SLEEP? It was
impossible. It would naturally
have been impossible in that noisome cavern of
a jail, with its mangy crowd of drunken, quarrelsome,
and song-singing rapscallions. But the thing that
made sleep all the more a thing not to be dreamed of,
was my racking impatience to get out of this place and
find out the whole size of what might have happened
yonder in the slave-quarters in consequence of that
intolerable miscarriage of mine.
It was a long night, but the
morning got around at last. I
made a full and frank explanation
to the court. I said I was a
slave, the property of the great
Earl Grip, who had arrived just
after dark at the Tabard inn
in the village on the other side
of the water, and had stopped
there over night, by compulsion,
he being taken deadly sick with
a strange and sudden disorder.
I had been ordered to cross to
the city in all haste and bring
the best physician; I was doing
my best; naturally I was running
with all my might; the night
was dark, I ran against this
common person here, who seized
me by the throat and began to
pummel me, although I told him
my errand, and implored him,
for the sake of the great earl
my master's mortal peril --
The common person interrupted
and said it was a lie; and was
going to explain how I rushed
upon him and attacked him without
a word --
"Silence, sirrah!" from the
court. "Take him hence and give
him a few stripes whereby to
teach him how to treat the servant
of a nobleman after a different
fashion another time. Go!"
Then the court begged my pardon,
and hoped I would not fail to
tell his lordship it was in no
wise the court's fault that this
high-handed thing had happened.
I said I would make it all right,
and so took my leave. Took it
just in time, too; he was starting
to ask me why I didn't fetch
out these facts the moment I
was arrested. I said I would
if I had thought of it -- which
was true -- but that I was so
battered by that man that all
my wit was knocked out of me
-- and so forth and so on, and
got myself away, still mumbling.
I didn't wait for breakfast.
No grass grew under my feet.
I was soon at the slave quarters.
Empty -- everybody gone! That
is, everybody except one body
-- the slave-master's. It lay
there all battered to pulp; and
all about were the evidences
of a terrific fight. There was
a rude board coffin on a cart
at the door, and workmen, assisted
by the police, were thinning
a road through the gaping crowd
in order that they might bring
I picked out a man humble enough
in life to condescend to talk
with one so shabby as I, and
got his account of the matter.
sixteen slaves here. They rose
master in the night, and thou
seest how it ended."
"Yes. How did
no witness but the slaves.
They said the slave that
was most valuable got free of
his bonds and escaped in some
strange way -- by magic arts
'twas thought, by reason that
he had no key, and the locks
were neither broke nor in any
wise injured. When the master
discovered his loss, he was mad
with despair, and threw himself
upon his people with his heavy
stick, who resisted and brake
his back and in other and divers
ways did give him hurts that
brought him swiftly to his end."
"This is dreadful.
It will go hard with the slaves,
upon the trial."
trial is over."
be a week, think you -- and
the matter so simple?
They were not the half of a quarter
of an hour at it."
"Why, I don't
see how they could determine
which were the
guilty ones in so short a time."
Indeed, they considered not
particulars like to that.
They condemned them in a body.
Wit ye not the law? -- which
men say the Romans left behind
them here when they went -- that
if one slave killeth his master
all the slaves of that man must
die for it."
"True. I had
forgotten. And when will these
a four and twenty hours; albeit
some say they will
wait a pair of days more, if
peradventure they may find the
missing one meantime."
The missing one! It made me
"Is it likely
they will find him?"
day is spent -- yes. They seek
They stand at the gates of the
town, with certain of the slaves
who will discover him to them
if he cometh, and none can pass
out but he will be first examined."
see the place where the rest
of it -- yes. The inside of
it -- but ye will
not want to see that."
I took the address of that
prison for future reference and
then sauntered off. At the first
second-hand clothing shop I came
to, up a back street, I got a
rough rig suitable for a common
seaman who might be going on
a cold voyage, and bound up my
face with a liberal bandage,
saying I had a toothache. This
concealed my worst bruises. It
was a transformation. I no longer
resembled my former self. Then
I struck out for that wire, found
it and followed it to its den.
It was a little room over a butcher's
shop -- which meant that business
wasn't very brisk in the telegraphic
line. The young chap in charge
was drowsing at his table. I
locked the door and put the vast
key in my bosom. This alarmed
the young fellow, and he was
going to make a noise; but I
wind; if you open your mouth
you are dead, sure.
Tackle your instrument. Lively,
now! Call Camelot."
amaze me! How should such as
you know aught of such
matters as --"
I am a desperate man. Call
Camelot, or get away
from the instrument and I will
do it myself."
"What -- you?"
"Yes -- certainly.
Stop gabbling. Call the palace."
He made the call.
Clarence who. Say you want
Clarence; you'll get
He did so. We waited five nerve-straining
minutes -- ten minutes -- how
long it did seem! -- and then
came a click that was as familiar
to me as a human voice; for Clarence
had been my own pupil.
"Now, my lad,
vacate! They would have known
MY touch, maybe,
and so your call was surest;
but I'm all right now."
He vacated the place and cocked
his ear to listen -- but it didn't
win. I used a cipher. I didn't
waste any time in sociabilities
with Clarence, but squared away
for business, straight-off --
"The king is
here and in danger. We were
captured and brought
here as slaves. We should not
be able to prove our identity
-- and the fact is, I am not
in a position to try. Send a
telegram for the palace here
which will carry conviction with
His answer came straight back:
know anything about the telegraph;
they haven't had
any experience yet, the line
to London is so new. Better not
venture that. They might hang
you. Think up something else."
