“Now, silence, folks,” said Fairway.
The talking ceased, and Fairway gave a circular motion to the rope, as if he were stirring batter. At the end of a minute a dull splashing reverberated from the bottom of the well; the helical twist he had imparted to the rope had reached the grapnel below.
“Haul!” said Fairway; and the men who held the rope began to gather it over the wheel.
“I think we’ve got sommat,” said one of the haulers-in.
“Then pull steady,” said Fairway.
They gathered up more and more, till a regular dripping into the well could be heard below. It grew smarter with the increasing height of the bucket, and presently a hundred and fifty feet of rope had been pulled in.
Fairway then lit a lantern, tied it to another cord, and began lowering it into the well beside the first. Clym came forward and looked down. Strange humid leaves, which knew nothing of the seasons of the year, and quaint-natured mosses were revealed on the wellside as the lantern descended; till its rays fell upon a confused mass of rope and bucket dangling in the dank, dark air.
“We’ve only got en by the edge of the hoop—steady, for God’s sake!” said Fairway.
They pulled with the greatest gentleness, till the wet bucket appeared about two yards below them, like a dead friend come to earth again. Three or four hands were stretched out, then jerk went the rope, whizz went the wheel, the two foremost haulers fell backward, the beating of a falling body was heard, receding down the sides of the well, and a thunderous uproar arose at the bottom. The bucket was gone again.
“Damn the bucket!” said Fairway.
“Lower again,” said Sam.
“I’m as stiff as a ram’s horn stooping so long,” said Fairway, standing up and stretching himself till his joints creaked.
“Rest a few minutes, Timothy,” said Yeobright. “I’ll take your place.”
The grapnel was again lowered. Its smart impact upon the distant water reached their ears like a kiss, whereupon Yeobright knelt down, and leaning over the well began dragging the grapnel round and round as Fairway had done.
“Tie a rope round him—it is dangerous!” cried a soft and anxious voice somewhere above them.
Everybody turned. The speaker was a woman, gazing down upon the group from an upper window, whose panes blazed in the ruddy glare from the west. Her lips were parted and she appeared for the moment to forget where she was.
The rope was accordingly tied round his waist, and the work proceeded. At the next haul the weight was not heavy, and it was discovered that they had only secured a coil of the rope detached from the bucket. The tangled mass was thrown into the background. Humphrey took Yeobright’s place, and the grapnel was lowered again.
Yeobright retired to the heap of recovered rope in a meditative mood. Of the identity between the lady’s voice and that of the melancholy mummer he had not a moment’s doubt. “How thoughtful of her!” he said to himself.