yell: I was unarmed, and by a hand-to-hand fight in the dark in such a place I was as likely to come to harm as was he. But what weighed with me most of all was the natural reluctance to kill. Unless I laid him out, his shouts would give me away: but, if I put him out of action, in view of the pace at which the water was rising, he would either be drowned or trapped---probably trapped. And it seemed a shocking thing to sentence a fellow creature to such a terrible doom.

“To avoid him in the shaft was out of the question, but I thought if I could reach the chamber, I could let him go by to the treasure and start right back.

“I was not afraid of his hearing me, for I was going quietly, but he made a lot of noise.

“The shaft seemed endless, but at last I felt a step which was clear of ooze. I took it, and two more, and then something I hadn’t expected told me that I was upon the threshold of the chamber itself. Four iron bars, set up on end in the way. From their shape, I should say they were crow-bars, such as a well-digger used about his business. And I don’t suppose it took five minutes to bed them, but, once the cement had set, well, I don’t know if you’ve ever filed iron, but it’s tedious work. Top and bottom, they were bedded into hewn stone. There’s no doubt about it, Axel the Red was a very careful man.

“That it would come to a fight was now certain; so I set my back to the bars and awaited my man.

“Suddenly I heard the bell ring at the top of the well.

“My man heard it, too, and stopped---about ten steps away.

“Of course, I knew what it meant, and praised God. But he was clearly alarmed, for he was holding his breath, and, I fancy, straining his ears. I know exactly how he felt, and, believe me, I don’t blame him.

“The bell rang again.

“A moment later I heard him begin to descend.

“Be sure I followed.

“Before I did so, I tested every bar. They were all the same size, nearly an inch thick, not very rusty: and not one of them would budge.

“Such plan as I now had was to follow him into the well. When he had been reassured by those at the top, I thought it more than likely that he would re-enter the shaft and try once again to reach the chamber: but, whether he did or no, once I was in the well, I should be immeasurably better placed to deal with whatever arose, if for no other reason, because to occupy that shaft, yet not dwell upon its undesirability as a retreat is almost impossible.

“And here let me say that, treasure or no, I was immensely surprised to find that any one of the five could withstand its terrors so well. Of the ugly side of Nature that kind of man usually fights very shy. Ellis, for instance, would never have gone down the well. I knew it wasn’t ‘Rose’ Noble, and Punter would have cursed: but, whichever of the others it was, he was a brave man, for, if the devil had not been driving, I wouldn’t have gone up that shaft without a light for any money.

“The fellow descended steadily, and I came down after as fast as I dared.

“At last I heard him touch water. Then he took a deep breath and floundered out of the shaft. By the time he was on the stage I was still ten steps up. The water had risen, for they had not thought to bale, and the stage was submerged.

“I made what haste I could, but I heard no colloquy. I imagine that he whistled, but, as I slid into the water, the windlass began to work; and, when I took hold of the stage and could look about me, I saw my man in mid-air, lantern and all.

“I did not know whether to be sorry or glad, but, what was much worse, I did not know what to think. What mystified me was their silence. This seemed unnatural, and I could think of no reason why they should take him up without a word.

“I had pulled myself on to the stage and was listening to the click of the ratchet and watching the lantern rise, when, all of a sudden, I heard the windlass stop.

“Then a shot was fired, and, after a moment, I heard a flurry of voices at the top of the well.

“I assumed that the servants had come to dispute possession of the windlass, and, generally, counter the attack; and I would have given a lot to be above ground: but, all the same, it struck me that, ill placed as I was, I would very much sooner be standing upon the stage than dangling from the end of the chain some forty feet up.

“I had just come to this conclusion when the man who was in mid-air expressed the same view: at least, from the apprehension with which he invested an oath, I gathered that he felt his position. And, directly I heard his voice, I knew who it was. And the knowledge, as you may imagine, gave me plenty of food for thought.

“So I stood very still and waited, with my eyes on the lantern and my back against the wall.”

That was as much as Mansel had to tell, and, since there was but one shot fired at that time, I can take up the story without a break, because I had just sat up and was trying to collect my wits, when I heard a cry and men running, and then the sound of a shot.

