In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 26

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In the Roar of the Sea by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter 26

CHAPTER XXVI.


AN UNWILLING PRISONER.


Mr. Obadiah stood open-mouthed staring at the twins clasped in each other's arms, unable at first to understand what he saw. Then a suspicion entered his dull brain, he uttered a growl, put down the keg, his heavy brows contracted, he shut his mouth, drawing in his lips so that they disappeared, and he clenched his hands.

"Wait—I'll beat you!" he said.

The upset candle was on the floor, now half molten, with a pond of tallow burning with a lambent blue flicker trembling on extinction, then shooting up in a yellow flame.

In that uncertain, changeful, upward light the face of the man looked threatening, remorseless, so that Judith, in a paroxysm of fear for her brother and herself dropped, on her knee, and caught at the tin candlestick as the only weapon of defence accessible. It was hot and burnt her fingers, but she did not let go; and as she stood up the dissolved candle fell from it among some straw that littered the pavement. This at once kindled and blazed up into golden flame.

For a moment the cell was full of light. Mr. Obadiah at once saw the danger. His casks of brandy were hard by—the fume of alcohol was in the air—if the fire spread and caught his stores a volume of flame would sweep up the cellar stair and set his house on fire. He hastily sprang in, and danced about the cell stamping furiously at the ignited wisps. Judith, who saw him rush forward, thought he was about to strike her and Jamie, and raised the tin candlestick in self-defence; but when she saw him engaged in trampling out the fire, tearing at the bed to drag away the blankets with which to smother the embers, she drew Jamie aside from his reach, sidled, with him clinging to her, along the wall, and by a sudden spring reached the passage, slammed the door, fastened the hasp, and had the gaoler secured in his own gaol.

For a moment Mr. Scantlebray was unaware that he was a prisoner, so busily engaged was he in trampling out the fire, but the moment he did realize the fact he slung himself with all his force against the door.

Judith looked round her. There was now no light in the cellar but the feeble glimmer that descended the stair from the candle above. The flame of that was now burning steadily, for the door opening into the yard was shut, and the draught excluded.

In dragging Jamie along with her, Judith had drawn forth a scanty blanket that was about his shoulders. She wrapped it round the boy.

"Let me out!" roared Scantlebray. "Don't understand. Fun—rollicking fun."

Judith paid no attention to his bellow. She was concerned only to escape with Jamie. She was well aware that her only chance was by retaining Mr. Obadiah where he was.

"Let me out!" again shouted the prisoner; and he threw himself furiously against the door. But though it jarred on its hinges and made the hasp leap, he could not break it down. Nevertheless, so big and strong was the man that it was by no means improbable that his repeated efforts might start a staple or snap a hinge band, and he and the door might come together crashing down into the passage between the cells.

Judith drew Jamie up the steps, and on reaching the top shut the cellar door. Below, Mr. Scantlebray roared, swore, shouted, and beat against the door; but now his voice, and the sound of his blows were muffled, and would almost certainly be inaudible in the dwelling-house. No wonder that Judith had not heard the cries of her brother. It had never occurred to her that the hapless victim of the keeper of the asylum might be chastised, imprisoned, variously maltreated in regions underground, whence no sounds of distress might reach the street, and apprise the passers-by that all was not laughter within. Standing in the passage or hall above, Judith said:

"Oh, Jamie! where are your clothes?"

The boy looked into her face with a vacant and distressed expression. He could not answer, he did not even understand her question, so stupified was he by his terrors, and the treatment he had undergone.

Judith took the candle from the floor and searched the hall. Nothing was there save Mr. Scantlebray's coat, which he had removed and cast across one of the kegs when he prepared to convey them down to his cellar. Should she take that? She shook her head at the thought. She would not have it said that she had taken anything out of the house, except only— as that was an extreme necessity, the blanket wrapped about Jamie. She looked into the room that opened beyond the cellar door. It was a great bare apartment, containing only a table and some forms.

"Jamie!" she said, "we must get away from this place as we are. There is no help for it. Do you not know where your clothes were put?"

He shook his head. He clung to her with both arms, as though afraid, if he held by but one that she would slip away and vanish, as one drowning, clinging to the only support that sustained him from sinking.

"Come, Jamie! It cannot be otherwise!" She set down the candle, opened the door into the yard, and issued forth into the night along with the boy. The clouds had broken, and poured down their deluge of warm thunder rain. In the dark Judith was unable to find her direction at once, she reached the boundary wall where was no door.

Jamie uttered a cry of pain.

"What is it, dear?"

"The stones cut my feet."

She felt along the wall with one hand till she touched the jamb, then pressed against the door itself. It was shut. She groped for the lock. No key was in it. She could as little escape from that enclosure as she could enter into it from without. The door was very solid, and the lock big and secure. What was to be done? Judith considered for a moment, standing in the pouring rain through which the lightning flashed obscurely, illumining nothing. It seemed to her that there was but one course open to her, to return and obtain the key from Mr. Obadiah Scantlebray. But it would be no easy matter to induce him to surrender it.

