Even as she leaped onto the scullery table to avoid the snapping jaws, a small part of Tip’s brain was busy making sense of it all. The dogs must have been shut in the scullery so they’d be out of the way of the planned burglary. The stove had been left burning so the dogs would sleep. The grating had been left open so they didn’t suffocate.

And then Tip had ruined it all by taking the lazy way in. Next time, follow the instructions, she told herself through a clenched jaw. That’s if there would even be a next time. The dogs were now highly alert and seemed intent on getting a piece of her. She could hardly think over the cacophany of barks and growls.

From her vantage point on the table, Tip looked around the room desperately. There was the door, but she estimated a 76% chance it was locked. It would take her at least 7.7 seconds to pick it, and she couldn’t imagine these mutts allowing her that much time. There were several other pieces of furniture she could jump to but doing so wouldn’t do much good other than to strand her there instead.

One of the dogs attempted to jump up onto the table to get at her. She kicked out at it, sending it yelping into a corner, but it soon returned, teeth bared, snapping and growling.

After rapidly assessing her options, Tip concluded that her highest chance of escape from the scullery was back out of the grating she’d come in by. She estimated the chances at 63%. Lower than she’d like, but at least above even.

She took 2.5 seconds to collect herself, took a deep breath, and was off.

Tip lunged, pretending she was about to leap off the table on the opposite side to the grating. Both dogs raced around the table to intercept her. Meanwhile, Tip turned and vaulted the length of the table, landing on the floor on the grating side. She grabbed a chair and held it against her body like a shield with the legs pointing out. The dogs rushed her and she charged forward, slamming into the animals and knocking them both to the floor. Turning her charge into a spin, Tip turned and slammed the chair upright in front of the grating, leaped onto it and was out of the grating before the dogs could reach her.

She rolled a short way from the grating then was forced to grit her teeth and pant through the rush of pain that exploded from the inflamed lump on her back.

Enraged over having lost their quarry, the dogs were going mad, barking and howling inside the scullery. Suddenly, there came another voice from within. A man’s bellow, incomprehensible over the racket of the dogs’ frenzied yelps. The uproar reduced somewhat and Tip heard snatches of the man’s voice, “…matter with you two? …go out? Come on then!” The slam of a door.

Tip jumped to her feet, an adrenaline rush allowing her to push through the lingering pain. The dogs were on their way out! If she didn’t climb the house before they got here, the job was as good as doomed.

It was lucky she’d spent time scoping out potential entry points. Tip climbed without stopping to think, allowing intuition to guide her as she sprinted up the wall far too fast. Her hands had broken out in the dreaded clamminess. That was sure to reduce her performance by at least 9%. Tip shook her head to clear it. She needed to concentrate and stop focusing on how slippery her hands were. Below her on the ground the familiar chorus of barks had already started. Falling wasn’t an option.

On the bright side, the din meant she didn’t have to worry about being quiet. Tip pulled herself onto the first window ledge she came to and used Flint’s tool to smash the pane closest to the catch. Reaching carefully inside, she unlatched it and pushed the window. It opened outwards, of course. Tip inched along to the very edge of the ledge until she could drag the widow open and collapse inside.

She landed on a carpeted floor and immediately reached up to pull the window closed. After glancing around to ascertain this wasn’t the lady’s bedroom - the impersonal furnishings and stale air made it clear this was a guest room - Tip pulled a few furnishings awry and raced for the door. There wasn’t time to do a careful job. She would have to rush to find the jewel before the dogs’ agitation led to a search for an intruder.

Outside the guest room was a hallway with numerous doors. She threw them open one by one until she found the room she was looking for. A lady’s chamber bedecked in lavendar and rose. An oil lamp burned low on the dresser next to the promised jewellery box.

Tip turned up the lamp, jerked open the box and held up the first jewel she saw to the light. Green. Wrong. She tossed it into a corner After three more tries she found the sapphire. It looked black at first glance but the glow of the lamp revealed inky blue depths to the heavy jewel. With a brief moment of internal jubilation, Tip tucked the jewel into an inside pocket, upturned the jewellery box and raced for the window, pulling over every bit of furniture she encountered along the way.

Now that she was inside the bedroom, she could see that one of the windows had indeed been left ajar. The problem was that it opened inwards and was on the corner of a bay so it hadn’t been obvious from outside. Tip pulled the window fully open and leaned out. On the ground the dogs were circling, quieter now but still undoubtedly on guard. She wouldn’t be able to leave from this window.

