Not far from Mr. Gordon’s was a carpenter’s shop, and outside of this there was generally a ladder standing. They had arranged to carry this ladder with them (as it was only a short one), climb the low garden wall with it, and then place it against the house, immediately under the dovecot which hung by the first story-windows. Wildney, as the lightest of the four, was to take the birds, while the others held the ladder.
Slanting it so that it should be as far from the side of the window as possible, Wildney ascended and thrust both hands into the cot. He succeeded in seizing a pigeon with each hand, but in doing so threw the other birds into a state of such alarm that they fluttered about in the wildest manner, and the moment his hands were withdrawn, flew out with a great flapping of hurried wings.
The noise they made alarmed the plunderer, and he hurried down the ladder as fast as he could. He handed the pigeons to the others, who instantly wrung their necks.
“I’m nearly sure I heard somebody stir,” said Wildney; “we haven’t been half quiet enough. Here! let’s crouch down in this corner.”
All four shrank up as close to the wall as they could, and held their breath. Some one was certainly stirring, and at last they heard the window open. A head was thrust out, and Mr. Gordon’s voice asked sternly—“Who’s there?”
He seemed at once to have caught sight of the ladder, and made an endeavor to reach it; but though he stretched out his arm at full length, he could not do so.
“We must cut for it,” said Eric; “it’s quite too dark for him to see us, or even to notice that we are boys.”
They moved the ladder to the wall, and sprang over, one after the other, as fast as they could. Eric was last, and just as he got to the top of the wall he heard the back door open, and some one run out into the yard.
“Run for your lives,” said Eric hurriedly; “it’s Gordon, and he’s raising the alarm.”
They heard footsteps following them, and an occasional shout of “thieves! thieves!”
“We must separate and run different ways, or we’ve no chance of escape. We’d better turn towards the town to put them off the right scent,” said Eric again.
“Don’t leave me,” pleaded Wildney; “you know I can’t run very fast.”
“No, Charlie, I won’t;” and grasping his hand, Eric hurried him over the style and through the fields, while Pietrie and Graham took the opposite direction.
Some one (they did not know who it was, but suspected it to be Mr. Gordon’s servant-man) was running after them, and they could distinctly hear his footsteps, which seemed to be half a field distant. He carried a light, and they heard him panting. They were themselves tired, and in the utmost trepidation; the usually courageous Wildney was trembling all over, and his fear communicated itself to Eric. Horrible visions of a trial for burglary, imprisonment in the castle jail, and perhaps transportation, presented themselves to their excited imaginations, as the sound of the footsteps came nearer.