Page images
PDF
EPUB

I leaned my face wearily against the iron bars. What, after all, was the use of fighting if the Lion were not back?

Then, suddenly, as the sound of his words echoed down the bare, black corridors, he seemed to realize the horror of it. His face grew absolutely white, he held his head erect, as if listening to a distant sound. And then he began to cry—horribly, and for a long time.

It was I that had to comfort him. His head had bowed at the conviction of his hopeless uselessness; all through his own life he had been made ineffectual by his indulgence in perfectly innocent, perfectly trivial enjoyments, and now, in this extremity of his only 'son, he was rendered almost fantastically of no avail.

"No, no, sir! You have done all that anyone could; you couldn't break these walls down. Nothing else would help."

Small, hopeless sobs shook him continually. His thin, delicate white fingers gripped the black grille, with the convulsive grasp of a very weak man. It was more distressing to me than anything I had ever seen or felt. The mere desire, the intense desire to comfort him, made me get a grip upon myself again. And I remembered that, now that I could communicate with the outer air, it was absolutely easy; he would save my life. I said:

"You have only to go to Clapham, sir."

And the moment I was in a state to command him, to direct him, to give him something to do, he became a changed man. He looked up and listened. I told him to go to Major Cowper's. It would be easy enough to find him at Clapham. Cowper, I remembered, could testify to my having been seized by Tomas Castro. He had seen me fight on the decks. And what was more, he would certainly know the addresses of Kingston planters, if any were in London. They could testify that I had been in Jamaica all the while Nikola el Escoces was in Rio Medio. I knew there were some. My father was fidgeting to be gone. He had his line marked for him, and a will directing his own. He was not the same man. But I particularly told him to send me a lawyer first of all.

"Yes, yes!" he said fidgeting to go, "to Major Cowper's. Let me write his address,"

"And a solicitor," I said. "Send him to me on your way there."

"Yes, yes," he said, " I shall be able to be of use to the solicitor. As a rule, they are men of no great perspicacity."

And he went hurriedly away.

The real torture, the agony of suspense began then. I steadied my nerves by trying to draw up notes for my speech to the jury on the morrow. That was the turnkey's idea.

He said, " Slap your chest, 'peal to the honor of a British gent, and pitch it in strong."

It was not much good; I could not keep to any logical sequence of thought, my mind was forever wandering to what my father was doing. I pictured him- in his new blue coat, running agitatedly through crowded streets, his coat-tails flying behind his thin legs. The hours dragged on, and it was a matter of minutes. I had to hold upon the table edge to keep myself from raging about the cell. I tried to bury myself again in the scheme for my defense. I wondered whom my father would have found. There was a man called Gary who had gone home from Kingston. He had a bald head and blue eyes; he must remember me. If he would corroborate! And the lawyer, when he came, might take another line of defense. It began to fall dusk slowly, through the small barred windows.

The entire night passed without a word from my father. I paced up and down the whole time, composing speeches to the jury. And then the day broke. I calmed myself with a sort of frantic energy.

Early the jailer came in, and began fussing about my cell.

"Case comes on about one," he said. "Grand jury at half after twelve. No fear they won't return a true bill. Grand jury, five West India merchants. They means to have you. 'TorneyGeneral, S'lic'tor-General, S'r Robert Mead, and five juniors agin you. . . . You take my tip. Throw yourself on the mercy of the court, and make a rousing speech with a young 'ooman in it. Not that you'll get much mercy from them. They Admir'lty jedges is all hangers. 'S we say, 'Oncet the anchor goes up in -the Old Bailey, there aint no hope. We begins to clean out the c'ndemned cell, here. Sticks the anchor up over their heads, when it is Hadmir'lty case,' " he commented.

I listened to him with strained attention. I made up my mind to miss not a word uttered that day. It was my only chance.

"You don't know anyone from Jamaica?" I asked.

He shook his bullet head, and tapped his purple nose. "Can't be done," he said. "You'd get a ornery hallybi fer a guinea a head, but they'd keep out of this case. They've necks like you and me."

