Chapter XLV: The Invasion of Hampshire

“The gate is just at the end o’ the lane, sir.”

“Don’t pull up at the gate, but take us a little past it.”

“There ain’t no way in except the gate,” the driver remarked.

“Do what you’re ordered,” said the major sternly. Once again the ostler’s face betrayed unbounded astonishment. He slewed half-way round in his seat and took as good a look as was possible in the uncertain light at the faces of his passengers. It had occurred to him that it was more than likely that he would have to swear to them at some future date in a police-court. “I’d know that thick ‘un wi’ the red face,” he muttered to himself, “and him wi’ the yeller beard and the stick.”

They passed the stone pillars with the weather-beaten heraldic devices, and drove along by the high park wall. When they had gone a hundred yards or so the major ordered the driver to pull up, and they all got down. The increased fare was paid without remonstrance, and the ostler rattled away homewards, with the intention of pulling up at the county police-station and lodging information as to the suspicious visitors whom he had brought down.

“It is loikely that they have a watch at the gate,” said the major. “We must kape away from there. This wall is a great hoight. We’d best kape on until we find the aisiest place to scale it.”

“I could get over it here,” Tom said eagerly.

“Wait a bit. A few minutes can make no difference one way or the other. Ould Sir Colin used to say that there were more battles lost by over-haste than by slowness. What’s the high bank running along on the right here?”

“Dat’s a railway bankment,” said Von Baumser. “See de posts and de little red lights over yonder.”

“So it is. The wall seems to me to be lower here. What’s this dark thing? Hullo, here’s a door lading into the grounds.”

“It is locked though.”

“Give me a hoist here,” Tom said imploringly. “Don’t throw a minute away. You can’t tell what may be going on inside. At this very moment for all we know they may be plotting her murder.”

“He has right,” said Von Baumser. “We shall await here until we hear from you. Help him, my vriends—shove him up!”

Tom caught the coping of the wall, although the broken glass cut deeply into his hands. With a great heave he swung himself up, and was soon astride upon the top.

“Here’s the whistle,” said the major, standing on tiptoe to reach a downstretched hand. “If you want us, give a good blow at it. We’ll be with you in a brace of shakes. If we can’t get over the wall we’ll have the door down. Divil a fear but we’ll be there!”

Tom was in the act of letting himself drop into the wood, when suddenly the watchers below saw him crouch down upon the wall, and lie motionless, as though listening intently.

“Hush!” he whispered, leaning over. “Some one is coming through the wood.”

The wind had died away and the storm subsided. Even from the lane they could hear the sound of feet, and of muffled voices inside the grounds. They all crouched down in the shadow of the wall. Tom lay flat upon the glass-studded coping, and no one looking from below could distinguish him from the wall itself.

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