Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

“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,

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

um

6

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 indiffer

ence.

"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 condemnedwas 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 afteri ,”

[ocr errors]

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.

[ocr errors]

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 Aying 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 she Old Bailey, there aint no hope. We begins to clean out the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »