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hammers going clack, clack on the scaffolding outside, and knew that they hadn't no more chance than you have to get out of there .” He pointed his short thumb towards the handkerchief of an opening, where the little blur of blue light wavered through the two iron frames crossed in the nine feet of well. “Lord, you never gets used to it. You wants them to escape; 'tis in the air through the whole prison, even the debtors. I tells myself again and again, 'You're a fool for your pains.' But it's the same with the others—my mates. You can't get it out of your mind. That little kid now. I've seen children swing; but that little kid-as sure to swing as what ... as what you are. ..."
"You think I am going to swing?" I asked.
I didn't want to kill him any more; I wanted too much to hear him talk. I hadn't heard anything for months and months of solitude, of darkness—on board the admiral's ship, stranded in the guardship at Plymouth, bumping round the coast, and now hero in Newgate. And it had been darkness all the time. Jove! That Cuban time, with its movements, its pettiness, its intrigue, its warmth, even its villainies showed plainly enough in the chill of that blackness. It had been romance, that life.
Little, and far away, and irrevocably done with, it showed all golden. There wasn't any romance where I lay then; and there had been irons on my wrists; gruff hatred, the darkness, and alway's despair.
On board the flagship coming home I had been chained down in the cable-tier-a place where I could feel every straining of the great ship. Once these had risen to a pandemonium, a frightful tumult. There was a great gale outside. A sailor came down with a lanthorn, and tossed my biscuit to me.
"You dd pirate," he said, “ maybe it's you saving us from drowning."
“Is the gale very bad?" I had called.
He muttered and the fact that he spoke to me at all showed how great the strain of the weather must have been to wring any words out of him:
“ Bad—there's a large Indiaman gone. We saw her one minute and then ..." He went away, muttering.
And suddenly the thought had come to me, What if the Indiaman were the Lion—the Lion with Seraphina on board? The man would not speak to me when he came again. No one would speak to me; I was a pirate who had fired on his own countrymen. And the thought had pursued me right into Newgate-if she were dead; if I had taken her from that security, from that peace, to end there. . . . And to end myself.
“Swing!” the turnkey said; “you'll swing right enough.” He slapped the great key on his Aabby hand. “You can tell that by the signs. You, being an Admiralty case, ought to have been in the Marshalsea. And you're ordered solitary cell, and I'm tipped the straight wink against your speaking a blessed word to a blessed soul. Why don't they let you see an attorney? Why? Because they mean you to swing."
I said, “Never mind that. Have you heard of a ship called the Lion? Can you find out about her?”
He shook his head cunningly, and did not answer. If the Lion had been here, I must have heard. They couldn't have left me here.
I said, “For God's sake find out. Get a shipping gazette."
He winked ponderously and began again. "Oh, you'll swing all right. A man with nothing against him has a chance; with the rhino he has it, even if he's guilty. But you'll swing. Charlie, who brought you back just now, had a chat with the 'Torney-General's devil's clerk's clerk, while old Nog o' Bow Street was trying to read their Spanish. He says it's a Gov'nment matter. They wants to hang you bad, they do, so's to go the Jacky Spaniards and say, “He were a nob, a nobby nob.' (So you are, aren't you? One uncle an earl and t'other a dean, if so be what they say's true.) 'He were a nobby nob and we swung 'im. Go you'n do likewise.' They want a striking example t' keep the West India trade quiet ..." He wiped his forehead and moved my water jug of red earth on the dirty deal - table under the window, for all the world like a host in front of a guest. “They means you to swing,” he said. “They've silenced the Thames Court reporters. Not a noospaper will publish a correct report
t'morrer. And you haven't see nobody, nor you won't, not if I can help it."
He broke off and looked at me with an expression of candor.
“Mind you," he said, " I'm not uffish. To 'n ornery gentleman of the road or what you will—I'm not, if so be he's the necessary. I'd take a letter like another. But for you, no—fear. Not that I've my knife into you. What I can do to make you comfor’ble I will do, both now an' hereafter. But when I gets the wink, I looks after my skin. So'd any man. You don't see nobody, nor you won't; nor your nobby relations won't have the word. Till the Hadmir'lty trile. Charlie says it's unconstitutional, you ought to see your 'torney, if you've one, or your father's got one. But Lor', I says, 'Charlie, if they wants it they gets it. This aint no habeas carpis, give the man a chance case. It's the Hadmir'lty. And not a man tried for piracy this thirty year. See what a show it gives them, what bloody Radicle knows or keeres what the perceedin's should be? Who's a-goin't make a question out of it? Go away,' says I to Charlie. And that's it straight."
