The Thieves Who Couldn't Help Sneezing
by Thomas Hardy [1840-1928]
Page 2 of 4
All was silent; but the door stood wide open, it being from
this door that the light shone which had attracted him. On
entering he found himself in a vast apartment arranged as a
dining-hall, and brilliantly illuminated. The walls were covered
with a great deal of dark wainscoting, formed into moulded
panels, carvings, closet-doors, and the usual fittings of a house
of that kind. But what drew his attention most was the large
table in the midst of the hall, upon which was spread a sumptuous
supper, as yet untouched. Chairs were placed around, and it
appeared as if something had occurred to interrupt the meal just
at the time when all were ready to begin.
Even had Hubert been so inclined, he could not have eaten in
his helpless state, unless by dipping his mouth into the dishes,
like a pig or cow. He wished first to obtain assistance; and was
about to penetrate further into the house for that purpose when
he heard hasty footsteps in the porch and the words, "Be quick!"
uttered in the deep voice which had reached him when he was
dragged from the horse. There was only just time for him to dart
under the table before three men entered the dining-hall. Peeping
from beneath the hanging edges of the tablecloth, he perceived
that their faces, too, were blackened, which at once removed any
remaining doubts he may have felt that these were the same
"Now, then," said the first--the man with the deep
voice--"let us hide ourselves. They will all be back again in a minute. That was
a good trick to get them out of the house--eh?"
"Yes. You well imitated the cries of a man in distress," said
"Excellently," said the third.
"But they will soon find out that it was a false alarm. Come,
where shall we hide? It must be some place we can stay in for two
or three hours, till all are in bed and asleep. Ah! I have it.
Come this way! I have learnt that the further closet is not
opened once in a twelve-month; it will serve our purpose
The speaker advanced into a corridor which led from the hall.
Creeping a little farther forward, Hubert could discern that the
closet stood at the end, facing the dining-hall. The thieves
entered it, and closed the door. Hardly breathing, Hubert glided
forward, to learn a little more of their intention, if possible;
and, coming close, he could hear the robbers whispering about the
different rooms where the jewels, plate, and other valuables of
the house were kept, which they plainly meant to steal.