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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 d d
pirates, not the spunk to catch and hang one. . . . Jock, me lahd, we's abolush them before they sail 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. Williams— or 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— was empty; the last batch had gone out; my batch would be the next to come in, the turnkey said suddenly. It was a well of a place, high black walls going up into the desolate, weeping sky, and quite tiny. At one end was a sort of slit in the wall, closed with tall, immense windows. From there a faint sort of rabbit's squeak was going up through the immense roll and rumble of traffic on the other side of the wall. The turnkey pushed me towards it.
"Go on," he said. "I'll not listen; I ought to. But, curse me, I'm not a bad sort," he added gloomily; "I dare say you'll make it worth my while."
I went and peered through the bars at a faint object pressed against other bars in just such another slit across a black passage.
"What, Jackie, boy; what, Jackie?"
Blinking his eyes, as if the dim light were too strong for them, a thin, bent man stood there in a brilliant new court coat. His face was meager in the extreme, the nose and cheekbones polished and transparent like a bigaroon cherry. A thin tuft of reddish hair was brushed back from his high, shining forehead. It was my father. He exclaimed:
"What, Jackie, boy! How old you look!" then waved his arm towards me. "In trouble? " he said. "You in trouble?"
He rubbed his thin hands together, and looked round the place with a cultured man's air of disgust. I said, "Father!" and he suddenly began to talk very fast and agitatedly of what he had been doing for me. My mother, he said, was crippled with rheumatism, and Rooksby and Veronica on the preceding Thursday had set sail for Jamaica. He had read to my mother, beside her bed, the newspaper containing an account of my case; and she had given him money, and he had started with violent haste for London. The haste and the rush were still dazing him. He had lived down there in the farmhouse beneath the downs, with the stackyards under his eyes, with his books of verse and his few prints on the wall My God, how it all came back to me.
In his disjointed speeches, I could see how exactly the same it all remained. The same old surly man with a squint had driven him along the muddy roads in the same ancient gig, past the bare elms, to meet the coach. And my father had never been in London since he had walked the streets with the Prince Regent's friends.
Whilst he talked to me there, lines of verse kept coming to his lips; and, after the habitual pleasure of the apt quotation, he felt acutely shocked at the inappropriateness of the place, the pressyard, with the dim light weeping downwards between immensely high walls, and the desultory snowflakes that dropped between us. And he had tried so hard, in his emergency, to be practical. When he had reached London, before even attempting to see me, he had run from minister to minister trying to influence them in my favor—and he reached me in Newgate with nothing at all effected.
I seemed to know him then, so intimately, so much better than anything else in the world.
He began, "I had my idea in the up-coach last night. I thought, 'A very great personage was indebted to me in the old days (more indebted than you are aware of, Johnnie). I will intercede with him.' That was why my first step was to my old tailor's in Conduit Street. Because . . . what is fit for a farm for a palace were low." He stopped, reflected, then said, "What is fit for the farm for the palace were low."
He felt across his coat for his breast pocket. It was what he had done years and years ago, and all these years between, inscribe ideas for lines of verse in his pocket-book. I said:
"You have seen the king?"
His face lengthened a little. "Not seen him. But I found one of the duke's secretaries, a pleasant young fellow . . . not such as we used to be. But the duke was kind enough to interest himself. Perhaps my name has lived in the land. I was called Curricle Kemp, as I may have told you, because I drove a vermilion one with green and gilt wheels. . . ."
His face, peering at me through the bars, had, for a moment, a flush of pride. Then he suddenly remembered, and, as if to propitiate his own reproof, he went on:
"I saw the Secretary of State, and he assured me, very civilly, that not even the highest personage in the land. . . ." He dropped his voice, "Jackie, boy," he said, his narrow-lidded eyes peering miserably across at me, " there's not even hope of a reprieve after