In The Vault

Let us hob and nob with Death - Tennyson
Though nothing of the vault except the roof was visible from where I lay, and so I could not see these visitors, yet I heard every word spoken, and soon made out one voice as being Master Ratsey's. This discovery gave me no surprise hut much solace, for I thought that if the worst happened and I was discovered, I should find one friend with whom I could plead for life.

"It is well the earth gave way", the sexton was saying, "on a night when we were here to find it. I was in the graveyard myself after midday, and all was snug and right then. 'Twould have been awkward enough to have the hole stand open through the day, for any passer-by to light on."

There were four or five men in the vault already, and I could hear more coming down the passage, and guessed from their heavy footsteps that they were carrying burdens. There was a sound, too, of dumping kegs down on the ground, with a swish of liquor inside them, and then the noise of casks being moved.

"I thought we should have a fall there ere long," Ratsey went on, "what with this drought parching the ground, and the trampling at the edge when we move out the side stone to get in, but there is no mischief done beyond what can be easily made good. A gravestone or two and a few spades of earth will make all sound again. Leave that to me."

"Be careful what you do," rejoined another man's voice that I did not know, "lest someone see you digging, and scent us out."

"Make your mind easy," Ratsey said; "I have dug too often in this graveyard for any to wonder if they see me with a spade."

Then the conversation broke off and there was little more talking, only a noise of men going backwards and forwards, and of putting down of kegs and the hollow gurgle of good liquor being poured from breakers into the casks. By and by fumes of brandy began to fill the air, and climb to where I lay, overcoming the mouldy smell of decayed wood auf the dampness of the green walls. It may have been that these fumes mounted to my head, and gave me courage not my own, but so it was that I lost something of the stifling fear that had gripped me, and could listen with more ease to what was going forward. There was a pause in the carrying to and fro; they were talking again now, and someone said--

"I was in Dorchester three days ago, and heard men say it will go hard with the poor chaps who had the brush with the Elector last summer. Judge Barentyne comes on Assize neat week, and that old fox Maskew has driven down to Taunton to get at him before and coach him back; making out to him that the Law's arm is weak in these parts against the contra-band, and must be strengthened by some wholesome hangings."

"They are a cruel pair," another put in, "and we shall have new gibbets on Ridge-down for leading lights. Once I get even with Maskew, the other may go hang, ay and they may hang me too."

"The Devil send him to meet me one dark night on the down alone," said someone else, "and I will give him a pistol's mouth to look down, and spoil his face for him."

"No, thou wilt not," said a deep voice, and then I knew that Elzevir was there too; "none shall lay hand on Maskew but I. So mark that, lad, that when his day of reckoning comes, 'tis I will reckon with him."

Then for a few minutes I did not pay much heed to what was said, being terribly straitened for room, and cramped with pain from lying so long in one place. The thick smoke from the pitch torches too came curling across the roof and down upon me, making me sick and giddy with its evil smell and taste; and though all was very dim, I could see my hands were black with oily smuts. At last I was able to wriggle myself over without making too much noise, and felt a great relief in changing sides, but gave such a start as made the coffin creak again at hearing my own name.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.