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CHAPTER 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.
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