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the first decent word I had spoken to me 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 turnkey— as 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 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 here 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 always 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 d d pirate," he said, " maybe it's you saving us from
"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 flabby 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 affected not to hear.
"There's money in plenty," I said.
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'll 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