Might hang us! Little he knew
how closely he was crowding the
facts. I couldn't think up anything
for the moment. Then an idea
struck me, and I started it along:
hundred picked knights with
Launcelot in the lead; and
send them on the jump. Let them
enter by the southwest gate,
and look out for the man with
a white cloth around his right
The answer was prompt:
start in half an hour."
Clarence; now tell this lad
here that I'm a friend
of yours and a dead-head; and
that he must be discreet and
say nothing about this visit
The instrument began to talk
to the youth and I hurried away.
I fell to ciphering. In half
an hour it would be nine o'clock.
Knights and horses in heavy armor
couldn't travel very fast. These
would make the best time they
could, and now that the ground
was in good condition, and no
snow or mud, they would probably
make a seven-mile gait; they
would have to change horses a
couple of times; they would arrive
about six, or a little after;
it would still be plenty light
enough; they would see the white
cloth which I should tie around
my right arm, and I would take
command. We would surround that
prison and have the king out
in no time. It would be showy
and picturesque enough, all things
considered, though I would have
preferred noonday, on account
of the more theatrical aspect
the thing would have.
Now, then, in order to increase
the strings to my bow, I thought
I would look up some of those
people whom I had formerly recognized,
and make myself known. That would
help us out of our scrape, without
the knights. But I must proceed
cautiously, for it was a risky
business. I must get into sumptuous
raiment, and it wouldn't do to
run and jump into it. No, I must
work up to it by degrees, buying
suit after suit of clothes, in
shops wide apart, and getting
a little finer article with each
change, until I should finally
reach silk and velvet, and be
ready for my project. So I started.
But the scheme fell through
like scat! The first corner I
turned, I came plump upon one
of our slaves, snooping around
with a watchman. I coughed at
the moment, and he gave me a
sudden look that bit right into
my marrow. I judge he thought
he had heard that cough before.
I turned immediately into a shop
and worked along down the counter,
pricing things and watching out
of the corner of my eye. Those
people had stopped, and were
talking together and looking
in at the door. I made up my
mind to get out the back way,
if there was a back way, and
I asked the shopwoman if I could
step out there and look for the
escaped slave, who was believed
to be in hiding back there somewhere,
and said I was an officer in
disguise, and my pard was yonder
at the door with one of the murderers
in charge, and would she be good
enough to step there and tell
him he needn't wait, but had
better go at once to the further
end of the back alley and be
ready to head him off when I
rousted him out.
She was blazing with eagerness
to see one of those already celebrated
murderers, and she started on
the errand at once. I slipped
out the back way, locked the
door behind me, put the key in
my pocket and started off, chuckling
to myself and comfortable.
Well, I had gone and spoiled
it again, made another mistake.
A double one, in fact. There
were plenty of ways to get rid
of that officer by some simple
and plausible device, but no,
I must pick out a picturesque
one; it is the crying defect
of my character. And then, I
had ordered my procedure upon
what the officer, being human,
would NATURALLY do; whereas when
you are least expecting it, a
man will now and then go and
do the very thing which it's
NOT natural for him to do. The
natural thing for the officer
to do, in this case, was to follow
straight on my heels; he would
find a stout oaken door, securely
locked, between him and me; before
he could break it down, I should
be far away and engaged in slipping
into a succession of baffling
disguises which would soon get
me into a sort of raiment which
was a surer protection from meddling
law-dogs in Britain than any
amount of mere innocence and
purity of character. But instead
of doing the natural thing, the
officer took me at my word, and
followed my instructions. And
so, as I came trotting out of
that cul de sac, full of satisfaction
with my own cleverness, he turned
the corner and I walked right
into his handcuffs. If I had
known it was a cul de sac --
however, there isn't any excusing
a blunder like that, let it go.
Charge it up to profit and loss.
Of course, I was indignant,
and swore I had just come ashore
from a long voyage, and all that
sort of thing -- just to see,
you know, if it would deceive
that slave. But it didn't. He
knew me. Then I reproached him
for betraying me. He was more
surprised than hurt. He stretched
his eyes wide, and said:
have me let thee, of all men,
not hang with us, when thou'rt
the very CAUSE of our hanging?
"Go to" was their way of saying "I
should smile!" or "I like that!" Queer
talkers, those people.
Well, there was a sort of bastard
justice in his view of the case,
and so I dropped the matter.
When you can't cure a disaster
by argument, what is the use
to argue? It isn't my way. So
I only said:
going to be hanged. None of
Both men laughed, and the slave
"Ye have not
ranked as a fool -- before.
You might better keep
your reputation, seeing the strain
would not be for long."
"It will stand
it, I reckon. Before to-morrow
we shall be
out of prison, and free to go
where we will, besides."
The witty officer lifted at
his left ear with his thumb,
made a rasping noise in his throat,
"Out of prison
-- yes -- ye say true. And
free likewise to
go where ye will, so ye wander
not out of his grace the Devil's
I kept my temper, and said,
"Now I suppose
you really think we are going
to hang within a
day or two."
it not many minutes ago, for
so the thing was decided
"Ah, then you've
changed your mind, is that
I only THOUGHT, then; I KNOW,
I felt sarcastical, so I said:
servant of the law, condescend
to tell us, then,
what you KNOW."
"That ye will
all be hanged TO-DAY, at mid-afternoon!
that shot hit home! Lean upon
The fact is I did need to lean
upon somebody. My knights couldn't
arrive in time. They would be
as much as three hours too late.
Nothing in the world could save
the King of England; nor me,
which was more important. More
important, not merely to me,
but to the nation -- the only
nation on earth standing ready
to blossom into civilization.
I was sick. I said no more, there
wasn't anything to say. I knew
what the man meant; that if the
missing slave was found, the
postponement would be revoked,
the execution take place to-day.
Well, the missing slave was found.