The moon had not yet risen, but I could make out the well and that I was sitting above it, half in and half out of the wood. My wrists were bound behind me, and my head was aching very much.

There were figures about the well, and I heard ‘Rose’ Noble’s voice.

“Who fired?” he said. “We or they?”

“I did,” said Punter. “They saw me coming and ran.”

“Pardon me,” said ‘Rose’ Noble: “they heard you. You don’t know how to move. How many were there?”

“Two,” said Punter. “Servants, I think; but it may have been the two pups.”

“That’s right,” said another voice. “They was busy crankin’ the well.”

Here one of them must have looked down and seen the light, for there was a cry of surprise, and then a buzz of exclamation, of which I could make no sense.

Then ‘Rose’ Noble spoke again.

“Quite so,” he said. “Quite so. If there’s one down there, we’ve got him by the short hairs. And is that as far as you can see? Damn it,” he cried, “lift up your---eyes! THINK! What are they doing by night down in this well? You may have a twist for sweet water, but----”

The rest of his sentence was drowned in a burst of appreciation of his discovery: and I never heard grown men so abandon themselves to their glee, for they shouted and stamped and laughed, like so many lunatics, and nothing that ‘Rose’ Noble could do could bring them to order.

In the midst of the flurry another came running up, and then I heard Ellis’ voice.

As far as I could make out, they were now all five by the well, but, since they all continued to speak at once, I could hear nothing that was said.

Then Ellis was asked some question, and I heard his reply.

“I think they’re out,” he said. “There’s no light or sound. When I tried the door, a dog barked: but that was locked, and the ground-floor windows are barred.”

“There’s three of them somewhere,” said ‘Rose’ Noble. “Two of them ran from here, and there’s one below.”

“God give it’s Little Willie,” said Ellis, and sucked in his breath. “I’d like to meet him like this.”

“Me, too,” said Punter.

“Big Willie, you mean,” said ‘Rose’ Noble. “Bag him, and we’ve got the lot. Besides,” he drawled, “if anyone’s thinking of scores, I reckon I’ve one to settle that takes precedence.”

The oath with which he enforced this dark saying was the most dreadful I have ever heard, and I began to strive, like a madman, to free my wrists, for the thought that Mansel was about to deliver himself into such cruel and bloody hands was insupportable.

“Job,” said ‘Rose’ Noble, “back to the path and watch. If anything moves, let it have it: we don’t want to be disturbed.”

Here one of them found the search-light, and they wasted a minute or two trying to make it light. Then they kept peering down the well and whispering and cursing one another for making a noise. Indeed, I never saw men so plainly out of their element, for they did not seem to remember that those they had put to flight had been using the windlass, or to notice what must have been manifest---that the lantern below them was nowhere near the water: and it was only after a lot of argument that two took hold of the windlass and felt the weight on the chain.

“It’s loaded,” I heard one say. “ ’Eavy as lead.”

At that they all peered over the parapet again, and I did not know what to think, but was greatly afraid that the weight must be Mansel himself.

Here my attention was diverted to something which stirred by my side. To my relief, it proved to be Hanbury, bound as was I. I managed to move until I had my mouth to his ear, and, as soon as he could receive it, I told him as much as I knew. Except that his head was aching, he did not seem to be hurt, and, when I suggested that I should try to unfasten the cord which was binding his wrists, he turned on his side and put them up without a word. At once I turned my back on him and got to work upon the knots, but I made no progress, and, after a minute or so, his fingers brushed mine aside, and fell to work in their stead.

At that moment I heard ‘Rose’ Noble say “Give way,” and at once two men at the windlass began to turn.

The moon was rising now, and I could see that the others were on their knees or crouching beside the parapet, ready, no doubt, to cover Mansel the moment he reached the top. That they thought this was necessary argues their respect for his arm, for even they must have realized that four men can never have had one at a greater disadvantage.

Hanbury worked feverishly, while I tried to think what to do.

Unless he were in danger of death, to attempt to assist Mansel until we had arms of some sort would be the act of a fool. I, therefore, decided that, when once we were free, we must try to reach the kitchen, join forces with the servants, and deliver a counter-attack.

