« PreviousContinue »
to take place at dawn, and O'Brien not being to be found, the old Judge of the First Instance had been sent to identify the prisoner. He selected me, whom, of course, he recognized. There was no question of Nichols, who had been imprisoned on a charge of theft trumped up by O'Brien.
Salazar, whether he would have gone to the Captain-General or not, was now entirely useless. He was retained to answer the charge of murder. And to any protestations I could make, the old Juez was entirely deaf.
"The senor must make representations to his own authorities," he said. "I have warrant for what I have done."
It was impossible to expose O'Brien to him. The soldiers of the escort, in the dawn before the prison gates, simply laughed at me.
They marched me down through the gray mists, to the water's edge. Two soldiers held my arms; O'Brien's blood was drying on my face and on my clothes. I was, even to myself, a miserable object. Among the negresses on the slimy boat-steps a thick, short man was asking questions. He opened amazed eyes at the sight of me. It was Williams—the Lion was not yet gone then. If he spoke to me, or gave token of connection with Seraphina, the Spaniards would understand. They would take her from him certainly; perhaps immure her in a convent. And now that I was bound irrevocably for England, she must go, too. He was shouldering his way towards my guards.
"Silence!" I shouted, without looking at him. "Go away, make sail. ... Tell Sebright. ..."
My guards seemed to think I had gone mad; they laid hands upon me. I didn't struggle, and we passed down towards the landing steps, brushing Williams aside. He stood perturbedly: gazing after me; then I saw him asking questions of a civil guard A man-of-war's boat, the ensign trailing in the glassy water, the glazed hats of the seamen bobbing like clockwork, was flying towards us. Here was England! Here was home! I should have to clear myself of felony, to strain every nerve and cheat the gallows. If only Williams understood, if only he did not make a fool of himself. I couldn't see him any more; a jabbering crowd all round us was being kept at a distance by the muskets of the soldiers. My only chance was Sebright's intelligence. He might prevent Williams making a fool of himself. The commander of the guard said to the lieutenant from the flagship, who had landed, attended by the master-at-arms:
"I have the honor to deliver to your worship's custody the prisoner promised to his excellency the English admiral. Here are the papers disclosing his crimes to the justice. I beg for a receipt."
A shabby escrivano from the prison advanced bowing, with an inkhorn, shaking a wet goose-quill. A guardia civil offered his back. The lieutenant signed a paper hastily, then looking hard at me, gave the order:
"Master-at-arms, handcuff one of the prisoner's hands to your own wrist. He is a desperate character."
The first decent word I had spoken to ine after that for months came from my turnkey at Newgate. It was
when he welcomed me back from my examination before the Thames Court magistrate. The magistrate, a badtempered man, snuffy, with red eyes, and the air of being a piece of worn and dirty furniture of his court, had snapped at me when I tried to speak:
"Keep your lies for the Admiralty Session. I've only time to commit you. Damn your Spaniards; why can't they translate their own papers;" had signed something with a squeaky quill, tossed it to his clerk, and grunted, “Next case."
I had gone back to Newgate.
The turnkey, a man with the air of an innkeeper, bandy-legged, with a bulbous, purple-veined nose and watering eyes, slipped out of the gatehouse door, whilst the great, hollow-sounding gate still shook behind me. He said:
"If you hurries up you'll see a bit of life. ... Do you good. Condemned sermon. Being preached in the chapel now; sheriffs and all. They swing to-morrow—three of them. Quick with the stumps."
He hurried me over the desolate moss-greeny cobbles of the great solitary yard into a square, tall, bare, white-washed place. Already from the outside one caught a droning voice. There might have been three hundred people there, boxed off in pews, with turnkeys at each end. A vast king's arms, a splash of red and blue gilt sprawled above a two-tiered pulpit that was like the trunk of a large broken tree. The turnkey pulled my hat off, and nudged me into a box beside the door.