"Jamie! will you remain at the door? Here under the wall is some shelter. I must go back."

 But the boy was frightened at the prospect of being deserted.

"Then—Jamie, will you come back with me to the house?"

No, he would not do that.

"I must go for the key, dearest," she said, coaxingly. "I cannot open the door, so that we can escape, unless I have the key. Will you do something for Ju? Sit here, on the steps, where you are somewhat screened from the rain, and sing to me something, one of our old songs—A jolly hawk and his wings were gray? sing that, that I may hear your voice and find my way back to you. Oh—and here, Jamie, your feet are just the size of mine, and so you shall pull on my shoes. Then you will be able to run alongside of me and not hurt your soles."

With a little persuasion she induced him to do as she asked. She took off her own shoes and gave them to him, then went across the yard to where was the house, she discovered the door by a little streak of light below it and the well trampled and worn threshold stone. She opened the door, took up the candle and again descended the steps to the cellar floor. On reaching the bottom, she held up the light and saw that the door was still sound; at the square barred opening was the red face of Mr. Scantlebray.

"Let me out," he roared.

"Give me the key of the garden door."

"Will you let me out if I do?"

"No; but this I promise, as soon as I have escaped from your premises I will knock and ring at your front door till I have roused the house, and then you will be found and released. By that time we shall have got well away."

"I will not give you the key."

"Then here you remain," said Judith, and began to reascend the steps. It had occurred to her, suddenly, that very possibly the key she desired was in the pocket of the coat Mr. Scantlebray had cast off before descending to the cellar. She would hold no further communication with him till she had ascertained this. He yelled after her "Let me out, and you shall have the key." But she paid no attention to his promise. On reaching the top of the stairs, she again shut the door, and took up his coat. She searched the pockets. No key was within.

She must go to him once more.

He began to shout as he saw the nicker of the candle approach. "Here is the key, take it, and do as you said." His hand, a great coarse hand, was thrust through the opening in the door, and in it was the key she required.

"Very well," said she, "I will do as I undertook."

She put her hand, the right hand, up to receive the key. In her left was the candlestick. Suddenly he let go the key that clinked down on the floor outside, and made a clutch at her hand and caught her by the wrist. She grasped the bar in the little window, or he would have drawn her hand in, dragged her by the arm up against the door, and broken it. He now held her wrist and with his strong hand strove to wrench her fingers from their clutch.

"Unhasp the door!" he howled at her.

She did not answer other than with a cry of pain, as he worked with his hand at her wrist, and verily it seemed as though the fragile bones must snap under his drag.

"Unhasp the door!" he roared again.

With his great fingers and thick nails he began to thrust at and ploughed her knuckles; he had her by the wrist with one hand, and he was striving to loosen her hold of the bar with the other.

"Unhasp the door!" he yelled a third time, "or I'll break every bone in your fingers!" and he brought his fist down on the side of the door to show how he would pound them by a blow. If he did not do this at once it was because he dreaded by too heavy a blow to strike the bar and wound himself while crushing her hand.

She could not hold the iron stanchion for more than another instant—and then he would drag her arm in, as a lion in its cage when it had laid hold of the incautious visitor, tears him to itself through the bars.

Then she brought the candle-flame up against his hand that grasped her wrist, and it played round it. He uttered a scream of pain, and let go for a moment. But that moment sufficed. She was free. The key was on the floor. She stooped to pick it up; but her fingers were as though paralyzed, she was forced to take it with the left hand and leave the candle on the floor. Then, holding the key she ran up the steps, ran out into the yard, and heard her brother wailing, "Ju! I want you! "Where are you, Ju?"

Guided by his cries she reached the door. The key she put into the lock, and with a little effort turned it. The door opened, she and Jamie were free.

The door shut behind them. They were in the dark lane, under a pouring rain. But Judith thought nothing of the darkness, nothing of the rain. She threw her arms round her brother, put her wet cheek against his, and burst into tears.

"My Jamie! O my Jamie!"

But the deliverance of her brother was not complete; she must bring him back to Polzeath. She could allow herself but a moment for the relief of her heart, and then she caught him to her side, and pushed on with him along the lane till they entered the street. Here she stood for a moment in uncertainty. Was she bound to fulfil her engagement to Mr. Obadiah? She had obtained the key, but he had behaved to her with treachery. He had not intended the key to be other than a bait to draw her within his clutch, that he might torture her into opening the door of his cell. Nevertheless, she had the key, and Judith was too honorable to take advantage of him.

With Jamie still clinging to her she went up the pair of steps to the front door, rang the night-bell, and knocked long and loud. Then, all at once her strength that had lasted gave way, and she sank on the doorsteps, without indeed losing consciousness, but losing in an instant all power of doing or thinking, of striving any more for Jamie or for herself.