Hanbury had freed me, and I was wrestling with his bonds, when a faint light began to appear within the well.

This horrified us both, for we thought, of course, that it was that of Mansel’s torch; and that he should show a light which could assist none but his foes was not his way. Indeed, we now fully expected any moment to hear him address us, and ask why on earth we had kept him waiting so long.

The glow in the well was very definite when at last I had Hanbury free, and at once we crept out of the wood and began to crawl by its edge towards the house.

I was in front, and going as fast as I dared, when I came face to face with Bell, who was crawling the opposite way. The first I knew of it was the barrel of a pistol pressed tight against my temple, for he had seen me coming, and had not known who it was.

Then, lying there, I told him as much as I knew, and he said that Carson and Rowley had taken up positions on either side of the path. He was to crawl to where he could see and hear what was going on at the well, and, at a flash from his torch, the three were to count two seconds and then open fire. The idea was to drive the thieves into the combe into which the gutter ran, but at any cost to keep them away from the house and out of the two woods, for that would give a chance of rescue to the occupant of the well.

I at once fell in with his plan, whereupon we decided that I should take his place. He, therefore, gave me his torch and one of the pistols he had, and, when I had arranged for him to give his other to Hanbury, and then return to Carson, I went about. As I passed Hanbury, I told him that Bell was there and, when he had got his pistol, to stay where he was.

I had hardly done so when a sudden clamour arose at the top of the well. The light was gone, but all four men were peering at something within.

At length:
“Haul him in,” said ‘Rose’ Noble.

They were very inexpert and mortally afraid of falling, and hard words were exchanged and much swearing before their burden was landed roughly enough, with two on the top of him and the other two standing by.

Before a torch could be lighted, Punter let out a yell.

“By---,” he cried, “it’s that---that keeps the inn!”

To me his words came like a thunderbolt, and, between my relief and my astonishment, for a moment I felt quite dazed. Then it occurred to me that this was the moment to attack and that a sudden assault, coming upon them while they were so much engaged with the turn events had taken and were still uncertain what to think or do, would probably fare better than we could have hoped: so I took my pistol and torch, and, directing the face of the latter towards the house, gave the agreed signal, counted two seconds, and fired.

This was as Carson had arranged, and nothing could have been better, for the five of us fired almost at once, and so unexpected a volley would, I should think, have disconcerted a Napoleon himself.

No one fell, and, without so much as a cry, the four thieves scattered and ran straight for the combe---with the innkeeper pelting behind. Two of them fouled the gutter and fell to glory, but, perhaps because they had run into the moonlight, they were not content to lie, and, picking themselves up, rushed violently after their fellows down the slope, like the Gadarene swine. This much I saw, for I had run along by the edge of the wood, and I sent a shot after them, before hastening to the well.

The seat was not on the hook, but only a bight of rope, so that, had I not seen him run, I should have thought that the innkeeper was ready to drop with fatigue: but we had the seat slung in a twinkling, and Carson and Rowley lowered it into the well.

I must confess that I waited in fear and trembling for I knew that the water must have risen a foot or more, and the thought that the landlord had emerged alive from the well filled me with the gravest misgivings for Mansel’s safety. I was also quite sure that the thieves would presently return, when, if we had not raised Mansel, we should present to them as fair a target as they had offered us, and the likelihood that they would bungle a second and better chance seemed small indeed.

When the seat was nearly down, Hanbury took hold of the signal cord and swung the biscuit-tin, and a moment later, to our indescribable relief, the spring struck once upon the beam. At once we locked the windlass: and, in an instant, another two blows gave us the signal to hoist.

Then we all five fell upon the windlass, and brought Mansel up with a run, and, only waiting to take up the search-light, the seat, the measuring-line and the bell, we left the meadow in good order, with Carson, rifle in hand, bringing up the rear.

Two minutes later we were within the house, where Tester greeted Mansel as though in fact he knew that he was risen from the dead.

