Extract from the Memoirs of GABRIEL FOOT, Highwayman.
Our plan of attack upon Nanscarne House was a simple one.
The old baronet, Sir Harry Dinnis, took a just pride in his silver-ware. Some of it dated from Elizabeth: for Sir Harry’s great-great-grandfather, as the unhappy alternative of melting it down for King Charles, had taken arms against his Majesty and come out of the troubles of those times with wealth and credit.
The house, too, was Elizabethan, shaped like the letter L, and, like that letter, facing eastward. The longer arm, which looked down the steep slope of the park, contained the entrance-hall, chapel, dining-hall, principal living-rooms, and kitchens.
The ground-floor of the other (and to us more important) arm was taken up by the housekeeper’s rooms, audit-room and various offices, the butler’s bedroom, and the strong-room, where the plate lay. On the upper floor a long gallery full of pictures ran from end to end, with a line of doors on the southern side, all opening into bedrooms, except one which led to the back-stairs.
Now, properly speaking, the strong-room was no strong-room at all. It had an ordinary deal door and an ordinary country-made lock. But in some ways it was very strong indeed. The only approach to it on the ground-floor lay through the butler’s bedroom, of which you might call it but a cupboard. It had no window, and could not therefore be attacked from outside. The very small amount of light that entered it filtered through a pane of glass in the wall of the back-staircase, which ran up close behind.
I have said enough, I hope, for any reflective man to draw the conclusion that, since we desired no unpleasantness with the butler (a man between fifty and sixty, and notoriously incorruptible), our only plan was to make an entrance upstairs by the long window at the end of the picture gallery or corridor–whichever you choose to call it–descend the back-stairs, remove the pane of glass from the wall, and gain the strong-room through the opening.
The house was dark from end to end, and the stable clock had just chimed the quarter after midnight, when I went up the ladder. I never looked for much carefulness in this honest country household, but I did expect to spend twenty minutes on the heavy lead-work of the lower panes, and it seemed as good as a miracle to find the lattice unlatched and opening to the first gentle pull. I pressed it back; hitched it under a stem of ivy that the wind might not slam it after me; and, signalling down to Jimmy at the foot of the ladder to wait for my report, pulled myself over the sill and dropped softly into the gallery.
And then somebody stepped quickly from behind the heavy window curtain, reached out, shut the lattice smartly behind me, and said composedly–
“Show a light, Jenkins, and let us have a look at the gentleman.”
Though it concerned my neck, I was taken too quickly aback to stir; but stood like a stuck pig, while the butler fumbled with his tinder-box.
“Light all the candles!”
“If it please you, Sir Harry,” Jenkins answered, puffing at the tinder.
The first thing I saw by the blue light of the brimstone match was the barrel of old Sir Harry’s pistol glimmering about six inches from my nose. On my left stood a long-legged footman, also with a pistol. But all this, though discomposing, was no more than I had begun to expect. What really startled me, as old Jenkins lit the candles, was the sight of two women standing a few paces off, beneath a tall picture of a gentleman with a big lace collar. One of them, a short woman with a bunchy shape, I recognised for the housekeeper. The other I guessed as quickly to be Sir Harry’s daughter, Mistress Kate–a tall and slender young lady, dark-haired, and handsome as any man could wish. She was wrapped in a long travelling-cloak, the hood of which fell a little off her shoulders, allowing a glimpse of white satin. A train of white satin reached below the cloak, and coiled about her pretty feet.