He went towards the door, then turned.
"You should be in the Marshalsea common yard; even I knows that. But they've the wink there. "Too full,' says they. Too full be d—d. I've know'd the time after the Vansdell smash it were—when they found room for three hundred more improvident debtors over and above what they're charted for. Too full! Their common yard! They don't want you to speak to a soul, an' you won't till this day week, when the Hadmir'lty Session is in full swing.” He went out and locked the door, snorting, “Too full at the Marshalsea! . . . Go away!”
" Find out about the Lion," I called, as the door closed.
It cleared the air for me, that speech. I understood that they wanted to hang me, and I wanted not to be hung, desperately, from that moment. I had not much cared before; I had—call it, moped. I had not really believed, really sensed it out. It isn't easy to conceive that one is going to be hanged, I doubt if one does even with the rope round one's neck. I hadn't much wanted to live, but now I wanted to fight--one good fight before I went under for good and all, condemned or acquitted. There wasn't
anything left for me to live for, Seraphina could not be alive. The Lion must have been lost.
But I was going to make a fight for it; curse it, I was going to give them trouble. My “them ” was not so much the Government that meant to hang me as the unseen powers that suffered such a state of things, that allowed a number of little meannesses, accidents, fatalities, to hang me. I began to worry the turnkey. He gave me no help, only shreds of information that let me see more plainly than ever how set “they ” were on sacrificing me to their exigencies.
The whole West Indian trade in London was in an uproar over the Pirate Question and over the Slave Question. Jamaica was still squealing for Separation before the premonitory grumbles of Abolition. Horton Pen, over there, came back with astonishing clearness before me. I seemed to hear old, wall-eyed, sandy-headed Macdonald, agitating his immense bulk of ill-fitting white clothes in front of his newspaper, and bellowing in his ox-voice:
“Abolition, they give us Abolition . . . or ram it down our throats. They who haven't even the spunk to rid us o' the dd pirates, not the spunk to catch and hang one.... Jock, me lahd, we's abolush them before they sall touch our neegurs. Let them clear oor seas, let them hang one pirate, and then talk."
I was the one they were going to hang, to consolidate the bond with the old island. The cement wanted a little blood in the mixing. Damn them! I was going to make a fight; they had torn me from Seraphina, to fulfill their own accursed ends. I felt myself grow harsh and strong, as a tree feels itself grow gnarled by winter storms. I said to the turnkey again and again:
“Man, I will promise you a thousand pounds or a pension for life, if you will get a letter through to my mother or Squire Rooksby of Horton.”
He said he daren't do it; enough was known of him to hang him if he gave offense. His flabby fingers trembled, and his eyes grew large with successive shocks of cupidity. He became afraid of coming near me; of the strain of the temptation. On the next day he did not speak a word, nor the next, nor the next. I began to grow horribly afraid of being hung. The day before the trial arrived. Towards noon he flung the door open.
" Here's paper, here's pens," he said. “You can prepare your defense. You may write letters. Oh, hell! why didn't they let it come sooner, I'd have had your thousand pounds. I'll run a letter down to your people fast as the devil could take it. I know a man, a gentleman of the road. For twenty pun promised, split between us, he'll travel faster'n Turpin did to York.” He was waving a large sheet of newspaper agitatedly.
“What does it mean?" I asked. My head was whirling.
“Radicle papers got a-holt of it,” he said. “Trust them for nosing out. And the Government's answering them. They say you're going to suffer for your crimes. Hark to this . . . um, um ... The wretched felon now in Newgate will incur the just penalty .. Then they slaps the West Indies in the face.
When the planters threaten to recur to some other power for protection, they, of course, believe that the loss of the colonies would be severely felt. But .
“The Lion's home," I said.
It burst upon me that she was that she must be. Williamsor Sebright-he was the man, had been speaking up for me. Or Seraphina had been to the Spanish ambassador.
She was back; I should see her. I started up. “The Lion's home," I repeated.
The turnkey snarled, "She was posted as overdue three days ago."
I couldn't believe it was true.
“I saw it in the papers," he grumbled on. “I dursn't tell you." He continued violently, “ Blow my dickey. It would make a cat sick."
My sudden exaltation, my sudden despair, gave way to indifference.
"Oh, coming, coming!" he shouted, in answer to an immense bellowing cry that loomed down the passage without.
I heard him grumble, “Of course, of course. I shan't make a penny.” Then he caught hold of my arm. “Here, come along, someone to see you in the press-yard."
He pulled me along the noisome, black warren of passages, slamming the inner door viciously behind him.
The press-yard—the exercising ground for the condemned