Nobody's Boy/Chapter XXX
I HAD not been acquitted because the judge was expecting the arrest of the man who had entered the church with the child. They would then know if I was this man's accomplice. They were on the trail, the prosecutor had said, so I should have the shame and sorrow of appearing in the prisoner's dock at the Assizes beside him.
That evening, just before dusk, I heard the clear notes of a cornet. Mattia was there! Dear old Mattia! he wanted to tell me that he was near and thinking of me. He was evidently in the street on the other side of the wall opposite my window. I heard footsteps and the murmur of a crowd. Mattia and Bob were probably giving a performance.
Suddenly I heard a clear voice call out in French, "To-morrow at daybreak!" Then at once Mattia played his loudest on the cornet.
It did not need any degree of intelligence to understand that Mattia had not addressed these French words to an English public. I was not sure what they meant, but evidently I had to be on the alert at daybreak the next morning. As soon as it was dark I got into my hammock, but it was some time before I could go to sleep, although I was very tired. At last I dropped off to sleep. When I awoke it was night. The stars shone in the dark sky and silence reigned everywhere. A clock struck three. I counted the hours and the quarter hours. Leaning against the wall I kept my eyes fixed on the window. I watched the stars go out one by one. In the distance I could hear the cocks crowing. It was daybreak.
I opened the window very softly. What did I expect? There were still the iron bars and the high wall opposite. I could not get out, and yet foolish though the thought was, I expected my freedom. The morning air chilled me but I stayed by my window, looking out without knowing at what, listening without knowing to what. A big white cloud came up in the sky. It was daybreak. My heart throbbed wildly. Then I seemed to hear a scratching on the wall, but I had heard no sound of footsteps. I listened. The scratching continued. I saw a head appear above the wall. In the dim light I recognized Bob.
He saw me with my face pressed against the bars.
"Silence!" he said softly.
He made a sign for me to move away from the window. Wondering, I obeyed. He put a peashooter to his mouth and blew. A tiny ball came through the air and fell at my feet. Bob's head disappeared.
I pounced on the ball. It was tissue paper made into a tiny ball like a pea. The light was too dim for me to see what was written on it; I had to wait till day. I closed my window cautiously and lay down again in my hammock with the tiny bit of paper in my hand. How slowly the light came! At last I was able to read what was written on the paper. I read:
"To-morrow you will be taken in the train to the county jail. A policeman will be in the compartment with you. Keep near the same door by which you enter. At the end of forty minutes (count them carefully), the train will slacken speed as it nears a junction; then open the door and jump out. Climb the small hill on the left. We'll be there. Keep your courage up; above all, jump well forward and fall on your feet."
Saved! I should not appear before the Assizes! Good Mattia, dear old Bob! How good of Bob to help Mattia, for Mattia, poor little fellow, could not have done this alone.
I re-read the note. Forty minutes after the train starts... Hill to the left... It was a risky thing to do to jump from a train, but even if I killed myself in doing so, I would better do it. Better die than be condemned as a thief.
Would they think of Capi?
After I had again read my note, I chewed it into a pulp.
The next day, in the afternoon, a policeman came into my cell and told me to follow him. He was a man over fifty and I thought with satisfaction that he did not appear to be very nimble.
Things turned out just as Bob had said. The train rolled off. I took my place near the door where I had entered. The policeman sat opposite me; we were alone in the compartment.
"Do you speak English?" asked the policeman.
"I understand if you don't talk too rapidly," I replied.
"Well, then, I want to give you a little advice, my boy," he said; "don't try and fool the law. Just tell me how it all happened, and I'll give you five shillings. It'll be easier for you if you have a little money in jail."
I was about to say that I had nothing to confess, but I felt that might annoy the man, so I said nothing.
"Just think it over," he continued, "and when you're in jail don't go and tell the first comer, but send for me. It is better to have one who is interested in you, and I'm very willing to help you."
I nodded my head.
"Ask for Dolphin; you'll remember my name?"
I was leaning against the door. The window was down and the air blew in. The policeman found that there was too much air so he moved into the middle of the seat. My left hand stole softly outside and turned the handle; with my right hand I held the door.
