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6a: Tester gives Tongue (a)

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Author Topic: 6a: Tester gives Tongue (a)  (Read 17 times)
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« on: March 02, 2023, 04:59:31 am »

WE established three bases---one at Salzburg, another at an inn at Villach, and the third at the village at which Mansel and Carson and I had lain on our way to Wagensburg. The name of this village was St. Martin, and it was distant from Lerai some thirty-five miles.

One base would have been enough: but three made our path smooth, for, by their use, curiosity regarding our movements was, so to speak, stillborn, and an ample supply of fresh food was continually assured.

Had we had but one base, the employment of a car by night only, the regular disappearance and return of the reliefs into which we were divided, and the constant demand for food to victual six men must have excited comment: but, as I shall show, the use of three bases altogether concealed our business, suggested that our party was consisting of but two men, and argued nothing more eccentric than a zealous interest in exploring the countryside.

It was early decided that we should labour in pairs and that of every three days each pair should pass forty-eight hours in the dungeon and twenty-four hours abroad. Each pair was to have its own base, to which it alone would repair, and, the second car having been bestowed at Salzburg, only the Rolls would be employed.

Mansel and Carson were to use Salzburg; Hanbury and Rowley, Villach; Bell and I, St. Martin.

By way of illustration, Bell and I would leave St. Martin on a Monday evening, ostensibly to tour the country, taking sufficient food to last us for two full days. That night we would enter the dungeon, and Hanbury and Rowley would leave. Now, two days’ provision for two is one day’s provision for four, so that the food we had brought would feed Mansel, Carson, Bell and myself on Tuesday, and on Tuesday night Hanbury and Rowley would be back with a fresh supply. Upon their arrival, Mansel and Carson would leave, returning on Wednesday night to relieve myself and Bell.

This system worked very well: and I am sure that not one of our respective landlords so much as suspected the tale which, had it had a tongue, the Rolls could have told.

The establishment of the bases, the bestowal of the second car, and the discovery and purchase of a collapsible boat took more than one day to accomplish; and forty-eight hours had gone by before Mansel, Hanbury, Carson and I alighted finally from the Rolls, two hundred yards from the river, and a little to the West of the bend above which the castle stood. The river was flowing from West to East, so we were up stream.

The night was fine, still, and very dark. For the last three miles we had travelled without any lights; but the inhabitants of Carinthia go early to bed, and we had met no one.

A hiding-place for the car was easy to find, and a little old quarry, long abandoned to Nature and approached by a grass-grown track, suited our purpose admirably. And here, in the thick of some bushes, we arranged to conceal the boat.

Then Mansel made much of Tester and set him to guard the car, telling him in so many words that Hanbury would soon be back to take him away, and that he himself would return in two days’ time. I am sure that the dog understood, for all his sprightliness left him, and he whimpered a little, when Mansel turned away. Carson told me later that that was his way; and I can testify to his indifference, when I brought him to meet Hanbury, and Hanbury to his excitement when he brought him to meet his lord.

Then we took up the boat and her sculls and the tools and the food we had brought, and went down the river.

This was smooth-flowing, and the current was slight. After a short search we found a convenient place, where a tree overhung deep water and a man could take hold of a branch and lower himself with ease into a boat below. Here it was simple, too, to launch the boat, which was astonishingly light: and Mansel, Carson and I were soon aboard. The boat would hold but three, and since Hanbury and Rowley were to lie that night at Villach, the former stayed where he was.

Three minutes later we were at the mouth of the shoot, and Mansel put up a hand and rang the bell. At once the flap was lifted, and I heard Bell asking if he should show a light.

“On no account,” said Mansel. “But let the rope-ladder down.”

It must have been near half-an-hour before we stood in the gallery, for this was, of course, the first time we had used the shoot, and, since, as I have said, a third of its mouth was under water, its passage required some care, unless our clothes and victuals were to be immersed. Indeed, to go up or down we always stripped to the skin. The provisions we saved by the use of a large iron bucket, with a tight-fitting lid: when we had loaded this, we spread it with oiled silk before replacing the lid; so far as I can remember, no water ever circumvented this rude device. Our clothes were raised and lowered in a waterproof sheet. After a while we grew expert, and the relief then came to be done with a soldierly dispatch.

The first thing we did was to give Rowley his instructions and pack him off. Mansel was none too easy at letting him go alone, but he said that he was a swimmer, and knew how to pull an oar, and, since the sculls were so fastened that they could not leave the boat, it seemed certain that he would come safely to the other side.