"Kneel down," he whispered hoarsely.
I knelt. A man with a new wig was droning out words, waving his hands now and then from the top of the tall pulpit. Beneath him a smaller man in an old wig was dozing, his head bent forward. The place was dirty, and ill-lighted by the tall, grimy windows, heavily barred. A pair of candles flickered beside the preacher's right arm. ....
"They that go down to the sea in ships, my poor brethren," he droned, " lying under the shadow ..."
He directed his hands towards a tall deal box painted black, isolated in the center of the lower floor. A man with a red head sat in it, his arms folded; another had his arms covering his head, which leant abjectly forward on the rail in front. There were large rusty gyves upon his wrists.
"But observe, my poor friends," the chaplain droned on, “ the psalmist saith, 'At the last He shall bring them unto the desired haven.' Now. ..."
The turnkey whispered suddenly into my ear: "Them's the condemned he's preaching at, them in the black pew. See Roguey Cullen wink at the woman prisoners up there in the gallery. . . Him with 'he red hair. ... All swings to-morrow."
"After they have staggered and reeled to and fro, and been amazed . . . observe. After they have been tempted; even after they have fallen. ..."
The sheriffs had their eyes decorously closed. The clerk reached up from below the preacher, and snuffed one of the candles. The preacher paused to rearrange his shining wig. Little clouds of powder flew out where he touched it. He struck his purple velvet cushion, and continued :
"At the last, I say, He shall bring them to the haven they had desired."
A jarring shriek rose out of the black pew, and an insensate jangling of irons rattled against the hollow wood. The ironed man, whose head had been hidden, was writhing in an epileptic fit. The governor began signaling to the jailers, and the whole dismal assembly rose to its feet, and craned to get a sight. The jailers began hurrying them out of the building. The red-headed man was crouching in the far corner of the black box.
The turnkey caught the end of my sleeve, and hurried me out of the door.
"Come away," he said. "Come out of it. . . . Damn my good nature."
We went swiftly through the tall, gloomy, echoing stone passages. All the time there was the noise of the prisoners being marshaled somewhere into their distant yards and cells. We went across the bottom of a well, where the weeping December light struck ghastly down on to the stones, into a sort of rabbitwarren of black passages and descending staircases, a horror of cold, solitude, and night. Iron door after iron door clanged to behind us in the stony blackness. After an interminable traversing, the turnkey, still with his hand on my sleeve, jerked me into my familiar cell. I hadn't thought to be glad to get back to that dim, frozen, damp-chilled little hole; with its hateful stone walls, stone ceiling, stone floor, stone bed-slab, and stone table; its rope mat, foul stable-blanket, its horrible sense of eternal burial, out of sound, out of sight under a mined mountain of black stones. It was so tiny that the turnkey, entering after me, seemed to be pressed close up to my chest, and so dark that I could not see the color of the dirty hair that fell matted from the bald patch on the top of his skull; so familiar that I knew the feel of every little worming of rust on the iron candlestick. He wiped his face with a brown rag of handkerchief, and said:
"Curse me if ever I go into that place again." After a time he added: “Unless 'tis a matter of duty."
I didn't say anything; my nerves were still jangling to that shrieking, and to the clang of the iron doors that had closed behind me. I had an irresistible impulse to get hold of the iron candlestick and smash it home through the skull of the turnkeyas I had done to the men who had killed Seraphina's father ... to kill this man, then to creep along the black passages and murder man after man beside those iron doors until I got to the open air.
He began again. "You'd think we'd get used to it—you'd think we would—but 'tis a strain for us. You never knows what the prisoners will do at a scene like that there. It drives 'em mad. Look at this scar. Machell the forger done that for me, 'fore he was condemned, after a sermon like that—a quiet, gentlemanly man, much like you. Lord, yes, 'tis a strain. ..." He paused, still wiping his face, then went on. "And I swear that when I sees them men sit there in that black pew, an' hey heard the