It was a weeping ash: he could get hold of nothing but soft yielding slivers, that went through his fingers, and so down with him like a bulrush, and souse he went with his hands full of green leaves over head and ears into the water of an enormous iron tank that fed the baths.
The heavy plunge, the sudden cold water, the instant darkness, were appalling: yet, like the fox among the hounds, the gallant young gentleman did not lose heart nor give tongue. He came up gurgling and gasping, and swimming for his life in manly silence: he swam round and round the edge of the huge tank, trying in vain to get a hold upon its cold rusty walls. He heard whistles and voices about: they came faint to him where he was, but he knew they could not be very far off.
Life is sweet. It flashed across him how, a few years before, a university man of great promise had perished miserably in a tank on some Swiss mountain--a tank placed for the comfort of travellers. He lifted his eyes to Heaven in despair, and gave one great sob.
Then he turned upon his back and floated: but he was obliged to paddle with his hands a little to keep up.
A window opened a few feet above him, and a face peered out between the bars.
Then he gave all up for lost, and looked to hear a voice denounce him; but no: the livid face and staring eyes at the window took no notice of him: it was a maniac, whose eyes, bereft of reason, conveyed no images to the sentient brain. Only by some half vegetable instinct this darkened man was turning towards the morning sun, and staring it full in the face. Alfred saw the rays strike and sparkle on those glassy orbs, and fire them; yet they never so much as winked. He was appalled yet fascinated by this weird sight: could not take his eyes off it, and shuddered at it in the very water. With such creatures as that he must be confined, or die miserably like a mouse in a basin of water.
He hesitated between two horrors.
Presently his foot struck something, and he found it was a large pipe that entered the tank to the distance of about a foot This pipe was not more than three feet under water, and Alfred soon contrived to get upon it, and rest his fingers upon the iron edge of the tank. The position was painful: yet so he determined to remain till night: and then, if possible, steal away. Every faculty of mind and body was strung up to defend himself against the wretches who had entrapped him.