“All the same,” said Mansel, “you must give us a sign, and, as I’m afraid to let you show a light, you must take this cord. Fasten it to the painter, and, when you’ve found Mr. Hanbury, cast it off. But, before you do that, tie two knots at its end. So soon as we find it slack, we shall pull it in: and, if the knots are there, we shall know that you’re safe.”

With that, we put out the light and opened the shoot, and, five minutes later, two knots at the end of the cord told us that Rowley and his master had joined forces.

Bell had nothing to report: but he and Rowley had ordered all our stuff so conveniently that, without more ado, we were able to go to bed.

The next morning the new work was begun.

Mansel and Carson had bathed before I was awake, and, by the time I was ready, the measurements had been taken, and everything was in train.

Precisely at five o’clock I cut the first stone out of the dungeon wall: and, before half an hour had gone by, we had made a rectangular breach, three feet by nine feet high. To these dimensions we adhered, for, though such a height was uncalled for, it allowed the swing of a pickaxe and so paid for its maintenance many times over. To our relief, the soil behind proved sandy and so easy to work: but this condition convinced us that, as we drove our tunnel, so we must prop its roof and retain its walls with timber against a subsidence or bulge. To do this was simple, but how to procure the timber I could not think: yet Mansel had found out a way within the hour.

Some ten miles away stood a saw-mill: and there was plenty of wood such as would suit us well. Of this Mansel proposed to purchase a stack and to drive as hard a bargain as ever he could. He would then require its free delivery to Wagensburg, “at which,” said he, “the miller will certainly kick, for to carry a load of timber up that road of approach, would make Hercules scratch his head. After an argument, we shall come to a compromise. I shall pay nothing for delivery, and he will dump the wood in the quarry where we stable the car. Thence, with a very ill grace, I shall consent to fetch it, as and when it is required.”

And so it fell out: so that in two days’ time we had ready to hand a great store of wood, of which few knew and none, I think, thought anything.

For the time being, however, we were hard put to it to find so much as a makeshift to stay the roof of the shaft: but, after a little, we sawed in pieces some benches, which we had found in the kitchen, and two days before had lowered into the oubliette: with their wood and that of some cases which had contained supplies, we contrived such temporary props as made it safe to proceed.

The soil we displaced we cast into the great dungeon, piling it up by the walls, for, though we must presently empty our winnings out of the shoot, to set ourselves this task before our time would have been unprofitable.

The work went apace, for we were strong men and determined, and laboured faithfully by shifts, so that the most was made of our endurance. There was plenty of air, and the conditions were, I imagine, much more pleasant than such as usually govern work below ground, for the dungeon was cool and spacious, and the second chamber made an admirable lounge.

Although we knew our direction, we were less sure of our relation to the chamber, so far as depth was concerned: but, after consultation, we decided to keep the floor of our shaft fifteen feet above that of the oubliette: for the meadow lay higher than the kitchen by at the least five feet, and, with another nine feet---that is to say, the height of our tunnel---to correct any vertical error, we surely could not go wrong. We, therefore, drove the shaft to this level, and kept it faithfully there up to the very end. By using the compass, we checked our direction as we went, taking the bearing at least twice in the day, to avoid waste of labour.

It had been arranged that Bell and I should leave, when Hanbury and Rowley returned, but our need of timber was so pressing that Carson and Mansel, who alone could deal with the miller, left in our stead. So Bell lay four nights in succession in the second chamber. This order, once taken, it seemed convenient to preserve: and, thereafter, Hanbury always relieved Mansel, Mansel me, and I Hanbury.

Because his base was at Salzburg, Mansel had much less leisure than Hanbury or I: for not only was Salzburg more distant than either St. Martin or Villach, but such odd things as we needed were better to be found in that town, so that duties of one sort or another were constantly imposing upon his time of rest. But, if ever we pointed this out, he would not listen, maintaining that he did very well and enjoyed any sort of occupation better than idleness.

Of the first day’s labour there is no more to tell than of that of any other; and, since driving a shaft is a dull business, I shall not set down our progress, but only continue---as I have already begun, though something, I fear, at haphazard---to record such details as I think may illumine, as a picture a tale, the dry fact of our long labour; as well our odd doubts and difficulties, and the means we devised to lay them, as the happenings which stand clean out of the next six weeks and have little or nothing to do with our main endeavour: this was, in so many words, to reach the treasure-chamber before the thieves.

---

Our constant fear was that we should strike rock, for with that we knew very well we could not reckon, and to try to surmount such an obstacle would be work forlorn. Indeed, for a long time, whenever the pick struck a stone which was uncommonly obstinate, our hearts went into our mouths for fear that we had encountered this dreadful enemy: but, though more than once the size and rigidity of some boulder as good as realized our fears, we were spared this terrible blow, and never met anything worse than a long course of clay which later gave way to gravel as suddenly as it had taken its place.