The minutes passed; the engine whistled and slackened its speed. The moment had come. I pushed open the door quickly and sprang out as far as I could. Fortunately, my hands, which I held out before me, touched the grass, yet the shock was so great that I rolled on the ground unconscious. When I came to my senses I thought that I was still in the train for I felt myself being carried along. Looking round I saw that I was lying at the bottom of a cart. Strange! My cheeks were wet. A soft warm tongue was licking me. I turned slightly. An ugly yellow dog was leaning over me. Mattia was kneeling beside me.
"You're saved," he said, pushing aside the dog.
"Where am I?"
"You are in a cart. Bob's driving."
"How goes it?" cried Bob from his seat. "Can you move your arms and legs?"
I stretched out and did what he asked.
"Good," said Mattia; "nothing broken."
"You jumped from the train as we told you, but the shock stunned you, and you rolled into a ditch. When you didn't come, Bob left the cart, crept down the hill, and carried you back in his arms. We thought you were dead. Oh, Remi, I was afraid."
I stroked his hand. "And the policeman?" I asked.
"The train went on; it didn't stop."
My eyes again fell on the ugly yellow dog that was looking at me with eyes that resembled Capi's. But Capi was white...
"What dog is that?" I asked.
Before Mattia could reply the ugly little animal had jumped on me, licking me furiously and whining.
"It's Capi; we dyed him!" cried Mattia, laughing.
"Dyed him? Why?"
"So that he wouldn't be recognized. Now Bob wants to make you more comfortable."
While Bob and Mattia were making me comfortable I asked them where we were going.
"To Little Hampton," said Mattia, "where Bob's brother has a boat that goes over to France to fetch butter and eggs from Normandy. We owe everything to Bob. What could a poor little wretch like me have done alone? It was Bob's idea that you jump from the train."
"And Capi? Who's idea was it to get him?"
"Mine. But it was Bob's to paint him yellow so that he wouldn't be recognized after we stole him from Policeman Jerry. The judge called Jerry 'intelligent'; he wasn't so very intelligent to let us get Capi away. True, Capi smelled me and almost got off alone. Bob knows the tricks of dog thieves."
"And your foot?"
"Better, or almost better. I haven't had time to think of it."
Night was falling. We had still a long distance to go.
"Are you afraid?" asked Mattia, as I lay there in silence.
"No, not afraid," I answered, "for I don't think that I shall be caught. But it seems to me that in running away I admit my guilt. That worries me."
"Better anything, Bob and I thought, than that you should appear at the Assizes. Even if you got off it's a bad thing to have gone through."
Convinced that after the train stopped the policeman would lose no time looking for me, we went ahead as quickly as possible. The villages through which we drove were very quiet; lights were seen in only a few of the windows. Mattia and I got under a cover. For some time a cold wind had been blowing and when we passed our tongues over our lips we tasted salt. We were nearing the sea. Soon we saw a light flashing every now and again. It was a lighthouse. Suddenly Bob stopped his horse, and jumping down from the cart, told us to wait there. He was going to see his brother to ask him if it would be safe for him to take us on his boat.
Bob seemed to be away a very long time. We did not speak. We could hear the waves breaking on the shore at a short distance. Mattia was trembling and I also.
"It is cold," he whispered.
Was it the cold that made us shake? When a cow or a sheep in the field at the side touched against the fence we trembled still more. There were footsteps on the road. Bob was returning. My fate had been decided. A rough-looking sailor wearing a sou'wester and an oilskin hat was with Bob.
"This is my brother," said Bob; "he'll take you on his boat. So we'll have to part now; no one need know that I brought you here."
I wanted to thank Bob but he cut me short. I grasped his hand.
"Don't speak of it," he said lightly, "you two boys helped me out the other night. One good turn deserves another. And I'm pleased to have been able to help a friend of Mattia's."
We followed Bob's brother down some winding quiet streets till we came to the docks. He pointed to a boat, without saying a word. In a few moments we were on board. He told us to go down below into a little cabin.
"I start in two hours' time," he said; "stay there and don't make a sound."
But we were not trembling now. We sat in the dark side by side.