Tip crept into the hall and listened. Nothing stirred. She opened one of the doors on the opposite side of the hallway. Finding herself in a study, Tip darted to the window and tried the catch. Locked. Making for the desk, she began a rapid search for the key, finding nothing but papers and more papers. She threw each pile to the floor as she searched with increasing desperation for the key that would allow her an exit from this cursed house.

Noises from outside the room. Footsteps coming along the hall. Several sets. Tip dived under the desk. A door slammed. A loud female voice began exclaiming and was quickly joined by male shouts. Tip had been hiding in the leg space under the desk, but now she got onto her belly and wriggled into the tiny gap between the drawer unit and the floor. The underside of the desk scraped against the lump on her back and she closed her eyes in silent agony.

For a few tense seconds, there was nothing but the murmer of agitated voices from across the hall. Then footsteps came into the study. A male voice exclaimed, “Blast it all, he’s been in here as well!”

“Oh darling! Anything taken?”

“Too soon to tell.” There was a shuffling of papers. “Made a good bit of mess.”

“Leave it for Hans to clear up. In fact, dear, hadn’t we better leave everything for the Guard to go through?”

“Blast it, you’re right.” Papers hit the floor. Footsteps receeded. “Did Johnson take the mare? He oughtn’t…” The voice faded away. Tip pulled at her collar and wiped beads of sweat from her temples. If they called the Guard she gave herself a only a 32% chance of evading discovery. With dogs roaming outside, a canny guardsmen would immediately realise the thief was probably still on the property and organise a search. Or worse, they’d bring the dogs inside and give them the run of the house and then Tip would be found within minutes. She mentally adjusted her chances to 11%.

A fresh bout of shrieking came from the direction of the bedroom. Tip made out the word “sapphire” among the tirade. Apparently the ‘theft’ had been discovered.

As quickly as her aching tailbone allowed, Tip wriggled out from under the desk and sprinted to the study door. She peeked into the hallway. The door to the lady’s bedroom stood wide open. Sending a quick prayer to whoever was listening, Tip slunk along the hall and lowered herself to the floor to peek around the doorframe. In the bedroom, the man and lady of the house were bent over peering under the furniture, no doubt searching for the missing jewel. Tip took the chance while their backs were turned and darted across the doorway.

At the end of the landing was a grand staircase. She listened briefly but no noise came from downstairs. The man had mentioned sending Johnson out. That must be the servant she’d seen with the dogs. If any other servants were home they’d surely be here commiserating and helping with the search. She had a small window to find a hiding place.

It had better be a good one.

Johnson returned a short while later with the news that the Guard were on their way. A bare quarter of an hour later the arrival of said Guard was announced by a furious flurry of barking from outside.

The master of the house clattered downstairs. “Johnson! Lock up the dogs! Take them around the back. I’ll open the gates.”

The barking subsided. Moments later the back door slammed.

The front door opened. “…terribly good of you to come so soon.” The master ushered in three uniformed men. “We’ve found a smashed window where the thief got in. Johnson says the dogs went mad a short while before we got home. Must have heard him leaving.”

“Would you like to show us the damage, sir?”

“Of course, right this way.” Three sets of footsteps went upstairs.

Only three.

Minutes ticked past.

A shout from upstairs. “Keeves!”

The guardsman by the door snapped to attention. “Sir.”

“Chief says you’re to tell the servant to bring the dogs up. They’re in the back kitchen.”

“Sir!” Footsteps marched away.

This was Tip’s chance. It was now or never. She cautiously slid up the lid of the ornate rolltop desk and emerged stiffly from her hiding place. She half ran, half hobbled for the front door and lugged it open. She slipped outside and ran for the gates.

The snow had increased and was coming down with vigour. A blatant trail of footsteps appeared in her wake. She couldn’t do a thing about it. Speed was of the essence. Speed was what was going to save her.

She was 34 metres away from the gates.

14 metres away.

7 metres.

Tip threw herself at the frozen wrought iron and began to climb, then froze in astonishment as the gate swung open under the weight of her body.

The master hadn’t locked them?

Laughing in stupefied relief, she dropped to the ground, slipped out of the opening and sprinted away into the snowy streets.


About the author


Bio: I write fantasy and humorous tales with a twist of magic. I'm currently working on a full-length manuscript but somehow I'm never satisfied with a single project so my smaller works get posted here. If you like what you read, the completed stories are also available to download as ebooks from my website:

I'd love to hear what you think of my stories so feel free to leave comments. I'm also happy to trade feedback as long as you write in a similar genre.

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