We bathed morning and evening by way of the shoot: and, since we had no means of drying our towels, the relief always brought some fresh ones to carry it through its term. Our linen, of course, we could change when we went to the base. Indeed, all things considered, we were very well found and suffered next to no discomfort. The pavement of the gallery, certainly, made a hard bed: but, after a full day’s labour, I think anyone of us could have slumbered upon the stile itself.

Examining this hideous death-bed, while they were yet alone, Rowley and Bell had found two naked poniards lying between the fences and covered with dust. The hilt of one was golden and very well done: the other’s was of silver and plainly made. I think there is little doubt that they had belonged to two victims, who were wearing them when they fell; and that the shock of the falls had shaken them out of their scabbards and down, clear of the bodies which they had lately adorned.

Though I never found the work irksome, I enjoyed my nights at St. Martin and my days in the open air. Upon these I had seldom anything to do except to take my ease: for, as I have said, Salzburg could best supply such needs as we had, and Mansel and Carson always cared for the Rolls. By Mansel’s advice, I took to trout-fishing, for that was a quiet engagement and rested body and soul: and many a pleasant hour I passed beside some comfortable stream, gaining more refreshment than fish, of which I took very few, whilst Bell and Tester went rambling somewhere within call, like children let out of school, revelling in the mysteries of wood and meadow, and turning idleness into an enterprise.

The weather was wonderfully fine: though sometimes rain fell, the fall was always heavy and soon past, and I do not remember one day that was overcast or unseasonable.

A storm burst one night whilst the relief was taking place, or, to be more precise, when Mansel and Carson were sculling to the mouth of the shoot. Quick as we were, before they stood in the gallery their clothes were wet through; but, though the downpour was frightful, Bell and I dared not delay, lest the boat should be swamped. I never stripped more reluctantly, and even the river seemed snug beside the nakedness of the boat. The rain lashed my bare skin, whilst I sat waiting for Bell, but, when he came down and laid hold of the gunwale, as usual, to come aboard, of my endeavour to trim the craft, I slipped on the dripping thwart and fell clean into the river, capsizing the boat as I went. Meantime, unaware of this misadventure, those in the gallery let down our clothes with a run, and, believing that we had the bundle, lowered it into the water before they found out their mistake. However, we took no hurt, nor even cold in spite of our thirty-mile drive, which shows, I think, that we were in very good condition.

The search-light consumed much power; so, when Mansel left for Salzburg, he always took with him one battery and brought back another charged.

Our wireless set afforded us great pleasure. We received the English stations very well and so heard the news every evening, and music, whenever we pleased: but I fancy those that made it little dreamed that their notes were larding the shadows of so sinister a place.

That the dungeon and the chamber made up a grim suite cannot be denied: and, though no one of us said such a thing, I think we could all have spared the grisly memories with which the spot seemed charged. We were too tired to dream: what dreadful matters might else have ridden our slumbers! We laboured upon a scaffold and took our rest in a morgue: we came and went the way dead men had gone---surely, ‘such stuff as dreams are made on,’ ill dreams. But, happily for us, we were too tired to dream. Still, if some tales may be believed, not every weary man has been so favoured. Indeed, if the pitiful dead walk, they must have picked their way between us as we lay in the gallery of nights: but, perhaps because we were so sorry for them, and found their murder so detestable, they had compassion on the strangers within their gates.

So the days went by, and we drove the shaft forward, propping it with timber as we went.

---

We had laboured for more than a week, before we went out to see how the thieves were faring. We were all impatient to know what things were happening in the enemy’s camp, but; as Mansel said at the time, we knew far better than they that for the moment the treasure was out of their reach, and to gratify pure curiosity at the expense of our work would have been the way of a schoolgirl. “All the same,” he continued, “we mustn’t behave as though they had thrown in their hand: and, when they’ve had time to find out that they are no match for the springs and that without assistance they never will lower the water as far as the shaft, that will be the moment at which to begin to watch. If you must know what another is going to do, when he will not tell you and your chances of observation are limited, the best of all ways to find out is to try to assume his outlook and to put yourself in his place. Very well. I may be wrong, but I think, when they’re sick of baling, they’ll purchase a pump. And, when that proves useless, as it will, they’ll lift up their eyes to the fact that help they must have. They won’t like the look of that fact, and they’ll waste quite a lot of good time trying to find a way round: but at last they’ll accept it. And that is why it behoves us to drive our tunnel as fast as ever we can.”

On the evening of the tenth day, soon after the sun had set, Mansel and Carson and I went out to see what we could. Hanbury had been warned not to return before midnight, for we did not want our reconnaissance to delay or embarrass the relief.

