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- The Splendid Spur - 18/44 -
passing a screen of carved oak found ourselves suddenly in a great hall, near forty yards long (as I reckon it), and rafter'd with oak. At the far end, around a great marble table, were some ten or more gentlemen seated, who all with one accord turn'd their eyes upon us, as the captain brought us forward.
The table before them was litter'd with maps, warrants, and papers; and some of the gentlemen had pens in their hands. But the one on whom my eyes fastened was a tall, fair soldier that sat in the centre, and held his Majesty's letter, open, in his hand: who rose and bow'd to me as I came near.
"Sir," he said, "the fortune of war having given you into our hands, you will not refuse, I hope, to answer our questions."
"Sir, I have nought to tell," answer'd I, bowing in return.
With a delicate white hand he wav'd my words aside. He had a handsome, irresolute mouth, and was, I could tell, of very different degree from the merchants and lawyers beside him.
"You act under orders from the--the--"
"Anti-Christ," put in a snappish little fellow on his right.
"I do nothing of the sort," said I.
"Well, then, sir, from King Charles."
"I do not."
"Tush!" exclaim'd the snappish man, and then straightening himself up--"That boy with you--that fellow disguis'd as a countryman--look at his boots!--he's a Papist spy!"
"There, sir, you are wrong!"
"I saw him--I'll be sworn to his face--I saw him, a year back, at Douai, helping at the mass! I never forget faces."
"Why, what nonsense!" cried I, and burst out laughing.
"Don't mock at me, sir!" he thunder'd, bringing down his fist on the table. "I tell you the boy is a Papist!" He pointed furiously at Delia, who, now laughing also, answer'd him very demurely---
"I saw you, I say."
"You are bold to make so certain of a Papist--"
"I saw you!"
"That cannot even tell maid from man!"
"What is meant by that?" asks the tall soldier, opening his eyes.
"Why, simply this, sir: I am no boy at all, but a girl!"
There was a minute, during which the little man went purple in the face, and the rest star'd at Delia in blank astonishment.
"Oh, Jack," she whisper'd in my ear, "I am so very, very sorrow: but I _cannot_ wear these hateful clothes much longer."
She fac'd the company with a rosy blush.
"What say you to this?" ask'd Colonel Essex--for 'twas he--turning round on the little man.
"Say? What do I say? That the fellow is a Papist, too. I knew it from the first, and this proves it!"
I BREAK OUT OF PRISON.
You are now to be ask'd to pass over the next four weeks in as many minutes: as would I had done at the time! For I spent them in a bitter cold cell in the main tower of Bristol keep, with a chair and a pallet of straw for all my furniture, and nothing to stay my fast but the bread and water that the jailer--a sour man, if ever there were one--brought me twice a day.
This keep lies in the northwest corner of the outer ward of the castle--a mighty tall pile and strongly built, the walls (as the jailer told me) being a full twenty-five feet thick near the foundations, tho' by time you ascended to the towers this thickness had dwindled to six feet and no more. In shape 'twas a quadrilateral, a little shorter from north to south than from east to west (in which latter direction it measured sixty feet, about), and had four towers standing at the four corners, whereof mine was five fathoms higher than the rest.
Guess, then, how little I thought of escape, having but one window, a hundred feet (I do believe) above the ground, and that so narrow that, even without the iron bar across it, 'twould barely let my shoulders pass. What concern'd me more was the cold that gnaw'd me continually these winter nights, as I lay thinking of Delia (whom I had not seen since our examination), or gazing out on the patch of frosty heaven that was all my view. 'Twas thus I had heard Bristol bells ringing for Christmas in the town below.
Colonel Essex had been thrice to visit me, and always offer'd many excuses for my treatment; but when he came to question me, why of course I had nothing to tell, so that each visit but served to vex him more. Clearly I was suspected to know a great deal beyond what appear'd in the letter: and no doubt poor Anthony Killigrew had receiv'd some verbal message from His Majesty which he lived not long enough to transmit to me. As 'twas, I kept silence; and the Colonel in return would tell me nothing of what had befallen Delia.
One fine, frosty morning, then, when I had lain in this distress just four weeks, the door of my cell open'd, and there appear'd a young woman, not uncomely, bringing in my bread and water. She was the jailer's daughter, and wore a heavy bunch of keys at her girdle.
"Oh, good morning!" said I: for till now her father only had visited me, and this was a welcome change.
Instead of answering cheerfully (as I look'd for), she gave a little nod of the head, rather sorrowful, and answered:--
"Father's abed with the ague."
"Now you cannot expect me to be sorry."
"Nay," she said; and I caught her looking at me with something like compassion in her blue eyes, which mov'd me to cry out suddenly---
"I think you are woman enough to like a pair of lovers."
"Oh, aye: but where's t'other half of the pair?"
"You're right. The young gentlewoman that was brought hither with me--I know not if she loves me: but this I do know--I would give my hand to learn her whereabouts, and how she fares."
"Better eat thy loaf," put in the girl very suddenly, setting down the plate and pitcher.
'Twas odd, but I seem'd to hear a sob in her voice. However, her back was toward me as I glanc'd up. And next moment she was gone, locking the iron door behind her.
I turn'd from my breakfast with a sigh, having for the moment tasted the hope to hear something of Delia. But in a while, feeling hungry, I pick'd up the loaf beside me, and broke it in two.
To my amaze, out dropp'd something that jingled on the stone floor.
'Twas a small file: and examining the loaf again, I found a clasp- knife also, and a strip of paper, neatly folded, hidden in the bread.
"Colonel Essex, finding no good come of his interrogatories, hath set me at large; tho' I continue under his eye, to wit, with a dowager of his acquaintance, a Mistress Finch. Wee dwell in a private house midway down St. Thomas his street, in Redcliffe: and she hath put a dismal dress upon me (Jack, 'tis _hideous_), but otherwise uses me not ill. But take care of thyself, my deare friend: for tho' the Colonel be a gentilman, he is press'd by them about him, and at our last interview I noted a mischief in his eye. Canst use this file?--(but take care: all the gates I saw guarded with troopers to-day.) This by one who hath been my friend: for whose sake tear the paper up. And beleeve your cordial, loving comrade
After reading this a dozen times, till I had it by heart, I tore the letter into small pieces and hid them in my pocket. This done, I felt lighter-hearted than for many a day, and (rather for employment than with any farther view) began lazily to rub away at my window bar. The file work'd well. By noon the bar was half sever'd, and I broke off to whistle a tune. 'Twas---
"Vivre en tout cas, C'est le grand soulas--"
and I broke off to hear the key turning in my lock.
The jailer's daughter enter'd with my second meal. Her eyes were red with weeping.
Said I, "Does your father beat you?"
"He has, before now," she replied: "but not to-day."
"Then why do you weep?"
"Not for that."
"For what then?"
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