Whilst he was speaking, the whole of the outer world, as far as it affected me, came suddenly in upon me—that was what I meant to the great city that lay all round, the world, in the center of which was my cell. To the great mass, I was matter for a sensation; to them I might prove myself beneficial in this business. Perhaps there were others who were thinking I might be useful in one way or another. There were the ministers of the Crown, who did not care much whether Jamaica separated or not. But they wanted to hang me because they would be able to say disdainfully to the planters, "Separate if you like; we've done our duty, we've hanged a man."

All those people had their eyes on me, and they were about the only ones who knew of my existence. That was the end of my Romance! Romance! The broad-sheet sellers would see to it -ifterwards with a " Dying confession."

CHAPTER IV

I NEVER saw my father again until I was in the prisoner's anteroom at the Old Bailey. It was full of lounging men, whose fleshy limbs bulged out against the tight, loud checks of their coats and trousers. These were jailers waiting to bring in their prisoners. On the other side of the black door the Grand Jury was deliberating on my case, behind another, the court was in waiting to try me. I was in a sort of tired lull. All night I had been pacing up and down, trying to bring my brain to think of points—points in my defense. It was very difficult. I knew that I must keep cool, be calm, be lucid, be convincing; and my brain had reeled at times, even in the darkness of the cell. I knew it had reeled, because I remembered that once I had fallen against the stone of one of the walls, and once against the door. Here, in the light, with only a door between myself and the last scene, I regained my hold. I was going to fight every inch from start to finish. I was going to let no chink of their armor go untried. I was going to make a good fight. My teeth chattered like castanets, jarring in my jaws until it was painful. But that was only with the cold.

A hubbub of expostulation was going on at the third door. My turnkey called suddenly:

"Let the genman in, Charlie. Pal o' ourn," and my father ran huntedly into the room. He began an endless tale of a hackney coachman who had stood in front of the door of his coach to prevent his number being taken; of a crowd of caddee-smashers, who had hustled him and filched his purse. "Of course, I made a fight for it," he said, "a damn good fight, considering. It's in the blood. But the watch came, and, in short—on such an occasion as this there is no time for words—I passed the night in the watch-house. Many and many a night I passed there when I and Lord But I am losing time."

"You aint fit to walk the streets of London alone, sir," the turnkey said.

My father gave him a corner of his narrow-lidded eyes. "My man," he said, " I walked the streets with the highest in the land before your mother bore you in Bridewell, or whatever jail it was."

"Oh, no offense," the turnkey muttered.

I said, " Did you find Cowper, sir? Will he give evidence?"

"Jackie," he said agitatedly, as if he were afraid of me, " he said you had filched his wife's rings."

That, in fact, was what Major Cowper had said—that I had dropped into their ship near Port Royal heads, and had afterwards gone away with the pirates who had filched his wife's rings. My father, in his indignation, had not even deigned to ask him for the address of Jamaica planters in London; and on his way back to find a solicitor he had come into contact with those street rowdies and the watch. He had only just come from before the magistrates.

A man with one eye poked his head suddenly from behind the Grand Jury door. He jerked his head in my direction.

"True bill against that 'ere," he said, then drew his head in again.

"Jackie, boy," my father said, putting a thin hand on my wrist, and gazing imploringly into my eyes, "I'm . . . I'm ... I can't tell you how. . . ."

I said, "It doesn't matter, father." I felt a foretaste of how my past would rise up to crush me. Cowper had let that wife of his coerce him into swearing my life away. I remembered vividly his blubbering protestations of friendship when I persuaded Tomas Castro to return him his black deed-box with the brass handle, on that deck littered with rubbish. ..." Oh, God bless you, God bless you. You have saved me from starvation. . . ." There had been tears in his old blue eyes. "If you need it I will go anywhere ... do anything to help you. On the honor of a gentleman and a soldier." I had, of course, recommended his wife to give up her rings when the pirates were threatening her in the cabin. The other door opened, another man said:

"Now, then, in with that carrion. D'you want to keep the judges waiting?"

« PreviousContinue »