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"You are a gentleman, sir. I should like to have it in hard sovereigns.
I'm afraid of notes. They get traced somehow."
"You shall have it all in sovereigns."
"I want a little in advance, to buy the materials. They are costly, especially the fulminating silver."
Coventry gave him ten sovereigns, and they parted with the understanding that Cole should endeavor to blow up the premises on some night when Little was in them, and special arrangements were made to secure this.
Henry Little and Grace Carden received each of them, an anonymous letter, on the same day.
Grace Carden's ran thus:--
"I can't abide to see a young lady made a fool of by a villain. Mr.
Little have got his miss here: they dote on each other. She lives in the works, and so do he, ever since she came, which he usen't afore. They are in one room, as many as eight hours at a stretch, and that room always locked. It is the talk of all the girls. It is nought to me, but I thought it right you should know, for it is quite a scandal. She is a strapping country la.s.s, with a queerish name. This comes from a strange, but a well-wisher.
The letter to Henry Little was as follows:--
"The reason of so many warnings and ne'er a blow, you had friends in the trade. But you have worn them out. You are a doomed man. Prepare to meet your G.o.d.
"[Drawing of coffin.]"
This was the last straw on the camel's back, as the saying is.
He just ground it in his hand, and then he began to act.
He set to work, packed up models, and dispatched them by train; clothes ditto, and wrote a long letter to his mother.
Next day he was busy writing and arranging papers till the afternoon.
Then he called on Grace, as related, and returned to the works about six o'clock: he ordered a cup of tea at seven, which Jael brought him. She found him busy writing letters, and one of these was addressed to Grace Carden.
That was all she saw of him that night; for she went to bed early, and she was a sound sleeper.
It was nine o'clock of this same evening.
Mr. Coventry, disguised in a beard, was walking up and down a certain street opposite the great door of the works.
He had already walked and lounged about two hours. At last Cole joined him for a moment and whispered in a tone full of meaning, "Will it do now?"
Coventry's teeth chattered together as he replied, "Yes; now is the time."
"Got the money ready?"
"Let us see it."
"When you have done what you promised me."
"That very moment?"
"That very moment."
"Then I'll tell you what you must do. In about an hour go on the new bridge, and I'll come to you; and, before I've come to you many minutes, you'll see summut and hear summut that will make a noise in Hillsbro', and, perhaps, get us both into trouble."
"Not if you are as dexterous as others have been."
"Others! I was in all those jobs. But this is the queerest. I go to it as if I was going to a halter. No matter, a man can but die once."
And, with these words, he left him and went softly down to the water-side. There, in the shadow of the new bridge, lay a little boat, and in it a light-jointed ladder, a small hamper, and a basket of tools.
The rowlocks were covered with tow, and the oars made no noise whatever, except the scarce audible dip in the dark stream. It soon emerged below the bridge like a black spider crawling down the stream, and melted out of sight the more rapidly that a slight fog was rising.
Cole rowed softly past the works, and observed a very faint light in Little's room. He thought it prudent to wait till this should be extinguished, but it was not extinguished. Here was an unexpected delay.
However, the fog thickened a little, and this encouraged him to venture; he beached the boat very gently on the muddy sh.o.r.e, and began his work, looking up every now and then at that pale light, and ready to fly at the first alarm.
He took out of the boat a large varnish-can, which he had filled with gunpowder, and wrapped tightly round with wire, and also with a sash-line; this can was perforated at the side, and a strong tube screwed tightly into it; the tube protruded twelve inches from the can in shape of an S: by means of this a slow-burning fuse was connected with the powder; some yards of this fuse were wrapt loosely round the can.
Cole crept softly to the engine-chimney, and, groping about for the right place, laid the can in the engine bottom and uncoiled the fuse. He took out of his pocket some small pieces of tile, and laid the fuse dry on these.
Then he gave a sigh of relief, and crept back to the boat.
Horrible as the action was, he had done all this without much fear, and with no remorse, for he was used to this sort of work; but now he had to commit a new crime, and with new and terrible materials, which he had never handled in the way of crime before.
He had in his boat a substance so dangerous that he had made a nest of soft cotton for the receptacle which held it; and when the boat touched the sh.o.r.e, light as the contact was, he quaked lest his imprisoned giant-devil should go off and blow him to atoms.
He put off touching it till the last moment. He got his jointed ladder, set it very softly underneath the window where the feeble gas-light was, and felt about with his hands for the grating he had observed when he first reconnoitered the premises from the river. He found it, but it was so high that he had to reach a little, and the position was awkward for working.
The problem was how to remove one of those bars, and so admit his infernal machine; it was about the shape and size of an ostrich's egg.
It must be done without noise, for the room above him was Little's, and Little, he knew, had a wire by means of which he could summon Ransome and the police in the turn of a hand.
The cold of the night, and the now present danger, made Cole shiver all over, and he paused.
But he began again, and, taking out a fine steel saw highly tempered, proceeded to saw the iron slowly and gently, ready at the first alarm to spring from his ladder and run away.
With all his caution, steel grated against steel, and made too much noise in the stilly night. He desisted. He felt about, and found the grating was let into wood, not stone; he oiled the saw, and it cut the wood like b.u.t.ter; he made two cuts like a capital V, and a bar of the grating came loose; he did the same thing above, and the bar came out.
Cole now descended the ladder, and prepared for the greatest danger of all. He took from its receptacle the little metal box lined with glazed paper, which contained the fulminating silver and its fuse; and, holding it as gently as possible, went and mounted the ladder again, putting his foot down as softly as a cat.
But he was getting colder and colder, and at this unfortunate moment he remembered that, when he was a lad, a man had been destroyed by fulminating silver--quite a small quant.i.ty--in a plate over which he was leaning; yet the poor wretch's limbs had been found in different places, and he himself had seen the head; it had been torn from the trunk and hurled to an incredible distance.
That trunkless head he now fancied he saw, in the middle of the fog; and his body began to sweat cold, and his hands to shake so that he could hardly told the box. But if he let it fall--