Read CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR - And grows dangerous. of Blind Policy , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

The key the men possessed admitted them at once and the other portmanteau was opened, ready for use ­a use which soon became plain.

“Think it’ll be all right this time?” said Roach, who was in an intense state of excitement.

“Dunno till I try,” was the reply.  “Light up and look sharp.”

Roach turned to the second portmanteau, which stood inside the door, and took out a dark lantern.  Then striking a match, he lit it, and in obedience to a word from his young companion, he held up the cover of the iron door key-hole with one hand, and directed the full glare of the bull’s-eye on the opening with the other.

Arthur had not been idle.  Hastily doubling his overcoat, he made of it a pad to kneel upon, and then taking a bright new key from out of a piece of tissue paper, he began to try if it would fit.

“All right,” he whispered, “it goes splendidly.”

“Well done,” panted Roach.  “But be quick.”

“Quick be blowed!  Don’t you be so jolly nervous; there’s no one to interrupt us now.”

“Well, turn the key.”

“Won’t turn ­sticks.  Oil.”

Roach handed a little oil tin from the portmanteau, the key was withdrawn and lubricated and once more thrust in, to evidently act upon a part of the mechanism of the great lock, but that was all.

“Bah!” ejaculated Arthur.  “I know the beggar.  It’s one of that sort you see at the safe shops.  When you turn the key you shoot bolts, top, bottom and both sides.  It nearly does.  He made it quite to the wax pattern, and it only wants a touch or two.  Here, give us the file.”

“Stop a minute.”

“What’s the matter?”

“I want to see if old Mrs Barron’s safe.”

“Look alive then.  No, no; give me the file first.”

The tool was handed and the active young fellow held the key close to the light and began filing away where it seemed to him the wards of the key wanted opening; and he was still busy when Roach returned.  “She’s all right,” he panted, his breath coming short as if he had been running.

“Oh yes, she won’t get clear of those knots ­an old cat! ­I know.  You take it easy, old man; we’re as safe as safe.”

“But suppose the guv’nors come back from Paris, my dear boy?”

“Won’t be back for a fortnight.  You know as well as I do.  Lor’ ‘a’ mussy! on’y think of our taking up a game like this, old man!”

“It’s awful ­it’s awful, Orthur.”

“Yah! we can’t help it.  How were we to know that everything we backed would go wrong and leave us in such a hole?” said Arthur, as he filed away.

“But it seems like burglary,” whispered the butler.

“Burglary be blowed!  Look here, if you’re going to whine I shall cut it, and my stick too, and you may face it out with the guv’nors.  What are you going to say when they ask after that gold centre-piece, and the rest of the plate you’ve lent my uncle?”

“We’ve lent my uncle!” said the butler, reproachfully.

“Oh, well, we then.  I’m ready to take my share.  It was their fault, and we’re driven to this to get money to take out all you’ve pledged.”

“We’ve pledged.”

“We be hanged!  You did the pledging, but I don’t want to back out of it.  I’m going to stand by you.  Only, you see, circumstances are against us, old man.  We meant to come quietly and get enough out of here to square us and make us able to make a fresh start on our own hook ­I’m sick of their tips ­but as soon as we come to do it quietly, meaning to sleep here for the night, that old cat cuts up rough, and we have to quiet her.  Consequence is, old man, we’ve got to go the whole thing and make ourselves rich men all at once.  Don’t matter.  Just as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, so I mean to make it two sheep if I can ­two sheep a-piece, old chap.  There, that ought to do it now.”

He ceased filing and applied the key again, to find that he could turn it a little more.

“Almost,” he said.  “Oil again.”

But the fresh oil sent it no farther, and the butler wiped his dripping brow and ejaculated ­

“Tut-tut-tut-tut!”

“Look here, old chap, if you can do it better come and try yourself,” cried Arthur in an ill-used tone.

“No, no, my dear boy, I can’t.  You are cleverer at such things than I am, but it’s such fidgeting work to stand here holding the light and doing nothing.”

“Never mind, it’s worth it,” said Arthur, laughing.  “Think of the pearls and diamonds in here, old fellow.  Now for another try.  We shall be as rich as Rothschilds when we’ve done, and across the water before they can put a hand upon us.  Bah!  Blister the key!  It’s as near as near.  But I’ll do it, if I try till to-morrow morning.  Here, go and see how the old girl’s getting on.  Got your keys?”

“Yes, my boy, but they are no good for this.”

“Pah! who said they were?  They’re good for a bottle of wine, though, ain’t they?”

“Oh yes ­yes!”

“Then bring one with the cork out, and never mind a glass; and don’t stop to decant it, old chap, for I want a drink horrid bad.  This is warm work.”

The butler went away on tip-toe.  As he walked along the passage he heard the sharp grating of the file, and shivered with dread.  But upon reaching the pantry he felt relieved, for the housekeeper seemed to be asleep.

Not content with this, Roach went up to the hall and listened.  But all was perfectly still in the great solemn mansion, and he went down again, to be conscious of the scrap, scrap of the file, before he reached the pantry, where the old lady still lay unmoved.

Hastily getting a bottle of wine from the cupboard, and uncorking it, he went back, to find Arthur still filing away.

“Oh, there you are then,” he grumbled.  “I was just a-coming to see if you were finishing the bottle all to your own cheek.  Here, give us hold.”

He took a deep draught, and recommenced filing with renewed vigour for some minutes.

