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Dead Men Tell No Tales

18.
A Man Of Many Murders
It was a good-sized wine-cellar, with very little wine in it; only one full bin could I
discover. The bins themselves lined but two of the walls, and most of them were
covered in with cobwebs, close-drawn like mosquito-curtains. The ceiling was all
too low: torpid spiders hung in disreputable parlors, dead to the eye, but
loathsomely alive at an involuntary touch. Rats scuttled when we entered, and I
had not been long alone when they returned to bear me company. I am not a
natural historian, and had rather face a lion with the right rifle than a rat with a
stick. My jailers, however, had been kind enough to leave me a lantern, which,
set upon the ground (like my mattress), would afford a warning, if not a
protection, against the worst; unless I slept; and as yet I had not lain down. The
rascals had been considerate enough, more especially Santos, who had a new
manner for me with his revised opinion of my character; it was a manner almost
as courtly as that which had embellished his relations with Eva Denison, and won
him my early regard at sea. Moreover, it was at the suggestion of Santos that
they had detained me in the hall, for much-needed meat and drink, on the way
down. Thereafter they had conducted me through the book-lined door of my
undoing, down stone stairs leading to three cellar doors, one of which they had
double-locked upon me.
As soon as I durst I was busy with this door; but to no purpose; it was a slab of
solid oak, hung on hinges as massive as its lock. It galled me to think that but two
doors stood between me and the secret tunnel to the sea: for one of the other
two must lead to it. The first, however, was all beyond me, and I very soon gave
it up. There was also a very small grating which let in a very little fresh air: the
massive foundations had been tunnelled in one place; a rude alcove was the
result, with this grating at the end and top of it, some seven feet above the earth
floor. Even had I been able to wrench away the bars, it would have availed me
nothing, since the aperture formed the segment of a circle whose chord was but
a very few inches long. I had nevertheless a fancy for seeing the stars once more
and feeling the breath of heaven upon my bandaged temples, which impelled me
to search for that which should add a cubit to my stature. And at a glance I
descried two packing-cases, rather small and squat, but the pair of them together
the very thing for me. To my amazement, however, I could at first move neither
one nor the other of these small boxes. Was it that I was weak as water, or that
they were heavier than lead? At last I managed to get one of them in my arms -
only to drop it with a thud. A side started; a thin sprinkling of yellow dust glittered
on the earth. I fetched the lantern: it was gold-dust from Bendigo or from Ballarat.
To me there was horror unspeakable, yet withal a morbid fascination, in the
spectacle of the actual booty for which so many lives had been sacrificed before
my eyes. Minute followed minute in which I looked at nothing, and could think of
nothing, but the stolen bullion at my feet; then I gathered what of the dust I could,
pocketed it in pinches to hide my meddlesomeness, and blew the rest away. The
box had dropped very much where I had found it; it had exhausted my strength
 
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