“Not dangerous, I hope?” said the old lady.
Hubert rose from the table. “Hand me your snuff-box, please,” he said to the young man who had made free with him. “And now,” he continued, “without the least noise, follow me. If any of you speak it will break the spell.”
They promised obedience. He entered the corridor, and, taking off his shoes, went on tiptoe to the closet door, the guests advancing in a silent group at a little distance behind him. Hubert next placed a stool in front of the door, and, by standing upon it, was tall enough to reach to the top. He then, just as noiselessly, poured all the snuff from the box along the upper edge of the door, and, with a few short puffs of breath, blew the snuff through the chink into the interior of the closet. He held up his finger to the assembly, that they might be silent.
“Dear me, what’s that?” said the old lady, after a minute or two had elapsed.
A suppressed sneeze had come from inside the closet.
Hubert held up his finger again.
“How very singular,” whispered Sir Simon. “This is most interesting.”
Hubert took advantage of the moment to gently slide the bolt of the closet door into its place. “More snuff,” he said, calmly.
“More snuff,” said Sir Simon. Two or three gentlemen passed their boxes, and the contents were blown in at the top of the closet. Another sneeze, not quite so well suppressed as the first, was heard: then another, which seemed to say that it would not be suppressed under any circumstances whatever. At length there arose a perfect storm of sneezes.
“Excellent, excellent for one so young!” said Sir Simon. “I am much interested in this trick of throwing the voice–called, I believe, ventriloquism.”
“More snuff,” said Hubert.
“More snuff,” said Sir Simon. Sir Simon’s man brought a large jar of the best scented Scotch.
Hubert once more charged the upper chink of the closet, and blew the snuff into the interior, as before. Again he charged, and again, emptying the whole contents of the jar. The tumult of sneezes became really extraordinary to listen to–there was no cessation. It was like wind, rain, and sea battling in a hurricane.
“I believe there are men inside, and that it is no trick at all!” exclaimed Sir Simon, the truth flashing on him.
“There are,” said Hubert. “They are come to rob the house; and they are the same who stole my horse. “
The sneezes changed to spasmodic groans. One of the thieves, hearing Hubert’s voice, cried, “Oh! mercy! mercy! let us out of this!”
“Where’s my horse?” said Hubert.
“Tied to the tree in the hollow behind Short’s Gibbet. Mercy! mercy! let us out, or we shall die of suffocation!”
All the Christmas guests now perceived that this was no longer sport, but serious earnest. Guns and cudgels were procured; all the men-servants were called in, and arranged in position outside the closet. At a signal Hubert withdrew the bolt, and stood on the defensive. But the three robbers, far from attacking them, were found crouching in the corner, gasping for breath. They made no resistance; and, being pinioned, were placed in an outhouse till the morning.
Hubert now gave the remainder of his story to the assembled company, and was profusely thanked for the services he had rendered. Sir Simon pressed him to stay over the night, and accept the use of the best bedroom the house afforded, which had been occupied by Queen Elizabeth and King Charles successively when on their visits to this part of the country. But Hubert declined, being anxious to find his horse Jerry, and to test the truth of the robbers’ statements concerning him.
Several of the guests accompanied Hubert to the spot behind the gibbet, alluded to by the thieves as where Jerry was hidden. When they reached the knoll and looked over, behold! there the horse stood, uninjured, and quite unconcerned. At sight of Hubert he neighed joyfully; and nothing could exceed Hubert’s gladness at finding him. He mounted, wished his friends “Good-night!” and cantered off in the direction they pointed out, reaching home safely about four o’clock in the morning.