Scandal in Bohemia
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woman might, for all I knew, be a monomaniac. With a stout
bearing, therefore, though her manner had shaken me more than I
cared to confess, I still shook my head and declared my intention
of remaining where I was. She was about to renew her entreaties
when a door slammed overhead, and the sound of several footsteps
was heard upon the stairs. She listened for an instant, threw up
her hands with a despairing gesture, and vanished as suddenly and
as noiselessly as she had come.
"The newcomers were Colonel Lysander Stark and a short thick man
with a chinchilla beard growing out of the creases of his double
chin, who was introduced to me as Mr. Ferguson.
"'This is my secretary and manager,' said the colonel. 'By the
way, I was under the impression that I left this door shut just
now. I fear that you have felt the draught.'
"'On the contrary,' said I, 'I opened the door myself because I
felt the room to be a little close.'
"He shot one of his suspicious looks at me. 'Perhaps we had
better proceed to business, then,' said he. 'Mr. Ferguson and I
will take you up to see the machine.'
"'I had better put my hat on, I suppose.'
"'Oh, no, it is in the house.'
"'What, you dig fuller's-earth in the house?'
"'No, no. This is only where we compress it. But never mind that.
All we wish you to do is to examine the machine and to let us
know what is wrong with it.'
"We went upstairs together, the colonel first with the lamp, the
fat manager and I behind him. It was a labyrinth of an old house,
with corridors, passages, narrow winding staircases, and little
low doors, the thresholds of which were hollowed out by the
generations who had crossed them. There were no carpets and no
signs of any furniture above the ground floor, while the plaster
was peeling off the walls, and the damp was breaking through in
green, unhealthy blotches. I tried to put on as unconcerned an
air as possible, but I had not forgotten the warnings of the
lady, even though I disregarded them, and I kept a keen eye upon
my two companions. Ferguson appeared to be a morose and silent
man, but I could see from the little that he said that he was at
least a fellow-countryman.
"Colonel Lysander Stark stopped at last before a low door, which
he unlocked. Within was a small, square room, in which the three
of us could hardly get at one time. Ferguson remained outside,
and the colonel ushered me in.
"'We are now,' said he, 'actually within the hydraulic press, and
it would be a particularly unpleasant thing for us if anyone were
to turn it on. The ceiling of this small chamber is really the
end of the descending piston, and it comes down with the force of
many tons upon this metal floor. There are small lateral columns
of water outside which receive the force, and which transmit and
multiply it in the manner which is familiar to you. The machine
goes readily enough, but there is some stiffness in the working
of it, and it has lost a little of its force. Perhaps you will
have the goodness to look it over and to show us how we can set
"I took the lamp from him, and I examined the machine very
thoroughly. It was indeed a gigantic one, and capable of
exercising enormous pressure. When I passed outside, however, and
pressed down the levers which controlled it, I knew at once by
the whishing sound that there was a slight leakage, which allowed
a regurgitation of water through one of the side cylinders. An
examination showed that one of the india-rubber bands which was
round the head of a driving-rod had shrunk so as not quite to
fill the socket along which it worked. This was clearly the cause
of the loss of power, and I pointed it out to my companions, who
followed my remarks very carefully and asked several practical
questions as to how they should proceed to set it right. When I
had made it clear to them, I returned to the main chamber of the
machine and took a good look at it to satisfy my own curiosity.
It was obvious at a glance that the story of the fuller's-earth
was the merest fabrication, for it would be absurd to suppose
that so powerful an engine could be designed for so inadequate a
purpose. The walls were of wood, but the floor consisted of a
large iron trough, and when I came to examine it I could see a
crust of metallic deposit all over it. I had stooped and was
scraping at this to see exactly what it was when I heard a
muttered exclamation in German and saw the cadaverous face of the
colonel looking down at me.
"'What are you doing there?' he asked.
"I felt angry at having been tricked by so elaborate a story as
that which he had told me. 'I was admiring your fuller's-earth,'
said I; 'I think that I should be better able to advise you as to
your machine if I knew what the exact purpose was for which it
"The instant that I uttered the words I regretted the rashness of
my speech. His face set hard, and a baleful light sprang up in
his gray eyes.