“Now,” he said, “this is the last time of trying.  If it won’t do it we must do the other thing.”

He tried the key, and it turned half-way, but it was forced upon them that there was something wanting.  The key did not touch some portion of the ingeniously-made lock, and the young man thrust it in his pocket.

“Better have tried the hammering at first,” he said.

“No, no!  The noise,” cried Roach.

“Bah!  Who’s going to take any notice of a bit of knocking?” said the young man, contemptuously.  “The sound can’t reach them there.”

“But suppose a policeman heard it as he passed?”

“Well, he’d hear it and say to himself, `They’ve got the workpeople in.’”

“But ­”

“Oh, blow your buts, old man!  Did the police come to see what was the matter when the men took out the kitchener and put in a new one?”

“No, but ­”

“But you’re in a stew.  That’s what’s the matter.  Give us hold.  Thinnest wedge, and the hammer, and you hold the light.  That piece of leather will stop the sound.”

The butler sighed, but obeyed his companion, handing him a steel wedge with an edge as fine as the blade of a knife.  Then he held the light close while his companion gently tapped it in between the door and frame.

Another followed, and another ­quite a dozen, of increasing sizes, having been brought; and the leather-covered hammer deadened the sound greatly, while the crack grew larger, and it seemed pretty certain that the steel wedges would sooner or later force open the door.

“See this?” said the operator, triumphantly.

“Oh yes, I see, but I’m in a bath o’ perspiration.”

“With doing nothing but hold a candle!” said Arthur, with a chuckle, as he drove in another wedge as far as it would go and released two more thinner ones.  “Now I’m going to have a moment’s rest and a drink while you go and see how dear old Mrs Barron is.  Whistle if you want help.”

The butler went off, and the young man drank and examined the progress he had made, and he was still examining so as to find where he could drive in the next wedge with the most effect when the butler came back.

“She hasn’t stirred,” he said.

“She can’t,” said his companion, with a laugh, and he began tapping again vigorously, but at the end of half a dozen strokes, as his hammer was poised to deliver another, there was a dull clang, and the young fellow leaped back.

“Hear that?” he said in a whisper full of triumph.

“Yes, it was like the banging to of another iron door.”

“Banging to of an iron grandmother!” cried Arthur, contemptuously; “it’s the whole front splitting away, and another wedge in will fetch it right off.”

“I hope so,” said Roach, piteously.  “Do you think it will take much longer?”

“I don’t care if it takes two days,” said the other, coolly.  “Don’t matter so long as we get the door open.”

Roach sighed.

“There, hold the light, and don’t do that.  You are a cheerful mate, ’pon my sivvy.  Here goes.”

The speaker began again, keeping a sharp lookout, so as to spring back and not be crushed by the falling door; and to this end he made Roach stand in the entrance and direct the light from there, giving him plenty of room.  But the door did not fall, and at the end of an hour the hammer was thrown down.

“It’s no go.”

“Do you give it up?” cried Roach, eagerly.

“No, I don’t give it up, but I’m not going to work all the flesh off my bones when one stroke will do the work.”

“What!  The powder?”

“That’s it, old chap.  Go and see how the old woman is.”

Roach sighed, and went away, to return shivering.

“She looks horrible,” he whispered; “but you mustn’t think of powder, my lad.  You’ll bring the people in from both sides to see what’s the matter.”

“Won’t make noise enough for that, and I sha’n’t use enough,” said Arthur, coolly.  “Don’t talk.  That door’s got to come open, and I wish I’d tried this plan at first.”

“But it’s too dangerous.”

“No, it isn’t.  You keep quiet, and make that light shine well on the key-hole.”

As he spoke the young man took a pound canister of fine gun-powder from the portmanteau pushing the latter afterwards outside into the passage.  Then with a small funnel, also provided in the portmanteau, and fitted with a curved piece of pipe, to fill the interior of the lock with the fine black dust, which ran away down the funnel and pipe as easily as sand from one side to another of an hour-glass.

“This is the way,” said Arthur, eagerly.  “I shall get pretty well half a pound in.”

It seemed quite probable, for the powder ran trickling on, every stoppage being overcome by a shake or a tap or two, till at last, no matter how the door was rapped, no more would go down.

“Doesn’t matter; there’s plenty,” said the young man, quietly, thrusting in a piece of ready prepared slow match, which hung down the front of the door and half a yard over the floor, where the powder sprinkled about was carefully dusted away.

Then by means of a wedge some scraps of rag were driven in tightly to fill up the key-hole, and the young man rose up.

“There we are, old chap,” he said.  “All we’ve got to do is to open the lantern, touch the end of that slow match in the light, let it go down ­ stop a minute, let’s blow away a little more of the powder ­then there’ll be plenty of time to shut and lock the door, wait for the blow-out of the lock, and go in after and pick up the best pieces, fill our Gladstones as we like and be off.”

He went down on his knees, and, trembling violently, Roach held up the lantern, as he stood quiet outside now.

“Here!  How am I to see?” cried his companion, angrily.

“But it isn’t safe to bring a light near the powder.”

“Bosh!  How can a light behind glass do any harm?  Come closer, I mustn’t leave any powder near the slow match.  That’s better; I can see now, and ­Ah! take care.”

For all at once the butler fell over him with a crash, the lantern struck against the opposite wall and came open, the lamp portion falling out and firing some of the scattered powder, while at the same moment the lobby door was banged to, shut, and they heard the shooting of the lock.