Here I will say what I should have set down before, namely, that the walls of the kitchen-quarters were immensely thick, and must have formed part of the castle which was burned down. The windows were high above ground and heavily barred, and, since we had hung up curtains some distance away from the frames, neither by day nor night could anyone from without see into the rooms.

Then supper was served, and Mansel and Bell and I told each his tale.

Bell had little to add to what I now knew: but one thing that he said we all found interesting, and that was that the second attack had undoubtedly come from the South, that is to say, from the combe into which we had packed the thieves, “for,” said Bell, “although the alarum bell went, it went but once, and I think it was rung by one man coming up from the West: but, when the innkeeper’s party took to their heels, they ran North by the path through the woods and past the house: and, since I am sure that was not how they had come, they must have done so because they were driven that way.”

Only when all had been said, did I remember Job.

When I spoke of him, Carson smiled.

“I heard what ‘Rose’ Noble said, sir, so it was hardly fair. He said ‘Back to the path, and watch,’ so I did as he said.”

“I hope you didn’t kill him,” said Mansel.

“Oh, no, sir,” said Carson, Then he hesitated. “I was going to ask you, sir---supposing it had been ‘Rose’ Noble . . . ?”

Mansel shook his head.

“Certainly not,” he said. “And here let me say you can all of you thank your stars that you’re such bad shots. I don’t wish to sound ungrateful, but, unless I’m being tortured, you must leave these volleys alone. That’s the way people get hurt. Except in the last resort, you are never to fire to hit. That is the handicap or disadvantage of----”

As Tester growled, some object parted the curtains, and fell clean on to a loose cushion which belonged to the Rolls.

The terrier leapt at it, but, before I could think, Mansel had sent him flying and, with a great cry of ‘DOWN!’ had hurled the thing into the kitchen and fallen upon his face.

The next instant a most frightful explosion shook the house, which I verily thought was coming about our ears; for the lights went out and the whole of the plaster of the ceiling in the servants’ hall fell down on our heads; and, what with the concussion and the dust and the tinkle of falling glass and the sudden return of the pain in the back of my head, my wits very nearly left me, and, when I heard Mansel speaking, he seemed to be a great way off.

“Is anyone hurt?” he said, and called the roll.

Mercifully, no one was touched, for we had been all six in the servants’ hall: and, when he called Tester, I heard the dog rush in answer to lick his face.

“That was a bomb,” said Hanbury dazedly.

“That was a bomb,” said Mansel. “And now I withdraw what I said a moment ago. You can shoot ‘Rose’ Noble and Ellis as soon as you get the chance.

---

I have tried to analyse the feelings of us all at that time, with poor success.

Whether the lust for gold had mastered us, whether a hatred of the thieves suffused our outlook, whether their attempts to thwart it had but toughened our resolve I cannot say: but I know that after the bomb had been thrown into our midst, we would, one and all, have died in agony rather than let the treasure fall into the enemy’s hands.

That we found the act an outrage was, I think, reasonable: we had certainly fired upon them, as Mansel had warned them we should do: but that we had done in the open, where they had a good chance of escape and every opportunity of defending themselves. In return, they had taken a weapon of a barbarous kind, and had used it in circumstances so favourable to its energy that, had it not fallen where it did, and had the room door been shut, we must all six have perished miserably.

In view of what had happened since sundown, we knew that one phase of our struggle had come to an untimely end. Our cake, so nearly baked, had fallen back into dough, and every plan we had made was now impracticable. But, in spite of all there was to be decided, we were too much obsessed and confounded by the attempt which had so nearly made an end of us all to bring our minds to bear at all profitably upon other matters. Add to this that Mansel was physically worn out, and that Hanbury and I were suffering from the blows we had severally received.

We, therefore, lay down to sleep in the harness-room, to which, directly after the explosion, we had withdrawn. Tester was put in the Rolls, to watch the stables, and the servants were to take turns of guarding the passage which led to the kitchen hall. Yet, weary as we were, for a long time we could not sleep: and, ridiculously enough, Hanbury and I were greatly troubled by thirst: but, since our store of water stood in the kitchen, there was nothing to be done, for, supposing it was still available, no one could have reached it in silence or without showing a light.
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