"'Very well,' said he, 'you shall know all about the machine.' He
took a step backward, slammed the little door, and turned the key
in the lock. I rushed towards it and pulled at the handle, but it
was quite secure, and did not give in the least to my kicks and
shoves. 'Hello!' I yelled. 'Hello! Colonel! Let me out!'
"And then suddenly in the silence I heard a sound which sent my
heart into my mouth. It was the clank of the levers and the swish
of the leaking cylinder. He had set the engine at work. The lamp
still stood upon the floor where I had placed it when examining
the trough. By its light I saw that the black ceiling was coming
down upon me, slowly, jerkily, but, as none knew better than
myself, with a force which must within a minute grind me to a
shapeless pulp. I threw myself, screaming, against the door, and
dragged with my nails at the lock. I implored the colonel to let
me out, but the remorseless clanking of the levers drowned my
cries. The ceiling was only a foot or two above my head, and with
my hand upraised I could feel its hard, rough surface. Then it
flashed through my mind that the pain of my death would depend
very much upon the position in which I met it. If I lay on my
face the weight would come upon my spine, and I shuddered to
think of that dreadful snap. Easier the other way, perhaps; and
yet, had I the nerve to lie and look up at that deadly black
shadow wavering down upon me? Already I was unable to stand
erect, when my eye caught something which brought a gush of hope
back to my heart.
"I have said that though the floor and ceiling were of iron, the
walls were of wood. As I gave a last hurried glance around, I saw
a thin line of yellow light between two of the boards, which
broadened and broadened as a small panel was pushed backward. For
an instant I could hardly believe that here was indeed a door
which led away from death. The next instant I threw myself
through, and lay half-fainting upon the other side. The panel had
closed again behind me, but the crash of the lamp, and a few
moments afterwards the clang of the two slabs of metal, told me
how narrow had been my escape.
"I was recalled to myself by a frantic plucking at my wrist, and
I found myself lying upon the stone floor of a narrow corridor,
while a woman bent over me and tugged at me with her left hand,
while she held a candle in her right. It was the same good friend
whose warning I had so foolishly rejected.
"'Come! come!' she cried breathlessly. 'They will be here in a
moment. They will see that you are not there. Oh, do not waste
the so-precious time, but come!'
"This time, at least, I did not scorn her advice. I staggered to
my feet and ran with her along the corridor and down a winding
stair. The latter led to another broad passage, and just as we
reached it we heard the sound of running feet and the shouting of
two voices, one answering the other from the floor on which we
were and from the one beneath. My guide stopped and looked about
her like one who is at her wit's end. Then she threw open a door
which led into a bedroom, through the window of which the moon
was shining brightly.
"'It is your only chance,' said she. 'It is high, but it may be
that you can jump it.'
"As she spoke a light sprang into view at the further end of the
passage, and I saw the lean figure of Colonel Lysander Stark
rushing forward with a lantern in one hand and a weapon like a
butcher's cleaver in the other. I rushed across the bedroom,
flung open the window, and looked out. How quiet and sweet and
wholesome the garden looked in the moonlight, and it could not be
more than thirty feet down. I clambered out upon the sill, but I
hesitated to jump until I should have heard what passed between
my saviour and the ruffian who pursued me. If she were ill-used,
then at any risks I was determined to go back to her assistance.
The thought had hardly flashed through my mind before he was at
the door, pushing his way past her; but she threw her arms round
him and tried to hold him back.
"'Fritz! Fritz!' she cried in English, 'remember your promise
after the last time. You said it should not be again. He will be
silent! Oh, he will be silent!'
"'You are mad, Elise!' he shouted, struggling to break away from
her. 'You will be the ruin of us. He has seen too much. Let me
pass, I say!' He dashed her to one side, and, rushing to the
window, cut at me with his heavy weapon. I had let myself go, and
was hanging by the hands to the sill, when his blow fell. I was
conscious of a dull pain, my grip loosened, and I fell into the
"I was shaken but not hurt by the fall; so I picked myself up and
rushed off among the bushes as hard as I could run, for I
understood that I was far from being out of danger yet. Suddenly,
however, as I ran, a deadly dizziness and sickness came over me.
I glanced down at my hand, which was throbbing painfully, and
then, for the first time, saw that my thumb had been cut off and
that the blood was pouring from my wound. I endeavored to tie my
handkerchief round it, but there came a sudden buzzing in my
ears, and next moment I fell in a dead faint among the
"How long I remained unconscious I cannot tell. It must have been