We swam up stream, keeping close to the cliff, each with his clothes and pistol tied up in a wrap of oiled silk and strapped to the back of his head. Soon the cliff gave way to the steep slope of the woods; and at once Mansel, who was leading, took hold of an overhanging bough and swung himself on to dry land and out of sight. Carson and I followed. An immediate observation of the road beyond the river showed that, so far as we could see, there was no one in sight.

We judged that, by going straight up, we should come to the sentinel peak: and, so soon as we had put on our clothes, we began to climb up through the forest in single file.

Either our judgment was at fault, or we bore too much to the left, for, after ten minutes’ walking, we saw the walls of the castle a bare thirty paces away. We, therefore, bent to the right and, using extreme caution, made our way under cover to the spot where I had met Bell on the night of the attack on the well.

We were now at the edge of the meadow, and nearly as close to the well as, short of entering the open, a man could come.

The light was fast failing, but as yet we could see well enough.

The redoubt had been finished and now stood some six feet high about the well. I am sure it was loop-holed, but this did not appear: probably the loop-holes were covered, whilst they were out of use. Of this fastness a third part was roofed, with what I could not distinguish, but rafters had plainly been laid from the wall to the cupola of the well. There was, therefore, some shelter from the heaven; but I could not help thinking that our quarters, grim as they were, were a hundred times more secure and comfortable than this wretched abode, which was, indeed, no better than the byre from which it had sprung.

There was a light burning behind the wall, and once or twice we heard voices; but we could see no movement without, and there was no sound of any labour.

Then Mansel bade Carson and me stay where we were, and himself stole forward along the edge of the wood. He was gone some time, and, when he returned, it was dark. There was, he reported, no sentry that he could locate, nor any sign of the car, which he thought was probably abroad. “If I am right,” he added, “there are but three of them here, and to judge from the voices, all those are within the redoubt. We have, therefore, a chance of eavesdropping which may not occur again. And now do exactly as I do: lift up your feet well and mind your step.”

With that, he began to step lightly over the grass, making straight for the covered portion of the redoubt: and, a moment later, we were standing beneath its wall, able distinctly to hear every word that was said.

“Live an’ let live, Rose,” said Punter’s voice. “What’s the matter with the pump?”

“That,” said ‘Rose’ Noble, “is just what I want to know. If the pump’s going to shift the water, why didn’t Big Willie have a pump?”

“ ’Cause he didn’t have time to go an’ get one before we blew in.”

“He’d a day and a half,” said ‘Rose’ Noble. “And Big Willie’s not the ---- to dig a hole with his fingers, when he can have a spade.”

“A nerror of judgment,” said Job. “That’s wot it was. They ’ad to choose between goin’ an’ gettin’ a pump and ’avin’ a dart with their pails. Directly I see the water, I says, ‘ ’Ere’s room for a pump.’ I know. I ’ad to watch one once.”

“ ‘Watch one’?” said ‘Rose’ Noble, contemptuously. “What do you mean---‘Watch one’?”

“ ‘Watch one,’ ” repeated Job. “They ’ave to be watched, of course. But they’ll deliver the goods. I tell you, we’ll empty this well in a couple of hours. Wait till you see the ---  a-buzzin’ away.”

“My God,” said ‘Rose’ Noble, brokenly. “He thinks it’s a motor-pump.” Punter let out a guffaw. “You --- milkmaid, where would we get the power? Where’s the current to drive it? Where’s the plumbers and masons to set it up? I thought you seemed damned anxious to have a pump. Saw yourself ‘watching it,’ I suppose---with a bottle of Bass in your pocket and a fag in your face.”

“But----”

“It’s going to be worked by hand, Job,” continued his relentless comforter. “Your hand. You will have to work very hard, pushing a bar to and fro. I think it probable that you will sweat. Yes, I thought that’d faze you, you lazy skunk. There’s a million down in that well, but, rather than work for a week, you’ll let it lie.”

“ ‘Lazy’?” screeched Job. “ ‘Lazy’? Look at my---hands.”

“Oh, I reckon they’re dirty,” said ‘Rose’ Noble. “You haven’t drawn enough water to rinse them clean.” The other’s protest he scorched with a terrible oath. “Oh, if I’d ‘Holy’ Gordon and two of his lads! They didn’t care where they slept, whiles the job was raw. They’d’ve shifted a---river, if it was keeping gold.” He expired violently. “Are you certain sure there’s no one back in the house?”

“Certain sure,” said Punter. “And every mark’s as it was. There’s no one been through that courtyard for more than a week.”

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